Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Summary: Mouse and Torch have a chat. Embarrassing callsign stories are shared.
Date: 2657.329
Related Logs: None

The Temple - Deck 5

The Temple is hopping this bustling evening as pilots stream in and out the hatch. The mood is light-hearted, almost /jolly/, and it doesn't take long to figure out why: today is mail day, and a double-chinned spaceman is doling out precious packages from home like Santa Claus at Christmas. "Here's one for /you/ - smells like cookies - make sure you save some for me! - and here's one for /you/ - how's the kid, man?" And over his booming voice the chatter of excited officers grows ever louder, accompanied by the tearing of paper and eager laughter.

Aisling Kaye is smiling too, though she's not nearly as expressive as the rest of the people in the room. Instead, sitting quietly, she dangles her feet over the side of her bunk as careful hands slip a pen through the taped-up box on her lap. Her baggy green sweatpants don't quite manage to hide her shockingly orange socks, which contrast rather sharply with her muted purple tee.

Off patrol about an hour ago, Alex is in half his flightsuit and working on a cigarette when he gets back down to the Temple. In the middle of noise. No doubt Santa went alphabetically to save time, and although Alex missed the 'A's it doesn't quite matter - no 'Aquilina' came up. He walks around the commotion rather than through it, towards his bunk with smoke trailing after.

"Right then, boys and girls," the ersatz mailman cries, doing his best imitation of St Nicholas' trademark 'Ho-ho-ho!' as he hands out his last package and gathers up his bag. "Be good and keep the kitties away from us, or I'll be giving you all coal. Happy flying to all, and to all a - "

"Shut the /fuck/ up, Finnegan," hollers the only pilot in the room who's trying to go to bed. "It's fuckin' /November/."

"Coal for you!" is the man's merry response, before the hatch slams shut. At that, Mouse can't resist a giggle: a tiny one, to be sure, but it's audible nonetheless. With more than a little ceremony, she places beside her the contents of her box before tossing the packaging to the ground a few inches from Torch's passing feet.

Aquilina shoots the mailman and his shouting squad a mild WTF look over his shoulder, which mostly involves finely arched brows and an expression in his eyes that treads the thin line between amusement and annoyance. His boot kicks box and his head turns back to look where he's going, looking about towards one of the ground floor bunks nearby. "Fucking clean up your shit, Inman." The side of his foot whacks the box, pushing it towards the wrong owner.

"Sorry," says Aisling, who can't help but let out one final giggle before she sobers. She's still too amused, though, to be as shy as she might otherwise be. "That was mine." Now that the box is out of the way, the design on her tee becomes visible as she hops out of bed to retrieve the tangled cardboard from the floor: five ascending rectangles from yellow to red - a reference, no doubt, to the days when portable cellular phones still measured reception with bars. 'No Service' is written in big, bold capital letters beneath.

Aquilina stops as he hears Kaye, bonking the box gently with his toe and then kicking it back her way instead. "Clean up your shit, Kaye." Slightly grouchy but minus one cussword this time; maybe he does like her. His bunk isn't exactly far from hers and he sits down with a soft thump on his mattress, digging about on his little storage shelf.

"Sorry," she says again, looking much more chagrined now than before. "I - I didn't mean to - " Light steps take her towards the nearest rubbish bin, which by now is overflowing with bulky cardboard and what must be a kilogram of packing peanuts. Kaye wedges her trash into the back of the container before slipping back to her bunk, making sure not to look Torch in the eye. Then and only then does she examine her precious prize: a small photo album on which cover has been replicated in painstaking detail the circle of fifths.

Aquilina times her looking away as though he'd expected the reaction. His hands mostly hide something he gets off the shelf, except for a small popping sound, and he tucks something subtly into his mouth with his fingertips and swallows it down with water. Then he sets both feet back down and leans over, unlacing his boots. There's a while of silence from him before he talks again. "Got something?"

Kaye nods mutely as she hugs the album to her chest. "I forgot it at home," she murmurs, rocking back and lying back on her bunk. She's almost swallowed up by the comforter against into which she now leans. "Mum said she sent it back to me three weeks ago. I thought it got lost in the mail."

