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Anastasia Asher

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

0 · 878 views · located in Kanto Region

a character in “Pokémon: Atonement”, as played by Aethyia

Description

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xxImageImageImagexxxxxAnastasiaAsher
xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Female xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 19 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 5'1" xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 95 lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* The Mark

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AACON x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAAKNO x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


--Image- TELEPATHY able to read minds/emotions
TELEKINESIS move objects with psychic power
MEDICINE good at treating pokémon; not bad with people either
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Image take a look at my body / take a look at my hands
- - - - - - - there's so much here that I don't understand .


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Anastasia has lived the majority of her life feeling very alone. This has colored her personality to a great degree, and leaves her sometimes uncertain of how to conduct herself around other people, the ones not doctors or patients. She often feels awkward or overwhelmed in towns, especially the large ones, and tends to spend a lot of her time by herself as a result. Of course, even running the shelter is new to her, and it took her a while to pick up the skills necessary to really make this a feasible way to live. Ana has since become an accomplished cook, a passable cleaner, and an excellent nurse, but the social skills have not come as easily.

Despite this, she is at her core a very amiable person, and usually comes off as happy and pleasant to be around, if a tad odd. She's quite introverted, and more than a little shy, in a certain way. She doesn't dislike people by any means—in fact there is scarcely a more accepting person to be found. But she does have trouble with them, due to a lack of practice, mostly, and her wardrobe, markedly strange on Cinnabar Island of all places, tends to stick out like a sore thumb. It confuses people, which only makes things worse when she can’t exactly explain herself well. It would be hard to say that anyone’s ever really managed to get past this, save perhaps her pokémon and one or two of her closer relatives, most of whom live elsewhere, making her almost entirely solitary.

Still, she usually manages to understand other people quite well, and is sensitive to their needs and preferences. She doesn’t like to step on toes, as the metaphor goes, but she does like to help where she can, and will often do so without being asked. This tendency extends equally well to just about everyone. There isn’t a malicious bone in Anastasia’s body, and she believes wholeheartedly that people are not what they have been, but what they choose to be now. She has to believe that, given what she’s been through.

Being afflicted with her particular combination of oddities and conditions has meant that in order to get anywhere at all in life, Anastasia has needed to be stubborn. If she was the type to give up, she might very well be dead already. For all her difficulties, though, she is very much alive. She's also become somewhat secretive, though, as telling people either about her powers or her disease tends to fundamentally change how they view her: one makes her almost feared, and the other tends to get her pity, which she does not particularly want.

This inability to open up, coupled with her difficulty communicating past her shyness, has only contributed to her loneliness. Deep down, all Ana really wants is for someone to see her. Not the powers, not the sickness, not the clothes or the hair that marks her for one of her family, but the person that she is. Even if she's not particularly sure who that is.


Image well content loves the silence / it thrives in the dark
- - - - - - - with fine winding tendrils / that strangle the heart.


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Anastasia would say that hers is neither the best nor the worst story out there, and that is true. Her life thus far, while full of trails in its own way, has also contained a fair amount of happiness. She was born under unlucky stars, the saying might go, and stricken from an early age by a rare disease that most believed would kill her by the age of twenty. It robbed from her at an early age the full use of her body, making her frail and weak, with a poor constitution, but at least her telepathy was a partial solution. Her parents lacked the capacity to care for her, though they tried—at least until her younger brother was born.

She can’t blame them, exactly. He wasn’t intended, and they just couldn’t take care of two when one of them was so high-maintenance as she was. So she was sent away to live with one of her aunts, a Nurse Joy in Lavender Town. It was a bit of an odd place to grow up, but Anastasia believes it was helpful for her psychic development, if not exactly her social skills. She split her time between being homeschooled, learning pokémon medicine, and forays into the mysterious Lavender Tower, where the odd young girl conversed with ghosts like they were the living, showing no fear of their strange natures.

There was a man there, a medium and a psychic like her. His name was Edgar, and he became something like her grandfather. They became each others’ solace for a time. He died, though, when she was fourteen, leaving her his precious glass flute and some warm memories and a lot of grief. Anastasia had known, of course, that people died, but she had never experienced the loss of someone so close to her until then, and the reality of her own situation hit home. She became incredibly depressed, unable to motivate herself to get out of bed some days, uninterested even in singing or dancing or any of the other things that had once held her interest. She lost the desire to live, and her disease ravaged her body without much in the way of opposition.

It wasn't until she met Nova and Luna that things started to change again. The two Eevee were breeders' castoffs, all but discarded because they were deemed inferior specimens. It can be ugly, that side of the trade, and when they were abandoned at the pokémon center, her auntie Miranda brought them home, hoping that having someone else to care for would help Ana take better care of itself. The girl's fundamentally-compassionate nature kicked in, and she devoted herself to helping the little ones grow.

Slowly, she began to recover, eating more and getting back to regular exertion. Her episodes grew fewer, and her illness regressed to the more manageable level it had been at before Edgar died. Anastasia regained some of her zest, and when she reached sixteen, finished with her studies, she decided it was time to leave the shelter of her aunt’s home. She knew it was a risk, that a very real possibility existed that she would die out there in the world, but it was a risk she had to take. What was safety, if it felt like prison? So she left, Luna and Nova in tow, and the three of them set out to see the world. Nowadays, they run a shelter for abandoned, abused, and convalescent Pokémon, located on Cinnabar Island.


Image I'm the slow dying flower / in the frost killing hour
- - - - - - - sweet turning sour / and untouchable .


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ImageImagexx--ImageImageImageImageLUNA ESPEON 
----Image NATURE MODEST

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ImageImageNOVA UMBREON 
-Image NATURE SERIOUS

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xx--ImageImageImageImageAZURE SWABLU 
----ImageImage NATURE QUIRKY

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ImageImageNAME POKÉMON /
----Image NATURE NATURE

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Eryk
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
All I want in this world is...

Ana was honestly expecting Eryk to want a bit of distance after she told him about her sickness. She hopes he's not refusing to take the space he needs from her because of some kind of guilt. She's read about people staying in relationships they no longer want because of cancer or something, and she doesn't... want it to be like that. She wants... she just wants to live. With him. So badly. But that's—he's—nothing she can have.

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Cyrilla
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
She's so personable and charismatic.

Ana hasn't exactly had a lot of friends before, especially not friends her own age. She recognizes that she and Cyrilla are pretty different in a lot of ways, but she really likes spending time with her. Something interesting always seems to happen when the other woman's around, and even on the rare occasion it doesn't the conversation is... easier, than she's used to it being with other people. It's been unexpectedly nice, but she can't let it go too far.

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Kasimir
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
He looks more at home here than I do.

Kasimir is almost scarily-clever, of this Anastasia is certain. But it's almost hard to tell sometimes, because he tends to act so intentionally goofy. It works though—the tension just seems to bleed right out of any room or situation he puts himself in, and to be replaced with an easy relaxation that she's not sure she's actually all that familiar with. It's kind of miraculous, to her at least. He's also very useful for reaching high shelves.

x
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Nevena
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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This line is here to take space.
I'm glad it worked out after all.

Nev is really clever, and someone Ana likes to talk to about the overlap in their academic interests. She's also a really nice person, and someone easy to look up to. Honestly, if Ana thought she was going to make it to Nev's age, she'd want to be just like her, something she's thought for a while but hasn't yet found the courage to say. How do you just tell someone you think they're smart and interesting and kind and pretty, after all?

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Aidan
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of him.

Aidan is both comfortable and uncomfortable to be around at the same time. There's a certain sense of safety around him, like maybe he'd put himself in harms' way for her sake, like he did for Drake, and that's... really rare in her life. But, too, she worries. Because if anyone is going to figure out what secrets Ana has been keeping from everyone, it will be him, and she doesn't want to lose everything she's gained, even if she deserves to.

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Coding by Aethiya, inspired by maccotango's guide to the same.

So begins...

Anastasia Asher's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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#, as written by Aethyia


May 5th
Near Cinnabar Docks - Afternoon - Humid
Anastasia Asher


The Cinnabar sun beat down overhead, hot and unforgiving as the season slowly advanced towards summer. They arrived so much earlier in the year here than they did elsewhere. Frankly the biggest annoyance of island life was the short life of spring and fall.

It was that much worse dressed in black, though Anastasia wasn't about to change that much of herself, at least. She didn't know why she clung so stubbornly to an aesthetic that suited her surroundings so little, but she did. Maybe it was just the fact that she could. That of all the things in her life that were out of her control, how she dressed and presented herself to the world was one thing that was only and always her choice to make. Maybe it was just because she liked ruffles and ribbons and the color black, though; it was sort of hard to differentiate.

Her dress today was a knee-length thing, worn with stockings and a pair of rather practical, scuffed military-style boots and belted around her waist even though the tuck of the tailoring would have done that fine on its own. Her one concession to the environment was that it lacked sleeves despite the high neck, and she'd braided her lengths of rose colored hair in a coronet about her head, a practical hairstyle accessorized with nothing, because she did still have a job to do.

One which was currently a gigantic pain in her posterior. Ass, Ana. You can say ass.

She'd thought she was saving some time, getting her supplies directly from the late boat that came in that afternoon. As she was almost out of both feed and bedding, she hadn't wanted to wait for it to be delivered the usual way, which probably wouldn't have happened until the truck went out all over the island tomorrow morning. It would have been fine if the whole thing hadn't been delayed a week—she was a good enough planner to not ever accidentally leave herself out of stock, but delivering all the way out here wasn't always profitable, and so the special allergy formulas and hypoallergenic bedding that Ekans needed were not, in fact, as readily available as they were promised to be.

Greedy corporate jerks.

Bastards. What are you, twelve?

Unfortunately, hauling all of her new stock at once was a bit difficult, even with Luna and Nova's help. She was frail, and she knew it. More importantly, she was still in a crowded enough part of the island that she couldn't risk moving them the other way. Maybe she could pass it off as her pokémon moving the feed bags, too?

Suck it up, there's nothing else for it. As long as this stupid body can move, it's going to move. She sure as heck wasn't calling Drake or Carter for help. They had actual lives.

She managed to get one of the feed bags onto her shoulder without falling over, but the other one still lay on the ground, all fifty pounds of it taunting her. Arceus, the two together weighed more than she did, didn't they? Anastasia expelled a hard breath. "Okay. I guess we're going to have to do this in two trips." But how? She wasn't about to leave one of her pokémon alone, but leaving her stuff in the middle of the sidewalk was a nonstarter, too. The dock was about half a mile from her house, which was no big deal to walk but would take time.

A person cleared their voice, then, soft and gruff at the same time. When she turned to see who it was, a young man stood a polite distance from her, carmine red eyes staring intently at her. It didn't seem to be in a lecherous or uncomfortable way, but there was something about it. As if it were just how he looked at things: angry or intensely. It made more sense to her than lechery or discomfort, anyway. She didn't usually prompt those kinds of feeling in other people. She didn't usually make them angry, either, but she did know that some people just looked grumpy.

“Do you..." he paused, as if he were unsure of himself or how to actually speak to someone. His brows furrowed before he pushed a sigh through his nose. “It looks like you need help. May I be of assistance?" he spoke in a deadpan voice. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his dark grey trousers, but the sleeves to his dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows. Probably due to the heat, though the shirt he was wearing was a light grey color.

“It won't be any trouble and I'm not looking for any compensation. You just look like you could use some help," he stated, his brows furrowing as if he wasn't quite sure that was what he'd wanted to say.

Ana blinked slowly. Her fundamental mistrust of strangers warred with her need for the assistance, which so abruptly-offered left her a bit on the back foot. This fellow didn't look like the sort who routinely went about offering to help random people from the kindness of his heart, but then... she knew a thing or two about being misjudged based on appearance.

Her eyes found the scars on the side of his face, but it was neither fear nor pity that she felt. In fact, it was the dark slashes that broke the fairness of his complexion that decided it for her, in a way she'd be hard-pressed to explain.

"Just getting all the arguing out of the way up front, huh?" she said with a wry little smile, referring to the bit about no trouble and not wanting compensation. "Okay then. If you really don't mind, you could lift that bag for me?" She could carry the one she was already holding, and Luna and Nova had the bedding under control, so that was really all that was left. "I'm about half a mile up the road, Mr...?"

He stooped to pick up the bag with what looked to be relative ease, and glanced back at her. He shook his head, the shagginess of his hair becoming more prominent before he shifted the bag over his shoulder. “Eryk Nero. You can just call me Eryk if that is your preference," he stated in a rather casual manner, or about as casual as he seemed to try and make it. He probably wasn't very good at socializing from the way he seemed a bit tense.

That was fine by her. Ana wasn't really very good at it, either. She smiled a little, in case the cue that it was okay would help anything.

“And you are?" he questioned, arching a brow in her direction.

"Oh. Sorry." Case in point, when it came to her own lack of social skills. No matter how hard she tried to be the kind of cool, casual, aloof person she'd admired before, she always ended up bungling the simplest things. "I'm Anastasia Asher. Well. Ana really. Whole thing's kind of silly." She waved a hand at nothing in particular, then cleared her throat.

Remembering that they should probably be moving, she started up the sidewalk, Luna and Nova walking a little ahead of her and—Eryk.

She didn't know exactly what he'd meant by that. If that was her preference? It was a strange way of saying he didn't care. She wondered if he did. Maybe there was a wrong answer. Should she stick to Mr. Nero? That was kind of weird—he didn't look much older than twenty-five, if she had her guess, but she wasn't great at ages. Still it seemed too close to hers to just call him Mr. for no reason.

Ana flicked a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. He certainly wasn't having any trouble carrying the thing, which was good. She'd have felt bad if he started to struggle with it or something. She might be small and weak, but a year of doing this kind of thing had helped her get used to it, and she at least knew how to balance things, which helped a lot. She found herself wanting to say something, but not exactly sure what to say.

He shrugged and glanced at her from the corners of his eyes. They shifted towards the bag she was carrying, and there was a brief crease to his brows. “Anastasia is... a nice name," he stated, as if he were unsure if that was something to say in this context or not. He released a soft sigh, though, and nodded towards the bag.

“I can carry that one as well if you'd like. It won't be a burden and it might make it easier on your shoulders. I mean this in no way offensively, but your frame does not seem to be built for something of this weight. If you can handle it, then I apologize if what I said is offensive to you," he spoke, blinking once before he continued, “but if you would like to rest a moment, I can carry the bag."

He didn't try to take it from her, at least, and seemed to be interested in what she wanted to do.

Oh dear. He really was awkward too, wasn't he? Whether that was a good thing or a bad one, it made Ana smile, the warm expression blooming on her face for just the briefest moment before she remembered herself. Cool. She was trying to be collected and such.

"It's okay," she said, trying to keep that in mind. "I might not be built for it, but that's exactly why I need the practice. I have to lift things like this all the time, for my job."

He arched a brow in her direction, but shrugged. “If it gets too heavy before we reach your destination, let me know and I will carry it for you," he spoke, turning his attention back outwards. “Where is it that you work that requires... this," he stated, shifting the bag on his shoulder as if to motion towards it.

“Is there a farm or shelter on the island? I've just moved to here a few weeks ago and haven't been able to... see it," he continued as if to explain why he hadn't known about Ana's shelter, or anything in particular about the island.

It wasn't surprising that he didn't know about the shelter, of course, so she explained. "I run a pokémon shelter and hospice," she said, adjusting the bag a little as they walked. She could feel sweat tricking down her back; humid days like this were her least favorite, by far. It made all the difference in how bad heat actually was. "Normally my supplies are delivered, but some of them are harder to get, and not all the people who make them are great about being on time out to the island like this, so I had to come pick them up myself today."

She was sure it wasn't that interesting, though, so she tried not to ramble. "You might run into some of that yourself," she noted. "Depending on what you do. We don't have a proper airport, so a lot of things come in by boat, with only the occasional charter plane." She tilted her head, sort of hoping he'd explain what he did for a living, but not inclined to be pushy about it.

He hummed silently and nodded his head. “I don't think it'll be a problem for us. I work at the old mansion that was converted into a research facility. I'm..." he pursed his lips together as if he didn't know how to describe what he did, properly. “I'm just a clerk there, so I do a lot of the paperwork and the filing for them."

He remained quiet for a moment longer before he shook his head. “If you'd like," he began, shifting his attention towards her, “a couple of my colleagues and myself can help you with these deliveries, and at your shelter. From the looks of it, it seems that you don't have volunteers, if at all, to help you with things like this. We typically work most of the early mornings and are off by the afternoon. If you'd like, we could give you a hand on the days you need it."

The offer sounded genuine.

Honestly Ana was taken aback. He was right, of course, that she had very few volunteers. Carter helped out sometimes, and Drake when he could, but they were both very busy people. Then there were Mr. and Mrs. Lane, but they were elderly and not really able to do much of the physical work, so she just let them play with the pokémon sometimes and called it volunteering for enrichment, which it was.

"I—" she caught herself about to express some skepticism and paused, trying to properly consider her words. "That's very kind of you, truly. But... well, would you like to see the place first? Maybe meet everyone? I can hardly ask you to commit your time—and your friends'—sight unseen, after all." It was actually a little unnerving, but she couldn't put her finger on why except that people were not usually so solicitous to her. Especially not ten minutes after meeting her.

He blinked slowly, then shrugged. “I don't see why not," was his simple reply. “If it seems like a bit much, perhaps I will rescind my services, but..." he paused, glancing at her, “I don't think they would mind much. They like to do community service everywhere they send us. Our job requires us to move around a lot, but there are times where we stay in one place for a year or so. Doing community service makes them feel... necessary."

His eyes narrowed, then, as if he were thinking of something, before he shook his head.

Ana hesitated. That was... a very odd thing to say. She supposed it might be the same awkwardness she'd already noticed, so she tried not to think much of it, but she could feel her lips press together uncomfortably. "Um... well, regardless I think they should make sure they know what they're getting into. There are plenty of worthy causes to volunteer for on the island, after all."

At this point, they'd reached the front gate of her property, and she sets down the bag carefully with a little sound of relief. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved her plain steel key ring, counting back to the gate key and fitting it to the wrought iron barred doors. It creaked a little as she pushed it open, holding it in place for both her pokémon and Eryk to enter. "You can just put that down anywhere; Luna and Nova can move it to the right shelf later."

He set the bag down against the side of the gate before glancing around. His brows were slightly furrowed, but he didn't seem upset about anything in particular. His attention went back to her, though, and he blinked slowly.

“What do you do, exactly?" he asked, his head tilting just slightly to the left as he waited for her reply, it seemed.

Ana's reply was interrupted by Rufus, who waddled out from his spot napping in the shade of the house. The wheezy old stoutland had more grey in his coat than brown, these days, but his stubby little tail wagged enthusiastically as he approached nonetheless. Ana crouched to greet him, running her fingers from the top of his head back behind his ear, and smiled softly when he leaned into the contact.

She still had a query to answer, though, so she stood, watching with some interest as the old pokémon, self-appointed warden of the shelter, approached the newcomer, sniffing at his feet and then his pant leg. "Well as the name might suggest, we take in pokémon who have been recovered from abusive or neglectful situations, or those voluntarily surrendered by their humans, and also those who need a place to live out the remainder of their lives in peace, should they have some kind of incurable condition that can be managed well enough for a good quality of life before passing. Most of those, we get from the Center; it's less common, but we are licensed to run as a hospice also. Our aim is always for rehabilitation and rerelease or adoption otherwise, but..." she gave a little shrug.

"With the present state of things, it's hard. Lots of people want to be a pokémon's first human. Others think of our residents as damaged, and many younger trainers especially want pokémon they think can be competitive in battles. We get a lot of those cast off for not being strong enough, or not having that kind of personality, so the adoption rate is fairly low. The island's small, too—I've been here about a year, but I've only adopted out about ten pokémon in that time."

She gestured to the large yard abutting the house. Its major feature was the big pool, equipped for both fully-aquatic species and those who swam sometimes. A pidgey roosted in the large dogwood tree towards the back of the house; ekans sunned himself on a big, flat rock she'd had put in when she moved. A few magikarp were the pool's only current occupants, and then there was Rufus, of course. "This is most everyone; a couple of those adoptions were last month, and a few of the hospice patients have died, so we're running kind of below capacity at the moment. All the supplies we carried are for ekans; he has food and bedding allergies that mean he has to be kept differently from everyone else. You should feel free to say hello; everyone's friendly."

He blinked mildly before glancing towards Rufus. He knelt a bit, offering his hand out so Rufus could sniff it before he scratched behind the stoutland's ear. There was a soft expression on his face, but he didn't smile. It didn't look easy if the way his eyes narrowed slightly was anything to go by. He stood, then, and glanced towards Ana.

“It must be difficult caring for hospice patients," he spoke, his voice oddly soft. “Seeing a pokémon through to the last moment of their life must be difficult," he spoke as if he had some experience with that, but he shook his head, and took in a soft breath. He glanced back towards ekans and his hand twitched slightly before he glanced back at Ana.

“I might know a person or two who are looking for a companion pokémon. I could recommend your shelter to them if you'd like," he stated. “It might help those who are adoptable find a home, at least."

"I'd appreciate that," Ana said sincerely, before huffing lightly and adding, "though I'm kind of the only game in town when it comes to that so I hope they'd end up here eventually." The quip was dry, but light, and she didn't mean anything bad by it.

She couldn't help but notice the reaction to ekans, though, and tilted her head faintly, a slightly more mischievous smile flickering across her features before she reached into her pocket, tossing a little homemade drawstring bag Eryk's way with a soft underhand lob. She had a feeling he'd be able to catch something a lot less softball than that. "Those are his favorite. Ekans's. I make them myself."

Approaching the sunning rock, she reached out and felt her mind connect to the pokémons, sending warmth and gentleness over the connection even as she spoke aloud. "Hey, buddy. Someone's here to meet you. Want to see?"

She always gave her charges a choice, but when she extended an arm down towards ekans, he rose towards it easily, twining up over her shoulders to lay his head down across her chest and loop the rest of himself several times around her body in the serpentine equivalent of a hug. She rubbed his head gently with a finger, noting that his scales seemed to be clearing up a little, and walked back over to Eryk. "He's in a good mood today. You want to feed him a snack?"

He glanced towards Ana before his attention shifted towards ekans. He opened the bag she'd tossed towards him and pulled one of the treats from it. He seemed a bit hesitant for a moment before he took a step forward, and held out the treat towards him.

“I know someone who would like an ekans," Eryk spoke, a small shift in his expression apparent. “I can see if she'd like to adopt him when he is available for adoption," he stated, glancing back towards Ana.

She wondered if this was one of the colleagues he'd mentioned. "Well by all means feel free to tell her, but she should keep in mind that his special dietary needs are a lifetime sort of thing. The reason I have him is that he's recovering from a bad case of scale rot, but eating normal pokémon food will just aggravate the condition again. It would be a bit more work than looking after the average ekans, but if she doesn't mind he should be perfectly adoptable in a couple of months from now."

She paused as the pokémon lifted his head from her sternum and regarded the food in front of him. Quite quickly, he darted out to take it from Eryk's hand, though as Ana knew he would he didn't so much as scrape the new person's fingers in the process. He swallowed the food whole, tongue flicking out into the air as he scented for more.

She huffed quietly, even as Luna and Nova passed by with the bags she and Eryk had carried, levitated in front of them with psychic power. Rubbing the side of his head, she tilted hers at Eryk. "I understand if you have somewhere else to be, but can I offer you something to eat or drink? I know you didn't plan to hold me indebted, but I'd feel better about it if I could... I dunno. Say thank you with more than just the words."

He seemed to contemplate her offer for a moment, feeding another treat to ekans as he hummed quietly. “I don't see why not," he finally stated. “And it doesn't seem to be a lot of work. If you'd be agreeable, my colleagues and I can come help you whenever you need it. Just let us know ahead of time of when you'd like help," he stated, pulling his wallet from his back pocket and digging through it. He produced a small business-like card from it, but it was very plain. There was his full name, a phone number, and another phone number with the word Cy next to it.

“That is my number, and one of my colleagues's number. You can reach me at either one," he stated, tilting his head in Ana's direction.

A card? Ana smiled a little. Her auntie had made her make cards of her own; she had yet to give away more than two of them. "I have one of these, too," she said, "with the shelter's number. I'll give it to you inside. I, um, don't usually carry them, which I guess kind of defeats the purpose." She shrugged a little sheepishly. "I don't usually have the kind of acquaintances who use them."

She wondered why a clerk needed business cards, but didn't think much of it. Maybe he was on his way up the ladder or something; it couldn't help to be prepared. Plus apparently he moved around a lot, something else she wouldn't have picked a clerk to do, but for all she knew that was perfectly normal. Ana wasn't really familiar with that sort of thing.

"Anyway, uh—do you like oatmeal cookies? I have some with raisins and some without, and tea? I could make coffee instead, if you prefer, or there's lemonade or water." She realized she was rambling and stopped, digging out her keys again since they'd be going inside her house this time.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Oatmeal cookies with raisins are fine," he spoke, his lips pursing into a fine line as he seemed lost in thought. “And water is also fine," he added. His brows furrowed though, when she approached the door to her home.

“I can stand outside and wait. I don't want to intrude in your home," he stated, his brows furrowing deeper.

Ana paused, uncertain. She wouldn't have thought of it as weird for a moment until he'd mentioned it. Now, well—it was a little weird, wasn't it? To invite someone into her home within half an hour of meeting them? But oddities aside, he did seem like a nice person, and she didn't really want to shut him out. "Oh," she said, unable to help the slight note of disappointment as she figured it out. He didn't want to come in. Of course; why would he?

"Erm. Well, there are garden seats out back if you'd like. I don't want to make you eat and run or anything. Unless you'd prefer I wrap up the cookies so you can go?" She wasn't sure what the right thing to do was, and a bit of fluster showed through, her collected persona crumbling like the papery thing it was until she was just a faint shade of embarrassed pink.

You idiot. He probably thinks you're coming onto him or something!

He shook his head softly. “I don't want to take up too much of your time," he spoke. “You don't... need to do either of those things, either. If you'd like to just give me your card, I'd consider it thanks enough," he stated, trying, it seemed, to smile in some awkward way, but it didn't quite reach even a small stretch of his lips. He just looked less grumpy, if anything.

Oh he totally thought she was coming onto him, didn't he? Ana's face flamed; she nodded awkwardly and hastily turned back to her door, fitting the key in with shaky fingers. Oh arceus I'm so stupid. Where did this go wrong? Am I creepy? I'm creepy.

The door came open, and she stepped into her house feeling entirely out of sorts, determined now not to make this any weirder than it already was. Swallowing, she fumbled through the drawer beneath her landline telephone, there only for the shelter, until she came up with the little metal case that held her business cards. Plucking one out, she hesitated a moment, eye catching on the plate of cookies on the kitchen island. If she didn't use tupperware, he wouldn't have to feel obligated to come back, right? That seemed like an acceptable compromise; she really felt terrible about this whole thing now and thought maybe it would help somehow.

So she wrapped the cookies up in a cloth napkin, tying a clumsy knot at the top and hurrying back outside. "Sorry," she mumbled, looking down at her feet and extending the whole thing towards him, card carefully tucked beneath the knot. "Um. You can just throw them away if you want but Drake says they're good so you might like them?"

He took the cloth from her, gently, and shook his head. “I'm sure they are... acceptable?" he questioned, almost as if he were asking her, but then he cleared his throat and furrowed his brows as if at himself. “Thank you, Anastasia," he stated, blinking slowly before turning his attention back towards the yard.

“If you need help tomorrow, we can return to help out. In the mean time, I can see if there are those at the field office if they are looking for companion pokémon, or other," he continued. “I'm certain we'll see you again," he stated, though he didn't explain what he meant by that. Perhaps because Cinnabar was such a small island to begin with, he meant that they'd see her in passing?

Acceptable. Oh arceus.

"Uh, you're welcome. More importantly, thank you for the help. I'm sure we're likely to, erm, run into each other again." She knew with great surety that she would not be calling to ask them to help her out, after the embarrassed hash she'd made of all of this.

All this effort to make herself a better person, and she was still getting everything so far wrong.

Finally dragging her eyes back to him, she met red with blue and tried to smile instead of grimace. "Have, um. Have a good rest of your day. And really, thank you."

“You as well, Ana. And... you're welcome."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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May 6th
Ana's House - Afternoon - Warm
Cyrilla Niav


Cyrilla was almost certain she'd died of laughter, yesterday. After the whole debacle with introducing himself—she and Kas had followed to make sure he was doing alright—Eryk came back with an update. Anastasia Asher sounded like a very interesting person, and the fact that Eryk had made things awkward and she still hadn't chased him off, well... that was a special kind of person. Anastasia still hadn't called, though. Cyrilla had her phone and Eryk's because he was horrible with anything related to technology. How he managed thus far was something Cyrilla attributed to herself. It was why she had convinced Eryk to take her and Kasimir to go volunteer their services to Anastasia so they could see for themselves just who she was. From what he'd told them, it was something she and Kas apparently did when they were moving around.

Taking a glance over, she nodded her head, satisfied with her attire. She'd chosen to wear a pair of black capris cargo pants that were, perhaps, a little form fitting. It was comfortable for Cyrilla, and she knew they would be doing some kind of physical labor today. And to be outside, well, it was why she'd chosen a light grey tank top. Comfort over fashion, most people would say, but Cyrilla had managed to make it a bit of both. Her hair was pulled comfortably in a tail, but it was currently settled over her right shoulder. Maybe she should have it cut to deal with this heat?

Casting her eyes towards her companions, she couldn't help but smile softly at Eryk. As usual, his face was pulled into his grumpy look. His brows were furrowed, his lips were pursed, and his shoulders were hunched forward a bit. He'd chosen a pair of dark grey pants and a white shirt as his work attire. One of these days, she was going to throw everything in his closet away, and get him an entire new wardrobe. The man could not dress himself even if his life depended on it.

Kas, for his part, looked more like a native islander than either of them did, and it wasn't just his complexion. He'd worn a casual linen shirt in soft pink, sleeves rolled and a third of the buttons undone, with a thin white t-shirt beneath, over khakis. He looked kind of like he'd stepped out of a catalogue, but also ready for work. His mareep hopped along happily next to him, not venturing far but evidently curious about her new surroundings.

She shook her head to herself and huffed lightly. “I can't believe you almost screwed it up, Ryk. I mean, she gave you cookies, and you couldn't even stay to eat them with her. You're losing your touch, old man," she stated, grinning at him as he turned his eyes towards her.

“Whatever, Cy. It's not like I did it on purpose. It was just intense," he stated, furrowing his brows deeper. She laughed softly, though. Eryk was hopeless, sometimes.

“You mean awkward, Ryk. You're looking for awkward."

"I dunno," Kas drawled, a slow smile dragging over his face. "It might have been kind of intense, too. I'm looking forward to seeing for myself." He cocked an eyebrow at Cyrilla in a way she was beginning to recognize, one that invited conspiracy. "If Ryk's not up to the job of making friends, I guess we could always step in after all, right? Her picture's pretty cute; it's not like it would be a hardship."

Cyrilla grinned at Kas's statement. “He's got a point, Ryk. He has a lot of those, actually, but still. Her picture is pretty cute, and from what you said, she sounds very interesting," she continued, watching as Eryk's brows furrowed deeper. There it was. The glare. He was glaring at her right now, and it only caused the grin on her face to inch up a bit more.

“Oh what's this? Is Eryk jealous? You've only known her for a day, and you're already jealous? Be still my black little heart. I think he's jealous, Kas," she stated, glancing back in Kas's direction.

“Shut up, Cy, I'm not jealous," he replied, shaking his head as he walked a little further in front of her. Cyrilla leaned in Kas's direction.

“I think he's jealous."

Kas snickered, obviously entertained by her ribbing of their third team member. "What an unforeseen complication this makes," he lilted, laughter trailing off into a soft chuckle.

They seemed to be drawing close to the location, however; there was a wrought-iron gate and fence around the property; the arch of the gate marked it as CINNABAR POKÉMON REHABILITATION AND HOSPICE in neat block letters. It was unlocked; the yard appeared to have a few lounging or playing pokémon in it, with a few more in the pool, but the operator was nowhere to be seen.

Or at least not until she emerged from the building towards the rear of the property. Her wardrobe was rather unique, consisting of dark black work pants with rather a lot of buckles and zips, and a sleeveless black shirt with a band logo emblazoned on the front. A pair of red suspenders crisscrossed her back, but the bubblegum-pink of her hair gave her away for the woman they were looking for.

"You know, if I'd had to guess Ryk's type..." Kas murmured with a soft laugh. "She wouldn't be far off."

At that point, the little woman spotted them, or perhaps more specifically Ryk, and her eyes widened. "Eryk?" Disbelief colored her tone. "You—you came back?" She blinked, eyes moving from Kas to Cyrilla. "And—with your friends?"

Cyrilla huffed lightly at Kas's statement. If Eryk had a type, she supposed Kas was right. Eryk glanced back towards Cyrilla and Kas, giving them a stare that Cyrilla knew meant behave. She arched a brow, and smiled in Anastasia's direction. Eryk turned his attention back to the pink-haired woman, and gave her an awkward wave. It was difficult to not laugh at him, really.

“I did," he stated softly, perhaps a touch softer than Cyrilla wasn't aware of before. This was definitely interesting. He'd never been one to be nervous or embarrassed, or any of those sorts of feelings, really, but maybe he was just that good of an actor? Cyrilla couldn't really say. She knew him as he was before, but she was still getting used to the person he was now. She pushed the thought from her mind, though, and waved at Ana.

“I see Ryk told you about us. He couldn't stop talking about you, yesterday. I presume you're Anastasia?" she stated, trying to keep the grin off her face when Eryk turned his glare back towards her.

Anastasia only looked more surprised to hear that, her cheeks pinkening softly before she shook her head. "I uh... well I'm a bit odd I suppose. I'm sorry if you were uncomfortable?" She said the last to Ryk, but asked it like a question.

Kas looked like he was very poorly trying to contain a laugh. "That's not quite it, but never mind him. I'm Kasimir," He stuck out a hand, flashing a bright white smile.

She looked for a moment vaguely dazed before she blinked, extending her own hand forward much more carefully. It was thin, as was the rest of her really. Not quite so much as to look malnourished, but definitely very slender. Honestly she looked a bit like a doll, all big eyes and delicate features and soft hair like that. If she'd been dressed differently, it would be even worse. Kas seemed to shake her hand very gently.

"Hello," she said softly, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm Ana, but you probably already knew that." She offered her hand towards Cyrilla as well. "Eryk said you were colleagues? Do you clerk at his office too?"

“I'm more of his secretary," Cyrilla spoke, glancing in Eryk's direction. He told her he was a clerk? Of all the things he could have told her he did... he chose clerk. She wanted to laugh, really, but she smoothed out her expression and took Ana's hand in her own. It really was delicate and soft. Not like Cyrilla's hands which were a little more calloused thanks to her work. She pushed that thought out of her mind, though.

“I'm Cyrilla, but you can just call me Cy. It's easier on the tongue," she stated winking in Ana's direction before glancing back in Eryk's direction. He looked like he wanted to roll his eyes, but refrained from doing so. “So, Eryk tells us that you don't have very many volunteers to help you out. We're all free today if you'd like some help, now," she stated, tilting her head to the left.

Ana's eyes lit up, a smile, small but genuine, blooming softly over her face. "Really?" She glanced back and forth between all three of them, as if waiting for someone to back out at the last moment. None of them did, of course, and so the smile remained. "Well, um, if you don't mind then, today is bedding change day for everyone, which is why they're all outside, and then I need to feed them and then I have to drain and clean the pool."

"Sounds like a lot to manage on your own," Kas remarked sympathetically, either genuinely feeling it or an extremely good actor.

Ana certainly believed it, shaking her head as if to banish the concern. "It's usually not as much; bedding gets cleaned every day but only changed once a week, and the pool only needs a big clean twice a month. I usually make sure those things happen on different days but sometimes I have to work around deliveries." She cleared her throat. "Sorry, I'm rambling. Anyway, um. If you want to follow me to the shelter building, I would really appreciate the help."

“Oh, but it's adorable," Cyrilla spoke, feeling her own smile smoothing out a bit. Eryk rolled his eyes at her, but followed after Ana. It really was adorable the way she rambled like that. She could almost find it endearing, however; Cyrilla quashed that feeling as soon as it appeared. They were here to not make friends in that way. Ana was a target; not a friend. The smile on her face did not falter, but she had to close her eyes for the smile did not reach her eyes. She knew that. She followed behind Eryk as Ana led the way towards the building, glancing around at the scenery.

“It's a really nice place you have here, Ana," she spoke, feeling that the use of conversation was a good way to learn a bit more about her. “How long has this been something you've wanted to do?" she asked, though she wasn't quite sure if it was something Ana wanted to do. Maybe this was a first step to something else?

"Well," Ana replied, humming slightly as she opened the large door into the shelter building. It was a cozy space, lacking cages or anything of the sort. Rather, the divides between areas seemed to be much more organic, with the spot for bird pokémon having a large fake tree for roosting and so on. She took down a couple of pitchforks and handed them to Kas and Cyrilla. "I've been running it for about a year. I was on my journey before that—well, not really a proper one or anything, just traveling with Luna and Nova. We started kind of considering it then, and when we'd had enough of moving around all the time, my aunt told me this building had opened up. I put in a bid, which was accepted, and then we got it all fixed up."

Removing a large hose from one corner, she started dragging it in the stand, at least until Kas stepped in to grab the thing with his free hand and a smile. "D'you mind?" he asked.

Ana shook her head. "Uh, no. Thank you. I'm really not used to having help, sorry." As they maneuvered the hose outside and she put one end of it in the pool, she sighed quietly, taking a brace of pokéballs from her belt and recalling all the swimmers that could not climb out on their own. The rest vacated as if on some unspoken signal—probably used to the routine. "The hardest part was getting the pool up to code. It wasn't before, and Neo Team Rocket has a lot of regulations for facilities like this, to protect the pokémon. It makes it hard for a small place like this to stay out of the red, but that's okay. We manage."

She started to drain the pool, opening a tap which apparently worked in reverse. "Um so if two of you don't mind changing the bedding, there's a wheelbarrow I can show you in the shed. And then maybe someone can help me scrub the pool? There's more regulations for that so I have to be here to make sure it's up to standard and everything."

Cyrilla turned her attention towards Kas and arched a brow at him. “The two of us can take care of the bedding while Eryk helps you scrub the pool," she stated. Eryk made a face, and looked like he wanted to protest for a second, but Cyrilla fixed him with a gaze.

“I can help with the pool. It won't be a problem; just tell me what you need me to do," he spoke in that neutral tone of his, but there was a hint of grumpiness to it. Cyrilla tried not to snicker at him.

“See, even he agrees. Alright, as far as changing the bedding, it sounds pretty straight forward. Is there anything we should be aware of or anything like that before we get started?" she asked, grinning up at Kas for a moment before turning her attention towards Ana.

"Just that there are three kinds," Ana said. "They're color coded so it shouldn't be hard to figure out. Red gets the hypoallergenic kind, blue gets the normal sort, and yellow gets the sandy one." She smiled again, still a small one, still to all appearances genuinely pleased. "And thank you so much, all of you. Really."

“You're very welcome, Ana. It's no trouble at all, really. We're glad we can help out, isn't that right, Ryk?" she stated, watching as Ryk shrugged his shoulders. She rolled her eyes. “That's Ryk for sure, you're welcome," she spoke. One of these days she was going to get him to use his words and not his actions to tell people things. Some of the things he did could be misinterpreted as harsh or mean. She didn't need him to do that.

“Alright, Kas, let's go have a little fun," she meant it in the most innocent of ways, for once.

He laughed softly, but gave her a nod, gesturing forward with his pitchfork as if in invitation. "After you, m'lady."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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#, as written by Aethyia


May 6th
Ana's House - Evening - Warm
Kasimir Rheinallt


They'd asked for work, and they'd certainly gotten it. It had taken several hours to get through Ana's list of shelter chores, which included feeding the pokémon, administering medication, and giving everyone basic health checks. Apparently their mark was a registered pokémon nurse, unsurprising for someone related to the Joy family. Kas might have wondered if that was what the boss wanted with her, except there was a perfectly serviceable pokémon center in town, and more than one nurse in the Rocket ranks, and for some reason, it was this girl he was specifically interested in.

He couldn't quite figure it out. Biting into a chocolate chip cookie and chewing it over, he studied the young woman across the table not with a lecher's eye but with an analyst's. One afternoon working for a person wasn't enough to get a full read, of course, but he could tell several things about Anastasia Asher right now. Firstly, she actually gave a shit. She had no idea they were from NTR, and yet every single regulation, no matter how onerous or difficult, was followed in both letter and spirit. Hell, she went above and beyond. Kas had done a few facility inspections in his day, and while he could tell the place was underfunded, he also knew that the pokémon here were looked after as well as pokémon could be. Ana's personally-registered battlers, an espeon and umbreon, were no different in that respect.

So it wasn't that there was possibly some violation going on, and he doubted very much that Ana was secretly connected to some trafficking ring or shady breeding operation, which might have demanded the undercover work. She was also just an incredibly nice person, and it made him feel bad for the fact that they weren't in this to actually be her friends, because dammit if he couldn't tell she was a little lonely, too.

It might have been the way she'd invited them for tea and cookies after the shift was over. Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, and some kind of orangey tea for him. It was honestly very good, and somehow it made him feel like a horrible human being.

Not that this feeling was ever too far away.

Setting her teacup down on its saucer with a soft clink, Ana exhaled, as though a little weary. Understandable; that had been a reasonable amount of labor even for the likes of the three of them, and she was, well... rather frailer than they were. Not to mention all the medical stuff she had to do by herself, since none of them were certified for it. She smiled, though, at all three of them.

"Eryk said yesterday that the three of you hadn't been able to see much of the island yet," she said quietly. She was very quiet, in general. A little shy, despite the bold way of dressing. "I could take you three on a little walking tour this evening, if you like? As a way of saying thank you for the help?"

Cyrilla had set her cup down as she shook her head. “Oh, we were glad to help! I haven't had a work out like that in..." she paused, glancing up as if she were trying to remember how long it'd actually been, “I'd say a year or so. And that would be actually very nice of you. We haven't had a chance because we've been so busy with work, but since we're actually free, I'd say now is as good a time as any. Wouldn't you say so, Ryk?"

Eryk, who'd been munching quietly on an oatmeal cookie, eyed Cyrilla warily. She was grinning much too broadly for his liking, apparently. “It would be nice, yes," he stated softly. “But you shouldn't feel obligated to do so, Anastasia. We could consider this as our thanks," he stated, motioning towards the drinks and cookies.

“You're so hopeless. I, for one, would love to see the island and get acquainted with it," she stated, arching her brow in Kas's direction. “Wouldn't you say so, too, Kas?" Eryk narrowed his eyes, but sighed.

“I suppose it couldn't hurt," Eryk seemed to relent.

"I'm in favor," Kas said, polishing off his cookie and tea both.

Ana smiled, and collected everyone's dishes before they headed out. "Oh. If it's not too much to ask, where are you all living? I don't want to show you the things you've already seen." She pulled on her boots at the entrance, pausing for all of them to re-don their shoes as well before stepping out and locking up behind them.

Kas didn't see the harm in sharing, so he shrugged a little. "The Cloyster? Metal monstrosity downtown."

She nodded, wrinkling her nose a little in what seemed to be amusement at his description. "It's very... distinctive, yes," she demurred. "In that case, you've probably seen a lot of what passes for downtown around here, so maybe we can start with the back side of the island. It tends to be where the locals go when they don't want to deal with tourists, and if you're interested in swimming or surfing or anything like that, it's the place to go."

Cyrilla snickered as she glanced up at Eryk. “Ryk, here, can't really surf for his life, but I'm sure he'd like to go swimming," she stated, earning a pointed gaze from Eryk. “And I haven't been surfing since the last time I visited Alola. That was... about three years ago, now," she stated, nodding her head slightly to herself, it seemed.

“I can surf well-enough, Cy," he spoke, narrowing his eyes at Cyrilla as if he were offended somehow by her statement. She merely arched her brow at him.

“By well-enough, do you mean falling off your board every ten seconds? If that's well-enough, I'd hate to see what good, is," she replied, smirking slightly at him. Eryk rolled his eyes before turning his attention towards Ana.

“If you'd be so kind as to show us, anyway," he muttered. It almost sounded like he was embarrassed that, that tidbit of information was out.

Kas was pretty sure he was going to have to find an excuse to see this in action. As an island kid himself, he'd spent a large chunk of his childhood in and around the ocean, first year-round and then at least during summers after the divorce. That included surfing to be sure. He wondered how someone with Ryk's innate sense of balance could be that bad at it.

Ana, though, smiled slightly. "There's lots of other things to do, of course. Restaurants, and a less-touristy boardwalk, that kind of thing. You can even rent boats and scuba gear if you like." She locked up the gate behind them as well, and took them the opposite direction from the one they'd used to reach her place.

The streets were fairly unremarkable residential housing for a while, mostly one-story properties with thatched or terra-cotta roofing. Many of them were brightly-painted stucco, yellow and green and light blue sticking out amongst the more traditional, well, cinnabar.

But it didn't take long at all for Ana to veer aside from the sidewalk, taking a path that didn't seem to belong with any property in particular and leading them through a cluster of palm and similar trees that eventually spat them out onto a stretch of beach. There were a few people minding their own business on the sand, but it was far from crowded.

"The locals sometimes just call this the Backisland, or Backisland Beach," Ana explained, looking rather incongruent in the harsh black of her clothes. The sand was almost white, it was so pale, and there was a bit of glare from the sun on both the water and the beach. Kas, well prepared, dropped his sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose and ceased to worry about it. Arceus he was with a bunch of pale people, wasn't he?

Ryk, at least, was somewhat tanned, but Cy and Ana were about as pale as could be, especially Cy. She was practically an albino. “Oh, it's so beautiful," she stated, smiling just as bright. It almost looked genuine in that moment, as if she truly thought that, but it disappeared a moment later. “We really should come back, maybe when the sun's gone down a bit more. I'm sure the pokémon would love to run around here and stretch their legs," she stated, blinking mildly before turning towards Ana.

“Can they do that, though? I know some places don't allow pokémon outside of their pokéballs, or if they are, they have to be kept on a... leash depending on the type," she stated, her brows furrowed lightly.

“That's what the park is for, Cy," Eryk stated, arching a brow in her direction. He still managed to look grumpy even with something as simple as that. “Besides, you can come at night to do that, too, when there's hardly anyone around." Cyrilla smirked, then.

“So does that mean I can go skinny dipping, too?"

Eryk merely furrowed his brows. “Not what I meant, Cy. Now you're just twisting my words around."

“Oh, come on, Ryk. You should loosen up a bit and enjoy yourself every once in a while. I'm sure Ana, here, would do the same, right Ana?"

