Pokémon: Atonement

Kanto Region

0 INK

a part of Pokémon: Atonement, by Nemeseia.

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

Nemeseia holds sovereignty over Kanto Region, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
1,171 readers have been here.
3,792 readers have visited Pokémon: Atonement since Nemeseia created it.
Aethyia are listed as curators, giving them final say over any conflict & the ability to clean up mistakes.

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

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

Setting

The Kanto region: filled with various pokémon and nefarious deeds.
Create a Character Here »

Kanto Region

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

Minimap

Kanto Region is a part of Pokémon: Atonement.

7 Characters Here

Kasimir Rheinallt [82] "Why yes, I *am* the brains of the operation. Thank you for noticing."
Eryk Nero [78] "I find myself looking for something I cannot have, and yet..."
Aidan Klein [76] "I guess I'm part of the ugly truth now."
Cyrilla Niav [74] "They won't be able to stop me... not now. Not ever."
Nevena Solomon [50] "It's not my place to say..."
Anastasia Asher [46] "Every day is a gift. Or that's what I tell myself, anyway."
Rocket Files [46] [ Codex of Information ]

Start Character Here »


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

0.00 INK



January 30th
Arnaud's - Evening - Clear
Cyrilla Klein


She wasn't entirely sure how, but Cyrilla had managed to convince Kas to convince Eryk and Aidan to take separate cars to Arnaud's. She wanted it to be a surprise, and she wanted to see their reactions when they saw Ana and Nev. Cyrilla thought that they had chosen beautiful dresses, and she could only hope that they were complementary to the boys'. Not that it really mattered; what she was really looking forward to was everyone having dinner together.

In separate tables.

They should have known better than to leave the details of reserving places to Cyrilla. She smoothed out her dress, though, frowning slightly when a piece of her hair fell from its clip. She knew styling her short hair, up, was going to be a little more difficult, but they had done an amazing job of it at Ophelia's. They had worked wonders on Nev and Ana's hair, too. She almost hadn't recognized the both of them because of how different they looked. It wasn't just the hair styles, either. The lightly applied make-up really did bring out the blue of both Ana and Nev's eyes, and there was just something ethereal about the way they looked.

Cyrilla could appreciate it; she appreciated all forms of beauty, really. “Once the boys arrive, we'll go inside to get our reservations," she stated, smiling in Ana and Nev's direction.

“I still don't understand why we had to come in two different cars," Nev muttered slightly as she sighed. “It would have been easier to come all at once."

Ana hummed, giving Cyrilla an ever-so-slightly suspicious look. She was steady on her heels, and the copious lengths of her rose-pink hair had been curled ever so gently and just left to fall naturally otherwise, some falling forward over her shoulders but the vast majority cascading to the small of her back. It looked extremely soft, honestly, and smooth out of her customary plaits. Her eyeliner was winged, and there was a pale, opalescent shimmer at the outside corner of each, but her lips were bare except for a subtle gloss.

"It does feel like we sort of missed the point of the, um, image thing this way," she said, shaking her head faintly.

There wasn't really much time to debate it, though, because the car pulling up to the curb was definitely the one with the guys in it. Aidan hopped out first, from the passenger side near the curb, tugging slightly at his black cuffs and seemingly muttering something under his breath before he caught them from the corner of his eye and did a double-take, blinking slowly.

"Huh. You three clean up really nicely." He smiled a little.

“You look nice as well, Aidan... but then again you always do," Nev replied happily enough as she smiled in his direction. Her hair had been pulled into a messy updo with some strands left to frame her face. Her eyeliner was cat eyed, and she was wearing nude colors of eye shadow. Still, Cyrilla snickered softly to herself at Nev's statement.

Before she could say anything, though, Eryk was the next one out of the car. He was dressed sharply in a dark grey suit with a matching tie. The dress shirt underneath was a black color, and his hair had been tamed back with what looked like gel. It might have been something else, Cy couldn't really tell. He looked handsome, though, and Cyrilla wasn't ever sure she'd seen him slick his hair back like that before.

He blinked, though in Ana's direction, and that same soft smile appeared on his face, like it was just natural to him. Maybe it was?

“You look lovely," he stated, and Cyrilla could feel her insides melting. It was just so damn cute.

"Smooth, Nero," Aidan murmured, low enough that only Cyrilla and Nev could hear him.

Ana looked about like she was going to melt, too, from sheer overheating. She blushed and looked down, but couldn't quite seem to help looking back up at his face, a shy little smile taking over her own. "Thank you," she said softly. "You, um." She swallowed thickly.

The sound of a car door closing startled her and prevented whatever probably-awkward end that sentence would have had, and Kasimir approached the group, beaming at all of them. Upon noticing the tail end of the exchange, he waggled his eyebrows at Cyrilla, tugging on the lapels of his jacket in the manner of someone who'd just seen a plan come to fruition. His suit was actually a rich fuchsia color, with a white shirt, black sweater-vest, and black tie. The ensemble would have worn another man, but he wore it like second nature, sliding one hand into his pants' pocket and flashing a pristine smile at them all.

"Is this what it feels like to be one of the beautiful people?"

Cyrilla snorted softly, a way to disguise the fact that she'd swallowed a little too thickly, and shook her head. “You say that as if you've never been one before," she stated, rolling her eyes a bit before taking a step closer in his direction without really thinking. Eryk, however, rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“I think we all look rather nice. It's not often that we get to do this," Nev stated as she smiled, completely oblivious to the scheme Cyrilla and Kas had cooked for them all. “Should we head inside, now?" she asked, tilting her head in the direction of the restaurant's door.

“Nope, not yet," Cyrilla stated, pulling her phone from her bag. She motioned for one of the bystanders to come forward, a young woman dressed in a school outfit. Cyrilla didn't particularly know why a student was at a restaurant like this, but she wasn't going to care much. She just wanted to get everyone's picture. Eryk didn't seem too happy about it, but moved closer to the group when Cyrilla motioned them for it.

“Everyone, put your best smiles on and say marshmallow," she stated, causing Nev to arch a confused brow.

“I thought it was cheese?"

The flash went off, probably capturing some of Nev's confusion, and Aidan huffed a soft laugh. "Maybe one more, just in case," he said, and the girl nodded obligingly, pausing longer this time to make sure everyone had their faces how they wanted before she took the photo.

Handing Cyrilla's phone back to her, she paused a little awkwardly in front of him. “Umm, stop me if I'm wrong, but...?"

He grimaced a little, but then sighed and half-smiled. "Yeah, that's me," he said. "I don't have a pen, but if you do, I'm happy to."

She squealed a little and retrieved a permanent marker and notebook from her pocket, handing both over to him for his signature. When he handed them back, he tipped his head at Kasimir and Eryk. "Get theirs, too," he advised. "They're here for the tournament this weekend. You don't know them yet, but you will, and then you'll be glad you did."

Gladly taking his advice, she had the two sign subsequent pages in the book, then said a hasty goodbye so they could head inside.

“I forget Big Bro Aidan was a celebrity," Cyrilla stated, but she was more amused than anything. When they walked inside the restaurant, Cyrilla glanced up towards Kas. She had to tilt her head a bit; he was taller than most people, after all. She grinned at him, motioning to the group to wait, before going up to the waiter. She frowned a little when he didn't glance up, but he seemed to be writing something.

“Name," he asked, in a dull tone.

“Cyrilla Klein," she answered, watching as he stopped writing and looked up. He blinked, she smiled. His eyes went back to the tablet in front of him, and began typing something in. Presumably her information.

“You have three tables in total," he began, causing Cyrilla to nod her head. “Morgan, Ingrid, and Stefan will be your hosts. They'll take you to your tables," he stated, motioning for the three waiters to grab menus.

“Mr. Nero and Ms. Asher, if you'd be so kind as to follow me this way, we have a special table reserved for the two of you near the garden," Morgan stated as she waited for Eryk and Ana to follow her.

Ingrid, however, went towards Aidan and Nev, inclining her head towards them as well. “We have Mr. Klein and Dr. Solomon near the fountain area," she stated as Cyrilla continued to grin brightly at them all.

Aidan rolled his eyes, clearly unsurprised by the shenanigans, but Ana looked surprised.

"Wait, what? I thought we were all eating together?"

Kas shrugged a little. "Seems not," he said, like he hadn't absolutely been a co-conspirator in this plan. "Oh well; I'm sure you'll think of something to talk about. Have fun!"

Stefan, a diminutive blond man probably a year or two younger than Cyrilla, smiled brightly at them both and led them up to the second floor of the restaurant, seating them in a balcony area that very conveniently let them see most of the other tables in the place, including the two their friends would occupy. Kas moved to the far side first, pulling Cy's chair out for her. He was still chuckling as they gave their drink orders and the waiter disappeared. He flashed a grin over at her.

"I had a hell of a time getting those two into a separate car, but the looks on their faces were completely worth it."

Cyrilla chuckled lightly and nodded her head. “I'm still surprised that we even managed that," she replied. Of course, knowing Ryk and Aidan, it wasn't an easy feat for Kas. It couldn't have been, at least. “Still, I'm glad you were able to manage it somehow. I think I nearly died from how sweet that reaction was that Eryk gave to Ana. I was expecting something, but not that."

It had been such a sweet expression, and if Cyrilla were being honest with herself, she was slightly jealous of it. Not of Ana, but of the fact that someone had given a look like that and meant it. Cyrilla was used to things being temporary, shallow, meaningless. But arceus she wanted something like that. She'd almost confessed that to Kas when they were at Marna's, but she wouldn't do that to him. Couldn't do that.

So she settled on things like this, where they could tease their friends together.

“You, though," she began, grinning slightly, “Arceus that suit. How did you even find one that would fit you?"

He grinned, dusting off his shoulder in pantomime, as if showing off a little, though there was no one around but her. "It's great, right? I may have had to call ahead a couple weeks ago and put in an order for it," he admitted, then winked at her so quickly she almost missed it.

"I had to look stylish enough to be on a date with the prettiest girl in the room, you know?"

Cyrilla rolled her eyes, but smiled still, feeling her cheeks flush lightly. “I think you were duped, then, because the prettiest girl in the room happens to be over there with Ryk," she stated, motioning her head towards Ana and Eryk's table. They looked to have finally settled down, and the expression on Ryk's face looked serene. Cyrilla turned her attention back towards Kas, though.

“And no, you're totally right, it is great. It really compliments you, Kas. I don't think just anyone could wear a suit like that and own it, you know," she continued, grinning slightly at him as she laid her jaw in her hand. It probably wasn't the most etiquette thing to do in a restaurant this nice, but Cyrilla was too busy trying to distract herself from directly looking at Kas. Damn her traitorous heart, though, if it wasn't fluttering.

She had enough sense of his motion to know that he shook his head, though. "Ryk's a lucky guy, I won't deny it," he said, his tone warm with his affection for both Eryk and Ana. "Aidan is, too." His hand, large and warm, closed over her free one, and he tugged gently until it was lifted towards him, her wrist turned up. His thumb circled the heel of her hand, and he ducked his head to catch her eyes.

"But neither of them's half as lucky as me." Still holding her eyes, he brushed his lips gently over her pulse point, then softly released her hand. "Don't you forget it."

Oh, but it wasn't real. This wasn't real. They weren't real.

Shut up, you traitorous heart.

Cyrilla huffed lightly and shook her head. “How could I? You're very hard to forget, you know," she replied, inwardly rolling her eyes at herself. She couldn't say she regretted her drunken text to ask him out. She'd done it mostly for Ana and Nev, though she might have done it for her own sake. She wasn't sure anymore.

“You'll be singing a different tune, though, once yours and Ryk's pro-battling career takes off. You'll have so many admirers to choose from, I'll just be a cutiefly left on the wall to wallow," she stated in a semi-dramatic tone. She wasn't being completely serious about it, though. She knew they were going to progress further into the tournament. It wasn't because she had faith, but because she believed in them. Maybe they were the same thing, she couldn't be too sure.

He smiled ruefully and leaned back a little, but his response held off until Stefan returned with their drinks. Kas had, unusually for him, ordered himself a red wine. Once they'd put in their food orders and the waiter had scurried off again, he raised the glass to his mouth, studying her over the rim. "You make it sound like I can't pull now, Cy," he said, exaggerating the pout in his tone until it was almost a whine. His lips remained turned up in a lopsided smirk, however, even as he lowered the glass again.

"How cold of you."

“Not what I meant, and you know it," she replied, furrowing her brows in his direction. She knew he could; she'd been there at the clubs back on Cinnabar and had seen it first hand. Kas could have just about anyone with how handsome he was, but that was only the surface. There was more to him. He was kind, caring, and sweet in so many ways, that even if he'd been a toxicroak, she'd still...

Oh, fuck.

She cleared her throat a bit and sat back, taking a drink of her champagne. Was she going deaf? It sounded like something was beating in her eardrums and she couldn't quite make it stop. “What I meant by that is that this," she gestured between herself and him, “wouldn't hold up to it. I know what we're doing isn't real, that this was just so we could get those idiots over there to at least acknowledge something."

But it wasn't real.

“You're a good guy, Kas, and a good friend," and too good for the likes of her.

He lifted an eyebrow at her, flicking a piece of his long fringe out of his face. "Isn't real, huh?" He echoed, tone inscrutable. She couldn't read his face, either, which was... not normal. There was something there in his eyes, but whatever it was wasn't making itself clear.

"Maybe so, but that kiss I'm collecting on next month will be very real, I assure you." He leaned back, tilting his head, and this time she did recognize the expression he wore: challenge. "Unless you planned to renege on what drunk you agreed to in exchange for my help in yet another shameless and hilarious manipulation of our friends, that is."

Next month? What was... oh. Oh.

Sometimes she wished her complexion wasn't so pale because then she wouldn't have to worry about her face flushing as deeply as she could feel it. She arched a brow at him, though, clearing her throat as best as she could, and trying to find the confidence she usually had. Damn him for making it all go out the window.

“Drunk me and sober me are pretty much the same person. Can't take back the words drunk me said, so I guess next month we'll see," she finally replied. She wasn't going to back down from that challenge, no matter how she might feel. “Besides, I have to repay you somehow for all the help. I think I can manage a kiss," or two if he wanted.

He huffed softly. "Well, don't force yourself," he drawled. "There's nothing half as unattractive as unwillingness." He said it lightly, but his face was serious.

That earned a soft snort from her before she chuckled, trying to contain the strange bout of laughter that statement caused. “I think you misunderstood, Kas," she began, once she managed to contain herself. “I'd be very, very willing as long as it's just you." Arceus, she was an idiot, wasn't she?

"Is that so?" A slow grin crawled across his face. "Because I can think of a lot of places and times where it's just me, Cy. Maybe something to think about. In case you'd be interested in a little practice for the fourteenth."

It was probably for the best that Stefan interrupted then with their appetizers.

She honestly didn't even register Stefan interrupting with their appetizers. She just stared at Kas for a moment, her heartbeat picking up, as she swallowed thickly. Arceus, what was she getting herself into? She had to stop; this shouldn't continue, and yet...

“Well we do have a room all to ourselves, you know," she retorted, glancing at the plate in front of her. She could feel her ears burning, and it felt strangely hard to breathe. Was that what people meant when they said it took your breath away?

“Like you said, plenty of time to practice."

Arceus she couldn't breathe.

Kas's attention, which had momentarily diverted to the plate set in front of him, snapped back to her at the response. He was clearly surprised by it, but he didn't miss a beat. Even as Stefan hurried off again, he reached forward over the table, catching her chin in the same gentle grip he'd used on her hand earlier, pressing his thumb just beneath her lower lip.

"You don't mind, even if I muss this?" he asked, a glint of something warm in his eyes. "I think I'd feel a little bad, ruining something so pretty." The emphasis was subtle, but detectable, and his expression had gone unreadable again.

“Not at all," she replied a little too quickly. Even as she kept his gaze, she could still feel her heart beating faster in it's unsteady rhythm. Did she have an arrhythmia? “You can't ruin something that's inviting it," she added. He'd issued the challenge, and she'd be damned if she wasn't going to keep answering it.

Even if it meant that she couldn't breathe, or focuse on anything that wasn't him. Even if it meant that she was pushing for something that could very well be the end of her if it ended badly. There was something she remembered reading: to become lovers from friends is simple, one person just has to take a step closer. She'd felt like that step had been taken, and now it was just a matter of who was going to falter, first. Who would be the first one to take a step back.

"I wonder about that," he murmured, letting his hand fall away. Either way, there was certainly nothing to be done in the restaurant which was still very much where they were.

Kasimir took another sip of his wine. "For now... I believe we were seated here with nosing into everyone else's business in mind, so shall we?"

She tried not to let that disappoint her, tried not to let it show on her face, and it didn't. She just grinned, taking another sip of her champagne.

“Yes we shall. Who's first, Ryk or Aidan?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


January 30th
Arnaud's - Evening - Clear
Anastasia Asher


The garden turned out to be rather lovely, and though the night was a bit chilly, they were close enough to the restaurant still that it wasn't unbearable by any means. At least not yet; all it really did was prickle her skin with goosebumps, but honestly, that could have just as easily been the situation.

Ana had barely even started to get used to the idea that she'd be going on a date with Eryk in sixteen days. She was not prepared to be in a very similar situation now, and even as she settled into her seat and tried to look over the drink menu with the air of someone who knew what she was seeing, she couldn't help but be a little tense. It was just so difficult to be alone with him, sometimes. Not because of anything he'd done, or any way he'd made her uncomfortable, but because... because she was a little afraid. Of how much she liked it. Because of how nice it was. And what it got her thinking about.

She swallowed, trying not to be too obvious about it, and chanced a glance up at him. He was so... so handsome it was hard to look at. Honestly sometimes she thought beautiful might have been the better word, but she hesitated to use it because sometimes it had the wrong connotations. Ana smiled a little thinly. "I don't know the difference between any two of these wines," she admitted, then tried not to wince.

She knew he didn't care, but also... that he had to have been on dates with much classier women. Women who knew the difference. Who could pronounce everything. And who probably filled out their dresses a lot better, and walked into these kinds of places like they belonged because they did.

Eryk glanced up from his own menu, lips pursed into a fine line, though it was hard to tell why. “People usually choose wines to compliment their meals," he stated, straightening his posture a bit. “Red wines typically go with heavier red meats and pasta-like dishes. Whites tend to go more with seafood and white meats," he explained, and placed his menu down.

“Not everyone drinks wine with their food, though. Here... it's to set a sort of ambiance. To let the other patrons know they can... afford it," he shook his head and glanced back at his menu. “If you'd like to try one, though," he began, skimming through the menu. “You might like this one. This red wine isn't too heavy, and has more pecha and bluk berry flavors that help sweeten it."

People drank wine just to show off? Really? That was just... ridiculous to her. Shouldn't you at or drink something because it was delicious or good for you or you thought it'd be interesting to try? That pretty much exhausted the reasons Ana had ever eaten or drank something, and she didn't think she'd made some kind of mistake in that.

"I'd like to try it if you think it tastes good," she said, her brows furrowing a little bit. "But it seems like such a waste to drink something just because it's fancy?" Maybe that was naive of her. Maybe she was making herself look like even more of a child to him, but...

Well, some things were just true, right?

“People who have the money tend to do things that are wasteful," he replied, shrugging his shoulders lightly. He didn't seem to feel any particular way about the situation. “It has nothing to do with taste. Some just like the status it affords them. The more expensive your drink is, the more likely you are to be taken as a high ranking official, or someone who comes from a well-off family," he continued, sighing softly.

“Take mine, for example," he began, seemingly a little hesitant about it. “The Koga family is what most people consider old money. Most of it is distributed to the other members of the clan depending on where they fall in the family branch. I'm from the main branch, Koga's direct grandson," he didn't sound particularly pleased about that part, but he continued, “which is why it... makes me want to help out with the shelter."

Ana considered this for a moment. She knew Eryk was relatively well-off, of course, and she knew he had probably lived more like it at some point than he did now in her house, but she hadn't known his family was the Koga. Suddenly all the jokes Kasimir made about ninjas made so much more sense. And he wasn't just a Koga, he was the Koga's grandson, which meant, if his old family worked anything like her old family, that he might well be on track to be the Koga himself, someday.

She was, she realized fairly belatedly, sitting across the table from someone she'd probably have had to call lord a century or two ago. Maybe even prince. It was sort of daunting, though she tried to remind herself that it didn't really matter. Money was just money; it didn't change anything about who he was.

Tucking a piece of pink hair behind her ear, Ana offered him a gentle smile. Whether they were the Kogas or not, she'd gotten the impression before that his family was not very kind, and that meant she could understand why he might hesitate to talk about them. She wasn't going to push him if he didn't want to. "Can I ask how that connects to the shelter?" she inquired, not sure exactly how he got from one to the other.

“The shelter is a place that is..." he paused, furrowing his brows as if he were unsure how to say his next words. “My family does not always do great things," he began, putting an emphasis on the word. “The shelter, however, is the one place that I have felt at ease, where I was not forced into being someone that I am not. It is the first place that has felt like home, and it is the one place I want to flourish. It does not make up for the things I have done in my life, but it feels like the first step to atone for it."

“If I can use my family's money for the shelter... maybe one day, it'll be enough."

Ana couldn't help but feel a bubble of pain well in her chest, pushing uncomfortably on her heart. It just wasn't fair, she thought. Not fair that he should carry such a burden. She might not have known what things he was talking about needing to make up for, but she knew, deep down in her core, that even if he told her the details of every single one she'd feel the same. She wouldn't blame him for any of it. Because there was just no way such a sweet, lovely person could be cold enough to be heartless. Whatever he thought he'd done, she was sure it was because he'd been a victim of circumstance, or of his family, or some combination of the two, and she understood—

Oh did she ever understand how it felt to be forced some way against her will by circumstances she could not control.

"It's enough," she said, softly but with a certain firmness rare to her. "It's enough for me, and I hope one day it will be enough for you, too." She wouldn't try to push her viewpoint on him, wouldn't try to force him to do or think anything. But she did hope that one day he'd come to think that way himself.

He stared at her for a long moment. He didn't say anything, and he didn't quite move. He just stared, like he was trying to understand something. Pick apart what she'd just said to make it more coherent to himself, perhaps. A small, subtle smile broke on his face, though, and he shook his head.

“Perhaps," he finally spoke, glancing back up to meet her eyes. “Perhaps one day, it will be as such, and I will have you to thank for being that salvation," he continued. He shook his head once more, and glanced back towards the menu, eyes narrowing softly before he glanced back towards her.

“If there is a particular wine you'd like to try for taste," he started, a lilt in his voice that was hard to read, “you might prefer this one."

Ana was still reeling from the last thing he'd said. Salvation? He didn't need saving at all, to her mind, and yet... it was impossible to know what to make of it really. He seemed to have it in his head that she was special somehow, but all she did was treat him the way a decent person would.

But then he said the other thing, and her blush finally caught up to her. She wasn't wearing any face powder or anything, so she was sure it was just as obvious as always. She didn't know how, but she was fairly certain he was teasing her somehow. "Um..." It put her a little on the back foot, somehow; she wasn't sure what to do with an Eryk who was teasing her. It was like too many reasons to be fluttery at the same time.

"If—if you think so, then I'll give it a try." Their waiter came by for the order, and she let him put it in, not wanting to make a fool of herself by stammering over her words in front of anyone else.

When Eryk gave their order to Morgan his attention went back to her. He was like that, sometimes, always watching her as if she were going to say or do something interesting. “If you don't like the wine, you can always try something else. Wine isn't for everyone," he said softly. “Don't think too much on what Aidan said about the image. If you don't like it, don't drink it," he added, shrugging his shoulders lightly.

“Is... there anything in particular you would like to do on the fourteenth of next month? Besides... dinner," he asked, tilting his head slightly.

She nodded to show she understood; she did occasionally have wine at her own house, it was just...not fancy like this stuff. She couldn't drink much anyway; she was small and had never been of hardy constitution, so she became drunk very quickly. Even on Christmas she'd had probably half as much to drink as even Cyrilla.

The question, though, made her think. "Uh, hm." He first instinct was just that it really didn't matter to her what they did, because she'd be with him and that was always enough, but... that wasn't the kind of thing she thought she could say. Maybe if she was drunk, but definitely not right now. Not with him looking at her like that.

He was so weird, calling her eyes pretty when his looked like that.

"Would you... um this might be stupid, but do you want to go to the backisland with me? There's this little spot that's actually mine... I bought it along with the property from the old owner when I moved. It's nothing special for swimming or surfing or anything, but... it's quiet? I used... I used to go there to think. Or when I needed to be alone for a little while."

Stupid, Ana. She'd just said there wasn't really anything to do there; it'd probably just be boring, with literally nothing around but the ocean, a few trees, and her company. She ducked partway behind the large wineglass that Morgan brought back, pretending to be more interested in it than she actually was so she didn't have to watch him realize how much of an idiot she was.

“Alright," he replied, nodding his head slightly. “I don't mind. If it's quiet, and somewhere you'd like to be, then would you like to spend the evening there, instead of a place like this?" he asked, gesturing vaguely around the restaurant.

"You mean like... a picnic or something?" Ana had only ever been on a couple, once with Auntie Miranda and Uncle Edgar on a rare weekend off, and another by herself with Luna and Nova. But she understood the general idea anyhow.

She took a sip of the wine in her hand for fortification more than anything, but her eyes widened at the taste. "Oh, this is good!"

Eryk nodded his head. “If you don't mind," he trailed off, leaning back into his chair and picking up his own wine glass, “we both know we aren't quit suited to places like this." He pursed his lips together, furrowing his brows before taking a drink of his wine.

“It would be easier if it was just the two of us in a quieter place."

Ana smiled into the rim of her glass, feeling her stomach flip over. Well, not literally of course, but it sure felt like it. "That would be nice," she murmured, taking another sip before setting the glass down. She wanted to enjoy it slowly.

"Even places like this aren't so bad, though. With—with you." She felt a little ridiculous, dressed up and made up, in some ways like a little girl playing at being an adult with all these people around who had to know she was faking, but... it was hard to feel like it mattered much, when she got to spend time with him, like this.

Embarrassed, she cleared her throat. "So, um... the tournament starts tomorrow. Are you feeling nervous at all?"

“No," he answered, but his brows furrowed slightly. “Not necessarily," he added, sighing softly. “I think it's more the fact that I will be in a stadium full of people," he murmured almost in a grumpy tone. “The more people there are, the less I enjoy being there, but... this is something I want to try and do. I wasn't able to in my youth."

“It's not quite the same as a gym challenge, but it's the closest thing to it."

Ana giggled softly. It wasn't that she didn't understand—she absolutely did. But one part had struck her as kind of funny. You say 'your youth' like it's gone," she observed. "But you're still young." She didn't actually know his exact age or when his birthday was, but considering Cy and Kas's insistence on celebrating such things, she was sure she'd find out eventually.

"You could... you could even do the gyms if you wanted, you know. I'm sure Drake would be happy to get a challenger he knows."

Eryk huffed lightly. “I'll be twenty seven next month," he stated, taking a long drink of his wine. “I wouldn't be able to, though. Not with my line of work and family," he furrowed his brows deeply at that, and glanced down at the table.

“This... I will settle with this, though. It'll be the one thing I have done for myself, and no one else."

She knew how that felt, too. To not have the world open in front of you the way people were fond of saying the young did. "I'm sorry," she said, not trying to tell him that he was wrong. Maybe, if he could find a way free of his family's expectations, but... she knew that was no easy task, and that if it were obviously possible, he'd have done it already.

"My family..." she hesitated a little. She didn't really like talking about herself but somehow part of her wanted him to know things about her, just like she wanted to know things about him. She let herself believe, just for a moment, that maybe he wanted to know about her, too. "Well, you know who my family is, I guess." She gestured vaguely to the trademark hair color she'd inherited.

"I'm... not from the main branch. Well my mother is, but—" she grimaced. He'd probably understand the politics of this kind of thing better than just about anyone, but that didn't make it easy to explain exactly. "I was, um, disinherited? And sent to live in Lavender town with Auntie Miranda. She's not actually my aunt, more like... the black mareep of the family, I guess. But she runs the center there all by herself, so she was always very busy..."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I don't know where I'm going with this. I guess I just... I'm glad you have something, for yourself. The shelter is... it's a little bit like that, for me."

Eryk took a slow breath, and smiled at her. “Would you like to go visit her?" he asked, tilting his head slowly. “It sounds like you haven't been to Lavender in a while. If you'd like to go... I can make an arrangement for it next year," he continued, keeping her gaze with his own.

She was a little surprised by the request, though perhaps not even as much as she might have been at the beginning of the conversation. She shook her head slightly, though. "It's all right," she said. "She has plans to come visit me sometime this year, I think. And..." Ana paused. Auntie Miranda's plans were to be there when it looked like she didn't have much time left, and the reminder that the man in front of her still didn't know about that was eating at her.

Still, why ruin dinner with such things? "Well I'm like you I guess. Lavender is nice in some ways but it's not... it's not home."

He nodded his head in understanding, though. “I think it is a rare opportunity in life to find a place that does feel like home," he said in a soft tone. “I don't know when your place began to feel like it, but it does," he seemed to confess, still holding her gaze.

Ana felt her face and neck getting warm, a sharp contrast to the general chill of the evening. She swallowed past a lump in her throat, but as embarrassed as she was, she couldn't seem to drop her contact with his eyes. It felt like he was holding her there somehow, in a sense that was almost physical, though she could count the number of times he'd ever touched her on one hand.

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, tasting faint strawberry and only then remembering that there was gloss on them. "Y-you feel like home, too," she stammered, and then her eyes went wide as she caught what she'd just said. "I mean—uh. I—you—it feels like home and I'm glad you like it."

Never much of a praying person, Ana found herself begging the gods of the earth to open up a hole and just swallow her. She might die from the embarrassment otherwise.

It was very subtle, but there was a light smirk on Eryk's face. There was a light sound coming from him, almost like an amused huff of air, however; it continued until there was a small chuckle coming from him.

“No one has ever said that of me, but thank you," he spoke, the smirk still on his face.

Ana covered her face with her hands, an embarrassed noise coming out between her fingers. Oh arceus, he was laughing at her because she was a sentimental idiot and had just confessed something he was never supposed to know. How ridiculous was she? She'd known him less than a year ad he felt more like home than anyone? Could she sound more pathetic?

"Don't look at me," she mumbled. "I'll expire from shame any minute now and you can go about your life in peace."

There was another chuckle from him.

“As you wish."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

0.00 INK



January 30th
Arnaud's - Evening - Clear
Nevena Solomon


Nev wasn't sure if she was more excited about the tournament for Kasimir and Eryk, or if she was excited for the tournament in general. She hadn't been to many of the pro-battling tournaments before, and she was glad that Aidan had invited her. If she were being honest with herself, she had been a little sad that they were going, and she wasn't. But then Aidan asked her, and here she was.

At Arnaud's.

With Aidan.

Clearing her throat softly, she glanced at the menu. Everything sounded so enticing, but she wasn't entirely sure what to get. She wasn't entirely sure why they were eating at separate tables, but she could not deny the view of the fountain. It was one of those made of marble in the shape of two milotic, circling around each other.

“This was nice of them to get us a table outside," she stated, glancing up from her menu towards Aidan. “It would have been nicer if we were all together, though."

Aidan had removed the jacket of his suit as soon as they were seated, draping it over the back of his chair. It wasn't exactly perfectly in keeping with manners at a place this fancy, but it was pretty obvious Ingrid wasn't going to give them trouble about it. She seemed to have recognized him, actually, but was being very professional about it.

At her comment, he snorted softly. "Cyrilla did that on purpose," he said, in the tone of someone explaining something non-obvious. "I'm betting right about now she's remembering that it's going to bite her more than any of us." He perused the menu slowly, furrowing his brows at it.

"I know nothing about Kalosian food," he confessed with a shake of his head. "Any recommendations, Doc?"

Nev wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but decided it wasn't worth the effort of trying to understand it. She'd learned awhile back that Cyrilla always did things in a way that seemed strange. Maybe that was just how Nev interpreted it? At the mention of food, though, Nev smiled.

“Of course," she started, glancing back down at the menu. “I'd recommend the Blanquette de Veau. It's really good, or," she paused to skim the other side, “boeuf bourguignon might be more to your liking."

“Oh, and then there's the coq au vin," she added. They seemed like things Aidan would enjoy if he didn't know too much about Kalosian foods. They were mostly meat heavy, and she knew that with his new routine, training the other two boys, he could use the protein.

He seemed to follow along with the choices, reading their descriptions and chuckling under his breath after the last. "Worried I'm not getting my protein now?" he inquired, amusement flickering in his eyes and a smile playing at the edges of his mouth. "I guess I'll try the blanquette then." His pronunciation wasn't too bad, actually.

"What are you getting?"

“Soupe à l’oignon," she replied easily. It had been one of her favorites, mostly because of the melted cheese. “It's my favorite," she stated, grinning in his direction. She set the menu down and glanced back towards the fountain. “I didn't say it properly," she began, turning back to face him. She wanted to make sure he knew how serious she was with what she wanted to say, and held his gaze for a moment.

“I wanted to say thank you, again, for inviting me along. I'm very excited to see how Kasimir and Eryk will do, especially since you've been training them." She was also a little upset that she hadn't been able to see much of Aidan's battling days. She had to make due with watching them on television or listening over the radio.

If he was fazed at all by the shift in topic, he didn't show it, only shaking his head slightly. "Like I'm gonna leave you on Cinnabar while our friends make pro-battlers out of themselves," he scoffed. "I know your research is important, Doc, believe me, but you're human and you deserve time off. I figured you wouldn't mind taking some of it to spectate some live events, is all. So you're welcome."

It wasn't just that her research was important. It was the fact that he was her friend, and that he'd thought of her enough to ask. For someone in their very early thirties, Nev didn't have a lot of experience with friends, but she was beginning to enjoy some of the benefits of having them. Like the fact that they thought of each other in ways that was heartwarming. In ways that made her own silly little heart flutter.

“Well, if that's the case, then you figured correctly. I just wish I could have seen you in your heydays. I bet you were great," she stated before realizing what she said. Sometimes she forgot that she shouldn't just ramble whatever she thought. “I mean, not that you aren't great, now, but..." there was just no saving herself that embarrassment.

Aidan laughed. It wasn't especially loud, just a chuckle, really, but it was accompanied by an amused narrowing of his eyes and a rueful shake of his head. "You don't know," he said, his tone accusatory, but only in a joking way. "Maybe I've just let my entire team get lazy and out of shape. I haven't properly had a battle in..." he trailed off, apparently doing some mental math.

"Four, five years?"

Nev gave him a flat look. As if she believed that. “Proper or not, you haven't let your team get lazy at all. Kas and Eryk are proof of that," she replied, rolling her eyes in a joyful manner. If that had been even remotely true, Kas and Eryk wouldn't have excelled as far as they have.

“And we both know Brick is too dorky to be lazy and out of shape," she added, speaking fondly of the garchomp. “If you wanted to, I bet you could storm the field again and be just as great as when you were the champion."

"Well, I'm glad to have your confidence," Aidan replied, shaking his head, "but I doubt that'll be happening anytime soon." He sighed, quiet enough that it was almost under his breath. "I do miss it sometimes, though. Gettin' those idiots trained for this thing reminded me what it was like, coming up the ranks myself." His eyes softened, seeming to look for a moment at something far away.

"I didn't realize it at the time, but that was a good part of my life."

“Oh?" she stated, a little intrigued by it. She didn't know much about Aidan's past, mostly because he never really talked about it. She knew the things about him that he'd told her, like he had been in a biker gang, been arrested. She never knew anything other than that; the other things she knew of him were the things she'd learned from his dossier as the champion. To be fair, she never really talked about her past, either.

It just hadn't been interesting, enough. Not as interesting as the lives of the others had seemingly been. Nev couldn't compare her life to theirs, or her life experiences because they were so few.

“You always did seem to enjoy it, at least from your recordings. If you do ever decide to go back to it, I'll..." she pursed her lips together, unsure of how she wanted to word her next phrase without sounding too ridiculous. “I'll be there if you need me. I mean, you won't, because you already have great connections and whatever, but... I'll be in your cheering section?" she wasn't entirely sure why that came out as a question.

Aidan's expression shifted, returning to something more like the present moment, and he smiled at her. "Means a lot," he said, inclining his head. "But... it's not really something I can just decide to do, you know? The work I do now is..." He paused, as if trying to decide on a term.

"Necessary, I guess. I know I'm not the boss but... I think he needs me. Or someone like me, at least. And I owe him too much to quit before his vision is realized."

Nev wasn't sure if she'd ever felt needed by anyone. The kind of work she did, it wasn't the same thing as what Aidan and the others did. They were trying to change the world in ways that Nev couldn't. Even with all of her research materials, there just wasn't much she could do. She couldn't offer anyone anything; not like Aidan could. He could give Gregorovich connections, but her? She could only offer her research, and that wouldn't be much. At least she didn't think it would be.

“Maybe... once his vision is realized you can do it," she spoke softly, folding her hands in front of her and dropping her gaze. She wasn't entirely sure what Gregorovich's vision was, but it seemed important to Aidan. Important enough that Nev felt something in her chest squeeze painfully. There was no place for her with him. The only thing she could offer Aidan was her friendship, but...

“In the mean time, I'll do what I can to help," she stated, smiling back up at him. It was the least she could do, even if it wouldn't be much.

