Hot Chocolate

The New Squidbeak Splatoon meet up for coffee and a debriefing.

Lily found consciousness after a good night's rest the next morning. Once again, it felt weird to be sleeping in an actual bed. But, man, was it appreciated. She pulled the warm, thick blanket a little tighter around herself as she waited to feel more alive.

The sound of something else shifting on the bed reminded her: Agent 4 was home. She gently turned onto her back and looked over. Sure enough, there she was, right next to her even, fast asleep. She obviously needed the rest more than she did.

Lily debated whether or not to read through her phone while she woke. That decision was made for her, as her friend stirred from the movement. She watched, somewhat shyly as Agent 4 slowly came to, shifting gently and eventually opening her eyes to see her friend. "Hey," she said softly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "What's the time?"

Lily reached behind her for her squid phone. "About nine-thirty, apparently. You been home long?"

"Mm. Six hours sleep ain't too bad considering." Four yawned. "Have you been awake for very long?"

"Nah, actually. Sorry if I woke you just now turning over."

"It's fine. It's just, y'know, really nice to be sharing this bed with someone."

Lily let a slight blush cross her cheeks. "Yeah. Just... Really comforting."

Agent Four sighed happily, and leaned in to rest against her friend. This did not help the blushing situation. "I'm just... so glad to be back home." She took a breath. "And glad to have someone to share my home with."

Lily smiled, and held her close, assuming she was OK with this. "Thank you for letting me stay here for the last few nights."

"It's really not a problem. Once we get you trained up in Turf Wars and making some cash, I can help ya look for a place of your own if you like."

"You really are too kind, Fo-- ...uh. Huh..." Lily realised quite suddenly that there was a bit of an issue.

"...What? Lily?"

"...I only know you as Agent Four, I just realised."

"What? How...?"

"I... I don't think you ever needed to tell me your name..."

They both stared at each other for a few awkward moments, and then burst out in laughter.

"Oh, that's ridiculous. I love it." Four rubbed her eyes as she calmed down. "My real name is Lorne. It's, ah, a pleasure to meet you." She stuck out her hand, offering a handshake. Lily shook it firmly, and they both laughed some more.

"Shall we get up yet? Do we need to?"

"Nah... Let me savor this," Lorne replied. "I earned this bedrest, thank you very much."

As they prepared to leave for the cafe Marie had suggested to meet at, several days later, Four tugged at the back of Lily's top. "Hey. I've been seeing you wearing that for over a week now. Off."

Lily turned to face her, arms slightly raised in a "what did you expect" kind of pose. "These are the only clothes I have. My old ones sort of... melted away or whatever. And they'd be too big for me now anyways."

"I'll lend you some older clothes today, it's fine. But that and your shorts need to get washed."

A few minutes later, Lily left the apartment in an old blue-and-white-striped polo top and some tight-fitting denim jeans. As Four locked the door, carrying a small laundry bag, the two of them caught sight of a next-door neighbor, an older-looking snail lady, entering her apartment. "Hi, Shellie," Four greeted happily. "Night shift treat you well?"

"Coulda been worse, Lorne," Shellie replied with a bit of a sigh. "Y'know how it is with vocational schools. I just hope with the rainstorm today that nobody decides to track mud in. I'll be cleaning those carpets for ages. But at least it pays alright."

The two chatted briefly, and then Shellie stepped inside, supposedly to sleep.

They took the metro again, and this time ended up on a busy train, such that both girls had to stand. Lily was glad to leave when they reached their stop.

"Hey, this is it," Lorne said, nudging Lily to a halt about ten minutes of walking later in front of the Inkopolis Gardens Coffeehouse. It was located in a more suburbian part of the city, the building separated from the sidewalk by a small hedge and a front patio where several tables were set. It was relatively quiet here, which was nice. Sheldon was seated at a table, waiting for them.

"Glad you could make it, Lily, Lorne," Sheldon greeted with a wave. "The others are inside. Let's get your order in first. Follow me."

After Sheldon introduced them to the barista as part of Marie's group and they both ordered, and received, their drinks, they were led behind the counter, through a hallway (Lily realised quickly that this coffeehouse was lived in) and out of a door, the two Agents found themselves in a tidy backyard.

Lily audibly gasped as she looked around. Green. So much green. The coffeehouse backyard was a well-kept and maintained garden, flowerbeds lining two of the sides, and a privacy hedge lining the back wall. Paving tiles from the back door to the furthest fence led to a wooden deck, upon which sat several chairs, including an outdoor couch and some small tables.

