But I Play One On TV
Murphy's Eighth Law: If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
Agent York of Project Freelancer liked to think he was a pretty patient guy (and he was!).
So, when Lulu abandoned the plan at the slightest hint of trouble, he didn’t stress (from what he could tell, she was flighty like that, so it wasn’t much of a surprise).
And when she revealed ‘Plan I’, he just went along with it (despite the fact that it meant he was stuck on the roof of an entirely different building while his barely adult companion did all of the work).
Being startled on his roof by some curly-headed asshole—seeming to be of Italian-Spanish descent—with a wickedly mischievous grin and some serious hacking skills (not to mention some seriously classified equipment) had tested his resolve a bit, of course.
Seriously, he’d spent the better part of the last eight months trying to establish a good rapport with Louisiana—trying to keep up with her ever-evolving personality and finally realizing that he needed to take baby steps with the young woman—and some young, lean, cocky… guy comes along and they fall easily into the kind of routine York wanted with her?
(Because it was easy for anyone with eyes to see that she didn’t really hate him—it was obviously just the way that they showed affection. York had a feeling that Louisiana and “Valentino”, as she stubbornly called him, had known each other for a very long time.)
Anyway, so after the shock of all… that, the tan-armored Freelancer finally felt like he had a handle on things. It even got kind of nice, in a weird way; he learned more about Louisiana from half an hour of Valentino’s anecdotes and explanations than nine months of (usually one-sided) conversations and a painfully awkward Secret Santa gift exchange.
(For instance, he now knew her real last name; he knew that she had an honorary-sister named Terence living on Reach and that Valentino was her honorary-brother-in-law; he knew that she began doing weird things with her hair when she was fifteen and decided that she needed some kind of signature thing of her own; and he knew that was a very good baker, but only did so in two very specific situations—when she was very at ease with her surroundings and when she was extremely worried.)
Then, it seemed to York, they began speaking in code.
All that came out of their mouths, though mostly just to each other, was Unfamiliar-Name this and Sinister-Sounding Reference that.
Honestly, York felt like he’d somehow stumbled into a spy movie. The analogy seemed particularly appropriate after she left the dressing room (before all hell seemed to break loose) when he heard her mutter, absently, “I don’t make the rules of espionage, I just abide by them.”
The quote—because it definitely sounded like a quote or reference to something—made Valentino twist his lips, almost ruefully, and York heard Louisiana breath huff out in what he was learning to identify as genuine, if somewhat-wry, amusement.
So, yeah, he got through all of it with relatively few outbursts and York commended himself on that. He even got a few tips and pointers from Valentino about Louisiana (Catie?), and how to deal with her, before the man got a transmission of his own and rushed off while the unarmored Freelancer climbed her way to the roof.
Though Valentino did yell something to him by way of (hasty) explanation, York didn’t catch much of it because Four-Seven-Niner had just radio-ed him and ordered him to Wyoming’s building for pick-up. In fact, the only things that York really understood was something about birthdays, good luck in threes, and a request to pass on well wishes to his usually-silver-clad colleague.
However, through all of this, the only thing that legitimately pissed him off was Louisiana’s constant severing of communications.
They were supposed to be a team, goddamn it! How in the seven hells were they supposed to “work together” if she kept turning her fucking radio off?!
A fat lot of good it would do to tell her that, though. The last time someone had confronted her about it (read: yelled at her for pulling that “lone wolf” bullshit during a mission), about six weeks previously, Louisiana had launched herself at them. Only North’s quick reaction (not helped in the least by his snickering twin) had saved Oregon from being “pulverized by that hellcat”, as the ever-mild Colorado had put it.
Immediately after that, however, Carolina had stormed over, pulled Louisiana out of the (Red? Blue?) base, away from earshot, and had a serious… discussion with her.
There wasn’t really any other way to describe it.
Everyone watched through the windows of the base and no one had a better word for it. There was a lot of gesticulating, and less-than-friendly body language, but there didn’t seem to be any anger and there certainly wasn’t any shouting. If anything, they were talking in tones lower than average.
Afterward, Louisiana didn’t say much during the Pelican-ride, or when docking in the Mother of Invention, or during the mission report. Not a single word…
Later, when they’d been dismissed by the Director to shower and get something from the mess hall, York had tried to talk to her. After calling her name a few times and failing to garner her attention, York had spun her around by the shoulder… and gotten a fully-armor fist to his unhelmeted-face for his trouble (most of the team having thrown theirs into the disposal bin, knowing they’d never get that gunk off).
Louisiana had stared at him for a moment then, their eyes locked, before she turned away from him and the medics rushing to the hall to see if he was injured. And her let her go without a fight.
York needed stitches for his upper lip due to her impromptu and sloppy punch—five, to be exact—but he didn’t pay much attention to that little detail, because he’d seen her face.
He was the only one who did… The only one to see the tearstains and trembling lip…
So, if York confronted Louisiana about her latest bout of independence then, at best, he’d be attacked by her (how many times did that make, by now?).
Or, at worst, she break down and cry.
Those were just some thrilling options there.
All of this rushed through the male Freelancer’s head as he patiently watched his young co-worked by attacked, not once but twice, before settling down to have a nice little chat with the short-haired Asian chick that had tackled her (where the hell had she even come from?).
But only, of fucking course, after turning off her goddamn radio again.
About ten minutes of inaudible conversation passed before there was an explosion (reminiscent of something he’d once seen Missouri pull off), the door leading to the roof was blown off, and a bunch of agitated-looking soldiers followed it.
York relaxed considerably when the unfamiliar woman wisely threw a grenade at them and soon began firing. He calmed down even more when Louisiana turned her radio back on, even though her words about someone's brain being missing made no sense.
