Pokémon: Atonement

Pokémon: Atonement

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[Private] People find meaning and redemption in the most unusual human connections.

4,831 readers have visited Pokémon: Atonement 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/

Introduction



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Just because someone stumbles and loses their way
....doesn't mean that they are lost forever.

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Beneath every idyll, there is an ugly truth.

For a long time, the world itself seemed to be in a state of harmony. People and pokémon worked together, coexisting peacefully in any number of ways, from simple companionship to sharing natural resources, to forming close partnerships for things like competitive battling or the cooperative artistry of pokémon contests. Children were often sent out into the world with their first pokémon around age eleven, for a journey of friendship and self-discovery, with pokémon centers set up in every town to serve as free lodging and medical care along the way. Occasionally, there were those who sought to disturb the peace, to rupture the careful balance of the system, but in the end, none of them lasted. The original Team Rocket, Team Magma, Team Galactic, and so on were all eventually defeated, and the threat they represented to harmony quelled accordingly.

But for Stefan Gregorovich, once a lowly Team Rocket grunt, there were cracks in the idyll's foundation. Working for the criminal organization in his youth had exposed him to the ugly truth beneath it. It pervaded every corner of the relationship between people and the natural world around them, including the pokémon. Young children were sent out into the world with little monitoring, and many of them fell prey to danger along the way. More still, many of them had never been taught how to properly care for another creature, and as a result, the idyll of friendship and cooperation was often a gloss over cases of abuse, abandonment, and neglect. Competitive battling was like any other sport with enough economic heft and little oversight: one that exploited its largely-voiceless athletes, and often their trainers as well, for the benefit of for-profit organizations that held massive tournaments and other televised events. The contest world was little better.

The demand for more and 'better' pokémon led to a broken breeding system, where pokémon were forced into mill-like conditions, the 'inferior' specimens often disposed of and the others sold for sky-high prices, such that many areas of human-pokémon interaction came to be dominated by the rich, whether or not they were aware of what was being done to make that possible. These deregulated conditions were perfect for those making a killing on such business, and all of it meshed together in the form of a system that was as impossible to fight against as it was to break into from the bottom.

Seizing the name and legacy of one of the oldest anti-system organizations, Gregorovich rebranded Team Rocket as the revolution: an organization dedicated to doing what the justice system would not and could not: breaking apart the net of control imposed upon both people and pokémon by the corruption inherent in the idyll.

It wasn't easy, but it was fast. Somehow, within a decade of its inception, Neo Team Rocket was the most powerful international organization in the world, with connections to every major regional government, nowhere moreso than in Kanto, where they base most of their operations. Under their influence, the legal age for the start of a pokémon journey was recently raised to seventeen, the legal age of majority. So, too, are people required to apply for licenses for any activity that involves pokémon, with varying levels of strict vetting and continued oversight.

The circumstances of this mysterious rise to power were veiled from public view, and there are those who are deeply suspicious that Neo Team Rocket has not shed its criminal origins as completely as they present themselves. These people are, of course, completely right. Gregorovich never intended it any other way. What is in place now is a new idyll, with a new ugly truth. And yet, the average person, even the average team member, has no idea what that ugly truth is.

And he will do everything in his considerable power to protect it indefinitely.

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Private Roleplay between Nemeseia and Aethyia


Toggle Rules

The GM of this roleplay hasn't created any rules! You can do whatever you like!

Taking place in...

Kanto Region our primary setting

The Kanto region: filled with various pokémon and nefarious deeds.

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 2 authors

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

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April 13th
Cinnabar Shopping Center - Afternoon - Clear
Nevena Solomon


“I've never really gone to the beach just to go," Nev stated as she glanced at the others. Mel had invited all of them to go to the beach in a few days, and had suggested that they go shopping for the proper beach attire. Nev had gone to the beach before, but it was mostly because the boat she needed to take was docked at a pier. She'd watched people enjoy themselves, but this would be her actual first trip. The summer festival didn't count. That wasn't enjoying the sand or water. She was looking forward to it, though, but not the shopping. She didn't know what she needed, or if there was anything in particular that was considered proper.

“I take it that means you don't have a swimsuit, then?" Cyrilla stated more than questioned, arching a brow in Nev's direction.

“I don't," Nev murmured softly.

“That's alright," Cyrilla stated as she clicked her tongue. “The store we're going to has just about everything you'll need."

Mel nodded. "Swimsuits, comfortable stuff to wear over one, and hats and stuff if you'd like one, too. You should also definitely get sunscreen from the pharmacy, if you don't already own some."

Ana raised her hand a little sheepishly. "SPF 100," she said, clearing her throat. "I work enough outdoors that I wear it every day just in case. Make sure you get the waterproof kind."

“Well I suppose it can't hurt to stock up on some," Nev stated with a smile. She spent most of her time inside, and didn't think she needed it. If they were going to spend all day outside, then it would be a good idea to get more sunscreen.

“So, Nev, Ana, Mel," Cyrilla started, glancing in their direction. “What kind of swimsuits do you prefer?" she asked, tilting her head a bit. Nev blinked before contemplating the question. She didn't really have a preference, but she knew that if she'd said that, Cyrilla was likely to take the intiative and grab something that Nev wouldn't be comfortable in.

“I don't know, honestly. I've never owned a swimsuit outside of gym class in high school," it was best to be honest, she supposed. “But maybe once we get to the store, I might find something I like?" she wasn't entirely sure why it came out like a question. Cyrilla merely nodded her head and turned towards Ana and Mel.

"I, um... have one, actually," Ana said, shifting in a way that conveyed a hint of discomfort. "And a thing to wear over it. I was hoping to find a proper sundress, too, but... I'm not sure if this store is really my kind of place." They'd walked into the place, a stylish boutique outfitted for an island summer, and she did look rather out of place, in ripped black skinny jeans, a loose black tank over a striped camisole, and, of all things, the heels they'd bought to accompany her dress in Saffron.

Even this was rather a departure from the way she'd dressed when they first met, all except for the color. She was, very slowly, seeming to get comfortable with articles that fit her, instead of ones that were a couple sized too large, quite different from the shirt, which was made to hang loosely so the shirt under it would be partly visible.

"You better not be talking about that wetsuit I saw in your closet," Mel said, though she sounded amused rather than genuinely annoyed. If Ana wanted to wear a wetsuit, Nev knew Mel wouldn't protest at all.

Ana shook her head, though. "Um... no. Not that. Though maybe I should? If there's going to be surfing...?"

There was a sly smile on Cyrilla's face. “I'm sure Ryk would find her attractive in just about anything, or nothing at all," she stated the last part lowly that Nev almost didn't hear it. She cleared her own throat, awkwardly. “But that's actually not a bad call. Ryk and Kas have surfboards now, and Drake has a couple, right?" she glanced in Mel's direction.

Nev wasn't so sure about that, though. She didn't know the first thing about surfing. “I think I'll just spectate. Besides, Mel mentioned something about volleyball, too. We should probably get something that will be good for both swimming and that," she stated, earning a light chuckle from Cyrilla.

“That's the point of a swimsuit, Nev. You can wear it in the water or out; it's multipurpose."

"To answer your original question, Cy, I usually stick to one-pieces. I have some scars I'm not super comfortable with, so that's just easier." Mel shrugged. "They also tend to be the conservative option, if you're inclined that way." The last part seemed to be directed at Nev.

Ana, red-faced and very clearly trying not to sputter, took the opportunity presented by the topic reversal. "Um... mine's a... tankini, I think they're called. Functionally almost the same, but in two pieces instead of one."

Nev might have thought the falter in Cyrilla's smile at Mel's statement was just a trick of the eyes, but they all knew the scars Mel was referring to. “Hm, understandable. I think this might be the first year I'll be wearing something similar," she stated as she glanced in Nev's direction. “So I guess that means we're all going to match in one way or another," she stated a little excitedly.

“I suppose so?" Nev didn't know what she was going to get. There were so many options to choose from, and then there was the sundress to think about, and maybe a hat? Wait, no, she had a sun hat that could work.

“Alright, ladies, let's go find ourselves an outfit! Nev, do you want help with yours?" Cyrilla asked as she glanced towards Nev.

“Maybe?"

"I can go with you, Nev?" Ana offered softly. "Since I already have everything I need. If I find a sundress that's nice, but I'm not really here for one, so I'm free."

“Really? That would be a big help," Nev replied, offering Ana a small smile. “I don't know the first thing about this, and since you already have something, I'd appreciate your insight," she continued. It wasn't that she didn't think Mel or Cy could offer the same help, but they would be getting their own stuff, and she didn't want to intrude or interrupt them.

“Well, you two enjoy yourselves," Cyrilla stated as she linked her arm with Mel's. “Melly and I are going to go pick out our stuff and meet you back in ten?"

“Sure thing," Nev replied as she glanced at Ana. “You said you had a tankini, right? Will you help me find one, too?" she asked. If it was similar to a one piece, it might be beneficial to get one since they were going to be doing other things and not just swimming.

"Sure!" Ana said, making her way towards the back of the store with the click of her heels. "Do you have any particular color or feel in mind? Cute? Mature? Er... sexy? Sorry; I still feel a little weird saying that word, but now I'm just being awkward." She smiled a little sheepishly.

Nev honestly couldn't blame her. She wasn't sure that was ever a word to describe herself, and it just... well, she'd never really had a reason to say it out loud, either. “Er, well, I guess something more along the lines of what would be practical?" she wasn't sure what she was looking for. “Uh, but maybe something in the lines of blues and purples? Oh! Maybe pinks?" since pink was her favorite color, after all. She should probably get something like that.

Ana huffed a little. "Swimsuits aren't practical," she said, shaking her head. "Wetsuits are practical, but those are for like... well I use mine for rescue dives and things. Really, though, with a regular swimsuit no matter what you do there's lots of skin. It's really just sort of a question of whether you want to minimize that or lean into it. Even then minimizing is hard. Even mine has a decorated cutout right—here." She gestured to her sternum, tracing a line on her shirt that indicated a fair amount of cleavage would be visible.

Clearing her throat, Ana pinkened slightly. "I might have been a little tipsy when I ordered it but I do think it's pretty. It's just... kind of bold for me. Anything in here would be too, though."

“But what matters is that you like it, right?" Nev asked as they made their way towards a rack of swimsuits. “I guess if they aren't practical..." she trailed off as she glanced at the first swimsuit. It was a cobalt blue color, and a bikini. Nev wasn't too sure if she was willing to reveal that much skin. She didn't have scars, or anything like that to be mindful of, but... she'd always been a large child, and some things were harder to get over than most.

But maybe... if she did this one thing, maybe it would be a first step in a direction that would make her more confident in herself? “I guess I want to try something different, then," she stated, pulling out a two piece. It was a bold red color, and she wasn't sure it would suit her. It wasn't the same red as Aidan's hair, perhaps just a tad more bold and... well it was too loud for her coloration, she supposed.

"You know, I bet you'd look great in a bikini," Ana said, nodding with approval. "If you're comfortable with the idea. The whole concept is plenty, uh... mature on its own, so if you didn't want to wear just some scraps of fabric maybe the ones over here would fit better?" She gestured to a rack near herself.

"But if you want to do the skimpy thing, that's a valid choice too." Still, she seemed to have caught on to Nev's discomfort, hence the suggestion.

Nev smiled a little at Ana's statement and nodded her head. She skimmed the rack that Ana had pointed to, grabbing one every so often and inspecting it. One particular outfit was barely an outfit at all. It looked like a thin strap that would barely cover her chest and the bottom portion looked... well, it didn't look like it would cover much. She found another one, a pale blue color that was labeled as a bandage bikini, but the size wasn't what she was looking for.

“Oh," she stated when she pulled a suit from the rack. “What do you think about this one?" she asked Ana, holding it up so that Ana could see it. It was white in color, and had a long sarong attached to it. The halter top was a little more exposed at the top, but Arceus, she wanted to try something new. Something that would... she pushed the thought out of her mind and felt her face heat up.

"Oh..." Ana's eyes widened a little; she smiled brightly. "I think you'd look amazing in that! Would you like to try it on?"

“We can try them on?" Nev asked as her eyes widened a little. She hadn't known that. Usually she just found whatever was in her size, and bought it. “I suppose it wouldn't hurt?" she continued, glancing around for a fitting room. She would be able to see how it looked and how it made her feel. If she liked it well-enough, she could get it, and would have an outfit for the day. She made her way to the fitting room once she spotted it and turned back to Ana.

“Alright, I'll go try this on," she stated, taking in a deep breath before walking into the room. Once the door was secured, she stripped her shirt and pants, placing them neatly on the seat inside and pulled the swimsuit from its hanger. Once she'd managed to pull it on, she glanced at the tall mirror and blinked in surprise. Was... that really what it looked like? On her? Swallowing thickly, she peeked out the door, hoping no one else was near as she called out to Ana.

“How... how does it look?" she asked. It felt comfortable, but it was a lot of skin that was showing. Still... it was new, and she liked it.

Ana bounced a little on her toes, giving her a thumbs-up. "You look amazing," she said, beaming a smile at Nev. "But the most important question is: how do you feel?"

“It feels comfortable for starters," she began, glancing down at herself. “I don't... feel too uncomfortable, and it's not like I can't get a summer cardigan to go over it," she added. She wasn't sure she wanted to cover it, though. It was manageable the way it was, and she would still be able to move when they were playing volleyball. She could even tie the bottom part higher if she needed to.

“I like it," she stated with a smile.

"Then you should absolutely get it." Mel and Cyrilla reappeared, the former flashing Nev a smile. A multicolored swimsuit was thrown over one arm, along with what seemed to be a white cover-up. "You look smokin', and if you like the way that feels, you should definitely take it for a spin. See if you still like it with other eyes around. I think you might." She winked, a playful gesture if anything.

It didn't stop the flush from appearing on Nev's face, though, and she coughed awkwardly. “I agree with Mel," Cyrilla stated, grinning broadly at Nev. She had a black swimsuit in her hand, and what looked like a goldeen colored, white and coral pink, cover-up as well. “You look like you're ready to tackle your next big thing. You could have been a model, Nev, looking like you do," she continued, causing the blush to darken.

“Thanks, guys," Nev spoke sheepishly as she ducked back into the dressing room. Once she was dressed properly, she folded the swimsuit over her arm and smiled at the other three. “Where to, next?" she asked. She really did like the swimsuit, and she hoped that it wouldn't be too awkward when they went to the beach.

She was looking forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


April 16th
The Cloyster - Afternoon - Sunny
Kasimir Rheinallt


“—a year. Anyone else and I'd have you extracted and demoted for incompetence, Rheinallt."

Kas reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He could feel his chest tightening with an uncomfortable anxiety response, and focused on his breathing. Deep and slow. Deep and slow. He hadn't had a proper anxiety attack since he was a teenager, but he was on the verge of one now, he could feel it. It was a gradual numbing thing, for him, like he was detaching from his own body, only distantly aware of the fact that he was getting the chills, that his head was light, a strange floaty dizziness only lending to the surreal feeling of it.

And still, Steele was talking. He knew what she wanted. It was the same thing she'd always wanted, and he couldn't give it to her. Even the most recent update, with the new information on Project Nebula, only seemed to irritate her, and he knew why. It was because on the surface of it, the only remotely illegal part of what was happening was the theft to obtain the power source.

It was true that something of that kind could be used to arrest many of the high ranking members of NTR—including all his friends. But the way the political and legal systems worked? They'd end up with dropped charges or at best slaps on the wrist. And they weren't who she was after. Gregorovich could easily claim ignorance and let Aidan take the fall for ordering it. Something Kas knew the other man would be willing to do.

“—listening to me? Rheinallt?"

"Sorry, gotta go. Door's opening." It wasn't—Cy wasn't due home for a while yet, which was why he'd taken the call in the first place. But he couldn't exactly tell his boss he was in the middle of an episode; they frowned on that kind of thing in high-stress jobs like this one. He'd had to get loads of papers signed by doctors certifying that his childhood anxiety disorder had gone away and wouldn't be a problem for him anymore.

All for the sake of a goal he wasn't sure he believed in anymore.

Hanging up, he threw his phone down on the couch next to him, ignoring it when it lit up with an incoming call. Steele might not be done chewing him out, but he was damn well done listening.

His breath shook as he inhaled, scrubbing both hands down his face. Grounding—he needed grounding. Three things he could see, two things he could hear, one thing he could feel. Three he could—

Fuck.

It wasn't long after he'd hung up with Steele that the door to the apartment opened. “Hey, Kas, I'm home early!" Cyrilla called from the doorway. He could hear her moving around before she poked her head into the living room. “They didn't have any tajin seasoning at the store so I couldn't pick any up for you," she stated, moving to head towards the kitchen, it seemed, before she stopped.

“Hey," she called out suddenly. “Are you alright?"

He heard her.

It was a simple thing, honestly. Perhaps even an inconsequential one. But that distant part of himself that was still functioning recognized her voice and heard her, not in the fuzzy, in-and-out way he'd heard Steele, not in the oppressive way he could hear his own breathing, but clear as a bell and... not sharp, exactly, but firm somehow.

That did not, however, amount to being able to talk back. He parted his lips, only for nothing at all to come out. Words failed, his voice failed, and it was all he could do to shake his head and wonder if she saw. His eyes, still fixed on the corner of their rug, could not lift to be sure; it felt like holding his head up with his palms to his brow was the most he could do right now at all.

She must have seen, though, since she crossed the room and positioned herself on his side to wrap her arms around him. It was a little awkward the way she hugged him, but she wasn't sitting in the seat. She was kneeling so that she could move her hands around his head and pulling him closer towards her. She placed her head to the side of his and took an even breath.

“Hey, it'll be alright. I don't know what's wrong, but... tell me or show me how to help," she stated softly, running her fingers through his hair.

It was stiffly that his arms moved, slowly and painstakingly unlocking from their positions to wind around her back, instead. She felt as solid and real as her words had sounded.

Three things he could see.

There was a wisp of her hair in front of his eyes, almost translucent in its perfect depigmentation. When he exhaled, it fluttered. Behind her shoulder, there was her feet, still in her shoes, where she hadn't taken them off yet, and there beneath her the corner of the rug.

Two things he could hear.

Her breathing was slow and steady; he tried to match his to it, like he did sometimes when she'd fallen asleep and he was trying to get there, chin tucked atop her head and arms wrapped loosely around her. He was afraid to tell her he didn't know if he could sleep alone anymore. Afraid of what she might think. Of what it might mean.

One thing he could feel.

She didn't run as warm as he did, but she felt warm against him now; his fingers curled slightly into the fabric of her blouse. He swallowed thickly. His voice wavered as he spoke, just long enough to tell her what he needed.

"Stay."

“Of course," she replied softly. “Anything you need, just name it, Kas," she continued, her arms wrapping a little tighter against him. “You're my best friend and I love you, so... whatever you need," she stated. He could feel one of her arms rubbing against his back in a slow, circular motion.

“I'm not going anywhere, I promise."

If he'd been in a better frame of mind, he might have been able to consider what the words meant. Or rather, on what level she meant them. But as it was, he couldn't do anything more than cling to her, turning his head to bury his face in her neck and inhale, another piece of grounding in the sense most strongly tied to memory.

Slowly, his shaking faded, his breathing evened out, and the lightheaded, floaty feeling subsided. He stayed where he was for a minute more, wanting to make sure it was over, before he took a deep breath and loosened his hold. It was not very often that Kas truly felt awkward, but he did right now, his face burning and his eyes finding some fixed point over her shoulder.

"I uh—" he cleared his throat. "Sorry about that."

She furrowed her brows at him, though, and moved both of her hands so that they were cupping his face. She held his gaze for a moment before her lips pursed together. “You don't have to apologize for that, Kas," she said softly, keeping her hands on his face. “I told you, whatever you need," she began before pushing out a sigh. She tilted his head slightly as she leaned forward, placing a soft kiss on his forehead before pulling back.

“Just say it and I'll do what I can, alright? Do you need a distraction? Do you want something to drink?" it sounded like she was just listing off things of what he might want.

He found it hard not to smile, something coming through the haze of memory sharp as a knife. "Because you love me, right?" he murmured, reaching up with one of his hands to hold her own in place on his cheek. He turned in to face it and kissed the inside of her wrist.

He was being unfair. It wasn't good of him to bring up something she'd said while he was like that—she'd been trying to soothe him, an innocent intention if ever there was one. And an innocent love to go with. He knew he should let it be that. If he pressed, he could probably get her to admit—well. He knew what she'd probably say. What her feelings probably were. But it was better for them both if they never said it, surely. Hard as it was to live in this uncertain in-between place where they were friends but not just that, removing the ambiguity would only be worse.

"I'm lucky, to have such a good best friend as you." He nudged his own words firmly back over the line, smiling a little sadly at her. "I really do appreciate it, Cy. But a distraction and a drink both sound good. Should we head to the backisland?"

There was a faint flush on her face, but she merely stared at him. She didn't immediately say anything, and it seemed as if she were searching his face and contemplating something. Without so much as a warning, she pulled his face closer to hers, gently pressing her lips to his before pulling back. The flush on her face had darkened, but she smiled at him.

