The door to the darkened apartment opened gently, allowing a widening ray of light to illuminate the simple couch and table which lay within near the entrance. A figure stepped through the doorway, pausing for a moment in contemplation before raising a hand to flick the light switch on.
As her plain-looking apartment was bathed in light, Three closed the door behind her with a click, throwing her keys loosely onto the counter and sighing.
‘Home.’ At least, as close to home as a squid could have when they spent more time out of the city than in it. Sometimes it felt like Cuttlefish Cabin was a more appropriate place to call ‘home’ than this apartment which she rarely visited.
However, since Marie hadn’t lost any of her fussiness in the time since Agent 3 had last seen her - in fact, that business in the Metro only seemed to have elevated her to new heights - she doubted that she’d be able to get away with spending as much time away from home as she used to. She appreciated the older squid’s concern for her well-being, but ultimately, all that Three could think about was how much work she was missing out on. Four was a decent enough agent from what she’d seen so far, but there were still things that one preferred their own touch for.
Well, whatever. If she was going to be sent home then she might as well sleep.
Three kicked off her shoes, leaving them strewn beside the doorway as she made her way to the fridge. A quick glass of water later, she started heading towards the bedroom, shrugging off the yellow safety vest of her Hero Suit and setting it on the back of the sofa before pulling the black turtleneck off over her head. This, she left on the floor - she’d pick it up later.
Fatigue was taking hold of her now. Regardless of her willingness and ability to continue patrolling, it had been a fairly long day, and the most sleep she’d managed to obtain was a ten-minute power nap during their break.
She worked off her socks as she got to the door to her room, clothes successfully running a path between the entrance and her bedroom, before raising a hand and flipping the secondary light switch which plunged her back into darkness. Three opened the bedroom door, squinting through the shadows, trying to make sure she remembered what the layout of her room was.
A large window on the opposite wall had its blinds open, allowing the twinkling light of the stars and a few distant shades of city sparkle to cast their glow across the bedroom. It wasn’t quite enough to get an idea of where everything was, or how clear the floor was - she really hadn’t been here in a while - but at least she could be sure she wasn’t about to bump into her dresser. Or the wall.
Briefly, she considered turning on the lights to get her bearings, but the idea was quickly dismissed. She probably should change into some proper nightclothes, instead of the sports bra and dirty shorts that she was left with. That got dismissed too. She didn’t want to think about or do anything in this room right now except sleep. She’d feel her way around until she found the bedside and worry about everything else in the morning.
Three took measured steps across the soft carpeted floor, stopping when she hit something solid and reaching out. Sure felt like her bedcovers. At some point she was going to have to get a new mattress - this one was way too soft for her, made it difficult to sleep when she felt like she was sinking into a beanbag chair all night. The agent shuffled along the edge of the bed, trying to feel her way towards the headboard.
Again, the thought occurred that she should find the top of her covers and get under them, and again, it felt like too much effort for not enough return right now. The room was warm, she was tired, maybe if she woke up early and felt like going back to bed then she’d wriggle her way under, but all she needed right now was a flat surface.
Satisfied that she wasn’t going to hit her head on anything or fall off the bed, Three let herself fall onto the bed. Her brain, which was ready to be asleep, suddenly flared back into alert mode as the Inkling landed on something hard and a cry of surprise cut through the silence of the apartment.
Three was thrown from the bed before she could react, back hitting the wall with a thud. She saw the silhouette of a figure jumping from underneath the bedcovers, bearing down on her, and she dodged to the side in time to avoid a grasping hand which snatched at the spot her head had just been. The girl threw out an arm, wrapping it around the waist of her assailant, and slammed them into the floor, hearing them gasp as the wind left their lungs.
The Inkling grimaced as she struggled against the unknown intruder. After a frantically long moment, she finally cornered them underneath her, knee on their stomach, one hand pinning their arms to the floor and the other on their throat. She exhaled, her agitated brain trying to work through exactly what was going on here, when she heard her attacker making stifled sounds of distress below her.
She recognized that voice.
Three narrowed her eyes, willing her vision to adjust to what dim light the room had. With a jolt, she recognized the agonized face of Agent 8, trapped underneath her with teeth clenched and chest heaving.
Agent 8 seemed to recognize her at the same moment, shock registering on her face. The girl sprang to her feet, a cascade of memories crashing through her head. The Metro, the teal ink, the ride back to Inkopolis, introducing Agent 8 to the Splatoon...
