Pokémon: Absolution

Pokémon: Absolution

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[Complete] - Team Rocket has achieved domination of the Pokémon world. It is they who control who receives a Pokémon, who can achieve their dreams, however; even with their good intentions, there are those who would still oppose them. Even from within.

1,668 readers have visited Pokémon: Absolution since Nemeseia created it.
Aethyia are listed as curators, giving them final say over any conflict & the ability to clean up mistakes.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

http://www.pokemon.com/us/

Heads Up: Completed Storyline!

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Introduction



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"Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross."














































When a trainer receives his or her first Pokédex, their first reaction is not sadness nor is it sorrow. They feel joy, happiness that radiates to all those that surround them. It is a blessing to them, one that marks them as finally old enough to travel the world with a Pokémon at his or her side. There was no greater feeling than journeying across the regions, challenging Gym Leaders or simply filling the Pokédex. No one trainer was the same, and each had their own goals, their own dreams. Some dreams were achieved while others never became more than a mere whisper. There was one dream, perhaps, that shone the brightest. It was a dream of a world where Pokémon and humans could live together in peace, and in harmony. But as with most pure intentions, they did not remain as so.

Team Rocket was an organization that most knew to be vile. They stole trainers' Pokémon, tried to capture legendary Pokémon to do their bidding, however; they were always thwarted. Team Rocket never fulfilled their ambitions to take over the world and create a world where only they held Pokémon. Each time they resurfaced to try again, there was a trainer always waiting for them. Perhaps not always intentionally so, but they were always defeated. Thirty years ago saw the last of Team Rocket's activities. There was no sign of them and people began to forget. Who was this Team Rocket? What did they do, and why were they so important? Eventually, even the other organizations forgot. Why should they remember the group who disbanded after their leader left?

Perhaps, everyone should have remembered?

It happened so fast, their resurgence. Team Rocket was back, however; there was something different about them. They were not the same, simple-minded grunts or executives. Their leader—someone never seen before—held to something precious. Tired of seeing Pokémon mistreated by their trainers, watching as the trainers gave no sympathy to their partners, Team Rocket resurfaced with a new purpose, one that contradicted their previous ploys. They wanted to liberate Pokémon, free them from their trainers, however; one thing remained the same. Team Rocket would oversee the distribution of Pokéballs and Pokémon to qualified trainers.

Many people believed Team Rocket would be stopped, that their plans would never reach fruition, however; their leader proved to be cunning, strong-willed, and without equal when it came to challenges. Their determination—the belief that Pokémon were better off without trainers—flowed so fiercely that even the members of Rocket would not dare challenge their leader. In the span of ten years, Team Rocket achieved what no one thought possible. They achieved their dreams. Pokémon were no longer given as starter Pokémon to just any child. There were a series of tests, ones that tested the will of trainers and the strength of their hearts. If trainers were found unworthy, they would never be able to travel the world with their first Pokémon, nor would they ever be given the chance to dream. But with all ambitions, they must crumble.

There are those who still move to overthrow Team Rocket, to bring the world back to the way it was. They seek to bring hope back to the hopeless, to give dreams a fighting chance. But what do three members of the organization have to do with this usurp of the throne? What does one, innocent woman, have to do with these members? One thing is certain, fate does not intend to be kind to them, nor does she expect to go easy on them. Hearts grow weary, after all, when they are not properly nourished.


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The Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK



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The soft thrumming of a small chest was enough to stir Eryk from his slumber. Removing the arm that covered his eyes, he glanced towards the object and frowned slightly. His meowth seemed content where it was, giving no indications of moving or even waking at the moment, and Eryk resigned to sitting up. The meowth mewled in protest as she jumped from her spot, allowing Eryk to finally move his limbs. He glanced at the watch, fastened to his wrist, and allowed the frown on his face to deepen. Three hours had passed and he had a feeling he knew why. Meowth merely sat in her spot and smiled innocently at her owner, her tail twitching in its place.

"Return," were the only words he spoke, watching as the red beam landed on the meowth, and successfully recalled her to her pokéball. Fastening the ball to his belt, Eryk stood up from his concrete bed, righting the white coat over his person before making his way down the roof stairs. His employers had deemed it necessary to rebuild the Pokémon Mansion in order to set up a base. Why they chose Cinnabar Island, Eryk only had a slight guess. But this was his current residence along with two of his coworkers. It was where they were to set up operations and to keep tabs on a certain party member. He didn't understand what their interest was in the girl, but a job was a job, and he was here to do it. With that in mind, he descended down the final flight and stopped momentarily.

"Good afternoon, Ryk," a familiar voice greeted, and a ghost of a smile graced his lips. It disappeared soon after as he turned to fully face Cyrilla. "They want verbal interactions with her," she had stated, and he could hear the faint displeasure in her voice. He pursed his lips together as the information settled. "They want you on it first, though," she continued, causing Eryk to stiffen in his posture. He supposed he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. It's what they wanted, and he had to do it. But what would be a good reason to visit such a place?

"Any specifics?" he questioned, his voice a low kind of tone. Had it been any other person, she might have flinched at the bite it held, but he knew her well enough that she would not take it that way. She, instead, merely shook her head, her white locks spilling over her shoulder before handing him a folder. "Thank you," he spoke, a sort of softness filtering in before he walked away. He glanced at the folder in his hand, glancing at the information it contained. There was nothing specific in the details, and he narrowed his eyes slightly. If they wanted him to gather information on her, he needed to know exactly what they wanted. A frustrated sigh escaped his lips as he placed the folder beneath his arm, and walked towards his room. If he was going to do this, he couldn't show up in the executive uniform, now could he?

Once he was fully dressed, a plain white shirt with a black coat over and a pair of blue jeans, he left the mansion, making his way towards his destination, however; he did not account for his meowth to appear from her ball, and stare up at him with a glint in her eyes he knew too well. It was one his friend, Kasimir, usually wore when he was up to no good, and he narrowed his eyes at the meowth. Before he could get a single word in, the meowth darted off, earning a sigh from the man. He did not have time for this, and pinched the bridge of his nose. He knew he should have given the meowth back to Cyrilla. He allowed his legs to carry him off to his destination, looking for his meowth as he did so. Perhaps the creature was a little more clever than he thought her to be, but she would return to him, eventually.

Had he paid more attention, though, he would have noticed his meowth curling up to the legs of the one he needed to speak with. What he would say to her, though, is something he did not know. Instead, spotting the signature pink locks of the girl, he approached, silent at first, before clearing his throat. He did not, after all, want to startle the girl. His appearance would do that well enough, though he would not blame her. "Pardon, but have you seen a meowth running by?" he spoke, his voice coming out a smidge awkward. He tried to tone it down a bit, knowing full well the effects it had on people sometimes.

The girl in question had a rather unusual look to her, not least of all due to the rose-colored hue of her ample sheets of hair, presently neatly braided around the crown of her head, with the spare foot and a half or so draped easily over her left shoulder. She was quite thin, almost frail-looking, and compared to him, her height was rather unimpressive, though this had more to do with his being tall than any especial shortness on her part. Her face was a rather artistic arrangement of delicate bone structure and fair skin, though the smattering of freckles gave it a distinct sense of youth and a much-needed hint of chaos.

She did not at first seem to realize that she was the one he addressed, starting slightly at the sound of his voice, but pausing for several seconds more before actually looking away from what she was doing, probably because she'd heard no one else answer in the meantime. It would have been quite apparent then that there was no one else he could be talking to, because she was the only other one around.

She had to be young—it was obvious from this angle. Somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two would be a reasonable guess, though there was something to the set of her expression that suggested greater age than that, somehow. It disappeared, though, when she smiled, the gesture only slight, but enough to melt away any hint of premature age. It didn't quite reach her eyes, but it was close, close enough to almost miss.

"Well, sir, I'm not sure,” she replied, and there was something in her tone that wasn't exactly straightforward, almost as though she were teasing him, albeit gently. "Perhaps if you told me what kind of markings she has, or how big she is?” The girl folded her arms behind her back, shifting the way she was standing slightly, though she moved no closer to him. Instead, the shift revealed just a little bit of a feline ear, making it obvious to the observant that the Pokémon in question was, indeed, hiding behind the young woman's legs.

"She is smaller than your average meowth, standing about yea high," he began, trying his best to describe his meowth. It took him a moment to realize that, when she moved, the meowth he was searching for was behind her, peeking ever so lightly from her hiding space. He glanced down at the meowth before lifting his eyes back to the young girl. He simply stared at her for a moment, furrowing his brows slightly before he realized that the young woman knew, and he released a short sigh. Why did they want him, of all people, to interact with her first? Why couldn't they have sent Kasimir or Cyrilla? They were much better at starting casual conversations with people—he was decidedly not. She seemed simple enough, though, and before he could reel his thoughts any further, he turned so that he was just looking at her, and not staring.

"Perhaps it is due a proper introduction," he finally stated, his posture straightening almost to the point he could no longer do so. They had occupied the renovated mansion for over a month now, and he had yet to learn her name. He heard Cyrilla mention it once, but he did not retain it to his memory. "Eryk," he simply stated, though one couldn't exactly say it was a proper introduction. Realizing this, he cleared his throat and corrected himself. "My name is Eryk," he continued, furrowing his brows at himself. To the onlookers, it would look like he was glaring at the girl, as if she'd offended him in some way, however; it was not intentional. For a moment, she appeared to flinch, but her expression smoothed back out quickly.

"I... we just moved here not too long ago. My cousin appears to have made acquaintances here, already," he spoke, and he did not doubt that she would have, being who she was. If he recalled correctly, she had made friends with the Gym Leader, Blake's Grandson, Drake. He did not approve of the man, but they were just friends as far as he knew. "She has mentioned that I need to do the same," he continued, partially telling the truth. Cyrilla had spoken to him about at least meeting people. He motioned for his meowth to return to him, and she did, jumping so that she was now hanging on his shoulders, staring with mirth in her eyes, at the young girl.

There was something a smidge indulgent about the young woman's smile, and her expression conveyed a sense of patience, as though she didn't find this half as awkward as Eryk did. “Well then, I am honored to be your first new acquaintance, Eryk,” she replied with what appeared to be good humor. Her voice was soft, and slightly faint, as though she were not especially accustomed to using it, but she showed none of the discomfort that he did, and indeed stepped slowly forward, making her motions obvious and unsurprising.

She lifted a hand, and held it out sideways, offering it for a shake. “My name is Anastasia. I've only lived on the island for about a year myself, but I think that's long enough for me to be able to welcome you to it. I hope you'll feel at home here.” Her hand was much like the rest of her—thin and fair-skinned, and a trifle delicate-looking, but all the same, there were slight calluses on her fingers, those gained, perhaps from manual labor of some kind, and her fingers were the long, elegant tapers of a musician. It would still quite clearly be dwarfed by his.

He stared at her hand for a long moment, as if contemplating whether or not to take it. Hesitantly, he offered his own hand. It jerked, albeit unnoticeably, before it fully connected with hers, and he took it with a surprisng gentleness he did not know he could possess. Perhaps it was because she looked so fragile compared to most of the people he dealt with. He left his hand connected with hers for a bit longer than was deemed customary, but he released it as slowly as he took it.

"It is longer than we have been here, thank you... for the welcome," he finally spoke, the awkwardness never leaving the tone of his voice. He nodded his head faintly before glancing at the meowth at his shoulder, who seemed to be staring at him with a hint of mischief, but he merely passed it off. "Perhaps I can help you with some of your chores," he spoke, but the way he stated it came off as more of a demand than a question. He meant it as the latter, and could only hope she took it as such. She did not appear to need his help, but it would mean their conversation would last a bit longer. He'd only learned her name thus far, and if he wanted to gain anything else, he would have to remain with her.

"That is, of course, if you desire it. I will not impede your work, Miss Anastasia," he decided to clarify himself.

She glanced down at the items laying next to her, which she had apparently been carrying beforehand. They looked like two enormous bags of Pokémon food, from the labels, and then back up at him, a curious expression coming over her face for a moment, almost as though he were some kind of exotic creature she'd never seen before. “Help… me?” she looked a little perplexed, blinking up at him, but then she nodded slightly. “If you have the time, I could perhaps use a bit of assistance getting these back home.”

Bending down, she picked up one of the bags, teetering dangerously to the side for a moment before she staggered and caught her balance again, hefting the fifty-pound sack onto one of her thin shoulders. It settled there, and looked stable enough, though it was a tough guess as to how she'd ever managed the second one, because she looked a little overwhelmed even with just the one. “I'm a few blocks down this way, if you could get the other one? I had to drop them when your cute little friend came to say hello.” She smiled softly at the meowth on his shoulder.

She started off at a moderate walking pace, her steps oddly graceful and light despite the awkwardness of her burden. Sunlight glimmered in the rosy strands of her plait, and given how fair she was, the brightness of the tropical day almost seemed to dissolve her at the edges. Her voice, however, remained pleasantly solid. “So what brought you to Cinnabar, if I can ask?”

With little effort on his part, Eryk hefted the other bag on his shoulder, but pursed his lips into a fine line when Anastasia took off with the other one on her shoulder. He hadn't missed the way she staggered, considering it was obvious enough, and contemplated whether or not he would help any further. The meowth gave a soft nudge with her head against his free hand, recalling herself into her own ball leaving his other shoulder free. Without as much as a word, in a few quick strides, he was by her side, taking her bag from her arms and placing it on his spare shoulder.

"I don't mind," he spoke as if to excuse himself of what he just did. His voice was barely above a whisper, though, when he spoke, and glanced down from the corner of his eye when she spoke. "Research," was the curt reply he gave. She probably wanted more than that, but he remained silent for a second, trying to think of what they were researching. He couldn't say We're researching you, unless he wanted to come off as some kind of insane person, however; the gears in his mind began to crank as he added to his comment.

"The Old Mansion is a house of lore, and there is a certain pokémon we are investigating," though he wasn't exactly lying about that. There were exactly two reasons why they rebuilt that mansion, and one of them was to study the origins of Mewtwo and Mew. It seemed like a harmless enough explanation since there were others in the world interested in the two. He wasn't exactly a researcher, but she didn't have to know that. "I suspect when we are finished, we will be leaving," though he really couldn't say for sure. If they actually found something, chances were they'd remain on Cinnabar Island for a good time.

Anastasia nodded, seeming to accept the answer, brief as it was, with equanimity. She rolled her shoulders, not appearing upset that her burden had been removed but rather wearing that vaguely-surprised look again, like he was something she didn't quite know what to do about. “I've never been in it, but I've heard some of the local stories,” she replied in the same thread of conversation. “They used to say it was haunted, but I…” she trailed off, pursing her lips slightly. “Well, it seems unlikely to me, anyway.” there was something about the way she said it that gave the impression that it wasn't what she'd originally meant to say there.

Another couple of blocks brought them to a comparatively large property, one with an arch over the gate and a white picket fence enclosing the yard. Two buildings sat on the grounds. One was a modest house, no bigger then the others in the neighborhood but cheerfully painted, meticulously-clean, and obviously well-maintained. It was a soft blue color, with white shutters and a matching door, a small vegetable garden just visible to one side of it. The second building was painted to match, but was much larger, and all on a single level, set on the back of the lot with a wide expanse of grass in between. There was even a little pond, one that burbled with a fountain, which produced a soft, pleasant sound.

The arch read CINNABAR POKÉMON REHABILITATION AND HOSPICE, and indeed, the yard was filled with pokémon, about five in total at the moment. An ekans sunned itself on a large flat stone near the pond, occasionally shooting aggravated glances at the feebas energetically splashing around inside it. A one-legged pidove pecked at a scattering of seed on the ground, along with a pidgeotto who seemed to be missing an eye. A very old-looking stoutland, his coat almost completely grey and white, slept on his back by the gate, his paws in the air at odd angles.

“Well, here's home,” Anastasia said, fishing around in her pockets for a ring of keys before fitting one into the gate. “It's not much, but if you don't mind, I could make you some tea? As thanks, for the help.”

He did not pursue the subject further when she spoke, instead opting to listen to what she had to say. He was, after all, suppose to collect information in any way he could, and if she wanted to speak, he let her. It was easier that way, and he could do what he did best: listen. He had heard those same rumors, the ones speaking of the haunted mansion, but he cared not for the superstitions of others. If it was haunted, he would have known it by now, but it seemed that it was just abandoned. When they approached her place of living, he simply stared at the simplicity of it. He glanced at Anastasia, back to the abode, and back at the pink-haired girl, blinking slowly in the process.

"That won't be," he began, stopping only momentarily as he contemplated her offer. He could use the opportunity to speak with her further, but he didn't want to overstay his welcome. Conversations with him were not the easiest things, and he knew he'd probably intimidate her if he spoke freely. As if on cue, the phone in his pocket vibrated, signaling the arrival of a text. He dropped one of the bags to his side, and fished the phone from its place before reading the message. He frowned slightly, but did nothing further. Slipping the phone back into his pocket, he turned his attention back to Anastasia.

"Perhaps another day? We will be here for a while yet, I assure you this won't be the last encounter we have," he spoke, not at all fazed by what he just said. If he'd known better, he would have known that it sounded a little stalker-like, but he did not. "Where should I leave these?" he finally continued, motioning towards the two bags he was still carrying.

She didn't seem at all upset by the fact that her offer had been turned down, glancing at his phone for a moment and smiling in an understanding sort of way before she was able to push the unlocked gate open. “Well, if you don't mind, you can just put them by the door there.” She indicated the front entrance of the larger building as they stepped inside the gate, the old stoutland rousing himself from sleep immediately and waddling over to Anastasia, who bent to scratch him behind the ears. He wheezed in what sounded like a pleased sort of way and leaned into her hand, which she used to pat his head again before straightening.

“You have my thanks, Eryk. Since you can't stay for tea, please at least accept these.” Her hand dipped into one of the pockets of her apron, and she pulled out a small burlap bag, tied at the top with what looked like a ribbon. “They're pokémon treats. I'm not sure if miss meowth is your only one, but they're popular with my guests here, so I hope yours will like them too.” From the packaging, it wasn't a difficult guess that they were homemade, since the sack was stamped with the same logo as the gate.

He would have refused to take them, however; somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his team would be upset with him. Sighing inwardly, he took the parcel from her hand and placed it in his pocket, careful as to not damage it. Retrieving the second bag, he hoisted them to their location and left them where she told him, turning to make his leave, after. He paused at the gate, glancing down at the shorter girl from the corner of his eyes before taking a step forward. "You're welcome," he spoke, his voice barely above a whisper as he made his way back to the facility. He'd learned only one thing today, and that was her name.

"Anastasia."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
It was midmorning on Cinnabar Island, and as usual, there weren’t too many people around the administrative office. For the moment, it was basically three executives running the place by themselves, with a small staff of grunts to take care of any menial work that they deemed necessary, and since it was a Saturday, the chance of any of them showing up was minimal. For the moment, that meant the Three Beasts were left to do any work needed today. More accurately, it meant that while Ryk was doing… whatever the honchos in Saffron had decided needed doing in the field, Cyrilla was handling the paperwork and schedule for the next week, and the third member of the executive team (second in rank technically, but that wasn’t important) was taking a nap on the office sofa. 

His long, lanky frame was comically oversized for the furniture, even though the sofa itself wasn’t that small. His legs were hooked at the knee over one arm, his head propped on a cushion that rested against the other. One arm draped over the side and flopped onto the floor, the other wrapped securely around the Pokémon that slept peacefully on his chest, its fluffy white wool occasionally fizzling with a subtle static charge, but harmless to its trainer. Meep the mareep was tucked into a ball, her legs underneath her, her chin resting on her trainer’s shoulder, nose nuzzled comfortably into his hair. The light in the sphere at the end of her tail slowly brightened and faded with her steady breathing, and she made soft, waffling snores in her sleep. 

Absently, the dark hand resting atop her fleece moved back and forth, too subtly to be noticed by a casual observer. Kasimir kept his eyes closed while he listened to the sounds of Cyrilla going about her business in the same spacious office area, relishing the peace and quiet that pervaded, and likely would until Ryk got back and started yelling at him to get off his lazy ass and do some of it himself. Cy would never do that, though, and he liked it about her. Honestly, he did feel bad sometimes, but it wasn’t like he actually overburdened the rest of his team by being lazy. His share of the work got done, just not when anyone was watching. 

Everything about him was seemingly designed to give the opposite impression, though. He didn’t wear the uniform or even the version of it they’d been given to pass off as researchers—instead he was wearing a loud, blue-and-orange Hawaiian shirt, left open and with an ordinary white t-shirt underneath, and cargo pants. His feet were bare, even in the office, his hair only casually tied back, his tattoos obvious, especially the one on his forearm. Meep shifted slightly on his chest, huffing in her slumber, and his mouth turned up just slightly at the corner, as though he were enjoying a pleasant dream.

The soft scratches of a pen being pushed around, however, could be heard coming to a stop, and a sigh of relief making an exit. The job at hand seemingly finished, Cyrilla stood from her seat, piling the papers together and shuffling off towards another part of the room. Once she was finished setting the papers away, she made her way towards him, remaining as quiet as she was trained to be, before stopping a foot away. She seemed to contemplate something, the thought flashing passively over her eyes before she decided against it. Reaching out slowly, she poked his arm softly, trying to stir him from his slumber.

"There are other places to sleep other than the sofa, places that are perhaps a little more comfortable, no?" she spoke, her voice soft with a hint of teasing laced behind it. She seemed to laugh at herself, however; she retracted her arm and let it fall to her side. A grunt of agreement could be heard across the room, coming from a Growlithe nestled by the desk she once occupied. He stood, stretching his legs before making his way towards the white-haired woman and sat patiently beside her. He was now closer to the sofa if the soft thumps of his tail against it were any indication.

"Even Lithe agrees," she added, a soft chuckle permeating the air. "Or you could always wait for Ryk to come back and have him on your case," she continued, the mirth in her voice never leaving. It remained quiet for a few seconds more before a sigh of defeat escaped her, and she shifted in her stance. "Would you at least like a blanket?" she questioned, the teasing note leaving her voice and replaced by something a little more serious.

Kasimir cracked a golden eye open, fixing it unerringly on Cyrilla, the look in it almost unsettlingly intent for a moment before it passed, returning to his usual glint of mischief. “Mm… depends,” he murmured, opening his other eye and flashing her an easy smile. “If I had a blanket, would you lay in it with me?” he arched an eyebrow suggestively, lifting his free hand up to toy casually with the hem of her shirt, though he avoided lifting it or otherwise doing anything that he knew would make her too uncomfortable. 

Cyrilla was undoubtedly fun to tease, but he knew pretty well where her boundaries were, and he made a point of respecting them.

If the color staining her already pale complexion was any indication, the slight tremor in her hand was a dead giveaway to the embarrassment she was experiencing. There was a brief flicker of emotion passing behind her eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly, leaving her to the soft blush upon her cheeks. She placed her finger tips on his hand, though, and gently pushed it away from the hem of her shirt, the smile on her face never leaving its spot. "If it were just Meep, maybe, but three's a crowd," she replied, shaking her head lightly. The growlithe on the floor merely rolled his eyes before shuffling off to another part of the office.

"But it appears that you are awake now, so," she stated, slipping back towards the desk, reaching for a thick folder, and bringing it back towards him. "You get to handle these," she continued, dropping the folder on the part of him that wasn't covered by the Mareep. In this case, it happened to be around his stomach. "Cinnabar is having a festival in about two months time. They want to use this as a stepping stone to further scout out the residents of this island, especially," she paused, and the slight lock of her jaw was made obvious with the recoil of her lips.

"Eryk was charged with talking with her, to gather any information he could, but the two of us are supposed to check on any other potentials this island might have," she spoke with a sort of solemnness to her voice, as if the thought of it upset her in some way. Considering her nature, it probably did, but there was nothing the two of them could do about it. "While you review that, would you care for something to eat? It's a little past lunch time and neither you nor Ryk ate anything. I can make something if you'd like, even if it's just a sandwich," she seemed to offer, changing the subject just slighty.

Kas grumbled softly, picking up the thick packet of papers on his stomach and maneuvering it around the sleeping Meep with a sort of deceptive grace. He managed to make what he was doing look clumsy without ever actually being in danger of losing the papers or jostling his sleeping pokémon. “You don’t have to make me a sandwich, Cy.” A pause. “It would really help if the home office told us what we were actually looking for,” he muttered. So far, they’d been told only that Team Rocket was in need of a civilian of a very special sort for… something. It was all very hush-hush, and considering the fact that they were right below the top in terms of rank, the knowledge that their purpose was being kept from them was quite unsettling. 

He, of course, had his own reasons for wanting to know what was going on, quite independent of any desire to do his work well or succeed at the task set before them, but those were things he could not and did not share, not even with the two of them. “Hey Cy,” he started, flipping carelessly through a few of the files until he found the one he wanted. It was a photograph of a young lady with blush-pink hair, their supposed primary target. He’d actually already introduced himself to her, though he hadn’t bothered telling anyone as much. “Why d’you think the bosses wanted Eryk to do this part? I mean, I like the guy, but he’s not who I’d pick for a diplomatic task like this, y’know?” It was actually a little puzzling, and he wondered if there was some deeper motivation for it. 

"Because Eryk is less likely to become attached," was the quick response she gave, but even those words seemed to be delivered with a hesitant nature. "Or at least that's what they believe," she continued, setting herself down on the spare loveseat to the side. "You know how Ryk is. Once they tell him to do something, he'll do it without becoming personally involved," because that was who Eryk was. She sighed a little dejectedly before folding her hands in front of her. 

She played absentmindedly with her thumbs before stopping altogether, instead, choosing to play with a tuff of the growlithe's fur. "They still don't trust me enough, and they don't believe you'd complete it in a timely manner. Whatever it is they are looking for appears to be time sensitive. It's probably why they want us here for the next few months before moving us somewhere else," she finally concluded, lifting her gaze so that she was staring at him. She seemed to want to say more, but whatever it was, she kept it to herself.

“’Least likely to get attached,’ huh?” Kasimir mused thoughtfully. He could definitely see that being the reasoning the boss used, but he thought it might not be so straightforward as that. Kas had known Eryk for years now—it was true that he was reticent, had few friends, and was one of the most socially-awkward people he’d ever met, but… he also knew that if the boss was wrong, if Eryk did end up feeling some loyalty or friendship for a target for some reason, the results would be nothing short of catastrophic. Ryk wasn’t the kind of guy who could just sever a connection, could just pretend that he didn’t feel loyalty for someone else. 

“Eh, I guess we’ll see.” His response was ultimately noncommittal, as though he hadn’t given it much thought at all. He found himself doing that often, concealing his more analytical tendencies. He told himself it was necessary—he really could compartmentalize enough to deceive even his so-called friends. He was despicable that way. 

Slowly sitting up, he was forced to disturb Meep, who blinked sleepily at him, but he easily reset her on top of his head, where she seemed happy to sit. Grinning brightly at Cyrilla, he winked, knowing how ridiculous he looked and hoping it would chase that melancholy look off her face. “I’ll make you a deal, Cy. You give me the summary of all this—” he waved the packet around, knowing that she’d probably memorized the contents already and not wanting to bother reading it—“and I’ll make the food, just for you.”

The charade seemed to work, bringing a soft smile to Cyrilla's face as she laughed lightly, the sound itself almost warm. "It's a good thing Meep likes being a hat," she stated, but blinked owlishly as he spoke. "Cook... for me?" she questioned, pointing a finger to herself. She had always done most of the cooking, so it seemed a strange offer to her. She kept her position for a moment, as if contemplating to accept the offer, however; she merely shook her head, and took the packet anyway. 

"It's not that I don't trust your cooking, or anything, but," she began, standing from her spot and flipping through the packet. She moved back towards the desk and set the folder down, placing it with another pile neatly tucked into the corner. Once she was finished, she moved back so that she stood in front of him, smiling brightly as she did so. "I think we've done enough for now, no? Besides, Eryk will be getting back soon, and I want to have dinner ready for him. How about you go greet him, hm?" she stated, the smile slowly forming into a grin.

Kas frowned. “You’re mean to me, Cy. He’s probably gonna be grumpy because he had to talk to people and then he’s gonna take out all his crankiness on me.” He pouted slightly, then threw up his hands and sighed theatrically in mock defeat, standing from his spot on the couch, an action which made his height considerably more obvious—he towered over his female coworker. 

The expression on his face shifted, a mischievous smile flickering dangerously over his mouth, and he bent down, placing one large hand on her shoulder and speaking into her other ear in a soft voice. “But I’m sure I’ll find some way to get even later.” Abruptly straightening again, he patted the pokémon still on the top of his head and headed out the door, intending to go retrieve his friend.

Cyrilla stood in her spot, her face of a color to match her eyes. "And you call me the mean one."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

The first few days he'd spent in Anastasia's company had been awkward, to say the least. He spent a great deal of time just listening to what she had to say, giving very little input, but it hadn't seemed to bother her the slightest. He had not learned as much as he thought he would, and given that he had very little to work with, he didn't know how to properly write the report back to headquarters. All he could tell them was her name, what she did, and that was it. She seemed like an ordinary person living on Cinnabar Island, though a little strange if he were being completely honest with himself. He released a deep sigh, leaning onto his folded hands. The soft purring of his meowth could be heard beneath the table he sat at, and he resisted the urge to lean down and stroke her fur. Most of his other pokémon were scattered across his room except for his Gyarados. The creature would likely destroy something, though not purposefully.

"Blue," he spoke, his voice deep and stern. The Altaria merely lowered glanced down so that he was staring directly at Eryk, and tilted his head in slight confusion. "Off," he continued, watching as Blue gave him a look as if to say Why?. His expression flattened before the Altaria removed itself from the perch it had made on Eryk's head, and instead, took up a majority of the small couch in Eryk's office. He stared at the Altaria for a moment, blinking slowly before removing his gaze. He glanced down at the papers in front of him, and stared at them as if he were trying to understand them. And he was. He was still trying to figure out why the higher ups wanted any information he could give them about one resident in particular. She wasn't a threat, or at least not one that he could immediately detect.

If anything, she was too fragile in her appearance to be of any threat. She didn't even appear to be able to make herself intimidating, not like he did naturally. He glanced at the door, half expecting Cyrilla or Kasimir to make their way through. When the door remained as it was, closed, he released a small sigh. He forgot Cyrilla was out in the town, doing field research, and scoping out some of the other residents. Kasimir was probably doing one of two things: sleeping or slacking off. Eryk pursed his lips together before shaking his head. At least the taller male wasn't bothering him, right?

Actually, sometimes Kasimir actually did work. He just made a point of doing so when no one else was around. This served several purposes, though from the way he made it look, his only aim in being a visible slacker was to annoy his coworkers.

His fingers flew over the keys at his workstation, unerring and swift, and he studied the rapid sequence of images that followed, schematics for his next mission, handed down from on high as usual. Without anyone else around, his expression had dropped into a fierce scowl—Ryk might be naturally intimidating, but Kasimir had a certain kind of intensity, too, one that was hidden more often than not. Sighing through his nose, he copied the data onto a flash drive and switched screens, rapidly entering data into another workstation. He took a moment to proofread before he hit send, forwarding several more pieces of data back to home base, so to speak.

There was a certain risk inherent in electronic communications, but he wasn’t worried about anyone else being able to read what he’d encrypted. He hadn’t earned his post just by being good at battling pokémon, after all. Leaning back in his chair, he logged out of all his systems, added all his paper files to the folder he’d picked up from the general office supply closet earlier, and affixed it with a label in his messy script, legible but only barely. It was difficult to make himself do that, but he never forgot the details. They were far too important.

Deciding he’d had just about enough of work for one day, he decided to go bother Eryk for a while, since he knew Cyrilla was out. Messing with his other friend could be just as fun, with the right ammunition, if in a markedly different way. Exiting his office, he made his way down to Ryk’s, which wasn’t far, and knocked lazily, entering without permission anyway. Taking in the current state of his friend, he cracked a smile. It was difficult not to laugh, actually, but he kept his amusement contained to a soft huff.

“Now there’s a look I never expected to see on your face. You’re thinking about a girl, aren’t you?” It was the same vaguely-frustrated, deeply-confused look a lot of people had in that situation, though he doubted it meant the same thing here. Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun teasing Ryk about it.

For a long minute, Eryk stared at Kasimir as he entered his office. He was almost used to the man's abrupt intrusions, but the frown on his face deepened regardless. It took another minute for the words Kas spoke to sink in, and Eryk's face returned to its neutral state. "What of it? She is a civilian of interest to them," and by them, he meant those who were above him. If Kas meant anything else by it, he did not make any note of it. Blue, on the other hand, decided now would be the perfect opportunity to seek shelter on Ryk's shoulder, hanging off as best as he could.

Eryk turned to Blue, and back to his coworker. "Have you made progress?" he questioned, deciding it would perhaps prove more beneficial for him if Kasimir managed to find something. He wasn't too thrilled about the notion of speaking with Anastasia again, only because it was proving to be more difficult than he expected it to be. He'd have to request a change of person if he couldn't find something soon. He really wasn't suited for interactions with another person outside of the company. He was also sure he was intimidating her somehow.

“Does she intimidate you that much?” Kasimir replied lightly, letting himself fall backwards into one of the armchairs in Eryk’s office, and hitching his legs over the armrest to sit sideways. He was on average a little too tall for any piece of furniture he chose to occupy, but then Eryk was too, and so the stuff in his office was more suited for lofty people. He tilted his head to the side, blinking at his friend with cloudy golden eyes.

“This kind of deep-cover approach… it doesn’t get you results in a few days, Eryk. You have to actually build the friendship, a lot of times. People are surprisingly good at picking up on when other people are uncomfortable or not genuine, and it keeps them guarded. You have to actually want to know more about her, be her friend, that kind of thing. Then she’ll open up. And since we don’t really know what we’re looking for, that’s the only way we stand a chance of success.” Presumably, there was something special about Anastasia, something beyond what anyone had been able to observe so far. But if it was the kind of thing that would interest the higher-ups, then it would make sense that she didn’t go broadcasting it to every random stranger in the world.

“Of course, if you wanted that to go faster… people generally give information to their dates much more readily than they give it to their potential friends…” He trailed off, a sly smile on his face. This was true, really, because friendship tended to develop slower, at least the way most people did those things nowadays. It wasn’t the kind of idea Eryk would go for—that kind of angle was much more Kas’s own way of operating. Even if he could see the merit in the idea, Kasimir was pretty sure he lacked the social skills to pull it off, which was why it would be absolutely hilarious to watch.

"No," he replied curtly, narrowing his gaze at Kasimir. He was not intimidated by her, but he couldn't deny that there was something there. She made him cautious. He sighed through his nose, shifting himself so that Blue was now on the floor, curling around the bellossom not too far from Ryk's desk. Dates? He gave Kasimir a skeptical look. "Why would anyone speak to their fruit?" he questioned, until the true meaning appeared behind Kas's statement. Eryk's frown deepened as he stared at his friend, however; if that were the case...

"Cyrilla mentioned that you and her were working on some final details for Cinnabar's Camilla Festival in two months. It would provide us with decent intel on the inhabitants who attend since all of them participate in one way or another. Perhaps I can invite her to that," he spoke, taking Kasimir's words to heart. It was, he'd admit, a good idea, though he wasn't quite sure how he was going to ask. He would have to spend a few more days in her company to reach a certain comfort level before considering asking her to the festival. He sighed deeply, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

"Unless you have a better idea," he stated, cracking one eye open as if to plead for the other man to have one.

Kasimir was torn between laughing himself into a rolling heap on Eryk’s floor and trying to strategize as he knew he should be. It was too funny, the way he took everything so damn seriously. The effort of containing his amusement seemed mostly successful, though he did end up coughing for a few seconds, before hitting his own chest with the side of his fist and clearing his throat.

“I don’t know about better ideas, but…” Kasimir went silent for a moment as something struck him, and for a moment, he stared unnervingly quietly at his counterpart, his brows drawing down over his eyes. In the end, though, he simply sighed heavily and leaned back against the chair, his lax demeanor returning. “It’s not like you have to rush this, you know. They won’t be expecting a report for a while. If you really don’t think you can do it, I’ll be happy to take over. Ana’s cute, after all.” He grinned lasciviously.

"The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can move on," he replied, though his head snapped back into Kasimir's general area at his suggestion. He pursed his lips together in a fine line, deepening the scowl in his eyes, however; Kasimir had a point. Kas could deal with it more effectively than he could, but something in him said no, and he shook his head. For now, he would just focus on getting more information from her the way he was doing it now; speaking with her and becoming more acquainted.

"No, I don't want you screwing this up," was the only statement he could make. He knew that if Kasimir did take over, he wouldn't do that, but the bosses wanted him to do it. "For now, just keep looking through other candidates they have selected. She's the primary one, but there should be others just in case this does not produce the results they want," he spoke, standing from his spot. He rolled out his shoulders as he placed the last file down, rearranging the rest of his files so they were neatly stacked.

"Besides, you still have paperwork to do, do you not? I'll make a deal with you," he spoke, a strange idea crossing his mind. "I will do half of your work in return for your guidance," he stated. Kasimir could teach him some things that could make him less awkward. It was a long shot, but it was worth making.

“Deal,” The reply was out of Kasimir’s mouth almost before Eryk had even finished speaking. “Less paperwork, and I get to watch you socialize. You’re a good man, Eryk Nero. The best of men.” And if the look in Kas’s eyes was anything to go by, he was going to have a lot of fun with this new development.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kenshin yawned, setting a slow pace as he walked. The lucario would glance every so often towards his trainer, watching as the same expression fluttered across her face. It was a thoughtful expression, one that seemed content, and yet, there was something worried. He knew her cousin had been upset this morning, and from what he could read from her, Eryk wasn't in a particular mood. The man had gone on a rampage, it seemed, due to something someone said. To elicit such a reaction, Kenshin had to assume it was from the higher ups. He sighed softly, causing Cyrilla to turn towards him, and offered a small smile.

"What's wrong, Ken?" she questioned, stopping in her steps and placing a hand on his shoulder. The lucario stared at her, contemplating whether or not he should tell her. He could, after all, sense her own emotions, even if she didn't display them at the moment. Their bond was strong in that sense, and he felt it necessary to always be there when she was in one of her moods. He knew she didn't like this lifestyle, that she only chose it for them, however; the only thing he could do was be there for her. He could offer her nothing else.

It's nothing, Cy. he responded, pushing forward to continue their walk. There was no destination in mind, and he'd preferred to keep it that way. That only meant that they didn't need to return soon, and could enjoy the afternoon.

As it happened, they wound up passing by the Pokémon Rehabilitation Center Eryk had been assigned, or rather, the place of residence of Eryk’s target. As usual, there were several pokémon, most of them old or afflicted by some form of disability, outside in the well-kept yard. Actually, there was a human as well, this time, someone Cyrilla could recognize from the photo in the target’s file as Anastasia herself. She was barefoot in the grass, several dishes of food balanced on either arm, wearing a simple knee-length dress and an apron. A small crowd of the more rambunctious pokémon had gathered at her feet, and she was laughing as she picked her way around them to set the dishes down in a clear spot in the shade of the roof overhang of the main building.

Once that had been achieved, she straightened up a bit, wiping her brow with a forearm and tossing her long pink braid back over her shoulder, as it had fallen forward in the process of bending over to set the dishes down. She apparently noticed Cyrilla and Kenshin walking by then, because she raised a hand, waving a greeting. “Good morning,” she intoned with a small smile.

Cyrilla stopped in her footsteps, causing Kenshin to pause in his steps as well, watching as a light frown formed on his trainer's face before it flashed into a quick smile. He knew she wasn't supposed to interact too much with the intended target, the one he recognized and one she seemed to as well as her hand responded with a light wave. He merely stared at the young woman, the one that seemed to hold so much interest from their organization. She seemed fragile, like the slightest of winds could blow her away with ease. But then again, perhaps he gave the wind too much credit. She seemed to be doing well enough, and so, he followed behind his trainer as she walked towards the young woman.

"Good morning," Cyrilla responded, pausing so that she stood outside of the gate, and leaned on it. Kenshin stood beside her, arms folded across his chest. He remained silent, instead, observing the interaction between the young girl and his trainer. What did he have to say, after all, to someone else? "How are things here? Do you need some help?" she continued, though he could hear the slight hesitation in the words. He sighed softly, watching as she waited for a response. Whether the answer was yes or no, he knew it wouldn't make much difference. Cyrilla would help regardless in some form or fashion, and he admired that, he supposed, in his trainer.

Anastasia blinked, apparently somewhat surprised by the sudden offer. Perhaps that made sense; they’d never actually talked as such, though Cyrilla knew a great deal about her from the files Team rocket had compiled about her. Independent for quite a number of years, considering her young age, and not listed as having any nuclear family, though she was known to be related closely to several of Johto’s Nurses Joy. That was hardly a surprise—she looked a great deal like one, in terms of general build and coloration.

“Ah, I appreciate the offer, but there’s really not anything to do at just this moment. Lunch tends to be followed by a nap, for most of them.” She smiled mildly, some amusement obvious in her eyes, then shrugged slightly, glancing down at the pokémon one last time before approaching the fence, which was only about waist-high. When she’d gotten close enough for more proper conversation, she sighed slightly, more with an air of relief than fatigue, and stuck her hand out over the fence. “I’m Anastasia. I don’t believe we’ve met, Miss…?”

Kenshin watched with slightly curious eyes as Anastasia walked over, presenting her hand for a friendly handshake. Cyrilla seemed a little hesitant at first, the slight tensing of her shoulders giving way, before reaching over and taking the other girl's hand. She gave a gentle squeeze and allowed a soft smile to plague her lips. "Cyrilla," she started, pausing only for a moment as if to contemplate saying anything further. Kenshin merely sighed inwardly as he shook his head. It would be a little too late going back now, and she'd already given Anastasia her first name, why stop there?

"Cyrilla Niav," she finished, retracting her hand in the process. "This is Kenshin, my lucario," she added, pointing to himself as he gave a light nod in Ana's direction. "He... doesn't talk much," she stated, laughing nervously as he gave her a flat look. He just didn't feel the need to talk all the time. He spoke when he needed to, and only to those he wanted to. Everyone else could get the silent treatment, and he'd still be happy either way. Anastasia didn't seem to mind in any case, simply nodding with a soft smile.

"Ah, well, if there's nothing I can help with at the moment," she began, leaning away from the fence. Kenshin titled his head slightly, curious as to what she was going to say. She shouldn't be interacting too much with this woman, that much he knew. But he also knew how his trainer was, and she wasn't exactly going to disobey orders, but she wasn't going to follow them to the 't', either. He chuckled softly as the next set of words escaped her lips. "Would you mind showing me around a bit? I haven't quite learned my way around yet," she inquired. Of course, she wasn't entirely lying. Kenshin knew that they scoped the island out, but did nothing more. They were surveying the perfect spot to learn about the residents, but they didn't learn the entire layout of the island, or the small town they were occupying.

Anastasia raised both eyebrows, looking a little surprised, though not in a bad way. “Oh, of course! I’d be happy to.” Her smile inched a little wider, and she turned around to face the pokémon in her yard for a moment. “Sit tight, everyone; I’ll be back again soon.” The news seemed to go over fine, most of the pokémon clearly used to her coming and going from the shelter and able to trust that she would come back. Considering that many of the kinds of pokémon that ended up in places like this were abandonment cases, that was quite the accomplishment.

Opening the gate and stepping outside the complex, Anastasia closed it again behind her, locking it with a small silver key on a ring around her neck. Smoothing her hands apparently reflexively down the front of her dress, she cocked her head to the side. “So where have you been so far?”

They had not been to a lot of places. They were sequestered to the lab most of the time, and the surrounding areas. Kenshin glanced at his trainer, trying to read her feelings as she contemplated Anastasia's statement. "Well, we've been to the Old Mansion," she began softly, slipping her arms to her side and swinging them lightly. She thought a little more on the question, humming softly as she racked her brain. Kenshin sighed gently, releasing his arms from their crossed stature, and placed them to his side as well.

She wants to go to the ocean. She hasn't seen it yet, he spoke towards the young girl, his voice gentle and monotonous. He glanced at his trainer and relayed the message, causing Cyrilla to frown, but smiled regardless.

"The Mansion is surrounded mostly by the forest, and we haven't had the chance to visit the ocean, yet," despite the island being surrounded by water. Kenshin resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but kept it to himself. The sound of her stomach, however, interrupted the peaceful silence, and caused her to laugh nervously. Kenshin merely shook his head, and heaved his shoulders. "But perhaps you know a good place to eat?" she stated. He knew her capable of cooking her own meals, why would she need to... Oh. He rolled his eyes, visibly, this time.

Anastasia blinked slightly, then shrugged her thin shoulders a bit. “We could pretty easily take care of both of those things at once, you know. I have a friend who owns a restaurant down by the beach. It’s only a little one, but the menu changes every day and the view is hard to beat.” She turned them down a path Cyrilla didn’t know, stretching her arms up towards the sky as she walked, and flinching slightly before carefully lowering them back down with a sigh.

“It’s a shame you haven’t seen more yet; the island is wonderful at this time of year.” She smiled, and it was hard to tell if it was for Cyrilla and Kenshin or herself. “Things get a little more hectic in the summer, because then there are all kinds of tourists, but in spring like this, it’s still pretty peaceful.”

Cyrilla seemed to purse her lips in agreement, and smiled. "Sounds great," she replied, picking up her pace to walk beside Anastasia. It didn't take them long to reach the beach, and the soft calls of the Wingull's pulled Kenshin's attention away. He could hear the soft gasps of his trainer, and almost cringed at her excited squeal. He glanced in her direction, watching as the strands of her hair floated behind her. She made a beeline towards the shore, leaving both Anastasia and himself behind. He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and folded his arms together.

And she wonders why they laugh, he spoke more to himself, but allowed his thoughts to float to his trainer and the young woman beside him. Cyrilla just waved at the two of them before she waded into the waters, cringing slightly at the cool touch. Lunch? he spoke, raising a brow as he glanced at the pink haired girl. He'd prefer that to joining his trainer, after all.

Anastasia grinned. “Good idea."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk pursed his lips together, and stared at his zoroark curled on the floor. He was sleeping, or at least appeared to be sleeping, causing Eryk to sigh. It'd been almost two weeks since he'd asked for Kasimir's help, and the man had yet to deliver on his end. Eryk had taken a majority of the work for Kasimir, probably more than he originally stated he'd do, and was partly through most of it already. He sighed deeply, stirring his zoroark from his slumber. He supposed if anything was going to happen, he would have to approach Kasimir. Part of him really didn't want to, though. Why did he need to learn this again? A file caught his attention, and his face pulled into a passive scowl. That's right, because of her.

"Cyrilla, where's Kasimir?" he spoke, stirring the white-haired girl from her spot next to him.

"He mentioned something about being outside with Meep because it was too pretty of a day," she replied after giving it some thought. Eryk said nothing further, and closed the file in front of him. He placed it neatly in the corner of his desk and stood, motioning for his zoroark to stay behind. He nodded once to Cyrilla before he left, walking down the hallways to find the place Kasimir could be. It took him a full thirty minutes before he actually found the man.

Kas was on his back on the grass, his mareep held in his arms and lofted over his head. He appeared to be tossing her gently into the air and catching her. It was something she must have enjoyed—she wiggled her stubby legs and let out a cheerful ‘maa’ when she noticed Eryk.

Kasimir had clearly noticed him as well, though he didn’t immediately look in his direction. “Uh-oh, Meep. The bossman’s here. He’s probably going to go tell me to do boring paperwork, don’t you reckon?” He set the little sheep pokémon down on his chest, only to sigh theatrically when she hopped off and nudged at the side of his face with her nose.

"Kas," Eryk called out towards the man. His face was pulled into one of irritation, however; he really wasn't irritated. It was just how he came off. "It's time you kept your end of the bargain."

Rolling over onto his side, Kas propped his head in his hand and tilted it slightly at Eryk. He didn’t seem perturbed by his grumpy expression—he never really was. “Bargain, bargain, bargain…” He furrowed his brows in mock thoughtfulness before his eyes sparked with something that might have been mischief. That usually didn’t bode well for Eryk.

“Why didn’t you say so? I love field trips!” He was on his feet so smoothly it almost looked impossible, dusting off his hands. “You wanna learn how to get along with people, right?”

"I thought that much was obvious," Eryk replied in a deadpan voice. It took most of his restraint not to twitch slightly at the tone of Kasimir's voice. It was almost too happy, and Eryk was immediately distrustful of it. He said nothing about it though, and continued staring at Kas. "This isn't a field trip, Kas," it finally registered to Eryk what Kas had meant, and he scowled slightly. What did he get himself into? Surely nothing good. He was resigned, however, to see it through. If he wanted to get along better with people, Kasimir was logically the best person to ask. Cyrilla was too nice, and she'd probably end up making friends with whomever was subjected to his testings.

"What's the first step?"

Kas snorted, then grinned. “No really, Ryk. It’s a field trip. As in… we have to go out into the field. The wilderness that is populated areas.” He pointed away from the mansion towards town. “You’re not going to learn to interact with people normally unless you practice it. So, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Folding his hands together behind his head, Kas headed off the grounds of the mansion, only pausing once to make sure Eryk was following. The base wasn’t too far from the main part of the village, but it was about a mile’s walk. The two of them ate the distance in long, efficient strides, both used to far more taxing physical activity than this.

They made, probably, for an unusual pair. Eryk was dressed casually, but the colors were much plainer and darker than Kasimir’s: he wore a red, blue, and white Hawaiian shirt over a blue undershirt and cargo shorts. For once, he had shoes though—even if they were only sandals.

They walked along the main street for a moment before Kas drew to a stop outside a small shop labeled MARINA’S FLOWERS. From the window displays, it was obviously a florists’ of some variety.

“Step one,” Kasimir said lightly. “Interacting with people who are paid to be nice to you. I haven’t been here before either, so we’ll be on equal footing. I want you to buy some flowers. Whatever kind you want—that part doesn’t matter.”

"Flowers?" he repeated, as if it offended him. It didn't, but he just didn't see the necessity in buying flowers. Couldn't he just buy something to drink, instead? Apparently not, and Eryk sighed. He didn't even know the names of these flowers. He glared at them for a moment, browsing which ones he would take. There were some that looked the same, just in different colors. There were some other ones, though, that looked vaguely odd, like the wreath of a Bellossom or some other kind of grass type. "These," he stated, just as a middle-aged woman appeared. She was probably in her early forties, but Eryk had always been bad at judging people's ages.

"The red tulips are pretty this time of year, especially if you plan on buying them for a special lady, or gentleman. They symbolize true love," she spoke as Eryk picked up the 'tulips', glancing between him and Kas. He pursed his lips together, though when she spoke, and glared at her. True love? Why did a flower have to symbolize something? It was a plant.

"These aren't for him," he immediately responded, almost snapping at the woman. She looked a little taken back, but muttered a soft apology. "And that is a ridiculous notion. How can a plant symbolize anything other than being a plant?" he continued, slightly irritated about the notion.

Behind him, Kasimir coughed; it sounded suspiciously like he was trying to conceal a laugh. “Don’t mind my friend,” he said in a placating tone. “He’s very new to horticulture; perhaps you could help him find something a little more neutral?” He smiled like it was the easiest thing in the world, and even Eryk could see the shop attendant melt.

"Oh, of course,” she replied, nodding resolutely and turning back to Eryk. "Not everyone is much for hanakotoba—if you’re looking for something that just smells nice, might I recommend these lilies?” she gestured to several colors of what looked like the same flower. They had longish petals; the smell was decent—fresh without being overpowering.

Eryk had to keep from glaring at Kasimir when he smiled at the attendant, but took the woman's suggestion well enough. "Why do I need something that looks nice, though? Shouldn't it be enough to get whatever flower and be done with it? Most of these look half dead," he spoke, glancing at a different set of flowers. These were yellow with a large brown dot. Somehow, they looked like Sunflora, but he couldn't say for sure. The attendant seemed to be almost offended when he spoke, however; he merely kept staring at her.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for. This was his idea," he continued, staring at Kasimir this time before returning his attention towards the woman. "Do you have anything that isn't so bright?" he decided to ask. Most of the flowers were white, red, yellow, and occasionally, there was a purple-like color.

"Right this way," she seemed to have an idea of a flower, but Eryk wasn't too confident about it. "We have what is called a chocolate cosmos. If you're particularly fond of sweets, these smell like vanilla," she spoke, trying her best it seems. Eryk stared at the dark flowers for a moment before deciding against it.

"I'm not," he spoke, referring to the fact that he was not particularly fond of sweets.

She pursed her lips. "Well, if you’d prefer darker colors, there are also these larkspur,” she tried, gesturing to a cluster of deep blue flowers.

Behind him, Kas got close enough to speak in a low voice so the attendant couldn’t hear them. “If you don’t care, stop giving her a hard time,” he advised, though clearly he was at least somewhat entertained by the whole thing. “There’s no right or wrong answer here, so just pick something.”

"Fine, I'll take the larkspur," Eryk snapped. He wasn't really good with this, was he? He sighed, composed himself a little more properly, and stared at the woman. "And I'll take those over there. For Cy," he spoke, pointing to a pot of yellow tulips. She liked flowers, right? He couldn't remember. She could throw them out if she didn't, he couldn't really be bothered to care. "Are we done here?" he questioned, staring at Kasimir with an annoyed expression.

“I’d love one of your orchids, if you sell them individually,” Kasimir added.

The attendant nodded, putting all their orders together and accepting separate payments from the both of them. Kas asked for his to be bagged, and after setting a little vial of water at the end, the attendant handed him the paper bag.

On their way out of the shop, Kasimir sighed. “Okay, so notes. The first thing is, you can’t be that short with people. Even if you’re doing something you find silly or tedious or boring or stupid, it’s rude to show it, and no one likes rude people.” He raised both of his eyebrows. “And if you have to turn someone down, do it politely. Being too direct is also considered rude, at least with strangers.”

Eryk merely pursed his lips together. "How is being direct, rude? I'm not going to be polite about something that isn't true," he responded, still confused about the whole ordeal. He was too short and rude with people? Wasn't that how he always was? Kasimir didn't seem to be bothered by it, and Cyrilla never mentioned anything either. Was she simply used to him that way? Probably, considering that he hadn't changed much in their years together.

"You make it seem too easy," he finally spoke, glancing at Kas. "I think you might have infatuated that woman by smiling at her. You know I don't smile," he wasn't even sure he could. The last time he'd smiled was when he was just a youth. "Besides, most of the flowers were half dead," or was that how they just looked?

Kas visibly rolled his eyes. “It’s rude, in part, because that’s her job, Eryk. It’s her livelihood, and she probably enjoys it. Some people are especially sensitive about things like that. No one enjoys the insinuation that they’re incompetent, even if it’s true. And, for the record, it wasn’t. The flowers looked fine—the heat wilts them a little bit, but they were well-taken care of.”

He scratched absently at his jawline with his left hand. “Cy and I don’t get offended by your mannerisms because we’re used to them. We know that’s just how you are and that you’re not trying to be cruel. But usually, when people say things like that, they’re being mean on purpose, and so… that’s what it seemed like you were doing. Even if you don’t think it makes sense, it’s the way things are, and sadly I can’t make it so the rules don’t apply to only you.” He half-smiled; it was a strangely-patient expression. “It’s not about lying, it’s about knowing when to filter your thoughts a little. If you don’t want to tell white lies, try just… not commenting on things. Honestly, I’m surprised your family didn’t teach you more about infiltrating that way.”

"They weren't too concerned about it," he responded, but said nothing further. He had to learn to filter his thoughts, and be mindful of what he said. "Then from now on, you and Cy will have to point out what I say and tell me if it is acceptable or not," he stated, leaving very little room for discussion about it. If he was going to filter what he said, he at least needed to know what he said so he could avoid saying it like that.

"Is there another spot? Some place that isn't a floral shop," he asked. He'd rather avoid them for now.

Kasimir hummed. “Of course, feel free to be your usual grumpy self around me—I’m not sure what I’d do if you were suddenly nice to me.” He paused a moment to shudder, then grinned. “And as a matter of fact, yes. The florist’s was only so you’d have the right supplies for the next part of this. Today, you’re going to practice wielding one of the most important weapons in the likability arsenal: giving gifts.”

The glint in his eye was almost malicious; it was only then that he drew to a stop, right in front of the rehabilitation center Eryk’s mission target worked at. “You’re going to give your larkspurs to Ana.”

Had he been paying attention to where they were heading, Eryk would have veered off into another direction. Why, of all places, did Kasimir have to bring him here? Wasn't the whole point of learning to be sociable so that he could be sociable with her? He narrowed his eyes at Kas, the annoyance and irritation clearly written on his face. "Kas," he spoke, his voice low as if he were warning Kas about something. He wasn't, but he wasn't exactly pleased, either.

"What the hell are we doing here? I'm not going to give these to Anastasia," he continued, looking at the flowers in his hands. There was nothing exceptional about the flowers, nor was there any rhyme or reason to give them to Anastasia. Even if giving gifts was supposedly a way to become liked, Eryk was decidedly not thrilled to be giving them, especially to her. "You did this on purpose, didn't you," he spoke, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Kas.

Kas rolled his eyes in response. “Of course I did it on purpose, Ryk. Think about it: this is an excellent excuse to see her a second time. You’re with me, who, by the way, already shows up here at least once a week, so it won’t seem weird. You’ll give her the flowers to brighten up the place, which she’ll accept as a friendly gesture, because Ana’s not the type to read too much into things. It’ll give her a reason to invite us in for tea, and you can practice talking to her while I’m around to make sure you don’t screw it up too badly. It’s like… four pidgeys with one stone.”

He pushed a sigh out through his nose. “So what are you so irritated about? It’s a good plan.”

Whether it was a good plan or not, was not the reason as to why Eryk was irritated. What if Anastasia was allergic to the flowers? He hadn't really considered it much, because he didn't know he was getting flowers for her. If he'd known, he'd at least would have asked beforehand. But now, he wasn't so sure. What if she didn't like them? If she didn't like them, then he'd have to start all over again, wouldn't he? He narrowed his eyes at Kasimir, but said nothing for a moment, still contemplating whether or not he should at least try.

"I'm not doing it, Kas," he finally spoke. He didn't want to take that chance. It was bad enough that he rarely talked to her, and when he did, he tried not to make himself so intimidating. Either he'd done a good job at it, or she was just used to it. That, in itself, perplexed him a bit. He was over thinking this, wasn't he?

Kasimir looked at him like he was being particularly thick, but before he could say anything, the sound of someone approaching from behind reached their ears. The footfalls were light, but not those of someone trained to stealth at all, and so they scuffed softly on the footpath leading up to the house.

“Kasimir? Eryk? Was there something you needed?”

Eryk’s luck must have been pretty abysmal, because the voice belonged to Anastasia herself. Clearly, she was on the way back from another supply run; she had a bag of sawdust over either shoulder, and held them in place by wrapping her thin arms around them. She was dressed for work—cargo pants with lots of pockets, a belt with some basic tools suspended from it, and a red t-shirt with the name of the shelter printed on the front.

Someone somewhere must really have hated Eryk. He surpressed the urge to sigh with an aggravated tone, and instead, focused on Anastasia. She was carrying sawdust this time, and though it probably wasn't too heavy for her, Eryk visibly frowned. She was a reedy looking thing, without much strength to her. Why was she carrying such things? Instead of an aggravated sigh, he just sighed, and shoved the flowers he was holding, towards Kasimir. Once Kas was holding them, or partially he wasn't paying too much attention, he plucked the bags from Anastasia.

"I'll take them," he finally stated, not quite answering her question. Once he situated both bags comfortably, he glanced towards Kasimir, and the flowers he'd chosen: the larkspur. "Kas and I were around, thought that maybe we could come help," he spoke, his eyes narrowing slightly at Kasimir. "We... those flowers, the larkspur, they're for you."

“Eryk picked them,” Kas amended, throwing him under the bus at first opportunity. He extended the flowers to Anastasia, who blinked slowly, an expression akin to confusion crossing her face for a moment.

It was gone quickly, though, and she smiled a bit, accepting them with a tiny nod. “They have such a pretty color,” she said. The words seemed genuine; her smile inched just a fraction wider, though it was still small. She tilted her head at Eryk. “Thank you.”

Apparently not inclined to make him stand around outside with the sawdust for too long, she shifted the flowers into the crook of her arm and opened the front gate with the key on the chain around her neck, pushing it open with a soft creak. As before, there were several pokémon lounging in the front yard; they were mostly content to stay where they were, save for the old stoutland that waddled over.

“Um, here… the sawdust goes in the storage shed.” Anastasia led them around to the back of the property where a small building stood behind the house. There was a pretty extensive garden back here, too—flowers of all different colors bloomed in clusters contained neatly within beds of dark soil. The shed wasn’t locked; Anastasia pushed it open with a bit of effort. The door seemed to stick.

“Second shelf, if you don’t mind. Or you could just set them on the floor. Either way is fine.”

Eryk placed the sawdust on the second shelf as she'd instructed, and glanced down at the old stoutland. He raised a brow at it, but did nothing to it. Instead, he returned his attention to Anastasia, subtly glaring towards Kasimir in the process. He'd get Kasimir back for this, somehow, but now was not the time to be plotting. "Is there anything we can do to help out?" he decided to ask. It felt a little odd, perhaps because Kasimir was here. When he was alone, speaking to her was a little easier, however; with Kasimir around surveying, he wasn't entirely sure how or what to speak of.

"If you'd rather we leave," he began, slightly implying that they might be intruding on her. If they were, then they'd simply leave. Easy as that, right? He glanced at Kasimir, slightly, and sighed. No, it wasn't that easy.

Anastasia shook her head slightly. “It’s fine. You’ve been plenty helpful already.” She paused a moment, pursing her lips. “I did promise you some tea last time, though. Perhaps you would have time to partake today?”

She might have further qualified that, but Kasimir didn’t allow it. “We’d love to,” he said, flashing a grin. “Hard to turn down tea and the company of a pretty girl.”

Anastasia arched an eyebrow slightly, shaking her head. “You’re very strange, Kasimir.”

“Am not,” he countered, unhooking two of the pokéballs from his belt as they exited the shed. When he gave them a casual toss into the air, his mareep and kirlia emerged in the red flash of light. Both of them seemed familiar with their surroundings; Meep immediately started hopping circles around the stoutland.

As if suddenly realizing something, Anastasia turned to Eryk. “If you’d like to give any of your pokémon a chance to run around for a while, feel free. The shelter pokémon are all friendly, and we can take the tea outside if you’d prefer to watch them.” She had to tip her head up quite far to talk to either of them, and shaded her eyes with one of her hands when she did.

Before he could say anything about it, one of his pokéballs popped open, revealing Blue, the altaria. He hummed a soft tune as he perched on Eryk's shoulder, hanging off just slightly. Eryk turned his head to glare at the altaria, however; Blue had other plans. As soon as he saw Kasimir, the blue pokémon immediately left Eryk's shoulder and landed on Kasimir's. Well, at least he didn't have to worry about it too much, right? He contemplated letting out another one, however; he couldn't decide which one. Milotic would just swim in the pool, Gengar would probably try to cause him a headache by doing something he shouldn't, and Zoroark would probably wander off. Meowth was the only one he could.

Meowth it was.

He released the cat pokémon from her confines and watched as she made a beeline for Anastasia. "Outside it is," he simply spoke, though he couldn't exactly understand why Kasimir's mareep was so damn happy. Sometimes he wondered if Kas and the mareep had the same soul.

Anastasia laughed softly when Blue alighted on Kas’s shoulder; the man himself seemed to have expected it, and stroked the bird’s fluffy wings absently. “Well, in that case, I’ll make it and bring it out. Please, feel free to have a seat.” She gestured to a round table set in the garden, a green-and-white striped umbrella shading it and the chairs from the sun. The air smelled like a combination of ocean salt and the flowers nearby.

Since the garden was right behind the house, the window looked in on the kitchen; their hostess set about boiling water as they settled.

“She’s up to date on her permits,” Kas said, quietly enough not to be overheard. People had to register for special permits through Team Rocket to have more than six pokémon; even then, only six were allowed for battling purposes. A shelter like this had about seven different kinds of certification to go through. “I pulled up the records. The place has only been operational for about a year, but there haven’t been any complaints. So that’s not what HQ cares about.”

It was a far cry from knowing why they were interested in her, but it was something.

Eryk furrowed his brows when Kas had spoken. HQ had been a little quiet as to why they were interested in several people on the island. Her more-so than the others, though. If she was up to date on her permits, and that wasn't the reason why they were investigating, it had to do with something else. "There has to be something else. They wouldn't just select a random person for nothing in particular. They're... looking for something," but as to what that something was, not even Eryk knew. It was a 'need-to-know' basis, however; he could slightly guess as to what it was. It wasn't certain, but he couldn't exactly say, either.

"We're expecting an update soon, though, from HQ. We've been sending them everything we have gathered about the other interested parties, but so far, none seem to fit the criteria for what they're looking for. She hasn't exactly shown anything in particular as to why they're so damn interested," he almost grumbled the last part, resting his chin on his hand. His eyes were furrowed, and he knew he was slightly glaring, but it wasn't because he was irritated. He was simply thinking.

Kas smiled sympathetically, but he was prevented from responding by Anastasia’s return. She carried a tray with a teapot on it, as well as three upside-down teacups. All of them shared a blue-and-white wave pattern—not overtly-feminine at all. Setting it down, she took the chair next to Eryk and across from Kasimir.

With practiced gestures, she turned the teacups right-side up. Before she could lift the pot though, her eyes widened, and she turned away from them, bringing a hand to her mouth. A second later, it was obvious why: she began to cough, each one wracking her whole body, it looked like. They sounded wet, like they were pulled from her chest.

They subsided as suddenly as they’d come on, and she quickly returned her hand to her lap, under the tablecloth. “Sorry,” she said, one side of her mouth curling upwards. “I’m a little sick at the moment, but it’s nothing contagious, I promise.”

Either she'd caught him off guard, or it was something else, however; Eryk stared at her, his eyes widened for just a fraction of a second. That cough, whether she was contagious or not, seemed a little intense. He wasn't too sure how he felt about that. As a general rule, Eryk Nero didn't care too much about other things or people. But if she was sick, he couldn't exactly risk her getting worse. So, he pulled in a deep sigh, and stared at Kas for a moment, before turning to her.

"If you are not feeling well," he began, pausing only momentarily to think carefully of how he was going to put this. "I will come by tomorrow to help you out, and any day thereafter until you are feeling well enough. If there are heavier things you need to carry, I will be here to help you with them," he stated, though it was stated in such a way that there was little room to refuse. He'd do it regardless of whether she agreed to it or not.

Kas was regarding him with a sly half-smile—it meant something Eryk couldn’t interpret. Probably nothing good. Anastasia on the other hand, looked at him with wide eyes.

“That’s, um…” she hesitated, as though she were unsure what to say. Her lips thinned for a moment. “It’s really all right if you don’t; I’ve um… dealt with these symptoms before.” She gave him a thin smile.

“C’mon, Ana,” Kas put in, quirking a brow at her. “You know you could use the help. Ryk here is pretty free in the afternoons; he does all his research in the morning. At least let him help you for a little while.”

Her eyes flickered back and forth between them for a moment before settling on Eryk. “Well, I… I suppose he’s right. If you’d like to volunteer for a day or two, I’m sure I’ll be back to normal by then. But please don’t inconvenience yourself.”

He had to stop himself from scoffing. "It won't be inconvenient. It'll be like a small vacation away from him," he spoke, his gaze receding into one of passive neutrality. "I'll be here first thing tomorrow afternoon."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
The day after Eryk’s surprisingly-successful first stab at social interaction—successful from the mission standpoint, anyway—Kas was lounging on the extra-long sofa in his own office. He’d actually had to do work today. Apparently Ryk was extra-insistent since he was going to be out of the office for the afternoon and there was literally zero chance Kasimir would ever do anything without direct prodding from his friend.

He sighed heavily. He played his part so damn well it started to feel like this was really his life sometimes. Uncrossing his ankles from the arm of the couch, he sat up slowly, planting his bare feet on the ground. He really didn’t like thinking about this. Time for a distraction—and there were a lot of options, around these parts. Marcia the receptionist, Candace down in the labs, that cute new recruit who blushed every time he walked by… he really did need to stop and talk to her some day, actually learn her name.

But today he wanted not only to be distracting, but also at least somewhat helpful in the process. And the people to whom distractions were most helpful (if least welcome) were workaholics. Standing, Kas reached over his surprisingly-neat desk and snatched up the object he’d placed there the day before. Stepping into his sandals, he locked his office behind him—he was careful about that because he had to be—and padded down the hall, running a hand over his hair to pat down any mussed strands.

He passed Alexandra from HR in the corridor, but paused only long enough to greet her politely, winking in a manner that was anything but, before continuing on his way. He clapped Derek, one of the newer grunts, on the shoulder as he passed by him, earning himself an earnest smile. He was a good kid.

Cy’s office door was partway open; he knocked on the frame a couple times before he pushed it open and ambled in with his usual casual air. As he’d expected, she was hard at work—probably finishing up whatever Eryk hadn’t managed to get done before he left. He sniffed the air, then mock-frowned. “It smells like diligence in here, Cy. Please don’t turn into Ryk—I can’t handle two of you.”

