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❣ 1 AM - Animal Crossing OST ❣




Mieke smiled up at Arthur, glad that she wasn’t alone in this. Yeah, the whole situation was a frightening mess, but she could get used to it. If this was what her life looked like now, she would have no choice.

“That’s… oddly comforting. I guess if I’m going to meet more Stand users no matter what, I’ll always have someone to talk to about this stuff.”

Hogan laid his head on her lap, and the action warmed her heart.

“Aw, you’re so sweet!”

After a little pause, she spoke up again, “So, people usually name their Stands, right? How do you come up with that? I’ve just been thinking I should give her a proper name sometime.”
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A sudden strike with an unexpected question left Arthur scratching his head. “Hrhrm, uh, name your Stand? Well, I suppose I didn't give it too much thought, really...” He leaned back and put his hands on his knees. Around him, the air flickered, a great silver gleam briefly visible. Its large size might have been intimidating, but if anything Arthur meant it as comforting and in solidarity, his own Stand a giant in whose shade Mieke's could relax and feel safe.

“It sort of just came to me,” Arthur confessed after another moment. “But in retrospect, it makes sense, doesn't it? When you think about what it does, it's a weird entity that puts spaces into words.” He shrugged, giving a defeated smile. “Then again, I've met a few Stand users whose partners' names are anything but appropriate, strange or ill-fitting. So go with whatever pops in your head, I guess. Whatever it is, I imagine it's meant to be. Strange how this business gets one believing in destiny, fate, and the like, eh?”

He watched Hogan nuzzle the girl, the display of affection noticed by curious and worried onlookers as well. With a stern expression Arthur shooed them away. “Well,” he said after another few seconds. “If things are okay here, we should head on out. Only a matter of time before someone gets the wrong idea about Hogan, I should think.” A thumb jabbed in the direction of the parking lot. “Got a van we can use. Not much to look at, but works fine.” His brows furrowed as thought struck him. “Er...how'd you get here again? Did one of the others drop you off?”
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@Old Amsterdam
‘Blue, Blue,’ her boss uttered soothingly, ‘rest assured, you’ll have your chance to properly execute those who need executing. For now, the fact that you managed to take a target in without needing to use violence is something I’m pleased to hear. Also understand that I had nothing to do with that girl’s incorporation into your team...’ He trailed off, falling silent for a moment as he occasionally did, his thoughts inscrutable over the voiceline.

‘And remember that she is, ultimately, a Stand user,’ he eventually reminded her. ‘Whether or not she knows it, under that frail exterior is a core of iron, and if you wish to avoid babysitting her, forging that core into an edge of steel might be worth your time. Think of it as a way to further your social abilities,’ he suggested congenially. ‘You’re able to persuade others to give in to your desires, but what about persuading them to change themselves? To become something more useful to you? Mastery over others, which can easily be turned to put them where you need them for a kill.

‘In any case, you’ll want to head back to HQ,’ he informed her. ‘Mister Armstrong has plenty of work for you, or at least plenty of work to defer to you, and I imagine he’ll want to debrief you on your overwhelming success.’
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❣ 1 AM - Animal Crossing OST ❣




Mike hummed thoughtfully, "I guess I should try to figure out what she can do, then, huh? Well, I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity soon enough.”

Truth be told, the idea of getting into a Stand battle made her want to throw up a little bit, but Arthur’s pep talk left her feeling much more positive about being able to deal with this whole ridiculous situation. No matter what, she would figure it out. That, or she would completely lose her mind and nothing would bother her anymore!

“Yeah, I’m ready to get going. I came here with Leonard, but he had to leave when Blue found the target.”

She maneuvered herself out from under Hogan, and turned to go, but stopped.

“Oh, hold on one sec,” she took out her phone and snapped a picture of the scenery, “For my mom. She’s gonna be so jealous!”
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Some time passed, and sooner or later, everybody made it back to the HQ unscathed - and in Leonard's case, with a new protégé of the Speedwagon Foundation in tow. About five minutes total were spent waiting in the same entry hall as before, until the receptionist informed them that the boss was ready to see them again, and yes, that included the newcomer, who was by now clearly calmer and more self-assured than he had been. He was not any less clumsy than he had been, however; yet somehow, the way he took his trips and stumbles in stride was far less pathetic than his former self-pitying, and he even chuckled to himself once or twice in the process before they entered the CEO’s office for the second time that day.