He looked at her strangely at that. "I mean... you're literally making it happen, Doc," he said, shaking his head a little. "That research, and the machine... not even I know all the details exactly, but if it works, this is it. This is the biggest step we've ever taken. You're probably the most important person to NTR there is." He shrugged a little, as if that didn't really have much to do with him, in spite of his earlier words.

"But if you're talking about helping me, then... don't worry about it. Just keep doing what you're doing."

Nev wasn't entirely sure what to say. That was, perhaps, meant to be a compliment, but she wasn't sure. Was it? She settled on taking a drink of her wine, letting that coat her throat that suddenly felt parched. Arceus she was an idiot, sometimes.

“I'll try," she replied, focusing on the last part of his statement. “Doing what I'm doing, even though I don't really know what it is," because Arceus, she was an idiot. She still rambled when she was nervous, though she wasn't sure why she was nervous to begin with. She'd started feeling so at ease with Aidan, that something so simple as what he'd said was enough to make her insides feel like jelly.

“You've a way with words, you know that," she needed to stop saying things, now. She was only spewing nonsense.

"Really?" he replied, lifting one red brow. "Because I get the impression I'm not being too clear right now, if your confusion is anything to go by."

“Sometimes I forget how perceptive you are," she replied, offering a light smile. She was just confused about how she was helping him by just doing what she's doing. She didn't think she was doing anything profound or helpful. Unless he thought their friendship and the fact that they lived together was helpful to him. If that were the case, she could live with that. She could live with him and his friendship even if the crush on him seemed to be getting more and more... more.

“I'm just trying to sort through my own feelings on things and it can be a little difficult. I'm..." she paused, biting on her lower lip as she tried to think of a way to word this. “Hm, well, you know I'm not very good at things like this, but I guess it has a lot to do with... well, you and everyone else and it's just... it's been really nice. When you say things like that, it just makes me feel a little special, you know? I'm... well, um," she wasn't entirely sure where she was going with that, and now that she'd heard it out loud, she was sure it sounded ridiculous.

“I've never really felt like I was important or special for or to anyone."

Aidan's brows knit at that; his sigh was a quieter thing, almost troubled somehow. "I really don't get it," he murmured, regarding her with his head cocked to the side."Is it really just that no one pays attention, or...?"

The slight frown he wore deepened; when he spoke, his voice had lost the quiet contemplation of before and firmed to assertion. "I'm sorry," he said, with a faint shake of his head. "That you've never felt that. You deserve to, because you are. You're damn brilliant, Doc—even a meathead like me can see that. And even if you weren't... do you have any idea how rare it is for people to be as good as you? As kind?" He huffed slightly.

"Either of those things would be special on its own. That you're both is..." he paused, clearly searching for a word. "Extraordinary, plain and simple."

For a moment, Nev forgot how to breathe. The things he was saying, they were wonderful to hear, and she could understand, now, why people enjoyed hearing them. It made her feel light and airy, as if she'd float away like a feather on the wind. She'd never been told any of those things before. Her parents were always too busy with their own work that they sometimes forgot she existed. She was used to it, used to not being noticed for anything extraordinary.

The only things she was noticed for were things like how she used to be a large child. How she often didn't have friends, and was ostracized for being weird. Of course, she'd learned that being weird was their way of saying she was the smart kid. The geek that no one wanted to be friends with. Clearing her throat softly, she glanced down at the table where her hands were, feeling a light flush on her face.

“Thank you, Aidan. That it's you saying those things... it... it makes me happy," she murmured softly, unable to bring herself to meet his gaze. She was embarrassed, she knew she was. “It really makes me feel like I am all of those things. That I am brilliant and clever and good and kind," she continued. It wasn't that she'd ever done anything bad in her life, but Nev never considered herself any of those things. Good, maybe. Kind, in some ways. But brilliant and clever?

Not in the same way that Aidan made them sound. Swallowing thickly, she forced her gaze upwards to him, and smiled softly. “That's one of the reasons I admire you, Aidan. You're always unafraid to just be yourself, to say what you think or feel," she admitted softly. It was true; she wished she could be a little like that, but some part of her was still afraid that she'd make an idiot out of herself. That they would see how strange and weird she really was, and decide they no longer wanted to associate with her. She knew her friends weren't like that, but it was still a fear she had.

One she couldn't quite get rid of.

He shook his head a little, picking up the glass of brandy he'd ordered and shifting it around by turning his wrist, idly observing the liquid within. "Well I don't always say how I feel," he said, lifting his shoulders. He smiled though, and flicked his eyes up to hers. "For example, I haven't told Katia that she needs to fuck off because she's a despicable human being and as long as she cares so much about the approval of her family she'll never be anything else."

Aidan took a large swallow of the brandy and set it down. "Though that did feel good to say just now. I think there's probably things all of us aren't saying to each other, and that's okay. Sometimes they have to sit a while, before it's really time to say them."

Nev chuckled at that, smiling and feeling a little more at ease. “There's a time for everything," she replied. “Although I'm not entirely sure how you haven't managed to tell that woman, that. She's such a nightmare," Nev added as she chuckled. Nev suspected that she hadn't quite seen what Katia was capable of, but she trusted Aidan and the others to know.

“So, how far do you think Eryk and Kasimir will get in the tournament?"

He hummed slightly, apparently giving the question some thought. "It's tough competition, for this time in the season," he said. "This is the biggest qualifier there is, and the top five placements in it are auto-qualifiers for the finals this year, so you've got a lot of big names who don't want to deal with a whole season of travel entering." He rubbed absently at his eyebrow.

"That said, they're good, and no one knows it yet, so they have the element of surprise. I think it's possible they could place well. I think they're both capable of top ten. Beyond that, it's going to come down to their strategies, decisions in the moment, and the luck of the draw when it comes to opponents. There's some people I wouldn't want Nero to face yet that Rheinallt could breeze past, and vice-versa. You know how it is when dealing with the top ranks. Even one little difference in team comp or battle style can make a huge difference."

Nev agreed. There were so many different styles of battling, and it had always been interesting to Nev to see those. She wasn't the type to battle herself, and she wasn't even sure the last time she'd been in one, but...

“Would you mind having a mock battle with me some day?" she asked, tilting her head slightly. “I'm not exactly good at it, and I haven't really had one in a long time and I just... well I thought it might be fun to try it again," she said softly as she folded her hands on her lap.

"You making a run at the League, Doc?" Aidan asked, obvious humor in his expression. "It really wouldn't be fair to the rest of us if you were also a champ." He was clearly being lighthearted, but it didn't seem to be mocking, exactly.

With a nod, though, he continued. "But sure. Whenever you want, just say the word."

Nev laughed, feeling the smile stretch across her face. “Alright, I will. And who knows, if I enjoy myself, I just might take a run at the League. Then you can all come watch how awesome I am at it," she teased, shaking her head softly.

"Just remember little old me when you're the biggest name in Kanto."

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


January 31st
Saffron Stadium - Afternoon - Clear
Aidan Klein


The original plan had been to sit in the general stands like any other audience members, but then Ulster Hagen, himself a former pro-battler, had spotted and recognized Aidan on the group's way into the stadium, and somehow—he was pretty sure it mostly was Cyrilla's fault—they were now in his private box instead. Hagen was loaded, and now made a name for himself commentating on a secondary PSPN channel, so Aidan was sure he was going to mention having a former champion in his box at some point, but so far they'd mostly been left alone, save that there were loads of snacks and shit up here.

He had to admit, the view was nice.

The last day of the tournament was set to be a pretty exciting one. Yesterday had narrowed the field to the top ten competitors, and this was as everyone knew where things got difficult. As he'd expected, Nero and Rheinallt had been challenged by the caliber of the opponents here, and though they were doing well, he didn't expect them to win. That honor would almost certainly go to Amaris Castro, one of the biggest up and coming stars on the scene. She'd been around for a while, maybe five years, and it was generally agreed that she'd matured very well in that time, into a world-class competitor.

She was also Rheinallt's opponent for the match, because he was seeded all the way down at number 10. Still, it would be useful experience for him, and if he could manage not to get the floor wiped with him, he'd almost certainly get a lot of attention.

Nero was in a similar position: his opponent was higher seeded, but the match was more even and Aidan was actually pretty optimistic about it. It was possible he could win it, and that would be a major help in the real goal here: getting themselves some sponsors. Ernest Waters was an old pro, and while not the strongest in most fields, in Aidan's opinion one of the most solid and reliably-good. He was also an admirable person, and Aidan remembered well the bizarre sort of feeling it had been to be coached through a battle with his opponent, the first time they'd met at a tournament.

“Oh, this is going to be so exciting," Doc mumbled a little. It was obvious that she was excited; she hadn't been able to sit still in her chair when they'd been seated, and even now her leg was shaking. “They have been doing so well so far," she added, glancing in Aidan's direction.

Cyrilla was chewing idly on a chip, grinning broadly as she glanced in Aidan's direction as well. She shook her head a bit before turning to Ana, offering the bag of chips in her direction. “Who's up first, Rykster or Kas?" she asked.

“I thought Kas was first?" Doc answered as she arched a brow. “Or did I read the line up wrong?"

"He is," Aidan replied. "It'll probably be a couple minutes here to get things ready still but not much longer." He still remembered what this part was like; the competitors were all probably gathered in a large room, most of them doing some kind of pre-battle ritual to psych themselves up. It wasn't even always doing something exactly; some people stared at nothing, deep in their own heads. Some people moved around the room chatting to anyone who seemed amenable. Some people gave their pokémon pep talks or prayed or wished or used some lucky object.

He'd known a girl once who always ate a huge bowl of ramen noodles before a match. Same flavor every time.

Part of him kind of wondered what Rheinallt and Nero would do, if anything. Routines like that could take a while to develop, and they were still new to this, but Rheinallt at least had gym badges. He might have done something for those battles that he picked back up now.

Ana, taking a chip from the offered bag of them, looked to be twice as anxious as any spectator ought to be. The reason for that was obvious, of course: she'd realized that this mattered to Nero on a personal level, and because she cared about him, that meant it mattered to her, too.

"I don't know how anyone can stand the waiting," she murmured, eating the chip.

Cyrilla huffed slightly, tucking her legs underneath her as she arched a brow at Ana. “You know Ryk. He's probably the only one who could stand waiting for anything," she said in a jocular tone, before letting a sigh out. “He's also probably glaring at everyone who is trying to approach him for anything. I wonder if Kas is chastising him about it," she stated, somewhat amused.

“Eryk is a patient person, but I don't know if he's that patient," Doc said as she pursed her lips together. “Either way, I really hope they start soon," she continued. It was obvious that she didn't quite have the patience to wait.

“Don't worry, Nev, they'll be making the introductions soon. And then you can go ham on cheering and whatever else it is you do," Cyrilla joked, twisting the top off of her water bottle and taking a drink.

Aidan had to smile a little at her obvious enthusiasm. It didn't surprise him anymore that she was this into the scene. Sometimes he thought it was kind of a shame that they hadn't met earlier, when he was still part of it. He hadn't ever been the kind who paid much attention to his fans, but part of him wondered if maybe she wouldn't have been one. She'd apparently at least owned his fucking miniature, a thing that was probably going to haunt him to his grave.

If he'd told her she could have him instead, what would she have said?

He tossed aside the useless thought as the stadium beneath them started to rearrange. The dynamic stages even in the last couple of years had become intricate as hell; for this one, they raised a pool on the left side; the right side was strewn with boulders and other small terrain features, rated well over any kind of seismic effect a pokémon could produce.

“LADIES, GENTLEMEN, AND FRIENDS," an announcer's voice boomed from the loudspeakers, to a burst of crowd noise, mostly a dull background roar here in the box. “WELCOME TO THE FINAL ROUNDS OF THE SAFFRON CITY SCRAMBLE!"

There was a pause for the swelling noise to die town, and then the tournament bracket was projected up on the screen. They'd done it a little weird; ten was an uneven bracket, but it had actually started yesterday, where two 'pre-final' matches had taken out the eleventh and twelfth place finishers. But since everyone wanted to see the top two go on the last day, the matches had been 3 vs. 12 and 4 vs. 11, with the predictable results.

The 1 vs. 10 match, Rheinallt's, was next, and then so on. Nero, seeded seventh, was two matches later, against the sixth seed.

“PLEASE JOIN ME IN WELCOMING OUR NUMBER TEN RANKED COMPETITOR, KASIMIR RHEINALLT, TO THE RING!"

There was a roar from the crowd, and a subtle grin that formed on Cyrilla's face. Doc's attention had fixed on the ring, too, when Rheinallt's name was mentioned. They introduced Amaris, next, and she entered the ring with a bright grin on her face. Her violet locks barely brushed the tips of her ear, and the sides of her head had been shaved. It was styled in a fauxhawk manner, and she was dressed in what looked to be a pure black suit with a lavender tie. Even the shirt underneath the vest was black, but she seemed to be in her element.

Brown eyes fixed on Rheinallt, though, and the grin on her face just widened. “Make sure you don't take it easy on me, alright? We've a performance to make," she stated as she plucked her first pokéball from the strap on her wrist. She gave it a deft toss, sending out her first pokémon. When the silhouette faded, it looked to be a low key form toxtricity. It yawned, seemingly bored to be where it was, however; there was a faint grin on its face as it strummed the electrical organ on its chest.

It sounded as if it were playing a bass guitar, but it was just an effect of generating the sparks that surrounded it. “Ready, sweet stuff?"

Rheinallt smoothed a hand back through his hair, grinning that pristine showman's grin of his. Honestly even with the nerd-chic thing he was going for, his actual personality was pretty much front and center. He was just himself in the ring, and himself included being a showman.

"I'd never do you the disservice," he replied. "I'd ask you to maybe go a little easy on a rookie like me, but that's no fun." He counted three pokéballs back on his belt and gave the one in the center a toss.

Aidan knew which it was even before the emerald-green ball had cracked open. The type matchup was just good, and in a competition this fierce you had to take it where you could get it. Widget stretched her vibrant viridian-edged green wings, sunlight making the scales glitter, and blinked her big eyes.

“COMPETITORS, READY YOURSELVES."

When both had signaled that they were ready to begin, the announcer called the match, and it was on.

Rheinallt reacted first. "Supersonic."

As they'd taught her to do, Widget integrated the move with a leap to launch herself into the air, the attack distorting the space in front of her with ripples of force.

“Boomburst, Strum," Amaris countered as the toxtricity grinned. It jumped back a pace before puffing out its chest, bringing one hand up to the organ there, and strummed. The attack aimed straight for Widget who was still in the air.

The two attacks met in midair, softening the boomburst and canceling the supersonic entirely. Widget twisted, barrel-rolling in midair, avoiding most of the rest, but part of the attack clipped her wing, and she dropped a little as a result.

"Dragon Claw!" It was reasonable strategy, using the fact that she was already moving down to add force to the attack. Widget drew back one foreleg, her claws glowing as she charged them with draconic power, and then slashed downwards toward her foe.

“Payback," Amaris retaliated as Strum didn't even try to dodge Widget's attack. The attack landed, however; the toxtricity only grinned, and released its attack on Widget.

“Follow it up with Throat Chop!" if the attack landed, Widget wouldn't be able to use supersonic for awhile.

"Earth Power!" Rheinallt clearly understood the importance of not letting that land; the ground beneath Strum's feet buckled and erupted, throwing off his balance. It was a hell of a time to pull out a quadruple-effective move, but he wouldn't put it past Rheinallt to have been setting something like this up as soon as it was clear Castro wasn't going to let him have the air.

Strum fell to his knees, trying to roll away to avoid the next attack, but it was obvious that the move did its job. “Tch, Strum, use Mega Kick!" she called as the toxtricity stood on his legs. He hopped in place a couple of times before pointing in Widget's direction and chortling. Jumping into the air, Strum seemed intent on landing his attack.

But the match had turned with that well-timed move, and Widget was confident. She flapped her wings, ascending sharply without needing to wait for Rheinallt's input, and when he told her to use Supersonic again, she did, this time catching Strum square in the face with it.

He was weakened and confused; Aidan wouldn't be surprised if Castro used the mercy rule to cede the point to Rheinallt, just so her pokémon wouldn't actually have to pass out. The mercy rule was something Aidan himself had asked Gregorovich to push for when he first joined NTR; it was now league standard, but it hadn't been in his heyday.

Castro looked amused if anything, but retrieved Strum's pokéball from her wrist and recalling him. “I guess I know what I'm dealing with, now," she stated as she pulled another ball from her wrist. Giving it a deft toss, she released a hatterene that didn't appear to be too happy about something. It might have been the loud noises since hatterene were known not to like them, much.

“Come on, Lady, let's get this show started! Dazzling Gleam!"

That was a one move knockout, unsurprisingly; Rheinallt flinched and took back Widget, sending out Lani instead. It was the best of several not-great options for him, and he did make the most of it, but it was pretty clear from the outset that the match was Castro's to win, and she did.

When her arbok took down Meep, Aidan could sense the crowd getting restless. It looked, to the inexperienced eye, like the first match had been a fluke, like this was going to be a predictable first-versus-tenth seed match, and that, more or less, there wasn't anything to see here.

In contrast, the scene in the box had never been more invested. Ana was leaned forward in her chair, hands clenched into fists and resting on her knees. Cyrilla had stopped eating and was completely vested in the match, her eyes never leaving Rheinallt. Doc, however, was biting on a piece of jerky, occasionally making a deflated noise when an attack landed on Rheinallt's pokémon, or a sharp gasp of joy when one of his pokémon's attack landed. She'd accidentally knocked over the box of popcorn in her lap, but didn't seem to pay it too much mind, trying to scrape it up while keeping her eyes on the ring.

When Castro sent out her snorlax, Reinallt smiled, and Aidan knew what his play was before he made it. It was a hell of a risk, but it would also make for a hell of a show. Before that became an issue, though, he threw the second pokéball on his belt, and Sigrún appeared, the lucario shaking out her coat and glaring down the other pokémon with those hard eyes of hers. That one was made to fight, and it showed. As strong as snorlax obviously was, Sigrún took the match handily.

This, however, was where things got very difficult.

“I have to say," Castro started as she pulled at her last remaining pokéball. “You've given me quite the challenge. Unfortunately, I think it's time we end this, wouldn't you agree?" she stated, tossing the pokéball out. “Tank! Use Hydro Pump!" she commanded as the large blastoise roared, aiming its cannons straight for Sigrún.

To her credit, Sigrún got out of the way, one of the jets just barely skimming her back, and managed to dart in and land a heavy Force Palm on Tank's front. But the second shot got her, and Rheinallt withdrew her even as she was trying to stand again, making the signal for a mercy. The downside to her personality was that she wouldn't stop until something forced her to.

Rheinallt's grin turned a little rueful, and he shrugged across the way at Castro. "Sorry in advance about this. She's a bit of a brat." He gave his last pokéball a toss, and out popped the one pokémon he had left: Princess Cinders, or as Aidan preferred to think of her, that goddamn charizard.

She was huge, first of all, and jet black from nose to tip, save her white underbelly and the deep red of the inside of her wings. She spread them and roared, the flame on her tail flaring, and the crowd went nuts.

"I can never tell which one of them's the bigger showoff," Aidan admitted.

“It's definitely Princess," Cyrilla stated, rolling her eyes at the charizard's antics. “She's basically flexing; she taught that to Siri, the little brat," she continued, but the smile on her face made it clear she wasn't upset or anything.

“Shh, the match is still going," Doc stated, not having taken her eyes off the match. She did wave her hand a little in the shooing motion, though. Cyrilla just snickered softly and turned back towards the match. “Amaris has the type advantage, but still... it's anyones match at this point," Doc added, briefly glancing in Aidan's direction.

“Oh, she's adorable!" Castro nearly squealed, seemingly enamored by the charizard. “It's a shame, though," she continued, grinning faintly. “Tank, Rock Tomb!"

Rheinallt didn't seem too concerned, though; it was definitely an effective move, but it was also off-type, and Princess wasn't the kind of pokémon you could half-ass anything with. "Flamethrower."

She obliged, ducking one of the incoming rocks and blasting clan through another, sweeping her head to the side to clear away more. The sheer force of the sustained blast knocked a few out of the air, and they fell back to the ground in scorched heaps, some of them melted on the side. Aidan couldn't help the little burst of something in his chest—pride, he thought. He was proud of them. They'd worked damn hard to make her blasts that strong, and it was paying off.

But Castro would adjust quickly, and Rheinallt knew it. "Smokescreen!" The one after a flamethrower was particularly dense, the pokémon's flame apparatus already inclined to be pretty smoky in the aftermath of a blast that big, so the smoke that poured out with the charizard's next breath was thick and dark both.

Castro smirked, though, and glanced towards Tank. “Clear it away with Rapid Spin, and follow it up with Water Pulse!" she directed as the blastoise took a step. Retreating into its shell, it began spinning at a rapid pace, pulling the smoke in before pushing it out. Tank seemed to combine the effort, though, and was shooting water from his cannons at the same time. It wouldn't be as accurate with the smoke, but it was likely to still hit something.

And it did, some of the water splashing on Princess, but she handled it well enough, launching herself into the air to get away from the rest. "Air Slash!" Rheinallt called. Time was of the essence here; the longer the battle dragged, the more the type difference was going to hurt; that was just a fact.

The slash put a cut in the smokescreen, speeding towards Tank like a solid blade. The crowd seemed to hold its breath all at once; even Aidan felt himself tensing, unsure how it was going to work out.

“Endure!" the blastoise stopped its spinning, and fell to all fours. Tank dug his claws into the ground and met the attack almost head on. It was effective in making the blastoise stagger a bit, but he regained his composure quickly enough, shaking off the attack.

“Dig in and use Hydro Cannon!" Castro commanded as Tank roared once more. The cannons on his back shifted upwards towards Princess, clearly taking aim.

"Watch yoursel—" Rheinallt didn't even get to finish the warning before the cannons fired. Princess shifted in the air, but fast as she was it still wasn't fast enough, and one of the twin jets caught her square in the chest, taking her to the ground. It was a near thing; that Tank had needed to Endure that last hit meant that the battle was one blow from finishing either way, even as Princess regained her feet, slower than she was accustomed to, the flame on her tail spitting and guttering.

"Air Slash!"

With a heavy beat of her wings, she complied, this one weaker than the last but still impressive, streaking over the field towards tank. Aidan grit his teeth.

Come on, Rheinallt.

“Endure!" Castro shouted as the attack flew towards Tank. The blastoise roared, however; even he was likely feeling the fatigue of the battle. The attack hit head on, causing the blastoise to skid back, however; he dug his feet into the ground and roared once more.

“Let's finish this, Tank. Hydro Pump!" the cannons shifted once more in Princess's direction. From the way Tank's legs were shaking, it was a last stand. The attack was meant to bring this battle to its conclusion. If it missed, it was only a matter of which one fell, first, to fatigue.

"Get out of the way!" Rheinallt seemed to realize it—that all he had to do was outlast now, and outlasting would be a matter of moments if Princess could just avoid or handle this one last hit.

She strained her wings, ascending as fast as she could, but Tank adjusted his aim, and though it wasn't a square-on hit, it was enough. Princess crashed to the ground, and this time she didn't stir.

The crowd went berserk.

“THE WINNER OF THIS MATCH IS AMARIS CASTRO!" The roar intensified, and Rheinallt recalled Princess Cinders, saying something too low to be picked up by his mic.

Aidan sighed. "Arceus damn," he muttered, shaking his head. That was even closer than he'd expected it to be. If Rheinallt's name wasn't out there after this, he'd eat the cigarettes in his pocket.

"Endure's a cheap move anyway," Ana protested, crossing her arms over her chest and looking rather put out. "Especially to use it twice like that."

“Son of a bitch!" Doc stated as she dropped her box of popcorn again. “It was arceusdamn luck is what that was. Endure isn't supposed to work in succession like that, especially when Tank had as little stamina as he did!" Doc nearly shouted, stooping down to pick up the box and popcorn on the floor. “Still, I have to admire the fact that she did use it, especially knowing that its success rate was going to be low, and after Hydro Cannon at that. Usually, there's a few minutes of rest between using that attack and following it up with another."

“It's a shame that he lost, but I think he held himself well. He did take out a couple of her pokémon, too, and look how excited the crowd had been at that final show off. Despite the type disadvantage, he lasted a lot longer than what most people would have," Cyrilla stated, smiling a little in Doc's direction. Doc merely pursed her lips together, though, almost as if she were pouting.

"It's the finest loss I've seen in a while," Aidan added, reaching over to ruffle Doc's hair. He shouldn't think that expression was cute, but arceus help him, he did. Was he fucking weak for this woman or what? "And I'm willing to bet the next time they meet things'll go a little differently." The tournament was important, but Rheinallt had just made his point in a particularly spectacular fashion. The pro-battling world had been put on notice.

Now they just had to make sure Nero could do the same. This match, Aidan was really looking forward to.

It was another five minutes or so before the competitors cleared the ring. Once they had, the announcer was back over the loudspeaker, introducing the next competitors. “NEXT UP, WE HAVE OUR NUMBER SEVEN RANKED COMPETITOR: ERYK NE—wait, what was that?" a slight pause and some shuffling, “NERO!"

Cyrilla burst out laughing as Nero walked onto the field. “Oh my arceus. He'll never change." Nero's expression seemed a little sour. More-so than usual, at least, and the deep furrow of his brows indicated he was a little stressed. He still didn't seem quite as comfortable in a large crowd, but he at least looked a little more focused. He didn't say anything, and instead of waiting for his opponent, Nero grabbed the fourth ball on his belt, and gave it a light toss, sending out Imp.

The gengar seemed rather pleased to be out, and grinned maliciously towards the crowd.

“FACING HIM IS THE NUMBER SIX SEED, EDGAR WATERS!"

Waters looked almost exactly how Aidan remembered him, which was really saying something. He wore a tweed suit and a bowler hat, his grey mustache kept trim and neat. When Eryk threw his ball, Waters cocked his head and smiled a little. It wasn't a smirk or anything like that; the old codger was one of those rare people that was just nice.

“Hrm hrm, let's see now, where did I put... ah, there we go." He removed a pokéball from his inside jacket pocket and gave it a toss. A bisharp appeared, standing at attention. “Now since I got to pick second, I think it's only fair that the first move is yours, Mr. Nero." He inclined his head politely.

It was clear that Waters had the type advantage, with the bisharp being a primary dark type and a secondary steel type. Nero, however, inclined his head, and locked eyes with Imp, who merely hopped from one foot to the other. Nero rolled his eyes as if some unsaid exchange happened before shaking his head.

“Shadow Ball," he stated, knowing well that it wasn't going to have much effect on the bisharp.

And it didn't—the pokémon didn't even try to dodge it, letting it break against its chest instead. Waters tilted his head. “Having a disagreement?" he asked, nodding at the bisharp. It didn't require any more direction than that—Reginald was as old a hand at this as Waters himself. He lunged forward with a night slash, quick enough that Imp was going to need to get serious very quickly if he wanted to win.

Which... he might. That one was kind of a pain in the ass.

Nero frowned as the attack landed, causing Imp to skid back and take a more solid form. “Imp," Nero started, pursing his lips together. The gengar merely shook his head and frowned in Reginald's direction. “Focus Blast," he said as Imp stood still for a second. He gathered his energy before blasting it towards the bisharp. It would normally be a super-effective move, but with Imp being a dual type of ghost and poison, it wasn't going to be nearly as damaging if it hit.

Bisharp leaped aside, but part of the attack caught him in the side. Waters frowned a little, but nodded as if this was to be expected. “Very well done!" he said, genuine in his praise as always. “Reginald, Assurance, then Snarl."

Oof. That assurance was going to hurt if it landed.

“Oh, no, Imp!" Doc stated as Imp took the hit. It was enough to knock the gengar down, and the follow up Snarl was enough to keep him down for a moment. Nero seemed to be having some debate before Imp reluctantly stood up. He was a little wobbly, and if he took another hit like that, it was likely to keep him down for good.

“Dazzling Gleam, and follow it up with a Drain Punch," Nero spoke in a rather lax tone as Imp grinned. The purple fur began to shimmer as he readied the first attack. It was possible that Nero was using Dazzling Gleam as more of means to blind Reginald than actually making the attack land.

He'd have to be, with the hit Imp just took to his special attack. It seemed to work, though; Reginald slashed, but the attack whiffed. The drain punch connected, but—

“There!" Reginald took the cue, slashing in the direction the punch had come from.

Imp took the hit, effectively knocking him out. Nero shook his head, but retrieved Imp's pokeball from his belt. He recalled the gengar, unhooking another ball and giving it a deft toss. He summoned Orion, his pidgeot, to the field. Waters released his claydol for that battle.

It was intense from start to finish, Waters occasionally giving out praise when Nero was in sync with his pokemon, or offering some form of advice. At first, it seemed like Nero didn't quite understand what Waters was getting at with the advice, but he seemed to be taking it. Orion defeated Waters' claydol, but was defeated in turn by Waters' boltund.

Nero had released Runt for that battle, the tyrunt having some difficulty at first due to the speed difference, however; the battle had been enough to kickstart Runt's evolution. He had been pretty close to evolving after all the training sessions, and it seemed that, as stupid as Brick was, Runt wasn't too far behind. He managed to take down the boltund, followed by the Sirfetch'd, however; Runt eventually succumbed to Waters' Galarian weezing. The type advantage was too much, and Runt had already looked to be exhausted.

The weezing also took out Red before being felled by Icarus. The espurr, however, didn't seem too fond of fighting against Waters' anchor, Empoleon, and Nero recalled him. It was down to Nova and the empoleon, now.

Nero pulled the luxury ball from his belt and stared at it for a moment. Seemingly making up his mind, he gave the ball a deft toss, nodding his head in Nova's direction.

“Oh, this is so exciting," Doc muttered as she sat at the edge of her seat. Her eyes were wide and there was a large smile on her face.

“It's the deciding moment. If Ryk can pull this off, he'll have managed to secure himself a spot, for sure, for the next tournament," Cyrilla stated, smiling broadly.

Ana was quite literally on the edge of her seat, too, gripping the parts next to her legs with white knuckles. The hadn't taken her eyes off the field since the match began, not even to comment on anything they'd seen.

"Whew, made it!" Rheinallt approached from behind. "Didn't know you guys got a box. Had to sprint." He dropped into the empty chair next to Cyrilla and expelled a heavy breath, shifting his sunglasses to the top of his head. "Looks like I haven't missed it."

Aidan nodded; the match was only just getting underway. The empoleon, named Winston if Aidan recalled correctly, coated the field in a thin mist.

“Yeah, that was my fault," Cyrilla confessed before she was shushed by Doc. Cyrilla snickered softly and glanced back out towards the ring. Nero looked like he was having some conversation with Nova before glancing back towards Waters. Nodding his head, he made the first move.

“Use Dig and follow it up with Double Kick."

The sequence was successful; Winston blocked the first of the kicks with a wing, but the second caught him in the side, and stronger. "Hydro pump," Waters commanded, and Winston unleashed the blast at point-blank range.

It was faint, and almost missable, however; there was a smirk crossing Nero's features as the attack landed. “Payback." Nova obliged as a light purple aura enveloped him.

It was an absolutely stellar move to have on a pokémon like Nova, whose defense was sky-high to begin with, and who had a pretty good endurance pool. It was a dark-type move, though, which meant Winston had some protection against it, and though he reeled, he didn't go down.

And he had a similar move up his sleeve, in a way.

"Brine!" The jet of saltwater shot forward.

Ana sucked in a sharp breath, all but falling out of her chair. Even Aidan felt a spike of anxiety.

“Nova, Dig!' Nero said as the attack came in Nova's direction. The umbreon managed to dodge the attack partially. It hit Nova's base where his tail met his back, but he burrowed deep beneath the ground. Nero was silent for a moment, eyes scanning the ground as if he were following Nova's movements.

Nero didn't say anything, however; Nova reappeared behind Winston, a Shadow Ball attack forming near his mouth before he released it.

This, too, was a bit weak against the secondary steel type, but wasn't a bad choice for the stealth of it, and it managed to catch both Winston and Waters off-guard; the old man raised his brows, shaking his head faintly. "That's some connection you've got there," he remarked, no doubt pleased to see it.

"Once more, Winston! Hydro Pump!"

“Sand Attack," Nova obliged, kicking up dirt to blind Winston. It wasn't a bad call, considering that the Hydro Pump missed Nova, and he followed it up with a Quick Attack. It wasn't too effective, but it staggered the empoleon enough that Nova managed to land a Double Kick. Winston dropped to his knees, still reeling from the Sand Attack.

“Iron Tail," was the last attack that landed on Winston's back, forcing the empoleon forward. He did not stir. The crowd was silent for a moment, the obvious tension fading before it dawned on them that Nero had defeated Waters.

“AND THE MATCH GOES TO ERYK NERO!" the announcer shouted, causing an uproar in the stands.

“Whoo!" Doc shouted, standing up abruptly and startling Cyrilla. “He did it!" she continued, doing a strange dance in her spot. Cyrilla tapped her chest a couple of times before shaking her head.

Aidan grinned, shaking his head; Rheinallt stood abruptly and high-fived Doc. "Hell yeah he did!"

Ana looked like she were about to cry, in the good way, but was holding the tears back. "You wanna go see him before the next match?" Aidan asked. "You've got the certs, so they might even let you look after the pokémon with the supplies on hand."

She nodded mutely, still apparently overwhelmed.

His smile softened, but he couldn't help the fact that it wouldn't fade.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



Image


February 2nd
Field Office 9 - Morning - Cool
Cyrilla Klein


Cyrilla grinned to herself as she set the table up in the conference room. It was official. She was no longer Niav. With the papers Aidan had given her for Christmas, she was able to switch everything out of her parents' name, and over to hers. She no longer had access to Koga money, but she was fine with that. She made enough with her job here, and even had a decent amount in her savings. She wasn't entirely sure what she was going to do after, though. Once this mission was over, she was going to leave Team Rocket. She was going to start over, and make something of herself.

It was just daunting because she didn't know what to do. She'd never had that choice before, that freedom. She'd never be free, now that she thought about it. She was still engaged to Ryk, and she felt like a horrible person for that for three reasons. One, because she saw how Ryk looked at Ana. She didn't think he was in love with Ana, but Cyrilla knew that he could love her one day. He had some affection for Ana, and that had been enough for Cyrilla because it made him happy. Two, they had never told Ana about their engagement. Ana was basically dating a man who would, eventually, be married to someone else, and that made Cyrilla sick because Ana was her best friend.

And the third reason: Kas. Her own traitorous heart harboured something for him, and she wasn't quite sure what it was. For all her intellect, she was pretty stupid when it came to her own emotions. She knew that of herself, but this was all new to her. She wasn't ever allowed to feel the things she did now. She and Ryk were always told to keep them tightly locked away, and to never allow them to thrive. They weren't supposed to feel the way they did, and yet...

Shoving the thoughts away, she set the plates down and went over towards the basket. She had to wake up early in order to beat everyone to the office. She was slightly grateful for having her stealth skills at her disposal, otherwise leaving the apartment would have been harder than it was. She'd made everyones favorite breakfast this morning: omurice for Ryk, waffles for Kas, and english muffins with sausage and eggs on the side for Aidan. There was some fruit jam, too, if he wanted to use it. She had to go all out for her Big Bro, after all. She'd even left biscuits and gravy for Nev in her lab office. It was her way of commemorating Eryk's win during the tournament in Saffron. He'd lost, eventually, but the fact that he'd managed to place in the top five was something. And it was damn near impossible to forget the way he and Ana looked. It was just so arceusdamn cute.

Once everything was set up, she set her own plate of kalosian toast down in front of her, and waited. It would only be a few more minutes before everyone arrived.

It was somehow unsurprising that Aidan turned up first. For as relaxed as he was, the guy tended to be up really early, and the guys didn't have training today, so it sort of made sense that he was in the office. Maybe he had things to catch up on, what with their trip to Saffron having taken them out of town for a long weekend and all.

He yawned as he entered, blinking a bit at the arrangement of the food, then at her. A small smile ticked his mouth upwards. "Celebrating?" he asked, sitting down in front of the plate with eggs and so on. Clearly, he knew what was for whom.

Cyrilla returned the smile, humming her response as Aidan sat down. “It's not every day I get to cook breakfast for my favorite people," she stated, though that wasn't entirely true. She cooked breakfast for Kas sometimes, and then there were the rare days when she'd visit Aidan and Nev at their apartment for breakfast. The only people she didn't cook for were Ana and Ryk.

She'd have to do that for them one day, but she didn't want to ruin their vibe. Eating breakfast with someone you liked always left butterfrees in her stomach; she wondered if Ana and Nev felt the same when they ate with Ryk and Aidan. Pushing that thought out, another one occured to her. Better to ask now before the other two showed up.

“Have you decided, yet?" she asked without having to go much into detail. Ana and herself had dates for Valentine's Day, but poor Nev had yet to find one. Not that she was actively looking, but the woman had never been on one. Cy was a firm believer that every woman should experience it at least once, and it didn't even have to be a romantic one. A friend's one would suffice, and it could be a fun and new experience for Nev.

Aidan sighed, and shoved a bite of egg into his mouth, chewing and using the silence to spread butter and jam on his toast. He swallowed, then fixed her with a look. "That day doesn't exactly scream 'Platonic friendship,'" he said flatly. "And I'm not interested in leading her on. She's not the kind of person who'd take that on the chin. I don't want to screw with her feelings."

Evidently, he was quite aware that she had them. At least to some extent.