She glanced up from the rim of her glasses, a newly acquired asset apparently, and smiled at him. "Well, these needed to be completed by the end of tomorrow, and Ryk won't be able to do it by then. He's apparently helping out Anastasia," she spoke, pulling the glasses from her face and setting them down. She wrote something on a piece of paper before setting it aside and returned her attention back to him. "Besides, I don't think I could make a good grumpy face like he does. I tried doing it once, and Harold told me to never do it again," she muttered the last part, frowning just slightly.

"Was there something you needed, Kas? Or are you looking for Ryk? Because if you're looking for Ryk, you know where he is," she asked, a little bit of color dusting her face.

He grinned. She was adorable, really—it was too tempting to pass up the opportunity to watch her blush and stammer. Never anything too serious, of course; he wasn’t a monster. But a little bit of teasing never hurt anyone. “On the contrary,” he declared. “I’m here to see you.” He paused, allowing the grin to grow a bit, flashing white teeth.

“I had this feeling you’d be working too hard, and I was right.”

Stepping the rest of the way into the room, he glanced down at her paperwork, finding it all to be mundane. Really—Ryk should have been able to leave this stuff to his secretary, except he was so bad at interaction that no one appointed to the position ever wanted to keep it. They all quit. So the excess got shoved to Cyrilla instead. Go figure.

From behind his back, he produced the orchid he’d bought yesterday with a sleight-of-hand flourish. “Flower for a flower?” he said, laughter in his eyes and mischief in his smile.

"I... wait, what?" she stammered, surprised by the flower and the statement. Her face turned a bit darker, and she tried to compose herself. She pursed her lips together, hesitant to take the flower apparently. "You didn't, you shouldn't have done that, Kas," she mumbled softly, but took the flower anyway. There was a ghost of a smile on her face, though, when she took it, and stood from her spot. She walked towards the only window in her space, and placed it on the shelf directly beside it. Once she was finished, she made her way towards him, and stopped a few feet away.

"Thanks, Kas. I'll try not to kill it," she spoke, smiling fully as she did so. She must have suddenly remembered something as she made her way towards the desk, flipping through the papers as she did so. "Ah, here it is," she spoke and held on to a piece of paper. She set it down on the desk and grabbed a nearby pen before writing on it.

"Sorry, I just remembered this one needed a signature," she apologized sheepishly.

Kasimir sighed heavily. That did it—they were getting out of here. “Maybe,” he replied noncommittally, “but it seems like you need a break. So…” He leaned forward, catching the edge of her desk with his hands and leaning down to be at about a level with her. He’d bought the orchid to match her—white petals like her hair, pinkish streaks like her eyes.

In the language of flowers Eryk thought was absurd, orchids were for beautiful women.

“Either you can play hooky with me for an afternoon, or I can hang out in your office and try really earnestly to distract you. Your choice.” He knew he was being obnoxious about it, but his intentions were genuine; he knew she tended to overwork herself. He didn’t like it when his friends did that.

Her face took on an even darker shade of red when he spoke, and she seemed to be at a loss for words. She was mimicking a magikarp at the moment. "You don't play fair, Kas, you know that," she mumbled, glancing at the pile of papers that she probably had to sort through, still. "I can't just play hooky," she mumbled. She seemed more inclined to the idea of leaving, though, as she worked the pile of papers into a suitable stack. Once she was done, she glanced at him.

"But I suppose I could spend an hour or so for a break. I haven't had one yet," she spoke, though there was still an uneasiness in her tone.

He almost rolled his eyes; really, it wasn’t like Team Rocket didn’t do vacation days. She could just take half of one if she felt so bad about it—the executives like them got eight weeks a year, for crying out loud.

Not that any of them even used them. Not even him, actually.

Well, she said an hour. Kasimir could work with that.

He let himself linger in his spot for just a second longer than was polite, making direct eye contact even though he was maybe half a foot from her face. His eyes narrowed with his mirth, but then he pushed himself up and away abruptly. “Excellent!” he replied, gesturing for her to precede him out the door.

Two executives leaving the building didn’t look at all odd to any of the employees, he knew—they were always out and about, especially him. Cy might be the one who left the office least often, with Eryk’s new field assignment, but even she had things to do outside. He didn’t try to hide the fact that they were leaving, either, cheerfully waving goodbye to the staff in the front office as they exited.

The day outside was bright and warm; a pleasant breeze cooled everything to a nice temperature, ruffling the hair in his ponytail. It had considerably more trouble with her sheets of long hair; he was tempted to reach out and touch it. A rather common temptation of his, one he only seldom indulged. For now, he refrained, falling into step beside her much shorter strides. He didn’t touch her, but he walked close enough to feel the barest brush of her body heat—just slightly too close for most friendships.

“So, what shall we do, Cy? Lunch? The ocean? Browsing the shops in town? It’s your break, after all.” He flashed a smile down at her—Kas was pretty much permanently on a break, so he didn’t mind whatever she decided she wanted to do with their time.

"Well," she began, contemplating the options presented to her. "I'm not too hungry at the moment," she continued, her face pulling into a thoughtful expression. "But I hear there's a nice place to enjoy the ocean's view right by the Gym. Drake mentioned it a few days ago," she spoke, smiling at the thought. Drake was Blaine's grandson, and the current Gym Leader of Cinnabar. She'd made friends, or acquaintances, with him the first few weeks they were on the island.

"But then there's also a shopping strip near the ocean too," she stated, slightly perplexed now at the options. "Ah, I know. We can go to the shopping strip. I want to see if there's anything I can get Ryk to brighten him up a bit," she finally decided. "And because he's a good friend," she added. There was something like fondness laced in her tone when she spoke.

Kas huffed half a laugh. She seemed to be enthused enough about the idea now that it was actually taking place. He nodded with false sagacity when she made her choice, his smile fading to something smaller when she declared her intentions to get something for Eryk. “He’s not really one for things,” he observed, “but I am trying to teach him the value of gift-giving. I’m sure receiving one from you would help make the point.”

Sliding his hands into the pockets of his shorts, Kas wandered down in the direction of the strip mall she’d mentioned. He’d already been a few times—he knew pretty much everywhere in Cinnabar by now. It wasn’t that big an island. It reminded him just a little bit of home, though.

“You two are actually cousins, right? I remember meeting you with the rest of his family a few years ago.” Eryk had a large extended family—he was part of the Koga clan, actually. Kas couldn’t claim any sort of pedigree like that. His old man ran a dojo and his mom had a small restaurant—nothing too special there.

"Sort of," she spoke, glancing up at him slightly. "We're distant cousins, if you'd like," she continued, explaining just slightly what they were. "He's Koga's direct grandson, and from the main branch of Koga's family. My parents weren't so high in the clan, but were still part of it. I think my father was Koga's third cousin, but I don't really remember. We weren't taught too much about where we stood in the family tree," she spoke, shrugging her shoulders softly.

"In all honesty, though," she began, fully staring at him now. "Eryk is more like a brother to me. He's... done a lot for me and I don't know if I'll ever be able to repay him for it," she stated, rubbing absentmindedly at the scar on her cheek. It wasn't too noticeable unless you looked directly at it. Most of her hair covered it.

Kasimir wasn’t oblivious, and he didn’t have any difficulty guessing what she was getting at. He chose not to press, however. If she wanted to tell him, she would: he knew well the difference between a friendly shove forward and uncomfortable pressure, and asking that may well have crossed the line.

Besides, it was better to keep himself at a bit of a distance, when it came to her. At least in the metaphorical sense.

So instead he sighed deeply. “I wish my sisters were half as nice to me as you are to him,” he complained, though there was nothing but humor in it. “The older one is always scolding me, and the little one’s a spoiled brat.”

They arrived at the row of shops, then—really, even calling it a strip mall was a little too optimistic, as far as he was concerned. But at least the selections were more interesting than an endless chain of the same department store with different branding. The island might be a little quaint, but it had character.

"Well, at least your older sister does care about you. If she scolds you, at least," she responded, the light, playfullness returning to her voice. "Though I have to admit, I'm a little envious of you, Kas. Even if I consider Eryk my brother, I wish I had siblings," she stated as a thought. "But then I wouldn't have been able to take care of Eryk or everyone else if I did. I'd be overrun by siblings," she almost chuckled to herself. She glanced at the shops, her eyes lighting up almost instantly. She made her way towards a smaller shop, a jewelry one by the looks of it, and immediately stopped in front of a set. There were three charms sitting in a display, and she seemed to be eyeing them intently. It was apparent as to why.

The set of charms represented the three of them. One was Entei, carved from some kind of red gem, and then there were Raikou and Suicune, both carved from their respective colored gems. "Oh, what do you think Kas? I know he doesn't wear jewelry, or even charm necklaces or anything like that, but they're adorable," she almost spoke in a way one does when they're singing. She seemed to realize this because there was a light red dusting her cheeks again.

Kasimir hummed thoughtfully in the back of his throat. “It does seem a bit… feminine in the current form,” he replied. “But… what if you made a keychain or something with them? Even Ryk carries keys. I’m sure he’d accept them from you in any case.”

"Oh, that's a good idea! I can do that," she stated with obvious excitment. "I can make these into keychains, and then we'd each have one," she continued, picking up the three items. "I can have Kenshin help me, he's good with his hands," she spoke, referring to her lucario and smiling when she did so. She hummed a soft tune as she went to pay for the items.

"It'll be a few days, but I think I can finish all three of them. Oh, um," she continued, but paused. She seemed a little nervous, as if what she wanted to say was a little embarrassing. "Do... is there a particular shape you'd like for yours, Kas?" she asked. Keychains didn't come in very many varieties, but there were a few different ones, regardless.

He blinked. He hadn’t intended to turn her attention from a gift to Eryk to something for all three of them. Guilt stabbed at him for a second, but never made it to his face. Instead, he smiled in his usual foxlike way, shaking his head. “I’d like whatever you wanted to give me, Cy.” And then, because that was more honest than he’d really intended, he added a careless wink.

“Oh, ice cream.” There was a creamery across the street—he pretended like he hadn’t already noticed. “Want some? We can eat while we walk.”

The color still remained on her face, though a little less obvious now, however; she smiled slightly at his suggestion. "Ice cream sounds nice," she spoke, paying for her items before joining him. "You know," she began, glancing down as if the floor was more interesting than he was. "I never thanked you, you know. For Lithe," she spoke finally, glancing up at him from her lashes. He'd given Growlithe to her when she finally made into his and Ryk's ranks as an Executive, becoming the third beast, Suicune.

Kas cleared his throat, for once in his life feeling a little… awkward. Her sincerity was so obvious, and when she looked at him like that…

He banished the thought before it could even fully form. He was pretty good at doing that, by this point. He couldn’t quite stop the way his expression changed, though—his eyes softened and his smile dimmed to something gentler. “Don’t thank me for that,” he replied quietly. “He needed a new start with a good person—and I don’t know any better people than you.”

He shrugged, as if to pass off the statement as inconsequential. “Anyway, ice cream. I’m feeling like chocolate. How about you?”

"Strawberry!" she nearly spoke excitedly. She realized how quickly she spoke it because her face turned a bright red before muttering a soft apology. "Strawberry sounds nice," she spoke this time in a quieter voice. "In a chocolate dipped cone," she continued.

“Ask, and you shall receive."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk sat at his desk, a furrowed expression crossing his face. It had been about three days already, and he was still helping out at Anastasia's. The second day she had seemed a little better, but Eryk didn't want to chance it. If she fell ill again, it would be on him. And if something happened to her, it would be on him. The consequences were irrelevant, however; he didn't exactly want to have to deal with HQ if it came down to it. It wouldn't have been his fault regardless.

"Thinking isn't your strong suit, Ryk," he glanced towards the door frame to spot Cyrilla standing there. She had a smile on her face; she was always smiling. He sighed and pushed himself away from his desk, narrowing his eyes in her direction. She chuckled softly and stepped fully into the office, her hands behind her back as if she were hiding something or just walking.

"Is there something you need, Cyrilla?" he asked, watching as she quirked a brow before shaking her head. "If you're here for Kas," he began, but she shook her head a little wildly. There was a light blush on her face once she recovered. He didn't understand her ridiculous crush on said man. He knew, of course, about it. She'd told him once, but he never said anything about it. It was her decision to do what she wanted, just like it'd been her decision to follow him here. She could have easily gone somewhere else, but she chose to stay with him. He'd never admit it, but he was slightly glad, an emotion that confused him even then.

"Well, the other day Kas and I were at the shopping strip and I wanted to get something for you," she began, shifting on her feet a little uncomfortably. He narrowed his eyes slightly. A gift for him? Why would he need such a thing? He was half tempted to ask if Kasimir had put her up to this, however; he knew her well enough to know that he didn't. She'd do it regardless. She was kind, something he didn't understand himself. With their line of work, she should have been harder. With their family, she should have been colder. But she wasn't, and Eryk almost envied her. He wasn't a good person, he knew that. But at least she was, and that's all that mattered to him.

"You shouldn't have, Cy. You know I don't like gifts," he simply replied. She sighed and nodded her head. "But I should like to know what it was," he continued, watching the solemn expression on her face, brighten. She produced a small charm, and Eryk almost smiled. It wasn't quite their on his face, but he knew his expression softened. "Really, Cy?" he found himself saying, listening to the soft snort of her reply. It was an Entei charm, though from the looks of her hands and the neat silver ring on it, she'd managed to make it into a keychain.

"Kas actually suggested making it into a keychain," she spoke, smiling when she did so. He examined it, and took the charm from her. He frowned slightly though when his hand brushed over hers, covered in bandaids and still slightly fresh. She must have finished it last night if they were still this fresh. He sighed through his nose, closing his eyes before opening them again to stare at the charm.

"Thank you, Cy," was the only response he gave. His eyes settled onto a similar charm on her hip, though, where her keys were, and frowned slightly. There were two of them, actually, and his frown deepened. "Cy," he began, watching as she followed his gaze towards the charms. "You know it won't change anything," he spoke, watching as her eyes dimmed a little. Her hand rested over the charms, but the smile softened somewhat.

"I know," she spoke softly. He could see the light in her eyes fade completely when she said it. He didn't understand her strange infatuation for Kasimir. The man wasn't exactly the best of people to like. She played with the hem of her shirt for a moment, apparently lost in thought. "I've tried, Ryk. I really have," she finally confessed, taking a deep breath as she did so. It was obvious that it bothered her, and it brought her discomfort to talk about it. But she needed to. He sighed and turned his gaze towards the Entei in his hand.

"You know, you could always leave, Cy," he spoke, sitting the keychain down on his desk, and moving his gaze to her. The expression on her face, though, caused him to shift uncomfortably in his chair. It looked like he'd just stabbed her in the back, and it also looked like she couldn't breath for a second. She recovered quickly enough, but there was a slight tremble in her hand.

"You know I can't," she whispered. He almost didn't catch it, but he sighed regardless.

"You can't, or you won't?" he questioned. She lowered her gaze when he asked, and sighed in what sounded like defeat. He knew. He knew, but there wasn't anything that she could do about it. "You know it can be arranged, Cy, if you want to leave," he spoke, folding his hands meticulously in front of him. She smiled knowingly.

"I can't, Eryk. They wouldn't allow it, even if you could, and even if I wanted to" she spoke, and he knew she did. Their family, though, wouldn't allow it. Perhaps he was kidding himself when he said he could arrange it for her, but perhaps in due time, he could. "You know, sometimes I envy you, Ryk," she spoke softly this time, causing him to quirk his brow.

"How so?"

"Because it's easy for you to not care," he visibly flinched this time. "You know what I mean, Ryk," she continued. She sighed softly and pulled a strand of hair over her shoulder, twirling it in the comforting manner she used to as a child. He almost smiled. Those were days long gone, though. He couldn't do much for her now, but he could at least try and make it easier for her. Perhaps this was what Kas meant when he said to be nice.

"Perhaps... you should spend some time with that friend of yours, Drake," he spoke, cringing slightly at his own suggestion. He didn't like the man, though he couldn't exactly say why. He had only seen them interact a few times, but she always seemed a little happier when they did. Maybe because he was one of the only friends she had outside of the organization. Cyrilla, however, smiled softly at him, but shook her head.

"No, it's alright Ryk. If... if it's alright with you, I'd like to stay here, with you for a little while," she spoke, standing from her chair and moving to where she was standing beside him. He glanced at her but said nothing. What could he say? He wasn't exactly pleasant company, and he was far too harsh to be of any use to her. But yet she insisted everytime that she wanted to be in his company. He would never understand her, but there was some familiarity in the shine behind her eyes.

"Just for today," he finally spoke, watching as some light returned to her eyes. She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her face as she crawled into his lap, holding onto him as she had done so many years ago as a child. He released his zoroark, watching as the fox pokémon stared at him for a second. All it took was a look, and Zoroark walked slowly towards the door. He didn't need to tell the pokémon what he wanted; Zoroark knew to guard the door. After all, Eryk couldn't have just anybody walk into his office to see one of their Executives crying softly in the lap of another. He didn't have to feel the wetness of her tears on his shirt to know that was what she was doing. The small tremors in her body were enough.

He knew she hated what she did. She was far too kind to be in a cruel place like this.

And it was cruel.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kasimir’s fingers flew over the keys, bringing up several new windows on the screen to his left. Considering he hadn’t bothered to turn on his office lights, the room was dim; all the light in the place came from the monitors themselves. He pursed his lips, scanning over the new information, shifting slightly in his crouch.

When he was really working, he perched on his office chair rather than sitting in it. Chewing his lip, he brought his hands to his knees, tapping his fingers in a hasty rhythm. He couldn’t risk getting too much deeper into the database, but… the information he was looking for had to be in there somewhere. The boss didn’t trust anything unless it was in the main Rocket server, and also on paper somewhere in the basement of the Saffron HQ. That was a lot more secure than this was—even if he’d wanted to make the trip, he’d have had to sign in to even get access, and then everyone would have known he was looking. Delving for information the boss had decided he didn’t need.

Propping his elbows on his knees, he folded his hands in front of his face, tipping them back so he could lean his chin on them.

He had to know what the hell they wanted with these subjects. That had been the first part—linking together all the people they’d been asked to investigate as part of their present mission. It wasn’t just Ana, but she was the most important one. The best prospect. That might help him, if he knew what she was supposed to be best for or at.

So he’d done a little more digging. The other prospects were as various as you could like. Young, old, male, female, from various regions, ranging in appearance from portly old fair-skinned grandmothers down to a little islander boy with knobby knees. Nothing he pulled up in any of the files linked them—except that they were all prospects for something called Project Nebula.

The weirdest part was, a good chunk of them weren’t even trainers. No pokémon in their lives at all. Previously, that had been the obvious thread in everything Team Rocket had done. They were out to manage the welfare of pokémon and those humans who were closest to them. He’d kind of liked that about them, even—dangerous as the thought was. But he’d suspected the boss wanted to branch into deeper human government matters, and now he knew he had to be right about that much. Why else would the most secret project he’d ever seen cross his desk involve people who had nothing to do with pokémon at all?

Dropping one of his hands, he used his fingers to pick up the coffee cup on his desk by the rim, balancing it on his knee for a second while his eyes moved to the next file over. The unredacted version of Ana’s. So far, he hadn’t been able to find a single thread linking all of the prospects together, but maybe if he just looked again, he’d have something to show for all his attempts.

His real boss wasn’t likely to tolerate radio silence for too much longer. They’d start to wonder if he’d become another Rocket asset for real, instead of just faking it for years. But he couldn’t just give them nothing—which was basically what he had right now. Nothing actionable, anyway.

The full version of Ana’s file included a medical history. He felt like an asshole and a creep reading it—Ana was a nice girl, and didn’t deserve to have people like him prying into her business, however good his intentions were. But he couldn’t dismiss the possibility that something in this part of the file would finally reveal the thread they had in common.

Kas took a sip of his disgustingly-cold coffee and grimaced. He swallowed hard, though, when he reached the second page of her medical records. So many hospitalizations… and was that a sanitarium check-in? Setting the cup down with a soft clink, he leaned closer, scrolling down the screen with an intent look.

Fuck.

There was no way she—but there it was. A quick internet search confirmed his suspicions. Letting out a deep breath, Kasimir speared his fingers through his unruly hair, dragging it back from his face hard enough to feel blunt fingernails scratch over his scalp. Sometimes, he really hated that he was completely alone here.

Because that meant he had to figure out for himself exactly what Team Rocket wanted with a dying girl.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Cyrilla stared at the door knob that led into Kasimir's office. She had knocked on it just a few moments before, but there was no answer. He was probably out doing field work with Eryk if he wasn't here, and Cyrilla furrowed her brows. She glanced at the Raikou key chain in her hand and contemplated what to do with it. She wanted to give it to him personally, but it wouldn't really change anything, would it? Of course it wouldn't. She would still be his co-worker, and if she was lucky, his friend. But anything further than that was not something she could hope for. Kenshin stared at her, having been let loose from his pokeball earlier in the day to stretch his legs. His gaze was soft, she could tell, but she didn't look at him. Instead, she heaved a deeply heavy sigh and placed her hand on the knob.

"I guess... this is goodbye, then," she spoke softly, tying the key chain to his knob. She wanted a new start, to change herself so that this ache in her chest would stop. The only way she could do that, is if she let go. But could she really do that? To pretend what she felt was something like a passing fancy? It seemed so much more than that, but perhaps it was because she always felt some things more intently than those around her. Maybe it was something else? She pushed herself away from his door, refusing to glance at it as she left, Kenshin in tow.

You know you could always just tell him. It might be easier, he spoke to her, and she visibly flinched. She could, but then where would that get her? She knows the kind of person Kas is, and telling him would only end up hurting her, not the other way around. She could hear Kenshin sighing behind her, and she knew he was visibly shaking his head as well.

"You shouldn't concern yourself about it, Ken. Today... today is going to be a new start, a new beginning," she spoke to him, waving goodbye to one of the grunt members when they exited the building. She knew where she was going to go, and she allowed her legs to carry her there. She could at least go and check up on Anastasia. Eryk had been helping her out the last few days, but today was one of the days he couldn't. She could fill in where he could not, and perhaps, Anastasia could help her with something. She pulled a lock of her hair over her shoulder and played with it. She wasn't paying much attention after that, instead, allowing her mind to wander to nothing in particular.

We're here, he brought her out of her thoughts and she glanced up towards the center. A soft smile spread across her lips as she walked up to the fence, hoping to see Anastasia outside. She didn't want to just enter, since there were a few pokémon in the yard.

"Anastasia?" she called out tentatively. Maybe she was inside?

The elderly stoutland was among them, and he gave a single, wheezy bark upon noticing them, wagging his stump of a tail a few times before rolling over onto his back and resuming his nap. Still, he seemed to have effectively alerted Anastasia to the presence of a visitor; not more than a few moments later, she came around from behind the house. The large, floppy sun hat and gloves she wore suggested she’d been working in the garden—the stains at the knees of her pants all but confirmed it.

Upon recognizing Cyrilla, she smiled warmly. “Good afternoon,” she greeted, her voice soft but amiable. “How can I help you, Cyrilla? Or are you just here for a visit?” Though they didn’t know each other all that well yet, she seemed to accept that possibility as normal, perhaps even welcome. Maybe it was because Kas and Eryk came and went so often these days?

“Oh, but… if you were looking for Eryk, he just left about half an hour ago. He said he had something important to do today, so…”

She smiled towards Anastasia, but shook her head. "Actually, I'm here to see if I could fill in for him. I know he had something to do today, and since he and Kas have both been helping, I thought that maybe I could come help, too," she stated. Plus, she really wanted to be away from the base right now. Being away would help her with her thoughts, and it would help her decide what she wanted to do, exactly. Also, it was a pretty day, and she didn't want to be cooped up doing paperwork all day. Eryk had managed to get a new secretary, but Cyrilla could see it already that she was overwhelmed. She had offered to help her out, but the new hire seemeed insistent that she learn it herself.

"Is there anything I can help with, maybe?" she stated, leaning on the gate slightly. She wasn't going to come in just yet. It would be impolite, for one thing, especially since Anastasia hadn't exactly invited her in yet.

Something about that seemed to amuse Anastasia, because her smile grew a little and she shook her head. “All three of you are just like that,” she said softly. “Always asking if you can help. I’ve been running the shelter by myself for a year now, you know. You don’t have to spend any time doing my work for me.” She didn’t seem upset by the fact; rather, she simply stated it as though it were any other observation.

“Oh, but there is something you can do, I think. I made a batch of iced tea—it’s a new recipe, and I was hoping for a second opinion. Would you be my taste-tester?” Anastasia peeled her gloves off and hooked them through her belt, tilting her head to the side.

Cyrilla blinked a little owlishly at the question, and she was fairly sure Kenshin was chuckling at her expression. She chuckled, herself, and nodded her head. "Well, we weren't here a year ago," she retorted, but smiled instead. "Of course I'd like to taste-test the tea, but don't tell that to Eryk. He's a terrible cook and he's always trying to get Kas or myself to taste his creations," she shuddered at the thought. Thankfully, Eryk had given up on cooking a long time ago, but there were a few times where he thought he could try again. She was too nice to tell him that cooking wasn't just in his skill set.

"We'll let Ken try it, too," she stated, patting her lucario on the head. He visibly frowned, and swiped her hand away from his head. She knew he didn't like it when she did that.

Anastasia nodded good-naturedly. “Of course. It’s safe for pokémon, though they’re not usually interested.” She waved Cyrilla and Kenshin inside the gate, then led the way up to the little house that occupied one side of the property. The main door was already open, leaving a screen door to separate the interior from the outside. This, Anastasia pushed open and entered, holding it open for the other two behind her.

The interior of the house was a lot like the exterior—simple, but well-maintained. Most of the furnishings were very gender-neutral, and the colors tended towards peaceful greens, blues, and tans rather than anything especially bright. They entered a small hallway to take their shoes off; ahead of them was a staircase on the left and a continuation of the hall to the right, with a door at the end. To the immediate right was an open archway that led into what must have been the living room—a couch, a chair, and several bookcases tucked around a small fireplace with a light rug on the wooden floor.

The door ahead took them into the kitchen; from the size of it, it took up the entire back half of the first floor. It was light and airy; the countertops were light grey and most everything else was white or stainless steel. The large island had fresh flowers on it: the bright blue could only be larkspur, but they looked a little droopy, like they’d begun to wilt slightly at the edges. Other little touches of color were everywhere, but the kitchenware was industrial rather than particularly cute. It would seem Anastasia took cooking seriously.

The refrigerator was one of those with two doors next to each other; she opened the right half and pulled out a pitcher of what must have been the iced tea. Lemon slices floated near the top. Setting it own on the island, she gestured for Cyrilla and Kenshin to take the stools on the other side and retrieved their glasses, filling each nearly halfway with ice from a dispenser on the left half of the fridge door.

She was setting those down when a pokémon entered the room from the backdoor, siding through a flap on the bottom half of it. It was a vulpix, and unlike most of the pokémon around the shelter, it didn’t look obviously ill or maimed.

“Oh hello, Aithne,” Anastasia said, a smile in her voice if not quite on her lips. “Did you have a nice nap?”

The vulpix trilled softly, pawing at Anastasia’s leg until she reached down and picked her up, settling her on a shoulder. “Cyrilla, Kenshin, this is Aithne. Ai, this is Cyrilla and Kenshin.”

There was a keen intelligence in the pokémon’s eyes as she regarded them steadily for a moment, then bobbed her head in something that looked very much like a nod.

Cyrilla tried to hold back a light squeal, and managed with a slight "Aww, she's so cute!" Kenshin rolled his eyes slightly, but remained quiet. "I have a ninetales, but it's not quite like what your vulpix would evolve into," she spoke, staring at the two. She could feel her hand twitching just slightly. She wanted to pet it. Instead, she kept her hands to her side and glanced towards Kenshin from the corner of her eyes. He was staring at nothing in particular, probably just focused on the vulpix and Anastasia.

"She's from the Alolan region, and was apparently imported about three years ago. I've never been there, but I heard it's really nice," she stated, her eyes focusing out for just a minute before they refocused. "It's nice to meet you, Aithne," she spoke towards the Vulpix, and thanked Anastasia for the cup. She stared at it for a moment before taking a sip. Kenshin did as well, and from the look on his face, he enjoyed it.

"It's really good, Ana. It's not too sweet, but it's not, not sweet," she stated, laughing a bit nervously at her own choice of words.

“Oh good,” Anastasia replied. “I added a little bit more sugar because I was worried about it being too flat.” She nodded slightly, then took a seat across the island from Cyrilla and poured some for herself. Aithne remained perfectly balanced on her shoulder.

“I’ve heard about the Alolan genetic variations,” she mused. “I’ve always thought it would be interesting to take a trip there some day.” She smiled a bit wryly. “When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a Pokémon Professor, you see.” Taking a sip of the tea, she sighed gently, then tipped her head at Cyrilla.

“Did you always have a position with Team Rocket in mind, or did you want to do something else?”

Cyrilla choked a little bit on her tea when Anastasia asked the question. She glanced at Kenshin, who merely kept sipping his tea like it was completely normal that Anastasia would ask that question. She sighed softly, and folded both of her hands around her cup. "I guess I wasn't as good at hiding it," she mused out loud. Sooner or later, though, Anastasia would have found out. It wasn't like Team Rocket was exactly underground anymore. They were well known throughout the world, now.

"But to answer your question, no, I didn't. It wasn't exactly my first choice, but I didn't exactly have a choice," she continued, nearly whispering the end. "To be honest, I didn't even know what I wanted to do. I just wanted... I wanted to get away," she spoke. If she could, she would have left Team Rocket a long time ago. But it was a family business and everyone in her family had to stay. They didn't get a say in what they wanted to be, or what they wanted to do. Team Rocket was your life, even if you hated it. She sighed softly, though, and forced a smile on her face.

"But it's not all too bad. I have Eryk, at least. He makes things a little easier to accept," and he did. He reminded her that there was still some good left in people, even if he couldn't see it himself. And she wanted him to know that. "So, what gave me away, that I was a Rocket?" she inquired, slightly curious as to know how Anastasia had figured it out.

Anastasia’s expression was sympathetic; she certainly didn’t seem upset or put-out by the information. At the question, though, she smiled a little bit. “It wasn’t you, really,” she said. “It was mostly Eryk. He’s… not very good at hiding things from people, I don’t think. He mentioned doing research at the Cinnabar Mansion—and there’s something about the way he is that, well… I can’t exactly picture him keeping a shop or working in a lab all day.” She shrugged. “A job like that wouldn’t be flexible enough for him to come help me out like he has been. When I heard you were his cousin… I guessed you were probably involved, too.”

She sighed. “If I hadn’t seen him and Kasimir together, I’d never have guessed it was all three of you, though.” She refilled Cyrilla’s glass with apparent ease. “I don’t… I don’t know what exactly led to all of it, or why you do what you do, but I didn’t bring it up to judge you. I don’t think that belonging to Team Rocket makes you an evil person or anything.”

Not an evil person or anything? Cyrilla smiled and shook her head. Of course she was. She took people's pokémon away from them, even if they were good trainers. She'd done things she wasn't exactly proud of, too, like lying and stealing from people. Didn't that mean she was evil? A despicable person who took away another person's happiness? Kenshin shot her a glance from his cup slightly, and narrowed his eyes at her. She shook her head, though, and said nothing, taking a sip of the tea instead.

"I wouldn't blame you even if you did," she finally spoke. "It would certainly be justified," she added. "I... actually have a request from you, Ana," she spoke, finding the small bout of courage to ask her this. She pulled some of her hair over her shoulder, twirling it around her finger as she stared at it. She's always worn her hair long, but today, she wanted to do something different. She wanted to forget the past, and start over new. She wanted to forget her feelings, and start over fresh.

"Would you help me cut it?" she asked, pulling forward slightly with the strands.

If Anastasia was surprised or perplexed by the sudden change of topic, she didn’t show it. Instead she blinked large blue eyes at Cyrilla, then glanced down at her hair for a moment. “Um… are you sure? I’ve cut hair a few times, but I’m not exactly a professional. I can make the ends look neat, but that’s about it…”

"Yes, I am. It's... the one thing I actually have a say in. It doesn't have to be any particular way. I just, I want to cut it," she replied, allowing the small smile on her lips to widen. "Besides, it's just hair. It'll grow back if I miss it too much," she added as an after thought. She would let it grow back, maybe one day. For now, though, she just wanted to cut it.

Seeming to sense the symbolic significance this had for her, Anastasia didn’t protest any further, only nodding. “Okay then. Why don’t you go take a seat in the living room and I’ll get my hair shears from the bathroom, then? How short were you thinking you wanted it?”

She hadn't thought about that. She could chop off an inch or two, but that wouldn't exactly do. "How about," she began, raising her hand towards the middle of her neck, "Here? I think that's short enough." She had stopped so that her hand was resting towards the middle of her neck, and slightly touching her jawline. She could feel Kenshin staring at her, and could almost feel him shaking his head.

"Thank you, Ana, for everything," she stated. Ana was a good friend, even if they hadn't known each other for too long. To even do this much, Cyrilla could only hope that she could be just as good of a friend as Ana has been.

“I think it’ll look cute,” Anastasia replied, a little sheepishly. “And you’re welcome. I probably don’t… there’s probably not a lot in your life I can help you with, Cyrilla, but if there is… I’d like you to know you can always ask. Even if it’s just for something like this.”

Cyrilla smiled at that. "You've helped more than you know."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Anastasia matched the pace of her stride to the much longer one of the man walking beside her—essentially that meant taking two steps for every one of his. Really, Eryk was just so tall. It was hard to comprehend what it must be like to go about life with that much height. Did he ever accidentally hit things with his head? He seemed a bit to graceful for such clumsiness—Kasimir did, too, now that she thought about it. Maybe it was the nature of their work.

She hadn’t yet brought up to him that she knew what he really did for a living. He hadn’t spoken to her about it. By this point, there were several opportunities he could have taken to do so, so she had to conclude that he either didn’t want her to know or simply didn’t think it was her business. She could respect that, so she avoided asking him about his job.

Still… “You really don’t have to keep helping me, you know,” she said quietly. It seemed like a burden, to ask someone to do more when they already had such a demanding career. Kasimir claimed that volunteering his time with her helped him relax; given how he acted, she believed him. But if anything was relaxing to Eryk, manual labor at the hospice wasn’t it—she couldn’t figure out anything about it that might be benefiting him in any way, which made her feel vaguely guilty. Even though she hadn’t asked for his help.

If it was really mere obligation to help a sick person… the last time she’d coughed in front of him had been a whole week ago. She’d been careful about that for precisely this reason. “My health is as good as it’s ever been.” True, but misleading. She couldn’t bring herself to lie, but she deceived when she had to.

He glanced down at her, and furrowed his brows. It was almost like what she said offended him. It didn't, apparently, as he returned his gaze forward. "I don't mind helping," he simply stated. Perhaps he really didn't, but the tone in his voice was hard to read. He didn't sound irritated by it, but he didn't sound exactly happy about it either. "There are things that are too heavy for you to carry yourself. How you've managed this far, I am fairly surprised. You can't lift much as you are. You're too..." he paused suddenly, glancing back towards her. His eyes narrowed just slightly, as if he were watching for some sort of reaction from her.

"If you don't want my help, I will no longer offer my services after today, but," he spoke, sighing momentarily. "It would make me feel more at ease knowing that my services are helpful to you, even if your health is good."

Ana sighed. When he put it like that, she felt terrible either way. Taking a deep breath, she tried to put her thoughts into words as clear as possible. For all that she had trouble really reading him, Eryk was a straightforward person. It was probably best if she was as straightforward and honest as possible, too. “It’s not that I don’t want your help,” she started, smiling slightly to convey that she meant it. “Rather, I’m concerned that coming to help me every day is burdensome to you. It doesn’t seem to be something you enjoy, and I don’t want to keep you from doing things you like more.”

She tilted her head even as they made it into the central few blocks of the island, the small pathway widening out into smoother sidewalk. “I might not look very strong, but I can carry heavy things if I have to, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who needs other people to accomplish my goals for me. The shelter is my responsibility, because I’m the one that started it. I like having your company, and if you also like being there, then by all means, keep stopping by. But please… don’t make this a job you have to do, okay?”

She pushed out the rest of her breath all at once. Being that blunt was… well, kind of exhausting, actually. Ana wasn’t really sure how other people managed it—she felt like she should have apologized more, or something.

He looked a little surprised when she spoke, if the slight widening of his eyes was anything to go by. He seemed to contemplate her words, remaining silent during their walk. It was at least a good five minutes before he spoke again, coming to some conclusion. "I'm not good at showing what I enjoy, and what I don't," he began, stopping for another minute. "Helping you every day isn't a burden on me. It may appear that way to you, but there are others who can carry the work load without me. My job is not as important at the moment," he continued, his face pulling into a slight frown. It almost looked like that wasn't what he was quite trying to say.

"I'm not doing this because I have to, Anastasia," he spoke this time with a little more irritation in his voice. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed heavily. "I'm not a very expressive person. I don't always look like I enjoy things, but I do. This is something that I want to do," and he said nothing further.

“Oh.” That had produced different results than she expected. He really liked coming to the shelter and helping out? She smiled a little. “That’s all right then. Truthfully, I was kind of hoping you did. Rufus seems to like you; I was a little worried about breaking the news to him if you decided not to keep volunteering.” Rufus, of course, was the hospice’s steadfast, wheezy stoutland.

Realizing something abruptly, Ana backpedaled, putting her hands up with the palms facing out. “Um. Not that I’m trying to guilt you. If you ever need or want to not… well. I mean—” she sighed. Only seldom did her solitary childhood ever make her feel like she’d missed out on anything truly important in life. But just right now, she wished she’d had a few more friends her own age, so she’d know how to talk to people better.

“I just mean you should do what you want, is all.” She dropped her hands back to her sides, dusting them along her utilitarian cargo pants.

"And I do," was the only reply he gave.

She snorted softly at that, glad to hear it. Before another minute had passed, they’d come to their destination: the red-roofed Cinnabar Island Pokémon Center. The automatic doors slid open for them, admitting them into the front waiting room of the facility. As usual, the nurse in charge staffed the front desk herself—she’d called Ana earlier this morning with a request.

“Good afternoon, Aunt Joy,” Ana greeted quietly. Her aunt—really more like her third cousin, but in her family things like this were always strange—glanced up at the greeting, flashing a smile.

It faded briefly when her eyes landed on Eryk, but reappeared again almost immediately. “Ana. It’s good to see you. How are things at the hospice?” Joy moved from around the counter and held her arms out. Ana willingly stepped into them, feeling a bit awkward but accepting that such feelings were just the way of things. At least her cousin was rather careful about it.

“Everything’s well, for the most part. Oscar passed a few days ago, as you know, but he was comfortable, and everyone else seems to be coping all right.” Occasionally, she encountered people who thought it was strange that she spoke of the mental lives and emotional states of pokémon as though they were every bit as complex and rich as human ones, but fortunately, this cousin didn’t have that tendency. “I have a lot more help than usual, lately, too—so I’ve been able to get a few things fixed, which is nice.”

She paused a moment to acknowledge Eryk with a brief smile; he was, after all, responsible for quite a bit of that himself. “Oh. Aunt Joy, this is Eryk. He volunteers sometimes. Eryk, this is Joy. She’s actually my… second cousin?” She glanced at Joy for confirmation.

“Once removed,” Joy added. “I checked with mom the other day to make sure.”

“Once removed, then,” Ana amended. There was probably not much need to point out that they were related. People didn’t always see it if she was alone, but standing next to most of her relatives, the family resemblance was clear. Anastasia’s hair was more pink than that of most of her cousins, who had a rose-tinged red, but their noses were practically identical, as well as the lines of their jaws. Ana knew that compared to the near-identical visages of most of her family, she stuck out by the shape and color of her eyes as well as her lack of height, but there was still a lot of similarity.

Eryk simply inclined his head in Joy's direction, a look of slight disbelief crossing his features. "I did not know you were related to the Nurses Joy," he spoke, his words coming out slowly and carefully. His eyes narrowed, as they often did, at the Joy, but there was nothing hostile in the action. It was simply who he was. "It is... nice to meet you," he spoke, as if he were unsure if it actually was nice to meet the Joy.

"I see the resemblance, now," he added, never quite removing his gaze from Joy.

Ana’s cousin didn’t seem precisely comfortable with that, so Ana herself cut in politely. “Auntie, you said you had a couple of new cases for me?” Her tone was deliberately mild. A new case wasn’t exactly cause for celebration; it meant some pokémon was either in need of long-term care the center could not provide, dying and in need of a place to live out its last days in peace, or abused and in need of a place to recover both physically and mentally from the effects. But Ana still enjoyed getting to meet her new tenants, as she usually called them.

“Yes. We took in an Ekans with scale-rot yesterday; I have a case of the medicine to go back with you. The other one… I’m honestly not sure what’s wrong with him. He refuses to enter a pokéball, and not even the Blissey can calm him down. I wasn’t sure who else to call about him. I wouldn’t want… someone who’d just be harsh to him, you know?”

Ana did know. Deserved or not, that was exactly the kind of thing Team Rocket had earned a reputation for—authoritarianism. She wondered if Joy was uneasy around Eryk because she knew he was one of them, or if it was simply his demeanor. Either way, she wasn’t going to lend it any credibility. Team rocket or not, he was his own person, and she’d never seen him be cruel to anyone, pokémon or otherwise.

“Well, if you don’t mind taking me to him, I’ll at least give it a try,” she promised.

Joy nodded, leading them back behind the counter to the treatment rooms. Stopping in front of one, she glanced in the window on the door and frowned. Ana could see why—the room had basically been trashed. The gurney with its small mattress was overturned on its side, and the side table had been broken in two—it looked like a well-placed karate chop attack had done it in.

“Be careful, Ana,” Joy said. “If you can’t do anything for him, I’ll have to call the Rockets, but don’t put yourself in danger, okay?”

Anastasia only nodded, reaching to her belt and pulling off one of the pokéballs there. “I’ll be fine, Auntie. This is what I do for a living, remember?” She gave the ball a little toss; with a brief expulsion of red light, Luna appeared. The espeon trilled softly, her forked pink tail swaying back and forth.

“We’ve got someone who doesn’t like to sit still,” Ana informed the pokémon mildly. “Think you can help me out?”

Of course, Luna replied in her head. I will protect you if you require it.

Thank you.

The silent communication resolved, Ana placed her hand on the door and pushed it inwards. It swung on at least one bent hinge, if the awful noise was anything to go by. She flinched.

The pokémon in question turned out to be a mankey—the blast of aggression that hit her was immediate and powerful. Ana felt it in her mind like a splitting pain; it was almost as if her skull might crack open. But underneath that anger was a fear just as powerful. That was something she could work with.

Using the same connection, she swamped the aggressive feelings with her own: calm, quiet, soothing ones. Soft pillows, warm food, gentle sunshine, kind expressions, soft pats. Pokémon, especially those unused to psychic communication or those who hadn’t or couldn’t master human speech, responded best to feelings with sensations attached, she’d learned over time. Visuals were good, but if she could convey sounds and touches that were also soothing through the connection, she had a better chance of cutting through whatever was causing the problem.

She felt a flicker of curiosity. The mankey stopped its assault on the monitor equipment near the bed and turned towards her. “I’m not going to hurt you,” she said quietly, holding her hands in a surrender gesture in front of her. To reduce the intimidation factor of her size, she crouched. “Everything will be all right, I promise.” She kept up the steady stream of soft feelings.

The pokémon, chest still heaving from his violent exertions, regarded her with a mixture of anger and wariness, but clearly what she was doing had some effect, because he dropped the monitor equipment with a crash and clambered atop the overturned bed, pulling himself up onto the side railing that was now on top. “That’s right. It’s okay. Do you like mangoes? I made some treats with them.” Her tone was more important than her words, and she kept it smooth and gentle, carefully reaching into her pocket.

The mankey screeched and lunged.

Ana felt Luna’s mental question, but ignored it, just finishing her motion. The pokémon had gripped her wrist in a powerful hold with all three fingers; she could feel the pressure as her tiny capillaries broke—they’d swell up as bruises soon. But almost as soon as he’d done it, he was looking directly at the dried mango treat in her hand. Still holding her wrist, the mankey sniffed it with his porcine nose, then grabbed it with his other hand. She relinquished it willingly, sighing when he popped the treat into his mouth and released her wrist at the same time.

He didn’t seem to find anything disagreeable about it, and she kept up the string of thoughts and feelings for as long as it took for him to start circling her, sniffing around and inspecting her pockets for more treats. Turning back slightly, she shot a relieved smile at Joy and Eryk.

“I think we’re going to be okay.”

Eryk seemed more tense than usual. His arms were folded over his chest, but the clear sign of white knuckles was evident that he was trying his best to restrain himself. Perhaps he was concerned about what had happened between her and the mankey? His expression was intense, perhaps a little more intense than it usually was, and he kept his gaze fixated upon the pokémon. There was something else behind the way he stared at it, like a hint of concern. It was hard to tell if it was concern for the mankey, or if it was reserved for Anastasia, herself. It became a little more clear, though, when he approached her.

"Are you alright?" he questioned, his voice unusually soft. He didn't look at her when he said it, but he did sound concerned. Perhaps it wasn't the smartest thing, though, entering the room with her. Either he wasn't too concerned about it, or he really was as concerned as his voice made it out to be. "You shouldn't have come in here alone," was the only other thing he said.

“But I didn’t.” Anastasia stood, slowly so as not to startle the mankey, who was already looking warily at the new intruder. “Luna was here the whole time; she’d have been able to help if I needed her to. Besides…” she tilted her head to the side and smiled.

“You were right outside the door the whole time, weren’t you?” His concern was odd to her—she’d dealt with much more aggressive pokémon in her line of work. She’d been bitten, scratched, and even burned a few times. Mankeys were dangerous if provoked, it was true, but their tempers tended to fizzle if the reason for their anger was taken away. This one, she thought, was some combination of afraid and hungry, and once she’d fixed those problems, he’d calmed right down.

"Still," he spoke, keeping his odd staring contest with the mankey. He glanced at her, though, and seemed to contemplate something. His gaze was intense, even as he stared at her, before he moved it towards the mankey. "I will take him," he stated suddenly, surprising himself it seems. "Mankey are not easy to handle, and I have experience with them," he spoke, almost as if to explain his reasoning. He seemed to realize something as he tore his gaze from the mankey and directed it back to her.

"I will not harm him, if that concerns you," he spoke, relaxing his posture as he did so. The tension seemed to disappear from his person as he did so.

“Of course I’m not worried about that,” she said immediately, shaking her head. “I know you wouldn’t do anything to harm him. But… I would like to keep him with me at the hospice for a week or so. Just to make sure he doesn’t have any actual health issues that are causing any problems. Once he’s adjusted, I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful adoptive trainer.”

And she was—it was clear from the way he was with the pokémon at the shelter as well as his own that he really knew what he was doing as a trainer. And it was unlikely that a mankey in good physical health would do too well at the hospice permanently; life there was a bit too slow-paced. “How does that sound?”

He contemplated her words somewhat before he nodded. "Alright. I shall help with his assimilation so that he may grow used to me as well," he said, his voice still unusually soft. "I've always wanted a mankey," he spoke this softly as if to be unheard.

Anastasia pretended she didn't hear, and smiled.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

You shouldn't have cut it, Kenshin spoke as Cyrilla played with her hair. She glanced at him, giving him a somewhat melancholic smile. She kept trying to pull the strands over her shoulder like she used to, but her hair was too short now. She couldn't do that anymore. She sighed which, in turn, caused him to sigh, closing his eyes momentarily to heave his shoulders. I will never understand why you did that, he continued, pushing forward as they walked. Cyrilla had left the base again today, though she didn't have a particular destination in mind. She just wanted to explore the island. She had passed by Anastasia's, but Eryk was there, and she had decided against going to speak with the frail girl.

"I told you already not to worry about it, Kenny," she finally spoke, smiling when she did so. He could tell it was forced, because it didn't quite reach her eyes like it used to. It actually made him slightly worried. She always smiled genuinely, and the mirth could always be seen behind her eyes. Perhaps this was taking more of a toll on her than she had originally thought? "Besides, like I told Ana, it'll grow back," she continued, allowing her hands to rest at her sides. What would have been said, however, was disturbed by the sound of her name being called. Both Cyrilla and himself turned towards the source, and he could almost see a small spark of happiness light up in her.

"Good morning Cy, Kenshin," it was hard not to notice who it was. Drake always had that way about him, he supposed. Plus, he stood out like a magmar with his red hair. Kenshin almost snorted at that. "How are you both doing? I almost didn't recognize you with the short hair," he spoke a little sheepishly. Kenshin immediately narrowed his eyes at the man, but chose not to say anything. Cyrilla, however, didn't seem so inclined. Instead, she offered him a small smile.

"Kenny and I were just walking along the roads. Today I have a free moment and I wanted to explore a little more," she answered, her smile turning into something a little more warm. Kenshin couldn't help but do the same, and smiled somewhat unnoticeably. At least she was smiling again, right? "And I only just cut it," she stated, a small blush forming on her face. She was still a little embarrassed about it, it seems. He told her she shouldn't have cut it.

"It looks nice, though," he stated, reaching out to run his hand past it. Kenshin growled lowly at him, something that surprised all three of them, and it caused Drake to drop his hand "Sorry Ken, I should have asked, right?" Kenshin merely rolled his eyes. Cyrilla chuckled softly before it turned into a light laugh.

"A-anyway, were you on your way somewhere?" she asked, causing Kenshin to raise a brow.

"I actually have something to give to Anastasia. It's a card I picked up at the post office. They asked if I could deliver it to her since she was busy today," he stated, pulling the said card from his back pocket. It looked like one of those cards someone sent to another person to wish them well wherever they were. It could have been something else entirely, but Kenshin couldn't quite see it. Cyrilla simply mouthed an 'oh' causing Kenshin to sigh.

"Well, I'll let you go so you can deliver it. Oh, and do be careful. Eryk is with her," she spoke, giving him a fair warning before saying her goodbyes as he left. Kenshin just merely stared at her and shook his head. "What?" she questioned, but before he could reply, there was something wet falling from the sky. He glanced up at the same time his trainer did, and he could feel the first drops of rain on his face. It was going to start raining, and as soon as the thought processed, the sky opened up, drenching both pokémon and his trainer. She didn't seem to mind, though, and only smiled wider.

You would enjoy getting caught in the rain, he simply stated, but smiled as best as he could. At least she was smiling now, right?

A bright flash illuminated the sky for a moment, and then a loud crack split the air, signifying one of Cinnabar’s many impromptu spring thunderstorms. Sure enough, the clouds rolled in quickly, and though it was still obviously daytime outside, it had darkened considerably. The islanders seemed used to it, by and large, many of them carrying large umbrellas or heading inside and taking whatever they were doing with them, but others didn’t seem to let it interrupt them at all.

As Cyrilla continued on her random trek around the island, she came upon a deserted section of beach. The waves, turned grey by the sky they reflected, rolled up harshly against the shore, though none of them were dangerously-big yet, most likely. Surprisingly, someone was on the beach; upon closer inspection, it was obviously Kasimir. He’d shed his shoes and was barefoot on the wet sand. His bright orange and green shirt was folded next to them, a stark patch of color against the darkened brown of the beach’s natural flooring. The sleeveless shirt he still wore made pieces of his tattoos obvious; the most prominent wound around nearly his entire left arm. It looked to be a rayquaza, or maybe a dragonair—the distance made it impossible to tell.

But on the same wrist glinted something very familiar—he’d taken the charm she made and fashioned it into a bracelet with braided red and blue cord, it seemed. He was facing away from them, out towards the incoming waves, and seemed no more inclined to hide from the rain than she was.

He could see Cyrilla tense for a moment, and sensed something that caused him to reach out his paw towards her. She had turned to walk the other direction, away from Kasimir, however; Kenshin wasn't going to have that. You said you were starting over new, but that doesn't mean you get to leave your friends, out. That's not fair, Cy, he spoke, watching as she cringed a bit. She sighed in what seemed like defeat, causing Kenshin to smirk, or at least the best smirk he could pull off with his canid mouth.

They made their way towards Kasimir, and when they were within earshot, Cyrilla cleared her throat. "Hey Kas," she greeted, taking a seat next to him. She turned her head slightly so that she was glancing at him, her smile still on her face. "I see you got my present," she spoke, nodding her head towards the raikou bracelet. Kenshin plopped himself on the opposite side of Kasimir, staring out into the ocean. His trainer and her friends apparently liked being in the rain.

Kasimir didn’t seem surprised by their presence, exactly; he was extremely perceptive for a human. He sat with his feet pulled up and his arms draped over his knees, folding himself over until he didn’t seem quite as tall as he really was. He slouched a fair bit, too, which helped.

But though he wasn’t surprised, he didn’t seem to be his usual effulgent self, exactly. The rain had long since plastered his hair to his head, dripping irregularly from the end of his short ponytail. His eyes seemed a bit darker than usual, though it could have just been the lack of sunlight to illuminate things. His face had been relaxed into a contemplative frown; he immediately banished it as soon as they joined him, pulling his expression into a smile that was more like him.

“I did; thank you,” he said, flashing a bright white smile for just a moment. If he found it strange that she’d just left it for him to find instead of giving it to him herself, he didn’t say so.

"I take it Ryk kicked you out of the base today? Or are you just enjoying the ocean view?" she continued, leaning forward slightly.

“I was contemplating a swim, actually,” he replied. “When the water gets all choppy like this, it’s good for training.” He shrugged broad shoulders—the tattoo did seem to be of rayquaza, but done in a style like one might see in paintings on the walls of old ruins; it had that sense of age to it.

He tilted his head to the side and glanced at Cyrilla. “You changed your hair,” he remarked. It was, of course, quite wet by now, but still noticeably much shorter. “It’s cute.” Though the words were like something he’d typically say, he didn’t lean any closer to her or do anything special to his tone; the observation sounded more like a neutral statement of fact than an attempt at flirtation, and with him, there was a perceptible difference.

“Looking to get a fresh start on something?”

He was certainly more perceptive than he seemed most of the time.

She seemed to contemplate his question, looking a little surprised that he'd asked it. "You could say that," she replied, glancing out towards the sea. Kenshin frowned just slightly at the tone of her voice. It wasn't quite the same cheerful one she used with him, but it was hard to describe. It wasn't sad, nor solemn, but more like she'd come to accept something as truth, and that was it. "Plus, long hair isn't quite suited for the island life. It gets too hot here sometimes," she added, switching her posture so that her legs were tucked under her. Kenshin turned his head so that he was facing both Kasimir and his trainer.

She mostly cut it to get a new start, he chimed in, causing Cyrilla to slightly glare at him. If he could have, he would have smirked at his trainer, but he kept his face as calm as it usually was. He merely shrugged his shoulders, though, and kept his eyes on his trainer and her friend. He wondered, sometimes, about her, but there wasn't much he could do for her in a situation like this. Plus, he could almost feel the way her heart beat was slightly picking up. She might want to start new, but she couldn't quite erase what she felt. He sighed a little too loudly.

"Is it because the current is stronger during storms?" she asked, changing the subject just slightly. Kenshin snorted.

Kasimir seemed willing to let the subject drop, though he obviously wasn’t the kind of person who wouldn’t notice that Cyrilla was uncomfortable with it. Maybe that was why he didn’t try to get a better answer—he wasn’t that easy to read, actually. He nodded slightly in response to her question. “Rougher water requires more strength to navigate, and you have to stay aware of what the water is doing, or you can get dragged down by the undertow. It’s really not a smart idea unless you know what you’re doing.”

He curled his toes into the sand. Rainwater dripped freely from the relaxed ends of his fingers, a counterpoint to the patter of the rain itself. Though he sounded light as ever, it seemed like his thoughts were half-elsewhere, not really entirely on the conversation for some reason. Not to the point of rudeness, just… distraction, maybe.

“Maybe it’s not even a smart idea if you do.” His mouth curled up at one corner; he dropped his chin to rest on one of his hands, elbow to knee. “But I’ve done it since I was a kid, and I’m not dead yet. That counts for something, right?”

She seemed to frown at his last statement. "You should still be careful, Kas," she spoke, the worry evident in her voice. Kenshin could feel the slight shift in her aura that she was slightly disturbed by that, and he could only surmise that it was the fact that she was worried something might happen. She was like that with everyone, though. She worried about them, their health, and their well-being. If one of them was sick, she was there to help make them feel better. If one of the grunts was upset, there she was listening to what their problem was. This seemed to hit her a little harder, though, and Kenshin shook slightly to get the rain out of his coat.

"Besides, I don't like the idea of something happening to you," she muttered the last part, but surprisingly, her face remained the same pale hue. There was no pink dust to cover her face, nor any sign that she was embarrassed by what she had just said. He almost smiled at that. "I would be sad if I couldn't see you or meep again. Especially meep," she added. It seemed like she was trying to lighten the mood just a tad by including the mareep.

You should have given her the mareep instead, he chimed in. She would have probably preferred it to the growlithe, however; he knew she would have enjoyed either one.

He snorted. “Hey. Meep and I are a match made in heaven. I love to nap, she loves to nap. I’m warm, she’s fluffy. It’d be like trying to break up peanut butter and jelly. Apples and caramel. Rice and beans.” He gave them both a trademark grin, then.

“And don’t worry about me, Cy. I might seem like an idiot, but I’m pretty good at looking after myself, I swear. There’s no need to be concerned—you might have grown up a Koga, but I grew up the son of a world champion martial artist. Swimming was part of my training.” He swiped a hand over the back of his neck, muscles shifting under his shirt. He usually wore pretty baggy clothes that made it hard to tell, but he did have the build to substantiate his claim.

Kenshin laughed at that, the sound rather odd for a lucario. If you say so, was the only thing he said. Cyrilla chuckled lightly too, and she sighed with a little more mirth.

"Well, when you put it that way, I guess I don't have to worry too much about you. Besides," she began, shifting slightly in her spot, "I hear they make good caramel apples on the island. How about we go get one of those instead?" she stated. Kenshin actually glanced, this time, at Kasimir. Caramel apples did sound pretty good at the moment.

Say yes, he spoke directly to Kasimir this time.

Kasimir threw one last longing look at the ocean, but then he sighed overdramatically and stood. “All right, all right. Hard to say no to a team like this.” He offered a hand down to Cyrilla to help her to her feet. It was a completely casual gesture—like his compliment earlier, there was nothing overtly flirtatious about it. Was it possible that he knew Cyrilla’s fresh start had more than a little bit to do with him?

"Great, I'm buying!" she spoke while taking his offered hand. Kenshin shook his head, though, at that. Really, his trainer was odd, and so was the man she worked with.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
After a week of observation and tests, both medical and behavioral, Anastasia had deemed her newest case ready to be adopted. It was certainly going to be a record turnaround; fortunately it seemed that the mankey her cousin had asked her to take in was not an abuse case. The fear underlying his mentality was still a worry—she suspected it was residual from abandonment. She’d been able to figure out, through her powers and a healthy dose of interpretation, that mankey had been a bit of a handful, and his young trainer had left him on one of Cinnabar’s much smaller outlying islets.

He’d been hungry and afraid when the local control officers had found him, and the fact that they’d put him down with a tranquilizer dart and he woke up somewhere unfamiliar had not helped matters. Now that he understood that he was safe and in no more danger of starving, he was actually proving almost even-tempered. Certainly enough so to be safe for adoption.

Eryk was coming by this afternoon to pick him up; Anastasia wanted to observe them together for a while, just in case, but she didn’t foresee any problems. She hummed to herself while she stirred the pot on the stove; it had been pouring rain all day. She knew the walk here from the mansion wasn’t exactly short; she figured Eryk might appreciate something to warm him back up again after he arrived.

Mankey sat contentedly on her shoulders. He was a little too big to really be anything but awkward in such a position, but his grip on her was gentle this time. He quite seemed to like her hair; even though it was in a ponytail, he kept playing with the strands of it, making soft whuffing noises. She’d communicated to him as well as she could what would be happening; he didn’t seem too happy about it, but he wasn't afraid, either.

The soft opening of Anastasia's door signaled Eryk's arrival. By now, Eryk had been visiting the shelter more than enough times that knocking wasn't needed. At least not with him. He was dry when he approached, stopping just by the doorframe. He seemed to stare at the mankey on her shoulders, and then allowed his gaze to travel towards her. He didn't say anything, instead, placing the black umbrella he was holding up against the wall.

"Ana," he greeted, tilting his head just slightly. "Is everything well?" he asked, perhaps referring to the mankey's health and mentality.

She chose to take it that way, in any case. “Yes,” she said with a smile. “We just got the results of the last of his blood tests back today. Mankey has a clean bill of health, except for the slight malnutrition we’re still working on. But that’s just a matter of time and the right food.” She’d already written out instructions for a recovery diet that should last a few more weeks, after which he would be able to eat like any other of his species.

Tapping the ladle on the edge of the pot to knock off a few extra drops of soup, she placed it on a holder on the counter and went to fetch a couple of bowls. “Would you like some Kalos Onion Soup? It’s a little chilly out there.” She could actually feel the temperature change deep in her lungs; she didn’t do too well with cold weather on average, but especially not when the temperature dropped suddenly. Thankfully, most rainy days on Cinnabar weren’t nearly bad enough to cause her too many problems.

He regarded her for a moment before nodding slowly. "That... sounds nice," he spoke in a slow pace. It was almost as if he were unsure of how to respond, and that he thought carefully of his words. Mankey, settled on Anastasia's shoulders, turned and glared at Eryk. He made a short huffing sound towards Eryk, but the man didn't seem too fazed by it. Instead, they held a sort of glaring contest. But Eryk always looked like he was glaring, even if he wasn't. So perhaps he was just staring at the mankey?

He did, however, raise a brow towards it, but said nothing further. It was as if they were both having a silent battle with each other, however; Eryk wasn't giving up. It was a solid minute before Eryk broke the eye contact with the mankey, and turned his attention back to Anastasia. "I don't think he likes me," he stated, earning a soft snort from the pig monkey pokémon. Mankey remained where he was, though he did climb down from Anastasia's shoulders.

Ana had the feeling that if Eryk were just a little more expressive, he might even have been pouting. It was probably for the best that he wasn’t—she didn’t think she’d have been able to contain her laughter if he was. She smiled sympathetically, ladling soup into both bowls and passing his over the island to him, along with a spoon. She took the opportunity provided by Mankey leaving her shoulders to pull the bread out of the oven; it was a crisp baguette loaf. She was quite pleased with how it had turned out. Since it was only small, she broke it in two and put half on a little plate for each of them, retrieving the butter from the fridge and adding a knife to the tray she put it on.

Once everything was set, and the cheese had been added to the top of the soup, she sat down to her own meal, dipping the bread into the side of the bowl gingerly. “It might take you some time to get used to each other,” she conceded. “I think…” For a moment, Ana hesitated. Explaining how much she knew about Mankey’s history would prompt the obvious question of how she knew. Mankeys weren’t like lucarios or most psychic-types: they couldn’t usually communicate directly with humans.

“I think he was probably abandoned,” she settled on, framing it as a hunch rather than a certainty. In all fairness, that was mostly what it was. Even someone with her powers could only do so much communicating without a real language. “It will probably be difficult to earn his trust, but… I think you can do it.”

He seemed to accept her answer well enough, and went to sit down on the opposite side of Anastasia, however; he didn't quite make it that far. As soon as he made to sit, his entire person was on the floor, blinking mildly surprised towards Ana. A soft huffing noise, something like a laugh, was coming from the mankey. Eryk simply remained where he was before finally standing. He dusted off his pants, moved the chair back into position, and took a seat. He remained silent, his expression unreadable.

"Abandonment issues are tougher to deal with when mankey are concerned. Trust is hard to build unless they bond with you from the very beginning," he simply stated. He took a bite from the baguette before touching the soup. "This is fairly good," he started, continuing to eat his food.

Ana pursed her lips, exerting considerable effort not to smile. It was a little bit amusing; moreso because of the way Eryk handled it. The truth was, she didn’t worry too much about them eventually working things out. If a mankey’s trainer could learn to respond with even half as much patience as Eryk had just shown, then the adjustment should go fine.

“Then I fairly thank you,” she replied to the half-compliment. It didn’t bother her—he was, she’d learned quickly, the kind of person who assessed things exactly as he saw them, without flattery or cruelty. Ana was just fine with that. Besides, she wasn’t a world-class chef or anything. Her food was simple and made to her taste, and that was good enough for her. She spent a lot more time refining her pokémon treat recipes, actually.

Swallowing a spoonful of soup, she hooked her feet over the bottom bar of the stool, leaning forward comfortably. She wasn’t naturally inclined towards speaking, but he was even less so, she thought. Ana could at least be a little more comfortable around people she knew. “Can I ask about your other pokémon?” she enquired, choosing a topic she knew both of them would be comfortable with. “I’ve met Meowth and Blue, and of course Mankey now, too. Are you a trainer?”

"You could say that," he replied, taking another spoonful before placing it down. "I have milotic, zoroark, and gengar. I've had them all since they were in their first stages," he continued shifting slightly in his spot. "Meowth was the newest addition before mankey," he stated, nodding his head towards said pokémon. "Cyrilla gave her to me, though I don't recall as to why. They have all been with me for a considerable amount of years, otherwise."

It was, perhaps, the most he'd ever said in one go. He didn't seem to hesitate about it, either. He must have been comfortable enough to share even that much. "Though I would warn against gengar. He... likes to hypnotize people," he added, as though it weren't entirely true. Maybe it was only certain people?

Ana elected not to mention that she didn’t have to worry about things of that nature. It was an amusing thought, in any case. She let her smile show through for a moment. “That seems like quite the team,” she said honestly. Presumably all or most of them were trained for battle; she supposed they must be quite formidable.

Realizing then that she’d forgotten to get drinks, she stood and pulled the glasses down from the cabinet. “Sorry, I completely forgot about beverages. I have lemonade, iced tea, soda, milk, and water. Is there anything in particular you want?”

Before he could respond, there was an abrupt knock on the door. Someone called out Anastasia's name, and when the person identified themself, Eryk visibly twitched. "Hey, Ana are you home!? It's Drake!" Apparently the current Gym Leader of Cinnabar Island was here, and Eryk wasn't too happy about it. "I've got a package for you," he continued, as if he knew that she was home. It wasn't long before Drake was inside, standing just outside the frame of the door. He'd been here plenty of times before, so it wasn't entirely uncommon that he entered in the same fashion as Eryk had. "Hey Eryk. Cy told me you'd be here too."

Eryk either didn't have anything to say to Drake, or didn't want to say anything to him. He seemed to do so, anyway. "Drake," was the only proper greeting he gave. Mankey seemed to pick up on whatever Eryk was currently feeling, and made his way towards Drake. He sniffed the man's outstretched hand before climbing onto him, resting gently on his shoulders. Eryk glared.

Ana picked up on the awkwardness immediately, though she was pretty sure it was one-sided. “Good afternoon, Drake,” she greeted amiably, hoping to smooth things over as well as possible. The best way to do that was probably to make sure they didn’t have to interact much, right? “You really didn’t have to come all this way to deliver it—especially not in the rain.”

Nevertheless, she approached, intending to receive whatever the content of this delivery was.

"Hey little guy," he spoke, scratching the mankey slightly under the chin. Mankey hummed a soft content tune before Drake turned his attention towards Ana. "Oh don't worry about it. I was making rounds around the island and since I was passing this way, I figured I could drop this off to you," he simply replied, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out what looked like a greeting card. Eryk was visibly uncomfortable, though it was hard to tell if he noticed he was. Drake seemed pretty much used to Eryk's glaring since the bright grin on his face was still there.

"Plus I figured I might be able to help you put the tarps up around the open areas for the outside pokémon," he added.

"That's why I'm here. Your services are not required, Drake," Eryk spoke this time. Drake glanced at him, and then back at Anastasia.

"Well, if that's the case I guess I'll see you both around. Sorry little guy, but I have to go now," he stated, removing the mankey from his shoulders. Mankey seemed to be upset a little bit, and held onto Drake's arm just slightly. "Aw, can I take him?" Drake almost pleaded, glancing towards Ana.

"He's mine."

"Oh." was the only response he gave before saying his goodbyes to Anastasia. Eryk still seemed slightly disturbed that Drake had been here at all, and that mankey had taken such a shine to him.

“Sorry Drake,” Ana added, trying to soften the blow a little. “But you should come by again soon; I think Fletchinder is nearly over her molting problem—and we both know how well you two get along.” She tipped her head to the side and saw him to the door. Once they’d exchanged farewells, she headed back to the kitchen.

“I didn’t know the two of you had… met,” she said to Eryk, setting her envelope down next to her bowl and returning to the beverages she’d retrieved from the refrigerator. “Lemonade?”

"You could say that," he said, though what he meant by that was a little vague. "Lemonade sounds nice," he responded. Mankey seemed to be a little upset at Drake's depature, but simply made his way back to Anastasia's side. It was going to be a while before mankey warmed up to Eryk, wasn't it?

She nodded and poured a glass, sliding it carefully across the island before filling a second for herself and sitting back down. The soup was still warm, thankfully. She decided to resume their former conversation rather than pushing for details about whatever strange hostility he bore Drake. Presumably, if he’d wanted to say more about that, he would have. He was very honest that way—moreso than she’d ever been, as much as she might wish to be otherwise.