“How's that for a start of a distraction?" she stated as she stood from the couch. “I think there's still some left over vodka and rum from two nights ago."

She was magnetic, really. Utterly enchanting. It wasn't so much his own will that moved him to respond as it was a force of nature, so he could hardly be blamed for it.

Or rather... he could tell himself that, and believe it just long enough to act.

"Entirely unsatisfying," he replied, ignoring her comment to answer the question instead. He reached out on a damnable reflex, winding an arm around her waist and tugging even as he leaned back, pulling her back down and into his body in a tangle of limbs. "Now all I can think about is how I'm ever going to get another of those." He said it lightly, but the look with which he regarded her was completely serious, and he used his free hand to tilt her chin up with a finger.

"Are you the sort who wants me to ask nicely, or would you prefer it if I just took what I wanted? I can't quite work it out." He had a guess, of course, but it was always better to ask these kinds of things. Plus, well, there was always the chance she'd tell him to shove off, which would be perfectly within her rights.

He was really, really hoping she wouldn't, though.

It was obvious that she'd been caught off guard by that. She'd blinked in a surprised fashion before her face turned a dark red. He could see her swallow past a lump in her throat before she arched a brow at him in an amused fashion. “Well, that just means I haven't been doing a very good job if you can't work it out," she finally stated.“Because I thought I'd made it quite obvious: you don't need to ask."

“Just take it, whatever you want. As long as it's just you, and no one else, I don't mind," she added, smiling a little sheepishly at him.

Fortunately, that worked out perfectly well for him as well. Kasimir knew well enough when words would just be a waste, and so he spent none of them here, leaning down to press his lips to hers, an action with considerably more heat than the gentle, fleeting thing hers had been. He intended neither with his own—she'd told him to do as he pleased, and what he wanted, more than he could remember wanting anything for such a long time, was to show her what her words did to him.

What she did to him.

He speared his free hand into her hair, cupping the back of her head in the cradle of his fingers, smooth strands of white caught between them, and kissed her until his lungs demanded air. Even then, he pulled back only a fraction, speaking practically against her mouth. "You say things like that, I can't promise I'll stop."

He would, if she asked him. Always. But damn if she wasn't making it hard to even conceive of the possibility.

“And if I didn't want you to stop?" she retorted, the challenge clear in her tone. “What would you do about it, then, hm?" she asked, reaching up with her free hand to gently grab hold of the back of his head.

“Because I'm not sure that is a viable option, anyhow. Why stop when either of us doesn't want to?" she stated. She pulled back a little bit more so that there was more than a hairsbreadth between their lips. “I don't want you to stop, and I don't want to stop. Problem solved."

It was such a bad idea, for so many reasons, but as pressing as Kas sometimes found those reasons—he must have found them pressing at some point, right?—he just couldn't bring himself to care right now. He was not the kind of man who could take a challenge like that sitting down. Not from her.

So he stood, bringing her with him, fully intent on marching her to the nearer bedroom. He didn't bother differentiating between which was technically his and which hers—they only differed in whose clothes were in the closet at this point. He only made it a few steps before remembering that he really didn't care about keeping this kind of thing to bedrooms, and so instead he pressed her back to the wall, supporting her with one arm banded underneath her. She was so small it didn't take more than that, which was good, because it meant he had a free hand.

That found its way under her blouse, fingertips dragging across her warm, bare skin. He felt like an arceusdamn teenager again, hot all over and barely in control of himself. His lips shifted to her neck, trailing down towards the line of her shirt. "I wanted this the day I met you," he admitted, almost mumbling the words against her skin. It had been the way she so boldly threw all of his banter and innuendo right back at him, nothing but playful, sure, but enough even so to pique his interest. "Wanted it even worse ever since."

Because she'd been beautiful and witty the day they met. But she was so much more now, both to him and as a person, herself. She'd changed, and he'd seen it. How could anyone witness a metamorphosis like hers and not want her? His addled mind couldn't make sense of it, really.

She shivered slightly at his touch, and one of her hands moved, almost instinctively towards his free one before she moved it back to his shoulder. There, on her back, were two raised scars that trailed up to her shoulder blades diagonally. “I don't know when I started," she began, speaking out in a hushed tone. “Maybe it was when we first met. Maybe it was when... you became my friend."

“Or maybe it was when I realized that I actually mattered to someone. That I mattered to you," she continued, still speaking in a soft tone. “Maybe it was when you helped me realize that I didn't have to stay with the Koga. That I could leave NTR and not have to look back. Maybe it was when you helped me realize that I didn't have to be afraid of my family, that I could have a new one that was better. That I could be better than I was."

“It's because of you that I've been able to feel what I feel now, to know that they're real and that..." she paused to suck in a breath, “I want this perhaps just as much as you do."

His fingers mindlessly traced the scars as she spoke. He knew where they had to be from. He'd noticed that her wardrobe had changed since she'd returned from Fuchsia, but he'd thought it more to do with the season than anything. He should have noticed. He promised himself he'd kiss the both of them, so many times she'd forget any pain that had put them there. And if that was impossible, well, he'd just have to keep trying.

What she said brought him clarity, enough at least that the heat of the moment was swamped by a different warmth, a peculiar one that he'd never felt in a moment like this before. He didn't know how to express it—not in words. In actions, however... he had a pretty good idea of where to start.

Carefully, Kas set her down, dropping to his knees and wrapping his arms around her hips. He lifted her shirt enough to press a kiss to one of them, then tipped his head up, resting his chin on her stomach and regarding her with soft eyes. "You're incredible," he said simply.

And right now, he was going to show her just how much he appreciated that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

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April 19th
Cinnabar Beach - Late Afternoon - Warm
Eryk Nero


Eryk sighed softly as the wingull overhead cried out. The sun was still out, but it was close to the time where it would be setting soon, bathing the ocean in front of them in sunset colors of orange, purple, and pink hues. It was, he'd admit, a beautiful sight to witness, perhaps the second most beautiful thing he'd been able to recognize. Beauty was a subjective thing to him, and he didn't particularly care to differentiate between what he considered beautiful, and what others thought.

Shifting the surfboard under his arm, he glanced down towards Ana who was walking beside him. She had on a large sun hat, but otherwise mostly black, as was her preference, though... the lace swimsuit cover was translucent in a lot of places and left her shoulders bare, which was not something she usually did. She smiled back up at him when she noticed his regard.

They were meeting the others on another part of the beach, but Eryk was, for once in his life, running a little behind. Stella had wanted to go with them, but it wasn't a feasible thing for her. It took some convincing on his part before she reluctantly stayed. He promised her he would take her to see the ocean, proper, before... he shoved the thought to the back of his mind as he sighed, again.

It wasn't much longer before they reached the designated area, and everyone seemed to still be setting things up. There were a few umbrellas littered about, and it looked like Drake was setting up the volleyball net. Nev was setting up one of the picnic tables, and it looked like Mel and Cyrilla were setting up the grill. Drake was wearing a coral pink shirt and a pair of dark blue swimshorts, and had his hair pulled into a half tail. His hair wasn't long enough for a full tail. Nev was wearing a white cardigan coverup over her swimsuit, presumably. It was tied at the moment. Cyrilla was wearing her swimsuit, a black one piece with a kimono coverup that looked almost like a goldeen. Coral pinks and white. Mel's white cover was untied and loose around her shoulders, the swimsuit underneath easily being the most colorful of the lot, rainbow as it was. There were several other surfboards stuck in the sand nearby, including a bright teal one that was probably hers.

“Oh, look who decided to finally show up!" Cyrilla stated as she waved in their direction, causing Eryk to roll his eyes a bit. She only smiled before turning back towards Mel to help her with the food.

“Hey, Ryk, Ana!" Nev greeted as she waved at them as well.

Kas, mint-green shirt untucked and halfway unbuttoned, appeared to be sorting the drinks in the cooler; he looked up long enough to grin at them before getting back to it. Aidan was, as yet, nowhere to be found.

"Aidan's grabbing a few things we forgot from the bodega," Mel said, perhaps anticipating the obvious question. She smiled brightly at the two of them, her eyes narrowing slightly when they fell on Ana. "You look cute."

"Thank you," Ana replied softly. "I really like the suit you picked, too."

Eryk wasn't entirely sure cute was the right word for Ana, but he refrained from saying that out loud. Instead, he made his way towards the other surfboards, and dug his into the sand before making his way back towards the group.

“Alright, net is set up!" Drake stated as he made his way towards the group as well. He stood closer to Mel, though, and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Do we want to play volleyball first before the light dies down?" he asked as Eryk contemplated it. They were, from what Mel had said, going to play volleyball, eat, surf, and... he forgot the last thing they were going to do. Stargaze? Was that it?

“That doesn't sound too bad. It'll give the food enough time to cook while people are playing," Nev stated as she pursed her lips together. “Although I don't know how that would work because we couldn't take turns like in jenga," she added.

"Sure we can," Kas replied, closing the cooler and dragging it over to the grill set-up. "Beach volleyball can have any number of people on a team, and we can substitute people in when a game ends. So if the first match is three on three, that leave two of us to cook. Or we could to it two-on-two, and the extras can surf or whatever else they want to do. It's not like this has to be some fancy official setup, you know."

Re-rolling a sleeve so it sat better on his arm, he glanced at the others. "Anyone want to do anything especially?"

"Mm, I want to surf a little before it gets dark," Mel replied, shrugging off her cover and setting it over one of the numerous beach chairs. "But I can wait if someone really needs their ass kicked at volleyball."

"I can take care of the food," Ana volunteered. "I'm, um... a little under the weather today, so I didn't bring a board or anything anyhow. And I've never been very good at sports."

“If you're not feeling well, Ana, you can just sit and relax. Wouldn't want you to overtax yourself and make it worse," Cyrilla stated as she frowned a little in Ana's direction. Eryk was inclined to agree; if he'd known that she wasn't feeling too well, he would have cancelled the beach gathering. Or at least tried to have it moved to another day.

"Oh, it's not that big a deal," she said, waving a hand nonchalantly. "Just probably better if I stay away from the really active things, you know?"

“Personally I'd like to see you try and kick my ass at volleyball," Drake stated, arching a brow in Mel's direction as he grinned. “I'm all for volleyball first, and then surfing!" Eryk rolled his eyes a bit, and glanced in Ana's direction.

“I can help with the food if you'd like," he stated. He wasn't a good cook, but the food they were making was relatively simple: hot dogs and burgers. All they required was flipping, and they wouldn't take too long to cook.

She nodded a little, a tiny smile at the corner of her mouth. "I don't want you to miss out, so just do whatever you'd most like to do." From the sound of it, she expected he might prefer to avoid anything too rowdy, as the game might well become.

“I haven't played volleyball in a long time, so I might be a little rusty. It wouldn't hurt to try and get back into it, though," Nev stated as she smiled in Drake and Mel's direction.

“Alright, well if Ana and Ryk watch the food, the rest of us can play volleyball, three on three. Assuming Big Bro wants to play, too."

The sound of a motor in the distance cut off; it would seem Aidan had arrived, a large beach umbrella and a couple of paper bags strapped behind him on his motorbike. He hadn't dressed much differently from usual, except wearing shorts instead of pants and a white shirt instead of a black one. Leaving his helmet behind on the bike, he replaced it with his sunglasses, as the light was still bright enough to warrant them, then hefted the umbrella over his shoulder and grabbed the bags.

"I feel like I've just been volunteered for something else," he quipped, lifting an eyebrow and scanning the group.

Cyrilla snorted softly as Drake shook his head. “Not exactly," he said as his hand dropped to lace with Mel's hand. “We were just saying that we were going to play volleyball: three on three. But that was if you wanted in on the game. Otherwise we'd have to take turns and switch out," he continued as Nev nodded her head.

“I don't mind being the one who switches in and out if you'd rather not play, though," Nev stated as she smiled sheepishly. “I haven't played in awhile so it... well, it doesn't matter either way?"

“Ana and I were going to watch the food. That's why you were being volunteered," Eryk said as a means of explanation. It wasn't that Aidan needed one; he could figure it out simply by looking at them. Eryk just shrugged his shoulders.

He nodded, handing the unbrella off to Kas and setting the bags down near the grill. "Sure, I don't mind. How're we splitting the teams? I'm gonna institute a rule that there can only be a maximum of one Rheinallt per side."

"Smart man," Mel quipped. "Since Drake here was doubting my skills, how about we put him with Cy and Kas, and I'll be on a team with you and Nev?"

He considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Sounds reasonable."

“Agreed," Drake replied as he moved towards Cyrilla and Kasimir. This was going to be interesting, Eryk supposed. If Drake was as good at volleyball as he was playing darts or dancing, well... it would be entertaining either way.

“I promise I won't let you guys down," Nev stated as she grinned at Mel and Aidan.

Eryk shook his head as the group made their way towards the net, and he turned his attention back towards Ana. “Are you sure you're going to be alright?" he asked softly, his hand twitching softly before he reached out towards hers and gave it a light squeeze. He'd never initiated contact like that, before, mostly because he was afraid that he might accidentally hurt her. There were not a lot of things in his life that made him afraid, but that one, simple thing terrified him in ways he couldn't explain.

Even if it was accidental, he didn't want to hurt her.

She tilted her head up to smile at him, squeezing his hand right back. Much like the rest of her, her hands were small and thin, but there was warmth in the gesture nevertheless. "I'll be fine, I promise," she said, before her brows furrowed and she sighed quietly. "Anyway, we should probably see about dinner, right? I think Kas already lit the fire..."

Ahead of them, the teams split off, Mel serving overhand to Kas, who sent it right back over the net. Aidan bumped it before it hit the ground, lobbing it gently towards Nev.

Eryk pushed a soft sigh through his nose as he nodded his head. “Yeah," he replied as he made his way towards the makeshift grill. There was one every half-mile or so, probably so that tourists and other people could use them if they didn't have their own. This was, perhaps, the only part of the island that had them. There weren't many, which Eryk presumed was because most of the tourists weren't there for the beach. A majority of them were trainers trying to get their next badge from Drake.

Nev, however, tried to hit the ball back over. She didn't catch it quite right, though, and it ended up hitting the net, causing her to frown slightly.

“Point for us!" Drake stated a little too excitedly.

“Drake, did it ever occur to you that maybe some people need to warm up before they kick your ass?" Cyrilla replied, grinning slightly as she rolled her eyes. Eryk was almost hoping Drake would get his ass kicked, but he kept that thought to himself.

“Here's the packet of hot dogs and it looks like they've already made the hamburger patties and seasoned them," Eryk stated as he turned his attention towards Ana, and held up the packet of hot dogs.

"Okay, let's start with a few of each, then. And—oh good, Aidan brought the pineapple and the skewers." Ana retrieved a few items from the bag, including what seemed to be pre-sliced pineapple and a box of wooden sticks, setting them down at the side and opening the grill-top. The fire flared a little, and she skittered away from it with a soft laugh.

"I think these are burning a little too well," she observed, taking one of the pokers next to the grill and shifting the coals underneath so they were a little more even. "That should do it—feel free to put them on. Somewhere around the center is probably best for the meat, outside for veggies and fruit."

The match continued—it was pretty abundantly clear that neither Drake nor Nev was exceptionally good at it, but their teammates passed to them nevertheless, keeping things fairly even.

Eryk nodded as he placed the meats down, first, and helped Ana put the skewers together with the pineapple and mushrooms. There were a few bell peppers, red and green, as well as a yellow one, and Eryk pursed his lips softly when he noticed a few jalapeños. Probably for both Rheinallts, though he was almost surprised they didn't have at least one gengar pepper.

“The burgers will take longer to cook depending on what everyone wants theirs to be," he murmured softly. Some people liked their burgers well-done, which he assumed Drake would want his like that. Then there were people who liked it medium-well and so on and so forth. Eryk supposed, if he really had to have a preference, it fell on the medium-rare side. He knew Cy liked hers like that as well, but he wasn't so sure about the others.

Maybe he should have paid a little more attention to everyone's choices when they went out to eat? Nev managed to finally get a ball over the net, and it looked like Drake had panicked for a second before missing the ball.

"Mhm, but it's all right. I know how everyone likes them," Ana replied. "Plus usually at an event like this it's not a big deal if eating is staggered, or people will have hot dogs if they're waiting. At least, I think so. I'm... not exactly an expert in um..." She used her hand to gesture in such a way as to encompass the whole situation, then smiled wryly.

"Usually when I'm near the water it's because I'm at the pier to get on a boat and do a rescue dive. I've been surfing a few times, just by myself, and once with, uh, a former friend I suppose. But never in a group like this."

Eryk hummed a soft note and nodded his head. “I haven't been surfing in..." he paused and furrowed his brows. “I don't remember," he finally spoke after a moment. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been surfing. Maybe it was less than five years ago, but he knew it wasn't because he wanted to do it. It was a mission, just like... he shoved the thought away before reaching up and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“It's not something that I've found myself wanting to do, but... maybe eventually it would be alright to learn it again," he continued. He could see some of the other islanders on their surfboards, smiles on their faces even when they fell. It looked like something he could enjoy, even if he wasn't that good at it.

"Well," Ana replied softly, presumably so that the others would not hear if the game lapsed for a moment, "if you ever decide you want to try again but don't feel comfortable with an audience, let me know. We could do it like bowling, right?" They'd been going weekly by themselves, every Monday night when the place was all but guaranteed to be empty, and she'd been teaching him what she knew.

She used the tongs in one had to carefully rotate the skewers and hot dogs, but left the burgers alone. "Of course, I can understand if you'd rather keep a hobby for yourself, too, so it's not like you have to tell me or anything."

Eryk huffed lightly, but he could feel the corners of his mouth lifting slightly into a soft smile. It was becoming easier to do that. He hadn't smiled like that in over a decade. He was, maybe ten the last time he'd ever actually smiled, and that had been when he wanted to be a trainer, not some member of the Koga clan. Or some member of NTR.

“Oh my arceus, Drake are you alright!?" Nev shouted, causing Eryk to turn his attention towards the volleyball game. Cyrilla was almost doubled over with laughter, and Nev was making her way towards Drake who had a large red spot on his face.

“I'm fine, Nev. Really," he replied, rubbing his cheek slightly. “I just got distracted is all," he continued as Nev kneeled down as if to check his face.

“What could possibly have distracted you?" Cyrilla managed between laughs.

“Eryk smiled. I've never seen him smile before," was Drake's reply, causing Eryk to roll his eyes.

"Ah, yeah." Kas nodded as if with understanding. "Leave those two alone long enough and it's bound to happen." He winked over at them; Ana pinked in the face a little.

"Ugh, stop being adorable. And you, stop poking fun at them." Mel threw a volleyball at her brother's head, but he caught it with a hand, laughing.

"Fine, fine. Back to the game it is then."

“Idiots," Eryk mumbled lightly, but the smile stayed on his face. He enjoyed his friends, perhaps a little more than he should. By the time the food was done, the game ended with Mel, Aidan, and Nev as the victors. They'd won by one point, which was apparently fairly good considering that by the time they were half-way into the game, it seemed that Nev's muscle memory was coming back, and she'd managed to score a few points on her own.

They'd all gathered by the table, he and Ana putting the burgers and hot dogs on a plate so the others could get their food and whatever they wanted to put on it. Maybe they should do things like this more often? As long as it was just this group, just the eight of them, it wouldn't be so bad? Eryk wasn't exactly a person who thought himself as the type to enjoy the company of others, but... well, they were making it very hard to conceive of a life without them.

And that... that wasn't something he'd ever have thought possible.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


April 22nd
Ana's House - Evening - Rain
Anastasia Asher


Ana's arms shook a little as she mounted the steps to her front door. There was no way she was going to be able to unlock or open it thus burdened, but she didn't want to bother Eryk if he was resting, either. She knew he did little enough of it. So she glanced around, finding, as expected, no one there. The rain was still light, but the weather forecast had called for thunderstorms overnight, and those could get intense in tropical places like this one.

With a thought, she lifted her house key out of her pocket and fitted it to the lock, turning it with her mind and feeling the catch give way. Pushing it open with her elbow, she was glad to see that the hall lights were already on, allowing her to make her way to the kitchen without risking tripping over anything.

Some effort later, she'd put the paper bags she was carrying on the counter, but her hands were still shaking. Squeezing them into fists, she pushed out a shaky breath. Now was really not the time for her body to be failing her, but she honestly couldn't tell if it was because she was sick or because she was stressed. The phone call this afternoon on top of everything was...

She swallowed. It was no use thinking about it right now anyway.

Eryk walked in not more than a minute later. It always seemed that he knew when she'd return from a trip either from the grocery store, or wherever else she went without him. He had Icarus on his shoulder, and the espurr tilted his head in Ana's direction. He seemed curious about something, however; he slid down Eryk's shoulder and made his way out of the kitchen, perhaps to go back to Eryk's room or sit in the living room as he was prone to do sometimes.

Eryk, however, remained and furrowed his brows together as he regarded her with a soft gaze. “Is everything alright, Ana?" he asked, concern evident in his voice. “You should have told me you were home, I would have helped," he continued, glancing in the direction of the bags.

