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(Disclaimer: The original concept of the PPC belongs to Jay and Acacia. Gremlin and Xericka belong to me. Major thanks to JulyFlame for betaing. The following story contains bad language and suggestive situations involving two women.)

Gremlin stared in dazed horror at her reflection in the mirror. She could not believe it. She did not want to believe it. But there it was, staring her in the face like… well, like her reflection at this very moment.

She clamped her eyes shut and quietly counted down from ten. As soon as she had uttered the word “one,” her eyes sprang open.

A pained moan escaped her lips. Her eyes closed and her head flopped forward, coming to rest with a bump against the mirror itself.

“Did you really think that was going to work?” Kindheartedness. Understanding. Patience. All very poor words to describe the tone of Xericka’s voice as it wound its way through the door leading out to the main room of the response center.

Gremlin blinked a few times, as if being shaken awake, and lifted herself off of the glass. “It was worth a shot, Xer,” she muttered as she reached up to rub her forehead.

“Hoping for reality to rewrite itself according to your whims hardly seems like the most viable course of action,” the Nobody replied. There was the faint sound of a page being turned. “You have long since passed through the realm of foolish hope and are now attempting to take shelter in a land of utter delusion.”

“Hey, with the PPC, you never know. If the universe is willing to pull Makes-Things out of its ass and send him back to work as if nothing happened, maybe it’ll do me just a little favor right now.”

Xericka clicked her tongue in disapproval. “It is only hair, Gremlin.”

Gremlin’s eyes narrowed. The lights in the bathroom flicked in a way normally seen only in films starring knife-wielding maniacs in fright masks. “Only hair? Only hair?!” The metahuman stormed out of the bathroom, glared at the woman sitting on the sofa, and pointed to her own scalp. “It was only MY goddamned hair, you chou san ba!

Gremlin’s bobbed haircut, the one she had kept ever since joining the PPC, was gone. To call what was left on her head ‘hair’ would have been being very generous. ‘Fuzz’ would have been a more accurate word, although saying so to Gremlin at this particular moment would not have been wise.

Xericka did not seem to be too perturbed by this sudden outburst; she had not even looked up from her book. “Swearing at me in Chinese will not resolve this situation,” she replied, her voice dry and even. “Neither will causing all the lights in the response center to overload. That will merely upset Maintenance.” She paused. “Again.”

Gremlin scowled. She raised her hand towards her head, as if to comb her fingers through her hair in frustration, but stopped an inch away from her shorn scalp. After a second of indecisive twitching, she lowered her hand back down to her side.

“I did warn you to duck, if you recall,” Xericka continued. “Even possessed by a wraith, much of Azula’s combat skills would - and obviously did - remain unaffected. You were fortunate that your hair suffered the brunt of that fireball. The PPC barbers did what they could.”

“Really not in the mood for an expository lecture right now, Xer.”

“Unfortunately, that is all I can offer you. I do not believe in empty sympathy.” Xericka finally looked away from her book up at Gremlin, who was staring back with every bit of anger she could muster. “In all honesty, I fail to understand your consternation regarding this new hair style. It appears to me to be quite functional.”

“Functional,” Gremlin repeated in a deadpan tone.

“Indeed. Shorter hair provides an advantage in hand-to-hand combat by depriving your opponent something he, she, or it may grab onto. It also requires less general maintenance than longer hair. It is an ideal style for someone in our line of work.” With that, Xericka turned her attention back to her reading.

“Great, yeah, because that’s exactly what I’m looking for,” Gremlin retorted. “Functional hair. I just can’t wait for some hot guy or gal to come up to me and say, ‘love your hair, babe. It’s soooo functional.’ ‘Cause that’ll be fucking hot as hell, let me tell you.”

Xericka shrugged. “It is not outside the realm of possibility, although I doubt the subject of practicality would feature in an initial come-on. There are likely a great many individuals who find short hair to be sexually appealing.”

