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Four of a Kind

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"Awww, c'mon, little didn't hit him or anything at Xulod!"

"That's...that's not exactly a selling point, York, it just means I managed to show enough fucking restraint because it was a social event that was meant to force us all to be friends for a few goddamn hours!"

York smiled despite the near-froth that was flung from his companion's jaws. Wash's raving against this idea bordered on absurd, considering what a small request it was. Yes, it was a proposal for recreational time, which his best friend was notoriously bad at...and yes, it was intended to be shared with the two people Wash might have hated more than most...but dammit, they all had this weird connection between them. It only made sense that they'd try and spend a little time together. They all knew the kind of life that came with running a rebellion, or at least having a relationship with someone who was. And they all knew what it was like to have a partner who opposed them in nearly every way, yet who simultaneously completed them in a way no one else could.

"Yeah, but...he doesn't hate you, and he really wants to spend more time with us!" York allowed his eyes to widen just a hair, and the effect was amusingly instantaneous as Wash all but stammered to a halt before forcing himself quickly to look away. "I know you can't stand rec nights with everyone else here at the why don't we start small? With guys who understand us, who we at least don't have to worry about giving us weird looks, or not getting what we do, or--"

Wash sighed and raised a hand while rubbing at his forehead with the other. It made York a tiny bit guilty, but he'd also been learning more and more that, sometimes, his partner needed a touch of persistence to agree to things he'd otherwise dismiss without a second thought. Maybe it was a little screwed up...but then again, what about their lives wasn't at this point?

Their on-going mission to end the War -- to take down Freelancer and the House and bring justice -- had grown far beyond a shallow grave; it was a towering spire, its pinnacle somewhere beyond the clouds. And beneath it, their personal relationships were the ground from which it sprung, promising verdant fields of soft grass dotted with brilliant flowers, but littered with jagged rocks and broken glass. Yet somewhere between the shadow of their impossible rebellion and the pitfalls of their communal bonds was a small but perfect meadow, eternally sun-kissed and free of unseen hazards. A place where they could all relax, without arguing or fighting, without bleeding or apologizing.

And maybe one stupid card game with Wash's two least-favorite people on Sirca wasn't going to reveal that sacred glen...but maybe...maybe it was a step in the right direction.

"York, why are you so hung up on this? You have other friends, why can't we plan something with them instead?"

York tried a smaller, less egregious smile. "I'm pretty sure you don't like most of them, either. You remember last time when you agreed to hit the bars with North and me?"

It came out too easily, and York's own heart twisted around and clenched as he glanced aside for a moment. He felt Wash shift and look up at him, appreciating the way his friend reached up and gripped silently into his forearm. It'd been a couple of weeks now, and York had done his mourning. Samael had been there to help, too, in the way only stupid introspective rednecks could. It still hurt more than most of the others they'd lost along the way, though.

"York, I...if that's why you want to do this, I unders--"

"No, isn't," York interrupted in a murmur, bringing his eyes back to Wash. "I still miss him, yeah, but. He's not the first friend we've lost doing this, and he won't be the last." Wash sighed but kept their gazes locked, even if York could feel the way he wanted to look anywhere else. "But it would be really nice to have some time when we can all relax, the way the bat-party was supposed to be." Wash pursed his muzzle but couldn't seem to find a reason to protest quickly enough. "That and...and not everyone, uh. You know...knows about. Us, but--"

Wash looked at him flatly. "That's because there is no...I...I mean..." York's heart creaked to a stop and he tried desperately not to look frozen in place, even as he was sure his eyes barely masked the agonized cry that sounded from his soul. "We're...we're partners, and we're best friends, but I' and I, we're." Wash exhaled sharply and clenched his fists as if gathering whatever strength he could. "I know that we've shared...things. Sampi, and at Xulod...and your, uh. Your..."

"Terrible blowjob?" York ventured as he allowed a trickle of entertainment to run through him, a mild salve for the ache. Wash sighed again but gave a faint smile as well.

"Yeah. But--"

York took a step forward, letting his muzzle part into a wider smile. "Aaaand don't forget those lessons!" he added playfully.

It looked like it might have been enough to break through the walls as Wash huffed and scrubbed at his muzzle. " could I forget?" he mumbled. York walked forward again with a hopeful expression before Wash shook his head once. York felt it like a steel beam against his gut. "I...told you I'd need time, though."

Wash's words in that hayloft echoed through York's memories, the way they'd been doing as the days had ticked past since that night, days that had slowly morphed into weeks. He'd told Wash he'd understood, and he'd meant that. He would always be there for him, for better or for worse. And even if he wished that things with Tex could just be broken off, he knew Wash too well to believe that would ever come so easily. But they'd inched forward after that stupid but oh-so-memorable moment in Wash's office. One step closer for them both, Wash's pace hesitant and nervous while York had all but leaped without question. He was ready to give anything for his best friend.

"I still don't think it's fair for you, York," Wash mumbled as his shoulders at last slumped and his chin dropped to his chest. He flinched when York swooped forward to embrace him tightly, struggling a bit but eventually sighing in resignation as he accepted the comfort, or at least gave up trying to prevent it. "I know you're still...being you and it's not like you aren't being, um. Taken care of, but..."

"Hey...hey, it's okay, Wash," York interrupted softly while rubbing a massive hand between his companion's slight shoulder blades. "I'll repeat myself as many times as ya need to hear it -- I'm gonna be here for you, now, and..."

"...And always, I know," Wash murmured for him before cautiously letting one arm wrap around York's waist in return. "You know I still want you to be there. That...hasn't changed."

"Yeah, it better not, 'cause then I'd have to actually cry, and you'd feel actually bad," York teased as he leaned back far enough for Wash to scowl up at him. He didn't miss the genuine flicker of concern on his partner's features, though, and York smiled while shifting a hand up to squeeze Wash's shoulder. "Just a few hours, playing poker with our friends. There'll be booze, there'll be snacks, nothing crazy!"

Wash grumbled even as he reached up to squeeze into York's wrist. "There was booze and snacks at Xulod, too, and you remember how that turned out."

"It turned out pretty goddamn great in my book," York replied softly. Wash's eyes flit up to meet his as something between embarrassment and -- lord, was that longing? -- passed across his companion's features. "Things were good, things were bad, things got downright sour but...we were together at the end." Wash shifted his weight as he threw a guilty look into the corner of the room. York decided not to pay it any mind, keeping his thoughts only on the honest truth. "That's what matters to me most, little buddy."

Wash took a second, then sighed as he shuffled his paws. He looked close...though York fully expected at least one more protest.

"Ugh, and they aren't...they aren't even our friends," Wash huffed. "They're your friends. Hell, after what happened in Lamtha, I'm not even sure Andee is your friend, either!"

There it was. York smiled despite himself. "Hey, for what it's worth, Andee didn't even try to stab me last time we ran into each other."

Wash arched an eyebrow. "So not attempting murder is your universal indicator of friendship status?"

"I our line of work..." York offered a trademark grin as Wash glowered up at him. "Com'on, buddy, I know you can't stand Sammy, but maybe this will help! After all the times we've worked together and -- I know you're gonna bring it up, but what happened with my leg on the flashbang job was once -- we always got it done quick and clean, otherwise. He's a good friend and one hell of a rebel."

"Nothing the two of you do is ever quick or ever clean," Wash retorted snippily before his shoulders finally relaxed somewhat, a look of faint amusement crossing his features. "God, he is frustrating, and his methods of being a so-called rebel are--"

"Honestly, not all that different from mine," York interjected with a gentle smile, earning an immediate scowl.