"Good that it got here." Alex tugs open the top of his right boot and pulls the heavy thing off his socked foot. His toes wiggle slowly once they're free of confinement, and he starts on the left one. Or starts to start, then he remembers his smouldering cigarette and sits back up, reaching for the ashtray on his shelf.

Mouse nods again, sniffing as a few wisps of smoke drift over her way. Hazel eyes water as the acrid smell cuts through her contemplation, but she doesn't otherwise complain - Torch is putting the thing out, anyway. They sit in silence for another couple of moments - and then, out of nowhere, Aisling comes up with another one of those patented subject-changes: "You didn't get any of us killed," she observes.

Aquilina gets one last drag off the thing before it's mashed out, thumb giving an extra smush near the suffocated end to be sure it's dead. He exhales towards his feet as he goes back to his laces. "We got lucky," he is his response to that. Boot tugged off, stowed, and he puts his hands on his knees, stretching out his lower back. "How's your head?"

"I'm okay." Kaye rubs the bruise on her forehead with her hand, wincing as she presses down a little too hard. "Really," she adds, shifting in her bed to rest her head on a crumpled up part of her blanket. Her pillow she clutches tightly to body, the top of its featureless pillowcase tickling the bottom of her neck. "How's your - " The woman blinks, not quite remembering if Aquilina was at all hurt. "I mean, are /you/ okay?"

Aquilina's eyes squeeze shut as tensed-up muscles get rolled, but one squinches open just in time to catch her wincing. Dropping his elbows back to his knees, he smirks a little bit. "Are you sure? Getting bonked on the head's not the most thrilling experience." He rubs his knee with his thumb, glancing idly down at his feet as he goes on. "In flight school once I bashed my head against the dash panel on a landing once. Boom, throttle right in the faceplate. Didn't have a callsign yet at that point, and believe me, it was almost bad."

"That sounds really embarrassing," says Kaye, and she even blushes a bit as Torch tells the story. Embarrassed /for/ him, no doubt. "They were going to call me something /really/ nasty, too, after my first victory." Mouse doesn't say 'kill'. "I - I accidentally rammed an enemy fighter my first time," she confesses, scrunching her pillow with her bare arms. "Right in the - uh - " The woman's blush heightens. "'Mouse' is the short version," she says, turning her face downwards to hide it in her pillow.

"Right in the…" Alex raises an eyebrow and smirks, shaking his head. "Headmouse? Ballsmouse? Arsemouse?" These are ridiculous and he says them like they clearly are, making a slight motion with his hand. "I've missed one, I know it."

Aisling whimpers in obvious discomfort as Aquilina goes through not one but three variations, to the point at which even her hair would have turned red if it could. "You know," she begins, speaking mostly to her pillow. Helpless eyes flick over at the other pilot: /Don't make me say it!/ "What - it's what I have that you don't," she tries. "Never mind. I - I really shouldn't have brought it up. It's inappropriate."

"…titmouse." It takes a few seconds, then Alex makes a chuckling sound that's really just a couple breaths. "Oh come on, now, that's not awful." He lifts his hand and scratches the back of his shoulder. "The tufted titmouse is a songbird, you know."

Mouse nods. "I looked it up," she says, lifting her head so one hazel eye can stare at her compatriot. "I guess it could have been worse. They were also thinking about 'booby.'" Kaye's face flares bright, bright pink. "That's also a bird," she notes, "but it doesn't sing, and it has blue feet, and I /never/ wear blue socks, so - " The woman slips one foot out from underneath the covers to demonstrate this fact. "How did you get yours?"

"Fact that I'm a shining emblem of enlightenment and hope," Alex replies, drily. He leans back against the wall, resting one of his own darkly socked ankles over his knee. "No blue socks, mm? Don't like the vibrations?" That could so easily have been sarcastic, but he's dead serious.

"You're lying," Kaye observes, a little hurt. Back into the pillow she goes, nuzzling the soft fabric with her nose. "And no - I just like the other ones more," she mumbles. Fifty-fifty whether or not Torch can make sense of what she's saying. "Like orange. It's yellow and red. D to A." The woman raises her head to sing the notes. "See?" she says, perking up once more. "Perfect fifth."