Kas had to stifle a laugh, because he was pretty sure that shift in color happening on Ana'a face was a spectacular blush. "U-um. N-no, I can't say that I have," she said, very obviously trying to remain polite in the face of Cy's rather blunt declaration. "B-but you can in fact release pokémon here, if they are legally releasable on Zone 3 areas. Just not the tourist beaches."

"One more reason to prefer here, I suppose," Kas said, grinning and deciding to take a little mercy on the poor thing. "What else is around the back side of the island?"

The relief on her face was so obvious he couldn't help but chuckle.

"Oh, um. Well there's a few places to go, like the bowling alley, a couple of bars and restaurants, an arcade, and the skating rink. Er, roller, not ice."

“Oh, we should defintely check out the bowling alley," Cyrilla stated, turning her attention towards Eryk. He shrugged his shoulders, though, as if he were not too interested.

“I think the skating rink would be better," he murmured, causing Cy to raise a brow. He shrugged again. “They're calming," was the only thing he said.

“Of course you'd find going in circles, calming," she stated, but she chuckled anyway. “What about you, Ana? When you're not taking care of the shelter, what do you do for fun?" she asked, her head tilting in a curious manner towards Ana.

"I... don't have a lot of free time," Ana admitted. "When I do, I like to read, or bake—there's a library just down the street." she pointed in the right direction, and Kas followed her trajectory for a moment before deciding it wasn't in view yet.

He couldn't help but notice that her hobbies were the kinds of things a person could very easily do alone. He wondered if she had any friends at all, or if the loneliness he'd suspected might be there was in fact deeper than he'd expected. It was... well, a little sad, honestly. She seemed like a perfectly decent human being.

"Well," he said, letting none of it show. "Maybe if we help you out a bit more often you'll have some more time, and we can con you into showing us all of that stuff." He grinned, keeping most of the flirtation out of it. A light touch was probably best here, especially with Cy being Cy at the moment.

"Oh, I—well you definitely don't have to do that," she said, clasping her hands in front of her with an adorable earnestness. "But if you'd like to I'd be happy to accompany you all. Um. Sometimes it takes a little time to get to know the locals. If I'm with you they might be a little... less inclined to mistake you for tourists."

“We wouldn't mind," Eryk stated, glancing in Ana's direction. “Helping you out at the shelter more often," he spoke as if clarifying what he meant. “You do a lot at your shelter, and it would be a way of... repaying you for showing us the island and whatever else there may be to it."

“It's a win-win situation for everyone here, really. We get to learn more about the island, and you get help out with your shelter. And it won't be any trouble for us. As Ryk told you, we like doing this kind of thing. It makes us feel..." Cyrilla paused for a moment, as if she were trying to think of the word, “useful. And I for one like feeling useful to someone." She sounded extremely genuine in that statement with an odd touch of melancholy in her tone.

“Indeed," Ryk agreed. “Besides..." he paused, narrowing his eyes slightly as he glanced back out in front of him, “I enjoy working with the pokémon."

Kas wondered how much of what they'd just professed was true. He suspected most of it, actually, which was interesting information that he carefully filed away into the back of his mind. He wished he could say it was just one friend wanting to remember things about the others, but... well, he had multiple reasons to feel bad today, it seemed.

Ana managed a shy smile for all of them. "Then you have yourselves a deal." she said, blue eyes lit with excitement.

He really hoped she wasn't signing herself up for something terrible, but he had no way to know.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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May 13th
Cinnabar Island - Afternoon - Clear
Nevena Solomon


Nev smiled to herself, locking the door behind her as she left her apartment. The day outside had been beautiful, from what she could tell from her window, anyway. She'd decided it would be a good day to meet Anastasia. She'd heard much from Cyrilla and Eryk, and he'd even suggested that Nev take a look at the pokémon around. She wasn't particularly in the market for another pokémon; having four was enough of an upkeep to begin with, but she supposed it wouldn't hurt to look. Especially if it would help out Anastasia. Nevena was always one for a good cause, and Anastasia's place sounded just like one.

Maybe she'd donate to the place? It would be helpful, from her understanding. She'd have to bring it up with Anastasia when she arrived. She entered the elevator and pressed the button for the bottom floor. When it stopped at the sixth, however, she smiled as Cyrilla entered, blinking in mild surprise before smiling at her.

“Good afternoon, Cyrilla. Are you going somewhere?" she asked. Cyrilla nodded her head in response.

“On my way to Ana's, actually. What about you? Are you off on one of your walks?" she asked.

“Oh, what a coincidence, so am I!" Nev replied happily enough. “Let's go together! I wanted to see what the place was like and to see what she had for adoption," she continued, causing Cyrilla to arch a brow.

“Are you planning on adopting one?" Cyrilla asked, stepping out of the elevator once it stopped on the first floor. Nevena stepped out behind her, and shrugged her shoulders.

“I might, but it depends, really," on a lot of things. How much care it needed. If she'd have enough time to devote to it. She didn't want to get another pokémon if she couldn't care for it. It wouldn't be fair to the pokémon if she couldn't, and that was the last thing Nev could want.

“Well, she has plenty that you'll like, I'm sure," Cyrilla stated as they exited the building. The walk to Anastasia's was mostly quiet, but it was pleasant to Nev. She didn't feel the need to talk about anything, and Cyrilla didn't seem inclined to ask her questions. It was almost like when she walked with Aidan. He was always so... something. Nice? Kind? Patient? She didn't know the word for it, but she often found their walks enjoyable, even when they said nothing at all. It was just comfortable.

It wasn't much longer before they reached Anastasia's, and Cyrilla waved towards the pink-haired young woman who was outside, motioning her over towards the both of them.

“Hey, Ana! I brought someone with me, this time. Hope it's alright!" she stated, grinning broadly at the other woman.

Anastasia was garbed in black overalls, accented with a red sleeveless shirt and a number of straps that seemed to be mostly ornamental, though they matched her belt, and from that hung what appeared to be an assortment of tools. Her pink hair rested in one long, thick braid down her spine, bound at the end by a black ribbon; even contained thus it reached well past her waist. She straightened at the sound of Cyrilla's voice, turning towards them with a curious expression.

"Hello, Cyrilla. Feel free to come in." She didn't quite smile, but there was a relaxing of the little muscles around her eyes which achieved a similar effect somehow. She was quite small, and almost too thin, though the clothes made it difficult to tell. She'd been playing with one of the magikarp in the outdoor pool, it seemed.

Their entrance was greeted by a stoutland, elderly from the amount of grey in his fur, who waddled over and sniffed at their feet. "That's Rufus," Anastasia explained, probably for Nev's benefit since Cyrilla had been here before. She approached, too, holding a hand out to shake. "It's nice to meet you ma'am; I'm Ana. I run the shelter." She paused, expression contorting a little awkwardly. "Which you probably already knew. Sorry." She cleared her throat a little awkwardly.

“Oh, it's quite alright. You don't need to apologize for that. I'm Nevena, but you can call me Nev, if you'd like," she replied, taking Anastasia's hand and shaking it. “And it's nice to meet you, too, Rufus," she stated, kneeling down and sticking her hand out so the stoutland could sniff it. She rubbed his ears once he seemed comfortable enough, and she smiled at him. “He's so adorable," she murmured, causing Cyrilla to huff lightly.

“Of course he is. He's the cutest one here, isn't that right Rufus?" she stated, kneeling down to pet the stoutland as well before she stood back up.

“If you don't mind," Nev began, standing back up and dusting off her pants, “can you tell me a little about this place? I've heard a few things from Eryk and Cyrilla, here, but I thought the best information would come straight from the source." She offered Anastasia a reassuring smile.

“She's probably interested in the pokémon since she's a professor," Cyrilla stated, as if she were trying to give Anastasia the reason why Nev had asked.

Anastasia's eyes widened slightly. "You're a pokémon professor?" she asked, blinking slowly. "That's amazing! Uh, I don't think we'll really have much here that's of interest; it's really just your run-of-the-mill pokémon shelter. We run hospice services out of it too, but most of our patients have been those without humans, so there's not a lot of people around on the average day."

She hummed, like she was trying to decide what to say, and pursed her lips a little awkwardly. "Honestly I'd probably just ramble at you, so uh... are there any questions you have or facilities you want to see?"

Nevena smiled brightly and shook her head. “Oh, by all means, ramble at me!" she stated. She didn't mind if Anastasia rambled, actually. “To be honest, I do it myself. It helps clear the mind of unnecessary thoughts and also organize them, if that makes any sense." Nev chuckled nervously, though, and shifted in her spot.

“But, I suppose, what I'm interested in is how you care for them. It can't be easy, especially when so many of them have particular needs. Oh, and I'd like to see the whole facility, if that's not too much to ask," she added. Cyrilla huffed lightly, and shook her head, but mostly remained quiet. “I'm also interested in helping you out with the monetary situation, if you accept donations. Eryk mentioned that you were having some difficulties, and if there's an official form I have to fill out, I'd be more than happy to contribute."

Anastasia remained in place as Nev spoke, slipping her hands into her overalls and blinking slowly. "Um," she said into the silence that followed. "I guess we can take those things one at a time. Caring for the pokémon isn't too hard; they usually tell me what they need." She paused, eyes rounding slightly in what must have been surprise, and stuttered to correct herself.

"Er, well, I mean not directly most of the time. But I guess after a while you can kind of get a, uhm... sense? Plus of course a lot of the sick ones have symptoms and such—I'm a licensed pokémon nurse so I know what to look for most of the time." She shrugged, clearly not feeling that this was particularly impressive, and turned to lead them back in the yard a bit.

"So that's the outdoor pool. It's just recreation-grade; not a proper tank. That's inside the shelter building proper, but I like having the outdoor one too. It lets them get some sun, and it means people can swim with them without special equipment, and they like to play." She pointed to another small building, behind the house and its attached garden. "That's the toolshed, nothing too interesting in there. Over there's the shelter supply storage; it has a lot of different compartments and climate control settings for food and bedding storage. And then the bigger building's the shelter itself." From the outside it was actually an aesthetically appealing building; simple blue and white stucco with a slate tiled roof hosting several solar panels.

"We try to do as much renewably as we can; someday I'd like to put in a small wind turbine and some rain barrels, but the filtration units are difficult to get, and, well... expensive. So for the moment we make do with older models and supplementing our power with the local grid. It helps power sun lamps and things inside... I've basically got a bunch of different terrain domes set up, and then there's the front area with just plain bedding for the pokémon who need to be isolated for medical reasons or who prefer to see me when I'm working, that kind of thing. The terrain domes are pretty basic right now; I'd like to include more features, but..." She shrugged.

"That's all sort of pipe dream stuff. We're up to certification standards, at least, and nobody seems too uncomfortable."

“You're amazing," Nev spoke without really thinking. Anastasia took care of a lot of things by herself. Even if she had volunteers, from what Cyrilla and Eryk had said, they weren't always around to help. “I know a few people who could help with that, though. The turbine and rain barrels. They'll even give you a discount. If you'd like, I can give one of them a call and see about maybe making that as a donation for you. It wouldn't be any trouble at all, really!"

“I can help with the donation too, if you'd want. I'm sure Eryk would too, as soon as I tell him. He's always been the sort who doesn't know what to do with his spare change. He has jars full, so I'm sure he'd be more than happy to find a place for them," Cyrilla stated, though it almost sounded as if she were joking about the jars part.

“This really is a nice place, though, Anastasia. It's a lot better than some of the other shelters I've seen," Nev spoke sincerely. While other shelters were more state-of-the-art, there was just something homey about Anastasia's place. It seemed more comfortable, and well taken care of. She really did seem to care more for the pokémon than most places claimed they did. Shelters were, regardless of their statements, always after the monetary aspects of it. They stuck pokémon in cages and waited for people to adopt them without so much as considering if they had any special requirements or things like that.

Ana looked a little gobsmacked at this, perhaps understandably. Even a small wind turbine was tens of thousands of pokédollars to get set up—indeed a pipe dream for an outfit as small and rustic as this one. "I—um. I mean that would be very nice, but I'd have to do so much just to get the right licenses and setup for all of it, I don't..." She looked profoundly uncomfortable, a blotchy flush staining her cheeks and her eyes darting just about anywhere but at the two of them.

"I—I really appreciate the generosity everyone has shown me, but honestly... I just run a little shelter in the middle of nowhere. I'm sure there are plenty of people who could use all of that much more effectively than I could." She was practically stammering at that point, hands sinking deeper into her pockets.

“Little or not, this has to be one of the most outstanding shelters I have seen. For it to even operate as a hospice, a place where pokémon can live out the rest of their days comfortably, is incredible. There are a lot of places that wouldn't even do that much, so it'd be worth it, I think." Nevena would have to make a couple of phone calls, of course, but she'd earned enough favor to use it, she supposed.

"I—I'll have to think about it," Anastasia said, shaking her head. "There's a lot of preparations, and... and just things to consider." Her discomfort was still plainly-obvious; from the nervous shuffling of her feet, she'd really rather be talking about anything else.

“Well, if you let us help you out that way, you can think of it as a birthday gift to me," Cyrilla stated, grinning at Anastasia. Nev was vaguely confused. Shouldn't it have been a birthday gift to Anastasia? Was it Anastasia's birthday? It clicked a moment later, though, and Nev felt her eyes widen.

“It's your birthday today?" she asked. “Why didn't you tell anyone!? We could have done something for it!" she continued, causing Cyrilla to shake her head.

“Not a lot of people know when my birthday is except for Ryk, really. I don't usually go about telling people, but I feel like the situation called for it," was Cyrilla's reply. Nev didn't quite understand what she meant by that, but pursed her lips nonetheless.

Anastasia looked confused, too, but seized upon the new topic, perhaps in part to get away from the old one. "Oh—do you have any plans tonight? I could make a cake? I like baking; it's sort of a hobby?" For some reason it came out as a question. "Or maybe we could all do it together? And eat afterwards?"

“Hm, it has been a while since I've attempted baking something. Cook, I can, but bake? I suppose we'll just have to find out! And doing it together sounds more fun that way," Cyrilla spoke, smiling a strange kind of way. Nevena, however, shook her head.

“Oh, I can't cook very well. And I wouldn't want to ruin the cake. I can... help with other things, maybe?" she stated. While she could cook decently enough, it wasn't anything like what Cyrilla could do, or anyone else, really. Nev only learned enough to keep herself from eating takeout too much. Cyrilla chuckled lightly, though, and shook her head.

“How about you measure things out for us?" she asked, quirking a brow at Nev.

“Oh, I can do that!"

Anastasia found a little smile at that, and led the group back towards the house. "Okay; sounds fun. What kind of cake do you like, Cyrilla?"

“Definitely chocolate."

The hose's owner needed a couple minutes to change out of her work garb, and reentered the kitchen in the same shirt, but with a loose black net shirt over it, and black leggings with red and black striped socks. "So I don't write most of my recipes down, but we're definitely going to need all the usual basics: flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and so on. Most of that will be in the pantry, if you'd like to grab them, Miss Nev?" She paused, blanching slightly. "Should I call you doctor?"

“Oh, please call me Nev. Doctor always sounds so strange to me," Nevena replied as she followed behind Anastasia with Cyrilla in tow. This was nice, Nev thought. She was going to help make a cake for someone's birthday. Was this what it was like having friends? If so... well, she felt something tug softly at her heart.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files
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June 17th
Ana's Shelter - Afternoon - Warm
Eryk Nero


Eryk pursed his lips into a fine line as he ran a hand through Rufus' fur. The stoutland had taken a strange liking to Eryk, and he couldn't quite understand why. What about him was so appealing that this stoutland sought his company every time he arrived at Anastasia's? He didn't mind, per se. It was a lot better than being hypnotized by Imp whenever he was out of his pokéball. It was why he never really let Imp out. Unless, of course, if he'd been in the pokéball for too long. He didn't like keeping his pokémon cooped up in their balls for long if he could help it.

He wondered, sometimes, if they felt cramped, or uncomfortable in there? He pushed the thought from his mind, though, and stood. He was supposed to be here helping Anastasia fix one of her doors. Apparently it had become unhinged after a rather rough hit from an unhappy pokémon, but he supposed he could fix it well enough. He wasn't exactly a skilled repair man, but he could make due with some things, he supposed. That was what he did best; learned things so that he could apply them to potential missions in the future.

Knowing how to fix something was beneficial in some cases, but he couldn't say for certain that it'd be something permanent. She might have to get a professional out here, if that were the case. He'd make the call if he had to, really. Pushing the thought aside, he approached Anastasia's door, and knocked on it, carefully. She might be around back with the others, but he figured he might as well knock, first.

The door opened a few moments later, but it wasn't Anastasia who was on the other side of it. Rather, it was a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, dressed casually in a loose t-shirt and jeans, barefoot on the wood of the entry. Like a lot of the young men on the island, he wore his dark blue hair slightly longer than was common other places, in this case pulled into a tail at the nape of his neck. He frowned slightly at Eryk.

“...can I help you with something? Shelter's closed for the afternoon." His tone was flat; he arched an eyebrow as he looked Eryk up and down, more assessing than anything.

Eryk regarded the man with a flat stare. He didn't know who this man was, but he rightly didn't care. “I'm here because Anastasia needed help with an unhinged door. I'm here to help her with it. I regularly spend my time here, volunteering so I am aware of the shelter's hours," he responded in a flat tone, as well. He didn't particularly care that the man was assessing him. Eryk was under worse scrutiny than whatever this man was trying to provide.

“If you do not mind, can you tell Anastasia that I'm here. She knows who I am," he added, nodding his head in the direction behind the man.

If anything, the eyebrow arched more sharply at that, before the man's eyes narrowed precipitously. He grunted something like an assent, and called back into the house without taking his eyes off Eryk. “Ana, there's a guy here. One of your new volunteers." Though his voice remained the same, his expression twisted just slightly on the phrase 'new volunteers.'

There was an indistinct response from inside, which probably meant she was on her way. The man did not step out of the doorway, however, nor did he invite Eryk inside. Instead, he tilted his head a little. “If you're just here to volunteer, that's fine," he said simply, “but don't think everyone's as oblivious as Ana. Buncha Rockets on her doorstep? Looks shady to some people. Don't go getting her involved in any of that shit."

Eryk narrowed his eyes at the man. “That may be, but you underestimate her. She's not as oblivious as you may think she is. Shady or not, that's all I'm here to do. Volunteer," he merely replied. He didn't like this man. He wasn't quite sure why, though. Who Anastasia had as friends or company, or lovers, was none of his business. If this man was any of those, then Eryk would just have to take precautions to avoid him. He didn't need this man interfering with the mission at hand.

He'd have to let the others know, too, that they would need to be careful when interacting with Anastasia with this man around. Anastasia didn't know they were with Team Rocket, but it wasn't a far off assumption to make. He had told her that he worked at the old mansion, and everyone on the island knew that it was occupied by Team Rocket, alone.

The man's answering snort was interrupted by the subject of discussion.

"Carter?" she inquired, causing the other man to shift slightly aside. Anastasia peered out from behind him, offering Eryk a small smile. "Oh, hello, Eryk! You're here about the door, right? It's, um, been fixed already, actually—I tried to call you but no one picked up? I think I might have been a bit late and you'd already left the office; I'm very sorry."

The half-smirk on Carter's face was indication enough how that had come about.

"Oh, speaking of which, have you two met? Eryk, this is Carter. Carter, I was just telling you about Eryk."

“So you were," Carter said, still half-smiling. He held a hand out towards Eryk, something almost challenging in his expression. “Carter Hayes. A pleasure, I'm sure." The biting edge of sarcasm was obvious in his tone of voice.

Eryk shook the man's hand with a firm grip. If this piece of trash was trying to intimidate him, it wasn't going to work. Eryk had enough intimidation to last a lifetime that was far worse than anyone could imagine. That's just how it was in his family. He knew for a fact that it was the same for Cyrilla, but he pushed those thoughts out of his mind, for now. Instead, he glanced in Anastasia's direction, and shook his head.

“It's alright, Anastasia. If the door is fixed, then perhaps you won't need my services this afternoon. If that's the case," he glanced towards Carter, before turning his attention back to Anastasia. “I should probably leave the two of you alone," he, afterall, didn't want to interrupt their evening if that was the case.

"Um." Anastasia looked vaguely confused; she was starting to wring her hands for some reason. "Don't let me keep you or anything, but you're welcome to stay."

Carter seemed to be fighting not to roll his eyes, but after a tense moment, he sighed. “I've got to get back to the station, I suppose. You sure you don't need anything else, Ana?" He donned his shoes and reached over to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear; Anastasia seemed to exert effort to keep herself still, a flash of discomfort passing over her expression before it smoothed out.

"I'm all right," she said with a nod. "I was just going to let everyone out to play this afternoon."

Carter hummed slightly, then returned the nod. “All right. Call me if you need anything."

She made a soft sound that he must have taken for agreement, because with one final venomous glare at Eryk, he took his leave.

It wasn't until after the gate closed behind him that Anastasia chanced a glance at Eryk. "Um. He didn't give you any trouble, did he?"

Eryk didn't bother to hide the fact that he rolled his eyes. Either Carter and Anastasia were a couple, or Carter was trying to make something out of nothing. Either way, it didn't concern Eryk, personally. It concerned the mission. He shook his head, though, at Anastasia's question.

“It'll take a lot more than that to cause me any trouble," he answered truthfully. “It appears that he cares for you a great deal, though. I wasn't aware you were with anyone," he stated in a nonchalant manner. Not that it was any of his business, really. “But if it wouldn't be too intrusive, I suppose I can stay a little longer."

It wasn't like he was in a hurry to go back home, after all.

"W—" Anastasia looked a little stunned, and it didn't take long at all for a rush of color to flood her cheeks. "Oh, um," She cleared her throat, swallowed, and then cleared it again, shaking her head. "It's not really—let's go play with the pokémon!" Abruptly stepping over her own threshold, she tugged the door closed behind her and moved past him, neatly ducking to the side to avoid contact and hurrying down the stairs from her small porch to walk around the side of the yard.

Rufus was still there, of course, and wandered obligingly behind them. Ana tugged a couple of pokéballs from the belt she wore loose at her waist and gave them a toss, Luna the espeon and Nova the umbreon appearing a moment later.

It was a matter of about ten minutes to get all the pokémon moved to enjoy the outside part of the facility. When they'd managed it between them, Anastasia toed off her boots and rolled her leggings up to her knees, sitting on the pool's edge and dipping her feet into the water. Still a little bit pink in the face, she patted the spot next to her in clear invitation.

"Sorry," she said quietly a moment later. "I'm not very good at talking about things."

Eryk took the seat next to her, opting to fold his legs in a criss crossed style rather than dip them into the pool. He shrugged at her statement, though. “It's fine," he replied, using a bit of a more neutral tone.

“I'm certain I come off the same way," he added. He wasn't that good with talking about things in general. “You don't have to say anything if you don't want to, Anastasia. If you'd rather sit here in quiet, that's fine, too." He wasn't going to say otherwise. It wasn't like he had interesting things to say, after all. He could talk about work, but even then he wouldn't be able to say much on that.

"Thanks, Eryk," she replied in a quiet voice. Reaching up to toy with one of the low plaits she was wearing her hair in today, she huffed softly when one of the pokémon, this one a feebas with a prosthetic fin, came by to nibble at her toes. Her face scrunched, as if there was something unpleasant about it, but the tiny bit of laughter that escaped her suggested otherwise.

Rufus waddled over in his usual wheezing sort of way, plopping down between them and leaning his head on Eryk's leg. Anastasia patted his back, eyes narrowing a little at the corners. "Can I ask you a question?" she asked after a while. It barely broke the quiet at all, even then.

He rubbed behind Rufus's ear and nodded his head. “I don't see why not," he stated, turning his full attention to her. Cyrilla had always said that it was best to give someone their full attention if they were being asked something. He supposed it had something to do with it being obvious that they were either listening, or serious about something. He didn't really know.

"Are you really a clerk for NTR?" She tilted her head to the side, meeting his eyes with a slightly-furrowed brow. There was no accusation in her voice, only curiosity.

Belatedly, she seemed to realize something, because she started to backtrack almost immediately. "Um, not that I'm calling you a liar or anything! You just... uh. How do I put this? Well, maybe this is just my bias talking, but you and the others don't really seem like... office people? Especially not you. Maybe what I'm really asking is how you ended up there."

He considered her question carefully. He supposed the way he and the others presented themselves didn't quite read clerk, but he figured that was the closest to what they really were. “In some ways, yes. I am a clerk for NTR. And how I ended up there," he paused for a moment, his brows furrowing slightly. Pushing a deep sigh through his nose, he pursed his lips together.

“It's part of my family, you could say. Everyone has always had a position within an NTR building, and I suppose it fell to me to continue the legacy," he answered truthfully. Though it wasn't the entire truth, it was enough that he wouldn't have to explain further. At least he didn't think he would have to.

She nodded like she understood, a wry sort of expression crossing her face for a moment. "I can understand that part," she admitted. "Maybe the hair gives it away, but I'm a Joy. It sort of felt inevitable sometimes, that I'd end up doing something like this, or running a pokémon center in a little town somewhere."

Anastasia paused, and then cautiously continued. "Is it something you wanted for yourself, too? Your job?"

He blinked mildly in her direction. No one had ever bothered to ask him that before, so he wasn't entirely sure how to answer it. The obvious answer was no, this was not a job he chose for himself, but he couldn't exactly say that. So, he shrugged instead.

“Couldn't say, for sure. In a family business, you're expected to continue on, and whether or not it was something you wanted was irrelevant. My family is different than yours, though. From my understanding, the Joy family doesn't require its members to always pursue medicine," he stated. “And what about you? Was there something else you wanted to do besides... this?" he gestured around them in a vague motion.

"I... never gave my future much thought, to be honest," she replied, glancing around at their surroundings as though studying them. It didn't last long, though, before her eyes came to rest back on him. "For what it's worth, though... you can be whoever you want here. Our families are probably really different, and I don't want to sound presumptuous since I hardly know you, but—well. I'm not expecting you to be anyone in particular, and the pokémon don't either. So if you ever want to just come by to spend time with us, you don't always have to do work, okay?"

He blinked, his brows furrowing slightly in her direction. He didn't have always do work? He could be whoever he wanted here? These were... strange, to Eryk. It was a strange kindness that made him feel tense, now. It was... oddly nice, though. To be offered that. He nodded his head and turned his attention back towards the pool.

“That is... thank you," he spoke, because he didn't know what else to say.

"You're welcome," Anastasia said, swishing her feet in the water a bit. She lapsed back into silence after that, though, clearly taking him at his word that there was no need to force conversation for his sake. Rufus snuggled a little further into his leg, and a light breeze gusted through the yard, relieving the early summer heat a bit.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
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June 29th
Field Office 9 - Afternoon - Warm
Eryk Nero


Eryk glanced at the others around him. Cyrilla was fidgeting somewhat next to him, a frown marring her lips as she stared out ahead. They were going to be doing a raid at a local breeding facility. Word had reached NTR that the facility wasn't up to date on their papers, and there were some concerns there, as well. Conditions were not good for the pokémon, and supposedly they were being crammed into small cages and areas. One report said they'd witnessed one of the workers beating on some of the young pokémon. That had been enough to get under Eryk's skin in a way he didn't quite like. He knew it bothered the others, too, in some capacity, but something about it struck him in a different way.

He couldn't explain it.

“Do you have everything you need, Cyrilla?" he asked, trying to get her focused on something else, for the moment. She glanced up at him, and pursed her lips together before nodding her head. He returned the gesture, and motioned for her to lead the way to the conference room. They were being summoned to go over what they were going to do. Apparently Aidan had the information from the boss, and it would be Eryk, Cyrilla, Kasimir, and a handful of the grunts who were going to the facility.

“Do you think it'll be bad?" she finally spoke, keeping her gaze outwards as they headed for the conference room.

“Conditions have to be bad enough if they're asking us to interfere directly," he answered. Cyrilla winced slightly as they approached the door. Before they walked in, Eryk placed a hand on Cyrilla's shoulder, and regarded her through narrowed eyes. “Will you be fine?" he asked. She took in a breath and nodded her head.

“Good. Let's go in," he stated, opening the door to let her in.

Aidan and Kasimir were already inside, the latter's laptop open and connected to the conference room's projection screen. They were discussing something, it seemed; Aidan's expression was sharper than Eryk had ever seen it, and though he usually didn't smoke indoors unless he was standing next to an open window, there was one in his mouth now. He looked tense, though the reason for it was unclear.

At the sound of the door opening, his eyes flicked quickly to them and he sighed, expelling a cloud of smoke and gesturing them in. "Address is 416 Marigold Street," he said curtly, apparently all business. "This isn't a check-in visit, it's a raid, so get in and out quickly or someone's bound to call the local pigs and cause you problems." He tossed two dossiers onto the table before Eryk and Cyrilla had even had a chance to sit down.

"Looks like a facility specializing in fighting and poison types, so don't be surprised if some of them have behavioral issues. I want every last one of them cleared out and at intake two hours from now. I don't care if they look fine. If any of them need emergency medical care, get them to the nearest certified professional. You know how this works. Don't fuck it up or we'll be dealing with cops and paperwork for three years."

Kas wore a serious expression befitting the circumstances, but didn't seem to be as agitated as Aidan, picking up the explanation smoothly even as the projected image changed. "This is the blueprint of the facility on file with the city," he said, gesturing at the map. It appeared to show a large single building with only one floor, and then a big yard. "Of course, as sometimes happens with these things, be on the lookout for, uh, unregistered rooms and compartments. Basements, that kind of thing. I'll be coordinating things for all of you from one of the vans. We're bringing two, just to be safe. The facility has a registered total of ten breeding pokémon, but we're expecting more than that, to account for young ones, and, well... the fact that these sorts of places aren't always keen to do the additional certs they'd need to keep more than ten, so. Make of that what you will."

He paused, then shrugged. "Any questions?"

Eryk only shook his head. He didn't need to ask anything; he'd been given the information they'd need for this raid, and that was all that was needed. Getting in and out wouldn't be a problem, especially for him and Cyrilla. They were trained for these kinds of things, however; it was going to be a bit difficult getting the pokémon out without some issues. If Aidan was right, and some of them had behavioral issues, that meant that noise was bound to be made one way or another. He could try to keep some of them calm with his telepathy, but even that had its own weaknesses.

Tapping with a pokémon was different than with a person. He'd learned that the hard way. “It'll get done," he finally spoke, his brows furrowing slightly. Cyrilla nodded her head as well, agreeing, it seemed. It was going to be a bit more difficult since it was still bright outside, but he and Cyrilla could accommodate for that. They weren't exactly stealing something, after all. They were simply removing pokémon from a facility that was no longer up to standards.

“The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can see what conditions the pokémon are in," he spoke simply. He wanted to get this done as quickly as possible. Mostly so that the pokémon in the facility were able to get the treatment they needed, even if some of them might be healthy as Aidan speculates them to be.

"Good." Aidan expelled another breath, hard and sharp, and nodded. "Then I'll leave you to it."

Taking that for a signal, Kasimir closed the lid of his laptop and unhooked it from the wall, wrapping the cords up quickly and tucking it under his arm. "To the vans, then." He tossed Eryk a key ring with a single key on it, then led the way down to the mansion's large garage, where several nondescript vehicles of various sorts were parked. There was even a motorcycle, though from the quality of it probably belonged to one of the individuals working here rather than the organization, which tended towards less-flashy vehicles.

The vans were a basic grey, with tinted windows and sliding side doors. Kas opened one of these and hopped up inside, apparently getting himself set up at a small workstation inside. "Pokémon-handling equipment's in the other van, but if you need to stack cages in here, I don't mind company. Address is in your Pokégear's GPS already."

“Thanks, Kas," Cyrilla stated as she climbed into the other van. Eryk didn't know why she was thanking him, though. Maybe for the address being set up in the GPS? He pushed the thought aside, though, and nodded in Kasimir's direction.

“If we need more room for cages, we'll load them up inside with you," Eryk stated before glancing in the direction of the van he was going to drive. “Let's get going, then," he stated, nodding once in Kasimir's direction before climbing into the other van. He supposed one of the other grunts was going to drive the van Kas was in.

It was another twenty minutes before they arrived at the facility. From the outside, he could see two people standing near a cluster of rose bushes. They seemed to be talking about something, but Eryk didn't know what. One of them was smoking a cigarette; it seemed they were on a smoke break of some sorts. Judging by the length of the cigarette, they had at least ten to twenty minutes to get in without being noticed. Of course, that also meant there was a possibility that there were more workers inside. He pulled the van around the back, stopping at least a block away before parking.

He placed an ear piece into his ear and tested it before calling Kasimir. “Kas, what's the best point of entry from this way?" he asked. If they could sneak around the back and secure a route, they'd be able to get this done quickly.

"Well since there are people outside, I'm thinking you'll want to hang a left from here and hop the fence into the yard," Kasimir replied, his voice clear and calm over the connection. "They've got a few security cameras going, but I'll have you erased from those in no time, so don't worry about it. There might be a few pokémon in the yard you'll want to scoop up first; I'll send some of the grunts over with the cages. Back door looks pretty standard—might be locked but I'm sure you're handy with a pick, right?" That kind of thing was pretty standard field training for NTR.

“Alright," he spoke before glancing towards Cyrilla. “You take care of the ones in the yard. I'm going straight to the doors. Join me once you're done," he spoke. She nodded her head, pulling her hair back into a quick bun and pulled on her gloves. He had his own set of gloves, mostly as a precaution of leaving evidence behind. Once they were prepared, he opened the door to the van and stepped out, glancing around momentarily to ensure there was no one around before hoping the fence. Cyrilla followed behind him, and immediately, they were both moving quickly.

Just as Kas said, there were a couple of pokemon in the yard: a stunky and an ekans. Even from this distance, he could see that the stunky was malnourished. Its fur looked slightly matted, and the cream colored parts of it were dark. Eryk didn't need to know why it was like that. It was curled up near a bowl of what looked to be water, however; there was algae inside of it, and didn't even look remotely drinkable. The ekans was curled on a rock, but it too looked malnourished. Some of its scales looked like they were falling off, and it had a rather large scar on its head.

“Cyrilla," he spoke low enough that she could hear him, and immediately nodded her head. He continued his way towards the back door, though, knowing that she would take care of the two poison-types.

“There's a riolu, too, Ryk. He's hiding in the bushes," Cyrilla spoke over the ear piece. Eryk pursed his lips together and furrowed his brows.

“Get it out with the others, and be gentle. They're stronger than they look, Cy," he replied. She made a vague noise over the earpiece, perhaps an agreement before it was silent again. He pulled a lockpick set from his back pocket once he reached the back door, and went to work at the lock. When it opened, he carefully set the pick back, and opened the door cautiously, checking to see if there was anyone around. Satisfied that there was no one at the moment, he entered, leaving the door slightly ajar so that the others could enter as well when they were done outside.

“Kas, what's the first room?" he asked. He didn't want to accidentally walk into a break room, after all.

"Second door on your left is marked as a holding room," Kasimir replied, still even and calm. "You'll want to sweep it for anything not on the map, too, but the pokémon you can see are the first priority here. Your two guys outside are still there. Smoker's lit another, so you should be all right for a bit."

Eryk pushed a sigh through his nose. He took the second door to his left, opening it cautiously as well. There was a bit of a smell in this room, and when he fully entered, he could see why. There were carcasses of dead pokemon on tables, most of them almost skeletal in appearance with fur. There was a skuntank that looked like it had its fur pulled out, and another that looked like it had eaten most of its paw off, probably because its paw had been infected. There was a cut on it that didn't seem healed right. Eryk felt his lips pull back, but a noise caught his attention.

There was a stunky underneath a pile of dirty rags, and even from this distance, Eryk could hear its breathing was raspy. It looked like it was on death's door. Part of its ear looked like it had been cut off, probably from a failed attempt at tagging it properly. He moved over towards it, removing the rags that kept it buried, and ran a hand through its fur. It made a vague wheezing sound as it leaned into his hand. Carefully, he lifted it from the pile and tucked it into his arms. It seemed to curl up, it's breathing becoming more rapid as he tried to calm the stunky.

“Cyrilla, where are you? I need you to get this one out, ASAP," he spoke hurriedly. The stunky wasn't going to have much of a chance if they didn't get it the help it needed, soon. It was barely hanging on through sheer will, and it was young at that. How it ended up in the Holding Room was beyond Eryk. Perhaps the skuntank on the table had been its parent?

“On my way, Ryk," she replied. It wasn't a moment later that she'd entered the room, her eyes wide before they settled on Ryk. Slowly and carefully, he handed her the stunky that seemed almost reluctant to leave him. When the stunky was secured, Cyrilla left, and Eryk did one more sweep around the room just in case. When he was finished, he moved on to the next.

It took a total of thirty minutes to get a full layout of the building. In total, Eryk had only come across three other workers. Five people to work the facility didn't seem quite as well-staffed as it should have been. It might have been that there were more during the evening shift, but Eryk didn't want to take any chances.

“Kas, where's the room they keep the newly hatched?" he asked. It was the only room he hadn't found, yet.

"You mean that last one wasn't it?" Kasimir sounded incredulous. "Uh... hang on." Eryk could hear the sound of rapid typing, and a soft hum that had to be the sound of Kas thinking about something. "So you've been to all the rooms in the facility marked as containing pokémon, but there's an office here in a weird place. Back up three doors, open the one on your right, go down the hall and open the door on the end. And you'll want to be quick about it—the workers are headed back in."

A pause and then, just as levelly: "Hey Cy, can I get you to run around the front and distract the workers for a couple minutes here? Ryk's got one more room to check and there's still grunts coming back with cages."

“Easily done," Cyrilla replied before it was silent again. Eryk moved towards the door Kas had directed him to, and opened it. It was mostly empty inside, however; there were a few over turned cages. He could hear heavy breathing coming from somewhere, though, and immediately, Eryk felt something collide with the back of his legs. It was hard and heavy enough that it sent Eryk to the ground. Quickly, he rolled to his side to avoid a small fist from colliding with his head. He grabbed the wrist, surprised that it was fur-covered, and immediately released it.

When he managed to get to his feet, there was a wild-eyed mankey staring at him. It was breathing heavily and looking frantically around. It jumped around the room, knocking things over in the process. It was creating too much noise, and Eryk needed it to stop. He did the only thing he could think of; he tried to connect to it telepathically, however; he was met with a strong resistance. It was painful, and it caused Eryk to wince slightly. Relaxing his posture as much as he could, Eryk tried to make himself look less-threatening. He could see mankey grabbing things and flinging them in his direction, however; he merely stayed still.

“It's alright," he finally spoke, keeping his voice as level as he could. I'm not going to hurt you, he continued, trying again to connect with it. It allowed the connection briefly, and for a moment, it paused in its tantrum. Its eyes narrowed once more, though, and immediately, it charged him again. Eryk knew it was trying to intimidate him, but he couldn't let it.

He had to remain calm.

After several minutes of trying to calm the mankey down, it finally made its way cautiously towards Eryk. He could see clearly now that it had a broken tail. Probably when one of the workers tried to get control of it. One of its wrists even looked broken. Eryk furrowed his brows as he kneeled down so that he was at an even level with the mankey. He held his hand out gently, trying his best to earn its trust. Mankey took his hand, and sniffed it, holding on with a vice-like grip. It pulled itself closer to him, climbing onto his back before Eryk was finally able to hold it. One of its arms reached over Eryk's shoulder as he brought another hand to its back, securing it.

Once he was holding it properly, he left the room, and exited the building as quickly as he could. He made it to the van where Kas was, and pursed his lips together. There were a couple of cages in the van with him. Eryk didn't think there would be this many at the facility, however; he shook his head. “Kas, where's the closest facility we can go to? A couple of these need to be checked out immediately."

Kasimir clicked his tongue against his teeth, gesturing for Eryk to hop up into the van with the mankey. "Get in. I'll drive. The closest place is Ana's. That gonna work or should I try for the center instead?" It was clear he was asking the question of Eryk as the head of their team, and the one who had to decide how much Ana was allowed to know. It would be pretty obvious they were NTR if they showed up like this, and Kas didn't know Ana had in fact guessed as much already.

He still gave it some thought. “We'll take them to Anastasia's," he finally answered. If they took the pokemon to the center, it was likely they'd have some explaining to do. That would likely get them involved with the police, and that was the one thing they were trying not to do. At least with Anastasia, they could explain the situation. She might even be a little more sympathetic to the cause, considering her own shelter functioned as a hospice.

Kas nodded, putting the van into gear and pulling out into the street. He took a slightly circuitous route first, so that they would not pass the breeding facility a second time, but as soon as he could get them there, they were pulling to a stop in front of Anastasia's shelter. It was regular business hours for her, so the gate was open, several of the pokémon out and about.

Killing the engine and jumping out of the van, Kas pulled the sliding door open for Eryk, then moved to the other vehicle to do the same, just as Anastasia emerged from behind the house, brows furrowed. It wouldn't be surprising if she'd heard screeching brakes outside her property, actually.

Her expression morphed into one of alarm, though, as soon as she laid eyes on Eryk, or rather the mankey. "This way," she said immediately, her tone brisk. "My medical supplies are in the main shelter building. What can you tell me?"

“Newly hatched, broken tail and wrist," he answered. It was direct and to the point. He knew age had a lot to do with how a pokemon was cared for, and that there were certain medicines and antibiotics it couldn't be given quite yet. “There should be a stunky on the way as well, same age," he added so that she could be prepared for that one, too, when it arrived. “It's having difficulty breathing."

Mankey's grip on Eryk tightened, though, as if it knew it was going somewhere it did not want to go. He ran a hand through mankey's fur, though, trying to keep it calm. I'm not leaving, he spoke to it. It seemed to relax a bit, but it did not move its face away from where it was buried. He was going to have to set the mankey down, eventually, though, so Anastasia could check it over. When they reached the main shelter building, Eryk glanced towards Anastasia.

“Where should I set him down?"

"Right over here," Ana said, gesturing to a clean examination table. She crossed quickly to the other side of it, donning an apron and scrubbing her arms and hands clean in the sink before snapping on a pair of gloves. The box label said 'hypo-allergenic'; it seemed she wasn't taking any chances.

When she approached mankey, though, she was very careful, her motions steady and calm. She met its eyes carefully and smiled. "Hello, little guy," she said gently, carefully extending one arm towards the mankey with a soft smile. "I'm Ana. I know it's hard to believe, but I promise you're safe here, okay? We're going to take a look at where it hurts so we can get started on making it better, all right?"

She seemed to be waiting for something, head tilted, hand still hovering a respectful distance from mankey.

Mankey turned to regard her for a moment before turning its eyes up at Eryk. He nodded to reassure the mankey that it would be fine. Slowly, it reached out its hand towards her, taking her own before it slid down Eryk's arms. It hopped slightly towards Anastasia and regarded her a moment. Mankey made a soft grunting noise before it seemed satisfied to let her do whatever was necessary to make it better, as she'd said. Eryk pursed his lips together, though. None of the pokémon should have been in that condition, however; he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Kas and I need to head back to the office, but I'm entrusting mankey to you, Anastasia. Cyrilla will be by in a moment with the stunky and another pokémon that will require assistance. Is that alright?" he asked. He didn't want to overburden her, after all. That, and he needed to report back to Aidan that the raid was successful.

Anastasia nodded slightly, already beginning her examination of mankey. "I understand," she said. "I'll do everything I can for them, I promise." She asked no questions, at least not at the moment.

Perhaps that was for the best.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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July 7th
Ana's Shelter - Afternoon - Warm
Cyrilla Niav


Cyrilla sighed softly, spearing a hand through her hair as she tried to work out some of the tangles. She forgot to brush her hair when she left the apartment, mostly because she hadn't quite woken up, yet. She'd slept in today since it was one of their days off, and she'd been out the night before. Of course she'd left empty-handed, it happened sometimes, but it wasn't exactly a problem. The problem was that she'd left the house in a mess, and was trying to correct it. Mostly satisfied that the tangles were taken care of, she pulled her hair into a tail, and set off to Ana's place.

She was mostly visiting. Anastasia was an interesting person to be around, and Cyrilla would be lying if she said she didn't enjoy spending time with her. It was almost like being in a different place, a different world. Carefree and without worry. It was... freeing in a sense. Cyrilla wasn't entirely sure when the last time she'd actually felt like that was. She didn't think there really was a time, though. Not with her and Ryk's family. Pushing a sigh through her nose, she glanced down at Noctis who was trailing beside her. He glanced up at her, though, and tilted his head, almost as if he were asking a silent question. She huffed lightly and scratched behind one of his ears.

He shook his head and made a face at her, causing her to chuckle lightly. “Oh, come on, Noct, you love ear scratches. It's because you wanted one of those cookies and I wouldn't let you have it, right?" she asked, watching as he made another face and turned it away from her. She was right, she knew she was. She huffed lightly and shook her head. “Fine, I'll give you one when we get back, but you have to be good while we're at Ana's, alright?" she stated, watching as a small fox-like grin appeared on his face.

It wasn't much longer before she'd reached Ana's shelter; she didn't live too far from the Cloyster, but it was still a bit of a walk. She approached the gate, stopping only to ensure that Rufus wasn't around or any of the other pokemon before she let herself in. Cyrilla had texted Ana earlier to let her know that she was on her way over. She didn't want to spring a surprise visit on the young woman, after all.

“Hey Ana, are you outside?" she called out. Ana had said she would be, but not where, exactly.

"Around the back, Cyrilla," Anastasia's voice seemed disembodied, because she still couldn't see her, but rounding the corner to the back of the house revealed that the other woman was apparently setting out a tea service with snacks, at a small wicker table on the broad brick terrace that abutted her garden. There were explosions of riotous color in bloom this time of year, tropical flowers and berries of all kinds cultivated in artful-looking displays that must've taken a lot of work to maintain.

Once she'd come into sight, Anastasia lifted her head from where she was meticulously arranging stirring spoons. Luna was draped on a short retaining wall nearby the table; she flicked her forked tail languidly at Cyrilla's approach, but made no move to leave her spot. Nova, on the other hand, was draped over Anastasia's shoulders as she worked, large red eyes flicking momentarily between Cyrilla and Noctis before they fell away. Sometimes it seemed as though Anastasia's pokémon were more suspicious of things than the woman herself, and they hadn't quite warmed to anyone in the group, yet.

"Good afternoon," Anastasia said, smiling slightly. "I hope you don't mind tea. I've cookies and pokémon snacks here. I tried a new recipe for chocolate orange, and another for coconut macadamia. Er—cookies, not pokémon snacks, sorry." She flushed a little, patting down the apron over her overalls awkwardly.

