2018-06-06 - Clean Up: A Chance To Clear The Air

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Title: Clean Up: A Chance To Clear The Air

With Shizuru's graduation, one of Eri's biggest shields against bullying is gone. Things just keep getting worse, and estranged friends can only help with so much.


Eri Shimanouchi, Mai Tokiha


Ohtori Academy - Washrooms

OOC - IC Date:

2018-06-06 - April 23rd, 2015

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The bell from high towers of white marks the end of the school day. And Eri Shimanouchi is up and out the classroom door already - it spares her the whispers of spurned classmates. Even walking ahead of most of the student body - it gave her this feeling of disconnection... and pursuit.

Like that moment when everything in a labyrinth suddenly is aware you're exist. When you abandon all pretense and transform - and a deadly convergence happens where one is the crossroads of the mob.

But it was fine today - because she's ahead of everyone.

Yanking open the string of her shoe locker, she grabs her brown loafers, puts them on the floor and toes a foot-

There's a grimace of startlement as she retracts her foot like it bit her. It dangles in the air. A little red smudge at the bottom of her sock and a few clinging wet noodles that began to peel off as gravity caused them to splatter to the floor. Staring down at it even as the tittering begins. "Maybe noodles are someone's way of confessing to you Shimanouchi." A group of girls walk behind her. "After all - everyone knows soggy and wet is more your taste than straight."

Not even looking in their direction - she picks up each shoe delicately by the toes.

Then cocking her arm back makes a twist of her wrist and slings the noodles and sauce at their backs without letting go - splattering the backs of mustard uniform and hair with curry sauce and noodles - their backs becoming a canvas for some recreation of Jackson Pollack. The shrieks of indignation as pristine uniforms are besmirched are predictable.

But she's already walking in the other direction, towards the restroom, shoes dangling in her hands. The chorus of 'Freak!' and 'She can't protect you anymore!' goes unanswered as she shoves open the bathroom door roughly.


BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukx7aJfj-1A

~Ten minutes later~

The soles of her shoes are out - while the loafters themselves rest on the mirror ledge in front of the sink. Eri futilely dabs at them with a paper towel, on occasion running them under a faucet again before scrubbing more vigorously.

This solution is going to subject her to an afternoon of squishy toes but... she can't divert to go back to the dorm long enough for them to properly dry.

Every so often people go in and out - but she completely ignores them.

Instead she keeps scrubbing diligently - but despite her best efforts...

They never seem any cleaner.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It was a near thing, getting to class on time this morning. The night was a long one, no quibbles about it, and getting back to sleep took...longer than Mai's responsibilities might have hoped.

Absolutely worth it, but there were consequences. There are always consequences for action.

She's gotten better at keeping her crutch out of sight over the past few days. It helps with the stares, and the whispers, and the mutterings about only wanting attention... But here she is, going to school more or less on time, strangely well-prepared for class for a change. One would almost think that not having part-time jobs would help with academics...

But it's not perfect. Her mind wanders, as every problem with a solution is a reminder of everything yet unresolved. Between classes, she starts typing out a message - types a dozen drafts, discarding each one for some reason or another...and before she knows it, the day is at an end.

Nineteen steps to the classroom door. Fifty-seven to the stairs. Too many stairs to warrant counting, even if it isn't the student council's building. And then she's in sight of the shoe lockers...

Too late to step in. Too late to see more than Eri's retaliation - the instrument of noodle delivery clearly spelling out the circumstances. Too late to chase after her (former?) friend as she runs off.

It's always too late...right?


The bathroom opens and closes, opens and closes, and then...doesn't open for a while. Stays shut for a good long while, until the message becomes clear that most would be better served by choosing another bathroom. Many would steer clear just by virtue of not wanting to be anywhere near a girl visibly on crutches, lest injury be contagious.

Those who remain steer clear of Mai Tokiha, lest injury be contagious.

The door opens, closes, and there's a clunk. An indoor shoe, singular, steps on the bathroom floor. Steps closer. Pauses for a moment. Step, step, step - and there's a packet of antiseptic wipes being slid into Eri's field of vision.

"These might work a little bit better, if you'd like any help."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The door opens again - and she isn't paying attention to anyone who's coming in right now. Her attention solely devoted to the task of wiping.

