2018-06-26 - LOTUS INCEPTION: Mai Tokiha

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Title: LOTUS INCEPTION: Mai Tokiha

Mai keeps living her life, mundane and melancholy as ever, until strange events at a gala force her to rethink things. A world with magic or a world without guilt...one of them has to be a fantastical dream.


Mai Tokiha, Mikoto Minagi


Ueno - Tokyo National Museum / Tokiha Residence

OOC - IC Date:

06-26-2018 - April 28th, 2015....in theory.

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

It's a nice evening. It's been a rather nice April overall, really. Any rainfall seems to have been relegated to overnight, where it doesn't trouble anyone's day - the weather's warming up, the flowers are blooming...it's nice.

Everything's nice.

And yet...and yet, Mai sits on a park bench, toying with an envelope. It's a very nice envelope, to its credit - a hint of rose-scented perfume in the paper, elaborate calligraphy denoting the recipient, gold embossing framing the whole thing...and that's to say nothing of the invitation within. It's high society on a single card, a ticket to glamour ready for the taking.

The girl sitting on the bench nearly took it. She dressed up a bit, with ample help from an encouraging mother. Somewhere they managed to come up with a rather nice yellow dress and matching sole, and Mai spent a good hour in preparations before heading out. It was all fine - last night was the big family karaoke outing, after all, so her schedule was free - and getting to the museum district wasn't any trouble. And yet, and yet...

Evening is just starting to fall, and the gala in the Tokyo National Museum is just getting underway. There's a grand banner, proclaiming the generous donations of the Fujino family, and it seems to be a celebration of...well, wealth, if nothing else. Even now, latecomers trickle in, garbed in the most glamorous of dresses and dashing of suits. From the sound, it's an event to behold...

But Mai Tokiha isn't that important, is she?

"...sorry, Mikoto-chan. Guess I couldn't make it after all." She looks at the envelope before her one more time, closes her eyes, and tucks it into her purse. No move to move from that park bench, just....

A place for a teenager to sit and sulk, since there's no real place for her inside.

There's a trill from nearby, wingbeats echoing in the air as a bird flies in to land on the back of the bench beside Mai. The trill quickly shifts to a soft croon when Mai doesn't immediately respond, more and more insistent until finally she looks up. "Hey, Kags. Got out of your cage again, huh? Are you ever independent..."

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

The party sounds like it's a lot of fun, from far away.

Well - fun in a decadent, rich sort of way. Fun in the sort of way it would've been funny to rib Mikoto about, in one of her complicated society dresses. And Mikoto, for all her appearances, would've joined right in. She's elegant, but she's not stuck-up.

But it would be a pain to get involved in a high society party like that, huh..?

It's too bad the party can't come to her.

BGM CHANGE: Yuki Kajiura - Oharahetta! - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-vTdtFHzEY

There's an uproarous noise, from the gala. A plume of smoke arises, just visible from the bench. The gasps of shock and disbelief are muted, this far away, but Mai might almost swear she could hear some debutante shriek, "Good heavens-!!"

It must have been a very loud shriek, to hear it this far away.

Getting louder and louder is the sound of things crashing, as something rampages towards her at a breakneck pace -

- there's a dark, shadowy flash, trailing red smoke from its mouth -

- and it tears past her to dive into the fountain next to the bench, with a terrible SPLASH.

Mai's dress might be ruined.

Certainly ruined: the dress of Mikoto Minagi, elegant and responsible socialite, who is currently sucking up water from the fountain like a thirsty cat. It was a complicated blue and gold affair, /real/ flecks of gold in a shawl to ward away the cold, and so many folds which her arms have since gotten firmly tangled in. There's a tear in the long skirts, as if she'd gotten caught on something and pulled away in a hurry.

In the distance, the gala is in shambles as the debutantes shout and panic over something which has clearly caught on fire.

Oh. Well.

This is exciting!