"But you've had training, we were at Specials, and Freelancer, and..." Wash trailed off when York only continued to give him a half-pout, half-smile. His hands were still raised with his frenetic gesturing and he eventually dropped them with a resigned sign. "Ugh, you...really are desperate for this dumb get-together, aren't you?"

York didn't mind the little twinge of guilt. Wash wasn't wrong. And York still believed firmly this was something they could all use. "I sure am!" he sang, shifting to pull Wash to his side as his smaller companion mumbled but didn't try all that hard to pull away from the huge arm around his shoulders. "And not just me! Sammy's just as excited, you know! It was his idea for all four of us to be there!"

Wash flattened his expression once more and crossed his arms. "Yeah, Samael is excited to hang out with me, he's enough of an idiot that he's forgotten nearly every one of our interactions has been me yelling at him, insulting him or some combination of the two." Wash paused and then added drolly: "Oh wait, he probably is enough of an idiot." Wash shifted his weight slightly again before glancing up at York. "How long have you two dumbasses been planning this?"

York gave a crooked grin. "Uhhh...not as long as you think..."

* * *

"Sammy...g-goddammit, we were s' be drying off..."

York kept a hand on his damp chest as he wheezed while Samael snickered and rolled off his broad frame to flop out on the warm rocks next to him. "Ayyy, don't blame me that yer li'l pink pal wanted an encore!"

"Oh yeah, just go ahead pretend your blue friend didn't leave a mess all over, too," York retorted as he squinted over at Samael and then gestured to his chest. "The whole point of getting in the water was to clean up!"

Samael's grin was the usual affectionate yet entertained affair, and he knew as well as York that the complaining was superficial at best. "Uh huh, you keep tellin' yerself that, buddy. E'rytime we been in the Vossler, we both ended up wet! Anyway, consider it a debt repaid after you nearly gave me a heart attack chuckin' me off them cliffs!" York smirked despite himself as he wrapped a burly arm around Samael's shoulders and squeezed him to his side before they both tilted their heads back to gaze up at the warm Honkal skies. Samael snuggled close and idly looped a leg around York's while letting his claws dance through the cream fur on the larger male's breast. "So you feelin' a li'l better 'bout treatin' Miz Wash to a proper muzzle-matin'?"

"Geezus, do you have a weird redneckism for everything?" York blurted even as he chuckled and lazily flicked his tail against Samael's thigh to send a spray of salty water across his companion.

"Sure as shit do! In case yer curious, what we just did's called 'bouncin' butt-stuff'!" Samael replied cheerfully. York snorted and leaned over to headbutt him gently as he laughed and reached up to flick York's muzzle. "Hey, you asked!"

"Yeah, yeah, I've been regretting asking you anything ever since I asked if your motorcycle was big enough for two," York chortled. He didn't have to look to know Samael's happy smile was there and the duo took a moment to savor the memories. It'd only been a couple of years but goddamn, did it feel like ancient history now. So much had happened lately...but as nervous as it all made York, he wanted nothing more than to keep pursuing it. It felt like there was a chance for a real future with Wash and holy hell, if that didn't make him crave doing whatever it took to get there.

Even taking blowjob lessons from his second-best-friend, torturous as that'd been.

...Yeah, right. And he hated to admit it, but he was feeling more confident about trying that particular act on Wash again. Now he just had to find the right moment...

He grinned to himself before glancing over as Samael twined their tails together. "Ay, York...I been thinkin'."

York laughed. "Oh lord, what'd I tell you about doing that, huh? Most ideas you have end up getting one of us shot, ya know!"

"Haw, or some'a the best sex you ever done had, so that ain't the worst coin-flip on the ring," Samael fired back playfully before he smiled up at the drifting clouds as his fingers blindly felt out York's key and stroked it slowly. York closed his eyes but didn't feel the usual melancholic pulse. Maybe it was the afterglow, or maybe it was just because Samael always knew exactly what he was doing and saying. He might not have known who the key was for, but he sure as hell knew what it meant. He didn't evoke its presence unless he had something emotionally-charged on his mind. "Anyway, you remember what I said earlier? 'Bout Wash 'n Andee havin' some things in common?"

York huffed as he brought his free hand up to cover his face. "Christ, like all this stuff you and me are doing to ourselves isn't already ridiculous enough..." He groaned but couldn't resist eventually peeking through his fingers at his friend. Samael wasn't grinning, to his surprise, and his expression was unexpectedly thoughtful. York should have figured by the caress across his key. "...Okay, I'll bite." He lowered his hand and then lightly squeezed into Samael's opposite shoulder. "What crazy idea is bouncing around inside that empty head of yours? Because I'm pretty sure you can't top what you pulled off getting us invited to a bat-party."

Samael chortled softly and poked a claw into his friend's chest. "Hey, now, don't go doubtin' all the crazy shit this smooth-brained Sampian could go 'n come up with!" He smiled while lifting a leg and jutting a paw idly toward the crystalline waters that surrounded their sordid little paradise. "BJ Island turned out to be a nice li'l idea, after all!"

York guffawed despite himself, elbowing Samael back gently. "Okay, I'll give you that one, though I'm not sure how your follow-up lesson could possibly be any more memorable than this one."

"You jus' gimme a week or two on that'n," Samael responded with a wink before his warm smile returned, dangerously irresistible. York almost looked away if only to stave off his immediate agreement with whatever came next. "So, a'right. I been thinkin'. Y'all known Andee for a minute, longer'n you've known me."

York squinted down at Samael before grunting and letting his eyes shift back up toward the blue skies. "Yeah?"

"Right, 'n y'all know me pretty good so far, too -- I'm over at L-Base 'bout more'n any one else from Sidewinder--"

"--Because Nelson uses you as an excuse to avoid having to do it herself!" York interjected as they both laughed.

"You ain't lyin', you ain't lyin'! But y'know what I mean -- you'n me, we're obviously good pals. An' me 'n CT, we get along just fine, too...hell, I ain't had no sparrin' session as helpful as the last one she put me through!"

York grinned fondly at the recollection. "She called you her favorite little training dummy, said you took a hit like no other -- even if the point was to learn to avoid the pole!"

"Haw, yeah, that's me, avoider of poles," Samael jeered before his expression softened a bit, York automatically glancing down for their eyes to meet. "An', spirits hold 'im tight, I considered North a good pal, too."

York nodded slowly and pulled Samael close again. "He liked you plenty too, Sammy. That job the three of us pulled hasn't been topped yet, you know..." He chuckled and Samael joined him in gentle laughter for a second or two. "So what're you getting at? You've befriended just about everyone in Lactan between us and the bats -- we won't count South or Tex because they don't like anyone -- so what gives?"

Samael smiled wryly. "South, Tex an' yer li'l squirrel." His eyes were there to catch the awkward look York couldn't hide and York grimaced a bit while rubbing at his throat slowly. "Aw, y'ain't gotta feel bad, hon -- lawd knows it ain't yer fault."

"It might be," York mumbled. "You and me got so much in common, maybe Wash just can't handle getting along with more than one of us."

Samael laughed again. York heard the genuine notes of wistfulness behind the amused sound, but he wasn't surprised. Samael took this kind of stuff seriously -- he'd always cared about making connections. "You might got a point," he admitted before he rolled onto his side so he could gaze at York more squarely. "But that's why I got me this dumb idea. You 'n me, Wash 'n Andee. Gawd knows the four'a us couldn't be more different...though at the same time...hell, man, what we been goin' through, the lives we lead, the way we're all carvin' a real thin line 'tween 'fearless' 'n 'suicidal'..." York had a feeling what was coming next and...he wasn't sure how he felt about it. Because, christ, it was a dumb idea, wasn't it? "I think it'd be real nice to actually take a few hours, get together, see if we can't make ourselves a nice li'l evenin' outta it." He shrugged easily even as his eyes ached with hope. "Who knows, maybe four'a us might be cut out for the whole 'friendship' thing if we're willin' to give it a shot."

