Pirate Airlines.
The pilot chapter revised.
Some of you might mistakenly remember a second. You're mistaken.

“PULL – LIFT - PULL”
The seamen on the deck of a steamer running late from Newfoundland to Panama were hastily coordinating.
Late enough they had to cut through Cuban waters.

“I hate this part...”
“they know the risk”
”US, YOU MEAN? WE'RE THE RISK RIGHT? READY TO GUN DOWN WHOEVER-”
”IT CAN BE US OR SOMEONE WHO WILL”

A modest 'splush' and ripples preceded both light and flag signals, plus a few seconds of steam horn for good measure, pleading for free passage. Everyone on board now nervously fixed their eyes on the aircraft that had been circling them for the past five minutes.
Like no argument had just taken place, a white mink was rushing to the tail of the plane, trying to keep steady, as she rigged together a fishing boat winch and some other lines from a shrimp boat.

“Fifty!”

Ain was screaming from the cockpit, should he apologize? He didn't say anything wrong.

”Forty! ...Robin list!-”
”KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE FUCKING WATER!”

Echoed from the back, maybe he should, apologize, although in a better time

”Thirty!”

It was not an easy maneuvre, the aircraft needs to be slower than when landing, or the lines will snap, but stalling this close to the waves could end disastrously
and the constant shaking, plus a very noisy left engine doesn't make concentrating very easy.

”That damn thing, four times she fixed it.”

He thought to himself, then felt sorry. Robin was doing her best and he'd be nowhere without her. “Nope, mind on target.”
The weather was somewhat choppy, it was windy, making approaching even harder, no clouds however and the water pretty, crystal blue, maybe they could watch the stars lat-”Fuck”.

”FIVE! -PULL!”

The recoil was felt all the way through the frame, knocking to the ground one metal cup not secured well enough to the small galley, which rolled out of the cargo door.

”YOUR CUP FELL OUT”

They had two.
They were identical.

'Outpost Lima' is a small, uninhabited crescent island a few miles off the Cuban mainland.
Some limited vegetation gave way to a modest plateau, perfect for a fireplace, Of their wild plans to turn it into their perfect base of operations with stashes of goods and spare parts, the only standing 'structure' was a half-buried barrel full of seawater, at least useful for keeping fish alive.
It doesn't have any sandy beach but the lowest point of the cliff can be reached from a ship's deck, or standing on the wing of a flying boat.
Robin called it her front yard.

“Homesick?”

Ain'd often tease her.

”You talk a lot of shit for someone with no- I like it that's all... I didn't mean to-”
”Yeah, too livable to remind of your frozen wastelands”

He replied tauntingly lifting her small figure with little effort.

”THEY'RE VERY LIVEABLE TO ME IT'S YOU THE ONE WITH NO FU-”
”HON HON HON LE NEGIE ET-”

Intelligible words began to loudly leave her mouth, kept very close to his ear, which she secured in place for her stream of transcontinental curses by forcefully gripping at his head and neck. Almost risking him losing balance, and both falling from the wing into the water below.
it was good to let her valve out before confronting her about what happened before.

”Listen I'm sorry for earlier. I get it. No one wants to-”
”No. You're right. And we need the protection... and it was my idea to work for them. Hell, I even gave myself a call sign, I just didn't think it would be like this.”
”Captain Octane, the terror of Insurance companies and star of stories fathers will be able to tell to their children, about that time they were attacked by pirates, what a monster.”
”Stop it. You think it's great calling yourself a pirate now?”

She tried to fight back but her mood was already lightening.
He chuckled a bit.

”Oh what's so funny?”
”You painted 'CORS-AIR' on Mask's tail”

She couldn't resist smiling, still in his arms:

”Stars will be out in a few hours, you plan on keeping me captive up here until then or can I go start a fire?”
”Mind If I set the radio up?”
”Immensely.”

Robin had fixed their onboard radio to be able to receive AM broadcasting, when on the ground they'd hoist a kite. It worked great, so great in fact that it would pick up all possible stations, often more at the same time.
Ain grew to like it, for him there was 'melodical poetry' in listening to Caribbean folk music interrupted by propaganda and then some French song.
On the contrary...

”REALLY? I KINDLY ASKED-”
”I think we can pick up the lunatic from Radio French Guyana again!

They were screaming across the bay, the speaker he used to communicate with the ground now crying about some infallible Chinese remedy with guitars in the back and a French man asking the time.

”The one with the balloon?!”
”It can't be a balloon! it would be too high to stably broadcast! and wires that long would weigh it down too much!”
”What else can reach this far?!”

Ain liked to imagine a tower reaching to the stars, appropriately shaped like the famous one in Paris, but he went through enough of that for today.

As the first lights of dawn approached it was time to depart.
Now, the real good thing about stealing on a permit was freedom of sale.
No fences, no black market, they could even refuel wherever they liked.
The Cubans resented the Americans for falling back on their promise of freedom after an unexpected blunder during the Spanish-American war, and the Spanish for, well anything you could resent the Spanish in this part of the world.
And a crate of imported scotch was definitely a good hit on a nigh isolationist island country. Especially for anyone who couldn't stand rum anymore, and thought that a bottle of bourbon is only good for target practice with high-caliber rounds.

”One hundred an fifty-two, one hundred and fifty-three, one hundred and fifty-f.... uhhh yeah, one hundred and fifty-three bottles still intact.”
”Ain...”

He could feel her glaring at him, a smug and piercing look, as she sat across from him.

”What...”

He tried to play dumb to no avail.

