Three awoke to the sound of a blaring motor and whirring rotary blades. She groaned, reaching a hand up to the right side of her head; she had a massive headache there. Probably from crashing into that blender, she supposed. Maybe that hadn't entirely been the best move, but she hadn't really been given a lot of time to think it through.
"Oh," somebody said from behind her. Marina. "You're awake."
"God, it's so damn loud in here," Three grumbled, pushing herself up against a nearby wall. "Can't somebody turn that thing off? I've got a bitch of a headache."
"The helicopter?" Marina asked flatly. "You want me to turn the helicopter off?"
Three looked her dead in the eye. "You fucking heard me."
"I'm not dealing with you right now," Marina said. She wandered off into the cockpit, where Three could see Pearl's crown poking up over the passenger seat's headrest.
Well fuck her too, then, Three guessed. She sighed and looked around the cabin; Gramps was laying up against the wall opposite her, snoozing away, and the only other person around was the Octoling girl. She was sitting at one of the open cabin doors, legs hanging off the edge over the ocean. Her tentacles fluttered from the draft, catching the light in a mesmerizing way.
Three shook her head, walked over, and sat down next to the Octoling. She looked over at Three, went wide-eyed, and scooched away from her.
Uh. Okay. So she was afraid of her. Three could probably understand that; she was Agent 3, after all, and this was an Octoling soldier. But if they were going to be bringing her into the Splatoon, Three should probably try to be on good terms with her, right?
Three extended her hand. "Hey. My name's Three. Nice to meet you."
Eight looked at Agent 3's proffered hand. Why was she holding her hand out? Was this some sort of gesture of ceasefire?
"…Hello," Eight said after a moment. She held her hand out in the same way as Three: pointed straight out, parallel to Three's and a few inches away. "My name is Eight."
Three looked down at their hands with a sort of awkward confusion, then moved hers inwards, lightly grabbing Eight's. Oh—okay. What was happening? Eight wasn't sure. But now Three was moving their hands upwards, so Eight decided to go along with that. Inklings sure were weird.
As Eight kept moving their conjoined hands upwards and upwards, Three began to suspect, a little belatedly, that this girl did not know what a handshake was. Soon, their hands were well above their eye level, but Eight seemed content to continue in this direction until they ran out of room. Three's muscles were beginning to strain, though, so she let go of Eight's hand and pulled her own back.
Eight copied her actions like a mirror, moving her hand back down to her own lap. It was a little unsettling, and Three didn't really know where to go from here. "Uhhhhhhh."
After pulling her hand back, Three let out a low, guttural sound. Eight figured that at this point, this may as well happen; not wanting to be rude, she returned the gesture. "Uhhhhhhh."
Three looked uncomfortable. "Why are you copying me?"
"What?" Eight blinked. "But—I thought this was all part of your Inkling greeting ritual."
Three stared at her for a good few seconds. "No."
Now Eight understood why Three looked uncomfortable. She was also, in fact, uncomfortable with what was happening right now.
"So, uh." Three tapped her fingers against her knee. "You excited to see Inkopolis, then? I mean, unless you've… been there before. I know that you guys snuck into the city a few times, but… sorry."
"No, I haven't," Eight said. "At least, I don't think so. I kind of lost my memories of everything before Kamabo."
"Huh," Three said. "Er—sorry, I guess."
"Oh, it's—" Eight paused. Fine? No, it wasn't fine. "It's a thing," she said instead. "But, yes! I am excited to see Inkopolis! Pearl and Marina kept telling me so many cool things about it, like how you have clothes, and food."
"I—" Three looked like Eight had just said something horribly depressing, which was strange, because everything about the surface seemed to be the opposite of horrible and depressing. "Yes, we have clothes and food. But there's a lot more than just that. We've got, like, the internet, and video games—you need to see the arcade sometime. And, like, art galleries and shit, if you're into that, I guess? Sports? And fucking…" She paused. "I'm realizing that I don't actually do much. We've got, uh, museums?" She frowned.
