The deepness of shadows still lingers in their mind even in the face of the morning light. Its the comfort of them, cool and simple, the cover of night come to life. Their second soul shivers for a moment but their agreement still rings back clear. The shadows truly were beautiful, a piece of the night turned silken.
Kris rolls out of bed with more energy than they've had in weeks and tromps over to the bathroom where they run through their morning routine and spend a good moment looking at themself in the mirror. They push their hair back against their forehead to reveal their face and prod at their other who stretches out in the back of their mind like a lazy cat.
Think I should pull my hair back, they ask and their other shifts in for a moment. In the glass they can see their eyes turn a deep, deep red. Carefully, their hands run across their hair and pause, waiting for Kris's input. Kris gives them the go-ahead and waits until they brush it back into a short ponytail, securing it at the nape of their neck with a white silk ribbon before twisting around to get a good look. Their other slips down into the bottom of their mind, humming quietly.
Better than I thought, says Kris and the slow rise of content makes their shoulders droop into comfortable slouch. Looking good.
Mom's got her papers spread all across the table but is nowhere to be seen so Kris shuffles over to the kitchen and eats breakfast on the counter, toast and a cup of coffee that they drown in creamer. They savor the sweetness of it, before dropping their dishes in the sink and scribbling a quick note. They grab their things from the room and hustle out. It's early enough when they leave that the sky is still lightening, soft purple at the edges melting slowly blue.
They haven't got Susie's number and it's still early so they drop by the café and grab her something to drink. The menu stumps them for a moment. They haven't tried half this stuff, preferring instead to stick with their tried and true formula. There is of course, only one solution. What's a good Susie drink? Coffee? Their other hums in the back of their mind. Something spicy-sweet, they offer. Strong. Kris nods. Sounds pretty good. They grab themself one of the same, not yet ready to get a hot chocolate, as well as some snacks for the road.
Susie meets them in the school's front yard, leaning against the brick with one hand tugging at her bangs. She's completely focused on her phone, eyes narrowed sharply in the way Kris has learned means concentration and not anger. They sidle up to her side and barely have time to wave the steaming drink in front of her face before she hauls them with one arm like an unruly cat.
"Hey," she says, flashing a grin. She gives them a quick once-over, doubling back to squint at their pulled back hair and the familiar ribbon. "Isn't that Ralsei's?"
She barks out a laugh and settles them comfortably across her shoulder.
"Woow," she drawls. "Does this mean you're coming for my stuff too?"
Kris kicks out their legs a little bit as Susie carries them inside.
"You haven't noticed?"
She tilts her head to look up at them, eyes narrowed in amusement. "Noticed what?"
Kris wiggles enough so she can see the shirt under their jacket, an overlarge black tee with white spades. It reaches all the way down to their knees. Susie erupts into snickers as she sets them down in front of the storage room door and Kris hands over their drinks so they can jiggle the door. It opens easily and they step in with the sound of Susie's badly muffled laughter still ongoing behind them, snagging their drink on the way.
They close the door behind them and throw themself onto the beanbags in the corner, one hand raised high so their drink remains steady.
"Friendship is stored in the clothes," they say solemnly.
Susie sputters through another round of laughter. When she finally catches her breath, she rolls her eyes at them, still grinning and takes a long sip of her drink. They pass her the snacks as she sits down and she tears through the wrappers with her teeth. They set down their own drink and get down to work, rummaging through their bag for the equipment.
"Hey this is really good." Susie waves the drink in the air. "Thanks."
"Mm," comes the answer while they sort through their bag, distracted. "No problem."
They pull out the instant film polaroid and heavy scrapbook, before diving back in for the markers.
"How's it going in there," asks Susie.
"Sleepy," they answer.
"Stayed up all night," says Kris.
"None of that was an actual answer, you know."
They pull the markers from the bottom of the bag and wave them triumphantly.
"Victory doesn't need answers," they say and Susie gives them a look.
"Isn't it victory shouldn't be questioned?"
"Victory," says Kris, with great importance. "Shouldn't be questioned."
"I'm gonna spike you into the portal, Kris. Like a volleyball. I'll do it."
They offer her a croissant.
"I'll spike you gently," she amends.
In the end she only tosses them through, no spiking involved. They land square in one of Ralsei's bushes and pop out with leaves stuck to their hair, covered in more petals than they ever expected to have.
"They're beauty, they're grace –"
They launch themself at her face.
"Eh-hem," says Ralsei, and they freeze in motion. "I think you killed my roses."
"Kris killed your roses."
They point back.
"Susie threw me at your roses."
