She just leans back in the seat and gives me a dopey smile. "No puking. I'm full of cookies." She pats her stomach. "So many cookies."
Well that's a relief. I speed to a cruising altitude and then glance over at her again. It's dark now, and I spent most of the afternoon talking casually with the other males there while the women bonded. Many of them were males I wouldn't have met before taking the custodial position—they come from less savory parts of the universe and more than one has a criminal record—but for the most part, they were decent sorts. They'd settled down to make a family and start a life here with their human wives on Risda. We talked about how to improve the town's narrow streets, how to get the most out of a crop yield, and most importantly of all, gladiator bouts (of which I am shamelessly a fan).
In a sense, the party was good for Rektar and myself both, because trust can be a slippery thing between the custodians and the colonists. I get it, because they've been lied to and abused and mistreated, sometimes by my own people. They're sometimes reluctant to have us help them, and so days like today are all the more important. I've promised to drop by one couple's farm and check out their cloning machine, since I helped Ashley fix hers, and I've learned one of the nearest mechanics is price-gouging the humans. That needs to be taken care of.
It makes me feel good to help, which is something I never thought I'd hear myself say. This was supposed to be a throwaway job for a throwaway second son, but I find that I'm invested in the people here.
Especially one in particular.
I glance over at Ash as I drive. Everyone there today thought we were a couple. Well, Rektar and Lucy didn't, but Lucy made a couple of veiled hints about something Ashley had said in the kitchen. I didn't pay attention to it, because I know how Ash gets in public or when she doesn't hear something someone's said. She has this particular laugh she does to give people a response so she doesn't have to admit that she didn't hear them. I've busted her on it a couple of times in the past, and I suspect it's a crutch she doesn't even realize she's doing half the time.
Didn't help matters today, though.
"You know they all think we're together," I point out to her as I maneuver the sled through the air. I keep my voice casual, too, pitched slightly louder since I'm not facing her. "Did they say anything to you about it?"
"Nope." She reaches over and pokes my arm, giggling. "Poor Khex. Everyone thinks you have an icky human girlfriend."
"Now now," I tease. "No one said it was icky. Just you." I pause for a moment, because now I'm wondering. "Do you think aliens are 'icky' then? And that humans are gross to us? Because you know we're not kidnapping you all from Earth because we find you unappealing."
"Humans are sexy beasts," she purrs at me, grinning. She makes mock claws with her hand. "Meow."
All right, a drunk Ash is a silly Ash. It's keffing cute as shit, though.
Didn't answer my question either. Figures. I'm not sure why I care so much about her answer. I know what it is already. She's not interested. We're just friends. She's not indicated any attraction to me, and she likely finds it funny that the others think we're a couple. It's just that…today, I wanted to be a couple with her. I wanted her to be my mate, inside and having fun with friends. I wanted to show her off to others, to show how proud I am of what a tough survivor she is. How she doesn't let anything hold her back.
Maybe Risda is making me soft. That must be it.
We make it back to Ash's little homestead, and I help her out of the car and to the door of her house. It's like trying to hold a keffing noodle. She's slippery and giggly and is practically falling on her face for the ten paces to her door, and I give up on trying to help and just carry her instead. "You're worse than a toddler."
Ash just snorts, wrapping her arms around my neck. "If I was a toddler, would I do this?"
And she licks a stripe up the side of my neck, all the way up to my jaw.
I freeze, because now I'm thinking very unchivalrous thoughts about her. She's drunk, I remind myself. She doesn't know what a big deal hygiene laws are to people or that she just violated a half dozen of them. You're friends. That's it.
So I manage to chuckle—somehow—as if I'm unaffected. "Nah, I guess a toddler wouldn't do that. But I'm about to put you to bed just like a toddler."