Ace had always been too fucking careful. He worried about everything – fingers always moving and questions coming out of nowhere. Rook shook his head once more as he slowly unbraided his hair.

Ace had always liked the braids. Liked grabbing on to them. Liked the feeling they had as they ran through his fingers (or so he said). Liked to twirl the blue one when they lay together, sweaty and lazy. Rook ran his fingers through the zigzags of blue and yellow. He didn't need the braids. Not anymore.

"Whatcha doing?" asked the red-haired man, not moving from the doorframe.

Rook glanced up, then grinned. "Getting' my war braids."

Ace laughed, running a hand through his own wavy locks. "Wanna be our little Ke-Han?"

"God. Gonna be a fucking Ke-Han god," he replied, finishing the braid and tying it with a tiny leather strip. "Got a problem with it?"

The older airman shook his head. "Someone's gonna call you Cindy."

Rook cracked his knuckles. "Not more'n once." He smiled like a cat, incisor playing with his lip. Ace stepped in the sparsely furnished room, kicking the door shut.

"Hell of a high, ain't it?" He jerked his head toward the girl's room.

"Fuck yeah," said Rook. He knew his eyes were shining, but it didn't matter. "You were worried about me."

"Why would I worry about a runt like you?" teased Ace.

"Shouldn't. But you do." Rook moved closer until he was nearly standing a hand's breadth from the other man.

"You shouldn't do that," he breathed, quietly.

Rook looked up at him with the most innocent eyes he could manage. "Shouldn't do what?" He leaned forward.

"Be… close. Makes people nervous." Ace took a half step back.

"You were already nervous 'bout me, 'member? Signed up to be on duty with me everything."

"Did I? Why would I do a fool thing like that?"

"You fucking know why," said Rook with no malice.

"You sure?" He airman stared at him, challenge in his eyes.

The blond man had never been one to turn down a challenge. Not from an attractive man giving him eyes like that.

Rook threw the pile of leather ties against the wall. What did it matter now? Signing up for the same nights for the chance of a moment in the showers together, the late night visits, the games of fucking darts. He threw his fist into the wall, tears beading on his lashes as the pain lanced up his arm.

"You shouldn't do that, John," says the voice behind him.

"Don't fucking call me that," he snaps.

Thom puts a hand on his shoulder, sending spikes of pain through his body. "I'm just worried about you."

"Don't."

The hand withdraws and Rook sighs a little in relief. "I can't help it."

Rook resists the urge to say "no shit," knowing it's a part of a different conversation than the one he's having with the professor. "Just don't."

"I'm sorry about them," says Thom from the doorframe.

"Sure you are," he replies. Rook picks up the ties, spinning them in his fingers. Five fucking years. Five fucking years and nothing to show for it anymore. No letters, no trinkets, no pictures. Ace was too fucking careful. They were the best. They were the best and now they were nothing. No more braids, no more flights, no more darts, no more nights. That was what came from being fucking careful.