It was enough to make Cyrilla grin lightly. Anastasia was adorable when she was awkard. Something about the blush on her face complimented the color of her eyes. Red did seem to be a good color on her, and there were other things that were red. A certain person's eyes. She pushed the thought away for the moment, and inclined her head in greeting towards Nova and Luna. Even if they hadn't quite warmed up to her, Cyrilla wasn't going to be rude to them. The eevee line was known to be rather intelligent, especially the espeon, umbreon, and sylveon of that line.

“It's fine, Ana," Cyrilla replied, waving a dismissive hand in front of her face. “And I'm sure your pokémon snacks are just as delicious as your cookies. Almost tempted to try one myself," she stated, allowing the grin on her face to smooth out a bit. Noctis glanced towards Ana, though, tilted his head, and made his way towards the table, sniffing at the pokémon snacks. He made no move to eat them, though, and turned his attention back towards Ana and Cyrilla. She huffed lightly.

“I think he wants to know if it's okay for him to have one, now. I denied him one earlier," she stated, shaking her head lightly. She hadn't done it on purpose, really. He had to eat his breakfast first, but he had wanted the cookie first. They ended up leaving the apartment before she could give him one, though.

"Of course he can," Anastasia said warmly, before turning to the zoroark himself. "Feel free, Noctis. There's plenty more back in the kitchen."

“How are things going with stunky and mankey?" she asked, making her way to sit in one of the chairs at the table. Eryk had seemed really attached to both of them, and Cyrilla wondered if he was going to adopt one of them. Or both, knowing how he was. It didn't matter what kind it was, Eryk had a tendency to adopt stray pokémon. The last two members of his pokémon team had been strays at one point, if Cyrilla remembered correctly.

Anastasia removed her apron carefully, folding it into a neat square and placing it on the chair perpendicular to Cyrilla before taking the one directly across. Carefully, she poured tea for them from a rather delicate teapot, probably Galarian from the design, and handed Cyrilla's cup and saucer across to her with both hands before doing her own. She added a bit each of milk and honey, then proceeded to answer the question while she stirred.

"I'm afraid stunky's lung problems are congenital," she said quietly, looking down into her tea before glancing back up at Cyrilla. "Er—genetic, that is. Resulting from a defect introduced by... well, it's hard to say for sure, but in a facility like the one they came from, inbreeding is most likely. She'll have trouble breathing all her life, but it should be manageable with medication. Technically, this classifies her for hospice care, as the condition will most likely end her life early, but with proper treatment she may have up to a decade ahead of her still." Her lips pursed, brows furrowing as if the words were somehow painful to say, but she made no great production about delivering them.

"Mankey, I'm more hopeful about. He's very young, and needs proper rearing and socialization, both of which he's very behind on, and he's a little malnourished, but I think with a little work he should be perfectly fine, and adoptable. The screens I did of his genetics came back without any defects, so for the moment all he has to do is recover from his injuries and he should be mostly fine." She pursed her lips, shaking her head faintly. "I think maybe some of the trauma will always be with him, but I think he has a tremendous will to live, and so he should recover from it as well as anyone can."

Things like that always broke Cyrilla's heart a bit more, or at least what was left of it, she felt. Stunky's case was just... it was sad. She should have had a full life behind her, and even with a decade it was still so short. Cyrilla was half tempted to adopt stunky, herself, but knew she shouldn't. She wouldn't be able to care for stunky in the way she would need it, and Cyrilla didn't want that for any pokémon, really. Instead, she sighed softly and shook her head.

“Mankey sounds a lot like someone I know," she huffed lightly. In more than one way, actually. Something about mankey's condition mirrored Eryk's, but that was a thought she didn't want to dwell on. “It's good, though, that he'll be mostly fine and adoptable in time," she stated, taking a drink of her tea and letting out a satisfied sigh. “And your tea is always so good," she muttered, setting the cup back down.

“So, Ana, tell me about why you have such a large space, but you're the only one who lives here. It looks like you could have a couple of live-in volunteers, or maybe even a helper," she stated, gesturing to the shelter in a vague way. It was large enough, from the looks of it, to house at least two or even three people.

Anastasia, who'd smiled when Cyrilla complimented the tea and hid her face partly behind her own cup, hummed vaguely into the rim of it at the question. Finishing her sip, she set the cup back down on the saucer with a soft clink. "Well, I can't really afford to pay anyone to help me," she admitted quietly, "but I have considered renting out a room. There are three bedrooms in the house, but only two bathrooms, and one of them's connected to mine. I wouldn't want to make anyone share or anything."

She cast her eyes down a moment later, and shook her head a bit. "All my volunteers have, well, lives. Outside of this. And honestly I don't know that anyone would really want to live with me either. I'm not really very interesting or exciting, and there are plenty of nicer places for rent on the island. That and Carter's really not too fond of the idea—he says letting a stranger into my home would be unwise, and I suppose I don't think he's entirely mistaken." She frowned a little, though.

“Carter, Carter," Cyrilla repeated the name, trying to remember where she'd heard it from. “Oh, you mean Carter, the police officer," she stated when it finally clicked. She wanted to roll her eyes, but he did have a bit of a point. Letting a stranger into a home wasn't quite the same as letting a friend or a family member into the same place. It was all levels of uncomfortable, however; it was also Ana's decision what she wanted to do.

“What is he, your boyfriend?" Cyrilla stated in a nonchalant fashion. Carter was a good-looking guy, but even Cyrilla knew that he was all kinds of knots that couldn't be worked out. “I can see where he's coming from, though. Letting a stranger into your home is kind of ill-advised, but what about a friend? It sounds to me like you'd be the perfect roommate for someone, Ana. You're not very interesting or exciting, you say, but I beg to differ. I find you to be a very interesting person, myself, and I'm sure the others do, too. You've already accomplished a lot of things for someone your age. You have your own shelter, your own place. Not many people can say the same."

Cyrilla certainly couldn't. She was always on the go. She couldn't afford to settle down, or even think about buying a place. It just wasn't something she could do, nor Eryk.

It was hard to tell what part of that caused Anastasia to make a small, embarrassed noise and slide down in her chair, pouting a little without seeming to be conscious that this was the expression on her face. Perhaps it was all the parts of it.

"I don't really have any," she said looking down at her hands in her lap. "Friends, that is. Well, I suppose Drake might be my friend, but he doesn't need my spare rooms. And Carter is..." She made a face, a little bit of a grimace and a little bit confusion. "Well, he checks up on me a lot. Auntie Lydia asked him to, since she's friends with his mother. He's... n-not my boyfriend. He's just nice to me because he was asked to look after me."

“Someone who checks up on you that often, and tries to look out for you like that isn't just nice, Ana. Trust me," Cyrilla stated, chuckling a bit at Ana's reaction. The young woman was adorable, even if she didn't quite know it. “Someone who checks up on you every once in a while is nice. Someone who does it more than three times a week is doing it because they want something from you, or they want you," she stated, arching a brow in Ana's direction. She was so innocent, and Cyrilla had to quash the ugly feeling that crawled into her chest at the thought that threatened to cross.

“So, if, hypothetically, I needed a room, or even Kas or Ryk, would you rent us one?" she asked, tilting her head to the side as she regarded Ana.

Ana looked momentarily confounded by something, and then almost a little suspicious, but it faded as soon as Cyrilla posed her the hypothetical. "But aren't you all living in those new apartments downtown...? Oh. Um. Hypothetical, right." She seemed to genuinely think about it, or maybe just take a moment to recover from the teasing, as the color on her face slowly faded out. Picking up a cookie, she broke it in half and took a bite, using her other hand to pick up one of the pokémon snacks and feed it to Nova, still lounging across her shoulders. The pokémon was a very polite eater, taking measured bites and chewing with his mouth closed—rather dignified and gentlemanly, as pokémon went. It somehow matched Anastasia's bearing and aesthetic; it wasn't hard to imagine a younger version of her having tea parties with a couple of very well-mannered eevee.

"Of course I would," she said after a moment. "It can be... difficult, to trust people sometimes, as I'm sure you know." Something about the way she met Cyrilla's eyes when she said it conveyed that she knew she did. "But... if anyone's earned the benefit of the doubt it's you three. Er—I'm sorry, that made it sound like I'm deigning or suspect you of something. That's not what I meant. I just—people. Getting along with people is... challenging. For me."

Something about the way she said it made Cyrilla smile. It was a small one, but it was genuine. And she knew it was, because it felt so out of place on her face. “Understandable, I suppose. We live in a world where people want something from you, and in order to get it, they feign friendships or something similar. I don't blame you for being suspicious of us, Ana. It's perfectly normal, even if getting along with people is challenging for you. I guess... it's just part of our natures to be suspicious, especially when those people work for NTR."

Cyrilla knew Ana was aware that they were affiliated with NTR. Eryk had mentioned it, so it wasn't like she had to hide that. She also knew that a certain someone would, actually, prefer something small like Ana's place. Eryk didn't bother hiding his displeasure when it came to living in their apartment. He never liked things that were quite noticeable. He liked things that were more secluded, more hidden. It was part of his nature, she supposed, to want to hide from people or not be seen. Cyrilla knew it had a lot to do with the scars on his face.

Noctis trudged over towards Cyrilla, though, and laid his head on her lap, causing her to shake her head lightly as she stroked his fur. He always seemed to know when she was feeling a certain way, but she pushed the thoughts away for now. “If you'd like," she began, turning so that she could face Ana, fully.

“I can help you with that. Not that it'll be easy; you can't just teach someone to get along with people," she stated, huffing lightly. “But I can try to help you be a little more confident in yourself. I might not look like it, given my savvy appearance," she pointed an index finger at herself, “but I still struggle with a bit of shyness, myself. From one shy person to another, I can try to help."

"Would you?" Ana asked, clearly surprised by the offer. "I just—" She shook her head, all but rolling her eyes at herself as she finished off the cookie. "I know the kind of person I want to be, you know? But no matter how much I try to act like that I always manage to mess up." She pursed her lips and sighed, but then smiled a little.

"And I don't know if this makes it better or worse, but... you being from Neo Team Rocket doesn't have anything to do with it. I'm sure you have your reasons, and besides that... having this job, having seen what I have..." The smile, small as it was, wavered but remained in place. "Well, to me, all of you are the reason mankey and stunky are safe now. Safer than they've ever been. And it's because you're part of NTR, so—so I can't see you as bad people, no matter what anyone else says."

She cleared her throat a little awkwardly, retreating behind her teacup for another sip. "Sorry. I must seem terribly childish to you."

... see you as bad people, no matter what anyone else says..

Cyrilla kept the smile on her face, but she felt her heart wrench painfully in her chest. If Ana only knew that they were. Small things like saving mankey and stunky made what they did a little more tolerable, but it didn't erase the fact that they were bad people. They always would be for doing something like this to this young woman, so innocent, so pure. And more than anything in the world, Cyrilla didn't want to be part of destroying that. For destroying the trust that they might build between them.

“Not at all, Ana. I don't think it's childish; I think it's very admirable that you would say something like that. And what kind of person do you want to be, hm?" she stated, deciding to ask that question first. Ana was already doing it wrong; you couldn't try to be the person you wanted to be. You had to go about it slowly, find things that felt natural and easy to do. Ana would have to ease into it. But of course, Cyrilla had no idea what it was Ana was trying to do, hence why she asked the question.

Ana considered it. "I guess... I'm trying to be a little more... worldly?" She furrowed her brows over the word, a little unsure it was the one she wanted, apparently. "A little more resilient and confident and clever, I think." She snorted softly. "I know it's kind of useless for someone like me, but I've always wanted to be the sort of witty, interesting person who doesn't get shy and babble or clamp up around others. It's always one of the two with me, and I'm just so... I don't know. Plain. Ordinary. Boring, I guess. I tried to start with my wardrobe because I've always liked pretty things but even then half the time I'm wearing coveralls and work boots."

She shot Cyrilla a rueful smile. "It's funny, because part of me wants to... stand out, I guess. To be intriguing. But most of me's just terrified of anything like that, and wants to hide where no one will ever see me again."

“So... what we want to do is take a feebas and make it a milotic," she stated, smiling just a bit at Ana. Truthfully, Cyrilla didn't know what she was getting herself into. These were things that, even for Cyrilla, would be difficult to do for a shy person. The only reason Cyrilla was able to be as witty and stand out as much as she did was because she'd learned to kill her heart, and all the things that made her feel. It was just how the family trained her.

But that wouldn't work for someone like Ana. She needed a different approach, something more soft and gentle.

“Hm... I know what you're going to say, but hear me out: what are your measurements? I want to see if I can find something for you that'll look nice while also being sturdy enough for the work you do. Feeling good on the outside is the first step to feeling good on the inside. It helps boost your confidence when you feel good about yourself. Once you start with that, everything else will come to you. I'm not going to sugar coat this for you; it won't be easy. It's going to take a bit of time, but I think we can do it."

She believed, honestly, that Ana could be the person she wanted to be. “You just have to start small, take baby steps before you can take the bigger ones until you're finally ready to run. Oh, and don't worry about the costs of the clothes. Think of it as my way of saying thank you for taking care of the pokémon for us. You didn't have to, but I am thankful that they ended up with someone like you."

"Uhm. I'm not sure clothes are really the problem, though," Ana replied, frowning. "Like I said, I've found lots of things I like and that work for my job, but the reason I end up back in the scrubs and coveralls all the time is that... well, I'm not comfortable wearing them most of the time. So having more... wouldn't really help. At least not yet." She seemed to be dressed a little differently today, anyhow—the overalls were black and clearly from a consignment shop with homemade details, but they were kind of cute where she'd added a lace ruffle to the straps and some red to line the pockets and hems, and they were shorts, which she'd worn with her heavy, almost military-style workboots and a black-and-white striped t-shirt.

She gave Cyrilla a wry look. "It's okay if there's not much to be done. I know it's a contradiction in terms, really. It's probably better if I'm boring anyhow. Permanently a feebas, if you will."

“Nonsense!" Cyrilla stated, furrowing her brows and pursing her lips together. “It is exactly a clothes problem. If you don't feel comfortable wearing them, it's because they're not the right ones for you. How about this, I'll buy you one set of new work clothes that'll look nice, make you feel comfortable, and still be sturdy enough for you to do your job. This is a challenge that I, Cyrilla Niav, promise to undertake with all the seriousness I can provide!"

“And hey, feebas are beautiful creatures in their own right. They wouldn't be my favorite pokémon if they weren't," she stated, grinning lightly in Ana's direction. They really were her favorite pokémon. There was just something about them; how they could live in just about any environment and thrive. Sure, they might not be much to look at, but... well, they reminded Cyrilla of herself. The only difference was she wasn't physically ugly. It was the inside of her that was all banged up and mangled. Permanently, so.

Ana still looked skeptical, but she didn't protest to the plan, instead simply shrugging her shoulders. "Okay, but... only one, please. I'm definitely not comfortable having other people spend their money on me, especially not when all I've done is my job, so..." she trailed off a bit awkwardly, obviously every bit as uncomfortable with the notion as she'd said.

But she changed the subject right after, probably hoping to avoid an argument about it. "We've had a couple feebas here in the past. Our only one right now has a couple prosthetics, so he can't really be trained, but he's in the pool if you'd like to meet him."

Cyrilla was just glad that she agreed to it. She'd, of course, honor her word and only get Ana one set of work clothes. It would probably be a week or two before she actually found something, but Cyrilla was determined, if nothing else. So, she grinned at the mention of a feebas, instead.

“Oh, I'd definitely love to meet him! He sounds adorable."

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Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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July 13th
Ana's Shelter - Late Afternoon - Hot
Eryk Nero


Arceus, how had he managed to let those two convince him to do this?

Eryk shoved his hands into his pocket, as he kept his attention on the ground. They had made a point; if Gregorovich wanted the three of them to get closer to Anastasia, faster, he supposed this was as good of a way as any. He just wasn't so sure she'd actually buy it. Why would she give him a room to stay when he had a perfectly good one at the Cloyster? It was uncomfortable to be there, he wouldn't deny, but he wasn't so sure being at Anastasia's would help, either. He'd be in closer contact with the target—and she was the target, he had to remind himself—and it would provide him some insight to her, he supposed. Gregorovich also thought that Eryk's own telepathic talent might be helpful, but Eryk wasn't so sure.

His father, who'd been the psychic, had always been paranoid about that kind of thing. Eryk supposed it bled into parts of himself, but he wasn't going to try something that might end up backfiring. He felt a brush on his mind as he glanced down to his side. Icarus was staring up at him, big purple eyes staring with what seemed to be intrigue. Eryk rolled his eyes but picked the espurr up, and set him on his shoulders. Icarus seemed content there as Eryk continued his walk towards Anastasia's shelter. Once he arrived at the gate, Rufus was there to greet him. He arched a brow at the stoutland; it always surprised him that Rufus always seemed to know when he was arriving.

He let himself through the gate, reached down to scratch behind Rufus' ear, and stood back up. Blinking slowly, he glanced around the shelter before pursing his lips. Cyrilla said she'd texted Anastasia for him to let her know he was on his way. Maybe she was inside?

Most of the pokémon seemed to be out and about; he knew that Anastasia let them out whenever possible. The dome habitats were spacious and calibrated to specific pokémon types, but she didn't feel that it was the same as being out in real sunshine and fresh air, it seemed. Ekans basked on the large rock that seemed designed for the purpose, clearly asleep; several pidgey roosted in the large tree. A few others were around as well, including stunky, who was trotting about the yard, seemingly exploring everything.

A door opened somewhere; it took him only a moment to locate which. Anastasia emerged from the main shelter building, in black coveralls halfway undone, the sleeves tied at her waist, and a t-shirt. She was carrying mankey in both arms, holding him against her front, giggling softly when one of her low twintails drew the pokémon's attention. She carefully brushed it behind her before resettling her grip and glancing up.

She looked a touch surprised to see him, blinking with wide eyes. "Eryk? H-hello. I wasn't expecting you by today; there's probably a message on my phone, huh?" She furrowed her brows, a vague turn to the corner of her mouth. "Sorry. I should be better about checking that when I'm working."

Eryk resisted the urge to roll his eyes slightly. It was also possible that Cyrilla didn't text Anastasia like he'd asked her to. He'll have to figure out how to work that, one day, so things like this didn't happen. He shook his head lightly, though, eyes lingering a bit on mankey before he turned them back towards Anastasia.

“It's fine, Anastasia," he spoke softly, his brows still slightly furrowed. He nodded his head in mankey's direction, though, and felt something on his face smooth out. “It seems he's doing a lot better," he observed. It was still obvious that mankey had a long way to go, but Eryk was... glad? He wasn't entirely sure what the proper word was that he felt, and pursed his lips together.

“It's good."

"He is!" Anastasia replied, clearly pleased by the fact. She moved a little further out into the yard, but then turned around so she was facing him again, a thoughtful look on her face. "Would you... like to hold him?" she offered. "He's still recovering from the sprains and break, but if you're careful it'd be fine." She didn't approach or try to hand mankey off, though—it seemed like she was giving him the option to refuse if he wasn't comfortable with it.

Eryk felt light inside, and he wasn't entirely sure why. He nodded his head, though. He wasn't going to pass up the chance to hold mankey, again. Something about the mankey called to Eryk in a way he wasn't sure of. Perhaps it was mankey's spirit, or something else. He held his arms out, though, and waited for mankey to go to him. Mankey turned from Anastasia, sniffed at Eryk's hand before making a snorting sound. It almost sounded like he was disapproving of Eryk for the moment before mankey tapped Anastasia's shoulder lightly, and crawled down.

Icarus, who had been resting on Eryk's shoulder, slid down his back, and walked over towards mankey. They stared at each other for a moment, Icarus occasionally doing a slow blink before looking back up at Eryk. Eryk didn't bother rolling his eyes this time, though, and stooped to pick mankey up, gently. He knew Icarus was approving of mankey before the espurr walked up towards Anastasia and held his arms up.

“He doesn't like sharing," Eryk stated, cradling mankey a little more comfortably.

Anastasia laughed softly, crouching to pick up Icarus with a soft, affectionate sound in the back of her throat. "Hello, handsome," she said, supporting Icarus with one arm beneath him while the other scratched softly behind his ears. "You can hang out with me for a bit while the other two have a visit, if that okay by you."

She glanced over to Eryk and huffed. "You don't have to be quite that delicate, you know. Here." She approached, in the same mild, slow way she did with unfamiliar pokémon, as though giving him ample opportunity to stop her. Still holding Icarus, she reached over with her free hand and adjusted Eryk's arms a bit, with light, nudging touches, until it seemed mankey was settled a little more securely.

"Sometimes with the really young ones it's more comfortable for them this way," she explained, glancing up at his face with a slight smile. "I... might be guessing wrong, but I don't think you've been around a whole lot of baby pokémon? Though this guy's pretty young, too, isn't he?" She seemed to be referring to Icarus.

Eryk furrowed his brows lightly as he nodded his head. “I have not. Icarus and Runt are the youngest pokémon I have owned," he stated, nodding his head in the espurr's direction. Icarus nodded his head as well, as if to agree with Eryk, and trilled. “Moira was already a year old when I first obtained her," he spoke, referring to his absol. It was something of a custom in his family that their first pokémon was either a poison type, or a dark type.

He'd chosen Moira because she was like he was, in a sense. She was originally supposed to go to Katia, but Moira was too gentle. Her lonely nature would have only complicated things for someone like Katia who preferred pokémon that were more battle-eager. Moira was decidedly not. A thought came to him, though he wasn't entirely sure why.

“Would you like to meet her?"

Anastasia's expression lit up, the smile on her face spreading until it was almost a grin. "Of course I would! Was she your first?"

“She is my first," he spoke, shifting so that he was still holding mankey comfortably in one hand, and pulled the first pokéball from his belt. Pushing the button to expand it, he released Moira who seemed a little unsure of herself. Moira, this is Anastasia. She's not going to hurt you. She only wants to meet you, he connected with Absol to ensure that she wouldn't be too skittish. She was like that when meeting new people, but he wanted to reassure her that she would be fine. Of all his pokémon, she was the only one that didn't battle. It was her choice, after all, and he respected it.

“This is Moira, my first," he spoke to Anastasia. Moira hesitantly made her way towards Anastasia, head lowered lightly before she sat and glanced up. She made a soft trilling noise as she regarded Anastasia with an even gaze, perhaps studying her.

Gently setting Icarus down, Anastasia approached Moira carefully, either picking up on the absol's shy nature or else just cautious by reflex. Either way, she stopped a respectful few feet away and crouched, hugging her knees so she was about the same height as the seated absol. "Hello, Moira," she said softly. "My name's Ana. It's very nice to meet you." She smiled, her body language open and relaxed, but made no move to touch the pokémon, only tilting her head to the side in a way that suggested query, as if awaiting the verdict of Moira's observations.

Moira turned to look at Eryk, trilled, and nudged Anastasia's hand with her nose. “It seems Moira has taken to you," Eryk spoke, huffing lightly. Moira didn't trust people so easily, but that she seemed to be okay in Anastasia's presence... maybe it was because Anastasia was used to dealing with all kinds of pokémon cases and she knew how to approach Moira? Whatever it was, Eryk shook his head a little, before remembering why he'd come here in the first place.

“Anastasia," he spoke cautiously, tilting his head in her direction. “Cyrilla told me that you have rooms that you are looking to rent out, is that true?" he asked. He figured the best approach to this would be to tell Anastasia the truth. He was looking for another place to live for however long they were going to be on this mission. While The Cloyster was a nice place to live, it was much too loud for him. He just wasn't comfortable there.

Anastasia paused briefly in the act of stroking Moira's soft white coat for just a moment before she continued, tipping her head so as to look up at him from the corner of an eye. "Well, I was considering it," she said, rising slowly into a standing position. "I hadn't really decided anything for sure. I'm kind of in the middle of nowhere compared to where most people want to live on the island, and I don't really know if I'm comfortable with a complete stranger wandering around my house. But... in theory the rooms are there, sure."

She brushed down her pant legs before regarding him with a slightly-confused expression. "Why do you ask? Have another friend moving to town or something?"

If he knew how to laugh, he would have. Eryk didn't have friends. He had one, maybe, but he wasn't sure if he'd really consider Cyrilla his friend. They were more family than that, he supposed. He shook his head, though, and kept Anastasia's gaze.

“It's understandable if you don't, but," he paused, his head moving slightly to the left from where mankey was pushing it lightly. “Would you be willing to rent one out to me?" he asked. He should probably offer an explanation as to why he was looking for a place, and pushed a soft sigh through his nose.

“I know I have a room already at the Cloyster but..." he pursed his lips together, sighing softly and shaking his head. “A place like yours is more ideal for me than a place like the Cloyster," he continued. It probably wouldn't convince her, and he wouldn't blame her if she said no or had any other questions.

"More... ideal?" Anastasia seemed a little confused, but she didn't reject the idea outright, which was probably a good sign. "Could you explain what you mean by that? I just don't want you to have the wrong impression of it or anything, you know?"

He could understand if she was hesitant. “As you said, it's in the middle of nowhere. I've never been too comfortable in places that attract a lot of attention," he started, his eyes narrowing slightly. “It's too... much. Something like this, it's smaller, and doesn't require a lot. I'd be more comfortable here than I would be if I stayed at the Cloyster. You don't have to rent one out to me, if there's a problem. I can look at other places, but..." he paused, unsure of how he wanted to say this next part.

“I'd be able to help out as well with whatever you'd need, and not just with them," he stated, motioning towards the pokémon in the yard. “It... makes me feel at ease." He'd spoken only the truth so far.

Anastasia contemplated this for a moment, but then her eyes softened, and she nodded slowly. "I can understand that," she murmured. "All the activity, and the people... I don't think I'd ever be able to relax, even if I was just nearby." Furrowing her brows a bit, though, she sighed and smiled a bit wryly. "That said, I still think you should at least see the room and things before you go promising to help with maintenance. Mankey's fine to stay with the others for now—Nova and Luna will keep an eye on him for us. Would you like to come inside?"

He might as well.

He set mankey down carefully, glancing in Moira and Icarus's direction before inclining his head towards them. Icarus merely went towards mankey and immediately trilled at him. Moira, however, seemed to curl underneath a shaded tree, seemingly content for the time being.

“Sure," he finally stated, waiting for Anastasia to lead the way.

She hummed a note of agreement and took them around the front first, pausing to remove her heavy boots. The foyer, he'd already seen. It was only a small one, with a staircase off to one side and an open archway to the living room on the other. "You know most of this, I suppose," Anastasia said. "The kitchen's through the end of the hall here and the dining room's next to it, and of course the back door's there too. You'd be free to use anything you want in all these rooms, of course, and the downstairs bathroom's that door just before the kitchen to the left, near the basement stairs. It's only a half-bath, though—yours would be upstairs this way."

So saying, she led him up the stairs, into a comfortably sized hallway with a deep blue carpet runner along it. There were four doors here, all of them closed. The one at the end was probably Ana's, but she opened the one on the left closest to it. "This is the larger of the extra bedrooms," she said, stepping in as she opened the door and holding it for him as well.

The room was mostly empty at the moment, only an island-style woven red and white rug thrown over the natural hardwood floors. "The air conditioning is central, but if you want we can get a window unit, too." The room had a several windows, actually, with bamboo blinds and soft, cream colored curtains. "I, um... haven't furnished it, obviously. I could if you prefer but if you already have all the furniture you want I guess this just means there's room for it?" She cleared her throat. "Sorry. I haven't really done this whole thing before. I'm not sure what matters."

Most of the furniture he owned would have to stay at the Cloyster. Not that he minded; a lot of it was unnecessary. He'd just furnish this room to his own standards and liking. “You won't have to worry about furnishing the room. I can take care of that," he stated. “What were looking for as far as payments go? When would you like them, and... if you'd be willing to rent me the room, would you be looking for a deposit?"

He might as well ask all the questions and get them out of the way, first, before she decided on anything.

"Oh, um... I hadn't really put that much thought into it," she admitted, pursing her lips and considering the room. "I mean it's really just a bedroom and a bathroom, and it's not like sharing the living room and so on is any inconvenience." She considered it a bit and shrugged. "Maybe... I don't know. Two hundred a month or something?" She looked vaguely uncomfortable even asking for such a low amount, and grimaced faintly.

Eryk furrowed his brows deeply. Even if it was just a room, two hundered a month wasn't enough to cover much. The Cloyster alone was almost twenty five hundred a month, but the expenses were mostly covered by the organization. They still had to pay an amount themselves, but Eryk was confident enough to be able to still pay his half and what he was going to offer Anastasia.

“Eight," he started, sighing softly. “I'll pay you eight hundred a month. It should be more than enough to cover shared living expenses, regardless. In addition, I will help out around here at the shelter as well." He already volunteered, but if he lived here as well, he'd be able to do a lot more than just two hours or so worth of work. He also knew that the extra income would help her out with whatever else she would need for the shelter and its inhabitants.

"Oh, but that's far too much," Anastasia protested softly. "It's not worth that much, especially on top of all the help you already give me. If you really feel like two hundred's a bad idea, then..." She paused, eyes drifting up towards the ceiling in thought. "So I pay about three hundred a month in utilities, including for the shelter. If you paid half of that, which is still very generous, on top of helping out like you just said, then add that to the two hundred I wanted for the rooms... how's that? Three-fifty and a bit of extra help?"

She smiled, a little awkwardly, but didn't seem to be upset. "Please. I really wouldn't feel comfortable asking any more than that, and I'm sure there is still going to be more to pay at the old place until you can get out of your lease."

Eryk pursed his lips together, furrowing his brows lightly. “Five, then," he stated. “I'll pay five hundred a month, plus helping out. It wouldn't... I like doing it," he admitted softly. He did, in fact, enjoy helping her out. Spending time with the pokémon doing something useful... he enjoyed it. He had to remind himself on multiple occasions so far that this was for the mission's sake. He was doing it for that, however; some small, selfish part of him thought it was for him.

Anastasia made a small noise, tugging slightly on one of her twintails, but when he mentioned liking the work, her expression softened. "I... okay. If that's really what you want to do. It at least means I don't have to consider renting the third room, so... I guess it'll just be us, if that's okay with you."

“That should be fine. If it makes you uncomfortable to have a man around, though, feel free to rent it out to someone else." He didn't want her to be uncomfortable, after all. It would make things harder, for the mission.

With a small scoff, she shook her head. "It doesn't," she said simply. "Oh, and... you have to let me do things like make you food, okay? I'm probably not as good as Cyrilla is, but it wouldn't feel right just making my own with someone else living here."

He pursed his lips softly, but nodded his head. He had a feeling she wouldn't take no for an answer. “Seems like a fair trade," he spoke, his expression smoothing out just a bit. It felt like the corners of his lips were tilting slightly upward, but that was an absurd thought. Eryk didn't smile. He couldn't.

She blinked at him for some reason, slowly, and she did smile, though she gave no particular indication as to why, only shaking herself a bit as if to clear a thought away. There was a faint hint of color to her face, but that seemed to happen to her a lot.

“Once I have everything settled with Cyrilla and Kasimir, I will let you know when I'll be able to move in. Is there a preference for a date?" he asked, arching his brow slightly. “I do not want it to be on an inconvenient date for you."

Anastasia hummed. "I'm usually busy on Tuesday afternoons, but I don't have many plans otherwise," she replied easily. "My schedule's wide open, really, so... just let me know when you want to and I'll make sure everyone spends some time inside so they don't bother the movers or anything."

He nodded his head, then awkwardly stuck out his hand. “I suppose this means we'll be... roommates," he stated.

Her eyes widened, but then she laughed softly and took his hand. Her own was tiny, with slender fingers, which she closed around his hand gently. "In that case... welcome home."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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July 19th
Ana's Home - Late Afternoon - Warm
Nevena Solomon


Nev was all too happy to lend a hand with Eryk's move. Apparently he had decided to leave the Cloyster and found a room at Ana's place. She thought it was rather adorable that she'd offered Eryk a room. Nev might not have been observant, but she didn't have to be when Eryk expressed his discontent whenever he entered and left the Cloyster. He looked happier when he wasn't there, even at the office he seemed to prefer it.

They were lucky that today wasn't so hot and humid. It might have been warm, but it was tolerable. Nev had dressed for the occasion; a pair of khaki cargo capris and a plain white t-shirt. She'd worn a pair of slip-on shoes so that the laces wouldn't get caught on anything. Eryk, however, seemed to be dressed in a simple linen shirt that had sleeves down to his elbows. He never seemed to like exposing much skin, it seemed. From the scars on his face, Nev could only assume that he had more that he didn't like people seeing, or just wasn't comfortable with exposing skin in general.

His pants were a dark grey, though, almost smoky in color and a pair of work boots. He was currently lifting the mattress to his bed along with Cyrilla. She didn't seem to have the same reservations as Eryk did. She was wearing a grey racerback tank top and a pair of black capri leggings. Like Nev, she'd opted for slip-on's rather than laced shoes.

Kas left the truck carrying the small dresser by himself; Aidan had wanted to come, but he had to work today, and he seemed a little hesitant about meeting Ana, too, for whatever reason. "Up we go, I guess," he said, shifting his grip a bit. It seemed to be more awkward than heavy, though. He'd opted for a sleeveless shirt with wide armholes and athletic shorts, hinting at a large number of tattoos. His whole arm was covered by what seemed to be a tribal-style Rayquaza, snaking up the length of his limb. Its head disappeared beneath fabric, though, so she couldn't see the full design.

Ana, not really suited for carrying heavy things at all, was still doing her best to help, holding a few small loose items. She wore a slightly-oversized t-shirt dress with a cubone graphic on it, and artful rips on one side near the hem. Her boots seemed to be new, a lot like her others, but with a slight heel to them, and her hair had been pulled forward into braided twintails with black ribbons tied into delicate bows.

"There's a couple bags left in the truck," she said, nodding to it, "but I think this can be the last trip."

Huffing lightly to herself, Nev moved towards the moving truck to peer inside. Eryk didn't have a lot of things, surprisingly enough. Most of his furniture was new; he'd had it moved in the day before, but he still needed to set it up. And put the mattress on the bedframe since it was the only piece of furniture he'd brought with him. He didn't seem to have very many clothes, either, which were piled into three duffle bags, it seemed.

Those, Nev could carry. She wasn't physically strong like the others seemed to be, but that didn't stop her from wanting to help.

Once they were done moving all of Eryk's things in, Nev smiled a little to herself, wiping off the beads of sweat from her brow. “I think that's everything," she stated, peering back into the moving truck to ensure they had taken everything down. Eryk nodded his head as he glanced towards Kasimir and Cyrilla.

“Thank you for helping," he stated, glancing back towards Nev as well.

“Not a problem, Ryk. It was worth it since we get to have some of Ana's cookies and tea," she stated, grinning up at Eryk. He rolled his eyes and shook his head, causing Nev to chuckle softly. Sometimes they reminded her more of siblings than anything, but she wasn't going to say anything. People fell in love with the strangest people sometimes. Not that Nev could even say that she's loved someone before. She'd crushed on people, but nothing really came of it.

She blinked, though, and pushed the thought away. Now was not the time for her mind to wander. “It was no trouble at all, Eryk. I'm glad these weak muscles could help out somehow," she stated, earning a light snicker from Cyrilla. Eryk merely pursed his lips together in confusion before shaking his head.

"I think you've still got me beat," Ana said with a little smile. "Come on then; cookies are almost done." She looked a touch winded, cheeks pink from exertion, but she led the way down the stairs with a light tread, and ushered them all into the kitchen, where the smell of baking cookies permeated even more heavily than through the rest of the house.

There were enough stools at the island for everyone, and Ana flitted about her kitchen, bringing down a full set of cups and saucers to match the teapot sitting on a small towel on the island. Steam curled from the spout; it seemed to have a softer, richer scent, not overly sweet.

Their hostess was stymied, though, when she opened one of her cupboards to bring down a serving tray for the cookies. "Oh, um... I don't suppose one of you tall people would mind helping me get that down?" It was ludicrously higher-up than she'd be able to reach—maybe she normally used a step-ladder or something.

"I was born for this moment," Kas declared dramatically, hopping off his stool to retrieve the item, carefully stepping around Ana to do it before handing the thing over with a wink. "And hey, you have your very own live-in tall person now, too. Think of the convenience."

Ana gave him a gentle whack with the serving tray. "Now you're being silly," she accused, glancing at Eryk and smiling with a touch of the awkwardness that never seemed to leave her. "I promise I won't make you do that kind of thing all the time."

Nev chuckled at the antics about the same time Cyrilla did. It was cute, in a way. Eryk didn't seem to mind, though, and shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn't mind," he responded casually, causing Cyrilla to huff lightly.

“Ryk lives to help, Ana. It's fine," Cyrilla stated shaking her head lightly. Nev smiled, though, and regarded the four others. They were much younger than her; it was kind of hard not to think about it, but it was also obvious in so many ways. The way the seemed to joke with each other so easily was interesting. It was nice. Eryk rolled his eyes, but he didn't seem to deny it, either.

“It's nice, though," Nev stated as she glanced in Eryk's direction. It was sweet of him to offer her the help when she needed. Some part of Nev wondered if he was like that with everyone, or if it was just Ana in particular. It was probably a little of both.

Ana had turned away to retrieve her cookies from the oven; it looked like she'd made several different kinds, including chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and something a little more exotic that smelled a little... spicy?

"Oh, what are those?" Kas asked, clearly picking up on the same thing as he made his way back to his stool, between Cyrilla and Nev.

"Brown butter bourbon spice!" Ana replied, smiling brightly. "I thought I'd try something new since I know some of you like more... adventurous flavors, I guess. But I also made these other ones in case they weren't very good," she admitted. She transferred the cookies to a cooling rack first, then poured everyone's tea, setting out sugar, milk, honey, and so on for those that wanted to doctor their cups.

"By the way, does anyone here actually prefer coffee? I can keep that in mind for next time, or even just make some now; it's not an inconvenience or anything."

"Either's good with me," Kas replied with a shrug. "But if we're having cookies with whiskey in them, I wouldn't mind some coffee with."

Eryk shook his head, seemingly fine with the tea. “I wouldn't mind some, either. Please and thank you!" Cyrilla stated, smiling brightly at Ana.

“None for me, thank you. As delicious as they smell, I'm afraid I can't eat anything spicy. I'm not... well, I can't handle spicy very well," Nev replied, smiling a little nervously. The last time she'd tried eating something spicy, it felt like her mouth had lost all feeling to it and it felt like she was going to pass out. She wasn't so accustomed to pain that way, even if it wasn't particularly painful. Just unpleasant, really.

“Oh, but Nev, you're missing out! Spicy things are the best," Cyrilla stated, her brows raised in what looked like surprise. “But I don't think they're that kind of spicy. You should give them a try," she stated, glancing in Ana's direction. “Right, Ana?"

"Well it's supposed to me more of a warm sort of spice, like gingerbread kind of," Ana said, pulling down a small bag of coffee beans and grinding them with what seemed to be a hand-grinder into a different container. "But there's plenty of other things to eat if you'd prefer not to risk it. I'd understand completely," she added, offering Nev a sympathetic smile.

"I can handle some spicy flavor, but past a certain point it starts to feel a little like dying and I'd—" Abruptly, her eyes widened, and she coughed a little into the crook of her arm. "Ah, sorry."

Kas, brows furrowed, tilted his head a bit. "You okay, Ana?"

She nodded, turning back around to fit the ground beans into the coffee machine. "Yeah, just kind of choked on air. I'm uh... kind of an idiot, but I promise you don't have to worry." Turned away, it was impossible to see her face, but her voice sounded a little wry, playful self-deprecation if anything.

Nev pursed her lips together, though. She was a little concerned, but if Ana said there was no need to worry, then Nev wouldn't push. She didn't want to come off too strong or anything. She was taking the lessons Kas was giving her and Eryk fairly seriously. And she remembered that one thing, at least. She smiled, instead.

“Well, if it's more like gingerbread, then I should try it. I can't handle the hot kind of spicy. The spice spicy, though, I can," she stated. It was strange, though. They were in the middle of July. Gingerbread she would usually attribute to winter time. They were still in the beginning of summer. Cinnabar had a way of feeling like it was always summer, though. Something crossed her mind, then.

“Oh!" she stated suddenly, “I just remembered something! I've seen these flyers around town about a summer festival called the Camellia Festival. Have any of you ever been? It sounds like it might be nice."

“I saw those, too, actually. Never been to this one, but I'm sure it can't be that much different than the ones in Fuschia or even Celadon or Saffron," Cyrilla spoke, shrugging her shoulders lightly.

"It might be similar," Kas said in a teasing tone, "but this one's going to have the beach. Summer festivals are a million times better with beaches. Real ones, not that little strip of imported sand that passes in Fuchsia." He grinned.

The coffee finished, so Ana poured cups for Cyrilla and he both before setting the cookies on the tray and pushing it towards all of them over the top of the island. She took up a stool herself next to where she'd stood, reaching forward only once everyone else had taken something and breaking one of the spice cookies in half, offering one to Nev.

"This way it's not a big deal if you can't eat it," she explained with a small smile. "As for the Camellia Festival, I know they put on a pretty big one here compared to others I've seen. I hear the fireworks are really top-notch. There's a lady who makes them here locally, she and her daughter. I've never been, though."

“Oh, but it sounds like it could be lovely," she stated, taking the offered cookie. “Thank you," she stated before taking a bite out of it. “This is really good," she spoke once she'd chewed her piece and swallowed. Cyrilla huffed lightly as she took a bite as well. “And I love fireworks. They always have the most interesting shapes. They're mostly different shapes of pokemon, but they're still interesting to watch."

“Why don't we all go, then?" Cyrilla stated, arching a brow in Eryk's direction. He furrowed his brows at her, though. “Ana's never been to one, Nev probably hasn't either," Nev nodded her head at that statement. She'd never been to a festival before, but she had seen fireworks and the like. “And Kas says that the better ones are ones with a real beach. I don't see why we couldn't all go and enjoy it together."

“It sounds like it'd be really nice. What do you three say?" Nev spoke, turning towards Kasimir, Ana, and Eryk. Eryk merely shrugged his shoulders.

"You're seriously asking me like I might refuse?" Kas asked, lifting an eyebrow and hiding his smile behind his cup as he took another sip of his coffee. "Of course I'm in. What about you, Ana?"

"Oh." Vague surprise registered on Ana's face. "You're asking me too? Uh..." She fidgeted a bit where she sat, looking down at her lap and then back up at the others. "I wouldn't mind trying, but... I'm not very good around crowds. I might have to leave early or something, if I get too... is that okay?"

“I don't think it's a problem, really. Eryk's like that, too. He can't stand crowds so if you need to leave early, I'm sure he wouldn't mind leaving with you and walking you home," Cyrilla stated, but it didn't sound like she was teasing Eryk. She had turned in his direction, arching a brow at him as daring him to deny what she'd just said. He rolled his eyes but nodded his head.

“It's true," were the only words he spoke before taking a bite out of one of the cookies.

“This is going to be fun! A summer festival with friends. It sounds really nice," Nev spoke, smiling a little as she took another bite of the cookie. Cyrilla huffed lightly as Eryk narrowed his eyes.

“We'll just have to see, now won't we?" Cyrilla stated, briefly making eye contact with Kasimir before turning her attention towards Ana. “And you'll need to get me a copy of your recipe for these cookies, Ana. They really are good and I'd like to try my hand at them!"

"I can do that," Ana replied. "And I'm glad you all like them. They were sort of an experiment." She seemed to relax considerably once it had been made clear that her discomfort wouldn't be getting in the way of anything.

Retrieving a notepad and pen from a drawer in the kitchen, she started writing down the recipe in elegant, almost calligraphic penmanship, though it was fairly quick, too. "Oh," she said after a moment. "This might be silly of me, but a lot of people wear yukata for this kind of festival. If Cyrilla and Nev would like, I have a bunch of them from various members of the family in a trunk in the basement. I'm sure there'd be plenty of options for either of you, if you wanted to try them out. Er. If you don't already have your own. I guess you probably would, huh?" She winced.

“I don't, actually," Nev laughed nervously. “I've never really had an occasion to wear one or even purchase one. I suppose I should have, though," she stated, smiling at Ana, though. “I would love to see what you have as far as they go. Oh, and... well, I don't exactly know how to wear one, either," she murmured softly. She didn't know how to wear one mostly because she'd never owned one.

Cyrilla, however, looked quite amused by the whole thing. “I would love to see what you have, Ana. I only have one yukata and it's currently stored away somewhere. I can't remember where, exactly," she stated, waving a dismissive hand in front of her face. “The festival isn't for another few days, though, so that will give us plenty of time to get everything sorted out."

Ana, clearly enthused by the prospect of helping, smiled broadly. "Then we'll do that! We can teach you how to put one on, Nev, don't worry. It's nowhere near as complicated as a kimono or anything."

Kas sighed dramatically. "Man... now I'm sure I'm just dreaming. Shame, because this has been such a good day, too."

At Ana's quizzical look, he chuckled. "Hey, don't blame me. I'm just a man, you know? Hearing I'm going to be going to a festival with three beautiful women in yukatas is kind of..." he gestured vaguely, a wolfish grin filling in the rest of the sentence.

Ana turned crimson, sputtering into her teacup with a soft squeak.

Nev coughed lightly into her hand, feeling her own face heat up at Kasimir's statement. Cyrilla, however, seemed to have found it amusing since she was laughing. Eryk merely furrowed his brows, though, and shook his head.

“Don't worry, Ana. He's harmless, really," Cyrilla stated once she seemed to calm her laughter. “And you and Eryk will be in yukatas, too, Kas. Not just us," she stated, shaking her head lightly. “We'll all be stunning, I'm sure, but for now," she continued, reaching over to grab another cookie, “we should be enjoying Ana's homemade cookies!"

Nev smiled and nodded her head, taking another cookie for herself, this time. Maybe she should tell Aidan about it, too? He might want to go.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


July 25th
Ana's House - Early Evening - Clear
Anastasia Asher


"Okay, so... this is what we have," Ana said, flipping open the lid of the trunk. They were in her bedroom, which was spacious but largely unremarkable. Her fashion sense didn't really extend to decorating, minus a few touches, and her bed linens and things were all in shades of cream. She liked the clean feeling, but there was a world of difference between cream and white, and it mattered to her.

Inside the chest were over a dozen yukata, all of them well-maintained and new-looking. She suspected most of them had only been worn once or twice before; they'd come from an assortment of relatives over time, but mostly arrived in her belongings by means of her aunts Miranda or Lydia. Pulling out one of the stacks, she started laying the folded garments out on her neatly-made bed so that the pattern of each would be visible. "Really it just comes down to picking whatever you like, in terms of pattern and color. Most of them are around the same material. Sizing will vary a little bit, but most of these should fit either of you with no problem. They're a little more forgiving than kimono in terms of the tailoring not needing to be perfect or anything."

Honestly even kimono weren't that bad, until one considered the really expensive kind. Even then, they could be pretty reliably passed in families and things. Her family had some things like that, but she wasn't anywhere near important or central enough to the main line of it to have any chance of inheriting something so important herself. She supposed it was kind of... clan-like, in that way still.

