Mending Through Bloodshed

A/N: Set during the Chorus trilogy. Spoilers.

Agent Washington had made several mistakes throughout his life, ranging from the unimportant to the life-altering and anything in between. One of his biggest mistakes (and one of his greatest regrets) was his betrayal of the red and blue simulation soldiers. It was a selfish decision, thinking his freedom was worth the loss of a few pointless lives. After all, he was just following orders.

His actions that day still haunt Washington now. Donut and Lopez both are, thankfully, alive and well but Washington will never forget his cold indifference as he shot the two down. He can still hear Simmons' anguish in his head. He remembers his own surprise at seeing the Red mourn over his friend since all Washington had witnessed before was disregard or annoyance towards one another. He remembers how he watched Simmons try to save Donut, he remembers how he didn't care for either of their lives.

So much had changed since then.

Though the Reds and Blues are incompetent in almost every way, they are incredibly loyal—despite the rarity of their showcasing it—to one another. The Reds had made several comments amongst themselves regarding their fallen comrades, unintentionally yet effectively reminding Washington of his mistake. He had been present several times when Simmons or Sarge offhandedly reflected on something Donut had done or what Donut would have said. Once or twice he even heard Grif mutter a statement of mourning for his lost comrade. When Donut was found alive, Washington was so relieved that he could actually feel a weight being lifted off his shoulders. And he knew, despite their not showing it, that the Reds were happy. Soon after, a functioning Lopez was found soon after and it seemed to Washington that his redemption was underway.

The Reds were completely reunited and the Blues had Epsilon—or Church, as they called him—back in their ranks and Washington was able to work with Carolina again. Everyone was getting along and everything was looking up. These teams were now Washington's team—his friends. They had accepted him despite his traitorous actions and he made a silent vow that he was going to do everything to keep the team together, proving he was someone worthy of their trust.

And then they crashed on Chorus. Washington had hoped that his involvement on the ship wasn't the cause of the crash but he still took responsibility for the outcome. He was going to honor his vow and make sure they survived.

And then Carolina and Epsilon went and left without so much as a trace or farewell. And then Sarge took the Reds across the valley to continue with his conspiring against the Blues. And then Caboose found Freckles. Washington was beginning to wonder if the universe was against him. Between training a reluctant Tucker, watching over a distressed Caboose, keeping an eye on the distant Reds, dealing with Donut's pathetic excuse of a rescue mission, and trying to stay on Freckles' good side, Washington was pushed near to his wit's end.

Things went from worse to all-out Hell when the Chorus Federation attacked. They were pinned down and his friends were falling one at a time. Washington didn't have a choice; he had to separate the team or else they were all going down. So Washington cut off their escape route, letting Tucker and the rest flee with the rebels while damning his life and the lives of his fallen friends.

Yet another mistake on his part. Felix had fooled them all, convinced them that the rebels were worth trusting. And Washington let the bastard take his friends.

Doyle, the leader of the Chorus Federation, seemed like a good enough guy, but Washington didn't trust Locus as far as he could throw him. Washington didn't care about the civil war or the Federations objective, he just wanted to get his team back together. If they had to unite with the feds to accomplish that, fine. So he made a compromise: he and his team would help with any task as long as he received any and all information on his captured teammates and the opportunity to rescue them whenever he found it appropriate.

Doyle was more than willing to help provide all information and assistance, but he was hesitant about giving the approval of a rescue mission. With Locus whispering disapproval in his ear, Doyle was even more conflicted with the idea. Washington hated how easily the federation leader was manipulated by the mercenary. It didn't help that the mere presence of Locus made Washington feel on edge—constantly feeling an oncoming doom. Regardless, Washington didn't care. He decided that when the timing is right, he is going to launch his rescue with or without consent.

A couple weeks had gone by now and they are no closer to their goal than before. Every time they got any valid data, Washington and the Reds would hurry out only to wind up with nothing. Washington kept growing more and more suspicious towards their source of information. He went out on almost every mission, often partnered with Sarge and always led by Locus. It didn't go over Washington's head that it was always Locus who was acquiring the supposed "valid intel" either. He didn't trust the guy and possibly never would. Doyle, Dr. Gray, and several soldiers tried to convince him otherwise but Washington wasn't biting. The mercenary just couldn't be trusted—he knew it.

The morale for the Reds was at an all-time low, too. Two weeks of chasing after goose eggs wasn't relieving and Washington knew they were worried about their teammates, Red and Blue. He didn't know about Lopez, but Sarge wouldn't stop talking about getting Simmons back and even made the rare comment about Caboose; they were never nice words but they were nicer than his comments about Grif. Washington also noticed that the red leader was a little more self-sacrificing than usual while they were in battle. However, it was Donut who was the most vocal about his grieving depression.

He was still his cheerful, flamboyant self around the federation soldiers but Washington often found him speaking solemnly to Lopez and asking Sarge non-stop rhetorical questions like, "I bet Grif is eating right now, don't you?" or "D'you think Simmons and Caboose are getting along?" or "What do you think Tucker's doing?" When Washington and him are alone he is always more subdued, almost quiet. He still rambles on and on about useless things but he isn't merely as annoying like when he's around the other Reds. Washington surmised that it was probably because Donut doesn't feel comfortable around him as he does with the others, which is understandable. Or Donut is doing everything he can to keep everything like normal and give his red friends some sense of comfort. Or probably both.