She gave him a small smile in response, thinner and a little less convincing than she'd have liked, but that was hardly surprising. "I know," she said, "but I didn't want to be a bother; they aren't that heavy." What was more, they were not exactly essential groceries.

Ana was not, in general, one to drink to forget or anything like that, but after the day she'd had, she didn't think a cocktail or two would be an inapt response. Honestly, as long as she didn't end up bawling like a baby she'd consider herself reasonably successful in coping—today was just one of those days when everything seemed like too much somehow.

"Do you want something to drink? I'm making myself one anyway." He didn't like to impose, she knew, and while she wanted to tell him that she doubted he was capable of imposing on her, it was easier just to point out that it wasn't much harder to make two drinks than one.

He didn't immediately respond. He was studying her face, it seemed before his shoulders slumped lightly and he sighed. “You know you're not a bother to me," he said in a quiet tone, moving so that he could grab two cups for the both of them, it seemed. “You look..." he paused, furrowing his brows slightly as he seemed to contemplate his next words.

“You look troubled," he finally stated as he set the cups down next to her. “If... something is bothering you," he began, keeping his gaze on her, “you can tell me."

He really was the sweetest person she'd ever met. Maybe that was why she felt like she had to try her hardest not to take advantage of that kindness. It would be all too easy to lean on him—he wouldn't even make her feel bad about it. But Ana couldn't do that, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that she was lying to him.

Or, well, perhaps just avoiding the truth.

She set about making their drinks, a relatively simple process because she didn't want to do anything too complicated this time, and right as she finished she heard the first rumble of thunder overhead. "Do you want to go outside and watch the rain?" she asked. There was a porch swing under the awning in the back. "I'll tell you either way, just..." She wasn't sure how to finish the sentence, so she handed him his glass instead.

Eryk nodded his head as a way of responding, and took the offered glass. He followed her outside towards the porch swing, taking a seat and glancing in her direction before turning it back towards the cup in his hand. “If you'd rather not talk about it, you don't have to," he stated, taking a drink from the glass.

Did she want to talk about it? Ana wasn't sure. On the one hand she didn't especially want to think about it, but... she found that she did sort of want to tell him. Not from any expectation that there was anything he could do, but just because she—

Taking a seat next to Eryk on the swing, she took a large swallow of her drink, feeling the sting on the way down. She'd made it kind of strong; probably a little too strong for her normal preferences. But that seemed to suit. "One of my relatives called today," she said. It hardly mattered which—they were all kind of the same past a certain point, except Auntie Miranda. "After this term is over, they're revoking my scholarship."

Ana could understand why. Or at least, she could justify it in her own head. Anything like that was, ultimately, wasted on her. Someone like Brenda might not be any smarter than she was, but she'd get much more use out of an education. And that was even before anything about her supposed 'lifestyle' came into it.

She took another few swallows. "Fuck them, anyway," she said, furrowing her brows and frowning. "I like you more than all of them put together, so they can take a hike."

Eryk sighed softly and reached over with his free hand to grab hers. He gave it a gentle squeeze and softly smiled at her. “You're right, you know," he began, lifting her hand to brush his lips against the back of it. “They do not deserve to have you in their family if they are going to keep treating you this way. If..." he paused.

“If you want to continue your studies, I would like to help you with them, if you'll let me. You don't have to, but... if it's important to you, then it's important to me." He kept his hand laced with hers as he took another drink.

“I suppose families like ours are just... shit."

Ana could feel her skin prickle when he kissed the back of her hand, heat spreading over her face. Between that and the drink, she was sure she was red as a beet, and swallowed thickly. The words only made it worse, really, and she bit her lip, torn between smiling and... she didn't know what, honestly.

The rain fell around them, striking the leaves of her plants with soft patters, but just now it felt like the rest of the world might as well not exist. She squeezed Eryk's hand when he lowered them, the smile finally winning out at the comment he made about their families. She leaned a little against his arm, settling her cheek there. He was very tall—even seated she couldn't reach his shoulder with it.

"I don't know what I want yet," she admitted softly. "I wish... I wish this could last. More than anything else." On her birthday, she'd wished for one more year. Ana didn't think she could be content with that, anymore. Now—now she wanted too much. For the first time in her life, she wanted something beyond the next year, and it was at once the best and the worst thing that had ever happened to her.

Eryk sighed softly, taking another drink and remained quiet for a moment. “I do as well," he finally stated. “I don't... I don't know if there's anything I've ever really wanted for myself, but now," he paused to expell a soft breath. “I want a future. Away from my family; away from the politics of arranged marriages; away from NTR. I just... this is the first place I've been to that makes me feel like I'm doing something right."

He huffed softly and shook his head. “I... there is something I want to tell you, but I do not know how." He seemed serious if the way he regarded her was anything to go by.

Ana finished her glass, setting it down on the wicker end table next to the swing, and squeezed her eyes shut for a brief moment. Guilt was a familiar emotion, but she didn't think she'd ever felt it as strongly as she did now. Tell him, Ana. You owe him the truth. Even if it shattered this wonderful, comfortable thing they had.

Because even if she had no future to live for, he did, and she didn't want him to decide otherwise. Ever.

"I... I have something to tell you, too," she said softly. "A lot of things. And a lot of apologies to make."

He merely smiled at her, though, one of those soft ones that looked like he was apologizing a head of time. “As do I," he stated softly. “I have not been entirely forthright with you. There is something that I want to tell you. About myself and my family," he began, his hand giving another gentle squeeze to hers.

“But since it seems we both have things to say, things to seemingly apologize for..." he trailed off, making it obvious what he was trying to get at. He was letting her decide which one of them should say what they needed to, first.

She tilted her head up to meet his eyes. "Nothing you tell me will make me think less of you," she said, a quiet, firm conviction to the words. "Whoever you've been, whatever you've had to do—it doesn't matter to me, because I know who you are now." She shifted so his hand was in both of hers, and squeezed gently. "So you can tell me anything you want to, or feel like you need to, but... but please know that first."

“I do not deserve someone like you," he said in a quiet tone, so quiet that she might have not heard him if she wasn't sitting so close to him. Taking in a breath, his hand squeezed hers once more, but he lifted it so that both of their hands were resting on his legs.

“I am... technically engaged," he began, a light furrow in his brows. “My family is archaic; my mother tried to arrange a marriage between myself and another woman in my clan, so distant that we are not related," he stated as he pursed his lips together. “I didn't have a choice, but... she is not who I am engaged to."

“The one that I am... I did it to save her because she was trying to save me. It was the last free choice that I made. It was the reason I was never able to go on my own journey, to compete in the gym challenges like the others. I do not regret it, though, nor do I resent her for it. I... don't think I ever could. Our engagement is for convenience, if anything, and we both have accepted that, however," he paused to glance at Ana, his eyes taking on a more serious tone than they had before.

“It does not change how I feel about you. That I feel anything at all like I do is... not something I would have thought capable. I didn't know I still could, and she knows it, because..." he trailed off, glancing down at their hands. “Because it's Cyrilla."

Cyrilla?

Ana blinked; at first the news was simply so surprising she didn't know what to do with it, exactly. It hadn't escaped her that they were close, obviously, but never once had they struck her as a couple in any way. But of course, that was because they weren't, as he said. She understood enough about arranged marriages to understand how that might be the case.

Slowly, Ana shook her head. "That's nothing you need to apologize for," she said, the words easy to her tongue. "You were protecting each other. I think... I think it was the best thing you could have done, in that situation." It saved them both from arranged marriages with other people; even Ana was familiar with that particular terrifying specter. It had been discussed for her, before her diagnosis. "And I think you're a wonderful person, for doing it. For thinking about how you could help each other inside those constraints."

“It's... a little more complicated than that, I think," he stated softly and shook his head. “But it is something we still shouldn't have kept from you. You... deserved to know," he added as his hand relaxed around hers. “I want to leave them, too," he stated suddenly, his hand gripping hers again, perhaps a little tighter than he'd intended to because he winced.

“Sorry," he muttered softly, his hand relaxing.

It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but it didn't hurt. Ana shook her head. "It's okay," she murmured.

Her eyes fell away from his face to where their hands were joined and resting on his leg. "I... I'm dying," she whispered. "I have an autoimmune disease called Everett's. I don't know if you've ever heard of it, but... it's genetically-linked, and most people who have it don't live past twenty."

It was her turn to squeeze his hand, as if the warmth of it might drive away the chill of saying this out loud for the first time in... years, at least. "I... I've never really had friends before. I didn't know how to tell anyone, or when. Before I knew it, you all mattered so much to me and I just... I didn't want to think about it. I wanted to pretend we had as long as we wanted. And more than that, you—"

She swallowed, forcing her eyes up even though her chest felt tight. "No one's ever made me feel like you do. And I just wanted... I just wanted to keep this as long as I could." Her sickness tainted every relationship she'd ever had, the ticking clock in the back of everyone's mind. Her relatives would never say it directly, but she knew some of them thought it was pointless to educate a family member who'd be dead in a couple of years at maximum. Even her Auntie had to come to terms with the fact that she was going to outlive a child she'd mostly raised.

"But it's not fair to you. It's... it's not fair at all, and I'm so sorry." Tears pricked her eyes as her voice caught, barely a whisper past the lump in her throat.

Whatever words he might have said never made it out of his mouth. It was open like he wanted to say something, but the look in his eyes wasn't one that he'd ever had before. His eyes were slightly wide, as if he were shocked or surprised, but there was something behind them. Something that looked almost like despair, or hurt or pain. Without saying anything, he placed his arm around her, and pulled her towards him and wrapped his other arm around her. It was almost as if he were trying to encase her, and his head rested near her shoulder.

His own were shaking, and there was a faint moist feeling coming through her blouse. “I'm sorry," he stated so softly that it sounded like a whisper. “It's not fair at all. Not to you," he continued, hugging her tighter against him. “I'm sorry," he stated again, and fell silent, his shoulders still shaking.

She hugged him as tight as her limbs would allow, sinking into his hold with a feeling that was half-guilt, half-relief. Because for all that this hurt, for all that it would always hurt, his response had not been to push her away, but to pull her closer. It was the first time that had ever happened, and even as one hand moved up to card its fingers gently through his hair, she felt a warmth, a slow-blooming something in her heart that could not be crushed by the pain of confronting what her condition really meant, now that there were so many more things in the world she did not want to lose.

He wept for her. And somehow that knowledge loosed her tears from behind her eyes as well, and Ana sobbed softly, into the fabric of his shirt, where she'd turned her face partway into his neck. Her cheek pressed against the scars on his, but the rough feeling of them did nothing but remind her whose arms enfolded her, and there was nothing but sweet comfort in that.

She threw a leg over both of his so they could sit more comfortably, curling her fingers against his nape. She wished there was something she could say, something that could make it better, but Ana had learned the bitter truth that some things in life were just awful, and had no silver linings, and this was one of them.

And she trembled in his hold like he trembled in hers.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

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April 24th
The Cloyster - Early Evening - Light Rain
Nevena Solomon


Nev sighed to herself as she glanced at the set up before her. There was guacamole, chips, and a bowl of nachos she'd just finished making. They hadn't had a proper game night in the last few weeks, mostly because Aidan had his trial to think about, and well... they really didn't have any time. She kind of missed those nights, and was trying her best to start them again. Aidan wasn't home yet; he'd had something to do at the office, Nev wasn't too sure, so she'd made it a point to have everything ready before he came home.

Basil trilled softly at her, tilting her head in an inquisitive manner. She was helping set up, too. “Oh, but you're right, Basil. What if he's tired and doesn't want to play?" Nev stated as she felt her eyes widen. What if he would be too tired from whatever he was doing back at the office? What if he just wanted to relax and watch PSPN? What if he wanted a warm bath, first?

“Oh, what should I do, Mama Basil? Should I just draw a bath for Aidan? Oh... wait, that would be weird, wouldn't it?" she stated as Basil gave Nev a flat look. “I just... well, you know," she murmured, as Basil sighed heavily. One of her vines tapped Nev's shoulder lightly in a comforting manner before she trilled and walked off.

“You're no help," she stated after the bayleef. It was too late to do much of anything else, so she supposed she would just have to wait until Aidan came home.

And about ten minutes later, she heard the key in the lock, followed by the sound of the door opening and a quiet sigh preceding Aidan himself into the apartment. He paused, like always, to remove his shoes at the entrance, hang his wallet and chain on the hook near the door, and shrug out of his jacket so he could hang it. The rhythm was familiar by now, enough so that she probably could have counted it out if she'd wanted to.

He entered the main living area, scrubbing both hands through his hair. Any semblance of neatness it'd borne was erased by the motions, leaving it sticking up in all directions, but that too was familiar. He cracked his neck to either side and rubbed at his nape, clearly noting the snacks on the table.

"Game night?" he inquired, lifting an eyebrow a little at her.

It really did take a lot of effort for her to keep her face from feeling like it was going to burn off. She smiled at him and nodded her head before frowning slightly. “Oh, but... we don't have to if you're too tired or want to just do something else," she stated. She really didn't want him to feel like it was something he had to do. She didn't want that at all. From the kitchen, she could hear Mama Basil trill softly as she usually did to greet Aidan, before rounding the corner with his favorite beer in her vine.

Nev had made it a point to keep it stocked because sometimes it was a beer night. “Since you just got home and all," she added.

"Thanks, Bas," Aidan said, taking the bottle and giving the pokémon the customary scratch behind her leaf before returning his attention to Nev, and her implied question. He huffed softly. "Of course I want to play, Doc," he said mater-of-factly. "Was just thinking the other day that it's been too long. We're probably rusty as hell by now, right?"

He moved to take a seat on the couch, picking up his controller and hers both in one hand as he went. He set hers down on the seat next to him, and turned the system on. "Thanks for getting things all set up—you didn't have to make fresh dip, you know."

Nev smiled and shook her head. “Of course I wanted to. It's been too long and... well I might have messed up the recipe this time. But it was already too late to go to the store to get a container so..." she trailed off, coughing lightly into her hand before taking her controller and sitting next to him.

“You're also probably right. We probably are rusty as hell, or rather, I'm rusty as hell. You'll likely be fine," she said once the loading screen appeared. “I mean, how many times did I get Balthazar killed in just the beginning when we first started out?" She huffed lightly to herself at that. She'd killed him at least fifteen times before she even learned the controls properly.

After that, she'd mostly managed to keep it to five or six times per level, except the water level. Arceus she hated that level.

Aidan laughed softly, getting their file loaded and reaching forward to dip a chip in the guacamole. He ate it as the screen loaded up the level they were last on—this was one of the more story-heavy parts of the game, where Maribelle and Baltasar had to gather the support of the nobles and commonfolk alike to strike back at the corrupt Emperor Daravon. At the moment, though, they were escaping through a sewer system after being caught out by one of Daravon's spies.

"Tastes good to me," he said, maneuvering Maribelle to lead the way down a darkened tunnel. "Can you cast your light spell? I think it's about to get dark."

“Maybe?" Nev replied as she glanced at her controller. It would take her a few tries, but she was almost certain she would remember how to do simple things like that. She pushed a button, hoping that it was the right one for the spell, however; it wasn't. Balthazar ended up jumping backwards into a trap, and Nev felt her brows furrow slightly.

“See, rusty as hell," she murmurmed softly before Balthazar respawned. “Let's see, was it this one?" she continued, pressing another button. “Ah! I got it!" she stated as Balthazar's hand glowed slightly.

“Alright. Just have to avoid the edges, and hope there aren't any pit traps in the sewer," but knowing her luck, she'd likely hit every single one of them.

He snorted. "You'll be fine. Just follow my path." Navigating the sewer took a while, but they were just about to the end when they passed into a room with a much higher ceiling, some kind of sluice chamber, it looked like, with gate controls.

"Boss fight," Aidan said, casting a range of buffs from Maribelle's more limited magic pool. Sure enough, from the water emerged what looked like an enormous feraligatr, only mossy-green and with even more teeth and a longer, lashing tail with spikes. "You know the drill, right?" He glanced sideways at her and grinned.

She blinked a little stupidly at him, momentarily dazed by his grin. He really did have a nice one, moreso his smiles when they happened, but they were rare. Not as rare as when Eryk smiled, but getting a smile from Aidan felt just as rare. She cleared her throat and nodded her head.

“I know the drill, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be much help. What's the phrase," she began, holding up one hand and wiggling her fingers, “butter fingers? I think that's what it is, and that's what I have. Remember how long it took us in the last area to beat the boss because I kept hitting the wrong button?" And also panicking but she didn't want to say that out loud.

"You'll do fine," Aidan said, his tone indicating that he wasn't worried. "I bet we get this guy in one go. Stay back and fling lightning at him. I'll handle the rest."

So saying, he maneuvered Maribelle into a charge; this immediately drew the monster's attention. It swiped for her with its tail, but Aidan's timing was good, and Maribelle jumped clean over it, armor and all, bringing her sword down in a heavy slash at the monster's flank.

“Oh to have your confidence," she retorted softly before rolling her eyes at herself. She needed to be more confident in her non-existent skills. She'd come this far with Balthazar, even if all she did was kill him more times than any other normal person would. She pushed the button for Balthazar's lightning attacks, however; she'd forgotten that they were currently slotted with fire attacks.

“Crap," she stated softly as the fireball hit the monster, regenerating some of its health. “And now we know not to use fire on it," she continued before trying to fix the spells. Once that was settled, she hit the button again, grinning to herself when the attack landed.

“Ha, gotcha!" she stated, briefly glancing in Aidan's direction before turning her attention back to the monster.

"Nice," Aidan said, using the time the boss spent recoiling from the attack on its weakness to unleash one of Maribelle's flashier sword combos. Because they'd invested in synergy skills, her sword crackled with lightning—the same element Balthazar was setup to cast with.

The combo's last hit took out one of the boss's legs; it staggered forward, shooting a jet of toxic-looking water from its mouth for Balthazar.

“Shit, shit, shit," Nev stated as she tried to get Balthazar out of the way. Unfortunately her hand-eye cordination skills were not what they should have been, and instead of dodging away from the attack, Balthazar rolled into it. Nev sighed heavily as she tried to keep Balthazar from being poisoned, shifting through his inventory to find an antidote.

“Alright, let's try that again, you shit," she murmured more to herself as Balthazar summoned another lightning attack. This one hit the monster square in the face, dealing almost double the damage. Head shots were always a good hit, but Nev hadn't really mastered them.

“Oh, oh," she stated as she tried to manuever Balthazar away from another attack.

“There, Aidan! Get it!" she nearly shouted when an opening for finishing move appeared. They were so close. One more hit, and they'd beat the boss.

"Getting it," Aidan replied, tossing a quick heal her way before lining up for another attack. This time he executed one of Maribelle's special cinematic ultimate attacks—Balthazar had them, too, but they were hard to get and Nev only managed it on accident sometimes.

With a final leaping stab, the red-haired paladin brought down the monster, which collapsed with a huge splash, and the victory music started to play.

"Got it in one," Aidan declared, setting down his controller and sticking one hand up for a high-five. He was grinning again, the corners of his eyes narrowed with the force of it.

“Hell yeah we did!" Nev replied as she slapped her hand against his with perhaps much more force than she'd intended to. She winced slightly as the stinging sensation in her hand subsided slowly before grinning in Aidan's direction.

“Even being as rusty as we were, we got it in one try," she continued, the grin stretching further across her face into a full blown smile. “We need to celebrate, hold on," she stated, standing from the couch and heading towards the kitchen where Mama Basil was washing the dishes. She trilled in Nev's direction, used one of her vines to open the fridge, and grabbed two beers. She handed them off towards Nev before making a vague shooing motion with her vine, causing Nev to chuckle lightly.

“Thank you, Mama Basil," she stated as she made her way back towards Aidan and the couch. “Alright, a celebratory drink is in order!" she handed the beer towards Aidan and held out her own bottle in his direction.

"Cheers," he said, tapping the neck of his bottle against hers and taking several deep swallows. "I think we're probably three-quarters of the way through at this point." It was a pretty long game, according to him, but it was also true that their progress was... well, a lot slower than most people's would have been. He'd never seemed to mind that, though.

She wondered about that sometimes. Even if he didn't seem to mind, she wondered if they would ever finish it before Project Nebula was finished. If they didn't, did that mean they wouldn't be able to? No. No, they could still play it. It was a multiplayer game, and it had an online mode, so if she left, they still had ways to play it. Right? But once the machine was complete, once it ran the way it was supposed to, she wouldn't be needed here any more. She wouldn't be needed and she'd have to leave because a new assignment might come up.

Or maybe they would have to leave on a new assignment. She felt her heart constrict in a painful manner, but smiled anyway. “Yeah. If... we keep playing, we might be able to finish it in about two weeks," though honestly that was being too hopeful. “Assuming I don't find new and interesting ways to kill Balthazar, but I think that's kind of my forte at this point," she continued, grinning a little sheepishly.

"You could make compilations," he suggested wryly, tilting his head at her. Perhaps some sign of her thoughts had made it to her face—he was terribly good at reading people in any case. "Something bothering you, Doc?"