York exhaled slowly and let his hand glide along Samael's muscular arm as he gazed over at his companion for a few seconds. "Damn, Sammy, when you shoot for the stars, you aim high..."

Samael smiled a bit. "Shootin' the ones in the water just ain't very satisfyin', pal..." He nodded once or twice. "I know it's dumb as hell, an' probably ain't no problem jus' goin' on the way we do now, you 'n Wash got yer thing, me 'n Andee got ours, an' then you 'n me get together 'n fuck each other dry when our fellas need some time away from us." York snorted but wouldn't deny the allure of what was certainly the easier option. "An' I'm sure you, me 'n Andee could hang out plenty, too -- li'l feller don't hold a grudge long, you know that well as I do. But..."

York rubbed at his muzzle in thought as his fingers danced along Samael's forearm. His companion wasn't wrong -- this was crazy, this was a dumb, impossible idea. He'd known Wash for too long, and he knew that, unlike Andee, Wash did know how to hold a grudge. And to this day, he still wasn't sure what exactly it was about Samael that made his best friend so upset -- the way Wash talked about him rivaled the way he used to talk about Tracer, which in itself was a feat, since York was pretty sure even his worst rants about Nelson rarely got as heated. There was no way something like this would ever work...

...Then again, there was no way that York would ever have imagined one day having the kind of intense emotions he did for his battle buddy, a cry for a bond that he hadn't felt since she had last walked the ring with him. Hell, there was a time he would have never imagined having sex with any guy, drunken motel room experimentation be damned, but here he was, fresh off a double-dick-extravaganza with the insane Sampian midget who'd managed to get him into this whole bisexual gig. And life since then had proven again and again that the impossible failed to live up to its name more often than not. Sometimes York thought their whole group-suicide-mission to topple Omega and end the Holy War once and for all might actually be a dream they could touch one day.

So why not this stupid little lark? A stupid little lark York realized he was yearning for more than he thought he would. No matter how many people Samael charmed at L-Base, the fact he could never spend casual time with Wash still made him feel like an outsider. York hated that feeling, and he knew Samael did too, even if he'd never show it. And it wasn't a secret that Andee wasn't winning any popularity contests with most people, either. Samael's fiery passion for the bat might have been an adorable novelty in Xulod...but among the Movement, it hadn't quite earned them all that much favor. York could only pretend for so long not to hear the mutters of disapproval dipping into revulsion, as his own fellow rebels remarked on how it didn't make sense that someone as overtly friendly and kind as Samael would carry such a bright flame for someone as callous and crude as Andee.

Yeah...there were a lot of reasons for the four of them to get along. York took in a slow breath and then at last completed Samael's trailing thought: "...but it'd be really nice for the two dumb puppies and their two angry boyfriends to finally hang out."

Samael smiled up at him, even as he winked and tugged lightly at some of York's still-damp chest fur. "Hey, now, don't you go slingin' 'round words like boyfriend 'til you step up 'n tell yer li'l battle bud them words yer so scared of."

York scoffed even as a gentle tickle rolled along his spine. He'd come terrifyingly close to those words already, and he wasn't sure how Wash would react. He bit his lip and then glanced back down at Samael, finding his gaze just as goddamn reassuring as ever. "Have...have you told Andee?"

Samael nodded once, not a sliver of hesitation in his features. "Yeah." He seemed to catch York's question before it could be released, the way he often did. "Naw. He ain't said it back, but...he ain't got too mad 'bout hearin' it, neither."

York smiled, and he meant it. He knew he'd have his chance when the time was right. "Good," he murmured before puffing out his cheeks and leaning over to bump Samael's forehead with his maw. "So what the hell you thinkin', huh? Knock out Wash and Andee, tie them down to a couch so we can force 'em to watch a movie with us or something?"

Samael returned a grin while moving his hand down to tickle playfully across York's stomach. "Sheeeeit, don't think our boys ready fer bondage-night yet..." He paused, then gave a dumb smile. "Or at least yer li'l squirrel ain't yet, haw." York squinted down at him, but Samael was already laughing and waving his other hand. "But naw, naw, nothin' that crazy! I was thinkin' a nice li'l game'a cards! Sorta like a mini-rec-night, jus' the four of us!"

York stroked his chin as two fingers tapped thoughtfully against Samael's arm. "Huh. We've had a few poker nights at L-Base -- Wash has even joined in a few times, he knows how to play..." Samael beamed up at him, too full of hope to be denied at this point. York was shamelessly right there with him. He smiled a bit more. "Heh, if...if we can get them to agree to it, we should set up in North's old room." Samael's expression softened and he wrapped an arm around York's torso to embrace him tightly from the side. "Think he woulda appreciated it."

"Big man's gonna still appreciate it, way you know he's checkin' in on us," Samael murmured. York couldn't find a good reason to argue as he squeezed Samael's shoulders. Samael looked up with a determined smile. "Then we got us a plan. You get yer squirrely-boy on board, I'mma work on my umbrella."

York chuckled but nodded his concurrence. "Our toughest job yet, Sammy." He then smirked and tightened the arm around Samael enough to make his shoulders creak. "Now come on, we need to find our pants and not go for the triple-shot. I really don't want my dick to fall off."

"Pussy," Samael teased even as he laughed and nodded back, the two lifting their fists to bump together. "Operation Inside Not-So-Straight is a go."

* * *

York was almost afraid to look back down at Wash, though his friend seemed to recognize that familiar expression whenever York got lost in a memory, considering the weary sigh and faint smile he gave. "You done with your weird gay recollection?"

"Hey!" York cleared his throat before looking sheepish. "But yeah." He gazed down at Wash, who hadn't yet tried to pull away from his side. "I swear I'm not exaggerating. Samael really wanted to give this a shot." Wash wrinkled his muzzle and shuffled on the spot again.

"You two really need to find a better way to spend time together," Wash complained. " or working on…trucks or...anything useful." York only continued to smile at him, waiting calmly for his small companion to stop fidgeting in frustration. Wash eventually met his eyes again and then rubbed a hand through his messy mane, making it only messier still. York tried not to grin as he realized it was another one of those little things Wash did that drove him crazy in all the best ways. But he was a good lap dog and kept his excitement contained safely in his pants as Wash chewed slowly at his thoughts before finally grumbling in what might have been his penultimate attempt at protest: "Couldn't...couldn't the three of you just play together? You really don't need me there, I'm--"

York leaned down, shifting the arm around Wash's shoulders to instead snake around his waist as he let his muzzle brush against his friend's cheek. He did his best to not be absolutely delighted by the quick shiver he felt race along Wash's spine. "I need you there, little buddy...'cause you're my best friend. Never as much fun without you."

"You're a terrible liar," Wash mumbled while rubbing at his muzzle and then at last exhaling loudly as he tilted his head to the side and bumped his snout against York's. "But...but fine, okay. Whatever, it's...just a few hours..."

York squealed and wasn't even ashamed of the sound as he bounced from paw to paw for a moment. "Sweet! Aw, this is gonna be great, Wash! You're gonna have even more fun than you do at our regular rec nights!"

