Captain Ochre stepped out of the Swift, blinking in the brightness of the frisky December morning. She hitched her travel bag strap higher up on her shoulder and looked around at the small bits of snow on the side of the runway. "I can't believe he convinced me to come," she muttered to herself.
She felt a presence behind her. The reason she was there. "You're going to have a good time," a voice said close to her ear. "It's going to be different and you won't see time go by."
Ochre glanced to her right, at Captain Magenta's smiling face, and sighed before going down the steps. This Christmas period had been odd; with a Mysteron threat right in the middle, everyone's schedule had been turned upside down. Colonel White had tried to accommodate his officers as much as he could, and had rearranged the leave arrangements so that everyone had at least a few days off after yet another grueling effort.
Ochre and Magenta had been granted three days, starting on New Year's Eve. The Italian American officer was overjoyed to be able to visit with his family to celebrate and had managed to convince Ochre to come along to New York. He knew she had no real plans and would have probably roamed about Skybase by herself had he not insisted.
They both walked in the direction of the ground service building while other Spectrum personnel took care of the plane and completed its turnaround. "Are you sure your family won't mind that I'm here?" Ochre asked.
Magenta clucked his tongue. "How many times have you asked already? Ten? Not only won't they mind, but they'll probably like you so much they'll want to keep you. I'll have to pry you away with a crowbar," he assured her.
Ochre smiled despite herself. Magenta had been particularly nice lately; perhaps he was beginning to see that annoying women wasn't the way to go... "It was nice of you to invite me," she commented. "You're right, the change of scenery will do some good."
"You should know by now that I'm always right. Besides, how could you resist spending quality time with me?" he asked, opening the door to the building to let her in.
She rolled her eyes. It had been too good to be true. "Please, behave. I don't want to have to hit you in front of your mum," she complained.
He winked at her in his usual, overconfident way, and she remained quiet, not wanting to add fuel to the fire.
They took a taxi all the way to Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn. It was more expensive, but quicker, and soon they stepped out in front of a small, but well-kept house. Ochre looked around with interest at the location, curious about where her field partner had grown up. There were some decorations and lights, as if the neighborhood wanted to hold on to the Christmas cheer for a little while longer. There was a large wreath on the door of the house to the right, and someone had attempted to make a pine tree shape with a protective tarp and wooden sticks over a shrub... it was not very realistic looking, but she could appreciate the effort.
They walked around the house to reach the back, most likely where the kitchen was located, and Magenta entered without knocking. He exclaimed something in Italian and every person in the kitchen at that moment—all women—stopped what they were doing at once. Then, they all converged on him and greeted him with the noisiest, most animated display of affection Ochre had ever seen.
No wonder he's somewhat of a swelled head, expecting women to fling themselves at his feet in awe and admiration, she thought, fascinated by the sight before her.
Magenta was in the middle of it, smiling and greeting the women. Ochre wondered what she was supposed to be doing at that point, when one of the group noticed her in the entranceway. She moved away from the cluster of doting women and walked towards Ochre with an utterly fond and welcoming expression on her face. "You must be Elena! Benvenuto!" she exclaimed, before engulfing the younger woman in a warm and perfumed hug.
"Grazie per avermi invitato," Ochre managed to reply, hoping she wouldn't have to dig through her limited knowledge of Italian for the whole holiday.
The older woman pulled back, cupping Ochre's face in her hands, and cried out, "Mario, she's perfect!"
"Mamma, she's a friend," Magenta warned.
"Of course, she is! Come in, bella!" Mrs. Moro replied, pulling Ochre further inside, closer to the other women.
The young Irishwoman glared at Magenta, as if to ask, What have you told your mother?
He only had the time to look back at her sheepishly before the men in the house came out of the living room and the whole noisy welcoming ball began all over again. Ochre was caught in a whirlwind of presentations, meeting sisters, uncles, cousins—even neighbors—whose names and relations were lost almost as soon as they were learned. The whole process was done in such contagious, chaotic cheeriness that she knew they would forgive her for not remembering everything and so she went along, smiling shyly in return. "It's always like this, lass, you'll get used to it," one of the neighbors said reassuringly.
Ochre blinked at the clearly Glaswegian accent amidst the sea of Italian and American ones. Mrs. Moro hurried to introduce the short, gray-haired woman as Mrs. Montgomery, the next door neighbor, then helped the rest of the women literally chase the men out of the kitchen. Magenta left with the others, taking his guest's travel bag with him after being chided by his mother about not having carried it in the first place. "It's, um, a little overwhelming," she commented in a low voice.