She pursed her lips together and shook her head. “No, I was just... thinking is all," she replied. He really was good at reading people, and she'd found it so easy to let her guard down around him. Not that she really had a guard to begin with. Nev was never any good with people or socializing, but... that had changed through the year she'd been here. The year she'd made friends and people who didn't criticize or humilate her for her oddities.

“It's fine, I promise. Nothing to worry about," she stated as she sunk into her chair a little further, taking a drink from her bottle. “Do you think I could make those compilations and put them on the internet? Like as, what do they call them, viral videos?" she asked, changing the subject slightly.

“I think they could be hilarious."

Aidan looked at her silently a moment longer. There was something soft about his eyes, which usually looked, well, sharper, but he seemed to take her at her word, or at least be willing to drop it because she'd indicated she wanted to. "Yeah, you could put it up on a video site for sure. Call it 'Balthazar's epic failures' or something. Honestly, if you wanted to play it again once we're done, I bet we could do a series of us playing through the plot. Watching you fall off things is pretty entertaining, so I'm sure some people would follow it."

Nev chuckled softly before pursing her lips together. “You know, as entertaining as falling off things is for you," she began, arching a brow at him, “it's not nearly as entertaining as when you get caught in one of the lightning spells. I think there were a couple of friendly-fire incidents in the beginning."

Of course, that was after they'd figured out how to turn that off. Otherwise she would have kept killing Maribelle accidentally.

"Oh so my pain is funny to you?" he drawled, placing a hand over his heart. The effect was rather ruined by the fact that he was using the other to take another drink. "I see how it is."

“Good, I'm glad you see it," she replied, grinning slightly before taking another drink. “It's not nearly as funny as my own, but I have to get my entertainment somewhere, right? Balthazar and I can't be the only ones suffering. You and Maribelle have to share in our misfortune," she stated, nodding sagely as if what she'd said was the most natural thing in the world. It wasn't, but that's how it felt to her.

"For better or worse, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live?" he replied drolly. "Haven't we skipped a few steps there?" The look on his face wasn't quite a grin, but it was an unusual sort of smile. Almost sly.

He stood, though, reaching a hand out to take her empty bottle. "Better keep the place clean, or Mom will have our hides."

Nev snorted softly at his phrase. “I guess that means you're just going to be stuck with me if we skipped a few steps," she stated as she handed the bottle to Aidan. “And that's not entirely true. Mom would be the one keeping the place clean because she's a lovable dork that way. Right Mama Basil!" Basil trilled in response, though Nev wasn't entirely sure if it was in agreement or if Basil was yelling at her.

Aidan rolled his eyes. "How are you already this drunk?" he asked, but it seemed to be a rhetorical question, because he headed into the kitchen a few moments later. She could hear the low tone of his voice as he talked to her bayleef. "See?" he said, as if revisiting an old conversation with a friend. "Nothing. Totally oblivious." Whatever he was talking about, he didn't seem to be bothered by it, though.

Basil trilled softly as if she were agreeing with him before poking her head into the living room. She trilled at Nev before making her way back towards the kitchen. Nev pursed her lips together into a light frown.

“Now I feel out of the loop," she murmured before rolling her eyes at herself. She could feel her cheeks heat up, though when his first statement finally made it through her stupor. It was a known fact that Nev couldn't hold her alcohol. She didn't drink on a regular basis, and her constitution wasn't exactly that great when it came to alcohol. She sighed softly and shook her head, though. One of these days she'd muster the courage to tell him how much she wished his statement was true, for better or worse. Not in that kind of way, though. To even think of something like that was... well, it wasn't something she should be thinking about, anyway. They were friends. She should be happy with that, but...

Maybe she wasn't? Maybe she'd find the courage to tell him that, too.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

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April 27th
Cerulean - Afternoon - Warm
Eryk Nero


Eryk sighed softly, running a hand through his hair and careful not to jostle Nova on his shoulder. He needed to get his head on straight. He hadn't quite been the same after the news Ana had given him. How was he supposed to concentrate when all he could think about was her and her impending death? That she was still alive thus far was nothing short of what Ryk would consider a miracle if he believed in them.

But he didn't.

He didn't believe in miracles or things like that because they were hard to believe in. He let out a heavy sigh, running his hand through his hair again before dropping it to his side. He needed to focus on this mission. He needed to keep a more level head. When did that become so difficult? Wasn't he usually the one who was calm, who could take things as they came in stride? Why was he so anxious? He chanced a glance in Kas's direction.

“Have everything you need?" he asked, trying to focus on something else other than her. It was hard, though, but he needed to do this. Needed it to be right and finished so he could go home.

"Yup," Kas replied, opening the briefcase he was carrying. He removed a tiny earpiece and a wire. "If you'd be so kind as to keep these on, you can get in touch with me whenever you need something. It's a resort hotel, as you can see—" he gestured out the window of the van to where the large building sat near the waterfront, all pale stone and glass to let in the light. "So I imagine you'll mostly have the run of the place, but if you need to get into someone's room to dig through their stuff or something, that's why I'm here."

He grinned a bit, patting Eryk on the shoulder. "Now let's get this weekend over with so you can get home to your cute girlfriend, huh?"

Eryk gave Kas a flat look at his statement. “At least I have one," he murmured before rolling his eyes slightly. He wouldn't say it out loud, of course, but Eryk agreed with Kas's statement. The sooner he could get this over with, the sooner he could go back home. That's all that mattered to him at the moment.

For all he cared, this mission he was on could go to hell because it wasn't important to him. He pushed a heavy sigh through his nose. He shouldn't think of it that way. It was important. “Is there anywhere I should start, first?" he asked. He didn't know the layout of the building, and he didn't know what he was looking for, specifically. Information, yes, but Eryk hadn't been paying much attention to anything else, recently. His entire focus had been on her.

"Well we're not here for anything in particular yet, so just... follow the programming. It's a retreat, so they probably have a schedule and stuff for you at the front desk, or someone to check in with. Just... do what they recommend doing, and see if anything sticks out. Y'know, normal preliminary recon stuff. The wire will record what goes on around you, audio at least, so don't worry about remembering absolutely everything. Just go with the flow."

Kas grinned, like he knew it was easier said than done. "Have a little fun, if you can. I bet Nova wouldn't mind a few practice matches."

The umbreon on Eryk's shoulder seemed to smile. I do enjoy winning.

Kas snorted. "That's the spirit. Or close enough, anyway."

Eryk rolled his eyes at both Kas and Nova. “Fine," he replied, shrugging slightly to jostle Nova on his shoulder. “I'll do what I can, just don't blame me if you accidentally get lost," he directed the last part towards Nova, though he wouldn't really lose the umbreon. He wouldn't do that to Ana, after all. He took the earpiece Kas had given him, and fit it into his ear before frowning at the wire.

“Where should I put this if I don't want it to be discovered?" he asked. He didn't know why he was asking Kas, but he figured Kas might know something. He was the tech guy, surely they knew where to put things so they weren't in plain sight? He didn't think the resort would check him for wires, though. It would be strange and out of place, he thought, but he'd rather be on the safer side of things.

He didn't need to blow this mission.

Kas snorted softly. "Well you can hide the earpiece with your hair. If someone asks about it, just say it's bluetooth. As for the wire, under the top layer of your clothes. If you're only wearing one layer we can secure it with medical tape." He tilted his head to the side. "Have you really not worn a wire before?"

“No," Eryk replied. “Never really needed to," he added as he fixed the wire to his shirt. He was wearing his longcoat, the one they had given him for the tournaments, and the dress shirt underneath it had another sleeveless shirt underneath. Once it was fashioned, he gave Kas a quick nod, and exited the van, turning his attention briefly to Nova.

“Let's get this over and done with," he stated, making his way towards the building. He really didn't like over-the-top buildings like this one. It was partially the reason why he wanted to leave the Cloyster. They always made him feel uncomfortable. Out of place. The Koga compound had been a little more complex, retaining much of its appearance from two hundred years ago. As Eryk knew it, it had only been remodeled twice in that entire span, and only had maintenance on it if it was needed.

Pushing that thought from his mind, he made it to the service counter and pursed his lips together as he stared at the person behind it. “I'm here for Murk," he stated, perhaps a little too harshly. He didn't intend to sound irritable, but he kind of was.

The person, probably a few years younger than him and with a blond undercut and a small nose stud, looked taken aback for a moment, blinking before they regained their composure. “Sure." reaching under the table, they produced a folder with the logo of some company Eryk had never heard of. “This is your welcome packet; your room key is inside. Can I have your name, please? I need to check you off the list."

Eryk furrowed his brows slightly. Wasn't he the only one representing Murk? Shouldn't they have his name already? He sighed softly and nodded his head. “Eryk Nero," he stated, giving the young person his name. He stared at the folder for a moment before opening it. There wasn't anything interesting or of note. The brochure was a little too extravagant for Eryk's tastes. It was a picture of the ocean, painted in teals and sapphires, and the resort looked to be in the middle of it, even if it wasn't actually in the ocean.

Perhaps because it was located in Cerulean which was basically the water capitol of Kanto.

The list in question, however, seemed to literally just be a list of names; the clerk struck through his with a highlighter. “All right, you're good to go. Your room is 127, here on the first floor, on the other side of the pool deck. Several of our other guests for this event are there now, but nothing official begins until 7pm, when I believe the people running the retreat want you all gathered here in the lobby, so please feel free to relax and enjoy yourself until then." They smiled, a little skeptically, and stowed the list back under the counter.

Wanna go pick a fight? Nova asked.

Eryk snorted softly. You'd like that, wouldn't you? he moreso stated than asked. Nova was like that, he supposed, always eager for a fight. He was the complete opposite of Moira who loathed fighting. She'd never really wanted to, and had been a little frightened of battles at first. She eventually did, but now that she didn't have to, Eryk supposed she might have been a little happier for it.

Let's go pick a fight, then, he continued, rolling his eyes lightly as he made his way towards the pool deck. There were several people gathered already. Several people too many for Ryk's comfort, but he supposed he could weather it for now. You want first pick? he asked Nova, arching a brow as he did.

I think I do, the pokémon replied, a little smugly. Now let's see...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein

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#, as written by Aethyia


Image


May 2nd
Field Office 9 - Morning - Warm
Aidan Klein


"—so, as you can tell, that was more than enough excitement for them for the month," Gregorovich sat back in his chair, rolling his eyes such that the camera picked up on it.

Aidan snorted. "They're just getting crotchety in their old age, like you," he replied with a chuckle, smiling around the cigarette in his mouth. Just a social one, today, and probably the only one he'd have.

Gregorovich lit one of his own, laughing along with him. "Well I daresay for a bunch of old farts, we still managed to rather thoroughly thrash the assessor. Who knew requiring everyone in the organization to take battle assessments would be so... amusing?"

"Bet Remi didn't like that much," Aidan said, shaking his head.

"I imagine not, but one must occasionally remind the most impertinent of one's subordinates who is in charge," the older man drawled. Clearly, he'd enjoyed his battle assessment a great deal.

Aidan would have to run those for the field office later this year; HQ was always the first to do them, to set an example.

"I confess I'm a little glad you weren't around to do it. I think you might well have me beat, Aidan." Gregorovich sounded as pleased by this as anything, and smiled a bit as he took a drag from his cigarette.

But Aidan scoffed. "There's a trap if I ever heard one. Dunno, though, old man. Some of the kids up this way are shaping up pretty formidable themselves. Remi and Katia might have some serious competition if Rheinallt and Nero keep improving like they are."

Gregorovich listened with interest, head tilted slightly to the side. "Good," he said simply. "A little competition is welcome, and frankly if they do turn out to be better, I will be most pleased to have three stable administrators instead of one and a half." He rolled his eyes, even as Aidan's chuckles filled his office.

"A whole half for Katia? That's generous."

"Yes, well," Gregorovich smiled wryly. "I'm a generous man, what can I say?"

Aidan grinned, shaking his head a little. There was something nagging at the back of his mind. Something he wasn't sure he should bring up, and it must have pulled his expression down sooner than he thought, because it didn't take long for the boss to pick up on it.

"Something on your mind?"

Aidan blew a breath out, unsure how to broach the topic. "You're gonna laugh at me," he said, grimacing.

If anything that only seemed to make Gregorovich more intrigued; his eyes were keen behind his glasses. "Oh? Something must really be under your skin. I'm so curious." He smiled. "It's not everyday my flawless right hand finds himself in a situation that flusters him."

Rolling his eyes, Aidan sighed again, heavier this time. Exaggerations aside, this really wasn't normal for him, and probably that was why he felt the need to consult the boss about it. His gramps wasn't around anymore, and he'd never had a dad. No clue where his mom was, either, or whether she was alive or dead. That left him really short on people he could ask for this kind of advice.

"I uh... think I might be in love with Doc."

Onscreen, Gregorovich blinked. He didn't look that surprised, something Aidan immediately caught onto.

"You knew."

"Suspected," he corrected, taking another long draw. "Honestly if anything I'm just surprised you told me. Acting on such an attraction would be rather against NTR fraternization policy."

"Only if I stay her direct supervisor," Aidan replied.

At that point, Gregorovich did chuckle. "You want me to assign someone else?"

That was the rub; doing that would likely mean Aidan would be assigned away from Cinnabar, with someone else to replace him, making the whole thing... pretty moot. He knew it, Gregorovich knew it, and they knew that about each other.

"No," Aidan said at last. "I can keep a lid on it."

For a moment, Gregorovich's eyes pierced him through the monitor. "I'm sure you could," he said at last. "But who am I to let dry company policy stand in the way of something like this?"

Aidan lifted an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're a romantic," he said. "I don't buy it for a second."

The older man laughed aloud. "Certainly not. But..." His eyes softened. "I do play favorites, and you are my favorite." The admission was delivered matter-of-factly, which was fair enough. It was something they both knew, deep down. The same sentiment that meant Aidan would tell Gregorovich that he might be in love was echoed, such that the other man would want it to go well for him. Theirs had never been a strictly professional relationship.

"I'll reorganize some structure. That way if something does happen, it won't be breaking the rules. From your reports, it is clear that Dr. Solomon doesn't require such close oversight in the first place. I'm sure she would not mind a little more autonomy."





After disconnecting the call, Aidan made his way to the conference room, finding Rheinallt already present and working his way through a cup of black coffee. He saluted with the mug.

"Mornin', boss."

"Morning, peon," Aidan shot back.

Rheinallt winced as if in pain.

Nero was the next to arrive, stifling a yawn as he spared a glance towards Rheinallt and then Aidan. “Aidan, Kas," he greeted as he took a seat in his usual spot. The only one left to arrive was Cyrilla, but she seemed to be running a little late.

It was a few minutes more before she finally arrived, holding a large bag in one hand before she set it down in the middle of the table. “Sorry. Didn't mean to run behind. I wasn't expecting the lines to be so long for breakfast," she murmured softly before taking a seat in her spot. Eryk huffed slightly but took a pastry from the bag. It looked like she'd brought breakfast from the patisserie down the street called Ellie's.

"No sweat, little ninja," Aidan said, noting her unusually subdued demeanor. She also didn't smell like Rheinallt lately. Aidan had figured they were sleeping together, but now he wondered if maybe there was something souring there. It might be worth asking about—chances were it was some kind of misunderstanding, with those two. He didn't think he'd met two people more suited for each other than they obviously were, but damn if they both weren't fucking idiots about it sometimes.

He wondered when he'd acquired the desire to meddle.

Probably about the same time they'd become his friends. This lot were the best ones he'd ever had, never mind that they were all younger than him, to the point that he felt like a brother sometimes. It wasn't the worst feeling at all.

"All right. Nero, you're up first. What'd you get from the retreat?"

“Too much unwanted information and then some," he muttered, running a hand through his hair. There was a little uptick at the corner of his mouth, though, as if he were slightly joking. “But there was information nonetheless about what we're looking for," he added, glancing in Kas's direction before turning back towards Aidan.

“Nova and I were invited to a backroom after a couple of battles with some of the other people at the retreat," he began, sighing softly before shaking his head. “People like talking a little too much in those private rooms."

“What did they say?" Cyrilla asked, glancing briefly in Rheinallt's direction before glancing back to Nero.

“Want to play a recording?" Nero stated in Rheinallt's direction.

"Sure." Rheinallt, doubtless prepared for this eventuality, opened his laptop. "The gist is they very sneakily talked abut high end nutritional supplements, in really vague terms until Ryk here indicated his interest. Nothing strictly illegal went down at all, and the supplements he got from one of the others are just that—supplements. But it's not like they'd throw the illegal stuff at a new guy. My guess is they were testing him. The good news is, we know which company's making them now."

He paused to play the recording; Aidan took some notes down for Gregorovich, but no doubt the whole thing would be in the official report. When it ended, he nodded.

"Nice work, you two. I think the next step is to look into this company—Erhardt Pharmaceuticals? Never heard of them, but then that's not surprising. They're probably a shell for something. Rheinallt, I want you and the tech team to figure out where they're located, and prep us for an infiltration. Both electronic and in person. Little ninja, put your game face on, because it's your turn this time."

“Oh, good. I was beginning to think I was being left out," she drawled, smiling thinly in Aidan's direction. “And I'm always wearing my game face, see?" she stated, placing her index finger on her cheek, and grinning slightly. Nero rolled his eyes slightly and shook his head.

“I don't think that's what he meant, Cy," he stated, causing Cyrilla to roll her eyes.

“Of course it isn't, Ryk. I was just being facetious," she replied before turning back towards Aidan. “So... who am I infiltrating as? A secretary, the housekeeper?" she stated, listing off a couple of things, it seemed.

Aidan shrugged. "Dunno yet. Depends on what kind of opening Rheinallt can find you. If the secretary's always the same, that's not gonna work, but the more security clearance the better, all else equal." He glanced over at the other man, who nodded as he typed something down.

"Cover for Cy's going on the to-do-list," he said, ceasing the motion of his hands and glancing up. "Anything else?"

"Nothing too major," Aidan said. "Just be aware that battle evals will be official this year; HQ's already working on theirs. There might be a little bit of position shuffling going on, but I don't expect it'll really change much. Oh, and Gregorovich says thanks for all your hard work. Which isn't just words—all of you are getting a pretty big bonus at the end of the quarter."

"The best way to say thank you," Rheinallt joked.

Nero scoffed lightly but shook his head. Cyrilla sighed softly, though and shook her head. “Between the three of you, I haven't had much in terms of getting any training in. I feel like a loose third wheel, here," she stated, smiling a little wryly.

“If you want to get some training in, Aidan's the best coach there is," Nero stated as he arched a brow in Aidan's direction.

“You know, I get the feeling Big Bro has his hands full with the two of you. I'll see if Mel wants to be my part time trainer, or even Drake if he has time," she stated as she gave Nero a flat look. He just shrugged his shoulders.

Aidan was oddly pleased to get the compliment from Nero, and nodded his thanks for it at the other man. When Cyrilla suggested Drake and Mel though, he figured it wasn't a bad idea.

Rheinallt seemed to confirm. "Melly's always looking for the practice," he said with a soft huff. "I think now that she's really decided to go for her League run, she's like those old trainers in the stories that can't refuse a challenge."

“Good to know. I'll have to text her about it and see if we can set up a couple of dates and times," she replied, sinking a little into her chair. “I imagine the evals won't be for another month or so, right?" she stated, arching a brow in Aidan's direction. “I guess between prepping for that and this infiltration of sorts, it's going to be a fun month," she murmured softly.

Nero snorted softly. “Anything else on the agenda today?" he asked, turning his attention to Aidan.

"That should do it," Aidan said, flipping his notes closed. "We're getting better at this fast meetings thing."

Rheinallt snorted. "Lots of practice."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Aidan Klein

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May 7th
Marna's - Evening - Light Rain
Eryk Nero


“Thanks, Marna," Eryk stated when she placed the plate of nachos down in front of him. She'd left the bottles of vodka and whiskey on the table per his request, and he poured his first shot of whiskey. He stared at it for a moment. Kasimir, Aidan, and himself were at Marna's mostly because Ryk asked if they wanted to go, and partly because Ana had the girls and Drake over for movies. While she'd told him he could stay, he didn't want to intrude on her time with her friends. He knew that time was precious to her, and that it would have meant a great deal more to her if he'd stayed, but... he felt that she needed that time with them, too.

It seemed a little surreal thinking about it, how she might not be here in a few months, or days or weeks. He'd tried not to let that bother him; to let it consume most of his thoughts, but he had failed. There were times he caught himself thinking that he'd wished she hadn't told him that, but he reminded himself that it must have been hard for her to tell him. To say that her time was limited with him. She had not told the others yet, and Eryk wasn't going to be the one to do it.

If she wanted them to know, she would tell them.

Still... he sighed softly, throwing back the first shot and glanced at the other two. Eryk wasn't Aidan; he couldn't exactly read people the same way the red-haired man could, but he could tell that there was something bothering the both of them, too. He just didn't know what it was. He figured if they wanted to talk about it, they would. They had all come to that understanding, having been friends for nearly a year, now.