Wash looked up at him flatly. "I've never had fun at any of our rec nights. And you better believe that the minute one of those two assholes tries to start a fight, or piss me off, or pull any of their usual shit in general, I'm walking out." He pursed his lips and then raised an eyebrow. "Wait, has Andee even agreed to this stupid thing? 'Not wanting to stab you' isn't exactly the same as 'ready to hang out and play cards'."

York paused as his excitement waned. He'd almost forgotten that, despite all the time Andee spent with the outside world due to his 'business', the bat had an antisocial streak about as bad as Wash's. York might even go far enough to call it sociopathic. He cleared his throat but then pushed out a broad smile as his fingers curled tenderly around Wash's waist. "Hey, Sammy can be pretty convincing when he wants to! Don't worry, this is gonna happen!"

"Mmm. Super worried." Wash finally peeled himself away from York's grip, and York pretended it was a struggle, if only to give himself a bit of a hopeful boost. "I need to get back to work, and so do you."

York puffed out his cheeks but called up that indomitable optimism that he knew Wash just adored. "Okay, little buddy! I'll be sure to update you when we've got a time worked out!"

"Mmm." Wash headed for the door, but paused long enough to give York a look. York's heart jumped and he gave a broad smile as his friend shifted his weight, then nodded to him before disappearing through the doorway.

It wasn't much, considering the rollercoaster of the last few weeks. He'd told Wash he could wait, and that hadn't changed. But lord, it was nice to have something.

He glanced down at at his key with a softer smile before grimacing as his thoughts drifted to Samael. Now he just had to hope his redneck pal would have the same luck convincing Andee. Well, at least he had those legendary man-whoring skills, if nothing else. Even a pissed off bat with a chip on his shoulder for the entire chupa race couldn't resist that muzzle for long!

* * *

"Whaddya mean 'hang out'??" Andee demanded, shoving the chupa down into the mattress and leaning over him with a suspicious lift of his brow. "I gave ya the whole fuckin' Himroc to hang out with all ya dumb chupa friends, didn't I? And ain't we had some good times with Mutt 'n Pan, you sayin' my pals ain't good enough, you gotta go and spend time with those fuckin' losers, use them to get all our nasty bat grime off ya high 'n mighty ass??"

Andee wasn't oblivious to how unfair it was. And the way Samael was scrunched up beneath him, eyes wide yet still brimming with a tender optimism, told him Samael wasn't taking it as personally as Andee might have hoped. "Aw, hon, y'know that ain't true -- I love hangin' out with Mutt 'n Pan -- hell, I ain't even cried when we got together with Angel so you could talk all about our li'l trip to Stigma fer the fourth time..."

Andee scoffed even as a sliver of guilt tickled through his gut. He shifted slightly but otherwise remained atop Samael while leaning down to push their muzzles together. It'd been a week or so since that mission to the edge of Highguard but he knew it was still lurking around Samael's mind, probably as freshly as his little bloodbath in the jungle almost two goddamn quarters ago. Puppies had the worst tendency to fixate on the stupidest shit. "Ya shouldn't be cryin' at all, dammit, those bitches had that shit comin', and we fuckin' kicked so much ass on that job that the other half'a Sirca probably had bruised cheeks!" He sat up on Samael's chest with a huff while crossing his arms. "Not to mention those pussies couldn't even touch us!"

Samael chuckled quietly and reached up to run his claws over one of the bat's slender arms. "I mean, other'n the broken arm I only just got out the sling a coupla days ago, sure, flawless, untouchable, pristine. An' this ain't bout avoiding our's about spendin' time with some of our other pals."

"Feh, you still gave Mutt one helluva handjob, even with that damn cast on," Andee retorted dismissively even as he grumbled and resettled his weight somewhat. "And that ain't a good fuckin' argument! Between my business and the fact almost every job you do for the goddamn Movement is for the rest'a you big-footed motherfucks, we's spendin' time with them all the time already!" His partner didn't argue, didn't even flinch beneath him, however, only keeping up the affectionate gaze from his vulnerable sprawl on the mattress under the bat. Andee studied Samael's gentle smile for a second or two, then rolled his eyes and reached down to push a hand against the chupa's muzzle. "You're serious about this shit?"

"Sure am!" Samael replied, his usual energetic chirp replaced with a far calmer tinkle of laughter. It made Andee wary, because he knew how his dumb puppy put that face on whenever he was thinking of proposing something that'd make the bat's blood boil. "It'll be fun! You can't tell me yer still mad at ol' York, right?"

"Why shouldn't I be, that stupid were-mutt's the reason your idiot midget ass comes back all bruised 'n bloody from half the jobs ya do! Even when Nelson tells you not to work with none'a those crazy Freelancer bastards, you 'n your big whore ass still manages to sniff out that lap dog 'n then the two'a you act like a pair of spastic puppies equipped with grown-up guns, teenage boners and a baby brain that ya both just sharin'," Andee grumbled even as he let his fingers slide down to grasp into Samael's shoulders and squeeze steadily into them. No need to point out the non-existent jealousy Andee felt toward the giant ex-Freelancer. "Besides, York's fine at a party...that big bastard at least knows how to kick back, hang loose, not be a fuckin' narc." His claws dug harder into Samael's shoulders and his companion winced, though that damnable smile never left his features. "That fuckin' tight-ass squirrel's the complete opposite...he ain't the kinda person either one of us likes to hang with, unless you've become a fuckin' square behind my damn back!"

"Aww, c'mon now, Wash ain't so bad," Samael murmured, his hands settling onto Andee's hips as the bat gave a helpless hint of a squirm.

Andee wasn't about to let a couple fingers on his waist put an end to his bitching, though. "Puh-lease, that shrimpy fuck almost ruined Himroc, way he went stormin' out on his big dumb boyfriend like a schoolgirl seein' how small her date's prick is!"

Samael's fingers massaged slowly up along his sides and Andee reminded himself he wasn't no soft fucker about to get swayed, even as his legs tightened around Samael's torso. "Be nice, sweetie. Ol' Wash jus' got a li'l overwhelmed. An' you know that hardly put a dent in the party, we rocked on long after that," the rebel insisted with the same half-smile, his eyes never leaving Andee's. "Li'l fella ain't all that social, is all." Andee opened his maw to retort, but Samael spoke over it in that easy way he always did. "Ya know you ain't a huge fan of hangin' out with a buncha other folks, neither," Samael added pointedly while letting his thumb stroke along the side of Andee's stomach, eliciting another twitch from him.

"You seen me shakin' or sweatin' or fuckin' makin' a scene in front'a all those drunk fuckers even once while we was on stage?" Andee shot back, squinting at Samael and just daring him to claim otherwise.

"Naw, not even once," Samael replied smoothly. His hands gripped briefly around Andee's ribs, teasing just beneath the hem of his half-poncho before they began a slow trail back toward his hips as the chupa's eyes danced. "But I ain't forgot how many times you've dragged my ass outta a crowd, or how you always make a face when anyone shows up to chat while we's relaxin' together."

"That's 'cause I can't stand no rude motherfuckers who come barging in, interrupting some peace and quiet!" Andee protested as he threw a wing wide to one side. "Ain't the same as bein' antisocial!"

"Uh huh. 'S why we ain't gone to a single one of the dinners we been invited to at Xulod...not even when ol' Sage himself gave us a holler..." Samael's teeth flashed playfully while the pads of his thumbs worked tenderly along Andee's abdomen, parting the soft fur to massage over his taut frame. "Or why you come up with an excuse to dodge every rec night we had at Sidewinder since Himroc."

