NFG Season One - Cafe au Lait

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Description: Dodging the not-exactly-paparazzi after a chance run-in on the street, Ichika and Iris catch up in a Starbucks in the nicer part of Sunshine City. Topics include: disappointing your parents, what exactly the "Warrior's Road" is, real person fic, and Buck's hotness level.

It has been an interesting time, following the aftermath of the Rumble.

When she is in the midst of battle, it is far easier for Ichika to find her focus and cast aside the perpetual, nagging fears that linger at the edge of her mind. When she had recovered from the fight itself, she had seized the moment to begin her FightTube channel; something she had been told she ought to consider and had been putting off for a long time. Who wanted to hear from a girl like her, she had thought?

The answer, it turned out, was a lot of people.

She owed Buck and Chevy a meeting as quickly as possible. She knows that. Buck, for congratulations - and she truly IS very happy for her friend to have been the one to come out victorious. Chevy, to make good on the promise of their favourite foods made in the arena.


Seeing them again, means acknowledging that they are no longer Team Thunder. That they may never BE Team Thunder again. She knows that shouldn't bother her, logically. Their time was always limited. If it didn't happen now, it would have happened for sure by the end of the tournament.


To know something and to accept it emotionally are two very different things. The way she feels right now, she fears she will shatter into a thousand pieces if she isn't ready for either conversation. And so she has kept her head down and retreated from the fancy hotel, retreated even from the piano which has been her occasional relief, and instead headed out into the streets of Inner Sunshine on her own.

Maybe it is her imagination, but more people seem to whisper as she passes now. She'd always attracted stares - the sword does that - but now people do know who she is. The fact she's in her fighting getup probably helps. She literally has her name written on her.

Absently, her wanderings away from the hotel have taken her to peer through the window of a high-end boutique. The fashionable clothing within is both far outside her meager price range and starkly at odds with the style she clearly favours.

"... high heels are definitely a conspiracy to keep us from being able to fight properly." She mutters to herself, eyeing a particularly starkly-heeled pair. Apparently she's never seen Anna Williams go to town on some poor soul.

The thing about the big glorious moment of any kind is that the next day you have to get up and do the whole normal life thing. As the aphorism goes, 'nothing gold can stay'. And so it is that despite the ridiculous spectacle of the Rumble, and the statistically improbable fact of her 2nd place finish, that Iris wakes up in her hotel room extremely late in the day, slowly rising through layers of fatigue and confusion -- she DID go down to a KO, after all -- to being a human being on The Day After.

Some of it gets spent in surprisingly threadbare-looking pajamas (well-loved and old, probably) as she turns the TV on to whatever channel provides the most tolerable background noise, and opens her laptop. There she is, all over social media, just like the other NFG contestants. There's her inbox... well, her 'work' inbox anyway... with requests for jobs that get instant deletions; of course someone who experienced a moment of sudden popularity is going to find people asking a wizard to find their lost wallet. It isn't until she's at least a half hour and most of her coffee into the day that she realizes there's something off about the space she's lived in for weeks, courtesy of not getting the memo about team accommodations.

When she realizes what it IS, she's silent for a long time, before taking a shower and walking outside.

Sunglasses and a baseball hat are typical Sunshine City camo, which the Brit engages in, but it's futile; the hair is a dead giveaway (and at least three of the individuals or small groups that stop her on the street ask her how it can be accomplished). Iris weathers the interactions with strangers to the best of her ability, but by the time she is walking on the sidewalk behind Ichika, reflected in the glass of the boutique window the young swordswoman is looking through, there is real fatigue in her demeanor. This would at the very least explain why she doesn't immediately hail her fellow NFG participant, despite Ichika being at least as instantly recognizable as Iris herself is, if not more so.

Musing on the patriarchal schemes which keep the warrior women of the world down aside, Ichika finds little to distract her from the darker thoughts in her head within that shop. She is about to walk away when she finds what she is looking for in the window, instead. Or, well, the reflection in the glass. Those bright eyes of hers don't miss very much, and the very distinctive hair is indeed a dead giveaway.

"Osterlund-san!" She says, turning around and- immediately correcting herself. "Ah, that is, I should say, Iris. We are in America after all. It's, difficult for me to break that habit."

She had made more of an effort in the first few weeks of her time here, strangely. The longer she'd been on American shores, the more she had lapsed into her Japanese form of address; perhaps because it reminded her of home. She surely did miss it.

