Standing guard had become a habitual duty for the newly recruited Blue soldier, Washington. The name was still used, despite the fact that everyone knew his first name now, and that the Freelancer Agents had all wound up dead, imprisoned, or just missing.
He was just the special one. That whole "one in a million" deal seemed to happen to him a lot.
Standing on top of a green hill, staring out at Red base and their corresponding shoreline was nothing close to what he expected out of a retirement plan. It wasn't really like he was expecting to reach retirement, of course; and the idea that he wasn't in a mental health institution was pleasant; but after years of running around, trying to kill someone, avoiding being killed by someone else, keeping secrets and trying to get by day after day after day, the idea of standing guard from simulation soldiers lacked the certain type of spark he was used to.
No one else seemed to mind, of course. The Red team's Sergeant still drove on with that barely comprehensible amount of sanity, aided by the back up copy of that robot he had shot, who seemed to take the whole 'shooting you in the head' thing rather well, as far as Wash was concerned. Simmons continued to be a suck up, Grif liked to avoid work as much as he ever had, and they both spent a lot of time just standing around and talking. When Tucker mentioned that they were probably doing it, or at least denying their desire to, Washington decided that might have made the slightest amount of sense. And Tucker, of course, was probably the one that got on his nerves more than anyone else if only because he saw him the most.
There was a slight
gratitude he had for all of them, though; despite all the shit he put them through, they seemed to accept it easier than he ever could. The idea of something more or less resembling unconditional kindness was a bit refreshing compared to the quid-pro-quo life he had grown accustomed to.
So he put up with the week long schemes and the routine work and the fact that he might as well have been living in a dream for the amount of stuff he actually got done these days. And when he felt like his head was going to explode after Caboose broke the last dish in the base, or Simmons asked him one too many questions, he would excuse himself to 'stand watch'.
Most everyone chalked it up to typical freelancer bitchiness and let him stare out into the distance for a few hours. It suited him fine.
There were always exceptions.
"Doc - did something happen? Something important like Caboose shooting Tucker in the back?"
"Then why are you here?"
"I'm on break, so I figured I'd come up here and keep you company!"
"Break?" Who needed a break here? Even the scrapings of sleep he could usually collect through the night were slipping through his fingers without the typical exhaustion settling into his muscles after a day of work. Now there was mental fatigue a different kind than before, when he had Epsilon, or during the years after, when he was living in a mindset that at any moment things would change for the worst.
"Yeah, I get one every two hours
You're on break, too right?"
"No. I'm keeping watch."
"From the Reds?"
"You mean the ones that aren't fighting you guys anymore?"
"There aren't any new Reds around here, so yes. You can never be too careful." The words weren't said with any confidence, but there wasn't much in the way of an excuse. If he had said that he came up to relax, alone, Doc would probably just start talking to him about yoga and hot rocks.
"Alright then; you're a very suspicious person, you know."
"I'm also alive it pays to not trust people. Or places
"All I'm saying is that it wouldn't hurt for you to be a little more optimistic."
"What? Like you?"
"Well, I don't like to think of myself as a perfect role model, but-"
"You aren't an advice column, Doc."
That made the medic pause, and the words rushed out of Washington so fast that he didn't even have the time needed to force them back under. "You aren't any help either. I don't need help I don't want it. Especially not from you. You're worse the Counselor, do you know that? You can just stand there and tell me how to feel, and how I should feel. But do you even know how I feel? What it was like - being a Freelancer?" Watching my friends die, thinking that I was just going to follow them in every dream, every mission, every time I tried to think? And to fight through all of that to bring down Project Freelancer
He sucked in a breathe, glad that he could keep some of his thoughts inside. "And now my only ticket out of prison is gone for good, the Director is gone, and most importantly - I'm stuck here. Hiding. With the Reds, the Blues, and you telling me take it easy. Can you imagine how that feels?"
If his own history hadn't already been watered down to a manageable summary for the other soldiers, Wash might have had the idea to be embarrassed from admitting all of that out loud. But now there was only a slow simmer of anger, no longer bubbling over, but still waiting to start its slow climb up the edges of his insides again, waiting for the chance of escape.
And through all of that, Doc stayed quiet, several steps away. David had turned his radio off when he first headed out his helmet still managed to block the smallest sounds of wind rustling the swaying ferns, reaching up to grab at his armored ankles.
