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Frontier Town Sun Stone Saloon

He'd forgotten all about Odette's outburst with Drapion, in hindsight. Too hard on yourself. Hazard or Echo would have given the same advice... Odette just felt so capable. Better. Not a screwup. She wasn't a liability.

"Same thing you should tell me. Obviously that you're right and I need to give up," he said with a dry chuckle. He let out another sigh. His mind spun in circles, bouncing between Odette's words and all his muddled thoughts from earlier.

Odette was probably right, of course. "You sound like my team," he said with a snort, though he smiled a little. Still, he had to be better than that. Had to prove he was good enough. That Wes was wrong. "Of course I'd tell you you're wrong. It's just... I don't want to let anyone down. Doesn't feel like I've done much good, even if I haven't actually ruined anything either. Guess that's kinda stupid to worry about though," he murmured.
She narrowed her eyes at him, tilting her head down as if to say, “Really?”

“Ha, ha. Funny, funny,” she said prior to rolling her eyes.

“Well, listen to what you think your team would say. And listen to what you’d say to me if the roles were reversed. If my memory serves me right, you’ve covered my ass in more than one fight…” Her shrug that time was slow and deliberate, almost as if doing it for a dramatic edge. “That sounds like good to me. You haven’t let me down yet.”
"I haven't?" He shook his head the instant the words left his mouth. "Sorry," he murmured awkwardly. "Thanks." As irrational as it'd been, he realized some part of him had feared what happened at the escort would make Odette think less of him.

He cleared his throat, glancing down at the cup of water in his paw. An awkwardness lingered under his skin, compounded by sleepiness. "That's... That's what I dreamed about. Kind of. Having to fight everyone. Hurting the team. Hurting you." He could handle Wes's attitude and he wasn't sure how Mhynt felt about him. But Odette was a friend. Odette understood him. The thought of losing that was infinitely worse.

"A dumb dream, but it just felt so weird, you know? I guess it got stuck in my head," he muttered. "I just meant to take a walk but then I was worried too..." Worried about her. He shrugged and gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry again for waking you though."
Well, she finally got the answer she was looking for. She widened her eyes, both out of realization and understanding, before nodding once.

She didn’t say anything before she was sure he was done talking, and even after, silence still lingered around her as she rubbed her eye again.

“All things considered, that feels like a pretty reasonable dream to have,” she said. No, that sounded way better in her head. Cringing, she backtracked. “I mean…”

She got the gist of what he was trying to say. That battle had understandably fried him, and the dream had put him even more out of sorts and left him worried. While a part of her could have gone without being woken up, she wasn’t mad. Actually, she’d go as far as to say she was touched that he was that concerned. Yes, maybe she had made more of an impression on this teenager than she'd led herself to believe.

Offering a sleepy smile, she chuckled. “I sleep light anyway. Something was bound to wake me up at some point. Better this than one of my neighbors thumping a wall.” Granted, she had been pretty down and out, but Koa didn’t need to know that.

“Well, thank you for checking on me. I promise I’m okay and I promise my thoughts on you haven’t changed.”
Burying the rush of embarrassment, he opted to nod in thanks. Stupid as the dream had been at least saying it out loud helped get it out of his head. Supressing a yawn, he rose to his paws and glanced back towards the door. He was suddenly uncomfortably aware just how much later it was getting.

"I'll let you get back to sleep... I uh... Thanks for listening," he murmured. "And... If you ever need anything, my door is always open too." Despite his awkwardness, his tone was sincere. He took a step back, towards the door. "I'll make sure to reimburse you for the water," he added with a grin.
Whatever ease that had settled on Odette’s face was gone in an instant, chased off by something far more startled.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said, climbing back to her feet and brushing off her robe. Yawning again, she shuffled back toward her bed. “You walked your ass all the way here in the dead of night, and you think I’m letting you go back now that it’s even later?”

She was shaking her head, even while she grabbed one of her blankets and and dragged herself over to the small seating area more toward the front of the room. “I would just walk you back myself, but I have a couch. And a spare blanket. Feels like a fucking no-brainer.”

She spread the blanket over the loveseat, then pointed down at it. “Park it,” she said. “You can walk back in the morning. I don’t wanna hear it.”