But she could return that honesty with at least a bit of her own. “I have special permits for the hospice,” she said, “but I also have a registered team of six myself. Mostly they’re all very young still—I didn’t start putting a team together until much later than most people do.” She hadn’t exactly been in any condition to travel around the world at the age of eleven.

“Aithne, my vulpix, was my first. Then there’s Luna, who you’ve met, and Nova, who’s an umbreon. Oh, and Delilah, the swablu—she’s not quite as sociable as Blue, but she had her moments.” Most of her original pokémon had been rescues of one kind or another as well, really. “And then more recently I picked up Sparks the pichu and Iris the dratini. They’re the reason I got the idea to start this place at all, you know?”

"You started this place to save pokémon?" he questioned, a slight hint of curiosity in his voice. "Was there anything else you wanted to do? Before this?" he continued questioning. He seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say, since he'd stopped eating the rest of his food. That, and his bowl was empty.

She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the sudden interest—it was actually a little uncomfortable. But she’d opened the door to the question by rambling like she had in the first place. Ana smiled sheepishly. “Well… I did want to be a pokémon professor. I always loved learning about them; my aunt wanted me to be a nurse like she is, but I don’t know. I’ve never been too comfortable in hospitals.” She sighed softly. She’d had to give up her aspirations to professorship, though—the schooling took too long. She wouldn’t be finished until she was twenty-five, even if she started now. “Some dreams have to die, though. It's just how things are." She shrugged. She could be happy with what she had; it was an ability of hers. Maybe the most important one.

“What… what about you?” Given what little Cyrilla had said, Ana understood she might be treading sensitive ground here. She approached it carefully.

Eryk pursed his lips, though it was a bit difficult to tell in what kind of manner. He didn't seem angry that she said that, but some part of it looked a little disappointed. "I've been as I've always been. This path that was laid out before me was chosen for me the moment I was born," he replied a little too casually. "There wasn't much of a choice of deciding something else for myself, though," he paused momentarily, and glanced at the mankey.

"There was a time when I was a small boy that I wanted to be a trainer. One that got to travel the world and challenge Gym Leaders for badges," the way he spoke it was a little odd. It had more feeling behind it than his usual words, and it could only be taken for the truth. "But as you said, some dreams should be allowed to die. That was one of them," he spoke, releasing a deep sigh. He leaned back in his chair slightly, and glanced back at Ana.

"I think," he began his eyes locking with hers for a brief moment of intensity, "for what it's worth, you would have made a good professor." He removed his gaze after that.

She regretted saying the words, when he turned them around on her like that. It made her want to explain—to say that she didn’t think his dreams had to die. Because there were reasons that she had to give hers up that had nothing to do with willpower or choice. But then… that could be just as true of him. Perhaps he had no more say than she did, in the end. She didn’t know the circumstances to be able to judge that.

Her eyes fell to the counter for a moment; she laid her spoon down in her bowl with care. The way he said it, the feeling he put into his description of the life he’d wanted… it broke her heart. Because she could be happy with the way her life was now. But she wasn’t entirely sure he was or could be happy with his.

“It’s worth a lot,” she said softly. “So thank you. I think… I think you would have made a really great trainer, too—just watching you with the pokémon here is enough to tell me that. You have a real way with them.” They didn’t always respect or like the volunteers—that was natural given what they’d been through. But though a few of the more skittish ones were a bit afraid of him, most of them trusted him, by this point. That said a lot about his character, in her estimation.

Ana smiled sadly. “I’m sorry that dream died,” she said in a low tone, almost too soft to hear. “I hope… I hope you find another that you like even more, and get to keep it alive.”

"I am not sorry," he replied almost immediately, and that seemed as much of a surprise to himself than anything. "But I thank you. I do not have that luxury, though. What I do now, is what I will continue to do until I am replaced or I grow too old to do it," he added. He didn't seem inclined to state anything further, after that.

“I understand.” She felt like the statement was true, though which part of his words exactly she was responding to wasn’t obvious, even to her. “Anyway… let me get you Mankey’s papers, and then we can talk about his diet and when to bring him by for a checkup.” It seemed better to let the former thread of discussion drop, for now; Ana wasn’t sure about Eryk, but too much further into all of that and she wasn’t going to be able to hold her tongue about certain things she really ought not to discuss.

Not even with a friend, new as he was to the position.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk sighed, leaning his head on the flat of his hand. He stared at the papers in front of him, a glare on his face. He could tell he was glaring; he could feel the pulls of his eyes and the way his mouth tilted just slightly. The upper echleons of HQ were becoming impatient, now. They wanted results, and he wasn't producing them. It's been almost a month and a half, but there were no new developments with any of the potential candidates. He doubted that learning she was a Joy would prove useful to them, but he wasn't entirely sure if he should send the information anyway. Would it change anything?

It didn't matter. If he didn't find something out soon, one of them would come down to Cinnabar. Eryk wasn't so inclined to let that happen. Depending on who they sent, they wouldn't be as gentle. He frowned at that thought. Why did that seem to bother him? If he'd stop being so careful perhaps he could have found out whatever it is they are looking for? He sighed deeply through his nose, glancing up in time to see his friend standing in the door way. He hadn't bothered to close it this time.

"Kas," he greeted, straightening out his posture a bit so that he wasn't leaning his head on his hands. His arms, however, remained on the desk, crossed. "Did you know she was a Joy?" he decided to ask. If Kasimir had any kind of reaction to it, it would help him decide whether or not to submit it to HQ.

Kas hmm’d, inviting himself into Eryk’s office and sprawling into one of the chairs in front of the desk. He threw a leg over the armrest and leaned sideways, his other foot planted on the floor. With a shake of his head, he offered a shrug. “No, though I had wondered. You don’t see hair that color too often, even if it’s a little off-shade.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. “It’s not in the file we got, and her last name is totally different from any of the Pokémon Center Joys, so you might want to make a note of it, I guess.”

He didn’t exactly sound sure either, though. Kas pushed a breath out of his nose and dragged a hand through his hair. “You think HQ’s gonna send one of those three if you don’t get them something soon, or what?”

Eryk turned the paper he was holding towards Kasimir, showing him that, indeed, one of those three would be sent if results did not start showing up. Those three, were the original three beasts, but they had been under different aliases. Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos. They were, essentially, the opposite of what Kas, himself, and Cy were. But they were also much stronger and more lethal than they were. He didn't really want one of them to come down here and fuck things up for him, however; it didn't seem like they were going to have much of a choice.

"If I had to guess who, they'd probably send Katia," he spoke. Out of the three of the originals, she was the most lethal and was as cold as the beast she represented: Articuno. This he knew from experience because she was part of his clan as well. His cousin, if he remembered correctly. She was his aunt's daughter, Janine. But she was much older than he was, too. She was in her mid to late thirties, and she looked like an exact replica of his aunt. But most of all, she scared him. That was something in itself, and the mere thought of her coming down sent a visible shiver down his spine.

"There must be something more to it than just her connection to the Joys. It would be a little more helpful if they would at least tell us why these people were of such interest to them. Perhaps there is another connection that we are missing," he continued, pressing a deep sigh through his mouth. This was getting irritating.

Kasimir made a face at the mention of the former Three Beasts. “Man… those guys are no fun. I think Katia hates me,” he whined. Sighing through his nose, Kas kicked his other leg over the arm of the chair as well, sinking deeper into the cushions. His mouth dropped into a frown. “I’ve been digging,” he said, rubbing a hand on his cheek. He looked like he needed a shave.

“Looking for anything they might have in common. But there’s nothing, Ryk—nothing I can find. And you know how good I am with that kind of thing.” He was by far the information expert on the team, and he’d pulled data seemingly out of the ether before. “These people go from fourteen to seventy-four, men and women, kids, no kids, pokémon, no pokémon, from any region… I can’t pick out any common factors at all.”

Eryk breathed out softly this time, but Kas was right. There really wasn't anything that connected them all. Their families couldn't have been connected; it was too large even when one considered the Jennys or the Joys. Even his family was large, but there was no way that they could have all been related one way or another. "I don't think she hates you, Kas," he decided to state. "I think she's just a little obsessive, is all," he spoke, shuddering slightly. His cousin really did scare him, but he didn't really know what her problem was with Kas. She never seemed to like him, even when they first met.

"There has to be something, otherwise we're just wasting our time here," he continued. He didn't doubt Kas when he said he'd been looking. And he doubted he could. "Maybe, in a few weeks, something will show up. The Camilla festival will be here, and by then Ana," he spoke, swallowing a little too hard at that, "will have enough trust in me to say something," but he didn't quite like that thought. He leaned back in his chair, resting his arms comfortably on the arms of it.

"If we don't produce something after the festival, she'll be down here," he spoke softly. "I don't want her down here, you don't want her down here. Let's try and see if we can find something, Kas. We'll have to work a little harder, pry a little deeper. I don't like it any more than you do, but we have to," and he really didn't want to pry any harder than he already was.

Kas grimaced, but he didn’t look any more comfortable with the situation than Eryk was. “Leaves a sour taste in my mouth, trying to bother that girl,” he said quietly, shaking his head. But like he always did, Kas swallowed the unease and plastered a smile on his face. “I do have an idea, though. Ask her to the festival with you. It’ll be a chance to observe her outside of her usual environment, and if there’s something she’s keeping from us, it’s more likely to surface by accident in a situation like that than one where she’s completely comfortable.”

He paused for a moment. “Cy and I can go with you. If it’s a group thing, she’s probably more likely to agree.”

"I... actually planned on asking her," he mumbled just slightly, turning his head so that he was glancing towards the side. He had planned on it, but Cy had told him earlier that Drake was going to ask her. He didn't necessarily want Drake to take her, but there was a slight possibility that Ana would probably prefer spending it with someone who was a little more vibrant than himself. After all, what kind of company could he offer her? He didn't particularly like festivals, though he wouldn't mind enjoying the food.

"Perhaps I shall ask her anyway," he concluded. "Thanks... Kas," he spoke, a little surprised at himself. Maybe Ana and Cy were finally starting to rub off on him.

Surprise flashed briefly over Kasimir’s face, but then he grinned broadly. “You’re welcome, Ryk.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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The Three Beasts, as they were officially titled, were all actually in the same room at the same time, for once. Specifically, they were in Eryk’s room, which was not the same thing as his office. Kasimir was up-side down, his knees hooked over the back of an old armchair and his head hanging off the seat. It was, he thought, the appropriate position for this situation—what could be more upside-down than Ryk basically asking for dating advice?

Okay, so it wasn’t really dating advice, but it was basically the same thing. The plan was still for him to get Ana to come with them to the Camilla Festival, the annual start of summer and tourist season on Cinnabar Island. It was pretty similar to an event on the Orange Islands called the Palm Festival. He was pretty sure it would involve most of the same kind of stuff—people got dressed up in colorful clothes and spent the evening walking around the island, shopping, eating, spending time together, and then lighting paper lanterns and sending them out on the ocean as a gesture for good luck and to welcome the season.

The important point here was that Eryk needed to ask Anastasia to it, and for whatever reason, he decided that was something he had to do. Even if he asked with no intent of making it anything like a real date—and Kas wasn’t so sure about that—it was going to look like he was asking her out. Which meant she might think he was. Which meant he had to do it in such a way as to convince her to accept.

Which meant he needed to be a little less like Eryk and a little more like hypothetical-Eryk-who-has-manners-and-maybe-even-charm. That was a pretty tall order. Apparently, teaching Eryk how to be hypothetical-Eryk was a job for both Kas and Cy. Honestly, he was happy to have reinforcements on this one; they were still having trouble with store clerks, and it had been weeks. Nearly eight of them in total.

“So… what exactly was it that you wanted to know, Ryk? You pretty much just ask her if she wants to go with you. Maybe lead into it by asking if she has plans for it or not. It’s not complicated.” He’d been considering asking Fiona from accounting to go with him, but since it was a mission now, that plan was firmly quashed. No skin off his teeth. She’d be fine just meeting up at some point later in the week—it wasn’t like they really dated or anything.

Kas didn't really do that, though he knew how it worked. Apparently, that made him the expert here. His coworkers really needed lives.

Eryk pursed his lips together, as if he still didn't quite understand what Kas was saying. "But if I ask her straight up, she might take it wrong, and you know how I am with other people. I might end up just scaring her off instead. I'm not good at this kind of thing, Kas, you know this. Both of you," he spoke, eyeing both Kas on the chair, and Cyrilla who'd taken to sitting cross-legged on Eryk's bed. She didn't say anything, though, and just glanced in Kas' direction.

"I need to know how to ask without upsetting her or giving her the wrong impression. You know how delicate this matter is," though from the way he said it, it almost sounded like he cared.

The tone sent up a little red flag in Kasimir’s mind—something about this was very dangerous, and he knew exactly what it was. But… for all the danger, it might also be a good thing. Resisting the urge to bring it up, Kas instead turned his attention to the actual issue at hand. It was far too soon to be trying to decide what to do about whatever it was that produced that sound in Eryk’s voice.

Crossing his arms, Kas sighed. “Fortunately, we’re talking about Ana. She’s not likely to misinterpret you if you’re clear. Also fortunately, she doesn’t seem to get offended when you’re really blunt about things. So… tell her that we are inviting her to come to the festival with us—that way it’s clear that it’s an outing we’re all participating in as friends.” His mouth pulled to the side. “Or let me do it. Whichever.”

"As friends? What else would it be?" he questioned, though he turned in the direction of Cyrilla, who snorted softly into her hand. "I still want to be careful about it. Even if she doesn't take it the wrong way, even if I do ask her as bluntly as possible, there is still a small chance that I could offend her somehow. I could say the wrong thing, mention the wrong subject, or just say something she might not like," he continued, sighing a bit heavily. He pulled his hand up to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose as he leaned against the wall for slight support.

"But she won't, Ryk. If she hasn't said anything by now, and if she enjoys your company, then there really isn't anything to worry about. Just ask her; it's that simple. If you don't do it soon, Drake is going to sweep in and take away that opportunity. Do you really want him to do that?" Cyrilla chimed in, though there was a visible tick in Eryk's jaw. He didn't seem to like that idea too much.

"It's easier said than done, Cy. What if you were to ask Luke if he wanted to go, but he wanted to go with someone else?" he shot back, causing Cy to flinch just slightly. "I didn't mean it that way, Cy," he stated, sighing a bit too heavily.

Luke? Why was he suddenly in this conversation? Kasimir didn’t think he’d missed anything that important by way of social developments. He’d been a little more careful with Cy recently, as she seemed especially sensitive lately. Particularly in regards to him. He hated that he was inadvertently making her life worse, and so he tried to give her as much space as he could for that fresh start she wanted. Difficult when they had to work so closely together, but he tried. Had he really missed…?

No, the look on her face was wrong for that. Kasimir breathed an internal sigh of relief—then he paused. He shouldn’t be relieved about that. It would be good if she were able to transfer her misplaced affection elsewhere. Her crush on him wasn’t going to amount to anything. He had no intention of letting it.

Pulling his thoughts away from that mess, he refocused it on Eryk’s more manageable predicament. “Ryk, I hate to break this to you, man,” he said, pulling himself up so he could sit a little more normally in the chair. “But… that’s a risk in literally any social interaction with literally anyone. You just have to use what you already know. Surely you’ve talked to her plenty of times by now. If there’s anything she’s avoided talking about, or any time she’s seemed distressed, don’t go back to whatever subject that was. I really don’t think she’s going to get offended if you ask her to come with us to the Camilla Festival. Give her a little more credit than that—she’s not made of glass, and even if you’re the conversational equivalent of a sledgehammer, she seems to like you well enough.”

In any other situation, he’d probably have been laughing his ass off at how concerned Ryk was about Ana’s feelings. Imagine—his friend who didn’t even get why manners were necessary, worried about offending someone. But there was more to it than that; this was a mission. The concern might not be personal at all, but only related to the success of their aim. Or, as Kas privately suspected, it could be some blend of the two that Eryk didn’t really understand himself yet.

A soft murmur escaped Eryk, however; it was hard to tell if it was a groan or something else. "I suppose you're right. There isn't any other solution," he finally seemed to concede to the idea, and glanced towards Kas. "I'll ask her today, before the day is over," he stated, pushing himself off of the wall. "I suspect the two of you will be joining us as well, that way it won't be..." he seemed at a loss for what he was trying to say.

"Awkward?" Cy spoke, completing his sentence. She tilted a brow in his direction, but there was a sort of mischievous smile on her face. "Sure, I'll tag along. Why not? We can't let Ryk feel awkward in these kinds of situations, can we, Kas?" she spoke, glancing towards Kas.

And though he was trying to be good, trying to give her her space, he couldn't resist joking back. “I don’t know if that will make things better, or just make it look like a double-date,” he observed, shooting her a bright grin. “But I’m not complaining either way. I’m only human, after all.”

Wasn’t he ever.

"True, it would look that way, wouldn't it?" she replied, laughing softly though there was a bit of pink dusting her cheeks. Eryk didn't look too happy about it though. "Oh come on, Ryk, it'll be fun. It's just between friends, right? There's no harm in that, and if she sees all three of us, she'll be more likely inclined to say yes. It's a win-win situation for you," she spoke.

"Sometimes, I have this distinct feeling that you are both conspiring against me," was the only thing he said.

“Of course we are,” Kas replied immediately. “You’d never have any fun, otherwise.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk sighed, spearing a hand through his hair and running it down his face. The sun was a little harsh today, and he could feel the rays beating against his skin. Luckily, he wasn't sweating quite yet, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be sweating. It'd only give him a reason to turn back. He didn't want to look like he'd just run a few miles when he showed up to her place. And he didn't need that. He was going to do this. It was odd though, the feeling that seemed to settle in his stomach. What if Drake had already beaten him to it, and asked Ana to the festival? What if she already said yes, and didn't want to go with him?

He certainly wouldn't fault her for it. Drake was a much better person than he was, and perhaps this was what caused the hostility towards the Gym Leader. There were noticeable differences between himself and Drake, things that Eryk couldn't help but ponder about. He was scarred; Drake was not. Drake was a Gym Leader; he was Team Rocket. Did she even know he was with Team Rocket? What if he told her that and she turned him away? What if she didn't want anything more to do with him if he told her he was part of Team Rocket? That would mean he fucked up the mission, and they'd probably send all three of the Birds.

"Fuck," he stated out loud, pausing momentarily in his stride. He needed to clear his mind. All of these what ifs were really fucking with his mind. He needed to his head to be clear so that he wouldn't mess this up. He couldn't afford to mess this up. He resumed his pace, his mind less at ease but more controlled. It didn't take him too long after that episode, to reach Ana's place. He stood outside her gate, still contemplating whether or not he should even be here. It was odd, though. There was something missing. Rufus wasn't at the gate as usual, and Eryk furrowed his brows. He was probably on the other side of the center, and that thought brightened up his mood a bit. He'd grown a bit fond of the stoutland.

He pushed forward, opening the gate, however; he paused at the door. He shouldn't just barge in like he usually did. He needed to be a little more subtle about this. And so he knocked on the door.

A series of wheezy woofs gave away that Rufus was inside the house. It wasn’t more than another couple of seconds before Eryk could hear soft footsteps heading towards the door; one of the floorboards in the entrance hallway was squeaky, and she stepped on it on her way to get the door. Sure enough, it opened right after; Ana stood on the other side.

Her expression, which had been neutral, morphed into a moment of mild surprise, followed by a slow-blooming smile. She opened the screen door immediately, gesturing him inside. “Hello Eryk,” Anastasia greeted him with warmth in her tone, tilting her head slightly. Her ponytail fell over one shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting you today. You really don’t have to knock, though—my door’s always unlocked in the middle of the day like this.”

"I know," he replied almost immediately after. He'd been coming here for almost a month and a half now, and he always just walked in. This, however, was a little more delicate. He couldn't just barge in, ask if she'd accompany him to the festival, and then be on his way. No, it wasn't that easy for Eryk Nero. "I just... knocking seemed more appropriate," he added, stepping inside the home. He reached down towards Rufus, rubbed the stoutland's head in a gentle manner, before standing up in a proper posture.

"There was... something I'd like to ask of you," he spoke, tilting his head just slightly. He wasn't entirely sure how he wanted to phrase this. "Would," fuck this was harder than it should be. He sighed softly, softly so as to not concern her or anything. He pursed his lips together, furrowing his brows rather deeply. This was easier when he was talking to Kas and Cy, but now that he was actually trying to ask her, it was proving to be difficult.

"The Camilla Festival, it's in a week," he started again, this time referring to the festival itself. That would be a little easier, bring the subject in first. "Kas, Cy, and myself were going. I was... would you like to attend with me, us?" he spoke, correcting himself towards the end of that statement. If he said that, at least it wouldn't be as awkward, right? He was slightly thankful at that moment that his skin was a little darker. Not quite like Kas, but more tanned. He could feel a strange sensation crossing his face.

Ana blinked at him for a few seconds. “Oh, that’s right,” she said quietly. “I hadn’t realized it was so soon. Um…” The word trailed off into a hum. “Saturday, Saturday… no, I don’t have anything I have to do then.” Her smile returned. “I’d be happy to go with you. I missed it when I moved here last year because I was so busy setting things up. It would be really nice to have some friends to go with this time.”

Thankfully, she didn’t seem to have misinterpreted at all. “Do you have to be off, or would you like to stay for a little while? We could do Mankey’s last checkup if you have a little while. If not, that’s okay; the appointment’s still there for tomorrow.”

Eryk was a little relieved. He really wasn't expecting it to be that easy. He was expecting something completely different, something like rejection. There, softly, he could feel it. A small something spreading across his face. It wasn't noticeable, but he knew it was there. He coughed in his hand to banish it, though, and focused back on Anastasia. He was off now, so he could probably stay and get Mankey's last check up. He was a little hesitant, though, to release said pokemon. Mankey was proving to be a little more difficult than he'd initially suspected. It appeared that Mankey wasn't too fond of Eryk.

He liked everyone else, especially Ana and Cyrilla. Hell, Mankey even liked Kas, and that really bugged him. He frowned slightly at that. "I have time," he replied, reaching for Mankey's ball, and tugging it forward. "He is proving... difficult," he spoke softly, but he wasn't entirely upset about it. He took Mankey with the purpose of helping him out, but he didn't quite think it would be this difficult.

Ana nodded sympathetically. “To be honest… I kind of expected that. But I think that might be a sign that when the two of you do overcome this initial stage, you’ll work really well together. With some pokémon, the respect you earn is much deeper than the kind that’s given out for free.” She paused, pulling her lower lip between her teeth for a moment.

“I guess some people are like that too, come to think of it.”

She led him back out of the house and around to the building on the far side of the lot. It was an indoor enclosure for the shelter’s pokémon on one side—so they could relax and be safe from the weather without the need for pokéballs, which she’d told him some of them didn’t like. The other side was a small medial set-up, with an examination table, a cabinet filled with supplies, and a wide array of diagnostic tools hanging neatly from hooks on the walls. Even if she’d never wanted to be a nurse, she was clearly qualified to have the job.

“If you don’t mind releasing him, we can get started.” Anastasia scrubbed her hands with soap in the sink, tying a white nurse’s apron on over her clothes and looping a stethoscope over her neck.

Eryk nodded, and pushed the button on Mankey's ball. It expanded, and he gave it a toss, watching as the stream of red light gave way to Mankey. Immediately, Mankey was on Eryk's shoulders, all six of his fingers working on Eryk's face. He could feel Mankey pulling at his cheeks, and his lips, and it was taking a lot of patience to not just throw the Mankey off. He'd come close a few times to actually fighting with Mankey, however; Kas or Cy always managed to walk in at that exact moment, and Mankey would calm down and hop over to them.

"This is a daily occurrence," he tried to say, however; Mankey's hands were still on his face, as if he were trying to mold Eryk's face into something else.

Ana actually laughed—a light sound, and subtle as far as laughter went. It obviously wasn’t a mocking sort of thing; just genuine amusement. “Your patience is admirable,” she told him, sounding sincere despite the residual smile on her face. “Mankey, why don’t you come here? It’s been a few days since I’ve seen you.” She held her arms out, as if asking for a hug.

Mankey was off of Eryk's shoulder in a heartbeat, leaping into Ana's outstretched arms and nuzzling against her. Eryk just frowned. "You and the others make it look easy," he simply stated. He really didn't like that, but there wasn't much he could really do about it. As if sensing his unease, Mankey turned towards Eryk, and seemed to give him a bit of a mischievous smirk. At least the way his eyes were glimmering made it seem that way. Eryk simply narrowed his eyes further. Mankey, obviously immune to Eryk's glare, continued nuzzling against Ana, causing Eryk to scoff.

"I'm not sure if it's actually patience, or if somehow Kas and Cy have turned me into a masochist," he stated honestly. "Mankey just has a personal vendetta against me. I'm convinced of it," he continued, narrowing his eyes slightly at said pokemon.

Running her fingers through Mankey’s fur, Ana shook her head. “There’s a difference between friends and trainers, right Mankey?” She dropped her head, pressing her lips just briefly to the pokémon’s brow before she drew back. “All right then. We’ll start with your heart rate today, okay?” Though mankeys were not among the few pokémon species that had full command over human speech, she spoke to him as though she expected he’d understand. Some of them could recognize general ideas, at least. Or maybe she was just a little weird.

She warmed the stethoscope between her hands for a few seconds before she pressed it to Mankey’s chest; her eyes flicked up to the ceiling as she listened and counted heartbeats. Then she swapped it to his back, bobbing her head just slightly in time with what she heard. She didn’t seem to realize she was doing it. Ana ran a few other simple tests of the same kind: one with a small light for the eyes, a blood pressure test, and an inspection of Mankey’s teeth and tongue.

Throwing the tongue depresser in the trash can nearby, she snapped off her gloves. “Everything looks to be in perfect working order,” she announced. “Even his gum infection has disappeared. And I’m not seeing any signs of malnutrition, either, so you can put him on an ordinary diet now. Should be simpler for you.” She rubbed Mankey’s head affectionately. “Thank you, for taking such good care of him.”

If mankeys could purr, Eryk was certain his was. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and simply focused them on Ana. He'd followed her directions down to the letter, he supposed that might have a lot to do with Mankey's recovering. He simply nodded his head in her direction, though. "You're welcome," he finally spoke, deciding it was better to look anywhere else but at her. She was too kind, and perhaps it would be best if she didn't attend with him. He gave the thought too much time, and decided to banish it. She'd already agreed, and he'd probably be an asshole for rescinding it.

"If you'd be so kind," he began, pausing momentarily. It would be easier if he kept getting the food from her. At least he'd still have a reason to come see her if she decided she didn't need his help anymore. "Would it be too much to ask if you could provide his feed? I would compensate you for it," he questioned. He would, if she'd keep supplying Mankey's feed.

"You don't have to, but it would be much appreciated," he added. Plus, he'd have to figure out exactly what Mankey liked, otherwise he probably wouldn't eat just any feed given to him. At least with Ana's feed, Mankey would eat it.

“I can do that,” she agreed easily. “I always a get a little extra in my weekly shipments anyway, so it’s no trouble. But you don’t need to pay me for it. Consider it compensation for all the work you do around here, if you like.” She smiled slightly.

“By the way… the Camilla Festival is usually celebrated in yukata, as I understand it. I don’t know if Cyrilla has any, but I have a few that should fit her if she needs to borrow one. Would you mind telling her, just so she knows?”

He didn't like that idea. Just because he helped her out around the center didn't mean he should receive payment by food. He wanted to compensate her for it, however; something in the back of his mind told him she would refuse if he tried. Sighing, he nodded his head and decided not to say anything on that matter. He, however, nodded to her next statement. It was typically celebrated in that fashion, but he was also certain Cy didn't have any to wear. She'd always worn the Executive outfit, and wore something more simple when she went out.

"I shall inform her when I return. She will be... happy for it, I think," he decided to say. If she would be happy, he wasn't entirely sure. Maybe she would be; maybe she wouldn't be. He would still tell her when he returned. Perhaps he should do that now?

"If you need anything, or are in need of any further assistance today," he began, but chose not to continue elaborating. Hopefully, she would understand what he was getting at.

Apparently she did, because she shook her head immediately. “I’m mostly done with my chores for the day, actually. If you don’t mind coming back tomorrow, the shed door is starting to stick again—I think the rain last week might have warped it a little bit. I’d sand it myself, but I’m not sure how well that would work. Maybe you can take a look and tell me if I just need to get a new one?”

He pursed his lips for a moment, contemplating whether or not he should look at it now. He decided against it. He had a reason to come back tomorrow. He wasn't sure why he was a little happy about that, though. "I will be here first thing tomorrow morning. It will also be a good opportunity to teach Mankey about some things," he added. It would, actually, be a way to see how far Mankey was willing to listen to him. Surely, he'd be a little more tame with Ana around? He shouldn't be so hopeful in that.

"Until then," he spoke, saying a quick farewell, and excusing himself out. He was, oddly, looking forward to tomorrow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
“So… what’s your favorite color, Cyrilla? I get a lot of hand-me-downs from relatives; I have one of about every color of yukata you could think of.” To prove it, Ana pulled open her closet, where she’d moved all of them to the front. She didn’t really ask for or even want all the clothes that tended to get passed to her, but… it made her relatives feel nice to give them to her, and she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of gifts. At least not the nice ones like this.

Maybe if she dressed a little more nicely, her aunts and cousins wouldn’t think she needed quite so much help with her wardrobe? Something to consider later, maybe. The two of them were in Anastasia’s bedroom. It wasn’t anything fancy—just a bed and a dresser, with a single end table on the side not against the wall and a homemade blue quilt, plus a reading chair.

Cyrilla seemed to contemplate the question as a soft 'hmm' escaped her. She pursed her lips together, her brows furrowing in thought. She was really thinking about the question. "Well, I've always liked red," she began, however; she seemed a little hesitant about the color. "But I'm not entirely sure if I should wear red. It's... I think I might kind of drown in the color," she continued, laughing nervously. She sighed a little dejectedly, though, and chewed on her lip slightly.

"But red is still such a pretty color," she stated, sounding a little torn. Something seemed to click for her though, since her face lit up somewhat. "Oh, do you have one in red with gold trimmings?" she asked, seeming a little excited about it.

Ana was of half a mind to point out that it didn’t really matter whether she would ‘drown’ in the color as long as she wanted to wear it, but the second question precluded that. Humming slightly, she turned towards the closet, carefully moving various yukata aside until she reached the section for reds and pinks. There were a couple ones that were mostly red and white, but it looked like she only had one that included gold.

Yukata were very simple compared to other types of traditional Kanto garb, and the patterns tended to be a bit simpler or bolder—more fun. This one was mostly red, but patterned on the sleeves with golden-yellow outlines of diamonds, and the lower hem had more of the same, stacked together in a simple, but nice visual effect. The obi that went with it was gold and purple, with a white tie.

“How about this one? If that’s too plain, there was a red and white one with a swanna pattern…” She grabbed that one too and held both up in front of her. She thought both of them would probably fit; her aunts and cousins ran a gamut of sizes, and Ana only bothered to alter the things they sent her if she was actually going to use them.

"They're both so pretty, I couldn't just choose one," she spoke, glancing at the two yukata that Ana held. "But... I think I like this one a little more," she spoke, reaching for the red one with the gold diamonds. She pulled it a ways from Ana, though she didn't fully remove it from her hold. Instead, she seemed to trace the fabric and the patterns on the bottom, before a bright smile bloomed on her face.

"This one it is!" she seemed sure on it, and released her hold on it. "What about you, Ana, what are you going to wear?" she spoke, slightly curious, it seemed, as to which one Ana was choosing.

“I’m not very good with this sort of thing,” Ana admitted. Most of the time, these and the other nice clothes she had sat in the back of her closet. Occasionally she’d wear a sundress or something—those were easy and most of them were in plain colors that she thought looked… fine? She really didn’t have any sense for clothes though—when she wasn’t wearing heavy cargo pants and work shirts, she was wandering around her house in gym shorts and overlarge t-shirts that used to be Edgar’s.

She frowned at the array of colors and patterns on display, putting her hands on her hips and trying to figure out if there was any difference between wearing a green one and wearing a yellow one, or whatever other color. “Maybe you can help me pick one? I can tie an obi, but… probably not even on myself.” She’d never actually done this before, come to think of it. Gone to a festival in a yukata. Or with friends. It seemed more important to do it right this time, perhaps.

The smile that had been on her face seemed to morph a bit, turning into something more mischievous, like a meowth's. Or maybe a zorua's. "Well, if you don't mind me shifting through your closet, you need something that will compliment with Ryk's. You two should match, at least," she spoke, making her way towards the closet. She almost seemed to disappear in it, moving one yukata over to another. "Ah ha!" she spoke, a little enthusiastically, as she pulled out a yukata.

It was a deep purple, almost black in color, however; there were pale pink peony outlines scattered on it. The tie and obi were almost an identical color to the one that went with Cyrilla's yukata, however; the purple was a little more plum in color. "Eryk is going to wear something similar to these colors, and I think it'll look nice," she finally spoke, the smile never quite leaving her face. "Plus, the darker colors will help you stand out a bit. Your pink hair will contrast nicely with this, and it'll help brighten your eyes. Who says dark colors have to be so gloomy!?" she stated a little too excitedly.

Ana blinked several times, not sure she quite caught all of that. “Um… okay? But, if I can ask, why do I have to match Eryk?” She paused, realized how that might sound, and backpedaled. “N-not that I care either way, and I do like the one you picked, I’m just not sure of the reason?” It came out more like a question than a statement like she’d meant it to be, but that was probably all right.

"Because in a way, we'll all be matching," was the only reason she gave, though she seemed a little unsure of that one.

The purple was nice, though, and the peonies reminded her of the ones out in the garden, so there was something to be said for that. “Oh.” Suddenly remembering something, Ana ducked into her closet and bent over, sorting through a few of the boxes on the floor before emerging with a wooden one. It was very old and worn; the flowers painted into the top had faded with time. Sliding the lid off, she set the whole thing down on her bed.

Inside were a wide variety of jewelry pieces, from bangles to hair ornaments to earrings. “Most of these belonged to my aunt. Erm… the one who raised me, in Lavender Town.” It wasn’t like “my aunt” was very specific in her case, and calling her “Aunt Joy” helped even less. “I’ve never really had any use for them, but there might be something in here to match either yukata?”

"Oh, you're right, we can't leave those out. Oh wow," she stated, glancing into the box of ornaments and jewelry. She seemed thoroughly impressed by the assortment, and stared a little intently into the box. "Well," she began, her smile softening just a fraction as she pulled her fingers through her hair. "My hair might be a little short, now, for such things. But yours, yours is still long to do something with," she continued, glancing towards Ana.

"I think," she started again, rumaging through the box before pulling out a pin, "this will do just fine," she continued. It was a deep blue comb rather than a pin, and it seemed to match the yukata. It was a peony as well. "If we can pull your hair up in some ways, this will be really pretty."

Ana hummed thoughtfully and tugged the tie out of her ponytail. Her hair fell unimpeded to the backs of her thighs. She usually didn’t bother to do anything with it; the reason she kept it long was sentimental rather than aesthetic. “If you can figure out what to do with this, I should be able to work something out for yours,” she assured Cyrilla, already picking carefully through the box for a few specific things she remembered.

“There’s a brush in the first drawer in the bathroom if that helps.” She tugged on part of her own hair with a sheepish smile; she did tend to pick up a few tangles with the daily work of running the shelter.

Cyrilla went to find the brush, and immediately, was back by Ana's side. "Trust me, I can find something to do with it. Remember? Mine was as long as yours not too long ago. How do you think I managed?" she stated with a light grin on her face. She made her way back towards Ana, and began brushing her hair. It was soft strokes at first, and then she began tugging and pulling at Ana's hair. It wasn't harsh or anything, but the way it was being pulled signaled that Cyrilla was already styling it.

It was so strange, being actually touched by another person. Though she occasionally got a hug from her aunt in Cinnabar, and touched pokémon quite regularly, there was something about honest human touch that was so unusual to her now. Not having it didn’t bother her exactly—Ana had been fragile-looking enough that even her own parents were hesitant to treat her like any other child, and then… well, they’d been gone and she’d been among strangers. Rare as it was, she found that she enjoyed it; just something simple and ordinary that friends might do. She patiently kept herself still while the other woman worked her hair into something passable.

It was at least twenty minutes before Cyrilla hummed to herself in satisfaction. "There, how does that look?" she asked, moving a mirror in front of Ana. Cyrilla had left her bangs alone, leaving them pulled forward instead, and a single braid could be seen on the right side of Ana's head. It was woven into a bun and held in place by the comb. There were a few strands, however, that fell loose from the bun, and were slightly curled. She'd managed to pull most of it up so that the loose strands were still resting against Ana's back, but were not quite so long to her knees.

“Oh,” Ana replied softly, smiling slightly into the mirror. “I didn’t know my hair could do something like this. Thank you, Cyrilla; it’s really nice.” Nicer even than the result was the fact that someone had been willing to do it for her—Ana resolved to repay the favor, holding her hand out for the brush and swapping places with Cyrilla.

Her Aunt had always had short hair; Ana had seen her do lots of different nice things with it. She wasn’t sure she could do anything too complicated, but she could try anyway. “Your hair’s so soft,” she said, brushing her fingers through it to separate it into pieces. “And the color’s just… well, it’s really pretty.” White hair was something Ana had only heard of until she met Cyrilla. She wondered if it ran anywhere in her family or if it was simply one of those strange things that happened with genes.

A funny thought occurred to her. “You’re like the human version of a shiny pokémon,” she said, smiling a little more brightly.

"A... human version of a shiny pokémon?" she almost questioned it, however; a soft snort escaped Cyrilla before she started laughing. She was trying to stay in place, or so it seemed, because her shoulders were shaking just lightly. "That's the first time someone's ever said that to me," she spoke once she managed to get her laughter under control. She sighed once she caught her breath and returned to her previous position on the chair.

"Well, I suppose that would be partially true. It's all in the genes," she managed to say. She sighed softly, though, the sound a little content. "I guess you could say I'm the black mareep of the family. Everyone in my family has, or had, dark hair. I was the only one born with this color so you could imagine a bit of disappointment to my parents. We, my family is known for being renowned for being stealthy and a child with hair as white as mine wouldn't be able to pull that off," she spoke, the smile disappearing from her voice. It wasn't as melancholic as she made it sound, though. It was more that she was just stating a fact, and that she was okay with it.

"I proved them wrong, though. I... learned how to use my shame to my advantage, so I've never regretted having this shade. Plus," she paused momentarily before shaking her head. "Plus I like it, and Ryk says he liked it. I only need my approval, and his, right?" she stated, a small nod to go with it. "Though, I wish I had inherited my mom's hair color. It was such a pretty dark green," she spoke with a hint of admiration.

“I can understand being the black mareep,” Ana agreed with a sigh. Having separated Cyrilla’s hair like she wanted it, she started to weave the strands together against her head. “But I also inherited my family’s traits. It can be sort of… disconcerting, to be one of a bunch of people that all look really alike. I used to wish I didn’t; people would assume a lot of things about me just because I looked like all the other Joys. Maybe my parents knew I’d feel like that and that’s why they made Joy my middle name instead of the first… I don’t really know.”

She fitted a tie onto the end of Cyrilla’s new Kalosian braid and mirrored it on the other side. In the end, what she had were two braids against her head that trailed into very short, low pigtails. Ana had debated putting ribbons on them, but it wouldn’t really go with the Yukata. Instead, she drew out one of her aunt’s nicer hair ornaments—a pin with a cluster of delicate metal flowers on the end. They were gold, just like the diamond shapes on the yukata, so that probably matched, right?

Ana pinned it just behind Cy’s left ear, threading it into the braid for extra security. “There you go—your hair is short, but it can still be pretty, right?” She held up the mirror for Cy to take a look. Ana had left her bangs were they were, but the rest was nearly pulled into the braids. The ends of the pigtails didn’t quite reach her shoulders, but that effect was cute, she thought.

Cyrilla smiled a little too brightly as she glanced at work Ana did. "I like it, I really do," she stated, standing up from her spot and turning around. She stared at Ana for a second, a moment of hesitation and reluctance flashing across her face. She then closed the small distance between them, and hugged Ana. "Thank you, Ana," she spoke, keeping her face burried in Ana's shoulder. Even though they were roughly the same height, she had lowered her head there.

"You really are a good friend."

It took Ana a couple of seconds to get over her initial surprise at the gesture, but once she did, she looped her arms around Cyrilla’s back, returning the hug. It was nice, she decided, to be able to do little things like this. “You’re welcome, Cy, and thank you, too.” She squeezed briefly before releasing Cyrilla and stepping back.

“Should we see if we can get these yukata figured out?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk frowned deeply. He didn't understand Kasimir's logic. At all. He needed a new yukata? What was wrong with the grey one in his closet? Why couldn't he wear that? Apparently it had something to do with it being too dull, or some other reason. He stopped listening after a moment, and instead, fixed his attention towards the said article of clothing. He really didn't want to go shopping, especially not with Kas. He'd probably make another field trip out of the whole ordeal, and Eryk just wanted to get it over and done with. He was doing his job, wasn't he? Speaking of which, he needed to go remind the next handful of grunts to go take the Gym Challenge. He should probably go do that, instead. It was more important than a new yukata that he'd only wear once, anyway.

"Couldn't you just go get it for me? I have other things to attend to," he spoke, hoping that Kasimir would agree to it. Some part of him, though, knew that it wouldn't be that easy.

Kas, leaning against the wall, looked unimpressed by his line of reasoning. “More important than preparing for a vital step in the mission we got directly from the boss?” He arched an eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest. “And what could possibly qualify as that? Eryk, your yukata has holes in it. Did you let a rattata chew on it, or what?” He pointed to the hem of the garment, which did indeed look somewhat more ragged than the last time Eryk had worn it.

Eryk grunted softly at that. His yukata was just fine, and really, he could just wash it and it'd be fine. But it seemed that Kas wasn't going to let up, exactly, either. "Yes, and no," he finally answered. Yes, it was more important than preparing, but no it wasn't exactly that important since it was the boss who asked. He sighed in a defeated manner. "Fine, we'll go. But I need to go send the next set of grunts out to Drake's Gym," was the only thing he said. It wasn't like he couldn't do that either, since they were heading out. He might as well get that covered for today. Then he needed to assign the next group for tomorrow. He couldn't remember that one grunt's name, the one who just showed up as a new hire. Didn't matter.

"Still don't know why you couldn't go get it. It's not like it has to be of any significant value or color," he spoke, a little irritated that he had to go. He wasn't even sure if there was a place that provided yukata. It was Cinnabar Island, and it wasn't exactly yukata friendly. With the volcano and the year-round heat, this wasn't exactly ideal for such a shop. But then again, he didn't exactly know the business or fashion world. Yukata could be popular all year, and he wouldn't even know.

"Do you know a place where they sell them, because I don't," and he really didn't.

Kas looked like he wanted to ask some kind of question about the Gym thing—it definitely wasn’t on any of the official mission paperwork for the team members in Cinnabar. Then again, it wasn’t totally clear that Kas read the paperwork, so he may or may not know that. In any case, he didn’t press. Apparently, getting Eryk to come with him on this venture was more important, for whatever reason.

“As a matter of fact, yukata are relatively popular in places with long summers, because of the thinner fabric they’re made of. Making them the primary business of any traditional tailors. And trust me when I say that islanders tend to be proud of their traditions. There’s a little place downtown, next to the creamery. Mrs. Kanda runs it. You’ll like her—she’s a grumpy little old lady just like you.”

"Are calling me a grumpy old lady? I assure you, I'm not old, and I'm not a lady," he shot back, a little disturbed at the comparison. He wasn't that old, not yet at least. And the last time he checked, he wasn't a lady. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind, though, and decided to think nothing further on it. He knew where the creamery was, so he could find his way there easily. The shop itself, though, was something he hadn't seen, so he assumed Kas would lead the way once they were there.

"Are you getting one, too?" he asked. He wasn't sure if Kas had anything outside of that ridiculous wardrobe of his that mostly consisted of gaudy colored shirts and some shorts. Actually, he couldn't remember the last time Kas was in an Executive uniform. Was Cy the only other one who wore them? Probably. He sighed irritably at that.

Kas shrugged, putting his hands into his pockets and falling into step beside Eryk. “I’ve got a few already,” he said, waving to the grunts in the office on the lower level as they passed it. “But if I see anything I like, I might get another.” Come to think of it, Kas was from the Orange Islands. Maybe the cultures were similar?

Eryk snorted at that. He paused momentarily as they passed the grunts though, doubling back to send off the grunts before making his way back to Kas. Once they were outside, it wasn't much longer after that they reached the area by the creamery. "Why'd you leave the Orange Islands?" he found himself asking. It surprised him a bit, because that wasn't exactly what he wanted to ask. He wanted to ask about the culture, and to see if it was similar, however; the question popped out of his mouth too fast.

"I can't imagine Kanto is any more exciting," he shrugged it off instead. It's not like he was too interested in the answer. Or maybe he was, he couldn't exactly make up his mind.

Kas gave him a sidelong glance. “Didn’t have much of a choice,” he replied casually. “When mom and pops divorced, I went with him, and Crystal went with mom. That was the custody agreement. I got to visit her in the summers, though; that was kinda nice.” He shrugged.

“If what you really mean to ask is why I’m not there now, well… this is where the work is, right? Boss says jump, we ask how high, or something like that.”

He supposed that was true. It wasn't like he was going to question the Boss or the orders he gave, however; sometimes he wondered about them. He pushed a sigh through his nose, and stayed quiet for a moment. "Not particularly, but I suppose you have a point," he finally spoke. It was another few moments of silence before they reached the shop the grumpy old lady ran. He could see the inside from the windows, and some of the kimono and yukata looked fairly expensive. Some of them even appeared to be rather elegant, and Eryk narrowed his eyes slightly. Was this really necessary?

"Let's go choose one and get this over with," he stated. The sooner he picked one out, the sooner he could get back to the base. He didn't want to be out right now, and would prefer it if he wasn't. But he couldn't exactly afford that luxury. A strange thought struck him. "Are... yukata supposed to match another person's?" because if that were the case, he wasn't entirely sure if his would match hers.

Amusement flashed across Kas’s face for a moment. “You really worry about a lot of things, don’t you, Ryk?” He grinned, but then relented and shook his head. “Not necessarily. Couples or groups will sometimes coordinate colors, but not always. If you wanted to, though, you could text Cy and ask her what color Ana’s wearing. Or just tell her which color you’ll wear. It’s not that big a deal.”

At that point, the proprietor of the shop approached them. She probably wasn’t much more than five feet tall, and lines of age did indeed crease her face, but her demeanor was more gruff than grumpy when she addressed them. “Kasimir, you feckless boy, it does matter. And only couples should match—it’s tradition.”

Kas gave Eryk a look that said something kind of like I told you so, but turned quickly to placate the tailor, smiling broadly.

“Of course, Mrs. Kanda. But you know how the kids are these days—always trying to change things around.”

She grumbled something that sounded mostly dissatisfied, but she did pat his elbow. “So it is. No respect for traditions or elders or anything. The parents are to blame, truly. You’re lucky, to have had a mother who raised you right.”

“I am,” Kas replied; it was impossible to tell whether he was being genuine or not—his tone sounded sincere, but he was an excellent actor when he wanted to be. Eryk knew him well enough to know that. “But my friend here’s not an islander. We were hoping to get him something for the Camilla Festival—do you have anything already made?”

“I wouldn’t have, if you weren’t around,” she said, shaking her head. “Honestly, what do they feed you nowadays? Giants, the both of you. But I do have a few that should work. Here.” She led them towards the left side of the store. Slightly towards the back was a small collection of well-made yukata; there was a mix of colors, some plain and some with subtle stripes or other patterning.

Eryk was half inclined to answer that question, but decided it was better if he didn't. The old woman was a little strange, and almost reminded him of his own mother, however; he shook that thought. Instead, he followed Mrs. Kanda to the room, shooting Cy a quick message. If it was tradition, he supposed he could at least follow that much. But they were friends, not a couple. So, he shouldn't match Ana? He was a little confused by that. Thankfully, the slight bing of his phone alerted him to Cy's message. It read dark purple, and nothing more.

"If it is tradition, perhaps we should stick to it. There are no couples in this group, only friends," he spoke, a little unsure if that was how he should address it. "The person I am attending with is going to be wearing a dark purple yukata. Should the one I get contrast it?" he asked, straight to the point. He was never one for dragging something out, after all.

“Maybe go for something in the black-red range then,” Kas said. “You don’t want to look stupid standing next to anyone, so complimentary colors are the best idea.” Mrs. Kanda seemed to agree, pulling several red, black, or dark blue garments from the rack and hooking them on special wooden display hooks in the wall.

“Any of them should fit. They were made with Kasimir’s general dimensions in mind, but they aren’t tailored for him; I can have them adjusted to you within a couple of hours.”

“They never had anything like this in Fuchsia or Saffron,” Kas noted while Eryk considered his choices. “Have you ever been to a summer festival of any kind before?”

"No," was the reply he gave to Kas. He'd never gone to a festival of any kind before. Well, that wasn't true. There was that one he went to when he was still a boy, but that had been years ago. And he didn't quite remember most of it mainly because his parents had dragged him away from it. Festivals and things like that weren't exactly a priority in his family. Their main concern was being raised to join and support Team Rocket, and to be the best in that business. His great-grandfather, Koga, had been one of Giovanni's trusted members, and would have replaced him had he not retired early.

He glanced at the yukata laid out before him, and pondered them for a moment. If he was going to contrast against Ana's, then perhaps he should go with the red? Or maybe a black, or both? It would be safer with both. There was one that caught his eye, one that was simple and plain. It was a deep red, kind of like the color of his eyes, if he was being honest about it. He drew his eyes away from it, and they landed on another one. This one was a dark blue, void of any patterns on it. He could probably do this one.

"There were festivals in Fuchsia, but we never went to any. It served no purpose to go, so we never did. But I think this one will do," he spoke, pointing to the dark blue one. "It's simple enough, and doesn't need anything more," he added. Plus, he kind of actually liked the color and the style.

“I’ve got the measurements right here,” Kas added, handing Mrs. Kanda a piece of paper with several numbers on it. She nodded and pocketed the paper, hanging up all the ones Eryk had decided against and folding his selection over her arm.

“Anything for you, Kasimir?”

Kas shook his head. “No, thank you Mrs. Kanda. I think I’ll just wear the nice green one I got here the other week. I haven’t had a good reason to use it yet.” She seemed satisfied by that.

“All right, then. Come back in two hours; I’ll have it ready for you by then.” She headed for the back of the shop, leaving the two of them alone.

“Before you ask, I stole those numbers from your personnel file. They had to size you for the executive uniform change this year, right?” He grinned. “And for the record, your family’s totally wrong. Nearly every kind of life experience is useful for a job like this. If you didn’t have me around, you wouldn’t even know what to do in this situation, right?” His tone was light, but there might have been a little seriousness under there.

He was going to ask Kas how he knew his measurements, but now he was slightly disturbed by that. Useful for a job like this? He didn't really see how, but maybe there was some point to Kas' logic. "For the record, my family is wrong about a lot of things. But... you may have a point in that," he admitted slightly. It wasn't like he needed socialization. He got by just fine without it, and most of his job requirements were to either oversee the new grunts, or to do the field work as he was currently doing now. With Ana. There were other important aspects to it, but they weren't necessarily important to him. Maybe that was why Katia didn't like the idea of him becoming Entei? Well, too bad for her.

"I wouldn't have this headache, either, if it weren't for you," he shot back, slightly surprised by that. It almost sounded like he was amused, and that was a little startling.

Kas laughed. “That’s what friends are for, Ryk. Watching your back and being a pain in the neck.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kasimir smoothed out the front of his yukata, tightening the thin obi a bit to keep everything in place. It still gaped open slightly at his chest, of course—they tended to do that. The green was very dark, but there were hints of gold in it; subtle embroidery here and there that hinted at chrysanthemums. He wasn’t so concerned with how he was perceived that he couldn’t wear flowers—hell, most of his everyday shirts had flowers or fruit or something tropical on them. Just visible in the gap of the fabric was the head belonging to the rayquaza tattoo he’d had since he was a teenager.

He tucked his wallet and xtranceiver up his sleeve, pulling on his short ponytail to tighten it, then stepped out into the hallway. He knocked on the door two down from his own, then snorted. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to tie an obi, Ryk. ‘Cause I’ll do it for you, but I’ll tell everyone. And don’t forget to pretend like you care enough to brush your hair.”

Eryk opened the door to his room, glaring at Kas as he did. It wasn't a soft glare, either; this one was a little more heated. Apparently, he didn't know how to tie an obi because it was hanging rather loosely from his person. "Yukata are articles of clothing we do not wear," he spoke. His hair wasn't even brushed, and it looked like he'd just rolled out of bed. Really, he looked like he was ready to go to sleep, and the yukata was just extra clothes to sleep in. He sighed, though, and opened the door a little wider.

"If you're going to be such an ass about it, I'll just have Cy do it," he stated, apparently still in a sour mood. His voice was grumpy, and even his posture was a little tense.

Had Kas been a more polite or considerate person, he probably would have tried and likely failed to constrain his mirth into a smile or something. But he wasn’t that polite or considerate, especially not when there was an opportunity to laugh at Eryk—which was exactly what he did. Leaning on the doorframe for support, he cackled for several seconds straight, pulling in a breath and wiping a laughter-induced tear from one eye with his index finger.

"Ass."

“Okay, uh… well you can’t ask Cy because she’s still with Ana, remember? Let’s get back inside before some poor grunt wanders down the hallway, okay?” He almost laughed again thinking about all the rumors seeing this situation from the outside might start, but he figured they’d piss Ryk off rather than entertaining him. Kas had the ability to take nearly anything in stride. But if he was water or air, Eryk was a rock or a stubborn flame. Flowing wasn’t really in his nature.

Closing the door behind him, he motioned for Eryk to turn around. “We actually have it much easier than women do, when it comes to these,” he said, taking the ends in his hands and making sure it was snug enough to hold everything in place. “Their obi are pretty complicated, even just the ones for yukata.” It was a matter of a few seconds to tie it, and he stepped back once he’d done so.

“See? Nothing to it.”

Eryk still looked a bit pissed at the whole situation, but it smoothed out once Kas was finished tying the obi. "Easy or not, I won't be wearing this stupid thing again. There's no reason for me to learn," he spoke, as if this was the first and last time he'd be attending a festival. "Besides, I already told you, I've never been to a festival, so I don't know how these things work," he continued, rolling his eyes as he did so.

Kas resisted the urge to sigh. He was really dense sometimes. Hadn’t he just agreed that his family was wrong about life experiences like this being useless? Honestly, sometimes Kas wanted to find whichever relatives had raised his friend and throttle them. It was clear that there was some damage left from all of it, and in that observation, Kasimir was completely serious. He took Eryk’s eccentricities in stride just like everything else, but the fact was, he shouldn’t have to teach a grown man how to interact with other human beings without hurting their feelings or offending them. And Eryk shouldn’t have been denied the opportunity to learn all of that stuff.

His best friend was functional, but Kas, even knowing as little as he did, wouldn’t hesitate to class his family life as abusive. It pissed him off, so he tried not to think about it.

He walked away from Kas for a moment, and turned around. He seemed to pat his hair down a little bit, and tried smoothing it out with his fingers. It didn't really work since his hair still looked a little wild and untamed. Apparently he didn't care, either. "How does it look?"

“Like you combed it with your fingers after rolling out of bed,” Kas deadpanned, “so… like it usually does. I doubt she’ll care, though I can’t help but notice that you do, enough to ask. That’s new.” All of this… advice-seeking about his appearance was very new for Eryk. There was a point to which it was necessary to the mission’s chances of success, maybe, but the old Eryk wouldn’t have even noticed that. Kas would have had to explain it to him.

And now here he was asking how his hair looked. It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so depressing.

He seemed to accept the answer, though, and said nothing else about it. Eryk's face did, however, pull slightly into a frown, as if he were just realizing it himself. "I don't want to fuck this up," he answered, but he didn't seem too convinced about it. Maybe he wasn't. His eyes narrowed slighty before his shoulders slumped, a strange sight since he rarely allowed his posture to fall unless he was sitting.

"Will... you help me fix it?" he spoke, surprise flashing very briefly over his face. This seemed a little too important for him. Ana might not care, but it looked like Eryk really did.

Miracle of miracles. Kas blinked at him, honestly surprised he hadn’t been outright contradicted. Even if Eryk did care about this for some reason, Kasimir had expected him to vehemently deny it, as he’d always denied caring about irrelevant things in the past. This mission was really doing a number on his personality, it seemed.

Kas raised a hand to scratch at the nape of his neck. “Hang on; I’ll be right back.” He ducked back into his own room and headed to the attached bathroom, grabbing a couple of things. He didn’t bother knocking on the way back in, tossing Eryk a wooden bristle brush with a nice handle. “Get the tangles out first.” The bottle, he set down on Ryk’s end table. “Then put like… a quarter-sized amount of this on your hands and work it through. It’ll make it lay nicer and soften the texture.”

He’d still look like the shaggy pokémon he was named after—but that was a function of the length of his hair, not the neatness. He was beginning to get the sense that Ryk was the kind of guy who shaved with water and really cheap razors. Kas resisted the urge to shudder at the thought.

Eryk just blinked at Kas for a moment before doing what he was told. He managed to run the brush through his hair a total of four times, and grabbed the bottle. He narrowed his eyes slightly, as if he'd squeezed out too much of the product before setting it down. He ran it through his hair at a surprisingly slow motion, as if he were trying to take care not to mess it up any further than it was. Once he was done, he reached down to wipe his hands on his yukata, but stopped. Instead, he disappeared for a moment inside his bathroom, the running water the only indication that he was washing his hands. Once he stepped out, he stared at Kas.

"Better?" he questioned. His hair was slightly less disheveled, but it looked a little better than it did a few moments ago.

“Better,” Kas agreed. It was obviously not an expert job, but considering the fact that Eryk had clearly never been taught how to take care of his skin or hair, it didn’t look bad at all. And Kas knew for a fact that Ana really wouldn’t care, so he offered no more critique. “But we should go pick those two up; we’re already running a bit late.”

Eryk nodded. Before they left, though, Eryk paused momentarily, staring rather awkwardly at Kas. It almost looked like he wanted to say something, but wasn't entirely sure how. "Thanks," he seemed to decide on that. He'd been thanking Kas a lot, lately, it seems.

“I’ve got your back,” he replied. It took him half a second to remember that it wasn’t true—not really. He immediately hated himself for saying it that way, but there was no pulling the words back inside his mouth now. So Kas plastered a grin on his face and led the way out of the building. Most everyone had left the first floor offices by this point in the evening; though Team Rocket hadn’t given anyone the full day off, they hadn’t scheduled anyone to man the building that evening. It was, after all, a local holiday.

Fortunately, Ana’s house was on the way; by now both of them knew the route without having to think about it. It had become natural for Kas at least to seek the place out after he’d had a particularly trying day. Maintaining the façade constantly was no easy task; with Ana at least there was one layer fewer to worry about.

The front gate was open, allowing them to head up to the house without difficulty. Kas swore he could hear laughter from inside the building. He paused a moment to pat Rufus, who wagged his whole body upon sight of both of them, stopping to sniff and get attention from each before trundling off, presumably to take a nap. That pokémon had it good.

Stepping up to the door, Kas knocked a few times. “Sorry to interrupt your fun, ladies,” he called, “but I do believe the festival is in full swing.”

Eryk scoffed slightly to Kas' side, but said nothing. The door opened to reveal both Cy and Ana, the former smiling brightly at Kas and Eryk. She seemed excited, and her eyes landed on Eryk. "I didn't think you'd find something to match," she spoke, the expression on her face pulling somewhat into a smirk. It wasn't quite there, but it did relax back into a smile. "You look really nice, Eryk," she stated.

"You as well, Cy," he muttered. His head turned slightly in the direction of Ana, and something in his gaze softened. It would have been hard to tell with the lighting, but he was close enough to Kas that he noticed that much. "Ana, you look... nice as well," he spoke, though it was unsure if that was the right word he wanted to say.

“Thank you,” Ana replied, smiling slightly. “You look nice too, Eryk.”

“And I must be chopped liver,” Kas teased, highly amused by the whole exchange. It was so utterly innocent he couldn’t help but enjoy it; things like this in life were rare.

“Not at all!” Ana said, looking afraid that she might have offended him. “I really like the color of your yukata, Kas. Green suits you.”

He chuckled, waving off her concern. “I was only joking, Ana. Now that we’ve established that we all look fantastic, shall we get going? Ryk here has never been to a festival before—we all need to make sure he stuffs his face with all the fried food we can get our hands on.” He rubbed his hands together in an exaggerated fashion as they started walking away from the house.

As he’d hoped, Ana giggled and nodded. “I haven’t been either, actually. But I probably shouldn’t eat too much food. Maybe we can share, so we’ll both get to try lots of different things. What about you, Cy?”

Kas, who had been very deliberately not looking at Cyrilla any more than he had to, had to now, out of politeness if nothing else. He had a strange difficulty swallowing.

"Oh, that sounds like a good idea. I don't have a bottomless pit like Eryk does, so sharing would be good," she'd pointed out, grinning at the idea. Eryk narrowed his eyes just barely, but scoffed in response. "It's not a bad thing, Ryk. Besides, I've only been to one festival, and that was in Saffron," she stated with mild amusement. Eryk visibly rolled his eyes, and tucked his arms into his yukata sleeves. He was a little grumpy about the sudden turn on him, but it didn't seem to bother him too much.

"You make it sound like it is," he grumbled slightly. "At least I'm not the only one who hasn't been to a festival," he spoke, casting a side glance in Kas' direction. Cyrilla managed to snort at that, but covered her face as she did so, like it had been an accident. "Can we please just go?" he stated, sounding just a tad bit... embarrassed?

"Don't be like that Ryk. Anyway, what are you looking forward to the most, Ana? The food, the games, or the fireworks?" she chided Eryk, but turned the questioning on Ana.

Ana contemplated that as she walked; ultimately she shrugged a little and smiled slightly wider. “I honestly don’t know what to expect, so… maybe games? I like to eat too, though, so it might be a toss-up. Oh, but fireworks are pretty—I haven’t actually seen a display for…” she paused, clearly doing some mental math. “Eight years or so.”

“So… everything, then,” Kas said, raising an eyebrow at her.

Her expression became rueful. “Seems like it,” she agreed sheepishly. “I guess that wasn’t a very good answer to the question.”

"So everything it is!" Cyrilla chimed in, linking her arm with Ana's. Eryk, apparently, didn't seem too happy about it, but he seemed to realize it himself since a flash of confusion crossed his face. He shook his head, though. "We'll just have to make sure we stop at all the stalls, try all the food, play all the games, and then find a good spot for the fireworks! I think... they have a lantern lighting thing at the end. I don't really remember everything Drake said the festival had," she spoke, smiling a tad bit sheepishly. It seemed that even the mentioning of Drake's name caused Eryk to tense.

"Wouldn't it be a little difficult to do that? There are four of us," he spoke, almost as if he were trying to suggest something else. "And I don't think splitting up is a wise idea," he spoke, probably because being with Ana by himself would be awkward for him. "We're supposed to be here as a group," he stated. Cyrilla chuckled slightly in her spot.

"Four people occupying one stall won't be that difficult, Ryk. Festivals are made to house large numbers of people, so they're made specifically for just these kinds of things," she tried to explain, but it didn't seem like it completely reached him.

“You’ll see when we get there,” Kas added. Ryk was a ‘seeing is believing’ kind of guy anyway.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Really, this was all uncomfortable for him. There were a lot of people around, more-so than he was used to, and that alone sort of bothered him. Eryk wasn't a people person. Everyone knew that, and yet here he was, in the middle of a festival with two of his coworkers, and the subject of interest, Ana. She'd never been to a festival, either, but she seemed more inclined to go to one, than he was. He couldn't quite understand why, though. It was strange, and foreign, and he was probably thinking way too much on the subject. He'd managed, so far, to be civil, but he could feel eyes glancing at them every now and then. He wasn't a shallow-minded person, and he highly doubted they were looking at him. It didn't mean he didn't like it any less.

He tried to focus on something else, though, and he managed to allow his gaze to fall onto Cyrilla and Ana. They were still linked at the arms, but he did notice the lack of glancing. Cyrilla always had a habit of at least staring at Kas for a second, even if she wasn't talking to him. He'd noticed that almost immediately. That, and she hadn't directly talked to him. He wondered why that was, but he didn't want to dwell on that. He had other things to worry about. Like attending this arceus-forsaken festival. He pushed a light sigh from his lips, and shifted in his yukata. It was rather comfortable, perhaps he should wear them more often? Immediately the thought was banished. He didn't want to turn out like Kas.

"If we are attending all of the events, perhaps we should choose one to do first?" he finally spoke, allowing his gaze to shift to the other three. Cyrilla seemed to contemplate his suggestion, and shrugged her shoulders lightly.

"It's a bit hard to pick which one to do first. But if we eat first, we might be too tired to do anything else. Maybe we should check out the games?" she suggested, turning towards Kas and Ana for their input. She had a bit of a point, but as she'd mentioned earlier, Eryk had a bottomless pit. He didn't have to worry about food slowing him down.

Kas seemed content to let the others decide what to do; that made some sense if he’d been to these things in the past. It wasn’t a new experience for him. Ana, on the other hand, looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t mind trying out some games,” she said with a glance towards the line of stalls coming into view as they approached downtown. All the shops had been closed down and these stalls built over the course of the day. Most of them were festooned with lanterns and steamers—that sort of thing. It had a slightly chaotic, very joyous atmosphere to it.

“How about that one?” she pointed to one of the closest; the object of the game seemed to be to toss plastic rings over the necks of bottles, which were placed in staggered formation with different-colored glass for each tier.

Eryk blinked at her choice. It seemed easy enough, but that was partly because he was raised as a Koga. Koga's clan were shinobi, and they were used to throwing things to hit their mark. He glanced at Cy to gauge her reaction, but she seemed just as excited. Perhaps he could play without actually trying to win. That wouldn't be so bad, right? "Alright," he spoke, walking towards the stall. The man who occupied it, seemed a little hesitant to give Eryk the plastic rings, perhaps because Eryk was slightly glaring at him. He felt an elbow in his side, soft though, and glanced towards the source.

"You can't glare at people, Ryk. It's not nice," Cyrilla whispered as she smiled up at him. She paid for her rings, and smiled at the man. Eryk could almost see his demeanor change and relax when she did that. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, though, and watched as she paid for another set. "Here you go, Ana, first one is on me! You should try it first," she stated, handing Ana the second set of rings. Eryk pursed his lips together. Why didn't he think of that?

Ana smiled brightly at Cyrilla. “Okay,” she said counting her rings and eyeing the setup. “Thanks, Cy.” She pursed her lips and approached the counter, where the man running the game had stepped aside to give them room to throw the rings. She twirled one on on her index finger, tilting her head to the side.

When she tossed, the ring flew steadily straight forward, but fell just short, pinging off the body of one of the bottles instead of landing over the neck. “Oops.”

“If you have any pointers to give, I suggest asking if she wants one,” Kas said from beside Eryk, carefully enough that only he could hear. “But don’t just tell her what to do without asking—that’s called mansplaining, and it’s rude.” He grinned and gave Eryk’s shoulder a light shove, as if urging him forward.

Unfortunately, the shove caught Eryk off guard, and he almost tipped forward. He shot Kas a glare, but it softened just slightly. He did have a point, but Eryk wasn't exactly good at explaining things without actually doing it himself. Still, he supposed he ought to try. "Do you need assistance?" he asked, cringing just slightly at the way he said it. It almost sounded like he was asking if she needed help in something other than the ring toss. He sighed, and cleared his throat.

"What... I meant was if you wanted assistance on how to toss properly," he corrected himself. Somewhere behind him, he could almost hear Cyrilla saying something like it's adorable. He could feel his eye wanting to twitch.

Ana actually looked relieved. “I’d really appreciate it,” she said with a soft smile. “The only thing I’ve ever really had to throw in my life is a pokéball, and I’ve only done that once or twice, really. Um… maybe you could demonstrate with one of yours?” She glanced down at the rings in his hand. “I don’t mind taking turns, and yours are a different color, so there shouldn’t be any problem with the score.”

He glanced at her for a moment longer before stepping in front of her. If she didn't mind, then there was no harm in at least showing her with his rings. "There... isn't much difference between the two. It's more about weights and distance," he began, lifting one of the rings in his hands and showing it to her. He laid it so that it was flat against his palm, and gently lifted it up and down. "You should get a feel for the weight, first, and then try and gauge the distance between you and the neck you want it on," he continued, moving the ring so that he grasped it gently between his thumb and forefinger.

"You don't want to toss it like a pokéball, though. Throwing it that way will only end badly," he stated. And to demonstrate, he tossed the ring in the way one would toss a pokéball. It clinked off of the neck of the bottle, and fell in between the rest of them. "You want to toss it with enough force to make it to the bottles, but gently enough so that it doesn't spin," he continued, giving another ring a careless toss. It wobbled in the air, and managed to catch the tip of the neck, but bounced off of it.

