2018-05-19 - Icecream and Damnation

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Title: Icecream and Damnation

Mikoto runs into Setsuna as they both head back, and they find themselves entirely accidentally in a maid cafe. It's the most incongruous possible place to have a conversation about the terrors of destabilisation, their life's oaths to two very different masters, and horrible, horrible murder. But no matter what, they have friends - including each other!


Mikoto Minagi, Setsuna Meioh


Shitamachi Low City - Akihabara Electric Town

OOC - IC Date:

2018-05-19 - 2018-04-19

.**************************** Shitamachi Low City *****************************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Akihabara Electric Town +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 Brave Akihabara, holy land of nerds, Akihabara of the cartoony signs and
 gumball-machine colors. One can buy anything in Akihabara, as long as it is
 computer gear, electronics or anime merchandise. The main strip is the
 glitziest, with a large percentage of the visible building faces covered in
 electronic signs, huge posters, or garish paint jobs, and there one can
 purchase coveted new items at (or just a hair before) their street dates.
 The streets to either side are home to a messier brand of store, where one
 can, with a little luck and persistence, find used goods like that rare
 out-of-print first edition Sailor V figurine or vanity press Pretty Cure
 doujinshi. These smaller stores compete ferociously for space, and can be
 found crammed into alleyways and spilling out onto sidewalks as well as in
 more standard configuration.

 Those whose tastes run more to programming than fandom can find the area,
 also known as Akihabara Electric Town, quite rewarding as well. It's the
 perfect place to shop for computer parts and other gadgets for projects both
 personal and paranormal, with the venue ranging from a posh cutting-edge
 robotics store on the main strip, to tiny stalls wedged into alleys that
 sell high-grade electronics on the cheap. The latter category manage this
 feat of thrift by selling unpackaged items taken from wholesale lots, and
 piled up for display like supermarket apples.

 It's relatively safe to be seen wearing unusual clothing here; it's likely
 to be taken for cosplay, or the uniform of one of the diversely themed maid
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The afternoon sun shines through gathering stormclouds which haven't yet massed their forces to ruin the night, shadows shifting in the best clock Mikoto has ever known. She has been divested of her konbini bag, now, snacks safely delivered to Steven's side - though she still checks her pockets for her purse, now and then.

Things are always falling out of her pockets, after all.

The only thing to do, now, is to get on the train and return home. Mikoto doesn't much enjoy them, trains - they're too crowded, sometimes people bump into her or invade her personal space, and they're too loud to hear anything effectively because all the noises blend into each other in such an enclosed space. But they are, undeniably, the best method of travel around Tokyo, so on she goes.

The noise will make it difficult to attract her attention. There's a baby crying, five - six people nearby talking on mobile phones, another phone's chiming a tone to indicate a message received, the two men latched onto the pole beside her are complaining about something or another, someone's scraping their boot against the floor in the seat next to where she's standing, a group of grade-schoolers are talking animatedly about Sailor V, the wheels are clacking in the loudest possible way and the carriage itself is ka-CHUNKING along the tracks...

At least in the city, everything is open. The sounds have room to move. They're not bounced over each other, amplified in a cramped metal tube full of warm bodies. Tokyo is loud, but it's not overwhelming, not in the way crowded trains are.

And now she's back from space, again... now she's back from space, the way those sounds reverberate just makes her think of the way they bounced endlessly along the acoustic halls of the ship which wasn't quite a hand.

It's thoroughly unpleasant, and Mikoto scowls at the middle distance.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Setsuna Meioh doesn't mind trains nearly so much, though they're not her first choice of transportation. This afternoon she is of the crowd, rather than floating through them like some serene mystery. There's a lived-in wrinkle to her violet skirtsuit, though she is herself well-washed beneath it. The red bow is still missing from the shirt's closing. Her dark heels look cleaner and fresher than the rest of her, and they are, newly purchased to replace a pair of cheap tourist sandals she picked up while leaving the Tokyo Bay beach with Kasagami.

The pumps she wore originally are lost forever, left behind in Cell 7F0A-Tau and obliterated in the same UFO explosion that nearly took them all.

For all that has come to pass in the last handful of days, she has a touch of peace about the corners of her eyes, and a hint of a smile lingers on her features. Setsuna steps aboard the train amid the same stream of people that introduces a blacksuited gaggle of salarymen. In a scan of the few open seats remaining she skims past a dark head of spiky hair, then doubletakes right back to it.

"Mikoto-san?" That will never be heard over the din, and was more a startled murmur to herself. Then she makes right for the other girl, sliding between the grade schoolers and someone chattering away into a phone.

There's this distant look in Mikoto's eyes... Setsuna doesn't want to startle her. Once she's reached the outside of what small personal space bubble exists for Mikoto, on the train, she stops and says the name at more cheerful volume. "Mikoto-chan, hello."

It's possible that doesn't do the trick though, with all the distraction. Setsuna loops a grip into one of the overhead handles as the train sways around a bend. Next she'll lean in closer and reach out, letting her questing hand invade Mikoto's space first, and say again, more loudly. "Mikoto-san, are you alright?" Only if she's still unheard will she finally tap the girl's near shoulder.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There might be a voice, calling for Mikoto. There might be, except - maybe it's someone to her left talking about the Yabusame festival. Or maybe it's a trick of the wheels. The wheels are so loud.

