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Nevena Solomon

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

0 · 699 views · located in Kanto Region

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

Description



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xxImageImageImagexxxxxNevenaSolomon
xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Female xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 33 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 5'6" xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 137 lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* Pokémon Professor

AAFIT x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAINT x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AABTL x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAAMED x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AACON x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAAKNO x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


--Image- RESEARCHER specializes in tech to control legendary pokémon
PUZZLES can crack most in a matter of minutes or hours depending on complexity
TAILOR knows how to mend clothing, but not make them



Image Have you forgotten what you have and what is yours?
- - - - - - - glass half empty / glass half full .


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Nevea is a rather intelligent young woman, already an accomplished pokémon professor and has acclaimed fame within the scientific world for her recent breakthrough with machines. Of course, Nevena does not see her intellect as a gift, but rather a curse. People don't like nerds, or anyone who is a know-it-all, however; Nevena does not claim either label for herself. She is who she is, and she does not pretend to be anything other than a gifted young woman who is making waves in the research department. This, however, has left her a rather lonely individual. She can make friends easily enough, but it's usually more superficial than anything deep.

And she craves that kind of human connection; the one where bonds are supposed to form and she can say, without a doubt, that she has friends. Nev knows better than to search for anything else, than that. She's a bit jaded when it comes to love, honestly. The first person she ever fell in love with, ridiculed her and she isn't so sure someone would actually love her as she is. It didn't help that her parents weren't exactly the most affectionate people, but Nev takes what she can get. Which isn't a whole lot. Still, she has a rather optimistic outlook on life and things in general. She's much more open about her emotions than most people seem to be, simply because she does not know how to be deceitful or cunning. As smart as she is, she cannot bring herself to trick people.

She can't bring herself to, even if it meant she'd get hurt less, however; Nevena would rather be hurt by being honest with herself and those around her than to have someone like her for someone she isn't. She's very warm and open in regards to people, and has an inherent charm to her that makes it easy for her to be around people. Even those who are usually standoffish often have a hard time being snippy with her, however; she encourages everyone to be themselves around her. She's not so delicate as to not be able to withstand harsh words or criticism. She's a professor, after all, and in her line of work, things like that will always be present. People will always criticize her work, her as a person, and anything else they think can get away with--what she lets them get away with.

In all, Nevena simply aims to be herself while trying to make things better for everyone else around her. She is determined to succeed in life, even if she has to do it alone. If anything, though, Nevena secretly wishes she didn't have to. She wants that warmth, that affection that's supposed to come with love. She wants someone to prove her wrong, that love exists in all the ways she's read about it, been moved by it. But more than anything, she just wants something. Something substantial and worth something. She's not entirely sure what that means, though.


Image You don't get what all this is about
- - - - - - - you're too wrapped up in your self-doubt.


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Nevena wouldn't consider her childhood bad nor good. It simply was. Her parents were scientists, on the verge of breakthrough technology, and she had been an accident so to speak. Her parents loved her as best as they could, but Nev knew their work always came first. She grew up rather lonely and isolated, but she always had her parents' pokémon to keep her company. She was raised, mostly, by a Mr. Mime who had been her only friend through her childhood. He constantly made sure she was safe, always had food and saw her to school and back. He was her companion for a long time.

School, however, was a different aspect of her life. She had always been a gifted child, but even with her intellect, children often poked fun of her because she was a rather large child. She wasn't pretty, or beautiful in any way, and she knew this about herself, however; it hurt more than anything when people poked fun of her weight, or called her names. Mr. Mime was the only one she confided in because she could not disturb her parents with this. They had other things they were doing, and even as a young child, Nevena knew she did not want to burden them with her problems. So she kept them to herself, and stuck her nose in a book and spent most of her time daydreaming. It was about the only thing she could do. The event that shook her the most, though, was when Mr. Mime, her constant companion and best friend, finally passed.

She was twelve at the time, and his death had pained her greatly. When her parents did not share her remorse, Nevena was appalled. How could they have not cared about their own pokémon? How could they have not felt what she felt? She wanted more than anything to reverse time and just see him, again. To say goodbye since she didn't have that chance before he'd passed. It had been sudden, his death, and more than anything, she wanted to be able to say goodbye. She became obsessed with trying to reverse time, however; nothing ever seemed to be right.

As she grew older, Nevena began researching into the different legendary pokémon, namely Dialga who was thought to be able to control and distort time. Of course, proving a legendary's existence was rather difficult to do, but even more-so controlling them. They were not like ordinary pokémon that could be caught and trained. They were extremely powerful creatures that could very well level cities. It was dangerous, her research, and she knew this, but could not bring herself to stop. Her obsession led to her breakthrough in a specific technology that could, theoretically, control a legendary pokémon, and it was this breakthrough that caught the attention of Neo Team Rocket. She was approached by Stefan Gregorovich who offered to fund her research in return that she provide them with whatever information she currently had, and would learn.

Nevena knew what they stood for, then, and what they stood for, presently. She wanted to help them change the world, to make it better for those in it, however; what their true motivations are, she cannot be sure. Nevena does not trust Neo Team Rocket fully, but they are the only means she has to further her research. And she will do absolutely anything to complete it, although she has recently forgotten the reason as to why she started it in the first place. She remembers a friend, but... she can't remember why it seemed so important to her.


Image There's method in my madness
- - - - - - - you don't gain a single thing from misery .


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ImageImagexx--ImageImageImageImageBASIL BAYLEEF 
----Image NATURE DOCILE

AAATK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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AASPD x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
ImageImagePINKY WIGGLYTUFF 
-ImageImage NATURE RASH

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xx--ImageImageImageImageFLUFFY FURRET 
----Image NATURE GENTLE

AAATK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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AASTK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASDF x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
ImageImageFLOOF WOOLOO 
----Image NATURE BASHFUL

AAATK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEF x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASTK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASDF x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


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xx--ImageImageImageImageZIGGY ZIGZAGOON 
----Image NATURE JOLLY

AAATK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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ImageImageNAME POKÉMON /
----Image NATURE NATURE

AAATK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEF x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASTK x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASDF x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


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Aidan
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Where do I even begin?

Nev's never really had a crush on someone, let alone been in love with them. She doesn't even know what that's supposed to feel like, however; she will not deny that she is attracted to Aidan on a much deeper level than she'd originally thought. It's just easy being with him and he makes her feel like... well like she's actually a person. She's just... not sure how to tell him those things.

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Cyrilla
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Sometimes I wish I had her confidence.

They spend a lot of time together, which is strange to Nev. Strange in a way that she's never really known what it felt like to have friends. And even though Cyrilla is a few years younger than her--almost a decade if she counted right--Nev considers Cy to be a really good friend. She looks forward to her time with the younger woman, and it's doubly so when they get to spend time with Ana. It's... fun.

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Eryk
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
They're small, but they are there.

It's actually a little breathtaking at times. Eryk is a handsome guy--and that's beside the scars--and to see him actually smile makes Nev... all warm and fuzzy inside. Maybe it's because they are so small that they're hardly noticeable, but whatever it is, Nev is happy for Ryk. He's become something of a friend to her and she's happy to help him should he ever need it.

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Anastasia
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
She truly is something.

And that speaks volumes to Nev. In that aspect, Nev sees herself in Ana a bit, the shy awkwardness and not being so good around people. But there's also something there that Nev wishes she had. A spark of life, or something, that's extremely bright. Despite their age difference, Nev respects Ana and all of the hard work she does. And that's to say nothing of the fact that they're friends. It's nice.

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Kasimir
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
He's such a big dork.

And Nev truly loves Kas like a little brother. He's always making her laugh or smile, and it's something that Nev has come to appreciate about him. She hopes he knows that she does think of him as a good friend, and that if he ever needed anything, she would be glad to help in any way she can. For now she enjoys they're little dates: the time Floof and Meep get to play together. It's adorable.

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*Much of the inspiration and layout of this character sheet is owed to
maccotango's guide to RP design, and their much-better-than-mine coding.
*Sheet coded by Aethyia

So begins...

Nevena Solomon's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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#, as written by Aethyia


April 28th
Aidan's Office - Morning - Sunny
Aidan Klein


Aidan blinked slowly. The large monitor screen in front of him was occupied by the image of an older man with longish grey hair and a fastidiously-trimmed beard, his weathered face partly hidden behind spectacles with a thin silver rim. He was dressed in a crisp black suit, layered over a black shirt and tie, the only bit of color the ruby tie-pin holding the length of satin in place. He regarded Aidan with a solemn expression—then again he pretty much always looked like that. There were bags under his eyes; Aidan wondered if maybe running things in Saffron without him was a less-smooth transition than they'd hoped for.

"Her boat should be arriving within the hour. As I said, I'm assigning this to you personally. The R&D team is going to be crucial to the success of Project Nebula, and she's going to make the difference in that." Gregorovich picked a lighter up from offscreen and flicked it a few times, lighting the cigarette between his lips. It made Aidan twitchy for the same, but he hated it when rooms smelled like old smoke, so he refrained.

"You ever gonna tell me what Project Nebula is or do I have to guess?" He knew some set of the things it was apparently going to need, including this woman's research, but the larger picture was entirely beyond him.

From anyone else, that question probably would have earned the boss's cold glare and no answer at all. In this case, though, Gregorovich leaned back in his chair, exhaling a cloud of smoke and studying Aidan through the monitor. "It's an attempt to develop a new method of identifying and contacting pokémon in distress. Conventional investigation methods are slow and imperfect; you know this as well as anyone."

Aidan nodded slightly, hardly needing the reminder.

Gregorovich sighed. "I can't say much more because I don't know much more. It's hardly more than the grain of an idea right now, and I can't afford to place much stock in it. That's why you're there, though. I need you to keep an eye on the developers. Make sure they have everything they need—do everything possible to make the project viable. If it works... if it works it solves 90% of our efficiency issues. Changes the game completely—saves more pokémon than you can imagine."

Aidan knew there was something the boss was keeping back from him. It was in the way he sat, the way his eyes rested a little too heavily, it felt. But the boss had been leading NTR all this time, and though sometimes Aidan wasn't sure about their methods, the man's vision had never wavered. And when it came right down to it, that vision was one he was prepared to do anything for. So it didn't really matter what he was holding back, and he was sure it would be shared in time.

"I trust you," he said simply. "Sometimes I wish you trusted me a little more, though."

Gregorovich cracked a little smile. "I trust you more than anyone else. Not as much as you've earned, I know, but still. I'm a creature of old habits, son, you know that."

"Yeah, you and me both, old man." Aidan shook his head; Gregorovich chuckled, waving a hand dismissively.

"Go on, go meet your charge. She's very clever; perhaps you won't be so bored as Katia makes you."

Aidan rolled his eyes at the mention of his former teammate—already a little more annoyed and bored just by that—and flicked the monitor off. Standing, he rolled his black sleeves to his elbows and inwardly lamented the island heat. At least he wasn't required to wear the damn uniform, though monochrome black might need to be a decision he rethought when summer rolled in.

Heading down the stairs, he nodded once to Hayley, the Executive Assistant, and passed out of the mansion. He contemplated taking his motorbike to the dock, but it didn't have a passenger car and he didn't really want a nervy scientist on the back while he was trying to drive. So he walked instead, arriving dockside just as a passenger boat pulled up to the pier.

People filed out of the boat, a couple of them glancing in Aidan's direction before scurrying off. A woman exited next, dressed in a simple light blue tank top, a pair of black wide-leg capris. She had on a large sun hat, perhaps to keep the sun away from her eyes. She was pulling a large suitcase behind her with what seemed to be relative ease despite its size. It might have been due to the fact that there was a bayleef to her side, holding onto the handle with one of its vines and pulling it along with her. She glanced in his direction, and smiled, making her way towards him.

“Hi," she spoke, her smile softening somewhat as she glanced towards her bayleef. “Are you from the research facility on the island? The one that used to be the old mansion?" she asked, glancing back in his direction. “Oh, but I should introduce myself regardless. I'm Nevena Solomon," she stated, holding out her hand as if to shake hands with him.

"Dr. Solomon," Aidan acknowledged, closing his hand over hers. He made an effort not to squeeze too hard, but the shake was firm. "I'm Aidan, and yes, I'm from the Field Office. Is the suitcase all you have with you?" He cocked an eyebrow and nodded at the bayleef doing most of the work hauling it. He knew that she'd had the opportunity to send her other belongings ahead—those would have been left in her apartment by now. Still, he'd sort of expected to be handling more than one small bag.

She furrowed her brows at him, but nodded her head. “It is. I don't have much as far as personal belongings go. It makes it easier to move around when I have to," she stated, glancing in the bayleef's direction before turning back to him. “And please, just call me Nevena or Nev," she stated, her expression smoothing back out into something more jovial.

“I'd actually prefer it if it was anything other than Dr. Solomon," she added, huffing in a nervous way. “Oh, and this is Basil. She's my bayleef, and assistant, slash caretaker," she stated, huffing lightly at the expression on Basil's face. It looked mixed parts pleased and annoyed at the statement.

Aidan huffed softly. "Sounds like a big job," he said a little wryly, extending a hand forward to offer the pokémon a pat if she wanted it. "I hope she doesn't mind splitting the duties a little; you've been told you have a supervisor for this project, right?"

Basil nudged his hand with her head before pulling back. “I don't think she minds, really. She probably thinks it's too big of a job for her, anyway," Nevena stated, earning a light glare from the bayleef. “And yes, I've been told I'll have a supervisor for the project. I presume I'll be meeting them at the base?" she stated, arching a brow in his direction.

Aidan snorted softly. "Actually, you're looking at him." He could understand the confusion; he certainly didn't look like the kind of person who'd be put in charge of a team of intellectuals. Which was a nice way of saying he looked like dumb muscle. He'd put in a bit of effort to change that, at one point—back in his competing days he'd tried for something more clean cut, but it was fussy and annoying and didn't solve the basic problem, so he gave up after a while. It wasn't like Gregorovich cared. With the boss, if you were good you were good, and it didn't matter how you looked.

He supposed it was likely that Solomon could appreciate something like that; Aidan figured that being young and pretty in addition to being a leading mind in her field sometimes made people forget the last part. He could easily imagine that old men had mistaken her for an assistant or secretary more than once. It was part of the reason he'd made such a point of calling her 'Doctor.' But if she didn't like it he figured he could just do what he always did and use her last name by itself.

"We can go check out the facility if you like, but I've also got your new residential address and a key for you so if you prefer to rest that's fine. You're not expected in the office until next week."

She blinked slowly before her eyes widened. “Oh, I'm terribly sorry! I didn't mean to confuse you with someone else. I just... I thought you were with a taxi, or a Farfetch'd driver," she stated. She pinked a little in the face, perhaps from her misconception, and shook her head softly. “And it'll be a pleasure to be working with you, sir!" she stated, bowing for some reason, it wasn't clear. Basil rolled her eyes at Solomon before using one of her vines to gently tap the woman's shoulders. She straightened herself back up and cleared her throat.

“If you don't mind, I'd like to check out the facility, first. That way I can see where everything is, ahead of time, and get straight to work on my first day. I don't want to get lost trying to find whichever office or lab I'll need to be in."

Aidan had snorted at the misidentification; he figured he might get mistaken for a grunt or something, but for her to think he wasn't even affiliated with the organization—

He had said he was from the office, right?

Well, it didn't matter to him in either case. Shooting Basil a wry look, he shook his head. "No harm done. Facility's only about a twenty-minute walk; if Basil wants a rest, I can carry your bag for now."

“Oh, it's fine. I can carry it myself, really. Basil just likes to help out when she wants, hence why she's my assistant. She does what she wants, really," she replied, smiling at the bayleef that merely nodded its head as if in agreement. “And I'm sure she'd like the walk. It's really warm and being a grass-type, I'm sure the sun will feel nice for her," Solomon continued, turning her smile back towards him.

“And if it's only twenty minutes, it should be fine. I don't want you to carry my bag when you don't have to," she added. Basil nodded her head, letting out a soft cry as if to agree with Solomon's earlier statement.

He shrugged. "All right. Let me know if you change your mind; it's not really a big deal for me to do it." By the same token, it may well be no difficulty for her, either, and he was fine deferring.

So he turned away from the docks, getting them set on the right road before dropping back next to her. He considered if any of his pokémon could use the walk, but most of them weren't the sort you could casually stroll around with in the middle of town. Frost was, but she hated the weather even more than he did. Brick was too stupid to risk in public. Ed and Jax were too big, and Skiff didn't walk anywhere.

So he pinched the second ball on his belt off, giving it a lazy toss. Rex shook his coat out, flicking his spaded tail. He considered the new people for a moment before padding up to Aidan and headbutting him in the stomach.

Correctly interpreting this, Aidan scrubbed roughly at the houndoom's head and neck, giving him a good scratch. Satisfied, the pokémon approached Solomon, head tilted inquiringly. "He's a big baby," Aidan said, knowing that houndoom had a particularly bad reputation for viciousness. Not entirely unwarranted, but only because so many of them were raised badly.

She didn't really seem bothered by the houndoom, though, and immediately crouched a bit to scratch under his chin. “Oh, but he's so adorable," she nearly cooed. Basil rolled her eyes at Solomon before nodding her head in Rex's direction, but didn't get too close to the houndoom. She didn't seem afraid of it, just standing guard of the suitcase Solomon let go of temporarily.

“And he has a really healthy coat," she stated, glancing up at Aidan before she stood from her spot. “I bet you spoil him," she added, giving Rex one last scratch around his neck.

"Not as much as you do, I don't think." Aidan figured somehow that she was the type to do it.

He whistled sharply, and Rex came immediately to heel position. He'd learned a long time ago that it was important for him to be able to do that—people tended to panic of a pokémon like that was anything other than perfectly polite. He'd had people cross the street to avoid them regardless. Like Rex was going to go eat their kids or some bullshit.

Picking the walking pace back up, he steered them back to the old mansion. It was a brick building, like a lot of the older constructions in town, three stories tall and not really much to look at from the outside. The gardens were exceedingly simple and minimal, but tidy; the placard next to the gate proclaimed it only to be 'NTR CINNABAR FIELD OFFICE.'

Sliding his ID into the scanner at the gate, he remembered he had hers as well, and fished it out of his pants pocket. "I don't recommend losing that," he noted, "but I guess it's not the worst thing if you do, since you're stuck with me breathing down your neck all day anyhow." The gate swung open to admit them, and he started them up towards the house itself.

“Duly noted," she stated, nodding her head as she did. “I have a lanyard I can put it on. It's kind of hard to lose something hanging around your neck, after all," she continued with a light shrug of her shoulders. “It's feasible, though. I have lost something like that before," she stated offhandedly before she glanced at the building ahead of them.

“I promise I shall do my best to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible so it doesn't wear you down too much," she spoke, almost completely serious it seemed.

He shook his head. "Just focus on your research. The rest is my job, and you don't need to concern yourself with it." The last thing he needed was to have to tell the boss progress was too slow because the R&D team had it in their heads that they had to pay some kind of special consideration to his presence. It was half the reason he hadn't bothered to specify just who he was, in the structure of the organization. The level of oversight would be weird enough without them knowing it was basically the boss's own eyes doing the observing.

"Anyway," he continued, holding open the front door for Solomon and the pokémon to enter first. "First level is the office pool. You need something from an administrative assistant or a grunt to lift something for you, they'll be here." The setup was pretty clear—the assistants shared a large desk immediately ahead in the foyer; a door to the left led to the large room where the grunts had cubicles set up. To the right was the kitchen and the janitors' supplies.

"Second floor is where we've stashed the execs—that's Nero, Rheinallt, and Niav; you'll probably see them around at some point. Basement's storage and pokémon intake. Third floor's R&D, and my office. Anything you want to see first?"

She seemed to contemplate his offer. “I think the R&D area should be the first place I look. As long as I can find my way, there, the rest should be fairly easy to navigate," she stated. She glanced towards Basil, though, and pulled a pokéball from her belt. It must have belonged to Basil because the bayleef looked vaguely irritated. As if she didn't want to go back in the ball.

“I promise it's only for a few minutes. You won't be in there long, alright? And when we get to the new place, I'll give you your favorite treat," Solomon spoke as if she were bribing Basil. The bayleef seemed to contemplate it for a moment before she nodded, letting Solomon recall her. She huffed softly before pulling her suitcase to the side.

“Might as well leave this here instead of dragging it behind me," she seemed to explain before she smoothed out her shirt. “Third floor, right?"

He nodded, turning momentarily to the assistants' desk. "Hey Hayley, can you watch Dr. Solomon's suitcase for a few minutes?"

She grinned. “No problem, sir. And welcome to Cinnabar, Dr. Solomon!"

“Thank you, Hayley!" she responded, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

Aidan headed for the stairs, putting a hand on Rex's head. The houndoom relaxed a little at the signal, ranging a bit from his side to bound up the stairs towards the second floor. Someone up there had already made friends with the doofus—Aidan's money was on Rheinallt, and he was seldom wrong about these things. But the door to the executive suite was closed, so he headed more sedately up the rest of the stairs towards R&D.

"There's two others on your project right now," he said as they climbed. "Dr. Greene is an engineer, since apparently you're going to need one of those. Ms. Parker is currently a research assistant, while she finishes her degree. They're both supposedly very good at what they do."

She arched a brow in Aidan's direction. “That sounds about right," she stated as if she knew some things. “I know you said you'll be supervising us as well, but," she started, glancing at him from the corners of her eyes, “what will you be doing, exactly? Is it just supervising, or do I have to accommodate for you to be there as well? As in, are you going to be assisting with the project?" She seemed curious if the way her brow arched was anything to go by.

“And if you are going to be assisting, what will you be doing?"

He considered this a moment; the boss hadn't exactly specified. "My office is close to the lab," he said. "I'll probably be in and out. If I can do something useful though, you're free to ask. I'm good for moving things and reaching shelves at least." He also wasn't half-bad with a wrench, but he suspected anything she'd need Greene to build was too complicated for him, so he left it at that.

"I won't get in your way. If I do, tell me I am so I can get out of it."

She huffed a light laugh, but shook her head. “I doubt you could be in the way," she stated before she tapped a thoughtful finger to her chin. “I'm sure when it comes time to build, Dr. Greene and I would love the assistance. The things we'll be moving around will likely be pretty heavy, depending on the material that they'll use, but as far as anything else," she paused to regard him with a light smile.

“I'm sure you'd rather keep company with other people rather than us," she stated, something a little melancholy in her tone, though she didn't define what she meant by us. “And if you get in the way, I'll be sure to tell you as much!" She sounded a little more jovial that time.

Confidence issues.

He didn't need to be especially perceptive to pin that one down. By the same token he knew the word of a stranger was unlikely to make much difference at a surface level, and further discussion was likely unwelcome. So he nodded at the last part. "Fair enough. Let's go get you introduced, and then we'll see about the rest of the place."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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April 28th
Field Office 9 - Late Afternoon - Warm
Nevena Solomon


The building had been a lot more advanced than Nevena thought it was going to be. She'd heard that NTR's research facility was based out of the old mansion, but she hadn't expected it to have been remodeled the way it had been. Maybe she really didn't even know what she was expecting. Regardless, she would have to thank Aidan for showing her around, even if he was her supervisor. He could have easily had one of the grunts show her everything, but she was grateful he had. He wasn't like most supervisors she'd had in that respect. Most of them either handed her off to an assistant who could show her the things she would need, or very briefly told her where to find things.

She'd always managed, of course. When they were finished with the tour of the facility, they returned to the front of the building so that she could collect her luggage. With it in tow, she bid Hayley a goodbye, and turned to face Aidan.

“Thank you for showing me around," she stated, offering him a short nod as way of thanks. “I really appreciate it," she added, figuring it wouldn't hurt to at least thank him for his services. “You said you had my address and key, right?" she inquired. “Would it be alright to go drop this off and maybe go get lunch?" she stated, pausing for a moment at the way that had sounded in her head. To her, it was a way to get to know people, but to anyone else it might have sounded like she were asking him for a date. He didn't look like the type to mistake it for anything like that, though, so the small spike of panic in her chest, subsided.

“I think it'll be nice on a day like this, at least, to get to know my colleagues a little better. If you wouldn't mind, of course. I don't want to take up your time, especially since you'll be overseeing the project with me," she didn't want anyone to spend too much in her company. She wasn't exactly the type of person people wanted for company, after all. Not that she minded, really.

For all the complexity of her thoughts, Aidan's response was quite simple. He shrugged his shoulders and gave a short nod. "Sure. We live in the same building anyhow; it's probably good for you to get a sense of what's around." When he reached the front door, he held it open for her and then stepped out behind, producing a pair of sunglasses from somewhere and sliding them onto his face. He'd recalled his houndoom into his ball a couple minutes ago.

He paused when they reached the front gate, handing her a small silver door key. "That might have sounded creepy," he said, extending it towards her. "Most of the team members live in the same building. You do happen to be my next-door neighbor, but I didn't have anything to do with the placement. I doubt HR thought much about it beyond needing two one-bedroom apartments in the most suitable building in town. If you'd rather have more space to breathe, I can talk to someone about it." He said this almost as though he expected it to be a genuine imposition to live next door to him.

“Not at all," she spoke, referring to his statement at how that might have sounded. “I'm used to people keeping an eye on me in that sense," she continued, offering a polite smile in his direction. It really didn't bother her even if it was meant the other way he'd thought it sounded. That they were keeping such a close eye on her wouldn't have surprised her, honestly. She was only going to be here for as long as the project lasted, anyway, and she didn't see the need to inconvenience him that way.

“It should be fine, really. No need to talk to anyone about it. You'll hardly know I'm home as well. I'll be spending quite a bit of time at the research facility, and I do not have any unsavory habits," she continued. She didn't smoke or drink, or even keep odd hours. She was, as they had told her once, a work-a-holic, but that was probably the only bad habit she had. Not that she cared if someone else did those things. She'd learned quite young that everyone was different. They all had different vices, and things they liked to do.

He scoffed softly as they walked. "Well then I guess we average out pretty well," he replied, "because I've got loads. Shouldn't cause you any problems, but if they do, let me know." He paused long enough to pull a cigarette and lighter from his pocket as they walked, and then made a considering noise. "You mind? I can wait if you don't like it."

“Oh, by all means," Nev replied, hoping that what she'd said didn't come across as something harsh. “I don't mind, really. Just because I don't do them doesn't mean I'd want someone else to not do them around me. I'm used to people just doing whatever they want, and it's never really bothered me to begin with."

She was just... used to it. Her parents had been like that, after all. Her father often smoked, and so did her mother, especially if they were particularly stressed about something or hit a snag in their research. “I hope that doesn't come across snobbish. I don't mean anything by it," she added, grimaching slightly as she realized how that could have sounded. She sighed softly to herself; she needed to be a little more confident and realize that not everyone took it the way she made it sound. She was unnecessarily always overthinking things, she supposed.

