Beef Albini in Fusion Sauce with a Side of Fruit
rating: +41+x

22-year-old Isabella Kawajiri's fingers bled in and out of barbed tentacles as they idly plucked the strings of her beloved L7 Astrocaster Bass, whispering dull growls that echoed through Cousin Bradley's jury-rigged storage-shed studio through her L7 Informant Amplifier. The ambiance was a complement to the patterns stained onto the ceiling, giving soundtrack to the feeling of brief respite from a thankless residency in what was either the least livable city or most livable junkyard in America. The actual tune wasn't important.

"Seriously, dude thinks I'm made of fuckin' meat." Cousin Bradley was rambling again. To his credit, Bradley was both suspiciously affluent and conveniently generous. He was also frustratingly talkative, primarily in regards to niche, taboo, or otherwise unglamorous topics such as smuggling and fringe socioeconomic nonsense1. "Like, come on."

"Sounds like a problem." Was it a problem? Isabella hadn't been listening. Between the dust of an ill-maintained storage shed and the tentacle-shifted flesh squirming for breathing room under her binder, Isabella couldn't quite care. Today was an awful day to host band tryouts. Well, it was nearly always an awful day, any day one lived in Staten Island, but did she and Bradley really need to conduct this in a poorly ventilated storage shed? In the middle of June, no less.

Could people outside hear? And what people might be outside? How many would recognize the bassline from Side Project? And who fewer would know enough not to call it a cover?

Sometimes, Isabella felt that she thought too much about Alex, and what Alex did. Time outside that was split between remembering her gentle touch and wondering what she'd look like with a tentacle crushing her windpipe. There was probably a reason for at least one of those three. If Isabella could find it, that'd solve at least one of the cosmic riddles that influenced the Kafkaesque procession of her life.

Her mind was wandering. It did that these days.

In retrospect, Bradley had still been talking when a knock at the door most likely shut him up; Isabella hadn't been listening. The irony of deriding him for talking too much when she couldn't spend attention enough to listen for prospectives wasn't so much lost on her as it was swept under a cerebral rug.

As a consequence, Isabella was caught rather by surprise as Bradley actually called to her by name.

Sitting back up, Isabella rubbed the midday sunlight from her eyes and looked upon Bradley and whatever poor soul had decided to tangle herself in this net. Souls, now that she was actually paying attention.

If Isabella had to guess, the two of them (a man and… probably a woman) were friends, nothing more; neither seemed to be coordinated enough for a more intimate relationship. Indeed, they were practically spitting opposites.

The woman, carrying a bundle of what Isabella assumed were electric drums, was tall and slender, with a seeming hesitation to her movements. It was a stark contrast to her fashion, the kind of outfit Isabella would have expected to see at a Hydrocide Sisters gig, though she'd freely admit that she rarely payed attention to those coming on before or after. Definitely ate muff. Definitely would overshadow her in an actual band.

The other one, well, Isabella didn't like to judge… that was a lie. Nice hair and a neat beard couldn't save the nervous-looking man underneath. If Isabella had to guess, he'd attempted to compensate that with a strict exercise regiment, even if chance recompensated with an atrociously warm fashion for the summer heat2. Either way, he was carrying an acoustic guitar case, already a yellow flag in men.

"This the, uh," the woman's voice was scratchy and rough. A sinking feeling in Isabella stomach told her the man probably wanted to be a vocalist. "The tryouts? Shit, typical."

"Come on, Lye." Brad somehow knew this woman. That was either a good thing or a bad thing, and leaning heavily towards the bad end of the spectrum. "Real estate fuckin' sucks, ya know? Hard to get a studio."

'Lye' shrugged. "I guess." Isabella looked between the drum kit "Lye" had begun setting up and the jury-rigged power outlet that she'd have given a 70/30 for being a code violation of some sort. "I'm, uh… give me a second. Name's Lyanna, by the way." A statement underlined by her lack of eye contact. "Guessing you need a drummer?"

"I suppose?" Not really, but Isabella didn't own a drum machine and without Lyanna she'd be alone with the man. "Isabella Kawajiri. I'm Bradley's cousin."