But when a hand taps Mikoto's shoulder, she turns with a threatening snarl, sharp eyes full of warning. She knows exactly how to handle strange people touching her on trains. Of course, she'd never hurt them - but she has to clearly signal she's not okay with it. Nao taught her well.

... but those are rules which were designed for handling strangers.

Occasionally, the people trying to get her attention are friends.

Mikoto's expression shifts, and she blinks up at Setsuna, smiling a touch apologetically. She tilts her head, because she cannot make out her words well. She leans up on tip-toes, to try and convey: "Too loud here!"

Of course, Mikoto is very short, and Setsuna is very tall, so how successful she'll be is up for debate.

The train comes lurching to a stop, and Mikoto tugs at Setsuna's free hand, silently asking if she'd like to get out of the train and out into a place where the sounds aren't so suffocating. But then she pauses - because this is Ueno station - and shakes her head. There's sadness in her eyes she doesn't quite explain, in the din of the train.

The next one, then, which on this particular line at this particular time appears to be... Akihabara. It's not a place Mikoto would normally go, but she's still happy to lead Setsuna out into the train station, out to - well - let's see. Oh, how about in there? That place has places to sit, and Mikoto will surely fit.

And so she hurries them into a maid cafe, completely unaware of what she's brought upon them, and perches down on a chair inside.

"Setsuna!" Mikoto chirps, finally. Now she's out of the train, she looks perfectly happy to see her. And much happier in general, really.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

She tried, but...

There's a bit of a double startle that happens, an unrehearsed dance in which Mikoto snarls out an extremely clear signal about being touched and Setsuna lets the train's movement sway her, upper body bending back and away. As she's still anchored to the ceiling by the overhead handle, the movement has a looping quality.

By the time she swings back forward Mikoto is smiling back up to her, and Setsuna returns the expression. She looms a bit in the close packed train car, can't really help it with all that height over the other girl. Mikoto says something and Setsuna can't make it out over the squeals as one of the grade school girls flips a page in the Sailor V manga they're all huddled over. Even if she doesn't know it, that conveys Mikoto's meaning well enough. She offers a shrug back, pantomimed broadly.

Her hand is warm and dry, and she glances at the Ueno stop, and back to her friend. Their eyes match; Mikoto doesn't need to explain. They ride to the next stop together.

Something of the other girl's agorophobia has transferred to Setsuna, and when they step off into Akihabara's streets and beneath its lights she breathes more easily too. "Ah, much better." She's content to follow where Mikoto leads; this isn't a part of town the senshi frequents. Of course, Setsuna has no idea that is ALSO true for Mikoto.

She's focused on her friend at first, glad to see the ebb of that scowl. "Mikoto-san," she returns. "What lovely luck, to run across a friend in such a large city. It's good to see you." The 'not on a UFO' part feels implied. It's not until Setsuna picks up the menu and gets an eyeful of the incredibly adorable options that she looks back up again and takes in their surroundings.

It looks like they've stepped into Candyland. Pink and white everywhere; oversized fluffy cushions on stools made to look like muffintops; red-striped candy cane edging on all the tables; and all of the waitresses wear bright pink stylized schoolgirl outfits trimmed with fluff that looks like whipped cream.

Their waitress skips up to the table's end and hops right into the booth seat next to Mikoto with a flounce of taffy-blue hair! She has a big plastic cherry atop of her head, held in place with pink straps. "Helloooo~!" Her smile could top a sundae, it's so sweet. "Would you like to start with one of our shakes?"

Setsuna blinks. A couple of times. She guesses... Mikoto must have a massive sweet tooth, if this is the place she chose. Well, fair enough. "Ah... Well, what do you usually get, Mikoto-san?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto is used to people looming over her. It's kind of unavoidable. Besides, Setsuna is a friend, and wouldn't hurt her, so it's not threatening.

And neither, now, is Mikoto threatening - astounding, how she can switch so readily from warning to warmth. But, perhaps, she's not threatening for another reason - the way her sure stance stumbles as they hit a particular bend, now Mikoto is holding onto Setsuna and not the nearby pole. The way her breath comes out all in a huff as she lightly impacts the other girl's side.

The way she grimaces, for a moment, as she straightens.

Mikoto doesn't complain. She leads them off of the nearest neutral stop, into the nearest place to sit - to her, it's hardly a question of the city's overwhelming presence, but more one of where to meet with her friend. She smiles, brightly.

"Yup," she nods, firmly. "Glad Setsuna's okay!" 'After having crashed out of a UFO' is, naturally, also implied.

A beat, as Mikoto realises that perhaps the mysterious senshi just isn't being forward. "... is Setsuna okay?" It is offered with utmost plain concern.

It's not even the first time she's asked that today.

Her worry is interrupted, however, when out comes a... maid. Mikoto blinks up at her. "Cherry..." She sounds completely baffled. Is it possible Mikoto has led them here... by mistake?!

She looks back and forth, and finds only more staff in bizarre outfits. Does... does that girl over there have cat ears? That - those cushions are adorable but - she wonders if that really is candy cane.

