Clio - Meet Me In Metro City

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Description: Traveling to Metro City in search of a replacement chain, and in search of a fight she no longer can leave behind, Clio St. Jeanne finds herself on the streets of her old home town. But to her surprise, a different part of her recent past bumps right into her. Another woman on furlough from the organization that gave her purpose, Mint runs into an old competitor, and a former date-friend. You can't go home again, but you can't get away from the circles you've always traveled in.

Leave is good. Leave without pay, less so. And -forced- leave without pay... well. The corporal could've hoped for better fates, but all things considered...

Minal hums quietly to herself as she walks down the city streets. Some people might get perturbed at the perpetual indifference of Metro City -- the stubborn refusal to make eye contact, borne out of the necessity of personal safety. But not Mint, born and raised in the city and raring to go. At a 4'9", she might not fit the mold of someone looking for a fight, but from the way she keeps her gaze lifted, glancing between each person's face in turn with the naivete of a farm girl.

Her mechanical fingertips squeak slightly as she rubs them into her palm. Soft vinyl molded in a fleshtone that's realistic enough to pass for human skin at first glance, so long as one doesn't stare at the joints.

And yet, her nominal mission is not to pick a fight. She's here... for -fashion-. Her confident pace slows, as the approaches a MAC Cosmetics storefront. The corporal's jaw sets firmly into place. Her nostrils flare from an intake of breath. And, doffing her cap, the dark-skinned Marine marches boldly into the store -- only to be greeted by a wave of indifference, as all of the salespeople are currently assisting other customers at the moment.

Mechanical fingers brush through her jet-black hair as she looks around the room. To her credit, she's traded out military fatigues for a leather bomber jacket and a pullover sweater, but... utilitarian denim cargo pants and combat boots would still tend to stand out in a fancy place like this. She folds her cover in half like a taco, stuffing it into an interior pocket in her jacket. And then she starts to -- gasp -- *browse*.

To think of Metro City's aloofness as cold or indifferent is to not understand the nature of Metro City. People stacked like cordwood, millions on millions, each with lives and jobs and stories all their own are left with little to no space for themselves. The height of politeness and empathy is to give your fellow man the mental space and the time they need to live. Anonymity is premium, but is thankfully cheap and easy to grant.

That anonymity is a refreshing return to comfort for Clio St. Jeanne. Sneaking and skulking a world away to disappear into the throngs of people, the teeming populace of Metro her own personal briar patch. Head down, hood up, even the ears don't stand out much against the fashions and styles clashing about the many people Downtown. Just one thing to see in a cavalcade passing by.

She is comfortable, slipping left and right through the people. Without a uniform, without the massive chain, it's so much easier to be undetectable and fluid. To reacquaint herself with the world she left behind not long ago and yet feeling like ages. The little changes in stickers planted on signs, in the tags left by the artists, the posters and signs of the discontented finding new fights to fight and statements to make. You can't go back home again, but sometimes you can find the spark of life in the places you left behind.

There is time, on these rounds, that Clio can check out the places she has tread before. And to pick up things that she has spent the better part of her seasons without. One of which is getting something to replenish her woefully depleted makeup case. And so it is she finds herself ducking in from the downtown crush and into the clean and stylish interior of the MAC store.

Dressed in violet and black, the heavy boots, and a near gigantic looking collar around her neck large enough for her hood to fit through, she definitely stands out among the less outlandish styles. But none of that is what she cares for, she's just here for the bases and shades she wants so she can feel like she's looking at herself when she finds a mirror.

What she wasn't expecting was to see a woman she once went on a date with. . .

The tomboy's never been all that -obsessed- with fashion. She cleans up nice when she wants to, sure, but it's certainly not her -default- state of existence. Heck -- if it weren't for her mother's and sister's insistence, she would've been just fine with Target instead of these top-end cosmetics.

... She still needs some help, though, from the look of it. She knows what she wants: exactly what she got last time. It's just that they always seem to put things in a different place in each store, meaning she has to spend more time browsing. So when she hears the footfalls of someone coming to assist, she... reacts the same way she has the past few times she'd visited this location.

Minal starts to turn towards the person, blurting out "Hey, I was wondering--" before even locking on eye contact.