“If you think my… if you think this is so great, why weren’t you in line right behind me to get your own pretty little head buzzed?” The metahuman leaned over and took hold of Xericka’s ponytail, which was draped forward over her shoulder. “Think of how great it would be to just lop all this off and join me in the Practicality Club! Hell, I could do it now! I bet we’ve got some scissors somewhere around here.” She gave the tail a light tug to punctuate her frustration.

Xericka flinched, but made no vocal complaint or expression of pain. She instead reached up with one hand and gently pulled Gremlin’s fingers off of her hair. It was a slow motion, as each finger was individually unfolded back until Xericka’s hair was freed. “Thank you for the offer,” the Nobody remarked before brushing her hair off of her shoulder and down her back, out of easy reach. “However, I believe I shall pass.”

“Doesn’t sound that fun, does it?”

“I am more concerned with your lack of hair-cutting knowledge than of any possible change to my own appearance.” Xericka turned another page, her eyes never leaving the book. “On a related note, I had not considered you to be so overly concerned with your general physical appearance up until now.”

Gremlin stared at Xericka in silence for a moment. The corner of her right eye twitched. “Are you saying I’m a slob?” she finally snapped. “That I don’t take care of myself? ’Cause I’ll have you know it takes a lot of effort to look as good as I do. I exercise, I take regular showers, I train with my powers whenever I find the time—”

“Yes, yes,” Xericka replied, holding up her hands in a gesture of submission. “You are frustrated. I understand. My intention was not to infer that you neglect to take care of yourself, but to instead suggest that you hold more practical concerns in higher regard. I am well aware of your personal training and routines.” She paused. “Although you admittedly can be somewhat slobbish in your behavior sometimes.”

“What?! Hey!”

Xericka pointed over at the cheap desk that the two agents shared. “Is that not your Bleepbeer-can castle? Are those not your skull-and-crossbones panties acting as a makeshift flag on top of the aforementioned castle? If not, then I believe we should consider changing the lock on the RC door.”

“…Wow, you are really riding the snark train today.”

“I have not yet fully adapted to being a new mother.” Xericka held up her book so that Gremlin could see the cover. It was a bright yellow tome entitled The PPC Adoptive Parent’s Handbook. There was a little cartoon doodle of the Marquis de Sod in the lower corner; it had a speech bubble with the words Non-Human Edition in it over its petals. “My rest cycle has suffered as a result.”

Gremlin arched an eyebrow in curiosity. “Are you saying that you’re actually irritated from not sleeping?”

“It would be more accurate to say that I am faking irritation. Simulated vexation is the best method I have to communicate my currently being both physically and mentally drained.”

“Well, that’s — would you stop distracting me?! Aiya…” Gremlin buried her face in her hands.

Xericka rolled her eyes before closing her book and laying it on the coffee table next to the sofa. “Honestly, Gremlin, why all this fuss over something so ultimately trivial? Hair grows back. That is the nature of the stuff. All you need to do is wait and the passage of time will solve this ‘issue’ for you.”

“It’s not that simple, Xericka,” Gremlin said through gritted teeth.

“Then please explain this to me. I cannot understand without more information.”

“Look,” Gremlin said. She began pacing back and forth in front of the couch. “I know that hair grows back. I know this whole…” She waved her hand around her head. “I know it won’t last. And I know that there’s nothing I can do.”

“Then why are you so upset?”

Gremlin stopped right in front of where the Nobody was sitting. “Because a lot of reasons!” she shouted. “I liked the way I looked before! I don’t like that I didn’t have any choice in this! And I don’t like that you’re treating me like some sort of unstable moron!”

“With all due respect, I am only treating you in such a manner because you are acting appropriate to the part.”

“…Keep it up, Xericka. Mother or not, I will slap you so hard that Tetsuya Nomura will feel it.”

“My apologies. Please continue.”

“Right.” Gremlin closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “It’s just… I don’t know. There’s no point in saying things like the ‘the passage of time’ and all that crap, because right here? Right now? It sucks. I’m pissed. I need to rant and moan and wish this all away because that’s how I cope with stuff that sucks. It makes me feel better.”