Mikoto makes an uncertain noise, in the back of her throat, looking from Setsuna to the maid, completely lost. She guesses, again: "Cherry?"

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Towering and steady, Setsuna could as easily be a sequoia instead of a girl as Mikoto stumbles against her. Evergreen tresses can only contribute to that impression. She takes care, after that, to be close should Mikoto need to lean again. Similarly, Setsuna doesn't comment. There's a soldierly comraderie to the way she steps up by her ally and friend's side.

Is Setsuna okay? She seems okay, a bit of uncustomary garment wrinkling aside. Her movements are clean and unencumbered by injury, her eyes bright and responsive. When Mikoto asks, she gives it visible thought -- the senshi has never been one to trot off unconsidered answers, even to simple questions.

Thinking takes time, and that's when the cherry-topped waitress steps into frame. It really is distracting. Even with her dedication to mannerliness, Setsuna finds it hard to focus on the waitress's eyes and not the shiny plastic cherry on her head. Soon after Setsuna begins to realize that this might not be some frequent haunt of Mikoto's, maybe it's that noise she makes...

"Ah. Hello," she greets the waitress across the table, a little unsure herself what the protocol is for sundae maid waitresses who hop into the booth with their customers. She looks down at the laminate menu with its riot of tooth-ending options.

There's some weird stuff on there, odd taste mixes as well as more traditional ice cream and cake. "...I would like to try the raspberry rose shake, please." A glance at the terminal confusion on Mikoto's face suggests to Setsuna that maybe she should step in, here. "Mikoto-san, do you like sundaes, or cake?" She slides her own menu around on the table so it's right-side-up to her friend, tracing a finger between some options.

It just so happens that her other palm, the one holding the menu in place, is flat against and entirely obscuring their daily special: the Fireball Extreme Cinnamon Float, complete with a chibi caricature of a maid breathing flame. She still remembers Eri's instructions.

Once they've managed to complete an order and the maid with her cherry hat flounces away again, Setsuna leans back into her seat. She finally gives the answer she came to. "I think I am okay, and thank you for asking. Better than before, at least. But how are you, Mikoto-san? After everything..." Her voice lowers. She saw that look in the girl's eyes as she faced Peridot's massive destabilizer. "Did you make it through alright?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto isn't bothered by strange waitress protocol. As much as she knows this is strange waitress protocol - she'd seen Mai enough times at Linden Baum - unusual behaviour has never much bothered a girl who can be charitably described as 'strange' on a good day.

But it's still confusing, and Mikoto is left uncertain for a long moment. Luckily, Setsuna assists. "Cake?! Sundaes?!" Mikoto brightens, cheerful in a moment. BOTH OF THOSE THINGS ARE DELICIOUS. Bright golden eyes scan down the list, and she nods to herself. "... strawberry-caramel sundae!"

It's well that Setsuna has thought to obscure the forbidden option, because Mikoto has fought more than enough enemies recently. Being assaulted by a culinary enemy would just be too much.

Once that bizarre maid leaves, though, there's time to get back to other important questions. (Perhaps even as important as 'suddenly there's food here.') Mikoto nods, again, as Setsuna confirms she's all right, with an affirmative noise. She's evidently glad that Setsuna's okay, and her smile is warm.

But -

- is she okay?

Mikoto glances away, her smile fading. Even putting aside that display at Steven's... that morning, when she woke up so scared, and...

The look on her face, uncertain and sad, says everything it needs to. Her words take a little longer. "... got... back home okay." That much is true. She'd managed to get back with Mai safely. And yet, at the same time, there's so much there she doesn't confirm is all right. It's only a small reassurance.

She can't manage a big one.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

The girl across the table goes from sundae-sunny and glad for Setsuna's welfare to mostly cloudy with a chance of rain. These guileless and quicksilver shifts make Mikoto feel younger than her years to the senshi; they seem as transparent as a child's moods. Then there's the unbridled sweets-delight...

But Mikoto doesn't look okay, however she got home.

Setsuna leans back in, setting elbows on the table -- it's okay, the food hasn't arrived yet! "Space can be... terrifying, Mikoto-san," she confides, eyes dark and serious. "And it is home to horrors. That was worse than much of what I've seen." Not all, but much. "I am glad you got back home okay. The rest... well, give yourself time."

She shares a kind smile with Mikoto, drawing on her own restored soul to encourage the other. Her muscles still feel a delicious lassitude from many long hot soaks; she has lost so much, recently, but has regained much as well, and spent the last span of time in near-constant and healing contact with Kasagami.

From the shelter of that lingering glow Setsuna suggests, "With some rest, maybe a few days of peace... You might feel much better." Surely they've all earned a short reprieve...

"But... something good to eat might help, too." Their waitress is impossible to miss, headed their way with that bright red cherry bobbing and a tray full of confections. Soon Setsuna is sipping -- or trying to sip, it's a thick mix! -- at a pinkish-red shake, and Mikoto's got an impressive ice cream creation in front of her. Finally she gives up and grabs a spoon. From the look on her face, raspberry and rose are a good combination.