And then when her gaze catches up, she finds herself stopping cold, and blinking back at the witch before her.

She blinks for about a second more, before her entire face lights up with welcome surprise. It... wouldn't take her long to recognize the face of a friend, after all! "Clio! Hey! Fancy running into you here!" Beaming with joy, she bobs lightly from one foot to the other. Her vinyl fingers squeak against one another as she is practically vibrating with good cheer. "Got a bunch of time off, and figured I'd come here to restock. How the heck have you been!?"

Hands go up, eyes go wide, surprise written on her face. Definitely not there to help, and not there expecting this sort of reaction. Her hood falls back and her lips pull into a lopsided and uncertain grin. People recognizing her was not supposed to happen on this trip. Metro was for anonymity, after all.

"H-hey! Didn't think you'd be around Metro," she says, trying to dig through her mind just how long it has been since the Golden Angel tournament, the date and disappearing into the forests of Europe.

"I thought you were still in Southtown for the, uh, Marines wasn't it?" She had to wrack her brain to remember which of the branches Minal was in. She remembered a good amount about the little cyborg girl, but some things slipped in isolation.

Clio's recovery doesn't take long, hands going into her hoodie pocket. She resumes a more loose and casual stance after the first pulse of panic. The near vibratory cheer from the smaller woman doesn't hurt the ease of comfort. There is no threat here. "I guess I'm taking some time for myself, too," she says, dancing at the subject. "Wanted to get back home to see how things have gone since Southtown and the Illyria incident. Busy times there. Glad to see you didn't get dragged into it." The lack of military involvement outside of NOL and SO forces was a boon Clio hadn't thought to hard on in her time training. But now she had the reality standing in front of her. And thoughts of her earlier loyal stances and the meaning that may have had.

"You could say I feel new, taking time off can be like that. Refocus shit. Still, you're in a place like this?"

Clio didn't expect to see her in Metro? With interruptions a norm for her mode of communications, she gestures off to indicate the nearby state of New Jersey: "Well, heck, I grew up over in Clifton! We used to come down for day trips all the time!" But then the tiny Marine's enthusiasm ramps down a little at the mention of Southtown. "Oh. Yeah! Got transferred back to the States to help out with Border Patrol. And now..."

There's a glimmer of remorse in the Indian's eyes for a moment, a moment where her gaze loses her laser focus. But only the one moment. "Captains an' colonels told me to take some R&R. So I figured I'd drop in on the folks."

The momentary reverie passes; as Clio answers the question, Mint returns to her earlier ebullience. "... I -heard- about that, but I never really got briefed on what -happened-. I take it you -did- get dragged in?" She smiles apologetically, adding: "I'm glad you made it out okay, yeah?"

Minal links her fingers together, behind her back, with the faintest of squeaks. Sashaying sideways, she nods in a not particularly tomboyish fashion: "Yeah, my big sis and I didn't really spend much time together, growin' up -- but once she got a good-payin' job, she got -addicted- to this stuff. So this was kinda like... her way of connecting to me."

She flashes a shy smile. "And I didn't mind the attention at first. For one weekend, I was kinda like... her fashion model. Her real life Barbie doll. Then I had to go back to school, and she started at Fairleigh-Dickinson, and we just kinda..." She shrugs her shoulders dismissively. "I don't know what I'm doin' half the time though, honestly." She peers over to the other salesfolks -- and yep, they're still busy. "I mean, that's why I keep my collection small and focused. That way if even if I experiment or get sloppy it can't look -too- ug."

She laughs, raising her hands, and making a photo frame around Clio's face. "And you, huh? This seems like it'd be super mainstream for you!"

"Well, yeah, still, you were over in Japan last I saw you," Clio says with a laugh and a shrug. "And I guess I wasn't keeping up with the news going on. There's a load of shit going on in Illyria, politics and stuff, I was dealing with." A lie, but not an entire lie. She had plenty of politics to consider especially with her decisions to split from the NOL. "And, uh, was doing research on arcane formulae and stuff like that. See, there's these leylines that were running through there, close to the Boundary and that reacts with chi energy that everything can. . .

