It had all led to this.
This room, this moment, this feeling in Elida’s chest, and not just from the collection of scrapes and bruises she’d earned today. Lazaro, the campy bastard, had finally been brought to heel, and his ill-intentioned innovation wouldn’t harm anyone, once they’d finished with their plan. Whatever royal bad blood and hidden history had been unfolding in the background after rescuing her mother, Elida was close to accomplishing what she’d originally come here to do. The rest would have to fall in line later.
“Might not work,” Isaac suggested of his trip back to Earth as they stared at the diamond-shaped craft, glowing green while it drew energy for its first and only voyage.
Elida offered him a grin, as much as it stung her bloodied facial muscles, and replied, “I hope it does. I’m finally getting rid of you, don’t get my hopes up.”
While Isaac chuckled, shaking his head, Xevelyn piped in, popping the bubble of good feelings that’d settled over the duo: “Elida, a moment?”
The look in Isaac’s eyes shifted from humorous affection to dampened worry, and Elida’s own eyes found Amae’s of their own doing. Amae, who shouldn’t have been there with them at all, really, but had been a key part of their victory. Amae, who’d still been braver than any of the Republic soldiers in the face of near-defeat over and over again. Amae, who… Elida caught herself staring at the mechanic’s lips, and she snapped them back up to respectful territory. Who’d somehow come to occupy all of Elida’s thoughts that weren’t worrying about bad guys and empires.
“I’ll go set the coordinates on the ship,” said Amae, softly as always, and she began to turn.
“Okay,” fell out of Elida’s mouth before she could stop it, but with it came a flash of dread. She was still feeling a little out of control, a little too wired from her fight-to-the-death with Lazaro, and like any seasoned vagrant, Elida knew the adrenaline made her prone to mistakes. She just wasn’t sure what path was a mistake: to let Amae walk away, like she’d already done too many times before, or be the one who put herself on the line. Behind her, Xevelyn waited, and before her, Amae was walking away. She made her decision on pure instinct: “Amae, wait.”
The mechanic stopped, looking somewhat confused when she turned back.
“Mom, can we just talk about it later?” Elida called over her shoulder, firmly. It didn’t stop Xevelyn from trying to protest, and she ignored it to repeat, “Later. Just give me a minute.”
“It’ll take awhile for the ship to reach full power, anyway,” Isaac offered, looking nervously between the two royals.
And for whatever reason, Xevelyn backed down, nodding as she took a seat on a piece of rusted machinery, and Elida mentally threw her mom’s speeches about monarchy and people to the side for a moment, in favor of taking Amae’s hand in her own.
The only place for a private moment was in the ship itself, and Elida mouthed ‘watch her’ to Isaac as the hatch closed, referencing her mother. He nodded back, and then the airtight door engaged, snuffing out all light and sound from outside. For a few seconds, Elida just stared at the glowing wall, steeling her nerves, hoping Amae didn’t think it was too weird, spiraling around that thought, and then the way-
A warm palm landed on her shoulder, speckled royal blue against pale skin, and Amae’s voice was somewhat halting as she said: “El, are you okay? Really, okay?”
Elida sucked in a breath and turned in place, a grin reflexively tugging at her lips, trying to be comforting.
When they’d first begun travelling together, her default expression with Amae had been a smirk, something to keep the stranger and her butterflies-inducing smile at bay… but when that didn’t work, the smirk had transformed into an inescapable smile every time her eyes met hazel-brown ones framed by curly hair and those Lorkisian horns.
“I’m okay,” Elida murmured when she remembered the lingering question. “Sad to see Isaac go, but… happy he’ll be with his family, finally. It’s what he’s been wanting this whole time, so.”
“And you, too. With your mom.” Amae winced as she said it, clearly predicting how hollow those words sounded. Xevelyn certainly hadn’t been the beacon of justice and truth that Elida’s fractured childhood memories had made her out to be.