Still, despite Iris' obvious fatigue, the girl is clearly happy to see her. The smile is genuine, though it takes every ounce of self-control she has not to bow. It's important to make an effort! People had made such a great one for her when they were in Southtown, after all!

"I have seen some of the replays of the final moments. I knew that you would be impressive, but, it really was incredible to see you in full flow. I think I will need to study the footage very carefully to understand everything that happened!"

A pause, and a slight furrow of her brow. She, of course, is just full of energy - the indomitable vigor of youth. No doubt assisted by the fact that she had more or less chosen the time and manner of her own exit from the Rumble. A KO, yes, but one on her own terms.

"Would you allow me to buy you a coffee, perhaps? To say, congratulations?"

It's actually a few strides down the sidewalk before Iris stops. Maybe she just didn't hear Ichika the first time? Someone viewing Iris from the front, however, rather than sidelong as Ichika would have, can see a tiny grimace on the wizard's face under the expression-obscuring dark circles of the sunglasses. Probably for the best that the young Japanese girl DIDN'T see it, because it would be all too easy to misinterpret that; it's not that Iris has no desire to talk to Ichika or thinks poorly of her. But...

'I knew that you would be impressive, but...'

Turning around, the Brit removes her sunglasses and half-turns toward the young woman with the sword; she leaves on the baseball hat (complete with NFG logo; a baseball hat isn't something Iris would typically own, in the end) and gives Ichika a wan little smile. "Hello, there," she starts, tucking the sunglasses into a jacket pocket. "Sorry I didn't stop. Truth is I'm a little in my own little world, right now."

Despite herself, the rune mage quirks a faint smile at Ichika's desperate attempt to be Culturally Appropriate about things. "I don't think you have to worry quite so much about addressing people properly," Iris offers, tilting her head somewhat. "You're already a step ahead of what a couple of other people's fans called me a few blocks from here."

She REALLY hadn't been prepared for that, even if her time in the social media mines meant she SHOULD have been. The NFG is 'sports entertainment,' after all, and thus has its villains and heroes and fans who parasocially attach to both like a kind of emotional lamprey. It doesn't bother her -- if anything, she expects that the actual NFG fighter that person was a fan OF would be annoyed to hear someone was being weird on their behalf.

"I can buy my own coffee. But..." A pause. She really DOES seem more tired than one might imagine she would in this situation. "I wouldn't mind some company, yeah, actually. If you have the time."

Ichika's expression of sympathy betrays that shared point of experience. Much of the abuse hurled at her has been online - the sword really is a great way to focus one's mind on the fact that the girl might be smaller than most prospective bullies, but she's much more capable of violence than practically all of them by now - but speeding cars have a way of bringing out the bold and the Boofers. Such is, indeed, the price of notoriety.

"I am sorry that not everyone is taking your success with good grace." She says, "But, there's a StrikeBucks not far from here. I know the way."

She does, indeed. It was where she and Djamila had almost come to blows after one of her most demanding days. Funny, really. It was just over two months ago, and yet it seemed as though it were a lifetime. Her first argument with her mother, too. Hopefully this time it would be less stressful all around.

"It really was something, wasn't it?" She asks as she leads on through streets which she knows that little bit better now. "The Rumble, I mean. It felt like everyone really gave it their best. It's going to be tough to beat that kind of spectacle going forward."

"You ever seen a community get into it on AO3?" Iris asks, as the pair start walking. Internally, she reflects that Ichika does not seem like the type of person who's even HEARD of AO3, let alone gotten involved in the sort of shipping wars and other miscellany that online fandom can provoke. "Some Buford fan saying 'milady' to me in a vaguely threatening tone does not even come close." There's a brief pause, and then Iris grimaces. "Also I was only vaguely aware of what was going on, but someday someone's going to have to explain his whole deal to me. I was kind of hoping it was ironic, but uh..." She turns to Ichika, looking slightly downward. "It's not, is it." There's no question mark audible at the end of that sentence.

Commentary about the Rumble being Something(tm) goes by for a bit; it's beats of silence long enough that Ichika might worry that something had happened, until the Brit speaks up, having opted for something along the lines of the truth.

The words 'It felt like everyone gave it their best' rattle around in Iris's brain, though, even as she speaks.

"I'm still working it all out in my head," the wizard says, an honest but not complete answer. It's true that there was a lot to process out on the proverbial field, but there's something in the fact that Iris leaves it deliberately vague just what it is she's processing. "It was definitely something, though. Although... I'll be alright if round two doesn't end QUITE the same way."