"You planning to have any of this, boss?" Kas asked, pointing to a nearly-full bottle of tequila.

Aidan gave him a look that was mostly incredulous. "If I say no, are you planning to drink the whole thing yourself?"

Kas appeared to consider this for a moment. "Yeah, pretty much."

"I'm not taking you to the hospital."

Grabbing the bottle by the neck, Kas poured himself a shot, downed it, and immediately poured another. "You're a good guy, boss."

Aidan sighed and shot Ryk a look.

Eryk arched a brow at Aidan before turning his attention to Kas. Eryk wasn't planning on getting too drunk, even though he kind of wanted to. The way Kas was going, it seemed he wanted to get wasted as fast as possible.

“We have mostly all night, Kas. You don't have to drink it like it's water," Eryk murmured as he took another shot of his own drink. Hypocrisy at its best, he supposed, considering he was almost doing the same thing. He glanced in Aidan's direction, though.

“What are you drinking?"

Aidan shrugged. "Beer." He held up the ubiquitous brown glass bottle. It was hard to pick out exactly what was up with him, but it certainly didn't seem to be the same thing as Kasimir, who was now three shots in and finally deigning to at least mix his tequila with something in a glass.

"Rheinallt, what the fuck is eating you?" Aidan asked, eying his discontent expression with apparent concern.

Kas frowned outright. "Nothing I can talk about sober," he admitted, gesturing to the bottle. "Give me a bit and I might figure out how to say it."

Eryk blinked slowly.

“Must be pretty bad if you gotta be drunk, first," he stated, downing his third shot. Admittedly, Eryk was kind of curious as to what it could be. It wasn't often that things bothered Kas, but then again, Eryk just might not have been able to tell. That was Aidan's forte, not his. Eryk supposed he could almost sympathize with Kas, though. If asked, he wouldn't even be able to explain what was eating him.

It wasn't his place to say, and he wasn't going to.

“What about you?" he decided to ask Aidan. He and Kas weren't dealing with the same thing, apparently, but Eryk supposed these kinds of things could be talked about with friends. A twinge of guilt pulled at his chest as he took a slow drink of his fourth shot.

Aidan sighed. "It's dumb," he said, frowning down at his food. "You'd think I was fuckin' fourteen if I told you."

Kas managed a snort at that. "I can relate. Maybe more like eighteen in my case, though. Depending."

The frown on Aidan's face only deepened. "—withdoc." The words came out mostly as an incomprehensible mumble.

Kas blinked, picking up his glass. "Maybe I'm drunk already but I didn't catch a word of that." He took a large swallow, clearly not actually worried about his level of inebriation.

Aidan picked at the label of his bottle, leaned all the way back in his chair and blank-faced. "I have a thing for Doc," he repeated, this time about as quietly but a little more clearly.

"Well duh," Kas replied, brows knitting. "This isn't new, is it?"

"No, but that restructuring the boss is doing? It'll mean I'm not her direct supervisor anymore." The label gave with a tearing sound.

Eryk furrowed his brows in confusion. “I thought you two were already together," he stated, tilting his head somewhat. “Just... not as open about it because of the whole... company policy," he added. Eryk thought that they had moved in together because they wanted it as a cover for the fact that they were dating.

Company policy, however, didn't allow coworkers to date each other, which was understandable as to why they would want to keep it from everyone. He hadn't known they weren't dating.

“Sorry," though he wasn't entirely sure what he was apologizing for.

Kas snickered; Aidan made a complicated expression that mostly consisted of a grimace.

"We're not... no." He sighed.

"Well this means you could be yes, right?" Kas asked, slurring a little and lifting a brow to go with his lopsided smile.

"I don't know how good an idea that is," Aidan replied, clearly skeptical.

Eryk supposed he could understand. He'd been almost in the same boat not too long ago, however; it wasn't quite the same thing. Ana had started out as a mission. When that had changed for him, he didn't know, and that was a dangerous thing. He would be considered compromised if anyone found out about it, but for Aidan, he was just Solomon's supervisor. It wasn't like he could jeopardize much other than his career. Now that that was being fixed, he supposed there really wasn't much else to worry about.

“So what's holding you back?" Eryk stated, a little surprised at his own words. “What makes you think it's not a good idea?" he decided to clarify.

"It can't be her, surely?" Kas said, peering at Aidan with narrowed eyes. "A blind idiot could see she has it bad for you."

Aidan cleared his throat, then shook his head. "She thinks she does," he said, taking a long draw from the beer. "But... I dunno. The shine'll wear off, you know? I'm not all I'm cracked up to be; definitely not good enough for a woman like that."

Kas looked at him flatly. "In full acknowledgment of my hypocrisy here: that's bullshit, boss. You're a stand-up guy, and the hype and fame and shit is totally justified."

Eryk huffed slightly. Now that he could understand, not being good enough for a woman like that. There were times when he thought he wasn't good enough for Ana, but... well, she made it easier each day to see that maybe he was.

“What Kas said," Eryk stated as he took another drink of his shot. He was still on his fourth one, drinking it a little slower even if it was meant to be downed in one go. “If you hadn't told me otherwise, I would have thought the two of you were together. It's clear she likes you well-enough to want to live with you. She's the one who asked you, wasn't she?"

The answer to that was obvious enough. They all knew it.

“I don't think she thinks she likes you. You're her fucking idol for arceus' sake," Eryk felt his lip quirk up a bit. “She has your figurine, after all. If she didn't have it, as Kas put it, bad for you, she wouldn't collect your shit, nor would she want to live with you and play video games. And don't say it's just admiration because any idiot can see it's a little more than that. I see it and I'm about as emotionally stunted as the rest of you." This time, Eryk downed the rest of his drink.

But Aidan's grimace didn't let up. "See, that's part of the problem. The uh, idol thing." He shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm not... that guy, you know? It was a long time ago and I'm definitely not the same person I was back then. If that's the part of me she likes, then... there's nothing there but smoke."

"Give her some credit, man," Kas said with a frown. "If that was all she liked about you, you'd both know it by now. The figurine thing is hilarious, but we all know it's not the important part. It's not like your relationship is built on that."

"Yeah, I know. I'm just..." he snorted. "I dunno when I got pathetic, but I'm scared. I'd given up on this shit, you know? Figured it'd never happen."

Eryk nodded his head in understanding.

“But you'll never know unless you try," he decided to say, shrugging his shoulders lightly. “I didn't have the whole idol problem with Ana, but I understand about the never happening part. Didn't think it'd happen, either," because honestly, he'd always thought he'd fulfill his end of the bargain with his family and marry Cy. As much as he didn't want to, as they didn't want to, he knew that it would have been an eventual thing. Now... now he wasn't so sure.

It was for convenience for the both of them, but if he let her go... she would be free to live her new life. He, however, would likely have to marry someone else. His mother would have to go through the whole ordeal of rearranging another match, but it's not like it would be difficult. His mother already had some she wanted him to marry. Pushing that thought away, he turned to Kas.

“Drunk enough to explain your problem?" he asked, arching a brow. He hadn't seen Kas with anyone, lately which led him to surmise Kas's problem was something else entirely.

Kas groaned softly. "Not yet," he admitted. "So your turn. Trouble in paradise or what?"

Eryk snorted softly. “Not exactly, no," he stated in a simple tone. While it was true that there wasn't any trouble, there was the matter of troubling news. “More like stress from socializing with people for so long," he decided to say. It was true, after all. The retreat had taken a lot out of him, which was a little strange. He would have thought he'd be used to it by now.

His group of friends were eight people strong. He could have handled that a lot better, but... well, it was all said and done already.

Aidan gave him a measuring look, but didn't push. He'd probably noticed that wasn't all there was to it, but he was pretty good about knowing when to let something drop.

Kas, on the other hand, frowned at him for a long moment before shrugging. "Fair enough, I guess. As for me—" he took a shot this time, expelling a long breath once he'd swallowed. "I'm just a colossal idiot, nothing to see here."

“That's nothing new," Eryk retorted, rolling his eyes a bit. “Aidan shared his troubles, I've shared mine," even if it was only briefly, “now it's your turn, ass." Normally, Eryk wouldn't have pushed. He wasn't the type to push people into telling him things that bothered them, but these weren't just any people. These were his friends, and as loath as he was to admit it, he cared about them.

And maybe the alcohol in his system made him care just a little more than he had a right to.

"No," Kas said, heaving a sigh. "It's definitely new this time." He frowned about as deeply as Eryk had ever seen him do. "Don't kill me, okay? I uh..." he cleared his throat and took another drink, speaking as the glass returned to the wooden tabletop with a thunk. "I slept with Cy."

It took a minute for the words to register for Eryk. The actual meaning behind them hadn't caught up with him, but once they did, Eryk just shook his head. “And?" he questioned. It wasn't lost on him that Cy and Kas were close, but the fact that they slept together wasn't something new to Eryk. That's just who they were, though frankly he was a bit surprised. After she returned from Fuchsia, she hadn't really been with anyone, or at least she hadn't told him.

“How is it exactly new if that's just the kind of people she and yourself are?" Eryk decided to ask.

"Good to know neither of you is remotely surprised," Kas drawled, rolling his eyes. "For your information if it was just us doing what we 'usually' do, we wouldn't have waited this long to do it." He seemed almost sour about this, scowling over at the both of them.

Aidan snorted. "I thought it was ongoing? You've come to work smelling the same more than a few times."

Kas blinked. "Oh, that." He cleared his throat again, this time almost sheepishly. "We weren't actually—well, we were sleeping together, but only in the most literal sense."

This time, Aidan's eyes widened slightly in comprehension. "Ah. Now I understand why this is a big deal."

Eryk furrowed his brows a little as he sighed softly. He downed another shot, whiskey this time, and glanced towards Kas. “Alright," he began, suddenly feeling a little strange. He felt a little guilty for phrasing it the way he did. If he'd known that, he wouldn't have said what he did so casually. It was clear that it bothered Kas, but Eryk wasn't entirely sure how it bothered him. Was it because they felt like Eryk did with Ana? Did they care about each other that way, thus making it awkward?

He didn't know.

It made sense why they were acting a little distant with each other as of late, though. “Is that why the two of you are doing this weird little... what's it called, tiptoeing lately?" Eryk asked as he arched a brow at Kas. “Because if it is, the both of you are fucking stupid," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

“It's not like I care what the two of you do but if it's genuine, then..." maybe he could use it as an excuse to absolve the engagement? If that was what she wanted, he would do it in a heartbeat because it meant that, for the first time in a while, she was happy. He was happy with Ana, and the more he thought about it... well, the more he just wanted to spend whatever time she had left, together.

“What's holding you back?" With Aidan, he could almost understand. With Kas, not so much.

Kas made a complicated expression. "It's... hard to explain," he said after a while. "Part of it is just—I've never really done the relationship thing, you know? Well—I did it once, and it went terribly. I dunno, man. I give a shit and that means I don't want to lose what we've got." He held up a hand.

"And don't give me any of this 'but you might get something more isn't that worth it?' bullshit. I'm only halfway sure I even believe relationships can be anything other than friends with benefits with weird possessiveness mixed in, and I'm not about that."

Aidan hummed. "Can't blame you," he said at last. "I think that's what most of them come down to, plus some weird infatuation thing that fades. But not all of them." He shot a look at Eryk, then shrugged.

Eryk huffed slightly but held up both of his hands. “Wasn't going to say that," he admitted, running one of his hands through his hair. “I think that's the whole point of relationships, though," he began, glancing at both Aidan and Kas. “Sure, it might start out as infatuation, but even as it starts to fade, I think it just turns into something more akin to mutual respect for each other. Fuck if I know what love really is, but..." he paused, furrowing his brows.

Ana had a way of making him believe that maybe he was capable of it, and knowing it. “Well that's the whole point. Even if they end terribly, it just means you've learned something new about yourself and what you really want, I guess. Plus, I don't think you give yourselves enough credit. So what if all it comes down to is that your relationship is being friends with benefits? So what if the infatuation fades? You're just getting a new experience every time it fails until maybe... maybe you find something that actually works."

He downed the last of his whiskey and rolled his eyes at himself. “Besides I'm not the only one with a functional relationship. Drake and Mel have had theirs going on what, four months?"

Kas sighed again, shaking his head. It seemed something there had failed to translate, but he wore a small smile anyway. "You're terrible at this, Ryk. But thanks for trying. Really."

Aidan chuckled, and the mood seemed to lift, just a little.

Ryk snorted softly and nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, well, I'm trying for the first friends I've ever had."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Rocket Files

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


May 10th
Backisland Beach - Afternoon - Sunny
Melody Rheinallt


Mel staked their umbrella in the sand, opening the canvas as Cyrilla spread their towels out. They had a small cooler of drinks, but mostly they were just here to enjoy the sun and each others' company. The others were all pretty occupied today—Eryk and Ana were giving the shelter a deep clean, Kas and Aidan were somewhere training, and Drake had a few gym challenges to take, though she'd made him promise to come take a break with them once he was done. Nev was presumably working, as it was a weekday afternoon and all, but hadn't answered her phone when Mel called her.

"They're gonna be sorry they missed this," Mel declared. "The weather's perfect."

“They really are," Cyrilla seemed to agree as she grabbed one of the drinks from the cooler. “We can always just take pictures and send them to the others with captions that say 'you missed this' or whatever might make them jealous," she added before taking a seat on one of the towels.

“Speaking of perfect weather," she stated, arching a brow in Mel's direction, “how goes things with Drake? Movie night the other night was hilarious given that Ana decided to play horror movies and he just kept clinging to you," she snickered softly.

Mel laughed; that had been hilarious and kind of cute. It had been a new thing to discover about him—she'd known he wasn't a big horror fan, but she didn't know it was because he jump-scared so easily. Ana, on the other hand, had seemed to love them. Especially the more creepy, suspenseful ones. People could really be different than they seemed, not that Mel had needed the reminder as such.

"In general?" she asked, figuring the answer was affirmative. "Things are great. He uh..." she smiled, a little sheepishly. "We said 'I love you' a little while back. It felt... really nice. Things are still going slow, but I think we both need that, so it's been really good."

She knew what the automatic assumption would be, if they were living together, but it wasn't like that. Of course, if anyone would understand, it was probably this bunch, Cy included. Eryk and Ana were living together, and Mel had never even seen them kiss. It could be that they were just very private about it, but she didn't think so. Point being, the order of things didn't matter if both parties were happy and comfortable with it.

Cyrilla's eyes widened slightly as she smiled. “That's great, though. I mean, even if you are both taking it slow, to even admit that at this stage in your relationship..." she trailed off, the smile on her face faltering for just a second that it was hard to tell if it actually did. “I guess things are going pretty well."

She took a slow drink before setting it down beside her. “Not going to lie, I'm a little jealous. Not that it's going slow, but... well, that you and Drake have a really great, stable relationship right now. I'm happy for you, given the shit you've been through," she said, giving Mel a small smile before shaking her head.

“Anyway, I've something to ask you. I keep forgetting about it because it's not for another couple of months, but," she began, arching a brow at Mel. “Do you think you'll have enough time to train with me? The company has battle evaluations coming up and between Kas and Ryk, I'm the only one not getting any training in."

Mel's eyebrows lifted; she was a little surprised to be asked, but on second thought it sort of made sense. Mirmir and Ryk were training for a probattling season, so no doubt they were in ship-shape and only going to get better. Aidan's time was likely spent coaching them. Drake had the gym, and neither Nev nor Ana was really too much of a battler.

All things considered, Mel figured she was a good choice, given that.

"Of course I'll help," she said immediately. "I usually train in the mornings, but I can switch to afternoons if you need to work or whatever." Or, more likely, just do both.

“Either work for me but I might be able to request some time off for proper training. It'll be a big help if I do that, all things considered. Eryk is the one who likes to battle. Me, not so much. I mean, I'll do it because I have to, but... well, I think Diva's going to complain about all of it," Cy stated as her lips quirked up a bit.

“Why don't we start next week? That way, it'll give us both time to prepare, and I can see about submitting the paper work for that time?"

"Sure," Mel said with a little nod, stretching her legs out in front of her. She'd never felt the need to tan, being naturally dark, but she did love the way the sun felt on her skin. "My schedule's pretty open, so whatever works for you works for me."

She left it there for a bit, leaning back against her hands, just enjoying the weather. "I didn't know you guys did battle evaluations. Is it mostly a formality, or does stuff actually depend on it?" Mel rolled her eyes at a couple of guys a bit down the beach. They were surfing, but it was pretty clear they were trying to look cool; she snorted under her breath when one of them wiped out.

Cy snorted softly and nodded her head. “Depends, really. Grunts have battle evals to make sure they're at least adequate, but for admins like myself, it's to make sure we can handle our positions. I guess... in a way you could think of admins as Gym Leaders," she chuckled a little at the comparison. “Drake goes through them, too, but I think it's a little different. If any of us fail our evals, we get demoted and sent somewhere else and someone replaces us."

“It's also a way to make sure the admins are capable should anything happen in the office we're at," she shrugged her shoulders a bit as if she weren't entirely sure. Her lips pursed together when a couple of the guys down the beach waved in their direction, almost as if calling them over. She rolled her eyes, intent on ignoring them, apparently.

“To be honest," she began, glancing down as if to stare at the towel she was sitting on, “I only have my position because of my family. Or... well, Ryk, really," she seemed to confess, sighing heavily. “But... I think maybe if I lose the evals this year, I can just put in my notice and quit."

That was an interesting way of putting it. "Do you want to quit?" Mel asked opening the cooler and taking out a lemonade. "Because if you ask me, if you want to you should just... quit. No point worrying about evals in that case, right?" Mel didn't know why Cy wanted to do that, but then she didn't know a whole lot about NTR in general. She'd asked Mirmir about it a few times, but his answers had been very vague and general, and she'd gotten the sense that there was a lot he wasn't allowed to talk about, so she'd never pressed.

She never understood why he'd wanted to join NTR; he hadn't exactly had the best experiences with them as a kid. But she'd figured he must have his reasons, and he'd tell her if he could.

“It's not that easy to quit," Cy replied softly, shaking her head a little. “I, uh... never told you this, did I?" it was more of a statement from the way Cy regarded her. “I'm technically... well, there's no easy way to say this: I'm engaged to Eryk. It's a stupid family thing but," she paused to take a breath, “because I'm engaged to him, I'm required to stay. Our family has always been part of Team Rocket, and we're trained from a young age to believe that it's our only way of life. That Team Rocket is the only thing we'll ever be good enough for and that we need to follow it no matter what."

“Even though I left my family name of Niav, I'd eventually be a Nero which meant that I would have to stay in order to support Ryk, but... I..." something seemed to hitch in her throat as she swallowed past a lump it seemed. “I don't want to. I love Ryk; he's been my best friend since the beginning, but I don't love him like that. I don't want to marry him and..." she shuddered lightly as she shook her head from some unpleasant thought, it seemed.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to just dump all of this on you. I guess to put it into perspective, Ryk and I are from the Koga family, and it's archaic as hell."

That was... a lot to digest. Mel knew a thing or two about the advantages of having a fancy family with an old name. Derek had, and it was one of the reasons she'd never bothered to bring charges against him. Her mom had insisted they could win if they prepared right, if that was what she wanted, but Mel hadn't wanted to take the risk. That she'd lay all that horrible history out there and be told he wasn't guilty of anything. And she didn't want to put her family through it, either. Not when telling the whole truth might get Mirmir in trouble of his own.

Still, she wasn't exactly shocked to hear there was a downside, either. The form it took was... a little more surprising. "Damn," she said, tone sympathetic. "That's..." she didn't know what that was, except, well. "That has to make life really complicated sometimes," she finished, ignoring that one of the beach bros was staring at her.

She smiled thinly. “It does, especially since..." she trailed off, sitting so that she could hug her knees. There was a faint red dusting her cheeks, and it was easy to see with her pale complexion. “I don't know what it is that I feel, exactly, for Kas," she admitted softly, not glancing in Mel's direction.

“It's been weird lately between us and I think... I think it might be my fault."

"Unlikely," Mel said immediately, and though there was a lightness to it, she was completely serious. "For real though, Cy. Mirmir... I love him, but he's kind of an idiot, and... well, that's not really fair. He's got a history like anyone and it can make him weird sometimes." That was a much better way to say it.

"You want to talk about it? I might be able to help you figure it out, if you're not sure what's up with him." And she wanted to—Mel had known her brother long enough to know that Cy was different for him. That there was a potential there Kas probably didn't know what to do with. It wasn't his fault, really, but it wasn't Cy's either, and if Mel's insight could help, she wanted to.

Cy blinked a little surprised at Mel's statement, it seemed. “I... uh, really?" she asked almost hesitantly. She let go of her knees and sat a little straighter, studying Mel for a moment before a small smile appeared. “I... really don't know where to begin. I'm not used to talking to people about these kinds of things. Never really had anyone to talk to about them," she began, running a hand through her hair before slumping her shoulders a bit.