Washington had mentioned his concerns to Dr. Gray once and she agreed to most of his assumptions, but had then diagnosed him with acute paranoia and recommended a few trust exercises. He walked away from that conversation insulted in more ways than one. He never considered himself paranoid, just cautious. But after that conversation, he began to wonder about it. It wasn't until one interaction with Donut did he notice a growing paranoia—one he had never before felt.

It was in the early morning when Washington made his way to the showers. He had been out late going over some reconnaissance plans with the usual night crew and decided he was going to take a shower before a much-needed nap. Most of the showers were empty at such an early hour so Washington was surprised to see Donut in the locker room.

He was mostly naked, just putting on his under armor. Washington was struck and he just stared dumbly at what he saw. Donut's back was to him so he could see the jagged scaring of the exit wound from when Washington had shot him.

Donut must have felt Washington's presence because he glanced behind him and jumped when he saw the freelancer standing there, staring at him. "Agent Washington!" He turned to face him and took a step back. "Good morning!"

Washington didn't say anything for a long second. He could now see the entry wound. It wasn't as large as the exit wound but it was still just as rough and ugly. Having just come out of the hot water from the shower, the scar tissue was starkly light and puffy, standing out on the man's chest. Donut quickly slipped on his under armor shirt and Washington shook out of his reverie.

"Hey, Donut."

"Aren't these showers great?" he said as he began to apply his plated armor. "So many guys can fit in at once—I love it!"

Washington ignored the last statement. Donut had a way with words that just made him feel uncomfortable. Normally, he would have walked away from the conversation, but he really needed to shower. A sudden thought crossed his mind. After all he had done and after the Reds and Blues accepted him, Washington never apologized to Donut. They always went about each other acting like the incident never happened. But now he stared his mistake in the face and he was completely plagued with immense guilt.

"Hey, Donut?" Washington waited for the other to look up from his uniform before continuing. "I'm sorry. I know this is way overdue and I'm sorry for that as well, but I want you to know I'm really sorry. What I did to you at Valhalla, I, I was wrong. And I'm glad you survived."

Donut had slowed in his armor assembly as he listened to Washington, slowly absorbing the apology. A second later, he was smiling his goofy smile and focusing back on finishing putting on his armor.

"Yeah," he started, "that was a surprise. I didn't expect getting penetrated in the front."

Washington ignored that last statement as well. It was discomforting, but Donut was just being Donut. When it seemed he wasn't going to say more, Washington continued.

"I also wanted to thank you."

"For what?" Donut didn't look up as he put on his last plates.

"For helping me. Both you Reds and the Blues welcomed me on your team. It must have been hard, especially for you."

"Yeah, it's not easy. But it doesn't matter anyway. After all, the guys trust you, so I trust you." Donut finished putting on his armor and grabbed his helmet, shutting his locker. "Good talk," he said with a wave. Then he was gone.

Washington stood there, watching Donut's back disappear, and felt at a loss. The whole exchange seemed rather rushed to him. Donut's responses seemed off too, though Washington couldn't put his finger on the reason why. A sinking feeling formed in his gut as a suspicion came to his mind: Was Donut afraid of him?

Washington could find it understandable. After all, he did shoot the guy and leave him for dead, manipulated his friends, and entrapped Epsilon.

Washington shook his head to get the thought out of his mind. He had to stop thinking like that. He was just being paranoid. Donut acted normally around him and he had just accepted Washington's apology. The private was probably just rushing out because he had somewhere to be. Or maybe because he was uncomfortable that Washington saw his scars.

"Ugh, just forget it," he told himself as he began to undress.

...

He couldn't get himself to forget about it. In the days that followed, he began to analyze Donut and all his tiny mannerisms and found one consistency that he had never before noticed. Every time Washington approached Donut, the man would always take a step back. It would always be one step, whether or not Washington's presence was expected. The step would be just small enough to where it didn't seem out of place or draw attention. Washington wondered if Donut was even aware he was doing it. It could just be a matter of subconscious reflex or a newly developed survival instinct. Either way, he always did it around Washington and only around Washington. He never took the step with Sarge or Lopez; not even around Locus.

While he was in Project Freelancer, Washington and other solders often felt uncomfortable with other members. Not all of them, but he often worried about getting on South Dakota's bad side and Maine walked around with such a ferocity that Washington was always put on edge.

So why did Donut's discomfort bother him so much? It was certainly justified. Washington wanted to know but even more-so he wanted to fix it. He tried to think back on the trust exercises Dr. Gray had mentioned but he had walked out in the middle of the conversation and forgotten it. He could easily ask her for the recommendation list again but how would he approach the subject with Donut?

He was contemplating his options when he was called to the communications room. When he entered the room, he was greeted by Doyle, Locus, and Donut, who took a step back.

"Sorry to bother you so suddenly," said Doyle. "But we're getting a feed from Garcia!"

"He's alive?" All thoughts of distrust and exercises were pushed aside as he rushed to stand next to Donut so he could get a better read on the screen.

During a recon mission, Garcia and the rest of his unit went missing during a retreat. The feds assumed them dead and cut off the search.

"Yes, he's alive, but damaged," Doyle went on to say. "He was able to fix his radio to contact us but he's stuck."

