The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 1 - Entanglement

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Description: Reeling from her trip to the Dragon's Den casino, Bulleta turns to the woman who sent her there for help sorting through the aftermath. After having her mercenary checked for bugs and trackers, The Scarlet Dahlia obligingly gives the young huntress the comfort and support she needs while seizing the opportunity to guarantee the vulnerable Bulleta's future loyalty.

Scarlet Dahlia is cautious as hell. Some would consider her paranoid, but 'paranoid' would only apply when someone -isn't- out to get her, when someone -isn't- out to upset her well-laid plans. Like... tonight.

When most people hand out their business card, it's expected that the person answering the number would just... answer. But when Bulleta calls the number, there will be no one answering, no greeting, none of the customary Japanese uberpoliteness. No, just four words, in clipped Japanese, by a male speaker: 'Out. Leave a message.'

It might seem intimidating. It might seem like a wrong number. And a repeat call to the same number would be met not with a repeat of the same answer, but with the stuttered tone indicative of the phone line being removed from service.

Bulleta will just have to wait.

Nine minutes will pass.

And then, suddenly, the phone would ring. The same male voice -- or one close to it -- would be on the other line. And instructions would be given, in the same steady, emotionless tone. Greeting will be given, this time -- but only as absolutely necessary to maintain some modicum of politeness.

"Message received. There will be a black car outside for you in five minutes."

The driver of the small car is dressed in all white, with white cotton gloves like most Japanese taxi drivers. He smiles only as required by his station, and has practically no information to speak of -- save that Bulleta is being transported to a hospital just outside the Southtown city limits. Plausible deniability, clearly -- he can't be pressed for answers he's simply never been provided.

'Welcome to Saitama City Hospital,' declares the sign out front, amidst a gentle rain spattering on the concrete sidewalk. A man dressed in a black suit stands just beside the sign, an umbrella in hand. He wears a red button-down shirt and black tie -- one of maybe three 'uniforms' associated with the Akatsuki-gumi. But even if she -wasn't- aware of that, he approaches the door with his wrist raised to reveal cufflinks with the Akatsuki logo. He walks up to Bulleta's door, opening it for her and gesturing for her to follow.

He would escort Bulleta inside with no lack of formality. He, too, has no useful answers, save for that he's escorting the young lady to a doctor, who would be able to perform the sweep she'd requested.

The receptionist is addressed with a tacit nod -- everyone on this journey has their respective orders. And it would be clear that they want Bulleta to head to a brief examination room; in front of which, a young female orderly in scrubs would greet the pair, bowing formally.

"Welcome to Saitama City Hospital," greets the orderly. "We apologize profusely for the inconvenience, and want to make this process as quick and orderly as possible. If you could please change into this? The doctor will be in in a moment..."

Hospital gown -- and a good one with full coverage. And pants. For, unlike her -last- meeting, Bulleta will be greeted with the utmost of professionalism. And plenty of time and privacy to change into her wardrobe.


After just one attempt, Scarlet Dahlia receives a morning voice mail from a freshly purchased phone:

"I need a check-up," Bulleta flatly states after rattling off the address to a cheap motel in Southtown. "I think I came down with some kind of bug. I might be contagious. You should stay at home."

She fills a lengthy pause with deep, quaking breaths.

"If the doctor's a man, he'd better be super married, super gay, or both," she then appends.

After another mostly silent pause, she adds: "Send a bottle. I don't care-- send a bottle. Please. Thank you."

After hanging up, the blank-faced Huntress resumes staring at herself in the mirror gobbling up most of the wall opposite her the bed, still clad in her pristine red and white health inspector's uniform.

She doesn't do much else for the fourteen minutes that follow.


The ride to Saitama City Hospital was nice and quiet: the driver only smiled as required and had nothing to say; Bulleta didn't feel like performing and had nothing to /ask/. If her second request was fulfilled, she'd have spent the trip taking full advantage, giving her sloshing accessory to carry inside; even if not, she made sure to grab cigarettes when she picked up the burner she summoned Dahlia with and the smell still lingers after she's finished changing. The orderly at least gets a bland, "Yeah," while she breezes by on her way into the exam room.

Piling the disguise on the exam table once she's free of it, she perches beside it and waits, eyes fixed a thousand yards ahead upon the door.

A few minutes pass before a series of brief knocks can be heard upon the door.

A moment later, the latch will open, and in steps a doctor. The middle-aged woman's lab coat and clipboard are probably expected for someone of her station. The brown bag, about 30cm tall, is less so -- and it's quite clear that a bottle is housed inside.

The doctor flashes a wry smirk, as she extends the bottle out to Bulleta. Her name tag reads 'Kimura-sensei', and she doesn't look like anyone the bounty hunter had met before -- and yet, there's a glint of familiarity. "I've been briefed on your extraordinary circumstances, and I've been authorized to supply you with this... prescription."

Not typical for a doctor. But then again, this doctor seems to be used to the measures she's about to take, getting right to the point. "First off, I'm sorry all this happened to you. I don't know the specifics, and it's gonna stay that way -- and if you want me to stop, just say so and it's done. Otherwise... feel free to drink that if you like."

She clasps her hands together, drawing in her breath. Compassion!

"Okay, brief summary of what's going to happen here." She reaches to her belt, and unhooks a small metal detector wand. "First off, I'm going to sweep for listening devices. Metal first, then we'll move to radiography to make sure we haven't left anything behind. Then, finally, I've got some new clothes if you need them."

The doctor sets her clipboard on the table. "So, my first question. How are you holding up?"

Blue eyes occupy themselves with the doctor over the bag. Bulleta sizes the woman up-- fixes appraisingly on the smirk, confirms that the name's as unfamiliar as the face; weighs the compassion in her bedside manner against /whatever/ Dahlia must be thinking...

Dahlia-- paranoid, maybe-crazy Dahlia, who already openly questioned the wisdom of sending her into the Dragon's Den to begin with.

Dahlia, who she neglected to tell /all/ about her quarry/Guildmate before accepting the mission.

The soft clack of the clipboard on the table summons a small but sharp breath, then the flat-faced girl finally glances towards the bag. She swiftly takes it, unscrews the bottle, and throws back a heavy shot, waiting 'til its contents are burning their way towards her gut to push the paper down. One quick check of the label later, her eyes settle on Kimura's and she holds her arms out to her sides.

"I'm gonna be fine," she murmurs, voice vibrating with the effort of keeping a fire at bay-- or at least relegating it to setting her eyes quietly ablaze. "I'm gonna get a check up. I'm gonna sit down with someone and talk things through. Then, I'm gonna... I'm gonna get to know my new friend Kira really well." Bulleta tightens her grip on the bottle and grits her teeth as she takes a nice, deep breath. As she lets it out, she chisels a smile into place.

It doesn't make it to her eyes.

"Really, ~really~ well. I'm gonna be juuuust fine," she assures as she smile widens enough to give a peek at pearly-whites. "I'm glad I've got such a thoughtful doctor looking after me."

There were a lot of unknowns on the mission. Dahlia wouldn't have wasted her time sending someone any less competent than the best sort of hunter possible. But when something like this happens... well. She's still not going to send any less than her best.

Kimura smiles faintly as Bulleta throws back the sake like it was water. "I can bring you more after our trip to radiology. The tech on duty has a bit of a... problem." The doctor raises her thumb and index finger to her lips, with middle and ring fingers curled and pinky finger extended. "But this level should be fiiiine."

Kimura doesn't seem overly concerned with the barely-reserved ranting from her patient -- it garners little more than a placid grin. If she takes offense to the comment -- and takes it at anything but the face value compliment -- it's not obvious. "Mm-hmmm. I guess you could say I'm on payroll; there's nothing we have to mince words about, here. Now, could you hold out your arms to either side for me?" Regardless, Kimura will proceed with waving the wand across the diminutive bounty hunter's torso and extremities, seeming fairly pleased with the detector's silence. "Nothing yet, so that's a good sign..."

Then Kimura moves onto the doffed clothes. And almost instantly, there's the telltale whine of magnetic objects. "Oh, look what we have here." Kimura narrows her eyes at the red blazer -- there's practically nothing to see at first. But as she lifts the garment up to the light, the shadowed portion becomes visible.

Dr. Kimura pries the device loose with her fingernail; it's paper-thin, red in color, and half the size of a kernel of corn. "Buggers are small. I don't think I've ever seen one -this- advanced. And camouflaged, to boot."

She sets the bug in a metal tray, and passes the scanner over the blazer again. And, again, it beeps with alarm.

Harrumphing, she looks back over to Bulleta, indicating the items Bulleta carried with her. "What about your things? Were you carrying them with you at the time?"

It wasn't an /insult/, at least. Bulleta just understands the value of a compassionate face, whether or not it's sincere... and until it's safe to meet with her new employer again, the 'or' looms large.

The wand gets a pointed look when Kimura insists there's no need to mince words. Bulleta's lips draw shut but the smile remains chiseled in place. Whoever's on the other end of those bugs - /if/ there are bugs - doesn't get to hear her scream, punch walls-- vent what's boiling within. She's just a girl seeing her very thoughtful, well-paid doctor for a check-up; no cares in the world other than which 'scrip she'll have to pick up when she's done.

She's mid-guzzle the first time the scanner beeps. The bottle tips just enough to pause the trickling burn of sake while her eyes fall to the scanner, then the garment-- then that cleverly hidden device. Of course there are bugs. Air slowly, forcefully escapes her nostrils. Her right hand squeezes glass until her forearm's shaking.

The second beep makes her jaw visibly work for a tick, then her eyes squeeze shut and she takes another deep breath. Her gaze is on Kimura when they open; still smiling, she can't keep the venom from leaking out when she softly hisses, "/Bitch/," against glass. "Fucking uppity, arrogant..."

The question - imperative, really - cuts a third, shuddering breath short. Another swig is drawn, then she hops down and hauls a large, wicker-colored purse onto the table with her free hand and a soft grunt.

The other end of the table pops a couple feet into the air, but a sharp nudge pushes the purse far enough from the edge to right things.

"/Some/ things," she tightly says while lifting a .45 from its depths and laying it near the purse. "I can disassemble as needed." A passing glance and slight emphasis on the first syllable ought to make it clear that she's not offering because she wants to save Kimura or her staff the trouble of breaking weapons down. Some more of her things - several grenades and land mines, a combat knife, a sawed-off shotgun, an uzi, plenty of ammo for all of them, and a slim-bodied camera - hit the table until there's just enough room for the bag between her weapons and armor. Deft fingers catch against a false bottom just so--


-- to reveal a beltful of RPG shells feeding a scaled down launcher. A toothy grin stares up from one of the nose cones.

"The purse is made of--" Pause. "-- hide. It's been-- treated. Chemically. It would've taken some work to /really/ hide something in there..." she murmurs while running her fingers round the purse and the launcher to reveal wires, which she then disconnects. "Which isn't to say there's nothing." The launcher and its belt come free, and as she gathers it up in her arms - juggles it with the bottle - the purse gets elbow-swept to the ground so its most important occupant has a place to go.

"But it might be easier if I just burn the thing, if she got /really/ thorough," she adds while retrieving the purse and setting it on top of the munitions pile. It still has the feel of being much sturdier than a plain, oversized handbag ought to be, but unsurprisingly, it is much lighter, now. Empty, semiconscious fingers touch hair still matted and tangled from a night spent enjoying the hospitality of the Dragon's Den, prompting a grimace and a dip of her chin as she does a few brisk combthroughs. "Did," she quietly wonders without quite looking up at the doctor. The bottle comes up for another quick swig.

"Did you speak to her at all? About this? Where's her head at?"

She probably doesn't mean the fucking uppity 'her'.

Dr. Kimura is the very model of professionalism as she conducts her thorough scans. Sure, the -first- time she'd heard Bulleta squeezing hard on the glass there was a small hitch in her shoulders, but her face remained neutral and dispassionate. There's no cause for alarm, as far as she's concerned -- with barely a notice even spared for the muttered profanities.

As the bag is placed on the counter, Kimura does offer a faint smile. ... But as more and more of the high-powered weaponry is withdrawn from the bag, it seems that the mask of professional calm begins to fade. Disbelief is quite strong. "... And here I'd thought I knew how to pack a purse..."

Belief is practically -shattered- as the purse's secret compartment is disemboweled onto the table. She starts to open her mouth in alarm, silently wondering if these are -live- warheads...

And then, professionalism reminds her that yes, of course they are live warheads.

Kimura hinges her jaw shut, pulling a small UV flashlight off of her belt and setting it onto the table. "If you'd like to disassemble them, by all means go ahead -- if your captor was dumb enough to put anything inside the chamber then it likely won't be serving a purpose much longer." She taps a finger on the UV light: "I'll be happy to sweep the outside though, on the off-chance of any exterior plants."

She makes a few quick notations on the clipboard -- if Bulleta happens to catch sight of it, she'd see 'shampoo/cond' scribbled in doctor-ese -- before turning the magnetic wand back to the blazer. She waves it by a few more times to ensure that it's 'clean' before moving to the next garment -- and of course, that one beeps too. "... Thorough," she comments quietly, proceeding to rid the garment of its garments as well.

"Have I spoken to -her?- Well... I understand the basics of your mission, and the concerns therein, if that's what you mean. Past that..." She offers a brief, distant smile. "I understand you were speaking in code. And if any device was attempting to transmit, it won't make it out of here due to the shielding around the MRI and X-ray rooms. So we're probably safe to speak -here-. I'm assuming you were held against your will, but received no hard details. I'm willing to perform a physical if you are; I can do that either before or after the X-rays if you like...?"