Cyrilla supposed he had a point. Nev didn't seem like the kind of person who could handle that very well, and it was likely to break her heart, however; what was the point if not to take a chance? She certainly felt like she was taking a chance with Kas, even if they both knew it wasn't real and wouldn't last. Or at least she thought it wouldn't. Ryk was even taking a chance because he didn't have to date Ana. He didn't have to ask her out as part of the mission. That he did was a surprise to Cy, because it meant that he wanted to. Because he actually cared for Ana in some way.

“You talk about screwing with her feelings, but what about you?" she asked, arching a delicate brow in his direction. “It's not like there isn't something mutual between the two of you. Even an emotional idiot like me can see that," she shrugged her shoulders, though. “I'm not saying you should ask her out on a date, but maybe try and give her a new experience for it. You know Nev hasn't had much life experiences, and she seems to enjoy learning them with you. Even if it's not an actual Valentine's date, make it something that would make her happy to have learned or experienced from you."

She was certain that Nev would appreciate it either way.

He sighed, but before he could respond properly the door opened again and Kas came through, covering a big yawn with one hand. It took him a moment to recognize what was going on, and when he did, he lifted both brows. "Breakfast? What's the occasion, Cy?" He grinned and dropped into the spot with the waffles in front of it. "Thanks."

Cyrilla returned the grin, and inwardly rolled her eyes. If he didn't ask her to something, Nev might be sad that she was the only one who didn't do anything for that day, especially since most of her friends were. She couldn't speak for the woman, though, and she wasn't going to push it. It would be up to Big Bro to decide if he wanted to do anything and she would leave it at that.

“Oh, you know," she stated in a nonchalant fashion. “It's mostly to celebrate Ryk's awesome placement in the tournament," she answered, leaning forward to catch her jaw in both her hands. She was careful not to touch her kalosian toast, and grinned brightly. It was only a moment later when Eryk appeared, too, arching a confused brow at the omurice plate.

“What are you planning?" was the first thing out of his mouth, causing Cy to frown slightly.

“Good morning to you, too, Ryk. I'm not planning anything, I promise," she replied, huffing lightly. It wasn't like she had to do much planning to begin with. He was already with Ana, after all. There was only so much she could do now.

Kas pouted in an exaggerated fashion when she mentioned they were celebrating Ryk's placement in the tournament, but then shrugged and kept at his waffles anyway. He probably didn't take it seriously, and she'd never known him to turn down good food in any case. He snorted at Ryk's immediate suspicion.

"Aren't you like... immune to poison anyway? What else could she have done to the food? If she tries to get you to do something you don't want, you can just say no."

Aidan rolled his eyes. "Anyway," he said, "we should in theory start the debrief at some point. Did you want to say anything to go with the food, Cyrilla, or is this just a breakfast meeting now?"

“Nope, food says it all. Good job, guys," she replied. She had other plans to help Kas celebrate his placement; she didn't forget about him, but it was... oddly embarrassing to say that out loud. Ryk, however, sighed softly before taking a bite out of his omurice, humming in a satisfactory manner before glancing in Aidan's direction.

“What's next?" he asked.

Aidan smiled a little. It happened infrequently enough that Cy knew immediately that there was good news. "Congratulations, peons. You've both got sponsorship offers. Nero, you've actually got a couple to choose from; Geiger was pretty happy with them." He pushed a few files towards Ryk. "One of them's for Murk, which is an alternative clothing brand. I guess they really liked your look, and I'm guessing they want to make use of the aesthetic of you and Nova. The others are a sporting goods company and a bank, which sounds weird but isn't actually unusual at all."

He slid another file across to Kas. "Rheinallt, you've got an energy drink company—Volt. This is actually pretty significant, because the parent company, Hargrave, also owns a few pharmaceuticals."

"You think they might be cooking up steroids on the side?" he asked, seemingly unbothered by the fact that he didn't have a choice between options.

Aidan shrugged. "It's a better chance than most companies, who'd have to find a way to buy that shit under the table. Not that they wouldn't, but there's more risk of a paper trail. Or a digital one, I guess."

"My specialty," Kas murmured, smirking a little.

"Yeah, well. For the moment just get yourself an in with Volt. If we can get to Hargrave through them later, that'll be good, but we can't go blowing our cover too soon."

“Oh, definitely choose Murk, Ana would love that," Cyrilla stated when Aidan listed Ryk's choices. He would be able to pull that off very well, especially if they advertised him with Nova. Plus, she really thought Ana might appreciate the aesthetics. Eryk, however, rolled his eyes slightly, but didn't seem too put off by the idea, which was a little unsual. He would never have considered something so public before. Certainly not something that was going to draw attention to him.

“I'll go with Murk," he answered as he glanced in Aidan's direction.

"They make nice clothes," Aidan said, lifting his arm slightly. He was wearing his chainmail bracelet; the genuine article as far as Cyrilla could tell. Apparently it was one of theirs. "I don't know how likely it is that they're into doping, but if this is as widespread as our information suggests, it can't hurt to cover the angle." He nodded slightly and wrote something down in the files in front of him.

"Cyrilla, coordinate with Geiger. We're going to want to move on these as soon as possible, to see if they look like leads. That means training facility tours, having their legal department send over contracts, and all that. Nero's probably going to have to shop around a little; Rheinallt just needs the most extensive tour you can get him."

“Consider it done," Cyrilla replied, smiling broadly. She was confident enough to believe that she could get him that tour and more. She just needed to put her best face on and make a few calls. She was good at it, after all.

“Anything else we should be on the lookout for?" Eryk asked, taking another bite of his omurice. He always did eat that slowly; Cyrilla wasn't entirely sure why. Maybe he just liked taking his time since he rarely ate it? Well that was an idea; she'd have to tell Ana about it.

Aidan considered this for a moment. "An imbalance of younger and older sponsees," he said after a moment. "That's mostly going to be your job to figure out, Rheinallt."

"You think the shadier groups are gathering a bunch of near-unknowns so they have no power to retaliate?"

A nod. "Basically. Plus they're cheaper, so it's not a big deal if you lose a few." Aidan's tone had darkened, but the change was gone a moment later. "Other than that, use your instincts. You're all trained for this."

“Understood," Ryk replied, nodding his head in understanding. Cyrilla nodded her head as well before she sat back in her chair.

“You and I can go over a couple of the details for the tour when we get home," she stated in Kas's direction, grinning just slightly. To hell with this embarrassement, “and there's also a surprise for you." Ryk huffed slightly and rolled his eyes. Cy was half tempted to just be childish and stick her tongue out at him, but decided against it.

“In the mean time, I'll let you know the details of your stuff, Ryk, when I get them," she was strangely excited about this.

"I love surprises," Kas replied, arching an eyebrow in her direction. There was the faintest hint of a smirk playing at his lips, but it was quickly hidden by his next bite of waffles. "Including surprise breakfast. Thanks again, Cy."

Aidan nodded his agreement. "Appreciated, Little Ninja."

“Any time for my favorite boys," she replied with a large grin on her face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


February 7th
Ana's House - Afternoon - Warm
Anastasia Asher


Ana closed the gate behind Mr. and Mrs. Kalai, her volunteers for the day, and let out a soft sigh of relief. They came by every Wednesday, and were a tremendous help, but she could tell that Mrs. Kalai vaguely disapproved of Ana living alone with a man she wasn't married to. It was an old-fashioned sort of thing, and... sort of a misinterpretation of what the situation was even like. And she didn't make a big fuss or anything, it was just a little tense sometimes.

Shaking her head, she left the gate unlocked in case of visitors and went to check on the pokémon in the pool. She'd originally planned to clean it today, but then the weather had turned out sunny and warm, just too good a day not to let the pokémon swim, and she'd adjusted the chore schedule so it was at least the only major thing they had to do tomorrow, when they weren't scheduled to have any other help.

Their current aquatic residents, magikarp and horsea, were happily chasing each other around, with magikarp stopping every now and then to help horsea correct her course. She had a large tear in her dorsal fin that meant she tended to pull to the right at any decent speed. They seemed to be having fun, though, and Ana sat down at the edge of the pool to take a bit of a rest. The trip to Saffron had been the most fun she'd had in a long time, but she hadn't quite recovered from the fatigue yet, either. Probably just because her constitution was so bad. But she'd felt lightheaded a couple of times today, and she didn't want to go fainting on anyone. She had to be especially careful about that, these days. Eryk was himself, and so he'd worry if he knew that was a possibility, and she didn't want to worry him.

Eryk rounded the corner not more than a few minutes later. He had Stella in his arms, a small smile on his face as the stunky wagged her tail from the attention he was giving her. Icarus was hanging off of his left shoulder with Nova on the right. The espurr didn't seem to mind sharing shoulder space with Nova, and it was clear on Ryk's face that he didn't mind either of the pokemon there. Stella wheezed a little, though, causing Ryk to frown slightly as he stroked her fur, earning another wheeze. He looked up, though, and glanced in Ana's direction.

“Did the Kalais leave already?" he asked, still holding onto Stella as Red appeared, hopping around Eryk's legs. He glanced down at the mankey, then towards Icarus and Nova before shrugging his shoulders. Red didn't seem too happy about not having a spot before being distracted by the magikarp and horsea.

She couldn't help but laugh softly—he was a perch for a veritable small zoo at the moment, but he never seemed to mind that kind of thing. Truth be told, she was especially delighted that Nova liked him so much. Her umbreon didn't warm to people easily, and honestly she'd been stunned when he volunteered to take Moira's place in Eryk's battle lineup. She knew he liked to battle of course, and his talent for it extended well beyond what she could ever help him develop, but she'd never have thought he'd trust anyone else enough to take commands from them.

His question got a nod. "Just now," she explained, watching Red run alongside the pool as if referring the ongoing 'race.' Softly, she sent a brief tendril of thought towards Moira, who was a little further back under the tree, just a gentle query as to whether she might want to come sit next to the pool too.

"Do I need to have a look at Stella?" she asked, wondering if this was perhaps the reason he'd sought her out.

Eryk shook his head. “She wanted to come outside. She wouldn't take no for an answer, so I ceded and am now carrying her around," he responded, frowning slightly when Stella made a slight wheezing noise as if to confirm what he'd said. Moira, however, stretched from her spot, and walked towards Eryk and Ana, trilling slightly when Eryk gave her a slight nod.

“Are you done for the day?" he asked, tilting his head slightly to the right. “If you are, would you like to go somewhere for lunch?"

Ana knew she probably looked like an idiot, smiling like she was while her face felt all warm. But somehow every little thing he did just made her feel like that. It was bizarre, honestly, and sometimes she wasn't even sure she liked it, because it made her want—

Well, she could think about all that later.

"That sounds—"

“Hello? Ugh, it's so shabby here... hello?" The voice was coming from the gate; Ana stiffened immediately, the smile disappearing. What was she doing here?

Hurriedly, she climbed to her feet. "Um, it's unlocked."

“Excuse me? Shouldn't you open it for a guest anyway? It's not like it's an automatic gate, you idiot."

The heat had spread to her ears, but it was a very different kind of thing, now. Carefully, so as not to disturb Moira, Ana climbed to her feet. "Coming," she called softly. It was startling to realize she almost didn't recognize the meek tone of her voice anymore. Hadn't she always sounded like this? When did it...?

“Ugh, finally. Honestly, Ana, I don't know where you get off being this rude. Aren't you, like, in customer service? It's no wonder you're here instead of at a Pokécenter." Brenda tossed back a length of rose-pink hair and stepped in, surveying the yard with her nose wrinkled.

The smile on Ryk's face had completely disappeared, and Moira retreated back towards the tree she'd been at earlier. Eryk fixed Brenda with a flat stare, his eyes narrowing slightly. There was a tightness to his jaw, almost as if he were trying to refrain from saying something, however; it seemed his inner debate finished.

“All of the guests who come here are intelligent enough to know that it is not an automatic gate. It eliminates the need to open it for them if we are busy with the pokémon," he stated in a monotonous voice. “Anastasia was in her right to not open the gate, whether or not she is in customer service," he added, his eyes narrowing further as if he were glaring at Brenda.

Brenda sniffed imperiously, tilting her chin up and lifting her nose slightly in the air to glare back at Eryk. Ana could tell she was kind of intimidated, but also that she would never let it show in any obvious way. She had too much pride for that.

Honestly, sometimes Ana wondered if the way Brenda looked was the way she might look, if she were actually healthy and not... well, not herself. She had the classic family features, but there was a sort of noble bearing and graceful beauty to her that had just... skipped Ana over entirely. It meant that, even though Eryk was here and defending her, she couldn't help but feel cowed by that imperious stare, especially when it returned to her.

“Whatever," she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Not my problem if you don't know how to handle things. I'm not one of the elders; I don't really give a shit about our good name. They do, though, and they're not very happy with you."

Her amber eyes, her sole piece of paternal inheritance, narrowed, a malicious sort of joy glimmering in them. Or so it seemed to Ana, especially when she smiled with a sweetness so obvious false it made her want to shudder. “Mom was going to call you to the center to tell you, but I don't really want you around so I thought I'd just cut to the chase. The family's not happy with you. They've decided you're not a fitting representative, so if you don't shape up, they'll be giving their scholarship support to... someone better." It was clear from the smile who the someone better in question was supposed to be.

Ana felt her stomach drop to her feet. "W-what? Why have they...?"

Brenda snorted. “Uh, because you're dishonoring the name, obviously. Like I said, I might not care that you're living with scarface over here unmarried, but they sure do. Honestly you're lucky they're not just disowning you, but apparently cousin Miranda was being stubborn."

If Eryk had been at all insulted by the derogative nickname Brenda used, he didn't show it. Instead, his eyes merely narrowed further, and it was evident enough that he was not happy.

“Tell your elders that they can take their scholarship and shove it up their asses. If that is how they want to treat one of their more qualified and talented members, Anastasia will no longer need their assistance in funding her studies or whatever else she may need. If they have a problem with a Joy who has already been disinherited by the main branch, their concerns should not be wasted on her." Eryk stated, his tone darker than Ana had heard it before.

“If they have a problem with that, they can take it up with me, but they will no longer need to concern themselves with Ana," he continued.

Ana's own feelings on the matter were much more muddled. The family thought—they thought she wasn't a good representative? They didn't want to support her anymore? Unless she—what? Started conforming to some expectations they had for her? When had they ever...?

Confusion warred with sorrow; she'd known the main branch didn't want her, but at least the rest of the family had been... more sympathetic, she thought. Had they all been looking down on her this whole time?

“Um, excuse me, but who the fuck are you?" Brenda said, lifting a skeptical eyebrow. “I don't know what little sick Ana here has done or said to make you all aggro, but she's not worth—"

"Leave him alone!" The final feeling, the big one, bubbled to the surface. Ana clenched her fists at her sides. "He has—he has nothing to do with this and who he is is the best person I know, so just—" She could feel it seething under her skin, a kind of anger she didn't know what to do with, because she'd never felt it before. Not at anyone.

Near the gate, Rufus growled; the hair on Nova's back stood on end where he sat on Eryk's shoulder and his eyes glowed dimly red. Ana realized she must be projecting her feelings, and the nearby pokémon reacting to it. She needed to get a handle on her emotions, right now, before she broke something, or hurt one of them.

Swallowing thickly, she shook her head sharply when Brenda went to retort. "I get it, okay? You're better than me in every way and the family says so, too. If that's all you came here to say, then please leave."

Brenda scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Fine, whatever. Just... don't expect things to end here if you don't shape up." Turning on her heel, she flounced out of the gate. She was, of course, perfectly capable of opening it herself. She'd just wanted to make Ana do it for her.

As soon as she was gone, Ana sank into a crouch, folding her arms on top of her knees and resting her forehead against them. "I'm sorry you had to see that," she murmured miserably.

There was a soft sigh before Stella made a soft wheezing noise and rubbed up against Ana's legs. Eryk must have set her down, because there was a hand on her shoulder, and another one reaching for her chin. Gently, Eryk picked up her face so he could hold her gaze. His expression had softened considerably, softer than Ana had seen before, and he simply held it.

“You should not apologize for that," he spoke, his voice oddly soft. “She is not better than you simply because she thinks it or your family says it. Whatever worth you think you have should not be measured by what your family thinks of you, or how they view you. That... is something you must see in yourself. No one else can tell you that," he continued, a small smile appearing on his face.

“It might not be easy, at first," his hand dropped away from her chin, and the other retreated so that his forearms were resting against his thighs. He was in a crouched position which made it easier to do so, it seemed. “It has not been easy for me to do the same, but... it is a slow process, one that I owe you thanks for."

Her fingers threaded into Stella's coat; Ana stroked the Stunky gently. I'm sorry if I bothered you, Stel, she said, offering feelings of calm and warmth over the whisper of psychic connection. She really shouldn't have lost her cool like that, but the idea that anyone could watch Eryk be so kind and... protective? Was he protective of her in some way? Whatever it was, it had felt like she mattered, and for Brenda to see that and then insult him like he didn't was...

It made no sense, and it made her angry, and somehow that had been the most important thought on her mind in that moment.

Now... now she tried to calm down. It was hard to meet his eyes, so she closed her own when he took hold of her chin, trying for several deep breaths. His hand fell away, and she cracked her eyes open again, finding a wobbly, threadlike smile. "You don't owe me anything," she said gently. A soft huff of air escaped her. "I should be thanking you. Brenda has a good pokerface, but I think you scared her off." She'd have stuck around a lot longer if not for him, Ana was sure of it.

“I owe you more than you know," he spoke softly. He shook his head, though, and stood from his spot, offering her a hand. “Brenda is a..." he paused, pursing his lips together as if he was unsure if he should say his next words. He seemingly decided, though, and sighed, “an unsavory swinub."

“She should not have treated you that way, regardless," he offered Ana another small smile, though. “Do you still want to go get lunch?"

She almost laughed at what he called her, but it ended up coming out as a snort instead. He wasn't far off, when it came to her personality. Brenda might be lovely, but she was really just... awful.

When he extended his hand down to her, she took it without hesitation, rising back to her feet and mirroring his smile. "Yeah," she said softly. "Yeah, I do."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Anastasia Asher

0.00 INK



February 14th
Ana's Home - Evening - Cool
Eryk Nero


Eryk wasn't particularly fond of today.

He had no reason to be; his birthdays were hardly anything worth celebrating. He shouldn't be feeling the small spike of something in his chest for today. He shouldn't be feeling anything, really, but sometimes he did. Today happened to be one of those days. He was, oddly, looking forward to spending the evening with Ana. It shouldn't matter that today happened to be his birthday, nor the fact that it was Valentine's Day, but it did.

He sighed, running a hand through his hair, pulling the jacket a little closer to him. He'd dressed in simple black jeans, a pair Kasimir had bought for him, and a white button down shirt. It wasn't particularly formal attire, but where Ana and he were going didn't require such. The backisland wasn't a five star restaurant, and that meant he and Ana could dress comfortably, and not feel too out of place.

He would have to get used to that, eventually. He made his way towards the kitchen, though, intent on finding Ana. He could carry a few things if they were going to be needed. He just wasn't sure what it was, yet.

“Ana?" he called out, just so he wouldn't accidentally startle her.

She was occupied fitting food and drink items into a medium-sized wicker basket, it seemed, though she closed the lid over just as he entered. She turned when he called out, offering a little smile. "Hello," she said, almost a little too quietly. She'd left her hair unbound, long and straight, and was wearing a simple dress—black, of course—with a few mesh inserts and a pattern on the back. It was, after all, February, even if they were going to the beach.

"Ready to go? If we leave now we'll probably get there in time for the end of sunset, which is the prettiest part."

Eryk wasn't particularly sure when it became so easy to smile in Ana's presence, but he did so at an alarming rate. It felt like he had no control over the muscles in his face, and they just acted on their own. Like now when the small smile on his face appeared without his consent.

“I am," he replied, reaching over to grab the wicker basket. Once he made sure he was holding it properly, he glanced in Ana's direction and motioned for the front door. “I will follow your lead," he stated, mostly because he didn't know where this particular spot of the backisland was located.

"Okay," she replied, looking a little relieved for some reason. She didn't explain why, though, just led the way out through the front door, then paused to say a goodbye to Rufus in front of the gate, crouching to rub at the stoutland's ears.

"You look after things while we're gone, okay?" she said, leaning over to drop a kiss on his nose. "We're counting on you."

He barked an affirmation, and she smiled, rising again and holding the gate open for Eryk to pass through so she could lock it behind her. Once she'd stowed the keys in the pocket of her dress, she started walking again, only to halt until he came up alongside her. "Um..." she pursed her lips, shifting her weight a little uneasily. "Actually, can we—never mind." Clearing her throat, she started forward again.

"It's this way."

Eryk tilted his head a bit, curious as to what she was going to say before. “Is there somewhere else you'd like to go?" he called out, stopping so that they wouldn't walk too far from the gate. If she wanted to stay home for this, he wouldn't mind. He was leaving this up to her; it would be her decision whether or not she wanted to spend this day at home, or on the backisland.

"Hm? Oh, n-no, it's nothing like that." Ana stopped again, too, pursing her lips. She seemed lost for a moment, brow furrowed, and then expelled a short huff. Tentatively, she reached out, taking hold of his free hand with one of hers. It was a barely-present touch, but she glanced up at him anxiously, as though afraid of something.

"Is, um. Is this okay?" It was different, somehow, to holding onto his arm—perhaps that was what she was unsure of?

Eryk blinked slowly before he dropped his gaze to their hands. Without really thinking about it, his hand enclosed hers, and he nodded his head. She wanted to hold his hand? If that was what she'd wanted, he wouldn't mind. He enjoyed being near her, however; he'd always refrained from touching her simply because he never knew if he should. Holding her hand like this, though, was nice.

“It's fine," he voiced out loud, smiling so that she would know it was fine. He began walking, making sure to keep his strides small so that she wouldn't feel like he was tugging her along. She was, after all, a good foot shorter than him, and he didn't want her to feel rushed about anything.

Even this.

“Is there another reason you like the backisland, other than the sunsets?" he asked, glancing in her direction.

She kept stride well enough to his adjusted pace, her small, thin hand somehow warm in his. "Well, I like it because it's quiet, too," she said, nodding slightly. "You can hear the ocean of course, but it's a private spot so there aren't any people. And there are tide pools, so sometimes small pokémon or other animals will be in them. I guess I just find it... relaxing."

The walk took them about fifteen minutes, and took them off the public street, through a small copse of trees, and onto what did indeed seem to be a quiet, isolated stretch of beach. There was a large hammock strung between two of the trees at the edge of the treeline, but since Ana didn't seem surprised to see it, it was probably hers.

She took a moment to step out of her shoes, still holding his hand, and then buried her toes in the sand, sighing quietly. The tide was lapping up on the shore, and the fantastical colors of sunset were already spread over the sky, like someone had fingerpainted them there and the patches had run together at the edges.

"It's nice, right? There's a blanket in the basket if you want to sit on the sand?"

Eryk had to admit that it was nice. Something about the atmosphere made it a beautiful sight to behold, and he wasn't entirely sure when he'd been able to describe something as such. Instead, he nodded and placed the basket down, rummaging through it and pulled the blanket out. He found a suitable spot, and spread the blanket out, smoothing it so that it wouldn't be wrinkled when they sat down on it. Once that was completed, he went back towards the basket and motioned Ana over towards the spot.

“I will give you that it is nice," he finally confessed, waiting for her to sit down before taking his own seat. “The sounds of the wingull are a little much, though," he stated, a small smile cracking over his face. Was he teasing her again? He could never tell.

If he was, it seemed to be working; even as she sat down, folding her legs to the side, Ana huffed, puffing her cheeks a bit and turning just the faintest pink. "Well I can't do much about them," she said. "Be glad they're not trying to steal our food. They can get really aggressive on the tourist beach."

Their food, as it turned out, was mostly sandwiches, and lemonade from canteens. "Sorry it's not much," Ana said. "I just didn't want to make something that would get cold on the trip, or be to messy once we got here..."

Eryk merely smiled and shook his head. “I'm not too worried about the wingull," he stated, reaching for one of the sandwiches. “And I do not mind these," he continued, offering her another smile to reassure her that he really didn't mind. It was a practical thing to have sandwiches instead of something else that would likely spoil with the weather.

“How is Azure doing?" he asked. He, of course, knew that the swablu was doing fine, but he wasn't exactly sure how to start a conversation. Most days, it was enough to just be in Ana's presence and they needn't say anything at all to each other. He enjoyed days like that, but he was finding out every day that he also enjoyed her voice. Something about it was just... he wasn't too sure.

If Ana noticed the slight awkwardness of starting a conversation, she didn't show it, taking a bite from her sandwich and chewing it over before answering. "She's doing really well," she said, eyes narrowing in a pleased sort of way. "Her wings are getting really strong, so sometimes she spends all afternoon flying around. I can tell she really enjoys being around the others, which is good."

She smiled at him, then, bright enough that it was nearly a grin. "Thank you," she added. "She's wonderful, and I'm so glad she's with us." Picking a bit of tomato out of her sandwich, she ate it before continuing. "How is training going? Nova seems to be tired when you two come ho—er, back to the house, but in a good way. I think he's really enjoying himself."

Eryk hadn't taken a bite out of his sandwich, mostly because he was listening to Ana speak. “Training has been intense," he began, glancing away for a moment and down at the sandwich in his hands. “Training with Aidan was never going to be easy to begin with, but..." he trailed off, feeling a light smirk on his face. He actually enjoyed himself when he trained. He enjoyed the tournament more than he should have, and he could only hope that his family had not seen that.

He knew, of course, that they did, but he hoped it wasn't obvious to them. Who knew how they would react to that? Let alone if they knew about Ana, especially his mother. He shoved the thought back into the depths of his mind. He did not need to think of that woman, today. She was a bane to his existence, which was ironic. She was the reason he did exist.

“Nova has been doing really well, which is more than I can say about Imp." Nova just seemed more eager to battle than Imp had, and he could not say he blamed the gengar. He wasn't particularly trained for battles like that, even if they did most of their training with Aidan.

"He's always had the instinct for it," Ana said simply. "I—well there were a lot of times on my journey where things were hard for me, and he and Luna really made it all possible in the first place." She pursed her lips. "They were both castoffs from a breeding operation," she explained. "They aren't siblings, but when NTR shut down the breeder for bad practices, my aunt ended up with them, because she ran the closest PokéCenter that could handle the overflow. They were both so little then."

Her brows furrowed. "Lots of people say bad things about NTR, but... they saved Luna and Nova, and Luna and Nova saved me, so... I can't really bring myself to think bad things about them. Well, and now I'm friends with all of you, of course." She smiled a little, then shook her head. "Honestly because of all that, I sometimes feel like Team Rocket has done more for me than my family has—but now I'm bringing down the conversation I guess. Sorry."

Eryk couldn't believe the same, though. NTR, no matter how it designed itself, was still Team Rocket. He could understand from Ana's perspective, though, how it might seem like NTR wasn't bad at all. They rescued pokemon, made trainers responsible for their thoughtless actions, and held gym leaders to a high standard. Even the league had some standards that NTR helped implement, but Eryk always felt out of place for that.

In his family, Team Rocket was devious. They were not this great personification of good they claimed to be. It was all a facade, however; Eryk pushed the thought from his mind. If Ana wanted to see NTR in a light, he was not going to ruin it for her.

“It's because they'll always be dubious about accepting NTR as they are now. It is uncertain whether or not they'll accept them at all, but..." he paused, pursing his lips together. He wasn't entirely sure how to end that sentence. Shaking his head, he decided to change the subject a bit. “If... you'd like," he began, glancing in Ana's direction.

“If they do take your scholarship away, would you allow me to help you?" he asked. He was serious about it. He knew that the shelter was important to Ana, and in some ways, was becoming important to him. If she wanted to continue her studies, he wanted to help her with them. He wanted her to allow him to support her in any way she would need it because... he blinked.

He cared. When was the last time he cared about something that wasn't Cyrilla or himself? He cared about Ana, and what would happen to her. He cared what she thought of him, how she felt, and he wasn't entirely sure when that came to be. When had he started caring about her?

She seemed to consider this for a long moment, picking at her sandwich with a knit brow. "I... I'm honestly not sure," she said, releasing a soft sigh. "I don't know what I've supposedly done to upset my family, really. I didn't think any of them cared who I lived with or—or anything like that. If I was still in the main branch, they might want me to be married to someone for political reasons, but..." she winced. "I'm not, and an alliance marriage with me would be a complete waste of time. So I don't know why—" She sighed again.

"Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I hope it's a misunderstanding. They've been pretty tolerant of me trying to become a pokémon doctor, even if it's kind of pointless, but I wouldn't want anyone else to spend the funds for it. It's mostly covered by other scholarships anyway—the family's only paying some."

Eryk knew how that was. His family did the same thing, arranging marriages that were beneficial to them in some way or another. Katia was from a main line in the family, but so distant they weren't even close to being related. Why his mother wanted her, of all people, to be her daughter-in-law was beyond Eryk's comprehension. Katia was a nightmare, and he hadn't jested when he said that she might want him permanently gone if they were married.

He had, thankfully, nipped that in the bud with his... a pang of guilt stabbed him. He'd never told Ana about his arrangement with Cyrilla, had he? He sighed heavily. He wasn't entirely sure how he could. Part of him wanted to tell her, but the other part was... afraid. Afraid that if he did, she might become upset with him. She might hate him for lying to her, or perhaps tell him to leave the shelter, and their home. He didn't want any of that, but... she would be in her right to do it.

“Just... know that it is an option for you if you wanted to continue, and didn't have a way to do so," he replied, finally taking a bite out of his sandwich. He felt a terrible guilt in his stomach, and strangely... in his heart.

She smiled at him, though, wearing an expression of obvious relief. "I don't think you know how nice you really are," she told him, tilting her head a little as if to study him better. "I really don't think I've ever met anyone half as kind." She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, then fell silent for a while as she finished off her sandwich.

"By the way, um... Kasimir might have told me it was your birthday today. I figured if you didn't say so yourself you probably didn't want anything extravagant, but... I did make you something. And don't worry, it's not another sweater." She rolled her eyes, seemingly at herself, and reached into the basket, removing what seemed to be a large chocolate cupcake.

"I sort of figured maybe if I combined the holidays, since it's traditional to give chocolate on the fourteenth... oh, it shouldn't be too sweet, though. It's dark chocolate orange flavored. There's a candle in here somewhere..."

Eryk should have known that Kas would have told Ana about his birthday. Strangely, he didn't mind so much. Not when she looked at him the way she did. He almost felt bad he didn't tell her himself. He cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling a strange warmth on his face as he waited for her to retrieve the candle.

“Thank you, Ana," he finally managed to say. Why was it so hard to say anything right now? He was at a loss for words.

She looked up, candle in one hand and cupcake in the other, and grinned. "I made you blush!" she declared, and then—almost as if she hadn't meant to say it—her eyes widened and her own face becan to turn rosy. "Uh, hrm. Sorry. That wasn't nice to say. I just got so used to it working the other way around that I was really surprised."

She stuck the candle into the top of the cupcake, which seemed to be unfrosted, probably because he didn't like sweets very much, and lit it, carefully holding it out towards him. "Usually this is the part where people sing but, um, it's just me and I might die of embarrassment if I tried so... maybe you can give me a pass?" She looked up at him with wide, hopeful eyes.

Eryk coughed awkwardly and had to glance away from her. When she looked at him with those eyes...

“As you wish," he responded, feeling the same warmth on his face increase in temperature, it felt like. “Thank you, Ana. This... is probably one of the only birthdays that have been good," he finally managed to say, turning his attention back towards her and offering her a small smile.

It wasn't even the proper way to convey what he felt, because it was more than just good. It was, perhaps, the best birthday he'd ever had, and it was because of her. All because she was here, with him, and he felt a strange sort of euphoric feeling wash over him. Perhaps it was the tranquil ambiance that pulled him towards her, but he leaned forward, his face inching closer towards her. At the last second, he pulled back and cleared his throat. What in arceus' name was wrong with him?

“Sorry," he muttered, looking anywhere but at her.

"It's okay," she said, her voice breaking softly over the word. She was so quiet he almost couldn't hear her even though she was right in front of him. He couldn't see her face, but her hand moved to pick one of his up, setting the cupcake in it but staying there, so they were holding it together.

"You're, um... you're supposed to wish for something now. Remember how I did, on my birthday? It doesn't have to be anything important, just..." he could hear her swallow thickly. "You're not supposed to tell anyone, but if you want to tell me I promise to keep it a secret."

Eryk swallowed thickly. He'd never wished for anything, before. He wasn't entirely sure what to wish for, but...

“I wish for a future," he stated. He wanted a future that was his, and no one else's. One that he could share with the people he cared about, and he wanted futures for them, too.

Ana exhaled softly. Her free hand lifted, resting along the scarred side of his face. She showed no reluctance to touch them; in fact her fingers traced along the largest before her palm settled against his cheek. She rose onto her knees and leaned forward, resting her forehead gently against his.

"You'll find it," she whispered. "I know you will."

He should not have felt comforted by that simple touch. Should not have leaned into it as if she were, for some reason, his saving grace. But he did, and his arms slowly wrapped around her so that he was hugging her. If she believed he would find it, perhaps he could too.

“Thank you, for believing in me," because no one ever had. Not in the same way she seemed to do so. Perhaps... when all this was over, she would still be part of his future, too, because he wanted her to be.

"Always." She squeezed back, and for a moment, that was all there was.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


February 14th
Backisland Beach - Evening - Cool
Kasimir Rheinallt


It would seem that Ryk and Ana's change of plans had put rather a damper on Cy's—Kas was fairly sure she'd meant to eavesdrop on them at some point, which would have been a lot easier if they'd chosen some public or at least kind of public location. But then Ana had mentioned offhand to him that they were going to be on a part of the backisland she owned, and Kas had known right then there'd be nothing for it.

Honestly he could have hugged her. He was sure Ryk would think he was making trouble, telling Ana about the birthday thing, but he'd honestly just been grateful to her and wanted her to know, because he thought maybe if it was just them, Ryk wouldn't mind. The way she'd described what she had in mind sounded honestly sweet, and Kas was glad there was no way the rest of them could interfere.

He admittedly hadn't really wanted to spend the only 'date' he was likely to ever get with Cy nosing on someone else's anyway.

Not that he was treating this very much like one. He both did and didn't want to, in part because to do that would probably make Cy uncomfortable. There was a part of him that really liked doing that, but he also knew there was a line, between fluster and genuine displeasure, and he didn't want to cross it. Besides, letting himself tease her felt like he was indulging in something he had no business with.

Besides, she'd told him enough damn times that none of this was real. He was starting to believe it again. There'd been... doubt, for a while there. Right around the time he'd let her cut his hair. But, well—Saffron had been some cold water to the face. Despite all his insinuations, he hadn't done a thing that night after they'd gone back to their room. Hadn't really even wanted to. As much as he lived with a certain degree of... disingenuousness, both in his general existence and his relationships in particular—not that they could really be called that—he found that he didn't want it from her. He didn't want anything from her that wasn't real.

And she'd made it clear that none of it was. He was a convenience at worst and a friend at best, someone who she could rely on to help set up a situation where Ryk and Ana were together, or Boss and Sis were, or however she wanted to mess with them that day. And that was fine—to a point, he liked messing with them, too. But... at some point they should really be left on their own, or how they interacted would end up just as...

Kas suppressed a sigh. His thoughts were going around in circles and that was annoying. This wasn't the first time he'd wanted a woman and she hadn't wanted him the same. He'd get over it. She didn't owe him anything, and once he got his head on straight, he'd remember that her friendship alone was a gift, more than he deserved and something he should probably feel guilty for accepting, considering the big lie he was telling everyone.

"All right, where looks good to you?" He shook the bag in his hand slightly, various bottles clinking gently against each other, to remind himself as much as her why they were here.

“Hm, let's see," she stated, glancing out into the area in front of them. She smiled, though, and pointed to an area by a large rock. “Over there seems fine, and we can use the rock as a brace to lean back on," she stated, glancing up with a large smile on her face. Some of her hair fell into her eyes, and she pushed them back behind her ear before walking towards the area she'd pointed to.

“I forget how pretty it is back here," she stated, turning so that she was facing him. She had worn a pair of dark grey leggings tucked into a pair of black boots. The shirt, however, was an off shoulder one, black in color with a white tank top underneath. “Alright, so, did we remember to bring something to sit on? I don't mind either way, but... well, I'd rather not track sand into the apartment."

Kas had never been overly concerned with that kind of thing, but he had thought of that, so from the same bag he pulls a thin tarp, setting the drinks down on the ground and unfolding it in front of the rock. He'd elected to wear an open shirt with rolled sleeves, white, over a coral-colored undershirt and loose, comfortable linen pants in light blue. Those were rolled to his knees, and he'd ditched his shoes a while ago, so his feet were already bare and sandy.

He set the bag down between them, partly to stymie his on temptation to sit closer than he ought to. "Lady's choice," he said, gesturing to it with an excessive flourish, indicating that she could pick her drink before he did.

“Oh, don't mind if I do," she said as she took a seat on the other side of the bag and reached inside. “Ooh, you got tropical fruit rum," she stated in an excited manner, pulling the bottle out. “You always know my favorites," she continued, grinning up at him as she twisted the top off. She blinked, though, before glancing up at him.

“Cups? Or straight from the bottle? It doesn't concern me one way or another if we share them, because at this point we basically share everything," she stated as she glanced back towards the bag.