‘Hello again,’ Louis greeted them, nodding politely to each, and taking a moment to look Bugsy over. ‘I think it’s safe to say you’ve succeeded with flying colours, team. I’ve been informed, in fact, that Laurie handled the initial encounter solo, and with no violence whatsoever.’

‘Oh, she did, she did,’ Bugsy interjected, grinning lopsidedly. ‘She’s, uh, she’s given me a new lease on life. I’m very grateful to her.’

Louis’ silence conveyed his annoyance with the interruption aptly, he felt.

‘And well done to you for that, Laurie,’ he continued calmly once he decided he’d been quiet long enough. ‘It’s nice that a mission has gone without incident for once. Aside from anything else, that greatly reduces the amount of paperwork I have to do. If only every Stand battle was so relaxed.’ His lips quirked upward briefly, only to drift back down once more as he added ‘Of course, fate is not so kind. I would be shocked to see another person who comes along so quietly as our man here.’ Now did he nod to the man who, evidently, wanted to say something else.

‘Yeah, I was a wimp, caved in immediately. But, uh, Leonard’s confidence charm has really helped, too!’ the would-be comedian explained excitedly, prompting the boss’ eyebrow to raise as he glanced at the hired gun. ‘Gotta thank both of them. And, I’m really happy you guys are gonna help me master my- what was it, my Stand, and help me out on the way to the comedy circuit!’

‘...quite,’ Louis stated, again glancing at Leonard. ‘Well, if you head out to the receptionist now, sir, she can direct you to the people you want.’ Thusly waved away, Bugsy quickly thanked Blue and Leonard once more before heading out, his stride awkward as ever, but nonetheless confident.

‘And that’s that. Debriefing aside, ladies and gentlemen, is there anything else I ought to know?’ Louis asked, leaning forward on his desk and clasping his hands together in front of his face, his thoughts a mystery.
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Leonard's charm had worked like, well, a charm. Bugsy's confidence had certainly grown exponentially, even if his coordination did not follow suit. Well, everyone had their flaws and not all of them will be overcome in a single lifetime. Still, the comedian had some lessons to learn about respect and recognizing authority, it appeared. Mr. Armstrong definitely seemed displeased by Bugsy's interruptions, a feeling the mercenary shared. Eventually their quarry had been dismissed and the Speedwagon Foundation's current head asked if there was anything else he needed to be made aware of.

"I did not happen to uncover any other circumstances of note, sir," he spoke in a professional tone. "At least not any as such pertains to our mission," he added, remembering the peaceful protest led by the Southern sounding woman.
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❣ Beautiful Morning - Masafumi Takada ❣




Getting back to the HQ was a relief for sure, and the new guy that Leonard and Blue had brought along was pretty cool. The guy’s positive attitude toward them made Mieke smile, glad that the mission had gone smoothly.

She didn’t have any input relating to the mission itself, but she knew that she would have to mention her own experience. When prompted for additional information, she spoke up.

“Well, while I was on my own, I came across these performers doing, like, a daredevil show. At least two of them, I think, are Stand users. One of them seems to be able to resurrect the dead; pretty sure it was part of their show. The other one, I didn’t see what he could do, but he could see my Stand. He didn’t know what they were though. It didn’t seem like they had any bad intentions, but I think they’re worth talking to. I wrote down their information.”

She pulled up the note she had written on her phone and held it in front of her.

“Oh! Also, I’ve seen a little bit of what my own Stand can do! I, uh, accidentally summoned her at one point. I got kinda freaked out. It looks like she can make crystals out of her tears. So, that’s pretty cool, right?”

After her little speech (that she definitely hadn’t been rehearsing for the entire ride over), she looked down at her feet, feeling a little awkward.
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While Arthur would have had no qualms about stepping up to the plate if Mieke's anxiety got the better of her to tell her tale, the girl piped up with what happened to her without any prompting. The sudden, more active shift in personality spoke of a strengthened resolve, maybe as a result of her acceptance of her Stand, which made the mustached man glad. Of course, it also meant that he lacked any material to cover for his completely uneventful excursion. Once Mieke finished, he gave a helpless shrug. "Soorry, boss man. Neither Hogan nor I found anything of interest while traveling around. No signs, no users, no nothin'. Better luck next time, hmm?"