Aidan chuckled softly as he lit the cigarette. "Didn't take you for a snob, Doc. I like to think I'm polite enough not to make anyone suffer in my presence, is all." He put the lighter away and slid his first two fingers up to steady the thing, exhaling to the opposite side so nothing of it approached her.

“So, if you don't mind me asking, what's the best restaurant on Cinnabar?" talking about food might help her ease her mind.

He hummed, seeming to give the question some consideration. "Dunno," he said after a moment. "I usually just stay in and do ready-made stuff, or make eggs or something easy. Don't get out much." He took another drag, then flicked a bit of ash into a sewer grate on the side of the road. "I'm game to try whatever you like though. What kind of food do you want?"

“Oh, uh," she paused to give it some thought. She really didn't have a preference of what kind of food she ate. She usually just ate wherever her coworkers did, and they'd always chosen a restaurant with Kalonian food. She'd grown very fond of quiches, because of it. “Any place that has good seafood?" It'd been awhile since she had anything like that.

He huffed, raising an eyebrow at her as though he didn't believe the question. "We're on an island in the middle of the ocean, Doc. Of course there's good seafood. Do you like it spicy, or no? That might narrow the options a bit. Price ranges? Plan to drink anything? Want to eat near the shore?" He rattled off the questions, then paused, gesturing to his temple with the hand that still held the shortening cigarette. "Sorry. I've got an index. Enough information and I should be able to narrow it for you."

They were approaching a tall, modern-looking building. The shiny aluminum sign facing traffic proclaimed it to be called The Cloyster Luxury Condominiums.

Nev felt her eyes widen a little. “Oh, don't apologize, that's actually a very good skill to have," she spoke with a smile on her face, belatedly realizing she'd actually said it. She huffed lightly to herself, and turned towards the building. It was rather nice, and fit the Luxury part of the name. “And nothing spicy, please. I can't do spicy things. I've tried but it's just not... for me. I don't really drink, but if you do, we can add that to the list," she spoke, furrowing her brows lightly. Anything with a bit of heat always made her eyes burn and she couldn't really handle it very well.

“And something quaint and tucked away. Prices aren't really an issue, but maybe something small, like a mom and pop restaurant? I like those because the owners are usually very nice and I'd like to be able to support them," she continued. Small establishments always had the nicest people and the food was always so much better than anything she'd ever had at a fancy restaurant. She tried eating at places like that when her coworkers were either too busy to go to lunch together, or when she had off days.

And perhaps because she liked discovering new things that people would often overlook just because it wasn't a brand name, or well-known.

A small smile tugged at his mouth as they entered the lobby. "All right. I think I know the place. Never been, but it should be interesting to see some of the local color, I guess." He gave a small nod to the desk attendant, a balding middle-aged fellow in an ill-fitting suit, and hit the call button on the elevator.

"We're on the ninth floor. I'm 903, and you're 904." When one of the elevator cars reached the landing, he stubbed his cigarette out on one of those trash cans with an ashtray in the top, though there was still a fair bit of it left. He gestured for her to step in first, then hit the right button and stepped back next to her, sliding his hands into his pockets.

"So you were up in Mahogany last, right? Johto? Pretty rural even compared to the island, I s'pose."

“That's right," she replied, nodding her head as she glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. “I was looking into the old research they had conducted with sound waves. I don't know if you remember this, but when it was still just Team Rocket, they had used those frequency waves to force magikarp to evolve simply because gyarados were stronger," she stated, a bitterness in her voice. It had been wrong of them to do that; magikarp may have been a weak species, but they didn't deserve that kind of torture. From what she'd learned, it had been torture. A majority of the magikarp had died under the strain rather than evolving. She shook her head, though.

“I don't plan on doing that again, but I figured I'd be able to use what research they had and convert it to something usable that won't hurt pokémon. It would act more as a searching signal rather than something that puts strain on the pokémon. Essentially, it's like a gentle tap on their shoulder to see if they would respond," she spoke, her expression softening a bit. She blinked, though, and cleared her throat.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to go on a rant like that. It's just... it makes me so mad that people used to do that to pokémon, and that they still do." It was one of the reasons why she'd agreed to help this version of Team Rocket. Neo Team Rocket, because they stood for the injustice of the world and were trying to protect those that didn't have a voice. Who couldn't speak for themselves when they were hurting or needed help.

The elevator dinged open, admitting them both out onto the ninth floor. Aidan had been quiet for a bit after she spoke, but as they moved into the hallway, he shook his head. "No need to apologize," he said, and something about this tone had softened, lost the wry edge that it always seemed to have. "That's why I joined, too. Well. Kind of, I guess."

He didn't elaborate, though, only stopping in front of door 903. "Feel free to take your time looking around or whatever. Just come knock whenever you want to go eat. Restaurant's pretty casual. Close to the beach, though, so don't wear anything you don't want sand in." He gave her a nod, then opened his door and stepped inside.

Nev figured she could wear what she already was: the sleeveless light blue shirt and her wide-leg capris. It was fairly warm on the island, and she wanted to dress comfortably. With that in mind, she pulled her luggage back behind her, and stepped into her apartment. Once she closed her door, she withdrew three of the four pokéballs on her belt, and tossed them. Pinky, Basil, and Fluffy all appeared, her wigglytuff, bayleef, and furret, respectively. She smiled at them as Basil trilled lightly, and Fluffy tried to curl himself around Nev's feet. She chuckled lightly as Pinky merely puffed out her cheeks as if she'd been angry to have been in her ball for so long. Nev couldn't blame her, really.

“Alright you three, I'm trusting you all to get things in order while I'm away. You know the drill," she stated, smiling as Basil rolled her eyes, but already started reaching for the luggage bag. “I'll bring you all home some frozen yoghurt since I know you love that. And then tomorrow we'll go see the park and maybe let Floof roll around," she stated, referring to her wooloo. Floof had a mind of her own, and was still fairly young that Nev didn't trust her out of the pokéball yet. Pinky seemed to brighten at the mention of frozen yoghurt and nodded her head, following Basil towards the bedroom to help her, it seemed. Fluffy merely blinked big eyes up at her, causing her to shake her head.

“You be good, too, and look after the two girls, alright?" she stated, leaning down to rub his head. He nodded before bounding after Pinky and Basil. Once she was sure they would be okay, and had access to food and water, she left her room and stood outside of Aidan's room, knocking on it gently and waited for him.

He opened it a few moments later, blinking down at her. "That was quick. Grunts get all your boxes delivered?" He'd changed his clothes; though his wardrobe was still monochrome black, he'd swapped out the more businesslike attire for a sleeveless shirt and jeans. The all black certainly made his coloration stand out at least—that was a very bright red for hair to be. Admittedly, it was a very nice shade of red.

Stepping over his threshold, Aidan locked his door behind him and tucked his keys into one of his jean pockets.

She nodded her head. “I live a very spartan life. The less things I own, the easier it is to move around. All of my research is logged electronically and sent to different servers just in case one fails. All I really have are my pokemon and my clothes. Oh, and a laptop and tablet to keep track of things," she replied. She really didn't have much use to have anything too personal. Her life was such that she'd always be moving around. There was no place to really call home, but she supposed in her line of work, it didn't really matter. She'd be required to go to different places to test different things, or for research.

“And I my team takes care of the unpacking of clothes while I get them frozen yoghurt in return. You weren't wrong, I do spoil my pokémon because they deserve it. They're my best friends, really, although Floof can be a bit of a trouble maker. She's still young and impressionable."

They exited the apartment complex; Aidan set them on a different sidewalk path this time. He'd nodded like he understood when she mentioned the 'young and impressionable' bit, apparently understanding what she meant. "Probably better to keep her with you until she'd used to the change at least," he murmured, more like he was musing to himself than telling her anything she didn't already know.

He shook his head slightly. "Been a while since I've had a young pokémon; it's easy to forget what they're like. What kind is she?" He seemed genuinely interested in the answer.

“She's a wooloo from the Galar Region. I haven't been there myself, but an old colleague was leaving and didn't have the time to commit to her. She was a newly hatched wooloo at the time, but now she's at least a few months old. She's a more recent acquire, I suppose you could say. And yes, I plan on keeping her with me until she's a little more mellowed out which shouldn't take very long for her species. They're similar to mareep in that aspects."

They were both adorable, though. They always made the cutest faces and she could never stay mad at Floof whenever she'd done something wrong. Of course, Nev had to reinforce the discipline aspects of Floof's misdeeds, but they were never really too bad.

“If you're up to it," she stated suddenly, her brow arching slightly, “I plan on taking them to the park tomorrow. You can meet her, then, if you'd like. She always enjoys meeting new people."

"The park, huh?" He seemed to consider this for a moment, though what he was debating wasn't exactly clear. In the end he shrugged. "Sure. Might give a few of mine a chance to run around. Most of them aren't really walk-around-in-town types."

The rest of the walk seemed to pass quickly, or maybe the restaurant was just nearby. It was a humble-looking beach shack place that practically screamed 'small town business,' the only difference being that it was, in fact, perched along the back edge of a strip of sand, the ocean rolling in on the other. Specks out in the distance might have been surfers; there were people scattered about on the beach, too. There seemed to be a small deck attached to the restaurant, with large, striped umbrella's over the tables for shades. Apparently the restaurant was just called Jo's, and with the quaint look of it, Jo herself was probably working inside.

"What do you think?" Aidan asked. "Should we give it a shot?"

“It does look nice," she began, smiling brightly at the place. And she had asked for something small. “Let's give it a try!" she stated, perhaps more excitedly than she'd intended for it to be. The prospect of good food always put her into a good mood.

"Lead on, Doc."

Setting

Characters Present

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


April 29th
Field Office 9 - Afternoon - Muggy
Kasimir Rheinallt


Too bad the punch wasn't spiked.

Kas had considered doing it himself, actually, but then he'd have to go to the trouble of procuring the booze, erasing the footage, and like it or not there was always a chance of someone having a bad time if they drank alcohol unknowingly. Consent was important and all that.

Still... this had to be one of the worst parties he'd ever been to, and considering the fact that he'd been to more than one cheap-beer-fueled rager in his Academy days, that was saying something. Dear arceus, these people were just so fucking stiff.

This morning there'd been a block of seminars designed to welcome the new staff to the building and provide refreshers for everyone else. It wasn't awful to know how the basement intake room worked and stuff, except Kas had been down there for two minutes yesterday and already figured it out. And the rest of the stuff had been so general it might as well have been the basic training he and Ryk had done eight years ago all over again.

Now everyone was awkwardly standing around in the large foyer, most of them clustered in small groups or around the snack table, while a few more solitary types held up their wall of choice. He could have wandered around socializing—he was more than capable of striking up a smooth conversation with even shy people, but it seemed HR wasn't done with them yet.

The building's local rep, Tanya, was a willowy woman in her mid-thirties. Nothing wrong with that, of course; the trouble was that she was absolutely vapid. Kas couldn't recall the last time he'd been this bored by a pretty face. Or well, it actually happened a lot, but he was typically able to exit those situations, and he really didn't want to make quite that bad of an impression just yet. He preferred to ease people into not expecting much of him rather than slacking too often from the get-go.

“All right everyone," Tanya declared, clearing her throat for attention. She was the kind of woman used to getting it whenever she so desired—that much was easy to tell. Next to half the male eyes in the room had been on her already, for very different reasons than his, and this was a room in which a lot of pretty women were standing. “We're going to do an icebreaker. This one's called Heads Up!"

Kas resisted the urge to groan. That was the one where people picked random cards from a deck to wear on their foreheads so people could help them guess who they were.

“We'll be using our NTR pokégears for this; the app should already be on your new devices. If you'll all break into groups of three, we'll start by putting pairs of groups together and we can rotate when the rounds are done!" Tanya smiled with cherry-red lips, beaming at all of them.

He really wished he'd spiked the punch.

Someone clicked their tongue behind Kas before the person walked to his side and into his field of vision. It was Cyrilla, and she glanced up at him from where she stood, arms crossed over her chest. Her hair was pulled back into a tail, it seemed, a little more professional, but there were still a few strands at the front that hung loose.

“I suppose it makes more sense for the three of us to be grouped together, but..." she trailed off, glancing in a direction where Ryk was. He was staring at a person who seemed to be trying to make small talk with him. Eryk didn't do small talk, from what Kas remembered, and his eyes were suddenly on them. Immediately, he walked towards him and Cy before standing on her other side.

“Well, I guess that means he agrees," she spoke, snickering softly at the expression on his face.

Kas snorted, quirking an eyebrow at Cy. "What? You mean spending your afternoon with me at this scintillating soirée isn't your idea of a good time?" He asked the question in jest, because no sane person would really want to be here, but that didn't mean he couldn't rib her for making it sound like being in his group in particular was something that 'made sense, she guessed.' Hardly a ringing endorsement, which he only found funny.

Opening the requisite app on his gear, he ignored Tanya giving directions. It was obvious—the app had a timer, after which the screen would display his 'identity,' meaning he should have it out of sight by then.

This presented its own conundrum, because Kasimir was tall enough that not everyone would be able to see his forehead, so he set it to his shoulder instead, angled so he couldn't see. Cy's screen identified her as Lt. Surge, funnily enough, and apparently Ryk was 'a drunken chansey.' At least the cards were kind of funny.

He looked up, curious to see who would be in the first group of three to match up with them.

Cyrilla huffed a light laugh at that, and shook her head. “Hm, I couldn't think of better company, really. It beats just being with that one all day," she stated, jabbing her thumb in Ryk's direction who looked to be having a bit of difficulty with his pokegear. She rolled her eyes before she took it from him, and set it up. “I swear you can't operate even the basic things you should know. What would you do without me, really?" she stated, though from the tone of voice she'd used, it sounded more like an older sibling scolding a younger one, even though Ryk was the older one, here.

“Whatever," he finally spoke, narrowing his eyes slightly in her direction. She just shook her head. “I don't understand the meaning behind this. Why can't we just do what we're here to do? There's no need to bond when we likely won't be here for very long," he muttered beneath his breath, causign Cyrilla to hard roll her eyes.

“Because you need to be able to work with your coworkers, and not against them, Ryk. That's why they are called coworkers," she responded, however; before she could say anything further, her attention was taken by a group of people that approached them.

“We were grouped with you," a young woman spoke. She was dressed in formal attire. A black pencil skirt with a white blouse tucked into it. Her dark hair was pulled back into a bun, and thick square glasses sat on her nose. “I'm Lorraine," she introduced herself. Another one stepped forward, this one a man probably in his late twenties. His hair was a bright flame orange, slicked back, and his eyes a dark brown. They were narrowed slightly before he shrugged his shoulders. He was wearing something that mirrored Lorraine's color scheme, though he was wearing a pair of slacks and not a pencil skirt.

“Name's Niko," he stated.

The last was a thin man nearing forty, Kas would guess, with a native islander's complexion. For some reason he was wearing a tweed jacket despite the temperature outside. Kas supposed the air conditioning in here did work a little too well sometimes. He very much had the look of a pencil-pusher about him, the kind of logistics wonk that Kas pretended to be, save for the precise undercut of his floppy black hair. “Nice to meet you," he said in a mild alto, much higher than even his thin frame would suggest. “I'm Luke." This prompted a second look, and Kas realized his throat was smooth, free of the prominent cartilage bump. Ah.

"Well welcome to our corner of the room, guys," Kas said, shooting all three of them a winning grin. Luke smiled back, at least. "I think we're supposed to take a look at what you have here... let's see."

The pokégear Luke was awkwardly holding to his forehead read 'Steven Stone.' Lorraine's said 'confused tauros,' and Niko had 'pro battling cheerleader.' Well that should be interesting.

Sticking his hand out towards Niko, he offered a shake. "So what color pom-poms do you prefer, and does the skirt chafe?"

Niko furrowed his brows a bit before taking Kas's hand and shaking it. Cyrilla snickered lightly, though Eryk merely looked unamused. “Dunno, depends on whether or not you're offering to do a check-up," Niko replied, giving Kas a clue into his identity, perhaps. That or he was flirting with Kas.

"Always happy to help, though I'm sure people in your profession have to stay in tip-top shape." He winked, not yet sure whether that was flirtation but willing to run with it either way.

“Well, there are worse things on a warm day than whipping yourself into a frenzy," Cyrilla stated, arching a brow in Lorraine's direction. The woman merely glanced at her, an expression to match Ryk's, before she narrowed her eyes slightly.

“Hm, yes, well I suppose it is better than being a paranoid trap maker," she replied in a deadpan voice.

“Oh, I didn't know you knew that about me. It's quite fun, really," Cyrilla stated, clearly either ignoring the clue, or not really caring much about it. Eryk had yet to say anything, and just merely glanced between the other people.

“You look a bit like you could stand a bit of medical attention yourself," Luke told Kas with a small smile. “Are those bags under your eyes?"

"Damn," he said with a feigned-heavy sigh. "If only I were a pokémon I could ask Ryk over there to help. Though he might break a few eggs in his state."

Luke laughed, clearly catching the thread of the joke. “Are you sure? Wasn't there a movie about you? Pokémon House?"

"Wait, I'm a frat dude? A... tired frat dude?" At Luke's nod, he checked his screen and found that it did indeed say 'sleep-deprived frat boy.' Huh. Maybe Niko was flirting after all, because that had nothing to do with doctors.

Eryk merely narrowed his eyes slightly at Kas's statement. “He's not wrong, Ryk. If you have any more, you'll just end up passing out, and you'd be no use to anyone, really," Cyrilla added.

“Considering that he's required to assist at any given time, I'd do the same if I were in his position. Thankfully, I'm not a pokemon, so I don't need the help," Niko stated. Eryk looked like he'd rather be doing something else, but sighed heavily.

“You collect rare rocks," he spoke in Luke's direction. Cyrilla shook her head.

“Ryk... that's not how... you know what, never mind," Cyrilla stated before turning her attention towards Lorraine. “As for you, Lorraine, perhaps you should avoid battles until your condition gets better. Otherwise you won't know where you're going, and with those three little whips at your back, it'll only increase your anger," she spoke. Lorraine rolled her eyes in what seemed to be good nature.

“Perhaps, but then again being out and about beats being couped up all day receiving challenge after challenge, and only specializing in one thing," she stated.

"Speaking of," Kas added to Cy, "shouldn't you have been promoted by now? Colonel or something? Or do your superiors think you're too much of a live wire?"

“Surely that's not it," Luke put in with a little grin. “I'd be shocked!"

Kas offered a hand for a high-five. "Stunned, even?"

Luke clapped his smaller hand into it with respectable force. “Nay, paralyzed."

She must have found it funny because she started laughing. Even Lorraine cracked a small smile, then. “Well, considering that I am stunning," she spoke, running a hand through her ponytail and pulling it over her shoulder, “I guess I must be a poor excuse of a Lieutenant Surge since I don't have the trademark golden hair."

“There are worse things to be missing," Niko stated, shrugging his shoulders a bit. “You could be missing an important egg used for treating patients because you were too busy blacking out to remember shit," he continued, glancing at Eryk with an arched brow.

“Oh for the love of..." he stated, checking his screen to see what it said. “I'm a drunk chansey," he stated, causing Cyrilla to sigh heavily.

“Just ignore him; he's a kill-joy," she stated, turning back towards Niko with an arched brow. “You at least seem to be having a lot of fun at major competitions. Know if they could use another able body? I promise to bring a pom-pom style oricorio with me as back up" she stated, blinking in an innocent manner, causing Niko to snort.

“I dunno, I mean, you have great legs for a cheerleader, but not as great as mine," Niko replied, holding out his leg as if to prove his point. Cyrilla laughed again.

Kas and Luke laughed, too, but then the bell at the front of the room rang, signaling that it was time for the groups to rotate. Niko, Lorraine, and Luke shuffled off elsewhere, and a new trio approached, including one surprisingly-familiar face.

"Sis!" he enthused, grinning broadly and sweeping down to pull the blonde scientist in for an ursaring-hug. "I haven't seen you since I transferred out of Mahogany Town! How have you been?" He'd only been there for a short while a couple years ago. The last few months of his time there had been Nev's first with NTR; as the guy in charge of the outpost, he'd sort of made it his responsibility to help her out, at least until he'd been transferred to Celadon for a while.

Aidan was with her, too, his pokégear nowhere in sight. "We can just not with the icebreaker," he said, rolling his eyes slightly. "I'm calling Admin privilege on that one."

“Thank Arceus," Ryk muttered as he folded his arms across his chest. Nev, however, looked slightly surprised to see Kas, and she'd managed a small squeak of surprise when he'd hugged her.

“It's nice to see you, too, Kasimir," she replied, pulling out of his hug with a light pink dusting her face. She cleared her throat softly as she glanced towards Cyrilla and Eryk. “And it's a pleasure to meet you..." she trailed off, as if expecting them to introduce themselves. Cyrilla stuck her hand out, smiling in turn.

“Cyrilla Niav, and this grump here is Eryk Nero. Don't let his face fool you, he's really just a big cuddly mareep," she stated, earning a light glare from Ryk. Nevena didn't seem too bothered by it, though, and nodded her head with a smile.

“Well it's a pleasure to meet you both. I'm Nevena Solomon, but please do feel free to call me Nev," she spoke, earning a nod from Cyrilla. Eryk kept his arms crossed over his chest, though, and seemed to be staring off at the other groups. Probably really just staring at nothing in particular, since it was Ryk.

The third in their group introduced herself as Penny, giving Kas what he suspected was an attempt at being subtle in her once-over. He fought not to grin, and mostly succeeded. Some trace of it must have made it to his face though; she flushed and darted her glance away.

Aidan sighed. "I don't know why HR insists on this," he muttered quietly. "It's not like we have a friendly, collegial atmosphere atmosphere around here."

He wasn't wrong; Kas had been genuinely surprised by the last group being at least personable. Very often, Neo Team Rocket offices were cold, inhospitable places, where everyone was clawing their way towards the top of the organization and the bigger paychecks and chunks of prestige and influence that went with. The mission statement did attract some do-gooder sorts, but the shadow of the previous iteration of Team Rocket loomed. So did the organization's extralegal nature, outside the typical justice system of any government but enforcing its rules regardless. Those tended to draw ambitious people of a certain competitive stripe.

“Probably because they're trying to change that," Cyrilla spoke with a shrug of her shoulders. “Even though it really won't change a thing," she added, earning a confused look from Nev.

“Why do you say that?" she asked. Cyrilla arched a brow.

“Isn't it obvious? A lot of us don't really require working together, and if that's the case, then we'll likely only be getting in each others way. Why bother getting to know people if you won't be around very long to actually care?"

“I guess I didn't see it that way since I'll be constantly working with a team," Nev stated as she furrowed her brows. “But in the mean time, it wouldn't hurt to at least get to know some of you," she continued, smiling at them. Cyrilla huffed lightly and shook her head.

“Well, you shouldn't get to know us too well," she began, something of a pained expression crossing Cyrilla's face. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared, as if it had never been there at all. “We don't want you to miss us too much when it's finally time to leave."

Nev chuckled lightly at that. “I'll do my best. Besides, I have Kas to keep me company, too, right? How's Meep by the way?"

"Adorable as always," he replied with a grin. Meep was in fact his youngest pokémon, and had barely hatched when he met Sis. "Speaking of, didn't your last email mention a Floof? We should get coffee to catch up and let them play."

“Oh, gosh, you're right!" she stated, eyes wide with a large smile. “I was just telling Aidan about her, yesterday. I plan on taking her to the park later on today so she can get some exercise in. If you want to join us, I'm sure Floof would be more than happy to have a playmate. In all honesty, she could use it. You all should come, actually. It would be nice to let all of our pokémon get together to play, if you'd like."

Cyrilla snorted softly. “It sounds like it could be fun." Ryk, however, didn't seem to feel any particular way about the invitation. He lightly shrugged his shoulders, which could have indicated anything.

Fortunately Kas had enough enthusiasm for the both of them. "Sounds great," he replied with a grin. "I admit I'm curious about what pokémon a former undefeated champion keeps on him." He quirked an eyebrow at Aidan.

"A brat, an idiot, a big baby, and assorted doofuses," he said dryly.

“At least yours doesn't try to hypnotize you," Eryk muttered lightly beneath his breath. Cyrilla snorted softly at Aidan's statement, though, and glanced at Ryk.

“Yeah, but you also have Runt, Ryk. He pretty much symbolizes the definition of idiot," Cyrilla stated lightly, earning a flat look from Ryk.

“I reiterate. Doesn't try to hypnotize you at inconvenient times."

“Oh, this is going to be fun. I look forward to meeting all of your pokémon, and getting to know you better," Nev stated excitedly.

“The feeling is mutual."

Maybe this wouldn't be a typical NTR workplace, after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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May 9th
The Cloyster - Morning - Hot
Eryk Nero


He blinked.

She stared.

He blinked once more, hoping that when his eyes opened, she wouldn't be there.

“I'm not leaving, Ryk. I don't have to be a telepath to know what you're thinking," Cyrilla spoke, pulling Zephyr, her meowth, from her shoulder and settling it into her lap. “Are you going to tell me what you think of her, yet? I'm interested to know," she continued, rubbing the spot between Zephyr's ears, earning a soft purr from the creature. Eryk merely pursed his lips together, his eyes narrowing as he tried to discern her true intentions. The grin on her face, he knew it well. Well enough that she was either up to something, or going to try and embarrass him one way or another.

“No."

“Oh, come on, Ryk! You have to say something. Kas, help me out here, buddy," she stated, tilting her head backwards over the couch so she could see Kas. He was in the kitchen, currently, either getting something to eat, or something to drink. Eryk didn't know, nor did he care. He narrowed his eyes, though, in Kas's direction.

“Don't involve him. He doesn't care," Eryk stated, pursing his lips together.

"Ouch, Ryk. That hurts my feelings. Of course I care." There was a little bit of shuffling around, then the sound of the cabinet being opened, and a few moments later he'd returned from the kitchen, handing Cyrilla a glass of apple juice and leaving himself with water. He didn't give the impression of being concerned with his health, but living with him had made clear that in addition to being tidy, he habitually took care of himself.

Falling softly onto the other end of the couch, he pulled one leg up towards him, propping the other on the coffee table. He always gave Cyrilla more space than she really needed, for some reason. "Besides you should know I'd never pass up any opportunity to mess with you, so." He took a couple swallows of the water and placed it on the small table near his elbow.

"Was I right about the type thing?"

“Type?" he asked, immediately regretting it when Cyrilla grinned brightly at him.

“Oh, definitely his type. I mean, look at him," she spoke, taking a drink from her apple juice while pointing in Eryk's direction. “He's all flustered already and he doesn't even know why. I mean, it's alright to admit that kind of thing, Ryk. For instance," she paused, glancing in Kas's direction.

“Kas would be my type if he weren't so..." she trailed off as if she were unsure of the word she wanted to use. “Hm, actually I take that back, he is my type," she stated, grinning in Kas's direction before turning her attention back towards Ryk. He narrowed his eyes in her direction.

