A Stitch In Time: Family Dinner

CHEZ McGOWAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 

Tabitha Armitage was dressed nicely, but not formally. A wide belt bisected her simple black dress, and a brown cardigan covered by a green shawl kept out the lingering March chill. Beside her walked Emi Surikabe, who wore a long-legged black romper with a burgundy silk shirt open and flowing over it.

 

“Apparently ey managed to suss the social situation well enough to know that Scoremaster wouldn’t see a sneak attack? I was equal parts terrified and impressed, if I’m being honest.”

 

“It sounds like Nat is really working out for you, love,” Tabitha smiled.

 

“Ey is. Are? No, it’s is.” Emi smirked. “Still learning. And yes, ey is. I know they’ve been a bit of a handful for you.”

 

“Nothing compared to Alice,” Tabitha laughed, and they stopped in front of the front door to the McGowan household. “Speaking of, are you ready?”

 

“Yes! I’m excited, actually; I haven’t seen the kids in too long.”

 

“Agreed,” Tabitha said, then rang the doorbell.

 

Alice McGowan opened the door, dressed in turquoise and fuschia. The bold jewel tones looked good on her, although she had a slightly strained smile. There was the smell of something burnt in the kitchen. Tim, her son, stood on the staircase behind her, waiting patiently for his two “Aunties” to enter and give hugs and kisses.


“So good to see you both.” Alice said.  “Please, come in, both of you. Scott’s just, ah, getting some catering. He’ll be right in.”

“Oh dear,” Tabitha smiled, offering Alice a hug. “Sorry if things went awry.”

 

Emi followed Tabitha in offering Alice a hug, then immediately slipped under her arm and swept Tim up in a big hug. “Tiiiim! How’s my guy?”

 

“Auuuuntie!” Tim squealed as the short woman spun him around after a long hug. “I’m going to school with civilians now, an’ I made some friends, an’ -”

“Hold on, Tim, don’t talk her ear off.” Alice said, smiling. “Why don’t you go set the table?”

He nodded and bounded off, full of energy.

 

“You have to tell me all about it over dinner!” Emi called after him, then chuckled. “He’s gonna forget to tell me all about it.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll remind him,” Tab pulled the door shut behind her. “Are you doing all right, Alice? Just regular stress, or is something else bothering you?”

 

“…It’s Ruth,” Alice finally admitted, folding her arms across her chest defensively, keeping her voice low. “She’s Emerged.”

 

She paused, biting her lower lip. “She’s a Null.”

 

“Oh, Alice,” Tabitha placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder.


“I’m going to go help with the kitchen,” Emi said, slipping away quietly. “I think you two need a minute.”

 

“How are you doing with it, hon?” Tabitha took both of Alice’s shoulders in her hands and pulled her closer.

 

“I always wanted her to be special, to be… one of us. Tim is, and I always thought she was just a late bloomer. But this? Being Null is no easy path. I want better for her, but…”

“It’s not easy, but who better to make it livable than you?” Tab drew Alice into a close hug. “Ruth will still have a good life. She’s your daughter. I know this is hard on you, too, that you were expecting… something else. But Scott is here for you, and Emi and I are here for you, and we are all here for Ruth. It’s going to be okay.”

 

“Thank you, Tabs. I’m sure it’ll get better, it’s just… gosh, it’s easier to be a General than a mother some days.” She smiles, and then the front door swings open once again.

“work easier than life? don’t get me started,” Tab murmured.

 

“Who’s hungry?” Enter Scott McGowan, holding bags labelled with BURGER CHURCH. “It’s still hot.”

 

“Well this certainly takes me back,” Tabitha laughs, eyeballing the bags. “I haven’t had Burger Church in years.”

 

“It’s good!” He grins. “I mean, the new fry recipe isn’t as good as the old one, but that’s okay. Can’t have too many carbs, I’m gettin’ old.” He shrugged off his jacket, revealing the MERCURY unit underneath. “Hey, you guys go ahead and get started, I’ll join you in a second. This thing ain’t much suited for dinner with the family.”

 

THE MCGOWAN DINING ROOM



The McGowan dining room was significantly more cozy than a stranger would likely have expected of the Earth’s premier Legionnaire family, but Tab and Emi were well used to it by now. Ruth was sitting at the table already, nose buried in a book. Tim fiddled with the silverware. Alice’s face creased into the slightest frown at the burger bags, but sat down without complaint.

 

As everyone settled in, Emi asked, “So, Alice, Scott, how’s work? Anything exciting going on?”

 

“Let Alice say grace first, Emi,” Tab reminded.

 

“Oop! Right, sorry.”

 

Alice smiles gratefully. “Thank you, Tabs. Thank you O Lord, for these gifts…” She kept her head down, reciting the old familiar prayer. Scott made eye contact with Emi over the table and gave a small, slightly exasperated smile. By the time Alice looked up, his face was jovial as before.


“Well, y’know, I’ve been in the garage a lot lately, working on projects. Kind of thinking about the whole semi-retirement thing,” he mused, spearing some fries on his fork and dipping them generously in gravy. “On the other hand, not sure how much work there is for a guy like me these days.”

“I have faith in your ability to never run out of projects, Scott,” Tabitha smiled, “I’ve seen you solve enough problems that may not have existed before you set out to solve them.”

 

“Well, there’s some underwater sort of exoskeletons I’m looking at – you know, the MERCURY isn’t really equipped for underwater, and there’s been revelations that make me think we really oughta be ready for that sort of thing. I mean, I’ll always be happy in the garage, but part of me itches for front line action again.”

“There’s less and less of it these days.” Alice sighs. “You know how it is, with the Freelancers…”

“Didn’t we agree they ain’t appropriate dinner table talk?”

“I know.”

“I promise I don’t mean to maintain a contentious line of conversation, and I’ll drop it if you’d like,” Emi cut in, “but I’m seeing some very encouraging coalition-building between Freelancer and Legion agents. Nat has been making friends with anyone who isn’t a Villain, and it seems to be going very well.”

 

“Maybe, maybe, some of their new recruits are worth working with.” Alice grinds her teeth. “But the organization is corrupt down to the core, if you ask me. Did you know they stole some of Scott’s work, used it for their own means? One of them threw me off a roof.”

“Hon. Yes,” Tabitha said. “We remember. We’ve known you for more than the years it’s been since those things happened. You’re right that there’s still corruption in the Freelancers, but Emi’s right too. The proliferation of social media, networking, and friendship across factional lines is something I’ve been watching myself, and it’s hard not to feel somewhat optimistic about it.”

 

“Well -” Alice began, but Scott cut her off.


“Did you know that we moved the kids into civilian schools, speaking of factions and optimism and all of that good stuff. They’re really flourishing. Great staff, great teachers.”

“Tim was telling me! That’s great to hear.’ Emi grinned, then directed her next question toward the McGowan offspring. “It can be a lot of work to adapt to new environments like that. Are the other kids treating you okay?”

 

“Yeah, we were playing tag, and everyone agreed that since I’m suuuper fast, it wasn’t fair to have me on a team, so everyone just tried to chase me, and it was so much fun, and I got up the jungle gym, and then one of them grabbed me as I went down the slide, and then Mrs. Sanderson told us we had to be careful, so we started playing some other games…”

Ruth just shrugs, pushing the fries around her plate. “They’re okay.”

“Well you can tell me all about it when we play later!” Emi told them, glancing up at Scott and Alice to read their reactions to the kids before returning her eyes to them. “School is real hard work, but you two are gonna do great at the new one.”

 

“Have you talked to Miss Herja about your plans for the MERCURY, Scott?” Tabitha asked. “She’s been doing some exosuit R&D lately, and would probably have useful things to contribute.”

 

“Oh, yeah, she’s been great.” Scott grins. “She’s on another level in a lot of ways, just… us technokinetics or whatever you call it each have our own brand of genius. I’m an execution guy, she’s an ideas person… It works out super well.”

“It’s all utterly alien to me, but it’s just fascinating to see what the lot of you come up with,” Tabitha says, neatly annexing a portion of her burger with fork and knife. “Valkyrie’s just everywhere these days. It’s inspiring. Perhaps when you retire, you could open up a workshop for hire with her.” It wasn’t clear whether that was in jest.

 

“Aw, hell -” Scott began, and Alice cut in.

Scott -”

“Heck, we’ve taken over a good portion of the fortress already, and we’re starting to bring in some real income. Enough that Alice is thinking about re-starting programs like the Kids Corps, we can finally afford to start bringing in real Administrative talent too. I know that’ll be a relief to you, Tabs.”

“I won’t know what to do with myself!” Tabitha faked a laugh for a moment, then deadpans: “For all that is good and holy, yes. To say my hands are full is a gross understatement.”

 

“She’s sleeping in her office,” Emi complained.

 

“I’m sleeping in my office,” Tab acknowledged, looking sheepish. “Things got a lot easier once we hired the Sthenographer, but that only made me realize all of the things that had been put off before she showed up. It hasn’t been great for my stress levels, if we’re being honest.”

 

“It hasn’t been great for your love life either,” Emi muttered under her breath, but audible enough to hear.

 

Emi, not at the table.” Alice chided. “But yes, I’ve been stepping up my recruitment. We’re finally starting to rebuild the Administrative sector. It’s hard, because if I find a promising candidate, I have to get them to sign ASAP. Cheney keeps poaching talent. But the promise of serving the Legion and having moral values seems to be a draw.”

“Yes, some of them slip away rather fast, don’t they,” Tabitha paused with a forkful of burger partway to her mouth. “At least the Freelancers didn’t get ahold of that Pariah girl. She seems to be doing a fairly good job over in Detroit. Markus worked with her briefly and had nothing but good things to say.” She put the forkful of burger in her mouth.


