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Standoff

The real choice is never whether or not you will fight. The real choice is how.

Round 1 | Round 2


2: Chamber


"I'm...I'm doing my best, I'm just...my wife, my boys..."

Wash narrowed his eyes, straining to hear the other voice but unable to make it out. Was he being blackmailed? Extorted? Anyone even suspected of being a mole within Freelancer faced...well, punishment didn't seem to be a strong enough word. More often than not, those brought in for 'interrogation' were never seen again. And this guy had never seemed the type to be willing to risk that, not just for money. So maybe if his family was being threatened...

"...No, no. I. I appreciate it, but. This needs to get out. I don't know if you guys can do anything with it or...about it, but." He sighed and Wash shifted silently beneath the table to try and catch a glimpse of the agent's face. He'd been getting better at reading expressions, considering how goddamn often his smaller size was used against him. Knowing what his opponent was thinking gave him an edge in combat, and he was learning quickly that a similar concept applied when gathering information. "I just know that I'd rather risk everything than just...let this happen, let this come into a world my kids will one day grow up in."

Another pause as the voice on the other end murmured for a few seconds. Wash's mark gave a sheepish chuckle, his tail twisting around itself briefly while one of his paws rubbed awkwardly at the back of the opposite leg. "Aww, c-c'mon, you don't mean that. I was just drunk and nervous about my kid and...you know I love my family." More muttering, what might have been a faint chortle from the communication device. "It was...more than just the sex, everything you said to me, it...I know it's dangerous, but it's worth it. For the future."

The informant was quiet for another second or two before he grunted. "You got it. I'll give you a call in another few days. Good luck with her, she sounds terrifying." Wash heard the sound of a few buttons being pushed before the other Freelancer sighed and then began to leave the room.

Wash was liquid, moving silently out from his hiding place and reaching for his pistol. "Agent Georgia."

His target froze before quickly spinning around, a knife appearing in one hand. Wash's eyes only narrowed as he ducked and smoothly shifted his grip on the gun to hold it by the barrel to deftly catch the blade in the trigger guard. He whipped the handgun to the side to send the knife skittering across the floor before darting forward and jamming the barrel into Georgia's throat. The other Freelancer's eyes immediately widened as he held up both hands. "Please, no!"

Wash grimaced and waited a few seconds for his pulse to calm, though he kept the gun pushed into Georgia's neck as he took a moment to study him. He looked genuinely panicked, not that Wash blamed him. "You've been passing information to someone on the outside." It was a statement, not a question.

Georgia's eyes were full of honest fear, even more than Wash would have expected. He pushed aside the guilt, because making use of it would be beneficial. "W-Washington, I...I don't know what you heard, but...please, you can't tell the--"

"I won't, not unless I need to," Wash interrupted. "I don't even care who it is you're talking to -- hell, keep talking to them, I don't give a shit." Georgia frowned down at him in confusion. "You've...you've got data on Project Werewolf, don't you?"

The other agent blinked and then nodded slowly. "I'm...since I'm usually not very high on the boards, I get used as a sort of caretaker or. Custodian, I guess, for the project..." He glanced away but didn't seem ashamed as much as he did...haunted. "It doesn't bother me, not the job, I mean. But what they're doing..."

"I want whatever you have," Wash stated bluntly. He glanced at his other arm, then raised his pockcom. "Can you transfer it to my device?"

Georgia lowered his hands slowly. "You want...data? Not...not money or names or --"

"Yes or no?" Wash growled, one of his eyes twitching as he nudged the pistol against his throat again.

"Y-yeah, yeah...sure, I...I've got some footage from Alpha, Beta, Gamma...some notes from the scientists, medical staff...even a few things from the Director," Georgia rambled, shaking his head while biting his lip nervously. "Just...just, please, promise you won't turn me in...what they'd do to me...or to my family..."

Wash grit his teeth before forcing himself to calm down. His temper had been getting shorter and shorter these past few weeks and he wasn't sure...

It didn't matter.

"Look, I already told you -- I don't care whatever it is you're doing, who you're talking to, or if you keep doing it. Calm down and transfer the information, and we won't have to see each other again. That simple enough?"

Georgia frowned but nodded rapidly. "Yeah. Yeah, of course. Christ, Washington, when did you get so...intense?"

"Isn't this what they wanted from us?" Wash retorted curtly as he snatched the data drive out of Georgia's hand when it was offered. "Driven. Motivated. Whatever it takes to be high-ranked."

"Including being kind of a mean jerk," Georgia mumbled as he swallowed around the barrel of the gun. "Can you please put that away, I'm giving you whatever you want and I'm not gonna try anything..."

Wash glowered up at him and then quickly hopped backward while keeping the pistol trained on him. "Yeah, trusting each other, that's something else that they really try so hard to pound into us," he muttered. But when Georgia only continued to look nervously over a shoulder, as if worried they'd be caught and both outed as traitors, Wash grumbled and then set the handgun on a table within easy access before hurriedly connecting the drive to his pockcom. Georgia sighed and relaxed a bit, but kept his hands out to either side while Wash began the data transfer.

"Why...why do you want the information?" Georgia inquired with a slight tilt of his head.

Wash's eyes flicked to him before they went back to watching the progress bar. "Do you actually care or are you just trying to make this less uncomfortable?"

"I. Actually do care," Georgia replied awkwardly. "If I'm not the only one who wants to expose them, then...maybe we could--"

"Like I give a shit about exposing anything," Wash interrupted, ice encasing his words. "I just want to know what the fuck is going on. Don't get me involved in whatever stupid crusade you're on -- I'm keeping my word, but that won't keep you from getting yourself killed over being a spy."

Georgia shifted nervously and looked down before squaring his jaw. "Yeah, well. Some causes are worth risking your life for." Wash's eyes moved to his own torso for a moment, to the jagged scar hiding under his dark grey fur. The memory of the knife jutting out left a bitter taste in his mouth now, however, and he wrinkled his muzzle.

"Sure. Whatever gets you through the day," Wash responded with a dismissive snort before glancing at his wrist when the quiet bing indicated a completed transfer. He jerked the cable out and then noticed the knife by his paw. He looked back to Georgia, then bent down to retrieve the weapon. It was hard to miss the way the other Freelancer winced and Wash repressed the annoyed groan. Sometimes he forgot he wasn't exactly prime material compared to the rest of Freelancer, either. He shoved the data drive into Georgia's chest before spinning the knife around to offer it by the blade with a flat expression.

His body was tensed, still half-expecting a reprisal...but Georgia only murmured his thanks as he accepted both and sheathed the knife before clutching the data drive to his breast. "Is it someone you know?" Wash's eyes shot back up to him as a tiny tremble ran through him. "In...the program, I mean. A friend or a par--"

"I don't have a partner," he replied shortly before turning on his heel to fetch his pistol and shove it back into its holster. "I'd find somewhere else to make your transmissions next time," he added as he stalked past the other agent. "Lots of blind spots in here."