Sudden Spanish garbled through the speakers of the console. The video feed on the screen wasn't working it seemed so they were relying entirely on the audio. However...

Donut began to speak his broken Spanish back to the mic. He then turned to Doyle. "He says his storage files are unharmed."

"That's splendid! Tell him we're working on a rescue team."

"Why is he only speaking Spanish?" asked Washington. Last he recalled, Garcia could speak English too.

"Oh, he's only been able to speak Spanish but his helmet's been able to translate for him," explained Donut. "But he says his translator is broken."

"Wait," interrupted Washington. "We have technology like that?"

"Well, of course," said Doyle. "This is the future, after all."

"Wait, isn't this the present? Never mind. Why don't we give Lopez one of those helmets?"

"Unfortunately, the rebels stole them all. You'd think by this time there would be more bilingual people. Thankfully, we have Donut here." Doyle gave the mentioned soldier an admiring glance. "He even volunteered to go out and bring Garcia home."

"Every soldier should get to come home," butted in Donut. "Plus, it gives me a chance to get some fresh soil for my garden!"

"Did you get his location?" asked Doyle.

Donut nodded. "Yes. I also learned his favorite colors and where his sister works."

"Where's he at?" asked Washington.

Donut moved to their holographic map display and up-linked his information. He pointed to a blinking light displayed on the map. "Right there."

Washington looked at it with a frown. "That's near enemy lines."

Doyle pointed to a marked flag on the map that represented an enemy base. "Garcia said it's abandoned. He hasn't seen any rebel soldiers."

Washington didn't feel comfortable about the idea. "Could be a trap."

"Locus mentioned that possibility," said Doyle. At the mention of his name, Washington gave a sideways glance to the mercenary standing quietly at the side. "We decided it would be best to send a small team of two so they can move in and out without detection."

"A team of two?" Washington tried to remain calm. He was feeling even more uncomfortable. "And you want Donut as one of those two? He's not trained in stealth."

"True," said Doyle, "but he's our only bilingual soldier. With Locus with him, I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Locus is the other of the two?"

"He is the best stealth operative we have. It's merely logical to—"

"No." Washington left no room for argument. "I'll be going with Donut."

"What?" asked Doyle.

"What?" asked Donut at the same time.

"I have stealth training and I'm familiar with emergency first aid. I have field experience with Donut and have done several search and rescue missions. I'm taking this mission."

After a moment of hesitation, Doyle nodded. "All right. We'll provide you with a warthog and a med kit. The two of you should prepare for departure."

"You're just sending to two of us?" asked an alarmed Donut.

Washington regarded the pink soldier for a moment. He hoped the other was concerned because he was part of a team of two and not because he realized he was paired with Washington specifically.

"Couldn't we, at least, bring Lopez? Garcia understands English. Locus will be able to communicate better with him than me."

"But he doesn't speak English," countered Washington, referring to Garcia.

"Sending three people is too risky," said Doyle. "Otherwise we'd send a medic. More than three would require something bigger than the warthog and that's big enough as it is."

"Oh, I see," said Donut, downtrodden.

"We leave in thirty," said Washington before he started out of the room., giving the quiet Locus a passing glare.

Thirty minutes later, Washington entered the hanger to find the warthog ready and Donut nearby, speaking with Lopez.

"And I guess that's all I have to say," Donut was saying. "Huh, I—expected that to be longer. Now, you promise to give that to Sarge?"

Lopez responded in the expected Spanish that Washington couldn't understand.

"Thanks, buddy! I'll miss you too!"

Lopez said something else but Donut ignored him when he realized Washington had joined them. Donut greeted him with a casual step back and said, "Oh, hey, Wash!"

"Hey, Donut." He nodded towards the retreating Lopez. "What was that about?"

"Huh? Oh. I don't know how long we'll be so I asked Lopez to do a favor for me. Dr. Gray brought us a medical kit and Lopez double-checked the warthog for us so we're all set to go."

"Good," said Washington with mild surprise as he climbed behind the wheel. He hadn't expected Donut to be so proactive with the mission. He figured it was because Donut really wanted to get Garcia home, safe and sound. Or perhaps Donut wanted to get their mission together done and over with as soon as possible.

"You aren't wanting to triple-check anything?" Donut was looking at Washington, slowly making his way into the passenger seat.

"Nope. I already checked my weapons and I trust Lopez if he cleared the warthog." Admittedly, he was fighting the urge to give everything a look-over, but trust is a two-way street. If he wanted Donut to trust him then he had to trust Donut. Washington looked around. "No Sarge?"

"He came by earlier," said Donut cheerily. "He said that when we die we're not allowed to haunt him."

"That's optimistic," Washington replied dryly. "Was that really all he said?"

"Well, he also said some offensive things. It just wouldn't be the Sarge if he didn't insult someone."

Donut laughed but Washington didn't see the humor in it. They could possibly be driving into a trap and the red leader couldn't offer any words of encouragement? Perhaps it was in Sarge's nature but it troubled Washington. He could think of nothing to say about it as he turned on the engine and drove off.

The drive was spent in silence. It was too risky to have the radio on and Donut was being uncharacteristically quiet. Normally, Washington would have appreciated the silence but now it was just unnerving. Perhaps Donut was just worried about the mission. Or perhaps he was worried about Washington.