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

The bird by her side - her oldest companion who isn't related by blood - trills a cheerful little ditty by Mai's side. She laughs, in spite of her mood, before letting out a sigh. "You really are a weird bird, Kags, just like Mikoto says. ...a great bird, but a weird one all the same. Maybe-"

Mai Tokiha, a normal girl who has never had to deal with anything stranger than a slightly bizarre cockatiel, is abruptly introduced to the kind of Ohtori Weirdness that was exiled from this world. She whirls on the spot, jaw dropping at the sight of the museum shifting from fancy to fire in an instant. For a long moment, all she can do is stare as the shrieks and crashes escalate. She's never had to deal with anything like this, right? Being frozen in shock is appropriate, right?

(Why does her heart want to just sigh in exasperation?)

A shadow emerges, trailing smoke and flame and menace, and only at the last second does her mind seem to catch on to the fact that she might want to move-

And then there's water.

Dripping wet, Mai turns slowly to the fountain to see what's there. If anything, her face goes even more slack at the realization of who it is that emerged as a mysterious demon of panic. She can tell just enough to know that the ruination before her was once an incredibly elaborate dress, one she could have needled her friend about, but-

"How is...this...Mikoto?! What..." Mai looks to the museum which is now on Actual Fire, stammering out loud. "What-" Back to Mikoto, who has abandoned her usual social graces to be more beast than human. "What-"

Overhead, on a branch, 'Kags' attempts to sum up the situation, with a tone copied from some younger Juuban student. "Ehhhhhhhh~?!"

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

There's good news, from the direction the party: they seem to be getting the fire under control, now the initial panic has passed.

The initial panic, incidentally, passed right over to Mai Tokiha.

Mikoto raises her head, breathing out a puff of relieved air now that everything is not on fire. (Metaphorically. Literally, there's still a bit of smoke coming from the gala. Just - you know - less smoke. The smoke situation is definitely getting better now - wait - now /Mikoto's/ not there?!)

It's then that Mai's confused words reach her, and Mikoto looks over, blinking those big golden eyes. "Mai..?"

Her face lights up, and she springs forward - and if Mai doesn't think fast, she's going to leap /right into Mai's arms./ Her ascent is a little complicated by being all tangled up in a dress, but she manages. "Mai!"

... did she have too much to drink? Is that what's going on here? It seems unlikely - Mikoto's always been so responsible at parties - but there's no other explanation for how strangely she's acting.


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

Mikoto Minagi. A year younger than Mai, but honestly worlds more self-assured and confident. An elegant socialite who hasn't made a single enemy, who can calm any tense situation, who is a picture of grace and good advice Mai can only dream of matching.

Mai openly stares at the Mikoto-shaped wild animal in front of her, utter bafflement written on her face. It's strange, frankly - even when they first met, Mai seemed more ready to accept the weirdness than this - wasn't so shocked at a trained warrior with a hand to her throat as she is now.

(There's a furious heartbeat, where something in Mai hits irritation instead of shock at the situation - did this really have to happen again?!)


"Miko- oof!" She wasn't prepared at all - it's like the idea of Mikoto pouncing at her hadn't even crossed her mind. Part of her doesn't even try to dodge - but she also doesn't brace at all, and the force bowls her over in one hit. The two skid in the dirt, and if the water weren't terrible enough to Mai's dress this treatment certainly isn't helping.

"Ow, ow...Mikoto?! What in the world are you..." There's a hint of a familiar stern exasperation in her voice - one that seems to catch Mai herself by surprise, and she covers her mouth with one hand. "...what's happening here?!"

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

Up she goes - aaand down they go. Mikoto looks /confused/ by the fact that they're on the ground now, for some strange reason.

And then recognition flashes over her face, because it's awfully familiar, isn't it?

There's a moment - one moment - when she considers whether it might help Mai to remember, but Mikoto can't bring herself to threaten Mai. She picks herself up and sits to the side of Mai instead, offers her a hand to sit up.

And those golden eyes examine her with consideration which seems entirely too wild for the debutante Mikoto Minagi.

"... Mai's real, right?" Was there something in the punch?! The question is intent and entirely serious. "Doesn't look like Mai's world, but..."

Mikoto looks down at her dress.

Looks up at the girl in front of her.

"Maaaiii!" Mikoto wails, plaintively. "Why this?! Can't fight in this!" She looks /so upset/ about it, but a moment later, she pauses. "... wait, it's Mai's world, so... no fighting, right?"

(Come to think of it, there's a black case across one shoulder. It's an awfully strange fashion choice.)