Clio just shrugs. "I won't talk your ear off about shop. What's that about your sister?" She fades off to listen to Minal's story of her family and how make up and fashion slipped into her life. Hands in her pocket, she smiles while listening to the excited way that Mint talks about her past. It's comfortable.

"Don't use too much, it's about looking natural and standing out where you want, not about slathering as much cake and foundation you can." Clio laughs the fears and judgment with a shake of her head. "They can slap barbed wire and call it "Death's Glare" or some shit, but it's all in what's in it," she says, "It's not about what they call it and package it in, it's just what works and this stuff works." She shrugs. A walk toward the racks and displays of lipsticks of varied shades. "I care about what it looks like. No one's seeing the insides of my cases but me."

"Politics, huh? Sounds fun." This is accompanied by a face which one might expect of someone who just caught a whiff of skunk spray. "Yeah, I guess we -both- had our own messes to deal with, haha."

Mint's pretty chipper today -- tends to happen when one has no obligations or structure to the day. She nods and shows all the usual signs of interest when Clio explains arcane formulae and leylines and things. The same sort of things that Clio had explained on prior occasions, and she'd just not gotten around to following up on. And yet, maybe -some- of that knowledge was retained. "Leylines, right...?" The Boundary, though... that's where the New Jersey-born Indian flashes a confused expression.

Luckily, Clio doesn't get too far down the rabbit hole on leyline theory -- a point which earns her a grateful smile. "... Oh, med school. She graduated last year! She's working over at a clinic in Teaneck." Again, she gestures back to the west when she mentions cities that every North Jersey resident should know about, obviously.

"She's always been Mom and Dad's favorite, mostly because when we all go out for dinners and such, it's usually on her dime." The broad smile suggests she's joking in some measure, at least. "She's always been the one to show off -- who am I to stop her?"

Mint mellows out a -little- bit when the topic shifts to... well, the store they're standing in. She's happy to tag along when Clio motions around to the lipsticks, grinning. "Well, it's more that I'm kinda dense when it comes to colors and stuff. I mean, I usually have people pick stuff out for me. I'm a knuckle-dragging wrench turner, I don't know anythin' about color theory." She plucks an ochre lipstick off the rack, holding it up beside her mouth as she makes a duck face for the nearest mirror. "Like, I have no idea whether this looks any good. It's -shiny- right? It reflects, and it'd look right at home on the hazard panels of an ABV, but apparently there's like -messages- that different colors send off, and that's where I get lost."

She laughs at herself, shrugging simply. "I mean, you got purple, purple's a good look. What's -its- story?"

To deal with, dealing with, never going to be dealt with until something is dead. All of those the same things for Clio St. Jeanne as for that briefest of moments she looks into the middle distance. But at least Mint's fair and expected ignorance of the depths of strangeness in the world of monsters and magic and things that go bump in the night can help bring Clio back around from the conversation on arcane theory to reality.

"You have giant mechanized arms you can wear, how is that not something to show off?" Clio asks, not quite understanding the focus that Minal's family may put on the medical over the mechanical. "And you fought in Golden Angel. That's a thing."

Clio runs her hands over the length of lipsticks, considering of all the colors arrayed out. "Honestly, I've never been much for just these. Base colors to match your skin tones, then maybe something to bring a look together. It's not something I do much study on, I just did a lot of stuff to see what works and what I like." She puts her hands in her pockets, a short stick held inside of her hand before she's gesturing again as she's speaking.

"Don't worry about a message, it's about looking the way you want to and feeling good about that. Shit, if you're doing it well most people will say stupid crap like 'you look great without makeup' as if they've ever seen you without any." Clio laughs and pulls a close reflection mirror in toward her to check her eyes.

"I like purple," she says giving her eyes a look and considering the story behind colors, she finds a dry well. "I just like purple. I guess it's like dark blue or green and it's good for shadows at night, but mostly I just like it. The ankh's different. Means life. Reminds me why I do what I do."

Mint flashes a cheerful grin, but also, a slow shake of her head. "Y-yeah, it sounds like fun and games till you try to actually eat! You know what the toughest food to eat with my knucks is? -Tacos-. Just, like, straight-up crunchy tacos. Shells crack at the slightest dirty look and then I got taco sauce all dripping into the joints. At least the soft tacos got some -give- to 'em."