"Adelina loves to have a full house," Mrs. Montgomery replied, taking the younger woman's coat. "That her son could make it this year for the New Year is a true blessing for her."
"Besides, who would want to miss an opportunity to have some of her cannolis! I hope you're hungry, darling," another neighbor, Mrs. Labriola, or Lagorio... Lamberti—Ochre wasn't sure—added.
The women included her in preparing what promised to be a gargantuan feast, chatting amicably and making jokes. "There's going to be enough food for several upcoming weeks!" Ochre commented as she mixed some ingredients together.
"Everyone can take some back home. Even Mario and you!" Magenta's mother replied.
The thought of taking a load of pastries and other assorted goodies back to Skybase (if she could get through security with it) and then trying to run away from her colleagues brought a grin to the young Irishwoman's face. "Mrs. Moro, you better expect several new visitors next year if I do that," she said.
"The more, the merrier!" one of Magenta's sisters exclaimed.
"We won't say no to more handsome Spectrum officers," another sister quipped.
Oh my goodness, they're all like that in his family! Ochre thought, unsure if she should laugh or be even more discouraged.
Eventually, some items were left in the ovens to keep them warm (several helpers had brought toaster ovens as backups), and everyone proceeded toward the dining room. The joyful chaos was still evident, if not even more intense with the addition of the men's voices. As everyone took their place at the table, Ochre found herself seated between Magenta and his father a gray-haired gentleman who had the same sharp features as his son.
Seeing that everyone was settled, the Moro patriarch looked at his wife from across the table and asked, "Will you say Graces, my dearest?"
She smiled back at him and held out her hands to hold those of the people seated next to her. Hands joined around the table and Ochre ended up holding Magenta's and his father's, relieved to notice her own hands weren't clammy. "I am grateful for this wonderful meal we will share, and for having family and friends here together in good health. May this new year we'll begin in a few hours bring us many happy events, and may the Lord bless you all," Mrs. Moro said.
Several "Amens" rose from around the table. When Ochre opened her eyes, she felt Magenta's mother's eyes on her. She blushed and hurried to put her hands on her lap to avoid giving the other woman any more ideas about her son and her. She began to regret her impulsive decision to accompany Magenta to his family festivities. She should have asked Gray, or Indigo, or any other male captain to come along; that way Ochre could have sicced the Moro sisters on him as a diversion.
As expected, the two Spectrum officers were more or less the center of attention during the meal, and had to answer questions from family members. Some were easy to answer. Yes, there really was a pool aboard Skybase, and thinking of swimming at 60,000 feet in the air had been strange at first. Some other questions required a more carefully crafted answer, so that they wouldn't give out too much information. It was known that Spectrum dealt with terrorists, and peace keeping, so it was usually sufficient to discuss those subjects without having to mention the Mysterons, or the horrors their war of nerves caused.
The food was excellent, so was the wine that accompanied it. The dessert, or desserts, rather, were scrumptiously decadent, and Ochre actually considered Mrs. Moro's offer to bring some back to Skybase and absolutely not share with the others. I'll have to camp out at the gym for a week after this, she thought, biting into a cannoli and trying to convince herself that this would be the last one.
Surprisingly, the meal ended rather early, considering this was New Years' Eve. Ochre thought that it was so that they had the time to pick everything up and still have plenty of time to gather somehow in the living room and wait for the countdown, probably watch the Time Square ball drop-off. She soon found out that it wasn't the case. The women stated that the cleaning up would wait, and everyone went to get their coats and prepare to go out. "What's happening?" Ochre asked Magenta.
"It's time to walk off that feast. We're all going to the bridge," he replied.
Seeing her confused look, he continued, "The drop of the ball is too crowded, and we'd have to have gone there hours ago. So we usually go to the Brooklyn Bridge. Much more spectacular when the fireworks go off, and we have a better view of everything."
Someone handed him their coats and he helped her into hers. "So... how do we get to the bridge? It's some distance away," she asked.
"We take the subway." He frowned at her unsuccessful attempt to suppress a chuckle. "What?"
"You mean you lot just amble down the street to the station like a mother duck and her babies?" She sounded skeptical.
