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A note from argusthecat

I am in the process of moving.  I have one week to do it, and that includes finding a place and putting four humans worth of stuff into that place.  I may not update on my planned schedule, but I'm not dead yet.

James came home to an unusually empty apartment, considering it was 4AM the day after a dungeon opening.

 

When he walked in, the lights were out. Bedroom doors were closed, and he swore he could hear light snoring from the room he shared with his partners. If Rufus or Ganesh were around, they were probably napping themselves; something James had been moderately surprised to learn was a thing they could do.

 

A steady wooden clicking and a thump against his shins informed him that Aberdeen, the shaggy white ball of a dog that had apparently decided it was enough of a good doggo to stick around, was still awake. And James gave her some head pets while he leaned over and flicked on a living room light

 

“You smell like gunpowder.” Sarah commented blandly from her seat on the couch.

 

James barely bit down the panicked urge to shriek as he spasmed backward, bitter adrenaline pumping through his heart unasked for, and unneeded. “Why would you *do that*?!” He hissed at Sarah, keeping his voice down so as not to wake those sleeping.

 

She smiled at him. “I’m conducting a scientific experiment to prove the existence of the element of surprise. Did it work?”

 

“Little bit.” James admitted. “Why are you still up?”

 

“I wanted to make sure you didn’t die in the dungeon.” Sarah answered.

 

James flushed a little, and rubbed at the back of his hand. “Why would you…”

 

“Please.” The word was flatly amused. James had expected angry, though. But the changed tone didn’t do much to make him think there wasn’t an awkward sword of Damocles hanging over his head.

 

“Okay, fine.” He said. “The entrance is clear. Unless the place is *really* playing the long con, and waiting for all of us, we can go back in whenever we’re ready.” James turned his head away and mumbled, “I was going to tell everyone, eventually.”

 

Sarah gave him a sad look. “I know, man. It just sucks that you felt like you had to lie in the first place. I feel…” She shook her head, trying to force the uncomfortable words out. “I don’t feel great about feeling like an outsider in your life, you know? Even if you’d fudged it to Anesh and Alanna, you never would have lied to *me*.” She looked up at him, her normally bubbly personality had been dampened harshly by the time spent imprisoned in the dungeon, and more so by her feeling of alienation afterward, but it was still a surprise to James to see tears in her eyes. “I’m not used to not… having you here.”

 

It was all too much for James. And before he knew it, he’d followed the pulling on his heartstrings and was sitting on the couch next to Sarah, arms around her as both of them silently let tears roll down their faces.

 

It was a solid five minutes before they pulled apart, and she gave him a sniffing weak laugh that he returned to her.

 

“In the interest of being honest.” James started mildly. “I should let you know that my therapist thinks my depression may be, in whole or in part, because the office ate my memories of you.”

 

“Seriously, that is so wonked up!” Sarah yelped.

 

“That’s what I said!” They shared a weak high five. It was flimsy and dumb, but it was spontaneous and neither of them had even thought about it before slapping hands together. “Some kinda dopamine thing. Did you know you can go into withdrawal from other people?”

 

She held up a number of fingers. “I’ve had this many exes, my dude.”

 

“Riiiight.” James drawled. “So, hey, vaguely related question that I thought of the other day off of something Anesh asked me. Have you been using your skulljack?”

 

“No.” Sarah almost choked on the word, but tried to keep her voice from turning too dark again. “The support group is good for a lot of people, and I know some people have actually enjoyed them. But it’s just… it’s too scary for me.”

 

“The deep irony here,” James casually tossed out, “is that if neither of us were terrified of these fucking things, we could undo the damage they caused.”

 

There was a long silence. The kind that ate language and layered the colder darkness onto a room.

 

Eventually, Sarah spoke. “Well darn.”

 

James couldn’t help it. His laugh probably woke up *someone*. It certainly got Aberdeen to raise her head off the floor and glare at him as if in reminder that it was four AM and stop making so much noise please.