"It's fine," Kas said, tearing his eyes away from her face. Why was this so hard? He'd told himself it wasn't going to happen—he was usually so much better at being rational than this. "You can just have the bottle; there's plenty of stuff in here." He grinned, making an effort to behave as he always did, and fished out the vodka and fruit juices he'd use for himself. He didn't need a cup if he just chased one with the others, and honestly it felt like that kind of shitfaced night to him.

Maybe if he was drunk, he could just enjoy himself and stop thinking so much.

“Suit yourself," she replied as she took a drink from the bottle. She smiled softly at him before she turned her attention out towards the ocean. “You know... for being my best friend, I feel like I don't really know you," she stated, keeping her eyes on the ocean. “Sure, we live together, and I know some of your favorite things, but..." she trailed off to glance in his direction.

“I don't really know you. Tell me something about you that I don't know, yet. I mean... well," she cleared her throat a little awkwardly and coughed into her hand. “You don't have to, but I just... I want to know you more."

You want the one where I'm selling you a lie and you've been buying it the whole time, or the one where I can't stop thinking about how you said I could kiss you at the end of tonight?

Kas took a large swallow of the vodka, not even flinching as it burned its way down his throat. It was sort of a nice distraction, honestly, and he didn't bother with any of the orange juice he'd stuck in the sand next to him, either. He was pretty sure he could make the second one worthwhile, even. He was a good kisser, as far as he knew. He was good at a lot of things, except apparently not thinking about her this way.

"I'm not that interesting," he settled on. "My life's always been pretty normal. Saddest thing that ever happened to me as a kid was my parents getting divorced and, honestly, it wasn't a big deal. They're still friends, I've always been able to see either of them when I want to. And they're good people, so..." He shrugged; it made him kind of uncomfortable talking about it in front of someone whose life had been so different. Any gripes would sound petty, and any nice things would just... be kind of douchey to talk about.

She shook her head, though, placing her bottle to her side and kept the small smile on her face. “Tell me about your journey, then. I know you said you did it for a while, and I quote were too lazy to make a shot at the league, but what was it like?" She turned an inquisitive brow in his direction, and leaned forward so that her elbows were resting on her thighs, and she was resting her jaw in both of her hands.

Stop, he wanted to tell her. Stop being so interested. Stop caring. Don't you know how hard that makes it?

"Well, uh..." Kas usually had an instinct for storytelling. He knew how to spin a yarn, add just the right amount of embellishment so that it was fun but the listener could tell how much was true, all of it. But for some reason, he found himself speaking plainly this time. "As you can easily guess, Princess was my first ever pokémon. I caught her on a vacation my family took, actually, to some volcanic islands in the archipelago. I'm... actually not sure catching her was entirely legal, considering it was a National Park and all. I didn't even have any pokéballs; I just grabbed one of the empty ones from my dad's belt and went running after her, because I was an idiot."

He smiled a little at the memory, shaking his head and knocking back another few swallows of the vodka.

“But obviously they let you keep her," she stated, smiling a little at him. “Was she as much of a brat as she is now?" she asked, the smile inching just a little wider. She said it with some affection to her tone, though, like she wasn't at all insulting Princess by calling her that.

Kas had read a story once where a couple of countries had gone to war because someone's wife had run off with her lover, who was a prince in the other country. A whole war, over a woman. He'd thought it stupid at the time, but...

Arceus he was getting maudlin now. None of that.

"Always," he said instead. It was easy to talk about Princess. She just had the world's most outrageous personality, and he loved every bit of her ridiculousness. Loved her, down to her fragile ego and her grinch's heart. "Used to be she wouldn't battle if she didn't think the opponent was worth her time. Prevented me from a lot of early catches, but I suppose in her defense that's how I wound up with Sigrún. Princess wouldn't fight her, so she fought me instead. I think I'm still a little traumatized."

He tipped her a wink without thinking, just by way of indicating that any such 'trauma' was an exaggeration.

“Wait, wait. She wouldn't fight Sigrún, so Sigrún fought you?" she stated, almost in an incredulous tone. Her eyes went wide, at the statement, before she laughed. “I don't blame you for still being traumatized, really. I think," she paused as if to actually think, “the only time I'd ever seen something like that was when Runt ended up trying to fight Eryk with headbutts. Not that it's the same thing because Runt is about as dumb as a pile of bricks, but still."

She shook her head, though, and reached for her bottle of rum, taking a slow drink of it before setting it back down. “You know," she began, pulling her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “I kind of envy you for that. You got to do something that you wanted to do, even if it was only for a little while," she pursed her lips together and glanced at the sand. “I don't... I don't think there's ever been something that I wanted to do, or at all. At least... not until now," she murmured the words so softly that it was almost as if she hadn't said them at all.

He really knew he shouldn't have talked about it. Now he'd made her feel bad about shit again. This was, honestly, why he kept his personal life out of discussions with... pretty much everyone else he knew. It was a bit of a double-edge, because while he didn't want to rub his functional family life in anyone's face, it also felt like he... well, like he really didn't think he could tell anyone about his problems either. That'd just feel like... complaining about petty shit.

Kas couldn't help but huff a bit, though, and shake his head. "Cy, you just left your family, took a different name, and are planning to leave NTR. Sounds to me like you can do anything you put your mind to, just about." This time, he chased the vodka with a little bit of orange juice. He wanted to be shitfaced, yes, but conscious.

“It's because of you," she stated it almost like a confession, and she glanced up to meet his eyes. “All of the things that I've done, leaving my family, taking a different name," she listed off, keeping her gaze with his. “All of it has been because of you, Kasimir. You've... you've given me so much to hope for, so much to look forward to and the belief that I actually matter to someone. That I matter at all."

She dropped her gaze again, as if she were unable to keep his. “You're the first person who's ever made me feel the way I do, you know," she whispered softly, shaking her head a little. “These feelings are so new and terrifying that... I don't know what to do with them because they are a first for me. I wasn't ever allowed to explore that side of myself, to feel the things I do now, and... well, I want them to last. I want them to mean something. More importantly," she paused to glance up at him, “I want them to be real."

“I've tried convincing myself that this between us isn't real, but... when I look at you," she trailed off, still unable to meet his gaze.

“I want it to be, but I can't have that. Not when I'm still, technically, engaged to Eryk. It's not... it's not fair to any of us because we're just one big lie. A lie that's going to ruin everything if its discovered, but I want it so badly. Maybe... I'm being selfish, and I know it's unfair to tell you all of this when you don't feel the same, but..." She didn't seem to know how to finish that and hugged her legs tighter.

Don't feel the same.

He'd heard everything she said, but somehow that was the part that had stuck in his head the most. She thought he didn't feel the same? The same as—the same as what? The same as wanting this, whatever this was between them, to be real? Arceus, he didn't even know exactly what it was, because he couldn't—

There were just things he didn't have in him anymore, and yet...

What did it matter, anyway? What did it matter, exactly, what it was, when either way it made him crazy? What did it matter, when she was in pain, and trying and failing to look him in the face because somehow he'd made her believe he didn't feel the same?

Setting the bottle of vodka down in the sand, Kasimir leaned forward, wordlessly taking hold of one of her wrists and breaking the solidity of the way she sat. He'd never have thought to put his martial arts training in unbalancing people to this use, but that was fine. He wasn't thinking at all. He was just acting, whether on instinct or alcohol he neither knew nor cared. But he tugged her towards him, lifting her right over the bottles between them and into his arms.

If it hadn't been for the microsecond of reason that required, the slight hitch in instinctive emotion, he'd have kissed her right then and there. But in the end, the defenses he'd physically erected between him saved him from that. They didn't stop him from wrapping his arms around her though, from pulling her perhaps a little too forcefully into his lap, not enough to hurt but enough to give away how utterly not okay he was, which wasn't allowed because Kasimir was the one who was always supposed to be okay. He was the one with the functional past, the one keeping the biggest secret of them all, the one who had to be okay, even when no one else was.

He failed, though, this time. Instead he squeezed her to him, and buried his face into her neck, and whispered a secret against her skin.

"I feel the same."

Whether it was instinctively or not, her arms wound around him. Her hold wasn't nearly as tight, but her hands dug into the back of his shirt a bit. “Kas..." she started, but couldn't seem to finish. There was a shaky breath before her arms tightened against him. “I'm sorry," she apologized, though what for wasn't obvious.

“I wish... I could have met you in a different life," she whispered softly, moving so that her head rested gently against his. “Maybe then this wouldn't have been so hard. Maybe this wouldn't be such a shit show, and none of us... none of us would have to lie to each other or keep what we feel a secret."

“Maybe I could have even been part of your journey, on my own or just... supporting you. I just... I wish we hadn't met in these circumstances. I wish..." her arms tightened and she softly shook her head. “This, though... this is reality and it's not so frightening any more. Not with you, here."

How did it go? If wishes were poppy, they'd all be high?

He let out a breath, warm and soft against her neck, and tried his best to ease his hold a little. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. Kas squeezed his eyes shut. It didn't change anything, really, to know that they felt the same way about this. he circumstances were the same, and she was right. But he just couldn't let her think that he didn't. Even if it changed nothing.

One of his hands shifted up, to run his fingers through her hair. He was pretty sure he'd wanted to touch it since the day he met her, and he let himself indulge, just that much. The length was irrelevant, really; maybe everything was, except that it meant he was touching her.

"Anything I can do, Cy," he said softly. "Anything that'd help, you name it."

She let out a shaky breath, and took a slow one. “Just... stay here, in the now with me," she answered softly. “I don't want this dream to end," she whispered softly, moving her head slightly to the side so that their temples were side by side. “I don't want any of this to end, really," she continued, a soft gust of amused air leaving her.

“I, um... I have a small request?" she asked in a tentative voice. She didn't move from where she was, and her arms tightened a little around him. “That's... if you don't mind," she added, and it was easy to tell from the sound of her voice that whatever she wanted to ask him, was embarrassing to her, or at least hard to say.

He could have sworn his guts flipped over. Was she about to...?

Better not to assume anything. "I just told you you could have anything," he said, injecting a trace of levity into his tone. "Ask."

“When we get home," she began softly, pushing out a soft breath. “Will you sleep with me, tonight?" she asked. “Not... not in our usual meaning but... well, I think I'd feel a bit better if I could... um," it was easy to tell she was embarrassed by the request. “I'd feel better if I could cuddle with my favorite snorlax tonight," she spoke in one breath.

She was going to kill him.

Oddly enough, he didn't feel at all disappointed that she hadn't asked him to kiss her. Or, well, for what it had at first sounded like she was asking. Maybe because in the face of everything she'd said, and what she did ask, hoping for that felt kind of like missing the point, somehow. Honestly, it was probably better for the both of them to maintain a bit of distance, or at least not escalate things, and even though this was not maintaining distance, it was...

Well it wasn't quite as bad as it could be, as indulgences went. Kas smiled, eyes gentle, pulling back just enough to make eye contact and nodding a little. "Sure I will," he said. "I haven't spent all that time practicing sleeping to neglect the very situation when my skills could be of use, after all."

She smiled brightly at him when he said that, and leaned forward to place a swift kiss to his nose, of all places. “It's why you're my favorite snorlax," she stated, grinning slightly as a light blush colored her cheeks. “Well, probably my only snorlax, but still all the same."

Arceus damn him, he could feel his face heating up. Good thing his complexion and their surroundings were both so dark. He had to play it cool, or he'd never be able to live with himself. "You keep calling me that—are you implying I'm fat?" He pretended consternation, at this, even as he gathered up the bottles and stuffed them back into the bag, standing with them in one hand and Cy supported with his other arm. It wasn't like she was heavy or anything—he could carry her all the way back to their place, if he wanted.

He had to admit, the idea had some appeal.

She pouted at him, her lower lip sticking out a little as she narrowed her eyes at him. “Is that all you think about when you hear snorlax?" she asked, a hint of mock offense in her voice. “I happen to know that snorlax are very adorably round and cute. They're like..." she paused as if she were trying to think of the right word.

“They make good sleeping partners for how much they sleep, and they're actually very, very good pokémon to battle with... I think. I'm actually not sure on that part. Still, if it weren't for feebas being my favorite, snorlax would easily take first place."

"So I'm adorably round and cute, and take second place to a shabby fish? You sure know how to flatter a guy, Cy. Or is the tsundere thing more your style? Cause I gotta say, I prefer the dere to the tsun if you wanna go that way." He winked, shifting the bag to his arm and using a foot to lift the tarp back to his hand, shaking it free of sand before handing it to her. "You have free hands; would you mind?"

“Oh, that's not fair," she stated, the blush on her face darkening a bit. It was easier to see on her complexion; she was very pale. You wouldn't take second place to feebas, you know that," she continued, narrowing her eyes somewhat in a somewhat playful manner before she grabbed the tarp from him.

“Oh, uh... wait," she stated, blinking up at him. “Wasn't there something... you... were, nevermind," she stated quickly, the blush on her face extending to the tips of her ears and down her neck. She must have remembered something that made her embarrassed, and she turned to look away from him.

Well if she was going to bring it up... "What's that, Cy?" he asked, knowing full well what it was. He leaned around to meet her eyes, brushing their noses together. "Something I was going to collect on, maybe?" He almost didn't recognize the tone of his own voice, low and rough, laden with something he could only vaguely define as adjacent to but not merely desire.

Maybe it was because of that that when he did collect, it was by pressing his lips gently to her brow, just above her nose, where she sometimes got a little line when she was thinking hard about something.

She made a light squeaking sound when he did, trying to bury her face in her hands. Perhaps she forgot she was also holding the tarp, though, and ended up slightly smacking herself in the face with part of it. “Ow," she stated, sighing softly as she rubbed her cheek with her free hand. “This is what I get," she muttered, turning so that she was fully facing him with narrowed eyes.

“And you, sir, are such a tease," she stated, sticking her tongue out at him.

"Don't tempt me, princess," he retorted, pretty sure that wasn't the kind of 'sir' she'd meant but running with it anyway. It was a nice distraction from how much he wanted to kiss her properly, and really, so was her own uncharacteristic clumsiness, which made him smile.

"Now let's get home. I'm suddenly in the mood to sleep."

She huffed softly. “Sure you are, but let's go home and sleep anyway."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rocket Files

0.00 INK



February 14th
Viridian City - Evening - Mild
Drake Bellamy


Drake wiped his sweaty palms on his shirt. He knew he shouldn't have done that; it was practically ruined, now. He just couldn't bring himself to care. He'd taken the opportunity to close the gym for about a week so he could be here. In Viridian. For her. It was mostly to surprise her and mostly because he wanted to spend Valentine's Day in person with her. Mel had defeated Viridian's gym leader a couple of days ago, and he wanted to celebrate both of those things with her.

He just hadn't expected to be so stupidly nervous about it. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt excited about a Valentine's date, or about the holiday in general. It had been ruined by Kevin, last year, and he thought he wouldn't ever go on one again. But Mel was different; she wasn't Kevin, and he wanted to spend today with her. Taking a deep breath, he pulled his phone from his pocket and sent her a quick text. He just wanted to know where she was since he was at the PokéCenter.

It was one of two in Viridian, so if she was nearby, he could easily find her. If she was near the other one, though, he'd have to make a bit of a walk to find it. He could have used Typhoon as an aerial guidance, but the salamence was way too large for that. And he didn't want to alarm anyone. Dragon-types weren't typically welcomed since they had a bit of a reputation for being slightly uncontrollable. If only they knew dragons were just big babies and pushovers.

He also didn't want Mel to know he was in Viridian just yet. Arceus he was bad with surprises, wasn't he?

It only took a few seconds for his phone to chime in response. Made a trip to the PokéMart. Argent was feeling the need for sweets, I guess. Should I get myself some at the grocery store next door, I wonder?

She'd attached a selfie, in front of an aisle full of pokémon treats decorated in pink and red for the holiday. Mel was grinning in it, her sylveon perched on her shoulder.

Drake huffed lightly and sent a quick reply: Stay there, I'll have something sent to you in ten minutes!

He knew where that particular store was, and hurried out the PokéCenter doors. He was excited to say the least, and it turned out that he was jogging towards the store. He wasn't quite aware he was doing it until he came to a stop and took a deep breath. He could see her from the windows; this particular PokéMart had mostly an open window concept. Everything from pokéballs to magazines to candy and drinks lined the aisles, but he could see Argent's ribbons twitching slightly. Grinning to himself, he walked through the automatic doors, and walked towards the aisle behind her.

Did you get it, yet? he texted to her, putting his phone to silent so that if she responded, she wouldn't hear the ding.

"Huh?" He heard her make a small noise of confusion, then saw the tips of Argent's ears change direction as she apparently looked around for this supposed delivery.

A new message appeared on his phone a moment later. No, not yet. Should I go wait outside to make it easier for them to find me, maybe?

It took a lot of willpower not to laugh at her face. Had she always made a face like that, that was cute? Quietly, he cleared his throat and leaned over the aisle. He was tall enough and the shelves weren't too tall to begin with.

“If you look behind you, it'll be easier for you to find it," he stated with a large grin on his face.

She whirled at the sound of his voice, bright eyes wide. They were golden, like her brother's, an easy fact to discern even at this distance. "D-Drake?" Her lips parted in surprise, but the expression swiftly morphed into a broad grin. "Arceus, you idiot!" Despite the name-calling, she seemed the very opposite of unhappy, bouncing on the balls of her feet a couple of times.

"Hurry up and get over here; I can't hug you over a shelf of candy!" She seemed to be inclined to meet him halfway, dashing towards the end of the aisle, where they could meet up and throwing herself at him just as soon as the way was clear.

He was only too happy to oblige, and rushed to meet her on the other side. Once they were both there, he threw his arms around her, and twirled with her. “See, I told you I had a surprise for you!" he stated happily as he set her back down. It wasn't like she was short or anything like that, and actually, she was probably a little taller than him, but he managed regardless.

“Couldn't just let you spend the best day of your journey and Valentine's Day alone, now could I?" he stated pulling back with the large grin still on his face. He could hear something about darn kids, and running in the store, but he wasn't too focused on that. He was focused on Mel.

“Which reminds me," he stated, pulling the small box from the inside of his jacket. He handed it to her, glancing away from her face for a moment. “It's, uh, a congratulatory thing for beating Viridian and hopefully it'll help you during your trek through Victory Road," he murmured. It wasn't much, but the charm itself was in the shape of a chansey egg.

“They're supposedly good luck," he explained before his eyes widened a bit. “Not that you need it, of course, since you're already this far." Arceus he didn't think that would sound bad if said out loud. Now that it had been...

Mel didn't seem to think so, though. She'd opened the box and made a happy little sound, laughing softly when he'd backtracked and claimed she didn't need it. "Hey, I'll take every little bit of help I can get," she said lightly, closing the box and sliding it carefully into a pocket.

"I'm... mostly just happy you're here, though," she admitted, smiling a little shyly. "Uh... do you want to get out of the PokéMart? I don't exactly know what's around, but are you hungry? We could eat somewhere?"

“Uh, that's actually a good call," because as excited as he'd been to visit her, he'd completely forgotten to reserve the restaurant. It was too late, now, because it was likely filled with people who'd reserved it months in advance, but he was certain they could find somewhere comparable. He glanced at his attire, and pursed his lips together. It was just a plain blue jacket, a pair of khaki pants, and a pale yellow shirt. It didn't exactly scream formal.

“Maybe... we can see what restaurants they have around town? Oh! Or we could go to the nearby park, if you'd like. We can grab a few things here and take them with us," because arceus he was an idiot.

"Oh, let's do food cart food!" Mel agreed with an enthusiastic nod. "It always tastes better when you eat it outside anyway. I bet there's a couple set up near the park now." Taking up his hand like it was the most natural thing in the world, she tugged him gently after her out the door, setting them on the path to one of Viridian's downtown parks.

Argent trilled her own greeting at him from Mel's shoulder, apparently pleased to see him.

"Oh uh... guess I didn't ask. Is this okay?" Mel lifted their joined hands and cocked her head at him. "I take consent seriously, I promise. I didn't mean to just assume... with the hug either." She looked a little sheepish, and genuinely sorry.

Drake was pleased to see Argent as well, and arched a brow in Mel's direction. “It's fine, really. I don't mind this at all," he stated, lifting their joined hands up to show that he really didn't. In fact, he actually kind of liked it. He was holding hands with her, and it made his heart beat a little faster than normal. Arceus he was an idiot for her, wasn't he? They'd only been dating for a couple of months, but... well, from their texts to video calls, it felt like he's known her forever.

It was a strange feeling, really, because he wasn't ever sure he'd felt like that with any of the people he dated. Shoving the thought from his mind, he continued to grin at her. “Oh, and uh, I don't mind if you hug me. Er, well," he trailed off, feeling a faint blush creep upon his cheeks.

Stop being an idiot, Drake. You can do this!

“What I mean to say is that if you want to hug me, I won't say no," he murmured softly, briefly glancing away from her face and coughing awkwardly into his free hand.

Mel's smile grew into a broad, bright grin as he spoke. "Me too. I think—I think hugs are always okay, from you, so you don't have to ask. But I'll let you know if anything changes." She nodded a little, giving his hand a soft squeeze and lacing their fingers together.

The walk to the park was pleasant; February in Viridian was much cooler than February in Cinnabar, but the evening was mild for winter. Mel was wearing long sleeves and a thick vest with her leggings and boots, and didn't seem bothered by the temperature. Argent hopped off her shoulder, choosing to range a little ahead of them instead, and they settled into a comfortable walking pace.

"How're things at the Gym?" she asked. He kept her updated on the big stuff, of course, and even some of the small stuff, so really she was asking about the last couple of days.

Drake knew he was grinning like an idiot. It was just nice and pleasant and all kinds of other things he couldn't name. He almost missed her question because he was too busy staring at her face. He blinked stupidly before he could answer her question.

“Things have been going about as well as you could expect them to be," minus the whole incident with Kevin. He'd told her about that, but it wasn't like thinking about it now was going to do anything. He was almost afraid, actually, that even thinking about Kevin would somehow summon him and then this whole date would be ruined. He gave Mel's hand a gentle squeeze before shaking his head.

“What about you? You beat Viridian, the last gym in your challenge. What'll you do now?" he asked, though he knew she was going to go challenge the Four. Not everyone did at first, though, and he was curious if she was going to go down Victory Road, now, or maybe take a bit of a break, first. If she did that... ah, well, he couldn't let himself do that to her. This was her dream, and he wasn't going to even ask that. Maybe he should see about getting an extended vacation, or have someone substitute as Cinnabar's gym leader so he could go with her?

"Well," she said, drawing the word out a little in thoughtfulness. "I want to challenge the Elite Four of course, but honestly I don't think I'll be ready for that for a while. I need to train a lot first." This didn't seem to bother her; the expression on her face was serene as she glanced over at him, though there was a faint hint of a little smile playing at the edge of her mouth.

"Really as long as I get the training in, I could go anywhere. Part of me was definitely thinking about heading back to Cinnabar. I kind of want to pester Aidan until he gives me some of that training he's been giving my brother."

Her smile broadened. "Plus, you know... that's where my boyfriend lives. It'd be nice to see him in person more often." He could see a faint hint of pink on her face—it was the first time she'd called him that, as far as he'd heard, anyway.

Something warmed his chest, pride, maybe? He wasn't too sure, however; he couldn't stop the large smile that played over his lips as he pulled them to a stop, and wrapped his arms around her, rocking back and forth a bit as he placed a chaste kiss to the side of her temple. He wasn't entirely sure why that made him happy, but it did. It made him insanely happy that he could just stand in the middle of the park like this, holding her without a care in the world. Not caring if the people who were in the park were stopping and staring at them, some of them murmuring beneath their breath as if they'd recognized him.

He was just so... so happy.

“Well, you could come back with me the day after tomorrow," he finally stated as he stopped his weird happy dance, and released her. “I can have the plane ticket changed so we can both go together," he offered, giving her a lopsided grin. He was fairly certain that the warmth on his face was his blush, deepening.

“And I'm a little jealous that you want Aidan to train you and not me, but I guess I can see why. Aidan's a little intense but he gives good advice. I mean, look how well your brother and Ryk, did. Being trained by an ex-champ is something, and anyone would be crazy to pass up that kind of chance."

Mel laughed at that, the glimmer of her mirth easily reaching her eyes. "Well I don't want to take up all your time," she said, her arms still loosely looped around his shoulders. "And I sort of thought, if I can only have so much of it, I'd rather spend it doing something a little more fun than just training." Her own grin was on the sly side, and she accompanied it by threading the fingers of her right hand into the hair at his nape. It was a light touch, but not one that could be misinterpreted as friendly by any means.

"The day after tomorrow sounds great. I wonder if Mirmir and Cy would be willing to lend me their extra room again."

He felt a slight tingle on his spine, however; he let out a nervous chuckle. What was wrong with him? “I'm sure they wouldn't mind, but all things considered," he paused, biting the bottom of his lip. He wanted to offer her a spot at his place, but he wasn't entirely sure about that. Not because people would consider it indecent; they lived in a more open-minded time, and couples often moved in together before they were married, but... oh arceus, why was he thinking about that? It was way too soon for something like that. Mentally slapping himself, he shook his head.

His main concern was whether or not she'd be safe at his place. He might have dealt with the problem that was Kevin, but he still didn't want to take a chance knowing that Kevin might still do something stupid. Look at what he did with Aidan.

“You could stay with me at the gym?" he wasn't entirely sure why it came out as a question. At least the gym would be safer, and there was plenty of room for the both of them. “You can even let Argent and the others run around if you'd like. Typhoon misses her like crazy, the big idiot," he stated, grinning at her.

She seemed taken aback for a moment, blinking at him as though she'd just seen something she was having trouble believing. "You... you don't mind? Really?" There was something almost hesitant about her tone of voice, as though it had been threaded with the same disbelief. "Because if you're not sure, it's really okay." Mel shook her head. "I know things are still... weird, since, you know. I don't want to make you feel obligated."

She could only be referring to Kevin, but clearly she didn't want to bring it up too directly.

It was sweet of her, really, to be a little hesitant about his offer. He was actually kind of surprised that she hadn't said no. He was, for some reason, expecting that more-so than what she was currently saying, which sounded more like a yes. He didn't want to assume, though, and merely nodded his head, stupidly.

“Sure, I'm sure," he stated, taking a step back so there was a little more respectable distance between them. He didn't want her to feel like he was giving her some kind of choice between staying with him or her brother. Ultimately, it was her decision, and she was free to do whatever she wanted to do. He wasn't going to tell her, otherwise.

“If you want to stay with me, that'd be great, but I'm not going to be upset if you say no. I'm not forcing you to choose or anything. It's your choice on how you want our relationship to progress; you set the pace, not me," he added, his grin turning into a soft smile so she could see how serious he was about it. She would always have that choice on how she wanted their relationship to be paced. It was slow, and he knew that asking her to stay with him might seem a little rushed, but he didn't want her to feel like it was.

“So, if you want to stay with me, that'd be amazing, but if you want to stay with your brother and Cy, that's great, too."

"Of course I want to stay with you!" With a soft laugh, Mel stepped forward where he'd stepped back, sliding her hands around his middle this time to hug him, between the layers of his jacket and shirt. She rested her chin on his shoulder, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "I'd love to. And I'd love to train with you, too, when you have the time, and... really I'm just looking forward to everything about getting to do this in person."

She pulled back a little, enough to press a soft kiss to his cheek. "I just wanted to be sure that after everything you were asking because you wanted me to stay, not because you felt like you should even if you didn't. But if you want this, I want it too."

Arceus, he was a fool for her, wasn't he?

“Of course I want it!" he stated, wrapping his arms around her and rocking with her again. He didn't know why he liked doing that, but he did. “I mean, of course I want you to stay with me. It's going to be great because we get to train, watch movies, make fun of your brother and the others, watch Typhoon get stupid with Argent, and everything else you want to do," he stated, knowing full well that he was rambling.

He was just... happy.

She laughed, muffling the sound against his shoulder. "Sounds like a plan to me."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


February 14th
The Cloyster - Evening - Cool
Aidan Klein


He swore he'd known how to do this, once.

Not that this was exactly the same as that, of course—and listen to him now, refusing to use the words even in his own head like some idiot teenager in denial. Next thing he knew, he'd have to figure out whether he liked Doc or like-liked her.

Ugh.

Sighing to himself, Aidan fished the key to their place out of his pocket and fitted it to the lock. She'd gotten better about actually remembering to lock the thing, probably because he'd been persistently reminding her every time she forgot for the last few weeks. Basil might be a reliable pokémon, but that didn't mean Doc shouldn't learn what she needed to know to take care of herself independently, either. It was in some ways a real wonder she'd made it this far in life. She wasn't stupid by any means, just... ridiculously naïve in a way Aidan was pretty sure he hadn't been at six, never mind thirty-three.

It was nice, in a way, that she could clearly still think of the world as a fundamentally safe place, or at least not worry about the danger of it. On the other hand, he was going to develop an anxiety disorder if things didn't adjust at least a little.

"I'm home," he said, just loud enough that it'd carry to whichever part of the apartment she was in. His grip shifted on the bundle of cut stems in his hand; the florist had put it together because Aidan didn't know the first thing about flowers. All he'd specified was light blue and yellow, since the first seemed to be a favorite of hers and the second reminded him of her. And not because she was blonde, either. Apparently it was chrysanthemums with littler blue ones—delphiniums, they were supposedly called. Looked nice enough, to his untrained eye, and it wasn't fucking roses, which was important.

“In the living room!" she called out, the sound of the television echoing after. “I'm watching Kantonian Lycanroc in Kalos," she added. It was an old horror movie about a werelycanroc or something like that. “It's... actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be," she continued until he'd made his way to where she was.

She was sitting on the couch, cuddling Ziggy to her, and dressed in an oversized pink shirt with a pair of pink jogging pants. Her hair had been braided into twin tails over her shoulders, and she turned towards him with a smile on her face. “Oh, looks like Aidan has an admirer," she stated, nodding her head towards the flowers in his hand.

"Uhh." Arceus, he was actually going to have to spell this out wasn't he? Well, he'd avoided pink flowers for... reasons, so maybe it wasn't that odd a thing to think. No, no it was still odd. He wasn't exactly the kind of guy that people got flowers for. "Actually these are for you. Passed by the florist window today and thought you might like them." He shrugged, like it wasn't a big deal—it wasn't, he reminded himself—and extended them out towards her with half a smile.

"You have a vase or something I can get?"

“Wait... for me?" she seemed a little hesitant, but she smiled as she reached with her free hand for the flowers. “Thanks, Aidan, they're really pretty," she stated as Ziggy wiggled out of her arms and onto the ground. He made a slight huffing sound before waddling away towards Basil, who was curled up on the other side of the couch on her small bed. She trilled in Aidan's direction before shoving Ziggy away with her snout.

“I think I have a vase somewhere," she added as she stood from the couch. “I've... well, I've never really needed them before," she continued, making her way towards the hall closet. She pursed her lips together when she didn't find a vase and made her way towards the kitchen.

“Guess I'll have to improvise and use the glass pitcher, for now."

"Suppose we could just go pick one up," he said, then cleared his throat. "You, uh, have plans? Was thinking you might not mind going somewhere with me, but if you want to finish our movie, don't worry about it." He probably should have asked in advance, but he hadn't wanted to make a big deal of it. He was walking a line here, and he had to be careful about it because the last thing he wanted was to hurt her. The second to last thing he wanted to do was fool her, though, so...

“Sure! I don't mind at all, you know that," she stated, placing the flowers inside of the pitcher. “Let me just... go change?" it came out as a question, and she chuckled nervously. “Uh, I meant, let me go change so I'm not walking around in my pajamas," she reiterated before walking towards her room.

A few minutes later, she returned, her hair loose though slightly wavy due to the braids. She'd changed into a regular pair of blue jeans and a simple white shirt with a pink hooded jacket over it. She smiled at him before something seemed to dawn on her.

“Oh, I should have probably asked. Is... is this alright to wear to wherever we're going?" she asked, gesturing to her outfit.

It was a good look on her, really. Aidan had never considered himself the kind of guy who had a type, really: he'd been with men and women of various shapes, sizes, and coloration schemes, as well as senses of style. But he thought maybe he just...

"'Course it's all right," he says, not letting his train of thought wander too much further in that direction. It wasn't anything he didn't know on some level already anyway. Self-delusion was not one of his talents. "I'm not dressed up either." He gestured slightly down at his clothes, a black long-sleeved henley with a white outline of a houndoom stretched over the front and back ribcage, and black jeans. The chainmail cuff and the wallet chain Ana had gifted him were it as far as accessories went, too.

"There's uh... a little pro-battling museum on the island. Just opened up again after renovations. Only a local one, mostly about Cinnabar stuff. But I thought it might be worth a look?"

“Sounds like fun!" she stated, slipping on her shoes. “Basil, look after the place while we're gone, okay!" she stated, turning towards Basil who merely trilled before laying her head back down on her bed. Doc retrieved Ziggy, though, and called him back to his pokéball before hooking it to her belt.

“Alright, all set!" she stated, grinning brightly in Aidan's direction. She seemed excited about it, if anything. Once they were out of the apartment, she shoved her hands inside the front pockets of her jacket, keeping pace with him.

“I didn't even know Cinnabar had one," Doc said in a light tone, the excitement still easy to see on her face.

"It's just a little local place," he said, sliding his hands into his pockets and matching his pace to hers as they walked. "But sometimes those are most interesting. On the far side of the island, though. Do you mind taking the bike, or would you rather walk? I don't mind either way."

“Bike is fine," she replied easily, glancing in his direction for a moment. “I think the last time I was on a bike was about," she paused, glancing upward as if she were trying to remember how long it had been. “Ten years? It was only once, but an old colleague of mine gave me a ride home on hers," she explained, nodding as if that explained something.

“Besides, it'll be faster that way, too," she added almost as an after thought.

He was admittedly a little surprised by that, but supposed he shouldn't be. Lots of people were leery of riding with him, because the open feeling was uncomfortable for them, or frightening. Then again, Doc had a spirit of adventure to her, he thought, even if it was seldom given opportunity to appear. "All right," he said, smiling a little despite himself. "Let's go then."

He'd parked the thing near the back of the lot, and made quick work of the cover. Taking up a conspicuously-pink helmet—just because he hadn't necessarily expected this outcome didn't mean he hadn't prepared for it—he handed it to her, and pushed his hair back with a hand, fitting his own streamlined black one on over it.

Aidan swung astride, twisting slightly and lifting the visor of his helmet to speak a bit more clearly. "If you've done it before you know how this works." he used the back of his heel to tap a small bar protruding from the left side. "Those are your footrests, but you'll want to hold on." He felt himself smile a little wider. "The roads are pretty clear this time of day, and I have a lead foot."

“I trust you not to let me fall off," she stated as she put her helmet on. She swung her leg around so that she was seated behind him, her arms wrapping around his waist in a loose yet secure fashion. “Like you said, I've done this once before. It might have been ten years ago, but I still remember how this works," she continued, and he could almost hear the smirk in her voice.

“Onwards, Ser Maribelle!"

He snorted. His hair was red enough, maybe, but his armor wasn't near so shiny. "Yeah yeah, just don't let go."

Aidan started up the engine, letting it settle into a smooth hum beneath them. He moved her arms a little so they were a little more secure, then shifted the kickstand up and away, pushing off the ground a bit and moving the throttle. It was a sleek, powerful bike, one that had them leaning forward rather than back on its more slender frame, but Aidan had always preferred the Johto-style models like this to the Kanto ones, which were wider and more relaxed.

He chose a road that ran the perimeter of the island. It wasn't the fastest way to get to their destination, but it was the most scenic, and the dying light of the sun illuminated the ocean and white sand to their left, casting the nearby tropical landscape in warm colors on their right. He hadn't been lying about his lead foot, though there was nothing leaden about the way it felt, wind tearing at the fabric of their clothes. February or not, Aidan only felt it as a bracing chill beneath his leather jacket, donned on the way out of the apartment for just this possibility, and he was in all likelihood blocking the worst of it from Doc.

"Hold on," he warned over the roar of air. A turn approached, and he leaned into it, tilting the both of them acutely to the side to navigate it.

Her arms tightened around him as they took the turn, and something like a short laugh made it through the air. “Arceus, I forgot how fun this could be!" she stated, though it was clear enough from the way her helmet was pressed against his back that she wasn't quite looking at the scenery.

“And it looks so pretty with the way everything is just flying by," she added, her head shifting a bit as if she were finally looking outwards. “Remind me I need to invest in one of these, and also take lessons!" she stated, clearly still excited about the ride.

"Sure thing on the first bit, but you know I can teach you, right?" He didn't press, though, smiling to himself at how much she seemed to be enjoying the ride and just letting her take it in.

It took about twenty minutes for them to reach the museum parking lot, and part of Aidan sort of wished it'd been longer. Maybe he'd have to offer to take her on a longer one, someday. For now, though, he has other plans, and the museum's first on the agenda.

Sliding off his helmet, he shook his hair out and ran his hand through it a couple of times, chuckling at how disheveled hers has become from all the wind. "Rented the place out," he explained, gesturing at the empty lot around them. "Figured that way we could take all the time you wanted."

“Wait, really? You rented it out?" she asked, her eyes slightly wide. She blinked a few times before glancing in the direction of the museum and pursed her lips together. “Now I feel kind of bad that everyone else can't enjoy it, but..." she trailed off, the smile returning to her face.

