***With thanks to Ursula Vernon for a most magic moment: see under the cut***
Once upon a time (or indeed once upon another time, if that suits you better: there’s always more time lying around), in the lounge bar of a pub in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, a redheaded woman is kissing a pig.
Not just any woman, granted. And definitely not just any Pig.
In any case, none of this is as difficult as it might sound on first hearing, as the Pig is both graceful and light on his feet, and good at displacing his own mass in such a way as not to wreck the barstool on which he’s perched. Nor (from the redhead’s side of things) is this particularly an unpleasant experience, as the Pig’s facial bristles are on the soft side, and due to being fairly silvery to start with, almost invisible anyway — as if he’s wearing a very subtle and discreet version of designer stubble, with a slight glitter about it.
“Chao, bello.” It is of course a pun, a terrible one. “Mwah. Mwah.”
The redhead gets a third “Mwah” from the pig, then straightens up and looks at him quizzically. “Three? What, are we in Switzerland all of a sudden? Or no, of course you are. By definition.”
“And why not? Besides, a three for one deal, I’d think you’d be in favor. Value for money. Very Swiss. Anyway, I hear you’re planning to be crying on the bar up there shortly…” He grins.
“Oh, don’t you start tormenting me now! I can get that at home.” She rolls her eyes. “Yet another way for the BBC to break my heart, who needed that…? Come on, get yourself settled.”
No one in the bar shows the slightest sign of having noticed a redhead kissing the Pig hello a la Suisse, or the two of them settling in their respective seats. This is partly because all this is happening in the woman’s head, but also partly because this is one of her locals. And even if they could see what was going on, the neighbors (who’re by now well used to seeing this particular redhead with a red wine and a mineral water and a netbook and an iPad and a notebook on the bar in front of her, working on them all at once) would never be caught actually remarking on whatever she’s up to this time. At least not until she’s left.
“What’s your pleasure? They’ve got Ballygowan if you’re on the clock.”
“You kidding? I’ve been on the clock since the local Big Bang, and no one cares when I punch out. Or is qualified to judge what I’m doing, whether I have or not. If you’re buying I’ll have a Remy, thankyouverymuch.”
The dark-haired assistant manager, Louise, comes around and takes their orders without batting an eye. (And why would this be a surprise when you think how many jokes start with “A(n) [x] walks into a bar…”? They get all kinds around here; any place that routinely deals with Wicklow bachelor farmers has no problems with the occasional Yank-Irish woman or silvery-pink Pig.) Shortly the redhead has a fresh glass of a Spanish-bred Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Pig has an oversized snifter of XO, and they are clinking glasses.
“Mud in your eye.”
“Like there’s any on you. Ne’gakh emeirsith.”
They sip and settle back into the calm atmosphere. Halloween isn’t for another two weeks and change, but the decorations are up already: people here like Halloween, and in any case there’s not the inevitable groaning that comes with the appurtenances of Christmas (especially the TV ads) starting too fecking soon. The place is calmly busy, half-full with a subset of the place’s normal afternoon clientele — in the recently-redone front bar, guys who have bets on races or the football are escaping home life till teatime; here in the lounge to the rear, ladies and gents are cozied away in the U-shaped banquette booths, having tea or drinks and taking a break from the shopping with the kids in tow. Some of the smallest of the tinies are thundering up and down past the far wall in the enclosed play area.
The most important thing the pub has, besides a comfortable atmosphere and genial staff who know the redhead and her husband of old, and a good restaurant and lunch buffet, is working wi-fi—which the redhead has been exploiting for some time now to turn this general area into one of several Away Offices. Now, though, she shuts down the laptop and the Pad and silences the phone and takes a few other precautions against being interrupted. “Thought we’d have been having this conversation a bit earlier,” the Pig remarks, gazing around.
“Nope, we’re right on time.” She finishes putting the last of the various devices to sleep. “You know the guidelines. If you’re going to self-insert, don’t be shy about it, don’t let yourself off easy, and pay attention to the symmetry. Right at the beginning, right at the end, or smack dab in the middle.”
“Or all three.”
“Can’t have a resonance with just one thing, can you? You need two, minimum. But three’s a chord.”
“So tell me something I don’t know.”
She chuckles. “Bit of a stretch, that…”
“Well, I may be omnipresent, but that doesn’t necessarily make me omniscient.”