"Aye Oh Three?" The girl repeats, a quizzical little frown tugging at her brow as she shakes her head, "I, can't say I have, but, I will take your word for it."

Ichika wasn't joking about the coffee shop not being far; soon enough, she's pushing open the garish doors and holding them for the wizard. There are, of course, people here, too. That's the trouble with big city life. Finding privacy in the heart of it would be a challenge; but hell, there's booths, and surely even the most obnoxious fans wouldn't dare to intrude on the sanctity of a private booth.

"No. It's not ironic." Ichika confirms, and there's a hint of sadness there. "I thought he was making fun of Japan at first." She confesses, "Then I fought him the first time and he made me, so angry. But it isn't because he is a joke. He's..."

And here, she struggles to find the right words, because she doesn't like being rude about people, but there's really no polite way to say it.

"He's delusional. I find my strength in truth. He finds his in lies. I thought we were making progress, but in the end..."

She sighs and shrugs her shoulders as she moves to stand in line.

"I can't even think about what the next end might look like." She continues, "It feels like it is so distant. And when it is done... I'm meant to go back to school?"

"Some people can't be helped," Iris says as the two get in line, her eyes darting briefly around and surveying the other customers, who are thankfully so far happy to live in that 'happy to observe' space that Sunshine City seems to engender in the common folk. After all, fighting isn't the only source of entertainment in the world, and Sunshine is the heart of a number of industries full of equally famous people.

The Brit's voice seems surprisingly resolute in that claim, however, compared to the vaguely distant way she's been speaking since the two ran into each other on the street. One can't help but wonder what brought that on.

"I wonder, though... do you Japanese folks understand the -- salted caramel latte, please, and some whipped cream, with the...?" Here, Iris makes an insane-seeming gesture with her hands that almost looks like someone grinding a pepper mill, but the barista just smiles and nods, which causes the wizard to give a genuine smile back. "Yes! Thank you--" Order discharged, she turns back to Ichika, finishing her sentence as if she'd never stopped. "I wonder if you appreciate how much white Europeans and Americans just... fetishize your culture, sometimes? Like, do you talk about that amongst yourselves at all?"

A brief pause, and then a shrug. "I can't tell if it would be better if you knew and did, or better if you don't. Apologies on behalf of my dumbass imperalist ancestors, at any rate."

Shuffling off to the Coffee Waiting Zone, Iris gets a more serious look as she mulls over the rest of what Ichika said. "I can't even think about -- ah! thank you," she responds, before taking a latte complete with spiraling cone of whipped cream drizzled in caramel from the barista. "...the future, right now. For a lot of reasons."

"... you may be right, and that's a tragedy."

Ichika really means those words. Even someone like Buford, she doesn't like the idea that she ought to just give up on him. He's obnoxious, offensive on every level, and even the glimpse of the 'real him' beneath it, the passionate atheist, was delivered in such a disturbing way that she couldn't help but be disgusted by it. But he could change, couldn't he? She had. So much, in so short a space of time. The difference, perhaps, is that she wanted to. When confronted with the opportunity for himself, he had just... wilted.

She actually laughs at the question about fetishization. Bright and cheerful. "Oh, yes." She says, "There are Japanese people who do it with other cultures as well. Britain, actually, is a common one. And cowboys. I ... don't, understand it myself."

Her eyes flicker to the order that Iris has managed to place through - she presumes - arcane hand gestures primarily. It certainly does look impressive! Her eyes widen. Though for her part her order is much more modest. "I would like a mint tea please, thank you."

And then the last, a look of real concern, "Is it something it would be helpful to talk about?"

It's not until after Ichika has been handed her tea and the two are walking to sit down somewhere -- a booth does indeed seem like the smart play, if only to keep potential intrusions at bay to the extent that's possible in public -- that Iris responds to Ichika's question. "You know? I'm not sure. I imagine it can't hurt."

Slipping into her seat, Iris puts her drink in front of her and just sort of stares at it, for a moment, rather than drinking it. Of course, 'drinking it' would mean carving through that top layer of caramel and whipped cream, which is perhaps why she jabs a finger into saidsame curl of sugary goodness and brings some of it to her mouth that way. "I don't know if you ever saw... hmm. Hunched-over elderly guy, kind of screams 'vampire!' stylistically? Huge broad-shouldered woman in a maid's outfit? They hung around my matches. I don't know if the camera ever caught them." It's equally likely that it did, or that it didn't; Ichika may well have seen them on FightTube, or she may have no clue who Iris is talking about.