“This will be fun with just the two of us, and... maybe the guards," she chuckled at the last part. She smoothed out her hair, though, trying and failing to set it back before pursing her lips again. “We should go inside and not waste any more time!" she stated a little excitedly as she walked in front of him. She stopped, though, before she could go any further, and made her way back towards the bike, setting her helmet down on the back end and smiling nervously.

“Shouldn't take that inside, though."

Aidan laughed softly, shaking his head and settling in to match her pace inside. As promised, the docent at the door just gave them a nod and a smile, along with a map of the museum. It was a small place, basically just a renovated historic house, and not quite as big as the old mansion, even. But all the rooms had been purposed as exhibit displays, including the white tiled foyer they were in now. A polished banister staircase led up to the second floor, an inviting hallway beckoning deeper into the first.

This first room seemed to be largely an introduction, with a timeline of pro-battling history in general on the wall, inset text and pictures explaining various founding figures, early champions, and tournament system milestones. A few old-fashioned pokéballs were arranged in a glass case beneath, various kinds of apricorns carved in designs from the ancient to the relatively modern, the latter sitting alongside their more technological counterparts.

Doc seemed intrigued by it all, occasionally making her way to one of the cases and making an awed expression at them. She moved to one in particular that had an old registry of sorts. It seemed to be in pristine condition, and her eyes widened as something caught her attention.

“Oh, my arceus they have Julien Richter's journal!" she nearly squealed in an excited manner, making her way towards another case. “He was the first probattler who made history using only three pokemon for his entire career and one of them stayed unevolved. If I remember right, it was his machop!" she continued, the excitement evident in her eyes and tone of voice.

“I completely forgot he was a Cinnabar native!" she added.

"Probably their single most famous export, before the modern era," Aidan replied with a nod, looking over the journal with interest. That was the nice thing about little museums like this: because they were so locally-focused, they sometimes had really interesting stuff that wouldn't rate a display case at a more general place. There were few pages reproduced in the case next to that one, these ones personal, recounting the man's personal feelings about one of his biggest wins. 1896, against Johannes Volkhard. It made him Champion, even if it wasn't a position he kept for more than a year. It was still remarkable, though—back then Kalos had been so dominant on the pro scene that the idea that a Kantonian could be Champion was considered absurd by most people.

The other rooms were much the same; he was interested in the exhibits to be sure, but more interesting by far was watching Doc react to them; she was so obviously enjoying every moment of it that he felt an absurd little bubble of pride at having anything at all to do with it.

“Their only single most famous export. Julien managed to win against Volkhard with his machop. His machop," she repeated, looking Aidan straight in the eye with a somewhat serious expression. “There have been others, definitely, but they couldn't even begin to compare what Julien brought. There was just... an understanding between him and his pokémon that they said he didn't even need to give commands. His pokémon just knew what he wanted, like their hearts were connected somehow," she continued, placing a hand over her own heart.

“Volkhard wasn't a pushover by any means, either, but still," Doc trailed off, her eyes softening for a moment. “Oh! They have his card with his signature on it!" she stated as she moved towards a smaller case. The card wasn't in good shape, and from the way they had it cased in, it was likely that the sleeve it was in was holding it together. She moved on to the other various displays inside of the museum, occasionally taking in sharp gasps of excitement when something caught her eye and she'd go on a speech about it.

They'd finally made their way upstairs where there was a rather large case that looked to be a bronze statue of sorts inside, and Doc's eyes widened slightly. Around the statue were three distinct pokémon ones: an arcanine, a tauros, and a machop. Doc nearly squealed again and all but ran up to it.

“They have a statue of him, too! And look," she stated, pointing to one of the old photos, “they have a picture of him and his husband! They had been so controversial during that time, but oh my arceus they were so..." She'd trailed off at that point and didn't seem to finish that statement.

“This is probably one of the best times of my life," she said as she turned to grin brightly in Aidan's direction. “They have so many things, and it's just... amazing."

He knew just by feeling it that his face softened at the comment. He knew, of course, that she enjoyed stuff like this—that was why he'd chosen the place. Why he'd bothered to rent it out at night instead of just going during normal business hours, when someone might have shot her a dirty look for her mini-lectures or her volume or even the way she all but skipped from one thing to another.

Aidan felt, suddenly and fiercely, that he didn't want that. Because he knew she'd notice eventually, and it'd make her shrink on herself, express less of herself, be a little less happy than she was right now, and he got the sense she was used to that part. To being told to be quiet, to go away, to act the way other people acted. He couldn't understand it. Why anyone would think that, seeing this.

"Take your time and enjoy it all, Doc," he replied with a casual shrug. "My only other plans are dinner from some cart place around here and a pokémon battle, so. Pace is yours to set."

“Hm, I don't know if there'd be enough time in the world to enjoy all of this. It's just so... wait, what?" she stated, the smile on her face turning into slight confusion. “Dinner and a battle? Oh, is someone having a battle tonight?" she asked, tilting her head slightly in confusion.

“If that's the case, let's go eat! I didn't know there was going to be one tonight and I don't want to miss it," she stated, rocking on her heels a bit in an excited manner.

"There's really no rush," Aidan said, chuckling. "You in fact can't miss it, since the person having a battle is you." He lifted an eyebrow, wondering if she'd catch his meaning. Saffron hadn't been that long ago.

“Me?" Doc's brows knit together before it finally dawned on her what he meant. “Oh! You mean..." she trailed off, pointing between herself and Aidan. “Really!?" she exclaimed more in an excited manner, and it was only proven when she smiled warmly at him.

“I didn't think you'd actually... because of your busy schedule and all with Kas and Ryk and their training, and I'm rambling again. Sorry," she muttered as a light pink dusted her face and she cleared her throat in an awkward manner.

“I, uh, what I mean is that if it's really okay, then maybe... we can go now?" Doc seemed excited about the battle, moreso than she'd been about the museum.

"Sure thing, Doc." Damn if it didn't warm up his cranky old heart, seeing her smile like that. The museum would be here another day if she wanted to come back, but she seemed excited for this next part, so he nodded and led her back out.

There was an old mock ring on the grounds, one that visitors were allowed to use. In sharp contrast to the modern stadium, it was little more than a circle of dirt and sand, bounded by a sturdy wooden fence, with a small platform on either and for trainers to stand on.

When they'd reached it, he turned around to face her, hands still in his pockets. "So there's two ways we can do this," he said, catching her eye and humming thoughtfully. "One is, Rex is happy to let you battle with him, in which case I can use one of the others, and we can do it that way. Or, if you want to battle with one of your own, I took a younger pokémon of mine out of the PC system today, so it should be a little more even."

He could, of course, have his pokémon just take it very easy on Doc's, but if she wanted a serious battle, he respected her enough to give her one, in whatever way she preferred.

“Aw, Rex is adorable," she stated, however; she was reaching for one of the pokéballs at her belt. “I think the last time any of my pokémon battled, it was Fluffy. He and Pinky were the only two who actually saw any kind of battling so... I think I'm going to use him. Mama Basil doesn't like it, and Ziggy and Floof are still a little too young." Doc pushed the button on her pokéball to expand it, smiling sheepishly as she glanced in Aidan's direction.

“I... uh, would ask that you don't take it easy on me, but it's also been such a long time," she stated, glancing towards the ball in her hand. “So... maybe take it a little easy on me?" she didn't seem too sure about her statement, and shuffled a bit in her spot.

He nodded easily, half-smiling and reaching forward to ruffle her hair. It had become something he did almost automatically, like reaching towards her was an instinct and his was the most acceptable way he had of channeling it. "I can go a little easy, no sweat." Gesturing her towards the nearer of the podiums, Aidan made for the far one, climbing atop the sturdy platform and pinching the last ball from his belt.

"All right, Spike, let's see what you've got." With a toss, the ball burst open, and his nidorino appeared, scratching absently at one large purple ear. He was quite young for one of his type, freshly evolved and still adolescent in the way they sometimes had, but he hopped to his feet immediately, attentive and ready.

Doc tossed the ball that contained Fluffy out into the ring, the furret shaking out his coat as he trilled softly in Spike's direction. Doc chuckled lightly before shaking her head. “Alright, Fluffy, give it your best shot, alright? It's been a while, I know," she started when Fluffy made a soft snorting noise in her direction, “but you'll be alright!"

“Ready when you are, Aidan!" she stated, the smile on her face turning into a large grin.

As battles went, it was far from the most challenging, but he figured, in the end, it might well compete for most fun. Once Spike caught on to the fact that it wasn't a serious competition, he eased off the gas, which was good, because the furret did seem to be rusty. By the end of it, they were mostly chasing each other around he ring while Aidan tried to contain his laughter. In the end, Doc managed to get Fluffy to pay attention long enough to deliver a solid swat to Spike, and the nidorino dramatically keeled over like the ham he was.

Aidan rolled his eyes and withdrew him, nodding across the ring to Doc. "Congratulations," he said, eyes narrowed in amusement. "If this was league-official, you'd have just broken my streak."

Doc was laughing as Fluffy wrapped himself around her, effectively immobilizing her. “If this were league-official, you would have kicked my ass," she stated once she seemed to contain her own laughter. She laid a hand on Fluffy's head before gently tapping the pokeball against his forehead and withdrew him.

“This," she began, hooking Fluffy's ball back to her belt, “has been the most fun I've had since forever." She smiled brightly at Aidan, and sniffled a little bit. “Thanks for taking me to the museum and having a battle with me, Aidan."

Maybe it was some kind of contact high from all that happiness, but he found himself grinning. Not smirking, not half smiling, but wearing a full-blown grin, like he was nineteen again and it felt like the whole world was in front of him.

That could explain why he slipped. "Anytime, Nevena." He cleared his throat. "So... dinner?"

Her eyes widened a bit when he'd said her name, and a faint blush appeared on her face as she glanced away awkwardly. “Uh, sure, let's go get dinner, but," she stated, though she didn't look back up at him and shuffled in her spot. “I... I like it when you say my name like that. Not Doc or anything like that, but my actual name," she murmured, the blush on her face turning a shade darker.

“But I mean, you can call me whatever you want! I don't mind, really!" she added, finally glancing up at him and smiling sheepishly.

He liked it, too, and that was kind of the problem. Aidan found he couldn't quite answer her, at least not with more than a subtle nod. He could handle that later. Now, though, food. Much easier.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



February 17th
Marna's - Evening - Crisp
Eryk Nero


Eryk knocked back the drink rather harshly, some of it spilling down the side of his lips as he wiped it away with his hand. He hadn't meant to do that, but for the last couple of days, he hadn't been able to do much of anything. He'd been thinking too much about that near kiss with Ana and for some reason, couldn't think of anything else. He'd been a fucking idiot for trying to do that to her. They might have been... dating? He didn't fucking know. He didn't know anything and that was confusing the shit out of him.

He was supposed to be doing a mission for the boss. He was supposed to be finding out information about her, and here he was dating her because he wanted to. He wanted to do it, and not because someone had told him he needed to. Eryk Nero wasn't the kind of man who wanted anything, especially with how his family was. With how his mother was. What would she say if she found out about it? What would she do? Eryk threw back another drink of his vodka, before setting his cup back down.

“So, how was everyone's day?" Drake drawled somewhat. Eryk blinked, momentarily forgetting that he was at Marna's with the other guys. It seemed to him that he wasn't the only one with things on his mind, but their reasons were and could be different. He wasn't going to presume anything, however; judging by the idiotic smile on Drake's face, and the fact that he'd returned with Mel a day ago, things might have been going well for him.

"Which day are you really asking about?" Aidan replied. He looked and was acting pretty much the same as he always did, a calm center in what otherwise seemed to be a rather strange set of circumstances. He took one of Eryk's largely-uneaten plate of nachos, braking off a string of cheese with a deft gesture and eating the whole thing.

Kas, on the other hand, had been unusually quiet, or at least he'd ceded most of the floor for talking to Drake, who apparently was rather happy. He was drinking about as fast as Ryk, though, which might have been more of a clue than just talking a little less.

“Rude," Drake began, pursing his lips in Aidan's direction. “You shouldn't answer a question with another question, you know," he continued, shaking his head a bit, before grinning largely. “You know damn well which day I'm asking about. Do I have to spell it out?"

“If you want to be able to keep talking much longer, I'd suggest you don't," Ryk grumbled before taking another shot. He should probably stop doing that so fast, otherwise he was going to wake up with a nasty hangover. Not that he wouldn't be able to deal with it, but he wasn't entirely sure if he did. Drake snorted softly as Ryk rolled his eyes. How did someone like Drake get drunk so fast? He couldn't understand it, however; he supposed Drake was just a natural lightweight who couldn't really hold his alchohol despite all his bravado at being able to do so.

“I wanna know how everyone's V-day went! I can't be the only one who had a good time, right?" Drake nearly whined. Eryk was half tempted to just pinch a nerve on his shoulder and make him pass out for the rest of the night, however; Marna might not appreciate having a drunk Drake on her floor.

Kas made a vague sound, pouring himself another drink and then one for Eryk, too, pushing it towards him with a nod. "Mine was just a tax for helping Cy with her plans to get certain other people to spend time together. Not much to say. We went to the backisland for a while and drank." He shrugged, taking a slightly more measured sip of his drink.

Aidan regarded him for a moment, head tilted, then seemed to give it up, shrugging a bit. "I took Doc to the little probattling museum on the historical side of the island. Then we had a battle and some dinner. It was nice."

“So... you went on a date with Nev? That's what it sounds like," Drake stated, arching a brow in Aidan's direction. He didn't seem to push it, though, and turned his attention on Ryk. “What about you, what did you do, Ryk?" he asked, causing Ryk to sigh and down his drink. Fuck it. Might as well.

“None of your business," Eryk simply replied, earning a slight pout from Drake.

“Come on, Ryk. Kas and Aidan both said what they did. What did you do that you're so embarrassed about?" Drake continued, and Ryk arched a brow in his direction.

“Who says I'm embarrassed about it?"

“You're getting defensive. Clearly that's a sign of embarrassment."

"He's not going to quit pestering you," Aidan observed.

Kas snorted softly. "They were on the backisland, too," he supplied, though not as smugly as Eryk thought he might have on a different day. "Different part. Cy wanted to snoop, initially, but that was nixed because private property and all that."

“Not like that would have stopped her," Eryk grumbled into his cup before downing it again. Drake, however, seemed more amused than anything, and leaned so that his jaw was resting on his hand in a smug manner.

“Fine," he conceded. “Ana and I had a picnic on the part of the backisland she owns. Is that sufficient for you?" he asked, arching a challenging brow in Drake's direction. It didn't seem to bother him, though, and Drake just smiled. Eryk could feel a headache coming on just from that smile alone.

“Well it seems to me that everyone had a mostly good day," Drake stated, taking a drink from his beer bottle.

It was almost impossible to detect, but Kas actually seemed to wince at that, just a little. "For... some value of the word, sure."

Aidan sighed, leveling his gaze at both Eryk and Kas. "So then why are you two drinking like you're at a frat rager?"

Eryk pursed his lips together. How was he supposed to answer a question like that when he didn't even know the answer to it? Drinking like he was seemed to be the only logical explanation to whatever it was he was dealing with. That just didn't seem to be enough, though. Why? Why wasn't it enough? Why couldn't he just say that he was drinking because he was feeling things he shouldn't be. Things he had no right to, least of all for someone like Ana. It wasn't that Ana wasn't lovely. She was, down to the shade of her pale pink hair that always seemed to shimmer just faintly when they were outside in the sun.

The way her eyes shined when she was happy about something they were doing, or just simply taking care of the pokemon. There was something faintly innocent about her, and he... well, he'd simply ruin it. Of that he was certain. He wasn't even entirely sure if he was doing this more for the mission's sake, or for his. Even as drunk as he was, now, Ryk knew he couldn't say that out loud. Drake wasn't a member of NTR, and Ryk had to be careful of what he said. How he said it.

“It's complicated," he finally answered, downing another shot.

"What he said," Kas added. "Also, Ryk, I would like to add that your family sucks. And I hate them. Which is unusual because I don't really hate people, normally."

Aidan seemed inclined not to push them further than that, only nodding and lifting his glass a bit. "Hear, hear."

Eryk snorted softly into his cup at Kas's statement, but lifted his glass towards Aidan's. “You've only heard about them, and you hate them," Ryk started, shaking his head a bit. “Wait until you actually meet them," though in all honesty, Ryk hoped they wouldn't have to. Katia was a special case. He didn't count Katia.

“I think we need another round of nachos," Drake stated, standing from his spot before nearly falling over. “I'm good! I'm good," he continued before making his way to, presumably, order more nachos.

“My family isn't the only one," Ryk stated, blinking slightly when he realized he slurred the word. “The Joys who run the center, here, also... how did you put it?" he paused to glance in Kas's direction. Suck."

Kas lifted a hand and gave Eryk's shoulder an only slightly clumsy pat. "Yeah I met a couple of them once. Lydia and Brenda or something? The daughter seemed like... well kind of a bitch to be honest. She was pretty blatantly rude to Ana about this cacturne..."

Eryk nodded his head. “She came by the shelter a few days ago and told Ana that if she didn't start acting right, they were going to cut off her scholarship. Something about it being indecent living with me," he stated, feeling his lips tug downward. Was he pouting? He couldn't fucking tell. He could understand, though, if the main branch of her family operated anything like his. It wasn't exactly a good thing if an unmarried woman lived with an unmarried man, but... technically he wasn't unmarried. Engaged, perhaps, but that didn't make it any better.

It only made it worse, now that he thought about it.

Running a hand down his face, he furrowed his brows at his cup. “Not that I'd let that happen, but still," he murmured more to himself.

Aidan nodded sympathetically, but then there was a sudden bang from Kas, who'd struck the table with the flat of his palm. Just hard enough to rattle the dinnerware, not enough to actually damage anything. "But why the Hell not, Ryk?" he asked, boring into his eyes with rather intent golden ones of his own. His seemed a little out of focus, pupils blown probably because of how much he'd had to drink.

"She—Ana fucking loves you, man. You're just gonna pass on something like that?"

Eryk could count on one hand how many times he'd been startled in his life, and still have room to keep counting. Kas, however, managed to startle Eryk a bit, that he nearly spilled his shot, and furrowed his brows. What he'd meant by that was simply that he wasn't going to let them take her scholarship away. What did Ana loving... Ryk blinked confusedly at Kas.

“And she shouldn't," the words were out faster than he could realize he was saying them. “She shouldn't love me at all for all the shit that's going on," he continued, gesturing to the three of them. “Do you honestly think she'd still feel the same if I told her that all of this had, intially, been a ruse. So that we could get close to her to find out whether or not she was some psychic for Gregorovich?" Eryk was careful to keep his voice low so that only the three of them could hear.

“And do you honestly think it matters? You've seen our file, Kas. You know Cy and I are engaged, and that even if we were to get it anulled, bringing Ana into my family in any shape or form is more dangerous for her than... whatever it is we're doing." He took a deep breath and shook his head.

“Whether or not I'm just gonna pass on something like that, isn't my call to make." He'd given up the right to make those kinds of choices when he decided his engagement to Cy would be the last good deed he could do. Anything now would be what the Koga wanted from him, or what NTR wanted for him. It was the only way...

Kas looked like he was opening his mouth to argue, faced flushed even under his dark complexion, when the sound of a lighter flicking somehow cut through the moment of silence.

"He's right, Rheinallt," Aidan said, holding the resultant flame to the end of the cigarette between his lips. It caught, and he flicked the lighter closed. "It's not his call. Of course, he's also wrong." He inhaled slowly, then expelled a cloud of smoke off to the side.

"Because all of that? That's Ana's call. And in deciding beforehand that it's not gonna work, you're making it for her, Nero." He shook his head. "You'll never know what she'd make of any of this without telling her, would you?"

Kas looked confused. "Are you suggesting that he tell her about the mission?"

Aidan shrugged. "I'm not suggesting anything. Whatever's between them is their business. I'm just asking questions and making observations."

Eryk ran a hand down his face, trying to calm himself. He couldn't just tell Ana about the mission, but there was one thing he could tell her. He could tell her the situation between him and Cyrilla, but anything else wasn't up for discussion. Whether or not he was making the decision for Ana, it seemed like the only logical one. Because it wouldn't matter, if in the end, their mission was discovered. She would look at him like everyone else did. With shame and disgust and repulsion.

He didn't want that from her.

He didn't want her to look at him like that, to see who he really was and just be... he sighed.

“I can tell her some things, but I can't tell her everything is basically what you're saying," he directed at Aidan. “Questions and observations aside, we both know I couldn't jeopardize the mission that way, but... you're also right. I cannot make that decision for her. I will not be that person to her."

He just didn't know where to start? How could he go about telling her about his family, about his engagement? Those were things no one knew of him, except for Cy. She'd been there to witness most of the things his family was capable of. How could he expect to tell Ana any of that, and not help but feel a sense of dread? He sighed, perhaps a bit too harshly, and knocked back another shot.

"Well it might be easier if you're a little drunk first, but... I think those things can come up pretty naturally in conversation. Even the sober kind." Aidan took another drag, then sipped from his glass of whiskey.

Kas, apparently calmed a little, nodded slightly, shooting Eryk an apologetic look. "You guys talk about stuff—I know you do. It's not casual over-work conversation, but evening sometime? I dunno, man, just some time when it's you and her and no distractions. Ask her about her life. She'll respond in kind—she's not self-centered enough not to."

Eryk felt his lip twitch upward a bit. “Sure," he replied. He knew Ana wasn't like that, but he also felt that she didn't quite like talking about her family in the same way he didn't. Perhaps... they were the same in that.

“We talk about stuff, just the same as you and the others talk about stuff," he stated, feeling the corners of his lips pull upward. Was he smiling? Arceus he was drunk, wasn't he?

Kas rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "Oh for—I meant important stuff, you idiot," he grumbled, shaking his head. There was a faint twitch at the corner of his mouth, though, and Aidan chuckled outright.

"Seriously though," Kas continued. "If anyone comes up with any good revenge schemes for use on either family, I am so in. I can crack their shit. Or whatever else." He nodded as if this was quite profound, and took another drink.

“I'm going to hold you to that," Eryk stated a little more seriously than he intended to. “Because... it might just be that I have to call in that favor and say you're my finacé, instead."

"I promise to make it convincing," Kas replied, clinking his glass with Eryk's.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



February 17th
Ana's Home - Evening - Crisp
Nevena Solomon


Nev glanced at the cookie box, and back at the bowl in front of her. “Uh, I'm not so sure I'm doing this right," she said as she glanced towards the others. They were currently at Ana's house because somehow Cyrilla and Mel convinced Nev and Ana to bake cookies using the boxed kind of baking mix. There was also something about just spending quality girl time together. Nev wasn't so sure about that, especially the way Cyrilla had smirked a bit, however; she was currently dealing with a bit of a problem with these cookies.

“You're following the directions, yes?" Cyrilla stated, glancing over Nev's shoulder at the box.

“Down to the letter," Nev replied, pursing her lips together. Cyrilla shook her head, though, and took the box from Nev, glancing at the directions it seemed. She snorted softly before setting the box back down.

“Nev... I love you, you know, but you forgot to add the eggs," she stated, causing Nev to furrow her brows.

“I thought I put those in there?"

Cyrilla merely shook her head.

Mel cackled. "Doesn't that have like... three components? How'd you forget one of three?" It was a light jab, though, more amused than anything, and she nudged the half-carton of eggs next to her in Nev's direction.

"You can kind of think of it like chemistry, Nev," Ana added. "Most things need an emulsifying agent, and in a lot of baked goods, that's what eggs do, because of their chemical composition."

“Oh, that makes it so much easier when you put it that way, " Nev stated as she grinned in Ana's direction. Cyrilla merely chuckled and took a spot up on one of the nearby stools, glancing in Ana and Mel's direction.

“So, Melly," she began, directing her attention towards the younger woman. “Was Drake that convincing that he managed to bring you back home with him almost in the same day?" she asked in a lightly teasing manner. Nev chuckled lightly, but began cracking the eggs into the bowl.

“Oh, wait, congratulations are still in order. You beat the gym leader in Viridian, so that means you'll be making a go at the Elite Four, right?" Nev asked as she began wisking the ingredients together.

The younger woman snorted, shaking her head. "Well his complete doofiness is charming, but it didn't exactly go down like that, no. I beat the Gym Leader—thanks by the way Nev—and he showed up in Viridian on Valentine's Day to surprise me. I'd kind of been considering my next move, because I really need to train more before I take my shot at the Elite Four. One thing I've been considering is getting some more tournament experience, and I'd also considered coming back here." She grinned.

"Where else would I find such a high concentration of really good training partners who would give me the time of day, after all?"

"Oh was that all?" Ana asked, the faintest bit of lilt entering her voice.

Mel coughed slightly into her elbow. "Well look, if you could live on the same island as your boyfriend and work on all your career goals at the same time, wouldn't you?"

“Oh, you have a point there, Mel. It's almost like you and Ryk, right Ana? Since you both are... well, dating and working at the same place," Nev stated as she smiled in Ana's direction. Cyrilla snickered softly but shook her head.

“You got me there; I'd probably do the same," Cy stated.

“Probably, or would?" Nev couldn't help herself, and grinned in Cy's direction.

“Oh no, definitely would. I mean, there'd be nothing better, right? It's almost like living a dream. C'mon Nev, don't tell me you don't think of things like that. Not after all that trouble Kas and I went to to set up your Fletchinder account."

Nev actually forgot about that. It wasn't like she was using it, anyway. She didn't have a reason to, or at least not a reasonable reason.

Ana shook her head slightly, but didn't answer the accusation directly. Her cheeks were a little pink, though, as she deftly cracked her eggs into a smaller bowl, whisking them into consistency before adding them to the mix.

"Oh that's right, I remember that," Mel said, apparently referring to the Fletchinder thing. "No Valentine's date for you then, Nev? I have to admit I'm kind of... surprised." She didn't indicate why, though.

Cyrilla sighed almost dramatically, as if she had expected something different, but Nev just shook her head. “It's fine, really. I'm... kind of used to being the person who doesn't go out on dates, but I wouldn't say I didn't do anything that day," she stated, smiling fondly at the memory. It was still fresh to her, even if it had happened three days ago.

“Oh? Do tell. What did you do?" Cyrilla asked, curious as she arched a brow at Nev.

“Well, Aidan took me to this probattling museum that he'd rented out for the night," she began, placing the bowl down so she could grab one of the cooking sheets. “After that, we had a battle, which turned out to be more like Fluffy just chasing Spike around the grounds. It was adorable," especially after the way Spike went down in his dramatic fashion.

“We went to dinner after that. It was a really nice night, regardless," Nev finished. She was slightly confused at the flat look Cyrilla was giving her, as she dragged a hand down her face.

“Oh my... arceus, Nev. What am I going to do with you?" Cyrilla stated, shaking her head a bit.

Mel burst out into laughter. Even Ana was sort of smiling.

"So I was right," Mel said. "You totally went on a date."

Nev felt her eyes widen at Mel's comment. A date? No, that couldn't be right. Why would Aidan take her on a date? “I'm sure it wasn't like that at all," she stated, smiling a little nervously. If it had been a date of any kind, he would have told her, right? Aidan wasn't the type of person who kept things a secret and had been pretty forward with his thoughts and actions.

They were likely misreading the situation. “We just went to a museum, had a battle, and had dinner after. If it was a date, I'm sure he'd..." she didn't know how to finish that. He'd have, what? Told her?

“Nev, my dearheart. He took you to a probattling museum and rented it out for just the two of you. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds like a man who has taken a keen interest in what you like, and did something of that nature for you on Valentine's Day," Cyrilla stated, still giving Nev a rather incredulous look.

“I doubt it was that, Cyrilla. It's not... like that at all," because surely Aidan wouldn't see her like that. Nev didn't consider herself anything that could hold a person's interest, but when Aidan would talk about the things that she was, the things that she did, it made her feel warm and fuzzy. Nev never considered herself any of those things. She was just a soft and squishy person who most people just glanced over unless they needed her for a project of some sort.

“Sure, whatever you say, Nev. I'm not going to push, even though it's my specialty, but..." Cyrilla trailed off, giving Nev a gentle smile. “You shouldn't beat down on yourself like that. We've already told you that Big Bro isn't the type of person who is swayed by beauty and shit like that. If he likes you, it's because he likes you, and not some... fake version of you." Cyrilla made a vague gesture but Nev chuckled all the same.

“Well what about you two, what did you do for Valentine's Day?" Nev stated as she glanced back towards Ana and Cyrilla.

"Um, well... Eryk and I went to the backisland," Ana said, suddenly very intently focused on stirring her mix. "With a packed lunch. Well, dinner, really, but it was the same thing as lunch would have been. It was—" Her brow furrowed, like she was trying to come up with the right word. "It was nice."

"'Nice'?" Mel echoed, half-grinning. "That's all you're going to give us?"

Ana looked at her like she didn't know how to respond to that, eyes a little wide. "I, um." Slowly, her face started to flush. "I don't know what else to say exactly. He just makes me feel—" She paused, then shook her head. "He makes me feel."

Nev smiled at Ana's comment. She could understand what Ana meant. “It's nice, isn't it," Cyrilla spoke, leaning on the counter a bit. “Having those kinds of feels," she added as if to clarify what she'd meant.

“It's like a little warm and fuzzy feeling that kind of just travels all over and it's almost like..." she trailed off, a slightly distant look in her eyes before she shook her head. “Getting a little ahead of myself."

“I still think it was sweet that you and Ryk went to the backisland for some... uh, how could I put it," Nev started as she began scooping her mix into little balls. “Alone time? I think that's the right phrase."

Mel laughed. "You know that's usually a euphemism for sex, right Nev?" Her eyes narrowed with mirth.

Ana nearly seemed to choke on air. "N-no, it wasn't anything like—" her flush deepened until she was crimson. "I mean for a minute I thought—wait, no it's still not. Um." She sighed.

Nev was almost certain that she was as deeply flushed as Ana was. She hadn't meant it like that. Cyrilla seemed to have found it funny, though, and was laughing along with Mel. “No... oh, no I didn't mean it like that. I mean... what you do in private is your own business, but I didn't mean it like that," she stated, fanning her face to help cool it down.

“Oh my arceus, Nev. Look, we're all women who know what we want; is it so wrong to look at them like that?" Cyrilla stated, putting emphasis on the words and arching her brow.

“Well... I just... I'd never." Arceus why was Nev even thinking about it? It's not like she'd... oh, she needed to stop.

"You'd never? Really? You sure?" Mel seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to tease them, to say the least. "Because I'm just saying, if I was single and maybe a few years older, I absolutely would." With that pronounced, she started scooping dough out of her bowl and onto the greased cookie sheet, having elected for classic chocolate chip mix earlier at the grocery store.

Nev felt for a moment like she couldn't breathe, and she pursed her lips together in Mel's directionl. She could feel the blush on her face deepening, before she turned her attention back to her cookie mix. “What I meant by that is that I..." she paused, feeling strangely like something was holding her tongue. “I'm sure it would be something that would come up if we were dating but we're not, so," she spoke in one breathe, sticking her tongue out in a childish manner towards Mel.

Cyrilla chuckled lightly and shook her head. “You know, there's nothing wrong with being a little forward, Nev. You, too, Ana," she began, side-glancing in Ana's direction. “If you like him enough to want to date him, you should probably tell him, Nev. And you," she turned fully towards Ana, “if you want something more with Ryk, then tell him. Ryk is about as forward as one could possibly be, but he's also a bit dense when it comes to what people want. Just give him the right push; he can follow a good lead." Cyrilla winked in Ana's direction before making off with her own peanut butter cookie mix and rolling them into small balls.

“That's easier said than done," Nev murmured.

Mel smiled sympathetically. "I get that; I really do," she said, shaking her head a bit. "With a history like mine, deciding what I want and when is... complicated. But I think it all comes down to trust. Part of it's trusting who you're with, of course. Trusting them not to try to take things too far, or push you. And trusting them to be honest about what they want and don't, and not to ridicule whatever you decide you want. But, if you can do that, then what it really comes down to after is trusting yourself."

She glanced up, rolling her eyes, but not in a mocking way. "Which one's harder really depends on the person, but I think for most people it usually ends up being the second one, deep down."

That was, perhaps, the best way to put it, Nev thought. Trust wasn't something most people could easily give, and trusting yourself was harder for most people. Nev didn't trust herself with a lot of things, but this one thing... this was different. Perhaps because she'd never quite experienced relationships in quite the same way as Mel had, or Cyrilla. She wasn't even entirely sure if Ana had much experience with relationships, not because she was still a young woman, barely nineteen years old, but... well, Nev didn't think that Ana had quite the same problems as she did when she was Ana's age.

Cyrilla arched a brow at Mel, though, and tilted her head slightly. “A history like yours? I... get the feeling that it wasn't exactly a smooth experience for you, was it?" she stated, her voice oddly calm and free of any sort of teasing tone.

Mel laughed, a little ruefully. "That's putting it lightly." Pursing her lips, she paused in her work and regarded the other three with much more serious eyes. "Could I... tell you guys something? Not for advice or anything just... because I want to tell you?"

Ana nodded immediately. "Of course you can, Mel. I think I speak for all of us when I say you always can."

With a little nod, Mel turned around, leaning back on the counter and wiping idly at her fingers with a cloth. "So you guys have probably picked up on the fact that I've dated around a lot, but that's... really only kind of true. Honestly, I haven't really had a serious relationship, and even the not serious ones have been... short." She grimaced. "And really, really not serious. Maybe like... a date or two. Because usually the kinds of guys I date just... expect things at a certain pace, and I don't trust them enough to explain why I can't do that." She shrugged.

"Maybe some of them would have understood, but the thing Ive learned is to look for the people who don't demand explanations. Who just... accept it when I say something, and listen if I want to explain." She pursed her lips, looking down at her hands. "Sorry, rambling. The point is, the reason why I think trust is so important in a relationship is because I know what it's like when someone breaks it. I was seeing this guy. Derek. On my journey, the first time. I met him when I was fourteen and he was sixteen. Or that's what he said anyway. We kept running into each other, like in all those movies about journey romances, you know." She rolled her eyes.

"Mom told me to be careful about that, wouldn't even let me start my journey until I was fourteen. Even then I had to beg her and promise to call every day to check in and always have my pokégear GPS on. But I had it in my head that this was some big romantic destiny thing, and so when he asked me to travel with him I jumped at the chance. He started calling me his girlfriend, and we did all the normal stuff. Camped together, took gym challenges on the same day, all of that." She lifted a hand, waving it in a vague gesture.

"At first he just wanted to like... kiss me and stuff. I was always the one who had to tell him to back off when things went too far, but at first he listened. Mostly. But then he started getting irritated more and more often. And then, well, after I turned fifteen he apparently decided we'd been together long enough that he got to force the issue."

Ana's expression was horrified, eyes wide. "Oh, Mel, I'm so—"

Mel smiled though. "Nothing you need to apologize for, Ana. Anyway, I fought him off eventually and ran away from the campsite. He uh... followed. With a knife. If I hadn't missed my daily call, and Mirmir hadn't been nearby to come physically check on me, I probably would have died."

She lifted the hem of her shirt. On the left side of her abdomen was a collection of scars, each about the size of Ana's little finger, maybe six of them, paler than the surrounding skin. "I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and then... quit my journey for a few years. Mirmir, uh... tracked him down. I still don't know exactly what happened, but I know he almost got arrested for it. But Derek—that was his name—didn't want to explain why his ex-girlfriend's brother had beat the shit out of him. Mom asked if I wanted to go to court, but... much as I wanted to stop that asshole from hurting anyone else, it was my word against his, and he came from a pretty big-deal family."

Nev was horrified. Had that really happened to Mel? She didn't seem the type to lie about something, especially about something like that. Nev had to force a lump in her throat down. Cyrilla's knuckles were bone white, though, as if she'd been clenching them too tightly.

“It's always the big-deal families that get away with shit," she stated, shaking her head slightly. “Deserved more than getting the shit beat out of him, but..." she continued, glancing back in Mel's direction. “If you ever need anything, Melly, you just say it. You have my number; I'll be there as fast as I can be. I'm glad that you're here, though, and that you're still doing you."

Nev nodded her head as well. “I'd like to say that goes for all of you," she stated, turning towards Mel, Cyrilla, and Ana. “If you ever need something, or just want someone to talk to, you can always call me. I'd gladly listen, especially if all you want to do is talk," she smiled warmly at the three of them.

Mel grinned at all of them. "Thanks, guys. But yeah. Point being trust is hard. I for one am going to give it another shot, though. And not just with Drake. With having friends, too."

“We all are kind of friends, aren't we?" Cyrilla grinned, causing Nev to purse her lips together.

“I'd like to think that we are friends. And not just kind of," she replied, causing Cyrilla to snicker.

“Yeah, well, we're making cookies at Ana's house while the boys are out, so... yeah, I think that makes us friends."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


February 21st
Field Office #9 - Afternoon - Overcast
Kasimir Rheinallt


Steele—

Update on PN. Apparently whatever machine they're having Dr. Solomon build needs a better power core than it likely has. I am quite certain there's nothing in internal R&D that'll fit the bill, which suggests they're going to go external. Based on the specs, they're going to need something not even out on the market yet. I doubt theft or patent infringement are the kinds of things you're looking for, but you might just have to consider that there's nothing bigger than that to be found. Even the servers are squeaky-clean around here.

They definitely do corporate espionage; I know enough of the people they use to do it to say that. But there's nothing provably illegal. If a woman sleeps with a tech president and he tells her something her own company wants to know, he's an idiot, not a victim.


