Characters: Agent Washington, Lavernius Tucker, Leonard Church, Agent Texas, Michael J. Caboose
Warnings: Canon-typical swearing, drinking, aftermath of trauma (sorry even when I’m being fluffy it’s still mean), gratuitous bagel puns
Ao3 link / @rvbficwars (ps im so sorry i haven’t had legit access to the internet all week and its grad week but i still wanted to do something)
GUESS YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING NOW
Five in the morning. Who the fuck schedules a military hearing for five in the fucking morning on a Tuesday?
Wash adjusts his uniform in the bathroom mirror for the millionth time, suppressing the agonized screech he’s been holding in for hours. It’s stiff. Too formal, suffocating, all the tassels and the badges. If he could just exchange it for a suit, or a button-up shirt, literally anything that didn’t make him feel as trapped as he already is, he might be feeling better about this.
But this is a military thing, and because it’s military, they want him to testify as the soldier he used to be. Not the agent he became. Which means a uniform—the stiff, dull, cloth kind.
Fuck. He doesn’t want to do this. Doesn’t want to stand before a bunch of military assholes for hours and let them dissect every second he spent with the project. Doesn’t want to sit on a train into the city in full uniform while civilians stare at him and wonder what kind of mess he’s gotten himself into. They wouldn’t be wrong to wonder.
Stalling for time, he sighs and combs his hands through his hair yet again—and as he does, his fingers brush ever so slightly over the scar at the nape of his neck and he freezes.
His hands fall to his sides. All he wants to do is get back in bed with his cats, lock every door in the apartment, and never leave. Maybe even scream into a pillow after cracking open a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. That’s his usual Tuesday night. But that scar reminds him why he’s doing this.
This is why he agreed to testify. So what happened to him doesn’t have to happen to anyone else ever again.
Wash sighs and turns off the bathroom lights, heading for the door. He’s going to miss his train.
He doesn’t feel that drunk.
Still, Tucker gets the gist that he’s fucking wasted when he hits Church’s car in the parking lot.
A part of him thinks that maybe he should back up and try again. But his foot isn’t part of that part, and it presses down the gas and eases into the parking spot next to Church’s now-beat-up jeep like nothing happened.
He can’t really pin down his mood as he gets out of his equally beat-up sedan and slams the door shut. Drunk, sure, but that’s not a mood, that’s a lifestyle decision. He thinks the right word is annoyed. Annoyed at being assigned to the graveyard shift when his son is supposed to be starting kindergarten in the morning. Annoyed that, because of work and that stupid thing called rent, he’s not gonna get to see his kid off to his first day of school. He’d dropped Junior off at Kai’s place last night, just in case this happened, which of course it did. He’s entitled to a responsible adult night alone and a bottle of rage vodka every once in a while.
He’s also a little giddy, which he can easily attribute to being drunk off his ass at two in the morning.
Tucker fumbles for his keys and drops them twice before finally getting the front door open. The Pastry Train Donut and Bagel Emporium is dark in the dining area, which is bad, because it means that Church expects him to turn everything on.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
Where are the lights again? He hasn’t had the opening shift in months.
Once he remembers, he slowly maneuvers towards the power and flips all the switches, letting out a groan as everything turns on, all the lights, all the fridges in the front, all the really fucking bright things. Ow.
“It’s about time you got here,” Church says, emerging like the social gremlin he is from the bakery in the back. He’s got dough and flour all over his apron—at least he already got the first batch of bagels in. Church raises an eyebrow. “I, uh, heard some noise in the parking lot.”
Tucker rubs at his eyes. “Oh. I, uh, I hit…a…tree.”
“…Big tree. Loud tree.”
He just looks at Church confusedly for a second before, like a switch being flipped, he can suddenly hear the screaming wail of a car alarm outside. He can’t be that drunk, how did he not fucking notice that?
Church pulls his keys out of his pocket and presses the lock button, and the car outside makes the little chirp chirp and goes silent. “Apparently I drive a ‘98 Redwood.”
“…No, yeah, my car’s fine, don’t worry,” Tucker says. He thinks he says it coolly but in reality he just slurs it together like it’s all one word.
Church just stares.
“You’re wasted, aren’t you.”
Tucker takes a step back and puts a hand on his heart, feigning offense. “Me? No, no, you…nah, I’m sober.”
“Right, of course.” The sarcasm in his voice is burning. “That’s the smell coming off of you, it’s definitely sobriety.”
“We open up for commuters in ten. You good to handle a register?”
