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Frontier Town Sun Stone Saloon

Archie was far from an expert in Mystery Dungeons, but he answered Wes’s questions to the best of his ability. Eventually, Odette’s stories about her team got him providing small anecdotes about his Guildmates, though he felt like they couldn’t compare to the Mawile’s own. He treated himself to an early dinner. Eventually, the changing light through the windows signaled the approach of evening, and it came time to start considering going their separate ways. Wes was the first to excuse himself, but the Oshawott hopped from his chair and followed the Lycanroc to the door.

“Wes, just a sec,” he said. But once he’d gotten the Rock Type’s attention, he hesitated a moment, unsure of what to actually say. Finally, he took a deep breath, wrapped his arms around the Lycanroc’s neck, and pulled him into a quick hug. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

He released the Lycanroc just as quickly as he’d grabbed him, hoping he hadn’t inadvertently overstepped some kind of boundary. Then he took a step back, and shot the blue wolf a grin. “I’ll see you around.”

All in all, it had been a good day.
 
Wes getting up helped her realize that her exhaustion had caught up with her. Whether it was the drinks or just the weight of the day, she didn’t know. It didn’t matter. It was bedtime.

She pushed herself off the stool, and stretching her arms with the force of a yawn, she made her way toward the stairs leading to the rooms.

“You two have a good night. And thanks for this.”

<><><><><><><><><>
 
Ch05: Midnight Jaw [Koa & Odette] New
Standing before Odette’s door to her room at Sun Stone Saloon, Koa suddenly felt very stupid. What was he thinking, coming here? And yet the idea of turning back, going back to the dark empty lonely room at the Haus felt even less appealing. The memories of the dream had grown muddled on his walk over, but thinking back on it made his skin crawl.

Scattered fragments of it still lurked in the corners of his mind. Red Chains. A cruel Manectric tearing apart the team (Ein, it had to be Ein), and a cold, taunting voice. Sometimes Alex. Or someone else. And Koa, turning on the team and Bellxtrix not being able to stop him and Alex dragging Odette away. Wes tearing apart a Manectric- Ein, tearing apart Ein, it had to be Ein. It was himself.

Realizing he’d been silently pacing for the last several moments, he walked up to her door again and raised his paw, then paused. No. How could he? She was probably sleeping, and even if she wasn’t why’d she care, or want to even see him or even want to bother? Letting his paw fall without knocking, he turned, ready to talk away.

Don't isolate. Hadn't Mhynt said that? In a rush of motion, before he could overthink anymore, he rapped lightly on the door. Hot shame and regret washed over him almost immediately and he quickly turned to walk away, hoping she'd been too asleep to hear.
 
One of the pluses of moving to Sun Stone was the private bathroom. She didn’t have to worry about anyone catching her soaking, or hell, even the other way around. She could sit and stew in her own venom and nurse the miasmatic burns on her skin by her own lonesome, her only company being the occasional crass quip from Jawile. For the time being, it was how she liked it.

Lately, she struggled to fall asleep. Even after moving house, her full head continued to keep her up. It usually took a half a dozen drinks to scramble her brain enough to find a decent night’s rest, but tonight, that wasn’t needed. She didn’t have the constitution to fight her exhaustion, she she was out within minutes of her head hitting her pillow.

Rap, rap, rap.

Her eyes flung open despite how weighted they felt. Sleep threatened to pull her back into its grasp, especially after seeing it was still dark out, but nobody would knock on her door this late unless it was urgent. Even with how tired she was, sleeping light was still her MO.

“Yeah,” she croaked. “Coming. One second…”

She rolled off the bed, nearly stumbling to the floor in her half-asleep stupor, as she shrugged on the robe she’d stolen out of the backstage area and pushed her glasses onto her face. Heavy footsteps brought her to the door, and she unlocked the hatch and pulled it open.

It took a beat for her eyes to focus on the blob of blue walking away from her door, but when she did, she paused to gape at it.

“Koa?” she said through a deep yawn. “What are you doing here; do you know what time it is?”

She pushed up her glasses to rub her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
 
His heart lurched as he turned around awkwardly. All his reasons for coming were beginning to feel stupider by the second.

"Sorry... I uh I was-..." He swallowed. "I was worried about you." Not a lie at least. Seeing her alive and okay brought a brief relief. Dream or not, the image of Alex dragging her away into the shadows had been hard to dislodge.

