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Frontier Town Traveller's Haus - Dining Hall

Koa stared intently at her as she explained, both genuinely listening and scrutinizing for a trace of the judgement and condescension he felt like she kept giving off. For once it seemed, there was none. It felt like she was being properly truthful... She really hadn't meant to attack him then? The awful sight of them had lurked for so long, and he'd assumed it had to have been on purpose with how she carried herself. That she couldn't have made that kind of mistake.

For a moment, he found himself staring at the table studying his paws and the marks he'd left on the poor thing. Bellatrix was being honest then. It hadn't been a trick, at least not the illusion part. And she hadn't been trying to do that to him with that attack.

A heavy sigh escaped him. "I didn't know it was reflexive," he admitted quietly. His thoughts traveled back to that night, back to being in his room again, exhausted and frustrated. How annoyed he'd been when the seemingly nice maus turned into Bellatrix. "I've had... poor experiences with illusions back home. And lies. It felt like a cheap trick or some kind of deception, not like you were trying to be less threatening or check on me. I was having a bad night and it set me off." He studied her face. An accident. It had been just a stupid reflexive accident. How many of those had he had?

"You really could have just talked to me in your normal form but... I am sorry for that." There was sincerity in his tone. He swallowed, not at all even wanting to acknowledge the other part. "That move you used was really an accident then?" he asked searchingly. "Not on purpose?"
"If I had known that you had a heavy dislike and distrust of illusions, I would not have used one, and yes, it wasn't my intent to threaten or attack you, in the slightest," Bellatrix replied with a nod. "So I apologise for both instances."

She leaned back and let out an exhale. Just a misunderstanding caused by two frustrated moods clashing. Apparently misjudgement was becoming a common theme for her on Forlas. Yes, the boy was still reckless for both the wagon and Alexander but he was far more open to learning from those mistakes than she had predicted based on this discussion. "Admittedly, before I came here, I was learning to conduct myself better in interactions."

She paused and looked back at Koa, her gaze softening. "Clearly, it's still a work in progress."
"Okay," he said with a weighty sigh. "I... its fine." She really was sorry. He fidgeted, feeling suddenly awkward, wishing this could have been resolved sooner, that Bellatrix could have apologized sooner, but really it didn't matter anymore. At least she had apologized. And admitted she was trying to do better, which was what he really cared about. And putting all this behind him for good.

He hesistated before speaking again, his tone a bit stilted but this time sincere. "It's...I forgive you. On both counts. Water under the bridge I guess. I won't hold it against you; I'm not exactly a perfect example of good conduct or anything either. Just don't... don't use those chains on me again." There was a burning, almost desperate edge to his voice on the last sentence, and a warning.

What would Blake have said in this situation? A baited silence began to grow as he organized his thoughts. He needed to not have to do this ever again, hopefully. "And I am sorry about... everything. With Alex. Let's just... drop the masks or whatever from now on though? Don't talk to me like a child, and I'll hear you out."

On impulse he offered a paw to shake, looking both hesitant and hopeful.
Bellatrix nodded, she had to admit, there was an intense sense of relief at Koa's words. "I won't," she replied. Not that it had been the intent the first time.

Gingerly, as a show of both apology and forgiveness, Bellatrix shook Koa's paw. "The more we uncover about this world, the more dangers it reveals," she said. "But it is up to us to stand against those dangers, we just need to be wise." She brushed a few loose strands of mane from her face. "It is, however, never too late to start over. So, shall we?"
"Sounds good to me." A slight smile tugged at his muzzle. Hopefully this was the last of things. He might not have been fond of Bellatrix but at least she'd been willing to make amends, and that much he could definitely respect.

Koa shook her paw in turn, a gleam of determination sparking in his gaze. Desperate relief unknotted all the tension from earlier as he finally managed to relax. At least one thing had been fixed...

"To a fresh start."

Ch05: Laura and Gladion
Gladion wasn’t quite sure how comfortable he felt being in public yet, so when he went to eat, he did so at an irregular hour and distanced himself from the other people there as much as possible. Felt more comfortable that way, slightly more private. Nova’d already blazed the trail as far as being a… a Silvally? That had been what Odette had called it, and he did really like the name. Regardless, the fact Nova had done it before didn’t make it feel any less odd about it— It wasn’t a subject he was keen to talk about the circumstances of.
The tasks piled up – articles to write, Forlasan lore to research, combat moves to practice. Too many to think about. Easier to keep making brief pilgrimages to the dining hall to retrieve snacks, and then retreat to her room to procrastinate slightly more efficiently.