Having spoken his piece, he took another glance at the stranger. Bugsy did not strike an imposing figure, though that meant little in the world of Stands. The fact that he came along quietly, with neither resistance nor coercion, did much to alleviate Arthur's initial worry about a supernatural epidemic turning ordinary people into crazed killers. Then again, it could just be luck; it would not do to let his guard down on future assignments. Arthur looked down at his hand and flexed his fingers, imagining the brilliantly silver skin of his Stand appearing over it. Aside from its rather frivolous use during lunch, he hadn't used Space Oddity's ability in quite a while. Maybe that was for the better; an ability like his, with potential limited only by his imagination and quick thinking, could be absolutely terrifying or frustratingly useless. That said, he did look forward to his next chance to give it a whirl.
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Hogan slowly dragged himself into the room after everyone else and took a position near Mieke's feet, while also keeping a close eye on the newcomer. Bugsy was a proper chatter box it seemed, a fact that was getting on Hogan's nerves. Hogan kept his eyes locked on Bugsy and made a quite rumbling sound. While yes is was a good thing that Bugsy had come quietly. Why did he have to be so stupid looking? Hogan's head dropped to the floor when Louis asked if there was anything else he needed to know, he looked over at Arthur expecting the man to explain their uneventful day and then touch on what Mieke found. But to the Lizards surprise the Mieke spoke up about her own findings, looks like she was more confident that Hogan thought she was, good for her. And her stand made crystals hmm? What kinds of combat applications could that have, hmmm. Hopefully Mieke would be able to get some practice with her stand before she had to use it in an actual battle. And if Battle did find her before she was ready, well Hogan would be there.

That out of the way Arthur went over how they didn't find anything and would hopefully have better luck next time. Hogan hoped so, he didn't want to endure another day of driving around the city, then not get the opportunity to bite something. Hogan made a groaning sound and then lay his head next to Mieke's feet.
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Louis pondered for a moment each person’s report. Laurie and, of course, Hogan remained quiet, though the crocodile evidently disapproved of the retrieved man’s blathering as much as Louis did, and neither Leonard nor Arthur had any further statements of their own to offer either. Mieke, however, had her own offering to consider. A troupe of performers with a couple of Stand users in their act... and she’d just started to tap into her own ability, too, albeit accidentally.

‘Fascinating, fascinating.’ The director scratched his chin thoughtfully, otherwise mostly stationary. ‘And it seems we have a convenient time and place to catch them at, too. Getting that down was well-considered on your part, Mieke; information is king, no matter whether one is a Stand user or not. That being said, I believe you all have your next mission target - if two of these Crue Brothers are Stand users,’ he suggested, ‘then it’s a safe bet that the other one is too, or else has some association with the world of Stands. I’ll have tickets purchased for you all in due course, and you can head to the show in question whenever you feel you’re ready to do so within the week.’ Of course, if they had any other suggestions for how to confront the brothers, that’d be up to them to discuss amongst themselves; otherwise, they would have at least a few hours free to handle their affairs.
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Leonard raised an eyebrow as he heard Mieke telling her story of the performers. Had he stuck around with the girl, he would have encountered this trio as well, recognized them as stand users, and would have been able to get a leg up on their mission by bringing in three more stand users on top of their initial target. Well wasn't fate funny that way? Then again if he hadn't left to meet up with Blue and Bugsy, there was a chance that Bugsy could have fought back, however pathetic the attempt might have been. He would have missed the opportunity to help mold the comedian's new world outlook. So perhaps it was better that he had left when he did? Regardless, there was one fact that stood out in this situation as a certainty: Mieke had exceeded his expectations at this early stage of the game.

"I must congratulate you on a task well done, Miss Choux," he said. "I expected you to be able to hold your own once the influence of my stand had taken effect on you on the off chance you were attacked by a violent stand user, which is why I trusted you to be able to handle scouting the rest of the gardens by yourself. Keep up the good performance and you may become a master." The lies flowed easily from his lips, but there was an air of sincerity about them. A mix of truth and fabrication, if you will.