She pointed toward the door leading to the bathroom. “Bathroom’s through that door. It really creaks when it moves, so if you get up at any point, just close it slowly please. And don’t touch my perfumes; I’ll know.” Her gesturing hand aimed toward the dresser next. “Water’s on the dresser, help yourself. I can get more when the bar opens.”

It was evident she wasn’t going to take any protest, because she re-locked the hatch on the front door and trudged back to her bed and started settling herself back into it. “I’ll be here if you need me. You might have a harder time waking me up but, I’ll be here.”
"Wh-" Koa's eyes widened and he blinked in surprise. Stay? He opened his mouth to protest, only for Odette to cut him off.

Instinctively, he wanted to deny it. Leave anyway, tell her not to bother and that he'd be fine. Since he would be fine. (He had to be). Bothering her felt bad enough, he didn't want to cause more problems. He could just go back to his room. His empty room. Except he was tired, and walking across town in the middle of the night didn't exactly sound fun.

He hesitated again, before finally nodding. "Okay fine," he grumbled. "Since walking all the way back would be a hassle," he said nonchalantly, although the hint of gratitude in his tone betrayed him. "Besides if another crazy Skorupi attacks at least there'll be two of us to fight it." He jumped nimbly onto the seat, then reflexively turned in a circle before lying down.

"But I don't know how I'll control myself, I was really looking forward to testing out new perfume scents," he said with playful sarcasm. Yawning, he lay his head on his paws.

He half expected his mind to keep him awake like it had before, but he felt more at ease now. And way more tired than he realized. Another yawn escaped him as he lay there, his thoughts beginning to drift. There were worse spots to spend a night, he thought... Kind of nice. It remind him of being a trainer again, just a little. Funny how looking back, he hadn't expected Odette would end up as one of the people he trusted the most...

"You know, you're not the messiest," he mumbled sleepily. Wes could have that award. "You're pretty sick."
Odette stopped her hunt for comfort to glare dully over at Koa. "You wanna smell like a flower's ass crack? Be my guest," she said, almost as if it were supposed to be a threat. Still, there was the slightest waver, like she were trying not to grin.

From there, she settled against her pillow, exhaling and trying to lower herself back into slumber. She wondered, as consciousness started to fade again, if this was weird. Letting Koa stay instead of allowing him to walk back. It didn't take her long to decide no, it wasn't. If anything, it was the responsible thing to do. Like a mentor would. Or a friend. She wouldn't let, say, Hau walk back alone, so what difference did it make if it was Koa?

She wasn't far gone enough to miss his comment, and it was enough to prompt her eyes to snap open again.

Staring at the ceiling, she let his compliment run a few laps in her mind, feeling her frown increase in size with each passing second. It should have been nice to know a young, personable mind like Koa thought so highly of her. It should have felt good to know she'd made such an impression. She should have had no worries about the relationship she had with him, or any of the ones she'd made for that matter.

But, all she felt, for a long, uncomfortable moment, was anxiety. Because if only Koa knew.

He wouldn't think as high of her if he did. Not a chance.

"Thank you," she said, pulling her blanket up over her mouth. It's far from the truth. "You're sweet."

Now she craved sleep more than she had before she was woken up.
Koa was halfway to sleep when he thought he caught Odette's voice murmur something in reply. His ear twitched in response and he smiled, but didn't make any effort to reply. For the first time in a good few days he felt at ease.

Whatever happened, or whatever she found out, Odette wouldn't hate him for it. She understood.

He could trust her.

When sleep finally fully overtook him, it was blissfully dreamless.

Ch05: Illusions, Gripes, and a Girl’s Night New
After a long day of fulfilling requests at the bulletin board, Bellatrix had taken it upon herself to unwind for the evening by practicing her illusionary abilities more to order a drink. She had gotten stronger and naturally, her illusions had grown more convincing in turn, which made training at Nina's Place trivial at this point. She needed to push herself further before she found herself growing complacent so it would be the Sun Stone Saloon today. The knowledge that another Wayfarer worked there would naturally apply more pressure to make her work convincing as possible for as long as possible. Nova had managed to successfully call her out last time but she would pay special attention to ensure that she would be making those same missteps.

