Tucker put his hand over the little kettle sitting atop the hot plate. “That’s probably okay,” he said, wrapping his sleeve around his hand because he didn’t trust the metal handle on the kettle. He poured tea into three small cups, about half-full, before the kettle was empty. He handed one each to Irene and Mikaela, then picked up the third for himself and sipped. It was so hot he recoiled the moment it hit his tongue. “Liddle hod,” he said. “Mide hab burd my tug.”
“I know what he’s trying to say,” Irene said, furrowing her brow, “but why did it sound so filthy when he said it?”
“Tucker has a gift for filth,” Mikaela said, almost beaming.
“Stopbid, you’ll meg me bludge,” Tucker said.
“You can speak to us telepathically, if you have to; or you could, you know, not speak, for a whole of a couple of minutes while your tongue recovers.”
Tucker stuck out his tongue, winced, and said, “owuh.”
“I really want to say, ‘Sorry,’” Irene said. “I feel… well, I feel like a kid, like I just screamed in the middle of the night about a monster under my bed. And you two… you came running, which was really sweet.”
“Shh,” Mikaela said. “We all freak out sometimes. And we are all still kids some of the time, and still need help, and not to feel like we’re all alone in a world that is peopled with monsters. Besides, I haven’t had a run like that in ages.”
“A panigt one in the wrong kind ub shoes?” Tucker attempted.
“Still not quite intelligible,” Mikaela said. “But if you’re offering me a ride home later I wouldn’t say no.”
“Wine dot?” Tucker asked, then frowned.
“Should I read anything into that potentially leading phrasing?” Irene asked. “Not that I mean to pry. And you two are adorable together- not together together- I mean… I’m just trying to gossip to keep my mind off things, I think.”
“That’s… fair,” Mikaela said. “But we don’t have to talk about serious shit, if you don’t want to.”
“I think I kind of… have to,” Irene said. “Like I can’t pretend it isn’t happening. And I called you both out here, so at least maybe we can make the trek worth both your whiles.”
“That works, too.”
“I think… it feels like a few years ago, when it looked like we were going to get another Justice on the Supreme Court, and Breed protections would be read into the law. And like it felt like it was over. The battle, the war. It wasn’t going to be okay for people to discriminate against us anymore. And it would be a while before that translated to real, actual change… but we were on the precipice of it…”
“And then it got yanked away,” Mikaela said.
“Right. This could have been the end of it. That we defended the campus without loss of life on either side, that we retook our space with minimal injuries, even- that was kind of a beacon. It made it harder for them to paint us as monsters, or a threat. This is the opposite, it’s the Bad Signal. Like when Drump said at his rallies he’d pay the legal bills of any of his supporters who beat up a Breed- only taken way past that. He’s saying he’ll use the powers of his office to shield anyone willing to commit hate crimes against us… I think I’m going to be sick,” Irene said.
“It is sickening,” Mikaela agreed.
“But you were ride the first time,” Tucker began. “People did sid up and take notice. Drump really is the last thrashing gasp of a dying agenda, one based on misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism- and probably other bigotries I’m forgetting; it’s a white soon-to-be minority trying desperately to cement its control before it no longer can. We can beat them- and that has them terrified. That they’re willing to go this far- that they backed Drump and are backing him still, three years into one of the worst presidencies ever- they know this was their last hail Mary attempt. And it’s going to fail. We can help make sure it fails, by being strong, by caring, by meeting their hate and indifference with compassion and empathy. By making the world a better place, not just for people like us, but also for people expressly different. And this hurts. We could have started our better world already, three years ago, or even today. It isn’t fair that they’ve gotten to delay it again. But that better world is coming- we just have to help build it.”
“I miss his tongue being burnt,” Irene said.
“Me, too,” Mikaela said, grinning wide. “Screw you both,” Tucker said, angrily taking a pull from his cup. “Aw, fugh.”