As he left the darkened room, Georgia's voice called sheepishly after him: "Good...good luck with whatever you're after!"

Wash grimaced. He wasn't sure what he was after -- but maybe the truth would be a good start.

Wash leaned back and slumped in his chair as the video ended, leaving only the pale green glow of the screen to illuminate his taut features.

He'd wanted to just dismiss Georgia as being overly empathetic, someone who was being affected by the fact he had a family, connections that most Freelancer agents avoided. His reaction to whatever he witnessed in Project Werewolf was simply being informed by his emotional attachments.

But the gnawing pit that slowly formed in Wash's heart as he stared at the footage and stumbled through the notes and test data...there was no denying what he felt. It wasn't disgust, it wasn't discomfort...it was terror. Not that the Director would initiate such a project -- that hardly surprised him in the least. No, it was the way the subjects were being used, twisted into beasts...no, worse, into no more than brutal instruments. Taking their true nature and upending it, all for the purpose of creating obedient, vicious weapons.

Wash had forsaken a lot the last year or so...but not the concept of free will. Even if they were all slaves to the whims of the Director, even if they all squirmed in the Counselor's web...decisions were still theirs to be made, if they chose it. Some of the agents didn't, which was why they perhaps ranked more consistently higher. But some of them still called their own shots on a mission, or maintained their personality, no matter what the consequence. Some kept relationships intact, even when a lowered reputation was threatened.

Some were still his friends.

He knew he owed it to his...friend, to at least try and talk to him before it was too late. It was the least he could do, no matter how things had been ever since their partnership had been dissolved in favor of a 'more compatible match'. That hadn't been his fault, it wasn't his fault Wash just wasn't as good, that she was simply better in every way, a far more desirable partner. He couldn't hold that against him, this was bigger than any sort of petty animosity. This was his friend's life.

"Heh, awwwww, c'mon, little buddy! You're being dramatic!"

Wash bit his tongue. He knew York wasn't trying to be offensive. Didn't stop him from remembering their first few weeks together in Specials, though. That abject dismissal, the friendly, reassuring but frustratingly self-confident air. Knowing York made it easier to not take it personally, but goddammit, it didn't make it impossible. Yet Wash knew it would be better to have York's open mind, rather than the jovial but impenetrable defense he put up when he was pushed too hard.

"York, I. I know it sounds that way, but. Just look at the video..."

York gave him a half-smile while poking his shoulder. "I watched it, and...yeah, it's a little crazy, but. I mean, that was the first group, right? It's an experimental project, y'know there's gonna be some speed bumps. And look at Lina!" His chest swelled and Wash couldn't help but glance away as a sliver of anguish sliced through his heart. "She's doing better than ever! I'm sure the guys who ended up hurt, they were just overconfident, signing up for somethin' they weren't ready for."

"They weren't hurt, York, they're dead!" Wash blurted, immediately regretting it as he shifted and stared down at his paws. He only closed his eyes when he felt York grasping into his shoulder, flinching obediently at the whim of his instincts despite knowing it was his friend's touch.

"You're worrying too much again, Wash," York reassured while wrapping his arm around his old combat buddy's shoulders. "Think of how much they put into recruiting and training us -- it's not like they're gonna just throw all their best agents into a program to get them killed!"

Wash opened his eyes to stare incredulously up at him. "The...the fact any of them have died at all should be kind of fucking worrying, don't you think??"

York only returned with his easy smile, tilting his head a bit almost as if he was pitying Wash. Wash hated it. "Aw, buddy. Your concern is super-sweet, but...you know I'm--"

"Don't sign up," Wash mumbled while meeting York's eyes and reaching out to grip his arm impulsively. "It's. It's bad news, York. I've got a bad feeling and..."

"I start tomorrow."

Wash stammered to a halt, his eyes slowly widening as he stared up speechlessly. He wanted to be pissed off, to lash out because not only had York abandoned him for his girlfriend, but now he was going to just walk stupidly into something dangerous. For her. And with no one to keep an eye on him, to cover him, because she had already passed the trials and Wash...

...Wash wasn't his partner anymore.

And yet he still smiled kindly, still showed nothing but patience and gentility despite the fact Wash knew his own features were scrawled with disbelief and resentment and fear. He was still the same benevolent soul who sneaked into the infirmary, day in, day out, to visit him and trade stories of their pasts and prove he was a true friend. But now that friend was making a terrible decision, one that made Wash feel ice tickling the depths of his soul as he thought of the mindless destruction from the footage, the senseless rampage followed by the violent expiration of the 'failures'...and he saw York's face plastered all over them.

"Hey, it's gonna be alright, Wash, I promise." York's reassuring tone cut through his morbid thoughts, Wash's vision refocusing as he trembled slightly. "You forget who you're talkin' to, man?" He grinned even as he gently squeezed the smaller chupa's shoulders while patting his own chest with the other hand. "It's the York! I got this all under control, buddy!"

"Tell ya what -- I'll ask 'em to make an exception! I know it's all secret and stuff, they didn't let me see Carolina at all, but...she was part of the first group, so." York shrugged easily, his grin reflecting his honest belief that he could actually charm his way into the impossible. "Maybe they've loosened up a little! I'll let 'em know you wanna check up on me, and that it'll help you with being so stressed out about it!"

Wash shook his head numbly. "York, they...they'll never allow it, I had to get all this by blackmailing a guy, it's..."

He froze as York leaned over him, placing his hands on both his shoulders while gazing down at him. "I'm gonna be fine. Look, I...I gotta do this, okay? Otherwise Lina's gonna keep being sent out solo and...if no one's watchin' her back, then." He smiled faintly at Wash as his ex-partner trembled and then looked away. "But you'll see -- they say it's only about a week or so, and then you'll be able to see for yourself, it'll be just fine, little buddy." He squeezed gently into Wash's shoulders as the small chupa slumped but could do little more than nod back vacantly as dread began to seep into his veins.

Nothing about this felt fine...

Thurday. Three days, not even half a week.

He knew he shouldn't have been fixating on the worst possible outcome, and he knew he was more than confident in York's strength. There was a reason he'd been paired with Carolina, after all.

The thought made Wash grit his teeth in frustration. He didn't care, it was a logical, tactically-sound decision. It had nothing to do with personal feelings, or promises made. Promises didn't mean jack-shit in the real world, all that mattered was how good you were, how strong you were. How hard you hit back after life sucker punched you, that was what counted. Something like 'friendship' was just a nice thought, something you clung to when you weren't tough enough to make it on your own.