"It's a little bigger inside than it looks," Bulleta idly notes after registering the doctor's alarm. Sticking a hand into the weapons pile, she rummages for a bit, then comes out with a small, roll-up toolbag so she can get to work. She's about 50-50 on Kira having gone to the trouble of breaking down, then reassembling some piece of gear with a bug inside, given how thoroughly her outfit's been laced; she's 100% on keeping her hands busy with quick, rote labor being a better use of her time than milling around and dwelling, though, and that's enough. Before long, she takes the pistol she's working with to a spare countertop to give herself a bit more room for sprawling parts. She reflexively glances towards, but doesn't really /see/ the notation. It's just as well; she's very aware that she needs shampoo and conditioner.

"You can do the physical after," the Huntress states - growls, really - a little while after the question is asked. She comes back to the table to grab another gun, wearing a deeply-etched frown and a murderous glare now that she's been assured the room is safe. "And then I'm gonna need a shower. Or bath. Or whatever. I-- need to see her. Dahlia. ASAP. Once I'm safe-- I'm not doing it looking like /this/, I--"

She glances down at knuckles that've gone white around hand-carved wood-- up at the doctor who was rattled by the mere /sight/ of a little rocket launcher-- then back down, hissing out a breath and unclenching as she goes.

"How'd you get into this game?" she abruptly wonders after wandering away to set the gun on her workspace and begin-- well, working. "Not the doctor game. The game-game. You really /do/ seem like a nice woman-- nice enough for a couple of guns to make you nervous, anyway. You owe someone something? 'Just' money seems..." She softly clicks her tongue, shakes her head, then lapses into working and listening silently.

Upon realizing that Bulleta was looking for something to do other than be a mere passive observer to this examination, the doctor nods with a faint smile. ... Of course, seeing how -quickly- Bulleta is able to break down the weapons into their component pieces is something of wonder as well.

"... Still, that's quite impressive, that you're able to carry that much gear around and not develop serious spinal issues."

As Bulleta works, so too shall Kimura. After that last beep, the doctor decides to shine the palm light's UV rays onto the articles of clothing. And sure enough, the nigh-invisible bugs light up in purple, allowing her to pick them off with greater accuracy. One after another, the devices make small 'tink' sounds as they land in the metal tray; before long, she's up to eight.

"Sure thing," comments the doctor, on receiving the reply on the physical. She can't help but frown slightly at the way Bulleta growls -- taking it in the proper context of the manner of her -treatment- rather than any ill will towards herself. The garments are folded back neatly upon the counter, as Kimura begins reaching for the weapons; from her level of comfort, it seems handguns and weaponry is more her speed. "We'll take care of all that after the x-ray then. Then I can get out of your hair, and move you along to Dahlia."

The UV rays pass over the weapons -- and the doctor gives a quizzical look. It seems she's about to say something, before Bulleta's question gives her pause.

Thoughtfully, she taps a finger to her cheek. "Well, I was working at a location near Sendai, actually. There was something of a political rally going on in town, as I recall -- an altercation broke out between attendees, with a number of gun-related casualties, and I was the only resident on shift. It was a ghastly sight, and we weren't able to raise the on-calls until several hours later, so for a while it was just me and the nurses running triage. But all the while, the ..." She wrinkles her brow for a moment, then continues: "... -Dahlia- was observing, making sure to help me from the sidelines."

She shrugs her shoulders. "I didn't think much of it, until she came up asked if I'd be up for work on the side. I suppose I made an impression."

And yet -- she's paying enough attention to notice the insinuations. "The guns don't make me nervous, dear. The warheads do. My departed husband lost his life to an unexploded mortar left over from the war."

She flashes a tight smile in response to the idea of owing someone something. "... You went to a casino, yes? You won't catch me anywhere close to one... if you catch my drift."

As her scanning work was much less than Bulleta's, she's able to catch up before long. And she notes with a smile: "Well, looks like we found all the ones on the outside. Your captor only planted bugs on your clothes; I suppose she'd figured you'd notice the rest. I'm... practically done otherwise, so... shall we proceed to radiology?"

Bulleta is definitely stronger than she looks, having brought the purse into place one-handed-- not to mention coming to the hospital with it slung over a shoulder to dangle unassumingly.

Every little *tink!* hits the Huntress hard enough to make her wince while she works. And counts. And swears, several times over-- not quite eight, but close. She only looks at the doctor or her thoroughly lousy disguise when she has to return to the table and fetch more weapons to break down.

"Dahlia helped you from the sidelines," she evenly repeats-- confirms over the rhythmic patter of tiny screws and bits of machinery tapping against the counter. "Hired you because you were good at your job... good. That's-- good." She manages to smooth the growl from her voice before she quietly adds, "I'm glad she sent the right person for the job," with what scraps of sincere appreciation she's able to pull together. "The warheads are fine; you could juggle with 'em, if you wanted. That thing's got a good amount of weight for going upside someone's head; totally safe."

Kimura announces that she's done not too long after the 'launcher in question hits the counter with a resounding *thnk!*. If they'd met on another day, Dr. K probably would've gotten a casually chucked shell to catch, to illustrate Bulleta's point about safety; as it is, the Huntress could barely be bothered to wiggle the belt in her direction before returning to her workspace. A careful eye could readily pick out a number of the weapons Bulleta packed because their constituent parts were mindfully arranged for quick reassembly; it's not unlike looking at a cross-section diagram in person.

"/Definitely/ avoid going near /that/ casino," she flatly advises. Warns. A small wrench lingers against a fastener for a moment further before clattering to the counter. "Yeah," she says, grabbing paper towels so she can wipe some of the oil from her hands on her way to the door. "Let's go. The sooner I can talk to Dahlia, the sooner I get to plan my /next/ trip to the Den."

Dr. Kimura can't help but notice the counting, the swearing. And she keeps minding her own business -- knowing full well the trauma that this bounty huntress must have gone through. It's better to let Bulleta work through these issues on her own, after all.

"She hired me because I put hopes and dreams above rules and regulations. Dahlia... believes there's good in this world, and she works towards it. Sometimes it means bad things happen to good people. And other times, it means picking the lesser of two evils. Insert your favorite aphorism here, I guess." She laughs, mirthlessly, with a shrug of her hands. "I see in you someone who wants to help do her part for the world. So of course, I want to help you."

The bugs have all been found on the clothing. Sure -- the clothes -could- be burned, but these devices will certainly be valuable for some reason or another. Dr. K smiles and nods in reply -- "I'll keep that in mind, heh." And quietly, she tucks the magnetic wand and UV flashlight back onto her belt.

She reaches for the door -- but while she props it open with a foot, she doles out a squirt of hand sanitizer from the wall-mounted dispenser. A bit more sanitary than a simple paper towel.

Bulleta's escort, from before, has made himself comfortable in the hall. As the two ladies exit the examination room, he bows in formal Japanese courtesy. "Your 'friend' is on her way," he notes, "She should be here by the time you're done here."

Dr Kimura bows her head to the escort. "Thank you." And with her hand, she gestures for Bulleta to follow. "... She'll be ready soon..."


Radiology results: Clean. No traces of metal in her system. No signs of anything implanted, which was Kimura's biggest concern.

Physical results: Clean, save for one red spot just on the inside of Bulleta's left elbow. Kimura suspects it might have been used to draw blood of some sort, but was unable to find any abnormalities. Just to be safe, blood was drawn again from her right arm, with lab results to be reported in a day or so.

And now, with all that concluded, Kimura has led Bulleta to a private patient room, complete with shower. Her earlier clothes -- now verified to be clean of bugs if not everything else -- have been folded up nicely on a countertop. And a brand new set of clothes in Bulleta's size has been laid out -- modern business casual, higher-end department-store chic. There is a bottle of shampoo and soap, but these seem to be standard fare for the hospital.

"I'm sorry for what happened to you, ma'am. But I can assure you -- Dahlia will get you opportunities to even the score. She considers a lot of us to be family -- and she's always been there for me." She bows, formally -- and starts to step out of the room. "Your escort will remain in the waiting room right down the hall. Take your time with that shower -- and just flag down the receptionist if you need anything else from me. Pass on a 'hello' to Dahlia for me, would you?"

"Oh," Bulleta exhales as a small, tired smile forms in the wake of Dr. K's appraisal of her. Alarm flickers behind it; blue eyes briskly seek signs of artifice.

"You really /are/ a nice woman," she softly decides a beat later when her gaze settles on Kimura's.


The girl doesn't flinch or hesitate before the necessary labwork, but without something to occupy her, the glare and growl gradually intensify until even the quiet, "Thank you. You've been very helpful. I'll tell her," she rattles off after Kimura's parting words seethes. She is, at least, courteous enough not to look or speak much more than needed once it gets really bad-- courteous, or perhaps preoccupied, one of the two.

Setting her second bottle of borrowed sake on the bed, she counts the steps after Kimura leaves. After accompanying her from exam room to exam room, she's-- confident enough in her estimation of the woman's pace to figure when she might be out of earshot. The woman seemed bright, patient-- gentle, especially for someone who's probably dealt her share of hardened criminals by now. Sure, she's paid and taken care of, but a paycheck doesn't necessarily guarantee kindness; she very well might be an honest-to-god nice person earning a few extra yen under the table.

There's not a lot of value in having an honest-to-god nice, competent woman be afraid of her, so Bulleta counts until Kimura ought to be a ways down the corridor before grabbing the wheeled table for patients who'd rather eat in bed and hurling it at a wall with a volcanic roar. The table snaps off on impact, leaving a broken metal rod on wheels to bounce and tumble back towards her. As soon as it comes within reach, she scoops it up and HAMMERS the wheeled end into the ground over and over, screaming and snarling with every blow until she's clutching - slightly crumpling - thin, hollow metal in a white-knuckled grip and panting.

And then, she's ready to shower.


"Where is she?!" a freshly changed and broadly smiling Bulleta wonders, sticking her head out of the door and waving to the receptionist with most of a bottle of sake. "You don't have to gimme an exact location, since, duh-- ETA's fine! I'm aaaaaaall ready!"

Dr. Kimura really -is- a nice woman, yes -- and far too pleasant to accept the compliments with anything less than a bowed head.

She also, thankfully, doesn't have an exceptional sense of hearing. If she were permanent staff here at the hospital she might have been informed about the damage to the patient room, but due to her non-resident status at this particular facility, well... that's just something the orderlies are gonna have to deal with on their lonesome.

Not that it matters to the receptionist. She's more worried about the bottle of sake in the hands of someone well under Japan's legal drinking age of 20. And yet -- before the bounty huntress can raise too much hellfire, her prim and proper escort rises, poking his head out of the waiting room in much the same fashion as Bulleta. Exchanging a brief look with the receptionist, he moves to intercept Bulleta, gesturing towards the exit with an open hand. "She's arriving downstairs as we speak, ma'am. We're ready for you now..."

Having delivered his message, the escort proves just how laconic he can really be -- his face a stony mask lacking in expression of just about any discernible kind. He's quiet on the way to the elevator. He's quiet as the metal box makes its way to the ground floor. He's quiet on his way out the lobby, through the front doors, and even out to the black van parked outside.

The door of the van slides open as soon as the pair arrives. The interior of the vehicle is dark, at first, though further inspection would show a battery of computer monitors. Some monitors show video; others show sophisticated waveform analysis displays. There are six seats in the vehicle, with the two up front separated by a partition from those in the rear. The driver, of course, is seated in the front right. Shotgun has been claimed by a half-Korean man who couldn't be far out of high-school age. He has a set of ear-covering headphones on, and offers the most perfunctory nod to Bulleta as she approaches, before turning back to the displays on the laptop in his lap.

Of the four seats in the back compartment, one, of course, is Scarlet Dahlia. Her right leg is folded over her left, her hands steepled in her lap.

"Apologies for the delay, I came as fast as I could." Trademark Japanese politeness. "Come in, sit, sit." She pats the empty seat beside her. "We need to chat."

Bulleta's escort would pull the door shut as soon as appropriate. But he will not be entering the van; it wouldn't be hard to hear his steps on the cobblestone as he steps away.

"I'm glad you made it out safely. It... seems our target was much more prepared for us than I'd imagined, unfortunately."

Dahlia moves to the small mini-fridge beside her, withdrawing a frosty bottle of Absolut, clouds of crystallized air falling away from her hand. "You... mentioned a bottle, if I'm not mistaken. Did Kimura already set you up?"

Bulleta drinks on her way past the receptionist and when she's nearing the ground floor. The bottle's tucked under an arm when the van opens up and Dahlia gets an answer in the form of a sake bottle deposited in her lap after the rosy-cheeked Huntress takes her seat.

The two glasses already set up and waiting are ignored in favor of tugging the Absolut to herself on sight and opening it up for a shot straight from the bottle. They're friends, after all, right? The grin she gives Dahlia - and Dahlia's driver, and Dahlia's young laptop-haver - while lowering and nudging the bottle towards her is big, toothy, and unmistakably sloshed.

Sinking into her seat with a drawn out sigh, she folds her hands over her stomach-- finally spots the glasses-- then cradles one of them against her black and blue blouse. "S'ok," she chirps as her attention settles fully on Dahlia. "I wouldn'ta been in a hurry to meet me either, if I was you. 'm glad you met me at /all/..."

Tilting Dahlia-wards, the Huntress aims to rest her head against the arm of the Akatsuki-gumi's mistress before she declares, "So: I think I'm gonna feed her to her her Darkstalkers, 's what 'm gonna do," in the sorts of low, dreamy tones one might normally reserve for describing the spa at the resort one's planning to visit. "Or maybe change all the locks and just. Leave her down there..."

She thinks for a couple beats, grins wider and wider throughout them, then remembers:

"Oh! Yeah! She's got a /lot/ of Darkstalkers! In a dungeon. Which's probably under the casino," she reports, brightness draining from her voice as she goes until she's just flatly murmuring: "Vicious but tamed, like pitbulls. Prob'ly 600-plus normies. Creepy assistant. She's suuuuuuper prepared, but that's alright: now we /know/ how prepared she is~."

