THE FLYING FORTRESS
Nat was awake again. Still badly injured from eir encounter with the Villain known as Sin, ey was slowly recovering. Ey was still strapped to the bed, but no longer bled through eir bandages. Surgery had removed the communication implant attached to eir lower jaw, and ey was waiting on a replacement to be installed.
In the meantime, ey played around on eir phone.
There’s a gentle rap on the door. “Bug? You up for some company?”
“Oh god, yes,” Nat’s head lolls back. “I’m so fucking bored.“
“Good. I brought dumplings from home, home cooked, and I purchased some drinks and a hand held entertainment unit for you. The Nintendo something or other. I know, I know, you want to be out now, you want to go home. I’m not authorized to clear that.” She busied herself serving food onto paper plates.
“Oh wow you’re still the best boss ever though,” Nat’s face lit up, “for real, you brought me—these are homemade? Damn, these are the tidiest gyoza I’ve ever seen. Look at that crimping!”
“I’m trained in many things.” Emi winked. “Benefits of my upbringing. Eat up. You need your strength. And I could use a meal too, I’ve spent the morning yelling at people. Very taxing.”
“Let’s just say Estelle is lucky that she’s an old, sick woman, or else I wouldn’t have gone easy on her.” Emi says grimly. “And I purchased both Alice and Sawbones floral arrangements for their part in saving you and getting you back in good health, of course.”
“I appreciate what they both did,” Nat rubbed eir jaw at remembered pain, “but I’m really glad that a different doctor is doing the comm replacement. Doc Sawbones is… not gentle.”
“No,” Emi agreed. “She believes that being the best does not necessarily require a gentle touch, nor a bedside manner. But she is the best at what she does, even if she infuriates everyone in a two mile radius. And your health is the most important.”
“Yeah,” Nat murmured, eyes going a little distant. “They tell me I almost died of blood loss. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, like I was on fire and my life was siphoning away from me. I guess it was.”
“Which is why you will NOT be working with Estelle ever again, no matter what she says about prophecies and the future. I will NOT allow it.”
“You’re the boss, Boss,” Nat agrees, nodding. “I thought it was just gonna be a party, going in.”
“That’s the problem with this world of ours. You never really know what you’re getting into. One time we had a party at the McGowan Mansion – this was before Scott and Alice were together, and Scott’s date was, ah…” Emi pops a dumpling into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. “A Villain of sorts, incognito. I think that might have been what pushed him out of his phase of dating random women for a night or two.”
Nat eats eir first dumpling. “Wow. Good. Really good, boss, I could take lessons from you and that’s saying something. Anyway, that’s interesting. I still haven’t met the guy.” Ey uses eir chopsticks to poke a hole in the side of the next dumpling, dunks it into the dipping sauce, and holds it there until it’s good and dead before eating it.
“You should. He’s a brilliant man, crucial to the war effort, a war hero… And a good friend. A very good friend. I think you would like him.”
“And I probably shouldn’t hit on him, huh.”
Emi shrugs. “He’d find it funny. Alice wouldn’t.”
“Alice doesn’t find anything funny. It’s what makes her so funny,” Nat smirked. “Did you need me to debrief, or do you already know everything that there is to know?”
“Let me hear your take on what happened.”
Nat sighs. “Okay, so. To be honest, everything went… mostly okay right up until the end. Eternium was too fast for me, but that was our tactical error, and it was bound to happen someday. I was the bait, he came at me, grabbed me by the face, hit me against somethin’. I passed out. Came out of it beat up, but mostly all right.
“It wasn’t until… the rewards. That things got real bad. Estelle,” Nat frowns, then lowers eir voice, “…cheated Sin. She cheated him. I’m sure he’s the scum of the earth but she made a deal and she tried to monkey paw it and to be honest, I can’t blame him for being mad.
“But he decided that the only thing to do was kill her, and we were in the way of that.”
Emi’s lips thin into a line of barely suppressed rage. “Estelle left that little detail out.” She says, voice tight. “We’ll have to have another talk, she and I.”
“She told us that she’d reward us. Give us jewels or whatever. At the end, most of us got something we wanted. But with Sin… she showed him photos of a ring. Said he’d get it when he’d made up for his crimes.” Nat frowned. “That was shitty, I feel. Anyway, Sin walked away and then turned the whole bar into shrapnel, threw it at her with his telekinesis. I tackled him and started spinning, but he hit me with that spiky chain, then threw me through the debris. People, um. People tell me that I bounced off the banister and got stuck in the chandelier.”
“How dare she? How dare she? She thinks that she can work outside of the Legion, her dalliances with Nova are one thing, but this… You could have died. You could have died.”
“Boss,” Nat blinked, a little surprised at the outburst. Ey reached toward Emi’s arm, but the restraint held em back. “It’s okay. I’m alive. The doctor said I’d be field ready within the week. It’s… it’s okay.”
“I am glad you are okay, Nat, but – you’re okay because of Alice and luck and Sawbones. You could have very easily not been okay.”
“Well, who’s to say one of my lures won’t end up being a Sin someday?” Nat says, softly. “I’m gonna die someday, and it’s probably gonna be on a mission. Right?”
“Bug, no. I’ve served for decades, now, and so will you. We will make you someone who can stop a Sin, stay alive. Understand?”
“O-okay.” Nat’s face still seemed a little surprised, like ey couldn’t quite wrap eir mind around the idea of not being disposable.
“You matter, Bug. Alright? And I will never fail you like this again. I am going to have another talk with our Ms. Prestwich… but for now, eat up, rest up. Do you like the game system?”
“Oh, uh, it looks fun!” Nat smiles. “I don’t know much about video games, but while I’m stuck here seems a good time to learn ’em!”
“You might like this one. Animal Crossing?” Emi looks to the side. “I had Scott pull some strings. There, ah, should be a custom avatar in the game. No ‘are you a boy or a girl’ choices. I know that’s important to you.”
Nat stared at Emi, wide-eyed, for several seconds. Ey looked down at the game system, then back up, then burst into tears.
“You – you don’t like it? I’m… I’m sure we can find a game you do like!”
“I—I—” Nat sobs, “n-no one’s ever done anything like this for m-me before! N-no one!”
“Ah -” Emi said, still looking uncomfortable. “You’re family, Nat, I… I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I th-thought the club would be the closest thing I ever had to family.” Ey snuffled, trying in vain to raise a wrist to wipe eir face, but the restraints weren’t long enough. “Fuckin’—boss, can you loosen these so I can wipe my face and hug you.”
“Absolutely.” Emi leans over and adjusts the restraints. “I would love a bug hug.”
Nat drifted forward and wrapped eir arms around Emi, crying into her shoulder.