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"Bit funny for a dude who's mad into every bump 'n lump being covered up to be the last one on the beach, ain't it?"

Kankri startles, feet kicking out of their comfortable dune hollows and spraying sand onto Latula's wet legs.

There is a rather impressive expanse of legs, truthfully. He stares at her knees, and tells himself that they are slightly knobby under that sleek muscle, and that it doesn't make them cuter somehow. They are merely articulations used for forward locomotion, amongst other very mundane and not remotely interesting things.

"I beg your -- oh, no, I did not mean to engage in body shaming, I was merely. I wish you would be considerate toward my own personal preferences and the societal expectation we were raised in, but Karkat is, I suppose he has a point in that in this context, a beach is explicitly a place where dress codes are more relaxed and perhaps I might relax my own standards of -- did you want something? "

She stands before him in the sunset, her surfboard tucked under an arm like it isn't huge and heavy, ungainly, and he doesn't even need to look up to know her mouth is pursed.

All his words have fled him.

They started to run when he restarted his quest, one by one by one -- a seer is one who knows -- and then he stepped through that last door back into life, and.

She looks at him, and his oaths and his certainties tangle themselves up like balls of string batted at by an army of meowbeasts.

"Why're you still here, bro," Latula repeats patiently. Kankri glances up accidentally -- midriff, oh dear -- and glances away, fast.

Sitting in the surf is a man with too many visible ribs and shoulders too wide for his frame, strings-and-cables musculature in stark relief through the lack of even the smallest coating of insulating flesh. He looks starving and steel-strong both and there are little chalk-white nicks of scars everywhere on him. Foam runs up to his waist; Kankri stares, thinking stupidly, he is naked. Did he decide in a fit of whimsical, ah, otherness, to take off that last bit of -- but no, there is the edge of his waistband, and Kankri turns his gaze down to the sand between his own knees, ears burning with shame at his own salacious, depraved disappointment.

They want me gone, he thinks, and he knows why. This is a perfect place, a perfect moment; he's intruding.

"I was not aware that enjoying a beach required some form of prior claim, perhaps a rental or a license, and there was a time by which I must be gone," he replies, haughty and hurt and still unable to look any higher than her (gorgeous, knobby) knees. "Perhaps if you wish to lay claim to a public place--"

"Kankri," she says, and his words run into a wall.

She almost never uses anyone's full, proper name, and he wants to think she is merely finally acceding to his wishes and respecting his desire not to have his name made smaller and sillier and more easily dismissed, he wants it to mean that.

It doesn't. (A seer is one who sees.)

"I wasn't trying to kick you out, bro. You've been sitting on your tush here all afternoon and hardly talked to anyone at all, is all. Got mad cogitations going on in your pan, huh?"

"Yes," he lies decisively. "As it happens. There are a number of topics I must lay out with the greatest clarity, not least about the safe and inclusive merging of Alternian, human, post-apocalyptic human and Beforan societies into a cohesive yet accepting whole, and all the pitfalls and necessary topics must be ready to be laid down in a clear and forthright manner if any later discourse is to be productive."

He takes a breath. (He didn't have to pause to take a breath back when he was dead.) She doesn't rush into the breach to interrupt him, so his second volley of words stalls on his tongue, with no target to destroy in midair to regain supremacy.

She just... looks down at him, holding her surfboard, stance effortlessly steady. Saltwater runs down the inside of her knee. His eyes glance at the glittery trail the drop left on her inner thigh.

"Betcha if I was Seer of, like, that fuckin' think in our body tubes, what is it again," Mituna calls back at them. His neck is craned to leer through the mess of wet hair plastered to his face, but he still sits facing the horizon with his hands planted behind him, tendons and muscles and shoulder blades in too much relief.

"Blood?" Latula suggests, an eyebrow arched with patient curiosity.

"Yeah, haha, Seer of fuskin' Blood, bet your sweet ass-tush I could see this hugeass crazy monster bulge in his shitstupid pants."

And as Kankri splutters in shock and horror, Mituna's leer widens and he lets out that breathless, rusty-saw laugh.

"Oh wait! I can see it anylays."

Kankri throws his shoulders back, lowers his chin, (bares his fangs no this is wrong.) (His knees snap together, Mituna is not right, he is not (not right now), it's not true--) "I'm sorry, did you just imply that I might have a -- that I might let myself entertain prurient thoughts out in public? That is barely one step removed from, from calling me a voyeur, which is one step removed from implicating unwilling strangers directly in my --"

He chokes. He can't.

"Dude, chillax," Latula says. "I been sporting mad boners like twice a day my own self and it's nothing to do with ogling people. It's just my bod being like, hey, sweet, second adolescence, is all."

"Nope," Mituna says, making the P pop. "It was to'lly your mad booty that sproinged him."

He snickers, repeats sproing, sproiiing more quietly to himself.

Kankri is hot and cold both, dizzy and guts in knots. (His groin pulses.)

He knows that they know. He keeps watching, he keeps not managing to stop himself, his non-dead eyes betray him and then his body just... Latula is merely being polite. He wishes briefly to be dead once again -- not as a ghost but fully dead. (Suicidal ideation is no matter to be trivialized out of mere embarrassment, a small part of him says, but the rest just. No. Can't.)

"C'mon, ain't no big," Latula says, and sighs. She sounds oddly weary; he can't help but glance up at her face. Her eyes are unreadable behind red lenses, as always (not like his now that he has pupils again) but the twist of her mouth is disappointed and sad. (He tries to unsee it and he can't. So many things he can't unsee anymore.)

"I find having aspersions cast about my -- my bodily functions plenty big, and--"

Mituna brays out a laugh, hugging his ribs, and topples back onto wet sand. His legs kick up with sheer glee. "You said it's big! Ehehe, fuskin' show it then!"

"What?!"

"Pics or it din't happen, turdnub!"

He flips around on hands and knees in the surf and the wet, clinging sand and he starts crawling up the beach, toward them. Kankri kicks himself backward out of pure reflex, even though Mituna is nowhere near to being in grabbing range.

Latula plants the end of her surfboard in the sand between the two of them like a wall and sighs loudly. "'Tuna, not funny. Kankz, chill, he ain't gonna pants you for realz."