He backed away a step. "Sorry I woke you."
 
Odette might have been teetering on collapse again, but even then, she wasn’t stupid.

Her deadpan broke through the tired look she’d been giving him. She blinked slowly, and whether it was to ward off sleep or underline her newfound sternness, it was hard to tell.

“You walked all the way across town to knock on my door at ass o’ clock at night to see if I was okay?” she asked. “Did something give you an inkling that I wasn’t?”
 
The memory of Drapion came to mind, which brought with it a host of other uneasy feelings he quickly pushed away.

Look what you did, you're bothering her more. "Just checking. Can't be too careful," he said with a shrug, looking as nonchalant as he could. He tried to meet her gaze in an effort to look earnest, but only managed to look at her forehead instead. "You know, with Cipher and everything still out there." yes. Right. That was it.

He glanced back down the hallway. "Didn't realize it was so late, I'll let you get some rest."
 
Odette's frown grew two sizes.

"First of all," she said, quickly being interrupted by a yawn. She leaned against the doorframe, clearly overwrought by another wave of sleepiness. "Cipher...can suck my dick," she said. She was far too tired to attempt to censor herself, and even so, she'd resigned herself to the fact that that was practically impossible either way. So, fuck it.

"Second of all..." She waved her hand over her eyes. "My eyes are down here."

She pushed herself up to make another quick glance down the hallway. The other patrons around her were definitely trying to sleep at this point, and if any of them were light sleepers like her, surely this was likely to wake them up.

She stood aside and gestured into her room, head bowing forward as she sighed. "No, it's fine. I'm already up, and you're already here, so come in."
 
Feeling briefly hot with embarassment, Koa ducked his head, hesitating. He could just make up an excuse to leave but that'd probably be rude and even more awkward. And it meant going back to his room alone and trying to get some sleep.

Mumbling a thanks, he followed her inside, feeling secretly relieved for the company. On reflex, he glanced around the room just to make sure there wasn't somehow something lurking, waiting to attack. Everything looked quiet.

Resisting the urge to pace, he tried to find a conversation starter other than why he was up so late. "The guards that we found the... other night. The ones that Alex left behind. He must have taken them after I spoke to them. Which means he's been came back to town after that prison break he did. He could try to come back again." An almost as terrible conversation topic. He unconsciously fidgeted slightly. "You're doing okay? After that attack he used I mean."
 
While Koa spoke, Odette trudged to the dresser where she kept her pitcher of water and two glasses, for the nights she woke up parched. She went through the motions of grabbing the cups and filling them up, though as she moved the spout of the pitcher over the next cup, she started to nod off. She only jumped back to attention when she heard water trickle onto the dresser, and realized she was missing the cup by about an inch.

"Christ," she muttered.

She began to drink from one glass before handing the other over to Koa. "He seemed keen on retreating back there, and just as keen on dropping two of his hostages. I'm sure he'll be a lot more selective about his trips back here going forward."

She'd downed her whole glass right when Koa prompted her, and she was left rubbing more sleep out of her eye while she figured out how to respond. "Uh...yeah," she said, thinking back to how the miasmatic injuries had tingled with an annoying burn during her bath. "Nothing major, they just feel like superficial burns. I'll live."

Making her way back to the bed, she had to resist the urge to throw herself back into her blankets. Instead, she settled for lazily sitting on the edge while she went on rubbing her face.

"You?"
 
Odette yawning made him realize how tired he was, and before he knew it, he was yawning as well.

"Blocked the worst of it," he mumbled with a shrug. He took a few gulps from his glass to distract himself before he stopped, deciding to save some.

Before he realized it, he'd been staring at the glass in his paw for several seconds. I'm fine. "I can't get him out of my head," he said abruptly in a hollow tone. The words had tumbled out before he could think them through, or come up with a better answer.

His chest tightened. The swirling miasma of fears from the past day and a half resurfaced. "What happens next time? When his powers don't fail? I already hurt Mhynt, how long before it happens again and no one is there to stop me?" He shuddered and gripped the glass tighter. "I didn't even feel it when it happened." Remembering the moment made his skin crawl, and he shook his head before sipping at the water again, suddenly intensely aware of how much he'd of his worries he'd spilled.
 
Note to self, she thought feeling her head nodding downward. Hosting while exhausted sucks ass.

