Bulleta - Honoka and Bonnie and Dahlia and Beatrice

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Description: The Scarlet Dahlia calls upon her trusted assassin to discuss the King of Fighters tournament and its host, only to reveal one of her biggest secrets.

The first message was short. "We need to talk about our friend. The one with heart trouble." And the followups were similarly circumspect, as one can never tell who's listening in on the wire. But appearances can be deceiving; there is very little that can be "simple" regarding the criminal machinations of Scarlet Dahlia.

It's late night -- many workers have gone home, but the metropolis of Southtown is wide awake. A drone flies high above radar capabilities, keeping tabs on the van driving Dahlia into Southtown. Two other vans are shadowing at a moderate distance, able to intercept within a few moments' notice. Ever since the Syndicate forcefully ejected the Akatsuki from Southtown, making progress has been a risky proposition -- and yet, there's always ways for Dahlia to get around.

For one thing, none of the vans match the clearly defined M.O. for an Akatsuki vehicle. The vans are 'itasha' -- eyesores, literally -- with full-body decal wraps -intended- to draw intention. Each van has a depiction of an anime girl mascot in various alluring poses, splattered across all sides of the vehicle. Their drivers are wearing t-shirts with the same mascot characters.

And Dahlia herself? As the van stops, near Bulleta's apartment building, it looks like Dahlia is nothing more than a fan, wearing a trim spaghetti-strap tank top, with aforementioned mascot's face on the front. She wears a ball cap, turned backwards. And she's wearing hip-hugger jeans, with rips in selectively oriented positions. Her face? It's someone else's face. Only the amber flecks in her eyes, and the brutal scarring across her left leg, are the same as those of the criminal mastermind.

As she exits the car, one man exits with her. A bit more subdued in style, he wears a light jacket -- and he's packing, as anyone with a mind geared towards operational security would understand. Dahlia walks through the building, paying no heed to anyone who might be staring at her eyesore looks, and walks right up to the door of Bulleta's apartment.

Two light raps on the door, followed by her simple, gravelly voice -- recognizable with no layers of obfuscation.

"It's me."

The apartment's a little more spartan than it used to be. Bulleta doesn't live here anymore, but a safe spare apartment can be a girl's best friend-- especially when a girl's got a roommate who'd probably lose her shit at the sight of a bloody Bulleta. There's still a couch upholstered with a vibrant rainbow of scales; a printed map of Southtown studded with push-pins hangs above the couch; headshots or sketches of KOF's second place finalists, Jedah Dohma, and a tiny handful of others are pinned beside the map, positioned and bound by yarn to give even a casual viewer a sense of connections and hierarchy. There's a tall lamp beside the couch, polished brass with pale, purple leather shades wound around four bulbs set on serpentine branches; a carefully carved cherry wood coffee table's got a pricy, dry sake and a couple of cups already set up. A few nails jut from the walls here or there, bereft of whatever trophies they might've held. There is no television; there are three cell phones plugged into an outlet and lying on the ground near the lamp.

The only weapons left in the place are on Bulleta.

"In the flesh," the Hunter replies while opening the door into what's left of her home, moments later. The man with Dahlia gets a look before Dahlia does; then it's the hall behind Dahlia as she leans past the doorway. /Then/ it's--

"... /someone's/ flesh," with a playful lilt and curiously roaming eyes. Whatever she can see of the scar draws the most notice by far.

Since she doesn't have to evade Syndicate eyes, Bulleta's dressed just the way she'd want to dress for a meeting with Dahlia: a cream-coloured button-down with a thin strip of ruffles bordering the buttons, a dark garnet-red a-line skirt with a twist of dangling fabric over one hip, and heels in a somewhat brighter shade of red. The buttons are gold; a blonde ponytail falls past her shoulders, secured by a black ribbon embroidered with red whorls.

Even though they need to talk about their cardiac-challenged, child-abducting friend, she's also wearing a smile, albeit a somewhat muted one.

When she makes it back to whoever's face Dahlia's got on, the Hunter lunges impulsively forward to snare her boss/friend in a tight hug. There's a small box in one of her hands, long and flat; it's nicely polished, deeply red wood, but it's probably not a part of her outfit.

"So good to /see/..." She pauses briefly, then giggles. "'you'-- c'mon, come in...." Stepping back, she shifts aside from the doorway and gestures Dahlia(+ guard) inside with sweeping arms.

'Dahlia' tilts her head as Bulleta gives her a not-brief once-over. "Like what you see...?" she offers with a vaguely flirtatious tone and a lift of an eyebrow. She's staying in character -- the character of a considerably toned and underweight groupie with a particular infatuation towards a mostly generic red-haired manga character. In other words, -completely- out of type for the confident, self-assured mob leader Bulleta would know her as. She seems pefectly receptive to the hug, returning it in kind. It feels a -bit- more odd, as... well, the exposed midriff isn't -usually- a part of Dahlia's couture.

There is a bit of hesitation on her part; Bulleta's pauses -could- be construed by anyone listening that some sort of trickery might be afoot, but she realizes that the one bug that she knows about can't be tampered with -anyway-, and any others would be fooled anyway. So with that, she nods quietly -- gesturing to her companion, "It's okay, he'll wait out in the car." And sure enough, he offers a brief bow, and steps back and away.

Dahlia eagerly steps into the room playing the 'lost clubber' attitude for full effect. She holds the look for long enough to cast a cursory glance across the room, checking all the windows and doors she can see. And at that point, her expression shifts to seething, for the split-second before she drags her palm up to her face, splaying her fingers across it. As she drags said fingers down, the very skin beneath ripples and shifts, becoming translucent like molten glass under a jet engine's exhaust. As she draws her hand away, the putty-like concoction starts to stick to its fingers, before surface tension snaps it back into place.

And after a moment of resettling, Dahlia's got her 'usual' face on, minus the facial scarring she'd rather -not- show. Her lips settle into a dull frown.

"How do girls even dress like this? It's fuckin' freezing." With an irritable grunt, she passes her gaze over the room once again. Photos and maps are taken in, a pointed look is cast towards the sake, an approving nod is given to the purple leather shades.

"This look," she starts, gesturing towards her shirt with splayed fingers, "is not an un-fun one, I suppose. But it's probably not one I'll repeat. I trust you've been well, mm?"

She reaches out to Bulleta, lifting up the lone blonde ponytail, brushing her thumbnail over the black and red ribbon. "It's become clear that whoever is... orchestrating the sham of a 'tournament' is hoping to evoke a -reaction- of some kind... wouldn't you agree?"

"A little skinny," Bulleta offers, tapping her lip thoughtfully. "A little otaku-y..." She takes a beat; some questions really merit a little extra time for consideration.

"Fit, though! Fit's good..."

She squeezes firmly after lunging. Whatever comes /after/ this is sure to be worse; she can already sense hesitation that doesn't feel especially at home with a bubbly club girl /or/ her confident confidant. After separation - after the guard's indicated - Bulleta casts an idle glance his way, but doesn't bother with so much as a wave or a word; she's long since learned that polite gestures are wasted on Dahlia's men. Instead, it's Dahlia who gets a self-assured grin and a lowly-voiced promise, delivered as she leans in close to the passing 'clubber': "Ten weapons on me; spare clips hidden in the couch... if someone /did/ wanna fuck with you, I'd get aaaaall my deposit's worth on this place."

The door's nudged shut and locked. And locked. And locked. And locked.

(And chained...)

Once security's handled, she leans back against the door to watch the tail end of Dahlia's inspection and lets herself slide down a couple inches, folding her arms as she goes. Her head begins to cant as Dahlia splays her fingers out, 'til Bulleta's just peering - curious, surprised, admiring - at the transformation through narrowing eyes.

"And here /I/ am, fucking around with make-up like some kinda moron..." she murmurs through pursed lips. The peering doesn't go away; she's already pondering whether the Guild has a connection that can get her-- /that/, whatever's almost, but not quite stuck to Dahlia's fingers...

... but she's also just.


"Intense, single-minded, rigorous dedication," the Hunter posits at a more even level, "to showing off their abs-- or whatever /else/ they've got to share with the world." A smirk flashes into place; she gives a quick shrug. "/I'm/ not gonna judge dedication."

She settles into studying Dahlia studying her apartment. "I've been-- y'know," she answers, quieter. "I mean..."

Since their last, karaoke-capped meeting, Bulleta's made a point of trying to stay in touch as best as busy schedules allow. Dahlia told her that she could call if she needed her in any capacity, and Bulleta-- Bonnie-- self-sufficient creature that she is-- still needs friendship... but she hasn't tried to reach out since the tournament was announced. She needed-- wanted-- /needed/-- to be able to be sure of what the hell was happening; she needed to be /ready/ when expected to be.

And she needed /time/, besides. Maybe Dahlia could've gotten a productive meeting out of a fuming, self-flagellating Hunter, but Bulleta had her doubts.

"... y'know."

Bulleta turns and tilts her head towards lifting and brushing. The ribbon's silk damask, soft and luxe and on the heavier side; it sports segments of subtle ridging throughout. Tugging at any of them causes that part of ribbon to stretch, just a bit. "Who the hell would want /that/ kind of-- it's gotta be covering for /something/, right...?"

After her lowly spoken question, Bulleta tilts further to rest her head lightly against the mastermind.

"I've still gotta... I've been tied up /here/, and I haven't been able to get a flight outta the country and check the grave-- I mean, it's-- like, that's-- that's obviously an..."

Bulleta hesitates.

"She's-- she's got the same eyes," she murmurs instead, swallowing a happy little lie, "it's fucked up... but there's gotta be an explanation; it's-- it's /smoke/, it's..."

Biting her lip, Bulleta looks up, apologetic. With her mind once more focused on processing and problem-solving, it's not long before contrition slips back into curiosity, and her attention drifts. Part of /Dahlia/ doesn't look the same as she remembers. This is easily explained: there's face-shaping putty, gel-- /something/ in the mix. Dahlia never seemed /that/ vain about her face before, but it's been a while; those days were not this one.

"I'm entering, just to get close," she quietly states. "I don't know how /far/ we're gonna get-- I haven't even /met/ the other girl, but she's ex-NOL, at least. I was gonna..."

A little - /just/ a little - bit younger; a little less weary, a little more light in the eyes... a few pink highlights - as if Dahlia would /ever/ - to brighten black locks...

Bulleta shakes her head a little and waves off whatever she was gonna do, muttering, "... well. Doesn't really /matter/ what, 'cause the logistics were all fucked up; plan B'll have to do. You don't think it's some kinda-- I mean, I don't /know/ Shadaloo, but this seems a little /tacky/ for 'em... ugh. It's-- whoever, /whatever/ it is, fuck 'em."

