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I Guess You Humans Are Cool

Chapter Text

It took a few confused months of the humans trying to understand how Ax ate without a mouth, and Ax wondering why they put things in their talking orifice, for them to finally have a straight conversation.
It still took about 5 minutes for everyone to move on from their initial confusion.
"What do you mean you eat through your feet?!"

After that, they immediately moved on to insisting that Ax needed to see for himself what eating was like.
**
"I promise it's not as scary as it seems," Cassie reassured him. Ax just shook his (human-morph) head.
"No, no, it's putting-ting foreign things into m-my body. Solid ob-obj-jects are not supposed to go inside a person! I just can’t mak-k-ke myself doooo it.”
“Well you’re morphed already, just get it over with,” Rachel rolled her eyes. “Even babies…”
Jake gave her a light smack on the arm. “It’s ok,” he said, turning to Ax, “we’re just trying to show you. You can take a lick if it makes you more comfortable.”
“A what?”
“Like this,” Tobias said, holding up a lollypop. Ax’s eyes widened in horror at the sight of a raw muscle coming out of his best friend’s face!
“That’s how-ow you…” he squeaked. He backed up, hunching his shoulders. He was no longer sure that his new friends weren’t just trying to play a joke on him and scare him, Elimist knows they had an odd sense of humour…
“It’s ok, it’s ok,” Cassie reached over to pat his shoulder. Ax flinched slightly before letting her touch him. “How about water? You drink water too, it’ll be perfectly normal.”
“Well… ok…” Ax took the glass she held out to him and hesitantly brought it to his lips. He let his mouth open just enough to let it slosh over his tongue and slide down his throat.
“KaaHH!” he coughed, almost choking.
“Don’t breathe while you swallow,” Cassie suggested belatedly.
“That is ex-EX-tremely unpleas-s-sant.” Ax gave her back the glass. “How do you do that-t every day?”
“We don’t usually choke on our food,” Marco deadpanned.
“Try again.” Cassie smiled, holding out the glass.
Ax eyed it warily. “Do your infants-ants have to prac-ct-tice doing the very action you need to p-perform daily in order-rrr to survive?”
“Eh, you choke once, you learn,” Rachel said with a shrug.
**
It was after they switched out the water for juice that Ax came to understand the appeal of flavours.
“So this is sweet,” he marveled, taking another sip. “It is like-ike smelling fl-flowers, only-ly ST-stronger.”
“There you go,” Tobias said approvingly. “And if you like that, wait until I show you cinnamon rolls.”
“Cool, well now that we know food won’t kill our resident alien friend, maybe we can move on to talking about more important matters?” Marco said.
“Like cake?” Cassie asked innocently.
“Personally I’d go for brownies,” Jake said with a straight face.
“Come on, guys,” said Rachel, “Obviously he means Chinese noodles.”
Marco rolled his eyes. “Children, all of you.”

Chapter Text

"What are you doing?!" Elfangor rushed over and grabbed the lighter out of Loren's hands. Startled, she let him take it and watched as he tried desperately to put out the gas light on the stove.

As soon as she figured out the misunderstanding she started laughing uncontrollably.

"What?!" Elfangor asked, still shook.

"Yo-you...hahahaha..." she was grabbing her sides desperately. "Did you think I was setting fire to the house?"

"Yes..?"

She giggled helplessly, waving her hand until she could speak coherently again. Elfangor was obviously worried about her sanity the whole time, which only made her want to laugh more.

"Is this a human thing?" he ended up asking, desperate to understand. "Do you just spontaneously start breathing erratically? Are you sick?"

"Ok," she took a deep breath and tried to calm down. They could laugh about this later. "I'm fine..."

"Then why were you trying to set fire to..." he gestured wildly at the stove, because he didn't know the word for it yet. She started laughing again.

"This," she finally managed to say, "this is why I love you."

"I make you breathless?!" he asked, confused.

She giggled more. "Oh, you definitely take my breath away." she reached up to kiss him, finally calm enough to not break down again.

He stared at her with a confused smile. "This is nice, but I'm still not convinced you're fully sane yet."