“Oh, wow, they're so pretty," Nev stated lightly as she leaned over the options. Cyrilla huffed lightly, shooting off a text, apparently, before turning her attention towards the yukata Ana had placed out. “Are you sure it's okay if we wear one, Ana?" she asked almost hesitantly.

“I don't think Ana would have offered if she wasn't sure, Nev," Cyrilla spoke with some amusement in her voice. “Nev is right, though. They are very beautiful," she added, running her hand across one of the darker colored ones before turning her attention towards Ana. “What is your favorite color, Nev?" she asked. Nev turned towards Cyrilla and hummed a thoughtful note in the back of her throat.

“Purple, but the really light shades of the color. Like lavender," she answered, causing Cyrilla to huff lightly.

“Do you have any in that color, Ana?"

"I think so, yes. Let me see here..." Rummaging around in the chest, she came back up with two garments and made a satisfied little sound. One of the yukata was a soft, slightly reddish lilac with a white pattern on it. The other, however, was actually a slightly deeper purple, more on the blue-periwinkle end of things. "This one has a lavender obi, so I figured it was also an option," she explained, unfolding them one by one and laying them out spread on the bed so Nev could see the whole pattern of each. The lilac one had a pretty traditional arrangement of flower branches on it, but the periwinkle had clouds and flying birds.

"Of course if you don't like those you can always wear another color, but that's what we've got for light purples. What are you thinking, Cyrilla?"

“I really like this one, though," Nev stated as she reached for the perwinkle one. Cyrilla hummed slightly as if she were thinking about Ana's question.

“Well, I've always done the richer, darker tones. White hair doesn't always compliment a lot of the brighter colors, so I've usually stuck with like dark greens, reds, and even black. Rich purples, too," she stated, listing off a few colors, at least. “What do you have as far as rich purples and reds?" she asked, tilting her head in Ana's direction.

Ana could sympathize; at least white was a neutral color. Pink looked awful with certain tones and shades. To a certain extent, the range of options was skewed with this in mind, since most of her female relatives shared the hair color that had been their trademark for ages. "Well, there's a couple already laid out here, and..." Returning to the trunk, she pulled a few more, along with a couple darker blues and greens, just in case. They had a range of possible accent colors and patterns, but as a rule this kind of yukata weren't usually made that dark. Not womens' ones anyway. They were designed to be bright and festive, but at least some of these colors were a little richer.

"Feel free to lay out or try on anything you like," she offered, with a little smile, heading back to the chest to retrieve the lavender obi that went with Nev's choice. She'd still need to try it on for fit, but if Ana recalled properly, that was one of Aunt Lydia's, and they were about the same size, so it should be fine.

“Thanks, Ana," she stated as she glanced at the choices. She seemed to be narrowing down the choices, coming to a dark red one that had white cherry blossoms on it, and a dark green one with white lilies on it. She pursed her lips together as she regarded both choices. “Alright, I need input. Nev, Ana, which one?" she stated, glancing in both of their direction. Nev blinked slightly and pursed her lips together.

“They both look really pretty, Cyrilla. Either one would look lovely on you, but... well I like the green one just a little more," Nev spoke first, causing Cyrilla to grin lightly.

“What about you, Ana? Which one do you think would be better?"

"Um... I think the green, too? It'll make your eyes stand out a lot more," Cyrilla's eyes were an interesting shade—not the brilliant red of Eryk's, but a softer, almost floral pink. They might get a little lost with a strong red shade of clothing, but the green would accent them nicely, Ana thought. "The obi for that one's gold, too; I think it's an elegant combination with your coloration." She shrugged, though, hardly an expert in the matter.

“I guess I'm wearing the green one, then," Cyrilla stated, picking it up from the pile and holding it out in front of her. Nev smiled as she held her own yukata before turning towards Ana.

“How do I put it on?" she asked, looking a little confused. “It looks like I just drape it over and then... tuck it somehow?" she continued, causing Cyrilla to chuckle lightly. She made her way over towards Nev and held out the green kimono she had chosen.

“Watch me," she stated, folding out the yukata a bit. “It's really not that difficult. Think of it as putting on a robe. You're going to slide your arms through the sleeves, first," she continued, demonstrating what to do first. Nev watched as Cyrilla continued demonstrating before she was finally done, and she'd managed to pull on her yukata.

“Of course, I have to change so I have to do this again because I'm not wearing my blouse and shorts underneath. You could, of course, but it might be a little uncomfortable for you since you're wearing jeans, Nev. I brought a spare tank top and leggings to go underneath, but I bet you didn't bring anything at all, did you, Nev?" she stated, glancing in Ana's direction for a moment. “Do you think you have something she can wear under it?" Cyrilla asked.

“Oh, it's fine. I can run to my apartment and grab something. I don't want to impose on Ana more than I already have with the yukata and learning how to put it on," Nev replied, smiling softly at Ana. “It's only a few minutes away."

“A few minutes away if you use Farfetch'd or Gogoat, but it's about a twenty minute walk from here, Nev. It would be about the same amount of time if you used either car service."

"It's really fine," Ana agreed easily. "These days most people wear things like camisoles and shorts or t-shirts and leggings under, but there's a really light juban in here that won't show that should fit fine." She dug it out, snapping it a few times to help any wrinkles out, then handed it to Nev. "This goes on over your underwear, just like an actual bathrobe. The tie is very basic, so there's no need to do it any special way. You can duck into my bathroom if you'd prefer and come back when you have it on so we can do the rest."

“Thank you, Ana," Nev replied as she ducked out of the room. Cyrilla shook her head lightly, though, already out of her yukata as she went to grab the small bag she'd brought with her. She pulled the tank top and leggings from it, grabbed her yukata, and turned towards Ana.

“Guess I'll just change real quick, too," she stated, making her way out of Ana's room as well. She was probably going to use Eryk's room since he was currently out getting his own yukata with Kasimir. It was Nev who returned, first, though, looking a little disorganized. Her hair looked slightly out of place as if she'd had trouble putting even the juban on.

“I, uh, couldn't get the tie on just right," she stated, laughing nervously. “So... I just slip this on over it, right?" she stated, grabbing the yukata she'd chosen. She slipped it on, first, before pursing her lips together. “I don't recall the next step. I have to pinch something to fold something somewhere..." she trailed off before glancing towards Ana.

“I hate to ask, but... help?"

Ana found herself laughing softly, but stepped forward obligingly. "Okay so... we go left over right here..." She folded the sides of Nev's yukata in towards her body, tuckng neatly but not tightly. It was important to leave enough room to move after all. She'd probably do well with an obi board to keep that part straight, but... that did take away some flexibility and probably wasn't the best thing for a first time wearer.

She went slowly, describing each of the steps as she undertook it before reversing it and having Nev copy her, so that in the end the whole thing would be her doing. Yukata usually used half-width obi, and this particular one was no different in that respect. Tying that was the most complicated part, so Ana guided her through each individual step, finishing with an obijime cord to dress it up a little bit.

"Oh, and I've got a few types of netsuke, too—if you want one and maybe a small purse for money or something? If you'd rather carry an actual bag around that's fine too, of course." Crossing to her dresser, she removed one of the tiny drawers from a small wooden box on top of it, bringing over the drawer with its little collection of netsuke. A few of them were flower-shaped, one was a buneary, and there was also an eevee one and one for each traditional starter pokémon for the Kanto region.

“What about kanzashi or pins? Do you have any of those?" Cyrilla spoke as she entered Ana's room. It looked like she didn't have any trouble with her own yukata, and arched a questioning brow towards Ana.

“Oh, I'll take a flower one if that's alright," Nev spoke as she took one of the flower-shaped netsuke. “And what would you need kanzashi and pins for, Cyrilla?" she asked, turning towards Cyrilla.

“For your hair, of course. We're not going out until everyone's hair has been pulled up accordingly, especially you. You have a tendency to throw it in a tail, and a festival calls for something more lively," Cyrilla replied, grinning lightly. Nev blinked before her eyes widened slightly.

“You can do that for me?" she asked, causing Cyrilla to snort softly.

“You and Ana if she wants. But you are getting it done one way or another. I'm just leaving it up to your preferences to how."

"I do have a couple kanzashi but..." Ana hesitated, unsure if they'd be receptive to the idea. "If we want something a little more, um, seasonal, there are a bunch of flowers in my garden. We could use those to decorate our hair instead?" Ana offered the small drawer of netsuke towards Cyrilla, retaining the eevee-shaped one for herself. It was her favorite, and a gift from Edgar, so it had a lot of sentimental value to her and she tended to wear it whenever she had occasion for a netsuke, which was... pretty much never, honestly.

"I think I actually have some periwinkle flowers still in bloom, for example, or we could use a slightly deeper color, like purple freesia. And I think rosemallows would look really nice on you, Cyrilla—they're kind of this mellow gold color that would be really nice in your hair?" She cleared her throat, halting a bit awkwardly. It wasn't exactly traditional, and she reminded herself they hadn't agreed to it in the first place, much less asked for her suggestions on flower types.

“You know... that's actually a great idea. We can do that," she stated, taking one of the netsuke at random, it seemed. She snorted softly when she saw which one she'd taken and glanced back at Nev. “What do you think? You're not allergic, are you?" she asked the other woman. Nev shook her head, though.

“I'm not, actually, but I do think it's a good idea," Nev seemed to agree as she smiled.

“Alright, well let's go get some flowers before I do everyone's hair. You're getting periwinkle, though. It'll match your yukata," Cyrilla stated before turning towards Ana. “Let's go see what you have. Don't forget you'll have to pick a flower that'll match the yukata you're wearing. Otherwise it'll just throw the whole thing off, even if it's a flower or color you really like, but won't match."

Ana smiled and rolled her eyes, supposing that this was sort of an obvious thing to be reminded of. She'd suggested the rosemallow for her because it matched the detailing on her yukata, not just because the color was pretty. But she couldn't blame her for being excited, honestly—Ana had never been the kind of person to be enthusiastic about this sort of thing, but she found it was a very different experience with friends as compared to with family. Or with her family, at least.

"All right, this way then!" She led the way down the stairs, down he hall, and through the kitchen to the back door, which put them almost right out in the garden anyway. With a broad gesture, she smiled at both of the others. "Take your pick, really. There's a lot in bloom right now since it's the middle of summer and everything."

Cyrilla immediately went towards the rosemallows, glancing at a few of them before making a selection. Nev, however, seemed a little hesitant on some of the flowers. She was looking at the periwinkle flowers before she finally seemed to make her selection, and both women made their way back to Ana.

“Which ones are you choosing, Ana?" Cyrilla asked as she tilted her head in a questioning manner.

"These," Ana said with a slight smile, clipping a trio of amaryllis flowers from the patch of them in the garden. Her particular yukata was actually black and white, but the obi made up for it by being layered red and purple, which prevented the rich colors from clashing too much with her hair. The red flowers would look nice enough, she thought, without blending in or being too opposed.

"I've got some pins and things we can use to put these together back upstairs, and then I think I can get changed while Cyrilla does your hair, Nev." She'd gotten so into their choices and such that she'd rather forgotten that she actually still needed to get ready herself. It was, honestly, still kind of strange to think that she was going to a festival with friends. It had always seemed like the kind of thing that other people did, and Ana just read or heard about, or vaguely recognized sometimes happened.

“Let's get to it, then," Cyrilla stated as they followed Ana back to her room. Once they'd managed to get the pins, and set about a workable space, Cyrilla turned towards Ana and made a vague shooing motion with her hands. “Go get dressed while I work my hands with Nev's hair, because you'll be next," she stated winking at Ana before turning towards Nev. “Alright, Nev, you ready?" she asked as Nev took a seat in the chair that had been provided.

“As ready as I can be!" was her response, causing Cyrilla to huff lightly.

Nodding, Ana moved into her bathroom and folded herself into the yukata. It was interesting, she thought, the things that people learned or didn't learn just because of their families. She could tell just from today that Nev's was far less traditional than her own or Cyrilla's, and she wondered what that was like. They all seemed to have come from completely different worlds, really, and yet something about this meant they could all have fun together with something that had never been very fun to Ana before.

Smoothing the line of the garment in the way she'd been taught, Ana tied her obi traditionally, the red-embroidered purple not too bright against the black and white butterfly pattern of the yukata itself. Her netsuke was made from a pale whitewood, and she hooked a small satchel to it for her belongings and tied the thin obijime with automatic hands, before stepping back out into the bedroom.

When Ana returned, Nev looked slightly in awe at her hair. Cyrilla had pulled it into a bun with two braids on the left side of Nev's face tucked into it. She'd used the flowers to pin it in place, though, and one that seemed to be tucked behind Nev's ear. Nev's bangs looked to be too short to pull in, though, and Cyrilla had left them down to frame her face. Seemingly satisfied with her work, Cyrilla turned towards Ana and grinned.

“You look really nice, Ana," Cyrilla stated, causing Nev to turn in Ana's direction as well.

“Oh, that does look lovely! Especially the color scheme. It really works for you!" Nev added as she smiled brightly at Ana.

Ana huffed softly, feeling herself flush just a little. "Thank you," she said, clearing her throat. Returning the compliment was much easier, since it was entirely true. "You both look wonderful as well." She was sure Cyrilla got loads of compliments on her hair all the time, but Nev's was pretty, too, a bright, sunshine-blonde that went really well with the pale purple she'd chosen. Cyrilla was just too pretty to be believed, really, like some kind of fairy from a story or something, and it really didn't have much to do with her hair color, though that certainly didn't hurt her case.

She wondered for a moment how she'd wound up in the company of such people, but shook it off. That was hardly the most important thing, and interesting as they were as people, they were still people.

Ana pulled the ties out of her hair, shaking it out a little and running her fingers through it a few times to make it easier for Cyrilla to manipulate. "Feel free to do whatever you want," she said with a shrug. "It tends to behave, at least."

Cyrilla and Nev both huffed a short laugh before Nev stood from the chair, and offered it to Ana. Cyrilla pat it at the same time and waited until Ana was situated before she ran her fingers through Ana's hair. “It's so soft and fluffy," she spoke, running the brush through it a few times. “It's like cotton candy, almost," she added, earning a light chuckle from Nev.

“Are you just saying that because of the color?" she asked, causing Cyrilla to snort.

“No. It feels soft and fluffy like cotton candy does, only better and without that sticky feeling." Once Cyrilla finished combing it, Ana could feel her pulling and tugging at her hair, occasionally putting some of the strands over Ana's shoulder. It took at least fifteen minutes before Cyrilla hummed a satisfied note, and turned so that she was standing in front of Ana. Nev handed her the mirror, and she held it up in front of Ana.

“So, what do you think?" she asked. Cyrilla had pulled Ana's hair into a waterfall style braid that was half-up and the rest of her hair was allowed to remain loose. She'd tucked two of the amaryllis flowers into the band that held the braid at the back of her head, and had tucked the other one behind Ana's ear.

"Oh." Ana's eyes widened a little; she had a fair bit of hairstyling in her repertoire, so to speak, but she'd never gone to much effort to learn to use it on herself, so she wasn't even aware her hair could look quite this nice. "That's—thank you, Cyrilla!" She handed the mirror back and stood, gesturing to the seat. "If you'd prefer to do your own that's fine, but I could help too if you like?"

“Well, considering that my hands have worked on two hair styles already, a third might be a bit much for me. I'll gladly take the help to give my hands a bit of a rest," Cyrilla replied, taking the chair Ana had been sitting in. Nev chuckled lightly as she stood on the other side of Cyrilla.

“Is there something in particular that you'd like, Cyrilla?" Nev asked as Cyrilla pursed her lips together in a contemplative manner. She shook her head, though, and glanced towards Ana.

“Not really, so... surprise me," she stated.

Ana hummed, running thin fingers through Cyrilla's hair and smiling at the smooth texture of it. "Yours is so silky," she said, almost absently, with clear admiration. Realizing that might be a little weird, she cleared her throat. "Um, anyway. The yukata's got a sort of complex pattern, so I think maybe simple will be best here. Maybe a feebas-tail braid on one side, into a ponytail?" She glanced at Nev, curious what her thoughts were.

Cyrilla chuckled lightly at Ana's earlier statement, but hummed lightly. “I think it would look really nice," Nev answered. “And it's not like it has to be anything too elegant, right? We're going to a summer festival, after all," she continued. Cyrilla nodded her head once in agreement.

“Agreed. It doesn't have to be too fancy or anything of the sort, and I did say surprise me, so..." Cyrilla trailed off with a light smile.

“Oh, this is going to be so exciting," Nev stated, clearly enthused about going to the Camellia Festival.

Ana might not be much to write home about, when it came to strength or agility, but her fingers were nimble and deft, and the hairstyle didn't take long at all to form. She wove the flower into it, just behind the ear, at the place the braids became a ponytail. "There!" she declared, stepping back and patting Cyrilla's shoulders with her hands once before she let them fall away. "What do you think?"

For a moment, the expression on Cyrilla's face was soft. She was smiling, but there seemed to be something like melancholy tinged to it before the smile brightened. Almost as if the melancholy was never there to begin with.

“I think it looks really nice, Ana, thank you!" Cyrilla stated, standing up from her spot. The smile turned into a grin, though, as she glanced between Ana and Nev. “Well, now that we've mostly taught Nev how to wear a yukata, how about we go find the guys and get ourselves to a festival!?"

“Didn't they say they were going to meet us, here? They were out with Eryk helping him find a yukata since he didn't have one, right?" Nev spoke, causing Cyrilla to snort softly.

“Something like that."

Ana was not exactly surprised Eryk didn't have a yukata—more surprising was the fact that he'd consider wearing one for something like this. Kas, she could see—he was kind of flamboyant in a certain way, and wouldn't mind the slight showiness of traditional clothing.

In any case, she lifted her shoulders a little and smiled. "I suppose someone should probably text Kasimir and tell him we'll meet them under the festival arch? It's kind of like the front gate, and pretty easy to see: it's decorated with loads and loads of camellias."

“On it," Cyrilla spoke just as Nev opened her mouth to do the same, it seemed. Cyrilla grabbed her phone and sent the text quickly before turning back towards Ana and Nev. “Done, and done!" Cyrilla seemed just as excited as Nev had a moment ago.

“I wonder if they'll have any deep fried twinkies there," Nev mused out loud, causing Cyrilla to shake her head.

“Won't know until we get there, now let's go!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


July 25th
The Camellia Gate - Evening - Clear
Aidan Klein


As it turned out, wearing the yukata wasn't too hard. Aidan had elected for a pair of shorts underneath, but more than that wasn't necessary. The fold naturally sat about as low on the chest as a v-neck t-shirt would, and he'd never been one to really care about that sort of thing. The geta were different, but simple enough to walk in, so it wasn't like he could complain much.

Presently, he and the other two were standing off to one side of the arch that marked entrance into the ground that had been set aside for the festival: several blocks' worth of streets, from the look of it. Tourists were out in force, but so were the locals, and the attire ranged from the traditional, like their own, to t-shirts and khaki shorts to sundresses to business casual, from a few of the office workers who seemed to have just ended their shifts. There were all kinds of people, too: old, young, families, couples, groups of teenage friends, and so on; he supposed the composition might change a little as the night wore on, but at the moment it was quite the interesting mix.

Aidan passively filtered details as people passed; Nero and Rheinallt were talking about something, but he was only listening with half an ear right now. The smell of the flowers next to him was a little heady, but he didn't want to smoke or anything this close to the arch. He really needed to quit, anyway, as he periodically reminded himself.

It was easy to notice that they were drawing attention; he'd even seen a few female tourists snapping pictures that he thought were probably supposed to be discreet. They weren't, but it wasn't worth the effort of stopping them. He was nominally 'famous' and sometimes recognized. He supposed in this case it might be more the other two's fault than his, though, for the obvious reason that they were good-looking young guys in traditional clothing. The kind of thing a certain type of tourist would take a picture of, especially if they could claim the arch was the point.

Hopefully it wouldn't be too much longer until the rest of the group got here. He hadn't been sure about meeting the target, but if he was going to do it, this was about the most organic way to make it happen, so he'd figured he might as well get it over with. If she was ever part of Project Nebula, he'd have to then anyhow.

It wasn't much longer until they arrived. Doc looked to be chatting amicably with Niav who was grinning. They both turned their attention towards the other woman of their group, and waited on her reply for something. Niav rolled her eyes at the answer, but Doc seemed to find it funny. When she glanced in Aidan's direction, though, she waved excitedly as did Niav, though less excitedly.

“Hi, Aidan," she greeted, once they were close enough. “And you too, Eryk and Kasimir. You all look so nice!" she stated as she glanced in Nero and Rheinallt's direction. “Oh, wait, um, Ana, this is Aidan!" she introduced him as Niav chuckled lightly. “He's my supervisor."

Nero rolled his eyes, though, as Doc smiled at them.

She was tiny, Aidan decided.

Of course, this bit of information had been in the dossier. Intellectually, he'd understood that she was five foot one and a hundred pounds soaking wet, if that. But there was an inherent sort of fragility to her appearance, too, one that took something more than just being a small woman to produce. He wasn't sure what it was, but he set the thought aside for a moment when she made hesitant eye contact.

"Nice to meet you, Mr....?" She seemed unsure it was appropriate to address him as Doc had introduced him. Arceus, he was getting old, wasn't he?

Shaking his head faintly, Aidan extended his hand. "Doc's got it right," he said. "I'm just Aidan. Nice to meet you too, Ana."

She smiled, then, a bit of tension loosening in her frame, and she put her hand out in return. He took it very carefully, still quite cognizant of that impression she gave off. He'd heard people use expressions like 'dollfaced' for women before, but didn't think he'd ever met someone for whom it was so appropriate. Poor kid looked like she'd snap in half if you breathed too hard in her general direction, paper and porcelain. But her grip was firm, if far from aggressive, and when they let go, she was still smiling a little, as if she knew he'd been especially careful and was the faintest bit amused by it.

"You all clean up nice," he observed, nodding to Niav and Doc. "Mind the tourists, hey? Couple of them seem to be a bit too enthusiastic with the cameras today." He figured it was fair to warn them—a couple of giggling women snapping shots of them just standing around was one thing. Statistically, men were much more likely to get pushy about it, and while he had no doubt Niav could handle herself, he was less sure the other two would really know what to do.

Doc tilted her head in confusion as if she hadn't quite understood what Aidan had meant. “He means that if some of them get a bit pushy, it's okay to tell them no. And if they can't take no for an answer, well..." Niav started, trailing off at the end before arching a brow at Doc. “You have four capable people here to help you out." Doc's eyes widened as Niav explained before pursing her lips together.

“I don't think that'll be a problem, though," Doc stated, causing Nero to roll his eyes. Niav did the same before shaking her head.

“Well regardless, we all do look nice, and since it's Ana and Nev's first time at a festival, how about we go enjoy ourselves, hm?" Niav stated, crossing her arms over her chest.

“You do look nice, by the way, Anastasia," Nero stated as he moved a bit to the side, as if to allow the women to move in front of them.

Aidan had to suppress a soft snort as the girl's face went pink. "Th-thank you. You too," she replied, stride hitching slightly awkwardly as the group shifted. She clearly wasn't sure where she was supposed to walk, comparatively, but the streets were pretty wide, so eventually the group became a sort of amorphous blob.

Rheinallt took a couple broader steps to wind up next to Niav, leaning down to say something Aidan couldn't hear. That more or less confirmed that the two were in cahoots for some reason. He supposed it probably had to do with Nero; the guy was the target of at least half of their nonsense, with the other half being rather widely spread.

The festival itself had all the staples and then some: food stalls, games, souvenir stands, places to sit or congregate, and a lively atmosphere, backgrounded by a general buzz of noise given vague rhythm by street performers of various sorts. A few small pokémon were about as well, the generally harmless types that weren't required to be leashed at public events like this. Paper lanterns supplemented the dying light of the sun; the smell of frying things was strong on the air.

"Anyone have any preferences for what to do?" he asked, figuring he might as well inquire. Ana shook her head a little; Rheinallt only shrugged.

"You can pretty much see the options," he said. "Food at these is usually pretty good. I recommend the funnel cake if you have a sweet tooth, and the soft pretzels are aces even if you don't. They also do takoyaki, of course, and stuff like candy floss or whatever." He ticked the food off on his fingers; Aidan figured he must be hungry or something. "There's also lots of games, of course. Sometimes they have this weird one where you try to catch a magikarp with your bare hands, but there's more traditional stuff like ring toss too."

“Wait, how would you do that? Magikarp aren't very bright and they tend to just stay in one place. Wouldn't it be pointless? Doc asked when Rheinallt mentioned the game with magikarp. Nero arched a brow at her, though, and tilted his head slightly.

“Catching one with your bare hands isn't as easy as that," Nero seemed to explain. “They're slippery, and sometimes their scales can be a little rougher than normal. They don't have quite the same texture as a sharpedo would; that's more like sandpaper," he continued, furrowing his brows lightly.

“Oh, that sounds like it could be fun!" Doc stated, earning a light chuckle from Niav.

“Well we're here as a collective group, enjoying the festival together, so... maybe we should decide on something to do first. Maybe we can save eating for last and take a look at some of the games?" Niav suggested. Nero shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't care either way.

Considering that no one else had indicated a strong desire in any direction, Aidan was willing to go with it. "Works for me. Looks like over here we've got... darts, ring toss, some kind of speed-eating challenge, apple-bobbing, one of those things were you swing a hammer really hard to hit the bell... coupla guessing games, too, apparently." He shrugged. "Quick, someone pretend we have interests."

Anastasia giggled. "Um... I don't know if I'd be very good at any of those things. What are the guessing games about?"

"Usually the number of gumballs in a jar or something like that," Rheinallt replied. "If you get the closest of anyone on the night, you win the grand prize, which looks like it's... a gigantic stuffed azurill." he pointed, to where there was indeed a stuffed pokémon plush about the size of Ana herself.

Her eyes widened. "Well, I'll put in a guess, I suppose. Does anyone else want to?"

"I will, sure."

“I'll give it a try!" Doc stated. Nero shook his head, though, and didn't seem to want to participate.

“Eryk and I have always managed to get ourselves banned from things like that. We're really good at guessing things, apparently," Niav offered as way of explanation, shrugging lightly. “But by all means, do feel free to take a guess on my behalf," she stated, grinning in Ana and Doc's direction.

“You'd still be taking a guess, Cy, even if they did it on your behalf. Besides," Nero stated as he glanced over towards the stall, “they only get one guess. You'd have to make one yourself if you wanted to win that azurill." Niav rolled her eyes but was smiling as if she didn't really seem bothered by it.

“I'd still like to know what your guesses are, after I make my own, of course," Doc stated as she made her way towards the booth.

The rest of them sort of followed, stopping close enough that Aidan could see the thing they were guessing about: in this case, it seemed to be a large jar of marbles. The jar itself was about five gallons; Aidan did a little mental math that was bound to be less accurate than Rheinallt's, especially considering there were several sizes of marble involved. Still, he managed to ballpark it, and wondered how far off he was. Past a certain point, it was luck, of course; the margin of error was too big to get precision even if you knew the exact dimensions of the marbles involved.

The three that had elected to put in a guess each paid a small fee to do so, then wrote their guesses down on slips of paper, along with their names, and passed them in to the stall attendant. Unsurprisingly, Rheinallt was squinting at the jar, trying to measure diameters and ratios as accurately as possible, no doubt, before shrugging and scrawling a large 5300 on his paper. Ana's handwriting was too small for Aidan to see what she'd guessed, but she didn't seem to be attempting the actual math in the same way, which was fair enough, honestly.

Doc seemed to take a little bit of extra time with her guess. Her lips were pursed and it looked like she was chewing her bottom lip for a moment before her brows furrowed. Taking a breath, she finally seemed to write something down. She'd written 5877 down as her guess before handing the paper to the stall attendant. Smiling to herself, it seemed, she made her way back towards the others and arched a brow at Niav and Nero

“So, what were your guesses," she asked. Niav arched a brow before turning her attention towards Nero. He merely shrugged though, causing her to roll her eyes and gently tapped his forearm.

“Fifty five hundred," he stated, furrowing his brows in Niav's direction as he rubbed his arm. It didn't look like she'd tapped him too hard, though.

“Fifty one hundred and some loose change," Niav replied with a light grin. “What, it was a big jar but there were different sized marbles in there," she spoke when Nero gave her a questioning look.

"I think I went a little too high," Ana said with a rueful smile. "I guessed six thousand and one."

That probably was high, at least as far as Aidan could tell, but not outlandishly so.

"Anyway," Rheinallt said, stretching his arms up over his head. "What's next? Looks like they've got three-legged races going on over there. If we want to do that we should probably make it happen before all the light's gone; I can't imagine they'll stay open after dark." He grinned, waggling his eyebrows at the others. "What do you say, guys? Wanna live a little?"

"That's teams of two," Aidan noted. "We've probably got the best chances if we arrange by height."

"Yeah, but that's boring," Rheinallt replied, shooting a glance at Niav. "Don't optimize the chances of winning. Optimize for the most fun."

“What Kas said," Niav replied, a small grin pulling at her lips. “And if we want to optimize for fun," she continued, pausing only to glance at Aidan and the others, “then we should do it in pairs. That means you and Ana," she pointed to Nero and Ana, “you and Nev, and then Kas and myself. I think it'd be pretty fun that way." Nero furrowed his brows before glancing in Ana's direction and shrugging.

“I'd be okay with it," he stated in a nonchalant fashion.

“I don't know. It seems a bit unfair?" Doc stated. “I've never done a three-legged race before. At least not since elementary. I wouldn't want to..." she trailed off a bit as if she were unsure how to finish that sentence.

“But that's the point, Nev. You're doing it to have fun. You shouldn't worry about whether or not you'll be good at it. It defeats the purpose," Niav spoke, causing Doc to purse her lips together.

“Is that okay, though? I mean, the two of us against the four of them?" she asked, glancing in Aidan's direction.

Aidan snorted softly. "It's not like they're all a team against us, Doc. I think we'll do fine, if you don't mind having your ankle tied to mine." He arched an eyebrow, perfectly willing to opt out if she was less than comfortable with the idea. "I know you're not especially coordinated, if Balthazar's recent deaths are anything to go by, but something tells me we'll be okay against these losers."

"Hey," Rheinallt protested, then paused, glancing down at Niav. "That's probably kind of true actually." He shrugged.

Ana smiled, on the edge of a grin. "How about the actual losers have to buy the first round of snacks?"

"I like the way you think, kid."

The smile inched a little wider. "I like my funnel cake with cinnamon sugar, so you know what to get. You'll probably be full just from eating our dust, though," she declared.

Aidan couldn't help himself—he laughed outright. Something about the smack talk coming from such a tiny person was just too funny. He shouldn't be surprised, though—if she wasn't scared off by Nero's permanent grumpy face, she probably wasn't too intimidated by the way he looked either.

Niav started laughing too, and there was a strange snort that came from Nero. “Well, Kas, I guess we should be looking at getting some funnel cake with cinnamon sugar on it," Niav stated as if she were expecting the both of them to lose. Doc chuckled lightly at Ana's statement, but giggled a little when Aidan laughed.

“I'd like a deep fried twinkie, if the losers are already taking orders," Doc stated, earning a snort from Niav.

“And apparently deep fried twinkies. What about you, Aidan, what do you eat?" Niav stated, glancing in Aidan's direction and arched an amused brow.

"Well assuming I'm not stuffed with Ana and Nero's dust, I wouldn't mind a pretzel," he said. It wasn't too surprising that those two had accepted their inevitable loss. They were the worst height match by a fair margin, and unlikely to take this anywhere near seriously.

Normally he wouldn't either, but he figured it'd be rude to let Doc down, so making an effort it was.

The group headed over to the event booth, making their entries and receiving the scarves with which they were instructed to tie their ankles together. Perhaps appropriately, the one he was handed was purple. "You got a preference for sides, Doc?"

“Oh, um," she began, glancing down at her feet for a moment. “Well, I suppose since I'm left handed... I should do the left side?" she questioned as if she were unsure of which one to pick. She furrowed her brows, though, and shook her head. “I mean, the left side should be fine, right?" she stated, smiling a little awkwardly. Nero was already tying his and Ana's ankles together, it seemed. Niav seemed to be tying her's and Rheinallt's scarf around their ankles, probably due to her being the shorter of the two, and making it easier on them.

"Works for me," Aidan replied easily, moving to her right side and moving into a crouch. Carefully, he nudged her ankle over towards where his was, shifting a little to make it easier to tie them together, and wrapped the scarf firmly around several times, knotting it securely. It would actually be better if there wasn't too much give in it, after all.

Standing, he caught his balance. "This'll be easier if you put your right arm around me," he observed. "You don't have to, though. Would you mind if I put mine over your shoulders?" Their heights made that the best option, and they wouldn't jostle around as much if they weren't awkwardly bumping arms or whatever.

“Oh, sure, that's fine! Whatever will make it easier," she stated, seemingly having no qualms about either or. She wrapped her arm around him as best as she could before smiling a bit. “Like this?" she asked, adjusting her grip on him before moving a bit so he could, perhaps, do the same.

“Okay, so all I have to do is make sure I'm a little more coordinated than usual. Unlike with Balthazar," she stated, grinning up at him. “Let's make sure we don't have to eat Ana and Eryk's dust."

Despite himself, Aidan was a little surprised by the ease of her acquiescence. Not that it was really that extraordinary—Doc was a pretty agreeable person in general. Still, he blinked a moment before settling an arm around her shoulders, setting his hand on her bicep. "Right, so the trick is just to make sure we step together, at about the same pace and length. I'll shorten to match you, so just jog as normally as you can and I'll take care of the rest."

He felt himself smile a bit, wry as the expression had to be. "Gonna make the kids pay for my food this time." Gently, he nudged her towards the starting line, doing as he'd promised and letting her decide the pace. It was a little awkward at first, but not so bad.

The other four were already lined up at the start, and after making sure everyone was ready, the attendant running the attraction dropped the starting flag, and they were off.

Doc stepped forward first, holding a little tightly on to Aidan as they moved. Nero and Ana seemed to be in the lead so far, but Doc had a strangely determined expression on her face. “Oh, no, you're not getting ahead that easily. Come on, Aidan, let's show those losers what we've got," Doc stated as she seemed to move just a bit faster. She was smiling, though, and it seemed like she was having a bit of fun.

He huffed a chuckle, moving apace with her and encouraging her to go a little faster once they'd found their rhythm. It was a balance, trying to increase their pace enough to catch up but not so quickly that they fell out of synch. "All right, little faster," he said. "We're catching up."

Behind them, the other two hit the ground, Rheinallt laughing in such a way as to suggest he was having more fun losing than he would be winning, which seemed about right for him somehow. Nero and Ana were a little more determined, and they moved surprisingly well together, but there was no getting around the fact that the girl was tiny, and Doc's longer natural stride helped them close the gap, passing the finish line just ahead of the other two before one of them—he honestly wasn't sure which—slowed down too fast and they collectively tripped.

"Ah—" Reflexively, Aidan shifted aside, winding his other arm around Doc so he hit the ground on his back and she landed on him, which was probably... a little softer, at least. Not that the ground was too bad here, really. "You okay?" he asked, loosening his arms and snorting softly. "Glad we managed to save the falling till the end."

Doc seemed to be fine, though, if the laughing was anything to go by. “That was so much fun, I could kiss you!" she stated, her laughter forcing her eyes closed for a moment, unaware of what she'd just said, it seemed. She moved, though, so that they could both sit up, and began untying their scarf, huffing a small laugh every time she tried to undo the knot.

He didn't take her seriously, at any rate. "Don't traumatize the kids, Doc," he said with a half smile. Aidan leaned down to help with the knot, managing to loosen it and unwind the thing from around them, though he had to stifle a few chuckles in the process. He lost hold of one when he spotted something irregular and reached over, plucking a few pieces of grass out of her hair.

"Pretty sure these aren't as intentional as the flowers," he said, showing her one so she'd understand what he was doing. He set one of the flowers back the way it belonged, too, then stood, offering a hand down since she was still laughing.

“At least we didn't lose," Nero muttered softly as he glanced down at Ana. He moved his gaze back towards the field, though, where Niav and Rheinallt were still lying where they'd fallen. They were still laughing, it seemed, though whether it was at Aidan and Nev or at themselves was hard to tell.

"Sorry," Ana said, rolling her eyes in what Aidan figured was a self-deprecating fashion. "I'm too short to be that fast." She didn't seem too troubled, though, crouching to untie them before returning to a stand. "Thanks for running with me anyway. I've never done one of those before—it was fun."

Eventually, Rheinallt and Niav got their asses more or less in gear, accepting their loss and paying their penance in snack foods, as agreed, and the group spent a while just wandering around, trying out anything that looked interesting. Though he'd poked fun at them for not having ideas or opinions before, it seemed to get a little easier, as everyone relaxed into the dynamic that the group had. It was an interesting, one, Aidan thought, and oddly... comfortable. He'd been a little worried wither he or Ana would stick out a bit, but it honestly didn't seem to be a problem. She was a sweet kid, and the longer he spent with them, the more convinced he became that none of them were really acting when they reacted to her in the ways they did.

It probably should have concerned him more than it did, but even he was human, and the festive atmosphere wouldn't allow him to dwell on it for long.

It was shaping up to be the best night he'd had in... he wasn't even sure, and it had only been a few hours.

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Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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July 25th
The Camellia Festival - Evening - Clear
Eryk Nero


Those asses.

Eryk was quite certain that Cyrilla and Kasimir had intentionally broke away from Anastasia and himself for the obvious reason. Obvious in Eryk's case, anyway. It would provide him some time to get to know Anastasia a little better, but he wasn't so sure he could do that. They were in a crowded area at the moment, and he was uncomfortable being surrounded by so many people. He'd always been like that, but even now, when people would stop and stare at him, he couldn't help but feel that they were staring at those things on his face. The scars that were so prominent against his tanned skin and made him withdraw into himself.

Pushing a heavy sigh through his nose, he glanced down towards Anastasia. He wondered if she felt as uncomfortable as he did, but that didn't seem to be the immediate case. Instead, he folded his hands into the sleeves of his yukata, and furrowed his brows. He was certain that the people that parted away from him and Anastasia thought that he was glaring at them. Maybe he was? He couldn't really tell.

“Are you enjoying yourself, so far?" he decided to ask, turning his attention towards Anastasia. It was an innocent question, he supposed, and it was an invite to start conversation if she so desired. If she'd rather not talk, he was fine with that, too. It was detrimental to his mission, but he didn't necessarily care at the moment. The mission could wait just a little longer until she was comfortable enough to tell him things she wouldn't, otherwise, tell a stranger.

She was about to answer when a passing person bumped into her, making her stumble a little bit. She caught herself, though, pursing her lips together and letting a soft breath escape her. "It's been... surprisingly nice, so far," she admitted, tilting her head up so she could make eye contact a bit easier. This did not, however, help her navigation at all, and yet another person brushed by her a little too fast a moment later, and this time she turned her ankle slightly when she steadied herself.

"Um... I don't mean to be a bother, and p-please say no if you're uncomfortable, but—could I walk a little bit, um, closer to you? I don't think people really see me a lot of the time." She had been walking a somewhat-distant two or three feet away from him, enough that the people that parted so easily around him seemed sometimes to catch her in the wake of their movement.

He contemplated her question for a moment before nodding his head. “That shouldn't be a problem," he stated, moving so that he was a little closer to her, and letting her decide how much closer she wanted to be. A thought passed his mind as he glanced back at her. “If it makes it easier, you can hold onto my arm or elbow," he stated. He knew Cyrilla liked to do that sometimes, and he wasn't entirely uncomfortable offering it to Anastasia if she wanted it.

“It... might make things a bit easier for you that way," he continued as his way of explanation. He could see how people wouldn't see her; she was small in stature, and her frame was rather delicate. He had glared at the person who'd bumped into her, and shook his head. Eryk might not have been a particularly nice person, but he still had manners. Enough so that he would have at least said sorry back to the person he'd bumped into, if he had.

Anastasia seemed to consider this, surprise rather evident on her face. "If—if you're sure it's okay," she said, tilting her head back up at him. When he didn't withdraw the offer, though, she moved in next to him and slipped her arm under his, resting her fingers just beneath the crook of his elbow. It was a gentle grip, barely even there, but it did seem to make it a lot easier to walk directly next to him, and got her out of the way of foot traffic.

"The truth is," she said softly, "I'm always a little... I don't know. Does being around so many people make you tired, too? Or uncomfortable, at least? I don't mind, exactly, because it was fun, too, but... I don't think I have the same energy for this kind of thing as Kasimir or Cyrilla do."

“It does," he answered honestly. “It's... draining being around a lot of people all the time, but I've been making an effort to not let it be too much of a hindrance on me," he continued, shrugging his shoulders lightly so as to not disturb where she held onto him. He'd tolerated it mostly because he didn't have much of a choice. He had to be around people almost constantly, even if he didn't want to be.

His family had been rather large by extension; he'd grown up with the other clan members, after all, and it had been tiresome even then. He just didn't... like it. “Kasimir and Cyrilla aren't human, though," he stated with a light huff. “They thrive in environments like this," it was partially true, after all. He knew for a fact that Cyrilla might have enjoyed being here, but her inherent shyness always got the better of her and she withdrew almost as often as Eryk did.

He'd been mostly surprised that it hadn't happened lately, but he supposed it was a good thing. Or not, he couldn't be too sure what was and what wasn't a good thing.

Anastasia smiled at the remark, shaking her head faintly. "I really don't understand how charismatic people do it," she noted. "It's almost like the two of them feed on the energy of these places. Like... energy vampires, or something." She coughed slightly, color rising to the surface of her skin. "Er, well that's kind of a stupid way of saying it, but hopefully you know what I mean, anyway."

She furrowed her brows up at him, though, blinking slowly. "But you know... if it's draining for you and it's draining for me, we don't have to stay. I appreciate that you made the effort, and I'm glad I could, too, but... I don't think there's any reason to force ourselves or anything. Would you like to go home? There's a longer way we can walk that's mostly beach, and we should be able to see the fireworks as we go?"

Eryk found the suggestion agreeable. If they both didn't want to be here, then why should they stay? The others were likely doing things at the festival, and it wasn't like they needed him and Anastasia to be there. They could leave if they wanted to... and that was a strange thought. If they wanted to. Wanted. He blinked before glancing away for a moment.

“Sure," he finally replied, clearing his throat a little awkwardly. “We can go home if you'd like," he clarified. “I wouldn't mind." He really wouldn't. And it wasn't as if he was worried about seeing the fireworks. He didn't much care for them to begin with, however...

“Did you want to see the fireworks?" he asked. She'd said they could see them as they went, but it wasn't quite the same as enjoying them, he didn't think. He knew some people liked to sit and watch them.

She shrugged a little. "Not especially, I guess. They're pretty enough, but I don't really feel the need to stand around and watch them unless you want to." With the gentlest pressure on his arm, she steered him between a couple of festival booths and turned then down an alley that did, in fact, eventually spit them out onto the beach. This stretch of it wasn't really ideal for tourist activities; there was a lot more driftwood and scrub, but if they walked close to the water there wouldn't be anything in the way.

"The other nice thing about this way is there won't be any people," Anastasia explained, releasing a soft breath. He could feel her relax a little next to him. Pausing a moment, she slipped off her geta. "It'll be easier to walk without our shoes," she advised, hooking the straps of hers loosely in her free hand. Straightening, she smiled, before abruptly widening her eyes and releasing his arm. "Sorry—I didn't, uh—didn't realize I was still doing that."

Eryk arched a brow at her, but shrugged. “It's fine," he stated, blinking slowly before turning his attention back out towards the area. “You could still hold on if you'd like; I don't mind," he offered. It hadn't bothered him, and if it meant she felt comfortable, then he didn't really see a problem. His brows furrowed at the thought, but he pushed it aside for now. He paused for a moment to do the same, taking his geta off as well, and slipping the straps around his fingers. It meant he had to unfold his arms from his yukata, but this was more comfortable, he supposed.

“Walking along as the fireworks go off should be sufficient, then. If neither of us are particularly inclined to them, then it would be unnecessary to stay for them," he spoke, answering her previous statement. It wasn't that he didn't like fireworks; they were, as she said, pretty enough, but they were also very bright and loud. He wasn't inclined towards things like that, he supposed.

She seemed to be genuinely considering it, and after a moment, something like a very soft sigh escaped her nose. "You're really very kind, you know that?" Slipping her arm back through his, she started forward. "It throws me off sometimes."

The sand was warm still under their feet, and they were walking close enough to shore that the most ambitious waves managed to wash over them, just a little, barely shy of the hem of Anastasia's yukata. She either didn't notice or didn't mind, though, and most of her attention seemed to be turned out over the water, which was at the moment reflecting the silvery light of the moon overhead. It brought out all sorts of sharp visual contrasts: between the nearly-white sand and deep brown pieces of driftwood, or the black and white patches of her clothes, or even crests in the incoming waves from the rest of the dark water.

"Have you ever lived near the ocean before?" Anastasia asked, taking her eyes from it and settling them back on him.

Eryk almost rolled his eyes when she'd mentioned he was kind. Him? Kind? He wasn't even in the slightest if this mission was anything to go by. But she wasn't supposed to know that his kindness was feigned. A little voice, however, was telling him otherwise. That he was kind; it was just buried underneath layers of caution. He did, however, push a breath through his nose and contemplated her question, instead.

“No. I have not," he finally answered. “I grew up in Fuchsia and lived most of my life there. I have been on islands, but this is the first time I have lived on one," he continued. His previous missions and jobs carried him to various islands before; but he never stayed longer than a couple of days. This was, by far, the longest time he'd ever spent in one place. It was, he thought, nice.

Cinnabar was warm, and to some uncomfortably so, but he didn't mind it so much. Perhaps because Fuchsia was always a little warmer than most places. It's why so many poisons were able to thrive there, he supposed.

"Oh, so close but not that close," she said with a nod, referencing Fuchsia. "I was born in Celadon, but I grew up in Lavender Town. Definitely no ocean nearby there—it feels like such an old, solemn place compared to here. Sometimes I think I miss it, but..." she hummed a sort note, evidently considering her words.

"In the year I've been here I think I've really come to love the sea. Some things just grow on you, I guess." She scrunched her nose a little, as though she found her own words a bit silly or otherwise unsatisfying, but then fell silent. It didn't seem to be uncomfortable, though, and the expression on her face was placid as she continued to walk beside him.

Overhead, the first firework cracked, the noise dulled by distance. The color—a vibrant red—reflected on the water in a brief flash before dimming, only to be followed by an orange one, then gold.

