2015-08-08 - Twilight Zone Senpai
|Title: Twilight Zone Senpai|
Lera confronts Eas about her fight with Fate, while looking for her Lost Logia. It gets uncomfortable. Then, when Setsuna runs into Lera the next day, it gets even more uncomfortable.
| OOC - IC Date:|
08-11-2014 and 08-12-2014 - 08-08-2015
The beautiful temple and its environs are certainly scenic, to say the least; they all loom up high nearby in the fading afternoon as it turns to evening, the great orange-red gate most clearly visible past stalls and so on. But It's still a little bit distant.
Just a little bit.
Because the locale here is up on a roof overlooking this part of the city, a couple of stories up and flat, a store closer to the rest of Shitamachi and...
Here is where a certain denizen of Labyrinth has placed herself. She stands on the edge of the roof, looking out over all the people with a stony, impassive expression, red eyes taking in the whole scene. Her arms are crossed, and her high collar rustles slightly in the wind.
If someone just happens to look up at the right angle, she's quite easy to spot, actually. But to most eyes, she's just an oddly-dressed girl, probably their imaginations.
Ordinarily, Lera Camry would notice Eas on the first pass. It isn't something entirely rational, but the Labyrinth executive is important to her. She wouldn't be able to ignore her and simply fly past. Today, though, her eyes do not register that distant figure as someone out of the ordinary at first.
Jaren Zastava knows where a Lost Logia is. They just finished with one set of them. This time, if one causes damage to Tokyo, it's her fault. It's her fault the way that every blow that Ren, Endo, and the others have taken is. Their tears, their hurts, and their sleepless nights are on her shoulders. She doesn't know if she can take more. She doesn't know if she can deal with the kind of self-blame that would come from a Lost Logia wreaking havoc on this world, because her family's problems caused it.
So she is looking -- and finding nothing.
She stops, though, when she realizes. She stands in the grounds of the temple, looking up at the roof. Her amber eyes light up -- literally, catching the moonlight -- and then narrow. Eas, she realizes. She swallows -- and then she leaps, with the incredible ease that comes with a flight spell. She lands on the roof.
"Eas," she says, quietly. She opens her mouth to say more, but it falls away. She was too distracted to form a coherent thought immediately.
Eas should have noticed Lera on the first pass. If she were actually watching the city half as well as it looks like she is, she would spot even a hint of obstacles to her plans... Whatever those plans might be.
They're actually just brooding on a rooftop, but she doesn't have to tell anyone else that. She could be scouting locations for future battles, or something.
She's certainly not looking for this Lost Logia. Instead, when she hears Lera approaching, she doesn't actually turn around. She listens to the landing, listens to that quiet greeting...
The younger girl sounds bored.
"Are you here because of Fate, then?"
Eas doesn't turn around, so she isn't greeted to the look on Lera's face. It could write a novel. Her eyes widen and mouth opens, and several emotions play out at once: shock and worry. Why would Eas be asking about Fate? She doesn't have to wonder about that for long. She knows that the two have a shared history. She knows that history isn't, really, a good thing. Something must have happened to Fate.
And Lera, in all of her focus on the Lost Logia, didn't think to check in with Fate. She tried to at least every couple of days. Every day, if she could. It was a little way to let Fate know that she wasn't alone. But when she found out about what Jaren was hunting, her mind went to her family.
The emotion that writes itself across her face isn't the shock or the worry, in the end. It's the guilt. She didn't think that something could happen.
Her voice isn't as angry or as demanding as she wishes she could make it. The raw emotion that enters her voice is desperation. "What... what happened?"
Eas doesn't have to see it. She hears that Lera just stops in what seems like shock. Sure, she can't see the guilt, but that's only a good thing for the executive.
...She knows much more about her history with Fate.
She doesn't smile, however, not even turned away. No, the best she can do right now is not even a smirk, not even cruel anger.
At Lera's question, at her desperation, Eas finally turns around, setting her heel and rotating to watch th eolder girl's face.
Eas's expression is entirely emotionless. Her jaw is set, her demeanor calm. The effect on her face is...