Kas was about to close the lid of his laptop when a new reply hits his inbox, to the message he'd just sent. Arceus, what time is it at the Indigo right now?

Rheinallt—

Unacceptable. Get me something better. You're giving me symptoms. I want you to find me the germ.

-S


Sighing, he scrubbed both messages from his history, and then closes it over. He was late for a meeting, and he actually had something useful to say for this one.

The conference room was set up as always, and the other three were already there by the time he walked in.

"Only you would be late for a meeting you called, Rheinallt," Aidan remarked. Somehow it didn't make him feel sour when the other man referred to him by his last name alone. Not like with Steele. Maybe it was because he didn't read frustration or disappointment into it.

Friendship was a hell of a drug.

"Sorry, sorry," he said, smiling broadly and taking a seat. "I'm allergic to punctuality; it's a genetic condition."

“A genetic condition only you would have inherited," Eryk stated with a light roll of his eyes. Cyrilla chuckled softly and shook her head as Ryk turned his attention back towards Kas. “What do you want?" he stated, causing Cyrilla to give Ryk a flat look. He rolled his eyes again.

“What do you have to tell us?" he seemed to correct himself, furrowing his brows lightly.

"Someone needs a hug," Kas said with a little grin. "Or a nap. Naps are great. Especially when you get a big long hug with them..." he made a face as though he were reaching for a word, then snapped his fingers. "Cuddling! That's what you need. A cuddle."

Aidan rolled his eyes. "And I need to know what you've got, Rheinallt, so hurry it up." There was no real urgency in his tone, but Kas decided he might as well get to the point anyway.

"Okay, so. I looked into some sponsorship stuff. First just general online information, but then I called Geiger and acted all confused about some of the stuff in my paperwork. We got to talking and I have a better general idea of how all this works now. It's changed a lot in the last few years, so our information's a touch out of date. No offense, boss."

"None taken." Aidan leaned back in his chair. "What's new?"

Kas hummed. "Well, mostly it's the effect of business partnerships and things. Importantly, some sponsors are partnered through their work with probattling. These companies will sometimes organize joint retreats for their sponsees, billed as exclusive events for the best on their rosters. There's a big air of secrecy about them; not even Geiger was totally sure what actually happens there, though he did say he got the impression they were basically a mix of training camp and resort stay."

Eryk remained mostly quiet at Kas's earlier statement, and actually shrugged his shoulders. Once Kas was done with his explanation, though, Ryk pursed his lips together.

“It sounds like we'll have to get one or both of you into one of these retreats if we want to actually find anything out," Cyrilla began, furrowing her brows lightly before pursing her lips together. “So how are we supposed to do that if it's an event for their best?" she asked, turning her attention towards Aidan.

“We did well enough," Eryk began, narrowing his eyes lightly as he covered his mouth from a yawn. “Is that worth some consideration?" he asked once he finished his yawn.

"Not yet," Kas admitted. "But I think we can do it. This was always going to be long game stuff. We do well enough at the next tourney or two, though, and I think we've got a shot. Importantly, I think this might be where the pharmaceuticals are able to circulate. A company like Murk has no hand in that industry, but at these retreats third parties are everywhere."

"Ah," Aidan said, narrowing his eyes. "I get you. Yeah, all right. We want in at one of those. Nero's got a tour in a few days here—don't bring it up yourself but if someone mentions these events to you, express a bit of interest, okay?"

“Have you seen Ryk's face?" Cyrilla stated, arching a brow at Aidan. “He doesn't express anything on that thing. I mean, look at it, now," she continued, gesturing towards Ryk who was simply giving her a flat look. “See?"

“I'm not completely incompetent, Cy," he retorted, eyes narrowing somewhat. Cyrilla merely shook her head.

“That's not what I meant, Ryk. You've gained some new facial features being with Ana, right? Use them to your advantage when you go on your tour. You'll actually need to look interested in the things they tell you. Sure, they might like the dark and gloomy aspect of you right now, but at least try to move a muscle or two in your face, upwards. Like this," she replied, smiling softly and pointing to her face. Eryk rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Yeah, sure. I'll try."

"I actually just meant he could express interest as in say something, Little Ninja," Aidan said with a sigh. "Anyway, Rheinallt, was that the meeting?"

Kas shook his head. "Not quite. The other thing was that I'm pretty sure my sponsors are up to something shady. Haven't done my walkthrough yet, but I poked around the company servers a bit. I can't confirm anything for sure; I was being careful. But I think we're a least on the right track here."

"Good. Keep it up."

“Anything else we need to know?" Ryk asked, leveling his gaze with Kas. “I want to take off the rest of this day and go nap, as you so eloquently put it," he added.

"Nope, that should be all. Go ask Ana for a cuddle." Kas overdid his smug smile on purpose, just to rile his friend up.

“Ass."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Aidan Klein

0.00 INK



February 27th
Murk - Mid Morning - Clear
Eryk Nero


Ryk stifled a yawn, glancing in Nova's direction as the umbreon had taken residence on his shoulder. He'd figured it was best to bring Nova along to tour the facility. Murk wanted a certain kind of look, after all, and he was going to give it to them for as long as it was beneficial. He wondered, briefly, if they had a souvenir shop of sorts. He knew Aidan and Ana both shopped their merchandise, however; this was the actual facility. Maybe he could bring something back for Ana that she would like?

“Who are we supposed to be meeting, again?" he asked, glancing in Aidan's direction.

"Nero, do you even read the briefings? They were printed this time and everything." Aidan sighed. "The answer is 'a couple execs and a photographer and stylist from the company.' Because they want to meet you, and probably do some test shots for promos or something. You're almost a big deal, after all." He shrugged, ignoring the ashtray on top of the trash can as they entered the facility, the sliding glass doors parting to admit them.

The lobby was done in sleek, stylish grey mostly, with some black and white and the occasional dark purple, green, blue, or red. Everything looked quite modern, but not quite the same corporate sort of modern as the Field Office or anything. Maybe it was the large sculpture in the middle of the lobby, which seemed to be a skeletal tree, welded from gunmetal-grey beams and what seemed to be obsidian crystals standing in for early-spring flowers and buds.

Nova snorted next to his ear. I can't decide if that's interesting or just ugly as sin, he remarked.

Aidan moved up to the desk, exchanging words with a receptionist in a slate-grey pencil skirt with a dark blue blouse and a cream colored ribbon where a tie would usually go. After a moment, he nodded, then returned to Ryk.

"They know we're here. Shouldn't be more than a couple of minutes."

I think it's the latter, Eryk replied to Nova's statement. He wasn't wrong; the sculpture wasn't art and it was more of an eyesore than anything. Then again, Eryk didn't really know two shits about art. He'd never really been interested in it.

“If you say so," he stated in Aidan's direction. “Do you think they have a shop or some shit?" he asked, turning his attention towards Aidan. “I want to get Ana something."

"It's a corporate HQ, Nero, there's no gift shop." Aidan rolled his eyes a little but there was a small uptick to the corner of his mouth. "But if you wanted to get her something nice, just cooperate with the designer they throw at you. Keep an eye out for any pieces she might like, then ask to have one. I doubt they'll say no if you made their job easier during this first part. You can practice those social skills Rheinallt is supposedly teaching you."

Or I could steal something. They'd never know.

“Fuck," Eryk murmured as he shook his head. Guess you'll just have to steal something, he spoke to Nova. “I'm not entirely sure Rheinallt's teachings qualify," he added, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. He'd forgotten he'd worn this coat today, the long one. It was the same one he'd worn during the Saffron tournament.

“I can try to use those social skills, though," he sighed heavily, glancing in the direction of a group of people. One of them was dressed sharply. The black suit the woman wore was free of any kind of wrinkle, and the black slacks were about as straight and crisp as anything he'd ever seen before. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun, though. Eryk wondered if it hurt being pulled that tightly.

“Eryk Nero, I presume," she was the first to speak, and Eryk nodded her head. “Devin Harlow, a pleasure to make your acquaintance," she continued, holding her hand out as if she were expecting a hand shake. Eryk stared at it for a moment too long, sighed heavily, and pulled one of his hands out of his coat pockets and briefly linked it with hers.

“And it's good to see you again, Mr. Klein," she continued, giving Aidan a brief smile.

"Ms. Harlow," Aidan returned with a nod.

Next to the woman were two rather eccentric-looking individuals. They were matched in height and coloration, both with bright violet hair. The young man wore glasses and a crisp white suit, his sister—they almost couldn't be anything else, given how similar their features were—was matched to his wardrobe, except her suit was black, down to the silk tie. She wore a large camera around her neck.

Both of them were sizing Eryk up as Harlow spoke, though it seemed to be a professional matter, as the man nodded a moment later, adjusting his glasses. “I'm glad the dimensions we had on file were correct," he said. “It means we should be able to get the first round of shots done today, assuming the paperwork's taken care of." He adjusted his cuffs.

“Mhm," his sister replied, offering Eryk a nod but not trying to shake his hand. “You have a good face for this; I think it should be pretty simple with the lighting we have on hand."

Harlow nodded. “Good. The paperwork's already been checked over, so why don't we handle that first? These are mostly going to be basic promotional shots, Mr. Nero. You need professional headshots for tournaments anyway, and most television stations these days are using long full-body ones as well. This way we'll have something to give them, so you're not stopped by every news reporter in your next destination."

“Only every third, probably," the young woman agreed dryly.

“Ah, and these are my head designer and photographer, William and Maria Conway."

Twenty pokédollars says one of them finishes at least one of the other's sentences by the time the photos are all taken, Nova said dryly.

It was taking a lot of effort not to outright smile at Nova's statement. What the hell would you do with twenty pokédollars anyway? he stated, nodding his head in the direction of the Conways. It's not like you could spend it on anything, he added drly before turning his attention back to Harlow.

Wouldn't you like to know?

Smartass.

“I feel like I'll be stopped regardless if they have my picture or not," he stated with a light sigh. Harlow smiled slightly at him and shook her head.

“Some of your information will be distributed to the stations for those kinds of purposes, Mr. Nero. Mostly it's just basic line-up information, and eventually, your own personal information like history and things like that," she explained causing Eryk to frown heavily. He wasn't so sure he wanted people to know that about him. His history wasn't exactly something to write about, and chances were his family wouldn't like it.

“These shots we're doing, is there a reason you needed my dimensions? Am I going to have to change into something else?" he asked. He wasn't upset about it, but he did want to know at least that much.

I'll spare you and leave you with Aidan if that's the case.

“Not initially, no, but eventually. We have a few things lined up. Don't worry, I kept it all in line with your aesthetic. But these are for Murk's promo materials. Our part of the deal, as it were." William smiled pleasantly. “Oh, and you'll want to bring your pokémon, too. Your umbreon there will look great with most of this, but if you have anyone else that might, we can do that, too, right?" He looked expectantly at Maria, who had seemingly zoned out of the conversation and was absently biting a thumbnail, but she nodded immediately.

“Yep. As long as they're not too big."

Oh look. I get to make you look better in photos, and not just at tournaments. Nova was clearly amused by this, rearranging himself slightly on Eryk's shoulder.

Ryk snorted softly mostly at Nova's comment, however; it could have also been taken for Maria's. Either way, he didn't look like a complete idiot doing that. You're lucky you're the only one small enough. Red wouldn't sit still long enough for them to get any sort of decent shot, and Icarus isn't exactly the 'type' for this, though he really could use Icarus if he wanted to.

Runt was too large, Imp would likely wander off, and Orion wasn't fond of cameras if he could see them. That might be a problem if they wanted to take a picture of his entire team, eventually, but he was fairly confident he could keep Orion from destroying the cameras, and Imp from wandering off. Icarus, though, would be a different story.

“Nova will do," Eryk replied simply, and lightly shrugged his shoulders, enough so that he didn't disturb the umbreon on his shoulder.

“Mr. Klein, we'd be more than happy to take a picture of you as well," Harlow stated, inclining her head slightly in Aidan's direction. “We could get a shot or two of the both of you, as well."

Aidan scoffed. "You don't need any of some old man."

“On the contrary," William said, speaking a little too fast. “It'd be an honor!"

“Will's always wanted you to wear something of his. You're his favorite," Maria supplied in a sort of distant tone, though she smiled a little.

“Maria!"

“What? It's true."

“I'm so sorry about her. She doesn't think before she makes jokes."

Aidan glanced back and forth between them, then sighed. "One, and only for the official stuff. I guess I'm technically his coach, after all."

William's eyes went wide. “Really?"

"Really."

Just think, Eryk. Someday you'll be someone's 'favorite,' too. Nova sounded smug. He hadn't seemed to mind the idea of having his own picture taken.

I don't want to be someone's 'favorite', Eryk replied before rolling his eyes a bit. “He's not exactly coach of the year," Eryk muttered. “But as you can see, his trainings do pay off," he added, causing Harlow to nod her head.

Aidan gave him a little side-eye. "Watch it, punk. I got your ass to competitive levels, didn't I?" A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

“In any case, having your coach in some of your photo shoots will do wonders," Harlow stated as she ushered them towards a door. It looked like a room where they did cover photos; there were tall light stands, a chair in the middle with some objects on the floor. He couldn't see from the distance. There was another one to the left that looked like a green screen, probably in order to give the picture a certain background if they didn't have one already set up.

“Not only for you, but for Mr. Klein if he ever decided to do this on a more daily basis," she added, putting an emphasis on the word. Eryk snorted softly. As if Aidan would consider being a professional coach.

He only shook his head, gesturing for the other to lead them the right way.

No? Nova added as they entered an elevator. Well I suppose I'll tell Ana there's no point to that then. Why bother if you don't even want to be her favorite? It was hard to tell, but it looked a bit like the umbreon was smirking.

Eryk felt his lip twitch somewhat, and he inwardly sighed. You're more of an ass than the other ass, he replied, referring to Kas. Not that he meant it in a bad way, moreso just... well, he wasn't even sure. I'd pretend you got left behind, something about getting caught stealing something for her, but then she'd be upset, and an upset Ana wasn't something he wanted. He shrugged his shoulders a bit, though, enough to jostle Nova in his spot before turning his attention towards Harlow.

“Once we're done with the photo shoots, we can start drawing up a small dossier for you, Mr. Nero. Just to give the public a bit of information about you so that they have some idea of who you are. The more the public knows about you, the more likely you are to be received by them. Not only will you being known boost your own television ratings if you are ever on air, but it will give the company a good amount of PR," Harlow stated, giving Eryk a small smile.

He inwardly groaned. He really didn't want to have to do that. “What kind of information will I need to give?" he asked.

“At the moment, nothing too personal. Give some details about why you wanted to be a probattler, and maybe some details relating to your team. When it comes to it, a trainer isn't the only one who is being marketed. Probattling influences a lot of things, and one of those is the type of pokemon people like to catch if they are ever in the market themselves."

Eryk supposed that made some sense.

For a moment, it had felt like Nova was about to make some kind of remark, but the mention of the types of pokémon people caught seemed to sober him; through the psychic connection, Eryk could feel him grow pensive, though he didn't offer a comment.

"Yeah, well, let's not put too much out there too soon, all right? Let the mystery build," Aidan said.

Harlow nodded a little like she understood.

"By the way, I've been meaning to ask more about the options you're offering for training support. You guys running bootcamps or something?"

“Less boot, more camp," Maria replied before Harlow could. “It's not as rough and tumble an industry anymore, Mr. Klein. They set people up at fancy retreats with clinics in technique and spa treatments and all that these days."

“Maria, stop being disrespectful."

“I'm not?"

“You just implied Mr. Klein was old!"

“No I didn't, but you just did."

William made a strangled noise. “I did not—I'm so sorry, sir."

Aidan huffed. "Kid, relax. Your stressing out is exhausting. I don't care if either of you calls me old. Compared to you, I am."

“You're only thirty-six!"

“And now he knows you know how old he is. Smooth, Will."

Aidan was trying to fight down a smile, Eryk could tell. Mercifully, the elevator door opened at that moment, allowing them all to file out. Aidan broke off with Harlow, leaving Eryk to deal with the siblings.

William, still a little red, cleared his throat. “All right, Mr. Nero. We have several options for you, depending on the kind of aesthetic you'd prefer, but all of them are Murk originals. You can keep anything you like, of course."

“Hm," was Eryk's reply. He'd heard them mention the camps, as they were. Maybe they were the same things as those retreats, Kas had told them about? If that was the case, he supposed if these two knew about them, they'd have been to some themselves. Probably for photos among other things.

“You mentioned something about these camps," he began. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to at least ask about them. “How does one usually go about getting into these retreats? They sound... interesting." Eryk would admit that they did have some strange appeal to them even though it meant he would likely be in the proximity of more people than he'd like.

William shook his head. “It's not too hard. We don't run them ourselves, of course—we're not really equipped for all that. A lot of companies that do sponsorships like this really aren't. We know clothes and marketing, not pokémon," he admitted ruefully. “That said, there are some companies whose whole purpose is providing us with supplemental resources for sponsees to do well, and they host the retreat things. We mostly provide stuff for the gift baskets." He shrugged a little.

“I'm sure you'll get invited," Maria said absently, already messing with her camera. “I've done shoots for the events before. They really like famous people and pretty people. Makes the brochures look nice." She shrugged apathetically. “Plus there are always a few slots set aside for us, and we don't have all that many sponsees. You're the only one right now, actually. Hope you're okay with being the poster guy for our latest line of battle apparel, because that's what we're getting out of this deal."

Her brother smiled. “The nice part is, while they stick to Murk's general design principles—dark colors, certain kinds of accents, and all that—they're also pretty practical. I'm working on two lines right now: this one and a completely different project. Elegant women's clothes. It gives me whiplash sometimes."

“He's such a huge dork over your coach because his battle aesthetic was part of the inspiration for the line," Maria said bluntly.

“Arceus, Maria, just tell him all my secrets why don't you?"

“He's also a huge probattling nerd and has had the biggest—"

“Sarcasm, Maria! That was sarcasm."

You know, I kind of like them. They're idiots.

You would like the idiots. Explains a lot.

Eryk nodded his head, though. “I know someone who is like you," he said in Williams' direction. “She's a big probattling nerd as well, and currently Aidan's..." he paused, blinking a little. How could he word this without making it seem odd?

“She's his roommate?" he wasn't entirely sure why that came out as a question, and shrugged his shoulders. “And I don't mind being the poster boy, as you put it. I'm the only sponsee at the moment," he added. “When do they typically happen? During a certain season?"

“Spring and summer, usually," Maria said. “You'll get notified, don't worry. For now, let's get started. If you can stand under the lights over there, we'll get your headshots done first."

Eryk nodded, before glancing towards Nova. “Do I need to move him or does he stay?" he asked. They were taking headshots, and they did say there were going to take some with Nova, but he wasn't entirely sure if this was going to be one of them. At least he knew that there was a possibility that he'd get invited to one of these retreats. And it looked like he had a very high chance considering he was the only sponsee of Murk.

“Just you first, for the headshots, but then we'll definitely be asking him to be in them as well," Maria said. “I'm pretty sure he was one of the things that drew Harlow to you—we have a certain image here, obviously, and it tends to go best with dark or ghost types, though believe it or not we sometimes use fairy types in our adverts as well."

That made sense, to Eryk. There was a dual type pokemon from the Galar region that was fairy and dark, the impidimp line if he remembered correctly. He wondered if they used that one, too? Instead, he glanced towards Nova and sighed softly.

You heard them, off you go, he spoke to Nova before turning his attention towards Maria. “Where do you want me?" he asked. They just wanted headshots for now. He could do that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image


March 2nd
Field Office 9 - Morning - Cool
Aidan Klein


Aidan suppressed a sigh, opening the window in the conference room. The back of a head of dark purple hair in the reflection on the glass was not reassuring, but he supposed he'd gotten himself into this one. The boss hadn't been wrong that someone else needed to be here to cover his duties, and as Gregorovich himself was unavailable, that had left two options, of which he'd chosen the lesser evil.

Of course, the lesser evil was still an evil.

Cold air from outside hit him, and he inhaled quietly, lighting himself a cigarette before retaking the seat next to Katia. He had a feeling the kids were going to like this surprise even less than the last one, not that he'd meant for it to be one—she was a day early and had insisted on sitting in on this meeting. Without a good reason to refuse, he'd had to allow it.

Rheinallt was the first one in. He did a double-take when he caught sight of Katia, but didn't react much more beyond the lift of an eyebrow. As soon as he was in his seat, he withdrew his phone and typed something—a warning to the others, probably. Not a bad idea, and something he'd have done himself if she hadn't been over his shoulder the whole time.

It wasn't much longer before Nero and Cyrilla arrived. Nero looked like he usually did; grumpy and irritated which wouldn't carry over as something unusual for Katia to see. Cyrilla merely glanced in Katia's direction, smiled a bit, before taking her usual seat along with Nero.

“This meeting should have been held thirty minutes ago. I don't know why you're spoiling them so much, but that'll change," Katia stated, leaning back a bit in her chair. Nero and Cyrilla rolled their eyes in unison.

“Is there a reason why you're here?" Nero asked. Katia smirked at him.

“I'm glad you asked," she began, glancing towards Aidan as if to tell him to explain.

He sighed quietly. "As you're all aware, my trial starts in a couple days," he said. "We don't anticipate any major negative consequences, but the guy refused to settle out of court, so it has to get argued in front of the judge and all that. It's going to take a while, like trials do. In the meantime, the field office needs a head. That's why Durova's here. She's got my job until the trial's done."

He knew they weren't going to like it, but he'd never set Dodds on them.

There was a slight tick in Nero's jaw at the mention, and his eyes narrowed directly in Katia's direction. “You would pull some shit like that," he stated, causing her to scoff slightly.

“No, Nero, I didn't pull any shit like that. I volunteered," she replied, giving a sickening sweet smile in Nero's direction. He merely continued to stare at her through narrowed eyes.

“Volunteered my ass," Cyrilla muttered, shaking her head slightly but fixed a stare in Aidan's direction. “Did they have to remove you for almost a week and a half?" she asked, glancing briefly in Katia's direction. “Couldn't they just have had her fill in on the day of your trial?"

“Can it, Niav," Katia stated.

“It's Klein." Katia huffed slightly at Cyrilla's retort.

Aidan felt his lip tick, but suppressed it. "It's not going to be a one-day trial," he said simply. "And my lawyer says I should appear at court even for pretrial shit. To give the sense that I'm taking it seriously." He shrugged. Thus far he'd only talked to Kane over the phone, but she seemed serious about her job, and he was willing to accept that she was the expert.

"She knows what she's talking about," Rheinallt admitted, shooting a glance at Katia but not letting it linger. "You should probably take her advice." It was a grudging acceptance rather than actual advice to Aidan, he was sure.

Nero looked a little disgusted, but seemed to resign himself to their fate. “We don't have any other choice, and it's not like we can't handle it," he murmured, causing Katia to raise a brow.

“What was that, Nero? I assure you that whatever Aidan has been letting you all get away with, won't be happening while I'm here. What I say, goes."

“Spoken like a true dictator," Cyrilla murmured softly, rolling her eyes before turning towards Nero. “You'll at least keep us updated, right Big Bro?" she asked, blinking about as innocently as she could in Aidan's direction.

“Ugh, you aren't even blood-related," Katia stated in obvious disgust.

“No, but by law, we are."

If asked, Aidan would have advised against outright antagonizing Katia, because even if the woman didn't seem to take direct vengeance for that, she was petty enough to mark it down in her mind and find some way to exact her recompense later, even if indirectly. But then, Cyrilla had to know that too, and here they were anyway.

"Yeah, I'll keep you updated," he said, exhaling a small cloud of smoke. "In the meantime, there's plenty to do. Doc needs a new power source for Project Nebula, and HQ has located one. Initial queries have indicated that the company responsible for its creation is an offshoot of Devon, which merged with some former Silph people and went independent about ten years ago. There's some shade in the history, and more importantly, they've shown no willingness to sell, not even to the government."

"Ah, we're talking about HaptixCorp, right?" Rheinallt accepted the first of the dossiers Aidan slid across the table towards them.

He nodded. "We are. The power source is at this stage only a prototype, but R&D is pretty confident they can make it work with that start. They've requested your help with that, actually, Rheinallt, but we have to get our hands on it first. It's being kept in Haptix's Viridian City location."

“So in other words, we're going to, ah, take it off their hands, in a not so polite way," Cyrilla stated, taking one of the other dossiers as Nero took the last.

“Do you see any other choice?" Nero replied as he arched a brow in her direction. She merely grinned at him and arched a brow back at him.

“There are ways to get it, but simply taking it off their hands sounds the easiest way to do it." Nero sighed softly and glanced in Aidan's direction, completely ignoring Katia who didn't seem to mind at all. She was busy staring at Aidan for an impolite amount of time.

“I take it there's already something set up for us in order to do this infiltration? If that's the case, when do we leave for Viridian?"

Aidan could feel Katia's eyes, but chose to resolutely ignore them. It was a skill he'd developed a while back, but hadn't needed to use in a while. "You head there on the 22nd," he said, "but obviously you're going to need to do some work before then. Mostly you, Rheinallt."

"Being the smart one sucks," he protested. Aidan didn't take him seriously.

"Quit whining. All three of you are going to want functioning employee IDs, and at least one of you should do a case before the extraction. You're going to be directing that op, so you'll want to tell the people in Viridian what all you need in your tac van, too."

"Fiiiiiine."

Cyrilla snorted softly at Rheinallt, but nodded her head. “Sounds like it's going to be just another walk in the park with this," she stated. “It would be easier to get the blueprints to their building, but we won't know for sure where they keep the prototype until we case the building. If it's that big of a deal, they probably wouldn't even have the room on the prints to begin with," she continued, muttering more to herself it seemed. Nero, however, sighed deeply.

“Kas is in the van, Cyrilla's the one with the espionage skills," he began listing off, turning his attention back towards Aidan. “I guess that means I get to be the bait," he stated.

“And good bait you'll be, Ryk. You're very charming and charismatic, after all," Cyrilla replied, smirking in his direction. Katia made a sound that sounded almost like she was disgusted.

“You're to do your job regardless of what you'll be doing, Nero. You know better than to question it," she stated as Nero narrowed his eyes at her.

“Screw you, Katia," he replied.

“Hm, you'd like that wouldn't you."

Nero looked like he was going to be sick.

Aidan couldn't blame him for that. "That's quite enough of that," he said, rolling his eyes and inhaling the last breath his stub of a cigarette would give him before putting it out on the nearby ashtray. He'd been doing so well, but Katia being around made him need the damn things just to relax.

"You all know what you have to do, so do it. I should be back in a couple weeks, and I'm still around for a day or two so if there's anything you need before I go, get it to me fast."

“Stupid fucking Kevin," was the only thing Nero replied with before nodding his head.

“Oh cheer up, Nero. It's not like you'll be in boot camp," Katia stated, putting an emphasis on the word.

“More like Hell," Cyrilla muttered softly before sighing. “Sure thing, Aidan. If anything comes up before you're gone, we'll make sure to send it to you."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



March 4th
Field Office 9 - Afternoon - Cool
Cyrilla Klein


Honestly, Cyrilla hadn't slept so well last night. She'd tossed so much that even Diva left the bed to sleep on the floor with Noctis. Cyrilla couldn't blame her, really. If she could have fallen asleep and stayed asleep, she would have done the same thing, however; that wasn't the case. There was just something about Katia that always made her tense. She knew Eryk was feeling the same way because he hadn't stopped scowling since he came in this morning. She was glad that Ana had made him his favorite snacks, though, because he'd been eating an oatmeal cookie almost nonstop.

Thankfully, it hadn't been too bad. Katia had holed herself up in Aidan's office and had just... kind of stayed there. The only thing Katia had them do was their normal routine. She was probably trying to see if they needed a routine adjustment. After all, Aidan was slightly more lenient about some things. Katia wanted to rule with an iron fist, and that she hadn't yet was slightly nerve wracking.

The one thing Katia did do, however, was ban the three executives from leaving the building for lunch. Which meant that Kas, Eryk and Cyrilla were all stuck inside for their break. She hadn't minded, really. The kitchen was still functioning, and they had stocked the fridge the day before. She could just make something simple if she could find the right ingredients.

“What are you making, Cy?" Eryk's voice startled her a bit, and Cyrilla nearly dropped the eggs she was holding.

“You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days," she murmured, shaking her head and closing the fridge door. “And I don't know, yet. I was thinking about just making egg sandwiches. I'm not really in the mood for regular food since you-know-who is here," she replied, watching as Eryk frowned.

“Well, since it's just us right now, do you have any special requests? I'm sure we have the stuff to make just about anything, and I haven't seen Kas, yet, since this morning before we all went to our offices. He might still be in his," she asked, watching as Eryk's brows became pensive.

“What about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, instead?" he asked, and Cyrilla smiled a little.

“Of all the skills at your disposal, you want PB and J sandwiches," she responded, snorting softly.

"Actually, that sounds super good," Kas said, ambling in after Eryk. He didn't make any effort to quiet himself, so it was a lot easier to hear him coming. Heaving a sigh, he plopped down onto one of the stools at the chrome island and set his laptop down on the surface. "Working lunch," he explained. "Katia wants dossiers on everyone who works at the field office. Probably not for anything, mind you. It's just so she can make me do more shit. She didn't like it when I told her all my work was done early yesterday."

He scrunched his face in disgust, then rolled his eyes and flipped his laptop open. "How's she treating you guys?"

Cyrilla supposed she was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her boys. Eryk, however, gave Kas what looked to be a sympathetic look. To anyone else it just looked like Eryk was just giving Kas a lifeless gaze.

“She wants the progress we're making on our mission so that she can give it to Aidan when he comes back. Don't know why the fuck she needs it handwritten, though. It's not like he doesn't already have that information, and she knows we can't give her more information on it than what she already knows."

“She's doing it because she's being a coalossal bitch," Cyrilla replied, though really that was just insulting the pokémon. It wasn't their fault that Katia was just a massive bitch. “So far, I think I've gotten off pretty easy. I haven't had to do much than give her updates on the grunts and where they're at as far as their battling progress goes." That could change any second, though. She knew she'd basically antagonized Katia the other day, and Katia wasn't exactly the type of person to let things slide like that.

Once she was done making her sandwiches, three for both Eryk and Kas, she set the two aside she'd made for herself, and took a seat next to Ryk.

“You know she's just waiting, biding her time until she's ready to strike, like the seviper that she is," Eryk murmured, taking a bite out of his first sandwich.

"Ugh," Kas agreed around a mouthful of sandwich. He waited until he'd swallowed before actually speaking, though. "I was thinking I could put a bunch of fake bullshit in these dossiers, though. Like say Luke has a quilting hobby and likes to give them out to people who talk to him. Maybe she'll leave him alone—can you imagine Katia with something as wholesome as a quilt? Because I can't. Plus she'll look stupid if she believes a bunch of shit and then no one knows what she's talking about when she tries to pull the 'I know everything about you' power move."

He took another bite of the sandwich, now already half gone.

“You should do it anyway just to fuck with her. She's not stupid by any means, and she'll likely figure it out," Eryk started before taking another bite of his sandwich. He chewed it quietly before he continued, “but by then it'll be too late, and everyone would just think she's crazy."

“They probably already know she is. Some of them, I'm sure, remember her," Cyrilla stated, taking a bite of her own sandwich. “Does Luke do quilting as a hobby, though? If so, maybe I can get him to make me one. They'd be very comfortable, I'm sure," she stated once she'd swallowed her food.

“Doesn't that take a while to do?" Eryk asked, arching a brow slightly. “I don't think Hayley would appreciate you taking all of Luke's time. Aren't they dating, now?" he continued. Cyrilla was a little surprised by that. Not that Hayley and Luke were dating, but that Eryk would even know that. She was about to ask him how he knew, however; there was a slight clearing of someone's throat, and Cyrilla didn't have to even guess who it could be.

“What are the three of you doing? You're supposed to be working," Katia stated, narrowing her eyes in their direction.

Just great, was the first thought that crossed Cyrilla's mind. “It's noon which means we're on our break. We get those, after four hours of being at work," she replied, taking another bite to emphasis her point.

“Fine. Make me something, then," Katia retorted, making her way towards the island and taking the furthest seat from Kasimir. Cyrilla inwardly shuddered on Kas's behalf. Katia wasn't sitting too close to him, but she was close enough that even it felt like Cyrilla had a sour taste in her mouth.

“Excuse me, I'm not the cook."

“Doesn't matter; you're the lowest on the pole. Now fucking make me something," Katia stated. If she knew she could get away with it, Cyrilla would poison it. She glanced in Eryk's direction, noticing that the locked jaw, and sighed. She couldn't exactly say no. Katia was right, Cyrilla was the lowest in terms of the executive ranks, but still. Damn if it didn't hurt her pride a little.

“Just do it, Cy. The sooner she's fed, maybe she'll leave," Eryk replied lowly, causing her to shake her head.

“Don't bet on it. Since you all seem to be able to multitask, give me your reports on how far along you are with your tasks. Rheinallt, you first."

Instead of answering the question, Kas looked up from his work, pointedly ignoring Katia and addressing Cyrilla. "Cy, you don't have to do that. She can't fire you for not making her lunch. That's nowhere in your job description, and she's just a temp in her position." He smirked a little. "Or so says the official instructions from Gregorovich, anyway. Temporary field office command, not to exceed a duration of fourteen days, for the purpose of stability and maintenance of field office operations. That means she gets to change fuck all."

Eryk snorted softly at Kas's statement while Katia glared at him. Honestly, Cyrilla almost forgot that they were even there. She'd been taken aback by the statment, and had to fight down the smile that was threatening to form on her face.

Charming jerk, was the only thing that crossed her mind before she remembered her manners. Before she could say anything, though, Katia made a remark.

“Doesn't fucking matter. She's still part of the family so either way, regardless if it's for this position or not, she has to do what I say." Cyrilla furrowed her brows at that. Why was it so hard for them to understand that she wasn't part of the family? She'd changed everything in order to not be associated with them.

“No I'm not; I've told you before, my name is Cyrilla Klein, not Niav. I don't have to do jack shit for you under familial obligations," she retorted, however; the smirk on Katia's face nearly sent a shiver down her spine.

“Is that right? So, you being engaged to a certain someone who's supposed to lead the family means you're not part of it? I could have sworn that's what happened when two people got married, one person was entering into another person's family," Katia replied smoothly, as if it were just natural to her. It was, Cyrilla didn't doubt.

“Doesn't mean shit, and you know it, Katia," Eryk replied this time, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Oh? Did you both have a change of heart and decide to get it anulled? Because if that's true, you know what happens, Eryk," Katia stated. Cyrilla knew she was just trying to get under his skin, and her own, but Katia also had a point. Even if she decided to go through with the marriage to Eryk, she'd be right back in the same family that she'd left. Everything she'd have done up until now would have been worthless.

It would have been for nothing.

She's going back to the family one way or another, and Katia was rubbing that fact in her face. “You forget, Katia," Cyrilla started, finding her voice again, “Eryk is leading the family once this shit is done. That means I don't have to do jack for shit for you because you'll be doing everything for me. I'm going to be at the head of the family with Ryk so take that and shove—" she paused when Eryk shot her a look.

“You've overstepped your boundaries, Durova. You're not here for familial obligations, either. You're here as a member of Neo Team Rocket which means you have to adhere to the same set of fucking rules we do. Kas is right, she doesn't have to do anything that's not in her job description," Eryk stated. It was a strange thing to hear, though. He never sounded so calm before. Not like that.

Kas was grinning broadly, apparently quite pleased by this development. "Sucks for you," he said lightly, turning back to his computer for a moment before hitting the track pad with a certain relish. "And your dossiers are all in, so maybe don't give me any more useless busywork for a while, yeah? I have an actual job to do."

“Ugh, I don't understand how he puts up with you all," Katia replied, making a vaguely disgusted face at the three of them. “Fuck, whatever," she continued, standing up from her spot and making her way out of the kitchen before throwing over her shoulder, “I don't need this shit."

Once she was gone, Cyrilla let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, and nearly slumped in her chair. Ryk turned his attention towards her, though, and she knew he was going to chastise her. “You need to stop fucking baiting her. You know how she is, and she won't think twice about doing something in retaliation against you regardless if you're engaged to me, Cyrilla," he spoke in a firm voice. He was right, she knew that. She knew Katia wasn't the type of person to let things go like that. She would find a way to get back at Cyrilla.

“I know, Ryk. I'm sorry," she apologized. He sighed deeply and placed a hand on top of her head, moving it down so that it rested a bit on her neck before leaning over and touching his forehead to hers.

“I'm not angry with you, you know. You don't have to apologize for that. Just... try not to antagonize her until... until we can get this shit sorted out, alright?" he spoke, pulling back as Cyrilla nodded her head. It was the only thing she could do, really.

“Thanks, Kas, for sticking up for me, too," she could at least do that much. Kas had, after all, been the one to say it first.

He smiled, if not quite as brightly as the one he'd put on in front of Katia. "Sure thing, Cy. She can't really do anything to me, so I'm happy to take some of the heat, you know?"

She smiled and opened her mouth to reply, but Ryk seemed to beat her to it, “Yeah, because that's what friends do."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Eryk Nero Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


March 9th
Field Office 9 - Morning - Warm
Kasimir Rheinallt


Ugh.

This was spectacularly annoying.

