Wash was, against all logic, expecting to get a full night's sleep. It was happening just often enough lately that he was starting to remember how good it felt to be relatively well-rested: waking early to exercise and coordinate with Kimball and Doyle, training all day, resolving the Reds' and Blues' inevitable personal crises somewhere along the way, and dropping into a well-earned and uninterrupted rest at a reasonable hour. His physical injuries from the fight with Locus were healing quicker than he'd expected, his mind was sharper, and the last time he'd visited Tucker in the hospital, he'd been accused of starting to develop an honest-to-god sense of humor.
Tonight, though. Tonight he had Ambitions. He had Plans. He'd let the New Republic lieutenants off the hook half an hour early, dodged Grif's petition for longer lunch breaks, mercilessly sidelined Simmons' latest wave of proposals for weaponry spreadsheets, and retired early to his quarters with a good book.
Okay, so it wasn't a great book. It was a moderately romanticized New Republic military strategy guide he'd downloaded from a datapad in Andersmith's locker during inspection. But it had been years since he'd had time to read much of anything outside of casualty reports, and he was going to take the opportunity to–
He glanced up sharply at a hesitant knock on the door to his quarters, then stifled a groan, because of course someone needed him urgently at 0100 when he hadn't even managed to get the book to load on his datapad yet. He briefly considered pretending to be asleep, but the knock came again, more persistent this time.
"Come in," he called, and tossed the tablet regretfully onto his bed.
The door opened. Wash turned to see Tucker leaning on the doorframe with a sickly smile. He was wearing a hospital gown, pinkish and dotted with tiny green flowers, that cut off at the knees. It was one of the great mysteries of the universe and a testament to the power of self-confidence that Tucker somehow made it look flattering.
It took Wash a second of startled contemplation to realize that Tucker's shoulders were hunched, that he had one hand pressed to his gut. It took him another second to realize that the fabric under Tucker's fingers was stained a dark red.
"What the hell, Tucker!" he yelped, and crossed the distance to the doorway to steady Tucker with an hand under his arm. "I'm calling Dr. Grey, we need to get you–"
"I'm fine," Tucker said, bringing the hand away from his gut and trying to shrug off Wash's death-grip. "Dude. Seriously. The blood isn't mine, so chill, okay?"
Wash paused midway through reaching for his comm. "Not yours."
"Nah," Tucker said, and straightened determinedly to brush past Wash into the room. "Nice place. Little small."
"Thanks," Wash said. "You expect me to believe that the blood on your hospital gown–which, by the way, why aren't you in the goddamn hospital, we'll get to that in a second–right over where you got stabbed two weeks ago coincidentally belongs to someone else?"
Tucker slumped down on Wash's bunk, pulling back the fabric of his gown to squint at it. "I mean, I want you to believe that?"
Wash made a vaguely apoplectic noise.
"Okay, okay," Tucker said. "It's old. Reopened the cut during physio this morning, it bled a bit and stopped. Trust me, it's fine, hurts a bit, but I just didn't bother changing."
Wash stared at him. The stain did look old.
"Look, man, I can show you if you're gonna be a hardass about it," said Tucker, and started to hike up his gown.
"Jesus, no, that's great, that's fine," Wash said, hastily, struck by the premonition that underwear probably didn't figure into Tucker's current wardrobe. Recovering the tattered remains of his dignity, he crossed his arms. "You're still supposed to be in the hospital. I'm calling Dr. Grey."
"Come on," Tucker groaned, slumping back onto Wash's bunk. "I've been stuck in that hospital room for two fucking weeks! They let you out after two days!"
"I wasn't the one who got stabbed and nearly bled to death on the ride home! And, uh." Wash cleared his throat. "Okay, well, 'let me out' is maybe a strong way to phrase it. Carolina went to bat for me. There may have been some ominous looming over the orderlies."
Tucker pointed. "That's what I'm talking about. It's a time-honored tradition that people bust out of hospitals, once they're, like, not actually gonna die or anything and they're just keeping you there out of spite. Actually, no, it's a time-honored tradition that people's friends bust them out of hospitals."
"I'm pretty sure nobody's keeping you anywhere out of spite," Wash said, deciding to gloss over the fact that Tucker sounded genuinely offended by that last bit. "I'm pretty sure they're keeping you there because physio today was enough to start the bleeding again."
Tucker waved a hand, still flat on his back. "I pushed it too hard. Tried to do some badass sword stuff while no one was paying attention. Swish!"
"You realize you don't have to do the sound effect every time," Wash said.
"Hey, who here's awesome enough to actually know how to use kickass alien technology, and who's the one making up shitty rules about sound effects because he's jealous of the aforementioned kickass alien technology? Hah. Thought so."
Wash sighed, planting himself so he was leaning against his desk. "So this was all just a jailbreak?"
"No thanks to you," Tucker grumbled.
Wash crossed his arms, cocking his head to one side. "You sound upset."
"I'm not upset," Tucker said, resting his forearm over his eyes. "I'm pissed off."
"Because I didn't break you out of the hospital." Wash couldn't quite hide the flicker of amusement that crept into his deadpan. "Me. Not Grif or Simmons or Caboose. Me."
Tucker flipped him off. "Dude, you got promoted to breaking-me-out-of-the-hospital levels of friendship a while ago, pay fucking attention."
Wash sighed, uncrossing his arms to brace himself against the desk. "Okay, Tucker. You're free, and in your freedom you've returned to the person who apparently betrayed you in your hour of need. Why?"
Tucker reached out and grabbed Wash's discarded datapad, then held it up at arm's length, squinting at it. "Can't a guy just want a change of scenery?"
"Sure," Wash said.
There was a moment of silence while Tucker scrolled through Wash's datapad, but his eyes kept flicking back over to Wash. "You got a new scar."