”C'mon now...”

His plan was seemingly foiled.

”Ahw... really? Just on-”

He was resorting to a plea but felt interrupted as he caught a hint of playfulness in her face:

”I count, one hundred and fifty-two.”
”I could love you right now.”

She was somewhat taken aback. They never entertained that prospect, would she mind? She wasn't sure, she surely didn't want to be caught looking surprised or moved in any way by that comment. Call it pride, call it stubbornness on not letting him have the satisfaction of it. Whatever she was to say it needed to be natural, just like with any other of his taunts.

”I-.”

shit.

”uh?”

SHIT
With time she had learned to one-up him on dirty jokes, remarks, and even suggestions. But this wasn't it. He never humoured about actual intimacy. What an awful thing to even humour about. Not that the subject was awful. But using it as the butt of a joke surely was. If it was a jok- YES IT WAS A JOKE don't be so naïve.
Naïve? Odd choice of wording. You mean like 'getting your hopes up'? Which hopes?
Don't tell me that sounded like something to hope for. IT'S NOT AND- Wasn't there some monosyllable to answer?
Shit.

”I like scotch too, no need to get so corny”

Passable if painfully defensive.
But it was not over.

”Hey I didn't mean to rile you up”
”You didn't!”

Screaming now? As if looking sideways crossing your arms didn't look stupid enough.

”What's gotten to you?”

This is what floating boxes must feel like.
Silence was her only sound as her mind went in circles, “we're both adults, we can just talk about it, stop acting like a schoolgirl” but before she could speak:

”is this about yesterday”
”WHAT!”

She screamed in her head, but sided any other thought and waltzed through that opening:

”Yeah! Captain Octane and her vast riches of... scotch whisky, haha....”
”I swear we'll move on from this one day, I do, we'll do that flight across the Antarctic you wanted to make.”

Robin just smiled and nodded, was that it? Another tease? Could he not read anything? Was he just that fucking blind?

”...one hundred and fifty-one?...”
”Don't push it.”

It was time to get moving.
The morning sun was well above the horizon now and the water surface was beginning to ripple again.
Ain began his regular checks before take-off like he had done a thousand times.
Just eyeing half a dozen displays with their numbers varying degrees of fading, behind glass varying degrees of cloudy. Probably just as reliable as just looking at the palm leaves wave in the wind, regardless of how readable they were.

”Breeze from south-west.. twelve knots...”

More than good enough weather. Time to undock.
To say that the aircraft was docked wouldn't even be a hyperbole actually, as it would imply the existence of a dock in the first place, instead, two buoys, one tied to the centre of the crescent, and the other closing the circle kept the plane in place, mooring after a landing could be done from the cockpit and cargo door with the help of the right equipment, but for take-offs, Robin would release the taxing craft from the water before being pulled on board, there were definitely better ways, but she didn't mind this one, she looked forward to drying her fur at an open side door after every take-off.

”Moorings ready!?”

He shouted from an open window in the cockpit. Leaning from his chair holding the glass panel open with one hand. Keeping it from sliding back down was just another thing that once done automatically just by the design of the aircraft now needed manual action.

”Buoy one clear! Start the engines!”

Robin shouted back.
Some of the small levers he switched probably actually served a purpose when the aircraft was new, without half of the controls re-routed for a reason or another all with the grace of a power line in a Brazilian favela of our days.
He'd say it was force of habit. But really it was really fun to mess with those switches.

”Starting engine Two!”

Another automatic procedure by then, start the fuel pump, check hydraulics, two feet away from they were originally supposed to be checked from, the usual.
Why start the second one before the first? Very simple actually. For some God-forsaken reason, neither would start otherwise.

”Good start!”

The flying boat trembled as the roaring sound of the piston engine filled the air.
Now the other one. The left one.

”Starting engine One...!”
”Engine One...!”
”...”

...

”We're not selling any liquor today are we Ain...?

He sat for a good ten seconds with his head pressed on the yoke as he before answering with a single, stretched, loud frustrated vowel to the inquiry about his intentions on the matter of wanting to take a nap and be woken up when the plane was ready for take off.

Like a procession, the work began, a wide hammock-like canvas was stretched all underneath the wing as to catch any falling tool or component, and allow the engineer to get her hands on the lower part of the engine while laying on her back, Ain laid prone above the wing, tools beside him, arms dangling below, trying to cooperate as he could.
By now the sun was well up, and while Robin could enjoy the shade of the wing and the comfort of the canvas, Ain laid well exposed directly to the fiery ball of plasma scorching the sky just twenty degrees above the Equator, Miles below the Tropic of Cancer. Sure it was a much different climate, but not many hours ago at the same latitude it was lighting the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Not just that but also the very metal wing he was prone upon was heating like a frying pan.

”Adjustable wrench!”

The backlight obscuring his face as he leant forward, barely able to mask just how everything right now was getting on his nerves. Losing the engine again right after such a good score would have been enough to warrant a tantrum. Sure he might have been the more composed of the two. If that was worth anything considering the other. But he very much had his limits too.
With a groaned tone he'd echo each request as he handed the right tool.

”Wrench...”

She just ignored the clear annoyance in his voice. She, well they didn't have time for complaints. Especially as pointless as she knew they were gonna be. She just extended her hand to grab the adjustab-

”Ugh. That's the parrot wrench-no it's fine that'll work to...”

A tool.
'Kling'

”...”
”...Adjustable wrench... Please.”
”The other wrench...”

