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My New Life as an Online Bootlegger

Chapter Text

Moving along with the trends is no easy feat, and Annie knew that straight off the bat. Ever since the plans of building a new online hub crossed her mind, she needed space to think, and space to put that idea into action. After finding a decent flat to live in she packed everything up and headed closer to what was the new freshness hub of the city. And quite frankly, moving there was the easy part.

Sure, carrying her stuff up to her new apartment was a pain, knowing that it was pretty high up the large tower of a complex, but the real hard part was adjusting to her new surroundings.

It seemed so… rustic there. All of the brick buildings and exposed framework of incomplete buildings really let off a rustic vibe. And that wasn't something she was really used to. The grungy, grimy square absolutely stuck out in the polished city, almost like a sore thumb would. And it remotely wasn't comforting at all. But what was less comforting was her friends leaving for this new 'fresh hub’ as she struggled to adjust to the previous one.

What friends.

All and all, they were great individuals, bursting with the personality that she always wished she had. But sometimes they put their ambitions in front of the people who they cared about. Which concerned her greatly, being the antisocial gal she was. Her friends meant everything to her, since they were the only ones she’ll ever make. And she quickly noticed herself crumble as they left one by one to pursue these said ambitions. Even that guy in the alley way right across her old workplace just happened to vanish one day!

Thoughts like those made her sigh, and the memories of the plaza would rush back just like that as she hauled all the odds and ends she owned up to where she now lived. And as for Annie herself, she hasn't changed a bit over the years. Well… other than her confidence dwindling after her friends left.

The past two years took a toll on her soul.

Taking another sigh as she reached the opened door of her apartment, she fondled with the medium sized box in her arms. The sound of the things rattling in there seemed to soothe her a bit as she walked into the larger-than-anticipated living area. She ignored the plastic wrapped furniture the movers still worked with and bounded straight to what would be her new room, the fish that was in her hair still surprisingly slept after all of the commotion going on.

She threw the door open and plopped the box down on her bed, which also surprisingly, didn't have twenty or so layers of padding and plastic on it. Then again, none of the furniture there was. It was the only other room in the area that wasn't binded up with padding from moving. So she could at least rest up after a long day of moving stuff up to her new home.

At least they were considerate.

But she didn't have the time to rest, she had work to do at that moment. She knew that, and she hated it. She scoffed at that thought as she opened the box in front of her, shifting through its contents until she yanked out a small laptop, along with its charger. As she did so, her hand brushed up on an umbrella like form, reminding her of an unfinished project that she started with a friend of hers. 'Maybe he won't be too busy this afternoon.’

Maybe she could spare a couple minutes of her time just to talk to him.

She pulled the umbrella-like object out of the box for a moment and quickly examined it. It was a project that she and Sheldon worked on for months before he decided to branch out his wares. It was a weaponized umbrella that was supposed to join the turf war scene the same year they started the project before he moved to work on expanding his business.

The design still had many kinks in it, but the concept was stellar.

And it served as a more “proper” excuse to call her old friend.

Sheldon was more like a brother to her than a co-worker. When they weren't focused on tinkering and decorating weapons, they were out and about talking about the world around them as they went to grab a bite to eat. The two of them would just stay up late as well, chatting away as working on weapons slowly ticked away at their sanity. He was also beyond supportive when he had her test out new weapons and specials, knowing that the damage it would cause her would be more than psysical.

Annie pulled her phone out of her sweater pocket, wasting almost no time at all when she dialed up Sheldon’s phone number. She sifted through the box as the dial tone rang in her ear, pulling out a small glass bowl fit for the fish that still slept on her head. She huffed as she slipped out of her room holding the bowl in her arms as she wedged her phone between her head and her shoulder, hunting for the bathroom that should be down the hall. She opened each door in the small corridor, they led to two closets and an unfurnished room. There was only one door left, presumably the bathroom door, but she stopped for a moment to examine the completely blank room.

As she saw in the photos, the previous people who lived here must of used this place as another bedroom. And judging by the sporadic white patches on the walls, they hung up quite a bit of decoration as well. While her eyes scanned the gaudy patches on the walls, another voice sounded from the device. The familiar voice throwing her out of the trance.

“Annie?”

The dorky voice immediately recognized who was calling him, bringing a sense of relief to her tensed soul. “Hey Sheldon!” Annie smiled as she placed the glass bowl down on the floor. “Sorry I haven’t called in a while, I got caught up in some… things.”

“Ah no worries! I was caught up in some ‘things’ as well! Since the expansion, I barely had the time to do anything but work!”

Annie chuckled, standing up straight up more. That busybody of a crab always had his hands full, it was expected of him. If he even let up from what he was doing even for a mere millisecond he’s just thrown off from everything. Even though it was a highly irritating trait he had, Sheldon’s commitment to his job was rather admirable.  “Well, you’ve got some time now, right? I mean, you wouldn't even pick up the phone if you didn't.”

“Touche.” His voice chimed in a slightly defeated tone. “So how’s things been going for you? How's the whole writing schtick going on with you? Oh! And did you figure out what you needed to do in order to open that webshop of yours?”

Annie huffed. “The ‘shtick’ is actually going quite well, I’m nearly done with spell checking with the novel I finished; so I’ll start submitting the final draft of it to publishers fairly soon. And as for the site…” Annie wandered over to the window-paned wall, staring out at the view beneath her. “The coding was a bit difficult to figure out since you left the plaza, but I managed. I just need to get my hands on some stocks and a tiny bit more time and that bad boy will be open before you know it.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your hands. I should leave you to it then.”

“Yeah… but before I do…” Annie paused for a moment, letting out another small sigh. “I still have that prototype you gave me of that project we were working on last year.”

“The Splatbrella?”

“Yeah, I was just wondering what you wanted me to do with it.”

“I’ll see if I could make some time for you to come in tomorrow so we could test that fella out. Don't forget to bring it in okay?”

“Oh, sure! Thanks Sheldon.”

“No problem! Anything for a friend!”

“See you tomorrow?”

“You bet!”

After they exchanged their goodbyes, Annie tucked her cell phone back in her pocket, her face was absolutely beaming. It has almost been too long since she talked to one of her friends face to face, especially Sheldon. He was one of the very few people she remotely sounded normal near. Her usual awkward stammering within her dialect was virtually non existent when talking to him. Tomorrow was going to be great, and she already couldn't wait for it. She walked back over to where she placed the bowl, scooping it up in her arms; making her way to the final, unexplored room within her living quarters.

Swinging the small room’s door open, she ignored the aesthetics of the porcelain lavatory and rushed straight to the sink, filling the bowl up with cold tap water. As she did so, she could hear an all too familiar voice slur from the top of her head.

“Nnngh… What time is it?”

Annie rolled her eyes, letting out a single chuckle as she turned off the sink. “It’s about time you woke up, Moe.”

The source of the voice fluttered himself over her bangs, glaring down at her with his tired beady eyes. “Well, travelling is boring. Especially with you.”

Annie tisked as she hauled the water filled bowl back to her room, shaking her head at her companions rebuttal. “Well I’m sorry that I can't be entertaining for an hour's worth of travel.” She shot back, nudging her bedroom door open. She walked over to where her dresser was and placed the small bowl on top of it before allowing the fish who clung to her hair flop into the said bowl. “But if it makes you feel better, we’ll probably live here for a much longer time than we did in the plaza.”

Moe propped himself up on the glass rim of the bowl, letting out an obviously annoyed scoff as he watched his owner retrieve her laptop. “Hope so.” He leaned forward slightly. “I hate moving.”

“You’re not the only one there, buddy.” Annie placed her laptop on the small desk that was set up in the corner of her new room, throwing herself into the cheap office chair she had to buy because her old one broke in shipping. “But if we want to get more money, moving to where the clients are is the only way to make it.” She sighed as she flipped her computer open. “And even that would take a while to do. You know we could only afford the rest of the year here if we don't start working towards that now, right?”

“Well maybe someone shouldn't of put a down payment on an apartment this big.”

Annie turned herself to face her fishy partner in crime, shooting him a rather unamused glare. “Says the fish who wants the impractically large fish tank.”

“Hey, Hey!” Moe slightly blushed in an irritated manner. “It’s called a 'deluxe aquarium’ and it’s a damn good investment!”

“Yeah, sure it is.” Annie turned back to her computer, seeing that everything was already loaded up. She focused on sorting out what was already on her screen. Plenty of open windows that she remotely forgot was open littered the screen, she proceeded around at each individual window that was opened, closing out the unimportant ones one by one.

Eventually, she wound up with two programs open, the internet browser and a writing program. After hooking her computer up to the wireless internet the building provided, she delved into what she had open on her browser.

Since she last opened her computer, she had been searching for something rather peculiar to start her business off; clothing from the hottest recent trends that were defective. She had this idea to use those defective clothes as a sort of a reference. She wanted to recreate those styles with her own special touch, but was a tad bit nervous on doing so the more she thought of it.

It was barely legal to do, remaking clothing like that was a pretty risky job to do, and she always wondered how the idea ever came to mind; but then she looked back to the times where the guy in the alley would do something very, very similar. In some sort of way, she was rather influenced by him.

And for that reason, she told nobody about the project in detail. Not even Moe or Sheldon. She needed the money, especially after placing the down payment on the place she now lived in.

It didn't take her long to realize that the internet the building provided was immobilizing to her production. She scoffed as she pushed herself away from her desk, standing up when the wheels on her chair fully stopped. Quickly noticing that Moe already fell asleep once more, she left her room with a few necessities, closing the door behind her.

Chapter Text

‘Don’t worry about it Annie, dont worry...’

Constant thoughts of reassurance rushed through her head as she trudged along the sidewalk, keeping her head high to find the shop she was looking for.

‘It’s just a short trip to the nearest store, and then straight back to the apartment building. Moe won't even notice my absence.’

Annie figured, since the nearest store to where she now lived was near a supercenter, that she wouldn’t drag her fishy friend out of another midday siesta to drag him along with her. Making that choice was a clear mistake, given that her chest gradually tightened the longer she remained in public by herself. Then again, she feels the same whenever Moe chews her out for waking him up from his “beauty sleep”, so it was really a lose-lose situation.

It was overwhelming to walk the city streets by herself. For one thing, given her height, everything just seemed significantly taller than everyone else around her perceived it to be. Every building; every powerline; every vehicle; every person… Everything, just everything was larger than her. It was not a welcoming perspective in her opinion, and it never was in the first place. Yet the large looming city was all she really knew. She was born and raised in the very city that intimidated her and has always had this love-hate relationship with it.

Another thing was it being loud. Atrociously loud.

She could put on her headset and try to drown out the world around her, but that would be to no avail despite them being noise canceling. They were rather old and the speakers were on the brink of not working entirely. The sound they gave off was not only faint at the highest setting, but dull and non immersive, making a bit hard for her to work in public areas-- Or remotely function when stressed out. And it would be nice to listen to at least something other than the annoying chatter of the commoners and the irritable sounds of traffic jams.

Great, another thing to buy.

Thank god she grabbed her card instead of paper cash.

Roughly fifteen minutes later, two city blocks were finally behind her and the store in question started to show through the gaps between the buildings. ‘Only a few more junctions’ She thought to herself, picking up her pace as she knew that half of this gruesome trip was almost over; by the time she approached the last intersection, she was almost at a running pace. She wanted to get there and get this whole thing done and out of the way already. The near-to thirty minute walk by her lonesome was killing her already, knowing that the trip back would be about the same length in time. She dreaded it.

Thoughts on an alternate route home came by one by one as she now passed through the parking lot, keeping close to the outer edge of one of the lanes so that cars wouldn't have to drastically swerve around her. On the way there, she saw alleyways that conveniently connected the large city blocks together. Ones that she would otherwise walk through if she knew they existed beforehand. They seemed calm, still, and most importantly, quiet.

Perfect, now she had a route home, now it was time for the hardest part of her trip.

As she stepped through the automatic doors, her mind went straight to “priority mode”. Instantly heading to where the electronics usually were, the back of the shop. She didn't like this store one bit. It was just as intimidating as the world outside, but the acoustics just made it a wee bit worse for her. She hated it.

Sighing as she yanked a shopping basket off of a small stack of more shopping baskets, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone to check the time; being careful as she weaved her way through the clothing sections to avoid contact with anyone she didn't even recognize. Her head was the only thing keeping her in check as she scuttled closer and closer to the back of the store.

Eventually, the large LCD television sets from the back of the technology section came into full view, allowing a large wave of relief rush through her body. She rushed through every aisle of that section she could before she found the prime item she was looking for; the wireless router she desperately needed to forge her business from the ground up… and to send publishers the final draft of her novel.

Oh yeah… that.

She needed to make a cover for that, didn't she?

Being the self-proclaimed graphics artist (and artist in general) she was, it wouldn't be much of a problem in theory. But it actually was. Millions upon millions of creatures from all around the world will see this in their local bookstore, and she wanted the cover to stand out above all the other book covers she’s seen; and everything she’s seen was incredibly unique. There was almost no way she could stand out amongst them all. But that didn't stop her from putting at least some effort towards making that happen.

After a moment of thought, staring at the variety of routers on the shelves, she yanked one off without a moment to think of what type of router she grabbed; deciding on using an old sketch of hers as a placeholder cover, at the very least. She rushed over to the neighboring aisle, quickly taking in the overwhelming presence of the variety of music amplifying wares filling the shelves and displays to the brim.

Scanning the aisle precariously, she eventually landed on headphones that made her heart flutter at the sight of it. Sure it was expensive, but the sound was proclaimed to be incredible and the soundproofing was guaranteed to set someone in complete immersion. Just what she needed. She quickly grabbed the box with the jet black display and carried on with her time within the shop, grabbing actual necessities like dish soap and food; eventually filling the basket to the brim with cheap food items and soaps.

As soon as she stepped outside of that store she took a seat by on curb and immediately swapped out her headphones. She had a feeling that she couldn't last her trip back home without them, and by god, she was right. The sound they gave off was just so clear and crisp, and the sound proofing cushioning made the experience even more heavenly. No sounds came in, and no sounds went out. Absolutely blissful. It even made the alleyways more peaceful to walk through, and that fact brought a smile to her face.

Her illicit interest at the aesthetics of the alleyways always drew her to them, but the harsh words of her hair companion drew her away from them back at the plaza. It was all for her well being, she knew that, but her curiosity always ran rife whenever she was near one. She knew that Moe would chew her out for being in one of these slender walkways without his knowing, but that didn’t matter, really. It was as pretty as she thought it would be, all the overgrown ivy and occasional graffiti gave the outdoor corridor a unique sort of charm. And it was away from all of the commotion of the city streets, something she truly preferred.

She walked over to a faded brick wall with a mural splattered on it, staring at it before she pulled out her phone to take a picture of it, the plastic bags that dangled from her arm gently brushed against her hip. As she took the picture however, she noticed that something was wrong.

Very wrong.

As the music that blasted in her ears decrescendoed as the camera application opened, she could hear someone... yelling. There was in no way that it was the current song that was sounding off the shouting, she wasn’t remotely in to that type of genre regardless. Annie paused the current song, locking her phone up before she tucked it back into her pocket once more; swiftly pushing her headphones down around her neck, sucking her breath in as she stood there, waiting for that yell to sound off again.

There was nothing but silence.

Silence for a solid minute.

She sighed. was she actually hearing things?

She gave up on trying to listen to that shout again after a few more seconds, but once her dainty hands reached her glossy new headphones, she heard it again.

“S-Stop! S-Spyke! Help!”

The sheer fear of what seemed to be a child’s voice echoed through an even more narrow portion of the alleyway that branched off into a separate, more slimmer corridor, amplifying the sound as it came out through the main portion that Annie stood in. Part of her wanted to run out of that place and head home right there and then. But there was another part that told her to see if that kid was alright.

And that part of her was going to hate her if she didn’t check up on whoever’s desperate cries were going unheard.

“Ugh…”

She sighed, slowly scuttling her way towards the dark sliver that branched off of the light and peaceful alleyway she stood in, making sure that the plastic bags she held didn’t make too much noise as she now peered around the corner of the small crevice. She gulped as she witnessed the scene that was now before her.

What she theorized was rather correct, the source of the voice was a child, a very small one as well. He was curled up in a ball, his back towards the brick wall as he continued to cry for help as three inklings towered above him. “Listen, kid.” One of them piped up. “All we want is our damn money back for the trashy gear you sold us.”

“I-I told you…” The small child whimpered, in obvious fear of the teenagers looming over him. “All transactions a-are final, y-you jer-”

Before the child could finish stammering out his statement, one of the inklings sent a solid kick to his stomach. The blow knocking the breath out of his body as he nearly hurled whatever was in his stomach out at the boys in front of him. “We don't care if they're final.” The main inkling spoke up again. “We want our money back, even if we have to take it back by force.”

“N-no... s-stop.”

“Or what?” One of the other inklings stepped closer to him, kicking him once more. “Your 'hero’ will come by and save you? Tch, please. That lazy creep is no better than you are. Get over yourself kid. He ain’t coming to help. Nobody is.