Kasimir huffed a laugh, raising his glass as if in salute. "Always flattering to hear you're maybe almost a pretty lady's type," he replied benignly.

“We've already been over this, Cyrilla. This isn't a seduction mission. I'm not interested in her that way," he stated, putting an emphasis on each word so that it would get through to Cyrilla. He knew it wouldn't, but he wished it would.

Kas hummed, either unconvinced or unconcerned. "Okay then, so if you're not into Ana, what do you like? No reason you have to live like a monk while you're here, you know. I hear the island nightlife's pretty good. Locals mingling with tourists—excellent if you're looking for something fun to relieve stress. Would probably work if you wanted something more long-term, but you're that kind of 'why bother when we're gonna leave?' sort, both of you. I can tell." He nodded sagely, as if this was indeed something he knew.

"No reason not to have a bit of fun though, right?"

“See? He gets it, why can't you?" she stated, arching a brow in Ryk's direction. He sighed heavily. She knew why; they both knew why. He only did so for missions's sake. What Cyrilla did, she did on her own accord. He had a certain reputation to uphold. Honestly, he was a bit surprised SHE hadn't said anything about Cy's infidelity, or so she would have called it. She probably didn't even know, really. He supposed Cyrilla could write it off as part of the mission, of getting information from the locals. People often were a little more loose-lipped during those kinds of situations, he supposed.

“I don't have to explain myself to the two of you," he spoke, shooting Cy a glance. Her brows furrowed, her eyes faltering for a moment as she sunk back into the couch. She smoothed her hand over Zephyr's back. “Cyrilla," he began, but she shook her head.

“No need to explain Ryk. I know," she replied, offering him a small smile. He stood from his place on the loveseat and grabbed his keys. He wasn't sure if they'd be there when he returned, but he couldn't be around the two of them at the moment. She would recover from his statement, and continue trying to prod him with Kas. And Kas certainly wasn't making it any better. Perhaps, the professor, Dr. Solomon, would be better company. Or even Aidan. From his understanding, they both lived in the same complex, just further up.

With that in mind, he left his shared apartment and took the elevator three floors up. They were on the 6th floor, and Aidan and Dr. Solomon were on the 9th floor, if he remembered correctly. As he exited the elevator, he spotted Solomon exiting her apartment, placing her key inside to lock it, he supposed, as her bayleef stood behind her. It almost looked like the bayleef was acting as a guard before it spotted Ryk. She used a vine to tap Solomon's shoulder, catching her attention which shifted towards Ryk.

“Oh, hello, Mr. Nero," she greeted, smiling at him. “Is there something I can help you with? Or did you come to see Mr. Klein?" she asked, tilting her head to the side.

“You can call me Eryk. It's fine, and I was here to see if you're busy," he stated. She seemed to brighten at the prospect of being helpful in some way.

“I was actually about to head out on a walk. I wanted to see more of the island before I head into the office," she began, “you can join me if you'd like?"

At that point the door next to Solomon's opened, and Aidan stepped out, wearing a sleeveless black shirt and black jeans. His wardrobe seemed to be even more monochrome than Eryk's. There was a pair of sunglasses nested in his unruly red hair; he looked entirely unfazed to see Eryk.

"Joining up with the Doc's sightseeing club, Nero?" he asked, locking his apartment door and dropping his key into his pocket. "I think we're headed—what?" he glanced at Solomon with the query. "To the park today or something?"

“The park would be nice, I suppose. And if there's something you'd like to talk about, that would be the place to go," she stated, nodding her head softly in the direction of the elevator. Eryk wasn't entirely sure he'd call it joining anything; he'd seen some of the island with Anastasia's tour, but he supposed he could join them for this.

“If I'm not going to be in anyone's way, then yes, I suppose I am," he spoke, his eyes narrowing slightly at nothing in particular. It was just how his expressions were. Vague, pointless sometimes, and other times they insulted people, somehow.

“Great, now, let's get to it," Solomon stated as she made her way towards the elevator. Eryk realized, belatedly, that she was dressed nothing like the previous researchers would be. When they'd met her, she was dressed in a suit and pencil skirt, with a coat; typical attire for a researcher. Now, though, she was wearing what looked like a pair of khaki shorts and a plain white t-shirt. It was something he'd expect Cyrilla to wear around the apartment as pajama's more than anything. His own attire was, perhaps, not suited for the heat, but he supposed it really didn't bother him as much as it did the others. He couldn't really say.

He followed them into the elevator as Solomon pushed the button for the bottom floor. “So, Eryk, tell me about yourself. What do you do?" she asked, curiosity evident in her voice. He arched a brow at her. He glanced in Aidan's direction.

“I have his old job." It was, essentially, true.

"Upkeeps a proud tradition of people called 'Entei' having shaggy hair," Aidan agreed flatly, as though this was the only requirement of the job. His hands rested comfortably in his pockets; it was hard to say for sure, but this seemed like it might be sort of a routine for him. Perhaps they regularly walked around the island before going into the office, or something.

"More seriously, Nero's the Executive in charge of Field Office 9. The other two are too, kind of, but where rank distinctions are necessary, you're looking at the boss." The other man arched an eyebrow, studying him with apparent interest for a moment. "Disagreement with the roommates, huh?"

“Not so much a disagreement," he began, shrugging lightly. “They are being insufferable, is all," he continued, which was mostly true. They were teasing him about something that wasn't true, and he'd be damned if he had to sit through that shit. It was bad enough that they assumed she was his type. It was bad enough that they thought he'd be able... he stopped that train of thought and quashed the feeling it produced. He had a job to do.

Nev, however, arched a brow in his direction. “Isn't one of them your fiancée, though?" she asked, and Eryk pushed a heavy sigh through his nose.

“Doesn't mean we don't have disagreements from time to time," he supplied easily enough. Marrying someone out of love wasn't something everyone could afford. He was doing it for his own reasons, but there was, he supposed a familial reason, nonetheless.

“Well, I suppose that makes sense," she replied as if she didn't know, herself. He wondered about that, but he wasn't going to pry. She was, in all senses, an appealing person. Not particularly someone he'd be interested in, but there was an appeal, there.

They reached the outside, then, the sun and heat making their presence known right away. Aidan took the sunglasses from atop his head and put them on his face. "You had breakfast yet?" he asked. "There's a little place on the way we like; they can do you something portable pretty quick so you can walk with it if you're hungry." He didn't seem to be interested in prying into either Eryk's or Solomon's business, but there was something odd about the question.

He wasn't making eye contact with either of them, seemingly preoccupied with something off to one side, though it was hard to say what, since the street was mostly empty at this time of day.

“I have not, no," Eryk replied to Aidan's question about breakfast. He was going to eat breakfast with Kas and Cy, but he'd left before he could actually eat. Solomon seemed to brighten at his answer, though, an extra hop to her step as they continued to walk.

“Oh, then you'll love this place," she stated, smiling brightly as if it were her favorite thing to do. Perhaps it was? Eryk knew that some people didn't stop smiling, each for various reasons. He just knew he couldn't do it. At least not in the same way he used to. “They have the best kalosian toast, and they even have galarian muffins. I think the best thing they have, though, is their biscuits and gravy with eggs. It's so good," she continued. Eryk huffed lightly at her enthusiasm, and turned towards Aidan.

“She always like this?" he asked.

There was a faint flicker of a smile over Aidan's face as he turned back to address Eryk's question, but it was gone in the next eyeblink. "Pretty much," he said. "Except at work. She can get really hyperfocused there. I have to remind her to do basic shit like eat and take breaks. I'm basically a scientist-sitter these days." He made sure his volume was sufficient that Solomon could hear as well, perhaps not wanting to speak about her without her knowledge. Though what he said could have been a complaint, he didn't seem to mind.

She huffed lightly, a light pink dusting her cheeks. “And I said I was sorry about that," she murmured lightly. “But he's not wrong. I do forget things like that, and I feel bad because he's supposed to be my supervisor, not caretaker. I used to have Basil do that," she stated, pointing to the bayleef that was trailing behind them, seemingly enjoying the sun.

“But she's not allowed outside of her ball in the room," she continued. Eryk could see why that would be a problem. Basil was a large creature, and she would likely get in the way of the other scientists working. He nodded lightly.

Aidan rolled his eyes. "I'm not criticizing, Doc. And I told you you don't need to apologize for stuff like that."

“I suppose there are worse things to be in our line of work," Eryk stated as he glanced back towards Aidan. “You could be babysitting the other two idiots," he continued, referring to Cy and Kas. Honestly, he'd probably prefer scientist-sitting than dealing with those two at the moment.

He huffed softly, lifting an eyebrow as they headed into a small building that must have been the breakfast place. It seemed to have a menu for sitting and a menu for takeout, which focused on portable things like sandwiches and wrapped crepes and so on.

Aidan dug around in his back pocket for his wallet. "Yeah I've heard Rheinallt can be a handful. Seems like a decent guy though. You'd know more about Niav than I do." His tone sugested he'd heard some things about Cyrilla nevertheless, but he didn't bring them up for whatever reason. "What do you guys want? I'm senior so it's on me this time."

“Biscuits and gravy, please," Solomon stated, tucking Basil's ball back onto her belt. She'd recalled the bayleef before they'd entered the establishment. Eryk, however, glanced towards the menu, his brows furrowing slightly. He didn't need Aidan paying for him, but he had a feeling that if he were to object, Aidan wouldn't let him.

“I'll try what she's having," he murmured. He supposed it wouldn't hurt, and if Solomon thought they were good, then he'd give them a try. Everything else didn't really sound appealing to him, after all. This, at least, was a bit nicer than being with the other two. If only they could be more like this... he wouldn't mind so much.

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

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Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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June 8th
Cinnabar Island Park - Afternoon - Cloudy
Nevena Solomon


The weather wasn't all that bad today. It was pleasant enough that Nevena could enjoy being outside with just a simple white sundress and a sun hat. She had taken her pokémon to the nearby pokémon park, the one she and Aidan frequented, deciding that it was a good day to let them roam around. Being cooped up in the apartment all morning was boring for them, she assumed, and she wanted them to stretch their legs a bit. Floof definitely needed the exercise since she was still relatively young. And it was now that she watched the wooloo casually hopping along, nudging Fluffy as if to entice him to chase her. He was curled up near a tree, probably using the shade to hide from the sun, but Floof didn't seem to want to leave him alone.

Basil was currently sitting near Nevena, glancing with mild interest at everything around her. That's just how she was, Nev supposed. Basil was never much of a interacting type, but she was gentle enough around those that approached her. She'd ocassionally reach out towards Floof, pat the wooloo's head with a vine, and then turn her around to go after another pokémon. It was oddly adorable to Nev, and she chuckled lightly at the antics.

Floof decided to make a run at one of the other pokémon in the park, a deino from the looks of it. She jumped lightly into its side, however; it seemed to topple over from the lightest impact. Nev was at once alarmed and trying not to laugh. Alarmed because Floof didn't look like she'd run into the deino that hard, and trying not to laugh because it just laid there, like one of those fainting skiddo. She quickly stood from her spot and made her way over towards it, gently picking it up its head and trying to get it to stand.

“Floof, look what you did. You need to be more careful," she stated, earning a light trill from the wooloo. “Seriously, come here and apologize," she stated, pointing her finger to the spot next to her. Floof just made a face that looked like she was pouting, however; a chuckle to the side caught Nev's attention.

“Don't worry about it, he's just dumb. She didn't hit him hard and he's pretty dramatic," the young man stated. He had pale blue hair and matching eyes. Not quite the blue normally associated with the Jenny family, but more so the kind one would say Claire had, or even a Stone. He was dressed in a crisp light pink shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts that fell to his knees. He smiled at Nev and held out his hand towards her.

“I'm Drake Bellamy, by the way," he greeted. Nev immediately stood and took his hand into her own.

“Oh, I've heard so much about you! You're Cinnabar's Gym Leader! You took over for your grandfather and are one of Kanto's... er, well, I shouldn't say that, really," because telling him that he was one of Kanto's most eligible bachelor would come off as a bit creepy to Nev. And she didn't want to be that kind of person. Plus, there were other things about him. How he was one of the youngest in history to become a Gym Leader, and how his statistics were fairly good for him to try out for the Kanto League if he'd ever thought about it. He chuckled, though, and glanced to her side.

“Oh, and this is my neighbor, Aidan," she stated, momentarily forgetting he was there. She'd been so distracted by Floof, honestly.

Aidan certainly didn't seem to mind, anyhow, just sticking out his hand to shake in turn. She'd noticed he never smoked in the park, and he wasn't now, either, though he still hadn't really gotten used to the idea of dressing for the island she didn't think, sticking to black and long pants. At least his shirt didn't have any sleeves. He'd started to tan a little, as they spent more time outdoors, and usually wore sunglasses to ward off the glare.

"Aidan Klein," he said simply. "Taking the afternoon off? There was a line outside the gym this morning, if I remember right."

Drake made a vague nose that almost sounded like he was being strangled. It was slightly alarming to Nev, but he reached to rub the back of his neck. “Yeah, I have a line outside of the gym, but... well, I need some time off from all the battling. There's been an influx of challenges lately, especially ever since the old mansion opened up. Getting all kinds of people and challenges from there, but I don't mind, really. I need the workout."

Nevena tilted her head in a questioning manner. “How so?" she asked. From what she knew of Drake, he lived a relatively normal lifestyle. Ate healthy, had his training regime, and still had time to do things around the island. He chuckled somewhat, though.

“Honestly, I'm kind of... avoiding someone right now. It's, uh, nothing bad, I promise, but I'll open the gym again sometime in the evening for that late rush. It'll be fine until then," he stated, waving a dismissive hand in front of him.

“Oh, and it's nice to meet the both of you. I've never seen a pokémon like that, though. Is she from another region?" he asked, glancing in Floof's direction. She trilled happily at him before rolling off, causing Nev to shake her head.

“She's from the Galar region. There aren't a lot of galarian pokémon in Kanto mostly because of how far it is and the environment is completely different. Some would do well while others would likely be uncomfortable. Luckily for Floof, she's a little more adaptable," she replied, smiling just a bit at the wooloo. Drake nodded his head as if in understanding.

“Huh, I guess that makes sense. You... look familiar, though. Have we met before?" Drake asked as he glanced in Aidan's direction. Nev arched a brow at that. She was almost certain that Aidan didn't know Drake; they wouldn't have introduced themselves like that if they had known each other. Maybe it was because Aidan was Kanto's former Champion that Drake recognized him. He would, after all, know who the current and past Champions were as a Gym Leader.

"Uh..." Aidan cleared his throat. "Once, yeah, but you were a lot shorter. Figured you wouldn't remember considering how long ago it was." He placed his arm at about the height of his torso, looking a bit sheepish. Almost... embarrassed? Maybe that was what the slight tinge of pink to his face was, or maybe it was just the sun. "Big get-together. You were there with your aunt and grandfather; I was kind of awkwardly in the corner till the old man insisted on talking to me."

“Ah! That's right!" Drake stated suddenly, snapping his fingers before pointing one at Aidan. “Man, that was a long time ago. I don't even remember why they wanted to do that. Something about bringing the family together or something like that. But, hey, it's good to see you after all these years."

Nev arched an eyebrow at that. She didn't know they were acquainted already, even if it was several years ago. She smiled, though, at the scene.

“And yeah, gramps is always like that. You can't be a wallflower in any kind of situation when he's around. He'll just chat your ear off," he stated, huffing lightly before leaning in closer towards Nevena. “My advice is to never be alone with gramps. He makes even the most mild of situations a bit uncomfortable. He means well, but still...." he trailed off, causing Nev to chuckle lightly.

“Well I'm sure he's pleasant company, regardless," she replied with a light smile.

"Pleasant's not the word I would use," Aidan muttered. After a moment, something seemed to occur to him, though, and he pinched one of the pokéballs off his belt. He usually didn't release many of his at a time, even when they were at the park, though he hadn't really explained why, except to say that they weren't really suited to it. But he expanded the ball and gave it a little toss.

"Remember Brick?" When the light cleared, there was a garchomp there; he scratched at his head with one paw, blinking slowly at all three of them.

“Uh, yeah? How could I forget Brick when I have my own version right over there," Drake stated with a large smile on his face, pointing back towards the deino that seemed to be fixated on the garchomp. “I swear, they're two peas in a pod. That one came right up to me, nudged one of the pokéballs, and caught himself. All he ever does is sleep, eat, and headbutt shit. See," he stated just as the deino made its way towards Brick, and lightly hit Brick's leg. It seemed to be smiling in a very dopey way, and Nev couldn't help but find it oddly adorable.

Brick, in turn, lightly whacked the deino's head with one of his paws.

“Aw, but he's so cute. Look at that face; how could you not want to love on it," she stated, catching the deino's attention. It waddled up to her, and stared up with an open mouth. She snorted softly.

“He thinks you're going to feed him, now," Drake stated, folding his arms over his chest.

“Oh, that's alright. If you don't mind, I always bring little chips of frozen yoghurt for the others," she stated, reaching into the bag she had tied to her wrist. It wasn't large or anything, but Drake shrugged his shoulders; Nev took it as silent permission and fed one to the deino. “Would Brick like one, too?" she asked, glancing in Aidan's direction.

He shrugged. "Probably too much."

Brick did, indeed, seem to be intently focused on her, and after a long moment parted his large jaws to an absurd width.

"Just give it a toss," Aidan advised. "He wouldn't bite on purpose but he's really stupid. I've got a couple scars on my leg from when I stood too close to breakfast one time and he missed."

Nev snorted softly as she tossed a chip towards Brick. Drake chuckled, though, as Deino opened his mouth again, as if anticipating another treat. Nev shook her head, but obliged the deino one more before putting the bag away.

“It must be a dragon thing, being so stupid. I can't say for certain for the rest of my team. They're usually pretty good. And Aunt Claire's dragons are well-behaved. I think you and I have crap luck when it comes to dragons, Aidan," Drake stated as he shook his head. Nev chuckled lightly.

“I don't think it's so much as luck as it is fate, really. After all, you two seem like the only ones who'd be able to care for them, properly," she stated. From what she could see of both Brick and Deino, they were well taken care of, and not just anyone would want to put in that much effort to raise a pokémon like that. Drake snorted, though.

“Fate, huh? Guess that's one way of putting it."

"Always knew my luck was shit," Aidan replied.

Brick, sensing perhaps belatedly that no more treats were forthcoming from Nev, wandered over to Aidan and closed his mouth over his trainer's shoulder. He didn't seem to be biting, exactly, more like a play version of it. Aidan sighed and lifted both arms to pry the pokémon's jaws away from himself, which Brick seemed to take as some kind of challenge. Stepping out from the garchomp's grip, Aidan continued to hold him at arm's length by the mouth, while Brick tried to get traction enough on the ground to push past the defense.

Though the muscles of Aidan's arms tensed with the effort of resisting this, his facial expression didn't change much. It seemed he was used to this kind of thing. "And they say dragons are majestic," he drawled. "Noblest pokémon type, best handled by experienced trainers only. I don't think any of those people have ever actually met one."

Drake laughed at the antics before shaking his head. “I guess they meant majestic in other ways. They were probably thinking of Dragonite or Altaria at the time they said that. Or even a Tyrantrum. Those things look majestic, but most of the other dragons are just like... Brick and Deino, here. Oh, and I actually do have a Brick of my own, other than Deino." Drake reached for one of the pokeballs at his belt and pulled one off. He gave it a light toss as the silhouette of a Gabite appeared.

It blinked at the three of them before its eyes settled on Brick. “Meet Brick Jr." Nevena laughed at the name. These two were something else, really. She felt a strange warmth in her chest as she glanced between the two. It must be nice having friends like this.

“Named after the first Brick, but luckily he's not as stupid. Hey Jr. go entertain your namesake," he stated. The Gabite merely seemed to arch a brow in Drake's direction before huffing and stalking off elsewhere. Drake shook his head and sighed.

"Sassy bastard, isn't he?" Aidan said this with some amusement. Fortunately, Brick seemed to be interested enough in this new development to ease up and plod after the gabite instead of continuing to try and play with his trainer. Grimacing, Aidan wiped his hands off on his jeans, sighing slightly and shaking his head.

He managed a lopsided, unusually carefree smile, though. "Nice running into you again, kid."

“Same to you, old man," Drake stated, grinning lightly at the statement. Nev blinked a bit and tilted her head. Aidan didn't seem much older than her, so did that mean she was an old lady to Drake? She swallowed softly and smiled, though. “And you too...?" Nevena's face turned a bright red. She'd forgotten to introduce herself!

“Oh, I'm sorry, I'm Nevena Solomon! You can just... um, I'm sorry, I didn't," she stuttered softly as she shifted nervously in her spot. She hadn't meant to forget. She just got a little excited about the recent developments. Drake didn't seem to mind, though, and laughed.

“No worries, Nev. Nice to meet you, too. Hopefully we'll be seeing the both of you around more often. I'm sure Deino and Jr. would just enjoy playing with Brick again," he stated, glancing in the direction Brick had walked off to. Nevena chuckled lightly. That sounded nice.

"Yeah, we'll just have to avoid populated areas," Aidan said, rolling his eyes. Pulling his cell from his pocket, he brushed past a few windows before handing it to Drake. "You wanna plug in your number? Feel free to let me know if the guys and girls need some exercise. Mine could always use more chances to run around where they won't accidentally destroy anything." His eyes narrowed a little, but it seemed to be in good humor.

"And I'm interested to see how good you've gotten."

“Oh, definitely."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


June 12th
Field Office 9 - Morning - Hot
Kasimir Rheinallt


Kasimir sighed, leaning back in his office chair and pinching the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb, dislodging the glasses he didn't really need.

Sometimes he almost managed to convince himself this wasn't all a ruse. He needed to be able to do that, if he was working under the likes of an arceusdamn human lie detector. But it made every reminder of what was really going on here that much starker, and sometimes he wondered how much longer he'd be able to handle it. He'd have thought, when he started this, that nothing would be as bad as those early years, when he watched every other mole, from the execs to the janitor, be removed from NTR. That maybe after a while he'd get used to this, to lying through his teeth with every breath, because even when he wasn't saying something outright false, he was pretending.

Somehow, eight years in, it was as difficult as it had ever been.

Rheinallt,

Your last report was pretty sparse. I want more details on this 'Project Nebula.' If Gregorovich is this interested in something this vague, it's big. Dig it up. This isn't a request.

-S


Sighing again, heavily this time, Kas deleted the message, then scrubbed all evidence of it and only it from his machine. He was lucky enough to be the IT guy in this office, but that was no reason to get lazy about removing evidence. Gregorovich was paranoid enough to bring in outside help if he got so much as wind of the possibility of unsanctioned outside communication, and Aidan was good enough that he might well get one eventually. He had to stay calm, and stay prepared.

And, apparently, find out exactly what he wasn't supposed to know about the boss's latest brainchild.

Well, he knew where to start, at least. Pushing back from his desk, he headed to the second-floor coffee machine and brewed up three cups' worth, doctoring one heavily with sugar, the second with cinnamon and cream, and leaving the third black, before carrying them all carefully up the stairs to the lab floor.

As expected, Sis looked to be in the middle of something, while Aidan sat at a desk in one corner of the room, apparently reading the newspaper. He couldn't see the other two scientists who used the floor; they might not be in this early. He probably shouldn't be in this early, considering the reputation he'd spent the better part of the last decade cultivating, but he supposed miracles did happen occasionally.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open with his shoulder and plastered a lopsided grin on his face. "Mornin' Sis! Mornin' boss—er, Aidan." He let the grin stretch a little wider, as though he'd just recalled that Aidan didn't like to be called boss. He set the black coffee down on the desk.

Aidan looked at him a little strangely. "Who put you on coffee delivery, Rheinallt? Don't they make interns do that or something?"

Kasimir could tell just from the question that Aidan had always just gotten his own.

"Eh, I made a whole pot, and Ryk and Cy aren't in yet. Figured I'd not let it go to waste." Technically true.

He set the sugared one down on the empty surface nearest to Nev and arched an eyebrow. "Can I ask what you're doing, Sis?"

Either she hadn't heard him, or even noticed he was in the room. She seemed to be staring intently at a piece of paper, a pen lodged behind her ear as she rubbed her chin in a thoughtful manner. She reached over, though, to where he sat the coffee cup down, and seemed vaguely surprised that there was a cup there. It caught her attention, at least, as she turned towards Kas.

“Oh, Kasimir," she stated, eyes blinking as if to bring them back into focus. “Sorry, I didn't hear you come in. I was distracted," she stated, smiling at him as she glanced at the cup. “And thank you for the coffee. As for what I'm doing," she started, moving the cup towards her and setting it down closer. She glanced in Aidan's direction for a moment before turning her attention back towards Kasimir.

“I'm going over the logistics for a particular diagram. Remember when I was in Johto?" she spoke, arching a brow. “I was studying the soundwaves that the former Team Rocket used in the Lake of Rage. I can't get it quite right, but if I do, then I'll be able to get it reconfigured to be used via a psychic pokémon's abilities and it won't be harmful. I haven't got much else other than that, though, so I'm still a bit ways off." She pursed her lips together, though, and furrowed her brows.

“What about you? What brings you in so early? From what I remember, you've never been an early pidgey," she questioned, smiling at Kas.

Soundwaves and psychic pokémon? As Kas remembered, the Lake of Rage project had been an attempt to communicate with pokémon that usually couldn't directly convey information to humans, and then to force them to evolve. The results had been... bad, to say the least, but the iteration that NTR had undertaken was at least on paper more communication and less control. Still, he made a note to look those files up—if there was that much of a similarity, it was worth having the details down pat.

He couldn't risk poking too much deeper with Aidan sitting right there, so he pretended he'd just been asking to be polite, and answered the query in turn. "I didn't sleep that well last night," he said with a shrug. Which was true, largely because he'd known to expect some kind of communication from his actual boss today. He'd sort of figured she wasn't going to be happy with his last report, but all he could do was give her the information he had. He wasn't so well-established here yet as to be above (or beneath, as the case would most likely be) suspicion.

"Figured I'd show up a little early and maybe take the afternoon to go hang out at Ana's or something." He took a drink of his own coffee, pleasantly spiced as he liked it, and glanced briefly at the paper in Nev's hand. He'd probably be able to interpret it with a bit of time, but he was well aware that he didn't have that right now, so he just memorized as much as he could get in a single glance and resolved to think about it later.

“Oh, that reminds me!" she stated, placing the paper down and turning around in her chair. It was the kind on a swivel, perhaps to make it easier to move around. She reached down into her bag, though, and seemed to rummage through it. Once she found what she was looking for, she pulled a small card from it and turned back towards Kas.

“Will you give her this? It's one of my old colleagues from back in the day. I told him that she needed some supplies for her shelter, and he's willing to donate a few of the ones he has. The small wind turbine and rain barrels he's willing to donate under the guise of being a prototype. He'd like to use whatever data she collects from it, such as how it's working, if it's doing what it needs to, and so forth. It'll really help him when he works on the next generation, and I know that she said it would be out of the way for someone like her, but..."