There was definitely something in that punch.

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

Falling to the ground is a normal reaction to being tackled, right!?

Mikoto's the first to get up, and Mai hesitates before taking that hand up. She's still utterly lost, still trying to catch up on everything that's going on. It's utterly alien to her, right? Mikoto going from her usual self to this kind of usual wild shenanigans..

Her instincts keep being weird, and it's getting kind of alarming.

Not as alarming as Mikoto's question, which is enough to make her take a step back. "Real? 'My' world? Mikoto-chan, what are you talking about, why did you leave the gala like that?! I don't..." Mai should feel relieved that Mikoto's finally recognized the fact that she's wearing what used to be a fancy dress, though the fact that she's noticing is kind of weird. That's just her normal...

Mai can only stare at Mikoto, starting to suspect the drinks at the party might have been more potent than they should have been. For a moment, her eyes are drawn to that strange black case, then to the on-fire gala...from which people are starting to emerge in a daze. From here, Mai can't hear what they're saying...

...but the odds of them looking for Mai are low, and there's only one other person they might be looking for. Abruptly, instinctively, she takes Mikoto's hand - and bolts. "No...fighting. Come on, we need to get you out of...whatever this is."

The paths aren't that well-lit back to the outskirts, back to the roads, but...maybe that's for the best. As Mai runs, her friend in tow, she rants to herself...because it's still Mai. "How did you even start a fight, Mikoto? Weren't you just bragging the other day about not having a single enemy?! And how crazy is it that I'm helping you for...once..."

The trail they're on is quiet, as Mai slowly comes to a halt. She lets go of Mikoto's hand, walks over to a tree, and rests her forehead against it. "...what even is going on?"

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

Mikoto tilts her head at the honourific, and makes a wondering noise in the back of her throat.

That's pretty weird. A world where Mai calls her -chan.

And then she groans, running a hand through wet hair to push her braids out of her face. "Right, Mai doesn't know..." Her face scrunches up in frustration, and she puffs a sigh through her teeth. "... got excited."

The words are clipped and there are barely enough of them to communicate what she's getting across - it's nothing like what Mikoto Minagi ought to sound like.

Except she's most certainly here, most certainly talking in just that way.

A questioning noise as Mai takes her hand - and Mikoto finds herself running with her. It's not difficult for her to keep up, at least. "Wasn't fighting!" Mikoto protests. "Just, had food on plate, too spicy. Didn't know it'd be spicy! Guess I mighta knocked over candles, jumping on table... but it was quickest way out!"

Jumping on the table because the food didn't agree with her? What sort of punch would make someone do that?!

But - there's something in Mai's rant that Mikoto doesn't respond to initially at all.

Two things.

Mikoto doesn't have any enemies...

... and Mikoto's normally the one who helps Mai.

It hurts too much to just try and snap out a response to something like that.

They slow, they stop. Mikoto glances aside, humming uncertainty through thin lips. "Mai..." And for a moment it's just her name, concerned and apologetic. "I'm... I'm no good at this, Mai. Eri'd be better, but... I found Mai instead. So..."

Mikoto shakes her head. "Mai, ever dreamed? And it feels really, really real? And, things are different, but feel like they've always been like that?" She frowns, lips tugging back in a grimace. "And it doesn't feel like a lie at all?"

"I mean..." Mikoto makes another uncertain noise, a puff of frustrated air. "... what's Mai think I am?" That seems like the most logical place to start. Mikoto knows Mikoto, after all. And she knows what Mikoto is not.

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

Mikoto shouldn't sound like this.

Mikoto sounding like this is comforting and familiar.

It's dissonant, it's jarring, it's the kind of thing that should make Mai wake up and take notice that something's wrong.

At least Mikoto can keep up at a run. If her dress had been more intact, then that might not be the case...but here they are, and Mai has an explanation. It's an explanation that seems totally out of character for Mikoto, and yet...

(And yet.)

There's that inner sigh welling up, that feeling of 'not again' that shouldn't be there and yet here it is.

Mai's not looking at Mikoto - her eyes are downcast to say the least, her forehead pressed against that tree. She starts to retort, audibly gulps, and...tenses up. There are clouds on the horizon, and the air's getting a little colder - maybe it's due to rain tonight, after all.

