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Fandom Soul Eater: F.A.T.E

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Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter
Project
F.A.T.E.
Phase
Two


"Fate is never fair.
You are caught in a current much stronger than you are;
struggle against it and you'll drown not just yourself but those who try to save you.
Swim with it; and you'll survive."
— Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

  • With the tournament drawing to a close came the executive decision to allow the mentors complete autonomy in how they evaluated their teams and more so their approach to dealing with what had been demonstrated. While none of the agents saw what happened behind the curtain, this decision was not an easy one by any means. Debates between Kidd, Cyrus, the sponsors of the program, and those within the upper echelons of the DWMA all had their say, but as it stood now, Kidd had the final word. That word was something akin to, "You cannot make rash decisions on a premature tournament most of you requested," and that settled the debate.

    However, the tournament still had its impact on the DWMA. For the most part, those involved saw the merit of the program. For some, it was a chance to become part of society when they perhaps had no other way. Reality was, it would be feasible to pass through F.A.T.E., retire, then lead a normal life with some type of amnesty all while getting help and providing a service to the world. For some, it was a chance at redemption that they so desperately needed. For some, it was a chance to reflect and grow, not just about the redemption, but about finding themselves. And, for some, it wasn't about what they found, but who they found along the way. It was clear that the Agents, Meister, Weapon, or Witch, all had noteworthy power or ability, and the realization that this was just one of many groups like this demonstrated resources that were being wasted.

    Or worse, sent somewhere else.

    The Guild of Magic likely took the most positive notes from this exchange. In it, they saw faults in their own kind being overlooked in this effort of inclusiveness while also seeing outstanding demonstrations of comradery, albeit unorthodox at times. The time and money, even being rebranded from the Wiccan Council to the Guild of Magic, seemed to show that there was a definite shift in perspective to how the DWMA approached Witches. This helped to inspire faith in their efforts, and more so, gave them the realization that perhaps even outcasts from their society could find sanctuary in the DWMA. Witches that, quite often, may end up dead or hunted, now had a place they could call home--if only necessary due to their own internal politics.

    That is not to say the entire DWMA was elated by the tournament. The misuse of power, premature force of abilities, and brief glimmer of Madness brought forth the fear and concern of many. From the beginning, there were those adamantly against this type of program. Some even more so knowing The Blue Reaper was leading it. Call them cynical, conservative, or perhaps even realistic, but their voices did not go unheard. A Sound Soul Dwells within a Sound Mind and a Sound Body. That is their core tenant, and many of these agents were hardly closer to a sound mind than when they started. At least, in the eyes of these few.

    Luckily, that faction of the DWMA was still just the minority.

    Once the tournament concluded, there was an opportunity to review all of the matches individuals had been in, then a break for post-tournament festivities. A small faire of sorts outside of the Colosseum with stands and stalls, but nowhere near the size of what it would have been if it were truly public. Of the individuals that could attend this type of gathering, most were encouraged to while Zelda, Emmett, and Rand hosted a heated discussion regarding the tournament with Kidd and Cyrus present, but said heat simmered down considerably once both sides were given a chance to clear the air about what had transpired. It seemed, oddly, that the mentors had a unified grudge against those that wanted this tournament so early, if at all. A silent agreement that pushing these agents too hard this soon was setting them up for failure.

    Beyond that, no more incidents such as the attempted escape with Zosar occurred, and the agents were simply allowed to enjoy the rest of their afternoon. The only direction they were given, really, was some slight hints to visit or check on those that were hospitalized, although this wasn't mandatory. It seemed that the tournament went over arguably better than anticipated, given the bleak outlook many had for it going in, and once it was over, the atmosphere of these new teams returned to normal for the most part.

    Soon, it would become business as usual.
 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter
March 28th, 2067

It was a Monday. It was always a Monday. Two other groups of up and coming Fate Agents had already started their journey, now it was time for an entirely new round. After months to even years of therapy, individuals deemed capable of field work were assigned to a set of mentors, and evaluated from there. Project F.A.T.E. had since became simplified as "The Fate Program" and it had became quite the stir in Death City. After the tournament, despite it not being public, discussion couldn't be avoided. Rumors of electrocution and near death, noble houses supposedly at war, affairs across teams--it was all there. But, those were just rumors. For those there at the tournament, they saw it all. The struggles, the potential these other agents had, and the determination most of them demonstrated. Given some of the upcoming Fate Agents were allowed to attend, they would have at least some idea of what they were stepping into.

Today, just as with all those before them, they shed whatever they were before. Renegade Witch hunter, mob boss, defects, or traits--it did not matter. Today, they would all bear the same title: Fate Agent. Given the Fate Agents of Group A-03, which is what this group would know themselves as for now, were allowed to meet the weekend prior (or simply already knew each other), this meeting would go differently than the first. Agents were not only assigned their partners beforehand, but their entire teams. Entire steps that occurred for the first group being skipped over in the second, in part to test which method was more effective. Not that it was likely the agents would know the events that transpired on Lot C with Group A-01, so only the mentors would be able to review the methods.

The evening prior to the 28th, Agents would receive an email or text depending on their preferences with instructions for the following day. Each team receiving different instructions meant that there were two sets of instructions. Although, who they were given by at this point still remained a mystery, as the Agents only knew the name of their team, not their mentor.

03/27/67 1453
Az: As of now, you are designated part of Team Reaper. We will meet at 10AM Lot E. Lots can be found as points of interest on SkullMaps. Please reserve any questions until tomorrow.

Azurian Dream Azurian Dream Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul Prizzy Kriyze Prizzy Kriyze QuirkyAngel QuirkyAngel EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Serei2477 Serei2477 for the above message.


03/27/67 1513
🌟🐺: Those receiving this message within Group A-03 are now members of Team Praetorian. This is your mentor. Our first meeting will on the East Side of Lot A near the pond at 10AM. On time is tardy.

Azurian Dream Azurian Dream simj26 simj26 FireMaiden FireMaiden Nobody Special Nobody Special JellySquishies JellySquishies Meredith Meredith for the above message.


Neither Lot was a notable special area nor a difficult one to find. Lots A through F were a series of approximately seven football sized clearings found by taking a left before ascending the infamously long DWMA staircase, then a well-beaten path beyond the iron gate that separated the tree line of the small forest outside of campus. The walk beyond the gate was less than a mile, at tops, and mostly flat. Lot D was located behind Lots B and C upon entering with just a few hundred feet separating them. Lot A was the most Eastern lot near the artificial lake. If the students couldn't find it on their own, there were greater problems than anyone had anticipated given a free app could guide one there.

Unlike Group A-01, Group A-03 was given far more prompting. More time to acclimate to the other. And, while they wouldn't know all of their teammates, they would at least know each other. This round of introductions had far more going for it than the first, although that was by design. And, for some, this might be redundant. Three of these agents had already went through a process similar to this. Whether that would prove frustrating or enlightening due to the different approaches would soon become clear. As would the Fate of all of these new Agents.

 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter




Hiei.full.1694016.jpg


Rand Mabason

"Soundwave Sorcerer"

Species Witch
Partner N/A
Rank Two Star

Location Death City, DC Airport
Mission Excursion to Dall Island
Status Relaxed, a little tired



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Flight numbers were not designated to the private flights of DWMA Agents. It wasn't your typical airport. Once you got into the restricted area, there weren't huge crowds, stalls for food, or gift shops. It gave an almost sense of being empty given it was still attached to such a large building, but quiet and relatively empty. At the very least, it was simple to navigate. A row of four terminals that agents could use to check in, then be instructed on on leaving their luggage and which gate to go to. Granted, on this mission, they were instructed to pack fairly light and that supplies would be provided at arrival, so large suitcases and baggage likely weren't an issue. Rand had also instructed them to arrive half an hour ahead of time, just in case one of them managed to get confused. He figured some of them likely hadn't been on one of these DWMA flights before, and if so, not with this level of autonomy.

Thankfully, each of them managed to arrive on time within roughly ten minutes of each other, making the boarding process fairly simple. With that, it was just a wait for take-off. He had already given them a rough mission briefing the week earlier, but during the flight, he intended on giving them more information. They were headed to Dall Island. An Island close to one of the most powerful Ley Lines in the world within the Bermuda Triangle. It was not uncommon for there to be storms of massive variety there from a standard typhoon to a frigid ice storm to a unique electromagnetic storm not unlike the Lost Island. The unique trait to this island is that they were temporary, and typically followed a specific pattern. One could only visit Dall Island safely a few times a year. This is why it was selected as testing grounds for the original Paean Program; it was believed these natural phenomena would keep it safe.

Back then, they were wrong.

Now, Dall Island is an incredibly unique place with an ecosystem changed entirely by the Plague Doctor known as Orb Weaver due the hoards of arachnids he left and the magical thread that spanned most of the island leading to a massive tree known as the Dall Oak. This excursion was a mission with multiple objectives, and would likely take them half a week or better to complete. Collect samples, possibly even living arachnids, investigate Lake Nordall in its center, investigate the Dall Oak, search for anything really. And, of course, eliminate as many of the arachnids they feasibly could. The island had been scouted twice already, but such pairs were Meisters and Weapons with the second round of them including Marek Rung of the Spellbreakers. Issue turned out to be, the vast majority of the arachnids they encountered near the outskirts of the jungle were in fact not magical in nature at all, but instead highly sensitive to magic. This effectively made it a task for Mages. Rand was one of very few Mages to know the island, given he was part of the Paean Program. Thus, here he was with this assignment, and conveniently a group of diverse mages.

It was basically a ten hour flight, though, and that had its concerns. Hopefully, it wouldn't become problematic. Most of them had become quite civil and friendly, it seemed, over the last two weeks, and if their initial meeting was any indication, they would do well enough. Rand, preferably, would just spend the time sitting in his chair listening to music, but something about not supervising them did rub him the wrong way. Perhaps he was slightly paranoid. Perhaps, he still felt like he was treading on an incredibly thin line after his meeting with Emmett, Zelda, and Cyrus. In either case, time would tell what he would do.

"Once you're all settled, I can notify the pilot to leave. After we get a good ways in the air, I can bring down the teleprompter and go over some of the details of this excursion," Rand turned around, looking at the four behind him. "Any questions before I message the pilot?" he asked, about as neutral as he ever is.




 

Meredith

of Fiendish Intent
Moderator
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)

Chanterelle Fuir
In the Hospital, collabs are possible.

FLASHBACK: AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR, MARIA, ENTERS THE RING

Having finished her talk with Nadia and Dani, Maria works her way to the DWMA Hospital with a basket of apples, the order of visits would be of some trouble to Maria internally. She needed to deal with Raphael, offer some form of peaceful apology to Gauss and then there was the issue of her partner. While the doll maker has some misgivings of the hedgewitch they were allies and the Witch had taken significant damage in her battle with Gauss, which left her with more questions than answers, it made little sense she would go so far. Either way she would be the first to be visited.

Following the instructions of the hospital staff the Sorceress and her three smaller constructs would be given access and she would be making the best use of them. Pondering if one should knock or not, Maria decides to just enter the room that the latter was confined for the time being given her injuries. Unless they already allowed her to move about. "Hello there. Is anyone here? Toadstool Witch it is I, Maria.”

Though the witch had already been out and about – several times, in fact, the nurses were beginning to joke that they couldn’t keep her down without tying her to her cot – Chanterelle was sat up in the bed reading a book with a dictionary at her side. She raised her left hand in a cheeky sort of wave; the witch was definitely injured and almost wilting but, if not for the sling covering up her arm and shoulder and the bandages and cotton wrapping almost the entirely of her shoulder, it would be hard to tell where exactly she was injured. The deep bruises in her face were rapidly fading; most of her body was covered in clothing as she’d nearly fistfought the nurses over the idea of cutting them off - the shoulder and collar of her dress had, however, had not survived their assault.
“Oh, Maria,” she sighed, “you’ve got to break me out of here.”
Her voice was more resigned than rebellious. Her eyes grazed over the other witch, searching for signs of injury; she looked much better than Chanterelle had expected. It was good to see she had it together. “How did the rest of the matches go, do you know?”
Running the palm of her right hand over her own face so that thumb and index finger rested under and alongside her nose, Maria pauses for a bit, processing what she was told, looking at the other’s manner of bearing and being, she was a bit surprised to see her like this. It was all so casual in a fashion.. Well, that was good in its own way, it meant her spirit was intact. At the request of breaking her out, she did seem to be considering it seriously as she stuck her head back out the door to see if any nurses were coming, movement darted across her eyes as she nodded.

“I could do that, but I think it would just make things worse.” Lowering her hand she offers up a couple of the apples, setting them alongside the dictionary. There was a breathy laugh from the toadstool witch. It was sweet that Maria considered it, at least. "I had intended to speak with you after the match but you and Thaddeus, or is it Gauss?” A pause before continuing; "but the two of you were taken to the hospital, as to the matches…” She paused a bit with clenching of her jaw, the only sign she was angry. "...Our team ultimately won the matches, though I am not sure I would call it a win… I know Instructor Rand says my way of thinking on this was all wrong but it got worse after your own battle somewhat. Ark and Raph lost their battle, which there is more to it than that, their battle is something that I must test Raphael for, depending on how it goes I may not be your classmate later, but that's a whole story if you want to hear it.” Pausing a bit for breath at the rapid string of words, she then continues.

“Iris won her third match against the werewolf and her performance in it disquites me more than the fact she can turn into some sort of ten foot tall Dragon or Nagi or Lizard, of that I am not sure.. I specialize in craftsmanship, not animal science. That turned into a bloody melee combat with a few spells and pure physical force thrown about. Both took extensive damage but should be fine, given the healing factors they possess.”
“Brutal. You know, the whole point of the fistfight was that I didn’t want Gauss to go to the hospital, but not a single other person shared that consideration. I suppose it’s well enough, anyway. Still, I will have to congratulate Iris later.” Chanterelle reached for an apple and took it in her hand. She looked down at it as she continued. “I’d be interested in your perspective, Maria. Sit down, sit down. It is always good to talk.” She gestured with the apple to the end of her own bed before taking a bite out of it appreciatively.

“Hmm.” watching as Chanterelle took one of the apples, she did not seem to need to cut this one up, the apple that was. Her right hand reflexively opens and closes as she thinks on that and takes a seat, moving her left hand some strands of wire briefly connect to her constructs as they huddle by the door, watching the conversation play out. “My perspective? Hmm.. Being a.. You were a Hedge Witch yes? But I think my way of thinking isn’t too far from your own. I considered this whole event a farce. It held no value but pitting the mongrels against one another for our betters.”

With that she pauses for a bit and continues; “Or did you mean the fights?”
“Toadstool witch, forest witch, it’s all the same to me,” she replied with a half-smile. “There was no need for violence like that; I know my capabilities and had nothing to prove: others, it seems, did not feel the same.”
There was a long moment of contemplation. “Say, you didn’t seem to have much patience for the fighting. Didn’t you enjoy the others? Whatever has you so uptight?”

“Uptight?” Tilting her head, she really did not understand what that meant. “I am not sure I follow, though there is much with people I do not follow, you likely know more of people than I. As to the fighting, I simply wanted it done to see my Master.. Back during the outbreak, my parents had to be killed by the DWMA, so my Master, well, back then that was the title of an instructor.. My mind is getting sidetracked.” With that she pauses for a bit, the bitter-sweet memory of only minutes ago still fresh in her mind. "She was my mother for me, to me as I seen it at least, I wanted to prove myself.” With that her gaze seems to darken as an unnatural smile creeps upon her face, an ironic sounding chuckle briefly leaving her lips.

“I also did not like these battles. I know they say there are other reasons but to me, this was just seeing if the DWMA or the Witches had the less flawed of students, I am a tool maker, not the tool. These battles were not friendly nor sensible.. Speaking of that, there are questions I would ask of you later if I may?”
The mention of death, of madness, prickled the hairs on Chanterelle’s arms. There were goosebumps there; people here spoke so casually of death and destruction that she thought she understood, somehow, why Maria was so withdrawn in her work. Her mouth set into a line at the mention of knowing more people; it was all the witch could do not to laugh even though it would be unkind. Finally, she nodded. “I respect that opinion, and well, I am glad you saw your mentor. But, by all means, Maria-” as Chanterelle finished the apple, she reached for the box of tissues at her side, wiping the hand on it as if on a napkin- “you might ask your questions now just as freely. What do you need from me?”
Watching the other eat, Maria said nothing while she spoke, what little it was, still it was proper to do. Wasn’t it? Nodding at that she tilts her head slightly in confusion, what littler was betrayed on her largely emotionless face as her eyes squinted briefly and the unnatural smile vanished.

“Oh, I need nothing from you, though you are getting along well you are the injured one.. Though I should also be in here had I not refused the medics aid. I wish to know however, why did you do that? Why fight him in his element, why forsake your gifts till you had no option or control to use them?

A win would have been so easy once I shattered the Armor..well, perhaps not shattered so much as compromised. I do not understand it and I have watched you since we met so few days ago. You are a witch of the wilds, a hedge witch are you not? Unsupervised and just not like an outlaw witch by sake of title and trouble. By all accounts you should be the most worrying and the one most outside of control. Yet you did what some would call honorable or foolish.”


There was a careful moment where Chanterelle considered her answer. Maria did not like her; the toadstool witch understood why when’ere she contemplated their elemental incompatibility, but it had never been uncomfortable for her, as the dolls meant much less to mould than vice versa. Her fingers tapped against the edge of the Kleenex box. She sighed, took a deep breath, and sighed again the first time she tried to answer.
“You might call me a wild witch, that is correct. I made that choice, Maria, because I feel the Pull in the worst way. That is not something I can change. I long for violence, and bloodshed, and fear. I refused to indulge it for entertainment,” she finally produced, “because it was totally and completely unfair to pit my wrath against some poor, injured, obviously struggling meister. He had no chance of victory. There was no more honour in a win then there was in a loss; I am still angry they did not take my forfeit on those grounds.” Her hand stilled. “But it would have been unfair to your effort for me to do so. If I had such ethical issues, I should have gone first, and respected your contribution.” She did her best to meet Maria’s gaze, to offer her a smile. “I am sorry for that.”

Pondering that for a bit, her eyes narrowed on the words as she processed them, talking as she did so. “Destruction is the most common affinity for a witch or even a sorcerer. My own is creation, it is from that basis that having my creations near your...” Her jaw twitched briefly at this. “...decay that it irks me, though your fungus are a form of life and creation in their own right, or so that is how I reasoned it so I could face you. I will not leave allies to be harmed again, so I must.. I must make peace with them as much as I can, it is a hard thing to do, I am also told it is not the normal human thing to do.”

“The fact you can see your pull and work against it when it is too much makes you fit to join the guild should the traditionalist not reach you. Though I assume your own story for being here makes mine look so small.”
Turning her mind to the matter of the fight, her eyes go back wide and her head tilt to normal. "I was insistent upon being first and your mushrooms would not have fared much better when he went into the air. I still do not understand your reasoning, even if he were weaker, there may have been a ploy, or some form of action he could have taken, to gamble on the fact he was weak and to give him the chance to be strong.. Though I can see not wanting to turn your full force upon him, he is an ally…”

With that she took up the right hand press beneath her nose once more, it seemed to tie into her emotional state than her face betrayed as her words finally concluded, “...but I can accept them as the reasons you had rather than just a gamble.”
“I appreciate that, Maria. I had no want to kill a meister today, and I did not in the end, so I consider that my win.” She wanted to reach out for Maria, somehow, but it was hard to rationalize that alongside her poison skin. Instead, she balled her fist around the blanket loosely over her lap, and nodded. “He would have won, eventually, if he had not been poisoned. But it would have taken much more than that single slam.”
There were a few seconds where she wasn’t sure how to respond to the compliments. She didn’t, at first, but then she felt the pressure to at least ask what the hell the other witch was talking about. “Who are the guild?” She pressed curiously, examining her nails, cuticles pulled and skin pallid. She appreciated that Maria was at least trying to care. She was trying, too, to understand what motivated her peers.

Taking note of the balled fists she seemed to recall the fact her skin was poisonous to the touch.. “Ah the Guild of Magic.” She says continuing the conversation, she would be sort of surprised the other had not heard of it, then again it’s not like her people would get recruitment brochures or could come to terms with the Maba. “It’s an institution set up to train new witches and other magically affinited beings in the arts of magecraft, we are partnered with the DWMA however and as of late our workshops work closely with theirs to develop magitech. It’s a…hmm..” It suddenly dawned on Maria that she had never actually attended a school before, well a normal one, and thus she could only say the word but not the meaning behind it. “...a school, we learn things mostly of the magical world and to interact with others, though I did not really do much of the latter.”

Looking at the others hands, she could not touch her, but it may be worth making a friend, even if she were told this wasn’t the best way to go about it, reaching into her belt she starts to write down some unseen words as she looked at the balled fist to see it relax when it would do so. It may be silly, but creation was her drive, if she could make some hazardous containment gloves that were comfortable and fashionable, maybe Chanterelle would have some use for those.

“I see. Were you a member of the guild before you came here?”
Chanterelle wasn’t sure what to make of Maria, truly, but the other witch seemed mild-mannered and friendly enough that she did not want to scorn that insight. She’d heard, on introspection, about magical schooling: it was theoretically the same sort of education she received at home in her own clan. Her tone was curious, not dismissive. “It seems like you care about it deeply.”

“Hmm?” It was with those questions that she pauses her writing and then puts away the notepad and pencil. “Yes, I technically still am, though the DWMA is my primary employer. As to if I care about it.. I learned to learn my craft through them and my Master is like a mother to me, I also haven’t had many good memories with the other students. Though I still have a role to do, or a new one within the DWMA. I care about the foundation it provided, though I cannot say all feel the same and that it is mostly because of one person I do even that much.”

“Of course, of course. I am glad you still have something to focus on.”
It took a deep breath for Chanterelle to find the courage to flip the script. Maria was made of loyalty and determination; she was made for freedom and methodology. The pursuit of education - of knowledge - it was not lost on her.
“Well, I’ll tell you what. You have others to visit: once I get out of here, I'll bring you to my favorite place I’ve found in the city so far, a small tea shop. We can talk about old times there. Does that sound agreeable?”

Pausing to think about that, Maria wasn’t the most socially inclined person but knew when her welcome was at an end, while she wasn’t ready to invite Chanterelle to her workshop just yet, it wouldn’t hurt to carry on with her plans towards her. “Ah, yes it has been a bit of time hasn’t it and I need to gather materials once I am done here..or rest, maybe resting after that strike. I would very much like to see this tea shop however.”

Collecting her basket and its remaining apples, minus the ones she left for Chanterelle, Maria forms another wave of her hand issuing a brief command for her constructs to follow as she awaits anything else Chanterelle may have to say.
“Thank you for coming to see me, Maria. It’s been lovely to see you today. And thank you, too, for the apples.”
With a smile, the witch waved Maria off, showing her to the door and looking back down to the book. Witches, the page noted, are often more interested in their disciplines than material affairs.
History was a funny thing. It built walls between them all.

Do Not Touch!
 
Last edited:

QuirkyAngel

White Masquerade's Blue Oni
Team ReaperJarvis Briseis (Weapon, Blood-sucking Gauntlet)
March 11th, 2067
Outside of Death Colosseum
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“Soooo…how long will you be staying this time?” Jarvis followed Valerija as the pair of bloodsuckers exited the colosseum following the conclusion of the tournament. Other than a quick sucker punch, Jarvis didn’t get a chance to see Midori fight as much as he would’ve liked, but then, that was the case with most weapons; Their contributions to the battle largely unseen. Jarvis couldn’t hear the conversation between meister and weapon unless they broadcasted it, after all, and, while he could sense wavelength, his soul perception was meh compared to most meisters…or weapons that train themselves to work autonomously. He expected Cyrus’s…and some other guy’s…intervention had to do with Midori’s lack of participation as well.

Still, it was an…explosive…match. Val seemed to enjoy herself anyway.

“I dunno~ Do you want me to stay longer, Jarvis?”

“Not really.”

“Bzzt. Wrong answer. You’ll never get yourself a lover talking like that.”


Jarvis rolled his eyes. “Where would you even stay?”

“With you, obviously~”

“A female bloodsucker like you wouldn't be allowed in the Boys’ Dormitory.”


Valerija laughed. “It’s like you don’t know me at all,”

Jarvis did know. Whether it was changing her appearance or masking her soul, he’d seen her pull off all sorts of tricks to blend in with human society and be where she wanted to be. Drink what she wanted to drink. However… “Midori found you out pretty quickly.”

Valerija shrugged. “The soul protect was supposed guise my soul so that it resembled an ordinary human’s, but for some reason Dark Star couldn’t see mine at all. Guess I got careless and made a mistake somewhere. Ah well~ He’s your group mentor, and seems like a swell guy, so it’s all good~”

“...it isn’t. DWMA still hunts bloodsuckers and Lord Kidd has eyes everywhere in this city.”

“Eh? This is the Grimm Reaper that’s pushing for peace between races, right?”
Valerija checked out a stall that seemed to be selling random trinkets from skull keychains to mana crystals. “Maybe he’ll be different from his father. Granted, I’ve never met the kid myself, but I’ve been hearing good things about the Reformed Monster Clans so far.”

“Is that why you pushed me to apply for FATE despite the risks?”


Valerija pinched Jarvis’s cheek, stretching it a little. “I pushed you because you needed to get up and do something with your life instead of lazing about all day, wasting your eternity in your coffin. Besides, you weren’t entirely resistant to it.”

Jarvis shrugged.

“From what I see, you seem to be enjoying yourself~”

“You need to get your eyes checked.”

“Haha, I would be too with such passionate youths for classmates,”
Valerija continued as if Jarvis hadn’t spoken. “Unfortunately, I actually can’t stay too long. Lucien is opening a new restaurant in Lyon and I promised to help with that so I’ll be leaving for France soon.”

“Ohhh, that guy…”

“Hehe, oui oui~! I’m only here instead of dining gourmet, taking a biiiig risk, because I was worried my youngest fledgling might be lonely, stuck in school with his personality. I’m glad to see that isn’t the case. You’ve even managed to find a partner you want to resonate with~ All thanks to my initiative in filling out your application, along with all other necessary papers, as your guarantor!”

“I–,”


Valerija clung to his arm, leaning her head against his shoulder. “Given all I've done for you, it’s your job to make sure I enjoy myself while I'm here! So show me around Death City! Introduce me to your friends! I demand nothing less than full attention from you!”

Jarvis sighed. He didn’t do well against pushy people…especially pushy people that could wrestle him to the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. “...Fine. Where do you want to go?”

“You tell me. It's my first time here~”


Jarvis ran his brain through all the places he knew in Death City, which, if he had to be completely honest, wasn’t much. DWMA’s main campus. The Boys’ Dormitory. Zari’s place. It wasn’t as if he spent a lot of time going out beyond what was necessary…though the Shummie hunt certainly had him running all around the southern parts of the city…or rather, Zari, but him by extension…”...Skull Armada?”

Team Arrow had a decent enough time there, last he remembered. The atmosphere was nice. More importantly, the bartender supplied blood packs and knew how to mix a decent (literal) Bloody Mary.

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“Oooh~ That sounds fun! But first I want some tourney-souvenirs from the faire. An exclusive event like this demands pictures! If we’re lucky, we might even run into the fighters and get pictures with them as well~ ”

“Half of the fighters are in the hospital…”


Which Jarvis had no intention of visiting because 1) He didn’t know either members of Team Stitches or Witches very well 2) He wouldn’t know what to say and was horrible at cheering people up and 3) It had been a relatively fair fight and he had no desire to play favorites. Gauss getting electrocuted, blown up, then choosing to brawl with Chanterelle at the end was on him. Raphael goading Dani into madness (He couldn’t hear all of their conversation, but the pink-haired girl’s desire for death was certainly loud enough) and nearly getting killed was his own fault. Sara not having much experience with Midori, choosing to continue with the match, and ultimately getting overpowered by the Sliteris Witch was a choice she made. Such things happened in fights. Those that chose to fight knew what they were getting into and those that did not want to fight should’ve applied to the N.O.T class. The E.A.T class was for those that desired to fight against evil and the F.A.T.E class was for students on probational status.

Since Midori returned in time to be Sara’s partner, he assumed Zosar wasn’t being tortured by the school…and, while being kicked out would be disappointing after all the work one put in to enter the program, it wasn’t the end of the world. Deathscythe was a goal, something he knew deep down in his soul he wanted, but it wasn’t as if Jarvis didn’t enjoy the NEET vampire life. There were other things he could do that would satisfy the Alti part of his soul as well…probably. He yawned. The sun was still out. He still wanted to be back in bed. Instead, he was forced to put on sunblock and entertain an overly excited bloodsuckeress for the day.

A part of him wished he were the one being sent to prison.

“So you should send them a get-well card at least! It’s the polite thing to do since you're all agents in the same program. And stop slouching. I know it's a shame your team mentor lost, but the winners deserve to be congratulated as well! You should be learning from them, in fact, especially in the determination department. You’ll never be a winner in life if you’re slacking off all the time! When I was your age I…”


March 28th, 2067
DWMA Boys’ Dormitory, Room 202

No air.

Absolute Darkness.

That was what it was like inside Jarvis’s coffin and that was how he liked it. The interior was lined with soft, comfortable material and the exterior hardened, spelled by one of Valerija’s friends–a decidedly creepy mortician–to keep out the sun’s rays. Would Jarvis prefer an actual bed? Yes. Was the coffin safer? Also yes. Less morning headaches as well. Certainly, it was a little old school, but whatever worked, worked. Jarvis was too lazy to change habits and, honestly, he’d grown somewhat attached to his coffin.

Head rested against a fluffy pillow, Jarvis’s red eyes scanned the perfectly ordinary smartphone in his hand.

6:00AM

He’d gotten better at adjusting his sleep schedule to that of an ordinary human’s in the last two weeks. It helped that the sun wasn’t out yet. Jarvis had a lot more energy at night than he did during the daytime, though he’d grown so used to being consistently tired, it hardly mattered to him at this point. Whether it was Azariah’s wavelength, the laughing sun, or the new dormmate that had been unlucky enough to be assigned to the ‘Vampire’s room’, Jarvis had gotten used to it. He’d always been the adaptable sort. Besides, Calm Mind Training helped a lot.

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Pushing open his coffin, the living corpse groggily sat up, only blinking when the sudden scream from the nearby bed jolted him awake. It caused Blackie to hiss as well. “...you’re up early…”

Alistair Craven, huddled in his blankets, stared at Jarvis with wide terrified eyes and a cross to his chest. Had the poor first year been up watching Jarvis all night? He and Alistair normally avoided encountering each other since they were in different classes; The cowardly blonde had a more regular schedule in the N.O.T class, whereas the F.A.T.E program seemed more freeform. Or, at least, Midori was more freeform. Team Arrow’s mentor left Jarvis mostly up to own devices training-wise, with only the occasional advice every now and again, which worked out just fine for Jarvis.

In two weeks, he’d finally managed to make a Perfect Second Seal, much to the chagrin of his inner beast.

Finally he had a weapon of his own–that wasn’t Alti–to combat Madness. Zari wouldn’t have to worry about him going mad whenever they get to resonating. More importantly, whenever he was worn, whenever they were in the same Soul Space, Jarvis was able to help his meister separate out the fire demon as needed. A crutch, in a sense, though Zari wouldn’t be able to graduate the F.A.T.E program until he could defeat the madness on his own. Madness didn’t just go away. Frankly, Jarvis had met worse people in the world that weren’t mad in the same sense that DWMA classified madness. Unlike Zari, or the students in the F.A.T.E program, they weren’t even trying to fix their personality issues…if there was even an issue to start with. Often times, those considered ‘mad’ were simply outliers that did not fit into the mold of normal society. No one in the world didn’t have issues. The problem was fitting in so they could be a constructive cog in the well-oiled machine. DWMA was the Grim Reaper’s military, after all…one housed in a city protected by the Grim Reaper’s soul, influenced by the Madness of Order.

Balance.

Symmetry.

Not that balance itself was a bad thing. Climbing out of his coffin, Jarvis stroked the black cat had followed him all the way from Siberia; Certainly not your average cat, given most living animals reacted more like Shuumie towards him, or Alistair, and tended to avoid the undead instead of get attached to them, but otherwise a perfectly ordinary feline...as far as he could tell. The results of Calm Mind Training ‘smoothed’ out his wavelength so to say. It was still slow and steady, mind you, still in tune with his personality, but with the second seal perfected, he could now lock away his hunger, his bloodthirst, at will…as well as feelings of tiredness, pain/discomfort from sunlight, magically-induced mental influences, etc. His mind felt sharper. The laughing sun didn’t bother him as much anymore.

Overall, he just felt better…what’d you’d expect to be the results of adding daily meditation in ones’ routine, really.

Grabbing his toiletries, Jarvis ignored Alistair and languidly made his way to their shared bathroom. Not sure how much fresher one could make an undead, but some things were a habit at this point. And Jarvis, by nature, was a creature of habit…so he didn’t brush his hair. He simply took his regular jacket from the hanger and slid the fluffy hood over his head. Magitech Communicator in his ear. Magitech watch around his wrist. Combat survival secured on his belt. Jarvis was only one step short of looking like the perfect F.A.T.E agent. Last, but not least, he secured the Incapacitor collar around his neck before walking out of the bathroom. Knowing that Jarvis could take on and off the collar at will, Alistair didn't seen to be reassured in the least, but wearing it made the students around him feel better knowing he had a ‘weakness’ so Jarvis didn’t mind it.

Nor did he mind the bird watching him from outside the window ( The Regal Rper The Regal Rper )

Meet you at Lot E.
Prizzy Kriyze Prizzy Kriyze

Jarvis texted Zari before double-checking the message ‘Az’ had sent the evening prior. The name sounded strangely familiar to him, but Jarvis couldn’t pinpoint from where, nor did he think too hard on it. If it was something he ought to remember, he’d remember it in due time. Midori had already informed them of his reassignment as well as the new group they’d be put into–Team Reaper, apparently. The name change meant little to him. A-01? A-03? Did little details like those even matter? Jarvis was simply glad he didn’t get reassigned partners after having gotten used to and growing to like Zari.

Starting over was a pain.

Then again, if he was going to be a Deathscythe, he’d have to get used to working with others. A grand total of 3 meisters in his life wasn’t exactly an impressive record…or was it? He didn't know anything about the new team he, Zari, and Adrian had been assigned to. It was like a callback to the events at Lot C, where they all just received a random text to meet up without any solid instructions. Would there be meisters? Weapons? Witches? It didn't matter. Like with Zosar, Adra, and Midori, teams only lasted so long as the school deemed fit...and dropouts weren't uncommon. Maybe actual resonance with a living being was impossible. Maybe going the autonomous route, like Adrian, was the quicker way to becoming a Deathscythe. Maybe, Maybe, Maybe. Jarvis sighed. He hated thinking too hard about such things, especially when there were no actual right answers. His answer, for now, would be what he’d told Alti.

“I’ll do what feels right”

At 6:30 am, Jarvis exited the Boys’ Dormitory, met the rising, smirking sun, and subsequently scuttled back inside. The meeting was at 10:00 am. There would be plenty of time to find Lot E later...after a cup of coffee or three. He needed to feed Blackie as well.
 
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RedArmyShogun

Runs with Axes
Roleplay Type(s)
(Past happenings)
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Maria Mayer & Head of the Black Workshop Mirai - Death City the Colosseum

And now they were at the third and final match, Iris versus the werewolf Meister Sara and Medori, wasn't he a mentor? Was this fair? Well, it wasn't like it boosted the Meister's abilities, right? Though, while she was concerned about Iris, there seemed something to be off by the girl. Though she knew she had not even glimpsed what this witch was gifted with, as much as she was loath to admit it and her own personal belief that power without training and effort was a double-edged sword, she was a direct descendant of the Maba herself to one degree or another. Maria could not say she studied her teammate to that degree, more so when the other seemed to get angry about the relation at all.

Point of fact she was rarely in class with her, but something about that hoodie, Maria presses her right palm index finger first, alongside her nose at a vertical angle as the crook of her pam to the thumb ran under it, her left eye setting just above the index finger, she was silent for a bit as Mirai shifted her vision to look at her student.

"Oh? Something catch your eye Maria?"

"That Jacket, I would be cautious of her.. Danger lies here."

"Hmm.. Interesting, let's see what the rebellious daughter of those traditionalist fools can do with whatever slack they allow."

"Yes, slack to the leash, she does not ne-" Before Maria could finish whatever she had to say, scales could be seen nearly everywhere that wasn't clothing or the head, Maria had not seen the either go so far, well the class had only been going on for a few days before this madness was announced. As soon as the match stared however the Meister went into the offensive bringing forth an acrobatic jump and a slash from behind that Iris seemed to block at once as a sudden spark of fire poofs off, burning there Meister as flames whiffed into smoke off of burnt hair.

"They always seem to think flipping around and exposing themselves somehow gets you in position to do a hidden attack." Mirai says with a snort of contempt as she watches the fight below, Maria for her part nods along and speaks in kind, "I do not think getting so close will favor the Meister given those scales, least they can cut harder than they just did not.. Or if they go for the head."

The fight progressed into a melee with the werewolf finally landing decent hits as a cloud of gas forms and a large, scaled arm bursts from within to smack into the werewolf, who does another high-risk maneuver to strike into the shoulder of Iris as her right fist is then deflected off of the double ended blade. Iris immediately follows up with a knee to the gut of the Meister and grabs onto her with claws and suddenly losses a few fingers to it as blood splashes out onto the field and Iris's jaw seems to dislocate or unhinge and bites into the wolf as she pulls them close. The wounds of Iris however were already starting to mend, parts to reform.

Without missing a beat Mirai comments as it all happens. "Interesting, I know what she is. What do you think of all this Maria?"

"It's..." A Pause as her hand lowers. "A waste. This is no sporting contest; they are trying to kill one another without going so far. The Wolf seems to be bothered only a little bit from the toxic air, the blood however, it burns her, however Iris heals at once. Or at least close enough."

"Indeed. This match is over. The best way to deal with her would be to-" Before Mirai can finish, the weapon untransformed and uppercuts the witch to buy Sara some time to get up. After of course biting her way into the other, just filling her mouth with Corrosive blood. "Nagi, Nagi, I would bet on that- oh?"

Immediately Iris turns her attention to the transformed weapon, spitting what was likely acid at him, when for the first of the match the overseers intervened. With a brief halt to the activities and the gamble weakening the Meister considerably. Breaking up the action, Iris continued to emit more of her toxic cloud ability to the point a fog was made immediately around her. After chewing out Midori, or so she assumed the battle was underway once more as Riley and Cyrus both got off the platform.

"What is she doing?" Maria asks as Mirai sighs. "The fight is over, the Meister just does not know it yet and Cyrus seems to just want this to continue. But such are the idiots that expect immediate results from the program." "Immediate results?" As Maria asks this, Iris blows away the fog Iris, or rather some manner of beast emerges, with a serpentine head with beady red eyes, ten feet tall and even more suited for melee.

"Interesting, even with all of this she is contained. I wonder why she is really here. But yes, there are some that expect you all to be better within a week or two, or to make some amazing progress." Even for Maria this brought a stare as her vision was brought away from the fight, if but for a moment. "Living things with the issues of here will take months if they ever fully mend... They expect too much, just as some of the agents here they demanded so much that it led to them being sent here as they were used up."

Turning her attention back to the fight, Maria found this all to be a bit too much as Mirai speaks up. "So how would you counter our Witch, hmm, ally?" "Truly as I am now, I do not think I could. If I had a means to damage her until she used up her mana maybe, otherwise I would set her on fire or turn that fog against her, but I do not have such abilities." "Indeed, however I would only expect so much from fire. Other elemental affects could produce a better result maybe. Lightning for example. She would be troublesome to face either way."

As the pair continued to watch, another melee ensued that cracked the ground with bloody scales falling off and hitting the ground. as Iris got her next knee attempt intercepted in a painful way, which didn't seem to affect her, least no more than the other attacks. More of the blood seemed to be building up into a pool as Maria thinks back to her own fight, this was something else, both were getting bled, melted or poisoned, well the last two was mostly Sara.

Why had the DWMA stopped the fight purely as the weapon helped the Meister, but when the meat grinder was full force, they were nowhere to be seen? Maria thought to herself, only reinforcing her views on the tournament from before as her Master looks on with detached interest. "Oh? This battle is still over however, but how curious, she's still so constrained in spite of all this. The werewolf is still fighting but the damage is just not sufficient."

It was then as if to give lie to her words that Sara began a vicious counterattack which had the highlight of the Witch deploying a tentacle and eyes all over her body. Maria was not too sure what happened as in the wake of this the body turns to ash as a smaller armored figure busted out like an insect and grabs the throat of Sara as suddenly a spark flashed in the cloud of toxic gas remnants and acidic blood catches fire in a might explosion that made her own look more contained and reasonable... With a bit of concern as the obstruction cleared, Iris showed significant damage, dents and burns all over her body, though she had wrapped the werewolf into a bearhug which prevented the later from being badly harmed. odd about her, Maria could not place why, nor did she care.

Well maybe it was not so much that she didn't care, but that she was off put over the whole fight and was concerned about her friends. Bowing to her Meister, the other smiles looking up. "Oh? Are you not going to watch the closings and celebrate your team winning?"

"There is nothing to celebrate, maybe some other time when the fights are more stable I'll care to watch. Farewell my Master till we speak again, I..no, its nothing, I will write to you later about the aftermath." Looking at her Maria seemed to have more to say, but the sorceress shakes it off as the other watches the match below as Maria departs.

