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Tough Talk

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Arriopan Space.
Another galaxy. Not yours.

“You lying piece of shit,” Elida growled, clenching her fists. “You incompetent asshat. I hate your guts and can’t wait to kill you!”

Amae looked at her uncertainly. “You total... Um... Garbage chute?”

Elida sighed, her aggressive pose deflating. “I like the sentiment, but you need more conviction in the delivery.”

When Amae had come to Elida asking for tips on her ‘tough talk’, it hadn’t crossed Elida’s mind that they would be marching up so steep a hill. True, the mechanic’s go-to curse word was “schlucky”, she apologised after most bouts of violence, and she seemed to find the positive in even the most unsavoury of characters. Well, she was friends with Elida, wasn’t she?

And that was where their relationship seemed to have stalled: friends. They hadn’t really had a moment to discuss the kiss they had shared in that sewer a couple of weeks ago. As soon as Elida and Isaac realised that Amae had managed to get off the Sterzaad-powered ship moments before Xevelyn and Volun had stolen it, there had been all kinds of chaos. Elida, overwhelmed by the anxiety about Amae’s safety (not to mention the pain of a broken arm, cracked ribs, and the many wounds dancing across her body), had passed out.

She had awoken to find out she had been patched up by her favourite mechanic, who had organised with Isaac to fly the Winnipeg to Huya Prime as soon as she was healthy, where they had received intel they could get their hands on a ship owned by the former Republic capable of intergalactic travel. Meanwhile Arriopa would be undertaking its first democratic election, facilitated by Dessai and her army. Try digesting all of that when you were recovering from multiple injuries - but Elida had managed it, and even had enough ammunition in her heart to feel every ounce of appreciation necessary towards Isaac and Amae, who had rightly assumed Elida would want to pursue her mother and the Sterzaad.

Since waking up, Elida’s focus had been on regaining her strength and planning their voyage to the Scadbury galaxy. No time to sit down with Amae and work out what they were to each other.

Elida approved of Amae’s request for a lesson in talking tough, because if their journey was any bit as hazardous as their last adventure, they would inevitably end up in a situation where Amae would run into a crowd that were not charmed by her perky attitude, and she would need to assert her dominance.

Problem was Elida was starting to think the mechanic was a complete sub.

“Have you never been angry before?” Elida asked, an amused smirk playing on her lips. They were standing in what passed for the dining room on board the Winnipeg, snacks weighing down the little yellow table at their knees. Elida picked up a dried meat crisp and nibbled it thoughtfully.

“Of course! I was angry for years at my parents, for not being alive. And then I was angry at myself, for being angry at them when it clearly wasn’t their fault. They’d done everything they could to protect Chaz and me during the Narrows War. Oh, and I was definitely furious at Hath when we found out he’d been lying about your Mom being on Wix!”

Elida laughed, dropping the crisps. “Yeah, I remember. You called him an asshole.”

Amae’s cheeks coloured. “I-I did. I wasn’t sorry then. But I-”

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry now?” Elida asked, arching a thick eyebrow.

“What? No! I was going to say that I’ve never been angrier than that moment, when we found out someone you trusted had used your own grief to manipulate you.”

Elida didn’t know what to say. Her stomach had twisted itself into a feeling she could only describe as ‘stupid’, even as her copper brown eyes melted towards Amae. Perhaps Amae noticed this because she took Elida’s hand in hers. Cue soft background music.

“El, if anyone tried to hurt you again, I would use every breath in me to hunt them down and make them pay.”

Elida smiled, eyes shimmering. “Aw. You sounded tough all by yourself.”

“I mean it, El. You’re very important to me.”

Elida swallowed hard. Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, wasn’t that what Amae had told her? If that was truly, why did Elida’s legs feel like Broxovian jelly?

“Cool,” Elida said, nodding. Then she noticed the sag in Amae’s shoulders and realised she needed to say more. “Sorry, I’m not very good at... Emotions and stuff. Trust issues, am I right?”

Elida tried to laugh it off, and Amae smiled weakly, willing to be patient. After all, if Amae hadn’t been able to allow Elida the space to learn how to forgive, they would never have gotten off Carillo. Amae was beginning to think she would also need to give Elida space to learn how to be open.

