2018-07-18 - Fighting Words

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Title: Fighting Words

Mai and Mikoto go to relax in the hot springs during Golden Week, but they end up stumbling onto heavy topics. Mai weakens another of Mikoto's peace-bonds as she teaches Mikoto about the one arena of battle she is so much more experienced in: verbal assault.


Mikoto Minagi, Mai Tokiha


Tama Outer City - Steamy Hot Springs

OOC - IC Date:

2018-07-18 - 2015-04-30

.****************************** Tama Outer City *******************************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Steamy Hot Springs +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 This rustic inn is built at the top of a wooded hill, overlooking the
 sparkling-clear Lake Hibikijima. The red-roofed building emphasizes
 old-fashioned Japanese architecture, with bare log supports, tatami
 flooring, and futon bedding, and the food served here is similarly
 nostalgic. There's a heavy emphasis on local cuisine, including the wasabi
 that Tama is famous for, as well as sake brewed with local spring water.

 The main attraction, of course, is the sulphurous hot springs scattered
 around the bottom of the hill. Great thick walls of logs protect the privacy
 of bathers, and the springs are divided by gender. After washing themselves,
 visitors can enjoy the therapeutic, bubbling heat. Towels are used to
 protect modesty, though the water is cloudy enough with heat that the water
 can be counted on for the task as well.

 The innkeepers are eager to regale visitors with tales of local legends,
 many of them quite outsized. Ghost stories of all sorts, a tale of Legendary
 Lovers plagued by a jealous youma, a tragedy wherein two samurai killed each
 other for the love of a maiden... it's sometimes hard to tell if the
 proprietors are pulling one's leg, but the region undoubtedly has rich
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

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

Mikoto Minagi is a perpetual motion machine. She hasn't stopped for a moment, since the fall and reparation of the World Tree. Something there has helped make her whole - something there has left her driven. It is quiet stress, and she does not speak of it, but neither can she hide it from her oldest friend. If she's asked, all she says: "I've gotta find my Lord Brother."

Perhaps it's not difficult to guess what Reinforce gave her, in their dreams.

It's necessary to guess. She does not speak of it.

But even given that, even under the strain and urgency, she has always tried to make it home in time to help with dinner. She doesn't always succeed, but she always tries. And she always makes it back eventually. She promised.

Promises on promises on promises, and she will shatter beneath the weight of them.

The beginning of Golden Week starts as it seems to mean to go on - Mikoto disappears early, reappears late. She seems like she's deliberately trying not to let something bother her. It's a transparent attempt. She cannot hope to fool the master of the art.

It starts as it means to go on, except - the next day - Mikoto sits up and looks at Mai and thinks that she is done with being isolated by her enemies. She's sick of it. She wants to be with someone important, instead. Someone who matters.

So she says, during breakfast, "Mai, it's holidays! Stop trying to work and let's do something fun!" And her direct method of speech fully elides that perhaps she's talking about herself, too.

'Fun' soon turns into 'relaxing', and Mikoto finds herself leading the two of them through Nishitama Park. She takes a deliberate route, as if she knows just where she's going. And she does - but more importantly, she knows where they're not going.

They're not going anywhere they'd find trouble.

The hot springs, then. Bathing is traditional, before dipping in - and as much as Mikoto grouses about soap in her eyes, she submits to the terrible indignity. At least, by this point, she's learned how to wipe the soap out.

She has not yet learned how to care terribly much about modesty, so perhaps it's lucky it's still early by the time they get into the hot springs proper. Towel discarded by the side of the rocks, Mikoto sinks into the water, right down to her chin. It might not be alarming, any more, the sight of her - those scars on her body from so long fighting on the front lines without a single care for her own safety. Perhaps it's concerning there are a few new scrapes. At least it's nothing serious.

She doesn't comment on them, instead closing her eyes against the steam. "Warm..."

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

In contrast to Mikoto, Mai has been considerably slower since the fall and rise of the World Tree. Part of this was by necessity - her ankle, injured nearly two weeks hence, was only just cleared as recovered in the last couple of days - and partly by a shift in attitude. There were times that her need to have oversight verged on the manic, but...