She grinned at him. "I'm fine, for real. I keep forgetting you didn't start your life as a human." She reached over to the stove and twisted the knob to turn off the gas. The flame went out. "See? It's supposed to do that."

Worry had turned to curiosity. "What is it meant for?"

"Cooking. I was going to make us pancakes."

He tilted his head. "Cooking is for food, right? You need fire for that?"

"For a lot of recipes, yeah."

"Recipes?"

"I'll show you," she said. She held his hand and pulled him over to the counter of their little rented cabin, where she'd found a smock with a cartoon raccoon on it. She put it on over his head while he gazed at her with a bemused smile. 

"This," she said with all the seriousness of a small child explaining how to make a mud pie, "is to protect your clothes from flour sprinkles, and all other kinds of mess."

"You have clothing to protect your other clothing?" he asked, starting to remember why humanity was seen as a simple species. They could be a little backwards sometimes.

Loren pursed her lips, considering what he'd just said. "You have a point, but this here," she patted his chest, "Now has an adorable cartoon animal on it, so you'll be keeping it on for my amusement."

He gave her the kind of patronising smile usually used on small children, and she allowed it, figuring she deserved that this morning.

"Alright," she said, clapping her hands together, "Pancakes are a classic breakfast food. Simple, straight-forward, but with just enough of a challenge that you feel accomplished when you make them perfectly. We'll use a bowl," she gestured to the large mixing bowl she'd found earlier, "and we'll mix a bunch of ingredients together, and then we'll use the stove to cook them. Any questions before we begin?"

"As you say, it's straightforward."

"Perfect. Now then, you'll help me measure."

**

About 20 minutes later the kitchen looked like a white bomb had gone off (because Elfangor didn't realise that flour was a very volatile powder), batter was splotched a little bit everywhere, two eggs had fallen to the floor, and they had burned the first two pancakes because they had given in to the mess and started a small food fight.

For the very last pancake, Loren showed him how to flip them in the pan. A chunk of half-cooked batter was left hanging off the side of the fridge.

Elfangor was very impressed. "You mean to tell me," he said as he set the stack on the table, "that all humans know this much chemistry?"

"Well, some more than other," Loren waggled her fingers in what had become a universal gesture of so-so, "But most adults know how to do something like this, yeah."

He shook his head. "I underestimated your species again," he said. 

she grinned. "I want to hear you say that after you have a taste."

He watched her carefully as she poured syrup, imitating her to the last drop. She'd already explained to him, indirectly, that exact measurements were necessary in food preparation. She noticed him watching and made a big production of adding one (1) cherry to the exact middle of her plate. He did the same, and she felt he would have brought out a protractor if he'd had one. 

"Then you take your fork," she said, raising hers, "and you cut off a piece that can fit in your mouth, and eat like normal."

He took a bite and his eyes almost rolled back into his head. "This is amazing," he murmured. "Does all home-made food taste this good?" she nodded, happy. He took another three bites before adding, "We definitely underestimated your species."

She grinned at him.

Chapter Text

<I don't like this, Alloran.>

<You never like anything,> the war-weary veteran muttered to his slaver. <What is it this time?> He had to ask, because he knew he was going to hear about it anyway. This way at least he got some semblance of conversation before he got shoved back in a dark corner of his mind.

<It's the Human Controllers,> Esplin said. <Just today, two of them have told me to cheer up. Does this face seem depressed?> He tilted his eye stalks to look at himself.

Alloran gave a mental sigh of indifference. <Why should you care, you're their leader. Maybe they just don't want you to kill anyone out of anger today.>

<...The odd part is how they walk away with a smile on their face afterwards...>

**

"I'm telling you it's fine, he still doesn't seem to understand it."

"Someone is bound to let it slip eventually. Or maybe his translator will catch up to it."

"You know how fast those things work, it would have caught it by now if it was going to," his friend said dismissively. "Just yesterday Cargak 265 called him a four-eyes to his face and he never reacted."

Odriss 890 laughed. "Honestly, Human hosts are the best. I think the Visser is even starting to be flattered that we worry so much about him 'being blue'."

