It was barely after hours in Litwak's Arcade, and Felix, who had met up with his wife in her resident game—Hero's Duty—had just asked if she was upset.
"No, of course not, Fix-It," Calhoun snapped back. "How in blue blazes did you get such an idea?"
"Well, I don't know, Tamora," Felix replied quietly, "it's just…aren't you holding your gun a little tight there?"
Calhoun immediately released her clench on its handle and let it rest back in the holster, as Felix had been accurate, the observant fool that he was. He was extraordinarily skilled in reading her emotions, and although it never ceased to amaze Calhoun, it also gave her a bit of an edge. Every time that Felix sensed something different about her usually stoic disposition—and was furthermore correct, down to the very last little scowl or spring in her step—she felt rather defeated. It had become a bit of a competitive match between husband and wife: Calhoun tried to hide her emotions, and try as she might Felix would pick each of them up and point them out to her.
Calhoun never could win. On the off chance that Felix would not notice what mood she was in, she didn't feel all that victorious either. But Sergeant Calhoun was a stubborn one, and kept right on playing that game she knew she would lose.
Wrapped up in her thoughts, she realized she had subconsciously begun to clutch the grip of her handgun even tighter than before. Slightly irritated and hoping Felix hadn't seen, she cleared her throat and crossed her arms to keep herself from doing it again.
"Honey, is there something wrong?"
"No." Calhoun began a dignified march toward the speed shuttle that led to Game Central Station, Felix jogging to keep up with her stately stride.
"Oh, c'mon, Tamora. I can see it in your face that there's something wrong, and there's nothing you can do to shake Fix-It Felix off the trail, no sir." Felix shook his head in an exaggeratedly resolute manner as they each came to a stop in front of the tram station.
"TAMMY!" Calhoun bellowed suddenly, whipping her upper body to face him, causing him to raise his hands in defense and take a cautionary step back. "Tell me, what right do you think you have to call me 'Tammy'?!"
"Um, well, I'm kind of married to you," Felix pointed out sheepishly, waving the hand that bore a wedding ring over his glove.
It was a good fact to note, but Calhoun wasn't particularly in the mood to admit her oversights.
"Married or not, you've made a regular fool out of me just now. A regular fool!"
"Huh?" The blank look that she received in answer only infuriated her more.
Calhoun was not normally at odds with her husband, nor with anyone else for that matter, despite the fact that she was often less than friendly to others upon first meeting. However, there was one little thing that marked the difference between friend and enemy, and that was pride. Allow Sergeant Calhoun to be proud as she was, and she'd let you alone, maybe even take a liking to you. Execute an act that would detract from said pride, and well…things wouldn't turn out quite so luckily.
And that was why more than one space marine feared her, for one simple slipup could unleash a torrent of insults and pain not only upon him, but also upon the rest of the crew. Therefore, each soldier (with the exception of a certain Markowski) took great care to give the sergeant more reason to be proud and never any less.
Thankfully, Felix was a different case, not loving her out of fear like so many others. He and Calhoun were happy together, and rarely had any conflicts more serious than a half-in-jest disagreement on what to have for dinner.
Not so thankfully, however, Calhoun had never really gotten over her infatuation for dignity.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Felix," she said sharply, sinking down against the wall as she waited for the tram to arrive. Felix sat down next to her cross-legged, placing two gloved hands on his kneecaps.
"Actually, I haven't got the slightest idea, to be honest," Felix contended, the last word blending together with the uneasy laugh that followed his statement.
"Then THINK!" Calhoun commanded abrasively in the voice she used on duty, narrowly avoiding the lengthy and rather unkind string of words she would not have hesitated to use on her army (especially on a certain Markowski).
The intensity in her voice caused Felix to first gape, then quiver, then gape yet again before he got a hold of himself and tried to imagine what he could have possibly done to bring such wrath upon himself.
Felix might not have been able to identify what he had done wrong, but Calhoun certainly had no problem. The incident had barely left her mind since it had occurred, and her passion for esteem kept it that way.
The entire day had not gone well to begin with. Private Markowski continued to make a disgrace of the space marine squad, two cy-bug eggs found themselves being crushed and consequently hatched under the feet of a few careless soldiers, and more than once Sergeant Calhoun stumbled over her own words in the midst of the chaos. Such a large number of unexpected happenings spelled out the filing of a report to the Surge Protector, who none were quite fond of. Closing time for the arcade had not nearly come soon enough, but it had come. And that was when Felix, for whatever reason, had decided to surprise Calhoun by meeting her in Hero's Duty instead of his own game where they usually rendezvoused.