They’re kind of just staring at each other for a few seconds.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, totally. I’m totally cool. Exact change? No problem. Each plain bagel’s a dollar.”
“Right, that’s, like, the poor man’s dollar. No prob.”
Church rolls his eyes and retreats to the bakery again. If Tucker squints hard enough, he can see Tex and Caboose handling the crates of groceries in the back like the fucking lifting machines they are. This is it? Usually he works later in the morning, when there’s a herd of hungry commuters and soccer moms buying breakfast for their kids and stuff. Then the whole team is in here, and it’s alive, and it’s honestly not that miserable. But this? This is kinda sad. Just an empty bagel shop by the train station at two in the morning. Sad.
Tucker sighs and throws his bag and coat in the storage closet, then somehow hops the counter without tripping, ignoring Church’s shout of hey maybe don’t fucking do that, dipshit, and after a couple tries manages to tie his apron on.
He glances up at the clock. 2:02.
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.
He got weird looks from the cab driver. Of course he did. He’s wearing a full military uniform, cap and all, and he’s taking a yellow cab to the train station. What was he expecting?
Wash tips the guy extra and gets out of that cab as fast as his legs can take him. Probably feeling just as anxious, the cab driver speeds away down a side street, and just like that Wash is at the train station.
His heart sinks as he checks his watch. 2:05. He’s early. Way too early, it’s a ghost town.
Wash sighs to himself and puts his cap into his side bag a little more forcefully than necessary. He’s taken the train exactly twice before—once for the preliminary hearing last week, and once to get back. He hated it both ways, the noise, the tight spaces. And even those didn’t leave at 3:03 in the morning on a Tuesday.
Now he’s stranded here, waiting for that misery, for an hour.
There’s a bench not far away, and he’s still half asleep, so he walks towards it and takes a tired seat. God, he’s so tired. Hopefully he doesn’t fall asleep while being grilled alive during the hearing. That wouldn’t be good. Coffee, now that would be a lifesaver. Coffee with a couple pounds of sugar.
He looks around the station. It’s a fairly big town, and the station reflects that. Rows and rows of parking spots behind him, dozens of tracks in front of him, too many staircases and a bunch of closed stores and one really brightly lit place, gosh, and—
Wash does a double-take and looks back at the store that had caught his attention. That’s a bagel shop. An open bagel shop. Do those usually open this early?
His stomach grumbles, but he ignores it, purely because he’s riveted by the possibility of anything being open this fucking early in the morning. It’s literally the only source of light in the entire station right now. Even the moon pales in comparison.
He stares a little longer at the sign above the store. Pastry Train. The Pastry Train Donut and Bagel Emporium. The words are written in bright swirling blue on a white banner, which has been draped over the store’s awning, and on top of the shop is a statue of a big strawberry-frosted donut with an absurd amount of sprinkles that almost makes him smile.
The second time his stomach grumbles, he listens to it. He’s hungry. There’s a store right there. Food. Something to give him energy for as long as it takes for this thing to be over since it’s pretty obvious that he’s not gonna get another chance to eat until after the hearing.
He’s about to stand and go in there when he hears a loud crash from inside the building—and in the window he can see two people yelling over something, he can’t tell what, and just the idea of having to talk to people once inside suddenly keeps him firmly glued to the seat. He’s not very good at talking to people anymore. Before the project, maybe, but now…
Nope. The thought of social interaction flashes red in his mind like a giant stop sign. Nope. No. No bagel is worth it.
…Except he’s really hungry. Almost nauseously so. And the more he stares at that ridiculously elaborate sign, the more he reads the words Pastry Train, the more he wants that bagel.
Maybe they have coffee?
…Well, that kind of makes his decision for him. Coffee and a bagel. Perfect. It’s a combination just asking to be made.
Shouldn’t be hard, right? He survived Freelancer. He can survive getting a bagel.
Tucker doesn’t know how much longer he can survive and he’s been here eight minutes. Of course, he’s not quite lucid enough to keep track of that on his own. He only knows it’s been eight minutes because of the fact that, once every minute, Tex pokes her stupid blonde head out of the bakery to remind Tucker of how useless he is. She also reminds him of how long he’s been standing there, staring at the stove for no reason other than it looks shiny. Eight minutes.
But you know what? Tucker’s got who-knows-how-much vodka swimming around in his system right now, so he figures it’s better to be useless and staring off into space than handling money or making food that actual humans consume.
Tex pokes her head out and this time Tucker beats her to the punch. “Nine, I’m worthless, a bad father, drinking before the job is the same thing as drinking on it. Got it.”