"I don't know what any of that is," Eight said, smiling softly, "but I can't wait to find out."
Three was the last one to step out of the helicopter once it touched down by Cuttlefish Cabin, and she was greeted by the smiling faces of the Squid Sisters, along with an Inkling girl a couple years older than her in a skirt and a yellow hoodie that matched her short tentacles.
Immediately, she was tackled in a hug by Callie. "Three!" she exclaimed. "We were so worried! I'm so glad you're okay!"
"Yeah, I totally thought you'd kicked it," Marie droned.
Three tried to wriggle out of Callie's arms. "Unhand me, harlot."
Callie pulled back, but was still smiling. "Marie is also really glad you're okay," she clarified. "Since she won't say it herself."
"Yeah," Marie said. "That."
Three looked around; Cap'n and Agent 8 were talking with Off the Hook about something a little ways off, which left her alone with the Squid Sisters and… whoever this new girl was.
"Hey, who's she?" Three asked, pointing at her.
The girl waved cheerily. "Hi! I'm Agent 4."
Three narrowed her eyes. "Agent—" She whipped around to the Squid Sisters. "Did you replace me? Oh my god, you really did think I was dead."
"What?" Callie looked horrified. "No no no! It's not like that at all!"
"Octavio broke out and stole the Great Zapfish while you were gone," Marie explained. "Also, he kidnapped and brainwashed Callie. So I needed someone to help out."
"Oh," Three said. "Jeez."
You should've been here. Coward. You ran away when she needed you. Selfish.
She turned to Four. "Well, damn, I never thought I'd have a successor. First word of advice: Never trust the Squid Sisters."
"Hey!" Callie shouted.
Before Callie could voice any more of her protests, however, Cap'n Cuttlefish, Agent 8, and Off the Hook walked over to them. Three couldn't help but notice the way Eight hid behind Cuttlefish and Marina.
"Hey guys!" Pearl said. Shouted. "Since Eight's gonna be staying with us for a while, we're gonna head out and get her all situated. Also, I need to put my helicopter away."
"We should probably get going, too," Marie said. "I think I actually need to go grocery shopping. It's been a busy couple of weeks."
Callie shot her a pleading look. "Please tell me we have Frosted Flakes."
Marie shrugged. "No clue."
"Okay, we're definitely going grocery shopping." Callie grabbed Marie's wrist and began dragging her off. "See you guys later!"
They all wandered away from the cabin in their various directions, and as the helicopter began to rise into the sky, Three found herself alone with Agent 4. She should probably, like, try to get to know her, right? If they were going to be working together and all.
"Hey, you wanna go to the training area and spar?" Three asked.
Four lit up. "Oh, totally! I always say, the best way to make new friends is by spilling their ink."
Three smirked. "Great. It's on, then."
Thirty minutes later, Four had called for a break. It was understandable; even Three, whose personal turfing record was twenty-nine hours straight, was growing a bit tired, though that was probably more due to the whole Kamabo thing than anything Four had done to her.
Three unslung her ink tank and lay down on the dirt of the training grounds, breathing heavily. Four slumped down next to her—Three could smell her sweat, but she was sure she was just as bad herself.
"Wow, you're…" Four stopped to huff. "You're really freaking good."
"Yep," Three acknowledged. "You know, you're not actually as bad as I thought you'd be."
"I splatted you twice," Four said.
"Yeah, exactly. That's infinitely more times than I was expecting."
"What made you think"—another huff—"that I would be bad?"
Three looked her over. "Mostly how you dress, to be honest."
Four shot her a glare. "Oh yeah? And how do I dress?"
"Like a liberal arts student working on her very promising YA novel crossed with my ex boyfriend."
"Okay." She frowned, now looking more confused than indignant. "I don't really know how to take that. Was your ex boyfriend a liberal arts student?"
Three snorted. "Not at all. He's mostly just an asshole."