"This might be a better way," he stated, this time, glancing at the bottle neck he wanted to hit. He gave the ring a toss, watching as it flew and landed almost dead center. The neck slipped through the hole rather easily, and the only sound it gave was the sound of the ring landing without twirling.

Ana’s eyes stayed glued to his hands throughout the explanation, only flicking away when he tossed one of the rings. She looked like she was seriously attempting to take his advice, and after the last toss, she palmed one of the rings just as he’d done, weighing it in her hand and glancing down to the bottle display. Her mouth pulled into a frown of concentration, and she adjusted the way she was standing to mimic his posture as well.

Her first toss had a little too much spin on it, and though it landed in the right place, it skittered off the neck of the bottle. Her third one, though, had almost no spin at all; she lobbed it through the air with a bit more force to make up the difference and wound up overbalancing, letting out a small ‘eep’ as she lurched forward. She caught herself on the edge of the counter, pulling herself up immediately to look for the ring. When she saw that it had landed right over the neck of a bottle, she beamed at him.

“I did it!”

"Way to go, Ana!" Cyrilla chimed in, and Eryk could hear her hands clasping together. Not quite in a clap, though. His expression softened for just a fraction when she beamed at him. A soft breath of pride escaped Eryk, and he blinked a little confusedly. Where did that come from? So, he shook his head from the strange thought, and instead, offered Ana the rest of his rings. He could hear Cy snickering behind him.

"If you'd like to try again, or practice," he explained. It wasn't like he needed to practice, anyway. He'd make them all on there, and he was fairly certain Cy would too. "If you'd rather not," he continued, still leaving his hand out that held the rings. If she didn't want to, she didn't have to. It wasn't like she needed his rings. He should probably get her more, instead.

She looked for a second like she was halfway through deciding to refuse, but then her eyes caught his and her expression changed. It was hard to pin down exactly what changed about it—it was almost like she’d figured something out, or learned something new, but neither of those really applied to a situation like this, did they? Her smile dimmed but did not disappear, and Ana reached forward to take the rings he offered.

Their fingers brushed together for just a moment. “Sorry,” she murmured, stepping back again once she’d taken them. “I guess I’m buying both you and Cyrilla something to eat, now. What do they have that’s good, Kas?”

“Tons of stuff,” Kas replied. Even though he couldn’t see it, Eryk could easily detect the smile in his voice. “Looks like the closest snack stand has grilled pineapple. You should definitely all try that.”

Ana nodded. “Grilled pineapple then. But first…” She realigned herself with the throwing area and tossed all the remaining rings. Her throws got a lot smoother as she went, and by the end she was landing almost all of them. She won herself a decent amount of tickets, which she then divided, offering about a third of them to Eryk.

“For the lesson,” she said.

Eryk was a little confused by the gesture. She didn't need to give him a share of tickets just because he helped her. He narrowed his eyes just slightly, but not out of anything in particular. He was just contemplating what he was going to do. Instead, he pushed her hand, gently, back towards her. "Keep them. I have no use for them, and there might be something you'll see that you might want," he spoke, feeling just a bit awkward by the whole thing. Somewhere behind him, he could hear Cyrilla snickering softly, and knew she was shaking her head at him.

"It's okay, Ana. He'll probably win his own tickets later on. Besides, there might be something you want that you might not have enough tickets for," Cyrilla spoke, but there was something teasing about the way she said it. He sighed. She had a point though. Even if there were other games, Eryk could probably win them all, and that would help out just slightly if she was, indeed, short any tickets.

"I could help with that. But first, we should go try those grilled pineapples," he spoke, still feeling slightly awkward.

Ana nodded a bit reluctantly and tucked all the tickets away inside her obi. The four of them headed away from the ring-toss game to a stall with a grill set into it. The smell of cooking food wafted over the area, though some of it had an unexpectedly-sweet tinge to it. She approached the vendor, who was apparently someone she knew, from the way he grinned at her.

“Well hey there, Miss Ana. Good to see you could make it this year.” The man must have been in his late thirties or so, from the grey just coming in at his temples and the creases around his eyes.

“Hello, Mr. Scheffler. How are Maria and Toby?” she replied, tipping her head to the side and fishing around in her sleeve for something.

He flipped a skewer around on the grill, producing a hissing sizzle. “Good, good,” he replied. “Toby starts third grade this year, but all he can talk about is how excited he is for his journey next summer. He was going on about how he wanted to make friends with one of yours, and start with them.” The man shook his head, flipping several more. “I told him I’d have to talk to you about that; I know a lot of yours aren’t really in the right kind of shape to be battling, you know?”

Ana smiled softly. “I appreciate that. It’s true that most of them aren’t really suited for a life of travel and battle, but Toby’s got a good heart. Once he gets his license, feel free to bring him by. I’m sure one of the healthier ones will take a shine to him. And it’s very good of him to want to start with one of them.” She finally found what she was looking for, pulling a small purse from the sleeve of her yukata. “Could I get a few orders of grilled pineapple, please?”

“Of course!” The man—Scheffler—threw several large pineapple rings on the grill. “Not to take business away from myself, but you’ve really got to try Ms. Julie’s funnel cake—she’s about half a mile down the street, I think.” He glanced up and smiled at the group at large. “Nice to see you’ve come with friends! I’ve already met Kasimir there—how are you?”

“I’m fantastic, thank you, Mr. Scheffler.”

The man’s eyes sparked with amusement. “Really, the both of you can just call me Robert. So can your friends, actually. I don’t think we’ve met, though; Robert Scheffler. I run the Pokémart on the corner.” Still minding his grill, he tipped his head down the street, where indeed there was a blue-roofed store with the distinctive logo.

Eryk stared at Robert for a moment before tipping his head just slightly in acknowledgement. "Eryk," he simply spoke, stating nothing else. It wasn't like this man would remember him, anyway. Or at least that was Eryk's assumption. That, and Eryk wasn't too sure he wanted to get to know the man any more than this. He ran the mart, that was it.

"Nice to meet you, Robert! I'm Cyrilla Niav," she introduced herself. Of course, she didn't have as much reserve as Eryk did, but he supposed that was because she didn't have the same problem he did. She made friends with just about everyone she met, and Eryk... well he either intimidated them or scared them off. People didn't just stick around, though Kas and Ana were an exception. He blinked softly at that realization.

"Cyrilla and I both work with Kas," he finally stated, trying to be as polite as possible. He was still new to this, despite the past weeks Kas had tried to teach him otherwise. He also wasn't too sure how much Mr. Scheffler knew about who they worked for. Team Rocket was known, but they were still not well-liked. Add to that that Mr. Scheffler's son would be applying for a license soon. Team Rocket issued those out now, and ultimately, they decided who received one or not. Perhaps... he could put in a good word for this Toby.

If Robert was at all put-off by Eryk’s demeanor, he certainly didn’t show it. “Nice to meet you two. Any friend of Miss Ana’s is a friend of mine.” He dipped his chin in an amiable nod, turning the pineapple over on the grill to sear the other side for just a few seconds before placing each thick slice in a small paper dish. Setting them on the counter at the edge of the stall, he waved his hand dismissively when Anastasia started to count out payment for it.

“No need to worry yourself, Miss Ana. It’s on the house.”

“I couldn’t,” she insisted. At least it wasn’t only something she did with Eryk.

But Robert was insistent. “I don’t work the festival for the money, m’dear, and a few slices of pineapple isn’t going to put me out. I hope you and your friends enjoy it, and don’t forget what I said about that funnel cake.” He smiled and nudged the food a little closer.

“Thank you, then,” Ana replied, picking up the paper dishes. She handed one to Eryk, one to Kas, and the last to Cyrilla. “I think we can split this in half?”

"Yes!" Cyrilla stated cheerfully. Eryk resisted the temptation to roll his eyes, however; he managed not to. He simply stared at his grilled pineapple, unsure of what to do with it until he watched the others take a bite out of theirs. Hesitantly, he took a slow bite out of his, chewing it a little too thoughtfully. He wasn't too sure what to expect. It was a pineapple that had been grilled. Maybe he was expecting a smokey flavor to it, or something to that nature, however; what met his taste buds wasn't quite either. It was good.

"These, are good," he stated out loud, blinking a bit surprised. He hadn't meant to say it out loud, and if Cyrilla's light laugh was anything to go by, his face was probably showing the same reaction. Almost immediately, he frowned slightly, furrowing his brows.

"There's nothing wrong with saying something is good if you find it so, Ryk. Really, now," she stated, smiling at him all the same. He scoffed and took another bite from his pineapple. "It's a compliment, really," she spoke towards Robert. "Should we go try Ms. Julie's funnel cake next?" she asked. Eryk swore he could see a small twinkle behind her eyes. She liked sweets, that much he knew. But how much she actually liked them wasn't something he knew. He, personally, didn't like sweets, but maybe Kas and Ana did.

"Do you?" he asked, glancing towards the two others.

“Well, it’s a ways down the road,” Ana said. “But we can certainly head in that direction and see what we find, right?” Kas agreed, and the four of them headed further down the way.

At this time of night, lots of people were around, but by far the majority of the people were there as families, most of them with children between the ages of four and fourteen in tow. It was a little noisy for that reason alone, with people calling out to each other or fighting over what to eat or which games to play, but for all the yelling, everything seemed mostly… happy. It was chaos, but not the angry kind. Most people were colorfully-dressed, too; they would have stood out a lot if they weren’t in yukata.

As it was, they still tended to attract attention, mostly just people calling out to say hello to Ana or Kas, or occasionally even Cy. There were a few more introductions, though no one kept them for long. They passed by a few more games, some other food stalls selling substantial dinner-type foods; Kas insisted on trying at least most of them; before long they had a lot more to carry than they really had space for.

“Should we find somewhere to sit down for a while?” Ana asked, trying to juggle takoyaki, a veggie skewer, several types of tempura and a fruit smoothie. And that was only half of the food she and Cy were trying to get through together. “I know they have benches and things around, or we could sit on that fountain over there?”

Eryk probably had the most food, though. He was juggling at least four or five different plates. When Ana spoke, though, he agreed. Sitting down would probably be best, that way they could sort through all the items they had. And they could probably start working on some of the food. It all smelled so good. It wasn't quite the smell Cy's food had, whenever she cooked for him, but it still smelled good all the same. He managed to find a small table, and made for it before one of the other families could take it. It was large enough for a family, but that didn't seem to matter to Eryk.

"This will do," he stated, setting his plates down and helping Ana and Cy with theirs. Once everything was set, he took a seat. "We should rest for a moment, and try to free up space," he stated. Cy laughed.

"I think what he means to say is, 'Let's eat this food so we can go get more things,'" she stated, trying to immitate his voice. It sounded... gruff. Did he really talk like that? "I will agree on that, though. I don't know if we could keep carrying any more things without making some room," she added.

Kas took the seat next to Cy, leaving Ana to fold herself into the bench beside Eryk. The angle made her relative lack of height all the more obvious—the top of her head barely reached halfway up his bicep—but she didn’t seem uncomfortable in the slightest. Since she was across from Cy, she arranged their shared food in between them, picking out a bit of tempura with one of the plastic forks they’d been given.

“What’d I tell you? Festival food is great,” Kas said, working his way through his own pile, which was nearly the size of Eryk’s.

“Is there a Camilla Festival on the Orange Islands?” Ana asked between bites, tilting her head at him.

Kas chewed for several more seconds, then swallowed, shaking his head and chasing his bite with what looked like a bright purple soda or something. “Not exactly. Ours is called the Palm Festival—it’s got a lot of the same features, but there’s also a bit more… I dunno, I guess you’d call it spiritualism. The old folks on the island spend the whole first half the day meditating, and the ceremony at the end is a bigger deal. Here, lots of people will skip the lantern-lighting, which is supposed to be the main event. You don’t skip the palm-boat release where I’m from, unless you’re a tourist.”

Ana nodded. “That’s really interesting, though. What does the Palm Festival celebrate? The Camilla Festival is supposed to be for the beginning of summer, and I heard it used to be a way of guiding the spirits of that year’s dead or lost to the next world—that’s what the lanterns are for.”

He nodded. “Summer on the islands is kind of a mixed thing. It’s peak tourist season, so we all do pretty well for ourselves in that industry. But it’s also kind of the time when we have to worry most about storms—so we send the palm boats out to sea to placate the pokémon that controls the ocean.” He shrugged. “Most people don’t believe it helps anymore; they do it because it’s something the whole community does together.”

It seemed that most of it was still the same, at least to Eryk. Why did they sound so interesting, though? Maybe because he'd never really been to one, and didn't know the first thing about festivals. Different festivals, different meanings, but they still seemed to hold the same sentimentality for everyone around. Tradition or not, it was important to some people. He paused momentarily, chewing on a piece of meat before he swallowed. He wasn't entirely sure what to say. He didn't have any knowledge to offer about festivals, and he didn't quite know what to ask. He was, for once, at a loss.

"That sounds nice, doing something like that as a whole rather than individually," Cyrilla spoke, saving him from his own thoughts. He could hear it, though, the slight solemn tone to her voice. He could understand just slightly. Their community wasn't quite the same. Growing up in such a large family, training for just one purpose, he supposed he could understand that solemnness. He sighed softly, pushing the thoughts from his mind. He didn't need them, not now at least.

"Do you want to attend the lantern-lighting?" he asked, the question directed towards Ana. "Since... you and I have never been to a festival," he added, unsure as to why, though. He'd never been to a festival, and neither had she. Perhaps she wanted to see that part through, too. He wouldn't admit it out loud, but it would be nice to see the festival through to the end. It would give him a new insight to the islanders, how they did things, and most of all, it would hopefully give a little more insight to her.

For the sake of the mission... or at least that was what he was telling himself.

She smiled. “I think… that would be really nice.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kas glanced between Ryk and Ana, suppressing the smile that threatened. Really, this was just too ridiculous. In the good way, of course. He knew very well that Ryk had never had a friend who wasn’t involved in Team Rocket—never had any friends besides himself and Cyrilla, period. And who they were, the way their lives had gone… they had a lot in common with him, deep down. Ana was different. Different from all of them, but Eryk most of all.

He wasn’t sure he’d have predicted them getting along this well, if he’d been asked three months ago. On the surface, they should have had no reason to interact. Eryk should have scared someone like Ana half to death, and she in turn should have wanted nothing to do with him or any of them, given their jobs. And Eryk certainly shouldn’t have taken to her the way he clearly had, with her optimistic—bordering on naïve—worldview.

But she was stronger than she seemed, and not as naïve; he was both kinder and more patient than the first impression he gave. He’d just had those qualities nearly stomped out of him by his family and his life. Ana let them grow again, or at least convinced him that it was okay for him to do so. It was the kind of friendship that made both of the people in it better. Or it would be, if allowed to continue. If Ryk didn’t quash it himself for the sake of the mission. And if Ana didn’t die.

Suddenly, it was harder to watch them than it should have been. Kas swallowed the last of his tempura, then glanced at all three. Ana was definitely still working through her food—but maybe that was for the best. “I think I’m gonna go find us some of that funnel cake and bring it back. Anyone want to come with?” He asked to be polite; he didn’t expect that anyone would.

"I'll come! Ryk, you stay and keep an eye on Ana!" Cyrilla volunteered. She seemed a little too enthusiastic about it, and the look on Ryk's face almost seemed to suggest he wanted to be the one to go. "It'll be a few minutes, Ryk. You'll be okay without us," she added, earning a light scowl from Eryk. It looked like he really didn't want to be left alone, at least not with Ana in a place like this. "How many do you want?" she asked, waiting for Eryk to reply.

"One," was the short reply he gave.

"Two it is!" she spoke, pushing herself from her spot so that she was standing. "Robert said it was half a mile down the road, and we aren't too far down," she contemplated slightly. She hummed slightly to herself before she smiled again. "Alright Kas, let's go find Ms. Julie's funnel cake shop," she stated, starting down the road just slightly in a head start.

Well… he supposed that was one way to give Eryk an opportunity to ask Ana the relevant questions. That actually hadn’t been Kasimir’s intention, but it would do just fine for the purpose. He trailed after Cy, folding his hands into his sleeves since he lacked pockets. He didn’t bother to pay too much attention to where he was going, only glancing up occasionally to make sure that the head of snowy-white hair was still in sight. It would never be difficult to find Cyrilla, not even in a crowd this big.

It was starting to thin out, actually, as families took their kids home. On the other hand, the amount of teenagers and young adults around seemed to increase; along with the elderly, they now made up the bulk of the festival-goers. That was pretty normal, as far as he knew—at least, it always went the same way back home.

This was more nostalgic than he expected, really. Maybe he was already of a mind to think of home. Crystal had called earlier in the week to tell him that she was engaged; she’d be marrying her longtime boyfriend Andre next spring. Kas had been expecting that eventually, but of course it was hard to tell her he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be able to make it for the wedding. The job was demanding; it was important that he keep track of any important developments in the organization. If he missed something because he’d taken a whole two weeks off like he wanted to…

For a guy who tried to do as little as possible, he figured he might be a workaholic. It was just that his work wasn’t what everyone thought it was.

The festival made him think of home, and then home made him think of Crystal and her wedding, and he wondered if everything would still be like this by next spring. Almost a year—he didn’t need to be a psychic to know that he’d be a different person by then. Maybe all of them would; it felt like something was coming. The same way he’d been able to sense impending storms since he was a kid, he sensed something coming now. Something that might change too much.

It was really too bad that he had no idea what the something was.

Pulling in a deep breath, he realized he wasn’t smiling, and had indeed been rather intensely staring straight ahead for a while now. That wouldn’t do—he’d start scaring people if he kept that up. Shaking himself out of it, he forced his face into a natural-looking smile. “Uhh… Cy? Where exactly are we?” This didn’t look like the main road anymore.

She laughed nervously. "I... don't know, honestly. I just kept walking hoping I'd see a sign for Ms. Julie's," she began, glancing towards the side to stare at another stall, it seemed. "I didn't see anything like that, so I kept walking. I didn't want to bother you since you kind of looked like you were in your own thoughts. Ryk does that sometimes, so I'm used to it," she continued, giving a light shrug of her shoulders. It looked like most of the festival's games were in this area, and there was probably one or two stalls with food to offer.

"I think... we might have passed it," she muttered, looking a bit embarrassed by that fact. "I should go ask someone, actually, unless you know where we are?" she questioned him. Or at least it sounded like she was questioning him.

“Well, we seem to be on Sunflower,” he said, naming the street. “But I don't know exactly where this stand is supposed to be. If we take our next left, that should put us back on Main eventually, at least.” He shrugged, offering half a smile. “But it might take a while. I’m actually kind of impressed that you managed to get us this lost."

"Hey now, I wouldn't have gotten us this lost if you'd been paying attention, too," she shot back, though it was light in the way she said it. She sighed, though, and slumped slightly before straightening back out. "Let's see, Mr. Scheffler's pineapple stand was on Main, wasn't it? The shop should still be on the same street. I would assume that since he didn't exactly give a name. But then again," she trailed off into thought. She started walking again, though, taking the left he'd suggested. Sure enough, it led them back onto Main, and she paused momentarily.

"Give me a second," she stated, disappearing in a small crowd. She must have been asking someone for directions because she was smiling when she came back. "It's on Lavender, and it should be about a ten minute walk that," she paused momentarily, pointing west, "way," she finished, turning to glance at him. Something seemed to pass by, an expression of sorts, but it disappeared just as fast. She began walking again, a bit slower this time.

"I think it's adorable," she spoke suddenly. "Especially the way he almost smiles with her. It's cute," she continued, probably referring to Eryk.

Kas chuckled. “It is, honestly. I think it’s good for him, too. It’s not like he really has anyone besides us, and I think sometimes you have to have friends who aren’t part of your work, you know?” She had Drake, of course; he imagined that was a similar situation. Except… there was a subtle difference. Maybe nothing would come of it, but maybe something would. In either case, he’d resolved to keep his mouth shut about it for now, because if Eryk found out too soon, there might be problems.

Letting his hands fall apart, he raised them both to put behind his head as they walked. Cy was a lot shorter than he was, but that wasn’t a major issue for him—after Kas had hit puberty, pretty much everyone had become shorter than him. He was used to angling himself slightly downwards for all sorts of tasks, from using counters to talking to people.

“I think sometimes we can forget what life is really like for other people, outside of our Rocket bubble, I guess you'd call it. I dunno about you, but I like to be reminded every now and then.”

She nodded her head slightly. "I think it's good for him, too," she replied, but she seemed a little hesitant in the way she said it. "I just... I hope," she continued, pausing as if to readjust her words, "I hope it doesn't hurt him, or her, in the end. They're both good people, even if Ryk doesn't acknowledge it," she paused again. She shook her head slightly, and allowed a smile to replace the light frown on her face.

"Maybe, all the interest will leave her, and everyone else, and we can actually be her friend," she spoke, but cringed slightly at her own words. "Not that we aren't friends, but just," she seemed to backpedal. "I don't want to keep lying to her. She's been so nice to us," she whispered the last part.

If she had admitted that to the wrong person, she might have been in serious danger of demotion. The whole point of being Executives wasn’t just about paperwork and being a strong battler. It was about being able to take the kinds of missions that demanded things like this: lying, misleading, and ultimately hurting people. Ostensibly for the greater good. He’d always wondered how someone like Cyrilla had ever managed to reach the rank, considering how unsuited she was for doing things like that to people. When he’d dug around… it seemed mostly like her family connections and relation to Eryk had done the work. She was a good trainer, and she did have most of her family’s skills… but her temperament was completely wrong.

Kas supposed his seemed the worst of the three, given his laziness. But really, of the three of them, he was by far the best liar, and he knew it. The fact that they were his friends at all was proof of that. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “I know, believe me. But if it isn’t us, then it’ll be the Birds. And you know how that would go.” At least Eryk and Cyrilla had hearts, as she put it.

He was pretty sure those three had buried theirs a long time ago. Like he tried to bury his.

She flinched slightly at that. "I suppose you're right. They..." she didn't want to say anything further on that, and instead, remained silent. They walked for another minute before she smiled again. "Well, if anyone can get Ryk to almost smile, I'm glad it's Ana. Besides, he's like an Ursaring. He looks all grumpy, but really, he's a big softy," she grinned this time, nodding to herself as if to agree.

"You, on the other hand, are like a Snorlax," she started, chuckling somewhat. She glanced up at him this time. "All you do is eat and then sleep," she grinned, though that wasn't completely true. "But I suppose that's what it takes. A snorlax is the only one who could be good friends with an ursaring," she seemed slightly amused by the comparison.

Kas grinned. It was probably better to steer away from the depressing topics, anyway. He had enough of that on his own time. “I used to look a bit like one, too,” he admitted, rolling his eyes at himself. “I was a pretty round kid, before I hit thirteen or so. I ate about as much as I do now, but my metabolism hadn’t kicked in yet. My dad made me start training to take over the dojo, and puberty happened, and suddenly I was really tall and stuff.”

He’d… actually never admitted that to anyone before. That part of his childhood hadn’t exactly been great. It wasn’t a huge secret, but there’d been no reason to talk about it. “So I’m pretty much a snorlax on the inside, I guess.”

"Oh, but I bet you were adorable!" she stated, and seemed to realize she said that out loud because she blushed rather darkly. "I mean, not that you aren't now... I mean," she began, waving a hand in front of her face. She laughed nervously, and tried to grin. It didn't quite happen that way, instead, coming out as some mixture of a smile and pout.

"What I meant was that I probably wouldn't have helped. I would have just kept feeding you," she stated, still laughing a little nervously. "And you really are tall, and stuff," she continued, reaching a hand up. "I can barely reach your shoulder!" she smiled this time in mirth.

He couldn’t help but laugh at her. Perhaps that was unkind, but there was something rather funny about watching her try and recover from what she clearly saw as a slip of the tongue. It faded to a grin, though, when she reached up to touch his shoulder; Kas’s eyes lit with a familiar mischief. “You are quite short, aren’t you? No need to worry, though; we can fix that no problem.”

So saying, he bent down and swept her up, hooking one of his arms under her knees and the other around her shoulders. They only remained that way for a moment, though—Kas lifted her easily and settled her in a sitting position on his right shoulder. The yukata prevented a more traditional shoulder-carry, but she was light enough that he could take all the weight on one side without issue. He held the outside of her right knee with his right hand to help her keep steady, but other than that, he wasn’t really touching her.

“How’s the view from up there, beanstalk?” he teased, glancing up at her face with a smile.

She let out a small shriek of surprise when he lifted her, immediately wrapping her arms around his neck as secure as she could. "I don't like heights," she managed to mutter before she was situated properly. She let go of his neck, though, and managed to sit up straight. She glanced around, apparently taking in the scenery before she blinked down at him and smiled. "I can see the funnel cake stall!" she stated, pointing forward.

"Oh wow," she stated lightly narrowing her eyes just slightly. "Is this what you get to see? The tops of everyone's heads?" she asked, grinning just lightly. Her face was still slightly red, but it was slowly fading.

“And sometimes down their shirts,” he admitted. “Though that’s really accidental.” He might be a flirt, but he wasn’t an asshole. Well… not for that reason, anyway. “But at least I can always reach the top shelf, right?”

Carefully, so as to give her plenty of time to adjust, he started forward in the direction she pointed, still holding on to her leg for the sake of balance. She had a lot of natural ability in that area herself, but his shoulders sloped a little, and it was probably smarter not to take any chances. Even if he probably wouldn’t have too much difficulty catching her.

“If you want me to put you down, just… let me know.” He hadn’t exactly asked her permission in the first place. He probably should have—Kas figured she wasn’t actually that uncomfortable, but he was being a bit of a jerk for just assuming.

"Why would I want you to do that!? I get to be as tall as you are, and I can see everything!" she spoke, glancing out forward. She seemed really excited for some reason or another. "Besides, this way we won't get lost again, and I get a free pass at walking," she added, glancing back down at him with a sly grin. She returned her gaze back forward, smiling as if she really enjoyed where she was at. She probably did. Something must have caught her eye, though, as the smile on her face grew wider.

"Oh, I can see Luke! Aw, it looks like he invited Hayley," she spoke, a sort of warm note to her voice. "That's adorable. Oh hey, look we're here!" she stated, pointing to her left. "You can put me down now, Kas!" she stated, glancing down in the process.

“All right. I’m just going to adjust my hold here,” he warned, shifting them until he had a hand on either side of her obi. His hands were big enough—and her waist small enough—that there were only a few inches between his fingers. He lowered her down carefully, making sure she was steady on her feet before he let go.

Or maybe he just wanted an excuse to be within arms’ length of her for as long as possible.

Either way, he stepped back, dropping his hands to his sides, and offered a half-smile. “Okay. Now that we’re finally here, how about that funnel cake, hm?”

"Alright, sounds good to me. Make sure we get at least two for Ryk. I know he said he only wanted one, but funnel cakes aren't exactly the kind of sweet that he doesn't like. He might actually enjoy it," she spoke, smoothing out her yukata. "Ana and I can share one, though I think I might want one for myself. Hm, maybe I'll just take Ryk's if he doesn't want the other one," she added before walking up to the stall to place her order.

Kas snorted to himself, but followed behind her anyway. Once she’d placed the order, he paid for it before she could even retrieve her purse, smirking all the while. “Don’t think you’ll be able to avoid walking this time, since we have so many to carry. So let’s try not to get lost, okay?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

He really didn't want to be left by himself, especially in an area populated with people. It wasn't that he was shy; Eryk Nero was not a shy person. He just felt... uncomfortable. He knew, or at least he thought he knew, the reason both Cy and Kas left him alone with Ana was to ask her any questions that might prove beneficial to their purpose. But looking at her, she seemed genuinely happy. Far be it from him to deny her that short lived happiness. And that thought right there confused him. He wasn't entirely sure why he cared if she was happy or not. He wasn't here for her happiness. He was here for something else.

"Do you have other relatives, other than the Joys?" he finally found himself asking. It probably wasn't the best question to ask, but he figured he might as well start somewhere. Maybe, if she told him a bit of her family, he might be able to get Kas to dig up information on them. Perhaps there was something they missed in her profile about her family. Sure, she was a Joy, but maybe there was something on her father's side, or whoever wasn't the Joy. He released a short sigh through his nose as he did so, taking a slow bite of the food he still had on his plate.

She looked up at him then. The expression on her face was hard to characterize. It was a smile, if a small one, but there didn’t seem to be anything really happy about it. But it wasn’t sad, either—not precisely. Ana lowered her eyes back to the table, and it faded. “I do,” she said. “Actually, my father is the one from that side of the family. My mother wasn’t—she’s the one who insisted on naming me something other than Joy.”

Ana focused intently on her tempura, picking it apart into little bites with her white plastic fork. Even an ordinary thing like that looked delicate when she did it, somehow. “I have a brother, too. I think… I think they’re living in Celadon now, though it might be Cerulean.”

"So... your father's the Joy?" he spoke more to himself, processing the information. She had a sibling, too. That... wasn't entirely helpful. He sighed softly, and glanced at the plate in front of him. He wasn't entirely hungry, now, and instead, pushed at it with his plastic fork. So far, the only things he knew about her was that she was related to the Joys, she owned the center he helped out at, and she had wanted to be a pokémon professor. He pondered that for a moment. She had never elaborated as to why she didn't want to pursue it. But perhaps that was only fair. She had asked him almost the same question, and he only remained silent.

"Do you... keep in touch with them? Your family?" he asked, flinching inwardly just slightly at how his voice sounded. It was almost as if he weren't too interested in knowing anything about her. But he really was.

She was still looking at the table in front of them, but from his angle, he could see her bite her lip. Ana sighed, almost too softly to hear; she might not have even been aware of it. She lifted a tiny piece of tempura to her mouth and chewed it before she responded. “Not… really. I mean, we send holiday cards, and they call me on my birthday, but… I think they’re a little uncomfortable with anything else, and I wouldn’t want to impose.”

Her eyes found his again, and she shrugged. “I was… after my brother was born, my parents couldn’t take care of me anymore. My father’s sister adopted me. So… I don’t really know them very well, is all.” She didn’t seem to have any bitterness about this—her tone was slightly awkward rather than upset.

It still made him feel awkward, and a bit upset. After her brother was born, her parents couldn't take care of her? That didn't make too much sense to him. Was her family too poor to handle two children? Or was there some other factor to it? He didn't want to sound like an asshole, and he didn't want to press any further than he had to, however; his mission was at stake. But so was the chance of her shutting him out completely, and he wouldn't learn anything further. She could choose to remain silent. They weren't such great friends that she'd open up to him. Perhaps... he could tell her something a little personal about himself? Maybe then she'll be a little more inclined to say something she hasn't.

"My family... they are not kind," he began, pausing only slightly to gather his thoughts. He continued pushing his food around on his plate, trying to think of what exactly he could tell her. Subconsciously, his free hand reached up to rub at his face. He winced. It was a delicate subject, and he really didn't want to focus on it, however; he could say just a few things about it. He swallowed thickly before meeting her gaze. "They are the ones who gave these to me," he finally found his voice, pointing to the most noteable scar on his face.

"They... were meant for someone else, however; I took the punishment," he spoke, dropping his gaze. He didn't say who exactly they were meant for, but that was because he knew the subject was just as delicate to her as it was to him. He wouldn't do that to Cyrilla unless she said it was okay. But he opened that door, and he supposed he would answer her questions if she had any.

“They… your scars?” Her lips parted, her eyes rounding in what must have been surprise. A series of expressions flashed across her face; shock, disbelief, back to shock, and then… anger? It was hard to tell—it wasn’t a natural expression on her, whatever it was. But for a moment, her brows pulled down and her eyes narrowed, the corners of her mouth pulling into a distinct frown.

In the end, though, the expression that settled there was one of obvious sadness; the frown remained, but softer, and the crease above her nose disappeared. Her throat worked—she seemed to swallow thickly. “I’m… I’m so sorry. Here I was, starting to feel sorry for myself, and you—” Ana shook her head slowly. “I can’t even imagine… your own child. Any child. Anyone.

She visibly struggled with her reaction; one of her hands clenched just in front of where the two sides of her yukata met, just over her sternum. The other gripped the table tightly enough that her knuckles turned white. “That’s not… that’s not just unkind, Eryk. That’s… that’s a crime. It’s unspeakably cruel and—and I’m sorry it happened to you.”

He blinked slowly, genuinely surprised at her reaction. It wasn't his intention to upset her, nor to make her angry. He just wanted to say something to her, to make her feel more at ease with himself. He sighed, though. "If not me, then someone else would have been burdened with these scars. My family, there is a strict code that we must all follow. If we stray from it, we are severely punished for it. Do not be sorry for something you have no control over," he spoke, his voice unusually soft at the end. She shouldn't apologize for it, because it wasn't her fault, and she didn't know.

His family worked differently than others did, and with the way things were now, something like the scars on his face was accepted. Perhaps other people would have the same reaction as she did, but there wasn't much they could do about it. The Koga family was harsh, but it was a life he accepted long ago. "It is not a crime to be punished for committing a crime," though at the time he thought it was justified. If someone didn't want to be in the family, they shouldn't have been forced into it. They should have let her go.

"I did not mean to upset you, though, and I apologize for bringing it up," he spoke, tilting his head just slightly. Perhaps he should have chosen a different topic to discuss. How was he going to inquire about her, now that he managed to screw this up?

“It’s still wrong, what they did. People go to prison for treating pokémon like that, and rightfully so.” It was easy to imagine that she knew a lot about that, given that those pokémon often ended up in her care. “They should face consequences for treating other humans that way just the same—especially their children.”

Her eyes closed; it seemed that she consciously made herself relax. Her grip on the table eased, and the line of her shoulders went a little slack. Apparently, she was actually physically shaking. Not a lot, but enough that he could see it if he paid attention. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine it’s something you want to argue about. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Um…” She opened her eyes again, smiling tremulously.

“Anyway, I… I suppose I shouldn’t leave what I said without explanation. You might think my parents are bad people. They aren’t, really—it’s just… I needed a lot more than most children do. I was born with something called Everett’s Disease. It was… well, a lot of work to manage, especially when I really couldn’t do much of it myself. So they chose to give me to someone who would be able to look after me, is all.”

Well, that explained why her parents couldn't afford to care for her. He didn't, however, have much knowledge of the disease she spoke of. He wasn't well versed in things like that. Poisons, espionage, subterfuge, those were things he was familiar with. Anything outside of that were just details. He'd have to research it when he returned to the base tonight, or tomorrow morning. He learned something he supposed. Perhaps he should divert the subject slightly. He hummed a slight thoughtful note to himself.

"Perhaps it was their way of showing they cared for you," he spoke, but remained silent after. He wasn't too sure he knew what it felt like to have someone care for him. His parents surely didn't, and the only person he was close to was Cyrilla, and Kas. But Cyrilla cared about everyone, so he wasn't entirely sure about that one, and Kas... Kas was a new development in his life. He'd never really had a good friend before. Pulling himself from his thoughts, he glanced back at Ana.

"How are the pokémon at the center?" he decided to ask, changing the subject just slightly. He'd ask her something else after the tension in the air cleared. Odd, he didn't even notice it before. Was he doing that?

She seemed to accept the change in subject with a mix of relief and mild surprise. “They’re mostly well,” she replied. “The Ekans with scale rot is recovering nicely, and he hasn’t bitten me yet, which I suppose is a very good thing.” Her smile was a little warmer this time. “I managed to adopt out a couple of the younger ones last week, too—it’s always sad to see them go, but I’m glad they can leave because it means they don’t need me anymore. They’re strong enough on their own, you know?”

He huffed slightly. "Because you care for them immensely. They are lucky to have you," he spoke, taking a drink of his lemonade. "It is easy to see that they love and care for you, too. You have been good to them," he added once he'd downed his drink. He couldn't say the same about some of the members of his own organization. Though Team Rocket had changed over the years, there were still some within the organization that treated their pokémon poorly. He had to talk to a few of his own members not that long ago, and had to threaten them somewhat. It was odd, having to do that. He would have assumed they would have had the same ideals.

Take care of pokémon and make sure they weren't poorly treated. "I may know someone who would be willing to take the ekans once he's well enough," he suggested. He would have taken the Ekans, having raised one a long time ago, but he didn't have room for any more pokémon. Plus, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted one. The Ekans he had, had passed. He hadn't known the cause then, but he was slightly suspicious that Katia had something to do with it.

Her face had been doing a progressively-better impression of a razz berry for a while by the time he finished speaking. It would seem he’d said something embarrassing. At the mention of a possible adopter for the ekans, though, it gradually faded back to its normal color. “When the time comes, then, I’ll be sure to ask you,” she replied. “Thank you. How is Mankey doing? It’s been about a week since I saw him last.”

"He's doing... well," though well wouldn't be the exact word he'd use. Mankey was a handful. He released Mankey from his ball the other night, and it took about four hours before Eryk could straighten up the mess he had created. The only reason Mankey had stopped his rampage was because Kas had entered the room, and immediately, the mankey made a dash towards the man.

"He gets a long well with Zoroark, and Blue," he continued, pausing only to take another sip of his drink. "And just about everyone else but me," he said solemnly. He had a sneaking suspicion that Mankey did it on purpose, that he wasn't entirely thrilled to belong to Eryk, however; he supposed it was natural. But he would never give him back. Eryk had meant it when he said he wanted a mankey. This one, though difficult it was proving, would be his, and his alone.

"But I suppose he will come around eventually."

“He will,” Ana said—she seemed very confident in the statement. For a moment, she lifted her hand, and looked almost like she was going to touch his arm, but she let it drop back to her lap without doing so. “Maybe he just needs an outlet? You could try a few practice battles with him, maybe. Sometimes that helps them work off their extra energy.”

He was going to tell her that he did practice battling with him, but he was slightly hesitant about that. It wasn't like he battled other pokémon with Mankey, though. He fought with the pokémon, but perhaps it was because he always won that upset Mankey. Maybe he should lose and see where that got him. "I shall take that into consideration. He works off most of his energy destroying things in my office or room," he stated, a slight puff signaling he wasn't being entirely serious. It was still foreign to him, being able to do things like that with her. Even with Kas, he'd noticed a slight change in himself, but he supposed it had a lot to do with where he was standing.

"Perhaps I'll bring him by when we visit the center again. He might enjoy seeing you," he said a little too forwardly. It almost surprised him, the way he said it. He didn't say it like they were going to go help out, but to simply visit, like one does with friends. He frowned.

“Feel free; I’d enjoy seeing him.” She paused for a moment, clearing her throat a little. “And you, too.”

He choked on his drink when she said that, and he turned to stare at her as if she'd just insulted him. She hadn't, of course, but that was entirely new to him. No one enjoyed his company, at least not enough to enjoy seeing him again. He was fairly sure people were always excited when he left. Slowly, unaware of it himself, a soft smile spread across his lips. He found he lost his voice for a moment, choosing not to say anything. He hadn't been aware he was staring too intently at her, and dropped his gaze.

"Then I shall bring him by tomorrow," was the only thing he found himself capable of saying.

Ana smiled back, nodding her head once. “I’ll leave the gate unlocked, then.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Anastasia stood at the edge of the ocean. She’d shed her shoes on a patch of grass just in front of the beach and walked the rest of the way out barefooted. In one hand, she held a little matchbook with enough matched for herself and the others; her other had a little balsa-wood boat with a paper lantern fixed on top. Inside of the lantern was a little candle nub.

All around them, other people from town had gathered on the beach, standing just at the fringe of the incoming waves. It was generally accepted that the boats were supposed to be sent off all at once, at midnight; the fireworks display followed. Or at least that’s what she’d been told. It seemed to be the case—the people here wore expressions from fond smiles to solemn frowns. Perhaps that was appropriate, considering that the original purpose of this portion of the festival was to honor the dead.

“Is there anyone you’ll be seeing off?” she asked the others next to her. It was a roundabout way of asking if they’d lost anyone important, but she didn’t want to be so blunt about it, or force them to answer.

Kasimir replied first. “Guess mine’ll be for Nana,” he said with a shrug. “My grandmother. Mom’s mom. She died a few years back.”

“My condolences,” Ana murmured, and he laid a hand on her head, not ruffling Cy’s work but leaving it there for a couple seconds before putting it back at his side again.

Eryk wore a contemplative expression. He hadn't exactly mentioned much of his family, and neither had Cy. It was hard to tell if he did have someone to see off. "No one in my family has passed yet," he finally spoke, but his expression softened just slightly. "But... since I've never fully sent off my ekans," he said, trailing off towards the end. It was about honoring the dead, right? And not just the human aspect of it.

"I guess mine will be for..." Cyrilla spoke next, though she paused in her statement. "I guess it'll be for Markus, our cousin," she ended, but it didn't sound like that was quite what she wanted to say. Eryk turned towards her with a slightly confused look. She only smiled solemnly at him. "Mom sent a letter a couple of weeks ago. He... died during one of his missions," she spoke, glancing down.

"I didn't know," Eryk stated, his face pulling into a slight frown.

Ana didn’t really think she could imagine what it was like, to have a family that had missions, in that sense. Most of her family ran pokémon centers. There was perhaps a certain element of risk involved, being that they did occasionally end up with aggressive pokémon under their care, but… it wasn’t the kind of profession where you really ricked dying.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She didn’t know if either of them had been close with their cousin, but it was at least a loss, if Cyrilla was bringing it up at all. She paused a moment, looking down at her little boat with its red lantern. “I’m lighting mine for Edgar. He was like my grandfather, when I was living in Lavender Town. But that was a long time ago now.” At least by her standards.

Shifting the boat to the crook of her elbow, she used her hands to open the matchbox, drawing out one for each of them and passing them out. Kas struck his first, sliding it against the side of the box in her hand and carefully moving the little flame to the inside of his lantern. She could tell when it lit—the brightly-colored paper took on a warm glow from inside. Ana held the box out to Cyrilla, so she could light hers next. Around them, other festival-goers were doing the same.

"Thanks," she spoke softly, taking a match from the box. She lit hers, and glanced towards Eryk. He seemed a little hesitant to light his, though. It was like he was unsure of what to do, exactly, and perhaps that was only fair. He seemed to figure it out since he lit his, and held the boat in his hands, turning to stare at Ana.

"What are we supposed to do now?" he asked, glancing between them.

"I think we're supposed to wait for the signal. We're supposed to release them all at once," Cyrilla explained, and it seemed to smooth out the expression on his face.

Ana lit hers last, then tucked the matchbox away in her obi. Moving the boat so that she held it steady in both hands, she pulled in a deep breath. Even so long after everything, thinking about Edgar threatened to bring tears to her eyes. He’d been such a big part of her life—perhaps the closest thing to a father she’d had, considering how infrequently she heard from her blood father. But he’d been so much older than her—ancient even when she was just a little girl.

Her aunt had told her he held on as long as he did for her sake, probably. Ana wasn’t sure whether that made things better or worse. But she wouldn’t be the person she was without him. He’d taught her so much about life—and about herself and her powers. If Aunt Joy had been one half of her tiny immediate family unit, Edgar had been the other half.

A small smile overtook her face. It was funny; she couldn’t help but smile when she thought about him, even if she started to cry, too. She tried not to, right now—it would be embarrassing and burdensome to cry in front of the others. She’d definitely troubled them enough; especially when she told Eryk about her illness earlier. Ana had been surprised when he’d moved on from the topic so readily. The few other people she’d ever told had asked so many questions. She was grateful that he hadn’t, though she might not have minded a few at least. It was a bit much to drop on a person, but it had just come out. She didn’t want him thinking the wrong things about her parents, after all.

The signal to put the boats in the water was a low bamboo flute whistle. Everyone walked forward; Ana shifted her grip so she could pull her yukata up to her knees with one hand and wade in. Most people seemed to be doing that—it was probably a more reliable way to make sure the boats actually left the beach.

Setting it down gently in the water, Ana gave it a little push outwards, watching it drift. It looked like it might return on a wave for a moment, but it crested the disturbance and continued out to sea. Ana let her eyes flutter closed, saying a quiet goodbye to her friend.

She wondered if next year, someone would send a boat out for her. Maybe the year after? Maybe… maybe her three new friends would. That was kind of a nice thought.

Cyrilla stood next to Ana, releasing her own boat shortly after. She'd closed her eyes, and pulled her hands together in front of her as if she were giving a light prayer. It was hard to tell, but the light from the lanterns highlighted something glistening by her eyes. They were tears. She opened her eyes then, confirming that she was, indeed, crying. But she was smiling an almost melancholic smile. She then turned to face Ana, the smile growing just slightly by an inch.

"It's so pretty," she spoke softly, nodding her head out in the direction of the other lanterns floating away. Eryk remained partially silent, glancing out into the ocean rather than at anyone or anything in particular. His face remained as passive as it always was, but there was something new to it. Something a little more soft. "I'm glad we were all here, together," Cyrilla spoke, glancing at all three of them.

"Me, too," he finally spoke, though his gaze landed on Ana, and for a split second, it looked like he smiled. Not the soft smiles he'd been wearing lately, a genuine smile. It was gone too quick to tell, though.

Ana nodded; from the corner of her eye, she could see Kas doing the same. As far as first festivals went, it had been a lot of fun. Games, food, and most importantly, people to share it with. That was something she’d never thought she’d be able to experience.

They all watched the boats drift out to sea until they were beyond sight.

“Thank you,” she said, turning in the water to face the others. “For inviting me to come with you. I hope…” she wondered if it might not be too forward of her to say. “I hope we’ll be able to go next year, too. All of us together.”

To anyone else, saying so might not have meant a lot; she was sure there were plenty of people who went in the same company every year. But… it wasn’t the same, not for them. Their jobs could take them anywhere in that time, and she… she might not last so long as a whole calendar year—it was just impossible to say.

"I hope so as well," Eryk replied, looking just the slightest bit surprised. Cyrilla nodded her head in agreement, keeping her gaze out towards the sea. "It was pleasant to be in your company. This festival, perhaps it'll be the first of many," he continued, though it was hard to tell what he meant by that.

"The first of many events together," Cyrilla seemed to clarify that statement. "We should probably go pick out a good spot to see the fireworks. Oh!" she stated a little too excitedly. She glanced up towards Kasimir, smiling just a bit sheepishly. "Can I sit on your shoulders again?" she asked.

"Perhaps it would be better if we found one of the taller hills, Cy," Eryk spoke, looking a bit amused by that statement.

“Why not both?” Kasimir replied. Ana had noticed a flicker of surprise pass over his face for a second there, but it was gone so quickly she might have imagined it. He reached down and scooped Cyrilla up, setting her on his shoulder with apparently little effort at all.

Ana huffed a soft laugh, which drew his attention to her. “I have another shoulder, you know,” she said, grinning at her.

She shook her head. “I think I’ll keep my feet on the ground, thank you.” She wasn’t afraid of heights, but at the same time, she also wasn’t the sturdiest person—she trusted him, but if there was some kind of accident, she might end up breaking something, and she didn’t want him to feel guilty about that if it happened.

He shrugged his shoulders, but the grip he had on Cy’s leg kept her in place. “Suit yourself. See any good spots from up there, o lofty one?” He turned his head so as to look up at Cyrilla, and for just a moment, Ana saw Kas’s expression change. It was gone again before she could understand what it was.

Cyrilla snorted softly at Kas, but she glanced around. One of her hands was laid on Kas's free shoulder, while the other one shielded her eyes, like a visor. "Oh, there's a spot right over there!" she stated excitedly, pointing towards the west side. Eryk merely raised a brow, turning his head in the direction she'd pointed towards, and released a soft breath. "Oh, but we have to hurry! There's another group heading that way!" she stated suddenly, wobbling just slightly before catching herself.

"There will be other places if it gets taken, Cy," Eryk spoke, his expression smoothing out to something more passive. "But shall we?" he stated, waiting for them to lead the way.

As it turned out, the spot wasn't taken, and they were situated atop one of the hills. Cyrilla stayed where she was at, on Kas' shoulders, while Eryk merely stood on the other side of Ana. He was gazing upwards, as if trying to contemplate whether or not the view was, indeed, better where they were at. He decided on something, it seemed, since he turned his gaze towards her.

"Thank you, Ana," he spoke barely above a whisper, "for coming with... us," he seemed a little hesitant when he said that, as if he meant to say something else.

“Don’t thank me; it was my pleasure,” she said honestly.

Anything more was precluded by the fireworks themselves, however; the first one whistled and popped in the sky, breaking into a burst of red-and-orange lights over the ocean. Ana smiled, and was content.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk pursed his lips together, running a hand down his face as he did so. He'd called the other two into his office the day after the Festival. He'd only learned one thing, at least of immediate importance, about Ana. She had Everett's Disease, whatever that meant. Eryk wasn't versed in diseases and things like that, however; he needed to give them an update. Cyrilla was the first to arrive, Kenshin in tow behind her. He'd been spending a lot more time outside of his pokéball, though Eryk didn't really care as to why. He watched as she offered him a short smile before taking a seat in one of the empty chairs by his desk.

He folded his hands in front of him, waiting for Kas to arrive. It wasn't too long after that he did. He waited for Kas to be seated too, and simply stared at them for a moment. He wasn't entirely sure how they would react to it, or if they even knew about it. He hadn't looked it up yet, instead, waiting to tell them. If either of them knew what it was, it would at least save him some time. He wasn't quite sure if he should add that as an update to the file. He didn't recall seeing it in there before. If he had, he would have researched it a long time ago.

"She has Everett's," he finally spoke, watching as a flash of confusion crossed Cyrilla's face. He sighed softly. "She has Everett's Disease. I am not entirely familiar with it, though," he explained, glancing at the two of them. "It might be something to research to have some sort of knowledge on it, unless either of you are familiar with it," and he kind of doubted it. He knew Cyrilla well enough to know she wasn't versed in diseases, either, but Kas... he wasn't too sure about Kas. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.

Kas sighed heavily, leaning forward in his chair and putting his elbows on his knees. “It’s an autoimmune disease,” he replied. “That basically means that her own immune system misidentifies her cells as foreign and attacks them. There are tons of different kinds, from arthritis to lupus, but a lot of them are hereditary. Everett’s was only discovered in the last twenty years or so.” He paused, tilting his head to the side. “She outright told you she had Everett’s?”

He flinched slightly, though not because of how Kas said it. He supposed he should have mentioned that first. "Yes. She mentioned it the night of the festival when you and Cy went to get funnel cake," he responded. She'd told him other things, like about her family, but that was one of the major highlights of the night. He pushed another sigh through his nose. He didn't think it was as serious as what Kas had spoken, however; just how serious was Everett's? He glanced towards Kas.

"What exactly is it?" he asked. Cyrilla had remained silent, appearing to digest the information that was being given. "I am not entirely up to speed on autoimmune diseases, but some are fatal are they not?" he continued, furrowing his brows just slightly. Some part of him hoped hers wasn't.

“Some of them, yeah,” Kas said. It wasn’t too hard to see where he was going, from the gravity of his tone. He usually wasn’t serious about anything, so the fact that he was was a huge red flag. He clasped his hands together and licked his lips. “Everett’s… it deteriorates the person’s bones, and weakens their immune system so that they’re more susceptible to other diseases. If you have it, even something like a cold or the flu becomes seriously dangerous during a flare-up. Remission periods aren’t so bad, but… about eighty percent of people who have it die before twenty-five or so. About ten percent can go into permanent remission, but…” he shrugged. It was still only ten percent.

For a moment, he just allowed the information to sink in. There was a chance she could die. Something didn't sit right with him. He didn't like the unsettling feeling in his stomach, and he certainly didn't like the way his fist clenched just slightly. They were investigating a young woman who could potentially die within a year or so. He visibly frowned.

"But... there's still a chance she could live?" Cyrilla spoke this time, something flashing behind her eyes. He could almost see the guilt that he felt across them, and it was both strange and foreign. Why did he feel so guilty about doing what he was doing? This was part of the mission, was it not? She was subject to surveillance by the higher ups, and they still hadn't figured out why she was of interest to them. Some strange part of him wanted to write to HQ and say she was not of importance, so that they could leave her be. Maybe, they could actually be her friend, and not just pretend to be. But even that seemed a little wrong. Somewhere along the way, she became their friend. He swallowed thickly.

"Perhaps. But... I do not believe that is relevant to the mission. Her having Everett's might not be the connection they are looking for," he stated, inwardly flinching at how cold it sounded. "It... should not change anything, though," he added, his eyes narrowing just slightly. He could hear a dejected sigh from Cyrilla, and glanced up to see her staring at her hands. They were folded in her lap. He really didn't like the thought that they were investigating someone so fragile. She had been nothing but kind to the three of them, and for the first time in his life, Eryk felt like shit.

“It’s a really rare disease,” Kas said quietly. “There’s almost no chance the other people of interest have it. I think… I think it’s probably just coincidence.” He grimaced. “Not that that makes things any better, but…” He pushed a breath out through his nose. “You might as well report it to the higher-ups. Maybe… maybe they’ll lose some interest, you know? Damn, I feel like an ass for saying that.” He ran his hands down his face.

"You aren't the only one," Eryk replied, though the words would have surprised him, he just couldn't bring himself to care. "Maybe... if they know of her condition they might drop it. I doubt they want a subject who isn't completely healthy," though that was a lie in itself. He knew they wouldn't stop just because she was sick. They would still want some kind of tab kept on her. She would still be a subject of interest for as long as they were interested.

"But... it is our job, no matter how it makes us feel. Our personal feelings cannot affect the mission," and he had to distance himself now because of it. If he allowed himself to get closer to her, if he allowed himself to feel this strange friendship with her, there was a strong possibility that he would do something he would regret. And he couldn't take that chance.

"I think it will be best if we put some distance between us. We are becoming too close," he spoke in a hushed voice, and he could almost see the distress in Cyrilla's face. She wasn't quite like Kas or himself, and it would be difficult. But it was necessary?

Kas dragged a hand through his hair. “The only problem is… if we all do that now, we’ll never be able to actually finish this mission… whatever it is.” He flopped back against the chair, glancing from Cyrilla’s distressed expression to Eryk and pursing his lips. “Look… why don’t you guys let me handle this? I can make your excuses for you, and I’m honestly better with infiltration than either of you are anyway.”

It was true that they all had particular talents, and also true that Kas was better with people than either himself or Cyrilla. From a logical standpoint, the suggestion made sense.

"He has a point, Ryk. If we pulled out now, we wouldn't get to the point of why HQ is interested in Ana," Cyrilla spoke, and Eryk almost wanted to agree with them. He really did. "But... I can do that on my own, Kas. It'll be difficult in the end, but at least... at least she'll trust me," she added. Eryk sighed, knowing full well that when the time came, it would hurt her more than if she were to pull out now. But he also knew she didn't like leaving things that way.

"Besides, Ken and I promised we would go visit her tomorrow. She was making a new batch of tea and wanted us to try it," she stated, as if she were trying to convince herself of something. He sighed softly and pushed himself a bit from his desk. It was going to prove more difficult than he expected. Even he couldn't bring himself to quite commit to his own suggestion: he knew that.

"Very well. Kas... could you?" he spoke, hoping he would get the implication. Perhaps it was best if he distanced himself. He may not know exactly what was going on with his own feelings, but he knew enough that if he were to try and become Ana's friend, he'd do something really stupid. And he just couldn't allow himself to do that.

“Sure,” Kasimir replied, offering half a smile that he clearly didn’t really feel. “I’ll just… tell her work’s got you tied up, and eventually it’ll stop being an issue. Friendships fade in life; it’s just how things go sometimes.” He stood, brushing imaginary dust off his shirt and rolling his shoulders. “For now, just… make it look like that’s true, I guess. It’s kind of a moot point if you go anywhere else.”

"Sure," but why did it sound like he wasn't?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Ana sighed. Her house felt… strangely empty. Perhaps it was because the visits from other people that had become so central to her life were suddenly less frequent?

The day after the Camilla Festival, Eryk hadn’t come over, though he’d said he’d bring Mankey by for a visit. Ana had thought it strange, but chalked it up to the demands of his work—something that was confirmed when Kas and Cy visited the next day. They told her he’d been caught up in a new assignment, and she’d understood. They must have been caught up in it, too; though she occasionally saw one of them or the other, it hadn't been more than three times between them in the last month, and Eryk hadn’t made it at all.

She didn’t want to believe it was true, but she had to consider the possibility that they were ending their friendship with her. It was quite the coincidence, otherwise—that they should all stop coming over right after she told them she was sick. She couldn’t blame them; this wasn’t the first almost-friendship that had been forestalled by the information. There hadn’t been many, but maybe one or two. People got less comfortable around her when they knew—less sure how they should act or what they should say. More careful, like she was suddenly more breakable than she’d been before.

So it wasn’t really unexpected. Maybe a little disappointing and sad, but those feelings would fade. She still had the shelter, after all, and her pokémon, and her cordial relationships with people in town, who weren’t so close they had to know about her Everett’s. She’d gotten by with just her work before—this was still more than that.

Even if her chest ached to think about it.

You should get out of the house for a while, Ana. Luna advised her of as much, twisting one of her large pink ears. Beside her, Nova blinked red eyes. He didn’t even have to agree—she knew he did already. And she knew they were both right.

“Yeah,” she said softly, toying with the hem of her shirt. Summer was fully upon them now—it had been a month since the Camilla festival. Two weeks since she’d last seen Cy or Kas. But maybe… maybe they were just busy. Maybe they still wanted to be her friends. “But what if someone comes to see me and I’m not here?”

Then they can leave a message or find you later, Nova said firmly. The yellow rings on his body flared temporarily. If they are truly friends of yours, one simple inconvenience will not stop them. In the meantime, you have a life to live—you cannot wait forever for those who may not be on their way at all.

The words hit her like a slap in the face, but they were true. Ana flinched; her fingers clenched in the soft white fabric of her loose shirt. Here she was, reassuring herself that she still had a life, and she was refusing to live it. “You’re right,” she said. “I think…” she contemplated it for a moment. “I’ve heard Drake’s dealing with a lot of challengers these days. Waiting around outside the gym in this heat can’t be good. Maybe I’ll bring them some things to help them stay cool.” And it would be a chance to see Drake, who was himself a very nice person that she liked.

Her course decided, Ana set about making preparations: she made three pitchers of lemonade, three of iced tea, and chilled a lot of water. Figuring out how to transport it would have been a logistical nightmare, but fortunately she did own a small vehicle—just a small motorcycle, but it had a sidecar with it, so she could put everything in that.

Once she’d left Luna and Nova to look after the shelter, she packed everything away in the sidecar, then detached a pokéball from her belt. Aithne loved riding in the sidecar; Ana figured she might enjoy helping to make the deliveries as well.

“Ready to go, Ai?” she asked.

The vulpix trilled, hopping up into the sidecar with the ease of familiarity. Tucking her hair up into a helmet, Ana started the bike up and nudged the kickstand up with her foot before swinging her leg over. They were off after that—the bike handled all kinds of roads quite well, which was the reason she’d bought it. Used, of course, and she took it to the shop for regular checkups, even though she rode it only perhaps once a month at most.

It was maybe a bit… bold of a choice for someone like her, but she didn’t really think of it as being part of a lifestyle or subculture for her—it was just the best method of transport for her purposes. Her Aunt had nearly fainted when she’d purchased it with her savings, but it had done her a lot of service in her travels. And it wasn’t really any less safe than anything else.

The breeze was nice on her skin, and it seemed like all too soon, she and Aithne were pulling up in front of the Gym. There were indeed a lot of people queuing outside, all of them dressed in the durable clothes of trainers the world over. Ana took off her helmet, stowing it in the sidecar, and approached the back of the line.

“Um… excuse me. I don’t mean to intrude, but it’s awfully hot out here, and I thought you might like something to drink? I’ve got water, lemonade, and iced tea.”

It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on, and in short order, Ana was filling paper cups with various drinks and passing them out. It seemed to be especially hot around here, perhaps because the Gym itself had so many fire pokémon in it? It occurred to her that Drake must be especially overheated if that was the case. Frowning, she returned to the sidecar, withdrawing the closed pitcher of water and tucking a wrapped package of cookies she’d made the other day under one of her arms.

The Gym attendants knew her, and let her past without the usual fuss. It seemed she’d caught him on a break.

“Drake? Is everything okay? You’ve got quite the line of challengers today…” At her feet, Aithne hummed an agreement.

"Hey Ana!" he greeted, suddenly in a happier mood. "Yeah, everything is fine. Honestly, though, the line seems to have exploded with these last couple of weeks," he spoke, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so. He puffed out a slight gust of air as he sighed, laying his arms over his knees. He glanced up at her, though, and just seemed to smile.

"But I suppose it's because we're in the summer season. I've always received a lot of trainers during summers," though it was slightly true, how true was unknown. "How's everything with the center? Everything alright? I haven't seen Kas, Cyrilla, or Eryk in a while," he spoke. He knew they helped out Ana, or at least Kas and Eryk did. Cyrilla he knew was Ana's friend, so perhaps it was natural that he noticed their absence.

Ana smiled a bit thinly, bobbing her head for a moment. “I think they’ve been busy, too,” she said. “It seems it must be like that for everyone but me at the moment.” The shelter didn’t really have any particularly busy or relaxed times of year—it all depended on when new pokémon came in for her to look after, that was all.

She proffered a glass of water. “I was thinking that with all the challengers in and out and all the fire pokémon you have, you might be getting thirsty. I know your work is important, but be careful not to dehydrate.” She paused, using her other hand to hold the bundle in front of him. “Also, I made chocolate chip cookies. I seem to remember you liking them the last time you had them, so…” She trailed off into a shrug. Truthfully, there wasn’t a lot she could do, either for Drake or all his waiting challengers. But this was something, and it felt better than moping around the shelter for the afternoon.

"Ah, thanks Ana, you're the best! I do like these," he stated, his face instantly lighting up as he took one of the glasses of water and reached for a cookie. He hummed a soft content sound in the back of his throat when he bit into one, and offered Ana a grin. "You don't have to worry about me too much. Gramps raised me in the volcano so I'm used to hot temperatures. I can't say the same for these challengers though," he stated, the grin smoothing out to just a simple smile.

"What's strange, though, is that some of these challengers are members of Team Rocket. Actually, I think all of them are. Maybe it's because they're holed up in that Old Mansion and they need something to do. I mean, don't get me wrong, I like a good challenge, but," he trailed off, turning his neck sideways before a slight 'pop' caused him to sigh. "These challenges everyday are becoming a bit ridiculous. I have a suspicion that someone is doing it on purpose, though," he added. He was a good-hearted person, but sometimes even a person like him could get worn out.

"I can't prove it, but it's the only other explanation I can get," he stated, giving a light shrug to his shoulders. He finished off his cookie before downing the rest of his drink, setting the cup to his side. He glanced towards her, and it looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn't. Instead, he just huffed a short sigh and glanced behind her towards the line of waiting challengers.

"Maybe... tomorrow I'll hang up a Closed sign to get at least a break," he chuckled lightly, raising a hand to set it on Ana's crown. It was light, and only remained there for a second before he removed it. "And you shouldn't be so upset about it, though. I'm sure they'll come and visit you soon. They're your friends, Ana. They aren't the type to just end a friendship because work suddenly got in the way. They're good people, even if they happen to work for the Rockets. Just watch," he spoke suddenly, while offering her a lopsided smile.

“I know they are,” she agreed, nodding a little more firmly this time. “I’ll just have to be patient and wait until they have a little more time. But I’m glad I got to see you today, anyhow.” She smiled and took the empty glass back. “I’ll go make sure all your challengers get more water so they don’t faint, but you should definitely consider taking that day off tomorrow. I can make lunch or something, if you want.”

"That sounds great. Lunch sounds like a date! I mean, not a date, as in a date 'date' but," he chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so. "I'd like that, actually, the lunch and taking a break," he seemed to correct himself, grinning all the wider. "I suppose I should get back to the challenges, then!" he stated, standing up as he did so.

Ana stood too, smiling as Aithne moved back to her heels. “All right,” she said with a nod. “Good luck, Drake.” She waved as he headed back to his spot, and exited the Gym.

It was nice to check in on him, even if he was overwhelmed. Actually, now that she thought about it…

Hm.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk pushed a deep sigh through his nose, running a hand down his face before spearing it through his hair. The last few weeks, he actually had been busy. It wasn't that he was pretending to be busy, however; after the submission of what they knew, HQ came down hard on them. They were supposed to compile a list of everyone's health history, and that had not been an easy task. It had taken him at least a week just to sort everyone out, and then another week before he could have Kas help him locate their medical files. Part of it, he supposed, was so that they had more intel on what was going on with the others. Maybe because whatever they had planned, they could take precautions on who was chosen, and who wasn't. It was confusing all the same, and he could feel his face twist just slightly into something uncomfortable.

"It's been almost a month, Ryk. You should at least go visit her with Mankey like you said you were going to do. That was a promise you shouldn't have broken," Cyrilla's voice pulled him out of his thoughts, and he glanced up to see her leaning in the doorway. Kenshin was with her, holding a bowl of berries, it seemed, and was munching on them casually. He didn't seem too bothered by anything, and just kept a steady gaze with Eryk. Mankey, however, was sitting on Cyrilla's shoulders, just glancing at Eryk. "I think... she was really looking forward to it," she added pushing herself from the door frame and walking into his office. He sighed softly before pushing the last paper on his desk, to the side.

"It's not that easy, Cy. I can't just go to her place and pretend that everything is okay," he finally replied, putting the pen down and leaned back into his chair. He knew that wouldn't be right, and he had made the decision to take a step out of her life. He wasn't a good person; he'd never been a good person and causing any more problems for a dying... he paused in his thoughts.

"Then at least go apologize for not keeping your promise. Take Mankey with you and make things right, Ryk. I know it's hard, and I know you don't want to, but you can't just do that to someone, especially when..." she paused in the middle of her sentence, and he could see her jaw lock up. She sighed a little dejectedly, and ran a hand through Mankey's fur. "Just go visit her, Ryk. It'll do you some good," she spoke, removing Mankey from her shoulders so that he could make his way towards Eryk.

"Fine," he spoke, pushing himself away from the desk and standing. He reached out his arm to Mankey, watching as the pokémon climbed upon his shoulder. It was odd how strangely compliant he had been. Perhaps he missed Ana, too. He glanced one last time towards Cyrilla and Kenshin, watching a strange glint pass behind the Lucario's eyes before he walked out of his office, and out of the mansion. It didn't take him too long to reach his destination, and for a moment, he simply stared at Ana's gate. He shouldn't be here.

There was no going back.

He walked up to her door and gave a gentle knock, refusing to just walk in like he had done so many weeks before.

The door opened immediately, as though she’d been standing right behind it when he knocked. She looked like she was just about to leave—there was a basket wrapped with some kind of cloth braced against one hip, and she wore a leather riding jacket with her pants, like motorcyclists used for protection.

When she noticed who it was on the other side of the door, Ana’s eyes went wide. Clearly, he was not expected. For a moment, there was nothing but awkward silence. Finally, she cleared her throat with a soft cough. “Eryk? What’re you—I mean, um.” She shook her head. “I’d heard you were busy.” That didn’t seem quite like what she wanted to say, if the way she frowned was any indication, but she didn’t correct herself again, either.

He wasn't entirely sure what to do with that. "I... thought it would be okay to visit. Work hasn't... it's been," he spoke, but found he couldn't exactly get the words out right. "I was able to manage a break, is all, and I owed you a visit. But perhaps I should come back another time. You look... busy?" he continued. Clearly it looked like she was on her way somewhere, and he would not stop her if she was.

“No!” She looked startled, perhaps at herself, then shook her head—her face was a bit pink, though not as dark as her hair. “Um, what I mean is… I was actually on my way to visit you. At your, um, office. I was going to bring bread. And berry jam. I thought cookies, at first, but I remembered that you don’t like things that are too sweet, so.” She cleared her throat again, taking a few steps backwards.

“But since you’re here anyway, I guess I’m not going anywhere. Would you… like to come inside?”

If she looked startled, Eryk was pretty sure he was. He had taken a visible step backwards and glanced at her. He was confused. She was coming to visit him? He was sure he was staring at her a little longer than what was considered polite, however; he couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the concept. He blinked a few times when he felt Mankey's tail glide across his face. He forgot Mankey was on his shoulder. Shaking his head, he took a step forward, regaining his composure. He could feel his face soften for just a second, but he did not smile.

"I like oatmeal cookies," he found himself saying. They weren't too sweet, so he actually preferred those instead. "But that... I would like that," he stated, making his way inside. "How have you been?"

Ana seemed to recover from her earlier difficulty speaking, and smiled at him as usual. “Oh, I’m doing pretty well. The shelter hasn’t had to take on anyone new in a while, so there’s less work to do. I’ve been keeping myself busy by trying a few new things in the garden. I put in some new berry plants, actually.” She led them into the living room, which was really just a couch and a chair settled around a coffee table and a fireplace. The rest of it was bookshelves.

At this time of year, of course, there was no fire going—all the windows were open, a breeze occasionally stirring the curtains. Ana set the basket down on the coffee table and untied the fabric on top. There were indeed two loaves of bread in there, and several different kinds of jam, with butter knives and even a clear thermos filled with what looked suspiciously like the iced tea he liked. “Help yourself,” she invited, unzipping her jacket and sliding it off. She hung it on a hook on the wall and sank into the chair, stretching her arms out and clicking her tongue to get Mankey’s attention.

