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In Edenridge 14 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
TIMESTAMP: Tuesday, July 21st || After Back Home
Introducing: Hiroshi "Ross" Takahashi
FT: Nadine Navarro & Mr. Beau @BrutalBx
Small FT: Eloise Anderson



In the week since he returned to the town he once called home and after an 8-week stint at a rehab facility in Boston, Hiroshi didn’t know how to feel about being back. He didn’t know what to feel. For the entire week, he felt numb (for a lack of better words). Just a short few months ago, he still had everything going for him. He was about to finish up his final year at MIT. He was going to graduate, be someone who his family could be proud of: his mother, his father, Monica, and Matilda. Everyone he felt like he had ever disappointed, graduating with that degree from such a prestigious school would make up for all of his shortcomings that he had in his life.

But he couldn’t get a handle on a growing problem. It made him erratic. Act meaner than Ross was ever normally like. To those who knew him before his addiction, he was a sweet person, but whether from stress, the pills, or just a toxic chemical solution of both, he became somebody nobody recognized. He first had an intervention from his friends at MIT and when that didn’t work, his family got involved. They staged a more aggressive intervention, one that actually worked. There were hard truths stated. Some he knew on some level, but others were a lot harder to swallow than most of the pills he had been shoving into his body in the past couple of years.

It resulted in a do or die ultimatum. His life was out of control and this was the last resort. And even though he was receptive to the process at the time, being back after just a week, it saved his life. Rehab saved his life and helped him get to the root of the issue of his addiction. Why did he start using? What made him turn to it? He couldn’t cop out and say that he wanted to focus for school and be the best. That wasn’t owning up to anything. He couldn’t heal unless Ross stared it into the face and he did. It was the most terrifying experience in his life, but Ross acknowledged the real reasons why he first turned to it. Why he kept going back to that oni and embracing it, submerging himself in it.

When it all came down to it, Ross felt like a disappointment to himself and to his family by not being the best. He put too many expectations on himself. And it all started in high school. The first person whose name wasn’t Takahashi that he hurt was Nadine Navarro.

Ross was horrible to her and even more so the last time he saw her. How was he supposed to make that right? In addition, Ross heard some truly horrific news. He was staying with a friend at a Kori Plaza apartment until he could get on his feet. Through some of his family and generally others that he surprisingly had good faith with, he heard about Nadine’s father, Reymond. His phone wouldn’t stop blowing up about it. About how he suffered a “work-related health problem”. Eventually the group chats that he was lurking talked about it in further detail about it being a stroke.

What should Ross do with this information? Was he someone that Nadine wanted to hear from? The last impression he left on her was far from perfect. He made her cry and that will be an image that has haunted his sobriety for two months and especially in the week since he returned. He needed to make amends, but part of him felt genuine pain for Nadine and maybe this could be the start of rebuilding a bridge with her in some way. He had to make the first step. He knew he had to. If nothing else, Ross needed to do it for himself so he could tell himself he wasn’t going to run away from these problems that plagued his soul.

So in a series of text messages, Ross took that step.

Hey..Nadine. It’s Ross. Not sure if you still have my number saved or not… (1 of 5)
But I heard about your dad. I’m really sorry. About everything…If there’s anything I can do… (2 of 4)
What am I saying? I’m probably the last person you want to see right now, much less hear from. (3 of 4)
But, if you ever wanted to get some coffee, talk about it. Or you can just block my number right now. You owe me nothing, but I just thought I’d reach out. (4 of 5)
Anyway, if I hear back from you, call or text me anytime. Or if not, then I understand.
(5 of 5)

His heart started to beat like crazy. He hadn’t felt this kind of high since he was actually high. There was no better high for a recovering addict than doing the right thing and attempting to make amends.

Having finished cooking and after making sure her father got some food in his system, Nadie put away the breakfast and lunch she used as a distraction while she waited for her sister’s arrival. Both her father and sister were now sound asleep in their rooms and she was left to herself to either think or game. Surprisingly, Lolly wasn’t online. That was… weird because Lolly was always online. Amity was a busy girl and had a strict streaming and gaming schedule, so Nadie knew when to expect her fiery, chaotic Lyon friend. Marco had been busy as of late too and that was likely due to him getting in a relationship. He wasn’t the best liar and the last time they all gamed together, Lolly could hear a boy in the background. She immediately interrogated Marco and in time he pleaded the fifth, which was enough for the three girls to learn that their dear friend was no longer on the market.

With no close friends to play with, Nadie started up Sims to brainlessly play ‘house’ with her longest lasting family in the game. As she waited for the screen to load, she grabbed her phone to text Lolly to make sure she was okay or if the girl actually passed out at her desk. Before she could get to her friend’s name, she was suddenly bombarded by text messages. When she saw who it was from, having never gained the courage to block his number, her heart sank. He was simply named ‘Ross’ in her phone and now that she actually could read his name, feelings of the past flooded her senses.

Why was he messaging her?

Placing the phone down, not reading his messages, she leaned in her gaming chair, clasped her hands together and placed her lips against them, deep in thought. If Daisy found out he contacted her she would lose her mind. Was it worth getting her heart broken again? She never did hate him. Not really. What they had in highschool was… strange, but deep down, she knew she admired him. He was the smartest person she ever knew and that pushed her to keep studying and trying her best to match him in all subjects. They were competitive rivals, not enemies but on graduation day it made her realize that the idea of friends she had inside her head was all one sided.

He hated her.

She could feel tears well up in her eyes. Nadie was already dealing with so much and she had no one to lean on. Her squad, the Smile Riot Gremlins, they all thought she had everything together. If anything, they needed her and she couldn’t burden them with her silly insecurities and imperfections. Her sister had moved to the Philippines and after the shooting, there was a fire in Daisy’s eyes that Nadie would never want to hold back. Her mom, Jaya, couldn’t stand her for choosing her father over her but in Nadie’s head, it wasn’t even like that. Her decision to stay in the states wasn’t about which parent was better or not. It was about not leaving her father alone and not losing the small group of friends she did have. Edenridge was her home. Sure, she loved her culture, she loved her roots, and she loved her mom but leaving Edenridge… that just wasn’t something she wanted to do.

At the time she made that decision, she thought she could balance college, take care of her workaholic dad, run her mom’s cleaning business she left behind, and still have some sort of social life even if it was mostly in the virtual world. It turns out young Nadie was far too ambitious and she burnt out, fast. Her life now consisted of keeping up with the house, making sure her father remembers to eat, still running the cleaning business that she’s pretty sure is falling straight to the gutter with only the Quinns left as employees, and… she dropped out. She was trying to get a PhD in Computer Science. She was a smart girl and IT was a stable career path but it all became too much. So, she sat down with her father and he said it was okay for her to take a break and focus on her mental health. Her mother didn’t like that, of course. And from that point on, she hadn’t been back to college since.

The unrealistic expectations her mother had on her always seemed to put her between a rock and a hard place. Nothing she ever did was good enough. She could never win against her mom. Eventually, Jaya did come to terms that her daughter would stay with Reymond and decided to use that to her advantage to keep Navarro Cleaning running. Nadine Navarro was barely staying afloat and all she had was her gaming friends to make her feel like she was worth something. She was good at hiding behind a mask but even strong people need hands to hold and shoulders to cry on.

“Stop it,” Nadie scolded herself, wiping the tears that started to trail down her cheeks. She needed to get a grip. Ross was probably just trying to troll her or something. If she was that afraid of him messaging her, she would’ve blocked him a long time ago. Her eyes went back to the phone, his messages waiting for her. Why didn’t she block him? Another long minute or two passed. This was ridiculous. All she had to do was ignore him and be done with it. Why couldn’t she just move on? Controlling her breathing, giving herself an internal pep talk, she reached for the phone and opened up his messages, finally reading it.

Her mask was completely gone as her eyes trailed down the thread. Frowning deeply, she stared at every sentence, every word, and every period and felt a deep ache in her chest. He sounded like he wasn’t doing good, like this act in itself took a lot of courage to do. He sounded like he needed help. He sounded like he needed her.

“What are you even saying?” Nadie asked herself out loud. “Ross doesn’t need you. He never needed you.” Her phone was back down on her desk. “Why… why should I?” Still, Nadie knew that ignoring him was going against her nature and that he deserved a second chance, if that’s what he was seeking, no matter how much he did hurt her. One of her faults was being too forgiving and maybe this was one of those times where she should block and ignore, for her own sake. If she did respond, would he hurt her again?

Grumbling to herself, Nadie went against her better judgment and picked up her phone again. Throwing all logic out the door, she texted back:

Are you free now?

There was nearly no hesitation. Less than three minutes and Ross sent another series of text messages.

Yes. I’m free now! (1 of 2)
Is there a place you would like to meet up at? Could be in public if that’s what you’d prefer. Or whatever you like! (2 of 2)

I need to get ready… (1 of 2)
Beau’s in 20. (2 of 2)

Ross was out of his friend’s apartment. At a corner store just half a mile away, past Lyon Park. His cravings were more than just out of the anxiety he was feeling. It was old habits coming to say hello. In rehab, he learned how to quell that particular thirst with something sweet. So he got about five twinkies. The cashier gave him a dirty look and he fibbed, saying he was getting them for a couple friends. Something about how eating five twinkies by yourself just seemed odd to some people. He had one hell of a sweet tooth growing up, but now it was to put his cravings to pop a pill - any that numbed pain - with the spongy goodness with a cream filling.

As he exited the store, his phone buzzed and he saw Nadine was actually willing to see him. He wasn’t a religious man - not in any sense - but someone above was looking out for him. Deep down, Ross didn’t feel like he deserved a second chance. How could he bring himself to think that? He hurt Nadine to the point of tears. That was the worst part of it all. He remembered exactly what he said to her. It came to him when sobriety officially did. Unlike the past where he would take a couple antidepressants that he scored rather easily from a dealer that lived in the same dorm he did, Ross was forced to face what he had done. Rehab was supposed to be about healing and he did somewhat, but nothing could heal him of his guilt.

Not even the second chance Nadine was seemingly giving him.

It took him a few minutes to exit the abyss that was his mind, but Ross finally texted back.

Heading there now!

There was no turning back now. As soon as he crossed the tracks, Ross had a lot to think about. What would he say? Should he even say anything? Just…so many thoughts going through his mind right now. Too many thoughts to even it out, so he just focused on getting to Beau’s as soon as possible. The last thing he wanted was to be late to what might possibly be the most important (and equally as terrifying) meet up in his life.