Andee huffed and failed to avoid closing his eyes for a moment when Samael's claws drifted across the small of his back as his thumbs worked lower and lower along his stomach. Fuckin' hell but his redneck was a talented bitch. "Yeah, what?" Andee muttered, cracking his eyes open to glower down at Samael even while he ran a claw across the rebel's collarbone. "Who gives a damn if I don't get along with most'a the fuckers on this ring? I ain't out there tryin' to make friends, I'm just tryin' to run a business. And I'm doin' a good fuckin' job!"

"Shit, I ain't sayin' ya ain't," Samael purred while his thumbs glided across the bat's waist and then dove gingerly down to stroke along the insides of his thighs. "Yer runnin' one'a the tightest games on Sirca, hon!"

"The tightest," Andee corrected obstinately while letting his eyes drift shut again as the ministrations of his partner's fingers began to send a needy pulse through him. "So why's I gotta worry about makin' time with your stupid Freelancer boyfriends?"

Samael was quiet for a few seconds, not that Andee noticed. The chupa's blunt claws had coaxed out a part of him he wasn't ashamed to admit still felt helpless against Samael's wiles. Not his fault Fiffy was such a talented whore, after all. "'Cause I think outta everyone on this here ring...them two understand us better'n anyone else," Samael finally murmured.

The bat snorted and took a moment to glance down, ignoring the pressing matter that had come between them in favor of a doubtful expression. "Is that fuckin' so? What about those two is anything like the shitstorm you'n me fuckin' gone through?" Samael flinched slightly this time, though Andee wasn't sure if he was proud of causing it. He leaned forward a bit, eyes expectant while he moved his claws back to grasp into the rebel's shoulder.

But the chupa recovered swiftly, his fingers resuming their delicate dance as he met Andee's demanding gaze evenly. "I done some catchin' up with York last coupla times we met up," he began, which brought a sulky grumble from Andee. It wasn't enough to stop Samael, though. "Stuff 'tween him an' Wash ain't exactly been cut 'n dry since that job to Sampi I told ya 'bout..."

Andee jutted his jaw out stubbornly. "So? Any idiot could see that, the way that dumb squirrel ran out on his oversized girlfriend at Himroc!"

Samael's smile was horribly gentle, a match for the motions of his fingers along Andee's leg. "They got together later that night. Had themselves a li'l bit of a...personal time." Andee made a face even as he shifted his weight on Samael's chest. Fuck, were those two really going to put themselves on their own idiotic path of trying to make a doomed relationship work? Andee still didn't know how it was working for himself and Samael wasn't like he cared, they did make it work and he couldn't give a single flying fuck whether or not anyone else comprehended it.

But any attempt at interrupting again was lost to the way Samael moved his hand away from his thigh and to somewhere else. Andee grit his teeth and curled forward a bit as his companion's voice continued. "Wash's still got...stuff he's workin' through, though. Ain't like they're all good 'n happy 'n shit, they're...they're still tryin' to figure things out." Andee tried not to hear the next part. "Kinda like we been doin' too, hon..."

Andee felt his muzzle wrinkling into a frown, an odd sensation considering the way his lower jaw had dropped with a quiet groan. "F-f-fuck that, Sammy...s-sounds like some dumb emotional p-puppy bullshit..."

Samael's thumb graced a piercing that was the tiniest bit sensitive despite the week or so of time to heal. Andee shuddered but still heard Samael's soft drawl even with his ears folded back. "Maybe yer right...maybe I should just..." The rough pad nudged gently against the next crimson stud and Andee's fingers closed fiercely around his companion's shoulder. "Give up 'n stop..."

The feather-like contact broke and Andee cursed under his breath as his eyes snapped open to bore dangerously into Samael's playful features. "H-ho-ho'shit, Fiffy, don't you fuckin' dare," he breathed out, knowing already how his words would be used against him and not caring as his tongue darted out to pass across his front teeth, then bump against the ring in his nose. "Fuck, go on, then, what's the big fuckin' gay idea you been brewin' up?" he demanded before rolling his head back with a pant when Samael resumed the measured, teasing motions.

"Ain't nothin' too crazy," Samael replied in a rumble, his baritone making Andee's small frame reverberate in all the best ways. "Just a nice li'l poker game. Th four of us, some booze 'n snacks, deck'a cards 'n some good times..."

Andee's ears flicked before he tipped his head forward again, the nasty glint in his eyes replaced with something a bit more...needy. Goddamn this puppy. "Y-yeah...good times," he mumbled, trying to ignore the way his talons clutched into the mattress with desperation as his trembling fingers drew slowly down Samael's chest. "We g-gonna play limbo with Wash's stiff-ass neck?"

Samael's eyes half-lidded and he let his fingers close leisurely around his prize. "Ain't no good gonna come outta bein' so negative," he reprimanded softly. Andee could feel the way the chupa was watching his every twitch and spasm, hating how easily his goddamn redneck could manipulate him. But fuck, he didn't want it to stop. "C'mon, hon...jus' one li'l game..." Samael allowed his fingers to travel smoothly upward and Andee just about doubled over while moaning and clinging to the chupa's chest hard enough to draw blood.

The damn puppy barely twitched, his eyes still glowing with that fucking mix of pleading and eager. Andee ground his teeth together, breathing out hard and then finally snorting in defeat while fixing the rebel with a nasty glare. "G-goddammit, Fiffy...fine." He panted harshly as Samael's eyes lit up, reaching down to grasp the back of his companion's skull while squinting down at him. "One game. And I'm your fuckin' partner, not that fuh-fuckin' were-mutt..."

Samael didn't seem interested in reminding Andee that poker wasn't exactly a team-based game, gleeful as his idiotic features were. "Oh hell yeah, sweetie, thank you so much! I better go let--" He blinked as Andee grinned and only tightened the grip on the back of his head as the bat leaned down over him.

"The fuck you are, not before you fuckin' give me that sweet-talkin' maw, ya midget fuck," Andee rumbled as he licked his lips and pulled himself forward across Samael's chest. "Now open up..."

* * *

Tonight, 5700! Invitation only! And you're invited! Also you promised, so you gotta be there!

...He'd recognize York's messy writing anywhere. Wash considered taking to the vents if only out of spite, knowing full and well it would be hours before anyone figured out where he was hiding. This wasn't some vital mission, after all, and there was no real obligation to show up to this stupid thing. The so-called 'promise' was about the same as telling someone you'd try and visit 'the next time you were in the area'. One of those throwaway things someone said to agree to some social obligation that no one really cared about, over which no tears would be shed when you inevitably chose to walk right past their place with your hood pulled low because who really cared about these things?

York. York cared about them. And it drove Wash up a wall because of all the people on Sirca, York was the one he hated to disappoint. No matter how well the big asshole hid his emotions, suppressed the sad smile with a painted grin that shone as bright as any genuine expression, Wash was getting pretty good at seeing past it. York was able to mask a lot, but that goddamn faint smile he gave whenever Wash squirmed out of some stupid social event, some halfhearted commitment to 'hang out'...well. Wash was reminded that York didn't consider it stupid. These things were important to him and Wash supposed being York's friend meant he had to deal with that.

Wash hesitated outside of North's old room all the same. It was never too late to have an 'emergency' come up, even if his usual go-to of blaming Nelson for some priority call might not work as well considering her precious fucking redneck was going to be here soon. It didn't matter how much she didn't tell Samael, he still always seemed to know about everything, regardless of how secretive the words might have been. Wash blamed the fact he was a whore, his whole presence seeming dedicated to simply absorbing everything from around himself, like some kind of shaggy, sexually-charged sponge.