Mankey was all too thrilled to leave Eryk's shoulder, making his way towards Ana. Eryk, however, was glad for the extra weight not pulling him down. Not that Mankey was heavy, however; the pokémon hadn't been entirely still. Her words managed to echo in his ears as he glanced up at the items she'd laid out for them. He was slightly glad that she didn't have too much work to do. That meant that, while he was gone, she wasn't entirely in danger of over exerting herself or anything of the sort. He had been slightly worried about that aspect. Since he wasn't going to be around as much, who would help her? Even without the knowledge of her disease, he had been somewhat worried.

He knew she didn't need help since she ran her center just fine without them before, but some part of him just couldn't shake the feeling. He took one of the loaves, and broke a piece off. He glanced at the assortment of jams, and found himself reaching towards one that looked like it was made from kelpsey berries. They were slightly sweet and sour, so the combination would work in his favor.

"I am sorry," he finally found his voice, placing the piece he had grabbed, down. He glanced in her direction, trying to maintain eye contact with her, however; it was surprisingly difficult. "For not coming the day I said I was," he continued, hoping to clarify the situation up. He supposed he should apologize now, get it over with so that it didn't hang around and haunt him. "I... did not intend for that to happen," though that wasn't entirely the truth.

“That’s okay,” she said, apparently with ease. She frowned after that, though, and sighed. “I admit… I was a little concerned. That you might be working too hard, but also that… you hadn’t sent me a note or called or anything, so I worried that maybe something I’d said had…” Ana shook her head, pursing her lips and making direct eye contact.

“I thought maybe I’d chased you away, by mentioning that I was sick. It’s… it’s happened a couple of times before. I can understand—it’s not easy being friends with someone who might not… be there soon, you know? I didn’t want to think that was it, but I couldn’t blame you if it were.” She petted Mankey, scratching him behind both ears at once. Her eyes drifted away from his and to one of the bookshelves, though she didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular.

Well, she wasn't entirely wrong about that. Part of the reason he didn't want to see her was because of her sickness. But it wasn't for the reason she thought it was. He would have let her be, allowed her to live out the rest of her days without people like himself, however; he couldn't, and he disliked that about himself. He sighed inwardly, but dropped his gaze from her.

"No, it was nothing that you said," he spoke, feeling a little awkward now. He couldn't tell her the exact reason as to why he'd stopped visiting her, but he couldn't quite bring himself not to. Remaining silent thereafter was his only choice, and he did. He took a bite from the bread and chewed thoughtfully. It was good, but he supposed everything she made, was good. He hadn't been disappointed yet.

"I will endeavor to notify you if I plan on spending more than a week away," he spoke suddenly, surprising himself just slightly. Hadn't he agreed that it would be best if he didn't interact with her too much? He sighed softly. He was contradicting himself, and he knew it. He glanced back up at her anyway.

"I promise," and for some reason, he knew he would keep it.

Ana dropped her chin to prop it on Mankey’s head, winding her arms around the pokémon and smiling a little. “Okay,” she said softly. “Thank you. I’ve never really… had very many friends before, so… I’m glad.”

Neither did he. Kasimir, Cyrilla, they were his friends. Anyone else outside of those two, though, he couldn't say. But to know that someone thought of him as a friend, that felt strange, and he could almost feel his heart skip a beat. Now that was strange. He coughed into his hand awkwardly and decided against staring at her. She was smiling, small as it was, and somehow, he'd grown to appreciate it. No one smiled in his presence except for his friends, and that thought managed to pull a small one of his own from his lips.

"As am I," he stated, feeling somewhat less awkward now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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The end of summer was a time in the year when most residents of Cinnabar Island kept their windows open; the fresh air outside was just beginning to cool down for the autumn, and most of the houses were built for it. It was in such a home that Kasimir woke up, slightly before the sun did.

The barely-familiar mattress underneath him was thankfully free of creaks or other particular noises, allowing him to soundlessly throw the sheets off himself and put his feet to the floor below. The rug was soft, a tasteful light blue on the pale wood of the rest of the floor. There was enough light coming in from nautical dawn that he could make out where his clothes had fallen the night before; he set about picking them up and throwing them all over his arm. He’d have to get back to his own place for a new set before he went into work, but that was an old routine by now.

Stepping into his shorts, he buckled his belt and was about to throw on his shirt when the sheets stirred, their occupant turning over onto her stomach and propping her chin on a hand. “No breakfast?” she teased, staring at him without an ounce of shame or embarrassment.

He didn’t really have any to spare, either. Shrugging, Kas gave her a cheeky smile. “I don’t like to dine and dash, Viv. And I do have to dash. Workday and all.”

She only chuckled at him, low and sweet, waving her other hand dismissively. She wasn’t the type to insist on pretending that they were dating—Vivian knew what she wanted and when, and a boyfriend wasn’t anywhere on the list. He was grateful for that; sometimes it got complicated after a few months.

“All right, all right. Go save the world, or whatever it is you do.” She also didn’t feel the need to ask about his job, for which he was likewise grateful. Really, she was basically perfect for him in every respect—which of course meant that he was growing less and less content with their arrangement, or any of the half-dozen others he maintained at the moment.

But that wasn’t her fault. “Sure thing,” he replied. “And you get some more sleep. The Coast Guard doesn’t need you for another three hours, right?”

She hummed something noncommittal, and Kas left before it became an actual conversation. He was very good at that—leaving.

He got his morning training in at the beach, swimming with those of his pokémon that were capable and then running with the others. As usual, about halfway through his four miles, he had to pick Meep up and carry her, but that just upped the challenge, which he was grateful for. After a shower and a change at his own place, he headed downstairs to the office, to all appearances having rolled out of his own bed just in time for shift. He made himself and Eryk some coffee, adding a bit of cream to his and leaving Ryk’s black, then stirred about three spoonfuls of sugar into Cyrilla’s tea. He’d probably never understand why she took it so sweet, but oh well.

After dropping Ryk’s off at his desk, he padded barefoot to Cy’s office and knocked on the door before letting himself in.

“Morning, sunshine,” he said, using his usual lazy drawl.

She glanced up from her desk, smiling when he approached. "Good morning, Kas," she replied, setting her pen down and pushing herself somewhat from her desk. "What brings you here?" she questioned. The orchid he had given her was still present, and looked to be in the stages of re-blooming. Orchids, when properly cared for, tended to live a fairly long time. She was taking meticulous care of hers if it was still alive after a few months.

“Tea,” he replied simply, setting the cup and saucer down on her desk. “Sugar, and a little bit of honey.” he turned the cup so that the handle was in the right spot, and grinned slightly. “I see your plant’s doing well—I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re good at that.”

"Oh, thank you," she replied, taking the cup of tea. She blinked and glanced at her orchid before turning back towards him. "Of course it's doing well. It was a gift from you, and I take care of my gifts. Look at Lithe," she stated, moving just slightly so that the Growlithe could poke his head up from underneath the desk. He wagged his tail as he came around, sitting by Kas's feet and staring up at him. He gave him a greeting bark, but did nothing further.

"Besides, orchids require a lot of work. If I let it die," she trailed off towards the end, as if she were upset by the notion of it even possibly dying. "I would be sad if that happened. Besides, Kenshin likes it too, though, I'm a bit worried he might try to steal it. Don't know where he'd keep it, though," she chuckled lightly.

“Interior decoration for his pokéball?” Kas suggested lightly. He crouched so that he could reach down to Lithe and rub a hand over the growlithe’s back. The nickname had been Cy’s choice rather than his own; Kas tended to name his pokémon rather silly things, though he usually had some version of them that actually worked as a name. The canine pokémon’s fur was warm under his fingers—but that was a sign of good health for the species.

“Summer’s about to end, I guess,” he mused. “Things are… not quite how I expected them to be at this point.” He stood, regaining his considerable height over where she sat, and took an extra step back so that he wasn’t accidentally crowding her. He’d been… careful about that, lately. He went out of his way not to get in her space after the festival, and so far, he’d succeeded in his aim.

She hummed in agreement. "I'm not even sure how they were supposed to be. Ryk's back to visiting Ana on a more daily basis, which I think is good for him, but also a little dangerous. He's... I think he's getting attached," she spoke softly, folding her hands and resting her chin on them. She seemed to be lost in thought, her eyes not quite as vibrant as they used to be. Lithe huffed in appreciation when Kas had rubbed his fur, and made his way back towards Cy. He nudged her and she complied with a swift pat to the head.

"It's going to be more difficult for him to break that friendship when or if the time comes," she added, though she whispered something beneath her breath that sounded suspiciously like 'I should know.'

“But not just for him, right?” Kas, sensing a longer discussion might be at hand, sank into one of her office chairs, throwing a leg over the arm and laying his own arm over the back. His other still held his coffee, and he took a sip. “Because you’re getting attached too, aren’t you?” He cocked an eyebrow at her, tilting his head as if inviting her to agree.

The truth was… even he liked Ana more than he should. She was a genuinely good person, and fun to be around. She made him feel better about what he was doing—even though he couldn’t talk to her about it, she helped him forget it for a while at a time. But for Kas… this was one deception in a series. It’d hurt like hell to let this Project Nebula—whatever it was—move forward. Maybe more than anything he’d ever had to do for a mission. But… maybe not even as much as the alternative.

She sighed reluctantly. "Yes," she agreed, reaching over to grab her cup of tea and held it in both hands. "At least... I can deal with it when the time comes. Heartbreak is something I've..." she paused, glancing at him before gazing back at her cup. "Eryk's never had friends before, or people he cares about. To lose them, it would break Eryk in a way that I don't think anyone could repair him. Beneath everything that he is, Eryk is a kind person. He's just not allowed to show it," she continued, sighing before she took a drink of her tea.

"You and Eryk have been friends for awhile, but I grew up with him. I knew him before all of this," she began a little hesitantly, as if she were unsure she should say anything at all. "He would do just about anything for anyone he cares about, even putting himself in very real danger. This," she paused, pointing to the scar on her chin, "was something that was my fault, but the punishment was supposed to be more severe. The scars that Eryk has," again she paused, swallowing rather thickly and glancing up towards Kas.

"They were supposed to be mine," she spoke so softly that it almost didn't register as a whisper. "I'm worried that... if he doesn't distance himself soon, he might do something like that again," she added, her eyes dropping from his.

Kas knew this was dangerous territory. Obviously, as a fellow member of Team Rocket, he should want Eryk not to get too attached here. As a friend… well, he was a little more conflicted. On the one hand, he figured Cy was right—if this went south, it could damage his friend in a serious way, one he might not rebound from. What Kas himself would eventually do wasn’t going to help, either. On the other…

“But no one can live a life without human connection, Cy. Even when… even when you don’t want it, even when you tell yourself you shouldn’t get attached, shouldn't care—sometimes, you just… do. And maybe that’s not… always a bad thing.” He sighed into his coffee cup, taking another sip. He’d been in a weird mood all morning, probably because he’d started it by thinking about how his own life—where those connections were few, but important—didn’t feel right anymore. And part of the reason was that he wanted more of them. He wanted things that were fake to be real. Or maybe… he wanted what was real to be permanent.

“I mean, you have to have seen how much happier he is. I’ve never seen anyone else who can make him smile just by being around. If it doesn’t… last, then… would it be so bad to have at least known what it’s like?” He frowned, glancing up at her. Everything about this was unfair on all of them; he figured he was the only one who really knew just how much that was true.

"I know that, but Eryk isn't your typical person. He... isn't like either you or myself. He feels things on a deeper level, and it almost hurts to see it in him. He is so much happier now that he has someone who isn't a part of this," she began, waving a hand as to gesture to their establishment. "Now that he actually has a friend who... who actually makes him feel human, he's going to fight to preserve that. They could..." she sucked in a deep breath, as if the very thought of what could happen frightened her.

"I just don't want him to get hurt, is all. I don't want either of them to get hurt. They... both mean too much to me," she stated, taking in a deep breath. She finally glanced up at him, and just held his gaze. "You know, maybe caring isn't always a bad thing, and you can't help who you get attached to, but," she contined, dropping her gaze again, "sometimes I wish I didn't."

It was hard to tell what she meant by that. "Sometimes I wish I could be more like Eryk, or even you, but... I can't. I just," she didn't seem capable of finishing that sentence. "I'm sorry, Kas. I shouldn't say that. Both you and Eryk are good people. I just... I don't want them to get hurt over something that they have no control over," she didn't seem inclined to say anything after that. Her gaze had faltered, and her eyes seemed to darken slightly.

Fuck. What was he supposed to say to that? She had a point, he supposed, though he thought she might be underestimating his depth a little—as well as her own. Still, he’d intentionally done that; he’d chosen to give the impression of a shallow person, and for a very specific reason. For several moments, he was frozen, unsure exactly what to do. He wanted to offer some form of reassurance, but some part of him—his cold, logical lizard brain—reminded him that it wasn’t a good idea. For all the same reasons it always did.

Unfortunately, he had a heart, too. Standing, Kas set his coffee cup softly on her desk and crossed behind it, kneeling in front of her chair. Gingerly, he took her hands in his. The difference in size between them was almost comical, except that nothing about this was funny. “Hey,” he said softly. “Look at me, Cy.” He ducked his head a little to find her eyes and hold them with his own.

“The fact that you care, the fact that this is as hard for you as it is—that’s not a weakness, Cy. It’s…” he pulled in a breath, and decided for once in his life to be honest. “It’s incredible. I hate seeing it eat you up like this, but at the same time… I’m glad you care this much. Because it reminds me that—that people can. You’re so—” He squeezed her hands gently.

“You’re good, Cy. You’re really good. And you should never wish you weren’t.”

Her eyes were starting to water slightly at what he said, and slowly, she removed her hands from his. She didn't say anything; she just stared at him. Without much warning, she threw her arms around his neck and almost slammed her head into his shoulder. And she just cried.

He let her, silencing the voice in his head that said he shouldn’t and putting his left hand on her upper back. The right one, he placed carefully against the back of her head, stroking down her hair in repetitive, soothing motions. “It’s okay,” he murmured, unsure if it was true but saying it anyway. “You’re gonna be okay, Cy. We all will—you’ll see.” He rocked slightly back and forth in his crouch, making circles on her back with his hand and wishing—in that moment more than he wished for anything—that he could make good on that statement.

That he could make it okay.

But that was impossible.

Lithe rubbed against Kas, making a soft huffing noise as Cy seemed to calm down a bit. Slowly, her arms relinquished their hold on his neck, but her face remained in his shoulder. She didn't seem inclined to move quite yet, but eventually, she did. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, putting a bit of distance between herself and him, reaching down to grab Lithe and held him in her lap. She sniffed for a second more before she burried part of her face in Lithe's fur.

"No, it won't," she spoke softly. "But we'll make it okay, because we have to," she continued, taking in a slow breath, trying to steady her voice. "I'm sorry you had to see that," she finally stated, some lightness returning to her voice. "Please don't tell anyone," she stated, glancing up at him with pleading eyes.

Kas shook his head. “Of course not.” Did she really think he’d go blabbing to anyone else about it? Probably she specifically didn’t want Eryk to know, but Kas had no plans to inform him, either.

He sighed, standing back up and laying a hand on her head for just a moment. “You don’t owe me any apologies, Cy. You’re allowed to be human—and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

"Thanks, Kas," she spoke, her gaze softening for just a second. "You really are a good friend."

He gave her half a smile, pausing at the doorframe to glance back. “Yeah,” he said, fully feeling the irony of the statement. “Sometimes.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Cyrilla sighed, releasing it through her mouth. She sat on one of the swings in the park, staring down at the sand as she swung her feet back and forth. When Kas had left her office, she had to close the door. She'd leaned against it and cried again because he was wrong. She wasn't a good person, even if he'd told her a thousand times over. She hated herself for crying in front of him, too. The only person she ever cried in front of, was Eryk. He was the only one allowed to see that part of her. But now, Kas had seen it too, and she wasn't entirely sure on what to do with that. She still couldn't bring herself to distance herself from him, and every day she was near him, her chest hurt more than it should have.

"This... really sucks, Kenny," she spoke, glancing to her side to see Kenshin casually swinging in his set.

"What sucks?" the voice, the only one that could belong to Drake, nearly caused her to pitch forward from her seat. He'd startled her.

"Hi, Drake. You scared me," she spoke, recovering her balance in her seat. "But just... this," she stated, pointing to her chest where her heart lay. Drake gave her a sympathetic look, and took the swing that was empty, next to her. "How do you deal with it?" she questioned, glancing towards him. He took in a deep breath and sighed.

"It's not easy, I can tell you that much," he began, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so. "I guess, because we can't necessarily help what we become attracted to. For some people, it's instantaneous, and it's mostly because of how a person looks. For others, like you and I, it's deeper than that. We become attracted to a person by their personality, and how good their hearts are. Even if that other person might not be good for us, we still just can't help it," he continued, pausing only briefly for a breath. She supposed he was talking about her side, and not his own. Ana was a good person, and would be good for just about anyone.

She was good for Ryk.

"I suppose you're right on that, but still," she replied softly, and glanced away. She could hear him snort slightly as the creaks gave way to his swings. "Why couldn't I have liked you, instead," she spoke jokingly, glancing at him in time to see him nearly fall out of his swing.

"Hey, I'd be honored if you did, but I know you wouldn't. Besides, the heart wants what the heart wants, Cy. Sometimes, it's best if you just tell them. That way, you'll hurt, but you'll also be able to recover. Maybe then, it'll be easier," he stated, giving a light shrug of his shoulders. "Well, I think that's about as much sagely advice as you'll get from me. I've got a new throng of challengers to get through today. I'll see you and Ana tomorrow?" he stated, a small spark of hope in his eyes. She nodded her head and watched him leave.

Speaking of Ana, you should go visit her today. I hear she's trying out a recipe for caramel apples, Kenshin interjected her thoughts, and she laughed at him. He really did like those caramel apples, didn't he? Yes I do, thanks for noticing, she snorted at that.

It didn't take her long to reach Ana's center. The park was only about two miles away to begin with, and she walked towards the door and gave a gentle knock. "Ana, are you home?" she called out. Maybe she was out with Ryk?

There was a thud of something falling over inside, accompanied by footsteps heavier than Ana’s usually were. “Ah, Sparks, no don’t do that—!” A series of cracking pops followed, followed by a whiff of smoke.

The door opened at that point; Ana blinked at Cyrilla, then sighed slightly. “Hi Cy,” she said, a small smile forming on her mouth. “Come on in. I’ll be one second, though.” There was a pokéball in her hand; she gave it a short toss and out popped a dratini.

“Can you put that out, Iris?” Ana asked, pointing to a smoking hole in the hallway rug. The dratini trilled, forming a lash of water at its tail and throwing it over the fire. That seemed to do the trick.

“Pi-chu!” The obvious culprit sat on the stairs in the same room, watching the proceedings with a sort of mischievous glee.

Ana frowned at the pokémon. “Sparks, no. We don’t use battle moves in the house.” She puffed out her cheeks for a moment and put her hands on her hips, staring down the pichu until it looked contrite, then turned back to Cyrilla. “Sorry—it’s been an interesting morning.”

It took a lot of restraint to keep herself from laughing at Ana's current predicament, and she mostly succeeded. Kenshin visibly rolled his eyes towards the pichu, Sparks as Ana had called him, and stared at him. "Oh it's quite alright. I've had an interesting morning too," though she wouldn't put it quite that way. It had been interesting in a sense that she'd cried, Kas had seen it, and then she just felt awkward after the whole ordeal. She'd almost told him a few things that she wasn't quite ready to say, and she was surprised she'd told him anything of hers and Ryk's scars.

"I see Eryk must have just left, then. Or was he here today?" she inquired. He wasn't at the base when she left, so she had assummed he'd left to Ana's house, or perhaps he went somewhere with Kas? She shrugged the thought away. She needed to focus on something else. She was getting distracted by the smallest things now.

“He was,” Ana confirmed. “He should be back in a little while actually. He insisted on going to pick up the new medicine order from the Pokémon Center by himself because I coughed this morning.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I’m grateful, but he’s not… he didn’t give me much of a choice.”

Ana glanced down at the mess on the floor, then stooped down to roll up the rug. “I didn’t like this one much anyway, I suppose,” she murmured. Tucking it under her arm, she stood back up. “I was actually going to make lunch. I heard you cook; would you like to do it together? Then we can eat when Eryk gets back.”

Cyrilla smiled at her comment. It was just like Eryk to do that for Ana. She could feel a slight pull at her chest, though, and sighed softly. This was harder than it was supposed to be. It was never meant to be easy, Cy. You know that, Kenshin spoke directly to her, and she offered a short smile. The melancholy she might be feeling didn't make it to her face, though, and she was grateful for that.

"I love cooking, yes. It's one of the things that I've learned I'm good at without..." she trailed off slightly, frowing. She didn't know how to quite end that sentence. "But I'd like to help out anyway. What were planning on? If you're cooking for Ryk, he tends to like things with leeks and onions. He... has a weird appetite," she stated.

“And now I have a mental image of him as a Farfetch’d,” Ana said, smiling playfully. “Though I suppose that does explain why he seemed to like the Kalos onion soup I made that one time.” Reaching up through the bars of the staircase, she picked up the troublesome little pichu, tucking it into one elbow. It snuggled against her side without protest—its size made it easy to tell how young it was.

“I have a recipe for tempeh, leek and mushroom casserole. It has a fair bit of cheese, too. How does that sound?”

"I'm not going to be able to look at him without seeing Farfetch'd now, I hope you know that," she responded, laughing just slightly at the mental image she received. Kenshin snorted softly at that, too, and it caused her to chuckle. "But now that you mention it, I've never tried making that before. It sounds delicious. What do you say, Ken? You want to help?" she stated, glancing at the lucario. He gave her a deadpanned look, something that only Eryk could rival. Sometimes she wondered just how much alike these two were.

I'd rather not, he replied, keeping his gaze steady with hers. I'm going outside. I don't want to be around if something blows up again," he continued, making his way outside. Cyrilla laughed anyway, and turned her attention towards Ana.

"Some help he was," she stated before moving into the kitchen with Ana. "So, is there anything you want me to start on?" she questioned once they were more comfortable.

Ana set Sparks down on a stool next to the island, pausing to dispose of the former hall rug and then wash her hands at the sink before she pulled ingredients from her pantry and refrigerator. “If you don’t mind chopping the leeks and mushrooms, there’s a cutting board to your left. Knives are in the block to the right. And um… if I can ask, what was interesting about your morning?”

She set the leeks and mushrooms down on the counter near Cyrilla, then retrieved a large, oval dish from one of her cabinets, as well as a block of cheese and a different knife. Ana moved around her kitchen with the ease and efficiency of a lot of practice; the oven was already preheating and the tempeh warming to room temperature on the counter beside her.

"I can do that, then," she stated, walking over to grab one of the chopping knives and grabbed the items she needed. She began working on them, and when Ana asked the question, she almost slipped and sliced her hand. She winced slightly, but didn't make a spectacle about it. Instead, she calmly grabbed one of the paper towels on the counter, and placed it on her hand. She frowned softly. She didn't exactly know how to put this into words, or at least in a way that wouldn't give Ana any insight as to what they were really talking about.

"Oh, well I had a talk with Kas this morning. Did you know his hands are really big? I mean, he's tall so it kind of comes with the territory," she chuckled lightly. She'd only barely registered he was holding her hands, but there were other things floating through her mind when that happened. "And I saw Drake this morning. We had a heart to heart chat about... hearts?" she stated, laughing a little nervously as she did so. She began working on the leeks again, this time, taking her time.

The look Ana gave her suggested that she understood more of the subtext to that than Cyrilla probably wanted her to. But she was gracious enough not to mention it, and changed the topic quickly enough that she had to have at least picked up on Cy’s discomfort. The sound of her knife moving through tempeh and thudding against the wooden cutting board was regular and rhythmic.

“The tourists seem to be mostly leaving for the year,” she observed neutrally. “The town does tend to feel a little emptier without them. Though I guess having Team Rocket here now might mitigate that a bit this year.” Ana dropped some olive oil onto a frying pan and started up the burner underneath it. “I suppose you probably can’t say much about what you do, can you? It must be tough, not to be able to talk about it with anyone who doesn’t already know.”

Cyrilla dropped her gaze somewhat. "I can't, no. I'd be putting the organization at risk if I said anything out of context, but, I suppose the silver lining to that is..." she paused. Was there a silver lining to working with Team Rocket? To not being able to say what they did, what they were investigating? No, she supposed not. But perhaps she could try and see it in a different way.

"I get to meet new people this way, even if they'll hate me in the end," because they always did. In some way or another, everyone she's met has hated her because of what she had to do, or because of who she worked for. She didn't blame them, of course. She could never blame them. She'd hate herself, too. She actually did sometimes. But ther wasn't much she could do about it. She was stuck with the organization for the rest of her life, if she were even that lucky.

"But I also get to travel to new places, too," she stated, trying to sound a little more cheerful. It was getting harder these days, it seemed. Having to deal with her own feelings, and what will eventually happen to her friend. She tried not to think about it. She said goodbye to her heart during the Camilla Festival, and still, it aches because of what she has to do, and what she has to feel. She sighed softly, shifting her attention towards the onion and smiled.

"Is there anything you have planned for the fall, or the winter? I think... we'll likely be here throughout the entire year so maybe we can spend Thanksgiving or Christmas here with you," she spoke, trying, and succeeding, in sounding more cheerful about the thought.

Ana hummed. “I don’t really make plans too far in advance,” she confessed, turning to glance at Cyrilla with a small smile. “For the obvious reason. But… well, I think my Aunt might be coming to see me for a little while around the Thanksgiving holiday, which will be nice. She’s a pretty amazing cook, and we usually make a big dinner… actually, why don’t you and Kas and Eryk and Drake come, too? Unless you have family visiting or something—I don’t want to intrude, but anyone you’d want to bring is welcome also.”

She scraped the tempeh off the cutting board and into the frying pan, gesturing for Cyrilla to hand her the chopped leeks so she could do the same with those.

"I'm not entirely sure Eryk will agree if Drake comes, but," she stated, chuckling sort of darkly. "What he doesn't know won't kill him, right?" she continued, grinning at Ana in the process. She knew Eryk didn't like Drake, though the reason was slightly hilarious. Eryk didn't know it himself, but she knew. And that's all she needed to know. She handed the leeks to Ana and finished the onion as well.

"We usually don't have family who visit us. They're usually in one of the other regions, and the only time we really hear from them is if something has changed, or a family member has passed," she said softly. It wasn't that it bothered her anymore. Her family didn't keep in touch, and perhaps it was for the best. "But I suppose we can say we have family on the island, now. You're... strangely a part of our family now, Ana. And so is Drake whether Eryk likes it or not," she stated, nodding her head as if to agree with herself.

Ana smiled. “Are you sure you want to adopt me?” she said lightly. “You’re getting a lot of Joys for the price of one if you do that.” Her eyes narrowed with the force of her smile. “Though I guess I’m the black mareep, so maybe not really. My aunt will really like all of you, though, I’m sure.” The veggies on the frying pan started to sizzle; Ana stirred them with a wooden spoon at a steady pace until they’d reduced, then brought the oval-shaped dish towards her and started to layer things. The cheese went on top.

“Now we just bake it for about half an hour, and eat it with some bread,” she declared, putting it into the oven and closing the door. “While that bakes, though… there’s something I’d like you to see, if you don’t mind?

"Well that makes two of us, remember?" she actually laughed this time. "And yes, I'd adopt you. You're too adorable not to adopt. I think Eryk would agree with me on that, or at least Kas would," she spoke, snickering to herself. She could almost hear Kenshin rolling his eyes at her from outside. What he was doing, though, she wasn't entirely sure. Maybe he was with Rufus? She blinked questioningly at Ana, though when she spoke.

"Oh? Sure, hold on," she agreed, however; she walked over to the sink to wash her hands. Once they were dry, she glanced towards Ana. "What is it that you'd like me to see?" she stated happily. Honestly, she was curious.

As it turned out, Ana led her upstairs, to the second floor of the house. There wasn’t much up here, just a couple of bedrooms and what might have been bathrooms, though for the moment all Cy could say for sure was that they were closed doors. This time, Ana stepped into the guest bedroom. Currently, what looked like an incubator sat on the bedside table—inside rested a green-and-white spotted egg.

“Mr. Scheffler and Toby found it a few days ago—they were out on a walk and there it was. I have enough supplies to look after it, but… I thought maybe it would do better in the care of someone who could keep it with them all day. And since you’re a trainer, I figured you might like to?”

She didn't know what to say. She was at a loss for words as she stared at the egg, and then towards Ana before she stared back at the egg. Ana trusted her that much, to give her something so precious? She could feel a light sting in the back of her eyes, but she managed to keep anything further from happening. Instead, she smiled brightly at Ana and nodded her head.

"I mean, are you sure? It's... an egg. I'm a trainer, yes, and I would love to have it, but, are you really sure it's okay for me to have it?" not that she was second guessing Ana's decision, but she was having a hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that Ana was giving her an egg with a precious pokémon inside. She wondered what was inside of it. Shaking her head softly, she sighed.

"As long as you're okay with it, I'd love to take it, Ana. Thank you," she stated, turning around so that she could give Ana a quick hug.

Ana hugged back, surprisingly warm for someone so small. “Of course I’m okay with it, silly,” she replied. “I’ll want to see it for checkups and things, of course, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. I’ve even written out some care instructions, based on what I’ve been able to tell about the pokémon inside.”

She pulled away slightly, setting her hands on Cy’s shoulders. “I’m relying on you to take good care of it. But I know you will.”

"And I promise I will! Kenshin, he'll help too along with Lithe and Snow, maybe not Gyarados," she chuckled at that. "I'm not going to ask what's inside it. I want to be surprised!" and she really did. As curious as she was to know, she would rather be surprised when the time came. She needed to get Ana something really special, too. Something... that would be okay to give her. She'll think about it later. In the mean time, she was enjoying a nice, home-cooked meal with her friend, and with Eryk.

"Oh, I think he'll be back soon, right? Let's go finish!" she stated a little too happily. She was careful to drag Ana behind her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Fuck.

Kasimir didn’t swear often—he generally thought those words were best reserved for particular situations. All the power they could have would be lost otherwise. But this was undoubtedly one of those situations. He stared at the memo on his desk for a second, then leaped out of his chair, snatching it up on his way past.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

This could ruin everything. Well, not everything, but a good chunk of the things he gave a shit about. Like maybe, possibly un-Rocket-brainwashing his best friend, or whatever he thought he was trying to do by getting Eryk to open up to people. It would certainly ruin his next week or so, without a doubt.

“Ryk! Cy! We have a problem!” He banged several times on Cy’s office door as he passed it, not bothering to knock at Eryk’s before he entered. Crossing the room in four long strides, he lobbed the memo so it landed smack in front of his friend. As soon as Cy had entered the room as well, he elaborated for her benefit.

“We’re getting inspected next week. By the Birds.”

It took a moment for anything to register on Eryk's face, however; his eyes seemed to scan the memo, and a deep frown pulled at his lips. "This isn't good. They weren't supposed to come down, yet," he stated, though there was something else under his tone. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but it sounded a little like fear. Cyrilla's face seemed to reflect that tone a bit, her eyes widening just slightly.

"We need... to do something," he spoke, his voice slightly rougher than it usually was. "Make sure the grunts know their stations, everything needs to be in order for when they arrive. I don't want to give Katia, or the others, a reason to linger any longer than necessary."

Kas dragged both his hands down his face. He wasn’t afraid of any of the Birds—but that didn’t mean he wanted them around, either. “I figured someone would be inspecting the place eventually—we’ve been here for about half a year now. But why the hell he’d send the Birds is anyone’s guess. I’ll tell HR to send out a memo about it…and we really need to find someone who can pretend to be an executive secretary for a week. Because if they find out that they keep quitting, we’re in for some problems.”

Team Rocket had rules for damn near everything, and even Kas was careful with which ones he actually broke.

"We were going to get inspected, yes, but that wasn't supposed to happen until the end of the first year. It's how they did things," Eryk spoke, sighing heavily. He looked disturbed by the fact that they were coming down, perhaps because it meant Katia was coming. He never spoke fondly of her, if at all.

"I can ask Hayley if she'll do it. She... kind of owes me one," Cy spoke. "As long as you're cordial with her, Ryk, she'll be your secretary for the time the Birds are here," she stated, glancing towards Eryk who merely stared at her.

"I'll try," he spoke as if trying to convince himself. "That also means we can't be in her vicinity for too long. They'll... grow suspicious," he continued. He could only be referring to Ana. "They had wanted verbal interactions with her, but nothing about helping her out at the shelter or spending time with her. We don't need them going to interrogate her," he added.

“That’s probably for the best,” Kas agreed. Still, he didn’t want it to be last month all over again. “But we’ve got to tell her something this time. ‘Busy’ isn’t going to cut it—she was miserable when she thought we were ditching her on purpose, and I don’t wanna do that again.” He figured that she’d probably be understanding if they gave her advance warning this time—even saying that they were being inspected for a week would probably be sufficient. As long as it wasn’t at the last minute and suspiciously-timed like the last incident had been.

"I agree. I don't want to do that to her again," Cyrilla spoke, dipping her head just slightly before picking it back up. Eryk merely nodded his agreement, but said nothing further. He seemed to be thinking about something. It must have been decided not a second later since he huffed out a rather heavy sigh.

"It says they'll be here Monday. Today is Thursday so we have just a few days until they come. I was supposed to go help her out today, so I will tell her. Cy, you should come as well to tell her too. It would be easier if we all told her the same thing," he spoke, looking a little uneasy about something. Cyrilla merely nodded her head. "The sooner we get this done, the easier it'll be. Actually, we should all probably go today," he seemed to think that out loud.

“That’s fine,” Kas said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Wasn’t like I was planning to do any work anyhow. You guys just do your normal stuff until then; I’ll get the grunts prepped to inspection standards.” He paused a minute, frowning.

“Uh… by the way. Has anyone seen my uniform? I’m pretty sure it’s not in my closet.”

"Really, Kas," Eryk stated, giving him a rather blank stare. "I have a spare one if you need it, but you'll have to get it... fixed. You're a few inches taller than I am," he said, raising a brow just slightly. "You can keep it for emergencies like these, but," he continued, pausing just momentarily to glance back at the paper in his hand. "You better not lose it. I don't have any other ones."

"And I doubt the Birds want to see you in one of my skirts," Cyrilla cut in, looking just the slightest bit amused.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kas fired back. “I have great legs.” He managed to say it with a straight face, but snorted right afterwards and then broke into easy laughter.

Clearing his throat to return to the matter at hand, he nodded. “Sure. I can have Mrs. Kanda fix it up for me. And I’m usually pretty okay at not losing other people’s things.” He grinned facetiously, but it was true. He tended to ‘lose track’ of his own possessions from time to time, but that was only because he didn’t try very hard to remember what he did with them. If he was focused or cared enough, he’d recall. It was a useful ability of his.

“Anyway, I’ll go wrangle the team for a while, then fish that uniform out of your closet and take it in. I should be back by the time you guys leave for Ana’s.” With a lazy two-finger salute, Kas took his leave of Ryk’s office, heading back to his own and digging around in his filing cabinet until he had the exact information he wanted. It didn’t take too long to draft it up into memo form, but of course he didn't want it to be in the server that he was only sending this out now, with an inspection right around the corner.

Instead, he shot off an email about a departmental meeting for early that afternoon, attendance mandatory. That should do the trick. He could just cover all the points verbally and give them undated handouts on the stuff they really needed to remember.

It wasn’t that he anticipated the inspection going badly, he supposed. Hitting send, he rolled his chair backwards and grabbed the coffee cup from the windowsill. He should clean that—and the three others at various places in his office. Rather… it was just that the three of them ran a ship that was… looser, in various ways, than official protocol mandated. As long as everyone got their work done and their reports handed in on time, up to snuff, no one here really cared whether the uniform was up to regulation or people took afternoons off once in a while or extended their lunchbreaks to spend time in the town.

Personally, he considered all of those things good. The grunts and staff should have a work-life balance, not be workaholics who couldn’t enjoy the sunshine and community outside. If he’d really wanted Team Rocket to succeed, he’d have encouraged it more officially—if they got out more and spent more time helping the communities like they were supposed to want to, they’d likely be much more popular. Fortunately, that was the kind of thing that would never really occur to Eryk or Cy, and so there was no worry of the team becoming an integral part of the community. At least not on that level.

In advance of the meeting, he misdirected the internal data-gathering of the server and sent another email, this one encrypted, to his actual boss, updating her on the situation at hand and noting the unusual nature of this inspection. It could mean a lot of things. Kas suspected it was an indication that what they were pursuing here—namely, Ana—was in some way a major priority for Team Rocket. Which in turn meant that he had to learn everything he could about Project Nebula, and fast.

Part of the reason he wanted to be the one to brief all the grunts and scientists here was for the chance to see their reactions. If anyone stood out, there was a chance he could start there.

For now, though… what was the uniform code again?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk sighed just softly, fixing the shirt he was wearing, to be a little more presentable. He didn't, couldn't, understand the reason why he cared so much about his appearance lately. He always dressed the way he wanted to, and always said and did what he wanted to. Nothing changed, or at least nothing changed drastically. It was a curious thing to know that he'd only recently started thinking about these things when he'd befriended Ana. He frowned as one of the buttons to his shirt wouldn't close properly.

"Need a hand?" Cyrilla asked, glancing at him from the side of her eyes. He nodded only slightly before she smiled. "Alright, give me a second," she spoke, removing herself from his side and disappearing into his closet. He could hear her rummaging around for a few minutes before she emerged, holding three articles of clothing. One was a plain button down shirt, and another was a black jacket. She held a pair of dark blue jeans for him, and shoved them into his direction.

"Go put this on, and you'll be okay, I promise," she stated, causing him to furrow his brows. He wasn't going to second guess her choices, but he wasn't entirely sure if it would be okay. He did as she instructed, and went to his bathroom, changing into the clothes she'd given him. Once he emerged again, she was grinning brightly. "All we need to do now is fix your hair. You can't look like your namesake, Eryk," she spoke, amusement laced in her voice.

"What is wrong with the way I have my hair now?" he stated, running a hand through his hair as he did so. She raised a brow at him, and only shook her head. "Do as you wish," he spoke, watching as she went to his drawer and reached for the only comb he owned. He sat down on the chair as to make it easier for him, and it didn't take her long at all to brush through his hair and shake it a bit.

"Nothing is wrong with your hair, but you can't go out looking like you just woke up, either," she stated once she was finished. He merely rolled his eyes at her. "Ready to go?" she asked, watching him a little too intently for a moment.

"We'll meet Kas in the lobby, and we'll go from there," he stated, shaking his head softly.

When they got to the lobby, Kas was indeed already there, hands in his pockets, sunglasses perched on top of his head. He never seemed to have any difficulty with his wardrobe—though his shirts were generally pretty loud and everything else quite casual, he never looked shoddily-put-together. Not even when he’d actually just woken up from a nap. If his assistance with the Camilla Festival was any indication, though, the effortlessness was illusory. He certainly seemed to know a lot about clothes and hair that Eryk didn’t.

He squinted in an exaggerated way at Eryk, then snorted. “I thought something was off—you’ve actually combed your hair. Miracles do happen.” He grinned easily, though, indicating that it was a joke. “You guys ready?”

"Cy combed it," he replied, narrowing his gaze towards Kas. "Let's get going before it gets too late," he stated, though he could hear Cyrilla lightly chuckling behind him. Was he really that bad at dressing himself or looking presentable? Perhaps, but he was slightly grateful that he had Cyrilla and Kas. Though it was easier for Cy to dress, than it was for him. She was in a pair of black capris with a plain red blouse. It looked like she was going to help someone with their garden, perhaps, but he shrugged the thoughts away.

The walk was a little quiet despite that the three of them were together, and he found it rather pleasant. Cyrilla was walking ahead of him, kicking at the random rocks in the road as if to shove them away. But she looked like she was having a bit of fun doing it. He would never understand her, and he wasn't sure if that was such a bad thing. Kas, on the other hand, he glanced towards. The other man was strolling along, hands laced behind his head, apparently preoccupied with the sky. He said nothing, and removed his gaze, keeping it straight until they reached their destination. It looked like Ana was already outside.

"Good afternoon, Ana!" Cyrilla greeted, making her way through the gate as she approached the Joy. "Ryk thought it was a good idea to bring us all with him today! Right, Ryk," she stated, glancing towards him. He could feel the frown coming.

"Ana," he spoke, instead, greeting Ana in his usual way.

Their voices drew her attention immediately; she turned towards the three of them. Upon noticing who had come to visit her, her face lit up in a bright smile, and she waved. It seemed that most, if not all, of the pokémon that lived with her were outside today; her pichu was poking at Rufus, several others lounged in the pool, including Ana’s dratini and a couple of magikarp. One of them had a prosthetic fin, it looked like. Half a dozen more lounged on the lawn or in one of the trees.

When they were close enough that even her very quiet tone could be heard, she spoke. “Hello, everyone. I wasn’t expecting all of you, but please come in. And feel free to let your pokémon out—it’s a nice enough day that we should take advantage, I think.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” replied Kas, unhooking all six of the pokéballs from his belt and tossing five of them out. Unusually for an administrator, most of his pokémon weren’t fully-evolved: in addition to Meep, he had a gible, a metang, a kirlia, and an absol. He contemplated the last ball for a moment before sighing and giving it a lop as well. “She’s scary-looking, but mostly harmless,” he promised. “Come on, princess.”

He only ever called his charizard that; she emerged from her pokéball with an indignant huff. Perhaps more imposing than the average charizard due to her size and color—she was mostly black—she nevertheless surveyed the situation before immediately descending on her trainer, resting her chin on his head and chuffing. A line of smoke curled out from between her teeth.

He reached up to rub her head; she made a low rumbling sound that suspiciously resembled purring.

Ana only giggled. “She’s adorable,” she said. The charizard cracked an eye open, seeming to accept this compliment with approval.

Eryk nodded his head and grabbed his pokéballs from his belt. He tossed five of them, watching as his milotic, zoroark, meowth, mankey, and Blue, appeared from them. He contemplated tossing Gengar's pokéball. If he did, there was a good chance Gengar would try using Hypnosis on the first person he saw. Mostly, that was just Eryk, though. And he didn't want to entirely be asleep at the moment. He sighed. It wouldn't be fair if he let the others out, and not Gengar. And so he released the pokémon from his belt.

Cyrilla did the same. Rapidash immediately pawed the ground and neighed in content, nudging her head against Cyrilla's while Kenshin looked unamused by the action. He seemed to take in the area, and went towards Pichu and Rufus, sitting down next to the old stoutland. Snow, on the other hand, her Alolan ninetales, seemed to sit where she was and glanced at the group before her. She didn't want to be too near the fire types, perhaps because she was an ice type.

Lithe seemed too excited to be released, and immediately began running around the yard, occasionally stopping to bother Kenshin or the Pichu. Gyarados was the last to be released, and Cyrilla seemed a little hesitant at that. He, however, seemed to be happy, and chose to bother Milotic. Eryk never understood why he did that, but Milotic just seemed to ignore him most of the time. Mankey, however, seemed all too grateful. He immediately ran towards the nearest tree, and decided to climb into it, disappearing just slightly in the foilage.

Blue, as he always did, relaxed on Eryk's head, earning a short giggle from Cyrilla. Meowth, however, decided to join Blue on Eryk's shoulder, making herself comfortable before relaxing. Eryk, however, frowned. Why did most of his pokémon want to be near him? He was slightly grateful, though, that Gengar had taken a slight interest in Ana, and was simply just staring at her. He couldn't see the Gengar's face, but he knew he was smiling.

"Don't mind him, he's... like that," he spoke, trying to explain Gengar's actions. "How are things?" he decided to ask. He couldn't just come out and say 'we'll be gone again, but only for a week'. That didn't seem to sit right with him. Cyrilla took this moment to back away just slowly enough so that she was just slightly out of sight, a sort of smile on her face.

Kas was considerably less secretive about leaving; he just wandered over to the pool, sitting down at the edge and dipping his feet into it. The magikarp swum over, inspecting the new element to their home; his charizard made herself comfortable just behind him, allowing him to lean back against her. His absol joined Cyrilla’s ninetales; the rest dispersed.

Ana smiled, though whether it was at the altaria on his head or just at him was hard to say, exactly. “They’re good,” she said, sparing a curious glance at Gengar before she returned her eyes to his face. “I’m preparing to get a couple of new arrivals; there’s a shelter in Cerulean that’s a little over capacity, so I’ve been making room around here. We’re taking a break now, though.”

She was interrupted by Kas’s metang, who nudged up behind her. She fell backwards into a sitting position on top of its flat head; this seemed to have been its goal, because it floated contentedly there, levitating slightly higher so that Ana’s height was almost even with Eryk’s. She snickered and rubbed part of the pokémon’s steely surface affectionately.

“I think Sledge wants me to feel taller,” she said. Apparently they were already acquainted.

He glanced down at the metang, and tilted his head just slightly. "Why would..." he paused in his sentence and just shook his head. If the metang wanted her to be taller, then it was welcome to do as it pleased. Eryk wasn't going to say anything about it. "I... Gengar don't do that," he started, but had to reprimand his Gengar. He could see the beginnings of Gengar getting ready to use Hypnosis on him. He'd been put under too many times to not notice. Gengar, however, merely shrugged and disappeared only to reappear behind Ana. He just seemed to hover there for a moment. He sighed heavily.

"Is there anything in particular..." he caught himself, pausing momentarily. He couldn't offer his services right now. He would be busy for the next week, and if he offered it now, he would be breaking that agreement. "We'll be gone for a week," he finally stated. "We are being inspected tomorrow by some people, and we won't be able to visit next week starting Monday," he finally stated, running a hand through Blue's fur. He felt... bad? That didn't seem right.

"We are here to let you know so that you... don't think we left you again," he was brutally honest to a fault, and he winced inwardly at that. It wasn't exactly how he wanted to say it, but it needed to be said one way or another. "Is there anything we can help you with before?" because that he could do.

“An inspection?” she repeated, tilting her head. She seemed to mull over this for a moment, but then she nodded. “I can understand that. I get so nervous every time this place gets inspected. I usually spend the whole week before just worrying that something will go terribly wrong.” Ana smiled ruefully. “Actually, I’ll probably be due for another one soon, come to think of it.”

She sighed, tapping her fingers rhythmically on Sledge’s carapace. “But, um… thank you, for telling me. I hope your inspection goes well. I can’t really think of anything that needs to get done—I did most of the preparing for the new arrivals earlier today, so that’s fine. Otherwise, it’s just normal daily stuff.” It was clear that she wasn't completely sure why an inspection would keep them away for a whole week, but apparently she chose to believe him when he said it would.

"You're welcome. I did not want to leave on bad terms, again, is all," though it really wasn't bad or anything. Or perhaps it was? He chose not to dwell on it instead. "Then I suppose since you are on break, the others and myself can help out while you rest," he stated, however; he wasn't entirely paying too much attention, most of it was on Ana, that he could almost feel someone smirking.

"Damn it.... Gengar," were the only words he managed to get out before his eyes closed, the sound of cackling echoing into darkness.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kas hated the Rocket uniform with a passion.

Part of it was just the idea of a uniform, in general. He’d resisted those since his days in the academy; working undercover was something he preferred in large part because he didn’t have to look or act like a stiff all the time. But part of the problem was also that it was this uniform specifically. They’d been redesigned since the old days; they now had sort of an almost military feel to them; at least the jacket had a similar style. His was, appropriately, very decorated: various ribbons and medals and bars everywhere, representing his service in covert operations, his acknowledged certification as a master battler, another for his certification as a physical combatant and with weapons.

It seemed like a terrible way to look at what was supposed to be an organization designated to protect something—pokémon and trainers, in Team Rocket’s case. But he had to wear it for the inspection, and if they didn’t pass, he’d have the Birds breathing down his neck for more than a week, something he definitely didn’t need.

He straightened the black jacket, folding the red collar of the shirt underneath under the lapel instead of over, as uniform code mandated. The pants were straight-legged and fit neatly into shined boots—the whole thing was stupidly-impractical for an island. At least after today, they’d be able to wear the slightly more casual uniform, and not this formal one. He slid the short white gloves onto his hands and double-checked that his hair was all above the nape of his neck; he’d had to tie it up and slick it back from his face to guarantee that. He’d loaned Eryk some gel for the same purpose.

At least he didn’t have to wear the hat, since they were indoors. The medals pinned to his chest clinked together slightly as he leaned over to pick it up, tucking it under his arm. Locking his bedroom door behind him for once, he padded down the hall to Ryk’s room. Cy was probably already helping him with the fussier things like the buttons at his wrists, but it’d look better if they all went in together, anyway.

Just before he knocked, Kas double-checked that his one uniform violation was well-hidden beneath his sleeve—he’d kept the bracelet he’d made out of the raikou charm Cy got him. He wasn’t taking that off just for some stupid inspection. If they noticed, well, screw it. Raising his hand, Kas knocked.

“You guys ready?”

"Just a moment Kas," Cyrilla's voice echoed from behind the door. "No, Ryk. Sit still! I can't fix it if you keep moving," her voice could be heard, and the soft shuffling could only be Eryk moving about. It was only a minute more before the door opened, and Eryk stood in front of the door first. His uniform was just as pristine, if not more immaculate, than Kas's, and his hair was slightly still the same. There was some noticeable smoothing out, no doubt Cyrilla's work, but it was still slightly rugged. Cyrilla's uniform was probably the same way, however, her hands could bee seen peeking out from behind Eryk's arms, fumbling with his cuff links before they were fixed.

"Thank you," he muttered a quick thanks to Cyrilla before his attention was back on Kas. "Let's get this over with," he spoke. It sounded like he really didn't want to do this, but then again, neither of them seemed to think differently. He took a step outside of his room, allowing Cyrilla to pass him, and closed the door. Unlike Kas, Eryk didn't lock his door. He never did.

"We were to meet them in the lobby, and go from there," Eryk spoke, leading the way towards their destination.

"I just hope Katia hasn't scared any of the grunts on that level," Cyrilla spoke. That seemed to be the only concern she had. If she had others, she wasn't showing it.

Kas didn’t understand why the skirt on the women’s uniform was that short, despite the jacket being mostly the same. Tradition? The boss was a pervert? Who knew. Either way, he felt pretty sorry for Cy, though she could have chosen the option with pants—that was possible for the women, too. Weird as it was, he could understand the choice in this heat; at least she’d be able to not suffocate and die when they went outside. Even the autumn was warm in the tropics like this.

“It’s probably wisest to assume she has,” he said dryly. “It’s practically her hobby.” Katia was a weird lady that way. Remi, he understood—Remi was just a sociopath who liked to flirt. He could relate—on his worse days, he figured they were really similar. Aiden was just like Eryk with a worse temper and slightly better social skills otherwise. Kas could deal with that. But Katia… eh. No use worrying now.

They headed down the stairs to the lobby. Kas opened the door for his fellow executives to precede him, then closed it behind him.

The three people assembled also wore the uniform, with the comfort and ease of people who wore it every day, more or less. Each had a small pin on their shoulder that indicated their unique rank in the organization. Aiden, leader of the Birds, wore a Moltres-patterned badge there. He had the red hair to match, spiked above his collar, and wore a bored expression. He was well-known to be the right hand of the boss himself—Kas knew enough to be wary. Aiden had once also been Pokémon Champion of Kanto, and word had it he’d only improved since then.

Katia was the second of the three, wearing an Articuno-patterned badge. Her hair was pulled into a tight, meticulous bun, but the glasses on her face made her seem more librarian. She was wearing the same expression as Aiden was, however; when her eyes landed on Eryk and Cy, it shifted. It wasn't a secret that she detested her cousin, though as to why was never known. What she had against, Cy, though, was also a mystery. Remi, however, was grinning from ear to ear, her dark hair left loose to hang around her. She was the third and last Bird, wearing the Zapdos-patterned badge in her hair, like an ornament. She was probably the only one who could do that.

She didn't care about things like that, or so the rumor went.

Eryk seemed to hold Katia's gaze the longest, like a silent war was being waged between the two, however; he seemed to concede and dropped it. Cy, on the other hand, wasn't looking at Katia at all, instead, focusing on either Aiden or Remi. "Oh look, it's handsome and his group," Remi was the first to speak, and shifted so that her weight seemed to be put on one leg while her hip popped out. She had her arms crossed over her chest. The uniform shirt she wore was a little too open. Either she didn't want to finish buttoning it up, or she did it on purpose. Katia visibly rolled her eyes, though.

"Katia, Aiden, Remi," it was Eryk who spoke, his usual greeting to the Birds. He'd never addressed them any other way. Katia didn't bother to answer him, but Remi seemed to just smile wider, if that was possible.

How did that saying go? The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Internally, Kas sighed. Somehow it always fell to him to make these things as smooth as possible, probably because of the history between Katia and her cousins. He didn’t know the full story there, but it wasn’t too hard to guess. He took the opportunity presented by Remi’s light opener to smile hospitably.

“I’d say thank you, but I’m not actually sure you mean me. Much as it hurts my pride to admit, Ryk may actually wear a uniform better than I do.” He flashed white teeth at all three of them.

Aiden rolled his eyes, but there was a very, very slight smile just touching his lips. He didn’t seem like much of a uniform guy, either, really. Corporate regulations—they bothered all kinds of people. “Anyway, pleasant as it is to see you all, I’m sure you have things you’d like to see, employees you want to talk to, and all that.” He really hoped they didn’t go for employee interviews; he’d prepped everyone for those just in case, but he didn’t want to subject any of the grunts here to that kind of… intensity.

“Anything you’d care to start with?”

"There was an increase in complaints about the secretary job that goes for Eryk. Sources say that he has failed to keep one," curt and to the point. Of course she'd attack Eryk first. If Eryk flinched, he didn't show it too much. Cyrilla, however, clenched her knuckles a little tightly, and looked like she wanted to say something. Katia must have picked up on it because her eyes went straight for her. "If you have something to say, Niav, say it. Otherwise stop looking so pathetic. You're an Executive, act like it," her words were just as sharp when she spoke them to Cyrilla.

"Oh don't be like that, Katy," Remi spoke, sauntering towards the three of them. She placed herself between Cyrilla and Eryk, resting one arm agains the other. Remi was a tall person, so it was easy for her to reach Eryk's shoulders without too much difficulty. "Leave the little cutey and her friends alone. I want to play with them later," she stated, lowering her head just slightly so that she was eye level with Cy. Cy, however, looked a little uncomfortable.

"You know I don't like it when you call me that, Dodds. Shut up and get back over here," Katia spoke, earning a slight playful pout from Remi. Katia just rolled her eyes. "We could also start with interviewing the three of you. You all need an update for your psych evaluations," there might have been a hint of something sadistic in the glint of her eyes when she said that.

“And I’m sure we’ll be happy to do that, if you happen to have a certified psychologist around somewhere,” Kas cut in smoothly. “But unless one of you got an extra degree since I last checked, that will have to wait.” He turned the wattage of his smile on Katia, knowing that it wasn’t likely to spare them anything. Fortunately, he’d learned the regulations back to front, in part as an attempt to learn which ones he could loophole. None of these three were qualified to conduct actual psychological evaluations, though they were permitted to do interviews if there was some reason for them.

“Since Miss Katia indicated some interest in the status of our department administration and organizational staff, we’ll start with them. This way, please.” He led the way back into the main block of offices, indicating a small cluster of cubicles in the north corner, next to a bank of windows. “Those three are our staff; Sandy is in charge, if you’d care to speak to her about her duties. Eryk’s assistant Hayley is set up in the front part of his individual office, which is down the hall this way.”

Katia looked livid for a moment, however; the expression was quick to fade. Her eyes were set in a fixed narrow on Kas, though, but seemed to comply with his suggestion. She held a clipboard in her hands, probably a list of things that needed to be checked off as they were being led around. Remi just looked like she could give two shits about this place, and was, instead, wedged between Cyrilla and Eryk, the latter clearly not comfortable with it but he was managing.

"How long has Hayley occupied the position?" Katia spoke when Kas mentioned the assistant.

"Three weeks," was Eryk's reply. She didn't seem too thrilled about his answer, but she didn't say anything about it. She simply noted it down on her board, and continued walking. Either she had an extreme eye for detail, or Katia was glancing around for nothing in particular. It was probably the former, seeing as she kept writing things down.

"What about the license department? Have you kept tabs on all the applicants who have applied for a license for pokémon? The data shows your establishment has the lowest statistics of issuing licenses for trainers," she spoke, apparently with a hint of boredom.

“It’s a small island,” Kas replied. “So we don’t get that many applications to begin with. We’ve issued five new trainer’s licenses since we opened the facility—they were handling them through HQ in Saffron previously. We also have a licensed Pokémon Center, Pokémart, and Pokémon Rehabilitation Facility, in addition to the Gym, but that’s it. There aren’t any contest halls or anything of that nature here, which cuts down on the paperwork.”

They reached Eryk’s office; Kas glanced towards his friend. At least it was an excuse to get away from Remi, he supposed. Kas wouldn’t have minded—Remi was easy to get along with if you didn’t mind that she cared literally not at all for anyone or anything besides her teammates. But Eryk was a different kind of person, and clearly not enjoying the situation.

"Are their permits up to date?" she asked when Kas listed off the places. Eryk's jaw clenched for a split second, but no one else seemed to notice. "And what about the Rehabilitation Facility, does she have all the required permits and licenses to operate a Facility to that degree?" she continued, though they all knew who she was when Katia spoke.

"She does," Eryk spoke, his voice a little more calm and even.

"Aw, look Katia. He's not nervous anymore. I think you struck a nerve," Remi chimed in, reaching over to touch Ryk's face. Her hand, however, was snatched fairly delicately. Cyrilla stared at Remi, and though she was just as nervous as before, there was something odd behind her eyes.

"Please don't do that," she spoke, her voice as soft and gentle as she could make it. It seemed to surprise Eryk just as much, if the slight confused look on his face was anything to go by. Katia just scoffed.

"Oh how sweet," Remi spoke, her expression changing just slightly to something a little more dark and interested. "I didn't know you cared about him that way. Isn't that against your clan, or something? He is, after all, related to you only distantly," Remi continued, and it seemed to be making Cyrilla a little more nervous.

"Remi," it was Katia who spoke this time. Her voice was low and borderlined on something dangerous. "Don't talk ill of my clan. Say whatever you want about them, but not my clan," she continued, causing Remi to back off just slightly.

"You're no fun, Katia, you know that. I was only teasing," Remi said as she removed herself from the small group. She made her way so that she was standing next to Aiden, now.

"If you have any further business, we can conclude it here in the office. After that, we can break off into groups for better coverage if it's suitable," Eryk spoke, trying it seems, to change the subject.

“Yes, let’s… go inside.” Kas was conscious of the fact that they were drawing some attention. He certainly didn’t want Katia to go off on the grunts for staring or anything; moving the meeting out of sight was probably for the best. Even though it wasn’t his office, he ushered them inside and closed the door behind him.

“We’ve been told to battle-test you guys and your grunts,” Aiden put in, speaking for the first time in the whole meeting. He was technically the leader, but he wasn’t the kind of person who got involved in squabbles the way the other two did. “So we’re going to need a day and a place to do that. We’re also going to inspect all these licensed facilities; the boss said this can stand in as their yearly renewal inspection.”

Kas frowned. That as very not good for one reason in particular—was this just a thinly-veiled attempt to put the Birds in contact with Ana, or was the boss serious about this inspection thing? “We’re supposed to notify a week in advance for that,” he pointed out.

Aiden nodded. “The notices went out late yesterday. Outlying inspections will be the last things we do here.”

"We can arrange a test battle at the Gym. Give me a day, and we can arrange it for the day after tomorrow," Cyrilla spoke. She could arrange it because Drake wouldn't necessarily say no. He would also be slightly grateful for the break, probably. "You can also inspect it while you're there," she added. Katia seemed to huff at the statement, but didn't seem to disagree.

"Then make it so," was the only thing she said. She glanced at her clipboard and the paper on it, surveying it for something. "In the mean time, we will be inspecting this facility as well to make sure it is up to date. That includes the computers and data servers. We'll be looking for anything out of the ordinary on the servers and we'll be going through all the accounts," she spoke casually, marking something down on her board.

"We can't be too careful these days," she muttered, keeping her gaze on the clipboard.

"Well, we could, but then where's the fun in all of that? We wouldn't be able to interrogate anyone and then we wouldn't know about the spies and their silly little plans. Plus, I like interrogating people, and I know you love it, Katia," Remi spoke, and oddly enough, a small smirk pulled at Katia's lips. It disappeared soon after.

"Perhaps the tests should go first and then you can go through the servers," Eryk chose to speak this time. It wasn't like he had anything to hide, and it was widely known that Eryk hardly ever used his computer. Just for emails or the occasional memo.

Kas was confident that his skill with fooling the servers was much better than anything they would be able to do to uncover it—that was the reason he’d lasted where previous moles had failed. Well, not the only reason, but definitely a big one.

“Well… feel free to inspect the facilities. I can take you wherever you need to go, and then we can make a trip to the server room?”

Aiden shook his head slightly. “We might as well split the work. I’ll go through your personnel rosters and draw up a battle schedule. Katia, go with Kasimir to the server room and check through everything you need to there. Remi, you and the other two deal with the facility check.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, but the way he spoke left absolutely no room for disagreement.

Kas suppressed a sigh. Ryk and Cy owed him all the beers he wanted for dealing with this shit. Neither of them could tour-guide to save their lives, apparently, but they’d have to figure out how. Should be easier without Katia around. No, she was going to be his problem for today.

Fantastic.

"Oh, I get stuck with the lovelies, then," Remi spoke, but didn't seem to mind at all. Katia, on the other hand, was glaring rather intently at Kas. The feeling was probably mutual, that she did not want to be with him. "Shall we get to it, then?" Eryk merely sighed and nodded his head.

They owed him all the beer.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

How she managed to convince Drake to use the Gym, was something of a mystery to Eryk. He had the slightest bit of doubt that Drake would say no, and he couldn't really fault him for that. He was, after all, the one responsible for the influx of challenges to the Gym. Not that Drake knew that, of course, but it was, without a doubt, a fact. He sighed, though, and made his way across the Gym. The bleachers were filled with only Cy, Kas, Aiden, and Remi. For some reason or another, Katia had wanted to challenge him. He had a feeling he knew why, but he couldn't understand the why. It wasn't his fault that their great-grandfather decided to choose Eryk as an heir, and liked him best. He hated that, but apparently it had rubbed Katia the wrong way.

Was she jealous?

"Hurry up, Eryk," her voice cut him out of his thoughts, and he simply stared at her. She was glaring at him, as usual. He was pretty sure he was glaring at her too. He didn't like her anymore than she liked him. She grabbed a pokéball from her side and gave it a careless toss. The red light faded to give way to her Glaceon, causing Eryk to frown slightly. Glaceon or not, he knew enough to not underestimate his cousin. She wasn't in the top of the organization for nothing, after all. He carefully shifted through his pokéballs. There were only five on his belt. He had six, but there was one he left back at the base on purpose. He couldn't risk hurting Mankey.

He chose one and pulled it from his belt, tossing it carefully onto the platform. Zoroark appeared, looking none to thrilled to be facing the opponent. He glanced back towards Eryk who merely nodded his head. Shaking his coat, Zoroark turned to face the glaceon whose gaze seemed to match her trainer's. This was not going to end well, he could feel it.

"Before we start, there are some ground rules to lay out. Each trainer is to use the maximum allowed pokémon. In this case, it will be five against five," Katia spoke, pulling out one of her pokéballs and tossing it towards Remi who seemed to catch it with a lazy raise of her hand. "Second, this is a test to see your progress and skill. These battles are not meant to be pleasant. Your pokémon will hurt and if it is deemed that you are unfit, you will be demoted," she spoke. He glanced towards the stand and could see Cyrilla flinch just slightly. This wouldn't be easy for her, but she had to do it. She knew the protocol when she became part of the Three. "Does anyone have anything to say or add?" Katia spoke, glancing towards the stand.

“Uh… can we just use three each? We might be here all day, otherwise.” Kas actually raised his hand to ask the question, like a student in a classroom or something. “If the point is just to assess our ability to battle, you’ll surely know how we’re doing by then, right?”

Aidan sighed. “I don’t fuckin’ care. We’ll say the number is picked by the people in the match, okay? Arceus, you talk too much.” He leaned back on the bleacher behind him with his elbows.

“It’s part of my charm,” Kas replied. Really, it was doubtful anyone else would be able to get away with backtalking the Birds, so maybe there was something true in the words.

"Whatever. We'll use three," Katia seemed reluctant to agree with it, but did so anyway. "It won't make any difference," she spoke, confidence laced in her voice. It probably wouldn't, but Eryk wasn't going to go down without giving her a good fight. She hated him; he hated her. He was going to make her work for her victory, if she won. "If you don't have anything else to say, let's get started," she stated, focusing back on Eryk. Without so much as a word, Glaceon was off.

It took a moment for Eryk to realize that the battle had, indeed, begun. "Zoroark, use Dig," he commanded, slightly grateful for the fact that Drake's Gym wasn't a typical Gym with hardwood floors. Zoroark obeyed, digging his way underground in time to miss Glaceon's Iron Tail. Katia didn't seem to worried about it, and instead, remained quiet. Her Glaceon did the same thing, her tail swaying from side to side. He narrowed his eyes just slightly before a soft nod gave way to Zoroark's reappearance.

"Hyper Beam," was the only command she gave before Glaceon released her attack. It hit, sending Zoroark flying into the Gym's wall. Eryk snapped his head in the direction of his Zoroark, and watched as he struggled to get to his feet. He narrowed his eyes slightly at Katia, who merely smirked at him. "Glaceon, go. Use Signal Beam," she spoke, her smirk widening just slightly. Eryk muttered a curse beneath his breath as he turned towards Zoroark.

"Counter with Flamethrower," he stated, watching as Zoroark struggled to use the attack. The collision of both attacks caused a small explosion, creating a cloud of dust.

"Quick Attack, then Ice Beam," he barely had time to register the attack when Glaceon appeared, head colliding with Zoroark's stomach, lurching him forward. Before he knew it, Zoroark was frozen, unable to move so much as a muscle. Something twisted in Eryk's gut as he glanced at his Zoroark. "That was too quick, Eryk. You've been slipping," she spoke, causing Eryk to turn and glare at her. She was right, about it being quick, though. For the first battle, that was too quick. She recalled her Glaceon as Eryk recalled his Zoroark, staring at the ball for a moment.

"Gengar," he spoke, tossing Gengar's ball out into the ring. Katia smirked as she pulled another ball and tossed it, revealing an Alakazam. "Shadow Ball," he wasn't going to give her the benefit of attacking first.

It seemed a little too surreal to Eryk.

He lost.

The battle between Gengar and Alakazam had almost ended in a draw, however; Alakazam managed to pull one final attack, and knocked Gengar out. Milotic didn't stand much of a chance against Katia's Nidoqueen. He'd lost his battle. Katia, however, didn't seem all too surprised, and merely stared at him. "That wasn't much of a challenge, Eryk," Katia spoke, a tone of disappointment in her voice. "But you lasted longer than I thought you would," she continued, earning a slight snicker from Remi.

"Consider yourself lucky," she ended and walked off the platform, signaling for the next challengers to take the stage. He didn't feel so lucky. He stayed where he was at for a moment before a hand rested on his arm. Cyrilla stared up at him, mustering a small smile as she led him off the floor. He'd lost his battle. To Katia. "Aidan, you're up next," Katia spoke as she situated herself far from Remi, but not too far.

“Great,” Aidan replied, obviously unenthusiastic. Still… he was a former pokémon champion, and clearly not someone to be messed with.

“Wish me luck!” Kas said brightly, hopping off his seat on the bleachers and straightening his less-formal uniform. It didn’t suit him any more than the formal one did; something about the stark black-and-white clashed with the warm hues of the rest of him, maybe.

He and Aidan took their spots at opposite sides of the gym. Aidan didn’t appear to care whether he picked his pokémon first or second, tossing out a pokéball almost immediately. Out popped a Manectric, electricity sparking off its sharply-pointed coat.

To meet the challenge, Kas summoned his gible. The small, landshark-like pokémon blinked blankly at his opponent, rolling back onto his tail. Like his trainer, he seemed to have no sense of urgency at all.

“It’s not like I care, but are you even taking this slightly seriously?” Aidan asked, frowning slightly at the scene in front of him.

“Sorry,” Kas replied with a shrug. “I’m just not a great trainer, I’m afraid. And I don’t take anything seriously. You can just ask Eryk about that.”

“Whatever. Quick Attack.” the manectric darted forward, zig-zagging its trajectory and getting in close.

“Double team, Jaws,” Kas called, like one might speak to a particularly slow child. There was a temporary delay, but then the gible appeared to concentrate very hard, and an illusory double appeared to either side of it. They scattered just before the quick attack hit, scrambling round in a chaotic mess that made it hard to keep track of which was which.

“Ice Fang—the middle one.”

“Ooh, that’s not very nice,” Kas remarked. “Picking on my little baby dragon-type with a nasty ice move like that. How about… Dragon Breath. You can do that, right Jaws?”

Manectric’s mouth closed over the gible in the middle, but it was the one on the left that expelled the breath attack, revealing itself as the real one all along. The electric pokémon was quick on the uptake, darting away and only barely being scored by the breath. Still, the first proper hit went to the innocently-smiling Kas.