Since she lived at Pleasantview, Nadine was only five minutes away from Cafe Rochambeau. She took ten minutes to freshen up, tiptoeing back and forth from her bedroom to the bathroom that was right beside Daisy’s room. She didn’t want him to comment on her dark circles so the first thing she did was wash her face and do her make up. When she was done with that, she spent the next six minutes throwing an outfit together and putting it on. Two minutes to do her hair. One minute to spare where he would hopefully be there waiting for her. She wasn’t planning on getting there on time. The least he could do was wait until she was ready and now she was. Nervous and ready to see the boy that hurt her in highschool.

Quietly, Nadine exited her apartment, leaving the two sleeping people to rest, hoping she didn’t make too much noise to wake them up. Truth be told, she couldn’t believe she was doing this. Her heart was in the driver’s seat leading her to a boy she knew she had conflicted feelings for. It was time to meet her tormentor. Man, she was in over her head. Daisy was going to be so disappointed in her when she found out and Nadie knew: Daisy would find out.

Ross had already found himself in a booth and with no twinkies remaining. Taking the journey in the state he was in had made him hungry. His anxiety always triggered his hunger and even though they were empty calories, they did the job. Not like he came to Rochambeau with the intention of eating anything. As he was right now, even if Mr. Beau offered him anything, he wouldn’t know what he might want. He sat in the booth, hands on the table, fingers interlocked with each other and just stared into the distance of the other side of the booth. Pondering. Thinking about what he would say when Nadine showed up.

Yeah, what can you say, Ross?

He was the one who reached out first. He was the one who texted her and set everything in motion. “Maybe this was a mistake after all…” Just as he had half-decided he wasn’t going to go through with this, he heard the bell above the door ring and there she was. And whether it was the fact she was actually here or how she looked even more beautiful than he had remembered, Ross parked it, frozen in place with literally nowhere to go and nothing he could do but wait for the moment of truth to come in the form of his high school rival.

The moment she stepped into the cafe the smell of warm, baked goods and coffee filled her nostrils. She didn’t indulge in dessert often, constantly reminded by her friends that gamers have unhealthy habits, but today, maybe she could treat herself. She didn’t want to overeat or her mother would comment on her weight but the cafe smelt delicious and she didn’t want Ross to think she was nervous. She was, but he didn’t need to know that.

Burying her nerves, she found Ross sitting and staring, she waved at him and smiled, before making her way to her former English teacher, “Hi, Mr. Beau. Is that your ma’s Beignets I’m smelling?”

“Miss Navarro!” Beau greeted the young, Filipino beauty with his usual toothy smile. He dusted his sausage like fingers on his apron after placing down a jar of strong cinnamon and turned to the main point of the counter. “It is always a pleasure to see one of my favorite valedictorians enter my shop and humble me with their presence.” Nadine had always been a fantastic student and a pure pleasure to teach. Antoine remembered her speech and just how moved he was by her words. He also remembered how difficult it initially was for her thanks to a certain other student of his, who happened to be sitting in a nearby booth. “And yes, your nose is right. You are smelling the Lord’s second greatest gift to us. The first being love, of course.”

He leaned down on his elbows as his chestnut eyes drifted over to Ross. Such a talent, such potential. It was a great tragedy that the young man had fallen deep into the throes of addiction. Though from what Beau had heard, Ross was slowly climbing out of that fissure steeped in darkness and was on the way back towards the sunlight and sobriety. “What are you having, Miss Navarro? The gentleman in booth three has already covered the cost.”

“Well,” Nadie took a moment to look over her shoulder back at Ross, who still looked dumbfounded. Clearing her throat, she brought her attention back to Beau, interlocked her fingers together, and politely answered, “I was thinking a half a dozen Beignets so me and my…” she hesitated, not really knowing what to consider Ross at this time. A friend? An associate? An acquaintance? “...peer could have some leftovers to take back to our families. And two hot cocoas. Please.” As she looked away from Ross and straight at her teacher, she averted her gaze. Although her anxiety and fear was buried behind a mask, someone as wise as Beau could see right through her. Nadie didn’t know if she was doing the right thing but at this point, she was already here and couldn’t turn back. She needed to commit and make sure her poker face was on point.

“You got it, Mon Cherie.” Beau reached to the side and picked up some tongs with one hand and one of the many wicker baskets that Colleen made in her spare time. As he began to fill the container with his mothers famous Beignets, he again watched the body language of both Ross and Nadine. Their rivalry was one that stretched for years, four years that he had seen at least. Hell, he and principal Payne, rest his soul, had a running dollar bet as to whether they would get married. If they ever did, Antoine would leave a dollar and change at the poor man’s grave.

“There ain’t no need to be nervous, Miss Navarro.” Beau began as he placed the basket down and began to mix up the drinks. The steam from the milk frother began to rise up from behind the counter whilst the former teacher watched its temperature. “Mister Takahashi is in the exact same boat as you and I don’t mean one of those fancy mega yachts down at Collin’s Port. He’s in a rubber dingy, white knuckling because he doesn’t know how the next two minutes are going to go.” Putting the piping hot milk jug to one side, Beau dropped several teaspoons of cocoa powder into some mugs before pouring in the contents of the jug. “There ain’t no waterfall at the end of that conversation. Not if you don’t want there to be.”

“I just,” Nadie spoke quietly, shy and sheepish, which wasn’t her innate nature. Always the ambitious, driven spirit when she wants to reach her goals. Sadly, as of late, Nadie had no goals. She didn’t know what she was doing with her life. All she knew was, she was running a business she didn’t care about, her father was sick, her mother was crazy, and her sister was worried about her. “I don’t know what he’s been through and I don’t want to say anything to upset him.” Somehow, Nadie was twisting the narrative and blaming herself for how they fell apart, as if she could predict Ross taking out his frustrations on her in the past.

“Baby girl, ain’t that just a regular conversation?” Beau smiled as he placed the two mugs of chocolate onto a tray and began adding extras. He swirled some cream on top and sprinkled atop some cinnamon and orange zest. “All we do is dance around each other, never knowing whether the next step is right or wrong. We can’t predict that. We shouldn’t want to. What happens next? Well that’s just one of life’s great little adventures isn’t it? And if I remember rightly, Miss Navarro isn’t afraid of a little adventure.” Antoine finished the chocolates with some marshmallows before sliding the tray down the counter to Nadine. “You got this honey but if you don’t, quack three times and I’ll pull the fire alarm.”

Easing her shoulders, Nadie gave a genuine, earnest smile. She knew one of her biggest flaws was bottling everything up. It was nice to get a piece of advice before she embarked on this journey where the destination was unknown. There was no use in thinking of the outcome. This wasn’t like a math formula or a scientific hypothesis. This was life, her life, and she had to be focused on the moment, taking this conversation one second at a time. “Thank you, Mr. Beau,” she appreciatively said. Her eyes closed, as she took a deep breath in and out. She totally got this. All this was, was a regular conversation. That’s it.

Opening her eyes, she asked one last question, “Actually, can I get a small cup of powdered sugar please? Knowing Ross he’s going to want to drown his beignet in pure sugar…” She grimaced at the thought. Their sweet intake definitely was NOT compatible. She liked sweets, don’t get her wrong, but not as much as Ross did.

Beau let out a small bit hearty laugh, Payne definitely owed him a dollar. “Sure thing Mon Petite.” He reached under the counter and quickly poured the requested powdered sugar into a small takeaway cup and handed it over to Nadine. “Good luck.”

Holding the tray, Nadie gave her former English teacher a little nod before turning to face the booth that Ross was sitting at. Internally, she was continuing her pep talk from where she had left off, moments before her conversation with Beau. Externally, she hid her chattering teeth and kept a small smile on her face. After another short moment, she was at the table, placing the tray in the middle of it, right in front of Ross. “Still with a sweet tooth?” she inquired. Her brown eyes met his and they were closer in proximity, which they hadn’t been in years.

Ross watched Nadine approach the table. He took slow breaths, inhaling and exhaling before she sat down. If she was going through with it and not deciding to back away, then he couldn’t either. When she sat down, putting the tray of delicious-looking beignets and one cup of hot cocoa for each of them, Ross smiled. First at the tray of food that had his mouth salivating, but then at Nadine. Four years was a long time to go without saying or speaking to someone under normal circumstances, let alone to someone he hurt more than he had ever hurt himself. “These days, it’s become my top food group.” He said quietly. The air was tense with the ghosts of the past and Ross felt their weight on his back.

“That’s not very healthy,” Nadie teased, grabbing her mug of hot chocolate and holding it with both of her hands. One of her habits was if she wasn’t keeping her hands busy with writing or gaming or cooking or whatever, she needed to hold something. It’s why she clasps her hands together so much. Whether she was holding herself or a mug in this case, she was given a sense of security. There was a brief silence that surrounded them as she took a sip of her drink. When she placed the mug down, keeping her grasp tightly around it, she casually asked, leading the charge, “So how are you?”

He couldn’t help but let a chuckle escape through his mostly closed lips. He didn’t think he would feel anything other than the dread and weight he felt up until now, but Nadine was the same as she always was. Despite everything, she still teased. Either she was the same before it all or she was just really good at hiding it. Like Ross was doing. Like Ross was trying to do. He took one of the beignets and dipped in the hot chocolate. He needed a sweet fix. The twinkies weren’t lasting long enough. As he took a bite, he was in heaven, if not for a short moment. WIth a semi-full mouth, he tried to say, “In heaven at the moment,” then took a drink of his cocoa to wash it down. “Sorry…I mean, it’s been a long time since I’ve had one of Mr. Beau’s Beignets. Too long…” Yeah, because he hasn’t been himself in years.

As much as Ross wanted to, he didn’t pull his gaze away from Nadine. He couldn’t do that. “I guess the only way to answer that is to say I’m feeling…reflective of the past. It’s been on my mind a lot lately.”

Nadie watched as he dipped his beignet in his drink and devoured it. He ate the same, at least. Releasing her mug, she grabbed the cup of extra powder and pushed it toward him, just in case he wanted it but hadn’t noticed it. One of Nadine’s traits was that she was constantly attentive to everyone around her. She knew how to make someone feel seen. Simply through an observation, she could get a good read on them.

Right now, that was exactly what she was focused on. How he looked at her softly, deeply, and desperately. What he was feeling. Any telltale sign that showed his intentions. In his eyes, the windows to his soul, she saw his humanity and she didn’t look away. She couldn’t. “What exactly?” she forwardly asked, before adding context, “has been on your mind?”

There was an eerie quiet following her question. Ross took another beignet, this time adding more powdered sugar on it. Be it a byproduct of his sobriety or the tension building in the air, he devoured another in silence and washed it down with another giant sip of his cocoa. “Well…” He bit his lip, biding his time, but also making sure he didn’t screw this up. Ross had practiced what he was going to say to Nadine so many times. When he first addressed his demons in group, Ross avoided the core issue of it all. He avoided talking about it or at least never owned up to it until one person told it to him straight.