 

“Someday.” She promised James. “Maybe someday soon. But I’m still afraid.”

 

“It’s okay!” James reassured her. “I’m in no rush, dude. And… you’re here now. And I know you remember, and I don’t, and that hurts. But we were friends for a *reason*, and I can feel it. It’s like a current that I can just dip into whenever you’re around. If I were less tired, I’d probably not say out loud that this is what I always imagined magic felt like.”

 

Sarah felt herself tear up again, but this time with a smile. “You’ve said that before. When you were very tired.” She told him.

 

“Oh, that reminds me!” James suddenly shifted gears, pulling his discarded coat over and rifling through the pockets.

 

“That reminds you? *That*?”

 

“I have a bad memory and my brain is finicky, you know this. I am *positive* you know this.” He rooted around and eventually found what he was looking for.

 

Out of a coat pocket, James pulled a small, shimmering emerald orb, and handed it out to Sarah with a smile. “I picked up gifts as an apology for obviously lying to everyone and risking my life in a fairly stupid way. Do you want first crack at it?”

 

“Was that a pun?” She asked, already reaching for the orb. And then, speaking in time with James as he said “I can’t prove anything, right.” With a roll of her eyes, Sarah clamped her hand down on the green ball.

 

[Local Area Shift : +26 PSI Maximum Water Pressure]

[+3 Skill Ranks : Cooking - Recipe - Coffee - Siphon Brew]

 

“Anything good?” James asked.

 

Sarah relaxed back into the couch with a sigh of satisfaction. “I can take a real shower again!”

 

“Wait, *again*? We’ve lived here to… together…” James managed to not stumble on his words too much. “Since we got this place, though. Did you forget how to shower or something?”

 

“No, our water pressure’s just sucked the whole time.” Sarah stuck her tongue out at James. “Not that you’d know.”

 

“I feel like I should be offended.” He smirked back. “Well, anyway. I kinda want to get to bed. Anything else you wanted to talk about since you took the time to ambush me?” James maneuvered himself to keep giving pets to the dog while also freeing up a hand to give a quick back pat to Rufus who had climbed up onto the table. Or maybe he’d been there the whole time, and only just now made his presence known. Rufus would be the best damn infiltrator ever, if he could talk about what he spied upon.

 

Sarah shrugged at James. “Nothing really. You *should* tell them, though. Oh, and… this might be a weird question, but do you guys still do a weekly D&D game?”

 

“Of *course* we do. Look at me. Would I ever stop playing D&D?” James went to gesture at his absolutely not work appropriate t-shirt and beat up leather jacket, but was stopped by two irritated companion animals demanding more scratches.

 

Another shrug in response. “You’re kinda deep into responsibility, my dude. Maybe you all stopped. Maybe you had enough fantasy adventure in Officium Mundi.”

 

“I’m not sure we should be naming it. It seems like names are special around the dungeon, somehow. Look at how much smarter Rufus is than the average strider.” James poked at the stapler, currently upside down and wiggling his pen limbs in an attempt to entice more belly rubs.

 

“Uh huh.” Sarah dryly muttered.

 

“Okay, but really.” James smiled. “We still play. And you’re absolutely welcome. I hope. If my sister can get in on it, I’m *sure* Anesh would be up for… oh my god.” He trailed off.

 

“You just realized that two Anesh’s means two GMs, huh?”

 

“It’s fuckin’ brilliant!” James slapped his forehead. “How did I not see it before?! We need to get him to clone himself more.” His intense stare made Sarah allllmost unsure if he was kidding or not.

 

“Pass. One Anesh is enough Anesh. Two is also enough Anesh, but please, no more Anesh.” She told him.

 

“Oh, fine. Spoilsport.” James stood, stepped around Aberdeen, and promptly rammed his shin into a chair. After about fifteen seconds of swearing loudly inside his head, he spoke out loud, trying to keep his voice down. “We need to fix this. This is too much.”