"It started out with just the close family, but, soon the neighbors joined in. We're going as a group. It's a lot of fun. I missed it last year because I was on duty and my New Year wasn't complete," he commented while putting his coat on.
"We missed you too, fratellino!" One of his sisters exclaimed, kissing his cheek as she went by.
He smiled at her fondly, then hurried to go and help Mrs. Montgomery with her coat. The older woman thanked him, then said, "Don't forget to stop for hot chocolates."
Everyone proceeded outside and down the short flight of stairs of the back porch to the side walkway. "I'll make sure I buy one for each of you," he replied, putting his arm around her shoulders as they walked to the front of the house.
She shook her head and nodded towards Ochre, who was standing on the other side of him. "Go with your lovely friend. I'm staying here."
"What?" He put his other arm around the younger woman's shoulders. "I was looking forward to watching the fireworks with the two most beautiful ladies around!"
"My son and his family will contact me later on to exchange Hogmanay wishes using the video link since they're in Colorado. I'll go rest a little beforehand. Besides, I'm getting a little too old for this..."
"What are you talking about! You don't look a day over thirty!" Magenta protested.
Mrs. Montgomery rolled her eyes, smiling. "Isn't he a charmer?" she asked Ochre, who preferred to remain silent.
"We can link your line to one of our Spectra-techs and you can talk to them from the bridge," he tried.
Ochre was about to protest that they probably shouldn't do that—if it was even possible—but the older woman replied first, "The Cantonis aren't going either."
"But you're my favorite neighbor!" he insisted, kissing the woman's cheek.
She laughed good-naturedly. "Oh, off with you! Enjoy your time with Elaine."
Magenta actually looked disappointed, but didn't insist. Mrs. Montgomery bid them farewell, and went to talk to Magenta's parents before heading for her house, which was the one with the large wreath on the door. A few other neighbors, and a cousin or two, also left after some demonstrative farewells. The rest of the group began to walk toward the subway station and Ochre took the opportunity to remove Magenta's arm from her shoulder.
They were moving casually along, some were talking quietly amongst themselves. Ochre was looking around with interest as she and Magenta trailed a little behind. "Has your family always been this close?" she asked.
He nodded. "My cousins Vittorio, Carlo and I were inseparable. We used to play in the small backyards, planning rescue missions and other treasure hunts all over the place. We'd set teams with Bryan Montgomery, our neighbor's son, the Cantoni twins, and Pat Donaghue, who used to live two houses down the street. The games usually ended at Bryan's house because his mother gave us homemade cookies and milk." He leant in closer and whispered conspiratorially, "I think it suited Mamma just fine because it meant we were somewhere safe after school while she was working. Since I'm the baby of the family, she tended to fuss a little."
I would never have guessed, Ochre thought, smiling despite herself. "Your neighbor seems like a nice lady," she said aloud.
"She is. Usually, she and her husband would come with us to the bridge, then, on the way back, we'd wait a little and one of the gang would go to her house and knock on her door to be the first in for the year, usually either Pat or me, or Carlo. It'd please them, and we got free whisky out of the deal." He laughed. "One year, when I was away on tour with the Military Police, Vitto went in my place. His girlfriend at the time had dyed his hair blonde because she said it softened his features, or whatever. Apparently, Mrs. Montgomery almost went crazy and nearly chased him down the front porch with a broom!"
"Well, it's bad luck to have a light-haired first-foot," Ochre commented.
Magenta nodded. "I'm just disappointed I didn't get to see that. Carlo told me later that Pat went instead and calmed things down, but Vitto was banned from the house for that year's footing."
They walked in silence, then Ochre said, "I didn't see a Mr. Montgomery..."
"He died a few years back, right before I joined Spectrum. Mamma made sure to invite Mrs. Montgomery often, so she wouldn't be alone and we continued to do our ritual each year. Last year I wasn't there, so Carlo went... I think this year is the first that Bryan couldn't make it back in person, so she's on her own. Actually, I'm surprised Mamma didn't put more pressure on her to come with us."
Ochre made a small sympathetic sound in her throat. "Well, she looked cheery enough. And she'll see him on the video link later on. She was probably half dizzy with Mrs. Leone talking her ear off like she did, that's why she went to rest."
He smiled. "That was Mrs. Laconi."
"Ah! I keep getting her name wrong!"
"I think she'll forgive you," he commented, his smile broadening.