Again she tried to ignore his increasingly hostile tone. It was contagious: the more she listened to it, the more she felt like lashing back at him tenfold. Sure helped her to get over that little argument about the bottles she had with him. Or more precisely the one it caused her to have with herself. She focused on the open belly of the engine. Its innards occasionally lit by the sunlight reflecting on a wave. Mesmerizing really.

”Grease can!”
”Don't you have enough always smeared on your hands? Like enough for the entire British Airf-”
”ENGINE”
”GREASE”
”CAN”
”...”
”you didn't say pl-”
”I'M CLIMBING OVER THERE, START RUNNING.”
“Grease...”

She gently grabbed the can with one hand, then immediately grasped his wrist with the other, fixing her feet beneath the wing she pulled with all of her strength.

”REALLY!?”

Robin turned over, now comfortably resting her chin on her crossed arms, smugly admiring her 'work'.

”It's not the time to play in the water!”
”I COULD HAVE BROUGHT SOMETHIGN DOWN WITH ME!”
”Even you aren't that stupid!”

Ain, now sitting at the side door, was patiently waiting for her to extend an arm and return the grease above the wing. He'd be lying if he said he didn't appreciate the fresh dip at least one bit. But that wasn't nearly enough of a reason to ever let that slide.

”Are you going to sit there all morning or can I count on your help again?”

He didn't reply.

”Fine Ain. I'm sorry! but this will take forever on my own, I would also like to have lunch! eventually!
”Got anything loose sitting beside you Robin?!”
”uhhm, no. Why!? NO YOU-

With a single pull, he untied the slipped bowline keeping one angle of the sheet in place.

Now there are certain aspects of cohabitation with a different specie that you never really get accustomed to, maybe some habits or other things.
Ain knew minks could hold their breath for dozens of minutes, but now that information failed to escape the very back of his mind.
A few had already passed.

”Robin?”
”....”
”Hey it's not funny..!”
”ROBIN!”

He dived in just to find himself startled as she pulled at his feet, dragging him further underwater.
They simultaneously emerged to the sound of her laughter. 'Serves you right'.
But she was cut short.
He was gasping for air.
Coughing.
Struggling to stay afloat on his back.
He wasn't the only one who had forgotten the natural aquatic capabilities, or in this case, lack thereof, of their companion ”Oh god what was I thinking. Shit shit shit”, she quickly got both to the side of the aircraft and helped him up.

”Please- I'm sorry! Are you-”
”You're fine!... I was worried...”

He cut her off, genuinely happy to see her.

”Y-YOU wa- were worried?

She replied, still recovering from her slight panic.

”You were down a lot...”
”Yeah we.. do that for a living back home”
”Oh right... I forgot...”

He said lifting his back and resting on his elbow, turning towards her kneeled-over figure, her concerned look turning somewhat confused:

”You dove in the water to save me? Without bringing any floa-”
”I was scared, I didn't think I had the ti- I guess I forgot that too..”
”I'm...”

“Sorry” she was trying to say. Her little mischief feeling outright evil now.

”I Care about you.”

Outright cruel.
Not only that he was concerned about her enough to forget basic safety. He hadn't even reproached her dumb prank. She expected him to be... Bitter? Smug about how stupid she had been? Anything but not... whatever this was. This was unusual. She tried to ignore the detail but definitely noticed. Something was off.

”I didn't mean to, you know-”
”Try to kill me?”

Or maybe not.

”Oh, good to see your usual self is back, thought I might have lost him at sea”

And just in time, before she started having deja vus on what she was feeling right now.
She just opted for a break.

”I say we eat and finish later?

She got up stretching her back and rubbing her stomach.

”You're cooking.”

He replied still laying on the floor damp from his own clothes.

”But I did that yesterday!”
”And almost drowned me today.”
”Great, will I have to hear about it for the rest of my life?”
”You could always try harder, you won't have to that way.”

She just rolled her eyes and got to work.

With no spirit and time to unload everything again, they made do with Mask's galley.
A tiny cupboard sporting a single tiny propane fuelled stove next to a valve tap that dispensed clear water.
Ain once inquired if it wouldn't be easier to install one fuelled by the plane's fuel and just link it to the wing's tanks instead of wasting space carrying a gas canister on board. But Robin politely explained what a massive dumbass he was to even consider something like that.
Overall it got the job done and then some.
The thick smell of sizzling cooking oil quickly damped the entire cabin.

”And what do you think you're doing with that kite?!”

The mink turned her head away from the stove, towards the cockpit.
Ain was leaning outside the cockpit window fumbling with the thread of the 'antenna'.

”I'm just gonna use the radio headphones, don't worry!”

Robin sat sideways in the co-pilot seat with a full bowl in her hands. Some dried fish, rice, and a few spices. It was surprisingly good, even without considering the kitchen it came from, while both could work a stove, Ain found cooked by her hands, miraculously with no grease in the dish, better than most of what he could make.

”Food's ready, can you get it yourself or the doctor ordered you full rest for the week?”
”Yeah just a second...”

They really didn't have time for that she thought, no-one could tell how long it would take to finish the repairs, and she really didn't want to be stuck for more than a day. Which would have been inevitable if they didn't get the engine running before dusk.

”Are you-”
”I did it! It's zeroed on a single station!”
”...Wohooo...”
”I see, it's like that uh? I thought you'd like to listen to some of THAT station but...”
”You did it!? The one 'broadcasting from- ”
”'From the centre of the jungle'”

He mimicked their jingle.
There was one station Robin liked enough to make the whole radio ordeal worth it, one that every now and then after announcing who you were listening to, they'd ask if anyone was flying above, “mayday mayday” then let anyone on airband communications ask for a song.
She enthusiastically snapped the headphones from his head and clumsily fitted them on her ears.