On the face of it, this is true, but the redhead suspects that the Transcendent Pig—due to his unique uncreated status—has certain positional advantages he doesn’t routinely reveal or discuss. Fine: so does she. “Let’s not play semantics games just now,” she said. “Got other business.”
“I assumed so. What’s on your mind?”
“Well… You know what I’ve been up to.”
“It’s more or less unavoidable. You mean the OTP thing.”
“Well… The spooning.”
“It’s a bit intimate.”
“I didn’t touch anybody like that till I was twenty. In fact, probably twenty-one.”
“You thought you were a bit late off the blocks, as I recall.”
“Yeah, well. Problem is, how to put them there. Believably. Without deranging either the printed canon or the OTP end of things.”
“So what’s the problem? They’ve been snogging.”
“Not the same. This is, well, full-body, isn’t it. And things can, you know, happen.”
The Pig looks at her sidelong. “Somehow I suspect your audience may know about this. Even the ones that some deeply buried part of you sometimes thinks may be too young for it.”
“The world is as it is. You’re always adjuring them to deal with it so. Well, guess what.”
“I hate it when you’re so reasonable.”
“You give me grief when I’m unreasonable, too. Why not make life easier for both of us and just get off the damn pot.”
“Unusually robust language from you… It just seems a little soon.”
“Some would say otherwise. Some would say it’s been way too long.”
“Some say you’re way too conservative.”
“Yeah, well, some haven’t had a gun pulled on them once or twice. Sometimes caution gets mistaken for conservatism. …Anyway, if we’re playing in this idiom, the last thing you want with a loaded gun is a misfire.”
“Hmm,” says the Pig, and spends a few moments in communion with the Remy while listening to the pub’s piped music, which is presently featuring something by Starship. “Right, let’s get to grips. How were you going to set it up?”
“Not at home,” she says immediately.
“Granted. Parents. Siblings.”
“Dairine,” they say more or less in unison: then laugh together.
“Yeah, well,” says the Pig. “She has enough issues on her plate at the moment to keep her offside. Still: Carmela.”
“Not too worried about her.”
“The other one, then.”
“The other one” is how the Pig routinely refers to Helena. Plainly there’s something going on here that warrants investigation, but the redhead puts it aside for another time. “Better keep her from any chance of getting involved with this,” the redhead says. “She has a gift for getting the wrong end of these things. In fact, most things.”
“Some have based whole novels on such.”
“’Some’ would not be me. Life’s too short.” She sighs. “Anyway, I was thinking the Moon.”
“Always good for when you don’t want to get too far from home but still want some privacy. So go on then; what have you got?”
The redhead raises her eyebrows. “You want the prose version or the primary material?”
“Why filter it? Primary, always. Roll it.”
No lowering long shadows blocking out the sun, no huge lazy shapes cruising overhead. The situation is desperately unfilmic, as apparently spacecraft moving at bizarre sudden angles and wildly variable speeds test poorly with terrestrial audiences. What the black sky is full of is darting shapes with unpredictably shifting outlines, leaping around at irrational angles and shooting not just out their fronts or back but from every available surface.
“We may be here a while. Better merge the shields—”
—there are other wizards scattered all over the lunar surface and her mind’s more on them at the moment. Nonetheless, the two of them are not in a good place at the moment, and she’s considering how they can get out of this and then situated somewhere they can do some good.
“Our O2 balance isn’t real great,” Kit mutters from where he’s hunkered down next to her.
“Yeah, respiration’s been up,” is all Nita can say right now, because no question, she’d been left gasping after those last couple of wizardries, the ones they’d cobbled together to crash those two ships that got too close. The trouble was getting a fix on these things: they dodged in and out of normal space the way they flickered along their quirky abnormal flight paths, and no sooner had you managed to describe their movement and other physical parameters in a spell than they’d shifted out of phase and slipped through your wizardry’s grasp. We got lucky those last two times, Nita thought. Don’t think it’ll happen again. Especially since several of the ships had noticed where their two associates had gone down, and were busily slagging down all the surface in the area. There was going to be a small shiny marium here that would bemuse the astronomers, assuming any were left alive on Earth with the leisure to be bemused.
“You’d think word would’ve gotten around by now that that this planet’s protected,” Nita mutters. “Like 1959 wasn’t enough for that last bunch?”
