RP A Match Into Water

The walk to the location outside L-9 was filled with voices. Pepper’s voice, Hades’s voice, Mikulass’s voice. They sang together to the sphere as they made their way down the path. All the while, Pepper thought about the recent developments. The last time she had been through here had been yesterday, with Jupiter in tow. It had been five days– the morning of the sixth, to be precise– since Pepper had last seen Cait, and yet so much had changed. Her encounter with Eurydice, her talk with Isaac, and her walk with Jupiter.

Cait didn’t know yet that she could talk to Hades. She didn’t know that their thoughts were occasionally one, and mostly their own. But if there was anyone who would understand this kind of weirdness, it would be Cait. Cait and her team dealt with weirder on a daily basis.

If Pepper was being honest with herself, she didn’t even really… mind the weirdness. She was already weird. You had to be weird when you could leave whenever you wanted to, but still chose to stay with the ACF. So no, she didn’t mind the weirdness. She didn’t even mind having someone else in her head. He was the most respectful “tenant” she could possibly hope for. He was quirky, he carefully made himself scarce when Cody was around, and he had a more observant eye than even she did. No, she minded none of that.

Maybe it was the fact that she didn’t mind any of it that she actually minded. But that also didn’t make much sense. There was no point minding the fact you didn’t mind. She cleared the thought from her head with a deep breath and stepped out the other side of the portal to find herself… Behind the coffee shop from their first coffee date. She looked up at the building, tilting her head to the side.

“Maybe it’s their… front? The ACF does those, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, yeah maybe. I guess I’ll just… go inside.”

Pepper started to make her way around to the front of the building.
L-9 could have been anywhere.

It also could have been nowhere. Occasionally it was somewhere, and at least a couple times since Cait had gotten there, it had been underwhere. This may or may not have had anything to do with Cait.

She was exiting the front door of the coffee shop as Pepper came into view. Why the coffee shop? Well, because if L-9 could have been anywhere, Cait was at least going to get some coffee for the trip, and the coffee here had been pretty good. She was holding a takeaway cup, which bore the name Kate. It wasn't exactly her name, but Cait wouldn't have exactly given them her Name anyway, and it was close enough for practical purposes.

"Hi, Pepper! Did you want to grab anything before we go? The coffee on site is an abomination today."

This was not a metaphor.

Also, it wasn't Cait's fault.

Pepper’s face brightened as she saw Cait walk out of the shop. Despite how few days it had really been since she had seen the other woman, her face was a sight for sore eyes. She began to realize just how desperately she needed this outing. Already, she felt a twinge of discomfort in her chest ebb. She gave Cait a sideways grin and reached into her bag, the same floral one she had taken to that first date with Cody, and she took out two cans of Ghost energy drinks.

“I think I’ve got more than enough caffeine here. I’m ready when you are.”

“How do you think she’ll react? She’s still such a new friend, I wouldn’t want her to freak out.”

“She’s going to freak out, Hades. She’s just going to do it in a fun way.”
Pepper had already picked her poison, it looked like. Cait made a definitive yuck face at the revelation of the energy drinks, but she wasn't going to judge as long as no one asked her to drink them. By and large, they smelled like weird carrots - and if Cait ever wanted weird carrots, there was a refrigerator in the L-9 cafeteria.

"Come on back this way then, with your dead energy drinks. Did you do that on purpose? With the whole dead god schtick - cause, y'know, I'd have done it on purpose and been all haha I'm clever. So, no judgment if you did! But I'm not resurrecting your Ghost drink.

Cait thought about that for what was probably way too short of a time frame, then added: "Y'know, unless..."

Like, if Pepper wanted her to try to resurrect a can, she was absolutely down to try, yeah?

It was probably a good thing that the walk was short and they were already there - there being the next street over, which should have been a normal street except that no one was on it. Cait had left a few misdirects scrawled in chalk on the pavement, little spells that made people think they shouldn't be there, that they should take another path. Not too terribly difficult in the occult sense - that sort of thing was all over the place. Abandoned buildings, creepy caves - sometimes it was a spell, sometimes it was a vibe. People found other things to be doing.