"Right." Four snickered. "Sometimes I'm really thankful I don't have to worry about all that stuff."
"What do you mean?" Three asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, uh. I'm ace." Four paused at Three's blank look. "Asexual. Also aromantic."
"Right," Three said. Thank god for context clues.
"So I don't really have to worry about the whole… dating… thing," Four went on, waving her arm around.
"Must be nice."
"Sometimes it is."
Three tapped a finger against the dirt awkwardly. "Um. Do you mind if I…" She trailed off. "Fuck, nevermind."
"Do I mind if you ask me a question?" Four finished. She was smirking slightly.
"What are you, fucking autocomplete?"
She shrugged. "I've come out a lot. I know the patterns. And, no, I don't mind."
Three thought for a few moments before speaking. "How did you know?"
Four nodded and started talking immediately. She hadn't been kidding about knowing the patterns. "In high school, a bunch of my friends started dating, and that prompted me to wonder why I was never interested in pursuing a relationship. And I mean… once you start asking yourself, 'Am I not straight?' then chances are you probably aren't straight."
"…Oh." Three frowned. "That seems way too simple."
Four gave her a curious look at that. "I mean, I glazed over a lot of self doubt and struggling with my identity, to be fair."
"Right." Three let her arms flop onto the ground, scattering some loose dirt.
"I think a lot of it is about having a good support system; that way, you can feel safe and comfortable enough to explore yourself," Four said after a moment. "And it looks like you have that in the NSS. So just take your time, keep an open mind, and you'll be okay."
Three bristled. "Um, since when has this been about me, huh?"
"Oh, right, my bad," Four said. "Just pretend I said all of that in the first person, and the 'you' was solely in the subtext."
They both went quiet for a few moments. Three thought back to that moment on top of the metro, when she'd promised herself that things were going to change. Maybe…
She sighed. Maybe she could start with this.
"I'm hungry," Three said suddenly, picking herself up. "I'm gonna go into the square and get dinner."
Four took the sudden subject change in stride, popping up from her spot on the ground. "Same. I'm starving after all that sparring. What were you thinking?"
Shit, she hadn't gotten that far. Also, she had been planning to eat alone. "Uh. Pizza?"
"Oh, sweet! Hey, I know this great place—their pineapple bacon pizza is just the best!"
Three stopped dead, and turned, slowly, to face Four. "Did… Did you…"
"What?" Four asked innocently. But, oh, she was anything but innocent.
"Did you say pineapple bacon?" Three asked cautiously.
"Yeah!" She smiled. The bitch grinned. "It's the best!"
"Oh my god." Three shuddered. "I'm sorry, but we can't be friends."
Four laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. You can get whatever toppings you want, I just thought—"
"I'm not hungry anymore," Three said. "You ruined my appetite."
"Are you serious?" Four gave her a bemused look.
"I'm leaving. See you around, heathen." Three shifted forms and pressed herself against the ground, prepping for a superjump.
"Drama queen!" Four shouted after her as she rocketed through the sky.
A few days after their sparring session, Four had asked Three to get dinner with her for real this time, to make up for skipping out before. Three had begrudgingly accepted on the condition that they don't go out for pizza. Four had also invited Eight, since Pearl and Marina had been worried about how much she'd apparently stayed cooped up in their house; and since she still needed a chaperone that Marina actually trusted, Pearl was tagging along, too.
The four of them were currently sitting in some Tilapian restaurant that only Pearl knew, and that only Pearl could afford. The menu only had, like, six things, which Three guessed was a symptom of narcissism; they were convinced that their food was so good that they didn't even need to give you options. It was like only applying to one place during a job hunt, because you think you're so obscenely qualified for the position that it would be pointless to expand your options.
The look on the waiter's face when Three had ordered the pasta without the tomato, onion, mushroom, and broccoli had been some cross between astoundment and annoyance.
"So, just the sauce, then?" she had asked, as if it hadn't been obvious.
Fancy restaurants; Three swore.