“Before my time,” Kit growls. “And we’re the protection at the moment. Where the hell’s the cavalry? We’re just supposed to be a holding action—”
The next shot comes a lot closer, impacts just past them. The ground shakes and the boulder behind them fractures and slides down onto their shielding, which crackles with the kind of fizzing light that telegraphs imminent failure.
“Uh oh bad,” Kit says all on one breath, and the next moment Nita’s eyes go wide with shock as he wraps himself around her and flattens them both. Her ears ache with a sudden increase of the air pressure around them, but the shield holds, holds—
“That spell’s really going to need a hardening protocol added,” she says more or less into her tank top, because moving any part of her is kind of problematic right now. She is also inevitably aware of Kit pressed all up and down the length of her, on top of her. ‘Hardening.’ Did I actually say that just now? Am I or am I not the least conscious human being on this side of the Moon? Oh please God let both of us die before he has time to deconstruct that sentence. —No no I didn’t mean that, of course I didn’t, that was such a stupid thing to say… Yet isn’t it interesting what that writer said, that when people are shooting at you you’re more likely to—
“You stopped breathing.”
“Yeah. Now you mention it — “
“No, no, cut.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t happy with it either. I told you, it was a first thought.”
“Well, good, think again, because they’d never do it this way! Anyway, Nita’s way too careful about her math, she always brings extra air and doubles up on the energy. And besides, does this even fulfill the basic requirements for spooning?”
“There are requirements?”
“Well, yeah, like not being in protect-the-other-party-with-your-body-
The redhead’s eyebrows go up and for just a second she sees what he means, she can’t help it—
“Uh oh bad,” Nita says all on one breath, and the next moment she feels the shape under her go stiff with shock; she wraps herself around him and flattens them both. Her ears ache with a sudden increase of the air pressure around them, but the shield holds, holds—
But it’s all so peculiar all of a sudden, and the shape she’s expecting underneath her is differently built, longer, rangier, and absolutely rigid with surprise. “Okay,” she says under her breath, “this is weird…”
“What? What the fecking— what the, where the, where the hell are we?”
Nita looks shocked, then annoyed. “It’s the Moon, where did you— Wait.” She glanced around her. Kit was here. He was here. Where’d he go?
“Me wait? Wait for what? And what the feck am I doing here?”
“I was going to ask you that! Never mind—” She shakes her head, or tries to, and then stops, because her face keeps banging into Ronan’s hair. And bouncing off it again.
“How much product did you put on today?” she says. “It’s that wax stuff, too, am I misremembering or didn’t I tell you that it makes you look like a caveman? Are you even listening?”
“Possibly I have better things to listen to than you giving me antiquated hair tips from your style-challenged continent. Like my date, for example! Who is going to go spare when I don’t show up on time, not that life wasn’t difficult enough already what with the—”
“Oh boy, here come the complaints. And what is it with you and these stressful situations you get yourself into with people, can you not find some way to enjoy yourself without being completely surrounded by drama?”
“Believe me, having you whinging at me is stressful enough. You think it was my idea to add being shot at to it? And also, why am I the little spoon?”
Nita laughs in sheer disbelief. “Somebody’s gender roles not being catered to?”
“No, it’s that I’ve got a foot and a half on you at the moment!”
She snickers. “Not even if our positions were reversed. So much wishful thinking, Ronan, seriously….”
“Right, right, that’s it, I am out of here, if you’re not going to snark me to death you’ll do it with innuendo—” Ronan pulls back and tilts his head back toward the sky. “Excuse me! I have tickets for the 3Arena tonight and a date still waiting to be picked up, I’m going to miss the Dart and there won’t be time for a pint before showtime, do you think you can please let me get on with my previously scheduled pull and—”
“Oh no,” she mutters, “it’s going to be one of those days.”
She grits her teeth and waits to see what’ll happen next.
The Pig looks at the redhead and sips his Remy meditatively. “You know, you want something a lot more relaxed. Throwing them into what these inane film warnings call a ‘situation of moderate peril’ is not going to be conducive—”
“That was moderate?”
“For wizards, yeah. Wouldn’t you say they’ve had worse?”
“Uh, well. Yeah, when you put it that way I guess so.”
“Good. Sheesh. Try something a little less fraught.”
“Something a bit pastoral, maybe.”
“Wouldn’t overdo that. In their shoes I’d think of Alaalu right off and start looking under rocks to see where the Lone One’s hiding this time.”
A green field in the sunshine.