 

“Well, there’s always just cracking greens until we get more rooms.” Sarah volunteered. “That’s what… what one of my old squad mates did. He tended to keep all the greens for himself. Said his apartment was like a palace.”

 

“Oh, fuck. I never actually talked to you about that, did I? What happened?” James stopped hamming up the damage to his leg and addressed his friend as reassuringly as he could.

 

Sarah smiled a small smile at him. “I’ll tell you later. We should maybe try to figure out where he lived, though. Rent the place before anyone else does. If we’re being mercenary about it.”

 

James winced. “That seems a little too cold. Maybe we just rent some office space and put all the ‘work’ stuff there? *Non-hostile* office space, which I am amused that I have to specify.”

 

“I know a lot of people in the support group don’t ever wanna be in a conference room again.” Sarah told him. “But then, if we just get a small chunk of a building for our own use, it wouldn’t really be for them, huh?”

 

“Right. A place for us to meet up with the other two new teams and anyone else we recruit. Make plans, a central location for backups of maps and stuff. Place to store *chairs*.” He glared at the offending furniture. “Also, we won’t have to keep cracking greens here.”

 

“Why don’t you want them here?” Sarah asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

James blushed a little in the dim light of the lamp. “Okay, this is gonna sound dumb..” She nodded at him, partly to say ‘go on’, and also partly to say ‘I’ve seen worse from you’. James felt his heart skip as he recognized and reciprocated the ancient gesture that he didn’t remember ever making himself. “I don’t want the dogs to stop being a treasure.” He told her.

 

“Buh?”

 

“The dogs. Like Aberdeen here.” James gave the dog more ear scritches. “They’re so… unique. Special. They’re a personal treasure to me. I don’t want to fill this place with so many things like that, that I forget how cool the dogs are.”

 

“That’s… very you.” Sarah agreed.

 

“Thanks!”

 

“We’re gonna need another briefcase to pay for everything.” Sarah informed him, jumping back to talking about their potential workspace.

 

“Yup. We’ll prioritize it next week.” James paused. “Um… are you…”. He let the question sit in the air until Sarah caught it.

 

“Oh! Um… maybe. I don’t know. I don’t think I ever could match you guys, at this point. But I’d like to come along?”

 

“Of course!” James answered without hesitation. “Fucking of course you’re welcome. If you can play D&D with us, you can come to the dungeon with us.”

 

“That doesn’t even begin to make sense.” She riposted.

 

“Look, I’m tired.” James muttered with a roll of his eyes. “It was hard enough to think up enough wit to say the thing about the dogs. Let me go to beeddddd.”

 

Sarah giggled, and waved him away. But as he started to walk down the hallway, she stopped him with one last thing to say. Her voice somber enough to make James really listen. “Hey. Tell them.” Was all she said, before James started walking to the door to his shared bedroom.

 

She sat there, just taking in the calm and familiar atmosphere of the living room for a little while. The little things you don’t appreciate until a three month captivity forces you to stop taking stuff for granted.

 

Down the hall, Sarah’s orb-enhanced hearing let her pick out bits of a conversation.

 

“Hey.” James softly said to his sleeping partners. “I’m gonna take a shower first, I smell like gunpowder. And I’m preemptively sorry. I didn’t want you guys to worry.”

 

On the couch, Sarah smiled. Patting the cushions, and prompting Auberdeen to jump up and turn herself into a pillow, she laid her head back on the doggo and let the knowledge that her friend was still *there* for her lull her to sleep.

 

She did have to make some effort to tune them out when they started having sex, though. The weird echo effect on the moans from duplicate Aneshes usually required the use of headphones, or burying her head in a very fluffy and understanding dog.

_____

 

Secret was dreaming.

 

Dreaming, for him, was a much different experience than it was for a human, though he was only vaguely aware of that fact.

 

As an infomorph, Secret didn’t really exist in his physical shell, the way James or Alanna did. He lived, for lack of a better term, inside the thoughts and minds of those creatures that hosted ideas. James, mostly. But a host of others as well.