Back in the present moment, Four was attempting to make small talk. "So how are you enjoying your time on the surface so far, Eight?" she asked.
Eight took a brief recess from shoveling food in her mouth to look up. She ate like a vulture: fast, and with no regard for sanitary or presentational concerns. Three respected the hell out of it. "Oh, so much! The food here is great!"
Pearl looked down at Eight's warzone of a plate with amusement. "Yeah, I can tell you like it."
"It's all a bit much, honestly," Eight went on. "There are so many things I've never seen before, or that I've forgotten. And—and it's so colorful! Everybody's wearing all these different clothes and calling things 'fresh' or 'lame' and I don't understand."
"Thank you!" Three exclaimed, taking the table a bit by surprise. "Finally, someone says it!"
"Uh, Three?" Four raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about fashion! It's so fucking dumb."
"Fashion's not dumb! It's a form of self expression!" Four protested.
"It makes no sense," Three argued. "It changes every week and half the time it looks stupid as hell. If I could convince a couple celebrities to take selfies of them wearing crumpled soda cans on their heads and post them on Squidstagram with the caption 'New look! Eco-friendly fashion is a Big Mood!' then I swear to god you sheep would latch on without a second thought."
Eight giggled from across the table.
Four crossed her arms. "That's a logical extreme."
"Don't even try to say you wouldn't be a canhead, Four. You'd jump on that bandwagon like a desperate hitchhiker."
Eight giggled harder, and Four fixed her with a look. "Eight, stop encouraging her!"
"But she's funny!" Eight said through her giggles.
She's cute, said Three's brain. For once, she didn't try to shut it up so quickly. "See? I'm funny," she said instead, sneering at Four. "And fashion makes no sense."
Four crossed her arms. "Whatever. At least I don't wear the same pair of shorts every day."
"You—I—Shut up!" Eight started laughing harder, and Three, bright orange, looked away. "I'll have you know I own many pairs of the exact same shorts."
"That's somehow worse," Pearl said.
"They're comfy and practical," Three insisted. "Having one outfit makes my morning routine much more efficient."
"It does sound easier," Eight admitted.
"See? Eight gets me. She hasn't been indoctrinated by the clothing industry."
"I can't believe this," Pearl said. "How could you take her side, Eight?"
"I'm just saying," Eight said, splaying a hand forward, "all that clothing you and Marina bought me can be really confusing. I think Agent 3 has a point."
Four mumbled something about aesthetics under her breath, while Three grinned triumphantly at Pearl. "Well, guess that settles it."
"Ugh. I'm not discussing this any further," Pearl said. "I never thought you two would get along so infuriatingly well."
"Me neither," Eight said softly, smiling down at her plate.
She's cute, Three's brain said again.
Then she started ravaging her food again, which was less cute and more animalistic and terrifying, though still endearing in its own way.
Three stood at the edge of Arowana as she and Four watched Pearl drive off, Eight waving them goodbye from the passenger's seat. Three waved back, a small grin on her face. She couldn't seem to help it.
The dinner had gone fairly well, all things considered. Eight had slowly broken out of her shell over the course of it, which was good. Three was glad she didn't seem too terribly scarred from all that Kamabo business.
Four coughed. "Hey, so, you know how we had that big intimate discussion about sexuality like an hour after we met each other?"
Three froze, only just now realizing that she was still waving, even though Pearl's car had long disappeared. "Um. Yeah?"
"Any new developments on that front?" she asked.
Three sighed. "Am I that obvious?"
"Kinda," Four admitted. "Eight's definitely too new to Inkling culture to notice, though. You should be able to do this on your own time."
"I'm…" Three rubbed at her arm, looking away. "I'm still not sure if I'm comfortable with this."
"With romance in general, or being gay?" Three cringed a little at the word, and Four bit her lip. "Sorry. Well, like I said, you've got time to work it out. No rush." She moved to walk away, then paused, looking over her shoulder. "Oh, but if you do ever want to make a move, and you want a friend around for support, feel free to hit me up."