Even when Mai steps into her field of vision she doesn't notice. It could just be another girl needing to use the sink. Or maybe someone who's just asking what's wrong. Or it could be just another familiar in the labyrinth that was Ohtori.

The voice snaps her out of it. At the same time though she doesn't seem startled. She just keeps looking down at what she's doing. And then setting the soles down on the edge of the white porcelain sink, she grips the anti-septic wipe - and goes right back to it.

Silence hangs between them for a while, as she works with an anti-septic wipe and makes a little progress. But only a little...

When she does break the silence again - now that. That might be startling. Her voice devoid of anything - whisper thin. "You know it was only a year ago that I imagined this moment going a little differently..."

What moment? What is she talking about?

"... you seeing me in my high school uniform for the first time." Perhaps she's making a strong assumption there. In a life of tip-toeing around each other than Mai hasn't seen her already. But all the same she suspects...

"I'd make a turn and pose - ask you how I look... wonder if you were proud that I buckled down and managed to pass those exams despite... how we live."

The wiping motion stops for a moment as she lifts it up - and scrutinizes that spot she was wiping. Dissatisfied she runs the sole beneath the faucet again.

"Well... I don't have to wonder about that anymore..."

After all. She knows beyond any doubt one thing.

And that is that Mai Tokiha is by no stretch of the imagination proud of her.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

If Mai were of a mindset to blame herself for every single thing, Eri working on as if Mai hadn't said anything could be seen as damnably familiar. But right now, Mai is almost too tired for that level of self-loathing. Right now...right now, there's that familiar silence, as little bits of progress might as well be nothing.

Mai has no words to interrupt that thin voice. Nothing to say, everything to hear. Has it really been a year? At least half that, at any rate, as Mai threw herself into job after job after job...

"Circumstances could...certainly be a lot better." It isn't quite mirth in her tone - just that little acknowledgement that what she's just said is an understatement of criminal proportions. Silence echoes for a long moment after that, until finally Mai continues. "We haven't...it's been a while. You kind of deserved a chance to make a stunning entrance, but...I guess today wasn't it. And you're right, you don't have to wonder."

Silence. Stillness.

And then Mai reaches over, takes the sole Eri isn't working on along with a wipe, and starts scrubbing at it. "I am proud. Proud that you managed to get through things exams, to make it to school, to still be here...even in spite of everything else you've been doing."

Mai's gaze, like Eri's, is solidly locked on the sink; she turns the sole one way and another before digging in with a wipe-clad nail as if to scrape out the tomatoes with sheer grit. "Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty I'm disappointed or even horrified by...but I'm glad you're still going."

A pause. A deep breath, let out in a long sigh. "...I'm sorry. For your loss, to start."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

In a better world Mai telling her that circumstances could certainly be a lot better might have brought about a smile. Here in this one, it only causes the corners of her lips to tug. Like the muscles were just too fatigued to even try.

The scrubbing motion does slow though. She's not satisfied with the state of her soles, but they're getting to a state that's at least better than nothing. Mai takes the other and the two girls work at it. But then - she says something that...

Well she stops working at it.

She doesn't quite look at Mai. Instead her gaze is fixed on the sole, the only vision of Mai the bottom of the mirror. That indirect view out of her periphery.

Through her dirty spectacles... it's the first time she's actually /seen/ Mai Tokiha in some time. She doesn't answer though until after Mai Tokiha mentions her loss... and what she focuses in on is strange

"... I won't claim that I'm not surprised to hear you say that - that you're proud of me. Because I am... but at this point... it's meaningless to be proud at me for that."

Isn't she going to say something about Mami Tomoe? Changing her tack, she grasps a paper towel, and instead begins to dab it dry. The first one sops up so much fluid so quickly that she can't dry it - so does the second. But the third she gets to starts to actually make progress.

"You know how you grow up hearing about the things you have to look forward to when you're older? But at the same time - you're told they're poison. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Then you hear enough guys complain about their girlfriends and girls about their boyfriends that dating and marriage starts to sound like poison too..."

Tossing the third, she moves on to the fourth. "... a career too. My mother always used to complain about work - and I've seen enough of your shifts at the Linden Baum..."

There's this light shake of her head that shifts her bangs, "... what about kids? I'm not even sure if I can have them - and even if I could... nine months is a long time not to hunt. And let's say I could... well taking care of them after while living like I do? Sounds like another kind of poison to me..."