“She’s open to working with us?” Alice’s eyes brightened. “Oh my goodness, does she have an address?”

Tabitha held up a hand until she finished chewing. Then, “easy, hon. The coffin squad happened to be in her territory and she helped them contain a Wheird. I’m not sure how open she is to working with us outside of defending her home. We don’t have her address.”

 

“She did show up at Nat’s club when ey invited people, though,” Emi pointed out. “And there were both Legionnaires and Freelancers there. It seems like she’s at least not holding a grudge toward our agents.”

 

“Well, that’s good at least. I’m sure Scanner can help me find her. Once she hears my recruitment speech, I’m sure she’ll sign up.”

“We’re, ah,” Emi broached the topic in a delicate tone, “we’re actually thinking of something a bit subtler, Alice.”

 

“In my experience,” Alice says, looking proud. “Subtlety is highly overrated.”

Tabitha and Scott exchanged a Look, then Emi and Tabitha exchanged a Look, then Tabitha shifted in her seat, eyes down, before looking directly at Alice. “Actually, Alice… we’re going to send in the Damselfly.”

 

Alice considered this information briefly, before sighing. “I don’t have to like it,” she finally said.

 

“I would never ask such a thing of you, hon,” Tabitha said. “It’s just a matter of… the one thing we know about Miss Pauker’s MO is that she will show up if there’s a threat to her territory. Nat brings threats close to emself by nature. This is our best bet at having Pariah and Damselfly on the same side in the same room with a strong motivation to work with each other. If we’re going to establish a positive dynamic with Pariah, this is our best bet.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea.” Scott said with just a touch too much enthusiasm. Alice glanced at him, and then gave another sigh. “Kids, are you listening? Once you start your after school program with the Kids Corps, you’ll have to tackle problems with these. And it’s very important to be a hero who does the right thing, isn’t that right?”

Emi and Tabitha both bobbed their heads in agreement to reinforce the lesson.

 

Tim eagerly launched into another long speech about his thoughts on heroes and the Kids Corps. Ruth, meanwhile, had evidently finished pushing fries around her plate. “Mom, can I be excused?”

“Put your plate in the sink, please, honey.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“Nat is doing really well, honestly,” Emi said once Tim’s speech was finished. “Ey nonlethally subdued a Villain while on a completely unrelated mission, and did so more safely than I care to tell em. Ey… needs to tighten up on the combat awareness, but I’m very proud.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve met the kid yet.” Scott says, thoughtfully. “Probably seen ‘em around in the cafeteria, though. Kind of short, floaty, redhead?”

“That’s our Nat,” Tabitha confirmed with a slight hint of weariness in her voice. “Ey’s been a handful for me, honestly. I think that ey might already be–” her eyes darted to Tim, then back to her plate “–close… friends… with Brozerker and Jupiter Strike, and apparently ey’s started dating that cartomancer we’re trying to recruit? Nothing’s exploded yet, but I’m trying to stay braced in case something does. And I can’t deny that ey has already been an extremely effective covert agent.”

 

“Mm.” Alice said, lips thinning in disapproval. “Who wants dessert? I managed not to burn that, at least.”

“Dessert would be lovely, thank you,” Emi smiled brightly. Tabitha nodded as well.

 

Before long, Alice had carved up a decadent triple chocolate layer cake, serving large slices to everyone at the table. “Oh, speaking of Administration, Tabitha… Ah, well, there’s something you should know.”

Tab raised her eyebrows and inclined her head slightly; a ‘go on’ gesture.

 

“…Helen Havelock wants to return to the Legion. In a strictly civilian role, of course, considering her… injuries.”

Tabitha and Emi both froze in place, blinking in surprise, a forkful of cake already halfway to Emi’s face.

 

“Helen Havelock?” Tabitha breathed. “I’ll be damned.”

 

Alice smiled widely. “She’s actually a very nice woman. We talked for a while. She had a lot of advice for me.”

Well, that was no surprise. Helen Havelock had founded the Legion herself, taking on the title of Excalibur. Wielding golden armour and a longsword, she had fought the forces of the Third Reich, the enemies of humanity, and been a vanguard for social change. Without her, there would likely be no Legion. It was a shame her powers had been stripped away by the Battle of New York, so long ago…

 

“And, just for saying that word in my house, you can put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Alice said, half-teasing. Only half.


“I was going to do it anyway,” Tabitha teased back, her tone prim to the point of exaggeration. “So there.” She stood and walked around the table, collecting the empty plates and glasses.

 

“What kind of advice did Mrs. Havelock have for you, Alice?” Emi asked, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“We talked about the pressures of the lifestyle, and the difference between then and now. But most importantly, she told me to always keep faith. She puts the same emphasis on faith as I do. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Emi agreed. “We all have different things keeping us going, and it can be very important to find mentors who can identify with that. I’m happy for you, Alice.”

 

“Don’t be happy for me,” Alice jokes. “Be happy for Tabitha. Helen knows the Legion like the back of her hand. I’m sure she’ll be a big help in the coming days, and maybe Tabitha can sleep in a gosh danged bed.”

“She’d better, if she doesn’t want me to bring other people into it,” Emi smirked.

 

“Emi! We weren’t gonna–” Tabitha hissed from the doorway, then pressed her lips together and chirped, clasping her hands. “Dishes are done!”

 

“Tim, hon, why don’t you go set up your Nintendo?” Alice waited until her son left the room and then looked at her guests with wide eyes. “Are you thinking about divorcing?”

“I’m sure it was a joke,” Scott says, standing and putting a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You know how crazy hours can get to a person, right?”

“Of course I was joking!” Emi laughed nervously.

 

“No no no!” Tabitha also laughed, also nervously. “We wouldn’t– that’s not what I meant at all.”

 

“We were just joking about the whole thing,” Emi shot a look at Tabitha so pointed that even Alice could catch it.

 

Tabitha wiped her brow. “Can I make some decaf for anybody?”

 

Alice glanced between the two of them, and then a lightbulb flared to life above her head. “Oh! Oh. I see. You know, I uh- I’ll take my coffee um, caffeinated. Black, please. Nice and strong, ha… ha!”

“Caffeine for everyone!” Tabitha disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Emi sweating silently, eyes darting between Scott and Alice.

 

“….. soooo.” Emi said.

 

“We – don’t need to discuss anything any further, thank you.” Alice says, red in the face and making intense eye contact with a light fixture. “Especially not with both of my children home. Your home, your marriage, your business.”

“Sure, s-sure,” Emi stammered, eyes averted. A moment later, she put her hands on the table and blurted, “it’s just–“

 

“Emi!” Tabitha rebuked from the kitchen.

 

“You guys are our best friends!” Emi continued, ignoring her wife’s objection. “It felt like lying to you. I lie to enemies, politicians. I don’t want to lie to friends. I hate lying to friends.”

 

Tabitha appeared in the doorway. “Emi, if Alice doesn’t want to know, Alice doesn’t want to know.”

 

“But she was–“

 

“It’s her call. Not ours.”

 

“What is there to know?!” Alice suddenly said, incredulous. “You – you have… extra… lovers. Okay, I know that. I’m aware. Are you planning to introduce me to any of them?”

“Well, we don’t, actually.” Tabitha folded her arms and shrugged. “Not yet. Look, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have said anything, all right? I’m sorry, Scott, this must be terribly awkward for you.”

 

Emi put her face in her hands.

 

Scott leaned back in his chair, muttering: “Christ, this is hideously awkward, yeah.”

Alice was too shaken to even chide Scott on taking the Lord’s name in vain. “I… support… you? If you’re happy, that’s… good? And fine?”

“Thanks,” Tabitha replied, her voice as flat and cold as slate. “You know, I don’t really need coffee after all. Emi, I’m going to go get some fresh air.”

 

She walked out of the dining room with long, measured strides. Emi didn’t move.

 

Scott moved over to his friend and put an arm around her shoulders. “Hey.” he said. “Alice, why don’t you go check on Ruth?”

 

Alice acquiesced, standing and leaving the room, her face still incredulous and confused.

 

“Hey. Emi. Look at me.”

Emi turned her face toward Scott, lowering her hands. She wasn’t crying, but there was clear despair behind those deep brown eyes.

 

“What’s up?” He asked, keeping things simple at first. “Is this about the lying thing, or something else?”

“We weren’t expecting anything, Scott, we weren’t trying to… get you guys to do anything. This wasn’t supposed to change things, it was for us to actively be in each other’s lives. To be honest.”

 

“Yeah, I get that. Look, we’ve been kind of distant lately, but… hey, y’know, we’re all working and things are tense ‘cause of work and politics and all of that. But if you’re happy in your marriage, we think that’s rad and of course we support you. And you know Alice has come a long, long way that she said she supported it as well.”

 

He cracked a warm smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “So, that’s out of the way. All of our cards are on the table. We’re still here. Let’s make this more regular, yeah? Keep the momentum building, work on going back to how things used to be, back when we were… what, in our 20s? We were so young.”

“Cards on the table,” Emi murmured, eyes downcast, then looked back up. “Scott, Tabitha is still in love with Alice.”

 

“Huh.” Scott said, and drummed his fingers on the table, processing that. “I didn’t know she was in love with Alice in the first place. Then again, I’ve been pretty oblivious to this sort of thing. And hey, look, Alice is an incredible woman. It’s hard to blame Tabitha, God knows I’ve fallen for her charms as well.”

“She was. Is. And it’s never hurt me or made me feel like Tab didn’t want to be with me. But she’s had this locked up for decades now, and I wanted– I told her that she should… say something. Not to change anything, just to stop holding onto it. But it’s Tab.”

