The gleam of a visor in CT's peripheral vision notified her of another in the room. She turned quickly, a drop of sweat slipping down from her temple. Wash didn't need to say anything, she could almost see the pain radiating from him in waves. It unfurled in wisps at his edges as he remained perfectly still, like a statue, like a desecrated holy image. Her mouth dried as she straightened, ignoring the pop of her spine and the soft echo of her fingers against keys.
Her immediate response failed her. "What're you looking at?"
For a moment, the silence echoed and the years rewound quickly. She keenly recalled them standing in this exact position, just as rigid and silent and stuck in place not knowing what to do next.
She had always considered herself as not quite a full-blooded soldier, never taken glee in ending another life. After all, she came in as an engineer, to find chinks in the armor and to seal them before the enemy did. Yet, warzones would never be quiet and she adopted the thick, callous armor of the soldier to survive, to sleep at night after the Covenant took down entire companies while hers barely escaped. Still, CT never talked to the others and kept any of those fears and late-night flashes of fire and death to herself. This wouldn't become her life, she would tell herself in her bunk, this wouldn't become all she was. Several bright commendations brought Project Freelancer to her doorstep and left her standing uncomfortably rigid amongst a mosaic of colored armor, next to one just as uncomfortable and just as silent.
Amid the dyn of conversation, she heard his voice clear and crisp, "Washington."
"Connecticut." Her voice sounded dried up and dull in comparison, a squeak instead of a full-bellied reply.
As she found out, commendations could only go so far. Field testing pushed her further and further down the list as she failed against agent after agent. Her adopted armor failed in one-on-one combat, pulled away with each landed punch as she fought teammates. If only she had quit then. She had come from a team where they complemented each other, her mechanical and digital expertise with another's physical prowess, but the Director made it clear that he needed a super soldier who could run faster, jump higher, be all they could be and more. York quickly filled the slot on the A-string for infiltration and CT felt her first hot sting of rejection. No armor could protect her that night, or keep the quiet mantras from sliding underneath her skin like a blade. Screw-up, not good enough.
So, she worked by herself where she could, in firm silence as she studied and worked to prove her worth to herself. Sometimes, she could stay in her room, hunched over a desk for hours on end as she studied. From here, she could study the ins and outs of every last exhaust port on the Mother of Invention, away from the confident chatter of the ranked. Once, Washington stumbled upon her safe haven, having gotten lost trying to find his way to somewhere better. During the first couple months, other agents had done the same, but he was the only one who paused and watched her for a few moments as she turned from the desk to face him.
"I'm sorry." His voice echoed too loud in the silence and as his mouth twisted apologetically, he knew it too.
"Maintenance is back one corridor, 0119," she informed neutrally.
Despite her almost immediate response, he lingered in her room for a few moments more. "You want to come hang out?"
CT shook her head at his question and his awkward gesture over his shoulder, not sure he could even find the common area even if he wanted to. She supposed after he disappeared from her doorway that might have been why he asked in the first place.
When he "got lost" for the seventh time, he was unapologetic, instead knocking against the metal. So, naturally, she locked the door. Unapologetically. He didn't mention it during their first shore leave, not even when she was the only one of their group to get carded at the bar. Seeing her teammates drunk, oddly enough, seemed to break down some kind of barrier between them and CT found that after a few shots, Wash actually disliked things. The smell of the bar bothered him and the way that York continued to hang off of him even as the latter leaned over a trash can irritated the former. In talking to the red-faced infiltration expert, she realized that the best way to get to him and try to get him from his spot, she needed a different kind of warfare, but maybe he wasn't that bad. Maybe she could even like him if given the time.
The return to the Mother of Invention and their first training session destroyed what little progress she had made with any of them. She plummeted even farther from the board, failing to new agents. As she passed through the common room, she imagined the burn of stares, heard murmurs of non-existant conversations. The silence of her room, she hoped, would be a relief. She could hear herself think, the gears clicking away as she studied and read and calculated. Just as she thought she saw a potential kink in the Director's armor, a knock on the door broke her concentration again. A thick weight settled in around her temples, pressing in against her skull as she answered the door. Somehow, she talked to Wash, let him sit on her bunk as she vented and released the pressure in one thick gust. He simply took the verbal steam, allowed it to burn across his senses and CT realized she needed guerrilla tactics to get ahead in this environment; she had to take the first strike.
"It's not your fault," he apologized for her, like he always seemed to do.
She didn't want apologies, but she certainly had to pick her confrontations carefully. The Director, obviously, wouldn't have insubordination and she needed something, a win, anything to replace her long lost armor. Somehow, Wash had found his way in before she could seal up the holes and she found that some nights she could talk at him for hours, silencing the gears turning in her head as she released weight into the air as easily as breathing. He always nodded, always accepted, tried to encourage, but she refused to be encouraged or cheered up. Despite all his listening, she never thought he quite understood her, couldn't quite grasp her mental state even as she dug deeper into herself. She wasn't just upset, she felt undone and unwound for the entire team to see, meticulously shredded by the Director's will.
It would figure that she realized camouflage worked better while talking to him. She only needed to snipe from a distance and face confrontations she knew she could win. Only, CT had to improve her aim to slide in through those chinks in the armor, find weaknesses and torque the screws just loose enough, just as she continued to give Wash more than enough ammunition to do the same to her. She dug into her darkest corners, tried to unroot the thick growth of self-hate that had seeded long ago until it twisted throughout her entire person. Instead of taking comfort in the steady click of her mental gears in the silence of her room, the sound now echoed, fuck-up, fuck-up, fuck-up.
After a few months longer, the dull slap of skin against skin replaced the mechanical noise, quiet gasps and breathy moans as CT asked more from Wash. Even then, she could barely hear his own stress release or see his growing problems beyond her scope that had so focused in one singular targets. He was only the breeze against her face as she pressed her eye closer.
"You've always been hard on yourself, Connie." She could feel his gaze through his vizor, burning with sympathy she never wanted.
She hadn't always been hard on herself. Before, she had been competent, respected, and an important member of her company. Now? Now, she was garbage, the dirt beneath the feet of her betters. The Director fostered the toxic environment that had poisoned her and filled her with a disease she couldn't cure herself of anymore. She waned so badly to rip the veil from his eyes so he could see and understand just once. Everyone else had already drank the kool-aid, including herself, but the pain would start for them too, she knew. Already, she'd seen evidence in South and eventually Carolina succumbed and, as the acid ate away at their own armor, CT took more potshots, growing more bold in her actions. Finally, she had found some kind of complacency in her role. Encryption after encryption made her transmissions nigh on unbreakable, her digital goose chase leading internals on endless hunts.
Until now. Yet, instead of Carolina or York or any of CT's enemies, Wash stood there, once again struck still and quiet.
"Mind your own business." She reverted to a quick snipe as she desperately backpedaled, tried to build up a wall against him where she had long ago torn it down.
"I should say the same." Wash sounded so much like the Director in that moment, CT wanted silence, needed the silence.
Instead, the slow clack of her boots against the floor echoed too loud, fuck-up, fuck-up, fuck-up.