"Fight with Locus. He must've hit you pretty hard." Tucker traced a finger along his own temple to illustrate. "That's pretty fucked up."
"I made him pretty angry."
"No shit." Tucker was quiet a moment longer, still scrolling through the datapad. "You seriously don't have any porn on this thing?"
Wash straightened up, clapping his hands. "All right, here we go, time to call Dr. Grey–"
Tucker sighed and dropped the datapad heavily back onto the bunk. "Look, dude, that whole thing was pretty messed up. I'm trying to say, it weirds me out that he didn't kill you. Like, he was so pissed off he didn't even want you dead, he just wanted to hurt you." Tucker propped himself up on his elbows. "Messed. Up."
Wash wished fervently that he was still wearing his armor, because he was pretty sure his expression was telegraphing startled confusion. "I'm fine, Tucker. No permanent damage. And letting him beat me up was part of the plan, remember? I know how to take hits."
"It also kinda weirds me out that Felix wanted to kill me that bad," Tucker said, his voice racing a little bit faster than conversational. "Like, I know he wanted to kill me, I get that, but when he stabbed me?" His hand came up briefly, a little twitch toward the old bloodstains on his hospital gown. "Lots of people have tried to kill me before, but nobody ever enjoyed hurting me that much. I dunno, I just, I guess I just wanted to say that."
Wash was standing perfectly still, barely daring to breathe. "Tucker…"
"I'm not here to get all mushy," Tucker said, pushing himself back up to a sitting position with a wince. "I just keep thinking about what it felt like. I was starting to black out, and Church was trying to keep all my equipment running without freaking the fuck out in my head. And we won, and it was kickass, and I guess I. I guess I kinda thought I was dead, after that." He was quiet for a moment, then added, "Fucking weird afterlife, if that's the case."
Wash glanced down with a smile. "Guess so."
"I just don't want to fight them again," Tucker said, all in a rush. "Felix and Locus. I think I'm kinda done with them."
"It's okay to be scared," Wash said.
"Jesus," Tucker said, flopping back onto the bed again and rubbing at his eyes. "What is this, an after-school special? I'm telling you, I think I'm done. Maybe I'll just camp out at the capital until all this blows over. Find out from Doyle where all the best hiding spots are."
"Look, Tucker," Wash said, and, after a moment's hesitation, walked over to perch awkwardly on the edge of the bed. "I'm being sincere. I've spent a lot of time scared out of my mind. Not just of what people did to me, but of what I did to them. What I'm responsible for. You don't have that hanging over you."
"Oh, that's such bullshit. I got two of my men killed when I was looking for you. Hell, I fired the first shots on those Fed assholes who attacked us in the canyon with Locus." Tucker sighed, heavily. "I think I'm okay with that, I mean, I think I could be with time, but this is just, you know."
"Such bullshit?" Wash suggested.
"I'm a lover, not a fighter."
"I mean, that's probably debatable on both counts," Wash said, and was rewarded with another upraised middle finger from Tucker. "But that doesn't make you a coward."
Tucker heaved a slow, deliberate breath, staring at the ceiling. "I just don't want these people to keep dying."
"I know," Wash said.
"No, I mean, I really care about them. Kimball doesn't deserve any of this. Even fucking Palomo should be, I don't know, pissing off everybody at some pretentious art school."
Wash raised an eyebrow. "Art school?"
"Kid's freakishly good at drawing, don't ask me how the fuck that's fair." Tucker shifted his weight on the bed. "Look, you had a different relationship with the Feds. When we found you, you called them 'allies'. And there's a difference between allies and friends. I don't want these people to keep dying. I want to, like, stuff them all in a bunker somewhere. I want them to be ready for anything that happens. So fuck it, I don't want to keep fighting these terrifying asshole mercs, but I… I guess I have to try."
"Why, Captain Tucker," Wash said, eyes wide. "Have you learned an important lesson about the burdens of personal responsibility?"
"Fuck off," Tucker said, shoving at him, but there was a grin twitching at the corner of his mouth. "You're such an asshole. I'm here spilling my guts and–" He paused. "Oh, fuck. I think I'm actually spilling my guts."
Wash followed his gaze to the stain on his hospital gown. There was a wet patch of blood toward the center of it, spreading outwards. "Dammit, Tucker. No, don't get up!" He pressed a hand to the wound–Tucker yelped and cringed away–and applied pressure, reaching back with his other hand to key in an emergency code that would page Medical to his quarters. "For the record, I was planning on busting you out of the hospital in three days. Had an elaborate scheme and everything."
"Oh, you are so full of shit."
"A whole elaborate scheme," Wash said. "There were disguises."
Wash estimated maybe forty seconds before the medics busted down his door. He could feel the reassuring thrum of Tucker's heartbeat under his hand. "You're not gonna have to do it alone," he said. "Face the bad guys, I mean. It won't happen again."
"It might happen again," Tucker said. "I'm just gonna have to be ready next time. Damn, that hurts."
"It'd hurt less if you stopped swinging a sword around during physio." Wash turned at the arrival of a pair of exasperated-looking medics. "Hey, I found your escapee."
"Traitor," Tucker mumbled.
Wash rested a hand on his forehead for a moment. "Hey," he said. "Thanks for stopping by."
"Anytime," Tucker said, and nodded to the tablet beside him as the medics moved in. "Hope you enjoy the nerdy book you stole from Smith. He let me read it while you guys were missing. There's some pretty good shit in there about leadership."
"Huh," said Wash. "Guess I've still got a lot to learn."
"You'll catch up," Tucker said, with a grin, and allowed the medics to carefully hoist him to his feet, one arm over each shoulder.
Wash sat, staring at the door until long after they were gone, rubbing pensively at the new scar on his temple, then reached out to grab his datapad and started to read the first chapter.