"I do look forward to what growth you can show when I next see you, let this fight and all the rest inspire you, the quest of magic is not decided by birth alone. No matter how much it may help." And with that the other remains seated, it was nice to have a letter to read every now and then, more personal than E-mail or text, and though she could not be the mother that Maria wanted, she was still her best pupil. The question now was, would she surpass her natural boundaries and become something that even that monster of a fighter would welcome to be in her presence? It was odd placing some of her hopes, even if limitedly in one so handicapped by natural ability, but that made it all the more curious did it not?

~~~~
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Nadia Semyonov - Death City, The Colosseum

As the fights went onwards in mere moments after her own, Thaddeus was gone, Emmett was diving around in Dani's soul, she wasn't so sure all would be so simple. Considering what Dani said about a beast on a chain in a cave it was likely Emmett would have to get hold of it and put it back... She did not envy him of that, though she did still stand by should her help be needed, even if she were hesitant to admit it, sharing an exchange with Dani, one of the soul and memories and with Raphael bringing back ghosts of the past she and Dani were on a level of understanding that caused Nadia some internal discontent. As Emmett had noticed, how she was acting was of two opposite viewpoints.

However, for better or worse Nadia did keep her word, Dani was not someone she would leave to just suffer on her own. She could just try completing the class without Dani, but she just didn't feel right about ditching the sword, not like there were any others in the class either. So, she had to try helping the ball of rage out, though she knew it wouldn't be easy.

With all the other thoughts on her mind and the lack of conversation, Nadia stole the occasional glance at the TV screen. From what she could tell fighting that witch would have been a real pain and while it was amusing to watch the werewolf getting manhandled by the strange... Pausing for a bit in thought she wonders, just what in the hell was she? A snake? A lizard? A dragon? Either way poison mists and acid blood, good physical and healing potential to boot. "Are they fucking for real? Don't try to resonate! Then they unleash that?" Looking down at her flask, the Russian shrugs. "Guess I could try setting her on fire, otherwise all the more reason to learn complex resonance." Looking back over at Dani and Emmett she pays loose attention to the match, waiting for Emmett to give her all clear, she was that sure of her own case to not need to pester him as she waited for Dani to get settled.

Watching as a vicious melee ensued coupled with the intervention of Midori she whistled lowly as battle took off once again. "And here I thought we went a little too far, heh. Though her bits grow back so maybe it is okay to chop her up a bit." As the match reached it's in, Nadia waited patiently for Emmett to okay them leaving, the Witches won and she didn't care to wait for Cyrus or the like to come down here and nag them.

Interactions: EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Prizzy Kriyze Prizzy Kriyze technically but not directly.

(Later Happenings)
With the matches over and the Mage team coming out on top, Maria bid her master farewell and rushed with her two suitcases, heading for the Meister and Weapons side of the Arena, her face remained calm and emotionless as she entered the halls leading to the Ready Room on their side as Nadia heads out of the ready room, a bit bandaged and disappointed.

“Bah. How are you holding up now, Dani?” Nadia says to the other, not yet catching sight of the doll maker.

“Like the not good kind of drunk…” Dani replied with a slight groan as she followed Nadia out. Her gaze caught Maria after a moment to process and she narrowed her eyes somewhat. “Oi… I told you you shouldn’t be lugging all that stuff around right now…”

Exhaling a little at the exhaustive efforts of doing it, Maria nods her head in the affirmative and plops down the suitcases, using her wires to prop her creations to life with a few simple commands to follow and fall.“Ah, much better, though I have little magic left. But ah! How are the two of you? What did Raph say or do? I knew he would go far, but to anger you two so much?”

Nadia for her part searches for words and speaks her peace. “He brought up the things in our pasts, things no one should bring up in the manner he did and we nearly killed him for it. I nearly killed him and Dani’s Madness may have taken us both.”

Dani’s head hung a little lower at the question, more so when Nadia answered for her. If she had any energy, no collar, and no Emmett having helped her a bit, she would’ve just gotten pissed off all over again. However, now it was just demoralizing. “Little bit of shit about Nadia’s old partner ‘n group… little bit of shit about Mikey… More or less…”

Maria’s face seemed to harden a little at that, if one knew what to look at, but for those that did not, the venom in her words was scarcely hidden. “What does that mean? A little… no..” Looking at Dani, she did not want to force her friend to endure more from the collar, while a bit odd, she was not a sadist or ignorant to the reality Dani faced.

“Was it really so bad that you two attempted Resonance under madness? Though how do the two of you feel, I’m surprised neither of you went to the hospital.”

With that Nadia scoffed a bit and put her left hand up to the bandages around her head. “Like I want to hear that from the debil that got hit by lightning and decided to speak to her adoptive mother. We are more or less fine, he got more than he gave.”

“I wasn’t trying to… I just… did,” Dani replied back, a bit conflicted. “...I get hyper-focused. I wasn’t consciously trying to do it… it was like, instinctual…”

Mulling that over a bit, the weapon shook her head briefly. “I’m a waste, Nadia’s weak, Mikey was worthless. I should’ve died and he should’ve lived… fuck’im.” It wasn’t even that Dani disagreed with that last bit, but he shouldn’t have brought up her brother. “Either way, Emmett helped with the rejection and madness a bit… but I still feel groggy. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“If I’m able to move I’m still okay and he said all of that?” Placing her right hand under her nose with spread thumb and index finger as she was given to, she processes the words. “Still at least it was not all so bad, was it?”

“Eh.. I do not know.” Nadia says. “I do not plan to leave Dani in either case and I have other things I may look into, that bastard got under my skin.”

"...Not all bad, fuck me. It was complete shit. If I see that piece of shit again, I dunno if I'll stab him on reflex or not," Dani remarked a bit heatedly with a click of her tongue. "Either way, between him, the suit, and the prettyboy's whore sister, I've had about enough of today."

“Ah, I see. Just take it easy for today I say, we all can get together tomorrow if you like… Otherwise I plan to visit a few at the hospital then to rest in my room to recover from all this.”

Nadia for her part nods. “I don’t think I’ll rest right yet, I need to look into things, but ah, Dani, what will you do? You.. huh… …You could stay with me or Maria I’m sure for today if the collar is bothering you too much.”

"Yeah… yeah that's fine," Dani replied, not wanting to take her irritation out on Maria. Though at the other offer, she briefly averted her gaze while a hand reached up to rub the back of her neck. "I don't have any business in the hospital… and if you're gonna do whatever it'd be a pain dragging me around, in this form or the other…"

“Eh, I’m just going to call some people for now, it’s been years not like they are in the same area as before, might take weeks. So I’ll just bring you to your place and stay a bit or bring you to mine, least you want to rest in someone’s dusty workshop.” Nadia says, cutting a grin of sorts.

“Hmph, it isn’t Dusty.. Though if you both are so tired, go rest for now, I’ll come see you later.”

“...Suit yourself,” Dani replied simply with slightly narrowed eyes. “Screw off… The workshop was fine, it was waking up to a doll in my face that scared the fuck outta me.” Retorting to Nadia’s grin, she gave a slight nod to Maria, not intending to argue. “Sure, just don’t push yourself… And don’t kill the twink either.”

Maria pauses for a bit and nods at that before turning to leave. “I’ll see you two later I’m sure.”

“That so? Better be then.” Nadia says of Maria and maybe the first bit at Dani as well as she stares at her partner. “Let’s go. They can yell at us later.”

Having finished her meetings with Chanterelle and Raphael there was the final matter, Thaddeus, or Gauss as some seemed to call him. She may have to work with him in the future and she did not expect her bomb to hold so much power. While it may have been her partner that put him in the hospital she had most certainly helped with his current state.

According to the nurses he was allowed visitors, but she still had to work up a bit of nerve and courage to come in here. Knocking on the door with her knuckles, her three remaining smaller creations were free of the suitcase, following at her heels, peering almost like nervous children as they peeked from behind her legs as she opened the door. She doubts he was up to anything he shouldn’t be to disturb her. But would she disturb him was the question..

Noah having just visited and hearing a knock yet again, Gauss was admittedly quite curious as to who would be visiting him. It seemed most of those interested had either done so earlier when he was unconscious or simply left some type of message or other condolence. Thoughtful, which he appreciated, but not quite the same as these surprise visits.

Not unlike what he did with Noah, he activated his Soul Perception to see precisely who it was beyond the door. And, to an even greater surprise than he could have anticipated, it was Maria. Chanterelle was the first to visit him, technically being invited in almost as soon as he awoke. Maria wasn’t someone he expected to give him a visit, whether she was second, third, or dead last. Regardless, he couldn’t deny it was interesting.

”Do come in,” he instructed soon after her knock, his voice slightly elevated to be heard through the door. ”I didn’t expect a visit from the cute doll witch, but I won’t say I protest it,” he commented, following-up once she were to open the door.

With a wave of her right hand her constructs followed as she carried a basket with three apples left, it was clear the basket held more, or could hold more, had she visited others first? Still it didn’t seem she had any bad intentions as she flashes her unnaturally false smile. “Well, with such words maybe I should have just left the letter, you are clearly in good spirits.” Setting the basket down on his serving table she drew her carving knife and stared at him for a bit, speaking some more. “Ah, I’m not here to cut you, but I did come by to say I was sorry for that attack. I did not expect such a powerful explosion, but such is the price of converting mana into an explosive.”

With that she grabs one of the apples and starts carving it up, much as she did earlier in the day for Raph.

Gauss watched her cut the apple and something in him was just triggered by the stereotype of Witches and apples. Was that racist? He wondered. It was a valid thought. Humans could be racist of their own species. Or, wait, if Witches weren’t humans, would that be racism or some type of species elitism? Semantics, he realized and not the point in the slightest, although he was still somewhat off-put by Maria cutting an apple.

”One compliment, and suddenly you change your mind about a visit? If I were a genuine suitor, I’d say that’s playing hard to get,” Gauss replied, at least trying to keep the air relatively jovial.

”I suppose, though, I should apologize, too. You caused an explosion, I caused uh… it to rain lightning. I’d say that’s pretty even, though it seems like I’m in slightly worse shape,” he told her, trying to accept his part in the series of events.

”For whatever it may be worth, the uh… vigor behind that attempt was not aimed at any malice towards you. You could say I had something to prove to someone who should be inconsequential,” he explained to her, offering what he could to try and clarify it wasn’t of hostile intent.

She didn’t seem bothered by his words at all in the later case or amused in the first, if anything Maria felt neutral as she cut the skins of the apple slices in the manner of a rabbit, with the peeling missing on one end and two split ears on the other as she laid them on the serving tray one by one. “Hmm.. Compliments are a dime a dozen, aren’t they? Though I am told I should thank people for them, so thank you for such words.” Processing the rest of what he had said she chuckles a little, a strange almost gasping laugh.
“Geh heh heh. We both had to put on a show, and I have not had to fight an airborne foe till now. I am not mad about the lightning at all, though it was rather painful, and my hair is still not quite straight.

However, I did refuse medical care so I could see my Master.. Then all of the other fights kept me glued in place.”
It was then that her mouth tightened into the beginnings of a natural smile, or a smirk of understanding, that vanished as quickly as it came.

“I cannot fault you for fighting for the notice of another, I was doing the same after all. If anything bothered me about this battle, it was the fact I had to go to such extremes and destroy one of my darlings and step on the rest to reach you. Fighting you was rather instructional on what I should do next.”

Gauss listened to what Maria had to say. She was quite insightful, at least to herself. Being able to show the same ability to place herself in the shoes of another, despite the different circumstances. It was a wonder, really, that the DWMA ever had this epic war with Witches when more often than not, at least in his experience, they seemed agreeable in simple conversation. This would be another topic for him to contemplate over time, but again, he did have to be polite in maintaining conversation.

”The flight thing was something we only worked on a few days. It’s… extremely unorthodox. You’ve had your lifetime to work on your dolls, I had a few days to work on something that could even remotely compete. I don’t intend on using it as a crutch, but then that’s focusing too much on the fight, I think,” Gauss said, explaining a bit of the logic behind his fighting style.

”I don’t believe I’d like to fight you in the future. Normally, I’m all about repetition and rematches; iron sharpens iron. But… I don’t know if our styles are suitable for that. Then again, if you could create a doll with some aerial maneuverability, then perhaps that might push us to innovate new dynamics to our flying. Hm…” he trailed off briefly. ”Nevermind that last point, it might have more merit than I first gave it credit for,” he added, backtracking on his previous comment.

”A compliment, by the way, means whatever you want it to mean. Brush it off as trivial flattery, take it to heart. It’s all up to you, really. To be blunt, I just have a thing for your… type. I would imagine complimenting your dolls probably means more to you than your physique, but unfortunately, I’m not an expert in that field. I know they were difficult to deal with in the arena, but I couldn’t give you a valuable opinion beyond that,” he told her, going full circle to the very first thing he said to her.

“Hmm..” Pausing to consider these words Maria ponders the idea of a flying doll before thinking back to her solution in regards to flight. “I think I shall improve upon my demon tools among other things, so that I can cast a flight spell through my wires and into myself and my creations, much like a conventional witch does with a broom. It will take some time till I am able to do this however.”

Setting the cut apple down, she withdraws her knife and leaves the collection on the tray. “It would be too in line with old tales to poison you with food. Plus I’m sure that would not kill a Meister. If it were so easy then I would learn how much the wrong witches can make others frown with their smiles.”

Considering his offer, or roundabout offer she nods in kind, “I could fight you again or some of the others, but I mostly came here because Mages will sooner or later be paired with your teams, it is possible we could fight one another in a second competition or I could be paired off with a team to provide support. I was not out there to kill you nor to senselessly break you. Though those efforts were wasted it seemed.” She says of his current state with a slight chuckle like that before.

“The point being, I do not want to watch my back as there is bad blood, Dani and Nadia for example very well may try to harm Raphael should they be teamed ever and I am not so sure the final match was taken in good memory either, but I do not understand the minds of most, nevermind melee fighters.. Or maybe I do… Hmm.. but ah, I do not wish for such problems with you, you did not insult my creations afterall.”

Gauss opted to retrieve one of the apple slices, if anything as a gesture of good faith as she explained her stance in regards to this bad blood she thought of. It was… an apple. Not sure what he expected. Perhaps, if it was from Chant, it might have been a mind-blowing apple–perhaps mind-blowing, even, in more than just flavor. But, this was Maria, and it was just an apple slice. It did at least provide some flavor and liquid to his mouth, and while he wasn’t as thirsty as he was upon first awaking, any form of refreshment at this point was suitable for him.

”Poison? Maybe, Chant does hell of a job. But you, Maria? I’d be more worried about it exploding,” he responded to her, finally finishing off the crunch of the apple. Granted, the tone of his voice and chuckle that followed made it fairly apparent this was a joke. A jab at her, really, but light-hearted.

”I won’t say I’m not the type to hold grudges, but given that pretty hair of yours is a little singed and I’m sure your muscles will be aching a while, I’d say we’re even. As for my teammates… even I have issues with them. Maybe it’s my partners, I don’t know. Nadia is hard to get through to, and Dani is a little ball of rage, even if she is as cute as you. I heard what Raphael said, and while I don’t know him, I can’t tell you I don’t think he deserves a busted jaw. I’m not one to disregard taunting in a fight, clearly; you can see somehow Chant agreed to a fist fight after I suggested a coin toss. But, there is a line; we’re not enemies. He needs to learn that sooner rather than later. If I were a cynic, I’d make that a priority; I know some petty people that’d count you all as guilty by association,” Gauss explained to her, fairly serious this time. That wasn’t a threat in the slightest, just his perspective on the matter. While he would have preferred to keep the humor going, that was a topic he couldn’t follow-through with.

”On a better note, we don’t necessarily have to have an actual fight if you do perfect some type of flying doll. A competition of sorts, perhaps, something less… uh… destructive? I mean, if putting your dolls at risk saddens you, I’d hate to make that pretty face frown,” he told her, offering an alternative to direct combat, and sneaking in his own stereotypical line.
“Oh, I think he’s learned the error of his ways. I visited him before you. And Chantrelle I visited first.” She says the first bit and soon after adds; “I wished to see if his madness were the source of all this or own value as a person. I got even closer to him with the knife than you, but he passed the test so I gave him an apple too… I understand, well am used to madness in a manner.. Though, should I be judging other people when I have the problems I do?” Pausing to think on that briefly she nods.

“Me and my Master, found what you two did to be reckless and while attempting to be more fair, ultimately futile. I cannot say I understand the relationship of Meister and Weapon, but I do know it was a failure to resonate. And yes, we are not enemies, I must try and help that line of thought spread if I can.. But I do not think all will see that, as you yourself noted on the nature of man. Though, no, I must learn to risk my creations or else I will never move forward.. Though..” A hesitant pause followed by a tilt of her head as her yellow eyes gazed back to her resting automations. “...I am not against the idea of testing one another with tests to the utility of my creations and your own abilities.”

”I would say your opinion is valid regardless of your situation,” Gauss told her, answering what was likely a rhetorical question she provided. ”Whether or not anyone cares about a single opinion when everyone has one is an entirely different story. You can shout to the mountains, y’know, but they’ll never respond. Unless you’re Ark,” Gauss added, slipping in a joke about another one of her teammates.

”You say that, but in my experience, people don’t tend to change so quick… there’s a big difference in avoiding the circumstances of your actions, and actually understanding that you’re in the wrong,” he said, transitioning back to Raph.

”Oh, and our relationship is honestly more simple than you’d guess. We’re partners. Our souls mingle together, we know each other intimately, this is all true, but at the end of the day, we’re partners. I perhaps didn’t act like it at first, but we are equals. Resonance requires a deep connection, a certain level of skill, and the right mindset. Noah would have amplified my soul to become significantly stronger, and we both would have been fueled by that power. That is the mechanic. If you know much about electronics, it’s akin to a step-up transformer. The common analogy is a guitar being made louder by an amplifier,” Gauss explained to her, giving her a decent amount of information on the topic.

”It failed, basically, because I wanted it for the wrong reasons. Honestly, I think I never would have even attempted resonance against you if not for those reasons; I don’t think I wanted to win that much,” he told her, vastly oversimplifying why it didn’t work.

”Though, perhaps one day I can show you what Resonance is really about while we test our flight capabilities. This time, promise I won’t aim at you. We’ll have a lightning rod or something. That’s not the type of shock I like to leave on a lady, y’know,” he said, yet again a reminder of Gauss being Gauss. Flirtation tied into his conversation, almost like the air he breathed.

“Hmm.” Pausing at that Maria runs her right hand palm face against her lower mouth, under and alongside the nose by the index finger and crook of the thumb, listening to his words. “I was also fighting to win because of someone I wished to impress. And a mountain that could speak back would be a frightening thing, though I’ve heard that the mountains don’t give back what they take. A mountain that lived..do they live? Well, huh.. But ah yes!”

Turning her attention back to the task at hand, or the conversation rather, “Though the joining of souls is what allows you and yours to face the irrationality of magic. However at least between the Guild and the DWMA we are no longer enemies. Though an amplifier hmm.. I have heard of such, that in principle that is how a Meister becomes more powerful outside of boosting their own wavelength. Ah, on the note of capabilities and testing them, with luck in the near future I will have something you can face that would be a challenge even if you resonate against it… Though, at least you know why it failed, that means you know what to improve, just as I must face that enchanting alone will not get me further and heheh, you shouldn’t just say such words so often even if they are meant in jest.”

The last bit was an add-on haphazardly, and out of place, but likely aimed at the casual flirts he had given. “And hmm, I know many don’t think highly of our classes, I still believe this was just a fight between the Guild and the DWMA to show who had the less problematic class, but I think we all can prove them wrong and make it out of here, though I don’t think I plan to get out of here till I can say for sure that I will not do the same mistakes again.”

”I think more than anything, this was a publicity stunt,” Gauss told her, responding fairly quickly to her speculation on what this was about. ”Even though it wasn’t public, it’s trending on social media to mostly positive fanfare. I come from a background in business. This is the exact type of thing they use to gauge feedback,” he explained.

”You could say, for now, we have the support of the people. Given enough time and we don’t fuck things up, that distaste people have for the program might just start fading,” he added, on a more positive note.

”But yes, we both have a lot to do. Even if I could resonate with Noah and Prudence, it would still take likely years of training to perfect–and that’s not even considering there are two of them. You don’t just walk out of the gate with it as strong as it can be, though I guess that’s probably common sense,” he explained to her fairly flatly, going over the additional tribulations of Resonance.

”And, unfortunately, I do suppose you’re right… I don’t even think about some of the things I say, I just do. It’s odd, though. It’s not that I don’t mean them, I do. It’s just that I say them, but don’t really have the intention on taking you out or tossing you into a bed. It’s probably one of those other things I need to work on in this program,” he noted, agreeing with her comment. Though, he was quick to add on, ”Uh, not that I wouldn’t? Don’t take that as an insult. It’s just not like… an immediate goal.” he was quick to clarify what he felt could be interpreted as an insult.

“Hmm.” Listening to his words, she flashes her unnatural smile for a brief instant before it vanishes away. Tilting her head in though she then speaks.

“I’m not sure this was the best option for publicity, given a few of our number are here for things related to battle. Though maybe the next time will go more cleanly. Still though on the note of training, why did you pick a staff and a shield? That is an unusual pairing. Or did the weapons pick you?” With his next two explanations her unnatural smile returns with the same sort of gaze she had given Raphael earlier in the day, one slightly unhinged, or showing a sense of possessiveness or even deranged anger at having something dear to her brought up, or damaged.

“Ah, but if you were to do either of those things to me, then I couldn’t just let you go. Friends are very special things, but one that is closer is even beyond that. Some treasures just can’t be easily let go and I would be beside myself if such were to happen and then I was cast aside like worthless garbage. Well maybe a date would be okay, heheh..”

While she may not have madness it was debatable if she wasn’t mad, her face shifts back to normal as she hums to herself as if nothing had happened, the possessive creature vanishing behind the doll-like face. “But ah, enough of those talks! I assume some others have came to visit you, yes? That means you have friends too!”

”Cyrus was the one overlooking our first meeting. He allowed the weapons to pick the pairs, basically. Utility Meisters are quite rare,” he explained to her, answering her first question. ”So a shield for me made sense. As I can use multiple weapons, giving me a purely defensive option meant I could acquire another weapon. I originally was interested in a handgun… but that failed quite spectacularly. Noah healed me after that, and it stuck,” he told her, providing more details.

”Honestly, I didn’t mind which weapons I was given, really. I’ve had a few dozen partners, and am pretty confident I could have worked with any of them,” allowing a bit of his pride to seep into this explanation, but still primarily forthright.

”Chanterelle was the first to visit. Nurses basically arranged that as soon as I woke up–and allowed it. Noah was here earlier. Prudence left a message, I think. Many people tried to visit while I was unconscious,” he then told her, answering her following question.

”As for a date, I’ll be in this bed a few days, so it’ll be a minute. And, let’s just say I am not in quite the right state to follow-through with anything else, otherwise I’m not quite one to have the shame to not,” he said, finally touching on the subjects she claimed enough of.

With his next words, “A gun and a shield would have been interesting; however I did not expect your magnetism to allow you to fly with it. Though lightning and metal could do some interesting things.. Well minus electrocuting yourself. The Japanese used such a system to levitate trains, though I think Magitech may change the world in the years to come.”

On mention of his visitors and the date, a small twitch in her mouth seemed to register an amused smirk. “Hmm, I don’t think you need to worry about that, I would like to get to know someone before I consider such things, so focus on healing. Plus who knows one of the others may be out to do that. As to your visitors, I might try tracking down some of them to say you are awake, well provided they are here, otherwise I’m going back to my workshop and room to rest. You did electrocute me afterall.”

”Magitech is remaking the world, it seems,” Gauss said, commenting on it with the insight of what he knew Thaltek was doing. Magnetic trains required a lot of infrastructure, and Magitech didn’t quite fix that.

”Perhaps I will. I responded to a few texts earlier, maybe I should do so for all of them,” Gauss told her, following through with her suggestion. ”I uh.. Shouldn’t really leave the room, at least until tomorrow,” he added, not wanting to explain his catheter situation to her.

”I liked the idea of a gun at first, too, but Noah with his healing wavelength probably gives me more options… and tying electric into everything adds more complexity than I’ve even touched on,” he told her, explaining his perspective on the topic.

”I like versatility. I like options. Figuring out a way to solve a problem with the tools and skills you have, since I’m not swapping weapons around anymore, is what I enjoy,” he told her.

”I’ll make sure to finish these apple slices, since you were so kind to peel them,” he said, noting she wanted, ”Resting up is probably what everyone should do. That wasn’t quite how I would have shocked you, given the choice, but I’m not the one who picked the tournament brackets.”

“Well, what doesn’t kill you, usually succeeds in the second attempt. Or is that, makes you stronger?” With a shrug she nods at his explanation on versatility. Looking back at him, it seemed the poison had done a number on him, still though one day was pretty fast of recovery wasn’t it? Looking down at herself, she still had the same partially blackened clothing and her hair was only partially fixed. She was also lucky wasn’t she?

“Hmm, take your time with the apples, otherwise though I wish you luck with the phone texts I barely use mine to know such things. Either way I shall take my leave so you can rest.” With that and a wave of her left hand, strands of wire emerge from the rings and connect to the dolls long enough to program a brief command.

“I’ll put them back in the case now that I don’t have apples to carry, though I left the case at the nurse's station, do be well Mister Thaddeus, or do you prefer the name of Gauss?”

”It’s Gauss,” he told her, being fairly short given she was basically out the door. ”Thaddeus is the name I was given; Gauss is the one I chose,” he said, then nodded to her at her leaving.


“I shall remember that. Till the next time.” And with that she closed the door behind her once the dolls were out.

(Current time posts to be made SOONtm)
 
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RedArmyShogun

Runs with Axes
Roleplay Type(s)
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Maria Mayer - DWMA Airfield Outbound Flight

Durning the two weeks before the next mission, take a few days for clearance and the like, Maria had made Contacts with Emmett and Professor Davis, aside from the awkwardness that she was given to showing time to time, Maria was rather happy looking over the labs and workshops and sharing some details of how she processed and controlled her magical Golems, she had no cause to not work with the professor, even if briefly and of the first level of clearance it still left her with many options. During the previous battle the need to constantly control and boost off of her creations was a problem, and her major heavy hitter was not used at all, but to boost her into the air.

When working in a team she could be afforded the time to play on the back lines, to bring her forces to bear, one by one, but even then, transporting her larger doll demanded the use of her mobile workstation, though it often served as the transportation for whatever team she was with. While she had some ideas to solve these problems with Magic, Magitech offered many doors as well that she was beginning to explore. While having free run of the basics of the facility, two weeks was not a lot of time, but she did gain one important part of tech and inspiration, one that she may could have done before, but was much easier now. Given the webway she forced throughout the wood and lines of enchantment that gave her dolls the ability to move, it was a rather simple matter to connect the matrix to a mana crystal to allow for a "heart" to the unit, which would allow it to remain powered and carry out spot transmission orders for longer and without needing a constant issuing of commands and connections to be powered. While it was not yet her wings, nor a brain, it was an upgrade.

The question at the time with these new resources was how to make use of it within the limited timeframe she had. While the smaller dolls would have made sense from a tactical standpoint, logistically it was just not possible, the smaller dolls were made from the mightiest of the Ironwoods, solid in construction and of decent weight, her magic seeped into them and recreated the bindings of man. Her larger doll for pure logistics and practicality was made hollow, while not compromising the strength to a major point a mesh was used to fill the interior cutting down the weight to 1/5th of what it would be of solid wood. Which was the key distinction. The smaller ones would need to be fully reconstructed, and a hollow created, the larger doll needed to be taken apart and the crystal heart integrated in the mesh filled chest cavity and a lattice of improved "circulatory" veins connected to her wood works.

And this became the work of two weeks, as well as replacing her blown up doll and working on the gloves for Chanterelle, other than that her time was spent in an attempt to make new friends and of note around Dani and Maria when she was not in the workshop or lab. And so, on this final day did the fruits of her labor pay off. Reaching to her larger doll she prompted a connection to jumpstart it and issue the webway with new orders, the larger doll took possession of the smaller ones by connecting them under its own cloak, given the island they were going to, she wouldn't need to hide her creations in suitcases or beneath her own dress tied off in the fabric harness she designed to keep them locked against her legs. While this was by no means a vacation, it was easier on herself to operate in.

This was however her first time on an airplane, at least from what she understood of them, if it did crash they would all be dead shortly after registering the fact, so it was fine. Bringing only a single tote bag with things she may actually need to store in the overhead luggage, there was one smaller bag she had alongside of her, as Maria listens to the words of Rand, nodding her head in kind and speaking up;

"Did the DWMA give any idea how long this mission should take or a length of time to see us back? Given it takes 10 hours to get there and 10 to get back I assume we won't be landing for three hours to enjoy the sunshine like a cat in the window, least it is a magic cat, then it should be held by the scruff and set up outside. Also, I have a package to give to another, is it okay to do so now or when we are in the air?"

Interactions: Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul
 

EmperorsChosen

Am I a Boomer yet?



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Eloise Keegan - Sage Chauvelet
DWMA Lot E

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The day of the meeting, Eloise woke up like any other day. Her alarm stirred her from her sleep. She took some time to laze in bed, checking her emails and the local news on her phone. Quite a lot of it was still buzzing about the tournament that happened a couple weeks prior, which she of course took the time to observe recordings given that its participants drew from the program.

Following that, she sent a text to her new partner, inviting them to get some coffee before heading to the meeting point together. Waiting for their acceptance, she continued with the rest of her routine, hygiene, styling her hair for the day, and then clothing herself. A dark short-sleeved blouse without a collar tucked into some denim shorts and a pair of dark sneakers; something that looked nice, but considering she wasn’t sure if this meeting was going to center on a battle royale of some kind, Elly figured best to dress for function.

The final touch was the necklace. Pausing a moment, Elly looked at it before clipping it around her neck and letting it dangle underneath her shirt. Some subtle piercings on her earlobes and bracelets around her wrist would further help attention from being drawn to it.

Finally, she grabbed her phone and wallet and made her out of her apartment and toward the agreed upon coffee shop where she would purchase an overly-sweet-looking frappuccino.

Sage wasn’t nervous. Why would he be? He was just going to meet his new team. He didn’t hear much about them since meeting his meister, which only made the mystery much more exciting. Maybe Eloise knew something?

His phone chimed and a soft vibration had him roll over in his bed to check who it was. He anticipated it to be from HQ telling him to hurry up and head to the meeting, but it was from his meister. Reading the invitation, he responded with a quick “sure” before getting out of bed to get ready.

He normally wasn’t a coffee person, buuuuut he could make an exception~

Sage dressed in a white turtleneck, a tan poncho, dark brown pants, and white shoes. The thing making him and his outfit stand out the most was his long green hair being kept down and loose. Once he was ready, he’d grab his phone, wallet, and keys before heading to the agreed upon shop.

It didn’t take long to find the person in question. He’d approach the table, mochaccino in hand before sitting across from her.


“Nice to see you again~ Did the higher ups tell you anything about the team before you got here?” He asked curiously.

“Hello, hello~,” Eloise greeted back with a smile. “Oh, you should know how they operate by now. Mum’s the word.”

No, everything was usually a surprise. Elly was honestly taken aback that she had been paired ahead of time and given the opportunity to meet with her partner. She didn’t even know who the supposed mentor of the pod was, though whether that was to keep her from doing too much research ahead of time or just the status quo remained to be seen.

“I would remain conservative with my expectations though, at least given the participants in that state-sponsored pit fight a few weeks ago.” Elly sipped on the straw in her drink. While they didn’t give much information to them, there were certain things that could be gleaned from that debacle. “Our peers seem to range from borderline uncontrollable to entirely well-adjusted, so we’ll have to wait and see. Our mentors may or may not be reliable, though if politics gets involved… more than likely we’ll be on our own.”

"Just wishful thinking. Would have been a surprise if you had an idea." He responded with his own smile.

Though she was right so far. The organization had been so kind as to give them nothing but surprises, which while fun for Sage, could annoy someone who liked to plan ahead of time.


"Right, right, I saw that. I… can't imagine what we'd do if we got two borderline uncontrollables on our team." They'd probably see a lot of blood, hehe~ That, or they'd get two idiots that liked to bum rush all of their opponents and ruin any plans Eloise might try to come up with. It was always a 50/50 in this program. "But that little mystery makes life a little more fun, doesn't it? And besides, we've proven well adjusted enough to make our own decisions if push comes to shove. Worst case is we let the higher ups know how useless our teammates are and ask for a switch." He said before taking a sip of his drink.

Would that switch be granted? Probably not. But hey, they could say they tried.


“Either way, we’ll find out soon,” Eloise said with a hum. She knew about the tournament ahead of time, but somehow she expected it to be far more tame than what was shown. “It should be fine… though if you see any collars, don’t prod them too much. Madness is a hell of a drug.”

In the defense of those “berserkers”, they all had a trigger of some kind. Even if they were useful, Elly imagined that Death wouldn’t have bothered giving them a chance if the scales were that disproportionate.

“Well, that all depends on what kind of mentor we get, and you may have a better idea than me. Ireland has different celebrities in the DWMA for the most part.” Elly imagined that whomever they chose for the pod was educated about all their situations to some degree, and had capabilities to manage them. That made her curious of who it was, considering Stein was surprised she hadn’t been put under the watch of Emmett. “More than likely, though, that won’t be possible. It’s all about knowing how to use the cards you were dealt~. Who knows, we may make some friends.”

“Believe me, I know better.” Whether it was from experience or because he’d seen what those Madness people were capable of; well, that was for Eloise to figure out.

He listened quietly, taking another sip of his drink as Eloise, once again, reminded him of why it was logical to have faith in the people they get paired up with. And she was right. Why would Death grant them their chance if he thought they were too mindless or dangerous?


“Makin’ nothing but good points, hm?” He asked her, though he didn’t expect an answer.

Eloise, since their first meeting, gave him a feeling. Not of danger or anything like that. More of a “more than meets the eye” sort of thing. She proved to be a rational thinker; more rational than him anyway. She holds herself well, and she came up with nothing but good points before Sage could even think of how to respond. Did she like to argue with people for fun or something? It’d be entertaining to watch if that were the case~


“But you’re right. It all depends on the hand we’re dealt and the people that come with it. I doubt we’d get teamed up with people we won’t get along with. But if that’s the case? I assume you’re better at diplomacy than I am.” Sage, though he’s done well to control his urges, can’t promise to hold back if provoked by some assholes with an attitude.

Eloise seemed to smirk with pride at that.
“I try~” She chimed back.

She was rather fortunate that Sage of all people was pitted with her, considering he didn’t seem entirely insane and was more on the submissive side. She of course used her Super Soul Perception to peer within him and get a gauge of his character, and Eloise could garner that there was something more and a tad darker within. An urge or a pull of sorts, but not one of madness. Perhaps it was a character trait that put him in here, but it didn’t seem to be deceitful in nature. She got the feeling whatever it was, he wasn’t hiding it in hopes to use it against her. Honestly, Elly predicted that they would give her a partner that she naturally clashed with given her demeanor. Time would tell if this ended up being that, but so far it seemed quite the beneficial roll of the dice.

Glancing at the clock on her phone, Elly intended for a brief chat before they made their way to the meeting spot.
“Would you like to head on over?”

Sage and his companion were able to finish the rest of their drinks before it was time to head out. At the question, he gave her a nod and moved to get up from his chair. “Right behind you.”

Standing up, Elly plugged the lot into her phone for directions. She had toured the DWMA grounds previously, but still preferred to make sure they didn’t get lost given she was fairly new here. It was a bit of a trek, but eventually they came upon it, seemingly being the first ones given that the large field was empty, at least to their sight. Eloise hummed, glancing at her phone with a tilt of her head.

“Well, I suppose we’re a tad early, even with the stop,” She mused aloud. Glancing around, it was a large clearing, likely fit for training drills. If this was just a formality, surely they could have met in a room. It seemed she dressed appropriately.

Sage walked alongside her until they made it to the DWMA grounds. He’d been here before to report on his therapy sessions (AKA to let the higher ups know he was a good boy), but that was about it. He traveled around the places on the grounds out of boredom a few times but never found anything interesting.


“Damn, we could have had some cake too.” He mused back, looking around to see if he could catch sight of their mentor or new teammates. Just how early were they? Or did their mentor and teammates want to be fashionably late instead?

“Aaany minute, right? Whatever will we do if they ditched us?” He smiled.

Sage, of course, doubted that to be the case. He also doubted Eloise would put in the wrong address. Guess all they could do is talk and wait.


“Might as well get to know my meister a little more while we wait, hm? Did you make some friends around here? Any crushes?” It was obvious by his tone of voice and smile that he was just kidding. He expected no answer or, at most, a bit of physical assault from Eloise.

“They’ll trickle in, I’m sure,” Elly replied with a smile. She glanced around idly, trying to gauge if there was anyone in the lot. She could feel the presence of at least one other soul; one belonging to a Demon Weapon. Given that it felt rather “full”, Eloise garnered that their peers were experienced, or it was one of their monitors.

Hearing his question, Elly chuckled a little bit, tilting her head slightly and clasping her hands between her back as she seemed to play ball.
“Hm… is there anyone like that?” She hummed exaggeratingly, swaying back and forth as she did so before stopping. “You’ve been here longer than I, haven’t you?”

He side eyed her with a smile. Naaah, she wasn’t actually going to tell him. There’s no way she’d trust him with that information; not when they just met a week ago.

Still, he was curious where she was going with this.
“I assume so.” Sage responded, silently prompting her to continue.

Elly pouted a bit at that with narrowed eyes.
“So~ You should know people here more than me. If either of us, you should have some relationships built.”

Sage laughed a bit. “Dodging my question then turning it around on me~” He moved until he was right next to her, a hand on her shoulder and leaned down so that the two were sort of at eye level.

"But if I told you, then that'd ruin the mystery. That wouldn't be fun, hm?"

“Haha~ I suppose not,” Elly mused, gaining a bit of a smug look. “Though it’ll be a tad difficult to hide things once you get used to my wavelength and we can resonate~.”

“By that point, I wouldn’t see a need to hide things from you anyway.”
 

RedArmyShogun

Runs with Axes
Roleplay Type(s)
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Rieko Tanaka - Lot E

Silently observing from behind one of the openings, the lady in a leotard and the reds of an eastern priestess stood off observing the rest, or in this case Eloise Keegan and Sage Chauvelet. Watching as the eyes of the former searched the area, she had been fighting for the DWMA longer than either of them had lived. She knew the other had spotted her and not purely in the visual sense either, though she had never attempted hiding from them. Walking out from cover and towards the two the muscle and scar covered woman smiles a bit tightly before she walks up to the pair. A stern look affixed to her face, her approach likely well noticed in advance as she made no effort to hide it and walked quickly down to them with a list in hand.

"Ah, Eloise Keegan, Sage Chauvelet, good thing you both are here." A less kind or dismissive Mentor would set up some sort of game or keep information from them till the last minute, while the former could and likely would happen, the later was by a need-to-know basis and it would be good to get this out of the way here and now. No point in keeping the two guessing or offering some illusion of choice, such was the nature of life and death.

"Given our team is being made up of elements from another team given some complications with the previous mentor and one element within it, you two will be the only two technically new members to the program. Meaning by virtue of luck and selection, least the other pairing wishes to dissolve, which is unlikely, you two shall be our third team. How each mentor handles their group is up to the two in the party. While your own team has no other options you two were selected from a list of six others, that will be making up their own team. I trust there are no problems with this arrangement?"

With that she remains staring at the pair for a bit, then consults the paper in her hands, it was brief summaries of all those in Team Reaper, she was sure her partner would very much like to look at this list, whenever he decided to turn up, though she was sure he was already here, hiding and observing in contrast to her forward and direct manner of being.

Interactions: EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Serei2477 Serei2477
 
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QuirkyAngel

White Masquerade's Blue Oni
Team ReaperJarvis Briseis (Weapon, Blood-sucking Gauntlet, Undead)
March 28th, 2067
DWMA Campus, Lot E
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Take a left, past the iron gate and down a well beaten path surrounded by trees until the large, football field-sized clearings become visible. Lot E would be around there. Jarvis yawned, not out of tiredness but out of boredom. Having been to Lot C on the first day of the program, Jarvis now had a fairly good mental map of the ‘Lots’ that DWMA used as training fields. Most of DWMA campus, in fact; Jarvis had two weeks to acclimate to the school, after all, and while he still didn’t know every facet of the institution he attended 20 years ago, he could at least point out the main buildings, where the bathrooms are, etc, etc.

Hands in the pockets of his sky blue jacket, and a black cat on his head, Jarvis trekked his way to Lot E in a peaceful, steady gait. The occasional rustle of leaves as the wind whistled through them, the casual chirping of birds to communicate with each other, the soft pattering steps of squirrels as they scampered around to find food, all added to the sonorous melody that is mother nature. Jarvis listened to it all without a word. He didn’t know if the bird that had been watching him for the last week or so still followed him or not, but Jarvis didn’t care. So long as he sensed no malicious intent, it–like Blackie–could do as it pleased…even if it was very clearly a magical creature; A daemon of some sort, from the looks of it.

Jarvis sighed. By the time he arrived at Lot E, he’d caught the scent of humans. Three of them. Meister? Weapon? Hard to say. Humans all smelled human. Perhaps if he were more skilled in soul perception he could discern the different qualities that separated them, but alas, his vision in that was fairly standard; Just the typical outline of a blue, tailed orb…more easily seen when it was separated from the body for him to consume. If Jarvis had to guess though, he’d assume the ones with a slight metallic sheen to their scent to be the weapons…so tall green-haired guy and equally tall dark-haired priestess.

Or, at least, a woman that wore garbs resembling that of a Shinto Priestess. Given how old she appeared, Jarvis assumed she was a mentor…or an older student in the FATE program…but more than likely a mentor. She carried herself like a fighter and the scars she bore were telling enough.

Brown-haired girl was just brown-haired girl. The scent of her blood was fresh and aromatic, sweet and bitter at the same time. Like coffee maybe? He wouldn’t actually know until he got a taste of it.

The green haired guy smelled like nature...and coffee.

They seemed to be in conversation and normally he wouldn’t approach, but, unlike with the first batch of random FATE students, he knew these were likely the members of ‘Team Reaper’, who he, Zari, and Maiden would work closely with for as long as Midori was reassigned and Zosar remained incarcerated. Perhaps permanently. Jarvis found it a bit of a shame since he wasn’t the sort of person to like change and he’d grown a little fond of Team Arrow since the Shuumie mission, but, like walking out into the sun, or stepping out his room, life was full of things he would just have to deal with. Even an undead life. Therefore Jarvis trudged towards the group, stopping 3 feet short of the woman carrying papers in her hand, his lidded, baggy-eyed gaze swept across all three of them so they knew he was addressing them.

“Hi.”

Short, simple, and got everything he wanted to say across. Following that single word, Jarvis sat down on the ground with his legs crossed, pulled a phone from his right jacket pocket, and tapped on one of the free games installed on his device while he waited for Zari, Adrian, and the rest of Team Reaper to show up (assuming there was more). Introductions seemed pointless until everyone was present. He didn’t care much for small talk and making conversation had never been his strong suit. If someone had something to say to him, they would. If they didn’t, they didn’t. If they wanted to stay hidden, they could stay hidden. Unlike most people, silence wasn’t a problem for Jarvis. He was used to it and, in some ways, it was even more comfortable for him. The less noticed he was, the less work he had to do actually thinking about what to say.

Atop his head, Blackie meowed.

RedArmyShogun RedArmyShogun EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Serei2477 Serei2477
(Mentioned: Prizzy Kriyze Prizzy Kriyze The Regal Rper The Regal Rper Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul )
 
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Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter


A Pull, a Pop, and some Puffs




The following is intended to be confidential and secret, read only with that knowledge.
Be warned, it gets overly sweet and gushy at points.
Also, there's detailed depictions of drug use.
I'm telling you, it's over 50 pages long in a Google Doc.
Alright, you're getting what you asked for.


The Text

Gauss had spent a few days in the hospital, but had just freshly been released. He wasn’t cleared for the field work quite yet, and luckily Emmett and Zelda were quite kind in regards to giving him ample time to recuperate. This made the next few days a great time to tie up loose ends that he had left, and of course… he had many. What he didn’t expect was them to so quickly come to bite him in the ass, or at least have the potential to.

But then there was her name. One of their mutual friends mentioned she was joining the Fate Program. Bellamira fucking Ossana. Mind you, it wasn’t Gauss that had a problem with her. It was much the other way around. Regardless, words of wisdom given to him from Maria had rang through. They didn’t want enemies in this program.

Gauss kept her number unblocked. She didn’t seem to have his blocked, given there was a rage text sent every now and again, although that had slowed down after their initial fallout. Sitting on the sofa in his living room, he mulled over if he really should try to clear the air between them. Not like he didn’t in the past, but in the past, he also had other motivations. This time, it came from a much more healthy place.

03/14/67 1127
Tintin: Rumor is you're joining fate. I know we didn't end things on good terms and its been a while. thought we could maybe meetup and hash things out


03/14/67 1138
Bella O (7/10) damn i never thought u’d crawl out of ur hole
Time and place?


03/14/67 1141
Tintin: Sorry tbh you forget how to crawl when you learn to fly

Anyway your place or mine whenever. I just got out of the hospital so not like i got anywhere to be


03/14/67 1144
Bella O (7/10) b here in an hour


03/14/67 1145
Tintin: kk. Want anything while im out?


03/14/67 1147
Bella O (7/10) id die for a joint


03/14/67 1149
Tintin: kush reg or you want some shit to blow your mind?


03/14/67 1150
Bella O (7/10) fuck, thought u wanted to *talk*


03/14/67 1152
Tintin: bella i been sober in a hospital bed for like three days idgaf if im soaring in space or just buzzed


03/14/67 1152
Bella O (7/10) what the hell laid u up like that?


03/14/67 1155
Tintin: a combo of failing to resonate and the blood of a witch. Long story but it sucked.


03/14/67 1155
Bella O (7/10) cant even tell if ur joking


03/14/67 1203
Tintin: its legit swear. Salem was there. My weapon makes electricity and i shocked tf out myself trying to resonate then in my next match this witch with like toxic blood kod me after just a bit of it got on me. I dont remember a thing after like 10 seconds after that


03/14/67 1211
Bella O (7/10) o the poison witch? Sucks 4 u
cant believe he didnt tell me ur the one that got wrecked


03/14/67 1213
Tintin: last i checked your brother didnt want us five feet of eachother so not a big surprise tbh


03/14/67 1214
Bella O (7/10) ya its bc ur a fuckboy
sorry not sorry


03/14/67 1216
Tintin: was a fuckboy kthx
last i checked you were warned too but yknow


03/14/67 1217
Bella O (7/10) believe it when i c it
And, hm, not super relevant
