Yoko dives into her arms as soon as Khâny steps out of the spaceship, and Khâny is struck all over again at how different humans are. Warmer. Finer, softer hair, rather than the normal metallic sheen of Vinean hair. The way that humans smell different, a weird, warm smell that Khâny only remembers smelling on Earth. Softer, more yielding skin.
“Hey,” Yoko says when she pulls back from the hug, her eyes bright. “I missed you.”
“You missed space,” Khâny says.
“That too,” Yoko says, grinning.
As the ship takes off again, the Yoko tells her about her latest trip, adventures casually spilling out of her as Pol complains good-naturedly and Vic looks fond. Yoko is the same, somehow, even though it’s been a few Earth years, still brash and always looking for new things and plunging into them, determined to be kind and to help. It’s comforting, somehow, that half a universe away, Yoko is a constant.
Khâny leads them into the ship as the pilot starts taking off, and gives them all clothes for the trip. As Yoko changes out of her Earth clothes and slips into Vinean clothes, it’s like something blooms in Khâny’s chest, like it makes it concrete that Yoko is hers, at least for the moment.
“What about you, though? How are things in Vinea?” Yoko says.
“Everything is well,” Khâny says.
Yoko slants a glance over at her. “You look tired.”
It surprises Khâny, somehow, that Yoko can still read her so easily. It took Khâny a long time to understand human facial expressions, and it always takes her a little time to read any subtleties again. But Yoko is right.
Re-building a world is exhausting. Khâny is always bumping up into ways that Vinea changed while they were worlds away. Sometimes, she misses the simplicity of the time they lived in the bowels of Earth, united and led by the thought of returning home, one day. Now that they’re back, it’s not so simple. She feels like she’s forever discovering that Vinea meant different things to different people, old regional differences springing up stronger and meaner, each clutching to the pieces of the Vinea they knew before even as they try to build its future. Even a simple, vital question like maintenance of the magnetic barrier sets off an entire discussion about whose responsibility the barrier is, who traditionally had grounds there, what the barrier represents to them.
And now, with Yoko, things are simple. Or, well, a simple, good kind of complicated.
Sometimes, when Yoko comes to Vinea, Khâny wants to ask Yoko, stay with me, in this home I’m trying to build again. I can show you the way the suns make stark shadows here. I can show you so many more stars.
But Yoko tells her about her home, too, talks about the changing seasons and Earth’s simple, single sun rising over the sea and turning the sea red, about pink flowers blooming every short Earth year, and it makes Khâny want to drop everything and see it for herself.
“We could, you know. You never really get the chance to see Earth properly when you’re here,” Yoko says, her eyes shining and her fine, dark hair floating around her face, now that they’ve cleared Earth’s atmosphere. Yoko drums her fingers on the navigation console, as if already planning to commandeer the ship back to Earth. “We’ll put some makeup on you to cover up the blue. No one will notice. Well, some people might stare a bit, but they’d probably do that anyway. We could go see some touristy human things.”
“It wouldn’t just be that,” Pol says as he floats by, chasing after Poky. “You’d go out to do some normal touristy thing, and suddenly, pow! It’s time travel time! Or secret spy plane time!”
“Hey,” Yoko says, making a face at him. “I don’t try to do that. It would be a perfectly normal vacation.”
“There’s no such thing as a perfectly normal vacation for you, and you know it. Going on vacation with an alien disqualifies it from being a normal vacation,” Pol calls back.
Knowing Yoko, that’s probably accurate. Khâny hides her smile behind her hand.
“Stop grinning,” Yoko says, nudging her. “Don’t lie, you would be up for that, too.”
And Khâny knows she shouldn’t—she has responsibilities, too many of them to count, an entire world to rebuild. But when Yoko smiles at her and says, it would be an adventure, it makes her want to drop everything and go.
“One day,” she promises.
“Okay,” Yoko says easily. “But don’t wait so long to come back next time, right? You could meet my dad, see the old house.” She looks wistful, just for a moment. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been there, too.”
Even when Khâny is away, she knows that Yoko is always, always moving. When she reaches out and touches Yoko’s cheek, Yoko’s bare skin almost burning hot, even through her glove, like Yoko has a sun blazing inside her. All humans run this warm, she knows, but she worries, sometimes, that it’s Yoko burning too bright, too fast. Yoko nudges her cheek into her touch, her eyes dark.
“I really did miss you, you know.”
“It sounds like you’ve been too busy to miss me,” Khâny says, trying for playful. She’s always been bad at flirting, and it’s sometimes hard to tell what humans interpret as a relationship overture. It’s a relief when Yoko grins ruefully.
“Maybe. But I did think of you a lot. Sometimes, when the night was clear, I’d look at the stars and wonder which direction was Vinea. Wonder where you were, what you were doing. If you were thinking of me, maybe.”
Khâny takes a shuddering breath. “I did.”
“Maybe you should tell me what you thought of,” Yoko says.
Oh. When Yoko tugs on her arm, Khâny lets herself float into her arms, bringing her close, and the skin of Yoko’s neck under her lips tastes alien, like Earth, like salt, like Yoko.
For now, for now, they’re together, and there are a few day cycles before they need to drop into stasis for the trip, and there are stars ahead, neither Earth nor Vinea, but theirs.