He closed his eyes and then sighed raggedly as his claws dug into his palms. Except York was his friend. And no matter how hard Wash tried, no matter how much he tried to shut it out, that still mattered to him. Their promise to one another to be partners forever had been a naive gesture, one that had quickly been trampled by reality. York was Carolina's partner now, and he had someone far stronger, far more capable, far better to cover his flank.

...The only problem was that she wasn't here to watch his back, now, as he went through whatever nightmares existed inside Project Werewolf. She was on another mission...not that she would have been able to go and visit him, regardless. Everything about the project was kept under strict secrecy, with access guarded to allow only authorized personnel into the area.

Which was why Wash was crawling through the air ducts that ran through the werewolf training facility. He was here. And even if he couldn't watch York's back, the least he could do was check up on the guy, ensure he was still alive...and maybe allay his own silent, bitter fears. He hated that he was worried, but he hated more thinking of a life without this friendship as a part of it. Something told him it'd be even lonelier.

The thoughts were becoming intrusive, just as they had been when the new partnerships were first announced, and Wash squared his jaw while carefully bricking off the last of the wall and locking the door securely. He didn't need emotions to do this, he needed to not be distracted.

His dog tags slipped out from beneath his shirt as he moved through the duct, making him wince when they clinked lightly off the metal surface. He reached down to tuck them back in even as his thumb slid over the engraved steel, tracing letters that spelled his codename...and York's, too. He could still remember that idiot, the very night they'd been assigned their new identities, before even that mission in Calypso, dancing around gleefully and rambling about how cool it was that they had codenames. How they'd be the best two agents, make everyone else jealous of how awesome they were. And how since they were each given two identical dog tags, they should totally swap one, seal their partnership all properly and whatnot.

Just as naive as thinking their friendship would mean a goddamn thing in the real world.

Wash closed his eyes and focused back on navigating the ducts, using the distraction as a reminder to give York his tag back. No point confusing anyone if Wash's body was ever discovered on the failed mission he knew was inevitably waiting for him somewhere in his future.

He crawled silently for several more minutes before the whiff of antiseptic made his muzzle wrinkle. He'd been sensitive to that smell ever since those days he'd spent stuck in the infirmary after Calypso. He hated that smell...even if the memories around it weren't so bad. He knew those visits from York were the only reason the two had rekindled their friendship, the only reason he had someone other than CT to talk to. York had been the only good thing about being stuck in that sickbed.

He found a vent soon enough and peered through it -- no sign of movement. A couple of prone figures on gurneys scattered through the room. His eyes widened when he saw a familiar flash of tan, and his heart jumped to his throat for a second or two. But York's chest was moving, visible even at this distance thanks to how massive the oversized jerk was. Wash mumbled to himself, trying to ignore the worried pangs he still felt, regardless of the signs of life.

He frowned at the screws holding the vent into place before he brightened and squirmed an arm down to reach into the compact holster at his hip. He produced a small combat knife and moved it toward the grate before pausing to look at the blade. It had been recently polished and sharpened, reflecting his tired features back at him even as a faint smile tugged at his muzzle. It was yet another reminder, one he cherished and always had with him, the piece of equipment he kept as neat and well-maintained as his pistol or pockcom. Something else that would remind him of York, even if he gave his tag back. The idiot was always thinking of him...always going out of his way, even after he'd met Carolina and given his heart to her...he. He never forgot his best friend. And that's why Wash was doing this.

Wash closed his eyes and swallowed the emotions before exhaling slowly and easing the knife through the narrow grate to begin unscrewing the cover. A few seconds of work and he was soon able to lift it and then set it further in the duct so he could poke his head down and quickly check the room. Still no sign of any personnel, only who he assumed were other subjects of the project hooked up to various machines and monitoring equipment. Wash exhaled and then collected himself before gripping into the rim of the vent and lowering himself silently into the room.

He dropped and his paws thumped softly against the cold tile before they moved stealthily across the room as his eyes locked onto the familiar bulk of his friend. Wash felt a tremor as he drew closer, smelling blood even through the reek of bleach and disinfectant. Some bandaging had been applied to one of his shoulders, and Wash spotted some stitching in a forearm, too -- he wasn't sure if the scent of blood was from York himself, and the thought made him queasy.

His eyes were drawn to the black tattoo on York's waist and Wash's eyes widened a bit as he approached and reached out hesitantly to run a claw over the fresh burns. York's fur was still growing back, the flesh below only partially-healed. The Delta symbol he recognized -- the footage from Georgia had listed the different packs, this being the latest. "Delta-Seven," Wash whispered before letting his gaze drift across his ex-partner's bare chest.

Another stab of agony at the various scars he spotted, recognizing many of them as new...except they appeared to already be healing at abnormal rates. Perhaps some other aspect of the experiment, though nothing that alleviated Wash's fears. If anything, it only made him more nervous. He couldn't help but notice the tiny shift in the hue of York's coat across his chest, too -- a slightly-lighter shade of tan coloring the fur that stretched over his muscular torso. Wash swallowed thickly and hesitantly placed a hand on York's chest. York twitched but didn't stir, his breathing remaining regular, albeit shallow.

"Goddammit, York...what are they doing to you?" he murmured with a slow shake of his head. There were two different intravenous drips attached to York's arm and side -- not that Wash could make sense of either one. "I told you not to...I...I told you," he added as his shoulders slumped miserably. His eyes caught a flash of metal and he glanced up at the necklace buried in York's thick fur.

He spotted the bronze key first and looked away for a moment. Another reminder of his new partner, his superior partner. But when Wash glanced back, he noticed there were still two dog tags. His breath caught in his throat as he reached up with a trembling hand to nudge York's tag aside to reveal the one with his codename nestled beneath it. He was frozen to the spot, his emotions bubbling over despite the firm blockading he'd worked so hard on. "You...you stupid, sensitive asshole," Wash whispered as he swallowed again and clenched his hand at his side, a strange mixture of anger and dullness racing through him. "You don't need this to be stronger, goddamn you, you were already strong enough..."

He heard movement outside the room and he grit his teeth and took a step back from his friend's side, though his eyes never left York. He knew it was too late to stop York, whatever they were doing to him was already underway. But he wasn't just going to stand idly by and be left in the goddamn dark. He didn't care if they weren't partners anymore, he was...

He was still his friend. And no amount of ice in Wash's heart would numb that entirely.

He had no idea what he could possibly do, but the gears were already turning as he took the sight of York in one more time before rapidly scrambling onto a supply rack and launching himself back toward the ceiling vent. The medical equipment shook but was barely jostled by his swift movements, allowing him to pull his slender body back into the duct just as he heard the door to the infirmary open. The vent cover was quietly placed back over the orifice before he grimaced and crawled back the direction he'd come from.