 

Chapter Text

"The Visser is starting to get suspicious," said Daniela/Aflin. She glanced around the park quickly before settling back on the bench. "I think he knows that there's symbiote sympathisers among us." she lowered her voice. "I keep getting strange looks when I try to explain what I'll be doing over the weekend..."

"And what exactly do you do over the weekend?" Illim asked through Mr. Tidwell's voice. He crossed his leg over his knee casually and watched the kids playing soccer a few yards away.

"You know..." Aflin muttered, "Going to meetings with the Peace Movement, spending time with Daniela's family. Instead of doing the stuff I'm supposed to be doing for the war." She slid down in her seat. "You know, we keep thinking that if the Yeerks had come in peace, Humanity would have been cool to offer up a few volunteers. It would have taken a few years of adapting to each other before we could ever get a lot of hosts, but still," she said, looking up at Tidwell/Illim, "It would have been better than having to sneak around all the time."

He nodded, a wry smile on his lips. 

"I just wish we had something that sounded, I don't know, legit," said Daniela. "Something that looked like we were recruiting, or like we were gathering information," Aflin added, “instead of meetings between a bunch of misfit Yeerks and our suspiciously cooperative hosts.”

They sat in silence for a while longer. A kid scored a goal and ran around the field screaming with his teammates. Their brightly-coloured team shirts got covered in fresh grass stains.

"It's just not fair," Daniela sighed. "We have so much to offer you guys, but we're all too busy fighting each other to just work something out."

But Illim had stopped listening. A little off to the side, a woman had set up an easel in front of a flower bed and was happily mixing up paints for her afternoon. A memory of Mr. Tidwell's late wife flashed through their mind.

"...We may have an idea..." they mused.

**

It was, fundamentally, a simple idea. A paint night was a very Human pass-time, so they wouldn't arouse suspicion from potential new recruits; and because it looked like they were recruiting, and it was something that Yeerks would be especially eager to participate in, even the Visser’s worst sycophants couldn't take issue with it.

The Yeerk Peace Movement could pretend to be using it to recruit new Controllers, when in fact they were going to use it to spread their ideology: Being a symbiote was better than being a parasite.

Their first meeting would have five members of the YPM, and one new Controller who seemed to be struggling with her host.

"This will be great," Illim assured Fiorit/Eva, handing her a glass of wine, "Sometimes it helps to relax your host by having them do something neutral."

"And an inhibitor reducer doesn't hurt either," said Efril/Joe from the couch. He raised his beer in a salute.

"Doesn't that, uh, also hurt our control over them?" Fiorit asked. She sniffed the glass delicately.

"Nope." Joe took a swig. "Your host might have trouble grasping their faculties, but we’ll still have full access." This was actually a bit of a lie; alcohol eventually dulled external perception enough that a Yeerk would end up just as inhibited as their host. They had found, however, that it took significantly more than a little wine to reach a point where a Yeerk would notice, as Efril and his host's best friend had been more than willing to test.

"Alright," Fiorit took a sip through pursed lips. "My host was never very artistic, but like most Humans, I suppose, she at least knows how to hold a paint brush. Let's begin."

Daniela and Amy had set up six canvases and a bunch of paint tubes around Mr. Tidwell's kitchen table. At the edge they propped up a picture of a sunset. 

"This is what we'll be painting today," Daniela started as Zomni, who's host was a middle-aged mom with little free time, immediately jumped on the paints.

"A little eager, are we?" Fiorit said dryly, though she was also staring at the glob of blue that was quickly being mixed with red. Illim watched as the tiny frown Fiorit had had since they’d met smoothed out.

She seemed a little dazed. "That's," she said just as Illim put a brush in her hand and started his own painting. 

She looked around at the others at the table. They all seemed focused on their own work, so she ducked her head down and started to mix for the colours she needed.

Giffi and her host, Amy, leaned over. "If you add a small bit of blue, it'll have a more peachy colour," they said. 

"Look at you, living in an actual artist's body," Aflin/Daniela grumbled. "Meanwhile I already know I'm going to have a mess on my hands..." As if to prove her point, she reached over for a brush and got paint all over her sleeve. 

Amy giggled. "Maybe you should save yourself the pretense and just accept that you are the canvas."