Maybe nearly two weeks of needing help to get basic kitchen tasks done forced her to chill out.

Maybe irritation at her brother being the one tut-tutting about her health embarrassed her into some calm.

Maybe she just has something on her mind, from those dreams.

She asked, whenever Mikoto left, always getting the same answer, always following up with a caution to be careful. And always, there was dinner - sometimes with help, sometimes prepared in anticipation of a return, but she had promises of her own.

At Mikoto's suggestion - or perhaps admonition - Mai's face is first creased by a frown. A peek at her cell phone's screen would show a job hunt site, a search for temp jobs accepting high-schoolers already in progress, and she nearly retorts with an answer about having missed too much time already. Nearly.

But she doesn't. Because Mikoto is asking, isn't insisting on a hunt for her Lord Brother, and with a flick of a finger she turns off that screen. "...you know what, sure. Better than being a candle..."

There are preparations, of course, because even a relaxing Mai Tokiha is Mai Tokiha. Eating out is hit-or-miss at best, and so of course she takes the time to prepare a picnic basket. A little more time than she used to, still getting used to the return of full mobility...and maybe going a little overboard. Just a bit.

Out into the world, Mai follows Mikoto's lead readily. She had no particular plan in mind, there's no immediate errand to drag into things...it's just a day out, together. The hot springs come as a surprise, and Mai pauses on the threshold to glance over her shoulder...but the moment passes, and any worry is met with a smile.

Mai's entry into the spring is more tentative, more modest than Mikoto, but she sighs as she enters the water. The steam drifts idly, the hint of minerals in the air, and silence is only broken by the two of them and a distant deer-chaser.


She doesn't answer Mikoto's comment, opening a single eye to glance over - a single glance, to take in so many more injuries - and lets out a sigh of her own. "Thanks, Mikoto, I for one needed this. Feels like it's been ages since I was last here...that time with Eri-chan, I guess?"

Happier, or more ignorant, days.

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

Always the same question - always the same answer.

Mikoto doesn't begrudge Mai her calm. She's glad to see her slowing down a little, for once - as little as she sees of it. It must mean Mai isn't trying to do everything herself, right? And that's a good thing, right?

(Thought without a shred of irony.)

The question is confident declaration, and its vulnerability only shows through the edges - edges so cannily seen. 'A candle,' Mai replies, and Mikoto struggles far too much in English to place the poem-saying. All she hears is that Mai will come with her, and her face brightens in an instant. "Mai!" She chirps, and she is overjoyed.

She isn't very helpful in preparing a picnic. She tries enthusiastically anyway.

Just as she's so much more enthusiastic getting into the steaming waters of the hot spring. She doesn't seem worried. Of course, perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Miroku's case is lying there, by the rocks, a constant reminder.

Donk, goes the deer-chaser, and Mikoto blinks at the echoing noise.

Blinks, again, as her companion finally speaks up. "Long time, huh?" She wonders, leaning back against the rocks. There are some things even she won't drag into the light. "Me too." That she needed this - or that she hasn't been here for a long time. Like so many things, it's left unexplained.

Silence stretches out, for long moments, catlike eyes drifting closed again. "It's nice," she decides, finally. "... been hard to relax. Easier here."

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

In Mikoto's defense, the tossed salad now has plenty of enthusiasm in it.

The hot spring is quiet, and devoid of school drama or alien spaceships or dark plots coming to fruition. The only hint of anything other than absolute relaxation is that ominously persistent case at the water's edge, and frankly Miroku has put enough accidental holes in the dorm walls that Mai can ignore it more days than not.

Mai sinks into the water a little more, looking at the HiME mark thoughtfully for a moment. The moment passes, and she tilts her head to the sky for the time being. Maybe she can be a little selfish for today - at least selfish enough to accept Mikoto's suggestion. Practically speaking, a nice hot bath at home might have accomplished the same thing minus a little luxury, but...


Mai glances at Mikoto again, at that last statement. Her response isn't immediate - something about this place helps her measure her thoughts. School has always been school, home should be as secure as ever, so why would it be...