That was right. It’d been arranged that the Octoling would be staying with Three, since she was at home so rarely. She hadn’t been here since she’d first shown Agent 8 around, so she’d completely forgotten. She stood frozen, uncertain how to follow up with what had just happened, when the sound of the other agent coughing and wheezing spurred her to action.
“Here, let me help you.” Three said quietly, a prickle of embarrassment and shame in the back of her mind as she held out a hand towards Agent 8. The Octoling hesitated, a shadow of doubt flickering across her face - Three’s embarrassment deepened - before she accepted the proffered hand and allowed Three to pull her to her feet.
“I’m sorry, Agent 8. I forgot you were staying here.” The Inkling felt her way to the light switch and turned it on, wincing at the sudden glare. Agent 8 was dressed in a set of Three’s lavender-colored pajamas, shielding her face from the light. Once her eyes had adjusted, the Octoling returned Three’s glance, then blinked as she took in the Inkling’s own outfit. A red flush spread across her face.
“You are, um…” Agent 8 said gingerly, averting her eyes. “...not dressed.”
Three was suddenly reminded of the current state of her attire. Honestly, she didn’t really care about it, but Agent 8’s face looked like it was about to catch fire. “...right. I’ll go grab something.”
She turned towards her dresser, silently hoping there was something clean in there, when a rapid knocking sound caught her attention. Almost at the same time, she heard another surprised gasp, and she turned again just in time to catch sight of Agent 8 ducking behind her bed, crouched low as she peeked out towards the open bedroom door.
“Valerie!” Three could hear someone calling from outside her apartment. “Valerie, are you there!? Are you okay!?”
One of the neighbors. Feeling her aggravation building as sleep seemed to get further and further away, the Inkling moved quickly into the living room, scooping up her turtleneck and shoving it on over her head. Probably backwards - whatever, it was black, nobody would notice. She opened the door and spent the next minute or so explaining that no, she wasn’t being robbed and she was fine, she had a new roommate. The banging sound? Knocked over some furniture. Yes, sorry about that, it must have been loud. No, they were both okay. It wouldn’t happen again. Yes, thank you for your concern, ma’am. Yes. Yes. Good night.
The door clicked shut and Three grimaced, pulling at the hem of her turtleneck; one didn’t really notice how grimy their clothing had gotten until they’d taken it off and put it back on. The urge to yank it off again was overwhelming, but she still needed to see to Agent 8. She’d make sure the situation was calmed and grab something from the dresser, it was fine.
The Octoling had somewhat come out from behind the bed when Three returned, eyes round and questioning. The Inkling felt herself pause as those eyes fell on her; she’d never met someone with such unguarded facial expressions, not even Four.
“It was the neighbors.” Three said, walking past Agent 8 to her dresser and pulling it open. “They heard the banging and got worried. I told them everything was fine.”
After a moment, she glanced back at the other agent. “Are you fine, Agent 8?” she asked. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.”
The girl had raised her hand halfway to her neck before she stopped herself, head shaking vigorously. Three pursed her lips. What a bad liar.
“You can tell me. It was my bad.” the Inkling remarked, returning her attention to the dresser. “I should have remembered you were staying here. I’ll keep it in mind for the future.”
“...I attacked you first.” Agent 8 said softly, almost too soft for Three to hear her. “Please give me forgiveness.”
Three turned around, having successfully found an undershirt that looked passable, to see Agent 8 holding her arms out in front of her, fingers splayed. Didn’t look like she was being offered anything. The Octoling’s face was so nakedly nervous it was a little precious. Three raised an eyebrow, and Agent 8 bit her lip. “...what is it, Agent 8?”
“It is… well…” Eight looked down towards the floor. “Marina was telling me that for apology, hugs are the good idea.”
...Three was not a hugger. From the look of it, neither was Agent 8 - the way she was holding her arms, she looked a lot more like a zombie than someone who was asking for a hug. The Inkling wondered if Marina had explained anything about hugs to Agent 8 other than the fact that they existed and could be used to apologize.
“Are you sure?”
“If you are not to accept it, that is fine also.” Agent 8 answered, voice sounding a little unsteady. Such a bad liar. Three refrained from sighing, instead setting the undershirt on her bed and stepping over to the Octoling. She slipped between Agent 8’s awkwardly outstretched arms, wrapping her own around the girl’s waist and holding her loosely. After a moment, she felt the other girl’s arms close, at first gingerly touching along her back before more firmly gripping the back of her turtleneck. Three exhaled as Agent 8’s hold on her tightened, feeling her arms tensing. She wondered who this hug was actually for.