No, he'd need some alternative to the usual white lies he deployed to back out of an uncomfortable social situation. CT didn't know about the card night, unless someone had said something to her -- oh, goddammit, someone probably had. Both the goddamn puppies just loved running to her with the latest gossip. That wouldn't work, either.

"Hey, little buddy!" Wash's eyes bulged as his tail stood out straight behind him, the yellow tuft bottle-brushing in surprise. He turned his head creakily toward the doorway as York's cheerful voice rolled out. "If you're done thinking up ways to duck out on tonight, I could use your help in here!"

...This goddamn jerk was going to be the end of him. No one else could strip away Wash's protective shell the way York could. It didn't seem to matter what cruel words and cold shoulders Wash flung at York, not even the still-regular visits to Tex did a damn thing to deter York's magnetic desires.

Wash would need to work on building a new wall, one big enough to keep even him out. But...tonight, since he was already here...

He sighed and allowed the small but honest smile to drift across his features as he approached the doorway and then poked his head in. "I wasn't thinking up...oh."

Wash blinked at the sight of how neat the room was. Considering how often he patrolled the entirety of L-Base, it didn't take him long to spot when something was different. And after the news of North's demise, there hadn't exactly been a rush to deal with his personal quarters. South had stormed through, snatching up a few personal items in her fury and snapping at the others to leave the room alone; Wash wasn't sure if she'd been under some twisted delusion that maybe the reports were false, that the body they'd cremated wasn't his, that North would stumble in a day or two later, bleeding but grinning the way he always did, no matter how tough a job was. He'd done that same shit at Freelancer -- it was no wonder he and York had always gotten along so well.

But as huge as North had been, as tough and well-trained as he'd been, there was one important thing he didn't have in common with York: the curse branded onto his hip. Wash's eyes were drawn inevitably to the tattoo on his partner's side as he remained in the doorway for a second or two longer. A boon that let York survive damn near anything...but a boon that cast a long shadow. One that grew longer with every passing day.

He shook his head when he felt York's gaze slip into something more concerned. "You really...tidied up in here."

York's smile returned after a beat and he put his hands on his hips while glancing around. "Yeah. I mean, I didn't have to work that hard, North wasn't, ah..."

"Nearly the messy jock you are?" Wash supplied as he took a step into the room while inhaling slowly. He could do this. Just a few hours, for York's sake. It'd be a worthwhile show of appreciation for how much York had tried to do the last few weeks.

"Hey! He was still totally a jock, I'll just blame his parenting for instilling such a sense of personal responsibility," York replied with a disdainful sniff. "Clearly his folks cared, the jerks."

"Truly a shame," Wash added while letting his eyes trace the walls. A few posters North had surreptitiously relocated from his quarters at Freelancer...his offer letters from Recruitment Day...several pictures of North and his friends and teammates grinning...a few jerseys, too. Wash scowled despite himself, remembering what those damn jerseys usually signaled -- a swift drumming followed by being shoved into a locker or thrown through a window or tied to something.

But that easy grin wasn't hard to recall, either. Just like York, the bullying was always curtailed by such a real kindness, such a genuine embrace of everyone around him that it frustrated Wash to try and understand. There was a reason York and North were such good friends, and it was something Wash grudgingly had come to accept even more as time went on.

Once North and South had chosen to defect and work as double-agents, Wash never ceased to be shocked by the way North actually listened to him, actually respected his decisions. Even at Wash's shakiest, North had listened intently to the mission directives and never questioned his instruction. He'd provided input and suggestions, sure, but the giant bastard was just like goddamn York. Ready to work, ready to carry out any job, even the shitty ones. Like investigating reports of a new faction of hapless rebels out in Stigma...something that shouldn't have been wasted on one of their most talented operatives...something that shouldn't have been wasted on anyone--

The hand on his shoulder jolted Wash from his thoughts and he blinked again before craning his head back to meet York's tender gaze. "It wasn't your fault, little buddy."

Wash glanced aside. The fact York had to say it meant it absolutely was. But it'd been nearly a quarter and... "Yeah. I know," Wash murmured, the lie slipping out so effortlessly he barely registered it. "It looks good, though, York," he added, eager to move past the vulnerable zone of culpability that York thrived in, not wanting his partner to effortlessly dive into his emotions now of all times. "Look at you, showing some real, adult responsibility," he teased as he coaxed up a smile, doing his best to show York he had no lingering guilt.

York gazed at him a moment longer before finally grinning again and stepping back to gesture with an arm. "Hey! ...Don't worry, it's very temporary, I'll be back to my shenanigans soon enough."

"Good, I can't wait," Wash noted mildly before looking past him to observe a square folding table that had been planted in the middle of the room, along with a second portable table erected next to a small refrigerator. Four metal chairs were placed around the card table and a record player was situated nearby, along with a stack of albums -- Wash couldn't recall if it had belonged to North, or if it was one from York's collection. He hated to admit it, but it really did look like a nice, cozy little space for a quiet gathering of...well, they weren't Wash's friends, and they weren't quiet, but he could pretend.

"Whatcha think?" York's features were scrawled with hopeful cheer as he bounced a bit on his toes.

Wash grumbled, refusing to give into the need to appease. "It's Samael and Andee. They won't care, as long as there's food and...dicks."

York guffawed and threw an arm around Wash's shoulder. "Well, good thing we're gonna have both of those!" Wash constructed a horrible expression and tossed it up to his companion, who only winked back at him and then raised a finger with a sage nod. "And hey, don't forget the booze, too! Sammy 'n Andee are bringing a few things...but I need help grabbing the beer and snacks we've got stashed away!"

Wash somehow doubted he actually needed any assistance, but he was grateful for the distraction even as he mumbled away and shifted under his partner's arm. "Ugh. Fine. When are those two assholes gonna get here?"

York chortled while guiding Wash around to head back out of the room. "Sammy swung by to pick up Andee on his bike -- they should be here in the next couple of hours. Plenty of time to pregame!" Wash rubbed at his jaw sourly, feeling the cheery grin York coated him with from above. "With any luck, I'll have you not calling them assholes by the time they arrive!"

"It'll take more than luck," Wash muttered as they moved down the corridor.

Just a few hours. He could do this.

"Aw, you two gonna fuckin' start blowin' each other, at least make this sappy show worthwhile??"

Wash did his damnedest not to sigh, figuring that a show of exasperation after only five minutes would have been in poor taste. But fucking hell, it was like they were programmed to get on his nerves. He might have been impressed if he wasn't so irked.

And maybe he was also a little frustrated at the way York and Samael acted like best friends, despite having only known each other for a couple of years, not even half as long as Wash had worked with York. Yet within a minute or two of Andee and Samael's entrance, York had embraced Samael tightly as they murmured some unheard words between them, the overladen pack full of booze and snacks abandoned at the redneck's feet.

He assumed they were sharing a moment in North's memory in spite of the 'celebration of life' Samael had already treated York to after the news broke; Wash wasn't clueless enough to not recognize the emotional depths the puppy-like chupas both possessed, knowing full and well the weight York still carried on that bronze key, and grudgingly recognizing at this point Samael had something buried beneath that effervescent mask of idiocy...something that had been able to bring even York's confidence screeching to a halt before turning his once-only-for-the-ladies man of a partner into...well. Whatever he was now.

Wash wasn't sure if that annoyed him more or less than Andee's scathing remarks from where he was lurking near the doorway. The asshole of a bat looked like he'd rather be anywhere else, glowering at the two pals clinging to one another and then glaring around the rest of the room with his hands on his waist like he might start tossing out a few other 'insightful' observations. Just what Wash was hoping for.