“That does not seem very healthy to me.”

“Right, because Nobodies have such a great grasp of mental health.” Gremlin rubbed her forehead again. “Why can’t you just let me do this in peace, huh? Maybe you should just leave me alone. You know, go over to the Nursery and play with Aiden. Find somewhere to catch a few zees. Something! Why do you need to understand this so badly?”

There was a lull in the conversation. Despite the frustration coursing through her veins, Gremlin felt a mild hiccup of surprise upon noticing that Xericka was looking… shifty, for lack of a better term.

“I suppose an explanation on my part would be advisable,” Xericka eventually said. Her voice had slowed down a bit, as if she were examining each word twice over in her mind before sending them down to her tongue. She reached out and awkwardly patted the empty sofa cushion next to her. “Perhaps you would care to sit down.”

“Uh… sure.”

Xericka waited until her partner was slouching next to her before opening her mouth. “First of all, I do find all this whining to be rather irksome.”

“Really? Oh, I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you. I didn’t want to be irksome, no no no!”

The Nobody fixed Gremlin with a critical look. “I was under the impression that you wanted to know my reasons for questioning your actions. If your intention was merely to use me as another outlet for your frustration, then I do not see why I should bother to continue.”

“All right, all right, sheesh.” Gremlin rolled her eyes. “What else?”

Xericka looked away from her partner for a moment as she mulled this question over. “Strictly speaking,” she finally answered, “I do not need to understand your behavior. I want to understand it.”

“Why?” Gremlin asked.

“Because it does not fit your typical behavior patterns.” Xericka sighed at the nonplussed expression on her partner’s face. “I have reflected back over all of our shared experiences, and I cannot recall you ever being so agitated. Even during our most trying missions, your emotions did not typically reach the extreme level that they have now. I find this situation to be… unusual.”

Gremlin frowned and crossed her arms. “So I’m what? Something to be analyzed? Some sort of experiment to be observed and prodded?”

“No. I do not know a word or phrase that would accurately portray my position without technically being false.”

“Huh?”

“I have known you for over a year, Gremlin. Almost everything you do that I have seen has been performed with a remarkable amount of zeal. I have seen you face down a slash wraith one moment and drop a flirtatious double entendre the next. I have become fon— accustomed to knowing you as such. For all your foibles, you are a relative center of stability and reliability in the middle of a unpredictable badfic tempest.” Xericka looked away again, but this time she did not look back at Gremlin. A barely noticeable blush, brief as a puff of breath on a cold morning, crossed over her face. She shifted uneasily on the couch. “Were I in possession of actual emotions, I might say that I do not like seeing you bothered to such an extent. It… it is unsettling considering what I have learned about you.”

Gremlin stared dumbfounded at the Nobody, her frustration forgotten. After a few beats of silence, she gave a weak smile. “Coming from you, Xerry, that’s almost sweet.”

Xericka appeared to bristle slightly at this, but still did not meet her partner’s gaze. “It is the truth of the matter. There was no intended ‘sweetness’ implied.”

“Sure, right. If lying to yourself about your obvious simulated feelings for me helps you get to sleep at night, then by all means keep it up. I won’t judge.”

The Nobody picked up her book, cracked it back open to her previous page, and resumed reading. Shouting ’we are done talking about this, so shut up’ at the top of her lungs would have been far less subtle in its intent.

“I notice that you didn’t say I was wrong,” Gremlin said as she slumped into a more comfortable position. She interlaced her fingers before putting her hands behind her head in the universal gesture of smug relaxedness.

Her cocky smile, which had been growing in strength over the past few seconds, suddenly vanished. Her hands recoiled away from her head at the feel of her hair.

Xericka glanced over and sighed again. “I thought you were past that,” she said.

Ni juede wo hen ben ma? It’s going to take more than you spilling your guts to make me forget. I look like a sick Chia Pet!” Gremlin slumped down into the couch cushions and glared a random spot on the wall.

