The More Things Change
The war was over.
This was Church's doing, of course. One phone call, one sentence. "Red and Blue. They're the same."
He hadn't meant to end the war, but if he'd known it was going to be that easy, he probably would have done it sooner. Way before all the time traveling, AI chasing, Red taunting, and team killing he'd had to endure. Way before he'd been forced to inhabit a robot with a bomb ticking away in its stomach. Before he'd had to witness aliens and male pregnancy and ridiculous keys that 'unlocked your death'.
But now that it was over, it was a little sad. He'd die (again) before admitting it out loud, but he was going to miss Tex, and Tucker, and Caboose, and Doc, and Sheila, and Sister, and even, just a little bit, Junior. Hell, he'd even miss the Reds. They had been his life for the past four years; how could he not?
He had already left Blood Gulch and was pondering what a life in civilization would be like as a ghost living in a robot, when it occurred to him that he didn't really know how to live anymore. Obviously, he was already dead, though this was off the record thanks to Tucker's inability to communicate intelligently with command. There were things he could do. He could use a sniper rifle with something akin to efficiency. He could keep a group of idiots alive (though, not himself, so much). Unfortunately, he had discovered he could change an alien diaper very well (some strange natural talent). And he could be as mean as the best of them.
He knew these skills didn't exactly translate to everyday life. What the hell was he going to do with himself? What kind of career options did he have? What kind of life options did he have?
He had left with no more than a loud, "Fuck you, Blood Gulch, Blue rules!"
He was already regretting it.
The dock was swarming with Blues and Reds being reunited with family. Ironically, a lot of the families seemed to consist of soldiers from both teams. Church didn't expect anyone to be there for him; his family was busy, and it was questionable whether they even realized he'd left.
He was wrong.
He stopped and stared at her, her hip cocked to one side in that what are you starring at idiot way, her hands across her still armor-plated chest. That's right. She's a robot, now, too.
He approached her as one might approach a live bomb. "...Tex?"
"What?" She said, her voice dripping with amused sarcasm. "You knew I was coming with you, right?"
Tex managed to get a job, but she wouldn't say what it was, no matter how hard he pried. She left late in the day and sometimes didn't come back for about a week. Church still wasn't having any luck, though he had an interview lined up with a military information line opened temporarily for the second Covenant war. He was passing by a pet shop on his way to the nearby base when he heard the all too familiar voice.
"Um, but, cake."
He froze, and someone walked right into his back, emitting a string of curses at him. "Yeah," he said absently, backpedaling a ways, "And your mother, too..."
"Look, buddy, if you don't got money, you can't have the cat, and we don't buy toasters, so get the hell out."
"But I like kittens!" Came the partially distressed wail.
"Caboose?" Church called in disbelief.
The other man whirled around, saw him, and broke into a wide grin. "Church! I found you!" Church was in the middle of explaining that it was the other way around when he found himself crushed in a bear hug. He wheezed as the breath was knocked out of him by what appeared to be a very high tech toaster.
"Come on, Tex, we can't just leave him out in the street. He's helpless."
Tex was not happy. She pointed at the lightly snoring Caboose spread-eagled on the sofa, the toaster still clamped in his hands. "This place is cramped enough without that buffoon running around! Besides, you know there's not enough money for how much he eats. He's like a black hole, but dumber!"
Church thought for a moment. He wanted Caboose to stay (he wouldn't say it that way, out loud) for more than just pure obligation to take care of the man. He couldn't even explain to himself why he needed Caboose to stay so badly. It was just something that was.
That wouldn't work on Tex, though. He had to use reason. Deftly, he plucked the appliance from Caboose' fingers.
"We do need a new toaster."
A moment of silence descended between them, hovering in the balance of absolute violence and utter stupidity. She took the toaster from him. "Fine. But he's getting a job, and you're getting a job, and we're moving some place bigger." She punctuated the sentence by plugging in the toaster.
"Hello, and thank you for activating the M808B Toaster Unit. You may call me-"
"Oh, hello, Church. Would you like me to run the tutorial?"
The new place was filled with boxes from floor to ceiling. Caboose was at the table carefully counting pennies, Tex was lugging boxes two at a time, and Church was screaming into the phone.
