A/N: Late Valentine's Day fic. Happy Valentine's Day!
South glared at the rose. The single, red rose that had been placed just outside the door to her room sometime last night in preparation for Valentine's Day. A rose would've been hard to get –the Director allowed the Freelancers to celebrate the day however they wished, but did not give them leave or provide them with gifts to give to their valentines.
So not only did she not know how the rose came to be on the Mother of Invention, but she didn't know who delivered it to her door.
There were quite a few names she could cross off straight away –York, who was completely loyal to Carolina; Maine, who was clearly uninterested; Wyoming, who routinely made it clear, through tone if not words, that he disliked her. Most of the women of the Project hadn't exhibited any same-sex tendencies, so South assumed it was a man who had placed the rose.
But which man?
South snarled, throwing the rose across her room. It lightly bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. Either some idiot had decided to play a prank on her (in which case, they would get beaten to hell if she found out who was responsible) or she had some secret admirer that had no creativity.
South pushed off her bed, grabbed the rose, and placed it on her desk. She just stood there, glaring at the damn thing, for what seemed like forever.
FILSS's voice made her jump.
"Agent South Dakota, you are scheduled for a simulation mission in fifteen minutes. I suggest you get ready."
Knowing full well that FILSS could see her, South scowled in the general direction of the speaker. She refrained from making a snarky comment, knowing that it would be lost on the AI.
Changing into her armour, South's eyes always strayed to the rose. She was being stupid. Probably just some dumb prank –there were a few guys in the Project she wouldn't put it past. But it was the idea that it wasn't a prank that she couldn't stop thinking about. Because if it wasn't a prank, then…
She didn't know. But it meant something, right?
South stormed out of the room, giving the rose one last look before slamming the door –a not unimpressive task, seeing as it was an automatic sliding door. The few troopers who were wandering the ship melted against the walls as she passed –they had learned how to tell through the armour the body language for 'murderous'. The one Freelancer she passed –Carolina –barely acknowledged her, far too preoccupied with…
South did a double-take.
Yes, that was definitely a jewellery box in her hand. Looked like one for a very expensive bracelet.
York, South thought. Where did he even get it?
Probably the same place Mr Nobody got her rose.
She entered the briefing room, last –she could tell from the Director's brief disapproving look. Her teammates were Wash, New Jersey and Maine. New Jersey gave her a sarcastic salute, and because the Director was watching, she didn't hit him as she took her place next to Maine.
He was the smuggler, wasn't he? The one who could get anyone anything. That would explain her rose and Carolina's bracelet. Guys had probably been putting in orders for Valentine's Day weeks in advance. South decided that it was unlikely that he had actually gotten the rose for her –he had never shown the slightest interest in anyone. So that explained how the gifts were getting onto the Mother of Invention. It also meant she could find out who'd ordered the rose, or at least narrow it down to the list of people who'd ordered a rose from him.
The orders for the simulation mission were similar to almost every other one they'd run: join a team (in this case, Red), and destroy the other team. South could've recited the entire briefing along with the Director, but somehow she doubted that'd blow over well. Although New Jersey looked damn tempted to, to boot.
After they were dismissed, Maine headed straight for his Brute Shot. It didn't have his name on it, but no one else dared touch it. South grabbed a shotgun and loaded it, while Wash lingered nearby.
"So… how's your, uh, Valentine's Day been, so far?" he asked.
South took a moment to stare him down before heading for the Pelican, where Four-Seven-Niner and New Jersey were having some sort of argument.
"I don't suppose a 'please' would change your mind?" Four-Seven asked in a last-ditch effort.
"Sorry, miss," New Jersey said. "I do respect my clients' privacy. If they wished for you to know who they were, they would've told you."
Four-Seven sighed and disappeared inside when Wash and South walked up.
So much for demanding a name from New Jersey. Of course, she might be able to get him to talk with a little 'persuasion'…
Stop it, South. You're being ridiculous. Who cares who gave you that rose?
Apparently, she did.
South threw herself down on one of the seats, and the other three were quick to pick up on her frustration and kept their distance. Maine tapped a finger against his Brute Shot, not really loud enough to be annoying. New Jersey looked like his helmet hid a giant smirk. It probably did. Prick. Wash –
Of course she had thought of him, but she had dismissed it. But now she knew how he could've gotten it, and that combined with the horribly concealed smirk on New Jersey's face and how Wash was fidgeting like that… it made a compelling case. A rose was exactly the kind of thing Wash would get a girl –romantic, yes, but very high school-ish.
Oh, God. Did Wash get her that rose?
South tried to decide how she felt about that. On the one hand, he'd taken the time to ask New Jersey to get something for her –and it might've cost him, too. She wouldn't put it past New Jersey to charge for a rose. On the other hand… it was Wash. The guy who, on first seeing her, assumed she was a guy, and spent the next five minutes sputtering out an apology when he realised that wasn't the case. He was sweet, she admitted, in a very dorky kind of way.
She definitely had some feelings about him getting her a rose. She just had to decide whether they were positive or negative.