Annie stood there in horror as the three inklings there took turns at kicking the child they apparently wanted money from. Her heart sunk as the child taking all of those hits continued to cry for help, praying that someone would come by to stand up for him; even if it wasn't the one he was calling for. And that heart sinking feeling turned into one of instinctive protectivity. A feeling she only felt when Moe was in immediate danger. It was a rather rare feeling-- and a rather violent one too, but seeing a display of helplessness such as that… It felt that there was no other choice but to step in and help the victim.

Even if that victim was a complete stranger.

She took a deep breath before she stepped away from the corner, forcing her way into the slender alleyway where the scene took place. At this rate, Moe would probably kill her for doing something as selfless as this, essentially by herself. And yeah, she still was terrified of being on her own. But someone needed her, so to speak. And she always selflessly acted to protect that fish, so what makes him think that she can't help someone else for a change.

“H-Hey!”

Chapter Text

Annie dropped the bags she held as the three boys turned to face her, all laughing at her rather serious stance. Seeing them flail around in such a manner, mocking her presence only made her furrow her eyebrows in disgust. Even though she knew her reputation would probably earn a reaction as naive as that when stepping into a situation like this.

“H-Hey!” One of them called out out to her, desperately trying to catch his breath. “Aren’t you that cutie who works at that hat shop back at the plaza? Whaddya doin here?”

“Y-Yes…” She huffed, removing her sweater as she tried to maintain her chill for the time being. “And I-I quit working there.”

“Why’s that, sweetheart?” Another one of them chimed in. “The freshness scene ain’t as hot there as it used to be, thought you and that fishy of yours liked not being around people.”

“Where is he anyways?” The final one asked, making Annie roll her eyes.

“At home. H-he wouldn’t want me to be here, talking to y-you guys but...” She removed her headphones and glasses, carefully placing them on top of her hoodie as she balled up her fists and assumed a fighting stance. “I-I intend to do more than just ‘t-talk’ to you three.”

The three inklings stared at her for a moment before breaking down in another laughing fit. Making her a bit more irritated than she already was. She sighed as she approached the inkling in the middle of the bunch of them, presumably the one who lured the child here so they can steal their money back. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the wailing inkling by his slender wrist before hurling him over her head without a second thought considered. She shrugged her shoulders before turning back to the other two, who abruptly stopped their laughter at the sight they just saw; shooting them a glare as she folded her arms. “I-I told you, I i-intended to do more t-than just talk.”

The two male inklings stood there in shock as they took in the sight of their writhing ally. “Dude, what the hell!?” One of them shrieked, feeling quite intimidated by the small anemone before him. The other one scoffed, shrugging at the quivering mess of a friend as he collected himself from the shock. “Yo, you need to chill man. She just caught him off guard, surely she isn't that much of a fighter.”

“A-are you sure ma-”

Before the frantic inkling could finish his question, Annie walked over to him; delivering a seldom yet solid punch to his stomach without a word spoken. Letting out a sigh as she watched the boy fall to his knees. Deep down inside, she hated doing things like this. She really did. Inflicting harm upon others to protect those around her was a painful thing for her to do, but she knew why she had to do it. That child, that poor poor child.

She could almost feel the pain that he felt from getting pummeled into the broken pavement by those boys.

Those bastards.

Without another thought taken, she lunged herself at the last inkling, the image of that small boys helplessness replaying in her head as sheer impulse took her over. Just like what usually happens when Moe was in danger.

She swung one of her legs at the boy still standing, her steel-toed boots landing a solid blow one of his shins. Now standing back, she watched the boy clench his leg, grunting and moaning in pain. She shot them a harsh glare as she watched him struggle to stand once more.

“Leave.”

The inkling looked up at her.

“Take your friends, and leave. Now.”

The sudden lack of stammering in her voice as she stared down on him intimidated the inkling, the tone in her voice exceedingly dark and out of character. He waddled on his feet, his eyes wide in horror before he promptly gathered up his other two friends and rushed out of there as fast as he and the others could muster; leaving Annie alone with the small child, who still was on the pavement, struggling to move from the pain.

She sighed. Finally, she can calm down.

She returned to the small pile she left behind, collecting her things before she wandered over to the child who was huddled against the wall. By the looks of things, he seemed to barely be under ten years of age. His bright orange skin was dirtied up by the soot that was forced upon him when he received the beating. Not only that, bruising already began to show, and was most notable around the small cuts that were also inflicted upon his tender looking skin. The pain and fear from it all made his chest rise and lower in a sporadic fashion, but it somehow wasn't enough for medical attention.

She sat down next to the child, placing the plastic bags to the opposite side of where the child was; waiting a short while before attempting to talk to the kid.

“A-are you a-alright?”

Annie rested her head on her knees as she hugged her legs to her chest, retaining her usual timid posture as she hoped that the kid can muster up the strength to reply. Her eyes strayed over to the child, who still appeared to be motionless at a simple glance, and she sighed once more; moving herself closer to the kid to help him up into a sitting position. The whines and moans he made twisted her heart in a sort of way that almost made her cry as she cautiously pushed his small figure around, eventually setting him in an upright position; leaning him on her shoulder.

She frowned as she dusted his shirt off. Whoever this kid was, he was certainly not fine at all.

“Are you okay?”

But it didn't hurt to ask again.

The child whimpered once more, his one large eye opened slightly to allow some of his tears to flow down the center of his face, washing away whatever dirt was stuck there from the last wave of tears that caked onto his face. The long winded whimper of his didn't take long for it to become a light sob, pulling Annie into a slightly panicked state. “O-Oh no!” She stuttered, pulling this unknown child into a half hug as she tried to comfort him. “Please, d-don’t cry! T-They’re gone now, s-see?”

“T-They’ll be back…”

Annie looked down at the child, a look of horror flooded her eyes. Her heart twisted even more at the sound of his voice. It was weak, helpless, stressed; and overall awful. Annie gulped. “B-back…?”

“T-they’re my regulars…” The child closed his eye once more, his head pounding from being yelled at and kicked for God knows how long. “N-no matter what I tell them, t-they always try to steal their money back w-when they’re not satisfied… and just this week t-they resorted to brute f-force..”

'Brute force?’ Annie clenched the little boy’s shirt. 'So they’ve been doing this all week!?’ She wondered why the child hasn't called the authorities on those monsters yet, brushing the fact that this young boy was already in the workforce as she reached up and wiped a large teardrop from the lid of his eye. “That’s terrible…”

“I-It gets worse.” The child paused for a brief moment and let out a weak cough. “They’ve lured me further and further away f-from where the only person that could h-help me is… a-and today… t-they smashed my phone.” He gestured over to a lime green device that was located on the other side of the slender alleway. It wasn't very apparent from a distance, but the device was split in two, making it completely impossible to repair. The child forced out a chuckle. “Spyke is gonna chew me out for this…”

'Spyke…?’ Odd. The name sounded all too familiar to her; and through a brief surge of thought, she failed to match the name with a face. It felt like she would've known of this person for years, but at the same time he felt like a complete stranger to her.

Shaking the thought of this mysterious man from her head she focused on the main problem at hand; the child. She pulled him closer to her, hoping that the closer contact would possibly dry his tears away. “H-Hey…” she hushed the whimpering boy with a whispering tone in her voice. “I-I’m sure he won't chew you out for what y-you’ve just gone through…” She held the child for another moment before releasing her grip on him, reaching for one of her bags beside her.

“W-what are you doing?”

“I-I bought something at the store to help me settle down a-after moving today. And I thought it would maybe settle you down a bit too…” Annie uttered out, squinting as she sifted through the contents of the plastic bag. “I-if I could find where the clerk put it, that is…”

“Y-You really don’t-”

“Aha!” Annie cooed, pulling out a small bag of chocolates. She swiftly opened the package and pulled out a few assorted morsels, handing them to the child. “H-Here, take them. I-It’s the least I can do to help you feel b-better.”

The small child stared at her extended palm before reaching up and hesitantly plucked them from her hand. The aroma of the treats seeped through the wrappers, and tickled the child’s nose. Something about that scent gave him a nostalgic sort of calmness that he wouldn’t of had otherwise. He forced a smile, his big eye had a slight joyful glimmer to it now. “Thanks, chum.”

Annie couldn’t help but to smile back at the child, letting out a soft chuckle. “N-no problem.” She fondled a small piece of chocolate in her hand as she set the bag of treats aside before unwrapping the little delicacy she held. There was a fairly long pause between the two as they sat in the now peaceful silence of the alleyway, nipping away at the bittersweet candy.

A little while later, Annie pulled out her phone, checking the time on her phone. Her eyes widened. “O-Oh crap, I-I don’t want you to be left alone a-after what happened, but I-I really need to get back h-home.” She stood up, carefully brushing the dirt off of her tunic. “D-Do you have anyone we can contact so you can get t-to someplace safe… s-safely?”

The child gulped down the last bit of candy he had, rolling his shoulders as he reached up to grab her phone. “Yeah, I do. It’ll take awhile for him to get here though.” He started to dial a phone number. “He’s all the way back at the square, it’s kind of a crazy long walk from there.”

Annie watched the child as he dialed the phone number and waited as the dial tone rang through his ears. By his posture and dialect, he seemed to act as if he felt a bit better. This made her smile. She always had a bit of a soft spot for young children like him, and it always pained her to see a child like that in a situation like his. After all, Moe was technically a child when she first met him in her teenaged years, she always had to pull that young cranky fish out of the trouble he caused; no matter how much she didn’t want to.

And after years of doing such a thing, it just sort of became this impulsive act.

The child then spoke up once more, snapping Annie out of whatever trance she was just in.

“L-Listen Spyke, before you freak out-- I’m alive.” It was clear that the someone the child mentioned answered the call. “Why am I using someone else’s phone? Ah… Well… those guys who got after me earlier this week… they sort of jumped me on my way to my post and totaled my phone-- did they hurt me? Er-- well yeah… pretty badly, actually. But don’t worry this totally raw chick just came and scared them off!”

Raw? Did this kid, this kid she barely even knows, call her cool? And to another person she doesn't even know as well? Well that’s certainly… flattering, to say the least. Annie could feel her cheeks heat up at this indirect complement, scratching the back of her head from slight embarrassment.

“W-Wait, why are you-- I’m in the alleyway near that huge apartment building I always walk by on my way to the square w-why-- Oh you’re on your way? Right now? Uhm okay, I’ll stay here with her, but she has places to be right now... It won’t take you long? Okay I’ll tell her that.”

The child hung up the phone, sighing as he passed it back up to Annie. “It’s gonna take him a little while longer, you cool with staying here for a couple more minutes?”

Annie gulped, sitting back down next to the child, all while making a vague attempt to keep cool despite her face being completely red from that off the cuff complement. “I-I guess I can spare just a-a couple more minutes.” She hugged her knees once more, letting out a sigh. “Just to make s-sure those guys don't come back.”

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight… You just moved to this part of the city, today?” The kid asked, staring at her with curiosity littered within his singular eye.

“Y-Yeah…?”

“And you live in that apartment building that I walk by everyday?”

“W-well… I-I do now.” Annie’s shoulders drooped slightly. 'though, if I don't keep up with my payments… I’m not going to be able to live here for long.’ The sudden mention of her new home brought up the thought of paying the rent. A hundred thousand G per month. A Hundred. Thousand. Sure, she had enough to pay the first few months or so along side with the outstandingly cheap down payment of ten thousand G, but soon enough, she would run dry because of the constant payments to the proprietor of the building.

Hell, she was already living on a college budget. The bag completely filled with instant-noodles she bought a while ago was completely evident of her budget crisis.

And all of that money going god-knows-where for her new home is mainly just for her friends and business. She didn't even wanted to leave her old home; it was perfect for her. A quaint apartment, just affordable enough for those who are fresh from the college campus with a degree in hand. There was only room for one within those walls, but she wasn't planning to live with anyone else at that time. And it was right next to the plaza as well, so it made things ultra convenient.

It was all within a matter of time, along with the absence of her friends and poor social agenda, that made her leave that perfect home behind. Following behind the shadows of her closest friends who’ve left her behind without a sliver of words to be mentioned about this huge migration.

Again, what friends.

“Can I be the first person to welcome you to these parts, chum?”

The child's voice snapped her out of her trance once more, making her immediately turn her head to the kid who had a small smile on his lips. Annie cleared her throat. “I-I mean… I guess y-you can.”

“Well then, Welcome.” The kid shrugged his shoulders, wincing slightly from the pain that came alongside the action. “It ain’t the best place in the world to be, but there’s some real gold around the Square. Sorry you had to experience the worst of it this soon.”

Annie sighed. “N-No, no! Y-You don't need to a-apologize for anything! I-I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, t-there’s no need to apologize for t-that.”

“Really?”

Annie nodded. “I’ve lived in I-Inkopolis my whole life. I-I’ve seen a greater hell than what I-I’ve seen today. Trust m-me.” She returned his shrug with one of her own, slumping her own posture a bit. “And because of that I-It’s just... hard for me to trust people…”

“I can see where you come from there, Chum.” He let out a small sigh. “But after seein’ what you did for me just then, I can fully put my trust in you.”

“O-oh yeah that…” Annie blushed once more, burying her face into her knees as she brought her legs closer to her. “I-I’m sorry you h-had to see that. I’m usually not that v-violent-- or protective in that matter… especially for someone I-I whose name I don't e-even know...”

The kid sat there for a brief moment, collecting what she said before staring up at her once more. “Murch.”

Annie hummed.

“Murch’s the name.” He kindly nudged Annie, giving her the warmest chuckle he can muster up at that moment. “And there’s no reason to apologise for savin’ me.”

“B-But-”

“Bein’ sorry about saving me is just like me apologizing for having you witness any of this on your first day here, there’s no need to, chum.” Murch grinned, carefully slouching back on the brick wall behind him. “An’ now since you have a name to this total stranger you just saved, you should feel a bit more at ease now, right?”

“I-I guess…” Annie slumped back on the wall behind her, thinking about that young boys name as time went on between the two.

Murch.

It was certainly a peculiar name to give a child, no doubt about it. And as much as it itched her to ask about how he was given such a name, she passed on asking it; knowing from what he said while pleading for help, and more importantly what he had already told her, she assumed that he had a background of mercantilism circling around in his younger days.

It would make sense, right?

Before either of them could speak up again, footsteps could be heard from the main portion of the alleway. The two of them froze at the sudden sounds echoing through the entire area. Before she could think, Annie stretched her arm out in front of Murch, suspecting that it might of been those inklings that harmed him coming back to harm the kid once more.

But what she saw was completely opposite of what she expected.

Whatever stepped from the wall that hid it before, stood there in complete astonishment as it stared the two down. The light filtering from the larger pathway made their tall and lanky form almost seem heavenly despite blocking out all of their features. And all that could be seen clearly from them was their brightly colored eye, as the sun silhouetted out the rest of their body.

The form of whoever it was made Annie feel a bit anxious. But that didn't stop her from keeping her guard up. She was ready to help this child out of harm's way once more if she had to.

Suddenly the figure jerked, sprinting towards the two with an unbelievable bound. Annie gulped, suddenly realizing that whoever this person was, she would be hopeless in trying to protect the kid from them. They were twice her size! What was she supposed to do, bite their shins? Cling onto their legs until they manage to fall over? Whatever nonsense idea that came to mind, she braced herself for it, squeezing her eyes shut as she prayed that, somehow, this was the guy Murch was talking about.

… He should be extremely close now, right?

There was no screaming or pleas to be heard, so that was automatically a good sign.

Annie opened her eyes, letting her guard down for a moment as she looked over to Murch, freezing up once more once she saw that the tall figure that charged them was hugging Murch; patting his back as he apparently held back tears.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry 'at I wasn't 'ere for ya, lad."

Well, that wasn't the voice she was quite expecting from a man, now seen in better lighting, was as well dressed as he was.

Murch, on the other hand, seemed to struggle when it came to not bursting into tears once more. He seemed overjoyed at the fact that the escort he was calling for, for who-knows-how-long, finally showed up. Annie watched as he buried his face into the older one’s black and white shawl, his tiny hands balled up, gripping the same fabric he buried his face into.

“S-Spyke!”

The muffled shouting of the child was flushed out by the elder one’s hushing as he continued to rub his back. But that one word was the only thing that seeped through the coos and past Annie’s ears. She thought she heard that name before, it was always tossed around left and right after people left her old work-place when it came to getting 'better service’.

Before she could lament on that name any further, the two orange-skinned males looked back towards her, shaking her from her frozen state. She stared at the two for a brief moment before awkwardly waving at them while her other arm searched for her plastic shopping bags.

Aside from the two looking alarmingly alike, she was taken back on how this man looked as a whole. Annie couldn't help but to frantically search whatever facial features she could see of the man as she gathered her things together. His wide eye and the gentle curve of his lips gave him an unbelievably soft look; and his style, although extremely tacky, somehow suited him all too well. And all of that combined with his somewhat light hearted, and weirdly silky voice...

Was ‘gorgeous’ an appropriate word to describe a man like him?