It feels blasphemous to bring up non-relaxing thoughts, but there's no better time to ask. Turning her gaze to the sky, Mai questions aloud, as if idly commenting on the weather. "You've had to deal with a lot of enemies lately, haven't you?"

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

A nice hot bath might have accomplished the same thing - but it wouldn't be the same at all.

School has ever been neutral ground, even for the most brutal of magical girls. Mikoto hasn't brought any trouble back home. But Mikoto has been out a lot, recently. Mikoto has disappeared so often.

She breathes in, breathes out. The mark of her birth is hidden by the water, deep as she is. She could fall asleep, in a place like this. She sometimes has, in the bath. It's a warm and relaxing place. She isn't particularly worried about drowning. After all, she's with someone she can trust.

Except -

Breathe in, deep, and steam rising up makes the air so warm. And under the water, Mikoto's fingers curl around one of those smooth rocks. And those eyelids lift, just high enough to stare out at the cloudy water. Just high enough for those golden eyes to glance to Mai Tokiha, that beautiful girl who doesn't know what she's asking, not at all.


"... yeah," Mikoto admits, finally, her tone muted by the warmth of the spring. "Dark Fall. Witches."

So much in three words.

"That'd be okay, but..." She glances away, frowning. "... Chevaliers, too."

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

As if in contrast, Mai keeps her gaze on the sky, keeps her head tilted back. If she didn't - maybe, given what she mentioned, she'd be staring at those injuries, worrying over those scars. Maybe that would be reason to make someone self-conscious. ...maybe not.

She shifts her arms, propping her elbows up on the spring's edge, and leans back. No curling in on herself, no hiding herself, because right now there's no one she has to hide from. Just a simple question, a simple concern.

The mention of Dark Fall brings a frown, because the troubles that shadowy alliance causes are without number.

The mention of Witches brings a flinch, for the reminder of those fights that still need fighting.

That would be excuse enough. Maybe that could have been an end to the inquiry, and the two of them could keep pretending everything was fine. It could - but Mikoto mentions the Chevaliers, and Mai lets out a frustrated groan as she sinks deeper into the water.

"Damn it, Tomoe, you just had to leave a legacy didn't you..." She grumbles, bubbles her exasperation into the water, and maybe it's telling that she's not even shocked.

Eventually, Mai pushes herself back up, reclaims her seat, and glances over at Mikoto again. Injuries hard-earned, after all. "...sorry for bringing it up. Is there..." She trails off, because asking if there's a way to make things better with the Chevaliers either has no answer or a fiery one. Either way, it feels too foolish to ask.

How much simpler, if Eri Shimanouchi were just a pre-med student.

"...how are you holding up?" Perhaps just as foolish a question, but it slips out, as small as her voice is in the asking.

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

Mikoto Minagi is many things, but she has never once been self-conscious. Shame was not something she ever learnt - one of the myriad social rules which escaped her entirely in her isolated upbringing. Was she raised in a barn? Certainly there are girls in Ohtori who would say so.

(Surely they have learnt not to say so in earshot of Mai Tokiha.)

And because she is so shameless, the question must be raised -

- why does she lower herself so deeply into the water?

It is just another thing left unexplained. Mikoto's gaze darkens, at the mention of Mami; she says nothing but a discontented noise, wordless amongst the steam. Her tension is brief and passing; it is so difficult to knot muscles in the hot springs. Breathe out, relax back against the rocks.

She shakes her head, briefly, as Mai apologises, and her unbraided hair sticks at the edges of her face. Perhaps she knows what she was about to say; perhaps she doesn't want her to say it.

There's nothing Mai can do.

There's nothing Mikoto can do, either.

The question she asks instead widens those golden eyes, and Mikoto's gaze falls back on Mai, soft again. She smiles, so visibly relieved. It takes her a moment to speak, regardless.

"I..." Mikoto's gaze drops, again, to the water, where below her fingers trace the form of the smooth rocks she's leant against. "I wish they'd just fight me. They... talk, Mai. They're just words." It's how she excuses all those comments from Ohtori, too. "... but it hurts anyway. Makes me feel so weak. Like they're targeting me 'cause I'm not good at it. They say it wouldn't hurt if they weren't right. So I try to make it not hurt." That hand tightens; she swallows, shutting her eyes.