"Yeah, sorry," Mituna says, face gone all chagrined, shoulders drooping. It's -- it's a bit wrong, after the fierce smirk, the -- the borderline predatory stalking, it feels wrong, it feels like guilt and -- but Kankri was in the right there, that remark wasn't appropriate at all.

"I accept your apology," he says stiffly, because he doesn't know how to say please, go back to smirking, it was so much better.

"Jus' messing around. No pantsting. I'm sorry. It's not funny at all."

Kankri cannot help but agree. The times older children tried it on him at recess were traumatizing enough, and it is unexpected to see that Mituna knows so. (Perhaps it happened to him as well? Oh.) The steel in his spine softens a little. "Yes, I must agree."

"But you're toterly sporting mad crotch tent wood, like, at least a trunkbeast foresty shit, right?"

"Mituna!" he snaps, unable to contain himself. Mituna topples into the sand shoulder first as he cackles, hugging his ribs.

Kankri works on his breathing. He can't believe he let his voice rise in anger -- that is just, just unacceptable. His regrettable tendency to wrath is one he was made starkly aware of as far as his memories go, and it isn't any less of a problem now that he is an adult -- very far from it. Losing control of his tone is shameful at his age, the way incontinence would be.

"My apologies for snapping, that is unacceptable and I am well aware of it. I fear I -- you were right, Latula, this body is--"

He's about to offer to go, and then she reaches down and offers him her hand, and he, oh, he can't take it for the first second (she wants him gone so much she's ready to help) (what if his arousal wasn't as destroyed as he thought and is made visible, he cannot tell merely by feel, he isn't familiar enough with it.)

But she keeps offering it, patient and steady, and he doesn't want to insult her by refusing her touch, by shunning her so entirely. (He doesn't want to not know what her hand feels like, with blood-warmed skin and a heartbeat resonating through living flesh.)

He takes it; she pulls him up. He's awkward, doesn't know how to shift his weight and help her. She ends up doing most of the work, and then they're face to face and it's ridiculous how much he can't breathe. Her lips aren't a glossy curve of teal anymore, after all the time she spent in the water -- just a few traces of color left, imperfect. He wishes he could see her eyes.

"All clumsy and weird, huh."

"Ah... yes."

"You wanna go swimming with us? And then we can all walk back together for dinner."

A cold shock goes down his spine. He could swear his ribs are tightening, his diaphragm clenching very unproductively. "Oh -- that's alright, I don't wish to take up your time with pointless exercise--"

Her eyebrows knit, and he realizes that she hasn't released his hand -- no, he was aware, but it isn't a tender, lingering touch, it's a solid grasp. No escape if he's not willing to yank free, and that'd be... "Ain't pointless now, doofus. Alive means if you fall in the water you can actually drown."

She says it like she knows exactly the way Kankri's lungs suddenly feel smaller, like she needs to say it despite that.

"And we're on a series of islands and soon we're gonna have boats, and the Knights committee ain't letting you on any hellacious water ride if you can't pass the waddling test. Sorry, but that's how it is."

He stares at her, shocked. Shocked and, oh, no, so many worlds of no. "That's blackmail! You can't intimidate me into--"

Mituna makes cluckbeast noises over him.

"Oh nooo, knee high water, we're all gunna die!" He flips around in the surf, flails his arms and legs. (Splutters for real when a wave laps at his face.) "Halp, halp, I need macking to mouth ressusuckation!"

"This is," Kankri starts, and fights to keep his voice even (how did he do it before they all died, how did he used to do it? He doesn't remember,) "not amusing in the least. I am feeling extremely triggered right now, and I must insist you both cease and desist!"

"You know this is like the first time I legit hear you using that trigger thing at least halfway how it's s'posed to be used?"

He stares at Latula, shocked. She's never this short with him. Latula is kind and sweet and patient, and sometimes she has to leave and end a conversation early but (embarrassed for him, weirded out, he's a creep -- a seer has to see) she never cuts him off like this, never --

"Knight of Mind, Kankri," she says, and flips wet hair off her shoulder. It stays glued to her skin at the ends and falls back into a tangled mess. "I don't know what's going on in here," she adds, and taps her temple and then points at his forehead, her fingers together like a gun; "I ain't no seer like my homeslice R-Zee. But I know you coming to put your walkstubs in the water with us is the right thing to do. Can you at least trust me, like, this much?"

Kankri can do nothing but blink, speechless.

He doesn't want to go in the water.

He doesn't want to go in the water with them (yes he does. That is the issue. His body is repugnant and his hormonal responses skew his logic, his rational decisions.)

He doesn't want to reject her this harshly, now that she has used this unfair trust card on him, even though he can see it for the manipulative tactic that it is...! (Just because she used it to manipulate him, it doesn't mean that she didn't mean it, or that she wasn't right. Does it? The form matters, but so does the function.)

"Up to your knees? At first? And then we can see if it's enough for today or if we can up the difficulty level."

"Well," he says. "Well." He clear his throat. "The surf looks a little, ah, rowdy..."

"You can have my elbow to hang on!" she assures him with a sudden, white-toothed grin, rows of perfect little fangs, and his neck muscles nod his agreement without involvement from his brain at all.

"Two elbows!" Mituna says, and pushes himself up on his feet, and promptly lands back on his posterior. "Ow. F'kukin leg elbow, folding the wrong way."

Latula chuckles at him, and starts gently, implacably hauling Kankri to the lapping waves, leaving her surfboard behind. "Hey there. Two dudes, and I've got two elbows. That also works."

"I am not sure," Kankri says, "how well you will manage two adult males and their attendant mass -- that is to say, I don't wish to cast aspersions on your physical abilities but sand provides notoriously treacherous footing and I, and, oh, it's cold, why is it so cold?"

The sand bows out under his heels, unbalancing him; he tries not to cling, and he fails, and then he -- the dip of her waist, the flare of her hips, so much bare skin, so close.

"Umm, Tulip, you forgate stuff."

She pauses, an eyebrow going up in a perfect curve (Kankri has eons of practice and still can't raise a single eyebrow that elegantly.) "I did?"

"Yeah, duh."

Mituna ambles his way to them, limbs loose and relaxed, trusting in his body even when it betrays him at such unforeseeable intervals and Kankri cannot understand how one might come to trust their failing body like that.