Sake is retrieved, briskly downed, then returned.

"You don't think murdering the shit outta her'd interfere too bad with making Southtown mad at her, do you?" she quietly wonders, then.

Dahlia is... surprised at how intoxicated the tiny little girl is already. And yet -- she can't really fault her. Unlike Kimura, Dahlia has a much better sense for the kind of madness Kira Volkov is capable of, having seen the crazed merc leader draw heat in a room surrounded by villains of her own caliber and greater, onto Lord Vega himself. Dahlia herself is no stranger to torture, or incarceration. But seeing Bulleta drinking herself into this sort of stupor speaks volumes towards the horrors she must have seen.

And, as the bottle is drained, Dahlia's eyebrows lower, and her lips turn into a frown.
Bulleta may act wise beyond her years.
But Dahlia now questions the wisdom of placing alcohol in the hands of a minor.

What's done is done, she acknowledges with a sigh and averted glance. "Let's roll," she comments to the driver, and the van begins to drive off. Before long, it will merge onto the highway -- and from there, it will start a long trek to the north.

The sound of tap-tapping keys can be heard from the front seat, even despite the privacy screen.

Dahlia blinks suddenly, as she feels the warmth of the bounty huntress on her shoulder suddenly. An amused chuckle escapes her lips as she turns back to address her companion. She seems like she's about to say something, but then the Huntress's dreamlike musing continues, causing her lips to press into a mild, patient smile. Perhaps this is not the most efficient way to get a briefing from the spy's visit.

"... Murder might be preferable, actually. But we'd need to establish a case first. It's unwise to put an end to someone at the peak of their popularity."

Dahlia languidly reaches for her glass, holding it level. She doesn't ask for Bulleta to fill it up. But perhaps, in her inebriated state, Bulleta might get the distinct sensation that the Dahlia would -appreciate- a shot of the vodka, before the contents are drained. And further, that she might -appreciate- the bottle back so that she can return it to the chill of the mini-fridge.

The Akatsuki leader's psychic abilities work in mysterious ways, after all.

"Tell me more about these darkstalkers. Six-hundred, you say?" She raises a hand, brushing it along the folds of her flame-scarred chin. "That seems like... an awful lot to be positioned directly beneath a waterfront casino..." Dahlia glances at her glass, running her thumb idly across the rim. She considers asking the huntress to start from the beginning... and then realizes that linear thought might just not be a good idea at the time.

"You were in a... dungeon. Were you locked up? In the same cages as these... darkstalkers? How was it that you made your escape?"

Bulleta's got her fingers curled against the vodka bottle's neck, ready to pull it close for another shot when something /important/ occurs to her.

A frozen beat later, she turns a broad and vaguely apologetic smile upwards while yanking the bottle to herself... and filling Dahlia's glass. It's-- more than a shot; more than a couple, even. She doesn't spill a drop, though, and returns the vodka to Dahlia once she's done.

"Six-hundred /normies/," she corrects. "Dozens of Darkstalkers, easy-- dozens of definitely weaponized ones. The staff... no idea. She /bragged/ about how many men she's got, though. Had me locked in a cage, with werewolves on either side... went oooon and oooon about how awesome she is... made a bunch of suuuuuuper tedious threats t' try'n break me..."

She doesn't reach for either bottle when her dreamlike recollection trails off; she just presses a little closer to Dahlia's shoulder.

"So I gave her what she wanted, an' I broke nice'n hard for her," she softly continues as the smile shrinks and shrinks. "Made it look reaaaaally good, too. She's got cameras /everywhere/, so I jus'... made sure they saw what she wanted, an'..." The Huntress shivers, squeezes Dahlia's arm momentarily, then settles as she lets up. "'n when she called me in to talk the next day, she decided we were partners. 'cause that's what I /wanted/ her to do, but like, she couldn't do it without makin' some stupid fuckin' point, I guess... and then she let me go. Did what I toldja I was gonna do: stroked her ego a bunch until she let me in... but now she wants me to bring her anything I bag. I guess for the cages?"

The alcohol's doing a lot to help Bulleta bluster through it, but Dahlia can feel the anxiety brought on by talking - /thinking/ - about that night. The girl isn't exactly lying: she really did make a concerted effort to let the arrogant mercenary feel as confident in her superior position as possible, even if it meant sobbing and crying for hours with naught but savage werewolves to offer comfort.

But there's a fine line between playing a role and becoming it-- between telling a lie and living it. While she was busy suffering perhaps the biggest blow to her confidence and self-image she's ever experienced, Bulleta had hours of flitting wildly back and forth across those line and she's still reeling from it.

"We used those IDs to pretend we were health inspectors, see," she explains after an abrupt rewind. "'cause they weren't hirin', and I knew /she'd/ know who I was /anyway/. So we pretend we're health inspectors, an' this fuckin' douchey guy, he's showin' us to the security station t' get vetted, an' - whaddya know - it's a fuckin' trap, and her security chief's hittin' us all with sleepin' gas and talkin' about how there's cameras and facial recognition everywhere. Last thing I remembered, I was carving up some dickhead guard, then..."

Then... the dungeon.

/Now/ she takes a shot of vodka.

Dahlia flashes an appreciative smile as Bulleta fills her glass. Maybe too much alcohol -- she's never really been one to down mass quantities -- but it's the thought that counts. And of course, as Bulleta hands her the bottle, she puts the cap back on and sets it aside. Not ... back in the fridge, as it's already been opened, but at least out of the huntress' arms' reach. It's there when she wants it, but Dahlia feels comfortable that her subtle psychic suggestion will take hold.

Her smile shows mild embarrassment at having misunderstood the reference. In truth, the clarification was an attempt to make sense of the inebriated reporting. Perhaps she shouldn't have made it so easy for the underage huntress to indulge -- it's easy to forget that her age and size are both working against her on that front. And yet... she finds it preferable to the relatively tight-lipped explanations provided to Dr. Kimura.

Before long, Dahlia finds a Bulleta resting against her shoulder again. She takes a sip of her vodka, setting it down as she listens to the narrative. She braces Bulleta with one hand, keeping the motor-impaired huntress from falling out of her seat too much as she listens. Against many of her subordinates, Dahlia would take the closeness, the squeezed arm as an offense -- an undesired betrayal of the trust between employer and employee. And yet -- Bulleta is different. Younger, for one, but also mired in considerably different circumstances. She doesn't shy away -- and each application of pressure is responded with an encouraging, almost motherly grin and nod.

A sign for route 463 and the city of Kasukabe flies by the window, as the van accelerates to highway speeds. Dahlia nods, her empathic senses picking up on the shattered confidence and self-image. Bulleta's not just -scared-, she's... attempting to reconstruct her ego in the wake of a terrible situation.

The temptation to warp that trust into an even closer bond is overwhelming. And yet... as Bulleta's flitting, unfocused gaze flits back and forth, Lee Chaolan's words repeat in her head.

This is just business.

And yet -- Dahlia need not dig her tendrils into the young woman's mind to gain power. She reaches for a side compartment with her free hand, popping it open to reveal the most insidious weapon of all in the puppetmaster's arsenal:

a hairbrush.

For Bulleta's hair is, admittedly, still a bit damp from her shower. And Dahlia certainly doesn't mind helping her mercenary relax after a harrowing experience.

"I... I don't want you to feel like you need to interact with her. But neither am I going to tell you -not- to. We'll... have to get the hooks out of her one way or another. But... eight bugs was it, that Kimura found? That's not exactly the engendering -trust-, you know?" she answers, drumming the back of the hairbrush lightly against her thigh. "I'm not going to put up a fight, though. Darkstalkers aren't my business, they're -yours-."

She listens carefully to the plan, as time is abruptly rewound back to the beginning. Sure enough, the subtle manipulator would get the story with only minimal prompting. It is always better, in her estimation, to let people tell their own stories. And she remains quiet, with only brief interludes of 'Mm-hmm.' and 'Right,' to encourage Bulleta to relate her tale.

It is when Bulleta takes her swig of vodka, though, that Dahlia senses an opportunity. She can sense the embarrassment -- the outrage. The removal of agency. The sensation of being left bare -- not in a physical sense, but an -emotional- one.

She strikes: the hairbrush is raised. And a moment later, its bristles knead lightly into Bulleta's scalp, as she attempts to work the tendrils of hair into a more orderly form.

"That's a great plan. You... had no way of knowing that the security station could be trapped. It seems... ridiculous, and overly paranoid. But I can tell that this seemingly innocuous casino appears to be the labyrinth of a paranoid madwoman..."

Between the mild buzz, and the tender ministrations of the brush, the sensation ought to feel -really- good to Bulleta -- a panacea to chase away the negatives she is certainly feeling.

"And that's when you found yourself in the cages, hmm...?" A dangerous prompt -- but one pivoted away from when she asks, "... did you happen to catch sight of Wesson, or Smith?"

At least Dahlia can share some of the blame with Kimura and the hospital's resident alcoholic tech for making that second bottle of sake so readily available.

As inebriated as Bulleta seems to be - /is/, Dahlia's sixth sense would readily report - whatever training she's undergone lingers to the point of keeping her fairly balanced in her seat... but the braced hand still encourages her to make herself comfortable with her employer. /Against/ her employer, damp hair and all. Even with that and her steadily increasing closeness, the drunken Huntress tries to resolve herself not to show /too/ much vulnerability; through the fog of vodka and sake, the likelihood of being dismissed for being too soft, too unserious thrums alarmingly, especially after her brief trip back to the dungeon.

But the trust is there, definitely-- tentative and desperate, but present just the same. Kimura was a very compassionate woman who saw her at her lowest and decided she was just a girl who wanted to help the world by any means-- which made her entirely too nice to lean on, open up to. Arthur and John barely looked at her while they all waited for cabs to take them their separate ways.

Dahlia's the closest thing in the world she has to a friend right now-- and then a hairbrush enters the picture.

"'m gonna /kill/ her, Dahlia," she states, injecting a cold shot of venom into the woman's assurances. She dimly notices the brush's rhythm but doesn't pay it any real attention because she's got more important things to focus on, like murdering Kira. And not feeling alone. Glaring blue eyes fix on a scarred visage with a tilt of her chin. "I-- am going-- to put a gun in her mouth," she deliberately elaborates, "and make her /beg/ me to pull the trigger. She fucking... she fucked. With the wrong. /Person/." The Huntress's burning gaze remains in place for a second or two, then she lowers it, allowing it to cool as she rewinds to explain how she ended up-- well. Here.

It really doesn't take a psychic to know that she's done quite a bit of /thinking/ about killing Kira, by now.

Thanks to Bulleta's preoccupation, Dahlia's strike is an ambush. She tenses up when the bristles first make contact because she isn't /quite/ sure what's happening or how to process it. A dozen questions - is this genuine? is she just being handled? is it a test of some kind? - boil out of her booze-infused psyche, even as she remembers her place and resumes her recounting.

They're /still/ rolling when Dahlia prompts her, but by then, the girl's shifting to coil an arm around Dahlia's middle in an awkward but tight hug and her eyes are nearly shut. Semi-conscious nuzzling against the brush and well-dressed shoulder alike halts so she can nod along with Dahlia's conclusion.

"Not 'til after she let us all go. She jus'-- kinda-- dumped us near the casino," she softly recalls. "There's-- we've got an ex-FBI guy around, so they went to him t' get swept. I woulda gone with 'em, but I jus'-- I knew I needed t' report in."

She falls silent, wrestling internally with just how much Dahlia needs to know. Inevitably, the brush works the admission out of her:

"Figured they'd be good with not havin' me around 'em for a while, anyways," in a whisper. "U-- Art's ex-special forces, Johnny used to do interrogations-- they're tough. But none of us were expectin' /that/, an' I talked 'em into goin' with it t' begin with, soooooo..." The bottle is considered, but she just squeezes Dahlia instead.

"'m sorry I couldn't get /more/ out of her for you."

Dahlia's eyebrows knit together at the sudden forceful expression of Bulleta's intent. Not in disapproval -- no. Just at the suddenness -- a tumultuous outrage she's striving to come to full understanding of.

Kimura's report conveyed that -- aside from the point of a needle, and the slight, nearly invisible abrasions on Bulleta's wrists -- there was no physical trauma rendered. Physical torture is the easiest trigger for an expression of outrage. But that -cannot- be the answer here, not in the case of Bulleta. Which can only lead Dahlia to one other cause.

And as Bulleta shows just how serious she is? The Akatsuki leader agrees wholeheartedly, nodding in perfect synchronicity. She has no need to say anything -- but rather, wants to hear everything Bulleta has to say, in full detail. For every detail of Bulleta's counteroffensive speaks to just how depraved Kira Volkov's torment must have been.

The hairbrush is a weapon of kindness -- a way for Dahlia to express her concern and support. A silent weapon, allowing Dahlia to listen without interruption.

Dahlia may have been a silent party for a few moments, but her response to the apology is immediate and forthright. "And -I- am sorry for asking -you- and your companions to descend into the depths of her depravity." She shakes her head side-to-side, her long, ravenblack forelock lagging behind the motion by a fraction of a second. "You have conveyed exactly what I needed to know about this woman. Particularly... why it's in both our interests to put an end to her business."

A frown tugs the corners of her lips downward.
"Can I assume she does not come across as a ... 'people person?'"

The brush presses gently into Bulleta's scalp. A reassuring sensation in a steady, calming rhythm, as Dahlia's words float through the air.

"She set you free, Bulleta... proving that the capture was never anything more than a means to an end for her. She wants you on her side, compliant and docile. A pre-emptive strike, to ensure you can never betray her, lest you find yourself in that same wretched state again. It is this -fear- she hoped to instill upon you -- that she and she alone has the keys to your manacles."

Dahlia's brush works its way to the tip of Bulleta's hair -- lingering just out of reach as the lock falls back to the call of gravity. "And that at any point, she can snap her fingers -- and trigger this Pavlovian response again."