They arrived at the subway station and paid their fare. The station was rather busy, presumably with other partygoers wanting to reach the bridge or downtown, but everyone managed to squeeze on to the same train. Magenta's parents were sitting, along with a few of the older neighbors and relatives, but most stood in the middle, following the train's movement as it picked up speed. With a small, lopsided smile, Magenta leant down so that his head was closer to Ochre's and said, "You know, there are so many people in here, now is the perfect time to casually lean into me..."
Ochre gave him a look, but she was amused. "What if there's a sudden movement of the train and I nearly fall?"
"Then I'll catch you."
She nodded. "I see... Or, my knee could accidently jerk up as I try to regain my balance."
"You're no fun," he grumbled.
The train stopped at a station, then moved again. Ochre held back a sigh when Magenta pushed into her to let someone pass and didn't move back right away. "Do you know what your New Year resolution should be? To stop annoying me. You can start practicing right now."
"I couldn't do that to you. You'd miss it too much. You just don't realize how you crave that attention."
She burst out laughing, drawing the attention of Mrs. Moro, who looked at them with a warm smile. "I don't remember missing it when I'm teamed up with the other captains," the young woman said.
"It's because you know you're coming back to me afterwards. Don't worry, I won't tell the others I'm your favorite."
She shook her head in exasperation, although she had to admit it wasn't totally heartfelt...
Another group of people came onboard and the ones already there shuffled around to accommodate them. Ochre was pushed a little further away from Magenta and ended up next to one of his cousins, who started asking questions about helicopters and mechanics. The young Irishwoman answered as much as she could, thinking that there would more than likely be another Moro recruit for Spectrum soon.
The whole trip took a little less than half an hour, and soon everyone was back up on street level and heading toward the walkway on the bridge. There was a festive mood in the air and some walkers stopped by surrounding shops and restaurants to stock up on hot beverages. Magenta went to stand in line with his father and two other cousins to bring back mugs of hot cocoa for everyone.
"Mrs. Montgomery was right, this is delicious!" Ochre exclaimed after taking a sip.
"Isn't it? You can't come to the bridge without a cup," Magenta's mother agreed, before taking the younger woman's arm and starting to walk.
The group was not going very fast and this activity did not qualify as exercise at all for the two Spectrum officers, but it was very nice, nevertheless. Once they were on the actual walkway, they had to stretch the group out to leave room for other walkers. Normally, half of the walkway was reserved for bicycles, but there were none; it would have been crazy to brave the crowd with a bicycle at that point anyway. They walked to the halfway point of the bridge, and stopped to lean against the railing and take in the beautiful sights of the city. Ochre was looking around, her expression a little childlike, not caring if Magenta was slightly too close to her. "You know, I've flown over this bridge, and under it while chasing baddies, but this is the first time I'm actually on it," she mused.
"This is probably not what you expected to do on New Year's Eve," Mrs. Moro commented, leaning on the railing next to her.
"No. I'm not sure what I expected. I thought I'd stay on Skybase and just rest for a few days, but your son was quite insistent. I'm glad he was, I'm having a wonderful time so far," the younger woman replied.
Mrs. Moro's face lit up in satisfaction and pride, but her attention was drawn elsewhere when cousin Carlo arrived with someone who wasn't in the original group, but was welcomed noisily as yet another neighbor. The newcomer greeted Ochre and Magenta cheerfully and turned to talk to his parents.
Both Spectrum captains turned back to look out at the colorful lights. Ochre sighed. "Another year has gone by and we weren't able to stop them for good," she said quietly, taking a sip of her cocoa.
"You have to look at it differently. Another year has gone by and they weren't able to defeat us. We proved it again just a few days ago," he replied
She shifted her weight on her feet and shivered slightly when a draft blew in from the river. She spread her fingers on the cup, trying to catch some warmth from it. "At dinner tonight, you didn’t tell your family about a ‘few days ago’ " she said.
He shrugged. "They didn't have to know I was locked in a burning warehouse with no way out until Adam rammed into the wall with a Rhino... just like they didn't need to know about the Moon. The less they know, the less they ask questions, and the less they worry. I'm grateful to be here. I want to have a nice, normal holiday."
She digested his words slowly, not expecting him to be so pensive. Looking up at him, she saw that he was staring out at the dark waters of the East River, but he sensed her movement and his eyes shifted downwards to her, noticing that she was trying to warm herself up. "Are you cold? Do you want to go?" he asked.