Somewhere, very high up, a skylark is singing. The song is full of data — if you slow it down and listen to it in the Speech you’ll hear everything from the weather report to gossip about that other lark a half a mile away, yeah, him, you wouldn’t believe the stuff the lark you’re listening to knows about him — but then, look, there are a couple of the two leggers running at each other through the wheat —
“This stuff would cut the flesh right off you.”
— in the sunshine, in slow motion —
The brunette girl’s hair is bouncing behind her. Shining in the sun as she runs.
This is a commercial. How are we in a commercial?
— toward the tall handsome dark young guy who’s running along toward her through the wheat.
If I’d have known this was going to happen I would never have worn the Hawaiian shirt.
The air is bright with floating sparks of light.
It’s that director, isn’t it. The bread guy. The one who did the unicorns later on.
The wind stirs the wheat, the summer air, as they run toward each other in slow motion.
Hair color? Am I in a Clairol ad? I refuse to do this.
The sun shines warm on everything, the two of them each out to each other as they get closer —
Never in a million years.
Do we have a union? How do we not have a union that keeps us from having to do this stuff?
They come closer, smiling, laughing in the sunshine —
If she makes us do this I will kick her in the shins. That bit in book 11 where she needs me to do, you know, that, I will not. I will not! Do you hear me??
They get closer —
You know, says the female voice, astonishingly calmly, I have Jim Kirk’s commcode. He likes you but not that much. If we ask him to, he and Spock will have such a moment in the middle of the next book— They’ll have to pulp the whole printing. Are you listening??
The two beautiful teenage figures in the cornfield slow to near motionlessness, freeze...
“You might have overstepped the bounds a bit there.”
“You put them in a commercial.”
“So have another think.”
“Uh, okay… it’s the Moon again.”
“Yeah. Preferable, I think.”
“Yeah. It’s not a Clairol commercial. One question though: why’ve they stopped shooting?”
“What, are you complaining?”
“Not me. Just, if something worse is about to happen, I’d like to know!”
“I’m going to look.”
“Look, the shields are — “
“I think they’re okay for just a second or so, Bobo’s not making any fuss —”
“Just be careful —”
Nita sticks her head up from behind the rock, very slowly, very carefully: peers around. Then cranes her neck up—
“Huh. Something you don’t see every day,” she mutters.
“Take a look.”
Kit comes up beside her, leaning on the rock, and stares at the wave of incoming spacecraft. They’re just hanging there, frozen, the pulses from their energy weapons caught still in midstrike, halfway to the surface.
“And another thing,” Nita mutters. “Are your ears burning?”
“What?” Kit stares at her. “…Well, you know, now that you mention it…”
“Yeah,” Nita mutters, “just what I thought. It’s going to be another of those interesting days. For certain values of ‘day.’”
She shoulders up a little against the shield. It moves with her. “Good, that’s working anyway.” Nita sighs. “And you’re back, at least.”
Kit frowns in bemusement. “I was gone?”
“Yes you were.”
“Okay, that’s weird. What the hell happened?”
“I have no idea. Stuff just blinked. Then Ronan was here.”
“Oh great. Trouble at his end?”
“Yeah. That hair wax.”
A pause. “You have completely lost me.”
“Never mind. Now we just have to figure out where we go from here…”
“Look, all you have to do is get them pressed up together.”
“In a nice way.”
“How hard can that be? No violence, no ersatz Ridley Scott backgrounds, come on!”
“Okay, how about this?”
“Whatever it is, just roll it.”
A cave. Darkness. The far, cold, wrong end of time.
Two young figures wrapped in bearskins. Or something similar.
One of them moves closer to the other, drapes his bearskin around her.
“This is so stereotypical,” mutters the smaller of the two forms.
“Um. You’re shivering.”
“Yeah, well, so are you! Does anybody seriously think shivering is gender-linked? Look at you, your mouth is blue.”
“It is not.”
“It is so, and it’s not even about blue food for a change. You look like you did after you ate that blue popsicle at the beach last year.”
“And that is the fakest bearskin I ever saw. You know her, you know she’d have trouble killing a bear even if she was freezing.”
“Got a point there…”
“Oh, go on. To make her happy.”
“Plainly this is not one of her best days. She’s struggling. Go on, let’s get her off the hook! Put it around me and then get under here.”
“Uh. You sure?”
A long breath. “When are we going to get any peace? Come on.”