Conrad was his name. He helped Ross understand why he needed to take rehab seriously and look deep within. The issues were within himself. He used because he couldn’t handle the harsh realities that he wasn’t the perfect son or brother. He blamed himself and he didn’t want to feel that disappointment. The results were catastrophic. He had to face them head on. Just like he did in group. Just like he was doing now. “I keep thinking to that day. Our graduation. It keeps replaying in my mind over and over again. Like a broken record.” Ross could only imagine what might be going through Nadine’s mind when he brought up that day. “I wasn’t well that day, Nadine. Or that entire year. Not for a couple years after the fact. I don’t know if you ever heard about it from my family or maybe through the grapevine, but.” He paused only because everything in him was playing a game of tug of war in his mind. Telling him not to do it. Some part in the jigsaw that was his mind was trying to convince Ross she wouldn’t believe him. Maybe she wouldn’t, but this wasn’t about whether or not the person he hurt the most believed him. He had to say it. He had to attempt to make things right. “…I’m an addict. I’ve been an addict since junior year.” His stomach felt like it was sinking into a never-ending hole and god, his heart was on fire. This was the first time he ever uttered the words ‘I’m an addict’ outside of group. It was terrifying, yet in a way, liberating.

Part of her knew he was going through something since then. Part of her never wanted to ask because it never felt like her place. Once he said those hateful words to her, on graduation day no less, her very reality seemed to shatter, like a broken mirror. Nadine chose to block him out. Any mentions of him by people around her or on social media, she ignored. She didn’t want to hear his name. She couldn’t handle it. Everytime she did, she felt so much pain because what he did to her, how he treated her, felt like a stab in the back. Their friendship wasn’t perfect but she never thought he would ever push her away like he did. Back then she made herself believe she meant more to him but boy was she a fool.

“You hurt me, Hiroshi,” Nadie defeatedly whispered. “You fucking hurt me…” she broke contact with him to look into her mug, trying her best to not cry. She didn’t like crying. She didn’t like being seen as weak. “What do you want me to say?” she asked the air, aimlessly just like she was in her life. “I don’t know what to say.” A teardrop fell into the hot chocolate.

He never wanted to be the reason she cried again. All those nights he laid awake, replaying the endless loop of that night on repeat, Ross had promised himself over and over again: I’ll never make her cry again. If I ever get that second chance, I won’t be the reason, yet he was about to be. In his mind, he wanted to say something. Do something, but then those words that Conrad had always told him: The road to recovery is about your recovery as it is about those you’ve hurt.

Those words became his philosophy and it remained true even now. “You don’t have to say anything. Or you can say everything you have been bottling up for the past four years.” Ross kept his gaze on Nadine. He saw her pain, the tear falling down her face. He knew more than anyone that letting it out was the best thing, but only she could make that decision. Only thing Ross could do was be the person he should have been all those years ago. “So let me ask you, Nadine. How are you? What’s on your mind?”

Grabbing her mug once more, not taking another sip, just doing it to hold it, Nadie stammered, “I… I’m okay, I- I think.” She wasn’t okay. Who was she trying to fool? With her heart on her sleeves, she shook her head, in disagreement with herself. “N-no. No, I’m not okay. I haven’t been for… awhile.”

As much as Nadie wanted to gain the courage to look up at him, she couldn’t. She was ashamed. “I’m, I’m sorry. I- I don’t know what I did and I know, I know you just told me what you were going through… but I don’t understand, I don’t understand what that has to do with me.” She squeezed her eyelids shut, hoping she could keep the tears in as she tried to speak her mind, terrified of the repercussions. Terrified of his reaction. “If winning valedictorian meant that much to you. I- I would’ve turned it down. It isn’t like I’m putting it to good use. It isn’t like I’m anything anymore and maybe I, I was always nothing. I’m sorry, Ross.” The tears escaped, her watery eyes no longer able to hold tight, as her breathing continued to be choppy. She proceeded to cover her face. Why was seeing him this hard? Why did it hurt so much?

Ross thought if he told Nadine what was happening with him back then and how he was trying to come to terms with his disease, then it would provide some context. But that wasn't the whole truth. His addiction was just the accelerant, but the root of it all was far deeper. Maybe he was afraid to say it out loud, even now, or just he didn’t know before now how he would let it out. In his own weakness, again, Ross was the reason she was crying. Again, because of him, Nadine was crying. Unlike last time, he could do something about it.

“That’s..I mean, I thought if I told you it would somehow absolve me of the pain I caused you. I thought if I told you it would be okay, but nothing is okay. Valedictorian did mean something, but it wasn’t the only thing.” Ross had always enjoyed the time spent competing against Nadine. From the moments they shared against each other in debates, on tests for top marks, to even those moments at parties where they were more than just rivals. More than their grades. “I have always admired you. You pushed me to be better and I think I did the same for you. Debates were fun, if not frustrating. But somewhere along that line, I put too much pressure on myself. I was slipping. I thought if I didn’t succeed, if I wasn’t the best, I wouldn’t be anyone worth being proud of. At some point, I lost sight of who I was and focused only on winning and I thought if I took a few pills every now and then, I could devote all of my time and energy to studying, increasing my test scores and being the best, but I know that’s not how it works.”

Ross lowered his head in shame, shaking off the emotions that were coming to the surface and he raised it. He had to face Nadine even if she wasn’t. “When it was announced you won and I didn’t, I..I don’t know, I thought my dreams of making my family proud…making myself proud ended there and I abused the pills. Took other stuff that messed with my brain chemistry. I became erratic and emotionally irrational. I said so many hurtful things to you - things I can’t ever take back or make right. If I could, I would take it all back right now.” His lip quivered and as much as he wanted to leave it there, Ross felt like he had to say one more thing…no, he needed to say one more thing. “You were never nothing, Nadine. You have always been the best of the two of us. The better student. The better test-taker. And the stronger person.”

The more he talked, the more her breathing settled. The more she calmed down. She sat still, her face buried but she was no longer crying. She was listening to his words. When he said he’d take it all back, her hands dropped to her skirt and she glanced up at him. Her make up was hardly flaky because it was waterproof but her eyes carried so much heaviness, so much weight. Nadine was tired. “That’s a lie.” No longer stuttering, she shook her head in protest. “I don’t think you realize how many hours I spent trying to understand things just so I could keep up with you. But not even that, I get an A-minus and my mom is giving that look that I hate so much. You didn’t have to try. Everything came so easy to you. I wanted to be better because I didn’t want you to leave me behind and in the end, you didn’t…” she stopped herself, realizing what she was about to say.

You didn’t want me.

There was heat suddenly coursing through her body. Her cheeks kissed pink as her heart skipped a beat. What was she saying?

As she opened her mouth to backtrack, the bell of Beau’s entrance went off and a small goblin girl came stampeding in, rushing to Nadine’s side. “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY NADIE?!” The next moments happened so fast, like a blink of an eye, that no one who was already in the cafe could process it. Lolly was quick to gather all the beignets on the table, throwing them right in her backpack, making sure to side eye Ross as she did so. Once she pulled Nadie to her feet, she was rushing out the door with her friend in tow. Well, not really. She was pulling Nadie out with her, giving her little to no choice. How dare a stupid boy make her friend cry!

Nadie tried to protest but it was a losing battle.

“Wait… Lol-” They were out of the cafe, the door shutting behind them, and just like that, Nadine was gone.

“What in the great heavenly Buddha was that? Or who was that?” Like a storm, Ross heard an obnoxiously loud, kinda short girl come in, yell something at him, steal all the remaining beignets and take Nadine, leaving him with so many questions. Who was that? Why did she seem to have a problem with Ross? What was Nadine going to say before she was cut off by the tiny stranger? Ross had so many questions that he needed answered.

“Never a dull moment,” Beau deeply sighed, wiping down the counter as he waited for his next customer. He would’ve said something if he had the time but Miss Anderson came in as fast as words could fly. Glancing up from the counter, he muttered to himself, “I knew she could do it,” before raising his voice, grabbing the attention of the gentleman who sat at booth three, his former student, “Mister Takahashi, don’t forget to pay.”

The ever eccentric and unpredictable Doctor Oak led the two ladies, who couldn’t have been any further apart, inside the villa. The technical mansion according to all official dictionaries out there, but calling it one wasn’t accurate, but to those who weren’t in the know of just what exactly this spacious building was, it was fair to assume it was a mansion. From the outside, it certainly had the appearance of one, but going through the large, blue and white oak doors, the outside aesthetic of the manor compared to what was actually inside was surely a culture shock for the two young women.

“What the?” Miki was the first to pipe up.

“Take your time. It’ll certainly take some to adjust to.”

In truth, while the outside of the manor, mansion…villa may have seemed homey and unassuming. Like a regular place of luxury, inside was vastly different. For the three-story building, the inside was like something out of a science fiction fan’s wet dream. Like a utopia of technology inside one building. Tubes that brought in letters flowed from the ground, up to the highest floor, tiny robots flying all over the place, taking each of those letters and absorbing them into their two-foot bodies, automated noises coming immediately afterward. They all went up to the top floor where the vague sight of a giant monitor was seen.

But only slightly.

“Melissa Elliot, Miki Park - this is where I must apologize and deeply regret some things.” Gary Oak stepped forward as he gestured the two girls to follow him. They’d step into the center of the high-tech interior that alerted Miki (and no doubt Melissa) to a sharp sound as the platform beneath their feet had a fast, green light circle around them clockwise and then the platform itself, a circular one that was at least five feet all around, started to float up.

“Whoa! This is rad!” Miki exclaimed excitedly, unable to contain it. She always had been a kid at heart even if her exterior didn’t always show it.

“Yes, it is quite rad! I designed it myself.” Gary also couldn’t help himself. An invention of his own being so well-recepted was the dream of any artist and make no mistake: given what was around them and all that Gary had achieved in just a short few years, he was undoubtedly an artist. “But allow me to continue from before.”

As the platform stopped at the highest floor and the sight of the big screen that could have been partially seen from the ground floor was revealed to both girls, it was evident that the reasons they came here was not what they probably thought. On the screen were various mini-screens of all the regions in the world, monitoring every city and every route, all the various landmarks, geological phenomena, caves and lakes, and the cities and small towns. The various Pokemon Leagues. All were under an intricate system of GPS, infrared, and drones scanning all edges of the world.

“You two both came here with letters. Given the coordinates to come to what used to be Battle Frontier Island for very different reasons. One for strength and a chance to prove yourself and another…” He turned around to face both girls and looked at Melissa. “For means of supporting yourself. And that is all true. I didn’t lie about anything that you were promised. Money and strength are all within grasp, but I did omit a few things from your letters.”