"You know that reminds me of something I learned recently," Efril said. "Humans have a subculture that decorate their skin with permanent images called tattoos."

"Is it really a subculture if, like, everybody has thought about getting a tattoo at least once?" Daniela asked as she tried to wipe away the paint. It smeared everywhere instead. "Tch."

"My host's son is talking about getting one," Zomni said, not raising her head. She paused to focus on making a straight line. "...I could stop him, because that would be what my host would normally do, but I'm very curious to see how it would turn out. He drew the design himself, and it's very good."

Fiorit paused, feeling an impulse to join in the discussion. Her host, Sam, was perking up in a way that made her nervous. "What is..." She hesitated. "What is it a design of?"

Zomni glanced up to smile at her. "A waterfall drawn using words from a song he likes," she said. "I think it's very clever."

Fiorit nodded vaguely. Sam thought it was clever too, and her impulse to say as much pushed her consciousness a little closer to the surface. Fiorit instinctively squashed it down, but winced at Sam's cry of anguish and rebellion.

"Y'allright?" Joe asked.

Fiorit nodded and went back to painting.

Sam pushed harder.

"Urg," Fiorit vocalised. "How do they manage to be so strong?" She grabbed her head and tried to shut her out, but Sam knew she had an audience and started to really scream at her.

"Easy there," Illim soothed. "It gets easier with practice."

"And by giving your host something for being good most of the day,” Daniela added, her eyes flashing with restrained intensity. “Humans like rewards for good behaviour.”

“What kind of reward?” Fiorit asked.

“Give her something that she wants,” Daniela said. She didn’t want to push the idea too fast; she went back to her painting before she accidentally said too much.

Fiorit was too distracted to notice how tense everyone had gotten.

What did Sam want, she thought. Then she felt ridiculous for asking herself when she could just ask Sam. Then she felt ridiculous for asking a host. They were no better than animals.

But the screams had only gotten worse when she was denied access to conversation. And, weirdly enough, denied access to paints.

<Do you,> Fiorit started to ask. She didn’t even need to finish her thought before Sam leapt up and grabbed control of her right hand. Her hand smacked down on the table roughly.

Everyone kept their head down. Some of them held their breaths, feeling like they were watching a wild animal being tamed. Whether that meant the Yeerk or the Human, they were about to find out.

Fiorit allowed Sam to take over just their right hand. And then their eyes.

And after a few moments, Sam took over their throat and started to hum contentedly while she worked.

There was a slight whoosh as everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

**

“Be honest,” Fiorit said two weeks later as she sat with Daniela and Illim on a park bench. “You knew all along that it would be easier if we worked with our hosts instead of against them.”

Illim shrugged. “It’s a revolutionary concept. Some people aren’t ready for it.”

“We could die for this.”

“Eh,” Daniela waved her hand. “Worth it – the trick,” Aflin added, “is discretion.”

Fiorit gave her a weird look. “Your host is approximately the opposite of discretion.”

“I know,” Aflin said with a smile, “but I’m not. We’ve created a system where either of us can take over when our particular skills are needed.” She tilted her head conspiratorially. “Daniela talks to people to make allies; I talk to people to gather and hide secrets.”

Sam nodded. “Like how Fiorit lets me talk now that she knows she can hide away from a social situation,” she said wryly.

Aflin and Illim laughed. “Ah, Humans and their innumerable social customs…”

 

Chapter Text

There was a Human who once said something very poignant, and relevant to my story... "You need to stay safe every time, but the wolf, the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once."

My name is Elimist. And my job is to postpone the heat-death of the universe.

I say postpone because I don't know if even I have the power to prevent it altogether. Crayak has been fighting me for thousands of years now... I think even millions. Sometimes I remember that I used to be just a kid playing video games, and it makes me feel like an old man who's been alive for too long.

I’m not getting tired yet, but I feel that it’s only a matter of time.

Having someone like you has been a thought in my head for a while now. Crayak has a lackey, why shouldn't I have a.. friend? No, not quiete yet... An apprentice. That's what you call it in your language. Yes, that can work.