 

“Tabs likes to sort things nicely and compartimalize them. She has her little filing cabinet over here for work –” Scott taps the side of his head. “And this little filing cabinet over here for the marriage, and I’m sure that Alice goes into another filing cabinet. That’s her system, and I think she likes to keep her files nice and separate. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. You two are just different.”

“I know.” Emi sighs. “I’ve known that for a long time. But I guess I needed to hear you say so. I don’t know. I just feel like it’s something I hoped she’d do, and then this happened and she’s going to clam up about it for another twenty years. I don’t really think it’s good for her.”

 

“Eh, we all indulge in shit that’s a little bad for us. You’re still in the field despite your knee injury, I’m still married to Alice -” he gives a wicked grin. “Seriously, it’s one thing to love her from afar, but bein’ in the thick of it is a whole other ball game. I have a few cigarettes… It’s great of you try to and fix things, but Tabs is an adult, she can make her own choices. Even bad ones.”

Emi frowned. “Yeah, I noticed– is stuff okay, Scott? Are you and Alice okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re okay. She’s a great mom, a great person. This sounds arrogant, so you’ll have to forgive me – I’m a genius, and she’s… not. She’s a little dim. It was hard to deal with for a while, so we went into counselling, worked on some stuff. She’s a good woman. She has so much love to give. Y’know? Before I ended up with her, I dated around, slept around. I know what a good relationship is and isn’t, and this is. Even if she’s ah, kind of a doof sometimes.”

“I’m not going to try to tell you that you’re not a genius, Scott,” Emi smirked, “nor that Alice’s intelligence isn’t… focused elsewhere. And I’m very glad that things are fine. The two of you are good for each other.”

 

Emi took a deep breath, then let it out and glanced back up at Scott. “Do you think less of us, Scott? For opening up our marriage?”

 

“Absolutely not. I’d be a massive hypocrite if I did. I slept around for a decade straight before I ended up with Alice, and if she offered me the same deal, I’d be – well, I’d be tempted. You’re like a sister to me, Emi, alright? Your marriage ain’t gonna change that.”

“All right. Thank you.” She sighed. “I should go retrieve my wife. Knowing her, her brain has already eaten itself with anxiety.”

 

“And I should take care of my wife as well.” Scott gives Emi another hug. “Bowling. Next Friday. A McGowan-Armitage-Surikabe affair. I expect you guys at the lanes in the goofy shoes and big smiles at seven sharp.”

“I look forward to beating all three of you into the finely-polished floor,” Emi grinned.

 

A Stitch In Time: When Doors Open

From: Nat

To: Fi, Chad, Jess

<mms> hey loves

<mms> can u meet me on the rooftop garden near Fi’s

<mms> 23:00

<mms> theyll let u in

 

It was a bit breezy, that night, but warm and clear. The Damselfly floated at the end of the rooftop garden path, hands clasped behind eir back, and watched sparse clouds scud across the waning gibbous moon, squinted to try to make out the colonies on its surface.

 

What an amazing universe we live in now, ey thought.

 

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: When Doors Open”

Glub is in the Air

DOWNTOWN AQUARIUM

DENVER, COLORADO

 

Nat traced a smooth, low flight arc into the aquarium parking lot, cradling eir date, Fiona Carter, securely in eir arms. The facility had been significantly renovated and was larger than when Nat had last been, but eir attention was on Fiona and the conversation that they’d already been engaged in.

 

“I’m honestly sorry though,” Nat said, gently setting eir passenger on the pavement. “I wasn’t trying to embarrass you for not knowing about polyamory, I was just surprised and confused too.” And then, in a confessional tone: “Also, I externalize everything.”

 

Fi shrugs. “It’s not a big deal. I was teasing, anyway. Really! It’s no big deal.” She seemed immediately relieved, now that she was on the ground. There was even less stuttering. She glanced at the building for a moment, before refocusing on Nat. “So, we good?”

 

“Absolutely.” Nat threw her a sunny smile, then turned to look at the building emself. “Dang, it’s a lot bigger than when I was a kid. Cool.”

 

“That’s a good thing, yeah? I mean…” Fi trailed off for a brief moment. “I can’t really say. I don’t know a whole lot about aquariums.”

 

“Well, let’s go fix that!” Nat took Fi’s hand and pulled her gently toward the entrance. “We can get reaquainted with it together.”

 

“I’m excited!” Fi certainly sounded it. It almost sounded like it was overriding her permanent state of mild terror. If one were to put it lightly. “Uh. Where are we going first. They have- like. Bunches of different sections? Like zoos?”

 

“I hope so,” Nat replied with a note of concern, “unless it’s like. Fish thunderdome or something.”

 

 

Both soon stood in the massive, redone lobby of the Aquarium, boggling at the vaulted ceiling and full-size replica of a humpback whale hovering far above. Three sets of double doors leading to the aquarium proper stood ahead, clear plexiglass columns separating them and filled with constantly rising bubbles.

 

“Dang,” Nat murmured, absently rubbing the tickets ey’d just purchased together.

 

“Why d’ya need so many doors, exactly,” Fi wondered aloud. “It seems … excessive?” With another, though less exaggerated shrug, she not-so-subtly pressed herself a little closer to Nat. It seemed partially because she could and partially because she tended not to watch where she was going too closely. Like that very moment. Whale replica.

 

“W-well,” Nat stammered. What in the hell was with this girl? Nat was used to being attracted to people but something about Fi was… different. “Um, it’s probably so that on holiday weekends and stuff they can get huge packs of kids through. I had school trips here a few times when I was little. Always loved those.”

 

Nat’s jaw tightened a little. There was more to that story, but ey had clearly decided not to go into it.

 

Fi … declined to comment. That didn’t look like a happy reaction, at the end. “Probably. I guess. I’m not an architect. Engineer? Archgineer. Engintech…” Someone really ought to stop her. She might go on forever.

 

Nat didn’t. Ey giggled and tugged on her hand, leading both of them to the ticket-taker at the door. Said ticket-taker stared for a moment, then tore the tickets and opened the door, a distinctly sour look on his face. Whether it was because he was repulsed by a queer couple or weirded out that one of them was floating several inches off the floor, Nat opted not to ask.

 

Soon, Nat and Fiona were walking between huge tanks, each one filled with undersea flora and fauna. They stayed close, clinging to one another even as their attention remained completely enraptured with the sea life around them.

 

Fiona was much quieter, by now. She actually paused – independent of Nat, now and again, because “Ooooh! Lookit that one.” Or just silently staring at some kind of critter.

 

As they passed a particularly large tank, Nat spotted something in the corner, grinned, and then turned to face Fi and broke into song in eir strident tenor. “Wheeeeen yooou swim in the sea and an eel bites your knee—”

 

An expansive gesture toward a wrinkled, cranky-looking creature in a hollowed-out piece of coral. “That’s a moraaaaay!”

 

Fi just stared. “Why.”

 

Nat let the awkward pause hang in the air for a moment, then resumed the song. “When you swim in a creek and an eel bites your cheek, that’s—aww it’s gone.”

 

“I- I don’t… even know where to start.” Not that she seemed any kind of annoyed, but closer to laughing.

 

“You could start by kissing me,” Nat grinned.

 

“Oh I could. But do- do I wanna … reward that?” And Fi broke into giggles. She was maybe not so good at the teasing.

 

“If you’re gonna deprive me of kisses every time you need to discourage my behavior,” Nat pointed out, “we’d probably never kiss.”

 

Feigned shock. “What, my kisses aren’t worth a little break, every so often?” She put on her best, saddest look.

 

“Now you’re moving the goalposts!” Nat feigned a mortified expression. “I guess we’re fighting now and shouldn’t kiss anyway.”

 

Ey took her hand. “Anyway c’mon you gotta see this next tank, it’s amazing.”

 

Fiona leaned over, pecked Nat, and allowed herself to be lead along to the next tank. “What’s in it?”

 

“It’s not what’s in it, it’s what it is. Actually—” ey whirled after they’d gone a few steps, grinning mischievously. “I want you to close your eyes. I’ll tell you when to open them. Okay?”

 

“Ehm, alright.” She closed her eyes, and even put her hands over them to help resist her urges to peek. “Okay. Lead on.”

 

Fi heard a giggle, then Nat let go of her hand. A moment later, she felt eir body wrap around hers from behind, then lean back, transferring her weight as comfortably as one can into the air.

 

She was almost starting to get used to being flown around. But not quite. She could tell that Nat was flying slowly, since she barely felt the movement, but after a few seconds they slowed to a stop. She was cradled in eir arms, facing… up?

 

“Okay,” Nat said. “Open them.”

 

When Fi opened her eyes, there was water in every direction. The surface of the tank curved in front of her, and fish swam above and to the side and everywhere she could see. The walkway was a tube through a massive aquarium, and Nat had flown her to the very highest point.

 

She tensed, briefly, then forced herself to relax a bit – then forgot entirely why she was tense when she opened her eyes, a look of wonder crossing her face. “Oh- .. Oh wow,” she said, grinning broadly. “…ooh I don’t even know what that is!”

 

“Me neither,” Nat murmured next to her ear, smiling broadly at her delight.

 

“Y’know what’s funny?”

 

“Mm?”

 

“y’know I can’t swim at all,” she says with a laugh. “Love all this sea stuff but..”

 

“Never too late to learn,” Nat said. “Maybe we—”

 

Eir sentence was interrupted by a distant crash, followed by screams of panic from somewhere else in the building.

