Description: Litchi Faye-Lin decides to drown her sorrows away somewhere on the fringes of Southtown's Chinatown. A familiar face from her past, however, sees fit to interrupt, with her usual flair for charm, and a simple favor to ask.
TINY LITTLE BAR
There are places in Southtown where even quasi-America must erode in the face of quasi-Japan and be revealed to be someplace greater, or at least, more ancient. Red lanterns announce such locations, and the interiors are not much brighter. This particular bar has exactly four seats at it, being one of those tiny ones that locals so often inhabit and which seem mysterious in terms of how they make a business case work.
At present the regulars aren't here, though.
Because it is Wednesday night.
Most people don't go drinking on Wednesday night.
Litchi Faye Ling is not most people, standing out from the crowd on several axes. The coat peg has her winter jacket on it and a certain staff sits against the wall. She has her forehead in her hand, her elbow on the bar, and her eyes turned slightly upwards, looking over the rim of her glasses towards the sparkling mirror behind the bottles of liquor. The world is golden there, soft, loving.
"Here, miss," says the place's owner, who slides a small tray with a few small rice balls, topped with festive little pieces of pale nori. "You can't just drink on an empty stomach... you'll get sick, you know."
Litchi looks down at the rice balls. At the pale backing, the black sesame seeds atop them. "... I don't care if I get sick. ... I can't eat these."
"Why - oh, because of your panda friend?"
"No," Litchi sighs. She raises her glass. "Just... leave me alone, alright? I hope I'm not bringing down the mood."
The owner shuffles out after refilling the glass with yellow rice wine, which Litchi sips, disconsolately.
There are places in the world, little corners of the globe that still maintain older traditions. Like little slices of the past, defiantly defying modernization even in an age where everything and everyone is connected. Warm little slices of homeyness, that harken back to a time when families and communities were more closely knit and people didn't just huddle away in their little boxes, disconnected from the rest of the world.
Kokonoe Mercury decided a long time ago that she hates these kinds of places.
She isn't the type to go out. She doesn't drink. She doesn't socialize. She doesn't engage the community. She hates the community. She has no friends, and she's better off that way. She's much more comfortable ("much less pissed off about idiots," is how she chooses to phrase it) in her lab, engaging the world through proxies like Tager.
She doesn't like being outside.
"You look like shit."
Which means she's already mad at Litchi Faye Ling before the other woman even knows she's there.
The voice comes, deep and rough for such a slight woman, the exact moment the phone to this quaint (shabby) establishment (shithole) starts to ring, ushering the owner away to the back rooms. It's serendipity, some might say.
Fuck you, Kokonoe Mercury would reply. It's science.
Which is why there, with perfect timing, a slip of a woman slides into the seat next to Litchi, fiddling with what looks like a smart phone. She wears a large, oversized white hoodie that obscures and confuses her silhouette, the hood of it drawn over her head and designed in such a way that two pointed cat ears stick out of the top, which, being they are technically still in Japan, is obviously just a stylistic choice. Tight, dark jeans fit snugly on her hips, no tails to be seen swishing lazily behind her; but the tell -- the real tell -- is the feet.
Sandals. Because even in winter time, Kokonoe's laziness in dressing herself knows no bounds.
For a while, those four words are all she says, uttered with all the ambivalence of someone stating an objective fact rather than expressing concern. Not 'oh, I'm worried about how shitty you look.' Or 'maybe you should do something about that.' Or 'how can I help?' No. Just. 'You look like shit, and that is an absolute certainty, and I have no other contribution than that.'
Silence passes. Behind the hoodie, gold eyes stare at the nori. At Litchi's drink.
"You're a real pain in the ass to find, you know that?"
Also a fact.
Litchi closes her eyes and sips her drink.
Internally she agrees with that memory, the voice of her old superior, the renegade. She remembers her so well. All of it's just worthless... "All of it's just wasting away in the flow of time," Litchi mumbles aloud. She raises the glass to her lips and sips deeply before she blinks slowly - matched, somehow, by the eyes of Lao Jiu in her hair - and turns her head to look towards...
The glass rises in the air. It tumbles...
Fortunately, sixty percent of it lands on the bar top with a wet and alcoholic splap! As the scent of spilled beverage fills the air, Litchi places a hand on her chest, in part to cover the sudden stain of warm spilled liquor.