Once he had said his piece, Leonard excused himself to take his leave, preferring to prepare for a potential conflict than stick around. If any of his peers followed and chose to keep him company, he would not dismiss them, but neither would he seek it out.
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Wild Ones - JFK Center for the Performing Arts



In the end, the tickets came in for the next day, and the group had a good twenty four hours or so to prepare themselves and make a plan for confronting the Crazy Crue Brothers, violently or otherwise. In fact, on the day proper, they arrived at the center with a good half an hour to spare before the show itself started; whatever their ideas for dealing with the trio were, they'd have that long before the group made the stage, and another two hours after that before they came off again. Even now, the crowd both outside and inside the building was rather large, and it was quite obvious the Crues had something of a reputation - whether pre-built, or recently developed from their stunt the day before thanks to word of mouth. Evidently, a public confrontation might be plausible, but also a tad difficult to play off if somebody powerless, or God forbid another Stand user caught them out; likewise, catching the brothers away from the crowds might require skulduggery on the SWF hires' parts, and carried risks of its own if they were seen. All depended on how they wanted to play their cards...
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There wasn't a lot of time to prepare, so Leonard had to work in overdrive to get as much done as he had wanted. Knowing that the Speedwagon Foundation was footing the bill to get into the next show put on by these alleged stand users took some of the edge off, but the group still needed a plan of action. Some way to catch this trio off guard, in case they were more actively malevolent than Bugsy had been. Therein came both his natural skills at penmanship, as well as the power of his stand, Free Bird. Once it was time to gather the crew, he presented Arthur, Blue, and Mieke each with a lanyard that held a notecard size piece of paper inside.

Greetings and salutations this fine eve, my peers," he began. "Do not, under any circumstances, view the writing on this gift I bestow upon you, lest you wish to completely ruin all efforts on my part and fall under the power of my stand, Free Bird."

With the lanyards handed out, face down of course, he proceeded to pocket one of his own before fully explaining himself. "I utilized my skills with the pen in order to fabricate false all access passes regarding the show of our newest targets. At a glance, they should perform admirably. Under additional scrutiny, the power of Free Bird will take root in whomever views these cards. Take heed, each instance of my stand's power works exactly once. Therefore, whomever reads your card shall be the sole recipient of its ability, which in this instance will be to recognize the holder of said card as a figure of authority. That said, the effect of Free Bird's ability is potent, but slow. At first the target might not respect you at all, but I guarantee within a few minutes you will be seen in only the utmost highest esteem."

With that out of the way, Leonard then produced another paper, which he placed in a standard manilla envelope. "I have inscribed similar power into this document, which states Hogan to be a part of the act, fully domesticated, and should have full access to the entire backstage area. Just as the badges I have handed you, this should only be shown if no other alternative is available. The power of my stand is absolute, and my forgery is quite skilled, but a keen eye might still see through the deception if the power has already been used on someone else. Due to how intricate and difficult a task forgery is, I was only able to draw up exactly one for each of us. Therefore I would suggest we do not split up this time, remain in association with one another, and use our cards as a group only as the need arises."
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❣ Tennis Court - Lorde ❣




As she arrived at the performing arts center, Mieke was experiencing a manageable level of anxiety. Her mind was still full of potential ways the situation could blow up spectacularly, but those were a soft background presence rather than a screeching alarm. Her relative calmness was largely due to what she had spent most of the day doing.

➳ ➳ ➳


The fact that she had unconsciously summoned her stand the day before had bothered her. Just because she was freaking out, she could have hurt people by accident. And, well, she was going to watch the same performers who inadvertently made that happen, so she had to make sure it didn't this time. Naturally, she had to practice.

Since she wasn’t about to traumatize herself again, she focused on figuring out how to make her stand appear on purpose. It was a good thing she was alone in her motel room while she did it, though because the entire affair was ridiculous.

She tried yoga, meditation, clenching all her muscles and making “HHHNNNNGGGGG” noises, but it was only after she flopped back onto the bed in defeat that she finally managed it. She felt feathery wings around her, and opened her eyes to see her stand’s face looking down at her.

“Oh, hey there.”

Her stand made a “chirrp” sound in response.

“It’s weird that I don’t have anything to call you, right?”

“Chirrp.”

“Well, what do you want to be called?”

“Chirrp.”

“I’ll— I’ll keep thinking.”