Turning the sole around, she starts wiping down the rubber part of it some. "...eventually everything I have look forward to after high school? Sounds like just adding more poison to my life. So what am I really here for now - other than to keep myself from being disowned and having to live on the streets like my senpai?"

Even now she can't look her way. "I'm happy to hear you say it... sure... but I shouldn't let you be proud of something so meaningless. After all - I'm not clinging to hope for a future like you'd want for me... I'm just delaying the inevitable."

And then after a pregnant pause in which she's still rubbing away at the soles of her damp shoes, "...And it's kind of you to offer your condolences. But I'm not sorry for my loss. I think it would be inappropriate for me to pretend like I'm mourning some great loss after what I did. After all. I cut her off so readily."

There's something so empty in the way she says it - but so matter of fact too. "Tomoe-san told me months ago this was going to end in one of two ways. Either she was going to kill me - or I was going to kill her. And that there was no alternative because there was no chance of either of us backing down. I chose to survive. I chose to make certain those in my care survived. It's as simple as that."

To regret that she took that life would be the same to her as saying that she wishes she had died - that everyone she was fighting alongside had died.

But far worse than that is... to regret survival... would be to make Mami Tomoe's death - the taking of her wish from her - it would become a meaningless act of violence.

And that she will not allow.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There's a lot of red to be rid of here, isn't there? These soles are probably forever tarnished, however hard the two of them might try to make them clean. While Eri's work comes to a halt, Mai keeps digging in, striving...even if it's pointless, even if she can't really make any progress.

She's working - but her gaze flicks up to the mirror when Eri calls the pride meaningless.

There's a frown crossing her face at the comment about poisons. Parts of it are true enough, parts bring a rather stern expression to Mai's face - but she doesn't interrupt. She just works, bit by bit, as Eri rants - though she looks to one side at the mention of Linden Baum.

That 'poison' burns deep.

Mai's work on the sole slows as Eri shifts to the subject of kids, of futures, of what there is to look forward to, and eventually she just shifts her stance to lean a little more heavily on the counter.

It's heavy. It's dismal. There was that vision, once, of a future holding everything Eri is wary of, and Mai finds her hands rubbing at each other, making sure her fingers are unadorned. Maybe there's nothing for Eri to look forward to.

But in the end, Mai turns to look at Eri properly. No reflection here, she returns to a direct gaze, as Eri speaks of a choise without regrets.

"Mami Tomoe really did that. I wish...I don't know. That I could be surprised she was still willing to go so far?" A sharp, mirthless laugh. "...that would be a lie. I told her I didn't have any illusions left after we fought. Maybe I just wish things hadn't come to this. But...they did."

Mai is quiet for a moment, but her gaze is unyielding. A long stare, as if trying to read...something in Eri's expression, in that matter-of-fact emptiness. "Maybe it was doomed to be you or her. Maybe this was how it had to be, and I don't blame you for choosing your survival at that tipping point. I just know you cared about her once, and I'm sorry you lost whatever it is you saw in her."

That gaze finally breaks, Mai looking up to the ceiling with a laugh. "Hell, I kind of miss her, and you know how I felt about her. Take that however you will."

She's abandoned work on the sole for the moment, turning her back to the mirror as she gazes up at the ceiling. "...so you're alive in the end. That means you still have a choice, a chance to find something to look forward to. Until then...maybe it's just going through the motions. Maybe it's paying homage to a dream you already threw away. Or maybe there's a purpose left. I don't know...but giving up means you'll never find out."

There's a long pause. A wistful look becomes a glower becomes shame, and Mai looks away from Eri entirely, turning back to the soiled sole. "...sorry. Again. For imposing my wishes on you, this time...I've just spent far too long making sure someone else has the chance to find out what he could do one day."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Had Eri been looking at that moment - she might have sworn she'd have been viewing Shizuru's hand. Though with far more motivation to claw off the adornment. She is unfortunately not. Her own memories of that experience are...

Well that is what nightmares are for.

But as Mai turns to look at her properly - Eri stops the drying motion again, and looks at Mai now out of the corner of her eye. There's just a light nod - even though the question is rhetorical. What... did she see in her?"