After a brief pause, a little lightness slips in:

"The ribbon's one," she quietly announces.

This just in: Dahlia does, in fact, work out daily. It'd be more than easy for a crime boss of her stature to let her body rot to hell. Fast food, expensive seafood, the choicest cuts of Wagyu beef, et cetera. And yet, for Dahlia to show such striking attention to her form? -Without- going overboard with plastic surgery to take full advantage of the tendencies of the male gaze? Well, there's perfectly plausible explanations for everything of course -- but Dahlia remains mum on the topic, preferring to reserve her comments to one hushed, appreciative whisper concerning the hidden weapons stash. "Should've known..."

Inside, though? Comments about make-up earn a slow shake of her head. "Not recommended. This compound is formulated for swimsuits. If you tried doing it, it'd make a nice airtight seal around your nostrils and mouth. Kind of a bitch to undo that nonsense."

Dahlia traces a finger along the curve of Bulleta's cheek, cooing softly, "And I'd rather pay for another hit, as opposed to another body bag. Wouldn't you?"

The Ainu woman grinned for a moment, though Bulleta's anxiety towards talking about Jezebel seems to be at least a little contagious, dragging the corners of her lips down into a slight frown. "Mmm," is her acknowledgement towards Bulleta entering a tournament team -- this particular tidbit of news hadn't yet crossed her desk, but she remains noncommittal to actually saying so.

"It's not Shadaloo," she agrees. "The organizers are trying to stir up heat around Shadaloo. And trying to stir up heat around a certain Ainu Spangles, as well. Who -- as you know -- is quite alive. And not complicit in whatever this completely batfucked scheme is."

The crime lord notices that her face is getting studied a bit more than it -usually- is. Not just because she eliminated the scar -- but something /else/. And she flashes an enigmatic smile in return, considering her options for a moment.

"Is something else on your mind, Bonnie? A question you're... dying to ask?"

Dahlia purses her lips for a moment, letting the question linger in the air for a moment.

"... Or should I say... 'Beatrice?'"

'Striking', indeed; Dahlia's is a form made for tanktops, expertly tailored fabrics... even spandex, if she wanted it.

'Dedication', indeed; another point of sameness between the two women, right down to wardrobes that tend not to flaunt the fruits of their labor. There's something about swimsuits on the tip of Bonnie's tongue, but a question pushes it aside: "How do-- -- oh, yeah, the, uh. The tee kay--"

Dahlia's finger pushes /that/ aside, too. Instead of worrying about minor details like how, exactly, Dahlia gets to cheat so efficiently at the mask game, Bonnie just shuts her mouth, nods not /too/ eagerly, and shares a grin with the crime lord while she can.

A ways past joy and Jezebel, she idly supplies, "I can't really..."

(... like /sisters/-- like they were separated at birth, taken in by the circus and-- wherever, whoever on Hokkaido was responsible for creating someone like Dahlia...)

"... be /sure/," comes after a pause. The smile's reflexively returned, then she shuts her eyes and leans in against Dahlia, "yet, but she seems... nice." /Actually/ nice: patient, kind, decent. The sort of nice that isn't a four-letter word...

A beat passes. The smile flashes again, past her mind's eye, as the circling begins.

(... and their /voices/-- if not /now/, then at karaoke, in her headphones; they-- really /are/ nice voices...)

Bonnie starts to tense--
-- Dahlia knifes the jugular--
-- and Bonnie freezes.

She starts to say something angry and flip... but she's talking to the nice woman whose friend she described hunting down and murdering.

An apology begins to form... for the woman who promised to be honest with her about /everything/, unless she just didn't feel like it.

Still shut, the hyperventilating Hunter's eyes burn with a few frustrated tears... and lucky idiot that she is, she has /two/ friends to share them with.

Bonnie twists away from-- past-- both of them in favor of the sake, bee-lining towards the table. Dry, dependable, plainly labeled sake--

Another freeze.

An about face.

Blue eyes crack just enough to let the Huntress with burning cheeks barrel back towards the other woman safely, until she's close enough to shove the little box she's been hanging onto towards a bared mid-section.

It's a pretty hard shove for something in such a nice box, but it's ultimately pretty measured: all that strength that Bonnie works so hard to cultivate would be worthless if she couldn't control it, and as frustrated-- hurt-- penitent-- /pissed/-- as she might be... she doesn't want to /hurt/ the other woman.

Who/ever/ she is.

"Christmas," is flatly murmured after she turns away. "Didn't wanna dead drop them, but you were always busy."

And /now/: sake, crispy unscrewed and tipped into Bonnie's mouth.

"So fuckin' busy..." is barely audible after a couple seconds or so. The bottle goes back up after that, while she swipes the back of her hand through the warm salt rivulets staining her cheeks; she keeps her back to the other woman.

It was only a guess.
That's usually how it works with Dahlia, after all. The tusukur avoids trying to read a mind that's fully conscious. It's so much... easier if the target is asleep. Less complications. Less permanent damage.

But it seems to have been a correct one -- gauging from the diminutive assassin's immediate reactions. Dahlia, for her part, offers an apologetic smile. A broad smile wouldn't have been right. A frown of any sort, inappropriate. This is, after all, a conversation between two friends, each completely incapable of cooperating with the notion of a 'whole truth.'

This is a particularly dangerous interaction, considering that Dahlia -knows- that her pretty little weapon is, herself, armed to the teeth, and beyond.

The thin smile of apology holds, no thicker than the layer of Golden Angel smeared upon her face.

Because the psychic's mind is already working far, far in advance. The worst case scenario is always a possibility, no matter how distant.

And when Bulleta rushes forward, shoving a nice box into her bare midsection, there is an awkward resistance. For not only does the crime lord work on her core strength every day. Not -only- are her abs strong like corded steel. But there is also the sensation of a wave of -force- resisting against Bulleta -- as if the air -itself- has solidified, pressing back against her.

The colloidal mask does not crack, even still. Frozen -- for just a flicker.

Long enough to betray -- to a mutually paranoid assassin -- the doubt. The mistrust. The hesitation.

Nostrils flare. The mask is convincing as flesh, after all. And for one brief moment, it's as if there is no doubt at all. That the face of Honoka Kawamoto is the one faintly smiling back at Bulleta.

But it's over, in just a flicker, as Dahlia wraps her hands around the box, eyebrows folding down as she examines the box. The pressure is gone with such alacrity, one might wonder if it was ever there to begin with. And Dahlia lifts the ribbons aside with her thumbnail, pulling the box open delicately. And her eyes grow wide -- as if the exchange had not even been a -threat- in her mind.

"Bonnie.. these." A statement, with the intonation of a question.

She draws in her breath, closes her eyes. The mood was misread, cloaked in the shroud of justified anger. But it's clearer now -- even the sight of sake has a way of clarifying one's true emotions.

Amber-flecked eyes open again. "Double lives can be tough, it's true. I know... out of anyone... you would understand. I wanted to tell you......"

It's difficult to believe a liar, isn't it? And yet, here she is -- tearing up... speaking the truth.

Her expression softens. She breathes in, looking up from the pens.

"Can you forgive me?"

/Some/ might wonder whether the terrible pressure emanating from the other woman ever truly was, but not Bonnie. Bonnie lived it; Bonnie felt raw power pushing at her, forcing tightness into her jaw-- a taste of room-heating, table-shaking potential. She felt rigorously toned, strategically hidden muscles shudder and tremble against invisible resistance. She felt the urge to cry out, to /scream/ that they're just. Fucking. /Pens/... and she felt a chill upon glaring at the taller woman and /seeing/ doubt atop merely feeling it.

She felt every maskless moment: every stupid, silly show of affection; every shared laugh, tear, and frustration; the awe, the honesty... she felt it all curdle and bubble, ready to boil free the first time she opened her mouth.

She felt a flutter in her belly at the sight of a familiar face smiling down at her, and then she felt the fire in her cheeks intensify.

Just a flicker. Just a moment; nothing more.

More than enough to leave Bonnie cradling her wrist and forearm when she's able to pull away.

She keeps her back turned when 'these' are seen. 'These' are just. Fucking. Pens... but they're /nice/ fucking pens: three quills pulled from an enormous porcupine, cut down to size, and capped with small metal flowers. Their bodies are black with white streaks. The flowers are bronze where they meet the quills; the blossoms are black, purple, or white.

Bonnie's back remains turned. The blazing scarlet mantle of her face, the tears she's all but eliminated, the futile /rage/ at being so, /so/ fucking /stupid/... it's nothing Dahlia hasn't seen on her before, but...

... but there's sake to drink, and--

-- and--
-- -- and--
-- -- -- and--

The bottle shakes in Bonnie's grip as she slowly pulls it from her mouth, several seconds after the apology. Erratic breaths steady into a rapid-fire stream; her eyes barely open.

"I /would've/ understood!" she hisses, pointed. "I-- hh, fuck--"

She knows how /that/ sounds, and it's not what she means--

"-- that's not-- /fuck/, Dahl--"

Every bit of Bonnie tenses as she throws her head back and stares at the ceiling. Her tongue jabs the inside of her mouth for a moment as if it's trying to burst free, then she finally turns, eyes wide and face as red as her working clothes.

A helpless, "/FUCK!/" erupts as she thrusts her arms out, then she pulls her empty hand up to cup her face while the bottle hangs slack at her side.

"You /knew/ I'd understand... so why didn't you /let/ me?" quietly filters through the narrow gaps between her face and palm. Her hand slides enough to give her a glimpse of amber through her fingers as she quavers, "I've... I... Dahlia, you know me better than fucking /any/body, I... why? And your /face/ right now, the-- the scar, why would-- I-- I'm not..."

She's /supposed/ to be honest with her friend; insisting that she isn't stupid doesn't feel very honest right now. She just lowers her head and scrubs her face for a beat.

"/Why/?" she softly pleads. Afterwards, her eyes lift just enough to check the other woman's position before she takes a few quick steps forward, arms lifting, extending--

-- only to remember that moment of doubt. Her eyes briefly, tightly shut; as they open, she reaches for the small pistol hidden against her spine, frees it, and tosses it to the table behind her. The crime lord gets a look at empty palms, then Bonnie slowly steps out of her heels, kicking each of them behind herself. "I don't even know what I'm supposed to fucking /call/ you..." she bitterly murmurs while wrapping an end of the ribbon around her fingers. Twisting and tugging just so undoes the whole thing in one motion, allowing her to send it fluttering to a resting place near the gun.