➳ ➳ ➳


She hadn’t gotten any further on the name idea, but she had at least gotten a handle on summoning her stand. She was at least confident that if things went south, she could do the first step well. The crowd had her on edge, though; in busy environments she was always afraid of getting lost.

She gladly accepted the lanyard from Leonard and stowed it in her bag, trying to stifle the nervous jitter in her hands. She wondered if the performer she talked to earlier would recognize her. She had no idea if that would be a good thing or a bad thing (probably more on the bad end; she was always the kind of person who would hide when she saw any old classmates in public).

“So, do you think we should go talk to them before or after the show?”
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Hogan sat next to Mieke looking a little more green than normal, the trip over hand not treated his stomach well. Thankfully they weren't going to be driving again any time soon as they had some brothers to bring in. Hogan couldn't help but stare at the river they were oh so close to, the croc groaned a little knowing he wasn't allowed to jump into the water. It was at about this point that Leonard started to lay out his plan. Leonard had forged documents to help them get in without raising the eyebrows of too many staff members, though each lanyard would only work once which complicated things.

Leonard suggested they stay in a group which sounded reasonable, though Hogan knew his presence made this whole procedure much harder than it would normally be... Hopefully they could get back stage quickly, that'd make Hogan's attention grabbing nature much less problematic. Hogan went to stand up when Mieke asked if they should go in before or after the show, Hogan preferred the latter. Letting out a quiet rumble Hogan took a few steps forward before looking back at everyone and gesturing with his head towards the center of performing arts, hopefully the monkeys would understand...
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Though on the exciting cusp of beginning his first real operation alongside his team, Arthur stepped from the vehicle with a frown on his face. He would have liked to arrive sooner and meet or at least observe the Crues as a civilian, without attempting any confrontation or revealing his identity. Now, even if they remained in a single spot in preparation for their show, there was too much going on for any kind of interaction.

He turned his attention to Leonard, listening with rapt attention as he explained, with his characteristic eloquence, the purpose and power of those little cards of his. Possessing next to no knowledge of Free Bird or its ability, he gave the man a respectful nod as he shared a few details. Infohazard based on written, or perhaps drawn media that implants ideas into the viewer, he mused. If that guess reflected reality, Leonard harbored a capacity for subterfuge and manipulation limited only by his imagination, which was more than a little scary in the hands of a witty fellow. It essentially put him on the opposite end of the spectrum from Blue, whose ability seemed devoid of nuance but was incredibly effective in combat. Then again, Free Bird could just as easily be crazy strong in a fight; it was all luck of the draw.

After graciously receiving the results of Leonard's preparation, Arthur produced his own. In his hand the mustached strongman slung a leather satchel. He didn't bother opening it up, since its contents -a collection of normal everyday items- held no significance for the others. Yet, regardless of what lay inside -which changed between every mission that called for it- that bag held for him a crucial importance, a fondness even. Today it contained a couple toy animals, three pieces of mundane equipment, a plant, a bit of food, and a few other things. Were this the sort of venue that disallowed personal items, he might have encountered a spot of trouble, but nobody would begrudge a fellow bringing something like this into a theater.

In reply to Mieke, he breezily said, “If my timing's right, we have just aboot a half hour until the show starts. Chances are they're already backstage. If we tried to get 'em before the show, they might get spooked and make a break for it. Still, we could do that or attend the show and meet 'em after. However, we should take precautions.” He held up three fingers and let his experience speak for him. “We've got three users on our hands. If they're performers, I wouldn't be even the slightest bit surprised if one or more of their abilities worked through their show. Area of effect, audiohazard, infohazard, who knows? Take this Stand I met once, Clattanoia. Little table that can make miniatures of any building, and then the real one mimics things done to the miniatures. Soon as you step into the building, you're a target. Or Ape of Naples, with its rage aura that got stronger the more people saw it.“

“Furthermore, we can't rule out the chance that one can detect other users. The moment they step out onto stage, they could catch on to us and potentially escape.” Arthur stepped back and crossed his arms, tucking his bag under his arm as he did. “As such, at least one of us should stay out of the theater.” He noticed Hogan itching to be on his way, and gave a nod before glancing at the others. “Right, no time to lose. I'm sure Hogan knows he'll make a ruckus if he goes in the normal way, so if he wants to get in that bad, a side-entrance hopefully leading backstage is your best bet.” He turned to address the crocodile. “I'd be happy to join you again, Hogan.” Since that meant they wouldn't be in the audience, Mieke, Blue, and Leonard could all attend the show. If they got good seats, that would leave the Crue Brothers surrounded.
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After a fair period of deliberation, the eventual entry plan was established: Arthur and Hogan would sneak in via a side-entrance and make their way backstage, whilst Leonard, Laurie, and Mieke would watch the show proper and join the man-croc duo afterwards. With that plan in place, both parties split up, and made their way toward their respective destinations...