Some rustling ensues. Snow blows past the opening of the cave. There is a consolidation of bearskins. Two forms snuggle together.
“…It works better the long way.”
A pause, and then terrible snickering breaks out. “She did not just make you say that!”
“It’s really kind of… you know…”
An eyeroll as a stone-age dimness settles in around. “Only if you’re like sixty.”
“Well, if somebody would talk to her…”
“Not sure that’s my table. She gets so psychological.”
“Well, okay. But seriously! Isn’t this supposed to unfold naturally or something? I ask you.”
“Well, you know…”
“No, stop making excuses for her.” Annoyed, Kit stands up. “I could have just been getting comfortable!”
“Well, not comfortable comfortable! You know what I mean.”
“Not sure I want to.”
He turns his head up to the dark sky. “Look,” he says, his voice raised and rather edged, “I know, all the usual stuff, you know what you’re doing, you have some kind of big plan, it’s all for the best, fine, but would you make up your fucking mind??!”
Nita stares at him. “Whoa,” she says under her breath.
The Pig looks at the redhead. “Whoa,” it says.
The redhead looks a little shocked. “Um. That was unusual.”
“What, the backtalk? Don’t tell me none of them have ever dropped an F-bomb on you while you were working.”
“Uh, no. I’ve had plenty of that. But not so much direction.”
“Fine. You know what? Let it go for today. Work doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Find another road that won’t give them, or you, so much grief.”
They sip at their drinks.
“Wait. I know.”
The Pig gives the redhead the side-eye. “Co-ed? In the New York suburbs? Word gets out, they’ll have social services banging on the door in a matter of hours.”
“Nope. There are other places.”
“Don’t tell me you’re putting them on the Moon again.”
“Beats Pluto this time of year. But no.”
The redhead sinks into a moment’s reverie. The pub’s soundtrack veers abruptly into the mid-1950s.
“My boy Lollipop—
You made my heart go giddyup,
You are as sweet as candyyyyy…”
“Oh, come on. You’re dating yourself now.”
“I have never dated myself.” A brief pause. “Well, maybe once. It was an accident.”
The redhead laughs hard and long. “I doubt that.”
“You’re not above playing the Game. The Great Game, Kipling and Doyle and their successors notwithstanding. To go around the long way, and forget it all. And then meet yourself coming from the unexpected direction… and not recognize yourself, because you can’t be there, can’t be then, can you? And matters unfold…”
She has to laugh. “But as for the song… stop playing the age card. Of course you knew that.”
“Well… yes. But it’s not my fault. I was there. I am all songs. I am all places.”
“You are all pigs, anyway.”
“Of course. I’m why you like Miss Piggy. I’m why you liked Charlotte, and Hen Wen. I am experience, slung low to the ground. I am the ground. I am being grounded. I am what roots for sources, and source. I am the sources longing to be rooted for.”
“You are also an insufferable nugget of theatricality. You are, in fact, the very pituitary of the mischief at the core of universal Mind.”
“Oooh, I like that. Can I steal it?”
“Are you kidding? You probably wrote it.”
“Finally! Finally a writer who gets it.”
“But I am the engine of execution,” says the redhead to the Pig, “and even for you, it’s polite to ask.”
“Quite right, since courtesy costs you nothing,” says the Transcendent Pig. “That’s at the heart of the while business, isn’t it? The one thing that keeps the Lone One from becoming wholly alienated. We foil it, we frustrate it, we smack it around, but at the end of the day we do our damndest to be courteous to It. Because sooner or later, It’s coming home, and it’s bad to be rude to your relatives when they’re in that runaway stage.”
A long sigh as the redhead leans briefly on her elbows, glancing at the news channel, and rubs her eyes wearily. “O my most senior cousin,” she mutters. “How bloody much longer?”
“A long road yet,” says the Pig. “But worth staying on, if only to read the Burma Shave signs.”
She tips her head sideways, and chuckles after a moment, then holds still until she gets the scansion under control: this particular poetic medium is rigorous. Finally she says:
“While Evil runs around amuck Like some poor headless Barnyard cluck—”
The Pig eyes her.
“Remember this, The One’s best joke: They’re both hid there ‘neath Darkness’s cloak.”
And then they look at each other and bang their glasses together and chorus,
After a moment the Pig says, “Too Zen, you think?”