She looked at her watch. "I can hold on until the stroke of midnight... I should have brought a warmer coat."
He put his arm around her shoulders and she huddled closer to use his height as a shield from the wind. He had been generous with his cologne again; Ochre suspected that it was a consequence of his ordeal in the lunar vehicle's airlock. It didn't smell bad, but there just was too much of it. She thought for a moment about telling him, but chose to hold back since it wasn't the time, and he'd be embarrassed in front of his mother... the thought made her smile. He was the apple of that woman's eye and it felt wrong to mess up such a feeling.
The area filled up progressively as it was getting closer to midnight, and people were pressing on to get a better view at the railing. Ochre noticed that the Moro men placed themselves so that they could protect the women from being pushed around, and since some of Magenta's cousins were even taller than he was, they were rather efficient. Ochre was surely able to fend for herself, but appreciated the chivalrous attitude nevertheless.
There was an almost electric feeling to the air, the general mood was happy and excited, and when some of the surrounding people, who were obviously following the dropping of the ball at Times Square began screaming the official countdown, everyone joined in a deafening rumble that filled the whole walkway.
The final "One!" shouted by everyone, with fireworks launching from various locations, was spectacular. It was as if a wave of cheerfulness shook the bridge, with everyone turning to loved ones for hugs and kisses. The movement caught Ochre before she could react, and despite Magenta's best effort to brace himself and protect her, she was pushed towards the railing. Her cup of cocoa opened, half crushed by the momentum, and went flying out and downwards towards the roadway below, splashing on her coat generously in the process. She watched as it crashed on the road, thankful that the remains of the beverage didn't fall onto someone's windshield and cause an accident.
"Gosh, Elaine, I'm sorry!" she heard Magenta exclaim behind her.
"It's not your fault." She looked at the stain on her coat. "Let's just hope that spilling something sweet on oneself at the stroke of midnight is a good omen somewhere," she commented.
Mrs. Moro turned to extend their wishes to them, hugged her son tightly while speaking in Italian, then moving to Ochre, who quickly covered up the stain so it wouldn't be smeared all over the other woman's coat. "Sorry, I just had a little accident," she explained, and the older woman reached into her own coat pockets to find a tissue.
"We're going to continue across to reach Manhattan before we come back… are you coming with us?" Mrs. Moro asked while Ochre was trying to wipe her coat and her hand as much as she could.
Ochre and Magenta looked at each other. "We'll go home, I think," he said.
"I'm cold, and now dirty… I hope you don't mind?" she added.
Mrs. Moro touched her cheek gently. "Of course not, bella!" She looked at her son and added. "Make sure you take good care of her!"
Magenta nodded and the whole clan continued onwards, leaving them behind. "I just fueled your mum's thoughts of us being more than friends, didn't I?" Ochre asked.
"Uh-huh," he agreed.
They made their way slowly towards the end of the walkway, then Magenta called a taxi. They took their places in the vehicle, and he gave his destination to the driver before sitting back in his seat. Ochre was pulling on her coat, looking at the stain. "Urgh. I smell like an oversized piece of candy," she complained.
"Sounds delicious. Especially since I haven't had my Happy New Year's kiss yet," he replied, waggling his eyebrows at her.
She glared back. "Don't you grow tired of saying stupid things sometimes?"
"Aww, Lainey!" His tone of voice became softer, almost sad, "Lighten up, I'm just teasing you..."
He reached out to touch her hand, which was resting lightly on her lap. "Mario, don't..." Ochre began, but he ignored her and his fingers closed over hers before she could voice her protest.
An odd expression appeared on his face, and he removed his hand, exclaiming, "You're all sticky!"
"I know! That's what I was going to tell you! I couldn't wipe it all off, the tissue tore in my hand."
He stared at his hand in dismay, and she suppressed a giggle, looking out the window.
They arrived in front of the small house, and Magenta paid the fare, including a generous tip, before they exited the taxi. They walked slowly to the back door and stepped into the warm kitchen, where they kicked off their boots and washed their hands in the kitchen sink before removing their coats. Magenta flung his carelessly onto a chair, then went into the nearby bathroom to find something to put on the stain. He came back out with a small container. "Would this work?" he asked.
"It should, thanks," she replied, taking the container from his hand and walking past him. "I still have a chance since the stain is fresh."
