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Come On Fire

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1. heaven and earth

"What do you think?" Sigma asks, and looks back at the stars before Phi answers. It's cold and he's reclaimed his dark blue sweatshirt that she likes to steal, so she hugs her arms and pretends to be miffed.

The desert has the most gorgeous view of the night sky, second only to space itself. She doesn't have words, it's beyond them. There are more gleaming stars in the purple-blue swath than she can name or count. They watched the sun set and the sky turn from orange to purple to darkest blue. "It's great. Thanks for bringing me."

Inside her, there's a peace she's never known. It's both due to the sky and Sigma's presence. Nobody else could convince her to ditch studying in favor of relaxing and stargazing. He treats every moment with her like a reunion, like he's just returned from decades of solitude.

"Of course. I like being around you," he says. He's mortifying. It is so easy for him. He flicks her cheek as if he's read her thoughts. "So just let me."

You don't need to worry, she thinks. A long time ago on the moon, in another version of herself, she was sentenced to a lifetime of him following wherever she goes, and she's happy.

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2. green

"I wanted to understand you," Akane says. "You interested me." She traps Phi's head between her palms and smiles at her. The room is hot and there's visible sweat on her chest. The fan just blows hot air around and still Akane looks comfortable. "Even back then." She pulls Phi down for a kiss, solid and eager. In the past hour Phi has gone through almost every first with Akane and she feels off, even though she liked it. When Akane runs the sole of her foot along Phi's calf she feels she's shaking and she holds Phi's head against her breasts, shushing her. Her hand along Phi's spine is gentle and sure.

"I don't understand," Phi admits. "What happens next?"

"We enjoy the moment." She shifts underneath Phi to get comfortable. "And maybe we get dinner later." They lie there, breathing together and relaxing more by the moment. Phi shuts her eyes and feels like she could fall asleep pillowed on Akane's body. "Do you regret it?" Akane suddenly asks, sounding unsure for the first time since she led Phi into her bedroom.

"No." Phi traces Akane's ribs. She doesn't remember when she started wanting Akane. The more she learned about Akane, the less she understood and the more she wanted her for a moment, a night, a year. Akane wanting her back wasn't a possibility until tonight.

It's startling to learn Akane is just a person; she likes oolong tea and thought experiments but she tears up when she sees cute rabbits and collects mascot keychains. She wants sex and love and friendship. She's uncertain as Phi is right now, just better at hiding it.

Phi nuzzles her breast, quietly reassuring her that she'll learn to be patient, certain.

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3. iron

Junpei lifts Phi's chin with one hand and dabs at her bleeding scrape with the other. He sighs like it's the most unpleasant task in the world but he's gentle and apologizes when she hisses. "How do your teeth feel? Loose?"

"No." Her jaw aches, and her tailbone because he seated her on the edge of the tub and won't let her get up until she's clean. The suspect punched Phi in the face when she relaxed for a moment; Junpei knocked him to the floor. She's had people get angry on her behalf before but they're usually named Sigma.

"Good, adult teeth are a pain to replace," he says without explaining how he knows.

From this angle, she can't see his hands but judging by how he winces when he touches her they must hurt. She grabs his wrist and pushes his hand away, holding it tight. "Trade places."

She has to twist his arm but forces him to sit so she can ice his knuckles. They're bright red and swollen. He tries to jerk his hand away when she touches them. "Behave."

"You're not my mom," he says.

"I'll call her and tell on you," she teases, and smiles when he chuckles.

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4. in absentia

God, does Diana fight when Phi asks her to go into hiding before the final mission. She agrees, reluctantly, after Phi pulls a dirty trick and calls her "Mom."

The flat Crash Keys set Diana up with is huge, stylish, and comfortable. Diana sulks on the couch, arms crossed and staring at the wall. Phi stands awkwardly by her side before sitting down. Diana turns her head; Phi scoots closer. She puts her head on Diana's shoulder. "Say goodbye," she urges.

"No." Diana puts her arms around her, squeezing her close and tucking Phi's head under her chin. "Come back."

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5. truth

Gab is blind and deaf now, but his nose is sharp so he always finds Diana when she's in the kitchen. All he needs to do is sit at her feet and she coos and feeds him cheese and deli meat and bread. She buys a tiny tasting spoon and lets him try whatever is for dinner. As a result he's more hog than dog now and he follows Diana everywhere.

Phi, slighted, tries to entreat him and play with him but he remains Diana's number one fan. Phi brushes and bathes him gently so he won't get mats and brushes his teeth. She buys him tiny shoes so his paws don't burn when it's hot outside. Every time, he wags his tail at her attention and then leaves to sniff out Diana.

"Why don't you like me?" she gripes one day when Diana is out and Gab is whining in the kitchen. Gab circles the kitchen, sniffing the baseboards, and then sits at her feet and "boofs" as if she's hiding Diana.

Phi realizes then her love is doomed to be unrequited.