They were still holding hands. Elida noticed that. It was one of the many things she noticed about Amae. Like the way she would crinkle her forehead when she was deep in thought. Or the way her looks lingered a fraction longer than necessary when there was a natural pause in their conversation. Oh wait, she was doing it now: Amae’s bright dewy eyes were zoned in on Elida, gently drawing out the truth.

Finally, Elida spoken. “There is nobody in this galaxy - or Isaac’s - who is more important to me than you are, Amae.”

She slowly brought Amae’s hand up and pressed it against her lips. Then she looked at Amae quickly and let go of her hand.

“Sorry. I-”

“Don’t you dare apologise for kissing me - ever!” Amae said, her cheeks flushed and happy.

Elida’s smile was all cheese, and her voice was all hope. “So, does that mean you don’t regret kissing me outside the sewer?”

Amae’s eyebrows quivered with concern. “Is that what you think?”

Elida shrugged as if to say ‘oh I don’t know; I hadn’t really given it much thought’ but the dark circles under her eyes revealed the sleepless nights she had endured ever since. “I guess I wondered if it was just - you know. We might both die, or I might die, and you felt sorry for me. Or maybe you just meant to hug me, and accidentally slipped, so you had to put your lips on mine to stop yourself from falling. Or-”

“Elida, stop!” The pain on Amae’s face was devastating. “I’m sorry I gave you the impression that I kissed you out of pity. I kissed you because you make me feel like the inside of a combustion engine while the gravitational pressure is increasing on it. I kissed you because being with you is like listening to the first hum of a twin set of solid rocket boosters, and not being with you feels about as safe as using duct tape to repair a rusted crankshaft.”

Elida’s eyebrows had ridden up her forehead and were about as lost behind her curls as she was about Amae’s speech. “Uh, are those metaphors meant to make me feel better because...”

“Similes,” Amae corrected automatically. Not the main issue here, Amae. Yes, she was more open about her feelings than Elida, but she was also much more poetic with her language. Elida had proven time and again that she valued bluntness, so Amae took a deep breath and tried again.

“Okay, you know how Isaac has been faithful to his wife for the five years they’ve been apart? That’s how I feel about you. I’ve never been in a committed relationship before. I’ve had wonderful… experiences with women but none of them have made me feel the way you do. Like being with you – and only you – would be enough to satisfy me for a lifetime.”

Elida found herself needing to sit down and perched on the edge of the long, curved sofa. Her nails gripped the side of the beat-up cushion either side of her legs, keeping her tethered. When she no longer felt like all the air had been sucked out of the ship, she locked eyes with Amae.

“This is really big for me. You and Isaac are the only people I would consider friends in fifteen years. Because I was taught never to trust anyone, I never let anyone get close to me, not even once. I’ve never had ‘wonderful… experiences’… with anyone.”

“Oh, El,” Amae said softly, sitting next to her. She took her hand again, rubbing her thumb over the back. The soft music started again. “That’s okay. More than okay.”

Elida shook her head. “No, it’s not. I’m messy, and angry, and I keep dragging you into my shit and putting you in danger. You deserve better, Amae.”

“First of all: I’m the one who keeps dragging you into fights and getting you out of danger.” Amae poked Elida on the shoulder playfully.

“Second of all: I know what I deserve, and I deserve you, silly. I know it will take a long time for you to be comfortable with the idea of an intimate relationship and I’m not going to push you on anything. I’m happy to take things at your pace and will be by your side as long as you want me there.”

“Amae…” It was exactly what Elida had needed to hear. How had she been this lucky to have the kindest, strongest, most genuine woman in the whole galaxy fall for her? Elida would definitely need time to come to terms with the new level of intimacy that was growing between them, and she was grateful for Amae. Not just grateful, but she had some deep feelings stirring in the pit of her stomach that told her she was in over her head. Forget about a galaxy, Amae had become Elida’s entire universe.

Elida whispered, “Be careful.” Whether it was to Amae or herself, she wasn’t sure.