Kas knew he was sort of inviting it, getting mouthy around Katia, because she wasn't a complete idiot. Technically, assigning someone else to clean the bathrooms when Mr. Thomasen, the janitor, called out sick was within her duties. Of course, if she'd done her job the way it was meant to be done, she'd have called in one of the other janitors, but instead she'd given the duty of cleaning all the bathrooms on site to him.

Sighing quietly, he pushed the cart down the hallway to stop in front of the first. It wasn't that bad, really—these were all cleaned daily, and most people were courteous because no one wanted to risk being otherwise in an office where the guy at the top could look at you and probably know whether you were the one who'd scrawled the graffiti in pen on the wall or not. Katia had no doubt meant to insult him with this; he was supposed to be, after all, the resident genius on staff. He supposed it was insulting in a way, but only because she seemed to assume he worked so little that he had the time to do another job in addition to his own.

As for the nature of the work, well, his real problem with it was that it wasn't what he'd been hired to do. He'd worked in his mom's restaurant before, and cleaned plenty of bathrooms accordingly. He wasn't above it, just irritated and not looking forward to this at all.

Shrugging out of the sleeves of his coveralls, he tied them around his waist, ignoring the startled looks from a couple of grunts passing through the hall. No doubt half the damage was supposed to be in terms of the gossip this would generate. Perhaps she thought it would hurt his reputation? He did pretend to be the kind of guy who cared about maintaining a certain appearance.

Joke was on her, though—he looked good in a sleeveless shirt and he knew it. Not that he actually gave a damn what anyone thought of him. The people whose opinions mattered to him wouldn't be bothered by this kind of thing anyway.

Maybe he was supposed to feel extra insulted because he was the only executive who wasn't lily-white? That was pretty misaimed too, though—he knew she treated her actual relatives way worse than him. It was the reason he'd stuck his nose in it to begin with.

Propping the bathroom door open, he started with a bottle of cleaner and a rag. Top down; no point doing the floors first if they'd just get dirty again.

“Heard you got put on janitorial duties," it was easy to recognize Ryk's voice. “I'd say I couldn't believe it, but it's fucking Katia, so I believe it," he continued before he sighed heavily. “Katia's out of the building right now, so Cy and I are going to help you with it. Assuming you don't mind," he stated, rolling up the sleeves to his dress shirt.

“She said she'd get the women's bathroom for you since there's always someone in there," he added, arching a brow in Kas's direction.

Kas laughed softly. "Is there? That's news to me." Pausing in his work a moment he tilted his head at Eryk. "I'm not going to refuse your help if you want to give it, Ryk, but you don't have to. This isn't anything I haven't done a thousand times before." He was touched, really, but he also didn't want them to fall behind on whatever extra bullshit Katia had assigned them.

Eryk smirked a little and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know I don't have to, but Katia's a bitch and she shouldn't have made you do it. She knows we have other people she could have called in for this. She's just trying to do as much damage as she can, and she's not going to get away with it," he replied, shrugging his shoulders lightly.

“Besides, Cy and I are both done with our actual work. The extra she gave us is just bullshit and she can try to write us up for insubordination for it. Boss wouldn't give two shits about it," he added.

“We both figured we'd help out a friend so we can call it a day and go out for drinks. We need them."

"Tell me about it," Kas replied, but he grinned a little anyway. "If you want to make sure all the soap and stuff is filled, I'll get these counters done and do the toilets while you sweep." He got back to work with the lemon-scented spray bottle, wiping in crisp strokes until the counter was spotless.

"On the plus side, I have an idea for the mission this month. I bet I can get myself in to case the place as a janitor."

“Because who would suspect that the janitor is part of NTR," Eryk replied dryly, but he seemed amused by the idea. “You'll have the experience for it," he added, making his way towards the soap dispensers and the paper towel dispenser. He pursed his lips together and shook his head, making his way back towards the cart Kas had brought, and picked up the paper towels.

“How long do you think it'll take you to case the entire place? HaptixCorp isn't a small building," he stated once he'd changed the paper towels.

"No," Kas agreed, "but if I fix my ID up right I should have unrestricted access to most parts of it. Even the secret rooms have to be kept clean, and the bigwigs with security clearance don't like doing that themselves. I'd guess I could probably take care of it in an afternoon. Two, if someone's in the way. And then another few hours to build a map from what I remember and plan you guys a route through it." There were a lot of variables for something like that, so he didn't want to give too narrow a time estimate, as it would very much depend on what the building looked like and how much security they'd be dealing with.

It might be Ryk and Cy physically entering the building, but disabling most of the obstacles in their way would be his job, and he needed to make sure all the tools were prepared ahead of time. The more he could offload into smaller, local devices they could easily use, the less would come down to the vagaries of trying to learn and crack a foreign system on the fly. He could do that, most likely, but he wasn't willing to take the risk if he didn't have to.

“You're not wrong," Ryk replied, closing the front part of the soap dispenser before grabbing the broom. “Why would they want to get their hands dirty when they can get someone else to do it?" he mumured before shaking his head.

“If all goes to shit, I'll make sure Cy crafts a few smoke bombs for just in case purposes. Shouldn't take her too long if she starts early, though I suppose she'll have to come here to do it. Anything you need from us, though? So that everything goes smoothly on your end, too?" he asked, pausing in his sweeping and glancing at Kas.

Kas shook his head, returning his supplies to the cart and grabbing a different cleaner and a toilet brush. "Nah, I'm good. Make whatever infiltration tools you think are necessary, but if I'm doing my job right, you won't need them." He smiled, a little ruefully. "It's a technological world out there, Ryk—in this day and age, smoke bomb residue is pretty bad evidence to leave behind."

Tipping the container upside down to shed some cleaner into the bowl, he got to scrubbing.

Eryk huffed a little and nodded his head. “Sure, whatever you say boss," he replied, smirking just faintly before picking up the dust pan and sweeping the contents on the floor, into it.

“We'll be counting on you to help us not screw this up. If all goes well, Solomon will get her power core, and she can finish whatever it is she's doing," he stated once he was finished, emptying out the dust pan into the trash can.

Kas nodded, humming thoughtfully. "You know, Ryk..." He paused, hesitant. He knew Ryk of all people wasn't going to bit his head off for saying what was on his mind, but there was a voice like Steele's in the back of his head, snapping at him not to jeopardize the mission over something as petty as personal trust. Especially not when that trust was built on an enormous lie.

And yet... he could see it. In all four of them, to some extent, but in Ryk and Cy most of all. Reservation. Hesitation. Maybe even something he'd call doubt. Maybe, if he could just help them see that that was the right way to feel, then...

Then what? They'd forgive him for lying to them all this time because he'd been on the 'right' side of things? He wasn't that naïve. And yet, he still—

"Doesn't it ever bug you? That even after all this time, we have no idea what Project Nebula even is? Why keep it secret from the people trying to make it happen, you know?"

There was something rueful in the way Ryk smiled. It wasn't a typical smile, but one of Ryk's own that he'd managed over the last several months. “Kas, we're Team Rocket no matter how a pretty picture you want to spin it," he replied, sighing softly before shaking his head. “Sure, Gregorovich has done what he has to make people see us in a different light, but there are those who still think we're the same. I don't blame them for thinking that," he paused and pursed his lips together before glancing in Kas's direction. His eyes were narrowed slightly as if he were trying to figure something out.

It took him a moment longer before he finally spoke again. “Even I know better than to think that NTR is any different than before, so to answer your original question: no and yes. It bothers me and it does not. Why would Gregorovich be interested in whether or not Ana is a psychic? Psychics are rare, but there are enough of them that Gregorovich should know at least one or two of them for whatever he needs a psychic for."

“At the same time, if he's looking for a particular psychic, it might be a bloodline thing. That's how it usually goes in my family; the stronger the Koga blood in your family, the more likely you are to be in the main branch. It's fucking weird, but that's the only immediate thing I can think of. If he's looking for a blood connection, I wouldn't have the first clue as to which psychic he'd be looking for."

It was, probably, the most Eryk had ever said in one go, but it seemed that he trusted Kas enough to even say what he had, especially given how his family was tied into the original and NTR. He pushed a heavy sigh through his nose, though. “Secrets, I've learned are kept for two reasons: nefarious plans or because someone thinks they are in the right of what they are doing. It is very rare that a secret is kept because it is actually for the good of whatever keeping it is for." He shrugged his shoulders in a nonchalant fashion before placing the broom and dust pan back into their place on the cart.

Kas found himself sighing quietly in agreement. "Yeah, I just... I dunno man. If it was a bloodline thing, you'd think they could just ask her to take a damn blood test and be sure." His brows knit. "I don't like it. I don't like that it's her." He shook his head. "You're right that we're still Team Rocket and I—" He bit his tongue. Close. Too close.

Grabbing the mop from outside, he wheeled it in. Weird to be talking about big shit cleaning the bathroom, but maybe that was just it. Maybe his tongue was looser in his head because this whole damn thing was so surreal.

Eryk arched a brow, but he didn't press Kas. He only nodded his head. “I do not like that it is her, either. I think it's safe to say that the three of us do not like that it is. It's just... something we have to do for now. Maybe it'll turn out that she's not a psychic, and we can move on. If it is... if it turns out that she's not, and we're given another assignment, I..." he paused, narrowing his eyes slightly as if he were conflicted with himself about something. He sighed a deep, troubled one, and glanced at Kas to hold his gaze.

“If it turns out that she is not, I'm going to put in my resignation. I do not want to do this any longer. If Cy can leave, so can I," he stated with a strange resolve behind his voice.

Kas felt himself smile a little. It was an odd one; an unfamiliar shape on his face, and the feeling that went with it was both warm and melancholy, in a way. It was funny, somehow, how they were all so close to a better life that they could almost taste it, but that final step was so far out of their own control, in a way. Cy and Ryk had their family, but Kas was chained, too—to his real employer.

And he could see it, now, for the chain it was. Not that he was looking to break it, exactly, but...

Whatever fire he'd had for the whole thing going in was gone, and all he wanted now was a quiet life with the people he cared about. Maybe some excitement now and then, but the kind that was spontaneous trips and maybe battling tournaments or whatever. Not this. Not any of this. A faint heartache twinged his chest, and then he heaved another sigh.

"Then I'll hope she's not," he said simply. "You deserve a little happiness, Ryk; you really do."

There was a faint twitch of Ryk's lip before he shook his head. “I've learned better than to believe that things will turn out good; a morbid sense of pessimism, I suppose," he stated before huffing softly. “For once, though... I'll hope so, too."

“And same goes for you, ass, and to every one of our friends."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rocket Files Character Portrait: Aidan Klein Character Portrait: Nevena Solomon

0.00 INK



March 11th
The Cloyster - Afternoon - Clear
Drake Bellamy


Drake wasn't entirely sure how Aidan was so calm. Maybe because the charge against him was stupid to begin with, but for someone who wasn't the one going to trial, Drake couldn't help but feel nervous. Maybe it was because it was Kevin's fault that any of this even happened? Drake felt like he was also partly to blame because if Aidan hadn't interfered, he wouldn't have been arrested for assault. He wouldn't even have to be going to court or trial.

“Drake, are you sure you don't want something to drink?" Nev asked, pulling him from his thoughts. He'd almost forgot that Aidan had moved in with her a while ago, and that they were here waiting for Mel's mom to arrive. Mel's. Mom.

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure, I'll take a... water?" he replied. She nodded her head and disappeared into the kitchen, presumably to get his water. “Uh, also, I don't think I've ever told you that I'm sorry for what happened because Kevin's a douche," he stated, glancing in Aidan's direction.

Aidan waved a hand, looking rather unconcerned. He was dressed in a sharp black suit, though for once the shirt underneath it was white, the tie an understated blue. It was definitely an unusual color scheme for him, but he'd probably gone with it because his usual all-blacks would give off too harsh an impression or something. His hair was neat, too, combed down instead of spiked up, and tidily in place. "Not your fault, kid," he replied. "Like you said, the guy's a prick. I'd do it the same again if I had to."

Mel pursed her lips and nodded. She was dressed for court as well, in a soft green silk blouse and a charcoal-grey pencil skirt that hit her knees. "I for one am glad you did," she confessed, then smiled a little wryly. "And don't worry. Mom's good at this. There's no way it'll stick."

“It shouldn't stick regardless," Drake murmured softly. “What Aidan did was basically self-defense... and in my defense since I was the one sorta incapacitated," he continued, frowning just slightly. If Kevin hadn't grabbed Drake's head the way he did, Aidan wouldn't have had to forcefully remove him. Just thinking about it made his head hurt a little, and he reached up to rub at the spot.

“I mean, don't get me wrong, I appreciate it because things could have ended way worse, I think, but still," he sighed softly.

“Sometimes things just happen that way, Drake. At least Aidan was there, along with Ana," Nev replied, smiling at Drake and handing him his glass of water. She'd nearly startled him, though. He really needed to get his head on straight.

“Thanks, Nev, and you're right because at the very least there are witnesses," and that was worth more in court. Eye witness testimonials were a sureway to get the case dropped, right?

Mel pulled her legs up where she was sitting next to him and shifted, resting her hand on his back and shifting it gently up and down against his shirt. She rested her chin on his shoulder. "It'll be okay," she said, quiet enough that the words were clearly meant just for him.

There was a knock at the door, then, crisp and efficient. Aidan got up to answer it, admitting a surprisingly-short woman with rich brown skin and smooth hair of the same raven hue as Mel's pulled into a chignon. Her suit was light grey, over a deep sapphire blouse, and she wore black heels to give herself a few extra inches of height. Honestly, she had more than enough presence to make up for any deficiency there, though.

“Mr. Klein. Michelle Kane; a pleasure to meet you in person." She shook Aidan's hand as she stepped into the room, her eyes falling on where Mel was still very much wrapped around Drake. “Melody, don't suffocate the young man. I'm sure you like him better breathing."

Mel stuck her tongue out, but rose to give her mother a hug anyway. After the two women broke apart, she introduced the others. "Mom, this is Dr. Nevena Solomon, a pokémon researcher, and Drake Bellamy, my boyfriend. You two, this is my mom, Michelle. I guess she's also the lawyer of three-fourths of the other people in this room."

“I'll be sure to give the good doctor my card," Michelle said dryly. “Then it can be everyone."

“Oh, please do!" Nev replied as she smiled brightly at Michelle. “I mean, I'm not entirely sure what I'd need a lawyer for but I guess things do sometimes happen," she continued clearing her throat softly.

Drake was, however, glad that Nev took the attention momentarily. Sure, Michelle was also his lawyer since the time of his grandfather, but she was also Mel's mom. And he was meeting her for the first time face-to-face. He could feel his palms becoming sweaty. Why was he nervous? He wasn't the one on trial. Did Mel just introduce him as her boyfriend?

Get it together, Bellamy! Get. It. Together.

“Uh, hi? It's finally you nice to meet," Drake stated, realizing belatedly that he'd mixed the words up and felt a dark flush on his face. “I mean... it's nice to finally meet you in person, Ms. Kane," he corrected himself.

Michelle snorted; it looked like she was fighting back a smile. “You don't remember this, but we actually have met already," she said. “Your dad did a stint in the contest world when you were very young. It's always been a hobby of mine, too, so your family and I used to get lunch when he was in Saffron for one of those. You couldn't have been more than... oh, two or three? The last time. It was just before Mel here was born."

She held out her hand. “But it's nice to see you again. None of this Ms. Kane nonsense, though, please. Just Michelle."

“Oh, uh, okay," Drake replied sheepishly. He wasn't sure how comfortable he would be at calling her by her first name, but if she was okay with it, he supposed he shouldn't mind. “Oh! Yeah, no dad failed spectacularly in that stint," he stated once the first part of her comment made it to his brain.

“I was probably about three at the time," and he really didn't remember much of it. His mom always said that his dad tried getting into coordinating, but it didn't end too well for him. He ended up just becoming a judge for them. “Ah, but we're not here for that, right?" he chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.

Michelle nodded, then turned to Aidan. “Unfortunately, no. Though I'm pleased to note you cleaned up well for trial, Mr. Klein. Kasimir did tell me you have a certain facility with people."

Aidan snorted a little. "High praise, from the likes of him," he replied, and Michelle smiled, before bringing her hands together.

“All right. We should head to the courthouse. We'll end up quite early, but that's good too. We don't want to waste the judge's time—we'll leave that to this idiot and whatever poor schmuck got stuck with the case. Frankly I have no idea how the police thought it was worth taking to court, much less the Cinnabar DA's office, but if that's a lesson they haven't learned yet, well... they will." She smiled, a sharp expression with narrow eyes.

"Go get 'em, sharpedo," Mel said, grinning brightly.

“Oh, I intend to."

Drake was almost certain he knew the answers to that. Carter had come to collect Aidan personally, so Drake was certain he was the someone in the police aspect of it. He was also certain the the DA's office picked it up because Aidan was part of NTR. Everyone had something against NTR, but Drake knew that the two things were separate. Aidan was just a regular person when the events with Kevin transpired, but to the police, he was NTR.

“Alright," Drake stated as he stood from his spot on the couch, glancing briefly in Mel's direction and offering her a bright grin. “Your mom is good at what she does, and they really don't have anything on Aidan, so this'll be a nice preview of what to expect," he continued.

“Good luck, though. They'll still be persistent and try to make it seem like Aidan was at fault, even if he wasn't," Nev replied. Drake supposed they would be, but still, he was confident enough that it would be fine. Once they'd exited the apartment, it was only a matter of time before they reached the courthouse. Drake still felt nervous about it. He wasn't the one on trial, but for some reason, walking through the doors to the courthouse felt like suddenly it was his trial, and not Aidan's. He swallowed past a large lump in his throat.

“So... this is the pretrial, right? We're basically here to get the first testimonials and acquaint ourselves with the judge?" Drake wasn't entirely sure how any of this worked. He'd never been to court before.

"Yes and no," Mel supplied. "It's pretrial, but basically what happens is everyone will sort out any evidence disputes or issues they have with certain witnesses being called at all. A lot of it is formalities, but it helps the main trial run a lot more smoothly. Usually there's not a ton of objections and stuff like on TV because all that's hashed out at pretrial. Honestly none of us even have to be there, but it looks good for Aidan if he is."

Michelle nodded. “Exactly so. For me, it's also a chance to get a sense of what I'm up against. For them as well." She smiled; it wasn't hard to tell where Mel's nickname for her mom had come from; there was something intense about it. “But mostly it's where we make clear what we're going to do during the trial, and sort out what the problems are going to be, if anything."

"How long do you reckon it'll take?" Aidan asked.

She lifted her shoulders. “It depends. I don't expect they have much evidence, and probably their main witness will be the man himself, possibly along with the arresting officer if they think they'll have something useful to say. The sticking point, I suppose, will be whether or not they plan to introduce character witnesses against you. I'll try to stop that, but it's usually permitted, in which case I'll just add my own, which is why I asked you for a list."

“It's not like they'd have any witnesses to begin with besides Kevin," Drake murmured softly. Honestly, this was just ridiculous. Kevin was proving to be the worst decision Drake had ever made in life. Why did he have to date such a problematic person? Why couldn't he have met Mel, first? They wouldn't be here if he had, and Aidan wouldn't be on trial for this.

“Witnesses or not, people will sometimes claim that they saw 'a' doing 'x' to 'b'. Hm, what do you call them," Nev began, furrowing her brows slightly as she tried to think of what she wanted to say, apparently. “Ah, bribed. They're often bribed or want to do it because they think it'll help somehow. I don't think that it happens often since it's kind of illegal to lie in court."

Drake supposed that made sense, but he wasn't too sure. He'd never had to do something like this before, and he supposed he was just getting jittery because of it. “Is it possible that the case can be dropped before it even goes to the actual trial?" Drake decided to ask. “I mean, if the witness is actually just Kevin, he'd be lying if he said anything that wasn't true."

Drake would know if Kevin was lying, too.

“That happens sometimes, yes. I can make a pretrial motion for dismissal, which I'll probably do. But most of the time that doesn't work, particularly if the prosecutor wants to do it. The judge is more likely to give them a fair chance to prove their point, even if it doesn't look too likely that they will. It takes an overwhelming lack to get something dismissed, usually." Michelle shrugged again as they approached the courthouse building, then turned on her heel to face them.

“All right, since there are some people who probably haven't been to court before, just a quick rules primer. Generally, you don't speak unless someone asks you to. And by someone, I mean the judge. Unless you're on the stand, keep quiet. You can actually be charged with a crime for disrupting a trial, or be thrown out of the room. Emotions might run high in there, but don't let them get the best of you. We'll do better if we look like the side with all the collected professionals on it, even in the audience. Secondly, do what you're told by the judge or the bailiff, or me." She smiled a little at that.

“Otherwise, just use your manners and keep your cool. This is my job. Everything's going to work out if you trust me, okay?"

"You got it," Aidan said, saluting with the first two fingers of his right hand.

“Excellent. I love it when a client knows how to relax."

“I... uh, I'll do what I can?" Drake stated, already feeling like his breathing was becoming short.

“Drake, take a deep breath and you'll be fine. Like Michelle said, this is formality. We're here to provide Aidan our support and you can give your testimony if you have to," Nev stated as she laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. It didn't do much to relax his nerves, but he did take a deep breath.

“Alright, alright, I got this. I can do this," he stated, and kept repeating the mantra in his head. This was for Aidan, and to set things straight with Kevin once and for all. “Good luck, Aidan." It was about the only thing he could think of to say, really.

"Thanks, kid."

Mel took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Come on; let's go in and find seats. I'll be right next to you the whole time, I promise."

Drake smiled and nodded his head. At least he felt a little better, now.

“Thanks, Mel."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kasimir Rheinallt Character Portrait: Cyrilla Niav

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


March 12th
The Cloyster - Night - Rainy
Kasimir Rheinallt


Kas flopped over onto his back, kicking off his sheet with a grimace. The fan on his ceiling was stirring the air around, but honestly the thin sheen of sweat on his brow had nothing to do with actual heat and everything to do with... well, he wasn't sure there was a better word for it than anxiety. There was a lot to be anxious about lately, even if he wasn't usually one to feel that way. Everyone was a little on edge nowadays, with Aidan's trial and Katia temporarily in charge at the office. He wasn't too worried about the case—he knew his boss and knew that there was no way he'd actually done anything worth prison time.

But still... he of all people understood that sometimes the justice system failed. The longer he worked for it, the more he understood why, but he'd learned the basic fact long before he'd become an officer.

Pigs, Aidan sometimes called them. Honestly, he wasn't even wrong most of the time. Kas had seen shit that left him with a sour taste in his mouth. He'd used to think what he did at least escaped the worst of it, but these days he wasn't so sure. He wore the face, the uniform, the personality of an NTR exec, got right in the mud of everything they were doing, good and bad, and... what? At the end, how much worse were they than the cops? Than the government the Kogas so easily ingratiated themselves to?

Even if they were... Kas knew there was nothing good about him, either. Nothing noble. What could be noble about lying to some of the only people who'd ever really known him? Ever really cared? Ryk and Aidan and Nev were some of the best people he'd ever known. And the grunts and assistants, the likes of Luke and Hayley and everyone else—they weren't bad people either. Just normal ones, doing their best to get by. Maybe even doing their best to make the world a little better. And Cy was...

He expelled a hard breath. Cy was in the next room over, and he wanted so badly to see her it left him damn near breathless.

What would become of her, when he took his evidence back to Steele and the KPSF dropped the hammer? She wasn't some random grunt. She was complicit, just like Ryk was complicit. Hell, Aidan had probably come up with some of the stuff that'd be used to prove NTR was a criminal organization. When that happened, who would care that Cy and Ryk had been raised not to know there was any other way to live? That Aidan was with NTR because its leader had been the father he never had? That Nev barely understood what her research was being used for?

Who would care that some of them wanted out, that some of them were so decent Kas knew without a doubt that they'd never hurt anyone unless it was to defend someone else? Who would care who they were, beyond their titles? Exec, admin, head of research?

He cared.

It felt like it was choking him.

Sitting up in bed, Kas scrubbed his hand down his face, then pushed himself to his feet and made for the bathroom across the hall. He ran the faucet, splashing his face with cold water, then drying off on the green towel hanging from the bar to his left. He peered at himself in the mirror and sighed quietly. He was already feeling guilty for what he was about to do, but... maybe, someday, she'd forgive him.

Padding down the hall, he tugged a little at his t-shirt and frowned, letting it go and raising the same hand to knock. He promised himself that if she was asleep he wouldn't bother her, so...

Just two knocks, soft enough almost to fade into the night.

There was a low growling noise behind the door before the sound of feet shuffling across the floor could be heard. He could almost distincly hear Cy calling out, “Diva, hush," before the lights turned on behind her door. She opened it and blinked slightly at him and arched a brow. “Kas, everything alright?" she asked, concern evident in her voice. The tone of her voice didn't quite sound as if she'd just woken up, though. It was possible she was still awake when he knocked, soft as it was.

"Yeah," he lied, dredging up a smile. It'd look a little awkward, he knew, but then in some ways the situation was a little awkward.

In one way, it was something he did all the time. But only on a very, very surface level interpretation of what he was doing. He could say he talked his way into a lot of beds, and that would be true, but... not like this. "I just..."

He could make a joke, he supposed. Try to do this in a way that was even vaguely charming. But he didn't have it in him, not now. Maybe not about this, anymore. "I can't sleep. I thought, maybe..." He shook his head. "Maybe you wouldn't mind if I uh... tried next to you?"

It seemed to take Cy a minute to realize what he'd said because she stared at him before her eyes widened slightly. “You want to... sleep... OH! Oh, I, uh, um... sure. I don't mind," she finally replied, opening the door to her room a little wider, perhaps to let him step through. He could see Diva and Noctis already on their own beds, though the zoroark seemed to be fast asleep. Diva was regarding Kas with one open eye, though, before she made a slight huffing sound, and curled back in her spot.

“Sorry, it took me a second to realize what you were saying. I'm kind of in the same boat, really. Can't sleep, but I guess I didn't quite think of this as an alternate option," she stated, pointing between herself and Kas. “Do you want the wall side or the open area side?" she asked, pointing to her bed. It was plain as far as decorations went. The comforter was white with a pink flower pattern on the bottom. The bed was pushed up against the wall, though, so perhaps that was why she was asking him his preference?

“I don't mind either way."

Something eased in his chest at the same time as a high tide of guilt swept in. Nervousness, he realized. He'd been nervous. Afraid she'd say no. He'd have respected it, of course, but...

But he was glad she hadn't.

"Wall," he said softly, climbing into the bed from the foot of it. He moved the covers down, but didn't pull them up over himself at first, instead settling onto the mattress, feeling strangely self-conscious. Or maybe it wasn't all that strange, considering who he was with. She had a way of making him second-guess things he liked to take for granted, or at least pretend he took for granted.

He almost settled his head on the pillow, but then thought better of it, propping it on his hand instead, elbow to the mattress, lifting his eyes to meet hers. The first time they'd done this, they'd been drunk and tired, and hadn't thought much of just flopping onto the mattress and passing out. This was... this was conscious in a way that had not been.

“Do you want me to keep the light on? I vaguely remember doing that the last time we slept together like this," she stated, arching a brow in his direction while holding his gaze. “Not that it really matters much since I get to cuddle with my favorite person again," she replied, grinning slightly before making her way towards the bed. She didn't immediately get in, and seemed to regard Kas with a curious gaze.

“Are you sure everything is okay? You have a little furrow in your brows like something is bothering you," she stated, reaching over and placed her index finger in between his eyebrows. “Usually people only get those when they're thinking about something or if something is bothering them. I know because Ryk used to do the same thing."

"I'll be okay," he said, shaking his head slightly. "Things have been weird lately, is all. And feel free to shut it off." Once he could feel she'd made her way back to the edge of the bed, he reached out for her. He hadn't wanted to ask if he could hold her, but she'd brought it up, and he was only too happy to meet that expectation. He thought he might need to, right now.

A thick lump formed in his throat, but Kas swallowed it down.

She huffed slightly once she'd settled in her spot. “Kas, you know we are friends, right?" she stated softly. “If something's bothering you, you can tell me. I promise I'll just listen if you just need to vent about something," she continued. “I'm not going anywhere if that's what you're worried about." She sounded like she was joking with her last statement, but had sounded serious about her first.

"I don't really want to talk," he admitted softly, wrapping his arms around her middle and pulling her in closer towards his body. He felt himself relax, a shudder crawling down his spine. "I just want..."

The latter part of her declaration had sounded like a joke, but he couldn't think of much he wanted more than for it to be true instead.

She expelled a soft breath against him and shook her head softly. “Alright, Kas. You don't have to talk if you don't want to," she stated gently. Her hands were folded against his chest before she moved so that they were both comfortable, it seemed. “But... if you ever do, I'm all ears, I promise," she stated, moving her head up slightly as if she were looking at him. The room was dark enough that it wasn't too easy to see.

“And if it gets too warm, though, feel free to shove me over a little. It's only March, but Cinnabar feels like it stays summer all year round," she said softly, taking in a deep breath.

"It won't," he said simply. He expelled a soft breath, moving one hand up to the back of her head and carding the fingers through her silky hair. He tucked his chin atop her crown, feeling his breathing even out slowly. He closed his eyes, shifting in a little closer with his other arm. He was conscious, even now, of wanting her to be comfortable, but as well as that there was a pressing need for that closeness, a need to feel that she was solid and present and here. Now. With him.

He couldn't have explained it if he tried, and didn't plan to.

"Thanks, Cy," he murmured.

“Hm, of course Kas," she responded softly. It seemed as if she were slightly drifting in and out of sleep. “Anything you need, just name it. You know I'd do it because I love you," she whispered softly before her head rested against his chest.

It felt like a dagger to the heart, but not the kind that could move him away. He was pretty sure nothing could have done that, just now. Swallowing thickly, he tilted his head down to press his lips briefly to her hair. She wouldn't remember this in the morning, right?

"I love you, too," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."

There was a soft gust of air. “No need to be sorry, Kas," she replied softly. “I'm glad, because you're also my best friend. I hope that doesn't ever change."

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Nemeseia


March 15th
Cinnabar Courthouse - Early Morning - Cool
Nevena Solomon


Nev sighed softly for what seemed like the umpteenth time today. Her palms were clamy and sweating, and she felt a nervousness she hadn't felt in years. They had all arrived almost an hour early to the courthouse, but that didn't stop the way her heart was beating so fast inside of her chest. She could almost hear it thrumming in her ears. She wiped her hands down her black pencil skirt, frowning slightly when it did nothing to relieve the nervousness she felt.

This was the first time in a while that she'd dressed so formally, too. Her hair had been pulled back tightly into a bun, her white dress shirt had been ironed the day before, and she was even wearing lightly applied makeup. It felt strange on her face, but this was all so that they could go with Aidan to his trial. She certainly didn't want to seem like she wasn't taking his charges seriously, because she was.

Drake shuffled in his spot, huffing slightly as he attempted to shove his hands in his pocket. He thought against it, though, and dropped his hands to his side. He was wearing a crisp black suit as well with a white shirt underneath. His tie, however, was a sapphire blue color that almost matched his hair. He seemed about as nervous as he'd been the last time they had arrived at the courthouse, and Nev couldn't blame him. She certainly couldn't put herself in his shoes. She just hoped that he would be okay.

“You should probably drink some water, Drake. You look more nervous than before," she stated as he glanced in her direction.

“I'll be fine, thanks for worrying about me, Nev," Drake replied as he offered a small smile. Nev wasn't so sure about that, but she returned his smile. “I still don't understand how you're so calm and collected, old man," he stated, turning towards Aidan.

Aidan, dressed sharply as he'd been the whole time, lifted a red eyebrow at the comment, then shrugged. "We've done everything we can do," he said evenly. "Worrying isn't going to change anything."

There was still a while before court started for the day, so he was allowed to be standing near them, and had leaned on one of the benches near where they sat. Everyone was here, today, as it was supposed to be the day the jury delivered their verdict. Ana, Eryk, Kasimir, and Cyrilla were due by a little later; even some of the grunts had shown up on their days off. Several of Aidan's friends had been called to give testimony of various sorts—the highlight of that had been Ana telling the prosecuting attorney that he was 'not being very nice' and that she was going to finish answering his question whether he liked her answer or not.

Half the courtroom had had to hide smiles at that, including the judge, a sharp-looking man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair and perfect posture. Judge Henderson, apparently. He'd told the prosecutor that if he wanted shorter answers, he'd best ask more precise questions, and let Ana finish hers accordingly.

In addition to Ana and Drake who'd been there, Nev herself had been called as a character witness, as had Cyrilla, who was able to explain in general terms how she'd come to share Aidan's last name.

The other side's testimony had been... more of a mixed bag. Captain Hayes was a charismatic fellow, well-liked in the community, and had the jury's ear almost immediately. As he hadn't been there for events, however, he kept his opinions professional, and wasn't able to say anything too damning, except of course to point out that it would have to be ridiculously irrational of Kevin to pick a fight three on one, especially when one of the three was, well, Aidan.

And to be fair, if Kevin had been a rational person, the story would have been unbelievable. But then he'd taken the stand himself, and well... that had been something else.

Nev hadn't really understood what Kevin was trying to do, but it's not like what he said would actually stick. At least she hoped it didn't. “I'm not worried; I'm just nervous is all," Drake replied as he furrowed his nose in Aidan's direction, causing Nev to smile a little.

“They are pretty much the same thing, Drake. Like Aidan said, we've done all we can. Hopefully the jury will be rational and see the flaws in Kevin's statements and testimonies," she stated, placing a hand on Drake's shoulder and giving it a little squeeze. He huffed slightly, though, and nodded his head. “Besides, I don't think anyone could make sense of Kevin's jibberish," she added.

“It's his own special language," Drake retorted, snorting softly. “But he's also a little charming to some people," he added, making a slight gagging noise.

“Charming? I don't see how. He clearly has issues that he needs to seek professional help for. You're charming, Drake. Aidan is charming, and so is Kas and Eryk in his own strange way, but Kevin?" he wasn't charming in the slightest. And she'd only met the guy once, personally.

"I'd make a joke about his taste, but I don't want to insult myself," Mel added with half a smile.

Whatever any of them might have responded with was cut off when the door opened and Michelle entered, gesturing Aidan over to the defendant's table and giving the rest of them a significant look. No doubt the judge was almost here.

"Well, wish me luck," Aidan said on a sigh, standing straight. "If I'm guilty I'm headed right back to prison after this." He didn't seem too concerned about it, but then... he wasn't the sort to make a fuss even if he had been.

Nev furrowed her brows at his statement. “You won't be," she stated, confident that the ruling would turn out in his favor. How she knew, she couldn't say. It was a gut feeling, she supposed. Aidan was a fundamentally good person, and everyone who was in the jury had heard it from other people. Nev took a brief step forward before Aidan had to go inside, and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a quick hug.

He returned it, giving her a brief, but tight squeeze before loosening his grip.

“I won't wish you luck because this is bullshit, and it'll be fine," she stated softly before pulling back and grinning at Aidan. “Once this is over, we'll go get a celebratory lunch or something."

Aidan blinked at that—for a moment it seemed the words hadn't quite registered, as if his thoughts had been elsewhere, but then he huffed quietly, eyes coming back into focus.

“Oh, maybe we can go to Jo's!" Drake chimmed in, snickering softly. Nev rolled her eyes at him before shaking her head.

“Well, let's go inside to get this over with, shall we?"

Aidan entered the courtroom first, meeting Michelle at the table and taking his seat. The rest of them had to find seats on the same side, but it wasn't too difficult. Within a few minutes, the others had arrived, too, sitting a bit further back. Kevin was in the audience on the other side of the room, as was Captain Hayes, though he sat well away from the other man.

Part of Nev wondered if the reason Hayes sat so far away was because he was afraid of getting contaminated by whatever disease Kevin had. The stupid sort. Chancing a glance in Kevin's direction, Nev furrowed her brows when she'd caught his eye. It looked like he was attempting to glare at her group, and his expression was a little too sour for Nev's liking. She wanted to be childish and stick her tongue out at him, however; they were in a very professional place. And so she was going to act like the mature adult she was, and smiled in his direction.

“Kevin certainly knows how to make a group feel special," she spoke softly so as to not disturb the ambiance of the courtroom. Drake blinked confusedly before glancing in Kevin's direction. There was almost a spark of hope in Kevin's eyes, however; Drake shuddered in what Nev could only guess as disgust.

“Nope, he knows how to make a group feel creeped out," Drake stated as he shook his head.

"It might be impossible, but try not to pay him any mind." Mel's tone was gentle; she gave Drake's hand a squeeze where she was holding it. She herself didn't bother looking in Kevin's direction, which was probably a good idea considering what she probably represented to him. It had come out in testimony that Kevin had previously asked Drake for the name of the hussy he was seeing, and while they hadn't actually been yet dating at that point, well... it wasn't hard to put the pieces together, seeing them as they were now.

She didn't seem afraid or apprehensive, though. Rather it was like she was simply trying to minimize the headache for Drake.

“All rise." The bailiff's command was obeyed immediately, everyone standing as Judge Henderson entered from the front of the room, taking his seat at the bench and waving at them all to be seated.

“All right, let's get to it. We've heard closing arguments. Are there any motions to take care of before I instruct the jury and send them to deliberate?"

The prosecutor shook his head, but Michelle stood. “Yes, Your Honor. At this time, the defense renews its motion for the dismissal of the case. We've heard all the evidence the prosecution has to offer and submit that it remains so far from meeting the burden of proof that it would be a waste of this court's time to entertain it any further."