"You know," New Jersey said, in a tone that made it clear he intended to cause trouble. "A lot of women –not just the Freelancers, but some troopers and desk jockeys as well –have been getting a lot of lovely stuff for Valentine's Day. I wonder where their men got them?"
So much for protecting the client's privacy.
Wash's fidgeting increased, and South rolled her eyes at the both of them.
"I hear Carolina got something pretty expensive. A bracelet or something like that. Did you get anything, South?"
Wash was very clearly blushing under his helmet. There was now no doubt in her mind it was him who got her the rose. It would be cruel to play along with New Jersey… but it would be entertaining.
"Yeah, actually," she replied. "A red rose. Pretty old-fashioned, huh?"
Wash's shoulders hunched.
"Well, can't beat the classics," New Jersey offered.
"Well, when compared to an expensive bracelet…"
"…but yeah, it was sweet."
She heard Maine sigh, and caught the big guy looking between the three of them. New Jersey, looking falsely nonchalant. South, carefully casual. And Wash, who looked like he was going to burst any second.
"So," New Jersey sounded smug. "Who do you think got it for you?"
Wash froze, giving New Jersey a glare and listening intently.
"Don't know," South lied. "Could've been anybody, really."
New Jersey shook his head and Wash breathed a sigh of relief. Did he really think he was being subtle? It was like he'd never given a girl a gift before. Maybe he hadn't.
That made her blush, for God's sake. Why should she care if he'd ever given a girl something for Valentine's Day?
The jolt of landing shocked her from her thoughts. The Reds greeted them as they left the Pelican, and one –a tall guy in light-ish red armour, their sergeant –stepped forward and explained their situation. Apparently the Blues had gotten more reinforcements than they could handle on their own, and Red reinforcements were too far away. Because that hadn't happened a million times before.
Maine walked away from the conversation first, leaving the sergeant sputtering and confused. Wash gave them an apologetic wave before following after him, and South left after giving the Reds one more glare –despite the helmet, her intent was clear. New Jersey gave them all a sarcastic salute, before nodding at the only female soldier on that team.
"Maine and I will go this way," he said. He made to grab Maine, then realised what he was doing, and just started walking into the tall rocks on the right side of the valley. Maine shrugged and followed him, leaving South and Wash to take the forested left side.
Real subtle, Jersey.
"C'mon, Wash," South growled, pissed at New Jersey's matchmaking. She still hadn't decided how she felt about getting that rose, damn it!
South kept well within the tree cover, heading towards Blue base with Wash trailing behind. The silence was just fine with her, but she could tell it felt much more awkward for him. Several times he seemed ready to say something, but always kept quiet in the end. As the Blue team's sparkly new jeep came into view, South was almost ready to slap him.
She whirled on him. "Did you get me the rose or not?" she snapped.
The question was a courtesy –she knew the answer.
Wash was shocked into silence for a few seconds, and then merely stammered for a few seconds more. "I… yes… no… um, ridiculous!"
"That doesn't even count as a sentence."
Wash stared at his feet. "I might've."
"You 'might've'," South repeated slowly. "It's a yes or no question. And that counts as a yes."
"Really," South said. Wash nodded, knowing he'd been beat. "Ok then. If you didn't get me the rose, who did?"
"He's got Carolina."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Um…" Wash struggled for a reasonably plausible name. He gave up quickly. "Ok, yeah. I got it for you."
"Why?" South asked. "North put you up to it?"
"What? No!" he yelled. "I did it because… I …um…" he trailed off.
"Is now the best time to discuss this?" he asked eventually. "The other two are probably –"
A series of explosions coming from Blue base cut him off. South turned to see a general panic erupting over there, and spotted Maine in the middle of it, with New Jersey not too far behind. They wouldn't be missing Wash and South anytime soon. And even if they did, South was not above making them wait. This was more important than a bunch of sim-troopers.
"Now's the perfect time," she told him. South let some –if not all –of the challenge out of her voice, showing she was willing to be civil so long as he was willing to answer her question.
"I got it because… I wanted to get you a Valentine's Day gift," he said. Apparently there was something fascinating about the leaf next to his foot. "York told me about New Jersey, about all the stuff he was getting for the other guys… I thought, y'know, I'd ask him. I couldn't really afford his prices for much more than a rose –York's order must've cost him for weeks –but…"
He stopped talking. South raised an eyebrow.
"You got me a rose," she said.
"That's probably the most romantic thing I've gotten for a Valentine's Day."
"Really?" he asked, looking up suddenly.
"Yeah," she nodded. No point in telling him she hadn't ever gotten much for Valentine's Day, other than some cheap chocolates a dumb jock kid had gotten her.
"So, um, now what?" he asked.
"How about this," South offered. "We help those two out over there," she gestured to the Blue base, "and then I'll see what I can get you for today."
"Great!" Wash yelled. Under normal circumstances, or even five minutes ago, she would've snapped at him for potentially blowing their cover, completely ignoring the slight hypocrisy in that statement. But not now –she'd decided something.
Her feelings about Wash getting her the rose? Definitely positive.