She tended to get a bit long-winded about things like that, Kas knew. She took in a soft breath, though, and smiled. “She doesn't have to accept it if she doesn't want to. You tell her that, too. I just... I thought it might help because her shelter is... well it's really nice compared to most I've seen and I'd like to help her out if I can."

Kas turned the card over in his fingers before nodding slightly and placing it in his back pocket. "I might leave it a bit," he observed. "She's not the type to accept generous gifts from strangers, and honestly I think we're making her a bit suspicious, coming on as strong as we are." He took another gulp of his coffee. "But I think if we give it enough time and bring it up later we can convince her to accept."

He was, after all, conscious of the fact that this was a mission first. Sis didn't have to be—it wasn't her mission. As long as she didn't actively compromise it, it'd be fine.

Turning to Aidan, Kasimir leaned back against the wall behind him and tilted his head. "Have you met her yet? Ana?"

The other man turned a page of the newspaper with a shuffle. "No. I'm not really the charismatic type, and I don't want to crowd her. Especially if she's already suspicious of her influx of new 'friends.'"

Oof. Trust the boss to make the scare quotes around that word audible and vaguely accusatory at the same time. Kasimir showed none of the slight sting he felt, though, only smiling and shrugging. "Well, maybe once we're not new anymore you should consider it. She's a sweetheart, and she seems to like Ryk just fine. He's got the charisma of an ursaring, so I think you'll be fine."

Sis chuckled lightly at the statement. “I don't know about that; Eryk seems like he's really nice albeit awkward. I suppose I should trust your assessment, more, though, considering you all share a room together," she stated, shaking her head softly. She took a sip from her coffee and smiled again. “And I suppose you're not wrong about the... well, coming on too strong bit. I don't want her to think we're just..." she pursed her lips together as if she were trying to think of the proper word she wanted to use.

“Well, I've never really had friends before so I don't know if you are really coming on strong. But I wouldn't want her to feel crowded, either. You're a sweetheart too, Kas, always helping her out. You even help me out from time to time. Just like... well I wouldn't call you a sweetheart, Aidan, but you're also very kind." She took a longer drink of her coffee this time, her cheeks turning a bit pink at the statement.

Kass was torn between rolling his eyes and bursting out laughing. That was the way of it with Sis: rambling sometimes past the point of making any sense and managing to embarrass herself along the way somehow. He shot a momentary, curious glance between her and Aidan before dismissing the thought. She was just awkward, honestly, and probably didn't mean anything in particular by it.

Chuckling softly, he shook his head. "Actually you're the one who's coming on strongest, Sis. Hence the waiting on the turbine and such. But don't worry, it's fine. I think Ana's a pretty understanding kind of person." He gave Nev's shoulder a playful, mock-consoling sort of pat, mischief glimmering in his eyes.

"Of course if you'd like to compliment us further, please feel free. I certainly won't mind—would you, Aidan?"

The other man sighed. "Go easy on her, Rheinallt."

Sis nearly choked on her coffee, some of it spitting out of her mouth as she reached for the nearest napkin. Or in this case, paper. Luckily, it was a blank sheet as she tried to wipe her face with it. Once she'd managed to wipe some of the coffee, she looked for a proper napkin and cleaned her face further.

“I, uh," she began, blinking slowly before her brows furrowed. “I compliment you enough, it seems," she murmured softly, before placing her coffee cup down. “And I don't come on strong, do I?" she asked, arching a brow in both Kas and Aidan's direction.

Kasimir snorted. "I'm not sure I know how to go easy on a question like that," he remarked, throwing a glance at Aidan.

Aidan folded the newspaper down and rolled his eyes quite visibly at the same time before turning to Nev. "By some standards you probably do," he explained patiently. "Depending on topic and context you can get very enthusiastic, which means you ramble a bit and tend to ask lots of questions. It can be overwhelming for people who don't expect it or aren't sure how to handle it, but it's not a bad thing, either." He shrugged.

Kas figured that was a very kind way of putting it, which was good because honestly it was one of Nev's better traits and he really liked it about her. "Nothing wrong with getting excited about things you like," he added with a little grin.

“Oh," she stated lightly. She pursed her lips together, almost as if she were lost in thought for a moment before she turned towards Aidan and Kas. “Please stop me if I ever get that bad. I don't... I don't want to chase people off or come off as strong, or something of that sort. I like a lot of the people here." She had a very serious expression on her face, or about as serious as she could make it, it seemed.

Aidan frowned. "Doc, relax. We like you just fine. The fact that you get carried away is part of your charm."

Kas nodded readily, downing a bit more coffee. "What he said. Besides: no one pleases everybody, and if you spend a bunch of time tying yourself in knots trying to appeal to people who wouldn't get along with the real you, you might lose it." He of all people knew that feeling all too well.

She didn't seem readily convinced, but her shoulders did ease a little. She sighed softly and took another drink of her coffee. She set it down and glanced back at her papers for a moment before something seemed to startle her. “I completely forgot!" she stated, nearly falling out of her chair, trying to turn in Kas's direction.

“We were supposed to let Meep and Floof play today, weren't we!?" she asked, eyes wide as she glanced at Kas.

He snorted, more than a little amused, and nodded slightly. "I do believe that was on the agenda, yes. If you're busy now though, I can come back around lunchtime as originally planned." He arched an eyebrow, not really concerned with choosing one opportunity over another; his work was flexible enough for the moment that he could plan around hers.

Sis glanced in Aidan's direction for a moment before turning back to Kas. “We can go now, if you'd like. I've hit a bit of a stump, anyway, so maybe letting the two play will help me clear my mind?" she stated, gathering her papers into a pile before setting them to the side.

“Oh, and if you'd like to join us, Aidan, you're more than welcome to. Unless... well, unless you have other things you need to do, of course." She continued putting all of her things away before standing to meet Kas.

He appeared to consider this a moment, but eventually shook his head. "You two have fun," he said simply, inclining his head slightly.

Kas grinned. "Somehow I always do."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


June 18th
The Cloyster - Evening - Hot
Aidan Klein


Aidan was bored.

This was not, despite his blasé attitude towards most things, a particularly common occurrence. He might not be any kind of genius or anything, but his was at least an active mind, and he usually sought out things to do or learn in what little spare time his job really afforded him. But at the moment, nothing in particular seemed to appeal. He felt a little restless; it had probably been too long since he'd properly tired himself out in front of a speedbag, but the thought of trekking to the complex's gym didn't really strike him right, either.

He hummed quietly, scratching absently behind Rex's horn. He kept the air conditioner running pretty much all the time in deference to Frost's preferences, but that did often mean that he and the houndoom wound up sharing the big sectional couch in his living room even in the middle of summer like this. Frost herself was, of course, curled up underneath one of the vents in the large bed he'd bought for her, at the moment apparently cleaning her claws. Spoiled brat.

The others were either too big or too destructive for the apartment, so in their pokeballs they remained, for now.

His eyes fell on the neat rows of disc cases built to each side of the fireplace. He wasn't sure when he'd ever use such a thing, but supposed it might occasionally get cold enough in winter to warrant it. Mostly, though, he just suspected the developers had had no idea how to build their luxury condos differently for the climate, and so had just built these like they'd have done in Saffron or anywhere else. There was a distinct lack of local flavor to them; Aidan had bought the important pieces of furniture and decorated a little bit, but it was still beige carpet and white walls and slate tiles in the kitchen and stainless steel appliances and all that other stuff that was generic and had no soul, his grandpa would've said.

It was a big step up for someone like him, but after the shine had worn off he'd found himself agreeing with the old man more than he ever thought he would.

None of the movies stuck out, so his eyes slid down to the shelf of games. He'd bought himself a console system, once, on a whim and because he could, and while he kind of liked it, he'd played everything he owned, except something called Cantour, which was apparently a co-op game he'd bought by mistake. One person played a knight character and the other a wizard, or so the cover made it seem.

An idea occurred to him, and he almost dismissed it outright, except... well, he'd heard the game was good. Couldn't hurt to try, could it?

He sighed, as much to his pokémon as to himself. "When this backfires somehow, you both have permission to call me an idiot."

Frost gave him a look that suggested she already was, and he pushed Rex off the couch so he could move, not bothering with shoes since he wasn't going far. Next door, in fact. He knocked a few times, then stood back so he wouldn't be crowding Doc when she answered. He knew she was in, because surveillance jobs were that creepy, but it was an open question whether she'd be too distracted with something to notice.

He could hear shuffling from the other side of the door, an “ow" before the door opened to reveal Basil. The bayleef blinked up at him, tilted her head, before opening the door all the way with one of her vines. Doc was halfway to the door, it seemed, when Basil opened it, and blinked in Aidan's direction with mild surprise.

“Oh, hi, Aidan. Is there something I can do for you? Er, or, well, do you want to come in?" she stated, causing Basil to roll her eyes. The bayleef left the door, though, as Doc neared it and stood to the side.

“It's, uh, a bit of a mess at the moment, though," she chuckled nervously. From what he could see, there were a few pieces of paper on the floor, an overturned chair, and a coffee mug that looked like it had fallen over. There was nothing inside, it seemed, and Basil seemed to be picking up the papers as if trying to tidy the place. Fluffy, Doc's furret, seemed to be trying to help out as well.

Aidan blinked. "You all right, Doc?" Papers being strewn around was one thing, but the overturned chair was definitely another, and the fact that she'd said 'ow' on her way over. He wondered if maybe the knock had startled her. "I can help you with the chair?" It was a question rather than a statement, mostly because—as only occasionally happened to him—he wasn't entirely sure what was even going on.

“What? Oh! Yes, no I'm fine. I just, well, I let Floof out for just a moment and she got excited is all. I, uh, kicked the chair when you knocked, but everything is fine," she stated, laughing a little nervously. She glanced back behind her where Basil and Fluffy were already setting the papers they'd gathered on the table. Basil trilled in their direction before setting the cup upright and walking over towards the fallen chair. Apparently that was her way of saying she had it.

“Was it that loud? Is that why you're here?" she asked, almost a little shyly. “I'm sorry if that was the case. I just... well, I thought she would be tired after the spending the day with Meep, but I guess I was wrong. Sorry if I disturbed you," she murmured.

"It's all right," Aidan said with a shake of his head. "You weren't too loud or anything. I uh..." He grimaced slightly, reaching up to thread his fingers through the unruly hair at the back of his head. "Honestly I was kind of bored and was wondering if you're into games at all. There's this co-op thing I need another person for. Figured I'd see if you were interested at all."

The grimace deepened. "Nothing to do with the job, so definitely feel free to say no."

She seemed to brighten at the mention of the game. “Oh, I love games!" she stated, perhaps, a little too enthusiastically. “Er, well I never really get the chance to play them, but yes, I'd love to," she stated, making to move back into her apartment before she realized something. “You're just next door, I don't need my keys," she stated nervously. Basil rolled her eyes, though, and ushered Doc out the door, trilled in Aidan's direction, and closed the door behind them. Doc blinked slowly before shrugging her shoulders.

“I guess I've been temporarily kicked out of my apartment," she stated before turning back towards Aidan. “What's the game called?"

He snorted softly, stepping aside carefully to make enough room once the door shut. Heading back to his own door, he opened it and stood aside so his guest could enter first. Rex and Frost wouldn't give her any trouble. The houndoom in fact seemed excited to see her, his thin spaded tail wagging fluidly in greeting and the ears behind his curled horns pricking upwards.

"It's called Cantour," he said, a little more relaxed now that she'd indicated interest in games in general at least. "Based on the books, I think? If you'd prefer to play something else though I've got a few options." He flipped on the lights and crossed to where the console lay nearly tucked on a shelf, bringing it down to hook into the wall-mounted television.

"Oh, and there's like snacks and drinks and stuff in the kitchen. Help yourself to anything you want while I set this up."

“Oh, do you want me to grab you anything while I'm in there?" she asked, making her way towards the kitchen. “I'm just going to grab a glass of water."

"Uh, if you don't mind grabbing one of the beers in the fridge I'd appreciate it." He went back to plugging the thing in and was satisfied when it lit up, the TV screen changing to the login one for the console. Feeding the right disk to it, he grabbed both controllers and sat on the couch, sitting Doc's on the coffee table.

"So... you can either play Ser Maribelle the knight, or Balthazar the Archmage. She's kind of the tank type, who learns healing later on; he's got a sword, but his big thing is, obviously, magic." The character select screen showed a short, redheaded woman in simple armor next to a silver-maned rapidash, and a tall, bronze-skinned fellow with white hair and intricate tattoos that were probably supposed to be arcane symbols or something. "I don't really mind either way, so you pick first."

She had set the beer in front of him, and her glass of water in front of herself before staring at the screen. She pursed her lips together before she seemed to make a selection. “I'll choose Balthazar," she stated, picking up the controller and making her selection. “Mages and magic are a lot like science... er, well, in some cases, I think. I've always been fascinated by the concept," she continued.

“Also, it's just more fun," she added, smiling somewhat as she kept her eyes on the screen. She took a drink of her water before turning her attention back towards Aidan. “Alright, so... just so you know, I may like video games but I am horrible at them. I may fail quite a number of times before I get it right. Hope you're alright with that," she stated, a small grin forming on her face.

"Doesn't bother me any, Doc," he said, half-smiling himself. Moving his cursor over Maribelle, he selected her, and the two of them were narrated through an opening cutscene describing their characters meeting in a most unfortunate location—a prison cell. After the wry Balthazar and plucky Maribelle had quickly determined that their only way out and away from the corrupt magistrate framing them both for different crimes, Aidan and Doc were given control of their characters.

Apparently they could switch between split and shared screens, but he kept it shared for now since they could both see everything in their cell just fine.

"See anything useful on your side?" he asked, directing the currently gear-less Maribelle to rifle through a dingy haystack on the left. Predictably, there was nothing in it but a rat.

“Not yet," she murmured. It seemed she was, as she'd said, having difficulty with some of the buttons. Her brows were furrowed lightly as she pushed a sigh through her nose. “Ah! Got it," she stated, managing to get her character to at least move in the right direction. She seemed satisfied with that and continued to explore the area.

“Oh, I think I found something," she stated, picking up an item, it seemed. She pursed her lips together as she pushed a button. The one she pushed, however, caused her character to throw whatever item he was holding, into a nearby hole. Doc's eyes widened slightly as her mouth opened in shock, it seemed. “I wasn't trying to do that," she murmured softly.

Aidan huffed softly. "Well, uh... check your spells. I bet Balthazar has some basic telekinesis or something. I don't recommend falling in that hole, though. If it's at the side of a prison cell it's probably a latrine or something." The cell door, as expected, was locked. Interestingly, Maribelle had an option to try breaking it, but he wasn't sure that would work, and it might draw attention they weren't prepared to handle just yet.

“Huh, alright," she stated, moving her character away from the hole. She pushed another button, and pursed her lips together when Balthazar seemed to use a spell that she hadn't intended for him to use. Her eyes narrowed slightly at the screen as her brows furrowed. “How... am I this bad," she muttered more to herself than to Aidan.

Taking a deep breath, Doc pushed another button, and seemed to find the inventory button, at least. “Okay, so that's that," she murmured before a look of surprise crossed her face. “Oh, I picked up a key. Maybe it's for this door," she stated, moving Balthazar towards the door Aidan's character had been. She didn't seem to be paying attention to where she was going, though, and Balthazar fell into one of the holes on the ground. A shocked expression crossed Doc's face as her mouth opened slightly, and she took in a sharp breath.

“Did I just... I killed Balthazar," she stated, turning her shocked expression towards Aidan.

"...you did." Aidan blinked at the screen as the character respawned. "I'm... kind of surprised that's even possible on the tutorial level, honestly." Sure it was a big dungeon cell in a creepy castle, but why were there so many holes in the ground anyway?

He caught a glimpse of Doc's face, though, and could only chuckle. "Well, uh... we learned not to fall in holes, I s'pose. Let's give it another go, shall we?"

“Of course! Nevena Solomon does not give up that easily!" she stated, seemingly determined to at least get past this first level.

He figured they might manage it... give or take a few hours.

Setting

Characters Present

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


June 23rd
Cinnabar Recreation Center - Afternoon - Overcast
Kasimir Rheinallt


It hadn't been the most spectacular day for a picnic—hot and overcast and occasionally spitting a light rain—but that was what backup locations were for, and so NTR had rented space at the local rec center, which was sort of a combination gym, arcade, and go-kart track. Those participating in the team build had eaten their food in a sullen silence broken only occasionally by the more outgoing and friendly of their number, and now they were lining up across from each other on opposite sides of the gymnasium.

Kas had a feeling this was meant to look kind of unfair: it was himself, Ryk, Aidan, and Cyrilla against literally everyone else on staff, from the admin assistants to the grunts to the scientists, a good twenty-some people. and it was decidedly unfair. Just not in the way most of them were expecting.

Because what that amounted to was him, two actual ninjas, and Aidan against a bunch of office workers ad assorted nerds. While he'd happily count himself among the latter kind of people on most days, he was rather more like the ninjas for this particular purpose. And today was apparently the day that the grunt team figured that out.

"Y'know, Cy, I'm aware competition is encouraged in NTR culture, but I think this is just going to piss off a lot of people," he said, watching as Tanya the HR manager distributed red rubber and foam balls about the size of his head around the gym. About half the people total would start with one, including all four on the so-called 'executive team.' Kas caught the one lobbed for him in one large hand, rolling it along his forearm and launching it off his elbow, only to catch it in his other hand.

Cyrilla huffed lightly as she arched a brow at Kas. “You'd piss people off either way, even if it wasn't dodgeball. The lesson, here, is that they at least have a chance at hitting us. I mean, they'll fail, but if it's in their head that there is just the slightest chance they could win? I'd count that as something," she spoke, shrugging her shoulders lightly.

“It's not like it was a particularly bad idea, though," she added. Eryk looked about as pleased as the grunts did, his brows furrowed and lips pursed thinly.

“Why'd you even suggest this, Cy?" he asked, arching a brow at her. She arched hers right back at him, though.

“Dodgeball? Because I thought it would be a good way for you to lose some of that tension you have. If you're really against it, you can let one of the grunts hit you, and you can go sit out, you know. You don't have to take this seriously, even if the grunts will."

Kas somehow doubted there was any chance of Ryk losing on purpose. He wasn't really that kind of guy. Sure he might forfeit a thing before it started if he had no interest, but once he was in, he was in. He was less sure about whether Aidan would bother taking it seriously, but the other guy had at least picked up one of the balls, glancing over at them with a raised eyebrow.

"You'd piss them off less if you could make it look like it was close. Almost get hit a few times, juggle some catches, miss some shots. Up to you though. Not like I give a damn if the whole office wants your heads." He shrugged.

"Thanks, bossman, that's real encouraging," Kas replied, though it was obviously a joke. Aidan rolled his eyes at the nickname, but offered no further rejoinders. "So... what's our strategy here? Total decimation? Lose on purpose? Make them think they have a chance? Somewhere in the middle?"

“Depends. Do we want the grunts to hate us more than they already do, or do we want them to at least feel better about themselves?" Cyrilla asked. Eryk furrowed his brows lightly as if he were contemplating the options Kas had mentioned.

“We're not losing on purpose," he spoke, slumping his shoulders a bit, “but the whole purpose of the team build is to reinforce the bonds is it not?" He arched a brow in Aidan and Kas's direction for a moment. “I suggest we do something in the middle. Make it look like they have a chance, but also let them know that we're not going to go down without a fight."

“There's the competitive Ryk I know," Cyrilla stated, smiling softly before shaking her head. She held her ball against her hip as she arched a brow in Kas and Aidan's direction. “I guess we have a strategy, unless you'd like to do something different."

They both shrugged. Kas was fine with not being hated, and he suspected Aidan really didn't care, so that it was.

Tanya, self-appointed referee, blew a whistle, which apparently signaled the start of the match, because a bunch of red projectiles came flying in for them. This was going to be the only reasonably challenging part, actually—surviving the initial barrages, which would at least be dense enough to be interesting.

Kas immediately fired his own ball, catching one of the admin assistants on the shoulder, knocking him out, then ducked under a few and plucked one out of the air—getting your shot caught was a way of being knocked out also. It appeared to have belonged to one of the grunts, who joined the assistant on the side of the ring next to Tanya.

Aidan just used his ball to block a few initial shots, then lobbed it for a knot of grunts, who were clearly not expecting it to be that fast. It managed to hit two of them, then ricochet and narrowly miss a third. Shrugging, the other man stooped to pick up a second ball.

Eryk and Cy spent most of their time dodging, not really throwing or catching any of the balls. It seemed they were assessing things before Ryk finally threw his ball, catching a grunt in the gut. It wasn't hard, at least it didn't seem to be thrown with too much force, but it was enough that the grunt dropped his ball before grumbling and walking off the floor.

Sis seemed to be doing alright on her own, but she was smiling as she tossed a ball towards the group of executives. She dodged a few balls seemingly well, but it didn't appear that she had enough arm strength to actually throw the ball very well. Cyrilla managed to catch two other grunts, narrowly dodging a ball herself. Whether it was on purpose or a grunt had come really close to hitting her, it was unclear.

Eryk managed to hit another two grunts, and caught a ball just as it soared near him. He hadn't been looking, either. He shook his head softly before throwing the ball back into the fray.

Between them, they whittled down the numbers, weaving in a few 'narrow misses' and things that caused the growing audience to groan in the distinctive way of a sport fan narrowly thwarted, which Kas figured was a good sign. Of course, should any of the four of them actually get hit, about a quarter of the Grunts would be able to return to the floor, so no few of them were shouting for their remaining teammates to take out their preferred target.

But sure enough, it wasn't too long before the grunt team was down to the final five, at which point Aidan caught one of Sis's weak tosses, taking her out of the match that way instead of by direct hit. That left Niko, who was probably the most athletic of the lot, Luke, who was probably the smartest of those left, Hayley, and Lorraine.

From a field of twenty-five-on-four to an even match.

Niko struck first, aiming for Kas, who knocked aside the ball with his own, aiming it a little towards Cyrilla. "Hey Cy! Catch!"

Cyrilla caught it and chucked it straight for Lorraine, who managed to knock the ball aside. Lorraine threw her ball at Cyrilla, who narrowly dodged it. Either Lorraine was fairly good at throwing things, or she was intently focused on taking Cy out. Eryk, however, threw his ball at Luke. He had done a fairly decent job of mostly taking out grunts with catching their ball rather than hitting them.

Lorraine seemed to mouth something at Hayley, though, and it seemed that they were going to focus their efforts on him.

Luke almost managed to catch the thing, juggling it awkwardly for several seconds before losing grip on it, putting him out of the game. That left Lorraine and Hayley, who were indeed focusing on Ryk. Kas waited until they were both committed to their throws before launching a quick one of his own, catching Hayley in the hip.

Aidan caught her toss, leaving only the one for Ryk to deal with.

Ryk and Cy shared a glance, something knowing between the two of them as he lifted his ball in Lorraine's direction. He made to throw it, however; Cyrilla threw hers first. Eryk's ball quickly followed after. Lorraine only had enough time to block one of the balls headed her way before the ball Ryk threw caught her in the shoulder.

That signaled the end of the game, and Lorraine mumbled something beneath her breath as she walked over towards the group of grunts. Sis came over to the group, shortly, and smiled brightly at the four of them. “That was a lot of fun," she spoke as she glanced at the group. Cyrilla snorted softly and shook her head.

“I don't think I've ever participated in a dodgeball game since middle school," she continued. Eryk tilted his head slightly but didn't seem inclined to say anything.

Aidan huffed quietly. "I think probably elementary school for me," he noted. "Guess I wasn't too rusty, though."

Kas grinned at the both of them. "You guys did pretty well for old folks," he teased. "What was that, like twenty-five years ago?"

"C'mere and say that to my face, you little punk." Aidan's deadpan was accompanied by an exaggerated step forward, and Kas barked a laugh, taking a similar step.

"I said you're old!" he teased, at even greater volume.

Aidan's brows knit, and he tilted his head slightly to the side. "Yeah, no, that's accurate," he replied in the same flat tone. "Can't get mad when you're right."

“Almost twenty years for me," Sis replied, not at all put off by the statement, it seemed. She merely chuckled, followed by Cyrilla. Eryk merely arched his brow before his eyes narrowed slightly.

“You'll be their age soon enough, Kas," he spoke, folding his hands into his pant pockets. Cyrilla rolled her eyes and nudged Eryk slightly in the arm.

“So will you, Ryk. All of us will, eventually, but that's not the point. Point is we all had fun," Cyrilla stated as Ryk shrugged his shoulders. Sis chuckled and shook her head.

“Maybe we should all go get dinner after this? You know, as a bit of a celebratory 'we all had fun despite our ages' kind of thing?" she suggested.

Aidan shook his head, but seemed amenable enough. "There's a couple places around, sure."

It sounded like a plan to Kas. But first...

"In the meantime, why don't we mix up these teams a bit and try again? Should be reasonably fair if it's only one ninja per team, right?" He grinned at Ryk and Cy.

Cyrilla scoffed lightly. “I don't know about that. We can always give it a try, though. What do you say, Ryk?" Eryk seemed to contemplate the statement before shrugging his shoulders.

“Should be fine," he replied simply.

“Well, then let's see what happens." The grin on Cyrilla's face was almost malicious before it disappeared.

Kas immediately stepped towards her side, moving to sling his arm around her shoulders but pausing before he actually touched her, to make sure it was all right for him to do so. "I'm with this ninja," he said quickly, smiling broadly at the other three.

She didn't seem to mind as she leaned towards his hand. Her brow was arched in Ryk's direction as he merely shrugged his shoulders. “Guess that means you're stuck with Ryk, Aidan," she spoke, turning her attention towards him. Eryk huffed lightly, though, as if he were somewhat amused by the thought.

“There are worse people to be stuck with, Cy," he stated.

“You won't be saying that when you lose. And I know how much you hate losing, Ryk." Eryk's brow arched almost in a challenging manner, though.

Kas settled his arm down, grin growing a little. "We're gonna have to work on your trash talk, Ryk. But first, we're gonna kick your asses, so you have that to look forward to." With a wink, he turned himself and Cyrilla to face the rest of the crowd. "All right, grunts, assistants, and nerds! The half of you that would like to be on the winning team can come hang out with me and Cy here. The rest of you have to be on a team with those two shaggy guys, so take your pick!"

There was an immediate shuffle, new teams forming up, and Kas patted Cy's shoulder once before he stepped away to prepare.

All in all, not a bad idea.

Setting

Characters Present

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


July 17th
Downtown Cinnabar - Afternoon - Sunny
Aidan Klein


It wasn't entirely unlike watching a train wreck in slow motion. Or maybe bacteria bumping against each other under a microscope or something.