he cant hold a grudge THAT long


03/14/67 1220
Tintin: hey i been in therapy working on it, cut me a break
idk tho if hes anything like his little sister i imagine he can hold a grudge a real long time
anyway you never told me what to get


03/14/67 1222
Bella O (7/10) bring it and we’ll figure it out
ur right btw but i mean
im the e x c e p t i o n ofc


03/14/67 1224
Tintin: kk can do. B there before 1

The Arrival
Gauss, after procuring far more herb than even remotely necessary–and probably far more potent–proved to be a man of his word. Seven minutes before one, he knocked on the Osanna apartment door, not wanting to immediately text Bellamira again before arriving. Although that would have likely been the more logical option, Gauss preferred the more human approach. Felt natural.

There was a sort of frustration, of wariness, that had Bellamira sitting on the couch cross-legged poring through her phone when Gauss finally knocked. She’d done her makeup as soon as he’d texted her to meet; the bathroom with its modest stone-top cabinetry had been taken over for almost half an hour in her quest to end up with opaque black glitter eyeshadow. When that fixation had ceased, she’d gotten to wandering; the whole apartment had an open kind of aesthetic but the dark purple walls of the living room gave it an imposing feeling. A television against the back wall, a wall full of sheer curtains that let in the light even at the worst times. A light and rough-hewn carpet on the floor, a large couch matching the walls, an assortment of side tables and decorative lights and vases that provided more form than function. The woman left her phone on the table as she went for the door. She looked through the peephole, twice, swallowing the dread rising from her gut.

The doorhandle turned from inside. She held the door closed regardless for a moment; with a last promise to herself, she opened it, forcing a smile onto her exhausted face. Bellamira looked rough. He’d seen her worse, definitely; this was only a hangover, and she’d had time to clean up, but that did not erase the toll of the night before.

The door was cracked open, no more than two inches, and it seemed almost like she was debating whether or not to actually let him inside as she stared at him through the door. Her face glittered in the half-light of the hall. Everything here was just a bit dark, just a bit dim, just a bit too suited to the situation. Salem had chosen this place for a reason. “Hi,” she finally breathed, clearing her throat when her voice came out hoarse. “It’s been a minute.”

He smiled upon seeing her despite the force it took for her to seemingly even acknowledge him. Gauss was, as ever, himself. Tan-skinned, even coloring, a pleasant look on his face. Quite contrary to her, but that hardly mattered. ”Yeah, it has,” he told her. ”I would call it unfortunate, but I’m not sure if you’re ready to hear that,” he added.

The door was pulled open, fully open, with a high-pitched creeeeak. Bellamira stepped forward to greet him: her arms reached to pull him into a tight hug, high around his shoulders. The pair were nearly the same height: she was only a couple of inches shorter now though she'd loomed over him when they first met. Her curled hair was rolled, pins along its length, meticulously done some time ago. Letting her chin rest against his shoulder, she squeezed him, just once. He was just as solid – just as warm – as he’d always been. Her hands were horrifically cold.

This wasn’t exactly unexpected; he remembered how chillingly cold she could be at times. At least, to the touch. He didn’t mind. And, when her arms wrapped around him, he wrapped his back. Firmly, not a bear hug, but enough to let her know there was reciprocation in the grasp. She could have held this for as long as she wanted, and he wouldn’t mind; even if his back was still sore from that wonderful explosion in the tournament.

“I missed you, you fucking asshole.”

Blinking back the tears threatening her waterline, hoping at least that he wouldn’t see them, she pulled back and stepped away from the door to invite him into the apartment. It was a place he was familiar with. The front door opened immediately into a living room; the balcony was hidden behind those sheer curtains and the back of the room opened into a hallway with six doors. Gauss would know that Bellamira’s room was at the innermost end of the hall, and Salem’s the outermost, with the closet across from his bedroom backing onto the living room itself. One of the middle doors was the bathroom, the other an office Gauss had never been invited into, but one that Salem worked in frequently. The door across from Mira’s room hadn’t been opened in his presence. The kitchen was attached to the living room, of course, but the archway opposite the balcony obscured the view of its minimalist décor. It was unnaturally clean here; usually the apartment was some degree or another of a mess when Bellamira was left to her own devices. Maybe she’d been tidying up.

Gauss followed her into the apartment once she ushered him in. His suite itself was almost always meticulously tidy, and it had been some time since he had been here. He remembered it well, and recalled that Salem liked things to be in their place. It didn’t strike him as odd that the apartment was kept up. He was, at least, glad to be in the presence of someone familiar. Recent weeks had him introduced to all sorts of new people and it was an odd comfort to be around someone from his… previous life. At least, that’s what it felt like.

“How- how has it been? I heard you got into trouble at school, but hey, I’d… already dipped out.”

”It’s been good… school never got to me,” he said, his voice somewhat less… present than normal. ”But hey… Bella. I missed you, too. I didn’t realize a lot of things until recently, and I’m sure my word’s worth shit, but I’m glad to be here right now,” he told her. His tone was not as bold as normal, not quite wavering, but he clearly lacked the confidence he normally had. In this moment, here with her, he was not the showman he normally was. This wasn’t a scene he was playing in.

“Screw school, then,” she acquiesced, dropping down on the couch like from standing height with little concern for the wooden beams holding together its structural integrity. The woman was too light to hit them, anyway, on such a heavily padded piece of furniture. She patted the seat beside her as an invitation; the television was on and the news spoke in hushed tones about one bad thing or another. The open window carried the sounds and smells from outside: cars, dry air, and frying dosa from the best Indian restaurant in Death City.

Her head leaned against the backrest of the couch as she pulled her legs up in front of her, knees her chest, turning to face him directly in his appointed seat. This was all strikingly familiar to her; the disturbance of her quietest moments always took this same sort of script. But his admission, the implication of regret, it caught her off guard. She couldn’t remember a single time that Gauss had really apologized to her. It was not within the script.

But he was was one to read a room, or in this case, take a seat. Perhaps there was some element of control or safety that came from giving him direction. Or, maybe it was just her trying to be hospitable. In either case, he wasted no time sitting beside her, although his stance was a little different. He sat a leather satchel opposite to her, but left some space between them assuming she might want it, and sat forward slouching in the seat slightly, avoiding a full recline like her own.

Mira’s mouth slipped open, an expression of shock or maybe awe, and her hand reached for him tentatively – withdrawing, offering, withdrawing again – before she finally settled with offering her own hand without grabbing his. It took several seconds beyond those motions for her to find words to speak. She did not expect an apology; the status quo of ignoring any problem in favour of momentary hedonism had been what she had expected. This was honest. Unprecedently honest. Uncomfortably honest.

“I believe you,” she said finally, but her voice was dark, thick with a mixed and unidentifiable emotion. The weapon could feel the heat rising in her face; there was a part of her that wanted to yell at him, to abuse him, to tell him to get the fuck out and think before ever contacting her again. The terms of their agreements had always been extremely clear. They got what they wanted, they parted ways again. The deepening of these emotional ties… was that what she wanted, with Gauss? If history was anything to bet on, she’d guess not, but still she’d invited him anyway.
And Now We Believe


“I s’pose it got a bit lonely up in that ivory tower, huh?”

”No, actually,” he answered her flatly, ”at the time, I never felt lonely.” He looked at her, his bright eyes making eye contact the best he could in this seated position. That long hair of his draping in front of his face, some of it framing it, some of it just sliding off in waves to fill the air. He always wore it too long for shorter, manageable styles, but too short for longer ones where it may lay naturally.

”I fucked up a mission, then got caught out on all the shit I did,” he told her, doubling down on that honesty. ”Basically got myself kicked out after an investigation; that was nearly two years ago,” he said, further enlightening her.

”Back then, I didn’t feel lonely… because I don’t think I knew what it really meant to have someone,” he explained, dropping the actual deep thoughts he had on the subject. ”Not that you or anyone else wasn’t there for me,” he clarified quickly, ”but that I didn’t recognize the value of it.”

”And, and… I know where this rabbit hole goes. How am I different now, if I was why didn’t I ever try to say these things, why I didn’t I apologize sooner,” he started throwing in, like some sort of simulation. He looked down for the first time. Hard to find the words right for this. Harder to push himself to say them.

”I’ve… tried. Not to you, but to some others, and I always fuck up. I say the wrong things in the wrong way, and I don’t want to hurt people more than I already have. I guess I’m trying to be a better person, I’m just shit at it,” he told her, just accepting all the fault and responsibility he could for everything that transpired, and at this point, still not finding it in himself to look back up.

“Fuck, Gauss, you’re gonna have to light one up for this.”

There was an inkling of humour to the words, even if they were said flatly, the same way that his words came out. Bellamira hadn’t meant to start taking shots; it was hard to help the frustration rising in her at his words that first sounded like derision, but he’d obviously come for a different purpose. It had been hard to consider him a friend, then, even if she’d cared. She’d thrown it in his face, too. She didn’t regret it.

“It always felt like you just… got what you wanted and moved on. Like it wasn’t about me at all, or about anyone else either, just a friendship or a fuck to prove you could before you dropped everyone again. But hell, you know that the rest of us were screwed just the same.”

She fished a lighter from the breast pocket of her loose black shirt; flipping it in her hands, she offered it to him, butt-first. “For my part,” she started, voice more strained, “I am sorry for telling you to fuck off and kill yourself. I am more sorry for the variety of suggestions I provided as to the method. That’s… not what I think of you, Gauss. I think you’re selfish, for sure, but here I am being the same way.”

He wouldn’t look at her, but he didn’t need to. She gave him a moment to sit with those thoughts; the tension in her shoulders was obvious. Mira had never seen him like this; it was more upsetting than she could have imagined. Stoic, confident, in control: not here, not today. “And,” she opined, “for what it’s worth… two years ago, I would have died of shock if you apologized to me; I wouldn’t have considered it a possibility and it’s half of what made me so damned angry when I was disregarded. You must be making progress.”

Gauss opened the leather satchel he had beside him. He was quiet for the most part, listening to her. This type of quiet nature wasn’t unlike him, not necessarily. When he wasn’t speaking, he was often in his own train of thought. It meant, at least in the past, he wasn’t listening. He rifled through his bag, pulling out a few loose joints, then a small metal container not unlike a lip balm container, obviously meant to be screwed open by the indentions on the top. Lastly, he pulled out five plastic cylinders, all with colored tops that just popped right out, and each labeled something different.

If they were legible in his hands, they would read Phantom Haze Train, v2; Deathead Special, Verdant Diesel, GG6/Godfather OG, and one simply labeled 99 Percent. The open joints laid on his lap, and he took the lighter, but then realized he wanted her to pick. It was hard to say he paused for a moment given he hadn’t spoke, but there was a pause trying to figure out how to fix this faux pas.

”I picked up an assortment… you always did like a variety,” he mumbled. He thought she’d have some direction for this; he was more of a social smoker, if anything. Bellamira reached forward into his lap, grabbing one of the loose joints at random, and slipping it between her teeth. She leaned over him – mouth inclined toward the lighter in his hand – waiting for him to strike the ‘match’. A second one, pulled deftly from his lap, was thrown onto the table. The customary pay-off for Salem, seeing as they were smoking in the apartment.

”There’s one thing you were wrong about then,” he told her. The first time he acknowledged anything she had mentioned. ”Back then, it wasn’t about a notch in a goal post or pride. I genuinely didn’t think about what I was doing.I just did it–and it felt good,” he explained, not sure if that made things better or worse. She nodded, taking a deep drag off the joint, pulling it away from her mouth and exhaling over his form. There was a tightness in her throat that was best left ignored. Bellamira was not incapable of forgiveness; she’d done it again and again to no good result.

”You’re not the first to tell me I hurt people, nor explain how I hurt them… in vivid detail,” he told her, finally looking at her. His eyes weren’t glossed over, unsteady, or even sullen. They were hollow. Dull, almost. Like there was no spark in them, not like before when he saw her, not like when she first knew him. Not like when it was intimate, even. It was a shell he was wearing. That skin of his. Just a shell. ”I don’t blame you for it and I’m not upset… at you. Just at myself,” he told her.

”I’ve kissed you so many times I couldn’t count, B’, but it was never what you deserved. If you felt anything, any spark, then, I.. never had a clue. I was an idiot. And now, I don’t even know… he trailed off, pausing as if thinking just a little harder. ”I don’t fuckin’ know anything at all, it seems.” he added, clarifying the actual extent he felt of how inept he was at actually understanding anything.

For all of the strife she was feeling, Bellamira had made it clear she was physically comfortable around Gauss; she’d never felt threatened by him, or like he was pushing for things she just wasn’t comfortable with, and maybe that was why she had so much patience for this bullshit: it was so much different from what she’d heard before, the excuses, the fact that he was always so completely unaware of what she actually wanted or needed. The fact was, maybe Bellamira had needed him once – but that time was long gone. It was a missed opportunity, and one he was unlikely to hold again; these were natural consequences and the fact that her haphazard affection was gone – or maybe just dramatically, potentially irreparably, damaged – after all this time, she thought, that was enough of a consequence that she felt no need to punish the man presented before her as so fundamentally broken. He hurt - and even if he deserved it, she didn’t want that for him.

Then there was the matter of honesty. Of course she’d felt something for him; there would have been no point in hanging around otherwise. There was a difference, though, in the expectation of reciprocation.. it had never occurred to her that he was anything more than fun as he pleased, that they had any sort of mutual affection, that he would be there in good times and not just when he needed to forget. A frown pulled across her lips at the admission, though, and she quickly tried to cover it up. The truth should not hurt; it was simply the truth.

Leaning down from her position over his body – held by one hand on the back of the couch, the other attending to the lit joint, of course – the woman leaned down, let her lips press against his forehead, and held there for a moment of thought. She shifted back into her seat in the aftermath - almost nervously. Her hand swung in his direction; it stopped to offer the joint to his open hand.

Gauss took the joint, and slightly curled in his lips to wrap around it. He waited, exhaling through his nose silently, all before inhaling once slightly to brighten the flower, then for a longer, more drawn out hit. It was slow, but steady. Not like hitting a bong, and not like an idiot who had never smoked. A joint, he felt, hit best when it was hit at just the right pace. Not enough to waste and burn, but enough that lungs could get plenty of that good smoke.

Then he held it, pulling it from his lips. He was, perhaps, a little more aggressive with it than Bellamira, but he brought plenty, and this was just his first. Honestly, he was surprised she picked a weaker one. He expected her to offer these to Salem and take the goods for herself. But, she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t want to take the good stuff, or maybe she had changed slightly herself. He always recalled Salem being far more understanding than anyone gave him credit for.

That pause and hold settled. After he felt it, and felt it good, he exhaled, blowing out a slow stream of smoke before just… stopping. The smoke traveled up from his nose and mouth, flowing up his face and through the curls of hair at the edges. He just sat there, waiting for it to set in, and mostly just waiting for Bellamira. Listening to her. Listening like he should have a hundred times over before.

“You don’t… have to know, love. I…” She swallowed, blinking back tears, lashes sticking to lashes against the dampness of her eyes. The glittering of her face made her look like a mirage; the cast-light of the chandelier above them flickered artificially. “I’m just glad for your honesty. I’m glad you didn’t bash in my door, all full of sweet words, like nothing ever happened.”

”I don’t have sweet words like that…” he told her, his voice droning out. ”The thing about the way I was… and it’s not like I’m fixed, just self aware.. But the way I was, is that I personally just don’t have those words. I didn’t. I could have said anything as a means to an end, but I don’t know what I actually felt at that time–I just hated losing,” he explained. It made sense, at least. Given how most people viewed him, the idea of no longer having her affection was much akin to a lost game.

”But what I do know is all these epiphanies I’ve been having… Salem isn’t my doctor, but mine is good, too…” he told her, his voice trailing off and slowing down. It didn’t sound duller, just more rounded. More even. ”I think, if I was going to tell you anything that might hold some value, it’s this: I waited to talk to you. When I looked back at all the people I hurt, especially in the beginning, some of it was just… attempts at making the therapists happy. But, when it started to settle in, I realized that, like… I needed to apologize. But it didn’t always work. And I couldn’t just fight someone because it didn’t, that’s going backwards. I need to go forward,” he explained to her, although his train of thought was obviously become a little more broken.

It was one thing to understand that you had been manipulated, and another for someone to admit it to your face. It was its third, own, unique thing for all of those conditions to exist at once. Mira had known that she had been a challenge and competition; she remembered fondly dismissing him as a spoiled rich boy and more fondly his effort to prove he was worthy of her affection regardless. It had taken a long time. It wasn’t healthy to make people try like that, either; Bellamira often thought it was the only reason he’d hung around her for so long at all and the discussion . Proof that he could make her deal with it, could make her want to deal with it, that was what she saw him as seeking to begin with. The confirmation was harder, and she didn’t know what to say. He clearly cared. It was hard to reconcile that with his words.
“C’mon,” she urged him in a thick whisper, a side thought, “puff, puff, pass.”

”So for you, I waited,” he said again, turning his eyes back onto her, this time a little more lively, and definitely more alive. ”And, I would have waited longer until I thought I could find the words and string them together just perfect to make you feel even a little better, Bella… I don’t know why. I don’t expect things to go back to the way they used to be, and it’s not like I mean to sweep you off your feet,” he told her. This time, unlike when he stumbled over his words–or thought he did–he didn’t clarify. Instead, he just added this:

”If I was going to do that, I woul… should.. Have years ago.”

As she held her hand out, waiting to receive the smoke, Bellamira swallowed. Hard. Her other hand wiped across her face; the mascara smeared across the back of her hand and from the corner of her eye toward her ear but messed-up makeup was never something that had bothered her. It was a record of time; if tears were to be had than tears would be part of the aesthetic. There was something else to it, too: Bellamira might not have waited necessarily, but the less safe people around when she was out – the less people Salem found capable, specifically, even if Gauss was convinced the doctor hated his guts – the less freedom she was afforded. It took one bad night for her brother to stage an intervention.

It took several more for her to be enrolled into a rehabilitation program.

And that was the core of it, wasn’t it, that she wanted to be around people that made the nights light instead of dark? That cared enough to look out for each other’s safety? He’d been responsible for times of joy and strife alike. She’d been responsible for much more than that.

“Well, I don’t…” she started, petering off, trying again. “I don’t think you were given much of a choice. Being another FATE agent and all- we were bound to run into each other, even if you don’t feel a damn thing about me. I-“

She motioned for the joint in his hand, more urgently now, rolling her wrist. Her eyes were limpid, open, overwhelmingly clear and bright and purpled-blue. There was a clearing of her throat. “I never needed a thing from you, Thaddeus. I hung on to you because I wanted to and for no other reason. Thank you for… well, for, for coming back here to.. apologize. Especially as I would have – at one time – been so, so angry with you.”
Gauss was fairly far gone, but not from the weed. He was listening to himself. Listening to himself say these things to her over and over again his head. He was listening to himself tell her the truth. Over and over like a vicious cycle, he saw as the truth upset her. He saw how even when he tried to help, it did this. Yet, she thanked him? Thanked him for this? All of this? He questioned himself a million times over before finally snapping out of this cycle he was in.

He passed her the joint, from between his index finger and middle finger, but let his thumb graze her hand before he withdrew it. He didn’t know why.

He looked down again, not sure how to proceed, not sure what the right answer was. The person he was before this always had an answer. He always had a goal in mind moving forward. He had ambition and drive. He had something to prove, if only to himself. And, when he didn’t have something to prove, he had an urge he knew would make him feel good. But, right now? He didn’t.

He had Bellamira forgiving him and that made him feel plenty of things. Good, relief, but also guilty just like he felt when he stared at Athena–no. No he felt worse. He felt worse because he knew he did more to this girl and this time he wasn’t forcing himself to feel a damn thing. This hit him harder than he ever expected. He knew guilt felt bad, but he didn’t know it was like this.

Is this what everyone said was so bad? That he didn’t feel this? That his father didn’t feel this? Is this why Thea yelled at him, detested him, why her rage and sorrow came out as denouncing him over and over as a bad person? Because he didn’t feel like this? Who would want to feel like this?

But he didn’t keep his eyes down. He looked back to her, his bright but now misty eyes ever-growing in life and shine as the conversation went on. He didn’t have a goal with her. He came here to apologize, and that was successful. If anything, he won. If anything, he should quit while he was ahead. But, he couldn’t. For the first time, aside from maybe Noah, someone genuinely forgave him–and this someone actually knew the type of person he could be.

”I… can’t tell you I don’t feel a damn thing about you,” he said. His voice more raspy. More unsure. Less like himself. His old self. He was treading on waters unknown, and he had not the ability to muster the confidence that defined him. ”But I am glad you came… and glad you forgive me… and I guess I could leave right now, and call it done–say I got what I wanted,” he said to her, letting a moment of pause hang in the air if only because he was fearful of the next few words.

”But I would rather tell you I want to stay. And for no other reason, even if all we do is sit right here like this,” he added, clarifying what he could. He didn’t add his trademark flirtatious comment. He didn’t suggest the alternative of the bedroom, or TV, or anything. He just let it be. And that–that was the least Gauss-like thing he could feasibly do.

“I didn’t invite you here just to kick you out.”
The Embers After

They talked a lot, in the group therapy sessions that Bellamira attended three times a week, about forgiveness. It was often discussed as if it were some esoteric and intangible thing; forgiveness of people who have wronged you, forgiveness of others for their self-destruction, and most importantly forgiveness granted to the self. It was hard to judge him retrospectively for many reasons; between the parties they frequented in the throes of adolescent angst plenty of people were wronged. Tensions were up, inhibitions were down, nobody acted quite like themselves. That was part of the appeal. It was why they’d been in that position at all.

The worst of the conflict was hopefully behind them. She didn’t have to be his friend, damn, she never had to speak to him again if she didn’t want to. If he was going to be a bad influence, she’d probably catch shit for even being around him – well, she might anyway – but what was the point of damning the only person she knew going in to a new program? Fuck, it had mattered when she’d cared, but they’d past that point long ago.

She thought about saying those things, any of them, to explain herself or talk about what the hell she’d been doing to start over again this year. How their unfortunate paths had so predictably crossed again. If he was trying to get better – she didn’t know if she could believe it, but she was willing to try, to see if this introspection would persist – well, she believed people could do better. She had to.

The less familiar his mannerisms, the better things got, honestly– the woman wasn’t sure what she thought about that but her apprehension at opening the door had faded in the resolution of new emotion. She glanced at the clock: only a few minutes after one.

“Stay if you’d like. I.. don’t mind having you here. You know, Gauss, there was a time I would have called you my friend. We might even be able to get there again.”

The smile she offered him was tight, but not forced. Her phone went off on the table. Then again. A third text notification went through before she actually picked up the phone.

> IT BETTER BE POT IN THOSE BOTTLES. I’M COMING HOME.

There was a laugh - she tried to contain it behind her hand, but it was first a wheeze, and then finally a long cackle escaped. She showed the screen to Gauss, willing to put the phone into his hand, but mostly just trying to get him to read it. Her shoulders shook. “...if you want to deal with that.”

‘Friend, huh?’ That was the thought on his mind. He hadn’t really considered it. Maybe he did miss her. He was still coming to terms with what that feeling meant. He said he did, and it didn’t feel wrong or inaccurate. Friendship, or anything kind-of-a-ship isn’t something that had occurred to him when this visit became the seedling of an idea it was in his head. He was definitely friends with Noah, he thought. At this point, he was still sure Prudence just tolerated his existence and accepted they were teammates. He wasn’t sure how to help that.

Bella being his friend, probably his first real one since Noah, seemed like… an amicable progression of things. This thought process came to an abrupt end when he saw the text from Salem, though. At that point, he simply let out a dry chuckle.

”I brought plenty. Six joints, a can of premium keef, and those five. I don’t intend on taking them with me, so they’re all yours, sans what I smoke here,” he told her, thinking this offering to Salem, owner of this apartment, would be appeased.

In a way, Bellamira wanted to contest him. It made her feel strange to accept gifts like that out of nowhere; though of course she knew that his 'love language' (if she believed in that at all) was the procurement and distribution of gifts, and that the resources used didn't mean a thing to him anyway. It is, she responded to the text, bite me.

She palmed the cell phone back onto the table while she refocused on Gauss. While it was tempting to tell him to keep it, it would be a completely unnecessary blow to his ego. Was that what she wanted?
”I’m sure my partners will eventually want to see me, maybe some others I met in the tournament, but ‘til then… I guess I’m all yours, Bella,” he told her. He smiled. Softly. Sweetly, almost.
With a shift to sit on her knees, Bellamira closed the distance between them, leaning against his side and mirroring the sort of pose that led to him sitting so far forward. She brushed some of that long hair out of his face with the side of her hand; it was familiar, even if not quite intimate.

”Oh shit, it just occurred to me he meant pot instead of pills. I thought he was herb-extorting us again,” he added quickly, his face lighting up with a light of realization. ”You aren’t popping pills again, are you?” Gauss asked, a little bit timid mingled with a touch of concern.

The smile on her face disappeared with his accusation. He wasn't angry at her; maybe Bellamira wanted to be faced with that rage, maybe she expected it. Wordlessly, her hand slid up the back of her shirt, tugging a thin plastic slip-pouch from the band of her bra, and handing it over to Gauss under her hand to conceal it.

Gauss hesitantly extended his hand to hers, acting as if to hold it, but mostly to hide it from whatever method Salem was using to survey them. His eyes narrowed in to see the pills, and precisely what they were. His eyes looked back up to her, but they weren’t any less lively than they were when he first asked. He loosened what little grip he had on her hand, and withdrew it, only stopping at the very end to change how he withdrew it so he could curl his fingers towards him, caressing her fingers ever so gently as he did. Her breath exhaled in a shaky sigh.

There were somewhere between four and eight white bars outlined out against the tightness of the stealth bag: it was hard to tell exactly because several of them were damaged. The pouch was a dull sort of violet that shone under light; Bella's mind flickered back to what had been effectively a game of keepaway. She tried to push away the memory of begging him for the pouch back. Her body had become rigid beside him: there was no doubt that she was tracking the motion of his hand.

"Sometimes," she breathed in an admission, turning her face away from him and toward the television. She sounded distant, or at least under pressure; the call-out hadn't been expected but she wasn't going to lie about it. Her hands clasped together in her lap. "But, I - I'm trying. You have to believe me; it's just... hard."

Gauss saw her look away, but he didn’t want that. Slowly, but surely, he extended his hand out to her face and pressed his thumb to her cheek to apply the most gentle of pressure, trying to guide her face easily to look back at him. ”I believe you, and I will…” he told her. And, with a gentle smile, he added, ”As long as you believe I am here just for you.”

Her hand moved to cup his, face turning, gaze lingering on the smile about his lips as he spoke until she finally met his eyes. She took in a deep breath; his skin was as soft and warm as it had always been, and the scent of the cologne she remembered so well washed over her, like tea brewed over a desert brush-fire- cleaner, somehow, than the smoke of wood. Her fingers brushed down to his wrist, down his arm, pushing up his arm to his back and rumpling his folded sleeve on its way. It gripped his shoulder tightly.

Bellamira might have been known for her biting nails, but they were gentle then, just tiny pricks pressing into his back as if to remind him she was there. Her expression had relaxed from all the stress of before: receptive, accepting, even if uncertain. Finally, she found the words, though they were elongated in a type of humour unique to her-
“You should never believe an addict,” she whispered with a sense of half-derision, “but I believe you just the same.”

Is this what he was meant to feel? These little currents of electricity running down his spine. This extra tingling sensation that seemed to radiate from everywhere Bella touched–even if not his skin. His heart beating faster, thumping as if he set a new best on the barbell. Is this what he missed out on all of these years? Gauss was never quite one to turn red, even with Chanterelle just a few days ago.

But this time, and just this time, for Bella, his face warmed and his already dark skin gained the most ever faint rouge glow. His pupils dilated, though he wouldn’t know. This was… this was a feeling he only ever knew from a line of coke, and even then that was hardly the same. He had absolutely no idea what this was; he just knew it was from her.

Bellamira couldn’t quite contain her own blush, spurred by his own, staring him in the face like that. Her pale eyes searched his: the knife at his belt dug into her thigh, so she began to shift, thinking for the first time in a moment about the joint pressed between the fingers of her right hand. Fuck, came the thought overlaying the moment, the electricity, the feeling of reciprocated affection that she’d wanted so badly before, gotta deal with that.

He found himself shimmying ever so slightly closer, but avoiding a jostle of the couch, but just trying to be more near. It seemed she had control over this situation far more than he did; a complete twist in the dynamic from their previous relationship. All he could even think to do was shift the hand that was so near to her face to her hair, and have it delicately intertwine with the side of her head, his fingers locked into her hairline solely to let his warm skin glide across her scalp.

”Maybe…” he said, still hesitant with his words if only because of how new they were to him. ”Maybe being wrong isn’t so bad, if believing you gets me here,” he told her, confessing how right or wrong didn’t seem to matter to him–at least, in this moment.

The heat sinking into her skin was the focal point between them for Bellamira; she twisted on the couch as he moved to straddle his waist and sit in his lap. Although she didn’t pull him close, or squeeze particularly, her right hand moved to slip the joint between her teeth before she twisted – still holding his shoulder – and grabbed an ashtray from the middle drawer of the coffee table. Setting it on the table behind her, she palmed the joint again, tapping off the ashes and giving Gauss a moment of reprieve from the smoke suddenly in his face. “Sorry,” she murmured, leaning forward to press her lips to the right side of his neck, “needed to- well. You know.”

She spent a long moment thinking, her chin rested against his shoulder; Bellamira had done her best to keep from pulling away from him - she didn’t want to - and hoped that the familiar motion would assure him of that. The bangles on both of her wrists rang when she moved; her dangling earrings pressed like drops of ice against his neck while she sat there with one arm around him. The other raised to take another hit; she offered the joint to his free hand once she was done. It was hard to reconcile the fires of the moment with those of her rage. She had prepared to be angry, when he’d planned to come there.
She just… wasn’t.

“Anyway,” Blowing the smoke down between them – between her chest and his, over his clothes, knowing that a blazer like the one he was wearing would need to be dry-cleaned to get rid of the smell but not caring – she managed to produce a response. To actually interact with this novel version of reality. “We’ll see how you feel in an hour. You are.. a fickle creature, Thaddeus.”

What the absolute fuck was this moment. What was she doing to him. What were these feelings. Every single time she spoke more, she just uncovered something more repressed. Something buried down deep that he never felt, or just never knew existed–he didn’t know. He didn’t know anything. The last week, the realization of just how blind he was to the world made him feel like calling his old perspective black and white as generous.

A new spectrum of emotions hit him without force, without effort, without exertion. The leap felt larger than technicolor on CRT’s; it felt like realizing there were shades and hues to this world you didn’t even know could exist, fucking theory harder JFK did Madonna.

What Bella didn’t know; what she couldn’t know; what Gauss didn’t have the testicular fortitude to inform of her of, really, is that he wanted to throw that joint to the ground and kiss her right then. To stop all of time and just feel her lips, cold, warm, or some new sensation as alien as these emotions were. To disregard every little thing that surrounded them. Fuck the apartment. Fuck it all. It could go up in flames, and right then, he might have been fine with a world on fire–if he had it with Bella.

And that… that fucking terrified him. Every bit of this was exhilarating, but it danced a fine line for the man up until now. Up until these feelings stirred inside him fear. If this is what it felt like for others, he rationalized, that’s why it hurt so much when he left. His heart went from a million miles an hour to what felt like an abrupt stop. His chest, it felt hollow.
Hotter the Second Time Around

She held the joint to his lips, and he still wished it was her lips–not some flimsy paper. He didn’t even have the urge to take it further. He didn’t want to rip off her clothes, carry her to her bedroom with her legs wrapped around him, and fuck like their primal ancestors. He yearned–ached, really–just to know what that simple act of affection was like while on the high of these feelings. The rest… it didn’t matter.

Time, it still paused for Gauss. Gauss knew who he was. He was horribly toxic, controlling, motivated to push himself further and harder than anyone else. He didn’t compete for the thrill; he competed to win. But Bella? Bella was a journey with no destination. She was a storm without an end. She was rain without relief. All he could think, in that moment, was that if people were rain, he would let her be the storm that put out his flame.

But instead of telling her all of that, instead of putting some type of rhythm to these words and expressing how he felt, instead of just trying basic communication–not even being the wordsmith he was at times–he just took that hit. He inhaled deeply, letting her hold it in place, and followed along with every little gesture she lead him through. She had the controlling, manipulative bastard of a man that shattered her heart and a hundred others in the palm of her hands, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

He exhaled. He stared at her, directly in those eyes with that make-up half smudged by the tears she almost shed, and couldn’t think of a sight anywhere his wealth had taken him that he enjoyed more. All he could tell her, all he could muster from the deepest reaches of his soul, was this, “Bellamira Ossana… you are one hell of a drug.”

His words stopped the motion of the joint pulled from his lips to hers abruptly, mid-puff, and she choked on the smoke – breaking the gaze that had meant so much to him and had similarly spurred reminiscence in her own chest like a rapidly spreading wave of roses and thorns piercing through her organs, and most importantly, her mind. There was a sort of burning to it: she was sure it was the warmth, most of all, and the fire in between them. Leaning back again – still anchored by his shoulder – she mashed the last of the joint into the ashtray, abandoning it to trail faint smoke in the midday sun.

“You flatter me.” With a shake of her head, as if to clear her mind and those burning lungs, she swallowed the spit garnered to the front of her mouth. It was a gross feeling; the hit had gone straight to her head, or maybe it was the surprise, not the cannabis. Either way, her hand slipped from his back. It trailed down to his chest, fingers pulling at the wooden buttons sewn into his blazer; a forceful exhale as she remembered the silver buttons she’d procured as a gag gift, once. Fuck, he’d been mad. No sense of humour. She pulled the jacket around them both, though it was fitted to him to begin with, and didn’t even quite wrap around her shoulders – but that wasn’t the point. Her hands pressed up into his shirt, ice against his back. She took in one deep breath after another and focused on the pattern of his breathing. His heartbeat was fast, she could feel it, rattling in his chest like a child’s toy.

With her hands on him like that, pulling him into a tight embrace, she was unconcerned with the matter of his heart. What she was curious about was the nature of his soul. It had always been impersonal, before, a place she would rather not venture into. Cold and isolationist. It was worth another chance.

So, as she stroked his back, comforting, feeling like something about this was different or even wrong, Bellamira prodded. Her attention was uncomfortable at first; the weapon always needed a moment to warm up- but once she was comfortable in the space it was almost possible to miss her intrusion. Her soul was quiet, stilled, reigned-in through years of practice keeping it cool-
And his was on fire.
There was a hitch in her chest as she felt it first. It almost inspired her to pull away; there were few feelings more repulsive to Bellamira than unexpected heat, and passion or lust or whatever this unidentifiable atrocity actually was was definitely inspired of fire and flame. Her love was much more moderate; it was steadfast for those she cared about regardless of their fighting and had a plodding consistency that echoed the motion of her feet as she simply kept moving forward. But her eyes closed, perceiving him instead, pushing herself into a space where she usually was not welcome.

She was electric. She could see that; the raging of whatever was going on with him was ripping through his core, confusion, clawing toward her and grabbing on like an island in a vitriolic sea. There was no point in letting him crash on those rocks; her arms tightened around him to make more contact and she might have rocked him if only he’d been in her lap instead. Hey, she urged softly, we’ll be okay.

This was different, emotional, raw. It shocked her, electric as she was, to see herself regarded like this: the expectation had been shattered and she swallowed hard as if to hide the feelings lurking in her throat. Several thoughts flew through her mind What the fuck, chief among them, but more quietly, more tentatively – after all this time? These were the thoughts she could not repress. Most of them were easy to hide away.

Gauss had absolutely no answer. For any of this. Time and time again, Bellamira had put him in a place where he was questioning himself and his feelings. Over and over in a cycle he never could have expected, he was plunged deeper and deeper into feelings that for two decades, he was completely ignorant to.

Gauss’ soul was unique, it was true. Not only that wavelength of his, but this natural pull it had to those around it. Not just a magnetic personality, not just a play on words, but a force that didn’t quite fit the definition physics had laid out. It was something spiritual. Something Gauss also had no answer for. That pull was something Bellamira was likely accustomed to, but there was something new to Gauss. Something that perhaps encapsulated the changes he had gone through over the last year quite perfectly: transparency.

His soul hid nothing. Everything hers did to protect itself, his did not. He had no defenses. No walls. Hell, he hadn’t even dabbled in Calm Mind training. Whatever he was, whoever he was, whatever he thought, whatever he felt, it was laid bare to Bellamira then. Even the deepest recesses of these thoughts, they were hers if she so desired them in this embrace. Her hands smoothed against his back in an even rhythm.

That meant, of course, all of those things he could not explain, he did not have to. This stunned man in front of her, his lack of an ability to piece even a sentence together, she had every opportunity to see why. And, it was simple.
He was overwhelmed. Just as he had no defense against someone peering into his soul, his lifetime of ignorance to these emotions meant he had no defense to them once they surfaced with her. Everything she did, to him, it was perfect. Every word she said, every glorious action of her hands, even every puff of that joint–it was perfection incarnate to him. ‘Breathe,’ she reminded him, ‘just breathe.’

He could not give her words, not yet. His heart slowed down as she held him close, this was true, but only because some of that fear–which she knew existed now–was withdrawn. He did not scare her away. His words, while sweet, did not make her scream at him or flee into her room, demanding he leave. Of the many things she might now know he felt, she knew he felt fear. A fear of losing her again.

It was not lust that caused this heat, either. That was something he knew well enough. Somehow, someway, that wasn’t even a seedling in his soul. When she touched him, when those buttons came undone, when his shirt was an afterthought, the feeling he had was only comparable to disbelief or shock. How, how in the world could she do that to him again after what he had done.

And this started the negative spiral that was truly at the core of his soul. One one half, elation. One on half, it was the flood of that vitriolic sea, but these waters were hardly a torrent. These scenic waves were of her. Excitement, relief, happiness, joy–a beacon of positivity. That is what she created inside of him.

But that other half? It was the storm. The self-hate. The guilt. The recognition of his wrong doings. The thousands of questions that he had about all of this, all tearing apart the self-image he had. Everyone in the world might think he was full of himself, but the fact was, he had grown to hate who he was.

[/center]How could she talk to him again?

Why didn’t she hate him?

Why wasn’t she angry?

Why didn’t she hit him or slap him or yell?

Why would she hold him like this?

Why would she ever want to be his friend?

Why would anyone?

What… what if Thea was right?

What if he hurt her again?

Could he live with himself if he did?[/center]

Gauss had no words because he had no answers. Right in this moment, Gauss only had feelings. That couch might as well have been a lifeboat in a sea of self despair only illuminated by the light that was Bellamira, and even then Gauss felt guilt for that, realizing Bella probably didn’t want to be the light for anyone. She didn’t want that responsibility. He just… couldn’t help it.

Gauss was absolutely powerless here. Defenseless. Clueless. All he had were the instincts left over to him, perhaps created by generations of evolution for when a creature like himself was left in this state. He wrapped his arms around her to hold her back, thought not tightly, plenty firm. Then, one clear thought rang through to Bellamira. One thought like a lighthouse at sea, one thing to remind her that he still was an intelligent being:
’But… what if I’m not?’

‘What, if you’re not a changed man?’

Her head tilted to rest against his chest as she shifted sideways in his lap, legs off the side to embrace him in much the same way she’d relaxed on the couch when he’d come in. Bellamira usually moved as a fluid form; her body and mind swaying holistically whole in the motion. There was little distinction between mind and body - just what was concealed, and what was revealed, for lack of better terms. Her consciousness licked around his soul – a flame, a bone-reading, prophesying the past and those emotions and the idea of the future that she had committed to embarking on herself already. He had the same sort of future in front of him; their recovery was not tied together but were adjacent nonetheless. There was no sense of responsibility in her for his state. He had made this bed himself; he had been destructive and there was no way for him to get away from that. In a way, she hoped it plagued him, not out of hatred but out of the core belief that if it did then he could not bear to do so again.

But he was confused. He was hurt. He was worried, anxious, electric but withdrawn in some way, completely uncertain as to how he should move forward. She should have cleared it up for him. Should have told him to get lost when he’d shown up. Should have blocked the message and pretended not to see it. Logically, she should have done many things, but she hadn’t. She had exercised forgiveness. She had chosen the belief that he could try to be better.

‘I hardly expected you to be a changed man when I invited you here. Damn, I mean, I hoped you’d grown as a person. But…’

But the only thing he’d ever cared about was that ambition. She’d admired his drive; maybe that was what had attracted her in the first place. The curdling disgust that had built in her over time from her complete inability to penetrate that barrier was what had her so disillusioned. She’d felt at the time like they held the same charge; both too resolutely negative and wallowing to ever make a real connection. Was she positive enough to deal with this? She wasn’t sure. Bellamira couldn’t change him; she never could. Nobody could. But if he was working to impede that ego-

‘Maybe it’s just that you were hiding from me before, but… this is the first time I’ve felt something… well, real from you, Gauss. It’s enough.’ Offering him a tight squeeze, she repeated herself. ‘It’s enough.’

Never in his life did Gauss know he needed to hear those words. Probably in part because he never questioned whether or not he was good enough, he merely possessed an overwhelming drive to become better regardless. He had praise. He had positivity surrounding him. He had been told he excelled at what he did. He had even been told in the past that he was as close to a Genius Meister as one could get without being one.

But this had nothing to do with being a Meister. This wasn’t about combat. This wasn’t about the DWMA. This was just about two souls on a couch that had done terrible things to each other finally reconciling. Even peering into the depths of his soul, he doubted she knew what those words meant to him.

And this entire time, he couldn’t bring himself to look back at hers. But now, now that his paralysis of emotion had ended, now his eyes opened. He took a breath, he relaxed, the erratic flame of his soul settled but it did not dim, and he felt what he could from Bellamira for the first time. She was much harder to read than him, but that felt appropriate. She was the one that got hurt. He was the one that did the hurting.

”I don’t think it is, Bella,” he told her, this time out loud. His words did not match his feelings; what he said did not match how he felt, not from what she could feel. But, he would soon clarify, ”this might be enough for now, but I won’t stop getting better. I still have a lot to make up for… but I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”

That was it. That was the Gauss that made sense. The middle ground between who he was and who he is. Never one to settle. One milestone after another, just this time, in a healthier direction. His soul only reflected this. As transparent as glass on a sunny day. And this time, with a new feeling emerging into the mix. Gratitude.

He looked down at her, attached to his body and sprawled out on the couch. He had forgotten how affectionate she could be–when she wanted. He had forgotten plenty of things. His eyes trailed up and down her form, head to toe, toe to head, and he let out a chuckle. He had a newfound appreciation for what he saw, perhaps tinted with a touch of rose-colored glasses, but even he knew this wasn’t the time or place for that.

”I do stand by what I said. You are hell of a drug, B’. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a pill that put me in quite the ride you just did,” he told her, doubling down on the compliment he gave her earlier. He thought about it for a moment. Caressing her face again. He thought of a few romantic things he could do. Sweet, kind gestures that bridged between friendly and more. Probably enough that she could read it through his soul, but that was a whole different type of fear. So instead, he stretched his hand out to her shoulder, and with a gentle grip, held onto it. He wanted more, but he feared losing her at this moment.

It had been invisible to him, of course, the nearly imperceptible shaking of her shoulders as Bellamira fought to keep her hands still. They had stopped their comforting movement; just garnering a loose hold to maintain the connection between them that she’d initiated so nosily. But her body quaked under his hand, her body language of comfort belying anxiety of what – rejection, anger, hurt?

”But… I don’t think you want anyone addicted to you, do you?” he added, asking a question that was sure to cut those growing ambitions of his clean off. Though, that was the point. This was day one of a different adventure, not much different than walking back to Lot C. Forgiveness was one thing, but anything else? He imagined that was too much. Besides, he was fairly well aware of the spiritual dynamics between them; he was an intelligent man, after all.

He knew. He knew she knew. And, if she cared or considered it, she’d make it known eventually. He knew Bella. If she wanted distance, she’d ghost him. If she wanted time to think, she’d think. If she wanted him? He knew she had no shame in making her move, and if anything, probably took a little security knowing this ‘reformed man’ waited for her to make it. He couldn’t hide his soul from her, so whether he liked it or not, his whole hand was on the table. How the cards fell after, that was entirely on her.
Survivor of the Flames

Closed eyes. The smell of cologne. Repressed emotions. They’d been camping, once, out at some punk festival with a lineup she’d hated but she’d gone anyway just to spend the time with their friends. She’d spent most of the time there laying in the sun; the burn had been unaffected by the copious amount of sunscreen she’d brought on the trip. Her skin had been blisteringly hot then; now it almost burnt the same. Her body was rapidly warming; Bellamira equalized over time and the jacket was enough of a blanket that it held all his heat. An idle thought flickered across her mind, but she knew he heard it once it passed- ‘How do you get away with that in this heat?’ – and it spurred a flustered chuckle under her breath. What a stupid thing to share. What a stupid thing to share, out of everything, everything she could have chosen to show him first. It felt disingenuous. It felt… reactive.

Her heart caught in her throat with his words. Did she want him hanging to her like this, cynical of his own mentality, self-hating and improving and trying desperately to be better? It was.. hard to say. He wanted to show her his soul; if he hadn’t he would have pushed her away for a lack of moderation. He’d pushed her away before. It was a violation to him, usually, something Bellamira stayed far away from in another time. But he knew. He knew and he allowed it. He made his desires clear, and waited for her response. But that was the honest answer: she didn’t know. It was hard to tell what she thought about all this. There were a lot of emotions clamouring around, yelling, searching for a soapbox in the square of her soul: none of them could definitively reveal to her the answer to that question. Maybe his vision of romance was relatable, or desirable, but the question really was- could she build past her bitterness? ‘I don’t know,’ she admitted, but it wasn’t enough.

So she set her jaw, resolutely, allowing him a glimpse of the feelings cascading through her chest. She felt great love, she felt great fear, the rising of the sun and the falling of the lonely tide pulled away from the shore by the damned moon. There was room in her for comfort; his warmth and hands certainly provided a familiarity that she could not describe. They had been oil and water, propellant and matchsticks, a loaded gun dropped on the floor. The intense emotion: that was the easiest to share. It took more to let him see the flame.