He supposed that might be true for most people. He never stayed in one place to let things grow on him. He nodded, though, showing that he agreed with her. “We've only been here a few months, but I can see the appeal," he stated, breaking the silence for just a moment. “It has a certain quaintness to it that almost makes it feel like it could be home," he spoke in a nonchalant fashion. It wasn't that it couldn't be a home, it just wouldn't be a place he could call home.

She seemed to brighten at the words, though, and nodded a little bit herself. "The last few months have been the best ones," she said, her tone indicating that she took this to be an agreement with or at least directly related to what he'd just said. "Honestly, uh—I'd sort of figured when I moved here that the only thing I'd be doing was working. but then all of you showed up... I guess I'd sort of forgotten people could be like you. Or maybe I didn't know to begin with, but I learned." She shrugged a little, belying the faint tinge of melancholy and caution in her voice.

Eryk sighed, perhaps a little heavier than he'd intended to. “There's nothing wrong with being cautious of people, Anastasia," he knew that it was the right instinct to have, especially when it came to him and the others. Their intentions were not as pure as she might have believed them to be, and some part of Eryk felt a little... he quashed it. He couldn't afford to think that way. He had no right.

“I'm not sure if they've been the best ones," he decided to change the subject, “but they have been... nice." He wasn't going to deny that part, at least. It had been nice the last few months, and he suspected it had a lot to do with the fact that they'd volunteered at her shelter. He enjoyed himself when he was there.

She squeezed his arm then, as if offering support, but fell silent for the remainder of the walk back to her house. The fireworks gradually faded, though occasionally there was a muffled sound as one went off further away. Anastasia let go of his arm to unlock the front gate, gesturing him through behind her so she could re-lock afterwards, and wiped her sandy feet on the grass.

"Luna says everyone's doing okay even with the fireworks, but do you want to go check on mankey? I think he really likes you."

Eryk felt the strangest feeling in his chest when she'd mentioned mankey. He felt the corners of his lips twitch slightly upwards, and turned his head away for a moment. He nodded his head once he was certain the feeling had passed. “I was hoping to adopt him, actually, when he is well and old enough. If, of course, you'd be willing to adopt him to me," he stated, glancing down to meet her gaze so that she would know he was serious.

Anastasia, by contrast, made no effort to hide her smile when he said it, slipping her shoes back on for the walk across the yard to the shelter building. "You know, I just had this feeling that you might. And I'd be happy to! He's already very energetic—I think he's going to need a lot of exercise, and he seems like he might take well to battling, even, if that's something you'd want to train him for."

Unlocking the shelter building, she flicked on the lights, but only to about halfway up, so that those of the residents who were sleeping would not be disturbed.

Eryk thought it was a good thing that mankey would be able to battle. All of his pokemon would have to be battle-ready because of his job, however; he was... relieved that Anastasia said that she would. He followed behind her as quietly as he'd been trained until they reached the area where mankey was. Eryk felt his mouth twitch again before a thought crossed his mind.

“How is the stunky doing? I haven't seen her in a couple of days," he asked. There were some things he was still getting used to living at Anastasia's place, but he thought he'd at least see stunky and mankey almost every day. “Has she had a flare up in her lungs?" It would, at least, explain why he hadn't seen her.

She dipped her chin, a little sadly. "A little. I think she just caught a cold, but of course with her preexisting condition, everything like that's a lot worse and a major risk to her. I've got her in quarantine, and we're working our way through the strongest antivirals she can handle, but I didn't want to risk exposing her to anything else while she's in such a fragile state."

Anastasia did not, as a rule, sound confident about a lot of things, but he had noticed that she always spoke with more authority when the matter was medical, the expertise of a true professional making itself known, even though she retained an obvious amount of sympathy also. "At the moment she seems to be recovering, though; I expect she'll be back out and about with the others in a couple more days."

Mankey, it turned out, was still awake, and she reached down to scratch him behind his ear before glancing back up at Eryk. "Remember how to pick him up?" she asked, stepping back a little so he could easily do just that.

He huffed a little. As if he'd ever forget how to pick up mankey. To prove as such, he leaned down and held his hand out to mankey, watching as it sniffed his hand. When mankey reached up towards him, Eryk gently picked him up and cradled the mankey in his arms, adjusting so that he was carrying it properly. Mankey let out a soft snort of approval before he began running his fingers through Eryk's hair as if searching for something. He then moved his hands to Eryk's face, pulling and poking at his cheeks for a minute, causing Eryk to furrow his brows.

“I forget he's still young and curious about things," Eryk murmured between the face pulls.

Anastasia laughed, the sound soft but genuine. "Give him a few months and you'll be wishing for this again. By then his primary mode of exploring will be punching and kicking things. Which reminds me: I'm going to need to put in an order for a heavy-duty sandbag."

Eryk huffed lightly, gently pulling one of mankey's hands away from his face. “If he is to be with me, the least I can do is make the order myself. Punching and kicking things shouldn't be too difficult. I can train with him so that way he learns restraint. He may not be a stufful, but mankeys' strength are still something to be concerned about." A stufful could accidentally knock someone out if they weren't too careful, and bewear were known to actually kill people with their strength. Mankey wouldn't have that problem, exactly, but Eryk thought it best if he learn while he was still young.

"If you insist," Anastasia replied with a small smile. "Drake's passed me a few gym equipment catalogues and things, so we can always see what they have for fighting-types. Should be plenty of room for something in the yard." Letting out a soft breath, she rubbed the pokémon's head. "He's medically clear now, so if you want to bring him to the house for tonight I don't see any reason why not."

Eryk didn't bother to keep the strange twitch of his lips, hidden. Glancing at mankey, he ran a hand through his fur and nodded his head. “I don't see why not, either," he replied. “It will get him used to me sooner," he added. He would have to keep an eye on mankey, of course. There was no telling what kind of mischief mankey would try to get into, but for now, this... it was nice.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
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August 10th
Cinnabar Island - Late Afternoon- Humid
Drake Bellamy


Drake glanced over the line forming outside of his gym. It wasn't particularly long; there were at most a total of five people. It could have been one challenger with their group of friends, or all five of them were challengers, however; there was one person in particular that stuck out. Drake had no intentions of dealing with that person, so he pulled his glasses from the top of his head and placed them on his face. He'd still be recognizeable with the hair color, but there were at least three other people on this island with blue hair. That was the logic he was going to use for now.

As quietly as he could, he turned away from the gym, and made his way towards the other side of the island. Maybe he could go hide out at Ana's place until the gym officially closed? He'd have to send out a message, though, saying the gym wasn't going to be open today. If he did that, then the person was likely to scour the island for him, or just wait at his house.

“Guess I'm sleeping at the gym, again," he murmured to himself. Sighing softly, he shoved his hands into his pocket and kicked at the pebbles on the ground. This week had to start off shitty, didn't it? He really didn't want to bother Ana with this, though, so maybe he'd just take a walk around the island, instead, and hope he didn't run into that person.

His walk brought him through the park. He could hide out here for the remainder of the day. It had some secluded spots, and there were designated areas for the pokémon to walk around at. The ones that could, anyway. Axe, Goopy, and Deino were, perhaps, the only ones he could let out. Brick Jr., too, he supposed. With that in mind, he set off to find a spot that wouldn't be too crowded. He walked towards the back part of the park, pausing mid-step when a meowth ran out in front of him, climbing up his leg before nestling on his shoulder.

“Oh, well, hello?" he stated, a little confused by the creature's actions. The meowth merely mewled at him, when a woman approached him, pursing her lips together and placing a hand on her hip.

“Zephyr, you little shit, that's not nice to do that to random people," she stated, glancing at Drake and offering an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that, she get's a little excited when she's playing with the others and tends to run off," she spoke as a way of explaining the meowth's actions.

“No problem. At least she doesn't try to head butt people or eat their hands," he spoke, reaching up to his shoulder to rub the meowth behind her ears. She started purring, causing him to roll his eyes as he took the meowth from her perch, and handed her back to the young woman. “I'm Drake, and you are?" he asked. Might as well be friendly. He didn't think he'd seen her on the island before. He'd have remembered someone with hair as white as hers.

“Cyrilla," she stated, taking the meowth from Drake. “So you must be Drake Bellamy, then, Cinnabar's gym leader, right?" she asked, causing Drake to nod his head. “Then you're that Drake, the one who's friends with Ana. She's here with me, right now if you wanted to say hi," she continued, causing Drake to blink. She knew Ana? He supposed this was one of Ana's new volunteers. He'd met Eryk, of course, but he'd never met the other two. Kasimir, he believed was the name of the other guy.

Man, I need to get out more often and stop hiding. I'm missing out on meeting people, was the only thought that crossed his mind before he nodded. “Sure. I meant to see how's she's doing lately since I haven't been by the shelter in a couple of weeks," he stated with a light shrug, following behind Cyrilla as she led the way.

“Hey, Ana, I found a friend of yours," she called out when they approached. He recognized Ana almost immediately, and grinned a little when he spotted Aidan.

“Hey, guys. Long time no see," he greeted.

Ana, dressed her in a variation of her usual array of black and ruffles, smiled brightly approaching him and opening her arms for a brief hug. "Drake! How have you been? It feels like you haven't been by in ages; pidgey misses you." One of the shelter's pidgey had a strange fascination with him—probably the color of his hair in particular, as it always tried to land on his head and sit there for the duration of his visit.

He knew, of course, that Ana wasn't saying that to guilt him or anything—it was sort of her indirect way of inviting him to come see her when he had the time and inclination.

Aidan offered him a friendly nod; apparently he'd decided to let Ed out for the day. The mudsdale was enormous even by the standards of his species, but relatively placid and frank compared to some of the former champion's more eccentric pokémon. Frost and Rex and were out and about as well, the latter apparently playing some kind of two-on-one tag with Luna and Nova, Ana's pokémon.

"Taking the afternoon off?" he asked casually.

“Uh, you could say that, yeah," he replied. He technically was taking the afternoon off, so it wasn't like he was lying. He grinned, though, and tossed the pokéballs that housed his pokémon, watching as Axe, Goopy, Deino, and Brick Jr., appeared. Goopy immediately slid over towards Ana, bouncing a bit as she smiled up at the woman. Deino, however, immediately walked over towards Aidan and opened his mouth. Drake supposed he, for some reason, associated Aidan with Nev and the yoghurt chips. Brick Jr., however, glanced at everyone, and made his way over towards a zoroark that was curled under one of the trees. It appeared to be sleeping, but opened an eye to acknowledge the gabite before closing it again.

“There wasn't a line at the gym so I figured I'd close up early," he continued, snorting softly when a large arcanine came up to Deino, and licked his head. Cyrilla rolled her eyes, though. It probably belonged to her. Deino still seemed fixed on Aidan, though, not bothering to acknowledge the arcanine, even as the large pokémon pawed at Deino's back.

“Zero, leave him alone and go bother Rex," Cyrilla stated as she shooed the arcanine away. Zero made a soft whimper before he took off in the direction of the houndoom and Ana's pokémon.

Surprisingly enough, Aidan actually seemed to be carrying some of the snacks, and tossed one into Deino's waiting maw with a snort. "He might be an idiot, but even a broken clock's right twice a day," he noted, rubbing Deino's head despite his rather blunt assessment.

Ana, of course, bent down to scoop up Goopy, giving the pokémon a gentle squeeze. "I missed you, too, squish," she declared, turning them both to watch the now-intensifying tag match between the four others. To Drake, she added: "I'm glad you got a break. I know summer can be pretty crazy for challenges, huh?" It was a popular time of year for tourism, too, and trainers sometimes came seeking a bit of that island lifestyle along with their badges. Fortunately, Drake was high enough up the Kanto chain of gym leaders that he didn't get near as many challenges as someone like Aurora, but being in such an appealing destination almost made up the numbers, apparently.

“They're not so bad," Drake replied with a smile. “It tends to die a little more during the winter, even if Cinnabar doesn't get much by way of snow. I don't remember the last time it even dropped below sixty degrees," he murmured. The island was hot, but it wasn't like Drake was going to complain. He liked warmer weather; he supposed he just wasn't suited to colder climates. Deino munched happily on the snacks, and opened his mouth again, anticipating more, it seemed as Drake rolled his eyes.

“Right or not, he's still an idiot. Guess his name should have been Brick Jr. They pretty much just follow their stomachs," he stated. Cyrilla snorted softly, but offered no commentary. “So, what brings you all out here? Well, besides letting the others out to play. I see Ed's out, and Rex, but I take it Brick's too dumb to leave unsupervised?" Drake stated, grinning lightly in Aidan's direction.

“We spent most of the morning at Ana's, but it was too pretty of a day to stay cooped inside. I suggested the park so... here we are," Cyrilla stated. She wasn't wrong; even if it was a little humid, the day was still nice as far as nice days went on Cinnabar.

"Brick's resting," Aidan explained. "I had him working out a few of Eryk and Kasimir's pokémon this morning; about the only way I can tire the idiot out." Ed approached, lowering his large head over Aidan's shoulder; as if automatically, the man lifted his arm to scratch at the equine pokémon's neck, beneath his heavy mane. Ed seemed to enjoy this, stomping on the ground with one foot in what seemed to be a pleased kind of way, never mind that it sent small tremors through the earth that the rest of them could feel through their shoes.

"We were thinking of getting a snack in a bit," Ana added. "I was going to take them to Yselda's for the ice cream and floats. Do you want to come along?"

Drake grinned broadly as he nodded his head. “Of course I want to go! Yselda makes the best floats!" he stated, perhaps a little too excitedly. He hadn't been to Yselda's in a few weeks, mostly because he and that person had been on a date there, which meant that the place was often haunted by them. Drake would have declined if he didn't already know where they were at. He was refusing to call his ex by his name, after all. Refusing to acknowledge anything about the guy, actually. Shuddering involuntarily, he reached over to scratch Deino's head.

“Since that's settled," Cyrilla spoke, making a sharp whistle. Zero stopped what he was doing, which involved dropping the houndoom's tail in his mouth, before trotting over towards Cyrilla. The zoroark lazily made its way towards the group as well, nudging Cyrilla's back as she recalled both of them into their respective balls. Meowth seemed to protest a bit, causing the woman to roll her eyes before she furrowed her brows.

“C'mon Siri, time to go. I'm sure Aidan would like his head back, now," she spoke. A noibat peered over Aidan's hair, chirped, and laid back down. Drake supposed he wasn't paying much attention since he'd missed it, but Cyrilla rolled her eyes.

“Guess she likes Aidan for a new roosting spot," Drake stated as he chuckled lightly.

"It's fine," Aidan said, recalling all of his pokémon and giving Siri a gentle scratch behind one of her large, thin ears. "Been a while since I had any pokémon small enough to hitch a ride on my person. Reminds me of the old days." He half smiled, if only briefly, and glanced at Ana.

She kept both Luna and Nova beside her—Drake wasn't even sure she ever used pokéballs, since they were small enough to be allowed anywhere pokémon were and well-trained enough to have passed every behavioral certification required to enter public places. "You guys are going to like it, I think. It's this way." She struck off in the lead, exiting the park from the south.

Drake and Cyrilla huffed at the same time as she fell into line next to Ana. Drake stood on her other side, leaving Aidan to take Ana's other side, which meant Aidan was walking in between Cyrilla and Ana. The walk had, as far as Drake had been concerned, been pleasant. Cyrilla and Ana would occasionally say something, snort as if it were funny, before turning their attention to the scenery. He was certain the topic of pokemon came up. Something about a mankey and a stunky, however; before Drake could ask what they were talking about, a voice called out to him. A feeling of dread washed over him as his eyes widened slightly.

“Drake, there you are!" the all too familiar voice of Kevin pierced through the air. Drake glanced around quickly, trying to make it seem like he hadn't seen the violet-haired man. It didn't work, though, as Kevin approached the group. “You weren't at the gym today, and you had a long line of challengers waiting for you," he stated, reaching towards Drake's arm with a bright smile on his face.

Drake immediately recoiled, though, taking a step back and furrowing his brows as Kevin pursed his lips. His amaranth eyes glanced towards the others, though, settling a little too long on Cyrilla and Anastasia before he acknowledge the group as a whole.

“Hi, I'm Kevin. I don't think we've ever met before," he stated.

“That's because you haven't," Drake deadpanned. “What do you want?"

“Don't be like that, Drake. You should introduce me to your nice friends."

“I don't have to; we're not together any more." Kevin didn't seem to like that, though, and he furrowed his brows at Drake.

“Don't listen to him; we're still together. He just needed a break," Arceus, how did he get stuck with someone like Kevin? Cyrilla arched a brow at Drake, but didn't immediately acknowledge Kevin. It seemed she was assessing him if the way she was glancing at Kevin was anything to go by. She must not have liked it since she pursed her lips together.

“Clearly he said you weren't together. Usually that means a relationship is over if one or both parties terminate it. I don't see how you are still together if Drake clearly doesn't see it that way," she spoke, but she didn't sound rude, merely curious as to how Kevin came to his conclusion. Kevin huffed lightly, though.

“It's obvious, isn't it?"

Ana looked immediately uncomfortable, but she did shift a little so she was more or less directly in the way of Drake's arm, if Kevin should try and grab it again. Her pokémon stood at attention at her feet; Nova even hopped up onto Drake's shoulder, curling around his neck and fixing Kevin with unsettling red eyes. There was nothing especially hostile in it, but Drake could feel the tension in the umbreon's body—he was defensive.

"Yeah that's nice and all, but we've got somewhere to be, so if you'll excuse us." Aidan was regarding the situation with slightly narrowed eyes, but he too didn't take an immediately aggressive stance or anything, though it was obvious he was deducing the details of the situation easily. Rather than being unsure what was happening, he simply seemed to be willing to take Drake's cue on how to act.

Rather than take the hint as Drake hoped he would, Kevin merely smiled brightly. “Oh, well if Drake's going then I'll just tag along!" he stated, inviting himself to something when Drake really didn't want him to. “It's alright, right, Drake?" Kevin continued, giving Drake a hopeful smile.

“I'm afraid we don't have the space for another person," Cyrilla started, feigning a polite smile, it seemed. “And it is kind of rude to just invite yourself to someone else's home if you weren't invited," Cyrilla stated, clearly not letting Kevin know their true destination. In that moment, Drake was glad that he was with them. This would have gone badly if it was just himself. Kevin looked like he was about to protest, however; using the opportunity, it seemed, Cyrilla linked her arm with Drake's.

“It was nice meeting you, though, Kevin. See you around, I'm sure," she stated, pulling gently on Drake's arm as he nodded his head.

“Sorry, but gotta go," Drake stated, turning around. He didn't give Kevin a chance to respond, but he did note that the noibat in Aidan's hair hissed slightly in Kevin's direction before they'd walked off. Once they were a good distance away, and Kevin was no longer in sight, Cyrilla released Drake's arm, and arched a questioning brow at him.

“Sorry about that, guys. Didn't mean to put you in that kind of situation," he stated. “As a way to make it up to you all, let me buy your drinks and snacks."

“It's not a problem, Drake. And you don't have to do that; we were glad to help," Cyrilla stated.

“Still, it would make me feel better." Because no one should have to be caught in a situation with Kevin.

Ana put a gentle hand on his shoulder and squeezed briefly before letting go. Aidan, on the other hand, muttered something under his breath. "That happen a lot, kid? It looks like it happens a lot." They'd reached Yselda's; he pulled the door open with a soft jangling sound and ushered the others through, taking the spot at the back of the line, which was about to the door anyway. The shop was very popular during the summer, for obvious reasons.

“Not as much as you'd think it does," Drake replied, pushing a soft sigh through his nose. Kevin's actions hadn't quite escalated too far, however; the fact that he'd tried to invite himself along with Drake's company wasn't a good sign. If he was starting to just invite himself, who knew what he'd try next. Still, it wasn't something to worry about, yet. Drake had other things to do, other things to take care of.

“Seems like he's not over you, though. If you ever feel uncomfortable or just need someone," Cyrilla started, reaching into her back pocket and pulling out a wallet. Drake snorted softly at it. It was a feebas zipper pouch, and she rummaged through it before pulling out a piece of paper. “This has my direct line and personal phone number. I'm not hitting on you, I promise," she stated, grinning lightly at him as Drake coughed a bit into his hand, feeling his cheeks heat up a bit.

“I'll be glad to help you out of any tough situations, alright?" she winked at him before turning towards Ana and Aidan.

“Thanks, Cyrilla," he stated. It was a nice offer, he supposed, but he didn't think he'd ever really need it. Still, he tucked the card into his pocket. He'd program her phone number into his phone, eventually, but for now, they had shakes to order. “What would you guys like?"

"Cream soda float," Aidan said simply. It wasn't clear if he'd been here before, but he had barely glanced at the menu, and that was something they served here.

Ana, who he knew from experience was very difficult to talk into letting things be bought for her, hemmed and hawed a bit before settling on a chocolate sundae. She'd almost certainly end up trying to buy him something in return within the next couple of weeks, but for the moment at least, her protestations were minimal. She did insist on buying Luna and Nova vanilla soft serve herself, however, rather than letting anyone else do it, and when they settled at one of the outdoor tables, she set the paper dishes down for the pokémon first.

It was enough to coax Siri from Aidan's head, and she joined the others. Drake took a seat so that he was on Ana's left, Cyrilla on her right, and Aidan in between him and Cyrilla. He took a sip of his strawberry milkshake; they were the best ones in his opinion, as Cyrilla seemed to be happily sipping on her own chocolate shake. This was, strangely, nice. He felt a little comfortable despite his encounter with Kevin, and it felt more relaxed.

He needed to do this more often.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files
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#, as written by Aethyia


August 12th
Cinnabar Pokémon Center - Afternoon - Hot
Anastasia Asher


“And you've already taken care of the paperwork. Good." Aunt Lydia smiled slightly, though Ana could see the way it was slightly strained. She couldn't blame her, exactly—her job was a stressful one even on the easier days, but more than that she knew it was her fault.

Ana wasn't really anyone's favorite relative. Well, except maybe Auntie Miranda's, but Auntie Miranda wasn't anyone's favorite relative either, except Ana's. These facts combined meant that they tended to be a bit... apart, from the rest. She knew Lydia wasn't especially pleased that her niece was in her part of the world, but the older woman wasn't outright rude to her or anything, so she just pretended not to notice. That was the easiest way to do things, anyway.

“Hey Ana, is that guy who was with you last time here, too?" Her cousin Brenda didn't much care for her, either, but last time she'd made a trip down to the Center, Eryk had been with her to carry things, and Brenda had rather seemed to like him. Even now her eyes scanned the lobby, almost as if expecting him to walk in at any moment, and there was a faint flush to her face.

"N-no, sorry." She wasn't really sure why she was apologizing, except that it was instinctive.

Brenda sighed theatrically, twirling a strand of her curly reddish-pink hair around her finger. She was about the same age as Ana, but still in training for her certifications. “Lame. How did he get those scars anyway? He's good looking with them, but can you imagine how hot he'd be without them?"

"Excuse me?" Ana said, the sound of her own voice surprising her. The tone of it was sharp, matching the quicksilver snap of anger that had prompted them. "That's an extremely rude question, and frankly none of anyone's business. Besides, he—" She cut herself off, shaking her head, and cleared her throat.

Brenda raised an eyebrow at her and shrugged. “Arceus, you don't have to get so defensive, weirdo. It was just a question." The way she said it practically dripped with condescension; like it was stupid for her to be worked up over the situation.

Ana bit her tongue.

“Brenda," Lydia scolded absently, digging through some paperwork for the documents she wanted. She disappeared into the back room to retrieve the new patient.

Brenda rolled her eyes, then returned them to where Ana still stood on the far side of the counter. “Back to carrying things by yourself, huh?" Her tone implied she very much thought Ana had lost the services of her new volunteers, but she tried not to rise for it.

"No," she said quietly, tone reverted to the meek thing it usually was. "There are just different people helping this time. They'll be here in a moment."

As it happened, Cyrilla arrived with Kasimir in tow. It looked like they were chatting about something, a large grin plastered on Cyrilla's face. She waved when she spotted Ana, though, and all but jogged so that she was standing next to her. She was smiling brightly at Ana, though, and stepped in as if to give Ana a hug, before she paused in her motions.

“It is alright if I hug you, right?" she asked, seemingly unsure. “That's a thing friends do, right?" she continued, huffing lightly at herself, it seemed. “Oh, and good afternoon! Eryk says he's sorry he couldn't make it. Things came up at work, and all, but he'll try to do it next time," she added.

Was that a thing friends did? Ana honestly wasn't sure. She probably wouldn't be too nice to hug right now, anyway, with having just come in from the sweltering heat outside. The middle of August on Cinnabar was melting season, which came just before the rainy season. "Um. I think it's okay," she said, offering a small smile. "I don't know if friends do it, but Anas do, so."

"They do, huh?" Kasimir asked, leaning down to hug her a bit from the side, albeit carefully. "That's excellent. Kases totally hug, too, so this works for me."

She laughed softly, though from the corner of her eye, she caught Brenda giving Kasimir a very obvious once-over. Fortunately, before she had to subject him or Cyrilla to the awkward introduction that would follow, Aunt Lydia had returned with a small pokémon carrier. Ana preferred these to pokéballs for hospice patients, and they were the standard for injured pokémon, so there were plenty around.

“Okay," Lydia said, nodding to Cyrilla and Kasimir but otherwise all business. “Here's cacnea. He's been trimmed but the spines are still an issue, of course." She set a paper bag on the counter. “And there's his medicine. It should numb the rotting areas at least but he's going to need grafting regularly, and a very dry environment."

Ana nodded; this wasn't anything she was unprepared for. "Got it," she said simply. Kasimir took the carrier without even needing to be asked, lofting it carefully but without any indication that he so much as felt the weight of the pokémon inside. Ana was envious for a moment before she pushed it aside, taking up the paper bag of medicine. "Thanks, Aunt Lydia. See you two next time."

Lydia nodded, but Brenda just waved an unconcerned hand. “Whatever."

Considering the chilly reception inside the Center, the blistering heat outside was almost welcome.

“So, cacnea, huh?" Cyrilla stated once they were outside. She peered at the pokemon inside of the carrier and smiled a bit. “He's so cute," she stated, scrunching her nose a bit as she continued to smile. She turned her attention back to Ana, though, and arched a brow in her direction.

“So, Ana, how have you been since the last time I saw you?" she asked. If she'd noticed the way Brenda had seemed unconcerned, or the way her aunt acted, Cyrilla didn't mention it. “Which was yesterday," she added, huffing lightly to herself.

That was nice, actually—Ana didn't really want to have to explain it. It was easy enough to put from her mind as they walked anyhow, huffing slightly at Cyrilla's question. It had, in fact, only been a day. "About the same," she said, feeling a slight twinge in her legs but not letting it change her stride. She'd been doing so well lately—she refused to believe this might be a sign of something else coming on.

"Thanks for coming to help me pick him up, by the way," she added. "I can manage the carriers by myself most of the time, but it's a lot faster with help."

"That's what I'm here for," Kas joked. "Carrying heavy things and reaching high-up things. I'm basically the Kalosian Army knife of people."

"Don't forget fixing electronic things," Ana added, pretending to be very serious.

“And don't forget he can cook a mean meal," Cyrilla added, nodding her head as if she was agreeing with them. She snorted softly, though, and glanced at Ana. “How are things with Ryk, so far? Has he been on his best behavior?" she asked, arching a brow in Ana's direction. From the way she asked, though, it sounded rather genuine, as if she'd expected him to be nothing but cordial at Ana's place.

Kas snorted. "Oh please. The second Ryk's anything other than the perfect gentleman to Ana, I'll eat—" he paused, clearly trying to decide on something appropriately disgusting. "Well in any event he wouldn't be."

Ana narrowed her eyes at him and sighed, but really he hadn't said anything mistaken. Eryk was exceptionally patient and easy to live with. She offered Cyrilla a shrug and a little smile. "He's sweet," she said simply. "And very helpful." Surely, of course, Cyrilla already knew these things, so she saw no particular need to elaborate.

“Good, I didn't want to have to knock some sense into him if he wasn't," Cyrilla responded, clearly joking about it. Shaking her head, though, she seemed to be lost in thought for a moment. “Hey, Ana," she began, turning her attention towards Ana, “do you have any plans for the seventeenth?" She tilted her head in a curious manner as she regarded Ana for a moment.

“We're going to be watching a tournament at Nevena's place. I doubt Eryk's had a chance to ask you, but it would be great if you could come, too. You don't have to if you don't want to, but... well it would mean a lot to Ryk and us if you did."

"A... tournament?" she asked.

Kasimir nodded. "Pro-battling. Ryk and I are kinda considering getting into the scene, so Aidan's putting us through our paces and making us do research. The final tournament of this season's on the seventeenth, so we're gonna be watching at the Cloyster."

Ana didn't want to say that she had literally nothing on her schedule that wasn't doctor's appointments or looking after the shelter, but it was true. "I'd love to," she said brightly, still vaguely dazzled by the fact that these interesting people kept inviting her of all people to things. Never mind the fact that the most interesting person was actually living in her house.

Honestly, how was this her life?

“Ana!" A new voice called out to her from behind, and she tried not to wince. She knew exactly who that was, and what the urgency in his tone probably meant.

Knowing there really wasn't any escaping the inevitable, she pulled to a stop. "Erm, you two can go ahead if you want," she said, shooting a glance at Cyrilla and Kasimir.

The latter regarded her with searching eyes. "I think I'm fine taking a little break," he said slowly.

There wasn't really any time to respond to that, though, because Carter was well within earshot now, dressed as he usually was for a day of work. He was the precinct's Captain, so he didn't have to wear the ordinary patrol uniform anymore, but the sharp black suit and blue tie served just as well, especially considering he wore his credentials in the blazer pocket—Cinnabar Island Police Department.

"Erm. Hello, Carter," Ana said, doing her best to forestall what was sure to be a rather uncomfortable discussion. "This is—"

“Are you insane?" He was clearly not in the mood to be introduced to new people, which she'd been afraid of. “You let one of themmove in with you? Do you have any idea how much danger you're in?"

Cyrilla looked vaguely confused at Carter's statement, though her eyes did narrow slightly. “She's not in danger of anything," she spoke, her brows furrowing lightly. “Eryk has been living with Ana for nearly a month, now. Nothing's happened to her, and clearly she doesn't mind," she added. It was obvious that Cyrilla was upset at the accusation that Eryk was, somehow, putting Ana in danger.

“If anything, it's probably been safer since he moved in with her."

Carter's eyes snapped to her. “Cyrilla Niav," he said, before his eyes slid to her right. “You're a Koga, and so is Eryk. You really going to stand there and say either of you's safe for anyone to be around? Your family's dirty money, and anyone with two brain cells paying attention knows it. Ana might not realize how unsafe it is to get wrapped up with people like you, but that doesn't mean all her real friends are so innocent."

"Hey say that again, buddy, this time to me." Kasimir narrowed his eyes and took half a step forward.

Carter lifted his chin—he had to, to properly make eye contact with someone so tall, but he didn't look daunted in the least. “And you're Kasimir Rheinallt. I don't know what your deal is yet, but your record's clean as a whistle, and that—that I just can't fucking believe." He swept his eyes up and down coldly, narrowing as they resettled on Kasimir's face.

Wait, was he saying that because—?

Ana had opened her mouth to respond when Carter continued. “Regardless of the rest, you're all fucking Rockets. And what idiot sees a bunch of your kind all getting suddenly interested in the same thing and doesn't wonder what you're up to?"

At this point, she'd had quite enough, not least because some of the words had landed where he'd no doubt really been aiming: her.

"Captain Hayes," she said, pursing her lips when his eyes swung to her, evidently surprised that she hadn't used his first name. "Please leave my friends alone. They haven't done anything wrong, and there's no point in saying that they could. Anyone could, including you or I."

“Ana—" he said, tone softening.

But she shook her head. "If there is something more to say, you can say it to me, and later. But I have no intention of changing my mind. Eryk is my tenant, and all three of them are my—are my friends. You don't have to like that, but you do have to accept it. Besides, I'm sure there's an important reason you're in this part of town, right?"

His face contorted; he clearly wasn't pleased to be told off, even so gently. He released a haggard sigh, glaring at the other two before abruptly turning on his heel and departing. Down the hill, Ana could see several police vehicles; he must have simply spotted them walking by and run to catch up.

When he was gone, she sighed and bit her lip. "I'm sorry for what he said to you," she said softly. "He really hates NTR, and I think it's just... making him paranoid. Not that that's any excuse for being so rude."

Cyrilla's gaze had been downcast during Carter's statements, and there was a slight tremble to her before it disappeared. She glanced up at Ana and forced a small smile, it seemed. “It's alright, Ana. It's... it's really nothing we haven't heard before. You'd think I'd be used to it by now," she huffed lightly, rolling her eyes at herself, it seemed, before she sighed heavily. Taking a deep breath, she glanced towards Kas and then back towards the cacnea.

“Sorry for the trouble, little guy," she spoke, apologizing, it seemed, for the scene that had been caused. “Hope you won't hold it against us," she added before turning her attention towards Ana.

Ana could understand the sentiment, but at the same time, she knew part of it wasn't right. "It's not your job to get used to people being jerks to you," she said softly, stepping forward to wrap Cyrilla in a soft hug. She'd said she hugged, after all, and this seemed like the right kind of occasion for one. She seemed to stiffen for a second before relaxing in Ana's hold.

Over Cyrilla's shoulder, Kasimir half-smiled at her. "Thanks, Ana," he said. "You're a good egg, you know that?"

She snorted, rubbing Cyrilla's back a little before she pulled herself out to arms' length, her hands still resting gently on the other woman's shoulders. "You sure you're okay?"

“I'll be fine, Ana. I promise," she stated, a small smile crossing her lips. “I'll be even better once we get back to your place and treat ourselves to more of your brown butter chocolate chip cookies," she stated, the smile stretching just a little further on her face.

“Oh, and you have to let me cook you dinner. There's this new recipe I've been meaning to try out. You too, Kas. You're going to eat it and enjoy it, I promise," she added.

"Ugh, my life is so hard," he complained. "Gorgeous women make me dinner and cookies all the time and all I have to do is reach the occasional tray or fix a computer or something."

And just like that, any remaining tension seemed to dissipate, and Ana could only laugh.

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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#, as written by Aethyia


August 17th
The Cloyster - Afternoon - Overcast
Aidan Klein


As he'd sort of figured she would be, Doc had been mostly successful in her mission to discover the others' favorite snack foods, so preparation was fairly easy. They made the nachos in her kitchen, as well as a few other things that took a bit more work, including guacamole and the like. They'd set it all out on the coffee table in the living room with Basil's help, the TV mounted on the wall already tuned to PSPN, where commentators were giving a recap of the earlier season to catch people up for Cerulean Rumble.

"Hey Doc, did you remember to take the beer out of the freezer?" They'd put it in there to chill quickly, as they hadn't had quite enough time to just use the fridge. They'd been on a bit of a crunch, in general, mostly because they'd sort of forgotten to do any advance preparations the night before, too busy trying to get Maribelle and Balthazar out of the City of the Dead.

Worth it, as far as he was concerned.

“Basil pulled them out about five minutes ago and set them in the fridge," she replied, making last minute adjustments to the way things were set up, it seemed. “How does everything look? Does it look okay? Do I need to run to the store and grab anything else?" she asked as she glanced in Aidan's direction with pursed lips.

“I just want to make sure everyone has what they need so they can relax and enjoy themselves," she added, smiling somewhat as she glanced over the setup once more.

He snorted softly. "I think we're fine. Honestly I expect at least a couple of them to bring more stuff with them; they're that kind of people."

No sooner had he spoken than there was a knock on the door, and he moved to answer it. It was Doc's house, of course, but they were both hosting, and he doubted she'd mind that he answered her door. On the other side of it stood Nero and Ana, the latter holding what did indeed seem to be a large plate of—huh. That was actually an entire pie. This girl. It smelled like caramel and apples and cinnamon and shit. Like honest-to-arceus homemade pie. He didn't think he'd ever had one, honestly.

"Come on in," he said, opening the door wider so they could move in past him. "You managed to beat Rheinallt and Niav, and they only live a few floors down." He was pretty sure Rheinallt had mentioned something about bringing his sister, but that was fine, too.

Nero huffed lightly at the statement and shook his head. “It would be those two that were late," he spoke, glancing towards Ana for a moment before glancing at Doc. “Solomon," he greeted. Doc smiled brightly at Eryk and motioned for Ana to set the pie down on the table with the other snacks. There was enough room for it between the nachos and guacamole.

“Eryk, Ana! Hi! Glad you could make it," Doc stated happily enough as she waved a little in their direction. Basil snorted softly before walking back towards the kitchen area, grabbing two cups as she did. “Would you guys like anything to drink? I have soda, tea, beer..." she trailed off, listing some of the drinks they had bought.

“I'll take lemonade if you have it, for now," Eryk stated as he glanced at Ana. Basil was already in the fridge, grabbing the pitcher of lemonade as she waited for Ana's response, it seemed.

Ana's eyes shifted between Doc and Basil before settling on the latter. "Soda, please," she said warmly, accepting the can when it was handed over to her with a vine like it was the most normal thing in the world. Then again, her place had a lot of pokémon around, so maybe it was.

She settled on the one of the sofas, patting the spot next to her with a look up at Nero. Aidan noted that she'd left the end free, and that it had a view of the whole room, including the door, so Nero would only be next to one person and able to observe everything that went on if he needed to. He didn't think it was coincidence—she was very clearly doing her best to anticipate what would make him most comfortable.

He felt a little twinge of guilt, but pushed it away, moving back into the kitchen to help Basil with a few finer tasks like making ice.

Nero took the seat next to Ana, seemingly content with the spot, and glanced in the door's direction. “The idiots are here," he spoke in a deadpan voice. No sooner had he said that, there was a knock at the door. Doc seemed happy enough to answer it, and indeed, Rheinallt, Niav, and another young woman were standing at the doorway.

“For your information, we're not idiots, Ryk," Niav stated, as if she'd known Nero had called them such. He rolled his eyes, though, as she thanked Doc. She was carrying a plate of brownies, it looked like, and from the smell alone, there had to be mints inside of it. There was another batch of brownies as well, though they didn't smell as sweet.

“Good, everyone's here!" Doc stated happily as she closed the door behind the last person inside. “Make yourselves comfortable, and feel free to take off your shoes or... er, well that's part of making yourselves comfortable, I suppose," Doc stated sheepishly. Nero huffed lightly as Niav snickered.

“It's alright, Nev. We understood what you were trying to say," Niav stated as she placed both plates down on the table.

The young woman—had to be Rheinallt's sister, from the sheer physical resemblance—meanwhile, made a slightly strangled noise high in her throat when her eyes landed on Aidan.

"Mirmir you fucking shithead," she whispered, too loudly not to be heard, though she seemed to be making an effort, tugging at her brother's arm and dragging him away from where he'd started to walk towards the seating area. "You should have told me."

"Told you what?" Rheinallt clearly knew what, from the shit-eating grin on his face, and from the way the girl's eyes flicked back to him, Aidan had a feeling he did too.

"That one of the people at this super casual tournament watch party is Aidan fucking Klein!" she hissed.

Aidan turned his face away so his amusement wouldn't be quite as obvious. From the way she was dressed, and the fact that she was definitely carrying a spiral notebook, he inferred she was a trainer and serious about it, so he wasn't annoyed the way he might have been if she were some other kind of fan.

"Ohhhh, right," Rheinallt said, smacking himself on the forehead as though he'd simply forgotten. "Hey boss, this is my sister Melly. Melly, this is my boss, but you know him as the guy whose miniatures you used to have in your—"

The poor girl immediately smacked a hand over his mouth, managing to maneuver her other to offer a shake in Aidan's direction. "Hi, sorry. Don't listen to him, he's an idiot. My name's Mel. It's an honor to meet you."

Aidan couldn't quite suppress his smile as he took her hand and gave it a shake. "Nice to meet you, too, Mel. Since your brother can't talk right now, this is Eryk Nero, Anastasia Asher, and Dr. Nevena Solomon."

Finally letting go of her brother and relaxing a bit, Mel shot a grin at the others. "Hey everyone. Thanks for letting me join. Mirmir's talked about all of you; I think we'll get along just fine."

“You collect minatures, too?" Doc stated, eyes widening slightly as she grinned at Mel. “Oh, remind me to show you the ones I still have! I used to have one of Aidan, too, but Fluffy tossed it out a window a few years ago," she stated, not missing a beat as she spoke. She turned towards Aidan with a sheepish smile, though, and cleared her throat.

Niav snickered softly as she took a seat on one of the loveseats. “So, now that everyone is here, what's the game plan?" she asked, folding her legs beneath her. She'd taken off her shoes, though, so they wouldn't be on Doc's couch.

“We're supposed to be watching the tournament," Nero stated, arching a brow in her direction. She sighed and shook her head.

“Does anyone else want drinks? I've got plenty!" Doc decided to say.

“Oh, I'll take a soda for now!" Niav stated, chuckling lightly as Basil walked a soda to Niav. “She's very well-mannered, this one," Niav stated as she rubbed Basil's head. Basil huffed lightly, but didn't seem to be offended. She merely turned her big eyes towards Aidan, tilted her head, before shuffling off to the kitchen to grab everyone else's drinks.

He nodded back at her, quite sure he understood, before making his way over to the seating area. There wasn't quite enough room for everyone with one three seater and one two-seater couch, but both Rheinallts eliminated the need for discussion by easily parking themselves on the floor. Aidan passed a cushion down to Mel, who accepted it with a word of thanks and a small grin, apparently already mostly over the awkwardness. She was like her brother in more than just looks, it seemed.

"Yeah at the moment they're still giving a recap of the season, since this is basically the Grand Championships this year," he noted. "At least for singles battling. They do another, different tournament for doubles, and word is there's going to be a big rule change next year for that, but at the moment that's as far as they divide it."

"Oh that's right," Mel reached for a paper plate, loading it up unselfconsciously with nachos and a slice of pie. "There's going to be single-trainer double battles like now but they're also gonna make team double battles a thing, right? Like with two trainers?"

He nodded. "It's probably mostly going to be a gimmick for a while—they'll pair up big names to draw lots of attention and stuff. But if it goes well it might catch on."

“Considering how popular it's become, especially among the younger couples and Ace Trainers, it could catch on pretty quickly," Doc stated, glancing at the available seats before taking a seat next to Niav. “The only draw back I see it having is whether or not they'll be able to get sponsors for it. Most sponsors only like to back one trainer, so it might be difficult to find one to back two. Of course that isn't to say they couldn't find their own sponsors, but it might... clash with whatever they're also trying to sell," Doc stated as she reached for one of the plates that had brownies on it.

“Those are semi-sweet brownies with pecans, just so you know. Ryk doesn't like sweet things," Niav stated as Doc took one.

“Oh, I take it these are sweet, then?" Doc stated as she took one from the other plate, as well. Niav nodded her head as she took some nachos for herself, and a piece of Ana's pie.

“Is that something we're going to have to learn to do, as well? Double battles in pairs?" Nero stated, furrowing his brows in Aidan's direction.

"No. Like I said it's totally separate, and single battles will always have the most prestige. You could do both if you wanted, but I think for your purposes it's probably better just to focus on one thing at a time." He arched an eyebrow subtly, reminding Nero as well as he could that the cover story was that this was something he wanted to do, so talking about it in terms of what they did or didn't have to do wasn't terribly convincing.

"I still can't believe you're finally getting into pro-battling," Mel said to Rheinallt, nudging him with his elbow. "You finally get your shit together right as I wind up my gym circuit? Are you asking to be my nemesis?"

He laughed, shaking his head. "I'm not that stupid," he said with a grin. "A good opportunity came up, is all. How often do you get the chance for free coaching from a real pro?"

"Ex-pro," Aidan corrected in a deadpan. "I'm retired."

Mel looked very much like she wanted to ask about that, which wasn't uncommon, but she was polite enough not to, for which he was grateful.

"So um... is there a chance that some of the people in this tournament could be opponents for Eryk and Kasimir later?" Ana asked, tilting her head at the screen. They were doing trainer profiles now—presently the screen showed Ernest Waters, who'd been pro since probably before some of the people in this room had been born. One of the greats, to be sure, but mostly in the business for the chance to mentor younger trainers, usually. He was a reliable top ten finisher at most any tournament, but usually didn't crack top five, which was how he liked it. Not to say he didn't give it his all—he did—but he had less fire for winning than he did for good matches, even the ones he lost.

Aidan shrugged. "If they do well enough, sure. This tournament is basically the who's who of pro-battling. You'll notice even a lot of gym leaders and elite four members aren't expected to place that well. That's a sign of how tough the competition is."

“Oh, but I hear that there's a new upstart who's kind of expected to place really well in the tournament. I believe her name was Amaris Castro. She's been knocking back challenges like they're nothing. She's got good statistics behind her, and I think she's currently sponsored by the Devon Corporation. Her blastoise is gigantic, and is basically her mascot," Doc stated, glancing in Mel's direction.

“How good is she?" Nero asked, seemingly curious. Doc seemed all too happy to oblige.

“Well, you know how Aidan just said that the competition is tough?" Doc began, waiting until Nero nodded before continuing, “they think she has a really good chance of placing second place, if not outright winning it. Like I said, she has a very good team behind her, but a lot of it comes down to strategy and how well her pokemon can take super-effective moves. It wouldn't matter much if her blastoise was strong, but was easily felled by a thunderbolt or even a solar beam."

“But if they think she's got a good chance at winning, then she's probably prepared to take type weaknesses into account, right?" Niav asked as Doc nodded.'

“Yep."

"There's all kinds of strategies available for that, of course. Some people tend to stick to one way of dealing; the really good trainers tailor their strategies for that to individual pokemon." One way to do it before battle even happened was to train a team that included a lot of dual-types, of the sort that minimized super-effective types by covering the weaknesses of one type with another. Water-grounds like quagsire were good for that, completely nullifying the electricity problem at the cost of grass becoming even more punishing.

But the two of them had the teams they had; there wasn't really enough time to make adjustments on that level, and besides he wouldn't want to ask them to. Above all, pokémon you trusted and understood were the best ones to take into battle, and so while he could teach them a few things for when they came against poor matchups, the emphasis was just going to be on making the pokémon they had as good as they could possibly be at what they did. Type matchups didn't matter quite as much if someone's pokémon were just leagues stronger. That was mostly how he'd dealt with it, back in the day.

"It sounds like an awful lot to keep track of in the heat of a moment," Ana acknowledged, dipping a chip in the guacamole as the screen shifted to show the first match beginning.

"It takes some getting used to, but it's a skill like any other," Aidan replied with a shrug.

Mel, who'd been scribbling notes as Aidan and Doc spoke, turned her attention to the screen as well, lifting a forkful of pie to her mouth at the same time.

“So what about pokémon that have unconventional moves?" Niav asked, arching a brow at Doc and Aidan. “Take, for example, Noct. Despite being a pure dark-type, he knows flamethrower. If my opponent had a grass, ice, or bug-type, wouldn't that be just as effective?" she continued, taking a bite from the nachos on her plate. Doc shook her head, though.