When Andee's yellow eyes finally fell on him, Wash set his jaw squarely while flexing a hand. Here it was, not ten minutes past their arrival, before the deck of cards had even been opened...Wash was already prepared to be done, because he knew no matter what Andee said--

"Ay, gonna turn tail and run off from this gig, too??"

No. No, Wash was better than this. He was expecting this bullshit, it was what people like Andee and Samael did. They were assholes. Short, yappy assholes; one single insult wasn't going to make him walk away.

Wash gave the bat a dour look. "Not unless you give me a reason to, Andee. You gonna give us the same insane, cracked-out visions half the cave suffered from your brownies last time?"

Andee blinked and then smirked while jabbing a wing toward him. "Ay, how the fuck would you know 'bout that, eh? You fucked right off before the party even kicked into high gear!"

"Heh, like I didn't see you and Sammy stealing off into the night while everyone else was still dancing," York noted as he and Samael finally pulled apart, their arms resting comfortably around each other's waist. "The life of the party, and you two disappeared right after you got everyone up and bouncin', high as kites and drunk as skunks."

"That's why it was the perfect time to get the fuck outta there! We got that place jumpin', our work was fuckin' done!" Andee retorted as he turned back toward the duo and squinted up at York. "Got tired of sharin' Fiffy with the whole fuckin' cave, anyway, all those fuckin' hungry eyeballs all over his ass..." Samael grinned and pushed his chest out proudly as Andee added flatly: "And me not makin' a fuckin' buck off any of it!" Samael deflated somewhat with a pout and Wash hated to admit it made him feel a little better. Maybe York was right that they weren't the only ones dealing with...dumb relationship things.

Not that he and York had a relationship. They were just partners, yeah. Best friends who also happened to be partners. For...missions and jobs. And apparently social events, though Wash wasn't going to complain about that now, since the thought of spending any time alone with Samael or Andee made his tuft stand on end.

"Anyway, unlike the rest'a you top-sider fucks, Sammy actually carried his weight for that fuckin' shindig, so bet your ass I treated him to some good fuckin' personal time," Andee boasted. York grinned broadly as Samael's own stupidly gleeful expression returned in full force. The bat then snorted before putting his hands on his hips again and shifting his gaze from York to Wash. "Though Fiffy told me you two had ya own li'l soiree...heh, who plugged who this time 'round??" He flashed a toothy grin to Wash as Wash made a horrible face and leaned away before firing a dark look over to York.

But he only raised his hands innocently while giving a sheepish smile. "Whoa, whoa! A lady doesn't kiss and tell!'

"You clearly told someone," Wash replied icily, turning his glare to Samael, who only winked and rubbed across his bare chest for a few seconds. He waited for the teasing, for the needling, but the redneck only fixed him with a weirdly tender smile.

"Aww, I promise he ain't said much, jus' that y'all had you a li'l conversation, followed by a li'l...decompressin'," Samael explained as Andee snickered.

"Heh, yeah right, with how long that stick's been up his ass, I'm surprised they didn't fuckin' decompress the whole south-side of Xulod!" Andee declared, laughing raucously. Wash grit his teeth as his fingers closed into a fist...only to blink when Andee then turned back to York to shove a finger at him. "Don't think I missed out on the way your whole little fuckin' soap opera fucked with my puppy's performance, neither! I oughta kick your ass for the way you're fuckin' up this fuckin' squish-brained redneck. Like he ain't got enough stupid bullshit keepin' him all jumbled 'n shit -- he's already got fuckin' trouble tryin' to suck dick while he walks, quit makin' it worse!"

Wash nearly forgot about the insult to himself, considering how quickly Andee changed his targets. He felt his hackles lowering somewhat even as he maintained the same sour expression. Across from them, York only gave a half-apologetic grin while shifting his arm up to Samael's shoulders. "Aww, give Sammy a little more credit -- I've seen him do lots while he's sucking dick, he's a multitasking master!"

Andee huffed as Samael grinned enormously again. "God, quit fuckin' feedin' that ego, that bitch already gets enough calories from how often everyone's tellin' him what a good chode he chokes," the bat grumbled before folding his arms across his chest.

Samael chuckled and shrugged amicably, as always a force of easy acceptance despite the thick tension that Wash swore would soon start suffocating them. It never ceased to rub him the wrong way, how smoothly that asshole took everything into stride. Well, almost everything.

Wash looked back at Andee for a moment or two as memories of the confrontation with Samael in his office resurfaced. Eternally a reminder to him of why he needed to keep up his walls, maintain a certain degree of aloofness. Not because he didn't have emotions, but because of the damn things, because he never wanted them to rule over his decisions, to cast the sort of shadow he'd witnessed that day.

He realized Andee was glaring back up at him and grimaced, looking away too late to avoid a snide: "The fuck you lookin' at? You better not be lookin' for some gay fuckin' hug like those two, I ain't got a nut for you, squirrel-boy."

Wash returned a flat expression. "Good. I'm behind on my rabies vaccinations, anyway." Andee blinked and then managed to twist his surprise into a rude gesture.

"Ay, fuck you! That's fuckin' racist!"

Samael's cheery voice cut through the building tensity, facile as always. "Jus' so everyone here knows -- bats do have nuts! One 'n two, right where you'd expect 'em to be, too!" Both Wash and Andee turned slowly toward Samael with faces dancing between frustration and bewilderment, while York -- of course -- only giggled childishly. "I seen it for myself, mystery solved, case closed!"

"Quit yappin' about our fuckin' junk!" Andee barked while stomping over to Samael to jab a claw into his stomach. "These bozos ain't earned the right to know how we conduct business below the belt!"

Samael kept up the goofy half-grin, whispering in a far-too-loud aside as York leaned down for unnecessary dramatic emphasis: "But boy, lemme tell ya what -- business is good!"

Wash sighed and rubbed at his muzzle as his dumbass of a partner cackled with delight and hip-checked Samael, while Andee looked torn between annoyance and some kind of weird...pride. God, these insufferable assholes. "Don't you go fuckin' givin' out no trade secrets, Fiffy, that shit's gotta be earned!"

"Well, shit, can do, it ain't too late to make this here a game'a strip poker!" Samael announced brightly, sharing a fist-bump with York that was met with groans from the other two.

"Oh hell fuckin' no, you hyperactive nudists only got fuckin' one thing to lose as it fuckin' is, no one here wants to see that shit!" Andee grumbled as York and Samael traded a playful grin.

"Heh, that's just us giving you guys a generous handicap!" York retorted with a wink.

"I swear, if even one belt comes off, I'm done," Wash muttered while glowering at York pointedly.

His partner read him as easily as ever, though, and shifted the grin to a quiet smile. "Don't worry, we got both kinds of chips; the pants will stay on."

"'Cept those of us who ain't got none," Samael added while leering playfully at his companion.

"Don't be jealous of our fluff," the bat retorted before kicking at the pack resting next to Samael. "Anyway, stick-boy's right! You two knob-slobberers keep those hot-pockets cinched up so we can get to whatever dumb gay socializin' yous two came up with on ya fuckin' latest dick-ridin' excursion. You gonna get out the snacks or what?"

"Yeah, yeah, sez the guy who seems to forget to feed me half the time I'm visitin', like I got the body to maintain yer diet of coffee 'n half a burrito every day," Samael complained while leaning over to heft up the bag.

"All I did those first two fuckin' weeks was shove food down ya big stupid gullet, you're lucky all those dumb fucks at Xulod fell in love with your stupid whore ass, considerin' we don't normally waste the good shit on you surface-fucks," Andee muttered.