The van rolls over a joint in the bridge.
And her words seems even louder afterwards, as clear as a bell.
"You are stronger than that."

"Look at how many levels it took for her to instill this fear in you." The hairbrush comes into view, as Dahlia raises her fingers away from the handle in turn, counting off the levels. "One -- an impenetrable dungeon. Two -- an army of unspeakable horrors, the likes of which you've slain dozens -- hundreds? -- of times over. Three -- a cage, made of steel..."

Dahlia casts her gaze down to the wrist, twined about her middle. Her free hand clasps around it. The warm flesh of her palm, pressing against the bare wrist. "... Four -- the manacles of iron."

She does not count five, lest she drop the brush.
"And even then, she wasn't done..."
She lets the rolling of the van tires over the bridge serve as the only soundtrack, as the stilled air hangs before her. Bulleta can fill the void with her voice, forging the hatred into a knife... or she can let it fester. Either way will be embraced equally by the predator of emotions, twined so close to the huntress.

And yet, Dahlia's crisp voice cuts through the silence, simultaneously as the brush resumes its path through the tendrils of Bulleta's hair. "For she had to make sure the point was drilled in. That to challenge her... is not a one-on-one fight, not a fair fight, but... to fight unarmed, with no armor on your shoulders, no reinforcements at your side."

The brush pulls long, sinuous waves through Bulleta's hair. The calm ebb, after the crashing surf.

The crisply pressed fabric of Dahlia's sleeve grazes Bulleta's cheek, as she raises the brush for one more stroke.

"The key will be separating her from her armies. She will never... -consciously- allow herself to be in this sort of situation... for she is afraid."

"And yet, she's given -you- the key, Bulleta. Not her trust in you -- but her faith in her own manipulation. Her -crutch- of imprisonment, of humiliation. When in fact, all you have to do... is..."

Her voice trails off, as she keeps brushing with the same rhythm. Perhaps Bulleta might have an answer to this unstated question.

Dahlia does not stop brushing, as one might expect.
She keeps brushing, in expectant silence.

"Came across like a queen looking for a subject," Bulleta mumbles when asked about Kira's demeanor. "Like the crown'd disappear if nobody believed in it..."

She's quite happy to listen and be soothed by Dahlia after answering the question. The suggestion that she's /afraid/ of Kira provokes an immediate response: a protest seethes violently between her ears, she stiffens--

-- remembers the endless, howling uncertainty between crying for the camera and being ushered into the opulence of the Dragon's lair--

-- and gradually lets the brush smooth her bristling. Weakness in her profession is either a liability to be exploited or a weapon to be tactically deployed... but the disarmed huntress is safe, here. Slowly, she nods along with Scarlet Dahlia's description of Kira's intent as it stokes the fires of outrage within. When she reiterates, "I /am/ stronger than that," in a small, hard voice, it's to agree and quietly admit failure rather than protest. "I /am/. S-she beat me--" Blue eyes squeeze shut while she takes a quick, bracing breath. "-- /once/. But she didn't /kill/ me." Soft, shaky laughter permeates her next exhale. "Like she /should've/."

As Dahlia goes on to enumerate the torments heaped upon the huntress - the exact reasons /why/ she figures that killing her might've been the Dragon's best move - she clenches around, against the Yakuza leader's middle far more powerfully than what her small frame might suggest. The hand- the feeling of comforting warmth and not cold steel - pressing around her wrist holds her deceptive pressure at bay, but...

"She /humiliated/ me, treated me like I was NOTHING," Bulleta hisses after counting five herself. "like another-- fucking-- PET, to just... god-- /GOD/! Her smug fuckin' leerin' fuckin' mercenary Barbie FACE--!"

The panting, shuddering girl's eyes flick down for a beat, then she finally lets up on her borderline-crushing embrace. A wordless snarl accompanies brief, clumsy efforts to smooth over the afflicted area before she settles into hugging a bit less aggressively.

"She's a /coward/. She's /weak/. She's paranoid'n rich, but that's /it/-- I could see THROUGH her, Dahlia, GOD-- she's SO. OBVIOUS."

After that outburst, the Huntress just shudders and seethes in Scarlet Dahlia's embrace, nodding gently with the woman's conclusions about Kira and subtly pressing towards the brush-- towards the sleeve grazing her cheek. That unspoken question puts a stop to her nodding, though, leaving her to stew in contemplative silence.

"Keep her confident, 'cause her confidence'll make her feel strong'n 'n-- in-- fuckin' tough," she tentatively murmurs after Dahlia knows how long spent beneath the brush. "She trusts her manipulation, so she'll trust /me/. Eventually. 'cause I'm just-- jus' some kid who got in way over her head'n overplayed her hand, 'n' she's the big, bad Dragon of Africa... she THINKS she's not afraid of me or the Guild or /ANYONE/, but I wouldn't /BE/ here if she'd the balls to just fucking SHOOT me. So..."

A bottle and then some deep, Bulleta sees the likelihood that there's a correct answer, and her eyes shine with the hope that she's found it when she looks up at Dahlia.

"... I have to be stronger'n she thinks I am, strong like-- like I was /taught/ t' be, watch for her t' slip... and trust you t' have my back 'til she does."

Dahlia is, of course, older than Bulleta. But only by a few short years, not as much as her scarred face, her professional attire, or her cynical outlook might suggest. And the manipulator knows full well of how a trauma like that undergone by Bulleta can effectively rob a young woman of an irreplaceable treasure of life: childhood innocence.

To borrow Bulleta's words, Kira fucked with the wrong person.

So Dahlia -- orphaned by a tragic accident of her own making -- is happy to stand in. To be the voice of dangerous wisdom that Bulleta confides with, to be the pillow she embraces against her. She's fine being the person to ruffle her hair, to reassure her that somehow, some way, everything will turn out all right.

Alcohol weakened the barriers between thought and action. And Dahlia's mention of 'fear' had broken the barrier between composure and fury. And yet, the calm, repeated strokes of the brush strengthen the barrier between the past and the present. Reminding her of what was past: what can be locked away, and what can be retained.

Weakness... is a sign of humanity. And humanity, softness, -emotion- is a trait not only nurtured by Dahlia's soothing gestures, but -welcomed-. Dahlia cannot help but smile as she teases out a more complete picture of Kira Volkov from the maelstrom of rage. Hue, color, and saturation, born from the hue and cry. Each of the words Bulleta contributes is transformed into an oil paint, deftly brushed into the portrait of the broken Kira Volkov, huddled deep within the Dragon's Den.

The Black Dragon who threatened to kill -- and the young woman with an unlimited potential for vengeance.

She can feel every iota of the younger woman's humiliated outrage over humiliation. She exults in it, hoping to nurture the vengeance into action. And a plan begins to form...

The younger of the two will likely have noticed in her increasingly forceful embrace, Dahlia is wearing kevlar-reinforced body armor. And every so often, she might brush against an unexpectedly hard edge in the Dahlia's clothing -- the telltale sign of a concealed blade, or a technological doodad. Against an adversary, she might not like to turn her hand, but with Bulleta, there is a certain honor amongst thieves. Professional courtesy allows Dahlia to divulge some of her arsenal of secrets.

And yet, the kevlar is not a complete cage. There is give, and there is take. And at some point, Dahlia will find her lungs have all but collapsed -- and she will gasp for breath.

That was not the plan, though.

Mercifully, Bulleta chooses that time to release. And Dahlia closes her eyes, refilling her lungs with relief -- careful to keep such a thing from being too terribly obvious.

Dahlia had asked a question, with the expectation that Bulleta would provide the answer. There is no right answer, no wrong -- and the huntress would see that in the older woman's compassionate eyes as she hugs her securely. Confidence -- yes. She can glean the true meaning, even amidst the inebriated teenager's attempts at eloquence.

"You're on the right track. She's overconfident. Headstrong. And she trusts her men... to the point of overdependence.

Dahlia's head tilts to the side.
And then, she looks away from her -- towards the front of the vehicle. The van rumbles along, as Dahlia's glare is directed towards the laptop-toting boy riding shotgun. The brush hand halts in its ministrations, as her other hand reaches for her pocket, latching onto an item she finds there. Her entire body grows rigid, tense.

And four seconds later, Dahlia relaxes, closing her eyes -- and drawing in a deep, deep breath.

As she releases the held breath, she whispers -- as much for herself as for Bulleta's benefit: "... Small... matter of concern. I'll address it later."

She finds her composure, brushing one more stroke through Bulleta's flaxen hair. "Don't... forget the rage you feel inside. Keep it bottled up -- save it for the coup de grace. You are a huntress -- and she is the prey, trickier than perhaps any you've ever fought before."

Dahlia strokes her thumbnail across Bulleta's shoulder, consolingly. "We will deal with her together. The plans... we'll discuss. But for now... let's keep that on tap. There's the matter of payment -- and your plans to become rich as -fuck-. Let's turn our attention to the growing threat of Darkstalkers in our fair city of Southtown."

Another sign for Kasukabe flies by in the window. It's not too far from Southtown, but far enough to carry it away from the ever-watchful eyes of the Syndicate.

"Things will be a little hot in Southtown for a while. And you... may need a night to just kick back and relax. Maybe even sleep off that nice little hangover you're building towards, hmm?"

Dahlia's expression creases with delight. "What do you think?"

Idle curiosity motivates the odd pat here or prod there around Dahlia's midsection after Bulleta lets up. The kevlar's obvious - and fortuitous - at first brush, but the hidden arsenal demands identification and brings a small, appreciative smile to the huntress' lips. The search makes for a familiar, pleasant distraction as tender bristles sweep the darkness of the recent past away to make room for the present-- and for brighter, warmer memories. Hopeful eyes shut once that dangling question's been answered in full, and Bulleta releases a small sigh of relief.

There's no music but the rhythm of rubber rolling over asphault, Dahlia doesn't seem given to sing-songy lilting, and the odor of alcohol wafts through the car rather than freshly baked treats, but there's gentle encouragement; a steady, caring hand; a steadfast embrace from a woman who knows better than to leave the house unarmed.

There's safety-- the kind that makes it /okay/ to be soft, human-- to trust in a formidable woman's strength while she gathers her own.

The kind that would inspire murder, if threatened.

Dahlia's head tilts to the side and unmistakable tension cracks blue eyes. The brush stills.
Four seconds later, the Huntress is sitting up enough to show Dahlia smoldering wrath waiting - /begging/ - to be unleashed at her word. With a hand poised over a hidden blade, she starts to growl, "What--" only to be cut off by a breath and a whisper. She caught the tail end of the glare, the reach for /something/; the boy with the laptop earns further glowering even after Dahlia relaxes.

Then expertly-wielded bristles touch her scalp again, and a couple seconds later, she's lowering her head back into place. Her own tension - violent and ready - lingers until Dahlia reminds her of her /other/ favorite thing in the world. "Suuuuuper rich," she agrees, soft and airy. "That Bitch'll have to get some of 'em, for good faith - 'nless I 'accidentally'" over-exaggerated finger-quotes "overdo it and just kill 'em, anyway."

She hasn't paid the signs-- or anything else outside of the van much mind, especially once the brush came into play. However close - or far - their destination is, the promise of sleeping somewhere safe sparks tired and eager nodding. "'m not that drunk," she still protests, albeit quietly and without any real vigor - a reflex, probably, "but a bed'd be /awesome/."

Her hand finally slides from that blade so she can embrace her comforting employer properly. "I... think I'm glad you agreed t' meet me, work with me..." she whispers as her eyes shut and alcohol-eroded barriers let emotions that'd otherwise be carefully guarded spill from her lips, "... an' meet me /again/, after I fucked up... an' I think I wanna do whatever I've gotta do to show you I'm /worth/ it. Don't care if it's 'stalkers, or gangsters, or-- I don't /care/. 'm gonna make sure you /know/ I'm not-- not just some /girl/."

After a beat: "An'... I think my hair could prob'ly use more brushing," she tentatively suggests, "'cause... like... I /saw/ it, an'..." She trails off into just shaking her head, then remembers to add, "Please."


"Thank you."



"... I think Dr. K said 'hello', too."

One just can't get too upset with tipsy people. They're not in full control of their emotions, or in some adverse cases, their normal bodily functions. And behaviors that would not exactly be tolerated from a sober person just get a free pass -- like Bulleta's curious prods to see just what sort of heat Dahlia might be packing, if any. The truth is, most of the items in Dahlia's possession are either boxlike, cylindrical, or perfectly round -- so they could be damn near anything, really.

While there were certainly moments in which Dahlia was on high alert, whatever it was that piqued her curiosity seems to have abated the moment the tines of her bristle brush touch back down upon Bulleta's fair hair.

"You keep managing to impress me, Bulleta. I was nervous that perhaps you'd overindulged with the sake, and yet, you still have your wits about you."

And yet, despite her sincere tone, Dahlia's honeyed words are only partially true. She can sense the turmoil, she can see the alcohol's effect. And it's taking an inordinate amount of willpower to keep from betraying the young huntress' trust -- from laying a stronger foundation for a full network of control. For she may... need an additional layer of control. Soon.

But then she'd be no different than Kira. And that will simply not do.

No -- the hairbrush is all that she needs for now. Dahlia helpfully acquiesces, running the bristles across Bulleta's scalp with a warm, motherly smile. "Thank you. Awfully sweet of her. And... It's no trouble at all... Rain like tonight wreaks havoc on hair. I understand completely..."

The warm smile continues, as Dahlia looks out the window. From her recollection, the safe house is not too far away. A hop, skip, and a jump from Southtown. Transferred to a supposedly neutral third party, much like dozens of other real estate properties that had to be relinquished in advance of Duke's initiation of war. And yet, forces could be massed. And, in this case, would need to be massed in higher numbers than anticipated.