"A dream that felt too real..." The wind rustles the trees, and with her eyes closed, Mai can just barely remember something waking her up in a panic not so long ago. "...a nightmare, maybe. Something that can't be real, can't fit with how I know things are...and yet..."

Her fingers clutch at the tree's bark. Is the impossible dream the one where magic exists? Or...

"Who are...you?" That finally gets Mai to look away from her sulk - though she looks a great deal more tired, more wary, all of a sudden. "...you're one of my best friends, you and Eri. Someone who's grown up for years learning how to do great things, to stand elegant no matter..." She trails off. The wind's strong, and everything's weird, and the truth slips out before she can hold it back.

"Someone who can handle herself in everything, who doesn't need me dragging her down."

There's a quiet croon, like a sad whale, carried on the wind...but from where?

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

A nightmare.

Maybe that's what Mikoto is, barging into Mai's dream world like this.

But it's what she has to be, right?

Mai describes someone elegant, someone destined for greatness, someone who can handle herself. And perhaps she's wary, but Mikoto just looks /sad./ She steps forward - slowly, hands where Mai can see them.

She tugs on the hem of Mai's dress, in an all-too familiar motion.

"Mai, I'm no good at handling this. And I'm not elegant. Never been. And Mai's never dragged me down - Mai, you're the strongest of all of us." 'Us.' Mikoto is about to move on before she pauses, realises Mai doesn't know what she's talking about at all - and for once she explains. "Us HiME. Magical girls." A world full of magic...

Mikoto shakes her head. "... but one thing's right! Me and Eri are Mai's friends! That's why we came to find Mai. Mai," Mikoto glances away, frowning. "I'm... not really good at helping. I always mess it up. It's Mai who's always looking out for me. Maybe that's why here I don't need help..."

It hurts to think that she's causing Mai so many problems.

"... but Mai, it's not real!" Mikoto looks up at her, desperation in those big golden eyes. "I need Mai!"

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

To this Mai, Mikoto's able to handle anything. And yet here she is, no good at handling this.

Elegant. Which she's never been.

The illusion is cracking around her - memories straining against the dream-world's logic, reminding her of how things are meant to be. Memories of magic, of friends, of responsibility - memories of the life she truly has, outside the dream. A life where her actions matter. One push, one burst of will, and she could break out-

But there's an older memory with the rest, and Mai steps back to collide with the tree behind her. "I - you can't! You can't need me, you can't be counting on me, Mikoto!" Her face is wide-eyed, and there's a fear there.

She reaches across herself, nails digging into her own arm, and the fear might not be of what stands before her. "You can't need my help, you can't, because if you do...if people are counting on me..." Mai gulps, gaze locking with Mikoto's as she takes another step back. "That means that the dream is the world where I didn't...."

Eyes brimming with tears, face pale, Mai starts to reach out to Mikoto - and then like a spooked cat, she bolts down the trail. She's in a dress, she's in heels, but she's running - and somehow, she seems to be leaving the woods quickly. Faster than should be possible. One could maybe pursue, but...

...but for the dragon's cry, echoing through the woods, promising wrath upon the defiant. Another screech...and Kags the cockatiel perches upon a branch, the weird bird's gaze now meeting that of the dark-haired girl. A guardian to bar the way, it seems...


Home. She needs to go home, because this is life and she can go home and it's going to be fine. Not thinking about how quickly she got from Ueno to her house, Mai tests the doorknob - and sighs as it permits her passage. Someone must be home, right?

Someone able to help a teary-eyed teenage girl in a dirty wet dress?

She's here, right?

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

Alarm crosses Mikoto's face, at the panic of Mai Tokiha. "Mai!" She reaches out in turn -

- only for Mai to spook and run away. And naturally Mikoto sets to following, except there's a /bird/ there, screeching and distracting and keeping her occupied for just a little too long.

Just a little too long to catch up...


The Tokiha home has always been a nice, relaxed sort of place, when its inhabitants aren't up to mischief. Because Takumi is a spritely sort of lad, and his father shares his sense of humour. It's only natural, really, the amount of time they spend on Takumi's sports together.