Her soul flickered like a candle loose in the wind too stubborn to go out. It was vulnerability; at any moment the other shoe could drop to stomp that light out. He could admit that it was a joke. Could say he’d made a mistake, that he wasn’t ready to feel like that, he could realize she wasn’t ready to be broken again. The emotion was painful even for her to behold; in a fleeting moment Mira was made confident of her general tendency to repress these feelings. She let the pain rage. Agony, grief, anger, love, fear, blinding hatred, comfort, bloodlust- all together, simultaneous and sequential at the same time, somehow.

She held on. And, for the first time since he walked through those doors, Gauss showed any real sign of initiative. Not for that lust, though it was there. Not of romance, though it was there. All it was, was comfort. He shifted his body in the opposite direction to her on the couch, laying uncomfortably on his satchel, but ignoring the metal clasps that dug into him. With that slight adjustment in angle, he was able to drape the arm he had on her shoulder around her into the closest thing he could do to an actual hug in this moment. And, too, he held her.

His soul was not silent, but it wasn’t stirring. There wasn’t some new epiphany. There wasn’t a roaring fire or a sparkling flame. There wasn’t new winds for a tempest nor darker trenches for sorrow. There was what there had always been. Him standing at his core, in that ivory tower of his, but this time opened up for her and really all to see. He was, at the very foundation of his soul, there for her.

He didn’t say another word, he didn’t try to comfort her, he didn’t. She told him she didn’t know, and that was enough. Why would she know? Gauss didn’t even expect her to talk to him, let alone end up here, this way, this close, these feelings–any of this. He doubted she did, either. He had no expectations for her. She was enough. Maybe she had always been enough and he was too fucking stupid to see it then. Or, maybe this was the type of bond one gets over trauma, even if they’re the one that caused it.

She was not alone in not knowing.

But there was just one thing, now that Bellamira was finally sharing, that Gauss could think to do that might make any difference. What she shared, he soaked in. He pulled in it as he did with everything, except this time, exposing himself to it in its purest, rawest form. If she had to weather these emotions, he would too, and he’d let her see it. Although it pained him more than he might ever be able to describe, he let them ravage him. He felt pain. He felt it unleash like a beast. The agony, grief, anger, love, fear, blinding hatred, comfort, and bloodlust. He had… no idea what to do with it. No idea how to handle this intensity, nor any idea how long he could.

But in return, he shared that emotion that emerged itself within himself. Gratitude. He had no idea how she carried this weight with her so long, and it shredded his heart to know how much of it he caused. But he was grateful. Not that he caused it. But that she forgave him after, and she was there, and she didn’t yell at him or scream at him, she didn’t kick him out, she didn’t call him the scum of the Earth, she didn’t tell him he was exactly like his father. He was grateful… that she had at least a glimmer of hope for him.

What type of strength she must have, he thought, and thought clearly, to handle this for so long. Her soul flickered, but could he blame it? No. Not after this. Not after surviving what life had thrown at her. She was a survivor, he thought. A beautiful, broken, but still incredible survivor.
Resting Embers

Bellamira lay in his arms like a corpse, resolute in the act of feeling, for a long moment. Her chest barely moved for breathing. It took everything to bring down those walls; her thoughts were replaced with machine-static and freezing, mind-numbing, categoric fear. Finally, her right hand slipped from his back, rooting around in the couch cushion for the small plastic slip she’d tried to hand to him. It was brought up to her chest, clutched tight, hidden in his coat from the camera in the room.

There was a faint sound as she unzipped the bag with one hand. A crisp snap as she broke a bar in half with her teeth, swallowing it dry, an awful scratchy gulp they shared. The bag closed again. She shoved it downwards, into the waistband of his boxers, fingers getting stuck on the belt-loops of his pants in the clumsy motion. This was Bellamira without grace; it was frank and honest in a way that she’d never felt the need to be – or the comfort to be –before. Gritting her teeth, she pressed it back. Slowly lowered the gate into place. It slid over the gap in her soul like a grate, over the emotion leaking through her hands and into the intangibility between them, not obscured but lessened somehow. She knew that they would not leave her until she had the capacity to forget.
‘Don’t tell Salem,’ she finally managed, a thought rather than an automatic action or feeling stirring within. It wasn’t worth this. Nothing ever could be.

She needed, desperately, to sleep. It was just past noon. Not time for a nap. Not time to rest. But those feelings were so draining; it was impossible to reconcile them in consciousness. She let him hear those thoughts. Let them leak off, like water leaking from the pipe beneath the sink, a problem that could never be fully fixed without a replacement of the part but that could be covered up time and time again.

She was like that pipe. Salem never replaced anything, though, no matter how inconvenient its perseveration became. It wasn’t in his nature.

This series of events genuinely took Gauss a moment to process. There were a lot of ethics and morals here at play, which admittedly were never his strong suit, not to mention a sudden and intense change in their physical dynamic followed by an even greater series of shifts in Bellamira, her mind, and even her soul to some extent.

There was a part of him, perhaps the old part, that would have said something to the effect of he would gladly do so, in return for a favor. Perhaps something as small as a kiss; he was never so crude to ask for more intense things. An almost mischievous part of him, one that still existed now, one that was present like the little devil on his shoulder.

He was wise enough to know that voice had no place here. At least, not now. Not feeling what Bellamira felt. He could not entirely change his nature, though. He couldn’t entirely refuse to seize an opportunity. ’Not a word… but I do suppose this means my place to pick them up, huh?’ he thought, more so telling her not unlike any other Meister spoke to their weapon. Although, she wasn’t his. Not in that sense. Or, any sense, really.

However, even after saying that, he felt a tinge of guilt. He just couldn’t do it. Not to her. Perhaps to someone else, some other femme fatale, but not Bella. Not after this. If a soul could sigh, his would ’Nevermind that, I’ll get them to you when and where you want. Our secret… like the rest of this, I assume.’

Of all the oddities about Gauss, one that might stand out is the odd disappointment that echoed from him with the mention of this–the rest of this, specifically–being a secret. Gauss was no stranger to secrets. His soul was always easy to see through, such was a double-edged sword quite often. He guarded it like a fuckboy with their phone. But his soul, his flame, the glimmer in that ivory tower of his, it wavered just a little at the idea of keeping her a secret, and he really had no way to hide that.

Or, perhaps, it was the inverse. He was proud of her, and didn’t know how to put that into words.

‘Your place, that’s fine.’

There was a flicker of fatigue behind the sentiment; Bellamira was not inclined to hide even if she could, but it came over her body in waves, the pull of unconsciousness visible in her soul just as easily as his distress. His heat radiated back to him from her hands; this was a mirror, a limpid pool of the void, just as reflective as her flashing eyes in moments of rage. It was a feeling of defeat. He had not caused it. She was disappointed in herself – for how easily she gave up, how easily she threw away days and weeks of progress, how hard it was to deal with these things meaningfully – but her hands balled into the back of his shirt while they sat there together. The familiarity of the situation kept coming back as its focal point, to her. It was comfortable. Somehow, in between all of the bullshit, it was comfortable. “I don’t care if you tell anyone you came,” she said finally, her voice worn, “but, fuck – I have a reputation to maintain.”

She was glad for his moderation. Glad for the passivity, glad for the respect, glad for the unforeseen gentleness. She was glad she hadn’t just slammed the door in his face. She knew that he knew, too. That was enough.

There was no need to close that connection. He could look, or he could decline to look; she had no more energy for fucking around and no more energy for understanding the web they had been trapped in. The need to escape had come because of it, but it was not his fault; there were many more issues that rose in her throat like bile trying to force its way through her lips. It felt out of control. Her body curled, almost into a ball, around his core. Just laying on top of him. Just quiet.

‘Are you okay if I rest?’

Wonder. That is what Gauss was full of. Not the type of wonder that expected answers, but that inspired the type of curiosity that brought out the most beautiful words of poets and incited the most brilliant thoughts of science. The being Bella held onto, Thaddeus, Gauss, Addi to his siblings, questioned in this moment who he really was. He questioned how this one moment among the countless in his life had so much power, so much intensity, yet transpired through just a conversation on this couch in this condo without any real conflict.

He thought these moments required some yelling or screaming. Maybe amidst a fight against evil, or at least and arena like earlier. He thought anything and everything that could hold this value had to take place over conflict and strife. He thought, wholeheartedly, that iron sharpened iron. And those thoughts were entirely shattered as he looked down and saw the exhausted, yet undeniably beautiful face of Bella while she wrapped herself around him. The breath drained from her chest as they sat like that; the dampness of tears leaked down her face and soaked into his shirt. She couldn’t help it; there might have been no reason to cry, bar the emotional weight, but the heaviness of the world had collapsed on the shoulders and keeping hold of him was just the first challenge.

He leaned back, further, sliding his satchel to the ground so that she could have all the room she needed. Her cat-like flexibility might have been impressive as she so fluidly adapted to their positions, but he could not help but do what he could to help her comfort. There was a whispered admission from the woman crumpled into a pile in his arms: “I missed this.”
Not that long ago, he told someone else that this is what he fought to protect. But until now, he didn’t really know why people fought so hard for it; much like the Witch he spoke to, perhaps he also attributed it to the human desire for freedom. But now, this moment, Bella, and every feeling that came with it sauntered down to his very core and shook it with such force that he could see. If this was normal… if this wasn’t just a once in a lifetime feeling, if Bella and he–or anyone in his life, really–had the potential to have these moments, these feelings, consistently; well then, that was worth fighting and dying for.

’Rest as long as you need, I’ll be here.. If you want.’

He thought about saying more. He thought about telling her that he had an image to maintain, too. That, much like before, if people knew he was getting soft or opening up like this, that the Gauss everyone knew and many respected–while simultaneously detesting, most often–would crumble apart. He could not pretend to be who he was while being this person now. He could not be the man that ruthlessly climbed the ranks while also being the one completely captivated by holding her here.

His train of thought derailed. It was definitely true. He considered saying that, but in that loop of thought, it occurred to him, maybe he didn’t want to be or even care about the respect he once commanded from his peers. Setting aside his obsessive need to give his side of things for a moment, he questioned now who he even wanted to be. He knew he wanted to be better, but now… now he thought about actually being different. Bellamira closed her eyes. It was enough to listen to the conflict raging inside him, like this, but her arms wrapped around his shirt and she broke off most of their skin-to-skin contact. It was distracting, just.. a bit too loud.

Gauss.. wondered. He did not peer into her soul beyond what was there on the surface. He did not force his thoughts onto her, either. He let her rest while he wondered, while these thoughts passed through him. He could not shield her from them, but he was sure with her exhaustion, she could ignore them. But, he could not just turn off his mind. He couldn’t just ‘stop’ thinking. Because as long as Bella held him, he was stuck with the realization that being different, and better, might just be the blessing he was looking for.

Perhaps, too, that’s what he wished he could put into words. A way to tell Bella she was a blessing. Not a drug. Not something that distracted them from the world and artificially made them feel good, not something that one could become addicted to, form these degenerate habits, not something that they knew was bad but did anyway. But something that might just spark real change. But Gauss… Didn’t know how to put that thought into words that he trusted wouldn’t create a new type of fear in Bella. She called him fickle, but the truth was, she was more so. Caring for her was like trying to capture the wind.

Bellamira must have fallen asleep, but exactly when was more elusive, when Gauss could not quite see her turned face. Her breath had settled into a shallow rhythm – like the accidental hallowing of the wind – she was less aware, if she’d ever really listened at all, of the thoughts raging through his mind or the context to the situation. The woman often felt self-conscious of the idea that she missed important details. Just small things, sometimes, full context in other moments. There was some element of tragedy to that; in another moment Bellamira would’ve been all over his behaviour, examining it compulsively, but here she was simply swimming in the aching pool of her mind. There were times she was flighty and avoidant; there were times she might as well have been caught in a net on the couch. It was a dichotomy of the suffocating sort.

Sleeping, though, the conflicted feelings leaking through her skin began to fade to the soft neutrality of night. The flame in her soul stabilized; it hung low and pulsed with her slow heart. Gauss was left alone with his thoughts. When the clock struck three – quarters rang out from a grandfather clock that must have been in the office– it might have occurred to him that Salem was not in a rush. Not long after, though, there was a brisk knock on the apartment door.

If not for the pill she just took, Gauss would have been quite surprised by what she could sleep through. The clock. Salem knocking. His entrance. Then again, he recalled sometimes, her sleep was indeed, quite deep. Others, it could be as delicate as an evening breeze. In any case, he was content to just let her sleep. He might have considered a nap himself, had he not just spent several days doing nothing but resting in the hospital. Either way, he had no protest to the exact situation he found himself in. He had plenty of his own emotions to process, and it was unlikely he was going to accomplish that in just one setting.
Silence in My House

Salem had decided to give the kids some time to work things out; he’d stopped by the coffee shop up the street with its garden where he knew he could hear the screaming if things went sour. He couldn’t control it, there was no point in forbidding contact or anything else so childish, because in the end Bellamira would probably do what she wanted and it was better for her to be safe about it. There had been an hour or so of self-soothing. The want to come back with a reasonable mind. The knowledge that it took effort to actually care for the people you love. He gave them a respectful moment to straighten up before he even tried to open the door. The drink-tray in his hands tilted dangerously as the man fumbled with its handle.

When he stepped inside, three drinks in the tray in his hands, he crossed the room in silence. He didn’t survey them. Didn’t judge. Didn’t search them with his eyes or ask them what the fuck they thought they were doing on his couch. He set the tray down on the coffee table. Took one in his hand. Sat in the chair beside the couch, his chair, and spun it to square with Gauss as he leaned forward on his elbows propped up on his knees. He cracked open the lid of the drink, took a long sip, and finally met the younger man’s eyes.

Gauss did very little, really, upon Salem entering. His eyes would have followed him, but even upon the drinks being sat down, he dared not move. Not out of some sense of hospitality or gratitude, but more so simply not to disturb Bella. She was, after all, unconscious and wrapped around him, using his warm body as a pillow as opposed to anything the couch itself had to offer.

Gauss shot Salem a playful smile, now in his mind thinking this was like Round Two of obstacles to overcome. Salem was patient, intelligent, and tended to be respectful, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t observing and scrutinizing every little thing he saw. Gauss was well aware. The man could analyze without judging; it was a rare but objective skill necessary for his trade. He was sure every mannerism, word, and even tone that came out of him was likely again up for evaluation.

”I suppose you have yourself a captive audience,” Gauss whispered faintly, as to avoid still disturbing Bella. That, and pointing out how he really couldn’t move without doing so. ”I would think that would be a rare occurrence in your line of work,” he added in that same hush.

“I guess so,” Salem replied slowly, hand lurching forward to place his cup back on the table. His head tilted as he considered the pair. His mouth set in a firm line. Neutral. Not angry, not disappointed, just the barest hint of a frown and the slightest glimmer of humour in his eyes. He nodded. The thoughts in his mind were raging; she was safe and breathing in front of him even if he’d prefer to see her active at this time of day. It was suspicious, but not atypical. Bellamira liked to sleep. “You like your coffee black?”

His voice was not enforced as quiet, but he was a quiet man, steady and maybe even comforting in a different time against the rushing wind of the world. Salem was like a rooted tree; anyone could grab on for a moment to stabilize but he rarely moved ahead with them in tandem. The light in the room had seemed to dim on his entrance. Maybe he was just too close to the window, blocking the sun, glowing around his back and illuminating his thin blonde hair.

”I’m a French Vanilla type of guy,” Gauss said, still quiet, but if he was going to drink coffee and had the option, he’d go for it. Despite his clear privilege, he was far from the type of person to want things overly complex. A little flavor, but it didn’t need to necessarily be curated to him. That, and he was fairly sure if he accepted black coffee without being a fan, Salem would probably pick up on that distaste and make some odd analysis about how he didn’t feel secure enough to ask for what he wanted, on and on. Fucking shrinks.

”If is any consolation, there was no yelling or screaming… just hugs and a few tears,” he told Salem, thinking that an actual explosive fight was likely what he expected from their interaction. It wasn’t an unfair assumption; it was their pattern in the past. Honesty, for the most part, was the route Gauss was opting to go.

“Hey. All I gotta say…”

Salem’s hand moved to comb through his hair. It was the closest thing the doctor had to a nervous tick; the motion was familiar in the past, but it wasn’t common anymore, at least not in public. The man was a candle burning at both ends. A person with a lot of burdens, and little recourse against them, except in that they got better slowly day-by-day. A person who had learned to cover them up. “Mira’s been doing good. She’s in FATE now, trying, trying again.” This had been a trial. All of it had been a trial. He’d succeeded, time and again. It would be unsportsmanlike to punch down at someone he knew was also - allegedly - trying. This was worrying, though. It was bad. It was a source of angst, and commotion, and all the things that upset Salem’s specific sense of righteousness and order. It was Bellamira’s choice to see Gauss, but- well, he just couldn’t expect it would end well. “Don’t screw this up for her.” Don’t screw this up for me.

”If she had to go through what I did to get in FATE, then I know,” Gauss responded. He couldn’t help but look down at Bella with a pair of sympathetic eyes and resist the urge to hold onto her just a little tighter. He didn’t look back up to Salem, either. Instead, he just explained, ”But it’s not easy. Even when I try to build bridges, sometimes my partners fight with my teammates. Everyone complains about everything… I didn’t want Bella to walk in, as hard as it is, worrying about the chance of running into me, too.”

Then, and only then, he looked back up to Salem. ”I didn’t come here for my sake; you can’t ruin my name any more than I already have. I did it for her,” he added. Added without a hint of falsehood, without one of those nervous ticks, without even a lack of confidence in what he said. What he said, he felt adamantly was true.

The self-righteousness was in-character. It made the man bristle; what kind of honesty could there be through this sort of ego? There was a kindness, though, that he could not quite ignore. What had put him off so much about Gauss – what had made Salem actually hate the kid – was the lack of empathy he displayed when It came to other people. Hell, when It came to Bellamira specifically. This could be an act. It could be the mimicry of self-awareness, but in time, that would become self-awareness as well. It would become guilt. Salem didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of guessing what lurked in the recesses of the boy’s mind, and it didn’t matter to him, either. What really mattered was the behaviour.
“I’m not so petty.”

Salem’s hands came together in his lap. The doctor’s eyes had not left Gauss since he sat down. There was something to be said for Bellamira’s capacity for judgement; if she felt able to sleep next to him then surely he should be able to put aside his bitterness. It was not that easy. “You know how you fucked up?”

His tone was more casual, and he grabbed his drink again, his left leg crossing over his right with its foot flat on the floor. The question could almost be read as rhetorical. If he’d continued any more, it would have been. But.. well, he didn’t. He broke the staredown to check the clock on the side-table toward the kitchen. He knew what time it was, but it was getting hard to stand the tension.

Gauss heard the question, but unlike before, he didn’t have an immediate answer. He had to think about it. If Salem thought looking down was going to ease the tension, the moment of silence that hung in the air following it only emphasized it that much further. Being the last one left to speak, especially on such a question, couldn’t be an easy place to be in.

But, Gauss did eventually come up with an answer. ”No, Salem… I guess I don’t. It could be so many things that I just don’t know. Maybe if it was just one thing, B’ wouldn’t have been so pissed at me for so long,” he explained, giving the only insight he could to the situation. There was yet again, truth in those words. Gauss wasn’t a pleasant person, nor a considerate one, and unless you considered being doted on with copious amounts of money kind, then he wasn’t a kind one, either. Asking him how he fucked up was like asking him to count the stars in the sky.

There was a long draught of the coffee. If Salem could have drowned himself in that most venerated liquid to avoid the conversation he has unwittingly stumbled into he would have. There was nothing Salem wanted less than to undo progress that had already been made. Praising the boy in front of him was not an option; deriding him might be just as damaging if his intentions were good. The admission of guilt, though, of many wrongs – that took him by surprise. He went back for a second gulp, emptying almost half the cup, before lowering it back down between his hands. He wished that there was something extra in the mug. It gave him time to carefully choose his words.

“Do you think you can fix it?”

Another open-ended question. There was no reason to pass judgement yet; his opinion was not yet in a state where it could be considered helpful. There was no reason to be hurtful. It only continued that cycle, and fuck, if this was any indication it was a cycle that would come back to bite him in the ass. His shoulders were tight, pulled close to his body. Salem looked small in that deep red lounge chair so close to the floor.

”My therapist tells me that’s the wrong question,” Gauss responded. There was an extra layer here that Salem hadn’t considered. Gauss was already receiving treatment, and no two doctors were going to approach the problem the same. Even now, it seemed like Gauss recycled what he said directly from the mouth of a professional. Salem’s interest seemed to peak, chin raising from his coffee for the first time as he listened.

”But, I wish I could. Part of my therapy was to acknowledge the things I did wrong and take accountability–whether I agreed or not,” Gauss told him. It was, admittedly, a fairly aggressive tactic, perhaps not one Salem agreed with so early, but it was most definitely an expected step. ”At first, I thought it was stupid. Even if I apologized for everything I ever done, it didn’t actually erase what I did,” Gauss explained to him.

”But it was mandatory and I went on. Months, as a matter of fact. But what I learned is that each story was similar, but not the same. Not everyone hurt the same or for the same reasons. Not everyone forgave me, either. Actually…” he trained off. ”That’s why I waited so long for B’. I thought with more practice and effort, maybe I could… I don’t know… not have her cut me out again,,” he added, explaining the thought that pulled him off topic.

”What I learned from it all is I can’t fix it. But I try, and I can hope trying is worth it enough to the person that I at least make a dent in the damage I left behind. Not everyone will forgive me, I guess… but there are some I definitely hope do more than others,” Gauss said, summarizing his experience with this part of his therapy, and giving Salem another answer that demonstrated how powerless Gauss seemed to feel.

There were a lot of explanations. Although Salem wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear it, wasn’t sure if he cared, he did his best to listen attentively: There were good intentions here. It was hard to swallow the fact that people could change; it was a testament to the validity of his work but that did not stop the raging of apprehension and injustice in his chest. Most of his students did not ever cross the boundary into his house. He did not like chaos in the home.
I've Got Milk and Daddy Issues

As he drained the last of his coffee, Salem stood again, taking a few steps closer to the couch until he was nearly looming over them and tugging a second cup from the tray. He held it out on offer to Gauss.

“You’re gonna be alright, kid.”

Gauss reached out to take the coffee. He could smell the roast. He didn’t intend on pressing the topic about the creamer, though he would definitely make sure Bella was in stock if he were to ever return, or at least do so consistently enough to justify a spot in their fridge for liquid creamer. This was the type of thought that ran through his head at a time like this. Frivolous, self-interested, and the clearest indicator he wasn’t entirely reformed.

But he took a sip of the coffee regardless. It was at least decent. It struck him, too, that if Salem knew he was here and cared enough to inquire about the coffee, why didn’t he just ask him for an order via text? That clearly was not the point and would have likely soured the mood he had with Bella, but again, these were his thoughts.

”Sure, Salem,” he responded, not really aware of what to respond with in that scenario. He wasn’t being sarcastic. His ‘sure’ was in total agreement. It was just that him being okay wasn’t necessarily what he cared about. Not when clearly he had done so many others what he did to Bella. “I’ve got milk,” her brother offered unhelpfully.

”It’s not the coffee, but thank you,” Gauss replied. He was polite, and not with his typical better-than-you attitude. Actually, unless enraged, Gauss was always polite. The yelling, most often, came from Bella. Deservedly? Probably.

”Do you mind if I tell you something? I understand if you tell me to save it for my therapist, but it has to do with family… and it is your sister I’m holding,” Gauss asked, circling around something he didn’t want on his own record, but had been on his mind plenty since his last encounter with Thea.

As he pilfered Bellamira’s coffee from the tray - if she hadn’t woken up yet, he hardly even needed to search, she was out - Salem took a few steps toward the sheer purple curtain over the balcony window, pulling the farther sheet open to reveal the late afternoon sun to the opposite side of the room. He preferred natural light; it would have been rude to intentionally put a guest or his sister in the sun. When the man took his spot again, it seemed he’d made up his mind. He nodded.

“I never do,” came his reply, steady and poised. The room felt less dark like this, lit up with the orange tone of the evening, white rattan carpet painted with the pigments of the sky. He had all of the backstage tapes. He could guess, even if he’d just passed it on. “What’s bothering you?”

Gauss watched as Salem snatched Bellamira’s coffee. It would be cold by the time she woke up, anyway, so no harm no foul. Besides, with them on good terms again, she could basically have him get anything she wanted delivered, basically. Though, he wasn’t sure if she had yet considered that perk. That hardly was the thought he wanted to explore now, although one could argue it was related.

”I understand why my older siblings hate our dad, I do… but in my first year here when all of the fighting started with them all pissed about the funding and calls and everything else, he went out of his way to give me some instructions. Some that I’ve never told them and I haven’t ever had to follow. I used to never question it, but now they confuse me,” Gauss explained, setting up the actual issue he wanted to share. It was hard to keep his face neutral. The problems of affluent families were ones he was familiar with. It was not unsurprising that their father would try to do well by his children.

”See my dad… he told me that if Thea or Vi’ ever needed money or help–or anything that he could do for them–to do whatever I could, spend whatever, call anyone in the company, and have it done. He told me it didn’t matter what or why, told me it didn’t even matter if I told him I did it. And that was all after they had fought, and their mother tried to sue, and the family fell apart.I was a lot younger then, but I know everyone was terrible to each other. It made what B’ used to scream at me look tame,” Gauss went on, telling Salem this secret he hadn’t shared… ever, really. For his part, the doctor took his concern seriously. His face tightened as he contemplated the situation.

”I asked him why he did that a few years later, even told him they had their own careers now, probably didn’t need him. All he told me was ‘They’re still Thales,’ and left it at that…” he added. He actually made eye contact with Salem this time. This was the real part of the anecdote that held a question he didn’t know the answer to. ”Recently, I’ve wondered… was I wrong to keep that from them? That our dad would have helped them?” he asked, sounding rhetoric but absolutely serious in nature.

“You know, I think you should pass on the sentiment and leave out all the financial manipulation. Your father uses money to get what he wants. If he wants a relationship with them, he’ll have to work through it more honestly than that.” Another long draught of the coffee. Salem’s tone was exceptionally casual considering how scathing the words came out. “Nobody wants to screw up their kids.” He stated simply. “It’s up to your siblings to decide if he’s forgivable.”

Gauss listened, and listened close. He wondered if he had communicated this, would some of that bad blood be lessened. Recently, that question had carried a lot of weight with him. Every word Salem said had merit, but it wasn’t at all what he was looking for. With a direct, cutting tone, Gauss merely commented, ”That… doesn’t really answer my question.”
“It was selfish to keep it to yourself. If you were capable of doing better, you would have told them then.” His voice was definitive, but not damning. It was gentle. “But if you can do better now, than you have no time for guilt, lest you miss the revision - assuming that’s what you want.”

Salem did not really believe in the idea of duty to family, but they were important connections that should be nurtured if they were healthy and held onto desperately. They could be fixed, too - although he was hardly a success story there - he’d managed to learn to live with the resentment he’d once felt for Bellamira. His relation to the situation would tell him that he, in their place, would not speak to their father. They might have felt differently.

”I thought that, too…” he said, trailing off. He looked back down to the coffee for a moment. Reflecting on all of the fighting that had happened. Was it really selfish for him not to tell them? He didn’t gain anything from it. Even if they spent as much as he did, it wouldn’t put a dent in the fortune. Even if they got to call and talk to the siblings and their father, would that really hurt him so? He didn’t understand why that made him selfish, that was his conflict.

Yet, he still felt bad. He didn’t understand why, but he felt bad. Like he had a piece to this puzzle, but no idea how to use it. No idea where it went in the grand scheme of things.
”But also… our dad told me not to tell them. Only ever to help if asked… I don’t think he actually cared if they knew it was him or anything, just that they weren’t truly out here alone,” Gauss said, somewhat musing to himself at this point. ”Almost like… I was.. I don’t know, just the guy holding the credit card. An ATM or a phone call if they ever needed it; like… no, no I think I get this part,” Gauss stopped, realizing he was stumbling. He inhaled deep, then exhaled a bit, but made sure to keep his voice just a little hushed.
”It felt like he made sure they could have everything it meant to be a Thales without actually asking him,” Gauss said, putting together his thought more cohesively. “Like he knows they would never ask him?”

”Salem, my dad basically divorced their mom for being a weapon and disowned them when they ran off to the DWMA. He’s racist or whatever you call that, and hasn’t set up a meeting between my oldest and youngest siblings in years. I’m the third of seven between three marriages. So no, I don’t think they’d ask him,” Gauss shot off. An expression somewhere between a laugh and a grimace lit up at the statement; Salem’s hand raised to hide the smile on his face but nothing could hide the lighting of his amber eyes in the orange light that so clearly suited his being. Following a choking sound, he cringed a bit; not out of fear but from the shock of the statement and the embarrassment from the motion. It was said so seriously and yet so off-handedly.

“I.. wow, yeah, the man knows how to play. Fuck.” A shake. “I’m sorry, Gauss, I shouldn’t laugh. I really - I don’t have that kind of - I don’t have expertise in family trauma, just a screwed up family of my own, and I think I have to laugh about it. But I didn’t mean to laugh at you.”

Gauss squinted, almost glaring, at Salem as he responded. He wasn’t sure how to handle the response Salem offered him. Laughter at such a time wasn’t something he was terribly comfortable with and it admittedly brought up a defensive wall in his mind. Even with his explanation about their family, he didn’t feel entirely at ease about it. At the very least, he restrained himself from interrupting.

The overexplanation was more awkward than the offensive; Salem’s palm rubbed at the back of his neck. “I imagine that would be hard. I can’t really fathom there being five more of her.” Attempting to make Thaddeus laugh in his place, or at least garner a chuckle, he gestured slightly towards Bellamira. “Besides the fact that your father wants something from you. If it’s going to fuck your life up, Gauss, I think it’s okay to be a bit selfish. Staying the hell away from him will probably make their lives easier anyway. I’d need a lot more information to actually understand. Do you want to get into that?”

Gauss calculated his next response. Salem forfeited that feint of professionalism he had, and no matter how brief, it did leave an impression on him. Still, this was his career. He had a reputation. Apparently, one so significant that his work was technically more important than the more mundane issues that Gauss faced. He had been assured that specialties did not dictate importance, but that’s certainly not how it felt. Not in the DWMA.

Gauss did not laugh. Or chuckle. Or crack a remark. If anything, he found himself mildly defensive of Bella. But, he knew what Salem was trying to do. He was trying to gloss over the faux pas he made by laughing. He was trying. Gauss inhaled deeply, then exhaled, trying to let go of this bruised ego and offer Salem some silent forgiveness. That’s what this was all about, after all.

”My father has never done anything to hurt me, not like he did Thea and Vi’. He was disappointed when I told him I didn’t want to run Thaltek, but not disappointed in me. He still calls a few times a week, and I talk to my siblings. They’re young, Salem, so cutting him out would likely mean the same for them,” he told Salem, giving him a quick overview of his relationship with his father. HIs eyes stayed sharp though, even as that squint relaxed. ”I don’t mind sharing. But I don’t like to be laughed at, not like that. If you knew what the Thales were really like, you wouldn’t laugh,” he told him, not knowing Salem in fact did know at least one instance word for word of how Thea spoke to him.

“You’re right. I didn’t - well, I mean, I know what it is to struggle with family. I was laughing at.. my own struggles. Which are not relevant here at all.”

He turned his gaze to the outskirts of Death City. The people walking through the street, laughing, talking- they were unaware of the tension up above. The compact apartment felt confining; he would be more concerned about Bellamira if he couldn’t see her breath but as it was it was just.. awkward. “You have a lot to lose by breaking the script.” A consolation. Formal. He wanted to be helpful. Wanted to show that he sympathized. He just didn’t know what to say.

“Your sister,” he said finally, questioningly, “is what spurred this wave of self-reflection?”

Gauss would physically tense up at the mention of his sister. It was rare to see him on edge; even in the most heated conversations memory could serve, no matter how much Bella might have yelled or cried, Gauss never had much of a physical reaction. It wasn’t his tick. Not part of his normal mannerisms. As for the clarification provided by Salem, he decided it was best to let it be water under the bridge. His discomfort was quiet but obvious; there was nothing Salem wanted less than to pry into things that Gauss would rather keep hidden.

”That is… one way to word it,” Gauss answered, confirming the question Salem asked. Although, realistically, it was much more than just her. But, explaining it was a culmination of things over and over was starting to become a trend he didn’t like. Salem swallowed the apprehension hovering in his chest.
Apologies and Epiphanies
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Switching topics in a less than subtle way, Gauss opted to hit on something Salem mentioned. ”You know, I’m not actually a patient. If you want to talk about your struggles for a moment, it’s an option. B’ never did shed much light on your situation here,” he said, prying just a little at the dynamic between Salem and Bella.

There was a flash through Salem's mind of a dozen late-night conversations, of the times he'd walked out onto the ledge to retrieve Mira, of the scent of bread baking back when there was more than just reputation that had importance. This kid cared about his sister. Although Salem could not speak for her - like she would anyway - he knew his side of the story. His lip wavered.
"I never got along with my parents. I didn't suit their vision of what a son was meant to be: let's just say they hardly prioritized coursework. I wanted to be a professional."

His voice was soft, soothing, less pained than reassuring Gauss of what he viewed as a fundamental truth. "They had Mira ten months after I started NOT. She was the definition of a makeup baby. I stopped coming home for the holidays after that. I didn't know how to deal with being replaced, so I just didn't, I kept an apartment and stayed in Nevada."

Gauss listened intently to what Salem had to say. He always did, or at least he had during these new meetings. But it was at this moment he started to piece together a realization. He and Salem weren’t that much different in a few ways. Especially if one could overlook the corporate conglomerate that was Thaltek. This only made his focus on what Salem had to say that much more intense. That much more genuine.

The doctor couldn't tear his eyes from his little sister. There was some sort of jabbing sideways pain that twisted in his chest; he wanted to pull her away from this conversation and that boy and insulate her from those problems in the same way she hid in his coat.

"And would you believe," he asked, voice grim, full of gravel, "I didn't see anything was wrong with her life. I was jealous of her. I was jealous of her as they forced her to walk the path I didn't want to. I was jealous that they loved her, I guess, even if I didn’t want it myself. We never actually talked about it. I fucking hated her, Gauss, and it wasn't until she dissapeared that I realized that if somebody didn't start trying to know her I soon wouldn't have a sister to hate."

As Salem spoke here, he started to wonder if this is what Thea and Vi’ felt. A jealousy. An envy. Not necessarily because he walked a path they didn’t, but because he walked the same path, but had the support of their father. He knew Thea hated him. To Vi’, seemed more like a disappointment. But, to hear Salem say he hated Bella, it struck him just as hard as it did when Thea said the same about him.

The gaze broke as Salem hid his wet eyes behind a rubbing hand. He'd not spoken much about himself; maybe Salem didn't need to. He was more worried about other people. "So, no, I don't think you should cut out your young siblings." It was this honesty that nearly made him choke. “And I don’t think your sister is making the right call either.”

He could say so much about their parents. All of it was messed up. Would any of this actually help give Gauss some perspective? He worried for them - that was all there was to it. The kids *would* be alright. It would be easier if they could help each other on their way.

”Maybe it’s them you should talk to… because… ‘cause it seems like you’ve been down the road they’re on,” Gauss said, himself barely choking out the words. Much like before, with Bella, he wasn’t confident in what he said. Salem was likely just as well aware that if Gauss had a personality profile, self-righteous would be listed up near the top, but with the wavering voice he had now, it would have been fairly apparent that trait was long out the door. The doctor nodded slowly, carefully. He wanted to give the correct impression now.

”They weren’t always like this. Visits weren’t often; obviously our dad remarried and they had me, but even after Vi’ left for the DWMA, it seemed like he was excited to be an older brother. He showed me how he could transform.. We played games. Thea even barged in on the fun. She used to be protective–she used to warn me about dad and tell me I could come to her with anything,” Gauss explained, doing his best not to just break down about these golden days of his childhood. It was instinctual to reach for the little black notepad at his hip, but Salem's fingers met air; it occurred to him that they were effectively just talking. There was no jostling for position. No snide remarks. Only calls and responses. Electrical signals.

”That… all changed when I wanted to join the DWMA, too,” he added, wanting to say more, but stopping for much the same reason Salem choked up. Talking about it was hard. He never really told anyone how they treated him; not his therapists, his partners, or his friends. He wasn’t really about to give Salem details, not that he needed them.

"I'm so sorry, Thaddeus."

The apology was genuine, if tentative: he needed no proof of misdeed nor a crystal ball to see how affected the boy was by his family. His temples held in his hands, leaned over his own lap, Salem thought carefully about his next response. He felt the need to justify himself, even for the unjustifiable.

"It's not easy," he assured the boy in front of him. Much of the emotion was stripped from his voice; the Salem Gauss knew as a man full of odd humor had disappeared into the shadow of something else.

"Even with effort, it's not easy. I manage with Bells. She deserves better, but I manage. Sometimes I hate her more than either of them. I hate the bullshit she puts me through. There are times I wish it would be okay if I sent her home.

I wish that I had my life back and that I never developed this foolish idea of responsibility."
His voice raised as he spoke, but as Bellamira stirred, he lapsed into a careful silence.
The scratching sound from his throat seemed to echo through the room. His face was flushed red; these were the most embarrassing of thoughts that he just usually could not reveal. "You can't... Expect perfect," he finally concluded like a ghost of the night, just a whisper, an admission. "Trying is enough. I'm trying, Gauss. I hope they can try for you too."

Salem took quite the serious turn. Not that Gauss didn’t take what Salem was saying as serious beforehand, but his body language and tone had grown increasingly stark. Empathy wasn’t necessarily Gauss’ best skill, but picking up on the change at all was something he was capable of. He wasn’t quite sure how to process the weight of what Salem was telling him, but he was sure it carried a lot regardless.

”The only person I expect perfection from is myself,” Gauss told him. It was a neutral, almost bittersweet tone that said it. ”Bella doesn’t have to be perfect to be enough. I’m glad she is who she is. We all have things to work on…” Gauss told him, looking down to Bella with a little affectionate sparkle in those bright eyes of his, although she was out cold and couldn’t see it. ”I don’t know if my siblings will ever try; if they did a fraction of what you do, things would be better,” Gauss told him, giving what little praise he could to the man that tolerated so much.

He looked back up to Salem, then smiled softly. ”The good shit is in the folds of the satchel. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a little smoke might lighten the mood,” Gauss suggested. Clearly, with Bella on him, he was in no shape to actually acquire it himself. ”Thank you for listening, by the way,” he added, speaking to Salem less like a psychiatrist and more like he would had it been Noah.
The Real Red Flag
They shared a smile. Salem was moderating his breathing; the pent-up stress was not something he liked to express but was spurred by the context, and besides, he thought that Thaddeus needed to hear it. He hardly wanted a fucking medal. He tried his hardest, it often wasn’t enough. He wanted to tell Gauss that people could change; he wanted to promise he’d try to talk to them or that he’d send Bellamira to plead his case. He remembered, with a poorly covered-up grimace, the last time he and Bellamira had seen Thea in public.

Nobody needed to ruminate on that.

“I hope they do,” he replied instead, leaning across the floor to tug Gauss’ bag between his own feet. He snapped open a tube and flicked a lighter up into his hand from an unidentifiable location. The discussion of his sister was difficult; the good that Gauss saw and the bad that Salem saw likely had a lot of overlap, but it was up to neither of them to define what was actually good for her. He nodded along about effort. Raised an eyebrow as he sucked on the joint theatrically, throwing his head back up to the ceiling, smoke rings floating lazily from his mouth.

Reaching over that span again, he gave Gauss the joint, sliding the ashtray on the table forward with his other hand. He sat there – leaned forward across his knees, waiting for it to be returned – and a chuckle growled from the back of his throat. “Oh, anytime. You don’t have to put her out to talk to me, though, adjust accordingly. I prefer my sister conscious.” It was a joke, but maybe an off-color one. A bit of a wink. Salem had been upset when he’d seen the boy, and he’d been upset when he’d walked in, but he was not upset at Gauss. He was upset at Bellamira, and there was no point in projecting.

These were the joints Gauss was actually excited for. Hundreds of strains to choose from, and these were the top five the gentlemen at the dispensary suggested. He was somewhat surprised when Gauss requested their one gram specialty rolls–and one of each five, but a sale was a sale. Gauss took it in his hand, then maneuvered it between his index and middle finger before shifting it again to over his middle finger and grasped between his thumb and index. This particular hold, he found, worked great for thicker rolls like this one.

He did not make a comment or reply, at least, not immediately. Instead, he perhaps did something that Salem likely forgot he could. He took a quick view of the surroundings, looking particularly to see if the ashtray had any metal–and more importantly, magnetic components. And, it did. With his remaining ring and pinky finger, he made the simplest of come hither motions, causing the ashtray to subtly lift, then gently float over to him before he could grasp it with his freehand. Normally such a meager example of his abilities was beneath him, but it did reduce any chances of his movements disturbing Bella.

He was considerate, likely to an alarming degree, if Salem interpreted it as such. The doctor gave him that benefit. It was a moment of mutual understanding; Gauss did not want to disturb Mira and Salem similarly did not want her to be disturbed. He considered his exit strategy. He might find a reason to leave for the night, if he could leave before Mira woke up. It would be less awkward than dealing with the aftermath of this.

Gauss took a long, steady drag off of the joint, simply holding it before pulling it from his lips. He did not breathe. He let it settle in his lungs before gently tapping it with his pinky to make the dead, gray ashes fall off the end, giving the remaining cherry plenty of air and life before extending his hand to pass it back to Salem. While holding it there, he finally opened his mouth to let what little smoke could escape from his lungs out, only to reinhale a good half of it though his nose. It wasn’t until after this he opted to say anything.

”It wasn’t intentional. She touched me, and as weapons do with Meisters, she felt my soul. I’m sure you question a lot… but she got to feel the emotions at their face value. I think the contrast between what she expected and what she felt took quite the toll on her… one joint with a little kief and she was ready to… well…” he looked down, but had eyebrows raised, as if to gesture precisely what had happened. ”She seemed tired to begin with, too. She should probably drink more water,” he added, with an odd suggestion at the end. Of course, to him, it was more related to the hangover he suspected.

“That’s not surprising,” Salem responded evenly, “she always liked you.” Not that I understood why. Salem was doing better at keeping negativity to himself. It was an ongoing process; the derision was unproductive and hurtful but damn did it help let the steam off. With a bit of a cough, though, he let slip something he considered halfway.
“You think she’s fucked up?”

He meant physically, of course, a speculation on the state of her sobriety before the fall or maybe of his impact on her soul. He didn’t care about the pot. He never had. Gauss should know what the question meant; he took the joint from the boy and laid the same hand on his sister’s exposed ankle as if to check her temperature. After a moment, eyes closed and breathing slow, he withdrew to take a haul off the smoke. He went back for a second puff. A third. Smoke hung low in the room; Salem passed the joint back to Gauss’ hand. He sat back into his chair as he evaluated them. It was an honest question. He didn’t know if he expected an honest answer.

Now this was a landmine if Gauss ever saw one, and Salem chose right after Gauss took a hard hit to ask. His mind was already feeling itself elevating. His skin tingling. Whatever he took, it felt like it was primarily hitting his body. His sore back, most of all, started to dull down. More so, the spots that he could feel were more sensitive from the explosion now seemed to radiate a more neutral tingle, much akin to that from menthol or body warming gels, and it was most intense where he was sore. Of course, he never would have complained about it with Bella on him, but it was notably there.

Gauss took the joint and stared at it. Salem was smart. The man basically had people lie to him for a living. Gauss had already snuck a few in, but he didn’t know how to dance around what Salem was asking. It took him a moment to piece together what he needed as an answer, but he thought of it. And, he grinned. Wide, actually.

”Not as fucked up as we’re going to be,” Gauss replied. ”I think you got one for a body high, but the guy at Weedkiller said 99 Percent was a real trip,” Gauss responded. All before he slid the joint back between his fingers as he did earlier, and took another steady hit. He kept it slow. Part of him wanted to hit it harder for the act, but he didn’t risk it for fear coughing would disturb Bella. Salem raised an eyebrow. The response was not what he was fishing for, but it was amusing; besides, Bella would be just as fucked as they were, if she woke up in a hotboxed room. There was no productive conversation happening. No likelihood of introspection. No time to talk.

He exhaled, resuming staring at the joint, and lo and behold, his eyes were definitely glazing over. Not quite bloodshot yet, but they would be. He extended his hand, but mostly looked off with a slight chuckle. ”Y’know, I have no idea why anyone that likes me actually likes me–never did,” Gauss said, with an abrupt piece of honesty. ”I don’t pretend to be nice, I even used to warn people that everything they heard was true,” he went on. ”But people still wanted to fuckin’ be around me, and I don’t quite think it was just the money. You pick up on that shit, y’know,” Gauss added, lifting his eyes up to Salem, waiting for him to take the joint.

They passed back and forth much more determinedly than Bellamira had been inclined. The comment made Salem chuckle again himself; his eyes were hazy but not even quite red. He was too practiced for such embarrassment - if it wasn’t damn good shit. He shrugged exaggeratedly. “I dunno, dude,” he started, playing up the tone, “but I’d say it’s to prove they can. That they’re, like, invulnerable to the ‘madness’ or whatever the hell it actually is. You feel like you pull people in. Maybe you do, and they just, well they just think they’re bigger than that. Like they can overpower your personality or something.”

Another toke, another attempt to pass it on. This time, his hand tapped Mira’s twice, trying to get her to take it. Another time, she might have taken a hit and went back to sleep. Instead, there was a groggy, upset noise from the inside of Gauss’ jacket. The woman pulled her hand away, long fingers disappearing into the blazer. Salem did his best not to laugh. Passed it back to Gauss again instead. Didn’t disturb her any more.

“You got a better explanation?”

”Eh… man…” Gauss mumbled, realizing he was perhaps more far gone than he anticipated. Salem seemed fine, but he felt like his body on cloud nine. He felt warmth radiate through his body. He felt the pressure from Bella’s hand in his blazer, and for a while, it felt like just that extra touch of sensation sent waves through his body. That tiny stimulation was like the moon pulling on the ocean, like it controlled every beach that was the body of the magnetic Meister. His mind was there, mostly, but he was pretty far detached.

”If I… or if you said to just like, assume the worst of people, like the most shallow reasons,” Gauss answered, holding the joint in his hand and ashing it again, since he had the privilege of holding the ashtray. He looked down and realized this, then looked back up at Salem and told him, ”Just for the record, I’m not gonna be able to do that trick again for a bit.” His train of thought cut short, typical for someone of his mindset, but it was a valid point. Moving that ashtray required coordination he simply did not possess at the moment.

”If Bella is gettin’ some of this secondhand, this is probably the best nap she’s had in like… years,” Gauss commented before letting a chuckle slip out. A similar thought to Salem, though perhaps the years of additional tolerance the man had made him a little less sensitive to the herb and its effects.

