2018-01-17 - Because it Matters

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: Because it Matters

In which Homura Akemi invites herself to lunch with Mami Tomoe


Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi


Awayuki Shopping Mall

OOC - IC Date:

Weds Jan 17, 2018 / Tues Mar 21, 2015

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Despite exams -- or perhaps because of them -- the Awayuki Mall plays host to just as many gaggles of chattering students as usual, though their voices might pitch upward with a sort of communal anxiety. Hungry people with trays weave between tables in the food court in a human replication of the bustling streets outside, and betwixt them weaves Homura Akemi -- a bit like a sleek motorcycle slicing between lanes and cars on the highway.

She has her own tray. It's got a small salad atop it, and a milkshake, in cheap plastic containers that make cheap plastic sounds as she sets it all down on the table across from Mami Tomoe.

Those blonde drills made noticing her across a busy food court simplicity; Homura hadn't even been looking for Mami in the moment, though upon spotting the other puella magi she altered her trajectory immediately from the empty table in her sights. Why was Homura Akemi at the mall today?

Thirty minutes earlier, she'd emerged into an alley nearby from the dissipating Labyrinth of a freshly dispatched Witch. This particular hatching was as predictable as clockwork, across every timeline since the first in which Homura encountered it; she's since made a routine of nabbing it upon the moment of its birth, when it was still a bare stripling.

Some people observe birthdays and anniversaries; Homura Akemi's priorities skew to darker dates.

Quick work, but it made for an appetite nonetheless. With a fresh Grief Seed in her pocket and a vague battleweariness she hides with long practice, Homura slides into the seat across from Mami to join her tray of food. "Are you surviving your exams, Tomoe-san?"

It could be the casual greeting of a school friend, easily. If it was not Homura Akemi. Her gaze is utterly still and level, and bores into the girl whose space she has invaded.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Anxiety was an earlier step for Mami Tomoe about her exams. She's progressed much farther than that, into a deep depression over how low her scores are likely to be, posted for everyone to see for her classmates to conclude the same old things about her that have been truer and truer. Once, she was able to get by largely unnoticed, but now...

Well, now she came to the mall alone, seeking to get away from all of that--in a different way than her typical hunts. ...Somewhere public, where she's unlikely to be ambushed if it comes to that. ...And somewhere with nice things. Mami does like nice things. She opted for one of the more expensive restaurants in the food court, but the independence of it is for the best for the moment. A half-eaten plastic bowl of noodles sits on her tray, along with a drink. Beside it is a notebook with scribbles of various dinner plans, largely for two, with a few things crossed off as she makes her adjustments considering each.

She has selected a table where her back is to a wall. ...And when Homura sits down, Mami looks up, expression still except for the calm look both ways from Homura, to see whether she's alone. "...Surviving," Mami replies dryly, "Akemi-san." ...She almost--almost--uses the other suffix. She's obviously on her guard, 'obviously' to Homura who has seen her time after time after time, knows her habits.

...She doesn't ask Homura in return. She just waits for Homura to get to it. Whatever it is.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The notebook garners a glance, which is clear enough when the only things moving in her impassive face are those large violet eyes. Upside down and at a distance it's not intelligible, so Homura doesn't linger there.

She's in her school uniform -- still, again, whichever applies with a stint as a time-stopping magical girl sandwiched between school and now -- with its impeccable pleats, as consciously perfected and maintained as the rest of her. With her attention back on Mami, she takes a moment to study the girl.

Her assessment glides over some things with the easy dismissiveness of long familiarity; no need to linger on that enviable and apparently effortless poise, nor the deceptive sweetness of honey eyes. Instead she notes the defensive scan and light touch of tense readiness. It's not an otherwise empty classroom; they don't have this place to themselves. Homura isn't fool enough to think that inoculates their discussion against violence, but it at least adjusts the probability downward, in her experience.

"Yes. Surviving."

She takes a deliberate bite of salad with cheap bamboo mall chopsticks, though her eyes narrow fractionally at the non-reply. Frivolous though it seemed, Homura was seeking an answer there. And there was that suspicious little pause with her name, there.