One of the longer, rectangular objects in Dahlia's repertoire is a phone. She withdraws it from her jacket, with an apology: "Excuse me for a moment, I need to make some arrangements." Her slender thumb prods at the screen, and a soft dialtone sounds.

"It's me. Change of plans. Same location. Deploy three of our new drones, perimeter control, surveillance orbit. Two klick radius. If it's a local, let them pass. If it's not, and it's moving, lock it down. No surprises tonight for our guest and myself."

The call is ended, as Dahlia slips the phone back away. Perhaps Bulleta's hair may still be a bit frizzy, but the most unruly of disturbances has been brushed out -- anything from here is just icing on the cake, gentle strokes of affirmation. "Just a little... added security measure, nothing more. There's a lot to be done yet, but it can easily wait till tomorrow. Rest is essential in our lines of work, to make sure our minds are as sharp as our blades."

Dahlia continues brushing, all the way up until the van coasts to a stop outside the Japanese-style building. It's large enough to serve as an inn -- and indeed, only the 'CLOSED - NO VACANCY' sign hanging from the front is enough to suggest otherwise.

"This building has a fair bit of history behind it -- once owned by a feudal lord as a home away from home. The clan uses it for much the same purpose, nowadays, so it should be in good repair. A nice getaway from Southtown, without the inconvenience of traveling for hours on end." Dahlia withdraws the brush, pressing it into Bulleta's hands with an enigmatic smile. "Do you need a new phone? Smokes? I want to ensure you're able to kick back and relax, so if there's anything you need -- just ask."

Dahlia's already on board with Bulleta's wealth accumulation plan. But it's likely understood how odd a request that would make.

The driver and the kid with the laptop disembark. And begin looking up into the sky -- either to feign ignorance to the two left inside the van, or to watch the skies for the aforementioned drone patrol.

Amber eyes settle back on Bulleta, as Dahlia's palms rest upon the huntress' shoulders. And in the midst of her eyes, veins of honey hued light begin to shine faintly -- perhaps an odd trick of the light?

"I am so very, very glad to have someone of your caliber working with us, Bulleta. I want you to rest as easy as I will tonight, having such a masterful bounty hunter as a trusted companion."

Indeed, given that Bulleta keeps her hair fairly short, there simply weren't many tangles /to/ tame; when the bristles settle against her scalp again, her hair lies flat wherever it isn't being being worked. Not that she knows - or cares - how it looks /now/. Checking a mirror would mean sitting up; sitting up would disrupt Dahlia's ministrations, and Dahlia's ministrations are more important than whatever excuse she might spin to secure them. The questions that stormed when the Akatsuki's leader first deployed her secret weapon have long since been banished to the girl's subconscious, leaving a faint echo of wariness behind to be drowned out by swelling trust and appreciation.

The huntress whose favorite weapons are an analytical eye and a mask dangles in the elder manipulator's web, as content as she is defenseless after giving drink and the Dragon their due.

Content, defenseless, and still capable of emitting a lowly appreciative whistle for the measures Dahlia ordered.

"I jus'... gotta put some stuff together..." she mumbles after nodding along with the importance of rest.


Bulleta slings a wicker-colored purse bulging with weapons and weapon-parts into one of the two unused seats.


Bulleta's eyes slit open and drift pointedly towards a clattering purse that definitely didn't get forgotten about between transitions.

"An' maybe practice a /little/..." she continues after closing her eyes. "Gotta practice every day, 's important. Need to eat, too; all I had was some grapes, 'cause who knows what That Bitch mighta tried to slip me..."

Rest is essential, and Bulleta's gotten very little of it. After letting her little compromises trail off, she spends the rest of the trip drifting in and out of consciousness.

Out of the van and into the depths of a Den lit by flames and filled with the music of a broken Black Dragon's pleas.

A smile bigger than what any bottle - maybe even brush - could bring has settled into place by the time Dahlia's explanation rouses her to full consciousness.

"Huh, wh-- uh--" Blinking, she sits up in her seat, looks down at the brush pressing into her hand, then up at Dahlia, smile falling into a self-conscious register when it occurs to her that she spent the whole trip laying - /napping/ - on her new employer. Then again, Dahlia's smiling too...

"Both," she murmurs once the self-consciousness passes. "An' food, like-- more food than you're prob'ly thinking you need as you look at me askin' for food..."

Honey-laced eyes catch hers; soft, strong hands take her shoulders, and for some(Scarlet) reason(Dahlia), the huntress' other requests - for extra pillows and empty bottles - fall by the wayside.

"... Bonnie," she whispers once she's spent a few seconds looking into those eyes and letting another barrier crumble-- sitting up as straight as she can while basking in her benefactor's praise. "You... /you/ can call me Bonnie. If you want. If we're not jus'... working." There's some fumbling with the seat belt, but not enough to warrant looking away. "Now that I /know/ I've got... well. YOU behind me, I'm gonna rest /great/, you're... god, Dahlia, you're in the middle of a WAR, but you're HERE." Not outside of the warzone, far enough to marshal strength in safety and near enough to strike her enemies quickly; that makes perfect sense to the huntress.

"I promise'm not... like... /this/, this..." weak, she can't quite say. "'m /not/. But I'm... /glad/... you're here t' hold me up, remind me've who I am, this time... glad you still TRUST me after doin' it..."

The belt comes undone at some point, but she has no intention of being the first one out of the van.

It may seem like Dahlia had ordered a lot. Really, though -- she has command over a vast network of resources that would be nigh impossible for -most- people to keep track of. And while is the manipulator adept at juggling, in both metaphorical and literal senses, she is also a master of delegation -- assigning tasks to subordinates she can trust.

For there is no place in the Akatsuki-gumi for a subordinate she does -not- trust.

Resources that are left fallow are worthless. One must use resources, lest one run the risk of losing them. And with regard to human capital, the Devil finds work for idle hands to do. Better Dahlia than the Devil, there.

"No rush. Take your time." Dahlia smiles, as the insidious hairbrush works its magic on Bulleta. It helps, of course, that the Ainu woman knows what helps -her- relax. And the mostly-full glass of vodka she'd left aside... not exactly it. "What kind of practice? If you need spotters -- or even targets, I can likely arrange for them." The war may not -look- like it's in Akatsuki's favor, but the fact is that her resources are almost -all- kept in the shadows -- ready to close in at the perfect opportunity.

"Definitely need to get you some food. Takeout menus are in a folder by the fridge, as they are in all my--"

Dahlia drifts off, a mischievous smile growing upon her face. The time is ripe for taking advantage of the now-sleeping Bulleta. And yet... a completely different thought occurs to her, causing her smile to fade into a contemplative, pensive look.

There's something about the sensation that appeals to Dahlia. For all her subordinates, for all her friends... Bulleta, in her arms, may be the closest she'd ever felt to having a -child-. Completely in her care -- completely, and utterly powerless to resist.

There's no need to go messing with her head any further. Her plans for Bulleta -- at least for tonight -- are already complete.

- - -

If Dahlia herself hadn't woken her, it would probably have been the sound of the van's liftgate opening up, or perhaps the sound of a hydraulic lift.

"Bonnie, then. Just between us." Dahlia's comforting smile, as the first thing one sees upon waking. Some might find that scarred face absolutely -terrifying-.

"The war is taking place on a number of fronts." She tilts her head towards the displays of her mobile command center. "My people are keeping tabs on it."

The compliments only cement her smile more firmly. Dahlia squeezes Bulleta's shoulders consolingly. "You're not weak, not at all. Weakness is when a fool denies that they have any room for improvement. And you're not like that at all."

Dahlia's belt is undone. But even with Bulleta's rest... Dahlia still has a problem in her leg. With her jaw set, and her eyes wincing shut, she rises to her feet, hesitant and shaky.

The door, as if sensing her infirmity, slides open. The driver reaches in, supporting Dahlia by the arm without waiting for a request. The driver eases her out of the van, and into the motorized wheelchair just outside, with a thin misting of rain wiped off the seat.

Dahlia settles into her chair, retrieving a pen from a pocket on the chair. The pen dances about her thumb as she makes herself comfortable -- and then with a tentative nudge to the joystick, she begins to move.

"Let's head on inside, then. I'll show you around for a bit. I'm sure I can spare a few minutes before the next logistical crisis demands my attention."

She looks back at Bulleta, pressing her lips into a firm smile.

And for a moment, through narrowed eyes -- she believes she can -see- the damn nanoscale devices that Dr. Kimura missed, coursing around Bonnie's bloodstream. The ones that her comms officer noted were broadcasting mid-trip, at roughly five minute intervals.

The ones she'll have to tell her about, tomorrow.

Bonnie does her best to avoid looking too long at those wretched scars.

Allowances were made for drunken hugging and frisking, but even now, she doubts she could get away with sating her curiosity by touching them... and once Dahlia's captured her gaze, there are more important things to consider, anyway. Her gaze shifts as Dahlia's does, towards those displays that get a slight nod once she's seen them for herself... and then the Yakuza boss starts to rise.

Blue eyes instinctively trail along scars on their way to the shoulder she picked out as vulnerable when they first met, and further still until they're locked onto that leg. As her focus moves, so too does the rest of her, nudging her head between Dahlia's arm and side so the former's forced to drape over her shoulders. There's some wobbling once she's upright, mitigated by the necessarily slow pace set by her employer. She doesn't fuss when the driver reaches in, but the driver gets A Look to remind him that he's helping /her/ help Dahlia.

Once the woman's seated and comfortable, Bonnie hops back in long enough to snatch her clattering purse and stolen sake, then lands beside Dahlia-- and braces a hand on the chair while she makes sure /both/ feet are firmly planted on rainslicked concrete. Beaming up at her new accommodations and over at her new friend, she slings the purse over a shoulder and carefully tucks the brush into a jean pocket. "Izzis... like, just for tonight, or...?" she wonders while setting a contemplative eye upon the inn. "'cause if it's /not/, I wanna see the security... see if I need to install anything. An' I /do/ need targets. An' someone t' hit, prob'ly.".

The girl gamely splits her attention between looking at - /studying/ - her new surroundings, scrawling a map on a booze-soaked canvas... and smiling over at her tour-guide.

That little prick in her arm where Kira took blood or infected her with god knows what is long forgotten, a barely existent ache for the huntress who's still recovering from deeper wounds.

At least she'll have the rest of tonight for it to remain so.

"I gotta land mine guy, jay ess why kay," she chirps.

Bulleta was wise to avoid both touching Dahlia's scars and entering a tug-of-war with her subordinate. Either one would be ample cause for a stinging rebuke, but that's neither here nor there. At any rate, Dahlia is grateful for the additional assistance, flashing an appreciative grin to both her helpers as she allows herself to be eased into the chair. And she's not even that much of a burden; even with her miniature arsenal, she is still much leaner than her layered wardrobe might suggest.

As Bulleta retrieves her things and returns to Dahlia's side, a question is asked as she's easing the joystick forward. Wheels squeak against the concrete as the chair rolls forward. A faint misting drizzle dampens her voice somewhat, but she still keeps her voice low in cognizance of possible eavesdroppers.

"First week's free, to get you hooked." Her lips curl into a lopsided smile, suggesting the mirthfully-spoken statement might bear a nugget of truth. "There's not a rush to fill your room -- we're redeploying all over the nation."

Even as she speaks, a black compact SUV drives by, maneuvering into one of the nearby parking spots. Three men wearing unassuming button-down shirts of various colors and khakis spill out of the van, along with a woman in her mid-twenties in a somewhat more formal dress. Upon seeing Dahlia, all four snap a quick salute -- as if the Akatsuki Advisor might take action if they -don't-.

Dahlia nods distractedly in their direction, enough to acknowledge the obeisance before the four begin to shuffle into the inn. Bulleta merits more of the leader's smile, after all.

"I won't be able to sustain a constant airborne vigil for more than a few nights, so anything you can do to amplify security in the meantime would be most appreciated."

As the wheelchair rolls towards the ryokan, the four spill in. In accordance with custom, they remove their shoes as they enter, setting them into small cubbies on the left while they don slippers left out for them. On the right side of the entranceway is a windowed booth -- presumably where the inn's proprietor would have engaged in transactions with potential customers.

The three men scoot past the window, disappearing down side hallways towards rooms of their own; the young woman remains just inside, staying one step up from the ground level. A step might pose a problem, one might realize, as Dahlia rolls inside. But Dahlia has an answer for any problem: a small thumbswitch causes the wheeled chair to elevate upward several inches, providing the ground clearance sufficient for her to roll into the entrance hallway with only slight delay.

"It's 'Akemi,' isn't it?" asks the Dahlia, bowing her head in response to a full and formal bow from the young lady. "Wonderful. This is my friend Bulleta." And Dahlia swivels to face the blonde Huntress, as Akemi bows to her. "And this is Akemi. Anything you need, just give Akemi's door small knock and she'll set you up. More pillows, a takeout menu for the local restaurants -- even drinks if you ask her nicely." She smiles sweetly for a moment -- as does Akemi, taking a few steps back to afford Dahlia access.

There's ... actually -plenty- of room on the hardwood floors for the wheelchair to maneuver safely. The inside of the ryokan is classical Japanese. Wooden-jointed walls are exhibitions of master-class Japanese woodworking; precision right-angles showing no signs of nails or fasteners. Despite the building's unmistakable age, it is as impeccably clean as if it were built just months prior.

Dahlia seems set to roll down the hall, but before she turns the corner, she tilts her head back to the young woman. "Oh, and Akemi... Miss Bulleta needs quiet. Ensure she gets all the rest she needs, even if that means knocking those knuckleheads around a bit." Her eyes droop for a moment, before lighting up. "And if she needs a sparring partner..."

Akemi bows humbly to Dahlia. "Yes, ma'am, I understand completely." And she bows, once more.