There are a few things you should know; there are two incredibly powerful beings in the universe, who jump around time and fight each other for the life and death of all the sentient creatures in existence. But we treat it very much like a game. Crayak and I have a set of rules that we've agreed to follow for the rest of eternity; and as underhanded as he is, he's always stuck by them faithfully. I still don't know if it's because he knows we're evenly matched, or if it's proof that he believes in his cause.

Although you have to wonder, if he believes he's right to kill every living thing in the universe, what must be going through his head...

There's a lot of things you're going to have to figure out yourself, eventually. I've lived practically forever, and there are still so, so many things even I don’t know.

With any luck you’ll be able to help me.

Yes, there's a lot you'll have to come to understand. I suppose I should feel guilty for putting this on you, but the universe deserves a back-up plan. I couldn’t stand it if we’d gone through all that pain, all that effort, just to die quietly. It would be a real death this time, you see. The black void between stars would be the only thing left in existence if Crayak had his way. I wouldn’t even be able to slip back in time and revive anyone, not that I can do that even now.

That would be against the rules.

For my own sanity, I have to believe that I'm in the right. That there's a reason we all exist. There’s so much more than the black emptiness out there, and I have to believe it exists for something. Even existence for its own sake.

Like you Humans. You have squeezed every drop of living out of your time on this little planet.

No, really. Have you seen how you can spend hours focused on one small thing, a flower, a story, a game, a friend... Like when you play a song on repeat, knowing full well that you'll get sick of it. But you do it anyway because you want to keep living in that feeling just a little longer.

Your kind has a respectable thirst for existence.

That's why I need you. I've spent millennia on your ancestry, pushing and pulling just ever so slightly... Waiting for you.

You, who'll be strong enough to survive the living planet. Just like I did.

I think you'll thank me when it's over.

(And hopefully this won't backfire and push another lackey into Crayak's arms...)

Chapter Text

When Aflin had first met Daniela, it was in the aftermath of a Sharing meeting, right after her head had been plunged under the watery sludge of his home. She'd struggled more out of instinct than anything before going quiet.

Normally Aflin would have been thrilled. Not only was he being re-assigned because his last host was so unruly, he'd also heard every horror story from the others in the pool: Human hosts who had tried to claw them out of their own ears, constant complaints and wails of anguish echoing in their heads, a million different threats...

At first, it was very nice to have this tranquility. Certainly Daniela was talkative, but she mostly only talked to herself. She retreated to the back of her mind and mentally paced, back and forth, over inconsequential little anxieties. Would Aflin bother to feed her fish? Would Aflin make her embarass herself at work? Would she get some rare kind of alien cancer from having him in her head? Maybe he was full of space radiation.

It was almost a soothing background noise to Aflin, because it reminded him of what he had to do to maintain a normal appearance as her Controller.

And, if he was being honest, some of her ideas were genuinely funny.

Then one day he had to stay at a Sharing meeting for too long and forgot to feed her fish. She'd wailed at him all day, what if they were starving, what if she got home and they weren't ok anymore, what if Aflin was doing this on purpose to spite her...

He'd given in and rushed back. Of course, they were perfectly fine. In fact, he looked through her memories and found that they would have been fine for another day or more if he'd left them.

That was the first time he'd addressed her directly. "Would you calm down?! I don't understand why you assume this is all a personal attack on you. WHY would I care about killing some colourful fish?" He started pacing in her living room. He'd thought it was obvious that he would never hurt anything so defenseless. And to spite her? What was that about?

"You don't like me," she said. "Of course you don't like me. And of course you want me to suffer. It makes it easier for you to control me, doesn't it?"

"Why would..." But then Aflin paused. She'd made some sort of sense.

She wasn't... entirely... accurate, because he had no reason to dislike her. He definitely didn't hate her either, as her mental tone had implied.

He thought about it and realised that he actually... did kind of like knowing her.

But the control part, yes, she had a point there.

"It's easier to control a host that doesn't fight back," he thought out loud. "And the easiest way to stop it from fighting back is to make it afraid of me."

"Is it easier?" she asked. "Or does it just make you feel powerful, to think of us as stupid 'its'?"

Aflin didn't know what to say to that.