 

Much like a human gradually made a living space more comfortable for themselves, so too did Secret. He gradually rearranged things to better suit him, pushed certain concepts forward, and over time, revealed more and more of his complexity to the person thinking about him. Or, alternately, he took in complexity from that person.

 

From James, he had absorbed a personality, a sense of self, a love of speaking like a character from a trashy high fantasy novel, and a *deep* pride and sense of protectiveness for his family. From Alanna, he had taken in shards of responsibility for the whole of humanity. From Anesh, it was a will to grow in knowledge.

 

To each of them, he would give his life if asked. Or, more likely, if needed. They would never ask; which was part of why he would so willingly die for them.

 

Anesh and Alanna were new homes to him, compared to James, where he had been ‘born’. But again, it was a cycle. As he spent more time in their heads, they learned more about him, which meant more of him was there, which meant… and so on. Until eventually, they would understand his whole self, and then he would wholly *be* with them, as he was with James.

 

Then, of course, there were others. Those people who were aware of Secret, who he had a metaphorical ‘toe’ dipped in. He didn’t really bother to try to influence them, to reveal more of himself to them. Not that he didn’t want to meet new people, but more that they may not want to meet him, and he was nothing if not polite. And there were *so many* of these others now. Secret had, in defiance of his own name, revealed himself in front of a whole crowd of humans; and didn’t regret it for a second.

 

But now, when his physical shell slept, it dremt. And when he dreamed, he felt his self start to drift, unmoored by the confines of a mind. An idea, unthought. It was horrifying the first time it happened, but when a fearful start had brought him back to wakefulness, Secret had learned there was no real danger to it. James was always there, an anchor to drag him home.

 

And so he began to take pleasure in snoozing in the back seat as James and Alanna drove down those southwestern highways. Letting himself be thought of by rocks and birds and cacti and the occasional hiker who would think, for just a second, of a flash of blue and a vault of information kept hidden.

 

And then, one day, he dreamt, and found himself pulled to one of the others. They had also been dreaming, though human dreams were familiar territory for Secret. And he’d said hello, and his partner in slumber had responded!

 

The man’s name had been Ethan, and he’d been fascinated by Secret. Though, upon waking, Secret had been dismayed to learn that none of the things learned in the dream had stuck with Ethan. Very little of it actually stuck with Secret himself. Only a lingering sense of something just out of reach.

 

It wasn’t the first, or last, time that Secret had drifted to another dreaming mind. Each time, getting a little better at leaving his mark on them, letting them hold onto the knowledge of their meeting when they woke. He started making friends with people, some of whom had only barely glimpsed him hidden under a blanket in the back seat of a car, or poking a dematerialized snout out of the back of James’ shirt to try to grab a piece of fruit off a store display. It seemed, to him, harmless, and it turned out, for all that he was a minor god of secrecy, he *loved* the meeting of new persons.

 

And then, he’d encountered Eleanor, though he didn’t know her name himself. Not yet.

 

She had almost instantly seen through his mask, though he’d only put it on to be polite. It was rude to go into someone else’s dream in the nude. But more than that, she had been *terrified* of him. Not just of what he was, but of what she *believed* he was.

 

She had believed something about him. Something dangerous, and incorrect, and Secret couldn’t quite sniff out what it was.

 

So he marked the time. And every night, made sure to find himself asleep, and broadcasting across the continent, searching.

 

And tonight, again, he found her.

 

“Hello there.” Secret said. He was wearing a mask, but one that was entirely his own. Fewer teeth, fewer eyes. Those unsettled humans in great numbers. *She* was driving this time; a car that hummed and thumped and burned in the dream world in glorious mechanical unity. The dream was the feel of the car, the whip of the wind. Secret had become part of it in the passenger seat, and found himself already wearing sunglasses.

 

Secret was cool. He could *feel* it thrumming through the dream.

 

“You’re not really here!” The girl screamed over the noise of the engine and the road. “You can’t hurt me!”