Three managed to brush off enough of the awkwardness to give Four a sly look. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Ms. Pineapple Pizza. We're not friends."
Four laughed. "Sure, sure. See you around, Three."
Three caught her eye with a tiny smile that she hoped conveyed the gratitude she wasn't willing to express aloud. "See ya."
A few months later…
Three sat on the bench outside Cuttlefish Cabin, staring at her phone.
"I can't do this," she mumbled.
"You can totally do this!" Four encouraged, sitting next to her. "You got this!"
"What if she turns me down?"
Four rolled her eyes. "Well, then it'll be kind of awkward for like a week, and then you'll get over it. You literally have nothing to lose here. Also, I don't think she'll turn you down."
"Alright, alright, fine. Jeez." She stared at her phone. Just… press call. Just do it. Come on, Three.
She sighed. "No, I actually can't do this, though, is the thing."
"I'm well aware."
Four reached out for Three's phone, but Three jerked it away, leaning over the bench's armrest. "Hey! Get your stubby little gremlin hands away from my property!"
"These stubby little gremlin hands are going to call Eight for you," Four said. "Unless you're too much of a coward to do it yourself."
"I am! That's literally the problem here!"
"Well, it won't be a problem if you'd just give me the frickin' phone!"
Four lunged, and Three quickly pushed up against the wall of the cabin, holding her phone out of reach. Four crash-landed onto Three's lap with a soft 'oomph,' and then Three pushed her off, sending her tumbling to the porch.
"Ow! Rude!" Four rubbed at her backside, pouting up at Three.
"You know what else is rude? Trying to steal my phone."
"Look, will you just call her already?'" Four clambered back onto the bench. "We're getting nowhere with this."
"God, fine!" Three spat, pulling her phone back down in front of her face. Her finger hovered over the call button. "Four I can't do thi—"
Four nudged Three's elbow, and her finger hit call. The phone began to ring.
"Son of a—" Three took a deep breath, and put the phone up to her ear. "Thanks."
Four beamed at her. "No problem!"
After a second, the ringing got cut off, and Eight's voice chirped through the speakers. "Hello!"
"Hey, Eight, it's Three," Three said, trying her very best to stay calm. "How are you, uh. Doing?"
She cringed. Four gave her a double thumbs up, but Three could see in her eyes that she was also cringing, just internally. Three appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
"Hey Three! I'm just sitting at my house. Pearl and Marina are out doing their routine propaganda videos."
Propaganda? "It's called the news. Up here it's not actually propaganda." Four made a wishy-washy gesture with her hand, and Three added, "Debatably." That was fair; some of those sponsored messages really pushed the boundary. Especially those new GrizzCo ones. "Anyway, I, um, was actually calling to see if, maybe you, see, wanted to, uh—"
Four facepalmed. Three leaned back and pinched the bridge of her nose, hating herself more with each word she uttered.
"Are you okay? You seem on guard. Are you in danger?"
Oh, shit. "No, nothing like that. I just—" She took a deep breath. Four placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Look, I wanna go on a date with you maybe?"
The words fell out of her at terminal velocity. Eight didn't say anything right away, which made Three nervous, so she decided to just keep going. "To like the mall? We could like go to the arcade and eat lunch or something. Have you been to the arcade yet?"
"What's that? It sounds fun."
"Oh, it totally is. Well, mostly. Sometimes it's full of a bunch of fucking kids who don't understand how to take turns and scream all the time"—Four gave her a 'stop talking' gesture—"but that's usually only on weekends so we should be good."
Three pulled the phone away for a second to whisper, "It's true, shut up!" at Four. She brought it back to her ear just in time to hear Eight's response.
"Well, I'd love to go!"
Three felt a blush rise. "Oh, r-really? Great!"
A pause. "Yeah! It'll be nice to see more of Inkling culture. And it's been a while since I last saw you."