"You look tired." She says it with the same cool demeanor with which she took that bite of salad, and she says it whether it is true or not. "I do not think school has gotten any easier for you, over time. But you can tell me if I am wrong, if all of these burdens you take on have gotten lighter instead of heavier.

"So are you surviving your exams?" Homura is nothing if not dogged. She also has a knack for expressing things that could otherwise be friendly concern in the most impersonal, dispassionate ways imaginable.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The notebook, when glanced at, shifts in a rustle of paper. Not on its own, of course; Mami palms it, closes it calmly, revealing a flower-patterned hard cover. ...For her part, Mami is /not/ in uniform, spending less time these days wearing it outside school. Instead she's wearing a cream dress about to the knee, with black leggings and a smart pair of shoes, along with a warm yellow jacket as a nod to the weather. The fatigue in her expression is largely masked by the expert use of makeup; poise, elegance... And readiness, yes.

But Mami hasn't drawn a weapon... yet.

Homura's eyes narrow a little; Mami keeps an eye out herself, watching Homura's expression, though not so intently that she can't look around at her environment. Suspicious, sure.

Mami is no longer touching her food. "Do I?" Mami asks. "What a lovely statement." A pause. "...I have reason to be tired, yes. And as a matter of fact I'm rather enjoying school." She says it flatly, but not so flatly that it's obvious; it is of course, clearly a lie.

"...But yes, I'm surviving exams. So far. Why do you ask?" She pauses. "...Is this another show of concern?"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

That callout for her lack of tact slides right off of Homura Akemi, though it's clear she hears it. Even if she was generally concerned with niceties, in this particular situation -- sitting across the table from the Golden Queen in all her prowess, no matter how tired she may or may not actually look -- maintaining her own strung-bow readiness takes precedence. Just because she's less likely to pull out her rifles in a crowded mall...

There's no true safety in that. Homura just likes stacking the odds when she can. It was an opportunity that, seen, she had to seize: to check in on Mami Tomoe on such neutral ground. And a risk she felt worth taking, at the same time.

"Tch," she utters sotto voce to the clear lie. "If you want to, you can call it that." Slippery and noncommital, as ever. But she has an answer, and Mami's talking. So Homura pushes forward.

"It should not take me to point out how much time and energy this war of yours is wasting, not to you. Survival is no easy thing, and you know that as well as anyone, or better." A pointed reference to Mami's renowned tenure as a puella magi; Homura is also thinking, to herself, of the survival of this particular Mami Tomoe in this particular timeline.

She sometimes lasts this long... but not always.

"You could end it." A flat statement; a flat look. Both weighty, expectant. "She might listen to you. And you and I both know that she has something else distracting her, these days. Now would be the time."

It sounds an awful lot like a reference to Kozue Kaoru and the all-consuming preoccupation of new romance.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There is a certain imperiousness to Mami Tomoe, even when she has her own concerns, when she's paranoid herself. ...Some of it's arrogance, for sure. But her relationship with Homura Akemi is complicated. Does Mami have the reserves for a fight anyway? It's hard to say. Right now...

Mami keeps watching Homura at her slippery response. Mami is talking, she did give an answer. And she's still waiting for Homura to get to her point. There were times that she thought there was a chance with her...

Now she's not even sure she wants there to be.

"..." She remains silent at the reference. "I do," she answers, head high. Mami does not know how often she dies, how often a timeline ends in tragedy for her, either heroically or taking others with her. So many times it's happened before... and is set to happen again.

"You think?" Mami answers. She frowns, after a moment. "...We both know, do we? And exactly what do you mean by that?"

It sure does seem like a reference to Kozue. "Whether she might listen to me or not... There are a lot of reasons to keep this war going, despite the costs. I'm definitely not going to entertain your request without hearing the rest of the story."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura places great stock in this facade of ironclad aloofness she has wrought, sometimes rests within it like one might a full-body cast. It has its cracks, though, and it is no end of irritating to her that the commanding ojou sitting across from her has found them, more than once.