 

Fiona almost reflexively jerked out of Nat’s grasp. She probably would have if not for Nat’s strength. “Wh-w-what was th-that?” She was suddenly much less serene.

 

“I don’t know,” Nat’s voice was suddenly flat and very serious. Ey lowered Fi to the floor quickly but gently, and flew to the edge of the hall. “That came from the ray petting tank. There might’ve been kids there! You okay with doing some impromptu heroing?”

 

“No-oo-oooo.” Whining. “…So let’s go do it, I guess,” she grumbled. She actually seemed annoyed. Which likely is not something Nat has seen before.

 

“Trust me, I would really have preferred that this not be part of our date,” Nat said, leading the way, “being attacked by Para hunters the day we met wasn’t the meet-cute I wanted, and this was supposed to kinda offset that.”

 

“Well, I got to pull a floating cutie under a table with me,” Fi said, a little bit of a smirk on her face. “So it wasn’t all bad.” She reached into her pocket, pulling out a deck of cards and shuffling it idly as she followed.

 

The manta ray petting zoo was a mess. Broken plexiglass and spilled sand were all that was left of the open tank, and the floor was covered with water. Oddly, no dead sea creatures lay on the ground, though the hallway ahead bore quite a few sets of wet, webbed footprints.

 

“Well this is…” Nat frowned, “a thing.”

 

“Uh. What is – what-” She slowed down, glanced around. “…Did they steal the fish or-” Fiona was a bit lost.

 

The answer to her question came a moment later with a horrifying gurgling sound as something around the hall corner noticed them. It stomped around the corner and lumbered toward them, its webbed feet slapping against the wet floor.

 

It looked like nothing so much as a giant stingray that had grown arms and legs, its body tilted up to reveal an inexplicably fanged maw. Its tail dragged behind it on the ground. When it caught sight of Nat and Fi, it emitted a bloodthirsty, gurgling roar.

 

“Steal,” Nat shrugged, “mutate. Something along those lines, I guess?”

 

“oh of course,” is what Fiona wanted to say. What came out was something more like a squeak that managed to be both horrified and annoyed all at once. She glanced nervously at Nat, then the why in front of her. Fi did not know much. She knew she did not like that thing.

 

“I’m gonna do what I do,” Nat said, “be a distraction. If you can get past it, go for it. If not, um, improvise?”

 

Nat zipped forward, leaned in toward the ray creature, and smacked it lightly on the nose. “Oi!” Ey barked.

 

The creature snarled and lunged toward Nat, but the Damselfly was too nimble, flying up into a somersault and shoving the monster in the back with one foot. The creature stumbled forward and onto the broken petting tank, scrambling for purchase.

 

Fiona, in a manner not-at-all-impressive, moved to get away from the Muta-Ray, then run along the path it had seemed to be following. Well-in-hand was her deck, though she was more focused on not getting tripped up on any of the debris than she was with pulling from it at the moment.

 

Nat flitted after her immediately, leaving the creature behind them.

 

“Whoever or whatever is doing this is probably gonna go for open tanks first,” ey noted as they hurried through the halls, following the wet footprints. More likely than not—”

 

They both skidded to a halt as they entered the next area, a wide-open viewing balcony over a huge pool with rocky islands. On one such island, flanked by human-sized mutant penguins with wicked razor beaks and folded, muscular arms, stood a handsome, square-jawed blonde man in a wetsuit.

 

All around him, chaos reigned. Mutant sea life walked on two legs almost everywhere, menacing any humans who didn’t run directly away. There didn’t appear to be any casualties yet that Nat and Fi could see, but that didn’t stop the wetsuited man from gloating.

 

“Go, my pets!” He shouted. “Drive the humans out! Destroy those who oppose us! Claim this palace for our army! Claim it in the name of: Evil-Ocean!

 

“You can just hear the trademark symbol at the end of his name, can’t you?” Nat muttered to Fi.

 

“D-…Did we take a- a wrong turn and …” She stared, seeming strangely amused. “…like- Like fall into a saturday morning cartoon? — do. Do we yell at him now or wait for him to see us like wh- … What’s the procedure?” As she spoke, she finally pulled a card from the deck. Four more join it, pulled on invisible strings, or something. Maybe?

 

“Emi said there’d be villains like these,” Nat replied. “Watched too many Legion-inspired schlockumentaries, figured their Emergence would be a claim to fame. How you wanna handle this?”

 

“You there!” The Villain swung an accusatory finger at the two, unable to see the inch or so that Nat’s feet were hovering above the ground and noticing nothing anomalous about Fi’s deck of cards. “You should be running for your lives! Do not believe that my thus-far nonviolent approach means I am adverse to setting an example with human lives.”

 

As if on cue, a spiky anemone-mutant stomped toward them, and the ray-beast from earlier moved to block the hallway back.

 

“You punch ‘im in the face, and I’ll-” She shrugged, tossing her hand of five over her shoulder.

 

The ground trembled. The tremors seemed to move inward, quite the opposite of what one might expect, centralizing just beneath the cards. A hole opened, and the cards fell. You could call what burst out of the quickly expanding hole a “snake.” It was a bit like calling grass a tree though: Not technically correct, and lacking in a certain scope. It easily exceeded twenty feet, and most snakes didn’t have weird, scaled lion heads.

 

“Oh. Okay. That’ssss what I’ll do,” Fi said simply. “Ssssure.”

 

The man calling himself Evil-Ocean took a slight step backward, nearly losing his footing on the rock. One of his penguin goons—pen-goons, if you will (and Evil-Ocean most certainly would)—reached up and steadied him. The Villain had expected resistance from heroes, but not this early, and maybe not without a few hundred mutated sea creatures between him and them.

 

As one of the uninvited paranormals went glassy-eyed and summoned a giant worm-lion-thing, the other floated upward, a menacing gleam in eir eye.

 

“Hey buddy,” the floating para said, “nice to meet you. The name’s Damselfly. That’s the Cartomancer. You better hope you know how to untransform all of these critters, and if you do, I’m gonna say you should maybe do that. Right now.”

 

Evil-Ocean opened and closed his mouth a few times, then shot back, “big words with little action! You’ll never make it past my p—”

 

He was not afforded the opportunity to show off how good he was at mutant animal related puns. In a blur of motion, the Damselfly zipped forward and knocked one pen-goon off its feet, then tumbled its weight over eir shoulders and into the other one. A spinning body slam later, and both of the dazed creatures fell into the water below. Now Evil-Ocean was face-to-face with the diminutive but all-business Damselfly alone.

 

“You—you may have beaten them, but—”

 

He looked over Damselfly’s shoulder at the chaos beyond and blanched.

 

What a mess. Fi is wrapped up in the coils of the what-do-you-even-call-that. The completely blank look on her face suggesting she is not quite at home at the moment. Which may explains the odd, decidedly non-lethal methods the wurm is using. Most comers discover just how hard something like that can lash out.

 

Not once are the teeth bared, and it seems to favor smashing the poor former-aquatic dwellers into hard surfaces. With face-to-whole-body contact, to be sure. It definitely is not trying to kill any of them.

 

Once Fi – or it, whichever the case may be – has decided enough of them are out of action, it slithers around the rest, uncoiling from Fi and constricting the remainder still standing – or crawling. Or just moving.

 

The eyes lock pointedly on Evil-Ocean.

 

“Okay, so tell you what.” The Damselfly spoke loudly enough for the creature behind em to hear, and to make the man in front of em cringe. “I’m gonna throw you to my girlfriend over there. You have until she devours you to surrender and do whatever you gotta do to fix shit.”

 

“Y-you wouldn’t!” Evil-Ocean tried to force a note of gloating triumph into his voice. “You’re heroes! I see how you spare the lives of even lowly sea creatures!”

 

Nat leaned in, real close, and hissed: “Do not believe that our thus-far nonviolent approach means we are averse to setting an example with Villain lives.”

 

With that, the Villain was hoisted and thrown, tumbling and skidding to a halt mere feet away from the lion-headed wurm-thing.

 

You misjudge.” It was an ugly, inherently wrong sound, a grating-to-the-ear hiss-and-growl with only the lightest hint of Fi’s voice beneath it all, which seemed only to lend it the poorly sputtered syllables, rather than true speech.

 

It slithered closer, as it spoke, jaw gaping wide. Wider. Wide enough to swallow Evil-Ocean and a few of his friends. It (They?) halted just in front of him. Close enough to ensure an accurate strike, by any account.

 

“I surrender, oh god!” Evil-Ocean blubbered. “Transform back, my pets! I mean, your pets! Sea creatures that belong to this aquarium, whatever, just don’t eat me!”

 

“Oh hey, he did it!” Nat’s voice came from below, then ey lighted on the balcony, holding a penguin. “Check out your guy, he’s so cute now! Ooh, I’m a scary bodyguard! I have grody muscle arms for some reason.” Nat talked in a cutesy, fake voice, moving the penguin’s flippers for emphasis. The penguin seemed nonplussed but otherwise content.

 

The serpent seemed suddenly lost, and Fi swayed dangerously on her feet, stumbling forward a few steps. She made a noise that was not quite human, turned to the thing and announced, “Pick him up. — Don’t hurt him!”

 

The chimeric monstrosity obeyed, snatching Evil-Ocean up in its jaws. It looked like it should be fatal. But it was careful enough that at most it probably only caused a nick or two. Fi sat down. Hard. Whined a little.

 

“Aww, sweetie,” Nat floated over. “I’m sorry a D-lister fucked up our date. Wanna pet this penguin while nobody’s looking? We made up and we’re never gonna fight again, are we pookie? No no no.” Nat scritched the penguin’s belly and it flapped its stubby wings, making a pleased chittering sound.