**

He was more careful to feed the fish after that. He even took the time to address most of her anxieties as they came up (though he had no idea what to do about the cancer worries).

"Doctor," she said simply.

"They'd do a scan and find me, so no," he answered.

"You just want me to die," she sighed as dramatically as she could from the tiny corner in her head. Then she started to worry about all the ways that she could die in the middle of this war.

"Why do you do that?" Aflin asked.

"Hmm?"

"You worry about everything. My last host didn't do that."

"Well, contrary to what you might have been led to believe," she said with a huff, "Not all Humans are the same."

"No, but... You seem... especially stressed, compared to other hosts?" Aflin showed her memories of the cages around the Pool. "You're worried but you don't do... that." He pointed to the people who were crying or shouting. "You just sort of... twitch."

 Daniela shrugged. "I guess I'm a bit more anxious than most people," she said. "Oddly enough, I've gotten calmer since I met you."

 "How does that work?"

"Emmm..." she poked at a few thoughts before answering. "You're always making sure that the things I would worry about get done. And for some things, where I would hesitate and get worked up over trying to do it right, you just do it. And it turns out fine. You're kind of like an emotional support dog."

"I'm not a dog," he grumbled.

"No, dogs are friendlier," she retorted. "And they wouldn't keep me from talking to my friends."

"Well that's... besides the point anyway!" Aflin insisted. "You're supposed to be the support in this. I'm the master of this body."

He saw her thoughts struggle between making a dirty joke and fighting back for control. When she saw that he'd seen both, she settled for "You haven't needed to fight me for control yet. What would happen if I tried to push you away?"

"You wouldn't succeed."

"You can't know that for sure. What if I did succeed?"

He didn't need to answer. They'd both seen rebelious hosts get dragged away, never to be seen again.

But his silence meant something else.

"You don't want me to get killed, do you."

"No."

"Why?"

"...You're a good host to have. Easy to control."

"Try again," she pushed.

"There's no better reason for a Yeerk to choose one host over another..."

Her wordless anticipation kept pushing him.

"...We're not friends," he tried to insist.

"Not yet, anyway."

"It's unnatural to befriend a host."

"You know, there was a module in science class that I remember..." she said, seeming to change the topic. "Do you know what a symbiote is?"

"Obviously," he said, glancing over her memory of it. Then he looked closer. "... That's just weird."

"It's pretty normal on our planet."

"You're trying to make me give you more freedom," he said. "I can't do that."

"Why?"

"You're asking difficult questions..."

"It should be simple, all Yeerks do it," she said. "Tell me why."

"We need to win the war. You could warn others." He felt confident. That was a perfectly good reason.

"What if I promised not to tell anybody?"

"You could lie."

"You'd be in my head anyway. You could stop me."

"...This feels like a trick."

"Alright, so it's a bit of a trick because I'd get something out of it," she said. "But hear me out. You hate having to work my job, right?"

Aflin had never been subtle about his general distate for the nail salon she worked at. He had to gossip all day to keep up the pretense that he was still her. "To use your friend's words, God, yes," he said.

Aflin felt her brain produce endorphins, for the first time since they met, at his comment.

"So why don't we do this? I get control for the parts you don't like, you get control for the stuff I don't like, and we work together to maybe... make this war go a little smoother?"

"I don't think this would..."

"Could we at least try though?"

Aflin thought about the tropical fish they both liked to watch. About how nice it was to have her create a clear checklist of all the things he needed to do every day. He thought about his last host and their unstoppable yelling and complaining. Daniela was certainly much nicer to share a headspace with.

"I'll try it," he said. Daniela whooped. "But! I'm still in control. One slip-up and I'm shutting you away forever."

He ignored her undercurrent of smugness. They both knew he didn't really mean it, not anymore.

Chapter Text

Daniela and Aflin had decided to spend the day shopping for Aflin-type clothes. A concept that was both confusing and intriguing.

<So, explain this to me again. I get the idea of wearing bright colours and shiny things as decoration, because I do like looking at them. But how is it “self-expresion”? Everyone around here seems to wear jeans and t-shirts on a regular basis, it’s not like a specific type of jean is going to identify me among others,> Aflin said.