"'Dahlia'...?" she wonders as her eyes widen and her voice lightens into an /especially/ saccharine take on B.B.'s girlish register. "'Hono... ... ka'." A beat as her eyes shrink, and then she just looks down and murmurs, "... oh," in her own smoky tones. "Flowers... ... god..."

Her tongue delicately works along her gumline for a moment. The next time she opens her mouth, she sticks her tongue out so her employer/pen pal can get a clear look at the razor blade resting on it before it, too, is plucked and flicked away.

The shoe's on a different foot now. Before, Dahlia was cool, confident, and in command. Now? She may be speaking with the gravelly voice of a crime lord, but the -impression- is one of an anime-obsessed teenybopper out for a night in the garish lights of Den-Den Town.

And yet, Dahlia -- for all her confidence and control -- is far from immune to the justified, impotent rage of a confidant. Of a -friend-. But more than that, an assassin with a literal arsenal of weapons ready to stake her in the heart -- or worse. She holds her mask -- knowing full well that it's immune to salt water, immune to the tears just daring to spill forth. And she agrees, with sober control.

"You're absolutely right. I -could- have told you. It's cruel... of me to insist that you trust me, when..."

She bites her lip, eyes half-lidding. Moisture wells up at the corners of her eyes.

"I -wanted- to tell you. But it's more complicated than that."

But Bulleta already knows. The pistol was discarded. The razor blade, as well.

And more tears begin to flow. Dahlia raises her hand to her face again -- swiping a dark, damp streak across the remarkably life-like polymer. It stops being life-like, after a moment -- after it sticks to Dahlia's hand like a fistful of modeling clay. Beneath... is her true face. The one with the scar, ever so slow to heal.

And still the tears flow, even as the colloidal gel pulls in on itself. Surface tension pulls the orb into a nearly perfect sphere, as its color shifts to a more neutral hue.

"It's not about -you-, Bonnie. I -am- your boss. I -want- to be your friend. That's two roles -- not counting -all- the roles we each play in this stupid, ridiculous play of ours."

Dahlia holds the sphere up. It's shiny now, perfect -- reflecting Dahlia's scarred face back to her, distorted and blown out.

"That's why we're talking about this now. Because I -do- trust you more. And I -can't- keep the roles straight, not all the time. I don't want to -lie- to Bonnie, any more than I want to lie to -Beatrice-."

She lets the ball roll into the web between thumb and forefinger, lets it roll onto the back of her hand. She lets the sphere roll into the valleys between her fingers, rocking it back and forth. There's no doubt that she has every -bit- of the control Honoka Kawamoto exercises on stage, or in tournaments, or... anywhere else.

"When was a good time to tell you? Over a tapped phone line? Over one of the darling little letters I was able to write, where two scared young women were able to talk about issues that mattered most to them?"

The orb hovers around her pinky, before she begins to walk it back across her hand.

"Not to mention, even -here-, I don't know whether that damn bug in your bloodstream is able to record us. Guess the secret's out, if so." She shrugs faintly -- the thought bothers her, but a mere fraction as much as the issue at hand.

"What's done is done. There used to be people I trusted more than you, Bonnie. Two of them died -- and one by your hand. The other..." She shakes her head dismissively.

She casts her eyes over to the pistol, on the table. "I don't have a problem trusting a calm voice. When I can -sense- your intentions. But rage..."

She drags the back of her hand across her eyes, against a scarred cheek. And when it's gone, she's wearing an apologetic smile.

"Call me Dahlia. Honoka's just that girl you write to. She doesn't get to brush your hair, not like I do."

Bonnie quickly combs through her hair a few times now that it's loose, then lets it hang over a shoulder while she winds and unwinds a few locks around her fingers and listens. Even with downcast eyes, Bonnie can't miss the tears.

... why are there always /tears/ when they see each other, now?

The little gold hoop in her left ear is next; the right gets to stay. Bonnie doesn't lift her eyes until she's gently set it on the table. Given what she knows is waiting for her, her shoulders are rigid the whole way, 'til a glimpse of saline streaks amidst a balling mask triggers a slight recoil. It is -- no matter /how/ she feels -- /not/ about her; there wouldn't be so many tears if it /was/...

"It's /not/ stupid," she immediately interjects, quiet and firm. A beat.

She looks down with a wince and a swallow.

"... you and me being in each other's corners," she softly clarifies, "isn't /stupid/, it's..."

A little while after trailing off, she grabs the red fabric dangling from the twist at her hip and pulls at an angle that frees it cleanly. It's-- /noticeably/ longer than it might've appeared to be at a glance; some of it was probably hidden in the skirt's waist. It softly clinks when it hits the table. She wipes a fresh, creeping river of salt from beneath her eye and moves down her cheek.

Bonnie starts to answer questions about timing, but listening -- and watching the warped reflection of her apartment dance over deft fingers -- wins out and she shuts her mouth. It's harder to protest these /other/ points of Dahlia's so readily-- though, when the bug is mentioned...

"D-- -- Dahlia," rattles past her lips; it'd be a chuckle if there was anything to laugh about, here, "if that thing /records/, we're both, just, /super/-fucked, and have been since the ryokan..."

She shuts her eyes, too. Everything was /so/ much simpler then, before tears and confessions started complicating their employee(/friend/brushee)-employer(/friend/brusher) relationship.

Her eyes slit open after a beat. They might've opened all the way, if not for the murder hanging in the air, shivering down her spine.

"I'm... I'm sorry," comes out in a soft voice. Dahlia's got an apologetic smile on, but there isn't -- /can't/ be -- a monopoly on apologies /now/. Two shirt buttons are twisted off and dropped to the table, leaving little metal bars to keep the garment fastened.

"Dahlia..." It sounds much steadier, now. "... if I'd known she meant something to you..."
"... if you could've /told/ me..."

There's no judgment in it, just regret; the dull ache in her chest isn't enough of a reason to overlook the underlying logistics, after all.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," the metal bar near her collar's undone, followed by the button just below, "and I'm sorry." Another button-- a quick glance down at the gold necklace and cotton undershirt peeking out, then back up--

"Spider - simplifying, here - silk; super durable. I could make fuckin' /Big Bear/ tap if I got it around his neck right..." A proud little smile follows, though her heart's not really in it. Ridding herself of that luxurious weapon doesn't take long, even with a sake bottle still in one hand. Bits of three long, tightly grouped scars visibly cut across the rigid lines of her right shoulder and upper bicep. There's a little phial of bright blue liquid hanging from the necklace; she tugs it out slightly with her thumb.

"Holy water." She just lets it go, looks to the carpet, and plays through her hair for a few moments, hesitant.

Bonnie then resumes her approach, and barring another brush with psychic pressure... she doesn't intend to stop until she's collapsing against Dahlia. Actually /hugging/ her can come... well, later. Eventually. Her arm's busy: whether there are tears there now or not, she reaches to drag a few fingers down Dahlia's scarred cheek.

She whispers, "You're the only friend I've /got/, Dahlia..." Her nose wrinkles right after it. A weary little laugh slips out; none of this is very funny, but 'ridiculous'-- /absurd/... pretty apt. "The /only/ friend. The letters were... ... the letters were nice. Honoka's... Honoka really /is/... /nice/. You're /good/ at 'nice'... I /liked/ her." A small beat. "/Like/ her. ... not as much as /Beatrice/ does, obviously, but..."

She chews at her lip for a nervous moment.

"I really /did/ listen to that song of-- hers, a lot."

More chewing--

"And you've got /nothing/ to be shy about in lycra," Bonnie quietly remarks, making her best attempt at a smile.

When her best attempt falters, she drops her arm into wrapping around her fellow criminal while murmuring, "... and you can brush my hair whenever you want. Braid it... whatever you want. I-- trust you; I /forgive/ you."

Dahlia rubs the back of her neck, sheepishly, as the Huntress starts a disarming ritual with each and every one of her concealed weapons. The process brings a tear to her eye in both a literal and a figurative sense -- in that she can remember the time when she, too, had a number of weapons concealed on her person. Not to mention the kevlar body armor. The Akatsuki leader finds herself forging an awkward smile, nodding in approval. Each weapon cast aside makes her paranoia -that- much more justified. Each gesture another step towards cementing a friendship that really could be -- maybe even -should- be -- beyond such things.

"I know. It... It never came up. And how could it have?" She coughs lightly, clearing her throat: "Like, 'Oh by the way, here's a list of all the famous people I'd like you to refrain from killing, thanks.'" With the orb of Golden Angel rolling about on her hand, she raises her other hand to dab at her eyes. "I forgive you for that. It... I'm sorry it keeps coming up, just..."

Then again, it -is- the reason for the meeting, isn't it? There's a moment where Dahlia stops and starts, as if she's about to bring it up again -- but then spider silk is mentioned. And then holy water.

That actually draws a snicker from the Ainu. "... And the walking murder arsenal asks, 'Why didn't you let me in?'" Her free hand cups gently against her mouth, its alabaster skin contrasting against darkening cheeks.

Dahlia's brow furrows at the suggestion that she may be Bulleta's only friend. But she realizes Smith and Wesson could be more like 'co-workers' than family, or friends, snapping the statement into focus. Dahlia nods, to that, her lightly curled tresses bobbing lightly in the motion.

As the conversation veers towards Honoka, though... the crime boss purses her lips in a more humble smile, her chin dipping low. "Yeah," she agrees with a subdued smile, "she... does have a flair for saying things I cannot." Flattery will get you everywhere, as the saying goes.

And as Bulleta gives her permission...? Dahlia pulls the colloidal sphere into her palm. She will step forward, not to tease fingers into Bonnie's hair -- but instead to wrap both arms about her in a simple hug. "Thank you," she offers, in scant more than a whisper. Dahlia draws in a deep breath, her ribcage shuddering.

The scent of lavender fills the air as she holds the hug for a few moments. Just... shuddering lightly in relative silence. And trying not to allow too many tears to drip onto the diminutive assassin.

She offers in a self-defeating tone: "I s'pose if... you got a weapon left, you pretty much fuckin' earned your chance by now."

She's in no hurry to step away. The release, as it is, has been fully necessary. Though she -will- take the opportunity to brush fingers through Bonnie's hair, teasing it about as a consoling gesture.

And when the time is right...

"... There's ... a lot for us to unpack. Things I said... -wrong-, out of fear." She pauses, reconsidering. "Out of /paranoia/. And I want to change that. But... "

And she'd back away, resting one hand on Bulleta's right shoulder, the wrist of her other hand pressing close to her left. She starts to talk, but again finds herself momentarily paralyzed, wrapped up in the proximity of a dear friend.

