It was the day before they were scheduled to land on the nearest US occupied planet, Adeona. Nadia stood in the hallway, thinking, before slowly opening the door to her and Brenley's shared room and walked over to her bed. She sat down and stared into the distance. They had all been practically made to go see psychiatrists given what they had been through. She had never been to one before, and each session always left her with a lot to think about.

"You good Nat?" Brenley asked from his bed.

"I dunno. I just… I just don't know what I'm gonna do next year, let alone my life. I can't imagine doing a PhD when I'm not even able to remember a string of six numbers."

"I'll help if you do want to, but you absolutely don't have to. If you wanna take a break year, I think everyone would understand that."

"And do what? I have like zero savings."

"Feliks can-"

"No, no I don't want to just fucking, mooch off him."

"Then do work for him. I'm sure he can find a position in Vozmet that won't require too much mental strain."

"Mm." She stared into the distance, then smiled. "Maybe I can be a correspondent for rich assholes. Just… annoy them to death by talking at half speed with a slurred voice."

"Perfect, there you go."

She paused, slowly losing her smile. "Seriously though, how am I supposed to be a fucking scientist when my brain barely works."

"You know Braiden? My brother who's a fucking neurosurgeon? He has ADHD and he is literally the most forgetful person I've ever met. He doesn't know anyones birthday besides his own, despite being there when Corina was born. He forgot the word 'cranium' in a test, he forgets to turn off his lights and stove so often that I had to rig up a system where they automatically get turned off if he calls a certain number. He forgot where he put his car multiple times, he forgot his pin multiple times, he almost got in trouble for forgetting to do his taxes. And yet, he's a neurosurgeon. We don't live in a vacuum. He didn't open up your head on his own he had help. I'm sure if he did it on his own you would be dead after he forgot a damn glove in your CSF but there are other people there. With just a few reminders, hes fine. No research happens alone. I mean fuck, I forget shit all the time, or I can't do something due to sensory issues or whatever, but I still get shit done."

Nadia gave a vague nod. "I suppose…"

"You'll be able to do it, I promise. Plus, if you want to find your own thing, you do now have access to quite literally the best possible person to write a recommendation letter for you. You show up to a job interview with a letter from Feliks and they will hire you on the spot."

She chuckled. "Really just milking the fact that you have a famous boyfriend huh."

He shrugged, somehow looking both guilty and unapologetic at the same time. "Can ya blame me?"

"No, I suppose not."

Normally, this sort of thing would keep her from being able to sleep for hours. That night though, given her injury, sleep came easier than ever.

The next day, they had found a relatively private room with a view to watch as they approached Adeona. It was rocky and barren, with a few hubs set up, surrounded by grass and trees. It seemed that while the atmosphere could support life, the ground had little to no nutrients which meant plants could only grow where they supplied dirt. They stood by the window, the light from the nearby star Peregrine illuminating them. Nadia glanced over at Brenley and Krupin, both of their faces were hard to read.

The temperature suddenly dropped a few degrees as slow shadow moved across them, a ship drifting into view. It was sleek and massive. The Vozmet fish adorned its side. Brenley stared.

"This is yours?"

"This is mine." Krupin said. His eyes seemed unfocused.

Nadia had almost forgotten that Krupin was in fact, the third richest person in the world. He took a deep breath. "Yeah. That's Persephone. She's part of our fleet. I mean, Vozmet has ships all over but she's one of our corporate ones. As in, I use her to get around and stuff." He leaned over, resting his arms on the back of Brenley's wheelchair and his chin on the top of his head. "Your life's gonna change a bit Ellie."

"Yeah… no kidding."

"You okay with that?"

"I think so."

"What's it doing here?" Nadia asked.

"I'm funding some shit to make our stay better, she's just bringing supplies and random shit. Also picking Kristina up, she has to go back to Lincoln."

"Already?"

"She does like 90% of the work required to keep this company going. She also needs to deal with some press stuff regarding me since, I'm stepping down from CEO for a bit."

Brenley twisted in his chair, frowning up at him. "You didn't tell me that."

"Only just decided this morning. Took a lot of nagging from her but I finally agreed."

Brenley gave a curt nod. "Good. If you went straight back to your crazy job I would smack you into the next dimension."

Nadia agreed, "Yeah, you need break man."

"I don't want it, but apparently according to my therapist I have an 'unhealthy relationship with work' so…" He gave air quotes.

"No offense hun," Brenley said, "But he's right."

"Yeah I know."

Within an hour, they had landed. They had to be shuttled down in a much smaller ship, given the big ones couldn't take off due to their weight. Reporters were gathered around snapping pictures, but luckily they had apparently been roped off so that they couldn't get closer than a hundred yards or so. Immediately, they were brought to a sort of government housing compound where they would stay for another week or so, apparently to make sure everyone was healthy and had been interviewed by the authorities to get a full account of what had happened. They weren't allowed to leave, though they could walk around the building and property. Apparently the higher-ups wanted them interviewed and monitored, just in case anyone had been 'influenced' by GIRA, or had just been badly affected by it. This meant Krupin almost constantly had someone following him, rumor was they had deemed him a suicide risk.

