Space is a concept I’m familiar with. That I live with.
You don’t become an intergalactic juggernaut by staying at home. By being freaked out by space. By avoiding it.
But this was different.
It was something else.
That’s what it was.
And that’s what I wasn’t used to.
Stars, comets, asteroids, space garbage.
There’s tons of stuff in space.
Voids, black holes, bits of robots I wrecked ages ago. Monsters, even. Lots of things.
This was different.
“Hey, Schrader, are you alright?”
I didn’t look away from the bay. Of all the things in the ship, it was the thing I needed the most.
Well… it was actually the thing I needed second-most.
But the first…
It was… currently unattainable.
So, the bay it was.
Continuing to gaze out at the stars, and the bits of asteroids, I nodded. “Fine.”
There was a thoughtful hum from my comrade.
“But, you only look out at the bay when you’re not fine.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Fine. Then I will be fine. Alright? No need to worry. It’s just…”
And that was the thing.
I didn’t really know what it was.
We weren’t lightyears away. Not on opposite sides of the galaxy anymore. Not on a seemingly endless quest to find one another. We were completely aware of each other—that we were both okay. That we both lived and breathed. That, after all this time, it was still me thinking about her, and her thinking about me.
After all this time, it was still her.
That calculating look in her eye. The sharpness of them. Cutting gems, a murky brown. How quickly she could assess a situation, execute a plan in breaths. She was sharp, and small, and a fighter. Oh, she was a fighter. I always knew I’d fall for a girl who was a fighter. There was no way I couldn’t. It was in my bones, just as it was in hers. That determination—that need to survive, to stay alive—that was what drew me to her. Because it was what drove everything else.
She was, in all the ways that I could think of, beautiful. Strong. Everything I could ever need, or ever want. She was what I thought of for so many nights. Staring at the ceiling, wondering if she was alright. If she made it. All that time, it was her. With every tick of my imaginary clock, it was her.
It was a heartbeat or so more before I realized I had gone quiet. That I was clenching my jaw. My hands were balled into fists. That I was glaring at stars that were eons away.
When I turned to Tank, he was giving me a suspicious look. Highly scrutinizing.
“Yeah… okay. Whatever you say man. But, listen, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here. You know, just… if you feel like it.”
He said it so sheepishly. So meekly.
And so sincerely.
It made me feel a bit guilty.
“It’s just…” I began, faltered, and then finished.
“It’s just that it’s been so long. We’ve both been through a lot since we last saw each other. Like, a lot.” I was rambling, but it felt important. Like it was going somewhere. And Tank wasn’t objecting, just listening quietly.
So I kept going.
“It’s not that we’re different people. I don’t think we are. At our cores, we’re the same. Fighters, survivors. People who aren’t afraid of clawing ourselves out of the dark. Who aren’t afraid to do what needs to be done. That’s what I’ve always admired about her. What I… love… about her.” The word stumbled out, making my face feel hot. So I rushed onward. “But, there’s a lot I didn’t see. A lot I don’t know. A lot she doesn’t know. I just feel like… there’s so much I missed. So much I should’ve seen. Should’ve been there for.”
How many nights did she think about me? How often was she attacked, waiting for someone to take aim at the enemies behind her, only to find herself alone? How often did she have her back against a wall? How often did things look too bleak? How often did she shudder in her sleep, or startle awake at the slightest sound?
Was it as often as me?
The thought made me shudder.
I hoped it wasn’t as often as me.
I hoped with everything I have.
How often did she find herself feeling alone?
Even once would be too much.
But what really got me was:
How often could I have stopped it?
How often could my presence have calmed her?
How often could I have had her back, made her life that much easier—that much safer?
How often did I miss chances, simply because I was far away?
Far too often.
That’s what it feels like.
Like there was so much I missed. Every moment was like a brick being stacked up, or a piece of a cliff falling away. It was getting higher, or chipping away so much. Too much.
We were together. Finally. And yet…
There was still so much space.
So much brick.
So much distance between bluffs.
How could we ever cross over?
How could we ever really find each other again?
She was still the one I loved, but…
How could I ever make up for so much distance?
Tank didn’t speak. He just simply listened. Or, at least, I thought he did.
But when I turned around, it wasn’t Tank standing there.
It was Alice.
Before my shock could take over—and make an even bigger ass of myself than I had earlier—she smiled at me. A kind smile. The kind that melts me from the stomach outward.
“If that’s what was bothering you, why didn’t you just say so? I wouldn’t have had to make Tank trick you like that if you’d have just told me.”
As my face reddened, a thousand excuses began to surface. All of them were shut down by the need to get away, to run. Some animalistic thing inside me was wanting me to run away.
But she saw that.
The “cornered animal” look in my eye.
And she smiled at me still.
Only, this time, she took a step closer. Reaching out, grabbing my hand. Lacing our fingers together in a way that felt perfect, and warm, and easy.
With that one gesture, all the tension went out of me. Deflated like a bad party balloon.
I sighed, looking at the ground, before I gave up an answer.
“I don’t know. I just… well, you know how I am. It’s hard to think my feelings through.”
At that, she laughed. Her smile lingering after the sound had died out.
“Yeah. It’s kind of a pain in the ass.”
Blushing furiously, I dipped my head, hoping the red didn’t show too much.
She shrugged. “It’s okay. You’ll get better at it. And, even if you don’t, you’re right.”
She stopped, and I knew she was waiting for me to dig for an answer.
She wasn’t disappointed.
There was a mischievous smirk on her face as she leaned up, pecking my cheek.
“About us. We’re the same, there’s just been a lot of space. But, that’s alright. We can remedy that.”
“Oh yeah? How? Turn back time?”
Rolling her eyes, she turned away, dropping my hand as she did so.
Giving me a choice.
“Tell me all about it,” she suggested.
And then, she was gone again. Off to her room, waiting for me to arrive. To divulge what I was feeling, what I had been feeling for so long. Waiting for me to approach her with my own pace, with my own understanding. Waiting.
As she always does.
Silly of me to think she wouldn’t do the same thing, even from lightyears away.
Space is just space.
It feels far, I guess.
But that doesn’t mean we’re any different. At our core, we’re still the same.