 

“You’re purple,” Fi said flatly. “And I can taste vanilla.” She did not bother elaborating on what those two things meant, because yes she wanted to pet a penguin. She reached over. Scritchie-Scritchie. “omigosh they’re ticklish.”

 

“Excuse me,” Evil-Ocean‘s voice had a distinctly defeated quality to it. “Can I be turned over to the police now? Being held like this is starting to hurt. A lot.”

“that thing can crush most demon-bones in its jaws. Stop crying. You’re not dead.” Fiona once again sounded annoyed.

“What she said. You can wait until we’re done tickling your henchpenguin,” Nat replied primly.

 

 

Two hours later, the menace of Evil-Ocean was well and truly quelled as he was escorted away by a Legion administrator accompanied by local law enforcement. The aquarium proper had been closed to the public as the staff tended to the confused and minorly injured sea creatures who’d been transformed.

 

The manager of the facility’s famed Aquarium Restaurant, however, was not about to let the heroes go unrewarded, and that’s how Nat and Fiona ended up facing each other across a secluded table, treated to a free meal and a large bottle of (decent) wine.

 

Fi seemed pleased with this. She’d been very quiet, though. Outside of a short remark of “kinda weird they serve seafood,” she’d been happy enough to listen to Nat. That may be because she looked completely worn down and exhausted. Or maybe the nervous stuttering that was the result of her trying to talk, now. Both, possibly.

 

“Hey, um,” Nat interrupts eir own nervous babbling, finally. “You were amazing out there, for what it’s worth. You had a lot of control, and you were scary as hell right when I hoped you’d be. Thanks.”

 

“ya-huh,” Fi responded. Her voice was much quieter now. “Practice pays off, I suppose. And uh- Honestly? That was sheer dumb luck I got something so–” She gestured airily. It communicated absolutely nothing. “…Something that high-order, I guess. I can’t complain, though. I mean. I can. They’re not… not-” She scrunched her brow. “Not that fun to marionette, I suppose. They’re very… distant. From us, I mea-” She abruptly realized that yes, this is babble and instead… “- I mean. Thank you. I guess I’m getting better.”

 

“Well, you’re… you’re welcome, I mean like I’m just—like, are you um. Sorry that—” Ey took a deep breath and let it out. “I don’t know what it is about you that makes me fall all over myself. I’m used to being around cool people, and powerful people, and cute people, and hot people, and people who are some combination of all of those things. You’re—I dunno. Different.”

 

A slow smile. “Because I’m none of those things. I’m an awkward turtle. You didn’t mention those.” A faint hitch in her voice is telling enough, perhaps, for Nat to realize Fi doesn’t know what to say to that.

 

“You’re all of those things,” Nat snaked out from eir seat and floated across the table, taking Fi’s face in eir hands. “You are all of those things and you are an awkward turtle and you make me an awkward turtle too. An awkward… flying turtle.”

 

“But flying turtles are cool,” is all Fi said before she leaned forward and kissed Nat. It was certainly more involved than the little peck earlier.

 

Nat made a small, helpless noise into Fi’s mouth and returned the kiss, deepening it. When they finally separated, ey gazed into her eyes, looking a little dazed.

 

“Fi, I—” Nat paused, then looked to the side. Across the restaurant, the owner and manager were watching, passing a handkerchief back and forth to mop up sentimental tears. “Can… we go back to your place?”

 

She followed Nat’s gaze. Looked to be trying to decide if she was offended or amused. Settled on amused. It took her a moment before she replied, “um. Yes.”

 

“Good.” Nat unzipped eir pocket, fished out a hefty tip and dropped it on the table. “You gonna let me cook you breakfast this time?”

 

no.” She shrugged. “That would mean you would have to get up and I would be less warm. I have so many problems with that.”

 

“I’ll take that as an ‘I’ll consider it,’ then,” Nat smirked, then scooped Grace up and flew toward the exit.

A Stitch In Time: The Invitation

MONTREAL, CANADA

THE PRESTWICH ESTATE

 

Adam had always loved the smell of White Diamonds. Estelle wore the fragrance, even today, when she should have been focused on work. A woman was allowed a few indulgences, after all. She carefully, carefully, wrote a list of names in looping cursive. It was important to match the card that she had seen in her Vision, after all.

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: The Invitation”

A Stitch In Time: Estelle

THE PRESTWICH MANOR

THE GUEST ROOM

 

“Come in, come in. Can I get you a drink?” Estelle swept the group into her guest room, a place of upholstered furniture and carefully organized china and a bar up against the wall, stocked with quality liqueur and expensive glasses of all sizes.

“That would be lovely, ma’am, thank you!” Nat said in a slightly pitched-up voice, beaming eir most winning smile. Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: Estelle”

A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution

FOUR HOURS AGO

 

Lights Show had been thinking hard, and he jumped up with his hand in the air like a schoolboy proud of his answer. He flushed, cleared his throat, and started talking before someone could tease him about his opening.

 

“Let’s go to the field where he’ll be. Let’s bring a stripper pole. Nat will do eir thing, I’ll drop the beats… No one could resist a show like that.”

He punctuated his idea with finger guns and an “Ayyyyyy!”

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: It’s All in the Execution”

A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward

Estelle sat in the largest, most comfortable chair in the guest room, hands pressed together and fingers steepled.

 

“You may have saved the world.” she finally pronounced, a queen on her throne. “Everyone, everyone, on Earth must thank you.”

“Oh goob. Dat’s fantastig.” Fi mumbled from behind a handkerchief. Apparently, kicking an angel into the back of its own mind had consequences, and in this case, those consequences were periodic nosebleeds. “but I meang. I lib on da wurlb?” Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: A Just Reward”

Snuggle Party

THE FLYING FORTRESS

INFIRMARY, ROOM 212

 

“So this game is apparently not, like. You don’t ‘win’ it? You just pay your mortgage. To a raccoon.” Nat explained, tilting the game system so Fi could see it.

 

“I don’t. Understand at- … at..” She kind of hushes, shrugs. “..why am I mortgaged to a raccoon?” She settles into her chair, brow quirked.

 

“Everybody in the game is an animal except the player, I guess. That’s why it’s called ‘animal crossing’. The raccoon is, like. A merchant guy.”

 

“Why.”

 

“Why what.”

 

Chad and Jess showed up hand in hand, and Chad blew kisses before running off to get the food ready!

 

“Why what what?” Jess poked her head in. “Heya babes!”

 

“Hiya! And ey’s – explaining … Animal-walking…” She glances over at Nat, unsure, “To me.”

 

“Jess! Hi!” Nat smiled. “Look, I’m conscious! For now!”

 

“It’s exciting! I’m excited. Are you excited?”

 

“Animals walking what?” She nudged the door wide open, and leaned on it flat against the wall, holding it open for Chad and his eventual armful of foooooddds.

 

“It’s very exciting! And animals crossing… I dunno, your path? It’s really about buying furniture, picking fruit, and paying your mortgage. Scott hacked it so I don’t have to play as a boy or girl.”

 

“Neat! That’s so great of him!”

 

“It is. I’d rather be flying around, honestly, but this helps. Also, they took off the straps on my hands and feet, finally, tho I’m still tied around the waist so I don’t float away in my sleep.”

 

“It was kind of funny the first night they let you out of the restraints. Bumped the ceiling constantly.”

 

“I don’t know why they didn’t keep me on at least one tether. There’s a reason I either sleep in a hammock or tied to Fi.”

 

Fi shrugs. “No idea, honestly. Was still kinda funny.” She hmhs. Opens her mouth. Stares blankly and slowly closes it. “i- .. I lost my train of thought.” Fi… does look awful tired.

 

Jess slid the door jam under the door and went to Fiona. “Snuggles, smoochbuddy?” She held her arm out.

 

“I mean- I like those, yes?” She kinda. Traps Jess in a big hug.

 

“Oh Fi, you… you gotta go home, sweetie. You’re not sleeping well here.”

 

No.” It’s quite firm. It’s also probably surprising in that Fi sounds sure of anything.

 

“I can tag you out and stay for you? Heck, you can even have my bed here. I don’t use it. And it’s all right for a bunk.”

 

“Fi, it’s all right. I’m all right. It’s just one more procedure, and I’ve had it done before once. Barely invasive. I… I really love having you here but I can see you wearing down.”

 

“I’m fine!” She punctuates this with a rather large yawn. Promptly looks annoyed.

 

That yawn prompted a squeeze hug.

 

Suddenly, an imposing figure appeared in the doorway: a brown-haired woman in a pantsuit, with her hair tied into a neat bun with ornamental hairsticks. She looked… serious.

 

“Adam Nova is visiting Madame Prestwich in the next room over, kids,” Tabitha said, “so no loud orgies, all right?”

 

And she strode away.

 

“…I’m not sure how offended I am right now. I’m going with “pretty”.”

 

“I heard loud orgies. You guys heard loud orgies? I sure did.”

 

“I’m busy being miffed right now, sugar.”

 

“Why’re you miffed? It seems like a reasonable request.”

 

“It’s also an incredibly presumptuous request that basically says a lot about how we’re viewed collectively.”

 

“Young and horny?”

 

“I think she was joking, but like. We kind of are a thing, and the earth staff around here is kinda thin so word travels fast.”

 

Fi grumbles.

 

“Okay but. Adam fucking Nova?”

 

“I guess?”

 

“Is it…is it like bad manners to gawk at Adam Nova?”

“she didn’t say we couldn’t. just no fuckin’.”

 

“I think I heard the door close, actually.”

“Damn.”

“They’ve ruined your plans.”