“No—well, yeah, but…no. There’s a customer coming in.”
Tucker had been idly rolling a stack of pennies across the counter this entire time, but at the sound of a door opening he gets distracted and accidentally rolls it a little too hard and the stack flies off the counter towards the front of the store.
He lunges for the pennies a split second too late, and right as he does, the customer comes walking through the door and as if every existing god has decided to fuck with Tucker at the exact same time the stack rolls perfectly under the guy’s boot and there’s a sort of mild confusion in his eyes for an instant before he slips and falls backwards and bangs his head against one of the fridges.
A sharp “Fuck” slips from Tucker’s lips before he can catch it.
Tex pokes her head out of the kitchen one more time, looks at the customer, looks at Tucker, and goes back in. “Your mess.“
Shit. Shit shit. This is exactly why he shouldn’t be working at 2:09 in the morning.
“Oh, man…” The customer moans and puts a hand to the back of his head, and some paternal-instinct-filled part of Tucker realizes that he should probably go check on him and make sure he didn’t actually get, y'know, hurt in any suable way or anything.
This time he ducks under the counter and approaches the customer, who’s looking less dazed now and way more embarrassed. His face, which Tucker thinks had been fairly pale for the split second in which the customer had been standing, is now a very vibrant shade of red, and it’s only making the splash of dark freckles over his nose more prominent, and his bright eyes even brighter and oh wow he’s actually pretty cute the longer Tucker looks at him—
The second that thought is even so much as a suggestion in his mind, Tucker is fucked. Irrevocably and utterly fucked. Once he sees it, he can’t avoid it, can’t look at the guy without acknowledging the fact that he is absolutely fucking adorable.
Having suddenly realized this, and being far too drunk to squash the sentiment down under some guise of professionalism, Tucker is instantly hyper-aware of how unable he is to form a complex sentence. “H-hey, uhhhhh…you, you okay?”
If possible, the customer looks more embarrassed, and he looks up at Tucker with what can only be described as pure shame in his eyes. That look lasts a few seconds before the guy starts to sit up, rubbing the back of his head again with a hiss of pain. “I…what just happened?”
I fucked up. “You, uh, you tripped. Totally. All you.”
That gets him a mild glare from the customer. “Did I?” the customer says in a voice that somehow manages to passively just bleed sarcasm while also sounding fucking dead inside.
I FUCKED UP. “Yep. It was pretty, uh, pretty weak.”
“Uhhhhhh, totally, yeah. Tripping in a bagel store? Yeah, we—“
Tucker hears the pun as it forms in his mind, knows that it’s happening, but for the life of him he doesn’t know how to stop it and all he can think about is bagels and it just slips out.
“—ll, I guess you just weren’t bready for it.”
Tucker can instantly feel his face going hot, and the silence that follows might as well just be filled with Tucker’s internal screaming. What are these words coming out of his stupid fucking mouth? This is not how helping goes. This is not how flirting goes—is he trying to flirt? Is that what this ridiculous drunken pun bullshit is? Because right now, this is how you get a trainwreck, and so far, Tucker would really appreciate a train wrecking him.
The customer looks up at him with an expression that can’t really be described as just dismay. Dismay isn’t strong enough to describe the utter agony in his eyes. His mouth opens and closes a couple times, like every time he’s thought of something to say back, he instantly decides against it.
This is a fucking nightmare.
The customer is silent for a few more seconds, then looks in anguish towards the door like it’s screaming his name. “I-I should go. This was a mistake, I should’ve just waited outsi—“
“No!” Tucker blurts out, and the guy looks back at him, perplexed, and gosh, that’s cute. Fuck. Tucker tries again. “No, I-I mean, you came in for a bagel, right?”
It’s almost painful to watch the struggle going on in the customer’s mind as he decides if it’s worth it to reply.
“…And coffee,” he finally mutters.
“Right. Well, we…” Do they have coffee? Tucker thinks they’ve got coffee. Gahh, too much thinking for the morning. Fuck it. “Totally, dude. We totally have coffee.”
The customer’s expression loosens up noticeably, which Tucker takes as a sign. Of what, he’s not sure—he just knows that the guy is apparently more relaxed and that that’s better than if he’s not.
“I…” The customer sighs. “Sure. Why not.”
There’s silence for a moment, and on some weird instinct Tucker reaches out for the customer’s hand and the customer takes his and Tucker somehow manages to pull the guy to his feet without both of them falling over each other.