Maybe Alex can. Maybe he can't. He reaches over to his shelf for his water bottle, unscrewing the cap with one calloused hand. "Do you sing? Beyond demonstrative purposes, I mean." Cap tucked into his palm, he tips the bottle up for two swallows.

"No." A few rapid shakes of her head emphasize the point. "I mean - I /can/, but I only know how to hit the notes, and how to make them loud or soft." Then, not sure where to go with this, Kaye flips the question. "Do you?"

"The exact opposite," Alex sucks down one more swallow of water and smirks, screwing the cap back on and shifting his back against the wall. "I most certainly can't. But oh, I do."

"Oh," says Kaye, a little unsure about what she should be saying next. "So that's you in the shower." The woman winces again at the memory of one of Aquilina's more recent concerts - or at least the concert of somebody she assumes to be Aquilina based on what has just been disclosed. Her stranglehold on her pillow loosens as she stretches, her back arching before settling down once more on her bed. "Sister Magdalene told me that everybody sounds good in the shower, but you definitely don't."

"I don't sing in the showers," Alex snickers quietly, mouth tugged to show a flash of his (slightly feral-looking) teeth. "And your Sister lied to you. Nobody sounds good in the shower; that's the point. There are certain isolated spots in existence where it is one's absolute right to sound ridiculous without repercussion. Showers, cars, elevators, philosophy lectures…you know."

"I think /I/ sound good in the shower," Kaye responds, so eager is she to defend the honor of her teacher that she doesn't realize what she's just given away. "But then I come out and - I - I don't know," she continues, voice trailing off. She flips over so she's facing the ceiling, her photo album balanced on her tummy, her pillow still clutched at her side. "My voice just gets so - so /thin/. It's why Sophie told me I couldn't be her backup singer anymore." Mouse's face falls at the memory.

"You were…in a duet?" Alex's technical knowledge of music stretches as far as music bumps up against science. For the rest, he's rather clueless as to how it all works.

"A /band/, silly." Mouse's eyes drift close as she hums the first few phrases of something slow and mournful, and her voice - thin as it is - lends a degree of melancholy to the song: 'Blame It on My Youth,' if Torch is a connoisseur of jazz standards. "Just a stupid student thing," she mumbles, breaking off halfway through the second line. "We got second at the battle of the bands after they - after I left, so." Her smile is a little fragile. "I guess Sophie had a point."

"Sophie was your lead singer, I take it?" Alex asks, quite rhetorically. "Well, we can't all do everything, Aisling. And sometimes it's a matter of variables, you know. I'd suppose your voice would sound lovely with the right backdrop."

"I guess," says Mouse, sounding unconvinced. "And Sophie was president of the chess club," she continues, answering Alex's question (rhetorical though it might be). "She had the brightest purple hair I've ever seen. The sisters didn't know what to do with her." Kaye giggles at the thought, a fluted sound that vanishes soon after. "I thought she was nice."

"Hair in G-sharp," Alex muses, smirking for a moment. His hands idly start searching for his cigarettes, starting with his empty T-shirt pocket. Wait, no, they're on the shelf, and his fingertips reach over to drag the edge of the box closer. "You sound very fond of her."

"I just said she was nice." There's just a touch of defensiveness in Mouse's voice, but that might just be from the little yawn that soon follows. Kaye tosses her pillow to the other side of her body, blocking it from Torch's view as she pulls down on her tee to ensure she's baring exactly zero percent of her midriff. "She lived across the hall from me when I was in ninth grade. She wasn't like the other girls - she'd talk to me." A self-conscious smile lights the woman's face. "Sorry. I probably sound really pathetic."

Aquilina raises an eyebrow slightly at the defensiveness. His attention isn't on her midriff; it's quite firmly on the cigarette as he lights up. With /that/ lighter, you know, the bright purple one with the girly flower on it. That's promptly dropped back into his front pocket. "Not really. Why would you say that?"

Kaye shrugs, adjusting the scooped neckline of her shirt - modest as it is - for similar reasons. "I don't know," she says as she does, her quiet alto sounding a bit lighter than usual when she talks. "I just - yeah." And then she falls into contemplative silence, listening to the chatter from a few bunks over, until sufficient time has passed for another one of her requisite questions-from-left-field: "Do you think guys are meaner than girls?"