"I'll have to tell Kassie about this place," she comments. Then, a little somber for the cheeriness of their surroundings and food: "Have you heard from Eri-chan, since returning? I... wonder what she's heard." Let Mikoto think she means the UFO, and not the rift between herself and the other Outer Senshi.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Many people think Mikoto Minagi is younger than she is. Some are more obvious about it than others; some bother her more than others. If she knew Setsuna took her honesty for childishess, perhaps she would protest - but she's blissfully unaware.

She doesn't see the hints, the way Setsuna restricts her options. She doesn't suspect Setsuna would do that to her at all. Doesn't suspect - isn't guarded. Mikoto's trust is simple and absolute and so much more complicated than a child's. And yet, unexplained... she must seem so young.

There's something in those bright eyes, as Setsuna calls space terrifying - a flicker of remembered fear. She bows her head in a nod, humming assent. Setsuna's words carry the weight of someone with experience, and Mikoto doesn't argue against them; the senshi has seen much she hasn't, she's sure. Mikoto has only seen space once before, and that was terrifying enough. Now, she's seen it all of twice, and her opinion of space is not well improved.

'I hate space,' Kasagami said, and Mikoto cannot help but agree.

And yet, despite taking on Setsuna's words, Mikoto's expression is still troubled, and she doesn't manage to get as far as speech. She nods, instead, to Setsuna's words of comfort, with a noise in the back of her throat which is vaguely agreeable and yet still inarguably uncertain.

Her catlike eyes snap to the waitress, all bright and blue and pink and bubbly, as she arrives with their food. And Mikoto smiles again, and it seems for all the world that she is bright and bubbly as she tears through her sundae - big spoonfuls of strawberry ice cream, all atop with caramel and pink sprinkles. She nods, emphatically, to Setsuna's statement -

- huh, 'Kassie' -

- and continues eating. Miraculously, by the time Setsuna gets to her sombre question, Mikoto has already finished her sundae. How quickly can she eat, precisely?

Mikoto swallows, puts the spoon down in the empty bowl. She frowns, again. It was nice to be able to eat something without feeling quite so guilty, freed from some of her weight by the way Mai showed her care for her. It was nice to have something good. But now, now she comes back to complicated questions, and Mikoto is quiet again.

But Setsuna is patient, and besides, Setsuna has a delicious shake to keep her occupied.

"No," Mikoto answers, finally. There's no recognition on her face at all, about what Eri may or may not have heard. "Does Setsuna think... Eri'll..." Her voice grows small and uncertain, and she looks away again. "... freezing's... no good, Setsuna. I'm not supposed to... I don't, want Eri to think I'm..."

... useless.

She takes a breath. "... I've never. Not even with Witches."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

If a strawberry caramel sundae is more comforting in the moment than Setsuna's words, she isn't at all put out by that. It's just good to see Mikoto enjoying it. However briefly... The senshi is barely a fourth of the way into her shake and Mikoto's bowl is empty. Another set of blinks ensues. "That looked good."

Setsuna is indeed content to partake as Mikoto falls quiet. She has a way of waiting that does not feel expectant, allowing the other magical girl space for her thoughts.

She wasn't expecting that answer, but knows immediately what Mikoto refers to. The question never quite gets finished, but it still gets heard, in its incomplete state. The shake slides away, a little more than half done.

"I saw. That weapon of theirs..." Her lips twist to a light grimace, momentarily. "The small version was bad enough. I would not want to stare down that barrel like you did." Her wording triggers a memory: a barrel Setsuna Meioh stared down, once. Oddly enough, those events led to her first meeting with the girl across the table.

She thinks, lets Mikoto see the time spent on the consideration, instead of returning a quick reassurance. The soldier and eternal guardian muses. "I think... that if that was the first time you've ever frozen, even hunting Witches with Eri-chan... then you've done very well for yourself. It's no good to freeze, you're right. Dangerous. Sometimes fatal, even.

"But you survived this, to learn from it and fight on. Each of us has at some point made a terrible mistake on the field of battle. Some of us are fortunate enough to live on and learn from that mistake, rather than paying in full, right then and there. So... knowing what you know now, do you think you would freeze again?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto nods, briefly, to Setsuna's statement. It was good. But she doesn't say anything about it, because Mikoto is, more often than not, a girl of few words.

Sometimes it's because she doesn't need words to communicate what she's saying, like her satisfaction over delicious food. And sometimes - sometimes - it's because she's not sure what to say. Sometimes it's because the words escape her, slip through her fingers as she tries to think them.

Sometimes she needs time, and Sailor Pluto has an abundance, in a thousand glittering points of sand.

Setsuna deliberates, and she'll find Mikoto is patient, too. She understands the value in thinking over words, the necessity. Setsuna speaks, and Mikoto raises her gaze to meet hers, gold on garnet. When Sailor Pluto met the HiME, she was a brutal and terrible saviour, not shielding her but instead forcing Mami back with overwhelming force. She was all sharp edges, only able to be pulled back by Garnet's threats to the seat of Eri's magical power.

She is not sharp, now, as their eyes meet. She is small, she is uncertain, she is vulnerable. How impossible, for the two to be one and the same. How impossible Mikoto can be so strong and yet at times so fragile.