She gives a wry smirk at the reminder of that accursed tournament. "Y'know, my parents weren't all that thrilled when they heard about my fighting career to begin with. I haven't even -mentioned- Golden Angel to 'em!"

She shrugs lightly afterward, laughing without a great deal of mirth. "It's money, y'know. It's all about bragging rights -- every mom and dad wants to be able to tell other moms and dads about the size of their kids' paychecks. And the military doesn't pay -that- well for staff NCOs, y'know?"

As the topic steers towards colors and 'messages,' though, Mint seems more appreciative of Clio's straight and honest breakdown. Yes -- in the end, it -is- simple. "... Huh! Really. I... I always figured there was more to it, from how the salesfolks talk an' all." Another glance is spared to the occupied salespeople.

Mint idly plucks up a few more colors, holding them up to the mirror. Purple, being one of them, is held up to the glass, compared against her dark skin tone.

Mint cracks a toothy grin. "Yeah, that shade looks a hell of a lot better on you than me."

Mint pivots back around, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. "Are you into tattooing? I know a couple guys that have an ankh tat, but honestly, I doubt they put as much thought into it as you do."

"God. I could go for tacos right now." Clio looks to the middle distance, imagining tacos. She shakes her head and looks down to the ground. "Okay, seriously, we're getting street meat after this."

"And I don't know what most moms and dads do. I don't really have a dad and my mom's a scientist. So, yeah, Iunno how that works," Clio says, milling by the foundation displays. She slouches here and there, looks around furtively, she's home here and her posture and her demeanor are showing far more of the kid from Metro than the NOL Lieutenant.

"You should look for things that match your tone, or compliment it. Maybe go for something brighter to make it pop," Clio suggests, debating on two shades of pale tones for her own cheeks.

The tattoo question gets a shake of her head. "I know it doesn't look it, but I haven't really done much with inks. I've had some thoughts on formulae lines and sigils that might have some fun shit, but if I'm real I get too many ideas and would just want to change things all the time. So I don't do permanent stuff," she admits. "But soldiers like you always got something they want for life. Semper Fi. Right?"

"Totally!" Minal is one-hundred percent on board with the prospects of another dining expedition!

At seeing her friend's slouch, though, she blinks, embarassment spreading across her features. Her family was not well-off -- but it was a typical nuclear American family, with a mum and a dad and 2.5 children. (She'd jokingly claim that she was the 0.5 if asked, naturally.) And she occasionally forgets that not -everyone- is so lucky.

"Oh. Yeah, sorry about that. It's... weird. My parents came here lookin' for opportunity. We kinda found it through my sister. And me! My brother, not quite so much, but that's how it goes." She laughs, fingers squeaking through the hair on the back of her scalp. "I'm rambling a bit, sorry!"

She browses through a few more of the selections, picking out a few tubes for perusal. "... Kinda lucky that most of my scarring -wasn't- in the face, now that I think about it. Then I really -would- need a metric fuckton o'--" She looks over at Clio, realizing that she'd slipped a bit further into her Marine speech than desired. "I mean, I'd need a lot more foundation if I did. So yeah... hmm." She holds up two sticks of green lipstick, discarding the one that isn't a good match for her pullover.

From there... it's on to the eyeliner area. "... Yeah, I'm not really looking to get ink, myself -- I got enough body mods from my service, haha!" Flashing a good-natured grin, she starts hunting for an appropriately complementary eyeliner. "It's more that, like, pinstriping and tattoos tend to follow the same design ideas..." A thought occurs to her, as she plucks out her phone and starts swiping around. "See, I gotta redesign my knucks... Aha! Here!" She holds out her phone to Clio, showing off a considerably more boxy gauntlet design than before.

"Had to ditch the old ones. They were makin' me crazy." Her finger gestures around her temple for illustration.

The slouch Clio has is an affectation. A look for being in her element. Easy languidness and fluid, rolling steps. She isn't a soldier here. She isn't a knight. She isn't supposed to be the flame in the darkness for humanity's hope. She isn't, most importantly, NOL. She didn't attend a military school, she isn't a trained warrior and witch. She is just a girl barely out of her teens and milling about a city. Caught in the doldrums of collegiate age without a place in the world between high school and adulthood.