“I told you I wasn’t very good,” he said with a shrug. “Half the time, I don’t even remember who has what moves. Really, it's a miracle they promoted me, isn’t it?”

“Are you trying to wind me up, you dumbass? ‘Cause it’s working,” Aidan growled. “Again, Manectric.”

There was only the one target this time, so Manectric closed swiftly and decisively.

“I swear he knows this one. It’s such a good move, but I always forget.” He thought about it for a split second. “Say Jaws?” Kas leaned over, his smile getting even bigger. “Earthquake.”

With enthusiasm, the little gible jumped high into the air. When he landed back on the ground, a shockwave spread from the point of his impact, shaking the entire gym and causing the ground to buckle and heave. One of the new fissures caught the manectric on its way to attack the gible, and threw it high in the air.

“Fuck it. Headbutt!” Aidan’s notoriously-short fuse had apparently lit. Manectric, heavily injured but still conscious, twisted in midair and landed, jumping immediately into an incredibly-fast charge. Jaws tried to get out of the way, but he was nowhere near fast enough, and the headbutt sent him flying into the same wall Zoroark had hit, and just as hard, from the look of it. “Now Ice Fang!”

This time, the attack connected—ice spread up the dazed gible’s body, and he fell over. Kas recalled him before he could so much as try to stand up again after that. He wasn’t smiling anymore; he wore a contemplative expression instead.

“We’re doing this league-style. You choose first this time,” Aidan snarled.

Kas blinked, but nodded. It only seemed to piss Aidan off even more when the pokémon he chose was Meep. “You can’t be fucking serious with this. Venusaur!” Aidan hurled the corresponding ball, and from it emerged a simply massive specimen of the species.

Meep proved to be surprisingly tenacious for a pokémon that Eryk only really saw napping with Kas or hopping around in the grass. At one point, it almost looked like the venusaur might do itself in after a particularly well-placed Confuse Ray, but it recovered in enough time to throw Meep around with its vines, and the match ended when Kas withdrew her before she lost consciousness from strangling. He was still smiling faintly, but there was a kind of menace behind it that Eryk had never seen. It disappeared quickly, though.

Aidan threw his last ball. The pokémon inside was a scizor, much larger than typical of its kind. The pincers on the ends of its forelimbs rasped together menacingly with a sound like grating steel.

Kasimir tilted his head, then pinched a pokéball off his belt and threw it. His charizard emerged, dark under the overhead lights. Smoke curled from between her teeth. “Time to play a game, Princess,” Kas said, smiling like it really was one. She blew smoke out of her nostrils in response. “It’s called ‘barbeque.’”

A low snarl rumbled out of her belly, and with it came more smoke. If Kas had been playing around before, he was clearly not doing so now.

“Finally,” Aidan grumbled. “Takes a lot of Arceusdamn hard work to make you stop fucking around, huh?”

Kas’s smile tightened. “Flamethrower.”

The charizard exhaled them at once—they looked almost blue near the center of the gout. Scizor only barely got out of the way in time; one of his wings was still scorched heavily, and continued to smoke as he flew forward. “Night Slash!”

The technique was impressively swift. Princess Cinders—what a ridiculous name for a pokémon—simply tanked the blow. Why became clear soon enough. “Dragon Tail.”

Her tail glowed for a moment before she swung it—and the bright flame on it—towards Scizor, who was too close to escape it entirely. “Pin him.” Her tail slammed down from above, crushing the scizor to the ground. “Flamethrower. With feeling, this time.”

That ended it. The final count was 2-1, in Aidan’s favor, but neither of them walked away looking quite as satisfied as Katia had. Kas fished in his pocket, though, and tossed an object at Aidan, who caught it in midair.

“Burn Heal,” he explained. “Should take care of the worst of it, until you can get him to the center.” Aidan looked surprised for a moment, but nodded.

“Remi, you’re up.”

"Come on, darlin', I don't have all day now," Remi spoke, a little too excited for their battle, and stood. Cyrilla glanced back one last time towards Eryk, and gave his shoulder a soft squeeze. He was slightly worried, now. Both he and Kas lost. Cyrilla was going to lose, too. She must've known that, even as she smiled at him. She made her way towards the arena, pulling one of the pokéballs from her waist, and summoned Rapidash. "Aw, look how cute it is," Remi spoke, pulling a ball from her waist as well. She tossed it to reveal a Dewgong.

"Come on, give me a bit of a challenge, will ya?" Remi stated, throwing her arm out a little dramatically. Cyrilla merely frowned, and glanced towards her Rapidash. "Dewdrop, use Aqua Tail," she commanded, watching as a ring of water surrounded Dewgong's tail and lashed it towards Rapidash.

"Double Team, Rapidash!" Cyrilla commanded, watching as Rapidash ran around, making almost copies of itself. It didn't seem to work, though, as the Dewgong's attack hit, causing Rapidash to skid backwards a bit. "Are you okay?" she called out, as the pokémon nodded her head. "Use Solar Beam!" she commanded, watching as Rapidash charged for the attack.

It didn't take long for Remi and Cyrilla to get down to their last pokémon. Cyrilla had chosen Kenshin after Snow fell to Remi's Zebstrika, and Remi had chosen a Tyrantrum. Both pokémon seemed to stare each other down, waiting for their trainer's orders. Remi seemed too confident, as if she had the upper hand. She probably did considering she'd won two out of three battles so far. "Sorry sweet heart, but here's where we end this. Runt, use Aerial Ace, then use Head Smash," she commanded. It moved too fast for its size. It caught Kenshin off guard, and he was hit directly with Runt's Head Smash. He managed, however, to use his arms to absorb most of the impact.

"Kenshin, get away from it and use Aura Sphere," Cyrilla was trying her best to keep Kenshin from getting too close to Runt. Remi seemed ready for it, though, and countered with a Crunch. "Kenshin!" she shouted as Kenshin let out a cry of pain. He managed to pry the jaws off of his shoulder as he put a bit of distance between himself and Runt. "Kenshin are you alright?" she was worried about him now. Kenshin, however, merely nodded in response.

"Well isn't he the trooper?" Remi cut in, a wicked smile crossing her face. "Too bad, though. Runt, Aerial Ace and use Stomp!" she commanded. Kenshin was too injured to dodge that attack, and the large pokémon managed to land both attacks. Runt, however, kept repeating Stomp, pushing Kenshin further into the ground as a result. Eryk could see Cyrilla's eyes widen in fear. Remi's grin, however, turned into something morbid. Something that didn't seem quite human.

"Remi, stop! You're killing him!" Cyrilla shouted, evident concern lacing in her voice. She was pleading with Remi to call off her Tyrantrum, who kept his foot on Kenshin. Remi shot Cyrilla a feral grin, though. "Remi, stop!" she was pleading this time, causing Remi's grin to just widen further. She didn't seem to want to stop, and merely allowed Tyrantrum to continue using Stomp on Kenshin. The lucario appeared to be having difficulty fending off the Tyrantrum's foot, however; Remi finally sighed. There were visible tears in Cyrilla's eyes.

"Runt, knock it off will ya?" she finally spoke, watching as Tyrantrum backed off. Kenshin lay on the floor, the evidence of the harsh battle coating his fur. There were darker splotches laced in his fur that could only be blood. Remi was just as ruthless as Katia was, if a little more. Cyrilla ran out towards Kenshin, though, the battle already lost. She cradled him softly, and stroked his fur, trying her best to soothe him, it seemed. Kenshin merely raised one of his paws and wiped beneath her eyes, causing her to mutter something to him and shake her head. His paw dropped, though, and she called him back to his ball. Kenshin would need to get immediate care. There was a possibility that he could have broken ribs, or worse, a punctured lung.

“Remi.” Aidan didn’t sound particularly pleased with her. “That was fuckin’ unnecessary. We’re here to assess how they battle, not fuckin’ kill any pokémon. Team Rocket doesn’t do that shit—and we haven’t since before you joined.”

"Oh relax, Aidan. Runt wasn't going to kill him," Remi replied, seeming unfazed by his tone. Eryk, however, wasn't exactly happy about what transpired. She'd nearly had her Tyrantrum kill Kenshin. Kenshin had, at one time, belonged to him. And he did not like it. For once, though, he didn't do something stupid, like try to beat the living hell out of Remi. Instead, he walked calmly over towards Cyrilla, and laid a hand on her shoulder. She glanced up at him through tear-filled eyes. She said it softly, but he could hear his name on her lips, and she seemed deathly afraid.

"Come on Cy, let's take Kenshin to the center and have Joy look over him," he spoke softly as he offered her his hand. She took it and he helped her to his feet, watching as she tried to wipe the rest of her tears away. He turned a gaze towards Remi, though, and just glared at her. "Unless you have anything further, we're going to the Pokémon Center," he spoke, not giving them much time to reply. Whether Kas followed after them or not, Eryk didn't quite care at the moment.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
“Aunt Joy, where do you want these?” Ana dipped her chin towards the boxes in her arms. The new shipment of medicine had just come in, and the Center was currently closed to non-emergencies, so they were taking the opportunity to take inventory and stock the shelves.

“Third shelf in the back,” her aunt replied, tagging another bundle of clean syringes and sorting them into a clear plastic storage container. Their individual wrappings kept them sanitary; keeping them together and out of easy reach prevented any other sorts of accidents.

Ana nodded, heading back to the storage room and pushing the door open with her hip. The shelf was a little high for her to reach on her own, so she imagined the boxes floating out of her arms and into their places. She felt the pressure on her arms ease as they did just that, temporarily encased with the pale blue of her telekinetic talent. She generally tried to get by in life without it, because exercise helped keep her strong and healthy, but there were times when it was admittedly very useful.

She was humming to herself and rearranging some of the things on an adjacent shelf when her aunt’s voiced reached her, much more urgently this time. “Anastasia! We’ve got an emergency in the lobby. Get them to room three as soon as possible please.”

Ana’s eyes went wide; emergency cases were rare—even as a result of gym battles. She ran out to the waiting room, making sure the hallway was clear and grabbing a gurney on the way, in case it was necessary. When she pushed it through the doors into the front, she nearly stopped dead at what she saw. “You guys,” she breathed. It was Cyrilla, Eryk, and Kas; she might have been happy to see them, half a week early, but it was quite ruined by the looks on their faces. “Um… please release whoever needs treatment. We’ll take care of things. My aunt’s here, so it’s not just me—don’t worry.”

Both Eryk and Cyrilla looked a little surprised to see her, however; it was evident that Cyrilla had been crying, and Eryk looked angry. Whatever the reason, the expressions softened somewhat, at least on Eryk's side as he shook his head. Cyrilla, however, looked like she was trying her best to keep herself from spilling forward. "It's Kenshin, Ana. He's... he's hurt," she spoke, though it didn't sound like her. Her voice was cracked just lightly, and seemed too soft. She pulled out the pokéball that held Kenshin in it and held it out to Ana. "Please help him," she pleaded, her hands shaking just slightly as she tried to give Ana the pokéball. It was Eryk's hand that managed to steady her own, and he simply glanced up at Ana.

"He was crushed by a Tyrantrum," he tried to explain the situation. "He is bleeding, we know that much, but we don't know if he has internal bleeding or any fractured ribs. Tyrantrum was not... kind, in the battle," he spoke, but even that didn't seem right to him. It was like he tried to say something else, but it wouldn't come out right. Cyrilla looked as if she couldn't speak any further than she already had.

Their words, and the fact that even Kas looked visibly disturbed, clued her in to the severity of the issue, and Ana took the pokéball immediately, cradling it to herself. “We’ll do everything we can, Cyrilla, I promise,” she swore, pursing her lips and not even trying to smile. “We don’t… you can come back if you like, but please stay behind the glass; we need to be able to move around as necessary to get to everything.”

She didn’t wait for an answer—Cy would follow if she wanted, and remain there if she decided that was better. More important right now was getting Kenshin to the emergency room. Ana pushed open the door to room three, where her aunt was already scrubbing down. Ana quickly released the pokéball onto the surgery table, then scrubbed up herself, snapping her aunt’s gloves on, then washing her hands again and doing the same for herself.

“What happened?” Aunt Joy’s tone was crisp and professional, but she couldn’t keep the edge from her voice—she was clearly appalled by the lucario’s condition.

Frankly, Ana was, too—but it was worse, because this was a pokémon she knew personally, and one who was partnered with a close friend. “The injuries are blunt-force trauma,” she said, keeping her voice level and calm. That was what was needed to help Kenshin now. “His bones are broken in several places, and I think… I think he’s bleeding internally. Her talents had useful diagnostic applications, and she didn’t hesitate to use them here.

Aunt Joy nodded. “Then we’ll need to open him up and get everything sorted out inside first. Scalpel.”

Ana nodded smartly and retrieved the implement, placing it into her aunt’s waiting hand. She immediately switched on the anesthetic machine they had, applying the mask to Kenshin’s face and adjusting the dose to keep him sedated through the surgery. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to hook him up to all the right monitors before they got started—she’d have to do that as they went along.

She spared a glance up at the glass pane separating the operating theater from the observation room. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for Cyrilla to see this…

Cyrilla had followed, and so did Eryk and Kas, however; she didn't tear her eyes away from the scene. She looked worried about Kenshin, and if that was what was keeping her here, then she wouldn't leave even if she shouldn't see it. Kenshin was as important to her as anything else, just as the center was important to Ana. Her hand was gripped tightly in Eryk's though, and he merely stared through the window, back at Ana. He might not appear to be so, but he looked genuinely worried too. It looked for a moment, though, that Cyrilla tried to give Ana a reassuring smile, but it didn't quite reach her face.

"Whatever you have to do," Cyrilla seemed to mouth as she waited behind the glass. There wasn't much Cyrilla could do, but it looked like she was putting everything on Ana and her Aunt.

Ana nodded—anything else would have been precluded by the surgical mask she wore anyway. She didn’t take special care to block view of the worst; Cyrilla probably wouldn’t want that. Besides, Ana would have hated it if someone tried to do that to her.

“Ana, I’m going to hold this clamp here. Your hands are smaller than mine; I need you to go in and pick out the bone fragments lodged in the lungs.”

She swallowed. “O-okay.” She’d learned how to do parts of this, like everyone in her family did, but she’d never expected that she’d need the knowledge. Her aunt coached her through the process with calm words, and slowly, they managed to get everything in Kenshin rearranged the way it should be, setting his bones back in place and siphoning extra blood away before the stitched his organs closed. Ana did that bit, too—some of the damage was difficult to reach, and having the extra help of being able to move the needle with her mind helped, if only a little.

Her aunt sutured the surgical wounds closed, though, and nodded at Ana. She took all of Kenshin’s readings again, then administered a hyper potion by injection, which should speed along the process of his bones fusing together. The internal stitches were designed to dissolve when they were no longer needed. In all, the surgery took nearly three hours. None of them left.

“Go give your friends the prognosis,” Aunt Joy said. “I can take care of the rest here.”

Ana snapped her gloves off, disposing of them in one of the biohazard waste bins, washing her hands before she took off her hair net and dropped her mask down around her neck. Still in her greenish surgical scrubs, she headed out into the hallway. “Um… he’s going to be okay,” she said, knowing that was the news they’d want first. “The internal damage was… well, it was really bad. It will probably take him several weeks to recover fully, and regular checkups with my aunt. And… depending on how his recovery goes, he may or may not be… well, it might turn out that he shouldn’t battle anymore. But we won’t know that for sure until he’s started to recover. He’ll otherwise make a full recovery, though; I’m sure of it.”

Cyrilla released her hold on Eryk's hand, apparently reluctant to remove it the three hours Kenshin was in surgery. She looked relieved, but there was still worry in her eyes. "I shouldn't have battled," she spoke softly. "I should have just let them demote me. Kenshin... he's hurt because," she started, but Eryk squeezed her shoulder softly.

"He wouldn't have let you, Cy, you know that," he spoke as she tried to regain her composure by wiping her tears away. She simply nodded, and muttered something beneath her breath. It sounded like 'you're right,' but it was too low to register. "He's going to be okay, Cy," Eryk continued. She seemed to accept it now, since she was no longer trembling.

"I'm... going to have to find the best caramel apple recipe to make it up to him," she finally spoke, a small smile crossing her lips. "Can... Can I stay the night, with him?" she glanced up towards Ana. Likely, he'd be kept overnight just to be monitored before he could be discharged. Cyrilla didn't seem to want to leave his side quite yet.

"If you stay, I'll go back to the base and... have a few choice words with Remi," he spoke, causing Cyrilla to winch just slightly. "Ana, will you stay with her?" he asked. It looked like he wanted to stay too, but whoever Remi was, seemed more important.

Ana wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. Was this somehow related to the inspection they were supposed to be having all week? In the end, she decided it didn’t matter. “Of course I will. We can get set up in Kenshin’s room as soon as we move him to a recovery space instead of here,” she said, smiling softly at Cyrilla. She moved her eyes briefly to Kasimir. “Would you want to stay as well?”

He hesitated a moment, looking more obviously unsure than she’d ever seen him. “I… no, thank you. I think I’ll just go with Eryk. A little backup might be good, for what he’s going to do.” He tried to half-smile, but it didn’t fool Ana.

She nodded anyway. “Okay, well… let me go help Aunt Joy get him to one of the recovery rooms then. Cy, if you want to meet us there, it’ll be room nine.” She paused, then looked at the other two. “And… whatever you’re going to do… be careful, please. I don’t know what’s going on, but it seems serious, and I really don’t want anyone else getting hurt, okay?” She wasn’t equipped to do surgery on people, and she really didn’t want to see her friends in the hospital.

"I'll be careful," he spoke, seemingly to reassure her more than himself. His face was still oddly pulled into a passive glance, but there was some heat to it. What transpired really seemed to set him off. "We'll be back in the morning, Cy, Ana," he spoke, turning to leave but paused. "Take care of them both," he spoke, glancing directly at Ana. Even though she said she would, he seemed to need a sort of reassurance. He was gone thereafter. Kas offered a smile, then loped after Eryk.

"I'll meet you in room nine, then," Cyrilla spoke, leaving the surgery room as well to make her way towards the room Kenshin would be moved to.

Ana sighed. She wished she knew what was going on. Being in the dark like this made her feel next to useless. Still... for now, she had a patient to take care of and a friend to comfort. Hopefully, she could at least do that much.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Cyrilla stroked Kenshin's fur, staring at him as he slept. It took all the strength she could muster to not break down, to cry when she so desperately wanted to. She'd almost lost him. Remi could have stopped her Tyrantrum, but she didn't. It was as if she wanted Tyrantrum to finish the job, and that thought scared Cyrilla. What kind of person would take pleasure in killing someone else's pokémon? She sighed softly, lifting her hand from Kenshin's fur and slipping it into his paw. He was warm, perhaps more-so than usually, however; she put it down as to the surgery and a slight fever he might be running. They had given him medicine, so that would help him in the long run.

"I'm sorry, Kenshin. I didn't think she would do that," she whispered to him, leaning over to place a soft kiss on his forehead. He still hadn't stirred, and was likely to be out until tomorrow. There was also a possibility that he would be out for a few days after if he didn't wake. He was already passed out by the time they got him to the center, so depending on his recovery... it was a thought she had to push from her mind. He was going to get better; she just had to wait. Hand still in his, Cyrilla turned to spot Anastasia walking in, carrying two cups of something warm. She offered her a soft smile.

"Thank you, Ana, for helping him," she spoke. If Ana or her aunt weren't here, there was a big chance she would have lost Kenshin. If it weren't for them, she would have lost him. She shuddered at the thought. He was her first pokémon, the one she began her journey with. He was just a Riolu, then, but he was special to her. He was special because Eryk had given him to her. She smiled at the thought. "He's my first," she began, trying to take her mind elsewhere.

"I've had him since he was just a Riolu, and I was ten years old. Eryk... actually gave him to me after an incident at home. I... had tried to run away, but they sent him after me. Instead of... instead of punishing me like they told him to, he gave me Kenshin. He's been with me ever since," she began, turning her gaze back to Kenshin. "But she... she tried, I know she did," and that was the scariest part about it. If Remi had succeeded in killing Kenshin, Cyrilla wasn't too sure how she would have reacted. It wouldn't have been good, either way.

"It was supposed to be a simple inspection. Sometimes, those inspections require us to test our skills as a trainer, to see if we are fit for our ranks. Kas, Ryk, and I... we're Executives," she spoke, glancing back at Ana. She probably shouldn't be telling her too much, but she felt like Ana deserved to know something. She already knew they worked for Team Rocket, what harm could there be for letting their ranks be known? Cyrilla sighed softly.

Ana frowned thoughtfully, hooking her fingers through the handle of her mug. Both of them seemed to contain a thick hot chocolate or something—it smelled faintly of cinnamon and nutmeg. Quietly, she moved to stand beside Cyrilla, slipping her free hand in hers and guiding her gently to the chairs. They’d been placed right by Kenshin’s bedside. They sat, and Ana pulled her legs up underneath her and leaned slightly to the side, so that she was pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with Cy.

“I kind of thought you might be,” she said simply. There didn’t seem to be any disappointment or anger in her tone—it was almost as though she really meant what she’d said, back then. That she didn’t think any less of any of them for being part of Team Rocket. Taking a sip of her hot chocolate, Ana sighed softly through her nose. “I have to assume… that inspections don’t normally go like this, even the ones where you have to battle.”

Cyrilla took a sip of her hot chocolate, and leaned a little further so that she could rest her head on Ana's shoulder. Strange that she'd find a bit of comfort in doing that, since Ana was a target, but she found she didn't particularly care at the moment. "Battle inspections are supposed to determine whether or not we are fit for our ranks, or how well we've been taking care of our pokémon. If we fail them, either we are demoted, or our pokémon are taken away if they show signs of obvious mistreatment. But this one, this battle... it wasn't right," she spoke, finding her voice just mildly soft.

"I didn't expect it to go that way. They never have," she confessed just lightly. She gripped her cup a little tightly before she relaxed her hand. "I think... I really think she was trying to kill him. And she looked like she was enjoying it," she continued, glancing in Kenshin's direction. She could see the soft rising of his chest, but it still looked a little hard.

"I'm sorry to have to put this all on you, Ana," she spoke, lifting her head from Ana's shoulder. She didn't want to dump all of her problems on Ana, even though it was difficult not to. She was sure the young woman had other problems to deal with, and listening to her problems wasn't something that she needed.

Ana shook her head, only slightly. “It’s like I told you, Cy,” she said, turning a bit so as to make eye contact. “There’s not… I don’t think there’s much I can do to help with the root problem here. But… I’m happy to do what I can do. I want to help. That’s what friends do, and I… well, I’m your friend.” The corner of her mouth pulled upwards, if only for a moment.

She dropped her eyes, then, staring down into her mug as though searching very hard for some answer inside it. “I can’t… I don’t understand why anyone would do something like that. So I can’t explain why it happened, or give any reason. But what I do know is… some people just… they don’t care enough. They like causing pain—maybe because it makes them feel powerful, maybe for some other reason.” Her eyes closed for a moment, the expression on her face tightening to something like pain.

“I’ve seen… lots of the results of that, because pokémon are often safer targets than people. It’s easy to say that it was just an accident of battle, or an overzealous training session. But… I can tell, when something happened because someone wanted to cause pain. It’s never easy to see, and I can’t ever explain it. Is… is there anyone you can report it to? Something like that should be against Team Rocket’s rules, right?”

"It is against our rules, but... she's... she's at a higher rank than all of us. They might just put it down as my incompetence as a trainer, or that I should have expected one of my pokémon to get hurt. Plus, it would be hard to prove that she was, actually, enjoying it. I think... there might be one person who could report it, but I don't think he would. He... did get mad at her, though, so," she spoke. Aidan was, perhaps, the only other person who could report it, but it's likely that he wouldn't. Even so, she wouldn't be able to just tell him something like that. She wasn't afraid of him like she was Katia, mainly because Aidan was almost similar to Ryk. She could handle his personality. She couldn't really explain it, though.

"Thanks Ana, for listening, though. I'll... figure something out," and she would. Maybe she would report it, or at least attempt to.

Ana hummed. “It’s no problem. I’d advise you to at least put it on the record, though. You can’t know what the evidence will mean to other people, so it makes sense to have it there just in case. Plus… it feels at least a little better to do something in situations like this, at least for me. I file paperwork with Team Rocket for every pokémon that comes through my door, even if I can’t prove abuse or don’t know who the trainer is. There’s always a chance more information will show up later.”

She fell silent after that, though; her eyes wandered to Kenshin’s various monitors. It was easy to tell that she was reading them, but since she didn’t move to get up, it seemed that everything was still okay—or at least… not worse.

"Yeah," she replied, though she didn't say anything else. It would probably be best to have something on file. Maybe she'll talk with Aidan, or if worse comes to it, Katia. Maybe... maybe one of them could do something about it, eventually. "I hope Eryk and Kas are doing alright," she muttered quietly. She knew they were, but she was slightly worried. Eryk wasn't exactly in a good mood when he left. She just hoped he didn't do something he'll regret later.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Anastasia hung up the phone, watching the video screen go dark. Apparently, Kenshin’s recovery was still proceeding as planned. She’d have liked to be there for Cyrilla right now, but unfortunately her inspection was today. She hadn’t connected the events at the time, but it seemed likely that the same people who were ‘inspecting’ the Team Rocket facility would be the ones conducting the checkup on the shelter. Knowing that at least one of them was the kind of person who could do something like that to poor Kenshin… her nerves had certainly seen better days.

It was beginning to make her feel somewhat sick to her stomach. Ana knew she was up to code; she’d worked hard for that when she first applied for all her permits. She’d double-checked everything. All her paperwork, signed and notarized by the proper authorities, was in a manila folder under her arm, ready to present on command. She’d cleaned everything top to bottom yesterday, including her own house, though there shouldn’t be any reason anyone needed to go in there. Everything was in place and spotless, she’d checked everyone just as a precaution that morning and found their health exactly the same as it had been the day before.

And still—she was nervous. Because all it would take to shut down her shelter, the one thing she’d ever built for herself in life, was one bad report. And all that needed to happen for one bad report was one malicious inspector. Something which was suddenly a very prominent possibility. She shifted unconsciously, smoothing down nonexistent wrinkles in her shirt, tucked neatly into her pants. Throwing her apron over her head, she tied it in the back, made sure her hair wasn’t too askew, and then headed out the front door to wait at the gate.

It didn’t take too long before she saw a group of four coming down the road. The tallest, she recognized immediately—she could have cried in relief to know that there’d be at least one friendly face. Though perhaps there was a certain kind of irony in describing Eryk that way. The other three people—two women and a man—she didn’t know. All of them were wearing the Team Rocket uniform, plain as day. Ana swallowed. If the display was intended to intimidate, it was working, though they needn’t have tried so hard.

She unlocked the gate when they reached it. “Hello,” she greeted, offering a smile in an attempt at her usual relaxed demeanor.

“Anastasia Asher?” That was the man in the front; he had very bright red hair and honey-colored eyes.

“Yes, sir,” she replied automatically.

Something flickered in his expression at that, though she had no idea what it meant. “You run this… Cinnabar Pokémon Rehabilitation and Hospice?” He read the name off the sign overhead.

She nodded. “Yes, sir. For about a year and a half now.”

He made a vague sound of understanding, shoving his hands into his pockets. Ana, unsure if she should make any indication that she knew Eryk or not, chose not to acknowledge him in particular. If one of these people had hurt Kenshin, she probably shouldn’t trust them any more than she had to. It was a strange thing for her to think—she liked to believe she could trust nearly anyone. But…

“Right, well… we’re here to inspect, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.” The man arched an eyebrow.

Ana stepped aside from the gate to admit them. “Of course. Please come in.” A few of the pokémon were in the yard as usual; most of them napping or basking or swimming as they preferred. Rufus, as usual, waddled up to Eryk, sniffing at his pant leg as though making his own inspection of the unfamiliar uniform.

Eryk remained passive, standing as far from the woman with long black hair as possible. The other one, the one with dark purple hair, almost resembled Eryk. Their facial structure was almost the same, and though their hair color was different, it wasn't too hard to tell that they were related somehow. It wasn't so obvious between him and Cyrilla, but with this woman, it was. Eryk's hand twitched just barely when Rufus approached. It was hard to tell if he was restraining from petting the pokémon out of some unknown feeling, or if he was simply trying to make this easier. For who, it was hard to tell.

"Oh, look at all the adorable little pokémon," the black haired woman spoke, leaning over the fence just slightly. She hadn't entered quite yet, her attention fixed on the pokémon instead.

"Remi, you're not here for them," Eryk spoke, though his voice was a bit darker than it usually was. It was apparent that he was upset with her, though upset was probably an understatement from the way he said it. "You're here for the inspection, not to mess with them," he sounded almost defensive. The purple haired woman merely glanced at him, a strange spark in her eye as if she'd figured something out.

"We're here to assess them too, Eryk, not just the facility," she spoke, and Eryk seemed to cast her a side glare. She turned her attention towards Ana, though, and gave her a flat look. "Are your papers up to date? Your licenses, permits, and deeds?" she asked, getting straight to it.

Ana had a feeling she knew which one of these three had hurt Kenshin now—it had to be the one Eryk seemed especially cold to. Taking note of that, Ana smiled slightly at the purple-haired woman’s question. She must be some relative of Eryk’s, but now was clearly not the time to ask. “I do, ma’am,” she said, taking the manila envelope from where it was underneath her arm and handing it over. “The deeds for the buildings and the land on which they’re built, the permits for the pokémon housing and the pool, and the licenses for the medical equipment, as well as the whole facility. I’ve also included my certifications in pokémon medicine, hospice care, emergency medical care, and long-term inpatient treatment and the license to run an adoption facility out of the same buildings.”

She resisted the urge to sigh at the end of the long list of things. While the woman sorted through all the paperwork, the redheaded man had walked to the edge of the pool, tilting his head down at the magikarp swimming around inside. “Hospice care, a shelter, and long-term medical treatment? Those are all distinct operations. You run this all by yourself?”

It was difficult to read his tone—he could have been anywhere from impressed to disbelieving. Ana chose not to interpret the words any particular way, and answered neutrally. “Yes, sir. I’ve found that it’s helpful for all of the pokémon to have other sorts around. Those who are here permanently help the newer ones settle in, and in turn, the ones who are only around temporarily keep the place lively. It’s good for their health, I think.”

He hummed, crouching and dipping a couple of fingers in this pool. “What do you keep the temperature at?”

“It’s set to sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit,” she replied promptly.

He frowned, his eyebrows knitting together. “Standard is seventy-five,” he pointed out.

Ana was surprised he knew that, if he was really some important executive of Team Rocket, but then… maybe that was part of how he’d gotten there—knowing lots of things. “Yes,” she conceded. “But it’s outdoors, and the climate on the island is such that if I set it to seventy-five at this time of year, the sun would warm it past eighty. Since the magikarp are accustomed to a wide variety of temperate, rather than tropical, waters, I thought it best to err on the side of caution.”

He nodded, evidently satisfied by that reasoning.

Eryk seemed to frown deeply when Aidan spoke, but his face reset to neutral afterwards. The woman who'd taken Ana's manila seemed satisfied with it, and handed it back to Ana. She passed Ana, walking to the other side. She glanced inside the pen where a few Rattata where. One of them was missing part of its ear, and another one's tail looked like it was cleaved in half. She pursed her lips together, taking a note of something, before turning towards Ana.

"I can't imagine your health is year round good. Who helps you care for them when you are sick?" she asked. Eryk's jaw clenched tightly. It looked uncomfortably so, but he said nothing. Something flashed behind his eyes, something like worry, however; it dropped almost immediately.

"I volunteer here, on occasion," Eryk seemed to interject, causing Katia to turn her attention on him. She raised a brow in slight confusion.

"You volunteer here?" she spoke, clearly not satisfied with the answer. "You don't have the clearance to do field work like this. That isn't part of what you're here for, Eryk," she spoke, causing Eryk to narrow his eyes dangerously so.

"I do it on the free time that I am allowed, Katia. My work hasn't faltered nor suffered because of it," he replied just as coldly. "I have that right," he added, causing Katia's jaw to lock. She seemed to accept it just slightly, but made another note.

"Who else?" she asked, directing it towards Ana, this time.

“There are a number of volunteers who help me out,” Ana said. “Robert Scheffler, who manages the Pokémart, and his wife Kim and son Toby are by at least a few times a month. My aunt Joy helps with any medical procedures I might need assistance with. A few of the town’s teenagers help me once a week or so after school, and lately, yes—I’ve had Eryk’s help, and Cyrilla’s and Kasimir’s as well. They’ve been very good to me; I’m grateful for their assistance.”

She wasn’t entirely sure she should have mentioned Kas and Cy, given the reaction to Eryk pointing out that he was here in his free time, but without really understanding what the politics of the situation were, the best she could do was tell the truth.

“Are your volunteers certified?” the man asked, glancing at the ekans sunning itself on a stone. His scale rot was doing much better, lately.

“The ones from town are certified through a training program,” Ana confirmed. “The others are members of Team Rocket, so…” She realized she actually didn’t know if they were. Kas was—he’d mentioned that once. But Eryk and Cy—Ana realized she’d never asked. She moved her eyes to Eryk, hoping he had the right answer here.

"Eryk's not," Katia cut in, something of a slow smile crossing her lips. It looked almost malicious. "There is a program all Rockets go through to have certification for things like this, but he never completed it. Cyrilla, though, has," she began. Eryk was visibly upset, now. His hands clenched at his sides, and his glare seemed to intensify. Katia didn't seem to fazed by it, though.

"Don't you dare, Katia. You have no right," he spoke, his voice unusually calm and cold.

"Oh, but dear cousin, I do. Every. Right," she retorted, marking something else on her paper. She glanced at Remi and Aidan and nodded her head. "This could have been avoided if you'd completed the damn program like everyone else, but thanks to you, this facility is now closed," she stated, turning towards Ana.

"You've violated one of your permits by soliciting help from uncertified personel. Because of that, we are going to have to shut down your center. All of your pokémon will be moved to another facility until further action can be taken, however," she paused momentarily, glancing towards Eryk this time. "If Eryk agrees to complete his proper training programs within the next month or so, we will consider reinstating your permits and allow you to open back up," she spoke.

"You're a fucking bitch, you know that, Katia," Eryk was not happy. That was obvious enough. Katia, however, just smiled at him.

"I do. Now, if you'll excuse me, the three of us have pokémon to gather, and arrangements to make," and she said nothing further.

“Please,” Ana blurted, swallowing thickly. “Please don’t. Some of them… they can’t be moved safely. It’ll… they’ve just started to feel at home, and some of them won’t take the move well. Please, I’ll…” Ana pulled in a deep breath, feeling it shudder into her lungs. She was not going to cry. She wasn’t. This wasn’t the end for the shelter.

It couldn’t be.

“If you need to remove me from my post here, I understand. But please—please move someone else who is qualified in here. They can have my house and everything for as long as they need it, but… but some of these pokémon might not survive the stress of a move.”

“You’re asking us to kick you out of your house so your pokémon don't have to move?” The man was staring at her like she was some species he’d never seen before.

“Yes,” she whispered. “The facility is up to code—you can inspect everything else you like. There’s no reason for them not to be here. Please.” She wasn’t too proud to beg; not when it came to this. Ana clenched her hands in front of her, trying to stop the shaking she could feel in them. She could stay… somewhere. Maybe her aunt had a spare room. Or she could get some other job and rent an apartment or something. But it wasn’t fair to move the pokémon for a mistake she’d made.

Eryk looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn't. Probably because he didn't know what to do. His gaze faltered and he didn't look at her. Katia, however, seemed rather pleased by the sudden situation, and Remi, who'd been staring oddly at the penned up pokémon, seemed to be as well.

"Oh, come now, Katia. Maybe we could make an arrangement of sorts," Remi finally spoke, causing Katia to roll her eyes. "We can have someone come down, take over the facility for a minute until dear ol' Ricky, here, gets certified. And I'm sure he'll be more compliant if he does," she continued, giving Eryk a rather large grin. Eryk looked like he wanted to snap something, but he remained quiet.

"I'll get it done. Just... don't evict her. Regulations state you have to give her twenty days to turn over her facility. I will be certified before then," he spoke, though it was hard to tell what he was feeling. His voice was just calm. His eyes were narrowed, but there was something else behind them. An emotion that didn't quite have a word for it.

"Twenty days. You have twenty days to either get certified, or she loses facility and pokémon. They will be moved if you do not," she seemed reluctant to agree to his terms.

“Then that’s what we’ll do. Since we will be gone by then, we’ll expect the paperwork in Saffron by then. In the meantime, we should see the rest of the facility, just to make sure that everything else is fine aside from the one issue.”

Ana, now more off-balance than ever, straightened her spine and moved her shoulders back, trying to project more calm than she actually felt. “Um, yes… okay. So, that would make the main shelter building next…” Pursing her lips, she turned away from them to lead the way.

Hopefully… hopefully everything would work out okay. She had to believe it would, or else…

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

Fuck.

He'd nearly cost Ana her shelter. How was he supposed to make up for that? He had twenty days to get certified, otherwise she was going to lose her home. He ran a hand down his face a little too harshly that he could feel his skin being pulled with it. No doubt Cyrilla and Kasimir heard about it, considering that they were his subordinates. Cyrilla, however, was still with Kenshin who hadn't woken up yet, so there was a possiblity she hadn't heard yet. Unless she was with Ana and Ana broke the news to her.

Fuck.

"Mr. Nero," someone called out, and Eryk glanced up, glaring at the man. Apparently he hadn't noticed because the grunt seemed to shrink beneath it. He smoothed out his expression just slightly, though as he motioned for the man to come in. If he remembered correctly, this was Jacoby. Or was it Jacob? He couldn't remember his name. "Here... here are the papers for the certification you requested," he spoke, handing Eryk the papers before making his exit. Eryk sighed.

He needed to get this finished, and perhaps anything else he might have forgotten. He couldn't risk another chance of them shutting Ana down because of something he did. He still didn't know how he was supposed to apologize for something like that. He couldn't just say sorry. This was her livelihood, and he'd almost ruined it. He sighed heavily. "I need a drink," he stated, slightly surprised at his own words. He didn't drink, but for some odd reason, he felt a need for it. He should probably go for a walk, instead. His head hurt and he needed to clear it. He stood from his desk, arranging the papers on his desk neatly.

He still had twenty days, right?

“I heard that.” It was of course at precisely that moment that Kas poked his head into Eryk’s office. Though the Birds had left the day before, he didn’t look like he’d slept much. It was harder to tell on his dark complexion than it was with most people, but those were some serious zigzagoon eyes he was sporting. For once, he didn’t have the air of being effortlessly put-together, but there wasn’t really any indication as to why. Of all of them, he’d seemed to get off the easiest as far as the inspection was concerned—not even Katia had been able to find anything wrong with the computer systems and other stuff he was in charge of.

Kas sighed. “Frankly… I could use one, too. I know a place—little hole in the wall bar. I was gonna save it for a celebration once the damn inspection was over but…” he trailed off and shrugged. What he was implying was obvious, even to Eryk: there was nothing to celebrate. “You wanna go have a few?”

Eryk stared at Kas for a moment, before he nodded his head. "Sure," he spoke. He really hadn't intended to get one, but perhaps this was one of those reasons people talked about so damn much. He followed Kas outside of the base, keeping an easy pace with him. It wasn't too hard considering they were almost the same height. His thoughts, however, were still on the inspection. First Kenshin, then Ana's center. He was partly glad that nothing else happened after that. He wasn't entirely sure what would have become of him if something else happened. The day of the battles, he'd nearly ripped into Remi. If Kas hadn't been there, he was sure he would have gotten into some physical altercation with her.

"I take it you read the report?" he finally questioned, keeping his gaze forward. He wasn't sure if Kas did, but if it turned he had, then it would be a little easier to talk about it.

“Yeah,” Kas said soberly, stuffing his hands into his pockets. One day after inspection, and he was back to loud patterned shirts and shorts with too many pockets. He was actually wearing sandals, though—he was just as often barefoot in the office. “That was a shitty thing for them to do, but I guess we probably should have expected that. Sorry I didn’t notice that ahead of time—I should have checked you certs before I suggested contact with Ana.” He shook his head.

“I was at the Center with Cy when I read it—she knows, too, so you don’t have to tell her. I felt bad leaving her, but… inspection wasn’t easy on the grunts, either; I figured I should at least be in the office today for the sake of morale.” He frowned considerably.

He wasn't sure if he should be glad or not that Cy knew. She was stressed, too, and that might have just added to it. Still, Kas was right about one thing. The inspection hadn't been easy for any of the grunts. One of them actually managed to piss Katia off so bad, that she took their license and pokémon from them. They had been devastated. There wasn't anything he could do for them, though. At least for Ana, he could get certified, and she'd be reinstated for her center.

"I should have remembered myself," he finally spoke. But it wasn't like Eryk had the intention of every helping anyone. Ana, though, had been a friend, and before he knew of her sickness, he had wanted to help. "I just didn't think Katia would use it against me. I didn't even think to check myself, either. I've been helping her out, but I should have remembered something like that," he continued. "I'll have to be careful moving forward," because he didn't want Ana to lose her center. It could affect her health, and not in a good way. That thought alone tugged at him, and he frowned.

“We all dropped the ball on that one,” Kas conceded grimly. They arrived in front of a building on one of the island’s secondary streets, and Kas pushed the door open with a jangle—there was a bell attached to it.

Their entrance drew the attention of the bar’s owner, a middle-aged woman with a prominent grey streak at her left temple. She was dressed simply, as most of the islanders tended to prefer, but there was nevertheless a sense of neatness and precision about her, from her movements to her expressions. She appeared to recognize Kas, giving him a smile that quickly faded when she saw the state they were in.

“I’ll get the stuff on the top shelf,” she said immediately. “You two have a seat at the bar.”

“Thanks, Marna.” Kas led the way to a corner of the bar, passing a few other patrons, either alone or talking quietly in pairs or small groups. No one seemed to pay them much mind.

Hopping up onto a stool, Kas waited until Eryk was settled as well before he continued speaking. “You’ve got all the cert paperwork, though, right? There’s a secondary form you have to fill out just to get put in the register of Rocket employees who’ve completed the program—and you should turn it in with the rest of the stuff. That’s the only potentially tricky part.”

"I do," he replied, but furrowed his brows. More paperwork ontop of other paperwork? Team Rocket seemed to love their paperwork, didn't they? Everything had to be neat, meticulous, on paper, otherwise it didn't exist. "I had one of the grunts bring it up today. I have to fill that out, attend one of the classes, but there is a problem with that. We're still relatively new on the island, and we don't have a facility for that. The class is going to be held in Viridian, where the first building is," he spoke solemnly.

That would mean he'd be gone for a few days. If not a week at most. He'd have to fly to Viridian first, but he didn't have a flying-type of his own. That meant he'd have to take one of the planes, and that meant detours. A straight flight from Cinnabar to Viridian wasn't something that could be done. It would take him at least a day to reach Viridian from here. But he had to take the class to be certified. If he didn't... he didn't want to think of what would happen. And it would be his fault.

"While I'm gone, will you look after them? The grunts, too?" he asked. He had to do this. Otherwise, he'd fail his mission. Odd how he wasn't even thinking about it now. It was slowly slipping from him, and he wasn't entirely sure how to take that. He knew what his mission was, but as of late, he just didn't seem to care. He sighed heavily at that thought. If he could trust Kas to at least take care of things while he was gone, then he'd at least have time to clear his mind of everything else while he was getting certified.

“Of course I will,” Kas replied. “You don’t even have to ask, you know that. I’ll check in on both of them, and the grunts as well.” He half-smiled, but at that point the bartender, Marna, reappeared. She set a glass down in front of Kas that was partway full of some amber liquid, then turned her grey eyes on Eryk.

“What can I get for ya?”

"Whatever he's having," he replied to the woman. Once she left, he fixed his attention on Kas. "Thanks. I'll, be leaving in a few days, but I will say my piece before I go," he spoke. He wanted Ana to at least know that he was taking this seriously, and he didn't want her to think he'd left because of her. He wouldn't do that, not again. He just needed to take care of this before too much time passed. The sooner it was fixed, the sooner Ana could relax and breathe.

"Sorry for fucking it up," he stated, taking the cup once Marna returned with it, and downed it. His face twisted just slightly as the liquid went down. "Tastes like shit," he commented, but his tone was light and not at all insulting. He could do that much, at least.

“Look at you, learning to socialize.” It was unclear exactly what part of what Eryk had said the words applied to. It could have just been a reference to the fact that Marna smiled and snorted at the comment about the whiskey, or… well, Kas wasn’t exactly a straightforward person. It could have also been the other bit.

He took a swallow of his own drink, setting the glass down with an odd sort of care. “It fucking sucks now, but it’ll get better. Kenshin will recover, you’ll get certified, and life will go on, you know? It always does.”

Eryk scoffed slightly. Maybe, but he didn't comment on it. Instead, he took another drink of the whiskey.

"After this week, it better."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kas supposed that, in a way, he’d been hit least hard by the inspection. His longstanding ruse had not been discovered, nothing bad had happened to his pokémon—outside of a few battle injuries—and he hadn’t been written up for anything. In fact, the inspection reports that had come in this morning were fairly complimentary of him. Aidan had noted that he was a talented, if “unconventional” battler, and apparently the employee interviews had made him look really good—it seemed that the staff and grunts working at the branch liked him.

That wasn’t exactly unexpected—it was what he was going for. It was really too bad that everything else had gone to shit. Accessing the reports on the internal server in Saffron wasn’t too hard—he wasn’t supposed to see them, of course; they were for the boss. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t access them, and for the sake of his friends, he did. Eryk’s didn’t look great. He’d been officially written up for both not completing his basic pokémon handling certs and for “borderline insubordination.” The report called it unprovoked when it was clearly the opposite, but there was enough truth to it that even Aidan—the fairest of the three Birds—would probably back it up if the boss asked. That was bad.

Cyrilla’s report was worse. Eryk’s battle assessment wasn’t great. Cy’s was abysmal. Apparently there was universal agreement that her pokémon training techniques were not up to par, and at least one of them had included a note that she should probably be considered for demotion, by the looks of it. She was also recommended for psychological evaluation—someone didn’t think she had the necessary grit and dedication to hold her post. Eryk and he were both up for psych eval as well—but in their case it was just noted that they hadn’t had one in a while. No doubt some shrink would be showing up within the next month to talk to all of them.

Kas clicked away from the assessments, unable to read more in one go for fear of getting angry. He didn’t like the person he was under sway of that particular emotion, and tried to avoid it whenever possible. He was already irritated, which was perhaps why he gritted his teeth when his phone rang, raising it to his ear without checking the caller ID.

“What?” He asked brusquely. A little too much so, based on the response he got.

“Um… Kas?” Shit. It was Ana. Now he felt like an asshole.

Forcing his tone to gentle, he tried not to sigh. “Yeah, it’s me. Sorry, Ana. Is there something you need?” Eryk wasn’t due to leave for another day, but he’d be spending most of today prepping for the trip, organizing duties and paperwork so Kas could play his role for a few days. Which meant if she needed some task done, he was probably the best option.

Well… and the one with the certs.

“It’s not me, it’s Cyrilla. I’m… I’m a little worried about her, Kas. She hasn’t left Kenshin’s hospital room, not even to go outside. She showers in the nurses’ locker room, but she doesn’t even have a change of clothes, and she won’t leave the room to eat. I’ve been bringing her things, but… I’m a little tied up right now with work, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to get down there. I’d ask my aunt, but she’s really busy running the Center, so…”

Shit. Kas pinched the bridge of his nose. “Don’t worry Ana—I’ll take care of her. I’ll be there in like half an hour, so don’t worry.”

“Okay, thanks Kas. I’d have asked Eryk, but… I’m not sure. I think she might need something a little different right now.” She sounded unsure of her decision; he supposed he could understand that. Cy and Ryk were very close—he was kind of the odd one out in a sense.

“It’s fine. If nothing else, I’ll bring her some clothes and some food, and anyone can do that, right?”

“I suppose so,” she replied softly. “Anyway… good luck. I have to go now; ekans needs his medication.” There was no missing the touch of melancholy in her voice. It was the sound of someone who was unsure if they’d be able to keep doing what they loved, he supposed.

He tried to suppress the twinge in his chest. “Sure thing, Ana. I’ll see you later, okay?”

After they’d ended the conversation and Kas had commissioned Hayley to help him gather the things Cyrilla needed, he headed down to the communal kitchen they had and made lunch, packing it away in neat boxes before storing everything inside a backpack and throwing it over his shoulders. The walk to the center wasn’t long; Nurse Joy nodded to him on his way in, but made no attempt to stop him.

Kas knocked on the frame of the door to Kenshin’s room, which was partway ajar. “Cy? It’s me. I’ve brought you some stuff you might want.”

She'd apparently been sleeping, since her head was still partly on Kenshin's bedside, and she glanced up at him with weary eyes. She offered him a soft smile, but it wasn't quite the same as it used to be. Hesitantly, she regained her composure and blinked slowly at him. Her eyes were slightly still red, as if she'd been crying still. She probably was, but she looked just as Ana had described. Her eyes were dark, her hair was slightly mashed to one side of her face, and her skin wasn't as healthy and vibrant as it used to be.

"Hi Kas," she finally greeted. Her voice was weak, almost as if she'd been screaming at something for a while, but perhaps it was because of something else. "You didn't need to," she finally responded, frowing just slightly at the items in his hands. "But thank you," she added, glancing back towards Kenshin. She looked slightly hesitant to leave him, but she did. Standing from her spot, she made her way towards Kas. "You can put the stuff here," she stated, pointing towards a small table on the other side of the room.

"How's Eryk?" she finally asked. She hadn't seen him since the incident, and only once thereafter when he'd notified her of his departure to Viridian.

Kas deposited the backpack on the table as she’d requested, but not before unzipping it and retrieving the lunches he’d made. He wasn’t half-bad at the whole cooking thing; his mom ran a four-star restaurant, after all, and his dad couldn’t cook for shit, which meant that during the times of year when he’d lived with him, he’d had plenty of time to practice; at least on the nights when Michelle worked late.

“He’s feeling guilty, of course, but he’ll be fine once he works this stuff out with his certs,” he said, shrugging because it was obvious. He put one of the lunchboxes in her hands, pointing to one of the chairs. “Sit. Eat. Please.” It was just grilled paninis and soup, but he figured comfort food was kind of the order of the day at the moment.

She sighed when he handed her the box, but complied anyway. She sat in one of the chairs, opened her box, and simply stared at the contents. She didn't say anything, nor make a move to eat it. She just stared at it as if waiting for it to move or something. She glanced back up at him, and then back at the contents, sighing once more. Though it didn't look to be out of discontent. She took the soup out, and started with that one.

"I think it's a little more than guilt, but I suppose you're right. Ryk... operates a lot differently. I'm sure it devastated him when Katia threatened to take Ana's center. Ana herself might have been just as devastated," she spoke, taking a slow sip of the soup. "But Ryk is who Ryk is, and he'll be fine. He's always been that way," she spoke, trying to make light of the topic. It didn't quite work for her.

"He woke up, last night," she stated suddenly, allowing her eyes to drift towards Kenshin. "But he passed out just a few minutes after. I think... he's getting better. Just a few more days, and he'll be okay," she spoke, but it sounded like she was trying to reassure herself than anyone else. "How is everyone else doing at the base? I... haven't been there yet," she asked, clearly interested in their well-being more-so than her own.

“Cy.” For once, Kas’s tone carried a note of reproach. “It’s good to be worried about other people—but sometimes, you have to realize when you’re stretching yourself too thin. Everyone at the base is fine. They’re a little shaken up from everything that happened, but I’m there every day and they know they can bring their worries to me. They’ll be okay, Ana and Eryk will be okay, and what you need to focus on right now is Kenshin and yourself—otherwise you won’t be okay.”

He met her eyes and held them. Never once had he let his tone deviate from the soft one he’d used at the start, but he needed her to understand how important this was. No one could do everything. And continuing to ignore her own well-being would eventually mean she'd have none left. Kas found that the thought left a sour taste in his mouth and a strange, hollow feeling in his chest.

She didn't say anything, instead, placing her spoon down. She removed her gaze from his, and glanced down at the table. It seemed she couldn't even look him in the eye anymore. "I know, Kas. I just," she began slowly. She seemed unsure of herself, and continued to stare at the table. "I came so close to losing him. I don't think you understand just how much Kenshin means to me. If I had lost him, I would have," she started, but paused, sighing deeply. She leaned into her chair, and slid down somewhat.

"I don't think I can do this much longer. But if I didn't, then I wouldn't get to be with you or Eryk, or even Ana. I'd be relocated, and I'd lose my rank. I'd lose," she paused, glancing up at him finally. "I just can't seem to bring myself to care about all of that, though. I think something might be wrong with me," she stated softly, but it didn't sound easy for her to do that. "You shouldn't be worried, though, Kas. I'll bounce back once Kenshin's out, I promise," she didn't sound so sure about it, though. Still, she smiled, this time a little more convincingly.

“I understand more than you think, Cyrilla,” he said it quietly, using her whole first name. This, he supposed, was the problem with pretending to be an oblivious, happy idiot all of the time. He made up stupid nicknames for his pokémon and played around in battles; maybe that made it seem like he cared about them less. But he, like everyone, had eagerly waited for the day he’d begin his journey. He, like everyone, had started it with one pokémon in particular—one that even now was close to his heart in a way no human being had yet managed to come, except perhaps Harper.

And, not so much like everyone else, he knew what it was like to feel that everything you were doing was wrong and know that you had to do it anyway. It wasn’t something he’d ever wish on anyone, but especially not her. He let his eyes rest on Kenshin for a while; the lucario’s chest rose and fell steadily, a hint at the strong life underneath the injury. Ana and Joy had done their work well, but part of it would come down to Kenshin’s spirit. And Kas knew it was a hardy one.

“So don’t do it,” he said, moving his eyes back to her. “Quit. Leave Team Rocket. Eryk won’t suddenly stop caring about you if you do—and quitting wouldn’t mean you’d have to stop seeing him. And you wouldn’t have to put any of your pokémon at risk that way again.” There were a thousand other things she could do with her talent and her kindness—it wasn’t fair that she felt like she had to choose this one.

She visibly frowned at him. "I can't," she spoke, her gaze uncharacteristically like Eryk's. It was hard, not the same softness that they usually held. "I can't just leave. My family won't let me. They'd hunt me down again," she seemed to choke on that somewhat. Either she hadn't meant to say that, or she hadn't meant to say it entirely. "Before you came to the clan with Eryk, I tried running away. I tried to leave because I didn't want to be part of Team Rocket. Everyone in Koga's family, even Koga himself, are all a part of Team Rocket, and there is no say in what we do with our lives.

"We aren't supposed to have any other wish than to be part of the organization. But I didn't. I ran away, but they sent Eryk after me. He was the only one who could find me. I thought... I thought he was going to force me to come back," she paused slightly to take a breath. She played with the spoon on the table, tearing her gaze away from him. "He didn't.

She stayed quiet for a few minutes, seemingly contemplating whether or not she wanted to say more. "He gave Kenshin to me and told me I should keep running. He would lie for me, say that he couldn't find me, but I couldn't do that to him. So I went back with him. Remember when I told you that Eryk's scars were meant for me? I... Eryk is a good person. He's a genuinely good person and I want to help him. He's the reason I joined Team Rocket. Him and..." she paused slightly to glance up at him. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she shook her head.

"The only way I could ever leave Team Rocket is if I died on a mission," she spoke a little solemnly. There was truth to that statement. "I know he wouldn't stop caring about me, but we don't get a say in whether or not we can leave. It doesn't work like that, not for him, not for me. Maybe... it could for you, but not for me," she didn't seem inclined to say anything more than that. She looked like she said more than she wanted to.

Kas’s jaw tightened. If he’d needed to remember why he was doing all of this in the first place, there was an answer that would keep him satisfied. What kind of ridiculous bullshit was that? That her family believed they had such control of her life? If Katia was any indication, they didn’t think much of her anyway, so why not just let her go?

He shook his head, though it was mostly directed at his own thoughts. Before he’d really properly considered it, he was reaching forward, brushing his thumb along the small scar on her chin. Even one so small—that it could be given to her by members of her own family, on purpose, was unthinkable. His family had plenty of issues, but that… that was something else.

The skin was smooth under the callus on his fingertip; only then did he think about what he was doing and draw his hand away quickly. “Sorry,” he said, glancing away. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He heaved a sigh out of his nose. “And I shouldn’t have told you to quit. I just…” He wanted to look at her, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.

“I hate watching you suffer and not being able to do anything about it. I’m supposed to be helping people, but I can’t even…” his brows furrowed, creating a deep crease above his nose.

She just shook her head. If she'd been embarrassed by it, she didn't show it. Her face didn't turn the slightest bit of color perhaps because she didn't have much color to go on. "It's alright Kas. I've learned a long time ago that no one can help me. It's a fact I've accepted, but at least I can help others," she replied softly. She placed the spoon down, and, instead, stood from her chair. She walked to his side of the table, and kneeled down slightly so that she could see his eyes. She took one of his hands in hers, and covered it with the other one.

"It'll be fine, Kas. You're a good person, too, and you are helping people. You're helping Ryk become more sociable, and how to be more human. And you've helped Ana so much at her center. I just... I might be the one person you can't help, but that's okay. I have you as a friend, and that's all that matters to me," she stated, keeping her gaze steady with his. Her smile seemed to brighten somewhat, but it still looked like she was trying to convince herself of something else.

It wasn’t okay. Not in the slightest. But he was sure that saying that wouldn’t help anything, and it would be selfish of him to dwell on it right now, when she had much more important problems to concern herself with. Now was hardly the time to burden her with his. As he’d told her, it was important that she take care of herself, and that meant dealing with things one at a time, and focusing on her own health and Kenshin’s right now.

“You should eat the rest of your lunch,” he advised softly. “There are a few changes of clothes in the bag—I had Hayley get them from your room.” He knew better than to rifle through a woman’s belongings like that, even if his intentions would have been completely benign. “But… don’t stay here forever, all right? I know you want to be here for Kenshin, but if you get sick or don’t sleep enough because of all the time you spend here, you won’t be able to help him with his recovery later on.” He extracted his hand from hers—he couldn’t help but think it was better not to touch her right now.

With his emotions not quite as contained as they usually were, he might do something they’d both regret. She didn’t deserve that.

She'd allowed his hand to leave rather easily, and remained smiling at him. "I won't. I'll... I just want to be here when he wakes up, but I suppose a walk wouldn't kill me," she stated, grabbing the bag. Once she found what she was looking for, she spared a glance at Kenshin, and then back towards Kas. "I guess I should go change," she started and stood from her spot. "Hey, Kas," she started, biting her lower lip somewhat before shaking her head. She made her way towards the door before she stopped again.

"Thanks," she stated before walking out.

“No problem.” He forced his customary smile onto his face, aware that it would look natural as long as he paid attention.

He wasn’t sure what she was thanking him for, but if it had helped even a bit… he supposed he’d take it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk shifted his weight on one leg, staring a little dumbly at the gate. He'd wanted to say goodbye to Ana before he left, and he had a few hours before he had to leave for the airport. Rufus was outside, laying in the sun, and hadn't noticed him yet. He was slightly grateful for that since he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be here. He'd be gone for at least a week, maybe longer, which meant Kas and Cy would be taking care of the base without him. He trusted Kas, but he wasn't so sure about Cy. With Kenshin still in the hospital, he knew most of her focus would be on him. At least he'd woken up last night, though. Cy had called him to tell him the news, so at least she'd be out and about now, taking care of him at least.

Apparently he stood around for too long, and the sound of the old stoutland caught his attention. He glanced down to spot Rufus wagging his stumpy tail, and Eryk couldn't help his expression. It softened somewhat. He'd taken a shine to Rufus, and had contemplated on whether or not he would adopt him. He thought about it, but then he thought about where he would keep Rufus. The base wasn't exactly equipped to handle something like Rufus, so he'd decided against it. He entered the gate and reached down to scratch Rufus' ear before making his way towards Ana's door. He'd gotten into the habit of knocking rather than just barging in. It was, apparently, considered rude, and he hadn't thought of it that way before.

"Ana?" he called out somewhat as he knocked on her door.

“Eryk?” When she replied, it was from the side, rather than behind the door. From the dirt stains on the knees of her pants and the work gloves on her hands, she must have been working in the garden.

She smiled at him, though it was a bit thinner than usual. She looked tired; her fair complexion made it extremely easy to pick out the dark circles under her eyes—they looked like bruises, they were so filled-in. She peeled her gloves off and hooked them through her belt. Her shoulders slackened as she sighed almost too softly for him to hear, but there didn’t seem to be anything annoyed about it, just exhausted. “Hi,” she murmured, folding her hands behind her back.

He didn't like that. Not one bit. He frowned slightly in her direction when she came around. "Ana?" he replied, though he wasn't entirely sure this was the same woman as before. "Are you alright?" he found himself saying instead. She didn't look alright, and he inwardly flinched. He supposed part of this might be related to what happened in the inspection. And that meant that her condition was his fault too. He sighed softly, his shoulders slumping just slightly. He didn't like seeing her like this, not one bit. He wasn't sure if there was anything he could do about it, though. It wasn't like he could force her to do something, like rest, but he could at least make the suggestion.

"You don't look too good," he spoke, and flinched somewhat. He hadn't meant to say it that way, but he was slightly relieved that his voice at least sounded worried. That was new to him, too. He worried about people, but he wasn't used to it being inflected in his tone.

Ana flinched slightly at the words, but seemed to recover, straightening a little. “I’m… I’ll be all right. I’m just… fighting off a bit of a flare-up right now is all. It makes it hard to sleep. It should subside soon, and then everything will be back to normal.” Her arms shifted behind her; after a second, he was able to determine that they were actually shaking. Not a lot—but enough to be perceptible. The tight hold she had on them minimized, but didn’t quell, the tremors.

“Is… there something that I can help you with? Maybe you’d like some tea? Um…” She didn’t seem quite sure what to say; her eyes dropped away from him, wandering around the yard like she hadn’t seen it all a thousand times before.

Half of him didn't want to leave, now. He wanted to stay to make sure she would be okay, however; if he did that, then he'd miss the deadline, and her center would be taken from her. As much as he wanted to stay, he knew it was better that he didn't. At least... if something happened to her, she could be happy in knowing that she still owned her facility, and could still operate it. Part of him was angry at himself, though. This could have all been avoided if he'd completed his damn certifications, and he wouldn't have to leave. He could stay here. But as it was, he needed to do this. He shook his head, though, and pushed his face into something more neutral.

"I came to say goodbye. I'll be leaving today," he stated. It sounded natural to him, but then he remembered that she might not quite get the context of what he was saying. He might be a literal person, but not everyone was. The way he'd said it, though, sounded a little more like a permanent goodbye. "I'm heading to Viridian to complete the certifications. That way... you get to keep your center," he spoke, his voice a little softer this time. He was still getting used to that, too. Being soft wasn't something he was used to, and he noticed he was perceptibly softer around Ana.

"I just wanted you to know that," and he really meant it.

“For…?” It took her a moment, but then she blinked at him, obviously in surprise. “You have to go all the way to Viridian for that? I—I’m sorry. This must be a terrible time to leave, with Kenshin and Cyrilla and the inspection just being finished.” Ana frowned. “I’m so sorry to ask this of you; if…” she hesitated. “If you’d rather not go…I’d understand.”

She finally made eye contact again, and he could tell that she meant it. From her point of view, he was leaving town when his cousin, someone he considered like his sister, was in a lot of pain. Perhaps she thought she was imposing upon him.

"It's not your fault, Ana," he spoke, a tad bit confused. "You don't have to apologize for something that is my fault, and for something that we couldn't have foreseen. Cyrilla has you and Kas to look after her, and I trust the both of you. You, on the other hand, could lose an establishment that you love. That is more important, right now," he spoke, and he winced slightly at the severity of how he said it. This place meant a lot to her, he knew that. Cyrilla would be fine, eventually. He wasn't too worried about his cousin now that Kenshin was awake.

"I made you a promise, that I was going to help you. This is me keeping that promise. A week away won't kill anyone, just..." he paused to take in a breath. He hadn't realized how worried he was now. What if something happened while he was away? Cyrilla wasn't in the right mental state right now to handle much else, but at least Kas could handle something. He believed in his friend that much, at least. "Just promise me you'll take it easy until I get back. If Kas shows up, let him help. Just... you don't have to do this on your own anymore," he stated, pinching the bridge of his nose.

He really wasn't good with people, but he was worse at trying to explain himself.

She seemed relieved by his decision, and oddly enough by the firmness with which he said it. “Thank you,” she said, the words so soft they could only be a whisper. “For doing this for me. For helping, for… caring.” Ana swallowed thickly, rocking back on her heels for a moment, then seemed to come to some kind of decision.

“Um, please don’t take this the wrong way, but… can I, um… C-can I hug you? It’s just you’ve been such a good friend and maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking here, but… I could really use one, if that’s okay.” She paused, then amended hastily. “Oh, but… no hard feelings if you’d rather not. Um.” Slowly, her face shifted colors, until it nearly matched her hair.

Eryk looked at her a little confused. She wanted to hug him? Him of all people? He had a distinct feeling that someone somewhere was laughing at him right now, but he simply stared at her for a moment. It wasn't that he'd never hugged a person before, because Cy used to hug him all the time, however; it just seemed odd to him that someone else wanted to give him one.

"Sure," he finally stated, a little surprised himself. He stooped a bit, though, so that she could hug him properly. She was only an inch taller than Cy, so he knew his height might provide for an uncomfortable one. He opened his arms slightly so she could hug him as she pleased.

Smiling tentatively, Ana stepped in close, wrapping her arms snugly around his back and laying the side of her head against his chest. It was easier to tell she was shaking, now—he could feel it. She exhaled a deep, slow breath, relaxing slightly against him; her fingers curled in the back of his shirt.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice slightly muffled. “For… for helping. And for doing this, when you didn’t have to. This place is… it’s my entire life. And I’m glad—” her voice cracked. “I’m so glad I have a friend like you.”

He was slightly glad that no one else was around. He could feel the slightest pull of his lips, and knew he was smiling softly. He might have scared someone that way. Instead, he simply allowed Ana to hug him, and for a brief moment, he hugged her back. He kept his hand on her back, feeling the softness of her hair against it. He should be the one thanking her, though. She was a friend he never thought he could have, and it was a strange feeling. Suddenly, it dawned on him. She couldn't be his friend. She couldn't be his friend because she was the target, and she was being researched. What friendship they had built might as well have been built on lies, and for once in his life, Eryk felt like shit. Complete and utter shit.

"You're welcome, Ana. I'm glad to have had a friend like you, as well," because their friendship couldn't last much longer. He would do this so she could keep her facility, but after that... he would have to start pushing her out of his life. He'd have to do it slowly though, even if he didn't want to.

She pulled back, not trembling quite as badly anymore. Her smile was more like usual, now, as though she really had simply needed a hug. “I’m not sure why,” she said, her tone caught between light and serious. “All I seem to do is get you in trouble. But I’ll find some way to make it up to you someday.” Stepping away all together, she huffed slightly. “For now… how about some tea? Oh, and I can make oatmeal cookies. You can take them, for the trip.”

"I'd like that," because he couldn't say no to oatmeal cookies.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Kasimir pushed a breath out of his nose, earning himself a sideways look from Hayley. Ryk’s pretend-secretary had been basically promoted to Kas’s actual assistant, at least until both Ryk and Cy were back at work. He wasn’t eager to put a timetable on exactly when that would be; it was important that they both took off the time they needed to bounce back from everything that happened with the inspection.

“The boss is ordering a psychiatric evaluation for Cyrilla?” Hayley looked down at the papers in her hands, fresh in from the mail.

Kas suppressed a groan. It looked like the fallout was already beginning. “Probably,” he agreed reluctantly. “Is that a form 75B?”

“Yeah,” she replied gravely. “I know the higher-ups know what they’re doing and everything, but… Cyrilla? Really? She’s so nice—I don’t understand what they could possibly think was wrong with her!”

Thankfully, Hayley was not the type to spread gossip around the office, which was part of the reason he’d picked her to do this job that technically they should have someone for but didn’t.

“That’s because you’re a generally well-meaning person with good intentions, Hayley,” Kas replied dryly. “And from that point of view, there is nothing wrong with her—except maybe a tendency to forego taking care of herself too often when she really should. But that’s not psych eval material.” Kas moved another stack of papers to the ‘done’ pile, flexing his cramped hand in the process. Arceus, that hurt.

Hayley picked up on his implication pretty quickly. “You think the Three Birds were out to get her?”

Well, it was more like two of the three were out to get everyone, especially Cy and Ryk, but he supposed that was close enough. “I can’t say,” he said, raising an eyebrow and giving her a meaningful look. She seemed to catch on, nodding back at him with a frown on her face.

She must have caught him massaging his hand, however, because the next thing she said changed topics. “Sir… I mean Kas,” she amended when he mock-glared. “Why don’t you go ahead and call it a day? The rest of this is just filing nonsense, and you’ve been here for longer than I have.”

