Title: Safe Skies (1/?)
Word count: 2800
Author's note: aph_fluffathon: 13. Couple meets for the first time on a transatlantic flight to some fabulous vacation destination. Character A is afraid of flying, Character B notices and helps them through the long trip. Any pairing is fine!
She booked the earliest flight out of Kyiv she could get, navigating through the maze of streets and car lights, only half awake and groggy as she made her way to the airport. She was alone, having stepped by her sleeping siblings and already prepared all their things. She'd had to take an earlier flight, citing that an issue in ticketing.
They'd been saving a long time for this trip. Which is exactly why she'd had to get on another flight, away from her family who looked up to her to be the final authority, the big sister who was wise and knew all the answers. Even if she was only somewhat older, she'd had to take on this role at a very early age. She'd had to hold her head high even when she felt shy and nervous, and wanted to sit down in a corner and weep like the little girl she was never allowed to be.
They'd set aside money even when they were barely keeping up rent, all of them packed away in that old, beaten up apartment. Then Feliks and Toris had moved out when Feliks finally passed Beautician's school, and Eduard and Ravis had gone to college and it'd just been Ivan, Nataliya and her. And their leaving had made Ivan so sad he'd fallen into a bit of a funk, and little Nataliya had fallen along with him. He really was a good boy, underneath it all. Just...troubled. In the winter he'd do heavens knows what, coming home with pigeon feathers and blood on his coat, Nataliya trailing after him, a bloodied knife in her hands.
After that they'd been prescribed medicine–a new drug, fresh on the market– and both of them were markedly better, Ivan hadn't even come home covered in blood once, though the side effects proved to make both of them sleep for many, many hours a day and not eat nearly as much as they once did.
The house was quieter then, but she worried less.
But finally, all that scrimping had paid off and they were really going to Hawaii. Ivan had been so happy, shopping for thin, brightly colored clothes to wear. Nataliya too, had seemed content, following him and answering with whatever you wish each time he asked his family which shirt looked better.
For years she'd had to cry into her apron when things got too tense, trying to keep herself in check as the eldest. And she couldn't ruin it, and couldn't let her fears get the better of her. Which is why she had to be afraid alone, lest her fear put a damper on this trip Ivan had wanted for so long. The inside was small and white, claustrophobic, even. It was a rather tiny plane, one with only two seats per row instead of three. She put her small carry-on bag above the seat and sat down.
It was such a tight space, so small for something that would have her nigh helpless up in the air. All at once, she felt her heart begin to race until it felt like it might burst in her chest. She looked around, feeling light-headed, her hands already growing clammy.
She had no idea how she could make it through a flight like this, hours and hours over the water. Oh, she should've gone to the doctor, gotten a tranquilizer or whatever they prescribed these days. But she hadn't wanted to admit it–to her family, to herself–and it'd be just one more expense they couldn't afford.
As the other passengers started filling in, she clung to the sides of her seats and stared straight ahead, sitting ramrod straight. She had been trying to be logical and strong, as Eduard would always advise, but all she could think was of the plane crashing into the ocean, flames consuming the wings as they all were headed for a watery grave. She began to tremble as she tried to breathe, but it felt like the air was being choked out of her. It only made her heart race faster...
"'scuse me. Comin' through. Hold up. Sorry about that."
One of the last passengers slipped on, carrying with him a green duffle bag which he secured just above her seat. At the very least, he looked friendly. She didn't know what she'd do if she had to sit near a hostile person the entire ride. Cry, probably. That was her usual response to stress.
He was tall, and wearing a white shirt with an American flag logo on the front and a large ketchup stain just over the flag, under a bomber jacket which fitted nicely over his broad shoulders. His hair was short and gold as sunlight, with a shock of rebellious hair sticking straight up.
He was quite handsome, stunningly, distractingly so. In truth, she'd have preferred someone quiet and unassuming. Sitting next to a handsome person could be so nerve-wracking, and her nerves were already frazzled enough as it was.
He took the seat near the window and pulled up the shade. As he sat down, she noticed that there was a large hole in the left knee of his jeans.