And then there's their mother, ever the responsible one -

- who's at the kitchen, right now, washing up some dishes. She leans out to look at the entryway when she hears the door unlock, only to gasp in shock as she sees her daughter, wet and beraggled.

"Mai-chan! My goodness - you look like something the cat dragged in!" She doesn't bother washing her hands as she rushes out to meet her, and her hands are still a little sudsy from the sink. Those bubbles are quickly popped as she hugs her daughter, dampness and all.

She leans back, concern on her face. "What happened, sweetie?"

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Welcome Home (Undertale Remix) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IotSCSLOKnc

Mai is home. She looks...she feels like something the cat dragged in, but her mother is here, and it's all fine, and she's home. Takumi and her father must be out somewhere, that would make sense...but she has her mother again. That's what matters, that's what she needs, that's what she has.

She clings, dampness and all, burying her dampened face in her mother's shoulder, and tries to ignore the pang in her heart.

She really, really tries.

"Mom...." There's a sniffle, muffled by her mother's shirt, and she cringes at what that's going to do to the laundry. "...the gala was a mess. Before I could..." Sniff. "...I got cold feet about going in, and then things got weird, and there was a fire, and the fountain, and Mikoto started acting funny...it's all a mess."

She thinks of Mikoto's words again, starts to ask something else - but she can't. Because if she's needed, then she doesn't have anyone she depends on, which means...

Mai finally releases the hug, wiping at her face with the back of her hand. "...I just needed to come home after all that. Just...needed..." She trails off. Is it embarrassing, to be a teenager still relying on her mother? When is she supposed to stop?

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

Of course Mai's mother is here. Why wouldn't she be?

That's how it's always been, after all. Mai's mother makes sure everyone else is grounded. She's always been the centering force of the family - making sure Takumi eats breakfast before running off to morning sports, making sure Mai's father doesn't work too much overtime.

Making sure Mai actually does her homework...

"Hey - hey, honey, it's okay," her mother shushes her, a hand in that damp hair. It's more red than hers; Takumi's always been the one to more take after her. "It sounds like it's a good thing you didn't go in. That could have been really dangerous!"

She smiles, lines on a face which has grown older with the years. "I'm glad you came home safe, Mai-chan. Come on, let's get you cleaned up and we can get you some hot chocolate. Sound good?"

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

Mai is wet and bedraggled and kind of scared and frankly right now she needs her mother. She starts, a bit, at the touch to her hair, and freezes in place from what absolutely must be the cold and damp. "...yeah. Yeah. At least I only had to take care of myself..."

No one to watch out for. Mikoto's fine by herself. ...whatever that weird gala had her saying afterwards. It's fine, it's fine, it's fine...

"...that sounds really good, Mom."

In short order, she's dried off her hair, changed out of a sadly ruined dress, and is seated at the table in her housecoat and pyjamas. Upstairs, the tub is slowly filling...but it might be a while, since dishes were just being done. For now, she has her hands around the mug of hot chocolate, and stares into what lies within.

After a long moment, she lets out a sight. "...I just feel like I screwed up. I just...don't know what I'm supposed to do, and I don't know why it's so hard to figure it out." She looks up to her mother's face, something almost like pleading in her gaze. "Mikoto has it together, Eri has it together, that bacon-obsessed cook at the diner has it together...and I don't. I don't even know where to start with something like dating. Why..."

Another sigh, and she takes a sip from her cocoa. Her eyes go wide at the first taste - it's delicious, in the sense of something she hasn't had in years...has it been that long since she sat down like this?

And why was she expecting it to be coffee? She's never touched the stuff...outside a bad dream, anyway.

Suspicions echo, but she can still try to bury them. She's home, right? Home at last. Another sip of delicious cocoa, and a sigh of relief. "...how did you figure it out, Mom? How did you wind up getting together with Dad? The last time I asked, you said it'd have to wait until I was older..."

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

"Mai-chan, sweetie, you're only seventeen, that's way too young to be taking care of everyone." Her mother smiles, warm. "You got home safe. You did good."

There are always nice warm pyjamas available. Her mother makes sure that they're always laundered and ready for such trying nights as these.