“Well, I guess I can start by telling you a little about myself, first. I used to sleep around with people because... it felt like it was the only power I really had in my life," she began, dropping her gaze again. “But then... I kind of stopped. I didn't want to anymore because I had a friend who was showing me that it was okay to just... be myself. That it was okay to want other things and be selfish for myself and... I don't know when it really started to change for me. Slowly, Kas was becoming important to me, so much that it was a little scary. I'd never felt like that about someone before, and he just made it so easy."

“We started sleeping in the same bed, together and it just felt... like it was safer with him there. And then last month we... well, this might be more information about your brother than you'd like, but we slept together," she admitted softly, the faint blush returning to her face. “Ever since then, though, he's been... he acts like nothing has changed. That it might not really have meant anything to him and that..." she paused and clutched at the front of her shirt where her heart was.

“It hurts because it meant something to me. It was the first time I slept with someone and it meant something." There was a faint glistening near the corners of her eyes when she said that.

Mel wasn't the sort of person to think it was super-gross or inappropriate to discuss her brother's sex life; Kas had always been frank with her, and she with him. Honestly she thought most people would benefit from being able to talk about that kind of thing a little more freely. She could tell it wasn't the easiest for Cyrilla right now, though, so she refrained from inquiring after details or anything. It clearly wasn't the encounter itself that was the problem, and that was enough.

She grimaced at the description of his behavior, her eyes narrowing sympathetically when Cy described how she felt. It was no wonder—there had to be hella mixed messages in that. "Well for starters," she said, figuring they had the time to work through this slowly. "There's no right way or wrong way to talk about your feelings. Helping you figure it out is kinda the point of having the conversation, so don't worry about that." She smiled a little in what she hoped was a comforting way, and handed Cy a napkin from inside the cooler so she could dab her eyes if she wanted.

"Secondly, my brother's being a dumbass. I'd offer to beat him up for you, but unfortunately I think this kind of dumbass really does have to do with his own... hangups, I guess you could say. Can you uh... can you tell me more about how exactly you ended up sleeping together? Was it a drunk thing, or...?" She doubted Kas would have ever done something like that if Cy was drunk and he'd known it, but sometimes when both people were it was a lot harder to keep boundaries clear, and she didn't want to rule it out without confirmation.

She took the napkin but didn't immediately use it. Instead, she shook her head slowly as her brows furrowed. “I came home and he looked like he was in the middle of some kind of episode. A panic attack maybe?" she began, sighing softly. “I just... I didn't know what was wrong so the only thing I could think to do was try and comfort him. I ended up hugging him until it passed and... well, I'd asked if he wanted a distraction and a drink. He said he could do with both, and that maybe we should go to the backisland, but..." she paused to rub at her eyes sans the napkin.

“I don't know what I was thinking, but I ended up kissing him as a sort of distraction. I didn't think anything of it at the time because I wasn't really thinking. I just... it was something I wanted to do and I thought it was the best way to distract someone. Sometimes a kiss can make someone stop thinking altogether and whatever he had on his mind, I kind of thought it would help him."

“I... also might have told him I loved him, but I don't think he took it to mean anything. The way I told him was more of a comforting gesture; he wasn't doing so well and I wanted him to know that I was there for him."

Mel was quiet for a bit as she digested all of that. There was certainly a lot to parse out; not surprising that it hadn't been a straightforward invitation and acceptance. She furrowed her brows. "Most likely it was a panic attack, yeah. He used to get them a lot when we were kids. I think it's been a while, but you don't exactly stop being at risk for those. He... doesn't like to talk about it."

Shifting her lemonade bottle back and forth a couple times to dig it into the sand, she pursed her lips. There was a story she could tell that would make a lot of this easier for Cy to understand, but she wasn't sure she should tell it. Maybe she could make the same point without.

"I'm thinking... emotion was really high for both of you right then. I'm not sure Mirmir really knows what to make of that. He's probably scared, Cy. Scared that it happened because things were weird. Scared of what it might—or might not—have meant. Especially if it was sudden like that. Not that that's an excuse, but he's probably trying to give you space. In case you regret it. It's clumsy as hell, but I think it might be a good sign, actually."

Her eyes widened a little as if in realization. “That... I don't regret it, though," she murmured softly as she smiled thinly. “I guess I just don't know how these things work. I've never really had an actual relationship with someone and I guess, when you put it that way, it was a little sudden. I mean, not that we are in a relationship, but I don't regret it. Not when it was him."

She sniffled softly before grabbing her drink and taking a sip. “I'd do it again if it showed him that I don't. That I meant it all that night," she continued, swallowing a little thickly. “But I guess in a way, I'm scared, too. I know it's stupid to think of all the what ifs, but it's kind of hard not to think of them. What if it didn't mean anything? What if we're just screwing up our friendship with this?" she listed off.

“But at the same time, it's a risk I'm willing to make because I do. For someone like me, I've never really known what it was like to love someone, or to feel like I'm capable of it or receiving it. But with him, I think I do. I think I know what it's finally like to care about someone. To love them and want just good for them."

"That seems like something you need to be telling him, and not just me," Mel noted, smiling a little. "I know it's not... easy, especially not when it feels new and fragile. But as good as he is at some things, he genuinely probably hasn't realized most of this. Mirmir is..." she sighed quietly. "He's been deceived before. I don't think he believes you're doing that, but it makes him think he can't... trust his own interpretation of things. Which is why, even if you're giving off all the 'no regrets' signals in the world, he probably needs to be told."

She sighed. "I'm not saying it's your job alone to make sure the conversation happens, but..." Mel shrugged a bit. "Can I ask you something? You said you guys aren't in a relationship, and that's fine, but... what would you want, if it was up to you? Forget your family and all that shit for a second. Just, if nothing was in the way, what kind of arrangement would you want to have with him?"

She blinked, but pursed her lips together as if in deep thought. “Don't... think me childish for saying this but," she paused, rubbing her arms as if she were cold. “I can see a life with him. Some people might think I'm too young for thinking something like that, but if nothing was in the way, if it was up to me, I could see a life with him." She sighed softly and shook her head.

“Doesn't answer your question, though, so... the kind of arrangement I want with him is one where we didn't have to be scared about our feelings, or doubt them. That they were all out in the open and nothing hidden. What I want is to be with him for however long he'd want me."

"That's pretty much the opposite of childish, Cy," Mel said gently. "And I'm glad, honestly. Glad that someone amazing sees my brother that way. If it's what you want... don't give up on it. He can be difficult in some strange ways, but between you and me, I'm pretty sure he loves you, too."

She tilted her head. "But if you want my advice about how to approach him, use more concrete terms for now. From the sounds of it, you want something long term, not a fling or something that ends whenever. You can say that. But there are other ways people describe relationships. Open or closed, romantic, sexual, or both, that kind of thing. So for example, Drake knows I'm looking for something that's long-term, closed, and both eventually, but mostly just romantic for now. If you can tell him really clearly what you want, he won't have to worry so much about whether he's reading you right, y'see?"

Cyrilla smiled at that and huffed lightly. “I suppose you've a point there. I just don't know how to approach him about that kind of thing. I might look confident as shit, but really," she paused to chuckle at herself, “I'm a little self-conscious."

“Thanks for listening and putting things into perspective for me. It's not going to be easy, but I guess it's the first time I'm willing to put an effort into it. I guess I'll just have to find the right moment to talk to him about it, too. The sooner the better because I want to clear things up with him," she continued, smiling a little more in Mel's direction.

"No problem, Cy—I'm glad I was helpful." Mel might've said something else, about how if Kas started talking about Cy being too good for him that all he needed was a good punch in the gut, but she was interrupted when a pair of shadows fell over them.

Mel turned around. Oh great, beach bros. “Hey ladies," said the one on the left. He was tall, blonde, and good-looking enough that he probably assumed this was going to go well for him. “You two here all alone?"

Mel rolled her eyes. "Not looking to get picked up, Ace."

Cyrilla just arched a brow at them and leaned closer to Mel. “Does it even look like we're alone? It's quite obvious we're here on a date, and now it's being soured. Please move along so that I can enjoy my beautiful girlfriend in peace." She made a vague shooing motion with her hand as she spoke.

Beach bro wore that super stereotypical look that straight guys got when considering two girls who were into each other: a mixture of being put off and that prurient curiosity that meant he was probably thinking about a threesome. Fucking gross.

He opened his mouth to say something, but Mel cut him off. "Lesbians," she clarified, hoping Cyrilla didn't mind when she ran a hand through her hair. "Not going to kiss in front of you either, so please leave."

Beach bro looked at his friend, who shrugged. “Pretty clear no, dude." He smiled at them. “Have a nice day, ladies." He dragged the other one off.

Mel managed to wait until they were out of earshot before she laughed.

Cyrilla joined Mel in her laughter, wiping at her eye as her laughs died down. “That was a lot easier than they'd ever been," she stated. “You know, though," she began, smirking just slightly, “if it weren't for the fact that I respect Drake, I'd have liked that kiss." It was obvious enough that she was joking, especially when she started laughing again.

“Anyway, yes. You were very helpful in a variety of ways today, it seemed," she stated with a light chuckle. “You'd make a really great sis-in-law, though. Just saying," she shrugged her shoulders lightly. “Think of all the mayhem we could cause."

"So, so much mayhem."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

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May 13th
Cinnabar Gym - Evening - Clear
Cyrilla Klein


She couldn't be mad at them, really.

Even if she tried, her friends had been thoughtful enough to throw her a birthday party. Cyrilla was honestly surprised that they'd even remembered. She had told Nev and Ana a year ago, but it was too late to do anything about it, then. Not that she had really cared; she and Ryk both disliked their birthdays for obvious reasons, however; she couldn't say that she hated it, now.

She was with people she loved; people who'd been there for her when no one else really had, and she loved every single one of them. Eryk, Ana, Aidan, Drake, Nev, Mel, Kas.

The fact that Drake let them use his gym as a place to throw the party was even more hilarious than Cyrilla thought it could be. Currently, everyone's pokémon were running about, though some of them stuck together. Typhoon, Drake's salamence, was currently nestled up to Argent, Mel's sylveon, which was adorable to Cyrilla. She'd never really seen a match like that before, but she supposed there were weirder ones. Diva was living up to her name, whining every so often when she wasn't getting enough attention from Noctis or if Ziggy was trying to eat her stubby tail. Cyrilla found that hilarious, actually.

“Happy birthday, Cyrilla!" Drake nearly shouted, startling Cy from her thoughts. “Sorry, sorry," he apologized, waving his hands in front of him.

“Thanks, Drake. Also, how in the world did they convince you to use the gym for this?" she asked, watching as Drake blinked slowly.

“Well that was easy. Ana and Mel suggested we use it since we had so many people, and the gym is big enough for everyone to let their pokémon out. Plus, the gym has a pool and a jacuzzi and... uh, one other thing I keep forgetting," he replied. That made sense, she supposed. Why not have a party where everyone had enough space that they wouldn't be crowded together.

Plus, it made it easier for introverts like Ana and Ryk to have their space if they wanted it. Big crowds were still a little uneasy for Ryk, she knew, but he seemed to do okay when it was just the eight of them.

Basically all the pokémon were out, too, including, hilariously, Aidan's lapras, Skiff, who seemed to make Drake nervous for some reason. Fortunately, he was confined to the pool, which at the moment no one was using.

There were a few small presents on the table Mel had dragged out from the kitchen, but by mutual consensus they all saved the really major gift-giving for winter, so they could do it together. Ana arrived a little after everyone else, and it was immediately obvious why: she was carrying a rather large, three-tiered cake, with what seemed to be a thick layer of buttercream frosting. The whole thing was decorated as if three giant strawberries had been balanced atop each other, including the frosting being dyed red and painted with little black dots.

"Happy birthday!" she said, smiling a little. "I, um, made you a cake. Eryk helped!"

Eryk was frowning slightly, mostly at Ana's statement. Cyrilla didn't know why, but she could speculate it was because he probably didn't help much with the cake. She knew Eryk wasn't the best at cooking or baking, but she smiled nonetheless. It was the thought that mattered, and the cake really did look good.

“All I did was burn the first attempt," he replied, pursing his lips together in a way that Cyrilla thought he was pouting.

“You didn't have to, you know," she stated, smiling a little at them. “It almost looks too good to eat, really. I'll be kind of sad to cut into it," she was mostly joking, though. A cake that looked that good was probably just as tasty.

“You don't have to eat it, but we will," Eryk stated as Cyrilla furrowed her brows.

“You wouldn't dare."

“I would."

Ana laughed, putting the cake down on the table alongside a little package she took out of her pants pocket, wrapped in pretty silver paper. "Anyway," she said, shaking her head a little. "What are we doing today, anyway? I know there's options, but it really should be you who decides, Cyrilla."

Cyrilla shook her head. “Nope, I am not going to be the delegator of things to do. It might be my birthday, but I want everyone to just enjoy themselves. If you want to go swimming, or go in the jacuzzi or play air hockey, be my guest. Honestly, as long as everyone is having fun, I'm having fun, too," she replied with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

“I don't think that's how it's supposed to work, though. We're supposed to be doing something fun with you," Nev interjected as she appeared, causing Cyrilla to snort softly.

“You missed the point, Nev. If everyone is having fun, then I'm having fun." Nev just furrowed her brows deeper, causing Cyrilla to sigh in defeat. “Fine, let's go play some air hockey."

Kas chuckled quietly at her concession. "Somehow, I have a feeling I already know how this is going to end up," he said, rubbing at his nose a little.

"How's that, Rheinallt?" Aidan asked, carrying the bag of tortilla chips with him. He didn't seem to be dipping them in anything—just eating them plain from the bag.

"Nope, not telling. It has something to do with you, and you'll act differently just to be contrary."

Aidan snorted.

Cyrilla chuckled lightly and shook her head. Drake, however, thought it was funnier than it was, for some reason, and was laughing.

“Did someone spike his drink?" Eryk deadpanned, causing Drake to furrow his brows and quiet his laughing a bit.

“I don't think anyone would do that except for you, Ryk," Cyrilla responded, rolling her eyes when he just shrugged his shoulders. She knew he wasn't going to deny it because it was Ryk, and he would do that.

“Alright, let's settle this, then," he stated, pointing an accusatory finger at Eryk. “You and me, first," he stated, all but running towards the air hockey table. Cyrilla smiled softly at how excited he seemed to be. Eryk didn't seem to mind, though, and positioned himself around the opposite side of Drake.

“Well, since Eryk and Drake are first, we'll just play the winner per round," Cyrilla suggested. Drake had two tables, after all, and if they wanted, they could do it in turns or pairs. If they did it in two teams, two people could face off with each other. It was up to them how they wanted to play, though. Like she said, Cyrilla wasn't going to dictate or delegate anything to anyone. She just wanted them to enjoy themselves.

Aidan shrugged, taking up a spot on the side of the table to watch the match. Kas disappeared back into the kitchen for some reason, and Mel sidled up next to Aidan. He immediately tilted the bag of chips towards her. With a happy noise, she took several. "You're like... psychic or something, I swear."

Next to Cyrilla, Ana tensed slightly, but relaxed again immediately when Aidan snorted.

"Nothing that complicated," he replied with a shrug.

“Big Bro is just really good at reading people," Cyrilla stated, glancing towards the kitchen where Kas disappeared to. Part of her wondered if maybe she should use this opportunity to go talk to him, but... well, there was just a small little bout of fear in her chest that kept her where she was.

Ryk and Drake both grabbed their respective strikers before Drake grabbed the puck and set it on the table. “Alright, first one to get ten goals, wins," he stated. Eryk shrugged as if he were agreeing, and readied his striker.

“I honestly don't know how to play air hockey. I've never played many games before, as you all know," Nev confessed slightly as she frowned slightly. Cyrilla snorted softly and shook her head.

“It's really not that complicated. If you watch Ryk and Drake's match, you'll see it's basically just hitting the puck back and forth as strategically as possible. Why don't you go next, Nev?"

“Really?" she asked, a little unsure of herself.

“You'll never know how to play unless you experience it first hand."

"Not until you've got a couple drinks in you," Aidan advised, regarding Nev from the corner of his eye. There was a little smile at the edges of his mouth. "Your coordination improves a lot right between buzzed and shitfaced."

Ana giggled softly. "That explains bowling."

Nev gave Aidan a flat look, but looked like she was also pouting. Cyrilla chuckled and rolled her eyes. “You know he means well, Nev. No need to pout like that," she stated as Nev turned towards Cy.

“I'm not pouting."

“Yes you are."

"S'cute," Aidan said simply, returning his attention to the match and eating another tortilla chip.

Ana and Mel both snapped their eyes to Nev, though, obviously intent on her reaction to that statement.

Cyrilla was quite interested as well, tilting her head slightly in Nev's direction. The older woman, however, seemed to be at a loss for words. Her mouth was slightly open and her face had turned such a deep red that Cy didn't know people could blush like that. It was obvious that no one had ever said the word cute to Nev before, at least not like that, and Cyrilla thought it was adorable.

“I think you broke her, Aidan," Cyrilla stated as Nev just swallowed thickly and turned her attention towards the match. So far Ryk had managed to score three points, and Drake had only scored one. It was apparent who was going to win the first round, but it was still fun to watch.

“Nev, do you want me to go get you a drink?" Cy asked as Nev merely nodded her head. Cy chuckled before making her way towards the kitchen, only momentarily remembering that Kas was also there. It was fine, though. She'd find the courage to talk to him about it, another day, but today, they were going to enjoy the party, and watching their favorite people make fun of themselves.

“Hey, Kas, where'd they put the drinks at? The ones that were meant specifically for Nev because you just missed Aidan breaking her," she stated, rounding the corner to the kitchen.

"Ah, hey Cy. I was just getting some for everyone, actually. By this point I think I know what everyone orders," he said, lifting his top half out of where it'd been partway in the fridge, holding several bottle-necks between his fingers. He set them all on the counter.

"Also, what'd he do?"

“You know Nev hasn't really had much of a life, and she wants to learn how to play air hockey," she began, because he needed the context to the what. “I told her she could play the winner of the round between Ryk and Drake, but Aidan told her to get shitfaced," not exactly in that phrasing even if it was one of the words he used, “first. She started pouting, tried to deny she was pouting, and Aidan told her it was cute."

“She's speechless at the moment."

Kas lifted a hand to cover his mouth, but it didn't much help him suppress his laughter. "Damn, I'm sorry I missed it," he said, once the laughter had faded to a bright grin that narrowed his eyes at the corners. "Sometimes I think he's actually the most merciless of all of us, but better at hiding it."

“You might be right," she had to agree, feeling herself smile a little wider before inwardly rolling her eyes at herself. “We should get back before we miss any more of it. Need help carrying any of that?" she asked, tilting her head in the direction of the drinks.

He shook his head, but did push a glass towards her. This one was an electric pink color. "Just carry yours," he said, tilting his head a little. "I made you a rum runner. Dunno if you've had one before, but I thought you might like it." With a little shrug, he picked up the rest of the drinks and headed out, almost a little too quickly.

Cyrilla blinked as he left, glancing at her glass for a moment before grabbing it. Was he... trying to avoid her now? She felt her brows furrow slightly, and something in her stomach drop. Maybe he regretted it? If that was the case, maybe she was better off not saying anything about it? Maybe she shouldn't tell him what she wanted, because wouldn't that be selfish of her? Sighing a bit too heavily, she pushed the voices in her head, out, as best as she could.

She had to pretend nothing was wrong. She had to hold her head up high, or else Big Bro might catch on because he was scarily good at reading people. She took a drink of the rum runner that Kas had made her, and smiled. It was good.

When she made it back to the group, Nev's face was still slightly red, like she couldn't stop blushing, and Cy snickered softly. Eryk had won the first round, it seemed, and was waiting on the next challenger. “Well, since Nev isn't quite shitfaced, yet, how about Mel next?" she suggested. Eryk merely arched a brow at Mel, almost as if he was challenging her.

Mel hummed, as though giving this some consideration, then nodded, handing her drink off to Drake with a kiss on the cheek, for his effort, apparently. She laced her fingers together and stretched her hands away from her body. "Time to try my luck against a ninja, I guess," she said with a little grin. "Though if it's anything like bowling, he's about to get his ass handed to him."

Both Aidan and Kas chuckled at that.

Ana, though, smiled. "I don't know if that's so true anymore," she said simply, bringing her straw to her mouth and taking a sip of her drink.

Eryk just gave Mel a flat look. “Air hockey and bowling are two completely different things," he replied as he rolled his eyes, but there was the faintest smile on his face. Cyrilla shook her head as she glanced in Nev's direction.

“Well that's one way to get shitfaced," she stated as Nev seemed to be chugging her drink. “Don't drink it so fast or you'll..." she wasn't able to finish since Nev started coughing a bit.

“Choke."

“I'm good," Nev stated as she pat her chest.

Ana patted her back for her at the same time, smiling sympathetically. Aidan, for his part, shot her a brief look of concern, but then went back to pretending not to notice her embarrassment, probably the most merciful thing to do in this situation.

The puck flew back and forth across the table with a multitude of clatters; Mel was clearly more coordinated than Drake had been, and actually managed to score the first point on Eryk.