Miki was overwhelmed…No, overwhelmed was just scratching the surface. She didn’t know how she felt or what she felt. The Lava Queen was experiencing a disassociation moment, seeing the big screen and all it contained. She heard Gary speak, but even after he finished, she spent a couple of minutes trying to process it, only to look at Melissa. She didn’t say anything, but she wondered what her longtime rival was thinking about all of this. She didn’t even know what she thought about it and Miki usually knew exactly how she felt about almost every situation in her life.

It was, to be quite frank, a lot to take in.

Hey, so this might suck but I'm going to drop this roleplay. It's a combination of things, but mostly it's just me having come to the realization that I can't balance my current RP load as it stands, so I need to trim some. I'm sorry if this ruins anything but hopefully, you guys can understand. :)
In Edenridge 28 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
TIMESTAMP — Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 || Afternoon
FT — The Milligan Family (Lance Irvine, Siobhan “Ivy” Milligan, Jessie James “Bluejay” Milligan & Bronagh “Bron” Milligan)
Small appearance from Cameron Hyde



Cameron held a tight grip on the steering wheel of his taxi cab and the other holding onto Jesse James Milligan’s thigh. Climbing the hill towards Scott Street, Hyde had to push down every iota of anger and rage that was burning within him like a forest wildfire. He hated Scott Street and the power that it held over this town. As the gates to a proclaimed utopia opened before him, the Devil’s cold blue eyes peered forward at its inhabitants as they wandered what he could’ve sworn were marble-paved driveways.. Each more spoiled and more detestable than the last.

Belmonte, Costigan, Grimm, Cortez. Every new house forced Cameron’s to grab a little tighter, a new vein pulsating with pure unadulterated fury, hidden beautifully behind his mask of sanity. Cameron’s gaze drifted to his passenger seat and the stunning strawberry blonde that sat in it, smiling to herself in a silent bask of what he could only assume was love. JJ had wanted him for years and in this moment of quiet bliss, she thought she had him. The truth was far less shiny, she didn’t have him, he had her, right where he wanted her. She was his.

They had intended to spend the morning out on Hyde’s boat, eating breakfast out on the water but it had swiftly become apparent that the only thing they really desired to eat was each other. Cameron had danced this dance before and he had learned. To make sure that his goals were attained with JJ, he had to give just as much as he took. That was fine, faking it was easy. He knew that in her mind, they had made love, it was more than just sex. Cameron knew better, it was always, any time, just sex. Love didn’t exist beyond a notion that balanced on the wall of delusion.

His hand slowly caressed up Blue’s arm until it reached the base and back of her neck, he held it there as his car rolled forward towards the cul-de-sac at the end of the damned street. He looked onwards towards a swaying figure walking ahead, hips dynamite in denim and flowing blonde locks. Any other time; Hyde would call her prey.

When Cameron's unique choice of vehicle’s pulled up in front of her driveway, JJ was almost sad that her time with him was coming to an end. She had been in such a state of bliss since last night. Spending it with him in his family’s business, on the boat, just enjoying food and having him all to herself, she couldn’t have been happier. All her life she had lusted after Cameron Hyde. For as long as she could remember, he alluded her for some reason or another. Whether it was her being with Angel, who wasn’t a bad person in the slightest. She was quite content with him for as long as they had been together, but her heart - a large part of it that she closed off from Angel - had always belonged to the man that drove the taxi cab.

And if she was being honest with herself? As much as she liked Angel. As much as Jessie James Milligan had liked all other men she thought could make up for the absence of him, nobody could ever measure up to how fast Cameron Hyde got her heart beating. The excitement of knowing she was his and he was hers and the rush of adrenaline in how he touched her. A gentle yet aggressive animal that pushed the boundaries with her but never went too far. That’s what she loved about this man -- her man -- so much.

When she settled in place, JJ nearly had a seizure-like fit when she saw the car in the driveway. Instinctively, she whispered, “Oh no not again…” It was his car. The only person who would have such an outdated car that was that flashy. At the same time, she saw her sister come down the driveway and she sighed heavily and quite noticeably, too. Immediately she turned to her man beside her. “Baby…I’m sorry. Thank you for driving me home. There’s…no doubt I’m in for a long afternoon.” How did one even explain how complex her family drama was in such a short amount of time? “I’ll call you later. Or maybe you can if you want? I don’t know--” As Jessie tried her best to explain this, she looked over at her goldilocks of a sister who seemed quite urgent in how she was looking back and she just sighed out again. Without hesitation, JJ gave Cameron a kiss. A deep one too. If she was going to dive headfirst into whatever shit was waiting for her inside her home, she needed this as much as she knew he wanted it.

Cameron took heed of JJ’s hushed whispers. She was something just before disturbed. The car in the drive, a classic Chevy Stingray had sent her someplace that wasn’t with him. He didn’t like that, not one bit. As Jessie kissed him, his blue eyes locked onto the blonde standing next to the car. That must be Bronagh, JJ’s younger sister. He remembered her from when they were in high school, she really filled out well and the way she was dressed, on his side of town what she was calling fashion, they would call a night walker. Hyde feigned joy as he broke the kiss and gently caressed Blue’s soft lips. “I’ll call you, seems like you’ve got some family stuff to deal with.” He planted a firmer kiss on her forehead and released her neck from his grasp. “Have your phone ready at seven. I’ll call then.”

Bronagh watched as the taxi reversed back out of their drive and pulled away down Scott Street. With her arms folded under her bust, she couldn’t help but smile as her smitten older sister watched a handsome boy pull away. “He’s a bit delicious, Blue. I love freckles. You did a good with that one.” Her smile soon faded and her green eyes shuttered closed at the sound of a salacious electric guitar riff screaming from inside the Milligan household. On any other street, in any other place, someone would file a noise complaint and the police would be called. Not here, not Scott Street.

Bron took a step forward and hugged her older sister tightly. “Hey you.” She missed JJ a tremendous amount, with this being the first time the Milligan sisters had been together in months. Holding onto Jessie tightly, the bombshell couldn’t help but sigh into her neck. “You ready to do this?”

JJ returned her baby sister’s hug, embracing her with supportive arms. Despite what was happening inside and what she heard from the distance they were at, JJ missed Bron so much. With how much college took out of her time, she rarely was able to spend as much time as she wanted to with her baby sister. In those few times she came home, it was never enough time to play full catch up, so she wanted to savor this hug with her sister. After a moment of letting Bron get it out, she made Bron look at her. “Chin up, buttercup. We need to look strong before we go inside. You and I both know if they smell any weakness, we’ve already lost.” Holding Bron by the shoulders, she nodded. “Shake it off. One, two, three--” Three times, JJ relaxed her shoulders with Bron, shaking off whatever hints of weakness off of her face. United they were strong and that’s all the two people inside would see.

Bron took a hold of her elder sister's hand and absorbed it into hers. No matter what was about to be thrown at them, they would face it together, like they always did. Though Bronagh had quite the solid idea of what actually did wait for them on the opposite side of the old oak door. When she first started climbing Hanging Hill, she could hear the noise. When she got towards the end of the street, she saw the car. Both were indicators of one simple fact;

Daddy was home.

The nervousness that Bron and JJ were feeling was not to be confused with fear. Both girls loved their father and knew he loved them. He treated the sisters well, he offered them unconditional support and would do anything for them. He was a good dad. The problem was that he had a power over their mother, it was like a love potion. Whenever he breezed into town after opening and running another restaurant, Ivy would fall head over heels in love with him again until he fucked up. Hell, they even divorced because they found out he had an entire other family elsewhere. Yet even that wasn’t enough to turn their Mom off.

“Let’s go.”

Hand-in-hand, the Sister’s Milligan stepped through the old oak door of their childhood home. Strong and stubborn, usually like their own mother, one thing JJ had noticed almost immediately after opening that door. Those familiar guitar riffs, the symphony of laughter from both of them after each limited pause, the singing-along with David Lee Roth’s legendary voice, it had been an immediate cause for concern as what JJ feared was long gone. What was actually happening was far worse than she thought.

And it was even worse when she had to force both herself and Bron to drag their feet into the kitchen where the sight of their mother dancing with their father with literally no care in the world was going to be their real test. It pained her to a point where she could see it in their mother’s face. The way she smiled, moved, and looked at daddy, she was happy. Like none of what happened before was even a thought. That ignorance-is-bliss type of joy was infectious and JJ almost wanted to not do anything, but then she could feel Bron’s hand squeeze hers and it reminded her of when this hurricane ended. When paradise was lost, Siobhan Milligan was left with the wound wide open as if it was that first day when her heart was crushed.

If anything, it was on her two daughters to reality check it.

Jessie cleared her throat and in the middle of an awkward twirl, Ivy screamed, “Bronagh! Jessie James! You’re hereeee!”She kept swaying her hips along with the song, a smile so infectious that anyone with a frown would turn it upside down. “...Chef, look who’s here?!” Ivy exclaimed, nudging Lance’s arm excitedly.

Turning on his heel, decked out in his signature dirty blue Levi jeans and a Bon Jovi t-shirt, Lance Irvine’s smile widened even further as he drank in the sight of two sets of big green eyes staring back at him, his two daughters, Bronagh and Jessie. The truth of the matter was that despite what people might think about Lance and he never did care about that anyway, he loved his girls. He truly did. He would give his life for them and has on more than one occasion but he also knew their relationship was complicated and that was down to him and his behaviour. Though he truly hoped that they still loved him like he did them.

Lance was not an Edenite by nature. He had been born on the shores of Cape Cod. He grew up surfing, listening to rock music and making sandwiches in his family's beachfront snack shack. It was there where he first honed his love of cooking. It was there that a sexy redhead with big green eyes and a baby on her shoulder walked in looking for a bite. That was Ivy with JJ and Lance was smitten instantly. Hell, if he followed her to Edenridge and started working in restaurants in Pinehurst before he began travelling and working others. As his stock as a chef grew, Lance found himself giving in to his lesser instincts. Jessie and Bronagh were not his only kids. Ivy was not his only family. Yet that didn’t matter right now, what mattered was his girls.

“Fucking A!”Chef exclaimed with a clap as he approached both of his children and pulled them both into a three way hug. “My badass little girls.” He pressed soft, gentle kisses to the side of each of the blonde bombshells heads. Inching back slightly, Lance placed a hand on each of their cheeks. “Prettier every day, the both of you.” He swiftly spun away from his daughters to hurry to the sizzling pan behind the kitchen island. “Smell that girls? Smells like an awesome brunch.”

Before either JJ or Bron could do anything to stop the whirlwind of their father’s hug and kisses (not that either of them would want to), Jessie tried to remain strong but two things were at play. Her dad, the man who might not be her biological father but was every bit the man she thought of when she pictured her father, not some guy who didn’t stick around after knocking her mom up. And the other thing that made her will waver just for a moment was the smell of his cooking. By God, he was the best cook ever. Nobody in Edenridge, or all of Massachusetts for that matter, compared.