It didn't help that every time the freelancer glanced at the private, his attention was completely absorbed in the scenery. Washington had considered several times to start a conversation but he was never an outgoing guy and couldn't think of a topic. Well, there was one topic he wanted to discuss but he didn't feel it was the right time. However, the more he thought about it the more he believed this was the perfect time. They were alone and this was the opportune mission for some "team bonding."

After several quiet moments of mulling over how to start the conversation, Washington grew flustered and decided to just come out and say, "Are you scared of me?"

"What?" Donut asked, having not heard him.

Washington took a calming breath and turned to face him. "Are you scared of me?"

"...What?"

Donut was looking back at him now and Washington wished he could see his face through his helmet. "Are you scared? Of me? Do I scare you?"

"That's kind of an unfair question, isn't it?"

Washington didn't expect that. "What do you mean?"

"If someone is asking that question to someone else, the person asking is either a friend or foe to the one being asked. If the guy asking is a foe to the guy being asked, the guy won't want to say yes and let his foe know he's scared of him and give him the satisfaction of being scary. And if the guy asking is a friend, then the guy asked won't want to say yes and ruin their friendship. And if they say no to either friend or foe, even if it's the truth, they probably won't believe him because they already have reason to believe he's scared of them to the point where they would ask the question in the first place."

Washington was struck dumb. "I..." He started slowly, floundering for a response. "I guess you're right." Neither said anything else during the rest of the drive. Washington now felt guilty for bringing up the topic and his once-subdued paranoia flared to new heights as he wondered into which category he fell.

Finally, the beacon on their navigation system chirped. "This must be the place," said Washington.

They had followed a narrow road that snaked through hills until they came to an alcove. Before going further, Washington parked the warthog in an obscured hiding place. "We'll walk from here. Take point and keep you head low." It was unwise to put Donut on point, Washington knew, especially since he wasn't trained in stealth, but the freelancer felt better when he could see the private. He had a feeling that if he let the other out of his sight then he'd surely die.

"Wait, me take point?" Donut was alarmed and staring at him.

"What's your problem? You've taken point before. And that was during battle."

"Yeah, but," he hesitated. "But you said there could be an ambush."

"All the more reason for me to stay in the back," Washington countered. "I can keep an eye on all sides. Just keep a lookout for Garcia."

"Are you sure? Because I'm really good at watching the rear."

"I bet you are," Washington said dryly as he nudged Donut forward. "Just go."

Donut reluctantly took the lead without saying another word, though often glanced behind him. He led them under a rocky overhand and into a natural cave. In the back could be seen a makeshift shelter.

"There's Garcia!" Donut rushed over to an outcropped stone near the front of the cave.

"Wait!" rushed after, making sure to stay low. "You're supposed to be stealthy, remember? You can't just..." He trailed off as he pulled up close.

Donut was crouching over Garcia, who was lying down at an uncomfortable angle. It wasn't until he had gotten closer when he realized the pool of blood and the bullet hole in his helmet.

"Washington? I think he's dead."

As reality plummeted, Washington did a hurried scan behind him. He saw at least three heads in black helmets poking out from the opposite hill.

"Get down!" Washington shoved Donut behind the rock, quickly diving behind a thick boulder. He felt a bullet barely bounce off his shoulder plate.

"Washington! Are you okay?!" Donut's yelling could barely be heard over the barrage of bullets hitting the stone in front of him.

Washington didn't bother answering. He timed their shots and took the chance of firing back with his pistol. He cursed when his shots missed and ducked back behind the boulder. He switched his pistol for his assault rifle.

"What's going on?! When did the rebels change their armor color?!"

"Those aren't the rebels." Washington risked a glance and saw more black armored soldiers charging them from the hill. He tried to get a better look but flying bullets were a heavy distraction. He could see the helmets had white lettering on them but he couldn't read them. All he was able to surmise was that these guys weren't the rebels and definitely not a friendly. "Can you read their helmets?"

Donut was alternating between taking shelter and firing back. "No. I thought those were just decorative stripes."

Washington sighed his frustrations and took a few more shots. Between the two of them, they were able to take quite a few out but a handful was still charging and the three snipers at the top of the hill were relentless. He could feel his boulder of a barrier diminishing from the onslaught.

Washington was taking aim for another shot when his head was jerked back. A bullet had pierced the top of his helmet, damaging some of his systems. "Son of a bitch!"

"Washington?!"

The freelancer looked over at Donut. The pink soldier was staring back. Washington offered a reassuring gesture. "I'm okay. But we're pinned here. We'll have to come up with a plan of retreat."

"Retreat? We can't retreat now."

"Yes we can." Washington glanced over the boulder and turned back to Donut. "If we focus on their left forces we can rush our way out with some cover fire—"

"What about Garcia's files? We can't just leave them. He had intel on the rebels—maybe even where are friends are!"

"Donut, the mission is compromised. There probably is no file on our friends. It was all a lie to get us here."

"No, that can't be true. We owe it to our friends to get those files." He looked down to the fallen soldier at his feet. "And we owe it to Garcia."

Washington was flabbergasted. "A mission doesn't become a success just because you say so! We'll retreat for now and find our friends another way."