Sometimes on these excursions, Laura would catch sight of other Wayfarers eating at odd times... Such as now.

"H-hey, Gladion."

She'd fought against a demonic convergent RKS alongside this guy. She had to quit being so fucking anxious. Project some confidence for a change.

"How're you doing – after the mission?"

She cocked her head and glanced towards the table in a wordless 'may I join you?'
Gladion gestured towards a seat. Laura was someone he trusted, and it’s not like she was going to have to ask what’d happened in the lab. Even if he hadn’t always been forthcoming with her before that, and… Actually, maybe this would be awkward. But he’d have to deal with that at some point. And it wasn’t like she was asking about it right now.

“I feel like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders,” he deadpanned. “Though, I expected it to be… different, somehow? Doesn’t exactly make the lab a good memory the way my evolution condition would’ve suggested.”
Laura took the seat, and met Gladion's admission with a weak smile.

"Bond evolutions can have all sorts of catalysts... Obviously trainers are encouraged to think of them as friendship triggered evos, but they can happen in just about any kind of intense emotional connection, from love, to hatred, to grief. What matters... is that Ark mattered to you."

Still did, doubtlessly. Someone should check in on them. Maybe as a regular thing.
“Ah… I guess that makes a certain sort of sense. I was running on shadow and radiance so, y’know, lots of… thoughts…”

Gladion closed his eyes. Bracing to tear the bandage off.

“You probably figured by know that the reason I know the guy who stole a Null is because he’s me. Hard not to see the whole thing as the same event that happens to me in every world playing out for me again in this one.”
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Yeah, that wasn't especially surprising in the slightest. Who was more likely to rock up in another world, called as a hero from the stars – the guy that busted an RKS out of a secret lab, or the fucking janitor there? Come on. Get real.

Laura nodded, and sucked her teeth. "Uhuh."


"You know you don't have to be so extra about it, right? Coulda just opened with that on week one."

She offered a tired smile, hoping that'd break the tension rather than offend him. He'd probably just make a crack back at her, to be honest.
Gladion winced. He probably deserved that one… “Didn’t… know how aware you were of situation. If you had’ve known more, it… would’ve been more likely to matter.”

But even if he had that coming, he could still try to salvage this. Laura was, he hoped, going to be reasonable about this. “There’s an element of mutually assured annihilation to my freedom. But it’s not the only reason nobody who knew who commuted that theft tracked me down yet. I’m… not very recognizable.”

Some mirth crept into his voice as he went, despite the circumstances. “Gladion isn’t exactly the name I was given. I mean, come on, it’s Gladion. Still liked the idea of a world where I wasn’t gonna get tied back to that, though.”

For all the good that did. “You can laugh at that part. It aged poorly…”
Laura shrugged. She didn't get the joke, whatever it was. And Gladion wasn't the weirdest name ever. Sounded vaguely Mediterranean, maybe from gladius – sword. So he'd chosen it...?

"I don't know if I... if I follow, to be honest? It's not like me knowing who you are could matter, right? I can't do anything to rumble you in your world, our old lives don't matter too much here... I guess I figured you were worried I'd blow the whistle on your counterpart in my timeline, or something? Not that I would, but I can't blame you for caution."

He'd been given a different name. Didn't want to get tied back to 'that'. He was 'not very recognisable'.

Kinda seemed a little gender.

Well, didn't it all just track with taking on a new identity to runaway from corporate control to live a new life? People did that stuff without a different reason behind it. No reason for her to assume, anyway.

Laura eyed the spread of available food, and wondered how fresh it was. This was turning into a Conversation. She could do with something to eat.

"Unless you're talking about a difference between your old identity and the one you chose," she added, choosing her words carefully. "And whether... people here would treat you any differently if they realised."

Yeah, that'd probably go over better than an ultra-blunt 'btw you seem trans, that's cool lol'. The dude was too tightly wound to be flippant about that. No problem. Gladion could be unnecessarily mysterious if that's what he needed.

Gladion gave a sort of awkward laugh. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Can’t just say what I mean…”

He couldn’t just fucking call himself— couldn’t call himself what he was. He just had to talk in circles around it.

“I used to tell myself I had to be secretive for my own safety. That I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to. But here, I had the chance.”

He paused for a moment. He didn’t have any actual esoteric energy to focus down, but that same kind of focus was helpful anyway. Purely for nerves.

“I don’t know what it’d even be like if I was more open or…” unashamed “…confident.”
Gladion had never struck Laura as unconfident. But then again, his sass and criticism and attitude did scan as projected confidence. The kind of behaviour an insecure young man would have – a guy who didn't know how to be both authentic and self-assured at once. Or how to be either at all, maybe.