Another dip into the whipped cream. "They're... family servants. Well, 'servants' is saying a lot. We technically employ them, but they've been with House Osterlund for God only knows how long. When my sister Celica died, I sort of... inherited them?" She doesn't sound sure on that, probably because she ISN'T sure how to explain to a normal person how retainers work, a deeply stupid system if there ever was one.

Another pause, then a shrug. "They never really approved of... all this," the wizard says, making a spinny hand gesture. "Starting the Agency. Joining the NFG. They supported me, but what they REALLY wanted me to do was turn into my sister and be the next big responsible head of the family."

Finally unable to stop herself, the Brit grabs the cup and effectively devours the rest of the whipped cream in one swift gulp, following it with a sip of the actual latte and wiping a napkin across her lips. "When I woke up this morning, they were gone. Like, gone-gone, not just 'out for the day'."

Ichika is very happy to settle into a booth; her hand automatically adjusts the saya at her waist so that it isn't getting in the way as she settles in, and as Iris decides to share her woes, the girl is - mostly - quiet. There's just a soft:

"Nanny and the Butler, yes, I remember."

When the descriptions are given. It had only been a very brief, fleeting impression on the beach. But that's part of Ichika's curse. Other people might not remember such details, but the woman's piercing tone is right back in her head, rushing towards Iris in order to ensure that the Osterlund Heir couldn't enjoy even a moment of peace and quiet without worrying about her minders.

The fact that they are gone is, indeed, troubling. Enough so that the girl's brow dips in a frown and she takes a long sip from her tea before she comments further. When they had spoken before, she had practically unloaded her doubts and fears on the older woman; now, it seems, it is her turn to shoulder some of that.

"Did they leave a note?" She asks. "Please, tell me that this isn't another kidnapping."

The idea that someone, anyone, could take Nanny anywhere that she did not want to go is a terrifying prospect in its own right - but after everything that she's been through lately, she's not prepared to discount the possibility that someone might in fact do it for their own inscrutable ends.

The other possibility is just ... a lot more depressing, overall.

One definitely might not imagine that Ichika's very serious and not entirely misplaced concern that someone got kidnapped would lead to Iris having a burst of very sudden and entirely ungainly laughter, but it's exactly what happens. Twisting her head a little bit, the Brit dabs at her nose with a napkin after that little outburst, but then gives the Japanese girl a faint smile. "Alright, if you've seen and remember Nanny, then I want you to try to imagine someone kidnapping THAT."

Apparently nobody's told Iris that Nanny was, in fact, 'kidnapped' at least once so far in this tournament. The less said the better, probably.

Shaking her head, the wizard takes another sip of her drink and sets it back down on the table before continuing. "No, I don't think anything bad happened to them, but no. No note, no indication, just... gone." A pause, a sigh, a shake of the head. "Maybe they just gave up on m... on changing my mind," Iris says at last, course correcting at the last second. "Maybe there's a cousin somewhere I don't know about and they're off to groom them to take over instead."

The Brit is silent for a moment, before wrapping both hands around her cup and looking into the surface of it, like someone attempting to read the future in tea leaves. "Honestly, after seeing the Rumble -- definitely after watching the VOD after so I could figure out what's going on -- I realized I'm jealous of you lot." Sip. "Especially you, really. You've all got... purpose. Something driving you. That was easy enough to pick up even WITHOUT any clue as to what relationship dynamics were playing out on the arena floor." She quirks a smile at that. "I bet the RPS crowd is having a field day with y'all, now. Don't ask me to explain that, by the way, and DEFINITELY don't google it."

The wizard's blue-eyed gaze tracks back onto Ichika's face. "I don't, not really. I'm here indulging a whim, that's all, and it shows. Me in that Rumble was pure luck, believe me." It's hard to hide the bitter tone Iris strikes, as she says this last.

Ichika smiles just a little bit, glad to have brought some levity to the wizard even if it is short lived. "I suppose, you have a good point there." She concedes, taking another sip of her tea before she sets it down.

And this... this is something that she actually can speak to. That kind of doubt. The fear that you are letting down your family. "My parents asked me to stop." She says, still with that little smile on her lips as her hands cradle the warming drink. "Not long before the Rumble, actually. They said that I have been wasting my time. That I am, embarrassing, them, with my repeated failures. That I need to go back to Japan, dedicate myself to my studies and find a better way to make our legacy."