"Look." Mituna points at his own chest, ribs apparent; "Man pecs." Her chest, thankfully contained in a bikini top; "Awesome titty g-strings." And then Kankri's, with a look of offended disbelief on the part of his face that shows through his hair; "Hollowed woolbeast corpse?!"

Kankri blinks down at his sweater. Blinks up at Mituna. Tries to step back in alarm. "Oh no, I refuse to disrobe for this exercise. We are not going any deeper than knee-deep today -- any day! -- and the length will be perfectly fine."

"Hm," Latula says. "But what if we both slip and I can't catch you, and then you have to go back drenched? I mean, you're already going in pants, yeah, I ain't crazy enough to talk you out of them--"

"--Please don't use such triggering terms about mental illness, especially around Mituna--"

"Imma trigger your ass, fucknut!"

"--'Tuna, Kankz, no. Anywayz that kind of cloth will dry way faster than woolbeast fiber, I mean, dude, you won't have anything to wear for like days after that, and it might even shrink on you and be ruined entirely."

"I am sure Porrim would be delighted to finally have a chance to knit me another," Kankri snaps, and hugs himself around the waist with his free arm. The wide bottom of his sweater is all that hides his crotch from view -- and it's a second layer to hide his body but that doesn't make it redundant, considering what's underneath.

Latula doesn't look impressed. "Uh yeah, Po-Po has nothing to do with her days but dress you, bud, this is totes what she wants to do with her life. It ain't cool not to take care of her presents, you dig?"

And Mituna is now making woolbeast noises. "I will thank you to cease pretending to be a whole barnyard," Kankri says snidely (he can tell it was snide, he was trying to make it snide) and steps back from the both of them.

His fingers shake as he takes hold of the bottom of his sweater. He finds them both staring at him, and he -- can't. He glowers back at them, his face so hot it prickles.

"A little privacy?"

"Oh yeah, sure thing," Latula says, turning away. Mituna turns and wraps his arm around her waist; his hand lands square on her -- her -- her a-- her buttock.

And then he squeezes.

Kankri would love nothing more than to run home to the Lalondes' hive and lock himself up in the shower and turn on the cold faucet.

He can't, so he takes his sweater off.

He's a little -- not cold, on the beach without it. It feels -- not hot. Err. Actually nice. Freeing, oddly so.

Like he can breathe. (He doesn't want to breathe.)

He turns his back on them and steps out of the surf.

"He's rumming! Chase!"

"I wasn't!" Kankri yelps, and Mituna trips and grabs onto his arm to catch himself and they predictably both fall face-first on the sand.

The impact to his chest chokes him for a minute; he gasps, grabs for his throat. A hand lands on his shoulder (bare skin to skin, this is not helping!), rubs a little circle. "Hold your breath! There, yeah, good, try again, slow. Better?"

Kankri gulps down a lungful, and another. "Yes. Ah." Mituna is already sitting up, like the fall and the impact barely fazed him. Kankri glowers at him from the corner of his eye. "I wasn't -- running. I was -- didn't want my sweater -- to get wet -- and now it's -- full of sand--!"

Latula tugs it free from his grasp, shakes it a little, bats sand off it. "There! Good as new." She balls it up and lobs it carelessly onto a dune. "Now c'mon, up you go."

Kankri hates his body. He's still panting and awkward when he makes it back on his feet and Mituna isn't, he and his unfair corded muscles and limber joints (his muscle spasms and his bouts of dizziness and his wandering attention.) The top of Kankri's leggings feels almost too tight around his chest, but he can't -- won't open them, he won't. No. Them being so constricting is the only thing that allows him to risk it.

He lets them drag him to the water once again, ankle-deep -- his pants stick weirdly, and it's uncomfortably cold for the first minute. He stares ahead, eyes on the horizon, ignoring to the best of his abilities Latula's half-worried, half-disappointed looks, Mituna's fangy smirk.

(He can feel the cloth of Latula's swim top, the soft curve of the outside of her venom gland, Mituna's steel-string biceps, his ribs. They're damp to the touch and Latula feels a little chilled -- he knows that's likely just her hemochrome. Mituna feels impossibly warm even though Kankri should be warmer.)

"How's it feel?" she asks him after five, six cautious steps. The sand shifts out from under his heels and the arches of his feet; he can't find words to quantify the experience.

"Tolerable so far. Ah -- did you observe any marine wildlife in the area? This coast is hardly explored, after all, it wouldn't do to step on something venomous, and one should also consider the repercussions on the ecosystem and the ethics of hurting or killing prey one is not ready to eat..."

"I'm totafuckally ready to eat," Mituna says. "Hungry like a beast. Ten beasts." Latula snickers.

"Oh, no kidding?"

He leans forward, almost unbalancing them, and grins proudly at Latula past Kankri's face. "Horny like one too, fuuuck."

Kankri closes his eyes and prays for patience. "Can we please avoid conversations about the numerous benefits your matespritship affords you, Mituna, if you please, I know you do not have the ability to comprehend why it is not appropriate in certain companies--"

Oh. Ooh, shit.

He wasn't paying attention, ranting as he did, and they got him thigh-deep, and a wave has just lapped up to his crotch.

It's cold. Shockingly so.

It doesn't help.

It's cold like, he's not sure, he vaguely remembers mentions of ice cubes and Cronus' fingers affording similar benefits but (oh dear no, he needs to unthink that, he can't unthink that, argh!) he wasn't sure how cold temperatures against, ah, active parts would ever feel positive (feel arousing, seer, call a meowbeast a meowbeast) since cold showers always did so well suppressing his urges but yes, alright, when the cold touch is brief and one is sufficiently primed, it does.

He is so fucked.

He highly dislikes misusing coarse vocabulary, and unchecked, rambling vulgarity is the mark of a weak, lazy, uncultured mind and he is so, so, so fucked.

(He makes a note to cut Karkat's rants off at the root more often; his dancestor is a horrible influence. Why, Kankri (almost) never swears when left to his own devices. Fuck.)

The only refuge he still has is to stumble forward, pulling them along, until he is waist-deep in cold, cold water -- on his inner thighs, lapping at the small of his back -- and the waves hide his reaction completely.

Mituna trips on nothing Kankri notices and they pitch forward; Kankri fights to keep himself straight, to keep from letting Mituna go. Latula hauls them both back up, though now Kankri's front is soaked to the chin and his chest hurts.