A leafeon whose leaves were ever so slightly browned at the tips stepped through the saloon with her head held high in confidence. She looked like a well-off traveller, looking for a place to dine for the evening, walking straight past Greasewood and towards the counter to order a meaty dish and a pecha cider. She sat ever so politely as she waited for her order.
Odette had just finished her last set for the night, and was as winded as usual. Luckily, she could confidently say she was in a good mood. It was a successful night, void of anybody giving her a hard time. A much needed break in the status quo. Either she was particularly on the ball tonight, or everyone was just drunk enough to stay off her back. She wasn't going to question it.

She made her standard rounds before taking her path to the bar with a tall glass of water on the mind. Maybe a hard drink or two for bed, but she hadn't quite decided what she wanted yet, if anything at all.

Before making it to her spot, she passed the kitchen in time to see another order was ready. Some meaty looking dish and a cider of sorts for a leafeon sitting at the bar. Deciding she was already there and heading in that direction anyway, she took it upon herself to deliver the meal as her last task of the evening. Besides, she liked leafeon.

The patron in question wasn't difficult to spot--they fit right into the wealthier aesthetic Sun Stone held, but as the only leafeon at the bar, they stuck out.

"Good evening," she greeted as she neared and set the items down. "I believe this is yours."

It was there she could clearly see the browning tips, and she almost stopped short. She wasn’t an expert in leafeon anatomy, but something about it felt off to her. That felt indicative of an older leafeon, but this one didn't look too aged. Maybe they just didn't...care for their leaves well? Or perhaps...

Her forehead wrinkled up under her arched brow, but it quickly smoothed out as she offered a polite smile.

"Anything else I can get for you?"
And there she was. Bellatrix took a breath to steel herself, something that was easily covered by the illusion.

The leafeon acknowledged Odette with a polite dip of the head. "This will do for now, thank you," she replied, her voice typical of an upper-class mon. She produced a couple gold coins from her satchel, laying them out on the bar as payment. Her ears flicked and she found herself taking a small sip of her cider, enjoying the sweet taste.

Physically, nothing seemed off about the leafeon. The browned tips were certainly an oddity but perhaps that could be explained away by needing more hydration after trekking beneath the harsh sun of Sojaveña. However, depending on Odette's familiarity with the species, she would quickly or eventually notice another conspicuous detail or rather lack thereof: The scent. Normally, leafeon smelt of fresh grass or fallen leaves dependent on age and yet this one did not carry any strong scent.

Internally, Bellatrix debated whether or not she should say anything more. Not speaking came with the advantage of keeping her guise with little complication and yet it had been a while since she was able to have a proper conversation with Odette. Just so long as she wasn't pedantic about underage drinking...

"Long day?" asked Leafeon, taking note of the mawile's winded look. She took her first bite of her meal as she waited for a reply.
Nodding, her brow twitched with the urge to scrunch up again. Browning leaves could be explained away, but if there was one thing she did know of leafeon is that they always reeked of wet leaves. She usually had to brace to be smacked with the aroma whenever she walked by one, but no such assault came. She kept up the facade of her customer service smile as she gathered up the coins.

"No, thank you," she said back. Money was money, of course.

Her smile twitched into something more relaxed, and she raised her free hand to tap her throat. "Believe it or not, singing is kind of an energy drainer," she explained. "Especially when you're pulling out all the stops."

She debated what to follow it up with. Or, more like, what to prod with.

Slightly slitting her eyes, she adjusted her glasses. "What about you? What brings you to Sun Stone this evening?"
"It has been a long day travelling and I needed a moment to stop and rest, this saloon looking the nicest," answered Leafeon, taking another sip of her drink. "I will probably be staying in town for the night before I continue my journey."

Her tail curled around her paws. "The day may be harsh but the night offers nothing to photosynthesise. No energy, no journey," she added. That sounded like a very leafeon thing to say, probably.

"You're a singer here?" she then asked, trying to shift the topic. "My, what privilege do I have to draw such service and attention?"
She nodded politely. That sounded…decently right. Though, wasn’t it possible for them to store their energy? Especially when there was more sunlight out than normal?

“I see,” she said.

She exhaled with something that faintly resembled a laugh before shrugging. “Just finished my last set. Your order was ready, and I was walking over here anyway. I try to pick up slack where I can, just as thanks to the owner for dealing with me.”