Then again, it may be less about what Mami does and more about who she is, or who she once was. She stares into the eyes of the girl who used to be her senpai in what now feels like another life altogether, and endures the coy repetitions with an ill grace. It shows in a brief twitch of her small, pale mouth, and she feels it, and /that/ irritates Homura, too.

"Kozue," she doesn't quite snap as Mami asks what she means. The milkshake gets a slurp's worth of attention, cold sweetness welcome, and she uses the time to think at a somewhat furious pace.

She's listening. For all of the unfriendliness, there's a valuable indication of open ears, and that means there's a chance to make a change, here. How best to impress upon Mami Tomoe the importance of ending this conflict?

The rapidfire calculations might show in the way her eyes lose focus for a moment, but then the swallow of shake is down and she's sharp again, swallowing once more time to get that lump of irritation down as best she can. From behind that renewed facade she asks, "How well was she doing, before these most recent developments?" And she doesn't wait for Mami to answer. "She endures the war as well as you endure school.

"I think you care more about Sayaka Miki than you do about this conflict. If that is true, then you should pick her." Homura leans back a touch, adding to her aloofness -- and adding a few inches more between herself and Mami Tomoe. "Whatever you might think, I don't want to see her dead any more than you do."

That is the truth, though Homura's reasons for wanting to defer the seemingly statistically inevitable end of Sayaka Miki the puella magi are likely to be very different from Mami's, having everything to do with a girl with pink twintails.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Finding her way through that facade changed how Mami views Homura--a change that persists... Even if it hasn't brought them closer in any conventional way. She knows, these days, that there is a girl beneath the mask, for all Homura's aloofness, for all her playacting at total emotionlessness. ...Like that little twitch. But the answer--

Mami has no change in her expression for a long few moments, simply studying Homura after she says that name. Eventually, after the slurp of the milkshake, she states, "I wasn't aware that that was common knowledge."

The renewed facade, the sharpness, brings with it questions and statements. Mami watches them, her food still ignored, her honeyed eyes calm. These are things she has thought about before; these are not surprises. ...The added distance has a few moments to remain. Just a few though.

...Because Mami leans forward, folding her hands and resting her forearms on the table as she bridges that gap. "...I actually believe that," Mami admits. "That you don't want her dead. Probably because of how it was crush Madoka-chan. She is your greatest concern, after all." A pause. "...But it's good enough for me."

"She does well enough, in the war. Her condition isn't something I'm willing to discuss with you. But since you were kind enough to corner me here and show your 'concern', I'll say that yes, I do care more about her than I do the conflict itself. You wouldn't be the first to assume it, and it's true. However..."

"What makes you think we haven't already discussed ending it? This isn't a new idea to me, Akemi-san."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

When Mami points out that Kozue's relationship with Sayaka is not common knowledge, she gets a slow blink back from the pale girl -- for Homura, what amounts to a shrug. "It isn't."

The gap closes; the blonde leans in with a shot to the heart of the matter... To the heart of Homura Akemi. For her part, the violet magi does not move. Perhaps she is unintimidated; it may also be the stillness of careful control.

Regarding her greatest concern: "She is." To her credit, it doesn't come out like it was forced from her.

In truth, the physical proximity does bother Homura, though she tries not to show that just as she does with all other discomforts. She cared a great deal for Mami Tomoe once upon another lifetime, and the ghosts of that care rattle their faded chains to be reminded of it.

At that last, though, Homura's head tilts, setting the impassive lines of her expression to an inquisitive diagonal. "Are you, then? Ending it?" She just continues to probe, with no acknowledgement of the invasiveness of such inquiries from someone who counts, on a great many levels, as an enemy.

But it does seem there are limits to her knowledge, however she found out about Kozue.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

That at least confirms something; it's another of those things that Homura Akemi just seems to /know/, like so many others, with sources she isn't sharing. Mami looks into her eyes for a few moments longer, keeping the space she took in the meantime. She won't press more about Kozue for now; there's little need. She has other things to press. ...Like of course, Homura's main concern.