Whatever Lyanna was about to say was caught in a sudden snort. Isabella herself was interrupted by "I'm, uh, Jack by the way." from the jumpy-looking man with an acoustic at the ready.

Sparing a glance towards Jack did little to still her worries. His acoustic guitar was beyond antiquated; it looked positively ancient and hand-made, normally impressive but here pretentious when combined with the impractically warm outfit. His face and body seemed constantly twitching, tics far too reminiscent of Isabella herself when she looked in the mirror for too long. Worst were his eyes: whereas every other part of him suggested hesitation and insecurity, Jack's wide blue eyes leered like a cat's on a mouse.

"… charmed."

If Cousin Bradley noticed, it was probably why he moved to whisper something into Jack's ear. Lyanna interjected with a "Wait, Brad, did you tell her?" either way. "The name thing?" Cousin Bradley didn't respond, merely patted Jack on the shoulder and walked away. "… you didn't."

"… he didn't what?"

"About his name." By now, Lyanna had inserted her drum kit into the incoming electrical fire, taking a nearby crate as a seat. Not that she spared much of a glance: whatever she was about to tell Isabella, the look on her face suggested she thought it funnier and more important. "His name's Brad Lee. Lee's his middle name, cause of course it is."

"Name's always been [Isabella couldn't decide whether he had said "Bradley" or "Brad Lee", and the sudden realization mortified her], Lye." Lyanna might've been the most sane person here.

"Right then." Isabella spared another glance to Jack, who was thankfully averting his gaze. "… admittedly, I'm not quite sure how this works. My last band's was essentially black magic." Literally and figuratively. "Do we just jam?"

"… maybe?" If anything, Lyanna looked as lost as Isabella. "Five four beat to start us off?"

The novelty piqued her attention, at least. "Any particular reason why?"

"I'm fatally allergic to sounding like a plebe."

Odd, but at least it suggested some form of artistic investment. Nodding in turn, Isabella straightened her posture. "Let's get on with it, then."

Lyanna wasted no time getting into her beat, a tight procession sounding less jam and more practiced, but Isabella and Jack wasted no time improvising their own parts. Once again, 22-year-old Isabella Kawajiri's fingers bled in and out of barbed tentacles as they plucked the first tune that came to muscle, and Isabella let herself wash into the rhythm.

Probably shouldn't have left the house, but Lyanna was already out of it and so was her drum kit.

Lyanna… she'd figure out a last name later3; right now, she just felt out of place. Figured: she was the lanky white bitch jamming with far better (and shorter) musicians on a cumbersome set in yet another weird little property Brad managed. Least they dug the 5/4, though Lyanna would be the first to admit she defaulted to this particular beat far too much for her own good as a musician.

Jack's own baroque sensibilities bled into his melodies, as typical. Of course, jumping the gun on the bassline (Isabella herself opting for her own angular riff) meant he had to play catch-up. The two were certainly tight together.

Christ, even with the headphones on, Lyanna was painfully aware of her own missteps, and how they compared with Jack or… fuck, even Izzy, what little she heard.

She was still drumming by the time Izzy had stopped, to say something to Jack. Force of habit, Lyanna supposed. Then Jack stopped to respond, and Lyanna realized she'd still had the headphones on like a rube.

"-that long?" If Lyanna had to guess, Jack just spilled the beans. Not that it mattered much; any cousin of Brad was probably so far beyond the veil to have suffocated under a thousand and one pieces of scrap metal. Still, immortal squids rarely fitted into musical groups as well as Jack fitted into a suit of skin, even if they killed on a seven-string.

"Uh… yeah. Not much else to, well, do." Jack was fidgeting again. Couldn't blame him, Isabella was kinda cute for a chick, if someone Jack would probably never have a chance with… which probably only made it worse? "I mean, like, it's a long time and all that. You?"

"Fourteen and a half." Isabella had an odd sort of grace to her, and she absolutely knew it. There was little doubt she'd be taking control, and Lyanna wasn't sure if such control allowed her into the schema. "Granted, I suppose that's a tad less than… fifty-four years? Really?"