She sighs softly, and those brilliant eyes of hers stray to the ceiling as she leans back into the booth.

"I told them no, of course. I was ruder about it, actually. But, it was important. Because... because it took me a long time to find that purpose you saw. When I began all of this, I didn't believe in myself. Not really. But..."

She hesitates for a moment, and then she looks right back at Iris - hard eye contact, now. Which can be unnerving, to have her full attention completely focused on one person. But it's important. This, is important. The girl is just so earnest and serious about everything.

"Osterlund-san... have you heard of the concept of the Warrior's Road?"

"The warrior's what?" Well, there's your answer, but at least Iris's response doesn't sound incredlous; she simply really doesn't know what Ichika's talking about. She chews over the phrase 'warrior's road' in her head for a moment, though; it's not as if you can't make an educated guess as to what it might be talking about, especially given the context of this discussion.

"Haven't you ever played Dungeons and Dragons?" Iris asks, suddenly, unable to stop herself from making the joke. What IS it with people bringing up D&D to Ichika?! "Wizards shouldn't multiclass. It's very costly."

A brief pause, and then a clearing of the throat. "Sorry. I can't help but joke. I know you're being serious. No, I haven't, though I have read my folklore. Is this anything like the hero's journey?" The Brit starts making hand gestures as she talks. "You know, you go into the woods and there's a whole 'Leaving Home' thing and then you come back changed or something like that. There's a mentor? Going by modern video game tropes, that mentor's probably some kind of owl?"

Another pause, this one a bit less brief than the last. "Alright, how about you just explain it before I say something even more stupid than I already have?"

"I... have not. Although I am starting to think that I should try it."

Ichika's bemusement at the Dungeons and Dragons reference is clear, it certainly is a strange coincidence, but the girl doesn't launch into it right away; she listens to the stabs Iris takes at the question, which are all very logical but, not quite on the mark. She shakes her head slightly.

"It's, a concept that I've found in the writings of many fighters." She says, "The Warrior's Road is this, concept, that all people who dedicate themselves to the arts of fighting are on the same journey. We all seek to master our craft, and although the route we take may be different, we will all find ourselves faced with the same challenges, the same dilemmas. Ultimately, though, we all want to see how far we can get. What waits for us along the journey? Who shall we meet? What insights will they share, and can we share with them?"

She smiles a little apologetically, aware that she has been talking for an extended period. And that she's growing more animated herself, her hands no longer clasping the cup but expansive in her wide gestures.

"I think that is a beautiful idea. None of us know where it will lead, but that we all are on this journey together, sharing the joy and commisserating in the failures... there is truth to that, as well, I think. That idea has helped me a lot, when ... I felt as though, I should turn back."

On some level, it does Iris's heart good to see Ichika so animated about this. There is a part of the wizard that is always going to see poor Kasumoto as a deeply excited twelve-year-old, but in a good way. She's put in mind of the way kids look on Christmas morning when opening toys and getting simple presents remains, somehow, the most joyous thing in the universe... before they get old enough that some of that potential for joy gets beaten out of them by real life.

For a moment, Iris is struck by the duality that is Ichika Kasumoto. It's impossible not to see her as an eager child, true; yet at the same time, she thinks with the seriousness of an adult. The wizard is struck by her closing words in particular, the notion of there being 'truth in that'. Ichika speaks of this metaphorical road in the same way one does of embracing an eschatology, almost; somewhere between adopting a life philosophy and joining a 12-step program. But, again: in a good way.

"That does have a certain appeal, I admit," Iris says, picking up her latte and holding the cup in front of her with both hands. She wasn't shy about meeting Ichika's gaze during that explanation, but now she finds herself looking out the window onto the streets of Sunshine and all the people trooping by on a summer afternoon.

"I don't think... I'm a fighter, though," she says a last, taking a sip of her drink and turning back to Ichika. "Not really, anyway. It's... hmmm. You're a sword-drawing type, right?" the wizard asks suddenly, a swift conversational right angle turn. "I don't know the Japanese term for it, but. Imagine that you've lined up with your opponent. Your moment comes. You grip the hilt, you swing your arms..."

To the extent that she's able, Iris puts down her drink and mimics the motions she's describing, from the waist up anyway. "Sword comes free... only you're holding a bouquet of flowers instead, despite putting all your focus in making the perfect strike."