And on that couch sat Marie and her cousin, Callie. The Squid Sisters. They were both in casual clothing, and Marie was forgoing the kimono today in favour of warmer civilian clothing.

They seemed deep in discussion, but Marie lightly raised her hand, pausing whatever conversation they were having until later. Both of them turned to face Sheldon, Lorne and Lily, Marie waving and Callie with a big smile. "Hi, girls!" The latter called out to them. "Come, take a seat!"

"Thanks for waiting for them, Sheldon," Marie nodded and fist-bumped him when the three joined them on the deck, carrying their drinks.

"Sorry to interrupt," Lily started, as Callie was already getting up to shake hands with both Agents.

"Oh, don't worry." Callie beamed, and Lily wasn't sure if she was being genuine but smiled anyway. "Just catching up with my cousin. I don't believe we've met...?"

"This is Agent 5," Marie promptly introduced. "Otherwise known as Lily. We spoke with her briefly over the radio the other night?"

"Oh! Yes, I vaguely remember. So you're the human, then!"

"Huh?" Marie looked confused. "I hadn't told you that yet..."

"I... I had heard things." Callie shrugged, leaving it at that for now. "So, is it true...?"

Lily looked around at the others as they all sat on the couch. Marie nodded at her, so she replied, "Kinda? I was... Long story short, I ended up here somehow about a week ago, and I got turned pretty much right away. Been living as a squid since."

"Don't worry, cous'," Marie cut in before she could get more questions in. "We can interrogate her later. We do have a bit of business to get through first."

The pink-tentacled girl nodded and sighed. "Alright..."

"Hey," Lily said, gesturing with her paper cup before taking a sip. "I'll be here as long as you need me."

Marie nodded. "Alright, well, let's recap, for Lily and Callie. Since you've both been out of the loop..." She referred to a notepad. "So, about two weeks ago now, we first discovered that the Great Zapfish had gone missing. It was about that time that I also discovered Callie had gone missing, and that DJ Octavio had broken out from his prison. We know now that these events were all connected."

"Usually," she continued conversationally to the two Agents, "and by that I mean the last time Octavio was a nuisance and pinched the Great Zapfish, we relied on our grandpa for the hiring and training. He and our previous agent have been away on business though, so with that in mind, I had to be the one to wait around the Square and hope that someone would notice and follow me. And that... took a few days."

Lorne nodded. "I remember when I first spotted you hiding your face under the Brella. It really did feel like I was the only one who could see you. I swear it was like you were a ghost."

"Yeah, it was a little demoralising," Marie agreed. "There were more than a few squids that straight-up walked right by me to get to Grizzco and didn't recognise me. But then, yeah, Agent 4 arrived on the scene. And I gave you a shot, and I am so glad we did. Seriously, Agent 4. Lorne. Thank you for everything you've done to make this happen." Marie looked down at the coffee cup in her hands. "It's not a glass, but it'll have to do. Cheers." She raised her cup, and everyone leaned in to tap their cups together, and took a moment to savour their coffee.

Sheldon, who finished his cup first while the others only gulped down a few mouthfuls, chimed in. "Meanwhile, Miss Marie and I were finalising a deal to test out some unfinished weapons on the Octarians. Of course, originally she was going to be the one to go after Octavio, since she ended up hiding in plain sight for a while."

"Right. So by the time Agent 4 had cleared out the Hideout again and made it totally safe, we'd worked that out. Checked in with her before she took off, and then, well..."

Marie glanced meaningfully at Lily, who was taking another short sip and sitting leaned forward, listening intently. When she finished her sip and put the cup back down, she noticed that the group was staring at her. "Oh..." she said, embarrassed. "...So that's when I entered the picture, huh?"

"And when those human artefacts fell from the sky." Marie nodded.

"Oooohhhhh. I get it now." Callie said suddenly, thinking hard. "I thought Octavio was making that up."

"Eh?" Marie turned to look at her. "Making what up?"

"OK, so, I have a real quick story from while I was under. I think it'll shed some light on things."

"Wait..." Marie was confused. "Didn't he call those things you were wearing 'hypnoglasses'? How do you remember anything from being in them?"