”But yeah, uh… maybe it’s a challenge, but like… my name got power. Thales are like, top ten in Forbes, man. I’m damn near more royal than actual princes in fuckin’ Arabia; think about it, Magitech is replacing gasoline…” Gauss explained. And, for a moment, he sounded like he was on what one considered a typical egotrip. But he continued on, ”I think people know that… and they want a little part of that, maybe. Like, maybe it’s not actually me, y’know? Maybe any of my siblings could do it,” he suggested.

”My therapist, he fuckin’ tells me it’s because I got this ‘air of confidence’, and most people are actually followers. He tells me I should be careful ‘cause I lead others without even meaning to; that people like me I have some inherent responsibility,” Gauss went on, although at this point he was paraphrasing more and clearly not using the proper terms.

”But I dunno… I don’t fuckin’ see how. People get one inkling of who I am, sometimes even just from like those stupid ass profiles they keep on us–which by the way should be way more fuckin’ private–and they get this idea of me in their head that can’t be shook, and then they just hate me. They think I just wanna dick them down or make another notch in my bedpost or whatever, and whatever, fine, but I get hate. I don’t see how I can get that hate, but then be someone others follow. I don’t see how confidence means a damn thing if people hate what you’re about,” Gauss told him, ending his rant. He sighed, too, realizing he perhaps went a little overkill, but nonetheless, it was good to get it off his chest.

Then he took another hit. Slow and steady, as it had always been, til the cherry neared his fingers, and he felt the heat getting a touch too close for his liking. He stopped there, then passed it to Salem, extending his hand a bit prematurely. Gauss was spoiled in this regard; he’d rather just buy more than finish off the last bit of this joint himself. He never could understand why people would get those little metal tongs just go get those last few desperate hits.

Salem took it between his index finger and thumbnail. Those nails were tinged dark; his nails were always painted black but there was a definite layer of resin underneath visible as he took it from Gauss. This was habit; he brought it to his lips and finished almost until the very end of the paper, flicking its empty husk into the ashtray, and moving to grab it from the boy’s hand. There was a thick sigh. “Yeah,” he agreed, “I don’t show anyone my notes. Fuck that, it’s on a need-to-know basis. Frankly, Gauss, most people don’t.”

There were thoughts about the ego whirling through his chest. Thaddeus was attempting, or at least visibly attempting, to act with some sort of integrity. Acting always came before genuine feeling. To Salem, the feelings were irrelevant. To Bella, he knew, they meant everything. She was asleep on the couch. That was enough of a comfort - no matter how suspicious he might be - to approach the situation with some legitimacy. This kind of introspection was rare and Salem wanted to encourage it.

“You need to think less about your ego,” he sighed, “If you care about what I think, at least. Prince, heir, benevolent, irrelevant, hated, loved, asinine - why does it matter - you’re going to have to make a new label for yourself. Ex-abuser is not a good self-identifier. Have you ever interacted with someone without thinking about your reputation?”

Gauss tilted his head at this thought, then shook his head for a moment. ”Salem… I am technically the primary heir to Thaltek, one of the biggest companies in the world in the largest growing sector. Like, Vi’ and Thea aren’t in my dad’s will to inherit the company, just a lot of money, and my other two brothers are too young. I can’t just… neglect that,” Gauss explained to him in a fairly matter of fact tone.

“No, no, I know. I know. It makes your family issues complicated, it means you’re never outside your means, and it guarantees you’ll never get kicked out of a bar.” A half-wink, slow; his body was calming but Salem was always somewhat alert. It was pathologic for him. His gaze moved to check the balcony-door; as they spoke he stood unsteadily from his seat and staggered to deadbolt the door. Checking the peek-hole, he continued, “But have you ever just tried to interact with other people as a normal person? Just declined to introduce yourself, just like, talked to people without relying on that status… it might clear up a lot of your questions, Gauss. I think you’re half as unlikeable as you think you are. I think your reputation’s precedence is holding you back now.”
Pushing off of the door’s surface to spin back around, Salem tripped, nearly eating shit on the carpet but catching himself on the coffee table. He sat down on the ground between the couch and table heavily. Looked up at the kids on his couch. Sighed. “But that’s just a theory.”

Gauss saw Salem almost fall, it seemed. Perhaps this had hit him harder than expected. He was pretty sure Salem was hitting it harder than him, which he didn’t care about, but he was in no mindset to be factoring that in at all. Gauss sat there for a few moments, eyeing the satchel, wondering if Salem was going to procure more, and also contemplating what he said. Ultimately, Gauss couldn’t formulate a response more sophisticated than, ”This may come as a surprise… but I don’t really like to lie or withhold information. Contrary to what you may think, man, I’m a pretty honest guy. Little white lies are about all I do.”

A grimace. Salem’s hands met his knees, and he looked up at the chandelier on the ceiling, its circular form almost like bobbing stars above him. His hand reached out to pat Gauss’ leg in the way that a concerned father might; he looked sad, crestfallen, that the suggestion was taken in that way. “No… no, I mean it. You don’t have to lie to people. You can tell ‘em later if you want. But just - just try it sometime. Just be with someone for a couple hours. I promise, letting go of the legacy feels fucking great.”

Yet again, a touch to his person, not even his skin, and it sent ripples of sensation throughout his body. He wondered how Salem was even handling movement at this point given it seemed like he smoked about twice what Gauss had, but then Gauss remembered… he kind’a wasn’t. It took just a moment for Gauss to process what Salem was saying with the additional sensory overload he was receiving.

”A-Are you sure…?” Gauss asked him, tilting his head in a bit of genuine curiosity. ”Like, that feels pretty dishonest to me… like, like man…” He looked down to Bella, then back up to Salem. ”Imagine Bella coming home talking about this great guy she just met, and then it turns out he wasn’t like… telling her he was the heir to some fortune or something… innit that like a red flag?” Gauss asked, completely forgetting Salem was her brother and not father for a moment. That, and the fact Bella had in fact effectively dated such a person before in himself, but that was a whole separate debacle.

“Yeah, I think I’m sure. Being a rich kid is enough of a red flag itself.”
More Than a Meister
He couldn’t suppress the smile, though, the chuckle that came with those words. Salem remembered what it was like to be a young man. He’d felt dishonest, then, too. There were less things he cared to share now: most people just didn’t need to know. That was his main mentality in life. He was just Salem; most people wouldn’t know his surname, his legacy, his soul. They never needed to.

“Cheap shots, cheap shots.. Don’t mind me. What I really mean is I know what it’s like to have a legacy. I didn’t agree with mine; I hardly claim my name or theoretically rightful position. My parents fucking disowned me, Gauss, and they tried to take me to court over using the name. I won’t get rid of mine cause - well, fuck ‘em, they lost. But you don’t have to claim who you are all the time. You don’t have to carry that legacy like you’re atlas with the goddamn weight of the world. You don’t have to carry your reputation like that, either.” He settled for a moment, fists pushing into his knees, but his eyes snapped up to look at Gauss - they almost seemed to glow in the dark. The sun was in its motions of setting. His light was fading with the advent of night.

“I never liked any meister that was into Bellamira. It felt like they were here because of reputation, you know, not genuine interest. Some of ‘em were, some of ‘em weren’t. That’s the legacy. It’s the same shit, Gauss. People peg you based on who you claim to be, and if you claim to be an heir, you gotta live with all that baggage from square one.”

”How the fuck do you sue someone over your own last name?” Gauss responded. He stared back at him. Gauss eyes were naturally bright, but they did not quite possess the current fiery glow that Salem had. At this moment, he was more perplexed over what kind of fucking parents sued their kid over a name they gave him. Who in their right fucking mind did that? What did they expect? Like, what was the alternative? ”D-Did they want you to pick a different one…? Or just like, have no last name? Like, how the fuck did those legal preceedings work, man?” Gauss asked, spouting some fairly legitimate questions over the most trivial feasible part of Salem’s speech. “Yeah, a new name. ‘Cause we’re a weapon clan, Gauss. Their argument was that I didn't have the right.”

But, that did not mean he didn’t let the rest soak in. Salem had a valid point about retaining his last name–a victory in its own right. But, he also brought up a lot of thoughts about his reputation. Legacy. So on and so forth. Gauss could have made a few counterpoints. Like how he forfeited the claims to Thaltek when he joined the DWMA. And, how unlike his sisters, his father had offered to send him to school if he ever dropped out and take a major role in the company, regardless of which one it was. As it stood now, his youngest brother, Ray, was the one being groomed to be the next true heir.

Gauss knew that. It was an understanding he had with his father. Should something happen to him, Ray was to be the true successor and Gauss merely needed to make sure things stayed within the Thales line until then. He was just a stepping stone for his brother, and would be allowed to continue as a Meister. Gauss didn’t mind this, given it didn’t impede on him, and if his father had the longevity of a Rockefeller, then he’d be around long beyond his due date.

Gauss also sat on the idea of their parents genuinely wanting Salem to pick a new last name and how that was perhaps the stupidest fucking thing he had ever heard of, let alone actually going to litigation. This entire series of thoughts derailed him from the point Salem was trying to make about reputation and legacy. Once he shook that off and actually had some semblance of a train of thought, he went to the thought that meant most to him: Bella. And, perhaps how Salem saw him.

”Salem… I never really saw B’ as a weapon or really cared about her being an Ossana. Like… even if I thought of that kind of partnership, names didn’t really matter to me,” Gauss told him, as if feeling some need to make a point and garner some level of approval. ”Don’t really care about yours, either, I guess. I came here for the girl I remembered, not a weapon with a special name,” he explained.

“Good. Her last meister pushed her just as hard as our parents did, and honestly, they did their best to make sure she couldn’t do anything else. Bell doesn’t need more pressure.” His voice came out dark, bitter, and he stretched out his arms one by one to compose himself. Gauss probably wouldn’t even remember this, he thought, and the concept emboldened him- besides, so what if he did? The conversation had been good. They were making progress, or at least, being honest for once. “It’s wild to think about. Full homeschooling, mostly just training, just absolutely- unfathomable. I did my best not to send her back to the DWMA, Gauss. She doesn’t know how to do anything else.”

It felt overwhelming, sometimes, to be responsible for the aftermath of that sort of trauma. He swallowed. There were too many factors for him to identify what the hell was going on, to spend time psychoanalyzing that statement, to act like a therapist and not just an older brother. His hand groped across the table to search for the last swig of cold coffee. His mouth was full of cotton; he couldn’t imagine being made to do the drills that he’d detested so much in place of the education he’d been blessed with. Bellamira managed to find joy just the same.

“I feel responsible for that. ‘Cause they lost me and they weren’t going to go through that on their second try. I didn’t even know.” Gauss heard these words, and could only wonder if they applied to Vi’ as well. Mulling it over, as best he could at the moment, he realized they also somewhat applied to him. A sudden realization hit him that what Salem was describing between him and Bella was arguably an identical vicious cycle with his own family. The tutoring. Elite schools. The preparation for the business world. Hell, he could reflect back to a conversation he had with Noah where the mindset his father vested in him at an early age created a different perspective on the subject of the tournament.

The only real difference is that his father groomed them to be business tycoons. The Osannas did so to be weapons. Except… wait. Wait. It was hitting him. The pieces falling into place. Was Salem a weapon, too? It would make sense. In all this time, he had never considered it, and if so, Salem–even when this lit–was even better than Bella at hiding his inner soul. It was a taught skill.

”Y’know… you’d have done well as a Thales, man,” Gauss told him. ”Basically, my dad gave us all world-class educations starting before we could even speak. After Vi’ and Thea, I bet he’d have been settled for one of his kids being a doctor instead of an agent any day,” he explained, pointing out the opposite side of this mirrored situation between them. There was a chuckle from the man on the floor. His eyes closed; it took most of Salem's will to stifle a yawn but not for lack of interest. "I could see that."

”But… that’s not what I meant about B’,” Gauss said, backtracking slightly. ”We have never been like… Meister/Weapon partners. That was never us. I mean, I know she’s a scalpel, but that’s just not us,” he went on, trying to explain what he meant the best he could. There was the sound of a hinge as the doctor rummaged beside the couch, pawing through the ottoman that was so often in the way, though his eyes had passed back to Gauss: this was about as attentive as Salem could stand to be. He pulled a navy blanket from the storage crate and shook it out in his lap.

”Salem, man, she doesn’t need to transform and fight with me… I just kinda want her exactly as she is now,” he told Salem, this time letting his thumb glide over her shoulder to rub it gently, as if reaffirming to the unconscious woman wrapped around him she didn’t need to change–whether she knew it or not. Twisting his body, the doctor spread the blanket over the pair, leaning over to tuck it up around Bellamira's shoulders - over Gauss' hand - and cover most of the couch. When he slid back to his seat on the ground, he tugged at the hanging fabric, straightening it behind his back.
A Realization and a New Insight

”And, like… the way you describe things… are you a weapon, too?” he asked. ”Like, all that training for some elite family of weapons–only makes sense if you have a weapon form,” Gauss added, quickly trying to justify why he asked that question.

There was a moment that Gauss wasn't sure whether or not his question would be answered. Hell, there was a moment Salem wasn't sure if he would answer it himself; his forehead dipped toward his lap as if only to hide his face and contemplate what exactly had led him to a place where he had to take responsibility for that. "Yeah," he finally growled, hand kneading into the blanket beside him, rubbing against the woolen fibres as if fighting to separate them, "I'm… a weapon. Theoretically. I was good at it, but I went through NOT instead."

Gauss was moderately confused for a moment at Salem tucking him in. In part, because he didn’t think it was that cold–Bella made for a great source of warmth. At some point, her heat had even surpassed his own, exacerbated by their contact. In part, because this would make the next joint real rough to smoke, had Salem intended on sparking up another. Lastly, in part because it wasn’t an action that Gauss was accustomed to at all; it just wasn’t something… done to or for him.

Salem did eventually answer him, however, and it seemed from what Gauss could interpret that he wasn’t super comfortable with the answer. He mulled this over, processing the facts Salem had given to him previously, and pieced together that his weapon gene was likely the cause of a lot of strife in his life, so it did make sense to have some distaste for it.

”I just mean, like… I can match with just about any weapon… so theoretically, you don’t have to guess at what I think or feel… you could see it for yourself,” Gauss said, suggesting effectively what Bella did, but most likely to a much less intense extent. ”Y’know, if that would be like any relief,” he added, pitching the idea to him. He felt the odd need to prove himself to Salem, at least over Bella. It was a trend. It was never for himself, but for her. It was as obvious as a neon sign to a man trained to pick up on patterns.

”Oh, and there’s like four more of those,” Gauss said, tossing out a complete change of subject, his mind now clear enough to leave an escape route if the last topic was too personal for Salem. Gauss wasn’t the best at reading this particular situation, so he tried to cover all of his bases.

“You want to show me that?”

Salem’s tone was not reproachful; it was perhaps mystified or maybe even awed. The soul was something he kept private. There was no reason for anyone else to peer into that; there was no reason to talk about the love and love lost that plagued his idle mind. It was better for him to stay busy. To stay in the moment, directed, to ignore the space that stood like an aching hole as a testament to the empty bedroom with a picture of those matching dresses on the unused side-table that hadn’t been moved or dusted since Bellamira moved in.

But he pulled his phone from his pocket. Dialed one of the only numbers on his quick access bar. The phone rang several times. When it finally went through, his voice was quiet, but Gauss could hear the background noise in the restaurant. “Ah, yeah, it’s Salem. The usual for Bella and I. Add an order of yakisoba with… cashew… chicken.” He glanced up at the boy beside him. “Yeah. Fifteen for delivery? Great.”

The line clicked less than twenty seconds from when it opened. “Give the pot a while,” he requested easily, “we’ll get some food into you first.”

The kid wouldn’t be down for conversation otherwise. Fuck, Salem didn’t want to take advantage, but the barriers were already down and he could admit his curiosity. “You can show me whatever you want,” he mentioned, calling back to the question, “but don’t feel obligated. I trust Bella. You’re still in my apartment, so…”

He left the implication open. It didn’t need to be carried on. Gauss could only laugh at Salem. It was one of the rare few times in their exchanges that Gauss felt the table was in his corner, so to speak. Whereas Salem treated his soul like this private retreat exclusive to Salem and Salem alone, Gauss was not so reserved. His soul was a beacon. It pulled some in, empowered others, and disgusted some. He did not mind in the slightest sharing things that Salem, on the other hand, would never.

Gauss stretched out one hand, the hand that wasn’t so deeply tucked in over Bella, and offered it to Salem. Palm up, fingers straight, mostly. It was a neutral hand. What he brought to the forefront of his mind, he thought, mattered. What would be the first thing Salem might see. Of everything that he and Bella had done, what encapsulated their experience.

It could have been his desire for more. It could have been that beautiful feeling of enlightenment he felt when a whole new color palette for the world seemed to open up. Perhaps started with his therapy, but cracked open by Noah, Chanterelle, and hell maybe even Maria. It could have been. But he decided that if Salem was in for a show of his soul and a replay of his recent memories, one stood above all of the others.

He inhaled, closed his eyes, and tried his best to recall the exact feeling he had when gratitude overwhelmed him. When he was thankful that Bella didn’t just slam the door in his face, or yell, or scream, or start another fight, or hell just… run away. When he was grateful for her forgiveness. When he was grateful that she just… existed. When he was grateful she let him be exactly where he was in that moment, and thus far still was.

The laughter reassured Salem. He did not mind being laughed at; people laughed when they were comfortable and it meant that he was doing his job. That he was encapsulating that spirit. That the essence of his soul could carry through. His soul was something he could manipulate, certainly; it was a separate entity from the rest of that power and a facet he was much more experienced with. There was something about the imposition of the soul upon someone else that made it feel distinctly separate from this kind of contact. Resonance, though? It wasn’t his bag.

In the first moment he laid down his hand, easing his aching body onto the couch beside this boy that had caused so much strife and his baby sister, Salem recoiled. His hand snapped back from the feeling as if the older man had laid his hand onto a hot stovetop. He played it up visibly, although the movement had been intentional, but his inner monologue cursed and moaned about the faux pas. “Sorry, Gauss,” he joked quietly, “I’m far too positive for this shit.”

But his hand laid down, flat over Gauss’, palm-to-palm, and breathed deeply as he experienced the feeling. It only took four or five seconds of contact for him to get the gist. It was a strong feeling – a recent one, too – and it was broadcast so clearly the doctor could hardly hope to miss it. He felt a deep wave of relief from the sentiment, though he had to check it was his own feeling and realized that he had absolutely no idea what Thaddeus experienced on his end. The idea was terrifying. There was a sound somewhere between pain and surprise, just a small choke from the depths of his chest, as his hand pulled away. He moved back almost automatically, retreated to the far side of the couch.

His gaze was soft, maybe even curious, but not critical. Guarded, but not judgemental. His other hand rubbed at the one that had touched the meister as if he was trying in vain to clean it. “Intense,” he commented, but there was no upset, no anger or rage. Salem had never yelled at Gauss before. He was too steady for that. Now, though, he looked unbalanced. Vulnerable. Out of his element.
”That was just the beginning,” Gauss remarked. It was not the literal beginning, more like the tip of the iceberg, but those were the words Gauss chose. He could see the act was not terribly comfortable for Salem, or at least did not seem to be as evidenced by his recoil. He wondered, though, that had to be an incredibly useful tool as a therapist; why was this not a consideration earlier?

”You and B’ both… hide your soul. My perception is good–very good–but I can’t make it past her walls unless she wants me to,” he explained, ”I assume yours are even better.” A complimentary statement, although it did work on the assumption Salem was just inherently more skilled than Bella. He had no other reason to believe so. “It’s what I was taught,” Salem replied simply. Mostly, though, he listened. He wanted to know.

”But she let me see a glimpse. The feelings that came from the memories of how we used to be, I think,” Gauss told Salem. It was honest. As honest as he ever was. ”It’s what exhausted her, I think… and I may have made it a little more draining. What she showed me, I felt. Like… a computer without a firewall. I thought the least I could do was carry what I put her thought for the brief while she opened up,” he explained, although at the moment, it was quite clear that he wasn’t exactly the expert here that someone like Emmett was. Gauss could do things, but that didn’t inherently mean he always understood how they worked.

“You know,” he said slowly, “Mira’s raw at the best of times.”

It was hard to formulate a response to that. There were few canned responses to I’ve seen your sister’s soul and fewer ways he could explain away the sorts of feelings she’d shared. It betrayed all expectations to hear that she would give herself to someone like that. It made him uncomfortable; Salem desperately tried to push those feelings down into the deepest recess of his own soul. Her soul, admittedly, was hers to do with what she pleased.

But he couldn’t keep the concern, the worry, off his face. It flashed raw in his surprise. His gaze wearied; this was clearly a moment of… what, weakness? Shame? Fear? He’d been told. He already had that information, he pushed through his own mind, and nothing had really changed. But the idea of that vulnerability-

Was she finally starting to heal? To cope with the things she’d rather just push down? He hoped so. It scared him, but he hoped so. The allowance of the pain was harder than its refusal. It would get worse before it got better.

“I keep my mind calm. Clear. Got stone walls built up slowly over time. Bellamira… fuck, Gauss, I doubt she even saw them in herself. Like she threw all that shit down at once and paved it down so she wouldn’t have to feel it again. A crack in that concrete and the water all comes pouring out.” He couldn’t suppress the frown. The concern in his face as he regarded his baby sister. If he’d been alone, he would have comforted her. But she wasn’t the one who needed to be. There was only one person in front of him, conscious and affected, one person he needed to help. One person that needed perspective.

Gauss chewed on this thought for a moment. That Bella didn’t even know those walls were up. For some reason, despite Salem being the expert, he didn’t know how much he believed it. She let him in. Actively, or so it seemed. He wondered, his head still clearing up, if Salem did not give her credit for which she deserved. Maybe she was more capable than he realized, or that even she realized. Or, perhaps he was jaded by his own affections.

”Do you think perhaps… she emulated you?” Gauss asked, turning that part of the conversation on its head. ”You’re her older brother, yeah? I mean, you probably know Vi’ and Thea. I’m in their shadow. If it’s like that for B’, then maybe she saw how well your walls worked for you… and made her own,” he said, suggesting an idea he had about Bella, or at least a way to credit her for more than just acting on instinct.

”But either way, I didn’t let her feel it alone,” Gauss added, explaining his perspective on the alternative. If Salem was right and that was some subconscious dam she built to wall herself off, or the world out, then Gauss was right there at the flood gate. He didn’t drown, but he didn’t come out dry, either.

“I hope not.”

The thought terrified him. No man was an island; he might have put forward a damn good attempt but Salem knew better than to assume that his coping strategy was healthy or anything other than asinine. It worked because he believed in it, more than anything, and he wouldn’t put it forward as a way to actually deal with problems. Besides, Bellamira was a weapon - a real one - she needed to use her soul freely, not to close it off. If she had found a way to do both, she’d never spoken to him about it.

“Either way, I’m.. glad you were here, somehow.”

A smile to betray the sinking feeling in his chest. A feint of optimism, less convincing than ever, but the consolation he offered was genuine. It was comforting in a different way to think he wasn’t alone in caring about whatever was actually going on in there. It was good to hear he had so much faith. Still, this was troubling. More troubling than comforting. The idea that his toxic attitudes were being passed on-

-no, no, he didn’t want to deal with that tonight.

“Hold onto that. Keep it safe. It’s rare to get a glimpse of that, you know, and…” A pause. Awkward. Held. “Just keep it close for her.”

”I’ll keep those words in mind,” Gauss told him. He looked back down to Bella, though this time he noticed the lighting was finally dimming enough that some of her features were just a little softer. He had spent the better part of the day here. On this couch. Holding her. Stoned. Talking to her brother. About to get food.

”Y’know that feeling you have when your watching a movie and your girl is on your arm and it’s falling asleep?” Gauss looked back up, asking Salem with a fairly serious tone. ”It’s a lot worse when you downed coffee and have to pee,” he told him, absolutely cutting through the atmosphere they had created. Salem couldn’t help but laugh.


Meredith Meredith









 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter
The Text

Gauss had spent a few days in the hospital, but had just freshly been released. He wasn’t cleared for the field work quite yet, and luckily Emmett and Zelda were quite kind in regards to giving him ample time to recuperate. This made the next few days a great time to tie up loose ends that he had left, and of course… he had many. What he didn’t expect was them to so quickly come to bite him in the ass, or at least have the potential to.

But then there was her name. One of their mutual friends mentioned she was joining the Fate Program. Bellamira fucking Ossana. Mind you, it wasn’t Gauss that had a problem with her. It was much the other way around. Regardless, words of wisdom given to him from Maria had rang through. They didn’t want enemies in this program.

Gauss kept her number unblocked. She didn’t seem to have his blocked, given there was a rage text sent every now and again, although that had slowed down after their initial fallout. Sitting on the sofa in his living room, he mulled over if he really should try to clear the air between them. Not like he didn’t in the past, but in the past, he also had other motivations. This time, it came from a much more healthy place.

03/14/67 1127
Tintin: Rumor is you're joining fate. I know we didn't end things on good terms and its been a while. thought we could maybe meetup and hash things out


03/14/67 1138
Bella O (7/10) damn i never thought u’d crawl out of ur hole
Time and place?


03/14/67 1141
Tintin: Sorry tbh you forget how to crawl when you learn to fly

Anyway your place or mine whenever. I just got out of the hospital so not like i got anywhere to be


03/14/67 1144
Bella O (7/10) b here in an hour


03/14/67 1145
Tintin: kk. Want anything while im out?


03/14/67 1147
Bella O (7/10) id die for a joint


03/14/67 1149
Tintin: kush reg or you want some shit to blow your mind?


03/14/67 1150
Bella O (7/10) fuck, thought u wanted to *talk*


03/14/67 1152
Tintin: bella i been sober in a hospital bed for like three days idgaf if im soaring in space or just buzzed


03/14/67 1152
Bella O (7/10) what the hell laid u up like that?


03/14/67 1155
Tintin: a combo of failing to resonate and the blood of a witch. Long story but it sucked.


03/14/67 1155
Bella O (7/10) cant even tell if ur joking


03/14/67 1203
Tintin: its legit swear. Salem was there. My weapon makes electricity and i shocked tf out myself trying to resonate then in my next match this witch with like toxic blood kod me after just a bit of it got on me. I dont remember a thing after like 10 seconds after that


03/14/67 1211
Bella O (7/10) o the poison witch? Sucks 4 u
cant believe he didnt tell me ur the one that got wrecked


03/14/67 1213
Tintin: last i checked your brother didnt want us five feet of eachother so not a big surprise tbh


03/14/67 1214
Bella O (7/10) ya its bc ur a fuckboy
sorry not sorry


03/14/67 1216
Tintin: was a fuckboy kthx
last i checked you were warned too but yknow


03/14/67 1217
Bella O (7/10) believe it when i c it
And, hm, not super relevant
he cant hold a grudge THAT long


03/14/67 1220
Tintin: hey i been in therapy working on it, cut me a break
idk tho if hes anything like his little sister i imagine he can hold a grudge a real long time
anyway you never told me what to get


03/14/67 1222
Bella O (7/10) bring it and we’ll figure it out
ur right btw but i mean
im the e x c e p t i o n ofc


03/14/67 1224
Tintin: kk can do. B there before 1

The Arrival
Gauss, after procuring far more herb than even remotely necessary–and probably far more potent–proved to be a man of his word. Seven minutes before one, he knocked on the Osanna apartment door, not wanting to immediately text Bellamira again before arriving. Although that would have likely been the more logical option, Gauss preferred the more human approach. Felt natural.

There was a sort of frustration, of wariness, that had Bellamira sitting on the couch cross-legged poring through her phone when Gauss finally knocked. She’d done her makeup as soon as he’d texted her to meet; the bathroom with its modest stone-top cabinetry had been taken over for almost half an hour in her quest to end up with opaque black glitter eyeshadow. When that fixation had ceased, she’d gotten to wandering; the whole apartment had an open kind of aesthetic but the dark purple walls of the living room gave it an imposing feeling. A television against the back wall, a wall full of sheer curtains that let in the light even at the worst times. A light and rough-hewn carpet on the floor, a large couch matching the walls, an assortment of side tables and decorative lights and vases that provided more form than function. The woman left her phone on the table as she went for the door. She looked through the peephole, twice, swallowing the dread rising from her gut.

The doorhandle turned from inside. She held the door closed regardless for a moment; with a last promise to herself, she opened it, forcing a smile onto her exhausted face. Bellamira looked rough. He’d seen her worse, definitely; this was only a hangover, and she’d had time to clean up, but that did not erase the toll of the night before.

The door was cracked open, no more than two inches, and it seemed almost like she was debating whether or not to actually let him inside as she stared at him through the door. Her face glittered in the half-light of the hall. Everything here was just a bit dark, just a bit dim, just a bit too suited to the situation. Salem had chosen this place for a reason. “Hi,” she finally breathed, clearing her throat when her voice came out hoarse. “It’s been a minute.”

He smiled upon seeing her despite the force it took for her to seemingly even acknowledge him. Gauss was, as ever, himself. Tan-skinned, even coloring, a pleasant look on his face. Quite contrary to her, but that hardly mattered. ”Yeah, it has,” he told her. ”I would call it unfortunate, but I’m not sure if you’re ready to hear that,” he added.

The door was pulled open, fully open, with a high-pitched creeeeak. Bellamira stepped forward to greet him: her arms reached to pull him into a tight hug, high around his shoulders. The pair were nearly the same height: she was only a couple of inches shorter now though she'd loomed over him when they first met. Her curled hair was rolled, pins along its length, meticulously done some time ago. Letting her chin rest against his shoulder, she squeezed him, just once. He was just as solid – just as warm – as he’d always been. Her hands were horrifically cold.

This wasn’t exactly unexpected; he remembered how chillingly cold she could be at times. At least, to the touch. He didn’t mind. And, when her arms wrapped around him, he wrapped his back. Firmly, not a bear hug, but enough to let her know there was reciprocation in the grasp. She could have held this for as long as she wanted, and he wouldn’t mind; even if his back was still sore from that wonderful explosion in the tournament.

“I missed you, you fucking asshole.”

Blinking back the tears threatening her waterline, hoping at least that he wouldn’t see them, she pulled back and stepped away from the door to invite him into the apartment. It was a place he was familiar with. The front door opened immediately into a living room; the balcony was hidden behind those sheer curtains and the back of the room opened into a hallway with six doors. Gauss would know that Bellamira’s room was at the innermost end of the hall, and Salem’s the outermost, with the closet across from his bedroom backing onto the living room itself. One of the middle doors was the bathroom, the other an office Gauss had never been invited into, but one that Salem worked in frequently. The door across from Mira’s room hadn’t been opened in his presence. The kitchen was attached to the living room, of course, but the archway opposite the balcony obscured the view of its minimalist décor. It was unnaturally clean here; usually the apartment was some degree or another of a mess when Bellamira was left to her own devices. Maybe she’d been tidying up.

Gauss followed her into the apartment once she ushered him in. His suite itself was almost always meticulously tidy, and it had been some time since he had been here. He remembered it well, and recalled that Salem liked things to be in their place. It didn’t strike him as odd that the apartment was kept up. He was, at least, glad to be in the presence of someone familiar. Recent weeks had him introduced to all sorts of new people and it was an odd comfort to be around someone from his… previous life. At least, that’s what it felt like.

“How- how has it been? I heard you got into trouble at school, but hey, I’d… already dipped out.”

”It’s been good… school never got to me,” he said, his voice somewhat less… present than normal. ”But hey… Bella. I missed you, too. I didn’t realize a lot of things until recently, and I’m sure my word’s worth shit, but I’m glad to be here right now,” he told her. His tone was not as bold as normal, not quite wavering, but he clearly lacked the confidence he normally had. In this moment, here with her, he was not the showman he normally was. This wasn’t a scene he was playing in.

“Screw school, then,” she acquiesced, dropping down on the couch like from standing height with little concern for the wooden beams holding together its structural integrity. The woman was too light to hit them, anyway, on such a heavily padded piece of furniture. She patted the seat beside her as an invitation; the television was on and the news spoke in hushed tones about one bad thing or another. The open window carried the sounds and smells from outside: cars, dry air, and frying dosa from the best Indian restaurant in Death City.

Her head leaned against the backrest of the couch as she pulled her legs up in front of her, knees her chest, turning to face him directly in his appointed seat. This was all strikingly familiar to her; the disturbance of her quietest moments always took this same sort of script. But his admission, the implication of regret, it caught her off guard. She couldn’t remember a single time that Gauss had really apologized to her. It was not within the script.

But he was was one to read a room, or in this case, take a seat. Perhaps there was some element of control or safety that came from giving him direction. Or, maybe it was just her trying to be hospitable. In either case, he wasted no time sitting beside her, although his stance was a little different. He sat a leather satchel opposite to her, but left some space between them assuming she might want it, and sat forward slouching in the seat slightly, avoiding a full recline like her own.

Mira’s mouth slipped open, an expression of shock or maybe awe, and her hand reached for him tentatively – withdrawing, offering, withdrawing again – before she finally settled with offering her own hand without grabbing his. It took several seconds beyond those motions for her to find words to speak. She did not expect an apology; the status quo of ignoring any problem in favour of momentary hedonism had been what she had expected. This was honest. Unprecedently honest. Uncomfortably honest.

“I believe you,” she said finally, but her voice was dark, thick with a mixed and unidentifiable emotion. The weapon could feel the heat rising in her face; there was a part of her that wanted to yell at him, to abuse him, to tell him to get the fuck out and think before ever contacting her again. The terms of their agreements had always been extremely clear. They got what they wanted, they parted ways again. The deepening of these emotional ties… was that what she wanted, with Gauss? If history was anything to bet on, she’d guess not, but still she’d invited him anyway.
And Now We Believe


“I s’pose it got a bit lonely up in that ivory tower, huh?”

”No, actually,” he answered her flatly, ”at the time, I never felt lonely.” He looked at her, his bright eyes making eye contact the best he could in this seated position. That long hair of his draping in front of his face, some of it framing it, some of it just sliding off in waves to fill the air. He always wore it too long for shorter, manageable styles, but too short for longer ones where it may lay naturally.

”I fucked up a mission, then got caught out on all the shit I did,” he told her, doubling down on that honesty. ”Basically got myself kicked out after an investigation; that was nearly two years ago,” he said, further enlightening her.

”Back then, I didn’t feel lonely… because I don’t think I knew what it really meant to have someone,” he explained, dropping the actual deep thoughts he had on the subject. ”Not that you or anyone else wasn’t there for me,” he clarified quickly, ”but that I didn’t recognize the value of it.”

”And, and… I know where this rabbit hole goes. How am I different now, if I was why didn’t I ever try to say these things, why I didn’t I apologize sooner,” he started throwing in, like some sort of simulation. He looked down for the first time. Hard to find the words right for this. Harder to push himself to say them.

”I’ve… tried. Not to you, but to some others, and I always fuck up. I say the wrong things in the wrong way, and I don’t want to hurt people more than I already have. I guess I’m trying to be a better person, I’m just shit at it,” he told her, just accepting all the fault and responsibility he could for everything that transpired, and at this point, still not finding it in himself to look back up.

“Fuck, Gauss, you’re gonna have to light one up for this.”

There was an inkling of humour to the words, even if they were said flatly, the same way that his words came out. Bellamira hadn’t meant to start taking shots; it was hard to help the frustration rising in her at his words that first sounded like derision, but he’d obviously come for a different purpose. It had been hard to consider him a friend, then, even if she’d cared. She’d thrown it in his face, too. She didn’t regret it.

“It always felt like you just… got what you wanted and moved on. Like it wasn’t about me at all, or about anyone else either, just a friendship or a fuck to prove you could before you dropped everyone again. But hell, you know that the rest of us were screwed just the same.”

She fished a lighter from the breast pocket of her loose black shirt; flipping it in her hands, she offered it to him, butt-first. “For my part,” she started, voice more strained, “I am sorry for telling you to fuck off and kill yourself. I am more sorry for the variety of suggestions I provided as to the method. That’s… not what I think of you, Gauss. I think you’re selfish, for sure, but here I am being the same way.”

He wouldn’t look at her, but he didn’t need to. She gave him a moment to sit with those thoughts; the tension in her shoulders was obvious. Mira had never seen him like this; it was more upsetting than she could have imagined. Stoic, confident, in control: not here, not today. “And,” she opined, “for what it’s worth… two years ago, I would have died of shock if you apologized to me; I wouldn’t have considered it a possibility and it’s half of what made me so damned angry when I was disregarded. You must be making progress.”

Gauss opened the leather satchel he had beside him. He was quiet for the most part, listening to her. This type of quiet nature wasn’t unlike him, not necessarily. When he wasn’t speaking, he was often in his own train of thought. It meant, at least in the past, he wasn’t listening. He rifled through his bag, pulling out a few loose joints, then a small metal container not unlike a lip balm container, obviously meant to be screwed open by the indentions on the top. Lastly, he pulled out five plastic cylinders, all with colored tops that just popped right out, and each labeled something different.

If they were legible in his hands, they would read Phantom Haze Train, v2; Deathead Special, Verdant Diesel, GG6/Godfather OG, and one simply labeled 99 Percent. The open joints laid on his lap, and he took the lighter, but then realized he wanted her to pick. It was hard to say he paused for a moment given he hadn’t spoke, but there was a pause trying to figure out how to fix this faux pas.

”I picked up an assortment… you always did like a variety,” he mumbled. He thought she’d have some direction for this; he was more of a social smoker, if anything. Bellamira reached forward into his lap, grabbing one of the loose joints at random, and slipping it between her teeth. She leaned over him – mouth inclined toward the lighter in his hand – waiting for him to strike the ‘match’. A second one, pulled deftly from his lap, was thrown onto the table. The customary pay-off for Salem, seeing as they were smoking in the apartment.

”There’s one thing you were wrong about then,” he told her. The first time he acknowledged anything she had mentioned. ”Back then, it wasn’t about a notch in a goal post or pride. I genuinely didn’t think about what I was doing.I just did it–and it felt good,” he explained, not sure if that made things better or worse. She nodded, taking a deep drag off the joint, pulling it away from her mouth and exhaling over his form. There was a tightness in her throat that was best left ignored. Bellamira was not incapable of forgiveness; she’d done it again and again to no good result.

”You’re not the first to tell me I hurt people, nor explain how I hurt them… in vivid detail,” he told her, finally looking at her. His eyes weren’t glossed over, unsteady, or even sullen. They were hollow. Dull, almost. Like there was no spark in them, not like before when he saw her, not like when she first knew him. Not like when it was intimate, even. It was a shell he was wearing. That skin of his. Just a shell. ”I don’t blame you for it and I’m not upset… at you. Just at myself,” he told her.

”I’ve kissed you so many times I couldn’t count, B’, but it was never what you deserved. If you felt anything, any spark, then, I.. never had a clue. I was an idiot. And now, I don’t even know… he trailed off, pausing as if thinking just a little harder. ”I don’t fuckin’ know anything at all, it seems.” he added, clarifying the actual extent he felt of how inept he was at actually understanding anything.

For all of the strife she was feeling, Bellamira had made it clear she was physically comfortable around Gauss; she’d never felt threatened by him, or like he was pushing for things she just wasn’t comfortable with, and maybe that was why she had so much patience for this bullshit: it was so much different from what she’d heard before, the excuses, the fact that he was always so completely unaware of what she actually wanted or needed. The fact was, maybe Bellamira had needed him once – but that time was long gone. It was a missed opportunity, and one he was unlikely to hold again; these were natural consequences and the fact that her haphazard affection was gone – or maybe just dramatically, potentially irreparably, damaged – after all this time, she thought, that was enough of a consequence that she felt no need to punish the man presented before her as so fundamentally broken. He hurt - and even if he deserved it, she didn’t want that for him.

Then there was the matter of honesty. Of course she’d felt something for him; there would have been no point in hanging around otherwise. There was a difference, though, in the expectation of reciprocation.. it had never occurred to her that he was anything more than fun as he pleased, that they had any sort of mutual affection, that he would be there in good times and not just when he needed to forget. A frown pulled across her lips at the admission, though, and she quickly tried to cover it up. The truth should not hurt; it was simply the truth.

Leaning down from her position over his body – held by one hand on the back of the couch, the other attending to the lit joint, of course – the woman leaned down, let her lips press against his forehead, and held there for a moment of thought. She shifted back into her seat in the aftermath - almost nervously. Her hand swung in his direction; it stopped to offer the joint to his open hand.

Gauss took the joint, and slightly curled in his lips to wrap around it. He waited, exhaling through his nose silently, all before inhaling once slightly to brighten the flower, then for a longer, more drawn out hit. It was slow, but steady. Not like hitting a bong, and not like an idiot who had never smoked. A joint, he felt, hit best when it was hit at just the right pace. Not enough to waste and burn, but enough that lungs could get plenty of that good smoke.

Then he held it, pulling it from his lips. He was, perhaps, a little more aggressive with it than Bellamira, but he brought plenty, and this was just his first. Honestly, he was surprised she picked a weaker one. He expected her to offer these to Salem and take the goods for herself. But, she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t want to take the good stuff, or maybe she had changed slightly herself. He always recalled Salem being far more understanding than anyone gave him credit for.

That pause and hold settled. After he felt it, and felt it good, he exhaled, blowing out a slow stream of smoke before just… stopping. The smoke traveled up from his nose and mouth, flowing up his face and through the curls of hair at the edges. He just sat there, waiting for it to set in, and mostly just waiting for Bellamira. Listening to her. Listening like he should have a hundred times over before.

“You don’t… have to know, love. I…” She swallowed, blinking back tears, lashes sticking to lashes against the dampness of her eyes. The glittering of her face made her look like a mirage; the cast-light of the chandelier above them flickered artificially. “I’m just glad for your honesty. I’m glad you didn’t bash in my door, all full of sweet words, like nothing ever happened.”

”I don’t have sweet words like that…” he told her, his voice droning out. ”The thing about the way I was… and it’s not like I’m fixed, just self aware.. But the way I was, is that I personally just don’t have those words. I didn’t. I could have said anything as a means to an end, but I don’t know what I actually felt at that time–I just hated losing,” he explained. It made sense, at least. Given how most people viewed him, the idea of no longer having her affection was much akin to a lost game.

”But what I do know is all these epiphanies I’ve been having… Salem isn’t my doctor, but mine is good, too…” he told her, his voice trailing off and slowing down. It didn’t sound duller, just more rounded. More even. ”I think, if I was going to tell you anything that might hold some value, it’s this: I waited to talk to you. When I looked back at all the people I hurt, especially in the beginning, some of it was just… attempts at making the therapists happy. But, when it started to settle in, I realized that, like… I needed to apologize. But it didn’t always work. And I couldn’t just fight someone because it didn’t, that’s going backwards. I need to go forward,” he explained to her, although his train of thought was obviously become a little more broken.

It was one thing to understand that you had been manipulated, and another for someone to admit it to your face. It was its third, own, unique thing for all of those conditions to exist at once. Mira had known that she had been a challenge and competition; she remembered fondly dismissing him as a spoiled rich boy and more fondly his effort to prove he was worthy of her affection regardless. It had taken a long time. It wasn’t healthy to make people try like that, either; Bellamira often thought it was the only reason he’d hung around her for so long at all and the discussion . Proof that he could make her deal with it, could make her want to deal with it, that was what she saw him as seeking to begin with. The confirmation was harder, and she didn’t know what to say. He clearly cared. It was hard to reconcile that with his words.
“C’mon,” she urged him in a thick whisper, a side thought, “puff, puff, pass.”

”So for you, I waited,” he said again, turning his eyes back onto her, this time a little more lively, and definitely more alive. ”And, I would have waited longer until I thought I could find the words and string them together just perfect to make you feel even a little better, Bella… I don’t know why. I don’t expect things to go back to the way they used to be, and it’s not like I mean to sweep you off your feet,” he told her. This time, unlike when he stumbled over his words–or thought he did–he didn’t clarify. Instead, he just added this:

”If I was going to do that, I woul… should.. Have years ago.”

As she held her hand out, waiting to receive the smoke, Bellamira swallowed. Hard. Her other hand wiped across her face; the mascara smeared across the back of her hand and from the corner of her eye toward her ear but messed-up makeup was never something that had bothered her. It was a record of time; if tears were to be had than tears would be part of the aesthetic. There was something else to it, too: Bellamira might not have waited necessarily, but the less safe people around when she was out – the less people Salem found capable, specifically, even if Gauss was convinced the doctor hated his guts – the less freedom she was afforded. It took one bad night for her brother to stage an intervention.

It took several more for her to be enrolled into a rehabilitation program.

And that was the core of it, wasn’t it, that she wanted to be around people that made the nights light instead of dark? That cared enough to look out for each other’s safety? He’d been responsible for times of joy and strife alike. She’d been responsible for much more than that.

“Well, I don’t…” she started, petering off, trying again. “I don’t think you were given much of a choice. Being another FATE agent and all- we were bound to run into each other, even if you don’t feel a damn thing about me. I-“

She motioned for the joint in his hand, more urgently now, rolling her wrist. Her eyes were limpid, open, overwhelmingly clear and bright and purpled-blue. There was a clearing of her throat. “I never needed a thing from you, Thaddeus. I hung on to you because I wanted to and for no other reason. Thank you for… well, for, for coming back here to.. apologize. Especially as I would have – at one time – been so, so angry with you.”
Gauss was fairly far gone, but not from the weed. He was listening to himself. Listening to himself say these things to her over and over again his head. He was listening to himself tell her the truth. Over and over like a vicious cycle, he saw as the truth upset her. He saw how even when he tried to help, it did this. Yet, she thanked him? Thanked him for this? All of this? He questioned himself a million times over before finally snapping out of this cycle he was in.

He passed her the joint, from between his index finger and middle finger, but let his thumb graze her hand before he withdrew it. He didn’t know why.

He looked down again, not sure how to proceed, not sure what the right answer was. The person he was before this always had an answer. He always had a goal in mind moving forward. He had ambition and drive. He had something to prove, if only to himself. And, when he didn’t have something to prove, he had an urge he knew would make him feel good. But, right now? He didn’t.

He had Bellamira forgiving him and that made him feel plenty of things. Good, relief, but also guilty just like he felt when he stared at Athena–no. No he felt worse. He felt worse because he knew he did more to this girl and this time he wasn’t forcing himself to feel a damn thing. This hit him harder than he ever expected. He knew guilt felt bad, but he didn’t know it was like this.

Is this what everyone said was so bad? That he didn’t feel this? That his father didn’t feel this? Is this why Thea yelled at him, detested him, why her rage and sorrow came out as denouncing him over and over as a bad person? Because he didn’t feel like this? Who would want to feel like this?

But he didn’t keep his eyes down. He looked back to her, his bright but now misty eyes ever-growing in life and shine as the conversation went on. He didn’t have a goal with her. He came here to apologize, and that was successful. If anything, he won. If anything, he should quit while he was ahead. But, he couldn’t. For the first time, aside from maybe Noah, someone genuinely forgave him–and this someone actually knew the type of person he could be.

”I… can’t tell you I don’t feel a damn thing about you,” he said. His voice more raspy. More unsure. Less like himself. His old self. He was treading on waters unknown, and he had not the ability to muster the confidence that defined him. ”But I am glad you came… and glad you forgive me… and I guess I could leave right now, and call it done–say I got what I wanted,” he said to her, letting a moment of pause hang in the air if only because he was fearful of the next few words.

”But I would rather tell you I want to stay. And for no other reason, even if all we do is sit right here like this,” he added, clarifying what he could. He didn’t add his trademark flirtatious comment. He didn’t suggest the alternative of the bedroom, or TV, or anything. He just let it be. And that–that was the least Gauss-like thing he could feasibly do.

“I didn’t invite you here just to kick you out.”