And there's hot chocolate - it must be hot chocolate, because really, the only person who drinks coffee in this household is their father, right? No one else has to hurry along with too much caffeine. Besides, it's a bitter drink. Mai's mother always jokes to her father that it's the sort of thing bitter people drink.

(There are plenty of jokes, in the Tokiha household. Everyone's very comfortable with each other, because there's nothing lurking under the floorboards here. No heart pressing against the wooden slats, tha-thump-tha-thump as a monitor slows and...)

Mai's mother sits with her at the table, a mug of hot chocolate of her own in front of her. It's important to join one's daughter in rituals like these, after all. She nods, and listens carefully. "Mai-chan, why do you think you have to have it all together? Goodness - even I didn't have it together at your age. I was a mess! I all but fell into your father because I was late. Even had the toast in my mouth."

This story is...

"It was a total misadventure, you know. At first he thought I was a total pain, and I thought he was an overambitious know-it-all. But, you know... people change each other, Mai. Oh, and time. People and time! I learned how to take a little responsibility, he learned how to get out of his shell..."

... it's kind of familiar...

Mai's mother smirks, sipping at her cocoa. "And it turned out I was /so/ much better at being responsible than he was. Imagine the look on his face when I started handling finances and we actually started saving money."

... like something she's seen on television.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Heartache - Jazz Cover - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcW6vOsl0rY

So many people have their lives together. So many big dreams, starting in school clubs, showing up in university plans, showing in ambitions...and Mai? Mai has just lived this live relishing in having time to waste.

Tonight's pyjamas are dark purple with little white birds at the hems. There's always warm pyjamas for nights like these...even though things are generally good and there's no need for that. It's...it's...

Is that something to dwell on? It's a comforting home life. Who can understand the mysteries of motherhood? A teenage girl certainly can't be expected to. A six-year-old girl can't be expected to.

She can just be in awe, right?

"I'm seventeen years old - I've got to start thinking about university next year! Start thinking about where my life is going, and I'm just...wasting time." She protests, hand on the table, about to stand - but she pauses, because after all this time she's finally getting an answer.

...it's an answer, certainly. There's little gems of truth in there, maybe. Aspects Mai can imagine, from what she knows of her parents. Could she picture her father being an ambitious know-it-all? Sure, that would explain the habit of working too late. Picturing her mother as the more responsible one...that's something that easily fits. There's a smile on Mai's face, listening to this.

"...that's a great story, Mom. Everything I could have dreamed it would be - you never told me before, after all."

She's smiling.

"...I guess that's why I won't get to know the truth."

Even though her heart is breaking.

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

Everyone else has ambitions, and here is Mai's mother, encouraging her to take it easy.

Even though she's seventeen years old.

Even though...

Mai's mother sighs, looking down at her cocoa. "Sorry, Mai-chan. It's the best I could do." What kind of answer is that, to a factual story? "But, sweetie... this is your home. I really am glad you came back."

She smiles, too.

She was always good at smiling.

Mai had to pick that habit up somewhere, after all.

"You don't have to worry about a thing. I'm your mother. I'll take care of you." Take care of -

She reaches a hand across the table. "... so just forget about it, okay? Girls like you should be worrying about boys, not... this. You know, that cook is pretty cute!" That is the rumour, after all.

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

She's a girl of seventeen, setting across from her mother, holding a cup of cocoa. Mai's grip on her mug tightens, and she inhales sharply...then lets out a long, slow breath. "...it's okay. Thanks for trying."

The words were thankful, but the tone was more of a confession, almost. Mai closes her eyes, sips from the cocoa, but when she sets down the mug this time her smile is gone. She learned from her mother as best she could, but...

...that was a decade ago.

"...I missed it. I missed this, this...happiness. This welcome. Being able to come home, and know that you're here, making everything okay..." Mai opens her eyes, and there are tears in them. "...but I can't, can I? I can't come home any more, because..."

She lets go of the mug, before her trembling hand breaks it.

"Because you're gone, and it's my damn fault."

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

Her mother tries to bring things back to normal. She tries appealing to Mai's place in their home - she tries telling her everything will be okay - she tries redirecting to normal teenage interests.

But nothing works.

