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Avenger Assembled

The Man Of The Hour (IC)

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February 2019 

Midnight Manor 

 

Loyal worker though she was, February was not exactly Aquaria's season for outdoor work. She could stand very cold water, but air was different and it was nearly freezing out there! So instead she was working in one of the Manor's big kitchens today, cleaning the hard-to-reach areas up on top of the cabinets, and cooking up steaks as she went. The fine fat fish she'd caught earlier that year was more than half her height and thick, and had been soaking for a whole day in big pots full of delicious-smelling things. Now things were cooking on the stove, and soon there'd be enough fish for herself, Jessie, and perhaps Trevor and Erin as well! They had been content to let her salt the fish and store it in their home for a while, her apartment with Jessie lacking the kind of space one needed to store significant quantities of really good fish. She had other reasons for wanting to talk to them too, especially when Jessie wasn't around. 


She sang to herself as she worked, hopping from foot to foot, and opened the front of her suit to smell the good things sizzling on the stove. She was in her suit for a variety of reasons, comfort when she went outside, and also so she didn't make too much of a mess in a place where Surfacers made their food. She knew what they sometimes thought of that, even though Jessie was typically too kind to say anything. They could be so fastidious! 

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Aquaria had been left to work alone for a few hours before Erin came down, barefoot and wearing a sweatsuit with a faded logo for Ocean Heights amusement park across the front. She blinked as she walked into the kitchen, making a face that on Jessie's identical face would mean she was about to go have alone time in her room for awhile. "Hey Aquaria. That's... that is definitely quite a smell you've got going there. Fish again?" She rubbed one hand over her nose and mouth like she was checking for stray crumbs, then touched the button that turned the vent hood up to maximum. That was probably a good idea because it ventilated the air and minimized the risk of fire. With that accomplished, Erin turned and began rummaging hastily in the pantry closet.

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"Yes!" Aquaria bellowed pleasantly. "It is a great fish I killed with my hands. Thank you for your kitchen." She hopped around some more, turning her upper body so she could study Erin. She knew Erin's mate was hereabouts, Trevor being a pleasant enough fellow when the two of them visited various people in the DuTemps Building and on those rare occasions when Jessie had shared a holiday with her not-sister. He was awfully quiet for her tastes, but then she wasn't exactly looking for a mate among Surfacers. Or...was she? She thought of her problem and then croaked, "Erin, I have a question." She had learned people usually liked to be asked. When Erin turned around, Aquaria was looking at her before the stove, goggle-eyed. "It is about your mating.

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Erin stilled abruptly, a box of hot cocoa mix hanging limply in her hand. She did not say anything at all for a few moments, but her eyes had gone wider. If Jessie's eyes had done that, it would mean that she was probably going to go for a walk around the tower soon. Erin did not, though. She carefully set the box on the counter and laced her fingers together in front of her. "That's very personal," she observed, her voice slow and precise. "I might not want to answer your questions about that. What did you want to know?" 

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Aquaria considered Erin's words and croaked, "I understand," which is what she thought she should say when someone said something to her that sounded important. She tented her hands together so that the sticky pads of her fingers touched - it was often how she kept her hands together. She didn't call Trevor a Surface-Man because she knew that was not entirely polite and he was her podmate's sister's regular mate, instead she hissed, "All the...humans I know are unmated or are females who mate with females." Did Erin's eyes go just a little wider? She pressed on. "How do females and males decide they want to mate with each other?

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Erin's forehead became wrinkled as she flared her nostrils and narrowed her eyes. This was Jessie's thinking face, and in Aquaria's experience it could go on for some time. After a few moments, Erin moved her shoulders up and down. "I guess it's pretty much the same as it is between two women," she ventured. "You meet each other, you date for awhile and see if you have chemistry... um, see if that person gives you feelings like maybe you want to, ah, mate with them. And you have to decide if you're ready to do that sort of thing, and if it's a good idea, and if they want to mate with you. It's, you know, a process." She shifted from foot to foot, another indicator of Jessie being ready for a walk, but didn't leave. 