An interesting thing about Yeerks was how they could see things from the slightly distorted perspectives of their hosts. It was like having information pop up in your peripherals, lists of details that are relevant to a particular setting. It was also like having a filter, where if the host was focused on a particular detail then the Yeerk would also see it very clearly, even if they never would have focused on it otherwise. All this to say; since Daniela knew the difference between textures of jeans, Aflin did too. Since Daniela knew how different shades looked on her (blue-grey was not her colour, but going a shade darker and adding pale speckles made a big difference and became flattering), Aflin also knew this. Aflin could very clearly determine differences between boot-cut and low-rise and mom-jeans and on and on… But he didn’t care.

He tried. It was usually easy to be interested in something when you knew a lot about it, but every time they stepped away from the racks of slightly-different pants, they all just blended together and looked the same.

<We could try something else,> Daniela said for the third time since they walked into the store.

<No, I want something that you would wear.>

<The point is to find something you want to wear,> she insisted.

<It would be too obvious if you suddenly started looking completely different.> Aflin sighed. This wasn’t fun anymore. He felt his eyes drift to the nail polish counter.

<When did I get control of the eyes?> he asked.

<Finally,> Daniela said, already walking. <I knew you wouldn’t tell me outright, and there’s only so much mind-reading I can do.>

<You never paint your nails.>

<Honey, you are way more cautious with my body than I am. You’ll keep me from getting them chipped.> She stopped in front of the counter and let Aflin reach for a neon-green bottle.

<Neon is kind of like the spicy for eyes,> Aflin thought absently. <It hurts to look at it, but it hurts so good…>

<Right, we need to pick up hot sauce for the barbecue later.>

Aflin mentally shook their head. <How did Humans evolve with a pain center so close to their pleasure center…>

<Can you imagine how over-cautious we’d be if we didn’t kind of enjoy exertion and pain?> Daniela said. <Anyway, so we’re getting that, but I want you to get one more thing.>

<You really…>

<Ah-ah, no, it’s not like I’m getting you a whole wardrobe. Just something to say that Aflin is in residence today.>

<I’m always in residence.>

<Yeah, but this way it’s like having your name-plate on the office door. A little symbol of you, to show you belong here.>

There was a pause before he answered. <Yeerks aren’t as proprietary as Humans.>

Daniela grinned out loud. <But you still like it.>

<No,>

<You’re as soft as a teddy bear when it comes to->

<No->

<So bright colours, how about the party rack over there?>

Aflin made a small show of grumbling, then quickly perked up when Daniela held up a bright green t-shirt that read “See you later alligator”.

<That is hideous,> he said with the kind of delighted laugh of someone who really thinks it’s wonderful. He held it up her their chest. <You’d never wear this,> he said, half-resigned but with a note of hope.

<Oh my god, if you want to wear it out of the store that bad…> she started to walk to the dressing rooms.

**

They were standing in line to pay when someone tapped their shoulder. “Excuse me,” a girl said, “you still have the tag attached.”

“Oh, I know,” Daniela said, taking over. “I need to wear this out. I’ll just ask the counter lady to cut it off.”

The girl glanced at the graphic tee and grinned. “That’s really cute.”

“Thank you,” Daniela smiled.

The girl sized up her look. “It’s not something I could pull off , though. I guess it’s not about what you wear, it’s how you wear it.”

<Oh, it might also be about “who” you wear,> Aflin thought. Daniela stifled a giggle.

Chapter Text

"So, Tidwell," said Mr. Davies, the soccer coach, from across the teacher's lounge, "what were you thinking of doing for the talent show?"

<Talent show?> Illim glanced quickly through his host's memories. <Oooooooh...>

Mr. Tidwell took a sip of his coffee to pretend he was thinking. Really he was hiding a small smile. Illim seemed very interested.

<We could juggle! Wait no, we have no coordination for that...>

"I didn't know that teachers were also going to be participating this year," Tidwell said.

"Yeah, well there's not a lot of kids signing up this year," Davies said. "Too shy, I guess. We thought that the promise of having a few teachers embarrass themselves on stage would encourage them." Davies nudged his shoulder playfully as he walked by. "I'm sure an English teacher like you has some ridi- I mean entertaining talent." 