Jack responded by partially worming his way out of his own head. Lyanna couldn't help but roll her eyes.

To her credit, Isabella didn't scream when confronted with the sudden refutation of a universe that cared. No doubt about it, she was definitely Brad's cousin. "… interesting trick. You'll have to teach me that some time."

"It's not really a trick." Lyanna idly tapped a drumstick against the side of one of her drums. "That's his actual body. Trust me, if I could do this I'd do it every day."

"No, that's not quite what I meant."

It took a few seconds for Lyanna to process, but Izzy's fingers hand arm was now a dark-grey mass of squid tentacles. Actually, thinking on it, several more seconds to process, a minute to take it all in, maybe a few more seconds to get over the fact that Brad had somehow found another squid person to introduce her to, a different type of squid person at that. Wasn't the thing he worshiped supposed to be some kind of wolf-thing? And seriously, he had to have known she only liked-

Lyanna forgot she'd still been tapping the side of her drum the moment she accidentally tapped the drum proper; however, like all problems in the miserable past 23 years of her life, Lyanna handled it gracefully, mainly by nearly jumping out of her seat, sending the whole kit toppling over with her like a fucking rube.

"Shit, Lyanna?!" What Jack probably said through the gargled burbling as he rushed to help her out of the mess. The fact that he put up with her constant follies was honestly the second best part of-

As Lyanna looked up to see a thoroughly terrified waif bearing witness to what could only be described as a hellish vaudeville act, it began to dawn on her that today might be going on a bit long.

Sara Yarkoni was a little drunk, rather in crisis, and horribly confused; surprisingly enough, it wasn't about what the rest of her life would be like. Okay, it probably was. Likely. Fuck.

Mom always told her it was impolite to stare, but really she could really only stand to face the normal chick. Sara could deal with the other two once she'd properly processed the pulp of fake normalcy, a lie she told herself when her gaze slowly drifted to the hungry-eyed skin beast with its human arm around Lyanna, or the… the other one.

"… so, uh." Brad, Brad, Brad, he could explain it, they said. Fat load of good 'Brad' did, not here. "Lemme try again."

"Take your time." 'Isabella' had such a soothing voice, for an octobeast.

"… shoggoths are real."


"So is magic."

"Uh… I guess, yeah."




No answer.


"Kind of? Fuck, uh… listen, I'm sorry you-"

Sara actually laughed, feeling around her purse for either the flask or the box. "No, no, yeah. It's fine, Lye, it's-"


"Sorry, right. Right." Sara found the box first, the flask second, a lighter third. "You mind if I smoke? I've, like… I don't do cigs, for the record."

'Jack' looked like he was about to mumble something. He didn't, and Sara pulled a joint out of her pack and lit up. "I guess that's why this was so out of the way?" The hot smoke calmed her only slightly; there wasn't enough of it to smoke out the bees racing inside her head. "Wow. Lovecraft was right. Moreso about the squids than Jews, I guess. I'm allowed to make that joke."

Lyanna gave her a knowing (or was it nervous?) chuckle. Sara might have grinned if her mind hadn't still been wandering.

For a brief moment, Sara wondered if the yellow fungus had actually been real, and her hand unconsciously found the etched deer on her flask; Sara then remembered Jason, and she dropped the flask back into her bag. "I… I'm rolling it around in my head. I'm doing that and nothing." Was it a freeing thought? Magic was real. What else was real, and why didn't Sara feel calm? "Fuck."

Sara took a drag of the joint, half-curling into a ball.

"There's…" 'Izzy' cut herself off. She didn't say anything else, as much as Sara wanted someone, anyone, to break the uncomfortable silence between the four.

Sara took another drag. If she was lucky the high would set in before the soul-crushing revelations. That was assuming her tolerance didn't eat it up, which was falsehood. The assuming, not the tolerance. The tolerance was quite real.

"Izz's, uh, human, for the record." Actually looking at Jack, he did look kinda good when he was pretending to be human. "I'm not. Don't want to get into it."