"One -- minute -- please," he gasps, and finds his hands have tightened on them. His eyes are closed, his mouth open as he pants.

"Do you want to unzip your--"

"No!" He shudders, eyes snapping open. "No, that -- believe me, it would not help."

"Why? Naked's good. Freeballin', ehehe."

"Pardon?" Kankri says, confused. So is Latula, from her very expressive eyebrow rise.

"Dick showered me. Their shame globes are totulally hanging outside! Chilling in lil' skin bags and everything, humans are fucking freaks."

Kankri stares, splutters. "He showed you?!" How is Latula not offended?! Kankri is offended, and he's not even his matesprit! And surely Dirk cannot be flirting pitch, humans don't do caliginous relationships and who would find a mental cripple hateful enough--

"Like, on a drawing, turdflick. Not his own."

"--Oh."

"Hmm," goes Latula, and when Kankri turns to look at her, both her eyebrows are up and a little smile is floating at the corner of her lips. "Dang, that sounds interesting."

Kankri's mouth gapes. "Latula -- you can not mean that."

"Why not?" she asks, one eyebrow arching. "We're one community now, ain't nothing lame 'n pervy in wanting a better look. We stay in two separate communities with separate dating scenes, we're totally gonna end up with, like, classism and stuff down the road."

"That and it sounds all like a fucken magilical ride, ehehehe."

"Pff." They laugh together. Kankri's face heats up again; he glowers down at the water and tells himself that it's good if they have such an open, trusting relationship that they're willing to entertain the thought of bringing in temporary lovers, though he should talk with them about whether they've delimited their boundaries with in-depth dialogue. Yes. That is something he should do at some point.

Maybe next month. He'll need at least this much time to put enough words (enough distance) together on the topic--

Something alive slithers out from under his foot, and he is throwing himself back without thought, out of sheer reflex and no time for a considered response.

The water burns when it closes over his head, rushes up his nose; someone's elbow knocks into his solar plexus, someone's knees tangle with his and he can't pull himself up toward the air, he can't find the air, he can't breathe oh lord, where's the air --

Hands close on his arms and they haul him back up, swaying with the waves and tripping, threatening to dump him again; he tries to cough up water and nothing comes.

His chest feels full of water, his lungs, his--

"Fuck," Latula swears, surprisingly vicious, and she grabs the zipper of his leggings and yanks it down to his belly, and she shoves him back down.

He fights to cling to her -- not his head, oh no, not his head -- grabs onto Mituna, who stumbles and almost topples onto him, and then Mituna's knee smacks into his back, hard, and his opercula spasm open.

He -- coughs, sort of, or sneezes maybe, low on his sides, and tries to breathe with his mouth and Latula puts a hand on it and grabs him by the arm to pull him back up.

"There -- breathe now -- nice and slow, yeah? Shit, I'm really sorry, I didn't think it'd go that badly. Kankz? You okay?"

He's barely listening to anything but the tone of her soft, worried voice in his ear; the words themselves flow by. He keeps coughing up his throat and through his gills, his body can't decide which way is up, it burns like water in sinuses in his whole chest cavity.

"... Whoaaaaaa."

If he keeps his eyes closed, Kankri can tell himself he isn't being stared at.

"When d'you turn into a shitlick turdrigding fish troll, did that fuckassed dame put you back wrong? What?"

"Don't poke, MT," Latula says, "you'll hurt him."

"But they're all tiny-ass and weird. Like... I don't fucking know. Weird."

Kankri flinches, curled up around his ribs.

"I mean like Cronuts flashed me his fish titties a bazilligion times before and--"

"'Tuna, hon." She doesn't usually sound frustrated with Mituna, does she? Ever, such perfect supportive nonjudgmental care and-- "Yeah, his aren't like Cronus or Meenah's, can we drop it now please."

Kankri's eyes are closed. He tries to think about Cronus flashing Mituna -- does he mean accidentally, or in a sexual exhibitionism way? No, Cronus is a sensitive soul, he's sure it was a mere misunderstanding (so many of those) (a seer has to see.) At any rate it's a much better topic than --

"The word you want," he says, "is" (genetically disadvan-- atypically genomed--) "mutant."

"Oh right," Mituna says, like it's so insignificant he didn't bother to remember before, and will deliberately forget it again in the next ten minutes.

"They don't work," Kankri says, and surprises himself with how detached he sounds. "Or should I say, they are virtually nonfunctional in that they function just well enough that attempting to rely on them might well cause my death by drowning. On that topic, Latula, might I confirm that you knew of their existence before even disrobing me?"

His leggings are unzipped; his stomach feels like it's hanging free, and a mere wriggle might well have the rest of his clothes fall off his hips entirely. He has never felt so bare since the first time he was trusted to dress himself without supervision.

"Yeah, 'course."

Slowly, he straightens up, firms his stance, feet planted well apart. He is calm. Floating. He is still water, he is ice --

"Might I inquire as to the technique used to violate my intimacy?" Ice calm. "Voyeurism, perhaps? Gossip?" Porrim wouldn't tell, he can't believe Porrim would tell -- but only Porrim knows.

Latula watches him in silence for another second. He makes himself breathe. (His gills still ache.)

"Karkat has them, dummy."

--Oh. Oh right.

"Oh."

Kankri blinks, tries to digest it. He supposes that it's Karkat's prerogative to bare those -- those useless, incongruous -- things, though his dancestor might have wanted to consult Kankri, really, he should have been aware it wasn't only his own secr-- his privacy, and.

"Did he go swimming?" he asks, awkward and quiet, fingers fiddling with his zipper, tugging it up in minuscule increments. "Or, or did he partake of that, ah, passively suicidal-connoted deliberate sun-exposure pastime the humans --"

Latula's small, callused hand rubs a circle on his bare back; a small shock tingles down his spine.

"He doesn't know how to swim either."

"Oh."

"But he went with Jade and she taught him how to float on his back, and he seemed to like that well enough."

"And then they macked for like a hour." As Kankri twitches and glowers at him, Mituna ruffles a hand through his own messy hair, baring the rough net of yellowed, raised scars radiating out from his eyes which Kankri only glimpsed a handful of times in all the eternity they were dead for. "No drowning at fuckall. Maybe she got space lungs. Space babe already got space glandular raction."