Which they both knew, but sometimes... It needs to be said.

In that other lifetime, Mami found Homura precious, too; in this one, she's different than that... important, but not at all in the same way. A mirror in some respects. Not a flattering one, not an exact one. ...Not, in the end, a real mirror at all.

Inquisition hangs for a moment before Mami shakes her head. "...No. We aren't." She of course has to retain strength in front of her enemy... But there's a level of honesty she's willing to engage in this time--she and Homura do have... a certain kind of relationship.

"Maybe there'll come a time when the war ends, whether in combat or outside it. Maybe we will stop. ...But not today. Not the last time we discussed it, and not any time I can see on the horizon. It comes with a cost... But that's a cost we've both agreed to pay."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Mami retains the invisible territory her leaning stakes out. It is all but tangible to Homura; and perhaps that is a fair counterattack, a reclaiming rather than encroachment. She wasn't exactly invited to sit with the Golden Queen in the first place.

The answer comes, and the interrogative tilt of her features resets back to level. If they were actually considering dropping aggressions, unlikely Mami would freely admit it here, so informally, but it doesn't feel like that kind of denial.

It is in the end what she expected to hear, and it slides perfectly into Homura's grey-static cynicism, fits as if there could be no other. Still her chin rises, transmitting displeasure by millimeters. "So you say.

"The war will end. There's no question. Sooner or later, it'll end. It's just a matter of how, and when, and how many bodies fall first." Homura has seen it end a few times, a few ways. She's run through those endings over and over, reviewing them instead of sleeping some nights.

According to every piece of data she has to examine, war never ends well. That wouldn't matter so much to her if it didn't matter so /very/ much to Madoka Kaname.

But it would still matter. "You don't know what the cost is, but you've decided it worth paying despite that. Generous, Tomoe-san. Except you don't get to choose who pays it, do you?"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mami keeps that space; it is one of the small ways in which she can keep ready here, retain a certain amount of control, all the more necessary when dealing with Homura--when /she/ deals with Homura. Mami keeps her eyes on Homura in the meanwhile. She delivers her answer and leaves it at that for the moment, ignoring the food that she's already set aside, staring into the eyes of the other Puella Magi here. She spots that displeasure, of course.

"Sure," Mami agrees about the war ending, sounding somewhat impatient with the answer, as if it's merely semantics. But she doesn't expect the war to end well, either; that's why it's war, after all. She has little to suggest to suggest that it should.

"Isn't that how we make all our decisions?" Mami asks. "...You can't know for sure what will happen; none of us sees the future." Mami's voice is not cold, exactly; intent, more. She does not look away, or even blink. "Do you think you're going to guilt me into stopping the war? Really? I know them well. If that were going to happen, it would be done by now."

"...So why is it that you're really here?" Mami asks, and a little note slips into her voice, "Akemi-chan?"

...This is a delicate moment.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

'Isn't that how we make all our decisions,' she asks. Homura Akemi does not blink or twitch or in any other way put the bitter twist of her own thoughts on display. There's the icy stillness, of course, but if one's poker face is thorough and consistent enough, does it matter if the other person knows one is being worn?

The truth in those words burns, though, like acid. No matter how thoroughly Homura studies the various permutations of events that echo back through her existence, it never quite sums to the prescience she badly needs.

"No. I didn't think that, not really." The violet magi meets that steady gaze with her own, still as a tripwire.

She catches the tone. Impossible not to. And the -chan.

It is not as if Homura was not on alert before; laughable thought, that, seated across from so deadly an enemy. There are levels to awareness, though, and in a swift flush of adrenaline the swirling chattering humanity that flows around them slows without a single drop of spent time magic. It all slows, except for Homura, and Mami, and the shared thrum of their tension.

She thinks, and speaks, with little delay between the two. Her own tone is as smooth as the surface of a frozen lake, and despite the quiet it carries like sound might across one.

"You suspect an ulterior motive of me. The reasons are as plain as my questions have been, though you're welcome to believe otherwise. You are already well aware of my... greatest concern." A direct quote from Mami's own reference to Madoka earlier.