A pause, then a shrug from the Brit. "I feel like I got my answer already to 'how far I can go'. I just... I don't feel like giving up until the end, that's all. So I can see the NFG through, at the least."

It may be why Ichika has found it so much easier to connect with people older than her. A genius intellect, which has led to a lot of serious thought about life and the purpose of living it, and strong opinions on all manner of subjects ... those things don't tend to make you popular on the playground. Of course, Ichika also simply doesn't have the life experience to have been beaten down yet. She's idealistic, naive in a lot of ways, and that, too, can be difficult - because it leads, after much nodding about her own swordplay and consideration of Iris' words, to her saying things like this:

"Maybe that is what you need to change, then?"

She doesn't mean for it to sound flippant, but there's a risk of that. The girl's gaze dips back to her tea, and she clears her throat.

"What I mean to say is, if you feel that you are lacking purpose... maybe you ought to try thinking of yourself the other way around. Right now, you see yourself as a wizard who happens to be fighting. Perhaps, it might be easier if you think of yourself as a fighter who happens to use magic?"

She looks back up, then. "You see... you said before that your success was, luck. And maybe it was. You would know better than me. But, anything you can achieve with luck... you have proven you CAN do. It then just becomes a matter of finding the path to deploying it at will. Which, is not a matter of the weapons, or magic, you use, but the skill with which you use them."

It would be easy to be annoyed at Ichika for what she said, or at least, in her own head, Iris THINKS it would be easy; to just throw 'you don't know me!' back in her face. But she's reminded, weirdly, of her now-departed father -- the American half of her British/American heritage, and even worse, from rural Minnesota. The husband that Iris's mother's extended family never understood and bitterly resented, because they couldn't understand him.

Iris, however, had felt close to him, far more than she had to her mother, who was more like Iris's older sister: studious, serious, a product of being raised in the peerage her whole life. "You've got your father's Pollyanna attitude," her mother had said to Iris once.

Little Iris had been upset, but her mother had smiled. "It's not a bad thing. Look it up." She had, and felt less upset afterwards. Why not be optimistic when life gets hard?

There's an echo of it in Ichika, and not just the comment she made here. It's not even as if Iris is all that much older than Ichika; even if the societal wall between 15 and 20 is a little steep, it IS only five years. Yet Iris can't stop thinking about how 'get back up even if it's hard' sometimes feels like the province of the young.

Or, she asks herself, is that Grandmama talking? Blaming her daughter's marriage -- something that made her genuinely happy -- on youthful stupidity?

As is the province of thought, all of this tableau and reverie sleet through Iris's mind at the speed of light, before she quirks a faint smile. "Maybe? Maybe." A sip of her drink. "I think my dad would have liked you," she adds, effectively out of the blue. "I don't know what he'd think of what I'm doing. Honestly I'm not entirely sure *I* know what I think of what I'm doing. I was basically educated to be useless. That's what second children born to noble houses are FOR: to be backup plans. In case of peerage emergency, break glass." She pauses, then grins. "I wonder if I'm technically the Right Honorable Lady Deincourt right now. I never bothered to check."

A pause, and Iris leans back in the booth a bit, both hands still on her cup. "Thank you for thinking positively on my behalf," she says, simply. "I've been frustrated at myself for being frustrated, if you can believe that."

Ichika's eyes widen a little in surprise at the compliment. It's a strange thing for her to hear; until she joined the tournament she had thought that she was, in some way, fundamentally unlikeable. The truth was far simpler of course; she was too afraid to show people who she was, too eager to try and show them what she thought they wanted. There's something about fighting which has changed that for her. Possibly, it's just that when you have been bludgeoned unconscious enough times, the 'worst case scenario' takes on a whole new aspect.

Or maybe its just an undiagnosed head injury.

Either way, people do seem to like her better now, and she's far more comfortable in her own skin. She's not going to question it.

"Ah, thank you..."

Those last words, frustrated about being frustrated, actually draw a small smile on the girl's lips and she nods her head very firmly indeed.

"That... is something that I struggle with a lot, too." She admits, and at this she lifts her hand to run through her hair, making the splayed locks stick out in wild new angles. "My brain doesn't work like most people's."

She laughs softly, her turn to look away, more than a little self-conscious. "I don't forget things. So, with all of the failures I suffered early on, it was easy to fixate on those moments. Remembering how, if I had shifted my weight to the left, I might have bested Fadel-san in the first round. Or if I had not chosen to split my focus against Greene-san. Or, really, every moment of my battle with Bouvier-san."