She did not respond at first, but he persisted, lightly tapping her on the arm.
"Y-yes?" She asked, not daring to look over as she clung to the armrest. The plane hadn't even started yet and her knuckles were already turning white.
"You can have the window seat if you want, I don't mind switching. Ladies first and all."
Even the thought of looking out the window, seeing just how tiny the cities were below made her feel nauseous.
"N-no, that's fine," she said. "I like being closer to the aisle better."
The better to attempt escape when the plane crashed and burned. But oh, she wasn't supposed to be thinking these sorts of things. They put her on the edge of tears again, and she didn't want to spend the many hours this flight would take weeping.
"So, is your first flight, or are you a veteran like me?" He asked.
She nodded. He seemed determined to talk, and she wasn't sure what she would do about this. She was too innately polite to simply tell him to leave her alone, and yet the panic had so overtaken her that she was hardly good company. Her hands were shaking at the armrest. He had to see what a wreck she was, but he was talking to her like nothing was wrong, like they wouldn't be in this fragile metal contraption flying over the oceans.
"What's your stop?" He asked.
"Hawaii," she said, though she pronounced it Havaii.
"Ha-what? Oh, Hawaii! I'm headed there to meet my family!" He said.
Of course he'd be taken. She looked to his strong hands, but saw no ring. Perhaps he was engaged, or simply living with a woman. Not that she would've ever had a chance with a handsome stranger anyways, but it was always a slight disappointment to know the hopes you didn't even know you had were dashed.
"Ah? Me too," she said. "My brother has especially been looking forward to it. He hates winter, you see."
"Me too, so I can totally see where he's coming from. I pretty much just hole up in winter under a bunch of covers waiting for Spring to come. I don't know, I like snowball fights sometimes, but it's just so long and sometimes I wish I could be like a bear and just hibernate through it all."
She smiled, despite herself, remembering how little Vanya had pretended to be a bear and snuggled up under thick blankets, muttering imma bear, sleepy now when he was very young.
The doors were shut and closed, the last of the luggage stocked, and a stewardess had begun to hand out the sorts of safety protocols that no one ever bothered with. Kateryna took it with shaking hands as she read over the many calamities which might befall her. For a moment, she had almost begun to settle, but now the feeling was coming up again, winding her tighter and tighter.
"It feels so weird to be in the backseat for once," he mused.
"Er, 'backseat'?" Kateryna asked.
"Yeah, I'm in the Air National Guard. I'm used to being in the pilot seat. Well, at least most of the time..." He gave her a thumbs up sign, and a wink.
"Oh?" She asked.
"Yep. We were doing an exercise at Mirgorod. Maybe you heard of it? Safe Skies 2011?"
"Can you even talk about that?" She asked, frowning a bit.
"Should be able to. It's public knowledge. Not like, some super top secret thing or anything. There was even a big thing where the Lieutenant General broke bread with us. Some custom or something. Anyways, it was really cool! The sky was clear and I got to fly a F-16 Fighting Falcon all over. Not Blue Angels stuff, but still pretty cool."
"And you aren't going with the rest?" She said, motioning with her hands to imply the rest of his legion or crew or whatever they called it in his part of the Air National Guard.
"Oh, you mean the rest of the people I was in with? Nah, we were from all over. Iowa, Massachusetts, California–that's where I'm from, by the way–I was supposed to get a layover in Hawaii, but I changed it so I'm just going to stick around there for a bit and see the fam before I head back. I'm due for a break, anyways."
"And your uniform?" She asked, frowning. He certainly didn't look like he belonged to any of the armed forces.
"Got ketchup on it, so it's in the duffle until I can get it washed. Don't wanna be called out for being a shame to my country for messing up my uniform again, you know?"
She smiled to herself, noting the ketchup stain on his shirt, the rip in his knee and his dirty sneakers.
The captains voice came across a speaker. It repeated in both Ukranian and English a polite request, no, command to ensure their seat belts were fastened and that they had turned off all all electronic devices including cell phones, laptops, hand held game devices, pagers, and mp3 players. She had none of the above–save a cell phone, which was nearly always turned off to save the battery–and had brought a book with her in hopes that the time wouldn't be wasted, though she was too nervous to read.