"It still hurts."

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

It's a tentative smile that answers Mikoto's, but Mai's shoulders slump a bit as she regains a bit of confidence. Maybe this was the better question to ask.

Maybe not, as the latest scars come into view, as Mikoto wishes that her fights could just be brutal and physical.

I can't get her to stop. Eri's words ring in Mai's ears, as she sees her precious companion flinching against a memory of 'just words', and Mai takes a moment to treat her own weapons carefully.

"...it's not 'just words', Mikoto. It's..." She hesitates, the girl before her briefly overlaid with the dream-version who had no enemies. "...words can be another way of fighting. Sometimes they're easy to shrug off, but sometimes they can cut deep - just like anything else that gets thrown at you."

Like whispers in the corridor of a girl who never has fun. Or shoes in a locker filled with pasta.

There's a slosh, as Mai shifts a little closer, to speak a bit more easily. "It's something I've had to deal with, had to learn to deal with. Truth can hurt, like being reminded of how I've screwed up." She gets an odd look, a bitter scowl at that - but continues. "Lies can hurt too, like...being accused unjustly when you can't fight back. I don't know what they said to you, but it can hurt even if it's not right. I don't think you're weak, you're just...not used to having to fight with words."

Maybe it's the wrong reassurance. Maybe Mai herself needs to be better at helping with words.

Mai shifts again, turning to face Mikoto full-on, a quiet concern in her gaze. Even if they're here to relax, even if everything else they're responsible for was left at the doors...she can't help but worry. "...do you want to talk about it? Or just try to forget about it?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Erutan Arrangement - Music Box https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY-x8N_4eQc

Mikoto can deal with brutal combat. It is as natural to her as breathing. But words - she has always struggled with words. Always struggled with emotions. It is the social sphere where she's weakest; the social sphere they strike.

And does Mai realise how exquisite the blade of her words?

Can she possibly know how open Mikoto is to the bite of their edge?

She is the most important girl in the world; there is so little closed to her.

Throw away one more little scrap of herself, another struggling piece of morality on the altar of trust.

It hurts.

Mikoto makes a disquieted noise, as Mai tells her it is fighting true. Closer still, and the steam reveals a knit brow on a face flush with heat. The truth hurts. Lies hurt. They both hurt. It can hurt even if it's wrong.

It's a fight.

There's despair in Mikoto's eyes, as she wonders whether she's been failing everyone by just not recognising she was really being attacked. She's been letting them fight her... and she hasn't fought back. What if she's made everything worse by letting them attack like that?

But - if words are fighting too - Mikoto swallows at a lump in her throat. "Mai, that means girls at school are fighting me, too. But... they're just normal, Mai," Mikoto whispers, gaze lowered to the cloudy water. She doesn't elaborate on the implications. Mai must know she would obliterate someone like that in an instant.

Because it's a fight. It is as natural to her as breathing.

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

However hard one tries, wielding a weapon can cause unintended damage. A HiME's Child, used carelessly or correctly, can wreak devastation. A heavy hammer, swung wildly, could hurt an unintended target.

Mai's words might be no different.

The despair in Mikoto's eyes gives her pause, has her hesitate, has Mai back off a fraction to give her space. Maybe that would be enough reason to drop the subject...but then Mikoto brings up the logical conclusion, and Mai's eyes widen in horror at the implications.

In a physical brawl, aided by the weapon in the case so very close at hand, the number of people who could even slow Mikoto down at Ohtori are precious few.

There's a splash, sharp and sudden, as Mai's hand erupts from the water by her side. She holds up a finger, as if to stall the moment, pursing her lips as she considers her words very carefully. Setting off disaster, for her, has long been as cursed a sin as being its instrument, and there is a precipice.

"...normal. And fighting with words, because that's what they have. It's..." Mai works her jaw a moment, tension there that the hot springs should have dispelled. "...Polite? Fair? It's supposed to be...answered in kind, if you answer at all. Words should be fought with words. ...unless there's no other choice."

(She was admittedly the one to push the argument with Mami into a physical fight, that one time.)