Just talking about those fights brings the memories into sharp clarity for her. The thousand little decisions she could have - should have - made differently. It's not just the memories of course; it's the rate at which the teenager's mind works to make all those connections. Lessons learned since, knowledge of herself and her opponents. It's easy to wind up trapped in the past.

She exhales, sighing hard, and closes her eyes. Steadies herself.

"I am too close to it all to see the big flaws among the little ones. So, I have learned it is easier to trust others, who can see from the outside."

She feels even more awkward then; it is hardly a secret among the competitors how the different team composition had shaken out in the early stages. By the end of the Rumble, Team Thunder's students had taken a lead in points between them, from one of the weakest starts. Team Metal had likewise maintained a lead for most of the season, building on strong foundations.

Team Frost were actual criminals, and Team Blaze's tutors had mostly shown interest in cheering for the other side. It's hard not to feel as though she has been dealt an extremely fortunate hand and benefited from it, where Iris... was largely left to figure it out on her own.

"I'm glad that it was a helpful thought to share." She says, adding in a softer voice, "Hopefully, the second round will bring some more... people interested in teaching."

Not quite a nonsequitor on a par with 'my Dad would like you' but, not that far off.

An eyebrow goes up at the reveal on Ichika's part that she has an eidetic memory, or something close to it, at any rate; the sort of thing that sounds like a gift but which is, for reasons the young Japanese woman obliquely refers to, as much of a curse as anything else. Iris listens to the recounting of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas of Ichika's fights, and for a moment can't prevent herself from doing a little bit of it herself, too. If only I'd 'this', I shoulda done 'that'.

"Do you know what the most annoying thing about magic can be?" she asks, knowing that Ichika won't have an answer, and thus plowing right on through to her conclusion without waiting for an answer. "You'd think it's 'say the words, make the gestures, follow the recipe and bam, perfect every time'. It really, really isn't, though." A faint, rueful grin crosses her face. "That's how you get situations like me clocking what's-his-name... Buck, with a cartoon squeaky hammer." At least she can kinda-sorta laugh about it now, or smile, which is almost like laughing, kinda. "I can tell you that BY THE BOOK, I did everything right. That should have been a war hammer, or a mace, or... something. I did every bit of that spell right. And what I got was... well, that."

A pause, then a shrug. "I guess my point here is that you can do everything 'right' and still not succeed the way you want to, or at all for that matter." A sip of her drink, which is getting perilously close to entirely gone. "Maybe a lesson I should be reminding myself of now and then. And it could always be worse." She does not add: my math could be off and I could teleport myself inside a solid object trying not to get murdered by a cavewoman's weaponized dance number. But she IS thinking it.

"I don't think I said this before, by the way," she adds, drumming a finger on the table idly, "but I'm sorry your parents gave you a hard time. I think a relative stranger and a... what's the Japanese word? 'gaijin'?... should avoid giving family advice, BUT: I know a lot about familial expectation, so if I had to predict the future, I'd say: they'll get over it."

Ichika indeed knows absolutely nothing about magic, but from the way the girl's eyes shine, it's another of those things that she dearly wishes she could learn more about. It's magic! A few months ago, she thought it was fanciful nonsense. Like immortals, Tanuki and the Kami. Oh, how the world has changed when she got outside of the safe four walls of her school.

"That's... fascinating." She says, earnestly, and it is perhaps a sign of growth that she doesn't immediately start trying to get more information about magic out of the wizard; after all, very clearly, the point here was the metaphor, the similarities between that art and the simple act of... living life.

"That is the kind of thing Buck would say." She says with a smile, at 'it could always be worse'. "Even frozen half to death, stuck on the side of a mountain overnight, he can find the bright side. It is a remarkable talent."

There are a lot of people in her school who would be scornful of such an attitude, but Ichika really does admire it. That relentless optimism isn't born out of ignorance. Buck is far smarter than most people give him credit for with that Southern drawl of his. It is his way of being a rock; finding ways to make things better for the people around him even in adversity.

"As to my family..."

She shrugs her shoulders lightly.

"I hope you are right. I have, damaged, that relationship to stay here. It isn't completely gone, but, I do worry that it will never be the same. The things we said to each other, can't be taken back."

A self-depreciating laugh, then, and she lifts her tea with one hand, gesturing down herself with the other.

"Very Metal, neh? Fretting about my mother's approval when the only thing she wanted to talk about when I woke up after the Rumble was the salute I gave on the way out. Ah. When I do get home, things are going to be ... difficult."