“Smells great, dad!” Jessie commented. She couldn't’ tell for certain what it was, but she smelled something familiar that she couldn’t put her finger on.

“I know!” Lance responded confidently as he reached into a nearby jar and pulled out a pinch of fine red flakes, to spread across the contents of his pan. He sucked the residual powder off of his thumb before tossing his hand towel over his shoulder, a signature move form the chef. “I didn’t want to be too fancy for my first meal back so, Bronny can you grab four plates and put them on the island please?”

Bronagh would’ve rolled her eyes if she didn’t love her dad so much. He wasn’t a bad man, despite “his crimes” but she knew he was toxic for her mother. She just couldn’t say no to Lance. Even with that in mind, some of Bron’s most cherished childhood memories were in this very kitchen, cooking with her father and her sister, their mother watching gleefully with the big green eyes she shared with her daughters. “Yes Chef!” She tossed her jacket onto a nearby chair and reached into the drawers to grab some dining plates as requested.

“Thank you Chef!” Lance called back with a big grin. He moved over towards the sink where Ivy stood and reached around her, bringing their bodies close, skin grazing. He rested on hand on her waist as kissed the side of her cheek before pulling away, having grabbed the tongs he required. “So we’re having a pan seared mahi mahi topped with a tomato and olive tapenade, Jess, sweet child o mine, can you just go over to that bowl there and mix that up nice and good for me? Ingredients are already inside.” He moved his hand towards the speaker which was blaring out the heavy rock music that he adored so much. “And while your at it you can tell me and Mom about that cat that just dropped you off.”

As JJ started to mix the bowl, per the request of the head chef, she lost her train of motion, losing almost all focus when he brought up Cameron. She gasped and looked at both of them. “Huh? Sorry, what did you say?”

Ivy giggled, eying Lance lovingly and turned her attention to her daughter. “We saw the Taxi Cab, baby blue. We’re just curious. And maybe your father is more so than I am, but still! I haven’t seen you look so…gushy like a gusher in a long time.” Ivy could see it even if Jessie didn’t say it.

And JJ knew it too.

“His name’s Cameron,” she admitted, looking down at the bowl, making sure the tapenade was mixed to perfection. Immediately as she thought about how much she wanted to tell them, she wondered just what would be appropriate. If it was just her and Bronagh, she could be as explicit as she wanted because Bron was always the same way whenever she’d tell her about her and Tommy Hartmann. “I’ve been seeing him for a while now. Mostly in letters.”

“Letters? Is that like a new lingo you kids have for text messages or something?” Ivy asked, feeling so out of the loop. She tried to keep herself updated because lord knows the other older person in the kitchen couldn’t even fathom some of the modern slang the kids use.

JJ shook her head. “No. Like actual letters. Physical, pen-to-paper letters.He doesn’t have any social media, so that’s the only way we could communicate.” Jessie James Milligan was usually one to keep a strong front, but any time she found herself talking about Cameron, as Lamby had seen yesterday, the love she had for him was written on her face. She couldn’t hide that.

“Pen to paper? What is he like, sixty five?” Lance was the last person to talk to anyone about being old fashioned or outdated. He drove a car from the 70’s, dressed like it was the 80’s and refused to listen to any music post 2001. The Michelin chef glanced over at his ex wife’s big green eyes and knew that if he continued on with tearing apart his daughters new love, he would be in for an earful. “As long as he treats you right…” The large blonde man moved over to his oldest child and kissed her forehead, taking the bowl of tapenade from her and backing away next to his pan. “And you're happy that’s all we care about. Thank you Chef!”

After resting four plates on the kitchen island, Bron paused as her sister's words reverberated in her mind. “Waitwaitwait.” The bombshell rested her palms down and turned to look at Jessie. “Cameron? As in Cameron Hyde? Boy that you spent most of your childhood daydreaming about? I’m pretty sure if we check the attic, we’ll find your old textbooks with Jessica James Hyde written on there.”

“Don’t mock your sister, B-Mills” Lance interjected as he began to place the juicy pieces of fish onto the plates. “What about you?” He asked, taking a large spoon and spreading the beautiful mixture of tomato, olives and chilli into the Mahi Mahi fillets. “Are you still dating the Power Ranger from Pinehurst?” After finishing playing, he clapped his hands together and bowed. “Family up, take your seats ladies and chow down like it’s Chinatown.”

Bronagh took her seat as her father had requested, the smell of his latest treat for them drifting through her nose and into her brain. Too many people often said there was very little good to say about Lance Irvine but one thing that nobody could argue was that he was a damn fine chef. “Thank you Chef.” She smiled as she picked up the cutlery she had lovingly placed besides the food. “And yes Dad I’m still dating Tommy, amongst other people but he’s my guy.”

Ivy could just hear it now. Lance was one of the most old fashioned people she knew, so before he would pipe up on it, Ivy beat him to it. “I think it’s wonderful you two have such trust in each other, Bronagh! It’s a beautiful thing! To be able to still love each other and date other people. You know, back when I was your age, my mother would have had a cow if I was dating the wrong person. And don’t even get me started on what daddy would say. Had to convince him that Chef was more than his denim was.” She dug into the delicious and quite fragrant Mahi Mahi, looking at her first and only husband. “Thank you Chef! It’s so divine! The tapenade is so good. Really brings out the fish’s natural flavor. It’s like I’m right by the sea.” Ivy was transported to Cape Cod, where she and Lance had spent many days. Back in those happier days, when things were perfect between them. If only it had been like that still.

Lance smiled as he watched his first family tuck into the meal he had prepared for them. He had made too many mistakes to count in his life, especially when it came to Ivy and the girls. He hoped, albeit secretly, that by taking this new job that he could right some of those wrongs. There was a new hotel opening up in Edenridge, a fancy place by all accounts and the Mayor wanted to make sure that the finest and most deep-pocketed clientele were the main patrons. Which was why he had asked if Lance would come and be head chef of the hotel's restaurant. Lance of course said yes but only on the condition that he could name the place. Which he rightly did when he named it; the Ivy.

“I love you girls. Now dig in before it gets cold.”

Important question all - if the group hears a scream, would they stop or keep going?

Knowing Damian like I do, he'll definitely be spooked about it. And by extension, so will Frimon because he imitates what Damian does. But probably unlike most (or maybe like em who knows), he'll probably be conflicted about wanting to go investigate.
TIMESTAMP — Flashback (December of 2019) || After Back to the Beginning
Trigger Warnings — Mentions of suicide, memories of child abuse, violence
FT.Mikhial Zima & Ivan Vladinov Zima



Hell never looked so normal.

When Mika originally agreed to have lunch with his father, he had a million scenarios run through his head to the point where he created his own that weren’t even close to what was realistically possible. Scenarios of a what-if scenario, if you will. A life when he was never sent away - when he and his sisters were never sent to live in Edenridge. A life when his brother wasn’t an asshole nor where his parents ever split up.

That life was something that Mika thought about a lot, but especially as of late. Being back in the old house brought a lot of those old memories and this wasn’t the property in Brighton Beach. The buildings that were built like a fortress and looked like an upper east side condo. No, the house he was at was the house where everything bad in the first thirteen years of his life happened.

As he sat as tense and restless on the same couch that he had those rare fond memories with his mother and Uncle Sergei, just being a kid as much as he could, Mika also couldn’t help but be reminded of the other memories associated with this couch. And this house. It felt so empty with nobody in it. His mom’s light, the twins’ energy - there was something very ominous about the mansion he once called home.

It was strange. Being back here after almost four years, Mika thought by stepping back into it he would feel the same dread and forlornness that he was overtaken by that day he and his sisters were put on a car ride by Sergei and were driven to their destinations. From the time Sergei let him in, leaving himself so the two of them could talk and left Mika alone with Ivan who hadn’t made himself known yet. Mika spent several minutes in the eerie quiet. As he did, one thing became clear and it was that he did not feel as he once did. He was still so full of ire for his father but it wasn’t the raging storm he had been hoarding and letting fester inside him. It was subdued, under control, and mild.

Did it have anything to do with the pictures still remaining in view? The giant portrait of the family when they were all still happy that was staring back at him as he leaned back into the cushion? Maybe it was his recent losses that took some of the anger away and replaced it with a numb emptiness. Danny was his light for the few years that Mika knew him and Coach O’Hara made Mika feel like he was accepted into a family he was part of even though he wasn’t really. And then there was Cece, the only person after Veronika that Mika felt something true for, yet he couldn’t bring himself to let her know this part of his life. Not about who his family was. Not about where he came from. Not even about the first love of his life.

V was his childhood love (or puppy love to some people). If she were still alive to this day, there was no doubt in his mind that he would have married her. The life they spent so many years in their formative years. But she wasn’t.

And now he has lost two people that he loved dearly - two people that were so similar in the way they spoke and made their ways into Mika’s heart. He lost them through means that were out of his control. One to suicide and the other to Charlie Decker, someone Mika seldom had anything to do with.

That’s probably why his anger, especially considering where he was, had been consumed by an overwhelming grief that he had to keep bottled up.

“Deepest apologies for that, Mikhail. I hope you weren’t too bored waiting on me.” Ivan made himself present. He held his phone in his hand and pocketed it in his back pocket. Mika looked his way and saw a casually dressed man. He wore a turtleneck that was dark in color, jeans that looked expensive, and his blonde hair combed to perfection (as was the way of Ivan’s style). Always liked to appear like he was the most approachable man in the world. “As you know, work waits for nobody.”

Yeah, Mika remembered.

He watched as his father claimed the recliner chair across from him. His father always liked to sit where he could see everyone else. Where he sat, he was directly behind the family portrait. The sounds of the fire dancing, sparks flying in the immediate area of the fireplace provided an ambiance that only Ivan managed to rob any beauty of. He always had that way about him and Mika hated him for it. But he had to shrug that off as much as he could.

“It’s fine,” Mika fibbed, but feigned a smile, absentmindedly gesturing towards the photos. ”You left all the photos up. Even the ones from long ago.” Mika gestured to the left where the fireplace was. On top of it were Christmas decorations but also the photos of them.

Ivan smiled, following his son’s gaze. “Of course. Why would I take them down?” He remarked, mildly offended. “My family may not live here anymore…for reasons I’m sure you’re aware of. I cherish my family all the same.”

Bullshit. You only cherish us now because your actions drove us away. That was something Mika wanted to say, but he wasn’t trying to make this into a fight. If that happened, he knew, at some point, Ivan would cause it. He always knew how to ruin something civil. “Speaking of…What’s Viktor doing these days?” Mika felt the venom on his tongue as soon as he uttered his big brother’s name. Just the thought of Ivan’s perfect son, the son he wished Mika was, was poisoning all of the progress he knew he made in the three years, but he needed to give this a shot. And as damning as it was to his own well-being, with what happened with Hyde, Mika couldn’t help himself but be curious.