"It's like...if a cat swatted at you with its claws, would you answer with Miroku?" Desperately hoping the answer is 'no', Mai presses on. "I'd probably ignore a few swats, or get a broom if it was really angry...but I wouldn't use my Element or my Child. So if you're being attacked with words, whether it's Chevaliers or horrible people at Ohtori...ignore it if you can, but yell back if you have to. Call me in for help if you want. Just...avoid making it a sword fight if you can, please?"

There's an almost desperate look in Mai's eyes, an earnest plea, because it has become so easy for her to forget just how this girl was raised...

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

And how was this girl raised, Mai Tokiha? There are a hundred implications, her steadfast insistence that enemies must be destroyed - a hundred implications, and not a tale to be heard.

There's a splash, and Mikoto startles, chin jerking up to finally look at Mai. She is all open vulnerability for another barrier lost, another secret thing. Is it right? Is this how it was always meant to be? Maybe it's obvious to everyone but her. She's always needed guidance. She is lost.

She never knew. She never wanted to know. She would destroy them in an instant. They couldn't be threats, because if they were threats...

Those golden eyes search Mai's face as she works around her point, talks about fighting with words. She says it's polite to answer words with words. She says it's fair.

'If we're... fair about it, and she gets away and kills her, what then? No.'

Fighting isn't fair. Fighting can't be fair.

The way Mikoto's gaze lowers, the uncertain hum from behind thin lips, the argument does little to reach her. There's never any other choice...

... so perhaps it's good, that Mai tries to explain in a different way. Mikoto frowns, as Mai asks what she'd do with a swatting cat. Shakes her head, emphatically. That's how a cat communicates displeasure. It's just another way a cat talks. Cats can't say to stop something; if no one listens to them growling, to the laying back of ears and lashing of tails, they have no recourse but to strike.

If Mai is saying that... what are those girls trying to communicate in using hurtful words?

(What are the Chevaliers trying to say?)

Mai tells Mikoto to ignore it, and there's a dip of her head, a thoughtful sad little noise.

'Eri... it's okay. They're just words.'

'It's not okay if it bothers you.'

It's not okay - and she should ignore it.

She does. She's usually really good at it, because they don't matter anyway. Her enemies shouldn't matter, either. Why do they matter? Is it because they're closer to the truth of her, midnight battles and lines in the sand? She's not supposed to listen to anyone she's fighting, but she didn't think she was in a fight.

But Mai goes on, tells her to yell, to ask her help. Mai goes on, pleads with her not to involve her blade in a fight of words.

How brightly must a lighthouse shine, to cut through the storm..?

It is that precative request which draws Mikoto's gaze from the water beside her to Mai's face again. She talks as if it frightens her.

"Mai..." Her name is gentled and uncertain. The complimentary colours of gold and purple meet, and Mikoto knows only that she cannot stand the edge of desperation there. It is an utterly heartbreaking thing.

She cannot stand it for an instant, and so she swallows down the instantaneous rejection of the idea that a battle could be anything but physical. Challenging the idea is a struggle; she can't hide it, the crease of her brow and the searching of her eyes. "Can there really be other types of fighting..?"

As if it's so foreign to her that a battle could be waged without blades. A battle which doesn't end in annihilation...

A hundred implications, and not a tale to be told.

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

Politeness, fairness, rules of engagement...those arguments found little ground in Mikoto's noncommittal noises, and that uncertain hum pierces Mai with a fear that is much more certain. For every noble warrior following rules of chivalry, there's another who would do what it takes to win...

Maybe, finally, it's becoming clear which camp Mikoto might have fallen into.

Mai's words are weapons of their own, and at the moment they feel very much like her Element. Something she can turn to the offensive, but currently she desperately uses them as a shield against disaster. If there's a way to get the idea across...

...there's a chance, at least, glimpsed in that tentative question as purple eyes meet gold. At the question, Mai lets out a sigh - relief, mixed with regret. Those eyes are imploring, they're curious, they're confused...the readiest answer is one that feels like something to keep hidden.