The customer smooths down his uniform, which somehow, Tucker hadn’t noticed before. That’s UNSC. That’s military. He just embarrassed himself in front of someone who can probably shoot him if he felt like it. What’s a military guy doing here this early—what’s a military guy even doing in this town? This sleepy little hell seems like the wrong place to find a guy like him.
“Um.” The customer coughs into a fist uncomfortably, managing to bring Tucker back to the present. “You also said something about a bagel?”
Oh, right. That.
This is going well.
So this is going badly.
Wash’s head swims, but he’s not sure if it’s the headache or the embarrassment tearing through his insides. The exit door is a black hole, and every few seconds, Wash has to check it to make sure it’s still there, ready to suck him in the abyss in case he decides to end his misery once and for all.
At least Wash is off his ass and on his feet. Better than nothing. Easier to run that way.
The clerk, the guy with the awful, awful pun, turns around and—for some reason Wash can’t even begin to understand—attempts to jump the counter into the back of the kitchen, but he doesn’t quite make it and he ends up half-stumbling his way over the counter and almost faceplanting on the floor before catching himself.
Almost immediately, there’s a shout from the back of the kitchen. “Tucker, I fucking told you that was going to happe—”
“Eat a dick,” the clerk spits back.
As if suddenly aware of Wash’s eyes on him, the clerk—Tucker—makes a show of straightening up and leaning forward over the counter. “What?” he says, and the way he says it, it almost sounds like it’s meant to be sharp, but it comes out tired and slurred and like he’s not really all there.
“You, uh…” Let it go, Wash, let it go. “Nothing.”
Tucker gives him a very suspicious look. “Okay,” he says, not at all sounding okay.
There’s a really awkward silence again. Wash looks back at the door and waits patiently for a black hole to swallow him like he’d planned.
“Right,” Tucker says suddenly, whirling around back towards the kitchen. "Bagel. Hey, Church, uh, what’s the status on bagels?“
The same voice from before yells back, “Ten minutes.”
Oh, god. Ten minutes? Waiting here?
Tucker rolls his eyes, but at the same time his mouth pulls into a tight line and Wash immediately knows that it’s as awkward for Tucker as it is for him. At least that’s one thing they have in common.
Wash clears his throat awkwardly and shifts his bag on his shoulder, checking his watch. 2:11. Why can’t time just move faster?
He looks up and Tucker is staring at him, eyes narrow and confused.
“So,” Tucker says, painfully awkward, drumming his fingers on the counter in an arrhythmic beat. “What’s with the suit?”
Alarms immediately go off in Wash’s head. Fuck. The whole Project Freelancer hearing is meant to be classified, but he hadn’t thought of a cover story before leaving the house in case people asked him about the uniform. And Wash is a very, very bad liar.
“I, uhhh—” Wash immediately blurts out the first army-esque thing he can think of. “Court martial.”
If possible, Tucker’s eyes get even narrower. “But isn’t that, like, criminal, or…or something?”
Yikes. This is uncomfortable. “W-well, yeah, but—”
“You a criminal? A bad dude?”
Tucker scoffs. “Dude, I’m totally messing with ya. You, the guy who fell flat on his ass through no fault of my own, a bad guy? Doesn’t seed like it.”
Wash sighs tightly, thinking about the irony of what this guy’s just said to him— when his mind replays the sentence a second time and Wash hears it.
Wash looks sharply at Tucker, who’s just standing there, eyes wide open, mouth slightly agape, staring back. His face is turning red, bright and embarrassed like before—he knows.
“You did it again.”
Tucker looks broken. He knows.
There’s a raw agony in Wash voice when he repeats, “Doesn’t seed like it. You said seed—”
“I-I—fuck, it’s not like I meant to say it!” Tucker stammers back.
“Then why did you?!”
“I don’t know, okay?! It’s two in the fucking morning, sue me!”
Puns. Christ, Wash can’t fucking stand puns. They’re not even jokes, you’re just putting another stupid fucking word in the wrong fucking place and it’s not funny. He’d rather step in front of a moving train than hear another.
…Though. To be honest, Tucker looks like he feels the same way.
There’s complete and utter silence between the two of them as Tucker reaches for a coffee cup and forcefully holds it out for Wash. He motions over Wash’s shoulder at another counter, and Wash follows the gesture to see a couple containers of what he can only assume are coffee.
Oh, thank god.
Wash takes it without a word and moves over to the counter, avoiding the decaf one like the plague. He doesn’t look at Tucker, doesn’t even look up, just fills the cup with black coffee and then empties six sugar packs in, one by one.