“Not entirely. While he may know how to use flamethrower, it wouldn't be as effective as if it were, say, Zero or Rex using flamethrower. They're both fire-types, and they have specific flame sacs that produce a stronger variant of the attack. It's like if Floof tried to use thunder wave. It could paralyze a pokémon, however; the paralysis wouldn't last as long as it would if Meep had been the one to use the attack," Doc explained. Niav nodded her head in understanding, it seemed, before turning towards the screen.

“Even if a pokémon's moves aren't conventional, knowing a different type move wouldn't be such a bad thing to have, right?" Nero asked, arching a brow.

“Nope. If a pokémon knows a different move that could, theoretically, be used to its advantage, it wouldn't hurt."

Aidan nodded. "It's one of the ways people get around super-effective opponents. If the move is super-effective in the one situation you really need it for, it's not as big a deal that it's a bit underpowered. The trouble is it's not smart to have more than one move like that on a pokémon or you risk not being able to use them to their full potential. So you've got to pick your one carefully, and while it might be surprising once, in the pro-battling world, you have to expect that everyone you face is going to know exactly what your movesets are." He shrugged. "So it can help, but on a probattling zoroark, I wouldn't recommend flamethrower. It's not solving any problem he has except maybe if he's up against a steel-type, and they tend to be so defensive you're not getting a lot out of the super-effectiveness anyway, plus a ton of them are dual-typed with things that resist fire. I guess it's useful against bugs, but... realistically that's an edge case."

"Of course, it solves the 'I need a campfire' problem pretty effectively," Mel noted, and Aidan smiled slightly.

"It does. Optimal battling movesets are just that: optimal for battling. If your pokémon do something else, mostly, like help you in daily life, or participate in contests, or whatever, you want different ones entirely."

“Yep, but you're also forgetting that, while a lot of steel-types may be dual-types, it all comes down to special attacks and special defenses. Steel-types are defensively strong, but their special defense is what lacks the most. Of course, these kinds of things aren't always obvious at first glance, so it's always a good thing to research some of your known opponents to see what they specialize in, or things of that nature," Doc added, smiling a bit as she took a bite of her brownie.

"I didn't forget shit, Doc," he replied, shaking his head faintly but smiling so she'd know he wasn't actually mad. There'd been a whole sub-lecture in there about special attack and special defense, but he didn't want to talk anyone's ear off.

“You guys really know your stuff. I mean, I wouldn't expect any less from Aidan, all things considered, but you, Nev? I know you're a professor, and all, but still... you seem really excited about this," Niav stated, arching an amused brow in Doc's direction. Doc merely nodded her head, though.

“I am. I love tournaments and the pro-battling world. It's so interesting and I get to see various ways pokémon are raised. It's not just catching them and training them. That plays a small part, but actually seeing a person come up with a strategy, and then playing it out with their pokémon? It's really entertaining."

"Yeah, listen to her," Aidan added. "She's got a good head for this stuff, and her advice is going to be just as good as mine, so might as well make note of it."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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#, as written by Aethyia


August 29th
Ana's House - Evening - Clear
Anastasia Asher


Her life, usually a fundamentally solitary thing, had fallen into a strange new rhythm now that Eryk was boarding at her house.

The two of them got up pretty early in the morning to feed the pokémon breakfast and do other morning chores, after which they came back inside and she made breakfast while he got ready for work. They ate before he left, at which point she would either prepare for her doctor's visit or do things around the house and grounds before lunch, which she ate by herself or with the pokémon in the yard. When he returned in the afternoon, they did any major chores that were on the rotation for the day, or else just played with the pokémon for a while or relaxed or some other thing, before the evening rolled around and they took everyone inside.

And then there was this part of the day, when she made dinner and Eryk did... well whatever he felt like, really. She wasn't completely sure and she didn't want to pry, so she never asked and therefore did not know.

It was a comfortable little routine, and truthfully Anastasia found this strange. Maybe it had just been too long since she lived with anyone human, but she'd sort of thought she'd forgotten how to be good company, or how to talk to people, or a number of other things. Maybe Eryk didn't mind because he was equally awkward, rather than because she was actually any good at this sort of thing. She worried sometimes that he wouldn't complain even if there was something to complain about, but... well maybe she could hope that he didn't secretly find her annoying or something.

Over the last month or so, she'd been experimenting with the cooking, trying to gauge from his reactions what foods he liked and didn't, a little too afraid to ask directly and unsure he'd express preferences even if he had them. She knew from Cyrilla already that he wasn't fond of very sweet things, but it seemed like cheating somehow to just ask what he did like. Besides, this way she was making a game out of it for herself, and learning a lot of new recipes in the process, so it wasn't like it was some huge chore. She was actually kind of having fun with it.

Today's entry was a chicken-and-leek dish over pasta, with homemade cream sauce, mushrooms, and cheese. Digging the ingredients out of the fridge and the pantry, she retrieved the cast-iron skillet from its place on the shelf, setting it on one of the stove's gas burners and lighting the flame. She was pretty sure Nova was with Eryk; he seemed to like him, which was rather unusual for her umbreon, who was overprotective on the best of days. Maybe when she was gone Eryk wouldn't mind looking after him and Luna? It was an awful lot to ask of someone—but she found herself shelving the thought anyway.

Luna, on the other hand, was keeping a watchful eye on her while pretending to be mostly bored and sleepy on one of the island stools. It was just tall enough for her to rest her chin on the counter, her enormous ears swiveling back and forth slowly as if to monitor the house. Ana smiled at her.

I've been feeling really well lately, you know. There's no need to worry so much right now.

Who said I was worried?

Ana huffed gently and shook her head.

Eryk walked into the kitchen, then, blinked at Ana and glanced towards Luna. Nova was, in fact, with him, draped over Eryk's right shoulder. He didn't seem to mind the umbreon's presence, and reached up to scratch behind Nova's ear. Moira was out of her pokeball, following behind Eryk, it seemed with a bag in her mouth. Eryk was carrying two in his hands, but the absol blinked large eyes up at Ana and trilled, causing Eryk to roll his eyes slightly.

“Are you making dinner?" he asked, tilting his head quizzically at Ana. “Do you need help?" he asked, setting down the bags he'd been carrying. It didn't seem to be anything of importance; a bottle of lemonade and a few fruits and vegetables. He probably went grocery shopping to replenish the last ingredients she'd used for dinner the night before.

"Would you like to help?" she asked, rephrasing the question intentionally. It was hard to say exactly where she got this impression, but Ana was fairly sure that he had not been asked about what he wanted or needed very often in life, and was used to things being dictated to him regardless of his own feelings. So she did her best to give him choices about anything she could, and to ask for his preferences whenever it seemed like he might have them, or at least to try and figure them out if she wasn't feeling quite brave enough to ask, like with dinner.

Honestly the truth of the matter was that she didn't need assistance, but she was happy to have it if he wanted to.

"And thank you for getting the groceries, by the way," she said, opening the bags a bit so she could start moving their contents to the proper places. She took the one from Moira with a gentle smile and a soft pat of the absol's head. "Thank you too, Moira," she added.

He seemed to contemplate his answer before he seemed to decide on one. “I don't mind assisting," he spoke, as Moira trilled happily when Ana pat her head. There was a slight subtle curve of his lip, almost as if he were trying to smile, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. He moved to the other side of Ana, and helped her put the groceries away, first.

“What would you like me to do?" he asked, seemingly looking for guidance.

Not minding was a bit different from wanting to, but she supposed small steps were important, and she wasn't inclined to put pressure on him or anything, so she smiled agreeably and pulled down a cutting board and santoku knife for him. "Today I'm making something pretty simple. It's a pasta dish, but there's a few different things to go over it. Can you cut the white and light green parts of these leeks for me?"

She demonstrated a couple slices so he'd know that she wanted them about toothpick sized and how to get there, then handed over the board, knife and vegetables, trusting that he'd ask more questions if he had them. Meanwhile, Ana cooked up the chicken that went with and prepped the rest of the ingredients, putting away what was in the bags as the meat simmered.

"How was work today?" she asked, referring of course to his work at his actual job, and not at the shelter. She sometimes asked while they were doing afternoon chores, but they'd had to clean the pool today, and that had been a big enough task to keep them both pretty focused.

From the way he held the knife, it was obvious he knew how to use one, but perhaps not in the same way for cooking. He began to slice the leek, humming a soft note in the back of his throat before glancing up towards Ana.

“It was... fine," he spoke, turning his attention back to the leek. “Solomon's wooloo got loose, somehow, and ended up in my office," he stated, seemingly not upset by it. “She wanted to play with Icarus," he continued. He blinked mildly when he finished with the leek, and glanced back at her.

“I don't think I've seen a pokemon so excited over a simple game of tag, though," he stated, brows furrowing softly, though it didn't appear to be in discontent.

Ana giggled, able to imagine pretty easily how that would go. "Well, Floof is very young, so she's probably still excitable about that kind of thing," she noted with a slight shake of her head. She'd heard from Nev that the wooloo was best not left alone in the apartment, either, which sort of made sense.

"There's a new trainer registration fair in a couple of days, right? Are they going to have you working at one of the tables?" Ana closed the fridge door, folding up the reusable bags the groceries had come in and tucking them away. She returned to the skillet, stirring the chikcne a bit before she set to work on dicing the mushrooms.

Eryk furrowed his brows, then, his lips pulling downward and his expression almost appearing upset. It almost looked like he was pouting, though, before he pushed a sigh through his nose.

“Unfortunately, yes," he finally spoke. “The three of us have to be there for the registrations. I wouldn't be there if I didn't have to; large crowds like that aren't exactly... pleasant," he answered before shaking his head lightly.

Ana could definitely understand that. "Um," she said, shifting a little on her feet as she set the mushrooms aside, removing the meat from the pan and moving her homemade pasta into the boiling water. "Stop me if this is a dumb idea, but... I was going to ask you anyway. I know a lot of trainers like to get their first pokémon pretty soon after they register, so I was thinking of setting up at the fair."

A lot of trainers bought their first pokémon from licensed breeders, of course, or more likely their parents did. Some occasionally got them through family or friend connections, too. But the shelter had lots of adoptable pokémon, many of whom would like to battle and things, and so she'd been thinking she could set up right at the fair alongside the breeders and the like.

"Then if it got to be too much I could say I need your help with something so you could have a break, you know?" She chanced a sideways glance at him. Crowds weren't easy for her, either, but if it was for the pokémon, she was willing to do her best. Besides, if she could help a friend at the same time, that would be really nice.

He blinked in what seemed to be genuine surprise at her. He kept his gaze even as he regarded her before he arched a brow. “I don't see why not," he finally spoke. “Some of the pokemon here are healthy enough to be adopted, and the trainers wouldn't have to do other registrations if they adopted their first pokemon. With licensed breeders, the trainers would still need to fill out necessary forms and registrations before they'd actually be able to take a pokemon. These, however, are all... they wouldn't need to go through more paperwork," he stated.

“And... that would be appreciated," he added, offering her a slight subtle quirk of his lips. It almost looked like he was smiling if the way his expression softened just a bit.

Ana grinned, feeling a strange warmth in her chest that she studiously ignored. "Then it's a plan," she said with a firm nod. Two days wasn't a lot of time to prepare, but she had the pokémon she'd be taking with her picked out already. They could really use active homes, and besides that, adopting was much less expensive than purchasing, and so she hoped maybe being there would give some new trainers who weren't as well-off an opportunity to start their journeys as well.

Scraping the mushrooms into the simmering pan, she added the leeks once Eryk was done with them, along with some cream and seasonings, letting it all cook together for a while. "Oh, that reminds me. Mankey's definitely at least ten weeks old this week, so... he's officially adoptable, too." Reaching into a drawer, she pulled out a thin red folder and passed it to him. "Do you want to fill these out while you wait for food?"

As he'd said, adoption paperwork wasn't that complicated, since all of her certifications were up to date, but there were still a few things to check over and sign. She had, of course, waived the adoption fee in his case—her parts of the forms were all filled out already.

Eryk blinked, once more, in genuine surprise. “Is it... really okay for me to adopt him?" he asked, glancing down at the papers. He seemed to study them for a moment before he picked up the pen. He hovered over the line where he was supposed to sign his name, seemingly thinking before he began to sign. Once he was finished, he placed the pen down, and regarded Ana with an even stare. The smile that had been on his face was more prominent, now, even if it was a tiny one.

“I'll have to see what he'll want to be named, now," he muttered almost as if to himself.

Another one of Ana's instinctive feelings about Eryk was that he didn't smile very often. Honestly, she hadn't been sure he knew how. But this, however small, was definitely a smile.

She couldn't have wiped her own off her face if she tried, splitting their dinner into two bowls and passing the larger over to him before pausing to feed the pokémon and taking up another of the island stools. "I look forward to finding out," she replied, handing over a fork as well.

Now, if she was lucky, she wouldn't inadvertently ruin the moment by having made something he hated.

He took a bite of the food, blinking slowly as he stared at his bowl. He seemed to be deciding something, or rather inspecting it for something. It was a moment longer before he finally regarded Ana with a curious gaze.

“What is this?" he asked, though he didn't sound like he didn't like it. He sounded rather pleased about it. “It is good," he added, confirming that he did like it, and took another bite.

Ana huffed softly. "It's just pasta," she said, a little puzzled but also kind of amused. "With leeks and chicken and mushrooms. Oh, and cheese." She was sure he'd had much more gourmet food before—Cyrilla was a really talented cook, after all. Ana mostly baked things.

Still, she was pleased he liked it. "If you want, I could start making lunch? For you to take to work? It's no trouble to just make more of what I prepare for myself."

“It's still really good," he muttered before tilting his head at her. His brows were furrowed as he remained quiet for a moment. “You don't... you don't have to do that for me. I usually just go to lunch with the others, but..." he paused to regard his soup.

“I would appreciate it."

She tilted her head. Ana didn't really want to stop him from having lunch with his friends, but she also knew that going out all the time was probably not the easiest thing for him to do, so...

"Well, then I will! You can consider it backup, in case you don't feel like going out that day." Most of the things she made would keep a while, so it wouldn't hurt if they weren't eaten on the same exact day or anything. Choices were good to have, right?

She found herself hoping that, at least for him, this was so.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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#, as written by Aethyia


August 31st
Cinnabar Pokémon Park - Afternoon - Overcast
Anastasia Asher


Ana sighed, stretching her legs a little in front of her. It had been cool enough to wear leggings today, which she was grateful for. They tucked into the boots Cyrilla had bought her neatly, her black and white striped socks poking over the tops. She was wearing another t-shirt dress over it, this one a softer deep purple color with a tie around the waist and a slight pattern. She knew she tended to give off a bad impression, but today she had to put a better foot forward for the shelter pokémon. They were here for the chance at adoption, after all; she didn't want to ruin their chances by being unapproachable, even if she felt a little uncomfortable.

It had been sort of a slow day; she knew it probably had a lot to do with the fact that pidgey and magikarp and even the likes of ekans or oddish were not popular choices next to the breeders who specialized in traditional starters like squirtle or exotic pokémon like sandile, which were not native to Kanto at all. Still... she'd been able to adopt out hoothoot and skiddo, so that had to count for something.

Her little display was obviously pretty homemade, too, as nice as she'd tried to stencil the sign and everything.

Still, at least she wasn't dealing with the kinds of lines she could see a short distance away at the NTR table. Since all new trainers had to register through them, and older ones had to update their licenses, it was pretty crazy. She was fairly sure even the likes of Kasimir's sister Mel, Drake, and Carter would be in line. She'd need to redo her own registrations, too, as she was still technically a trainer, and Luna and Nova were registered as battle pokémon.

But she could do that when the lines had gone down a little and it wouldn't be such a bother to anyone.

Eryk didn't have as long of a line as Kasimir and Cyrilla seemed to have. He had, at most, about five to six people. But even then, it didn't look like they were in line. They just seemed to hover a bit. He didn't look especially put off by it, and if anything, he looked a little relieved. Ana knew large crowds made Eryk slightly uncomfortable as much as they were for her. Cyrilla, however, seemed to be quite at home, chatting amicably with the trainers who were signing up at her line.

She'd occasionally glance in Ana's direction, direct a person towards her table, and wave a little. She didn't do it to all of the trainers, but it seemed that the ones she did direct to Ana's table at least approached. Eryk would, also, occasionally glance in Ana's direction, perhaps to see if she was doing alright, before he turned his attention back towards the others. They were both dressed in their NTR uniforms, it seemed like. Eryk's was a crisp white suit with a black shirt underneath, the sleeves rolled about halfway up his arm. His slacks were also white, but it seemed he'd opted for pants instead of something more suited to the weather. Cyrilla's was also white in color, but a short-sleeved blazer that barely passed her biceps. There was a black camisole underneath, and the pencil skirt she'd been wearing grazed the top of her knees with short slits on the sides. Perhaps to make it easier to move in.

Kasimir wore the same version as Eryk, but the jacket was thrown over the back of his chair, leaving him free to roll the sleeves and lean a little more casually back as he worked. His line seemed to be moving the fastest; he had a laptop in front of him, and would type without looking at the screen as he spoke to each new registrant and sometimes their parents as well. As usual, his instinctive facility with people was standing him in good stead; there were a lot of smiles and laughter from the people in his line.

Ana stood as a new pair approached, a father and daughter, just from the looks of them. The girl, no doubt exactly seventeen, clutched her papers to herself tightly, as if she were afraid they'd blow away if she didn't protect them.

She wasn't the keen observer someone like Aidan was, but Ana could tell these two didn't have a lot of money. It was the way their clothes were a little worn, repaired instead of replaced, and obviously bought from somewhere modest. The man looked like he hadn't had a haircut in a while, but the girl's was fresh. Her clothes were a little better, too, and though Ana thought the trainer's bag on her shoulders might be secondhand, it was in good condition.

"Hello," she said, smiling softly. "Welcome to the Cinnabar Pokémon Shelter table. Is there something I can help you with?"

The girl glanced at her father, who nodded, so she turned to refocus on Ana, pushing a strand of her brown bob behind her ear. “Um... I'm Melissa. I'm hoping to get my first pokémon today."

"Nice to meet you, Melissa. I'm Ana. Do you know yet what kind of pokémon you're looking for?"

“Not really," Melissa admitted, shaking her head a bit. “I don't even know if I want to battle or do contests or what. I just... I just want a friendly one, I guess?"

Ana smiled. "Well then you're in the right place. Why don't you meet a few of our residents, and we'll see what you're thinking then?"

Fifteen minutes later, and Melissa had walked away with pidgey, now named Jo according to the adoption forms. She was short fifty pokédollars, but Ana had thrown a couple of potions into the deal, so honestly that made up the difference anyhow. She thought it was important for Melissa to be able to help her new friend in case of emergency anyway.

Expelling a breath, she sat back down to sort the paperwork, and noted that registrations at the tables seemed to be heading towards.... break? Shift change? She couldn't be sure exactly, but there were a few more people in NTR uniforms standing around at any rate.

It seemed to be somewhat of a shift change since Eryk stood from his table. He spoke something to one of the grunts who nodded their head as he glanced in Ana's direction. Cyrilla said something to him, causing him to roll his eyes before he seemed to head in Ana's direction. Once he arrived, he took the empty chair to the side, and sat next to Ana.

“How are things here?" he asked once he was seemingly comfortable.

She offered him a warm smile, deciding that now was probably as good a time as any to take a little break herself. She'd stay here, of course, in case anyone else came by, but she took her empty chair again and dug into the cooler near where she sat. "Pretty well, I think," she said brightly, coming back up with two glass containers of lunch. She passed one over to Eryk—there were utensils packed conveniently in the lid—and took the smaller for herself.

"So far we've adopted out three pokémon, which is more than I was expecting, honestly." she only had a few more than even could be adopted. Even supposing that ekans, oddish, and magikarp ended up staying, they and her current hospice patients—stunky, cacnea, feebas, and Rufus—only numbered seven, which was a very low number for her.

"How about things on your end? Not too many people, I hope?" She pried open the lid of her lunchbox, using the small fork to stir around the cobb salad a little.

He shrugged his shoulders a bit before opening the lunchbox she'd handed him. “I haven't had a single person in my line," he spoke calmly, poking at the contents of the box. “Most of the people who are registering are going through Kas's line or Cyrilla's. Not that I mind; it keeps me from doing a lot of the paperwork," he added, taking a bite of his food.

“You said you've adopted out three pokémon?" he asked once he'd swallowed his food. “How many more do you have?" he asked, arching a brow in her direction.

Ana laughed softly, wondering if perhaps he'd simply intimidated them out of it without realizing he was doing so. It didn't seem like the kind of thing Eryk would do quite on purpose, but she could definitely see it happening by accident. People were too easily turned away by surface things, and his resting facial expression did suggest a certain amount of... grumpiness, she supposed. She couldn't quite understand it even so—to her the most intimidating thing about Eryk was how handsome he was. Attractive people always made her feel like kind of a mess, but fortunately even that was fading a little as she got to know him.

"Three more adoptable," she said, nodding back at them. Magikarp was relaxing in a child-sized inflatable pool one of the NTR workers had been kind enough to let her borrow, while oddish and ekans lounged in the sun.

"Do you mind if I go through you, then?" she asked, chewing and swallowing another bite of the rich salad. "To renew my registration?"

He shrugged his shoulders once more. “I don't see why not. You don't have to, you know," he stated, glancing at her from the corners of his eyes. “It's not like we have quotas to meet or anything like that. I'm not required to have people register through me; I'm only required to show up."

“But if you want to," he started, glancing around as if to look for something. He pursed his lips when he didn't find it, and glanced back in Ana's direction. “I can grab the papers for you if you'd like."

"You don't have to right this second," she said, not wanting to interrupt his break. "But.. yes. I'd like to."

The sound of a throat clearing alerted her to a new presence; she looked up to find Kas grinning at her just before he put a small stack of paper down on the table. "Figured you'd need these," he said, tilting his head a little. "I'm kind of sad you didn't bring me lunch though, Ana. I've done twice as many registrations as Cy, and Ryk hasn't done any." He made a show of pouting, and she huffed at him, reaching back down into the cooler.

"I did bring you something, though," she explained, handing him the container of cookies. "Don't forget to share them with Cyrilla though."

He looked genuinely surprised for a moment, blinking dumbly before the grin returned, and he inclined his head. "You got it, Ana." Giving them both a lackadaisical salute, he returned to the other area.

Eryk rolled his eyes, but took the papers Kas had brought. “If you keep indulging him, he'll only get worse," he murmured, signing the spots that required his signature. He glanced over the papers to make sure everything was in order, it seemed, before placing them to the side. “Like you said, you don't have to right this second, but here are the papers for registering," he stated, glancing at her.

“Did... you happen to bring any of those oatmeal cookies?" he asked, his head tilting slightly to the side. They were, apparently, his favorite of the ones she'd made so far.

Ana grinned. "Sure did!" A smaller container came out of the cooler, and she slid it over to him while she got started on her registration paperwork. It was actually only the third time she'd properly done it—she'd had Luna and Nova for a bit longer than that, but they hadn't been battlers until she'd registered for her journey, so there hadn't been a need for it.

It was conveniently timed, though—the registration date happened close enough to her birthday that she'd been able to do her first round just before she turned seventeen. Probably the only real guarantee she'd had that she'd have a proper journey at all. She certainly couldn't do that kind of thing alone now.

“Thank you," he stated as he opened the container to the cookies. There was a slight subtle smile on his face before it disappeared. He seemed content enough to be eating the cookies, waiting politely as Ana worked on her papers. Something must have occured to him, and he glanced back at Ana.

“You're registering for Luna and Nova, correct? Did you go on a journey?" he asked, seemingly curious about her answer.

Ana nodded slightly as she finished with the first side of the paper and turned it over. "I did. Only for about a year before I ended up here on the island a year ago. It wasn't really..." she paused, pursing her lips. "I didn't really have any goals in mind as such. I just wanted to see interesting places. Travel a little. I'd never really been away from home before." She'd done enough battling to fund her trip, of course, and because she'd only ever had two pokémon, they were quite strong, but she'd never really bothered trying to challenge gyms or anything like that.

She glanced up, tilting her head. "What about you?" She'd have been surprised if he had—it seemed like rather more... freedom than she thought he'd really experienced, based on the way he acted sometimes. But he had a full team of six, and he had to have acquired them somehow. Mankey and Moira, she knew, of course, but she didn't know if the other four had been catches or something else.

Eryk shook his head, though. “No," he stated, blinking slowly as he turned his attention towards the container of cookies. He seemed in a contemplative mood of sorts before he sighed softly. “I didn't get the chance," he spoke softly, as if he was not meant to be heard. “My family..." he paused, almost hesitant to keep speaking before shaking his head.

“My family doesn't partake in journeys the same way as other people might. We... are raised in a very particular way. We don't get much say in what we do," he stated, furrowing his brows lightly before taking a bite out of a cookie. “But I suppose it's not as bad as I might make it seem," he added. “As I've said before, Moira was my first. Imp was our first catch, when I was in Viridian, along with Orion," he stated, huffing a bit.

“Runt was a gift from Cyrilla, though. He's almost a year old, now, but Icarus... he followed me for days. He wouldn't stop no matter what I did. I tried to have Orion chase him off, but he was adamant about following me, and kept making strange sounds until I finally added him to my team," he rolled his eyes a bit at that statement.

She felt a pang of melancholy for his sake. It sounded as though it were something he would have done, if not for his family, and she was genuinely sad he hadn't. Even though she'd done nothing useful with the year, it had been... a nice time. An opportunity to see things she wouldn't have the chance to see again, and to bond with her pokémon alone on the road.

"I'm sorry," Ana said softly, though she smiled a little bit at the story about Icarus. That... kind of tracked, actually. "It's... mostly camping, as I remember it. Maybe we could all take a trip sometime?" Her eyes shifted momentarily towards Cyrilla and Kasimir before returning to Eryk. "I hate that feeling. Of having missed something. And I never know how long an opportunity's still going to be around, so—it seems to me like maybe while we've got the people, it might be worth doing?"

His head tilted as if he were actually contemplating her suggestion. “I don't see why not?" he stated it, though it sounded as if he wasn't quite sure about it. His eyes drifted towards Kasimir and Cyrilla for a moment before glancing back towards Ana. “I can see if the others wouldn't mind taking off a week or so for it. Perhaps... next spring?" he stated as if he were suggesting a time.

“It would be more ideal, then. Depending on where we took a trip, it might be warmer around that time of year, and it won't necessarily be ruined by the rainy season. There tend to be more hurricanes and storms this time of year and taking a trip, even if it's to camp, wouldn't be ideal."

She nodded. "Sounds like a good time to me."

She thought, with the way things were going now, that she might just make it, too.

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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#, as written by Aethyia


September 9th
Marna's - Evening - Rainy
Anastasia Asher


Ana pulled down her umbrella, stepping quietly into the unfamiliar bar and setting it into a wire basket seemingly designed to hold them. It seemed the others were all already present, but hadn't yet noticed her come in over the sound of the rain. Probably for the best; she used a moment to collect herself, smoothing down the dress that had been the result of an impromptu shopping trip with Cyrilla, Mel, and Kasimir yesterday. It was certainly in her style, but a lot... well a lot fancier than she was used to wearing, even if it wasn't formal or anything. The ribbons and ruffles were nice, though—she kind of liked girly things like this sometimes.

And, as Mel had put it, if she couldn't dress up for her birthday party, when could she?

Checking to make sure her twin plaits were still smooth and laying neatly over her shoulders, she stepped a little further inside, casting her eyes around the warmly-lit bar. The elderly woman behind the counter, clearly a Cinnabar native, smiled kindly at her, but it seemed she was noticed a moment later.

"There she is!" Kasimir declared, setting his beer down to approach her and lean down to offer a hug. She gratefully accepted, noting that he smelled nice today—like tangerines and spice.

The hug took an unexpected turn, quite literally, when he lifted her up and set her down closer to the group, slinging an arm over her shoulders. "We've got food, drinks, music, games—the whole shebang. I was just taking bets for who was going to be drunk first tonight, what do you think?" He straightened the vest he was wearing, charcoal grey over a deep emerald shirt. Apparently she wasn't the only one who'd dressed up a little—the others seemed to have done so as well.

It struck her that they might have done it to make sure she didn't feel out of place, and the thought warmed her.

Eryk was dressed in a dark red shirt with a black vest over it, similar to Kas's. The sleeves were rolled up a little past his elbows, though, and he nodded in Ana's direction. His pants were also black, and had a few buckles around his legs. There were even a few chains hanging from his waist, but they didn't seem to be imposing in anyway.

“We've all kind of unanimously bet that Nev would be the first one drunk tonight all things considered," Cyrilla stated, making her way with a soda in her hand and handing it towards Ana. She was dressed in a black halter top, handkerchief dress that looked like it had a belt tied under her diaphragm, and one around her waist. It exposed a lot of her shoulders and upper back.

“Hm, you say that because I don't often drink as much as the rest of you," Nev stated as she made her way towards Anastasia. She was dressed in a black dress as well, though it was a cami cold shoulder style, it seemed. There were laces on the arms that went from her shoulder, down to her elbows.

“Oh, by the way, happy birthday, Ana!" Cyrilla stated, opening her arms and wrapping them around Ana. She'd been mindful of the drinks, it seemed, before she pulled back with a large grin on her face.

“Happy birthday, Anastasia," Eryk stated softly, but loud enough to still be heard.

Ana returned Cyrilla's hug, smiling brightly at the assembled. "Thank you, everyone," she said, feeling herself turning a little pink with all the attention. Unlike usual, though, it didn't seem bad exactly, just strange.

The others said their hellos, too—Aidan looked completely natural somehow in a sleeveless black shirt and ripped black jeans, the stark red of his unused suspenders matching well with his hair, and all the silver. He had a bracelet on that seemed to be made out of actual chainmail—she might have to ask him where he'd found it. Mel had worn a slinky black dress that fell just above her knees, with lace panels fitted in at the shoulders and the slits in the skirt. Drake had arrived a little late, but he was dressed mostly in the same fashion as the others. His shirt was a dark, smoky grey with a deep, midnight blue vest. His slacks were a little more formal, though, being the same midnight blue as his vest. He'd said something about not being too sure what to wear, and these were the closest he could get to being in theme.

The music playing in the background was something smooth and smoky at the moment, synth and vaguely-electronic tones not so loud as to interrupt conversation, but audible enough to give a sense of life to the whole space. She picked at a few of the foods, and accepted a drink from Marna, the bartender, watching Aidan and Mel play a round of darts, which he won, probably because she was the slightest bit unsteady from having had a few in quick succession.

Cyrilla was sitting on a stool near Ana, occasionally laughing at Eryk who was playing darts with Kasimir after Aidan and Mel. Eryk's darts were mostly centered, his aim near perfect, however; Cyrilla stated something to him which caused him to miss, hitting outside of the board. Nevena was sitting next to Anastasia, though, and smiling at the others before turning towards Ana.

“So, Ana," she began, taking a sip of her drink, “is there anything in particular that you're wishing for this year? Er, well, a wish? Oh, also, I kind of forgot we weren't really going to do presents because... well, we weren't entirely sure if you'd like them, but I did get you something," she continued, reaching for her bag on the floor.

“It's not much, I promise, but I thought it'd be nice to get you something for Nova and Luna. They're luxury balls, and I've included four more if... well, if you ever decided to add more to your team," she explained, holding out a small box towards Ana.

Ana, who had been watching the darts match, was a little surprised, and accepted the box tentatively. "Oh," she murmured softly, opening the lid to see the six mostly-black pokéballs nestled inside. Darting her glance back up to Nev, she smiled shyly. "Thank you, Nev; they're a wonderful gift. I'm sure Luna and Nova will love them."

Carefully, she set the box aside, folding her hands in her lap as she tried to consider the question. Was there anything she was wishing for this year? Truthfully, there was—an echo of a wish she'd made every year for a very long time. This time, though, it was a little different. Twisting her fingers together in her lap, she cleared her throat a little awkwardly, dropping her eyes to her lap and then raising them again. "Ever since I was a child, my auntie and uncle made a wish with me on my birthday—for one more year together." She was sure that might have sounded strange—it certainly wasn't a normal thing to think about.

"So I guess... I wish for one more year, with everyone." Somehow it was embarrassing to say in front of her friends in particular, and she was sure her face was scarlet, but she couldn't really think of anything she wanted more than that.

“It's a good wish to have," Cyrilla spoke, glancing in Ana's direction with a soft smile. “One more year with everyone sounds nice, especially considering you never know what might happen. With our jobs, especially, we might end up having to move, but... well, one more year sounds nice," she continued. Nev nodded in agreement, it seemed.

“Hm, exactly. I've always moved around; my job is such that I'm required to be able to move and go to different places on a whim. It is rather nice here, though. If I ever retired, I think I'd want to retire here," Nev stated, holding her glass up as if to toast. “So, to one more year among friends!" Cyrilla huffed lightly, but clinked her glass with Nev's, holding it there as they both turned towards Ana.

Ana raised hers, too, and pretty soon it seemed like everyone was in on it, Kasimir making a point to enthusiastically clink his glass with everyone's in turn. She laughed softly at him and he grinned.

"Enough of this nonsense," he declared a moment later, taking up Ana's hand with one of his and Cyrilla's in the other. "Let's dance!"

It must have been Marna's cue, because while she rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically, the music did change, to something a little more upbeat and, in fact, dance-oriented. Still holding both their hands, Kasimir dragged them—albeit gently—onto the large swath of the bar's floor that had been cleared, apparently for this purpose.

Relaxing into the sound of the music, Kas playfully spun them both out and away from himself and in fact started to dance. He had an easy natural rhythm that Ana immediately recognized, but when he stepped back in, she laughed and shoved him away, causing him to mock a wounded expression with his hand over his heart.

Mel grinned and joined the fray, too, bumping Ana with her hip. "You hiding moves from us, Ana?" she asked, only slurring a little as she stepped into the rhythm too.

"I don't know if that's how I'd put it," she replied with a wry smile. "I just might need to be a bit drunker than this to dance in front of people."

“Oh, that's not a problem," Cyrilla stated as she paused in her dancing. “Drake! Bring me a few drinks!" she stated across the floor, causing Drake to blink in her direction before shrugging his shoulders. He made his way towards the counter, asked for a few drinks, before bringing them back to Cyrilla. “Thanks, love," she stated, winking in his direction. He huffed a soft laugh, but even in the light, Ana could see a light pink dusting his face.

He was a friendly enough person, but he was still easily flustered when people flirted with him. “Alright, this one is for you, this one is mine, and this one is Mel's," she stated, handing a glass to each person she'd listed.

“Don't force her if she doesn't want to, Cy," Eryk called out. He and Nev seemed to have taken a seat on the bar stools, opting not to dance. Maybe they were shy? Aidan, who definitely wasn't shy, stood against the bar next to Nev, saluting the dancers ironically with his glass.

“Yeah, only drink if you want to Ana. Don't let Cy bully you into drinking," Drake added, smirking a little in Cyrilla's direction who merely rolled her eyes.

“Oh my Arceus, guys. You make it sound like I'm a horrible person forcing Ana to get drunk so she'll dance," she whined in a playful manner.

"You mean that's not your nefarious plan after all?" Kasimir asked, apparently rather amused.

Ana shook her head and accepted the drink. "In any case it's going to take a while to work. You guys have fun." She waved a hand in a vague gesture, leaving them to their fun. They really were good dancers; she could dance, too, but there was something much too embarrassing about doing it in front of all the friends she had. Plus that style wasn't exactly ballroom, which meant while she could do it it was a little...

She tried not to blush as she headed back over to the bar, climbing up onto a stool next to where Aidan stood. He patted her amiably on the head, something that strangely made her smile. She giggled as Mel approached Drake—she couldn't hear what they were saying, but she was pretty sure the other girl was trying to convince him to dance.

Drake rubbed the back of his neck nervously, seemingly contemplating Mel's invitation before tossing back the drink he had. He finally nodded, glanced at the others with a nervous smile before he let Mel lead him out towards the floor. It wasn't a secret to Ana that Drake wasn't a good dancer. He'd admitted as much to her a few months back, and was the reason, perhaps, why he'd seemed hesitant.

Eryk turned his attention towards Ana, though, and furrowed his brows lightly. “I saw Solomon give you a present," he stated. “We weren't entirely sure if you wanted things like that, but," he paused, reaching into his vest pocket to retrieve something, it seemed. He pulled out two small charms, both looked to be shaped in the heads of an umbreon and an espeon as he held them out to her.

“I saw these on the way here and thought you'd like them," he explained as he handed them to her.

If Ana had been surprised by her last gift, this one outright floored her. It probably shouldn't have—it was her birthday, after all, and even if she wasn't usually the type to ask for things, these people were her friends. She knew they were all unusually generous, too, and so expecting nothing would have been outright silly of her. But still...

She extended her hand forward, letting him drop the charms into her open palm before she drew it back towards herself. The charms were pretty, made of silver, with tiny little chips of red for umbreon's eyes and blue for espeon's. She brushed her thumb over the espeon's large ear before tucking both away carefully in the pocket of her dress.

"Thank you, Eryk," she said, unable to make her voice sound as breezy and confident as she wanted it to. Instead she sounded a little uncertain, shy—like she really was most of the time, in other words. But the thanks was genuine, and she hoped he knew that.

“You're... welcome, Anastasia," he stated, almost as if he was unsure she should be thanking him for anything. He shook his head lightly, though, and took a drink of his glass. “Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked, turning his attention back out towards the dance floor. It seemed Cyrilla had stopped dancing and was mostly laughing at poor Drake's attempts to dance. It looked more like he was doing an up-right wurmple than actual dancing.

Nev looked amused by it as well, since she huffed lightly into her drink.

Even Aidan snorted into the rim of his glass. "Arceus, kid, you're the reason people think white boys are all terrible dancers." With a slight shake of his head, he downed the rest of the whiskey and set the glass back down on the bar, where Marna almost immediately refilled it with the same.

"I'm having a lot of fun, actually," Ana replied, taking another sip of whatever had been given to her. It tasted really fruity, but there was a strong kick underneath it, too. She wasn't sure if the warmth she was feeling was was because of the drink or the company, but either way it was welcome. "Thank you all so much for doing this for me. I've never had a party like this before."

“Hey old man, I'd like to see you do better!" Drake retorted, pursing his lips in Aidan's direction, causing Nev and Cyrilla to snort.

“I'd like to see that, actually," Nev stated, turning her attention towards Aidan.

"After you, Doc." he said flatly.

Eryk huffed lightly, a small, very subtle smile on his face. “You're welcome, but you don't have to thank us for it. We were... happy to do it for you," he stated, his expression softening for a second before he downed the rest of his drink. He shook his head when Marna went to refill it, and was given a glass of water, instead.

“Oh, that actually sounds like a good idea! Let's have a dance off! All of us have to participate no matter how silly or stupid we look!" Cyrilla suggested, arching a challenging brow at Eryk.

“I don't want to," Eryk stated, causing Cyrilla to roll her eyes.

“But it might be fun?" Nev stated a little hesitantly.

"I'm too old for this shit," Aidan protested, but Mel shook her head at him.

"Bullshit," Mel said. "You don't get to say that unless you're double the age of the youngest person here. And that's... probably Ana, right? How old are you now?"

"Nineteen," she replied, not sure why this of all things should feel strange to admit. Maybe because she'd never really planned on being able to say it?

"Oh, hey, me too!" Mel said, bright as ever. "But yeah, unless you're suddenly thirty-eight, no getting out of it."

"What if I'm ninety in spirit?"

Ana laughed.

Eryk's brow arched slightly when Ana mentioned her age, but Cyrilla's laugh caused him to look back out and he furrowed his brows slightly.

“Yeah well spirit doesn't count to your actual age. We're all doing this," Cyrilla stated, glancing in Kas's direction for a moment. “How about we all make it interesting since we all know Drake can't dance," she began, snickering softly when Drake pouted in her direction. “Whoever dances the best, loses. Marna can even be the judge of it."

“I still don't want to do it," Eryk muttered, pursing his lips together.

“It's only fair if everyone does it, Ryk. I'm in!" Nev stated, placing her cup down and hopping off of her stool. She stumbled a bit before she regained her footing and chuckled.

"Cy, that's never going to work. Some people will do badly just to not lose. I think we probably should all just do what we want, and decide that the winner is whoever does best. No singled-out loser, even if we all know who it would be." He grinned at Drake, but the teasing was light, as far as it went.

"Okay," Ana said, "but it's my birthday, and my rule is if you really don't want to participate you don't have to, but you forfeit the right to make fun of people." That seemed fair to her, and it would help everyone be as comfortable as possible. She knew Drake didn't mind a little joking around, but she didn't want everyone to just pile on him, either, not when he was brave enough to do something for fun that he wasn't good at.

Extending a hand towards Nev, she tilted her head at the floor. "Shall we?"

“Fine, fine," Cyrilla replied. Eryk rolled his eyes a bit, and glanced at Ana.

“I wasn't the one making fun of him," he murmured softly. “But I still don't want to participate so I'll forfeit that right." He added, taking a drink from his glass of water.

"I know," Ana said gently. She'd mostly made the rule so people would quit pestering him and Aidan to dance if they didn't want to, after all.

Nev smiled brightly, though, and took Ana's hand. “Let's go show these losers how it's done!" she stated excitedly.

“Yeah, well I might be bad, but at least I still try!" Drake stated as he grinned at Mel. “Can't let them show us up, can we?" he stated offering an arm in her direction. Cyrilla seemed highly amused by this, though, and glanced at Kas.

“Since when did this become a pair thing?" she stated, glancing a little mischievously at Eryk. “I guess it's me and you, Kas, against the others," she stated with a light shrug of her shoulders.

"So what you're saying is this isn't even fair to them," Kas replied with a grin. He didn't seem to mind this, though.

The song changed, and that seemed as good a cue as any to get started. "Do you know how to do this kind of dancing, Nev?" Ana asked. It tended to involve a lot of closeness and touching, but if Nev was more comfortable without that, they could stick to more upbeat, dance-routine type moves. Ana knew a bunch of those, and could teach them if necessary.

“Mhm," Nev stated while nodding her head at the same time. “I know how to dance; I'm just not very good at it," she stated, smiling broadly. “I learned a couple of things when I was younger, but I never really kept up with the practice," she continued, as if to explain herself. “I'm very interested in learning again, but this seems like fun! And I don't mind what that requires!" she stated, laughing softly to herself.

“Uh, oh, be careful she doesn't step on your toes, Ana. Nev might be a little drunk," Cyrilla stated, causing Nev to nod her head.

“Just a little!"

Ana laughed, already quite forgetting there was anything like a competition at all. "It's fine even if you do," she promised, stepping in to be a better distance from Nev and letting herself fall into the beat of the song. There was just something nice about this—about being able to move freely, to have fun and let the hard things in life fade into the background for a while. The drinks she'd had were making everything pleasantly fuzzy, but not enough that she felt too dizzy or stumbled around, even if Nev's balance was a little off. Ana just adjusted by occasionally gripping her friend's arms and helping tilt her back the right way.

Mel seemed to be having loads of fun, a broad grin not disappearing from her face even as she danced around Drake, who seemed to be mostly holding center in a way that almost passed for having rhythm. Kasimir and Cyrilla were—well they were very good at dancing and clearly not afraid of the inherent... sensuality of the style. His hands were placed respectfully as far as it went, but there was definitely a lot of touching going on over there, and Ana suppressed a snort.

Nev seemed to be having fun, though, as they danced. She occasionally went through the various stages of a laugh. She giggled, chuckled, and even snorted a few times as she tried to keep her concentration, it seemed. Drake seemed to be having a good time, too, smiling just as broadly as Mel was. He tripped a couple of times, but other than that, he mostly stayed to his earlier rhythm.

“This was so much fun!" Nev stated once the song was over. “You should be my dance instructor!" she added, turning towards Ana with a bright smile. “I'd be ready for just about anything if that were the case!" she continued, making her way back towards the bar stool she'd previously occupied. She grabbed a glass, but let it go when Ryk took it away from her and replaced it with a glass of water, instead.

“You both did pretty well," Eryk stated as he glanced towards Ana.

Ana snorted and shook her head. "We were just having fun," she said with a little smile. "But that's the important part anyway, I think." She beamed up at him, definitely a little drunk, and accepted a glass of water from Marna. It was important to stay hydrated if she didn't want a hangover the next morning, after all.

The others joined the group at the bar a bit later, and before long the night was winding down. Kasimir and Cyrilla had been declared the official winners of the dance contest, not before Marna made a joke about getting a room, which got a laugh from most everyone. The group helped the bar's owner clean up, and then split up to venture home. Aidan offered to take Drake back to his place, probably since there was still his ex to be worried about, and the group headed back to the Cloyster was plenty big already.

Ana and Eryk had a different way to go, of course, and so said their goodbyes at the front door of Marna's. It had been a wonderful night, one of the best she'd ever had, and Ana knew she'd cherish the memory as long as she could.

As they made their way home, she wished again for one more year, this time silently, to no one but the stars overhead.

Just one more, with them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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September 12th
The Cloyster - Late Afternoon - Overcast
Nevena Solomon


Nevena Solomon was nervous. She'd actually matched with someone on Fletchinder, and didn't have the slightest clue as to what to do. She'd never been on a date before, and was as excited as she was nervous about it. She'd invited Cyrilla, Mel, and Ana over to her apartment today, mostly to get ideas from them. She knew Cyrilla went out on casual dates, but Mel and Ana seemed like they had some knowledge on it, too.

And she wanted to pick their brains.

Making sure everything was in order, she glanced towards Basil who was giving her a flat look. It almost looked as if she was disapproving of something, but Nev couldn't be too sure what it was. The date? The other girls coming over? It had to be the former, because Nev knew Basil was quite fond of everyone, especially Aidan. She huffed lightly as Basil turned towards the door as soon as there was a knock at it.

“Coming!" she shouted, making her way towards the door. As usual, though, Basil beat her to it, and opened the door to allow the others inside. “Hi!" Nev greeted.

“Afternoon, Nev," Cyrilla stated, giving Basil's head a once over with her hand before stepping inside the apartment.

Mel rubbed at the base of her leaf, too, stepping in and toeing out of her shoes at the entrance. Ana followed suit, and the group naturally moved in towards the living room. They were all familiar with the layout by now, from the watch party if nothing else.

"So um..." Ana looked a bit unsure, taking a seat in one of the chairs and pulling her legs up underneath her. "Cyrilla said something about... Fletchinder?" She seemed only vaguely familiar with what it was in the first place.

Nev nodded her head. “She and Kasimir set up a Fletchinder profile for me," she stated, taking a seat in one of the other available spots. “I matched with someone a couple of days ago and he wants to go on a date," she continued, furrowing her brows. “The only problem is I've never been on a date, before, and I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do, or what a date even consists of. That's why... I asked all of you here, today."