"Seriously man?" Lyanna leaned back into Jack. "Look, uh, Sara: I don't know if we can say anything that's gonna cut you out of this. For me, I just go with the flow. See if it helps."


Sara looked between Jack and Izzy, next back at Jack, then back to Izzy, then down at her pack. "… anyone else want a smoke?"


Sara was half an hour into a jam when the first words came to her.

Okay, it was bullshit poetry that probably didn't fit 11/8 or whatever Lye was jamming, but also Sara felt really damn good and she had to get this on paper. Or data, or something. She was coming off a crisis just a little cross-faded, and words that weren't music were a little hard, especially in uncommon time.

Lye eventually stopped, taking a swig of her water bottle as the others petered off. "Definitely not how I expected today to go."

"Right? Shit." Sara collapsed back into sitting, shaking a looped amp wire off her converse. "By the way, I think I got a beat for that last one." Beat. "Not a beat, wait… harmony? Melody?" Folding chairs always felt softer when Sara wasn't sober. "I, uh… I haven't really done math, so like, who's lead?"

Lyanna furrowed her brow. "Are we math? Uncommon time does not math make."

"I mean… shit, what else are we?"

Izzy was still slouched against her amp when she spoke, facing no one but the ceiling. "Interesting question. Are we we?"

Sara snorted; she was a bit too high to feel the appropriate amount of shame. "Man, like… I mean if we want? I've already got like…" Wait. "… okay fuck, I had words to the song just now, but like, I think I lost them? But we obvs work together." Sara's gaze moved to Jack, who still looked as jumpy as before. "Like… I dunno, it's been like an hour or so since I met y'all, but y'all seem cool enough. Whaddya think?"

The four of them looked between one another. Nobody said no.


Hydrocide Mother Trash Crow House of Teeth Spades jammed well into the afternoon, tryout bleeding into hangout. Overall, three harmonies, two beats, two melodies, three basslines, and lyrics for the partially composed "Entropy for Antipathy" came out, along with a promise to meet again next week.

Jack and Lye left as the sun began to set, Jack apparently having something urgent to take care of, which left a now (mostly) sober Sara alone with Izzy. Not that she minded, Izzy was p cool, but it left the two of them with little more to do than idle strumming and relaxation in the low-lit storage shed.

"… so." Izzy's words interrupted the three-string riff she'd been softly strumming for the past five minutes or so. "How's life behind the veil?"

Sara blinked, and didn't quite find the words to respond.

"Apologies, I mean to ask how it felt knowing that…" For a scant few seconds, Izzy trailed off into silence. "… knowing that magic is real."

Turning back to nowhere in particular, Sara resumed strumming. "I dunno. Gimme time to think. Hard enough worrying about… things."

Several words came to mind in quick succession. That her problems, dealing with employment or relationships or being able to look either of her parents in the eyes, didn't seem so important in comparison. Or a subsequent antithesis, that her problems mattered exactly as much as they did in a mundane world, mattered enough to subsume any revelation of magic or demons. That maybe it was too early to say. None of these words made it to Sara's tongue.

"Dunno." Sara's fingers tapped lightly against the face of her guitar. "Feels like everything's the same. I guess I'll just… go with the flow. See where that takes me."

When Sara looked back, Izzy was grinning, slightly.

The sun set.

Coming back was a frenzy, blind hunger exacerbating the aches below the Jack of Spades's skin, awash in a landscape that pulsed in impulse over concrete shape or color. It'd been too long, fucking god it'd been too long.

The locking of the doors, the pulling of blinds, Lyanna's invitation, all of it moved far too slow for Jack's perception of time, a scant eternity waiting to release an accumulated Scarlet into or onto the nearest living thing that'd allow it, until he regained the capacity to hate himself.

Jack forwent the skin; too restrictive, semen, in a vessel too tight on his limbs, too fucking inefficient, only four limbs compared to thirteen. More contact, more feeling, more Lyanna, especially as the two of them tore her out of her own second skins. With a shift of his weight, both of them were on the floor, and Jack got to work.