“Come on, Mel, kick his ass!" Drake stated, clearly cheering for Mel as they started the next round. Eryk seemed pleased, though, that Mel was faring better than Drake was, if the small smirk on his face was anything to go by.

“I feel like you don't have any other choice but to cheer for Mel. She's your girlfriend after all," Cy stated as Drake just grinned. “I almost feel obligated to cheer for her, too, since she was temporarily my girlfriend a few days ago," she stated, watching as the confusion flashed across his face before it dawned on him what she'd said.

“Wait, what?" he asked. Cy just shrugged her shoulders and took a drink of her rum runner, trying to hide the grin on her face as Drake pursed his lips together.

"Now this sounds like a story," Kas remarked. "Melly, don't tell me you did me dirty." He wore his typical lackadaisical grin, but there was something just a little different about his eyes.

Whatever it was, it made Mel smile smugly at him even though Eryk had won the point. "Can't do you dirty if you never shoot your shot, Mirmir," she replied airily, smiling wider when he frowned a little.

"I'm confused," Ana admitted.

Cyrilla had to admit she was a little confused, too, but she merely grinned and blinked as innocently as she could in Drake's direction. “Mel and I were temporarily dating for all of five minutes. Don't worry, Drake, I promise you I didn't steal her little heart away from you," she stated as Nev looked vaguely confused as well.

“Why would you date Mel, even if it was temporary, if she's dating Drake? Is that how some relationships work?" Nev asked, clearly trying to figure things out, but it was obvious enough that she was a little drunk already. Cyrilla sighed dramatically, and rolled her eyes a bit. How was it that this woman had no tolerance to alcohol?

“Don't worry too much about it, Nev, otherwise you'll just give yourself a headache. If you really must know, though, every relationship is different," she explained only a little, and shrugged her shoulders. She couldn't exactly give that kind of advice, not when she was dealing with relationship problems of her own.

Eryk managed to score another shot against Mel, though.

She rolled her eyes and retrieved the puck. "Yeah, all of them are different," she said with a little shake of her head, "but in this case, Cy and I were just pretending so some bro at the beach would go away. No actual dating involved."

Ana nodded, accepting this readily, but she still looked a little confused about something, and tilted her head briefly in Kas's direction before she shrugged and seemed to let it go.

The match went to Ryk, though Mel managed eight points before he got to ten, so it wasn't completely one-sided.

"I'll go next," Aidan said, handing his chips to Mel and setting his beer down. "Hope you're not tired yet, Nero."

“Not even in the slightest," Ryk replied, and Cy could have sworn he sounded almost smug, and sort of challenging. Arceus he was an idiot sometimes, wasn't he?

“I have a feeling we're going to be here all night, aren't we?" Cyrilla stated, rolling her eyes when Ryk placed the puck down.

“You could have called one of us, you know, if someone was bothering you," Drake stated as he pursed his lips together.

“And what? You don't think we can't take care of ourselves?" Cyrilla shot back, but she stated it in a light manner, and didn't want Drake to think she was accusing him of something.

“No, of course not! I mean, yeah, I know you can take care of yourselves and all, but..." he trailed off, causing Cy to feel a little bad.

“Hey, no worries, Drake, I'm just kidding. It was fine. We got a few laughs in about it and they didn't come back to bother us once we made it clear we weren't interested," she tried to explain.

“Can we eat cake while we watch Aidan and Eryk play?" Nev stated suddenly, glancing in Ana's direction.

"Oh, of course!" Ana shook her head, apparently at herself for forgetting. "I have candles if you want to do that part, Cyrilla?"

“Sure, let's go put candles on the cake," she replied, smiling at Ana and Nev. This was going to go down as one of the best birthdays she'd ever had.

And she was okay with that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

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#, as written by Aethyia


May 15th
Cinnabar Island - Afternoon - Warm
Anastasia Asher


Ana turned the key in th gate, sliding it into her pocket. Everyone was all set for the afternoon, and Eryk was still taking care of something at work, apparently. She supposed he probably had lots of important things to do, as an executive.

Ever since she'd told him she was sick, she'd noticed he was around even more than usual. It was flattering, but it was also a little too easy to get used to. That fact made days like today, where she didn't see him at all, feel lonely in a way that being alone had never quite felt before.

Maybe it was something Aidan had been able to pick up on, because he'd texted her this afternoon to invite her out with himself and Nev to go somewhere. She wasn't sure where they were going, but he'd said it would be fine to bring Luna, so her espeon followed along behind her as she headed towards the meeting point, an intersection not far from her house, near where the backisland beach started.

She'd dressed for the weather as much as she could with her monochrome tendencies, a black, knee-length sundress with no sleeves and some sandals that were good for walking.

She spotted Aidan first—it was hard to miss someone that tall and with such bright red hair. To say nothing of the fact that his wardrobe stood out like hers did: sleeveless shirt and ripped denim, all in black. Nev had on a large straw sun hat, and was dressed in a white shirt that hung loosely on her, and a pair of dark blue capris. Her sandals flopped behind her as she smiled at Ana.

Aidan nodded as she approached; Ana managed a little smile in spite of her gloom. "Good afternoon, you two," she said softly.

“Good afternoon, Ana!" Nev replied in her usually happy tone. “You always manage to look so cute," she added, her smile widening on her face.

Some part of her really hoped that was true, which was funny, because she'd never really cared one way or another before. "Thanks, Nev," she said, making an effort to brighten her tone. After all, Aidan was sharp, and even Nev could be really sensitive to other people's feelings at odd times. She didn't want to trouble them.

Aidan wordlessly reached forward to ruffle her hair, which she'd worn in low tails over her shoulders today. "All right, kiddo. You ready to go?"

"Sure," Ana replied, feeling a gentle warmth in her chest. "But where are we going?"

Nev just smiled a little wider. “The park," she replied easily enough. “It's not overly crowded at this time of day, and the pokémon might enjoy a good run, or in Floof's case, a good roll," she added, rolling her eyes a bit. “I swear she acts like the whole world is just her cloyster and she'll just roll into everything and anything," Nev was smiling, though, which probably meant she actually didn't mind.

Ana looked down at Luna. All right by you?

The espeon flicked her forked tail and hummed. I suppose a little sun once in a while is a good thing, she mused. But do not forget to apply your sunscreen every few hours.

Yes, mother, Ana replied dryly.

Luna harrumphed and moved to lead the way. Aidan raised a brow, but followed after, leaving Ana to walk next to Nev on the footpath. She sighed quietly, and glanced to her friend. "Was there ever a decisive winner the other night? I fell asleep during round seven, I think, and Eryk hasn't really been around the last couple of days so I couldn't ask him."

Nev sighed and shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. They stayed up all night playing and by the time the sun was coming up, most of us had fallen asleep in random places of the gym," she stated, rubbing her arm slightly as if it was sore. “I think they might finish their game in the future, though, to get a decisive winner. At this point, it's tied between them."

Nev chuckled lightly and smiled softly. “I suppose it's a good thing you didn't ask him, though. He might say he won," she added.

"Now don't spoil it, Doc. He wants to look cool in front of the woman he loves. He can say he won if he wants." Aidan looked back over his shoulder, amusement clear on his face.

Ana, though, flushed. She didn't know how he could mention something like that so offhandedly. Besides, it wasn't... well it wasn't that, was it? She knew Eryk cared about her, obviously, but he'd never said that. And that was fine. She wasn't looking to pressure him. Whatever he felt, whatever he was able and willing to give... she'd be happy with it.

Clearing her throat, she shook her head. "More likely is he just does think he did," she noted with a tiny huff. "Sometimes little rule nuances escape him a bit." She'd had to explain how scoring after a strike worked a lot of times, and how two different spare-spare pairs could score differently, depending on how many pins were knocked over in the first hit of the second one.

Nev stuck her tongue out a little childishly in Aidan's direction. “I'm not spoiling it for her, and Eryk doesn't need to look cool in front of Ana. He's doing that plenty with the probattling tournaments and with Nova," she replied, furrowing her brows a bit. “I mean, I'd consider my life complete if I could witness Aidan battle one last time. I've always wanted to attend one of his tournaments when he was still part of the scene," she continued, speaking in a nonchalant way before the words seemed to dawn on her.

“I mean, not because I... uh, would want him to look... cool." She immediately went quiet, ducking her head a bit so her face was hidden beneath her hat. Ana could still see a faint blush covering her face, though.

Aidan coughed, shooting a glance back at them again before quickly looking forward. Ana was almost certain he was actually blushing a little, too. "I'm too old for all that," he muttered, more to himself than anything.

Ana frowned at the back of his head. "Oh please," she said. "There's loads of professionals much older than you."

“Ana has a point, I mean look at Waters who's still participating. And then you still have Rainier who is turning seventy two this year. He didn't retire from probattling until he was sixty five," Nev stated, a brief hopeful look in her eyes before she shook her head.

“But I mean, you're also doing other things, now, so it's understandable," she added, nodding sagely. “Besides, it was just a silly little dream of mine from a long time ago. I'm happy if I can just keep us from failing the next level in the game," she continued, smiling as if it were true. Maybe it was?

“What about you, Ana? What is it that you want to see the most with Eryk?" she asked.

"See the most... with him?" The phrase didn't immediately make sense to her. Was Nev asking if she wanted to see someplace with him? Then why would it be something to segue from what she'd said?

"She means what are your hopes for him, I think," Aidan attempted to clarify, rolling his eyes slightly.

"Oh. Um..." Ana pursed her lips. It was hard to explain that she didn't think in the long term like that because she couldn't. But... she did have hopes, even if she didn't exactly think she'd be seeing them materialize. "I don't know," she said softly. "I just... I want him to be happy. As the person he really is. And free to live how he really wants. That's all."

Nev looked a little confused by something, but smiled anyway. “Well, if it helps, I think he's already almost there. When I first met him, he never smiled," Nev stated as she smiled softly. “He always looked so angry about something, but I learned that it was just how he always looked. Kind of like how Aidan looks perpetually bored most of the time, but he's not," she added, grinning briefly before turning her attention back to Ana.

"You sure about that, Doc?" There was a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, though, sure evidence that whatever else he might be, he wasn't bored.

“Absolutely," she replied easily. “I might not be able to read people like you do, but there are some things you pick up on when you start living together," she seemed a little proud about that for some reason, and turned towards Ana.

“Right, Ana? I'm sure you've noticed some things about Eryk that you wouldn't have known about if he wasn't living with you, right?"

Ana nodded. "It's true. I had a bit of an idea before, but I never really knew how sweet he was, before."

"Sweet on you maybe," Aidan said, a bit sly in his tone.

She felt her face heating again, but shook her head emphatically. "No," she said insistently. "In general. Like with the pokémon, for example. He's really just a sweet person, and I don't have anything to do with it."

He chuckled softly. "I'm just giving you a hard time, kid. But I don't think it has nothing to do with you. Don't underestimate the value of someone who's willing to try and understand, or who won't expect a guy to be anything he doesn't want to be. That's probably why he ended up being able to act like that in the first place."

“He's right. I might not know a lot about Eryk's personal history and past, but ever since he's been with you, he seems so relaxed and a little carefree. It's strange to witness changes like that in a person," Nev said as she placed a hand on Ana's shoulder before dropping it.

“You are good for each other, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. If they try, Mama Basil and I will have to have a few words with them," she added, furrowing her brows slightly.

Ana tried to imagine Nev and her bayleef having words with anything, but only managed to form the picture about halfway before a soft pfft escaped her and she shook her head. "Whatever you say, Nev."

Still, she found herself smiling, and this time she didn't have to force it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

0.00 INK



May 17th
The Cloyster - Early Evening - Overcast
Cyrilla Klein


Cyrilla sighed softly as she ran her hand through Diva's tuft of fur, earning a short huff of approval from the lycanroc. It'd been almost a week since she talked with Mel, and it had been rather enlightening. She understood what Mel was saying, and honestly, she couldn't really blame Kas for acting the way he was. If she'd had hangups, she'd probably be doing the same thing. Still, it didn't make it hurt any less, but she could at least weather it a little better. At least she hoped she could, especially since her birthday. She couldn't tell if he was avoiding her or not, but... well, she hoped he wasn't.

She certainly wasn't helping, either, if the way she was acting was anything to go by. Cyrilla wasn't used to these kinds of things, these kinds of emotions. She and Eryk had to deaden themselves to such things at such a young age that it was surprising to learn they could even feel what they did, now.

A soft growling sound pulled Cyrilla from her thoughts as Noctis appeared, glancing at her and Diva before rolling his eyes. “He's not going to take your spot, if that's what you're worried about," she stated, purposefully tussling Diva's mane as the lycanroc let out a short bark of disapproval. Noctis, however, made his way towards the front door, causing Cyrilla to think that maybe Kas was coming home already. He'd stayed at the office a little late, presumably to finish up some things.

She needed to find a way to approach him, though, to talk to him about that night in April. She really meant everything she told Mel, but finding a way to tell Kas was proving to be a little more difficult than it should. Sighing softly, she prepared herself mentally as well as she could. She would talk to him tonight; she had to or else she might not find the courage again. At least not for awhile. The door opened, however; it was Noctis who opened it, and huffed slightly.

“Hey, Kas..." she immediately called out, eyes widening slightly when the person turned out to be Eryk, and not Kas. “Ryk? What brings you here?" she asked a little dumbfoundedly. “Not that you can't be here; this was your home at one time, too."

Eryk just gave her a flat look before placing a hand on Noctis' head and making his way towards her. “I'm here to talk to you," he responded as he took a seat on the couch on the left side of the one she was sitting by on the floor. Pokemon weren't allowed on the couch, but sometimes Cyrilla made exceptions. She just had to clean the couches thoroughly from their hair since Diva shed an insane amount of fur.

Eryk stared at her briefly before sighing, leaning back into his seat and resting a hand on Noctis' head when the zoroark sat on the otherside of the armrest. “Kas told me the both of you slept together," he stated as bluntly as ever. Cyrilla could feel the heat rising in her cheeks, however; she wasn't sure if it was because Eryk knew, or because Kas had told him. It didn't bother her that Kas told him about it, but that Eryk was coming to see her about it wasn't a good thing.

At least she didn't think it was a good thing.

“We did," she confirmed, glancing down at her feet. “Look, I know you said not to—"

“I'm not here to chastise you or get angry, Cy," he said in a soft tone. It wasn't one Cyrilla ever heard him use. “I'm here to ask what you want," he continued, keeping his gaze with hers when she finally glanced back up. “As it stands, our contract is still in effect; you and I are engaged," he began, causing something to pull in her chest.

“I know," she replied softly.

“So what do you want to do about it?" he asked, causing her to furrow her brows in confusion.

“Ryk... you know I can't," she began once the meaning finally dawned on her. “If I did, that would put you at risk for Marah and Katia. I made a promise to you that I wouldn't let you suffer like that," she continued. She could see Eryk's lip twitch a little upward.

“You're not answering the question, Cy. What. Do. You. Want?" he put an emphasis on the last word as he spoke slowly. She pursed her lips together. What did she want?

She wanted a lot of things. She wanted to quit NTR and start a new life. She wanted to be open with the people she cared about, and not have to lie to Ana. Even now, thinking about it, they weren't really lying to her. What they were doing was keeping the secret that they befriended her because their boss thought she was a psychic. Cyrilla didn't think they would have grown so fond of her, or that Eryk would come to fall in love with her.

What she wanted was Kas. What she wanted was to clear up whatever misunderstanding they had so that she could tell him how she felt. She wasn't as naive as she used to be; she knew that the chance she was taking wouldn't be easy, and that if, somehow he shared the same sentiment, they were going to have to work for it. As much as she did want to be with him, she knew her own insecurities well enough that it might occasionally create problems. They might argue, they might fight, but... well, wasn't that just part of working it out? Of putting out all of their thoughts and feelings so they could work through them together?

Cyrilla didn't know the first thing about how relationships worked, but she knew that each one was different. She could see it in Mel and Drake's, in Ana and Ryk's. They were all in love, but they were each different in their own ways. What worked for Eryk and Ana might not work for Mel and Drake, and vice versa.

“What about you, though? If Marah finds out... you know she'll stop at nothing to bring Katia back into the mix. You know she'll try and make things hard for you so that you'll have no choice but to accept her. Ryk... I love you. You mean the world to me," she started, furrowing her brows slightly. “I did this because you're my first and last friend. You're my brother and I don't want you to suffer in an arrangement with Katia."

He smiled softly.

“But what about you, Cy? You're suffering either way you look at it, too. If push comes to shove, you'd be married to me. You'd still be part of NTR and you won't be able to start a new life. You'd be chained to the family again." He was right, and they both knew it. As much as she wanted all of those things, she'd be forced back into the family after she fought so hard to get out of it.

“It's alright to be selfish, Cy. Whatever you chose, I won't think any less of you. I'm..." he paused as if he were unsure how to say what he wanted to, and Cyrilla felt a strange sort of panic well in her chest. “I'm proud of you, for the person you are becoming."

He was...

“I'm proud of you, too, Ryk. You're... you're almost like how you used to be, and I think I know why," she replied softly, feeling a warmth behind her eyes. “As much as I love you, I don't want to marry you. I don't want to be part of the family again, and I don't want to have to stay with NTR."

“Alright," he stated, holding out his hand. “We'll consider our engagement null. We both want different things, now... and I don't want this to be something that holds either of us back. Just so you know... about Kas," he began, trailing off a little as he arched a brow at Cyrilla. “You have my blessings." Cyrilla gave him a dumbfounded look. She was sure she was, because her eyes were slightly wide and she could feel a strange bubbling sensation in her chest.

“Oh? Thanks dad," she retorted, causing Ryk to huff slightly in what she assumed was a chuckle. She laughed softly as well, however; the look she gave him was serious. “Even if it's null, even if we're breaking it," she began, referring to their engagement. “Let's not tell Marah, or anyone else in the family. If they get wind of it, you know she'll be on you like a houndoom on a bone. For now, let's keep it to ourselves, and... maybe our friends."

If Marah found out, there's no telling what she would do, but it wouldn't be good.

He huffed slightly but nodded his head. “Alright. Besides, it's not like they would go tell our family what we're doing. They... dislike them as much as we do," he stated, a small grin—at least Cyrilla thought it was a grin—forming on his lips.

“That's because our friends actually love us, though I'm not sure why. We can't be good for their health," Cyrilla stated as she smiled at Ryk. He just rolled his eyes, though, as Cyrilla stood from the floor. “You should get back to Ana, though. I'm sure she misses you already for being gone so long. Did you even tell her you were coming here?" she asked, arching a brow in his direction. Eryk just gave her a flat look.

“I'm not a complete idiot, Cy. She knows why I'm here; I told her about it," he responded dryly.

“You told her about us?" Cyrilla asked as she blinked slowly at him.

“Yes. She also knows the reason why we did it, and she understands." Ana really was a sweetheart wasn't she?

“She's a keeper, I hope you know that," Cyrilla replied, shaking her head.

He smiled.

“I know."

Smug bastard.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


May 20th
Marna's - Evening - Hot
Aidan Klein


The windchimes on the deck only stirred every so often, even though the doors out were thrown open in hopes of circulating some air around the bar. It was one of those early-summer nights that was wholly hot and sticky; Aidan's shirt was clinging to his back, damp with sweat even though it was sleeveless and quite light. He picked at it with a small grimace, causing Marna behind the bar to chuckle at him.

“You know, if you ever wore any other color..." she said, passing his drink across the bar counter.

"Can't seem to let go of the old trademark," he replied, with a self-effacing half-smile. "Not much looks good with hair this red anyway." He knew there were options, of course, he just wasn't really interested in exploring them. He liked the way he dressed, even if it wasn't to everyone's taste, and that was that.

Marna nodded like she understood, and glanced towards the door. “Those other boys of mine coming by tonight?"

He had to admit to being a little amused by her phrasing. "What, am I not enough? I'm wounded, Marna."

“Oh, come off it," she scolded. “You know that's not what I meant. You just always travel in packs, is all."

Not soon after she said that, Nero walked through the door, blinking slowly in their direction. He must have caught the tail-end of that statement, though, since he huffed softly, and made his way towards Marna and Aidan.

“At this point I think we're all just joined at the hip. It takes a little more effort nowadays to separate us," he stated in what seemed to be in a joking manner. He took a seat and rolled his eyes softly as if at himself.

Marna chuckled, shaking her head a little as she slid a glass over the table towards Nero. She'd had it prepared ahead of time, of course. “I could believe it. What brings you boys to the bar this evening, anyway?" She cocked her head, one grey braid falling forward over her shoulder.

"Nothing in particular tonight, I don't think," Aidan replied, lifting his glass for another drink. The whiskey burned a little on the way down, but he didn't mind that at all.

“Well that's good," she said, brow knitting a bit skeptically. “You've all looked a bit down lately. Especially you and that troublemaker." She spoke to Nero; the reference could only be to Rheinallt.

Nero just stared at Marna for a second before shrugging his shoulders. “We all have problems right now," he admitted. “Some are easy and some are a little more complicated than they have a right to be," he stated as if to clarify what he'd meant. “All of them dealing with the women in our lives." He took a long drink of his alcohol before setting it down on the table with a gentle thud, and glanced briefly at Aidan.