The Embers After

They talked a lot, in the group therapy sessions that Bellamira attended three times a week, about forgiveness. It was often discussed as if it were some esoteric and intangible thing; forgiveness of people who have wronged you, forgiveness of others for their self-destruction, and most importantly forgiveness granted to the self. It was hard to judge him retrospectively for many reasons; between the parties they frequented in the throes of adolescent angst plenty of people were wronged. Tensions were up, inhibitions were down, nobody acted quite like themselves. That was part of the appeal. It was why they’d been in that position at all.

The worst of the conflict was hopefully behind them. She didn’t have to be his friend, damn, she never had to speak to him again if she didn’t want to. If he was going to be a bad influence, she’d probably catch shit for even being around him – well, she might anyway – but what was the point of damning the only person she knew going in to a new program? Fuck, it had mattered when she’d cared, but they’d past that point long ago.

She thought about saying those things, any of them, to explain herself or talk about what the hell she’d been doing to start over again this year. How their unfortunate paths had so predictably crossed again. If he was trying to get better – she didn’t know if she could believe it, but she was willing to try, to see if this introspection would persist – well, she believed people could do better. She had to.

The less familiar his mannerisms, the better things got, honestly– the woman wasn’t sure what she thought about that but her apprehension at opening the door had faded in the resolution of new emotion. She glanced at the clock: only a few minutes after one.

“Stay if you’d like. I.. don’t mind having you here. You know, Gauss, there was a time I would have called you my friend. We might even be able to get there again.”

The smile she offered him was tight, but not forced. Her phone went off on the table. Then again. A third text notification went through before she actually picked up the phone.

> IT BETTER BE POT IN THOSE BOTTLES. I’M COMING HOME.

There was a laugh - she tried to contain it behind her hand, but it was first a wheeze, and then finally a long cackle escaped. She showed the screen to Gauss, willing to put the phone into his hand, but mostly just trying to get him to read it. Her shoulders shook. “...if you want to deal with that.”

‘Friend, huh?’ That was the thought on his mind. He hadn’t really considered it. Maybe he did miss her. He was still coming to terms with what that feeling meant. He said he did, and it didn’t feel wrong or inaccurate. Friendship, or anything kind-of-a-ship isn’t something that had occurred to him when this visit became the seedling of an idea it was in his head. He was definitely friends with Noah, he thought. At this point, he was still sure Prudence just tolerated his existence and accepted they were teammates. He wasn’t sure how to help that.

Bella being his friend, probably his first real one since Noah, seemed like… an amicable progression of things. This thought process came to an abrupt end when he saw the text from Salem, though. At that point, he simply let out a dry chuckle.

”I brought plenty. Six joints, a can of premium keef, and those five. I don’t intend on taking them with me, so they’re all yours, sans what I smoke here,” he told her, thinking this offering to Salem, owner of this apartment, would be appeased.

In a way, Bellamira wanted to contest him. It made her feel strange to accept gifts like that out of nowhere; though of course she knew that his 'love language' (if she believed in that at all) was the procurement and distribution of gifts, and that the resources used didn't mean a thing to him anyway. It is, she responded to the text, bite me.

She palmed the cell phone back onto the table while she refocused on Gauss. While it was tempting to tell him to keep it, it would be a completely unnecessary blow to his ego. Was that what she wanted?
”I’m sure my partners will eventually want to see me, maybe some others I met in the tournament, but ‘til then… I guess I’m all yours, Bella,” he told her. He smiled. Softly. Sweetly, almost.
With a shift to sit on her knees, Bellamira closed the distance between them, leaning against his side and mirroring the sort of pose that led to him sitting so far forward. She brushed some of that long hair out of his face with the side of her hand; it was familiar, even if not quite intimate.

”Oh shit, it just occurred to me he meant pot instead of pills. I thought he was herb-extorting us again,” he added quickly, his face lighting up with a light of realization. ”You aren’t popping pills again, are you?” Gauss asked, a little bit timid mingled with a touch of concern.

The smile on her face disappeared with his accusation. He wasn't angry at her; maybe Bellamira wanted to be faced with that rage, maybe she expected it. Wordlessly, her hand slid up the back of her shirt, tugging a thin plastic slip-pouch from the band of her bra, and handing it over to Gauss under her hand to conceal it.

Gauss hesitantly extended his hand to hers, acting as if to hold it, but mostly to hide it from whatever method Salem was using to survey them. His eyes narrowed in to see the pills, and precisely what they were. His eyes looked back up to her, but they weren’t any less lively than they were when he first asked. He loosened what little grip he had on her hand, and withdrew it, only stopping at the very end to change how he withdrew it so he could curl his fingers towards him, caressing her fingers ever so gently as he did. Her breath exhaled in a shaky sigh.

There were somewhere between four and eight white bars outlined out against the tightness of the stealth bag: it was hard to tell exactly because several of them were damaged. The pouch was a dull sort of violet that shone under light; Bella's mind flickered back to what had been effectively a game of keepaway. She tried to push away the memory of begging him for the pouch back. Her body had become rigid beside him: there was no doubt that she was tracking the motion of his hand.

"Sometimes," she breathed in an admission, turning her face away from him and toward the television. She sounded distant, or at least under pressure; the call-out hadn't been expected but she wasn't going to lie about it. Her hands clasped together in her lap. "But, I - I'm trying. You have to believe me; it's just... hard."

Gauss saw her look away, but he didn’t want that. Slowly, but surely, he extended his hand out to her face and pressed his thumb to her cheek to apply the most gentle of pressure, trying to guide her face easily to look back at him. ”I believe you, and I will…” he told her. And, with a gentle smile, he added, ”As long as you believe I am here just for you.”

Her hand moved to cup his, face turning, gaze lingering on the smile about his lips as he spoke until she finally met his eyes. She took in a deep breath; his skin was as soft and warm as it had always been, and the scent of the cologne she remembered so well washed over her, like tea brewed over a desert brush-fire- cleaner, somehow, than the smoke of wood. Her fingers brushed down to his wrist, down his arm, pushing up his arm to his back and rumpling his folded sleeve on its way. It gripped his shoulder tightly.

Bellamira might have been known for her biting nails, but they were gentle then, just tiny pricks pressing into his back as if to remind him she was there. Her expression had relaxed from all the stress of before: receptive, accepting, even if uncertain. Finally, she found the words, though they were elongated in a type of humour unique to her-
“You should never believe an addict,” she whispered with a sense of half-derision, “but I believe you just the same.”

Is this what he was meant to feel? These little currents of electricity running down his spine. This extra tingling sensation that seemed to radiate from everywhere Bella touched–even if not his skin. His heart beating faster, thumping as if he set a new best on the barbell. Is this what he missed out on all of these years? Gauss was never quite one to turn red, even with Chanterelle just a few days ago.

But this time, and just this time, for Bella, his face warmed and his already dark skin gained the most ever faint rouge glow. His pupils dilated, though he wouldn’t know. This was… this was a feeling he only ever knew from a line of coke, and even then that was hardly the same. He had absolutely no idea what this was; he just knew it was from her.

Bellamira couldn’t quite contain her own blush, spurred by his own, staring him in the face like that. Her pale eyes searched his: the knife at his belt dug into her thigh, so she began to shift, thinking for the first time in a moment about the joint pressed between the fingers of her right hand. Fuck, came the thought overlaying the moment, the electricity, the feeling of reciprocated affection that she’d wanted so badly before, gotta deal with that.

He found himself shimmying ever so slightly closer, but avoiding a jostle of the couch, but just trying to be more near. It seemed she had control over this situation far more than he did; a complete twist in the dynamic from their previous relationship. All he could even think to do was shift the hand that was so near to her face to her hair, and have it delicately intertwine with the side of her head, his fingers locked into her hairline solely to let his warm skin glide across her scalp.

”Maybe…” he said, still hesitant with his words if only because of how new they were to him. ”Maybe being wrong isn’t so bad, if believing you gets me here,” he told her, confessing how right or wrong didn’t seem to matter to him–at least, in this moment.

The heat sinking into her skin was the focal point between them for Bellamira; she twisted on the couch as he moved to straddle his waist and sit in his lap. Although she didn’t pull him close, or squeeze particularly, her right hand moved to slip the joint between her teeth before she twisted – still holding his shoulder – and grabbed an ashtray from the middle drawer of the coffee table. Setting it on the table behind her, she palmed the joint again, tapping off the ashes and giving Gauss a moment of reprieve from the smoke suddenly in his face. “Sorry,” she murmured, leaning forward to press her lips to the right side of his neck, “needed to- well. You know.”

She spent a long moment thinking, her chin rested against his shoulder; Bellamira had done her best to keep from pulling away from him - she didn’t want to - and hoped that the familiar motion would assure him of that. The bangles on both of her wrists rang when she moved; her dangling earrings pressed like drops of ice against his neck while she sat there with one arm around him. The other raised to take another hit; she offered the joint to his free hand once she was done. It was hard to reconcile the fires of the moment with those of her rage. She had prepared to be angry, when he’d planned to come there.
She just… wasn’t.

“Anyway,” Blowing the smoke down between them – between her chest and his, over his clothes, knowing that a blazer like the one he was wearing would need to be dry-cleaned to get rid of the smell but not caring – she managed to produce a response. To actually interact with this novel version of reality. “We’ll see how you feel in an hour. You are.. a fickle creature, Thaddeus.”

What the absolute fuck was this moment. What was she doing to him. What were these feelings. Every single time she spoke more, she just uncovered something more repressed. Something buried down deep that he never felt, or just never knew existed–he didn’t know. He didn’t know anything. The last week, the realization of just how blind he was to the world made him feel like calling his old perspective black and white as generous.

A new spectrum of emotions hit him without force, without effort, without exertion. The leap felt larger than technicolor on CRT’s; it felt like realizing there were shades and hues to this world you didn’t even know could exist, fucking theory harder JFK did Madonna.

What Bella didn’t know; what she couldn’t know; what Gauss didn’t have the testicular fortitude to inform of her of, really, is that he wanted to throw that joint to the ground and kiss her right then. To stop all of time and just feel her lips, cold, warm, or some new sensation as alien as these emotions were. To disregard every little thing that surrounded them. Fuck the apartment. Fuck it all. It could go up in flames, and right then, he might have been fine with a world on fire–if he had it with Bella.

And that… that fucking terrified him. Every bit of this was exhilarating, but it danced a fine line for the man up until now. Up until these feelings stirred inside him fear. If this is what it felt like for others, he rationalized, that’s why it hurt so much when he left. His heart went from a million miles an hour to what felt like an abrupt stop. His chest, it felt hollow.
Hotter the Second Time Around

She held the joint to his lips, and he still wished it was her lips–not some flimsy paper. He didn’t even have the urge to take it further. He didn’t want to rip off her clothes, carry her to her bedroom with her legs wrapped around him, and fuck like their primal ancestors. He yearned–ached, really–just to know what that simple act of affection was like while on the high of these feelings. The rest… it didn’t matter.

Time, it still paused for Gauss. Gauss knew who he was. He was horribly toxic, controlling, motivated to push himself further and harder than anyone else. He didn’t compete for the thrill; he competed to win. But Bella? Bella was a journey with no destination. She was a storm without an end. She was rain without relief. All he could think, in that moment, was that if people were rain, he would let her be the storm that put out his flame.

But instead of telling her all of that, instead of putting some type of rhythm to these words and expressing how he felt, instead of just trying basic communication–not even being the wordsmith he was at times–he just took that hit. He inhaled deeply, letting her hold it in place, and followed along with every little gesture she lead him through. She had the controlling, manipulative bastard of a man that shattered her heart and a hundred others in the palm of her hands, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

He exhaled. He stared at her, directly in those eyes with that make-up half smudged by the tears she almost shed, and couldn’t think of a sight anywhere his wealth had taken him that he enjoyed more. All he could tell her, all he could muster from the deepest reaches of his soul, was this, “Bellamira Ossana… you are one hell of a drug.”

His words stopped the motion of the joint pulled from his lips to hers abruptly, mid-puff, and she choked on the smoke – breaking the gaze that had meant so much to him and had similarly spurred reminiscence in her own chest like a rapidly spreading wave of roses and thorns piercing through her organs, and most importantly, her mind. There was a sort of burning to it: she was sure it was the warmth, most of all, and the fire in between them. Leaning back again – still anchored by his shoulder – she mashed the last of the joint into the ashtray, abandoning it to trail faint smoke in the midday sun.

“You flatter me.” With a shake of her head, as if to clear her mind and those burning lungs, she swallowed the spit garnered to the front of her mouth. It was a gross feeling; the hit had gone straight to her head, or maybe it was the surprise, not the cannabis. Either way, her hand slipped from his back. It trailed down to his chest, fingers pulling at the wooden buttons sewn into his blazer; a forceful exhale as she remembered the silver buttons she’d procured as a gag gift, once. Fuck, he’d been mad. No sense of humour. She pulled the jacket around them both, though it was fitted to him to begin with, and didn’t even quite wrap around her shoulders – but that wasn’t the point. Her hands pressed up into his shirt, ice against his back. She took in one deep breath after another and focused on the pattern of his breathing. His heartbeat was fast, she could feel it, rattling in his chest like a child’s toy.

With her hands on him like that, pulling him into a tight embrace, she was unconcerned with the matter of his heart. What she was curious about was the nature of his soul. It had always been impersonal, before, a place she would rather not venture into. Cold and isolationist. It was worth another chance.

So, as she stroked his back, comforting, feeling like something about this was different or even wrong, Bellamira prodded. Her attention was uncomfortable at first; the weapon always needed a moment to warm up- but once she was comfortable in the space it was almost possible to miss her intrusion. Her soul was quiet, stilled, reigned-in through years of practice keeping it cool-
And his was on fire.
There was a hitch in her chest as she felt it first. It almost inspired her to pull away; there were few feelings more repulsive to Bellamira than unexpected heat, and passion or lust or whatever this unidentifiable atrocity actually was was definitely inspired of fire and flame. Her love was much more moderate; it was steadfast for those she cared about regardless of their fighting and had a plodding consistency that echoed the motion of her feet as she simply kept moving forward. But her eyes closed, perceiving him instead, pushing herself into a space where she usually was not welcome.

She was electric. She could see that; the raging of whatever was going on with him was ripping through his core, confusion, clawing toward her and grabbing on like an island in a vitriolic sea. There was no point in letting him crash on those rocks; her arms tightened around him to make more contact and she might have rocked him if only he’d been in her lap instead. Hey, she urged softly, we’ll be okay.

This was different, emotional, raw. It shocked her, electric as she was, to see herself regarded like this: the expectation had been shattered and she swallowed hard as if to hide the feelings lurking in her throat. Several thoughts flew through her mind What the fuck, chief among them, but more quietly, more tentatively – after all this time? These were the thoughts she could not repress. Most of them were easy to hide away.

Gauss had absolutely no answer. For any of this. Time and time again, Bellamira had put him in a place where he was questioning himself and his feelings. Over and over in a cycle he never could have expected, he was plunged deeper and deeper into feelings that for two decades, he was completely ignorant to.

Gauss’ soul was unique, it was true. Not only that wavelength of his, but this natural pull it had to those around it. Not just a magnetic personality, not just a play on words, but a force that didn’t quite fit the definition physics had laid out. It was something spiritual. Something Gauss also had no answer for. That pull was something Bellamira was likely accustomed to, but there was something new to Gauss. Something that perhaps encapsulated the changes he had gone through over the last year quite perfectly: transparency.

His soul hid nothing. Everything hers did to protect itself, his did not. He had no defenses. No walls. Hell, he hadn’t even dabbled in Calm Mind training. Whatever he was, whoever he was, whatever he thought, whatever he felt, it was laid bare to Bellamira then. Even the deepest recesses of these thoughts, they were hers if she so desired them in this embrace. Her hands smoothed against his back in an even rhythm.

That meant, of course, all of those things he could not explain, he did not have to. This stunned man in front of her, his lack of an ability to piece even a sentence together, she had every opportunity to see why. And, it was simple.
He was overwhelmed. Just as he had no defense against someone peering into his soul, his lifetime of ignorance to these emotions meant he had no defense to them once they surfaced with her. Everything she did, to him, it was perfect. Every word she said, every glorious action of her hands, even every puff of that joint–it was perfection incarnate to him. ‘Breathe,’ she reminded him, ‘just breathe.’

He could not give her words, not yet. His heart slowed down as she held him close, this was true, but only because some of that fear–which she knew existed now–was withdrawn. He did not scare her away. His words, while sweet, did not make her scream at him or flee into her room, demanding he leave. Of the many things she might now know he felt, she knew he felt fear. A fear of losing her again.

It was not lust that caused this heat, either. That was something he knew well enough. Somehow, someway, that wasn’t even a seedling in his soul. When she touched him, when those buttons came undone, when his shirt was an afterthought, the feeling he had was only comparable to disbelief or shock. How, how in the world could she do that to him again after what he had done.

And this started the negative spiral that was truly at the core of his soul. One one half, elation. One on half, it was the flood of that vitriolic sea, but these waters were hardly a torrent. These scenic waves were of her. Excitement, relief, happiness, joy–a beacon of positivity. That is what she created inside of him.

But that other half? It was the storm. The self-hate. The guilt. The recognition of his wrong doings. The thousands of questions that he had about all of this, all tearing apart the self-image he had. Everyone in the world might think he was full of himself, but the fact was, he had grown to hate who he was.

[/center]How could she talk to him again?

Why didn’t she hate him?

Why wasn’t she angry?

Why didn’t she hit him or slap him or yell?

Why would she hold him like this?

Why would she ever want to be his friend?

Why would anyone?

What… what if Thea was right?

What if he hurt her again?

Could he live with himself if he did?[/center]

Gauss had no words because he had no answers. Right in this moment, Gauss only had feelings. That couch might as well have been a lifeboat in a sea of self despair only illuminated by the light that was Bellamira, and even then Gauss felt guilt for that, realizing Bella probably didn’t want to be the light for anyone. She didn’t want that responsibility. He just… couldn’t help it.

Gauss was absolutely powerless here. Defenseless. Clueless. All he had were the instincts left over to him, perhaps created by generations of evolution for when a creature like himself was left in this state. He wrapped his arms around her to hold her back, thought not tightly, plenty firm. Then, one clear thought rang through to Bellamira. One thought like a lighthouse at sea, one thing to remind her that he still was an intelligent being:
’But… what if I’m not?’

‘What, if you’re not a changed man?’

Her head tilted to rest against his chest as she shifted sideways in his lap, legs off the side to embrace him in much the same way she’d relaxed on the couch when he’d come in. Bellamira usually moved as a fluid form; her body and mind swaying holistically whole in the motion. There was little distinction between mind and body - just what was concealed, and what was revealed, for lack of better terms. Her consciousness licked around his soul – a flame, a bone-reading, prophesying the past and those emotions and the idea of the future that she had committed to embarking on herself already. He had the same sort of future in front of him; their recovery was not tied together but were adjacent nonetheless. There was no sense of responsibility in her for his state. He had made this bed himself; he had been destructive and there was no way for him to get away from that. In a way, she hoped it plagued him, not out of hatred but out of the core belief that if it did then he could not bear to do so again.

But he was confused. He was hurt. He was worried, anxious, electric but withdrawn in some way, completely uncertain as to how he should move forward. She should have cleared it up for him. Should have told him to get lost when he’d shown up. Should have blocked the message and pretended not to see it. Logically, she should have done many things, but she hadn’t. She had exercised forgiveness. She had chosen the belief that he could try to be better.

‘I hardly expected you to be a changed man when I invited you here. Damn, I mean, I hoped you’d grown as a person. But…’

But the only thing he’d ever cared about was that ambition. She’d admired his drive; maybe that was what had attracted her in the first place. The curdling disgust that had built in her over time from her complete inability to penetrate that barrier was what had her so disillusioned. She’d felt at the time like they held the same charge; both too resolutely negative and wallowing to ever make a real connection. Was she positive enough to deal with this? She wasn’t sure. Bellamira couldn’t change him; she never could. Nobody could. But if he was working to impede that ego-

‘Maybe it’s just that you were hiding from me before, but… this is the first time I’ve felt something… well, real from you, Gauss. It’s enough.’ Offering him a tight squeeze, she repeated herself. ‘It’s enough.’

Never in his life did Gauss know he needed to hear those words. Probably in part because he never questioned whether or not he was good enough, he merely possessed an overwhelming drive to become better regardless. He had praise. He had positivity surrounding him. He had been told he excelled at what he did. He had even been told in the past that he was as close to a Genius Meister as one could get without being one.

But this had nothing to do with being a Meister. This wasn’t about combat. This wasn’t about the DWMA. This was just about two souls on a couch that had done terrible things to each other finally reconciling. Even peering into the depths of his soul, he doubted she knew what those words meant to him.

And this entire time, he couldn’t bring himself to look back at hers. But now, now that his paralysis of emotion had ended, now his eyes opened. He took a breath, he relaxed, the erratic flame of his soul settled but it did not dim, and he felt what he could from Bellamira for the first time. She was much harder to read than him, but that felt appropriate. She was the one that got hurt. He was the one that did the hurting.

”I don’t think it is, Bella,” he told her, this time out loud. His words did not match his feelings; what he said did not match how he felt, not from what she could feel. But, he would soon clarify, ”this might be enough for now, but I won’t stop getting better. I still have a lot to make up for… but I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”

That was it. That was the Gauss that made sense. The middle ground between who he was and who he is. Never one to settle. One milestone after another, just this time, in a healthier direction. His soul only reflected this. As transparent as glass on a sunny day. And this time, with a new feeling emerging into the mix. Gratitude.

He looked down at her, attached to his body and sprawled out on the couch. He had forgotten how affectionate she could be–when she wanted. He had forgotten plenty of things. His eyes trailed up and down her form, head to toe, toe to head, and he let out a chuckle. He had a newfound appreciation for what he saw, perhaps tinted with a touch of rose-colored glasses, but even he knew this wasn’t the time or place for that.

”I do stand by what I said. You are hell of a drug, B’. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a pill that put me in quite the ride you just did,” he told her, doubling down on the compliment he gave her earlier. He thought about it for a moment. Caressing her face again. He thought of a few romantic things he could do. Sweet, kind gestures that bridged between friendly and more. Probably enough that she could read it through his soul, but that was a whole different type of fear. So instead, he stretched his hand out to her shoulder, and with a gentle grip, held onto it. He wanted more, but he feared losing her at this moment.

It had been invisible to him, of course, the nearly imperceptible shaking of her shoulders as Bellamira fought to keep her hands still. They had stopped their comforting movement; just garnering a loose hold to maintain the connection between them that she’d initiated so nosily. But her body quaked under his hand, her body language of comfort belying anxiety of what – rejection, anger, hurt?

”But… I don’t think you want anyone addicted to you, do you?” he added, asking a question that was sure to cut those growing ambitions of his clean off. Though, that was the point. This was day one of a different adventure, not much different than walking back to Lot C. Forgiveness was one thing, but anything else? He imagined that was too much. Besides, he was fairly well aware of the spiritual dynamics between them; he was an intelligent man, after all.

He knew. He knew she knew. And, if she cared or considered it, she’d make it known eventually. He knew Bella. If she wanted distance, she’d ghost him. If she wanted time to think, she’d think. If she wanted him? He knew she had no shame in making her move, and if anything, probably took a little security knowing this ‘reformed man’ waited for her to make it. He couldn’t hide his soul from her, so whether he liked it or not, his whole hand was on the table. How the cards fell after, that was entirely on her.
Survivor of the Flames

Closed eyes. The smell of cologne. Repressed emotions. They’d been camping, once, out at some punk festival with a lineup she’d hated but she’d gone anyway just to spend the time with their friends. She’d spent most of the time there laying in the sun; the burn had been unaffected by the copious amount of sunscreen she’d brought on the trip. Her skin had been blisteringly hot then; now it almost burnt the same. Her body was rapidly warming; Bellamira equalized over time and the jacket was enough of a blanket that it held all his heat. An idle thought flickered across her mind, but she knew he heard it once it passed- ‘How do you get away with that in this heat?’ – and it spurred a flustered chuckle under her breath. What a stupid thing to share. What a stupid thing to share, out of everything, everything she could have chosen to show him first. It felt disingenuous. It felt… reactive.

Her heart caught in her throat with his words. Did she want him hanging to her like this, cynical of his own mentality, self-hating and improving and trying desperately to be better? It was.. hard to say. He wanted to show her his soul; if he hadn’t he would have pushed her away for a lack of moderation. He’d pushed her away before. It was a violation to him, usually, something Bellamira stayed far away from in another time. But he knew. He knew and he allowed it. He made his desires clear, and waited for her response. But that was the honest answer: she didn’t know. It was hard to tell what she thought about all this. There were a lot of emotions clamouring around, yelling, searching for a soapbox in the square of her soul: none of them could definitively reveal to her the answer to that question. Maybe his vision of romance was relatable, or desirable, but the question really was- could she build past her bitterness? ‘I don’t know,’ she admitted, but it wasn’t enough.

So she set her jaw, resolutely, allowing him a glimpse of the feelings cascading through her chest. She felt great love, she felt great fear, the rising of the sun and the falling of the lonely tide pulled away from the shore by the damned moon. There was room in her for comfort; his warmth and hands certainly provided a familiarity that she could not describe. They had been oil and water, propellant and matchsticks, a loaded gun dropped on the floor. The intense emotion: that was the easiest to share. It took more to let him see the flame.

Her soul flickered like a candle loose in the wind too stubborn to go out. It was vulnerability; at any moment the other shoe could drop to stomp that light out. He could admit that it was a joke. Could say he’d made a mistake, that he wasn’t ready to feel like that, he could realize she wasn’t ready to be broken again. The emotion was painful even for her to behold; in a fleeting moment Mira was made confident of her general tendency to repress these feelings. She let the pain rage. Agony, grief, anger, love, fear, blinding hatred, comfort, bloodlust- all together, simultaneous and sequential at the same time, somehow.

She held on. And, for the first time since he walked through those doors, Gauss showed any real sign of initiative. Not for that lust, though it was there. Not of romance, though it was there. All it was, was comfort. He shifted his body in the opposite direction to her on the couch, laying uncomfortably on his satchel, but ignoring the metal clasps that dug into him. With that slight adjustment in angle, he was able to drape the arm he had on her shoulder around her into the closest thing he could do to an actual hug in this moment. And, too, he held her.

His soul was not silent, but it wasn’t stirring. There wasn’t some new epiphany. There wasn’t a roaring fire or a sparkling flame. There wasn’t new winds for a tempest nor darker trenches for sorrow. There was what there had always been. Him standing at his core, in that ivory tower of his, but this time opened up for her and really all to see. He was, at the very foundation of his soul, there for her.

He didn’t say another word, he didn’t try to comfort her, he didn’t. She told him she didn’t know, and that was enough. Why would she know? Gauss didn’t even expect her to talk to him, let alone end up here, this way, this close, these feelings–any of this. He doubted she did, either. He had no expectations for her. She was enough. Maybe she had always been enough and he was too fucking stupid to see it then. Or, maybe this was the type of bond one gets over trauma, even if they’re the one that caused it.

She was not alone in not knowing.

But there was just one thing, now that Bellamira was finally sharing, that Gauss could think to do that might make any difference. What she shared, he soaked in. He pulled in it as he did with everything, except this time, exposing himself to it in its purest, rawest form. If she had to weather these emotions, he would too, and he’d let her see it. Although it pained him more than he might ever be able to describe, he let them ravage him. He felt pain. He felt it unleash like a beast. The agony, grief, anger, love, fear, blinding hatred, comfort, and bloodlust. He had… no idea what to do with it. No idea how to handle this intensity, nor any idea how long he could.

But in return, he shared that emotion that emerged itself within himself. Gratitude. He had no idea how she carried this weight with her so long, and it shredded his heart to know how much of it he caused. But he was grateful. Not that he caused it. But that she forgave him after, and she was there, and she didn’t yell at him or scream at him, she didn’t kick him out, she didn’t call him the scum of the Earth, she didn’t tell him he was exactly like his father. He was grateful… that she had at least a glimmer of hope for him.

What type of strength she must have, he thought, and thought clearly, to handle this for so long. Her soul flickered, but could he blame it? No. Not after this. Not after surviving what life had thrown at her. She was a survivor, he thought. A beautiful, broken, but still incredible survivor.
Resting Embers

Bellamira lay in his arms like a corpse, resolute in the act of feeling, for a long moment. Her chest barely moved for breathing. It took everything to bring down those walls; her thoughts were replaced with machine-static and freezing, mind-numbing, categoric fear. Finally, her right hand slipped from his back, rooting around in the couch cushion for the small plastic slip she’d tried to hand to him. It was brought up to her chest, clutched tight, hidden in his coat from the camera in the room.

There was a faint sound as she unzipped the bag with one hand. A crisp snap as she broke a bar in half with her teeth, swallowing it dry, an awful scratchy gulp they shared. The bag closed again. She shoved it downwards, into the waistband of his boxers, fingers getting stuck on the belt-loops of his pants in the clumsy motion. This was Bellamira without grace; it was frank and honest in a way that she’d never felt the need to be – or the comfort to be –before. Gritting her teeth, she pressed it back. Slowly lowered the gate into place. It slid over the gap in her soul like a grate, over the emotion leaking through her hands and into the intangibility between them, not obscured but lessened somehow. She knew that they would not leave her until she had the capacity to forget.
‘Don’t tell Salem,’ she finally managed, a thought rather than an automatic action or feeling stirring within. It wasn’t worth this. Nothing ever could be.

She needed, desperately, to sleep. It was just past noon. Not time for a nap. Not time to rest. But those feelings were so draining; it was impossible to reconcile them in consciousness. She let him hear those thoughts. Let them leak off, like water leaking from the pipe beneath the sink, a problem that could never be fully fixed without a replacement of the part but that could be covered up time and time again.

She was like that pipe. Salem never replaced anything, though, no matter how inconvenient its perseveration became. It wasn’t in his nature.

This series of events genuinely took Gauss a moment to process. There were a lot of ethics and morals here at play, which admittedly were never his strong suit, not to mention a sudden and intense change in their physical dynamic followed by an even greater series of shifts in Bellamira, her mind, and even her soul to some extent.

There was a part of him, perhaps the old part, that would have said something to the effect of he would gladly do so, in return for a favor. Perhaps something as small as a kiss; he was never so crude to ask for more intense things. An almost mischievous part of him, one that still existed now, one that was present like the little devil on his shoulder.

He was wise enough to know that voice had no place here. At least, not now. Not feeling what Bellamira felt. He could not entirely change his nature, though. He couldn’t entirely refuse to seize an opportunity. ’Not a word… but I do suppose this means my place to pick them up, huh?’ he thought, more so telling her not unlike any other Meister spoke to their weapon. Although, she wasn’t his. Not in that sense. Or, any sense, really.

However, even after saying that, he felt a tinge of guilt. He just couldn’t do it. Not to her. Perhaps to someone else, some other femme fatale, but not Bella. Not after this. If a soul could sigh, his would ’Nevermind that, I’ll get them to you when and where you want. Our secret… like the rest of this, I assume.’

Of all the oddities about Gauss, one that might stand out is the odd disappointment that echoed from him with the mention of this–the rest of this, specifically–being a secret. Gauss was no stranger to secrets. His soul was always easy to see through, such was a double-edged sword quite often. He guarded it like a fuckboy with their phone. But his soul, his flame, the glimmer in that ivory tower of his, it wavered just a little at the idea of keeping her a secret, and he really had no way to hide that.

Or, perhaps, it was the inverse. He was proud of her, and didn’t know how to put that into words.

‘Your place, that’s fine.’

There was a flicker of fatigue behind the sentiment; Bellamira was not inclined to hide even if she could, but it came over her body in waves, the pull of unconsciousness visible in her soul just as easily as his distress. His heat radiated back to him from her hands; this was a mirror, a limpid pool of the void, just as reflective as her flashing eyes in moments of rage. It was a feeling of defeat. He had not caused it. She was disappointed in herself – for how easily she gave up, how easily she threw away days and weeks of progress, how hard it was to deal with these things meaningfully – but her hands balled into the back of his shirt while they sat there together. The familiarity of the situation kept coming back as its focal point, to her. It was comfortable. Somehow, in between all of the bullshit, it was comfortable. “I don’t care if you tell anyone you came,” she said finally, her voice worn, “but, fuck – I have a reputation to maintain.”

She was glad for his moderation. Glad for the passivity, glad for the respect, glad for the unforeseen gentleness. She was glad she hadn’t just slammed the door in his face. She knew that he knew, too. That was enough.

There was no need to close that connection. He could look, or he could decline to look; she had no more energy for fucking around and no more energy for understanding the web they had been trapped in. The need to escape had come because of it, but it was not his fault; there were many more issues that rose in her throat like bile trying to force its way through her lips. It felt out of control. Her body curled, almost into a ball, around his core. Just laying on top of him. Just quiet.

‘Are you okay if I rest?’

Wonder. That is what Gauss was full of. Not the type of wonder that expected answers, but that inspired the type of curiosity that brought out the most beautiful words of poets and incited the most brilliant thoughts of science. The being Bella held onto, Thaddeus, Gauss, Addi to his siblings, questioned in this moment who he really was. He questioned how this one moment among the countless in his life had so much power, so much intensity, yet transpired through just a conversation on this couch in this condo without any real conflict.

He thought these moments required some yelling or screaming. Maybe amidst a fight against evil, or at least and arena like earlier. He thought anything and everything that could hold this value had to take place over conflict and strife. He thought, wholeheartedly, that iron sharpened iron. And those thoughts were entirely shattered as he looked down and saw the exhausted, yet undeniably beautiful face of Bella while she wrapped herself around him. The breath drained from her chest as they sat like that; the dampness of tears leaked down her face and soaked into his shirt. She couldn’t help it; there might have been no reason to cry, bar the emotional weight, but the heaviness of the world had collapsed on the shoulders and keeping hold of him was just the first challenge.

He leaned back, further, sliding his satchel to the ground so that she could have all the room she needed. Her cat-like flexibility might have been impressive as she so fluidly adapted to their positions, but he could not help but do what he could to help her comfort. There was a whispered admission from the woman crumpled into a pile in his arms: “I missed this.”
Not that long ago, he told someone else that this is what he fought to protect. But until now, he didn’t really know why people fought so hard for it; much like the Witch he spoke to, perhaps he also attributed it to the human desire for freedom. But now, this moment, Bella, and every feeling that came with it sauntered down to his very core and shook it with such force that he could see. If this was normal… if this wasn’t just a once in a lifetime feeling, if Bella and he–or anyone in his life, really–had the potential to have these moments, these feelings, consistently; well then, that was worth fighting and dying for.

’Rest as long as you need, I’ll be here.. If you want.’

He thought about saying more. He thought about telling her that he had an image to maintain, too. That, much like before, if people knew he was getting soft or opening up like this, that the Gauss everyone knew and many respected–while simultaneously detesting, most often–would crumble apart. He could not pretend to be who he was while being this person now. He could not be the man that ruthlessly climbed the ranks while also being the one completely captivated by holding her here.

His train of thought derailed. It was definitely true. He considered saying that, but in that loop of thought, it occurred to him, maybe he didn’t want to be or even care about the respect he once commanded from his peers. Setting aside his obsessive need to give his side of things for a moment, he questioned now who he even wanted to be. He knew he wanted to be better, but now… now he thought about actually being different. Bellamira closed her eyes. It was enough to listen to the conflict raging inside him, like this, but her arms wrapped around his shirt and she broke off most of their skin-to-skin contact. It was distracting, just.. a bit too loud.

Gauss.. wondered. He did not peer into her soul beyond what was there on the surface. He did not force his thoughts onto her, either. He let her rest while he wondered, while these thoughts passed through him. He could not shield her from them, but he was sure with her exhaustion, she could ignore them. But, he could not just turn off his mind. He couldn’t just ‘stop’ thinking. Because as long as Bella held him, he was stuck with the realization that being different, and better, might just be the blessing he was looking for.

Perhaps, too, that’s what he wished he could put into words. A way to tell Bella she was a blessing. Not a drug. Not something that distracted them from the world and artificially made them feel good, not something that one could become addicted to, form these degenerate habits, not something that they knew was bad but did anyway. But something that might just spark real change. But Gauss… Didn’t know how to put that thought into words that he trusted wouldn’t create a new type of fear in Bella. She called him fickle, but the truth was, she was more so. Caring for her was like trying to capture the wind.

Bellamira must have fallen asleep, but exactly when was more elusive, when Gauss could not quite see her turned face. Her breath had settled into a shallow rhythm – like the accidental hallowing of the wind – she was less aware, if she’d ever really listened at all, of the thoughts raging through his mind or the context to the situation. The woman often felt self-conscious of the idea that she missed important details. Just small things, sometimes, full context in other moments. There was some element of tragedy to that; in another moment Bellamira would’ve been all over his behaviour, examining it compulsively, but here she was simply swimming in the aching pool of her mind. There were times she was flighty and avoidant; there were times she might as well have been caught in a net on the couch. It was a dichotomy of the suffocating sort.

Sleeping, though, the conflicted feelings leaking through her skin began to fade to the soft neutrality of night. The flame in her soul stabilized; it hung low and pulsed with her slow heart. Gauss was left alone with his thoughts. When the clock struck three – quarters rang out from a grandfather clock that must have been in the office– it might have occurred to him that Salem was not in a rush. Not long after, though, there was a brisk knock on the apartment door.

If not for the pill she just took, Gauss would have been quite surprised by what she could sleep through. The clock. Salem knocking. His entrance. Then again, he recalled sometimes, her sleep was indeed, quite deep. Others, it could be as delicate as an evening breeze. In any case, he was content to just let her sleep. He might have considered a nap himself, had he not just spent several days doing nothing but resting in the hospital. Either way, he had no protest to the exact situation he found himself in. He had plenty of his own emotions to process, and it was unlikely he was going to accomplish that in just one setting.
Silence in My House

Salem had decided to give the kids some time to work things out; he’d stopped by the coffee shop up the street with its garden where he knew he could hear the screaming if things went sour. He couldn’t control it, there was no point in forbidding contact or anything else so childish, because in the end Bellamira would probably do what she wanted and it was better for her to be safe about it. There had been an hour or so of self-soothing. The want to come back with a reasonable mind. The knowledge that it took effort to actually care for the people you love. He gave them a respectful moment to straighten up before he even tried to open the door. The drink-tray in his hands tilted dangerously as the man fumbled with its handle.

When he stepped inside, three drinks in the tray in his hands, he crossed the room in silence. He didn’t survey them. Didn’t judge. Didn’t search them with his eyes or ask them what the fuck they thought they were doing on his couch. He set the tray down on the coffee table. Took one in his hand. Sat in the chair beside the couch, his chair, and spun it to square with Gauss as he leaned forward on his elbows propped up on his knees. He cracked open the lid of the drink, took a long sip, and finally met the younger man’s eyes.

Gauss did very little, really, upon Salem entering. His eyes would have followed him, but even upon the drinks being sat down, he dared not move. Not out of some sense of hospitality or gratitude, but more so simply not to disturb Bella. She was, after all, unconscious and wrapped around him, using his warm body as a pillow as opposed to anything the couch itself had to offer.

Gauss shot Salem a playful smile, now in his mind thinking this was like Round Two of obstacles to overcome. Salem was patient, intelligent, and tended to be respectful, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t observing and scrutinizing every little thing he saw. Gauss was well aware. The man could analyze without judging; it was a rare but objective skill necessary for his trade. He was sure every mannerism, word, and even tone that came out of him was likely again up for evaluation.

”I suppose you have yourself a captive audience,” Gauss whispered faintly, as to avoid still disturbing Bella. That, and pointing out how he really couldn’t move without doing so. ”I would think that would be a rare occurrence in your line of work,” he added in that same hush.

“I guess so,” Salem replied slowly, hand lurching forward to place his cup back on the table. His head tilted as he considered the pair. His mouth set in a firm line. Neutral. Not angry, not disappointed, just the barest hint of a frown and the slightest glimmer of humour in his eyes. He nodded. The thoughts in his mind were raging; she was safe and breathing in front of him even if he’d prefer to see her active at this time of day. It was suspicious, but not atypical. Bellamira liked to sleep. “You like your coffee black?”

His voice was not enforced as quiet, but he was a quiet man, steady and maybe even comforting in a different time against the rushing wind of the world. Salem was like a rooted tree; anyone could grab on for a moment to stabilize but he rarely moved ahead with them in tandem. The light in the room had seemed to dim on his entrance. Maybe he was just too close to the window, blocking the sun, glowing around his back and illuminating his thin blonde hair.

”I’m a French Vanilla type of guy,” Gauss said, still quiet, but if he was going to drink coffee and had the option, he’d go for it. Despite his clear privilege, he was far from the type of person to want things overly complex. A little flavor, but it didn’t need to necessarily be curated to him. That, and he was fairly sure if he accepted black coffee without being a fan, Salem would probably pick up on that distaste and make some odd analysis about how he didn’t feel secure enough to ask for what he wanted, on and on. Fucking shrinks.

”If is any consolation, there was no yelling or screaming… just hugs and a few tears,” he told Salem, thinking that an actual explosive fight was likely what he expected from their interaction. It wasn’t an unfair assumption; it was their pattern in the past. Honesty, for the most part, was the route Gauss was opting to go.

“Hey. All I gotta say…”

Salem’s hand moved to comb through his hair. It was the closest thing the doctor had to a nervous tick; the motion was familiar in the past, but it wasn’t common anymore, at least not in public. The man was a candle burning at both ends. A person with a lot of burdens, and little recourse against them, except in that they got better slowly day-by-day. A person who had learned to cover them up. “Mira’s been doing good. She’s in FATE now, trying, trying again.” This had been a trial. All of it had been a trial. He’d succeeded, time and again. It would be unsportsmanlike to punch down at someone he knew was also - allegedly - trying. This was worrying, though. It was bad. It was a source of angst, and commotion, and all the things that upset Salem’s specific sense of righteousness and order. It was Bellamira’s choice to see Gauss, but- well, he just couldn’t expect it would end well. “Don’t screw this up for her.” Don’t screw this up for me.

”If she had to go through what I did to get in FATE, then I know,” Gauss responded. He couldn’t help but look down at Bella with a pair of sympathetic eyes and resist the urge to hold onto her just a little tighter. He didn’t look back up to Salem, either. Instead, he just explained, ”But it’s not easy. Even when I try to build bridges, sometimes my partners fight with my teammates. Everyone complains about everything… I didn’t want Bella to walk in, as hard as it is, worrying about the chance of running into me, too.”

Then, and only then, he looked back up to Salem. ”I didn’t come here for my sake; you can’t ruin my name any more than I already have. I did it for her,” he added. Added without a hint of falsehood, without one of those nervous ticks, without even a lack of confidence in what he said. What he said, he felt adamantly was true.

The self-righteousness was in-character. It made the man bristle; what kind of honesty could there be through this sort of ego? There was a kindness, though, that he could not quite ignore. What had put him off so much about Gauss – what had made Salem actually hate the kid – was the lack of empathy he displayed when It came to other people. Hell, when It came to Bellamira specifically. This could be an act. It could be the mimicry of self-awareness, but in time, that would become self-awareness as well. It would become guilt. Salem didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of guessing what lurked in the recesses of the boy’s mind, and it didn’t matter to him, either. What really mattered was the behaviour.
“I’m not so petty.”

Salem’s hands came together in his lap. The doctor’s eyes had not left Gauss since he sat down. There was something to be said for Bellamira’s capacity for judgement; if she felt able to sleep next to him then surely he should be able to put aside his bitterness. It was not that easy. “You know how you fucked up?”

His tone was more casual, and he grabbed his drink again, his left leg crossing over his right with its foot flat on the floor. The question could almost be read as rhetorical. If he’d continued any more, it would have been. But.. well, he didn’t. He broke the staredown to check the clock on the side-table toward the kitchen. He knew what time it was, but it was getting hard to stand the tension.

Gauss heard the question, but unlike before, he didn’t have an immediate answer. He had to think about it. If Salem thought looking down was going to ease the tension, the moment of silence that hung in the air following it only emphasized it that much further. Being the last one left to speak, especially on such a question, couldn’t be an easy place to be in.

But, Gauss did eventually come up with an answer. ”No, Salem… I guess I don’t. It could be so many things that I just don’t know. Maybe if it was just one thing, B’ wouldn’t have been so pissed at me for so long,” he explained, giving the only insight he could to the situation. There was yet again, truth in those words. Gauss wasn’t a pleasant person, nor a considerate one, and unless you considered being doted on with copious amounts of money kind, then he wasn’t a kind one, either. Asking him how he fucked up was like asking him to count the stars in the sky.

There was a long draught of the coffee. If Salem could have drowned himself in that most venerated liquid to avoid the conversation he has unwittingly stumbled into he would have. There was nothing Salem wanted less than to undo progress that had already been made. Praising the boy in front of him was not an option; deriding him might be just as damaging if his intentions were good. The admission of guilt, though, of many wrongs – that took him by surprise. He went back for a second gulp, emptying almost half the cup, before lowering it back down between his hands. He wished that there was something extra in the mug. It gave him time to carefully choose his words.

“Do you think you can fix it?”

Another open-ended question. There was no reason to pass judgement yet; his opinion was not yet in a state where it could be considered helpful. There was no reason to be hurtful. It only continued that cycle, and fuck, if this was any indication it was a cycle that would come back to bite him in the ass. His shoulders were tight, pulled close to his body. Salem looked small in that deep red lounge chair so close to the floor.

”My therapist tells me that’s the wrong question,” Gauss responded. There was an extra layer here that Salem hadn’t considered. Gauss was already receiving treatment, and no two doctors were going to approach the problem the same. Even now, it seemed like Gauss recycled what he said directly from the mouth of a professional. Salem’s interest seemed to peak, chin raising from his coffee for the first time as he listened.

”But, I wish I could. Part of my therapy was to acknowledge the things I did wrong and take accountability–whether I agreed or not,” Gauss told him. It was, admittedly, a fairly aggressive tactic, perhaps not one Salem agreed with so early, but it was most definitely an expected step. ”At first, I thought it was stupid. Even if I apologized for everything I ever done, it didn’t actually erase what I did,” Gauss explained to him.