Jim was allowed to stay with them, though when the authorities had first heard about him, they had taken him away, presumably to interview him. He had seemed very nervous both before and after that. Now though, he was just allowed to stay with the others. He had started growing his hair out from the swept back shaved on the sides style that most of the GIRA men had. His makeshift eyepatch had been replaced with a pair of glasses with one of the lenses shaded out. Nadia had talked to him a bit and apparently he was considering getting a prosthetic eye, though the logistics of paying for it were proving difficult.

Reporters were allowed in but only for one-on-one interviews that the subject agreed to, they weren't allowed to follow people around and harass them, for which Nadia was very grateful. Despite around a million requests, Krupin had not yet given an interview.

Already, he was starting to look a bit better. The bruises were fading, though the ones from the guns lingered for much longer than anyone expected. He was gaining back weight he had lost, as well as the energy needed to maintain his appearance through simple things like shaving and making sure his hair wasn't a complete mess. The bags under his eyes were starting to fade as well, which made Nadia very happy to see. He was still far from his old self though, they all were.

Brenley was beginning to walk around again, albeit slowly, and other injuries were beginning to heal as well, with Saoirse sporting a cast and crutches, along with bandages on her forearms for the burns she had sustained. To Nadia's dismay however, her own injury had shown little improvement. Speaking slower than everyone else and manually forcing her mouth to make the words was becoming a norm now. Every day, Brenley and Braiden played simple cognitive games with her, and while she was improving a bit on the ability to think on her feet, it was still very poor. It put her back in the same relative mindset as after James died. She drifted around almost aimlessly, unable to care about anything, barely noticing time was passing. She also was very tired, often sleeping upwards of sixteen hours a day. Nadia had inquired about what would happen to the animals on Nephelai, as they had just left them their in their mad dash to leave. Apparently, they would be taken care of, and after the planet had been cleared they could come back if they wanted to visit. She wanted to see Sputnik again whenever that was available, but at the same time she dreaded returning to those harsh frozen peaks.

It was a good week before their families were allowed to visit them, and even then it was only for a day. Nadia had talked to her parents over video chat but she was still nervous to actually see them. She didn't even know why, she wanted to see them so badly, but at the same time she was worried. Worried that it wouldn't go as smoothly as she thought, worried that they would start crying over her injury or something which would just make her feel worse about it, worried that it wouldn't be the reunion she was looking for.

They all gathered in the large dining area of the building, with some food set up to the side. Slowly families were allowed in. The first group was the family of a woman Nadia barely knew. They rushed towards each other and embraced, to the sounds of cheers. The cheers quickly died down though as others filtered in and people got too distracted by their own families.

Nadia had no idea that Heidi had a daughter until the twelve year old rushed into her mother's arms. Heidi laughed and picked her up, holding her tight to her chest. She couldn't hear what Heidi was saying but she sounded happy. Her husband joined her a second later, a tall clean-shaven man with black hair going grey at the temples. He hugged both of them, their daughter squeezed between them. Everyone seemed so happy and relieved. A man Nadia barely knew, Jake, rushed to his wife. She held a young baby. Very young. Young enough it would have been born while they were on the planet. He cradled the baby, tears leaking out of his eyes. On the other side of the room, Brenley's family found him and joined him. Braiden was already with him but his sister and parents came with the others. They seemed thrilled to finally be together again. Nadia watched as Mae reunited with who she assumed was her parents and boyfriend. She was so distracted by everyone that she didn't even notice her own parents approach her until her mom was practically already hugging her.

She had already seen them over video but even so, they looked older. It was subtle, but still noticeable.

Nadia's mom, Jen, squeezed her so tight it almost was starting to hurt. "Nadia! Oh my god sweetie we were so worried."

She hugged her back, not wanting to open her eyes. "I missed you mom."

Her dad had never been a huge hugger but he joined in as well. "We love you so much. We're so glad you're okay."

She didn't have the heart to tell them that she wasn't okay. In fact she was pretty far from it.


Across the room, Krupin sat at a table alone, staring into the distance. He had been watching all of the families reunite but now he just had a blank look on his face. There was a slight noise off to his left and he glanced up to see Saoirse sit down next to him, propping her crutches up against the table.

"Oh, hey," He said.

"Hey. No family?"

"Not really. My parents are still alive but… well, you know." He trailed off, face hard to read.

"Yeah. Same for me. Being gay is lonely. I mean, I have awesome friends and stuff who accept me and everything but I still can't help wanting that." She pointed off to a family that were obviously very happy to be together again. "Also, they're only allowing family."

"Exactly." He crossed his arms, looking down.

There was a long almost sad silence before Saoirse spotted Brenleys family. "Why aren't you with them?"

