It had been a good two weeks, and that was all they could really ever ask for.
Wash had seen it first, had been pulled into Kimball’s office with a barely subdued Close the door behind you, Agent Washington hissed through clenched teeth. The body language spoke louder than her words, and after listening, he understood why.
He left the room an hour later with the same clenched teeth, the same tightened fists, the same urge to yell at the unacceptable bullshit of the universe.
A debate raged on who to tell next, to spread this stupid thing like some communicable disease. He ultimately went with Sarge, who threatened the mystery with a violent promise that even Wash was impressed by. Simmons next, then Grif, finally Doc and Donut, the latter sworn to a secrecy that Wash hoped like hell he could keep, especially after his expensive lavender-scented Shea butter was cruelly threatened.
It was, in truth, questionable at best, something he was fully aware of going in.
But the Blues couldn’t know, not yet. Not while the wounds were fresh and he could hear Tucker and Caboose still playing the final audio recordings over and over again in the middle of the night. Not when Carolina still had that look in her eyes. They weren’t ready for whatever was going on out there. They weren't ready for a truth that had no ground to even start to fight on.
News reports were avoided, and most of the guys didn’t care; too many politic pundits kept their fickle attention spans for a maximum of forty-seven seconds before they started physically fighting for the remote. The battles lasted as long as it took for Sarge to steal the treasured controller away and turn it to his favorite “stories”, long-lasting soap operas that were as seemed to favor him, Donut, and Lopez. Tucker would roll his eyes and go somewhere (anywhere) else, and Caboose would ask why the twin sister is replacing the kidnapped wife as she married his husband even though he was dead last week.
It worked. It worked so damn well and Wash wasn’t happy, but he was satisfied. There was no enjoyment in lying to them, but it was the price of protecting them, and that was all that he needed to keep reiterating to himself.
It was for them.
He shoved down the murmurs that it wasn’t any different than what the past had done to him, what the Freelancers and the project had crafted with well-placed deceptions and half-truths and slight-of-words. This was totally different. It had to be.
Two weeks. Two weeks when the whispers started, but that wasn’t what parted the curtain.
It was Sarge’s stories.
Oh, Chase, I’m sorry that I thought you were your dead twin’s father, but now we can be together with the baby I gave away but dramatically found again once ratings dropped--
Or rather it was the Breaking News that cut through said stories, and a reporter talking about infamous colorful space marines.
Not about ending a war; that was old news, ancient, lost in short attention spans. This was new. This was exciting. This was—
“Is that—“ Tucker started, slowly standing up.
And Wash dove for the remote, stopped by the only person in the room even faster than he was. Carolina pinned him, grabbed and twisted his arm behind his back as she slammed him against the wall effortlessly even as he struggled. She wasn't looking at him, though; her eyes glued to the discarded blue helmet with blood smeared and splattered against a golden visor filling the screen.
“You really don’t want to watch that,” he tried, and the fact that he just ratted himself out wouldn’t sink in until later.
But she was. They all were: Carolina with him pinned, Caboose with an excitedly low whisper of that name, and Tucker standing with hands clenched into shaking fists at his sides. The silence was as telling as the Reds looking away, and the dynamics of the room had the ingredients for a nuclear bomb, living, breathing right here.
“And the Reds and Blu—“
The shower of sparks and glass did nothing to jar the tension in the air, Tucker’s sword embedded into the screen of the television. “What. The. Fuck. Was. That.”
"Someone's been taking drama lessons from Was--" But the sentence was cut off as Simmons elbowed Grif in the side, glaring.
There was nowhere to hide from the burning fire of Tucker’s glare or the weight of Carolina’s, and Wash found himself slightly wilting in her grip. Shit. Shit, because they weren’t supposed to find out this way; he had fucked up. Badly. “Look, we know it's not you--"
"--no shit, Sherlock."
"--but we're working on it. Kimball's got people--"
"Fuck that!" Tucker's yell-growl was enunciated with raised shoulders, the sword still buzzing in one hand, and Wash could see it, could see the grief still sharp and bright in his eyes. This wasn't about assholes using them, using their names; they were used to being seen as something they didn't ask for. Heroes. Saviors. Pawns. Simulations. Whatever the flavor of the week was.
To Tucker, this was about Church. The one person who couldn't bitch about it anymore. The one person without a voice. The sacrifice and the guilt that Tucker had to live with, the silence that Carolina had to fill, the friend that Caboose couldn't rebuild anymore.
It was made personal, not because of their names, but because of an AI that was far more than just that.
Wash's own past with Epsilon couldn't make him feel the same, but staring at Tucker now, he lived vicariously through him, through his pain and rage and grief, could feel it burning off Carolina's muscles. He had played the part too well, old learned habits coming back to bite him in the ass, and --
"I'm sorry," he said, half into drywall, half to all of them. "I should have told you--"
"Damn right you should've!" Tucker snapped back, but the anger was looking for an outlet that wasn't Wash, something to break apart. Later, they would sit under one of the water towers and talk about this, sometimes with raised voices, sometimes with low whispered honesty, completely with a vulnerability that neither wanted or cared to admit. It was the same when Tucker asked about his choices being shit, or rashes, or yelled about his friend. But that was later, before they left Chorus to find this shit out, after they made the loosest of plans that consisted of Find the fuckers, kill the fuckers.
"Look, it doesn't matter who knew what when and fucking why," Tucker started, his eyes settling on Caboose, on Carolina, on the Reds and finally on Wash. "Fact is, we fucking know now--"
"We would probably know more if someone hadn't lost his shit and got all Stab Happy with a completely innocent telev--"
"Shut up, Grif," Tucker shot back.
"Church is our asshole to drag through the fucking mud. No one else's." The sword's buzzing died in the room as the blade dissipated. Brown eyes were narrowed, staring at Wash, not asking for permission but instead, giving the flat line. This was nonnegotiable. This was absolute. This was his healing, the thing he needed to get over the Denial and the Anger and move onto the next stage of the Grief Ladder. "So, let's go find these fuckers and remind them."
The unspoken It's not like we're exactly scary, dude and How the fuck do we even find them was left unanswered, ignored. They'd make it work. They always made it work. And while Wash finally was let go from the wall, his eyes flickering from Carolina to Tucker, he made sure not to comment on the fact that Tucker was still using present-tense when talking about Church.
He should have told them from the beginning. Sometimes, he forgot they were stronger than when he first met them, that Chorus made them stronger.
Sometimes, he forgot that he needed to have a little faith in his team.
It felt good knowing that memories - especially memories of gone AI units - were as equally as cherish by the people left behind as they were by the owners themselves.
"Let's go find these assholes."