Kas glanced at the clock. Fourteen hours, to be exact. When had he become the kind of person who’d work for fourteen hours? Or more accurately… let himself be seen working for fourteen hours? This was going to destroy his reputation as a slacker—he’d have to make up for it really thoroughly when Ryk and Cy got back. He’d have to shove all his work off on them for months for people to forget this.

“Seriously,” Hayley said, leveling him with a stern look. “I could use the overtime, and I know you’re on a salary, so don’t try and fool me.”

He chuckled slightly. “You’re a good woman, Hayley Stamfield. That Luke is fortunate you like him.” He winked playfully; she turned beet-red right on cue, turning away and mumbling something under her breath. Kas didn’t try to hard to make it out.

“Get out of here, you lousy rake,” she chided, making shooing motions with her hands. It was easy to tell she wasn’t actually upset—Kas could tell she was flattered more than anything. It was nice to know he still had his touch, considering just how often he felt like he’d managed to fuck up lately.

He thought for a moment about a hospital room and a vulnerable-looking friend, and shoved the thoughts forcefully out of his head. Stupid damn protective instinct. That was probably Harper’s fault. Damn her for making him an older brother and forcing him to develop that nascent part of himself into a full-fledged character trait. And honestly, damn Cyrilla for making him feel it when he didn’t want to.

But that was probably unfair. Pretending to be sufficiently intimidated, he said his goodbyes to Hayley and made his way out of the office. He was thinking about too many things, and while he was exhausted and hungry, he figured he wouldn’t be able to sleep if he tried and the idea of making something to eat really didn’t appeal right now. So instead he started down the road to Ana’s.

It was already past dark when he started out; by the time he got to her house, it had to be eight-thirty or so. Considerably past polite calling hours, but the thing about Ana was, she’d receive him graciously anyway. While it was probably rude to ask that of her, he really needed her to right now, and so he knocked on her door and stepped back to wait.

Predictably, Rufus barked a couple of times; Kas found himself smiling even despite the mood he was in. Ana opened the door soon after, smiling softly at him and ushering him indoors. They got situated in her kitchen when she learned he hadn’t eaten yet, and she worked on a stir-fry while he sat at the island, long legs wrapped around the foot-bar of a tall stool. He leaned against the light grey stone of the counter, his chin propped in both hands.

Ana moved around the kitchen with the ease and grace of long practice. It was actually kind of soothing to just watch her do things—she had this sort of unhurried efficiency about her that was relaxing. She also didn’t seem to mind the scrutiny, and unlike most people, she could shift easily between pleasant chatter and equally-pleasant silence, depending on what mood she believed he was in. She was remarkably good at guessing, too.

Today, she probably picked up on the fact that he wanted a distraction, and so she spoke.

“I’ve been teaching the magikarp some little tricks,” she said, scraping three eggs into the frying pan. They hit the surface with a sizzle, and she immediately started stirring them around to scramble them. “Just to keep them active, you know? Bubbles has some trouble because of his prosthetic, but he’s learning quickly, and I think it makes him happy to have something to work on, you know?”

Kas figured that only Ana would have the inclination to think up rehabilitative exercises for a magikarp with only one fin. He admired her immensely for it—and other times he wondered if she might not be a little… off in her assessment of things. He’d looked in plenty of magikarps’ faces before: it was pretty hard to tell their moods on a good day, and being able to understand them down to a complicated feeling like struggling but being glad to struggle was… well, he wasn’t sure it was possible.

And yet… hm. That was an interesting observation. He wondered if it might not be connected to what the Boss wanted her for.

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, half-smiling.

She tilted her head at him. “But your thoughts are elsewhere,” she observed gently, adding mushrooms and chopped green onions to the pan. The aroma wafted through the kitchen, reminding him how hungry he was.

Her tone contained no admonishment, but he grimaced anyway. “Ryk and Cy,” he admitted. “You know as well as I do that they’ve been having a tough time of it lately; I feel pretty useless to them, really.” It was somehow much easier to admit to her than either of them. Even with Cyrilla, he hadn’t quite been able to spit it out in the right form. Maybe that was because his friendship with them would always be complicated on his end by the deception. Weirdly, he was more able to be honest with Ana, despite hiding a pretty massive secret from her as well. Maybe because he didn’t quite believe he’d let Project Nebula go through?

“What do you mean?” she asked. “You’re basically running the whole branch for them right now, aren’t you? That seems like something useful.”

“Maybe,” he conceded. “But that’s work. I can do it while they sort things out, but I can’t actually… help them, you know?”

Ana pursed her lips, stirring the rest of the vegetables into the pan and salting everything. “I think… you might be expecting the wrong things, Kas. No one, not even Eryk and Cy themselves, can just make them feel better about what happened. It’s a process, and it’s one that takes time, and energy, and a lot of work that they have to do for themselves. Not even they’ll be able to do it for each other. That would be like… being upset because you can’t… make a sick person no longer have a cold. You physically can’t. But you can bring them soup and blankets and make sure they don’t have to get up to do chores, right?”

He supposed he hadn’t thought of it that way. “Maybe I’m too used to trying to fix things,” he admitted, taking a sip from the glass of water near his place setting. “Or maybe I figured it had to be different because it was something psychological.” That didn’t seem right though.

“Or maybe you just care a lot,” she said with a shrug. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting them to be well, or wishing that they would. But these just aren’t the kind of things you can magically make go away, much as it might be good if they were. Trust me when I say I speak from experience—on both sides of that problem.”

“I’m jealous,” he admitted. Kas blinked, surprised by his own admission. He hadn’t meant to say that—it had just come out. “They’re so close, you know? Because of all the stuff they’ve been through together as family. And here I am, the third person in the group, friends with both, and… not as close as they are, even though I’ve known them for years. I just can’t touch what they are to each other, and… honestly, it makes me feel kind of… lonely. They could get along just fine without me, and me… I’d be miserable without them, here.”

Ana nodded as though she understood. Hell, maybe she did. He felt like an asshole for feeling the way he did, especially considering that he was going to have to betray them both one day. He didn’t want to hurt them, but that was exactly what being closer to his friends would do, eventually—hurt them. Possibly worse than Katia or Remi even could, in the long run.

“You have family, though, don’t you?” she asked.

He inclined his head. “Yeah,” he said. “And we’re close, but… my family’s not here, you know? My family aren’t also my coworkers, and best friends, and everything all at once. I don’t have anyone like that.”

Ana hummed, adding precooked rice from the fridge into the pan. “I suppose that would make it tougher,” she said. “But you know… most people don’t have anyone like that. And considering how unsupportive and… and cruel the rest of their family is, maybe that’s something they’ve needed. Something they still need.”

“Fuck the rest of their family,” he growled darkly. To his surprise, Ana scowled for a moment, her eyes hard, and nodded. “But… yeah, I don't doubt it. I don’t want to say I resent it, either, I just… seeing that really makes me feel the lack of something like it in my own life, you know?”

“I do. And it’s okay, you know. Jealousy isn’t a nice feeling, but I think sometimes it can help us figure out what really makes us happy in life, or understand more about what we want. I used to think I envied healthy people because they’d live a longer time than me, but… after I thought about it for long enough, I realized that what I really envied was the fact that they got to accomplish meaningful things with the time they had. And that was actually something I could do, too.”

Kas leaned forward slightly, smirking at her. “I can see why Ryk likes being around you so much,” he said, halfway between playful and serious. “You really don’t have a vindictive bone in your body, do you?”

She gave him a flat look for a second. “You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I wanted to say to whoever actually gave them those scars,” she said quietly. Backing up a step, Ana turned off the burner, plating his stir fry and sliding it across the island to him.

“Yes I would,” he replied. “Because you’d talk to them. I wouldn’t.” He’d do much worse than that.

“Eat your food, Kas. It’s better not to dwell on things we have no control over.”

He supposed she was probably right.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

It'd been a few days since Eryk left for Viridian, and Cyrilla found herself taking walk throughout the base. Kenshin had woken up the day before Eryk had left, and he'd managed to keep consciousness. Yesterday, though, he was finally discharged. He would need to go back in a few days for a check-up, though, but Cyrilla was just glad he was okay. He was currently walking next to her, though she could tell he was still in pain. He was stubborn, and he refused to go back into his ball. She didn't blame him. It was probably uncomfortable in there, and she wanted him by her side at all times anyway.

I'm doing fine, Cy. You... shouldn't worry too much, he finally spoke to her, glancing at her from the corner of his eyes. She could hear the slight wheezing in his breaths, though. It was still hard for him to breathe, and she doubted he would ever battle again. Perhaps it was for the best. You make it sound like it's a bad thing, he spoke, breaking he from her thoughts. She could hear him sigh beside her.

"I just don't want you to get hurt, Ken. I almost lost you once. I can't lose you," she replied. She couldn't lose him, because if she did, she'd lose another part of herself. She'd already lost part of herself when she said goodbye to Kas, and to her heart. As of late, it's been easier to interact with him, as if she'd never fallen in love with him at all. He was becoming just a friend now. Kenshin snorted beside her, though he winced when he did.

I can hear your thoughts, you know. And you know that's not true, he spoke to her, turning his head so that he could stare directly at her. She pouted at him, but smiled softly, earning a light chuckle from Kenshin. Is it so bad to admit that you still like him? he questioned. She pursed her lips together. Maybe, because if she admitted it, she wouldn't be able to keep up the charade much longer. Kenshin visibly rolled his eyes at her.

"You know, it's difficult to admit to another person that you like them, let alone possibly love them. They might not feel the same way," she finally responded. And that would hurt most of all. She knew he didn't feel the same way about her, and that was fine. She had accepted it.

You make it sound like it's been set in stone. You haven't even tried admitting it to him, have you? he shot back, and she winced this time. He was right. She hadn't exactly told Kas that she had liked him, but some part of her thought he already knew. She wasn't the most subtle of people when it came to her emotions. She'd tried to hide her feelings, but if Eryk was able to figure it out, then surely Kas had too, right? You just gave up too easily, he continued and said nothing further. Perhaps she did, but it wasn't hurting anyone but herself.

"Yeah, well one day Kenshin, you're going to see a pretty Lucario yourself, and then you'll be in my shoes," she replied, watching in slight amusement as Kenshin almost tripped over himself. "Now, come on, Ana wanted to see you, remember?" she spoke. She could have sworn he grumbled to himself, but she let it slide. Luckily, the center wasn't too far, and they were walking rather slow. She didn't want to over exert Kenshin this way. He was still recovering, after all.

They reached the rehabilitation center not long after that. Ana was easy to spot—she appeared to be holding a plastic hula hoop just above the surface of the water, raised vertically. Why she was doing so wasn’t exactly clear at first, but then a magikarp came bursting out of the water, throwing itself through the hoop to splash inelegantly back down on the other side. This inevitably soaked Ana's shirt in large splotches of water, but she grinned, apparently more pleased than put-out.

“That’s it; you’re doing so well!” she praised the pokémon, who swam around in slightly-lopsided circles, making that odd noise that magikarp had. It wasn’t clear how that particular species had been named; the noise didn’t sound much at all like the word ‘magikarp.’

As Kenshin and Cyrilla drew closer to the gate, Ana stood, setting the hoop down on the side of the pool and wringing water from the hem of her shirt. Turning, she greeted them with a warm smile. “Hey Cy, hello Kenshin. I’m glad to see you up and about. Here for a checkup?”

"Mostly just to visit," Cyrilla responded, opening the gate to let herself in. Kenshin followed in behind her, but offered Ana a somewhat lopsided smile. "I should have taught Gyarados how to do that when he was still a Magikarp," she stated, nodding her head towards the hula hoop. Gyarados was, obviously, too big to do things like that, and Kenshin mostly snorted at that.

You wouldn't have been able to do it even then. He was always hard headed, Kenshin spoke, causing Cyrilla to chuckle. He was a Riolu when they first encountered the Magikarp, and as far as Magikarp went, he'd been extremely active. He even tried to bite Kenshin, but it just looked weird. Kenshin had let him, though, which made it all the more weird.

"Anyway," she began, trying to change the subject. "I figured we could visit you and do Kenshin's check up all in one go," she spoke. It was true, mostly. She wanted to visit Ana, but at the same time, it would be good to determine how he was healing.

“Sure,” Ana replied easily. “Why don’t we take care of the checkup first, and then sit in the garden for a while? The autumn flowers are just starting to bloom, so it’ll be nice, I think.” She led the way back to the larger building, holding the door for both of them to enter in front of her. Once she’d scrubbed down and put on her gloves and apron, she hooked her stethoscope into her ears and gestured for Kenshin to hop up on the examination table.

“Have you been feeling much pain recently? Any particular muscle movements giving you trouble, or anything like that?”

He did as she asked of him, sitting on the table almost perfectly still. His breathing was still slightly off, but other than that, he didn't show any visible signs of anything else. To her surprise, though, Kenshin nodded slowly. Still, here in the abdomen area, where Runt had nearly crushed him beneath his foot. I didn't want you to worry about it, Cy, he spoke to her, but she supposed she could understand. She sighed softly, but allowed Ana to continue her work.

It still hurts to breathe, he continued, and the wheezing made that obvious. He was still in some pain, and he still could hardly breathe. This wasn't a good sign. I lose feeling in this leg sometimes, he spoke, moving his right leg just slightly, And there are a few moments where I can't feel my arm. It was the same arm he'd used to try and fend off Runt's foot. Cyrilla was slightly surprised it hadn't been both of his arms he couldn't feel.

Ana hummed thoughtfully. Dropping the stethoscope so it was looped around her neck, she chewed on her lip for a moment. “I’m just going to manipulate those for a second here, so please pardon me,” she warned, taking hold of Kenshin’s leg and prodding the muscle. She was obviously being extremely careful, bending it from the angle it was at until it was straight out, then back down again. She checked his arm the same way, lifting it up over his head, then putting it gently back down.

Occasionally, she’d ask him if he felt something, or if a particular position caused any pain, nodding slightly at each of his answers. When she was done, she picked up a clipboard on the nearby counter and made several notes. “So I think part of this is just that your muscles are still very tender, as we’d expect, and they’re going to need proper physical therapy to help build them back up the right way—I’m sure aunt Joy already talked to you about that.” She paused and made another note. “But I think there are a couple of things we can do right away for the pain. Firstly, I’m going to prescribe you some medicine which should ease the ache and help stop the numb spells.” She scribbled something on a small pad of paper, added her signature, and tore it off, handing it to Cy.

“You can get this one filled at the Pokémart. Mr. Scheffler is certified as a pharmacist, so he has a small stock of these. For your lungs, though, we’re going to need something a little more specialized. I’ll put in an order through Aunt Joy—that one should be delivered to the Center in about a week. In the meantime, I recommend staying away from humidity as much as possible, and if you feel discomfort, lay down for a while on your back and do deep breathing or meditation exercises. It sounds a little hokey, I know, but it’ll help. Take it from someone who has the same problem sometimes.”

Kenshin merely nodded at her before hopping off of the table. At least he was okay, somewhat. Cyrilla released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, and smiled at Kenshin and Ana. "Well, it looks like you'll be fine, for now," she spoke, causing Kenshin to shake his head. "I'll make sure he takes his medicine. He... actually, I don't think anyone likes the taste of it, but it'll make him feel better," she spoke, watching as Kenshin's lips pulled just slightly as if he were going to growl.

"Thanks for looking over him, Ana. It's a good thing summer is over and autumn and winter are just around the corner. It'll be less humid, then," she added, sparing a glance at Kenshin who decided to walk away. He made his way back towards the pond where the Magikarp were, and dipped his feet into it. "Scaring the poor Magikarp," she spoke, laughing lightly at Kenshin. She turned her attention back towards Ana, though, and offered a light grin.

"You mentioned sitting in a garden?" she asked. It would be nice to sit in the garden for a bit. Maybe she could finally relax a bit, and let her head clear.

“Let’s,” Ana agreed easily, leading the way. The garden was behind the house; there was a table there with four chairs around it, and a large umbrella to shade the occupants in the summer months. Less necessary now that autumn was here, but still nice. There were indeed a riot of flowers in bloom; the leaves didn’t really fall off the trees in a place as warm as Cinnabar, so they were still a vibrant green, but the fall blossoms in Ana’s garden tended towards purple, white, and red.

Settling down into one of the chairs, Ana sighed wearily. It seemed she was more fatigued than she looked; there were traces of darkness under her eyes—Cyrilla could see them now that the light had changed. “It’s a nice day,” Ana observed mildly, momentarily focusing on a cluster of hibiscus flowers. “Nicer when you know Kenshin’s recovering, I expect.” She half-smiled sympathetically.

"Yeah, it is," she agreed. It was a nice day, given the circumstances. "I guess, I should be happy that he's recovering well, but I still feel like he's not saying everything," she confessed slightly. Maybe he wasn't because if he did, he knew she would worry more about him. Even though she worried about him now, it would probably be worse if he let her know the worst of it. "I guess I can't blame him if he doesn't," she spoke softly, leaning back into her chair and sliding down.

"I'm sure in time, he'll make a full recovery, and he'll be back to his old self, but maybe... maybe he shouldn't battle anymore. I don't want him to get hurt again, but I also know he wouldn't just quit, either. I suppose he's just as stubborn," she grinned a little at that. Kenshin was probably the most stubborn of the pokémon she owned.

"But I am just glad that he's okay. Now, I can focus on the things I've been neglecting," mainly herself. She was getting back into the habit of eating properly and changing regularly. She hadn't done that the first few days when Kenshin was still unconscious. "How are you faring, though? We... got the notice about what happened and why Eryk left to Viridian," she spoke. She wanted to know how Ana was holding up because it couldn't have been easy. The memo they'd received about Ana's establishment possibly going out of business was not something she could easily swallow. She felt bad about it, even though she wasn't to blame for it. It was, mostly, Ryk's fault, but he had done it with good intentions.

“I’m all right,” Ana replied softly. She crossed one leg over the other and folded her hands over her knee. “It’s been… stressful, especially that first few days after the inspection, when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen but…” There she paused, tipping her head upwards to take in the canopy of the tree at the center of the garden. A ginkgo, if the leaves were anything to go by.

“But Eryk said he was going to get the certification sorted out, and I believe him. So… there’s no reason to be upset about things. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I just have to remind myself that it’ll be sorted out in a few days, and then everything will be more or less back to normal.” She smiled slightly. “I admit, the routine can be comforting. Work has a way of making me think about something other than my troubles, you know?”

Cyrilla hummed in agreement, glancing up as well. Unfortunately, though, work had the opposite effect for her. It made her think of nothing but her troubles. She sighed softly, dropping her gaze as a few pidgey flew by. "You can count on Eryk to make things right, you know. He doesn't break his promises so easily, and he really cares about you and your center," she finally spoke, smiling softly towards Ana. "He really does, care, I mean. I've never seen him so happy before, even if he doesn't look like he is," she continued, pulling her legs into her chair. She leaned into her knees, drawing in a soft breath.

She was being honest when she said that. She's never seen him as happy as he's been in the last half year they've been here. He's taken so much interest and care with this place, and especially with Ana, that Cyrilla almost thought something else was going on. But then, she'd remember that Ana was a target, and perhaps it wasn't what she thought it was. Sometimes, she wished it was, because then that would mean Eryk could finally have some happiness in his life. And that's all she ever wanted for him. That, and to find a way to leave Team Rocket.

"You've really been good for Ryk, you know that? So... thank you for taking care of him," she continued, smiling just a little more as she glanced at Ana. Some part of her, some dark part, wished that someone could do the same for her. But that was a far off dream. There was no one... but now wasn't the time to think of things like that. It only caused her heart to ache, and she was tired of it. She had enough worries with Kenshin.

"It's so nice here, I could almost stay forever," she spoke thoughtfully.

Ana laughed, only softly, a light sound. “Well, I’m certainly not going to make you leave,” she said, her smile narrowing her eyes with mirth. “You can stay as long as you like.” Pulling both of her legs up onto the chair, she hugged her knees, propping her chin on them and studying Cyrilla’s face for a moment. Or at least it looked like that was what she was doing.

“But you know… I think all of you have been really good for me, too. I feel like it’s the three of you taking care of me, most of the time. You’re always coming by to check in on things and help me out.” Her smile faded a little, but not so much that it disappeared, and she blew a breath out, stirring her rose-colored bangs. “Actually… at first I kind of thought you just assumed I couldn’t do anything for myself. I definitely don’t look like much, I know. But… you’re all so kind I couldn’t keep thinking it for long.”

Her eyes grew distant, as if she were remembering something. “Eryk intimidated me. A lot. I thought you were a bit… weird, as though I can talk, right?” She huffed. “Kas… I had no idea what he was all about. And now… the three of you are the best friends I’ve ever had. Maybe the only ones—the only ones who know anything about me, anyway. Strange, how that works.”

"Hey, that's what friends are for, though, right? We take care of each other," Cyrilla replied, a grin forming on her face. "And that just comes with the package, I suppose, learning and knowing about each other. Eryk looks intimidating, I know, but he's like a big Ursaring, really," she chuckled at that. He really was. An intimidating creature but in reality, he was just a big softy. Cuddly too.

"And you shouldn't make that offer because I think I just might stay forever," she joked, but it was light. She really did wish she could stay, but who knew where they would be in a year's time? "You know, I think we should make something for Eryk when he gets back in a few days. Oh, we should surprise him with some oatmeal cookies and Kalos Onion soup or maybe the casserole we made last time!" she started naming off other things, too. That way, it would keep them busy, and she could keep her mind off of other things.

Don't forget the caramel apples you promised, Kenshin chimed in, causing Cyrilla to snort.

“Why stop there?” Ana asked. “We could just have a surprise party. I’m sure you all could use a break, and it could double as a celebration that he’s certified and the shelter is safe.” She offered up the suggestion with a hint of a smile. “And I’ll make plenty of caramel apples for Kenshin, so we can celebrate your recovery, too.” She turned to him on the last part and grinned.

"Oh that's a great idea! We should start planning, maybe invite Kas, too! Okay, so," it would be nice to take a break, even though technically she was taking one with Kenshin. Eryk needed that much, though perhaps it would be wise not to clue Kas in. But then again...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Ana made a little sweeping motion with the flat knife, neatening an edge of the frosting on the cake. It was a carrot cake, something she’d decided to try since Eryk wasn’t especially fond of overly-sweet things. She’d also made a batch of oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate chips in them, in case he wasn’t fond of carrot cake, either. The rest of the food tended towards savory and salty; all three of them had put their heads together to try and pick out what would go over best.

It had always been Ana’s intention to involve Kas in the planning; he was in charge of getting Eryk to the house after he arrived back on Cinnabar. She’d considered inviting a few of the townspeople he knew, or coworkers, but after some thought and discussion with the others, they’d decided that just the three of them plus all the pokémon would probably be the best idea. Ana could certainly understand that; she tended to get overwhelmed if there were too many people around, especially when she didn't know them well. It was better to have a more comfortable gathering than a bigger one. Besides, the occasion just seemed so… personal.

Officially, it was just a little get-together. Unofficially, it celebrated the shelter staying open, Eryk’s certifications, Kenshin’s recovery, and the end of a very, very stressful period in everyone’s lives. Setting the knife down, Ana carefully lifted the whole cake and carried it outside to the longer table she’d set up in the garden. It would be easier for the pokémon to join in the celebration with more room, and the property was basically perfect for it. Eryk was due back on-island shortly before sunset; Ana had made sure there was plenty of lighting available in case they happened to go past dark.

“Hey, Cyrilla, have you seen the big cake knife?” Since Kas had left to go get Eryk a few minutes ago, it was just she and Cy for now, putting the last touches on everything.

"I think, ow, it was supposed to be over there on the counter," Cyrilla spoke lifting her head too fast and hitting it on the top of the open fridge. She rubbed her head absentmindedly, and made her way towards the counter. "Here it is," she spoke, rummaging through a few dishes before grabbing the knife Ana needed. Cyrilla had already released her pokémon the moment she had entered the gate, but Kenshin was inside helping where he could.

"Alright, I think the only thing left is to make sure the casserole doesn't burn," she stated, wiping her hands on her apron. "Oh, I almost forgot," she stated, taking her apron off and disappearing into Ana's living room. She came back with a box, medium in size, and held it out to Ana. "I had it made a couple of days ago so that you could have something hanging on your gate. Or you could keep it inside, too," she spoke, pulling the top off of the box. Inside was a silver plaque that read ANASTASIA'S POKÉMON REHABILITATION AND HOSPICE CENTER. It didn't say Cinnabar on it like the sign outside. It had Ana's name, instead. On the left corner, there was a small magikarp and one the right, there was an ekans.

"I figured it could use an update," Cyrilla spoke a little shyly, turning just a tad bit pink in the cheeks.

“Oh.” Ana’s breath stilled in her lungs for just a second before she remembered to inhale again. Carefully, she traced her fingers over the engraved letters, swallowing thickly. It was such a perfect thing; she felt a flood of emotion hit her square in the chest. “Oh, Cyrilla, it’s beautiful. I—” she choked up a little. “Thank you—thank you so much!” Heedless of the fact that she was wearing an apron, Ana flung her arms around Cyrilla, drawing her into a fierce hug.

“It’s perfect. I—just, thank you.”

Cyrilla hugged her back, laughing softly. "I don't know about perfect, but it is pretty," she said, placing her head on Ana's shoulder. "And you're quite welcome, Ana," she replied giving her another squeeze before letting her go. She took a step back and smiled brightly at Ana. "Now let's get the table set. They'll be back any minute, and we need the confetti to fall from the door as planned," she spoke, though there was a slight hint of something beneath her tone.

Carefully, Ana set the sign down on the counter, pausing in the hall to dig around in the closet there for the multiple bags of colored paper and sparkly confetti she’d made earlier in the day. “Do you think this is enough?” she asked, holding up four gallon-sized plastic bags. “I think I have enough supplies to make more, but I don’t think we really have the time…”

"Well, considering we're trying to get mostly Eryk covered in it, it should definitely be enough," she stated, grinning all the while. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but she paused for just a moment, glancing towards the window. "Oh, Kenshin says they're down the road, we'd better hurry," she stated. Once everything was situated, it was only a few minutes longer before Eryk walked through the door, however; Cyrilla had managed to make a quick contraption that spilled some confetti over his head.

"Cy," he spoke, his tone neutral and not upset. He did, however, furrow his brows lightly. It didn't seem to faze Cyrilla, though, since she threw more confetti on him.

"Welcome back, Ryk."

Kas entered just behind Eryk, catching on quickly, it seemed. He reached up to the half-full container of confetti stuck on the doorframe and lifted it off, upending it over Eryk’s head with a laugh. “That’s better.”

“Surprise?” Ana smiled tentatively. “Welcome home, Eryk. Er, well… back to Cinnabar. I suppose that this isn’t your home, exactly.” She sighed, shaking her head at her own inability to articulate it properly. “Anyway, we, um… there’s food. I thought we could all eat outside and let the pokémon run around for a bit.”

Eryk turned to glare at Kas for a moment, but seemed to breathe out a reluctant sigh. "I should have known you would have pulled something like this," he spoke, sending a light gaze towards Cyrilla who merely laughed. "You shouldn't have gone through all the trouble, though," he spoke, looking just the slightest bit upset. It quickly disappeared, though, and his face was set back into a more gentle tone.

"Well, we did, so there's that. Now, shush and go eat something. You have to be starving after that long flight. Oh, and you," she spoke, grabbing a handful of confetti and throwing it on Kas. "There, now you both match," she stated, dusting her hands free of what was left behind. "Now let's go get something to eat," she spoke. Eryk merely sighed softly.

"You should at least give me a moment to breathe, Cy. There is some news to spare," he spoke a little solemnly. "Your center," he began, looking a little too intense for what he wanted to say, "will be spared. They didn't make it easy, but you should know that they won't be bothering you for quite some time."

"I... almost didn't pass it, though," he grumbled just slightly.

Ana felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Suddenly, it was easier to breathe and stand upright both, and she heaved a sigh of relief, smiling brightly. “I’m so glad,” she murmured; but then she turned to lead the way out the back to the garden where everything was set up. Once they were there, she let Cy and Kas pass her, dropping back so she was walking next to Eryk.

“Thank you,” she said, though technically she’d already expressed her gratitude for this. “I’m sure they didn’t make it easy for you, but… I’m grateful. Next to that, this wasn’t too much trouble at all.” She glanced up at him from the corner of her eye. “But if you’d prefer to think of it as a celebration for the center or Kenshin instead of you, you can do that. It was meant to be all three.” She reached up, touching his arm just gently.

"As I've said before, you're welcome," he replied. He looked a little uncomfortable when she'd touched his arm, but he didn't say anything about it.

Ana, hoping she hadn't managed to offend him somehow, smiled awkwardly and slipped away to the food table. Kas was unabashedly loading a plate with food, entirely unconcerned with the fact that there was glittery confetti in his hair. “Hey Ryk,” he called past her, “you’d better come get some of this before I eat it all.” He winked at Ana, then turned from the table, lobbing all of his pokéballs into the yard. Ana figured she might as well do the same.

"Ass, you better not," he spoke, though the tone sounded just a tad bit threatening. He really liked food, apparently. That or he just didn't want Kas to eat all of it himself. Before he reached for a plate, Eryk grabbed hold of his pokéballs and lobbed them as well. Immediately, Zoroark made for the nearest tree, climbing up to the top before disappearing slightly. Milotic seemed to head straight for the pool while Meowth and Blue both hovered around for a moment. Gengar, however, did as he did before. He was next to Ana. Eryk visibly rolled his eyes at his pokémon's behavior, but didn't say anything.

"This is, surprisingly nice," he muttered just slightly before going for the table. Like Kas, he loaded his plate as well.

Ana reached out to pat Gengar’s head. She didn’t have to work to do that—he kept himself manifested quite solidly. She could feel the brush of the ghost pokémon’s mind against hers. Unlike most, who waited for her to initiate that kind of contact—or like Kenshin, who simply projected his thoughts into her mind like it was anyone else’s—Gengar actively seemed to seek her for some strange reason. Some did; Ana didn’t think anything of it. She wondered if he’d told Eryk about her ability; it didn’t seem so. Or maybe he had and Eryk simply didn’t care. That would be quite refreshing, if a bit odd in her experience.

Not being able to eat in nearly the industrial quantities of her two very tall male friends, Ana nevertheless took quite a bit of the food, deciding to treat it at least sort of like a meal and eat the hot dinner foods first. The dessert would keep. She settled at the table between Cyrilla and Kasmir, pouring herself a glass of water from the pitcher there. “How was Viridian?” she asked curiously. “Was there some kind of problem with the testing?” He’d said he had difficulty—she couldn’t imagine it being his fault.

"Not necessarily," he spoke, taking a bite of his food before he elaborated. "Part of the test includes how well we can socialize. I'm not a social person," he spoke a little too forwardly. Cyrilla scoffed just lightly that perhaps only Ana could hear it. "It counts about forty percent of the grade, and I almost failed that part," he seemed to mutter it in a somewhat disappointed voice. It was almost as if he were upset that he nearly failed, and perhaps it was rightly so.

"But you didn't, and that's what counts," Cyrilla chimed in, earning a blank stare from Eryk. She gave him one to match that it almost looked like they were having a staring contest, or reading each other's minds.

"No, I suppose you're right," he finally spoke, breaking the eye contact to dig into his food. "But Viridian is... nicer than I remember it being," he added once he'd swallowed the contents in his mouth.

Ana supposed there must be a wide variety of certifications, then; certainly whatever he was supposed to need to volunteer at the shelter didn’t have anything to do with being social. He took a bite of casserole, chewing it over thoughtfully. “Well, I think you socialize just fine,” she said with a shrug. “I’m not sure what they expect you to be able to do to pass, but I think there’s a lot of proof in the fact that you have friends—and the pokémon like you so much. Just look at Rufus.”

Rufus was, indeed, sitting right next to Eryk’s chair, leaning up against his leg. At the mention of his name, he chuffed happily, wagging his little stump of a tail. He wasn’t the sort to beg for food; he just liked being wherever people were.

Kas grinned. “Yeah, but Rufus likes everybody.”

Ana shook her head. “He doesn’t. He was in a bad mood the whole day after the inspectors left. He hid under my bed and wouldn’t come out.” Rufus’s history was actually kind of a sad one, even for a shelter pokémon. He’d been passed around between a lot of them for most of his life because of an incident when he was still a lillipup. It had been very difficult for anyone to figure out why he just didn’t like some people, but Ana was almost certain it was because he could pick out a cruel personality. Or at least, that seemed like the strongest correlation to her.

"It's not about having friends, or if the pokémon like me. It's about how well I can..." he paused at that, almost as if he were about to say too much, and dropped his gaze. He reached down to rub Rufus behind the ear before glancing back up towards Ana. "If it were, I wouldn't have had to get certified. I would already be certified," he decided to say instead. He sighed softly, though, and began pushing some of his food around.

"Ryk, it's not polite to play with your food, especially since Ana and I worked hard on it," Cyrilla spoke, some amount of amusement laced in her voice. She pointed her fork at him when she said it, though. "And you should be delighted that Rufus likes you. Couldn't say the same for your Mankey, though," she spoke, pointing to the said pokémon who was hanging from one of the branches.

"The important thing is that I did pass, and Ana gets to keep her center," he finally spoke, seeming to ignore Cy for a moment. He then placed a large amount of food in his mouth, as if it were going to keep him from saying anything further. Cyrilla just chuckled.

“Good enough,” Kas agreed, shrugging his broad shoulders. “And, to explain a little better, Ana, the certification has to do with the social skills needed for things like undercover work or business types of interactions. But you do have a point: Ryk’s a lot better at getting along with people these days than he used to be.” The way he said it sounded like he was teasing his friend, but not in a way that was necessarily untrue.

So Ana decided to go along with it. “I don’t know,” she said with a playful inflection. “Maybe it just seems like he’s better at it because we’ve gotten used to the way he’s been all along.” She smiled to soften the joke, taking a sip of her water.

Kas snorted. “Nah,” he said. “A few months ago, if you’d thrown confetti on him, he probably would have just walked away. Right Cy?”

Cyrilla laughed. "Oh, it would have been way worse than a simple walk away. He would have stormed out like a Mankey," she added, smiling teasingly at Ryk. He didn't seem too thrilled about the way the conversation had shifted, though, but he seemed to remain silent. "Of course, that's assuming he didn't out right murder you first with his death glare," she continued. Eryk snorted at that, surprising himself just slightly it seemed.

"You all make it sound like I was some horrible machine," he spoke, his voice sounding just the slightest bit upset. But there was also something like understanding in his tone as well. "I am not... I wasn't that bad," he spoke, taking a sip of his drink before setting the cup down. "Besides, if I was as bad as you say I was, you all would have left me a long time ago," he spoke, perhaps a little too seriously. Cyrilla just shook her head.

"No, Ryk, we wouldn't have. We're your friends, and we'll always be your friends. Flaws and all; mankey issues and all," she spoke, laughing just slightly at that.

“You’re still kind of a grumpy-pants,” Kas accused, smiling into his glass. “But you happen to be our grumpy-pants, so here we are.”

Despite the ribbing nature of the conversation, Ana sensed a warmth underneath it that she’d only rarely glimpsed in life. They might poke at each other and occasionally misunderstand each other, but… their friendship was resilient enough to survive all of that. She wondered if there was anything that could knock it down—for their sakes, she really hoped not.

“I’ll be right back,” Ana said, “so please don’t go anywhere yet.” So saying, she stood and slipped back into the house, climbing the stairs to her bedroom and approaching the box on her bed. Pursing her lips, she glanced at the objects inside, wondering if it was really a little too forward of her. She wasn’t exactly practiced in the art of friendship, either.

But… maybe that was okay.

Picking up the box, she headed back down the stairs, using her hip to push open the screen door that separated indoors from out. Setting the box down on the chair she’d once occupied, she glanced up at the three of them. “Um… so I got all of you something. It’s not much, but… I wanted to give them to you, after everything.” Feeling her face warming, Ana took a breath and quickly opened the box, thinking that maybe drawing it out any further was a bad idea.

Inside were three brand-new copies of the keys to her facility: the gate key, her house key, and even the ones to the shelter itself and the storage shed. Each of the sets was on its own silver key ring, with a fabric strap in a color she associated with them. She handed the green one to Kas, the soft blue to Cy, and the red one to Eryk.

“I…” Ana swallowed. “These are the keys to everything on the property. I don’t… there aren’t a lot of people who come into my life and stay there,” she said, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. “And I understand that your jobs are important, and that maybe someday sooner or later you’ll have to move somewhere else. That’s… that’s okay. Because it’s not… it’s not about the amount of time, for me—it’s about the quality of it. And… and you’ve all made my life so much better by being in it, even for just the half a year I’ve known you. You’re in my life now, and you’ll always be part of it, even if… something happens.”

It could be them moving away, or it could be her catching something that her Everett’s wouldn’t let her fight off. There were no guarantees of tomorrow, let alone years from now. But… for every day they’d been here, she’d become a better person. She believed that. “So… I figured that, since that’s already true… it just makes sense for you to have these. It’s not like I’ll ever want to keep you out.” She smiled shakily, chancing a glance up at them.

Eryk looked a little puzzled at first, but Cyrilla's eyes seemed to brighten. "Aw, that's..." she started to say something, but choked on her words. Her eyes were starting to water somewhat, though it was hard to say if it was from happiness or something else. "You shouldn't have, Ana," she finally stated, taking the set that belonged to her and held it closely. She seemed to reach for something in her back pocket, and pulled forth a suicune key-ring. "Now I have something to put this on," she stated, hooking the key-rings together.

Eryk stared at the set in his eyes, still looking quite unsure what to say. Eventually, the soft smile he'd been using, made an appearance on his face. "I... thank you, Ana. You didn't need to do that," he spoke, taking out a similar key chain to Cyrilla's. Where her's was a suicune, his was an entei. He hooked the keys slowly on the key chain, and simply stared at the keys. "You... are a good friend," he finally spoke, but it seemed that he wasn't quite sure if that was the proper thing to say.

Kas hooked his onto his bracelet of all things, which seemed to be partly made of a similar key ring, only this one yellow, with a raikou on it. They had thematic key rings? That was sort of adorable, and somehow not at all unexpected. “Thanks, Ana,” he said, reaching over to ruffle her hair with one of his hands.

“You’re all welcome,” she replied.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

Earnings

0.00 INK

Cyrilla sighed softly, glancing at the memo on her desk. Her psych eval was coming up soon, and she wasn't entirely prepared for it. Kenshin, recovered as he may be, was still injured somewhat, and things hadn't gotten easier for him. His wheezing was still around, and he looked like he was in constant pain. He never said anything about it, but she knew he was. His check up was also on the same day as her evaluation, and she wasn't entirely sure she would make it. She contemplated asking Kas or Eryk to take him, but she wanted to be the one who took him. He was, after all, her pokémon. It was her responsibility to take him, not anyone elses.

But this evaluation is important for you, Cy, he spoke, intercepting her thoughts before she could dwell on them deeper. She glanced up to look at Kenshin, who was sitting in the chair across from her desk. If you fail, they will strip you of your rank, and more than likely, they will relocate you. Do you really want that? he asked, shifting just slightly to be more comfortable. No, she didn't. She didn't want that because that meant she would have to leave Eryk and Kasimir. As much as she hated to think about it, that would hurt more than anything else, to be away from her friends.

"But what about you, you can't just go on your own," she questioned. It would be rather odd to see a pokémon wandering the streets. Some people might mistake him as a wild lucario and try to capture him. That was not a thought she wanted to entertain. Granted, they wouldn't be able to because he belonged to her, but that still didn't mean they wouldn't try. "I can't just let you go on your own," she added. Kenshin sighed heavily so, and shook his head.

Ask Kas or Eryk. One of them will take me, and you can trust them, can you not? he stated, raising the bridge of his brow just slightly. You don't... you shouldn't worry too much about me, Cy. I'll be fine. You need to worry about yourself, for once, and focus on passing this evaluation. If you don't, not only could you be stripped of your rank, but there is a possibility that they will try and take us from you. Do you really want that?

No.

The thought of it actually being a possibility actually scared her perhaps more-so than the actual evaluation itself. She sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. It was slightly longer now, but not too noticeably. She supposed he had a point, though. If they had deemed her unfit for her rank, what was going to stop them from thinking she wasn't a fit trainer? They could take all of her pokémon away from her, and that included Kenshin. Her eyes narrowed softly at that, but she didn't say anything. Anything she could have said, however, was interrupted by the slight shifting of her door. It was Eryk. He popped his head in, glanced around, before his eyes settled on her.

"Why are you here? I thought they said you went for a walk," he spoke, looking the slightest bit confused. Cyrilla laughed at the irony of the question, though.

"Suppose I was. The real question, though, Ryk, is why are you here. Technically, this is my office, the last time I checked," she retorted, smiling softly towards him. He merely pursed his lips together before he sighed, pulling the rest of his body through her door. He took a seat next to Kenshin, sliding down so that he looked almost swallowed by the chair. She glanced towards his side, and noticed the key chain hooked to his side, and her gaze softened somewhat.

"We shouldn't have these," he finally spoke, lifting the keys from his side, and laying it on her desk. "She's getting too close to us, and I fear the same thing is happening with us. We... aren't supposed to have gotten this deep," he spoke, his tone slightly heavier than usual. Cyrilla allowed her gaze to fall somewhat. Of course, he was right. But that didn't mean much to where she was standing. Ana was a genuinely good friend, and she was such a good thing for Eryk. He was less grumpy, and seemed more at ease.

"I know, Ryk, but think of how she'd feel if we didn't take them. We would have, probably, pushed her away. It would have hurt her more than it would have hurt us. Considering everything she's been through, what you've been through, perhaps taking them was for the best. Besides," she paused to take in a breath. "It's... our mission right now. They still want her monitored in case she shows any signs. What those signs are, though, we don't know. They... they haven't sent any new details, have they?" she stated. She knew they hadn't, because she would have received them, too.

"No, they haven't," was his simple reply. He looked lost in his own thoughts, like what they were doing really bothered him. Maybe it did? A small smile crept on her lips, causing her to shake her head somewhat.

"You like her, don't you?" she spoke, her voice as low as she could make it. He still heard, though, because he glanced at her with a confused expression. "It's okay to admit it, you know," she added, listening while he grumbled some incoherent words. She merely laughed at him lightly.

"Of course I do. She's... been a good friend," he stated. Cyrilla sighed. Of course he wouldn't catch on to what she was actually saying. But maybe that was for the best. If he became attached in that kind of way, it could be dangerous for all of them in the end. More-so for him, if anyone else. She decided not to elaborate on the subject, though, and simply glanced at Kenshin, who was wearing an amused look. It was like he figured something out that both of them missed, and she tilted her head at him.

"If it bothers you so much, I have a request for you," she stated, turning her attention towards Eryk. He merely raised a brow in her direction. "My psych evaluation is coming up in a few days. As it happens, it is also on the same day that Kenshin has his last check up. I can't... I can't go, but can you," she started, hopeful that he wouldn't say no. He seemed to contemplate her decision, and turned his gaze away from her.

"I'll take him," he finally agreed, and Cyrilla released a breath of relief. She offered him a soft smile in the process.

"Thanks, Ryk. Just make sure he doesn't eat any more caramel apples. He's getting heavy," she teased, earning a soft growl from Kenshin.

I am not, he huffed. Cyrilla merely chuckled.

"But Ryk," she spoke, her voice unnaturally calm and serious. She held his gaze for a moment, trying to read his expression, however; it was as passive as it always was. "It's okay, you know. It's okay to care about other people, even if it might leave you confused and unsure of yourself," she spoke. She knew that feeling all too well. And she could almost see it in the way he looked at her. It was the same one she had.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Kas rolled over on the couch in his office and sighed. Next to him, Meep let out a sleepy bleat before settling back down. He ran a hand along her wool, smiling absently at the little static prickles that snapped against his fingers. It wasn’t as annoying as normal static electricity—more like a tingling or something of the kind. He moved his hand down to flick the sphere on the end of her tail with a soft clink. “Come on, sleepyhead, it’s time to get up.”

She grumbled, but blinked her eyes open. She had adorable eyes: big and soft and dark. He patted her head a few times as she got her feet underneath her, hopping down from the couch to the floor. “I think we’re gonna go on a walk, okay?”

Already past her sleepiness, it seemed, Meep voiced her approval of the suggestion, and he held the door open for her to bounce out of the office in front of him. He wondered if either of the others were in—maybe Cy wanted to go for ice cream? Winter was approaching fast, but on the island, that just meant it was storm season. Not that it was actually cold. He might as well check.

So when they passed her door, Kas knocked, though he refrained from just letting himself in. Trying to draw back while still acting the part of a friend was a very delicate balance; he’d been gradually getting himself used to erring on the side of caution in this. “Hey Cy? Shift’s over in five; did you wanna get some ice cream or something?”

A soft thud and an 'ow' signaled that she was behind the door. After a few padded steps, she opened the door and glanced at him, holding her forehead just slightly. "Sorry, I apparently hit my head on the desk. I was... uh, sleeping," she stated, rubbing her forehead slightly before dropping her hand. Chuckling could be heard in the background, and from the sounds of it, it sounded like Kenshin. He was still in the office, but made no noise or motion to leave it. She glanced back, presumably at him, before turning her attention back to Kas.

"Actually, ice cream sounds nice, right about now. Kenny, look after the office, will ya?" she spoke, closing the door just briefly before opening it wider. She had to grab her bag, apparently. "Should we ask Ryk to come along? He doesn't like sweet things, but they might have salted caramel or something of the sort," she questioned, blinking slightly up at him.

“His door’s next down the line,” Kas replied with a smile. At his feet, Meep hopped in a circle, rubbing up against Cy’s legs.

As he’d said, he took the few steps more to Eryk’s office at the end of the hall. He didn’t really bother to knock in Ryk’s case—barging in was pretty much just how they dealt with each other. “Hey workaholic grumpy-pants. You want some ice cream? Shift’s over.”

Eryk's eyes glanced up, noticeably softer than they usually were. He didn't look entirely grumpy, though. He seemed to contemplate Kas's offer, and in the end, just stood. He fixed the pile of papers on his desk before making his way towards the both of them. Cyrilla, who had stooped to pet Meep, actually picked her up, and rubbed her face into Meeps wool. The static of it, though, caused her hair to stand on ends a bit.

"Couldn't resist, could you?" Eryk spoke, and Cy merely shook her head. "But I suppose ice cream would be nice. Is there a particularly good one around?" he asked, which made some sense. Eryk wasn't the type to go anywhere else besides to Ana's, or to the mansion. Occasionally he went to the grocer, but that was about as far as the list went.

“Sure is,” Kas said. “Stefano’s. He makes gelato—it’s like ice cream, but better.” Leading the way out of the mansion, he started down the driveway that would carry all of them past the front gate and onto the road that went directly into town. Even out here, there were tall tropical trees basically all over; they ended just in front of the beaches; the town itself tended to be on the green side as well, though there was a distinct difference as soon as the roads became paved ones.

Stefano’s happened to be on the harbor, near where all the boats came in. It faced out towards the beach, having an open front that only got shuttered when the place was closed or there was a storm coming in. Today, however, it was bright and sunny; boats passed in and out of the harbor at regular intervals. Stopping in front of the shop, Kas glanced up at the menu. “See anything you want?” he asked the others. Meep just bounced in place.

Cyrilla stared at the different flavors, her eyes slightly wide as she did so. Eryk merely glanced it over before his eyes landed on a particular one. "I'll take the stracciatella. It looks delicious," she stated, pointing to the flavor she'd chosen. Eryk, however, kept his gaze on the glass, looking like he was debating which flavor to get. Sweets weren't exactly his thing, but gelato, depending on the flavor, wasn't too sweet. The one Cyrilla had chosen was, perhaps, a tad too sweet for Eryk.

"I don't know," he stated, pursing his lips together. "Which flavor are you getting, Kas?" he asked, seemingly a little interested. Maybe he wanted a similar one?

"You should try the lemon one, Ryk. It'll be on the sour side so it won't be too sweet, if that's what you're worried about," Cyrilla suggested, giving a light toss of her shoulders as if she were unsure.

“Or the amarena,” Kas offered. “It’s cherry, but the berries are a little more sour than the usual kind. Stefano?” He drew the proprietor’s attention by raising his voice just slightly. The man in question, a balding elderly gentleman, quirked an eyebrow. “I’d like a zabajone, and a stracciatella for the lady. Ryk?” He returned his attention temporarily to his friend.

"I'll take the amarena," he stated, taking Kas's suggestion. Cyrilla smiled brightly at that, but didn't say anything. "It... this, is nice," Ryk finally stated, glancing over towards Kas and then towards Cy. "I don't think I would have enjoyed something like this, not before," he spoke, pausing just slightly as if searching for the right words. Cy rolled her eyes and pushed her shoulder into Ryk's, just soft enough that it caught his attention.

"You would have enjoyed it either way. You're with friends, Ryk. It's nice to have friends with you when you do things like this," she stated, earning a quirk of a brow from Ryk.

"If you say so," was his only reply. Once the gelatos were delivered and paid for, Ryk took a bite of his, his face twisted just slightly. It was like the amarena flavor was too sour for him, causing Cy to laugh. She handed him her gelato, and took his.

"You might like that one instead, Ryk," she stated, trying to contain the small bouts of laughter. She'd taken a bite out of her newly acquired gelato, but unlike Ryk, her face remained the same. A bright smile and a slight gleam to her eyes.

"This one is... better," he stated, having taken a bite out of it. He seemed satisfied with it, and continued eating it.

Kas laughed. “And here I thought you could hack it,” he teased, clearly amused. The three of them took a seat at the one of the outdoor tables. Kas happened to face the harbor, where it looked like a passenger boat was just coming in. That was a little unusual, considering that tourist season was long over, but the island did still attract visitors year-round, even if the numbers were smaller.

He glanced away, thinking nothing more of it until the passengers began to disembark. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone that looked just a bit familiar. It was only the person’s back, but… “Hang on,” he muttered, standing up and squinting in that direction. He lifted his hand to shade his eyes from the sun. “It can’t be…”

But it was.

Hefting one of those heavy camping-style backpacks over her shoulders was a young woman maybe Ana’s age. Her complexion was a shade darker even than his; her hair caught somewhere between deep brown and black—the ambiguous color called often called raven. There was a lot of it, too—thick sheets bound up in twintails high on her head, with other strands falling to her diaphragm. The straightness was something she’d inherited from her mother.

He couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew what color they were. Raising two fingers to his mouth, Kas whistled sharply, a trilling note fading into a lower one, then called out over the intervening distance. “Hey Melly! Get over here!”

The woman’s head snapped towards him—even from here, he could see her scowl. She straightened her backpack and crossed the sand with a determined stride, coming to stand right in front of him before she drew her arm back and punched him in the stomach. Kas was prepared for it, but he made a show of doubling over in pain anyway. “Hey now, is that any way to treat your favorite person in the whole wide world?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she drawled sarcastically. “Would that be the same ‘favorite person’ who doesn’t know how to check his damn answering machine?” She narrowed her eyes—cinnamon-colored—at him. “I called you, stupid. Three times this afternoon. You were napping on the job again, weren’t you?”

“…Maybe,” Kas admitted with a smile. Almost despite herself, she grinned too, reaching forward to hug him tightly. She was tall enough that her head fit just under his chin, which was saying something, considering his height.

“It’s good to see you, Mirmir,” she said, squeezing before she pulled away. She glanced at Ryk and Cy, reorienting herself to face them and sticking out a hand. “Hi. You must be this dumbass’s friends. You have my condolences.”

Eryk just stared at her for a moment. It looked like he was trying to register the fact that Harper was talking to them. "I'm Eryk," he replied, his voice as monotone as it used to be. Cyrilla, however, was the one who shook her hand, smiling somewhat brightly in the process.

"I'm Cyrilla! It's a pleasure to meet you...?" she stated, waiting for an introduction it seemed.

“Harper Rheinallt. I’m Kas’s sister. Nice to meet you two.” She paused a moment. “Uh… do you mind if I sit down? It’s been a long boat trip.”

Kas offered her his seat, heading to one of the unoccupied tables and grabbing another chair. He sat between Harper and Eryk, shoving his gelato at his sister, who dug in with some relish. “So, Melly… what, exactly, are you doing in Cinnabar? It’s not that I’m unhappy to see you, but…”

She swallowed a spoonful of the dessert before she replied, reaching into a pocket of the vest she wore and extracting a small, flat wooden case. With the spoon still in her mouth, she flipped it open—inside were six recognizable gym badges. “On my way to the League,” she said confidently. “Gotta collect the badge from the Island before I head to Viridian. It’s fire pokémon here, right? Some guy named Blake or something?”

Eryk snorted softly, like he was trying to contain a laugh. That was new. He never laughed. "You mean Drake?" Cyrilla spoke, correcting the name. "He's the Gym Leader here. Oh! Maybe I can go with you. I haven't seen him in a while, and he might actually be free in the upcoming days," she spoke, earning another snort from Ryk. He said something that sounded suspiciously like

"Not if I have a say in it," but it was too low to make out properly. Eryk otherwise remained quiet and stared at Harper, then towards Kas.

"Oh, and don't mind him. He's... special," Cyrilla stated, pointing to Eryk, though he frowned at her choice of words.

Harper shrugged, but there was a keener look on her face now. Kas knew she was picking up on the group dynamic quickly—she had most of his social skills if none of his duplicity. Her mental filter was arguably in worse shape than Ryk’s, though she didn’t comment directly right now. “Seems fine to me,” she said easily, polishing off the last of her ice cream.

“So I’m guessing you probably can’t put me up, what with all that top-secret Rocket stuff you do,” she said, glancing at Kas and raising an eyebrow. “So I think I’m gonna go check in at the Pokémon Center, but your lazy ass had better take the next couple of days off to hang out with me.” She set the spoon down in the paper bowl the gelato had come in.

“And thanks for the offer, Cyrilla. That might not be a bad idea—I’ll have Mirmir let you know when I challenge. Not that I’d mind seeing more of you beforehand, or anything. My brother talks a lot about his friends; I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Kas hadn’t been looking forward to it, so much. Harper could read him like a book, and she only kept his secrets when she decided she wanted to—which didn’t necessarily coincide with him wanting her to. The big ones, he wasn’t worried about; it was the other ones that could still do damage if she was indelicate about things.

“All right, all right,” he said. “I’ll put in for a few days off. We can do some training and stuff after all the sightseeing—I know you’re still sore about losing last time.”

She wrinkled her nose at him and shoved his arm, but when she stood up and put her bag back on, she was grinning, white teeth a stark contrast against dark skin. “We’ll see who’s sore in a few days, Mirmir. I’ve gotten a lot stronger, you know.” She turned to the others for a moment. “Anyway… nice meeting you, and if I don’t see you again while I’m here… thanks for taking care of my idiot brother. He’s a pain, but for some reason I like him anyway.” With a wave, she was off, consulting her pokégear for the location of the Center, probably.

“And… that was my sister,” Kas said with a shrug. “I think she got most of the ‘get up and go’ in the family.”

"She reminds me of someone, though," Cyrilla spoke, chuckling just slightly. She glanced at Eryk, who merely blinked down at her. "And aw, did you hear that, Ryk? Kas talks about us," she stated, elbowing Ryk in the side in a playful manner. She shook her head though, and released a sigh.

"Can't imagine any of it's good, though," he spoke, sparing Kas a glance. He simply shrugged, though. "I like her, though. She seems... nice," he replied, though it was hard to pinpoint just what Ryk liked about her. Maybe because they were similar, somewhat?

“Glad to hear it,” Kas said, chuckling slightly. “Maybe that means you’ll help me keep her entertained while she’s here. It’s not easy, I promise you.”

Setting

Characters Present

No characters tagged in this post!

Earnings

0.00 INK

Drake sighed softly, running a hand through his hair. He didn't fully pull it through, instead, choosing to drag it down his face. This was just getting ridiculous. These challenges had increased to just a handful, to well over the double digits this last week. He was half tempted to shut the Gym down for about a week so he could rest, but that almost went against Gym regulations. He could ask his great-grandfather to come out of retirement for a few days, and watch the Gym, however; Blaine was stubborn and set in his retirement. Drake simply sighed, earning a soft nudge from his Houndoom. He glanced at the pokémon and offered it a smile. Well, if he couldn't shut it down for a week, he could at least shut it down for a day.

With that in mind, he grabbed the closed sign, and made his way towards the entrance. He stopped a few times, once to make sure all the equipment was put away, and to make sure his Fletchinder was resting comfortably in the make-shift nest he'd made her. After Ana had allowed the adoption to go through, he officially owned the bird pokémon. He was slightly happy about that, actually. Fletchy, as he'd named her, chirped to greet him, and he hooked a finger around her head, temporarily forgetting to go hang the sign. Apparently, he was snapped out of his thoughts when the chime echoed someone had entered. He sighed softy, and straightened himself out.

"I'm sorry, but the Gym's closed today," he stated, turning around just slightly to greet the would-be challenger. Seriously, he needed a break. If he didn't get one, he'd probably die before his pokémon did.

“No worries, leader-man.” the voice that responded belonged to a woman. Probably also a young person, from the tone of it, but not a child—it was a little too low-toned for that. “I was just here to check out the place. Thought there must be something really gimmicky about it for the line to be so long, but it looks like a normal Gym to me.”

The speaker, it turned out, was indeed a young woman. She was barely an inch shorter than Drake himself, and wore her considerable amount of dark hair in two tails high on her head. Her wardrobe was that of many a journeying trainer, which immediately marked her as different from most of the other ones he’d had recently. Her smile was easy to her face, it seemed; she studied him with a quirked eyebrow.

“Probably a good thing you closed up for the day. You look a bit like someone punched you in the face.” There was nothing cruel in the way she said it; if anything, she seemed a bit… amused?

"Honestly, I'd prefer it if someone had punched me," he replied honestly, breathing a sigh of relief. At least she wasn't here to challenge him, right? Well, he supposed he could take this break and show her around. It wasn't like he had anything specific planned today, anyway. He could have gone to visit Ana, but he supposed that could wait. "I'm Drake, the Gym Leader of this Gym," he introduced himself with a light smile.

She laughed; the sound was full-throated and not at all tentative. It faded to a grin, and then she stuck a hand out in greeting. “Harper. Nice to meet you, Drake.”

"Most of the trainers who come here are Grunts, from Team Rocket. I think... someone has it out for me in there, somewhere," he spoke, rubbing the back of his neck slightly before taking her hand. He'd never had any problems with the members, but he had a sneaking suspicion that someone was out to get him. He didn't mind, per se, most of the Grunts were actually decent. They were improving on their battle techniques and some of them had actually managed to win a badge. He hadn't seen those who'd won after that, but the ones who came back were getting pretty close.

"I actually don't use any gimmicks. My great-grandfather used to. He had a weird thing for riddles. I guess I just didn't pick up on them. Anyway, would you like a tour of the Gym since you're here?" he asked, glancing at her as he did so.

Harper shrugged. “Sure, if you don’t mind. I’d understand if you didn’t want to, since the place is closed and all.” She tipped her head to the side. “My brother works for Team Rocket here, actually. Kasimir? I…think I know which one of them doesn’t like you.” She wore an enigmatic smile, but didn’t elaborate. Maybe she had no intention of telling him? She was actually a little difficult to read, for all her obvious openness.

He raised a brow at that. So someone was out to get him. Huh. At least he wasn't being paranoid about it. He shrugged it off, though, and didn't comment on it. Whatever it was this mystery person had against him, maybe it would fade? He was hopeful about it, or at least as hopeful as he could get. "Well, I didn't have anything planned for today, but since you're not here for a challenge quite yet, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to show you around. Besides, it'll get you familiar with the ring and the surroundings. It's just a typical Gym, but the layout is a little different," he spoke, leading her towards the gym, itself.

Once he opened the doors, it was noticeably warmer inside, and it was apparent why. There were small pillars of make-shift volcanoes standing in each corner, and the actual field looked like it was mainly sand and dirt. "Gramps had the original Gym inside of a volcano, so I had to relocate it once the volcano errupted and destroyed it. It wasn't the brightest idea he ever had, but at least this way, it's safer for everyone involved," he explained. He still couldn't understand why the man had been insistent on rebuilding it inside the volcano again. Thankfully, Drake was already the owner and decided against it.

"Ah, and there's my team," he spoke, pointing towards the pokémon who lingered towards the warmer parts of the gym. There was Magmar, Houndoom, Pyroar, Blaziken, and a Luxray. They all lifted their heads towards Drake, but only one of them approached. It was a lazy walk, almost as if he didn't care, however; Pyroar approached and nudged Drake's elbow with his head. He wasn't of the typical coloring of pyroar's, instead, having a more tannish color. He was, essentially, a shiny. "Don't mind him, he's harmless outside of battles," he stated, rubbing the Pyroar's fur gently.

Harper grinned. “I think that might be a species trait. Pyrrha’s the same—she’s my pyroar.” Harper clicked her tongue a few times, reaching out towards the pokémon but stopping short of touching him until he gave tacit permission. Then her hands were in his mane, and she huffed. “You have so much more hair than she does,” she told the pokémon. “I bet she’ll be jealous when I tell her.”

Stepping back, she returned her attention to Drake for a moment before casting her eyes around the gym. “A volcano, huh? That’s pretty intense. Unsafe as hell, and probably a dumb idea, but also hardcore.” Her eyes fell to luxray, and she snickered. “That’s kind of cheating, isn’t it? Having an electric-type at a fire-type Gym? Although you’re ruining the advantage by letting me know ahead of time. Should I be flattered or insulted?”

"Wait, what? No!" he stated, flailing his arms in front of him. "I mean, you shouldn't be insulted. Everyone knows my team already so it's not like it's a secret or anything," he finally replied. He could feel his cheeks burning just slightly. Really, if he'd insulted her, it wasn't his intention. "And technically, not really. It's not entirely cheating. Some of the other Gyms also have other types or dual-types on hand. You should have battled them if you've made it this far, after all. We aren't entirely diverse, but some of us do have at least one different type with us," he continued, hoping he wasn't too red in the face.

Pyroar seemed a bit amused by the ordeal because his eyes shined with mirth, and he rubbed his face against her leg, letting out a small purring noise in the process. That, or he'd liked the comment she gave him about his fur. "I wasn't trying to insult you or anything, honest," he apologized, feeling just the slightest bit embarrassed.

“Flattered it is then,” she replied, amusement shining in her eyes. They were a very unusual color—almost like the one the island was named for. That kind of reddish hue. She was equally amused by Pyroar’s affection, it seemed; she ran her fingers repeatedly through his mane. “Who’s a handsome fellow? Certainly it must be you, with your pretty red mane, hm?” she scrubbed him behind the ears and under his chin, flicking her gaze up to Drake.

“Your trainer’s isn’t so bad, either, come to think of it.” She flashed a mischievous smile.

If he wasn't entirely embarrassed by her earlier comment, he was sure his face was matching his hair right now. He coughed awkwardly into his hand and rubbed the back of his neck. "T-Thanks?" he wasn't entirely sure if he should say that. Pyroar, however, must have found it damn amusing. He was laughing, or at least the equivalent to a laugh. Well, no one's ever told him that before, but he didn't entirely expect people to. Oh this was so awkward.

"I mean, you're pretty nice too, for, uh, how about we go this way? There's a cafeteria in the next room so if you'd like to get something to eat..." he trailed off. Oh why was this so awkward all of a sudden?

Harper didn’t seem to find it so; if anything, she was just as comfortable now as she had been when he first ran into her outside the Gym. Her eyes narrowed with the force of her smile; her intentions were entirely unreadable. Maybe she was making fun of him or something? “I can always eat,” she said with a nod. “What’s on the menu?”

But he was so awkward now. He tore his gaze from her, unsure of how to act now. He was embarrassed, he felt awkward, and now he couldn't remember what was on the menu. He hummed unintelligently, and led her towards the cafeteria. "Well, we have burgers mostly," he began. Oh this was so awkward now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Feeding time at the shelter was always a bit of a task. There were, of course, more than a dozen different types of pokémon, and each one required slightly different food, or in some cases the same food with different nutritional supplements. Then there were all of the pokémon who had to take medicine with their meals, though she’d managed to wear down most of them with gentle cajoling until they willingly did so. Ana fed the rattata first, because they always got antsy if someone else was eating and the two of them weren’t. After them, she tossed flakes into the pool for the magikarp and coaxed Bubbles into taking his liquid medication while he was happily mouthing at the surface of the water.

Then it was ekans and the rest of the ill ones, followed by the hospice crew, including Rufus. Ana’s own team ate last, mostly because they were patient enough to hold out that long. She set the last bowl—for Luna and Nova—down, wiping her hands on her apron, and glanced around. Everyone seemed to be content; she hadn’t forgotten any of the medicines, and from the exams this morning, she knew nobody had any new sores or injuries to worry about. Ekans’s scale rot was almost completely gone; he’d always have a few paler patches, but a few more moltings should fade them closer to his normal purple color. After that, well… they’d just be the battle scars of his life.

"Ana," it was Ryk. He called out to her from the outside of her gate. He stood patiently, and surprisingly, Mankey was on his shoulders. He seemed happy where he was, and Eryk made his way inside. He glanced around, watching the pokémon eat their fill. He seemed a little bothered, since the expression on his face was slightly tired and pulled into a relaxed frown. "You've started without me," he simply stated, brushing a hand through Mankey's fur. The pig-monkey pokémon hummed in satisfaction, and pulled gently on Eryk's cheeks. Apparently he'd gotten used to Mankey doing that.

"How are you faring?" he questioned, turning his attention back to her. His jaw had locked slightly, as if he'd meant to say something else. But he simply stopped a few feet away from her.

Ana suppressed a laugh at the sight of Mankey pulling Eryk’s cheeks like that. It was actually pretty adorable to watch them interact these days—there were still rough spots, but things seemed to be improving a lot, overall. She was glad to see it. “Well,” she said, “it was dinnertime, and they do better with a schedule, so I figured I should just go ahead and take care of it today.”

She took a deep breath when he asked after her health, half smiling and shaking her head. “I’m well,” she replied honestly. She tended to be so, unless she was enduring a flare-up. Actually, she’d been doing really well on that front. She almost had one just after the inspection, but it had subsided before it became anything serious. The island air must be as good for the constitution as everyone said.

“I was thinking of going for a walk this evening, actually, since all the chores are done. Would you like to come?”

He frowned slightly, but didn't say anything. Instead, he nodded his head, letting his arm out slightly so that Mankey could leave his shoulder. Once he was down, Mankey made his way towards Ana and slipped his three-fingered hand through hers. He simply smiled with his eyes, and Eryk seemed to give an indignant huff. It almost sounded like a little jealousy in that huff. He didn't seem to realize he'd done it, though, and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Was there anywhere in particular you wanted to walk to? Or did you just want to walk? he asked, glancing anywhere but at Ana.

Somewhat puzzled by the reaction, Ana chose not to worry too much about it, and answered the question, instead. “Well,” she said, “I don’t usually have a specific destination in mind, but I was thinking of heading down towards the beach. All the fishing boats and such come in around this time of day; I like watching them. Sometimes I visit Mr. Scheffler at the Pokémart or Aunt Joy, but we don’t have to if you’d rather just enjoy the outdoors.”

Ana folded her hand around Mankey’s rough, furred one, lacing their fingers together securely, like one might with a small child or some such. It was a little awkward since he had fewer fingers, but that was all right. She smiled down at the pokémon, ruffling his fur before she started forward.

Mankey hummed in appreciation when she did that, and Eryk merely glanced at them. His gaze had softened almost considerably, however; it hardened back up just as quickly. "I'm not here to take you away from your routine. If you'd like to visit your aunt, or Mr. Scheffler, don't let me stop you," he finally replied, shoving his hands into his pockets. He didn't seem entirely his usual self. "Plus, it will be... good to interact with other people. Kas tells me I'm still not entirely sociable," he seemed to grumble the last part. Mankey snorted in agreement, apparently.

Ana decided that for the moment, at least, she’d just head for the beach, and angled them to take a fork in the path that would lead there. She’d actually locked the gate this time, since she wasn’t sure how long she’d be away and everyone was out in the yard. She let all three of them settle into a comfortable pace along the dirt and sand path before she spoke.

“Eryk? Are you all right? You don’t seem… quite like yourself at the moment.” She hoped nothing was wrong—maybe something had gone awry with his work again? Ana knew he couldn’t say much about it, nor did he have much choice about his career path, but the frequency with which it seemed to bother him worried her. He seemed… unhappy, doing what he did for a living.

But this might not be related to that at all. Maybe she was just imagining things—but it seemed better to ask, just in case there was something she could do.

He spared her a glance, and seemed a little contemplative. In the end, he simply shook his head, and turned his gaze outward. "It's nothing to concern yourself with, Ana. I'll be fine," he spoke, but the tone in his voice suggested otherwise. "Things have just been... there have been some complications at work is all," he spoke, rolling out his shoulders as he did. It must have been more than that with the way he seemed tense. He sighed a bit too heavily through his nose before he gave her a side glance.

"It'll pass, though. It always does," he finally said. "You shouldn't worry about me," he seemed to repeat. Something must have really been bothering him if he was repeating himself. But he didn't seem inclined to state as to what the reason was.