Thanks for trying, Mai says, and the thing with her mother's face stretched over it like a grotesque mask looks away, eyes veiled in sadness.

(She's such a sublime copy of the original. Perfectly lossy, as the years chip away at the definition of her edges, smooth over her unpleasant traits, re-arrange her into the ideal of the perfect mother. Her hair is never damp, has she noticed? Somehow she's never seen just out of the bath, or running in out of the rain...)

Mai's mother takes a breath, and pushes her cup of hot chocolate away. Suddenly, she doesn't have an appetite. "... I missed it, too, Mai-chan. I wanted to stay with you, so badly. But Mai-chan, a mother only has one choice. Between her wellbeing or her child's life -" - and what a familiar word that might seem, to someone remembering - "- a mother will choose her child, every time. She must. Her child is the most important thing in the world, Mai-chan... please understand."

Her child is the most important thing in the world. /Takumi/ is the most important thing in the world.

"I'd have done the same for you," she offers, a moment later, and yet the wound has already been cut.

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

It's been a long, long time - a static photo is all Mai's seen of her mother in over a decade, and a six-year-old's memory is precious little to go on. The woman before her...it fits in that fuzzy worn gap in her life so well that everything hurts all the more.

Mai could make it work. Ignore the parts that aren't right or missing, and just...stay in this life. She wants to - want it so badly -

But when was the last time her wants got to matter?

At that plea, there's a sob. The sniffles from earlier are returning, and Mai buries her face against the table to hide her shame. The offer, a moment later, gets another sob - a hiccup - a response, buried in her housecoat-clad arms. "...don't you think I know that, Mom?"

She lifts her face, wet with tears, and hiccups again. "That's...that's one of the last things I learned from you. One of the things that's probably going to get me killed again! I'm either going to go out in another act of heroism like you, or I'm going to work myself to death like Dad did!" She sniffles, wipes at her face with her sleeve, pulls the housecoat tighter around herself.

"You never got the chance to tell me I was as important as Takumi, all because a stupid little girl couldn't do what she was told." There's a hint of ice in her voice now, self-recrimination mixed with accusation. "All I got was...two horrible lessons in a row about protecting what's important, and that's what I've got to look forward to. That's the future I've got, Mom."

She doesn't dare touch her cocoa, now. It belongs to happier days.

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

"I wish you wouldn't."

A memory from over a decade ago is something that's hard to go on, sometimes.

But Mai surely remembers how much her mother wanted them to stay safe.

It killed her, after all.

"I wish... you didn't have to work so hard. I wish you didn't feel like you had to burn yourself at both ends, like some," she gestures, grimacing, "/stupid/ candle..." That's the sort of swearing someone expects at six years old, huh?

The chair scrapes back - she stands. "I'm your mother. I should have done something. I failed the both of you, Mai-chan. I put too much responsibility on you... you were /six./ But I'm a little selfish, you know, Mai-chan? I wanted you to learn how to be a responsible person, just like me."

She smiles, and it's daggers on a face too old for someone who died. "At least... that's the best guess, huh?"

Mai's mother moves around the table - she fully means to envelop Mai in a hug. The sort which has been taken from her, from the both of them. It would be nice, wouldn't it? It would be nice if she said, "... I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault." And she does.

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

One of the last things Mai can remember of her mother was a hand on her cheek, gently imploring before falling away. It would have been so easy for this dream to have copied that moment - a moment she's dreamed of too many times to count. But...

There's kindness here that Mai never let herself imagine, that makes this all so much more painful.

Mai's shoulders hitch, as her mother's voice says the words she longed to hear for so very very long, and it's through a sob that she replies. "I wish you'd told me that, instead of just telling me to take care of Takumi. You screwed up, screwed me up, and I..."

She turns, and buries her face in the shoulder of this stolen hug, and sobs. "I hate you for it. For dying, for leaving us all behind broken, for damning your daughter with your selfishness."

She clings even tighter, holds on to this long-lost anchor. "...and I still love you, because you were trying to do your best for us, and I still want to live up to the example you left behind..."

Finally, she lets go. Looks up at her mother's face, however false or true it might be, and drags a smile through her tears. "...I miss you. I still miss you, I miss all the moments we never got to have, and...I'm sorry too." She draws a shuddering breath, and closes her eyes.