 

“I also *won’t* hurt you.” Secret nodded at her. “I am simply present to apologize. I frightened you, on our last meeting.”

 

The girl slammed her foot to the floor; ten miles of distance covered in one martial stomp that shook the seats. “I’m free. I’m on the road, and I’m free.” She howled.

 

Secret was confused. And then he realized; she wasn’t talking to him. She was either ignoring him, or too deep in the dream to notice.

 

This was her Dream. The place she went when she truly slept, where her mind rebuilt itself and perfected its self-image. He felt like an outsider, an intruder, but he didn’t leave.

 

Instead, he spoke a few soft words to her. “You should be free.” He whispered as the wind roared around them. “You should be safe.” He murmured as the road signs blurred by.

 

Secret was, fundamentally, different than a human. But while he and James had conspired to make himself human enough to be a person, he still retained many blessings that humans missed out on. And one of them was the ability to *see*, with eyes unblinking, the shifting of the sky as this young woman’s heart internalized and began to echo his own words.

 

You should be free. You should be safe.

 

The road was a little less red, a little less angry. The car hummed under them, engine kicking, but it was in excitement, not fear.

 

Secret added one last sentence, that he hoped would take root, as he felt the woman begin to wake.

 

“I wish to be your friend.”

 

The cliff approached. The tires screeched. The dream ended.

 

Secret woke up with a start.

 

He shook his head lazily, looked around the closet that he’d claimed as a personal den. Something in that dream had been important, he thought with a tired nod. He was tired a lot these days.

 

Oh well. He’d remember later.

 

He lay his head back down, and sought out a new naptime companion.

 

_____

 

“I’ve bloody got it!” Both of Anesh slapped the table in their living room, causing a brief stutter in the morning routine.

 

Well, perhaps ‘morning’ was a bit too strong of a word. It was 2 PM, and things around the apartment were just starting to get moving.

 

Anesh, despite his sleep being disrupted by James’ coming home from work, had woken up at roughly 10 AM, and promptly gotten back to his own task. On days like today, when neither of him had class, it was especially helpful to have an extra set of hands and eyes for research purposes. He’d spent the last six hours organizing his notes, trawling Wikipedia and various forums (some of them potentially useful sources of information, some of them *insane*), and wondering whether it would be advantageous to purchase corkboard and notecards in bulk off Amazon.

 

At around noon, JP and Dave had showed up, and Anesh had been reminded that D&D had been moved to today, and half of him shifted planning and research goals while the other half worked with JP to keep in touch with the two nascent ‘teams’ that they were now fully committed to bringing into the office next week.

 

At around one, James had staggered out of bed, taken a shower, been joined in the shower by Alanna, and been reminded that shared showers weren’t sexy as his access to hot water was conquered by the one person in the apartment taller than he was. Then, once he’d properly equipped himself with pants and a Hawaiian shirt, he’d sauntered casually out into the living room like he owned the place.

 

Which he kinda did.

 

After asking if anyone had eaten anything today, and getting guilty looks from his boyfriend(s), James had scowled and started making pancakes.

 

Rufus had tried to help. Then James started remaking pancakes while Rufus cleaned himself in the sink. They were blueberry pecan, there were enough for everyone, and they tasted like the perfect compliment to this mid-October day that felt like it was trying to disguise itself as late august.

 

When Alanna came out, still blinking sleep out of her eyes, it had been with a chirping iLipede clinging to her bathrobe, getting a fix of static electricity. She’d simply taken a stack of pancakes and plopped down in a chair next to Dave before beginning to discuss character creation. For the first time, James recognized the value of Alanna’s ability to compartmentalize. To shift from throwing him in a choke hold over lying about his plan to go into the dungeon, to quietly cuddling as they slept. To jump from, on a larger scale, a solid month of plans and schemes and detective work and travel, to… conspiring with Dave to make a party of all bards. James had a feeling he’d be approached about this later.