"Yeah, it has. Well, I'm super glad I didn't, like, freak you out or anything. I'll come by and pick you up tomorrow at 10, is that okay?"
"Mmhmm! Should I bring some of that money stuff?"
Three thought about it for a moment. "Uh, yeah, if you could just ask Pearl for some that'd be great. God knows she's got bank to spare. See you tomorrow!"
Three hung up and slumped in the bench. "Oh my god that was so stressful."
"You did it!" Four exclaimed. She went in for a hug, then quickly thought better of it, and offered a high-five instead.
Three returned the gesture with a slightly dazed slap, then allowed herself a small smile. "I've got a date."
Four threw her hands up. "You've got a date! Am I the best wingwoman or what?"
"I just hope it goes okay," Three said, the doubt managing to creep back in.
"Are you kidding? You fought an army and then infiltrated and escaped a top-secret evil research facility. If you got through all that alright, then how bad could a single date possibly go?"
"I guess," Three said, getting up. "Well. I'm gonna head home. Thanks for… being here."
"Of course! What are friends for?"
"We're not friends!" Three called over her shoulder as she approached the grate.
"Oh come on!" Four shouted back. "Is this still about the pineapple bacon pizza thing?"
"And the rocky road ice cream! And your taste in movies! And that one hat you wore last week! And—"
"Weren't you leaving?!" Four yelled, kicking a rock across the clearing. "Go! Git!"
Three flipped her off, then flopped into the grate.
A tad less than a year later…
"All that shit I went through as a kid, agreeing to save the Great Zapfish on a whim, bouncing from job to job, running from my identity—just, everything, all of my stories, they all—they all feel like setup. Just to lead me to you."
Three's eyes blinked open. She saw shiny red tentacles in front of her, sensed a warm body next to hers, heard the early morning traffic on the streets below, and felt cold concrete under her body.
She groaned and rolled over, then felt her side dig against a hard stone corner. Ugh, what the fuck? She sat up—she was with Eight, on top of their apartment complex. Oh, right.
She nudged her girlfriend with her foot. "Hey, Eight. Wake up."
"Hnng?" Eight blearily rose from her slumber; she locked eyes with Three and smiled, then took stock of her surroundings. The smile disappeared. "…We fell asleep on the roof, didn't we?"
"Yeah," Three said with a snicker. "That's what we get for coming up here at like two in the morning. C'mon—let's get back inside."
They walked hand-in-hand down the stairwell and back into Three's apartment, passing by the half-eaten wedding cake on the kitchen counter as they entered the bedroom.
"We're not doing anything today, are we?" Eight asked.
"Nah," Three said. "Nothing that can't wait."
"Good." Eight grabbed Three's wrist and pulled her into bed, where they snuggled up against each other, the bed sheets tangling between their limbs.
"I hope you don't think I'm just gonna snuggle you all day," Three said, grinning into Eight's neck.
"We don't have to keep it to just snuggling," Eight said.
Three laughed a little. "Right."
"We've been through a lot," Eight said. "Like, sleeping on chilly rooftops because we're dumb, for example. I just want to spend some quiet moments with you."
"Mmm." Three hummed and scootched upwards on the mattress, pressing her lips against Eight's. It was a quick kiss, but Three sort of doubted it would be the only one they'd share today. "I love you," she said.
"Wanna make out?" Eight returned, under her breath.
Three laughed. She was never gonna live that one down. "Oh, shut up. And yes."
Whelp, that's that.
Holy shit guys, thanks so much for reading... all of this? Like, wow. I never expected to get this deep into this fandom-not even close-but I'm so glad I did. Operation 24 is coming close to its one year anniversary, and like, it's just been a huge part of my life for so long now. I had a ton of fun writing this, and I made so many amazing friends because of it. Thanks to everyone who favorited, or reviewed, or sent me asks on tumblr, and especially to those of you who've been fucking around on a discord server with me for a few months now. You're the real ones.
Good bye! It's been fun.