It wasn't that Calhoun was ashamed of her husband in any way. But although her men never spoke to her about the subject, she was convinced that they were constantly ridiculing her behind her back for marrying an 8-bit, barely four-foot repairman from one of the most low-tech games in the arcade. And to see him hop off the tram and run to her side, calling her name five more times than necessary no less, well…
Oh, and he hadn't even called her by her name. He had used a nickname. That nickname. That horrible, wretched nickname that had become dormant on all tongues since the death of Dr. Brad Scott.
Just the thought of it sent Calhoun barreling through past events and painful memories. How many times had her previous fiancé called her that name? Too many to count. And what had happened to him? Cy-bug dinner. She just wouldn't be able to bear it if the same thing happened to—
"Is it because last week I accidentally washed your white shirts with my red footie pajamas? Because I've already apologized a thousand times over for that one, and nobody ever told me that colors bleed…"
Calhoun snapped back to reality. Her startled expression soon morphed into a scowl.
"Think again," she snarled, sending Felix back to his perplexed brainstorming. It was only but a few moments later that he cast her a troubled look and gave another attempt.
"Then it's gotta be the time I forgot about date night. I'm sorry, Tamora, I was up to my ears—"
"Wrong," Calhoun cut in before he could finish.
"Well, then it must be about how I cleaned up the house but you—"
"NO!" Calhoun roared. "You…are…completely…WRONG!"
Felix stopped midsentence, his eyes seeming very nearly as wide as pie tins.
"Son, you are as stupid as they make them!" Calhoun exploded, turning on him fiercely. "I'm upset because of your unapologetic disrespect for me as a high-ranking military officer, not some other fish-brained mistake that I don't even remember because I don't care!"
If Felix had known how to shrink on the spot, he most certainly would have done it. However, there was nothing he could do but feebly squeak, "…I-I don't know what you're talking about…"
Calhoun chose to ignore this statement, the sergeant side of her convinced it was another display of impudence.
"Do you realize the damage you've done to my reputation? My crew won't be able to take me seriously anymore! In fact, I'm willing to wager that they'll be calling me 'Sergeant Tammy' next game!"
"Why?" A faint look of recognition flashed across Felix's face. "Because I called you 'Tammy' once?"
"Once, huh? I don't recall it being 'once'." Calhoun raised her voice to a higher, mocking pitch. "'Tammy, Tammy! Hi there, Tammy! How was your day, Tammy! Oh, goodness gracious, Tammy, I hope you didn't miss me in the few hours we were separated, Tammy!'"
She watched Felix's brow furrow slightly and his lips press together as the good guy tried doggedly to avoid showing any sign of insult, crushed spirit, or even the rare anger that seldom rose within him.
"H-how was your day, Tamora?" he inquired with a forced smile, hoping to avert the breakout of a shouting match.
"Terrible, thanks for asking!" Calhoun yelled, proving Felix's efforts unsuccessful.
"Look, I'm sorry if I offended you! It certainly wasn't my intention," said Felix, beginning to raise his voice as well, although more out of desperation than anything else.
"Well, you did!"
"Will you at least forgive me?" Felix begged, a distraught note edging into his tone. Calhoun stopped to give him a look of bewildered annoyance. The poor guy looked absolutely tormented, as if having to quarrel against her cut him to the bone.
Calhoun set her mouth in a straight line.
That seemed to be the breaking point for Felix, who, while usually optimistic and chipper, could change emotions at an astonishingly fast pace. The horror in his eyes quickly evaporated, becoming overshadowed by the red that began to flood his face.
"Why?" he asked in protest. "Are you really this upset just because I called you a nickname? You probably let Brad call you 'Tammy', didn't you?"
It was a very childish thing to say. It was also said merely out of spite, as Brad had never existed nor been real, except in the pre-programmed minds of the Hero's Duty characters. But to Sergeant Calhoun, Brad Scott had been more real and more agonizing than anything else in her memory, whether it be experience or encoding. Had Felix understood this, he might not have failed to realize that he had taken things much too far.
Calhoun's pupils retracted in dazed shock.
"Yes, I believe I did," she breathed, her gaze stiff, no movement across her face but the bare minimum which allowed her lips to form words. How dare he bring up such a subject! She had half a mind to strangle him right then and there.
"So if you let him call you that and not me, are you basically saying he was better than me?" Felix provoked with a rather challenging kind of smile that was most unlike him. The tips of his ears had by now become red, a sure sign that he had given up the struggle to be civil.
"Maybe he was better than you!" Calhoun shot back. "At the very least he understood things like timing and public behavior!"
"I know plenty about public behavior!"
"I don't know about that, Felix, you're certainly making a spectacle out of both of us yelling your head off at me!"
