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The museum was weird and a little disturbing, only partially because it was not incredibly dissimilar from the architecture of Jessie's own mind palace. What she could remember of it, anyway. This museum, at least, was in pristine shape and blessedly free of ruins and broken exhibits. The intact exhibits were still pretty weird, though. Why were they talking like this? Was Aquaria worried that Jessie could only be happy in a world like this? 

 

Even with Bluebird's cue Jessie didn't recognize this person at all for a moment, staring blankly at the sort-of familiar voice in an unfamiliar face. When the penny finally dropped she physically recoiled, shock and horror on her face. "What happened to you?" she demanded. "You can't be- this isn't who you are!" Her voice grew plaintive with confusion. "I mean... you love being a Deep One, don't you? Is this really how you want to be inside your head?" 

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Aquaria looked away, a guilty look on her face at Jessie's reaction, then looked down at her own hands. "No," she said softly. "No, this isn't what I want. I wanted to show you a place where you would not be afraid, a place where the stars were never right." She splayed out a five-fingered hand on the glass of one of the museum exhibits, staring past at it the model recreation of an undersea Deep One village, where Jessie could see herself reflected next to Aquaria in the glass. "A world where they have killed us, and where we have killed ourselves, because we will not live if we live as we are. And only I am left, because I am more like the Surfacers than those who Lie Below." She dropped her hand and turned back to Jessie. 

 

"Wouldn't it be better for you?" she asked, grief thick in her voice. "A world where I was...where I was more like you?" 

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Jessie gave Aquaria a crooked smile, and in that moment her blurriness cleared up and it was just Jessie like she always was. "Aquaria," she began, "do you know how many people there are who are just like me? Way more than most," she assured her, "and none of us get along at all. I like you the way you are. You're not the same as other Deep Ones and that's good, but you're not the same as humans and that's good too." She shrugged one shoulder. "Sure, I may not like it when you get us into trouble, and sometimes I complain when things get too scary, but you're still my best friend. I don't want you to be different in any ways that you don't want to be."

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Aquaria embraced Jessie tightly, and in that moment Jessie felt the Atlantean melt into a slightly wet, slightly tacky, slightly bent form that could only have been a Deep One's. "Thank you for being my friend," she said, voice dropping into a familiar register as the scene around them seemed to blur and shift. "Whatever shape the stars take, we will never be alone." Behind them Bluebird was commenting approvingly that Aquaria's neural patterns had returned to 66% of normal, even as the scene shifted one last time to a familiar beach. 

 

This was a place near the Castle, perhaps the closest beach where the river and the bay met and the water was just brackish enough for Aquaria's tastes, and the beach was crowded with noisy children at play, a crowd mixed enough in species that it had to be sometime in the future, the towering spectacle of the city behind her a vaguely visible blur. It was a little cool and moist, with clouds in the sky; one of those late spring days where children successfully begged their parents to be taken outside to the beach even when it wasn't quite summer yet. It was late in the day, with the sun just visible in the sky as it headed for the west. 

 

Jessie didn't need to look for Aquaria here. Under an impressively large umbrella, a very large creature squatted in the sand so close that the waves kept washing up over her lower limbs. Of Mother Aquaria, who looked like she'd be about eight feet tall if she stood upright, the children seemed to be paying hardly any attention at all. At her side was an old woman, white-haired and slender with age, seemingly asleep on a large air mattress that kept her out of the water, her eyes hidden by big, heavy sunglasses. Jessie had seen herself dead before in Aquaria's nightmares. Now she was looking at herself, very old. 

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That was definitely weird, but Jessie did her best to ignore her old-person self. It was not the first time she'd faced the possibility of herself as an old woman, but it didn't seem any likelier now than it had on the weird future-alternate-dimension planet. No matter how she tried, Jessie did not live the sort of life that led to growing old. The fact that she was nearly thirty still baffled her most of the time, and even another decade seemed improbable at best. But there was no reason to share that with Aquaria, who did not need any more hits to her equilibrium today. "You got really big," she observed instead. "Not like future-alternate-dimension-planet big, but pretty big. I bet you'll need to get a new sleeping pool." 

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Mother Aquaria raised her massive head and looked over at Jessie, then at the still-sleeping version of her older self, then back at her. With her bulk she had to move most of her upper torso to make it happen, quite an impressive sight. "This is another century if I eat well. In another half-century, I will be too big to be comfortable on land, and will have to live Below. But you will be gone by then." She sighed, making an even more impressive noise than Aquaria usually did. "But by then you will be gone somewhere that Deep Ones cannot go." She laid her head down on her paws (there was no other word for hands bigger than catcher's mitts) and said "Must it be so? Surfacers like you do not need to die. I know there are ways.

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"I don't know," Jessie said honestly, sitting down in the sand. "I have lots of questions about what's going to happen after we die, and even though Erin's gone to heaven and stuff, her answers are kind of confusing. But eventually if would be nice to be in a place that's just... resting, I guess. Not fighting or worrying or remembering, but just quiet and peace. I don't think I would do very well with any of the ways humans try to live forever. But it's okay," she promised, "because we are friends now. It doesn't make any sense to ruin now because things might get worse later. Any time when things are good is valuable, and we should try to enjoy it as much as we can for as long as we have it." 

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Aquaria put her huge hand on Jessie's, an alien grip that was after all these years familiar. Together, they watched the sun set for a little while. "...it is done. Maybe I am a heretic. And maybe I can never truly go Below again, not to stay, if things stay the way they are now. But as long as I have you, and the rest of my friends, and the bond we share, that is enough." She reached out and touched the elder Jessie's hand too, and the scene around them faded into darkness. As Aquaria's mind faded from Jessie's view, the last she heard was her friend's whisper "I am never alone.

 

 

And then Aquaria, Jessie, and the projection of Bluebird were in their apartment; for real this time. Slowly, Aquaria raised her head out of the pool, blinking, and stared at Jessie. "Jessie?" she asked, her voice sounding a little drugged, the way it did when she had awakened from sleeping three or four days at a stretch.  

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