Miri
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We ended up making camp not long after, settling down in a cluster of rooms about a dozen floors up from the security checkpoint. It wasn’t much of a camp, of course; we hadn’t packed for that kind of thing. We just found a place to stop, eat some snacks, spread out our jackets and blankets, and try to get some sleep in. Sleeping should have been the easiest thing in the world, with the Spire’s internal lighting having dimmed with the setting of the sun, and our exhaustion sunk in bone-deep. The key word being “should.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about Quinn. I don’t think any of us could, not really. I kept looking around the room, expecting him to be there, expecting that he’d arrive with a dumb smile and a bunch of bruises and a story about how he escaped by the skin of his teeth, but he didn’t. His absence was like having a bit of you gouged out, leaving a sucking hole behind.

Eventually, hours later, I couldn’t stand it anymore. Being around the others was too much. Moving as quietly as I could, I got up, grabbed my bunches of clothes in a pile, and set off for literally anywhere else. I walked around the interconnected rooms, caught between my desire to get as far away from everyone else as possible and the knowledge that if I strayed too far I might not find them again. I tried not to think about Stephanie holding me back, about Xara offering to sacrifice himself once again, about Miri holding back sobs. And I wandered.

Then, in the dark, came a voice. “Cathy?” she said softly.

I wheeled around, heart hammering in my chest, adrenaline telling me to run. It was Miri. She had brought a small shoulder bag with her as well as her staff, apparently preparing for a long search. “Hey, Miri,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“Trying to find you,” she said. “I was worried that…”

“Couldn’t sleep,” I said. “Couldn’t stop thinking about Quinn, couldn’t stop thinking about Steph and her bullshit. So I’m walking.”

Miri didn’t look too great. Her eyes were red, that color that eyes get when you’ve cried so much you run out of tears. “Yeah. Do you think… Do you think he’s still alive?”

I nodded. “Of course he is. He has to have figured some way out of it. He’s just… just taking a while is all.”

“You’re probably right,” Miri said, her voice wavering. “And if you aren’t… we have that video, don’t we?”

“Yeah, we do.” I took a moment to look around at the room where Miri had found me. It was a smaller room, capped off at both ends with doors. A private room.

“Do you want to come back?” Miri said. “You should really get some sleep.”

“I think… I think I’ll sleep here.” I walked over to the wall and threw down the bundle of clothes and blankets in my arms. “You know where I am, so you can come get me in the morning.”

I leaned my back against the wall and slid down onto the makeshift pillow. Halfway down, though, some bump on the wall hit the wrong part of my carapace, and a stabbing pain ran through my midsection. I let out a shrill hiss.

Miri, ever paranoid, immediately ran over to my side, dropping onto her knees and setting down the staff beside her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s something on my carapace?”

Miri looked down at her lap and said, “Can I take a look? I have some first aid supplies, I think.”

I hesitated. I mean, if Miri was asking to take a look at me, that clearly meant she was prepared for whatever she might see, and it wouldn’t be weird of me to accept her aid. All I had to do was not make it weird.

“Cathy?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”

I turned around, keeping my elytra spread. After a moment, Miri said, “I don’t see anything. Do you think you could get that shirt off?”

It’s just so she can see if you’re injured, Cathy. That’s all it is. This is just for your health, it’s not weird to take your shirt off in front of friends. 

I pulled my shirt up over my head, tossing it onto the pile of clothes next to me. At once, Miri made a pained noise.

“What is it?”

“Well, I know what the problem is,” she said. “There’s an area right under your wing joint that looks really discolored, like it’s this pale grey instead of black, and it looks like a bunch of the carapace material got stripped away.”

“Oh, I know what that is,” I said. “I got a hole in my environment suit a couple of days back, and it took me a few minutes to repair it. That’s a chemical burn.”

“Mhmm,” Miri said. “I have some stuff in my bag, a bit like vaseline, I think that might help to keep it protected while it heals. I’ll get it and put it on you.”

“Um, I can reach back there,” I said. “You don’t have to do that.”

Miri was already ruffling through her bag. “No, really, it’s okay. I mean, unless you don’t want me touching you. In which case, I get it.”

Obviously I wanted Miri to touch me. I just didn’t want her to realize quite how much. “Okay, sure.”

Miri took the small tin of gel in one hand, and with the other she started smearing it across the burn. Even though it stung, the contact felt incredible. My face started to feel warm, and I couldn’t help but imagine Miri touching me more firmly in other places. 

“This reminds me of the time you tried to make a waterslide in my backyard,” Miri said. “I had to use up every band-aid in the whole house to cover all of the scratches.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. But it was totally worth it for that one slide. That was probably the most adrenaline-pumping thing I’d ever done before I got my wings.”

“Mhmm,” Miri said. “Though, now that I remember… after I was done fixing you up, didn’t we end up making out?”

“Oh, we did more than make out,” I said. “I couldn’t use my hands because they were too scraped up, so I had to learn how to–” I stopped, realizing that Miri probably remembered, and also that she almost certainly didn’t want to hear. In fact, she’d stopped moving. “I’m sorry, that was too much.”