”It should be us 'flying above' right now...”

She muttered, one elbow on the armrest like a pillow, cheek pressed into it.

”Yeah and maybe eating some real food at-”
”HOW ABOUT YOU COOK NEXT TI-”

”zzzZZzzcczxzzz HOY TENEMOS LA OPORTUNIDAD DE DIRIGIRNOS A TODOS LOS NIÑOS- Dos de la tarde, Havana, Cuba – MANTENETE LA ESCUCHA - ZZzxxczZ”

”Well it was nice while it lasted. We should get back to work.”

She tossed the headphones back at him.
Silence.
Since the first time the engine broke, a sinister thought rooted in Ain's mind, growing with every failure, he always thought suppressing it until the inevitable was the best option, as, well, there weren't others he could think of. Huge sways of what ifs and what should have been done sooner, “What would I have done back when...”

”Zxzczz It's Two in the afternoon here in Miami, Beautiful day – Matilda! ella me toma dinero y maneja Venezuela! -Zxzzz”

Some cables connected, like the answer was always there. He turned the radio off.

”Are you there?”

She waved a hand in front of his eyes leaning from her chair.

”How long?”
”Hm?”
”How long do you think it will hold this time? A whole month? Couple of weeks? Same story tomorrow?”

He was staring at the horizon.

”What?”

She hardly ever heard him in a tone this serious, and almost got nervous when he turned to make eye contact.

”How long before it gives out at the worst possible time and I have to splashdown in the middle of the Atlantic leaving us stranded?”
”What are you even trying to say?”
”I have to know. Be ready for it.”
”You can't. We can't know. And until we simply stumble across a suitable replacement, or why not, two perfectly good engines just laying in the open, I- we have to make best with what we have. And h- you know that too! What are you even bringing it up for!? Situation's already dire as it is”

A smile formed on his face:

”Two perfectly good engines just laying in the open...”
”...Oh god I don't wanna hear it”
”Well,”
”Whatever! You are right! We're both gonna die at sea next week or something, but I KNOW it's better than whatever you're thinking.”

But his grin showed no intentions of retreating.

”James Crown.”
”Who- noo.”
”Won for the States last year's Schneider Cup in Venice”
”...”
”This year, it takes place in the Keys, Six weeks from now.”
”Even if- Forget even like- Stealing one. You think we can just fit Mask with a racer engine!?”
”The Cup's more than just a race, anyone who ever made a bolt for an aircraft will be there showing their entire line of new toys, including...”
”Nooohohooo don't do this to me.”
”General Electric...”
”...you done...?”

Ain took a long breath.

”If we-”
”AHGHHHHH!”

Getting the engine back in shape took the rest of the afternoon. Exhausted, Robin was already considering skipping dinner and scooting to bed right after the test run, after all, first one to bed, first one to the most comfortable of the two bunks. “First come first served”.

”We could go now”
”Now?!”
”We're gonna burn fuel anyway for a test flight.
”Sunset's in an hour, we'll never be back in time”
”Yeah, spend the night there, dine out, sleep in real beds”
”And blow half of the score on security fees for Mask?”
”We sell to a seaside place and we can just dock there, you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

She knew the only place he could be referring to, she didn't want to admit to herself that that's what he was considering but she knew, a place with seaplane accommodations, a place with the assets to buy their entire stock, Club Aeronáutico Los Castillos, originally from the last days of Spanish rule, kept running to show the world the new government had what it takes to be a regional power, which meant...

”This isn't about us enjoying a night out is it?

Caught.

”It's about your dumb fucking race”
”Hey who said it can't be both, we deserve this”

Well that last part was not easy to argue against.

”And it's a good plan, it's gonna take an entire day to sell in different locations, if not more, you think THAT isn't gonna eat away any profit? Might as well settle for 'bulk discount' and get a good evening out of it too.”

A good evening. She struggled to remember the last time she had a good evening, a good good evening.
One that starts good and ends good.
She wasn't too proud of how much the prospect enticed her. But c'mon, you steal for a living and having harmless fun should be shameful?
She must have pondered for almost a minute, tiredness and not wanting to admit he was right pulling in a direction. The thought of treating herself to some luxury and fun pulling in the other twice as strong. You don't rob people so you can eat dry fish and sleep in a cramped tin can Goddamnit!

”...”
”Sooo..?”
”Start the engines.”
”I knew I could count on y-”
”BEFORE I START TO THINK”

”Lines!”
”Clear!”

They were scrambling like they were supposed to intercept a bomber flying already over their home.

”Starting engine two!”
”Good Start!”

Ain was never the prayer before bed and meal type, but Marx himself wouldn't have resisted making a cross sing in their situation. “Please start”.

”...Fuel pump...”

One breath.

”Okay this is it!”

Two Breaths.

”Starting engine one...!”

“Pleasestartpleasestartpleasestart”
The sun was falling dangerously near the horizon.

”Three...”

“C'mon you did it thirty minutes ago do it now”

”Two...”
”One!”
”One.. Now!”

Ever owned one of those old imported Japanese cars, fourth hand, maybe you decided your daily simply HAD to be an engine-swapped monstrosity of home-made engineering, and one particularly frosty December Tuesday you were gonna be late for work?
Can you remember or imagine the noise it made, five, six, seven maybe? Whole seconds that lasted for an eternity, of what sounded like a trapped animal desperately clawing for a way out from some contraption only a James Bond villain would have come up with.