Tucker makes a strange noise as Wash opens packet number seven. “Wow. That’s, uh, a lot of sugar. That for the court martial?”
Wash nods silently.
Wash’s hand slips and half the packet of sugar upends on the counter.
Again. Fucking again. First bread, then seeds, now sugar. Tucker has already ruined all three.
He checks his watch again. 2:15.
Let it go, Wash. Let. It. Go.
He swallows the shriek that’s currently developing in his throat and jams the lid of the coffee cup into place, sighing heavily, and goes back to his spot across from Tucker. Tucker, yet again, looks like he also would like to be anywhere that isn’t here. Good to know they’re in the same mental place.
“How much do I owe you?” Wash says, more of a groan than actual English.
Tucker sighs and runs a hand over his face, glancing at the register. “I…fuck, man, nothing, just take the food. I’m sorry, I’m a piece of shit. Fuck.”
Oh. Well, that does make this marginally less horrible. Free breakfast. Well, not really free. Wash pays with his dignity.
Tucker sighs and leans back against the stove behind him, and Wash pulls out his phone, pressing the power button over and over, just to have something to do.
The minutes pass. One after another, after another. He doesn’t touch the coffee yet—too hot.
“What do you want?”
“Huh?” Wash says.
“Bagel. What bagel.”
“Oh. Oh, just plain.”
“…What, nothing on it?”
Nope. That means spending more time here. “Just plain.”
“That’s, uh, kinda—”
“Yeah, it’s plain, I got it,” Wash snaps. “It is a PLAIN bagel, and I am a PLAIN guy, and that’s the pun.”
There’s quiet for half a second before Tucker lets out a weird snort-laugh thing and suddenly he’s cackling, and Wash is just staring at him and the other people in the kitchen are staring at him and Tucker is just laughing ridiculously and for the life of him Wash doesn’t know why.
“…What. What?!” Wash half-stammers, half-snaps.
Tucker somehow manages to choke out words between gasps of laughter. “You—I just keep, I keep—making shitty puns and I-I can’t stop, but it’s bothering you so much, you look so good w-when you’re annoyed—”
Wash feels the blood rush to his head for a million different reasons. “I-I do not.”
He immediately knows that’s a mistake when a mischievous glint flashes in Tucker’s eyes. “Oh, really? You sure I-I’m not annoying you?”
“You sure I’m not getting on your nerves?”
“I-I donut think you’re being honest with me, buddy.”
Oh my god.
“Please,” Wash starts, “don't—”
“What? Are my puns too plain for you?”
OH MY GOD.
Tucker must find this hysterical, because he’s still laughing, as Wash’s face continuously gets redder and redder. “You’d butter hope I donut keep going, because so far I haven’t even been using the pickup lines.”
OH MY FUCKING GOD.
Wash attempts to feign ignorance and takes a hearty swig of the coffee. Still too hot. Better than this, though, better than all of this.
“I could use some coffee jokes too, maybe embarrass you a little, but I wanna try and keep it to a light roast. Listen, baby, you may be plain, but I’ll be your everything. You make my heart whole. You fill the hole inside my bagel, bow chicka wow wow. You’re adorable, can’t you seed? You’re my jam, though I guess, not everyone puts jam on bagels so that might not be your cup of tea. Ooh, ooh and this one! When I look at you, you make me wanna cinnamon—”
Wash snorts—he can’t fucking help it at that last one—but he does it so hard that he ends up accidentally choking on the coffee in his mouth and he breaks into a coughing fit. Tucker’s still laughing, but after Wash finally stops coughing, he settles to a giddy smile, like he’s trying to hold in all the laughter.
“So you do laugh,” Tucker says, in an awfully teasing way, leaning forward on the counter. “Of all the puns, I can’t believe the cinnamonone was what got you.”
One of the people from the kitchen comes out and places a small brown bag on the counter, and Wash lunges for it immediately and starts for the door. Oh, god. Oh, god, what the fuck just happened. What the fuck just happened. He can feel himself sweating, and not just because of the uniform, but from the crippling embarrassment flooding his veins. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
You make me wanna cinnamon. Cinnamon. Sin. Oh my god, what the fuck is going on. Was that an actual pickup line?? Was that just a joke?? Why why why why oh my god oh my god he needs to get out of here oh my god oh my god oh my god—
Wash pushes the door open, but he’s barely looked outside when he hears Tucker behind him.
“Hey, uh, so if you end up, y'know, wanting another bagel or something when you get back from whatever the fuck you’re doing, I’ll be a round. A round. Like a bagel. Get it?”