From what she'd been able to see of other people's dates, it usually consisted of a movie, dinner, or some other form of activity together. It wasn't like when they went to the Camellia Festival; they were there as a group, even if they'd ended up splitting at the end.

“Well, first off, you're not expected to do anything, Nev," Cyrilla started, pouring herself a glass of lemonade that Nev had set out. There was water and soda, as well, if Mel and Ana were thirsty, too. “You're also getting a little ahead of yourself. You just matched with him, right?" Nev nodded her head as Cyrilla took a drink.

“Well that just means this date of yours is supposed to be more of a let's get together and learn about each other kind of thing."

Mel nodded, looking somewhat sage despite being technically a teenager. "Who's the guy though? If you matched that means you thought he was at least kind of interesting, right? Dating apps have different features so I might be wrong about that." She shrugged.

“His name is Béliam Arnaud," Nev replied. “According to his profile and from what he's said, he's from the Kalos region. He's an aspiring pokémon gym leader who plans on taking over his mother's gym in Laverre City," she explained, causing Cyrilla to arch a brow.

“You matched with Valerie's kid?" she asked, causing Nev to nod her head. She pursed her lips together before she grinned lightly.

"You would end up with someone who's practically a celebrity," Mel said with a snort. "Most people's first match on a dating app is like Joe from down the street who works in sales or something and wants to get people in on his pyramid scheme." She rolled her eyes, but it seemed to be a fond expression. "But not you, obviously. I swear, Mirmir was right. You guys really do inhabit this whole other world for classy rich people, right Ana?"

"Um." Ana clearly didn't know what the correct answer to that question was.

Mel laughed a little, and shook her head. "He's probably super good looking too, right? Or at least sharply dressed?"

“Oh, a little of both, I suppose. He has his mother's beautiful lavender colored eyes, though," she stated, feeling herself smile a little. He did have Valerie's eyes, and her hair, which was a deep black color. “I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you how he dresses. The only image he has, he's wearing a casual white shirt. I suppose he didn't want people to know right away that he was that Arnaud?"

“Still, the fact of the matter is you matched," Cyrilla stated, huffing a short laugh as she tilted her head in Nev's direction. “Good looking or not, you're not in it for that, right?" she asked, smirking just a bit as Nev flushed a bit.

“Of course not! I mean, I've always heard that first impressions are always the most crucial when it comes to meeting someone," she replied as Cyrilla's smirk faded a bit.

“It's not first impressions you should be looking out for, Nev. It's the first instinct you get when you meet someone. You should always follow your first gut instinct when it comes to meeting people, especially if it's meeting someone you intend on dating. First impressions can always be feigned to be good."

"Aren't those two things basically the same?" Ana asked, puzzled. "An impression is the reaction something gives you, right?"

Mel shrugged. "Whatever it's called, go with it," she said simply. "But also watch out for later red flags. Some people can fool your instincts. But anyway let's not talk about bad stuff; this is a good thing!" She flopped back onto the couch she was on, scrutinizing Nev through narrowed eyes. "I swear you've lucked out though. Assuming his personality's good, anyway. I was serious about the Joe from down the street thing. That's who I'd get if I signed up for this stuff. More importantly: have you guys talked and set up an actual date, or are we at the pre-setup phase? Cause how we help is gonna be way different depending on that, obviously."

“We have, actually," Nev answered. “It's for the sixteenth, which is a few days away." She hadn't told Aidan about it, though, but he'd said that it really didn't concern him. She wasn't going to bother him about it, either way. “We're supposed to meet at one of the more upscale restaurants. It's called the Delphox, and specializes in Kalosian foods," she added. It wasn't exactly a five-star restaurant, but it was pretty formal as far as the places she'd been to.

“The Delphox? You're going there for a first date? Nev, are you insane? I know you're reasonably well-off, but that place is far above a gym leader's pay grade. Are you sure that's where you're going?" Cyrilla asked, pursing her lips together. Nev nodded her head, though.

“It is."

"Okay," Mel said, sitting up abruptly. "I'm sorry, and I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade or anything, but is anyone else just a tiny bit suspicious of this? Like... if this dude is mega rich and famous, what the hell is he doing on Fletchinder?" Her brows were furrowed; there was an expression of genuine concern on her face.

"M-maybe he's just uncomfortable with people?" Ana asked.

Mel grimaced. "Ana, you're uncomfortable with people. If you decided you wanted to date, would you use an app to do it?"

She seemed to deliberate this for a moment. "Um... probably not, but there are different reasons for that."

"I just—never mind. I'm just paranoid." She shook her head vigorously and cleared her throat. "Anyway, if you're going somewhere like that, you probably need new clothes for it, unless you have a nice dress somewhere in your wardrobe already. Which you might I guess." She shrugged a little.

Cyrilla didn't seem especially happy about what was being said, but she shook her head at Mel's statement. “Are you kidding? The only dress Nev has is the one she wore to Ana's birthday party. She's going to need a new outfit for this date, something nice if you're going to that restaurant," Cyrilla stated, her brows furrowing lightly.

“Does it have to be a nice dress? Can't it be a nice pair of pants and a blouse?" Nev asked. She didn't really feel too comfortable in dresses. The one she'd worn for Ana's birthday party had been the first dress she'd worn in a long time, and that was because it was for Ana's party. Cyrilla, however, gave Nev a flat look.

“No. You can't wear a pair of nice pants and a blouse. The Delphox isn't a casual place to dine. You have to understand something, Nev, when it comes to top notch places like that. It's made for people with money and they expect a certain kind of look from those people. They expect a sort of elegance and refinement. That means you have to dress pretty formal to even walk through the door. If the four of us showed up there, now, dressed as we are, we'd be turned away."

Mel nodded. "It's super classist bullshit but it's true. I'm literally not traveling with anything nice enough to get me into a place like that. But dress codes are one way places make sure they keep up their image and get the clientele they want. After that, stuff tends to be divided by level of like... privacy. Private rooms are way more expensive than seats on the restaurant floor, for instance. At a certain point, what you're paying for is the staff's discretion—meaning regardless of what they see or hear, they won't talk. That's why people use private rooms for business meetings and such. If that trust were ever broken, the bigwig clientele could spread the word and suddenly no one would be going there anymore."

She shrugged. "That's usually what it's like, when there's a super fancy restaurant but it's not renowned for the food itself. I mean I'm sure it'll be good, but not good enough to justify the prices by itself." She rolled her eyes. "It could be that he's just really trying to impress you without knowing how."

Ana, brows furrowed, glanced between the others. "Does this mean we should head to the shops? It'll be a few hours before things close, at least. We could find you something to wear?"

“That's not a bad idea, actually. You will need something to wear if you're going to be at that restaurant," Cyrilla stated, seemingly agreeing with Ana's statement. “Besides, there's this really nice shop that just opened up next to the Vermilion place. I've been meaning to check it out to see if I could find a tie and shirt for Eryk. He needs to look his best for the qualifying tournament, after all," she added in a nonchalant fashion.

“Oh, well, should we go, now?" Nev asked. If they had a few hours left before everything closed, it would at least give her ideas of what to get or look for. She could always go buy something tomorrow, after all. They still had at least four days before her date was scheduled.

"Sure!" Mel said, offering her first really genuine grin of the evening. "I don't get to dress blondes very often; this'll be fun!"

Ana shook her head good-naturedly. "I don't think I'll be all that much help with this part, but I'm happy to go along."

Nev smiled brightly. “Thank you all for helping me with this, regardless. It really means a lot to me," she stated, feeling the nervousness seep out of her.

“Not a problem, Nev. It's what friends are for."

Nev couldn't help the way the statement warmed her heart a little. Friends. They really were nice to have.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein
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September 21st
Cinnabar Gym - Late Afternoon - Hot
Drake Bellamy


Days like these were becoming an all too common occurrence for Drake. Hiding out at his gym, leaving only briefly to buy groceries and necessities. Sometimes he'd just use the Delibird to have them delivered to him. Hell, he hadn't been to his own apartment in almost a week. His friends came by the gym often enough to keep him from feeling isolated, but this was getting ridiculous. Kevin was becoming a little obsessed.

Drake had found a note on his door, first, saying that he was missed and that Kevin would do anything to get him back. This kind of behavior would have been overlooked if Drake hadn't noticed more letters in places that Kevin shouldn't have been able to get into. Like his apartment. He'd had the locks changed when Drake called it quits, but he knew it was Kevin who'd gone into his place to leave the notes. Occasionally he'd find flowers, or dinner already made, and it was getting to the point that Drake was actually afraid and creeped out.

He'd tried going to the police department to file a restraining order, however; he'd been turned away because he didn't have sufficient proof, and couldn't prove it was Kevin. As if the notes weren't sufficient proof that he was being stalked, though. Pushing a heavy sigh through his nose, he ran a hand through his hair. He couldn't stay locked up inside forever, though. He needed to get out and get some sun, otherwise he was going to wilt. With that in mind, he pulled Axe's, Brick Jr.'s and Typhoon's pokéballs from his belt, and gave them a toss. The gabite looked displeased to be out, however; the salamance glanced in Drake's direction, giving a subtle nod before making his way towards the door with Drake.

He'd leave the both of them here, just in case. Axe, though, would be walking with him. He was well-behaved and docile enough that Drake didn't need to keep in the pokéball. Plus, Kevin never liked the fraxure much, and Axe never liked Kevin. He should have trusted Axe's judgement on that, but... well, he'd been stupid. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he exited the gym, making sure to lock it behind him, before he struck out. He didn't know where he was going, so he let his legs do most of the navigating.

Eventually his feet took him towards Ana's neighborhood. It didn't seem that Kevin had tried anything around there yet, probably because Drake hadn't been going by her place very often. He could, he knew—Ana wasn't the type of person to ever turn a friend away, but—

Before he could consider whether or not he wanted to go there, the issue was taken rather out of his hands when he spotted her walking down the street towards him, next to Aidan of all people. The other man was wearing his customary sunglasses, and they looked a little funny walking next to each other, as their color palettes were very similar, with all the black clothing and such. Not to mention there was something a little odd about someone as tall and muscular as Aidan walking directly next to the very short, very thin Ana, but they looked to be having a perfectly nice conversation, though he couldn't hear what it was about.

He wasn't sure if he should disturb them, though. They seemed to be having a good time, and like it or not, Kevin was still around somewhere. He didn't have much choice, though, when they got closer, and he waved at them.

“Hey, guys," he greeted, offering them a small smile. “You guys headed somewhere?" he asked, glancing between the two. Usually one of the others were with Ana, mostly Eryk since he lived at Ana's place. Drake had, at first, thought that a little odd, but he'd warmed up to the man. He was mostly quiet, and seemed to be able to help Ana out more often. It was why he wasn't so worried about not having visited her in awhile. She had someone to help her out, but seeing Aidan with her was a little unusual. He pushed the thoughts away, though.

"Drake!"Ana greeted, smiling warmly. "I haven't seen you out this way in a while." She managed to say it in the sort of distinctively Ana-ish way that was only a few words, but also managed to convey both that she'd missed him and that he shouldn't feel guilty for it. "We were taking a bit of a break—I told Aidan I'd show him the arcade. Would you like to come along?"

"What she said," the man confirmed wryly. His look was a bit... keener though, as it tended to be. It was hard to say how much he guessed just registering Drake's appearance and Axe's presence, but it was probably more than most people would have.

“Sure! It's been a while since I was last at the arcade," he admitted, offering a nervous smile. Axe made a soft grunt, nudging Drake's back a bit. “You can come too, Axe. It's not like you're banned from the place," he spoke as he placed a hand on Axe's head. He moved so that he was on the opposite side of Ana, which meant she was in between him and Aidan.

“How are things going at the shelter? I'm sorry I haven't been by in awhile," he decided to ask. He would need to at least make an effort to visit her more often. He couldn't let Kevin turn him into a hermit. That wasn't the kind of life Drake would be able to manage.

"We're doing really well," Ana replied warmly. "We're down to a pretty low number of residents at the moment, due to several adoptions at the registration fair last month. It's really helped ease the workload—maybe too much so. I almost don't know what to do with all the help I'm being offered." She shook her head faintly, but seemed to be pretty happy about it, all things considered.

"What about you, though?" she asked, a little more softly. "I don't put stock in this kind of things, but... there are rumors that the Gym closes suddenly at odd times and things, and I was a little worried after the other day. Is everything okay?"

“It's not that the Gym closes at odd times, it just hasn't been open as often as usual. I... well, no everything isn't alright," he stated, running a hand down his face. Axe snorted as if agreeing with Drake, but kept his focus on their surroundings. “Kevin's been getting a little... obsessive lately. I know it's him breaking into my apartment and leaving letters and flowers and whathaveyou, but... nothing's being done about it."

Ana was his friend, and he trusted Aidan enough that he could say this to them. Plus, Aidan, Ana, and Cyrilla had all witnessed Kevin's insistence, first hand. “I've gone to the CIPD about it, but they say there's nothing they can do about it. I don't have sufficient evidence that Kevin's breaking into my place, nor do I have the proof that it is Kevin. I've tried having a security system installed in my place, but he always seems to bypass it."

It was really getting out of hand.

"He's breaking into your house?" Ana's eyes went wide; she stopped cold on the pavement and gently took Drake by the arm. "Drake, if you don't feel safe you can stay with me, you know that, right? I just got this ridiculous security system upgrade from Kasimir, and Eryk and all the pokémon live there, too."

It was just like Ana to offer him a place to stay. He shook his head, though. “It's a really nice offer, Ana, but I don't want to take that chance. He doesn't know I've been coming around here, and if I do, that would just put you on his radar. I'm sure Kasimir's system would be more than enough to keep Kevin out, but I wouldn't want to impose like that, either."

As nice as it might have been, staying at Ana's for a bit, he didn't want to bring that kind of drama to her. She didn't deserve that, and he wasn't entirely sure how Eryk would take it, either. Not Drake living there, but Kevin trying to break into Ana's place. Eryk was an intimidating-looking man, and he was certain that he could scare off Kevin, but... what if Kevin did something stupid? He just didn't want to risk it.

“I'm going to see what I can do to convince CIPD to get a restraining order. If it gets any worse, though... I'll take you up on your offer for a while until it gets resolved?"

"Please do," she said softly. "I don't want to see you get hurt, Drake. And if CIPD is still giving you the runaround next time you go in, let me know and I'll talk to Carter for you." She must've meant Captain Hayes; apparently his family was friends with hers or something.

"Just like the cops to be useless about something like this," Aidan muttered, before glancing at Drake from the corner of his eye. "I'm sure your own pokémon are plenty of help already, but you need something to scare the pants off this guy, let me know."

Drake huffed lightly at Ana and Aidan. “Sure thing, guys. Thanks," he stated, feeling a little more relieved. He pursed his lips together, though, and furrowed his brows. “I think it might take a little more than that to scare off the guy. He's... oddly persistent. He's like a joltik that won't quite let go of you once it's latched on."

If it came down to it, Drake would have to leave the island, and sign the gym over to someone else. It wasn't something he wanted to do, but if Kevin's behaviour became worse, Drake wouldn't have much of a choice. Even if Ana could talk to Captain Hayes, Drake doubted anything would really come of it. The CIPD seemed busy with other affairs, it seemed, but this...

“Maybe I ought to just record his behaviour when he's around. Then I'd have the proof I need."

"Sounds like a pretty good idea. You know, if you were willing to talk to Rheinallt about it, the guy's kind of a legal index. Apparently his mom or stepmom's a lawyer or... something. In any event, he probably knows how you can make a good case and get the guy off your back."

"Oh, but if you're not comfortable asking him directly, I can do it for you, without mentioning your name. Then take notes on what he says." Ana nodded, as if she found this idea quite solid, but didn't seem inclined to force it, merely looking at him inquiringly.

“Huh, that's not a bad idea, actually. I can ask him the next time I see him," Drake stated. If Kas knew something that could help, Drake was definitely willing to ask him about it. Anything that could be of help, Drake was willing to seek it out. “Thanks guys, for the helpful advice. I appreciate it," he stated, quite happy how it turned out. He wasn't exactly expecting to get advice on his predicament, but he was glad that he did.

“Now that that's mostly taken care of, you think you're any good at the arcade, old man?" Drake stated, grinning just broadly enough to make it known that he was challenging Aidan to a match at one of the games.

Aidan narrowed his eyes, the first hint of a sly smile appearing at one corner of his mouth. "Name your game, kid."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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#, as written by Aethyia


September 25th
Ana's Shelter - Afternoon - Rainy
Anastasia Asher


Ana ran her hands through Rufus's fur with a little hum, smiling to herself at his whuffing noises as she pressed the warmed stethoscope to his chest. He was getting on in years, of course, but his condition was, in general, quite stable. Theoretically, he could probably even be adopted out to someone with the proper skills to take care of him, but such people were few, and besides that he did really well with helping new arrivals settle in to life at the shelter, and seemed to enjoy making inspection of the visitors.

He didn't take a shine to many, but he did seem especially fond of Eryk and Aidan for some reason. Maybe because they had quiet dispositions? Ana wasn't really sure, but in the end it didn't make much difference. Moving the stethoscope, she tilted her head and listened carefully at several more places before humming her satisfaction. His lung function would never be good, exactly, but it was good enough, at least.

"Could you uncap that needle and hand it to me, please?" she asked softly, making brief eye contact with Eryk as she used a fine-toothed comb to part Rufus's fur. He huffed, knowing well what was coming and not being particularly happy about it, and she made a conciliatory noise in the back of her throat.

"I know," she murmured, impressing comfort and affection over the subtle psychic link she'd formed between their minds. "It's never any fun. But it'll be over soon—I just need to do your blood tests so I know how the new medicine is doing."

Eryk nodded his head as he reached for the needle she'd asked for. Taking a brief moment, he uncapped it and handed it to her. He glanced in Rufus' direction, expression softening for a moment, before he glanced back at Ana.

“How is he doing?" he asked, tilting his head in an inquisitive manner. The way he spoke, though, sounded as if he already knew how Rufus was, but was asking for her input on the matter.

Accepting the needle, Ana carefully eased it under the pokémon's skin, drawing blood into a small collection tube. Rufus huffed, but remained still, and it didn't take long at all before she removed the needle and dabbed a touch of adhesive bandage onto the spot to seal the tiny wound against infection. It wasn't a major concern, but she didn't like being cavalier, especially when new patients with new diseases could come in any time.

"He's well, all things considered," she said, stepping away so Eryk could lift Rufus from the exam table and put him down so he could shuffle back outside. "Everything's stable for the time being. I'll know more when the blood tests come back, but I'm expecting good things."

She filled a few things out on her paperwork, then closed the folder and grabbed the next one on the pile. "Looks like stunky's up next, if you'd go get her for me?" He'd been an attentive learner to all the aspects of shelter care she could teach, and she was honestly grateful for the assistance in things like lifting the pokémon and retrieving supplies as she needed them. It felt odd to have help after so long doing everything alone, but this was much better than trying to supplement with her telekinesis. Not every pokémon was equally comfortable being handled that way, after all.

Changing out her gloves, Ana made sure her apron was still on properly and stored Rufus's samples before scrubbing down fresh and snapping on a new pair of gloves. She had to stand on a little step—they didn't manufacture exam tables especially suited to her height, but she was used to that.

When Eryk returned, he was holding stunky in his arms, cradling her so that she was wagging her tail pretty enthusiastically against him. He huffed a soft sound as if he'd found something funny, shaking his head before setting her down on the exam table. He rubbed her head in a gentle manner and scratched behind her ear, a soft, subtle smile appearing on his lips.

“She seems to be doing well as of late," he stated before his lips pursed together. “She won't be able to be adopted out, will she," he murmured, but from the way he stated it, it sounded more of a statement than a question. As if he knew that she wouldn't be able to leave the shelter. He knew, of course, since Ana had spoken to him about it, but it seemed like he had something on his mind.

Ana shook her head slowly. "I'm afraid not," she confirmed. "She has congenital heart and lung conditions, which we can manage here for as long as she wants, but I'm afraid she'll never be healthy enough to be certified for adoption." She expelled a breath through her nose, fluffing the pokémon's tail for a moment before replacing her stethoscope in her ears.

"She really ought to have a proper surgery to remove the fluid buildup in her lungs at least once; it's possible she might need them regularly for the rest of her life." Ana herself wasn't yet qualified to do such surgeries, especially not without a properly-certified assistant. As a member of NTR, Eryk was qualified to help in the manner he was now, but something that serious would be something one of her relatives had to do. Not even Aunt Lydia could—they'd have to call in a proper pokémon doctor from elsewhere. And that would be more than prohibitively expensive, so until she'd received her PMD, all she could do was give stunky medicine to help her break down the blockages so she could cough easier and clear her airways in that manner.

Stunky glanced up at Eryk as Ana spoke, tilting her head as he kept eye contact with her. Her tail thumped against the table before Eryk furrowed his brows. His head tilted a bit to the side as if he was trying to understand something before he huffed something in an amused manner. He glanced in Ana's direction and regarded her with an even stare.

“I can pay for her surgeries," he stated suddenly. “If she wants to stay here, I'll pay for the surgeries she'll need. I have a full team already, but..." he trailed off, glancing back towards the stunky as she made a soft trilling noise. He smiled subtly as if he understood what she'd said, turning his attention back to Ana. “I'd like to informally adopt her. That way, she can live out the remainder of her years, peacefully, and I can provide for her in any way she may need it."

Ana tilted her head curiously at the pair. It was almost as if—but no, surely not. On the other hand, such things were much easier for her to believe than the average person, considering that oftentimes she too had conversations with pokémon that were entirely nonverbal. Still... even if it was what it looked like, it wasn't her place to ask about it, or say anything.

"Thank you," she said softly, shifting the stethoscope where she held it. "That's typically called sponsoring, and there's separate paperwork for it. When we're done here I'll prepare it for you. It'll be a while before we can get her properly airlifted to a surgeon, but in the meantime she'll be fine with the medicine."

He nodded in Ana's direction as he glanced back towards stunky, running a hand down her back as she seemed to stomp her feet, happily. She made a soft snorting sound and glanced up towards Ana, blinking big eyes at her as if to say thank you. Eryk huffed lightly before he shook his head.

“She is a little more lively, it seems," he murmured as stunky nodded her head. She turned her attention back towards Eryk as he shook his head. “You should stay still so Anastasia can finish the check-up. Once we're done here, I'll let you outside with the others, alright?" he stated, his voice oddly soft and calm.

Ana huffed a little, but took the cue, making her way through the rest of stunky's exam efficiently and nodding at Eryk to signal that she was done. "I put the awning up earlier since it's raining; when you set her down, can you check to make sure it's still in place?" She didn't like to deprive the pokémon of fresh air even on rainy days, but it was important that they had shelter, too.

"I'll make tea when I'm done and we can take it underneath, if you want?"

Eryk stooped to place stunky on the floor, however; she made a vague protesting sound, causing Eryk to roll his eyes softly. He stood back up, stunky cradled in his arms, as he glanced in Ana's direction. “That's fine. I want to make sure she doesn't run into the rain like she did last time," he stated, earning a disapproving grunt from stunky. He huffed softly and shook his head.

“You did do that last time, remember?" he stated out loud, but it was obvious he was talking to stunky. He fixed Ana with a soft gaze before turning towards the door. “I'll meet you outside, then," he spoke before taking his leave.

She didn't trust herself to do more than nod, and it was only when he'd left that she released the breath she hadn't known she'd been holding on a soft groan, removing one of her gloves to pinch the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, staring up at the recessed ceiling light.

Ana wasn't sure how much more of this her battered heart could handle. She felt herself flush and harrumphed softly. Somehow she'd wound up in a space-sharing arrangement with the single sweetest human being she'd ever met and it was messing with her head something awful. To say nothing of the rest of her.

Fighting down the flush that threatened, she set about tidying up after her exams today. "Don't get stupid, Ana," she chastised herself. "He doesn't think of you that way, and it would be worse if he did. Just... get over yourself."

Expelling a sigh, she swept the rest of her waste into the right containers, disposing of the needles in the sharps bucket, and removed her apron to launder later. It was indeed still raining outside, but she welcomed the slight sting of it on her face as she hurried inside to make the tea, trying to exorcise her thoughts in the process. Unsuccessfully, of course, and it was almost automatically that she prepared their drinks, adding some oatmeal cookies to the tray, because there were always some on hand now.

Oh, arceus, was she too obvious? She barely understood her own feelings; the thought that someone else might catch onto them was terrifying. Swallowing her unease, she headed back out, ducking under the awning and setting the tray down on the table there, noting that Luna, Nova, and Rufus were already present along with Eryk and stunky. She took her seat quietly, suddenly quite unsure what, if anything, she should say.

He didn't seem to find a need to fill the silence, though. It was always like that between the two of them. They could always sit in comfortable silence, neither one seeing the need to fill it with small talk. Stunky had jumped up into Eryk's lap, though, curling into a small ball as he absentmindedly ran his fingers through her fur. He'd occasionally reach over towards Rufus to scratch behind his ear, and glance at Nova. He tilted his head somewhat in Nova's direction before glancing at the tray Ana had brought. It seemed to snap him out of whatever stupor he'd been in, and he reached for the drink she'd prepared him.

“Thank you," he finally spoke, taking a drink before setting the cup back down. “Do you think we'll be getting any new shelter pokémon?" he asked, glancing back towards the yard. “Some of the ones were adopted out at the registration fair, right?"

"Mhm," Ana murmured, watching with some amusement as Nova interpreted the gesture as a cue to hop up onto Eryk's shoulders and settle himself there. Luna climbed with a bit more reserve into Ana's lap, and she stroked the espeon's ears as she sipped from her cup. "We're definitely not at capacity, but arrivals tend to be unsteady. Sometimes we get surrenders, or pokémon brought here when their humans die, but more often they come in groups, from things like NTR raids."

She nodded slightly to him, then turned her eyes back out on the yard. "There's a database, which you might know. Of places like mine, what their legal capacity is and how many residents they currently have. So we might get pokémon brought to us directly, or be asked to take overflow from another shelter somewhere else. We're small, though—not like these places might be in Saffron or wherever else."

He hummed softly, using one hand to run a hand through stunky's fur, and the other to scratch behind Nova's ear. He seemed rather content to be the subject of their attention, a small subtle smile on his face. As of late, it seemed he smiled more often, especially when he was in the company of the shelter's pokémon.

“We haven't been on any raids lately, so I don't think you'll be getting any from us any time soon," he spoke softly, shifting his attention towards Ana. “Have you found a someone to adopt ekans, yet?" he asked curiously, probably referring to the one that had scale rot. “If not, I can sponsor him as well until he is."

Ana shook her head slightly. "You're doing plenty already," she said softly. She felt like she was just taking advantage of his generosity at this point, considering how much he was already paying her in rent and free labor. "Besides, ekans's medicine isn't that expensive—it's well within the shelter's existing budget to keep on-hand."

Eryk arched a brow at Ana, glancing at Nova for a second. He shrugged lightly enough so as to not disturb Nova before turning his attention back towards Ana. “It'd be something I'd like to do regardless, if there ever comes a need," he spoke, blinking slowly before tilting his head. “I'd also like to cover some of the adoption fees for the pokémon that are still available to be adopted. That way, the next registration fair we have, more people will be inclined to adopt from you, and won't have to worry about the fees if they cannot cover them. There was one person who didn't quite have enough to cover their registration fees, and adopt their first pokémon. It... it would make me feel like I've been helpful somehow if I could."

She supposed the could understand that. Wanting to help. It was what she'd chosen to do with the rest of her life, after all. And sponsoring adoption fees wasn't going to be a constant drain on his resources, more of an occasional, albeit large, donation. It was still strange to her that anyone cared that much about her little shelter, but...

"All right," she agreed with a soft nod and a smile that was much the same. "Thank you, Eryk. I'm sure that will help a lot."

“You're welcome, Anastasia," he stated, turning his attention back out towards the yard with a content smile on his face. He seemed really happy about it, even if the smile was subtle.

She tried not to think too much on it, turning her eyes away as well, but she couldn't stop the smile she hid behind her teacup, either.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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September 27th
Cinnabar Bowling Alley - Afternoon - Overcast
Cyrilla Niav


Cyrilla entered Nev's name last into the machine, grinning once everyone was set up. Nev hadn't ever been bowling before, and Cyrilla thought it was a good idea to take her. Of course, that meant she invited Ana and Mel along because it wasn't quite as fun as it would be if there were only two people bowling. And she thought they could all give Nev a little bit of advice on their own bowling techniques. She snickered softly, though, as one of the employees raised the bars on the side of the bowling strip. It meant that they wouldn't get any gutter balls, but it was meant to help Nev at the same time.

“Alright, Nev, you're going to watch the three of us bowl, first. When it's your turn, we'll help you out as best as we can," she stated, turning her attention towards Nev. The other woman nodded her head quite happily, causing Cyrilla to roll her eyes softly. “First... you need to go pick out a bowling ball that's going to be easy for you to handle. They all come in different weights and finger sizes, so find one that sits comfortably in your hand, and one that you can easily lift. I believe the lightest ball they have is a six pound one."

When Nev left to go find a ball, Cyrilla turned her attention towards Mel and Ana. “Okay guys, we just need to make sure she doesn't accidentally hurl the ball at one of the screens, or let it loose too early that it flies back at us, alright?" She really didn't want to have to pay for any damages. Plus, she wanted Nev to enjoy herself, along with the others.

"Are those things we actually have to worry about?" Ana asked, eyes widening slightly in what seemed to be alarm.

Mel grinned. "If what Aidan says about her coordination in a videogame is true... then yes." She picked out a bowling ball for herself, effortlessly hefting one of the heavier ones. She did seem to be pretty well-built for a woman, less thin and more lean, with actual muscle definition.

Ana went right for one of the light ones, choosing one with black and purple swirls on it. She appeared to have her own bowling shoes, but this might be because her feet were tiny rather than because she bowled a great deal.

“Maybe we can start her off with the grandma-style of bowling. You know, rolling it between her legs before she actually starts bowling," Cyrilla stated, quite seriously. She picked up one of the balls that was around nine pounds, being black in color with neon green swirls. It would do the job she wanted without being too heavy. Not that she couldn't handle it, but Cyrilla had always been the type to go for speed and precision rather than something heavy and hard-hitting. It was just her personal preference.

Nev returned with a ball that looked to have swaths of white, purple, light pink, and amaranthe swirls in it. It seemed pretty light considering she was holding it with ease, and looked pretty happy with her selection. “I've got my bowling ball!" she stated happily as Cyrilla motioned for her to place it on the rack with the others.

“Alright, Mel, you're up first!" Cyrilla spoke as she turned towards Mel. Their names had been entered so that Mel went first, Cyrilla would go second, Ana would go third, and Nev would be last. “Watch how we bowl and then try to mimic our moves, alright?"

“Will do!" Nev stated, causing Cyrilla to snicker softly.

"Oh, pressure's on!" Mel said with a little grin. "It's been forever since I've done this; let's see what I've got." Adjusting her grip on the teal-and-purple ball she'd chosen, she started several paces back from the main line and swung in a neat, clean arc, sending the ball straight down the middle of the row at impressive speed and force. She cleanly knocked down eight of the pins, but the two left were at far corners, and she scrunched her nose. "Dangit."

Her second attempt knocked over one of the remaining pins, but though it skidded close to the other, it didn't connect, and she missed the spare by just a bit. Returning to her spot with a little grin, she shrugged. "Guess I'm not a pro bowler in the making," she joked lightly.

“Oof, splits are always the worst," Cyrilla stated as she gave Mel a sympathetic grin.

“What's a split?" Nev asked curiously.

“You saw how those two pins were on the opposite sides of each other? That's called a split. They happen fairly often, believe it or not," Cyrilla explained as Nev nodded her head. It was Cyrilla's turn, though, and she stood from her spot. She grabbed her bowling ball and held it in front of her, waiting for the pins to be reset. Once they were, she made her way towards the main line, and swung her ball, wincing slightly when she'd accidentally released too soon, and the ball went straight into the gutter, even with the bars up in place. She could hear Nev chuckling as she rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, it's been awhile," she stated, waiting for the ball to return. Once it did, she tried again, managing to knock down nine of the pins. Cyrilla pursed her lips together as she made her way back towards the seats. She had a feeling that was going to happen a lot. “Alright Ana, you're up!"

Ana bent down to check the laces of her bowling shoes, which were of course black but also had purple flowers on them, before picking up her ball and hugging it to her as she headed up onto the wooden part of the bowling alley. At first it didn't look like she was having an easy time with the ball; she sort of shuffled along with it and when she released it half looked like she'd be pulled along with it—she wound up on one leg and leaning precariously forward. Despite this, the ball had an interesting curvature to the trajectory, and though it sort of rolled leisurely towards the pins, it did knock down seven of them.

Her follow-up was a little less precarious, and somehow, Ana managed to pick up all three of the remaining pins, which had been clustered together in the corner. She smiled brightly and resumed her seat. "I got a spare!" she said, sounding rather proud of herself.

“Good job, Ana!" Nev stated happily as she clapped. Cyrilla huffed a light laugh and shook her head. “Oh, so it's my turn now!" Nev stood from her seat and grabbed her ball, holding it with both hands before she made towards the strip.

“Wait, Nev, come back!" Cyrilla stated as she noticed that Nev was about to toss the ball. The woman turned around and gave Cyrilla a curious glance. “You have to put your forefinger, thumb, and middle finger into the holes. Otherwise you're not going to have a grip when you release," she stated, watching as Nev mouthed an 'oh' before chuckling nervously.

“Like this?" Nev asked, showing Cyrilla who nodded. Satisfied, Nev returned to her spot, and swung the ball. To Cyrilla's surprise, it spun as it went flying down the lane, knocking over most of the pins save that pesky one in the corner. Nev looked rather pleased with herself as Cy rolled her eyes.

“Beginner's luck," she stated, smiling in Nev's direction as she went to take a seat. “Uh, Nev, you get two tries, not one," Cyrilla explained as Nev's eyes widened.

“Oh! Okay, duh, I just watched the three of you bowl twice," she stated, smacking her forehead with an open palm. She, of course, missed the pin.

Mel was up again after that, and managed to pull off a lucky strike, which resulted in a pretty silly celebratory dance at the end of the lane. Returning to her seat, she plonked down into it, then glanced between the other three.

"...you guys want snacks?"

“Yes, please," Cyrilla stated, reaching for her wallet in her back pocket. “Can you order me a large soda, for now, and a... thing of chili fries. I think they have those. That way we can share them, too," she stated, pulling out her card. “You guys can order whatever you want, too. It's on me today!" she continued, handing the card over to Mel. It was her turn to bowl, after all.

“Are you sure, Cyrilla? I'd be more than happy to pay for my own things," Nev stated as Cy shook her head.

“Nope, on me, today," she replied and made her way to the main line.

Ana looked a little hesitant, but then shrugged. "I'll have a cream soda, I guess."

Mel took everyone's orders, then headed up to the line while Cyrilla bowled.

She managed to knock down half of the pins, and cleaned them up with the second swing.

It was Ana's turn next; she took out seven pins on her first attempt, but only one the second time down, and sighed a little, shaking her head an returning to her seat. Mel did the same a moment later, putting the chili fries down in the middle of the little shared table with the score screen and handing out the drinks before taking a long sip from hers. It seemed to be iced tea.

"So like, stop me if this is weird. But uh... is Drake single?"

Ana choked on her soda at the bluntness of the question, coughing several times. Mel snorted a laugh and patted her back while she recovered. "Sorry, sorry. I forget you three have the combined emotional intelligence of a rock." She grinned, unapologetic.

Cyrilla was fortunate enough to be in the process of starting her drink before she laughed. Which meant she didn't choke on it. She did laugh, though, at how forward the question was. “I'm offended," she joked, having been grouped with Ana and Nev about the emotional intelligence. Mel wasn't entirely wrong about that; Cy just wasn't going to allow herself that kind of connection with someone.

“But as far as I know, he is. Why? Are you interested?" Cyrilla stated as Nev snorted softly. It was her turn to bowl, and she managed to get a spare on her second turn. She joined the others afterwards, taking a drink of her own fruit punch, it looked like. She seemed as interested in Mel's answer as Cyrilla was.

Mel shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, I've still got the journey thing to do, so probably nothing would come of it even if he was interested, too, but... I dunno." She smiled a little wryly. "You don't meet a guy that sweet every day. I haven't felt this comfortable around one since—well, for a long time, anyhow."

Sighing, she ran a hand through her hair, dark strands pulled high into a neat ponytail. "It figures the timing would be so bad, but them's the breaks, I guess."

"He is really nice," Ana agreed, throwing a vaguely-suspicious glance in Mel's direction before slowly sipping her drink again. "When I first moved to the island, I didn't know anyone except my aunt and cousin, and we're not very close. But when Drake heard about the shelter opening, he came by to welcome me here. It was probably the nicest thing anyone had done for me in a long time. And he still helps, even though he's really busy with the gym and everything."

Cyrilla felt a bittersweet smile cross her face. She couldn't say she understood how that felt, nor could she really add anything to that. She wasn't close to Drake like Ana was, or the way Nev seemed to interact with him whenever she was on one of her walks with Aidan. But just because Cyrilla couldn't enjoy things like that, didn't mean she wasn't going to help those who could.

“Then ask him," she stated with a light shrug of her shoulders. “Even if you're on your journey, and the two of you hit it off, who's to say that you can't keep in touch? That's why you have phones, right? Long distance relationships are difficult to maintain, but it's not like you'll be on your journey forever. You're going to win all of your badges, kick the elite four's asses, and take the title of Champion of Kanto. Once that's all said and done, and the two of you are still talking, well..." she trailed off.

“And who knows," she began, smiling a bit, “Drake might even take some much needed vacation time and travel with you. You know, so you two can get to know each other. He seems like the type to do that." And it might help him get away from Kevin. From Cyrilla's understanding, the man seemed to be persistent in pursuing Drake. She was half tempted to see if she could do something about it, but she didn't want to draw any unnecessary attention to herself.

Her family would be furious with her if she did. Who knew what they would do? Cyrilla had a few guesses, and none of them were worth incurring.

“Drake is a sweetheart so it's worth asking him, I would think. And you'd both make such an adorable couple," Nev stated, grinning broadly. Cyrilla snickered softly; the woman almost sounded like a mother cooing at the prospect of having a handsome son-in-law.

Mel huffed softly. "Yeah, yeah. We'll see. I have to figure out if he even likes me, first. Two outings does not a solid picture make, especially when neither of them was actually even a date." She waved a hand almost dismissively. "Also, Nev, it's been your turn to bowl for like... five minutes."

“Oh! Sorry!" Nev exclaimed, standing abruptly and making her way towards the lane. Cyrilla huffed a soft laugh as Nev seemed to be concentrating.

“You know, if you want to..." Cyrilla began, trailing off somewhat as she contemplated her next words, “you should ask him out on a double date with you, me... and whoever I can find to fill in. That way, you can be in a somewhat friendly setting, and it'll give you the chance to feel him out. You know, find out whether or not he's at least interested in you."

Nev threw her ball for the second time, only knocking down a total of five pins, before she took a seat.

Mel looked to consider this for a moment, then shrugged. "Why not just ask Mirmir? Then it just looks friendly, and you don't have to worry that you might end up lugging dead weight around while we're trying to have a good time. Actually, you know what? That's my condition." She grinned. "Get my dumb brother to agree to do something fun with us, and I'll ask Drake out." She winked, then stood up, grabbing her bowling ball and rolling it down the lane with confidence.

Duly so: she wound up with her second strike of the game.

Cyrilla pursed her lips together as she stood for her turn. Wouldn't that have been awkward, though? Even if it was just for fun, wouldn't having her brother around for a date be awkward? Perhaps it wouldn't? She swung her ball down the middle of the lane, watching as it curved a bit and she managed to get her first strike of the night.

“Alright, fine," she stated once she returned to her seat, grinning lightly in Mel's direction as she reached for her soda. “I'll ask Kas to see if he'll agree to it."

“Oh, the two of you would look really nice, too!" Nev stated quite happily, causing Cyrilla to choke a bit on her soda.

“Oh my Arceus, Nev, you can't just say things like that," she stated, patting her chest a bit to get the soda down. Cyrilla pursed her lips at Nev, feeling a strange heat on her cheeks as she pushed a breath through her nose. “And it's not like that. This is a friendly date between friends to help out a friend."

"She's right, though," Ana said as she got up to take her turn, shrugging a little. "You're like... physical opposites, but in a complimentary way. You look nice standing together." With that, she all but flounced to the lane, picking up another spare while Mel grinned.

"Thanks, Cyrilla," she said. "It might seem weird to you for me to make the request, but I feel safer with my brother around than some random stranger. Not that I think you'd pick a jerk, but..." she shrugged. "You never know what can happen. I might be biased, but personally I'm pretty sure Mirmir is the chillest, least-pressuring guy there ever was, so—" Her shoulders lifted again, as if she weren't quite sure how to finish the sentence.

Cyrilla rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Fine, you guys win. And I understand, Mel," she answered. She could understand the feeling safe part. It was how she felt when she was with Eryk; there was nothing their family could do as long as she had him, but...

“It's kind of amusing, though, that you and Ryk are kind of the same way, too," she stated, grinning lightly in Ana's direction. “Especially since the two of you always seem so synced to each other."

“Oh, you think so, too? Eryk even looks happier around Ana, wouldn't you say so?" Nev stated, smiling brightly in Ana's direction. Cyrilla snickered softly.

“Nev, you're allowed to not agree with everything we say, you know."

"A-are we?" Ana asked, her voice pitched slightly higher than usual. "I don't know that that's true..."

Mel snickered. "Arceus, all of you are idiots. I love you, but you're idiots."

Cyrilla laughed, the feeling more genuine than it had ever been. “Hm, yes well, you're part of the club," Cyrilla stated, grinning in Mel's direction as she crossed one leg over the other, and set her elbow over her thigh. She leaned her chin on her hand as her eyes narrowed in Mel's direction.

“We'll call ourselves club idiot, population four. Because the same can be said about that one," she pointed towards Nev, “and boss man."

“Boss man? You mean Aidan? Oh, no, it's nothing like that!" Nev stated, waving her hands frantically in front of her.

“She says that as if she doesn't spend most of her nights at his place," Cyrilla stated, feeling the grin on her face widen just a bit as Nev's face turned a bright pink. This felt nice, having a day with the girls. It was relaxing, and for the first time in years, Cyrilla felt at ease. Was having friends like these always this nice?

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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September 30th
Cinnabar Stadium - Afternoon - Clear
Eryk Nero


“Alright, Ryk, stop moving," Cyrilla stated as she adjusted the tie on Eryk's neck. He furrowed his brows at her as she tied it. “There, now you look handsome," she stated, smiling up at him. He rolled his eyes at her, though, and shook his head. He wasn't entirely sure why he had to dress up for this. It wasn't like he was trying to impress someone. “Yes you are, Ryk. You're trying to make it into the tournament and trying to attract the attention of a sponser. You have to look your best."

“Is this really necessary, though?" he asked, pursing his lips together. She'd given him his outfit to wear, a silver coat with a black dress shirt. The slacks were also a black color, but strangely enough, it wasn't uncomfortable. Maybe because the weather had cooled down a bit. The tie, though, was a crimson color which stood out even against the silver and black, however; Cyrilla arched a brow at him.

“Yes, Ryk, for the umpteenth time, it is necessary. Now come on, the others are waiting for you," she stated, placing a hand on her hip. She was dressed about as nicely as he was. A navy blue sweater dress that fell to just above her knees, with high black boots. Her hair had been pulled into a rather formal bun, with a few of the longer strands left to frame her face. “You look handsome, Ryk, really. Now let's go meet the others. They're waiting for you at the entrance."

Ryk rolled his eyes but allowed her to lead the way. Strangely, he felt excited about this. It was the first tournament he'd ever entered. To say he wasn't nervous, though, was a bit of an understatement. Tournaments, even if it was a qualifying one, meant there was going to be a large crowd of people. He wasn't entirely sure if he could pull this off.

Fortunately, no one had to face the crowds right away. There was a sort of waiting area for the tournament, which was being held in Cinnabar's relatively modest stadium, where the trainers and a maximum of one guest each could rest before the matches began. Since even coaches counted as guests, he and Kas had given their passes to Aidan and Cyrilla already.

The other two were already present in the lounge, standing next to some kind of miniature tropical plant. Kas had dressed very differently from Eryk—he was wearing an argyle sweater vest in several shades of green on black over a white shirt and yellow tie, with his glasses on and his hair for once relatively neat in is short tail, with dark blue jeans and a pair of green high-top sneakers. Aidan, unsurprisingly, just had a long-sleeved black shirt and torn black jeans on with his boots. He, after all, wasn't competing—though come to think of it he might have dressed that way even if he had been.

"Hey," he said simply, noticing Eryk and Cyrilla first.

Kas, on the other hand, grinned. "I knew a longcoat was the way to go. You clean up nice, Ryk."

Eryk shrugged his shoulders at the statement. “Thanks," he simply said before pursing his lips together. “You do as well, I suppose." He wasn't entirely sure if that was the case. Ryk never paid much attention to what people wore and what complimented them. He just wore whatever he was given, or had in his closet.

Kas grinned at the compliment of sorts, though he didn't make a big deal about it, only inclining his head by way of thanks.

“Who are we waiting on?" he asked, glancing around to see who was missing.

“Mel. She should be here soon, I think," Cyrilla answered, glancing in Aidan and Kas's direction. Ryk nodded slowly before he turned his attention back towards the others.

"I love the sound of my name in the morning," a new voice called out, a smile in the tone of it.

"Um, it's the afternoon, though?"

There was a sigh. "Ana, you weren't supposed to say anything yet. You've ruined the 'surprise' part of your surprise appearance now."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

Turning, the group could indeed catch sight of Mel and Ana approaching. Mel had dressed for the tournament in compression pants under athletic shorts, a white mock turleneck, and a light teal puffer vest. Next to her, Anastasia carried a small box of some sort hugged to her chest, offering everyone a tentative smile.

"I gave her my guest pass since she wanted to see you guys before your matches," Mel explained. "But then she went and spoiled the surprise." She nudged Anastasia gently with her elbow, but grinned, as if to say there was no actual problem.

Eryk blinked mildly at Anastasia before turning his attention towards Cyrilla. She arched a brow at him and shook her head, as if to say she had nothing to do with Anastasia being there. His eyes narrowed slightly before turning his attention back towards Mel and Ana.

“If you wanted to come, you should have told me," he stated. “I would have come with you," he continued, pushing a light sigh through his nose. Cyrilla rolled her eyes lightly, though, as she made her way to stand next to Kas and Aidan.