Apparently at some point, Nero had decided he needed help with his social skills. Not an entirely unreasonable thing to want help with, sure, though typically Aidan would have recommended... well, not this. Maybe therapy or something—shit knew the kid could probably use it for other reasons, too. But somehow Rheinallt had been appointed to help him out. On its own this wasn't that weird either—the guy was charming in a way Aidan could recognize but not emulate, and his facility with people probably came from understanding them, rather than pure unexplainable instinct or something, like some people had. It meant he'd be able to teach.

But then Doc had wanted to be involved, too, and since it was work hours that meant he was along for the ride, and here they were downtown and he wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen. Kasimir had suggested lunch first, which seemed reasonable, so they were all arrayed around an outdoor café table now, working their way through food and drinks.

"Okay so I know I agreed to help with this and all," Rheinallt said, gesturing vaguely with a cheese-covered french fry, "but if I taught you everything I know about getting along with people we'd be here... longer than any of our patience would tolerate. So maybe you could both explain to me exactly what you're hoping to work on here?" He took a large bite from the fry and glanced back and forth between Doc and Nero.

Nero was regarding Rheinallt with a flat look, one that probably meant he was thinking. Doc, however, seemed to furrow her brows as she chewed thoughtfully on one of the fries. “I guess I'd like to know how to not make a fool of myself," she spoke softly, pursing her lips in Rheinallt's direction. “For instance, I mistook Aidan for a Farfetch'd driver when we first met," she murmured, dropping her gaze somewhat as she shifted in her spot.

“I think that's a good start, right?" she stated, looking somewhat hopeful. Nero, however, shook his head.

“Not to be so blunt," Nero finally responded, taking a bite out of his nachos.

Aidan took a bite of his sandwich, flicking his eyes back to Rheinallt, who sighed. He could understand why—those were one very vague and one very specific—but hard to act upon—direction. Not to mention Doc and Nero were wildly different cases. Not opposite, exactly, but definitely not the same.

"Good grief," he muttered under his breath. "Okay, uh..." He pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. "Both of those problems fundamentally start with observation. You need to be able to figure out what people are like basically, and you need to be able to pick up on nonverbal cues in the moment that will tell you how they're reacting to what you're doing. So you have that much in common at least. Sort of. I guess we can start there."

That made sense. Bluntness was relative—knowing when he was being too blunt with someone would probably help Nero. Should also help Doc remember to stop rambling, if she recognized the signs that the other person wanted to say something. Though really he thought both of them didn't have 'problems' with people so much as their personalities were just a little different. Neither of them bothered him any, for instance.

"Okay so... Sis. What, exactly, made you think Aidan was a Farfetch'd driver? I have to admit I'm... not really seeing it." Rheinallt grinned to take any edge out of the comment, but it seemed to be a genuine inquiry.

“Oh, well," she sputtered a little as she glanced down at her hands. “I've used the service before and most people who've picked me up always sort of looked like Aidan," she spoke all in one breath. Her face tinged a bit with a pink hue, but she took a drink of her water and laughed a little nervously.

“I think it was mostly just the shades and cigarette, really. I didn't expect him to be... well, him," she continued.

Aidan snorted softly, swallowing his bite of sandwich before he inadvertently choked on it or something. That was her whole basis for thinking so? It was kind of funny to him, actually, somehow perfectly characteristic of who Doc was—she was an absolutely brilliant researcher, he had no shred of doubt at that, but she seemed to have trouble turning that native sharpness to other enterprises.

"On a surface level that's not terrible," he admitted. "I don't dress like what people typically think of when they picture an NTR administrator, but I don't look like most grunts, either, and that was what you were expecting." He tilted his head. "But that there's half your problem. You were expecting something in particular, and so you got into a mode of thinking where you were making comparisons between what you were actually seeing and different sets of archetypes in your head. Everyone does it, but the trick to being good at observation is to only ever do that on purpose, and to try and look at important things with fresh eyes all the time."

He glanced at Rheinallt, lifting an eyebrow. "You mind?"

"Not at all," the other man said with a grin. "Even I'm interested to hear what the human lie detector has to say about observing."

Aidan rolled his eyes. "That's a dumb name," he said simply. People did call him that, though. He chose not to dwell on it. "Anyway." Fishing his packet of cigarettes out from his pocket, he took the sunglasses from off his head and laid both on the table. "Looking a little closer at the same things... what do you see?"

Rheinallt smirked, seeming to know the answer, but left it a moment to see if either of the others would say anything.

Doc stared at the sunglasses a little, head tilting to the side as if she were inspecting them. Nero merely looked like he was glaring at them. “Your cigarettes aren't from around here. You can't get those here. I've seen them mostly in Saffron and Celadon City, though," he spoke, finally. He didn't seem to know much about the glasses, though, as his eyes stayed glued to them.

Doc looked vaguely surprised, as if she hadn't known that. Given that she didn't smoke, or drink, she probably didn't. “The glasses, they're Flygons, right?" she stated, arching a brow in Aidan's direction. “A lot of professional battlers and gym leaders wear this type. Especially the ones who are specific to fighting-types and water-types," she stated, listing off the things she knew about the glasses.

Aidan was surprised she knew of the pro-battling connection; he filed the information away into his own set of observations about Doc herself before nodding. "You're both exactly right. So now you have to put it back in context. You've just been approached on the dock by someone who seems to know who you are, on your way to a new job with NTR. He's not dressed any particular way, but he imports his cigarettes from elsewhere and wears the kind of sunglasses professional battlers tend to like. What's he most likely to be?" He shrugged, picking both items up off the table and replacing them where they went.

It was not, of course, impossible that someone like that could drive for Farfetch'd, of course, but there was a subtle implication in both observations taken together: the person in question was financially comfortable in a way the average Farfetch'd driver wasn't. That might not be fair, but it was fact. And observations inherently dealt in statistics like that.

Rheinallt nodded. "And as it happens, noticing stuff like that can sometimes provide good topics of conversation, too. You seemed to know a lot about the sunglasses, Sis. That's the kind of thing you can chat with a stranger about in a casual setting like a bar or party or whatever. One of the tricks to stuff like this—and Ryk, you can use this too—is to ask questions instead of making statements. So even if I had a pretty good guess that Aidan here was the Aidan Klein, undefeated former pokémon champion of Kanto, I wouldn't just go up to him and say as much. I could get at it less bluntly. Something like..."

He turned to Aidan, body language clearly asking him to play along. "Hey man, are those the Flygon F9s?"

Deciding to humor him, Aidan nodded slightly. "Good eye; yeah, they are."

"They work as well as everyone says they do? I've been looking to get a new pair. Island's damn bright, but I don't want to lose them in the water on day one."

"Haven't had any issues," Aidan replied. "Water, though—you surf or something?"

Rheinallt grinned, then turned back to the others. "See, Aidan just did one of the things everyone should know how to do. He turned the conversation back around on me. Supposing he's not too enthusiastic about getting fawned over, it's exactly the right way to redirect before I manage to ask him about battling. Plus, it's flattering. Generally, people like it when you show interest in them, and let them talk about things they care about. Only if you can make it seem genuine, of course, but that's pretty true of anything."

“Oh, but that was brilliant, though. I couldn't do something like that even if I tried," Doc spoke, but she was smiling a bit. Nero, however, rolled his eyes lightly, and took a bite of his nachos. “I don't think I'll ever get to be that savvy, but I suppose I don't have to be," she continued, her smile brightening a bit.

“Hm," it was more of a grunt than anything coming from Nero, but it sounded as if he was agreeing with Doc.

“I think I just need to be more comfortable, and... learn how to not ramble so much."

Nero shrugged. “There are worse things than rambling, Solomon," he spoke, arching a brow in her direction. She huffed lightly, and nodded her head.

“I suppose you're right about that, but it would be helpful. Sometimes I just keep going and say things I shouldn't," she murmured, taking a drink of her water. “Like when I told Aidan he wasn't necessarily a sweetheart like you were but... and I'm doing it again," she stated, turning pink in the cheeks as Nero arched a confused brow in her direction.

Aidan rolled his eyes; Rheinallt burst out laughing.

"I guess recognizing it is the first step," he said, wiping an imaginary tear from the corner of one eye. "Look, Sis, it's like... conversations have a flow, right? That's what makes them conversations, as opposed to lectures: both people participate. Remembering to ask more questions will help if you also remember to wait for the answers."

Shrugging, Aidan added nonchalantly: "One of the things I used to do was pause for a sec every time I was about to start talking. Helped me catch myself from saying stupid shit a few times. Sometimes you just need to give your brain time to catch up with your mouth." He took another bite of his sandwich.

"That's a good one for you, too, Ryk. But even more importantly, you've got to learn the difference between a true thing and a thing you should say. They're not completely the same."

Doc chuckled lightly as she grinned at Rheinallt. “Then I suppose I have a bit of work ahead of me," she stated, causing Nero to roll his eyes.

“Not as much as I do," he muttered, taking the last bite of his nachos and washing it down. Doc chuckled again and nodded her head.

“I think we have a good chance, though, Eryk. Between the both of us, we'll get it right," she stated, sounding a bit optimistic. Nero arched a brow at her but shrugged his shoulders. His way of agreeing, perhaps. He shrugged a lot when he did.

"I've got more work to do here than the both of you put together," Rheinallt grumbled, but he didn't try to conceal his good humor about it. Aidan got the impression a lot of his demeanor was kind of a facade, but at the same time there was something at least basically genuine about it, and here he thought they intersected a bit.

Personally, Aidan wouldn't be surprised if he'd had to learn a lot of this the way they were. Social grace wasn't something everyone could perfect by any means—he'd learned enough to get by and been uninterested in anything further. Not that he didn't see the advantages. He just didn't think they were worth the sacrifices.

"It's not that bad," he replied, washing down his sandwich with a swig from the glass of soda sitting next to it. "You don't have to make them as good at this as you are. Shit, I don't think most people could be."

Rheinallt shrugged. "Was that a roundabout way of saying I'm charming?"

"No, but I don't reject the implication, I suppose."

He barked a laugh. "And that was what we in the business call 'damning with faint praise.' Way to shoot me down, Boss. Breakin' my heart over here."

"You'll live. And I told you not to call me boss."

“But you are charming, Kasimir," Doc replied after she'd manage to recover from the small bout of laughter. “Very much, so," she added, causing Nero to roll his eyes and take another drink of his water.

“You shouldn't tell him things like that. It'll go straight to his head and you'll never hear the end of it," Nero murmured against his glass. Doc seemed confused by his statement before it dawned on her that he wasn't being serious.

“Oh, well, still. I think Kasimir is very charming albeit a little silly sometimes. But again, it's part of his charm and it works very well for him," she continued, smiling as if she were proud of the things she'd just stated.

"Aaaaaaand there it is again. Y'know Sis, most people are satisfied by saying a thing once, instead of twice and with extra," Rheinallt was looking at her with amusement.

It was, in fact, a thing that Doc did. In fairness to her the reassertion wasn't always needless, but for the most part it was fairly extraneous by most standards. Then again, most conversations were full of extraneous things. Filler words, pauses, repetition. It wasn't a terrible thing.

"Why are the both of you doing this, anyway?" he asked them, fairly sure he knew but wanting to hear it in their own terms. Maybe that was why Doc's redundancy didn't bother him much: for him, most conversations were redundant to things he'd already picked up from observation, but that didn't mean that people actually saying what was on their mind was bad.

“Well, mostly so I'll stop doing things like that," she murmured softly, eyes falling to the table for a moment before they shifted to her cup. She picked it up and held it in her hands for a moment before taking a drink from it. “And I thought it might be useful to know how to get along with people. I know Kasimir said that no one pleases everyone, and I'm not trying to. I just thought that if I knew how to approach people better, I wouldn't necessarily make a fool of myself. I'm notorious for doing that," she stated, twirling the cup in her hand.

Nero shrugged, though. “Mostly so that I don't unintentionally screw things up by saying something that'll offend someone. Certain people, at least," was his simple reply.

Nero's reasons, he could understand, with a sensitive mission like his still ongoing. His file had... overstated his people skills considerably. Aidan wasn't sure why, because it certainly wasn't something he'd misrepresent himself. That guy was a lot of things, but generally speaking dishonest and overambitious weren't among them.

Something better thought about later, though. It probably came back to what it always did: the Kogas pulling strings.

He could only scratch his head a bit, though, when he considered Doc's answer. "I dunno where you're getting this idea that you 'make a fool of yourself,' Doc. Everyone one makes the occasional observational error, and there's really nothing wrong with the way you talk or anything." He shrugged. "If you're in it for yourself, go for it, but if you're worried about offending people or some shit, I think that's all or mostly in your head."

"He's not wrong," Rheinallt replied. "Some people even find mannerisms like yours to be cute for their own reasons, and prefer someone earnest and excitable like that."

Doc's face turned a deep shade of red, and she turned her attention towards the cup in her hands. She seemed more interested in staring at it than anyone else. “I'm not so sure about that," she murmured softly, but shook her head. Nero glanced in Doc's direction but shook his head. “But this was interesting and a little fun," she stated, smiling a bit. She still didn't look up from her cup, though.

“Interesting, I'll give you that. Fun... perhaps for Kas," Nero spoke, turning his attention towards Rheinallt and regarding him with a flat stare.

Rheinallt only smiled, in a way he supposed was meant to be vague and mysterious. Aidan saw right through it—he was more than a little amused, to be sure.

"Who knows?" he said, lifting his shoulders in a nonchalant shrug. "Finish your lunches, and we'll move onto actually talking to people."

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 spicy 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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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July 25th
The Camellia Festival - Evening - Clear
Nevena Solomon


At some point during the night, the group had split from each other, though Nevena wasn't going to complain. This was, perhaps, the most fun she'd ever had, and that meant a great deal to her. Going to festivals, playing silly games with friends, these were things she never got to experience in her youth. Her parents never had the time to take her to the festivals, and she didn't have any friends she could go with. As she got older, a lot of her time was spent studying in school, and trying to make it into the position she had, now. It had been a lot of work, but part of Nev wondered if it had cost her more than she'd realized.

Pushing the thought out of her mind, she glanced towards Aidan, and smiled at him. “Are you having as much fun as everyone else is?" she decided to ask. She thought he was having some kind of fun since he'd actually laughed, earlier. Well... more like he chuckled, but it was still in the same category, right? And it had been nice, winning that three-legged race even if they'd tripped at the end. She had, of course, belatedly realized what she had said, but was glad that nothing was taken too seriously about it. It was just something she tended to do when she was excited.

She just blurted out the first thing came to her mind, and she forgot to pay attention to it. None of the others seemed bothered by it; they were oddly accepting of it, now that she thought about it. She supposed it was because they all had their own little quirks about them, and they were just generally nicer than the people she was used to being around. Most of the people she was used to were other scientists who weren't as forgiving as the others had been. It was... nice.

Aidan, who'd been gradually working on a small paper bag of takoyaki, smiled a little as he chewed, offering the sack of fried octopus rings towards her when he swallowed. "I'm not sure it's possible for me to have as much fun as some of you are right now, but I'm enjoying myself," he replied, sounding rather sincere about it. Well, at least for him. He seemed to generally be pretty deadpan or a little wry, but he wasn't mean about it.

"Did you three have fun with your clothes and stuff?" He asked, motioning to her yukata. "Somehow I imagine it being a lot more... involved, than what the other two and I did. Which was basically walk into a store and let Rheinallt bully us into what he thought looked best."

She took one of the rings, and nodded her head. “I did, actually. I've never had to wear one before so I didn't know how to put it on. Cyrilla and Ana both showed me how to put one on, so I can say that it was a fun experience. Cyrilla did my hair for me and Ana let us use the flowers from her garden as decorations," she stated before taking a bite out of the ring. She huffed a little at his statement, though. That sounded a little like Kasimir, but she had a feeling it was more that he was giving them suggestions on what to get. He and Cyrilla always looked so nicely put together, so she didn't put it past him to be able to pick things out for Aidan and Eryk.

“But he chose a really good one for you. It looks nice, especially the shade of purple. It really matches your, um... look?" she stated, unsure if that was the right word to use. She smiled a little nervously, and cleared her throat.

"My look?" he repeated, arching an eyebrow. "Would that be the one where I resemble a juvenile delinquent or the one where I remind people of the boss?" The smile playing at the edges of his mouth gave away the lightness of the question, and he bit into another takoyaki ring. "I'd never bothered with these before, either, actually," he noted after he'd swallowed. A small curl of steam wafted from the remainder of the ring, visible even in the spare light, which was mostly confined to lanterns and the night sky overhead now: the normal streetlights had been dimmed, probably for atmosphere or something.

"Glad I pass muster, Doc. Wouldn't want to embarrass you."

Nev huffed a little as she shook her head. “I don't think you could ever embarrass me," she replied, rolling her eyes in a good natured way. “Me, on the other hand... that's a whole other story," she added. “I do it even when I'm not trying to. And I don't think you look like a juvenile delinquent when you're dressed mostly in black. I thought that was more just your style. It suits you, though. It really makes the red in your hair stand out. Almost reminds me of a rapidash or a ponyta's mane."

In certain lighting, it definitely passed as something that looked more like an open flame than anything else. It was... bright, to say the least. She took another bite of her takoyaki ring, chewing on that before she said anything else embarrassing.

He laughed, then, and it wasn't just a chuckle, either. It wasn't especially loud, either, but it was a proper laugh nonetheless, and with his free hand, he reached over to pat her head, careful not to disturb Cyrilla's work but ruffling it just the faintest bit. "If I'm rapidash, you can be a torchic," he said, dropping the hand away.

"You give the weirdest compliments." He did, though, seem to understand that it had been meant as a positive thing.

Nev tilted her head a bit at the statement but shrugged her shoulders. If she was a torchic and he was a rapidash, then that meant they meshed pretty well together. “It's mostly a work-in-progress, my giving compliments to people," she stated, huffing lightly to herself. “I'm not used to doing it as you can tell. I just, hm, how can I put this," she began, pursing her lips together. She wasn't used to giving people compliments. She could praise people; that was something completely different than a compliment. Not so much, but enough that it was difficult for Nev.

“I can praise people, but I can't compliment them very well even if it is, fundamentally, the same thing. Or at least similar enough," she murmured softly, finishing off the takoyaki ring she had. “But hey, it's a start, right?" she added, grinning back at him.

He considered this a moment, offering the bag back to her once her ring was gone. "You mean like... praise as in 'commend someone for their work or something they've done,' as opposed to compliments about... traits they have or things they are?" He seemed to be asking for confirmation of his thought, intent on understanding the distinction.

"If that's it, I get it. I think it might be because praise is earned, and sometimes even expected, if a person's done something to warrant it. But compliments are like... sometimes they say more about you than the other person, where praise is mostly about them. Or at least that's what I've found to be true." He shrugged. "Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes."

“I suppose that's one way of looking at it," she stated, taking another ring and took a bite out of it. She chewed it over carefully as she contemplated his statement, though. Praise was expected whereas a compliment wasn't always expected. “I guess I still need a bit of practice on that. Like I said, it's a work-in-progress, but I think I might be able to manage it with yours and Kas's help," she stated. There were some things she just didn't quite get, and she wondered if it was mostly just the social aspects of her life that were lacking.

“Like I've said, I've never really had friends before, and my social skills aren't quite polished the same way like Kasimir's are, or even yours. This is all kind of new for me, and I'm willing to learn," she added, smiling just a bit as she took another bite of the takoyaki ring.

He nodded a little. "I mostly learned for work," he admitted. "Honestly, I don't have a lot of charisma. I'm just good at seeing things." Aidan tilted his head, though, and regarded her evenly for a moment as they walked. "And it's not a bad thing to want to be smoother or whatever. But you know you don't have to, right? You're fine the way you are, Doc. And that's a compliment, in case it wasn't obvious." He half-smiled, then turned his attention back to the path ahead of them.

She felt her cheeks burn slightly as she turned her attention to her feet. While he might think that, Nev didn't quite believe so. If she were just a little more charming, or a little more smooth, as he'd said, she might have been able to convince more people to fund her research. Gregorovich had been the only one to do so, but Nev wasn't so sure as to why he was interested in her work to begin with. She pushed the thought from her mind, though, and smiled a bit.

“Thank you, then, for the compliment. You're not so bad yourself, you know," she stated, smiling softly. She turned her attention back towards the path as well, and blinked slowly when a sign caught her attention. Her eyes widened as she turned towards Aidan. “They have a petting zoo!" she stated. “Can we go?"

He looked at her incredulously, wadding up the empty paper bag and tossing it into a nearby trash can. "What're you asking permission for? Go ahead." Aidan made a vague shooing motion with one arm, but started in the same direction himself, a clear indicator that he planned to accompany her. Admission seemed to be free, and Aidan scanned the pens automatically, probably checking to see that they conformed with regulations. He raised no objections, though, so they must have.

"Who're we seeing first?"

“Oh, I don't know!" Nev stated as she glanced around. There were a couple of vulpix, a swirlix, a couple of buneary, a growlithe, and several eevee. They all looked to be mostly young pokemon, but they must have been of proper age to be at the petting zoo. Nev knew that if they weren't at least a few months old, they weren't supposed to be in places like this. There was even an altaria, and strangely, a tauros.

“Oh!" she stated, making her way towards a cluster of zigzagoon. “They're so cute!" she continued, kneeling down so that she could see them better. “They even have a shiny one!" she stated, leaning over towards the copper-looking zigzagoon. She felt her eyes narrow with the force of her smile as it walked up to her, sniffing her hand before it allowed her to pick it up.

“Look at this face!" she stated, holding the zigzagoon in her hands, but showing it to Aidan at the same time.

"I see it," Aidan replied in his customary deadpan. "I see the face." He reached forward, though, to give the pokémon a gentle scratch behind the ears before he was all but mobbed by the growlithe and both vulpix, all of whom sniffed curiously at his ankles.

He rolled his eyes, but crouched anyway, draping his elbows over his knees and letting them approach his hands, which seemed to be equally sniff-worthy. "This is what happens when you live with a houndoom and a ninetales, I guess," he said, picking a bit of loose grass off of one of the vulpix's tails with careful fingers and discarding it to the side.

Nev, who'd been mid face rub with the zigzagoon, snickered softly at Aidan. “It could be worse," she stated, setting the zizagoon down. It seemed a bit disappointed, but waddled over to join the two vulpix and growlithe. Nev opened her mouth to say something when she felt something nudging her back. She blinked and turned to see what it was, and was slightly surprised to see the tauros there. She giggled softly and scratched at the place between its horns and forehead.

“I can almost see a theme going, though," she finally stated, letting her hand rest on the tauros's head. “The red hair, the fire pokémon; you should have been a fire-type trainer. You could have been Kanto's Champion with just the one type," she stated, smiling a bit in Aidan's direction. Honestly, he could have chosen just about any type of pokémon and still managed to become the Champion. He was that good of a trainer from what she remembered about his battling days.

He scoffed softly. "I think Frost would have a few things to say about that," he observed. "And believe it or not, the first pokémon I ever trained was an electric-type." He fell silent for a moment, scratching zigzagoon under the chin with a strangely-blank look on his face before he stood, straightening his yukata with a frown.

"How did people ever wear these all the time?" he grumbled.

Nev chuckled a little at his last statement. “Because I think they're used to it at this point. We don't have to wear them all the time, or at all, so we're not quite as comfortable," she stated, smiling in his direction. She wondered what had happened to his first pokémon. He didn't have any electric-type pokémon with him that she had seen. It was possible that the pokémon was being stored in a PC box somewhere where it was comfortable, but she didn't want to pry.

“You could have had Frost, too. She could have been your surprise player," she added. “Drake has a gyarados, which is dragon-like, but still classified as a dual water and flying-type. I believe Aurora even has a magby, and she's the gym leader in Cerulean. Oh, and then there is Briggs who has a girafarig, and he's Pewter City's gym leader."

He arched an eyebrow at her. "I know," he said dryly. "But it's more interesting that you do. Don't tell me you're a pro-battling nut, Doc." Despite the words, he seemed more amused by the thought than anything, joining her to rub at the thick mane of hair around tauros's neck and chest with both hands.

"You can deny it if you want to and I'll keep quiet, but the evidence is there." A smile quirked one corner of his mouth. "Now I'm offended you didn't recognize me when we met."

Nev pursed her lips together and felt her cheeks heat up a bit. “First, I am a fan," she began, turning her attention back towards the tauros, “and secondly, I didn't recognize you at first because I was so excited to be here. And I just..." She wasn't so sure how to reply to that statement. Part of her felt like he was teasing her about it, but she wasn't so sure. No one really teased her like that. She huffed lightly, though, and smiled.

“Well if you knew I was a fan of pro-battling, then you might have thought I was one of your superfans. I'm not, by the way, but I do enjoy it when I can," she was satisfied with that, and turned to grin at Aidan. “So I'm not going to deny that I am." She nodded her head as if it were the wisest thing she'd ever said before. It wasn't, but that was fine.

"Thank arceus you're not one of those," he deadpanned by way of reply, but the slight smile was back a moment later. "I still watch too sometimes, you know. Tournaments and stuff. Maybe we could have the others over to one of our places for a tournament watch sometime. I can make Rheinallt and Nero come and call it research. I'm sure Niav would show up on her own."

“Oh, that sounds like a great idea!" she stated, pausing momentarily from scratching the tauros's nose, “I'll have to make sure I have enough drinks and snacks for everyone, too!" Having everyone over to watch a tournament sounded like it could be really fun. And she'd be enjoying it with friends. She gave the tauros one last scratch, and huffed when it nudged her with its nose.

“We'll have to see when the next tournament is and plan for it."

"Cerulean Rumble's next month," Aidan supplied automatically, giving tauros a final pat on the head before stepping away. "Then it moves to smaller locals for a bit before anything major." He tugged a bit at his hair, then shrugged. "Let me help you plan, though? Don't want to make you do it all yourself."

“Of course!" she replied happily enough. It would be easier if two people planned it. It wasn't that Nev wasn't capable of doing it on her own, but it was a rather large group to plan for. She welcomed the help in any way he could give it. “We have until next month, after all. We can see what everyone likes to snack on, though I think Eryk really loves nachos. I have to make sure I have that, at least," she stated, already listing off one snack item to get.

“Oh, and I'll have to make sure there are plenty of options for drinks, too!" She knew Aidan enjoyed beer and the likes. She was also pretty certain Kasimir and Eryk did as well, but she wasn't too sure about Ana or Cyrilla. Still, she wanted to make sure everyone at least had options.

"All right," Aidan said, crossing his arms over his chest and regarding her through slightly narrowed eyes. "I've got a mission for you then, Doc. Find out what all our guests like to eat and drink so we can have it at the party, but you can't tell them it's for the party. It'll be good practice making casual conversation with people, and observing. You up for it?"