”But it was mandatory and I went on. Months, as a matter of fact. But what I learned is that each story was similar, but not the same. Not everyone hurt the same or for the same reasons. Not everyone forgave me, either. Actually…” he trained off. ”That’s why I waited so long for B’. I thought with more practice and effort, maybe I could… I don’t know… not have her cut me out again,,” he added, explaining the thought that pulled him off topic.

”What I learned from it all is I can’t fix it. But I try, and I can hope trying is worth it enough to the person that I at least make a dent in the damage I left behind. Not everyone will forgive me, I guess… but there are some I definitely hope do more than others,” Gauss said, summarizing his experience with this part of his therapy, and giving Salem another answer that demonstrated how powerless Gauss seemed to feel.

There were a lot of explanations. Although Salem wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear it, wasn’t sure if he cared, he did his best to listen attentively: There were good intentions here. It was hard to swallow the fact that people could change; it was a testament to the validity of his work but that did not stop the raging of apprehension and injustice in his chest. Most of his students did not ever cross the boundary into his house. He did not like chaos in the home.
I've Got Milk and Daddy Issues

As he drained the last of his coffee, Salem stood again, taking a few steps closer to the couch until he was nearly looming over them and tugging a second cup from the tray. He held it out on offer to Gauss.

“You’re gonna be alright, kid.”

Gauss reached out to take the coffee. He could smell the roast. He didn’t intend on pressing the topic about the creamer, though he would definitely make sure Bella was in stock if he were to ever return, or at least do so consistently enough to justify a spot in their fridge for liquid creamer. This was the type of thought that ran through his head at a time like this. Frivolous, self-interested, and the clearest indicator he wasn’t entirely reformed.

But he took a sip of the coffee regardless. It was at least decent. It struck him, too, that if Salem knew he was here and cared enough to inquire about the coffee, why didn’t he just ask him for an order via text? That clearly was not the point and would have likely soured the mood he had with Bella, but again, these were his thoughts.

”Sure, Salem,” he responded, not really aware of what to respond with in that scenario. He wasn’t being sarcastic. His ‘sure’ was in total agreement. It was just that him being okay wasn’t necessarily what he cared about. Not when clearly he had done so many others what he did to Bella. “I’ve got milk,” her brother offered unhelpfully.

”It’s not the coffee, but thank you,” Gauss replied. He was polite, and not with his typical better-than-you attitude. Actually, unless enraged, Gauss was always polite. The yelling, most often, came from Bella. Deservedly? Probably.

”Do you mind if I tell you something? I understand if you tell me to save it for my therapist, but it has to do with family… and it is your sister I’m holding,” Gauss asked, circling around something he didn’t want on his own record, but had been on his mind plenty since his last encounter with Thea.

As he pilfered Bellamira’s coffee from the tray - if she hadn’t woken up yet, he hardly even needed to search, she was out - Salem took a few steps toward the sheer purple curtain over the balcony window, pulling the farther sheet open to reveal the late afternoon sun to the opposite side of the room. He preferred natural light; it would have been rude to intentionally put a guest or his sister in the sun. When the man took his spot again, it seemed he’d made up his mind. He nodded.

“I never do,” came his reply, steady and poised. The room felt less dark like this, lit up with the orange tone of the evening, white rattan carpet painted with the pigments of the sky. He had all of the backstage tapes. He could guess, even if he’d just passed it on. “What’s bothering you?”

Gauss watched as Salem snatched Bellamira’s coffee. It would be cold by the time she woke up, anyway, so no harm no foul. Besides, with them on good terms again, she could basically have him get anything she wanted delivered, basically. Though, he wasn’t sure if she had yet considered that perk. That hardly was the thought he wanted to explore now, although one could argue it was related.

”I understand why my older siblings hate our dad, I do… but in my first year here when all of the fighting started with them all pissed about the funding and calls and everything else, he went out of his way to give me some instructions. Some that I’ve never told them and I haven’t ever had to follow. I used to never question it, but now they confuse me,” Gauss explained, setting up the actual issue he wanted to share. It was hard to keep his face neutral. The problems of affluent families were ones he was familiar with. It was not unsurprising that their father would try to do well by his children.

”See my dad… he told me that if Thea or Vi’ ever needed money or help–or anything that he could do for them–to do whatever I could, spend whatever, call anyone in the company, and have it done. He told me it didn’t matter what or why, told me it didn’t even matter if I told him I did it. And that was all after they had fought, and their mother tried to sue, and the family fell apart.I was a lot younger then, but I know everyone was terrible to each other. It made what B’ used to scream at me look tame,” Gauss went on, telling Salem this secret he hadn’t shared… ever, really. For his part, the doctor took his concern seriously. His face tightened as he contemplated the situation.

”I asked him why he did that a few years later, even told him they had their own careers now, probably didn’t need him. All he told me was ‘They’re still Thales,’ and left it at that…” he added. He actually made eye contact with Salem this time. This was the real part of the anecdote that held a question he didn’t know the answer to. ”Recently, I’ve wondered… was I wrong to keep that from them? That our dad would have helped them?” he asked, sounding rhetoric but absolutely serious in nature.

“You know, I think you should pass on the sentiment and leave out all the financial manipulation. Your father uses money to get what he wants. If he wants a relationship with them, he’ll have to work through it more honestly than that.” Another long draught of the coffee. Salem’s tone was exceptionally casual considering how scathing the words came out. “Nobody wants to screw up their kids.” He stated simply. “It’s up to your siblings to decide if he’s forgivable.”

Gauss listened, and listened close. He wondered if he had communicated this, would some of that bad blood be lessened. Recently, that question had carried a lot of weight with him. Every word Salem said had merit, but it wasn’t at all what he was looking for. With a direct, cutting tone, Gauss merely commented, ”That… doesn’t really answer my question.”
“It was selfish to keep it to yourself. If you were capable of doing better, you would have told them then.” His voice was definitive, but not damning. It was gentle. “But if you can do better now, than you have no time for guilt, lest you miss the revision - assuming that’s what you want.”

Salem did not really believe in the idea of duty to family, but they were important connections that should be nurtured if they were healthy and held onto desperately. They could be fixed, too - although he was hardly a success story there - he’d managed to learn to live with the resentment he’d once felt for Bellamira. His relation to the situation would tell him that he, in their place, would not speak to their father. They might have felt differently.

”I thought that, too…” he said, trailing off. He looked back down to the coffee for a moment. Reflecting on all of the fighting that had happened. Was it really selfish for him not to tell them? He didn’t gain anything from it. Even if they spent as much as he did, it wouldn’t put a dent in the fortune. Even if they got to call and talk to the siblings and their father, would that really hurt him so? He didn’t understand why that made him selfish, that was his conflict.

Yet, he still felt bad. He didn’t understand why, but he felt bad. Like he had a piece to this puzzle, but no idea how to use it. No idea where it went in the grand scheme of things.
”But also… our dad told me not to tell them. Only ever to help if asked… I don’t think he actually cared if they knew it was him or anything, just that they weren’t truly out here alone,” Gauss said, somewhat musing to himself at this point. ”Almost like… I was.. I don’t know, just the guy holding the credit card. An ATM or a phone call if they ever needed it; like… no, no I think I get this part,” Gauss stopped, realizing he was stumbling. He inhaled deep, then exhaled a bit, but made sure to keep his voice just a little hushed.
”It felt like he made sure they could have everything it meant to be a Thales without actually asking him,” Gauss said, putting together his thought more cohesively. “Like he knows they would never ask him?”

”Salem, my dad basically divorced their mom for being a weapon and disowned them when they ran off to the DWMA. He’s racist or whatever you call that, and hasn’t set up a meeting between my oldest and youngest siblings in years. I’m the third of seven between three marriages. So no, I don’t think they’d ask him,” Gauss shot off. An expression somewhere between a laugh and a grimace lit up at the statement; Salem’s hand raised to hide the smile on his face but nothing could hide the lighting of his amber eyes in the orange light that so clearly suited his being. Following a choking sound, he cringed a bit; not out of fear but from the shock of the statement and the embarrassment from the motion. It was said so seriously and yet so off-handedly.

“I.. wow, yeah, the man knows how to play. Fuck.” A shake. “I’m sorry, Gauss, I shouldn’t laugh. I really - I don’t have that kind of - I don’t have expertise in family trauma, just a screwed up family of my own, and I think I have to laugh about it. But I didn’t mean to laugh at you.”

Gauss squinted, almost glaring, at Salem as he responded. He wasn’t sure how to handle the response Salem offered him. Laughter at such a time wasn’t something he was terribly comfortable with and it admittedly brought up a defensive wall in his mind. Even with his explanation about their family, he didn’t feel entirely at ease about it. At the very least, he restrained himself from interrupting.

The overexplanation was more awkward than the offensive; Salem’s palm rubbed at the back of his neck. “I imagine that would be hard. I can’t really fathom there being five more of her.” Attempting to make Thaddeus laugh in his place, or at least garner a chuckle, he gestured slightly towards Bellamira. “Besides the fact that your father wants something from you. If it’s going to fuck your life up, Gauss, I think it’s okay to be a bit selfish. Staying the hell away from him will probably make their lives easier anyway. I’d need a lot more information to actually understand. Do you want to get into that?”

Gauss calculated his next response. Salem forfeited that feint of professionalism he had, and no matter how brief, it did leave an impression on him. Still, this was his career. He had a reputation. Apparently, one so significant that his work was technically more important than the more mundane issues that Gauss faced. He had been assured that specialties did not dictate importance, but that’s certainly not how it felt. Not in the DWMA.

Gauss did not laugh. Or chuckle. Or crack a remark. If anything, he found himself mildly defensive of Bella. But, he knew what Salem was trying to do. He was trying to gloss over the faux pas he made by laughing. He was trying. Gauss inhaled deeply, then exhaled, trying to let go of this bruised ego and offer Salem some silent forgiveness. That’s what this was all about, after all.

”My father has never done anything to hurt me, not like he did Thea and Vi’. He was disappointed when I told him I didn’t want to run Thaltek, but not disappointed in me. He still calls a few times a week, and I talk to my siblings. They’re young, Salem, so cutting him out would likely mean the same for them,” he told Salem, giving him a quick overview of his relationship with his father. HIs eyes stayed sharp though, even as that squint relaxed. ”I don’t mind sharing. But I don’t like to be laughed at, not like that. If you knew what the Thales were really like, you wouldn’t laugh,” he told him, not knowing Salem in fact did know at least one instance word for word of how Thea spoke to him.

“You’re right. I didn’t - well, I mean, I know what it is to struggle with family. I was laughing at.. my own struggles. Which are not relevant here at all.”

He turned his gaze to the outskirts of Death City. The people walking through the street, laughing, talking- they were unaware of the tension up above. The compact apartment felt confining; he would be more concerned about Bellamira if he couldn’t see her breath but as it was it was just.. awkward. “You have a lot to lose by breaking the script.” A consolation. Formal. He wanted to be helpful. Wanted to show that he sympathized. He just didn’t know what to say.

“Your sister,” he said finally, questioningly, “is what spurred this wave of self-reflection?”

Gauss would physically tense up at the mention of his sister. It was rare to see him on edge; even in the most heated conversations memory could serve, no matter how much Bella might have yelled or cried, Gauss never had much of a physical reaction. It wasn’t his tick. Not part of his normal mannerisms. As for the clarification provided by Salem, he decided it was best to let it be water under the bridge. His discomfort was quiet but obvious; there was nothing Salem wanted less than to pry into things that Gauss would rather keep hidden.

”That is… one way to word it,” Gauss answered, confirming the question Salem asked. Although, realistically, it was much more than just her. But, explaining it was a culmination of things over and over was starting to become a trend he didn’t like. Salem swallowed the apprehension hovering in his chest.
Apologies and Epiphanies
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Switching topics in a less than subtle way, Gauss opted to hit on something Salem mentioned. ”You know, I’m not actually a patient. If you want to talk about your struggles for a moment, it’s an option. B’ never did shed much light on your situation here,” he said, prying just a little at the dynamic between Salem and Bella.

There was a flash through Salem's mind of a dozen late-night conversations, of the times he'd walked out onto the ledge to retrieve Mira, of the scent of bread baking back when there was more than just reputation that had importance. This kid cared about his sister. Although Salem could not speak for her - like she would anyway - he knew his side of the story. His lip wavered.
"I never got along with my parents. I didn't suit their vision of what a son was meant to be: let's just say they hardly prioritized coursework. I wanted to be a professional."

His voice was soft, soothing, less pained than reassuring Gauss of what he viewed as a fundamental truth. "They had Mira ten months after I started NOT. She was the definition of a makeup baby. I stopped coming home for the holidays after that. I didn't know how to deal with being replaced, so I just didn't, I kept an apartment and stayed in Nevada."

Gauss listened intently to what Salem had to say. He always did, or at least he had during these new meetings. But it was at this moment he started to piece together a realization. He and Salem weren’t that much different in a few ways. Especially if one could overlook the corporate conglomerate that was Thaltek. This only made his focus on what Salem had to say that much more intense. That much more genuine.

The doctor couldn't tear his eyes from his little sister. There was some sort of jabbing sideways pain that twisted in his chest; he wanted to pull her away from this conversation and that boy and insulate her from those problems in the same way she hid in his coat.

"And would you believe," he asked, voice grim, full of gravel, "I didn't see anything was wrong with her life. I was jealous of her. I was jealous of her as they forced her to walk the path I didn't want to. I was jealous that they loved her, I guess, even if I didn’t want it myself. We never actually talked about it. I fucking hated her, Gauss, and it wasn't until she dissapeared that I realized that if somebody didn't start trying to know her I soon wouldn't have a sister to hate."

As Salem spoke here, he started to wonder if this is what Thea and Vi’ felt. A jealousy. An envy. Not necessarily because he walked a path they didn’t, but because he walked the same path, but had the support of their father. He knew Thea hated him. To Vi’, seemed more like a disappointment. But, to hear Salem say he hated Bella, it struck him just as hard as it did when Thea said the same about him.

The gaze broke as Salem hid his wet eyes behind a rubbing hand. He'd not spoken much about himself; maybe Salem didn't need to. He was more worried about other people. "So, no, I don't think you should cut out your young siblings." It was this honesty that nearly made him choke. “And I don’t think your sister is making the right call either.”

He could say so much about their parents. All of it was messed up. Would any of this actually help give Gauss some perspective? He worried for them - that was all there was to it. The kids *would* be alright. It would be easier if they could help each other on their way.

”Maybe it’s them you should talk to… because… ‘cause it seems like you’ve been down the road they’re on,” Gauss said, himself barely choking out the words. Much like before, with Bella, he wasn’t confident in what he said. Salem was likely just as well aware that if Gauss had a personality profile, self-righteous would be listed up near the top, but with the wavering voice he had now, it would have been fairly apparent that trait was long out the door. The doctor nodded slowly, carefully. He wanted to give the correct impression now.

”They weren’t always like this. Visits weren’t often; obviously our dad remarried and they had me, but even after Vi’ left for the DWMA, it seemed like he was excited to be an older brother. He showed me how he could transform.. We played games. Thea even barged in on the fun. She used to be protective–she used to warn me about dad and tell me I could come to her with anything,” Gauss explained, doing his best not to just break down about these golden days of his childhood. It was instinctual to reach for the little black notepad at his hip, but Salem's fingers met air; it occurred to him that they were effectively just talking. There was no jostling for position. No snide remarks. Only calls and responses. Electrical signals.

”That… all changed when I wanted to join the DWMA, too,” he added, wanting to say more, but stopping for much the same reason Salem choked up. Talking about it was hard. He never really told anyone how they treated him; not his therapists, his partners, or his friends. He wasn’t really about to give Salem details, not that he needed them.

"I'm so sorry, Thaddeus."

The apology was genuine, if tentative: he needed no proof of misdeed nor a crystal ball to see how affected the boy was by his family. His temples held in his hands, leaned over his own lap, Salem thought carefully about his next response. He felt the need to justify himself, even for the unjustifiable.

"It's not easy," he assured the boy in front of him. Much of the emotion was stripped from his voice; the Salem Gauss knew as a man full of odd humor had disappeared into the shadow of something else.

"Even with effort, it's not easy. I manage with Bells. She deserves better, but I manage. Sometimes I hate her more than either of them. I hate the bullshit she puts me through. There are times I wish it would be okay if I sent her home.

I wish that I had my life back and that I never developed this foolish idea of responsibility."
His voice raised as he spoke, but as Bellamira stirred, he lapsed into a careful silence.
The scratching sound from his throat seemed to echo through the room. His face was flushed red; these were the most embarrassing of thoughts that he just usually could not reveal. "You can't... Expect perfect," he finally concluded like a ghost of the night, just a whisper, an admission. "Trying is enough. I'm trying, Gauss. I hope they can try for you too."

Salem took quite the serious turn. Not that Gauss didn’t take what Salem was saying as serious beforehand, but his body language and tone had grown increasingly stark. Empathy wasn’t necessarily Gauss’ best skill, but picking up on the change at all was something he was capable of. He wasn’t quite sure how to process the weight of what Salem was telling him, but he was sure it carried a lot regardless.

”The only person I expect perfection from is myself,” Gauss told him. It was a neutral, almost bittersweet tone that said it. ”Bella doesn’t have to be perfect to be enough. I’m glad she is who she is. We all have things to work on…” Gauss told him, looking down to Bella with a little affectionate sparkle in those bright eyes of his, although she was out cold and couldn’t see it. ”I don’t know if my siblings will ever try; if they did a fraction of what you do, things would be better,” Gauss told him, giving what little praise he could to the man that tolerated so much.

He looked back up to Salem, then smiled softly. ”The good shit is in the folds of the satchel. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a little smoke might lighten the mood,” Gauss suggested. Clearly, with Bella on him, he was in no shape to actually acquire it himself. ”Thank you for listening, by the way,” he added, speaking to Salem less like a psychiatrist and more like he would had it been Noah.
The Real Red Flag
They shared a smile. Salem was moderating his breathing; the pent-up stress was not something he liked to express but was spurred by the context, and besides, he thought that Thaddeus needed to hear it. He hardly wanted a fucking medal. He tried his hardest, it often wasn’t enough. He wanted to tell Gauss that people could change; he wanted to promise he’d try to talk to them or that he’d send Bellamira to plead his case. He remembered, with a poorly covered-up grimace, the last time he and Bellamira had seen Thea in public.

Nobody needed to ruminate on that.

“I hope they do,” he replied instead, leaning across the floor to tug Gauss’ bag between his own feet. He snapped open a tube and flicked a lighter up into his hand from an unidentifiable location. The discussion of his sister was difficult; the good that Gauss saw and the bad that Salem saw likely had a lot of overlap, but it was up to neither of them to define what was actually good for her. He nodded along about effort. Raised an eyebrow as he sucked on the joint theatrically, throwing his head back up to the ceiling, smoke rings floating lazily from his mouth.

Reaching over that span again, he gave Gauss the joint, sliding the ashtray on the table forward with his other hand. He sat there – leaned forward across his knees, waiting for it to be returned – and a chuckle growled from the back of his throat. “Oh, anytime. You don’t have to put her out to talk to me, though, adjust accordingly. I prefer my sister conscious.” It was a joke, but maybe an off-color one. A bit of a wink. Salem had been upset when he’d seen the boy, and he’d been upset when he’d walked in, but he was not upset at Gauss. He was upset at Bellamira, and there was no point in projecting.

These were the joints Gauss was actually excited for. Hundreds of strains to choose from, and these were the top five the gentlemen at the dispensary suggested. He was somewhat surprised when Gauss requested their one gram specialty rolls–and one of each five, but a sale was a sale. Gauss took it in his hand, then maneuvered it between his index and middle finger before shifting it again to over his middle finger and grasped between his thumb and index. This particular hold, he found, worked great for thicker rolls like this one.

He did not make a comment or reply, at least, not immediately. Instead, he perhaps did something that Salem likely forgot he could. He took a quick view of the surroundings, looking particularly to see if the ashtray had any metal–and more importantly, magnetic components. And, it did. With his remaining ring and pinky finger, he made the simplest of come hither motions, causing the ashtray to subtly lift, then gently float over to him before he could grasp it with his freehand. Normally such a meager example of his abilities was beneath him, but it did reduce any chances of his movements disturbing Bella.

He was considerate, likely to an alarming degree, if Salem interpreted it as such. The doctor gave him that benefit. It was a moment of mutual understanding; Gauss did not want to disturb Mira and Salem similarly did not want her to be disturbed. He considered his exit strategy. He might find a reason to leave for the night, if he could leave before Mira woke up. It would be less awkward than dealing with the aftermath of this.

Gauss took a long, steady drag off of the joint, simply holding it before pulling it from his lips. He did not breathe. He let it settle in his lungs before gently tapping it with his pinky to make the dead, gray ashes fall off the end, giving the remaining cherry plenty of air and life before extending his hand to pass it back to Salem. While holding it there, he finally opened his mouth to let what little smoke could escape from his lungs out, only to reinhale a good half of it though his nose. It wasn’t until after this he opted to say anything.

”It wasn’t intentional. She touched me, and as weapons do with Meisters, she felt my soul. I’m sure you question a lot… but she got to feel the emotions at their face value. I think the contrast between what she expected and what she felt took quite the toll on her… one joint with a little kief and she was ready to… well…” he looked down, but had eyebrows raised, as if to gesture precisely what had happened. ”She seemed tired to begin with, too. She should probably drink more water,” he added, with an odd suggestion at the end. Of course, to him, it was more related to the hangover he suspected.

“That’s not surprising,” Salem responded evenly, “she always liked you.” Not that I understood why. Salem was doing better at keeping negativity to himself. It was an ongoing process; the derision was unproductive and hurtful but damn did it help let the steam off. With a bit of a cough, though, he let slip something he considered halfway.
“You think she’s fucked up?”

He meant physically, of course, a speculation on the state of her sobriety before the fall or maybe of his impact on her soul. He didn’t care about the pot. He never had. Gauss should know what the question meant; he took the joint from the boy and laid the same hand on his sister’s exposed ankle as if to check her temperature. After a moment, eyes closed and breathing slow, he withdrew to take a haul off the smoke. He went back for a second puff. A third. Smoke hung low in the room; Salem passed the joint back to Gauss’ hand. He sat back into his chair as he evaluated them. It was an honest question. He didn’t know if he expected an honest answer.

Now this was a landmine if Gauss ever saw one, and Salem chose right after Gauss took a hard hit to ask. His mind was already feeling itself elevating. His skin tingling. Whatever he took, it felt like it was primarily hitting his body. His sore back, most of all, started to dull down. More so, the spots that he could feel were more sensitive from the explosion now seemed to radiate a more neutral tingle, much akin to that from menthol or body warming gels, and it was most intense where he was sore. Of course, he never would have complained about it with Bella on him, but it was notably there.

Gauss took the joint and stared at it. Salem was smart. The man basically had people lie to him for a living. Gauss had already snuck a few in, but he didn’t know how to dance around what Salem was asking. It took him a moment to piece together what he needed as an answer, but he thought of it. And, he grinned. Wide, actually.

”Not as fucked up as we’re going to be,” Gauss replied. ”I think you got one for a body high, but the guy at Weedkiller said 99 Percent was a real trip,” Gauss responded. All before he slid the joint back between his fingers as he did earlier, and took another steady hit. He kept it slow. Part of him wanted to hit it harder for the act, but he didn’t risk it for fear coughing would disturb Bella. Salem raised an eyebrow. The response was not what he was fishing for, but it was amusing; besides, Bella would be just as fucked as they were, if she woke up in a hotboxed room. There was no productive conversation happening. No likelihood of introspection. No time to talk.

He exhaled, resuming staring at the joint, and lo and behold, his eyes were definitely glazing over. Not quite bloodshot yet, but they would be. He extended his hand, but mostly looked off with a slight chuckle. ”Y’know, I have no idea why anyone that likes me actually likes me–never did,” Gauss said, with an abrupt piece of honesty. ”I don’t pretend to be nice, I even used to warn people that everything they heard was true,” he went on. ”But people still wanted to fuckin’ be around me, and I don’t quite think it was just the money. You pick up on that shit, y’know,” Gauss added, lifting his eyes up to Salem, waiting for him to take the joint.

They passed back and forth much more determinedly than Bellamira had been inclined. The comment made Salem chuckle again himself; his eyes were hazy but not even quite red. He was too practiced for such embarrassment - if it wasn’t damn good shit. He shrugged exaggeratedly. “I dunno, dude,” he started, playing up the tone, “but I’d say it’s to prove they can. That they’re, like, invulnerable to the ‘madness’ or whatever the hell it actually is. You feel like you pull people in. Maybe you do, and they just, well they just think they’re bigger than that. Like they can overpower your personality or something.”

Another toke, another attempt to pass it on. This time, his hand tapped Mira’s twice, trying to get her to take it. Another time, she might have taken a hit and went back to sleep. Instead, there was a groggy, upset noise from the inside of Gauss’ jacket. The woman pulled her hand away, long fingers disappearing into the blazer. Salem did his best not to laugh. Passed it back to Gauss again instead. Didn’t disturb her any more.

“You got a better explanation?”

”Eh… man…” Gauss mumbled, realizing he was perhaps more far gone than he anticipated. Salem seemed fine, but he felt like his body on cloud nine. He felt warmth radiate through his body. He felt the pressure from Bella’s hand in his blazer, and for a while, it felt like just that extra touch of sensation sent waves through his body. That tiny stimulation was like the moon pulling on the ocean, like it controlled every beach that was the body of the magnetic Meister. His mind was there, mostly, but he was pretty far detached.

”If I… or if you said to just like, assume the worst of people, like the most shallow reasons,” Gauss answered, holding the joint in his hand and ashing it again, since he had the privilege of holding the ashtray. He looked down and realized this, then looked back up at Salem and told him, ”Just for the record, I’m not gonna be able to do that trick again for a bit.” His train of thought cut short, typical for someone of his mindset, but it was a valid point. Moving that ashtray required coordination he simply did not possess at the moment.

”If Bella is gettin’ some of this secondhand, this is probably the best nap she’s had in like… years,” Gauss commented before letting a chuckle slip out. A similar thought to Salem, though perhaps the years of additional tolerance the man had made him a little less sensitive to the herb and its effects.

”But yeah, uh… maybe it’s a challenge, but like… my name got power. Thales are like, top ten in Forbes, man. I’m damn near more royal than actual princes in fuckin’ Arabia; think about it, Magitech is replacing gasoline…” Gauss explained. And, for a moment, he sounded like he was on what one considered a typical egotrip. But he continued on, ”I think people know that… and they want a little part of that, maybe. Like, maybe it’s not actually me, y’know? Maybe any of my siblings could do it,” he suggested.

”My therapist, he fuckin’ tells me it’s because I got this ‘air of confidence’, and most people are actually followers. He tells me I should be careful ‘cause I lead others without even meaning to; that people like me I have some inherent responsibility,” Gauss went on, although at this point he was paraphrasing more and clearly not using the proper terms.

”But I dunno… I don’t fuckin’ see how. People get one inkling of who I am, sometimes even just from like those stupid ass profiles they keep on us–which by the way should be way more fuckin’ private–and they get this idea of me in their head that can’t be shook, and then they just hate me. They think I just wanna dick them down or make another notch in my bedpost or whatever, and whatever, fine, but I get hate. I don’t see how I can get that hate, but then be someone others follow. I don’t see how confidence means a damn thing if people hate what you’re about,” Gauss told him, ending his rant. He sighed, too, realizing he perhaps went a little overkill, but nonetheless, it was good to get it off his chest.

Then he took another hit. Slow and steady, as it had always been, til the cherry neared his fingers, and he felt the heat getting a touch too close for his liking. He stopped there, then passed it to Salem, extending his hand a bit prematurely. Gauss was spoiled in this regard; he’d rather just buy more than finish off the last bit of this joint himself. He never could understand why people would get those little metal tongs just go get those last few desperate hits.

Salem took it between his index finger and thumbnail. Those nails were tinged dark; his nails were always painted black but there was a definite layer of resin underneath visible as he took it from Gauss. This was habit; he brought it to his lips and finished almost until the very end of the paper, flicking its empty husk into the ashtray, and moving to grab it from the boy’s hand. There was a thick sigh. “Yeah,” he agreed, “I don’t show anyone my notes. Fuck that, it’s on a need-to-know basis. Frankly, Gauss, most people don’t.”

There were thoughts about the ego whirling through his chest. Thaddeus was attempting, or at least visibly attempting, to act with some sort of integrity. Acting always came before genuine feeling. To Salem, the feelings were irrelevant. To Bella, he knew, they meant everything. She was asleep on the couch. That was enough of a comfort - no matter how suspicious he might be - to approach the situation with some legitimacy. This kind of introspection was rare and Salem wanted to encourage it.

“You need to think less about your ego,” he sighed, “If you care about what I think, at least. Prince, heir, benevolent, irrelevant, hated, loved, asinine - why does it matter - you’re going to have to make a new label for yourself. Ex-abuser is not a good self-identifier. Have you ever interacted with someone without thinking about your reputation?”

Gauss tilted his head at this thought, then shook his head for a moment. ”Salem… I am technically the primary heir to Thaltek, one of the biggest companies in the world in the largest growing sector. Like, Vi’ and Thea aren’t in my dad’s will to inherit the company, just a lot of money, and my other two brothers are too young. I can’t just… neglect that,” Gauss explained to him in a fairly matter of fact tone.

“No, no, I know. I know. It makes your family issues complicated, it means you’re never outside your means, and it guarantees you’ll never get kicked out of a bar.” A half-wink, slow; his body was calming but Salem was always somewhat alert. It was pathologic for him. His gaze moved to check the balcony-door; as they spoke he stood unsteadily from his seat and staggered to deadbolt the door. Checking the peek-hole, he continued, “But have you ever just tried to interact with other people as a normal person? Just declined to introduce yourself, just like, talked to people without relying on that status… it might clear up a lot of your questions, Gauss. I think you’re half as unlikeable as you think you are. I think your reputation’s precedence is holding you back now.”
Pushing off of the door’s surface to spin back around, Salem tripped, nearly eating shit on the carpet but catching himself on the coffee table. He sat down on the ground between the couch and table heavily. Looked up at the kids on his couch. Sighed. “But that’s just a theory.”

Gauss saw Salem almost fall, it seemed. Perhaps this had hit him harder than expected. He was pretty sure Salem was hitting it harder than him, which he didn’t care about, but he was in no mindset to be factoring that in at all. Gauss sat there for a few moments, eyeing the satchel, wondering if Salem was going to procure more, and also contemplating what he said. Ultimately, Gauss couldn’t formulate a response more sophisticated than, ”This may come as a surprise… but I don’t really like to lie or withhold information. Contrary to what you may think, man, I’m a pretty honest guy. Little white lies are about all I do.”

A grimace. Salem’s hands met his knees, and he looked up at the chandelier on the ceiling, its circular form almost like bobbing stars above him. His hand reached out to pat Gauss’ leg in the way that a concerned father might; he looked sad, crestfallen, that the suggestion was taken in that way. “No… no, I mean it. You don’t have to lie to people. You can tell ‘em later if you want. But just - just try it sometime. Just be with someone for a couple hours. I promise, letting go of the legacy feels fucking great.”

Yet again, a touch to his person, not even his skin, and it sent ripples of sensation throughout his body. He wondered how Salem was even handling movement at this point given it seemed like he smoked about twice what Gauss had, but then Gauss remembered… he kind’a wasn’t. It took just a moment for Gauss to process what Salem was saying with the additional sensory overload he was receiving.

”A-Are you sure…?” Gauss asked him, tilting his head in a bit of genuine curiosity. ”Like, that feels pretty dishonest to me… like, like man…” He looked down to Bella, then back up to Salem. ”Imagine Bella coming home talking about this great guy she just met, and then it turns out he wasn’t like… telling her he was the heir to some fortune or something… innit that like a red flag?” Gauss asked, completely forgetting Salem was her brother and not father for a moment. That, and the fact Bella had in fact effectively dated such a person before in himself, but that was a whole separate debacle.

“Yeah, I think I’m sure. Being a rich kid is enough of a red flag itself.”
More Than a Meister
He couldn’t suppress the smile, though, the chuckle that came with those words. Salem remembered what it was like to be a young man. He’d felt dishonest, then, too. There were less things he cared to share now: most people just didn’t need to know. That was his main mentality in life. He was just Salem; most people wouldn’t know his surname, his legacy, his soul. They never needed to.

“Cheap shots, cheap shots.. Don’t mind me. What I really mean is I know what it’s like to have a legacy. I didn’t agree with mine; I hardly claim my name or theoretically rightful position. My parents fucking disowned me, Gauss, and they tried to take me to court over using the name. I won’t get rid of mine cause - well, fuck ‘em, they lost. But you don’t have to claim who you are all the time. You don’t have to carry that legacy like you’re atlas with the goddamn weight of the world. You don’t have to carry your reputation like that, either.” He settled for a moment, fists pushing into his knees, but his eyes snapped up to look at Gauss - they almost seemed to glow in the dark. The sun was in its motions of setting. His light was fading with the advent of night.

“I never liked any meister that was into Bellamira. It felt like they were here because of reputation, you know, not genuine interest. Some of ‘em were, some of ‘em weren’t. That’s the legacy. It’s the same shit, Gauss. People peg you based on who you claim to be, and if you claim to be an heir, you gotta live with all that baggage from square one.”

”How the fuck do you sue someone over your own last name?” Gauss responded. He stared back at him. Gauss eyes were naturally bright, but they did not quite possess the current fiery glow that Salem had. At this moment, he was more perplexed over what kind of fucking parents sued their kid over a name they gave him. Who in their right fucking mind did that? What did they expect? Like, what was the alternative? ”D-Did they want you to pick a different one…? Or just like, have no last name? Like, how the fuck did those legal preceedings work, man?” Gauss asked, spouting some fairly legitimate questions over the most trivial feasible part of Salem’s speech. “Yeah, a new name. ‘Cause we’re a weapon clan, Gauss. Their argument was that I didn't have the right.”

But, that did not mean he didn’t let the rest soak in. Salem had a valid point about retaining his last name–a victory in its own right. But, he also brought up a lot of thoughts about his reputation. Legacy. So on and so forth. Gauss could have made a few counterpoints. Like how he forfeited the claims to Thaltek when he joined the DWMA. And, how unlike his sisters, his father had offered to send him to school if he ever dropped out and take a major role in the company, regardless of which one it was. As it stood now, his youngest brother, Ray, was the one being groomed to be the next true heir.

Gauss knew that. It was an understanding he had with his father. Should something happen to him, Ray was to be the true successor and Gauss merely needed to make sure things stayed within the Thales line until then. He was just a stepping stone for his brother, and would be allowed to continue as a Meister. Gauss didn’t mind this, given it didn’t impede on him, and if his father had the longevity of a Rockefeller, then he’d be around long beyond his due date.

Gauss also sat on the idea of their parents genuinely wanting Salem to pick a new last name and how that was perhaps the stupidest fucking thing he had ever heard of, let alone actually going to litigation. This entire series of thoughts derailed him from the point Salem was trying to make about reputation and legacy. Once he shook that off and actually had some semblance of a train of thought, he went to the thought that meant most to him: Bella. And, perhaps how Salem saw him.

”Salem… I never really saw B’ as a weapon or really cared about her being an Ossana. Like… even if I thought of that kind of partnership, names didn’t really matter to me,” Gauss told him, as if feeling some need to make a point and garner some level of approval. ”Don’t really care about yours, either, I guess. I came here for the girl I remembered, not a weapon with a special name,” he explained.

“Good. Her last meister pushed her just as hard as our parents did, and honestly, they did their best to make sure she couldn’t do anything else. Bell doesn’t need more pressure.” His voice came out dark, bitter, and he stretched out his arms one by one to compose himself. Gauss probably wouldn’t even remember this, he thought, and the concept emboldened him- besides, so what if he did? The conversation had been good. They were making progress, or at least, being honest for once. “It’s wild to think about. Full homeschooling, mostly just training, just absolutely- unfathomable. I did my best not to send her back to the DWMA, Gauss. She doesn’t know how to do anything else.”

It felt overwhelming, sometimes, to be responsible for the aftermath of that sort of trauma. He swallowed. There were too many factors for him to identify what the hell was going on, to spend time psychoanalyzing that statement, to act like a therapist and not just an older brother. His hand groped across the table to search for the last swig of cold coffee. His mouth was full of cotton; he couldn’t imagine being made to do the drills that he’d detested so much in place of the education he’d been blessed with. Bellamira managed to find joy just the same.

“I feel responsible for that. ‘Cause they lost me and they weren’t going to go through that on their second try. I didn’t even know.” Gauss heard these words, and could only wonder if they applied to Vi’ as well. Mulling it over, as best he could at the moment, he realized they also somewhat applied to him. A sudden realization hit him that what Salem was describing between him and Bella was arguably an identical vicious cycle with his own family. The tutoring. Elite schools. The preparation for the business world. Hell, he could reflect back to a conversation he had with Noah where the mindset his father vested in him at an early age created a different perspective on the subject of the tournament.

The only real difference is that his father groomed them to be business tycoons. The Osannas did so to be weapons. Except… wait. Wait. It was hitting him. The pieces falling into place. Was Salem a weapon, too? It would make sense. In all this time, he had never considered it, and if so, Salem–even when this lit–was even better than Bella at hiding his inner soul. It was a taught skill.

”Y’know… you’d have done well as a Thales, man,” Gauss told him. ”Basically, my dad gave us all world-class educations starting before we could even speak. After Vi’ and Thea, I bet he’d have been settled for one of his kids being a doctor instead of an agent any day,” he explained, pointing out the opposite side of this mirrored situation between them. There was a chuckle from the man on the floor. His eyes closed; it took most of Salem's will to stifle a yawn but not for lack of interest. "I could see that."

”But… that’s not what I meant about B’,” Gauss said, backtracking slightly. ”We have never been like… Meister/Weapon partners. That was never us. I mean, I know she’s a scalpel, but that’s just not us,” he went on, trying to explain what he meant the best he could. There was the sound of a hinge as the doctor rummaged beside the couch, pawing through the ottoman that was so often in the way, though his eyes had passed back to Gauss: this was about as attentive as Salem could stand to be. He pulled a navy blanket from the storage crate and shook it out in his lap.

”Salem, man, she doesn’t need to transform and fight with me… I just kinda want her exactly as she is now,” he told Salem, this time letting his thumb glide over her shoulder to rub it gently, as if reaffirming to the unconscious woman wrapped around him she didn’t need to change–whether she knew it or not. Twisting his body, the doctor spread the blanket over the pair, leaning over to tuck it up around Bellamira's shoulders - over Gauss' hand - and cover most of the couch. When he slid back to his seat on the ground, he tugged at the hanging fabric, straightening it behind his back.
A Realization and a New Insight

”And, like… the way you describe things… are you a weapon, too?” he asked. ”Like, all that training for some elite family of weapons–only makes sense if you have a weapon form,” Gauss added, quickly trying to justify why he asked that question.

There was a moment that Gauss wasn't sure whether or not his question would be answered. Hell, there was a moment Salem wasn't sure if he would answer it himself; his forehead dipped toward his lap as if only to hide his face and contemplate what exactly had led him to a place where he had to take responsibility for that. "Yeah," he finally growled, hand kneading into the blanket beside him, rubbing against the woolen fibres as if fighting to separate them, "I'm… a weapon. Theoretically. I was good at it, but I went through NOT instead."

Gauss was moderately confused for a moment at Salem tucking him in. In part, because he didn’t think it was that cold–Bella made for a great source of warmth. At some point, her heat had even surpassed his own, exacerbated by their contact. In part, because this would make the next joint real rough to smoke, had Salem intended on sparking up another. Lastly, in part because it wasn’t an action that Gauss was accustomed to at all; it just wasn’t something… done to or for him.

Salem did eventually answer him, however, and it seemed from what Gauss could interpret that he wasn’t super comfortable with the answer. He mulled this over, processing the facts Salem had given to him previously, and pieced together that his weapon gene was likely the cause of a lot of strife in his life, so it did make sense to have some distaste for it.

”I just mean, like… I can match with just about any weapon… so theoretically, you don’t have to guess at what I think or feel… you could see it for yourself,” Gauss said, suggesting effectively what Bella did, but most likely to a much less intense extent. ”Y’know, if that would be like any relief,” he added, pitching the idea to him. He felt the odd need to prove himself to Salem, at least over Bella. It was a trend. It was never for himself, but for her. It was as obvious as a neon sign to a man trained to pick up on patterns.

”Oh, and there’s like four more of those,” Gauss said, tossing out a complete change of subject, his mind now clear enough to leave an escape route if the last topic was too personal for Salem. Gauss wasn’t the best at reading this particular situation, so he tried to cover all of his bases.

“You want to show me that?”

Salem’s tone was not reproachful; it was perhaps mystified or maybe even awed. The soul was something he kept private. There was no reason for anyone else to peer into that; there was no reason to talk about the love and love lost that plagued his idle mind. It was better for him to stay busy. To stay in the moment, directed, to ignore the space that stood like an aching hole as a testament to the empty bedroom with a picture of those matching dresses on the unused side-table that hadn’t been moved or dusted since Bellamira moved in.

But he pulled his phone from his pocket. Dialed one of the only numbers on his quick access bar. The phone rang several times. When it finally went through, his voice was quiet, but Gauss could hear the background noise in the restaurant. “Ah, yeah, it’s Salem. The usual for Bella and I. Add an order of yakisoba with… cashew… chicken.” He glanced up at the boy beside him. “Yeah. Fifteen for delivery? Great.”

The line clicked less than twenty seconds from when it opened. “Give the pot a while,” he requested easily, “we’ll get some food into you first.”

The kid wouldn’t be down for conversation otherwise. Fuck, Salem didn’t want to take advantage, but the barriers were already down and he could admit his curiosity. “You can show me whatever you want,” he mentioned, calling back to the question, “but don’t feel obligated. I trust Bella. You’re still in my apartment, so…”

He left the implication open. It didn’t need to be carried on. Gauss could only laugh at Salem. It was one of the rare few times in their exchanges that Gauss felt the table was in his corner, so to speak. Whereas Salem treated his soul like this private retreat exclusive to Salem and Salem alone, Gauss was not so reserved. His soul was a beacon. It pulled some in, empowered others, and disgusted some. He did not mind in the slightest sharing things that Salem, on the other hand, would never.

Gauss stretched out one hand, the hand that wasn’t so deeply tucked in over Bella, and offered it to Salem. Palm up, fingers straight, mostly. It was a neutral hand. What he brought to the forefront of his mind, he thought, mattered. What would be the first thing Salem might see. Of everything that he and Bella had done, what encapsulated their experience.

It could have been his desire for more. It could have been that beautiful feeling of enlightenment he felt when a whole new color palette for the world seemed to open up. Perhaps started with his therapy, but cracked open by Noah, Chanterelle, and hell maybe even Maria. It could have been. But he decided that if Salem was in for a show of his soul and a replay of his recent memories, one stood above all of the others.

He inhaled, closed his eyes, and tried his best to recall the exact feeling he had when gratitude overwhelmed him. When he was thankful that Bella didn’t just slam the door in his face, or yell, or scream, or start another fight, or hell just… run away. When he was grateful for her forgiveness. When he was grateful that she just… existed. When he was grateful she let him be exactly where he was in that moment, and thus far still was.

The laughter reassured Salem. He did not mind being laughed at; people laughed when they were comfortable and it meant that he was doing his job. That he was encapsulating that spirit. That the essence of his soul could carry through. His soul was something he could manipulate, certainly; it was a separate entity from the rest of that power and a facet he was much more experienced with. There was something about the imposition of the soul upon someone else that made it feel distinctly separate from this kind of contact. Resonance, though? It wasn’t his bag.

In the first moment he laid down his hand, easing his aching body onto the couch beside this boy that had caused so much strife and his baby sister, Salem recoiled. His hand snapped back from the feeling as if the older man had laid his hand onto a hot stovetop. He played it up visibly, although the movement had been intentional, but his inner monologue cursed and moaned about the faux pas. “Sorry, Gauss,” he joked quietly, “I’m far too positive for this shit.”

But his hand laid down, flat over Gauss’, palm-to-palm, and breathed deeply as he experienced the feeling. It only took four or five seconds of contact for him to get the gist. It was a strong feeling – a recent one, too – and it was broadcast so clearly the doctor could hardly hope to miss it. He felt a deep wave of relief from the sentiment, though he had to check it was his own feeling and realized that he had absolutely no idea what Thaddeus experienced on his end. The idea was terrifying. There was a sound somewhere between pain and surprise, just a small choke from the depths of his chest, as his hand pulled away. He moved back almost automatically, retreated to the far side of the couch.

His gaze was soft, maybe even curious, but not critical. Guarded, but not judgemental. His other hand rubbed at the one that had touched the meister as if he was trying in vain to clean it. “Intense,” he commented, but there was no upset, no anger or rage. Salem had never yelled at Gauss before. He was too steady for that. Now, though, he looked unbalanced. Vulnerable. Out of his element.
”That was just the beginning,” Gauss remarked. It was not the literal beginning, more like the tip of the iceberg, but those were the words Gauss chose. He could see the act was not terribly comfortable for Salem, or at least did not seem to be as evidenced by his recoil. He wondered, though, that had to be an incredibly useful tool as a therapist; why was this not a consideration earlier?

”You and B’ both… hide your soul. My perception is good–very good–but I can’t make it past her walls unless she wants me to,” he explained, ”I assume yours are even better.” A complimentary statement, although it did work on the assumption Salem was just inherently more skilled than Bella. He had no other reason to believe so. “It’s what I was taught,” Salem replied simply. Mostly, though, he listened. He wanted to know.

”But she let me see a glimpse. The feelings that came from the memories of how we used to be, I think,” Gauss told Salem. It was honest. As honest as he ever was. ”It’s what exhausted her, I think… and I may have made it a little more draining. What she showed me, I felt. Like… a computer without a firewall. I thought the least I could do was carry what I put her thought for the brief while she opened up,” he explained, although at the moment, it was quite clear that he wasn’t exactly the expert here that someone like Emmett was. Gauss could do things, but that didn’t inherently mean he always understood how they worked.

“You know,” he said slowly, “Mira’s raw at the best of times.”

It was hard to formulate a response to that. There were few canned responses to I’ve seen your sister’s soul and fewer ways he could explain away the sorts of feelings she’d shared. It betrayed all expectations to hear that she would give herself to someone like that. It made him uncomfortable; Salem desperately tried to push those feelings down into the deepest recess of his own soul. Her soul, admittedly, was hers to do with what she pleased.

But he couldn’t keep the concern, the worry, off his face. It flashed raw in his surprise. His gaze wearied; this was clearly a moment of… what, weakness? Shame? Fear? He’d been told. He already had that information, he pushed through his own mind, and nothing had really changed. But the idea of that vulnerability-

Was she finally starting to heal? To cope with the things she’d rather just push down? He hoped so. It scared him, but he hoped so. The allowance of the pain was harder than its refusal. It would get worse before it got better.

“I keep my mind calm. Clear. Got stone walls built up slowly over time. Bellamira… fuck, Gauss, I doubt she even saw them in herself. Like she threw all that shit down at once and paved it down so she wouldn’t have to feel it again. A crack in that concrete and the water all comes pouring out.” He couldn’t suppress the frown. The concern in his face as he regarded his baby sister. If he’d been alone, he would have comforted her. But she wasn’t the one who needed to be. There was only one person in front of him, conscious and affected, one person he needed to help. One person that needed perspective.