 

“does this mean the orgy is back on”

 

That’s an interesting shade of red Fi just turned. “I’m trying really hard to be mad why won’t you let me be mad?”

 

“Because being mad is bad for your health,” Nat smiles, “and I want to be a positive influence on you.”

“Since when is it bad?” … she does seem, if only slightly, mollified.

 

“Hey Jess.” Nat’s grin gets a distinctly evil cast to it. “Do you want to see something extremely adorable?”

“I don’t trust this.”

 

“Hah! Always!” Jess grinned.

 

Nat reaches up and places two delicate fingers on Fi’s jaw, gently turning her head so that their eyes meet.

 

“Hi, Fiona,” ey says, “I love you.”

 

Fi turns a brilliant shade of red. She also makes several very interesting, though probably nonsense sounds. Sputters. “uh-i- we-” … “loveyoutoo”  It’s.. kind of hard to tell what she said, since it was a good octave higher than her voice usually went.

 

Jess let out a soft yet high pitch squee. “eeeeeeeeeeee you two are so adorable!”

 

It gets worse. There is literally no way to describe the sound Fi makes after that, other than high-pitched and mortified. She also looks a bit woozy from all that blood taking up, apparently, permanent residence in her face.

 

Nat giggles, blushing a little bit emself. “Isn’t she absolutely darling? You should have seen how she reacted when I said I’d never fallen in love with anybody before.”

 

“why is the room not staying still?”

 

Jess gently gives Fi a squeeze, eeeing softly.

 

“Don’t faint, sweetie,” Nat puts a hand on Fi’s arm. “Deep breaths, okay? Have some water.”

 

“‘m not gonna faint…” She maybe did. Or maybe she just forgot how to words.

 

Nat and Jess both catch Fi at the same time and ease her onto the hospital bed; between the two redheads, about a normal human’s width is taken up on the bed, possibly less given how close Nat snuggles her.

 

“So, uh, yeah,” Nat smiles and shrugs a little sheepishly at Jess. “We’re a thing. I really like it.”

 

Jess held up her hand for a high five. “Hun, I’m like so happy for the two of you.”

 

Nat grins and returns the high-five. “Thanks. Me too. You’re an awesome metamour. Or whatever the kissfriend equivalent of that is.”

 

“….what’s a metamour?”

 

“Oh it’s a polyamory term,” Nat explains, petting Fi’s hair, “it means the person who’s dating a person you’re dating. Your love’s love. Some people use the term OSO, which means other’s significant other.”

 

“Ah, okay. Will remember it.” Jess fondly patted Fi’s shoulder. “You okay with her on the bed with you? I can move her to my room…and hope she doesn’t get lost when she wakes up.”

 

“I like her being on the bed with me. Now that my limbs are free I can snuggle properly. I just wish there were room for you on her other side!”

“i’m awake.” “That’s nice sweetie”

 

“Heyyyyyy better behave you guys.” Chad comes back in with his hands full of treats and food and games. “Then again…” he leans in to Nat and offers his cheek for smooching. “Long as it’s not a loud…uh…” a huge grin.

Nat rises from the bed a little and pecks Chad’s cheek, grinning.

He smooches her back and eyes Jess just in case she might smack him. He’s still pretty sure she might.

“Shhhhhh!” Jess said, with over exaggeration. “Adam Nova is next door. We can’t be too loud.” She winked.

 

“We got all the best shit for our sickie here.” he announced and spread food in front of Nat. “I hadta get mean to get them to heat it up right! You can’t just toss it in the nuker!” he scowled, then grinned at the others. “And after you eat, check it: SMAAAAAASH.” he held up a game disk looking super proud of himself. “I’m gonna kick alla your asses!”

 

Jess gladly grabs a handful of snacks and starts munching.

 

“I bet you will, cuz I’ve never played!” Nat laughs. “I got like no friends at college.”

 

“You got your XDS right?” he looked suddenly worried. “I can run an’ grab it if you don’t”

 

“Um, yeah, actually! Emi bought me one! I’ve been playing Animal Crossing, and like. It’s kind of fascinating how far games have come.”

 

“Blegh, Animal Crossing. No way.” He teased as if he didn’t like that game. “Check it – I got Monster Hunter 8 day it came out!” He looks in his bag. “Ok, we got enough controllers.” he sneaked a sneaky look at Jess all excited but thought he was being really subtle.

 

“An this is for you Nat.” he pulls out a gift bag and hands it over. Inside are Monster Hunter 7, Pokemon Yang, and LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy. There was also a Nintendo Eshop card for so Nat could grab some games.

 

“Can uh. Can I just watch? I’m not very. … good at the video game thing.”

 

“I’m not either!” Nat grinned. “I barely played ’em at all until today. I usually just go clubbing or read about bugs. I do wanna eat first, though, I’m finally back on solid food.”

 

“Yeah that’s cool. Eat up yo you gotta get better.” he started to set up the WiiMo and got the projection up on a bare wall. He had a few controllers and then pulled a package wrapped in orange paper out of the duffel. He got a big goofy smile. (There was a grandiose amount of food. Almost like the person that brought it had no idea other people didn’t eat as much)

 

Fi abruptly remembers her promise, scooting to the edge of the bed and giving both Chad and Jess pecks on the cheek. (Also big hugs but that’s kind of a given, one may surmise.)

 

Nat grins. “You’re all the best.”

 

Jess grins, grabbing a controller. “You guys are the best too. And, Cutey, I’m going to smash you.” Her grin was huge when she looked at Chad.

“I’m in a paranormal polycule and that is so cool

 

Fi, after a moment’s contemplation, picks up a controller. She stares at it like it may actually bite her.

 

“Aww you think you’re gonna. Ain’t no way!” He stuck his tongue out at her and noticed her controller. “Uh…actually that one’s for Fi and…”  He shuffled for a second and got all bashful. “

This one’s for you.” he handed her the wrapped box.

“oh my gosh”

“Isn’t he cute?”

“this is the greatest. yes he is.”

 

Jess made a little meeping sound. “For me? But why?” She took the box with both hands.

 

He scratched at the back of his neck. “Well I noticed when we were at your place the other night you ain’t got one.”  he admitted. The words kinda spilled out of his mouth. “Anyhow you were sayin’ you wanted to try Fire Fates and I had like a million points saved up and Black Ops 12 isn’t out til next month soo….” he got more and more shy until he trailed off.

 

“Nerd.” Jess was smiling fondly, then pulled Chad over for a quite detailed kiss.

Nat squealed, delighted.

Fi covers her eyes. Yes, really. Nat immediately sings, “don’t you daare close your eyes!” a la aladdin in her ear.”I swear to God, Nat. I- .. I don’t know what yet but you’ll regret this.” “maybe I can make it up to you.”

He went all droopy and tangled one of his big hands in her hair.

 

Jess giggled. “Dope.” Then in his ear. “I’m so gonna whup your ass.”

 

When she bit his ear he shivered and made a high little whuffle noise then blinked rapidly so he wouldn’t embarrass himself!  “Guuuurl.”

“Heeheeheehee.” She sneaks in a grope.

Evidently finding the scene inspiring, Nat nuzzled Fi’s cheek. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

 

“..a place where we’re all affectionate with each other and nobody feels slighted by it, and everyone is actually enjoying themselves?” It’s a little flat, like she’s trying to be properly sassy, but hasn’t mastered the right tonality, exactly.

 

“Mm-hmm,” Nat agrees, getting real close to her face. “Terrifying, isn’t it? I’m told it’s the kind of thing that’ll bring down society.”

 

Nat is far too close, bee-ess-oh-dee imminent. “Um. Yes it is definitely the scariest thing?

 

“So scary…” and now Nat’s kissing her deeply for the first time in days.

 

“Oksoyeahsmash….?” Chad was trying not to get distracted, the only problem was Jess was incredibly distracting. He was about to disappear into makeouts land.

 

Jess grinned. “Let’s go get some chairs in here.” She moved out the room, slapping Chad on the rump as she passed.

 

“You break it, you bought it!” he tossed to her as he grabs a whole stack of three chairs to bring back in.

 

Nat and Fi are still kissing when they come back in.

Yep.

 

This Closure

This Closure

FIONA’S APARTMENT

 

“Fionaaaa, let me innnnn I have to hug you really hard,” Nat drummed against the window, whining loudly enough to hear through the glass. “Also, stop locking this window!”

 

“Fiiiiii, I’m here too!” Jess’s head popped right beside Nat’s. “Fiiiiiiii! Let us innnnnnn!” She tapped on the window.

 

Chad came to the window and stuck his tongue out. Then pushed his mouth against the glass and made smooshy faces.

 

He opened the window and welcomed them in. “Heyyy it’s my hotties! C’mon in. There’s cake!” he pulled them in. “Fi’s um, busy but c’mon c’mon.”

 

“Whelp!” Jess clambered in after Nat. “We’ll get some coffee too, yeah?”

 

“I’ve still got some whole bean that was roasted on Sunday,” Nat zipped through the window without touching it; nothing but net. “I’ll start a press.”

 

Chad nodded and followed them in, grabbing Jess up for some righteous makeouts!

 

Nat giggled and started prepping the coffee, watching the makeouts intently as ey did.

 

“Hey.” he wrapped Jess up in his arms. “Man I’m glad to see you.” he whispered sincerely.

 

Jess grinned. “Missed you too, cute stuff.” She kissed him on the nose. She looked kinda nervous under her excitement.

 

“You guys,” Nat wibbled, eyes kinda dewy. “She said it on TV. She said that being queer was okay on TV. The Oathkeeper.”