Well, it's not typical.
She lifts an eyebrow. "So you don't know?"
She makes a show of shrugging her shoulders. "She won't be bothering me again." If she detects guilt, she isn't commenting.
"She confronted me, alone. She lost. That's that."
A lifetime of trying to please someone, of reading too much into every word, makes the gaps and silences between Eas's words hurt more. Lera starts to panic, at first, fearing that the worst happened. She pictures the girl laying crumpled over, hurt or worse, and alone. Her head hangs so Eas can't see the pained expression on her face. Her distress is plain, though, and she manages a small choked noise.
<Focus.> Soaring Sky's single, calm word into Lera's mind breaks that train of thought. <If Fate was laying hurt somewhere, Lindy or Chrono or Nanoha would have called out. Or Bardiche would have contacted one of us.>
She nods, imperceptibly.
Then her eyes screw up and she feels her cheeks growing hot. It isn't from tears or sadness. Lera Camry has always had a bad temper. Everything she tries to bottle inside -- the self-loathing, the fear in her own abilities, the dread about whether others care for her -- has to come out. Sometimes, it comes out with tears and heartfelt words. Sometimes, it comes out as anger.
Her fingers ball into a fist, tensely. When she speaks, it's a hoarse whisper. "Did you hurt her?"
Eas doesn't particularly notice how her demeanor is worse for Lera than it would be for most; her base state, after all, is supposed to be deliberate, unemotional... And she's not exactly on the lookout for others' feelings here.
No, not even to enjoy their 'pain'. Better to be completely distant.
Still, Eas is more than willing to wait, unmoving, as Lera decides what it is that she's going to say. And then...
Red eyes flick downward to that fist, and then upward again to Lera's face.
"Of course I hurt her," Eas answers, her tone making clear how absurd she finds the question. "When I left her, she was on the ground hanging onto the pieces of her Device. I guess all her talk wasn't enough after all."
Lera's mind flickers back to the broken young girl with the broken Device, left shattered by her mother's attempt to kill her. She remembers seeing her there, in a heap, and she breathes in through her teeth so it becomes a hiss. The image is powerful enough that it overrides any semblance of calm or thinking things through. For one painful moment, even the idea of making Eas smile some day is gone from her mind.
She remembers that broken girl and imagines her just like that again. Left alone somewhere, until Lindy or Chrono came to get her. Hurting, while Lera was out worrying about her own problems. In her current state, Lera can only reach one conclusion.
It's her fault.
Lera moves with the speed that a Barrier Jacket, and all of its enhancing and defensive spells, can give. It comes across more like a blur to the untrained eye, and her hand grabs at Eas's collar and tries to lift her off the ground, so they're on the same level. Her teeth are bared and her gold-brown eyes are bloodshot.
Something snaps in her mind and she is screaming, well before she even thinks. Her scream echo across the woods and emptied shrine grounds. "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?"
Eas can think back to a similar image, easily; the crater the final impact had made of the dirt, the wilted leaves on the trees from the combat. Fate, trying and failing to stand.
It doesn't have to mean anything. Not if she's strong enough.
Watching the blur of motion, Eas unclasps her arms in the moment, her trained eye enough to spot Lera coming her way... But she doesn't move to block.
Lera catches Eas just fine, who looks at her with the same calm as moments ago, as if there's a glass wall between her and everything else in the world.
Even as Lera screams in her face.
"Nothing that I can't solve," the younger girl replies mildly. "Advising that girl was a mistake to begin with. I've corrected the problem. I'm sure she'll show her face again soon enough."
"Her mother hit her like that!" Lera shouts up into Eas's face. Her anger slips only enough that she isn't feeling the veins throbbing in her head and neck. She still sees everything through a figurative red haze. "Her mother! She hit her again, and again, and again! And she kept getting back up every time! And you're--you're--"
She drops Eas down to her feet. She isn't particularly being careful, but she doesn't throw her back, being conscious that they're on the top of a roof. "You're saying she's weak! No one weak keeps going back to a place where they'll be hurt!"