"Oh, it's not... you needed Aidan and Cyrilla here though, right? Because you're trying to get sponsored?" Given how much practice they'd been doing and the fact that they'd probably be entering quite a number of events, a version of the story had been given to Anastasia, albeit one where they were doing this just because they wanted to.

"I just wanted to come and wish you all luck, and to leave you these." She extended the box towards Kas, who accepted it with a slow blink. "It's sweets, so you can keep your energy up between matches. There's stuff in there that doesn't taste very sweet, though. Oatmeal cookies and a couple of carrot cupcakes and whatnot."

"Thanks, Ana. That's really nice of you." Kas ruffled her hair, careful of the braided bun on her crown, and moved off a bit to set the box down on a corner end table. The others seemed to gravitate towards it, probably for the sake of a snack.

Anastasia fidgeted a little, then reached into one of the pockets of her black overalls. "Also. It's kind of stupid, but I made you this." She extended her open palm, in which rested a small red silk pouch, embroidered delicately with an absol pattern with characters for 'success' stitched neatly down the middle. "I was actually raised kind of traditionally," she explained, sounding a little embarrassed about it. "My uncle would always take me to the shrine in Lavender, and he taught me how to make these. It's a luck talisman. N-not that I think you need luck or anything, but... it wouldn't hurt, right?"

“I..." Eryk began, but he didn't know what to say. Instead, he took the talisman from her, and held it in his hand. It was a thoughtful gesture, and Eryk wasn't entirely sure what to do. He wasn't used to receiving things like this. It was kind. “Thank you, Anastasia," he stated, folding his hand over the talisman.

“I don't think it'll hurt to have something like this," he added, feeling his lips pull up in a small smile. Those were becoming a little more common on his face, he'd found. It was still strange to do, but they weren't as strained as they used to be. “Will you be watching the tournament?" he asked. It was possible that she would return home after this. She didn't like crowds, either, but...

“If you'd like to stay, I'm sure they'd allow you to remain here and watch from inside so you don't have to be out there."

She shook her head a little. "It's okay. Nev and Drake are watching, too, and when I'm sitting between people I know, it's not so bad. Besides, I—" she cleared her throat a little, lifting a foot to tap her toe against the short carpet of the lounge. "I want to see. I want to see the first step you take to your goal." She smiled back at him, almost a little sheepish.

"Anyway, I should stop taking so much time. I'm sure you guys have plenty of last-minute preparations to do, so..." She took one step back, and then another, still facing him, and clasped her arms behind her back.

"By the way uh... you look really nice today." With the third step, she almost knocked into the same potted plant the others had been standing by earlier, and her eyes widened with surprise. "Oh I'm an idiot. Uh, anyway... see you later!" Anastasia waved once, and then she was gone, spinning around to dodge the plant and all but fleeing the lounge.

She was gone before Ryk even had the chance to ask if she was okay, and the sounds of snickering and laughter caught his attention.

“My Arceus, Ryk, you didn't have to scare the poor girl with your smile," Cyrilla stated through short bursts of laughter. Eryk rolled his eyes rather harshly before shaking his head. “I'm teasing you, Ryk, but you and the others really should do your last minute preps. I, on the other hand, am going to go make myself useful," she stated, grinning at Ryk before nodding her head in the others' direction.

“Just be careful, Cy," was the only thing Eryk said before turning his attention towards Kas, Mel, and Aidan. “What round are we?" he asked. All of the participants were grouped into rounds, from Eryk's understanding. All he knew was that his wasn't the first battle. He thought it was the second, but he might be third.

Aidan, who hadn't laughed at him but was even now smiling a little to himself, pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. "Right. This qualifier's a little weird. It's basically four miniature tournament brackets, and the winner of each gets a spot in a regular-season tournament of their choice. Nero, you're in group two. Rheinallt's in group three."

"I, on the other hand, am stuck in group one, so while you guys plot, I'll be off to battle. Break a leg out there." Mel gave all three of them a lackadaisical salute, joining the small crowd of participants filing out towards the tournament ring.

"It'll actually help to watch this," Aidan said, leading them over to the large window in the lounge that overlooked the stadium. "See how it's all split like a honeycomb right now? This is a new system they have when they need to get through pools quickly. It's called Dynamic Terrain. The system here's pretty basic—it's just going to collapse walls to put new battlers together, so that by the time it's the final two in a bracket, they'll have the whole arena. The space constraints are supposed to be an extra element of strategic challenge, but doing it all at once like this also means you don't get to rest pokémon between matches."

As they observed, the trainers from the first group were assigned to numbered areas in pairs—the first matches. A screen above the stadium showed names and matchups, as well as what cell each was in and which cell it would be joining with next. Mel was in cell number four, against one of NTR's front office employees, actually—Jason Granger. Her cell would merge with the one directly in front of it afterwards, creating a long, narrow corridor of space, whereas now it was a small, roughly circular room.

Eryk pursed his lips together. If there was no rest in between battles, he wasn't entirely sure how his chances were going to be. Moira was a non-battling pokémon, which meant the other five would have to make up for it. And three of those five were still relatively young. Still, he supposed he could manage with just the five. He kept his eyes on the field, watching as the first group began.

“How well do you think she'll do?" Ryk asked. She had a fully evolved team, and was on her seventh gym challenge. He didn't doubt her skill as a trainer, but he was slightly curious.

"Dunno much about her team," Aidan said, "But she's got a helluva head on her shoulders. I think she'll be fine. I honestly expect all of you to win your brackets with a bit of breathing room. If you do, I'll consider us on-track."

"She'll win." Kas said it with no doubt whatsoever, crossing his arms over his chest. Below, the last few trainers were sorted into their cells, and the signal was given to begin. Mel immediately threw out a pokéball, from which her liepard emerged, ready to go against Jason's gloom. Gloom threw out some form of powder attack—it was impossible to say which from this distance, and the battle was on.

"She's got more to prove than anyone I know." Even from here, it was easy to tell that gloom was hopelessly outmatched, but not even once did Mel's body language relax or her expression ease. She was focused on nothing but the battle

The liepard carved through Jason's entire team, and as he vacated the ring and the wall in front of her came down, she withdrew it, throwing another pokéball instead.

"Smart," Aidan noted. "Even a little while to catch a breather in a ball's gonna help in a situation like this."

Eryk wasn't so sure he'd be able to do that, though. Not with his team. He'd likely have to keep the same one out until they couldn't battle any longer. It wasn't ideal, but he'd think of something, eventually. For now, he supposed it was beneficial to watch Mel's battle. He could see how it worked, exactly, and what he would have to plan for. Granted, he didn't know what pokemon his opponents would have, but he could at least see how it was going to work.

“I suppose you're right on that one," Eryk stated as Mel continued onwards. “Whether she has something to prove, she's still doing rather well for herself," he said lightly before pursing his lips together. He supposed he could understand that, proving oneself. At one time, Eryk thought he had something to prove. Maybe he still did?

He wasn't entirely sure.

It did move pretty quickly, honestly, and because the battles ended at different paces it seemed like part of the field was always rearranging itself. Mel ended up battling in a few oddly-shaped chambrs, including a t-junction—there was a lot more moving around for the trainers to do than the usual setup where they stood in one spot. It suddenly made sense why Aidan had forced the two of them to run along the beach with their pokémon every morning and so on as part of training.

But in the end, she had the whole field, in a face-off against an older woman who seemed to be down to one remaining pokémon. Mel had her entire team, but all of them had been deployed at least once already, and for a sustained period. Still, the advantage was obvious: six pokémon, even six tired pokémon, was a lot for one other to deal with, and though her liepard ended up collapsing, her aerodactyl easily finished the job, dropping the other woman's sandslash to the ground.

The announcer called her victory, and the first group returned to the lounge. Mel was beaming; Kas quickly ran over and scooped her up. "Congratulations, Melly," he said, spinning her around and setting her back down. Their laughter blurred together with the motion, and she exhaled a heavy sigh, leaving one arm around her brother's waist and turning to Eryk.

"Just so you know," she said, tilting her head a little, "after the first one I found it pretty impossible to use the board to track things, so you might not have time either to know which wall's coming down next. I don't know if that helps, or maybe you'll be better at it than me, but... I figured I should warn you."

“Thanks," Ryk stated with a light huff. “And congratulations, Mel," he stated, offering her a light smirk. It was the closest thing he'd achieved as far as grins went, but he supposed it would do. “I guess this makes it my turn," he stated as he glanced towards the others. He placed a hand in his pocket where Anastasia's talisman had been placed before making his way out towards the field. He was in cell number two which meant his first opponent was a woman named Summer Matthews.

She seemed to be grinning and waving towards the crowd, flipping her dark purple hair over her shoulders as she regarded Ryk. He responded in kind with a flat look. “Hm, now if only all my opponents could be this handsome, I'd be happy," she stated, pulling a pokeball from the necklace she was wearing. The pokéballs were smaller than normal, until she expanded it and gave it a lazy toss. “Come on, Sunshine, let's show 'em how it's done!" she continued as a sunflora appeared. It trilled in Ryk's direction as he pulled Orion's ball from his belt.

It gave him the type advantage, but that didn't really mean much in competitive battling. Even Eryk knew that much. “Sludge bomb!" Summers started the battle first, and the sunflora responded by gathering the necessary energy to hurl in Orion's direction. The pidgeot chirped quite happily as he spun out of the way.

Don't play with it, Orion. You know the drill. Orion made a huffing sound before he charged the sunflora. “Air Slash," he spoke out loud, watching as Orion flapped his wings rather harshly, creating blades of air that hurled towards Sunshine.

He managed to take out Summer's entire team with just Orion, however; her blastoise, Puddles, was a tougher opponent. He wasn't entirely surprised that a majority of her team were fully evolved, but she only had four to begin with. The wall to his left went down, and Eryk mimicked Mel's earlier actions; he recalled Orion and sent out Imp.

By the time he made it to his final opponent, Ryk had used all of his pokemon except one: mankey. His last opponent still had a five pokemon to use, all still itching to battle, it seemed. The woman, Jordan, grinned maliciously in Eryk's direction. “Oh, sweetheart, you should just give up. Your mankey isn't going to last against my team," she stated, having already sent out her cacturne. Mankey made a short trilling sound, as if he were angry with the woman's statement, and Eryk didn't blame him.

She was basically undermining him because he wasn't fully evolved. Nor was he particularly strong. But where he lacked in strength, mankey made up in endurance. Don't act rashly, mankey. Use karate chop. Mankey lunged forward, first, catching both Jordan and her cacturne off guard. She recovered quickly enough, though, and had her cacturne use spikey shield. Mankey didn't have much of a chance at dodging it, and ended up shrilling in slight pain before rolling away.

“I see you've some tricks up your sleeve, Nero. I have some, too," Jordan stated as she grinned in Eryk's direction.

Mankey, however, managed to take out the first two of Jordan's pokémon before he was defeated by her pangoro. When she was down to her last pokémon, Jordan had a set frown on her face as she sent out her last one. “Alright, no more playing around," she stated as her steelix emerged, roaring in a way that shook the walls. It was showing off, Eryk could tell that much, however; he pulled one of the pokéballs from his belt, holding it for a moment.

“Be nice, Icarus," he simply stated as he released the espurr. Jordan laughed, though, as Icarus tilted his head in her direction.

“You think you're going to win with an espurr?" she stated, sounding incredulous.

“Kick her ass, Eryk!"

He knew that was Solomon's voice over the crowd, causing him to shake his head slightly. “Whatever, let's get this over with, Steel, use Earthquake!" she commanded. Steel lifted his tail into the air and brought it down heavily to the ground, causing the floor to shake. Icarus held himself in place with the use of his psychic power, but merely regarded the steelix as if he'd found something interesting. Ryk rolled his eyes.

When the battle ended, and Icarus mewled in Jordan's direction, she looked rather deflated. She'd lost to an espurr, of all things, but Eryk stooped to pick up Icarus as he held his arms up. “Good job," Eryk spoke softly as he glanced up at Jordan. She huffed in his direction, folding her arms across her chest as the announcer called his victory. He shrugged his shoulders before making his way back to the lounge, blinking mildly in the others' direction.

Kas still seemed to be chuckling about something as he took his leave, gripping Eryk's shoulder once in passing.

Aidan had a tiny smile at the corner of his mouth, too, still watching out the window with his arms folded. "Always more entertaining to win with the little ones," he noted. "You handled yourself pretty well out there; nice work."

The first of Kas's matches started; he led off with Sigrún, his lucario. It was easy to tell from body language alone that his opponent didn't think much of him, perhaps because of the way in which he was dressed.

"Why do I have this feeling he's going to show off now?" Aidan muttered even as a visible grin spread across Kas's face. Sigrún leaped forward towards the other man's hitmonlee like she was born for it, a vague purple outline shimmering around her body; the other pokémon was thrown right back into the wall, down in one.

Icarus trilled happily in Aidan's direction as Eryk rolled his eyes. “Because it's what he does," Ryk replied, a small smile pulling at his lips as Icarus hopped out of his arms. He made his way towards Aidan and trilled, holding his arms up in the same manner he'd done earlier, to Ryk.

“You were there for practice, you know it's one of his specialties. I think he called them, Kas's special of the day, or something like that," he added as Icarus trilled again. Eryk turned his attention back out the window, though, and focused on Kas's battle.

Aidan bent without needing to think about it, arranging Icarus in his arms so the pokémon could see what was happening below also, absently stroking his head. Kas had already moved into his second battle and Sigrún didn't look like she was stopping anytime soon.

"Smarmy fucker," Aidan muttered, but he looked amused. "I think he's trying to run it all with one pokémon. It'd make a statement—he must've studied his bracket." He did indeed seem to run into situations where the lucario, with her mix of steel, fighting, and off-type moves, often had the type advantage, and almost never had a disadvantage. He seemed to be tracking the whole field, too, occasionally glancing up at the board over his head and adjusting the pace of his commands to Sigrún so that she never came to a complete halt, like he was trying to keep her momentum going or something.

By the time he'd reached the last match, she was breathing heavily, but she didn't stop, even when the final opponent appeared, only two pokémon left on his roster. The golem he started with went down in one heavy hit; but then he released a fresh-looking chandelure, and Sigrún barely dodged the flamethrower.

For the first time in the match, Kas looked uncertain, but Sigrún didn't, charging forward quite on her own, eyes aglow with an aura sphere, ready to be released. Another flamethrower caught her in the side, spinning her off-balance, but Kas shouted something to her and she charged again, leaping at the last moment and hooking her forepaws onto the chandelure. That close, her aura sphere was powerful, and both pokémon staggered away from each other, falling at the same time to the ground.

And just like that, the match was over. Kas hurried onto the field, picking Sigrún up instead of recalling her to her ball and resting her head on his shoulder. She stirred a little as he headed back inside, appearing back in the lounge with a weary smile on his face.

"She doesn't know how to quit, this one."

“Still... she won," Ryk stated, glancing at the lucario before turning his attention back towards Kas. “It looks like the three of us all won our brackets," he said, feeling a small tugging sensation on his lips. “Guess that means we'll be able to get a spot in a tournament," he added as he glanced around. Hopefully Cyrilla was able to do her part in securing at least a promoter. There was still one more group that needed to battle, but that wasn't too important.

“Oh, and congratulations on your win, ass."

"Back at ya, jerk."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher
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#, as written by Aethyia


October 9th
Ana's House - Evening - Rain
Anastasia Asher


Ana sniffled quietly, taking a sip from her soup and feeling the heat of it move down her throat and into her stomach. Outside, the rain battered against the walls and roof of the house. She shivered, though it wasn't cold, and moved her spoon through her chowder without much inclination to actually eat it.

You need to eat, Ana. If this turns into something worse you're going to need your strength. Nova spoke in the matter-of-fact way only someone intimately familiar with the circumstances of her condition ever did. It wasn't that he didn't care—that was the furthest thing from the truth. There had been days when that, of all the people in the world, she thought only her pokémon cared. Those were few lately, but still this part of things was a burden she bore alone save for them.

"I know," she whispered, forcing another bite down.

Eryk was out at the moment, so she'd left his dinner to stay warm on the stove, and for the moment she was alone in the house but for Luna and Nova. She'd managed to get everyone else to their rest for the night before her muscles gave out or anything, but she was exhausted now, in a way she hadn't been in a long time. Company had spoiled her, she knew. She was getting used to not doing things alone. Somehow, that terrified her.

Is it really so bad? Luna asked, hopping up onto the coffee table and regarding her with bright blue eyes.

Ana sank a little further into the armchair she occupied and tried not to wince. "What good will it do?" she asked. "No one ever stays. And even if he—they would, I can't."

The conversation halted, and she tried gamely to finish a little more of her dinner, even though she couldn't really taste it and didn't feel hungry.

The door opened to her home a moment later, the quiet pattering of Eryk's feet going across. It was Eryk, too, given how quiet he often moved. He glanced in Ana's direction when he entered the kitchen, and furrowed his brows lightly. It was as if he was currently studying her before he moved towards the cabinet and pulled out a bowl. He poured his dinner into it before taking a seat across from Ana. He didn't immediately eat his food, though, and merely regarded her with an even stare. His brows furrowed a little before he finally spoke.

“Are you alright? You... seem a little pale," he sounded genuinely concerned, and didn't seem inclined to eat his food quite yet. It was as if he was waiting on her to answer before he did.

Ana laughed softly, almost in spite of herself. "I'm always pretty pale, Eryk," she replied, trying to play it down with a smile. Maybe that was a little less true for someone who spent that much time with Cyrilla, but Ana didn't have much more color than she did even on the average day. A few freckles on the bridge of her nose, cheeks, and shoulders, and that was more or less it. "I'm coming down with a bit of a cold, is all. It'll be fine with some rest and vitamin c." She shrugged and stirred her soup around a little, trying to at least not let a film form on the surface as it cooled.

"Would you mind handing me that blanket behind you?"

He gave her a flat look at her earlier statement before turning around and grabbing the blanket she'd asked for. He handed it to her, brows still furrowed before he finally took a bite of his food. “There... is a recipe we have that will help with your cold. It's... an old family recipe but Cyrilla knows it. I can see if she'll make it for you so that it'll help," he spoke once he'd swallowed. His gaze was intense when he stared at her, but it could have been that he wasn't aware of it.

“Colds shouldn't be taken too lightly. Even with rest and vitamin c, you'll need more than just that. If... you don't mind, that is," he stated, finally dropping his gaze.

Too lightly? She supposed after all this time, maybe she did take things like this lightly. If she gave them the concern they really warranted, after all, she'd be in a near-constant fear for her life.

Setting her bowl down, Ana unfolded the blanket, wrapping it around her shoulders and bringing her legs up from underneath her so she could cocoon herself. Luna and Nova wasted no time in hopping up onto her lap. "You're sweet," she said, a little more honestly than she'd intended, but something about that intentness in his eyes made her shiver. Hopefully he'd just think she was cold—she had asked for a blanket, after all.

"It's... it's really not a big deal though. I get sick kind of a lot. The last few months have been pretty rare for me, as far as health goes."

“All the more reason you should rest and eat," he spoke softly, there was something almost bashful in the way he didn't glance up to her when she'd called him sweet. Instead, he took another bite of his food before he glanced up and stared at her. “Don't worry about tomorrow's work load. I can do the morning things, and I'll ask Kas and Cyrilla to come help with the other things. They can handle it, and Cyrilla can make the soup for you, tomorrow, as well. I would rather you rest than have to worry about the shelter when the three of us can do it. I'll see if Aidan can come as well. The only thing you'll have to worry about is if anyone needs their shots or medicine that they'll only take from you."

“But you should rest tomorrow, and not work." He seemed quite serious about it, too, if the way his brows furrowed was anything to go by.

Ana supposed she should probably be offended. She'd spent so much time trying to become independent, to be able to get along by herself with the things she chose to do. It hadn't been easy, either—it had taken lots of hard work and physical therapy and studying, and a lot of arguing with her aunt to convince her that she was able to handle being on her own for a while. She wasn't exactly the kind of person content to be told to sit around and do nothing.

But... Eryk didn't know about all of that. He didn't know she was—she was like she was. He just wanted to help because she had a cold. And somehow that made it better somehow. Like it was something he'd do for anyone, and not because he thought that she was too fragile to handle the life she'd chosen for herself.

"Don't—don't you have a lot to do tomorrow, though? Mel called today... she mentioned you would be moving out?" The other girl had wanted to know if she could rent the third bedroom just for a few weeks. Ana had told her not to worry about paying for it, but she'd been shocked to hear the reason it was necessary. Eryk hadn't mentioned anything about wanting to move out.

Eryk's eyes narrowed slightly, his lips pulling into a deep frown. “I have a relative coming to town in a few days. I was going to stay with Kas and Cy for a little while for as long as she was in town, however; she can manage without me. This..." he paused, glancing at Ana as his head tilted slightly. “This is more important. You need help more than she does, and she's familiar enough with Cinnabar Island that she will not require my assistance. I'm not moving out." It sounded as if he'd made up his mind, though whether it was because she was sick, or if it was something else that was causing him to stay, it was unclear.

“So no... I do not have anything to do tomorrow besides work."

More important?

Ana swallowed thickly; she felt her face heating up and slouched in her chair, hiding her face a little bit in the folds of the blanket. She knew he didn't really mean anything much by it—running the shelter and looking after the pokémon was important, after all. But her silly heart, with so few defenses against kindness, could not take it for the small matter it was.

Because she'd never been more important before. Not to anyone.

"Okay," she said in a small voice. "B-but if you need to take a day off or leave to help with something or whatever that's okay. I'm used to looking after things when I'm sick, so... something like that would be fine." She knew he wasn't close with most of his family, and had the sense that being in trouble with them would be bad. She didn't want to be the reason that happened.

Eryk's expression softened a bit as he took another bite of his food. “That shouldn't be a problem, but I won't need to until you're better," he spoke, blinking slowly as he glanced at Nova and Luna. He inclined his head somewhat before it tilted again. “And they'll look after you in the mean time as well," he added, nodding his head in their direction.

“If... you'd like, Moira can help as well. She's not much of a battle-type, and Aidan will be training us for the tournament in January. It would... make her happy if she can at least assist you with small things along with Nova and Luna."

Sometimes she suspected both of her pokémon spoke to Eryk mind-to-mind the way they did to her, without letting her in on the conversations. It wasn't that she was surprised they could—both espeons and umbreons were capable of telepathy, and hers were much stronger than most in this respect, something Nova attributed to spending so much time with her. But what was surprising was that when she asked them about it, they tended to be evasive in their answers.

"I'd love her help," Ana said, before something occurred to her and she shifted the topic slightly. "Actually, um... It would help if you had six pokémon to battle with, right? Since Moira's going to be helping me, why don't you train with Nova? He really likes to battle, but I don't really get the chance very often. He offered the other day but I haven't had the chance to ask you about it."

She wasn't, honestly, sure how that would go over. Ana knew Nova was very good, and she was proud of him, and knew he only wanted to help Eryk with his goal, but... some trainers could be sensitive about these things, and she didn't want it to seem like she didn't think his team was good enough as they were or anything.

Eryk's eyes shifted towards Nova in what appeared to be curiosity. He held Nova's gaze for a few moments before he turned back towards Ana. “That... if it's alright by you. It would be easier to have a full team, but it's not entirely necessary, however; he has the will and spirit to train. If that is alright by you, and it is what he wants, I would be... happy to accommodate?" he stated, his lips pursing slightly. It didn't seem like that was what he was trying to say, but it seemed close enough for him.

Despite the discomfort of her oncoming illness, Ana smiled easily. "Well please don't just accommodate," she chided gently, fairly sure that wasn't quite what he'd meant anyway. "But if it would be helpful to you, he's definitely willing to put in the work. I'm not much of a trainer, but he and Luna were always my only pokémon so they've both worked hard before." She'd been on a journey of sorts, after all, and with only two to split the work of helping her out, they'd grown strong in the process.

It almost looked like he pouted at her for a moment before he shook his head. “It will be hard work. Aidan is no pushover when it comes to training. I hope he's ready for it," he stated, glancing towards Nova with a small smile on his face. If anything, it looked like he was trying to grin, but the smile was what he'd settled for.

It always felt like an accomplishment, to be able to say or do something to put a smile on his face, because they were such rare occasions. This one kept hers right where it was, even as Nova huffed a little, glancing back and forth between them.

I assure you I am quite capable, he said, and this time she was almost sure both of them could hear it.

"Well there you have it, I suppose," Ana murmured. "And um... thank you. For—well, for all of this really." She felt like she was always thanking him, but it was all but impossible to do anything but say the words. What else did someone like her have to offer him?

“You don't have to thank me for anything, Anastasia," he stated as his expression softened. “I... should be the one thanking you, for everything you've done," he continued, pushing a soft sigh through his nose. He shook his head from some thought, though, and turned towards Nova.

“Training will begin in a few days, just so you know. I hope you're ready for it. I will tell the others, though, for tomorrow so that they can help. In the meantime, you should get some rest, Ana."

She blinked in surprise when he used the shortened version of her name; fighting back another blush, she nodded a little. She still wasn't sure exactly what she'd done that was worth thanking her for, but... she didn't really want to argue the point. She liked this, the quiet and soft warmth of sharing her home with someone, even if she was just his landlady. Probably she liked it too much, but...

"I'm glad you're not moving," she said, before she could really stop herself. Wincing, she figured that if she was that far in, she might as well complete the thought. "It's, um. Nice. Having you here." Idiot. She should have said 'having someone else here.' It wouldn't have been as true, but it also wouldn't have been as horribly transparent. She was such a child.

"Anyway. I'm going to go to bed now." She stood up abruptly, her pokémon landing much more gracefully than she felt, and wrapped the blanket closer around herself, pausing at the doorway to chance a shy look back at his face. "So... goodnight."

“Good night, Ana. I hope you feel better." He'd smiled at her when he said that.

She nodded awkwardly, beating a hasty retreat up the stairs and closing her bedroom door behind her, only to fall facefirst onto the bed and let out a muffled, miserable groan. Why couldn't her stupid feelings just go away?

The image of his smile popped unbidden into her head, and she pulled the blanket up over her head, enfolding herself in darkness to hide her shame and her darkening blush both. She was a terrible, terrible friend.

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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October 30th
Cinnabar Mansion - Evening - Drizzle
Nevena Solomon


Nev was excited.

They'd spent a majority of the afternoon decorating the mansion for tonight's festivities. It was her birthday tomorrow, but it was also the day that the others would be doing something else. Not to mention it was also Halloween, tomorrow. After Mel's victory, they'd all agreed to celebrate Nev's birthday the day before. It was endearing to Nevena because she'd never had anyone to spend her birthdays with. She always spent them alone, at home, with her pokemon, or occasionally at the movie theatre if something interesting was out.

This one, though... she was going to cherish it.

Nevena was currently in the mansion's locker room with Ana, Mel, and Cy. Cyrilla had found a costume for Nev to wear for the party tonight, but she felt a little exposed. The black dress was cut into a very deep v-neck, and fell just slightly below her shoulder blades. The dress itself was a little smooth and formfitting, with the bottom portion of the dress cut into a sheer black material. It barely fell past her knees. She'd never worn something this revealing before, and she felt slightly uncomfortable in it.

But as Cyrilla had said, she'd only be wearing it once, and it was nice. The sheer gloves that accompanied it felt like silk, and went to her elbows. The black ribbon stilettos she'd worn to complete the outfit were still a little strange to her. She was used to wearing heels, but the heels were just a little bit different than what she was used to.

“Oh, how does it look?" she asked the others once she'd stepped out. She fiddled with the belt around her waist as she glanced towards the other three women.

"Get it girl," Mel said, feigning an exaggerated once-over with a little grin. "That's sexy as hell." She said it with just enough lightness in her voice that it was clearly meant to be a genuine compliment, rather than to make Nev feel awkward or anything. Mel herself was dressed in an ancient style, with gold colored costume jewelry, exaggerated eyeliner, and enough bandage on the visible parts of her body to make the mummy part obvious. She was actually quite strategic about it—the bandage was shredded and dangled from around her wrists, elbows, and neck, while the diaphanous gown was neither revealing nor excessively modest.

"You look really nice," Ana agreed, tying her obi. She'd used temporary dye to darken her pink hair to black, painting her lips a blueish grey shade that made her look frostbitten, which along with the white kimono and obi, gave her away for a yuki-onna. With the natural delicacy of her features and small size of her frame, there really was something ghostly about her.

“Oh, but the two of you look really gorgeous!" Nev couldn't help herself, and felt her cheeks heat slightly. Mel and Ana looked really good in their outfits of choice, and she couldn't help the smile that spread across her face. She blinked, though, when Cyrilla rounded the corner, and whistled in Nev's direction.

“And here I thought the dress was a little too small. It fits you really well, Nev. You look drop-dead gorgeous," Cyrilla stated as she grinned in Nev's direction. She'd dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein, it looked like. The dress itself was sleeveless and more modest than most things Cyrilla had worn, before. She had cloth that looked like ribbons, tied to her wrist and traveled up her bicep. There was a thin white belt that was tied around her waist, and like Ana, seemed to have temporarily dyed parts of her hair black. It seemed more like highlights since it was pulled back into a loose tail.

Her lips were painted black with a small amount of black eyeliner, nothing too exaggerated like Mel's.

“Thank you, Cyrilla. You all look really lovely. It's almost hard to believe you're actual people," she stated, causing Cyrilla to chuckle lightly.

“Hm, well, yes, now let's go see how the boys did," she stated as she winked in Nev's direction before sharing a grin with Mel.

Mel waggled her eyebrows in a way rather like her brother, and the group of them exited the locker room.

The ground floor of the mansion, with its enormous ballroom, had been transformed into the main party space, with long tables of food and several hired caterers set up at a bar to serve drinks of all kinds. A lot of the office's employees and their guests were present, man dressed in costume according to the theme, which was 'classic horror.' Sydney, dressed as a possessed nun, was in the middle of conversation with Luke, whose dark skin and black clothes were painted white with a rather accurate skeletal depiction, and Niko, who was dressed as... a nurse?

There were a lot of sheet ghosts, and a few people not really dressed up, but for the most part everyone was participating.

"Hey guys!" Kas was the first to approach them, speaking a little more loudly than usual over the music. He already had a plate of snacks, and was dressed as Frankenstein's monster, with some rather good stitching effects on his face, neck, and arms, as well as tattered pants, a shirt with the sleeves rolled, and suspenders. "Looks like you went all-out, huh?"

“Only the best for Nevena," Cyrilla responded as Nev smiled.

“You look really nice, Kas," Nev stated as she glanced around the area. She could see Lorraine talking with Hayley, the former dressed in a practical labcoat, however; it looked more like a tattered labcoat dress. Was she supposed to be a mad scientist? Hayley, however, looked to be dressed in what appeared to be a pink fairy costume, or maybe something similar to what a sylveon outfit would look like.

"Nice is a weird word for this," Kas replied with some amusement. It was indeed a rather monstrous look, all things considered, as though his body were pieced together with large, crude stitches.

“Hey, it's the birthday girl and her entourage," another voice chimed in, belonging to Drake. He made his way towards them, holding out a drink in Mel's direction. It looked benign, fruit punch, maybe. He was dressed in a red flannel that was torn near the elbows and wrist areas. There looked to be fur sprouting out of the torn areas, especially near the torn parts of his blue jeans. He even had some fur taped to his jaws, and his nose was painted black.

There was a tail sticking out behind him, almost in the shape of what a midnight lycanroc's tail looked like. Maybe he was supposed to be the lycanroc-man?

"Ohhh, thank you," Mel said, accepting the drink and easily making room for him in the circle. She laughed softly at the extra 'fur' on his jaw. "Should I scratch you under the chin for being a good boy?" she drawled, struggling to maintain a straight face.

Kas snorted. "Get a room."

“Hm, you'd like that wouldn't you," Cyrilla stated, rolling her eyes a bit. Drake seemed to almost sputter in his drink, though, his face coloring slightly.

“Uh, no, you don't have to do that, Mel," he responded with a light shake of his head. Nev thought it was adorable, though, the way he seemed nervous about it. “Oh, I also didn't know what to get you for your birthday, Nev, but I've left it on the table over there," Drake stated as he pointed to a small table. Nev blinked in relative surprise.

“Oh, that's very sweet of you, but you didn't have to get me anything," she replied as she glanced at the table. There were at least three other gifts there, probably from some of the others. It wasn't required, though. Nev didn't invite people with the intention of receiving gifts from them. She wanted them to have a good time; that was all she wanted for them.

“Well, too late. We all kind of got you something... I think. Ryk and I got you something so ours is a combined gift," Cyrilla stated with a grin, before shaking her head. “Speaking of the doofus, is he still having trouble putting his outfit together?" she asked in Kas's direction. “Last I heard he was with you and Aidan."

"Yeah they're both still in the locker room. I did Ryk's special effects, but he and boss have kind of complicated costumes." He shrugged, glancing at the table as Ana added her gift to the bunch. There was already one there that seemed to be from both himself and Mel. "Shouldn't take them too much longer, though."

Cyrilla huffed lightly and shook her head. “I didn't think it'd be that complicated. He's mostly got the right structure already for it," she stated, shrugging her shoulders. “I'm going to go see if Noct and the others have everything set up for tonight's haunted house events, so don't party too much without me," she stated, waving her hand in front of her in a nonchalant fashion.

“Oh, do you want me to come with?" Nev asked as Cyrilla shook her head.

“You stay here and wait for the others. It won't take me too long, I promise," she replied as Nevena pursed her lips together.

“Alright, if you say so." It wasn't much longer when Eryk appeared, and Nev could see why Kas had said what he did about the costume being complicated. The areas where his facial scars usually were, were covered by what looked like open sores and wounds. He was wearing yellow contacts, too, to give the much added affect for a zombie-like appearance. The black shirt he'd worn, long-sleeved, was torn in random places, and the black pants he had on were torn as well. There were red bandages around his arm as well, and what looked like a bite mark on his neck.

“Oh, that looks amazing, Eryk." Nev stated, eyes wide in awe. Everyone so far had really good costumes. Eryk blinked slowly in her direction, though, and tilted his head.

“As do the rest of you," he spoke, his eyes lingering a bit in Ana's direction.

"Okay so we've got a bunch of undead, a witch, a couple of mad creations, a wolfman... now I want to know what Aidan is," Mel said, casting her eyes around as if to spot him.

"Already regretting this," answered the man himself, appearing behind Nev. He was smoking, but from a pipe this time, which went with the long, heavy trenchcoat, vest, and wide-brimmed hat of his costume. There was a prop crossbow slung over his back, even—or was that real? It was hard to tell.

"Van Helsing!" Ana declared, seemingly impressed.

Aidan nodded slightly, doffing the hat in a wry manner. "For all your vampire-slaying needs." He tilted his jaw, subtly gesturing across the room.

For a second, Nev didn't follow his gesture. She stared at him, instead, and blinked slowly. “Oh, wow," she stated before she could filter her thoughts properly. “You look really good in that, Aidan," she continued, earning a light snicker from Drake. She blinked a few more times before her eyes widened. “Oh, I didn't mean to say that out loud!" she coughed lightly and finally glanced in the direction he'd gestured.

She could see the young woman named Katia in the distance. Indeed, she seemed to be dressed as one of the old brides of Dracula. The dress was as deeply v-cut as Nev's was, however; it was longer and trailed down the floor. The color was almost a gradient white to pink, and the underbust she wore with it emphasized certain parts of her body. She really could have passed for a bride of Dracula if they'd actually existed.

Eryk, however, seemed to be furrowing his brows in Katia's direction, and seemed rather tense. From what she'd been able to tell, he didn't particularly get along with Katia. Nev couldn't blame him, really. The woman even gave Nev bad vibes... and Nev usually liked every person she met. There were nights when even Aidan stayed at Nevena's place on the couch since Katia took up his living space. She didn't mind it, honestly. She was glad to help him out when he needed a place to escape.

“There just seems to be one vampire you can't slay, Van Helsing," Eryk stated in what appeared to be dry humor. Drake huffed lightly, though.

"Don't count me out yet," he murmured. He seemed to be only half-invested in the conversation, though, and his eyes dropped to the floor near Nev for a moment before he seemingly inhaled wrong and coughed, withdrawing the pipe even as Ana shifted around to rub his back.

"Are you all right?"

He cleared his throat once more, then nodded. There was a faint redness to his face, likely from the coughing. "Yeah," he said, flicking a glance a Nev before looking back at Ana again. "Fine, thanks."

Kas's eyes narrowed like he was trying to figure something out, but in the end he just went back to snacking. "Does the haunted entertainment part of this start soon? I'm kind of surprised Katia's not the boss monster for that."

Mel laughed, but the words seemed to remind Ana of something, and she withdrew her pokéballs from her obi and released both Luna and Nova. "They're helping Cyrilla," she explained, seeing both of them off with a wave.

"So's Rex," Aidan noted, replacing the hat on his head. "I'm sure he's having the time of his life."

“If he's anything like Imp, then I concur. He's helping out as well," Eryk muttered, as Nev chuckled lightly. “I think she'd send someone back once all the preparations are done... and don't count Katia out, yet, Kas. She just might make an appearance as one at the end of the entertaiment. She likes to ruin everyone's fun."

“It's so strange that the two of you are from the same family. You and her share no similarities at all," Nev stated as she blinked in Eryk's direction. He gave her a flat look, though, and shrugged.

“We're of the same family, but we're not related," he seemed to explain. Nev made a slight 'oh' before she glanced towards the others, making an effort not to look at Aidan for longer than necessary. She didn't really need to embarrass herself any further, after all.

“Hey, isn't that Cy's lycanroc, Diva?" Drake stated as the said lycanroc made her way through the crowd. She growled lightly at Drake for some reason before going up to Nev, and grabbing at her hand. Nev chuckled lightly as she let the lycanroc take her hand, however; Eryk rolled his eyes.

“I think the preparations are done," he stated as if to explain Diva's appearance. The lycanroc huffed as if she were agreeing with him, though.

“Oh, let's go, then! I'm excited to see what they've done!" Nev stated as she allowed Diva to lead the way.

The others followed behind, eventually exiting the relatively tame ballroom into the foyer, which at the moment looked old, decrepit, and dark, the sole source of light a dim lantern hung near the stairs. Probably a few of the pokémon who could cast illusions were responsible for that. It had a lonely, desolate sort of air to it; Luke was presently standing at the bottom of the staircase.

“Sorry, guys," he said, grinning slightly. “I've been instructed to allow only one or two people in at a time. Big groups kind of ruin the ambiance and the scares. So who's first?"

"Nev should go since it's her birthday," Ana said, smiling. In the dim light, the bright white of her kimono almost made her glow.

Nev pursed her lips together as she frowned. “Oh, but maybe someone should go first?" she stated as she turned towards the group. Eryk arched a brow in her direction, though, in a curious fashion.

“Do haunted houses frighten you?" he asked, causing Nev's frown to deepen.

“Oh, if that's the case, I'll go with you!" Drake stated taking a step forward before Cyrilla appeared at the top of the staircase, and making a slight tsking sound.

“Sorry, love, but you're accompanying Mel through," she stated as she descended the stairs. Once she was out, she placed a hand on her hip and arched a brow at the group. “Since we have an even number of people here, you are all going in with pairs."

“And how are you deciding these pairs, Cy?" Eryk asked as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her. She grinned at him.

“Easy. Everyone whose costumes are the closest to each other are getting paired. Unfortunately that means I'm going with Frankenstein, here," she stated, jabbing a finger in Kas's direction, though she didn't seem upset or anything. “You and Ana are going together, Ryk, which leaves Van Helsing and the Witch," she finished with a small grin on her face.

“Oh, but that seems a little unfair, doesn't it? Maybe we should just draw sticks?" Nev tried to suggest. It wasn't that she didn't want to go with Aidan. She'd be more than happy to, but... well, she wasn't entirely sure why she was trying to talk herself out of it.

"If it bothers you that much, I'll switch with someone," Aidan said, his brows knit. It was hard to read the expression on his face, but he didn't look happy, to be sure. He shifted his eyes away from her, though, studying a fixed point on the wall like it no longer concerned him.

For some reason, Nev felt her face heat up, even the tips of her ears. Her eyes widened slightly as she shook her head. “No, oh, that's not what I meant," she stated a little panicked. Had she said something that bothered him? She swallowed thickly and pursed her lips together. “I just thought that... well..." she wasn't sure how to explain what she'd thought would be a little more fair to the others.

“I honestly don't mind if I go with you, Aidan," she murmured softly, dropping her gaze to the floor for a moment.

“How about this; since it's obvious that Mel and Drake should go together, how about they go first? Then, once they go, we can decide who goes with who the second round?" Cyrilla seemed to suggest, but Nev shook her head.

“No, it's fine, Cyrilla. I want to go with Aidan. I think... well, I think it'd be nice to see if it's anything like the Haunted House level in the game we're playing," she stated, as Cyrilla made a slight 'aw'. Eryk rolled his eyes, though.

Aidan huffed softly, his expression much more like its usual neutrality than the slight edge of displeasure it had taken on before. "I'll take notes while you're jumping, shall I?" he drawled, but he did extend an elbow in such a way as to clearly be offering his arm to loop hers through, if she so desired.

Cyrilla snickered softly as she shook her head. Nev, however, pursed her lips at Aidan, and looped her arm with his. “I'm not that easily startled, I'll have you know," she stated as they walked up the stairs. She knew that she was, though, and gripped his arm just a bit tighter. She could play the game easily enough, but being in an actual haunted house was a lot different than playing through one on a game.

“Have fun you two!" Cyrilla called out as they entered through the door. It wasn't much, at first. There was eerie music playing but nothing too unexpected. The hall they were in was decorated with what looked to be galvantual and ariados webs. There was electricity flowing through some of the webs, after all. Nev subconsciously shivered. She had nothing against the pokémon, but webs were another thing altogether.

“So far, nothing like the game," she muttered softly, turning her attention towards Aidan.

"Yeah it's missing some—" he was cut off as a ghastly shriek sliced across all sound, even as a ghost seemed to appear from the wall to the left, wailing miserably and disappearing again through the wall to the right, as if it hadn't quite noticed them. Aidan blinked, but the expression on his face didn't change much.

From beyond, they could make out a soft sobbing sound, further down the hallway.

“I take it back!" she stated as she clutched a little tighter to Aidan's arm. She hadn't meant to step closer to him, but when the ghost had appeared from the wall, it was all she could do from nearly jumping out of her skin. Why did she agree to do this? She felt something slide down her back, the touch gentle enough that it sent a shiver down her back.

“Make it stop, make it stop," she repeated as she tensed. The touch faded, though, not long after, but Nev was still tense. “Oh, why did I agree to this?" she voiced out loud as she clung to Aidan's arm.

Aidan managed not to laugh at her, though there was a little amusement flickering in his eyes nonetheless. Still, he squeezed her arm in a reassuring manner and waited patiently until her immediate panic had subsided before doing anything else. "We don't have to do this, you know," he said simply. "There's an exit over this way; we can skip the whole thing and go back to the ballroom if you prefer. I'm not going to be disappointed or anything."

She wanted to say yes, to leave this haunted house behind, but her pride demanded she stay. So, she pursed her lips together and shook her head. “Not after everyone's hard work was put into this. I can't just leave halfway through; it wouldn't be... right." She took a deep breath to try and relax her nerves, however; something like cold breath ghosted over her neck.

“Okay, pride be damned. Let's go."

Aidan actually smiled a little. "Right this way, then." He selected one of the hallway's doors. Normally it led out into the back stairwell—and apparently it still did. The dim emergency track lights that were always on for safety were still there, and apparently this part of the building had been left alone. Aidan took them out the rear exit, then doubled back slightly so they could re-enter the ballroom. The others, of course, were still going through the haunted house.

Grabbing a drink off the bar table, Aidan steered them back to where their things had all been piled, setting the drink down in front of her and removing his crossbow to prop against one of the other chairs. "Have a seat, Doc. When you're all settled, I have something for you."

Nev blinked in his direction and tilted her head a bit. “You have something for me?" she stated. “Oh, but... you didn't have to, really," she continued as she glanced down towards the drink, and grabbed it with both of her hands. She didn't immediately take a drink of it, though, and tried to fight down the blush that was threatening to form on her face. She had really sweet and thoughtful friends. They didn't need to get her anything, and yet they still did. She smiled softly at the thought.

“But, um, thank you. For the drink and... whatever it is you have for me."

He snored softly, taking a smallish box out from beneath his chair and pushing it across the table towards her. "Don't thank me yet. It's nothing all that important. Just a little project."

The box was about shoe-sized, wrapped in neat, rainbow pastel paper and tied with a silver ribbon. 'To Doc' was written in Aidan's surprisingly-neat penmanship just under the bow.

Nev smiled as she pulled the box towards her, feeling a strange warmth in her chest as she glanced at it. Some part of her wondered if he'd ever use her name, or shortened version of it, but she was fine if he called her Doc. For now. She was a little startled at the thought before she shook it from her mind. Instead, she focused on the box and untied the ribbon, removing it before opening the present. She blinked a little stupidly at what was inside, and delicately, she retrieved the controller from the box.

“Oh... you," she began as she glanced back towards Aidan. She smiled brightly at him before turning her attention back towards the controller. It was pink in color, but that wasn't what caught her attention the most. Despite it being her favorite color, the controller itself was designed in a theme she recognized. On the left side was a small, chibi image of Balthazar, and on the right side, was an image of Maribelle.

“It's the... thank you, Aidan. This is... it's," she didn't know what to say, exactly. “I didn't know they made custom controllers for it," she stated, turning her attention back towards him.

"Uh." Aidan looked oddly unsure of himself for a moment, then grimaced. "They don't, exactly. Well, they do, but most of them aren't that good. I couldn't find one I thought you'd like, so I did the finish and the grip stuff myself. It's a little amateur, but if you didn't notice the mistakes, I'll take it." He gave her a wry half-smile at that.

Nev blinked incredulously at Aidan. “You... did this?" she stated in slight disbelief. Amateur or not, it was done really well. “It's really good, Aidan. I would have thought this was done professionally, if you hadn't told me that. You're very talented," she said truthfully. She was going to have to find out when his birthday was so she could get him something just as nice. Just as thoughtful.

“I really love it, thank you." She would have to put it to good use. “I'm almost tempted to just go try it out, now, but..." they couldn't exactly leave her birthday party. It would be rude, she thought.

He sat back in his chair, adjusting the hat so it would not impede his vision. "It's also the office Halloween party," he pointed out, almost as if reading her thoughts. "It'd go on without us just fine if you wanted to go." The smile tugging at his mouth was more genuine this time. "Entirely up to you though."

He did have a point.

“Alright. Plus, it'd be nice to finally get out of this dress," she stated as she grinned at Aidan. Her apartment was next to his and she could easily change beforehand. “Thanks again, Aidan." This had to be one of the best birthday's she'd had in a long time.