"I'm not sure I can explain the sensation properly," Callie said, carefully wording what she wanted to say. "But it was like... There was still a part of me that was... me, but that part was mostly trapped in my own head and more of a spectator? My body was doing and saying things, and I had no control over any of it."

"OK, that actually sounds terrifying," Lorne said, and Lily and Sheldon nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, but get this. One of those items was a pair of headphones or something? They're like yellow and black? Anyway, fell from the sky, conked him right on the head." Callie smacked her open palm against her clenched fist to emphasise the point. "When he came to he was pissed. Got his intel team to figure out where that came from. How they did it, and what they mean, I wasn't privy to, but they figured out that you had the same sort of 'signature' as those headphones and I guess decided, 'Oh they must have caused this, get them'."

"Huh." Lily was impressed. "That might not be far from the truth. See, from my perspective I was just falling down this ravine that was opening up, and then before I blacked out I'm pretty sure I just... appeared above whatsit-called, the Octo Valley."

"Oh, so, the important thing is that they were still a human male at that time," Marie mentioned to her cousin. "But yeah, they came down, landed in some of Agent 4's ink, which caused them to change over the next day or so. They were pretty much down while those changes happened. We also noticed that Octavio's strike team weren't making any moves, which was strange."

"Because they were planning an attempt at capturing her," Callie filled in. "Partly because of the perceived slight against him, but mostly now because they worked out what you were from old documents or samples or something, and figured the stuff they'd detected landing around the place would be useful, or that you'd come looking for them. Seriously, when those Octarians aren't being... creepy evil brainwashed things, they can be really friggin' smart. I think they might've been planning to get you working for them too..?"

Lily raised an eyebrow and frowned slightly. "Well, it didn't really work out well for them, thanks to Sheldon and Marie." She grinned at Marie. "And a bit of luck in clothes selection."

Marie snorted. "Or lack of. I still maintain that that threw them off quite a bit. Enough for you to get most of them, anyway."

Callie furrowed her brow. "Wait, Marie, are you implying she...?"

Marie just moved right along, but not before she shared a quick smirk with the group and pulling her phone from her pocket, loading something up on it to share with Callie. Callie covered her mouth to chuckle. Lily missed this happening as she was finishing her drink.

"Anyway," Marie continued, "Once we got her settled, things were more or less full steam ahead. Agent 4 was pushing hard. We were getting it done."

"I do remember their strike team taking another crack at Agent 5, somewhere in there," Callie pointed out.

"'Crack' would be the right word for it," Lily nodded, and Lorne leaned back to take a look at the cut on her head. It was closed up now, just scarred. "Went on my first mission, going out to get what ended up being my laptop. They ended up taking a cheap shot on me and knocking me off the stage." She leaned forward and placed her empty cup on the table. "They really had me dead to rights, the only reason I didn't end up imprisoned or in someone's dungeon or whatever is they used up their ink chasing after me, and I guess you can't really lay down ink or get ink back on those screens their domes are made out of."

"Yeah, just slides right off," Callie nodded. "You'll find that with some surfaces."

"Mmm. It was just the one Octo there, though," Agent 5 pointed out. "I imagine the other three went to take you on, Four?"

"Guess so," Lorne shrugged. "So wait, I haven't heard this story. You fell off the stage? Forget the Octolings, how are you alive?"

"I mean, I guess I probably had some adrenaline surging through me, by the time I'd actually fallen. Plus I actually /was/ really fucked up for quite a while. Vision problems, terrible pains, and the sort of stuff you might expect from getting knocked about."

"They weren't in good shape once I found them back at the Hideout, asleep and all cut up," Marie continued, remembering her regret at sending them out so soon. "So... yeah, after that Agent 5 focused more on recovery and getting used to the world, and will be going back to the field soon, but as for us, it's been more or less business as usual, compared to last time we ran the show."

"And then we got to you," Sheldon pointed out, his empty cup also on the table. The five of them had finished their drinks, and had either put their cups on the table or were cradling them in their hands or laps.

"Okay, so that's I guess the one thing that's actually fuzzy for me," Callie frowned. "There's a gap in my memory between Octavio and I fighting Four and us doing the Inkantation. How'd you get those glasses off of me?"

"Your cousin is a really good shot," Agent 5 said, recalling the moment and being visibly impressed. "Like, hitman-like levels of good."

"That was a really rough shot to take," Marie said, looking down at the cup sitting in her lap. "For obvious reasons. I mean, it felt great when I pulled it off, but there were a few moments there where I was worried I was going to splat you."