Before Annie could mentally gather any sort of answer to this sudden question that came to mind, she stood up with all of her bags somehow in hand. But as soon as she stepped towards the main alleyway, she felt a tug at the back of her sweater, stopping her in her place.

“Where ya’ goin’, lass?”

Annie gulped, slowly turning back to see that the man was staring right at her with a glint of curiosity in his eye. His arm was gently stretched out from grabbing hold of her hoodie. The tips of his fingers nearly touched her tunic, she couldn't help but to take a quick glance at his hand as a whole.

God it was huge.

“I-I was h-heading h-home?” Annie stammered out, averting eye contact from the man who grabbed her attention. “I-It’s pretty l-late a-after a-all…”

Holy shit. Where did all of that stuttering come from?

“You’re that 'raw chick’ Murch was ramblin’ on about when he called, yeah?” The man asked, giving her a small smile.

Annie could feel her cheeks heat up as she saw the small grin that was directed towards her, she looked away as she muttered out a simple, “Yeah…” before repeating the statement about her needing to head home. The man’s smile waned a bit as he nodded his head in understanding. “I can’t 'ave ya leave without thankin’ ya for wot ya did.”

“O-Oh… I-It’s nothing m-much r-really.” Annie mentally cursed herself for all of her nonsensical blubbering, almost to the point where she could physically feel herself heaving out the words that she mentally yelled out. It had been two solid years since she’s tripped over her own words this much in a conversation, and the sudden backtrack made her feel humiliated. Even more so as a first impression to a man who seemed far too aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

“I’m serious, lass!” He chuckled. “It would be a crime if I left a hero like ya out ta dry like 'at. So tell ya wot…” He pulled out his phone and swiftly the last number he called to his contacts. “If ya need anyfing’, hit me up, alright lass?”

“A-alright…?”

“Good, now lemme see if I added the right number…”

After a brief moment of silence, Annie's phone went off, making her jump a bit in shock. She dropped a few of her bags once more and reached into her hoodie pocket, pulling out her phone and swiftly unlocked it. She quickly checked her text notifications and saw that the most recent text she received, only moments ago, was of an emoticon of a super sea snail of all things. Without another thought she showed the text to the man, who smiled at the sight of the small emoticon. “Bingo.” He tucked his phone back into one of the pockets of his high-wasted baggy slacks and stood up, helping the child back onto his feet as he did so.

Annie quickly followed suit, picking up her bags shortly afterwards, taking that the pair standing up as a cue for her to finally leave.

Hours passed, and Annie couldn't shake the thought of that man out of that little noggin of hers. She laid on her bed, staring up at the ceiling as thoughts of him weaved through her head.

He just seemed so familiar.

There was just something about his looks, just something about his composure that seriously rang a bell. She’ve must of seen him somewhere before. But, where? Even when the face was paired with a name she still drew a blank when it came to recognition. And that fact alone made her want to kick herself.

And it doesn't help when that face of his drove her away from figuring out who the hell he was. It was just too beautiful not to think of. It just seemed so soft and welcoming, and his skin looked so smooth and gentle too. He just seemed so… attractive; one would say.

It would be an utter shock to find out that he was a bachelor.

Wait, what?

“Nononononononono…” Annie muttered to herself, throwing herself up into a sitting position. She covered her already flushed face with her tiny hands, trying to shake the thoughts of the man from her head. She can’t be attracted to him already. She was never the one to become infatuated by one’s looks. Hell, she never even thought of the dating scene in her life.

“Annie what the hell are you going on about?”

The sudden blurt out from her fishy companion, who seemed to be watching her since she got home, shook her from her thoughts. Making her sigh a bit in relief. She’d never thought that Moe's obnoxious voice would be the safe haven that would drive her out of the hellish pit of romanticism she found herself in, but thank God it was. She smiled. “I-It’s nothing Moe, I-I’ve just haven't eaten much today and it’s taking a toll on me.”

Moe looked at her questioningly before leaping out of the bowl he peeped out of and into her hair once more. “Are ya sure?”

Annie rubbed her stomach. The only thing she really had to eat today was that chocolate she shared with that kid a few hours ago. She was just so absorbed in moving into this new apartment, she really didn't make any sort of time for eating.

“Yeah, I-I’m sure Moe.”

Chapter Text

Ramen.

Cheap, run-of-the-mill, bargain brand insta-ramen.

Just fill 'er up with water and shove 'er in the microwave for a minute or two and it's something to hold someone over for a few hours or so. It was debatable whether or not it was considered a legitimate meal to have, but one thing was definitely for certain; Annie was going to be stuck eating it for a long time.

She remembered back in the days where she, at the least, attempted to pass college; she used to eat them for every single meal just so she can stay in her sorority room for the winter. Moe hated it. He always complained about the bland taste of the cheap noodles and how the soup of the ramen tasted more like watered down grease than anything.

It was highly annoying, but he did have a point.

They were 90 G a cup. A steal back in her college days. And knowing that she would spend more on equipment that may or may not be used in the future, she needed to take what she could get, no matter how horrible the taste was.

Sure, 300 G was a bit more on the expensive side when it came to cheap ramen, but after whatever noodle hell she experienced back in the day, she was willing to splurge a bit more on something more decent.

Annie rolled her eyes as a loud groan sounded from the top of her head. Of course he was repulsed by the sight of all the ramen she bought today, of course he was. “Moe, listen…” Annie sighed as she leaned back on the corner counter nearby the microwave. “I know you hate instant noodles, but I bought a completely different brand this time.”

“So? It’s still the same shit we ate four years ago.”

Annie tisked. “Just give it a chance.”

“Hell no!”

She rolled her eyes once more, shaking her head as the microwave sounded a long winded beep. She promptly retrieved the pseudo meal and retreated to the nearest chair that wasn’t still wrapped up from moving; which happened to be in her room at that given time. As she drowsily trudged down the hall, stirring the noodles around in their plastic container, thoughts of what occurred a few hours ago replayed in her head.

She remembered that the tall man, whose name was apparently Spyke, shouting something about visiting them when she had the time as she walked away. She didn’t really consider dropping by at the drop of the hat, especially tomorrow; but now that she had the time to remotely think about it, dropping by just for a short while to check up on that kid to see how he’s faring after being thrashed about like that.

But that meant that she would leave earlier to meet up with Sheldon on time. She didn’t mind waking up earlier, but Moe on the other hand, would argue otherwise.

She sighed, knowing that she’ll cross that road when she gets there. Besides she had greater things to worry about at the moment concerning her schedule.

She entered her room once more, taking a forkful of her ramen into her mouth before she placed the plastic cutlery on her desk next to her computer. She marched to the foot of her bed, where she left the bag containing the router before drifting off in her embarrassing thoughts an hour or so ago. She yanked the small box out of the bag, wasting almost no time at all on setting up the small module; all while coming back to her ramen for the occasional bite or two.

Eventually, she got the thing hooked up and functioning. Smiling at her somewhat tedious task finally being done, she stood up heading straight to her desk and taking a seat at it once more. She sighed as she rolled herself closer to her computer, opening it up as she took another bite of her now somewhat room temperature microwave meal.

As the screen flickered on, she could hear her phone go off from the other side of her room, making her roll her eyes.

Nothing productive was going to get done tonight.

She rolled her chair away from her desk, grunting out of annoyance as she made her way over to her bedside table. She retrieved her phone and rolled back over to her desk, unlocking phone as she did so; checking whatever caused that notification to go off before proceeding to work on more proof reading for her novel.

She scrolled through the wall of text that appeared before her… apparently whoever was texting her at that time was doing for it for quite sometime. It was a mystery where the texts came from, until she reached the end of the fairly short text log, that's when it clicked.

Why was that man she met earlier texting her?

She blushed a bit as she began to read the wall of text he sent her, praying that Moe wouldn't notice her sudden uneasy silence.

“Hey, Love-”

She caught her breath for a moment, the nickname throwing her completely off guard. She tried desperately not to think of it as she read on, pushing the word out of her head as best she could.

“-I just wanted to thank you again for saving Murch today, but I feel that thanking you over and over again just feels wrong. You deserve more for throwing yourself into danger for a stranger you didn't know. And I feel like, as another stranger who is in charge of him and all of his actions, I’m in your debt.”

Wait… what?

Was this man, who she met merely a few hours ago, implying that he has the need to return the favor? For real? Annie stopped reading for a moment and placed her phone down, trying to process what the man just sent her. Sighing as she stared up at the monitor of her computer while her mind was clogged up with these sudden thoughts. The brief glance reminded her of all the work she had to do herself. And she knew that perfecting her novel and setting up her online shop was going to be an extreme hassle that would take a long time to pull off, so she needed all the support she can get.

But then again, she never told a soul on how she was going to get her hands on the garments she, herself, was going to sell. Mainly because it was borderline bootleggerey and she was afraid that her friends would tattle on her for legal reasons; despite them being the most loyal people known within her circle.

She looked back at her phone, brushing those troublesome thoughts aside as well as she picked her phone up once more; continuing to read the wall of text that ran off both ends of her screen.

“If you’re wondering, Murch is healing up well.”

Oh thank God.

“I told his mother about the incident and how long it's been going on and she told me to notify the authorities the next time this happens. I was also given the responsibility to walk Murch to and from his post every day to make sure he’s out of harm's way. So there’s that. But enough digressing, like I said, I'm in your debt. If you need anything, love, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Sleep tight.”

Annie couldn't help but to smile. It was such a nice set of words to see after such a long and gruesome day, really. The odd amount of kindness this man she barely knew gave her was honestly the breath of relief she needed after whatever hell occurred today. And out of anything, hearing that the kid was doing well somehow lifted a massive weight from her shoulders.

She sent a quick ‘thank you’ as a response and placed her phone back on her desk before looking back up at her monitor for a brief moment, before closing the computer and standing up. She stretched out her entire body before walking over to Moe’s fish bowl, gently placing him within its still waters before heading to her bed herself.

Sure she didn't really do much in the way of work like she planned to today. But after all she had been through, a night's long rest was something that she deserved. And besides, she had huge plans tomorrow. She wouldn't want to be tired during her time with her best friend, now would she?

Annie lept into her bed, placing her glasses on her bedside table before tossing her bed sheets over her small body.

The following morning was as routine as it was back at the plaza. She would wake up, check the time, eat something that would serve as her breakfast. And usually after a quick shower and finding at something somewhat decent to wear, she would find herself spending more time than expected trying to shake her tired familiar awake.

“Moe come on! Wake up!” Annie grunted as she agitated the fishbowl on her wardrobe. “You know I have to see Sheldon today!”

Moe opened one of his beady eyes, letting out a groggy groan as the sloshing water jostled him around. “Can Sheldon wait like… five more minutes? Yesterday took a lot out of me…”

“You slept for most of the day yesterday!” Annie reached in her bowl and scooped out the small fish herself, shoving him in her hair as she frantically gathered her things together. “You should be fine!” Moe grunted at her unusual amount of enthusiasm, groggily looming over her bangs to see her frantically shoving her essentials into a bag she pulled from the corner of her room. The brella she needed to bring with her to Ammo Knights today was already close at hand, knowing she had to carry it with her since it was rather large to put it in her bag alone.

Without thinking about double checking, she threw her bag over her shoulder and yanked the weapon prototype off of her bed, sprinting out of her apartment and to the nearest elevator.

As she felt the tethered box descend, she pulled out her phone to check the time. It was half past seven in the morning, a rather peculiar time to wake up at nowadays, but was perfectly reasonable for early morning workers to commute across the city for whatever job they had to do; as crazy as others would take it.

Annie may not have that job to go to, but she had a busy-body bestie to meet today, and he had a bit of a policy on being on time with his tight schedule. Especially with casual visits like these. She knew she had to be on time.

It wasn’t long until the whirring of the elevator stopped and its doors squeakily slid open, allowing her to step out of the small suspended box. She huffed as she stepped through, pacing towards the apartment building’s main entrance as she tucked her phone back into her pocket. She slipped her other arm through the empty strap of her backpack as she juggled the weapon prototype between her hands, backing into the buildings front doors all while she awkwardly fiddled with the objects with her.

Before she could hook the brella around her wrist once more, she felt someone bump into her; tripping her up on her already unsteady feet, causing her to fall over. The brella tumbled out of her hand as her knees scraped the pavement below her, the soft sound of the door shutting was overwhelmed by apologies directed towards her.

She sharply breathed in on the unwarranted sting of pain, trying to hold back any sort of sign of reaction. Though Moe, now wide awake, didn't take lightly to the rude awakening.

And despite their apologies, that didn't stop him from chewing them out.

“HEY JACKASS! WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING!”

Annie tisked as she rolled over, ignoring the stinging pain as she grabbed hold of the tiny fish. “Moe…” she sighed, her eyes trailing up towards the one who knocked her over. “Yelling at someone's mistakes is not… how.. you…”

Her voice trailed off.

Oh dear lord.

“S-Spyke!?”

It was that man from last night.

Annie quickly stuffed Moe into her hoodie pockets, standing up as Murch appeared from behind the taller Urchin as he chuckled. “Ya remembered my name, love!” He smiled down at her, folding his arms as Annie stood up in her flustered manner. “That’s a first. Especially for someone I barely knew before.”

'I’ve heard it more than enough times yesterday…’ Annie blushed, trying to force herself into making eye contact with the sea urchin before her. 'It would be impossible to forget it now.’

“So wot brings ya out here at this early hour?”

Annie gulped, finally finding herself making adequate eye contact with the man towering over her. “I-I was just heading to the square to uhm… meet a friend, a-at his job.” She fidgeted with the strap of the prototype weapon that loosely dangled from her wrist. “I-I haven't seen him in almost a y-year… So I didn't want to keep him waiting…”

Spyke hummed, taking in what the stammering anemone told him before smiling once more. “Well then, how about we walk wif ya, love? We are headin’ to the same place after all.”

Annie froze at the sudden offer. “R-really?”

“Yep! Murch’s post happens to be right by the lobby, and as for me.” Spyke paused, revealing a black, faux leather case. “I’ve gotta work on my own stuff too, ya know.” He gave it a quick pat before slinging it comfortably over his shoulder once more. “Whaddya say?”

Annie sighed, trying her best to keep the squirming fish in her pocket at bay. “S-Sure… it’s always better to walk with other people… I-I suppose.”

Spyke smiled, looking down at the smaller urchin who reflected the same expression before looking back at Annie. “Right then, love. Let’s get goin’.”

Chapter Text

“You could've killed me back there, you know.”

Annie rolled her eyes at the fish’s passive aggressive comment, attempting to calm him down around the people she was walking with. “Moe please.” She whispered. “Quiet down, you’re gonna embarrass me again.”

“Since when are you not embarrassed?”

“Moe.”

Moe tisked, slumping onto Annie’s petite shoulder. “Besides, you made yourself look like a damn fool earlier.”

“Moe.” Annie let out a deep sigh, rolling her eyes back a she prayed that the two sea urchins didn’t notice her small quarrel with the familiar that rested on her shoulder. “Could you save this for later?”

“What if I didn’t want to save it for later, huh?”

She tisked, removing the fish from her shoulder just so she can make direct eye contact with him. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She glared at her squirming familiar. “Did you somehow enjoy it in my pocket? Because if you keep this up I’m shoving you back in there.”

“Alright, alright ! I’ll shut up!”

“Good.” Annie smiled, slipping the fish back into her hair and waited for him to settle himself into her locks once more before looking over at the two sea urchins she walked with.

Spyke seemed to not be used to waking up at this time much like Moe was, and his slightly slumped posture and the light bags under his eye made it a dead give away. But despite that, he managed to keep a steady pace and gaze when he walked. His long arms drooped down past his hips, only having his right arm being the one that moved due to the smaller sea urchin that walked between the two, holding his left hand. Well, not necessarily "holding" his hand, since Murch’s height reached up to Spyke’s knees, and his short arms could only reach up so high; he wound up clinging to two of Spyke’s fingers, coupling the innocent action of his with a youthful, kindergartner-like spring in his step; fully  knowing that with Spyke courting him to and from the Square would make him all the more safer for now on.

Annie chuckled at the sight. She knew that the two shared a close bond already due to yesterday’s events, but she didn’t know that they shared a connection like the one being shown to her at that moment. It was like Spyke was treating Murch as if he was his own child. He cared for him, he wanted to make sure that he was safe. And that alone made the kid happy.

It was super sweet. Adorable, even.

Even when the three of them stopped at a junction crossing, waiting for the heavy traffic to clear up so they could cross, Murch still clung to his fingers; standing up on his toes so he wouldn't stretch out his arm as much as he already was.

Annie was so absorbed on watching the two interact with one another, learning more and more about their relationship with these little interactions. So much so, that Spyke literally scared her when he tried to grab her attention.

She squeaked at the sound of his voice suddenly dragging her out of her trance, her cheeks became a soft pink in embarrassment as she looked up at him. “Y-Yeah? W-What’s up?”

Spyke huffed, softly chuckling at the anemone’s reaction. “You okay ‘ere, love?” He smiled down at her. “We kin’a lost ya there for a bit.”