Mikoto trusts Setsuna, holds her opinions in esteem, and there is no hint of a lie to her words. There may be the sensation - perhaps uncomfortable - that in this moment, Setsuna holds Mikoto's heart in her hand, and it would be so easy to clench.

Her head dips in a slight nod, as Setsuna speaks. She hums quiet assent. It's relieving, in a way, to hear someone else say it, just how dangerous it was. Mikoto is not a soldier - Mikoto is an assassin. But they're close enough, they're both blood-bound. They both know the price of failure. But...

... there's no hint of a lie to her words, and perhaps Mikoto can find a scrap in pride in her fearlessness up to this point. There's some comfort to her eyes, at that.

And sometimes, she doesn't need words. Sometimes, there's a little gasp of fear as Setsuna cuts past every terror and right to the very core of all of them. Sometimes there's a widening of the eyes, a throat which swallows against sudden coarseness.

"I -" Mikoto's voice halts in her throat. It's as small as she is. "... I don't know... don't know, Setsuna! I - I..." Her gaze drops, and it can't hide the shame in her eyes, or the fear. "I can't, forget. Dreams and... memory... won't go away, Setsuna. Even when I try, not to worry. I - I know I can't be like this, but - but Setsuna, I -"

The breath she takes trembles. "I never knew... everything could be taken. They - they didn't just take magic, Setsuna. They took my purpose."

Her purpose - to defeat her enemies, perhaps. She's spoken of what she's meant to do before. It would be difficult, without magic.

And it's clearly shaken her.

Mikoto shakes her head. "And then... everything was, yellow fire. Couldn't see... anything else. I - I knew I had to move - every part of me, screaming, Setsuna. But, I... I'm still hurt. Couldn't get away in time. Couldn't block it, never did that good. Attacking would've been... pointless!"

Silence. But Setsuna is good at time, as it passes - can surely see the way Mikoto's eyes squeeze shut, the way her shoulders tense as she struggles with something.

"... but..." Mikoto's voice is quiet, when she speaks again. Her words are clipped, betraying her stress. They escape her, even as she tries to speak. "... but that's... not was thinking, Setsuna. I - I mean - sure instincts knew, but - looking up at weapon - just..."

She presses her lips together, takes a deep breath through her nose - the smell of confection everpresent here. "... scared, Setsuna." It's so hard to admit. To be terrified on the battlefield - it's something she thought she'd trained out of herself long ago. "Was scared, 'cause if Jasper's probe broke me, one that big... even if I survived, wouldn't be Mikoto any more. Everything I am... gone, Setsuna. Maybe forever this time."

Swallows, again, trying her best not to cry. "And, was... nothing I could do. Helpless."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Setsuna Meioh first truly saw this vein of vulnerability in the Mitakihara General, when she delivered a massive sword case to a very injured Mikoto. The wrist-bruised frailty of the girl in the hospital bed shocked, especially in the immediate shadow of the hulking entrance of an incarnate Miroku onto the field of battle. And it is one thing to act as a physical support to an injured Mikoto; it is another altogether, to be handed such a delicate piece of the girl's heart with such implicit trust.

The answer she gave -- a return question, but a considered one -- was the truest one the senshi could find. A hard answer, offered with the understanding of a warrior who inhabits the same hard world.

There's nothing easy about Mikoto's response, either.

Sympathetic pain shapes Setsuna's expression as the other girl finds her halting way through a reply as heartfelt as it is difficult to listen to. Partway through their cherry-topped waitress starts coming up the aisle behind Mikoto to make the usual how's-your-order check, and Setsuna waves her away with a small sidelong glance and gesture.

Otherwise she watches and listens, a sad-eyed sphinx in her stillness. Only when the evident pressure of admission drains away from the other girl does Setsuna shift where she sits: she folds her hands atop the table, one curled and cupped within the other.

"Being helpless... is there a worse feeling?" The words don't have the same strained edge, but still, they sound very understanding. "You were in a terrible spot. And sometimes... sometimes there is nothing you can do. No way out." Setsuna remembers that feeling well; the terror conveyed by Mikoto brings Tomoe Manor rushing back.

"Everything is different, when you live for a purpose." She shakes her head, a sorrowful motion rather than one of negation.

"Mikoto... Mikoto-chan," Setsuna adds after a moment. "You are one of the most determined people I have ever met. We keep that kind of company, but you still stand out. You know what I think would have happened if that thing had hit you, and stole your magic away? It would be awful, and painful, and difficult, but there's no doubt in my mind that you would find a way to get it back. No matter what it took.

"Or you'd die trying." It almost sounded like a pat reassurance, until that last part -- said in the same sure tone.

"But it wouldn't be over. And you'd have plenty of help. Eri-chan wouldn't just understand, she'd be at your side. And not just her."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Is there? Is there? Mikoto shakes her head, mute in her answer. There is nothing worse, nothing worse at all, than running out of options. Nothing worse than being completely, utterly helpless.

It's in the way her eyes squeeze so tightly shut, the way her lips press into a downcurved line, the wordless hum which vibrates through them, unsettled in its agreement. Her hands have found their way to the edge of the table, and they clutch there, tightly. Nails clipped short and practical dig against the candy-pink varnish.