She turns, this time, throwing her arms out at nothing. Tears come to her eyes with anger, but they remain unshed. "No one keeps going to someone they care about, when they know it will hurt them, if they're weak! No one--"
Then her own words hit her. No one returns to someone who would hurt them, unless they have a reason. The only reason that Fate would have is...
She tries to force herself to laugh, but it comes out as a choked sob. "She cares about you," she manages. The guilt comes back, then, washing away the anger. She nearly hit her. She screamed at her. And Fate cares about her. "She cares about you. And you hurt her like that. And you're... you're pretending that you don't care at all."
Lera hangs her head, then, again. How can she stop Jaren from awakening a Lost Logia? How can she keep Fate safe and happy? How can she make Eas smile? Her shoulders tremble, while she stares down at the roof. Her eyes well up with tears and the roof gives no answers.
'Her mother hit her like that!'
She blinks once, but at first it's as if the words don't even make it through to her. But slowly, the words get through, as Lera puncutates the words. What her mother had done was...
It comes off in almost a daze, as Eas catches her balance again, briefly off of it as her feet unevenly hit the roof. It's rough, but a little roughness is something the younger girl barely notices at this point. Fate's mother had...
That's why Fate kept talking about 'safe'.
Lera's realization is new in its own way. Someone saying they care about her, not just the identity she cooked up, not just Setsuna, who she created. And it's...
"It wasn't like that!" Eas snaps, and she does push, shoving out roughly at Lera further onto the roof, further away from the edge. "We were fighting! It wasn't like that!" A little bit of pain cracks into her voice, a feeling she can't understand. Does she just not want to understand?
"I know she cares about me!" Eas says, shaking her head again and stepping forward, continuing to aggress. "And it's stupid! She doesn't have any idea who she's dealing with! She thinks I'm like her, but I'm not!" The numbness isn't gone, but she can feel it slipping away already, feel it draining, and she tries to cling onto it.
"You don't get it! None of you get it!" This time, it's Eas who reaches out to grab at Lera, to grab fistfuls of her Jacket and lift her bodily up into the air.
"I hate her! I hate all of you! Just looking at you makes me sick! Just hearing your stupid voices hurts! And because of you, I--" Even if she can't actually grip Lera, she snaps it at her, her composure rapidly fading into a desperate anger.
She cuts herself off, however, breathing heavily, choking on the next set of words until she can get them out, "I have to prove myself! And I'll do anything that takes! Do you hear me? Anything! So don't act like I'm one of your friends! Don't act like I'm someone who wants your help!"
Lera looks up at that, her eyes widening. She remembers when she learned; when Nanoha told her that Fate's back had scars on it and they realized who put them there. She didn't know that Eas hadn't known. That hits her, then, and the sudden welling of guilt. It was different, and she knows it; Fate must have come seeking a fight, not being hurt. She looks to the side, sharply, and her eyes tense. The next sob catches in her throat.
It happens at the same time that Eas's hand grabs her by the collar. She lifts up from the ground, her boot-clad feet dangling a couple of inches from the tiled roof.
At first, she jerks back, trying to pull free of Eas's grasp while she says she hates Fate, her, and Pretty Cure. Perhaps everyone. The words hit her like a blow, but she thinks of whast she said before. For a moment, she forgets about Jaren Zastava. She forgets about the Lost Logia. She remembers a promise, to find something wonderful in Eas, and to make her smile.
'I have to prove myself! And I'll do anything that takes!'
Lera's eyes look down at the fist. Something in her deflates, as the guilt mounts up more and more. Her expression withers and she goes slack in her grip. She doesn't try to fight back. She falls dead silent, like something broke.
"So would I," she says. It might seem, at first, that her words are a mirror of Eas's earlier temperment. They're quiet. But they aren't dispassionate; they're defeated. "I want to prove myself. I want to make it so Mom thinks she did the right thing, by letting me come here. It's... it's why I want to help you. Because you remind me of myself. Because I don't know what I'd do, either, if she threw me away."
Then she thinks of the Lost Logia, again, and all of her slumps in Eas's grip.