"Right, you did," she said, abruptly pushing herself to sit up straight. She rubbed her forehead, as if trying to coax the tiredness out of her mind. "I didn't get a chance to say thank you; things were moving too fast. But, you did great..."

In her own haze, she'd actually forgotten what happened before then. The fight had happened and been over so quickly, and she'd been so concerned about traps and getting back to town in one piece that she'd never stopped to check in with Koa.

The sound of him crying out her name in morbid fear, as Alex took him over, was the only thing she could hear for a second.

Suddenly, she was a little more awake.

"I--" she said, unsure what to do with her newfound fear. Gods, she never wanted to hear that again. She never wanted him to be in that position again. But how the hell was she supposed to say that without sounding like an overbearing parent? She wasn't his mom, they'd only met a short time ago. They were friends, but maybe not like that--

"That's not gonna happen," she said. There was more weight in her words than she intended, but interrupted sleep had left her inhibitions low. "Next time, you're gonna be on a level where you'll be able to take him out before he even touches you."

Now, she was fiddling with the cuff of her robe. She seemed to find more interest in the wall by the door to the room. "And if not, then I'll fucking do it."

He won't have fucking any heads when I'm done with him.
 
A wave of awkward shame came over Koa at how much he'd said. Too much. She was probably sick of him. He took a drink of water to fill the silence, trying to take comfort in her words.

He tried to project some normalcy into his voice as he spoke. "Yeah, you did get him pretty good. I doubt he wants to come back." A grin formed on his jaws but didn't reach his eyes. His thoughts kept circling, despite his efforts to think about something else that wasn't turning on his team that. Anything else.

But less he tried to think about it, the more he ended up thinking about it, and everything else. His stomach churned. He drank some more water, but the cup was getting low. It felt like Odette was probably sick of him by now.

His gaze shifted to the floor. "Thanks for helping me, by the way. In the fight."
 
Her brows knit in concern, even more so as her gaze fell back to him and she caught sight of his poor excuse for a reassuring smile. Her stomach lurched with the urge to comfort, but what was she going to say here that could help? She was bad at comforting words when she was wide awake, but what the fuck was she gonna do when she was barely clinging to consciousness?

She pushed herself up to stand, wobbling with her step. “The thanks is appreciated but not necessary,” she said. “As long as I’m around, I—“

Shit. She was doing the thing she wasn’t sure she wanted to do. She didn’t want to baby him, but…

“—I’m gonna help you, Koa. I’m not gonna just leave you hanging, okay? Your…” She trailed off to clear her throat, and a long pause followed, soon interrupted by a yawn. “Your safety is, uh…important. To me. You know, because I’m like…mentoring you. And we’re friends.”

Gods, fucking shoot me now, she thought.

“Because, simply put, I don’t take it lightly when people hurt my friends. If someone ever did something like that to you again, I might just—“

She stopped herself, unsure where exactly she wanted to go with that, and ran her palm down her face, groaning in her tired agony. “Sorry, I’m not the best conversationalist at this hour, I hope that…yeah. You can just ignore me, I just…”

She went back to pour herself another glass of water.
 
He stared at her in surprise, suddenly feeling both warm and prickly all at once. His self-conscious reflex kicked in as he felt his tail wag and he hurriedly stilled it. Part of him had always thought of Odette has a friend, but hearing that she cared so much.

"I... it's okay- Me too," he said. The words tumbled out. "I'm sorry. I know I keep messing up. I'd do the same for you too. For any friend. You're important to me too." His fur fluffed unconsciously and he gulped the last of his water.

"I'd like some more if you don't mind," he mumbled awkwardly.
 
She was mid-sip when she finally heard him reply. At first she just nodded, offering a “Mm,” as acknowledgement.

At least he didn’t sound frustrated or annoyed with her. Quite the opposite, which was…good. That meant everything was fine. That meant that he understood how much she actually cared, even through her broken words. That meant that they might have been better friends than she realized.

She turned around to send him more reassurance when she was met with his cup being presented to her. With a lazy grin, she grabbed the pitcher and used both hands to refill his glass to ensure every last drop made it in that time.

“Good; glad to see you’re hydrating,” she said humorously, setting the pitcher back down.

“And believe me, you’re probably talking to one of the metaphorically messiest people on the team. So if anything, I can just empathize,” she added, hoping she wasn’t taking the line of joking too far, despite her continuous smirk.