"I mean if it had to come to that..." Callie trailed off.

"Stop," Marie said firmly. "I would have never forgiven myself, not after the events that led the two of us to... this point."

"Either way," Sheldon said quickly, moving the girls right along, "you didn't miss that shot, and Callie was rescued and Octavio defeated..."

Lily was the one to interrupt now. "Marie mentioned a Great Zapfish before. Is it still being looked for? What even is it?"

"Well, Octavio stole it to power his flying... DJ booth... bomb launcher... airship... thing," Lorne explained to her. "We pretty much took that out of commission and brought the Great Zapfish back to its resting place on the Deca Tower. It supplies a not-insignificant amount of power into the Inkopolis power grid, as I understand."

"So it's like the name implies? A big electricity-giving dude?"

"Well... yes, if you want to put it like that," Sheldon continued. "It also provides us with Zapfishes, and they also provide power, just not as much."

"So then this Octavio guy's booth is just so incredibly power-inefficient that he steals a major power source just to run it? That'd be just sad if it weren't also evil. I almost wish I could take a look for myself, but as is I'd probably get my ass handed to me."

"I mean, you can go talk to him," Marie said with a chuckle. "He's not really a threat anymore, but don't expect him to be friendly."

Lily nodded. The conversation was at a lull. She sighed and leaned back on the couch, taking in the garden around her again.

"We should wrap this up soon," Sheldon said, looking up at the gray clouds swimming into view over the skyscrapers of the CBD, "or at least get inside. I think we had a few more business points to cover?"

Marie nodded, glancing up at the clouds. "Yeah. So, now everyone's caught up. Callie and I have decided that we'll be taking some time away from work and music to sorta... patch things up between us. Now, in the meantime, I do have a task for both of you, Agents 4 and 5. How's the cut, Five?"

"She looks fine," Four replied for her. "I mean, it's scarred, but it's more or less healed over."

"Great. I'd like you to take her out and get her into the Turf War scene over the next week. Five should get some more practice in combat, and get some more experience. Get her a Level 4 card. Then we ought to start giving her some assistance getting things from the Octo Valley."

"I have some ideas if you want those headphones back," Callie piped up. "But yes, some training would not go astray first."

"I did scope out some options for getting up to whatever's on top of the Albacore Hotel yesterday," Lily admitted. "I was thinking when the time's right, it should be fairly easy to get up there and collect it if I'm stealthy, as practice."

"Maybe you should get on that soon," Sheldon said. "The news said not that long ago that construction was on hold until they could get a crane in place to lift down a car that's on that roof."

"A... car?" Lily frowned.

"Yeah, there was a photo. It looks like it fell from a great height and just... splashed into... Oh." Sheldon had made a guess at where the car had come from, and from the look of Lily's disappointed face, so had she.

"...Hmm." Lily finally said. "Well, I'd like to be there to see it when they get it down. If it is mine, no matter what condition it's in, we can at least check it off the list." She thought for a moment. "I'd likely be too short to see over the steering wheel now anyway," she finished with a chuckle.

The conversation from there started to devolve and drift off-topic, so the gathering started to pack up, exchanging numbers, binning their coffee cups, making their way back into the coffeehouse and out onto the street. They all made sure to thank the baristas on duty, Lily and Lorne noting that they ought to come back some time.

After everyone had made their way to the underground station, and were waiting for their train - the Squid Sisters and Sheldon heading to the Square, and the two Agents back to the apartment - rain had started to gently fall outside. As it increased in intensity, the 'hiss' of hundreds of raindrops hitting concrete reached their ears, and Lily turned to look back at the entrance.

"Good timing, Sheldon," Marie said. "We made it out with minutes to spare."

"Hey, uh, guys?" Callie was turned the other way, watching Lily.

The squid-girl was standing just shy of the entrance to the station and watching the rain fall and thud on the glass roof of the tunnel. Trails of water from outside were making their way down the floor of the tunnel and draining into the grate separating the ramp down to the platform from the platform itself. She sighed happily, enjoying the noise and the sights.

"You should probably get away from there, Lily," Marie called over to her. "Just in case you get hurt."

"Hurt?" Lily raised an eyebrow at her. "It's just water."

"That 'just water' is lethal to us," Callie said, hands in pockets.

"What? That's just saltwater, innit? I'm pretty sure rain is freshwater..."