"So I'll keep trying," she admits. "Even if--" Until, a small voice whispers her mind. "--it kills me. It's like that for you, too, isn't it?"
No, Eas didn't know.
And she can tell that Lera is surprised by it, and the mere idea of what Lera could be thinking only makes her tangled mess of feelings stronger.
So she keeps Lera in the air, the strength flowing through her arms of Labyrinth's magic more than enough to lift a human. Her grip is like iron, like death itself, and Eas's eyes are haunted by something like it as she stares upward. Except--
"What? Why--stop it!"
But Lera starts speaking. Speaking in a quiet voice, so unlike Lera that it's... unnerving. And worse, she shares. She talks about her own reasons. She talks about...
Eas's arms waver, but she doesn't drop Lera, as she hears what the older girl says. Why she...
'Even if it kills me.'
"You don't... you don't understand..." The words lack conviction, as the numbness that had been melting away grips her heart like a vise. It hurts.
"Mobius-sama... He would never do that. Mobius-sama cares about me! He chose me! He..."
Her grip finally relaxes, and lets Lera free. "I can't be like you! I don't--I don't care! I can't take anyone's help! In Labyrinth, we stand on our own! We..."
"...I don't want to feel," Setsuna says, stepping back, the thick red bracelet of her executive's attire clicking softly with her movement. "I hate this planet."
Every other time, Lera always got back to her feet, whether metaphorically or literally. When Eas grabbed a fistful of her collar on the dam, in the park after the Garden of Time collapsed, and the shoreline after the duel. This time, she crumples down to her knees. Her hands hit the ground hard enough to skin them, and she keeps her head hung down. Her bangs fall in front of her eyes, hiding them.
"That's just it, though," she says. Her voice still has that distant, defeated quality at first. "We don't get to decide that, do we? Fate didn't. You don't." She swallows. "I don't."
Then whatever was in her voice breaks, because she isn't defeated quite yet. Because, she knows, she has to get back up. She has to keep trying, like she just said she would. She has to try: to keep Fate safe and happy, to recover Broken Ground, to find a Lost Logia, and to find something for Eas to smile about some day. It seems almost too much.
But only almost.
"They care about us whether they should or not," she says, her voice shaking when she speaks. "They just--they just do, and we can't turn it off, because it feels nice when--" When Endo said it isn't her fault, smiles, and said everything will be fine, and she believed him for a moment. "--when they say things like that." When Fate said she wanted to guard her smile. When Setsuna said she shouldn't get herself hurt. "But it's not just that."
She thinks of Ren Aizawa looking down, trying to hide how much everything hurt. She swallows, but the lump in her throat doesn't vanish.
"They care whether we deserve it or not. It's not fair, y'know?"
Eas feels something when Lera simply crumples, but she doesn't know what. She wants it to be anger, irritation at the weakness of this girl who had the temerity to talk back to her this way, but...
They don't get to decide...?
Setsuna doesn't get to decide anything. It's not like that's new.
Despite Lera's shaky voice, however, the white-haired girl doesn't interrupt. She stares down with unease at Lera, as Lera speaks these things so strongly. As she...
As she speaks like this, she still has no idea of who Setsuna really is.
"...Maybe you can't turn it off. But I can. I will. I..."
Eas steps back, vaguely nauseous, and slightly to the side, looking down at the concrete near her, unsteady. "It doesn't feel nice. Not for me. I can't stand it. I--"
Eas finally looks back at Lera, "If you want to help that much just fight me like somebody who makes sense!"
Lera doesn't manage to right herself so much as she leans back against the steepled roof, her back pressed against the tiles. She reaches her sleeve up and wipes at her eyes. She stares up at Eas. Her amber eyes are bleary and unfocused, as she takes in the white-haired girl and her request. For a moment, she starts to give in.
'It doesn't feel nice. Not for me.'
She doesn't understand that. She holds onto those kindnesses tightly, sometimes so tightly that she fears she will snuff them out. She waits with bated breath for the next one, even when she hates herself for accepting them. It feels nice, which is the entire problem. Her hand drifts up, slowly, towards her shoulder -- where her Device is slung over it.