And as soon as he did ask, Mika knew that it was something of a sore topic for Ivan. His rather pleasant demeanor fell down some. Mika saw his father’s eyes grow dark like before he was about to say something that would for sure start a fight. As Ivan closed them, gripping both armrests of his chair for a brief moment, Ivan took in a deep breath. “Your brother…he is overseas. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but seeing as how you’re a man now and clearly capable of understanding the ugly truths that put a roof over your head, here it is: Viktor runs operations for the organization in London. He’s quite efficient. The clear successor when I retire.”

Mika didn’t know what to expect. He was never privileged enough to know the inner-workings of the business and to this day he never willingly asked about it, but hearing Ivan speak so openly about it was a shock. Where was the monster who terrorized him? Who beat him? Who made him feel like he was less than nothing? This wasn’t the Ivan Vladinov Zima that Mika called father. This was a man, if he didn’t know it any better, was treating Mika as an equal.

“I see. And…has he asked about how any of us are doing? Katie? Stacy? Mom?” Me? Mika hated he wanted to know if his brother even cared, but he couldn't take it back now.

Ivan hummed thoughtfully, thinking about his next words, seemingly in a careful manner. “Mikhail, do you think of your brother as some kind of monster?” Ivan asked bluntly. “I acknowledge that he was not the best to you growing up. Perhaps I am to blame for that. Perhaps you are--”

And there he is. “I never said--” Ivan raised his hand up and Mika flinched. Fuck, the trauma was coming back.

“Let me finish, son. Viktor never thought of you as less than himself. I admit, I made many mistakes when raising you. Your mother often reminded me of them and I was either too prideful or too stuck in my ways to listen. When she left me, that is when she heard about the shooting in Edenridge, not only did she fear that her dear older brother John was in trouble, but she feared the worst for you and your sister. And your brother had a similar dilemma with himself. Viktor wanted to drop everything too, but--”

“But what?” Before Mika could stop himself, he cut Ivan off. Again.

“Your mother insisted he stay in London. She would call him if anything happened and only then would he fly out.” Ivan leaned forward, his crossed leg dropping to the ground. “Your brother loves you, Mikhail. Like me, he is full of regrets about both how he treated you and how things were left between you two. I…know that you met another brother of yours. Cameron Hyde, is it?”

Of course he knew about that. Mika was, after all, sent to live with The Gonzalez. Ley was the one that Hyde nearly killed. So it stood to reason that Ivan knew about the existence of Hyde. He probably was aware of Anya, too. “I don’t want to talk about him.” Mika started to tremble inside. As much as he tried to hide it, there was no denying that it was a touchy subject for him. The terror that Hyde struck into Mika and the ragehe felt towards him was only rivaled by that very dread.

And Ivan saw it right away, but he didn’t press. “Of course.”

Truth was, Ivan knew a lot of things about Edenridge, more than Mikhial would ever know. He knew all the big players from the Fallen Angels to the line of connections the Serpents had. Ivan was well invested in Edenridge, but he also knew the kind of man that his second oldest son grew up to be. He did what he could and asked a favor of a close friend of his to keep an eye on Cameron Hyde. He didn’t know if it would be enough and understood the position that he put Charlie Taylor in, but that was something he had to risk. Perhaps on some level, Ivan felt remorse for some of the choices he made in life. April McMahon and Taisiya Kamensky were among two regrets he held deep in his heart.

As he thought about those two, he knew that April was around somewhere, but all of the sources he had that kept tabs on his family in Edenridge and Pinehurst, of them all within various gangs, organizations, and others that would be in the position to keep tabs, none could account for Taisiya even years after he spent an amazing few hours with her. It troubled Ivan to the degree that it led to part of the reason his wife could not handle staying with him any longer. To be honest, Ivan had not been the same since his children were sent away and that so clearly ate away at his soul.

But looking at Mikhail right now, as he sat across from him, so clearly disturbed by the sheer mention of his half-brother, Ivan could feel himself half-smiling. It was small and barely noticeable, especially for his son who had other things on his mind (and it showed on his face), the one thing Ivan knew he had a chance to do was, at the very least, try to make amends. “Mikhial.”

He came out of the daze that forced him to flashback to the less-than-cheery times in 2017 when Hyde had gone down a rabbit hole of crazy that left a lasting impression on him, his father’s voice had brought him out and he gave Ivan his semi-divided attention. “Yeah?” He responded with too much suspicion that there was no way Ivan wouldn’t pick up on it.

He chuckled but ignored the overwhelming air of reservation surrounding his son’s face. “If I promise to not bring him up again, would you do your father one favor and answer me a question. Truthfully and as honestly as you can.”

Okay, what was he up to? There was no way his monster of a father would even ask such a thing if it wasn’t going to come with a price. A favor of sorts that he’ll collect in a few years. Of course, that was the first thing that went through his mind, but on the off chance that Ivan had a no-strings-attached reasoning, then what harm could it do? As he shrugged, Mika said, “Fine. What’s your question?” He shifted in his seat. His hear was beating too fast for his own comfort. He was leaning forward but only slightly.

“I’m aware I was never the best father. I know you wished you had someone like Reynoldo Gonzalez, or even John O’Hara--”

“--How did you know about--”

Ivan laughed. “Mikhail. Don’t play me like an idiot. I am not one and you know that better than anyone. I don’t blame you for wanting to know your mother’s side of the family. And I do weep for David O’Hara’s death. I know how it pained your mother that she could not be at her brother’s side during that…unfortunate time in his life.”

Couldn’t? Or did you forbid her? Mika remembered that time. “Ivan, I won’t treat you like an idiot if you do the same for me.” Mika felt it. He felt that familiar rage starting to build for his father. It was held behind a wall that was created when Ivan did not bring up the bad times or showed shades of his old self, but a snake could only hide its true skin for so long before it had to shed its garden variety into a Black Mamba coat and Ivan Zima was far worse than a Black Mamba. “Just..ask your question!” He almost snapped but kept his voice as low as he could, but at the state he was in currently, it was becoming difficult to manage.

“When Sergei told you I wanted to have this meeting, you had a day to think about it. You could have left and gone back to Edenridge last night.” Ivan kept his cold blue eyes on his son, the thing they both shared. “I am no fool and I am also not oblivious to the…conflicting emotions you hold for me nor do I or will I blame you for them. I was cruel to you. VIktor was cruel to you. I raised him to be modeled after me. To be better than me. Sometimes Viktor showed too much initiative. And during a time where I was hoping you’d both would see what I was really trying to--”

As the pot of rage started to boil, it slipped through the cracks of Mika’s face and he stood up. He wanted to scream. He wanted to walk right up to Ivan and punch him. He almost did and in his eyes, past the watery eyes that had developed by just listening to what Ivan decided to bring up, which was a lot more than just Ivan. The past few months have been weighing heavily on Mika’s heart almost to the point where anything would set him over the edge.

His fists were balled up and he almost raised thim at ivan, but he stopped himself. “Ask. Your. Question. Mika gritted his teeth after calmly, yet eerily, speaking. This was the moment where Ivan had to choose between wanting to show Mika he really changed or validating what Honey Badger really wanted to do and that was to unload years of repressed ire on his father’s face.

Ivan sat and could only see his son with a sad, disappointed expression on his face. To think he was at his final point of doing something he’d regret or being better than Ivan ever gave him credit for. “Why did you decide to come here? You had such a terrible time in this house and in our apartment in Brooklyn. I was abusive to you. Viktor was abusive to you. I cheated on your mother more times than I can count on my hands. Am I proud of it? No, but I don’t regret it--”

Mika took a step forward. “You don’t regret it?! So my mother meant nothing to you then!? Anastasia and Katya meant nothing to you!?” Another step forward led into another and then another. Eventually, as Mika was standing…hovering over an unphased Ivan, his right hand gripped the man’s dark purple dress shirt while his other remained a balled cannon, waiting to be launched. “Our…family meant nothing to you!?” His voice cracked, rage, confusion, and a longing for a father that he wouldn’t know until Big Rey Gonzalez and Coach of the Edenridge Celtics, John O’Hara showed what a real father did. Ivan Zima was no man and no father.

Ivan Zima was scum.

And he was smiling at his son. “I see you gained the ability to finally show how you feel. That’s good. Finally, a real man stands in front of me--”

Before Mika could think about it. Before Ivan knew what was coming, all of the rage Mika had been repressing since he was thirteen was unleashed into Ivan’s smug face. One single left hook that would make Creed proud smashed into Ivan’s face, forcing the older man out of his seat. His body twitched and he was on his side, laughing in a way that brought Mika back to those early years.

Every positive thing in his life, every step he made to go forward in his life, forget about what Ivan Zima did to him. With just a laugh, it brought Mika back to the beginning. Back to the start of his downfall. First it was Veronika’s suicide that set so many things into a manic cycle of uncontrollable dominos that shaped his life from the age of thirteen to this moment with his father’s blood on his hands. The man that gave birth to the Devil himself and never apologized or took responsibility for the things he put into motion.

It was all for nothing. Meeting Natalia at that party and forming a close friendship with her. Meeting Cece a year later at David’s grave. Basketball and Danny. Boa and Danny Boaz. The Gonzalez family -- his family. Everyone he met that helped him see there was more to life than just where he came from and the life that he would live if he stayed in it. Every single person who made him feel like a normal life was possible - it all was reduced to a single sound that erased all of that progress.

“Why…Why do you always do this?” Mika spoke, breaking through the pain he felt, the overwhelming anguish and conflicting emotions he had for the man who was at his mercy. A battle was being waged inside Mika. The fight of Mikhail Zima, the son of Ivan Zima and Mikhail Zima, the abused, tortured son of Ivan Zima that loathed the man with everything he could spare. “Tell me WHY!! Mika screamed as his left foot dug itself into his stomach, everything in him red hot like the fire inside him that was spreading. The man who he refused to ever call father coughed up blood. “You had everything! You didn’t have to be like this! You didn’t have to…” Send us away.

That was the root of everything. He hated his childhood. He hated VIktor. He hated his father for what he did, but deep down, what he hated the most about everything that happened, was the fact that Ivan sent him and his sisters away. He broke up the family.

As Ivan gathered himself, not laying a hand on his son, but just sitting up. He grunted and coughed more droplets of blood, the taste of metal and iron in his mouth. He smiled a crimson grin. “You continue to surprise me, Mikhail. I knew you held hatred in your heart and knew it would eventually happen, but to think you’d strike your own father. Well, I’m impressed.” He knew it was only a matter of time before his son struck again. “You ask why? Why what? Why did I sleep with those rather flexible blondes that gave birth to two kids that I’ve never met? Or are you talking about sending the children I actually gave any damn about, away from the only home they knew to save their lives because of the actions of a truly foolish boy?” He laughed again, his expression turning almost smug as he kept those blue eyes on the true spawn of his seed. “ Be more specific, Mikhail. What do you wish for me to confess to you? You who are responsible for your own life, maybe you could help an old man out.”