"Goodbye, Mom."

The next feet to step through the home's threshold might yet find Mai Tokiha, still seated at that table, head buried in her arms. No more pyjamas, no more housecoat, only a well-worn Ohtori school uniform. The mug of cocoa on the table stands, empty, cold.

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

"Yeah," her mother agrees, and even though she's smiling Mai can /hear/ how tight her throat is. She strokes Mai's hair, leaning in - a pillar of strength lost forever. "I really did screw up, didn't I?"

She's there; she listens. "I love you too, Mai-chan..."

She's not real. "I loved you so much."

The thing with her voice and her face and her hands and her skin and her warmth smiles, through tears. "Goodbye, sweetie."

The hug goes on as long as Mai needs it to.

And when she needs her gone...



"... stop it! I've gotta help Mai!" Mikoto swats at a bird which swoops and pecks and is, in general, the most annoying thing on the planet.

If only it would let up, maybe she'd have better luck searching for Mai, but it's relentless. At least until it /stops,/ and settles on her shoulder. Something's made it change its mind... was it something Mikoto said?

"Oughta eat you," Mikoto grumbles, darkly, glaring at it. She looks out at the Shitamachi houses - they all look the same, to her. "Which one's Mai's?"

The bird trills a whale-song, and picks itself up again, fluttering forwards. Mikoto shrugs, and follows it. It's the best lead she has.


The door's unlocked.

Mikoto always worries when doors are unlocked. A house is a girl's best defence. To leave it unlocked invites enemy action.

... but then, this is a world without enemies.


It was, until she came along.

There's a stab of guilt she swallows down, as Mikoto looks through the door - a bird fluttering by in front of her. "Mai?" Mikoto pads in, not bothering to take off her shoes for once. The smell of forlorn, forgotten cocoa leads her to the kitchen, and to the girl slumped there.

Mikoto goes to her, and doesn't even hesitate as she puts a hand on her shoulder. "Mai..." The word is worried, kind, and caring.

Maybe some parts of the dream weren't so different to real life.

Mikoto looks to the cold cocoa, back to Mai. "It hurt for me too, Mai." Realisation dawns on her, and she hisses a breath through grit teeth. "... think it hurts for everyone."

She didn't even ask Eri if...

She shakes her head. She can at least try to fix that now. "Mai... gonna be okay?"

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> It's Raining Somewhere Else - Undertale Jazz Cover - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ7zp_zyQHA

The bird is loyal, if nothing else. Annoying and weird, yes, but loyal - it flutters over to a chair that has held no living being in some time, perching on the back, and crooning its strange whale-song.

What a weird bird.

Mai, for her part, doesn't even flinch as the door opens, as shoes pad rudely on the floor. She's very still, even when Mikoto's caring hand finds a home on her shoulder. For a moment, there might be a hint of worry that something terrible has happened - but then Mai breathes deeply, shifting beneath that hand.

Slowly, one hand moves to grip Mikoto's, just...needing the comfort for a minute. A minute that she doesn't answer in, a minute wherein the pitter-patter of rain begins outside.

Finally, though, she takes a breath. As the sound of rain starts up in earnest, Mai slowly straightens up, and wipes at her face with her sleeve before turning to Mikoto. There's no false grin of reassurance, no innocent puzzlement - Mai Tokiha looks tired, worn down.

In this, at least she's back to normal.

There's a sound that might have been a chuckle before it was brutally murdered, and a sad smile finds its way to life. "...thanks for not asking if I am okay, Mikoto. I'll..."

She hesitates.

"...we'll see, I suppose. We'll see. And I'm sorry for running off like that, for leaving you behind...I shouldn't have done that." There's a lesson, recently spoken, that her heart aches over - but before that, there's a wrong to right.

At least she can still right this particular wrong.

"...thanks for coming to find me, Mikoto. I...needed to deal with that hurt. But now...now I think it's time to leave all this behind." The house feels empty, now - cold, lifeless, buried in the past. As the rain falls, there seems to be a shadow falling over it - a great tree, just outside, with a rent in its trunk like a rift to somewhere else.

There's nothing left for Mai to say to this world, at least. She had her goodbye.