Maybe, Lera thinks with a sigh, it would be easier. Maybe if she fought Eas, she could find a way to help her. Maybe--
Her eyes widen when Soaring Sky speaks, not in her mind, but aloud. The red gem in his pommel flashes; Lera's hand drops down to her side and she stares at the Device's core. It flashes again.
<You keep saying that you're only a tool for Mobius. You might say you're just a weapon. The same can be said of any... Device.> The Device's core flickers with something. A moment of hesitation and confusion, which Lera senses via their telepathic connection. Her eyes widen. <...I wanted to be the finest weapon there was. It bothered me that she kept wanting to have fun with me. It felt wrong. It bothered me. It didn't match the use someone should have for a Device of my unmatchable pedigree.>
<But if you can think you are only a tool, then you're more than a tool. I suspect you're bothered because you can't help but want to feel happiness.>
Lera still has tears in her eyes, but something else is there: a smile. "S-Sky..."
<I'm happy to accept both of your adoration and acknowledgement of my excellence. Come now, I'm waiting.>
It would have been simpler if Lera had simply given in.
Despite herself, Setsuna has shared, and the mixed emotions in her gaze turn to obvious relief when the older girl goes for her Device. It could become simple. It wouldn't be this...
Eas blinks down at the red gem's core, and then stares as the flickering continues and the words go on.
As Sky speaks, Eas can only stare with more unease, but finally, he reaches that one point.
She doesn't even hear what else he has to say after that until after she starts talking.
"I don't--I don't want happiness!" Setsuna calls out in something like horror. "It's--it's stupid, it makes people do things that don't make any sense! Because of this happiness, all of you keep fighting your pointless battles! I--"
She speaks of happiness like it's a completely alien concept... Because it is.
"Excellence! Ha!" She forces out a laugh that almost seems natural--almost. Bitter, regardless. "I broke Fate's Device, and I can do the same to you! You're--"
She leans forward, slightly, slumping in on herself as she puts a hand to her heart in pain. "You're doing this on purpose! You think--You think you can wear me down, but you can't! Do you--Do
<We will regenerate. The bond between Device and Master... it's stronger than any blow.>
Lera glances over her shoulder at the Device -- her eyebrow's twitching has sense abated -- and then she looks back at Setsuna. Finally, she finds it in herself to stand back up. To, somehow, keep moving. The ghost of her usual determination is there, and it proves enough to make her get to her feet.
"That's the thing, Eas," she says, softly. It's not the sad, defeated tone before; instead, her voice has something almost gentle in it. "No one gets to opt out of happiness. We're either happy... or we're not. Either way, it affects us, y'know? We do things because we're unhappy. Or because we're hurt."
She takes a breath and walks close.
"You're hurt," she says, firmly but gently. "I'm not trying to wear you down. Remember what I told you, before?" She points a finger at the other girl, at where her hand is over her heart. "There's something wonderful there. Maybe you don't believe there is. But..."
Lera tilts her head to the side. Then, somehow, she smiles earnestly at Eas. "...I'll believe it for you. Until the day you see it too."
"Then I'll do it again! As many times as it takes!" Her confidence in that isn't high, however, the prospect beginning to look hopeless before her already.
She only dimly recognizes Lera standing, still standing herself despite the pain in her chest that makes her feel like she could collapse.
"Who says?" Eas demands about happiness, about opting out.
But Lera walks up closer, speaks in that voice, talks about how...
"I'm not hurt!" she protests, almost absurdly, considering that she's still grimacing with a pain she can't understand. "And I remember--do you think I forget something that easily?"
But she stops anyway, and watches that smile for a moment, that smile that makes her feel ill.
"...How?" Eas's expression finally slackens into something tired, nearly exhausted. "How do you keep doing this? How..."
She looks up at Lera in misery before her expression twists again into bitterness, and then even that fades into exhaustion.
"When you look at me that way... I wish I'd died, back then. Are you happy? I couldn't complete my mission then, but I still feel it. You made me feel something."