At least that's the image she wants and needs to give off. A disguise in plain clothes. She turns a case of skin tone powders in hand, only half looking toward Mint. "Nothing to be sorry for," she tells the other woman. "Just a fact of life, yaknow? Don't feel bad because your family's good."

Clio keeps an eye on the door, as she mills around a few feet ahead of Mint. Her attention sweeping back and forth. A thing to give away she's more furtive and suspicious of her surroundings than the average 20 year old. "Have you thought about decorating your arms? Paint can be changed up," she starts to say before she gets to see the gallery on Mint's phone. A smile grows on her face and she nods. "Shit, yeah, do it. Go big!"

Her face falls shortly. "Were they bugging you because I shoved a spike into the turbines?"

If someone projects confidence, they tend to get left alone. Mint learned that as a short person on the streets of urban North Jersey. Anyone who looks like an easy mark is just bound to get picked on. And now that she has a full military background, well, people are even less likely to mess with her.

"Ah, I'm not feeling bad about -that-, I just don't wanna be a self-centered jerk about it, haha." With an amiable smile, she adds, "I'm -around- self-centered jarheads all the time, so sometimes I forget to pay attention."

When Clio looks back to the door, Mint happens to catch view of that -- and looks back there as well. Anything there? Nothing Minal can see.

As for the photo, Mint swells up with pride. "Yeah, I was gonna do some sweet pinstriping on the side. Gotta jazz up the sides a bit. Just 'cause it's a piece of military hardware doesn't mean I can't put my own spin on it."

As for the spike in the turbines, though...? Mint flashes an uneasy smile, shaking her head effusively. "No, no, that's not it. See, I mean they were -literally- making me crazy." She looks back at her phone, flipping through a few more pages of photos, until she settles back on a selfie she'd taken from the Golden Angel dressing room.

"Remember this? When the Golden Angel techs had me put it on, they told me to think of... confidence. Something bold, and inspiring. To think about the ultimate form of myself."

Her right eye twitches, at that. She leans closer to Clio, whispering: "... D'you ever hear of a drug cartel called Shadaloo?"

Shaken from her looking, Clio directs herself toward Mint. "Not thinking like a pin up girl or something like those old planes?" she asks with a knowing grin, teasing with a sharp little laugh.

She reaches to take the phone a bit closer to see the picture. "Yeah, I remember that, and the fucking water pistol bullshit. That's Noeller's gig, not mine. Should've had her there to take care of that," she grumbles, still sore about the way that part of the tournament shook out.

"Bold and inspiring my ass. Big glob of crazy and making us all wear matching suits," she continues on her half internal rant. "Not a damn thing about confidence there. But, yeah, guess it was fun in the end with the bike helmet and shit. Behind me, behind me."

Clio leans forward to listen closely, if her ears had movement like her teacher's or Makoto's, they'd be twitching to find out this information. Though all she gets in a question. One she answers with a nod since there's no reason to keep NOL secrets too secret. "NOL has files on them. More than a few had bounties. I know that the Imperator called them out specifically in her address before the Illyria incident. What about them?"

"Kinda!" The idea of squeezing pictures of pin-up models onto her gauntlets is amusing, and considered for at least a couple seconds, before she twitches her nose and shakes her head in dismissal, smiling all the while. "More like cars or motorcycles, but yeah, similar!"

The corporal is then treated to a reminder of just how badly Clio thought about Golden Angel -- fair! "So, you're saying you'd rather watch your friends' swimsuits get ripped up by watergun fire?" She flashes a toothy grin, making her prosthetic hands into finger-guns. A bright smile to counteract the doom and gloom! And yet, Mint shrugs afterwards, the bomber jacket seeming to be a bit too large for the diminutive Marine. "Hey, I can't dog on the tourney too much. I got a kickass friend out of the deal!"

Shadaloo, well... that's an interesting organization, isn't it? Mint leans close, eyebrows lowering. "They, erm. Got hold of me in Mexico. Years ago. I might've told you something, not sure." She looks down at the lipstick in her palm, tumbling it around idly. "... It was probably then that they planted a device in my gauntlets. They're... not a -normal- cartel, see -- they have crazy technology. So it... hey, this is gonna sound bonkers, but as far as I can tell..."