If he couldn't stop the experiments, then maybe he could at least figure out what the purpose was. If he knew why his ex-partner was being turned into a killing machine, he'd know what to do to stop him from being used in the first place.

"What the fuck..."

The occupant of the nearby cell whipped his head around and Wash pressed back into the darkness with a grimace. He could see the eyes gleaming through the narrow window between the crackling energy barriers -- they looked almost feral, lined with bloodshot veins as tiny pupils darted from side-to-side. "I-Is it...is it food time already?!"

The voice sounded desperate but eager and Wash rubbed at his throat with a deep frown. His reaction hadn't been to the chupa who'd called out -- he didn't recognize that one. But the cell next to him, it had a clipboard hanging down with a name gracing the top that he did recognize: Kentucky.

She'd been recruited into Project Werewolf nearly two weeks ago, and Wash hadn't seen her since then. After everything he'd seen from the data he received from Georgia, Wash had simply assumed she'd perished in the experiments. Although the slumped figure he saw in the back of the cell, missing an arm and twitching every so often over the soft snarling of nonsense...he wondered if being dead would have been better. It was hard to see details in the low-lit holding area, but he wasn't sure if that was so bad, either. If he started to imagine York in the same way...

He closed his eyes for a moment while taking a slow breath. York was tough, with a will stronger than anyone else he'd ever known. He wasn't going to end up that way.

Wash waited for the frantic prisoner to back away from the entrance to his cell before he continued his creep along the far wall. Getting in here hadn't been too terribly difficult, since he was learning that most chupas couldn't just wiggle their way through air ducts, which made them far less guarded than he would have expected. Only the occasional guard had come along the darkened passageway, their plain black uniforms all but absorbing the dim light streaming down from weak fluorescent bulbs. The glow from the energy barriers lining the outside of each cell provided only a dull azure haze, adding no life to the haunting scene and only seeming to cast an ominous pallor over any soul who passed by.

The occasional growl or howling cry or furious curse sounded from a cell, but most of the souls locked up here seemed destitute, lacking any real desire to show what must have been an all-encompassing desperation. Wash wondered if they were being used for additional 'experiments' -- it would certainly explain their lifelessness. Even just receiving treatment at the normal infirmary after he'd been knifed had left Wash feeling like he'd been drained of his spirit. Between the various jabs of the nurse's endless supply of needles, the interrogations by the Director and the Counselor, and the meals that would have been less torturous if they had been tasteless, it hadn't exactly done much to mend his spirits.

...This looked to be far worse.

As he began to move toward the next cluster of stacked boxes, a crackle through the PA system made him freeze in place, his eyes widening.

"Attention. Prepare cells Three through Ten for transportation to the arena for testing."

He heard a door open on the far end of the corridor and he cursed under his breath before flicking his eyes to the sound of another door sliding ajar. Someone he didn't recognize rushed past his hiding place a moment before the dim lighting swelled to cast a harsher gleam over the holding area. He bit his lip and stared around -- there was no way he'd make it back to the vent, and it would only be a matter of --

"Hey, you!"

He took in a sharp breath but forced himself to produce a neutral but surprised expression as he spun around to find one of the armed guards at his back. The chupa's eyes narrowed before they noticed the dog tags hanging from Wash's neck. "Wait...you're an agent?"

Wash straightened his back and grunted an acknowledgment while quickly throwing a plan together. "Washington." He reached down to lift his tags while smoothly wrapping a finger around York's to keep his friend's codename hidden. "Uh, I was sent here because..."

"Because I've never seen your name on the leaderboards," the guard sneered, immediately relaxing with a confident smirk. "Why the hell weren't you on the duty sheet?"

Wash paused and then shrugged mentally. Couldn't hurt. "Last minute replacement for Georgia. He couldn't make his shift."

"Heh. That pussy keeps ducking outta herding duty and he's gonna go right back to mopping up the shit 'n piss," the guard snorted before jerking his head toward the cells. "Whatever. Watch Seven. Don't forget the stun rod, dumbass." He thumbed toward a rack positioned further down the corridor, where a few batons were hanging. Without so much as another glance at the Freelancer, the guard brushed past him and proceeded to one of the five cells to bark orders at the occupant as he prepared a pair of cuffs.

Wash glared at his back as he retrieved one of the electrically-charged batons, for a moment contemplating an attack on his blindside to give him the chance to duck out. Problem was the guy knew who he was, now. Playing along was a better option.

As the cell doors were opened and the prisoners -- because that's what they were, wasn't it? -- were yanked out and cuffed, Wash grimaced at the sight of Kentucky. She hadn't noticed him, or if she had, wasn't saying anything. Her remaining arm had been bound to her back while she stared forward without seeming to see anything. Her breaths were shallow and quick, and it looked like she might explode at any moment. The guard closest to her was certainly not unaware, either, considering the distance he stood at while brandishing his own stun baton threateningly.

"Alright, you fuckers -- let's move!"

Wash's eyes drifted to the occupant from cell Seven. He was unhealthily skinny and twitched violently as he stared from side to side before immediately locking onto Wash when the Freelancer approached. "Hey...hey, hey, wh-where are we going?"

Wash frowned but only inclined his head forward when one of the guards eyed them. "Follow the others," he muttered under his breath before glancing down at the baton in his hands. "Don't make me use this thing."

The harried chupa took a few steps even as he continued to whisper frantically. "B-but, you...what are they g-g-gonna do to us? They said this place was for science, th-they said we could shorten our sentence if we signed up..." Wash's eyes narrowed slightly and he pushed the stick lightly into the guy's back, not activating the current but still making him jump and whimper loudly. "I'll g-go back and serve my time! I'll do twice as much! Y-you don't get it, man, no one ever comes back! They never come back!"

Ahead of them, Kentucky snarled and snapped at the guard nearest her, receiving a cruel smash across her muzzle from a stun rod. Wash flinched and then glanced back at number Seven. He thought back to the infirmary, where York and the others had been laid out, receiving whatever experimental treatments. He wondered if something similar was going to happen to these prisoners. But as they passed a sign labeled 'Training Arena', a chill ran down his spine when he recalled some of the footage he'd obtained from Georgia. At first, he'd assumed the werewolves were just being pitted against one another...but...

His eyes widened slightly as a pair of doors was thrown open before the guards shoved the prisoners forward. God, they weren't, were they?

"Inside, assholes!"

Wash stared into the arena, stumbling forward with the others out of shock. The guards didn't seem to care, only snorting dismissively and lining up against the wall as they secured the doors behind them. Wash didn't care -- he was too busy gawking at what he saw before him. The room was full of various machines and what looked like training gear. It looked like the combat center from Specials, except somehow...more unsettling, perhaps due to the smell. He knew immediately what it was as his eyes drifted numbly toward the figures across from them. Harsh light was cast down from bright fixtures in the high ceiling, illuminating the three chupas standing at attention near the center of the room.