"Well? Not going to say anything?" He said, catching his breath and the temporary calm that went with it.
I don't know what to say," Doc admitted, not moving.
"You never had trouble talking before,"
"I know when not to talk, Wash."
"Well, maybe not. But sometimes, once in a while, I get to be right." David remembered the near year ago when Caboose of all people, had managed to come up with an idea to infiltrate one of the Freelancer Bases - despite his odd way of phrasing it. So sure; he supposed Doc could be right once in a while.
He wasn't really holding his breath waiting for it, though.
"At first I was going to say that I was sorry for everything that's happened to you; but you've probably heard it enough, right?" Washington blinked slowly. They were still stationed in their respective five foot minimum distance from each other.
"Then I was going to say that everything is going to be fine, from now on
but that might not be totally accurate, either. And if I told you to look on the bright side you'd probably just hit me. Again. And that goes double for hugging. Triple, maybe."
The cobalt helmet twitched in the smallest movements. After standing still, the bobs felt incredibly jarring.
"I guess I don't really have anything that you want to hear. Unless do you still hope sometimes, Wash?
A second or two slipped by as the other thought. "No," he answered. He couldn't trust people, he couldn't sleep a full eight hours without waking up covered in sweat and tears not needing to remember the particular night terror to figure out why that was. He would never see those lines on his face disappear, he would never be able to just 'forget' be fixed.
He might as well chalk up 'hoping' to another thing he came up short for.
"We all have different ways of dealing with things."
"I'm certain you don't have any problems."
"I didn't say problems
I said things."
There was something there, he thought. Doc seemed relatively average (Normal had been omitted from Washington's known words for obvious reasons.) There apparently was no change in his personality even if he only met him after he first became a host. The most noticeable shifts in freelancers occurred after an AI unit like O'Malley or Gamma left. Doc didn't act crazy or lost; he just stared off into space for minutes at a time, or left his radio on when he slept. Little things that were probably habitual.
It shouldn't have been like that, though.
He was tempted to turn and ask why Doc could stand to the right of him and act as ignorantly calm as he was. Maybe he did have problems. Well hidden, internal problems that he could ignore, suppress, hide; it wouldn't be the first time he had witnessed a silent mental breakdown; their final moments of sanity snapping with a scream, a cry, a suicide
that was how some agents went.
But he didn't ask. He stood, wondering how warm the sun would feel on his skin, if it could shake away the frigid sting in his fingers he had ever since seeing Tex for the last time. That moment where he was lying in the snow, vision blurry, everything shaking and bloody it was one of his closer brushes with death. And it was cold.
Sometimes, he wondered if maybe he could get better if he could do all the things that are impossible now.
But a part of him didn't want to: There was a part of him wanted to churn in his own guilt and rage and never let go. The memories and thoughts that coursed through his mind became so routine; so expected of him. It was like he could only let go through death.
So no, he decided. He didn't want to let go.
"You should probably go check on Caboose." That was a universal excuse anyone in Valhalla used when they needed to get away, or wanted someone else to leave. David used it a lot, though the extra wariness had probably cut down on total injuries, fires, team kills, and the like.
Doc knew enough to leave the agent alone when he used that gradient tone of voice, hands on a rifle that wouldn't miss. "All right." He said quietly, turning to go.
Another flash-frozen moment.
Doc gave himself a steeling breath. The intimidation of Washington had never completely left, but he never stuttered; only shut his eyes just in case the other came too close. That was better than jumping into the air or shuttering. He couldn't see anyone else outside, and with his back turned to go, he couldn't even see David.
"Is it okay if I hope for you? That you
Start sleeping, again.
Let the scars heal.
Get to where you need to be; wherever that is."
David imagined Doc crouching in his armor, eyes shut, shoulders bunched at sharp angles, waiting for him to do something in retaliation. He wanted to think that, if he turned around, that would be what he'd see. It didn't seem right, though.
He rolled his shoulders; dual earthquakes under his neck. "Hey, if it makes you feel better."
Doc didn't say anything else no thanks, or rambling. And even though Washington couldn't hear the footfalls, he knew that if he turned, he'd find himself completely alone in his vigil once again; overlooking Red Base out into a flickering, reflective sea.