Her mouth works without words for a moment, and then she adjusts her glasses, and THEN she says - "I had no idea that you were looking for me! You left all the chats!"
So to speak.
Her head tilts forwards. Her eyes lid heavily.
"... Then that was you who said that, just now."
"... I can't deny it."
Yet somehow her makeup is essentially immaculate. That's life for you, folks.
As she dabs at herself with a napkin, Litchi asks, "Do you want these? They're probably pretty good. But I don't have any appetitite for something... like this."
Even in places like this, there's security cameras. Electronics. Things to monitor people. Kokonoe appreciates that. It's familiar. Something to ground herself in.
Which is why she's demonstrating her appreciation by hacking in an image feed of Litchi all alone spilling her drink all over herself like a true messy drunk.
If the Sector Seven chief's sigh sounds like a relieved one, well, that's probably just a trick of the mind.
With the proprietor currently occupied with a call that will take exactly the amount of time Kokonoe intends to waste her valuable time sitting here, the demihuman is practically a ghost for all purposes that matter, and that's how she prefers it. The only exception to this rule is currently sitting beside her. Spilling a drink all over herself.
And all Kokonoe does is tuck away her would-be smartphone, pull free a lollipop wrapped in blue foil labeled 'SILVERVINE,' and stare. The flattest, deadest stare.
"Jesus goddamn Christ."
And just plops that sucker in her mouth, rolling it around her mouth as methodically as a high functioning alcoholic getting their fix.
"And yet you've got enough time to put on your face before you try to fuck yourself," she observes, as eloquently deadpan as ever, irritability settling into a comfortable familiarity like sediment as shoves hands into the pockets of her hoodie. "You need to get your shit together. Or don't. I honestly don't care."
And yet, she's here, when she absolutely could be the furthest away from anywhere like here she could possibly be.
That little truth just makes her scowl all the harder.
Attention turns towards Litchi, watching as she dries herself off and makes her offer. Lips press together around that sucker for a pensive moment of silence.
"... Yeah, I just bet," is what she ultimately settles on in reply, before leaning in towards Litchi reaching forward -- and snaring that plate of rice balls to drag them towards her. "They're just rice balls. Suck it up."
That it also moves them out of Litchi's line of sight is, of course, just coincidence.
"So is this your big game plan? Make a mess of your tits while you're making a mess of your life?"
Litchi's lips purse and her eyes close. She lets out a small huff, mid-dab. After this, she takes the napkins off the majestic foothills and says, "I certainly wasn't planning to spill a drink on myself, if that's what you're asking."
Her eyes stay closed for a moment. There is a sense of someone being pulled - slowly - painstakingly - together.
"... I felt like having a quiet evening to myself, but I didn't want to stay home. That's all," Litchi concludes, opening her eyes again and focusing with only a little bit of struggle on Kokonoe. With this, she turns in her chair and rests her hands on her knees, because the bar has spilled-as-hell drank all over it.
As the machine within her spins back into motion, Litchi pivots around. "You don't seem as if you're in the best of shape yourself, if you're coming up to me at this hour in the bar. I hope you haven't been tracking me."
A normal person -- a caring, compassionate, even remotely empathetic person -- would offer understanding in a situation like this. Care. Compassion. Empathy.
"Bullshit. You felt like wallowing."
Kokonoe Mercury is not a normal person. Instead, Kokonoe is what most experts would call,
'kind of a jerk.'
But it's in the little things. In the things she doesn't call attention to. The way she shoves that plate down the counter until the billowing sleeves of her hoodie obscures it and its rice ball treats from Litchi's view. The way she, despite a cranky grunt, grabs a messy fistful of napkins to start sopping up the alcohol-slicked countertop around Litchi as the other woman speaks. It's pretty half-assed; mostly she just slaps the crumpled napkins on the surface and just leaves them there like they'll magically absorb all the liquor.
But she does it.