”...Now...!”

...

”Ain I....”
”One- GOOD START! ENGINE ONE GOOD START! WE'RE TAXIING!”

Both engines buzzed as they lifted the aircraft above the sea.
It was easy to forget how majestic it looked once you got used to it. But now it felt as breathtaking as one's first time.
Even the sunset that looked so menacing from the ground was shining so beautifully.
Each wave an orange gemstone as the firmament was already poking his nose through the pink sky.
It had barely been over 24 hours since the last time they were in the sky, but it wouldn't be hard to think otherwise if you listened to them.

”Welcome aboard Cors-Air flight 79 this is your captain speaking, we are airborne, word to the co-pilot”
”Oh you're the captain now?”

Robin said almost offended.

”C'mon let me have it”
”Ain.”
”Once.”
”Finee, okaaay 'co-pilot' speaking, it's a beautiful evening outside and we will be shortly arriving at uh, Los Castillos, in the meantime enjoy some complimentary scotch.”
”Did you open a bottle?”
”Yeah?”

She was standing behind him, leaning over the backrest of his chair. Ain looked up to meet her face:

”Can I have some?”
”You're driving”
”WE are drivi- Flying, and since whe- almost got me. Pass me a cup.”
”I can't, yoours is at the bottom of the ocean, this is myy cup”
”May I have your cup?”
”Maybeh”

She muttered clumsily sitting down in the co-pilot seat.

”How much did you take already? You're eighty pounds!
”THAT'S NOT NICE TO SAY!”
”You're LIGHT. You're gonna be upside down before we even reach the air club”
”Oh, and yeah right, what's the plan when we reach there anyway? Like- hola! Nuestros just stolen twenty-sinco gallons de whiskey! Quieres negozio?
”Well before you lost any and all verbal capabilities I was thinking of a grand entrance, like a little show.”

The proudness on his face disintegrated as he heard giggling from his right:

”That's how yoou guys earn each other's respect? And like, with Mask? This- camper van?”
”You would have dropped in with a rodman* holding some samples”

(an RSAP, or 'Rodman Short Approach Parachute'. Patented by Rodman Law)
He tried to still sound proud, but it came out sounding like the lament of a grounded teenager.

”THAT'S such a dumb idea, like I cannot- wow, you know, you could have told me a looong ago this is all I had to do- to defuse your lightning bolts of genius.

She takes another sip.

”Hey! Think if I down the bottle I never have to haear about the Florida nonsence?”

He just pretended he didn't hear that second part:

”Not even my idea, that's what Coca-Cola did in New York to advertise their alcoholic brand”
”And how that turn out for them?!”
”Good? June comes and they stop drinking anything else above the 42nd.”
”Figured as such...”

She downs the rest of the cup.

”Now please put the cup away while I think of something else”

He tightened his fingers around his nose bridge before concentrating on the controls again, trying to ignore everything he had heard.

”You know maybe that's not too bad actually- yeah, you barrel roll this flying treehouse and I jump out. Maybe topless and two... cold... bottles strapped to my chest. The only thing covering my nipples... Hah... Haha.”
”...”
”...”
”What the Fuck.”

”I was just joking!”
”I'm turning around. I still have time. We'll sell tomorrow.”

He said and immediately followed through with a wide 180 turn to not knock her off her chair.
Which happened anyway.

”WhOOhh.... Hmfff... C'mooon there's no need t-”
”You wanna talk about it? Please! Do. Not gonna hide it. I want to hear more where that came from. Seems rather enjoyable.”

He wasn't sure which truth-to-sarcasm ratio he put that. At any other time he'd be laughing his ass off.

”Nooo- you made it embarrrassing”
”I Did?”
”Yeah...”
”...”
”I can take care of- my own yknow...”
”have I ever doubted that”
”WELL noow!”

Being the bigger person can be hard enough if you are, so in his case, appealing to reason was straight-up exhausting:

”It's a South American air club, even if we weren't trying to close a deal it would be the last place someone who looks like you and is in your state should be.”
”I just told yoou I can- Ohh I see...”
”See what?”
”You just have a better idea of where someone who looks like- in the state- like- me should be...”

Ain had already enough on his mind and was struggling to follow, his answers got more and more confused, almost mimicking her rambling:

“Please I'm not- not followi-”
”WITH YOU!”

He jumped in his seat almost banking the controls. Startled as she screamed. Startled by the sudden shift of volume. But more from the implications of what she might be trying to say, not like he really knew what she was trying to say, let alone any implication. But there surely had to be some that had to do with “being” and a very loud “with you” dropped in this clusterfuck of a conversation.

”R-Robin?”
”What does soomeone who looks like like me is- looks like? To you?”
”I- this is really not, not the time”
”I know! Like I like- like you like and want me alll for you”
”Robin...”
”C'monnn weren't you saying you woludd- like- you'd like to have... Love Me?
”What?”

While she certainly was referring to his “I could love you” comment from that morning.
What his brain managed to fish out that gibberish had more about “making” love.

”Diddnt youu?
”Robin I said something like that!”