Wash looked at him quizzically but York just shrugged. He was gonna go out on a limb and assume that she wasn’t speaking to any of them. They all had brains, even if not all of them used theirs.
“Hey, York! Get up here a second, will ya?”
The Freelancer in question looked behind him at the sound of Four-Seven-Niner’s voice, and made his way to the woman’s home-turf.
“’Sup, Four-Seven? We runnin’ out of gas?” York joked, keeping half his attention on Louisiana, who was currently asking her friend (Selene?) to wish her luck.
“No. But I am getting some weird energy readings from the building… It’s funny, because they almost look like—”
But York didn’t hear what the readings almost looked like because Wash took the opportunity to shout, “Is she about to do what I think she’s about to do?!”
York had just enough time to rush back to the open doors of the Pelican, to see Louisiana crouched like a foot-racer waiting for the sound of the gun, before she began running full-tilt toward their Pelican.
If asked, the Freelancer would never quite be able to articulate exactly what happened next.
Time didn’t slow down, like it did in books or movies, more like York’s brain sped up in its processing of the world. He was everything crystal clear, as it happened.
York was the almost-imperceptible hesitation in Louisiana’s movements as she sprinted toward them, almost jerky in their execution (had she been injured?). He saw exactly how she positioned her boot on the ledge of the roof before catapulting herself off of the building. He saw her arm outstretched as she cut through the air.
He didn’t even realized that he’d been moving until he felt Louisiana’s hand in his own, catching her so she didn’t fall, and nearly wrenching his arm from its socket.
He wasn’t the only one holding onto her, though.
York looked to his right when he saw a large, white-armored hand grasping Louisiana’s left forearm. Maine, it turned out, had also dived to the edge of the ramp to keep the young Freelancer from falling to her untimely—yet totally deserved, because what the fuck was she thinking?!—demise.
By the time they’d hoisted her into the Pelican and closed the doors, Four-Seven-Niner was already heading her bird into atmo.
Louisiana, instead of getting up and taking a proper seat, just flopped onto the cold metal grating of the floor and panted as their pilot radio-ed the Mother of Invention. She was still just lying there, though she’d managed to pull off her helmet, and still breathing heavily when Four-Seven-Niner called back to them—or, rather, called back to her.
“You know,” she said conversationally. “I could have just landed and picked you up.”
Louisiana gave a wry chuckle that turned into a wracking cough as she got up from the floor, one arm wrapped awkwardly around her mid-section.
“Where would be the fun in that?” She replied, her voice innocent, but the following chuckle (sans worrying cough) was oddly dark.
“Command wants to know if you got you came for,” the older woman in the front called to her.
The other agents looked at Louisiana, who merely shrugged.
“Let’s see,” she said, reaching for an addition to her armor that York didn’t remember ever seeing before. Louisiana fingered the latch for a few seconds before opening the Tactical/Hard Case and reaching in.
Everyone in the Pelican held their breath as Louisiana pulled out a small object and held it to the light. They all breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out to be a standard data-stick.
“That would be a… yes?”
Even Louisiana looked a bit uncertain as Wash’s voice answered the snarky female pilot.
She stared at the object intently, one arm still wrapped loosely round her abdomen Louisiana was so lost in thought that she jumped and allowed the Hard Case to clatter to the floor when York put a hand on her shoulder and asked if she was alright. She looked at him—a little blankly, it seemed—before slowly nodding her head and making a non-committal sound.
Wash leaned over to pick the Case up and gave a low whistle when another, completely different item, tumbled into his hand.
Even in the low light, the diamonds encrusting the silver (white gold? Platinum?) chain and surrounding the large blue diamond hanging from the center glinted and winked at everyone with eyes.
York could’ve sworn he saw Wyoming’s fingers twitch, and even Maine stared raptly at the priceless (he guessed) piece of jewelry.
At least, he assumed that’s what the large man was looking at. His attention could have also been on Louisiana (the she and Wash were sitting next to each other, closest to the door), who was looking at the necklace with a distinctly… odd expression on her face.
They all remained like that, frozen, for several seconds.
The silver agent was the first to recover, nonchalantly rising from her seat and handing the data-stick over to Four-Seven-Niner when confirmation of its contents was requested. But, while the strange intensity had disappeared from her features, her face was drawn and pale.
York had a feeling that the entirety of the night had finally come crashing down on her. Hell, York felt exhausted and he hadn’t even understood most the night’s proceedings.
When she came back, Louisiana asked, “What does the tag say?”
Wash’s very intelligent response of “Huh?” prompted her to pluck the necklace from his grasp. Although, to be fair, the poor guy had been fielding requests from Wyoming to take a closer look at it since Louisiana had left the British Freelancer’s line of sight.
If possible, Louisiana blanched even more when she examined the little white tag secured by a string to the chain, which would usually have some kind of absurd price written on it in jewelry stores.
Curious, York crossed the Pelican to sit next to the young woman and peer over her shoulder at the sharp, spiky handwriting on the little white rectangle of paper. However, before he could read it, the silver agent quickly flipped it over and read the words written in entirely different cursive, loopy lettering.
Happy Birthday, C.
“I didn’t know it was your birthday, Lou.” York’s voice was curious but still friendly.
Louisiana nodded, mutely.
Wash made a small, exclamatory noise. “It is? How old are you, now? Twenty… two?”
“Twenty-three” was Louisiana’s soft reply. York saw her trigger finger twitch.
Louisiana shook her head, as if trying to dislodge a bad image, then dropped the Diamonds and Co. into the Tactical/Hard Case and reattached it to her armor.
She looked directly at York.
“Can we go home now?”