Kat and Annie stood atop the monorail tracks and surveyed the damage below them. They'd done pretty well, all things considered. Kat's diamagnetic re-polarization engine had paralyzed the herd of runaway auto-carriages for a full hour, which had been more than enough time for Annie to convince those poltergeists to stop possessing them. Now the ghosts were chilling in horse heaven and the auto-carriages were back to normal. The field of electrical transformers they'd mowed down would grow back soon enough.
Annie straightened the collar of peacoat. Kat attempted to wipe some of the sweat off her brow, and ended up smearing grease across her nose.
"Huh. I guess that about does it," Kat said.
"Indeed," Annie agreed. "Ms. Jones may be amicable towards granting our extra credit application."
Kat slid her gaze away from the view and onto the hard alloy backside of their erstwhile ally, Chiron-14, a cyborg centaur from the auto-carriage stables at Orrery Place. Chiron-14 had jumped off the tracks to race down a side road, his metal hooves gouging holes in the cobblestones. He must be serious about trying to shoot down one of the Tik-Toks that had come to check out the carnage.
Hah. Good luck with that one.
"Not bad, eh? Great quality alloy. You could cut industrial diamonds on those abs." Kat grinned. She refrained from nudging Annie on account of the oil that soaked through her coveralls. "I wonder if Chiron-14 goes for greasemonkeys. I'll have you know that I'm packing a pretty sexy laser spanner. Robot keeps checking it out when he thinks I won't notice."
"Mmm." Annie made a noncommittal sort of noise, and her lips compressed into a thin, glossy line. It made Kat feel kinda squirmy.
The older they got, the harder it was not to feel awkward when they were together. Not awkward-bad. Just awkward-awkward. Kat figured that it must be down to biology, or one of the more annoying, squishy-soft sciences. One day Kat had woken up to find that she was all boobs and hips and oily skin and funny smells, jiggling farther and farther out of control, while Annie had been a proper lady since shortly after she learned to walk. Only Annie could make puberty look graceful.
Maybe if Kat dusted off her old chemistry set, she could figure out a way to isolate that essential Annie-ness and distill it into a basic enzyme. Not because she was jealous, or anything, but just because. It would be a good thing. For science. Better than standing around like a big dumb spaz, at least.
"What?" Kat asked, after a few too many beats of silence.
Annie looked away, as though suddenly fascinated by the circling Tik-Toks. Like Kat was gonna fooled by that. She might not be mediator material, but she was still a certified genius and all-around awesome babe.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"Pfft." Oh really? "Out with it."
"I suppose I'm worried for you, Kat." Annie said, her face carefully composed. Kat didn't like it when Annie used that face on her. It was a face for negotiations. "First Mr. Eglamore, then Ally, then Muut, then that game character, and now Chiron-14. You always take such a shine to these impossible catches. I'm not certain what to make of it."
Oh, man. Why'd Annie have to go and tell the truth all of a sudden? Kat's flights of fancy sounded so stupid when they were laid out in a row like that, stripped bare of their pretenses by Annie's exacting diction. She'd thought Annie had understood the fun of staying awake all night, thinking up lame schemes and trying on make-up that Kat could never pull off in real life. Not everyone was like Janet and Winsbury. Lots of girls in their dorm had the same kind of fun.
Kat's grin wilted around the edges. She wasn't sure what she'd done to deserve the terrible weight of Annie's neutrality.
"Aw, c'mon, Annie. Don't be so serious. It's only playing around." That was kinda the point. Even with poor sweet Ally, who'd been so clearly not-right. Kat rubbed the back of her neck, self-consciously, and tried not to think about the big ol' stain her fingers left behind. "It'd be weird if I didn't talk about boys and crushes and stuff with my best girl, wouldn't it?"
Annie removed a crisp white handkerchief from her coat pocket, unfolded it, and carefully set about mopping up the grease on Kat's nose. It took Kat a moment to realize that she was speaking, quiet and deliberate.
"I don't talk about such things," Annie said. "Not ever."
"Yeah, but--" Kat flailed for the right thing to say. God, she was probably blushing. There had to be some way to haul herself back from the brink of embarrassment, even if it meant blurting out the first stupid thing that popped into her head, like-- "It's not weird if it's you."
Augh, no, what. What. What had just come out of her mouth. Kat was an idiot. Kat was a giant idiot, and Annie probably thought that Kat was calling her a reverse weirdface or something, when Kat would never think anything of the sort, and how were things going tits up so spectacularly when Kat had only the barest idea of what was even going on? This was an epic failure.
Only Annie didn't seem to think so, because her eyes were soft like lithium powder, and her features had melted into a fond sort of look. (It was possible that the fond look and the Kat-you-are-a-giant-idiot look were, in fact, one and the same, but Kat didn't feel up to processing that right now.)
"Just so," Annie said. The corners of her lips were quirked upward, and Kat could smell the faint chemical scent of her lipstick. She leaned over to kiss Kat's cheek, quick as magic, before skipping off to signal Ms. Jones with the blinker stone.
Kat smiled through the whole trip back to Queslett.