Everything's different...

Mikoto bows her head, chin to chest. Another sad little noise of assent. She'd been so scared. So terrified that she'd failed in her most sacred duty, the defence of her sword. And her duties - they all feed into each other, after all. Without Miroku, she cannot fight for her Lord Brother. Without her pendant, she will surely never find her way back to him. She would have nothing, nothing, nothing -

She trembles with the knowledge, a tiny, quaking thing.

But it's her name - and her name, again, with that familiar honourific, which makes Mikoto look up, open those wide yellow eyes and meet Setsuna's gaze again. She meets it, does not look away, even as her breath catches in a gasp and she nods again. Admitting her weakness to Setuna had been a special type of scary - because Setsuna is so strong, so nice, and Mikoto doesn't want her to think badly of her. But she doesn't. Even knowing, she doesn't think badly of her. Setsuna has always been the most stalwart of them, someone who has understands what must be done, and there is gratitude in those bright eyes as she describes her so kindly.

Totally, utterly disarmed for Setsuna's brutal summation of what Mikoto would do. Totally, completely willing to accept it.

Because she's right, after all. Mikoto would never give up. Mikoto never could give up. She still has something she needs to do.

"Yeah -" Mikoto speaks, swallows against the lump in her throat. "Setsuna's right... can't rest, even if it seems hopeless. No matter what, I can't give up... 'cause I swore my life." Her voice lowers as she says it, as if she's sharing something secret. But Setsuna understands duty and purpose. Setsuna would understand something like that. "So long as I'm alive... I gotta keep going."

A small, fragile smile passes over her face. "And - Setsuna's right, too, 'cause Eri... knows it's important. Eri... Eri'd love me even if I couldn't fight, but... Eri wouldn't want me to be sad, neither. And everyone else, too..." Mikoto's hands curl at the desk, not clawing at it any more. "... everyone's really important to me, Setsuna. I'm... I'm really happy, there's people who'd help."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Setsuna thinks she understands the secret Mikoto shares -- and to some extent, she does. She watches the girl, taken by tremors, and feels for her. The tall university student nods. "Some of us have no choice but to keep going. And so... that is what we do. It's just that simple. Not easy, but simple.

"I take some comfort in that. Maybe it sounds odd, but I do."

She reaches for her raspberry rose shake, its melting remainder now more liquid than viscous, and stirs it with the straw. "I trust... that I was chosen for a reason, and I trust the one who chose me. It sounds like you do, too."

Setsuna knows only Mikoto herself, and nothing of the darkness she's pledged to. "Sometimes that's all you can do, Mikoto-chan."

It isn't a smile, but a precursor curls the corner of her mouth, a warmth to answer that fragile expression. "She loves you a great deal. You have friends, and we all want to see you happy. Any of them who saw how badly this has shaken you up... they'd all say the same, I'm sure. They would all want to do something to make it better. So please, don't hesitate to ask if you ever need help."

It's at least easier to get her shake through the straw now that it's more of a raspberry rose drink. Still tasty, too.

"We've been through a terrible ordeal. Really, I think Eri-chan will just be glad to see you safely back on Earth. Maybe even almost as glad as we are, ourselves. Are you going to go see her?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"No choice," Mikoto echoes, quietly, as she nods. So many things recently aren't simple. Cultivation isn't simple. War isn't simple. The feelings of those left behind aren't simple. Death - isn't supposed to be simple, judging by how everyone has acted in the wake of it.

It's a comfort, to know something in this world is still simple. It's a comfort, and it shows so plainly in the breath she lets out, the way some of that tension leaves her shoulders.

Setsuna speaks of trust and there's a little smile on Mikoto's face despite the gravity of the conversation, and it is love and devotion and duty and all those things the timebound senshi knows so well. "... more than anything."

She is pledged to dark and transcendent things and yet she thinks on her duty and it is his face, his form, and they are blurred to her from the distance of time but she knows she loves him completely, would do anything for him. It is a love which is pure and absolute and it's so obvious in her whispered words.

Everything else pales in comparison - but even pastel colours are beautiful.

Mikoto's fragile little smile grows wider, as she listens to Setsuna. The love of her friends is a salve on open wounds, smoothing over the hairline fractures of her black glass heart. She has so much devotion to share with the world - so much affection. Not even the war could touch that essential truth of Mikoto Minagi.

"Yup," Mikoto nods, and she is firm, now, rather than uncertain. "Just had to... see Steven first." Why ought to be obvious. "Hope Eri wasn't too worried..."

or too wounded to care, pipes up a little voice in the back of her mind before she can properly quash it. "... hope Eri's okay." But even as she says it, Mikoto frowns, shakes her head. No, everyone was occupied with Dark Fall. They wouldn't have attacked her while they was in space. She has to believe in that much. "Eri's gotta be okay, right?"

Instead of focusing on that sad thought, Mikoto throws herself into her friendship. "Don't worry, I'll ask," Mikoto assures her. "'Cause if anyone else were troubled, I'd want them to be happy, too!"