"Your room's number five, third on the right. Bathroom is the last room on the left -- make sure to turn the sign when you enter or leave, lest you get an unwanted surprise."

As Akemi shuffles off to her room, Dahlia leans close to Bulleta, brushing fingers over her wrist if she can in a gesture of trust.

"Any of these should pose a suitable sparring challenge for you. Just don't put them on the disabled list, mmm?"

The brief uptick in her smile suggests that wasn't a -fully- serious warning.

As for defenses... well, she keeps her voice low, there. "Landmines would be a little much. This neighborhood is a bit diversified, which is what makes it such excellent camouflage. All I'm asking for is a bit of discretion on setting the trigger -- random explosions tend to ruin our cover."

Dahlia seeks to wrap both of her hands around one of Bulleta's. "I want your stay to be as pleasant as possible. Do get some rest, hmm? I will see if I can drop by in the morning to check on you -- hopefully I'll have some contracts for you by then. Is there anything else you might need, from me?"

Bulleta laughs--
-- then processes--
-- then pauses for a tick before settling into a more subdued smile.

"'m ready t'be your quarterback," she promises, that little nugget of truth having wriggled its way deep into the rosy-cheeked girl's vulnerable psyche. "I won't let you down." Her eyes drift towards the SUV and its occupants, lingering until Dahlia snaps her out of sizing them up. Soon enough, her chin's lowering in thought.

"Okay," she softly exhales while stepping out of her slip-ons and staring at that single step, "So we... use that time"

Does she just sort of-- tip the chair, and...?

"t', like, t' make /sure/ your"

Does she-- does she /carry/ Dahlia in? Is that allowed?

Is it /expected/?

"permanent... surveillin'," blue eyes drift towards the chair and its occupants, "is where it should be-- oh!"

The chair rises, just enough. Of /course/ Dahlia's got it covered.

Akemi gets an even-toned, "Hey," a shallow bow, and a tight smile from the Huntress, tired and polite rather than performative. Then she steps away so she can explore the ample space a little by taking a few idly twirling steps away from the chair while her eyes roam.

Those foggy blue spheres bounce around the Akatsuki leader when she inevitably has to stop and wobble her way towards the chair-- just in time for very important details about her accommodations. "Rrrroger," she murmurs of the sign while wrinkling her nose. She glances after the retreating Akemi, then fingers grazing her wrist summon her attention elsewhere. Freshly brushed hair whips along with a snap of the Huntress' head, then a sharply held breath and tensing muscles are released.

"... promise~," she murmurs, edging closer and sharing a grin with the older woman. It shrinks a little with the warning, but just a little; easing up on explosions just means she'll have to get creative.

"Tripwire's dependable. Darts... /maybe/ a li'l gas, but that'd be... hmmm..."

Bulleta looks down at her empty hand-- or, rather, at the hands enveloping it. The Huntress nods along

'hug me again'

until she's given a question

'just a little'

to answer,


at which point she has to stop and think about what she should tell the Scarlet Dahlia she needs.

"I... really kinda need," she murmurs after a couple of contemplative seconds, "my dog. If we're talkin' in weeks. Ar-- Wesson'n Smith'd take care've him, but... y'know. Prob'ly misses me, or whatever; I should pick him up." The answer she can't quite convince herself to give burns on the tip of her tongue afterwards, as she squeezes one of the Yakuza administrator's hands and smiles big.

"Thanks for everything. I'll see you tomorrow, an' /then/ we can start talkin' about traps'n surveillance." The bounty hunter's eyes practically sparkle with glee. "An' contracts. Hopefully."

Dahlia notices the slight moments of indecision associated with entering the ryokan. Southtown is pretty Westernized; she can forgive foreigners having trouble with the traditions in the rest of the country. It was a happy stroke of luck that she didn't need to ask her subordinates to demonstrate.

Dahlia is pleased, of course, to see that her efforts on Bulleta's hair are rewarded with such lovely results. She can sense the growing self-consciousness and unease -- perhaps it might have been more comfortable to have found a more stable residence for the young Huntress. But with the unusual circumstances, Dahlia couldn't take chances in setting her up in a place outside of her full control. Not tonight. She -must- take care of her guest.

"... Just run your plans by Akemi; she can float them past me and we can see about routing the necessaries." No need to burden Bulleta with specific rules about what Dahlia will and won't allow; just delegate! Organizations are a beautiful thing.

Dahlia looks up into Bulleta's eyes. Sure -- the young Huntress might be a bit on the short side, which means it's not as far up to look. But she's still taller than a seated crime boss. And as said crime boss clasps those hands, she can't help but notice a familiar cadence of thoughts. One that yearns for a closer connection. The thought is analyzed, considered... and for the moment...

Delayed. As Dahlia's lips take a downturn. Not disapproving, but rather... concerned.

"Could I trouble you to hold off on that move for... a couple more days? I know you miss your little friend..." Phrasing is intentional: friend, and not dog. "... but I'll need to get some supplies lined up first." She offers a brief smile to take the edge off that statement.

Dahlia is still holding her hands.
And then, she tilts her head in a smile. "... I feel like we've known each other for years, though it's only been a couple days, Bonnie. Would it be terribly, er... -weird- if I were to ask for a hug good night?"

The smile she wears is one of cheery optimism for the night ahead.

The Huntress hasn't looked up since Dahlia's generous question. Looking up would make it harder to ignore the question begging to be freed, to hear the little warble beyond it that reminds her of how much she's already dared-- shared-- given up in exchange for feeling a little less alone.

But then, looking /down/ makes it impossible to share a look with the woman patiently guiding her through her nadir. Blue eyes lift in time to see a scarred visage take on a concerned cast. The girl sucks her lip in at having to take her own turn at patience, chews for a moment, then murmurs, "I-- well, he's-- real well behaved, 'n I got... like, food, 'n /everything/, 'n..." And he /is/ her friend, a rare commodity indeed for someone like her. Her soft, warm, friend who definitely won't see her any differently if she wants - /needs/ - his affection. "... I mean..." she softly continues as her eyes slide away from Dahlia's, "... well, 's just a few days..."

Another squeeze.

"... guess they won't mind takin' care've him for a few days..."

The Yakuza administrator tilts her head, smiles, and... shares a little vulnerability of her own. Relief floods Bonnie's thoughts without creeping too far beyond them to show in her expression... but tonight, at least, she can't do a thing to hide her straightening posture, nor the little fumbles as she quickly moves to find a place to set the sake - not on Dahlia, not on the ground /beside/ Dahlia... jutting from the purse will do.

"It-- yeah, it-- it feels like you, like, you /get/ me... and you like me /anyway/," she quietly says as her freed hand clasps against one of Dahlia's. She squeezes for a third time - fond and perhaps a bit /too/ firm, thanks to all that booze - while circling to the front of the chair, then frees her hands so she can bend a short ways and give Dahlia the warm, tight embrace she so mercifully asked for.

"I /wish/ I'd known you for years," Bonnie murmurs as her chin touches what she's picked out as Dahlia's 'good' shoulder. A soft, shaky giggle slips out. "/That's/ weird, not... hugging. People... like, friends, they hug all'a time, right? An'... /we're/ friends." Hope tentatively flutters when she says it aloud. "Soooooo..."

It'll be a /long/ good night hug if the Huntress has her way... but whether it's she or Dahlia who breaks the hug first, her thoughts are briefly touched by disappointment at not getting just a /little/ bit more time.

"I'll start makin' a list for Akemi," she quietly assures afterwards. Combing through carefully tamed blonde strands, she backs a couple steps towards Room Five. "D'you, like... need anything else? Are you hungry? I'm about to eat a /lotta/ food; some'a the food could totally be your food."

Dahlia could make excuses all night, and even in her compromised state Bonnie would be able to counter them one by one. The Akatsuki leader's expression softens, as she bows her head in apology.

"... It's my allergies."
Dahlia's nose wrinkles, perhaps as a psychosomatic reaction to even thinking about dog hair. That might even explain why she was wary to set foot in the werewolf-laden casino by herself, really. She looks up afterwards, her look of mild embarassment taking a more upbeat turn. "Tomorrow, then, I promise. I know how much your friend means to you. It's the best I can do..." She trails off for a moment, before asking, "So what's his name?"

Dahlia smiles up at Bulleta. It is an ... odd request, perhaps, to have something as simple as a hug. It seems selfish -- and it is, for behind the facade of a calculating crimelord beats the heart of a woman made lonely through her own machinations. She was once surrounded with love and positive emotions on a day-to-day basis -- but the life of a revolutionary can stop for no one. Now -- she must, like Bulleta, treasure these isolated moments of kindred companionship when they come about.

Dahlia leans into the hug -- shifting the bulk of her weight onto her right leg as she raises up ever so slightly to accommodate the gesture. There are no words, no thoughts for the moment -- just a firm, solid squeeze, the kind of insistent pressure that can ripple a chain reaction through a roll of bubble wrap.

For one long, fateful moment, raven and flaxen locks intertwine. But as Dahlia rests back in her seat, the tendrils of hair wistfully separate from one another -- though, again, her right hand seeks out Bonnie's left before she can escape to freedom. She nods, affirmingly -- with the gravity of bookending a long and drawn-out negotiation. "Friends, yes." Her amber eyes tremble ever so slightly as she looks back at the golden-tressed Huntress.

She nods with appraisal, agreeing with the preparations. But when it comes to the matter of an invitation, Dahlia's reaction is delayed by a moment of poignant thought. "... No, though I appreciate the offer. There've been a number of developments in the past hour that I need to get a handle on. I've strayed away from my comms a bit much as it is, sadly."

Once more, she clasps her left hand around Bonnie's, sandwiching her yet again. Blood pulses warmly through her veins as she offers a look of reluctant finality.

"Rest well, Bonnie. We'll talk again tomorrow morning."


Shit! She wants Harry, but it's Dahlia's house...

"... sorry, yeah," the Huntress rapidly replies with a floppy, dismissive wave and brisk headshaking, "no, yeah, I had no idea-- don'worry 'bout it, Art'n'John'll take care've 'im for a few days, don'... don'rush yourself. You're a busy woman, he'll be okay. He's a good dog." Bonnie's nervously apologetic smile softens. "His name's Harry."

Harry will be fine... and so will Bonnie, because /she's/ got the Scarlet Dahlia on her side. With her arms wound around the scarred mastermind, Bonnie presses in close to borrow as much warmth as she can from the embrace. She squeezes-- just powerfully /enough/, her familiarity with the woman's armor allowing her to keep her affections a few notches shy of breath-stealing. Harry will be just fine, she vaguely reminds herself while tucking her head in next to Dahlia's. Raven tresses mingle with her own--

-- and one lingering moment later, it's time to separate.

Kind of. Her right hand's still caught amidst her fair locks when the other's taken. Bonnie stops; she doesn't freeze or tense, she just... stops, then shifts a half step or so closer. Leans in slightly, curious and ready for last minute requests, warnings...

... assurances...

"Oh," she exhales, beaming and once more relieved. She offers her friend some assurances of her own, extends an invitation, and manages not to lose the smile afterwards. Dahlia's a /very/ busy woman.

"I'll see you in the morning," she agrees while dropping her hand out of her hair and grasping the hand covering hers. "G'night, Dahlia."

The girl's slow to disengage, slow to turn away from the crime lord - lest she change her mind about dinner at the last second - but in due time, she's stepping into Room 5 and face-planting into double-stacked futons. There, the purse sinks and smacks heavily against tatami. The bottle and a few loose parts tumble out, provoking a muffled swear.

A few minutes later, she sits up, collects the spilled weapon-bits, carries them in hand to the biggest patch of empty space she can find... and proceeds to dump them, then everything else in her purse out into a pile. A half-smoked pack and a lighter hit the gun-metal and polished wood jigsaw nightmare last; she lights a stick, digs out her tools, then starts sorting. If she'd just spent a little longer at the hospital, she probably could've gotten this taken care of in a mater of minutes. Now?

It'll be hours before the girl's finished. Some of that'll be eating: not even half an hour in, she knocks a little too loud on Akemi's door, receives her menus, and keeps her word by ordering what should be too much greasy takeout food for just one petite Huntress. Bit by bit, the infernal puzzle becomes a lovingly arranged arsenal and an imposing dinner order becomes empty containers. Bonnie sings through the work, filling her corner of the ryokan with soft, clearly voiced - sometimes profanity-laced - music.

She must /really/ like C.R.E.A.M., given all the encores.

There's no clock to tell her /exactly/ how long it is before she's finally out of things to keep her busy, but she knows it's time for bed-- well. Time to bug Akemi for more pillows, /then/ time for bed.

Time for another trip back to the dungeon in flames and the dethroned mercenary queen-- time to luxuriate in sobs and desperate pleas while her new friend brushes her hair and whispers pride in her ear.

- - -

Still in her gifted blouse and jeans, Bonnie's hugging a larger pillow like a buoy when she finally stirs the next morning, groaning as she wakes up to her skull and joints' blaring reminds of the previous day's indiscretions. She crawls over the pillow so she can give the room a bleary, sober-eyed look, briskly checking over laid out guns for obvious flaws; counting takeout boxes and paper cups to get a rough idea of how much work she's got to do on top of already missing an entire day's worth. Wincing at cigarette butts that-- at least got stubbed out against the purse before getting tossed in the general vicinity of some food container or another.

She doesn't check the purse at all. She knows it's fine; it's been through worse.

"Fuuuuuuck..." she mumbles as her head sinks towards the futon-- then freezes at the sound of motorized wheels behind her door.

"... uh, good morning," she says a little louder, snapping upright and pressing a palm to her forehead. Finding a small, tight smile for Dahlia, she asks, "Is everything okay? Did you /sleep/ okay?"

- - -

As a young girl, the Ainu-Japanese girl found that lying was the shortest route to getting what she wanted. But when lying had come as easily for the girl as breathing, the realities of life and the need to engage people in -more- than one conversation impressed one value upon the core of her being: the wisdom to know when to shut the hell up.