"Who the fuck does Master Chief think he is?! He ends the war in a week and I'm out a fucking job! Yes, I'm going to take it out on you. Well, you know what, buddy, get him on the phone and I will! ... ... Okay, no, I was just kidding. No, really, it's not necessary... Uh huh... um... you have a nice day too... I guess... What? No, nothing, just, talk to you later."
"That was very nice of you, Church," Caboose said from the table.
"Sure, Caboose, thanks, go back to your pennies."
Ignoring the appalled groan as Caboose realized he'd lost count, Church grabbed the last box from outside and hauled it in, shutting the door behind him. "Whoo!" He said dramatically, wiping a hand across his brow. "Hard work. How 'bout a break?"
Tex looked at him incredulously. "You moved one box. The box with the hand towels in it. It was only half full."
Before he could respond, there came an insistent pounding at the door. "Church, man, you in there? Let me in!"
Tex and Church shared a look. Caboose looked up. "That door is making a lot of noise and sounds like Tucker."
Slowly, Church opened the door. Tucker stood there, half naked and covered in what appeared to be lime green Jell-O, grinning like an idiot. Junior was honking and blarghing at his heels.
"Tucker... What the fuck, man?"
Tucker pushed though door. "It's a long story. Can I crash on your couch for a while?"
A while turned to a week, then a month, and then a year. They'd gotten another bigger place. Caboose got a job at the pet store, Tex disappeared every once in a while, and Tucker was trying to explain to the local school that Junior was only giving that little cockbiter what he deserved. They weren't buying it. Sheila mostly just made warm, toasty breakfast.
Church finally found a job he was good at – customer service. His friends didn't buy it until he broke it down for them. Getting to sit around thinking of subtle ways to insult people? And getting paid for it? He couldn't think of anything better.
He was chuckling with Tex over peoples' inability to use toasters that came with tutorials when Tucker kicked the door in and threw the mail on the floor, as was his custom.
"That's real classy, Tucker," Church said dryly. Tucker shrugged and flopped down on the couch.
"I'm in the PTA. You can't tell me what to do."
Church wasn't positive that Tucker really knew what the PTA was.
"Caboose! Come pick up the mail!"
"I can't remember how to use Sheila!"
"Caboose, how many times?" Church asked, exasperated. "You put the bread into the slots and- you know what, I'll do it for you. Don't touch anything." Grumbling, he stooped to scoop up the mail on his way into the kitchen. After performing the apparently advanced act of making toast (and buttering it) he sifted through the mail.
He came across an envelope that surprised him. "Look at this. We got a letter from Sister."
"Ooh!" Caboose exclaimed through a mouthful of toast. His face was already covered in butter, and there were bits of bread clinging to his hair. "I ruff flettersf!" Tucker looked up curiously from the couch, and Tex looked away with feigned disinterest.
"Whfutsf it sfay, Chfurch?"
"For God's sake, Caboose, don't talk with your mouth full! It's almost as disgusting as Tucker's room."
He ignored the throw pillow that missed him by a mile and broke something on the table
"It says the Reds started some kind of company… catering to robots and cyborgs?"
"That might be interesting," Tex interjected, clearly listening more than she'd let on. "I've been beeping in weird places recently."
"Yeah," Church rolled his eyes, "Interesting like a ten megaton bomb in you stomach." He squinted at the print. "'Yo dawg, therez like a weddizzle on the way, yo'? God, somebody get that girl a thesaurus. Hey, listen to this. Doc's getting married."
"What?" Tucker laughed uproariously from the couch. "Who'd marry that loser?"
"Fuck, I can't tell. From what she says here… He's either marrying her… or Donut. Or both, I don't know."
"Well, that makes sense," Tucker conceded.
"It says we should be expecting invites this February. Only… in less words and punctuation."
"Ooh, weddings make me cry," Caboose said, dabbing his eyes with what was left of his toast.
"Sweet!" Said Tucker, "I just bought new pair of sweatpants. They'll totally be broken in by then."
"I'm not going," Tex said immediately. "She… or he will try to put me in a bridesmaid dress. If I go, I'll kill everyone."
"Come on, Tex, baby, you can be my date!" Tucker said leeringly. "You ever seen Wedding Sluts XXX III Part 2? Bow-chika-bow-bow!"
"I'll kill you Tucker, and that little fucktard of yours."
"Don't threaten my kid, bitch!"
"Ooh, Sheila will be my date!"
"But I don't have anything to wear."
Church watched the chaos unfold in front of him. He looked down at the letter. And he smiled.