“Oh no-no! I-I was just thinking about something!” She rubbed the back of her head, shyly returning the smile he gave her. “Did you need anything?”

“Yeah.” Spyke looked back at the walkway in front of him, the pathway appearing to almost be safe to cross. “I wan’ed to talk about ‘at friend ya meetin’.”

“Oh really?” Annie cupped her hands on her chest, looking back in the same direction as he was as the umbrella like weapon she carried dangled from her wrist. “What a-about him do you want to k-know?”

There was a short pause between the two as the tall urchin took in a deep breath. “Wot’s this guy ya’ meetin up with like?”

Annie’s blush grew slightly darker as she stammered out an answer. “O-Oh, uhm.” She sighed. “H-He’s a really nice guy, and really committed to his job t-too. H-He might actually not even see h-his job as a job-- so to speak. I-It’s more like a hobby to him. A h-hobby that he’s super invested in. I-invested to the p-point where it’s kind of a-annoying, actually. And I... uh…” Annie took the weaponized everyday item into her hands, examining it  as she rambled on. “B-Before he m-moved out to the square, we worked on designing a new weapon t-together. H-He already had me there part time, and he knew that I wouldn’t have a thing to do on s-somedays so he just called me over a-and sat me down one day a-and said: ‘Listen closely, okay? I want you to help me with designing a weapon.’”

She held the weapon closer to her, sighing once more. “W-we managed to scrape together a prototype b-before he left for the Square. H-He told me to hold onto it i-if I ever intend to swing by the Square in the near f-future.”

“Ah.” Spyke huffed, knowing exactly who the anemone was referring to as soon as she said the word ‘annoying’. “So he’s a pret’y close friend of yours, huh love?”

Annie chuckled, ignoring the slightly flat tone Spyke had in the previous statement he spoke. “‘R-Really close’ friends? T-try ‘One of my o-only’ friends.”

“Oh, bollocks.” Spyke rolled his eye. “There ‘as ta be more people ya consider to be a friend ta ya.”

“W-Well….” Annie released the brella from her grip, letting it dangle from her wrist once more. “I-It’s not e-easy to trust people h-here.”

“Well, you’re walkin’ wif us, yeah?” Spyke stepped off the sidewalk the three stood on, walking across the street with the other two trailing behind him. “Wouldn’t ‘at mean ya trust us to some degree?”

“W-What do you mean?”

“Well, if ya di’n’t trust us, ya wouldn’t be walkin’ wit’ us right now, right?”

“I-I mean, I-I guess,b-but-” Annie choked on her own words, her cheeks turning red with the realization that she couldn’t defend her case of ‘not trusting people that she just met’ at that point. “N-Nevermind.”

Spyke smirked, a soft chuckle seeped through his lips. “Well, if it makes ya feel a bit better abou’ it, Murch n’ I definitely trust you. So th' feelin's at th’ least mutual, right love?”

Right.

The three eventually reached the Square and promptly parted ways, Spyke reassuring her that if she needs anything, he and Murch will be by the Ink Battle lobby, before he escorted the small urchin to his post; leaving Annie to her own devices.

Annie watched the two walk off before her eyes trailed around the small, bustling area. She couldn’t help to feel intimidated by it all, the mostly dull colors of the Square were an unwelcoming sign to her compared to the bright colors of the Plaza that she already missed oh-so dearly.

It felt so crowded there, and it kind of made her anxious.

She tried to push her way through the bustling area, her already slow strides grew more and more hesitant as she made her way to Ammo Knights. Which unfortunately for her, was on the other side of the Square; and when she cleared the large, bustling crowd of inklings, she was greeted with the more unfortunate sight of Sheldon, the one person she was looking forward to seeing this morning, being dragged out from his shop by an inkling that seemed desperate for help. The very sight of it caused a pit in her stomach, but made her rush over to the scene, just so she can know what was even going on.

“S-Sheldon?”

Sheldon, and the inkling who was dragging him to a grated manhole stopped in their tracks, turning to the anemone that stood before the two. The horseshoe crab ripped his hand from the inkling’s vice grip, awkwardly cupping his hands in front of him as he greeted her. “Annie!~” He slipped in a forced chuckle. “H-How’s it going?”

Annie cupped her hands on her chest once more. “W-What’s going o-”

“Listen, before I say anything else, I’m terribly sorry for going back on our plans this morning.” Sheldon paused, sighing heavily as he tried to maintain eye contact with her. “I wasn’t expecting Marie to barge into my shop like this and beg me to help her. And since I don’t have the option to make her wait for much longer, I need to go.”

‘Marie?’ Annie slowly shifted her gaze to the inkling next to him only to see the exact person she thought of when he said the mentioned inkling’s name.

Marie. That Marie. The Marie from the Squid Sisters.

The thought of her being the one to demand Sheldon for help, out of all people, was strange in itself. But before she could ask why he was helping her, Marie grabbed Sheldon by his wrist and kicked open the Manhole they stood next to. “Yes, and your gabbing is wasting us time! So shut up, and let’s go!

Sheldon nodded, rolling his eyes as he looked back at Annie. “Again, I’m SO sorry about this Annie! I-I didn’t intend on this ha-”

“N-No no!” Annie interrupted, forcing a smile as she returned his gaze. “I-If you need to go do something, go do it! I-I don’t mind!”

“O-Okay.” He stammered as Marie leaped into the manhole. “I-I promise to make it up to you later on! Just stay here in the meantime, alright?”

“Okay…” Annie sighed as she watched her friend leap into the manhole, following the Idol that he was obligated to assist; the manhole’s lid abruptly closing as soon as he vanished from sight.

She glumly looked down at the pavement, humming as she slowly proceeded to hug herself; mentally chanting a mantra to keep herself from crying.

She lied.

She did mind.

Chapter Text

Great.

That very word repeated through Annie’s head for the past half an hour. The tone being anything other than what the word actually meant. The tone was sarcastic, and almost taunting. She was left behind by a friend once more. And at that rate, she thought that she would be used to being ditched last second, knowing full well that this sort of thing always happened, even before she met the people she knew now. She thought that being ditched wouldn’t break her heart anymore.

But it did.

It broke her heart like it did the last time this sort of thing happened, same with the time before that and so on. She had gotten better about not bursting into tears about this sort of thing, but as she sat on the doorstep of the shop she was ditched at, holding the umbrella-like weapon between her legs while kicking up dirt and soot from the pavement; she started to slip from the somewhat calm facade she held.

This didn’t only leave her disappointed and sad, it also left her somewhat angry .

Angry at the fact that after months and months of trying to get a hold of an old friend and finally arrange a meetup, only to get ditched as soon as she shows up to the place she spent an hour walking to. Why wouldn’t she get mad!?

She clenched her tunic, gritting her teeth as the thought of what just took place kept replaying in her head. It was her second day living near the Square, and judging by the fact that one of her two reasons of moving there in the first place was immediately recognized as a reason made in vain, she started to regret her choice in moving to these parts.

What was the point in it other than business obligations at this rate!?

Annie stood up and turned to face the shop she wasted her time making her way to, and, due to being unable to contain her anger anymore, delivered a few solid kicks to the wooden step that she once sat on. Eventually splitting the aged wood with the sheer force of her actions, tears finally streaming down her cheeks.

She held herself, trembling with a whole mixture of emotions rushing through her being. She’s grown tired of being left behind like this, even if it was for the time being. Sheldon said he would be back-- sort of-- but she had a gut feeling that he would be gone all day. And that gut feeling twisted her stomach to the point where she almost felt sick. It was obviously worse than the pain she felt when he left, growing to the point where she found it hard to stand still.

But she had to, she was scared of walking around within the bustling square alone. She didn’t want to see the sights that were there to see. At that rate, she just wanted to go home. And not to her new apartment, to her old one. Sure it was a tight fit for everything there, but she felt safe there. She was happy with her old life and now the “trend tide” forced her onto a new life entirely because of her new not-quite-a-job-yet job and her old friends that left her in the dust. She wanted to go see the one silver lining that this new life already gave her, but that would mean she would have to cross the Square again just to see them. Sure, it was a significantly shorter walk than it was when crossing the Square to make it to Ammo Knights; but she was still far too scared to walk in the area by herself.

The only thing she could pull herself to do at the moment was just stand there, trying her best to maintain her balance due to the sudden vertigo the abandonment caused her.

… So when she felt something tap her shoulder, she became horrified .

She shrieked, falling over as she tried to turn around to see whatever grazed her shoulder, her head hitting the same wooden doorstep she kicked in moments ago; a fair amount tears flung off of her face in throughout the process of the short instinctive reaction of hers. Grunting and slumping down in defeat once the initial shock of the impact faded, her tear filled eyes squinting as she looked straight up at what was above her.

There was a pause as she took in a sharp breath, bracing herself for the worst case scenario if it were to happen.

And fortunately, to her surprise,  it didn't happen.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry ! A-are you okay?”

In fact, it was the exact opposite of what she expected to happen.

Annie collected herself as she sat up, her eyes immediately landing on a soft figure with an extremely shocked, yet concerned expression on her face. Rubbing the back of her head as she nearly answered the question out of instinct, catching herself before she lied once more.

“I-I’m actually... n-not…”

The woman in front of her frowned as she cautiously approached Annie, reaching a covered hand out to her in a silent offering of helping her up. An offer that Annie hesitated on, but gladly took.It was a bit strange to her. This was the third stranger that was nice to her so far on her time spent in this alien area, and she didn’t know if she should be grateful or suspicious at it all.

Either way, she was a bit grateful that someone was concerned about her-- other than Moe, of course.

Once the strange woman helped her onto her feet, Annie couldn’t help but to notice that she was… shorter than her. Granted, not by much. But once she regained her balance, her eyes met with a small white creature that was on her head, and not the worried eyes of the woman who helped her up. She took a step back so she can look the woman in the eyes, giving her a small bow of gratitude, careful as to not lose her balance once more. “T-Thank you, M-Miss.” she softly stuttered as she looked back to the woman.

“Hey, no problem. Anything for a newbie.”

N-Newbie? ” she muttered to herself, gently bringing a fist to her mouth. She did look like she was out of her element, did she? She was a complete nervous mess as soon as those two sea urchins left her side. But was it really that obvious?

“Look, I know what it’s like to be out of your element-- don’t worry.”

How did she-

“But as long as you have the right people around you, your stay here will be entirely worry free!”

Annie glumly averted her gaze, making the woman frown. The anemone’s body language was enough of an indicator to the woman that she didn’t know much people around the Square, and whoever she knew that was there with her, just left her behind without warning.

She reached out to the sea anemone, furrowing her eyebrows with a greater concern than before. “Y-You don’t have anyone with you right now… Do you?”

“I…” Annie sighed, hugging herself once more. “I guess n-not.”

Annie suddenly felt the woman’s hands on her shoulders, her gentle touch made her jump at first contact, but was over all calming and somewhat reassuring. “Listen, Newbie...” the woman spoke in  a soft, somewhat hushed tone. “... My store is rather empty in the morning hours, and quiet solitude sounds like something you need right now… would you like to come in?”

Annie slumped back in a comically large beanbag chair that was positioned in the corner of the main room of the shop she was guided into, taking in the rustic-retro aesthetic of it all. The warm colors of the area coupled by the calming music and the natural lighting almost immediately calmed her down, easing up the anxiety of being abandoned almost an hour ago by what was considered to be a friend of hers.

Just as she was beginning to finally relax, Moe popped out of her hair, and leaped down onto her lap so he could talk to her face to face. “Yo, Annie… You, uh... you’re feeling better, right?”

Annie softly sighed. “I… I think so…”

“Good.” Moe nodded. “I wanted to say something earlier but knowing the mood you were in, saying it would probably result in me being thrown against the pavement or something.”

“What even was it?”

“I was gonna say that you needed to get new friends, Annie.”

Annie tisked. “That’s kinda strange coming from a guy who literally hates anyone who looks at him.”

“Very funny.”

“You yelled at someone I bumped into this morning.”

Moe rolled his eyes. “ Don’t patronize me .”

Annie couldn’t help but to chuckle at her familiar’s retaliation, scooping him up and placing him back into her hair as a small smile formed on her lips. “I get what you’re trying to say though. I need to get to know new people so I can have more people to turn to in the future.”

“Or at least try to.”

Annie chuckled once more. “Yeah, at least .”

“Hey, Newbie!~”

Annie jolted at the voice that was calling for her, quickly looking over at the woman who invited her inside her shop before the late morning rush came through. She watched as the woman struggled to carry two drinks over to where she was, being cautious as to not spill anything as she made her way to the anemone.

“H-Hey, u-uh miss!” Annie leaned forward, slightly reaching out towards the struggling lady. “D-Do you need a-any help?”

“Nonono, it’s okay, I got it!”

The woman eventually made her way over to Annie, handing her a glass of water before sitting down next to her, letting out a small huff as she repositioned the glass that she held in her dainty hands.

Annie smiled, taking a sip of water as she fidgeted around with her feet.  “T-Thanks Ma’am…” She stuttered out, her eyes suddenly widening  as she mentally repeated the previous word that fell from her mouth. “I… uhm… I-I feel like you don’t like it when I-I refer you to as ‘M-Miss’ or ‘Ma’am’... Y-You’re probably getting a bit annoyed by it by n-now… A-actually...”

The woman smirked. “Oh no, no, no! I don’t mind that at all, Newbie! It kinda gives me an aura of dignity and refinement!” She playfully nudged the anemone next to her. “... Though, you might be sick of being called ‘Newbie’, aren’tchya?”

“... A-A little bit...”

“Awh, I’m sorry ‘bout that sweetie!~” She giggled, elbowing the anemone once more. “Y‘mind tellin’ me your name, then?~”

“I-I… uhm…”

“C’mon!~ Don’t be so nervous! I don’t bite!”

“U-Uh-”

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours .~~”

Annie softly blushed at the woman’s persistence, letting out a soft chuckle as she gave in to her light-hearted pestering. “A-Alright, alright ! I-It’s Annie!”

The woman, beamed, cooing at the sound of her name. “ Awww! ~ That’s such an adorable name, sweetie!” She paused, bringing her glass up to her lips to take a sip of whatever was in her glass. While simultaneously putting the same beverage within Annie’s line of sight.

Annie hummed, cocking her head to the side at the sight of the liquid. It’s distinct color and slight fermented scent was a dead giveaway on what it was; which made her a bit shocked, and a little bit more confused.

It was wine .

Something that a woman like her appeared far too young to drink. Let alone have in her possession .

Annie herself also appeared a bit young for age, despite being in her early twenties. But this woman who sat right next to her looked to be, at most , the age of thirteen.

Annie knew that she was older than that due to how mature the woman’s voice sounded, but she honestly didn’t expect her to be over the age of twenty herself.

The woman hummed to herself as she removed the glass from her lips, lowering it back onto her lap as she turned to face Annie with a small smile. The action pulling Annie out of her small trance just in time to hear the woman finally introduce herself.

“By the way, sweetie, th’ names Flow.”

Annie spent more time than she would of liked to talking to Flow that morning. She seemed to learn more about the slug lady in an hour than she did talking to her older friends! Flow was one interesting individual to learn about too. And learning that she was a former globetrotter was just scratching the surface of what made that woman tick.

It was rather odd how she managed to click with her so easily, too.

Throughout her life, Annie struggled with getting along with others due to her being extremely apprehensive and socially awkward. But with Flow, it was somehow different. Extremely different. It was like how Annie grew so close to Moe as a kid-- They were polar opposites. Flow was almost exactly like Moe, she just wasn’t a dick to everyone like he was.

Even their familiars were polar opposites.

“W-Wait, Wait, W-Wait --” Annie interrupted Flow, putting a hand on the slug’s small shoulder as she tried her best to stifle her laughter. “W-Why was he even traveling a-alone!?”

“I don’t know, really!” Flow grinned, stroking the white shrimp between his small antenna as she softly giggled. “He was carrying a map that was like six times his size! I knew he needed help! And we got to his destination, he refused to let me leave! So I just rolled with it and we’ve been friends ever since!” She leaned forward to look the small shrimp in his small yet wide eyes. “Isn’t that right, Craymond?”

The small shrimp on her lap nodded before he scuttled up her arm and back to the top of her head. Precariously leaning on the brim of her hat-like hair as he stared over at Annie, who chuckled at the little guy’s antics.

The four of them sat there for a little while longer, chatting away the morning like it never happened to begin with, before Flow stood up and stretched out her back. “Hey, Annie?”

“Y-Yeah?”

“Are you hungry, by any chance?”

Annie stood up, nearly mimicking the slug’s movements. “I-I really didn’t eat much this morning… S-So I guess?”


Oh!~ ” Flow’s eyes lit up as she turned to the anemone next to her. “Y’mind if I treat ya to brunch then, sweetie?”

Chapter Text

Being dragged across the Square was certainly better than walking through it by yourself, that's for sure. But Annie was still intimidated by the clutter of the square, and it showed in the tightness of her grip. Flow was that beacon of salvation she needed earlier to help her make her way through the mess of the Square itself, but she didn’t entirely put her trust in her… Well, not yet, at least. But the fact that she trusted her over the majority of those within the Square, soothed her worries to the point where walking with her was enough to pacify most of her anxiety.