The pub music’s playlist, which has been mostly doing more recent oldies, reverts from the 50s stuff to something more 20th-century, with its roots in the 80s and 90s mostly. The redhead has already half-registered a familiar 4/4 keyboard intro coming up in the background, and a more-than-familiar voice starting the first verse of a song she loved long before any TV show made a cover of it famous. With regret she’d already dismissed the music as not presently worth distracting her from ongoing business: the song’ll loop around again in an hour and a half or so.
However, the sudden crazed pizzicato flurry of the upscaling guitar riff that she’s never been able to ignore since she first heard this track now flings itself with a shriek against the next-bar double crash of the drums as if driving into a wall. And in perfect time with the slightly rough alto of Journey’s then-lead singer, from the Pig’s mouth—originally opened, the redhead had assumed, for some trenchant comment—there issues right on the beat a sweet yet smouldering tenor exactly in resonance with the pure hard-edged alto of the lead singer. “A singer in a smoky room, / a smell of wine and cheap perfume: / for a smile they can share the night: / it goes on, and on, and on, and on—”
The Pig’s eyes are squinched shut with the pleasure of an artist lost in the momentary intensity of performance. The redhead’s mouth drops open a bit as the drums slug fully into the backbeat and the verse rolls forward. “Strangers / waiting / up and down the boulevard, their / shadows / searching / in the niiiight…” and fifteen seconds and a couple of lines later the Pig is matching Steve Perry one-for-one on the high note at verse’s end, a full register down but who in their right mind could possibly care?
The rest of Journey plunges into play, and the Fenders come growling in to prep for the main melodic line and the next verse. It’s a good thing no one else can see this, the redhead thinks, because they’d try to have me 2PC’d, but the moment being what it is she simplyclears her throat and starts singing harmony a third down from Perry, as for the moment they’re both of them just backup to someone far more central in the Great Scheme Of Things. “Some’ll win, some will lose, some’re born to sing the blues—”
The chorus comes rolling in and the Pig leans against the back of his bar stool and belts his way through it. “…Living just to find emotion, / hiding / somewhere / in the niiiiiiight—” Then the song’s bridge hits and the Zildjians smash and guitars rip loose, wailing, and the Transcendent Pig throws its hooves in the air and begins doing air guitar, air guitar of an unselfconscious intensity surely not seen since the substructure of this universe coalesced out of the quantum foam.
The redhead is perhaps understandably stunned. From the Pig you normally expect calm sagacity, wry Zenlike utterance, the serious stuff. But what is is, as the Pig says. Apparently when the Pleroma sends you lemons, you make lemonade, and when Life sends you Journey, you do air guitar.
So there’s more air guitar through the chorus’s codas, and this time it’s both of them because when one of the Eternal Verities lets loose like this, what can one do?—and there they are, working the necks and bodies of instruments that are even less there than one or maybe one and a half of them, headbanging happily in time and in the general direction of the age-darkened ebony caryatids on either side of the bar mirror. Eventually the song fades and they let it go, both with regret: there are some songs you really don’t want to end.
The redhead shakes her head, gulps wine, and grins. “You rock,” she says.
“Long and hard,” the Pig says, and they bang their glasses together again and get their breaths back.
They have a long sip, and finally the redhead sighs and says, “You know? They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. The Author is Dead, I hear.”
“Only for certain values of dead,” the Pig says, “and only for certain values of authorship. Creation never dies: the only things that shift unpredictably are personification and inhabition. Everything else is gravy.”
“Which leaves them where?”
“In their own place, as always. The created is immortal.”
”And the more immortal and alive it is, the more intractable.”
A long, low chuckle. “You said it, not me. Those who would untimely remove the power of creation from the author may find themselves holding a weapon they can’t master. But that’s their problem. Meanwhile, the characters so often know their way better than the author does at any given moment.”
“Well, the moment has to be given, doesn’t it? Try to take it and you may be very sorry after the fact. Only the characters have it in their power to make the gift. But when they do… then so often everything comes right. Because at the end of the day, we’re all working this through together: and there is no gift so cooperative.”
“So let’s take stock. We are not on the Moon.”
“We are not in some kind of commercial for deodorant or something.”
“We are in fact walking down the middle of the Main Concourse at the Crossings with half the people we know.”
“So it would seem.”
“This is like one of those nightmares about standing up to give a book report in class and realizing you’re naked.”