And she looks up at her, with those big yellow eyes, and they are warm and affectionate and if Pluto had never seen her hard edges it would be impossible to imagine she could be anything else. "And I want Setsuna to be happy," she insists. "'Cause I love Setsuna. Setsuna's my friend, too."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

When Mikoto says 'more than anything' with love and devotion and duty, it seems to the Guardian of Time like she understands. Beatific on her face, it looks very much like how Setsuna feels about the liege of her childhood. She still remembers how it felt to receive the slender strength of the Garnet Rod, then twice as tall as the young Princess Pluto, from a breathtaking being of luminous wisdom. She still remembers the impossible beauty of Queen Serenity's voice as she intoned Pluto's bans.

Even this reminder puts a worshipful light into garnet eyes. She loves her Queen, and that love is close kin to Mikoto's love for her Lord Brother. The recipients of their love... could hardly be more different, though neither of them know.

So Setsuna finds a full smile to return to Mikoto, and she nods her incomplete understanding.

"Of course," she says to seeing Steven of the heroic pink shield first. "He is a brave one. I need to find Small Lady, for similar reasons. Both her and Sailor Moon." Setsuna hasn't been home yet, and is in no rush to head that way. Meioh Tower is in close proximity to towers Kaioh and Tenoh.

"She has to be okay. Please... please do ask. I'll send her a message, but if you see Eri-chan, let her know I am thinking of her. Sometimes these things are best conveyed by another friend." The worry in Mikoto's voice is contagious, seeding concern in Setsuna's mind. They've only been gone a couple of days, but a great deal can happen in such a short span.

She catches the direct look and all of the warmth in cat-yellow and can't help but smile more widely, reflecting it, even before Mikoto continues on. When she does, there's a slight widening of her own eyes and a double-blink. Her mouth goes from smile to an 'o' and then back to a smile again after. The sweet purity of it all is as contagious as the worry was.

It comes with a bittersweet dart of pain, though Setsuna doesn't show that on her face or in her voice. She is a person of deep honesty, but has never considered the hiding of her own hurt to fall under that policy. That, she sees as sparing those she cares for. Thus Mikoto receives only warmth in return. "I'm glad we're friends, Mikoto-chan. I... I love you, too."

Setsuna says it because it's true, and feels that pain because she knows it to be another piece of distance between herself and her fellow Outer Senshi. These connections she has forged, the way she has made the Shepherds into her friends as well as her allies... She has an idea what Michiru would say if she heard this conversation. She knows what she would see in Haruka's eyes.

She reaches across the candy-pink table with one dark hand, palm up and offered for a clasp. "It's hard to find friends who understand the kinds of things we must do. To have you, and Eri-chan... Kassie." A bigger smile. "It helps." She doesn't mention how it hurts, too.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto smiles, and Setsuna smiles, and they are both taken by their devotion and Mikoto is sure, so sure that Setsuna understands. Someone with that look in her eyes must surely understand the look in Mikoto's. In this, they are the same -

- and Mikoto, who has felt so different to everyone around her, who has felt like such an outsider compared to all her friends, soaks it up like a sponge.

Setsuna understands duty. Setsuna understands purpose. It's such an overwhelming relief not to be alone.

And she speaks of Steven's bravery, and Mikoto nods, with an affirmative noise. Again, to Sailor Moon, and - "Small Lady?" She blinks, filing the name away, sounding unfamiliar with it. It doesn't seem so strange, that someone might be named Small Lady. People have all sorts of names. "Yup!" She agrees, because they're all brave.

Nods, again, as Setsuna worries for Eri too. "Yeah." And for those moments she looks entirely worried, downright intimidated by the sheer breadth of possibilities for why Eri Shimanouchi hasn't made an appearance.

But, after all, didn't Mikoto just say she tries not to think of upsetting things? She tries so hard not to think of upsetting things when there's nothing she can do. And there's nothing she can do, at this very moment, to find Eri. She's too far away from Ohtori to be able to search there immediately; she's too injured to venture out to Nishitama; she doesn't have the energy to wander aimlessly in hopes of finding her. Conversely, there's something she can do for Setsuna, right here, right now. Her solutions are imperfect, and she takes to them regardless - because any solution which works is worth using, to Mikoto Minagi.

Setsuna shows surprise, and Mikoto blinks, tilting her head slightly in motions which are just as catlike as her eyes. She doesn't - cannot - suspect that there is pain behind the smile which comes to replace it. Certainly, she has learned that love can hurt. That love is when someone dies - and you wish you were dead, too. But love, itself, is a good thing. Love is kindness and warmth and affection and there is no sharpness about it, none at all.

There is no blade to love. It does not cut. It does not spill blood on the grass.

It does not. It cannot.

It cannot, and Mikoto smiles when Setsuna smiles, reassured of her positive feelings. Setsuna says she loves her, too, and Mikoto's smile only grows wider. It is such a broad, affectionate thing, and it's not only in her lips but the way the edges of those big eyes crease, the way her chin tilts up to expose her neck, the way her whole face lights up as her affection is returned.

Setsuna reaches out, and Mikoto takes her hand, small but so fierce in its grip. Not enough to hurt - but enough to assure Setsuna she's here, she's not going away. "Sometimes it's hard," Mikoto says, "doing necessary stuff. But we're not alone, Setsuna. I won't let Eri do it alone. I won't..."