She offers with a tearful smile, "Who would -you- rather talk to right now, Dahlia or Honoka?"

"/Your/ walking murder arsenal," the Huntress quietly asserts before falling in against the crime lord.

Smith and Wesson /are/ family, both responsible for finishing what Grandma started by teaching her how to be hard and clever and fearless. They essentially raised her for a chunk of her life; she trusts, feels more loyalty towards them than almost anyone else in the world.

But they're /family/, not friends... and even if leaning on and confiding in them did feel 'right', neither has ever in her life smelled a thing like lavender.

Bonnie's breathing falls in step with Dahlia's as silence settles around them. Her nostrils flare to take in as much of that scent as they can, while they can. The sake's still hanging by the neck from her left hand while she clutches the other woman's back with her right. Whatever tears /do/ fall aren't enough to make her back away; she's had much worse in her hair for much less worthy reasons. When Dahlia eventually breaks the quiet, her gravelly...

... joke...? Observation...?

... /whatever/ it is sinks in to the bone. Bonnie shivers through the chill spreading out from her gut and the churning heat that follows. Her fingers dig against Dahlia for a tense moment, then quiet laughter shudders out as she begins to relax.

"Frisk me if you want, Dahlia," she murmurs, trying gamely to balance lingering hurt with levity, "I'm clean. The /last/ time I disarmed for someone, he had to take my word for it... but /you/ aren't him." All those tears, those heartfelt words; the clear, readily understood /logic/ backing it all... it might be a while before Bonnie /forgets/ what brought them on, but forgiveness...?

Dahlia's earned that and then some. The Huntress is never /really/ without a weapon as long as she has working limbs and teeth, but Dahlia's got nothing to fear from those, either.

"I... went /in/ clean, las-- oh." Her brow furrows for a brief moment after that clipped offering; blue eyes quickly roll.

"I had the razor-- I /always/ have the razor, just-- /habit/... but you had a hotel full of guns to cover you; I figured I didn't /need/ to bring mine."

When the time is right...

... well. The time isn't ever really 'right', is it...? What's the proper amount of time to spend in a hug, letting the friend she hasn't seen in half a year tease her hair? What about after a painful, tear-inducing confession?

But, alas: right or not, it's eventually time to separate. Bonnie hangs on /tightly/ for a moment when that time comes before yielding to it-- and then flinching, just a bit, when Dahlia grazes over the scars on her shoulder. She starts to open her mouth-- pauses-- glances aside--

"Dahlia's patient, she's funny, she's /smart/; she likes to brush my hair, and she's..." A smile flickers as she looks up into amber webs, wistful and apologetic. Her empty hand makes an awkward reach to touch Dahlia's on her shoulder. "... the /second/ baddest woman I've ever met. Honoka's sweet, and easy to talk to... but it doesn't really work for the narrative, right...?" Now she's just-- smiling, slowly but surely, as reflexes fire through the dark labyrinth of her mind. "Her and Beatrice-- /their/ first face-to-face has gotta be backstage, or maybe in a ring; makes more sense than Honoka Kawamoto coming to some random apartment on the edge of town, just to meet a fan who doesn't even have cancer, or CF, or whatever the Make-A-Wish disease of the hour is..."

Equal parts playful and contemplating, the trailing Huntress takes a second to roll her bottom lip between her teeth.

"Besides," follows as her eyes shift away, quiet and even, "I-- don't think /either/ of us wants to see the conversation /they'd/ have about... ... her, right this second. There's a lot to unpack, like you said..." She manages to show a few teeth with a renewed smile. /Much/ more gently, this time, Bonnie pushes her left hand against Dahlia's stomach so she can take the sake if she wants it; her eyes rise as she does.

"You and me have a /lot/ of fuckin' baggage, don't we?"

"My walking murder arsenal," assents Dahlia with a wry grin. It was true that she still had a great deal of trepidation about being so close to Bonnie -- host to an unknown technology which could still pose a threat. But that fear goes down by the moment.

But it manifests in other ways -- transforming the crime boss's fear into that of a potentially veiled accusation. Which -- as Dahlia responds with an apologetic shake of her head -- was not the intent. "It's alright, Bonnie, I'm sorry -- it's... I'm making fun of -myself-, not trying to jab barbs into you."

It'd be tempting, of course, to hold the embrace. The comforting warmth, the firm pressure of someone who -can- in fact be trusted, the flaxen fibres that hold a curl that won't -ever- be possible in her own hair. But yes, it is time to let go -- and accept the compliments with grace and a thankful smile. "I fear Dahlia's patience is only granted to those who earn it, like the stunning example standing here now." She holds position, momentarily denying herself the urge to tidy up her unruly forelocks as she matches Bulleta's gaze.

A sake bottle is pressed into her -- and Dahlia gratefully accepts the gift, wrapping her right hand around the bottle, the colloidal orb clanking lightly against the ceramic.

"We do," she agrees. "So let's not tell 'her' about it at all, while we drown our sorrows, hmm...?" Thankfully, Dahlia's tear ducts seem to be able to hold back the deluge for the moment. Pulling the bottle away, she nonetheless keeps hold on its neck. Nominally, that's because the cups are on the table -- which she slowly begins to gravitate towards. But also, she's got a mind to keep rein on the alcohol for the moment.

And once free, -then- she can sweep her hair back into position.

"That... said. I don't... -think- we have a whole lot of business, but let's get it out of the way, shall we? Do you have a list of the prizes for this wonderful tournament on hand? ... And... did you say you had joined a team? With a former NOL officer and... who else?" Once at the table, she looks like she -might- have decided to pour herself a cup -- but instead, uses the moment to address Bulleta with an inquisitive, maybe even sober expression.

Dahlia's paranoia hurts, but it isn't /wrong/. Even Bonnie knows that much-- has all but /said/ as much in past meetings:

If she were /really/ on someone else's payroll--
-- if she'd /really/ been sent to trick her way into Dahlia's graces--
-- how different would the lies she'd tell then be from the honesty of /now/?

A friendship with someone as bright and devious as Dahlia might have its pits, but a stupid, easily swayed confidant just wouldn't be worth the energy.

/Compliments/ from someone without the criminal mastermind's sharp eye and high standards certainly wouldn't mean as much. Bonnie can't quite match Dahlia's grace in accepting kind words, but she manages to keep her smile to a reasonable wattage as a fresh red tide blooms through her cheeks. "/More/ points for Dahlia," she murmurs, looking /just/ to the right of the other woman's eyes. "Good taste and exacting standards.

After they separate, Bonnie /also/ heads for the table; it is, after all, where the cups are, and if they're gonna drown sorrows...

"-- oh."


Bonnie stops after a step and a half. Her eyes lid; she slowly fills her lungs.

Another role, a turn just a few crucial degrees away from this one.

"Business..." Bulleta softly exhales.

Blue eyes snap towards her little phone bank. Briskly, she walks over to retrieve a several year-old model with a cheap red case; tap; scroll...

"Twenty mil; rocket ride... meeting with Lightning Spangles. Four mil; vacation to Italy; cameo in..."

Those eyes slowly lift until they find 'Ainu Spangles'.

"... some movie," she finally says after a beat, smiling tight and wry, now. "400k; ownership of the Official Ligh-- /christ/, what the fuck's lurking out /there/, huh? ... Lightning Spangles... Ranch in Baja. 40k; a bunch of her movies; lifetime supply of Golden Angel. 4k; some ugly shoes; tickets to the Il Paradiso in Metro."

Bulleta hops onto the couch and chucks the phone to the cushion beside her. There's a small wince as she slides into a comfortable slouch and stretches her arms up, then one hand comes down to etch half a Coke bottle into the air. "Mai Shiranui," she says, "and some 'stalker; demihuman squirrel. Shiranui's pretty good; the other girl's pretty strong... pretty sure we're gonna be underdogs. /Real/ underdogs, even..." Her head rolls so she can wink Dahlia's way.

"What about you? I--"

Bulleta hesitates for a moment before giving another small, taut smile.

"-- thought about trying Honoka, at first, but putting her, me, and... 'Lightning Spangles' in a room just-- I couldn't make that math work at all."

Dahlia is well aware that simple things like 'it's not legal for anyone under 20' wouldn't stop someone like Bulleta from partaking in the sake. Neither does it stop her from pouring a small amount into a cup -- about the same as the amount she pours herself. At some point, the criminal mastermind reasons, it would be prudent to model the behavior of 'proper portion control.'

She raises the cup to her lips, and takes a brief sip -- never mind that alcohol damned the Ainu to failure on countless prior occasions. For those with moderation, -anything- is doable.

As the warmth washes down her throat, relaxation starts to take hold again. Her cheeks adopt a more rosy tint almost immediately -- courtesy of the Wajin in her blood. But more importantly... her mood lightens. It can't be a -bad- thing to wash away the last vestiges of paranoia, that might cause her to cast shade at Bulleta when she's -not- meaning to.

And with that, Dahlia nods, slowly beginning to pace around the room. The orb of malleable matter begins a slow walking path, this time around her left hand. A focus, allowing her to enumerate the list of rewards. She remains silent for much of it -- her memory allowing her to fill in the gaps for later recall. After all -- she'd asked -several- questions in a row, and would rather not interrupt.

At the mention of Mai Shiranui, her grin gains a few watts. And... a -demihuman squirrel-. "... Some part of me wants to laugh at the notion of you being onstage alongside a demihuman. I'm certain if she's -ex-NOL-, though, that you'd be leaving some money on the table for that. But twenty million might be enough to suffice..."

She waves her hands dismissively, demurely making herself narrow and setting herself down along the edge of a sofa seat. Once there, she crosses one leg over the other, that self-assured grin turning towards Bulleta. "Honoka is, of course, =interested= in her friend, so of course that's -her- cover story. So perhaps she'll be... delighted that the -grand prize- is a special meeting with her long-lost friend."

She inverts her hand, resting the orb on her fingertips as she pokes her palm with her right index. "She'll be teaming up with a Pacific High student, a... Mega Dragon Fighter J-Dragon, to use his full name. An aspirant well versed in psychokinetics -- eager to learn and fight under a master."

Two fingers tap into her palm, as the orb walks back and forth along her extended fingertips. "You can see that I would have issues with this Ainu Spangles, of course. As that is -supposed- to be Honoka Kawamoto, as -anyone knows-. Not to mention, Biwatori Dam's destruction was a key... -setback- for my people, and my -not- being involved personally is a direct insult. So those are two mysteries I'm intent on solving, -there-."

