When Wash ran into the room he could almost feel how the fight had gone, Carolina's anger and Tex's coldness fighting like seawater and lava, and underneath them the earth would crack.
He was the last one to arrive, although Florida, Maine, and South had stayed outside and created a perimeter for a landing zone. York and North were already there, looking at the two women as if unsure whether to evacuate.
Two women, just two -
Wash said, "Where's CT?"
He knew that this wouldn't end well - how could it, with what her betrayal had been? In what universe could it end well? But he had trusted in Tex to do her worst, because she was predictable in that, and he had trusted that he would see CT on the floor bound or hurt or something, because he also predicted that the Director was pitying or at least curious.
The Director would want to interrogate CT, and Wash could see her then.
But all that was his imagination running away from him, and in front of him was Carolina, turning toward him, saying -
"She's gone. Agent Texas hit her." Carolina looked at Tex, two tectonic forces glaring without human eyes, and Wash felt excluded from their private hatred.
Instead of asking again Wash moved forward, looking around as if he would find her behind a console. "Where is she?"
"She didn't survive that," Texas said without inflection, and perhaps not gloating was just enough kindness because Wash ignored who had done it (Tex, in the unconventional sense, outranked him) and focused on what had been done.
York clapped him on the shoulders.
"I'm not going to fall over," Wash muttered, but in truth he had been leaning. Maybe he was - dizzy and unfocused, he felt weak like the polar opposite of falling in love. For a moment he hated the feeling of his helmet covering his ears. The black floor, and the slight ocean smell of the air nauseated him. He pulled against York's hands but couldn't move, not with the other man gripping the armor over his shoulders.
"We have to go," Carolina said, still speaking to Tex. "The mission's over."
York's hands dropped to his sides. North said, "Did you get the data?"
Carolina finally looked at him. "It's gone too."
Tex magnetized her weapon to her back with a snapping sound as loud as armored footfalls.
The next person to talk louder than a whisper was 479. The others kept gravelike, Carolina and York's heads bobbing and turning as they talked to each other on a private channel. 475 had no compunctions, though - she was all bravado and wings. When she roared into the middle of the ship ard it was as if she were making an effort to cause even more destruction than the Freelancers had caused, blowing dust across the courtyard, an empty oil drum overturning with a hollow clang. "All aboard!" She called out, and the Freelancers climbed up the ramp, almost too many to fit now with Maine and Tex coming along. Wash found himself sitting between York and Maine, glad that Maine's shoulder like a wall kept him from looking at Carolina as she palmed open the door to the bridge.
"Did you find CT?" the pilot said, and the Freelancers looked around. Carolina at Tex, York at Carolina, Wash at the floor. Tex still staring into whatever plains she was seeing.
Wash wanted to tell them not to talk about it, but they wouldn't. He wouldn't. This was the war, and they had signed up for death. Maybe not death after such a labor of loss, but some death was supposed to happen.
Carolina said, "Texas killed her. The Insurrectionists got away with the data."
The pilot cursed, whistled appreciatively, cut the sound off like a gasp as if she'd realized just then that she was making it.
When they got back to the ship Wash didn't look at her, but then, he didn't always. Did he? Sometimes he said goodbye to the pilots. It was usually 479, sometimes someone else. All of them went by the names of their ships like the Freelancers were named after states, the order just as irregular. How many times out of ten did Wash say good bye? Five? Seven?
The problem was Wash hadn't been close to CT, not in the obtrusive way that Carolina and York were: CT was furtive, and Wash liked that about her: how she could not stand to be pursued except when they were alone. She was his one broken rule, his one misdemeanor: that he had dared to have a relationship with her, and he had thought that she liked the way he figured her out.
And near the end they were on opposites sides long before she knew he was watching her on the Director's behalf: she became withdrawn and he became suspicious, and once the cycle of suspicion began they could not be open with each other in any way again. The last time he held her he almost felt her skin crawl, noticed how she trapped his hands under hers so that he would not move to touch her in any way she did not dictate. Their relationship ceased to be exploratory and instead faded.