“No, it’s nothing!” Miri said. I turned around to see her hiding her face behind her hands, unable to make eye contact. “I’m done.”

“Oh, okay,” I said. We briefly made eye contact. Her eyes looked so beautiful in the half-light, her pupils dilated. Then she glanced down, and I realized I wasn’t wearing a shirt.

“I should probably get dressed,” I said.

“If you want to,” Miri said. “I mean, it’s not like you have that much to hide.”

She did have a point. My chest was more or less a smooth curve from collar to waist, like a suit of armor, with my stomach being a series of heavily articulated overlapping plates for flexibility. I started giggling at my own unnecessary modesty, then remembered how most people reacted to seeing my open mouth and slammed my hand over it.

Miri raised an eyebrow. “You can laugh in front of me,” she said, as though it were an absurd tautology.

“But I don’t want you to get grossed out by my… weird… insect mouth parts.”

“I think they’re called maxilla,” Miri said. “And honestly? At first it was weird seeing them at human scale, but I’ve gotten used to it.” She shrugged. “They’re kinda cute, really.”

“Cute?” I said. I learned something new about myself in that moment: I liked being cute. “But I’m. A bug. I’m a giant bug.”

“Yeah, and giant bugs are cute. I like the way that your mouthparts all fold together when you close your mouth, and the way your wings flutter a little bit when you get excited.” Her eyes went up, above my face. “I especially think your antennae are cute. I mean, they’re so fluffy!”

“They are pretty fluffy,” I said. “You’re… pretty cute too,” I said. “I mean, obviously, you’re spectacularly pretty, I’ve told you a million times, but I guess I want to return the favor because you’ve been complimenting me so much and I don’t want you to feel unappreciated and oh gosh no I seem to be rambling a little bit I’m sorry Miri I should just shut up.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” Miri said. “I think. I think there was a compliment in there, it was hard to tell.”

We paused. Then we laughed. This time, I didn’t try to suppress it and just let myself giggle for a minute, until eventually we calmed down, and it was just us and the dim, quiet chamber.

Miri opened her mouth to say something, but didn’t. Then she did it again. On the third attempt, she straightened her back and brushed the hair out from in front of her face before saying, “Cathy… Can I touch your antennae?”

I sucked in a breath. It really shouldn’t have been anything major; it was just like letting Miri touch my hair, and friends touch each other’s hair all the time. “Sure. Be gentle, though, they’re sensitive.”

Miri nodded and slowly extended out her hand. I made it easy for her by tilting my head forward. Then, gently, Miri brushed her finger along the filaments of my left antenna.

Immediately, I forgot everything that was happening as an electric sensation ran down my spine, exploding into a brilliant glow in my lower stomach. A noise escaped my mouth, halfway between a trill and a low moan, as my eyes drifted shut and my antenna curled instinctively around her finger. In that instant, all I wanted was for Miri to keep touching it forever.

Miri, meanwhile, quickly recoiled, her eyes wide with shock. “Oh,” she said. “Oh shit. They’re that kind of sensitive.”

“I’m sorry! I had no idea, nobody else has ever touched them before! Oh my god I’m so fucking sorry, I just tricked you into giving me some kind of weird insect alien hand—”

“Hey,” Miri said, holding up a hand. “It’s alright. You didn’t know I was about to oo-mox you, you had no way of knowing, it was an innocent mistake.”

“Right, yeah,” I said, ignoring what I was fairly sure was a Star Trek reference. “I’m just… I know we dated for a while, and that probably makes it easy to get too comfortable around each other, but I’m not the same as I thought I was, so I don’t want to, like, trick you into doing things with someone you’re not into or anything.”

Miri looked at me strangely, her brow furrowed, curling a lock of hair around her finger like she was trying to figure something out. “If we did do anything—and I’m not saying we will—but even if we did, it wouldn’t be because you tricked me. Like it wouldn’t be a bad thing. I don’t know why the idea of intimacy scares you so much.”

I blinked at her, my antennae drifting to the side. “I’m not… What are you… Miri, I’m not a man.”

“Yes? And? Do you think I forgot that? I’ve been calling you Cathy this whole time.”

“But you’re…” I took a breath. “I mean, I’m not a man, and you’re only into… you know, men. So it wouldn’t be right.”

Miri stared into my eyes, her jaw slowly falling open and as an expression of growing shock crossed her face. “Catherine Lovebug Sierra you beautiful idiot, I’m bisexual!”

The air escaped from my lungs like a punctured balloon. “You are?”

“Yes!”

“You never told me!”

“Maybe because I assumed it was obvious to anyone who had eyes and a brain?”

“When did you even once make it obvious?” I asked.

“I was in the GSA at school.”

I shrugged. “I assumed you were putting the ’S’ in GSA.”

“I wore a bi pride pin, like, frequently.”

“You wore a lot of pins, Miri,” I said. “I wasn’t sure which one was which, and it felt like it would be rude to ask.”