Something mischievous reflected off her glasses as she weighed her options on how to proceed. Then, she tilted her head. “Definitely not the worst gig. How have the bulletin boards been treating you?”
The leafeon nodded along, taking another sip of her drink and bite of her food. "Then I imagine you will be heading home soon," she said. "What does a singer do in her free time?"

Just as she waited for a reply, Odette posed her own question which left a pause that lasted just a little too long to be natural. Had she already seen through her guise? Did Bellatrix keep playing along or did she drop it entirely?

She tittered, a sweet smile spreading across Leafeon's features. "My, what an odd question. I've heard tales of the odd bulletin board in this area but I do imagine trying to make a living off on fulfilling the requests to be rather, ah, unreliable. I would be hard pressed to find myself in such a position as I prefer more administrative tasks though they are also, frustratingly, hard to come by." It seemed that she was playing along with the illusion, but it was clear that it was a thinly veiled answer to Odette's question.

Bellatrix eyed Odette carefully beneath the guise, holding her breath, annoyed by the zoroark's built-in fight or flight response when met with the possibility of the illusion failing. Would she choose to play along or call out the guise, breaking it?
Gotcha, Odette thought, resisting the grin that wanted to unfurl over her lips. Instead she scratched her cheek.

“Oh,” she said, eyes widening in feigned embarrassment. “My mistake. See, I have a zorua friend named Bellatrix who can shift into different illusionary forms, and I had myself convinced you were her. Guess the long set went to my head. Please forgive me.”

Her finger traveled down to one of the hair tassels hanging off her head, and she began to wrap it around her fingertip. “I do have to ask though, if you don’t mind. What perfume do you use to mask your leafy scent? That’s usually a trademark of most leafeon I know so I’m very curious.”
Zoroark, Bellatrix mentally corrected.

"Well, you can never be too careful," replied Leafeon. "Their illusions can be quite convincing, especially when they're close to evolving. That's why you always need to look out for their tail, they never seem to get that right," she added. "But as you can see with mine, all leaf, no fluff.

"As for the scent..." A pause. That was something that had escaped Bellatrix's notice but it was no matter, she had a means of selling herself. "A simple combination of the harsh winds that cover me with dust and the sun drying my leaves." Leafeon wriggled her ears, to emphasise their browning tips. The scent is sure to return in the next few hours or so."

She looked around the saloon, spotting several upperclassmon that Bellatrix had gotten to know from her many errands to them. They wouldn't recognise her here, at least. "You sound like a very busy 'mon," she then said. "But if you can spare some time to humour a traveller, what do you think of those Wayfarers I have heard so much about on my travels?"
Wait. Shit. She evolved, didn’t she? Odette thought, feeling that embarrassed heat starting to prickle on the tip of her nose. It’d been so long since they spoke, she still had it in her head Bellatrix was a zorua. Dumbass.

“Interesting,” she said after clearing her throat. “I guess the desert isn’t the most ideal place for a leafeon, huh? But you seem to be making it work.”

At the question, she had to laugh. She raised a hand to her mouth to muffle the sound. “Bunch of fucking idiots,” she said once it subsided. “The team’s primarily made up of canines, some of them are human, some aren’t, and don’t even get me started on this one pink mawile. What a piece of work.”

Chuckling again, she settled a hand on her hip. “Pardon me, but you didn’t strike me as the shit-talking type when we first spoke. Color me surprised, Bellatrix.”
"Leafeon" couldn't help the small, vulpine laugh in response to Odette's own laughter. "Tsk. And to think I was doing so well," she said. For a brief moment, Odette could see the zoroark looking at her over the edge of her glass before she was once again replaced by the leafeon.

"More a request for your general opinion on the current events," Bellatrix sighed in response, returning to her usual, serious tone. "Much has happened between the time we last properly spoke and now and to be frank, I have many thoughts that I wouldn't share with many at the risk of sounding unprofessional but perhaps I could speak of them with a friend lest they drive me mad."

She had finished her meal and was now nursing her drink. "Part of it is that I have heard that you have moved here, which would explain why I have not seen you around the Haus at all. How is the work here, anyway?"
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