"You're yelling at me too!" retorted Felix, the observant fool that he was. "In fact, you were the one yelling first! Why are you getting so mad?"
"Well, why are you getting so mad?"
"I'm not getting mad!" Felix protested.
It was quite in good fortune that the tram rolled up as he said this, or otherwise matters might have come to worse. As it turned out, both of them had a sense of timing and public behavior, seeing that both of them silenced themselves upon boarding the shuttle. Even though there were no others in the transport vehicle, neither wanted to enter busy Game Central Station with an argument on their lips.
On any other day, Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun might have taken the privacy as a bit of a godsend and utilize the few minutes of travel to cuddle and whisper shameful flatteries into each other's ears, the likes of which not to be mentioned here. But now, one would hardly be able to tell they were acquaintances, let alone a couple joined by holy matrimony, with how they sat so rigidly beside each other, not daring to look at one another and silent as death itself.
The ride seemed to be taking hours, but in reality hardly a minute had passed. Calhoun tried to keep her mind off Felix and the crushed look on his little angel face, which was no longer flushed but for his cheeks. She was able to succeed for a while, but soon the hassle-filled process of filing an unscripted event report was brought to mind. When she had finally pulled her thoughts away from the fated meeting with the Surge Protector, all she could think of were the snickers and deride belonging to the space marines at the sight of her height-impaired husband. Which, of course, triggered the entire thought cycle all over again.
Even though the air was still and no one spoke, the tension was high. Each knew that eventually they would have to make some amount of communication, and in the end the communication was supplied by Felix.
It took the owner of said name longer than usual to recognize the fact that her attention was being sought out, as Felix almost always called her by her first name. Calhoun turned to face him.
It wasn't as if she was expecting a long and drawn-out apology by any means, but she definitely wasn't expecting him to say what he did.
"…I just want to tell you I love you."
Felix's baby blue eyes shone with a kind of hesitant, yet sincere radiance as he looked up toward her to see how she would react.
Calhoun was taken by mild surprise. Her bottom lip twitched once as if she were about to speak, but she decided against it and looked away, albeit not quite as unrepentantly as she let on.
Sergeant Calhoun didn't have a stomach for humble pie. Never did, never had. However, watching Felix wilt and stare down at his lap so miserably gave her appetite a bit of a nudge.
A few awkwardly silent moments later, Calhoun knew she had to be the one to say she was sorry.
She cast Felix a quick sidelong glance, wondering how to apologize, as she was more accustomed to having apologies thrown at her feet than vice versa. The words and feelings she wanted to convey felt both lodged in her throat and yet just on the tip of her tongue. How was one supposed to start off? Obviously Felix's most recent words were an attempt to give her a jumpstart, and now she somewhat wished she had taken advantage of the opportunity. Calhoun sighed and rested her forehead in her palms.
Ah, heck. She was the stupid one. Blinded by her own pride. It was her pride that made her feel embarrassed of the adorable Felix, vanity that made her refuse to forgive him, and dignity that caused her to ignore him for no apparent reason. Who cared if she was known as "Sergeant Tammy" for the rest of her days? She had to somehow make this right. She had to let go of what used to be her most prized possession. She had to make little cherub cheeks stop his frowning.
Calhoun was sure of that. She just wasn't sure of how.
The rest of the ride, which had originally seemed endless, passed in brooding silence.
Finally, the tram pulled to a stop in Game Central Station. Calhoun followed Felix out of the shuttle, trying to muster the courage to catch his attention. She was just about to grab him by the shoulder when a buzzer sounded as she set foot out of the antechamber.
"Step aside, ma'am. I received word there were some unexpected and unscripted events in Hero's Duty today."
Calhoun gave an audible groan. She had completely forgotten about the Surge Protector. Felix gave her a fleeting look of what seemed like sympathy, and for a second, it was almost as if the feud had never occurred. A faint smile played on her lips, but the clicking of a pen brought her back to the glorified hall monitor in front of her.
"Affirmative," she replied grudgingly. The Surge Protector looked down at his clipboard, and Calhoun took the moment to meet Felix's eyes once again. There was a brief moment of understanding, and she knew at once that Felix had already accepted her unborn apology.
She was never able to explain it afterwards, but something came over Sergeant Calhoun in that moment, a sudden good humor that overtook her for some reason and plastered a silly grin on her face. She stifled an uncharacteristic giggle and broke away from Felix's gaze.
Felix looked at her for barely a second before the two began to crack up hysterically, much to the Surge Protector's bemused astonishment.
It wasn't the most meaningful apology that anyone had ever given, but for Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun to poke fun at herself, and in public, no less—well, you could bet that she wanted to make amends.