“That… that’ll take some time to be a thing that brings me peace. Thinking she died was bad enough, but going back and forth? Is she, isn’t she? That was torture, and now that she’s here, I find out most of the memories I have were a lie of some sort. It’s… a lot.” Blinking against a bloom of pain in her side, Elida lifted the opposite arm to cup Amae’s cheek. “I’m a lot. You know that, right?”
Nothing about the mechanic’s tilted head and small smile indicated otherwise. “Oh, I figured that out pretty quickly. Wasn’t difficult.”
Elida laughed in spite of herself, dropping her hand to Amae’s shoulder. “Yeah, but I’m serious. I… I…” She nearly choked on the words and had to stop to clear her throat. Her heart hammered away against her ribs, so hard it almost hurt, and no battle had ever made Elida’s hands shake like the inner one to get the syllables out: “I really care about you, but I don’t think being with me is going to get any less dangerous now that Lazaro is gone. I don’t want to put you in danger. I wouldn’t forgive myself if something happened to you.”
“I know you’re a queen and all,” said Amae after a beat, “but I have a say in where I go, and who I go with. Even with all the-the weird monsters and people with a grudge, I want to go with you. You, queen or scavenger or a nobody on the rim of the galaxy, I don’t care about all that. I’m with you, El.”
Usually, this would be where Elida would deploy a sharp joke, because she thought her chest might burst with the rush of heat and feeling roaring through her veins… but this time, she dove through her doubts and listened to the words: Amae wanted to be with her, Elida, as she was. Even Isaac hadn’t come back into the queen’s life until he needed something, as much as they had come to be close friends. Amae wanted her.
Without her mind’s full permission, and in the absence of words that would come close to saying what she wanted, Elida used her hand on Amae’s shoulder to pull her close, swallowing a small gasp as their lips met again, for the first time without an audience or a ticking clock. All she had to focus on was the softness of Amae’s lips, the sweetness on her tongue, the smell of synthetic oil and citrusy soap that had become so familiar, so unexpectedly quickly.
Amae sighed into the kiss, leaning forward, and she lifted a palm to Elida’s cheek—then froze, breaking the queen of her near-trance.
“What?” she asked, blinking confusedly. It felt like most of the blood in her body had already rushed southward, leaving her brain to struggle. “Did I do som—“
“Your… face,” Amae managed in a delicate tone, lifting her palm to show that it was smeared with red flakes. “You should probably wash up? I’m worried about this cut…”
Elida laughed, surprising herself, and shrugged. “I honestly forgot. Feels like I’ve been some manner of beat up almost constantly lately. Bleeding on you while we kiss? Smooth.”
Shaking her head, Amae stepped back, but kept hold of her hand. There was a small washroom and medic station in the rear of the ship; it obviously wasn’t meant for long trips, since its speed rendered those unnecessary, but it had enough supplies for what they needed. Elida helped Amae peel off her shoulder pauldrons and coat, wincing when Amae’s fingers brushed over the spot where her side wound had bled through her shirt. The spot where the Lazaro-controlled Amae had stabbed her.
“We really did a number on you,” murmured the mechanic, her expression cloudy. “Maybe it’s time for a short vacation from getting beat up.”
“That’d be nice.” Elida flashed a crooked smile, and her chest puffed at the way it made Amae grin back. “But only if you’re with me, too.”
“Like I’d let you leave me behind, if rest and relaxation are on the table.”
“I’d settle for drifting in space and getting to take a very long nap.” The queen felt heat rise in her cheeks when her brain helpfully imagined taking that nap with Amae: legs tangled under wool covers, soft breathing from near her shoulder, blunted horns occasionally poking her chin. Such a simple thing to want, when her mother was a heat-seeking missile for restorying royal rule, and if they could just pull this last act of rebellion off successfully… it could be reality.