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"Okay," Aquaria croaked. "I am asking because I met a male. His name is Sgt. Shark and he has a very..." Aquaria fell silent for a while, the hiss and smell of cooking fish, the loud hum of the vent fan, filling the air. "manly way." She had learned those words from a show on the television, and her voice seemed to throb over them. "But he was a human before he became a Shark-man, so I wanted to know how people who live here decide to mate, and if the males give off any special signs.

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If not for the by-now familiar scent of black coffee it might have been a long while before Aquaria realized that Trevor had entered the kitchen at some point and was leaning against the counter to her opposite side, silently sipping from a steaming mug and listening to her explanation. She sometimes felt as though the dark haired surfacer had more in common with an octopus than the humans she with whom she interacted the most: readily camouflaged, getting into places one didn't expect, leaving inky clouds behind. Even other surfacers seemed to find him inscrutable which made him an especially tough clam to crack open for her!

 

Today he was wearing a shallow lake blue dress shirt and dark pants, with a dirty cloth tossed over one should that she took to mean he'd been working in the garage where there were many, many such cloths. He regarded her with what she took to be a serious expression - or possibly amused, he didn't really seem to do the lip movements she'd been taught to look for - then looked to Erin to await her response.

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"Sergeant... Shark? Like, he's a shark?" Erin asked, then seemed to struggle for words for a moment before becoming aware of her mate's presence. She gave Trevor a look that on Jessie would've meant that whatever fun thing Aquaria was doing was probably going to have to stop. "You could jump in here anytime," she invited him, her voice a slightly more pointed pitch than it had been. "I mean," she added, her lips curving, "I'm assuming not every guy electrocutes himself to show a girl he's serious, but you could add a valuable male perspective on this question." 

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Trevor raised a hand to silently stop Aquaria before she could ask about the electrocution thing which sounded extremely interesting. "Unique biology," he clarified, placing the same hand lightly on his chest. "Adaptation against extreme physical strain." Unexpected emphasis in the middle of a sentence usually meant someone was making a joke Aquaria had missed but the surfacer male's expression remained neutral as he paused to take a long sip of coffee so that must not have been right.

 

He was quiet for long enough she almost said something to fill the gap before judiciously adding, "Dangerous to generalize but... may signal confidence? Eye contact, smiling with teeth, risk taking. Demonstrating gravity of interest." He looked over to Erin with a enigmatic quirk of one eyebrow.

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"Ohhh yes, he has very great teeth," said Aquaria happily, distracted from her speculations about what sort of display Trevor had put on to mate with Erin. "I bit his face, and he tried to bite me, and he kept smelling me after that. He is very....manly." She wondered if there was more than one word for being masculine, but soon decided she didn't really need one - Erin and Trevor both seemed to understand what she was saying.

 

She inflated the sacs in her throat, then let them slowly deflate, wistful at the very pleasant memory of Sgt. Shark's attentions towards her. "He is...like me, with a body like mine, but a shark, not a Deep One," she clarified for Erin's benefit. "Sergeant is not his real name."

 

She was briefly distracted by the need to stir her pots of fish, but since she could see Trevor and Erin fine with her back turned to them she saw no need to stop the conversation as she began lifting pot lids and throwing things inside. "Males make displays to show they want to mate," she went on, "so I understand electricity." She wondered if he'd bitten through a cable to show his ardor, but wait, that didn't make sense with his flat teeth. "But he does not live here, so I cannot see him. And going to see him would be hard.

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"Oh, is that what that was?" Erin asked Trevor, raising one eyebrow and giving him a look that Aquaria had never seen Jessie make. "I guess if it's effective..." She turned back to Aquaria to listen to the description of Sergeant Shark's courtship behaviors. "You bit... his face? And that was... good, I take it?" Her voice was hesitant, but she was still not poised to flee, so that was a good sign. "If he likes how you smell, that's probably good. Where exactly does he live?" 