Callie, Marie and Lorne stared at her. Sheldon had pulled out a notepad and was writing something, presumably about her.

"...Really? Squids can't tolerate any water?" Lily was stunned. With a sad look out at the tunnel, she returned to the group. "But... that doesn't make sense! Y'all used to live in the water! What's in the taps then?"

"Natural oils," Marie shrugged. "Not that crude stuff the rigs used to drill for. But that's the stuff we squids thrive on."

"...Huh..." Lily was slowly processing this. "Well, do any of you enjoy the sound of the rain, at least? Or does that just equate to danger nowadays?"

"Danger," Lorne said definitively.

"Yup," agreed Marie. Callie nodded.

"I'm somewhat lucky in that I can withstand the rain," Sheldon said to her calmly, "but I quickly learned to be concerned for my squid friends when it starts to rain."

"Fair enough. ...Wow, that's just crazy to me." Lily glanced back at the tunnel, and the noise of the rain. "Man."

The group became aware of the sound of an approaching train, and Lily went quiet. A loudspeaker somewhere above them announced it as the City Loop train, and they all boarded.

The carriage was packed. Most of the squid passengers were wearing disposable ponchos of various colors to keep the rain off of their skin. Lily, Lorne and Sheldon had not managed to find a seat, and so stood close together near the seats Marie and Callie had managed to get. Lily watched Lorne pull out her phone and open up some social network app, and they both started to talk about them and which to join. Sheldon joined in their conversation shortly after.

Marie and Callie both sat back, the former looking around at the occupied and idle faces of the passengers on the carriage, the latter checking her phone.

"E-excuse me..."

A soft, shy voice nearby floated over to the Sisters. Callie looked up from her phone, and Marie looked over at the source of the voice. It was a squid, and she looked excited to see them. "Hi there," Marie said, but trailed off.

It wasn't really a squid. With her tentacles tied back and dyed purple, she could be easily mistaken for one, but they had both seen enough suction cups to know that this was an Octoling. In Inkopolis? How...?

Callie picked up the slack while Marie was momentarily stunned. "Hi! Always a pleasure to meet a fan. What's up?" She said, immediately switching into her 'idol mode' and perking up, beaming at this unexpected guest.

The other three had heard the chatter and turned around. Agents 4 and 5 also both recognised the Octo (Lily, a little more slowly) and made to step between her and the Sisters, but Marie held an arm out to stop them. "Callie's got this," she whispered loud enough for them to hear over the noise of the train.

"I, um..." The Octoling girl was trying to overcome her nervousness, and seeing the commotion she was creating with Lily and Lorne was not helping. She made to back away. "N-nevermind, I'm sorry to int--"

Callie grabbed her hand. As calmingly as she could muster in their current environs, she said to the stranger, "It's okay. They're friends of ours. What did you want to say?" She continued grinning.

"Umm... I just wanted to say..." The girl took deep breaths. "I... saw you two at the concert in Octo Valley two years ago. And, er, it honestly changed my life. So... I just wanted to say thank you. While I had the opportunity." A small smile stayed onto her face.

"There you go!" Still smiling, more genuinely it seemed, Callie shook the poor girl's hand. Callie fakes this role really well, Lily thought. "I'm glad that we managed to inspire you with our music!"

"Yeah," Marie kicked in, having flipped her 'in public' switch. "And we're glad you worked up the courage to come and see us. I hope you'll come and see us perform again one day."

"A-absolutely!" The girl's smile widened. "Thank you! Sorry to interrupt you!" She waved and headed back to her seat down to one end of the carriage.

Encounter over, everyone returned to their posts, except for Lily, who wasn't sure what had just happened. She looked about the carriage, but nobody else seemed to have paid much attention to the Octoling girl. In fact more people were pointing and whispering about the Squid Sisters, though she supposed that was somewhat normal. But still... weren't they the enemy?

Callie must have noticed Lily's unease, and she said, "It's the glasses. They brainwash people. She doesn't have 'em. She's as good as you or I."

Lily thought on this. That seemed consistent with the behaviour she'd seen so far. "If you say so..." She returned to looking at her phone, installing the social app Lorne had shown her before.

The two agents said their farewells a few minutes later, as the train pulled into the Inkopolis Square station and the Sisters and Sheldon disembarked. Taking their seats, Lily and Lorne waved them off, then quickly returned to their previous conversation, talking about which accounts to follow.

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