"He hasn't told them yet. But, I think they know. And I think they know something happened between us to make us split up. It would be kinda awkward. Also I think it's best if they're just with him for a bit. I mean, they didn't know if he'd make it back alive or not."

"Yeah, true. So did your parents find out or what?"

"Mm hmm. My dad walked in on him and me kissing. Punched me, then said I was on my own."

"Yeesh."

"Yeah. But," He said, smiling, "Elias headbutted him. Broke his nose."

Saoirse let out a shocked laugh. "Fuck really?"

"Yup. Anyways, I'm sure he told my mom and… haven't talked to them since. I was twenty one."

"I'm sorry about that."

"Is what it is. What about you?"

She let out a long breath and relaxed back against the table. "Came out to my uber right wing parents. Like an idiot. I was seventeen and they gave me the option of getting kicked out or going to conversion camp, then had the audacity to say I should be grateful they didn't turn me in."

"What did you do?"

"Left. Lived with a friend until college. Wasn't fun but… they didn't punch me."

He nodded slowly, looking down. "Yeah. There's a reason I can take a hit."

"I'm sorry."

He nodded again and neither of them said anything for a bit. After a few long seconds she sighed and leaned against him. "Hopefully the law'll change."

"Yup."

"How 'bout this. If it doesn't change, you tell the world we're together. You can go galavant off with your boyfriend and I can find a nice girl to I dunno… go on hikes with."

He snorted. "Go on hikes…"

"Yeah, that's a lesbian activity. That and banjo playing." He frowned in confusion and she grinned, wiggling her fingers. "Dextrous fingers."

"Oh fucking hell." He shook his head. "Anyways, it's a nice idea but I think, I think I'm gonna come out whether or not the law changes." He chuckled. "If I get put in jail then fuck it. The world needs to know that… that even people like me can be gay. Anyways, I have lawyers coming out of my ass for the company already. Might as well put them to use."

"Really?"

"Yup."

"Is Elias on board?"

"Well, he's not coming out if it doesn't pass, hed get fired for sure and he cares about his job too much. And, I understand. I can get my job back, he probably wouldn't be able to. But, he supports my decision to do it." He paused. "I feel like doing that could actually help things. Maybe I can get some, y'know, celebs to come out. The actors nowadays cannot all be straight."

Saoirse nodded, her eyes far away. "Mm. Well, I hope things work out for you, and his family looks nice, so you have that at least."

Almost as soon as Brenley had met up with his family and exchanged the normal greetings, he glanced around. "Is Sofia here? She was supposed to be here right?"

His mother, Esther, nodded. "Yeah Ava just was getting a bit nervous with the amount of people so she took her to another room," She said, in french.

"Oh right." It had been a good while since Brenley had spoken French, to the point where he was almost defaulting to english now.

Esther gave a warm smile before nodding her head at the door. "Here, we'll show you."

He glanced back at Krupin who didn't see him, he appeared to be engrossed in a conversation with Saoirse. At some point he'd have to re-introduce him to his family but now was not that point. There was a split second as he paused, waiting for Feliks to look up. When he didn't, Brenley finally turned and followed his family out, still walking a bit gingerly.

Esther led them to an inconspicuous door then stopped outside it, stepping to the side so Brenley could approach. He paused in front of the door, taking a deep breath, then glanced at Esther who gave him an encouraging smile.

He knocked.

There was a long few seconds before a shuffle could be heard on the other side of the door, and it opened. Sofia stood there, wearing a golden yellow summer dress, her hair in long box braids, a new addition since he had last seen her. Her eyes widened and she took a step forward, hugging him.

"You're okay!"

He smiled and hugged her back, then grimaced as she squeezed him. "Ow. Ow ow. Not so hard."

She pulled back, looking guilty. "Oh, sorry."

"It's okay. It's good to see you too. Is… Ava…" he trailed off and gave a vague gesture, hoping she'd understand. Apparently she did. She stepped to the side and gestured for him to come in.

"Yeah, yeah she's in the other room lemme grab her."

As she did, he stood awkwardly in the corner, absentmindedly rubbing his stomach near the incision site, feeling the dull pain throb through him. Esther swatted his hand. He shot a glare at her but conceded, sticking his hand in his pocket instead.

After a second Sofia appeared around the doorway, holding Ava's hand. Her eyes lit up as she saw Brenley.

"Dadda!" She rushed towards him, almost falling, and pulled up short in front of him, grabbing his hand. He crouched, grimacing as he did so, then squeezed her hands between his, something she preferred to hugs, and grinned.

"Hey baby."

She detached one of her hands from his and touched her chin, then pointed at him. He nodded, still smiling. "I missed you too Ava." He squeezed her hands for another second. "Can I hug you? I promise I won't scratch you with my beard."

She nodded slightly and he gathered her into a hug, keeping good on his promise and holding his cheek and neck away from her skin. His eyes filled slightly as he wrapped his arms around her. "Oh I missed you so much."