Setsuna slowly closes her eyes and turns away, looking now at nothing as she keeps her back to her older friend. "...I'll kill you if I have to. I... I will. I don't care what happens to me if I can fulfill Mobius-sama's wish."
She starts to step away.
'I wish I'd died, back then.'
Lera's confidence isn't an absolute thing at the moment, and it falters when she hears those words. They twist like a knife, reminding her of the earlier conversation. She isn't satisfied, even if she hears the confirmation of something that she already knew. She made Eas feel something. It shouldn't have been possible. She holds a hand up, hesitating, and then her hand drops back down.
"I..." she starts, then stops again. "...I don't want to hurt you. I want you to feel something besides sadness or heartache or--or anything bad, y'know?"
She looks back down at the ground, as the younger girl turns away. She feels something in her throat again, that doesn't go down when she attempts to swallow it.
'I don't care what happens to me.'
She knows that feeling. She voiced it earlier; she even meant it. She wants to make her mother proud of her, to set everything right, even if the price is her life. But, she thinks dimly, she doesn't want to die. That conflict keeps her from saying the thought that goes through her mind: that Mobius doesn't deserve her.
Lera's amber eyes fall back down at the roof tiles, where Eas's black heeled boots are walking away. Her voice is a little quieter when she speaks. "...I won't abandon you. Even if you try to kill me," she says. "Even if you hurt me. Even... even if you hurt my friends. I'm an idiot, y'know?"
"Don't be so naive!"
Eas speaks those words only after she manages to get her lungs working again, to remember breathing. She doesn't realize taht she's paused while she was already preparing to walk away. She still doesn't turn to look at Lera, though.
What she'd actually do if Lera said that remains to be seen, but since she doesn't, Eas only remains where she is.
She remains long enough to have heard all of that.
Don't be so naive. Those were the words that escaped her first.
"...I wish you would, " Eas finally answers, looking up to the sky. "I don't ever want to see you again."
She steps off the roof.
Once again, Eas's back is to Lera. It keeps her from seeing the hurt in her eyes. Those words strike too close to home; too close to the nightmares and visions that her waking mind concocts, of how her mother might walk out of her life. Her head hangs down again and she bites her lip. She knows that is a lie.
But she hopes it, too, and that makes her doubt that knowledge. "Hey, Sky," she asks, somberly. "Do... you really think I can help her?"
<...Of course. I'll be here to help you.>
"Yeah," she says. A sad smile crosses her face. "Yeah, you will. And you're not going anywhere."
THE NEXT DAY
Lera Camry can't say, precisely, what led her back to the same shrine. She isn't wearing her Barrier Jacket, this time. The girl walks down the path to the shrine, one hand resting on the Intelligent Device -- in his standby form, at the moment -- in her jeans pocket. She peers up at the shrine for a moment. She told herself that she was here because she didn't check it thoroughly for the Lost Logia.
But she doubts that. Instead, Eas is still on her mind. She looks up at the roof where she found her. No red eyes look back at her. Her expression becomes wistful. She doesn't know what she expected; it wasn't as if Eas simply hung out here. It wasn't as if Eas would be happy to see her.
But part of her, silently, hopes for that impossibility. She stares for a moment longer, before she turns and begins to walk back down the path.
No, Eas isn't standing on the roof again the next day. But neither did she call forth a monster to terrorize the shrine, and gather misery that way. She left quietly, and didn't come back.
But someone else Lera knows is here. A familiar girl in white walks down the path, her soft shoes making little sound against the ground. Setsuna is looking down, pensive, walking nearly anywhere but the familiar locales she's likely to see certain someones.
Trying not to think, even though she has so many things she has to plan.
She was silent for most of the rest of last night, but she dreamed again. It meant that she didn't get a lot of sleep.
So, here she is, having just turned the bend, walking towards the temple. ...On a collision course with Lera.