Well he didn't shy from dirty taunts every so often.
But were always dirty enough in meaning and language to be painfully obvious.
“I would like to make love to you” Was something he couldn't and couldn't remember have said.
Even calling “Shagging” something like “Lovemaking” would have been and definitely felt now too... Intimate. Romantic even.
And he was beyond sure to never have advanced any such suggestions to her.
Although.
It wasn't because he wouldn't have cared to.
Sure, she wasn't much of the typical standard of feminine beauty.
Incredibly short even for her specie, chest flat as a surfboard, overall unwomanly in everything she did. Not exactly the image that 'sexy female body' projects in your mind.
But she was still incredibly cute. Probably even more because of that.
Had a cute butt too...
Probably not the best time to second this line of thought he scolded himself.
Anyway, it was a conscious decision to not go down that road with her. Easier that way.
Fine. There might have been plenty actually of teases and remarks between the two. But it was always empty humour.
There was always clear control over how horny a situation could get.
There was clearly none now.
Thankfully they were almost back to Lima, where he could face what the fuck was even happening with all due calm.

”Cooome onnn.. heh why dont yoou turn the plane arnoud again? But like.. from yoursside. Not- mine and then you make me like- fall on you this time. Heh. I wuudn't even ralize you did it on purpse...”

She lent further towards him with both hands on the armrest . Trying to get him to look at her.
He noticed her trying to squeeze her chest together with her arms like there was anything to squeeze in the first place.
He had to resist cracking a smile, it was pretty funny all things considered.
She looked fucking ridiculous.
And cute.
Kinda.
She was now even trying to give him pretty eyes, but only came off as looking as if she had just woken up from a seven-hour afternoon nap.
Ok, now that was just goofy.
And cute.

”Ain.....”

She was trying to look tempting, with results not a notch less silly. She rested her chin on her hands above the armrest, rising her back, wiggling about.
Wiggling.
She looked just so fucking stupid.
But that was a cute butt she was swaying around. Like her.
Damnit.
You know. That's probably a bad idea period. Regardless of complicating things between you two.
Look at her.
I don't just mean now. Yeah, she's obviously in no state for such a thing. That'd be a real asshole move. You've known her for so long now, well relatively speaking at least. But still, you wouldn't do that to the closest person to you. The only person you have close now actually.
Definitely not a good idea now.
But in, well, better conditions?
Would you?
Sure she is a pretty sight when she dries herself after a takeoff. Wind in her fluff. There's something about her thick neck fluff that's... Inviting. It's so soft, makes for great hugs. Smells nice too. She smells nice too. Really nice actually. It's hard to describe. You'd think the mix of gasoline and engine oil would be off-putting.
But really.
It's... Nice. Homey.
But there was more than just that. Some scent you could only describe as 'cheerful' as absurd as it sounds.
HOWEVER.
However. Ahem. However... Get your fucking mind together Ain for fuck's sake.
She's Robin.
The goofy-gremlin sized otter creature you've come to swear yourself you'd never let anything happen to.
NOT some floozy you get drunk and take to 'see the plane'.
Here's what you're gonna do.
You're gonna put her seatbelt on.
Tight so she doesn't slam onto the controls as you land.
Then you're gonna land.
Then moor the aircraft.
Then I don't know. Go fishing.
Ok.
Easy.
Ain got up and had to manhandle Robin into sitting still for him to put her seatbelts on

”Whooohoo now what are you doingg over hereee??”
”Putting your seatbelt on...”
”Restrainss... haha... Hey that's tight!"

She almost moaned and then went on:

"Didn't make you like thatt.... Heh... Hehe Wanna know something else that's tigh-”
”NO I DO NOT ROBIN.”

Ain went back down on his seat trying with all his power to just concentrate on landing.
For sure not on how fucking direct that was, like. Really? That was just fucking lewd.
Where did she even learn to talk like that? Him probably...
Although that was probably true. Heh.
I mean. She's not just short, but all-around petite.
“Petite”
He ran that word through his head a few times, accentuating a French pronunciation each of them.
Heh.
Suits her well.
“Petite”
You could probably hold her to your chest and-
Fuck-
FUCK.
NO GODDAMNED FUCK FUCK FUCK NO.
SHIT.
He very much didn't want that to happen.
He crossed his legs hoping to whatever deity was above or below them she hadn't noticed what was going on with him.
He could just pretend none of this even happened next day, she'd be very happy about it too most likely. But not if she noticed.
But after all where would someone rambling about how tight she is would be staring at? Not at his fucking eyes that's where.
God-fucking-damned.
Hands sweating cold on the clutch he turned to asses her.

She was distracted toying with her own seatbelt.
Oh god yes thank you yes thank you.
That little panic was enough to bring him back in the condition to get both of his feet on the pedals. Just in time to finally bring that contraption down.

”Heyyyy so you got me- srappde down here.... what else are you wait-
”SPLASHDOWN IN FIFTY”
”Ohhh you- not fair- mh!”

Just land the Goddamn aircraft.

”FOURTY”
”Here comes the cooountdooown...”
”THIRTY”
”Will you remember ALL the numbers this time? There are a looot of numbers out there”

Just land the Goddamn aircraft.

”TWENTY”
”Like threee, nine, fourteen..."

Just. Land. The. Goddamn. Aircraft.

”TEN”
”Sevem... three... threven."
”FIVE! BRACE!
”Twelv-AHHH! Owwww..."

…YEEES. Water!
His mind ignored the sound to his right. Landing with survival granted never felt so great.
He took a second to appreciate it.
“Wow” he thought, a few more minutes and they would have been in the dark.
Ok part two. Moor the aircraft.
Yeah you got this.

”Just sit there while I 'park' the 'treehouse', in silence maybe. If you can.”