 

Sarah was out walking Aberdeen. Kayle was taking advantage of this long pseudo-vacation to spend more and more time sleeping over with her girlfriend, a fact that James had chosen *not* to poke fun at her for. Ganesh was taking advantage of the city’s lax drone laws to simply feel the joy of flying under the sky. And Secret…

 

James looked around, before noticing a coiled blue tail sticking out from under a chair. A quick check showed that Secret was, apparently, also in on the plan to roll a party of bards.

 

For the first time, in a *very, very long time*, James felt like he was truly at home.

 

Then Anesh slapped the table like he was a used car salesman about to start a pitch, and just fucking *shattered* the mood.

 

“Okay, I’ll bite!” James announced, sparing everyone else the job. “What is it this time? Is it Wikipedia again?”

 

“No!” James could tell when Anesh was excited because both of them talked in unison.

 

“Internet in general? I’m not making fun of you here, bee-tee-dubs. I’m legit just going to try guessing.”

 

Anesh almost *sneered* as he answered, but in a way that James knew wasn’t aimed at him. “It is not the Internet, though I have suspicions about the dark web.”

 

“National landmark? Does the Washington Monument actually act as a backup teleport to the shadow zone?”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s a comic reference, you uncultured…”

 

“No.” Came the interruption

 

James flipped a pancake in a perfect arc, caught it on the spatula, and neatly dropped it onto the plate beside him. “Some kind of… oh, I dunno. I haven’t had coffee yet. Someone make me magic coffee while I cook, and come up with ideas to throw at Anesh.”

 

As Dave utterly failed to stand up to make James coffee, he raised a hand to ask, “Can we just know? I’m actually curious. And James is too tired to make this funny.”

 

“Ouch!” James exclaimed from the kitchen, more hurt by the words than any kitchen mishap.

 

“It’s Tracy, California.” Anesh announced dramatically.

 

There was not a word spoken. Even Rufus stilled in scrubbing his carapace for a second. The only noise in the apartment was that of birds and cars passing outside.

 

And then, from JP, “Buddy, no one has a clue where that is.”

 

“In California, I guess?” Alanna asked with a smug smile.

 

“Alright, alright. Shut up and listen.” Anesh went back to his now-practiced method of alternating which of him spoke between sentences. “It’s a town in the middle of California. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the US, which was the first hint. But more than that, it also has generally just a slightly sideways feel to it.”

 

“Explain.” James said, leaning over the kitchen counter, arms crossed as he absorbed with Anesh was saying.

 

“Like the dungeon. Our dungeon, anyway. James, don’t take this the wrong way, but your company is bloody strange sometimes.” Anesh said.

 

Around the table a few people nodded. JP started listing points on his fingers. “They pay for you to take martial arts classes, they don’t seem to have a management structure, they put several disparate parts of an industry in one building, a building that is *constantly under remodel*, and they seem to uniquely hire people who were capable of either finding, or surviving, a dungeon. It’s either a bizarre coincidence, or something is up.”

 

“That… is a lot of things, yeah.” James admitted. “Theo and I actually talked about this last night. She’s noticed a few more weird bits, though I can’t remember them now.”

 

“Right!” Both of Anesh said with enthusiastic confidence. “It’s like the normal way of doing things got buggered up around that building. Probably, if I’m right, around the door itself. Normally, people wouldn’t notice, or they’d be made to forget, by the things like Secret living around it. But now we have a clearer picture because the bigger one is dead, and we can use that to find places that don’t have the same kind of defense.”

 

“So, Tracy?” Alanna asked, genuinely curious now.

 

“Tracy.” Anesh nodded. “JP, do the list thing again.”

 

JP sighed and smiled and started counting off points again. “Alright! We’ve got the missing persons rate, the homicide rate, and the general crime rate. Not too weird so far, just sad. Then we have the secret military weapons cache, we have the oddly placed extra postal routing station, and a *very* out of place well funded hospital.”