Cait sipped at her coffee, crouching down and taking out a bit of chalk to start drawing circles and symbols on the ground. It looked a bit like a Venn diagram for a minute, until you looked at it too wrong and decided you really shouldn't be doing that at all, ever, and perhaps should go lie down in another dimension. Occultism was like that for a while, until your mind adjusted.

"All right." Cait stood up, putting the chalk away in a pocket and taking out a three by five notecard. "By entering the circle, you and all bound to you agree to abide by the rules set down by L-9 staff, that you shall cause no harm, that you and all bound to you shall leave in full and leave no part behind when asked to do so, and that any actions deemed to be unauthorized by L-9 staff will result in all y'all's removal from the location."

All y'all's was definitely the best part of the contract. Cait rolled her eyes as if none of this was any big deal, then stepped into one part of the circle and gestured Pepper to the other. "Don't worry about it, it's just standard stuff. You get yeeted if you don't behave. But you'll be fine."

Of course Pepper would be fine. Pepper was nice. If anyone was going to cause problems, it was going to be everyone else. It probably would be, actually, but hey, the spell was already going. The chalk would be gone, with no trace of presence left behind, and Cait and Pepper would reappear in the middle of a hallway, which looked pretty much like the ones at L-14 unless you tried to look at the elevator door, in which case you'd quickly find that it wasn't there, it was just a bit further on. Except once you got there, you'd realize you'd just passed it...

It was fairly regular for people to time new staff with a stopwatch to see how long they took to figure it out. Cait, of course, had been there for a long time hummed a few notes to call the elevator to the floor, and the door popped open and stayed in place. The buttons inside were neatly labeled in standard ACF font: this way, that way, any way, which way, witch way, wrong way, and yes.

Cait picked the wrong way, which was probably no surprise, and the elevator hummed, something haunting and slow.

"So how have you been?"

Pepper followed after Cait and nodded enthusiastically to the woman as she stepped into her indicated circle. It was then that two things happened. The first was that Pepper felt the binding as it settled in. If asked to describe it, she wasn’t sure she could. It wasn’t a physical feeling, or a sound, or a scent, or a taste. Instead, it was a state of mind. A welcoming, an openness, an acceptance. Pepper suddenly felt like there was nowhere in the world that would accept her as wholly as Nine would.

The second thing was that Hades groaned softly, “Do you smell that? It smells like… like some kind of candy? And maybe, no definitely blood.” There’s something else I can’t place there too.”

“No, I don’t smell any of that. But are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I just haven’t been bound to anything since you were a child. It feels weird. It’s one way, which is… not how it was then.”

She thought about that memory for a moment and looked down at the faint half-moon on the inside of her hand. The spot had gotten infected, despite the god’s best efforts to clean it afterward, so the scar there had never healed to invisibility. She had always wondered what she had done to get it, but with the memories of Strings came the memory of the bite came the memory of the binding. It also came with the memory of a name, one she definitely shouldn’t know, but now did. She would keep that to herself for now.

“You can smell magic?”

“Don’t worry, very soon you’ll be able to smell it as well.”

Before she could press him on what that meant, Pepper realized she had just missed Cait asking her a question. She looked up and rewound the world around her and remembered the question, a small but nervous smile breaking on her face. “I have so much to tell you, Cait, you have no idea. I want to tell you once we get inside. I don’t want anyone overhearing us, it’s about my friend.”

She didn’t stress the word, but it was implied she was talking about her “friend”. Who now had a name, which was fun. In fact, a lot of this was fun when it wasn’t stressful.
"Oh, we've been inside since the circle," Cait said cheerfully. Why couldn't the circle be part of L-9, after all? Why couldn't anything be part of L-9? What was a place, anyway?

"My circle has an inside, it's part of the locale~ My circle has an outer side, it keeps away my pals. Oh I love to draw it every day~ and if you ask me why I'll say: 'Cause at L-9 we have a way with mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh!" This was, perhaps, not the version of the Oscar Mayer song that Pepper was familiar with, and Cait half-collapsing in giggles probably didn't help the matter at all.