Her voice wavers, for a moment, with complicated emotions. Her gaze drops to their joined hands, raises back up. "... I've been alone, Setsuna. Not gonna let it happen again. Even if I gotta do bad things, won't let my friends do it alone. Especially not Eri... don't want, Eri being like I was. Desperate. Alone. Violent. Could happen. Could happen easy. It's... it's not good, Setsuna. And," Mikoto swallows, "also don't want that happening to Setsuna, or Yumi, or Kasagami, or... or anyone. I wanna help. Please let me help."

And there it is, 'Kassie,' again. How strange that the stately Setsuna is using a nickname in this one particular case.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

It is an oddity for Setsuna speak of Small Lady to anyone else, ever; she's still getting used to it. Mikoto's repetition of the dear name reminds her. "Mm -- I mean Chibi-Usa," she offers. "My apologies. That is just my name for her." Two nicknames in one conversation, even! Her tone envelops the words in obvious sentiment. "She is the one who pulled the crystal free, who saved us all from Rubeus."

Whatever the hidden personal cost, there is reciprocal reward aplenty too in this friendship. Mikoto shines, all affection; she takes Setsuna's hand and returns assurances, and the senshi is comforted, too. Her grip is steady back. "We are not alone," she returns.

"And you're right. We can't let Eri-chan be alone, either." She squeezes, thinking of the last time she saw the green magi. They'd clasped hands, too. "I am sorry you had to go through that by yourself, Mikoto-chan. Everything is more desperate that way, isn't it? Eri-chan bears enough on her shoulders already, without having to do it all alone. And she gives so much of herself..." Setsuna breathes out a sigh, trying to banish the worry with it, but a crease lingers between her eyebrows.

"I have been alone for most of my life." She's a university student! That could be pretty a long time. "Enough that I didn't know the difference. When I learned it, everything changed." There's that distant look in garnet again, until Setsuna realizes and visibly brings herself back to the Here and Now.

"Whatever we have to do," she says, and nods. "That is how we work already, after all. Just... together, instead of separately, now."

There's a more somber touch to her slow nod when she says, "You can help, Mikoto-chan. It is an awful task, what I am here for. But you know that, and you know is at stake. We will help each other."

With her free hand she slides the tall shake glass away on a raft of its own water-sweat. There's just no finishing such a cheerful treat over discussion, however oblique, of child-murder for Setsuna Meioh. It's like she can feel the big dark eyes of Hotaru Tomoe on her.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Chibi-Usa, Setsuna explains, and Mikoto nods, filing the name away in her mind. Another nickname. Setsuna doesn't seem to use them often, so it's notable to her.

There's something about Setsuna's sympathy which brings tears to Mikoto's eyes, again. She squeezes her hand, swallows against a lump in her throat. She hums assent, because there's not a hint of a lie to those words, either.

"Not ever relaxing... or smiling... or, able to trust anyone..." Mikoto's gaze lowers as she blinks away her tears, and her words are so quiet. "... only ever seeing enemies, everywhere. Always thinking how to kill. 'Cause nothing else matters..."

Is that what this girl has seen? This small and precious girl, who loves so truly and so deeply?

She's been alone, Setsuna says, and Mikoto looks back up, at that. "Sorry Setsuna was alone, too..." There is nothing but empathy in her voice, as she squeezes her hand again, gently trying to call her attention back. She can see the way her gaze distances. Can only imagine the thoughts behind it. "... not any more."

Setsuna isn't alone any more, because Setsuna has so many friends.

Mikoto isn't alone any more, because Mikoto has so many friends.

And they'll damn themselves for each other, because being alone is the worst thing.

It's an awful task, Setsuna says, and Mikoto frowns. "Doesn't matter," she insists. "Doesn't matter if it's bad. I know bad things, so it's okay, Setsuna. I can do it."

She's not a good person, not like Mai. But she is a remarkably effective blade.

"It's gotta happen. That must be why people like Setsuna and me were made, right?" 'Made.' As if she is just a weapon fashioned for a purpose. "'Cause it's hard, to defeat enemies. But enemies must be defeated. Just remember that, 'kay?"

It is offered in complete honesty and trust that surely, surely this wisdom will help her. It is the wisdom Mikoto Minagi lives by, and she has no reason to suspect Setsuna hasn't had the same lessons as her.

She sees the way Setsuna slides her milkshake away, puts it together with the sobriety of her gaze, the distances, the way she describes it as 'awful'. "It'll be okay, Setsuna," Mikoto assures her. "If Setsuna's too upset, I'll do it. It's - easy, for me." But there's a pause, there, a hesitation which Mikoto herself can't quite explain. "... don't want Setsuna to cry."

No one mentioned crying.

Mikoto is quiet, for a long moment, looking down at their hands, feeling that perhaps she's not being nearly as comforting as she wants to be. "I'll still be here," she finishes, a touch of awkwardness in her tone. "... no matter what we gotta do."

And it is the furthest thing from a lie, because Mikoto, above all else, is such a loyal creature.

She'll stay right here with her, even if they don't eat anything else.