“Strawberry, or chocolate?” The girl behind the counter asked.
“Uh, man, um, I, um.” Owen stared at the board, indecision etched painfully across his face. He chuckled nervously “This, um, this is harder than it should be.”
“Take your time, sir.” The girl looked at him, boredom apparent on her face.
“Uhm. I think I'll go for chocolate.” He finally decided.
The girl scooped out a curl of ice cream, and dumped it into a paper cup. This was followed quickly by a couple of squirts of flavour syrup, topped up with milk. She slammed it into the machine, and stared into space while it whirred the mix into a shake.
Methodically, almost robotically, she sprinkled shaved chocolate over it, and jabbed a straw in.
“No charge for Colonial pilots.” she muttered, handing over the shake. Owen looked at me, and then back at her.
“Thanks.” He took a sip from the shake, as we stepped outside the shop.
“Well, that was nice.” Owen said, as we strolled leisurely along the street, basking in the sun.
“It was. Good shakes, too.” I replied, my free hand dug deep into my pocket, in an attempt to protect it from the surprisingly biting wind.
“Only thing is, how did she know we're pilots?” Owen mused, sipping his shake. I spun around, walking backwards, and slightly in front of him. I poked out my finger, and pointed it carefully at a point on his chest.
I stared at him, challenging him to look down. He set his jaw, and stared back.
“No way I'm falling for this again. Not this time.” He said, narrowing his eyes.
“Maybe this time you should.” I said, managing, barely, to keep pace.
“I'm sure I should. But I'm not going to.” He said, grimly.
I slowed my walking speed just enough that he bumped into my finger. I swept it up, snapping up past his nose.
“DAMMIT. Frak you, Eli.” Owen swore, rubbing his nose.
“Your wings, my friend, You have them pinned to you lapel. She saw your wings.” I said, chuckling as I slipped back into step beside him.
“Seriously? I thought I left those on my other jacket.” Owen muttered, looking down. “Whatdaya know. Wings, right there.”
“Funny that. You put them there, they stay there.”
“Hey, don't blame me for wanting to show them off. We worked frakking hard to get them.”
“I'll drink to that. Chuck me your flask.” Owen fished out his flask, and unstoppered it. I took it from him, and took a slug.
“Damn that's good.” I tipped a finger or so into my shake. Owen held his shake out, and I tipped a decent slug in.
“Keep going.” Owen said expectantly. I rolled my eyes, and tipped another finger or two in. I handed the flask back, and Owen stoppered it, slipping it back into his pocket.
“To not dying well enough that they let us keep flying.” Owen declared. I raised my cup, and clacked it against his.
“To not dying.” I agreed. I took a drink, and coughed.
“Alright, that was a bad idea.” I coughed.
“Whisky and strawberry shake was not a good idea.”
“Goes well with chocolate.” I raised my eyebrows.
“You think everything goes with whisky.”
“I do not.” I opened my mouth to come up with some kind of witty retort, but Owen cut me off; “Sometimes ambrosia is nice.”
“What? It's true!”
“True or not, you're basically an alcoholic. I'd call you on it more often, if you were any worse at flying drunk than sober.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
“You got it, bud.” I clapped him on the shoulder.
“Another round, my good man!” I said, cheerfully drunk, sliding across a handful of notes to the bartender. He grinned, and poured me a pair of pints. I grabbed them, and hefted them over to where Owen and I were sitting.
“Here we are!” I said, slamming the glasses down on the table. I sat down, sliding one over to Owen.
“To being frakking awesome!” Owen declared, raising his glass in a salute.
“To being the cream of the Colonial Military!” I responded, raising my glass, to clink it against his.
A sudden silence behind us was followed by the scraping of several chairs.
I paused, stopping just before I took a drink.
“That scraping sound what I think it was?” I asked. Owen nodded, downing his pint. “I'm guessing Marines? Big burly types taking exception to our celebrations?”
“That's about the whole of it. Five of them. Big burly types.” Owen replied, wiping his mouth.
“Shaved heads and unit tattoos?” I asked, and took a long drain of my pint.
“They appear to be wearing sleeves, so that's a “no idea” on the tattoos.” Owen leaned in. “But, I can confirm the percentage of shaven heads to be upwards of 83%.”
“Eighty three percent?” I almost choked on my drink, laughing.
A pair of hands grabbed the back of my chair, and spun me around. I found myself staring right at the stomach of one rather heavily built man. Given the cut of his jacket, and what Owen had mentioned earlier, I would have had to go with Marine. I looked up to see an angry face staring down at me. His jaw looked like it had been carved from solid marble with a laser made from pure rage.