 

“Glad nobody got too mad.” Chad said. He clearly didn’t get it but he was happy for everyone all the same. He cuddled Jess closer. He knew she was nervous and was pretty sure he knew why so he made sure to give her lots of love.

 

“Oh, they did,” Nat murmured, “the ones who were mad just weren’t in the room. I’m sure that… my parents are just fuming, wherever the fuck they are. Unless they’re dead, that’d be nice.”

 

He peeked at his twitter. “Yeah, some people are kinda being dicks about it.” a shrug. “I lost like 200 followers.” a shrug. “My moms’re happy though.”

 

“Moms!” Nat squeaked. “Chad I didn’t know you had multiple moms!! That… well, it at least contextualizes how you’re so chill about all this.” Gesturing at the assembled cuties.

 

“Haha! It’s…kinda a new thing but…” he shrugs. He didn’t seem to understand how he’d not be chill. “Hey Jess?  Come help me in the kitchen, huh?”

 

Once they were there he gathered her into his arms. “You’re pretty nervous, babe.” he said, voice low so only she can hear. “You gonna tell em today?”

 

Jess shifts. “Yeah. Think I’m gonna.”

 

“You afraid they’re gonna freak out?” he rubbed his thumb against her cheek.

 

“Dunno.” Jess shrugged helplessly.

 

He nodded. “Even if they do, I got your back. All the way.” he cupped her face so she knew he was serious. “Got that? I got you.”

 

Jess smiled at him. It was a little crooked, but it was there. “Okay.”

 

He smiled. “I l…I care about you a lot Jess.” he was trying to say something else but too shy. The others were here. “Lots. Ok? I got you.” He gave her a warm sweet kiss and hugged her close.

 

It was about that point that Fi, dressed in a shirt about five sizes too big for her wandered through the kitchen. She blinked once. Squinted. Rubbed her eyes. Turned an odd shade of red, and slowly backed out before reappearing in her customary hoodie-and-slacks.

 

“Um. Hi. Everyone?”

 

“Sweetie!!” Nat nearly knocked over the french press as ey zipped across the room to Fi, scooping her up and snuggling her. “Alice just came out as poly and bi! On television!!!”

 

She blinked. Once. “Uhm?” It’s entirely possible that she is not awake enough yet to truly comprehend all of those words in those sentences.

 

“Let’s… get some coffee in you.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Nat floated over to the kitchen with Fi still in eir arms, peering around it to smile at Jess and Chad. “Look who I found!” Ey chirped.

 

“Was I missing?”

 

“We were missing! You!” Ey nuzzled her cheek, then set her down.

 

“Aww there’s my Fi-bee.” he grabbed them both up in his big paws and cuddled them close.

 

“I was not missing. I was in bed. I wasn’t even moving.” She said defensively- Oh no! A Chad! She laughs, returning the hug. Kind of. She can’t quite properly hug Chad because size differences but she’s trying, damn it.

 

Jess clutched her mug with both hands, making nervously noisy slurps. She looked like she was getting more uncharacteristically jittery the more that she realised that it was getting close to the time she had to tell her cuties Her Big Not-So-Secret-But-Really-Yeah-It-Kinda-Was-One. “H-hey, Fi!” Sllluurrrpppppp.

 

“Hi-hi, Jess!” Pause. Squiiint. “Everything alright?”

 

“P-peachy!” Sluuurrrpppppppp. Okay. Maybe coffee was a bad idea. Now she was nervous and full of caffeine jitters.

 

“Hey.” Nat zipped over the kitchen island and gave Jess a close hug (though careful not to make her spill her coffee). “I know this stuff is real nerve-wracking, okay? But you don’t hafta be afraid. We’re your friends and partners. We’re not gonna judge you.”

 

“Okay, okay, okay.” Jess put the mug down. She rubbed her hands on her jean legs and took a deep breath.

 

“MymotherisnotfromEarthshelivedwithmydadhadmethenabandonedusandIfoundoutlikesixyearsagothatshe’sfromthePlanetJupiterandthatmeansI’mhalfalien.”

 

Jess stood there, doing that thing where she was trying to figure out if she need to lighting blast someone in the face or just run.

 

Chad snugged her closer and kissed her neck and whispered something secret in her ear. He looked at the other two, watching how they’d react. He definitely wasn’t holding her so she couldn’t run away! Ok, he was.

 

Nat blinked. “Oh, that’s it?” Ey said, then thought about it for a minute. “That’s kinda super cool, actually.”

 

What the crap did Jess just say? Fi lowered her head, mumbling what she thinks Jess said at a slower speed. After another minute she kinda blinks at Jess. “…Um. If I understood that right, that’s neat. If I didn’t, can you repeat that? Something about Jupiters and aliens.”

 

Okay, okay, chill reaction so far. Bolstered by this, Jess took another deep breath. “Okay, like my mother, she’s from the Planet Jupiter. She came to Earth to have me, then went away, then just left me at dad’s doorstep. That’s how I figure I have all these powers.” She shrugged.

 

“Dang,” Nat murmured. “Are you trying to find her now?”

 

Jess shrugged. “Dunno. But Scanner confirmed that I’m half alien. A ship to reach Jupiter is in the works. But, like. She abandoned us. Earth is totes home.”

 

“Why’d she do – well, I guess you don’t know. But um. If it’s worth anything, I’m really glad you are here…?”

 

Chad hugged her protectively and just listened for now.

 

Jess shrugged again. “She left a note on me. Dad could read half of it, but there were words only I could see. Something something, I’ve got no limits beyond the skies, and she thinks I’m going to Jupiter. I dunno. It sould like a bunch of Sailor Moon crap.”

“Hee hee I smooched sailor Jupiter.”

 

“Well like. I hope you get that you don’t have to do anything an absent parent says,” Nat’s voice is adamant. “But if you want to, Jupi, we are right behind you. We love you and we’ve got yer back.” Nat didn’t bother to check with anybody else. Nat rarely bothered to check with anybody else when it came to offering support.

 

Jess beamed like a ray of sunshine. “Thanks you guys. I was like ninety percent sure you weren’t going to run screaming, but like…I dunno, it’s so weird, still. Dunno if I want to go to Jupiter, but Scanner and Alice are excited.”

 

Jess then paused, scratching the back of her head. “And, uh, yeah. This is dumb. Mom called me the last princess of Jupiter in her note. So I’m fifty percent sure she’s just cray cray.”

 

“But Jupiter sounds like all kinds of fun. All that crushing atmospheric weight and-” Suddenly Fi blinks. “…Huh. I wonder if you’re a special case as far as Ju…jupiterians? Jupitites? Goes. I mean… you can fly and you have lightning.”

 

Jess shrugged like it was going out of fashion. “I know crap all about Jupiter. It’s a gas giant? It’s huge? There’s loads of storms? How do people even live on a gas giant that’s a total storm ball all the time?”

 

Fi shrugs in agreement.

 

Chad spoke up. “So the point is, Jess is a alien and we don’t care cause we like her anyway. Right?” he looked to the others.

 

“Obviously,” Nat nodded emphatically, “none of us have any problem with that. She’s cool and a dynamite kisser and just a really kind and cool person.”

 

“See, babe? Di-No-Mite.”

 

Jess grinned big and wide. And that was that.

 

Awkward But Necessary

FIONA’S APARTMENT

 

It was late morning on a chilly but sunny Saturday, and there was a floating queer stripper hovering just outside of Fiona’s apartment window holding a quiche. This was probably one of the more normal things that would happen to her this week, she realized.

 

Nat raised eir eyebrows, smiled, and tapped on the window.

 

Fi stared. Tried to figure out if she was dreaming, and then, as the rest of her brain started up, she finally rolled out of bed – and no, she did not land on her feet. Then, she crawled over to the window, stood up, and opened it.

 

That’s also how Nat is reminded that Fi sleeps in yet another hoodie. “Mmhgh? Yes. hi. What is that.”

 

“Quiche Lorraine,” ey said, floating through the window and straight to the oven, which ey set to preheat. “How you doing, babes?”

 

“Oh, um. … Tired.” She grins brightly. “How are you, sugarcake?”

 

“I’m okay, I guess,” Nat shrugged, clearly preoccupied. Ey opened the fridge and retrieved the jar of cold-brewed coffee (which was still untouched. Fi did not seem to trust it) that ey had made a few days before. “How are you?” Ey asked, apparently having forgotten that ey’d already asked it.

 

Fi completely dropped any kind of preamble, brushed her hair out of her eyes, and said simply, “Alright. What’s bothering you?”

 

Nat blinked at her, then looked kind of sheepish as ey poured emself a mug of coffee from the jar. “I’m… it’s not that anything’s bothering me exactly, I’m just trying to process stuff and realizing that I have no idea what I’m doing and I need to talk to you about it but I don’t really know how to start.”

 

Ey paused. “So I guess that’s how I’m starting.”

 

For a brief instant, a look of concern crossed Fi’s face, before she went back to her usual, mostly flat expression. Canted her head to the side, then crossed over to the kitchen table, settled herself on a chair and said, “Okay. What’s up?” Not unkindly, but there was a hint of uncertainty.

 

“Okay so um. First of all, like, is this working for you?” Nat asked, sounding genuinely worried that Fi might say ‘no’ for some reason. “Like, are you… happy? With me?”

 

She now looked more confused than anything else. “Um. Yes. Should- Should I be something else?” Nat may catch onto Fi gripping her chair’s sides like they’re some kind of life line. But ey may not.

 

“No!” Ey swoops over to Fi, expression halfway between concerned and stricken. “I just. I think I always assumed I’d be a crappy person to be in a real relationship with, cuz of my attention span and my sluttiness and. Not ever really having. Been in love before.”