With the high of the landing wearing off, unsure with whom of the two he was more frustrated, Ain was just about finished mooring to the second buoy, tricky to do alone, but far from impossible.
He was nothing short of confused about how to feel about the entirety of what just happened, “the engine works, that's good” he tried to distract himself, but couldn't help feeling sorry and well, somewhat weirded out and most of all ashamed, again, he knew he 'did' nothing wrong. And was sure he never would have despite what his body thought. None of this sat right with him. Not even how he behaved. Sure the situation called for extreme answers, but that's not how you treat a friend. Shit.

”That hurt...”

Robin's voice cracked from her seat.
He rushed over to the cockpit to check on his engineer. She was crying.

”Christ! I'm sorry where did you hit-”
”No, i'm fine... it's not that...”
”Please-”
”I'm sorry, I-”
”Don't worry, just- we'll deal with this tomorrow.”

He removed her seatbelt, she had been sitting motionless since the landing, took her in his arms to bring her to the 'good bunk' but was stopped on his way to exit the cabin.

”Can you sit here for a bit?”

She grabbed one of his shoulders. Not even realizing she had been lifted.
He figured it was the least now, he laid on the co-pilot seat and let her rest over him.
After all cold bunk bed is probably not the best place to rest after such an episode.
She tried to wipe away some of the tears but found his hand doing it instead.

”You still got grease on those, probably not the best spot for them”
”And where do you think that would be...? Greased up and-”

Time to leave before any other funny ideas.

”Alright I'm going to b-”
”It was a good plan.”

Of anything he heard that evening, this had him questioning his ears.

”Uh?”
”Would have been fun. You know, with clothes on and everything... And me not-”
”Next time maybe... Heh, when you told me you liked scotch I thought you'd handle it much better”
”I lied...”
”What?”

But she was already asleep.

Robin woke up the next morning to the smell of grilled fish, relieved it wasn't the one of her own vomit. Although in her sleep she had smeared saliva all over her pillow.
She tried to see how much she could remember having said and done the evening before.
To her despair, a lot.
She was in a bunk bed, the good one, not where she remembered falling asleep, that would be on- “Oh God, what else must have I done that I can't remember?” Her mind briefly panicked before settling on the conclusion “C'mon he must have hauled me here so he could sleep in peace, he would never...” in that moment she felt glad about her lonely awakening, well maybe not glad-glad but otherwise it would have been, awkward? She couldn't decide what word would have described it best.
Awkward? Weird place to judge from. Last time I checked you were the one wh-
Eeghh! Enough! It... Hurts to think.
Her waking ritual was however interrupted as Ain realized she was up:

”Starving?”

He said showing off the contents of a sizzling pan.

”When did you catch that?”
”Last night a bit after you fell asleep, kept it in Lima's tank until just now. You know I wasn't really feeling sleepy, it was... mostly an excuse to sit and think actually, but I thought you'd like it”

Odd, she hardly ever heard him this talkative on things that make sense. That was also very nice of him considering how she had messed up and almost forced him on a night landing. Uneasy thoughts resurfaced:

”Did you... Catch any OTHER fish last night...?

She was already regretting exposing him to that question, too late now however.

”Yeah of course I got us one each, who have you taken me for?”

“Phew” she almost said out loud, “went straight over his head”, and from that answer, it didn't seem the one to the real question was 'Yes' too. “Like can you imagine, if he just said right now 'Oh yeah and we also fucked hard last night if that's what you were asking'. Hmp, probably not even him would be so coarse about it” a funny thought she agreed with herself, but ultimately only reminded her of her actions.
Some of her wanted to discuss the last flight immediately, on her own terms ,and move on, but every sound was like gunfire to her brain. So she just muttered:

”Can we get some coffe?”
”Yeah sure, all good with your head?”
”I kinda wish it just wasn't there...”

Ain smirked:
“I don't recall ever having been there in the first place”
He was ready to say, but stopped himself and went for a more sensible:

“That's what you get, can't do the crime don't- ...you get it”

He was nervous, he too knew a strained discussion was due any time now, one where he again, had to act like the responsible one. He'd be more than happy forgetting the whole ordeal, maybe throw a couple of snarky remarks about it but that's it, not like she needed him saying not to do it again. But he knew Robin.
He couldn't even begin to approach what to expect or say, it was eating him inside.
But it wasn't just that, there was one thing that last night he wanted to hear her explain, well over any other things she said. But now, he just felt he had forgotten something and couldn't figure out what.
They sat together over the neatly folded heavy cloth on the ground that made the 'bad' bunk bed, eating mostly in silence.
He began as they were both finishing their meal:

”...Do you wanna talk about-”
”I don't really wanna hear, or make- sounds, possibly ever again if that's possible”

She tried to ignore all sensory inputs for a few seconds, but those only got replaced by a splitting headache and whatever her spleen was intent on doing.
Plus. Any second of silence was another second of her brain undisturbedly exhuming memories of last night.
Dear God the things she said.
Things she did.
Things she tried to do.
'Embarrassment' doesn't cut it enough.
She sat still for a few more seconds, contemplating tying a weight to her feet and diving off the side door.

”Uhh, you there?”
”Yeah I'm... ”

She let out a single frustrated verse then resumed:

”Just know that I'm sorry for anything mean I said...”

Well, that's one behaviour apologized for. Apologizing for being mean wasn't hard. The rest of the attitude she displayed on the other hand. She wasn't sure she was ready. Or that she could ever be. Let's just see how he responds to this first...
“Here it comes” Ain thought, waiting for her to say more.

”...”
”...”

He was surprised somewhat:

”Anything else?”
”What do you want me to say?”