Nev was pretty sure she was pouting. She could feel her lips purse into a fine line, and her brows were furrowed. “You're so mean to me," she murmured, but she was smiling. It would be good practice; she couldn't deny that. “Alright, fine. I'm up for it! It'll be good practice, like you said, and it would be nice to learn about other people," she stated.

“Like I've said before, Nevena Solomon does not give up so easily! I will do my best to not let you down, sir!" she gave him a mock salute.

Aidan rolled his eyes, an amused pfft sound escaping him at the salute. "Good to hear, Doc. For now, though, you want to pet some more pokémon or get back out to the festival?"

Before she could answer, the tauros nudged her once more, causing her to huff lightly. “Well, according to this handsome fellow," she began, patting its nose gently, “I think we should get back to the festival. There are still other things to enjoy, right?" As much as she enjoyed petting the pokémon, there were other things to do. Other things to see. And Nev, for once, was enjoying herself.

"That's true. I, for one, want to see you try the hook toss. That's bound to be entertaining."

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: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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August 30th
The Cloyster - Early Evening - Rain
Nevena Solomon


Nev knew it was silly.

She could tell from the look on Basil's face that she thought it was silly, too. She couldn't really blame Basil, considering that Nev was staring at the Fletchinder website. Fletchinder. It was a dating site. Nev didn't have any business on such a thing, but... well, she thought that maybe she ought to give it a try? She was already thirty two years old. Work and school had consumed a majority of her youth, and she didn't really have time to date.

Not that there were many suitors for her. Most people often looked at her and snickered, or made inappropriate passes at her. She didn't think very highly of her appearance; she wasn't as beautiful as Cyrilla was, and she certainly wasn't as cute as Anastasia. She was just... plain. Basil trilled at her, though, and pulled her from those thoughts. She offered the bayleef a small smile as she glanced at her phone. She had invited Kasimir over, earlier, to help her with this. He was so charismatic and confident in a way Nev didn't think she could ever be. It wasn't a bad thing, but there was just something about him.

She'd invited Cyrilla, too, since she thought the younger woman would like to help. She and Anastasia had been a big help during the Camellia Festival, after all. The doorbell sounded, though, as Basil made her way towards the door.

“Hey, Nev," Cyrilla greeted as she walked into the living area. Nev had a desk set up with her computer in the far left corner, which was where she was currently sitting.

“Cyrilla! Glad you could make it. Is Kas with you?" she asked, noticing the man's absence. Cyrilla snorted softly and folded her arms across her chest.

“You don't think I'd be sufficient help?"

“Oh, no! I just... well," Nev laughed nervously. She hadn't meant to imply that. Cyrilla snickered, though, and shook her head.

“Don't worry, he's coming. He had to stop by the apartment, first. He just got back from a run and didn't think you'd want him all sweaty in your apartment," she stated, chuckling lightly as Nev did the same.

Sure enough, Kas showed up a few minutes later, freshly showered and looking effortlessly put-together in a light pink shirt over a cornflower blue undershirt. The sleeves of the outer one were rolled to his elbows, and he slid off his sandals in the entrance, stretching up to brace his hands on her doorframe and half-swing himself inside.

"So I have to know: are we really doing you up a Fletchinder account, Sis? Because I gotta say this is an unexpected development. I didn't even know you were interested in the dating scene." He let the apartment door shut behind him and plopped down onto the two-seater, pulling his long legs up underneath him and crossing them with an arched eyebrow.

Nev puffed her cheeks a little, feeling a bit of heat rush to them. “Well... I mean I thought it might be different?" she'd phrased it as a question without meaning to.

“Different, how?" Cyrilla asked, causing Nev to laugh a little nervously.

“Well, I've never dated before and... I thought it might be a good experience," she answered, causing Cyrilla to arch an amused brow. She shook her head, though, and glanced in Kas's direction.

“Not every experience is good, but... I can see where you're coming from, I suppose," Cyrilla spoke before turning her attention back towards Nev, and tilting her head. “Alright, so, Kas, we've got our work cut out for us. Where should we start?" she stated, still keeping her eyes on Kas. There was something almost mischievous to Cyrilla's smile, though, something that seemed a little more plotting. Nev wasn't entirely sure how to take that, but turned her attention towards Kas.

Kas hadn't looked too surprised at her answer—then again, he'd probably been able to figure out the part about her not having dated. It might have been why he was under the impression that she wasn't interested. Idly, he used his thumb to crack the knuckles of his left hand, pressing down on each finger in turn until they clicked, and hummed thoughtfully. "Well," he said, shooting Cyrilla a smile Nev couldn't interpret. "I suppose where we should start depends on what Sis is really after. You've gotta give us more than 'it might be a good experience.' What do you want out of it? A one-night stand? A steady boyfriend? Girlfriend? A non-monogamous relationship? A friend with benefits?" He listed off the options rather neutrally, clearly not inclined to judge her regardless.

Nev hadn't actually thought about that. She pursed her lips as she contemplated what she was after. What Kasimir had listed hadn't sounded too bad, but she didn't think she could ever do a one-night stand, or a friend with benefits. What even was a friend with benefits? She'd have to look it up later, but for now, she had to really think about what she wanted.

“Well, I guess I'm looking for something more substantial," she finally answered. “Something that's, uh, how did you put it? Steady?" she stated, causing Cyrilla to roll her eyes a bit.

“Nothing wrong with that," Cyrilla stated as she hummed a quiet note. “Assuming you want a steady boyfriend," she put an emphasis on the last word, causing Nev to nod her head, “The next thing would be what attracts you to a person? Their appearance, their personality?" Cyrilla continued, plopping herself down on the floor and glancing up at Nev.

“Oh, well... I've never been too inclined of a person's appearance, I suppose, but... well, I guess a nice personality?" Nev wasn't entirely sure. She'd never done this before, after all.

Kas snorted softly. "No preferences at all? Really? It's okay to have a type, or to have things that are actual turnoffs or dealbreakers, appearance-related or otherwise. The more honest you can be with yourself about that, the better, because it means you'll choose people you're actually compatible with, which means it won't be a waste of your time or theirs. A lot of the game is..." he paused, tilting his hand back and forth in a so-so motion. "A lot of it is guesswork, so the more clues you can give yourself about whether someone will or won't work, the better. It's not mean, if you're worried about that—if you know what your preferences and requirements are, then you can be up front about them and no one will feel strung along, and that's actually kinder."

He gestured more broadly. "So lay it on us, Sis. No judgement. Anything you like more than neutral? Anything you can't stand?"

“I don't know, honestly," she murmured softly. It wasn't that she didn't have any preferences; she just didn't know what they were.

“Alright, let's start with the basics, then," Cyrilla spoke, folding her legs beneath her and leaning forward. “Have you ever liked anyone before?" she asked, causing Nev to nod. There had been a few people she'd crushed on, but nothing ever came of it. She was much too shy to ever say anything about it, and they didn't seem interested in her that way.

“Alright, then tell us what you liked about them."

“Well, they were basically my friend," Nevena began, pursing her lips together as she tried to recall the people she'd ever crushed on. “And they always had the prettiest shade of red hair," she added. Now that she thought about it, almost all of her crushes had red hair of sorts. Cyrilla grinned broadly, though, as she arched a brow.

“So you have a thing for redheads. That's a start," she stated, glancing in Kas's direction and snorting softly.

He huffed a soft laugh and shook his head faintly. "I guess that's a start. It also sounds like you prefer people you can develop strong friendships with. So forget about the dating element for a second: what, to you, makes a good friend?"

“Well, I suppose that one's a little easier. Someone who makes me feel at ease, like I don't have to pretend or be something I'm not. It just feels much more relaxed, and... I don't feel so afraid to show my more refined quirks," she stated, rubbing the back of her neck, nervously. “It's also appreciated when someone can at least be honest with me if I'm being too weird or annoying," she added. A little honesty never hurt anyone, even if it did sting her a little. She tried her best to not be annoying to anyone or overbearing.

“So honesty and acceptance," Cyrilla summarized. Nev nodded her head, as Cyrilla seemed to chew the bottom of her lip in thought. “Nowadays those kind of traits are rare to find," she began, speaking softly for a moment before shaking her head. “But you basically want to build a friendship with someone, right?"

“I do. I know a lot of people aren't necessarily looking for something like that, especially those a bit... younger," she winced slightly at her own choice of words, however; Cyrilla barked a short laugh.

“You'd be surprised, actually, how many of the younger people seek that kind of thing, out," she stated, shaking her head softly. “They're just not so inclined to admit it."

“Do you look for something like that?" Nev asked, genuinely curious. The question seemed to catch Cyrilla off guard, though, as she blinked in surprise.

“Me? No... I," she paused as if she were unsure how to answer that. “It's not something I've thought about, really," she stated, but the way she said it sounded a little strange, to Nev. It was almost as if she were lying, but Nev couldn't be too sure. She wasn't good at reading people or the different tones to their voice.

“What about you, Kas?"

He was regarding Cyrilla a little curiously, it seemed, but when Nev turned the question on him, he shrugged in what seemed to be a careless way. "I'm one of those irresponsible young people," he said, pointing to himself with a flourish. "Mostly I look for stuff with no strings. But I don't use Fletchinder for that; usually I just got to bars or clubs and pull there. It's easier to get a sense of someone face to face, and if it's not working it's not like either of us has to sit through a whole date just to be polite. Plus it's painless that way when the boss sticks me on a mission that involves that kind of thing. A steady monogamous girlfriend or boyfriend would just get mad if I had to woo someone for information, you know?"

He pulled his phone from his pocket, glancing down at the screen to unlock it. "But you're interested in something completely different from me, so your strategy is going to be almost the opposite. I turn on the charm and cast a wide net. You are going to be yourself and be as honest and forthright as possible. You'll catch some assholes—that's just the way these things work. But like tends to attract like, so you might get lucky and strike on some good, honest people too. Now say cheese." He grinned at her, and the camera on his phone flashed in her direction.

Kas looked back down at the screen a moment later and burst into laughter, passing it over to Cyrilla. "You think we use that?"

Cyrilla snorted as she tried to contain a laugh. “Oh, definitely. It's too good to not use," she replied, glancing in Nev's direction. Nev was vaguely confused, and not so sure Kas was right about catching people. She wasn't the type to do that, she didn't think. “You're very photogenic, you know that?" Cyrilla stated as she glanced back at the picture on Kasimir's phone.

“Thank you?" she stated, supposing Cyrilla meant it as a compliment. At least that's what it sounded like.

“You're very welcome. Now, come on, tell us a little more. What are your likes, hobbies, dislikes, preferences," she stated, listing off a few things. “Nev, you and Kas switch spots; he needs to do your profile for you," she stated, motioning for Nev to take a seat next to her on the floor. Basil trilled lightly as if to object before shaking her head.

She did, however, take a seat next to Cyrilla, leaving the chair open for Kas to take a seat. “Well, I guess my hobbies are mostly work related," Nev stated. “Oh, but I do play video games with Aidan. Does that count as a hobby?"

This prompted Kas to exchange another look with Cyrilla, laden with some meaning Nev didn't quite understand, but he shrugged, settling into the chair and situating himself in front of her laptop. "Well it's a hobby, but you probably don't want to make direct mention of another guy when you're talking about it. That'd come off weird on a date."

He navigated to the webpage for Fletchinder, setting his phone down for the moment and opening a blank profile from the looks of it. "Okay," he said, starting to check boxes and fill in text fields. "You're a woman seeking a man for a long term relationship, monogamous. Oh—education and job. This is the section where you get to show off. Normally, I'd recommend you don't because some men are stupid and easily scared away by women who are smarter than them, but since you're not just looking to get laid you're gonna want to be pretty open about that..." He filled in a few more fields.

Apparently he remembered where she'd gotten all of her degrees and when, which was fairly impressive, as she'd only ever told him that once.

She wasn't entirely sure why, but she did feel a little bad about not mentioning Aidan. “Even if he's just a friend?" she asked cautiously. She trusted Kas and Cyrilla to know what they were doing, and the look Cyrilla gave her made it obvious it was a silly question, but Cyrilla merely shook her head.

“Especially that. You see... like Kas said, some men are stupid, and get jealous very easily when there are other men in your life. Even if Aidan's just a friend, if you were to find a possible someone to be in a long-term relationship with, he might feel threatened by your friendship. As sad as it is, that's just the ugly truth when it comes to having male friends when you're a woman. Of course, you'll find some men who say they don't necessarily care, but there will always be a hint of jealous in the back of their minds."

Nev supposed Cyrilla had a point about that, but Nev couldn't really fathom that. Why would they get jealous about male friends? Why would it matter if they were dating? It shouldn't matter.

“But it does matter, Nev," Cyrilla spoke as if reading Nev's mind. “It's easy to see where your thoughts are going when you wear them so openly on your face."

"Honestly she's right though," Kas said, pausing in his typing and shaking his head. "They shouldn't care, and the good ones won't. But bringing up that your main hobby outside of work is tied to one specific friend could be misleading in the sense that some people are going to interpret that as a possible situation where you have feelings for the friend that you're not acting on for some reason. No one likes to feel like a backup plan. It can be kind of a delicate balance, but you want to be clear in communicating so you don't give that impression."

He switched fields and continued typing. "If you are clear that your male friends are just friends and some guy has a problem anyway, then he's an asshole and you should get out of there ASAP. Especially if he tries to guilt you into hanging out with them less. That's controlling behavior, and it's a sign of abuse. Don't ever put up with it Sis, you got me?" He regarded her seriously, unusually so for Kas, a certain brightness to the gold of his eyes.

“Of course, Kas," she replied. That was a little strange, even for Kasimir. Cyrilla regarded her with a somewhat serious stare as well.

“If you ever feel uncomfortable, Nev, you let them know that. If they don't stop, then you need to leave. Don't let anyone pressure you into something you don't want; if they get forceful," she paused, pulling out her cell-phone from her back pocket, “you call me, or you call Kasimir or Ryk." Nev nodded her head. It was the only thing she could do.

Was dating that dangerous?

“Alright. Thank you, really, the both of you for helping me with this. I didn't think it would be so... harsh."

“It's not that it's harsh. People are just... well, they're stupid for a lack of better words. But I promise that, once you find yourself someone you can enjoy yourself with, it... it'll be worth it," Cyrilla stated, smiling just softly enough that it looked a little misplaced on her face.

"And try not to worry too much. We're reading you the riot act because you haven't done this before, but most bad dates aren't that kind of bad. Just boring or whatever." He grinned a little. "Some of them are going to be bad, though. That's just how this works." He did something with his phone and her computer that transferred the photo he'd taken earlier to the right spot on the page.

"Okay. Now I've filled out all your basic fields and put your picture up. This last box here is for you to say anything you want. Some people go all out with these, but personally I think it's better to leave a little mystery—give enough to hint at conversation topics, but hold enough back that they won't know your answers just from reading your bio. You want people to want to get to know you."

He shifted out of the seat, gesturing for her to resume it. "Oh," he added, seemingly just thinking of something. "I'm not sure what your supervision arrangement is like on this. Should you be telling boss you're doing it?"

For some reason, that question caused Cyrilla to snicker a little. “I probably should?" Nev stated. She wasn't sure, actually. Did Aidan need to know? Did it matter since this was a personal thing, and not at all work related?

“You should at least give him a heads up so that he knows. It'd be the nice thing to do, but he is also your superior," Cyrilla stated with a light shrug of her shoulders, glancing in Kas's direction with an amused brow.

“I guess you're right. I think he's in, should I go tell him now?" Nev asked.

Kas huffed. "Sure. The bio can wait till you get back I guess. We can help with it if you want." He shrugged, and shot a look at Cyrilla with narrowed eyes. Honestly those two seemed to be communicating telepathically half the time.

Were they telepathic? They certainly seemed to be with the way they always seemed so synchronized. Maybe it was just Nev seeing things?

“Oh, uh, I couldn't possibly ask you to do that! You're already doing so much for me," Nev stated once she realized what Kasimir said. Cyrilla huffed lightly, though, and shook her head.

“It's not a problem at all, Nev. Now go tell Aidan about your dating profile and we'll finish it up for you, alright?" Cyrilla stated, all but shooing Nev out. With a light chuckle, Nev stood from her spot on the floor and pursed her lips together.

“Thanks again," she stated, watching as Cyrilla nodded and stood from her spot. She leaned over the chair Kas was sitting in as if to look at what had been typed so far as Nev left her apartment. It was a good thing Aidan lived next door, she supposed. She hovered by his door for a moment, lifting her hand but not quite connecting it to the door.

“Oh, come on, Nev, it's just... you're just telling him about a profile and nothing more," she stated to herself, finally knocking on Aidan's door. But why did she feel so nervous about it?

It opened a few moments later; Aidan blinked slightly down at her and tilted his head. "Hey Doc," he said mildly, the corner of his mouth tilting up just a fraction. It disappeared a moment later, though, as he seemed to take in the expression on her face. "Why don't you come in?" he offered, stepping back away from the door so she could. "You want a drink or something?"

“Oh, no thank you, I'm fine," she stated, smiling and relaxing a bit. She did, however, step into his apartment without missing a beat. It was pretty routine, by now, that they were often in one or the other's place. Most of the time she spent it at Aidan's because of the video game. They weren't close to finishing it, yet, but Nev suspected that it would only take them a couple of more weeks before they were close.

“I won't take up too much of your time, though," she stated, remembering why she'd come here in the first place. “I just... well, I, um," she stuttered a bit, furrowing her brows at herself. She took a deep breath before shaking her head.

“Kas and Cyrilla are making a fletchinder account for me and... well, I just... thought you should know?" Arceus why was this much more awkward than it should have been?

Aidan, who'd been headed for the living room, paused as the words rushed out, turning back to her with the closest thing to confusion she'd ever seen on his face: brows furrowed, mouth pulled slightly to one side as though he'd tasted something unexpected. He lifted a hand to his hair and scratched the back of his head. "Fletchinder? Like the... the dating app or whatever?" This didn't seem to clarify much for him, but anything else he might have said was interrupted by an odd thump sound. It seemed to have come from the hallway; he rolled his eyes at the door for a moment before turning back to her.

"If this is about the supervision thing, you don't have to tell me stuff like that, Doc. Your personal life is yours, as long as it doesn't mess with work. Honestly, you can let it mess with work if you want to, even—it's not like I won't cut you any slack, you know?" He huffed softly and smiled at her, just a little.

"If you wanted my opinion as your friend, though... good luck out there. You ever need an excuse to get out of a date quick, send me a text that's just a punctuation mark. I'll call and act like you've gotta go in for a thing."

Nev pursed her lips together and furrowed her brow. “You know, from the way you, Cyrilla, and Kasimir put it, I'm not so sure this is a good idea," she murmured. She huffed lightly to herself, though and rolled her eyes. She did say she wanted to give it a try, though. Something new. “But thanks for the support! I'll make sure if anything like that happens, I'll text you, Cyrilla, Kasimir, or Eryk. Because apparently I have choices," she stated, smiling just a bit.

“Well... since I'm already here, do you want to see how much further we can get in the game?" She had said she wasn't going to take up much of his time, but... well, she was here already, right? And they were making decent progress.

He expelled something like a soft ha at the question, then turned towards the door momentarily. "You heard that, right?" he said, raising his voice a little. "Go home for the night, you two."

There wasn't any response that she could hear, but Aidan seemed satisfied. "Sure thing, Doc. Let's see if we can't get past the water labyrinth this time."

Nev groaned. “I forgot we were at that level." Still... it was shaping up to be a pretty good night.

Setting

Characters Present

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


September 4th
Jo's Restaurant - Noon - Sunny
Aidan Klein


It was, at this point, something of a common practice. Roughly two or three times a week, Aidan would drag Doc away from her research at lunchtime to have a meal with the three beasts. Sometimes this was in the cafeteria setup, but most of the time they went out. He surmised that they took care of themselves some other way on the alternate days; he typically brought stuff from home and kept it in the small fridge in his office for the days when the research was too delicate or someone else had too much to do to leave.

In any case, he'd made a point of getting them all out today. There was a problem of sorts brewing, and he wanted to keep everyone apprised of it, just in case.

Probably the thing Aidan liked least about NTR's office culture was how cutthroat and competitive it was, to the point of, frankly, stupidity sometimes. So far this field office hadn't been too bad about it, probably because the hierarchy was pretty obvious and the executives weren't actually trying to undermine each other, which was refreshing to see. He'd been sort of worried he'd be staring down new versions of Katia and fuckin' Dodds here, but it had turned out to be nearly the opposite.

Still, things had a way of seeping up from the ground sometimes.

Once everyone was settled and had ordered their food, Aidan took a long draw from his soda and expelled a heavy breath. "Someone slashed Hayley's tires this morning," he said bluntly. "Or last night, possibly. Either way I'm pretty sure it was one of ours."

“I know, she told me about it earlier," Niav muttered as she furrowed her brows. Nero looked as displeased as Niav did, though Doc's eyes widened slightly.

“Oh, that's so horrible! Is she okay?" Doc stated, glancing between the others. Nero sighed heavily, but nodded his head. “Why would someone do that to Hayley, though? She's so nice and sweet," Doc asked, furrowing her brows.

“You haven't really experienced the work force here, have you?" Niav asked, taking a drink of the soda in front of her. “Sweet or not, some of the grunts don't always get along, and others will hate on each other for no apparent reason."

“I offered to have her tires replaced, though, since it was done on company property," Nero stated, though from the furrow of his brows, it seemed that Hayley had refused.

“They won't replace her tires for her? Since it was done on company property?" Doc asked.

“No, because they can't really prove someone from the company did it. Even if they could, it's not like the company has insurance policies for things like that."

"Oh I know who did it," Aidan replied simply. It hadn't taken long at all to figure out the who, and even less time after that to deduce the why. "I'm garnishing his wages to pay for replacements, so don't worry about that." He shook his head. He might not have the kind of 'proof' that would be recognized in a court of law, but this was a private matter, and Gregorovich had long given him dispensation to deal with such things however he saw fit.

"The problem is, the root cause of the incident was envy. She's perceived as getting in too close with the higher-ups, and using that as leverage for better opportunities, including the raise she just got after the annual review."

"How'd that get out?" Rheinallt said, brows furrowing. "Payroll data is behind several layers of security and she's not the type to brag about that shit."

"Guy who did it's from the finance department," Aidan replied. They could probably figure out who it was if they really wanted to, but all of them knew by now that retaliating, directly or otherwise, would only 'prove' the point and fuel the persecution complex of the group who felt like they were on the outs. "Some of the employees are apparently pretty sure she got that raise because she's sleeping with you, Niav." He raised an eyebrow in her direction.

The statement caused Niav to sputter into her drink, and she reached for a napkin to clean the small mess. “Oh my Arceus, are you kidding me? Hayley's an attractive woman, but she's not my type at all. She's really sweet, though, as a friend," Niav stated, furrowing her brows slightly. “And that's besides the point that she has the biggest crush on Luke. I'd never do that to someone," she added. Nero narrowed his eyes slightly in Niav's direction, though. It looked like he wanted to say something, but refrained.

“If he has a problem with me, he could have just came to me directly and said it to my face. And besides, the only person I've slept with was Lorraine. Why didn't they target her?" Niav seemed to admit, causing Doc to mimic Niav's earlier actions, and seemed to choke on her drink.

“Really, Cy? Lorraine? I thought she disliked you?" Nero stated as Niav shrugged her shoulders.

“One thing led to another and shit happened, Ryk."

Despite the gravity of the situation, Rheinallt laughed softly, more at the byplay than the predicament. "C'mon, Cy," he said, rolling his eyes, "you know bullshit like this isn't about the truth. It's about perception, and you do flirt with Hayley sometimes. Some people are stupid and can't tell the difference."

“Well, you're right on that point, Kas."

Aidan sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "You know we have rules against fraternization for a reason, right?" He regarded them all with a flat stare. "Now I have to ask you all if there's been anyone else, because there's paperwork I have to file for this shit." HR technically should do it, but no way he was allowing Tanya access to that kind of information—the entire office would know within the day.

"Uh... all of us?" Rheinallt asked.

Aidan narrowed his eyes at him.

He sighed. "Okay fine. Niko, but only once, and only because we ran into each other elsewhere. I usually make sure to keep business and pleasure separate."

“Same, Lorraine's the only one and usually business and pleasure are kept separate. I mean, I think I've done a pretty good job; I haven't slept with Kas, at least," Niav stated, snorting softly as Nero rolled his eyes.

"What, is that challenging or something?" Rheinallt sounded all too pleased with himself, but his tone was jocular rather than serious.

“No one," Nero answered, casually drinking his lemonade. Doc looked rather uncomfortable by the conversation, and her face was almost completely red.

“I mean... you would know, because you're my supervisor and all," she muttered quickly, and softly before turning her attention elsewhere. She'd, somehow, thought the question had included her. He did say all of them.

"Yeah, Doc, I know." Theoretically she could be meeting someone from the office outside of work, but he knew she wasn't. Most of her nights were spent at his place, and involved nothing more scandalous than her sheer ineptitude at complex RPGs.

Still, at least he knew what paperwork he had to file. "I guess you've really stirred some imaginations, though," he noted, glancing back and forth between Rheinallt and Niav, "because the rumor mill is pretty ridiculous. Honestly I wanted to have this conversation here because I think it benefits us all to know what's being said so we can work on dispelling it. So if you've heard anything, add it to the pile."

Niav snorted softly and shook her head. Doc looked to be keeping her focus on her glass, not bothering to glance up at the others at the table. “The most recent one I've heard about myself is that I like being in large groups with a preference towards the women," Niav answered in a nonchalant fashion, not at all concerned, it seemed, about the rumor.

“Oh, and then there's supposedly the one where I use my own office as an orgy club..." Doc snorted almost incredulously as her eyes widened a bit.

“Not that it's true. Trust me, if I used my office for that, Ryk would have jumped off the building a long time ago."

“I would have."

"Also, I would have been so offended that you didn't invite me."

Aidan rolled his eyes.

"Oh, I heard a funny one last week. Apparently Ryk has a thing for knives and likes threatening people with them. It supposedly happened to a secretary who wasn't fast enough getting him some paperwork. Mostly it's dumb stuff, you know—so-and-so's really scary, what's-his-face is a tremendous slut, and so on. People making things up to be heard."

“I heard an interesting one about Solomon," Nero stated, turning his attention towards Doc. “Supposedly she's sleeping with you," he began, turning his gaze towards Aidan, “and you." He glanced at Kas, next. Doc made a strange noise that sounded like a strangled squeak as she slumped into her chair. Niav barked a short laugh as she shook her head.

“You're forgetting the one where she's also a part-time stripper because apparently someone thought they saw her at that strip club. What was it called, Audino?" Niav added, glancing in Rheinallt's direction.

“I've never even been there!" Doc stated suddenly, almost dropping her cup. Niav snickered, though.

“That's why they're called rumors. They're not always true, Nev."

"Mostly bullshit, actually," Aidan grumbled, dragging a hand down his face. He had a feeling he might know where a few of the ones about doc had come from—he'd have to see what he could do about that at least.