Aidan shrugged. He didn't really think he had any problems as such, but it was certainly true that Rheinallt's head was screwed up because of all the stuff with little ninja. He'd also picked up on the fact that something major had happened with Nero and Ana—that much was easy to tell. He wasn't totally sure what, but he might have had a guess.

"Or, to put it another way, the problems in their lives are because of us," he said wryly. That certainly applied to him more. He'd been a bit mean to poor Doc the other day, but sometimes he couldn't quite help himself.

That I can believe," Marna replied with a snort. “What have you lot done now? I didn't get this old without learning a few things, you know. Maybe I can help." She moved to polish a few of the glasses on the bar, regarding them expectantly.

Nero merely furrowed his brows before taking another drink. “I'm not so sure you could help in this case, Marna," he stated, taking in a deep breath. “It's not my place to say. I promised I wouldn't say anything until she is ready for everyone to know," he murmured softly before downing the rest of his drink.

“But thanks anyway," he offered her a half smile.

"Oh come on, Ryk. Even if you can't say some part of it, you can at least talk a little. It's no fair if we're the only ones who get put on the spot." Rheinallt slid into the stool on Aidan's other side, looking a little worse for wear. It was hard to tell with his complexion, but it looked like there were dark circles under his eyes. Unsurprising that he hadn't been sleeping well, all things considered.

Marna handed him a shot of something bright green. Then, considering his face a moment, wrinkled her nose and set the bottle of it in front of him. “This is just for tonight," she warned, clicking her tongue at him. “You don't fix a problem with alcohol."

"Thanks, Auntie," he said sincerely.

Nero rolled his eyes at Rheinallt's statement, but shrugged his shoulders. “Fine," he finally stated, finishing off his drink and wiping away a stray droplet from the side of his mouth. “I need help on telling her that the reason I don't touch her so often or... say things that she might want to hear because I don't know how to say them, and I don't want to accidentally hurt her. She's not so fragile, and I know this, but I can't help it." He'd said it all in one go.

Aidan blinked at him, glass paused halfway to his mouth. Rheinallt leaned forward to be able to see him too, eyes wide with the same surprise.

It was Marna who broke the awkward silence, chuckling in a low, raspy kind of way. The smile on her face was kind when the sound faded, the creases at the corners of her eyes deepening with the way they narrowed. “Now there's a classic girl problem," she said gently, reaching over the bar to pat Nero's arm. The bracelets on her wrist jangled as she drew her hand back.

“It's okay to be gentle with people, or to go slowly. But if fear of doing her harm is what's holding you back, doesn't that mean you don't trust her to tell you if something isn't right for her?"

Nero merely gave Rheinallt and Aidan a flat look before he frowned in Marna's direction. “It's not that I don't trust her; I don't trust me. For a lot of reasons," he stated softly, pushing out a light gust of air from his nose. “Ana isn't the type of person to be reserved if something makes her uncomfortable. She's always been frank with me," he continued, staring at the empty cup in front of him and twirling it.

“I'm not... this is a new experience for the both of us, and I don't want to fuck it up for her."

“Of course you don't," Marna said agreeably. “But that's just the point I'm trying to make, kid." She smiled with a little more force, drizzling cheese on a plate of nachos. “If you can trust her, you don't have to trust you completely. Or you can get there, bit by bit. Think of it this way."

She pushed the plate of nachos towards th three of them; Rheinallt scooped one up immediately.

“Can you say for sure that if she told you she was uncomfortable with something, you'd stop doing whatever it was right away?"

Aidan thought he understood where she was going with this, but didn't interrupt.

“Without a doubt," Nero replied almost immediately, keeping his gaze with Marna's. “She's been through enough that I do not need to add to that. If she was uncomfortable with something and asked that I stop, I would."

“Well then isn't that all you need?" she asked, tilting her head. “You know you'll take no for an answer, and you trust her to say no if she doesn't want something. Seems like a foolproof system to me." She leaned her forearms on the bar and rested on them. “As for how to say things, well..." she trailed off, huffing gently. “Take your time to find the words you want, and it's okay sometimes to say things with your actions instead." She winked in an exaggerated manner.

Aidan huffed softly.

"Words suck," Rheinallt grumbled, taking another shot in a manner best described as 'sulky.'

Nero gave Rheinallt a flat look before taking one of the nachos and biting into it. He chewed it over thoughtfully before glancing back towards Rheinallt.

“They don't suck," he stated, rolling his eyes, “you just don't know how to say them, either." Nero took another nacho, biting into it a little too roughly with a loud crunch before dusting off a few crumbs that fell on his shirt. “And here I thought I was bad with words. Nice to know I'm not."

“I take it you still haven't settled things, or figured them out, yet?" Nero asked, arching his brow slightly in Rheinallt's direction.

"No," Rheinallt grumbled, sighing dramatically.

Marna slid a napkin across the bar to Nero. “Well, sometimes the words won't come because we don't yet quite know what we want to say," she noted.

Rheinallt wrinkled his nose. "I've got the right lines you know. Even stuff that embarrasses other people is no skin off my teeth to say. I just... it's the stuff under it that I can't explain. Don't have the words for."

Aidan nodded slightly, setting his glass down after a swallow. "I used to figure my problem was that I didn't expect this shit to happen again. But the longer I think about it, the more sure I am that's it's the opposite. It's a problem because this isn't the same shit on a different day. It's new."

Nero took the napkin with a quick thanks. “You see where our problems lay?" it was a statement more than a question as Nero glanced at Marna. “It's all new to the three of us, and we're at a complete loss of what to do." He took in a deep breath before releasing it slowly.

“It's more complicated than it has a right to be," he added, nodding somewhat before taking another bite of his nachos.

Marna chuckled. “Of course it is," she said plainly. “But it's also very simple. In the end, all you really have to do is communicate. That can be hard, but if what you're trying to say is important enough, you'll find a way." She nodded, then turned to Rheinallt.

“And you. You need to care a little less about whether you're saying something right and just say it honestly. If she's the right one, that'll be plenty."

He smiled, chagrined, and lifted his shot glass as if to toast her. "Yes, Auntie."

"What about me?" Aidan asked, amused.

She rolled her eyes. “You know exactly what. You'd have everything sorted just say what you already have figured out, but no one's going to be able to hurry you along. Not even me."

He supposed that was true enough, too.

Nero snorted softly and nodded his head. “Sure thing, mom," he replied almost as if he were jesting, but there was just a faint seriousness in his tone. He blinked and glanced around the bar as if surveying it for something.

“You need new tables; we should get you new tables."

Marna smiled, and everyone ignored that it wobbled a little.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

0.00 INK

#, as written by Nemeseia


May 20th
Ana's Shelter - Afternoon - Warm
Nevena Solomon


It really was something to see Floof get so excited to spend time with Meep. She and Kas were currently at Ana's, keeping her company while Eryk was off doing who knows what. She didn't mind, of course. It meant that Floof would have others to play with other than Meep, but it seemed she was attatched to the mareep, rolling around her in circles and occasionally baaing at her. It was as if she were serenading her or something. Nev didn't really know, but it was adorable. Maybe she should hire a professional photographer to take pictures of the two? She had to ask Kas, first, but some part of her figured he wouldn't say no to the idea.

She'd give him a copy, of course, because it would have Meep in it. She glanced in his direction, and tilted her head at him.

“Hey Kasimir," she called out. “What do you say we get Meep and Floof in a professional photo? I bet their photo shoots would be adorable."

Kas, who'd just finished moving a few bags of pokémon feed for Ana, straightened when she called his name, then blinked and headed over to the garden table where she sat, dropping into one of the other chairs and putting his feet up on a third. He chuckled, squinting a little at the two frolicking in the sunshine.

Meep looked the slightest bit puzzled by all of Floof's rolling around, but after a moment elected to try it, too. Being not quite as round, she had a bit of difficulty with it, flopping over onto her back and seemingly getting a bit stuck. Instead of rolling back the way she'd gone, she just wiggled her stubby legs in the air, making a happy sound.

Kas rolled his eyes. "Well they're definitely cute enough. I'm sure she'd enjoy it. She likes attention, the big baby."

Nev wasn't going to stop the flushing on her face every time the word cute was mentioned, was she? Even now, she could feel a slight tingling sensation on her cheeks. She huffed slightly at herself, though, and nodded her head in agreement.

“We could probably put little bows and ribbons on her tail, and maybe a few around Floof as well," she suggested. “Maximize the cuteness for both of them, and if you put it out there, you'll get more recognition for your probattling, I think. Meep is part of the lineup and even if she isn't your photo pokemon, you can still showcase the differences of your team. Oh, we can even maybe add Princess to the shoots, too!"

She was getting a little too excited about this photo shoot, now. Maybe she should make a call and see if one of her old contacts could do it? The last time she'd heard from her, she was making a name for herself in Unova as a photographer.

"Easy does it, Sis. Let's not go overboard here," he replied with a small snort. "If we got something like that done, I wouldn't make promotional material out of it." He shook his head. "I don't really want to... I dunno. I think it's nice to keep some things just for regular life."

Kasimir shrugged a little. "But if you're okay with that, then let's do it, by all means. I'll leave the ribbons and shit to you. I'm not exactly an expert on cuteness." The half-grin on his face confirmed that he was definitely referencing what she thought he was referencing, even though he hadn't been in the room when it happened.

It almost felt like her face was on fire, but maybe that was an exaggeration to how it actually felt. “Well if that's the case maybe we should ask the expert," she murmured, wrinkling her nose in his direction. He was trying to tease her, wasn't he? Admittedly, Nev didn't mind it so much, but what Aidan had said was just an observation. He didn't say it because he thought she was cute. That would be... wishful thinking, now wouldn't it?

She sighed a little too heavily, and slumped a little in her chair. She pursed her lips at him, assessing him for a moment. Maybe he could give her some advice? It wouldn't hurt to ask him. He's been with people before, but... maybe it was different for him?

“Kas," she began, narrowing her eyes a bit, “have you ever had a crush on anyone before?" She didn't know the first thing about crushes, or being in love with someone, but she thought what she felt might be close to one of those. Maybe it was just infatuation because Aidan was her idol? That thought didn't sit right with her. Sure, she'd admired him in his heydays, but there was so much more to him now, more depth than what had been seen in those days.

Maybe that was just how she felt?

Kas raised an eyebrow at her like he knew exactly where the question came from, then lifted his shoulders. "Sure I have," he replied easily, leaning back in his chair and crossing his ankles on the other. "Not everyone does, but I figure most people do from time to time. Why?"

There really wasn't an easy way to say what she wanted to. The one thing about her friends, though, was that she could say it, and they would understand. Most of the time, anyway.

“Well, how do you know when it's just a crush? How do you know that it might just be a passing fancy and not something more... um, permanent? Is that the word?" she stated the thought out loud. “I just don't know what it feels like and I thought that maybe if you had, that you could help me figure it out."

Kas hummed, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. Anything he might have said, though, was interrupted by Ana appearing with drinks and snacks, which she set on the table, heaving a sigh and dropping into the last remaining chair. She looked... well, she looked very tired, honestly, and a bit thinner even than usual, like she'd lost weight, but she smiled at them normally.

"Did I interrupt something? I'm sorry."

Reaching for a mango soda, Kas shook his head. "Sis was just asking me how you know when a crush is just a crush and when it's not." There was a small burst of air as he twisted the metal cap off the bottle, giving it a casual lob into Ana's outdoor recycling bin several yards away.

"It's hard to say, but I think part of it is about... well, what the feelings are about. If it's just looks, or one or two traits that are new and different to you, or something like that, it's probably just infatuation."

"Or if you can't acknowledge the imperfections," Ana added after a moment of thought. "I think if the feelings are deeper, it means you've taken a good look at who someone really is and decided that you love even the parts that aren't so... ideal, you know?"

That made a little bit of sense, she supposed. What did she actually feel about Aidan? Sure, he was handsome, but that wasn't what she liked about him. Nev learned a long time ago not to judge someone based on their looks, simply because she had been judged for most of her childhood. Being the larger kid around, she always had eyes on her; always had people talking about her or making fun of her.

Was it new traits?

No, that didn't seem right, either. Aidan was nice and considerate. He was patient, and he was always there to help those he cared about. He didn't have to be any of those things; not to any of them, really. He didn't have to adopt Cyrilla into his family, nor did he have to defend Drake when Kevin had did those things to him.

But that's who he was.

She admired him for that. Even when he told her that he used to be in a gang, that didn't change how she saw him. It didn't change how she felt about him. If anything, it made her more curious to know more about him. He'd shared some things with her, and she shared things with him.

“So... you're saying that if the feelings are deeper than that, than the superficial things like appearances," she began, furrowing her brows a bit, “it's a crush?" Ana said love, though. If she decided she loved even the parts that weren't ideal...

“Wait, are you saying that I'm in love with Aidan?" she blurted out suddenly.

"Um..." Ana looked uncertain.

Kas, on the other hand, burst out laughing. From the looks of it, he wasn't even bothering to hold it in. "That's—that's one way of getting to the point," he said as it died down, wiping beneath one eye with a finger.

Ana shook her head a little and smiled. "I didn't mean to say that exactly. I was just... well, you know. Using what I know to answer the question. And I know, at least, that being in love means loving all of a person, even the more difficult parts."

"Though it doesn't mean putting up with anything at all," Kas added, taking a draw from his soda. "You can love someone and still accept that they might need to change in some ways. It's a balance, but I think you get the idea." His eyes narrowed with amusement.

Arceus, she was an idiot. She just blurted that out without really meaning to, but... it was nice to know that her friends weren't making fun of her for it. Even though she could feel her face burn up, she smiled a little and shook her head.

“I think I do," she finally replied, coughing lightly and grabbing one of the lemonades. She took a slow drink of it before glancing back towards Ana and Kas. “Well, what about you, Kas? Have you ever been in love? I'd ask Ana but I think it's obvious she's in love with Eryk," she stated, smiling softly at Ana.

She was pretty sure Eryk was in love with Ana, too. No one changed that much without wanting to for someone.

Ana smiled, too, turning a touch pink but not denying it. "Just... don't tell him, please. I'd—I'd like to do it myself, someday. When the time's right."

Kas nodded serenely. "It'll only mean anything coming from you anyway," he said simply. "As for me... yeah, I've been in love before. It... didn't go so great." He shook his head and sighed quietly. "Girl from my island, way back when. Prettiest girl I'd ever seen, but that wasn't all of it. She was kind, too, I thought. Smart, sociable, always doing something for someone else. Not just anyone would give me the time of day back then, you know? I was the awkwardest looking kid, and then I grew into this really tall, gangly teenager who didn't know the first thing about talking to people. A real idiot, for the smartest guy in the room. But she did."

Nev pursed her ips together. She knew what that was like, though not the being in love part of it. She wouldn't have ever imagined Kas as the type of person who would have been shy. He seemed so personable, now. Even charming would be a word that she would use to describe him. Seeing him as he was now, Nev wouldn't have believed it.

Still, the way he said it didn't go so great caused her brows to furrow further. If she was all of those things he said she was, was it something that happened between them? Did they have a falling out of sorts? She wanted to ask, but maybe that would be prying? She didn't want to pry into her friend's life like that, and maybe it was still fresh for him, even though it happened awhile ago?

“I hope it hasn't colored your views of it," she decided to say, instead. “Of love, I mean. I mean, I'm no expert, obviously," she added with a soft smile before shaking her head. “But you said it didn't go so great, and I hope that it didn't color your views of it. I'm sure something better will come around, or er... someone." She really wasn't very good at this kind of thing, was she?

Kas snorted, giving her a good-natured smile. "Of course it 'colored my views,' Sis. That's what experience does. You should know; evidence is how scientists learn anything. Why should I hold up some ideal I've never actually seen happen rather than the more realistic view that's been confirmed a dozen times?" He arched his eyebrow. "More than half of marriages end in divorce. And there are plenty of married people who don't love each other. The odds are just awful, even if I accept that love as such exists, which..." He shrugged.

"I'm agnostic about, at this point." He pursed his lips. "Honestly, maybe I think it happens sometimes by now. But you're looking at some really rare people and circumstances that can make it possible. You can't tell me Ryk and Ana are ordinary."

Nev supposed she could understand a little. “You might be right about that, but the only way we find evidence is by trial and error. It's how we learn what works, and what doesn't. We don't just stop because it turns out wrong the first time. It takes time and hard work, but if you're willing to put in that hard work, you'll eventually find something that does."

“Besides, it's unfair to use Ana and Ryk as a comparison," she began, smilingly softly in Ana's direction before turning back to Kas. “What works for them might not work for someone else. If that were the case, I would think that every person in a relationship wasn't ordinary. They're human just like everyone else. I'm sure with Ana and Ryk, there are things that they might not agree on, but they work on it, right?" she stated, glancing back towards Ana.

“I guess... I don't really see it as rare people and circumstances because it really just comes down to how much work you're willing to invest. Like you said, it's a balance, and I think it's probably the most delicate kind. Just because you don't always agree on something doesn't always mean that one person is right and one person is wrong." Maybe she was just being naive? Nev couldn't say she knew any of that because she'd never experienced it. Would her views on love be like Kas's if she'd been in a relationship that didn't end on good terms?

She couldn't say. Maybe it would have? Maybe it wouldn't have? Everyone was different. She sighed softly and smiled at the both of them.

“I guess there are two sides to everything, even love," she murmured softly.

"It's definitely more than just hard work and good intentions, or knowing how to resolve disagreements," Kas said, shaking his head slowly. "But maybe the truth falls somewhere between what I'm thinking and what you're thinking." He pursed his lips, then lifted his shoulders in a shrug, clearly not making an attempt to argue.

Ana tilted her head slightly. "I think it's one of those things that's different enough between cases that generalizing is pretty hard, anyway," she said. "Different people have different needs, and different ideas about how many of those they should rely on a partner for. I don't think any of us can make it totally scientific. We just have to feel our way through it with instincts and best guesses and... hope, I suppose."

"And that's half the trouble," Kas said with a soft huff.

Nev could see the points of both sides, really. She just didn't have enough experience with it to know or how to put it into words. Maybe if she tried to experience it, then she'd be able to say she had some experience. She didn't want to treat dating or a relationship as a scientific experiment, though. If she really wanted to know what it was like, then she needed to be in one. She just wasn't sure how to go about asking Aidan out.

Part of it was fear of being rejected. Did he even like her like that? Would he take it the wrong way if she asked? All of these were valid fears, she supposed, but maybe she'd lived most of her life in enough fear? Maybe she just needed to take that step forward to overcome it?

She sighed softly. She was far too shy to be that bold. Maybe one day she won't let that keep her saying what she wants to?

“All things considered, I do love you guys. Even if it's more of a familial kind," she stated, grinning lightly at Kasimir and Ana.

Kas snorted, rolling his eyes. "Sure, Sis. Love you too."

Ana smiled.

View All »Arcs

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Kanto Region by Nemeseia

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View All » Add Character » 14 Characters to follow in this universe

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero
Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt
Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav
Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
Character Portrait: Rocket Files
Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

Newest

Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
Nevena Solomon

"It's not my place to say..."

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
Aidan Klein

"I guess I'm part of the ugly truth now."

Character Portrait: Rocket Files
Rocket Files

[ Codex of Information ]

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
Anastasia Asher

"Every day is a gift. Or that's what I tell myself, anyway."

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav
Cyrilla Niav

"They won't be able to stop me... not now. Not ever."

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt
Kasimir Rheinallt

"Why yes, I *am* the brains of the operation. Thank you for noticing."

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero
Eryk Nero

"I find myself looking for something I cannot have, and yet..."

Trending

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav
Cyrilla Niav

"They won't be able to stop me... not now. Not ever."

Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
Nevena Solomon

"It's not my place to say..."

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
Anastasia Asher

"Every day is a gift. Or that's what I tell myself, anyway."

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt
Kasimir Rheinallt

"Why yes, I *am* the brains of the operation. Thank you for noticing."

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
Aidan Klein

"I guess I'm part of the ugly truth now."

Character Portrait: Rocket Files
Rocket Files

[ Codex of Information ]

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero
Eryk Nero

"I find myself looking for something I cannot have, and yet..."

Most Followed

Character Portrait: Rocket Files
Rocket Files

[ Codex of Information ]

Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
Nevena Solomon

"It's not my place to say..."

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav
Cyrilla Niav

"They won't be able to stop me... not now. Not ever."

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
Anastasia Asher

"Every day is a gift. Or that's what I tell myself, anyway."

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
Aidan Klein

"I guess I'm part of the ugly truth now."

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt
Kasimir Rheinallt

"Why yes, I *am* the brains of the operation. Thank you for noticing."

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero
Eryk Nero

"I find myself looking for something I cannot have, and yet..."


View All » Places

Kanto Region

Kanto Region by Nemeseia

The Kanto region: filled with various pokémon and nefarious deeds.

Kanto Region

The Kanto region: filled with various pokémon and nefarious deeds.

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