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"Yes, the squid-things from the sky that were under the ocean had enslaved him, but I bellowed at him until he couldn't hear them anymore," said Aquaria casually. "He lives on the other side of the sea, near a city called London. I looked at pictures of it but they did not tell me anything." Surfacer images had hardly any color, barely any sound even when they moved, and they generally didn't smell like anything - they also were typically of Surfacers doing things and Surfacer buildings and Surfacer things, and none of the pictures even showed what it was like under the river that ran through that city. Aquaria liked some Surfacer images but not for learning anything except how to talk like them.

 

"I told him he was very handsome. I do not think people have told him that." Casually she scratched inside her armor as she turned down the pots on the stove for a nice long simmer. "After you did the electricity, did you mate right away? I want to mate with him but I want him to display for me first.

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Trevor cleared his throat softly, caught mid-sip from his mug. Aquaria had seen surfacers mix up whether they were breathing or drinking many times; it seemed like it would be annoying to constantly have to be keeping track of that. "Not... immediately. Interruptions," he explained carefully. "Also... more before that. May not be good example for you. Impression you're looking for more... immediate gratification than longterm partnership?" He winced very slightly looking vaguely apologetic even though he hadn't done anything that seemed like it required an apology. Aquaria knew from Becky and Kimber that some surfacers were just like that.

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"Saving him from aliens and telling him you like the way he looks are good first steps," Erin told Aquaria, and now she was grinning for some reason. She might have just been happy to hear that the courtship was proceeding apace. "Does he do any hero work? If you can team up with him a few more times, that would probably be good. He'll get a chance to see you in action.. It might be worth finding your way across the ocean to visit, even. How fast do you swim?" 

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"Oh, yes," agreed Aquaria in response to Trevor's question. "I don't want to spawn with him, I just want to mate with him! Maybe often, if no one will mate with him but me." It was a sensible question, and she'd always regarded him as a sensible sort of Surface-Man. "But if I mate with him too soon, he will think I am desperate and not want to do it again, or he will not want to mate with me yet because I have not stirred his blood." She took a breath thoughtfully and let it out, throat sacs bulging noticeably. "He does hero things and he does them by the ocean, so we could meet again there." She hmmed. "I could fly to where he lives with my space armor, but I would get in trouble if I did. I do not think I will be allowed to cross the ocean just so I can mate," she throated unhappily. 

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Trevor made a small grunting sort of sound that Aquaria was confident indicated either agreement or disagreement with her last statement; definitely one of the two. "Could get permission/" If Erin or Trevor helped her ask that was probably true. Other surfacers tended to do whatever the couple asked either because they were friends or because they had money but usually because they did the thing where they looked someone in the eyes until the other human started to smell sweaty. "Intercontinental trip to see him may come across..." He trailed off, looking to Erin for the right word.

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Erin stared back at Trevor and didn't complete the sentence, instead moving her shoulders in a way that indicated mild discomfort. "You could try and get a temporary assignment in Europe," she offered instead. "We have a friend working for the UN, he might know some places that need coastal defense, or underwater cleanup,, or, I dunno, fish diplomacy?" She plucked two cocoa packets from the box and began shaking them to distribute their contents to the bottom. "If you're going to be over there for a little while, you can get to know him before you do anything, and maybe if things are good you can make it a recurring thing, or something." Her normally pale cheeks were suffusing with additional blood flow, which might mean that she was about to go and hide in her bedroom. 

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Aquaria considered this conversation and where it was going. It was clear that this was a subject Trevor and Erin were uneasy discussing, which made sense. After all, she certainly didn't enjoy thinking about the bizarre realities of Surfacer mating, given what she'd learned from her videos and educational books. It was certainly easy to find information about it on the Internet, and for once the strange flat images Surfacers used to tell stories were completely adequate. "Yes! I should find a way to go there, and if your friend would help me, that would be good." Aquaria smiled in the Surface fashion, to show that everything was good now, which it was! "Thank you for your help. If the two of you want to do activities, the fish will be done by the time you have finished.

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