The elevator, either in emphasis or just in an attempt to send Cait somewhere else, made a cheerful ding! and the doors opened into nothingness, with the floor quite visible some twenty feet below and the ceiling a swirling morass of colorful ichors, like someone had tried to remake starry night out of viscera and pustules. It was pretty, in its own way, if you didn't think to much about what it was exactly the color of.

Cait stepped out, which put her on the floor, because you just didn't think about the drop and everything went fine. "Close your eyes if you need to, yeah? Trust the floor. It's pretty well grounded. You can tell that one to Cody and he can put it on a T-shirt. See, I'm helping! Anyway, we should be pretty good here, what did you want to tell me?"
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Despite not really understanding what was going on, Pepper smiled wide as Cait sang. Then she watched as the other woman stepped out of the elevator and… disappeared. She looked down from the edge of the elevator and saw her on the ground, some twenty feet down. Thankfully, she’d never had a thing about heights, so she stepped back and looked out the door. She shrugged and hopped out the door…

… To find herself standing next to Cait. She stood up straight and looked up at the elevator where it hung in the air. There was a look of wonder in her eyes as she took in the ceiling and the elevator before she turned her gaze back to Cait.

“Oh god, where do I even start?”

“You should absolutely start with me.”

“Helpful, really helpful. I’m going to tell her about you, I promise.” It was only after she spoke that she realized she had spoken not thought that statement. Her eyes widened a little bit and she gave Cait a nervous smile. “That, wasn’t to you. Uhm, so first big development, it kind of talks now!”

"Oh, fun!" Cait had heard it talk a little, that once back in the office, but that hadn't been really on purpose and Pepper hadn't seemed to have much of a hold on it. It sounded like she'd gotten things worked out to at least some degree.

"So is this a congratulations or a condolences sort of thing?" Cait inquired, because it really could have gone either way. "Or, you know, both! We can do both. Both is actually super valid." So valid. Pepper sounded like she was happy about it, but Cait had already figured out that Cait sounded happy about a lot of stuff, and the smile hadn't been as whole as it usually was, like Pepper was still trying to figure all of this out, or at least figure out her feelings about it.

"And hello!" It was polite to say hi, wasn't it? "So, what do you go by when you're not Pepper?" Not a Name, because asking for that would not be polite, but it was fine to ask what things wanted to be called. You had to call them something, after all, because if it was Pepper and Pepper's dead friend it got a little weird. And Cait was fine with weird, if that was how they wanted it, but sometimes other options were better.

"So when did this start?"

“It’s a bit of both, yeah.” Her smile then was less nervous and more genuine. This was on par with what Pepper had been expecting. It was better even, than what she had been expecting. And, both were pretty valid, indeed. On one hand, she had started to really like Hades, Who had started to turn toward her in the reflection, his form ever-changing between those three shapes that made her feel like her brain should be melting. On the other hand, she was still sharing her soul space.

Then, before Pepper could give her a proper answer to her first question, Hades decided to make himself known. He spoke with that voice that was thousands of voices singing and screaming and crying and laughing and speaking all at once.
“You can call me Hades, Cait. And I think it started about two hours after we last saw you.”

Hades receded, and Pepper sighed. They would have to talk about speaking order at some point in the future. “He’s not wrong. The day we saw you, I went on an expedition. I wanted to find a city in Ira’s world– our world– and I found a new kind of Denizen, one that tried to commune with the Dead– Hades. It broke some kind of wall in my head.”

Even with Cait, Pepper was protecting Eurydice. She couldn’t let anyone know, because no one knowing meant it never got back to Strings. And it could not get back to Strings.
Pepper sounded a little overwhelmed, or at least whelmed. Fair enough, it was a whole thing, as her little friend decided to prove by having a say in the conversation.

At least he seemed relatively polite - but then again, sometimes it was the polite ones you had to watch out for. Cait was kind of curious about that new Denizen, too, but Pepper seemed more concerned with the result, which was... fair, given that the result was currently talking through her.