She looks up from the lipstick, a rare look of vulnerability in her eyes.

Mint whispers, "With that device, they made me into a sleeper agent, Clio. And I never even knew it."

At the thought of her friends' swimsuits being dissolved by water, well, she technically has seen that since she herself fought Makoto. And while Clio mulls things over in an overacted way, she does eventually nod and say, "Yeah, yeah, I would be lying if I said I otherwise."

"And you flatter me," Clio says, then sighs, and looks away. She does so while she listens to Mint's story. It puts things into a reality. Suspicions proven well held and concerns that bore fruit. Clio's hands go into her hoodie pocket and her fingers prick at each other. She takes a breath and turns back around to look at Mint and the true look vulnerability being given to her.

Clio looks down, she runs her fingers through her hair and plays with her ear. "Good to know I wasn't wrong," she tells Mint, hand dropping and waving loosely at her side. "I want to admit I had an ulterior motive to our date. After I saw you in the tournament, I knew your swimsuit looked familiar. I cross-referenced it with our database to find it looked a lot like a Shadaloo uniform. So I wanted to put a closer eye to you. Since the swimsuits were psychoreactive."

"I was going to request having you put on observation. But too many things came up, life got fast, quickly. I guess what I'm saying, is sorry. I still had my duty. I do like you, though."

Mint can be charming and playful, as when she grins practically ear-to-ear at the witch's admission. "Haha, I -knew- it!" she chirps. Sure, it wasn't a -huge- leap of logic, but Mint will take her victories where she can.

Mint can also be inquisitive. That comes into play when Clio sighs and looks away: a slight lift of an eyebrow, a brightening of her expression. She looks back at Clio, nodding slowly as the younger woman asserts that she'd had an idea -something- was wrong. "... Oh?" And really -- confessing -why- she'd had a Shadaloo uniform on was a big part of why Mint made the admission to begin with.

That said, it becomes clear that Mint can also be pessimistic, such as when an ulterior motive comes to light. Mint's gaze fixes upon Clio; her eyebrows lower, each passing word pricking into her like tiny needles.

Life got fast -- quickly. The response is immediate, and crestfallen. "Oh." The idea that Clio was only interested in a professional sense takes root, sprawling across her consciousness, shifting her look to one of disappointment.

Clio's soft-stated admission seems to ring a bit hollow to the corporal. "... Do you?" She breaks the gaze, eyes drifting to the stick of lipstick as she spins it into the air, catching it with a vinyl clack. Her tone -- neutral, impassive. "My case goes before the review board next week, so... I guess you missed your chance at a promotion." Her fingers close around the lipstick, and her shoulders swivel. For a moment, it looks like the corporal might be considering walking back to the bin where she'd gotten it. Or maybe chucking the lipstick away in a fit of anger.

And yet, she doesn't budge. Her cold stare upon the lipstick is broken, as she closes her eyes, drawing in her breath. And when her lungs are full, she exhales slowly, pensive.

No, -anger- will not define her today.

Mint's eyes open up with a mild shudder, turning up to Clio.

"... Bear with me a moment, huh?" She offers a brief, apologetic smile. "You said 'had'?"

People in the store. Several. No threats. No observers. Nobody from the old Metro City branch that she remembers. Safe moments, no need for a fight, and yet part of her wants it, wants the fight and the rage and the righteous fury of the one that believes her cause to be just. To not be hunted is cold comfort at best. Despite her efforts to remain hidden.

A war in Illyria. A snake woman driven mad by ancient parchment. Poison flowing into the magic infantry. Suspicions. Proofs. A fairy tale castle. A shattered chain and a torn and bloody hat. Physical pain to match and mask the emotional tearing inside.

Clio St. Jeanne closes her eyes. "Real fucking fast," she says quietly. "Feels like forever ago, but when I graduated from the Military Academy, I was offered a position with the Sacred Order. So, it was a little rough to fight that fight. There but for the grace of god go I," she says, despite her lack of faith.

"I didn't lose out on anything. I'm a knight. I mostly just hurt things and pick at stuff. I'm just sorry. I failed you, Mint. You've been really nice to me and I haven't done much more than beat you up in an empty lot and lead you on a date."