After a short second she started to squirm and he released the hug, running his hand over the braids in her hair. "Thank you."

She touched her middle finger of her spread hand to her chin then to her sternum. He frowned slightly and glanced at Sofia. "Whats that one?"

"Oh, yeah, it's 'birthday'. Shes kinda sad you missed her birthday."

He laughed. "Oh I'm sorry fille. We can have a second birthday party okay? Just a small one."

She made a sign saying 'I'm four'

"Yeah, you're four. You've gotten so big!"

She frowned and repeated the sign.

It took him a second to realize she meant she was already four, a second birthday party wouldn't make sense. "Oh, well it's not a real birthday party. It's just because I missed your real one. Maybe it can be a 'coming back' party."

She smiled and nodded.

"Sound good?"

She nodded again, grinning.

"Think you're ready to go out with the others?"

She glanced at the door, then back at him, and nodded.

"Good." He struggled to his feet and took her hand, leading her back out. She stuck close to his leg, almost hiding behind it as they walked back out into the main room. As they entered, trailed by the rest of his family, his gaze found Krupin still sitting with Saoirse and their eyes locked. Krupin glanced at Ava. His brows were raised but not in a bad way, it seemed more of a 'realizing the gravity of the situation' expression rather than being scared or shocked. Brenley gave a small hopeful smile which he returned with a nod.

Saoirse followed Krupins gaze and stared. "Wait, is that his kid?"

"Mhm."

"Did you… know about her?"

"Mhm."

"So are you gonna be, like, a dad?"

He shrugged. "I guess so. Somewhat."

She laughed and jostled him. "Hah! That's awesome man!"

Brenley had fallen quiet as they returned to the table and Ava clambered into his lap. Feliks so far had seemed to respond fairly well. He was glad of it, obviously, but this also meant he had to tell his family. Sofia already knew, so did Braiden, but that didn't mean it wasn't still completely nerve wracking for him. The others were talking among themselves, used to him sometimes not contributing to conversations when he wasn't in the mood. Honestly this just made it harder, since he had to interrupt them and bring it up out of the blue. He spun his ring nervously.

After a good minute or two of hyping himself up, he finally spoke, "Uh, I have some… news."

The others slowly stopped talking, though Braiden and Corina needed smacks from Esther to realize he had said something. He continued to spin his ring nervously, Ava fiddling with the button on his cuff. "So as I'm sure you know, Feliks was on the planet as well. And, well, long story short, we're kinda engaged."

Esther grinned "Oh Flick that's wonderful!"

Corina, who sat next to him, rolled her eyes though it was obviously not serious annoyance. "Oh great now both of you have long term partners and I'm still single."

Esther pointedly ignored that as she nudged Louis. "See, I told you he'd marry that boy."

Brenley froze. He blinked. "Wait. You knew?"

Esther seemed to realize his expression and shrugged, looking somewhat guilty.

He turned to the others. "Did you guys know?"

They all gave small shrugs and nods.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Esther frowned. "We wanted you to do it in your own time."

"Are you kidding me? I've been stressing about telling you guys that for years! In your own time is good and all unless the person has fucking aspergers!" He noticed Ava was starting to get a bit uncomfortable with his slightly elevated voice and quieted down, giving her his hands to fidget with which she promptly began doing, poking at the veins under the skin. Next to him, Sofia was sitting rather awkwardly. She stood up.

"I'm...gonna go."

He glanced up at her. "You don't have to."

"Nah, I'll be back." She held her hand out to Ava as an offering to come with her but she shook her head firmly, opting to stay in Brenley's lap. Sofia shrugged, then headed off.

The others watched her go. Louis was the first to turn back to him. "El..." He said, "We didn't know."

"I feel like you could have guessed that. I've known since I was ten! I've been beating myself up over not telling you for 27 years and now you say you knew the whole time?" He sighed and glanced to the side. None of them knew what to say. "Mom. Remember that time, I think I was fifteen, you asked me to come set the table. And you asked me why my face was all red and I said allergies but I'm fairly sure you knew the truth."

Esther nodded slowly.

"I had just come from crying my eyes out over not being able to come out to you. Because I can't fucking tell people things." His voice caught in his throat slightly. "And you knew the whole time."

"Oh Flick… we're sorry. We should have said something."

"Yeah you should have." There was a tense silence for a few long seconds before he looked up glaring. "Someone say something so you aren't all staring at me with pity."

"I'm bi." Corina said abruptly. They all turned to her, brows raised. "I don't want to… steal your thunder or whatever. But, I like girls and guys."

A smile spread across Brenley's face and he reached out, jostling her slightly. "Hah! Now I'm not just the weird one."

"Oh no you are still the weird one you fidgety fuck."

Esther frowned. "Ori!"

"What? He doesn't mind. You don't, do you?"

Brenley shook his head, still smiling. "Nah."

Braiden put on a wicked grin, switching to english. "Of course you're the weird one. Cocksucker."

"Pussy eater."