The details blurred, blurred into a thousand gasps in a low-lit living room. Flesh interlocked, feeling building and building, an accumulation of a billion fake neurons in Jack's body reaching for a button as he fucked Lyanna as hard as he could.

Fireworks. Release. Jack felt calm again.

As climax cleared his mind, Jack realized the living room was an absolute mess, even without his skin and Lyanna's clothes strewn about. But, that was a mess for tomorrow. For now, Jack was content to roll off and lie beside his lover.

"… fuck, no kidding." Lyanna turned her head for a quick and awkward kiss on Jack's beak. "G-d, that was what, few days since your last? Lucky I got you and not them."

It took a few seconds for Jack to get his 'vocal cords' in working order. "Wouldn't matter. Isabella's… not compatible."

"Yeah, you think?" If Jack still had fingers, he'd be running them through Lyanna's hair; vice versa if he still had hair, most likely. For now, he contented himself with tangled legs between tangled tentacles, and the invisible circles traced upon them. "Either way, I doubt squid dick's the best introduction to the…" Lyanna's face uncharacteristically scrunched with a suppressed snort. "… the fucking BackDoor. They named it that."

It wasn't a particularly original joke, although Jack was a fair bit older than SoHo; his perception might've been a bit skewed. "Best… best they don't know. The Urge can be a turnoff."

A few moments passed. Sunbeams crept along a disheveled floor.

"… did you come?"

"Weirdly considerate coming from the Scarlet King's son." Whatever Lyanna got out of kissing bony keratin and slick soft tissue, Jack was content to let it be. "Like, full-body twice. None down there, fucking estro. Unless you wanna stick another tentacle up me and check? Know you already-"

A sharp gasp cut Lyanna off as Jack got back to work. Lyanna was already back to whimpering, clinging tightly to Jack as he probed her once more, with newfound clarity. Fingers dug into his soft flesh, punctuating Lyanna's shudders and moans. Predictably, she melted further as another tendril ground against her cock, Jack's own twisted take on frotting.

She came quickly enough; after three and a half years, Jack liked to think he'd gotten her weak points down pat. Some remote part of his brain felt slightly proud at that thought.

For the next few minutes, the silence was palpable. Dust floated through the vanishing sunrays, undisturbed in the stillness of the afterglow.

Three days. Biologically, Jack had three days not to think about it.

"… think I'm gonna get up and treat this with vinegar." Lyanna shifted, but didn't actually get up. "In a bit, though."

Jack thought about it regardless, and resisted the urge to puke.


Jack didn't need to eat, nor did he particularly love eating. Regardless, Lyanna left him part of the stir fry she made. In his own little way of saying "thanks", Jack stared blankly at his plate.

"Something up?" Lyanna, on the other hand, was thankfully eating again. "Like… dude. You look seriously under the weather."

Jack's gaze suddenly coalesced on Lyanna, having previously been nowhere in particular. "The…" Habit forced him to gulp, even as the air went nowhere. "The others. Izzy and Sara."

"Yeah? They're pretty neat, right?"

Yes, "pretty neat". Also adult humans who wanted to engage in a collaborative music project. Two adult humans, of which at least one was incompatible. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Jack's fork nearly bent between his fingers. King would've found this hilarious. He always found his meltdowns hilarious.

"… look, okay, I think I get it?" Lyanna's fork, which she was now using to gesture, had a bit of bell pepper and mushroom stuck to it. "I'm guessing you're worried it might, like, spiral? Feelings going too fast?"

Jack nodded, stiffly.

"Right, right. But like… do they have to?" Half-grinning, Lyanna took another bite of her meal before continuing. "I mean… fuck, you haven't eaten me yet. Even the parasites aren't too bad. Like… long as everyone keeps it casual, we should be good." Lyanna's half-grin transitioned into a full-grin. "And honestly, I'm not opposed to a pearl necklace every three days, even if I do gotta wash it off with vinegar."

Jack smiled. He wasn't sure if it reached his eyes.

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