"How? When?!" Donut was starting to get angry. "They could be hurt and I'm not going to wait any longer to save them. I didn't come all the way out here just to go back with nothing!"

Washington was taken aback by Donut's display of anger. He had never before seen him angry. But, he wasn't going to bend. "Don't be stupid! A file isn't worth our lives."

"Maybe so," Donut admitted. "But my friends are!" He gave a quick glance to their assaulters and shot a few rounds before turning and springing towards the shelter.

"Donut, where are you going? Donut! Dammit!" Washington stood his ground and did some cover fire.

He was able to take down a couple more soldiers, but they were persistent. If Donut was going to be a fool, then it was up to Washington to get their asses out of there. He only wished the federation as able to provide more resources. He and Donut each were only provided one grenade each and very limited ammo. If they were going to survived, then Washington would have to do something drastic. He wanted to save his grenade for an exit strategy but, with Donut's actions, he didn't have much of a choice. At this rate, he was going to run out of bullets before they ran out of men.

He timed their shots for the prefect time then hurled himself over his boulder. A couple steps out gave him view of the rocky overhand and he pulled the pin on his grenade and chucked it. The explosive stuck to the rocks. grabbed his pistol and took careful, precise shots as he rolled to dodge. The overhang blew and heavy chunks rained down between Washington and the small militia. At this time, Washington used the distraction to take down a few more of the closer soldiers before the dust clouded his vision. He was about to take a final shot when a sniper bullet tore through his armor and pierced his bicep, another scraped his hip.

The blows caused him to lose balance but he used the momentum to fall into a roll. He took a couple sloppy shots as he dived behind cover. He crouched next to Garcia and held his left arm.

"Dammit," he cursed. The compression suit inside his freelancer armor would apply pressure to the wounds to prevent blood loss and further damage so a soldier could keep fighting, but the injuries still hurt like a bitch.

"Agent Washington!" Donut was racing back from the shelter, firing his rifled as he approached until he slid down next to Washington. "You're hurt," he said in disbelief.

"It's just a scratch," he responded. "I can still run. And shoot. But if we can't break through their forces then there's no chance for a retreat."

"Should we call for backup?"

Washington shook his head. "There's no way we can hold our ground until they get to us. Besides," he tapped the side of his helmet, "my radio is busted. Here, give me your grenade. I think I can—"

"Oh, that's right!" Donut pulled his grenade off his belt. "We have grenades!"

"That's our last one," Washington was quick to warn. "We should use it as a distraction."

"No, wait." Donut looked out but quickly ducked his head back with a scream when a bullet ricocheted off the rock in front of him. He turned to Washington. "I have an idea."

"What are you—?" Washington was interrupted when Donut suddenly jumped over their cover and began to run to the mouth of the cave. "Donut, what are you doing?! Get back here! Donut! Augh, dammit!" He took out his rifle and started shooting.

Donut ran to the small rock wall that was now just outside the cave. He took the pin out of the grenade and took aim as he swerved between flying bullets. "Take this, assholes!" He threw the grenade and slouched behind the wall. The grenade arched high, passing over all the soldiers and sticking to the highest point of the hill.

"What the Hell kind of throw was that?!" yelled Washington from his hiding place. He was pissed. That was their last grenade and now it was wasted.

When the grenade blew, none of the soldiers paid it any attention, keeping their focus on firing. None of them noticed the giant rock plummeting down towards them or the tons of dirt coming down with it.

One of the highest snipers was the only one to look up. "AVALANCHE!" He barely had the chance to scream the warning before the large boulder crushed him as it rolled past, his body immediately being buried by the wave of dirt. The other soldiers began to scramble, but the dirt and debris was falling a lot faster than they could run.

Donut was screaming as he ran back into the cave. He dived gracelessly behind the cropping, pushing Washington down with him. They could feel the earth trembling under the force of the avalanche and could hear the soldiers screaming until every single one was buried alive. The duo stayed low, even as the dirt began to overflow into the cave, covering them in a thin layer. Donut waited just a moment longer before getting off Washington. He stood up and began to wipe away the dirt from his armor. "Well! That was fun!"

Washington also stood, staring at Donut in disbelief. "How did you know that would happen?"

Donut took out his rifle and the two began to walk to the front of the cave, scouting for any survivors. "When I was looking for rich soil, I noticed how unstable the earth was on that hill. It was just a matter of time, really."

"That's...amazing. I'm really impressed," admitted Washington. He paused. "You were really looking for soil for your garden?"

"Well, yeah. With our resources so low, the feds need to rely more on grown crops. But have you seen the garden? It's amazing any plants grow at all! I've been doing the best I can but that soil is just awful."

Washington was completely stunned. He never realized how insightful Donut could be. "That's good thinking." The two finished scouring the scene and found no survivors. "I still can't believe that worked."

"Not everyone can be a believer," said Donut as he walked up next to Washington. "Are you okay?"

Washington rotated his left arm and applied pressure to his right leg. They were more than sore, but if he didn't put too much strain on the muscles then he'd be okay to move. At least he didn't have to shoot anymore. That recoil was a bitch. "I'll be fine. The sooner we get to base the better. Come on."

"When we get to the warthog, I can patch you up," offered Donut as they headed out. "I'm really good at tending to men's needs."

Washington mentally shuddered. "You're really good at that, too."

"At what?"