Their parents stared at them, horrified. Louis also switched to english. "Jesus Christ you two."

Braiden made a V with his two fingers, sticking his tongue between them at Brenley who responded by poking his tongue in his cheek and curling his hand near his mouth. Esther gaped. "Boys! How old are you?"

Corina laughed. "I guess I would do kind of an in between?" She attempted to combine the two gestures and ended up with her tongue stuck half out and her hand curled into a bizarre position. All three of them burst into laughter. Braiden wheezed.

"You look like the sole member of a really sad gang."

Brenley joined in. "You look like someone whose hand cramped and then they immediately had a stroke."

"You look like someone who is attempting to smoke their own tongue as a cigar."

"You look like an amalgam of all the faces on a pain chart."

They all laughed again and Brenley clutched his stomach, switching back to French. "You two are gonna rip my stitches here." Esther and Louis meanwhile couldn't help but laugh a bit.

Corina shook her head. "How are both of you doctors."

"Shouldn't be talking ms lawyer."

Esther snapped her fingers. "Ooh ooh tell him what happened."

Brenley frowned. "What happened?"

"I got a job. A firm hired the top five out of our class."

"You're in the top five? Good job!"

Louis smiled. "Tell him where it is."

"Roosevelt. The building is only about a ten minute drive from the rutherford campus."

"You're kidding."

"No!"

"Ori that's awesome!" He reached over and slapped her palm. "Hell yeah, bro-ing on salus!" She grinned and he tilted his head slightly. "Seriously though, good job on the top five. That's not easy. And it'll be awesome having you in Roosevelt. You're gonna love it. I mean, it's not the most interesting place in the world but it's alright."

"Yeah I'm looking forward to it." She paused before leveling a serious look at Brenley. "I'm still best man right?"

"Yeah sure."

"Hah! Right on. Also by the way I can comfortably say now that I would like to steal both of your partners because I don't know how you idiots managed it but they are… choice."

Brenley gave her a fake glare. "No, fuck off! He's mine."

"You're trying to steal a gay man and a straight woman?" Braiden said. "Who's the idiot here?"

"Nah nah nah. I can turn both of 'em."

Brenley and Braiden said 'good luck' at the same time, then grinned and fistbumped each other.

"Why don't you bring him over?" Esther said. "We haven't seen him in ages."

"Really?"

"Yeah! He's going to be part of the family soon enough anyways."

"Alright… um, I'll be right back then." He passed Ava off to Braiden with minimal complaining from her, then stood up. As he did, Esther stood up as well. She stepped closer to him.

"C'mere." She hugged him, rubbing his back.

He paused for a second before hugging her as well.

"I'm proud of you Flick." She kissed his cheek then grabbed his shoulders, holding him at arms length. "You're the best son we could have asked for."

"Hey!" Braiden protested.

"Tied for best."

"That's better."

Esther jostled the shoulder she was holding slightly. "Now go get that nice boyfriend of yours."

He blushed slightly and nodded.


Nadia excused herself from her parents to go to the bathroom. In reality, she just went back to her and Brenley's room before sitting heavily on her bed, tears welling up. It wasn't long before she was essentially full on sobbing, though she tried her best to keep it quiet, burying her head in her hands. She heard a voice.

"Nadia..? You good?"

Glancing up, she saw Saoirse standing in the doorway, leaning on her crutches. Nadia let out a bitter laugh. "Oh great. This is embarrassing."

Saoirse worked her way over, sitting opposite her on Brenley's bed. "No it isn't."

There was a brief silence while Nadia stared at the floor, her eyes still hot and puffy.

"You wanna talk about it?"

She took a deep breath, then let it out. "There's a solid chance I'll have to deal with this shit for the rest of my life." She pointed at her head to illustrate her point. "And I- I can't. I can't fucking do that. That's no fucking life."

As she spoke, Saoirse nodded at her, waiting patiently as she struggled through her sentences.

"And that face," Nadia said, "That face you're giving me right now. Everyone gives me it."

"Not sure what you're talking about, my face is leagues above everyone else's."

That produced a small chuckle from Nadia, but only for a split second before it disappeared, as quickly as it came. "It's just… it's the waiting face. The face people give when they're trying to show that they're listening and won't interrupt me as I talk at one mile an hour. It's not you're fault. I mean, what else can you do. But it just sucks. It's a constant reminder of it. And a constant reminder that I'm now a burden to deal with."
"What are you talking about? You're not a burden."
"But I am! I may be a burden that you are willing to put up with but by definition, I am a burden."

"Then so is everyone else."

Nadia rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean. Stop trying to refute me with semantics."

Saoirse paused, not used to Nadia snapping back like that. Then, she sighed. "I know what you mean. But listen, we are all burdens in some way or another. Maybe some to less of an extent than others, but you helped Feliks on the planet right? He probably considers himself to be a burden for that, but you still helped. And I doubt you judged him for it."

"Yeah but his stuff still made life hard for me. I helped cause he's a friend but it wasn't easy."