York was among them and he tilted his head curiously before blinking as he recognized Wash. "Little buddy?"

Wash's muzzle worked in confusion, and York looked just as lost for a few seconds before he stiffened as a dull clap sounded from above. Wash turned his eyes up and then spotted him, the distinctive glare of his glasses making it all too obvious. He stared back down directly at Wash before a slight, cruel smile cracked his shadowy features. "Delta Pack. Codeword Echo Oscar Solomon."

Wash stared back at York as his friend twitched and then dropped to a knee with a snarl. The other two chupas next to him had similar reactions, growling and baring their fangs while the fur along their necks and tails stood up straight. Wash watched numbly, seeing only feral hunger when his ex-partner looked back up, his soft, viridian gaze replaced with raw fury. His massive frame seemed even larger now, rippling with untamed rage as his mane stood up as jagged spikes, framing his animal-like features that released a sharp howl. "Y-York..." he whispered before gasping as the skinny prisoner cursed and suddenly swung at him.

"Fuck this!" he yelled, snatching the baton away from Wash before his instincts could react. Wash widened his eyes before giving a strangled yelp when the stun rod was shoved into his chest to send a burst of electricity through him and drop him to the cold floor with a series of spasms. He heard the guards curse and run forward from behind. "I didn't sign up for this shit!" he wailed hoarsely while brandishing the rod wildly. The other prisoners all stared around before a few of them quickly looked for their own improvised weapons while Kentucky started breathing harder while a low growl built in her throat.

The guards raised a mixture of batons and pistols as the four moved forward warily toward the ring of prisoners. "Weapons down, assholes!" Number Seven snarled in protest as he swung the baton while his fellow prisoners raised their fists gamely, two of them wielding heavy poles they'd yanked from a container nearby.

A quiet chuckle drew Wash's shocked expression up once more. He saw the smirk on the Director's face even with his temporary paralysis. "Eliminate all...non-Agent personnel," he ordered calmly from his elevated perch.

The guards froze as one of them screwed up his muzzle in bewilderment. "W-wait, wha--?"

He was cut off by the chorus of snarling as all heads whipped toward the other end of the arena to see the three werewolves charging toward them. Several cries of protest sounded and were met with hungry roars. Wash gasped when a member of Delta Pack batted aside Kentucky's ripped-free arm before slashing his claws through her chest to leave ragged, gaping tears...and then slamming a fist into her with enough strength that Wash could hear her spine snap from the impact.

The prisoners were torn through with ease, blood spraying through the air as the enhanced chupas ripped limbs from torsos and clawed savagely past any feeble defense before setting their eyes on the guards and springing forward as one. Wash winced as a pistol fired several times just behind him, the hot shells dropping down across his body. He watched the bullets pound into York's chest and he gasped a protest...only to stare in disbelief as the tan werewolf barely slowed and instead just snarled while lunging forward and swiping his claws out to knock the gun from the guard's grip.

Wash's eyes bulged as York rushed forward and grabbed the helpless guard by the throat to haul him off his feet like he was no more than a toy. The guard choked out a plea that fell on deaf senses, as York's only response was to growl and clench his hand to crush his target's neck with an audible squelch. "Oh god, York," he whimpered. He could hear screams around him, the tearing of flesh...he knew what he had smelled was blood because he smelled so much more of it now...but it was all numb to him, faded away as the only thing he saw was York lumbering over to his prone form and looming over him.

Blood ran down his friend's fingers, dripping from trembling claws across Wash's chest as York's muzzle quivered with a slow snarl. His eyes were yellow and glowing with an intensity that shook Wash to his core as terror overtook him, pinning him in place. York leaned down and raised his arm...but something flashed behind his eyes and his gaze flicked to Wash's chest, to the dog tags quaking with Wash's violent tremors. York stood there for a few seconds with the growl still in his throat while Wash felt tears pricking his eyes as he shook his head numbly. This wasn't his friend...this was a monster. He'd never felt this sort of fear before, a weak moan of denial slipping from his jaws even as he shakily raised a hand toward York, aching to see that some part of his ex-partner was still there.

"Hmm. Take a note -- Delta Pack's comprehension appears to be vastly improved over Gamma Pack." The Director's voice cut through Wash's haze, though Wash's eyes never left York's as the distressed tears rolled down his cheeks. "That will do for now. Orange Monkey Eagle."

York blinked before emitting a low groan as he slumped back down to his knees. Wash found his senses and scrambled to sit up, eyes still wide as York breathed hard and then glanced up briefly. Wash swallowed thickly when he saw the familiar flash of green in his friend's gaze before York's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed with a grunt, the other two werewolves following suit where they stood.

Wash's heart pounded, barely hearing the Director's voice as he stared at his friend's unconscious form. "Agent Washington. I don't recall seeing you on the duty roster -- but your participation is appreciated." Wash could hear the smirk. "We'll be sure to have a session scheduled with the Counselor, this data is quite promising." Wash finally dragged his eyes up, past all the decimated bodies, past the splattered blood, to stare mutely at the Director. "Recovery Team, please return Delta Pack to the infirmary and begin sanitation." He paused as Wash trembled silently with another hollow look at York. "And Agent Washington? Mind your step. This organization has no room for weakness. You would do well to focus on what is capable for someone of your...ability."

There was no response Wash could give and he only continued to stare at York as the doors opened and a medical team bustled in. He barely registered their presence as he slowly climbed to his feet and then stumbled away, casting another look over his shoulder at his friend before clenching his teeth and forcing himself to keep moving.

Now he knew what Georgia meant. And now he understood why he could no longer simply go mindlessly through the motions. He wasn't just here to survive his fate anymore. It didn't matter that York would no doubt come through the project successfully, that he would be just as strong as Carolina, that they would have each other's back and be the organization's best team again.

York was still his friend, and Wash couldn't just stand by and watch anymore. He knew York would have done the same for him, because that was the promise they'd made each other all that time ago. No amount of bitterness, no realization of naivete, could take away what Wash still clutched close, the way he clung to the dog tags around his neck. York's words still rang out in his memories, like they'd only been spoken yesterday.

No matter who they assign us with...still partners, right?

Wash set his jaw and shoved through the doors with a murmur. "No matter what, partner."


* * *


Fifteen. Not bad.

She clenched her jaws tightly as the wake of the adrenaline coursed through her veins, the familiar ache settling into her limbs. Her eyes flicked immediately to the pouch at her side as she peered into it and then plucked out the data chip. She frowned at the hairline crack that ran through it, a grimace threatening her exhausted features as she reached up to brush her mane idly back. It still pulsed gently, however, which meant it was likely intact. Should still be fine.