She grabbed her temples trying to avoid his eyes
“Please tell me we're still talking about me being a jerk and not about me being... Whatever I was.” She thought as she went on:

”I know, I know I treated you like shit, that I shouldn't have-”
”This isn't about me, I know you didn't mean half of what you said last night”

She froze and looked toward him:

“You're not...”
”Mad!? No!-”
”Please don't- don't scream...”

She interrupted with a painful expression, then nodded for him to proceed.
Hours of preparation, running inner monologues over and over, dissolving his insides like acid, for nothing, nothing insightful could be unfolded, recovered from his brains' wrinkles like change lost in the couch. Maybe because there wasn't, or maybe there was, but maybe he was right, about not feeling right with how HE behaved:

”I'm- I'm sorry, I wasn't nice to you either last night.”

But she thought of the worst:

”Y-you, what did you-”
”I shouldn't have treated you like a child- shouldn't have gotten mad over nothing, yeah some things you said kinda hurt, but like- what of it, I mean you CLEARLY couldn't have known better”

He finished the phrase almost chuckling.
It was strange. She should have been relieved, if not overjoyed to hear that. Not just to have her suspects disproven, but to know that what she caused was seemingly free of consequences.
Yet. She felt worse. She felt awful. She felt she was awful.
To suspect that of him was vile enough, but to hear him confess forgiveness just made her feelings direr.
Her head feeling like it would explode at any second, her organs on a civil war with each other, her thoughts losing cohesion, it was too much to bare.
Tears began to form under her eyes and all she could muster energy to do was land her face on his chest, not even the strength to move her arms.
He closed the hug with one hand behind her ears, then the other wrapping around her back, in silence.

He tried to figure out for a moment what could he have said that made her cry so much, but ultimately, if she decided to do it like that, it was probably not something he should worry about. They sat there for bit, unable or unwilling to break the silent air.
Eventually Robin spoke up, it would have been hard to deny to him how much comfort she found in that accommodation if she had to, to pretend she was just tired and simply didn't feel like getting up. Of that she was sure, to herself though, it was a different story: It was impossible. She decided she had pushed already too far but couldn't stop thinking: why was that necessarily a bad thing? What wrong is it to-

”We should get up.”
”You feeling better?”
“Yeah”

She answered, lying for the most part.
Ain simply went for the radio, glad she had seemingly recovered:

”Don't push yourself though, rest if you need. I'll see I if I can contact Los Castillos somehow, I still wanna sell there, just- I'll set up something more formal.”

“That was fast” she thought, “was he thinking about that all along, while I-” she put up a sad smile, almost saying “well I'm glad I'm the only one in this thing who doesn't have a brain, someone has to keep the business running”, “maybe he just wants to get rid of that crate as fast as possible”. The smile left: “maybe I'm the reason”.

”I'm gonna have a swim in the meantime, I'll be back soon”
”You sure you can handle it?”
”I'm sure I can't handle not having a cold-ish bath right now”

Ain tried to warn:

”Be safe!”

But she had already jumped out of the plane leaving her cargo shorts behind.
That brought back memories of thoughts, would seeing her drying herself to the wind without them after a take-off ever gonna feel the same? Regardless, he got to work.
It wasn't as easy as dialing the telephone exchange number and ask to speak to a restaurant, he had to do some discreet asking around, luckily it's 'mostly' all friendly competition with colleagues but you wouldn't want to announce you're carrying valuables either, and even after finding a frequency they could receive from there was bargaining to do, not just 'pay us what its worth and we might have prosperous future of dealership' but also the 'please don't screw us over keeping both goods and money' kind.
But eventually, it was done.
While all of that went on Robin was enjoying the water trying to clear her mind, but eerily she missed feeling sad, to wallow in the comfort of it.
To have someone trying to console you. To need someone.
Her thoughts went back to their immediate situation looking for another chance of self-pity, but instead, only found clarity: “he's gonna sell that crate and we'll keep at it like nothing ever happened”, that didn't seem like a terrible prospect actually.

“Still working together...” a familiar thrill she thought forgotten was building up inside her: “I wonder what's gonna be inside the next one” she smiled at the sky as she floated on her back, “hopefully something less destructive, like spices”, “or dynamite” she giggled.

”Time to get back before the dumbass gets worried”

She said out loud, content on how natural that came out, like it was still yesterday morning and he had just dropped her into the water.

”Any news?”

She said climbing into the aircraft.
Ain took his attention away from the music salad playing in his headphones, removing them and turning towards the mink:

”Deal's closed! We get there tonight, safely land, and get to spend the evening there too”
”They're buying all?”
”All one hundred and fifty-one”
”Sorry, how many?”

She inquired, not one bit mad however, almost happy to hear that in-fact.
He explained:

”Yeah, I rounded to one hundred and fifty, then promised I'd personally give one extra to the guy I was speaking to.

She almost laughed in relief which struck him as bizarre:

”That's a mood swing if I ever saw one, found the lost fountain of not having hangovers down there?

Like nothing ever happened.

”Told you, I just needed to get wet a bit”

She noticed however, he was looking at her funny, every day she'd be inside the aircraft with only her underwear on for one reason or another, be it after swimming or for sleeping, she was used to it and never gave it thought, it went both ways: when cohabitation is so close you just get accustomed to seeing each other's bodies.
But this time Ain had an odd look in his face, which most of all, like she knew his kind occasionally would, had turned red.
Like nothing ever happened?

Edit
Pub: 22 Nov 2022 21:14 UTC
Edit: 13 Mar 2023 20:14 UTC
Views: 1924