Her ring finger joins the other two, in tapping her palm. "And Il Paradiso Opera House -- ground zero of Jedah Dohma's attack on Metro City, site of the greatest casualties. And also, the personal property of my -dearest- friend, Duke Burkoff." Her good mood shows signs of vaporizing with the gravel tone she adopts for the rough Russian dialect...

But then her right hand flattens, as she turns towards Bulleta. In a softer, more inquisitive tone, she asks... "But Baja California? Buluc Chabtan? These both have significance to Shadaloo -- or perhaps the Black Dragon Cult, who both recently engaged in protracted conflict. Those weren't... near where you buried her, were they?"

Very little of what's on or near that table is legal for Bulleta - or anyone //else// - to own, but indeed: the Huntress is not a woman who's inclined to let minor details get between her and what she wants.

Blue eyes track Dahlia's deliberate trip around the room as prizes are ticked off. Bulleta can't help a smile at the roses blooming in Dahlia's cheeks; it takes so /little/ to relax the crime boss so /much/, and she prefers a relaxed Dahlia. Bulleta herself isn't quite as lucky: her stature sets a distinct limit on how much she can handle before it gets to be /too/ much, though years of practice have served to nudge that limit ever higher. Relaxation is hard to come by after nights of drowning in adrenaline and blood; letting alcohol warm her's an efficient solution. An /easy/ one, too: there's no such thing as a legal drinking age for Hunters; life's too short.

She leaves the cup on the table while listing prizes; while describing her team; while reaching across the couch to answer her employer's mischievous instincts with a light swat to the arm. Once she's pulled away from /that/, though, ceramic gets snagged on her way back to sitting (slumping) up. The couch makes for comfortable sitting, with smooth outer scales hiding plush innards; likely, it'd be well-suited to giving a weary body somewhere to collapse after stumbling in.

"They haven't bountied her yet, and demis that can /fight/... /usually/ not worth it for parts," she says of Makoto. "So at least like /this/, I get a preview of what she can do." Her smile's gotten /much/ bigger, for some reason or twenty (million). It's nice to dream, even if the same part of her brain that tells her not to chase dangerous marks for nothing is right there to remind her of how long her odds are in a field that includes Abigail and...

... of course," she agrees, of Honoka. "Maybe we'll get that middle of the ring meeting after all... ... oh. Oh-- o-oh," the last syllable's frothy with quiet amusement. Blue eyes quickly shift away while she covers her mouth.

"K-Koto's-- Koto's not /bad/ - /real/ unrefined - but he's /way/ too into all that truth and justice shit. God..." She sinks back with a small grin. "I sure hope Honoka's on her best behavior; he can be real /pill/ if he thinks he's getting fucked with..." She casts a glance into the cup then brings it to her lips--

Another glance down leads to pushing pursing lips towards one side.

Better than nothing, for now.

It's too bad she almost chokes on it thanks to Ainu Spangles.

"S-so," the younger woman sputters out, "you're /not/ gonna...? I mean, that makes..."

A beat passes while Bulleta's face rolls through increasingly bemused expressions.

"... okay, yeah, no, it makes fuckin' /no/ sense. Why would...?" Another, much briefer pause.

"/Who/ would wanna fuck with you like that?"

There's /much/ less to say about Duke and his opera house. The glower she shows at the mention of his name makes for easy reading; ditto the heat boiling between her ears. Her empty hand idly brushes over the ragged souvenir one of Duke's supernatural allies left her with. There's little she /wants/ to say about where this year's tournament host was (is?? ... is. /is/...) buried, but, "No; Arizona," comes out like a ripped band-aid as her chin dips. "Tombstone, out in the desert. ... Tombstone the place, not..." Her cup-wielding hand waves dismissively. "Three hundred miles or so."

She shuts her eyes for a moment.

"I'm going to check the grave," she states, low and firm. She's already said as much, but now it's got the gravity of a promise to a bereaved friend. "Then I'll start looking into the movie, since-- well, y'know. Of course a /fan/ would be sniffing around her new fave's big new project..."

Through all of this, Bulleta's eyes have periodically drifted towards that colloidal pearl rolling over Dahlia's fingers because it hasn't stopped /moving/. The power Dahlia wields is alien to her. There are books and stories and treatises on it; she's felt its like, diminished but not /much/ less dangerous for it; neither's enough to know the full score on what she can /do/ with it. The mask that's dancing with Dahlia is, all on its own, a few steps removed from whatever she might've /thought/ the Ainu could do. Curiosity's natural; curiosity begets survival.

"Does it help you think," she quietly wonders, "or are you just showing off? Like..." Her empty hand stretches in Dahlia's direction. Deft fingers curl and shift to keep an invisible pen tumbling all over her knuckles.

With this tournament, the possibilities are endless. There's so many people involved, so many variables to account for, so many ways for things to crash and burn. An opportunist, paying close attention to all the moving parts, ought to be able to fluorish in such a perfect storm, finding the eye in the center of the raging winds.

And Honoka has placed money on Koto. In the worst of cases, a patsy. In the -best- of cases, though...

Dahlia chuckles. "Don't discount truth and justice as a motivating factor. You've got to keep your eye on the prize. A vague, ill-defined concept of justice is remarkably easy to rally an army behind, because everyone has their own idea of what quote-unquote /justice/ is." Dahlia grins, looking at her distorted reflection in the smooth surface of the colloidal gel. "Honoka is a /pristine/ paragon of excellence. She's kept her nose clean so far in public. Any claim otherwise is demonstrably -false- in the court of public opinion."

As for -Dahlia-, though... "-Dahlia- has more than her fair share of enemies. Zach Glenn. Duke Burkoff and that ninja bitch of his. I'm not scared of -either- of them, neither is bright enough to stage something of -this- complexity. Lee Chaolan... maybe? He's not afraid to dick around with the formula, but... let's go on."

A few moments later, as the topic turns to Tombstone, Dahlia simply nods and sits back, draping her right arm about Bulleta's shoulder. Squeezing it gently, she chuckles softly. "I have a feeling that... the grave is still undisturbed. But it's not a bad idea to check, just to be sure. The movie, though..." The orb follows along, as she taps her chin with her left index finger. "Already talked to my agent. I'm -not- signed for this. So maybe they have a new Ainu Spangles. Which is even -worse-"

But then Bulleta expresses an interest in that shiny, colloidal orb. Dahlia drapes it out so she can see it better. "Oh this? Short answer: yes." She pauses for effect, and adds, "But more for the former. I seem to think best if my fingers are moving." She toys with the orb, as if it were anchored firmly in space and her slender fingertips were simply moving -around- it.

"A pen, or a yo-yo, or diabolos, or a rubik's cube I suppose... they've all held the role at one time or another. Just depends on what's at hand."

She draws in her breath, eyes crossing at the chemical compound. "So the last option... -is this-. A lifetime supply of Golden Angel. Which, for the record, I already have -- how much does any one person -need- of this, really? How many swimsuits will a person go through in a 'lifetime'? To even use a suit once a day, think about how much of this toxic monstrosity gets washed down the drain..."

Dahlia frowns faintly, letting the orb slip into her palm. Her eyes fixate onto a point -past- the sphere. And, gradually, it begins to change its shape again, sprouting two stubbly legs, two chubby arms... then a head, all right in her palm.

"With the right guidance... this compound can take on any form. Any -shape-. It can become -anyone-."

The misproportioned figure begins to grow a lumpy mass on its head, which slowly shifts into the form of a ten-gallon hat.

"So, just hypothetically, -anyone- with this compound could grow their own Jezebel, or their own Honoka, or their own Beatrice, if the conditions were just right. And I just happen to have a lead on the creator -- which seems to point towards another shadowy cartel by the name of NESTS."

And then, just like that, Dahlia rams her thumb right into the rotund belly of the misproportioned figure. Knurling her thumb ruins all the integrity of the putty-like creature. "But it could be any number of culprits. You can rule out Shadaloo and Akatsuki, and the Syndicate -- and amongst those left as intentional red herrings for us to pick over, that only leaves the possibility that it would be NESTS."

She kneads the figure back into a formless mass of putty, glancing back to Bulleta. "But it could easily be someone -not- left in plain sight. Perhaps Lee Chaolan himself, seeking retribution for his second bout with financial ruin. Or Kazuya Mishima, or Heihachi. Or even the stranger who killed a man in my employ, just out of sheer -boredom-... to tell me about -his- love for Lightning Spangles. It could even be our dear friend, the Black Dragon herself."

Dahlia flashes a manic grin. "It's enough to drive one insane, mm?"

And just like that, the putty is tossed into the air.
A moment later, Dahlia lets her hand drop, slowing the orb to a dead stop -- and it's a perfect sphere, just as motionless as before, with her hand shifting around it. The hand about Bulleta's shoulder offers another gentle squeeze.

"Too many options, right now. We have two goals... collect information, and sow more -misinformation-. So you... find out what you can, hmm?"

"Oh, yeah, sure," Bulleta quietly acknowledges where Koto's concerned, "people'll do fuckin' /anything/ if they figure it makes 'em /right/." As the subject turns to Honoka's public image, the grin the Huntress shares with her employer widens. Her own meetings with Koto could've gone better. Once he got a glimpse of the violence swimming beneath B.B. Hood's innocence, it hurt any future chances she might've had of playing him. She lacks-- Dahlia's-- seeming flair for the long game: her preferred prey tends not to survive a brush with her, so sugar followed closely by poison makes for efficient bait; most of what she knows about fighting is hard to square with the image of a shy, reserved girl, besides. Luck can't carry the lie forever...

"Maybe Bea needs to get herself a PR rep..." she muses aloud, quiet and smirking and faintly contemplating.

However serious of a thought that is, it isn't serious enough to merit exploring it further while Dahlia enumerates her many enemies and potential enemies... including one that draws her brows up in a moment of clear surprise.

Honoka wrote about she and Zach taking a break. The questions flock between Bulleta's ears; outwardly, her lips stretch wide in sardonic solidarity-- freeze after a beat--

-- begin to part--

-- then settle into a curious little purse. Soon enough, they're in Tombstone and the moment is - for now - past; a gentle squeeze from Dahlia brings Bulleta tilting closer while the creases across her forehead smooth. When the 'new' Ainu Spangles is confirmed, Bulleta pulls her eyes from the orb and pushes a curious little smile on. Her right brow arches as she murmurs, "Maybe Bea oughtta try and /meet/ the newbie, just to see if she's really as good as the real thing...?" Steel creeps into her voice, every bit as sharp as the shiny little blade on the table. "Tell her to break a leg, if nothin' else..."