 

“Hang on, what was that about the secret…”

 

“Then there’s the small quirks that every small town develops, like how their slogan is ‘think inside the triangle’, or how they don’t have a single pawn shop despite the high rate of military personnel *and* drug use.” JP ignored James’ question as he kept going.

 

From under the table, Secret spoke up in a deep and vibrating voice, “I, too, am interested in this underground…”

 

“And finally, MC Hammer lives there.” JP finished, continuing to ignore everyone until he was done. Not to be a jerk, just to make sure that he got through the whole list properly.

 

Alanna was the first to react to that. “I mean, he has to live *somewhere*.”

 

“But he doesn’t. He lives here.”

 

James tapped the counter in thought. “I think…” He mused, “...I think that if we treat the dungeons as able to warp causality like that, then we will never be able to sleep well again. If they can, that’s a real shame, but we *need* to proceed as if Hammer is there by coincidence.”

 

“That’s fair.” Anesh nodded. “And was largely the conclusion we came to as well. It was mostly just a fun factoid.”

 

“So, it’s a weird place, and not just because of the murders-and-military-base-and-bed-and-breakfast?” James asked as he went back to pouring discs of batter into the heated pan.

 

“Right. And I want to go check it out.” Anesh nodded. “I’m on break from a couple classes, so one of me can be spared for a little while, and we don’t have any big projects after next week’s delve.”

 

James and Alanna froze. “Are you… sure?” Alanna asked, tension in her voice.

 

“Yup.” Anesh replied, oblivious to it. “It shouldn't be hard. JP can come with me. He doesn’t have any obligations anyway.”

 

“It’s true!” JP told them with overplayed cheer. “I am adrift in life, with no purpose. A puppet with no strings, or girlfriend!”

 

Before just how depressing that sentence was could catch up to James, and before he could express worry at Anesh going off alone, his friend shuffled around the table and headed down the hall to the bathroom. “It’ll be fine, guys. Now eat your pancakes and roll your characters. I’ll be right back.”

 

James sighed, and shared a look with Alanna. “I know that we’re only, like, three days more combat-experienced than he is, but I’m still super worried.”

 

“Right?” Alanna replied, moving closer and keeping their conversation quiet while the others gave them some space. “I don’t wanna be super codependent or anything, but I want him to be safe. James, we went on a simple road trip and ended up slugging it out with an ax murderer.”

 

“Knife murderer, but yeah. But, still, we gotta be cool about it. Support him, help where we can, but we can’t be overbearing. We aren’t parents, we’re partners.”

 

Alanna raised her eyebrows so high they threatened to leap off her forehead. “Did you *hear* the thing about the three percent murder rate?”

 

“No?”

 

“Right, that was on the dossier he had. *Three percent*, James!”

 

“Okay, so we support him, and also send Aberdeen along to maul anything that looks at him funny. And Ganesh, too, for the snooping.”

 

“And Hyades, for the same reason.”

 

“Who?”

 

“I named my shotgun Hyades, after the false stars from that one Robert Chambers book.”

 

“...I have concerns, but I’m on board.”

 

The two of them nodded, and Alanna leaned in to give James a quick kiss before the two of them turned back to the living room. At least, they reasoned, they could do the absolute best they could to support their boyfriend if he was going to be out of their sight for more than two seconds.

 

Anesh stood, almost right next to them, arms folded on his chest. “You two forgot there were two of me, didn’t you?” He asked, after Alanna’s yelp and James’ dropping of a pancake had passed. “Seriously, I... l..love you too. But come on, at least have coffee before you start conspiring. You two don’t pay attention to your surroundings at *all*.” There was a brief pause, while James considered bribing this iteration to not tell the other one, before Anesh cut that line of thought off with “I’m absolutely sharing this, you wanker. Besides, it’s hilarious. And it’s cute that you care. Now come make your characters and pretend our lives are normal before I give you my list of questions on skulljack drone piloting.”

 

With a grin, James took the threat seriously, and sat down to make the best bard he could.

 

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About the author

argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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