Once the two were in a food-court-like area, Flow immediately turned to face the troubled anemone, looking at her with slight concern.

“You okay there, Annie?” She asked, shaking her hand out of Annie’s grip. “You seemed a bit scared back in that crowd, y’know.”

“N-No no! I-I’m fine!” Annie tucked her hands into her hoodie pockets, letting out a short huff as she shrugged her shoulders. “I-I honestly felt more calm back t-there t-than I did making my w-way through t-that crowd e-earlier.”

“Oh, phew!” Flow’s gaze of concern was quickly replaced with a small grin. “I just wanted to make sure.”

Annie?

The anemone gulped at the voice that cut through their small talk, her body instinctively turning to face the truck in which the booming voice came from. Her eyes slightly widened in shock as she almost immediately recognized the man who leaned over the counter inside of his food truck. “... S- Sean ?”

“Oh my god.”

The tall man immediately pushed himself off of the counter he leaned on, sprinting his way out of the back of his truck and over to the two girls without hesitation. “Oh my god, it’s YOU!”

Annie awkwardly chuckle as the large fried prawn squatted down to give her a quick hug, causing her to blush a bit from the sudden gesture. “H-haha… Yeah… it’s me!” She took a step back, gently tucking her hands into her pockets. “I-I didn't know that this was where y-you worked n-now.”

“I didn't know that you lived down here!”

“T… That’s because I just moved here yesterday…”

“Ah.” Sean huffed, placing his two large claws on his hips. “That explains it! So what brings you down to the square today? You’re supposed to be settling in, right?”

Annie lightly sighed, hanging her head and biting her lip slightly as she attempted to hold back tears from recalling events that occurred mere hours ago. “U-um--”

“A friend stood her up because he had other plans.” Flow cut into the conversation, placing a hand on the slightly trembling anemone’s shoulder. “... And it got to her preeeeetty bad.”

“Ouch.” Sean let out a small sigh as the two girls in front of him nodded. “Anything I can do to help brighten the mood a bit.

“Food would be nice.” Flow gave Annie a firm squeeze before removing her hand from her shoulder. “The kid hasn't eaten much since she’s moved here from what she’s told me.”

“Got ya’, I’ll be back with somethin’ shortly!”

Annie sighed, kicking her feet under the metal table she sat at with a hunched over posture. Her small hands gripped the chair’s hot, metal arms through her hoodie. Her eyes wandered around the rustic scenery, taking mental note of the grime, dust, and construction equipment around her. Now that she had a chance to look around a bit more, she couldn't help to find that, like the buildings surrounding it, the Square itself was rather grimy compared to the Plaza; which in contrast was extremely polished and clean.

It definitely wasn't something she was accustomed to now that she had a chance to be out there for longer than a few minutes. Her nose getting rather stuffed from all the dust around her made it quite evident. Her eyes trailed over to Flow, who was staring over at the food truck in an almost endearing manner, kicking her foot as she waited for her food. “H-hey Flow?” She sniffled, catching the sea slug’s attention.

“Hmm yeah? What's up Ann?”

“A-are there any napkins, or any tissues… or something, nearby?” She awkwardly rubbed the bridge of her nose, trying to suppress a sneeze with her hand.

“I think there's some at the table next to us.” Flow turned around and searched the surrounding tables, eventually getting up and walking over to grab a few napkins once she spotted a table with a dispenser. Promptly returning and handing them over to the anemone. “Here y’go!~”

“Th-thanks…” Annie cautiously took the wad from Flow’s dainty hand, immediately taking one of the napkins to her nose in order to blow it.

“So uh…” Flow sat back down, leaning back in her chair as she attempted to make herself comfortable once more. “I didn't know you were friends with Sean.”

“Y-yeah…” Annie wadded up the dirty napkin and clasped it in her hand. “I didn't know that he worked here.”

“Oh! He’s had his shop set up here for quite a while now!”

“Ah… I was wondering why he quit his old job, h-honestly.”

“He had a job before then? What did he do?”

“He was an employee a-at a shoe store just a few buildings down from my old workplace. I-It's how we met.”

“A shoe store vendor? Like Bisk?”

“Like who?

“Ah!~ Nevermind.” Flow chuckled, a small grin forming on her face. “You’ll meet him sooner or later anyways. He’s a nice guy though, I promise!” Annie couldn't help but to smile back at the slug, letting out a small giggle of her own as well. She sure did make situations that the introverted anemone felt was terrifying seem like a walk in a park, which was honestly a breath of fresh air to her. If it weren't for her, she still would of been crying at the foot of Ammo Knights, waiting the day away for Sheldon to come back from wherever that manhole led: A massive waste of time if that woman didn't notice her.

There were a ton of things she could of done otherwise. She still had to settle in after the major move! Taking small breaks just to finish up her novel, work on her online shop, or just eat-- and she, by the looks of things, didn't have the time to do all three in one day!

“Hey, Hey, ladies! Your stuff’s all fried up!”

Annie looked up, a bit shaken as a plate of food was placed in front of her. Her mind completely coming back to reality as the aromas of the greasy helping settled around her. She lightly blushed out of embarrassment as it gradually became apparent that she spaced out for quite a bit. “Did I… space out?”

“You did.” Flow chuckled once more. “I was wonderin’ when you were coming back sweetie! Sean had to bring the food over since you couldn't get up!”

Annie nervously laughed. “Aha… S-Sorry…”

“Yo, it’s okay!” Sean gave her a reassuring smile as he sat down at the table with the two of them. “I needed to take a break anyways. And since y’two got me here, I might as well hang out for a bit-- if it’s okay with you.”

“O-oh! It’s fine!” She sat up, returning his smile with one of her own. “It’d be nice to catch up anyways.”

Suddenly, like it was almost out of nowhere, Moe fell out of her hair and onto her plate of food. Nearly splattering it everywhere as he landed on the desert-like meal. “M-MOE!!” Her face went completely red as she watched her small friend devour the top pastry on the stack of food. “MOE WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

“I SMELLED FOOD ANNIE.” Moe looked up at her, his face covered in whipped cream. “I SMELLED FOOD OKAY!? AND I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU WEREN'T GONNA SHARE IT I--”

“WHAT MADE YOU THINK I WASN’T GONNA SHARE!?”

Flow and Sean chuckled at the scene, making Annie slightly more embarrassed than she already was. “C-Come on Moe, get off of my food-- y-you’re embarrassing me!”

So ?”

“I-I told you not to embarrass me today!” Annie tisked as she flattened out a clean napkin, cautiously dragging the pastry off from the stack without disrupting Moe's eating; trying her best to ignore the stifled laughter coming from the other two. “S-sorry you had to see that. It's just that Moe and I talked this morning and--”

“It’s okay sweetie, don't worry!” Flow grinned, reaching over to pat Annie's shoulder. “Yeah, it’s fine.” Sean quickly chimed in, resting his head on one of his claws. “I was honestly wondering when he’d show up.”

Annie slumped back, taking a plastic fork and jabbing it into her meal; the initial embarrassment already passing on, leaving  her a bit annoyed with her familiar.

His long fingers gingerly traced the keys on his keyboard, typing along at a rather sluggish rate. Writing up guide for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to 'get rich quick’ in a rather short time. The ploy of it all revolving around gambling and how quickly someone can become obsessed with wanting to make their gear perfect. A ploy that was rather dirty, to say the least. But hey, if it worked for Spyke, then it should pretty much work for anyone else willing to make a quick buck… without getting into legal trouble.

Spyke yawned, his shoulders slouching as he reached up and rubbed his eye. In all honesty, he didn't want to write anything today. He'd been working on the same guide for three months straight, and had gotten rather bored on writing it up. In fact, a lot of aspects of his life became rather dull after retiring from his ‘street urchin’ days. Murch was practically the highlight of his days now, teaching him the ways of his work while Murch taught him how to 'scrub’ gear. Spyke never knew why he took the kid under his wing and began to mentor him when both parties knew that Murch already knew way more than Spyke did growing up. It just sort of happened. He just caught sight of the kid struggling with counting up the chunks he gained from practicing his techniques on abandoned gear, and just hit it off from there.

It was rather easy teaching him small aspects of running a stint like his own, given that Murch had looked up to Spyke prior to them meeting. He learned basic arithmetic in almost no time, and would ask Spyke to teach him more mathematics when they both had the time to. And his obedience made it extremely easy to connect with him. And while teaching him, he learned quite a bit about the kid’s life.

Spyke smiled, taking a sip of his drink while thinking about the little things he had learned about Murch; wondering if he should ask him more about his home life the next chance he had to talk to him, or save that topic for another day.

“Spyke!”

A muffled scream from outside abruptly brought him back to reality, the all-too familiar voice made his eye dart over to Murch’s station, standing up at the sight he saw as he lowered the lid of his laptop.

“Spyke HELP!”

Three inklings surrounded him, two of them attempting to grab hold of him while the third one tried to force something out of him; punching him in the stomach if he didn't comply.

“Damn it! Not again!”

Spyke gritted his teeth as he slammed his hands on to the table, promptly leaving the cafe and his belongings behind as he sprinted out the door.

 

Chapter Text

'They took him again.'

Spyke laid down on the pavement, painfully breathing as the kid's cries for help slowly vanished into the city’s bustle. Cursing at himself for letting this happen again after promising to protect him better.

'God damn it they took him again.'

He hoisted himself up, sharply breathing in as jolts of pain surged throughout him as he struggled to his feet. Looking down the alleyway Murch was dragged through with a sigh. He couldn't go after them, especially all banged up like he was now. Well, he couldn't go alone , at the very least.

He wasted no time limping through the square at a groggy pace, remembering the girl who helped Murch yesterday. Specifically what he said through his pained voice at the time and while he was escorting him home. He could question how a girl who was only a bit taller than the kid could take out those three assholes as quickly as she did. But he had no time in questioning the logistics of it all. He needed her help, and he needed it fast.

Halfway across the square he could see her sitting at a table with two other familiar faces, and wasn't hesitant when it came to calling out to her.

“Oi, Love!”

No response.

“Love!”

Still nothing.

He grumbled as he made the rest of his way towards the table, still gritting his teeth from the pain as he went along; all while tightly gripping one of his arms in order to keep himself on his feet.

Annie seemed a bit shaken knowing that she did hear a scream or two in protest for mere moments and a voice trying to call out to someone, but it wasn't enough to sway the attention she had for her new and old friends… That was, until Spyke managed to scuffle his way up to her table, his breath still heavy from the altercation.

Whatever Sean and Flow were talking about was abruptly cut off due to the presence of the tall urchin. Their eyes slightly widened as they drifted up to meet the distressed and somewhat worn down face of his. And although he barely crossed paths with the sea urchin, Sean knew something was up with him.

“Spyke? What's up?” He casually piped up, a slight hint of concern weaved through his words as he spoke. “You look--”

“They took 'em again.”

Silence fell between the group as those words meekly fell from his lips. Annie's eyes widened in slight shock and utter horror as she can feel Spyke's palm gently graze her shoulder. “T-They took Murch…?”

“Y-’eah…” Spyke choked out, gritting his teeth as he desperately held back any form of tears that tried to swell up in his eye. “T’dragged ‘em off ‘o the boardwalk ‘fter bangin me up. Th'Bastards even trashed the replacement phone I jus’ got ‘em.”

“Oh God…” Annie gulped, clenching her hands into a tight fist. “N-Not the…” She stood up abruptly, swiping up the prototype weapon as she pushed Spyke back slightly in order to stand up. “I-I'll be right back. Please take care of Spyke and uh… take care of my things too.”

Right before she started to run off however, she impulsively grabbed Moe from her mess of a hairdo and carefully placed him in Spyke's hand. Both of the males becoming somewhat speechless at the sudden act. “I-Including Moe. Please be careful with him.”


‘I’m gonna die…’

It was the only thought that rushed through the kid's head as half of his body was held over the rapids beneath the dock. Tears clouding up his eye as cackles from the harassers around him pierced through his ears. He squeezed his eye shut as he screamed desperately for someone-- anyone to rescue him.

“HELP ME!”

His cracking voice and strained screams only seemed to amuse the pack of boys as they held more of his body out over the edge of the dock, laughing as he sobbed and squirmed for what seemed to be his life.

“Awh…” The boy holding him cooed condescendingly, tightening the grip on the Urchin's shirt. “We'll let you go free if you just give us our money back. Nothing more, nothing less.~”

“N-No!” Murch choked out impulsively, still holding true to the morals he held despite his life being at stake. “F-For the last time, you can't get refunds!”

“Well then I hope you know how to swim then, street urchin.”

Murch whimpered as more of his body was held over the water below, a chorus of low laughter following the previously said statement. At that rate, he prayed for anyone--- ANYONE to come by and stop these guys before it was too late. Even if his hopes ran thin he still clung onto it with whatever grain of strength and willpower he had left.

Annie, meanwhile, momentarily froze in horror at the sight she saw. The sight of seeing the young boy in such a pathetic state once more was enough to tug at her heartstrings, but seeing his very life be threatened left her feeling a type of rage the even she has never felt before. She clenched her fist as she hopped over the gate that held the rest of the dock away from public access, sprinting down the set of stairs that led to it. Praying that the emergency ink that was stored within the weapon already would be enough to scare those guys away as she found herself growing closer and closer to the altercation.

“H-Hey!”

The boys all turned to Annie, letting out a bit of a chuckle as she, once again, tried to look intimidating. “Oh… you're that chick from yesterday, yeah?” One of the boys from the group piped up. “Y'back for more?”

She clenched the umbrella masked weapon tightly in both of her hands. “S-Stop harassing him!” She took a step forward. “What did he ever do to you!?”

“He stole from us!”

“Yeah! We're just getting our money back from this thief!”

Annie gritted her teeth. “H-He's a child !”

“A child, who stole from us.” One of the boys stepped away from the group, making his way towards Annie. “If you insist on protecting th'lil runt--”

“I do!

She lunged forward, acting on her impulse once more as she swung the brella towards the boy confronting her; hitting him on the side of his head just above his neck. She kicked him in the gut to keep him incapacitated as she rushed her way across the dock, holding the brella close to her chest as she did so.

The two remaining boys slightly panicked, the realization that the girl rushing towards them was the same girl that took them down yesterday washed over them. They look at eachother, wide eyed, while Murch still kicked and screamed in the grasp of the eldest.

“Chief!” The boy yelled to his older partner-in-crime. “Chief, drop him!”

DROPHIMORI'LLSHOOT!”

The two boys whipped their heads back at Annie, the head of the shotgun-like weapon she held pointing directly at them. A deafening silence stood between them as Murch dangled from the boy's grip, his small body growing exhausted from his panicked struggling.

The boy who still held on to Murch finally broke the silence after staring her down for a few moments; a cocky, yet nervous, grin forming on his lips. “Tch, Y-Yeah right.” He stuttered, his grip on Murch gradually began to loosen. “L-Like that parasol of yours is gonna… hurt me.

Another tense pause followed; all eyes in the standoff waited for someone to move a muscle.

And for those tense few minutes, they've all remained perfectly still.

And then…

“ANNIE!”

… He slipped.

Annie winced, squeezing her eyes shut as she felt her finger pull the trigger, emptying out half of the internal ink on to the boys. She could hear them shout in pain as the opposing colored ink leeched onto their skin, burning them slightly as they rush away from the fenced off ledge; picking up their half-conscious friend before finally running off.

She opened her eyes as soon as she heard the frantic footsteps rush away from her, wasting no time in rushing over to where Murch dangled; helping him over the fence that he was held over mere minutes ago.

“Murch!” She cried, catching the exhausted urchin as he fell over the top of the fence. “Are you hurt?--”

“O-Of course I was hurt!” Murch pulled himself away, looking up at Annie with a tear filled eye. “I was kidnapped! A-a-and--”

Before he could finish his statement, he completely broke down in a fit of tears, tackling Annie down with a tight embrace whilst bawling into her sweater. Annie took a moment to collect herself from the shock the sudden action brought her, but then reluctantly returned the hug; gently patting his back as she finally felt herself calm down. “T-There, There…” She muttered. “They're gone now…”

“MURCH!”

Annie softly gasped at the familiar voice, and turned her head around to see Spyke along with Sean and Flow, standing on the sidewalk that was above them. Before she could respond to them, the three of them rushed over to the staircase that led down to the boardwalk. And with Spyke being the tallest of the three, he was the first to make it to the bottom, and bounded towards them with his shawl in hand almost effortlessly despite the pain he still felt from earlier.

He came to a stop once he heard Murch crying, his look of nervous relief shifted into a one of empathy as he witnessed him sob as if he lost something extremely dear to him. Spyke sighed at this, making his way over to Murch with caution. He knelt down behind the boy and unwadded his shawl, and shook his head as he carefully draped it over the kid's shoulders.

“Y'saved ‘is life again, love.” He murmured, placing a hand on Murch's shoulder. “Jus’ike yesterday… huh?”