"You need a hobby," she declares, voice as affectless as ever as she turns to face the bar exit, drawing knees up until her heels plant on the edge of the stool and leaning herself back until her shoulder blades bump into the countertop. Her right elbow eases back just enough to continue obscuring that plate. "Crochet. Write a book. Get a cat. Stop wasting your time with shit you can't change. You're not keeping yourself busy and it's fucking with your head." From beneath the hood of her outfit, gold eyes roll lazily Litchi's way as her former assistant makes her pivot. 'I hope you haven't been tracking me,' says Litchi.
Kokonoe's only response is that bland stare that can easily mean 'are you kidding me?' as it can 'of course I have, and now I am quietly judging your activities.'
A snort flares past the demihuman's nostrils.
"... Guess it turns out being stuck with a bunch of useless assistants is the same as having none," is her sole response, completely skirting the issue of any possible tracking. "So here I am."
It sounds believable enough, at least; and Kokonoe doesn't allow time to dwell -- either on the logic of it, or the past her words might well dredge up.
"I need something."
It doesn't really sound like a request from her, with that flat tone. More like a 'I'm going to get it.'
But they never did sound like requests, coming from her.
The napkins soak up the spilled intoxicant. Litchi doesn't look.
"Maybe," Litchi says quietly, her eyes turning down. She adjusts her glasses, pushing them back up her nose even as Kokonoe pivots around to show her back and then lean back in an extremely aggressive slouch.
"I already have a panda," she says then, with the legally weakest possible joke. "Lao Jiu will be jealous..."
She smiles then. And the smile fades. "I see," Litchi says with a sigh.
She lets her head roll back now, not just lean down.
Kokonoe says she needs something and Litchi silently sighs within her heart as she realizes that whatever it is she is going to do it. It is a defeated feeling, without hope, without anything but the sense that she has been manipulated. Awareness only of what she doesn't have. Cursed awareness.
Nonetheless she is at least neutrally conversational when she says, "You know I can't do everything for you. But... what are you thinking of?"
'I already have a panda.'
Kokonoe Mercury snorts, exactly once. It could be sarcastic. The easy assumption would be sarcasm; it's her default state.
But anyone close, or observant, enough would see at least a tiny kernel of amusement hidden behind that abrasive exterior.
"It's a shit pet."
She can see the shape of it even before she decides to call in her favor. It's hard not to with a mind, a personality like hers, primed by a lifetime of necessity to see all the angles. Litchi's sigh reaches her ear, and that's when Kokonoe Mercury sees it.
The sense of utter defeat that makes anything and everything possible.
Her sucker rolls blandly against the tilt of her tongue, whittling down the silvervine-laced hard candy through a steady process of erosion as she watches Litchi with increasingly alert, but ever-tired-looking eyes that glow a dim gold within the shadows of her drawn hood. If she weren't incognito, this would be about the time those twin tails swished with a sense of alertness. Litchi is at her lowest point. She still works for the NOL. Under Colonel Relius 'Do the Creep (Creep)' Clover his god damn self.
It would take a little work, maybe. A little coercion, probably. Emotional blackmail, if necessary. Invoke the specter of a certain old assistant of hers, in the worst scenario. But Kokonoe is reasonably sure she could flip Litchi in this moment. Make a mole of her. A valuable but expendable resource. Eyes and ears in the Library, and what Relius is doing, that could prove utterly pivotal in Kokonoe getting what she wants -- what she needs. She's done worse, for less. Probably will again.
She can see the shape of it all so clearly, all she has to do is part her lips and --
The sound of a hiss escapes from just under Kokonoe Mercury's breath; the sound of her sucker crunching beneath the frustrated clench of teeth, similarly muted. It's all mild enough to be practically unnoticeable. Because she sees such a clear, perfect path --
"... I've got a project I could use some extra eyes on it that actually know what they're doing."
-- and she chooses to ignore it for reasons she will never truly articulate.
"I need some analysis work done on a Command-type Gear line. Valentines. Got plenty of information on just about every other Gear type you can think of, but them? They're a big fucking blank. I don't like it. It reeks of a special stench of bullshit. I already got someone gathering the data I need on 'em -- I need someone to act as a go between, because fuck if I'm dealing with that, and sift through all this crap to see what we've got." 'Help me' is not a phrase she says. Ever. 'Please' isn't, either. Or 'I'm trying to help you.' But sometimes it's a matter of interpreting intent through context, with Kokonoe.