“I see.” After a few thoughtful moments, Xericka closed her book once again and laid it aside. She then began tugging off her gloves. “Then it seems I have no choice.”

Gremlin, only half-paying attention, furrowed her brow while continuing to stare straight ahead.. “What do you mean, you have no choi—” The rest of her sentence vanished with a strangled squeak at the sudden sensation of bare fingers on her scalp.

She glanced over at Xericka out of the corner of her eye, as the muscles in her neck had apparently locked up. The Nobody had slid across the couch and was now practically draped on top of her, running her fingers through the metahuman’s hair. Her eyes were only half-open and there was the glimmer of a smile on her face.

“Do you recall when I referred to your new hairstyle as being functional?” Xericka’s voice had taken on a husky tone, one that Gremlin had never heard from her partner before. It was the kind of voice that asked for whiskey, and added a demand to not be stingy with it. “I can think of several other adjectives that could be applied in this situation as well. Would you like to hear them? You might appreciate them more than my initial reaction.”

Gremlin was only able to managed a few noncommittal syllables. It was becoming difficult to think, what with Xericka’s fingers continuing to wind their lazy patterns.

“The word ‘striking’ comes to mind,” the Nobody purred. One of her hands drifted around to the other side of Gremlin’s head, tracing the outside of her ear before moving on down towards her jawline. “As do ‘rugged’ and ‘dynamic.’ Even ‘alluring,’ given the right circumstances.”

Gremlin’s eyes rolled up back into her head. The muscles in her neck relaxed, allowing her to lean into Xericka’s touch with a contented murmur.

Xericka leaned in closer. She could see the hairs on her partner’s neck standing up as they were stirred by her breath. “Or perhaps simple words are not enough. Would you prefer a definitive statement?” The hand traveling down the slope of Gremlin’s jaw finally reached her chin. Xericka took hold of it and gently turned her partner’s face towards her own. “Confirmation that your attractiveness remains unblemished?”

Gremlin opened her eyes. She and Xericka stared at each other, unmoving, barely even bothering to blink. Their faces were only a couple of inches apart.

“You…” Gremlin eventually whispered. “You are so evil.”

“Hmm?”

“You’re trying to faux-seduce me into forgetting about how pissed I am so that I’ll stop complaining, aren’t you?”

There was another pause. “Yes, I would consider that to be an accurate assessment,” Xericka replied in her normal deadpan voice. She moved herself away from Gremlin, but only slightly. “Is that a problem?”

Gremlin smirked. “Not if you keep rubbing my head for few more minutes, it isn’t.”

“I have your word that you will cease this pointless self-indulgent whining and learn to accept your current appearance?”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” After finishing all the associated gestures, Gremlin leaned up against her partner’s side. The Nobody’s coat was cool against the bare skin of her face. A loose strand of blue hair had somehow escaped Xericka’s ponytail and was now resting across the metahuman’s face. “Now get back to it.”

“Very well.” Xericka resumed playing her fingers through Gremlin’s hair, albeit in a much less overtly flirtatious manner. “You know,” she said after few seconds. “I must admit that your hair does provide a pleasing tactile sensation. It is rather like petting a puppy.”

Gremlin craned her neck around to better look at Xericka without having to move away from her hands. “When have you ever petted a puppy?” she asked.

“It was part of a new type of therapy at FicPsych. I believe they referred to it as Cuteness-Assisted Rehabilitation. The nurses became quite vexed when I told them I did not think it was working in my particular case.”

“Huh.” After yet another lull, Gremlin’s face took on a suggestive smile. “You know,” she murmured as she rubbed her cheek against Xericka’s shoulder. One of her own hands slid across the Nobody’s stomach, coming to a halt on her opposite hip. “I bet that ‘pleasing tactile sensation’ would be even more pleasing if it were applied to… certain areas.”

Xericka nodded, a satisfied expression appearing on her face. “There is the Gremlin with whom I am most familiar.” She paused. “And no chance.”

“It was worth a shot.”
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