Either way, as stated previously, Three was not a hugger, and she questioned how comfortable it was to have her arms languidly looped around the girl’s waist. “Feeling better?” she asked, feeling Agent 8 nod in reply. The embrace lasted for a few heartbeats longer before she was released, pulling away from the Octoling and patting her on the shoulder. What a vulnerable expression. Hard to believe this was the same Octarian who had taken her down while she was mind controlled.
“...who is Valerie?” Agent 8 asked, interrupting her musings. Three blinked, then remembered how her neighbor had shouted the name through the door earlier.
“That’s me.” she replied. Agent 8 perked up, a light flickering on in her eyes. “Agent 3 is just my Splatoon designation. My civilian name is Valerie.”
The Octoling nodded, looking lost in thought. Three stepped backwards, grabbing the undershirt from the bed and stepping towards the doorway.
“Can I call you Valerie?”
The Inkling paused again, glancing back towards the other agent. Agent 8 was wearing another uncertain expression. Three frowned slightly; while she didn’t dislike her name, she was much more used to being called by her agent number. Consistency was something she valued, and having this girl calling her by two different names might get confusing.
“Sorry, Agent 8. I don’t let anyone in the Splatoon call me Valerie, except for the Squid Sisters.” And that’s only because they forced me to. she added sourly in her head. “Whenever I’m on duty or meeting with Splatoon agents, I try to keep it consistent - “
“Then just here is all okay?” Agent 8 pressed, taking a step forward. “And you can call of me Eight, like the others. I would give it appreciation.”
Three eyed the Octoling, whose sudden boldness faded quickly under her measured stare. Regret and embarrassment were mixing on her face. Her earnestness was kind of endearing, if the Inkling had to be honest with herself. Made it difficult to refuse her things. But there had to be a limit, and they hadn’t even known each other for that long. Three wasn’t sure about how she felt, making exceptions for a new addition to the Splatoon.
“Come here.” she said simply, beckoning Agent 8 into the main apartment area. Surprised, the Octoling obeyed, allowing Three to lead her to the small table which sat in the mini kitchen. Three retrieved another glass from the cupboard, filling it with water, then placed it in front of her roommate. “Drink this. I’ll be back.”
She left Agent 8 there, moving to her bedroom and closing the door behind her with a firm click. As she pulled off her turtleneck for the second time tonight, throwing it towards the hamper in disgust, she pondered over how to deal with this situation.
On one hand, Agent 8 was a brand new addition to her life. They didn’t know each other well and hadn’t spoken much. Most of their interactions so far, for better or for worse, had included trying to shoot each other. Privacy and moderation were two very important tenets in Three’s life, and she felt like she had already been fairly generous in offering her apartment to the girl, even if she wasn’t using it much anyway. Three wasn’t exceptional at social norms and cues, but she felt like giving someone an all-access pass to her bed was a pretty major sign of goodwill.
On the other hand, the Octoling was also brand new to Inkopolis, as well as common acts like choosing her clothes and hugs. She’d admitted to Three that she felt lost and uncertain now that the storm had passed and she was free from the Metro, and that beaming smile she wore around the rest of the Splatoon was more an outward show of goodwill and interest in their lives than any kind of statement about her confidence. From their very first conversation, Agent 8 had made it no secret to Three that she was confused about everything. Didn’t she have some kind of duty, having allowed the Octoling into her home, to do the job all the way and make sure she felt safe and welcome?
She shouldn’t have brought up the word duty. Three felt like she’d just cornered herself into agreeing. She sighed, wondering if this was going to be a regular thing with Agent 8.
Undershirt successfully donned, body successfully covered, Three stepped back out into the living area. Agent 8 had fully consumed the water as instructed, and was now sitting at the table with her hands in her lap. She met Three’s eyes as the Inkling pulled back the other chair and slid into it, regarding Agent 8 passively.
“Why is calling me by name so important?” she asked. Agent 8 withdrew slightly - too accusatory, maybe. Three tried again. “Did you ask to call Four by her name?”
“No… she asked it of me.”
