Grif and Simmons quietly take care of the dead guy's body. Tucker's never been so fucking grateful to Red Team in his life.
Carolina and Wash are deep in discussion about their first target—apparently they're all gonna be attacking a motherfucking military depot or something, jesus fuck—and Caboose is having a cheerful and utterly nonsensical conversation with Sarge, so Tucker just sort of ignores all of them and flops down on the ground, letting his head rest back against the dirt, and stares up at what he can see of the blue sky beyond the tree branches overhead. His HUD is telling him ambient temperatures are rising. His HUD is telling him his heart is beating at 140% its normal rate. His HUD is helpfully painting targets.
His helmet feels claustrophobic all of a sudden, so he tugs it off, lets it roll to a stop wherever the fuck it lands. And then it's like, fuck it, nobody's trying to shoot at him right now, might as well take off the armor. He feels kinda stupid rolling awkwardly around in the middle of a forest, trying to strip down to his Kevlar undersuit. He feels even stupider once he pulls off his boots and just lies back down. Like, kinda naked, but not in a fun way.
His head's spinning. His wrist hurts. He feels sick.
It takes him a second to realize Wash is standing over him. He still looks pretty bad, but Tucker's almost sure that's just because he's still out of armor, too. Some dudes just don't look right out of armor, y'know? Like it's a part of them. Like it grew on them, or they grew into it. Tucker kinda hopes he still looks normal without the armor. It'd suck to have to wear it all the time, after this is over.
Wash's brow furrows. "You okay?"
"Fuck you," Tucker says, but he says it lazily, like a sigh.
Wash shrugs, and, after a moment, sits down next to Tucker. He moves slowly, stiffly, one arm clenched tight to his chest, but he actually puts in the effort to fuckin' sit down in the dirt next to him. Tucker's weirdly touched by the gesture. Way the fuck more touched when Wash doesn't say anything, just painstakingly draws his knees up to his chest and sort of sits there with his fucking heroic thousand-yard stare.
"How the head?" Tucker asks, eventually, just to have something to say.
Wash shrugs again. There's a hint of a smile in his voice. "Getting better."
Tucker rubs at his face with the back of his hand. The sun in his eyes is too bright, and he turns a squint into a sneer. "Must be nice to have someone telling you what to do again."
"A little," Wash says, apparently choosing to ignore his tone. "Carolina made some bad calls, but we were her team. I trust her as much as I trust anyone."
"So not at all, is what you're saying."
"I trust some people," Wash says, simply.
Tucker snorts. "Probably a bad idea."
They're quiet a while longer. Tucker sits up, digging his fingers into the sparse grass, pulling it out of the dirt in clumps.
"It's the Director," Wash says. "The guy who ran Project Freelancer. Carolina thinks Epsilon can help us track him down. He's got the memories."
Tucker lets the loose strands of grass fall from his hands, picked up by a breeze. "She gonna snap his neck when she finds him, too?"
"Something like that."
And that's pretty much all Tucker can take of fuckin' Freelancer bullshit, so he blows out an annoyed breath and flops back onto the ground. "You guys ever get sick of using people? Like, that's all we ever are to you. Tools. You're Carolina's tool, I'm your tool. Fuck. I miss being a person, you know?"
Wash is quiet for a long while, long enough that Tucker half-expects him to have, like, fallen asleep or something. But when he looks back, the guy's got a weirdly tense expression on his face, like he's trying to hold something in. "Uh," he says, in a choked voice. "You're my tool?"
Tucker really, really doesn't want to say it, because he's so fucking tired, but... okay, yeah, fuck it. "Bow chicka bow-wow," he mutters, all in one breath, and then Wash lets out a little startled snicker that's almost a giggle, and that's all it takes to set Tucker off, and holy fuck has it ever been a long time since he just laughed like this.
By the time Tucker gets himself back under control, Wash is on his feet again, holding out a hand to help him up. "C'mon," he says. "We should be able to break out the MREs now that Carolina's navigating our way out of here. Those things are going to taste amazing after the rat bars." And, like, it's a nice gesture, but Tucker's pretty sure Wash is gonna collapse if he tries to take any of Tucker's weight, so he just sort of awkwardly gets to his feet on his own.
"Hey," he says. "You really want revenge on this Director dude, huh? I mean, he fucked you up pretty bad."
Wash shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe I'll figure it out when I see him. Mostly I just want this all to be over, and this is probably the only way that's gonna happen. Carolina doesn't leave a job half-finished. Neither do I."
Tucker squints at him suspiciously, but the dude has a pretty great poker face, and it's hard to tell if the innuendo was on purpose. Wash raises an eyebrow, but doesn't say a damn word. Huh. "Yeah," Tucker says. "I'm ready for all this to be done, too. Just make sure you don't burn us all out chasing ghosts, y'know?"
"I know," Wash says. "I'm on your side, Tucker. Trust me."
Tucker rolls his eyes, moving over to dig through their supplies for that sweet, sweet mac-and-cheese MRE. Seriously, they put like a ton of sugar in that shit for some reason. Fuck knows why. "'Cause you're our valiant self-destructive leader-by-default?"
"Something like that." Wash pauses, rubbing at the bandages on his chest. "I guess you'll be getting Church back after all this, huh?"
Tucker pauses, then resumes his foraging. "I mean, yeah, I guess. If Carolina does her thing. So that'll be good."
"Yeah." Wash drags the silence out into something really uncomfortable while Tucker digs past the spare ammo down to the optimistically titled 'meals'. "Hey," Wash says, after a moment. "I knew Church. I mean, the Alpha. The first Church you knew back in the canyon. He implanted in me for a short time. He's a good guy."
"Nah," Tucker says. "He's an asshole. Selfish dick all the way." He shrugs. "I miss him."
"I'm sorry," Wash says, softly, and Tucker's not sure what he means. Sorry Alpha-Church is dead? Sorry he's been walking around in what amounts to a dead man's armor?
He's not wearing that armor now. "Don't be sorry," Tucker says. "Not your fuckin' fault." And the words come out way too earnest, so he covers the awkwardness by plunging his hands into the supplies and dragging out the first box he grabs. "Hey, where the fuck is Carolina, anyway?"
Wash shrugs, pulling out his own meal. "She was gonna go make sure the Reds were on board, which I took to mean she's gonna go scare them into being on board."
"Yeah, well, if she just asks they'll probably say yes. Or if she offers to, like, maim Grif. They'll be on board for that."
"She'll figure it out."
Wash cracks the heatpack in his meal, Tucker does the same, and for a few moments they just watch the steam rise. Tucker feels a bit like a normal guy for the first time in a really, really long while. Just a normal guy with a dead-computer best friend and an alien son and a fucked-up CO with a deathwish who's kind of okay once you get to know him. Yeah.
"Almost done," Wash says. His voice has gone soft again, but it's not especially melodramatic this time around. Just quiet. Tired. "One last push." He balances the tray of food on a fallen log and starts pulling on his armor again, easing the chestplate over his bloodied bandages, fastening the greaves, slipping back into the boots. Blood Gulch blue. Freelancer accents.
Tucker thinks about the things people do when they're following orders. The things people become.
"Yeah," he says. Suddenly he doesn't have much of an appetite anymore. "One last push."