“I hate you…”

Ivan faked an “ah” moment as he clapped despite the pain he was in everywhere ribcage and upward. “That’s such an original and riveting confession, Mikhail. Tell me, is that what this is about? Sergei could have told me that much!” Through grits and pain, Ivan forced himself up to his feet. “Let’s unpack everything, shall we? Say what you really mean.” His one arm that was free gestured to his son to indulge him. “I know you hate me. I’ve known since before you knew. It was the way you always looked at me. That same look that always managed to do everything I said, despite all I put him through. So that can’t be the only thing that plagues your mind. What else is there, Mikhail? You asked me to be honest with you and I was. So let your father ask the same of you: what is on your mind?”

Mika was frozen. He was as paralyzed as any man…no, he wasn’t a man. No, he most certainly wasn’t a man. He didn’t feel like one. Ivan had sapped all potential of him keeping the confidence he had when he walked in when he showed his true colors. Mika was physically in the present, but mentally, he was the scared twelve-year-old kid who had just lost his best friend and Ivan was his usual tough love self first, forcing him to stop crying. Told him to man up. Told him that there was no use crying for the dead when there were more important people still alive.

He was there and he wanted to leave so badly. So why did he hold such a grudge for Ivan when he was sent away? He wanted to be away from his father so bad, yet the anger and contempt grew and festered for his father. “I..I--”

“For the love of God! Mikhail, you need to get a hold of your emotions and just…” Ivan, in a frustrated state, gave karma to Mika as his left hand landed on his son’s nose, causing him to stagger back and lose his balance over the coffee table that was in the middle of the foyer. And in a simultaneous motion, Ivan fell back to the couch behind him. “Goddamn it. Don’t you see, I’m trying to make you address everything that has been lingering with you, Mikhail. I know I fucked up raising you, Viktor, and your sisters. I know I’m not the father you wanted or, quite frankly, deserve. I know I’m not John O’Hara or Reynoldo Gonzalez. Hell, Sergei was a better father to you kids than I ever was. He sure as hell acted as a better husband surrogate for Mary than I could ever provide. I’m not anyone who deserves to be called father or husband. And that’s why you need to unleash it all.” For better or worse, there was no denying that they were father and son. Stubborn, set in their ways, and refusing to address what they’re feeling.

Mika was staring at the ceiling, admiring the fan that spun and spun around. He tried to mute his father’s voice into white noise, but no matter how desperate he was to make that a reality, he couldn’t and he listened to Ivan. For the first time, without the excessive boiling rage within him refusing to let his father’s words really sink in, he heard him. For the first time in so many years, he heard Ivan Zima. The worst part about it all, which burned and tasted way worse than the metallic aroma the blood in his nose gave off, Ivan was right.

Ivan was right about it all.

It wasn’t only the fact that he was right that Mika needed to unburden himself about everything he had been burying inside for so many years. It was what he had told himself since he was shipped off to live with the Gonzlez’s. It was the lasting impression Ivan and VIktor left on him. It was the damage that closed him off and all of the repressed thoughts of being told he wasn’t good enough. Being told he wasn’t allowed to feel anything but the boiling anger that men on his father’s side of the family seemed to thrive in, yet Mika hated it.

He absolutely hated it.

Ivan, Cameron, and VIktor -- they were the same. The damage done to Mika wasn’t ever going to get better. The only times he ever felt like that he had a chance of being better was when he was with Cece and when he had the guidance of Coach and the boys on the team, but since the shooting, that’s been taken away from him. The lies that he kept from his uncle and the recurring habit of his to always retreat into the circle that a scared and angry thirteen-year-old boy lived.

Mika was no man. No man at all.

As he stood up, he did so at a crossroads. Face his demons right here, right now, address them with his father, or refuse it and go back to Edenridge as fast as he could drive back. It took a minute, but Mika was out of his childhood home. He didn’t say a word to Ivan, despite all of the things his father yelled at him. Saying he was a coward. Saying he was no man. Mika left and he drove as fast as he could out of that cursed home. In his heart, he knew his father was right.

Secrets. Lies. Refusal to face his demons head-on. He was no better than Ivan was.

A monster and his heir. How fitting.

TIMESTAMP — Afternoon, Tuesday, July 21st, 2021 || After Chase the Feeling & Charlie the Raven
FT. — Dreamchasers (Mordechai Boaz, Poppy James, and Jade Taylor))



Jade was back at Adora’s home, sitting on the couch, taking in the mid-afternoon rays from the sun that peeked through the window. After her rather enlightening and equally productive healing journey in the fields with Key, who was sitting next to her. They both had an exhausting, yet momentous morning, so they were enjoying the relaxing moment with each other. Jade found herself in a crossroads state of mind. She was at a fork where she was trying to figure out what the best course of action might be for her.

On one end was what her brain was telling her to do, the logical and most neutral decision of them all. To not do anything sudden. In the back of her mind, Jade didn’t want to leave Blue Hill so suddenly because that wouldn’t do anyone any good. She had dipped for so long without giving any word to her family and friends. And with her new friends, she definitely didn’t want to leave that bad impression that after being there for all of them for a majority of the past twenty-four hours, she would just dip again.

But then there was the other end where her heart was gravitating towards something that Key spoke about. How she shouldn’t let that person who meant so much to her, almost more than life itself, go. Which was funny as she thought about it more. Life to her was like a chosen angel whose wings were clipped. They could only look up at the malevolent sky, knowing Heaven was up there but without her divine wings, she couldn’t go anywhere but adjust to what her state was now.

That was Willow Jade Taylor’s life for nearly two years and it might’ve been her life had she not decided to take a step and call Poppy yesterday. But the truth of the matter was that she had more than just a moment of being tired of isolating. Anya was at the forefront of a lot of the progress she made before this journey to find Tena even began. Anya, her Pancake, helped her realize a lot about herself and how she needed to act on life itself. This was reinforced by the wise man sitting next to her. Of course, a lot about what happened yesterday was also accelerated by Cameron Hyde. That in itself was terrifying for Jade.

Maybe now more than ever, she couldn’t let her mind do anything for her. It had worked against her for so long. It put her into a daze of overthinking, depression, and using any and all poison to numb what hurt her. Jade had closed her heart for so long, but Anya was the one person to break down the walls. And now, with the magic that was Blue Hill, it was open for the first time in nearly six years.

There was a moment where Jade had mentally decided on what to do. Right as she was about to express this new revelation to Key, she heard a sound from the front entrance of the house. Momentarily, the blonde peeked her eyes and saw Poppy. Something she immediately had noticed aside from her glistening cheeks and her eyes was a rare sight even rarer than a drama-free week in Edenrdige. For as long as she could remember, long before Charlie’s death caused a permanant rift in the town and their quartet, was a smile on the ghostly face of her soul sister that she swore lit up the room and cleared it up of any and all negative energy.

She nudged Key in the shoulder to take notice. “Hey there Pops!” Jade stood up, greeting the brunette with a smile of her own. “Wanna fill us in?” Jade didn’t want to mince words. It wasn’t every day she got to see her best friend look this centered. She needed the deets! Her groundbreaking decision could wait.

Mordechai looked up when Jade nudged him and found a smile reaching his face as well. Poppy’s smile didn’t hide her tears or the tracks they’d made on her face but it certainly made it seem as though it was a good thing those tears were there. He knew from his own healings that tears can be an amazing cleanser for a wounded soul. When you carry so much darkness around inside you for so long, there are only so many ways to free it from your flesh that don’t cause harm to yourself or others. He’s tried many of the ways, and in the aftermath tears have by far been the least painful and guilt inducing.

“I think she went on her own version of our field walk,” He said softly as he too stood up to make space for Poppy to sit down between them on the couch. “Didn’t’cha Pops?”

“Mm, I did. I’m SLEEPY now,” Poppy shuffled to her friends, noting Charlie’s jacket she had left hanging on a dining room chair. Plopping herself down, not needing much room for her small frame, she relaxed herself before her friends rejoined her on the couch. She snuggled between them, grabbing both of their hands. When they all settled, she leaned her head back on the couch and giggled, “So Ronnie lied to us.” She shook her head at how silly this ruse was just to set them on the path of self discovery and healing. Ronnie was a clever woman. She always knew that but this move showed exactly why Pops looked up to her. “She did this to unite our two worlds and to heal. Mitena needs us, just as much as we need her.” Glancing from one friend to the next, she squeezed their hands, “We won’t get all the answers in one day but… I think we needed this and if you guys ever come back, I’d like to come with you. I really like it here.”

It was like she was sitting next to a completely different person, or someone Jade hadn’t seen in such a long time. This wasn’t just Poppy the friend who had been by her side for the past couple of years despite things in their lives collectively being crap, but this was Pops, her soul sister before the worst event of their lives changed the trajectory of their lives forever. She didn’t even seem to care that Ronnie lied. Ask Jade that yesterday and she might’ve felt differently, but she felt like she made so much progress within herself and seeing that in her two best friends, it was clear that this place was more than just another destination in this whole mystery surrounding Charlie and his letters. This felt like another place they could escape to.

“Though speaking of answers, what did we learn in class today?” Jade laughed at her own bad joke. She glanced at both Key and Poppy, seeing their faces and how those faces of theirs had familiar expressions. In all honesty, Jade hadn’t felt this relaxed in all ways implied in a very long time and sure as hell hasn’t felt this weightless in years.

Penelope came in with an inside joke between her and Resi and widely smiled, “Bagels. I’ve only seen bagels with salmon and cream cheese. It’s time I start shifting my bagel. Maybe put some chives on it instead.”

“It’s…great you’re interested in havin’ your own bagel?” Mordechai replied with no small amount of confusion, well aware he was missing an important piece to puzzle the sentence together.

Rolling her eyes at her best friend, she explained her own metaphor, “I don’t think it takes much for you guys to see I have an eating disorder. Today, Forrest gave me half a bagel. Everyone has to start somewhere, he said. But instead of salmon, which is all my mind has been thinking about. Charlie. Charlie loves salmon and my identity became Charlie. Not Penelope. Just Charlie. He put chives on it instead. I realized in that moment that while it won’t happen overnight, one day I’ll be whole again. I won’t ever be the same. I’ve been so used to salmon that it became all I am. I don’t necessarily have to let go of his memory since that’s honestly impossible. So instead of looking at it as if I'm leaving him behind, I’ll change how I look at things. I’ll carry his memory forward as I find me again. As I find Poppy and ‘grow towards the light like a flower’.... Tena said that last part.”