The prosecutor stood as if to argue, but Judge Henderson stopped him with a look. “The motion is granted. Frankly, these accusations are an obvious farce. Were it within my power to do so, I would remand the prosecution's chief witness for a psychiatric evaluation. As it is, however, that is not the subject of this trial. I nevertheless wholeheartedly recommend to Mr. Becker that he consider therapy, and be glad that Mr. Bellamy has not elected to file charges against him. Though, Mr. Bellamy, I remind you that you have the right to change your mind on that front if you wish. I am certain Ms. Kane would be able to assist if that was your desire." He gave Michelle a short nod, something like respect in it.

“As for the rest, it is clear to me that Mr. Klein is of upstanding character, whatever black marks others might take his profession to have on his character." His brows pulled down, and he glanced once at Captain Hayes. “It takes a remarkable presence of mind and restraint to act so quickly and decisively when a person we care about is in danger, and to do so without an excess of force. I am convinced that, beyond whether the self-defense argument is warranted, there is simply no evidence to support the charge of assault in the first place. You acted to de-escalate the situation, and when Mr. Becker would not cooperate and himself escalated, you took the minimum necessary steps to prevent further harm. If everyone could be so judicious, we would live in a better world."

He nodded again, this time to Aidan, and smacked his gavel once against its housing. “This case is dismissed."

Nev couldn't stop the smile on her face even if she wanted to. “Fucking knew it!" she stated, loud enough that Drake heard and arched a brow at her. She cleared her throat softly before feeling a faint flush on her face. She hadn't meant to say that out loud, but she couldn't help herself. She was beyond happy at the moment. She knew that the accusations wouldn't stick. How could they when the charge was assault when there was no assault to begin with? With the exception of Drake, of course. Nev was still a little surprised that Drake hadn't taken the opportunity to press charges on Kevin, but she supposed it would be more time spent in Kevin's company than he'd like to be.

“This is great news, though!" Drake stated. Once they were dismissed from the court room, Nev grinned broadly as they waited for Aidan to be done with last minute things with Michelle. The case had been dismissed, and Nev felt a little happier that her friends could return to a somewhat normal pace, now. At least in Drake's case. He had been so nervous and worried that Nev couldn't help but feel worried and nervous for Drake. She knew Aidan would be fine, felt it in her bones, as the saying would go.

“Are we still doing lunch? Can we go get lunch?" Drake asked, glancing at the others.

“We still have to wait for Aidan, but yes, let's go do a celebratory lunch," Nev stated, grinning broadly.

"Lunch sounds good," Aidan said, reappearing at last. "The others have to get back to the office, but I'm free for another day at least." He said it with a half-grin, about as much as he'd expressed for the whole trial. "I've invited Michelle though. Hope no one minds."

“Of course not. The more the better!" Nev stated happily enough. She was just glad that Aidan wouldn't have to go back to jail, or prison, or wherever they would have tried to send him. Drake, however, looked a little nervous, and Nev chuckled slightly. “It'll be fine, Drake. She's not your in-law," she stated as Drake gave her a flat look. She couldn't help it, though, and allowed a small grin to form on her lips. “At least not yet," she stated, watching as Drake's eyes widened slightly.

“Oh my arceus, Nev, you're horrible," he stated as he pursed his lips in her direction.

“No, I could have sworn my name was Nevena," she retorted.

“You're not funny."

Aidan rolled his eyes, Mel laughed outright, leaning into Drake a little and grinning at him. "She likes you, I promise."

She chose that moment to appear, pulling pins from her hair as she walked and handing the stack of files in her hand off to Aidan like he'd volunteered to carry them. He didn't seem to mind, and tucked them obligingly under one arm as she freed her hair from the confines of its professional bun.

“Always gives me the worst damn headache anymore," she said with a sigh, fluffing her hair a little until it sat right before favoring the group of them with a slight smile. “Congratulations, everyone; you made it. It's over now."

Nev smiled and nodded her head. “It is," she replied, glancing in Drake's direction. “Hopefully this will be the last you'll have to deal with him, as well," she continued, watching as Drake nodded his head.

“Yeah, well he's persistent if anything. Hopefully this sends a message loud and clear though. I've got a new life that I want to move forward with, you know?" he stated, linking his hand with Mel's and smiling at her warmly. Nev felt strangely out of place, though she wasn't entirely sure why. It was sweet the way Drake looked at Mel, and she couldn't help the warm feeling in her chest as she nodded her head.

“Well all things aside, I think you two are adorable, so... let's go get our celebratory lunch!"

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


March 17th
Field Office 9 - Afternoon - Sunny
Aidan Klein


It felt nice to be a free man.

Of course, he hadn't seriously doubted he would be. His faith in the justice system was nonexistent, but Michelle Kane was in a whole different class than the local schmuck from the DA's office, and the judge at least seemed not to be an idiot, or especially anti-NTR, which was a stroke of luck if ever there'd been one. So the worst was avoided, and for the moment the status quo had been restored. He'd had honest thanks to give to Mel's mom, who'd waved them off with nothing more than a 'if you ever need a lawyer again, you know who to call,' and that had been that.

She'd flown back out yesterday, and today he was headed back to work, black shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows and hair back in its customary spiky nest. No more dressing for court, thank arceus.

He was rather looking forward to relieving Katia of his duties, actually. Pulling open the door, Aidan shifted his sunglasses up to sit on his head, spying Hailey behind the desk and approaching her first. "What's the damage?" he asked.

He'd seen her and a few of the others over the course of the trial, but there hadn't been much time to talk.

She looked a little surprised as her eyes widened. “Oh, Mr. Klein! I mean... Aidan," she stated, nearly standing from her chair. “Uh, oh, damage. Well..." she trailed off, sitting back in her chair before twiddling with her thumbs. “Kasimir was assigned janitorial duties more than twice in the two weeks you've been gone. Mr. Thomasen came down with the stomach flu and returned yesterday, but Ms. Durova put all of those duties onto Kasimir even though we have other people," she began.

“She had Eryk do all of his reports on paper. He had to handwrite almost every single thing," she continued. “She tried to get him to do other things, but Eryk didn't comply. She tried to suspend him without pay, and the same thing with Cyrilla. She terrorized the other grunts, though," she pursed her lips together as she glanced back up at Aidan.

“She almost made poor Luke quit, and he's one of the nicest people I know. And I'm not just saying that because... well," she trailed off and glanced back at her computer.

He expelled a breath. "Somehow I can imagine," he replied, frowning a little. Luke was a nice guy, more sensitive than most, but that wasn't a bad thing at all. Though Katia would no doubt think she'd done a good thing weeding out the weak if he'd quit, Aidan knew better. Luke was one of the best of the lot, precisely because he was so empathetic.

Shaking his head faintly, he rapped his knuckles on the counter. "Well, you can tell him to hold off on the resignation. I'm about to kick her out. We'll see how spectacular it gets before she figures out the more fuss she makes the more people will enjoy it."

“He'll be happy to hear it," she replied, smiling brightly at him. “I'll let him know soon, though. Ms. Durova... confiscated all of the personal phones of the secretaries," she stated, frowning slightly as she reached for what might have been her phone if she had it.

“It's really... really good to have you back," she added.

Aidan sighed, giving her a small smile. "I'll be sure to get those back before she leaves. It's good to be back," he added, inclining his head and making for the stairs.

He expected that Katia would be in his office, so he alighted on the second floor and headed that way, knocking slightly on Nero's closed office door, then Rheinallt's, then Cyrilla's. He poked his head into the last, suspecting they could all hear him anyway.

"Hey I'm about to go upstairs and kick Katia out of my office. You guys wanna come?"

"You could not pay me to stay away from that," Rheinallt said, standing immediately.

“Oh my arceus, Big Bro's back," Cyrilla stated a little too happily as she nearly collided with him. Her arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. “I wouldn't dream of missing it," she muttered before she removed herself from him. Nero was the next to walk up, arching a brow at Aidan before nodding his head.

“I think she's become a little too comfortable in your office. There were talks about renovating it and other stuff. I mostly drowned her out after she opened her mouth," Nero stated as he sighed softly.

Aidan had patted Cyrilla's back, but let his hand fall to his side when she pulled away. "Probably for the best," he said to Nero. "She has a real habit of pissing people off when they listen to her." He shook his head. "Heard Rheinallt got stuck with janitorial duty twice."

"Yep. And when she found out Ryk wasn't good at email she made him hand write everything." He made a face like the very idea was anathema. Considering the speed at which Aidan has seen him type, it probably was. Slow and extremely inefficient. He'd actually never seen Rheinallt's handwriting, come to think of it. Techie types usually had terrible penmanship, in Aidan's limited experience, so perhaps that was a good thing.

"Yeah, well. You can all get yours back. Let's go." Tilting his head towards the door, Aidan climbed to the next floor and marched towards his office. He made it look casual, of course, really nothing more than his usual ambling stroll, but his way of announcing his presence was a little more... pointed.

"Something wrong with the décor?" he asked, surveying his office as if for the first time. "I heard you were thinking of changing it, but of course you wouldn't do that unless something was really off, right? Since it's not yours?"

Katia's head snapped in his direction, her eyes slightly narrowed as she seemed to regard him. “It is off," she stated, folding her hands on top of the desk. “It's unfitting for a member of your rank, especially one so highly regarded," she stated, causing Nero to roll his eyes slightly. “Since you've been gone for the last two weeks, efficency has gone up almost ten percent under my guidance," she continued, giving Aidan a flat look.

“Bullshit,"

“Bullshit," Cyrilla muttered beneath her breath almost at the same time Nero said it out loud so Katia could hear him.

“Watch yourself, Nero. I'm still in charge for the remainder of the day," she retorted as a subtle smirk appeared on Nero's face.

"Actually, you're not." Aidan reached for his smartphone, pulling up the email Gregorovich had sent him at his own request. "You were copied on this, right?" It likely would have only just arrived in her inbox, but he flipped the phone to show her the screen anyway—direct orders from the boss for him to resume command of the Cinnabar Field Office.

"As of five minutes ago, this is my office. If you're not ready to leave, though, I hear Thomasen's out with the flu. We could always use the extra hands, as I'm sure you noticed."

There was a snort behind him that sounded like Rheinallt.

Her eyes narrowed in Aidan's direction, almost as if she were glaring at him. “Should have had him fired years ago," she stated before straightening out her posture in the chair. “And I will not be helping out in that capacity." She sounded almost adamant about it.

“Kas did it, why can't you? We're currently the same rank with the exception of Aidan," Nero stated, arching a brow at her. “If it wasn't beneath him to take over for Mr. Thomasen, it shouldn't be beneath you." There was almost something smug in the way he smirked a bit.

“Go to hell, Nero," Katia retorted. “You and I are not the same," she continued, standing up from the chair and making her way to stand in front of the desk. Nero shrugged his shoulders, though.

“Didn't know you were demoted, Katia. I mean, that's what you're implying, isn't it?" Cyrilla stated as Katia shot her a glare.

“You stay out of this Niav."

"Klein," Aidan corrected flatly, allowing the faintest bit of his irritation to show through. He wasn't actually pissed off—not by anything except the fact that Katia would not acknowledge a legal name change that came with a legal adoption and made Cyrilla his sister—more his relative than Katia's now.

"You're of course not obligated to stay, but we don't fire people for getting sick here, either, so I'm going to have to decline that suggestion. If you're not ready to leave yet or need to get paperwork in order, there's an empty desk on the first floor you're welcome to use." It was in the cubicle pool with the grunts, but as there was no empty office proper, it was quite literally all there was by options if she wished to linger.

He was grateful for the fact, because he knew it meant she wouldn't.

"Thanks for watching things while I was gone." He was a professional, after all, and had slightly more need to maintain a functional working relationship with Katia than the others did. Plus there was something especially satisfying about doing this with irreproachable courtesy.

She gave an unceremonious huff before shaking her head. “Whatever," she replied, making her way back to the desk and grabbing a few things. “Have your office back; things will just fall apart once I'm gone," she stated before pushing past Nero. He merely stood his ground as he watched her leave before turning his attention back towards Aidan.

“It is good to have you back," he stated shifting a little awkwardly in his spot. Cyrilla merely chuckled before lightly patting his shoulder.

“It's alright to say you missed Aidan, Ryk. We all missed Big Bro," she stated before once again hugging Aidan. “Just please, please, please don't ever let her be in charge again. I don't think we could take any more of her," she continued, almost pleading with her eyes. Nero huffed slightly but nodded his head.

“Half of the grunts wanted to quit because of her. Unfortunately this is an only viable source of income for them," Nero stated.

Aidan shook his head. "It's not like I wanted to be on trial, you know," he pointed out, snorting softly at what he supposed must be an attempt at pleading eyes but returning the hug.

"I'm not too proud to admit I missed you," Rheinallt said, swooping in for a hug once Cyrilla was done. This one was of a distinctly more exaggerated variety, thumps to the back and all, but Aidan weathered it with little more than a sigh.

"Yeah, well... glad to be back."

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Nemeseia


March 20th
Cinnabar Bowling Alley - Evening - Overcast
Eryk Nero


Part of Eryk wondered if the reason he agreed at all to go bowling was because it was for Aidan. The other part of him was still adamantly against the fact that he had friends. People who actually cared about him were not plentiful in his lifetime. At one point in his life it had only been one person, but now there was a handful of people in his life, people he cared about. Perhaps that was the real reason he had agreed to this, being in a public place with so many people?

Drake was currently trying to set up the machine, but seemed to be having a little difficulty doing it. They had all decided to do this in teams: the boys against the girls. Originally, he hadn't wanted to do it in teams, but the rotation made sense. Solomon, apparently, wasn't very good at bowling. Eryk could say the same, really. He might have been good at throwing darts, but a bowling ball was different. There was an art to it, or so he'd been told. He never really cared much about things like this.

“Alright, so, here's the lineup," Cyrilla stated after commandeering the machine. Drake had rubbed his neck sheepishly when she'd taken over. “Boys on the left side, girls on the right. First up will be Big Bro and Melly. After that, it'll be Kas, Drake, and Eryk for the boys team. For our team, it'll be myself, Ana, and then Nev. How does that sound to everyone?" she asked, glancing at the others.

Eryk shrugged his shoulders. They were all going to bowl and it didn't really matter in which order they went. Solomon didn't seem to object, and Drake grinned and gave a thumbs up.

No one else seemed to care too much either, so Aidan stood up to take his turn first. They'd all picked balls and rented shoes already—apparently part of the whole process. While there were a large number of people inside the bowling alley compared to, say, at Ana's, it wasn't more than were usually on the first floor of the office, and they had a lane entirely to themselves, along with the seating area they occupied.

Aidan frowned dubiously at the red bowling ball in his hand, then shrugged and launched it down the lane. It went faster than any of the others Eryk had seen people on either side of them throw, and crashed hard into the pins at the end, taking the left half of them out and knocking a couple others over when one of those ricocheted around a bit. The second cleared out half of what was left, leaving two standing.

Mel was better—she took all of them out in two throws before siting back down with the others. For some reason, she stuck her tongue out at Kas, who only grinned.

"Man, it's been years since I did this. I'm not sure I even remember how." He picked his green ball off the line and shuffled down the leadup, launching it at a meandering pace. Somehow, it curved a little as it went, rolling into the pins at an angle and knocking all of them down in the first hit.

Mel harrumphed. "Showoff."

“Years or not, you're still the first one who made a strike on your first throw," Drake retorted, grinning slightly in Kas's direction as he stood and grabbed his ball. It was a dark blue, almost violet color. Cyrilla had taken out a total of seven pins, frowning slightly when she'd missed the last three. Drake, on the other hand, didn't fare any better. His first throw had taken out three, but the second throw ended up curving towards the opposite side of the pins.

“Ouch, Drake. How did you manage to go in the opposite direction?" Cyrilla stated, wincing slightly as if on Drake's behalf. He shrugged his shoulders, brows still furrowed before he took a seat next to Mel. Eryk was next, and he grabbed the dark orange ball he'd picked out. It was lighter than what he was used to holding, but he didn't particularly care at the moment. He glanced at the pins in front of him, narrowed his eyes slightly before he tossed the ball. It wasn't nearly as fast as Aidan's, nor was it as coordinated as Kas's had been.

“Oh, man, the first gutter throw of the night!" Drake stated as Eryk gave him a flat look. He waited for his ball to return before giving it another go.

He missed again.

“We're just starting, Ryk! You'll get the next ones," Solomon stated as if she were just trying to be encouraging. It didn't stop him from furrowing his brows slightly as he took his seat, and folded his arms against his chest.

“Someone's pouting."

“I am not."

"Maybe a little," Ana said, smiling and holding up her thumb and forefinger in front of her, such that there was about an inch between them. Of the lot of them, she was the only one who'd brought bowling shoes with her, suggesting that this either was or used to be a hobby of hers. Or perhaps she simply needed them because there were no adult shoes quite small enough to fit her feet.

Her smile inched just a fraction wider before she stood to take her turn. She lacked much by way of strength; that much was obvious. But she threw in such a way that it didn't really look like it; the ball careened down the lane at easily the same speed as the much more athletic Mel's, knocking over all but one pin, and her follow-up neatly took that one out, landing her the same score.

Eryk felt the frown on his face deepen. With the exception of Drake, everyone had managed to knock over half or all of their pins in their first throw. He hadn't touched a single one in his, and he felt a little irritated about that. He didn't usually care about whether or not if he couldn't do something that someone else could, but there was something about his friends being better at something he wasn't. He couldn't explain it even if he tried. Solomon was up next, though, and she looked a bit hesitant.

“Remember, Nev, you want to keep the ball in this lane, on the floor. Make sure you don't release it too early or you'll give everyone a fright like you did last time," Cyrilla stated as Solomon's eyes widened. There was a faint flush on her face that was barely visible in the dimmed lighting.

“It was one time!" Solomon retorted. She pursed her lips together, though, before taking a deep breath and tossing her ball. It hit the lane with a hard thud before it rolled slowly down the lane, knocking over one pin. Her second throw wasn't any better; she'd missed entirely and her ball landed in the lane next to theirs. Luckily, there wasn't anyone using it.

"You know I'm pretty sure the lane computer can't count that," Aidan remarked. "Which means you still have a throw left, Doc." He seemed highly amused by this, for some reason.

Ana, on the other hand, quietly stood and switched sides of the table, so she could settle next to him instead. "You... you probably haven't been bowling before, have you?" she asked, her tone quiet enough that it wouldn't carry to the others, still absorbed in what they were doing. "If you want... I can teach you?" She looked up at him with nothing but a little uptick to one side of her mouth, her eyes clear and perhaps a little bit... hopeful?

“I know, but still," Solomon frowned slightly as she glanced in Aidan's direction.

Eryk blinked in Ana's direction, though, tilting his head slightly as he regarded her. “I have not," he answered her first question. It was her second statement that had caught him off guard. She would teach him? If he wanted? Eryk still wasn't sure what it was that he did want. He never really wanted much because he'd been raised to not want anything. At least not for himself. Still, it did not stop the small smile that appeared on his face. Those were still rare, but they no longer felt out of place on his face.

“Would you have enough time?" he decided to ask. Between the shelter and his job, he could feasibly work in a day to practice, but the shelter required a lot of work. How she had managed before was still a mystery to Eryk, but he was here now, helping her. “I would not mind if that is the case." He would appreciate it.

“Oh, I managed to get one!" Solomon stated, pulling Eryk from his thoughts.

"Of course I do," she replied, the corners of her eyes narrowing with mirth. "I have all the free time in the world now that you're always around to help."

She scooted a little closer, positioning herself right next to him with a serious expression and turning her attention to the bowlers. Her leg was pressed against his, but if she noticed, she didn't seem to think anything of it. "So for starters, this is a good opportunity to show you some things." She nodded in the direction of Aidan, who'd stood to take his turn. "Aidan's pretty good, but mostly relies on being very strong. He can throw harder than anyone else, and so the ball travels basically straight down the line. That knocks over some of the pins, and he might get a few more with ricochet, but if he strikes, it's just luck."

Sure enough, he took out six, and then one more on the next toss when it whiffed on hitting any of the others.

"Mel's more skilled; she's probably played a fair bit. She tries for not-quite-straight on, hoping to hit from one side or the other. It makes spares easier because she's not likely to split—that is, if she hits on the left, she'll probably only end up with pins left on the right. It's not the boldest strategy, but it's consistent. Kas is tricky; he's probably better than me, actually. We can both curve the ball, but he's stronger and probably knows the math of the angles better than I do."

Eryk supposed that made sense. Kas was the genius of the group, after all. Strategy had never been Eryk's strong suit, though. He simply did as he was told, and that was it. He glanced in Cyrilla's direction when she went next, though it didn't look like she had any particular givens to how she bowled. She just tossed the ball and managed to take out nine of the pins before missing the last one on her second throw. She was smiling, so she probably bowled with having fun in mind, and not trying for anything in particular.

Drake's first throw had looked like he was concentrating too hard on what he was doing. It was probably why he'd only knocked down the three pins his first round. Eryk pulled in a breath and inwardly sighed. It seemed there was a lot to bowling than just throwing the ball.

“Does anyone want something to drink? I'm going to go get a few and a round of food," Cyrilla stated as she made her way back towards her seat, but didn't take it.

“Nachos," Eryk stated before turning his attention towards Ana. “How do you get the ball to curve?" he asked.

"Hey, Little Ninja." For some reason, Aidan gestured Cyrilla over, saying something beneath the general noise level. He still looked pretty amused by what was going on—he didn't much seem to care about winning, either. Then again, he'd been like that with darts, too. Eryk and Kas had been the competitive ones, there.

Ana beamed at him. "Well, you need to put a little spin in the way it rolls. Not too much, or it'll curve right into the gutter. I'll show you on my turn. For yours, try this time to focus on keeping it as straight as you can." She took his hand in both of hers, turning it palm-up, and wrapped her thin fingers around his wrist. "Pretend like your hand is just a continuation of your arm. Like this doesn't bend at all." She darted her eyes back up to him, the pad of her thumb resting over his pulse. "You rotated yours at the end last time, which is why the ball drifted into the gutter."

For a moment, all that mattered to Eryk was that her hand was on his. He wanted to hold it, however; it was his turn and he glanced out towards the lane. He'd forgo his turn if it meant he could just stay like this a little longer, but he wanted to learn. Nodding his head in Ana's direction, he stood and grabbed his ball. He did as Ana had told him, keeping his arm as straight as he could before he tossed the ball. It went dead center, and he almost thought he was going to get a strike, however; he knocked half of them over. It was better than last time, he'd have to admit. He missed his second throw, but he was satisfied that he'd knocked over five.

“It will be some time before I'm able to get the hang of it," he stated as he took his seat next to Ana.

“Yeah, but practice makes perfect, Ryk," Drake said with a light grin on his face. Eryk rolled his eyes softly before shaking his head. There was some truth to that statement, he supposed. It wasn't long before Cyrilla came back with a tray of food. There were about seven pretzels, three things of nachos, two hamburgers, and two large containers of chili cheese fries, it seemed. It was a lot of food, but Eryk assumed it was because there were a lot of people, and he and Kas could eat all of that and still have room for more food.

“More will be on the way in about thirty minutes," she stated before leaving again. She came back with three pitchers of beer and a few cups on a tray. There was a mixed drink, it seemed, as well, but she handed that one off to Solomon who looked a little confused. “Trust me, Nev, you want to try it. It's called a watermelon spray," Cyrilla explained as Solomon took it. She turned to Aidan, though and said something too low for Eryk to hear.

Aidan nodded, apparently satisfied by whatever she'd said, reaching for his wallet and handing her the monochrome black card inside.

Ana, meanwhile, took her turn, glancing back once over her shoulder with a slightly sheepish expression when she caught his eye and nodded. Her swing was a tad slower this time; it wasn't hard to pick out the slight turn of her wrist, and the ball did curve on its way down the lane, taking out eight of the pins. She cleaned up with a straight shot down the left side, then returned to sit down.

It was fairly clear by halfway in that the top spot would be a contest between Ana and Kas, with Mel trailing third, Aidan, Cyrilla, and Drake making up the middle of the pack and Nev dead last. Ana occasionally pointed things out about how the others were doing, but for the most part she seemed content to relax, though she did steal several nachos off his paper container of them with a little grin.

He didn't mind. He enjoyed sharing his food with everyone, even it meant that she would smile or grin at him. They had finished all three pitchers of beer before Cyrilla went back to order another three, and another watermelon spray for Solomon. Apparently Solomon had liked it enough, however; there was an obvious drunkness in her stance. Eryk knew she wasn't someone who could hold her drinks very well, and it was apparent in the way she was smiling and swaying.

“Watch this, guys. Watch this," she stated as she brought the ball up to eye level. She held it there for a moment more before she threw it. “See! I did it," she continued when the ball connected with the pins, and knocking them all over in a strike. She grinned brightly at the others as Eryk felt his brows furrow. That had to have been a fluke.

“Arceus, Nev, what the hell?" Cyrilla stated, trying to contain a laugh it seemed. Solomon just shrugged her shoulders, rubbing her thumb over her nose in a smug manner as she happily plopped down in her seat.

"I knew you'd be better at this drunk," Aidan said, shaking his head slightly.

Ana laughed softly. "Mel, Kas. We should watch out. Apparently Nev is one of those monks from the movies. Drunken bowling master."

"Oh arceus, she would be. Good thing it's too late for her score to catch ours or I might be screwed."

“I guess we'll just have to get her drunk the next time we come bowling to see just how good she is against the likes of you three," Drake stated, grinning a little.

“Agreed. Nev, you hear that? You gotta bowl drunk from now on."

“Oh, that sounds like it'll be fun!" Solomon retorted, sitting up straight in her seat. Eryk found himself huffing softly. His friends were strange, but he supposed he was strange himself. Perhaps they could do this more often, too? Between Marna's and this, Eryk felt like his world was becoming slightly bigger.

He found he didn't mind it so much.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


March 24th
Viridian City - Late Night - Rain
Kasimir Rheinallt


Kasimir cut the headlights as the van approached the parking lot. Getting past the automated security this far hadn't been too big a deal, but they weren't even in the building yet, so that was far from telling. He pulled into a space near the front but far to the right; the plates on this van were designed to be hidden from cameras, but it was better if that itself went unnoticed. There were only a couple other cars in the lot, no doubt belonging to the night security guards, of which there were four.

It was a pretty big number for a tech company, but of course they were hardly the most formidable line of defense. Just the one with the guns.

"All right," he said, throwing the vehicle in park but leaving the engine running. He stepped over the console into the back, where his gear was already mostly set up. "I'll grab these cameras first, so give me a sec to do that. In the meantime..." Reaching for a small case, he flipped it open to reveal several USBs and one adapter. "Ryk's gonna need these... and these are for Cy." he distributed them accordingly; each one was a different color so he didn't have to explain exactly which was which or what they did.

The simpler things were for the people in the field, the better.

Dropping into the chair bolted to the van's bed, he looped a pair of large headphones around his neck and woke up his console. Casing the place for a couple of days had given him time to plant his malware most places it needed to go, so seizing control of the parking lot cameras and looping them to show nothing but a quiet lot was easy.

"Okay, good here. You two ready?"

Eryk pushed a heavy sigh through his nose, but nodded his head. “The sooner we get this over, the better. I don't want to be here longer than we have to," he stated. Cyrilla smiled at him and shook her head.

“Ryk just wants to go home," she stated, earning a flat look from Eryk. “It's alright, Ryk. Me too," she continued before glancing in Kas's direction. “This isn't meant to be easy, though, Ryk. We'll need to make sure we're careful; we can't leave anything behind that'll trace back to us. That means relying on Kas to get us through."

“Well aware of that, Cy."

“Good. Alright, Kas," she began, pulling her hair into a short ponytail. “Where's the best access point for me?" she asked.

Kas nodded, double-checking that they were both wearing gloves before returning his attention to the computer screen and pulling up the building schematics, plus a satellite photo of the roof during the daytime. "I can't believe I'm actually about to say this, but the place has an industrial-style ventilation system, meaning the shafts are actually big enough for a person of your size and strong enough to hold your weight—assuming you stay on all fours, anyhow."

He thought about that for half a second, then tossed in a sly wink just because it was vaguely suggestive, even if unintentionally so. "As for how you'll access that system..." He used his mouse to highlight one section of the roof. "Here's where the ventilation lets out. Should just be a grate you can pop off pretty easily with a crowbar; there's one in the toolbox behind me. I left a service ladder halfway down when I was here—you'll have to jump for it, but it's doable."

Cyrilla sighed in a dramatic way, shaking her head. “Of course it'd be a ventilation system. Because it'd be too easy, otherwise," she muttered mostly to herself it seemed. She did grin, though, when he winked and rolled her eyes. “Kas... I don't know what I've done to make you think I'm a jumper, but..." she trailed, earning a light snort from Ryk.

“You've done worse things than jump an extra foot in the air, Cy. Plus, you're more resourceful than most of us. You'll figure it out if you can't reach it," he stated before shaking her head. Cyrilla, however, placed a hand over her heart.

“Did Ryk just try to joke? Oh, Ana's going to be so sad she missed that, but thanks for the reassurance, Ryk. I'll be sure to jump extra high just for you," she replied in a sarcastic tone as Ryk just shrugged his shoulders.

“Where am I going to be situated?" he asked, turning his attention towards Kas.

"This door, around the side," Kas replied, grinning as he indicated a delivery entrance. "Cy's path is going to take her over this room; she can drop and unlock it for you, and then you can help her back into the vents before going along your route. Ideally we will not be alerting anyone to our presence, so I'm going to be handling the cameras as you go, but there are a couple places like that, where one of you will need to do something on your way to help out the other. I've got it planned and times in my head, so don't worry about that. All you have to do is exactly what I say."

He let that part sound sly on purpose, because it was kind of ironic, in a way. He made a point of being the unreliable one who suggested outrageous things, after all. Still, he was a professional, and he was aware they knew that.

Cyrilla snickered softly but nodded her head at the same time Eryk did. “Kas, we're ninja; we were trained for this shit," she stated, grinning in a way that suggested confidence in what they were going to do. “Can't say the same for Ryk, though. His stealth skills suck. And I'm being nice," she added. Ryk just shrugged his shoulders.

“She's not wrong."

"I'm just saying. I'm not the one who suggested 'decoy' anything earlier in the month."

“Still, you could at least try this time. Who knows, maybe you've gotten better after all this time," Cyrilla stated as she nudged Ryk's arm with her elbow. “Alright, Kas, wish us luck," she stated as she opened the door to the van.

“It's not luck we'll need," Eryk murmured softly as he made to follow her out of the car. She, however, shook her head.

“You should wait here for a minute. That way you won't be exposed out in the open. Even with Kas manning the security footage, it's best not to take any unnecessary chances, Ryk. You never know who might come outside for a smoke break and catch you standing there," she explained. “I'll let you know when I'm at least in the system, and then you can make your way, alright?"

With a brief nod, Cyrilla made her way out of the van. It wasn't much longer that her voice echoed in the bluetooth earbuds, calling for Ryk to make his move. He glanced in Kas's direction before nodding. He exited the van and made his way towards his spot.

“Where am I headed, Kas," Ryk asked a few minutes later. Apparently he made it inside.

This part of the plan was, admittedly, mostly him. It was a little daunting, considering they were the ones in actual danger. Sure, he'd done the initial infiltration, but Kas was confident in his ability to talk his way out of that if he'd got caught. There would be no talking out of this kind of thing, even if Ryk had been any good at that, which he wasn't.

Switching his audio feed over to Ryk's earpiece only, he gave him directions for the next few hallways, aiming him for a security room that wasn't used at night. There were three in the building, but night operations took them down to the central ones, leaving the secondaries open for exploitation... if they could safely get there.

"Patrol incoming from the south," he said calmly. "Lab next to you should be open in 3... 2... 1... go." Through Ryk's earpiece, Kas could hear the electronic lock disengage, which would allow Ryk to duck in and avoid the patrolling security guard.

It was another few minutes of silence before Ryk's voice appeared back over the earpiece. “They're gone," Ryk stated over the earpiece. There was another moment of silence before Ryk spoke again. “Which way?" he asked. Kas could hear the sound of a door opening, presumably because Eryk was checking to make sure the way was clear.

“There are a few doors down this way," he added, and Kas could almost hear the grumpiness in Eryk's voice.

"Yeah, I know. Second one on the left." Kas marked his schematic with where Eryk was about to be, then added, "door should be open. Throw the lock behind you just in case. You're going to want to make sure the computer in there is on, then plug the blue flash drive into the tower. That'll do its thing for a few minutes, then give you access to some of the more sophisticated locks in the place. Cy needs you to open the one labeled 'Research 4,' okay?"

“Sure," Ryk replied.

Once he had confirmation, he switched audio channels. "How're the air ducts treating you, beautiful?" He was pretty sure she'd be able to hear the grin in his voice, but that was okay.

“I'm not entirely sure you want to know," she replied. There was something faint in her voice that sounded almost like disgust. “I would have thought a place like this would keep their entire building spotless. I guess they just don't have many Cyrilla-sized people to fit through here," she added. “Both of you owe me so, so much after this. Actually," she paused with a faint grunting sound, “Aidan does, too. Let's just make it everyone to call it fair."

She really didn't sound like she was having a good time, which was understandable. In an effort to be distracting—and frankly because he wanted to—Kas hummed. "Well I prefer to pay my debts to pretty women in sexual favors so take some time to think about it and tell me what you want for this later, okay?"

There was a light sound that sounded almost like an embarrassed squeak coming from Cy's earpiece, however; Kas could hear her clear her throat. “Oh my arceus, Kas, you can't just say things like that. Not when we're doing this," she stated, but it was obvious in her voice that she wasn't mad. If anything, she sounded amused.

“But I'll have to take that into consideration. Maybe something to think about when we get back home, yeah?" she added before her side went silent. It was another minute or so before she spoke again.

“Alright, Ryk's opened my side. Where am I going?"

"You're headed to Lab 4; it should be just across the hall. Ryk's opened the door for you by now. I haven't actually been in that room, so I can't tell you exactly where the power core is, but you're looking for something about the size of your hand and oval. It will probably be in a locked cabinet or something of the kind, so you'll want your picks."

He paused long enough for her to make it across the hall, and then: "I've got a few suggestions, you know. If you can't think of anything." He caught himself thinking about one in particular and shook his head, switching off his input long enough to clear his throat. Definitely better not to think about that right now.

Switching feeds, he started to direct Eryk out of the building the same way he'd come in. Cy was going to have to take a separate exit; he didn't expect her to climb back into the vents from the floor. But he could get her out a different door; it was a lot easier than getting in.

Eryk was the first to arrive back to the van, opening the door and slipping inside. He blinked somewhat as he glanced around. “Where's Cy?" he asked, furrowing his brows a bit.

“Uh, guys?" she stated over the earpiece in a soft voice. “I'm in a bit of a bind," she continued. It was easy enough to tell she was whispering. “I've got two guards by the exit, and they don't look like they'll be moving any time soon. They're arguing over which is cuter: growlithe or glameow. Is there another way out?"

Kas snorted softly. "Sure thing, Cy. We're going to have to get creative here, but this is doable. I need you to duck into the room back about ten feet. There's no electronic lock, so either it's open or you'll need to get yourself in manually. Let me know when you're concealed."

“I mean, it's a legit argument, but everyone knows meowth are way cuter," she stated softly. Eryk huffed lightly and shook his head. There was a light shuffling sound before she came back on the earpiece. “Alright, concealed and waiting," she stated.

"Stand by," Kas said, then turned to the van's other occupant. "Hey Ryk, hop into the driver's seat and take us around the back, would you? I don't want to take the chance Cy'll be chased out and caught."

Eryk frowned slightly but nodded his head. “Sure. Just don't blame me if I hit a non-existent speed bump," he stated before he moved into the driver's seat.

As they moved, Kas pulled up the schematics. He needed somewhere close enough that the doormen would be the ones diverted to check out a disturbance, but not so close the door would itself be in the area of concern, nor the room Cy now occupied. Clicking his tongue against his teeth, he chose one of the front-left hallway cameras and cut the feed. The guys in the monitor room would notice right away.

Sure enough, the channel he had tuned to their radios crackled to life. “Hey Jed, Antonio. I think the admin hallway's camera busted again. Can you go check it out just to make sure it's nothing weird?"

A moment later, the two at the door looked at each other with obvious annoyance, but turned to their right, heading away. Kas had to wait until they were out of that camera's frame, then loop the empty hallway, but controlling one at a time wasn't too hard.

"Now, Cy—you've only got about half a minute before they get back."

“Copy that," she replied, the faint sounds of her moving making it over the earpiece. It wasn't too much longer before she made it to the van, carrying a large box in her hands. “Couldn't just carry it out all willy-nilly," she explained when Eryk glanced over his shoulder and raised a brow in her direction. “It's fragile, Ryk. You have to be delicate with these kinds of things," she continued.

“Yeah, well don't drop it," he replied, causing her to snort softly.

“Wouldn't dream of it, Ryk. Not after all the trouble I went through to get it. Next time you can go through the vents and I'll unlock doors and whathaveyou," she retorted before grinning a little mischievously in Kas's direction. “And don't think you'll get away without repaying me, either. Don't think I forgot."

“I don't even want to know. Save it for when we get back home; I'd rather not have my ears bleed."

Kas only grinned. "Anything you want, gorgeous. I'll avoid enumerating the options so Ryk doesn't die."