Annie sat there, only letting out a sigh as the child she held exhausted himself from his own tears. She felt his body loosen up as the shawl was draped over him, almost as if it was pacifying him. Before she could make note of that however, another voice called out to her.

“Annie!”

Her eyes widened a bit, carefully turning herself to face the two others that accompanied Spyke on the way over here. “... Flow…?” She meekly murmured. “... S…. Sean?”

“ANNIE WHAT IN THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!?”

Annie's eyes darted down to see that Flow held Moe in her hands; and a bit nervously tried to explain herself to the shouting clownfish. “M-Moe! I-I can e-explain!”

“YOU BETTER!” Moe shouted, leaping from Flow's gentle grasp and back into Annie's hair. “YOU LEAVE ME WITH THAT SPIKY FREAK, AND FOR WHAT? SAVING ANOTHER SPIKY FREAK FROM GOD KNOWS WHAT!?”

“Moe… M-Murch isn't a fr--” Annie caught herself, sighing as she tried her best to dance around a potential argument in front of the kid she held. “H-He… would of gotten seriously injured if I didn't go after him, M-Moe.”

“Says who?”

“S-Says me! This child was being abused by a group of punks that were both taller and older than him! H-he couldn't fend for himself even if he wanted to!”

“Th'lass is right.” Spyke chimed in. “Th'kid barely reaches th’normal inklin's hip. T'ose blokes knew 'at and wanted to use it to 'eir advantage.” He sighed, reaching over to grab Murch from Annie's grasp. “Y've done enough love, I'll take it from'ere.”

Moe only stayed silent as the lanky urchin took the smaller one from Annie's grasp, allowing her to stand up and gather her things. She let out a small, yet gentle huff. “S-so… what are you planning to do now, Spyke?” She asked, picking up the prototype Brella that laid beside her for all of that time.

“Well, I'm takin’ th'lil guy inside, First ov'all.” He replied. “Wait for 'im to get 'is energy back, n'hopefully ease some o'that trauma he has from ‘his situation. Then maybe spend th’ rest o'th day with 'im out 'ere if 'e's up fer it.” He looked down at the child he cradled in his arms and softly smiled at the peaceful look he now had. “Odds are, he 'prolly won't be because 'e's too scared of gettin’ jumped again, y'know?”

There was a pause between the two, before Spyke looked over to Annie once more. “Annie, right?”

Annie froze, having the realization of her never introducing herself after rescuing the kid he looked after twice finally hit her. “U-uh, yeah!” She blushed from embarrassment. “S-Sorry for not introducing…. myself… sooner…”

“It's fine, love.” Spyke chuckled. “Y'have my digits right?”

“Y-Yeah, but--”

“Jus’ gimme a yell whenever y'need somethin’.” Spyke interrupted, beginning to make his cautious trip back to the Square. “I'm even more in yer debt than I wos yesterday.”

Chapter Text

Annie kicked a stray pebble aside with a huff. Still having that “sort-of-promise” Spyke made linger through her mind.

“You’re even more in my debt than you were yesterday, huh?” Annie muttered to herself as she went, wandering back to the Square with her friends by her sides. “You really feel that you owe me, huh…?”

“You okay, Annie?” Sean looked down at the brooding anemone, tapping her shoulder in an attempt to pull her back to reality.

“O-oh! U-uh yeah!” Annie twiddled her fingers as she looked up to Sean. “What's up?”

“Nothing much, I was just wondering because you've been talking to yourself ever since we've left the boardwalk.”

"I was?" She blushed in embarrassment, staring down at her feet as she twiddled her thumbs.

Flow giggled, nudging her in a somewhat playful manner. "Yeah! We were wondering how long it would take you to bump into something while zoning out on us like that!"

"You were?"

"Well, I was at least. I can't speak for Seany over there." Flow smirked, pointing a thumb over at Sean, who flinched at the nickname.

"I-I was thinking about that, actually." He said, looking down at Annie. "You nearly tripped and fell twice since we left."

"I did?" Annie huffed. "S-Sorry… it's just…"

"Just what?"

Annie hummed, separating her clasped hands and tucked them into the pockets of her iconic zip up hoodie. "... I-I just can't get what Spyke said out of my head."

"Oh?" Flow leaned forward, giving Annie a somewhat impish look. "What did he say again? I remember hearing it but I don't remember what he said."

"He uh..." Annie cleared her throat. "He r-reiterated how he was in my debt f-for what I did."

Sean cocked his head to the side. "Spyke promised you a favor?"

"Y-Yeah… since I-I helped Murch again… n'such."

"Have you thought about what to ask for?"

Annie looked up at Sean, returning the confusion he felt with her gaze. "I-I think so… W-why are you asking?"

"Well, even though I don't know the guy that much, I know that he's pretty good with promises and favors. Even if they're met halfway and with a compromise." Sean looked forward once more, re-adjusting his glasses. "He does the best he can to do favors when asked, but I've seen him do more when he makes the promise himself."

" So…? "

"You're starting a business, right? I remember you telling me that over the phone after Sheldon relocated."

"Y-Yeah but--"

"Maybe you should ask if he can do anything to help." Sean grinned. "I'm sure he can help you with what you need to do. He may be a shady guy, but he's one hell of a businessman."

Annie hummed once more, processing her tall friend's words. "I'll…" Annie turned her attention back to the walkway before her. "I'll keep t-that in mind."

The three of continued their conversation, having the topic of it change a few times before reaching the Square once more. Flow sighed, walking out in front of the two with a smile on her face. "Well! I need to head back into work now! This is about the time where clients come in and look around."

"O-okay…" Annie removed one of her hands from her pockets and gave a small wave. "I'll see you later…"

"Ayo Flow!" Sean called out, catching her attention. "Are you gonna stop by the bucket after hours for dinner?"

"Oh Seany!~" She giggled, swatting her hand at him. "You know I usually do!"

"I know, I know. I just wanted to know since I'm planning on closing up early tonight. But I'll hang around if you're coming."

"D'aww, you don't need to do that! Buuuut if you insist..." She winked at him. "I'll come on down as soon as I close up shop."

"Okay!" Sean smiled, waving at her. "See ya soon!"

"Bye-bye!~"

Sean and Annie watch Flow make her way through the crowd, eventually making it back to her storefront; disappearing behind the automatic glass door as Sean sighed.

"Well, Annie." He stepped away from the anemone, taking a few steps back to his food truck before turning around. "I'm heading back to work. Have you made up your mind on what you're gonna ask Spyke for yet?"

Annie shuffled in her place. "I-I think so… and uh, Sean?"

"Yeah?"

"D-do you… uh…"

"Do I what?"

"Uhm… y-y'know what… n-nevermind. I-I'll ask you later."

"O--kay? See ya around, Ann!"

The cool air of the Cafe she stepped into made her skin crawl. Causing her to eventually shudder as the door closed behind her. Her eyes scanned the small yet cozy coffee shop. It was a rather humble place: with the walls being  made up of both concrete and bricks. The place was nicely decorated as well; the subtle wood accents here and there, the small bits of clutter and plants, the colors in general; having it all garnished by the natural lighting the storefront provided made her feel at ease by the time her eyes met the menu.

She eventually found herself at the ordering counter, her eyes never leaving the menu as she stepped up, scanning through each item before the barista behind the counter called out to her.

"Excuse me ma'am, can I help you? "

Annie flinched, her gaze darting down to the Jellyfish on the other side of the counter. "I-I-- uh-- sorry I was spacing… out…" She rubbed the back of her head and sighed. "I-I'll have some tea…"

" What kind? "

"P-Peach… I guess."

" Anything else? "

Moe poked out of her hair for a moment, peeking over her forehead with a glare that demanded her to get him something. She looked up at him and sighed once more. "... A-And a sugar cookie for him…"

"We're currently out of sugar cookies but we're almost done with a new batch. Is it okay for you to wait a little while longer?"

Moe pouted, but before he could object, Annie placed a finger over his mouth. "Y-Yes, that'll be fine."

After finishing the transaction, Annie scanned the room once more to find a spot she can comfortably sit in; only to find the man she helped out earlier, still trying to calm the disturbed child down. She sighed, making her way over to the two's table with an awkward shuffle. "H-Hey… uhm…"

Spyke looked up at Annie, slightly flinching from the sudden break of silence in the corner he sat in. "Oi, Love!" He breathed out a sigh of slight relief. "It's jus' you!"

"Aha…Yeah." Annie clasped her hands in front of her. "I-Is that seat across from you… uh… taken?"

"Oh no, it in't." Spyke smiled as he patted Murch's back. "Whad'ya need it for?"

"I uh…" Annie pulled the chair out from the table, cautiously taking a seat as she tried her best to maintain eye contact with the urchin in front of her. "W-wanted to talk to you… about… something…"

"Oh?" Spyke crossed his legs and leaned back in his booth seat. "Wot is it?"

"So… yeah…" Annie huffed, clutching the warm paper cup she held tightly in her hands. "Th-That's basically a-all I can explain… a-at least… in public."

"A'rite, lemme get this straight, okay?" Spyke spoke in a hushed tone, careful as to not wake up the now sleeping child that laid beside him. "Y'startin' an online business, yeah?"

"Y-Yeah…"

"An' this business involves som… legality issues?"

"Y-Yes."

Spyke sat there for a moment, processing this rather large business proposal. "Wot specifically… is th'issue?"

"U-uhm…" Annie hummed, nervously shuffling in her seat, fidgeting with the cup in her hands as she tried to explain her idea without gaining suspicions from any of the workers who were on duty. "W-Well... I-I--"

"It's okay if y'dont wanna say wot it is, love." Spyke interrupted, casually taking a sip of his coffee. "I ain't forcin' ya."

"N-No, No!" Annie shook her head, gulping as she leaned forward a bit. "It's just that…" Her voice lowered to a tone that only her and Spyke could hear. "I-I don't want the w-wrong people to k-know about my a-ability swapping technique…"

"Ability swappin'?" Spyke cocked his head to the side, gently patting Murch as he went on. "Like wot th'kid does?"

"N-No!-- Well… Yes…" Annie placed her cup down and started to twiddle her thumbs together. "It… doesn't… uh... focus on uh… S-sub Abilities…"

"Hmm?"

"I…. I-It's a focus on M-main Abilities." Annie stuttered, her shaking voice still hushed to the point where the urchin in front of her can only hear her. "I-I found something… a-about a year and a half a-ago… in the alleyway… back at the plaza… and I've… managed to do some… t-things… to it… in order to… uhm… help me."

Spyke perked up, slightly leaning in as he processed what she had said. "Help ya? Wif' wot, exactly?"

"I-I can't… tell you… what…" Annie folded her hands together and shrugged, breaking eye contact as her gaze shifted to the cup that she placed down moments ago. "A-At least… not… here."

"Well." Spyke leaned back in his spot with a slump. "Is 'at gizmo y'mentioned a 'lil while ago at yer place?"

Annie pursed her lips. "Y-Yeah, but--"

"Wot if we came ovah' t'yer place, Love? Th'kid can have a proper place t'rest his head fer a bit, and you can give ol' Spyke a demonstration. Sound good?"

"Y-Yeah but…" Annie once again shuffled in her seat, pointing up at Moe; who was shoving his large cookie into his mouth like it was no tomorrow.

"Ah, I see." Spyke hummed, reaching over to tap the little clownfish on the head. "Oi. Lil' guy."

Moe abruptly stopped eating his sweet pastry, leering at Spyke as he swallowed the chewed up wad in his mouth. "What do you want."

Spyke moved his hand back, slightly shocked at the fish's sudden mood shift. "W-Well, y'mate wants me t'come over, but--"

"No."

There was a pause.

"I… I wasn't done talk--"

"No ."

Spyke sighed, leaning back in his spot once more as he watched the fish go back to his half eaten sugar cookie, trying to think of a way to convince the little guy to give him permission to come over. "Well…" Spyke huffed, having an idea cross his mind. "How'sabout I get ya another one of those cookies like th' one y'got there. Is 'at enough?"

Moe stopped eating once more, turning back to the sea urchin with a glint of interest in his eye. After thinking it through a bit, he grumbled, swallowing whatever he had in his mouth once more. "Two."

"Hm?"

"Two cookies, and you have yourself a deal."





Chapter Text

Annie stared blankly ahead of her as she made her way down the bustling sidewalk with the lanky urchin at her side; still a bit floored that the said urchin actually convinced her fishy friend, who absolutely hated guests, to visit her new pad.

Well, she was told that Spyke was a businessman not too long ago, but she wasn't expecting him to be good enough at bargaining in order to convince Moe to comply with him coming over. Hell, years ago, it would of taken her HOURS just to convince Moe to leave the house, even for a quick errand; an argument that she actually lost a fair amount of times back then.

The mere fact that he managed to do that successfully within a minute, genuinely shocked her. And still kinda moved her about fifteen minutes later.

"Oi! Annie!"

Annie flinched when the sea urchin called her name, causing her to nearly trip over a rather deep crack in the pavement beneath her. She stumbled back a bit, with a tiny squeak as she quickly tried to regain her balance. "A-ah! Sorry!"

Spyke looked down at her once more, seeing that she was a bit flustered from being dragged back to reality so abruptly. "did'jya space out jus' then, love?"

"Y-Yeah…" She shuffled one of her feet in embarrassment. "I-I guess I did…"

Spyke rolled his eye, adjusting the child he still held in his arms so that he can be held with one arm without much trouble. "Y'need a hand 'er somethin'?" Grunting as he extended his now free hand out to Annie. "T'keep yer balance there?"

Annie stared at his hand for a brief moment. Ignoring his offer as she gazed at the appendage in front of her. The extended palm and fanned out fingers really made his hands seem larger than they were the first time she had a chance to look at them. The entire width his hand spread out to could probably cover her whole face if it were just a tad larger in that dimension! And his fingers… They were quite slim and delicate, perhaps a bit feminine as well. And every other finger of his was decorated in a ring or two, having each ring carry out a monochromatic tone to it. Some were very dark, and others were very light, but they all somehow manage to contrast his bright skin quite well--

"Annie?"

Annie shook her head as she was pulled out of a trance once more. "A-Aaaaahm…" Annie stammered, her blush growing a tad bit darker as she internally cursed herself for staring at someone's hand. "I-I'm fine!"

"Y'sure, love?" Spyke tilted his head to the side. "Y' kinda…"

"S-Spaced out again?" Annie stepped away from Spyke, trying to regain her focus as best as she could. "S-Sorry! A-And don't worry, I-I can walk on my own."

"Are y'sure love?"

"Yeah t-totally--"

Annie's sentence was cut short as she proceeded to step forward, and like some clock-work based bias that worked against her, stubbed her toes on the crack she had merely avoided tripping over just a few minutes ago, causing her to lose her balance once more. And Spyke, somehow being fully aware that this would happen, grabbed a hold of the hood of her sweater and carefully pulled her back to a comfortable standing position.

"Yeah, nah." Spyke shook his head. "Y'definately need sum walkin' support right now, love."

Annie, for the next couple of minutes, was far more aloof than she was before the trek home. Her face was burning from not only the embarrassment she felt from nearly falling over again just after saying she was fine, but over the fact that she was stuck with having her hand the tall Urchin's hand for the rest of their walk to Annie's apartment.

Granted, her apartment building was only down the street, but it was still horribly conflicting and extremely embarrassing to endure nonetheless.

She looked down at the cookies she held for Moe as her mind went a mile a minute with conflicting thoughts. Would other people see her like this? Would they get the wrong idea? Dear god, she'd hope not. Sure the city was a big place, and two people holding hands would be something that would often go unnoticed, but the 'what if' alone sent her off on this nervous fit.

But the other side of her mind couldn't help but to fixate on the hand that was being held, adding an almost calming sense to her mind that kept her from running off to her apartment building on her own; essentially keeping her in check. Her small hand was cradled gently in his much larger grasp, with his thumb meeting the palm of her hand in a somewhat satisfying manner. She couldn't help but to perseverate on the gentle touch he had and the smoothness of his skin.

It was… nice.

Very nice.

But before she could think about it more, she felt his grip loosen; the gentle grasp on her hand quickly leaving her as he went to reach for the complex's main door. Causing a sort of empty feeling to linger as the two stepped in. Had she been that entranced by his hand that she hadn't noticed that she arrived at her apartment complex? This wasn't like her! Well… it was, but not in the way she preferred. She'd only let family grab a hold her hands, and she knew for a fact that Spyke wasn't family. Not even in the slightest!

So why was she… comfortable with it?

Before Annie could think on it more, Spyke called for her, snapping her back into reality for about the third time within the past half an hour.

Annie looked up to see Spyke peering around the corner where the elevator was, waiting for her to catch up before calling for one of them. "O-Oh!" Annie stammered, rushing over to him. "I-I'm s-sorry for uh--"

"Blimey love, ah' y'alrite?" Spyke asked as Annie came to a stop in front of him, furrowing his brow-line as he heard her hum. "Y'look all flushed!"