Once she was down to her bra and briefs, Elida’s nerves picked up again; this wasn’t exactly the most romantic way to be undressed in front of Amae for the first time, but that wasn’t the point of it, anyway. Amae was methodical and silent, gingerly cleaning Elida’s skin of dried blood, applying bandages where they were needed, and giving the queen a booster of longterm antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, just in case. The quiet minutes were intimate in a way that Elida couldn’t quite bring herself to process yet, as too-intense as staring straight into a nearby star. So instead of thinking about how she couldn’t remember the last time someone showed her such tenderness without strings attached, she let her eyes flutter shut, enjoying the company and the swipe of Amae’s fingertips across her skin, making sure she hadn’t missed any injuries.
“I think you’ll live,” the mechanic eventually concluded. She was kneeling between Elida’s open knees, hands resting in the innocent range of the queen’s thighs, not that it helped with the way Elida’s mind insistently wanted to interpret their current pose. “Anything else hurt?”
“Nah. It’s much better, thank you.” Elida held Amae’s gaze, feeling steadier, less skittish, now that her aches and pains were muted. The green light of the ship cast Amae’s delicate features in stark shadow, making the blue scales at the edges of her hairline and jaw almost glimmer. Before she could chicken out, Elida licked her lips and murmured, “Come here.”
Instantly, Amae’s hands tightened on Elida’s legs to push herself up, meeting the queen halfway. Each time they kissed, Elida’s confidence grew, and so did the responding pressure in her lower belly, driving her to seek more, to allow herself to trust that this was something Amae wanted: Elida’s tongue sliding against hers, her bruised hands guiding Amae to straddle her lap. She gasped at the feel of heat from between the mechanic’s thighs pressing against her bare stomach and sank her teeth into Amae’s bottom lip. The kiss had the frantic energy of newness and relief, and before long, Amae was rocking her hips against her, groaning into the ship’s dark air as Elida’s mouth found a sensitive spot at the base of her neck, sucking gently at the edge of pale skin and azure scales.
Her hand was clumsily questing for the zipper of Amae’s shirt when a small knock sounded from the front of the ship, initially so quiet that Elida convinced herself it was just her imagination… but then it came again, and then three times more in quick succession. The known cosmos’ fastest, most lethal spacecraft, and it didn’t have a doorbell, and Elida wanted to scream.
She’d almost decided to plain ignore it when Amae pulled back, hands on Elida’s shoulders as she panted, “I think that’s for us.”
“Ignore it,” the queen hoarsely replied, trying to lean up to capture Amae’s lips again. “They can wait.”
Amae shook her head, but smiled. She looked a little dazed, her lips kiss-swollen and reddened. “The longer this ship sits here, the more chance that someone bad comes to get it. Let’s take care of this, and then…” The mechanic clicked her tongue, glancing down at where their hips met. “We can continue this conversation with clear minds.”
“Uh huh, ‘conversation’,” Elida scoffed, good-naturedly, and she winced when a louder, firmer series of knocks hit against the outside of the ship.
To soothe the rejection, Amae didn’t immediately climb off her lap, instead lifting her hands to cup Elida’s cheeks and lean in for one more slow, sweet kiss. “Later. We’re almost done,” she whispered against the queen’s lips.
“Later,” agreed Elida, begrudgingly.
“Get dressed and talk to your mom, say bye to Isaac. I still have to set the coordinates.” She slid off Elida’s lap as she said it, and the queen gave a last, dramatically disappointed sigh, but did pull her trousers and shirt back on before quickly opening the hatch.
“Christ, do you think you could not do that in the small space I will soon be occupying?” growled Isaac when Elida came into view.
“Shut up,” she shot back, even as she tossed him a grin. She was sure Amae had heard that and turned purple with her blush. “Mom, you said you wanted a moment. Let’s talk.”
And as she stepped off the ship, Elida glanced over her shoulder, seeing Amae smiling wide at the programming screen.
Neither of them noticed Xevelyn’s loyalist follower puttering around the side of the ship, preparing the betrayal that would leave Elida and Amae’s days of rest and relaxation squarely in the dream world.