"Long story way short," Latula says, "when he's not freaking the heck out, his chesticular slits work, like, maybe not enough to live all comfy on, but they don't try to drown him either, you know? Um, but maybe I was pushing you to go way too fast for your comfort levels. Sorry. I mean the plan was def not to get you chest high in it today, either, but I shoulda figured."

He stares at her, wordless for once. He doesn't know what to do with that -- with that...

"I just, you know. Just got this ping." She waves a hand vaguely, almost dislodges Mituna. Kankri supposes he is to infer she means her Game-given powers. "Like, that it'd be the right thing."

"For my mind," Kankri says slowly, because Mind is what she deals in and he's. He's not entirely sure why, how this would help.

He follows as she slowly guides the two of them back to a more reasonable depth, knee-high in the surf. Her brow is furrowed and it makes him feel a pang of -- things he has no business feeling, and also things that might well fall into emotional manipulation and he refuses to feel guilty!

"Did you think you would overcome eons of traumatic memories in a single evening? And then I would be free of the risk of drowning? Because I have to admit, that does seem rather optimistic of you."

"Jeeze, Krikkerz, I ain't a Seer, I don't know when. I just know how, and like, not even very. It'll take the time it takes!"

Kankri breathes through his nose, frees a hand to pinch the bridge of it. "And I'm to believe that you're ready to undertake such a huge and time consuming project with someone whose company you don't even enjoy?"

"Maybe I do like you when you're not being the lamest turd, Kankri!"

She stares at him for another second, and then as he stands there, a bit stunned, not sure whether to take it badly or not, she breaks eye contact and slumps, looks away. (Look. See. This is what losing patience looks like. This is the first stage of giving up on you.)

(Hadn't they given up long ago though?)

It twists something in his guts seeing her looking smaller. Latula Pyrope should be larger than life twenty-seven hours a day. She doesn't -- (she does.)

"And I kinda-sorta. Thought you were trying, to be, like, maybe not nicer, much, but fairer? And me and MT, we were like, dang, we can dig that, that's dope, and it's hella hard to do that stuff on your own, so maybe, like..."

He shapes a 'oh' with his mouth that doesn't make it quite out. The waves are still lapping at his knees, it feels stupid to have a conversation like that in a place like this. He wants to leave. He wants to leave and not have it.

She would never touch him again.

(Neither of them would.)

"Like?" he makes himself repeat, too late not to be awkward, too much silence in between, and then he thinks it sounded like he was mocking her maybe, too much stress on the--

"Like maybe you wanted to talk too, I mean talk not lecture, only you didn't know how. So hey, I'm cool with taking the first step, like, I ain't gonna walk the whole way for you but, help you walk it? If that's where you wanted to go, oh hell, I hate having to explain those things, they never make as much sense outta my mouth as they do in my guts."

She looks so awkward -- grimacing and just a little squirmy, it's hard not to notice her hips shifting -- his mouth twitches up. He pinches it. He didn't mean to smile. Stupid body.

"I'm cool with being fresh and true with peeps and you're not, so I thought I could, you know, help with that..."

She twirls a lock of hair around her finger. The last time he saw her do that was before the game. It's still just as endearing. Just as...

"... It's." He swallows. Tries on a smile. (See? Teasing. Friendly. He can do that.) (What if he's right.) "It's... sounding more and more as if you're soliciting me for a pale threesome with your m- your matesprit."

He'd almost forgotten Mituna was there.

He squeaks like a grub being stepped on when two big hands grab hold of his posterior and squeeze.

"Yeah, sure," Mituna laughs all breathless and nasal in his ear, pressed against his back. "We can pap all over your ass."

And then he stumbles and shoves the both of them into Latula, which Kankri would have predicted if he could only think. Kankri ends up on all fours in the foam, face speckled with salty water -- there is water up his nose and he think he banged his face against Latula's knee on the way down. Mituna is sitting on his calf.

His gills are --

Constricted. Constricted by his pants, and his face is still out of the water. It's okay. It's okay. He squirms free, kicks a little, vengeful -- shouldn't, brutality never solved a thing, but Mituna is such an asshole and deserves it and more!

He kneels up to keep his chest out of the lapping waves, rakes a hand through his sodden bangs to push them out of his face, and glares.

When he tries to say something, only sputtering comes out. He can still feel the imprint of Mituna's hands on him, brand-hot.

"Hahaha, your face!" Mituna tips back into the waves and almost disappears, resurfaces still laughing through his splutters.

Latula grabs Kankri's elbow and tries to help him get back on his feet. Which is complicated because Kankri is having a hard time coordinating his feet and his glaring.

"MT, that's hella confusing the issue here!"

"That is not how pale buttock papping is ever supposed -- argh! You're so infuriating!" Panting, he sneers down at Mituna still rolling around in the waves; he is now kicking like a seal and making oinkbeast noises.

"Ain't confusing jack tit!" Mituna counters with a moue, the upper half of his face covered in wet hair so his eyes are entirely invisible. "He's kinda bangabable--"

"Hey!" Kankri splutters. That unremitting asshole --

--No wait what did he--

"We kinda want to bangalang him, but we don't ganb giant turds, so like, do you wanna date."

"Mit--" Latula cuts herself off, and groans somewhere behind Kankri that feels pretty far away right now. "Dang it. Don't you think that's way too early here? I thought we agreed."

"--Oh. Whoops." He lifts dripping bangs off one of his eyes and gives her an apologetic, wincing look from underneath his hand. "Sorry. My bad."

Kankri thinks maybe he should work on breathing. Maybe. It seems like a sound and logical plan.

"We're cool. ... Kankri?"

"I think," he says, very careful not to look at either of them, "I think this is a discussion that needs to not be happening in the water." I think this is a discussion that shouldn't happen ever, couldn't, can't, too unexpected and it -- and --

"Awgh, crap, please don't go breathin' all wrong and fast like that -- Kankri, c'mon, Po-po will kill me double-dead, oh good Mother grub--"

He wants to snap back and say she should have expected it -- what did they expect, springing that on him -- they know he's sensitive about the topic and Latula knows he likes -- no she doesn't, he never told, but a seer has to -- he knows she knows -- and he has his vows and he...

Oh. His vows.

Mituna's hands on him.

He can't think, he can just feel the imprint-memory -- wanna date?, we -- his thoughts circle back and it still won't make sense and.