There were times when she was wretched and hypocritical - and flawed. Self-righteous and pathetic. They were flaws to an ideal of once upon a time. Flaws that made her real. Flaws that made her human.

Those things that might allow her to understand her.

What she lost that day was precious beyond reckoning. The feeling that there was someone that might understand her.

But - does it matter if there's someone that understands her if...

"What does it matter Mai? What does it matter how I felt - or what I saw... if she didn't choose me - but instead chose to destroy everything that I am?"

... they don't choose her.

"Everything that used to matter just feels so... meaningless." Taking another paper towel, she presses it down to the sole hard with her hand against the sink, as if to squeeze the fluid out of it, to wring it out. It's not a delicate motion. "That's so you... missing her. But you always did enjoy having someone who could work you up around. Someone to challenge you. Even if you didn't like the way she did things - you were glad someone like her existed - ne?"

Grinding the side of her hand against the towel and running it gradually along the length...

"That's what senpai says - that we should find something for the two of us to look forward to... even if we don't know what it is - to just... hope there's something we can find worthwhile."

Closing her eyes for a moment as Mai finally says that, she opens them and turns her way fully. "Look. Maybe I'm a little annoyed that you are - but it's not too much different from what I /would/ want... if I thought it were possible. In the end you just want what's best for me right? So as irritated as I am - I'm more happy that... you're still there rather than - wishing I was dead or something. Or if not that than just... wanting me to go away and treating me like I'm someone you were embarrassed you used to know. I guess that's how I thought this was going to go given the kind of influence I've been on Mikoto's life."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

"It..." Mai pinches the bridge of her nose, at the memory of Mami Tomoe, but there's a shaking in her shoulders that seems to be the hint of laughter. "...that's kind of it, yeah. She was a reminder, a...what I could have been. Maybe what I wanted to be, or couldn't be...someone who lived her life a way I refuse to. Someone who drove me to do better just to spite her. So I was kind of glad she existed. We were just similar enough to hate each other."

The laughter fades. Mai's shoulders slump in resignation, and she looks down at the floor. "Maybe that's why it matters. Because she's...she was the kind of girl who did what she thought was 'right' instead of what might have made her happy."

There's condemnation in Mai's tone, naturally. That and a healthy dose of resignation.

Back to working on the sole, trying to push her guilt into destroying those tomato stains, she scrubs furiously for a moment in place of an immediate answer. Another deep breath, another drawn-out sigh, and she reaches for the paper towels herself.

"You don't know what it is, you don't even think it's possible...but you're trying, anyway. Trying to make sure it's not for nothing. I hate what the life of a Puella Magi has done to my friend, but...whatever chance there is to find happiness in spite of the world, I'd rather you went for." She works the sole with deep strokes of the paper towel, trying to squeeze the water out - maybe a bit rougher than the shoe deserves, but she has to catch up somehow.

There's a smile returning to her face, however faint, however tenuous. "As for Mikoto...I'll admit, I was absolutely furious at you for a while there. Seeing her in hospital was..." Silence, as Mai just lets that sentence die the death it deserves. "...but through no fault of yours, she then wound up dragged into three more life-threatening situations within a week. So...you only get some of the blame. She was always going to get into fights regardless, and any attempt to the contrary is just me fighting a battle I can't win, ne?"

That little exasperated smile might have been a while coming, but it's back. "She's doing better, by the way. I've been trying to help her recover."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

As Eri listens - it's not too different from what she used to think. Looking up to her. Measuring herself up to her - and finding herself lacking. And then the first time she was rejected - trying to prove her wrong. A little out of spite - but for other reasons too.

There's the lightest kind of sigh. "Maybe the two of you would have done better then the two of us managed. We didn't even make it to our first date." Is she teasing - while being sad and nostalgically wistful? Perhaps.

"It's what we all want isn't it? There to be something better for the people we love - for them to be happy." It's asked a sort of rhetorical question. Because of course the answer is yes.

But that leads into Mikoto... "Furious huh? Well you had every right to be I guess ... I wish I hadn't left her there. I wish... it doesn't matter. She refused me healing her so I had no choice. I'm glad she's doing better now after all that... but... yeah... that's... the way she is..."

Something about her posture changes, like something tenses as she talks about her nature. "I can't get her to stop. When I offered her a choice... it's because I wanted her to have a choice. It wasn't... until after..."