Annie gasped, quickly thinking of a white lie to serve as an excuse. "O-Oh it's n-nothing!" She adjusted her glasses with her free hand. "I-It was j-just a hot day o-out and I… forgot to… uhm… wear s-something fitting… and bring w-water."

"Well, 'at ain't good now, in'it?" Spyke said with a huff. "We gotta git y'self settl'd down before things git worse, yeah?"

Annie sat on her still wrapped couch, clasping her hands in her lap as she waited for Spyke to come back from the kitchen; occasionally looking over at Murch, who has stirred about twice since Spyke set him down. Letting out a soft whimper both times.

Since their arrival to her apartment, she handed Moe one of the cookies she held to munch on. And instructed Spyke to tuck the second one in the refrigerator for later, since Spyke was heading there to get her and Murch a glass of water, and she just knew that Moe couldn't down a third jumbo-cookie in one sitting.

Not much else has happened otherwise.

Annie gently rubbed her hands together as she heard footsteps approach once more, fully being aware that it was Spyke coming back from the kitchen area. She watched as Spyke carefully placed an over-filled glass of water on the coffee table that sat in front of her, and smiled when he handed the other glass to her.

"Th… thanks." Annie stammered, cautiously taking the large cup from his grasp. She flinched a bit at the slight contact she made with his hand, but managed to grab hold of the glass without spilling a drop. She took a few dainty sips before placing the cup on the table, noticing that the tall urchin was examining the rather large crack across the glass portion of the low-table. She could hear a low "Blimey …" coming from him as he traced his finger across the crooked crack.

"Love! How did th's huge crack 'nd up 'ere!?"

Annie's glance shot up at the sea urchin, who was still marveling at the rather noticeable damage to her property. "W-W-Well… ah…" She cleared her throat. "Since I-I... uhm… just moved here… I-I had my furniture… carried up…. And they w-were too rough with h-handling that... table..."

"Well… 'at's upsettin'." Spyke frowned, finally looking up at the anemone he was speaking to. "Anyways, where's 'at gizmo y've mentioned?"

"I-In my room. O-on the nightstand."

Spyke's frown quickly faded away, having his lips curl upwards in an extremely subtle fashion. "Issit okay if I git it, then?"

"J-just so as long as you don't go t-though my t-things…"

"Y'have my word, love." He stood up, stretching out his back with a grunt. "Ah'll be back in a bit."

Spyke carefully stepped around the low table, briskly making his way towards Annie's room as soon as he passed her couch. Once passing the doorway to her room, he headed straight for the nightstand to grab the little gadget she had mentioned; only to stop at the foot of the small table as soon as he caught sight of what the small battered up object really was.

"Wait a bloody moment…" He murmured to himself as he gently took the device into his hand, examining it thoroughly as he began to ruminate how a girl like her could wind up with something like this within her grasp. "It… It can't be wot I 'fink it is… Can it?"

But sure enough, every dent and scratch checked out. Along with each paint chip and the nostalgic feeling he had when holding the little thing. It all checked out.

This little gadget of hers…

It belonged to him.

It had all come back to him in that very moment. The gadget he held was responsible for all of the re-shuffles he had made in the past. Having it be powered by Super-Sea-Snail Shell shards, this puppy made him millions of G with little to no effort. He'd never thought he'd actually be able to hold it again after he had found out it went missing.

"Spyke? Is everything okay in there?"

Spyke flinched at the voice calling for him, nearly dropping the object he held. "A-ah! Yea yea, love!" He responded, fumbling the object around with a stammer until he had a full grasp on it once more. "Ah… I'll be out 'ere in a jus' a secon'!"

After collecting a bit of himself once more, he stumbled out of the room in a huff, cursing himself at him slipping out of his normal composure like that. He quickly made his way back to the plastic wrapped couch and tossed the tiny gizmo at Annie, who fumbled a bit when catching it. "A'rite love. Tell me how y'did it."

Annie sprawled a simple t-shirt out on the coffee table, brushing it down to make sure that it was completely flat before setting the gadget in the middle of it. Spyke and, the now awake, Murch watched on as she activated the small bit of advanced technology; their eyes following her small fingers with interest as they sifted through the menus the holographic screen displayed. 

She eventually got to the screen she wanted to be on, clearing her throat to make sure the two males were still paying attention. "S-Since the software o-on this little thing i-is a bit d-dated, uhm, I-I've managed to f-find out something th-that confuses the s-sub abilities w-with the main one." She pointed at the sub-slots, which were all currently empty. "I-In order to d-do that h-however, I-I'm gonna n-need to make the system think that t-the gear subs are a-already filled out. S-so… if I g-go into o-one of the subs a-and choose to i-insert a sub a-as a c-code, I can… uhm.. T-type in the code for a-any ability I-I want. A-And after testing o-out newer abilities, I found that t-the ability f-for the new splatfest gear I-Is somehow… accepted."

Annie paused, pulling out her phone. She flipped through its contents before finding a notepad document that contained the code for the mentioned ability. "T-this specific version software s-seemed to b-be d-developed by w-whoever owned this last. A-And one major k-kink is that b-because of it b-being i-independently developed, it didn't recognize t-the Ability Doubler a-as a restricted a-ability yet. L-let alone a s-sole main one. A-allowing me t-to enter it in without… uh... l-locking up the system, as t-the other new abilities w-would."

She paused once more, looking over at the two urchins who seemed to stare back rather blankly; causing her to blush a bit in embarrassment. "I-I… uh… Am I uh…" She cleared her throat, awkwardly shrugging her shoulders. "... boring you t-two…?"

Spyke blinked, the sudden question snapping him out of the trance he was in. "Ah! No love! Not at a--"

"Yes."

Spyke's eye widened, quickly whipping his head around to look down at Murch; who was nonchalantly resting his head on the coffee table in front of him. "Hey kid!" He nudged him a bit, causing the child's eye to slightly widen. "Be noice t'our host, wouldjya!?"

"I-It's fine… S-Spyke." Annie sighed, hurrying along with what she was doing. "I-I thought I was being a bit slow with e-explaining everything, a-anyways." She gave the two a small smile. "T-thanks for being h-honest, Murch."

"No prob, chum." Murch grinned back.

Annie took a deep breath and pulled up the re-rolling option on the screen. "N-Now… Since the M-main slot is t-the only one with a c-compatible ability…"



Chapter Text

"H… Hello?"

Annie had been preparing herself for bedtime ever since Spyke and Murch gathered their things and took their leave; wandering around the apartment in a large baggy Squid Squad tee that served as her clothing for the night. She had just finished up with the few dirtied dishes that sat in her sink for the day, including the newly added empty glasses from earlier. It was when she tried to make her way to the bathroom that her nightly regimen was interrupted.

From across the hall, she could hear her phone ring. And being the person she was, to her dismay, she had to go across the hall to at least check who it was. After wandering to her room and up to where her phone was charging, she had noticed the familiar number; curious as to why Sean was calling her this late at night. And, with her normal shaky voice, she answered. Removing the device from the charger as she did so...

"Hey there sweetie, y'got a minute?"

… Only to have the voice on the other line be different from what she was accustomed to.

"F… Flow?" Annie murmured, trying to suppress an oncoming yawn. "W-why are you… calling me through… S-Sean's phone?"

The voice on the other end giggled "I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, that's all! And uh, it would be weird to ask for someone else's number without them knowin', ya' know?"

"F-Fair… enough." Annie, unable to hold it back much longer, let out a large yawn, causing the other end of the line a bit of concern.

"Are you okay? You sound--"

"T-Tired? Y-yeah… I-I know." She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, waddling over to her bed as she continued. "I-It's been a r-really long d-day, s-so I'm all burnt o-out."

"Aww, I know hun. I'm sorry that I called you so late!"

"D-don't be." Annie sat down on her bed, stretching her legs out with a small grunt. "Y-you have my a-attention now, s-so tell me w-what's… uh, up."

"Oh! I was wondering if you wanted to come by tomorrow to meet the other shopkeepers here!"

"O-Other… Shopkeepers?"

"Well, yeah!"

"W… Why?"

"Just so you can have more people to turn to out here if you need it! If that's okay with you, of course."

Annie tugged on the brim of her shirt, buckling her knees together as she let out a hum of uncertainty. "... I-I don't know…"

"Ah! It's okay if you don't want to! It was just an idea, that's all!"

"N-No, No! I-It's just…" Annie paused, letting out a sigh. "I-I u-usually get nervous w-when talking to… n-new people… in person."

"Oh? Is that it?"

"Y-Yeah…"

"It's okay! Don't worry! These guys are pretty cool! They won't bite!"

"T… T-They won't?"

Flow paused for a moment on the other end, taking a bit to think about her next choice of words before speaking up once more. "Well… at least Bisk won't. Jelfonzo is a bit... picky."

Annie rolled her eyes, letting out a huff as she stood up once more. "O-okay… I'll c-come down a-and, uh... meet them."

"You will!?"

"I-I mean… w-why not?" She pulled the collar of her tee as she walked back over to her charging station. "I-I have to see i-if Sheldon I-Is available now… y-y'know?"

An excited squeal could be heard on the other line, causing Annie to crack a smile. "Oh!~ Sweetie I can't wait for you to meet them!" Flow giggled. "I'm so excited!"

"Th-That's g-great Flow… c-can I-I… u-uh..."

"Sleep! Right, right! Have a good night sweetie! I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"O-okay… s-see ya…" Annie hung up her phone, returning it to its charging station with a sigh; and mentally began to plan for the following morning as she carefully placed her food-coma induced clownfish into his bowl, smiling as he sunk to the bottom of the glass container with a snort. " Oh you… " Annie giggled, leaning forward a bit as she spoke in a hushed tone. " T-Thank you for behaving yourself today M-Moe… I-I appreciate it."

The fish sounded out another groan shortly after saying that, causing her to giggle once more as she turned away from the groggy fish; wandering off to finish up her nightly routine.

...

When morning came around, Annie dragged herself out of bed like normal and began her usual morning regimen: picking out her clothing; trying to wake up Moe; taking a shower and getting dressed; trying to wake up Moe for the second time; pack up what she needed for the day; and then succeeding in waking up Moe so she can head out and finally get her day started.

A heat-wave was supposed to hit the city today; so she made sure to dress as lightly as she could, packing more into her bag as a direct result. It wasn't much of a change, however, just an ill-fitting Chirpy Chips tee in the place of her normal tunic and hoodie combo. Something that was both comfortable and breathable for her on this day, and she immediately felt it once she stepped out of her complex.

"You should of left me back at the apartment." Moe grumbled, burrowing into her hair in an attempt to stay cool. "Just sayin'."

Annie shrugged her shoulders. "W-Wouldn't y-you get bored? You really can't do a-anything aside from sleep I-In that fishbowl of yours." She could hear Moe grunt as he burrowed himself deeper as he muttered out a "touché", making the anemone chuckle at her companion's resignment.

She repositioned the straps on her bag and took a deep breath, stepping out into the harsh rays with a bit of a pep in her step as she began the twenty-or-so minute trek to the square. Annie couldn't really put her finger on how she exactly felt, but she felt… a little bit more energetic than usual this morning. She knew the name of a more basic variation of this energetic, of course, but it was usually hard to pinpoint the exact trigger that made her feel this way.

It was nothing out of the ordinary though. There are many feelings she couldn't understand that much, despite being in her adult years and has been for a couple of years now. But again, she did know the name of it: and that's Excitement.

Excitement, at least to her, was a positive form of anticipation and anxiousness. That sort of emotion that came about when she'd look forward to something that was coming up. It was mainly short-lived, but always felt good while it lasted.

She'd normally not question what exactly made her excited in her agenda for the day, she just knew that there was something for her to look forward to. And that made her happy.

And today's thing to look forward to? Meeting up with Sean and Flow, and perhaps meeting a new person or two as well.

Normally, it was hard for her to meet new people and get along with them. But with Flow's optimism of the situation and her odd luck with meeting others recently; she couldn't help but to feel hopeful for the upcoming meeting.

Speaking odd luck with meeting others…

About seven or so minutes into her trip to the square, she could spot a somewhat familiar figure poking out from the morning commute. Their height and bright skin made it obvious to Annie on who they were, and she wasted no time in picking up her pace to meet up with them.

"H-Hey, S-Spyke!" Annie called as she approached the lanky urchin. "I-Is it alright i-if I-I walk with y-you again?"

"Oh?" Spyke turned his head to look down at the anemone, who was already walking by his side. "Ah! 'Mornin love! Yeah s'fine, 'ah don't mind it a bit." Spyke gave her a small smile. "Y'seem rather chipp'ah 'is mornin' by th'way."

"I-I do?" Annie softly blushed, gripping her bag straps a bit tighter than she was before.

"Yeah, wot'sup? Wot's got ya all peppy love?"

"W-Well, F-Flow wanted me to meet t-the other shopkeepers t-today." She let out a small, nervous chuckle. "S-She was k-kinda excited t-to do so, and I-I guess some of it r-rubbed off on me."

Spyke hummed at her answer, giving her a small smile in return to the one she wore. "Well she should getcha riled up like 'his more of'en, then. A smile's a good look on ya, y'know 'at love?"

"U-Uhm…" Annie's blush grew darker, her feeling of giddiness now accompanied with a feeling of awkwardness. "N-Not r-really?"

"Well, it's true! A smile fits jus' about anyone in 'his city, af'erall."

Annie slipped out a small sigh of relief in that response. Despite being a tiny bit put off by it, she was thankful that the already awkward situation didn't escalate from there, and felt confident enough to continue small talk until they reached the Square, with Murch and Moe remaining silent for almost the entire time.

When they arrived, they parted ways as they did the day before, leaving Annie by herself as Spyke and Murch made their way to their usual posts by the cafe and lobby. Since she was currently the only person at the foodcourt, she took a seat at the nearest chair, flinching at the already hot-to-the-touch metal that the heat provided, and began waiting for the sea slug to show up in peace.

"Hey Ann! Is it cool if you came over here for a sec?"

That was… until Sean called out to her.

"Uh... y-yeah… sure." She stood up from the spot she sat in, careful as to not singe herself again, and made her way towards the food truck he ran, her gaze barely reaching the ordering window even when she looked up. "W-what's u-up?"

Sean shuffled a bit when he placed a cup of water out on the small mantle separating the two of them, confusing the small anemone a bit as he spoke. "Could you… ah... leave Moe out of this?" He huffed as the anemone cocked her head to the side. "He can be a bit loud… and I just think he won't keep a secret… secret?"

"HEY!"

Sean stepped back as the fish popped out of Annie's hair, clinging on to one of her locks as he glared at the tall prawn. "I CAN KEEP A SECRET, SHRIMP MAN!"

"I just… don't want you to know about this either way." Sean blinked. "N-No offense."

"I'M TAKING GREAT OFFENSE, ACTUALLY."

"M-Moe…" Annie intervened, placing a hand on top of her fishy familiar in order to prevent him from saying anything more. "H-He's o-only gonna talk to m-me for a little bit… please… r-respect his w-wishes."

Moe grumbled in defeat once more, sinking himself back into Annie's hair whilst his eyes maintained contact with the tall prawn. Once he was at the lowest he can go, he spoke up again. "... That water better be cold , shrimpy."

"It is, don't worry."

Annie cautiously took the cup from the mantle, careful as to not spill it as she brought it down to her level, allowing Moe to hop in before making her way back to her table to set him down. She wasted no time in heading back to the truck, noticing that he'd grown a bit antsy within the few seconds she was gone.

"S-So…" Annie began. "W-What did y-you want to t-talk to me a--"

Before she could finish her question, she could feel Sean's claws grab hold of her shoulders. She reflexively yelped as he hoisted her up and over the kiosk; nearly being thrown into the truck as Sean quickly closed the steel blinders that were tucked away at the very top of the open window.

"S-Sean w-what the h-hell!?" Annie shouted, flinching as the blinds came down with a loud, clattering thud. " W-warn me t-the next time y-you do s-something like t-that!"

"Sorry! It's just…" The fried prawn let out a shaky sigh, kneeling down to her level so he can speak in a quieter tone. "... I really, really, need to get this off my chest."

"G-get what o-of your c-chest?" Annie harshly whispered as she rubbed one of her shoulders.

Sean paused for a moment, a blush showing through his hard shell as he repositioned himself to be sitting on his knees. "W-Well… I…. Something happened last night. "

Annie folded her arms, not skipping a single beat with her next set of words.

"It's about Flow, Isn't it?"

"It's exactly about Flow."

Annie sighed at his response, reaching out to place a small hand on his shoulder. "A-alright, S-Sean. What did s-she do?"

"She didn't do anything! Something just was… different… last night."

"Different a-as in…?"

"She was just… really engaging last night. She was talking about all of the cool places she went before settling here. And she just looked… adorable when explaining it."

"A-Adorable?"