 

“Uhm. I guess my next question is – is that what you want? Look. I mean.” Fi waffled, and seemed quite interested in her lap. “…If you just wanna hang around and cuddle and kiss, that’s fine, you know? I’m okay with that. I guess that’s obvious but…”

 

“Wait, is… is what what I want?” Nat seemed even more discombobulated.

 

“No no no! That’s – what I meant was- – Do you want a “real” relationship, I guess, as you put it.” Fi never noticed how fascinating her lap was until now.

 

Nat took a deep breath and let it out, head bobbing. “Yes,” ey said. “Yes, I do want that. But what I also really want is. I want to know what you want. What you’d like, what you’re hoping for. Because I don’t know, and that’s actually kind of scaring me a little.”

 

“..I dunno. I don’t have a frame of refere-” She fell silent for a moment, then, almost unrelated added, “…Last time I was … with anyone. At all. Was almost two decades ago so. I don’t know what I’m doing or what I want, or what I’m supposed to want.”

 

 

The oven beeped, preheated, and Nat glanced over at it. “I’m… I’ll put the quiche in in a minute.” Ey turned back to Fi. “So. So maybe we can work through some of this together. Figure out our expectations, maybe say some things out loud that we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to talk about. Like. I don’t want to apply my other frames of reference to this. It’s different. You’re different.”

 

She opened her mouth. Then shut it. Then opened it again. “…Okay. So. I dunno how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I don’t have expectations. It seems unreasonable to apply something like that to a situation where-” She very suddenly fell silent, and a frown, a genuine one as opposed to her typical silly faces. Deep breath. Then she spoke again. “Where my last experiences were. Decidedly. Unpleasant.”

 

“I hear you and that’s, um fair,” Nat said, floating over to the oven, “but I want you to be able to have expectations of me. I want to know what they might be.”

 

Ey picked up the quiche, put it in the oven, then floated back to Fi. “I want to be your partner. I want to make you happy and I want to do it for a long time, m-maybe the rest of my life.”

 

Fi flushed bright red, and gosh her lap was just so interesting and- … “Okay. If. If I- want something, I’ll let you know. If you want to be with me – well, I can tell you now I want that too.” Her speech was riddled with stutters, complete halts, and occasionally she just shut up and picked her words.

 

((Tag. Also, sorry that took so long!))((haha no worries <3))

 

“I do want to be with you,” Nat drifted up to Fi, hovering over her, face-to-face. “I really want that.”

 

Now she couldn’t look at her lap, and that’s a problem. She seemed genuinely embarrassed, and not… off-put necessarily, so much as totally unsure. “..well, w-well…” She sputtered. “Nothing wrong with that?” She. Kind of cringed. Not good at that.

 

Nat sighed, trying to catch Fi’s gaze, then finally took her face in eir hands and turned it so that Fi couldn’t look at eir chest, or legs, or hair. Just green eyes meeting green eyes. “Fi I know this is agonizing for you. But please, just. It would mean a lot if you could tell me in your own words wh… what you want to have with me. What this relationship means to you. Can you… try?”

 

“I- don’t know. Safety? … Calmness? I- I don’t know how to explain it, not in words, or actions or…” Again, she was silent. “…Okay. So. … You-” She took a nice deep breath. “Okay. Um. I guess what I want is just – to try this, find out what it’s all about. What you are and I am and what we make, together and– And I- am.. Babbling… and shutting…up…”

 

Nat ran eir hands through Fi’s hair. “Okay. I can work with that. We can work on this together. So I, um, have another thing I want to talk about. Can. Can we talk about sex?”

 

“Yes, yes we can. Um. That’s not a big deal.”

 

“Well but it is,” Nat murmured, “for me. It is. You know by now that I’ve had sex with a lot of people, and sex is– is a thing I do with friends, but the thing about it is… even if you ask around, you aren’t gonna find anybody who knows what… my junk looks like. Nobody does.”

 

She looks a little confused. “Um. Oh…kay?” She’s not following.  At all.

 

Nat rubbed eir face. “Like, ok, sorry about getting vulgar, but… I’m really good at giving head. I’m nimble as fuck with my fingers. I like taking it up the ass. And if I really wanna get off with a partner, I have vibrators of every shape and size. But I do not ever let anybody see what’s down there. Ever.”

 

Eir voice gets very small. “I’m… not going to say, ‘does that make sense?’, because I know it doesn’t, it’s stupid and weird. But do you… understand what I mean?”

 

“Not exactly, but I’ll nod anyway.” So she did exactly that.

 

Nat was quiet for a few moments. “Do you know what genital dysphoria is?”

 

Fi nods. “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think that is a thing I can really know? But I get it, now, I think?”

 

“When I was… ten? I think? I found out that I was intersex. I was one of the lucky ones, and didn’t get ‘corrective’ surgery, but that’s only because my parents refused to acknowledge it or talk about it. They always refused to talk about it. Raised me as a boy, wouldn’t let me talk about why my stuff felt and looked weird. Even once I found out, I wasn’t allowed to say word one about it. By the time I ran away, I knew everything I needed to know, but I had some damage that I’ve never been able to shake.”

 

“…What the -” She nodded again, slowly. “Okay. I’m following…?” She sounded a little uncertain again. “What- How can I- … can I help?”

 

“Well, so. Not really? I know what I want to do about my dysphoria, at least. There’s a surgery I want, basically to just wipe everything out down there except one erogenous zone and a thing to pee from. That’s it. But as for what I need from you, I … wanted you to know all this baggage I have going on. To hear it and to get that this is all weird for me, because when…”

 

Ey looked back up into Fi’s eyes. “When we actually do have sex, I don’t want to be pretending that I’m not fucked up like I do with everybody else. I know this probably makes no sense but. But I don’t really make sense.”

 

“Okay.” She leaned forward and pecked Nat on the lips, before settling back again, and biting her lip. “I’m- Uh. I-I’m sorry I don’t. Really know what to say or do or – anything. I’m sorry I uh, I don’t – have more to say.”

 

Nat offered an extremely sheepish grin. “You’re still here. That’s… everything, honestly.”

 

Suddenly, Fi laughed. “Where would I go?”

 

“Throw me back out the window, I guess.”

 

“I’ve no idea if I could properly pick you up. So you’re safe.”

 

“Well, you could tell me to go and I’d go.”

 

“Haven’t done that, soooo.” She smiled.

 

“Lucky me.” Nat settled lightly into Fi’s lap, sighing happily. “Do you want to, by the way? Have sex sometime.”

 

“Um. I think that’s a thing, so. Yes?” Wow she sounds not at all sure if that’s the correct answer.

 

Nat giggled. “You think it’s a thing? Sex is a thing, maybe, Fi thinks? Well if it’s a thing.”

 

“Why yes, I do think it may be a thing. Maybe.” She sounds deadpan, certain.

 

“Sex: may be a thing, notes local cartomancer.”

 

“Distinctly possible. Research needed.”

 

Nat raised eir eyebrows. “Research, eh? You should probably assemble a team for that.”

 

“I’m no scientist. I’ll ask some demons maybe?”

 

“Orrrrr. We could just engage in rigorous experimentation ourselves?”

 

She turned bright red and her mouth moved, but no sound came out.

 

Nat giggled and leaned in close, right next to her ear. “You wanna go do a science?”

 

It was that point that Fi looked to be in danger of fainting.

 

“Nod for a science,” Nat whispered, “shake your head for no science right now.”

 

Fi sucked in a breath, sharply. “Um. Um. …” She blinked. “…oh shit how long is that whateveritis supposed to be oven’d?”

 

Nat blinked. “Oh. Right. Um,” checking the clock, “five more minutes. Damn. Quiche, then research?”

 

“Um. Not- Not- to offend but I think. I want to hold off on that for a bit?” She sort of. Wrung her hand behind Nat’s back. “…Because my brain is being weird and suddenly I’m very worried about doing the wrong things and I want it to be fun and-” A beat. “..and I’m dumb sometimes?”

 

Nat held a surprised silence for a moment. “Oh Fi,” ey finally said, wrapping arms around her, “you’re not dumb. You’re asking for what you need.

 

Ey pulled back and smiled. “Thank you. This is what I want. I want you to be able to say ‘no, I don’t want that right now’ and like. I really appreciate that you did. No research today.”

 

Fi instantly seemed to relax. “I- .. Um. I’m g-glad you’re not mad,” she says quietly. “I just. Um. – I do want to. Eventually. Just not right now and- …why am I still talking.”

 

“Fi it’s okay. It’s okay if not now. It’s okay if not ever. I tell you what,” Nat says, scooping Fi up and floating her over to the kitchen counter, “you just let me know. Okay? Whenever that is, you let me know and we will do stuff as… slow as either of us needs.”

 

“…Yeah but- I don’t- Ugh. I don’t know how to say it. Um. I guess it’s – It’s… I don’t want to make you wait too long or something…”

 

“If I’m gonna be with you for life,” Nat murmurs, “there isn’t really such a thing as ‘too long’, is there?”

 

“N-no? No? Probably not?” Fi nodded, her go-to when uncertain. “So you- Really don’t mind.” It was more of a statement than a question.

 

“I really don’t mind. Really. I love you Fi-Fi.”

 

“Oka- I’m not a poodle – But okay. I love you, too.” She grinned, clearly pleased with herself for some reason that only Fi knows.

 

“Yes you are. You’re my poodle. It’s official now.”

 

No.” She sounds very adamant. “I am not a poodle. Poodles are horrors. I only marshal horrors.”

 

“We can discuss your poodle status over quiche. Lot of important conversations happening today.”

 

“The most important,” Fi agreed with a nod.