She remained in the bathroom for a short while, during which she could hear soft clinking sounds that suggested her field partner was picking up in the kitchen. The quiet setting felt good after the turmoil of dinner, and even that of the bridge, even if it was a little too domestic for her liking.
She exited the small room and saw Magenta finish filling up the dishwasher with a first load and starting the appliance. "Hang it on the stair post so it dries," he said, motioning to his left.
Ochre nodded and placed her coat carefully on the hall stairs, then came back to the kitchen to help him. They made a few trips to and from the dining room with various dinnerware and cutlery—the leftovers had of course been put away before everyone left—piling them up in the sink or on the adjoining counter.
The young woman was coming back with a bread basket when she noticed that Magenta had stopped what he had been doing and was staring out of the small window over the sink. "What is it?" she enquired, putting the basket on the counter.
"Mrs. Montgomery is still up... she's sitting at her kitchen table," he replied, frowning.
"Don't spy on your neighbor, it's rude!"
He made a small annoyed sound at her and didn't look away. "Maybe her son didn't call?"
"I hope he did, it's a quarter to one," Ochre commented, stepping closer to look over his shoulder.
"Not in Colorado."
"He would make her wait all this time?"
Magenta chewed his lip, then looked down at Ochre. "Would you mind if I went to check on things?"
She touched his arm. "Of course not! That's very kind of you. Unless you scare her to death, that is, considering a strange man will be knocking at her door at this time of the night..."
"Well, more than likely, she's seen us through her window just like we've seen her. And when we used to play first-foot, she'd expect us around this time. I just hope nothing’s happened."
Ochre stood on tiptoes to see better. "Well, she seems to be sitting there and reading a magazine, so that's reassuring, don't you think?"
He nodded absent-mindedly, and she was oddly moved by his concern. Her field partner wasn't as shallow as he seemed... She grabbed a plate of cannolis from the refrigerator, and handed it to him. "You'll need an offering. I know it's supposed to be bread, but those are tastier," she said.
He smiled at her. "Might as well do things right... I wonder...?"
He put the plate on the table and went into the living room. Ochre heard him say, "Ah-ha!" triumphantly, then he came back holding a bottle.
She eyed the whisky appreciatively. "Going all out, aren't we?" she commented.
"I'll buy Papa another one before we head back to Skybase." He frowned. "I don't think we'll find any coins. Or coal for that matter."
"I saw a barbecue grill in the backyard!"
"Did you? That'll do!" He actually sounded excited and it was contagious.
He grabbed his coat and put it on. "Are you coming? I have to go in first, you know, being tall, dark and handsome and all, so I bring luck with me, but there are no restrictions after that, right?"
Ochre laughed. "I don't think there are."
She put her own coat on even if it hadn't dried yet, and followed Magenta outside, holding the bottle and plate while he rummaged through the barbecue grill to find a suitable lump of charcoal. The lights were still on at Mrs. Montgomery's, so he crossed the short space between the houses and went up to her porch, managing to knock on the door despite his burden.
The door opened almost right away, and the older woman said, "I thought I had seen you..."
"I come bearing gifts!" Magenta exclaimed.
"I can see that." She grabbed his head and kissed him noisily on the cheek. "Happy New Year, laddie."
She moved aside to let him in, motioning to Ochre to come as well—and kissing her when she reached the top of the porch stairs. "We didn't want to scare you," Ochre began, but Mrs. Montgomery shook her head and hugged her—what was it with these people and hugging!
They settled at the table with the plate of pastries and glasses for the whisky. Magenta had retrieved those himself in a display of familiarity that could have been considered insolent had the older woman not thanked him with a smile. "So, did Bryan call yet?" he asked, pouring some of the amber liquid into the glasses.
"No. He's supposed to do it around one o'clock, so any minute now." She smelled the whisky and took a sip, clucking her tongue. "You'll have to thank your dad for this excellent bottle, Mario," she added.
Ochre tasted her drink as well and nodded in agreement. Mrs. Montgomery took another sip, then slapped Magenta's hand lightly. "Now, not that I want to complain, but what are you doing here, you little rascal? Why aren't you showing Elaine a good time in the city?"
"I tried to, but she decided to play butter fingers with her hot chocolate," he said.
He winked at Ochre, who pulled her tongue at him. "It suited him just fine because he was worried about you," she commented. "He was worried when we left, and he was worried when we came back."