Of course she did. Three rubbed her cheek absentmindedly. “...I guess I’m not entirely opposed to it. But it’s something I’d have to adjust to.” the girl remarked. “So I’d like to know why it’s important to you. If it’s not important, I’ll have to ask you to stick with ‘Three’.”
Agent 8 nodded lightly, and Three noticed a slight build-up of tension in her arms as she made a face of concentration. “I am… it is strange, to explain…”
“Take your time.” I’m obviously not getting to bed soon, anyway.
After a few more moments of silence, Agent 8 took a deep breath. “I am full of hope that we can be friends, Agent 3.” she said. Three nodded; the girl had said as much before. “I have seen so far that Inklings who are close will give to each other ‘nick names’. Pearl and Marina have them, and are calling the captain by them, and so do the Squid Sisters and Four. So, to make a token of us, I was wanting to call you by a nick name as well, to be easier about starting fresh with us and since I am staying in your house.”
The Octoling’s hazy grasp on the Inkling language was hard to follow, but Three figured she had the gist. She rested her head on her arm as she looked at Agent 8, a slight flush creeping across the girl’s face again.
“If you do not want it, I will forget it, Three.” she said quickly. “You are kind already, I will not trespass more.”
Cod, should she call this girl considerate, or just too accommodating? She was surprised to find herself wishing that Agent 8 would have some more confidence in the things she said. Then again, Four was bold and upfront to the point of it being an annoyance, so maybe a bit more hesitation would do some good. If nothing else, that defenseless look that Agent 8 kept wearing was something she hadn’t seen the girl use in front of the other members of the Splatoon - she mostly kept up a bright smile, only letting it falter when they were talking about something important. Three idly scratched at her arm, wondering if Marina had any hand in putting these thoughts in Agent 8’s head. It definitely wasn’t Pearl, or she’d have come home to pizza stains on the couch and the Octoling sprawled haphazardly across her bed instead of charmingly tucked in like a little cocoon.
This seemed like it mattered to Agent 8, though. Three supposed she could put up with a little inconsistency if it meant that her roommate would stop making those eyes at her.
“Alright, Eight.” she said finally. The girl’s mouth opened slightly, ears twitching at the sound of her name, as she met Three’s gaze. “I guess it won’t hurt anything. But only in the apartment, okay? And don’t tell the other members of the Splatoon.” Or I’ll never hear the end of it. Especially from Callie.
She didn’t anticipate how excited Eight would get; the Octoling stood up from the table, a smile breaking across her face. “As you say!” she exclaimed. “It will be a secret for us!”
Three nodded, unable to suppress a wide yawn now that this impromptu roommate meeting had concluded.
“Valerie.” she heard Eight say quietly to herself, as if testing the pronunciation. It was a little off base, but the mistake was sweet.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Don’t say it too much, Eight, it’ll lose all meaning.” Three remarked, standing up from the table. She made her way towards the bedroom, followed by the smiling Octoling, and opened up the door to her closet, searching for only a moment before she pulled out an old blanket from the back.
Eight gave her a confused look as she stood back up. “The bed has blankets.” she remarked.
The Inkling nodded. “But the couch doesn’t.” she replied, moving back towards the living area.
“Oh! Thr - Valerie, I can sleep on the - “
The Octoling stopped dead as Three put a hand on her shoulder. Cod, she was exhausted. Couldn’t this octo just settle down?
“You go sleep in the bed.” she said firmly, looking Eight in the eyes. “You got what you wanted, okay? We’re friends. Friends do nice things for each other, like letting each other sleep in beds. I’ve slept on much more uncomfortable surfaces than a couch. I’ll be fine.”
Eight looked like she wanted to argue, but Three’s face allowed for no negotiation. She nodded, and Three gave her shoulder a squeeze before walking towards the sofa and grabbing a cushion from the nearby chair. She placed it against the couch’s armrest and flopped down onto it, body crying in relief at finally having a surface to rest on.
As she settled the blanket over her, exhaling in satisfaction, she caught sight of her roommate looking at her from the bedroom door, light pouring into the main area from behind her.
“...goodnight, Valerie.” she called softly.
“Goodnight, Eight.” Three replied. The Octoling nodded again, seemingly more to herself than anything, and disappeared into the bedroom, closing the door behind her and leaving the Inkling in darkness. She lay motionless for a moment before shifting onto her side, a smile crossing her face.
If nothing else, it felt like knowing Eight was going to be full of interesting new experiences.