York flashed an amused smile over to Wash. "Heh, Andee's diet sounds like someone else's I know..."

Wash pursed his muzzle as Samael peered over as well, then gave a quiet smile. "Shit, yer right -- they both could do with gettin' a li'l sammich in 'em, ya think?"

"No doubt," York chuckled while Samael let the pack rest on the neatly-made bed so he could undo the clasps. Wash rolled his eyes and he shared a dark look with Andee. But as Samael pulled out the first bottle of what was undoubtedly some variety of his 'famous' moonshine, a soft expression drifted across his features while he gazed down at the smooth purple covers pulled across the bed.

" got the big man these sheets, ain'tcha?" he murmured, reaching with a hand to stroke over the soft fabric.

Wash reeled in his sharp tongue, shifting a bit as he watched York wrap his arm around Samael's shoulders again while smiling down at the bed. "Heh, that's right. He never stopped teasing about the way you gayified me, but he was a lying asshole if he didn't remember I always had the finest taste in bedroom décor!" Wash couldn't help but notice that even Andee had fallen silent for the moment, his piercing eyes locked onto Samael with his jaw held stiffly, but whatever comments he had prepared still locked safely within. "Told him the ladies would appreciate a little touch of color in know, for all those dates he brought to our secret jungle hideout."

"Hey, like our boy still didn't get plenty of play!" Samael fired back with a surprisingly soft laugh, his eyes flicking up to York for a moment. Wash didn't miss the misty expression even as he added coyly: "The fellas appreciated the touch of color too, after all..."

"Oh yeah, we'll never hear the end of that, how Sampi's finest export convinced not one but two Freelancers to consider all the things a walk on the gay side could do for you," York teased, his own features steeped with a tender recollection. "Don't think he ever stepped that way again..." He winked down at Samael. "But I also don't think it was from you scarring him, at least."

Samael's smile remained bittersweet. "It was a good night. 'N he was a good man." He paused, then flicked playfully at Andee with his tail. "I ever tell you that you might never have gotten to meet me if ol' North didn't haul my ass outta the fire on that jeep gig?"

Andee snorted as he gave a look that might have wavered on jealousy were it not so overladen with annoyance. "Ya mean that giant asshole was the reason I got stuck with your stunted ass? Fuckin' great, let's resurrect this sonuvabitch 'n right that wrong..."

The bright expression on the redneck's face wavered only slightly; Wash figured he must have just been used to the bat's abuse at this point. Whatever, wasn't his problem. "Aww, don't be crusty, sweet thang -- I woulda been fuckin' barbecue if he didn't snatch me out from under that beam..."

"Still one of the best gigs Sirca's ever had run on her," York confirmed with a chuckle while lifting his muzzle in what must have been a fond memory. "Brought back more wheels than we almost had room for...and that crazy bastard didn't even hesitate when he saw you trapped, got to you even faster than I could, then carried your midget ass all the way back to the haul."

Andee scowled but expressed more curiosity in his features than he probably intended. "What is it with you big motherfuckers, always ready to jump in front'a bullets or hop into a fire or leap in front of a truck -- all that muscle make ya brains extra mushy?"

York shrugged easily as he smiled over at Andee, then glanced briefly to Wash. "Maybe. North sure didn't let either of us hear the end of it, especially with the way that fluffy coat of his got singed!"

"He smelled like smoke for almost a whole day," Wash muttered, surprising himself and wincing before sighing at the bright smile on York's features. He shuffled his paws and then grumbled: "Reminded me of the job we got sent to out in that processing plant."

He hated to admit the burst of reassurance he felt from the way York lit up, but he cradled it close all the same. "Ha, that retrieval gig, they suspected someone was leaking House research! Remember when we let North try and do the hack?"

"I remember the two of you demanding he try to do it, despite the fact neither of you had a pockcom," Wash retorted, pretending a smile wasn't quirking at his muzzle. "What a shock when he fucked it all up--"

"--and we had to haul ass when security showed up--"

"--so we had to escape across the outtake lines...except you both fell off, right into the goddamn garbage canal," Wash concluded while shaking his head with a quiet snort. "Christ, you guys stank up the dormitories for days..." He glanced between Samael and Andee again, the two outsiders who didn't have a clue what that life had been like. But Samael just gave that same happy smile, seeming to soak up the story despite the fact he had nothing to do with it. Like the asshole was simply savoring it.

Andee, on the other hand --

"So what, you three wonderbitches fucked the whole thing up and ya still had to smell like shit? Feh, I knew that Freelancer shit wasn't all it was cracked up to be!" the bat declared with an airy wave of one arm. "I say we got 'em beat, Fiffy, and we ain't even had to do no trainin'! Just naturally badass!"

"Oh, Wash forgot the part where we still got all the information -- North hauled the whole damn server out with him!" York laughed as Wash sighed but failed to hide the way his own smile grew somewhat. He could recall the image all too well. "He was really determined to pass me on the boards again...that was half the reason we fell into the garbage!"

"That was entirely the reason," Wash corrected mildly, laughing a bit in spite of himself. "You jackasses just didn't know how to give up. I can still hear Ashley bitching the whole ride back about how that 'stank-ass computer bullshit' was gonna eternally funk up her ride. God, she was pissed."

York beamed as he and Samael scooped up all the various containers of food and drink, carrying them over to the snacks Wash had helped him grab earlier. "That was North, though! Tenacious as all hell and tougher than every other bastard in the room."

"But gentle as a damn snow-deer, dude had a heart'a gold," Samael added while arranging the plates of pastries across the table.

"He sounds like the worst kinda mix between you and ya fuckin' lumberjack boyfriend," Andee groused as he snatched up a cookie. "No wonder a buncha dumbass wannabes got his ass carked."

York frowned as Wash felt his own fur bristling somewhat. But before he could snap, Samael took a step toward the bat with a soulful smile. "Ay, sweetie. C'mon." Wash could practically taste the acid that dripped from Andee's glare back up to the redneck, but Samael seemed fearless as he held out his arms. "He was a good friend 'n he got taken too soon. An' he'd be glad to have us havin' our li'l gatherin' in his digs, so..."

Andee snorted and rolled his shoulders while pulling his cap down by an inch or two. "Feh. Yeah, I fuckin' get it, don't get ya fuckin' panties in a twist, puppy." Wash swore he caught a guilty swirl through the bat's scowling features before he noisily chomped into the cookie. "So we gonna fuckin' play some cards or what??"

York smiled warmly and nudged Samael before holding up a plate of the cookies to Wash. "Yup, we'll get it set up. Try one, Wash, they're good!"

"I'll pass, I've seen what their desserts can do," he mumbled as he reached instead for a bottle of beer.

"Eyyy, don't fuckin' insult my puppy like that!" Andee warned while thrusting his half-eaten cookie toward Wash. "He didn't let me fuckin' make my special treats, so he baked all this gay homemaker shit himself." He smacked his lips a few times and Wash winced away from the spray of crumbs. "Shit's pretty fuckin' tasty too, even without no goodies in it!"

Wash made a face even as he took a moment longer to eye the cookies. Ugh. Maybe later, when he'd be drunk enough not to care. Fortunately York was there the way he always was, giving a half-smile and setting the plate back down before snagging one of the bottles of moonshine and a bag of chips to tuck under one arm. "Everyone load up and let's get this thing rollin'! Sammy's got first deal!"

Wash popped open the beer and took a long drink, not caring that he still didn't like the taste. They hadn't killed each other yet, so...might as well keep going. As long as it made York happy.


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