Aquilina has to smirk at that. "I have no idea. I think men are /allowed/ to be meaner without as much stigma. Whether that's cause or effect, hell if I know." A drag off the cigarette. "You?"

"Oh." Kaye's face wrinkles as she considers this answer, and when the question is reversed, it takes her a moment to get her bearings. "I think it depends on the guy or the girl," she offers after a while. "Sophie was nice, her roommate really wasn't, my brother - " Mouse stops again as she tries to figure out what ought to come next. "My brother is nice, his friends really weren't - aren't?" What a tangled web of syntax she weaves.

Aquilina shrugs, taking the time while she talks to enjoy the hell out of the exhale of that smoke. "This is why relationship counselors make more than we do," he comments, drolly. "If you break it down to personal level, of course nobody will exactly follow the expected behaviour of their group. Suppose that's why we've developed shit like psychiatrists. And prenuptials."

"I suppose, yeah." Kaye goes along with the flow, though Aquilina's last comment gives her pause. She rolls over onto her side, looking over at the man's bunk from behind her makeshift pillow shelter. "Did somebody divorce you and take all of your money?" she wonders, before - predictably - dissolving into a pair of mumbled 'sorries'.

"It was a joke," Alex non-answers with a slight grin and a blip of levity, though right then he finds a reason to search his shelf again. Needed to pull the ashtray over another haf-inch. Now his turn to flip subjects. "Have things been alright for you? Up here. Here." That last word's accompanied by a vague waving around of his index finger.

"Fine," is Kaye's diffident reply. Brown hair drifts over her eyes as she cuddles her pillow closer, and for once she doesn't bother brushing it aside. "I lost my fighter, though, my first time out, so - " Wide eyes follow the smoke drifting up from Torch's ashtray. "I probably haven't been much use so far."

"Yes, well. That was fucked." Alex says, bluntly, as he ashes the cigarette again. "And happened at the very end of the fight, after you'd trashed two of them that would have undoubtedly trashed us. So can the 'losing' stuff. Did the best we could."

"I /did/ lose my fighter, though." A note of stubbornness creeps into Kaye's voice. "I liked her a lot. She was fast." Mouse looks regretful. "I wish I could have flown with her a little more. She was easier to get to know than the one I'm with now."

"You'll lose more of them." Alex says this with a mildness that doesn't quite hit nonchalant. "Hell, WinCo's lost about three just in the time I've been up here. You have to get your spirit into your ride, but don't leave it there."

"I know," says Kaye, offering a resigned sigh before flopping over onto her back. She yawns again, and a hand rises to rub at her eyes. "You never told me your callsign story," Mouse mumbles after still another yawn.

Aquilina makes a quiet grunt. There's nothing for what becomes a rather long time, then he finally talks as he reaches over to kill the cigarette in the tray. "I hate fire." Is that it? No, wait… "Once we had an accident in flight school and a jeep caught fire inside the hangar bay. I completely lost my shit and panicked, ran out so fast I tripped down the stairwell, fell, and knocked myself out." he squinches an eye shut as he scratches his head with his fingernails. "So. Yeah." Sniff. "Anyone asks, though, it's because I'm a fucking beacon of enlightenment and hope."

Alex totally could have gotten away with saying nothing at all, as Mouse is dangerously close to drifting off into sweet, sweet slumber. But light sleeper as she is, his words draw her back to the land of the (not quite) awake, and she even has the self-control not to giggle when he reaches the climax of the story. "It'll be our secret," Kaye whispers when he's done, offering a pinky finger that she curls in the air - an invisible pinky-swear that looks particularly incongruous when compared to the somber expression on her face. "I promise." And then, placing her photo album on the shelf above her head, she's looping her blanket over her body with languid motions. "Good night, Alex," she murmurs, her fingers toying with the rosary beads she's taken from said shelf - but of course, she's asleep before she's even halfway through the first decade.

Aquilina smirks a little. "Good night." Nowhere close to sleep is he, of course. As things quiet, he pulls one of his books off the shelf and flops it open on the mattress, along with one of his thousands of yellow ledgers. And, fished off his shelf, a part of uniform that very few people ever see - reading glasses. Those go on his face and he settles in, flipping open a text.

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