Or, in short: the less said, the better.

"Harry's a lovely name. I'm sure he'll be delighted to tromp around here when the time comes."
- - -

The wheels and the feet would've been traversing from one side of the door to the next. It's not that Dahlia was -waiting- outside of Room 5, but rather that she could easily have had business with the occupant of Room 3, or the occupant of Room 6.

And yet -- if there -had- been any such occupants, they would have surely said something on the sixth or seventh encore last night. So maybe Dahlia was just trying to be politely conspicuous in shuttling down the hallway at periodic intervals. Or maybe pacing was just part of the crime boss' early morning M.O.

Suffice to say, Dahlia had slowed to a halt just on the off-chance that Bulleta was awake. She's quick to respond, with her lack of grogginess showing she's either been up for a while or responds really well to coffee. "Oh, good, you're awake."

She pauses for a moment, along with the attendant turn of her wheels to allow Dahlia to face the closed door. "I slept well, thank you. I trust you did as well...?"

The door's still closed. But even amongst criminals, there are such things as good manners. She will allow Bulleta the discretion in actually -opening- said door before continuing -- and even then, she will stay out in the hall, declining to sully the tatami of her guest's room with the synthetic rubber of her chair's wheels. She's dressed similarly to the night previous -- though the jacket is different, a casual style colored in chinese violet. The other particulars of her outfit would be difficult to ascertain due to the giant roll of bubble wrap propped in her lap. Dahlia smiles, lifting it up for Bonnie's inspection.

"Housewarming gift," she explains with a lopsided half-grin. And she'd likely toss the bubblewrap over to her guest as soon as she's ready.

Dahlia -had- ignored the first question, of course. And it's because her answer required the exchange of formalities and the gift to be addressed first.

"I have three things to say. Would you like coffee or breakfast first?"

Her lips press into a dour line, a stark contrast from her lopsided smile moments earlier. That is all the context the Dahlia will provide regarding the nature of her points of order.

With guns and garbage taking up a corner of the room, that closed door is a godsend.

"Yeah, but I feel like shit /now/," Bonnie calls in reply. More a groggily stated fact than a complaint, the girl's reply is underscored by her shuffling efforts to get up, smooth out wrinkles, and fingercomb her hair into some measure of presentability. About a minute later, she sticks her head out with a small, mustered smile, chirps, "Hey!" then slides the rest of the way into the hall. She leans against the door and gives the package a curious look even as she puffs her cheeks in a slow, headache-induced exhale. "Probably should've braved the hospital caf' after all, yesterday, jesus," she admits in a low groan.

She's ready /enough/ to play catch, even now. With the gift is in her hands and getting a curious onceover, she murmurs, "No need to put it off; whatever you've got to say is probably important, right?"

She tucks the roll under an arm. Blue eyes lift towards the crime lord's-- /snap/ once they meet that dour line. "I'll, uh, keep it down at night, don't worry," she murmurs as her brow furrows. "And clean up, promise..."

Groggy and hungover, the Huntress's mind is nonetheless as sharp and engaged as it was the first time they met. She searches the scarred woman's face through those apologetic little assurances, looking for some sign that she's knocked an item off the docket-- that the fading smile isn't as grave as it /could/ be.

There's still the matter of-- whatever it was that interrupted their trip to the ryokan, after all. She remembers the discordant moments of tension and stilled brushing, if not the rest of that disturbance.

With a soft smile, she offers, "If someone needs shooting, just lemme know! I'm your girl." Patting the roll and winking, she adds, "Thank you, by the way; you shouldn't've."

"Well, the morning is still young." Without checking the time, this could either come across as a passive statement, or a scathing condemnation, but judging from the amiable smile offered to Bulleta as the door slides open, it's probably the former.

"Mm, perhaps. I'll see if I can't treat you to a more wholesome meal tonight, at any rate."

The gift is caught, and Dahlia bows her head in silent appreciation for allowing her to cut to the quick of the matter she'd alluded to the night prior. ... And then Bonnie attempts to preempt the Dahlia's statement. Assuredly, a number of the Akatsuki have tried this game on numerous occasions, but success is rare to the degree that most just give up after the first few attempts. "... That's not one of them," is Dahlia's quick reply. No such luck for getting it off the docket, though Dahlia's quick to flash a placating smile to soften the blow. That smile persists, as Dahlia shakes her head. It might seem like an -odd- gift, considering it's worth a fraction of the price of a pack of cigarettes or a however-many-course takeout feast. But she has her reasons...

"Firstly -- I want to apologize, as I was not entirely forthright with you on the next two topics, last night." Her fingertips steeple together, bowing slightly -- a professional demonstration of restraint. Her expression grows repentant. "You had a lot on your plate, and your physical and mental health were my utmost concern. Moreover -- while I -do- have a mild allergy to dogs, it's more that I didn't want Harry to be around when I tell you these next two things. I hope you can forgive me for this offense."

Dahlia takes a breath, pausing to allow Bulleta to respond before continuing. Her lips curl into mild amusement, as her right hand gestures to indicate the room and hallway, and by proxy, the ryokan around it. "Second -- regarding my long-term plans, this building is expendable." Her right hand raises, gesturing openly to indicate the room, and by proxy the house around it. "If the choice comes down to saving this building, or getting your ass to safety, I want you to choose safety. I have goals and priorities for it, but none higher than your own."

In itself, that would be an odd piece of information to withhold. The warnings might have warded off the number of indulgences Bonnie allowed herself -- and that would have defeated the purpose of giving her a night to relax without concerns.

"And finally..." She frowns, her hands dropping to rest upon her thighs.

"We missed something. No reading on magnetic scans. They look like sensor trash on x-rays. Blood work showed -nothing-."

It's a little known fact that profanity does not actually require an agitated delivery. It's perfectly possible for someone to casually interchange curse words with more socially acceptable of speech, without changing tone or volume. In this case, it's intended as tacit acceptance that societal rules can go fuck themselves -- particularly the ones that govern how one should react to bad news.

"That fucking bitch put some transmitters in your blood."

One of Dahlia's hands slips to her right thigh, fingers clasping about something there. Two beats are waited before she wings the object over to Bulleta.

It's a folded pocket knife.
"Go nuts," she says, gesturing to the bubblewrap with her open hand.

Dahlia's tight-lipped frown is unyielding, unrelenting. While the crime lord is braced for an attack -- however unlikely -- it's clear that she's expecting the bubblewrap to be the unwitting victim, rather than her wheelchair-bound self. Or she could... admire the craftsmanship of the fine wooden inlays on the pocket knife. But knowing her new friend. Dahlia isn't placing any money on that latter option.

It's almost ten, and Bulleta isn't drunk anymore; she hears both sides of that last statement through the door and relief briefly blossoms when she sees the smile.

The first piece of the agenda narrows her eyes. Dahlia lied, but it was-- for /her/. To /protect/ her while she crawled through the wreckage of her ego, lest she suffer /more/ wounds than she already has. Dahlia /looks/ sorry, too, and - /probably/ - didn't just bullshit her because she hates dogs; if anything, she's looking /out/ for Harry--

Why is she looking out for Harry?

"You could've just told me 'no'," she quietly utters while grappling to shift mild betrayal into a more positive light. But... I mean, yeah, of course. You were just... you were looking out for me, is all; I get that." After a heavy exhale, it would seem that she really /does/ get it. She doesn't manage more than a little smile of forgiveness, but she gets it-- and smiles a little bigger once Dahlia joins her and gestures.

And tweaks the volume on that lingering question about Harry up to a squealing pitch as the second point scrunches the Huntress' features in bemusement.

"I mean," she slowly says as the gears churn behind her eyes, "well, sure, if-- hell, /when/ the Syndicate figures this place out, I'll keep that in mind. Me-- us over the building, duh." She pushes her fingers into her hair, and while her thoughts drift a little towards anti-gangster countermeasures... Dahlia's timing, not to mention the stark severity of the reminder keep them largely preoccupied. She /might/ not've felt safe enough to contemplate good night hugs and playing with her dog if Dahlia had presented the place as temporary, but it's unlikely; the gang war finding its way to Kasukabe seems a foregone conclusion, and Dahlia clearly knows it too, given the extra eyes.

The last agenda item steals her breath and flattens her thoughtfully pursed lips. It draws her eyes wide in disbelief and stiffens every muscle in her body.

It buries suspicions, curiosity, budding trust, tentative forgiveness-- all those messy /feelings/ stirring around her psyche beneath a white-hot avalanche.

"She--" the quaking Huntress bites off, eyes already glued to a little spot just inside of her left elbow. It's nearly invisible by now, which doesn't impede her in the least.


"-- what--"



There's a knife in the roaring girl's hand; she doesn't know when it got there, but she knows it isn't about to leave her. A gesture explains an odd gift...

... and Bonnie HURLS the plastic tucked under her arm against a wall so she can lunge after it and bury the knife deep. Plastic crunches and rips with each plunge, each violent rip of a finely inlaid knife through bubbles, drowned out by wordless screams. When /that/ gets old - it takes a while, but it /does/ - she throws the knife down so she can slam the viciously shredded roll into the floor, the walls, the door-- everything in sight but Dahlia herself.

Because while Dahlia could've - arguably /should've/ - just treated her like an adult and /told/ her IMMEDIATELY rather than wait the night... /Dahlia/ isn't the paranoid, craven BITCH who snuck trackers into her blood.

Dahlia's the one who brought her to-- /relative/-- safety DESPITE said bitch. Any other woman would have plenty of cause to wonder - /worry/ - when Bonnie eventually pivots and hurls the bubble wrap down the hall, just past the Yakuza administrator... but Dahlia managed to secure herself a place in the storm's eye. The Huntress slams the door open as soon as her hands are free and stalks towards the little table set up near the futons, stepping around and over various obstacles.

A few seconds later, she emerges, brush in hand, advancing upon the chair with murder in her eyes--

-- set on shoving the bristling tool into Dahlia's hand. Once unburdened, she drops to the ground and leans her stiffly trembling self towards the mastermind until her head's lying on a professionally-clad knee.

"Don't--" she quietly bites off, flat and barely composed as she glares into her room, "-- don't bullshit me, Dahlia."

She lets the thought hang there between them for a beat.

"How bad is it? How long do you think we have until they..."

Small, powerful fists ball and shake until the blood flees her knuckles.

"... fucking... the fucking plan is /shot/-- either she finds /me/, or she... oh. No. Maybe... maybe we just, we let her think her guys just... if they all just kinda /happen/ to run into a trap that's... that's not /my/ fault, right? Bug could've malfunctioned; I could've fed it to an animal... As long as nobody reports /back/ to her..."

Her fists unclench, she pushes out a long sigh, and a smile slowly forms.

"We just have to make sure none of those snickering fucking, coward-ass pieces of garbage ever LEAVE here, that's all~," she decides.

It's true that protecting Harry was not really high on her list of priorities. Sometimes it's difficult to avoid embellishing the truth. But couldn't Dahlia have told her no? "It's true, I could have. But I'll get to that."

Dahlia nods slowly as Bulleta mentions the possibility of the Syndicate finding this place. There's a brief smirk, "No, I think 'if' is closer to the truth where the Syndicate is concerned."

But the Akatsuki leader is ready for a much... more significant reaction from her third revelation. As soon as the knife is hurled, the leader settles back in her chair, leaning to her good side. Her hands settle on their respective armrests, her thumb a mere centimeter from the joystick control.

The bubblewrap is hurled across the room. And the fierce Huntress begins a vicious, remorseless assault on the hapless roll of bubblewrap who never meant to harm anyone, its unfulfilled life purchased for just a few hundred yen.

She says nothing, aside from leaning back in her chair to expel a near-silent sigh as the scene unfolds before her.

Dahlia does not seem concerned about the torn, shredded roll of bubblewrap as it sails towards her. She makes no attempt to dodge, and the ryokan wall is equally unconcerned about the impact of the limp bundle of terribly un-aerodynamic material.

She doesn't even budge as the Huntress stalks upon her. The only move she makes -- aside from an arched eyebrow -- is when the brush is placed -- or practically -forced- -- back into her hand. She didn't really -need- the brush back, but that's the least of her concerns at the moment.

A head is rest upon a knee, and a fiery request is made.

"I won't."

There are two questions asked -- and the seated woman's nostrils flare as she considers how best to address them. First question first, she decides.

"Again -- I'm sorry. I needed to gather information, because I wanted to limit the amount of bullshit you were presented with."

Finally, she relaxes, letting the brush drop beside her leg as she laces her fingers together in her lap. "Because we found out on the trip here that, every five minutes, an intense burst of radio waves was sent out in all directions. Nothing but cellphones were capable of that, and the cellphone signals didn't match the signature."

One hand raises, sweeping through her raven-colored locks. She seems... almost bored, really -- though that's to be expected as she's regurgitating someone else's words. "My resident nanotech expert tells me that devices that small wouldn't have enough battery to transmit on their own. The only way they could make a radio burst of that strength is by working in parallel. Together. Every five minutes, they'd collect together, send their transmission, and then disperse."

She looks down at her palm, shaking her head in disappointment. "It's nowhere close to our level. High-grade stuff. I have allies who could counteract, or remove the devices... but it'll take time."

That hand clenches into a fist. "We don't -suspect- that such a system could record voice; it's not like you can slap a USB drive into someone's bloodstream without someone noticing. So the plan could be... safe, or it might not."

The second question was -when-. "I was hoping they'd strike last night. You would've been safe -- why would she injure her newest spy asset? But I and my folks were not safe."

Dahlia pauses, to give herself time to catch her breath.

"And Harry would not have been safe either, in such an instance." She can't help but smile a -little- with that statement. See? Dahlia's not -all- bad.