"Can't rely on Tager for this one. Need someone who knows the Backyard, and seithr, and has some kinda bedside manner to deal with the crap I don't want to. And you..." She frowns. Falls silent, for a moment.
"... you weren't bad."
This? This is a life line.
"As long as you're not drinking your fat ass off."
One she's frankly annoyed she's even offering.
Lao Jiu's eyes droop. He knows the truth.
Litchi's lips purse then at the words, but she doesn't pursue it. Behind her polite demeanor, she floats. It's an interesting feeling, she thinks. She's thankful, really, that Kokonoe distracted her. If she had drunk more she would have no doubt been consumed with grief, collapsed into a heap...
But now she's upright. Held erect by Kokonoe's stimulation. Kept from collapsing.
The despair is mitigated... but it's like she's floating. It's somewhere that isn't bad... it feels almost limitless somehow... like laying on a waterbed and having a slowly applied weight crushing down onto her chest...
Maybe this is what they feel, Litchi thinks, before Kokonoe speaks and the thought dissipates. "Ah... a Command Gear... and you want to speak with it, don't you?"
And then she is praised.
Litchi feels craven and dirty about it but her cheeks color slightly. It's not just the demeaning. "I suppose you want to have your bar tab negotiated...?"
"I suppose it's alright, then," Litchi says, eyes closing. She sways slightly. Ah~ Peaceful, she thinks. I knew I was going to do it, now it's done.
Maybe they'll know something, Litchi thinks. Maybe there's some secret inside of the physiology of a Gear.
"... heh. It's kind of a nostalgiac feeling... I'm turning into a sloppy drunk, aren't I~?"
It's like watching someone hang by a literal thread.
Kokonoe doesn't like it. She has a lecture (rant) queued up and ready to fire at a moment's notice and everything. It's right on the tip of her tongue, ready to lash.
Eventually, it'll come. For now, the pink-haired woman just tells herself she doesn't care, and slumps further back against the countertop.
"Maybe," she utters, as words find Litchi again, as she drags herself up from the mire. "If I could get one of those cutesy fuckers into a scenario where they can't just atomize my stuff." A second passes. Kokonoe's brows furrow before she adds, almost as an afterthought,
She knows her priorities.
"For now its data accrual. Testing their connection to the Backyard and their make up, emotional output, shit like that." She plucks her candy-stripped stick from her mouth, waving the white slip of pulped paper around dismissively. "We'll figure out where to go from there. Got a Hunter on it by the name of Bulleta. She doesn't seem completely dumb as a sack of bricks, so maybe she'll actually get through it alive without it all going FUBAR."
Kokonoe: ever the optimist.
"Anyway, that's the gist. You'll be dealing with Bulleta and running through the data." She watches Litchi, brows furrowing as pink touches at the other woman's cheeks. Lips purse as she mentions the bar tab.
"Yeah," she utters, more like a grunt through that rough voice of hers. "Something like that."
With that, she flicks that stick aside. Her sandaled feet find ground, grimacing at the way they stick to the alcohol-caked surface as she slides from her seat like Litchi's agreement was a foregone conclusion.
"Yeah, well, don't get sappy on me and you can get as nostalgic as you like." Hands shoving into her hoodie pockets, she watches Litchi for a quiet moment. Considering.
"You're the one with booze on your tits," is just about the first thing she says in regards to Litchi's quality of drunk.
"... but you clean up alright."
With that, she pulls out her would-be phone. Turning it on, she glances at the screen, and a frown sprawls across her lips with a natural ease of someone who's been making sour-faced expressions most of their life.
"Tch," she exhales dourly beneath her breath.
"... Alright. I got a couple conditions that come along with this, but it smells like ten all-new exciting flavors of ass in this place," no offense, traditional old timey bar, "so we're gonna do this somewhere else."
And with that, she unceremoniously starts to make her way towards the exit, one hand twitching irritably as she walks her lazy walk.
"C'mon. Let's go."
As if Litchi following her, too, was a foregone conclusion. People pleasing has never been her forte. But this isn't so bad.
She'd never admit it, but Litchi is right.
It's kind of a nostalgic feeling.
Log created on 23:47:43 01/16/2019 by Kokonoe, and last modified on 03:40:32 01/18/2019.