She exhaled while her senses steadily drifted back into a more normal state, the continued blare of the alarms returning to a grating wail that made it more difficult to think. Didn't matter, though, she'd retrieved what she was sent for, now she just needed to leave. The chip went back into the pouch and she looked around herself for her firearm before spotting it halfway across the dark room, trapped under a bloodied corpse. There hadn't been much of a need for it after she'd activated herself.

Her opposition had been a mixture of HADES and private security. She'd expected the latter -- this facility was supposedly researching artifacts that had been recovered and kept from the purview of the House. That seemed less plausible with how quickly HADES had been on-site after she missed that one damn alarm. Somehow she wasn't surprised. The 'lack of intel' speech was becoming a broken record, one she patiently sat through at every briefing and one she continued to call bullshit on. Unfortunately, calling bullshit wasn't making the jobs any easier. What would have helped would be working with her partner again.

Agent Carolina grimaced as she avoided touching the padlock hanging around her neck, instead reaching into her vest and testing the damp spot she felt under her arm. A careless mistake. She should have been able to avoid the wild spray of gunfire at that distance. But it was fine -- the green phial was working the way it always did, one aspect of Freelancer's experimental research that didn't seem to have any unexpected side effects.

Yeah, having someone watching her back would have made this a little easier...but that hadn't been part of the mission parameters. Even if York had emerged from the trials successfully, marked all the way down the list as combat-ready. She'd been too busy with the increased number of missions to check in on him as often as she would have liked, not that she assumed the Director or his lab-coat-sporting lackeys would have granted her the permission, anyway. It was an unspoken rule that until you survived the initial integration into one of the packs, contact with the rest of Freelancer was strictly limited. Need-to-know applied to all areas of Freelancer...and considering you just about signed over your entire life to the organization, there weren't many moments even in private that went off the record.

She hadn't worried much, not about him. For all his bravado, for all his teeth-sparkling grins, for all his chest-puffed boldness, York was strong. He'd been gifted the body, but worked his ass off to maintain it. And his past had given him an iron will, forged into steel thanks to the bonds he'd formed through Specials, through Freelancer. He only acted like an idiot, too...most of the time, at least. His loyalty was unequivocal, to a fault, as was his compassion. But even if they were detractions on the Counselor's clipboard, flaws in the Director's eyes, Carolina cherished them. They made York a better person, better than the rest of the agents she worked with. Better than her.

They also made it difficult for her to accept that he'd volunteered for Project Werewolf. She knew it had been because of her, regardless of the way he played it off as a natural progression for himself, since he was regularly at the top of the boards as it was. The best agents were obvious choices for the project.

Most of them, anyway.

York didn't have the ruthless drive for the peak like the others, though. He was competitive, he was cocky, but he wasn't bloodthirsty. He took a loss as easily as he did a victory, usually with the same bad jokes and invitations to a night out on the town. And if she was being brutally honest, him joining Werewolf was a decision she wished she'd protested...because then maybe he would have listened. But he'd been a desirable candidate, his inclusion was a massive boost to the success rate. Delta Pack thrived thanks to his results, or so she'd heard. She believed it, at least. And now he was ready for the field, ready to join his partner once more. Carolina wasn't sure if she was, though.

A brisk shake of her head cleared the thoughts and reminded her of the klaxons. The data was secured and extraction was now her priority. She'd come in alone, but the last bit of chatter across her pockcom had promised assistance from the friendly skies...and for all her excessive candor, Four-Seven-Nine was reliable as hell...and yeah, a pretty damn good friend, too. Carolina's muzzle quirked slightly. For someone with almost zero clearance within the iron-clad walls of the Freelancer Organization, Ashley sure did manage to get the inside scoop on a lot of very not-zero-clearance shit. Probably helped that, despite the constant string of curse words and insults, she had a gift for making things feel casual enough that even the tightest lips would loosen and let slip a secret or two.

Agent Carolina kicked aside the HADES body and plucked her compact rifle off the ground to give it a cursory look. She'd forgotten to reload before injecting the phial -- rookie mistake. She snorted and ejected the mag into her palm while glancing around the room. Fifteen bodies, none of which showed any signs of life. Directives hadn't mentioned needing to leave any survivors, after all.

She moved with practiced precision despite her split attention, the empty clip disappearing into a supply pouch to be replaced with a filled twin that was pushed into place with no more than a gentle klik. She racked the bolt and then thumbed the safety before reaching over her shoulder to lock it into the holster on her back. She probably really should silence the alarms, if only to make her exit slightly less obtrusive.

A small console on the wall caught her attention and she approached it curiously. Didn't even have a lock screen and she arched an eyebrow before tapping a few commands and muting the sirens, leaving only the occasional blink of the red lamps positioned every dozen feet or so along the walls. A satisfied grunt before she turned to walk back across the body-strewn room; now she could lea--

"Agent Carolina, Pilot Four-Seven-Niner here -- you better get your fuckin' head down, sister, 'cause I got a HADES gunship flagged on the boards, comin' at you hot!"

Carolina's eyes immediately narrowed as she stared at her pockcom and flicked through the screens to produce a copy of the radar from the pilot's cockpit. "Shit!" She snarled and lifted her wrist while jogging toward the door. "Yeah, I see it -- where the hell did it come from?"

"No idea, but someone must have known, since I ain't rollin' up empty-handed!" Carolina blinked, not halting but giving the arm-mounted device a confused look all the same. "I come bearin' gifts, girlfriend!"

That rarely meant anything good in Carolina's experience, whether or not Ashley intended it to be. She grit her teeth before nearly stumbling when the cheerful voice joined the pilot's over the radio: "I hope you haven't kicked off the party before the sexy guy pops out of the cake!!"

Her eyes widened slightly despite her training, a growl halfway up her throat as she hissed into the pockcom: "What the hell are--"

She was interrupted by a loud thump above her and her eyes snapped up to see a brief flash of light before a roughly circular swathe of the ceiling cracked into several massive pieces, allowing thin shafts of sunlight to stream in an instant before the chunks of concrete and steel tumbled down toward her. She cursed and threw herself backward as the largest piece slammed down inches away with a deafening thud. She moved on instinct alone, leaping onto the chunk of ceiling before it could fall flat and throwing herself into the air and toward another still-falling slab of concrete. Her hands grabbed into the edge and she shoved her paws against the flat side before again flinging herself upward with a snarl of concentration, eyes narrowed at the breach in the ceiling. She soared directly toward the gaping hole, her claws outstretched for the lip as the gunship bellowed hot air from its thrusters just above.

The shocked features of a HADES operative met her determined growl as she clutched into the rim of the crater and reached for her gun. But as she grabbed it and brought it around to fire, her eyes widened at the definitive sound of concrete continuing to crack. She had just enough time to curse before the ceiling beneath the HADES unit's paws lost its structural integrity and crumbled into several loose pieces. She was sent into a free-fall as the operative gasped and flailed wildly at the air, the two of them plummeting back toward the floor in a hail of broken ceiling.