"Apart from the one, the mill apparently just thinks we're really thirsty all the time," Rheinallt said, rolling his eyes. "I mean, arceus, two of us have a healthy libido and suddenly we're all sleeping with everyone in the office at the same time or something. Bullshit hardly begins to cover it."

Aidan shrugged. "If that's all it is, we're not doing too badly. You two pump the brakes on flirting with people at the office please. Everything else'll either go away on its own or get boring enough that they only use it when there's nothing else to talk about."

“Guess that means we'll have to save all the flirting for when we're at home, Kas," Niav stated, snickering softly and rolling her eyes. “But sure thing, boss-man. No more flirting at the office," she continued, grinning lightly as she pat Doc's back. Doc seemed to still be choking on her drink before she furrowed her brows and shook her head.

“It'd be preferable if you'd just stop flirting with people and sleeping with them, but I'm not going to stop you. Just don't do it at the office, like Aidan says," Nero stated in a nonchalant fashion and shrugged his shoulders.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard Aidan the first time, Ryk."

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 improptu 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. he 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: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


September 16th
Aidan's Apartment - Evening - Clear
Aidan Klein


Expelling a heavy sigh, Aidan collapsed into his sectional, propping his feet up onto the coffee table and cracking open the beer in his hand with the bottle opener on his keychain. Taking a swig, he settled it on a coaster on the end table and picked up the remote, running his other hand through his wet hair and yawning wide enough to crack his jaw a little. Nero and Rheinallt were really coming along in the tournament preparations—he was confident the both of them would do well enough to attract some attention.

He didn't remember the last time he'd had to work so hard for a mission, though. That plus the hours he'd been racking up on his own in the gym at the mansion tended to leave him tired enough to sleep pretty well at night, which was a nice change. He could almost manage to pretend he was a morning person, at this rate, even if some part of him would always be hopelessly nocturnal.

Flipping on the television, he figured a little research couldn't hurt. PSPN was showing a recap of all the biggest tournaments from the last year in a marathon this weekend. Knowing stats was one thing; being able to see people battle, watch them make decisions under pressure and learn their styles—that was the way he'd always done it. He hadn't gotten to the spot he'd occupied with some super-crazy secret training regimen. He just worked hard, and made sure he knew his shit.

Of course, that part of his life was over now, but maybe it'd help the guys out.

Reclining a little back into the sofa, he didn't protest when Frost hopped up to lay half-over his lap, instead running his fingers through her soft, slightly cool fringe of fur. Now... who here was likely to show up early season in Kanto...?

Before he could get comfortable, though, there was a hurried knock on his door. “Aidan, are you in there?" the voice obviously belonged to Niav, but she sounded a little troubled by something. “If you are, we could really use your help," she seemed to add.

Brows knitting, Aidan stood, Frost jumping off before he could dislodge her, looking slightly offended that he'd gotten up so soon after sitting down. He doubted Niav would be here for anything that wasn't important, though—unless the other member of 'we' was Rheinallt, then all bets were off.

When he tugged open the door, though, it was to find that she was actually with Rheinallt the younger, and he blinked at them, noting the concern on their faces. "Help with what?" he asked simply.

“Nev," Niav spoke without missing a beat. “You remember how Kas and I set up a Fletchinder account for her? Well, she matched with someone and she's going to meet him for a date. The only thing is," she paused to glance at Mel before turning back to him, “it wouldn't be so much of a concern if they were going anywhere else. If it hadn't been anyone else, really."

“You're aware of Béliam Arnaud, right? Valerie's son from Kalos? Nev... well, she matched with him and they're meeting at the Delphox. Normally I wouldn't consider this any of my business; she has a right to go out on dates with whomever she wants, but..." she trailed off as if she were unsure how to phrase what it was she found a problem with.

“It's a little concerning."

Even Aidan had to take a second to process all that. For a moment he was kind of... uncomfortable. He'd known she was interested in doing this kind of thing, of course, but—he'd sort of thought she'd tell him if she ended up making those kinds of plans. Not because she was obligated, because she wasn't, but just because they were—

That wasn't important right now. "Can I ask what about this is coming across as suspicious to you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes slightly. He knew of someone by that name, but the guy was Kalosian and stuck to a pretty local battle circuit from what Aidan knew, so when it came to details, there was nothing in his memory at all.

"It seems like kind of a lot for a first date, doesn't it?" Mel asked, frowning.

"What, because the place is fancy? Wouldn't a flashy rich kid from Kalos want to do that normally?"

Niav furrowed her brows. “Yes and no," she stated. “First off, if you're a flashy rich kid, you're not going to use Fletchinder for dates. Money and status alone would be more than enough to get attention, or in this case, dates. If that didn't work, money would definitely buy you dates if you knew where to look. They have escort services for shit like that."

“I'm just... I'm worried that she might be getting herself into something that she won't know how to get out of. We've tried to prepare her for worst case scenarios; she has all of our numbers, but you know how Nev can be. As brilliant as she is... she's also airheaded. She's not..." Niav didn't seem to know how to finish that sentence, but it was obvious enough that she was concerned about Doc.

Ah, that was the missing piece. Aidan hadn't ever really bothered to examine who did and didn't use services like that, thinking of them as matchmakers that used algorithms instead of human intuition. But apparently there was a class gap there, and if so, he could immediately understand what the worry was. "You said Delphox, right?" he asked, almost rhetorically. Looking down at his t-shirt and sweatpants, he sighed.

"If we're gonna check in on her, I'm gonna need a few minutes to find my suit. Niav, you've got something that'll work, right? We'll be way less suspicious as a pair than going alone." Most people would just assume they were there on a date.

"I can get you guys a reservation," Mel said, immediately withdrawing her pokégear and punching in the number for the restaurant.

"This late?" Aidan's brows rose. He'd figured he'd have to pay a lot more just to get them in ahead of someone else on the list.

Mel grinned. "I've got connections. You guys get dressed; since I can't go with you I at least want to take care of this part."

Niav nodded her head. “I'll meet you in the foyer of the complex," she stated, taking her leave.

'Find his suit' was a bit of an exaggeration; Aidan knew exactly where it was. It was by far the most expensive item of clothing he'd ever owned, and while he was hardly in any kind of financial straits it was still hard to conceptualize owning clothes worth thousands of dollars. But as the right hand of Neo Team Rocket's boss, certain appearances were sometimes necessary, and at the moment he was kind of glad he had it.

It was sharp, at least, black with very thin white pinstripes, and he wore a crisp black shirt underneath with a white tie tucked into the black vest. He elected to pull off the silver rings usually on his fingers, replacing them with a watch, its leather band supporting an inlaid dark blue face with pearl-white hands. He ran a comb through his hair, and elected to waste no more time than that, only taking the pokéball containing Rex with him, which he minimized and tucked in the breast pocket of his jacket.

Once he'd reached the meeting place, Niav was there, dressed in a dark red sleeveless pleated chiffon dress. Her hair was pulled into a tail with light waves, and a few strands left to frame her face. She furrowed her brows in his direction, though, and pulled the matching sheer shawl over her shoulders.

“Mel says our reservations are near Nev's table, but far enough that she won't see us," she stated, pursing her lips together. “She also called in the Gogoat service that specializes in the foreign cars. Gotta show up with a car that looks the part, too, I suppose." She pushed a heavy sigh through her nose.

“I hope she's doing alright, so far. She was supposed to meet her date around eight thirty."

He didn't need to check his watch—it was already nine. Nodding shortly, he headed out through the lobby, holding the door for Niav and stepping into the waiting purring red sports car that had just pulled up to the curb.

"Delphox, please," he told the driver, leaning back and cracking the window before pulling a cigarette from one pocket and a lighter from another. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked. He felt torn—it'd be his first one in a couple days, but he was really jonesing for it at the moment. He had to suppress the urge to scoff at himself.

It figured, really.

“Not at all," Niav replied, keeping her eyes outside as they made their way towards the restaurant. “Mel put the reservation under my name, by the way. Figured there'd be less attention drawn your way if it was your name on the list," she stated, turning so that she was glancing in his direction.

“Upscale or not, you do have a rather large fanbase behind your name. A lot of those in the higher echeleons all had some sort of bet riding on you in your battling days," she added. “Appearance wise, you clean up well-enough that they might not recognize you at first."

He snorted, smiling a little almost despite himself as he lit the cigarette. "I'll take that as a compliment, coming from you," he said, exhaling some smoke out the window. She was, after all, the infiltration specialist of her set. It meant she knew what to do to blend in different places, and while he was a fair hand with that himself, it wasn't exactly his specialty. "So thanks, I guess."

It wasn't much longer before they'd reached the Delphox, though, and a valet approached the car to open the door for Aidan and Niav. She stepped out and forced a smile on her face, glancing up at Aidan. “Here's hoping for the best," she muttered softly.

He hummed quietly, offering her his arm politely. They were greeted at the entrance to the restaurant by several members of staff. It didn't really matter who had the reservation in a certain sense: they had the money and looked the part, so they were going to get treated a certain way. A young woman took Niav's shawl to coat check, but other than that they didn't really have any extraneous clothing, so they were brought almost immediately to their seats.

A waitress came by a moment later to take their order for drinks. Once they had been placed, Niav glanced around subtly. “There she is," she spoke, tilting her head towards the right side of them. From anyone else's perspective, it would look like she was interested in what Aidan had to say instead of pointing someone out. Her brows were furrowed, though.

“I don't see Arnaud with her, though," she added. Glancing in Doc's direction did seem to prove that it was just her, however; the expression on her face was almost despondent. “He might be in the restroom, but... that face she's making, it doesn't look good."

Aidan shifted his attention to the seat across from her. The cutlery was completely undisturbed, the seat tucked in in a way that suggested it had never been moved out. "He's not in the bathroom," Aidan said, feeling an unexpected flicker of anger. "He was never fucking here to begin with."

As far as results went for the suspicions the others had had, this wasn't the worst thing. But he was willing to bet Doc wasn't feeling any sense of that right now. Her first arceusdamn date in the world, and the fucker had stood her up.

"Hey Niav," he said, returning his attention to the woman across from him. "I hate to be a jackass and skip out on our surveillance op here, but..." he gestured towards the table Doc sat at, figuring she'd infer what he was asking.

“Go," she spoke, nodding her head in understanding. Her expression was easy to read as one of anger, but her face smoothed out as she stood from the table. “I'll make sure things are covered on our end, here. Just... take care of her," she stated, offering a small smile before taking her cellphone out and leaving. She said something to the waitress who had gone to get their drink, perhaps to let her know they were no longer in need of them. She tipped the woman before leaving towards the front of the restaurant.

Doc seemed to be staring at her glass, though, still filled with what looked to be champagne of sorts. She probably ordered it and hadn't touched it.

Sighing quietly, Aidan put one hand in the pocket of his slacks and approached, drawing to a stop just behind the free chair in front of Doc and resting his free hand on the back of it. "This one taken?" he asked. He didn't think he'd heard his voice come out that gentle in a long time. It wasn't really a trait he usually associated with himself, but if he could make it fit here, he had to.

Doc's head snapped up in surprise, jostling a few of her bangs from her eyes as she glanced in his direction. “Aidan, what are you doing here?" she asked, confusion written on her face. She blinked a few times, as if she were trying to clear her vision of something before her eyes went back towards the glass in her hand.

“I... wasn't expecting to see you here, is all," she spoke, a small smile appearing on her face. It seemed forced, though, as if she were trying not to show how upset she truly felt about her situation. She'd been wearing a relatively nice dress, black in color and it exposed the left side of her shoulder. It had a neck tie of sorts that was attached the left side that had a strip of what was supposed to be the sleeve portion of her dress. Her hair had been pulled up into a loose bun, probably from Niav's and Mel's help, with her bangs left loosely where they fell.

"Wasn't expecting to be here," he said honestly. He expelled a quiet breath, remaining standing since she hadn't indicated otherwise. "And I'm obviously not who you were hoping for." He wasn't an idiot, after all—he knew damn well what it meant that she hadn't even told him this was happening. But still, she'd gone to all the trouble of dressing up and preparing for a nice evening out, and he knew she had to think something of him, to willingly spend nights in with him, even if she might have preferred nights out with someone else.

"But you know... I am here. I can get you home, if you want, or if you're hungry we can eat. I'm not some big-shot from Kalos, and I'll probably pronounce all the food wrong, but if you don't mind that I don't think I'm the worst company ever."

“Oh, but were you here with someone, then? I don't... I don't want to pull you away from someone if you were. I'll be fine; I'll just finish this and..." she paused, swallowing audibly before glancing back at her glass. “I'm sure you'd rather be elsewhere, though, and not here stuck with me," she stated, offering him a rueful smile.

“And that's just nonsense. You're very good company to have. I wouldn't mind at all..." she trailed off again.

He shook his head faintly. "I was here with Niav. She and Mel were worried about you and wanted to make sure you were all right." Clearly she wasn't; hopefully she would take the admission for the sign of concern it was, and not an insult.

Aidan sort of figured what she'd just said was as close to an invitation to sit as he was going to get, so he did so, resisting the urge to reach across the table and ruffle her hair or something. She'd clearly gone to some effort with it, and he didn't want to muss it or anything. The waiter promptly appeared to take his drink order; he gave it quickly and returned his attention to Doc.

"I won't ask if you're okay," he said simply. "But is there anything I can do?"

Doc shook her head softly. “No, there's not. If you were here with Cyrilla, then you know I was here on a date," she stated almost in a whisper. “I didn't... well, I didn't want to tell you about it because I didn't want to bother you with something so silly. Plus... I," she paused to take a sudden breath of air before closing her eyes. “I should have known this would happen."

“I thought that if you didn't know, and this happened, then it was like it never did happen. And... you wouldn't have to see me like this," she continued, quickly rubbing the back of her eyes with her hand. She sniffed softly, but it looked like she was doing her best to keep herself from crying.

Bother him? Was that really how she thought of it?

He had to admit it tracked with certain other facts about her, but if she thought it after all this he'd been a shittier friend than he thought.

Aidan had never been one for fancy places to begin with, but at this moment the setting seemed like it was just getting in the way of everything. Withdrawing his wallet from his pocket, he laid out enough cash to pay for both their drinks, the time she'd spent sitting, and a generous tip before he stood up again and held a hand out towards her. "Let's get out of here, okay? I'm not trying to cut you off, or stop you from talking, but we can't really do that right here anyway."

She blinked in surprise at him. “Okay," she spoke softly, taking his hand and standing from her spot. She followed behind him as they reached the front of the restaurant. One of the waiters retrieved her coat for her, and she slipped it over her shoulders, pulling it closer to her as if to hide herself somehow. It was cool outside, not quite enough so for a jacket, but it might have been more for psychological comfort than physical.

“I'm... sorry if this interrupted your evening. I know you like to watch PSPN sometimes and... occasionally play the game," she spoke softly, still. She hadn't glanced in his direction, though, even as they stepped outside.

The street outside was lit pretty nicely; they weren't far from the docks, here, and Aidan pointed them in that direction more to have somewhere to walk than anything else. "You didn't," he said simply. "You didn't interrupt me, and you don't bother me. I'd say you know that already but... I don't think you do." He pushed a soft breath through his nose. He wasn't oblivious to her struggle with her sense of self-esteem, of course, but he hadn't quite realized how bad it was. Maybe some of this was just a really bad night talking.

"You know this isn't on you, right? Standing someone up is the kind of thing only an asshole does, now matter how fancy the place is he picks to do it."

She pulled in a soft breath, and shook her head. “But it is... on me, I mean," she stated, reaching up to pull the band that held her hair up, off. It caused her hair to fall over her shoulders, and she ran a hand through the strands to set them straight, it seemed. “I've never been an interesting person, or exceptionally beautiful. If anything, I'm plain and possibly quite the most boring person around," she stated, huffing lightly at herself.

“Even when I was a young child, people just weren't... well they weren't interested in me at all. Not even to be my friend. I just... I stayed by myself, read the books the school library had, and went home. I... remember there being someone, at one point in my life, who'd been my best friend, but he's gone now. He..." she furrowed her brows slightly as she paused, “he died when I was twelve."

She fell silent for a moment after that, eyes downcast and not at all paying much attention to where she was going. It seemed that she was just following idly beside Aidan.

He lost the war with his instinct to reach over, only to his own surprise it wasn't to pat her head like he'd thought. Instead, he shifted a strand of her loose bangs in his fingers, moving it so that it was tucked behind her ear. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said sincerely. He knew what that felt like—to lose someone you thought really understood you, was really close to you in a way no one else had been. Even if his hadn't been human.

"But you know... I don't think you're boring at all. You're brilliant, for starters. And the way you look at things—I don't know anyone else like you, and that's interesting. I've met all kinds of people, but I'd never compare you to any of them. You're too much yourself." He tucked his hand back in his pocket, turning his eyes ahead.

"As for the plain bit... I think you should get your eyes checked, Doc. There's nothing plain about you." He shrugged, trying to walk a line between being sincere and saying too much. Aidan didn't have to be half as good at reading people as he was to know she was in a fragile state right now—he wanted to make it better, not more awkward or uncomfortable. As much as he could, anyway.

She smiled a little, then, though at what in particular, it was hard to say. “Miles used to say the same thing," she spoke softly. “Even if he didn't necessarily speak the same way as you or I can. Mr. Mime are still notoriously intelligent and aren't psychic for a reason," she stated, finally shifting her gaze towards Aidan. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears, but she was still smiling a little softly at him.

“But you don't have to say things like that to me, to cheer me up, Aidan," she stated, the smile faltering for a moment. “You're the first real friend I've had in a long time, even if you also happen to be my superior. I... well, I'm grateful for your friendship."

Mr. Mime? So the person she was close to had also been—

He exhaled heavily. "I'm not saying it just to cheer you up," he said flatly. "I'm saying it because it's true. I also hope it helps, but... I wouldn't make stuff up for that. I don't like lying to people, and I'll never lie to you if I can help it." He wished he could promise more than that, but with what he did for a living, what Gregorovich might ask him to do in the future... there just weren't any guarantees, and pretending like there were would be a lie of its own.

They'd finally reached the edge of the dock, and Aidan paused, thoughtful. The water glittered under the lights, but he felt like he hardly saw it.

"Why—" he paused, reconsidering the wisdom of his question and then going ahead with it anyway. "Why wouldn't you want me to see you? You're allowed to be in pain, you know. In front of me or not."

“Because I don't want to bother you with trivial things like that," she replied. “I don't want to be a bother to you at all, but... sometimes I feel like I am, even if you say otherwise." She took a deep breath, and glanced out towards the water. “It's been five months since I arrived here, and in those five months I've made more friends than I've ever had before, and... well, I'm not entirely sure how to be a friend. Part of it is me learning as I go, but I also worry that I might not be..." she paused in that thought and shook her head.

“My pain and sadness shouldn't fall on my friends, is all. Or anyone else, for that matter. It's... it's mine and I should be the one to deal with it."

Aidan frowned. Really, he'd just told her he was making a point of not using platitudes and she still thought he was just trying to make her feel better. This woman.

Still, if ever he'd had a virtue to his name, it was the patience he'd developed after his wild adolescence. He figured he needed it here, and maybe she did too. "That's... kind of the opposite of how it works, Doc," he said, turning his eyes from the water to look over at her. "Friends aren't just there for the shiny happy shit, and if they are, they're not really your friends. You think—" he paused, trying to find a way to explain it so she'd understand. "You think the rest of us don't feel like that sometimes?" He tilted his head, asking the question softly.

"What would you do, if our situations had been reversed tonight? If somebody had stood me up and I was upset about it? Would you think that was a burden on you, that I should keep it to myself because it was my problem?"

Her eyes narrowed as her brows furrowed deeply. “I... well, no. I'd hope you'd talk to me, or someone else, about it. I wouldn't want you to be upset about it, I just..." her expression smoothed out as she seemed to at least understand what he was trying to tell her. “I guess I just didn't ever feel like there would be people who'd be willing to be there for me. I've... never had that before."

She took a deep, shuddering breath before she glanced back at him. “I suppose I'm still getting used to that there are people like that. And... well, that I'm lucky you're one of them," she stated, the tears in her eyes finally falling freely. “Thank you, Aidan."

He felt some of the tension he'd been carrying leave him at last, expelling a breath along with it before he stepped a little closer towards her. "C'mere," he said quietly, opening his arms in invitation. "Pretty sure friends get to do this too, if you don't object."

Not that he was overly familiar either, but—it felt like the right thing to offer. He sure as hell wasn't just going to stand there uselessly while she cried, after all.

She didn't seem to object, and closed the distance, wrapping her arms around him and burying her head in his shoulder. She sobbed quietly for a few minutes before it seemed to die down. She pulled away from him, wiping her eyes with her hands as she took a breath to steady her breathing.

“Do... would you mind if I came over to your place for a few? Maybe... maybe we can even finally get Balthazar and Maribelle past the water labyrinth?" she asked, glancing up at him with puffy eyes.

A quiet huff left him, and he nodded slightly. "Of course you can, Doc. I think I've come up with a new strategy for the boss, even."

If she was asking about that, he figured she was going to be all right.

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Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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September 18th
Field Office 9 Laboratory - Late Morning - Warm
Nevena Solomon


Nev pursed her lips together, shifting the glasses further up her nose as they began to slide down. They had finally been able to build the machine, but it was more of a prototype than anything. The first of its kind, and today they were going to be doing a test run on it. Someone had volunteered their alakazam for the first test, but Nev wasn't entirely sure it was quite that ready. If something went wrong, it could potentially be harmful to the alakazam. There was no telling what would happen, and it might even be fatal. Nev didn't want that to happen.

It was the reason why, even now, she was checking the machine over, ensuring the hoses and hooks and lines were all in place and secured properly. She pursed her lips together, still not satisfied, before she turned towards the others in her group. Aidan was there, along with Greene and Parker. The latter was with Nev, helping her check the equipment to ensure it was up to par.

“I know it needs psychic energy to power, but... can't I just make sure it's safe enough for him?" she stated, glancing in Aidan's direction. She was referring to the alakazam, of course. If it was safe enough for her to test it out, first, then it would likely be safe enough for alakazam.

Aidan blinked at her, frowning slightly. "You want to personally test it out before you put a pokémon in it?" he asked, though he didn't seem to find this strange. It was more like he was asking to make sure he'd understood properly. "Will that even provide any basis for knowing, though? If it's powered by psychic energy like you said, you're not going to be feeding any into the machine."

“It's not going to kill anyone," Greene said, his brows drawing down with dissatisfaction. “I'm the one who engineered it; I know how it works better than anybody." He technically was the project engineer, and did tend to get snappy sometimes when he felt his work was being slighted.

Aidan met her eyes over Greene's shoulder and rolled his. "You know the project better than anyone, Doc," he said, rather flatly. Greene bristled; Miss Parker hid a smile behind her hand. "If you think it needs to be tested that way, test it that way. But be careful, please. Like it or not, your brain's pretty irreplaceable." He half smiled at her. "And you need it still. The haunted castle's even harder than the water labyrinth."

Nev chuckled lightly at Aidan's statement about the haunted castle. They had just barely cleared the water labyrinth last night. Nev had managed to accidentally get Balthazar killed, however; it seemed that she'd also managed to land the final hit on the boss. She'd thought it was a glitch, but the boss kill registered, and Balthazar had respawned as if he'd never died to begin with. She'd laughed about it the entire night. She shook her head, though.

She didn't want to make it seem like she was undermining Greene's abilities or anything. The machine had been immaculate, but that didn't stop her from worrying. Nothing was ever perfect. There was always going to be adjustments that needed to be made, calibrations and settings reconfigured. The alakazam that was going to be used, however, made a soft grunting noise, and placed a hand on Nev's shoulder. He didn't seem too concerned, and it was enough to make Nev capitulate.

“Alright, fine, but you let me know the minute something is uncomfortable, alright?" she stated, furrowing her brows at the alakazam. He smiled at her and walked towards the machine. “Ms. Parker, can you help me get him strapped in?" she asked, glancing towards the young woman. Once everything had been set, she stepped back a bit, and glanced in Greene's direction.

“Alright Dr. Greene, we're ready whenever you are."

They were recording today's trial for the data, since hopefully even a failure would have something useful for them to study. Everyone was narrating their actions to the record accordingly, and the readouts from the machine were being taken down as well, by some system Kasimir had set up for them earlier that morning. “This is Project Nebula Prototype 1, trial run 1, September 18th. This is Dr. Edison Greene, joined by project head Dr. Nevena Solomon, project assistant Sydney Parker, and NTR Administrator Aidan Klein. The time is 11:23, and we're beginning the prototype's startup sequence. The subject in the machine is Miss Parker's alakazam, who has a psychic index rating of 324."

He was, if nothing else, a profssional when it came to his work, and so he slowly brought the machine to life, pausing often so she could check in with the alakazam. “All right," he said after the startup sequence was complete. “Machine running at working levels. Standing by for initiation of psychic synchronization."

This was the part that was going to be difficult. Alakazam needed to make sure the use of his psychic abilities was nothing less than perfect in order for this to work. If it wasn't, Nev wasn't entirely sure what would happen. She shoved the thoughts out of her mind, though, and nodded towards alakazam.

“Alright, you can do this. Just like you practiced, alright?" Nev spoke softly, trying her best to reassure alakazam that it would be fine. Alakazam nodded his head, and closed his eyes. Nev could see his aura surrounding him as he tried to feed his energy into the machine. The machine began to make a whirring sound, almost as if it were humming softly.

It seemed stable enough.

“Everything is running smoothly so far. Alakazam's vitals are normal, and the synchronization is complete," she stated, turning towards Miss Parker and Dr. Greene. “Initiate the second step," she stated. It involved funneling the psychic energy into another compartment that would use it as the calling point. If this was successful, then that meant they could safely deem it workable, and a success.

“Affirmative," Dr. Greene replied. Miss Parker had moved to sit next to her pokémon. It was better that she didn't touch him, just in case, but she clearly wanted to stay close, just in case something happened.

“Transferring fifty percent power to connection node." The machine started to whir, but the sound was expected. Against the far wall, Aidan watched the readouts with hawklike eyes, expression set into something firmly neutral. She'd seen him reading a lot of the textbooks in the office over the past few months—it was possible he knew what the readings actually meant at this point.
“Transferring—"

"Hey Doc." Aidan's voice cut effortlessly across Dr. Greene's. "I think something's not right with these readouts."

Nev made her way towards Aidan, and glanced at the readouts. He was right; something wasn't right. Before she could say anything, though, there was a soft grunt coming from the machine. It didn't belong to the machine, itself, but it did sound rather painful, and coming from Alakazam. Nev's eyes widened as she hurried back to alakazam.

“Greene, shut it off, now!" she stated in a firm voice, glancing back towards alakazam. He made another grunting sound as Nev hurried to take the straps and buckles away from alakazam. There was a slight sparking sound, though, and Nev felt something brush her face. It stung, but she ignored it as the machine finally powered down, and alakazam fell limp out of the machine into Nev's arms.