Laura grinned. "I'm still figuring that out myself." Her ears flicked in momentary embarrassment. "Not that I've got, uh, the same troubles, exactly?"

For that matter, he hadn't actually confirmed they were talking about the same thing.

"Look, habits are hard to break – turning into a howling bird-dog creature and eloping to a fantasy wild west planet doesn't mean you suddenly have any practice at being a different way, right? I turned into a cat, but I still have all the same, like, responses to things, here. Like... assuming that anyone who gets cagey around me is best left alone, 'cause I don't want to be a bother."

Howls, she could just start scarfing down bread rolls at this point, given what admitting that did to her gut. Hopefully Gladion wouldn't feel too chagrined... Even if he deserved to, just a little.

"I guess I'm trying to say... you don't have to change all at once. You can keep changing."
“You aren’t one. Even when I was worried about about you figuring out I… was, y’know.” Grow up. It’s a word. Just say it. “Not cis.”

Close enough.

He wasn’t exactly glad to have said it, but at least making sure Laura was on the same page as him was a relief to some of the tension of uncertainty.

Oh, right, he was in the middle of a sentence.

“Even then, I was glad to have you around. At the time, I don’t think I’d have described it as such, but I wanted some kind of friends here. And, well. Of course, I did want to save Ark, but I don’t think I would’ve broken my helmet there with just any group.”
Not cis. Oh, howls, this fucking guy.

Laura barely had time to process just how wound up Gladion was about this before he hit her with a 'we're friends', even if it was indirect and overwrought as hell. Never mind being careful and reserved. She could've vaulted the table and hugged him.

"Oh— I..."

Laura swallowed hard. Not a good time to choke up. She hadn't expected to, but...

I just want a friend. Please.

Just a touch of Radiance. To make it easier.

"Th-thanks for saying that. Gladion. I'm glad it was us down there, if— since you're being honest right now."

She grinned.

"Congratulations on evolving, by the way. And... I'd like to be friends with you."

If that's okay. If you promise not to hate me later. If it's not too much to ask.

"I wasn't sure if we were, before. If talking about fuckin' gender made the difference, then it's a good thing I thought to say something – you don't have a thing to worry about from me. If it helps."

If you needed to hear that.
Gladion smiled, this time it came automatically to is face without him having to think about what it 'should' look like on his new face.

"Thank you. Far as I'm concerned, well, I already saw you as one. Helmet can't lie, and even if it's possible for a Null to evolve without friendship, I know what happened in my case. I'm glad you're of like mind, I was worried I was too... obstinate."

Clearly, though, that wasn't the case. Was that a crack of her voice, or a lilt of radiance? Either way, it seems he'd struck a chord with her. It felt good. Felt good to just drop his guard, felt good to see how much she cared, and he wanted to offer the same in turn.

"But I am still glad to have talked about this. Feels better not to be holding it back. And if you ever need someone to spill your own thoughts to, or you're just lonely, I'm usually around."

He swallowed his... pride? ego? shame? Whatever feeling it was he pushed through, he managed a few words of uncharacteristically straightforward earnestness. "Care about ya."
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(Obstinate, huh? The average Wayfarer was pretty obstinate in Laura's experience. Gladion was in good company, there.)

Laura tried not to melt, but as it turned out, purring was involuntary in this body. She'd just not had much cause to purr in the last few months.

'Cool beans', she didn't say, biting her tongue until something less awkward presented itself in her head.

"Care about you too, Gladion. I'll, ah, hold you to that offer of yours, and reciprocate it. I could use someone to spill thoughts to, if I'm honest – I'll, uh, try not to infodump on you too much."

She chuckled sheepishly, and turned to glance at the food again.

"Tell you what. I'll grab a bite to eat, and then – unless you've got somewhere to be – I'll pick your brain a bit. ...That sound okay?"
Was Laura... purring? She was, wasn't she? Huh. He was glad she was happy, and equally glad he didn't have any automatic reactions like that, even if it meant he'd have to make a bit more of a point of expressing himself.

"Sounds good to me. I've nowhere else to be, and you've fielded plenty from me. Pick my brain, infodump, whatever you need. 'S good to have someone to talk to."

Laura wasn't the only one who, if he stopped to think about it, was someone he'd be willing to call a friend. Internally, at least, he didn't say that kind of thing out loud much. But now he was finally putting to rest the questions of whether or not those people felt the same, putting a name on their bond. More than acquaintances or probable-friends. Felt good to know he wasn't alone. He watched Laura go to get something to eat, and looked forward to her getting back so they could talk some more.

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