"He seems..." A pause, and then Iris drains the last of her latte as a displacement activity, for sure, because she even lets one of the cubes of ice drift into her mouth before she crunches down on it without even thinking, wincing a bit at the sudden cold on her teeth. "Okay, look, here is my actual question about Buck: why is the gigantic hot Southern boy also the one with the ridiculous body horror fighting style?"

Truly, she's asking the question we're all thinking.

Another pause, a wave of the hand. "Don't answer that, by the way, it's rhetorical." Iris runs her finger around the rim of her now-empty drink cup for a second as Ichika talks about her family, and damaged relationships. "Well... look at it like this. Apply everything you just said about learning combat to your relationship with your mother." Which is to say: jab a sword into her! Yesssssss, nailed it.

Thankfully, Iris explains rather than give Ichika time to leap to that particular conclusion. "If it was your mistakes and learning from them that encouraged you to keep going, shouldn't the same apply here? Or, uh... hmmm." A shrug. She's a wizard, not a therapist. "Maybe you did damage your relationship with her, I guess. But if it's a relationship worth having then you'll bounce back from that if you keep at it. Plus, and I know you hate to hear this but hear me out: you're young, still. I think it's just sort of the default mode for teenagers and their parents to fight it out like this. They have a dream they want for you, but that's a them thing, not a you thing. And you're still figuring out what you want. That's... I mean, that's what being a teenager is FOR."

She thinks for a moment on her own childhood, and her own teenage years, which weren't all that long ago. Iris has already talked before with Ichika about this, about the difference between the young swordswoman's family having every expectation of her, and Iris's having no expectations of her whatsoever. She doesn't bring it up, because it's unhelpful, but there's a part of her that almost wants to tell Ichika that she should treasure having these arguments with her mother, because they're proof -- irritating proof, but proof regardless -- that she gives a damn about her daughter.

It feels like today the only person in the world who gives a damn about Iris or her successes or failures is a 15 year old Japanese girl sitting across from her in a Starbucks, and the weight of that thought slams into her like a hammer.

Clearing her throat, Iris stands up, grabbing her now empty cup off the table. "Thanks, Ichi... er. Kasumoto-san," Iris says, course correcting to proper grammar at the last second. "I guess I didn't know I needed company today, until I got it. And there's a non-zero chance next time we meet we're gonna be asked to beat each other senseless, after all, so why not take the chance while we have it?"

Ichika does, in fact, open her mouth to answer the question about Buck's fighting style, only to close it again at the clarification that Iris doesn't want to hear the reason. Though, the annoying way her brain works means that there's no chance whatsoever that she's going to forget Iris described him as the *hot* Southern boy. Just, something that she's going to have to keep with her for the future.

It's a good thing that she doesn't have a clue about AO3. For everyone in the NFG and beyond, really.

"I am." She says, agreeably, at the note that she is young. "It's, difficult for me to remember that sometimes. That I don't need to rush." And there's, a faint flicker across her features; a tugging at her brow. "... often, it feels as though time is running out, somehow, and, I can't explain why, but..."

She pushes that thought out of her head, makes herself smile, "It is probably just anxiety. But, you are right. About my mother, I mean. She... I know, she thinks she has my best interests at heart, but, she doesn't understand. I don't think she can."

Another faint little shrug, and her smile grows at the discomfort; an echo of how she had been when she ran into Iris, only, reversed.

"I think... I think, perhaps, we can dispense with the formalities, Iris." She says, though she doesn't make to get up to follow the woman - she still has a little tea left, and now that she is sheltering in here, away from the interest and attention of the world outside, she's eager to make use of the space for as long as she can.

When she is done, she is going to have to return to the Hotel. To Buck and Chevy, and the relentless storm of possibilities that might be and might not be that will threaten to overwhelm her again. Not past mistakes, this time, but future dreads.

Ah, what she wouldn't give to be able to live in the moment. To find that beautiful space she sometimes finds in fights, all the time. But then, that would probably bring with it its own problems.

"It was a good conversation." She says, lifting her cup to see the wizard away, "I'll look forward to it! I can only be so satisfied by video clips, I can't wait to see what it is like to face you for real!"

And... there's that earnest enthusiasm again. Yes, the next time that they meet, it may well be to beat each other senseless.

And won't that just be the best?!

Log created on 15:17:12 08/26/2023 by Iris, and last modified on 09:45:20 08/27/2023.