"'Hades', huh?" Cait nodded, kind of to herself, which kind of turned into a little bit of an eye roll and a muttering of "'Oh, don't worry, Cait, the nomenclature's Hebrew, Ira's not a greco-roman thing!' Does Isaac know about this? You tell him I told him so. 'Cause I absolutely told him so. Coincidences!"

Indignance aside, she watched Pepper carefully, seeing how she was handling the situation. It was pretty evident that there were still some issues to be worked out.

"So... how're all y'all handling the thing with Cody?"

Priorities, right?

Pepper laughed for a moment when she mentioned Isaac, just giving a little nod to confirm he knew. After all, he was the first person she had gone to about it. She had told Kallie and Cody afterward, in soft conversations about how she felt about it and what she wanted to do about it. Kallie had asked if she could run a battery of tests, to which Pepper agreed. Cody had had a million questions, the first of which had just been “Does he like me”. That had made Pepper almost laugh herself to tears.

Cait’s question almost took her by surprise, except for the fact she knew it would come up at some point. She just didn’t expect it to be the first one. She gave another small laugh and waved her hand. “Hades has been really respectful of the whole thing, and mostly just recedes to the back of my consciousness. I guess I’m lucky that my Eldritch deity is a polite one, right?”

Then Pepper paused. Had she known he was Eldritch during their last conversation? No, she didn’t think she had. She had found that out for certain from Eurydice. Cait was clever enough to remember that they hadn’t known exactly what Hades was other than a god. Still, there was the chance that if she redirected the conversation, she wouldn’t say anything about it. “Ah, so where are we right now? I mean, obviously, this is Nine, but like, where in Nine are we?”
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"I mean, I didn't like, know know it was Eldritch, but we thought the probability was pretty high given that thing you don't know about." That thing, specifically, being Nimsy's little thingy with the godbait that was going on. Familiarity and all that. But even if Pepper was authorized for Hades, she wasn't authorized for Nimsy, so Cait wasn't going to go on about that.

And, not-speaking about Ira and on the subject of Cody: "Hey, um, Pepper? Does he know how human reproduction works? Because Ira does not. And let's just say it would probably be a great idea to hash that out before things get complicated. More complicated. Because I'm just saying if Hades is expecting egg carrier holds egg for nine weeks, deposits back in designated location, egg hatches, newborn lizard child emerges, there might be a few surprises in the future. Not that we don't love surprises! But please talk before you have a lizard child, okay?"

At least L-9 was an easier and more familiar topic. Pepper's question resulted in a cheerful shrug and an unabashed "I dunno. Where in L-9 do you want to be?" Whether or not that actually happened was always anyone's guess. People figured it out eventually, if they were assigned here. Guests... well, they usually had an escort. Sometimes that was a good thing, sometimes it wasn't.

Pepper was a friend, though: Cait wasn't going to get her lost.

"You wanna just go back to my place?"

Pepper clocked Cait’s statement of “that thing you don’t know about” and almost immediately asked her what the thing was. If it had to do with them knowing about how Hades was Eldritch, then clearly it was something she should know about, right? But before she could ask, Cait gave her the strangest redirect she’d ever had thrown her way. “Lizard child?”

In the back of her head, Hades’s voice rang out, his tone playful and teasing. “Not only do I know how children are born, and the process through which they are made, but I don’t think it has to do with eggs or lizard children. Besides, your boyfriend explained it to Mikulass, albeit vaguely.”

Pepper stopped moving entirely, her mouth falling open in horror. “No, no, you saw that?”

“...Pepper, I have seen everything. I have heard everything. Ever since you were five years old. I remember things even you don’t remember. You learned about human biology and the reproductive system when you were fifteen. You had to ask Kallie about when the textbook wouldn’t tell you everything about it.”

“Hades… what do you mean you’ve seen and heard everything? You can’t possibly mean you’ve been conscious and aware in my head for twenty-one years?”

“You don’t believe me. Alright, then. I remember the first time Kallie snuck you off-site and took you roller skating, and you fell down and almost cracked your skull open. I remember when you realized you couldn’t remember your parent’s faces. I remember when you first decided you were joining the ACF when you turned eighteen, and how determined you were. I remember the first time you saw Cody, and you realized you weren’t–”

“Oh god, that’s enough, that’s enough.”