"Whether I want you to be or not." She doesn't lean back, but it's a concession of the knowledge Mami holds over her. "Do you need there to be another reason?"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It doesn't matter. Mami does not know Homura's secret. ...Not /that/ secret, at least. But some, certainly.

Homura says she didn't think it, and Mami's stare is obvious, as if she's suggesting that it was pointless for Homura to even say, in that case. She has little patience for the mysterious Puella Magi before her; there's so much they have had to deal with before. And now...

Time is slowed for Mami, too. She is watching, careful, considering, debating her move in a game that by no means is one she ought to be playing on nearly any level. There is little delay; Homura continues. The reasons...

A concession.

"I do," Mami answers. "Otherwise I can't account for why you'd even try, at this point. You only seem to show up when there's something you can accomplish, after all." A beat, "...But then, no. I suppose I can see a reason."

She doesn't smile. She just waits, for a few moments. "...Regardless, there's nothing you can tell me about stopping this war that I haven't already considered, 'Akemi-chan.' It's too late for that." A beat, "Or are you going to remind me of my previous relationship with Sakura-san? Talk about the open secret that are my feelings for Eri Shimanouchi?" This she says more quietly, though no less intently. Her voice returns to normal volume after that, "The risk to Sayaka-chan, who's already nearly died saving me? The strain of ambushes that could come at any time? The fact that my life is largely falling apart except for this war?"

Mami's gaze is almost flat, golden eyes full of... something, but not entirely seeing. "By all means. Or are you just here because you /want/ it otherwise and you can't quite give up, because you aren't the perfect machine you prefer to think of yourself as?" She pauses. "Why do you even bother asking how I'm doing?"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Her piece said, such as it is, the girl with the bone white skin and onyx-glossy hair waits within the delicate shell of her stillness to see how it is taken. Movement is a hairtriggered reflex away.

Homura Akemi has no desire to fight Mami Tomoe. It would be a foolish and deadly waste of resources that furthers no goals of hers, this is true, but it is even more true that she does not /want/ to fight her former senpai. The passing mallwalkers, so vulnerable to flying bullets, don't have a place on her decision tree. She has her priorities.

And she gets her response.

She asked, after all, couldn't quite keep herself from it. Little comments fly free from Homura when Mami is around, she always finds ways to get under her skin...

As now. The arguments against the war trot out. Some of them, Homura already tried; others, she was not about to bother with, saw as particularly futile. Mami flips through and past them one by one like she's discarding from a deck of cards.

Mami keeps dealing, and flips a trump.

The bottom lid of Homura's right eye twitches upward. Not very machine-like of her, to react like that. Her chin lifts further, a moment later. It is perhaps to her benefit that she cannot go more pale.

"You're right. This was a mistake, obviously. I won't make it again." Homura reaches for the sides of her tray, and if the movement is intentionally not sudden or quick, neither is it hesitant or shrinking. She's making to go, but pauses before scooting sideways toward freedom from this booth and this mall and the things Mami Tomoe is making her /feel/.

Through tight lips, she says, "Because it matters." The words are at odd with the frost limning them.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Whether Mami has a desire to fight or not is hard to tell, at this point; obviously, all these people in the way /should/ stop her, the mere fact that Homura has not aggressed should stop her... But for a few heart-pounding moments, this is unclear. ...Until Mami does give her response. Many, she brings out, many she shows, all show as futile.

The slight reaction is not a huge victory for Mami; she expected something, not this precisely, but she is no longer of the opinion that Homura is some strange agent divorced from... whatever humanity Puella Magi still have. No, Homura has been struck, and Mami sees it. She watches, for a few moments, as Homura makes to go, prepared to let her. Until--

Until that phrase. At odds with frost, at odds with everything, Mami actually softens very slightly for an instant, staring at Homura. Just a heartbeat.

"...Does it?" she asks, and closes her eyes, shaking her head. "Just go."

If anything, she looks worse now than before.