Ralsei raises a single eyebrow and looks intimidating for all of five seconds before his face melts into a smile.
"Oh it's alright," he says, voice full of the kind of good cheer that sends shivers down both of their spines. "You guys can help me fix it later."
Ralsei's power, as always, is unmatched.
"Sure thing," says Susie and then thrusts Kris forward like a sacrifice. "I'm going to find Lancer."
Ralsei plucks Kris out of her arms and sets them down.
"Sure thing," he says back absent-mindedly, suddenly distracted by patting leaves out of their hair. "He's in the parlor!"
"The parlor," mutters Susie but heads off anyways, Kris's heavy back slung over her back. They watch her leave then turn to each other with conspiratory grins.
"Did she notice?"
Ralsei bounces, almost vibrating with glee.
"Wonderful!" His voice drops down to a whisper. "This is my first time surprising a friend, you know?"
They nudge his shoulder with their own and pull him with them.
"Yeah," they say. "Me too."
Lancer is indeed in the parlor when they get there and he throws himself forward like a very small, fuzzy wrecking ball. Kris catches him before he can knock them over and hauls him up, just as he throws his arms around their neck and nuzzles their cheek in greeting.
"Kris!" he yells, right into their ear. "Guess what Susie said!"
"What did Susie say?"
"Whomst'd've," drawls Susie from where she's sprawled out on Ralsei's plush sofas.
"That's not what you said!"
Ralsei covers up his laughter with a truly masterful cough and makes his way to Kris's bag.
"What did she say, Lancer?" he calls out.
Kris walks forward far enough so they can tip over and spill themself and Lancer onto the couch. They sink into it with a blissful sigh. Lancer wiggles himself into a comfortable position before sitting up straight, gesturing widely with his hands as he speaks.
"She said –"
Susie tackles the both of them and they go down in a heap of cushions, one snatched pillow and Lancer's chortling. The pillow is Kris's weapon of choice and they go down swinging. A truly impressive amount of feathers fills the air and Ralsei's despairing My pillows! is lost to the chaos.
Lancer wins through carefully coordinated efforts and he announces his New Kingdom of Fluff and Villainy with Kris facedown on a cushion and Susie still half-gunning for victory. They give him a thumbs up that he thanks them for in between dodging Susie. Ralsei drags them out of the fray and they huddle in a corner.
"Lancer is doing a magnificent job," he says. And then very mournfully, "But my pillows…"
Kris pats him on the shoulder. The pillows gave their life for the cause. It's a very good cause.
Ralsei drops the scrapbook into their lap and holds out a set of photographs. The pages are already open and descriptions penned in his fancy calligraphy. He peeks over their head to where Susie and Lancer continue to battle and whispers very softly.
"Alright! I'll keep a look-out and you put the pictures in!"
They're already on it.
There's a single close call, when Susie falls too close beside them for comfort and Ralsei panics, blasting her with a Pacify.
"Well, well, well," says Susie.
"Welcome to the games, sweet peach!" says Lancer, with unholy glee.
Kris sends him their condolences and works faster.
The games end with Ralsei as the unlikely victor and Lancer and Susie sacked out on the cushions. A tiny little snore breaks the silence. Kris can feel their soul go horribly gushy. This is your fault, they say. Their other makes a motion like rolling over and mumbles, Glass houses, stones etcetera.
"Perish," says Kris out loud.
The scrapbook is perfectly done by the time Susie and Lancer awaken and they have the beginnings of a pillow fort set up. The scent of pastries fills the air as Ralsei comes in with several trays of sweets and one very large, covered plate.
"Snacks!" he says.
"Snacks!" come the response, sleepy but full of overwhelming approval.
They have snacks in the fort, made up with Ralsei's curtains as a roof and the couches and cushions as walls. The threads glow on their underside like constellations and magic lights made of both spades and long colorful, curling ribbons fill the fort. There are enough blankets to curl up in and more than enough food to go around. Both Lancer and Ralsei barely refrain from bouncing with excitement.
Kris takes another bite of cake. Susie remains clueless up until she spies the plate. She snags another cookie and gestures to it.
Lancer erupts into giggles. Ralsei straightens his back and puts on his regal voice. It's almost the same as his explaining voice but more…royal-y. Susie squints at the both of them and then turns to Kris when it turns out Ralsei can't make full words due to excitement.
Kris takes another bite of cake.
Susie squints harder. An excellent strategy if not for Kris's counter-attack: casually looking off to the side.
"Alright," she says, suspicious. "Give it up."
Lancer shoots up.