Mai's gaze flickers down to the water's surface. "...words are how Mami and I fought, most of the time. Except for that one time after she broke up with Eri and shot Takeo, all of our fights were with words."

Did she ever tell Mikoto about that one fight the younger girl might have recognized as such? Probably not - but if it's in the name of getting this point across, she might as well let the cat out of the bag.

Mai looks up again, avoiding Mikoto's gaze as she looks up into the sky. There might be no solace there, but...maybe she's just a little scared of what judgment there might be. "We fought a lot, you know? Ever since we started fighting Miyu, up until she fully went to war with Eri. I...was probably worse to her than she deserved, at least...especially early on."

She bites her lip, breathing in sharply, and maybe she's sacrificing her image. "I didn't agree with how she did things, how she acted...but she was fighting against Dark Fall too back then, and I didn't want her gone. Just...off her high horse, not acting like she knew better than anyone else. So I attacked her with words, sometimes to try to change her mind..."

Mai trails off, thinking back to a shift at Linden Baum, thinking back to words shouted on a rooftop. She closes her eyes, lowers her chin against her chest.

"...and sometimes just to hurt her."

A deep breath, a slumping of her entire stance, Mai just sinks deeper into the spring's waters.

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

Certainly, Mikoto's brutality has been evidenced. She is a berserker on the battlefield - and even without Miroku, she cannot be underestimated. Mai's seen it, after all. She's seen the way she so effortlessly exploits any advantage, to overwhelm with terrible force.

She's never been noble enough to be called a knight.

Mikoto asks that question with all the innocence of a child, and Mai does not meet her gaze, not at all. But she talks. Talks about her fights with words - implies the time she had no other choice. Mikoto turns her eyes to the rocks beside her, and she listens.

Vicious fighting, without a drop of blood spilt...

Fighting to change someone's mind. Fighting to hurt someone.

Mikoto glances back over to Mai, and there is no judgement in those golden eyes. She is trying to understand. She understands enough - that Mai is sad. Mai is sad, and that makes Mikoto sad, too. "... Mai..." It is a word which reaches out, an earnest attempt to bridge the gap of comprehension.

She grunts, glancing down. "I don't really get it. I'd rather they just attack me if they wanna hurt me. But... it'd make Mai sad if I treated it as attack, right? And they're just words, so... even if they're trying to fight... it's different, right?" She sounds so uncertain.

"I just... wish it didn't hurt, Mai." Mikoto shakes her head; unbraided hair sticks at her cheek. "Don't like being fought in a way I can't fight back good." For once, Mai is the one who knows how to wield her blade with deadly force; Mikoto cannot hope to match her.

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

At the sound of her name, Mai looks up again. Looks up, and sees golden eyes that hold no judgment, and Mai smiles faintly in response. Maybe it's not completely unforgivable.

Or maybe the gravity isn't clear...but at least Mikoto isn't judging her.

Mai breathes just a little more easily, hand on her chest, as Mikoto...at least calls it different. At the same time, seeing Mikoto hurting, seeing how deep those scars might run...that part is less reassuring. That part...

"I know. It hurts, and...it's not easy to fight back. It's hard to defend." She's still using fighting language, for good or ill, but at least Mai's gaze is back on Mikoto. Another splash, as she shifts closer once more, and her hand reaches out to brush aside the stray hair.

"...but you're right, it's different. It's...I don't know what they're saying, and I know it might hurt to bring up. But maybe..." She trails off, runs her hand through her own short hair. "...I don't know. Unless it's someone you tried to kill personally, I'm not sure they'd be trying to hurt you with words. Maybe they're trying to change your mind, to...get you to not cut everything to pieces?"

She's hesitant, because she honestly doesn't know, and because suggesting that maybe not unleashing a giant sword on everything is awkward to bring up.

Just a little, with the sword right there.

"I wish I could help more, could...protect you from those hurts better. Other than showing up to yell at whoever's being cruel, I can't..." Mai trails off again, lowers her hands back into the water. "...I can't do much, can I?"

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

The effects of using that language...

... well, at least they're words Mikoto understands.

Mai reaches out, and Mikoto tilts her cheek into the contact; the heat of the springs makes it fully impossible to distinguish the way they colour. It's not easy - it's still different. She dips her head in a nod.