"Well… yeah. She was all cheerful and perky when explaining it to me. She would get excited at bringing up her favorite memories of her days as a drifter, and would occasionally get all giggly when explaining something." He paused, letting out a huff. "Her laughter was probably the best part of the night. It's so sweet, and warm… I can probably listen to it for hours and still--"

Annie moved her hand from his shoulder over to where Sean's mouth is, cutting him off mid sentence as she tried to pull him away from going off on a Sheldon-Like ramble. "Y-you… uh…" Annie started, removing her hand from the prawn's face, as a question from the previous day came back to her. "You l-like her, don't y-you?"

Sean sat in silence before he slumped his shoulders, letting out a resigning groan. "She's everything I've ever wanted in a woman, Annie. I don't know what to do."

"W-Well you're out o-of luck when i-it comes to a-asking me!" Annie folded her arms once more. "Y-you know that I-I don't know a-a thing a-about r-relationships!"

"I know, I know. And I'm not asking for advice I just… don't know if she would be interested in being with me or not."

"S-Sean I--"

"Hello?~ Annie? Where are you?"

The two suddenly stopped their conversation in their tracks at the sound of that familiar voice coming from the outside, staring at one another with wide eyes knowing who that voice came from.

It was Flow .

"I-I'll be o-out there i-in a minute Flow!" Annie called out in hopes of her hearing her. "S-Sean just wanted to t-talk to me f-for a bit!" She then placed both of her hands on the fried crustacean's shoulders, lowering her voice back down to a somewhat hushed level. "L-Listen, Sean. I-If Flow d-didn't like being w-with you, s-she wouldn't be c-coming down here f-for s-smalltalk. S-She, at the v-very least, likes y-you as much a-as the r-rest of your o-outgoing friends do."

"You sure?"

"M-more sure than I-I usually am."

Chapter Text

Annie uncomfortably shifted in her seat, still trying to adjust to the intense heat the metal seat gave off. Being careful as to not sting herself like she did earlier, especially now that her skin started to become a bit dewy from the ever-rising heat. She grunted as she looked up to see the three shopkeepers before her, just sitting peacefully in their spots as if the heat wasn't affecting them; dismissing the unbearable heat as just another warm day in the city.

It made a bit of sense that they wouldn't be affected by it after thinking about it a little bit. You have a sea slug whose slimy skin always keeps her cool; a spider crab whose shell protected him from any sort of on-contact heat sensitivity; and a Jellyfish who doesn't feel a thing at all. And she couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy at all of them, especially against the Jellyfish.

"Hey, are you alright?"

A voice interrupted her awkward shifting, causing her to look up at the three; who all stared back at her with concern. Annie's eyes darted between the three trying to recall names before speaking to avoid making the situation more awkward.

Flow, was a bit obvious after knowing her for a day. She's a nudibranch who treats anyone remotely younger than her like she's their aunt. Well, according to how she interacted with that young Jellyfish who sat with them, that is.

To her left was a tall crab named Bisk. Flow had mentioned him for a short while yesterday. Twice, actually. And she was right when she said that he was a sweet guy. Though, from the half an hour they've all spent together, he also seemed to be that kind of guy who tells a bit too much when meeting someone new if someone he already knew was present as well; spilling rather personal information about his old band, and the ex-girlfriend he left because of it, all because of Flow mentioning it for a spell; just to tease Sean since Annie had mentioned that he was going through some "girl problems" without giving away too much.

And to Bisk's left was an iridescent jellyfish named Jelfonzo. Jelfonzo was significantly younger than he looked, sporting the numerical age equivalent to a toddler's, but he had a tongue that seemed to be rather antique in comparison. And according to Flow, he was Jelonzo's son...

… And according to Jelfonzo's reaction to the reminder of his sole biological parent, he didn't like Jelonzo all too much. The two were wildly different despite the identical DNA structure, so the form of detest he had towards him was, at the very least, a tiny bit reasonable if one were to take away the fact that Jelonzo was the only family Jelfonzo had. But his reaction to the mere mentioning of his name… was a bit too much. 

Flow was right when he said that he was prone to 'bite', but Annie couldn't help but feel surprised at his outburst despite the slug's warning.

Annie blinked, her eyes meeting up with the tall spider crab's from across the table, responding to his question with a bit of haste. "A-ah yeah…!" Annie gasped as she continued to shuffle around in her spot."I-It's just… t-the heatwave s-sorta got to these chairs a-a bit faster than I-I thought they w-would… that's all…"

Flow perked up at the anemone's statement, her antenna twitching as she came up with an idea. "Oh!" She began to cautiously remove her shawl, gradually revealing her slender arms to the sun's harsh rays. "You can sit on this if you need to, hon!"

"F-Flow, t-that's nice for y-you to offer but I-I swear! I-I'm--"

Before Annie could finish her protests, she was handed a big, soft shawl; still warm from the sun's beaming heat. "I don't need to use it anyways sweetie." Flow said, dropping the wooly garment into the anemone's hands with a smile. "You can borrow it. I don't mind."

Annie looked down at the outerwear garment for a brief moment before standing up; stepping to the side of the chair she once sat in, and draped the large shawl over the chair before sitting in it once more. Letting out what seemed to be a small sigh of relief once she leaned back in the chair without any form of punishment from its metal. "T-thanks…"

"Hey, no problem!" Flow gave her a small, yet warm smile before turning back to the yellow crab that sat beside her. "Anyways Bisk, you were saying?"

"Oh, yeah!" The tall spider crab cleared his throat. "A bud of mine invited me to a party downtown and I was wondering if any of you want to come with?"

Flow's eyes lit up with an eager gleam. "A party? When is it?"

"Tonight."

"Well sign me UP !" The sea slug's grin grew wide as she hastily responded to his invitation, her tail cluster wagging from excitement. "I've been wanting to go to a party for SO long! I haven't gone out like that since before I moved here!"

"What's this about a party?" Sean chimed in, overhearing the conversation as he brought over the group's brunch.

"A friend of Bisk's is throwing a party and he's inviting us to it!" Flow shifted her enthusiastic gaze to the prawn that now stood by the table she sat at. "Y'wanna come?"

"It's tonight, right?"

"Yeah!"

Sean hummed as he placed everyone's meals down on the table in front of him, placing the serving plate down on a neighboring table before dragging a chair over to join the group conversation in full. "I guess I can close up shop a bit earlier than I planned today to join you guys." He sat down with a shrug. "It's been a while for me too, after all."

Flow slapped her hands on the metal table, squealing with delight. "Yay!" She turned her gaze over to the iridescent jellyfish across from her. "Hey! Jelfonzo! Wanna join us?"

"I appreciate thy invite but I must decline." Jelfonzo blinked, adjusting his tie in an awkward huff. "Ones, such as myself, don't engage much in such neanderthalic activities, anyways."

Flow rolled her eyes with a snicker. "Y'dont need to be such a prideful prude sweetie!~ A simple 'no thanks' would've done just fine."

"M'lady, hast thou forgotten that I do not do 'simple'?"

Everyone at the roundtable shared a chuckle before Flow turned to look at Annie, who was just sitting by and witnessing the natural flow of the conversation. "How about you, Ann? You think you can spare some time for some fun tonight?"

"A-Ah…" Annie stammered, tapping the fingers of one hand on the table in front of her while the other separated the meal in front of her so her familiar could eat. "... I-I'm r-really hung-up on current projects… b-besides… I-I don't even do parties a-anyways… sorry."

"Eh." Flow shook her head and shrugged. "Don't be, hon. I heard that you're tied up with stuff like your new shop n'all, but I thought it would be safe to ask instead of assume, y'know?"

"O-Oh… Okay…"

"Oh! Speaking of things 'you're tied up with', I heard from Sean a while ago that you were writing a book! Is that right?"

Annie nodded. "Y-yeah…?"

"Could you tell us more about that, hon?" Flow propped her head up with her hand, using the metal table as support. "... If you're comfortable with that, of course."

Annie did her best to explain key elements of her novel as the morning dragged on into the afternoon, dancing around potentially embarrassing aspects of the novel. Aspects such as, the main character having a one sided infatuation with a mysterious stranger; and that the one sided infatuation was based upon her own conflicting feelings of a mysterious stranger that used to linger in the city's plaza.

Aside from the more embarrassing aspect of the novel, and having it be a fictitious retelling of her first year in Inkopolis Plaza; It was primarily a slice of life novel, documenting the life of a girl through her journal. Which, embarrassingly enough, was also referenced from her real life, from a time where her writing skill was much more rugged and scattered; something she has definitely refined since.

As a result of all of the cut out details, as soon as she had everyone interested, she ran out of things to say regarding the novel.

"T-That's a-as much as I-I can explain right now…" Annie scratched the back of her head as she wrapped up her long tangent. "I-I don't wanna give a-away too much before I-I… publish i-it…"

"Ah, sweetie that sounds wonderful!" Flow chirped, giving Annie a warm smile. "Do you have any idea when you'll be able to publish it?"

"H-Hopefully sometime s-soon…" Annie fidgeted. "I-I haven't been a-able to proofread that much s-since the move… A-And the plans t-to open the shop… a-and Sheldon…"

"Sheldon? What about him?"

"U-Uhm…" Annie hummed, trying to explain the whole weapon shtick she had with Sheldon. "A-after I quit my job a-at Cooler Heads, Sheldon o-offered me a part-time j-job at his old shop location u-until I find a s-stint of my own… And d-during that time w-we s-started to make a w-weapon together." She paused, clasping her hands together and placed them on her lap. "I-I drafted a-a blueprint… h-he assembled t-the product. W-we just need to work o-out a few more kinks b-before getting it a-approved."

"Oh? What did it look like?"

"Do y-you remember… Th-That umbrella I h-had yesterday?"

"Oh that!" Flow nodded. "That was a weapon?"

"Y-yeah… it was…"

"I was wondering how you got rid of those bad guys last night. Anyways, I wish I could help with that but I don't understand all of that weapon mumbo-jumbo. And the book, I'm not that fast of a reader so I really can't be an extra pair of eyes for you. I'm sorry."

"I-It's fine." Annie reassured. "I-I'll figure out something e-eventually."

Chapter Text

Annie quickly left after the other shopkeepers parted ways with one another, having three of the four reuniting later into the evening as promised. She independently wandered the same path she took earlier until she reached her apartment complex once more; not hesitating to rush inside to feel the cool air the building's vents gave off once she reached the main lobby's door.

Ideas of what to work on for the rest of the day rushed through her head as she made her way towards the elevators; becoming more and more indecisive as she rode the boxed lift up to her floor. She eventually settled on working with her novel for the next couple of hours, ranging from proofreading to settling on a title and cover for it. And obviously, she decided to do the more interesting stuff first in hopes of raising her motivation enough to get some progress on proofreading done.

As she contently stepped through the elevator doors once more once they opened, a certain fish groggily emerged from her 'doo; a tired moan making her humorously roll her eyes. "H-Hey, it's about time you got u-up!"

Moe crawled out from her tendrils, finding a far-out clump to cling on as he moaned. "Shut it." He squinted as they made their way down the corridor to their home. "I couldn't stand being out there for another minute, it was like I was being cooked alive, y'know!?"

"I-I know, 'l-lil bud." She reached up and gently felt his scales for radiating heat. "I-I should of asked for a third cup of w-water, I-I'm sorry."

"You better be."

Annie lowered her hands down to her backpack straps, clenching them with a shred of guilt from not getting another cup of cold water before they left on their walk home. "H-Hey… would I-It make you feel better if I-I filled your bowl up with c-colder water? I-It's the least I can do to--"

"Oh PLEASE do! If I were out there for one more minute-- ONE -- you would of had me battered with a side of tartar sauce!" He rolled over on the tendril he rested on. "NEVER take me out in heat like that EVER again!"

"O-okay okay!..." Annie huffed, fidgeting with her apartment keys as she approached her apartment door. "... Y-yeesh ."

Annie sighed, pushing herself away from her small desk with a huff; allowing herself to drift across her small bedroom as indecisive thoughts began to clutter her head. Finding a title for this thing was way harder than she thought it was. 

Her head faced the ceiling while her eyes drifted around the room; drifting past everything including her sleeping familiar before making their way towards the ceiling once more with a sigh. 

Maybe she can put the title of the book off for later?

She sat upright in her chair, her head facing forward once more as she wheeled over to a stray box next to her small, cheap desk. Opening it revealed a bunch of loose drawing paper clipped together with a single paper clamp, along with a sketchbook with a few loose pages on its own and a load of sketching supplies; bounded together with a single rubber band. She scooped the contents of the box into her tiny arms before standing up and scampering over to her bed, sloppily placing everything down before hopping up on the mattress herself.

She wasted no time in sifting through the drawings, trying to locate the more recent ones she had made when first trying to figure out a cover for her book. Through skimming her stack of loose papers and sketchbook, she had found numerous sketches for her previous publication; the short story collection that she self-published anonymously. Something she wasn't anticipating on getting rave reviews for, but somehow did. Other sketches were concepts of logos and assets for her shop, which she had already digitized before the move.

But a very select few of them were of her own accord, and were mostly located at the beginning of her sketchbook. They were rather old, but still something that impressed her since she holds back on figure drawings nowadays.

She used to sketch a ton back when she first started working at Cooler Heads. When traffic was low; which at that time, happened frequently; she would take her sketchbook and head to the front of store, sketching out the buildings of the plaza and, sometimes, the popular idols who represented the location at the time.

At least… that's how her drawing sessions were at the beginning.

After she noticed the alleyway, she couldn't help but to find herself fixated on it; especially the brooding stranger that claimed the area as his own to sell his wares. Annie had always felt this slu of feelings when she saw him during her break. They were the instinctive feelings of intimidation since, from what she could see and the fact that he resided in an alleyway, he was intimidating. But she couldn't help but feel a bit… intrigued by him as well, and wound up questioning aspects of his life as her day went on. 

"Does he get sore from sitting there all day?" 

"Does he eat enough?" 

"Where does he go when he's off hours?"

"Does he even have a home?"

"What does he even look like?"

Those we're all questions she had back then, and thought about quite often. Especially the last one, since it translated to her sketchbook within a weeks time. So It was quite the shame for her when her breaks suddenly became shorter when word of her style spread throughout the city.

Before she had a chance to dwell on it more, she found herself on the page where the cover concepts began, causing her to bring her focus back on her work as she proceeded to flip through the pages of concept art she had. More than half of them were either unfinished or scribbled out, and the finished sketches weren't something to write home about either. She had eventually stumbled upon a blank page after about twenty minutes of examining ideas for the cover of her novel; slumping over a bit as she closed the sketchbook with a sigh. "T-This… is way harder than I-I thought..." Annie mumbled to herself as she pushed herself off of her bed. 

She walked out of her room, grabbing her phone on the way out, and made her way to the kitchen with the intent to get a glass of water and maybe a snack while she was at it. Once she made her way to the kitchen, she found that the glasses that were used yesterday were still in the dishrack. But before she could get to them, she felt her phone vibrate in her grasp.

She stopped in place and checked to see why it was buzzing so much, and let out a small gasp when she saw who it was.

It was Spyke.

And he was calling her.

She gulped, the sensation of warmth in her body disappearing as she answered the call and brought the phone to her ear. "H-hello?"

"Oi, love! Gotta sec'nd to chat?"

Her shoulders slumped. "W-Well, now I-I do." She walked over to the kitchen sink, pulling out a footstool from beneath the sink as she spoke. "What's u-up?"

"It's Murch's mum."

"... H-his mom?" Annie reached out and grabbed a glass to fill with water, wedging the cellular device between her head and shoulder. "W-what about h-her?"

"I jus' got off th'phone wit 'er an'she told me not ta take Murch home t'night due to sum 'suspicious activity' 'at might endanger 'er kid."

"O-Oh?" Annie hummed as she turned on the sink, letting cool water flow as she continued to speak. "N-Not to be rude o-or anything but… w-why did y-you call me a-about this?"

"Well…"

Annie could hear his teeth click from the other side of the line, causing her to feel a bit of concern as she filled her glass with water, with the feeling growing more worrying as the pause went on. "S-Spyke…?"

"Oh! Yea, sorry 'bout that love! I wos jus'thinkin' of a way t'word this…"

Annie turned off the sink in front of her. "W-word what?"

"Th'kid needs a place t'crash. A'least… fer th'night. Y'think he c'n crash wit' ya?"

"W-what?" Annie blinked, grabbing a hold of the side of the sink bowl in front of her. "S-Spyke, I-I--"

"Yeah, yeah, yer 'prolly busy wit' some stuff. I know! But I promise t'keep the kid outta've y'hair t'night, an' maybe I c'n help ya out when he clocks out fer th'night-- jus' t'make things even, yeah?"

"Spyke…" 

"Please love."

Annie let out a sigh, rolling her eyes as she stepped down the small stepladder, glass of water in hand. "A-alright. H-he can stay." She took a sip of water before readjusting her phone; sliding it back into her hand. "But y-you need to tell m-me w-what's going on at M-Murch's house… got I-It?"

"Ah! Thank ya, love! Ah'll see ya soon, yeah?"

" Yeahyeah, I'llseeyousoontoo…" Annie mumbled as she hung up her phone. Giving it a forlorn gaze before quickly making her way back to her room, hoping to at least settle on some sketches before her unexpected guests arrive.