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Well, fuck.

Sasha watches in dismay as the last of the aliens nails his final soldier in the head with an overwatch shot. It wasn’t like he expected XCOM to be an easy game, but a level with nothing but chryssalids, zombies and cyberdiscs dogging his soldiers was something that he was absolutely not prepared to take on with a team of rookies and one sergeant.

He presses escape, exiting out of the game, none too happy about yet another failed mission. A message was already greeting him as he came back to the desktop.

TitanKaiser: eyyyy howw as it

Sasha snorts, tapping back a response in the Steam chat.

[SPLICER]: newfoundlound can suck it.i call shenanigans on you clearing this game on impossible ironman. No way, just not done.

TitanKaiser: lmao, git gud dumbass

Sasha laughs, leaning into his laptop.

[SPLICER]: Yeaa, but srs thanks for gifting me the game. it’s fun….when i’m not getting wrecked by the rng.

TitanKaiser: suuuuuuuure, blame it on the rng ;P n np.

Sasha admittedly forgot how he met TitanKaiser-- the guy seemed to have always occupied his Steam Friends’ List for what feels like forever, at least since freshman year. They never really talked outside of setting up multiplayer sessions or about new games, but it was a comforting constant in Sasha’s life.

A loaded constant, if Sasha was honest. Half of the games in his Steam library was bought by the guy. Sasha was now more than careful to not mention any games he was hyped about anymore, but TK always bought it for him anyways, Steam sale or not. The first few times coincided with his birthdays and he didn’t think much of that, gratefully buying some games back, but now he can barely keep up with the exchange, something that made him feel pretty embarrassed, though TK never seemed too bothered about the discrepancy.

The monster’s phone trills, and slides his gaze towards it, checking through his messages though he’s a bit dismayed that George still hasn’t texted him back yet. She ran off in a hurry, and it was worrisome that she seemed really out of it for the past few days. Marina, on the other hand, fired off 8 messages since he last checked, punctured with a barrage of question marks

Marina: I don’t know if something happened to her-- she’s been really distant with me lately??
Marina: I wonder if I did something wrong or something. Oh boy, I prob did. :((

Sasha stares down at his phone, and slowly types out his response to try and carefully mitigate a full-blown Mariana self-guilt trip.

I think she’s gotta like collect her thoughts atm. I’m sure she’ll tell us once she’s ready.

Marina: Haha I guess, but still. Really worried. :/

Sasha flicks his attention back to his laptop screen, trying to come up with something else to assuage the gorgon.

TitanKaiser: whatre u up to this wknd

Sasha stares at the question blankly, before slowly typing out:

[SPLICER]: ehhhhhh...not much tbh. all my irl friends got their own thing so.
[SPLICER]: maybe just tryna get through hm2 once and for all.

TitanKaiser: that scks.
TitanKaiser: wtf u still haven’t finished it?????

[SPLICER]: IT’S HARD, DAMMIT.

TitanKaiser: that’s what...nah, nvm, low hanging fruit.

Sasha’s cellphone vibrates once more, and he picks it up, takes a glance, and sighs. This doesn't seem like it was going well on her end.

Sasha: That really sucks. You wanna talk this over some food?

Marina replies with an affirmation. Sasha stands up, stretching, then bends over the laptop to type out quick goodbye.

[SPLICER]: uhhh actually I gotta jet, gonna eat dinner with a friend.

TitanKaiser: k, later

--

After quickly throwing on his new Hotline Miami 50 blessings shirt and a windbreaker, Sasha heads out of his dorm to look for Marina in the library. A quick loop finds her listlessly glancing at the book titles. She musters up a small smile upon seeing the seven-eyed ogre, and Sasha flashes one of his own back. Together, they make their way off campus towards a well-loved shawarma joint. The restaurant had undergone a renovation, but had kept the simplistic long picnic tables set-up.

It was also filled to the brim, definitely not a conducive place for conversation.