"I apologize for not sharing the full truth. But it was hard to know with certainty what you would have done when presented with even more bad news. And I needed you here -- in order to see exactly what Volkov knows. And what she plans to do."

She gestures around, with a sardonic smile "And apparently, she's biding her time. But... we know something she may or may -not- know -- and that is that you, sweet Bulleta, are being tracked until further notice."

She bites her lower lip for a moment, eyes downcast. "I can understand if you don't trust me so much right now. I made that bed, and I'll sleep in it."

The broad, edged smile Bonnie wears to make sure Dahlia knows she's-- okay-- shrinks as she listens, lets herself be explained to, and waits.

And waits...

... and /waits/...

"Brush my hair, Dahlia."

... until she can't help but shove a low, stiffly voiced request into the woman's description of a trick none of them saw coming. Her psyche still burns white-hot, but somewhere beneath the rage, her inner pragmatist reminds her that the anger is useless right now; better to keep it bottled up -- save it for the coup de grace. There /certainly/ isn't any room for last night's fumbling, self-conscious uncertainty regarding what she needs, the sour news having simplified matters: she /needs/ to settle her nerves and soothe her incandescent spirit. The forcefully given brush and lowered head are her most efficient route there; anything else would waste ammo, cost some subordinate unnecessary bruises, or put the ryokan's expendability to the test.

None of which would be /so/ terrible, really... but for the sin of handling and gently deceiving her into a worry-free night, Bulleta's willing to give Dahlia a chance to do penance via brush-stroke instead of continuing to lash out. It's just-- easier.


"Why would her newest spy asset be sleeping under the Akatsuki-gumi's roof, unrequested?" she flatly retorts, regardless of compliance. "She doesn't trust me. She didn't put eight, plus a million bugs on me because she thought I'd go home, or to a Guild property. Maybe she doesn't expect /you/ - maybe she doesn't expect /anyone/, exactly - but she wanted to know where I'd go. And I came to /you/. What was I gonna tell her men when they were pointing guns at us?"

"'O-oh...'" In an instant, her voice floods with fearful, tentative softness. "'God, y-- you don't think I'd really betray KIRA, do you...? No, no, oh, oh, god, I COULDN'T... and end up back in that DUNGEON? With all those...'" The Huntress throws in a shudder and squeezes her eyes closed for good measure. "'OBVIOUSLY, I'm on YOUR side...'"

"How would that fly with a hyper-paranoid mercenary, do you think?" Her eyes stay shut and she does her best to swallow the rekindled fear of finding herself outplayed and outmatched because she just wasn't good enough. "Maybe," she makes herself acknowledge, "the plan's not shot. But it's probably shot. And that's okay: we can plan for that. She probably /did/ count on me getting everything but. Burning all my stuff and assuming I'm safe, whatever. I don't know."

She stews in silence for a bit after that. The comment about Harry just washes over her; she's dimly grateful to have not been allowed to bring him into-- /this/, whatever it turns out to be, but as long as he's in Southtown, there's not much reason to worry about him. The rest...

She got far too familiar, far too fast with the woman who's supposed to be employing her-- the woman whose leg her head hasn't budged from. Dahlia found out about the tracers while they were still on the road-- well after, Bonnie reckons, letting the wounded Huntress breach her space. The readied bubble wrap and knife tell her that the crime lord had a pretty good idea of what the news might inspire; Dahlia /herself/ has told her plainly that she'd hoped to mitigate what was sure to be an adverse reaction. All the little deceptions add up to a misguided attempt at doing what was best for someone in need, and those... /roughly/ peaceful minutes before Volkov's last laugh interfered tell Bonnie that the Scarlet Dahlia's... /essentially/ trustworthy; liable to have her best interests in mind, give or take a few lies.

"I'm with you. But I need you to be honest with me. Okay?" She takes in a deep, deep breath and slowly lets it out of flared nostrils.

"We're friends, after all," she murmurs, hope peeking through the anger and uncertainty and wary questioning.

A command is given to her. Sure -- it was interspersed within the midst of a journey of questioning the loyalties of the woman who had spent the bulk of last night transforming a mere business relationship into something more. But it was a command, nonetheless.

Bulleta does not like being handled. And this is fair.
But Dahlia, similarly, does not like following commands.
The hairbrush is allowed to toggle back and forth between her thumb and forefinger. Not only is the shadowy manipulator considering the use of the hairbrush for its intended purpose -- or another -- but she also finds necessary to move -something- in her hands when she needs to balance multiple options.

It may be nicer. But Dahlia cannot allow the -business- relationship to become subservient to the -personal- relationship. And this is one of many reasons Dahlia's face is showing no expression at all. Just a stony mask of business-like neutrality.

Dahlia's logic is questioned before her. A reasonable hypothetical case is described in vivid detail -- an alternate that Dahlia may or may not have considered. It's likely difficult to get a read on Dahlia at all, really -- as she blinks impassively in response to the empassioned display put on by the talented actress before her.

The sound of the hairbrush toggling back and forth between her thumb and forefinger is that much more crisp with the silence to draw attention to it.

The seated crimelord blinks, a few more times -- wanting to see if her friend Bonnie has more deep thoughts to share.

And then, she breaks her self-imposed silence with one considered thought, delivered in an even tone. Not emotionless, per se; her restraint is made clear by the crispness of each syllable.

"Friends look after one another when they have had too much to drink, Bonnie."

She lets that thought linger in the air for a moment. Her next thought will be communicated by the bristles of the brush pressing against Bonnie's scalp. Her restraint is made clear by the gentle, deliberate strokes.

The brush winds its way through Bulleta's bed-head, working loose the kinks that her fingers hadn't been able to address yet. In the absence of words, it would be possible to hear the birds chirping just outside.

The next statement comes with considerably more warmth. Emotion. Vulnerability. And remorse.

"And friends are honest with one another."

For a while, Bulleta gets a steady backbeat of brush-shifting contemplation instead of soothing bristles. It doesn't stop her from laying out a counter-argument - abrupt tonal shifts and all - nor from listening to Dahlia. It doesn't keep her from noticing the Akatsuki leader's rigid neutrality the few times she glances up-- if anything, that repetitive rhythm highlights the mask and its implications.

A 'no' would've been easier to handle than the purgatory Dahlia lets her twist in. She can't ask twice: her-- friend-- is still her boss, and her boss is an intelligent woman who likes to lean on formalities where she can; a little life or death emergency can only excuse so much impertinence from a sober contractor.

She doesn't want to back down, either: not only are they still mid-conversation... Dahlia hasn't /actually/ refused yet; storming out of the situation would be an affront to the crime boss and a black mark for young Huntress.

So she waits, stews-- stiffens when Dahlia finally breaks the silence between them. The name brings her bottom lip in against her teeth as she silently curses her drunken vulnerability-- the needy grasps for companionship from the professional she wants to do business with.

"Yeah," she intones with a small nod. "Sure. That's..."

Dahlia's second thought gently sweeps the rest of the girl's half-hearted acquiescence aside. Expertly wielded bristles deliberately loosen flaxen tangles and unlock the tension stored in the Huntress' frame. A drawn-out sigh mingles with bird songs and she edges a little closer to the chair.

"Thank you," she eventually whispers, responding to a warm, remorseful statement in a softened voice. There's a note of apology there; the woman's silent mask spoke volumes. "I..."

'...'ll ask nicely, next time,' almost comes out before she thinks better of indulging in further presumptions. Her friend, her boss-- the clever, professionally appointed genius treating her with the utmost of patience-- surely expects a lot of her employees... especially those she deigns to comfort with hugs and hair brushes.

The first week's free, but after that...

"... appreciate your friendship, Dahlia," she finishes instead. The sentiment echoes strongly within: whatever else the woman may be - a clever manipulator, a professional criminal, a resourceful employer...

... she's /still/ the only friend Bonnie has who can hug her back-- if she chooses to, anyway.

"I'll be honest with you," she quietly continues, already sounding tired not even an hour after waking. "I... didn't... tell you /everything/ about me and Kira - the Guild connections - the first time around, because I figured... why would you trust me if I /did/?" Even now, she's not entirely sure whether this is new information, or catching Dahlia up on something her network's already apprised her of, but confession is in the air, now. "Especially after that, that /stunt/ I pulled..."

The ghost of an embarrassed laugh rattles past her lips as she recalls showing off her acting chops and rousing Dahlia's suspicions.

"End'a the day... /I/ didn't trust /you/ enough, and... I don't know, maybe-- /probably/, this all would have happened about the same if I had... but it was /still/ stupid. You're smart-- you're a /pro/, and That Fucking Bitch really /did/ get on my nerves, even then. I /never/ would've wanted to buddy up with her, and that was /before/ she..."

She pauses, breathes in deeply through her nose, and shoves a bit of anger back into its bottle.

"I should have trusted you to see the variables clearly. I... /know/ you know I'm... what I am. What I can /do/. But I don't /want/ to do that with you. I don't... /need/ to. I just... I want this... to /work/. You run the team; I throw the ball. We get rich... and that forest burns nice and slow."

Not everyone keeps a private name separate from their public persona. The ones who do, though, tend to treasure that privacy as if it were gold, shared with only the most trusted of confidantes. In the hands of someone such as Scarlet Dahlia, those two simple syllables, Bon- and -nie, become a weapon as potent as the hairbrush. A tool, with utility only proven against those as starved for true human companionship and connection as these two criminal changelings.

Dahlia may have begun with cordial friendliness, but testing the bonds of friendship had caused her to retreat behind that neutral mask. With Bonnie's bare admissions, and the note of apology... well. Dahlia is still presenting the mask as she nods her head. "It's quite all right. I'm... pleased to have the opportunity, still."

For one brief, fleeting moment -- there is a flicker of a smile. Enough to hang a hope on, and little more, before neutrality returns.

More confessions are offered -- and Dahlia dismisses the fears as inconsequential, continuing to brush the younger woman's flaxen locks. "It's nothing to worry about. People make mistakes -- especially when trying to garner good graces. As far as I'm concerned it's water under the bridge."

She draws in her breath, in one beat. And continues, "... As for the Hunter's Guild, our spheres don't exactly intersect. Much like with the Librarium, hunting monsters is right up there with hunting wild game."

Slowly, but surely... the neutrality is fading away, as if it were tied somehow to the grace flowing through Bulleta's flaxen hair. Dahlia's eyes open more widely, and her stance becomes less tense, more relaxed. "I appreciate that. Acting is... best reserved for our marks. Trust, you know, is very -difficult- to regain once lost."

The bristles are pulled free from yet another stroke -- but when they return to the young Huntress' crown, Dahlia pauses, deliberately, for a second. "And you've nothing at all to worry about." The bristles flow, easily and without resistance, from the roots down to the tips. "Payment's already been wired into your account, along with a considerable bonus for hazard pay. Neither you nor I anticipated..." She makes a distasteful expression and a dismissive snort. "-that-." Her expression brightens, into something more akin to her usual half-smile. "The net result is, you've provided me with essential information on -her- that would've been impossible to obtain otherwise, and you deserve to be compensated for that."

She brings the brush back to Bulleta's crown -- though this time, she presses her first two fingers to her temple, wrapping around the contour of her hair. A tender gesture -- allowing her to offload pressure from the strands so that she can brush out the last remaining snags on that side. "I have no contracts at the moment -- leaving you free to appease the Witch as you best see fit. I will ask, though, that you avoid one darkstalker in particular, if you encounter her -- Shira Hebi. Long white hair, with a fetching set of black tattoos running along her arms and midriff. The tattoos and her personality both resemble snakes. She's quite adept at knives."

Dahlia draws back, lowering her shoulders so that she can get a better look at Bulleta -- gauging whether the brushing job has been accomplished on both sides.

"And I will be asking around for nano-engineers regarding your affliction. I won't engage anyone without your approval though -- lest you damage your relationship with the Witch prematurely."

Drawing in her breath, she offers a bright-eyed smile, at last. "Now, then. Akemi's prepared omelettes -- are you hungry? I won't be able to stay long, sadly, but you're welcome to join us...?"

For someone who grew up hunting monsters, a flicker of hope is precious indeed. Bonnie echoes the passing expression before launching into her last round of confessions.

"'s why it's always good to tell 'em a lie they wanna believe anyway," she idly observes at the mention of lost trust. The Huntress lets herself sink into Dahlia's tender handling, shifting only as she must to offer up more morning tangles. Adroitly wielded bristles force order upon golden stands-- until they don't, prompting a gentle tense as she prepares to get up and go about the day.

"I appreciate /that/, too," she chirps when the crime boss sneaks in a little more good news. A small smile forms, unshaken by the request to spare a Darkstalker.

"No problem," she replies with a brisk shrug. "There's plenty of /other/ targets out there."

The brushing is, indeed, done when Dahlia draws back: the Huntress' rest was fairly sedate, and her hair got /plenty/ of attention previously, so there were only so many tangles /to/ unwind. Regardless, Bulleta keeps her head in place and gives another small nod for the nano-engineers. Anger flickers internally without leaking into her expression.

After the last question, she just-- sits there silently staring into her room for a couple seconds. It'd be reasonable enough for a girl coming off of a bender and a greasy binge session to have to think very carefully about whether she wants to throw omelettes into the mix-- and the thought's there, dimly.

But mostly, she's slow to answer because she's too locked into trying to calculate the shortest possible amount of time she'd need to earn Volkov's trust before it's safe to end her.

A gasp escapes when she catches it. "Oh, yeah-- yeah," she murmurs, "c'mon." She hops to her feet and takes a moment to return the smile before heading-- well. Wherever Scarlet Dahlia points her.

This /is/ the older woman's territory, after all.

"I'm not gonna stick around that long either, 'cause I've got a /million/ things to do today. Shit, I've still got /yesterday's/ training to do today..."

Log created on 19:45:26 07/17/2018 by Bulleta, and last modified on 18:32:13 07/23/2018.