“Cait has asked you a question. She wants to know if you want to go back to her place.”

Pepper snapped out of it with a look akin to a deer in headlights. She had a fiery blush spreading across her cheeks, and it took her a moment to process the last statement. She was not recovering quickly from what he had almost said, but absolutely reminded her of. “Your place sounds great. I’ve always wondered if the living quarters were the same here as they are at Fourteen and Fifteen..”

Pepper said two words, then spaced. That was fine, Cait could absolutely fill in the blanks.

"Lizard child?"
"Yes. Thy scions shall erupt, feral, from the prison of yolk and begin a worshipful cult."
"Are you serious?"
"Of course. I shall be their god father."
"Hades you can't-"
"I shall make them an offer they can't refuse."

Yeah that was definitely how this was going. Pepper spaced back in again, looking rather shellshocked about the whole conversation.

"I mean, different people set up differently, you know? But yeah, I get it. Here we are." They hadn't walked, but they were there anyway, because the weird ceiling was gone and the corridor suddenly looked like the sort of ancient hellscape that existed in hotels from the 1980s, including the stripe of worn carpeting of questionable patterning that didn't reach all the way to the edges.

There was a door, but it was about eight inches high. Beside it was a small round table with a crocheted tablecloth draped over the edges, bearing a platter of tiny cupcakes and cookies and a notecard with the words EAT ME.

Occasionally, one of the interns actually did it. That was always fun.

Cait turned her back on the door itself, taking a compact out of her pocket and angling the mirror until she could see the doorknob that wasn't there except in the reflection, and reaching back to turn it and push open the door that hadn't existed until a moment ago. It wouldn't be there again later, but Cait lived here, so it was no surprise she could get in.

The door opened on a large living area, with various doors leading off of it. The decor was mostly Foundation gray, except there were crystals hanging from the ceiling and sigils traced on the wall and a set of bookshelves with books whose titles were constantly changing.

There were also two guys sitting on a couch watching the television, on which a very pregnant and very weepy woman was confessing something tearfully to some guy, all in Spanish. There was also no question that they were both completely aware of the newcomers the instant the door opened.

"So, she's having Julian's baby?"

"Yeah, that's what she said."

"I thought he was dead for the last three years."

"Yeah, big reveal. Guess Louisa-Maria is putting the romance back in necromancy."

"Or he's not actually dead."

"Bah, that's such an L-6 interpretation. Hi, Cait. And friend."

"Don't mind them, they're idiots. Pepper and Hades, Nic and Brian. Nic and Brian, Pepper and Hades."

Pepper looked around in amazement as their surroundings changed. It was like with the butterflies– she blinked and it was as though they had always been where they were now. 1980’s hotel was definitely not what she had been expecting for the interior of the housing block for Nine. It was a far cry from the interiors of the housing blocks in Fourteen. She was temporarily distracted by the miniature door and the plate of treats, so she missed how Cait opened the door. She wanted to slow down, to examine and understand everything around them.

Instead, she followed Cait inside the door which definitely hadn’t been there before, but she supposed had always been there before. Now this, this was more what she was expecting– except it was huge. The two bedroom that Kallie and she had was spacious, but it wasn’t anything like this. There were so many doors leading off from the space that Pepper was confused. Wasn’t this Cait’s place?

Then she saw the two men sitting and watching TV, and a sneaking suspicion began to worm its way up. Hades made a soft noise of agreeance at the thought. Pepper smiled and gave a small wave to the two guys, and then very quickly turned to Cait and said in a hushed voice, “Do you live with some of your team?”
"I live with all my team," Cait answered. "It's good for mutual understanding so we don't run into misconceptions on the field. Also, trauma bonding!" Because nothing built relationships like unimaginable horrors. Or imaginable horrors? Really, when it came to trauma bonding, it was more the second one, right?

But really, there was sort of a thing where sometimes the only people who could really understand were the ones who'd been there, and they'd all been there often enough that... well, Cait couldn't really imagine not living with the others at that point.