Clio looks back at Mint, and her eyes hold the cold tiredness of an age before her time. "Yeah, had," she says, readying a not-lie to use in the moment, "I'm not on the Golden Angel shit anymore. War took that. And now, well, guess I'm on my own leave after the war. I got to kick a fairy queen in a giant castle, so I guess that warrants time off."

Since Clio and Mint last dined in a Southtown restaurant, a lot has happened to each, with almost no overlap at all. The corporal has not looked deeply into the intel from Illyria -- Special Forces had kept a dossier on the region but it was largely classed as need-to-know, and Mint didn't. And Mint has been counseled to avoid dwelling on the dark rabbit-hole of memories regarding her past few months.

And yet, the control is wavering in the wake of an admission from Clio -- a tangent that just underscores how -badly- Shadaloo had twisted her mind. If it weren't for Shadaloo, there would have been no suspicion from the witch standing in front of her. And yet, if it weren't for that suspicion...

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in... breathe out. It's easy to do while Clio speaks of the Sacred Order, another organization she's not been specifically apprised of. Mint nods dully, leaning on the words while focusing on her measured breaths.

No, she -doesn't- still want to turn you in now. She said she -had- duty, right? And now she's saying that she's sorry. She's failed you. ... No, wait... "No, you... you didn't -fail- me..."

The emotions all come back at once. Emotions she'd talked herself through countless times before in her recuperation. Emotions she'd come to grips with, showing new facets of themselves as they return to the light. Emotions she's able to sort through -- while listening to Clio's words. Her gaze flickers back and forth across Clio's face, scanning for each of the subtle shifts of expression. Responding, resonating with frustration, veiled not out of lies but the need to maintain composure in an occupied storefront. And above all... weariness.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in... breathe out. And just like dropping hold of luggage... it's gone. The sagging weight disappears from her shoulders.

Mint's hands reach out for Clio's, grasping them lightly. ... No, she hasn't dropped the lipstick, it's still in her palm, but anyway. "Hey. I don't know much about magic, or time travel, but like... that keeps it simple for me. We move forward from the past." She squeezes lightly, with the gentle whine of servo motors and flex of synthetic flesh pressing against. And above all -- an optimistic smile. "We're here now, right? You said you like me. We're getting -tacos- later. Life is good, yeah?"

The wheel of fate is ever turning. In other worlds, Clio or Mint do not exist, their loyalties and histories meaningless to one another. In some, places are changed and outcomes differ. The reason for investigation shifts or happens not at all. In this world, at this moment, Clio St. Jeanne's position in the NOL, former though it may be, seems to put her into a place of greater knowledge than the diminutive Marine.

And for all Mint's concern and worry, the reality is that Clio has been absent, presumed dead, and distant from the NOL for a time. She is in no danger. And yet Clio cannot, for her own safety, assuage that fear and anger. And that's where she failed and continues to fail.

Some fights are much more difficult when you cannot simply strike back with force.

Clio blinks, taken aback, when her hands are grabbed. She looks down, then to Mint. Her hands grip in return. "Yeah, keep on moving, then things don't catch up with you, right?" she asks, not knowing, nor expecting to simply keep on moving forward. But the truth is, she doesn't want to. "And if things catch up with you, turn around and kick their asses."

To Minal Panesh, the world is only as complicated as a person wants it to be. Fractals, like biological constructs, contain an infinite level of detail; the deeper you look, the more the landscape changes. And yet, Minal is fine with her four-foot-nine view of the world -- understanding that there -is- a broader picture, without ever really needing to acknowledge it.

She smiles cheerily, nodding her head with a clear conscience. Because, after all, -she- doesn't know St Jeanne has been reported dead. "Yeah, that's how I see it!" She swings, ever so slightly, while still keeping hold of Clio. "No point in worrying about an enemy I can't punch!"

The reality is, of course, much more grim than the picture Mint paints. But from the Marine's perspective, solutions really -can- be boiled down to that abstracted level of simplicity.

"So I'm pretty much focused on my knucks, for the next few weeks. Past that, who knows! But you, like.... mentioned research and stuff, yeah? Are you about to make a new discovery?"