"I hate feeling things," he says, calm and distant as he can make it (not at all, his voice shakes.) "Proper, logical thought never works right when -- how do you reach 'constructive' when you can't even finish a single goddamned line of thought?!"

"Your kind of contruckative is like, making fucktcking ice Empress hives for frigid fish titty bitches, and who's the asshole gonna live in them?"

Kankri stares at Mituna, who's rooting around inside his ear with his little finger.

"I don't," he starts, and ends here. Tries again. "I don't."

It's even a complete sentence. Huh. It's not the answer he wanted to make and he can see Mituna grinning his stupid fangs-out grin, all 'look my mouth implements are dangerous and I like thinking I'm a wild beast' as if he thinks Kankri just admitted his discourse principles are wrong--

"I don't want to talk about this here!" he snaps, and draws himself up, chin lifted, here, see my throat, this is how much I don't care about your miserable physical intimidation techniques and your sharp horns and --

What is going on here? What is even going on.

Latula looks all wincing and disappointed and -- and ashamed, ashamed because she tried to do something good for him and he's throwing it in her face -- even if it's not what he wants he should refuse it politely, he should -- he should make sure he understands exactly what he's refusing (too early) (do you wanna date.) Her shoulders are down and her head is a little down and a little turned away so that her horns aim nowhere near him and he likes it when people recognize they have wronged him so he should like it but he doesn't, he hates it.

She didn't wrong him. Latula would never -- Latula might but this time she didn't.

"I didn't mean some other day, or. Or never. I meant on the dune."

The way the smile blooms on her face makes heat beat through his throat, rise to his face; he has to look away, to cough into his fist and hunt desperately for his composure.

She hesitates one second, and then, rueful, a tiny crooked smile on her lips, she offers her elbow.

"You're aware of the hemoprivileged-paternalist and ableist connotations of the gesture, I hope?" shoots out of his mouth without even a single stop by his brain first.

"Fucksake," Mituna groans, and shoves at Kankri's shoulder a little. "You took her arm knee like five ksonds ago--"

Kankri glares, face heating up, and lies right in his face. "It was a joke. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised it went over your head--"

"Guys, you force me to get ashen on your hellacious tushes, I'm gonna swim off to the continent. Alone."

Mituna gives an anguished whine. "Oh fuck, that is so grossest shitslime, noooo. I'm hella fucking sorry, babe. I suck and I'm tuspid McLameDumb anal burglar who can't take a joke and--"

"It wasn't a joke," Kankri forces out, and looks away. "I... misspoke. It has become rather reflexive, I'm afraid, and I. That is."

Quadrants. They were flirting with him.

Both of them. He doesn't know how much Mituna means it, if he's merely interested in a physical sense, but it was still... it still...

"I'll take that arm, if it's still on offer," he manages to say somehow. He wants to die.

Not in a suicidal ideation way, but if someone else ever found out about this conversation and he conveniently fell dead the same second, he believes he wouldn't mind overly much.

He's made such an ass of himself around them today, he doesn't see how he could make this bad impression worse. He's been arguing in bad faith -- obviously so, too, which is even worse -- and conceding points, and losing his temper and his composure right and left.

It's oddly freeing.

Latula offers him her arm again and he takes it and for a brief second he feels like a low-blooded debutant with their sponsor -- look what I found, isn't it clever, don't I have a good eye for these things, quick look at it before it's gone --

Scholar with their knight, maybe. Protection without condescension. That would be -- nice. Better.

He's not sure what Mituna would be in that little story, but he drags himself out of the sea after the two of them, slips and drops on hands and knees, and scampers up the dune that way, passing them, and Latula yells out something cheerfully perverted about his behind.

It is indeed moving in a peculiarly eye-arresting way. Kankri hates himself for fetishizing a mental cripple.

Kankri hates himself for not caring that Mituna is a cripple.

He feels like he should, at any rate, but there's a physicality now to his emotions that he had long forgotten, something quicker than reason, something that sits behind his breastbone and coils in his guts, and it's so odd to feel mental processes through his whole body, starting from his body.

They sit under the crest of the dune, Kankri with his back against a palm tree, feeling oddly less trapped than braced. No one can see them with the dune in the way, which is good because a sight so odd could make any of their old friends curious, and ... Yeah, he would never recover from the embarrassment.

The sand clings to his damp leggins. He feels weird that it's not zipped all the way up, that the cloth parts to almost the level of his first gill, just underneath his pectoral muscles. It makes him feel exposed. Daring. (Like he's trying to be seductive, but he's not, and also Latula is wearing something that covers less surface area than a sports venom gland holster and Mituna is entirely shirtless, so.)

Mituna sprawls face down with all his length, starts to wriggle to make himself a hollow. Latula crosses her legs, leans back on her hands, but there's hesitation in her quick glances to Kankri's face.

He rests his hands on his knees, and refuses to hug them.

"Can we fust mack or something." Mituna flops on his side, waves his hand vaguely in the air, mouth turned down. "I mean like. Filthy gropage. Asscrack explonation. Four hands two titties. Fish titties. It was funnier before. We gunna talk and talk and fucken talk and in the end I don't have smacked my fronds to any glutes."

Latula sighs. Kankri presses his lips together, breathes in, breathes out.

"So. To clarify what we are all bringing to the table. You were -- you were. Flirting? That is what you were doing. May I inquire as to whether you were aiming for any quadrant, or none at all, and whether you were also aiming for similar or different things and how the planned dynamic--"

"I wasn't flirting," Latula interrupts, and then winces. "Well, not much. I meant it when I said I wanted to help, like, friendly-like, you copy? And also when I said it was way too dang early to even bring that up."

"I was flirting," Mituna mumbles, and then sighs and rolls onto his front again, face hidden between his crossed arms.

Kankri's brow furrows even as he blushes. Mituna's flirting is crude and brute-force enough it might be closer to sexual harassment. He forbids himself to be derailed. "And might I inquire as to the milestones on your planned events table?"

She looks at him, frank and appraising, entirely serious.

"You sure you wanna hear it?"

... He's... probably not going to like it, then.

"Honesty is always best," he replies, and then braces against the tree, licks his lips. The salt is drying them. "...Yes."

"Mm."

A pause, as she gathers her thoughts.