"Watch out that he doesn't fill your soccer balls with helium for that comment," said Greta, the secretary.

Davies laughed and shook his head on his way out to his next class.

"Thanks, Greta."

"Oh no worries dear, I've seen many coaches in my day. They all tend to think they're more macho for being 'hard-core', as the kids say these days." She filled her coffee cup and went back to her desk down the hall.

<We need a talent,> Illim said as soon as there was no one else in the room. 

<Calm down,> Tidwell said with a mental smile, <we'll think of something. How about one of your talents?>

<One of mine?>

<After all that time spent in space, you've got a knack for physics that would put any of the science and math teachers here to shame.>

<Oh, that wouldn't be impressive for a show,> Illim said with grand modesty. <How about memorisation? I notice that you enjoy being able to recite whole passages of books to yourself now.> Yeerks were amazing for perfect memory recall.

<We could recite a Shakespearean soliloquy,> Tidwell mused, <I'm not sure that the young crowd would be as impressed though.>

<Maybe if we recited an entire scene from... What's popular these days?> 

<Careful, you're starting to sound like the old man you live in.>

<No, believe me, I'm sounding like a Yeerk who has to keep track of all your species's trends. I honestly have no idea how you stay sane when one week they're obsessed with a furry doll, and the next it's all about a type of shoe? What is even happening.>

<They're finding themselves.>

<You're such a teacher,> Illim said fondly. <But if not recitation, then what were you saying about physics?>

**

 Tidwell had declared in each of his classes that he would have a surprise talent to show, but only if at least 2 kids from each class participated as well. He also pulled out the extra bribe that he wasn't *supposed* to mention: the more kids there were performing,the longer the show would last, and the longer they'd get out of classes.

A few eager hands had shot up at that.

It took a couple of hours to get to Tidwell's bit. (Really, it was Illim's bit.) They'd dressed up specially for it, a spotted red tie and the geekiest tweed jacket they could find. They stepped out onto the stage pulling a rolling blackboard.

"Today, we are going to do a bit of mathemagic," Illim said, waving his hands dramatically. "I need a volunteer from the audience."

A couple hands came up. Tidwell chose one of his favourite students. "You will be using this calculator. Just put in the numbers when I tell you," he said before stepping back in front of the blackboard.

"Now!"Illim raised his hands, going full ham, "I need people to shout out numbers. Pick big numbers! I'll write them down, Jackie here will put them in the calculator," he gestured to the student beside him, "And we're going to see who's faster, the machine... or my mind."

People began shouting random numbers. Illim wrote down the few that he could hear clearly, then turned to Jackie. "You have the same ones?" she glanced at what he'd written and nodded.

"Good! If you add all of these..." He quickly wrote down a 5-digit number, "they come up to this."

Two seconds later Jackie nodded, eyes wide.

"You, in the front row," Illim pointed, "What is the year you were born?"

"Umm, 1984," the kid said.

"Ok, if you add those together, you get 47354," said Illim. Jackie nodded again.

"And if you multiply them..." Jackie raced to type that out, "you get 19,014,080."

The room seemed to hold its breath while Jackie plugged that in. Slowly, she nodded.

The room exploded.

**

<That was amazing!> Illim said as they walked backstage. <I can't wait for next year! I wonder if they'd be ready for a soliloquy then...>

"Oh, Tidwell," vice-principal Chapman jaunted after him, "Good work out there. You really had the kids going."

"Thank you, sir," Illim said, preening at praise from a superior.

"Just try to not be so obvious next time, alright?" Chapman lowered his voice. "You never know when one of those Andalite bandits might be hidding nearby."

Tidwell mentally bit his tongue. "I'll be more careful, sir," he said, knowing full well that some bandits were, in fact, in the audience.

Chapman clapped him on the back as some teachers walked by. "Excellent work! Very impressive performance," he said a little too loudly before walking away.

Tidwell watched him go for a moment more before turning his attention back to Illim. <We should celebrate after, how about we stop at the library and get a book on quantum physics for you?>