Clio St. Jeanne would, under duress, eventually admit that she is a more complicated person than she would prefer to be. She still clings to the images she has of her school days, themselves not long ago in the grand scheme of things. But as she admits, life came at her fast. She's fought demons, she's fought fairies, she's seen and known of powers that can destroy and twist lives at a whim. And she is willing to stand against them. She was always willing to fight the bigger enemy.

And yet that ideals been rendered complicated and twisted by those that trained her. What does a hound do when the only reasonable choice seems to be to bite the hand that fed her?

And then there's Mint, holding her hands, swaying, and just being positive. What is there to do about her? She's a soldier, but one in a different path, of a different branch and a different place in the world. The only answer is the shadows and darkness that have always been Clio St. Jeanne's friend.

"Don't think so, what I'm looking for is a metallurgist and I need to check on a few people I know. I want to see how they're getting on," she says with a forced laugh. "I didn't leave on wicked good terms here. Sort of bounced to Japan because I thought desk work was boring."

Mint hasn't let go yet. Her left prosthetic is a little different, with part of the vinyl shell allowing access for her flesh-and-blood fingers. But aside from those three, it's not like she's going to overheat from extended pressure...

Her face lights up when Clio mentions the need for a metallurgist. Leave it to the engineer, right? "Oh! I know a few folks there. If you need a metal shop I can put you in touch with a professor I had at Rutgers. He runs a metal shop when he's not teachin' class!"

Even though she's quick to respond, she's also taking note of the fact that... well, the shadows and darkness haven't been entirely banished from her friend. "... Oh. Well, it's a good time to take stock, yeah." She squeezes Clio's hands quickly -- and then slips her hands out so she can up the ante, at least for a moment, with a brief, friendly side-hug -- fully cognizant of the awkwardness of a straight-on hug considering their relative heights.

Stepping back, she adds, "And it -is- boring. You were totally right to get away from that!"

Minal flips the lipstick about in her hand, passing another glance over to the sales counter -- and there seems to be someone available now, finally. "... Well, hey. How about we wrap up here and grab some chow?"

There's a lot Clio won't tell Mint. Clio's old friends within the NOL; Makoto, Noel, Tsubaki, Mai, they're strong enough to take the reality of the situation. She had learned that keeping them in the dark, that trying to shoulder her burdens alone and be the last one standing was a fool's game. She wasn't as selfish, as willing to martyr anymore, but Mint wasn't one of those people. She was a friend, but not quite the girls she grew up with.

"I got someone in mind," she tells Mint with a weak grin. "But thanks for that."

A sudden hug to her side, Clio blinks and stares ahead for a moment. This was unexpected, but a straight on clench would probably have put Mint in a situation. "Uh, yeah, and yeah, sure, go ahead and grab that. This place is starting to smell," she says with a shake of her head. A lift of her hood to hide some of her features, and Clio moves to the door to wait outside for Mint. With her features hidden, it's hard to see the smile that grows on Clio's face. All the problems, all the sneaking, all the world away from where she started this journey and she still finds a friend on coming home.

Just as with Clio, there are a lot of things Mint won't share. It just happens that almost -all- of those things are classified, and considering the ongoing investigation into how much she -did- leak while compromised by Shadaloo, she's under even more pressure than usual to keep mum.

"Oh, sure! Just offering, in case, you know." Mint volunteered to make the connection -- it'd be a shame with as many engineering contacts as she had -didn't- offer, as far as she's concerned.

"Okay! I'll be right out!" Having already muddled through the more difficult decisions with her friend, Mint is able to cut straight to the point with the salespeople, making a couple more selections, and proceeding ahead to checkout.

Roughly five minutes later, the door swings open and Mint strolls out with a small bag. "Thanks for sticking around for me! Now, let's go get some tacos, huh? Do you know any good places? You grew up here, you've got to know some good places, right?"

Perhaps if Mint knew Clio was -trying- to keep a low profile, she might not be quite so exuberant about the journey. After all, as far as Minal knows, the 'things' reputedly chasing the former lieutenant were purely metaphorical.

Log created on 13:08:22 01/06/2019 by Clio, and last modified on 12:22:11 01/10/2019.