It's just a thought, though; just an idle fancy so she's not /entirely/ focused on the questions surrounding Jezebel-- or Zach, for that matter. The Ainu she's /most/ interested in can't, won't stop showing off-- or focusing-- mostly, it's focusing.

Either way - focus or bragging rights - it's enchanting. Her gaze doesn't shift from the pearl at all as Dahlia explains her dextrous little habit and the implications tied to its current manifestation. She does murmur, "Who knows? Maybe whoever wins it will keep 'em skimpy; for the environment," with a playful lilt. "But: you're right, it's..."

Dahlia stares; the Golden Angel begins to change. To evolve limbs, a head...

Blue eyes progressively grow as Bulleta closes her mouth and joins the other woman in staring... not that /hers/ is nearly as effective as Dahlia's.

Swimsuits; faces... bodies...

... ten gallon hats...

... it could be /anything/, and someone wants to give away as much of it as someone else could ever want.

"Y--" is her first response to Dahlia's list of possibilities-- to /any/ of it; her eyes are still stuck on the imploded mass of putty, gaze visibly jittering around it.

"-- you're not crazy," Bulleta finally insists after a couple beats. She flicks her eyes towards Dahlia's face, then reaches so she can trace fingertips along the curve of the other woman's unmarred cheek. "You're too fuckin' smart to be crazy; you just know an opportunity when you see it... /christ/. Jesus, Dahlia... ... god, even that cunt with the casino could probably figure out how to make a few bucks off of /this/..."

She's studying the now-featureless sphere again, because how could she /not/ now that she knows the multitudes it contains...? Their shared goals garner enough nodding to let the other woman know Bulleta hears her, but the /sphere/... When her eyes can't get any bigger, they switch quickly between the orb and the crime lord a couple times before resting on the former.

A thoughtful, "So," comes out after seconds of silence, "then-- hypothetically-- would GA-people be /people/, or just... /puppets/? I... /Dahlia/, you've /already/ got seats in the Diet. You could..." Bulleta shivers against the other manipulator, loops her falling arm loosely around Dahlia's waist, and lets her head fall against her with a little bounce of blonde.

One needn't be psychic to know that the Huntress is enlivened by the possibilities, but it might make for a richer experience.

Bulleta takes a slow, deep breath and reels herself back to solid ground. Once again, she lifts her eyes towards Dahlia's, and this time she lets them linger-- lets one of a myriad of questions reflect in bright, wide wells:

"Are we doing this to shut NESTS, or Heihachi, or-- fuckin' /whoever/ /down/," she lowly asks, "or are we just looking to co-opt...? You wanna sow misinformation, but why get people looking the wrong way, unless you wanna take advantage of their backs being turned...?"

The Huntress takes another, fleeting look at the orb and licks her lips.

"Whatever you need, Dahlia... I've got you," she promises.

"I'm sure we could -hire- a rep... I just figured you wouldn't want to get too corporate about it."

It doesn't feel like that long ago, that Dahlia had made the decision to limit how 'buddy buddy' she'd gotten with Bulleta. And yet, as time went on, the littlest Huntress has more than proven her worth, both as a dependable, hardworking associate, but also as a trustworthy friend. Even to the point that she would -willingly- disarm herself, without an explicit request -- just for the aim of allowing Dahlia to -relax-.

It was a welcome enough gesture that only a sip of sake was necessary to calm her down. Which is good, because the usually-attentive crime boss had left her cup on the table not long afterward.

Now, though? Dahlia -is- calm. And she's happy to give Bulleta the welcome encouragement, the reassuring hugs here and there. After a forthright admission of one of her largest secrets, well... why -not- close the distance? Why -not- speak openly? The psychic would be able to sense emotions more clearly up close, than far away, after all. And open contact... well, that's just the best way to ensure her own thought patterns are transmitted in the clear.

Her eyes half-lidded, she leans towards Bullet with a schemer's grin. "Well... I'm planning to make my own housecall, too. Just don't forget, -she- wasn't the one answering your mails. And, really, we haven't even -seen- this Ainu Spangles. Perhaps they simply hired a new actress, Pepper Green style." Her brow furrows, as she gives that more thought. "Kind of a dick move, but isn't it -all-...?"

Regarding the idea of keeping swimsuits on the lean side, the surprise lifting Dahlia's eyebrows shows that the thought honestly hadn't occurred to her before. "We can only hope." But even as she's showing Bulleta the wondrous capabilities of the Golden Angel compound, it seems she's less excited about its potential than Bulleta is. "... Well, they wouldn't be -people-, no. Puppets is more accurate. In fact... the finale of the Golden Angel Tournament -- look it up, if you want a laugh -- showed the true terror of the compound -- there were a ton of goopy puppets all threatening to destroy the winners. It turned into some weird sort of super-sentai, Ultraman kind of free-for-all..."

Dahlia deadpans, looking straight at Bulleta, "... So that's my master plan, of course, in teaming up with Koto."

Her lips turn into a wry smirk. "Okay, not really. But there -would- be some sort of poetic justice there."

But no. The wonder compound of the now-extinct Oudoukou Chemical Concern -is- pretty amazing, but it has its own limitations. "... It's far from a silver bullet. As disguises go, they'd be quick, but definitely not -perfect-. Whoever's running it would need a very, -very- clear mental picture of the person they're trying to impersonate, and unless they have some sort of signal booster, they'd be forced to concentrate to keep their appearance. It's not a very effective means for any length of time... which probably means that the doppleganger that went onto that utter buffoon's show was -not- Golden Angel -- but something more durable."

Dahlia arches an eyebrow, as she expects a healthy amount of skepticism. Helpfully, she explains: "It's water-soluble, too. So add a water pistol to your arsenal, I guess."

Dahlia leans back in her seat, afterwards, grousing: "... Terry Rogers is a vapid, fucking idiot. On top of that obsequious, 'On behalf of humanity, Lord Dohma, I accept your apology' bullshit, he just accepts a hundred and eighty degree personality shift as a -given-? Uncritically? How the hell did he even get on the air..?! Honestly..."

Dahlia relents on her showiness, at this point -- shifting instead to using the compound as a plain-ol' stress ball. Squish, squish! "... Ahh, apologies. It's just that there are so many things I'd want to -ask- her, were I in his position. -Prying- questions, stabbing to the proverbial heart of her insecurities. It's a convincing doppleganger for the masses, but to someone who's -really- gotten into her head... It's quite masterful. But it seems to be based entirely on public appearances. So while it could be Lee Chaolan, or this... Saulder person I ran into who has -quite- the Spangles fascination... it feels too soulless for either..."

Dahlia hums thoughtfully, dimpling the surface of the putty-like orb with repeated taps of her index finger. "Lightning Spangles is certainly not unloved by certain members of the fighting community. So it'd be worth looking into past footage there -- to uncover a connection. My suspicion is still NESTS -- and as far as I can tell, they -are- rather artless."

She draws in her breath, the fingertips of her right hand angling up to weave themselves into Bulleta's hair. Combing through those golden locks, she muses with a sardonic smile: "Oh, co-opt, definitely. We don't have the resources for a full frontal assault, and... it'd serve no benefit, really. Eliminating powers just puts us in the crosshairs of another group..."

Dahlia squeezes Bonnie's shoulder once more, grinning in a bit more open manner. "So... yeah. I plan to make my own visit to the set of Ainu Spangles' new movie. Something about it tells me it'll be... educational. But in the meantime... there's also a tournament to fight in. Which... should provide its -own- window into affairs. I have a feeling things will get even more interesting, soon..."

It feels like forever for Bulleta.

Between then and now, any communication they've managed was likely coded somehow or another, just like the message that brought them here. In a world of nanoscale trackers and basket-mounted RPG launchers, a secure line's just an invitation for someone to innovate the means to crack it; doublespeak and ambiguity, then, go a long way. Bulleta being Bulleta, she has a habit of wrapping them in personas, besides. Thus: calls from a bubbly sorority girl looking to score premium (were)wolf fur for her bestie; an exhausted waitress grateful for the recommendation of a good(, confidential) doctor who got her right back on her feet the /one/ time she got sick (with acute blood loss by way of vampire)...

So /many/ roles in their ridiculous play.

There's a comfort in the distance that code and characters bring. They require her to know /exactly/ what she wants to say, /exactly/ who she is, what she wants; they come with restraints. Sometimes, it's easier to communicate honestly when the burden of doing it truthfully's been lifted.

Less distance means less room for comfortable layers of separation-- less room to /hide/. Each of their meetings has seen her share more of herself than the last: her origin, her name, her family; they've given her a broad swath of safe space to express feelings that'd otherwise stay stuck between her ears or dissipate in woodland air. There's a level on which they're /terrifying/--

('what if /this/ time's the time i piss her off for real?' 'what if she gets sick of me?' 'what if she doesn't trust me after all?')

-- but the fear doesn't make them any less wonderful, in the end. She rarely presses the issue of meeting, for it wouldn't be professional -- or /considerate/, of her only friend -- to insist that a busy, embattled crime lord drop /everything/ to meet her nano-bugged assassin for anything less than urgent business... and wanting to be held and fed sweet words is tough to spin as urgent, even for her.

The butterflies in Bonnie's gut are figurative, but the flutters of fear and affection-- and curiosity, and hope cut with remembered wariness? The fresh pain she's trying her damndest to set aside and ignore as she greedily takes whatever warmth and reassurance Dahlia's willing to give her...? They're as real as a pistol or a razor, only they swarm the Huntress' psyche instead of waiting patiently for when she needs them.

"Oh," the blonde exhales as her own smile stretches, "don't worry: Honoka's a /great/ pen pal; I'm not gonna be forget any time soon."

Her-- essentially-- lightened mood carries through as GA's imagined potential meets a splash of cold reality. The deadpan conclusion about Koto in light of the way the branded tournament went earns a giggle and a prodding finger over the mascot. "You fuckin' nerds really /do/ deserve each other," she lowly teases.

Soon afterwards, she pulls her hand back to tug her holy water necklace forward again and assures, "No problem," as Golden Angel's deepest flaw is revealed. High-psi armaments /definitely/ have a place in the prepared Huntress' arsenal...

Bulleta's brow is furrowed, though. The smile's gone, and a dose of honest griping from Dahlia's not enough to bring it back-- much less draw her into commiserating, though that coward-ass Dohma interview earns the sour face and glower it so richly deserves.