“Uhhh…” Sasha starts, before jerking his thumb to the exit. “If this place is too loud for you, we can go somewhere else…”

“It’s fine, no worries, I-I’ll grab us some seats,” Marina offers quickly with a nervous laugh, heading off to scout out space, and leaves Sasha to move into the line for food. He finds her later tucked in the corner, sitting by a bunch that was looking ready to leave. He hands her the falafel sandwich, to which she accepts with a quiet ‘thanks’, simply holding it in her hands to soak up the warmth. He digs into his own shawarma in relish, waiting before she opens up, but they’re soon joined by another group coming in.

Sasha didn’t really take more a glance at them-- a seemingly all-human bunch, but it was hard to ignore all the grimacing one of the newcomers was doing.

“Why did we come here again?” The guy complains, sitting down heavily on the bench with a sigh.

“You said you wanted somewhere new to eat, and this place had four stars on Howl,” one of the girls shoots back,

“Yeah I know, but this is place is like fuckin’ filled with--”

“Look, we’re already here and I’m starving. Let’s just eat and get out of here,” his friend cuts off, sitting next to Sasha, they lock eyes momentarily, until Sasha notices his letterman. It’s subtle, but it was clearly meant to emulate Hotline Miami’s main character’s jacket. He smiles politely, “Nice jacket.”

The guy’s eyes widen for a moment, finally seeing Sasha’s own shirt, and back onto his face, where something seems to register in his head. The moment’s lost, as he looks back to his friends, noticing that they’re staring at the two of them, and he gives a nod, before swiveling away to engage with them again.

Sasha frowns, but turns back to Marina, who seems to clam up even further, doing her best to shrink out of sight.

Fed up, Sasha stands up, tilting his head towards an empty spot. She gratefully follows suit, and they settle into their food.

“Those guys...yikes." Sasha says through a mouthful of lamb.

"They don't go to Unity, do they?"

Sasha shakes his head, "There's a good chance they might implode if they did. If sitting next to us was such an ordeal, imagine them having to do that day in, day out." Marina lets out a small giggle, the first smile he's seen on her since they arrived, and Sasha smiles back.

They finish, and Sasha heads to the bathroom to wash his hands, but runs into the same guy that had sat down next to him in the hallway leading to it.

“Oh hey!”

Sasha is startled, looking up at the human guy who was blocking his path, “uh...hi?”

“I didn’t get a chance to say it earlier before, I like your shirt too, big fan of that game.”

“Oh, thanks,” Sasha gives him a tight, forced smile, along with an apathetic 'heh'.

“Yeah, uh, like sorry if that was out of the blue, I just don’t really run into other people that like it, and like-- I’m not like one of those crazy anime weirdos that dresses up or anything, but I really liked this jacket, so yeah.”

Sasha laughs hollowly, through getting more upset by the second as he thinks about Marina. He admittedly wasn’t too big on the cosplay scene either, but this guy was turning out to be a major tool. “Ah, yeah, I like it, but like-- I still haven’t finished it and all…well, the first one, yeah, but still stuck on the second. It’s brutal.”

The brunette tilts his head, “Huh, I thought you would have. Like those eyes must give you some sort of advantage over us mere mortals right?”

And there goes the conversation. Sasha grimaces, four of his eyes lowering in disgust, and looks over the guy’s shoulder, trying to find a way to squeeze past him. “Uh, having more than two eyes doesn’t actually help with hand-eye coordination, and I am capable of dying, so thanks for bringing up the inevitability of death,” he snipes, almost immediately embarrassed at how snappy he sounded, but it was too late for takebacks, and he turns sideways and slides past the guy, heading into the bathroom for a quick getaway. He has a flash of worry that the guy would bumble in trying to salvage the chat. It has him hovering for half a minute by the sinks, before he lets out a sigh of relief. A real life stereotypical gamer douchebro. Never thought he'd live to see the day. "With any luck, I won't have to see him again," he mutters under his breath, drying his hands with a paper towel as he heads back to Marina.