“That’s really great, Pops. Really, I’m happy you found that start of this incredible journey of…well, I’m not sure what we can call it.” Jade’s blue-green gaze was on her soul sister for a long moment. She let out a small laugh, almost a barely-audible chuckle as she still struggled to put a word to what happened to the three of them. Seeing that old version of her mixed with this new version of herself that was, from where the Angel Princess sat, started to take shape. She saw it because she knew Poppy wasn’t the only one breaking free from that cocoon of sorts. The soil here was rich with exactly what they needed.

“I’m real happy for ya, Pops,” Mordechai spoke up with genuine warmth as he leaned into her, squishing her firmly between the bigger two of the trio. His whole being was warm and relaxed and he was happy to have his two friends here with him and also experiencing levels of healing. He knew that things would be harder when they returned to the stress of their hometown; unlike Jade and Poppy, he’d been through the Blue Hill Experience yearly since he was ten years old. Blue Hill was safety and healing for those from Edenridge, but the town itself always received its residents back from their temporary loan outside its borders. They couldn’t stay happy forever, but they could actively work towards it once they cross back into town and face down their own separate demons, and Modechai was content in the moment with that knowledge.

“I’m gonna start living for myself,” He revealed after they’d all had a moment with the silence. His revelations with Adora and Jade were fresh on his mind and felt the need to share with his friends as they’ve continued to share with him. It felt right. “I can be fine with gettin’ sober for others but I’m gonna find out how to build a life that makes me happy…That includes tryin’ for somethin’ real with Sunshine a-and Mamba, if they’re for it.”

“Mordechai’s in lurvessss,” Penelope teased, leaning into him and brushing her face against his body while he laughed. “Which reminds me, betch.” She playfully narrowed her eyes at Decky, really coming across as a whole new Poppy, less trauma filled and more optimistic of her future, “I don’t expect your family to be my family but I’d at least like a moment with them. If they love you, I hope they know I’m part of your life and I’m sick and tired of being the little girl that stays home waiting for her friends to come by. Let me fight for my place. ReyRey said it himself! He called me a baby snake when I was cursing him out during the whole Allison shitshow. I deserve the feeling of belonging, just as much as you and Jade do. You both,” Poppy glanced over to Jade, squeezing her hand a couple of times, “Have your southie families with the serpents and the angels. I’m not saying I want to be part of the gang life but I am saying: please don’t leave me behind anymore.”

“You're right,” Mordechai admitted easily, holding his free hand up in surrender and slumping his shoulders dramatically. “Can we at least wait until later in the week though? I already gotta meet ReyRey at the Edge tonight for placement and I gotta make my own rounds after that.” Mordechai tilted his head before adding. “Unless ya just wanna smush yours and mine t’gether and meet while everythin’s fresh.”

“If you really want to do it like that, I’m sure I could convince the Angels to let you use the clubhouse for whatever kind of rite of passage that Pops would need to go through.” She knew they knew she was only half-joking, but the jokes aside, there was something important in her words. “Or you could just become a prospect. You’re pretty much already a member because they aren’t just my southie family. You are, too. Both of you are. And really, all you’ll need is a working bike and they’ll accept you in.” She nudged Pops almost jokingly.

“My mom would scream and my dad would question his parenting. I’m sure that would end well if I became a hot, pale ass biker chick,” Poppy humored Jade, before turning to Decky, “I can wait. You know where I live. Literally a window away. Now,” Poppy released their hands and sat up, “I should be exhausted as fuck but I suddenly got a second wind. I’ve met so many people today and not once I had a panic attack! Progress! But that’s beside the point, what’s next on our agenda?” Poppy looked from side to side, patiently waiting for a response.

“Well…” There was a short moment where Jade’s glance fell to Key. He knew what she was leading to; she just had to find the right way to put it. “Since we’re sharing revelations, new breakthroughs, and the like, I think now might be a good time to mention that I found someone as well. Like how I imagine Mamba and Sunshine make Key feel, my person does the very same for me. After going to the fields with Key, I realized just how deeply I feel.” Just like when she first confessed it to Key, Jade’s heart had started to beat at a rather fast pace and her face felt hot all of a sudden.

“Jade’s also in lurvessss,” Mordechai laughed lightly as he mimicked Poppy’s earlier taunt. “Shit man you’re gettin’ red as Pops’ sunburn!”

“Am not!” She protested defensively. Just as she did, her face deepened a shade of red. “It’s just…hot in here. I swear Adora must love living in an oven...”

“The flames’a passion do make things pretty hot,” He shot back with a shit eating grin. “Ya sure it’s just your face heatin’ up?”

“Oh shut up!” She laughed, rolling her eyes with a smile of her own. It was literally like her face was on fire at this point. Jade usually didn’t let this sort of thing affect her, but it was and she extended her leg over to Key’s end as the sole of her foot hit Key’s shin lightly.

"Oh yeah, gonna be chasin' all kinds'a feelin's all night, I can already tell," the man snickered as he shifted his leg away playfully. "She's got it bad Pops, this is gonna be fun." It's been far too long since they were all able to play like this. Since they were able to prod and tease and toy without it ending in one of them feeling broken. He's missed his angels, and the stories they could've created together, and he finally feels like he's at a place where that's going to change. "I always had ta take shit for the people I saw, this is me bein' supportive."

Penelope’s laugh disrupted their playful banter and floated in the air like a sweet, uplifting melody. She felt little tears build up in her eyes as she continued to giggle in between her friends. Even after all this time, she still had more rain inside her. “I really missed this, all of this. I missed you both.” She wiped her eyes and the few tears that made their great escape. Brightly gleaming at each of them, one by one, and in between breaths, Poppy sincerely expressed, “Thank you for coming back home,” and placed her hands on her chest. On her heart. They could each take that how they want; it was directed to both of them and knowing Poppy, there was more meaning to it than just the literal.

As the events unfolded before them and the humans were asking more and more questions about Digivices and Sovereigns, most of which had gone way over the tiny lion-like Digimon's head, something that caught his eyes was something shadowy that was appearing behind or around the winged pink Digimon, MarineAngemon. Frimon was the kind of digimon that did not know how to convey words of his own yet, so he was learning how by mimicking Damian, who he found quite comforting in his new life. Mimicking him to the point where his thought originated from what Damian said.

But this seemed to be slightly different. "Shadows...What are shadows?" Frimon was asking himself, but Damian heard.

"What was that?"

"I Black on pink one." Frimon was having difficulties articulating exactly how to phrase it.

At the same moment, Marineangemon had zipped away into the forest. Damian was barely able to follow most of what the two pink Digimon were saying. He caught maybe half of it before he mentally checked out, but one thing that became apparent to him and especially in the limited time to act, was he couldn't stay here. Thankfully, he wasn't alone in figuring this out.

As Damian took after the siblings, following the trail of that little bug mon and the others, not certain where exactly this might lead to. While in the middle of a mild sprint, Damian looked at his little shoulder pal who had secured his position on his neck and shoulder a little tighter since Damian started to run. "Sorry, I didn't mean to ignore you. Did you say something about shadows or blackpink?" Damian wasn't aware they had K-Pop in this world, but then again he didn't know creatures like his new shoulder pal existed, so who knew what really went on in this strange world. "Anyway, shadows you know, caused by light or something." Damian made some clueless noises. "I never did pay attention during science. But I'm sure it's fine. We'll catch up with them and we'll be okay, dude!"

Frimon still couldn't sake that feeling. Whatever he saw, something about it rubbed him the wrong way. At the same time, he found Damian's words comforting. He found Damian's whole presence comforting. "It will be fine...dude." He repeated smiling and snuggling close as his friend kept running.

"Wouldn't you like to know, Ice Queen!"

Miki had scoffed at Melissa's inquiry of her being here. She was adamant to keep that reason to herself. Adamant to keep Missy Elliot from ever knowing anything that was going through her mind about her being here. Even if she decided to deem the blonde privy to this knowledge, she wouldn't get it. There was no way someone who has already achieved all that she could possibly understand why Miki stepped down from her position as the top of Sinnoh's Elite 4 for an opportunity to do something...more than what she had been doing.

And, if she was being honest, though she would never let Missy anywhere near to finding out, the comments about Cynthia had hit too close to home. Because Missy was right. No matter how many times she tried, be it in private 1-on-1 battles or officially-sactioned battles, Miki Park always came up short against the busty blonde of Sinnoh. So maybe she was running away, but she needed to get stronger. Her pokemon needed to get stronger with her. This opportunity that was presented to her, she knew she couldn't pass it up. To prove she was more than what Melissa always thought she was and more than she was herself.

As they made their way closer to the mansion that soon came in sight, Miki sighed as if in defeat. "If you must know, I came to be stronger," she admitted, gripping the shoulder strap of her bag, glaring at a singular person standing at the front entrance of the mansion that'd give the Indigo Plateau a run for its money. "The Elite Four wasn't doing it for me anymore. I needed something that would test me in every way. Coming here is the first step." Miki was actually telling the truth.

The two young women had come to a stop and Miki felt the need to make a remark. "And for the record, Blitz is a hell of a lot stronger than he was three years ago. Just wait: when this is all done and we are free to do what we please, you'll find out just how strong he is." Miki stuck out her tongue in a petty manner.

So their both here. Amazing. Can't believe the lies worked!

There indeed stood a man at the front-center entrance of the mansion that was behind him. An older man whose features would be familiar to those who knew of the Oaks of Pallet Town, though for those who weren't from there or even didn't know what the Oaks looked like in a general sense, then no doubt there was an odd sense of the unknown as a man in a long white trenchcoat looked at them, smiling widely (though he didn't intend for it to remain as such) at the two young women who were escorted out by a handful of guards in nice suits. They walked forward, stepping in a straight line behind the older man.

He coughed and those behind him were saluting. "Right, forgot you did that." He spoke gently, hand behind his head as he laughed in a nervous manner. Again, he cleared his throat. "Right, let's see..." He stepped forward closer to the two women who stood a few yards away. "Miki Park, Melissa Elliot, thank you for coming and accepting my offer. You must have a lot of questions and no doubt will have many more after this is explained. Please follow me inside. You must be exhausted after the long voyage. Sinnoh and Aloha, right?"

Miki glared at the man and stepped closer. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me who the hell you are!"

"Oh!" He laughed in the same way as before. "I'm sorry it's been a long day for me too. I didn't have my morning tea, so it's hard to remember propor etiquette. As my grandfather used to say, 'there's a time and a place for that, Gary'."

Miki raised her eyebrows at him. "Gary?"

He nodded, giving both ladies a smile. "That's my name. Doctor Gary Oak. Happy to meet you both!"

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