“Sydney, get him to the infirmary, stat!" Nev stated. They had a doctor on standby just in case something had happened, and Nev was slightly glad they had actually thought of that, a head of time. “What the hell happened, Greene?" she stated, turning her attention towards the man when Sydney retrieved her pokemon.

Sydney didn't need to be told twice, and rushed out of the room, murmuring softly to her pokémon.

She could feel something warm and wet on her cheek, and reached up to rub it away. It wasn't until she brought her hand back down did she realize she was bleeding. Nothing too heavy, but it might have been an accident on alakazam's part. His energy must have lashed out when she was trying to unhook him.

Grimacing, Aidan pulled the first-aid kit down from one of the shelves, gripping her firmly by the shoulder and pressing down until she was in one of the rolling office chairs in the lab. He set the kit down on the table next to her and flipped it open, rummaging around inside before coming up with a sterile cloth, disinfectant, and a bandage.

Greene frowned. “We failed at the point of energy conversion," he said, pulling up the charts on his computer screen and scanning them over. “The machine was doing what it was supposed to do, but the power core failed partway through. There was backlash, and the excess psychic energy was pushed back into alakazam's systems."

Pushing some of her hair back away from her forehead, Aidan dabbed carefully at whatever wound she had there.

Nev sighed, pushing a heavy breath through her nose. “That's not good. If we can't get a sufficient power core, then what happened to alakazam will happen to anyone or anything else that tries to use it," she stated, keeping her head still as Aidan cleaned the wound she had. She murmured a soft thanks when he was done, and furrowed her brows.

“We can't afford to have any failures like that. It might be worse the next time we try, and I'm not going to risk any more pokémon, or anyone for that matter, until it's stable," she stated. The machine was done; that was their first success. The second step was going to have to wait, though. Power cores that could handle that type of stress weren't readily available to people like them. Even if NTR could pull some strings, Nev knew that there were only two such power cores that could, theoretically do the job.

And those weren't even on the market yet.

"That's fine," Aidan replied simply. "Just write up your reports of today for the boss, indicate what you need to avoid the same error and why. If he thinks it's promising enough to continue with, he'll find a way to get you what you need." Aidan flipped the first-aid kit shut again after applying the disinfectant and square bandage to her head.

"Worst case scenario, we might have to see if Rheinallt can build us one from scratch, but I don't think it'll come to that." He shrugged, putting the kit away. "But the boss isn't going to make you do more runs if all it's going to do is hurt whoever's inside. He's not like that."

Nev was relieved at that. “Good, because I wasn't going to put anyone else inside," she replied, eyes narrowing slightly. If it had been the case, if Gregorovich wanted to use the machine regardless, Nev wasn't entirely sure what she would have done. Quit was the logical answer, but they would likely replace her with someone who would keep putting people or pokémon inside the machine.

“I'll make sure to have the reports written and sent so that we can get the necessary equipment for this. I'm under the impression that it will take a while before any of that is retrieved, so for now, we'll have to make due with the data we were able to collect. Some of the readouts aren't completely useless."

It was still something, she supposed, that they'd managed even this much.

Aidan nodded slightly. "I know it didn't end well, but having one particular failure at a time like this seems like good progress," he said. "Especially since it wasn't really your team's fault. You're doing a good job here, Doc."

She huffed a little. “You're right, it is good progress. And of course it wasn't anyone's fault. Machines just can't be trusted to be reliable, sort of like those barrels that look harmless, but turn out to be enemies of some sort," she stated, making a reference to their game. She hated those enemies, if she were being honest. They'd scared her for some reason the first time they'd been encountered.

“Well, I suppose good job, everyone. Hopefully we'll get this right in no time," because it was still progress.

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Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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September 23rd
Cinnabar Island - Late Afternoon - Warm
Nevena Solomon


Nev adjusted the large sun hat on her head, smiling when Basil reached up with a vine to help her. She and Aidan were on their way to Jo's for a late lunch. They had invited the others to join them, but apparently they had other work that needed to be done. They'd taken a raincheck, though, which she was going to hold them to. The last few days had been a little better, if she were being honest with herself. The night after her supposed date fell through, Nev had been a little... well, depressed.

She thought that there might have been something; anything, really, but it wasn't so. That, or she was just rushing a thought that wasn't true. She had been glad, though, when Aidan had showed up. He'd made it seem not so terrible, somehow, and she had appreciated it. There was just something about him, something so genuinely nice that Nev almost couldn't believe he was her friend. Never mind that he was her supervisor.

She wasn't even sure she saw him as her superior. For work, of course, but even then, talking to him seemed so flawless, and natural. Even when they were discussing small things about the project. He'd surprised her, really. Glancing at him from the corners of her eyes, she studied him for a moment. He was undoubtedly handsome, but she wasn't sure she could ever see him more as a friend. Didn't want to, actually. Their friendship was important to her because it had been her first real one. Shoving the thought away, she didn't like where it was going, she turned her attention back towards the scenery.

“So, do you think we'll be able to make it to the boss in the haunted castle next time?" she asked, grinning lightly. They were half-way through the level, but they were currently stuck at a certain spot. Nev might have loved playing video games, but she was inherently bad with them. They were stuck because she kept getting Balthazar killed in the strangest ways. There was a point where they had to make a jump, and she just couldn't seem to make it.

Aidan smirked slightly, lifting one eyebrow and glancing at her from the corner of his eye as he walked. "I dunno, Doc, can we?" Reaching down to his cuff, he started to roll up his sleeve; the weather was definitely warm enough to justify it. His shirts were usually lightweight, but he still wore a lot of black, and they were walking from the office this time around. "I think it kind of depends on how many more ways you can figure out to kill yourself on the environment, because at this point we're pretty overleveled for the enemies."

Neatening the lay of the sleeve at his elbow, he moved to the other, the silver rings on his first and fourth fingers catching the light a little. "Rheinallt hasn't shut up all week about how he and Mel kick ass at Pikart, either. You want to have them over to kick their asses at it sometime?"

“Pft, you underestimate my ability to find ways to get myself killed," she stated, chuckling softly. “And of course I do! We need to show those losers how it's done properly," she stated, feeling the smile on her face, broaden. Basil trilled softly, rolling her eyes at them. Nev laughed softly. “I think that's her way of saying we play too many games. Is that what you think, Bas?" she stated, rubbing Basil's head gently.

The bayleef glanced in Aidan's direction with a flat look, before shaking her head. “I'll take that as a yes."

"We're out of the apartment tonight, aren't we?" He said, letting his tone take on that hint of weariness that meant he thought he was being nagged. She could tell it was a joke, though—it was the way his eyes narrowed just a little with amusement. "I swear Basil's basically a mom. 'You kids play too many games. Go outside and get some sunshine.'" He waved one hand in a shooing motion, pitching his tone up a little to do the imitation.

Still, the impression was kind of ruined by the way he reached over to rub Basil's leaf.

Basil narrowed her eyes at Aidan, though, and trilled. Nev laughed at the statement; he wasn't entirely wrong. Basil had always been like that, even as a chikorita. “You should have seen her about seven years ago," Nev stated once she'd managed to get her laughing under control. “She wouldn't even let me eat without some sort of bib," she said as Basil gave her a flat look.

“Oh come on, Bas, you know it's true. And then there's the time when..." she trailed off when something caught her attention. Narrowing her eyes, Nev frowned.

“Nevena!" It was Béliam. What did he want? He approached with a broad smile as Nev glanced in Aidan's direction. “I've been trying to reach you," he stated once he was close enough. He glanced at Aidan for a moment, almost as if he were assessing him before turning back towards Nev. “I wanted to apologize for last week."

Nev furrowed her brows, as she regarded him. Apologize? “You never showed up," she started, pursing her lips together. She hadn't received any calls or texts from him, so she wasn't entirely sure how he had tried to reach her. “There's nothing to apologize for; it was a week ago."

“I know, and I feel terrible about that. I had an emergency in Johto and had to leave. Mom was there and she ended up in the hospital," he stated, furrowing his brows slightly. Nev immediately felt bad for the way she'd just talked to him. If that was true, she could understand why he never showed up, but still...

“You could have called me or texted me the next day to tell me." He could have done something.

“I know, I know, and I'm sorry. I'd like to make it up to you, though. If you're not busy, now, I'd like to take you to lunch," he stated before his eyes slid towards Aidan. “Unless you and him..." he trailed off as if he were expecting Nev to put it together.

She didn't know what he was talking about.

"You've got a lot of nerve," Aidan said, voice low and quiet. His body language remained much the same, and it was sort of hard to tell whether the comment was an insult or a mere observation. "Not sure exactly how they do things in Kalos, but here it's not exactly polite to butt in on someone else's afternoon like that, whether she and I are or not."

He arched an eyebrow, still petting Basil almost absently. "Kind of interesting, though, that a pretty famous Gym Leader could be hospitalized outside her region and not a peep of it make the news."

Aidan had a point. If Valerie had been hospitalized, it would have been mentioned in the news or some other form of media. Béliam, however, glanced in Aidan's direction through narrowed eyes. “She didn't want to make a scene about it. Mom doesn't like news about her getting out like that," he stated, his posture becoming tense.

“And that's why I asked her if she was busy or not. She could have said no, but she hasn't said anything, yet. Do you not let your woman talk for herself? Is she even your woman? She's way out of your league, man. She's more in mine," he stated, causing Nev to narrow her eyes.

“How dare you," she stated, feeling an odd amount of anger seeping into her voice. “How dare you speak to him like that. And I don't belong to anyone," that just sounded like a strange way to phrase something. “So no. I'm not free. Not now, not ever. I'll spend my time with someone who actually wants it, and right now, that's Aidan. So yes, I'm with him."

Basil made a trilling sound as she glared at Béliam as Nev made to walk past him with Aidan. How was he so rude? And what made him think that she would go anywhere with him? Whether or not it was true that Valerie was hospitalized, she didn't like this encounter with him at all. Béliam, however, didn't seem to like her statement, nor the fact that she was trying to leave. She felt a hand on her upper arm, forcing her to stop, and she glanced back at him.

“Let go," she stated firmly.

“Look, I just want a chance to explain myself," he began, but his grip tightened on her arm, and Nev wince a bit.

“I. Said. Let. Go." His grip tightened again before his hand was abruptly yanked off by one of Basil's vines. She was glaring at him as he turned his attention towards Basil.

“What the hell, you little shit," he stated. He made a motion as if he were going to strike Basil, however; she lunged forward and headbutted him in the stomach, causing him to lurch forward, grabbing at his stomach.

“Serves you right, you asshole," Nev stated, turning on her heel and glancing at Aidan. “Let's get out of here," she stated, brows furrowing softly.

"Yeah," he said quietly, exerting some effort to loosen his jaw. It had clenched, as had his hands, but he eased his posture now and moved to resume walking beside her without so much as looking in Béliam's direction. "Suits me fine." He ruffled her hair in a way that was becoming familiar, then smiled slightly and glanced down at Basil, giving her a gentle scratch behind the jaw. "Mom's protective streak is out in full force today, huh?"

Basil trilled happily, nodding as if she was making the point that she was being protective. Nev chuckled slightly, rubbing at her arm where Béliam had grabbed her. It was bruise, and she knew it was because she was always a bit more sensitive than most people.

“She is very protective today, aren't you, Mama Basil," Nev stated as Basil made a soft snorting sound. “I'm, uh, sorry about that, by the way," she said, not quite sure why she was apologizing. “I forget that people can be so rude, sometimes," she continued. It would have been one thing if Béliam was being rude to her; it was another thing that he was being rude to Aidan, though. And Nev didn't like that.

Aidan was her friend, he didn't deserve that.

"You don't have to apologize for anything, Doc," he said simply, shifting his hands into his pockets. "None of that's on you—besides, I'm not the one who got talked about like a piece of property." He shook his head, the look on his face for once vivid: unmistakably disgusted.

"I wasn't sure if I should say anything, but he was lying and you didn't seem to realize, so..." He shrugged. "If there's a different way you want me to handle that in the future, like letting you do all the talking at the time and telling you later or something, let me know, okay?" He regarded her seriously; it was obvious he meant what he said about letting her choose how to handle that kind of situation.

Nev smiled and nodded her head. “I'd appreciate it, actually, if you'd let me know right there and then. If anything ever seems out of place, and I don't seem to realize it, please tell me. And if you feel like you should say something, please... please do. I'm not exactly sociably graceful, as you can tell," she stated, grinning a little sheepishly.

“Mama Basil might not always be around to help me with those kinds of things, so I'd appreciate it," which was true. Most of the time, Basil was left at the apartment with the others. Today had been an exception because there wasn't much more they could do in regards to the machine or tests. Basil was just there to keep her company in her small office and help her keep things organized.

"You got it," Aidan replied, half-smiling down at her. They'd reached Jo's at last, and he opened the door, letting her step through before filing in behind her. They were seated outside, since the weather was nice enough for it.

Once the waitress had taken their orders and disappeared, he folded his hands together on the table, leaning forward slightly on his forearms so their eyes were on a level. "You all right? Doesn't seem to have rattled you too badly, but let me know if there's anything I can do."

“Hm, I'm fine," she stated, giving him a reassuring smile. “I mean, I'll get a bruise, but there's not much you can do about that. I bruise very easily, after all," she continued, pushing a soft sigh through her nose. Some people were lucky that something so little wouldn't have bruised them, however; Nev never considered herself lucky when it came to things like that.

“And I'd rather not let something like that ruin my day, today. It's a really nice day, and I was having a good time with my friend," she stated, feeling the smile on her face broaden a little. “And nothing beats enjoying lunch with a good friend," she added, nodding her head in the process.

"Well then don't let me stop you," he replied with a trace of humor, as though this had nothing to do with him at all. "What else should we get the idiots to play, besides Pikart?"

“Oh, maybe we can get Poké Party? That might be something else we can kick their ass with! And each other's," she stated, feeling a smirk pull at her lips.

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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: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon
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#, as written by Aethyia


October 23rd
Cinnabar Island Gym - Afternoon - Light Rain
Melody Rheinallt


It was hardly the most spectacular day for a gym challenge, really, what with the overcast sky and intermittent drizzle. But that was all right—it was still the day she'd picked, the day she felt ready, and that was enough.

Brushing down her loose tank, Mel waited patiently outside of the gym. Apparently Drake was making up for some time off lately, so there'd actually been a small queue out the door this afternoon. She didn't really mind. She had an umbrella for when it started to rain, and the company of her little audience to make the wait go by faster. Eryk and Ana had shelter work to do today, unsurprisingly, but she'd been invited to Ana's house for dinner afterwards. For celebration, she'd said, though Mel didn't want to count her torchics before they hatched.

Kas was there, though, and Aidan had come along too, claiming he had nothing to do in the office right now anyway. Mel sort of suspected that he was using her as an excuse to get away from that woman named Katia that everyone had been talking about, but that was fine by her. She sounded like a really unpleasant sort of person.

Cyrilla was there as well, for the same reason as Aidan, perhaps, and Nev had tagged along, too. The latter of them said it was so that she could cheer on Mel, and the both of them were huddled under a feebas umbrella that Cyrilla had brought with her. Nev had, apparently, forgotten her own, but the both of them seemed to fit comfortably underneath.

“Are you excited for your match, Mel?" Nev asked curiously, glancing in her direction. “It looks like everyone who has challenged him so far has lost," she stated as a challenger exited the door, a seemingly disappointed look on their face. There were ten minute intervals between each match, perhaps so that Drake could rest his team before the next battle.

Mel grinned. "Sure am. I was kind of hoping to be first challenger this morning so I'd know his pokémon were completely fresh, but someone insisted he needed his beauty sleep." She jabbed her elbow into Kas's ribcage; he pretended it hurt, doubling over a little with a grimace on his face.

Aidan lifted an eyebrow. Unlike the others, he'd just worn a coat that seemed to be water-resistant. His hair was a little damp, though, and wasn't styled up the way it usually was, falling more naturally around his face and neck instead. Mel wasn't really into older guys, but she could acknowledge that he looked handsome like that regardless.

"I'd hate to see what he looks like without if this is with," he said sardonically.

"Hey," Mirmir protested, offering himself up to be butt of the joke as he often did. "I have it on good authority that I'm a very nice-looking fellow."

Well aware of the opportunity she was being presented here, Mel took him up on it. "Yeah. If by 'good authority' you mean your mother tells you so."

Aidan laughed softly. "Ah, so this is what it means when people say 'a face only a mother could love.'"

Cyrilla chuckled at their banter while Nev pursed her lips together. “That's not nice; Kas is a very nice-looking person," she stated, causing Cyrilla to roll her eyes a bit.

“They're poking fun of him, Nev. Of course Kas is a very nice-looking fellow," Cyrilla seemed to explain, making air quotes with her free hand. Nev made a silent 'oh', and huffed nervously. “Besides, it's not like Kas really needs his beauty sleep; can't say the same for poor Drake, there," she added, nodding her head in the direction of the door as Drake called the next challenger. He yawned slightly, mouth covered with his left hand as he glanced in their direction.

With a large smile on his face, he waved at them before turning back inside the gym with the next person. “If he's half as sleepy as he looks, and is still winning, you might be in for a good match, Mel," Nev stated, seemingly excited for it.

Mel grinned. That challenger going inside meant she was the next, and she could feel the excitement building. "Oh I knew that to begin with," she said with a little smile. "Both the upside and the downside of being personally acquainted with the guy, I guess."

"Hmm," Kas added, drawing out the humming sound as though newly-contemplative. "Personally acquainted, is it? Didn't know that's what the kids were calling it these days."

Mel didn't bother resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Like he didn't know what was going on. "That's what it's called when you've only just met and are trying to see what'll happen, yeah," she drawled. "You've at least heard of taking it slow, right Mirmir?"

He scratched his head, putting in an exaggerated expression of deep thought. "It might be ringing a bell, sure."

Cyrilla huffed lightly at the exchange, shaking her head a bit as Nev looked slightly confused. She merely shrugged it off, though, and smiled in Mel's direction. “Well I think it's pretty admirable that you're both taking it slow," she stated.

“Hm, I have to agree with her on this one. Most people just jump straight into something and end up falling out after a couple of weeks. If it doesn't work out between you and Drake, at least you'll have made a friend, if nothing else," Cyrilla stated with a small smile on her face. “But I think you and Drake might have what it takes. You're both very comfortable, already, and that's a good sign, I think," she added shrugging her shoulders.

“Just make sure you kick his ass, first," she grinned, then, referring to Mel's upcoming match. Nev chuckled lightly and shook her head.

“She's already going to kick his ass, Cyrilla," Nev said as she grinned. “Oh, you should see if he wants to come over for your celebratory dinner, Mel! If he's finished with challenges, that is."

Mel had to laugh a little. "There's something a little ironic about inviting him to a celebration of victory against him, but I'll see if I can swing it." She knew she was definitely audacious enough to do something like that, and didn't think it would offend him. Even if she won, it wouldn't be like she was defeating him full-stop or anything—it was a Gym Leader's job to provide a very specific level of challenge, not to go all-out with their best pokémon or whatever. So it shouldn't be an insult or anything she didn't think.

Besides, teasing aside, she really did like him, as a person. He was goofy in a disarming way, and warm and sweet. In other words, pretty much the antithesis of every bad dating experience she'd ever had, and some of them were—

Well, better not to think about that now. She'd gotten used to the thoughts intruding sometimes. It was what they did. But the comfort of this moment was a strong defense against them, and she let herself relax into it a little. Whether it turned into anything more or not, she'd made a friend that could do that for her even when he wasn't around, and that was itself something rare and worth cherishing.

“Well... you don't have to tell him it's a celebratory dinner if that's the case. You can just say it's a dinner with friends," Nev stated, still grinning. Cyrilla shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“It's a celebratory dinner, Nev. No way around that one... and besides, it's not like he'll say no if Mel asks nicely. Oh, look, there's your chance, Mel," Cyrilla stated as she nodded her head in the direction of the door where Drake appeared. He grinned in their direction and motioned them towards the gym doors.

“Hey guys!" he greeted, smiling brightly at all of them. “I'm a little jealous. I don't have a cheering squad for me," he stated, his lips forming into a mock pout.

“Yeah, well, you're not as cute as Mel, so... you'll just have to suck it up," Cyrilla stated as she grinned at him, earning a light chuckle from Drake.

“I guess you're right on that one," he said lightly before leading them inside the gym.

"You hear that guys? He thinks I'm cute." Mel grinned, something that turned into a chuckle when Aidan rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. She happily followed Drake inside, the others trailing after. She waited until they'd broken away to head for the spectator seats before she broached the topic further, though.

"Hey, Drake? Before we get started—are you free around dinner time? Everyone's getting together at Ana and Ryk's place for dinner. I thought maybe you'd want to come?"

Intellectually, she knew the nervous flutter in her stomach was needless; it wasn't as though she were actually asking him out. Hell, she'd done that, kind of, already, though apparently he'd not noticed that was her intention. But still she found herself unsure of his answer, and hoping it would be the affirmative one, so emotionally there wasn't much of a difference.

“Hm," he seemed to be contemplating her offer, pursing his lips together and regarded her with a serious gaze. A goofy grin spread over his face, though, as he nodded his head. “Of course I'd like to go! After you, there's at least three more challengers so by the time I'm done with them, it'll be dinner time, right?" he stated, tilting his head to the side a bit.

“I'll be there, for sure," he added as he smiled at her. He cleared his throat, though, and took a step back. “Alright, just to reiterate old rules and what not," be began in a nonchalant fashion, making his way towards the center of the gym. “We're using only five pokemon in total. Your objective is to defeat me in anyway you can, and you are allowed to switch out during the match, however," he paused to clear his throat, “you are only allowed to use the same five. In other words, if you send out a new pokemon that wasn't part of the original five, then you'll be disqualified, alright?"

“Any questions or concerns before we begin?"

She grinned, then shook her head. "None whatsoever. Come at me, leaderman." Mel reached for her belt, pinching off the first of her five chosen battle partners for the day, but held off, curious to see who Drake would send out first and willing to change her strategy if the choice was different than she expected.

Drake chuckled lightly at the name before he tossed his first pokemon out. “Alright, Axe, time to play again," he stated as his fraxure appeared. He growled lightly before tilting his head in Mel's direction. Axe let out a bellowing roar as he seemed to prepare himself for the battle.

Mel decided that her instinct was as good as any, and gave the pokéball a toss. Shaolin, her meinshao, emerged, looking ready as ever for a spar and dropping into a fighting stance immediately.

As soon as he match was signalled to begin, Mel called for Shaolin to use calm mind, then force palm immediately after. The pokémon bounded towards Axe, whipping forward the lashes of fur at the end of one arm to strike.

“Use Crunch!" Drake commanded. Axe roared before charging Shaolin, the area around his mouth glowing in the process.

The two moves collided; Axe's jaws clamped down around Shaolin's fur, but the move wasn't effective, and she just used it to yank him in to hit with her other arm regardless. They broke apart, then charged back in. Both pokémon were high-attack close-quarters battlers, but Shaolin had an edge, and in the end, she pulled out the victory.

Mel withdrew her as soon as the battle was over, sending Una out instead. She had a tough fight against Brick Jr., but the Gabite emerged the victor, only to be felled by Gemma's powerful Ice Beam. It was a battle of water types after that; an odd thing in a dragon-type gym, but gyarados was close enough, she supposed. Gemma scraped by with a psybeam, but was in no shape to continue, so Mel withdrew her as well.

Ptrouble defeated Deino, but ran into a bigger issue against Drake's salamence, very clearly his anchor pokémon. Fortunately, Mel had an ace in the hole for this particular gym, and withdrew her aerodactyl in favor of sending out Argent. Grinning, she folded her arms across her chest. "Attract."

“Aw, c'mon!" Drake stated as he threw an arm out in a vague gesture. “I forgot that move existed," he muttered before shaking his head. “Typhoon, use Dragon Tail," he said as the Salamence merely regarded Argent. He didn't move, and instead, seemed to lay down, and stretched out his neck. He made a soft grumbling noise in Argent's direction, causing Drake to shake his head.

“You're a big baby, you know that?" he stated in the Salamence's direction. Sighing deeply, he shook his head and made his way out towards the floor, resting a hand on Typhoon's wing. “You lost, ya big dope," he spoke gently, but seemed amused more than anything. “Guess that means you're my first challenger today to win the Volcano Badge," he stated, fishing around in his breast pocket and pulling a tin can from it. He popped it open and pulled what looked to be the said badge from it, and motioned for Mel to meet him halfway to the center.

“Congrats, Mel. A battle well won... or something like that." He chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.

Mel laughed softly as she hopped down, more than happy to meet him in the middle and accept her badge. Argent, always both good sport and incorrigible tease, nuzzled her little nose against the very end of Typhoon's in an almost conciliatory gesture. Typhoon seemed mostly pleased by this, and released a short huff of air.

"'Something like that'?" Mel replied, perhaps not so dissimilar from her pokémon in this respect. "It's a perfectly legitimate move, I'll have you know." She winked as she retrieved her badge case, not so different from the one he had—her aluminum shell was decorated with a tropical flower pattern in teal and green. She set the Volcano Badge in the seventh spot; there was only one missing from the set now.

Drake snorted softly before he chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, I know it is. Just didn't think it'd ever be used in a gym battle, is all," he stated, rolling his eyes seemingly at himself. “Ah, but still, that was a good battle. Best one I've had all day, really," he continued, before rubbing at Typhoon's wing. The Salamence shook it, though, as if to shake Drake's hand off, before nudging closer to Argent.

“I don't think it's going to wear off anytime soon, either." Drake shook his head and glanced towards the others on the spectator seats who seemed to be laughing at him. Nev and Cyrilla were, at least. Mirmir was grinning, and Aidan shook his head a little.

“So... what time should I be there for dinner? Seven, eight?"

"Seven thirty if you can swing it. You've got my number if you can't." She dropped the little reminder with half a grin before recalling Argent. "Anyway, we should get going; you'll need to rest before the next challenge and all. Good luck, leaderman."

Typhoon seemed almost saddened by the sylveon's disappearance, but Drake recalled him before he could make a spectacle of himself. “Alright, seven thirty. I'll be there, you can count on it," he replied with a large grin of his own.

“Yeah, well, you better since you're making a promise, Drake," Cyrilla stated as she stood a little to Mel's left, arm linked with Nev's. “You don't want me coming after you, if you break it," she added, the grin on her face belying the fact that she was being serious, it seemed.

“I'll be there, I promise," Drake stated, lips pursed into a fine line, but he didn't seem upset or anything.

“Good. Come on, Mel, let's go tell the other two about your victory! And see if they need any help with dinner," Nev stated, offering her free arm towards her.

She took it, shooting Drake a parting smile over her shoulder and waving with her other hand as the group exited the gym.

All in all, she'd had a pretty fantastic day.