@Lugubrious@LemonZest1337
It took a couple of minutes, but walking round the side of the building would yield results: a door marked “Staff Entrance” that, when entered, led into a relatively quiet part of the building - not to say that it was devoid of activity, with people working behind the scenes ranging from janitors to stagehands, and of course security guards. Suffice to say, whilst sneaking Hogan away from the entrance without being seen was simple enough, but ensuring that he could reasonably be said to have been there all along might get difficult if they weren’t far enough into the building, and if they were discovered too early, things could well turn ugly quickly.

@knifeman@ProPro@Old Amsterdam
Naturally, the entrance into the building was far simpler for the group without a crocodile. They had the tickets, showing them to the doorhop wasn’t problematic in the slightest, and whilst they were caught in the press of the crowd for a bit, making their way further in was by no means a problem... at least until they started heading into the main theatre room.

It was then that Mieke felt a heavy hand on her shoulder, and a deep voice utter ‘Oi.’ If she or her companions turned to the owner of the voice, they’d see the face of a man clearly scarred by life - literally, a stitched-over scar covering his face from cheek to cheek across his nose bone, with a heavy black coat and cigar to boot. In fact, it looked like the cigar had been recently lit and put out, a definite no-no in a building like this, though it didn’t emit any smoke. All told, the man’s glare was nothing if not intimidating...

‘Can ya tell me how ya dyed ya hair that color? It’s gorgeous.

Apparently, though, his motives were less than aggressive. Conversation, of course, was always an option, but it seemed he wasn’t really a threat at all if they simply wanted to find their way to their seats.
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The group had split up, despite Leonard's advice, into two groups. Arthur and Hogan would take the backstage prior to the show's beginning, whilst he, Blue, and Mieke would operate from the front as audience members. In terms of a pincer strategy it left much to be desired. There were plenty of exit strategies their quarry could employ in order to escape from his team. But if it kept everyone happy, then he supposed he would just have to deal with the inefficiency. Besides, it had been a while since he was able to sit back and enjoy a show that involved someone else risking their life.

As they worked through the crowd, an imposing man with a scar made contact with Mieke, going so far as to grab her shoulder. His question was as innocuous and friendly as his appearance wasn't, but something still clicked in the back of Leonard's head. Nothing of this man seemed to suggest he was an enemy stand user, but he still most definitely crossed a line by reaching out and grabbing a young girl. Carefully, Leonard turned to the man, making sure to emphasize his impressive physique, and opened his jacket: his concealed gun was plain to see for the scarred man.

"I invite you to remove your digits from my acquaintance, whilst you still possess them. Or would you rather learn a difficult lesson in gentlemanly manners?"
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❣ Tennis Court - Lorde ❣




If Mieke hadn’t already been tense (trying to follow people through thick crowds is hard, alright?), she absolutely wouldn’t have made the embarrassing squeaky noise she did when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She definitely wouldn’t have; no one can prove anything. She turned around to face the person who had approached her, and saw a man who intimidated her more them a little.

When he asked her about her hair, though, all traces of discomfort left and her face broke out in a beaming smile. She took quite a bit of pride in her hair; it was hard to take care of, so hearing that her efforts paid off never failed to make her happy.

Before she could respond, Leonard came to her defense, very politely telling the guy off for touching her.

“I-it’s okay, don’t worry!” she looked back to the stranger, “Thank you so much! It’s just a store-bought dye, nothing really fancy. It helps that my natural color is really light, so I don’t have to use bleach.”
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Blue stepped forward slightly, smoothly moving in such a way that made one wonder if she had moved at all. Her right shoulder was now slightly in front of Mieke as Blue gently placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. Her eyes bored into the man's as Leonard politely reminded him of what manners were.

"Now now boys, we wouldn't want to cause a ruckus when the show is about to start, now would we?"
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