"So an actress, then," she pensively murmurs while Dahlia's busy critiquing Terry's interview methods. "Or a... ... maybe that cunt actually found a living changeling and /sold/ it to someone, but finding an actress - shit, just finding /anyone/ with the right look, conditioning 'em..." Blue eyes shut while trails off and listens-- and, eventually, tries to confirm the parameters of their mention. One cracks open for Dahlia's explanation; delight and a little relief flutter within Bonnie while flaxen strands flow through her employer's fingers.

"What're they artless /at/?" she eventually wonders. Lidded eyes fall from Dahlia's face to the putty she's idly molding. Shapeless, stripped of mystique, barely distinguishable from /any/ lump an anxious body might find on the shelf, the Golden Angel's still full of potential; it /must/ be, if Dahlia's got all she could ever need and still thinks there's value in having more-- or, at least, the knowledge to manipulate it more thoroughly. Knowing that there are limits ultimately makes it easier for the little red Huntress to imagine its potential. "What's NESTS'-- they've got a /thing/, right? All'a these people, they got /things/..."

Sigh. /More/ watching old Jezebel footage for research; not only the biggest, but the most /expensive/ payday she's ever had. The blonde doesn't bother hiding her grimacing frown at the notion... not that it'll last /long/, given where she is.

"Are you planning on fucking with Burkhoff...?" she asks of Dahlia's little 'feeling' with a glance up. "Fucker helped Dohma buy /property/, fuck him..." After another grimace, she looks down at the miraculous mass in Dahlia's grip while grazing teeth over her bottom lip.

"Should I... send another letter, sometime?" she tentatively asks after tamping down on a spike of pain. "To wish Honoka good luck, and tell her how weird it is there's a /new/ Ainu Spangles?"

The 'code' is an interesting game to play. The Ainu had dove headlong into the circus life, ruining her chances at high school education in the process. While her diction isn't the best, she certainly enjoys wordplay and the powers of suggestion. Cryptic voicemails and blissfully ignorant phonecalls are their own brand of fun.

And ... dancing past the truth -was- fun, but now that Elise has passed onto another realm, she's found herself without true female companionship on a one-to-one level. Her conversations with I-No aren't quite the same in that regard, considering that she feels as anxious and fearful towards the Musician in Red as the Red Riding Hood feels towards her.

So she's glad to be able to speak openly with Bonnie, now that the tears are dry. She could've used a bit more time to -honestly- and -openly- remorse over the raging storm of emotions regarding Jezebel's passing -- without having shunted the emotions onto a hapless minion of hers. But the moment's passed, and at least temporarily, she wanted to project an aura of calm and control -- a buoy for the junior Huntress to latch onto and ride through the turbulence.

Really -- would Bulleta be anywhere near as calm if she hadn't shown -some- measure of the Dahlia's patience?

Dahlia, at first, bristles at being called a nerd. She -actively- avoids nerd culture. Star Wars was something she watched only recently. Aside from intel provided by subordinates, she's largely ignorant of tech trends. But once her prickly response turns into a shrewd smile, she's largely moved past the insult. "Knowing -of- a thing doesn't make me an aficionado."

Really, it's only because of Lightning Spangles that she's even delved into American children's programming. And even some of -that- sickens her. No, for Dahlia, pop music is about as far as it goes -- as Bulleta would likely be able to attest from the surprising breadth of her karaoke capabilities. The Ainu crimelord is clearly -not- armored in an impenetrable shell of glares and sarcasm.

"Look," she insists after a moment. Glowering, she explains, "Dohma pisses me off -- swooping in after we softened up the country for him. But taking him on now is suicide, for me -and- you. I've lost some of my best men. And it's going to take time. I doubt I could even count on the NOL, as they -set Duke free- after I handed him to them on a silver platter. And with Volkov's help, he doesn't even -need- to lift a finger to flick us away like an annoying bug."

She likely doesn't have to reiterate -why-, there.

While she may grouse about Duke, and Dohma, and Kira... her expression seems to lighten as she recalls the past. "NESTS, hmm. They... have -some- subtlety to them. They made a shell corporation, Atelier Health, with the aim of locking down school violence. A noble goal, but then they started demanding blood and DNA samples from all of the Southtown schools. So... their -strengths- are tech and bribery. And apparently weird-ass chemicals now. I wouldn't doubt for a minute they had the capacity for genetic engineering, but that's why I'd suggest you look into their agents and -their- connections to Lightning Spangles -- particularly Angel and Whip. Her self-declared 'biggest fan.'" She pauses for a moment, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead. "No offense, but you weren't the first to say so..."

Dahlia lets out a sigh, nodding slowly. "They're not -as- blunt as Duke. Burkoff's wilder than a fuckin' bull in a china shop, only he'd probably -level- the place while he's at it. Plus... I don't plan on taking him on for a while. He's fought both me -and- Honoka, so he probably already knows the big secret. So, unless I can drop another concrete truck on him, I gotta hope he gets distracted by something shiny."

As to whether she should write a letter? Dahlia grins at that. "It's... been a fun writing exercise. Best thing to do when I find myself wide awake at 3am for no real reason. But hell. We -should- be meeting more often, hmm...?"

With an encouraging grin, she slips out of her lighthearted embrace, and leaps to her feet, the orb of bland-colored goo bobbling about in her hands. She makes a beeline for the sake, and tips another sip down the hatch.

When she turns around, the Dahlia looks... younger. As if her burdens are -released-.

"Did you have anything else to report? Because I'm not sure about you... but I'm in the mood for some Chinese takeout."

Considering the twentysomething is certainly -dressed- for a night of clubbing, perhaps that could be on the menu as well.

Dahlia bristles. Bonnie rubs the other woman's stomach for a moment in an effort to soothe.

She starts to murmur something -- an apology, more teasing; both? -- but thinks better of it in favor of a contrite smiling back and listening. Maybe /another/ time, when she isn't /minutes/ removed from having the nature of their friendship upended, /again/... maybe /then/ she can get away with playing. Maybe then, she won't be so prone to wondering whether something as simple as a bristling at a misconsidered joke is a sign of something worse, another little secret held in reserve until the time is right.

Bulleta nods along with the grousing, glowers right on cue for Dohma, and digs her fingers in against Dahlia at the very thought of her least favorite Dragon being enough to guarantee their destruction, should they misstep. She lightens when Dahlia does... mostly; a disdainful nose-wrinkle is hard to avoid when Southtown's schools are brought up. And then there's the idea that she'd be offended by the premise of someone else being - saying they're - a Lightning Spangles superfan...

"How's /that/ supposed to be offensive...?"

The quiet interjection is paired with a bemused grin as Bulleta pulls herself up and away enough for a better look into Dahlia's eyes.

After a small beat, she settles back into the crimelord's embrace, shaking her head. The killer with dozens of hours of Spangles research under her belt quietly begins to deadpan, "Yeah, Whip gave her those scars, but /clearly/--..."

... ah, /shit/-- fuck--

Dahlia may not perceive the profanity tumbling through Bonnie's psyche, but the sudden rush of outward tension and the cold, clinging rush of fear that comes after nearly lucking into /another/ wrong thing to say are plainly evident. She turns and tilts her face to try hiding a dismayed look for the couple of seconds it takes her to tame it, at least; it could be /worse/.

Be fuckin' /cool/, Bonnie. Just /listen/, and /be cool/, and /let the beautiful genius tell you what she's keeping you around for/--

Unfortunately for her, the smile she offers for the suggestion that meeting more often might just be right after all is too big and eager for 'cool'... but it doesn't come with a joke about murder, so she's feeling a little better about /it/. A badly aimed joke about murder-- Bulleta is /pretty/ sure that Dahlia'd find a healthy percentage of murder-jokes hilarious.

"Whenever you want..." she quietly promises as Dahlia stirs, then separates. Bonnie just lets herself rest draped against the side of the couch in lieu of a superior support point, almost boneless for a few beats. With half her face mashed against the arm rest, there's just one eye tracking the other woman through taking her focusing goo and taking another sip of sake. "I'd like that."

Her tongue pushes against her teeth afterwards, as if pinning something more so it can't slip free--

"A lot," eventually slips free anyway.

Her breath catches for a moment after Dahlia's turn, then she pulls herself up and starts pushing her fingers through her hair, briskly. Chinese takeout; sake; bonding... but there's more business in the way, isn't there? Smiling slightly, Bulleta nods and slouches back in her seat.

"Two things," she begins, tipping her head to one side so she can grab a handful of tresses and comb through their ends. Her eyes stay focused on the cushion beside her. "I'm working on the bug. I got a meeting with Kokonoe Mercury. She's..." The smile momentarily broadens as she considers it. "... you'd probably like her; she's smart and cynical too. I just gotta find a couple Gears and get some data from 'em, and then she'll do it. Second..." She lets go so she can give her hair a few more long, swift strokes, twiddling her fingers about as she goes.

"... there's a werewolf named Gallon," comes with a look up into amber webs, "who I think you oughtta meet. I got thrown into a fight with him on the Midnight Channel, last year; fuckin' prick /got/ me, but I burned his forest down before he did it..." The Huntress scowls, then the smile returns. "I went and saw him a few months after that. He was squatting in this French castle, 'cause the SNF keeps fucking with him, forcing him into fights... /anyway/. I went and found him; I talked to him," the smile starts to get bigger, "gave him a real nice apology," and bigger, "put a couple bugs in his ear about Burkoff and the casino cunt and Dohma - all those poor, innocent 'stalkers," and bigger, "brainwashed, sold into slavery to fight other people's wars-- or just forced into serving Dohma - and now he teaches me kung-fu," until she's showing a proud, pearly crescent.

The blonde takes her feet, approaches Dahlia, and holds a cupped hand beside her mouth.

Leaning towards the criminal mastermind, she whispers, "I told him I hunt monsters," in an ear, "and he's /still/ teaching me..." Quiet laughter briefly sends shudders through her shoulders while the pride beaming from her lips blazes within.

"He's some kinda monk," she then explains, leaning away with a few quick circles of her free hand and a shrug. "Trying to restrain the wolf part so he doesn't get all mass murder-y. Kind of a hermit, too... but who knows? Maybe a couple'a good words from someone who /didn't/ set his whole home on fire could get him out of his shell, a little-- get him focusing on doing something /good/ with his suu~uuper tragic curse...?"

Following a wink, she reaches for the sake bottle.

"Takeout /does/ sound good..." Bonnie gives the bottle a look as her fingers wrap around the neck. Her eyes keep moving, scanning over clubwear and cut muscle for a couple seconds before making it back to Dahlia's face. "Whatever you want, Dahlia. It's been..." Almost as soon as she looks at the other woman, her eyes start to slide sideways, keeping her in the periphery, "... god, it's been /way/ too long. Wherever you wanna be, whatever you wanna /do/, I'm /there/."