"There's only five of us, we're not huge like the Lepidopterists."

"The others are in the kitchen," Brian offered. He was by far the smaller of the two, which meant he was about average, with the sort of hair that people called red when they really meant orange. It being the weekend, he was casually dressed: cargo pants and a Magitek Research Facility T-shirt. "Joshua's dissecting the coffee. Gail's drinking it."

Cait, momentarily, paused. "Ah." Apparently this was the sort of statement that took some processing.

Nic nodded, in what was apparently emphatic agreement. He was in standard ACF gray sweats, which were probably the largest size and several inches too short, and an oversized shirt with a three-eyed smiley face on it from the Evolution movie that had come out in the early 2000s. "We're hiding in here like sensible people."

"Oooh, good job pretending. Pepper? Want to hide in my room or hang out? Your call."

“You live with your whole team?!” Pepper’s voice came out in a bit of an excited squeal. She found this incredibly wholesome and despite the odd statements from Nic and Brian, she clasped her hands together in front of her chest and bounced once on her heels. Then she registered the questions from Cait and she immediately went to answer, “I, mean, of course, we can stay– wait.”

She looked between the two men and then back at Cait. She bit her bottom lip as she thought before she asked in a softer voice, “How much are they cleared to know? Like I’m not supposed to talk about this except with certain people still.”

Her eyes flickered up to the crystals hanging from the ceiling, and she stopped, looking at the fractured reflections. In some, she saw the scene before her, with her and Cait standing and the two men sitting. But in some, she saw Hades. Not just one of his forms, but all three, fractured and hacked together in the crystalline structures. She looked back down at Cait. She could ask them if they saw him later. Maybe they could find a mirror and she could try to show them, to see if they saw the reflections. If anyone was going to see them, after all, it would be the Locusts.

"Oh, we talk about you all the time," Nic put in, cheerfully.

"We really do. We probably know more than you do."

"Not the personal stuff," Cait put in, very quickly. "Promise. But there've been some, ah, tangential concerns. So the team has clearance for all of it."

"Ooh, there's personal stuff? And you haven't told us? Cait, I am wounded."Nic put his hands over his heart, in much the same manner of the weepy star of the Spanish soap opera, which looked quite silly on a large tattooed man. Which was, of course, half the fun. "So what's the personal stuff? Is there going to be a lizard child?"

"Oh, other-people's-GODS, you guys. Get your own lizard child."

Nic nodded, then leaned over to Brian. "Wanna have a lizard child?"

"[EXPLETIVE], no. How would that even work?"

"No idea. Better ask the godbait."

"...Sorry." Cait sighed, with her usual sort of drama. "I told you they were idiots."

She had, indeed. Whatever she might have followed up with was instead followed by a pause, glancing towards the doorway to the kitchen. If you lived with people long enough, you got a feel for where they were, and the interaction was currently being observed by the team's leader. She was leaning a bit towards the frame without actually leaning against it, perfectly poised, holding a coffee cup in her hand in the same way that someone would hold a weapon - a solid grip, but with enough flexibility in it for a full range of motion. There was no question that she was not completely aware of this fact, either.

A brown eyestalk poked itself up above the rim of the coffee cup, followed, sluglike, by a second, looking in the opposite direction. Gail guided them to one side of the cup with a finger like they were nothing more than a stirring spoon, her eyes focused in Pepper's direction as she took a drink from the mug.

"I wondered when you would be gracing us with your presence." It might have been an odd statement to start with. The definitive sensation that she was not addressing Pepper might have made it more normal, or might have actually made it even odder. As if to confirm this, she added, as one of those statements that only seemed like an afterthought: "And you. Dr. Krasniqi."

The pronunciation was impeccable, not in the unnaturally talented way that sometimes happened around the Foundation, but in the I have looked this up and practiced it to be able to say it exactly sort of way that happened with people who dealt with Names on a regular basis and people who were very used to having their own mispronounced. The Native American cast to her features heavily implied that the answer might be both.

Some of the intensity subsided, for a moment, and there was a sort of softening into a whimsical expression as she lifted the mug once more, in what might have been an offering or a salute or a challenge. "Coffee? Cait made it this morning."