"I guess that's me, huh?" He said sheepishly. He reached into his pocket and turned off his iPod, some sort of gaming device which had been left in sleep mode, and pulled a small netbook she hadn't seen before.
"Very...gadgety, ah?" She said. She cured herself inwardly for making such an awkward mess of the topic.
"Mmm-hmm! I can't live without my gadgets," He said.
She clung even more tightly to the seat as they lifted off. Her eyes were closed tight, as she tried to distance herself from it. The panic was already rising again as her body reacted to the chance in altitude. There was a popping sensation in her ears, and a lightheaded feeling. She sighed when they had reached a more steady point. Her hands were still wrapped tight over the armrest.
"You know, this is a Boeing 747-400. I've flown it before. It's nothing like the thrill of your F-16 Fighting Falcons, but it's pretty cool. Sturdy stuff," he said.
"Ah...You pilot other planes too?"
"Yeah, gotta do something else when I'm not serving the country," he said with a bright smile.
"They're pretty safe. I've never been in a crash yet, or dealt with anything more than turbulence. So you don't have to worry, see if the pilot has a heart attack or something, I can take the cockpit and save everybody like the hero I totally am." He again gave her a thumbs up and wink.
He was charming, she had to admit. Warm and friendly, and it was hard to not be caught up in his enthusiasm for flight and feel a little less uneasy at her current state.
He pulled open the shade. The sky was dark outside. She could see it from the corner of her eye.
"You should look, it's really something," he prompted.
"Trust me on this, it's something you shouldn't miss."
She would have refused, but his entreating gaze was so sweet, so pure that she gave in despite her fear of what might lay outside. She had to lean over until she was practically touching him which resulted in some slightly embarrassing moments when she bumped him with her breasts. They were always a pain and getting her into some sort of trouble, but he didn't seem to mind at all.
She had to steady herself to look down, staring just at the dark for a moment. But she felt his hand on her arm, strong yet gentle.
"Trust me on this, nothing bad is gonna happen to you," he said.
She dared to look lower. Through her fear was a sense of wonder at the sights below. The city lights were beautiful, like fireflies on water, like some dream. Even as she felt a little off-balance, a little fragile in her state of near constant panic, she had to marvel at this new beauty.
"I really love flying at night," he said. "It's really calming. Well, riding flying. Flying flying it's sort of stressful." He chuckled then, and she found herself laughing to. He had that effect on her. An unraveling, a calming.
Funny, she felt safer with him here. He was so confident, so warm and enthusiastic that it was hard to not think that even this fragile seeming hunk of metal would be okay, if he said it would. He certainly had experience in the matter, considering how many times he must have piloted in the sky planes stronger or even more fragile than this one.
When she returned to her seat, his arm was over the armrest, forcing her to either put her hands in her lap, or put her hand over his.
"Isn't that cool? It's like seeing Earth from outer space. We're like aliens, or something," he said.
"Something like that," she said.
"I just..." She shook her head, embarrassed. It was such a childish fear. She didn't know why she was voicing it, especially to a stranger.
"You just what?" He asked.
"It's nothing, really–"
"No, no, I wanna hear," He persisted.
She sighed. "I just don't see how something so heavy could ever fly. It feels...unnatural. Like what they say about bumblebees. All I can think about is it failing. But, Mister...thank you for that. I wouldn't have dared look outside."
"Uh, did I forget to introduce myself? I could've sworn I did. Anyways! I'm Alfred F. Jones." He held out his hand and she took it for a moment. His skin was very hot, like he was bursting with energy both literally and figuratively.
"Kateryna Shevenko," she replied quietly.
"Well, Kateryna, have I got a surprise for you. You're about to be the girl who's stuck next to the weird guy who spends the entire trip teaching her about aerodynamics and how plane engines work," he said with a lopsided silly little grin.
She laughed despite herself, feeling the first bit of solidity, of calm ever since she boarded.