Breed Book 4, Part 63


“That was you, wasn’t it? The last-minute call from the Oval Office?” Mikaela asked. Mahmoud looked slyly from side to side, his expression partially obscured by a hand-sewn mask covering the his nose and mouth. “You know you averted a massacre, right?”

The field sprawling between the furthest dorms and the lecture halls was dotted with Breed students, playing while trying their best to socially distance. Nearest to them were Mahmoud’s closest friends, leisurely tossing a frisbee back and forth. “All I did was what I felt was right in the moment. It’s all any of us can do.”

“Yeah,” she said, patting him on the back. “I remember the first time I met you. It was my first time in a helicopter.”

“Mine, too.”

“We were both just scared kids. I still feel like that, most days.”

“Me, too. Maybe that’s not on us, though; I think anyone who can live through what we all have been through these last few years, and regard it with jaded eyes, like yeah, I completely expected this, was totally prepared to handle this… that’s not normal. None of this has been normal. It’s a superhuman feat just to survive it this long and maintain some semblance of dignity, sanity and humanity.”

“I maintain that the superhuman feat was convincing federal troops that Drump had asked them to stop stomping in the heads of his betters- which for the record is nearly all sentient life on the planet. And securing pardons for your friends.”

“Well, if you’re saying I’m a super guy, I will demurely accept the compliment,” he said with a laugh.

“How’s it feel?” she asked. “To finally be home?”

“You have no idea.”

“No,” Mikaela said. “I can scarcely imagine what you’ve been through- what any of you have been through. Made me sick, knowing you were out there, doing things I could scarcely imagine to make the world a better place. It was worse, thinking you’d been killed, that you were all in that kind of danger.”

“Part of the reason we could be out there, though, was knowing the rest of you were here, keeping the home fires lit. It’s kind of easy to be an impulsive young freedom fighter, when you know there’s something back home worth fighting for- people who need you out on the front line.”

“Yeah,” Mikaela said with a swallow. “I think I get that better, now, having been to some of these protests. Not that they’re our first, but… I think both sides have been fighting harder this year. I think that’s because we all recognize it’s a tipping point. This is going to be a different country, in part because of the change we’re all helping bring about, right now. And the other side… they fought like hell not to change. This was their last chance to hold back the future, and they knew it.” Mikaela took a swig from her drink. “But you should go. You’re home. All of you. For the first time in way too long.”

Years,” he said.

“So what the hell are you doing talking to me?” He latched onto her and squeezed.

“Because you’re part of what made this home to me. You and Tucker welcomed me here, when half the world wanted me thrown in a hole, and the other couldn’t stop staring at me. You helped me feel normal, in a world where that was in really short supply. So thank you. For that. For taking care of things while we were gone. For making sure it still felt like home when we got back.”

“It’s good to have you back,” Mikaela said. “Home hasn’t felt the same without you. Now go,” she said, squeezing him before taking a step back. “You’re not the only person on my dance card.”

“Ahem,” Tucker said from behind him.

“Right,” he said, and nodded. He grabbed Tucker and said, “Thanks, Tuck.” He let go, and walked hastily away.

“That was…” Tucker trailed off. “I thought I was going to have to train the hose on him. Or a spatula. He looked like he might never let you go.”

“Poor guy’s been through… a lot doesn’t really cover it.”

“No,” Tucker said, his voice haunted. “I really do try not to pry, but… it felt like he was pushing it at me, thinking hard about it, when he hugged me. Not that he wanted to freak me out, but… I think he’s still having a hard time telling people just what he went through.”

“He also said a lot of nice things, about us, before you got here.”

“Oh, he said them to me, too, just mentally. You’d be surprised, honestly, how much you can get across when you don’t have to use language to do it; we had as much of a conversation as you did, just faster.”

“Good,” Mikaela said. “You deserve to hear good things about what we’ve accomplished, too.” Mikaela stared at the group of returned runaways, throwing their frisbee. “I wanted to talk. I know we didn’t have time, yesterday. It feels so much longer ago than yesterday.”