“Sarcasm aside,” she said, “I don’t believe you’ve done anything royally catastrophic. Alex is…not your fault. So don’t let any of that make you crazy. You can’t afford that right now.”

Shrugging off the serious, she kneeled down toward the ground right in front of him. She nearly fell on her side from drowsiness, before righting herself just enough to get into a criss-cross position.

“Now are you gonna tell me the real reason you walked all the way across town in the middle of the night just to knock on my door?” she queried earnestly.
 
"Well I was worried about you." He gave a weary grin, but with a bit more sincerity. Though now the real reason felt even stupider than ever now that she was asking. His gaze fell and he sat down.

This was Odette. He could trust her. She understood...

"Couldn't sleep," he muttered. "Some weird dreams I guess. I'm not really used to not having my team with me, even now, you know? It's different without them. Quiet." Lonely. Empty. He wasn't exactly sure how long it had been, but he still found himself instinctively reaching out for Anubis or Echo, or expecting Hazard to be perched on his head.

"Couldn't get Ei- Everything from the battle out of my head." He didn't really want to think about Ein. He could care less that the Manectric was gone but they'd lost a valuable source... "Everyone keeps telling me Alex isn't my fault, but even if that's true he's still a threat. Fault or not, I'm a liability now. If I can't fix what's wrong with me, next time it'll be worse than paralysing a teammate." He was aware he was starting to ramble, but he was too tired to care.

"How many mistakes is too many?" Wes saw the truth already, what happened when everyone else saw it? "The team can't afford me messing up missions all the time. I just want to help but-"

Koa shook his head and clamped his jaw shut. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Didn't mean to get into all that. I just... wanted to get out of my room."
 
Odette settled her cheek into her palm as she listened to Koa talk. She did rather well at keeping any emotions off her tired face, up until he got to the part about “mistakes.” Her forehead wrinkled under the appearance of her confused frown.

“…what mistakes?” she said. She started pinching at the bridge of her beak, likely massaging it. “Unless I’m totally missing something here, I don’t actually recall you doing anything that dire.”

She sunk into a short, pensive silence, evidently thinking something over. “You walked off with Alex. That seems to be what started all this, right? I know I already spoke to you about going to secluded locations with ominous strangers, but I also already had this conversation with Archie. If it wasn’t you two, it was probably going to be someone else. Shit, if I’d been just slightly more nasty to him when I met him, it could have been Andre and I,” she explained.

She didn’t want to think about that, so she didn’t. Waving a hand as if to brush it off, she continued. “So unless you walked off with another creepy stranger since then and have neglected to tell me about it, I don’t…I don’t know what else you could be harping on. Getting possessed by a crazy hydreigon on a Shadowy power trip isn’t even a mistake, it was an unfortunate happening. So really, what else do you think you’ve done wrong?”
 
Everything. Didn't Odette see? "It's not just Alex," he grumbled. "It's everything, it's..." His sleep weary brain scrambled to answer, but drew only blanks.

Huffing in frustration he took another absentminded sip of water. He stared at the floor, as if it would somehow help him give Odette an answer. It didn't. Even if he put aside everything tied to Alex, even if he tried to believe it wasn't his fault, he couldn't escape the feeling that he'd messed up too much.

Finally, he sighed. "I don't know. I just..." He traced a claw around a swirl in the wood floor and shook his head.

"It's... Sorry. Usually I would talk to my team about stuff." Most days now he'd forced himself to get used to them not being here (and sometimes he was glad). But other days it felt way too quiet. Too dark. Too empty. "I guess I haven't completely gotten used to them not being around."
 
Odette tilted her head as her brows jumped up in anticipation.

“It’s…?” she pressed, hoping to coax the words off Koa’s tongue. When they didn’t budge, she huffed.

“Yeah, I get it,” she said, shrugging. “But, for now, pretend you have a sleepy mawile on your team. And that sleepy mawile is trying to tell you that she thinks you’re being too hard on yourself.”

A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she perked up. “Think about this. I screamed at the Drapion, remember? And that was by nobody’s volition but my own. And a lot of people, including you,” she gently poked his paw, “were really mad at me for it.”

She let that sit with him for a moment before going on. “However, even knowing that happened, if I came to you right now and said I thought I was a fuckup and that I was a liability to the team and that I was incapable of doing anything right, what would you say to me?”
 
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