Inhaling through her nostrils, she doesn't finish that thought. "If I tell her to stop it's as good as telling her she's worthless. She can't understand it in any other way. I want her to have a better life than this Mai. A better life than what's left for me."

Then suddenly she starts wringing the sole out with something akin to fury, her teeth actually grinding within her mouth. "As things stand... that's impossible."

She could tell her more. She could tell her why. She could tell her what she /suspects/ and what she /knows/.

But she can't. For the same reasons she couldn't tell Mikoto why Mai is the way she is. She can't tell Mai why Mikoto is how she is.

Besides breaking her confidence - wouldn't it make things worse to confront these things now?

"But it's okay... I'll find a way. It'll only stay impossible if the two of us give up on her."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Mood Music: Again (AmaLee cover) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-WRihrquec

There are regrets, of course. Chances come and gone. But what choice is there now, but to just keep moving on?

"Eri Shimanouchi. I'll just say this, to be as blunt and cynical as I can get away with. In spite of everything, you're fully up to date on dates I've been on." Teasing is answered with teasing, that echo of what once was. Once that wheezing laugh is done with, anyway.

Mikoto is what's important to Mai, today, and the lack of sleep backs that up. "We really are a walking disaster. All I want to do is make sure the people I care about are safe...Mikoto just wants to keep me safe right back. But..." There's more that isn't said. More that can't be said.

More that won't be said.

It's another stone on the monument of Wrongness that seems to lurk near Mikoto, but as ever Mai's used to trying to ignore it. Instead, she does a bit of wringing herself, holding the sole up to the light. Not truly clean - some of those stains might be indelible - but it's better. Just a little bit better.

"Finding a better life for her?...I'll drink to that. I don't know what it is for her, or you, or...but there's something. There's sure to be." A deep breath, straightening up-

And with an awkward shuffle to the side, leans close enough to Eri to put an arm around her. Half a hug after half a year, Mai murmurs quietly. "...good luck. I'd rather you found a way that involved somewhat less murder, but...stay safe, okay? Not just for Mikoto's sake, but for yours."

Maybe the encouragement will just be painful.

Maybe Mai doesn't care.

If this winds up being the last chance to say it...then she'll say it.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There's this annoyed arch of her brow at the teasing that involves a pun too. "/Really/?" She's not asking if she's /really/ up to date, she's asking /Really Mai/?


Eri doesn't say anything during this portion. It gets complicated and she knows it. It's never just protecting the people she loves. There's always something else thrown into the mix.

Mai would love to protect her - but can she really justify it if Eri is murdering people to survive?

Eri would love for Mai to come protect her - but what if it crushed her emotionally little by little to do so? Some bitterness still stabs deep at Mai's inaction but... at least she's safe.

And that's all she ever wanted.

"... Maybe I'll join you if you do." Ever since her first experience with drinking - she's mostly steered clear but...

But then Mai hugs her from the side - and it's a little unexpected. Right now especially. But her hand drops what she's doing. And after this moment of tenseness, she just relaxes into that hug and let's herself have this moment of affection after so long of not having any from the girl she considers to be as close to a big sister as she has.

"If it's any consolation..."

It's a whisper thin murmur.

"...I'd want the same thing."

A moment later she adds, "But the world is cruel Mai-chan. And..."

At this point there's just this light note of vulnerability that seems almost heart-breakingly sad.

"...I don't know what else to do. If I stop - I die. And then I'm no good to anyone."

Unlacing herself from the hug, she grasps at her shoes, and delicately inserts the soles. Placing her feet in them experimentally - there's the lightest liquid squish all the same. It'll have to just be good enough. "Thanks and... Mai..." Taking a few steps towards the door, she places her hand against it.

...try to be less hard on yourself every now and then... not everything is your fault... not even most things are..."

Is she still teasing even now? Perhaps a little.

"... everything just gets all twisted around in this crazy mixed up world we live in."

A world where a good people like Mai Tokiha and Mikoto Minagi become twisted up as children.

Mikoto Minagi training to be a killer from when she should have been in pre-school. Mai Tokiha taking on the guilt of a dead mother and a sickly brother from a young age.

She can't apply the same thing to herself though - see herself in the same way. She had every advantage to becoming a good kid.

And instead she chose to be a killer.

She slips through the door without any further fanfare - and is gone.