"That's what friends do. You have friends who are willing to make sacrifices and trust me waiting a bit longer for you to say things is not much of a sacrifice."

Nadia gave a tiny nod. "Yeah. Well, thanks, but I should probably get back to my parents. They think I'm in the bathroom."

"Christ girl you need to find a better way to deal with your problems." She said it in a joking way that was clearly not serious.

Nadia chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose." She stood up, waited for her head to clear as her vision went black at the edges whenever she stood up now, then thanked Saoirse again and headed out. Luckily, her parents didn't seem to notice her red eyes, probably due to the fact that she still had fading bruises around her sockets which masked the effect.

She tried her best to pay attention to what her parents were saying but everything seemed to just go in one ear out the other. Idly, she watched Brenley and Krupin sitting together with Ava, apparently Brenley was introducing him or something along those lines. She gave a slight smile.

After Brenley brought Krupin over, he tried to get Ava to interact with him a bit but given the environment she seemed to prefer to just huddle in Sofia's lap, who had returned to the table.

Krupin introduced himself to her with his normal charismatic way. As soon as the introductions were over, and Esther and Louis were done fawning over him, Corina looked him up and down.

"You do realize you are miles out of his league right?"

"Oh I'm aware."

Brenley gave an offended look. "Bitch! Man fuck you too!"

Krupin made a shush finger at him, turning back to Corina. "So, who is in my league?" His eyes were twinkling.

"Well first of all," She put her hand on her chest. "Me."

Brenley leaned forward. "Are you trying to steal my fiancee from me? Right in front of me?"

"Yes. Now shut it."

Krupin laughed at his reaction. Behind Brenleys eyes though there was dancing amusement as he watched Corina joke around with him.

"Anyways." She said, continuing. "Let me prove my point. I'm young, you rich fuckers always have young trophy wives. I'm pretty." She put her hand flat under her chin, blinking her eyes. "The face speaks for itself. I would however be willing to get plastic surgery as I get older. Also, I'm a lawyer. So any legal fuckery you get in I can get you out of."

"I dunno El, she makes some good points."

"Okay but consider this, I have a dick."

Krupin tilted his head for a second, thinking, then turned back to Corina. "Sorry, he wins."

"I have a strapon."

Krupin grimaced, laughing and shaking his head. "Too far!"

"Fucking hell Ori."

"I was joking!"

"Good."

"How about this." Krupin said. "You be my beard. Best of both worlds that way."

"Perfect! See then I can be a gold digger without having to actually fuck an old dude."

"Old? Since when am I old!"

"Honey… that hair though."

He made a tsk noise and shook his head. "Rude."

"So, Feliks," Esther said, given there was a natural break in the conversation. "How have you been? We haven't seen you in years. Besides the whole hostage situation, I assume that was a damper."

"Nah what are you talking about? Being smacked around by Nazis for a year was a breeze." He chuckled but the others just grimaced and gave awkward laughs at the dark joke. "Seriously though, I'd say I've been doing alright since I last saw you." He shook his hand slightly, making his sleeve roll down to reveal his rolex.

Corina gave a disapproving shake of the head. "Yeah you bourgeoisie fucker."

"Ori." Brenley said, in a frank voice. "We had cleaning ladies growing up you don't get to say jack shit about the bourgeoisie."

She rolled her eyes. "Semantics."

Krupin laughed, his eyes wrinkling. Brenley watched him, a faint smile on his face.


Later that day, the families were all starting to leave, exchanging tearful hugs and promises to see each other soon. Krupin had left the main room, staring out one of the wide windows that looked out over the planet. At hearing a light noise, he turned to see Louis was also staring out the window, his hands clasped behind his back. Krupin smiled. "Oh. Hey Louis."

Louis nodded. "Feliks."

There was a short silence. Louis wasn't quite a conversationalist and was just a bit awkward in general. He took a deep breath. "Um…you know when you came to Beauvoir? What was it, eleven years ago?"

"Twelve I think."

"Yes. Well, Esther said to me then…she said, you and El reminded her of us when we were that age. And you do. I'm glad you found each other."

"So you really did know the whole time huh."

Louis smiled. "He talked about you a lot. Every time he called home it was 'Feliks this' and 'Feliks that' and 'Feliks and I did such and such.' Wasn't rocket science."

Feliks took a deep breath, nodding. "Listen, um, thank you. For accepting El, fully. There's a lot of parents who wouldn't. It just feels nice, for once, to have a family I don't have to hide from. I would have given everything to have you and Esther for parents, instead of my own."

Louis smiled and clapped the back of his shoulder. "You do now."

Krupin smiled, almost blushing a tiny bit. "Thanks."

Not long after, the families had gone, and the building was left strangely quiet. Everyone was in a rather muted mood after all of that.

When Nadia walked back towards the room after wandering around a bit to stretch her legs, she slowed when she heard people talking inside. She paused, standing by the door.

"You don't have to do this." That was Brenley's voice.