"You always make innocent statements sound...uncomfortable."

Donut looked earnestly shocked. "I do?"

Washington didn't have a chance to say anything else. The sound of two gunshots echoed through the hilly valley. He watched in horror as a shot struck Donut square in the chest and another pierced through the far side of the visor on his helmet.

Acting on pure instinct, Washington whirled around with his rifle aimed. There was a single soldier covered in dirt with a missing helmet and cursing at his jammed pistol. Washington didn't hesitate. He pulled the trigger and fired the remainder of his bullets directly at the man, showing no mercy. He turned back around just as Donut hit the ground with a pained noise.

"Donut!" Washington knelt down next to him. Donut was gasping, choking, as his body convulsed. One hand was groping his chest blindly while the other was fumbling desperately with his helmet.

"Wash—" he choked. "I—I can't—!"

"Breathe, Donut," Washington encouraged. He tossed aside his empty rifle and moved to help Donut remove his helmet.

Once the helmet was removed, it was also tossed aside and Donut took a couple mouthfuls of air. There was a burn mark along his left cheek and his ear. The bullet was close, but at least it missed. Washington then diverted his attention to the bleeding chest wound. The bullet seemed to have struck the edge of his armor plating, but it wasn't enough to stop it. Washington just hoped that it was enough to slow the bullet down.

"You'll be fine," Washington said as he applied pressure to the wound.

Donut gasped and instinctively began to resist, pushing at Washington's hands. "That hurts—stop!"

"We have to stop the bleeding," Washington snapped back. The wound might not kill him but the bleeding certainly would, and there was a lot of blood. Washington felt a wave of panic. They were in some serious trouble here. Donut tried to say something but all that came out was a pained choke. "Just breathe, Donut."

Washington looked over his shoulder towards the warthog. It was still a while away and the tires were half buried from the avalanche. The best option available to him that he could see was to run for the med kit then dig out the vehicle after patching the both of them up. He was about to make his move when he saw something that made his blood run cold. Two soldiers in black armor ran around from behind a hill and noticed the warthog.

Washington cursed under his breath when the soldiers saw them next.

"Who the Hell are these guys?" Washington was moving before he registered it. He hunched over Donut and moved to grab him under his arms. "Hang on," he said as he dragged Donut to the nearest, biggest rock.

Donut gasped at the sudden pull. He was about to protest but a few gunshots in the dirt by his feet shut up any complaints he had. "What's happening?" he groaned out in a panic.

"More soldiers," Washington grunted. His arm and hip were throbbing. It was hard to move and his arm threatened to give out be he wasn't going to allow it. There was no way he was letting go of Donut.

Once they were behind some shelter, Washington propped Donut up against the rock and Donut pulled out his pistol. His face was pinched in pain but his eyes were open and alert. "How many?"

"Just a couple." Washington un-holstered his own pistol. He looked at his weapon with scrutiny and wished he hadn't emptied his rifle. He looked to Donut and was surprised to see his missing. "Where's your rifle?"

Donut did a minute nod to the side. Washington followed the gesture towards the open area they had occupied earlier. There it was, left in the dust, sitting next to Washington's discarded rifle and Donut's damaged helmet.

"Of course that's where it is." He weighed his options. He could probably do some damage with his pistol, but he didn't want to risk wasting shots. The rifle would be a better option. If he could get the rifle, he could clear the way, use the warthog's radio to call for help, and snatch the med kit. The warthog wasn't too buried, maybe he could just drive it out. The attempt might be worth more than the risk of getting ambushed again while shoveling it out. Decision made, Washington said over his shoulder, "Stay here," before diving out into enemy fire. He felt their bullets bouncing off his armor, but didn't stop. He landed into a roll, grabbed Donut's gun, and had it cocked and ready by the time he straightened back up. He fired with careful aim as he charged between rocks.

His hip was slowing him down but he grit his teeth and pushed through. He was able to take one guy down, but the victory was short-lived. A bullet shot off the side of Washington's helmet, cracking his visor. He stumbled and fell, there was a ring in his ears.

"Washington!" Donut's voice was like an echo in the background, reminding him that he had to keep moving.

Shaking his head, he looked up from his lying position. Through his cracked visor, he could see black boots running past him. His brain was struggling to explain what he was seeing as he turned to see Donut firing from his hiding spot towards the trooper now racing his way. Because of his limited movement, Donut's shots were sporadic, missing the enemy trooper with every shot. The trooper was closing in and Washington panicked.

"No!" Washington scrambled to his feet and forced his body to move forward. The soldier had his gun aimed. Donut wasn't shooting back anymore. Washington tried to aim with his pistol but the cracks in his visor were impairing his vision. He didn't think twice. The trooper didn't see him coming. He threw himself and tackled the trooper down. In the same instant, Washington shoved his pistol against the trooper's helmet and pulled the trigger. A moment passed as Washington collected himself and caught his breath. No more shots were fired. They were safe, for now. He scrambled off the dead body and removed his helmet before rounding the boulder where Donut was hiding.

The private was hunched over, hugging himself, as he struggled to breathe. Washington put his hand on the private's shoulder to help straighten him back up. "Donut?"

The touch must have startled him. Donut reacted quickly, pushing Washington's hand away and aiming his pistol at the freelancer's face.