"No!" he says. "You give it up, Susie! You've been outsmarted! Outmatched! Outsmarted!"
Ralsie reaches for the plate and sets it in front of them, beaming.
"You said outsmarted twice, Lancer."
There is so much fondness in her voice that Kris and Ralsei have to look at each other for a moment, to convey the sheer mushiness overflowing from their souls.
"That's because we've super outsmarted you!"
"Lancer is right," Ralsei interjects, and Susie turns to look at him, eyebrows raised. "We have super outsmarted you!"
"Alright," she says. "How?"
Kris readies the camera. Lancer vibrates in place.
Ralsei reveals the contents of the plate with a single sweeping motion and Susie's face goes slack.
Snap, goes the camera.
Things happen very fast. Susie covers her face but not enough to hide the trembling grin spreading across it. Her voice hits a warbling pitch when she tries to say something but can't. Lancer jumps into her lap. Kris and Ralsei take their places at her side as warm presences, grounding and comfortable. It's a long moment before Susie raises her head, eyes glossy but smile glowing.
"Holy shit," she says, softly. "Holy shit."
"Language!" chirps Lancer.
"Holy shitteth," amends Susie and Ralsei makes a sound like a teakettle boiling.
Snap, goes the camera and Susie turns to Kris with amusement written all over her face.
"Send me that one."
"It's going in your scrapbook," they say and the expression on her face then is enough to make them raise the camera again. Lancer pops into the shot with his widest grin and they snap another picture just for that.
"My scrapbook?" says Susie. "You guys have – we've been working on that thing for so long. What do you mean my scrapbook?"
"We've outsmarted you!" says Lancer. "This was our plan all along!"
Ralsei pulls the scrapbook from his inventory, neatly wrapped in deep purple wrapping paper. He places it on her lap and they all lean in. Susie runs her hands over the wrapping and doesn't say anything. When she opens it, it's with careful hands so she won't tear the paper.
The first picture in the scrapbook is of all of them in Lancer's throne room. Susie is sprawled across the throne with a crown on her head and Lancer lounging beside her. Kris perches precariously at the top of the throne and Ralsei is on the armrests, torn between smiling for the camera and making sure Kris doesn't come tumbling down.
Underneath is Susie's scrawl in black marker, with the date and her caption in big blocky letters: the word NERDS. Underneath that is Rouxl's looping script with the words, The Younge Prince & His Companions. There is a small paper taped to the side of that with his handwriting as well, wishing her a happy birthday (and as a present, a lifetime's supply of box puzzles signed by His Truly).
They go through the rest of the scrapbook as Susie flips the pages one after the other, pages filled with pictures they took and odd doodles, some with rambling captions and others short and to the point. The memories are as clear and bright as the day they happened. Halfway through they end up giggling at Lancer's blurry pictures and Ralsei's attempt at selfies thwarted at each turn, the way Susie is almost always carrying someone in her pictures, and Kris's determination to find the strangest angles.
When they reach the end, Susie runs her hand over the last page, fill to the brim with signatures they'd spent the better half of the month gathering. Jevil's CHAOS! takes up half the page by itself, complemented by Seam's cramped scrawl over it, a happy birthday followed by, come by for a special discount on your birthday gift axe girl. Hathy's well-wishes are signed with little hearts around them. All the others are similarly personalized.
Susie closes the scrapbook and very carefully, puts it down on the cushion near the plate. She looks at her birthday cake for a good long moment before sitting back and clearing her throat.
"You guys have five seconds to run," she say, and starts counting.
They scatter but it's too late because she skips from two straight into five.
"No fair!" says Ralsei, the first to be captured. He's smiling though as Susie pulls them all into the world's strongest hug. Lancer dissolves into giddy laughter and Kris thinks they can hear something creaking in their spine. They shift places and their other, bleary and half-asleep is shunted to the surface. Delegation, they declare. The smugness rolls off them in waves.
"M'gonna eat your cake," they mumble and lean into Susie's side.
She turns around to look at them, arms already loosening before she gets a good look at their eyes and realizes.
"You were in on this too, huh?"
"Of course," chirps Ralsei. "This was a team effort!"
"Of course," repeats Susie, but her smile is easy and warm.
She blows out the birthday candles twice, because Lancer lights them up with spades the second time.
They have cake and spend the night surrounded in so much happiness and warmth it makes everything around them shine brighter. The camera sees so much usage they can already see another scrapbook in the making and Susie's smile doesn't leave her face, even when she falls asleep.
It's still there the morning, at school when they meet up again in front of the classroom.
Kris nudges her in the side and she nudges them back, still grinning.
They go in together.