“Hello there. I'll be with you in just a moment.” I spun around in my chair, and stood up, back to the marines. I grabbed what little remained of my pint, and drained it.
When I turned back, Marble-Jaw had a vein visibly pulsing in his forehead. I clasped my hands behind my back.
“So, gentlemen. How may I help you?” Marble-Jaw, evidently the leader of the bunch, given that he was obscuring my view of the other's enough that I couldn't come up with witty nicknames based on superficial features (Which was more than a little irritating), leant forward, and placed a large meaty finger on my chest.
“So.” He said, slowly enough that I could detect the menace dripping from the single word. “You think you're better than us?”
I stared him straight in his angry, bloodshot eyes.
“Better than you? Yes.” I saw his eyes narrow in anger, and his torso twist back, as he geared himself to teach me a lesson.
He flung a fist at me. I took it square to the jaw. As I felt my feet leave the ground slightly, I decided that just taking it perhaps wasn't the best plan. But then again, it's not like my plans ever looked like a good idea at the start.
“Nice shot.” I replied, wiping my mouth, making sure there was no blood. My jaw clicked back into place.
“My turn.” I drew back my arm, clenching my fist. Before I could swing, a pair of boots flew past my shoulder, and collided solidly with Marble-Jaw's chest.
He went down about as hard as you might have expected, with a 'oomph', as the force of the blow slammed Marble-Jaw's breath out of him.
I grabbed Owen's arm, helping to steady him as he nearly fell off of Marble-Jaw's bulk.
“So.” I said expansively, to the rest of the marines. “Would you like to see if you can take a shot?”
A big blond fellow with a scar across his cheekbones looked at his comrades, and stepped forwards. I called him Scar-Boy. He was matched by the one on the far side of the group, a hulking redhead built like a proverbial shithouse. Brick, I decided. No, Brick-Head, I corrected, as I noticed the oddly square shape of his haircut. Which explained the 83% shaven stat Owen had mentioned earlier.
The other two of the group, No-Neck and Mr-Chin, named for their respective lack of neck and oddly large chin, moved ominously towards Owen.
I leant over to Owen.
“This might get a little interesting.” He looked at me, amusement scrawled across his face.
“Alright. That hurt.” I said, leaning back, trying to keep the ice pack on my face.
“Yeah, it kind of did.” Owen replied, his voice muffled through a handful of bloodstained cloth held against his face.
“Maybe it was a bad idea.” I mused, closing my eyes and feeling the cold bricks of the cell wall against my shoulders.
“Maybe. I don't like it when my face hurts like this.”
“As you've spent the last hour telling me. Has it stopped bleeding?” I asked, opening one eye.
Owen cautiously pulled away the cloth.
“It stopped about half an hour ago, for the most part. But it's still going on and off. Mostly every time I move my nose.”
“Any idea if Liz is coming?”
“Well, they'll have called her. No idea if she's gonna come.”
“She came last time. Then again, she said it was gonna be the last time.”
“She said that the time before.”
“And the time before that.”
“True. So, basically, it's a crapshoot.”
“I don't think your fiancée would appreciate being referred to as that.”
“No, probably not.”
“Certainly not, I would think.” A female voice echoed slightly in the cell. I looked through the bars, and beheld a woman in a blue sundress. The slight curls of her light brown hair caught the sunlight streaming in through the window, shining a near-halo around her head.
“So, what are you two in for this time?” She said, hands on hips, her eyebrow raised.
“Protective custody.” I replied proudly. “Too many burly marines out for our blood.”
“Oh really?” She asked. She was either not impressed or she didn't believe me.
“Yup. Apparently, two pilots should not insult the honour of an entire marine troop.” Owen brightly replied, talking around the cloth at his nose.
“Who knew, right?” I quipped.
“Well, at least you two aren't going to be disciplined this time.” She sighed, as the guard slid the cell door open, and Owen got up.
“They started it. Also, I blame Owen.” I said, as the two of them embraced.
“You always blame me.” Owen muttered through Liz's hair.
“Because you always start something. Somethings. All things. You start them.” I said, closing my eyes, opening them, and trying to get up off of the bench.
“You look terrible.” Liz said, looking me over as she and Owen separated.
“I feel terrible. I'm pretty sure I've only just stopped being drunk. And I got hit first. In my face.”
“He did.” Owen said, “It was impressive. The guy had a fist like an anvil.”
“They always do, hun. They always do.” Liz sighed, as we headed out of the cell.