"Whoa!" Washington threw up his hands in a peaceful gesture. "Donut, it's me."

There was unbridled fear in Donut's eyes, lined with pain and anger. "I don't want to die, Wash."

"Yeah, me neither. Put your gun down."

"No!" Donut cringed. He switched his grip on his weapon from both hands to one as he pressed one hand against his bleeding chest. "I won't let you leave me in a ditch somewhere."

"What are you talking about? Why would I do that?"

"I know what you did to Agent South. I know how you shot her down, blew her up, and left her remains in a ditch where no one could find her. She was your teammate, right? Your friend?"

Washington shook his head. Did the Reds and Blues share gossip now? "Agent South? She was a traitor," he argued. "She shot me first and left me for dead."

Donut's eyes flared with anger. "And you shot me," he snapped.

Washington paused. He stared at Donut dumbly and slowly lowered his arms. He was filled with mixed feelings. His paranoia was finally proven true, but now he knew, without a doubt, that Donut didn't trust him. It made sense, but the realization troubled him more than he had expected it would.

"I'm sorry," said Washington slowly. "That was a mistake and I regret it every day. I would never do that again, to any of you guys. We're friends now. Right?"

Donut waited a beat before shaking his head. "It doesn't matter, remember? After all, the guys trust you." His glare wavered and he finally lowered his arm, dropping the gun carelessly. "But the guys are gone now. Simmons and Grif are probably dead. Lopez never liked anybody. And Sarge...Sarge just doesn't care."

"Don't talk like that." Washington didn't know what to do. Patching up an injury was one thing, but mending emotions was something he was very inexperienced in. And very uncomfortable with. "We're going to find the guys. And Sarge, well, he'll probably shoot me if I don't get you home."

His words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Donut wasn't even looking at him anymore. Washington sighed. "I'll be right back." He used the peaceful moment to rush for the warthog, grabbing their helmets as he passed. A quick assessment informed him that the warthog was undamaged and there didn't seem to be any more reinforcements. He radioed the base and alerted them to have Dr. Gray on standby, grabbed the medical kit, and rushed back to Donut. His body was screaming at him to stop but he couldn't yet; not until he got the both of them back to base.

When he returned to Donut's side, the private didn't regard him. His eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing. With some coaxing, Washington was able to get Donut to help remove his armor. It was a slow and arduous task, but they got it off and Washington assessed the injury. No exit wound, that was good. The bloody hole was only a couple of inches away from the scar Washington made, but he tried not to focus on that. From the looks of it, the bullet struck bone on his sternum; another good thing. Minimal damage, but still dangerous. The sooner they got back the better.

"This isn't so bad," Washington said as he patched up the wound. "You've survived worse."

"Right," said Donut, breath hitched. His eyes widened with sudden realization and he reached into his storage compartment on his hip. "Here. Give this to Doyle." He offered a small data storage device. "It's the information off Garcia's computer."

Washington tenderly accepted the drive. "You were able to get it?" He stashed it away. "Sarge will be proud." The two of them were able to get Donut back into the under armor, but didn't bother with the protective plating.

Washington quickly addressed his own wounds. They were worse than he thought, but his armor was protecting the worst of it. Dr. Gray will be able to fix him without trouble.

Once he was done with himself, Washington gathered up Donut's pink plating and made his way back to the warthog. As he dumped everything in the back with the helmets, he noticed an empty burlap bag. Washington picked up the bag and realized it was for the soil Donut was wanting to collect. He regarded the bag for a long second. He had to dig out the warthog anyway, so might as well put the dirt in the bag. In a matter of minutes, the bag was full and the warthog was free.

The process took longer than he hoped and he was about to drop. He was regretting the decision to dive back himself. It was faster and less dangerous now the threat was gone, but he was exhausted. It didn't matter now. He didn't know how much longer Donut could hold out and if he radioed for an escort now it would take way too long. He had no choice.

Washington drove the warthog to Donut's location only to find the private sleeping. He was still holding his chest and there were deep lines creased on his brow. Washington frowned in sympathy. He wanted to sleep too, but not yet. He gingerly shook Donut's shoulder, slowly rousing him.

Donut looked up at him groggily. "Wash? Where...?" He looked around in a daze.

"Come on, man," said Washington as he helped him stand. The two of them almost fell a couple times but they eventually got to their feet and into the warthog. The effort put a huge strain on Donut, leaving him gasping for breath and coughing. Washington was sitting next to him miserably. He had no idea how to help other than drive as fast as he could.

"Wash—?" The voice was almost pleading.

"Just breathe, Donut. We'll be home soon."

Next thing Washington knew, he was waking up in the infirmary. Something had woken him up and he shot up to look around. There was an armored assistant on him immediately.

"'Morning, Agent Washington. How are you feeling?"

Washington considered the question. His injuries were barely a dull ache. "I feel fine." He tested the limbs with a shake; there was barely any pain. Dr. Gray was good. "I feel great, actually."

"I'm glad to hear that. We were also able to repair your and private Donut's helmets."

Donut! Washington looked around again but found he was the only occupant in the room. His stomach felt like it was caught in a vice. "Where is he? What happened?"

The assistant was very calm. "You don't remember? Well, you did suffer a pretty bad head injury."