“Except with way since less embarrassment, because no one here gives a damn. For all the tourists know, this is some kind of formal procession. Also, less nakedness.”
“What’s Darryl got on up there? It’s eighteen sizes too big for him.”
“Green Bay Packers shirt, it looks like.”
“He should belt it up a little. He looks like some kind of really weird Roman senator.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t talk if I were you. You really need a new bathrobe.”
“Oh please, not you too.”
“That one’s starting to look like a miniskirt on you.”
“I give up. Really, really I give up.”
“Weren’t they going to buy you a new one when you came clothes-shopping?”
“Ronan! You said you were going to buy him a bathrobe!”
“Not talking to you right now!” the shout floats down the line. “You mocked my hair and made me late for my date!”
“What?” Kit says.
“Alternate timeline,” Nita mutters, “he’s just using it to try to guilt me out. Good luck with that. —Like you really care so long as you got a leg over!” she shouts.
“You know what?” the answer comes drifting back. “No one takes me seriously. No one.”
“Especially when you say you’re not talking to somebody and then you keep doing it!”
A silence heavily flavored with put-on sulk ensues. Kit grins, looking further up the line. “Hey, look at that, Sker’ret’s a different color.”
“It’s a onesie.”
“How does he get that on, I wonder.”
“It’s a spray.”
“Makes sense, I guess, with all those legs.”
“And did you?” Nita shouts up the line at Ronan. “Get a leg over?”
His shoulders are shaking with laughter, visible even from all the way back here. She decides not to press him… then laughs at yet another innuendo she’s been spared.
They wind up in one of the largest of the business suites at the Crossings that’s designed for species that don’t use furniture: the floor is some kind of programmable oobleck with a soft fuzzy coating, so the space is absolutely perfect for being repurposed as the location for a giant slumber party. Over a couple of hours, people dispose themselves across it, direct lights in specific areas or turn them off, spend time gaming or reading to one another, snack, chat, argue, laugh, drowse.
In the dimness, along toward the point where even on the Crossings' easygoing timeline the evening is shading into the early hours, two voices can be heard murmuring off to one side.
“That was interesting, though. Where we were.”
“Yeah. Short of air… marooned on the Moon…”
“Things might’ve got interesting if we’d been there for a while.”
“In the freezing cold. On the ground. With all that dust!” Nita shivers.
“You just hate that it makes you sneeze. But yeah! Dramatic. The air getting colder. And neither of us with a coat. We’d have had to conserve heat.”
“Please! Like something out of ‘White Fang.’ Cold is nature’s way of telling you to go somewhere warmer. Or bring a coat.”
“And with the air getting short…”
“Wouldn’t have been my fault. I always bring extra. And anyway, there are eighteen ways out of that problem. If things are bad, teleport us home. Want to stay here? Then teleport some air in, the Earth’s just over there!” Nita shakes her head.
“Well, in that scenario we were short. I was trying to find some creative way to blame you for it.”
“Have to be reeeeeeeal creative.”
“So that leads us to the next question.”
“Uh huh. Why exactly are you lying on top of me?”
“I was asking myself that. Problem?”
“No, not as such.” A brief silence.
“I don’t remember your belt buckle being that big.”
“Wait. You dumped your jeans. It’s one of these water bottles, isn’t it.”
“Uh… It might be.”
A pause… and then some very subdued snickering. “Thank you so much for not saying ‘Bitch’.”
“Like I’d dare.” A brief silence. “Your hair smells nice.”
“Oh good. Would you do me a favor and roll over on your side?”
“And what might this be?”
“Don’t tell me. Let me guess.”
(the YW 30-Day OTP Challenge sequence so far:)
1: Holding hands | 2: Cuddling somewhere | 3: Gaming / watching a movie | 4: On a date | 5: Kissing | 6: Wearing each other’s clothes | 7: Cosplaying | 8: Shopping | 9: Hanging out with friends | 10: With animal ears | 11: Wearing kigurumis | 12: Making out | 13: Eating ice cream | 14: Genderswapped | 15: In a different clothing style | 16: During their morning rituals | 17: Spooning | 18: Doing something together | 19: In formal wear | 20: Dancing | 21: Cooking / baking | 22: In battle, side by side | 23: Arguing | 24: Making up afterwards | 25: Gazing into each other’s eyes | 26: Getting married | 27: On one of their birthdays | 28: Doing something ridiculous | 29: Doing something sweet | 30: Doing something hot