She twisted her neck around and spotted the jagged edge of another chunk below them, snarling and immediately blasting a vicious kick into the House agent to shove herself to the side as he was sent rocketing away at an opposing angle. She bounced off a smoother piece of the ceiling with a sharp hiss as one of her packs was dislodged to skitter across the debris-covered flooring a moment before her side crashed down with an audible crack! of tile.

Reality twisted around her as she fought to regain her bearings, dragging up just enough perception to glance up and then roll onto her back a nanosecond before the last piece of the crumbled ceiling dropped to slam into the floor next to her. Her eyes bulged as it tipped toward her and then slammed down across her lower body. She was saved from being crushed thanks to the twisted steel beams the chunk of concrete was caught on, but she felt enough weight on her legs that she couldn't wrench herself free, either. "Shit!"

Her eyes jerked back to the breached ceiling as several ropes snaked down from the gunship before she heard a series of distinct clicks, no doubt the sound of carabiners attaching to the quick-descent lines. She snarled and clenched her jaws as she squirmed an arm down beneath the concrete for her kit...only to curse again as she whipped her head around with the realization that the phials were in the pack that had been knocked off her hip. "Fucking great," she muttered as she brought the short-barrel rifle into both hands while sweeping the tip toward the thick black ropes.

As soon as the first figures were visible, she pulled the trigger in several short, controlled bursts. She was rewarded with cries of pain that cut off halfway through, followed by the muted thuds of three lifeless bodies tumbling down to the wreckage around her. The other two HADES operatives barked warnings and twisted themselves to the side to land on either edge of the entry point as they blindly returned fire down toward the Freelancer.

Carolina cursed and wrenched her torso to the left as one of the bullets tore through her arm but missed anything vital. Another quick snarl from her stubby rifle dropped one of them and she shifted the barrel to the other side while forcing herself to take a deep breath and remain focused. Even with the height disadvantage, she'd have the first clear shot of anyone else who jumped out of the aircraft.

Unless someone threw a grenade, much like the one she saw arcing into the hole in a loose path toward her.

She had a half-second to twitch her rifle to the left as she flicked the fire selector to full-auto, shouting through grit teeth in protest as a hail of gunfire screamed through the air. One of the bullets clipped the grenade and it exploded several feet above her, sending a deafening shockwave across her that was joined with a blast of heat. It was apparently a high-explosive device, since she didn't feel any shrapnel shredding her exposed chest, and she counted it as a blessing in addition to the pained cry of denial from the HADES operative as he was lifted off his feet to fly backward. Additional cracks formed in the ceiling and she swore again before quickly starting to shove at the debris trapping her body. Everything about this shit was going from bad to worse.

"Sup, dude?!"

She froze at the cheery shout from above and stared up through the gap in the concrete before she caught a blur of tan leaping into the HADES ship from another dropship, this one sporting a livery that was decidedly unmarked. No doubt so HADES wouldn't realize they were being attacked by-- "York!"

Ashley's voice crackled through her pockcom a second later. "Hey, Lina!! If you're still alive down there, your dumbass boyfriend just jumped ship! Get your ass out, we're evacing now!"

She snarled and lifted her wrist to yell back: "What the hell is he do--oh fuck me!"

She stared in disbelief as three or four HADES agents tumbled out of the gunship to land heavily on the damaged roof. She could hear the destabilized concrete shudder even as they all cursed and scrambled up to their feet to take aim at the intruder on their ship. "No, no no, goddammit, it's gonna--"

Her protest was lost to the sounds of the turbines and wild gunfire as one more HADES operative was thrown out before a grinning tan-colored hulk of a chupa lunged out after the armored agent. He grabbed into their shoulders and then twisted his body to send them hurtling down twice as fast to smash into two of his cohorts. Carolina's eyes bulged as a massive crack rippled across the bottom of the ceiling before her goddamned partner landed with a whoop of excitement...that was extremely short-lived, since the entire roof shifted violently before all five or six of its occupants found themselves falling amongst a blizzard of broken concrete and bent steel.

Carolina winced and covered her face as a thick plume of dust accompanied the cacophony of debris, rapidly covering the room in a thick haze as she heard several different shouts through the fog. She was guessing they hadn't been fortunate enough that the fall took any of them out. Even as she struggled to listen for York's voice, she ejected the clip from her rifle and then grit her teeth as she struggled to slide an arm under herself and extract another magazine.

A muffled yelp followed by the sound of something thudding down near her made her twist her head around and aim the firearm...only to see a HADES agent sprawled out, their visor shattered to reveal unconscious features from what had been a powerful blow to the face. It was followed soon by more confused shouting and several hesitant bursts of gunfire, which were themselves proceeded by the sounds of heavy blows into torsos and muzzles as a distinctive chortle broke through the haze. "Guys, how do ya keep missing?? I'm freakin' huge!"

Carolina narrowed her eyes but forced herself to focus -- if they were distracted, then she could work on freeing herself. She began to shove at the concrete again before glancing up with a frown when the gunship suddenly veered up and away from the rooftop. A warning began to tickle at her gut and she set her jaw before Ashley's voice burst through her comms again. "Oh shit! Take cover, you two, they're going weapons hot!!"

"York, cover!" Carolina barked into the dust that was starting to settle.

It was enough of a warning and she caught a flash of light-brown fur dashing across the room before York's face grinned at her from behind a thick pillar. A burst of bullets from one of the surviving HADES agents tore into it and he scowled before winking at her. "Looks like I graduated just in time!"

"What the hell are you doing here?!"

"Oh, y'know, just normal hero stuff!" he called back before his eyes widened a bit and he shrunk behind the column. "Head down!"

She heard the whir of barrels spinning up before a squealing whine sounded from outside the building as a volley of bullets pounded through the outer walls and ripped across the room, dragging a line of several-inch-wide craters across the opposite wall. One of their own was mowed down mercilessly and Carolina snorted, only to blink as the sound of metal smashing against metal made her tip her head back.

"Another platoon on foot, coming from the -- shit, watch it, motherfuckers, I'm the one rammin' you!! -- east, you two need to get the fuck out, they apparently got backup for days!" Ashley's voice shouted from her wrist.

There was another loud clash from outside, accompanied by the scream of thrusters, and Carolina could only assume the crazy bitch was attempting to distract the gunship using her own very-much-so-unarmed craft. She flicked her eyes back to York as he poked his head out again. "York! I'm giving you the chip, you need to get it out!"

He blinked before frowning. "Yeah, that's not--" He winced again when the door at the other end of the room was blown open as several more private security officers burst in, immediately opening fire on the huge chupa's cover. A few shots strafed past her as well, blocked by the very debris she was trapped beneath.