Dahlia has been close to people -- but in many ways, she's also been an -employer- to many of those same people. Physical closeness ... well, it's a tool for her. Weaponized. She wields it like any other tool in her formidable arsenal, as an instrument to get something she wants.

And, in her cloistered-off mind, she often suspects others of using it for similar gain. Even when -- as proven by a surprisingly tense exchange -- it's been proven that fear of Bonnie's attention is largely unwarranted. Bonnie -likes- Dahlia. Bonnie does not want to -kill- Dahlia. Bonnie has had several really good opportunities so far.

That doesn't stop the Ainu woman's pupils from dilating as she looks down at the hand upon her stomach. It's a momentary reaction -- one she can learn to control with time. But a surprise take, all the same. It's feels a bit odd when reciprocated, she realizes. But sure. That's fine. It ought to go just fine with the territory of draping her own arm over Bonnie's shoulder. Right?

"Look, I'm just covering my bases. Just telling you there's more rabid Jez fans out there than just us freaks."

Dahlia decides to just go with the flow. And not -stress- so much. Perhaps that's the sake talking.

She wants it to -not- be the sake talking, of course. That'd show a -potentially fatal loss of control-. But... whatever. She can put that fear to rest with enough conscious thought.

Having said that, though... it doesn't take a psychic to realize that Bonnie -thinks- she said something wrong. To -feel- her recoil, from as close as she is. Dahlia expels a sigh, grinning. "You got me curious now. Just spit it out." The Akatsuki mastermind is clearly more settled now than she was, and... well. If she tenses up, Bonnie would notice that, right? If she crosses a line... well? Is that really so -bad?-

It certainly can't be worse after a -second- sip of sake, right?

The Ainu tusukur does notice the way that Bonnie seems to be pressing against her teeth. And the thought of the concealed razor blade from before just rings in her mind. But no -- consciously pushing that thought down allows her to proceed. To -listen-, most importantly.

Two things to report. And one -- is enough to bring an even bigger smile to her face. "... that's -fantastic-. I love it! Though, that name..." The name 'Kokonoe' does start to ring a bell, but it's a matter of finding which proverbial room that bell was rung in that's a problem. "... Eh. I'm sure it'll work out. And if you need Gears..."

Dahlia frowns after a moment's thought. She -can- find Gears. But she dare not upset another set of plans she has in mind...

"... I'll see what I can do to help in that regard. The last sets of Gears I knew of were utterly destroyed. And less useful for Miss Mercury's needs." Destroyed. By fire. Lots of fire.

But then there's the matter of a werewolf. And a forest, set on fire. Lots of fire. Which... causes Dahlia's eyebrows to lower. It's not quite a -judgmental- look that she fires Bulleta's way, but it is a look of mild consternation. Forest destruction... could be bad?

Her tone shows ... -some- concern, buoyed into the positive sense by the sake. "Okay, where's this forest? Hokkaido, or no?"

Still. Dahlia decides after a moment that there's only so much she can -allow- herself to be worried by this. "It sounds like a good learning experience. The slayer of wolves, being taught by the wolf. Just don't lose that killer's edge..."

All things considered... Dahlia -could- be in a worse mood. Her free hand kneads into the ball of putty like it were a simple stress-relief ball. And she starts to muse about... what to -do-.

"Alright. Fuck business!" All traces of the cold, hardened exterior slip away as easily as that mask had, so many minutes prior. "Let's keep this simple: Dim sum at the Sleeping Dragon, then we hit the karaoke bar and sing till we're both hoarse."

If it weren't for the scarring on the lower third of her face, one might think she'd put the happy mask right back on.

What Dahlia knows about her little assassin's last big job is enough to suggest that she, too, has tactical hugs and strategic affection ever at the ready in her arsenal.

It's just that instead of a cybernetic eye, what Bonnie /wants/ is to stay close, while she can.

Dahlia sighs, and grins, and puts her right on the spot. Instinctively, Bonnie reaches right into her arsenal and fetches a quiet, "Noth--"

She grimaces for a second as her weapon of choice is put back in its place and just kneads her bottom lip with her teeth. Her head then lifts so she's reciprocating the grin; hers is shakier, more self-conscious, but-- close enough.

"Whip gave her those scars," she murmurs, pushing some lightness into it and not /quite/ meeting Dahlia's eyes, "but if we're tracking psycho fan points, I /clearly/ got her beat."

She swallows. After a moment, she bares a few teeth in an uncertain flash and brings both arms up to add scant, tentative jazz hands.

Then they fall, and Dahlia gets a brief, firm squeeze around the midriff and another silent apology before separation. For the first time she can remember in /years/, the habitual line-stepper has found one she'd /love/ to avoid crossing too carelessly.

"She's the one who wiped herself out of the NOL's bounty registry," Bulleta eventually supplies. Wherever she is in relation to that line, right /now/, there's a report to give and it's a /good/ one. Good enough to earn a smile from Dahlia-- a /contagious/ one, at that, lifting the muted line of the Huntress' lips. "She just needs /two/ Gears; only problem's that they're Command-grade, but... it's /just/ data. Biometrics, DNA samples," she ticks off, finger by finger, "emotional spectrum, combat specs... for /that/, I was thinkin' Dohma could lose some real estate, but we got options."

/This/ time, the Huntress' teeth show without a hint of nerves to mar the gleam. Navigating a conversation with a past victim's friend and colleague - someone she /likes/, no less - presents potential pits at every turn; mass, deniable destruction is much more comfortable territory.

"They call 'em Valentines. One of 'em's got this cute, white dress and a weird-ass gun..."

It all gets dismissed with a wave of her hand when she trails off. Dahlia's leads are dry, so why dwell, when there's more business to tend to? Business like--

-- oh, yeah, Dahlia's pretty pro-nature, isn't she...? And /that/ fire was /hardly/ the necessary, limited burn of the metaphor the Akatsuki schemer used to lay out her goals in their first meeting...

"... I /know/," Bulleta mutters after Dahlia hits her with a look, showing the other woman her palms, "I /know/; I got a little carried away." Her thumb and forefinger pinch in close so Dahlia's got a scientific estimation of how much. "England," she supplies when asked. "Probably close to home for /him/. Hokkaido's safe from /me/..."

As for keeping her lethal edge...?

She'll let the one creeping into her smile as she reaches for the bottle suffice as an answer.

"Fuck business," Bonnie agrees.

Like the crimelord, she sheds arctic hardness for warmth. Her smile softens-- and somehow finds a way to grow even bigger as dim sum, then /karaoke/ hit the table. "Promise not to get alcohol poisoning~" she chirps, echoing the warning she was given before their /last/ bar-visit. Unless Dahlia's maintaining control of the sake, she punctuates her promise with a drink straight from the bottle. "Just, lemme get dressed..."

The razor's first, claimed from the table and taken past a bar counter, into the kitchen. The cabinets are pretty bare, but there's still a bottle of Everclear and several glasses waiting for her. One of the latter is filled - /filled/ - with the former. Bonnie takes it-- takes the razor, and drops it in. Swish; swish; swish...

Once /it's/ back where it belongs, she comes back to the table, and piece by piece, her arsenal's fastened, tied, and slid back into place. "Is tonight gonna be the night I /finally/ get you to do a shot with me...?" she wonders, low and teasing. "I mean, poor Honoka needs a /few/ drinks to find her voice, but if we're doing a room again..." She makes weighing gestures, ribbon in one hand, nothing in the other. Then she brings the ribbon up beneath her hair, draws the ends towards one another--

"... up, or down?" she questions with an arching brow.

Dahlia insisted on hearing the joke -- and she receives it with a warm smile, chuckling softly. "See? I didn't break into a million pieces." It helps, of course, that the joke wasn't really black humor at Jezebel's expense -- but more just murderer humor? Maybe?

"We've picked the darker side of the tracks, Bulleta. It won't -kill- us to make jokes about murder here and there."

She gives that a half-second to take, before sticking out her tongue. Which, considering, might be one of the goofiest faces the scarred beauty might be -capable- of in this state of mind.

As more details are given about the Gears -- and the Valentines are mentioned by name... Dahlia quietly files the information away for later. She's eager to move on from business -- and she's sure she'll need more details later. Like whether the genius scientist has a way of capturing DNA without needing, like, a severed body part for analysis. And whether combat data can be provided in some... -other- format.

But, no. Filed away for later. Because fuck business, right now. Bonnie is much, -much- too precious a resource to be ruined by Dahlia's emotional outbursts.

"I promise," assents Dahlia, flashing a feral smirk in reply. She has absolutely no intention of drinking any further. It's a fair promise.

No, no more business. Not tonight. Tonight... will be a healing night. For both herself -and- for Bonnie. For Honoka -and- for Beatrice.

Because deals are about to be made. Hell could break loose as Honoka takes the world stage again -- with the risks of either Duke Burkoff or Zach Glenn exposing her alternate identity to the world. Bizarre alliances could come to light, as Shadaloo, the NOL, R, and soon the Black Dragon Cult begin to demand proof of her allegiances. And even the Gods themselves could vent their rage upon her -- demanding an explanation for her ties with I-No, with Gears... with any number of things that they specifically warned her against.

Dahlia looks over at the sound of a razor blade splashing into liquor. She catches sight of a liquor cabinet that, by mass, is more liquor than cabinet. And with widening, alarmed eyes, she finds herself needing the comfort of that blob of chemical goo in her hands even more -- knead, knead, knead.

"Yeah. Sure. One shot, my choice." Another smirk. She has absolutely no intention of drinking any further than one shot. It's -still- a fair promise.

No. None of those other things will trouble her tonight. She's juggled before. She'll continue to juggle the danger for many years to come. Tonight?

Dahlia looks over, smooshing the orb down flat, and starting to knead it into a sheet of even consistency. Absently, she fires back: "Down, definitely. Up will have the pervs chasing you all damn night."

She closes her eyes, pulling the sheet of colloidal gel onto her face. The nose, the cheeks, the chin begin to take the shape of the woman she walked in as. The anime-crazed party girl, ready to cut loose at the dance club -- Hinako Chiba, according to the ID stuffed in the mini-purse slung around her hips.

Flesh loses its glossy luster, tinting into the peach, the cyan eyeshadow, the rosy blush.

She grins back to her diminutive assassin friend: "No one's gonna get in our way. This night is for -us-, Bonnie. We've earned it."

Log created on 14:12:33 06/02/2019 by Bulleta, and last modified on 16:46:58 06/11/2019.