What they're saying...

Mikoto's gaze slides off of Mai, to the rocks where she has left her obsidian vestments. Her brow furrows, a veil of anger falling over her face which goes fully unexplained. "They're enemies," she says, tone firm. "'Course they're trying to hurt."

'It's true that what I have to say might hurt. But I'm not here to hurt you. I just want to understand you. And understanding sometimes hurts.'

A sharp intake of breath - shoulders which curl inwards. Tension, in a place where tension ought to bleed away. They're nothing like her.

But there's no time to dwell on hurting words, because Mai goes on, and Mikoto's chin tilts up again. Her gaze softens, and she is the one to reach out, this time, to find Mai's hand under the water. "Mai," Mikoto repeats her name, again, and this time it is reassuring. "Mai, it's okay." And she at least seems convinced.

"I thought it wasn't a fight, so there's nothing I could do... but Mai's shown me I can still try and defend myself, right? So Mai's helping." Mikoto frowns, insistent: "Don't be sad, Mai. Didn't wanna make Mai sad."

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

How much are Mai's own words hurting? How much easier would it be to speak through actions, to just throw up a wall of fire between her precious people and everything that would do them harm-

-but maybe it's okay.

Or maybe it'll be okay.

"...sorry, Mikoto. This was supposed to be relaxing, and..." How much can she ruin, given time? How hard is it to just relax in peace? In the end, she just squeezes that hand in return, letting out a sigh.

What she showed Mikoto...frankly at this point, Mai isn't too sure herself. She tried, but was that enough?

"...I'll be okay. I'm closer to okay than I was in that dream, at least. And...will you be okay? Are you going to be able to avoid or ignore those words, or..."

She leaves off description of the 'or'. She's honestly...wondering, worried, about what Mikoto might have in mind.

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

Mikoto squeezes Mai's hand, and smiles in reassurance. She just wants Mai to be happy, in the end. What it takes to make Mai happy - must be worth it, right?

"Don't worry, Mai!" Mikoto insists. "I'm tough. I can handle it." That Mikoto is so vulnerable to words seems like such a distant concern, when Mai is so worried about whether she'll be okay. Mai would be sad if she wasn't okay - so of course she'll be okay.

(If it doesn't hurt, it isn't true.)

Mikoto shakes her head. "They're just words, Mai." And maybe that's a little more reassuring. "Maybe I'm not good at words, but... I'll try. I just gotta use words back, right?" How hard could it be? She already knows how to fight for real. And, in the end... if there's no other choice... she's good at fighting for real.

She fully fails to mention that last past.

Mikoto brightens, as she comes to her companion's first question. The reason she wanted to be with someone who mattered - it's so obvious, to her. "I'm with Mai, so I'm okay!" As if spending time with her makes everything better.

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

Mikoto is tough. Sitting right next to her, Mai is confident this is true - the scars of injuries survived tell a long and brutal story. Tough, and yet the fact that she took those injuries at all...

She's never going to stop worrying, even if Mikoto were to retire from combat to open a cat sanctuary.

"...thanks, Mikoto. Thanks for trying." That much is true. That much she can say without hesitation. It would be absolutely wonderful if this meant that Mikoto would be more like the dream-version, able to disarm conflicts and avoid making enemies...

...but Mai has seen too much berserkergang to believe that for even a second.

It's a worry, but...if Mikoto is going to -try-, if it means that she might be hurt a little less while hopefully not going on a bloody revenge spree against schoolyard bullies...Mai can live with that for now.

Mai's relief shows in her grip, in her shoulders, in her face. When Mikoto's smile brightens, she can't help but answer in kind. It's infectious, and she's happiest seeing Mikoto happy. Maybe the discussion wasn't as relaxing as she might have hoped...but she's had worse. "All right, all right. Then let's relax a bit longer - I'd rather get our money's worth out of the hot spring you picked out." She grins, then stretches her arms wide to just revel in the waters a little longer.

...maybe not too much longer. They've been in the springs a while...and yet, it feels like they should enjoy them more. Enjoy them properly.

Things might get better, after all.