"I know. But, I want to. Faster I get back into my old routine the better. I don't think just moping around dwelling on shit is good." Unsurprisingly, that was Krupin.

"What do you think 'constantly talking about what happened' is if not dwelling on shit?"

Krupin sighed. "Listen I don't expect you to understand but I think this will help. Seriously."

"You won't have anyone though, not me or Kris or anyone. Doing a fucking press tour by yourself where they will be asking probing questions just…I don't know. It seems like a bad idea."

Nadia frowned. Krupin was planning on doing a press tour? What on earth for?

She made her way into the room, holding the doorframe as she did. The two of them looked up at her and she tilted her head. "I…overheard a bit of what you were saying. Not much, don't worry. But, if you need someone to come with you I can come. Something to do, plus I imagine you'll be traveling around in fancy cars n' shit which I wouldn't mind."

They glanced at each other and Krupin raised his eyebrows, looking back to her. "Really? You- you don't have to. By any means."

"No, I think it'll help take my mind off the 'future'." She said 'future' in air quotes. "Cause currently that's kinda plaguing my mind."

"Are you sure?" Krupin asked. "It's gonna be fairly...full on I guess."

She nodded.

He turned back to Brenley, shrugging. "Well there ya go I guess."

Brenley still seemed a bit hesitant but conceded, "Alright fine."

They continued to discuss the plan. Apparently it would be about 2 weeks long and despite the name, they wouldn't actually be going many places. The planned interviews were mostly TV with a few website or radio based things. Luckily, Nadia would not be required to be on any, though she decided that she wanted to try being on at least one. Probably one that was more casual.

Eventually Krupin left to go set some things up and Brenley sighed, not meeting her eyes. "Listen I know this is a lot to ask but, can you keep an eye on him? I feel like this much of a change might be a little… rough for him."

"Yeah of course I will dipshit. That's why I'm going with him. He's my friend too you know."

His mouth quirked into a slight smile. "Thanks. I'm still worried about him. Like, a lot."

"He'll be okay. How did it go with him and Ava by the way?"

"Fairly good. I think he's still a bit freaked out by it but he's getting used to it."

"Good."

She didn't expect to be leaving so soon but it was only the next day when she and Krupin were set to leave. It had been hard, saying goodbye to everyone. She had promised she'd keep in touch but she knew that given how humans worked, that probably wouldn't last all that long and they would drift apart. It was always a somber thing to think about, losing friends to the slow turnings of time. She would miss some of them, Saoirse and Mae and Jim to some extent. As she boarded the Vozmet ship after saying her very last goodbyes she was worried the ride would be a bit awkward given she had never really talked to Krupin much alone besides when he was having some sort of breakdown. She still considered him a friend, she just realized most of their interactions had been while brenley was in the room. Naturally her worries were unfounded, she should've known, Krupin was as he always was, easy to talk to and excellent at keeping a conversation going.

The next two weeks were basically a blur. It probably didn't help that her brain wasn't really up to par on the memory aspect so a lot of the interviews and fine details of their interactions simply slipped from her mind. Luckily, they were all recorded so she didn't have to remember them. She had ended up appearing on two relatively small ones. Had she been able to speak faster it might have been more but in the current state she was a bit embarrassed to have a bunch of people hear her speak. Krupin for the most part held up fairly well. He had a few moments where he had small panic episodes or bouts of depression but all things considered it was less than she expected. None of that came across in the interviews, he seemed perfectly fine with what happened. Nadia was frankly impressed at how good he was at hiding his real feelings. Had he done this for his whole career?

When it finally came to an end, they landed on Roosevelt at the space station Nadia and Brenley had left from, through given they were using a private ship the experience was vastly different. It had been a long time since she had seen the perpetually dusk sky of Salus and Nadia took in a deep breath, smelling the humid air filled with the scent of wet grass and trees. She had gotten so used to Salus's lack of a day night cycle that she didn't realize how much she had missed the reliable temperature and light levels.

They were waiting in a sort of courtyard surrounded by trees and Krupin glanced at his watch. "He said he'd be here at 12… Where is he?"

There was a sound in the distance easily recognizable as a powerful car engine. Krupin frowned, then smirked. "Oh boy."

All of the sudden, a lamborghini skidded around the corner and did a half donut before screeching to a stop in a cloud of tire smoke. Krupin half covered his mouth, laughing as the door popped open and Brenley stood up out of the drivers seat, wearing a pair of shades. He slid them down his nose and raised his eyebrows. "Hello boys." As if the lambo and the shades weren't enough, his hair had also been cut. Most of the afro was gone. His hair was still not short per se, it was just shorter. It formed a curly mop on his head which was cut close at the sideburns forming an almost mini fade.

Krupin gaped. "Ellie, your hair."

Brenley gave a shy smile, taking the shades off and folding them up. "You like it?"

"I love it! Oh and tell me you didn't buy a fucking lamborghini."