Lera keeps walking. In a parallel to the previous night's events, she isn't looking at Setsuna Higashi at first. Ordinarily, she would brighten and smile at her friend immediately. But the girl on her mind demands her attention at the moment, so she takes a half-second to recognize Setsuna. She blinks her eyes once and looks up, when she catches sight of those red eyes under that white hat.
The similarity is entirely coincidental to Lera, but striking. Red eyes under white, like the Executive's hair. Familiar red eyes, that she always thought were pretty. Her expression slackens in surprise. She didn't sleep well, either, and thus her response comes out as a quiet, but instinctive whisper.
But then she spots the purple hair, processes the red eyes to who they belong to, and the subtle sense of fashion about her white dress and hat. Lera smiles, then. It is a shadowed brightness, because she is tired and worried, but this is a friend. She summons some real energy. "Oh, Setsuna-san!" she greets. "Hey. What're you doing out here?"
Said younger friend isn't actually looking, either--also much like yesterday, but it's not exactly unusual for her. Not today, and not for a long while. She just keeps walking, only vaguely aware of shapes around her; she would rather be focusing on her environment, but things keep playing over and over again in her memory.
She doesn't realize Lera's whisper was spoken aloud, at first. But after a moment Lera summons up her energy and greets her, and the shorter of the two blinks, looking up blankly at her friend.
It's a little like she's staring at a problem she doesn't understand for the next moment. But then, that calm breaks, and Setsuna slumps slightly, suppressing a sniff as she quickly tries to turn away before anyone can see her face.
"L-lera-san," she manages, but it sounds muffled... distressed, even.
The muffled voice, the sniff, and the way Setsuna turns away makes Lera's mind sputter from a bright, cheerful persona to something more concerned. It takes her a moment to realize, making the connections with a girl who so rarely emoted strongly. She hasn't seen this in Setsuna before. Lera steps forward, closing in next to Setsuna worriedly.
She reaches a hand out, slowly, but it falters before she places it on her shoulder or otherwise. She hasn't seen the girl cry before. Something twists inside her stomach, making her feel sick.
"Setsuna-san...?" she asks, her words trailing off. "Are--are you okay? Do you wanna go sit down somewhere, or something?"
Setsuna tries, and fails, to compose herself in the moments between seeing Lera and Lera noticing that there's anything wrong to begin with. Her effort to keep calm just means the next breath she takes despite herself is slightly choked, stealing from her the ability to speak for just a moment.
Perhaps more surprisingly, however, she actively flinches away from Lera's hand as it nearly reaches her.
"N-No!" she answers, but before she can go any further she's crying outright, helplessly watching her vision blur and feeling her breath catch. "I--I mean I'm--I'm fine! It's nothing!"
The flinch prompts a flinch from Lera. Her hand pulls back, a little like it had been swatted away, and Lera fumbles with it before she drops it back down to her side. She glances around, like she could find something that upset her. There isn't another soul nearby, though, and that makes Lera abandon that idea. She resists her every instinct to hug the other girl or step closer.
Yesterday's conversation weighs on her mind. She hesitates to reach out, for fear of driving a friend off. 'I never want to see you again.' Eas's voice echoes in her ears.
"Hey," Lera says softly, leaning down just slightly so she is at Setsuna's level. Her face leans in closer to the younger girl's by necessity. "It's okay. We'll go sit down somewhere, okay? You look like you need a second."
Setsuna offers no useful clues, herself, just retreating as crosses her arms in a familiar pose, overtly protective this time. She doesn't want to do this around Lera, especially after...
The words don't echo for her. The feelings do, the raw emotion that she's tried to push back down but hasn't, yet.
"No, I--" Lera can see her clearly now, and Setsuna is not only crying suddenly, and crying hard, but through her tears there's something in her expression that's never there quite this way on the reserved younger girl.
She looks almost lost.
"I--I don't want to sit down, I--"
She hasn't seen Setsuna like this before. That twist in her stomach only tightens and she feels her heart sink, as Setsuna starts to sob. She looks lost, Lera realized. It reminds her of the question she asked in the arcade, but every emotion magnified. She hesitates a moment longer, not sure what the right thing to say or do. She matches that lost look with one of her own.