But that made it worse, because he could sit on the bench by the viewing window, the one window on the ship that was put there for psychological purposes because staring into the void was supposed to be healthy, and feel like she was still there. He wondered if it would have felt like this if their love had died some natural, suburban death, the distance across a kitchen growing too far to bear.
The door clicked and Wash turned around wanting to hit something. But it wasn't something easy to hit -
York, wearing a butter-yellow t-shirt that wrinkled at the armpits. Are you okay hung in the air, implied and forgotten just as quickly.
He said, "North said there would be lightning."
Wash said, "You ever wonder why we're here? She did, all the time."
York walked smoothly around the side of the bench to look at him, poking his shoulder into Wash's view of outer space.
"When I was assigned to Internals I thought she was acting guilty out of spite."
York said, "She did like spite."
"I didn't think they'd kill her." She was the first close friend or family member Wash had known to die and the ease with which the word came out surprised him until the chalky meaninglessness of it dampened down the surprise too.
York said, "Neither did Carolina."
Wash looked up. "Yeah?"
"She told me she protested it, even to the Director himself."
Wash looked down again, trying to see past his own knees, and realized that York's words didn't mean anything. "I don't blame Carolina."
(He would blame Tex, sometimes, although it was harder to blame a pillar of black metal and harder still later when his idea of what Tex was became all wrapped up in the idea of whoever, whichever woman he had loved.)
To York he said, "Stop psychoanalyzing me."
York sighed. "Sorry, man. I'm not gonna say it'll be okay. I thought you might want company."
I do, Wash thought, and nodded.
York sat down. "Are you all right?"
"I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to be."
"You're...you're...be whatever you feel." He laughed softly, acknowledging the corniness of it.
"I don't know. A little." A pause. Wash said, "I'm angry at CT. Whatever she believed...she got herself killed over it."
That's selfish, he told himself.
It is, he told himself. And right now I want to have it.
York said, "That's...not what I expected you to be thinking about right now, man."
You made me talk about it, Wash thought. You made me think. "Also I miss her. I'm angry about that. It's been two hours and I miss her so bad that..." Pause. "We weren't even that close."
"That doesn't matter," York said quickly. He patted Wash's shoulder. "You were close enough."
"You gonna be okay?"
"What else can I be? We have..." He struggled. "Things to do tomorrow." No Internals to talk to. Unless there would be a debriefing. Nothing had been announced yet. He wondered who would come for him, whether it would be the counselor or South. Maybe the counselor would actually counsel. Or try. Wash tried to muster up the courage to hate the soft-spoken man but couldn't find any solid surface to direct his hate toward. And besides, he was the counselor. He was in charge. He couldn't be changed.
Perhaps he could be hated, though.
York said, "Things?"
"Debriefing. Reading. Whatever comes next."
"Yeah. Yeah man, those things."
Wash wouldn't have to look out in the hallway, wouldn't have to worry about glares or a snappish comment from CT. Wouldn't have to think about how hunched she looked but how when she stood she was taller even than Carolina, who held herself like a linebacker even though the top of her head came to Wash's shoulder.
Wouldn't have to do all of those things that he was going to start to miss right -
"I'll be okay. Thanks, man." Wash looked at the window, back at York, and stood up to escape the stifling comfortingness of the room. Tried not to think about how the earthquake had come to the coast that didn't expect it (it should have been California, should have been him) and how Connecticut might be tearing off a map somewhere.
He headed back to the barracks. He thought about how if he was upset about something it was usually fear, not upsetness at all, like when he feared his jetpack would break (what happened that day was much worse) or the cats at home would die before he could get back. It was fear in case.
It was almost reassuring, he thought as he slumped into his bed and lay down on top of the blankets with the corner of the pillowcase in his fist, after weeks of wondering what would happen to her and years and years of fearing things, to know that the awful and terrible Worst Thing had finally happened.