“That was something, huh?” Rick leaned up against the corner of one of the Stulti’s bulkheads, arms folded, doing his best to look casual. They had just yanked humanity back from the brink of disaster, no big deal. Sort of thing they’d do all the time, if humanity had more galaxy-wide threats showing up.
Yep. Perfectly casual. The unshakable Rick Ayer, cool and quick and always, always-
….being given a thoroughly unimpressed look by Amanza. She was making full use of having mind tranced back to her human body; her I-Machine just didn’t have the same expressiveness.
It was hard to get that level of ‘withering eyebrow lift’ when you didn’t have eyebrows, after all.
Amanza folded her arms right back, tilting her head back to peer up at him. “‘Something’ is one way to put it.”
“‘Great’s another,” Rick replied, then began ticking off on his fingers. “So’s ‘amazing’, and ‘insane’, and ‘one for the record books’-”
That got a soft, amused scoff out of her. “Don’t expect to go down any record books. I’m sure they’ll want to downplay the fact that evertrancers were involved in saving humanity-assuming they mention it at all.”
Rick groaned, flinging out his arms in exasperation. “And there you go, sucking all the fun out of it! It’s like your talent or something.” He paused, then crouched down to get closer to eye level.
Technically speaking, he still wasn’t anywhere near eye level, but he was trying. It was the best he could do outside of virtual space.
Trying counted for something, right?
He tilted his head to the side as he peered at her. She looked right back at him, her expression mostly unreadable but probably edging towards ‘I am five seconds away from smacking you, and damn the fact that you’re made of metal.’
(He was pretty sure he was getting a lot better at reading the subtleties of her glares. There were levels of squint and jawset and slowly building annoyance at work there.)
“Tell me the truth,” he said, and there was a slight shift in her expression to suspicious , “Is that something they teach you in the military? Weaponized buzzkilling?”
“Rick, get just a little bit lower. I need to hit you upside your head.”
“ Definitely something they teach,” he said, nodding to himself. “Anyway, like I was trying to say-that was really something we did back there, right? Saving the whole human race, putting our necks on the line-we’re heroes!”
“To varying degrees, anyway. Ido is the one who was indispensable to everything.” But there was a bit of amusement creeping into her expression as she kept eyeing him.
“Okay, okay-we’re the backup heroes. Still important! And,” Rick said, holding up a finger, “You know what that means!”
“An award ceremony,” Amanza replied, flatly.
“What? No, no!” Rick shook his head, putting his hands out in a ‘stop’ motion, then paused. “...Okay, maybe that’s part of it, but there’s other stuff, too! You’ve seen movies-even if you come from no-fun land, I know Clair’s dragged you into seeing movies-and after everything’s done exploding and everybody’s saved, there’s always a kiss!”
“So you’re saying I should go kiss Ido.” Her tone was still flat, but there was that amused gleam in her eyes. Amused because she was messing with him .
“Kiss I-no, not Ido!” Even if it seemed like sometimes she was competing with Maya for his-no, no, bad train of thought, no thinking about the possibility of Ido showing Amanza any interest back. Nope. Not right now. “Not Ido,” he repeated, feeling like he had recovered a bit after his initial reaction. “Me!”
“You,” Amanza replied, and this time it was her turn to lean back against a bulkhead, frustratingly away from his direction.
“Hey, like I said-hero here. Sure, support hero, but I still helped! That’s gotta be worth something .”
“You don’t even have lips,” she said, in a tone that was probably meant to be reasonable but at the moment seemed more like a tease, even with how flat it was. ...Possibly because of how flat it was.
“But you do!” Rick ducked his head lower, which was hard-if he tried to get any lower, he’d probably end up sprawled across the floor. “C’mon, Lieutenant, whaddaya say? A kiss for a savior of humanity and life as we know it?”
He tried to look imploring. It was hard when all you had to work with was body language and there was a massive size difference involved.
Judging by how her expression didn’t change, looking imploring didn’t work. At all. Rick sighed, beginning to sit back up. “Well, I tried. Guess I’m gonna have to go the stoic, unkissed hero route instead.”
It was, apparently, enough to finally prompt a roll of the eyes and stepping away from the part of the bulkhead she had been leaning on. “Rick, stop running your mouth and get back here.”
“Huh?” But he leaned back down anyway, half-expecting a whap for the said mouth-running.
Instead of the light smack he was expecting, Amanza strode forward, eyed him for a moment, then planted a kiss directly on his faceplate.
Rick made a thrilled noise. Being witty could wait; he just got kissed .
Amanza stepped back, now definitely looking amused. “Congratulations on your success, hero. Now go celebrate.” Then she turned and walked away, towards the parts of the Stulti that were sized for humans-only.
It took Rick a moment to break out of stunned state and straighten up, snapping off a salute instead. “Thank you, ma’am! Will do!”
Ido looked up from where he was resting as Rick entered-still a little worse for wear, after their adventure, but curious. “You’re practically bouncing. What happened?”
He wasn’t-okay, yes, a quick check proved that yes, maybe he was bouncing on his heels a bit, but-
“We saved the day and I got a hero’s welcome back. Why not be happy?”
Ido looked at him for a moment, then made a quiet, faintly amused noise. “It’s a good reason to be, at least.”
“Oh yeah,” Rick said, as he flopped down to rest nearby. “A really good reason. Hey, maybe we should get mixed up in stuff like this more often. I kinda like being a hero.”
The two sat in companionable silence for a moment.
“You have lipstick on your face.”
“And it is never coming off.”