Pepper's smile only grew as the two men spoke. Growing up, Pepper had always wished she could have siblings or friends, ones who she could joke around with, ones she could spend time with, ones she didn’t have to be lonely with. She felt a flicker of jealousy for what Cait had here. She breathed it out, though, and told herself that she wouldn’t be who she was today if she had had that.

Her smile grew into a tinkering laugh, like bells or the high notes on a piano. She didn’t have a chance to respond to any of it, however, as Cait’s attention turned to the hallway. Pepper let her eyes follow and her laughter stopped. Not abruptly, but in a natural trailing sort of way. She gave a small nod and smile to the woman standing in the hall. “Agent Weber. It’s good to finally have a face for the name.”

Pepper had, of course, researched the Locusts. She had known, vaguely, who they were before, but after meeting Cait, after that Tuesday, she had gone ahead and researched the team more thoroughly, though only through reports and hearsay. She hadn’t been ballsy enough to request their records, which would have had their photos in them. No, instead she had asked around, trying to be as subtle as possible, though Pepper was, as she had recently learned, not subtle at all. It wouldn’t have surprised her if Gail Weber knew just how much Pepper had asked after them.

She wondered how many of the rumors about her were true. Or the rumors about her and… Strings. That she was possessed, that she had two souls. That she and Strings were seeing each other, that they were out for each other’s souls. Honestly, given their personal experience with Strings, she would be surprised if it was the former, but not the latter. She’d heard that Gail must be Fae, with the way she managed to write contracts, or that she was at least a spy for them. She didn’t look Fae to Pepper, but then she’d never met a Fae in person. They were similar theories about her possession and her being a spy for some demon overlord. Pepper was pretty sure that most of it was bull[EXPLETIVE],

She looked at the coffee with the eyestalks and tilted her head. She felt a spark of mischief flicker to life, and she flashed a white grin. “Depends, is it going to be bad for the lizard child I’m apparently having?”

Gail offered a nod in response to the identification, the sort of nod that acknowledged the comment and somehow also acknowledged that she was fully aware that it was only Pepper speaking, even though she hadn't been the only one addressed. She didn't point that out, though, less out of politeness and more out of a sense of analysis. The dead god wasn't surfacing, which could mean either she'd spooked it or it was lying in wait. Which one of those it ended up being would determine a great deal about how things went in the future.

Pepper wasn't spooked, though, which apparently earned her some credit.

"Oh, she's nuts." Even from Brian, this was more of a running commentary than a condemnation. Other than this, though, what Pepper's comment about whether the coffee was bad for her potential lizard child had actually earned was... careful consideration. "I mean, it's gotta depend, right?"

"Is it likely to permeate the eggshell, membrane, or placenta?" This inquiry was from the depths of the kitchen. "Depending on the conceptatory nature of the theoretical offspring."

"It's eating through my fingers," Gail stated, relevantly. It was, in fact. The eyestalks had wrapped around the finger she'd pushed them aside with, opened up to reveal teeth, and started biting. There was blood, which was dripping down into the coffee. She hadn't made any move to stop it, and took another drink from the cup.

"Gail you have made your point, please stop drinking the abomination coffee." Brian was watching, in the sense that one watched a train wreck. He would have much rather not have been, but not doing it wasn't an option.

"It's actually very good coffee. But I wouldn't recommend it unless your system is able to purge interlopers. So, is your system able to purge interlopers?" A sharp question, cutting through to whatever Pepper's biological status happened to be - not that Gail hadn't already read all the paperwork, but there was a difference between doesn't get sick and my body can handle a little coffee that tries to eat its way back out.

She ought to know, if anyone did. "Also..." Her tone had softened again, considerably, which the rest of the team knew was almost a guarantee that the next words would be anything but soft, no matter how they were delivered. "If it does, you might have trouble. With the theoretical lizard children." She swirled the cup, considering the state of affairs at L-14 and the things that Cait had been leaving out, and took a stab at the most likely subject. "Something to talk to Dr. Redd about."