“But I do,” she replied quietly. “That’s… that’s what friends are supposed to do, right?” Ana tilted her head at him, picking her way carefully over a series of exposed tree roots jutting into the path. It wasn’t more than a thin trail on this part of the island. Once she was over, though, and Mankey was, too, she returned her attention to the conversation.

“I understand if you can’t tell me. But… I can’t turn off my worry like a switch,” she elaborated, offering a small smile at the metaphor. “Still, if it’s ever anything I can help with, all you have to do is ask, okay?”

His eyes narrowed in a soft manner. "You... are too nice, Ana," he spoke, though it sounded more like a whisper. "There are things I wish I could tell you, but unfortunately I can't," he continued, pulling his hands out of his pocket. He took a deep breath, and focused his attention out on the trail. "Perhaps one day I'll be able to tell you, but for now," he paused, turning to stare at her. His gaze was always intense, but this one seemed a little different.

"Just take care of yourself, hm?" he added, a slow smile crossing his lips. He seemed to be doing that more often, too.

Ana found herself smiling back, though she wasn’t exactly sure why. “I usually do,” she replied mildly, then pursed her lips for a moment.

“Since you can’t talk about that… let’s talk about something else. What are your hobbies, Eryk? How do you spend the time when you aren’t working and aren’t helping me?” That was the kind of thing that was perfectly safe and easy to talk about, right? She knew he probably trained a lot, for one. Admittedly, she took up a lot of his free time, so she’d kind of feel bad if there were hobbies he was neglecting to assist her. But maybe that would be just one more reason to be grateful to him.

"I don't have any. I don't leave the mansion that often, and when I do, it's either to help you or to get food for the mansion," he admitted rather freely. "Though, occasionally I train with my team. It keeps them in shape, and it helps them release some of their pent up energy, especially Mankey," he stated, nodding towards the said pokémon. Mankey seemed to agree, and made a short huffing sound. Eryk simply shrugged his shoulders after that.

"Kas says I don't get out much, but other than helping you, there isn't much to do," he added in a nonchalant fashion. "Not that I don't mind. Helping you... is something I enjoy," he seemed uncertain how to word that, though.

Well, that was not the answer she expected. She wondered what he’d do if the shelter wasn’t there to volunteer at. Train more, maybe? In that case, she was kind of glad he helped as much as he did—it had to be a bit more peaceful than doing that all the time. “I don’t know about there not being much to do,” she said, pausing to clamber over more tree roots, “but I guess I’ve just been here long enough to find things. I’m kind of a homebody a lot of the time, though—I like to read and garden.”

They weren’t especially impressive hobbies, really. “Oh. And music. I’ve always liked music. It used to be part of my physical therapy. Dancing, I mean.” Her shirt snagged on a twig; Ana clucked her tongue and carefully unhooked it, smoothing it down with the hand not holding Mankey’s. “Though I guess you wouldn’t know it, from how much difficulty I’m having with simple walking today.” She huffed slightly, shaking her head.

"I just don't have... the luxury of hobbies. Maybe, at one time I wanted to do something, but I can't remember what it was," he spoke with a hint of honesty to his statement. "I would not have guessed that you like dancing," he spoke, somewhat curious apparently. "Everyone I know can do it, apparently, but I can't. I've... tried," he added sounding just a bit embarrassed?

"It's not like it would do me any good, anyway," he grumbled, glancing back down at her. It looked like he wanted to say something more, but he shook his head. "I apologize, but I don't have Kas's height to carry you the way he did Cyrilla during the festival," he spoke so easily with those words.

Ana chuckled. That was a nice memory—and a very entertaining one. “It’s probably for the best,” she said. “I’d just fall off, I expect. Besides, we’re almost to the beach.”

She was as good as her word, and it wasn’t more than two minutes more of walking before the ground abruptly gave way to sand, pale grains spread out before them in what almost looked like a carpet. The sand on Cinnabar was nearly white in hue, and very fine, which made it soft. Ana immediately stepped out of her sandals and rolled her pant legs up to her knees, letting go of Mankey’s hand to make it easier.

She thought about what Eryk said—about hobbies being a luxury he didn’t have. She honestly wasn’t sure she would ever be able to properly understand the life he’d had, even if he sat down and explained it to her all at once. And she didn’t think he would. It was clear to her, though, that there was a lot of pain buried back there, and she understood enough to know that he’d been abused, even if those weren’t the terms he would use. Actually, that made it all the more clear to her.

“Anyone can learn to dance,” she said. “It just takes practice.” Seized by an idea, she picked Mankey up, supporting him against her with one hand and using the other to hold onto one of his, in a not-quite-accurate representation of the way one would hold a partner’s hand. Humming a soft waltz, she started in to the steps, feeling rather than counting the rhythms. She kicked up little bits of sand as she jumped around, the waltz growing ever more elaborate.

Humming the grand finale, she ended by spinning to a stop, giving Mankey a proper hug for putting up with her. She grinned at Eryk. “See? Even Mankeys can dance.” Ana knew she was being a bit silly, but somehow she figured he wouldn’t hold it against her.

Mankey seemed thrilled that Ana was dancing with him, however; Eryk merely stared at her for a moment. The usual soft smile seemed to spread across his face, however; there was something else with it. It almost sounded like he was laughing. He seemed surprised about it, but it was there, light and a little uneven. It was almost like he'd never laughed before. Mankey seemed to find it amusing, though, and laughed in the way Mankeys could.

"I apologize, I did not mean to do that," though he looked a little unsure of what he was apologizing for. "I'm afraid Mankey makes a much better dance partner than I do, though," he added, the smile still softly on his face. He didn't seem to mind it, and it stayed there.

“Are you sure?” Ana asked, carefully setting Mankey down on the sand. She held a hand out towards Eryk, though she made no move towards him. “I bet you’re not so bad. And even if you are, who cares? It’s not about being good at something, or better than anyone else. It’s about enjoying yourself, and having fun.” She tilted her head, her invitation clear even though she didn’t put it in those words exactly.

He looked a little confused, though, by her invitation, and he quirked a brow. "I'd beg to differ. I'd be horrible even if it isn't about being good or better," he replied, but he took a hesitant step forward. He looked to be struggling with himself for a moment before he finally took her hand, tensing just slightly before he relaxed. "Do not blame me if I step on your feet," he spoke in a cautioned way. It almost sounded like he was joking, though.

“You can take your shoes off if you’re that worried about it,” Ana replied, matching his tone. “But I’m not. Here. We’ll start with something simple.” Humming a few notes to make sure she was in tune, she started in on a slower song, positioning one of his hands on her waist and the other in hers. The hand she had free, she placed on his shoulder. Eryk was quite a bit taller than her, but not enough that it was awkward. She’d danced with plenty of people during physical therapy, of all shapes and sizes, so she was used to it.

“Okay, so… first step to the right, like this.” She took a measured step, a little long for her so that it would be more natural for him. “And then forward one…” she moved back in time, gently tugging him along with her. “And then like this. That’s the basic pattern. You see how we ended up facing a little differently? We just keep doing this in a big circle.”

Surprisingly, he hadn't stepped on her toes, even though he'd kept his shoes on. He was a little tense when the dance first began, but he seemed to loosen up as it went on. He had kept his gaze directly on her face, though, and didn't seem too interested in what was being said. He was, of course listening, since he nodded a few times, but he didn't seem entirely focused. Once he'd gotten into the rhythm, it became a little easier for him to follow along. When they came to a stop, though, he'd been a little hesitant to let her go. He did, however, eventually let her go, but instead of taking a step back, he took one forward.

Gently, he wrapped his arms around her, and gave her a gentle squeeze. He had hugged her. "Thank you," he simply spoke, the words barely louder than a whisper. He seemed to mean it, too.

Ana huffed a little bit, smiling mostly to herself and returning the hug with a fond squeeze.

“You’re welcome.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

What are you doing? Kenshin questioned, glancing towards his trainer. She was doing something weird, though if he had to guess, it looked like she was trying to dance. Maybe she was? Cyrilla, however, merely chuckled at his question, and glanced at him. What? he questioned as she shook her head. Apparently she didn't feel inclined to tell him anything, and he couldn't exactly read her feelings.

"It's nothing, really.I just feel... really happy lately, is all," she finally replied, sighing in content. He could feel it. She was slightly happier, though what the cause was, he wasn't too sure. "Things are... better, I suppose," she muttered softly, sparing a glance towards her window where the orchid still lay. He narrowed his eyes slightly, but chose not to comment on it. If what she said was true, far be it from him to question it.

If you say so, he replied softly. He took a soft breath, wincing just slightly at the pain that shot through his side. Even after they'd told him he was healed, he was still in some pain. It had been confirmed, though, that he wouldn't be able to battle anymore. That had hurt his pride, somewhat. It meant that he would risk killing himself if he did, and it also meant that he couldn't protect his trainer. He had to rely on his other friends to do it. His gaze dropped somewhat, and Cyrilla seemed to pick up on it. She placed a hand on his shoulder and offered him a sympathetic smile.

"Hey, it'll be okay. If my dancing makes you that upset, I'll stop," she spoke, though he knew she knew the reason as to why he was. He shook his head. She laid a hand on his, and gave it a gentle squeeze. He could barely even feel that. He had regained some feeling in his leg and arm with the exercises Ana had given him, but he was still numb. Cyrilla sighed, sitting back in the empty chair in front of him. She simply stared at him, and for a moment, they held each other's gaze.

I won't be able to protect you, you know, he spoke, his gaze dropping. You should... find another to take my place, he spoke, though it hurt slightly to admit that. He couldn't protect her, but maybe someone else could? He could hear her sigh and shift in her chair. She stood up, apparently, and grabbed his arm, pulling on it gently so that he could stand up.

"It doesn't work like that, Kenny. You're with me till the end," she spoke, offering him a smile. He couldn't return it, though. "Come on, we're going to go for a walk. It'll do you some good, alright?" she spoke. He wasn't too sure about that, but he trusted her. There wasn't a particular destination in mind, and that felt slightly... nice.

The island was pretty as always; there were a few clouds in the sky today, but nothing that looked like it was threatening rain. Life here was pretty quiet, at least away from the mansion. In fact, they didn’t run into anyone on the road at all for quite some time—not until they passed by a bare stretch of beach.

There was a young woman running there, accompanied on one side by a pyroar, and on the other by a purrloin, from the looks of it. She had headphones in her ears, and was dressed for exercise, her dark hair pulled into a single tail on her head. Her expression was vaguely discontent, at least until she chanced a glance in their direction. She seemed to squint at them for a second, particularly Cyrilla, then raised one of her arms to wave them down, pulling her ear buds out with her other hand.

“Cyrilla!” she called, approaching them at the same ground-eating jog. She was extremely tall, as far as women went, but her face was still almost a little childish, at least around her brow and eyes. She stopped in front of them, pulling in deep, steady breaths. It seemed like she’d been running for a while, but neither she nor her pokémon seemed all that winded. They sat apparently automatically at her sides, almost protective.

“Hey,” she greeted, more properly now that she was within polite speaking distance. “I thought I recognized you. It’s nice to see you again.”

Cyrilla seemed to smile and recognized the woman. Kenshin just raised a brow at the pokémon at her side. It wasn't like he was going to do anything. He couldn't. "Hi, Harper. It's nice to see you, too," she greeted, causing Kenshin to gaze at her, and then at Harper. "Oh, this is Kenshin, my lucario," she introduced him, and he merely stared at Harper, his eyes narrowing just slightly. She looked vaguely familiar to him, like someone he knew.

“Nice to meet you, Kenshin,” the woman replied politely, giving him a nod. Her pokémon seemed to be protective by reflex rather than due to some threat they believed he posed, because the two of them dipped their heads as well. “Oh, and this is Pyrrha and Una.” She indicated the pyroar and purrloin respectively.

"Kenny, this is Harper, Kas's sister," well that explained the familiarity. He nodded his head in her direction, but chose not to say anything. "Don't mind him, he's a little grumpy today," Cyrilla spoke, causing Kenshin to give her a flat look. Was that really necessary? For her, probably. "Oh, how are you finding things on the island? Have you managed to challenge Drake yet?" she decided to ask. Kenshin scoffed just slightly. If he knew Eryk by now, and he did, Drake was probably swimming in challenges again.

“Not yet,” she replied, smiling inscrutably for some reason. “Though I did check out the gym. I decided to try and get a few days’ training in beforehand. Mirmir is supposed to be helping me, but he got way ahead of me on our run and now I don’t know where he is.” She sighed, apparently used to this sort of thing. “I’ll probably find him napping in a tree at the end of the route, the jerk.” She shrugged.

“Are you two just out on a walk, or did am I keeping you from being somewhere?”

"We were just out on a walk. I kind of had the day off and the fresh air seemed pretty nice right now," Cyrilla spoke. That was partly true. The fresh air was nice, but she didn't exactly have the day off. She could have said she was taking a break, but then again, she might have just taken the rest of the day off without saying anything to anyone. He scoffed slightly. "Oh, are we keeping you from something? You said you were training with Kas, and if that's the case, I don't want to keep you from him," she laughed a little shyly, her face turning just the slightest shade of pink. Kenshin muffled a laugh at that.

Harper arched an eyebrow; her subtle smile grew just a little.

Or maybe she can help. She hasn't had a proper battle in a while, if that's what you need, he chimed in. She still had other pokémon she could battle with besides him. Or we could just join you in your run, he stated, shrugging his shoulders carelessly.

She huffed softly in response. “You’re not keeping me from him, don’t worry. I’ll find him exactly when he wants me to, and not a moment before. That’s the way he is. Actually, if you’re with me, it might be sooner—he’ll get paranoid that I’m telling you all kinds of things about what he was like as a dorky kid.” Her expression morphed into something positively wicked for a moment, but then it faded.

“But… I could go for either a battle or a run, if you were interested. Or tell you all my brother's secrets. Whichever.”

Kenshin let out a raspy laugh. Cyrilla's face turned just a shade darker when he did. I'm sure she'd love to know all about your brother's secrets, he spoke, a sly smirk crossing his face. He could tell she was embarrassed, but it was her own fault. She brought this upon herself, really.

"I couldn't, no. Those are his secrets to keep. If he wanted to tell them to someone, I'm sure he would have by now," she spoke, waving a hand in front of her face. Kenshin rolled his eyes just slightly, and shook his head.

That's not what she said before, he interrupted.

"Kenshin!" He only smirked at her.

Harper grinned at him, not even trying to conceal the mischief in it. “Oh, I like you, Kenshin. I think we’re going to be great friends.”

Kenshin snorted. I think so, too, he replied.

She turned her eyes back to Cyrilla and tilted her head to the side. “Oh, come on. Don’t be such a ninny, Rilla. Mirmir’s a big kid, he can take a little revenge for not sticking with me. There’s gotta be something you wanna know about him—he’s way more secretive than you’d think from the boneheaded way he acts. Ask me anything.” She looped her arm with Cyrilla’s and started them both walking down the road again, her pokémon shifting easily to accommodate.

"Yeah, I know, but it just feels so... personal," she spoke, turning a bright shade of red when Harper looped their arms together. Kenshin followed along, trying his best not to snicker at his trainer. She shot him a glance, though, which caused him to laugh. "But... I don't, I guess, what was he like as a kid? I couldn't imagine he was any different," she questioned. Really? Of all the things she could have asked Harper, she asked her that? Kenshin shook his head.

She wants to know if he really was a round 'adorable' kid, Kenshin chimed in, earning an incredulous look from Cyrilla. I'm not going to make this easy for you, he spoke to only her.

Harper looked genuinely surprised. “He told you about that? He never really tells anyone about that part of his life.” She tilted her head, looking a little bit more serious for a moment. “I mean, he’s my older brother. I could never think there was anything wrong with him. But some of the other kids in his grade—and some of the older kids at his school—didn’t really agree. It would be nice if I could just say he was chubby and adorable and that was it, but it wasn’t a good time for him, honestly.”

She shrugged. “For most of my life, though, he’s been closer to what he is now—arceusdamn beanpole. I think it really surprised him when people started coming onto him when he hit sixteen or so.” The smile was back again, now. “He didn’t know how to take it.”

Cyrilla looked a little shocked when Harper spoke, and lowered her gaze somewhat. She visibly frowned, and for a moment, Kenshin swore he heard her thoughts about it. Her gaze faltered somewhat before she forced a smile onto her face. "I didn't know that, but... I'm glad he at least told me that part of it," she spoke. She seemed to be a little at ease now, and he supposed that was partly because they had both shared something about their pasts that had been rather difficult.

Kenshin shook his head just slightly, and chose just to speak to Harper. Damn the consequences on his end, but he could at least nudge something forward, right? She says that because she used to have a crush on him. Now, she thinks that's what he thinks of [i]her, that she only had a crush on him because of how he looks,[/i] he stated rolling his eyes slightly. Cyrilla couldn't hear him, and that's how he'd intended it to be.

She still likes him, but she won't admit it, he continued. Really, it was starting to get a tad bit ridiculous. She was an adult, right?

Harper’s eyes slid to him for a second, something like understanding in them, but then she returned her attention to Cyrilla. “He talks about you all the time, you know,” she observed, her tone light and breezy, as though it were an errant thought or casual topic change, and not a response to Kenshin’s private communication. “And Eryk and Ana—met her yesterday. But… you most of all. I call him every week, and it’s always Cy this, Cy that. I think you confuse him.”

She nudged Cyrilla with her elbow as they walked. “That’s a good thing, by the way. He thinks he’s got the world figured out, but sometimes, he’s just plain wrong. It’s good to confuse him, because then he actually has to think about it and stop assuming things.”

Kenshin had to surpress his laugh as he watched Cyrilla blink slowly, and pointed to herself with a free hand. "He talks about me? I mean... why? I don't... what could he possibly say about me? And... I don't... I mean," she seemed at a loss and looked like she was tripping over her own words. "I don't understand how I could do that to him. I mean, he's... well, he's," she started, but ended up pursing her lips together. She couldn't find the words to say, apparently, but there was a slight hint of curiosity in her eyes.

"You don't have to tell me, if you'd rather not, but... what.. what does he say?" she asked hesitantly. It really did take a lot of effort not to laugh at her right now.

Harper didn’t seem to have any such difficulty, and simply laughed outright, her amusement clear in her expression. After it subsided, she shrugged. “What does anyone talk about? He talks about things you said or did that week, mostly. Sometimes he worries about you to me, or asks what I’d do in a certain situation, if someone I knew was having a problem—he doesn’t give me specifics, of course. Sometimes he just… brings up your thoughts on whatever topic we’re discussing, if he knows what they are. Normal stuff.”

She grinned. “But if you want to know what he thinks of you, I know a lot of that, too. That’s just reading between the lines, is all.”

Kenshin snickered just slightly, but Cyrilla seemed to smile all the same. She shook her head softly, the smile growing just a little more. You could always just tell me, Kenshin spoke, interrupting the small silence between them. Cyrilla shot him a look, though, and he merely shrugged. It's not like it would matter to him what he thought of her. He'd just use it as ammo later if he felt like it. Besides, maybe if she knew where she at least stood with him, she could get over this incessant feeling of being unsure of how she should feel.

"Would... that be okay?" she finally asked, and it surprised Kenshin somewhat. He hadn't actually thought she would ask.

“Aha,” the new voice came from behind them, close enough that they could hear it. Harper stopped and turned to face Kasimir, who was approaching, turning Cyrilla around with her.

“So this is where you got to. Corrupting my friends, I see.”

Harper snorted. “I knew you’d come out of hiding if I had her with me,” she drawled. “You never can stay away from a pretty girl, can you?” She removed her arm from Cyrilla’s and slung it amiably over her shoulders instead.

Kas smiled, but there was something a little off about it. “Harper… just what nonsense have you been bothering Cy with?” He crossed his arms over his chest, clearly faking a sterner demeanor than he really had. He was also dressed for exercise, surprisingly enough—long athletic shorts and a black shirt apparently made out of something stretchy. Harper might have called him a beanpole, but he wasn’t one anymore.

“You’re so egotistical, Mirmir. What makes you think we were talking about you in the first place, huh? We were just discussing girl stuff, right Rilla?”

"Right," Cyrilla chimed in, smiling as she did so. Kenshin shook his head and rolled his eyes, but he wasn't going to say anything. He merely glanced at Kas. "It's girl stuff, and your sister is really nice, Mirmir," she added, calling him the same thing Harper had. She seemed a bit amused by it, like it was a new accomplishment of some kind.

I feel a little left out, now, Kenshin spoke. I'm not a girl, he added, giving them a flat look.

“Story of my life, Ken,” Kasimir replied with a dramatic sigh. “All right, all right, have your secret conversations and leave poor me out of it. I see how it is.” He grinned, though; clearly, he was happy to see them getting along so well. “But I do think we should get some training in today. Do you want to join us, Cy?”

His eyes moved to Kenshin for a moment, then back to Cyrilla; his expression gentled. “It’s going to be a mix of everything. Nothing… nothing too harsh. Just a focus on fitness and move practice. You might get to see me get my butt handed to me by her mienshao, though.”

“You should totally come,” Harper added. “I’m sure you’ll be a much better training partner than this useless lump.”

"I would actually like to see that, Kas getting handed by a mienshao," Cyrilla spoke.

I'm sure that's not the only thing, though he only said that to her, her face turned a bright red. We'll come along, he stated, following in step as they walked away. This was, oddly, nicer than he thought it was going to be.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
They’d chosen a spot on the beach to train, well away from any buildings or other people. Harper had called out the rest of her pokémon: a dragalge, a kingdra which immediately dove into the ocean itself, a sylveon, and of course her mienshao, Shaolin. With Pyrrha and Una, they were six in total.

It had been a while since Kas had seen her team in person; he was impressed with how much they seemed to have grown. It was easy to tell just from their condition that Harper was serious about her intentions to challenge the League at some point soon. Her sylveon, Argent, immediately jumped into his arms; Kas spun her around for a couple of turns before letting her hop down again.

“Been a while since I’ve seen her,” he commented with a smile. “I always figured she’d end up a sylveon, though.”

“She was Kas’s, to begin with,” Harper explained to Cyrilla. “And my first pokémon, way back when.” She had a hand on Pyrrha’s head, trailing her fingers through her bright red-and-yellow crown of hair.

“If you wanna let yours out, Cy, we were gonna start with our favorite warmup.”

"Alright," she replied, reaching for the four pokéballs that were at her side. She released her pokémon, Gyarados making the biggest entrance with his loud roar, and she smiled at them. She reached up to rub his head, and the Gyarados seemed a little pleased at that, before Cyrilla turned her attention towards them. Snow, Rapidash, and Lithe seemed a little confused, but they stood next to her anyway.

"Kenshin," she called out hesitantly towards the lucario who merely shook his head. She frowned slightly. "If it gets too hard, you could stop," she spoke softly, causing Kenshin to sigh. He walked so that he was standing next to her, though. "Alright, so what are we in for?" she spoke once everyone was situated.

“Heh, well… Gyarados might be able to help with this, actually,” Kas said. “Basically, Torrent here—” he nodded his head at the kingdra in the water—“is going to shoot water at all of us, and we’re gonna loosen up by keeping ourselves out of the way. It’s also great for working on dodging technique—water, fire, and even electrical attacks work on the same principles, so if you can get away from one kind, you can get away from them all. Try not to get soaked.” He winked at her.

“Ready, Torrent?” That was Harper again, and the kingdra dipped his head in reply. “All right then, let’s go! Hydro Pump!”

The first blast of water flew towards Kas; he swiftly ducked and rolled to the side. He didn’t like asking his pokémon to do things he wasn’t willing to do himself, after all. A little bit of the blowback from the force of the water caught him on the side, but not much. The second jet flew for Cy and Kenshin.

Cyrilla seemed ready for it, and dodged it as well. Kenshin moved a little too slowly, though, and was hit with some residual water spray. He seemed to wince, and shook it off. Cyrilla shot him a concerned look, but apparently he seemed fine since he shook his head at her. Gyarados, though, seemed a little too excited to get in on the action, and joined Torrent in the water.

"Don't get too happy, Gyarados," Cyrilla called out. He bobbed his head as if to agree, and she turned her attention back to them. "Seems easy enough," she stated. She rolled her shoulders out as she prepared for the next one.

The thing about this exercise was—it scaled. That was the whole point of a warmup. Getting past the first few wasn’t too hard, but then Torrent sped up, extending the length of the bursts and moving his head during them to cover a wider area. With Gyarados joining the effort, it was soon pretty much constant motion—the Hydro Pump attacks were weakened since the point wasn’t to do damage, but it would still suck to get hit by one, to be sure.

By the end of it, Kas and his pokémon were a mix of soaked and mostly dry. He’d done pretty well himself, and Princess Cinders had taken to the air, which gave her more dodging options, but Meep was soaking wet and sparking slightly, though she seemed to be enjoying herself. Jaws had at some point decided to play his own game and bite the incoming streams, which meant he was dripping as well. Kaiser, his absol, was totally dry and looking a little smug about that; Lily and Sledge were somewhere in between. Harper’s team looked much the same; she herself had a large splotch of water on one side of her green workout shirt.

He laughed at her; she scowled, making a motion with her hand. Kas yelped and ducked out of the way of a final attack by Torrent.

Cyrilla, on the other hand, was a little more soaked than the others, though it looked like she wasn't really trying too hard to dodge. She seemed to be enjoying herself a little too much. Kenshin, however, was mostly dry. For being slightly injured and unable to battle, he could still move to keep out of the shots. Lithe and Rapidash, however, had stood this little warm up out, probably preferring not to chance it. Snow was completely dry save for her tails where she'd been hit.

"Well, that was fun," Cy spoke, wringing some water out of her shirt. She laughed lightly as Kenshin shook his head, saying something incoherent. Anything else she might have said, though, was blocked out. She'd been hit by the attack meant for Kas, and it pushed her a bit back. It probably would have knocked her over had Kenshin not stepped behind her to help her keep her balance. She blinked slowly, completely drenched and just stared from Torrent, to Kas, and then to Harper. Suddenly, she laughed.

I think you might have soaked her sanity away, Kenshin spoke in a confused tone. Probably because Cyrilla started laughing a little too hard by the end of it.

“Sorry, Rilla!” Harper called, though she was smiling, too. “Mirmir, you’re a terrible person; you should have taken that hit so it didn’t get her, you jerk!”

“Hey!” he protested. “Cy’s practically a ninja! I thought she’d be able to get out of the way on her own!” He was worried for half a second—should he have blocked that? But if she was laughing, he supposed she couldn’t be doing that badly.

"Oh, low blow Kas. I am a ninja, thank you," she retorted, but seemed to get her laughing under control.

“Anyway,” Harper said, squeezing water out of her shirt and off the ends of her hair. “Next we’re just doing basic workout stuff for a bit: pushups, jogging or swimming intervals, and a little bit of tai chi, for muscle control. Once we finish with all that, we can spar.”

Kas had actually missed having a sparring partner. The downside to being away from his family and not having any fighting-types himself, he supposed.

"Oh, sparring will be nice. I usually spar with just Ryk, and sometimes Kenshin, but," she paused, trailing off towards the end to glance at Kenshin. She shrugged her shoulders, though, as if it didn't matter. "Ryk doesn't know the meaning of 'taking it easy' so it might be nice to spar with someone else for a change," she replied, still smiling somewhat.

Harper barked a short laugh. “Yeah, well… Mirmir has to go easy. Did you know he’s the Kanto region all-around martial arts champ three years running? He beat our dad to take the title the first time—dad was both proud and also pissed when it happened.”

Kas grimaced. “Melly, why would you say that? It’s embarrassing.” And actually… it kind of was. Kas felt his face warming, suddenly gladder than ever for his complexion, which would hopefully not make that fact as obvious. Seriously… this kid was gonna be the death of him someday.

“Because it’s both embarrassing to you and awesome, so that means I have two really good reasons to bring it up,” she replied with a mischievous smile. “I won the women’s competition last year, but I’ve got nothin’ on the champ here.”

He snorted. “Nothing except a killer right hook, you mean.”

Cyrilla looked genuinely surprised, or impressed. Probably both. She glanced at Kas, eyes slightly wide with a lopsided smile on her face. "Wow, Kas, that's actually amazing. You'd probably wipe the floor with Ryk, then. I'm sure he wouldn't be too happy about that," she stated, laughing softly before turning her attention towards Harper. "I'd probably have nothing on you, then. My family isn't quite like that. We're more subtle and discreet, I suppose," she added, her smile stretching out a bit before softening.

"It must be nice, though," she spoke, a hint of something melancholy to her voice. It disappeared quickly as she shook her head. "Well then, I guess I really wouldn't know unless I tried, right?" she added.

“Don’t even worry about it. The person who wins a spar is the person who gets the most out of it, end of story,” Harper declared.

Kas nodded. “The scoring and competitions and stuff aren’t the point of this. The reason we keep training with each other is to get better, right? The only thing you have to worry about is beating the… the you from yesterday, or whatever dad’s always saying.” Oh Arceus, he’d actually said that, hadn’t he? He buried his face in a hand even as Harper started cackling.

“I’m gonna tell him! I’m gonna tell him you told his cheesy line to a pretty girl. He’s gonna be so proud!” She was holding her ribs at this point, nearly doubled over with laughter.

What was it about the presence of his sister that made him feel so uncool? Maybe it was the combination of her and Cyrilla? Ugh. “Whatever,” he said sullenly, clearing his throat. “Just… go get set for your spar, will ya? I’m gonna tell Cy all your weaknesses so she can beat you.”

“Playing favorites, huh?” she shot back. “Guess I know where I stand!” But she was still laughing, even if she’d physically contained it to a smile.

Cyrilla laughed, and somewhere in the back, Kenshin was laughing too. "Don't ruin it, Kas. I'd like to see where I stand, anyway," she stated, walking so that she was standing next to him and elbowing him somewhat. It was a soft nudge, nothing too firm. It was innocent. "Besides, I could really use a good sparring partner and a decent amount of training. I might get my butt kicked, but at least we'll have some fun, ne?" she stated, her smile turning into a grin.

"Alright Harper, don't take it easy on me, please!" she stated, calling after her. "Oh, that's right," she spoke again, stopping just mometarily to glance up at him. "Thanks for bringing us along," she stated, and nodding her head towards Kenshin. "It means a lot to the both of us," and from the look on her face, she was telling the truth.

Kas was a little puzzled, but smiled back at her anyway. Did she think they wouldn’t invite them to train or something? That was weird. Maybe he’d been drawing back too far?

“No problem, Cy. Now go show my sister what ninja can do. Ken and I will be your cheering section, since Melly doesn’t need one.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

Drake sighed for what seemed like the umpteenth time, today. He'd been running around on the island all day, trying to find his pyroar. He had planned on spending the day helping Ana out since, for once, he didn't have any challengers. It was odd, really. He expected to see a long line of challengers outside of the Gym this morning, however; there were none. Maybe there was something going on at the base that they couldn't spare any Grunts? He shook his head free of those thoughts, though. It was like if he thought about it, he might actually summon them. But his plan had been ruined when Pyroar decided to run off.

Drake had tried to chase after him, but Pyroar was a little too fast. He sighed just softly. He rubbed the back of his neck, sitting his free hand on his waist as he looked over a hill. He squinted his eyes for just a moment, and thought he saw Pyroar, however; it was just a Litleo. "Man, Pyroar. You're really making me work this time," he muttered to himself just softly. Maybe he was back at the Gym? That... wouldn't be right, though. If Pyroar was back at the Gym, he wouldn't have insisted on accompanying Drake to Ana's. More like, he wouldn't have just tagged along if that were the case.

Now, he was certain his Pyroar was out to get him, somehow.

“Drake?” the voice, quite familiar, called to him over what seemed like a fair distance. Anastasia didn’t sound sure that he was even around. “Drake, I think I found a friend of yours, if you’re nearby.”

As it turned out, Ana was a few streets over, a grocery bag in either hand and pyroar walking quite contentedly next to her. As soon as she caught sight of him, she smiled. “Oh good; I was hoping he hadn’t gotten too far away. I’d recognize this fellow anywhere.” She must have been done with work for the day; she was wearing a simple white sundress and a floppy straw hat to keep the sun out of her eyes.

He smiled at Ana and waved at her, jogging the last few feet to stand in front of her. "Yeah, he kind of ditched me this morning," he spoke, laughing a little nervously. He tilted his head towards Pyroar and gave him a stern glare, but Pyroar merely flicked his tail as if he didn't care. He probably didn't. Drake only sighed. Sometimes Pyroar could really be a pain. "We were on our way over to see if you needed any help, but by the looks of it," he stated, straightening his posture back out.

"It looks like you might be done for the day. I could help you carry your groceries home, though," he stated. The bags didn't look too heavy, and he didn't want to impose on her, however; since he couldn't really help out at the center, he could at least walk her home and carry her groceries, right?

She blinked at him for a moment, tilting her head to the side in that birdlike way she had. “Well… how about you carry one and I’ll take the other? I do appreciate the help, but I don’t want to put you out too much.” She handed over the bag in her left hand willingly enough, setting the hand it freed on Pyroar’s back, scratching right between his shoulderblades as they walked.

“Thank you though; I happened to finish early today because Cyrilla and Eryk were both there to help, so the work went really fast.” She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Did you defeat your stream of challengers more quickly than usual today, or are you taking one off?”

Huh. He should have known they were there to help. Eryk, if he remembered correctly, had been helping Ana out ever since they came to the island. Not that it was a bad thing, he didn't think. Maybe it was because Eryk was spending more time with Ana than he was. He inwardly frowned at that. He wasn't jealous, was he? He visibly shook his head. "You wouldn't be imposing at all, Ana. I like to help out when I can," he stated, saving himself somewhat from having to explain why he shook his head.

"Well see that's the weird thing," he began, scratching the back of his head slightly. "I didn't have any challengers today. It was weird. I opened the doors to the Gym expecting to see the line, but there wasn't anyone there. Do you know if something's going on? You said Eryk and Cyrilla were with you today, did they seem a little less themselves?" because that would explain a lot.

“Not that I noticed,” she said slowly. She appeared to consider it a moment more, then shook her head a little. “I don’t think so. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at telling what’s going on with them—at least better than I was. I think if there had been some Team Rocket thing happening today, they would have mentioned it.” She paused as they crested a small hill, then started down it.

“But look at that: you have no challengers and I don’t have any work to help with, so now you’ve got a whole day to do whatever you want.” She smiled, a hint of amusement creeping into her tone. “I’d wager that hasn’t happened in a while—do you even remember how to relax?”

Drake chuckled softly. "No, I suppose I don't. I think the last time I relaxed was almost a year ago," he spoke, though he was slightly joking. Team Rocket had been on the island for just under a year, now, but he was always getting challenges then. Mostly because he was still new at being a Gym Leader, and most challengers thought they could take him. Granted, a few of them could, but a majority of them couldn't. He smiled just slightly at that thought. "Well, I could spend the day doing whatever I want, can't I?" he finally spoke, amused at the thought. Pyroar, however, seemed to rumble a grunt of appreciation when she scratched him, though.

The real question, though, was what did he want to do? He had a free day, and most of the time when he was free, he either slept or he ate. Or he talked to some of the islanders who would visit and help Ana. He couldn't help Ana, now, because Eryk and Cy beat him to it, and the islanders were all doing their own thing. Hm. "Well this will have to do for now," he spoke, holding up the bag she had given him. He could walk her home and then maybe he could go from there.

“We need to find you a hobby,” she replied, a little bit of dry humor creeping through. It was rare that she employed it, but Ana did have a laconic wit—something he knew she only showed to those people she was most comfortable with. “Maybe something that doesn’t demand regular attention, that you can pick up or put down whenever you want…” She seemed to give this some thought, though it took her until they reached her house and she’d unlocked the gate before she offered a suggestion.

“Perhaps knitting?” There was a glint of humor in her eyes that belied the joke. “Though that might be better for cooler climates.”

"I... do know how to knit, actually. My great-grandmother taught me before she passed. She said it would help me, one day, though I'm not sure how," he laughed just slightly. He followed her through the gate, and closed it behind him. "But maybe I should try singing. They said I have an atrocious voice, I could probably work on it," he countered. He actually couldn't sing, and he'd never even dare try out in public. Blaine used to tease him all the time for that, but it's not like he actually wanted to sing.

"Though, in all honesty, I'd actually like to learn the guitar. I have one but I've never really played it. Too many challengers, not enough time," he chuckled at that. He supposed at this time, his guitar was collecting dust underneath his bed, but it wasn't too bad. He took it out every once in a while and tuned it. He tried playing a few notes, but it's like the music attracted the challengers to his Gym.

"Oh, hey look Ekans' skin rot's been cleared up," he stated, noticing the Ekans sunbathing. That was nice. He had hoped it would end soon, like his Fletchinder's molting problem.

“I know a little guitar,” Ana said thoughtfully. “Maybe I could help you practice?” A moment later, she shook her head and amended. “Ah, but you probably already spend enough time with me, don’t you? Too much more might start to grate a little.” She didn’t seem to be upset by that at all, actually, and smiled over at Ekans.

“He’s ready for adoption, really. If Toby’s paperwork goes through for his trainer’s license, I was thinking they might get along really well. You know Toby, right?”

"Of course I know Toby. He's Robert's little boy. He actually came by the Gym yesterday to see how battles went. I guess it didn't hurt too much to have him sit in on one. He really seemed to enjoy it," he replied, smiling at that. Toby was a good kid; he'd make a good trainer for Ekans. "Ah, actually, I'm not sure I'll have time to learn guitar. I mean, it'd be nice, but there's no telling when a new string of challengers will come. Maybe... next summer? I might have my old man take over the gym for a little while," because if he had to deal with all of these trainers by then, he'd be molting like Fletchinder had.

"And I don't mind spending my time with you. I enjoy hanging out with you," he spoke, offering her a light grin. He really did enjoy being around her, perhaps a little too much. That wasn't a bad thing was it?

Ana’s expression changed for a second, almost to something… melancholy? But then her mouth pulled back into a smile. “Well… maybe next summer then. I’m glad you’re not sick of me yet—and you’re welcome to come by even if it’s not to do work, you know. I’m sure things can get a little crazy for you, so if you decide you just want to relax and eat something, let me know. I’ve been getting lots of practice cooking lately.”

"Thanks for the offer, I just might do that," he replied, smiling in her direction. He couldn't help but think there might be more to that expression, but he didn't linger on it too long. She'd tell him if something was wrong, right? He hoped they were close enough friends, but maybe there were some things better left unsaid? "For now, I think it's best if Pyroar and I help you with your groceries. We can talk about food later."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Ana sighed, hefting the large bag of food into its place on the shelf. She’d gotten used to hauling these things around after the first few months of running the shelter, but it was still more difficult for her than it would be for anyone else after a year and a half. She’d never been able to build much muscle mass—mostly because of the Everett’s. But even if she hadn’t had it, it might have been a bit tricky. Some people were naturally gifted by genetics with the ability to shape their bodies with the right regimens. For others it was a lot harder.

At least the weather was cool enough that she didn’t sweat much in the process. She wasn’t sure who was coming by to help her today, but they were due soon, so she put the rest of the bags where they belonged and stepped out of the shed, leaving it unlocked behind her. The rest of the chores for today consisted of cleaning out the pool, which was not a fun task but necessary, and mowing the lawn, so she’d prepared by moving everyone inside already. Thankfully they were used to the sound of the mower by now and wouldn’t be startled by it.

Approaching the pool, she reached out with a gloved hand and turned the handle that would drain it from the bottom. It ran into the island’s sewer system, and would end up at the water treatment facility like everything else. That was nice—one thing she could say in favor of Team Rocket was that all the codes they enforced for residential pokémon habitats saved a lot of energy and resources by making sure no special handling was needed for things like this. She shuddered to think of how much it would cost her to run the place if she needed to have all the dirty water hauled off by a truck every time. Having the right filter installed was more up-front, but a lot easier in the long run.

Turns out, it was Cyrilla who came to help. She was smiling when she approached the gate, opening it to let herself inside. "Hi Ana!" she called out, though there was a missing factor. Kenshin wasn't with her. He was usually with her and no longer restrained to his pokéball. He probably stayed behind. "Eryk wanted to come, but he had a business call to take care of. Otherwise, Mr. Grumpy would have been here instead," she spoke, as if explaining the situation. She glanced around the area, taking in the scenery apparently. Like it was the first time she'd seen it.

"It looks so empty without the pokémon in the yard," she spoke, though it was in a thoughtful tone. "So what's on the agenda for today? Ryk said something about the yard, but I wasn't paying too much attention. I was just happy to come in his place today," she admitted, a small grin forming on her lips like she'd somehow outwitted him in something.

Ana wasn’t sure what that something would be, but she smiled anyway, lifting her shoulders in a casual shrug. “Well, today I have to clean out the pool and mow the lawn.” She thought about it for a second, unsure she should really be asking for help with tasks that were quite this laborious. “If you wanted to help, I could show you how to use the mower, but cleaning the pool is really unpleasant, and probably much faster if I just do it myself.”

The last of the water drained away with a gurgle at the bottom of the pool’s tub, and she wrinkled her nose. “I’d really understand if you’d rather just go play with the pokémon, though—you really don’t have to do any of this.” Even just imagining any of this muck in Cyrilla’s gorgeous hair kind of made her feel vaguely guilty.

Cyrilla didn't seem to mind, though. She just raised a brow in her direction, and seemed to smirk a bit. "Really Ana? You think I'm going to leave you to do all of the work yourself? Eryk would get really mad at me if I did that, and I would get mad at myself for just coming over to play with the pokémon. I've done worse things than mowing a yard and cleaning out pools," she spoke, slightly amused at the fact Ana had suggested it, apparently.

"Besides, what kind of friend would I be if I did that? I'd lose my reputation as a nice person, and then I'd be dubbed the little Eryk of the group," she spoke, pulling her lips just slightly into a thin line. She must have been trying to pull her face into Eryk's. She couldn't hold it for too long, though, since she giggled at herself. "I'd rather not be called little Eryk, if you don't mind. Now, let me help you with this, or I'll have Gyarados restrain you and I'll do it all myself," she spoke, a hint of teasing in her voice, but also something quite serious.

Well, when she put it that way… “The lawnmower’s in the shed,” Ana said, leading the way over to it and pushing the door open. “It’s just a standard push one, though it will mostly move itself and just needs guidance around corners and things.” She honestly wasn’t sure how much experience Cyrilla had with lawn chores. One of the things that bothered her about asking her friends to help with this kind of thing was that they all seemed a little… above that sort of thing. Especially Eryk and Cy—maybe because of what little she knew about how they’d been raised? Kas seemed like the kind of person who might have been made to mow a lawn before, but the others were… different.

“Anyway, um… it has gas and everything already. If you have any questions about it, please let me know. I’m going to take care of the pool.” She pulled down a caddy of large scrub brushes and other supplies from one of the shelves, hefting it in her hands.

"Thanks," Cyrilla replied, moving to remove the lawn mower from the shed. Once she'd done that, she stared at it, and then back at Ana, smiling as she did so. "You know, up until a few years ago, I wouldn't have known how to use one of these," she spoke, her smile slightly disappearing. "You start out doing menial tasks as a Grunt, and sometimes that includes doing things for those with a higher rank. One of the members I was under, before I was moved under Ryk, had me cut his yard. I mean, I'm not resentful for it or anything. I actually enjoyed doing it because I learned how to do something on my own, you know?" she stated, pulling at the string to get the lawn mower going.

Once it was revved, she turned her attention towards the yard. "It's the little things we learn for ourselves that we have to enjoy, right?" she stated, giving Ana a slight wink before she went to work on the yard.

That was definitely one way to look at it. Pushing out a short sigh, Ana tossed Iris’s pokéball, smiling when the dratini appeared. “You know the drill,” she said, nodding towards the pool. “We’ve gotta make sure Bubbles and Glub have a clean house, so… Aqua Tail.”

She and Iris had a system for this chore: Iris would wet a patch with the move, Ana would scrub it down with specialized soap and elbow grease, and then while she moved on to the next spot, Iris would rinse. The hum of the lawnmower in the distance was a pleasant reminder of the fact that she wasn’t working alone, and before long, she’d settled into the rhythm of it, humming along with her work.

Including cleaning the mower and refilling the pool, the work took about an hour and a half. On top of all the other lifting and hauling she’d done early in the day, Ana’s muscles were aching, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. She considered it a reminder that they had the ability to help her do these things.

Not long after, she and Cyrilla sat at the table outdoors, drinking tea with cookies. Ana leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, stretching out the muscles of her back. “Were your early years with Team Rocket difficult?” she asked, cracking an eyelid to peer at Cyrilla from one blue eye. “I don’t really know what’s involved in being a grunt or anything like that, except that the rank is obviously lower.”

"I suppose you could say so," she replied almost immediately, leaning into her chair as well. She had a content smile on her face, and her eyes were closed somewhat. She cracked her eyes open, though, and turned her head towards Ana. "It took me a long time to climb my way up the ranks. Everyone I met, who were grunts like me, wanted to succeed in what they did. Me, being the silly person that I am, wanted to help them. And so, I spent most of my time helping out my fellow grunts, making sure they were taken care of and at least somewhat comfortable in what they were doing."

She turned away when she spoke, a melancholic expression crossing her face. "But then I realized I was losing Eryk, and by the time I realized it, he was already earning his first rank as a Beast. They called him Entei. I felt... left behind, sort of," she continued, taking a deep breath. It didn't seem easy for her to say this, but she seemed comfortable enough with Ana. "In the end, I started focusing on advancing myself, and some people, some of my closest friends in the organization, resented me for it. I don't blame them, I really don't. But... I was on a mission. If I failed it, then what use would I have been to them," she ended that note with a soft hum and scoff.

"They mean a lot to me," though who they were was left ambiguous. Maybe she did that on purpose, but she seemed to accept it with a slight shake of her head. "What good is having friends if you can't share your secrets, right?" she stated suddenly, glancing fully at Ana. "I'm sure you know, but I'm talking about Kas and Eryk. They really do mean a lot to me, and... I want to help them any way I can. I just don't know if I have. You too, actually. You're... kind of my best friend, now that I think about it," she spoke, laughing lightly at herself.

“You’re kind of my best friend, too,” Ana replied honestly. It wasn’t something she’d ever thought about in those terms; she just knew she had friends that she loved and cared about now. And if some people thought six months was too short a time to feel that way about them, well… Ana would simply have to disagree. She rubbed her thumb on the rim of her teacup; the small smile she wore faded a little as she considered the implications of Cyrilla’s words.

“It sounds like… you joined Team Rocket for the sole purpose of helping them,” she said, tilting her head to the side a little. It was quite an extraordinary thing to do, but Ana had no problem believing it was true of Cyrilla. She was the kind of person who wouldn’t hesitate to do that. “I’m sure you have, for whatever that’s worth—but I thought you two didn’t really know Kas that well until you’d already joined?” There was a small discrepancy there that she didn’t know what to do with. To hear Kas tell it, he’d only really interacted with a couple of times before she joined, and both of those times were just because he happened to be with Eryk.

"I was in training when I met Kas. Eryk had already been with the organization for a few years, and he came home to visit the clan one day. Kas was with him and... well, um," she started, turning just the slightest bit pink. "It was that first interaction we had that I realized Kas was a little like Eryk. I mean, they're completely different people on the outside, but they were, are, good people. And... I... kind of have a crush on Kas," she spoke, though she must have realized what she said because she choked a bit.

"I mean, I had a crush on him. Not that it had anything to do with the reason why I joined, I just..." she laughed nervously and glanced away for a moment. "A-Anyway, after that, I just wanted to help them, you know? He and Eryk, I think, were just barely above Grunt status then, because when I finally joined, they were already close to being Executives. Eryk and Kas weren't really on good terms, exactly. Kas annoyed Eryk to no end, but... I think he's actually quite fond of Kas, now. Funny how time has a way of changing your perspective on things," she chuckled softly.

“It does,” Ana agreed. Somehow, she wasn’t exactly surprised by the fact that Cyrilla had—or was it used to have? The matter wasn’t clear—feelings for Kasimir.

She contemplated that for a moment, sipping carefully at her hot tea and feeling herself start to relax as her muscles unwound. “Do you… still have those feelings for him? I’d have thought that if you did, the two of you would be, well… together. It doesn’t seem to me like he’d turn you down, I don’t think?” She was careful to keep the words measured and her tone delicate—as often as things like that might be ultimately trivial, Cyrilla didn’t really seem to do unserious feelings. She gave herself wholly to whatever she decided she wanted to do.

Ana didn’t see any reason to believe relationships of that kind would be different. “Not… that I’m an expert,” she confessed, smiling sheepishly. “I don’t really have any experience to guide, in matters like those.” It wasn’t really the kind of thing you let yourself think about, when relationships, real ones, were meant to be long-term, and she just didn’t have any interest in short-term things of that kind.

Cyrilla looked like she almost fell out of her chair when she'd asked the question. She regained her composure, though, and smiled a little solemnly. "I do, but... I'm trying to put them away. Kas isn't exactly the type of person who has just one relationship. Actually, I've never seen him in one, so I can't say for sure," she began, sitting up properly in the chair and folding her hands in her lap. "But I know that even if I did tell him anything about it, he wouldn't... he wouldn't be with me. I'm not exactly his type. I don't even know if he has one. Also... please don't take this the wrong way, but," she paused and seemed a little hesitant to continue.

"Even if we could be together, we couldn't. It just wouldn't work out that way," she smiled, but it wasn't so sad this time. "Besides, my family probably wouldn't even allow it. It shouldn't matter, but it does," she added. Something like realization flashed through her eyes, and for a moment, there was a sort of sadness to them. She shook her head and smiled regularly. "I'm not one to talk, though. Someone else I know is having a hard time dealing with their own feelings and doesn't want to admit it," she spoke, glancing a little slyly at Ana.

"But they're a good co-worker so hopefully someone will help them sort it out. I think it'll be cute once they do," she spoke, laughing just lightly to herself.

“Well,” Ana said slowly, “I hope as your best friend I’m allowed to say this, but… it sounds like you’re making a lot of assumptions about him, and about how things would be if you were together. I suppose the family issue might be a real problem, but… I don’t know. I think it might not be impossible to get around. As for your… coworker?” It seemed like an abrupt change of topic to Ana, but she decided to go with it. “I hope their situation works out for the best, too. Life is… well, I suppose not every life is all that short, but… not even healthy people know what tomorrow’s going to be like. That seems like a good reason to do your best to be happy today, doesn’t it?”

Ana finished her tea, setting the cup down on the saucer with a soft clink, and reached for one of the cookies. Since it was just Cy and herself, she’d made them sweet this time—though maybe not as much as she used to. They were based on dark chocolate and orange. She hadn’t even thought about it—maybe her tastes had changed a little from eating so many not-so-sweet desserts recently?

She hummed a thoughtful tune in the back of her throat, and merely nodded her head. "Maybe. I'll be sure to let them know that," she stated, returning to a slouch in her chair. She took one of the cookies as well, and nearly chuckled when she did. "I see Ryk is rubbing off on you with all this not-so-sweet sweets," she stated, finishing off the cookie. "I suppose that isn't a bad thing, though. Sometimes sweets get a little over rated, right?" she stated, her smile turning into a wide grin. She blinked somewhat, as if a sudden thought occurred.

"You know what we need," she started, glancing up towards the sky. "We need to go camping one day, maybe make a make-shift camp in your yard. It'll be nice and we'd all get to have a nice day to relax," she suggested.

Ana chuckled. “Well, there are a few smaller, unpopulated islands around Cinnabar. Maybe we could go camping on one of those. It would be nice, I think…” She’d never really been camping before, but it seemed like a nice idea. Maybe she could ask her aunt to look in on the shelter for a day or two. “Might be good to make a weekend of it sometime, perhaps after the rainy season is over.”

It was a nice thought, at least.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

Earnings

0.00 INK

Eryk was hanging out in his chair, perhaps a little unlike himself. His arms were hanging off of the sides, his head was leaning over the top, and he was just staring at the ceiling. He was having a bit of trouble sorting through things, and he'd been distracted as of late. So distracted that they had called to issue a complaint. Apparently he'd forgotten to send in a report in the last few weeks. He could have sworn he did, but going through the papers that were currently out of shape on his desk, had proven otherwise. The report was written, but it hadn't been sent off. He could have just e-mailed it to them, but he'd just forgotten.

He really felt distracted, and he couldn't quite place where it stemmed from. Part of it had mostly to do with what Cyrilla had told him, and the more he thought about it, the more distracted he became. What else could he possibly have missed? She had told him like it was something more, but how? How was it any more than what it was? He admitted that he enjoyed Ana's company, and that he'd liked her. But that was about as far as it went. He told Ana that she was a good friend to have, but now that he thought about it, that seemed wrong. He pulled a hand over his face, and dragged it across.

"I am distracted, and yet need a distraction," he spoke out loud. There was some irony in that statement, and Mankey seemed to have caught onto it. He simply jumped onto Eryk's lap, and stared at him. Eryk stared back. Neither of them blinked, and this went on for a few minutes more.

“You know,” Kas said from the doorway, “the resemblance really is quite striking. Between you and Mankey, that is.” He entered the office with a tray balanced on one hand. Steam wafted up from one of the plain white mugs from the breakroom—though by the smell of it, it had something much better in it than the instant coffee the grunts seemed to subsist on.

“Melly brought me coffee beans from the island,” he explained with a smile, obviously referring to his island. He talked about it like that, sometimes. “There aren’t any better ones in the world, so consider this a gourmet coffee experience. Black, as usual.” He set it down in front of Eryk, reaching back to the tray and producing an apple, which he handed to Mankey.

“And for everyone’s favorite troublemaker. Besides me, of course.” He tucked the tray under his arm and sat in one of the chairs on the other side of Eryk’s desk.

“So… what’s eating you?”

Both Mankey and Eryk turned their head in unison towards Kasimir, and for a moment, Eryk just stared at him. He frowned slightly, unsure of what to say himself. He didn't know what was eating him and he couldn't exactly describe it, either. He took the offered mug, and stared inside at the contents. Mankey took the apple happily, and jumped from Ryk's shoulder and made his way towards a make-shift tree that he could climb up. Eryk had it made special for Mankey so that he could have something to go in if he needed to.

"I don't know," he finally confessed, taking a drink from the cup. "I've been neglecting my duties, for some odd reason, and I think it has something to do with what Cy said," he continued once he'd swallowed his drink. He pursed his lips together as he thought about it more. He was pretty sure it was something that she'd said, but he still had some doubts. He glanced up at Kas, and furrowed his brows. "She told me that it's okay to admit that I enjoy someone's company," but he was still confused as to what she actually meant.

"And that it was okay to feel that," he stated, his brows furrowing deeper.

Kas propped an elbow on the armrest of the chair, resting his thumb on the underside of his chin and his knuckle in front of his mouth. He smiled for a second, but it faded pretty quickly. “Okay,” he replied slowly. “And the issue is that you don’t understand what she meant by that? Or that you do understand and aren’t sure you agree?” He seemed to treat Eryk’s conundrum almost as seriously as Eryk himself was—which was to say that he hadn’t immediately started cracking jokes or making fun of him. That was pretty unusual, actually.

If he were being honest, it was a little bit of both. He thought he knew what she meant by that, but he did know that he didn't necessarily agree with it. Considering how delicate this matter was to HQ, enjoying someone's company and admitting to it seemed like something he shouldn't do. It was dangerous ground for all of them, and he knew that. But...

"I don't know," he finally spoke, leaning back into his chair. "I think I know what she means, but I'm not entirely sure if it's the same thing. And no, I'm not so sure if I do agree if it is what I think it is," he admitted somewhat. Now, he was confused. The way he said it didn't make sense at all to himself, and he pursed his lips together. This was getting more confusing the longer he thought about it.

Kas smiled, apparently in good humor, but it was subtle compared to most of his facial expressions. “Slow down there, rapidash,” he said amiably. “I think you might be getting a little ahead of yourself here. All this is very vague so far. Now, I have my own ideas about what Cyrilla meant and how to take it, but why don’t we start simple: what do you think she meant to say when she told you that? Be as concrete and literal as possible: you’re good at that, so it’s what’ll help you think through this, right?”

"She asked me if I liked Ana and I told her yes. I like her because she's a good friend," he began, slowing down just slightly. "But from the way she said it, she made it seem like it was more than just that. I know it's not," he continued. He wasn't entirely stupid. He knew about things like crushes and shit like that. He'd known Cyrilla his entire life to not know what that was, however; he knew it wasn't the same thing with Ana. He simply enjoyed her company. That was it, right? Fuck, now he was doubting himself.

“Okay,” Kas said, seeming inclined to take him at his word, “so basically what you’re saying is that you think Cyrilla has misunderstood the nature of your feelings towards Ana.” He lifted both eyebrows at Eryk. “If that’s the case, what’s the problem? She misunderstood, said something that would only apply if she were correct—which you’ve said she isn’t. So it just straightforwardly doesn’t apply to the situation, right? You could tell her so if you wanted, but that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would distract you this much, does it?”

His friend’s words had a sort of deliberate patience to them, as though he were quite consciously guiding Eryk through his own thoughts on the matter. He didn’t try to tell Eryk what was going on in his head; all he did was ask questions to try and get clarification. It was kind of strange, for someone who usually happily informed other people of what they were thinking—and who was most often quite right about it.

Now that he thought about it, Kas was right. If Cyrilla wasn't right, then it shouldn't bother him. He shouldn't be this distracted over some misunderstanding. Well. Shit. Now this just got more confusing. He sighed heavily and made to take another drink of his cup, however; he paused and glanced at his own reflection. He could see his reflection in the dark coffee, but it was distorted somewhat. Kind of like how he felt at the moment. Maybe he was just misunderstanding the situation as a whole? Maybe it wasn't really that, that distracted him. Perhaps it was something more?

"You're right about that," he finally admitted, tearing his gaze from his coffee to stare at Kas. "I suppose I should talk to her about it, and get it straightened out, but," he paused just temporarily. Would it be that bad if he actually did? His face straightened out into something unreadable, he could tell. It would be, because then that meant he had compromised his mission and became personally attached. This was why he wanted to distance himself in the first place. The more he was around her, the more he wanted to stay around.

"Maybe there is some truth to what she says," he spoke softly. He hadn't meant to say it out loud though, and was glad he whispered it.

Kas apparently heard, though, because he sighed heavily through his nose. “I know you’re probably thinking about the mission right now,” he said slowly, quietly. “But… I’m not gonna tell you what to do, Ryk, but here’s a couple of things you should maybe consider. Firstly… it’s probably too late to do this clean like they wanted us to. Whether we like it or not, whether there’s more to it for you or not, she’s our friend. There’s no getting around that at this point, and we’re deluding ourselves if we think it’s going to end without pain, for us or for her, if we have to do whatever the boss is after.” His words had a heavy weight to them, like he was speaking from deeply personal experience.

Then again, he was friends with Ana too, so maybe he was. “Second… it might not turn out that way—by which I mean she might not be a candidate or a prospect or whatever for this project at the end. Maybe she doesn’t have what they’re looking for; we’ve seen no evidence of anything that should interest the boss. He’s not gonna care that she has Everett’s or runs a shelter or is probably the nicest person we know. So… it’s possible that we might be getting worried for nothing. If that was the case, well… maybe you should at least think about what you would do and how you would act if she wasn’t a target, because she might not be one forever. But she’ll still be here. In our lives. Just… stuff to think about, I guess.”

He actually hadn't thought about it that way. But if that were true, then it still wouldn't end well. They would get transferred to another place, probably back to Saffron if had to guess where. Even if it was just stuff to think about, he was thinking about it now, and that was what distracted him so much. He sighed heavily into his cup before taking the last bit of drink. He set the cup down, glanced towards Mankey who seemed to have fallen asleep in his tree, and back towards Kas.

"You know," he began, pausing just momentarily to gather his words properly. He allowed a subtle quirk of his lips to be shown. "You're a good friend when you want to be, giving out advice and all," he stated just barely short of amused. But he supposed Kas was also right about another thing. It is possible that they would be getting worried for nothing, and that he should at least take it into consideration. After all, with her disease, perhaps it would be best if he didn't get attached that way. Her days were, practically, numbered. There wasn't any guarantee that she would live past this year or the following year.

And for the second time in his life, Eryk felt a spike of hot fear course through his body. He shuddered slightly, but shook it off as best as he could. "Even though you can be an ass most of the time," he added, trying not to think of anything more than he had to, now.

“Well,” Kas drawled, grinning back, “someone’s gotta help you out. Cy’s apparently vague as hell, and we both know that kind of thing doesn’t penetrate that thick skull of yours.” Amusement glinted in his eyes; apparently he could only be serious for short periods at a time. “But honestly, Ryk, I’m glad to help—if that’s even what I just did. Might’ve made things worse, now that I think about it.”

His smile faded slightly, and he stood. “One last bit of advice, though… sometimes, we don’t get to decide what we feel. Attachment, affection—they don’t work like that, exactly. So… just be aware that the feelings might not be up to you, in the end, but the actions always are.”

Oh he knew that. "I am fully aware of that," he repeated, though to himself. He only had to look at his cousin to know that. She might say she's over her feelings, but Eryk knew better. He almost chuckled at that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia
Music thudded in her ears; it wasn’t hard to time the rhythm of her footfalls to match it. That was, in fact, the basic incentive to running with music—to give yourself a steady pace and stick to it. Harper enjoyed running in the sand at the edge of the beach more than she thought she would; it was good resistance training. Pyrrha seemed to enjoy it, too—she kept running in and out of the waves and splashing around. For a fire-type, she really enjoyed the water. Perhaps that was due to her longstanding friendship with Torrent, which started when they were a litleo and a horsea respectively.

Una ran on her other side, less enthusiastic at the prospect of getting her fur wet. These two were her running partners, Torrent and Kelpie her swimming buddies, Shaolin her sparring partner, and Argent kept her company on the road and inside places where larger pokémon weren’t allowed to be loose. She had a friend everywhere she went, for most everything she could do.

She still managed to miss human companionship sometimes, though. Talking with your pokémon was well and good, but most couldn’t talk back, and even the species that could had wildly different outlooks on the world. Sometimes, a girl just wanted some time with her own species. Good thing her brother and his interesting friends lived on Cinnabar, she figured—that was better than having to talk to strangers to get that fix. But even this was only temporary; she’d be back to phone calls and no actual company soon enough.

Ugh.

Shaking her head and resolving not to think about it, Harper picked up the pace a little, switching the Pokégear armband she wore to play a different song.

"Hey Harper!" a voice called out that was easily recognizable as Cyrilla's. She was walking with someone, though, and from the looks of it, it looked like the Gym Leader, Drake. He waved in her direction too, a slightly goofy smile on his face and a tinge of red. Apparently he was still embarrassed about their first meeting. He offered a greeting as well, and Cyrilla turned to give him a confused look. "Oh? You've met already? Oh don't tell me you've already challenged him?!" she stated, glancing back towards Harper.

"What? No, she hasn't, actually," Drake intervened that one before anything could be said. "She came by the Gym a few days ago when I was closing it up for the day. That's how I met her," he spoke, laughing slightly nervously and it looked like he was refusing to look at her, now. At least in the eye.

Speaking of human company… Harper smiled at Cyrilla, letting it take a certain wicked edge when she noticed that Drake was with her. Well, well… fancy meeting him again. She knew at a glance that they weren’t anything more than friends—martial arts wasn’t the only thing she’d learned from her brother and strove to overtake him in. She was probably a little better at reading people, honestly, because she actually believed in love and knew how to see it, which was Mirmir’s biggest shortcoming.

“He gave me a nice tour and everything,” she said, amusement leaking into her voice. Shutting her music off, she dropped her earbuds around her neck and jogged the rest of the way over to them, pokémon in tow. They sat at her sides protectively as usual, but she clicked her tongue—a signal that they could relax. They might not ever fully do so, after everything, but they did ease up. Una leaned up against her side while Pyrrha went to sniff at the newcomers. She knew Cyrilla already leading her to concentrate her attention on Drake.

Harper huffed. “Don’t mind her; she’s nosy, is all.” She paused, glancing between them. “Were you two headed somewhere?”

"Aw, isn't that sweet, Drake," Cyrilla stated, shoving her shoulder into his, causing his face to turn a shade darker. "I'm surprised he even gave you a tour. If he was closing the Gym, I kind of figured he didn't want any company," she stated, causing Drake to sigh heavily.

"You make it sound like it's a bad thing to want to rest, Cy," he spoke, giving Cyrilla a sort of deadpanned look. "And actually, we were just taking a walk. I have a moment to breathe with no challengers," he paused momentarily to stare at Harper, "and Cyrilla was taking the day off for personal reasons. At least that's what she said. I kind of figured since Ana didn't need us today, we could at least spend our time in each other's company. It's nice to have friends like that," he stated, glancing towards Cyrilla and then back towards Harper.

"Do you want to join us? We were going to the pier, but they closed it down. Apparently someone accidentally set a stall on fire and they want to make sure everything is fine before they re-open it," she stated, glancing at Drake when she said that.

"You're looking at me like it was my fault," he commented. "I promise it wasn't my fault," he stated, glancing back at Harper.

Harper bit her tongue to keep from laughing, then realized that was stupid and just let herself laugh. “Oh?” she said with an air of thoughtfulness. “Well, I don’t know anyone else with quite so many fire pokémon as you, so the balance of probability is not on your side, leader-man.” She grinned, but shook her head to indicate that she was only joking.

“Anyway, if you can’t go to the pier, do you want to get something to eat? I just finished my run, so I’m kind of starving, and I haven’t been to many of the restaurants on the island yet.” She wasn’t sure anything would ever top Sheena’s place, but that was a really damn high bar. She wasn’t that much of a food snob. “I’ll buy,” she added, in case they didn’t want to spend the money. She figured they probably had it—more than her, since they were a Rocket admin and a gym leader, but hey, who knew?

"If we're going to go get something to eat, it's not going to be burgers," Cyrilla stated, giving Drake a rather flat look. "Last time he wanted to eat something, he wanted burgers. I think he lives off of burgers," she stated, leaning forward slightly as if she were trying to make it seem like a secret. It wasn't, obviously, since Drake could hear it.

"I resent that, you know," he stated, but shook his head. The color didn't quite leave his face, but it did fade a bit. "I guess it really depends on what you're in the mood for, though. We have a nice restaurant that specializes in Kalos region-styled foods, and then we have a restaurant that has good seafood," he began listing a few choices, and then gave a thoughtful nod. "Actually, we could probably whip something up at the Gym, too, since there's a kitchen and all. Cy makes awesome things so I'm sure she'd be happy to make you something," he stated, volunteering Cyrilla for it.

"Hey now, you can't just volunteer someone without asking them first. I'm standing right here, you know," Cyrilla chided, but it was in good nature. She didn't seem upset by the notion, after all. "I'm pretty sure the pretty lady wants something a little more convenient," she added, smiling a little wider when Drake's face regained color.

Rilla knew how to play this game. Harper was glad of it—it’d make things considerably more fun for her. “I’d hate to make someone cook homemade for me when there are so many good restaurant choices available,” she said truthfully, pinching two pokéballs off her belt and recalling Una and Pyrrha. That accomplished, she minimized and reattached them, looping an arm through one each of Rilla’s and Drake’s—and making a point to wink at him when she did it.

“Let’s do seafood. It’s gotta be good around here—it’s an island, for goodness’ sake! Which way do we go?” She looked back and forth between them—but she kept her hold on each of them loose enough to be easily escaped. Having fun with people was one thing; making them genuinely upset was another matter, and she knew better than most how uncomfortable it could be even to be touched by someone you didn’t want near you—so she silently gave them the option of moving away discreetly.

She could take a hint, after all.

Cyrilla laughed lightly, but Drake turned a deeper shade of red. "It's uh... it's this way, I think," he spoke, but he didn't remove his arm, either. Cyrilla, however, seemed to tighten her hold on Harper's arm, and looked like she was trying not to laugh. "It's owned by Nathan and his wife, Judith. The usually have a good variety of things if you don't want seafood, exactly," he added, clearing his throat a little awkwardly.

"But, you wouldn't have suggested seafood if you didn't want it," he continued, this time laughing nervously again. Cyrilla seemed amused by it because she was shaking a little bit, her cheeks puffing out just slightly.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say Drake, here, is a bit lost for words. Wow, Harper, I didn't know you could leave people so speechless," she finally spoke, amusement laced in her tone as Drake sputtered slightly.

"Hey now, that's not fair. I'm just... I don't," he tried to speak, apparently at a loss for words now.

"There's nothing wrong with it, Drake. I think it's adorable," she added, the color on Drake's face now matching the color of his hair.

Harper grinned at her. “Rilla, I’ve done much worse to people than this. This is me being merciful. Unless you’ve suddenly managed to forget just who I’m related to, hm?” Drake shouldn’t be the only one dealing with a little bit of fluster, after all. Harper wasn’t worried about dishing out anything she couldn’t take—the only person she’d ever met who could embarrass her was her brother.

Gently tugging the both of them forward, she set off in the direction Drake had sort-of indicated. “So, what do you guys like to eat, when you get to choose?” she asked, partly from curiosity and partly because she really was being merciful. “I really like Orange Islands food, but some people think it’s too spicy…”

"Oh, I like spicy foods, though," Cyrilla spoke after frowning slightly at Harper. Her face, however, managed to get some color on it, but she didn't say anything about that topic.