"Okay. Some background first. ... I think you're cute. And I dig that you get passionate about things. I also think you don't respect my relationship with MT. You do that stealth hitting on me, so I can't say, hey, bro, I'm mad flattered but I've got my heart quadrant all locked up already so let's shelve it, since you won't own up that it's what's happening. That's not cool. I think you also deny it to yourself, but you probably still sorta know it's what's up in your pan. Also you're always complimenting me for things that just plain ain't there, or you're like, putting me on a viewing crystalline-matrix podium, instead of dealing with me-me. We can't even be friends if you won't deal on the level, you hear?"

Well, that's.

That's...

An interesting point of view. He has all the words in the world massing between his teeth. He can't make himself utter a single one.

He nods, to show he heard.

"But I also think the bubbles were trippy as heck and messed with, like, any learning we all might have done, 'cause now we're out and you've been trying," she says, gentler. "I can tell you've been trying."

Kankri blinks, a couple of times.

"Oh."

"So if you want some platonic help, I'm here. You want someone to listen to your feelz and your problems, I will glue myself to your butt, for realz. And I ain't making any sort of promise as to what will happen afterward, 'cause you already got a problem seeing me like this super pretty statue you wish was blinging up your crib, and I ain't keen on setting myself up as, like, your reward for acting good. That's gross, and also you're probably gonna backslide, and then what does it mean if we're dating at the time? You gotta move on 'cause you wanna, and it's got to be its own reward, you get me?"

"Because you can't be my reward," Kankri says, to show he understands the reasoning.

He doesn't know what he's feeling, thinking, it's all blank in his head. (How many layers did she see through? Kankri has been refusing to do more than glance for so long.)

"Oh my little barfbeast, don't leak!" Mituna yells, lips curled away from his teeth. "No, stop it -- Kankrery, no, bad, stop, augh!"

He throws himself up on his hands, turns on his hip so he won't have to look at Kankri. Latula is wincing, fingers tight on her crossed ankles like she... He's not sure. Like she doesn't want to reach out.

Like she wants to and knows she shouldn't.

Kankri touches his face and finds it wet, sure enough. He hadn't even noticed. "I didn't notice," he tells them, not too sure why. Just, huh. "I'm fine," he says, and then a raw sob pushes it way up his throat, and a second one.

"Wish I had a handkerchief now," Latula mumbles, looking away from him. "You, uh, you gonna be okay, bro?"

"Sure," he promises, still sniffling like an idiot. "It's -- it was a remarkably shrewd analysis. Very -- very. On point." Pointed.

He can't find a single lie in any of it.

It really hurts that he can't.

"Thank you," he says, and blows his nose in a fallen palm leaf. It's not his greatest plan -- it's dry and crackles in his grasp, and there are gaps between the tines. He wipes his fingers in the sand, grimacing a little. Yes, that's exactly what he was missing for today's debacle, snot on his hand, this is fantastic. He's still crying.

"You agree then?" Latula says quietly.

Kankri shrugs, then nods, eyes lowered.

"See anything you wanna work on?"

Mituna lets out a long whine and presses his hands to his ears. "Stop pailiiiiiing, stop, I want you to stop, you need to be stopping now--"

"We're not pailing!" Kankri splutters, and then reddens in blotches.

"Piiile-ing," Mituna says, enunciating like it hurts, "pale-ing, that thing where her frond fondles your sweatfucking face, I don't wanna be here for that!" He flops back onto the sand on his back, sends Latula a reproachful look. "That turd won't fly, shist stays grounded, I'm game to litsen you make him yodel on your bulge, but like, no. I'm not that kinda deparved!"

Latula presses a hand to her mouth and laugh. Kankri blinks his gluey eyelashes, stares, face still tight and warm with too much blood.

"Haha, sorry MT. No pileo." She looks up at Kankri, a little apologetic and still smiling. Kankri clears his throat, ducks his head.

She's so pretty.

She loves Mituna. That has never changed. It's probably never going to. It's... part of her now.

If she's ever going to accept him in a quadrant, it'll be pale or nothing.

Pale or friendship. He should... probably accept that he's going to have to deal with it.

Friendship might be better, at that, he's not sure pale would survive long considering physical attraction is very much a thing on his side.

A small nod. He clears his throat, tight and wet from recent tears. "Very well. I accept your proposal."

Friendship. Support.

She must like him, he thinks. She must either like him or think that when he does get over himself, he will be someone she likes. No one is such a martyr that they'd go to this effort for someone they see as hopeless. It's... it's not so bad. It's nice.

It's a pretty pale attitude, for something platonic, but he can tell this is going to stay a strictly talk deal for a long, long time -- no little gestures of appreciation, no papping, no hugs, no long evening cuddling by the fire, and suddenly he wants to be touched so much it's like a giant fist grabbed his guts and squeezed.

"Are you guys done fucking?"

"We are fucking done," Kankri corrects, chin in the air, and sniffs a little because god does he need to blow his nose.

Mituna snorts. He sits and crosses his legs, hands resting loosely on his ankles. He watches Kankri; Kankri watches back, in mid bafflement at first, and then he catches Mituna looking at the dip in his zipper that gives him borderline decolletage.

"... Oh."

"So my turn now yes?"

"I don't... see what you'd get, I mean -- are you planning on assisting Latula with my -- with...?"

"Nah, see, it works! She's the chewable orange root plant and I'm the big hard bulge. Dick. Tisk. Bam! You doing shit like you got a fukin tree up your ass, I take it up and ream you straight!"

"You forgot the part where you ask how he wants reamed, 'Tuna," Latula says, too innocent to mean it, and then she grins with all her perfect fangs. Kankri's face catches on fire again.

"Urgh, do I hafta say it?"

"Well, you can let him assume, but what might happen?"

Mituna grimaces, wide, too-thin shoulders slumping. "He's gunna twist it all up into dumbass bits that mean, like, the other way around," he says moodily.

Kankri puffs up, offended. "I find it very insulting that you would assert I routinely twist the meaning of things! I can assure you--"

"I'm pitch like a tent in my shorts for you."

Kankri stares, at a complete loss.

This isn't -- just physical attraction. Is it? Physical attraction and a platonic disdain for Kankri's entire existence. Latula wouldn't condone it. She just -- she wouldn't.