Then impulse takes over for Lera, because she sees a crying friend. She stops thinking and hugs her, suddenly. Lera pulls her close, biting her lip, and looks down at the top of her head.
"It's okay, Setsuna-san," she says quietly. "I--I don't know what's wrong. If you wanna talk, you can, but if not, that's okay." She tilts her head -- and, somehow, she smiles just like she did last night. "I'll stay with you, okay?"
Why had she asked that question? She doesn't really know. It's not as if learning about it would make things any different.
Everything Fate said about choice returns to Setsuna as Lera just reaches down and hugs her. Despite herself, Setsuna doesn't pull away, and that's why the thoughts filter into her mind. Choice...
That means that by not immediately rushing away, she's choosing to be weaker, doesn't it?
She gains enough presence of mind to look up, howeer, only to see that same smile. Lera can see it in Setsuna's eyes, then, a misery that Setsuna herself can't even begin to describe.
"...Why?" she manages to ask, before breaking back into the sobs of a moment ago against her older friend.
The smile fades when she sees the miserable look in the other girl's eyes. She never saw anything like it before, despite the few signs that were there. She doesn't have a fanily. She doesn't, as far as she can tell, have anyone. Maybe that's part of it, but there must be more to it. She looks down at her, her amber eyes gorwing heavier.
It isn't easy to keep tears from sympathy out of her eyes. She just manages.
"Why?" she repeats, softly. "It's... you're my friend, y'know? I don't wanna see you hurt like this. And if I'm hurt, I don't wanna be alone, so I..." Her voice catches, but she smiles down at her again, radiantly. "...I don't wanna leave you alone, y'know?"
Setsuna has someone. That's her problem. She has many someones, and...
And they have her.
The answer doesn't really satisfy her, though nothing eer does. The sheer brilliance of Lera's smile hurts, like Setsuna's staring too hard at the sun.
"I--" The words choke again, but she forces it, this time. She remembers too well a different conversation that ended another way.
"No--I... I'm supposed to be alone." She starts to push back against Lera, to try to escape the hug.
Lera doesn't try to hold her in the hug. When she pushes back, the girl's arms fall down from where they held her, and it gives her the room she needs to step back. The look on her face is confused, at first. She doesn't understand; the change from Setsuna staying in the hug to pushing her away is abrupt enough to take her aback.
She looks down at her, her eyes widening with thosed choked out words. Lera feels something catch inside of her throat.
'I'm supposed to be alone.'
"That--that isn't true," she says, quietly. "No one should be alone. That's terrible--that's a terrible thing to feel. No one deserves that."
That name used again only makes everything worse. Lera doesn't have any idea of the kind of person Setsuna really is. There's no way that she can. The things she said...
This time, when Setsuna thinks back to the image of Fate on the ground, knowing what she does, she doesn't see it as if through frosted glass.
"I am!" she shouts back, staring up at Lera with red-rimmed eyes still watery with flowing tears. "I am! I--"
...She can't say it. She can't say any of those things. It would go against her mission, it would...
Love would know.
Setsuna steps backward again, and nearly trips over a stone, stumbling farther and sucking air through her teeth at the unexpected pain. "I--I'm sorry. It's.. I'm just not feeling well. It's--it's fine, you're right. Everything is..." She takes another step, and turns to run away.
"You're not!" Lera cries out, a note of pleading desperation entering her voice. "You're--" She reaches a hand out as Setsuna stumbles and trips, her footing almost lost, but she can't get close enough in time to help support her. Lera's eyes widen more, as she hears the assurances and excuses through the tears. They all ring hollow and her eyes widen more.
She shakes her head quickly. But then, Setsuna is off, running away from her. Lera's hand remains outstretched for a second. Then she starts to step forward; she starts to run after.
"We have to go after her!" she says. "She's--something's very--"
<It has to wait!> Lera's foot falls back down, her expression screwing up in confusion and anguish, as she looks down at her pocket. A soft red light pulses from the fabric of her blue jeans. <The anti-magic drones! They're attacking the marina!>