"Chill, it's rented." He glanced at Nadia. "Waters, I have a present." He patted the top of the car with the flat of his hand. The other door opened and Sky got out, stumbling slightly.

"Jesus christ Nadia, never let him drive. He's ridiculous."

Nadia stared at her, speechless. Sky grinned and they rushed forward and hugged each other.

"Fuck I'm glad you're okay bitch." Sky said.

"I missed you fucker."

Meanwhile, Krupin went over to Brenley who smiled, leaning against the door of the car. "Hey."

"You're looking good," He said, then grabbed his face and kissed him.

Brenley made an "Mmmph!" noise and tore his head away. Krupin frowned as Brenley wiped his hand over his mouth. "Sky doesn't know you idiot."

Krupin turned to see Sky staring at them. Nadia peeled herself away from the hug.

"Well, didn't know." Brenley said, sighing slightly.

Sky grinned and cupped her hand to the side of her mouth. "Gaayyyyyy!"

Krupin grinned back and pointed at her. "You know it!" He turned back to Brenley. "Well, she knows now." He hugged him. "I missed you."

"I missed you too. From now on, we aren't gonna be apart for that long okay? Because I was getting lonely."

Krupin smiled. "I agree. I love you too much for that."

"Sap."

Sky meanwhile turned back to Nadia. "He is not at all like I expected."

"I know right?"

"Also, they're a thing?"

"Yeah that's been going on for a good while now."

"Crazy." Sky shook her head in disbelief.

"So," Brenley said, shifting from one foot to another. "You don't mind I cut my hair? I mean, you always liked it long before."

"I love you El, not your hair. I mean, I do love your hair too but like, it's secondary."

After a long few seconds, Nadia made her way over to Brenley. He grinned at her and

she hugged him, smiling as he hugged her back. She realised this was the first time she had hugged him where neither of them was desperately needing some sort of support or help. It was the first time they had hugged while happy. She wanted to savor the moment.

His beard scratched the side of her head where his cheek pressed into her. His voice was soft enough that only she could hear. "Missed you Waters."

"Missed you too Batshit."

They separated and Brenley gestured at the car. "Well, should we get going?" Their bags would be taken in a different car, given the Lambo didn't exactly have much trunk space. As they got in and started driving, which Nadia found to be just the experience Sky warned about with Brenley absolutely abusing his Lamborghini privileges when there was no one around, he pointed to the wrapped box that was on the middle of the seat. "Another little present Nadia."

She frowned. "What? Okay." She unwrapped it. Inside, there was a note with a little thumbs up drawn on it, 'nice job Waters' was written underneath it. She smiled slightly and took it off the piece of folded black cloth it was sitting on. The fabric was silky and smooth and as she took it out, it unfolded into a rather bizarre shape that took her a second to recognize as a master's hood trimmed in the science gold.

Brenley grinned through the mirror at her shocked face. "Pulled some strings."

"But… I basically missed all of last year! I did miss all of last year!"

"Well, catch is you have a month to write a thesis on the evolution of graphene production."

"I have what."

He chuckled. "You'll be good. Not a full thesis. And, I'll help. But so long as you do that, you have a masters degree. And the nice little KKK hood to match."

She smiled, turning the cloth over in her hands. "What about next year?"

"I mean, if you wanna do a PhD, you can. You have to do the interview and everything but I'm one of the professors that's in the interview. I will one hundred percent give you an unfair advantage. Also I'm fairly sure they'll want you. You're kinda famous now."

"Or," Krupin said. "You could come work for me. Again, you have the job if you-"

Brenley reached over and put his hand over his mouth, muffling his words, fake whispering. "Is having a TA I actually like for once too much to ask? Shut it." He spoke up, looking at her through the mirror. "Don't listen to him. Ah!" He pulled his hand back, glaring at Krupin. "Did you fucking lick me?"

"Yeah."

"The hell?" He wiped it off on Krupin's shoulder. "Nasty bitch."

Nadia and Sky were laughing at them as they got into an obviously not serious argument. Sky glanced at her. "You're the belle of the ball here huh."

"Apparently." She turned the fabric over in her hands, then glanced back up. "I'll think about it."

"Yeah no rush," Brenley said, shrugging. "You have time."

It was a decent drive back to the campus and in the soothing orange tinged light from the perpetual sunset, Nadia soon fell asleep.

Brenley stared down the road, his elbow resting on the windowsill. The car was warm and surprisingly comfy for a sports car. He glanced over at Krupin, a slight smile on his face as he watched him breathe slowly. Sky had scooted to the middle seat so Krupin could recline his seat back. He was curled up slightly, sleeping. He looked peaceful. Nadia and Sky were also asleep, their heads resting on each other. Technically, Brenley could turn on the self driving and sleep himself but driving was a good distraction. He let out a long breath and turned the aux on, playing music quietly as to not wake the others. Rain started to patter against the windshield. Normally, he hated driving in the rain, but now he was just grateful it wasn't snow.

The End