Mrs. Montgomery laughed. "Why? I told you I was waiting for my son to call. There was nothing to be worried about." The videophone chimed in the other room and she stood up. "See?" she added and excused herself to go answer.
Ochre emptied her glass, feeling the strong liquor burn her throat. "She says that, but I think she's happy about the visit," she said in a low voice.
"She's getting older. She shouldn't be alone at a time like this, Bryan should have made the effort to come back," he grumbled, emptying his glass as well.
"You know as well as I do that it's not always possible. None of the officers were free for Christmas Day this year. I'm sure Blue or Green, or even the colonel would have preferred to be with their families rather than tracking down Mysterons. At least, he's calling her."
Magenta refilled their glasses and they sat quietly, sipping their drinks. "I should probably go and say hi," he commented.
"Go ahead. Just remember it's not the time to start arguments."
He stood up and walked quietly to the other room, only to burst in and say something stupid to his childhood friend about missing out on a good bottle. Ochre smiled at the noisy and somewhat boyish exchange of words. If there was some remonstrating to be done, it wouldn't be then and there; Magenta was a surprisingly adept diplomat when he put his heart into it.
He came back shortly, his expression relaxed. "Bryan's wife is pregnant with their third child and she can't travel—I left before it got too mushy," he said.
"The good news keeps pouring in!" Ochre broke a cannoli in half and offered him a piece. "Do you feel better now?"
"I do." He ate the pastry, leaning his chin into his other hand. "I hope you're not sleepy."
"Why is that?"
"More than likely, we're in for a trip down memory lane after this call. She even has photo albums."
"Will I get to see you in your nappies?"
His semi-horrified look, and the fact that he reached for the bottle of whisky told her all she needed to know.
The rest of the family hadn't returned yet when they crossed back to the other house. The pictures had been quite entertaining. Ochre had particularly liked one where Magenta was sitting in the middle of a living room with two other partners in crime (cousin Carlo and Patrick Donaghue apparently), covered in strokes of color markers, and with an interesting fresco on one of the walls in the background. She had also seen cousin Vittorio's infamous blond hair, which actually looked good on him, and a picture of a younger Magenta in his Military Police uniform, next to his obviously doting mother, a younger Mrs. Montgomery, and a man whom she supposed was her husband.
She was given a small, but cozy room, across from what she guessed was Magenta's old room. He gave her priority use of the bathroom as the official guest of the house, but she limited herself to a cat-lick and brushing her teeth. She felt a little sluggish from her first-footing experience and hoped she wouldn't regret it too much later this morning when she woke up.
She was about to settle in bed when she heard her field partner's footsteps in the hallway. He stopped by her door and knocked gently. "Come in," she said in return.
Magenta's head appeared through the opening. He looked a little tired. Either that, or he was also feeling the effects of the whisky they had taken quite a good amount of. "Do you have everything you need? Want another blanket?"
"I'm all set, thanks. You can sleep soundly."
She smiled. "I thought for a moment that you were trying to claim your New Year kiss again."
He perked up. "Do I get one?"
"I'm drunk enough to think you deserve one," she replied, approaching him.
She aimed for his cheek, but he turned his head at the last moment, so she caught the side of his mouth. Ochre thought for a moment that she should have been angry at him, but a little voice in her head told her to shut up and enjoy it while it lasted. He was an endless source of lame and annoying comments, but he was a good kisser...
"I don't suppose you'll invite me in so we can continue this discussion?" he tried, his voice low.
"I'm not that drunk. Goodnight Mario."
She kissed her fingers, touched his mouth with them, and closed the door before the voice in her head could protest.
Author's Notes and Disclaimer
Disclaimer: Thank you Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the CGI team for creating such a beautiful playground! The characters are not mine, I'm having a great time writing the stories, and no profit is intended from this.
As usual, a huge thank you to my beta reader, Skybase Girl, who enthusiastically (and patiently) looks at everything I send her. Sometimes, it even turns into an actual story!
Thanks to Chris Bishop for her hard work on maintaining her wonderful site. I can't believe I sent my first story one year ago already, and she made sure I felt welcome in the Scarletini family right from the start.
Special thanks to Hazel Köhler, who unwittingly gave me the idea for the story during a chat—hopefully, Mario helped honor your father in his own way.
The events on the Moon Ochre and Magenta refer to in the story happened during the NCS episode Duel, where they are trapped in a Lunar vehicle, and my own story Tranquility, where I wrote my version of how they escaped.
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