Gauss chewed on this thought for a moment. That Bella didn’t even know those walls were up. For some reason, despite Salem being the expert, he didn’t know how much he believed it. She let him in. Actively, or so it seemed. He wondered, his head still clearing up, if Salem did not give her credit for which she deserved. Maybe she was more capable than he realized, or that even she realized. Or, perhaps he was jaded by his own affections.

”Do you think perhaps… she emulated you?” Gauss asked, turning that part of the conversation on its head. ”You’re her older brother, yeah? I mean, you probably know Vi’ and Thea. I’m in their shadow. If it’s like that for B’, then maybe she saw how well your walls worked for you… and made her own,” he said, suggesting an idea he had about Bella, or at least a way to credit her for more than just acting on instinct.

”But either way, I didn’t let her feel it alone,” Gauss added, explaining his perspective on the alternative. If Salem was right and that was some subconscious dam she built to wall herself off, or the world out, then Gauss was right there at the flood gate. He didn’t drown, but he didn’t come out dry, either.

“I hope not.”

The thought terrified him. No man was an island; he might have put forward a damn good attempt but Salem knew better than to assume that his coping strategy was healthy or anything other than asinine. It worked because he believed in it, more than anything, and he wouldn’t put it forward as a way to actually deal with problems. Besides, Bellamira was a weapon - a real one - she needed to use her soul freely, not to close it off. If she had found a way to do both, she’d never spoken to him about it.

“Either way, I’m.. glad you were here, somehow.”

A smile to betray the sinking feeling in his chest. A feint of optimism, less convincing than ever, but the consolation he offered was genuine. It was comforting in a different way to think he wasn’t alone in caring about whatever was actually going on in there. It was good to hear he had so much faith. Still, this was troubling. More troubling than comforting. The idea that his toxic attitudes were being passed on-

-no, no, he didn’t want to deal with that tonight.

“Hold onto that. Keep it safe. It’s rare to get a glimpse of that, you know, and…” A pause. Awkward. Held. “Just keep it close for her.”

”I’ll keep those words in mind,” Gauss told him. He looked back down to Bella, though this time he noticed the lighting was finally dimming enough that some of her features were just a little softer. He had spent the better part of the day here. On this couch. Holding her. Stoned. Talking to her brother. About to get food.

”Y’know that feeling you have when your watching a movie and your girl is on your arm and it’s falling asleep?” Gauss looked back up, asking Salem with a fairly serious tone. ”It’s a lot worse when you downed coffee and have to pee,” he told him, absolutely cutting through the atmosphere they had created. Salem couldn’t help but laugh.
 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter



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Thaddeus Thales

"Gauss"

Species Human
Partner Noah Wiley, Prudence Montgomery
Rank Fate Agent

LocationFrance, Paris, Café No. 9
Mission Labyrinth of Flames
Status Excited, interested



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Gauss found himself taking small bites of his pain au raisins, better known as a buttered croissant with raisins. It was a simple, light, flaky pastry that always seemed significantly better when made by an actual French baker. This one was slightly sweetened, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what the specific flavor was. Nutmeg, maybe? Allspice? Some slight blend of brown sugar, even? All he could make out were light notes out of it. Breakfast items, he had found, were very light in France, which contrasted what he was accustomed to quite significantly. It had led to him finding small stops along the way with protein and nutrient dense smoothies during their visit as some of this food left him a little unsatisfied--although not by the flavor.

It was Thursday that Zelda and Emmett informed them that their upcoming mission, as cleared by Cyrus, was to assist two standard One-Star teams in Paris. The push for integrating the Fate Program was ever-present, and being assigned an international and inter-branch mission with the European branch of the DWMA was a fairly big deal. Perhaps not as intense as a tournament, but it was just as important for the long-term of the program. That all was secondary to what Gauss heard. Gauss heard trip to Paris. Gauss offered to fly and pay for the expenses for literally every member of his team to go there early and spend the weekend in Paris.

Why? Perhaps team building. Perhaps he was sad his other friends were meeting their partners or preparing for their own flights. Perhaps, he hadn't visited Paris in a few years, and he wanted to show others around. It was all up to them, really. He was going with or without them, and he managed to get the sign off on leaving early for recreational purposes. After the exhaustive training Emmett put him through with Resonance, a little time off sounded great. One might think that the time he spent in the hospital would have been enough, but Emmett could be intense. He had a way with words that brought out the challenge inside of Gauss. It wasn't just what he said, but also what he didn't say. He made a challenge and set goals, but he didn't belittle or create absurd expectations.

Gauss had to admit, Emmett was a hell of a teacher, when he was actually there. Having him focus on separate styles of his weapons, while strenuous, gave Gauss a lot of insight as to what his partnerships could be.

He had also sent his morning updates to Chant and Bella. Instead of spamming them with pictures of where he was or who he was with, it was well-wishes for their next steps. Chant going to Dall Island, apparently. Bella for her first meeting with her team. His social circle expanded, including more than just his partners now. It was a better feeling than that of isolated training.

As it stood, everyone was already at the Café. Zelda was waiting on some type of update from Emmett about how they were going to proceed; he was apparently off meeting other teams. Zelda had yet to reveal what the mission actually entailed, just that they would be representing the American Branch of the DWMA and meeting with two groups from the European Branch, which currently was holding Emmett up. This seemed to be a pattern.

"So, uh..." he said aloud, putting down his croissant and wiping his fingers on one of the napkins provided. "How's everyone enjoying Paris? he asked, trying to spark some type of conversation to break the silence of just waiting for a text.

Note: I would assume Noah and Prudence went with Gauss, but the invitation to visit Paris does extend to Nadia, Dani, Sara, and Eva, so from hereon in, if you want them to have joined him for a Friday flight and stay over the weekend, just right it in and we'll reference it in game as we go on. Not looking for flashbacks/collabs, just something to further augment posting moving forward with references.



 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter



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Adrian Hackney

"The Maiden"

Species Human
Partner None
Rank Fate Agent

Location Death City, Lot E
Mission Introductions
Status Relaxed



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Back to square one, it felt. Another Lot, another team, another time. It had admittedly frustrated him to hear Team Arrow was being reassigned, basically becoming Team Reaper. Midori was given a new task, something happened with Zosar. Midori went hard on his efforts to train them before they were transferred, though. It was clear the Hoshi wasn't happy about it. In between him visiting Zosar and Cyrus for whatever reason, Midori was pulling everyone on the soon-to-be disbanded Team Arrow together to push their training that much harder. He did it in groups, he did it separate, he fit in all the time he could. Midori ran himself ragged, and it only made Adrian that much more perturbed by how he seemed like he was being punished for whatever the Hell went on.

It was hours before he was to meet in Lot E. Adrian was jogging through Death City, keeping a close eye on his surroundings. He remembered how he was teased about getting lost and being late, so he was practicing memorizing new places. New streets. No maps, no GPS--unless he did get lost and needed a back-up. But, otherwise, he was using street signs, his intuition, and site markers to guide himself, and he was getting good at it. Earlier that morning, he had done his usual morning workout, stretched himself, and now he was pushing for at least four miles before he had to meet at Lot E.

This time allowed him to reflect. He had grown quite close to Zari and Jarvis. Sure, he wasn't their "partner", but he was a tag-along with them that was damn near close enough. He hadn't convinced Jarvis to fight him yet, but he sparred with Zari. And, when Jarvis could be bothered, he even let Zari use him. This was, of course, during the downtimes where Zari wasn't off doing Death knows what with that therapist or Midori was around for their training. Zari was still on a whole different level when it came to hand to hand combat, and the gap between them only grew when Midori started showing him how to keep up his Amplification between swapping forms, making his entire fighting style more fluid and consistently enhanced.

Needless to say, Adrian didn't win many of their matches, and when he did, it was real close.

Adra and Jarvis went through perfecting their Calm Seals respectively. Outside of losing fights to Zari, he recalled how Midori basically treated training like a factory line. Give Adra and Jarvis instructions, leave them to meditate on it, then have him and Zari practice. While Zari was getting better with his amplification, Adrian was getting better at using his Self-Resonance. Sometimes he pit them against each other, prompting Zari to try and prevent him from Self-Resonating. Midori set win conditions. If Adrian could Self-Resonate inside of 60 seconds, he won. If not, Zari did. This made it a race to see which of them could focus better mid-fight. Again, Zari won most of the time, in fact, at the beginning, he won all of the time. But, as days went on, Adrian started etching out a few successes, and that meant he was getting better at using his abilities by leaps and bounds.

By the end of the day, both he and Zari would be exhausted. But by the beginning of the next, they were better for it.

And, Adrian couldn't say that having his ass kicked repeatedly by Zari didn't hone his own fighting skills; it just wasn't great for the ego.

The fact Adrian felt like he was getting so much better is also what pissed him off the most about this reassignment. Midori seemed like he was doing fine. The training--it was fine. He liked his team. He liked where he was at, and he felt like it was ripped from him.

But, there was nothing he could do about it now. At least, he still had Jarvis and Zari.

Time had came, he set an alarm on his watch, and he needed to make his way to Lot E. This was a simple trek, he gave himself plenty of time, and given he had basically been there before--no way to get lost. He found himself approaching the Lot to see Jarvis actually greeting two others. This was a step forward. Human acknowledgement. Maybe the time he spent Zari was opening him up, at least to some degree. Adrian strolled up not fair behind Jarvis, and spoke up from a distance as he neared them.

"If this is anything like Lot C, you sure bringing Blackie was a good call?" Adrian nonchalantly asked Jarvis, not yet acknowledging the others--at least until he was nearer.



 

Azurian Dream

Hello To Nowhere
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Team Reaper
Agent: Ashi Monsera
Location: Lot E


Ever since she had returned to the land of unfrozen time it was hard to grasp that so many years had passed while she herself had been on a repeat of a single day for hundreds upon hundreds of years. So many things were gone, so many people lost, and all of her once successful life was now buried in history long past her never to be reclaimed. The woman, deep in thought, kept her head forward, her eyes keeping a vigilante layout of everything ahead of her. Her appearance was extremely out of place as were the Egyptian symbols over her right eye, the long gold silk glove upon the entirety of her left arm, and especially her old-style wardrobe of a white dress with golden laces at the end. She was highly noticeable from the moment she stepped out of her dorms into death city. Her beauty was definitely notable, but it wasn't what caught people's eyes. She clearly appeared as an ambassador of some kind, even maybe an agent from the African branch. Yet she was in fact part of the American Branch as of a few years ago. Upon making it to a particular landmark she halted at a sign giving directions she locked onto the lot's alphabetical system. Once she found the location of Lot E in particular she headed off in the proper direction. A part of her knew she could have used the strange phone device in her short pockets underneath her dress yet it still felt so out of place for such a small thing to give her directions of... that and she still was weary of how to actually operate it in truth. She could call people, but that was the end of her mastery of the tool. Maps, whatever the hell google is, something about a folder inside of the flipping phone device that she had still not found where to retrieve from the physical shell... it was an absolute mystery to her still. What was worse was the "lingo" as they called it from the people who tried to explain it to her wanting to operate something called a touch screen phone apparently the pinnacle of phone technology... after breaking the sixteenth one in a rage they gave her an older model which was at least more manageable in her opinion.

"All this knowledge just floating in the airwaves... such a strange world... why is it so hard for people to just follow the signs or a map," She mulled as she was rather early for her first official step back into the open world. It was strange so many people relied so heavily reliant on this Magitech stuff to the point it was strange whether she considered it an amazing innovation or a plague on weakening people's common senses. The F.A.T.E program had initially wanted to give her the option to retire given the scenario of her situation, but she had refused because she needed to do something other than being a lab rat to all those picking and prodding scientists, and while her own branch was indecisive about it the American Branch which had originally recovered her gave her another offer to reintegrate back into the DWMA. While it was a program more meant for broken, or troubled souls in truth she did fit into its initial settings. The world of DWMA was now grouped with Monster clans, and witches, and even given her own situation letting years of fighting for her life in constant attack from such things was not something easy in any way to let go of. In a sense, she had been in the program for a long time accumulating to the new world to avoid extreme culture shock, and to make sure there weren't any residual effects from being trapped on that death awful island well minus being undead of course.

The greater zombie reached her Lot number noticing immediately a majority of people who seemed to be early were also being late a thought that caused the greater zombie to laugh thinking how her first meister would be in full agreement with that line of thoughts. She smiled at the energy of this group so far making her way over she started to look them over. The first two notables were a duo A brunette that held a good posture but gave strange smile to Ashi's senses as if she wasn't looking at the girl's face yet a mask of some sort. It was a strange thought, but she shook it off the girl's neighbor bore lush green hair his scent was more earthly, and for a moment she had indeed mistaken the boy for a girl even. He seemed rather nice yet his hands were very steady... if she had to wager a guess he was probably rather sneaky potential with a unique skill set, but most importantly was definitely a weapon of a different nature.

"Salutations my new comrades it is my pleasure to meet you," she expressed to both Elly, and Sage with a respectful bow before turning to another sitting away from the rest however this one caught her attention very face as she walked over, and immediately with calm movements proceeded to pet the cat on his head.

"Ahhh we are kindred spirits you, and I in a way. A pleasure to meet you as well along with your beautiful friend," she bowed to Jarvis noting he seemed to have a not would she would call lazy disposition, but more lofty potential turning into a storm of upmost attentiveness when needed. His scent was also like the green-haired one a more demonic scent, and also a weapon. It was never hard to spot one's own kind after all yet these two were clearly of a different mold in the weapon world. While she did have a hard time interacting with monsters she had grown accustomed to being rather alright with fellow undead this was a good easing method to work as such with one. A solid starting line as it were with the new world way of things. Yet such conversations could wait as the Egyptian chakram turned to who she took an immediate guess upon arrival.

"Ahhh you must be my "partner" Adrian salutations to you and a prosperous unity this union will hopefully be," she smiled at the pure blue-haired individual who had in fact just recently spoken to the one called Jarvis. She gave Adrian a bit more of an aggressive look over than the others seeing as how they would be partners meant to support either other as only AW's could. "It is a pleasure to meet a fellow autonomous I expect great things to be learned from working with you," she spoke softly before turning to the most important of the bunch so much so she gave an even more deep bow to the mentor of this group the one clear in charge exuding a great spiritual pressure in such an unassuming Japanese priestess design.

"And it is an honor to work under your teachings Aka Kuro," the blue-skinned greater zombie smiled showing her respect for the current age Death scythes so much to the point she recognized them immediately. After all, to most weapons, the Death scythes were the most honorable and respected of their kind knowing who they were was well-earned respect.

Mentions/Interactions RedArmyShogun RedArmyShogun Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen QuirkyAngel QuirkyAngel Serei2477 Serei2477
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Team Praetorian
Agent: Artem Belouse
Location: Lot A Near The Pond


Well, this was an odd duck situation as the message had in fact said that being on time was tardy yet here he was clearly the first to arrive with no one in sight. Looking around the blue hair shark-toothed young adult looked around rather confused to the point he scratched his head a little with puffed cheeks. He blew out a puff of hair as he played around with his shark-themed tie with plushie whale sharks. With little to go off of past the message Artem with nothing else to do just sat down on a wooden bench near the pond. He didn't say anything as he just inspected the pond, and the calm waves created by the light breeze of the desert day. It was hard to say what he was thinking about at the moment the oddity of being the first one here by an hour when they clearly said be early, or maybe the unexpected nature of who he had been paired with coming out of nowhere in a odds of 1/100000.

"I didn't expect this," he spoke with a void in his voice as he looked at the listing for his official first partner since he had been first admitted into the F.A.T.E program Bellamira the woman he had experienced a rather strange nightly crosswalk of fate... the iron of that line in his head wasn't lost on him. He was not against it in fact a part of him logically agreed with it, and even more, he was in good hands with her he felt. Thought after that night would she feel the same about this pairing they didn't know each other much past that first night and this pairing had sidelined them so much that they hadn't seen each other since that night... which did go a bit against the command to integrate into each other's lives. Regardless that could be made up for. For now the purple v-vest individual just kept watching the waves waiting for the others to arrive.

However with the lapsing of no real interest of thought to what the others would be like much like a robot Artem really just sat there with no objective at hand, or any semblance of direction other than to wait. Well, he could think about the team name Praetorian the ability to consult one's own decision when the absence of government was felt. To govern the law extensively on opinion. In truth, Artem didn't feel he was capable of that charge. The ability to both feel physical and emotional was absent to him how could such an existence have a right to judge without consul... it was a deep pondering of thought that helped the time pass as he thought of the scenario that got him into F.A.T.E


Mentions/Interactions: Meredith Meredith JellySquishies JellySquishies Nobody Special Nobody Special FireMaiden FireMaiden simj26 simj26
 

EmperorsChosen

Am I a Boomer yet?

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Daniella Ethalyn - Paris Cafe
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Dani prodded the collar around her neck from where she sat, at a table in close proximity to the rest of the team, while she sipped—Dani wasn't quite sure what it was. She didn't know French. It had chocolate and stuff though. Really, someone in front of her just ordered it and she pointed to it on the spot. It was that or "coffee", which she was sure was just universal. She also had a muffin in front of her, that looked to have blueberries in it. Thank death for those display cases where she didn't have to know any names and could just point like a clueless American tourist.

Her skidding by on zero knowledge of the local dialect was menial, though. While some of the others opted to go with Gauss a couple days early, Dani had remained back home with Nadia and continued training. Even if she wasn't still feeling the guilt and kick in the ass from the tournament, the new choker around her was a constant reminder that she couldn't fuck up again. Even if she felt comfortable taking handouts from Gauss, of which a private plane ride was severely outside her comfort zone, Dani wanted to keep working with Nadia. She made a promise that she wouldn't drag her down, and she intended to stick to it.

They had made progress. The drills were a pain in the ass and the recordings and smack talk were annoying, but they could achieve a real resonance now, even if only shortly. Even an underachiever like Dani was surprised by the boost. It was different from when she was with Mikey. They were always told that relative partners couldn't achieve the same boost as a typical resonance, and they saw such differences themselves, but feeling the difference was another thing entirely. If she could just keep it up, they could attain resonance effortlessly eventually, and then Complex Resonance.

It would be different next time.

"Huh?" Dani mumbled instinctively, Gauss' question having brought her from her thoughts. Pausing a moment, she stopped picking at the collar around her neck and picked up the muffin in front of her. "...It's... fine I guess..."

Dani didn't really hate Gauss, or dislike him that much. First impressions were hard to override, and his wasn't the best. However, with how poorly everything else went, the DWMA and Cyrus took the top spots in her shit-list and knocked everyone down, even Prudence, though she was still up there. She had even reconciled with Noah, somewhat, and Sara was Sara, so it wasn't as if she despised the team entirely. She was still a grump though, and had far too many worries to add keeping conversation to them, if small-talk was even a strong suit for her in the first place.

@Team Stitches
 

EmperorsChosen

Am I a Boomer yet?



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Eloise Keegan - DWMA Lot E
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"Aha~ I'd hope not," Elly replied back to Sage before she felt the presence from before begin to approach them.

Well that was quick. Eloise half expected some games or other such tests, yet the weapon she sensed just approached them upfront. Her soul was steadfast and rigid, but seemed to carry a sort of nurturing nature somehow. Her appearance certainly suited the former rather than the latter, but it made it clear that she was one of their watchmen. She was a straight-talker too, which was helpful. Reading a soul wasn't exactly the same as reading one's mind. Even if Elly prided herself on being able to read people, the blatancy of Rieko was a fortunate turn of events.


"Ah, so we're the only newbies?" Eloise repeated with a hum. "No qualms with me."

As they spoke, Elly was watching, or feeling, for encroaching newcomers, and they wasted little time filling up the lot one by one following their arrival. Such was luck.

The first was quite the interesting one. Not just dead, but a bloodsucker. Elly was surprised that one was in the program. Despite the monster clans declaring a truce with the DWMA, she knew that the vampires were still, for the most part, feared and distrusted. Funnily enough though, this one was quite contrast to that image. He seemed to be a weapon, but the rhythm of his soul was so laid back, swaying ever so gently as if it were about to pass out. There was no malice, or even bloodlust. Isn't that what they were supposed to be all about? It was in the name after all.


"Hello~" She greeted in a sing-song manner, though he seemed a man of few words.

Then, there was of course the adorable little animal perched on his head.

It didn't take long for another to appear behind him. Rieko was telling the truth when she said that they were the newcomers, as the two appeared to know each other. They couldn't be partners, though. While Adrian's soul wasn't as striking as the bloodsucker's, she could still tell apart his very obvious weapon traits. He didn't seem like the biggest socialite, though she garnered was still better than Jarvis.

Then there was Ashi, another soul of novelty to Eloise. Aged and cold, she held a soul similar in some ways to the bloodsucker, albeit different still. Elly surmised she was an undead of some variety. Her face looked cold as well, though her spirit carried with it a certain grace and openness. She also appeared to have been let in on more information. For example, she seemed to recognize their mentor, the priestess, and as Elly had guessed, she was quite experienced; a death scythe in fact.

The Irish woman smirked a bit, returning the zombie's greeting with a wave before making her way over to the now three, approaching Jarvis in particular. As she reached him, the woman kneeled down in front of him with her knees together and her arms resting atop them. It was clear her attention was squarely on the cat sitting atop his head.
"And who's this li'l darling you've brought with you~?" She asked, referring to Blackie.

@Team Reaper

 

FireMaiden

Grade A Bitch
Supporter
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)
My Interest Check
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Temperance Quills
Location: Lot A
Interaction: Azurian Dream Azurian Dream (Artem)

Mentioned: simj26 simj26 (Miroku)
On time was tardy, that part of the message had stuck with the young woman, and was the cause of her current situation. For the past ten minutes or so, Temperance had been hanging back from Lot A, keeping watching the perimeter as some form of discomfort stirred in her stomach. Anxiety, maybe, of being surrounded by nothing but strangers. Well, not complete strangers, she had of course met everyone briefly but had done very little to actually make a connection with anyone. So they were mostly just names to her, including the Miroku girl she was supposed to be partnered with. Regardless, Temperance did feel some sort of pressure to be early, she hated being late for pretty much anything. But at the same time, she hated being the first one to arrive anyway. It could be a set up, some sort of trap. Then again, if she was first, she could check around for anything suspicious. Hence the discomfort. Temperance let out a huff, a hand shifting to scratch her exposed mid-section as her brows furrowed deeply. She didn't expect much to be going on today, so Temperance had picked out a simple white crop top and some brown velvet-ish flared pants. Comfortable, but at the same time, adaptable enough Incase thie turned into something more.

Part of her wanted to text Cedric. After seeing him again at the tournament, and making sure to get/update his number, Temperance had wanted to try and rekindle the friendship they had. But at the same time, she still didn't know how exactly he felt about her now. Things had changed, a lot, and it wasn't like they...she had left things on very good terms. Maddox and Nexis both did their best to calm her down this morning, even though assurance wasn't Maddox's strong suit. Still, she felt out of place and finally placed that uncomfortable feeling. Fear.

But what was she scared of? These were F.A.T.E agents too, people in the same boat. That's what she told herself though, muttering it a few times out loud as well to try and drive the point home. There was nothing to worry about right? They were just normal people who needed help because they did something bad. Or had ment issues like her. Or were Spy's, but would the DWMA allow that? Temperance didn't know, not really. The woman forced herself to take a deep breath, looking back to pond after minutes of scanning the surrounding area. Only this time, she spotted someone. Most likely a member of her new team, and most likely, they had just gotten there. Okay, that was doable, she could go take her place now.

Temperance cleared her throat this time, shaking her hands a few times to get the nerves out before she started her approach. One foot infront of the other, it would take no time to make her presence known. The boy, Artem as she saw upon getting close enough, wouldn't have been sitting alone for too long before Temperance finally appeared giving him a slight nod as a greeting instead of a verbal hello. She'd then move to take a standing spot not too close to the bench, but not too far away to look like she was purposely putting distance between them. Which Temperance definitely was doing.

She wanted to observe him after all. He seemed a bit bored, but otherwise relaxed. Possibly thinking about something thought provoking but Temperance really had no interest as to what that might be. Her guard was definitely raised though, as it always was, her shoulders tensed and her stance slightly leaning away from him and the bench. Though her gaze didn't leave him for longer than a few seconds. But this allowed her to notice the tie he was wearing. Whale sharks? Unexpected but not a bad choice of animal. "You like sharks?" She asked, making a small gesture towards his tie. It was a bit of a stupid question, but Temperance was really bad at ice breakers.
 

RedArmyShogun

Runs with Axes
Roleplay Type(s)
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Nadia Semyonov - Paris, France

Over the passing days Nadia focused on training, tracking down what scant information she could and checking on Dani when able. And there was also the small annoyance of the collar. At least hers wasn't always active when Dani's was, it was only set to activate under specific situations. Or so she was told. She rather doubted that, though Gauss had served as a distraction in a matter. He was offering the whole team to pay for their expenses for the weekend to come to France early.

While she was sure he had his own reasons for doing it, such an offer would make her a bit paranoid. Good things did not just come with no strings attach, or he had more money than sense. Still, even with all of that, she wasn't one to just take advantage of someone like that. Plus, more importantly, if she had time to vacation then she had time to train. And there was another simpler train of thought that also contributed; "Spend time around the people I work with most days in a super crowded noisy city, or stay home on my nice furniture free from everyone and their bullshit?"

With that though in mind and her records and furniture there was no cause to cross the Atlantic just to spend a couple days in a tourist trap. Never mind the constant insults of the drilling program, or the need to learn Complex Resonance to make full use of Dani. Then there was the girl herself, Nadia would not just casually cast her to the sea. Though soon enough they would have to stop all of this and head to Paris, there was no helping it.

And so, a few hours later and with just some sleep from the plane she now found herself having some morning hot tea as she stared out to see Dani with a muffin and some sort of drink, coffee? Hot Chocolate? Well, that she was not so sure of. Gauss was then next to strike up a conversation or attempted to do so. She was wondering how many if any took up his offer to come here. It was unlikely that no one did and in either case though she had her issues with him, other things, much like in the case of Dani had moved themselves to the front.

"Hmm?" Holding her cup and saucer with both hands, she pauses from her drink to answer him. "Maybe I'll find some time for a museum or an opera house, but I rather doubt that. Overall, it is like any other tourist trap I've seen, crowded, noisy and urbanized. I guess if you close your eyes to the wider city or are given to sentimentalities it is a nice place." Turning her attention back to her tea, Nadia was content to wait. "I do hope we won't be waiting long, no matter how nice the Tea may be."

Interactions: EmperorsChosen EmperorsChosen Merciless Medic Merciless Medic Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul Prizzy Kriyze Prizzy Kriyze Mqueserasera Mqueserasera Mook-LandStrider Mook-LandStrider
 
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JellySquishies

The Curious
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)
3rd Floor, Old Deaths Hollow → East Side of Lot A, DWMA
Code by Serobliss
Juno Ramsay
War Hammer
Female
21
Jun

4:00 A.M.

The glare of the unflickering, pastel-neon numbers of her makeshift clock was mockingly rigid in dimly lighting up the room she had moved in a few days ago. The only remnant evidence to her recent move rested by the door, the folded cardboard boxes with neat and bubbly cursive written on their sides. A descriptor no longer needed as all the pieces it once held were put in their proper places in the room, even more than what had been in those useful boxes had found a place in this new space in the days since she had first arrived. Whether she made it by her own hand using the extensive hours she had spent scouring youtube for rental-friendly D.I.Y.s or it was things she had carried up here from her old room.

The makeshift loft bed that the pinkette lay in was tucked within the corner away from the windows and doors with curtains of fake hanging ivy giving her some privacy, swaddled in her white comforter surrounded by plush pillows shaped like leafs and succulents.

She didn’t have to get up now in order to silence the alarm that would go off in four hours from the alarm across the room by her dresser,to make sure she was awake. However, Jun was also not sleeping as she should have been at that time either.

Her green eyes staring up at the ceiling and the glow-in-the-dark stars she had painstakingly spent her first night up to be the same position they were in the sky the day she was born.

Was it excessive? Yes.

But they were far kinder to her tired eyes than the clock that felt like it was blaring at her through the curtain of ivy. Counting those more realistically shaped stares usually put her to sleep when she went to bed but did very little to keep her under. The various plush pillows and the intense jazzercise were supposed to do that. Yet, here she was, unwillingly awake and forced to dwell on her thoughts.

A big no-no in her books.

Though it might also give her that sweet, sweet release of dreamless sleep. On the other hand, it could also make her very late for the meeting that she couldn’t be on time for because that was considered late. Which both didn't make much sense and made perfect sense, not that she really was putting much effort to think about it beforehand, so now seemed as good as any to ponder it. Anything to keep her from thinking about the nightmare that woke her into this spiral that she was forcing herself to keep steady, calm breaths to psych herself into calming down. No one was banging on her door or breaking it down, so it was unlikely that she had screamed this time.

Oh, how the small things spark such joy.

She sat up abruptly, her head turning to look through the ivy at the glowing numbers attached at her eye level on the wall across the room.

4:01 A.M.

Her cheeks instantly filled with air as she pouted, her arms crossing and a low groan crawling its way through her throat to be heard. ”Death, why have you forsaken meeeee~" She whined softly to herself, her head being tossed back as she let the momentum pull her back into her bed. ”At least Giane will be there..." The pinkette mumbled under her breath with a sigh, cuddling one of the succulent pillows closest to her. ”Who knows what everyone else is gonna be like."
Jun had been up and out the door twenty-nine minutes later when she couldn't stand being still any longer. She started her day earlier than she had intended and went about her normal routine since she wasn't going to get any more beauty sleep.

Stretching out her muscles and following her flexibility regimen to wait for five o'clock to come around.
Going for a jog until six.
Grabbed breakfast and coffee by six-thirty.
Back at the apartment at seven in the morning so she can take a shower and do a more intensive skincare routine so her face was less tired.


With a little over an hour left to kill, she decided to spend it braiding her hair into two identical braids so she could wear them down with a few of the strawberry-themed hair accessories woven in from the batch of hair accessories her grandparents had given to her. Followed by her makeup and getting dressed, she was out the door shortly after eight-thirty. Pop music played from her phone that she was singing along to the whole time she was walking there.

It didn't take much time, thanks to her long legs and ability to walk in tempo with the upbeat music without thinking about it. With only a few stops in between to belt out some of her favorite parts that required a few gestures. The actions looked very in character for someone dressed in a cropped peasant, strawberry printed shirt, and distressed black shorts with a belt that had a heart for its buckle. Even her black boots had cutesy charms linked to the laces, just like the brown leather flap backpack on her back that occasionally smacked against her back when she twirled on her heel.



9:09 A.M.
She had made it well before ten, but very shortly after nine, pocketing her phone after almost kicking someone in the head while doing a high-kick finisher. Jun spent a good three minutes apologizing, repeatedly, while also asking far too many questions about the unfortunate stranger's health. Somehow getting on the tangent of whether or not she did actually kick them and it was just the concussion making them forget. In the end, the stranger ran the second she looked away from them and she remembered the meeting. Immediately booking it into a sprint the rest of the way, thinking she had talked herself into being late-

On time?

It doesn't matter.

She noticed only two people there and assumed that she wasn't. Relief soon followed as she skidded to a stop, hunching over to put her hands on her knees in mock tiredness before popping back up with her arms raised. Wooooooohhooooooo!" The pinkette cheered, doing a small swing-styled dance where she stood continuing to sing joyfully, "I maaaaadddddeeeee it, and didn't give that guy a concusssssssion! No hospital bills to pay for meeeeeeeee, that means I can get boba teaaaaaa-"

Jun's voice cut off immediately as she froze mid-step, joyful expression going completely blank as she pressed her lips into a thin line as she asked for confirmation, ”I'm... Not like, late right?" Her face turned to look at the shark-dressed man and the young woman wearing a crop top- "Oh my death, where did you get those pants? They pair sooo well with your top."


Interaction: Azurian Dream Azurian Dream (Artem) FireMaiden FireMaiden (Temperance)
Mentioned: Nobody Special Nobody Special (Gia)

 

Sir Les Paul

The Duke of Chords
Supporter
March 28th, 2067 | 0910

THUD!

A thunderous boom of raw impact thundered through the air. It had no shockwave, no air movement behind it, but it was clearly a loud crack and came with it an odd feeling of the ground itself wavering slightly. Originating from the North, upwards through the tree line of Lot A, and not immediately visible, this sound would have came as a complete surprise to those present. Regardless, it was a boom that could not be ignored. Then came another. And, another. And, another. All equally loud and powerful.

Should any interested parties venture North, the sound would of course logically grow considerably louder. The treeline at the North was not as thick as the rest of the forest as it hugged the lake, making this less dense area more easily traversed despite the lack of an obvious beaten path. Each thud from this distance was shockingly loud, but had no other abnormal characteristics. Should anyone attempt to use Soul Perception and see beyond this line, from this distance, what would be visible at best would be two soul signatures going back and forth, and a small spike in them right before each thud.

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Those brave enough to venture through the sparse treeline of Lot A would find another, slightly smaller clearing with more sandy shores from what appeared to be silt deposited from the lake. That, and of course, a perfectly logical explanation for the incredibly loud thuds. Starwulf, whether they would recognize him or not, and an heavily muscled man were literally ramming logs into the ground; each one ranging from eight to fourteen inches in thickness, most hardly processed, and each with its bottom shaved into a stake. Their method of accomplishing this seemed rudimentary. Use two shiny steel handles that they manually lodged into the sides of the trunk, then haul it on their shoulder before walking over to what could only be compared to a bamboo forest of stakes in the ground--their top sides all being perfectly flat--and ramming them in using the handles. All done with what appeared to be their brute strength and nothing else.

Each thud that followed sent a small tremor through the silty ground, and the sound from it was quite loud and impactful once one reached this particular part of the beachline. The text instructions did not mention to go this far north, but it was also quite difficult to ignore the thuds. It was also quite difficult to set aside these men, especially Starwulf who looked to be about half the man of the other, were ramming these stakes into the ground two to three feet each, and sometimes even readjusting them by ripping them out if they didn't like the height they were at. This was easily one of the most egregious examples of the superhuman nature of DWMA Agents many of them had likely ever seen; raw brutal strength solely for the sake of... impaling the shoreline?

Should any of the agents move in close, the two men--with only one of them even breaking a sweat, going so far as to remove his shirt--might have looked up to them in acknowledgement before continuing their work. Without some type of greeting, they had no intention on stopping. Three hundred of these or so needed to be in the ground by 10AM, after all.

Azurian Dream Azurian Dream simj26 simj26 FireMaiden FireMaiden Nobody Special Nobody Special JellySquishies JellySquishies Meredith Meredith
 

simj26

Awful, Terrible, No-good Layabout
Miroku
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Her partner was someone named Temperance. She had deliberately avoided contact with this person, despite Gav’s instructions to ‘get along’. A wolf could not change its scars overnight. So she stalked the young woman across the weekend. This was her new meister? She looked frail. She looked weak. This was what the DWMA was assigning her? She had no idea if they were testing her, or her patience. She lost interest in her prey, and continued to avoid her. Soon, hours turned to days, and Monday was upon them before she could blink. In the early hours of the morning, she received a message on her handphone. Quietly, she left her cell that she called a home, bringing nothing with her but her fists and the clothes on her back.

By the time she arrived, the other students had already done so. Late, early, it didn’t matter to her. Glancing about the place, she didn’t see their charge waiting for them either. Was she mistaken? No, this was clearly Lot A. She recognised that face of the Temperance girl. She looked over to one side of the plot of ground, where several trees hid the landscape beyond. If she wasn’t wrong, there was a pond beyond the facade. She opened up her phone, and looked through the only message on it that wasn’t from the ever irritating Gav. ‘Near the pond’, it said. She scowled. Trust their charges to make things more complicated than they should be. What was the point?

They said near the pond. We should go there.” Without another comment, she walked off, leaving the others where they were. What was she supposed to do? Make friends? She was here to be better, to be stronger. There was no– there was little point in making friends with them just yet. She made to walk toward the direction of where she assumed said pond was, before the ground beneath them shook. She lowered her stance immediately, her body tensing up, a growl rising from her throat. Danger emanated from beyond the trees. Kill, her mind seemed to howl. Kill whatever was behind the shadows cast by the trees, it told her. She forced herself to relax, straightening back up. She took a deep breath, and cleared herself from her invading, bloodsoaked thoughts. She marched forwards, penetrating the veil of green, and disappeared into the treeline.

She emerged out onto the shoreline of a lake, and was greeted by the sight of two men slamming stakes into the ground. She watched the two of them go about their duties, as one of them looked up at her arrival, then continued his work. She studied their musculature, and nodded, very slightly, with some approval. Those were indeed what she would deem the results of hard work, determination, and focus. Impressive. These must be their charges. Or at least, one of them must be.

She made a grunt of irritation, and marched towards them, and began to lift one of the stakes, making another grunt of effort as she lifted one of the stakes upon the ground, and began to hand it towards one of the men. Better to help them finish this up as soon as possible. An extra pair of hands would make shorter work of this, even if they didn’t look to need any of the assistance.

Azurian Dream Azurian Dream FireMaiden FireMaiden Nobody Special Nobody Special JellySquishies JellySquishies Meredith Meredith Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul
 

Mook-LandStrider

You dare mock the son of a shepherd
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Evangeline Konstantine​

Paris! The city of lights! It had been ages since the white haired woman had an opportunity to explore the city. The last time she had been in the city proper was with her parents, years ago delivering vaccine treatments for sufferers of the Virus. Having spent the several weeks worrying about what the future held for her she was finally able to actually relax and enjoy herself. She had spent so much time worrying that she was going to be pitched into some dysfunctional clusterfuck that she nearly convinced herself of the fact. She was dead wrong when reality finally met her terrible mental gymnastics head on. Where she expected a deadbeat or a monster she was met by a compassionate, understanding and overall pleasant partner, Sara.

But now, here she was in the city of lights and she was ready to actually do something for once rather than wallow in her own dysfunction. She had brought a series of outfits and dresses, enough to fit two suitcases but her mind was still focused on the amassment of even more clothing. The last few days she had spent gushing over clothing, the club scene and… the food. OH! The food and how much food the two of them would consume. Infact, she could hardly stop thinking about it. While she fully expected Sara to get tired of her excitement it seemed to only excite Sara further and soon they found themselves in a sort of perpetual loop.

Hyperactive food consumption aside Eva had managed to pull herself together for the first time in quite awhile. While she was still on a very shaky foundation she was in a much better place than she had been mere weeks ago and it showed, she carried her shoulders higher and she didn’t seem like she was as gloomy. Her outfit was also more vibrant and outgoing than she had been wearing, so she decided to make an effort to wear something with a bit more of a bang.

As it stood they were all gathered in a Cafe awaiting orders, it seemed rather quiet but the reality was that Eva and Sara were eating and almost wholly concentrated on what was in front of them. When Gauss finally spoke it seemed to spook Eva who’s head jolted up and stared at him like a deer caught in a set of headlights. She blinked twice before Nadia spoke up. She listened before finally speaking up “Oh, yeah! Thanks for the early trip, that was pretty sweet. I haven’t been to Paris for leisure in… quite abit. I was here with my parents during the end stages of the virus, distributing vaccines. As for museums that sounds pretty neat, I uhm… hmmm… Yeah I went to the louvre many years ago.” Eva said, her voice getting a little low towards the end before picking up again “But really, I appreciate the early trip, I was able to get a bunch of clothing plus we were able to eat out a bunch.” Eva continued on before looking over to Nadia and her tea "You should try the food, its exceptional even if its pastrys and the such. Gods, I could eat like fifty of these things. Someone stop me, cut me off man, cut me off." She grumbled at the end before taking another bite.

@Team Stitches​
 
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Meredith

of Fiendish Intent
Moderator
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)

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Bellamira Ossana In: Salem's Office->Lot A, Interactions: Gauss Sir Les Paul Sir Les Paul , Artem Azurian Dream Azurian Dream , Temperance FireMaiden FireMaiden , Jun JellySquishies JellySquishies , mentioned Miroku simj26 simj26 .


Artem was the first to arrive in the far field. It was hard to see him as he crossed the long trek separating the last field from the school, but she’d seen him go that way, up the DWMA’s famous staircase and across the fields to their meeting spot. She checked the clock. He was early, but then, she was often late. Prudence was not a sin. It was a virtue, the last time she checked. As he faded in the distance, she stood up, brushed herself off. Decided it was about time to get moving.

‘Ten in the morning’, Bellamira thought as she finally descended the several flights stairs that separated her brother's office from the ground level of the school, ‘is an awfully inconvenient time to start a meeting.’

Maybe her perspective was clouded by her own situation. She'd been at the school since just after eight. Salem had brought her early - he'd left her in his office, too, up in one of the turrets overlooking the grounds - seemingly concerned that if he didn't bring her, she wouldn't make it herself. It was this aggravating kind of concern, belittling, that she hated to receive so much. But it was concern. It was put forward in good intention; she couldn’t begrudge him for his worry, not with her history, but she could wish that more of those intentions considered her own progress.

But Mira, flying down the stairs two at a time, was distracted by her phone. She hadn’t texted Artem. How awkward was it that they’d already met, already engaged in some of the practice they would continue at the DWMA, expecting a one-off occurrence? Absolutely embarrassing. Maybe she had his number, but she’d been quiet over the weekend, holed up inside stewing about her imminent doom.

It would be the same level of faux pas to ignore him, though, especially now that they were going to meet again. There was a glimmer of hope that the rest of her team might be more… reserved. She held onto it as she repetitively composed the text, finally settling:
>We meet again. FATE’s the name of the game, ah? See u on the flip side.

As she hit the bottom of the stairs, she opened the other one, the ghost of a smile flickering across her face. >u2 tintin. Gl in paris, hf, dont lose any1. stay safe!

She shoved the phone back in her pocket at she hit the bottom of the stairs. It was only a short walk to the lot; although she’d not seen anyone but Artem walk down the path – nobody she recognized, anyway – it didn’t surprise her that there were more people in the clearing than people she’d been able to identify. Her gait was relaxed, easy, a betrayal of the heart beating double-time in her chest from the anxiety of the moment.

Like almost all other FATE students, Mira had been here before.

This scene was somewhat different. Her partner – the blue-haired boy she’d met before, although she’d hardly noticed his sharp teeth in the half-light, they were obvious now that he was here talking – seemingly approached by the rest of the group. What cause her attention first was the rapid walkthrough of a blonde chick with a wild look about here. Though Bellamira wasn’t close enough to hear, her interaction with the group was surprisingly brief; she began to migrate toward the lake itself and left the rest of the group behind. ‘An eye on that one,' she thought to herself, moving in to appraise the rest of the group.

The two women that she hadn’t met had wildly different aesthetics. The pink one was just as neon as Artem; Mira wondered whether that reflected her personality (the wild motions she’d observed on the walk up, however distantly, gave that thought credence) or were just an aesthetic choice made for loudness. Not that she could talk. Her own style was loud; it had been something she’d inherited as much of anything. Her eyes raked up and down their outfits. Her gaze was less critical than curious, she justified, but she approached in silence anyway.

The brunette was more subtle. Bellamira might have worn the same kind of outfit if the crop was black; the piercings solidified that sentiment into a sort of hazy approval. They were making small talk, it sounded like. Once she was within ten feet or so, she raised a hand, hesitant to interrupt. ‘ “Morning. Everyone’s ready bright and early, huh?”


 

Serei2477

Your Neighborhood Artist
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Sage Chauvelet
Location: DWMA Lot E
Mentions: People
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hearing someone approaching them, Sage straightened up and turned to greet the person, though seeing the person in question gave him pause. The someone was a tall woman with long dark hair, muscles, and a Eastern priestess outfit. In other words, this woman was the strongest he'd ever seen. The emotions he felt were a bit conflicting, but it was a relief to know that he and Eloise would be in good hands.

The woman, who he could safely assume was his mentor, filled him and his meister in on the circumstances regarding how this team came to be. Or rather, as much as she could tell them. For a moment Sage wondered what sort of complications occurred that left a pair without a team. Did the other half of the team die? Ask for a switch? He wasn't sure and he doubted he would get an answer. The good news of that information was he and Eloise were the lucky ones to be picked to make up the missing half.

"I've got no problems." He answered his mentor's question.

The first one to arrive was a guy who looked.. interesting, to put it in a way. From what he could decipher from the guy, he wasn't human. Definitely dead if the soulless look in his eyes had anything to say about it. But luckily for him, Sage didn't discriminate.

Hardly any energy in his greeting, seemed to hate conversation, and looked like he'd been up all night. Was this guy a gamer or something-

Oh, he was! Ha, point for Sage~

"Hey~" He greeted right after Eloise, though he didn't expect anything after that.

Next was someone who personally knew the sleepy guy. Sage thought for a moment they might have been brothers thanks to their similarities in appearance, but he decided he shouldn't go assuming things until he saw some confirmation. As of right now, the person who spoke to sleepy guy was nice enough to let them know that the adorable cat on his head was named "Blackie." How cute~

What followed after him was a pretty lady who looked like she stepped straight out of old-time Egypt. Had a strange, but very kind, way of speaking too. That gave him all the context clues he needed to know that she was probably not from this time period; dead like the gamer over there.

"Pleasure to meet you~ I look forward to working with you." He returned the greeting with a smile.

So far, his team seemed interesting~ What was even more interesting was that his comrades seemed allergic to properly introducing themselves via name, but that's alright! It was a start to be talking in the first place.

Though, he did peek behind Eloise to get a look at the Blackie, and hopefully hear a bit of information about it. Could you blame him? It was a cute cat.
 

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