Miri, whose expression had gradually been sinking as she realized the magnitude of my ignorance, finally collapsed into her hands. “I would literally tell you which female celebrities I thought were attractive…”

“I mean… straight women can find other women attractive,” I said. “And I always thought you were just trying to get in on the conversation, you know? Be one of the guys or whatever.”

Miri groaned. “Cathy… No… I have a poster on the wall of my room, which I know you’ve been in, of Poison Ivy in a plant bikini with her tits half-out. What is the straight explanation for that?”

“I’m not going to interrogate every bit of nerd paraphernalia you have on your wall, okay,” I said. “I just thought it was, like, an eco-feminist thing.”

The look on Miri’s face made me worried for a moment that she might scream loudly enough to wake everybody up. Instead, she let out a long, slow breath and said, “No, actually, you’re right, it was an eco-feminist thing. Eco-feminism is when you want someone to sit on your face, right?”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I said. “You’re bi, and I probably should have paid more attention.”

“You gotta forgive this idiot,” Miri said quietly to herself. Then, still quietly, to me, “I guess I should have seen this coming. I’ve always been a little insecure about being too loud about my sexuality. Plus, considering how obvious some of the signs were that you weren’t cis…”

“Yeah…”

Miri fell silent again. She glanced down at her lap, then up, looking into my eyes as she got up onto her knees and shuffled over to me. We were close enough that I could feel her breath tickling at my antennae, see the slight flush in her cheeks, smell the intoxicatingly unique signature of her pheromones wafting off of her skin.

“So, now that that’s out of the way… Do you want to—” She broke off for a moment to giggle at her own thoughts, then continued with a grin on her face. “Do you want to do some eco-feminism?”

“What are you talking about?” Then I got the joke. Even if I hadn’t, the heady scent of hot pheromones in the air would have told me everything I needed to know about Miri’s intentions. “Oh.”

Before I could even really think, my hand had grabbed a fistful of the fabric of Miri’s shirt and pulled her down to me until our lips met. She planted a soft kiss on my mandibles. I wanted more. I opened my mouth, outer jaw layers grasping onto Miri’s cheeks and chin, drawing her in so that I could taste her mouth against my maxillae. Miri’s eyes shut, and she pressed herself against me as though she never wanted it to end. 

Suddenly, I regained my senses and pushed us apart. “We shouldn’t do this.”

“Why not?” Miri said. “I want to do this. And considering where your hands are, you clearly want this too.”

We couldn’t do this. There was no way, after this long, at this moment, that we were going to go back to the way things had been before. My mind couldn’t allow it. “Wh-what if we wake up the others?”

Miri rolled her eyes. “If we made it through that entire spring break camping trip without waking anyone up, I think we can go one night.”

The memories of that particular week returned to me entirely unbidden, and I’m pretty sure the temperature of the room increased by at least twenty degrees. Miri hadn’t moved, but her lithe, athletic body felt achingly close. The warm feeling in the bottom of my stomach continued to pulse and grow. 

“I…” I hesitated, pushing through the increasingly insistent complaints of my endocrine system to put together a coherent thought. “Are you sure this is the right time? I mean, Quinn just got captured or killed, we’re running for our lives, this doesn’t feel like a time we should be getting frisky.”

“Maybe it isn’t, but dammit I’m tired of waiting for the right time,” Miri said. “We could get shot by cyber-nazis tomorrow and never have a chance to do this again, and that’s not a risk I want to take.” She put her hands on my hips, just above the waistband of my pants, and let her chin drop to her chest. “I’ve spent way too much of my life trying to do the neat thing, the proper thing, the correct thing. Now’s the time when I want to do something reckless.”

“Is that…” I hesitated. “Is that why you broke up with me in the first place?”

She nodded. “I figured that, seeing as you were moving away, it would be best to call it off early. That letting go would be the… upstanding, dignified, wise thing to do. Well, fuck all of that. I’m done doing the wise thing. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I’m going to get you pregnant.”

“Oh my god I love you so much right now.”

“I love you too, Cathy,” she said, before pulling me in for more kisses. After a moment, we pulled apart again.

“Um…” Miri said, her romantic pheromones cut through with embarrassment. “Are you…? Can you still…?” She briefly glanced down at my lap. 

That was an awkward enough question that it took me several seconds to answer it, mostly because I was too busy spending that time laughing and chittering. I used the gap to scoot over onto the pile of spare clothes and blankets. “I, um. Yes. There’s plenty down there.” Then, because I had no idea how I was supposed to answer that question, I went ahead and added, “It’s a bit different from what you might be used to, though.”

“Different, huh?” Miri said, crawling next to me. “Well, good thing I’m a biology major, then.”

“I’ll give you a lecture,” I said, hooking the hem of Miri’s shirt with my lower hands. “You can take notes.”

“Mhmm,” she said, putting her hands on either side of my pants. “We can call it field entomology.”

And the rest was some very fond memories.

This chapter has been scheduled ahead of time, as I will be in a hospital, completely wrecked on pain medication when this gets released. If you want to support me through my recovery period, follow the links below to support me on Patreon or donate to my Kofi.

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