“We’re all on pandemic time,” Tucker said. “This last year’s taken an eon. And,” he poked his tongue into his cheek while he thought about his next words, “You don’t have to worry. I didn’t get the wrong idea. And I already know you didn’t.”

Mikaela frowned. “I’m going to need you to say shit out loud, because I don’t read minds.”

“The locket,” Tucker said. “I know how it looks, that I’ve been wearing it around. And I know you… pined for me, for a long time.”

“I’m not-”

Tucker held up his hand. “It’s okay. There’s no explanation needed. I missed the hell out of you, too; I think that’s why I was such a dick to you for a while. Because you were my best friend, too. When we stopped being together, that was hard for both of us. But losing our best friends, too- I don’t think I ever really understood how profound that pain was, for either of us, until you brought it up. And I realized what I did with that pain sucked; you didn’t deserve that, and I had no right to take things out on you.”

“We thought we were going to die when I said that; I’m a little surprised it inspired this much soul-searching.”

“I know, but… that was an important moment for me. I’d never really contemplated dying in other than in a distant sense, and it became a very real, very near possibility that day. I went from being afraid to die, to having a reason to fight to live. It gave us… I’m not saying we were completely back to being friends like we had been, but it built a bridge to where we could be. You’ve always been important to me, but since then, I’ve really been able to explore that. And I don’t mean romantically. I mean you’re my best friend. Always have been, really, since we met. And even when we weren’t really talking, it was still true- we were just both cut off from it. So yes, of course, obviously I love you, just not in the same way as I used to.”

“Thank God.”

“Hurts that you’re that relieved, a little,” Tucker said with a grin that distorted his face mask.

“Yeah, well, a lot of the pain we’ve been through the last few years was entirely because one of us wanted to move on while the other was stuck. Not even so you’d know how I felt would I wish that on you.”

“Besides- you already know I know how you felt,” Tucker said.

“That, too. But mostly… I don’t want to lose you again. We’ve been through that once, and it sucked worse than anything else I’ve been through- personally, I mean. So of course I love you, too, but I don’t ever want to be in a relationship with you again. God. I think I’m still a little traumatized from it.”

“Feel better? Now that we’re both on the same page, and it’s all out in the open?”

“Mostly,” Mikaela sighed. “It’s still kind of strange. Basically my entire emotionally mature life has had us as this huge, sometimes great sometimes awful fixture.”

“Always will be,” Tucker said. “Our relationship was really formative for both of us. I love who we are, now, but we wouldn’t be the awesome people we are today without that, including the pain and the crappy stuff. And I’m not trying to justify your anguish, or white-wash it, but I feel really lucky to be here with you right now, like this, and I know how fragile life can be. It wasn’t a given that we’d mend things, especially not with me passive-aggressively attacking you because I was hurting. I got really, really lucky,” he said, and rested his head on her shoulder.

“Get a room you two,” Iago said, sitting in the grass beside his brother.

“You didn’t think that through, did you?” Drake asked, sitting with his legs crossed.

“No,” he admitted, “and ew.”

“Does he ever, though?” Demi asked, dropping to one knee opposite Drake.

“Never intentionally,” Mayumi said, laying on her stomach.

“I’ve missed this,” Iago said. “All of us together, just relaxing, breathing for a moment in the sun… while all of you gang up on me.”

“You know we pick on people in direct correlation to how much we care about them,” Tucker said.

“Really?” he asked.

“No. You’re just a really easy mark. We do love you, though. In direct proportion to how simple you can be. So we really, really love you.”

“I wished I was adopted. To another family. On a different continent.”

“I think you’d have found us anyway,” Mikaela said. “You’re part of what makes this home for all of us. I don’t think there’s a world out there where we don’t all find one another.”

“In a different universe,” he added.

“About that,” Mikaela said, biting her lip.

“One cutoff from any interdimensional/extra-universal travel.”

“Uh oh,” Drake said. “He’s getting science fictional. We might have really hurt him this time.”

Iago sighed. “Nah. I can’t imagine being happy with any other group of knobs like I am here.”

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