"Goddammit, York!"

She watched as he dropped to one knee and then produced a red phial from his hip pack, tossing it once and glancing back at her with a half-grin. "Heh. So these aren't suppositories, right!?"

Her eyes widened slightly. "Wait, no, don't, you aren't--"

But he'd already jammed it into the small injector gun before shoving it against his thigh and yanking the trigger. She stared at him, unable to do much more than watch as he twitched and dropped down to one knee. "Woo, that is tingly--nngrrRRHH!"

The transformation rolled through him smoothly, his mane spiking outward as his fur stood on end. She grit her teeth but forced her eyes to stay on him -- they'd want a report of how it went, after all.

...But more than that, she didn't want to lose sight of him, even if the mere thought of him undergoing the process made her ache to the very core. York panted harshly as his palms slammed into the flooring before dragging back slowly as chunks of tile were torn up beneath his thick fingers. She almost flinched when his head whipped up at the sound of the encroaching soldiers, when those yellow eyes burned into hers with pupils that were barely slits. But even as he snarled, even as his enlarged fangs glistened hungrily, there was recognition there. She knew he was still in control.

He immediately shouldered into the concrete pillar before him, causing the already-weakened ceiling to crumble. She winced before realizing it was intentional as he repeated the action, and then smashed his shoulder in a third time to break off a chunk of the column. He hefted it like it was made of cardboard and promptly slammed it down in front of her, protecting her completely from the onslaught of small-arms fire before roaring and dropping onto all fours to sprint toward the attacking soldiers.

She only saw bits of the action through the small gap between the chunks of concrete, but she heard plenty. The screams of agony were unmistakable, and she saw more than a few swathes of blood spray across the distant walls as York tore through the helpless security agents. It took no more than a few seconds before only the snarl of the enormous werewolf filled the air as he lumbered back across the room.

It was then she remembered the gunship, and her eyes widened as she heard the guns winding up again as York approached her. "York! Gunship!"

His feral eyes locked onto her before he dug his claws into the piece of concrete he'd slammed in front of her, lifting it high above his head. She didn't feel even an ounce of fear, though, trusting in him despite his jagged, animalistic grin...and a moment before the spray of bullets could once more rip into the half-destroyed building, he turned and grunted as he heaved the several-hundred-pound chunk of concrete through a shattered window.

She couldn't see where it went, but she certainly heard the smash of a windshield being shattered, followed shortly by the sound of the gunship twisting around, its turbines and rotors squealing before the building shook as the aircraft dropped unceremoniously into the ground with a scream of crushed metal.

"Hoooly shit, what the fuck did y'all just do?" Ashley called out over the pockcom. "Fuck me, that bitch is toast! You guys are clear but it is time to book it, kids, ay-sap!"

Her voice made York's head whip back toward her and Carolina narrowed her eyes slightly as he stomped right up to her with a quiet growl. His entire body quivered with power and she felt conflicting strings of concern and pride while she stared up at him, studying his enormous form silently. She knew from her own experiences that the trance didn't leave you exactly coherent...but that when triggered yourself, left far more room for interpretation. At the simplest level, he wasn't attacking her. He was already beyond that, though -- he was listening. "Need help getting free," she muttered even as she flexed her fingers warily.

York continued to breathe heavily for a few seconds before leaning down. She tensed...and then slowly relaxed as his claws dug into the concrete that had her trapped. With a grunt, he hefted it up effortlessly and flung it to one side. She rolled over instantly and leaped up to her feet. He bared his fangs and leaned down toward her, but she quickly met him with the same motion as she placed a hand against his chest.

...His pulse was steady. He'd barely exerted himself, but she knew by now that the blind rage that often accompanied the transformation kept the body on edge regardless of the situation. He was different. Part of her wondered if it was her, but part of her knew it was probably because he simply was that strong of a candidate. The Director hadn't been wrong.

He growled quietly again when she moved her fingers through his fur to squeeze the key pendant half-hidden beneath his dog tags. His eyes were locked onto her, his blood-drenched claws dripping quietly at her sides as they hovered inches away...but never moved closer. She looked into his eyes, saw past the wild hunger and still felt him in there. It was a relief, and something that gave her strength no matter how deeply it hurt her to see him this way. Knowing she could still trust him to have her back, to still be York even while he was in the trance...it was better than the other potentials.

She took a slow breath and then reached for his hip pack. He tensed up, one of his hands brushing against her shoulder and leaving a streak of still-warm blood, but she ignored it and instead gently extracted the injection gun, along with a yellow phial that she slipped into the chamber. There was no point tempting fate -- different or not, a werewolf was still a werewolf. She wouldn't have trusted herself for long in the trance, after all. "Come on back to me, York," she murmured as she pressed the barrel against his side and then pulled the trigger.

The soft hiss was followed by York twitching and snarling as he grabbed into her arm firmly. She clenched her teeth but otherwise maintained eye contact while watching her partner shudder and then grit his teeth as he slumped forward, his grip shifting to a gentler grasp into her shoulder as she helped support him for a moment. A harsh breath rushed out across her features and she looked up at him to carefully monitor his eyes when they opened, giving a tiny smile of relief when the yellow washed away to leave the vibrant green she had come to adore. He took another deep breath and then shook his head quickly as her smile drifted back to a neutral expression. "Hoooly shit, that was...wow." He blinked a few times and then leaned back to examine her. "You okay?!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she replied as she placed her hand on his heart -- his pulse was still normal. "How do you feel? You really shouldn't have done that, York, it was against--"

the protocol, I didn't go 'n become a big badass werewolf just so I could stand around and watch you get shot up!" he protested, even as he smiled and caressed her cheek. "C'mon, now we're a pair of badasses, just like we always have been. And it went fine!" He held his other arm out to the side with his trademark grin. "Look, still the same sexy beast even after transforming back."

She couldn't help the smile. He was just so damn good at coaxing it out. She exhaled and then grumbled before spinning him around and shoving lightly at his back. "You handled it...pretty well. But you took a little longer than expected to process friendly directives." She smirked as he gave her a pouting face over his shoulder. "Like I'm gonna give you slack just because it was your first time. Now let's get the hell outta here before anyone else shows up...this was already a clusterfuck and a half more than it was supposed to be."

They jogged to the door together after retrieving her lost equipment. Carolina took a moment to cast her eyes over a shoulder, taking in the carnage they'd both wreaked. She was used to seeing the aftermath of her trances -- but seeing it after York...

She shook her head but forced herself to refocus, following her partner out as they raced for the dropship swooping down next to the wreckage of the HADES gunship. There was no turning back now -- all she could do was keep pushing, and keep up her end of the bargain. It was worth it, for him.


Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.

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