Watching him, Mituna tilts his head to the side and blows on his bangs; a yellow, faintly sparking eye peeks out.

"When you talk down to me all fake-nice it makes me want to puke. Like. Right up your mouth."

"Thanks for the appealing imagery," Kankri says, grimacing his distaste. "I can't conceive of how your caliginous quadrant might still be empty, with lines of this caliber."

But Mituna rolls forward onto his knees, leans in until his hand is just by Kankri's ankle, and he slows down his speech there, every word carefully enunciated. "Also I really want to bite your tuspid mouth."

...Goodness. Kankri's throat feels hot. If he had the misfortune of still having ear fins they would be flushing bright, blatant red.

"Ignoring my -- my own situation for the moment--" he does not want to mention his vows, he does not want to remind them they exist and he's not, he doesn't want -- he wants-- "I am not entirely certain someone in your state would be quite able to consent fully to--"

Latula coughs in her fist. "Five seconds to reformulate, bro." Kankri stammers himself to a stop. Oh jesus dick, did he just insinuate Latula would...

"--I mean, caliginous interaction is more dangerous and therefore requires even more advanced negotiations, and besides you don't even fully control your own body--" oh god stop digging, stop digging..!

"And you suck bulge at fighting so we're, like. Flat. Uh. No. Even. We're that. You get to win, like, when I beat myself up in the face and trip down in a hole, that's your win. Cause I bet you my nooksuckle you can't win on your own."

Kankri stares, all blushing forgotten. "Ooh, I can't, can't I -- no, you won't trick me down the road to physical violence and subjugation, I am not interested in barbarous shenanigans! Physical might is the last refuge of those unwilling or unable to engage in proper discourse, though I suppose I understand why you'd wish to shift the terrain away from it..!"

Mituna sparks at him, leaning forward on his hands. Latula gives a slow clap.

"Mad flirty, boys."

"I am not--!" Kankri is. Oh. He really is. Groaning, he sinks back against the tree, presses his hands against his too-warm face. "... I really hate this body."

"No you don't," Latula counters casually.

"Yes I do," he says, muffled through his hands. "I don't even control my reactions half the time, ridiculous hormonal surges and instincts I'd thought buried eons ago are influencing my thought processes right and left, I find myself wanting things I never--"

"Haha, knew you wanted my bulge," Mituna says, cackling. Lip curled in a silent snarl, Kankri kicks sand at his face.

"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response!"

There's sand in Mituna's teeth, blindingly obvious with the twisted grin he's sporting,and he doesn't even seem to mind. "Juuust diddled!"

Kankri seethes. Latula reclines on her hands, long legs stretched out, crossing at the ankle, and grins at the two of them. She seems entertained. Kankri feels ridiculous; he breathes out through his nose, trying to steady the rush of anger racing through his body. He can feel his heartbeat in his chest, in the root of his horns. It's so odd.

It's dizzying. Scary. He's shocked, intrigued, he wants to feel it stronger, but it's like freefall and he doesn't know what will happen after he jumps.

He wants to go into a scathing rant on everything Mituna is doing wrong, how he's harassing him and pushing him into things Kankri does not want, and worse, in an inefficient way, but that would be playing along, that would be flirting back.

It'd be so easy, but then what?

He doesn't even know how to be a good friend, and a half-hour ago -- alright, let's be honest, earlier than that but it was easier to ignore before -- he only ever thought of Mituna Captor in terms of 'Latula-stealing walking embarrassment.'

Walking embarrassment with an arresting body, he supposes. That is not enough.

"Kankster?"

Latula peers at him, eyebrows furrowed, mouth turned down. He stares at her, imagines himself digging into her brain, understanding the way she works, what she's thinking right now -- about this mess, about him.

"Um."

He grunts an acknowledgement, hands now on his temples -- and then makes an effort, gives her an urbane "Yes?" that his first culler would have approved of.

"You think you gonna want an auspistice, bro--"

"No."

"I mean, not me because gross, but. Like. That is also a thing," she reminds him, gentle and cautious, and Mituna winces, deflates.

"... No," Kankri repeats. "I don't believe Mituna would push it to that degree, and I. And. I don't want to have to tell other people about this, this mess. I don't want to show anyone -- it's fine like this."

"Does it mean I gotta stop telluring you that your face is fugly like an ass, but like a Cronass 'cause Tula's booty is like, fine-ass bombastic? I mean, no more ass mentions at fuckall?"

Oh god. The look on his face -- disappointed, quieter, smaller--

"No," Kankri says before he's even thought, and winces when he sees the both of them staring, surprised, intrigued. "I don't know what I want, but I. You limiting yourself is -- not it." Breath. "You probably couldn't manage it, anyway, and it would only give rise to more tedious self-flagellating," Kankri adds half-heartedly.

"I'll gefellate you," Mituna returns, and then starts giggling. "Gefellate. Hah."

"I feel so much better about your amorous advances knowing your mental age is at least approaching five sweeps," Kankri says acidly.

Latula is smiling. It's a smile so -- soft and. So tender. His pusher skips a bit.

It's got to be on Mituna's behalf. Yes.

"Friends for now, then?" she says.

"... Friends with flirtering," Mituna says. "'Cause flitarting is fun."

Friends for now, and then. Maybe. Some day. Maybe...

Well, maybe when he's able to have a conversation with Latula without doing the things that bother her so much, maybe he'll ... be able to fall for someone else, and won't repulse them with all the subtle ways in which he is overbearing and objectifying and wrong. He is done hoping she will leave Mituna.

Maybe he'll. Um.

He still doesn't think he wants to date Mituna. He's just so... Urgh. Or... Or Latula pale, actually, and if her feelings ever go there he hopes he will be strong enough to turn her down, and be lucky enough to keep her friendship afterwards.

Might not dodge if Mituna ever decides to steal a kiss. Or Latula a pap. To see how that goes, so he can decide on his own and fully informed that flesh things are nothing he has any interest in and he was just confused all along.

(So his body can decide he's full of shit, probably.)

--

A half-sweep later he gets to find out that Mituna really, really enjoys pissing him off via tricking him into quadrant-smearing threesomes.

(Latula paps the spasm of offended fury out of him, but she's bulge deep in him at the time, making him purr in the most messy way and looking delighted with it, so he figures he can be generous and forgive Mituna's quaint little fucking foibles.)