As if on cue, a dull ache began to form in the back of his skull. He probed his finger over the skin and found a tender knot. When did that happen? "What happened?" he pressed. "Where's Donut?"

"You fell asleep at the wheel, sir. Your foot had floored the petal and the automatic GPS tracking guided you back. You two came speeding through our checkpoints. You eventually crashed into a communications tower. You woke up and gave us the storage unit, but a piece of the tower fell down and hit your head. And you were out like a light."

Washington stared at him. That at least explained the sudden headache, but he couldn't remember if Donut had been buckled in. "What about Donut?"

"Hm? Oh, that's right. He's fine. Private Donut has already been released. A few days of R 'n R and the occasional check-up and he'll be right as rain. Dr. Gray said you're free to go once you've fully woken up. She'll need to look you over first. She should be outside with the private—"

Washington was pushing himself off the bed. He felt fine. He just wanted to see Donut and make sure he was all right. His helmet was on the side table and he grabbed it. "I feel fine now. I'll go see the good doctor and be on my way."

If the assistant had any protests, he didn't vocalize them. Washington wouldn't have listened anyway. He put on his helmet and walked out.

He was greeted by a heated argument between Sarge and Donut. The sergeant was currently sputtering over his words in his anger.

"—the way you treat your equipment! I worked on that warthog myself! All that time and effort—wasted!"

Lopez shot Sarge a look and began to say something but Donut talked over him to defend himself. "But, Sarge, I wasn't even the one driving—!"

"Because you were being your useless self in the passenger seat!"

"But I was injured!"

"But I don't care! If you hadn't let yourself get shot, then you wouldn't have crashed my warthog! I ought to shoot you right now," he growled as he drew up his shotgun.

Dr. Gray, who had been standing to the side and quietly observing the spectacle, finally stepped in. "Okaaaay, surgery is fun, but if you put a bullet in my patient, I'll have to put one in your head," she said in her typical chipper tone. "Oh, Agent Washington, you're awake."

Upon Dr. Gray's announcing his presence, all eyes were on him. Sarge leveled his shotgun, aiming it at Washington.

"And you! I should have known not to trust a dirty Blue! It was just a play all along to dwindle our numbers and sabotage our equipment!"

"What?" Washington pointed at his dark armor. "But I'm not a Blue anymore."

"Once a Blue, always a Blue," Sarge recited.

"You know what's interesting?" butted in Dr. Gray. "I recently developed a serum that's meant to heighten one's pain receptors to the point of a mental breakdown from a mere pinch. I haven't been able to test it because no one here is courageous enough to volunteer. What do you think, Sarge? Up for a test of strength and will?"

A silenced filled the room. Everyone was looking at the doctor now, too mortified to say anything. Lopez was the first to break the silence. It was a short sentence but the only thing Washington understood was "Yes."

"You're right, Lopez," said Sarge, putting away his gun. "At lease we still have our jeep. C'mon, Lopez, we better get to it." He then took his leave with Lopez following, muttering to himself.

Washington watched them leave before turning to address Dr. Gray. He hesitated when he noticed she was scanning him with a handheld device. "Hey, do you really have a serum like that?"

"Every girl needs a hobby," she said as she read the results. "It looks like you're all good. Just don't run any marathons. Well, I've got some rats to test so I should get going. Your next check-up will be in three days. Don't be late~!"

Washington said nothing as she left, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Donut stepped up next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, Wash. Glad to see you up. How are you feeling?"

Washington shifted his weight and rotated his arm. "I feel fine. How about you?"

Donate rubbed his chest. "It can be hard to breathe sometimes, but I feel great." He paused a moment. "Thank you, Wash. You really saved my life."

Washington shrugged, feeling embarrassed. "It was nothing. We're teammates now. I wasn't going to just leave you back there."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Washington wanted to say something but he was hesitant. He opened his mouth several times but nothing came out.

"I can't believe we slept together in the warthog. And I didn't even have any protection," said Donut, motioning with his hands to indicate a seat belt. "When we exploded—"

"Please stop." Washington sighed.

Donut shifted in place. "Sorry. I know I can make things uncomfortable."

Washington shook his head. "No, it's okay. Keep doing what you're always doing. You're just being you."

Donut looked at Washington and nodded. "Okay. Oh, hey, one of the girls mentioned a bag of dirt. Did you do that?"

"Well, the warthog was buried and you said you needed it, so I just killed two birds with one stone."
"Good thinking, Wash. I totally forgot about that. I guess that's why you're the leader."

Washington opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted when Doyle joined them.

"Oh, good, you're both up. I have to say, I was worried after the way you two crashed into here. Are you both all right?"

Donut offered a thumbs-up. "I'm doing A-okay, sir. I'll be able to thrust my all behind you and the rest of the men soon."

Washington cringed and Doyle seemed momentarily at a loss for words. "That's...great?" He cleared his throat and turned to Washington. "How about you, Agent Washington? Emily said something about the back of your head looking like the Orion constellation."

Washington rubbed the back of his head subconsciously. "I'm fine. Did you get the data unit?"

"Oh, that's right. I'd almost forgotten. The data you two retrieved is a gold mine. We have enemy locations and agendas! This very well may change this war as we know it! And this part will interest you both." His voice grew serious. "We have the location of your friends."

Only one thought crossed Washington's mind as he shared a glance with Donut. "Finally."