2018-08-31 - None Of Them Love Eri

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Title: None Of Them Love Eri

After the fiasco of Ye-jin's party and erstwhile cake, Mai and Mikoto return home to clean up. They get to talking about Eri, and Mikoto finally divulges the truth hanging over their friends' head.


Mai Tokiha, Mikoto Minagi


Ohtori Academy - Dormitories

OOC - IC Date:

2018-08-31 - 2015-05-09

.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Dormitories +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 There is some variation between the dormitories to provide a range suitable
 to different tastes, but they are typically old-fashioned and elegant, with
 low stone walls guiding the walkways and ivy creeping up their white walls
 and columns. Their exterior is classically European, like sedate manor
 houses, and for the most part this style is maintained inside, with
 dignified old paintings in thick goldleaf frames. However, the dormitories
 do not lack for daring Ohtori touches, with whimsical art deco floor
 panelling here, fantastical geometric lamps there, and odd little secret
 panels and dead ends throughout.

 Dorm rooms are generally shared between two same-gender students, but
 singles are almost as common; Ohtori students were not generally raised to
 share. There are some triples and quads available as well. Some dorms permit
 a great deal of leeway in decoration, others require students to stick to
 the default antique furniture. Many dorms have at least a small balcony,
 which provides an escape route for particularly rebellious students when
 curfews are instated.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

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

The hour is late, the party drawn to a close. No cake could be devoured, and the spirit of socialization died with dessert. In the end, all there was to do was to go home.

Or to post-party celebrations of other natures, but Mai is far from a mood to have those tonight.

It's warm, inside the dorm room. A few reasons for this, perhaps. Summer's light showed a little early, warming the room through panes of glass throughout the day. Shortly after getting home, Mai promptly started the bath so that those struck by frosting could have a chance to get clean. And...she turned on the stove, starting a pot bubbling and a pan warming.

There's cooking to be done.

Mai, changed from elegance to comfort, now wears an apron over her pyjamas. The pan before her isn't sizzling, but it's softly bubbling, and her eyes are fixed on what lies within. With one hand, she waves at the steam from the back of the stove; with the other, she prods at the pan.

"Any trouble in there, Mikoto? I've got no idea what was in Song's cake..." She calls out, maybe not entirely expecting an answer, but the question had to be asked. Admittedly, part of her is a little curious...but unlike Shizuru, she never got to claim a taste of frosting. Only a piece of the argument.

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

Two nights previous, Mikoto got out of the bath before Mai did. By the time Mai was finished, Mikoto was gone, and in her place, a note: 'I'm going out. I might be late. I'll be okay.'

She got back well after midnight. She was damp and exhausted and she'd obviously been in a fight. She didn't talk about it.

Earlier today, Mikoto dragged Mai out for a doomed party. She dragged Eri, too. The surprising thing was the way - the two of them seemed okay with each other. The way Mai didn't protest when Mikoto wanted to involve Eri. The way they bantered together.

Of course, there was also the matter of the cake. That was surprising, too.

Mikoto grumbles her frustrations as she scrubs the pieces of cake from her hair. The soap always manages to get in her eyes, but at least she knows how to wipe it out now. "Vanilla," she calls back, to the question. Or maybe it was a monster which just tasted like vanilla.

Well, it can't be much different to eating fish she caught.

The sounds of a girl rising from the tub suggest that there is no trouble, at least. It's not long before Mikoto emerges into the dorm room in her own set of pyjamas, stylised with a cartoon cat, one ear folded. "Maiii," she whines, expectantly. "What's dinner?"

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

There were mysteries. Mai still hasn't asked what had happened.

There was an altercation shortly before that. Takumi still hasn't asked what happened.

There's a slight burnt smell from the pan, but...strangely not a bad one? Letting out a sigh of relief, Mai turns off the heat under that pan, pouring something golden brown into a quartet of prepared glasses. With one foot - the foot that was injured some weeks pack, no less - she nudges the refrigerator open, setting the glasses inside. One step done, at least...

And then there's a familiar whine, and Mai turns to face Mikoto with a strange disbelieving smirk on her face. "...dinner? Didn't you get enough at the buffet table at the party?" There's a beat, maybe a second, and then she lets out a sigh. "I needed to get that step done first - I can cook something up quick. Oyakodon okay with you?"

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

"That's not Mai's food!" Mikoto insists, puffing out her cheeks. It's self-evident that Mai's food is better than Ohtori buffets. ... even if she did eat a lot of entrees.

She brightens in an instant as Mai acquiesces and offers to cook. "Yup!" In truth, Mai could have said she'd cook anything Mai cooks and Mikoto would have been happy.

There are mysteries - and then there are constants.

She pulls up a chair, motions made sleepy from the warm water. Hands reach up to start braiding the strands of hair she keeps long - there is more of it than is evident when it is tightly-woven, and the hair hangs damp about her face in a hime cut which would almost be traditional but for how short the rest of it is.

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

There's a soft sigh at Mikoto's assertion, but it's with a smile on her face that Mai turns to the refrigerator. It's a moment's rummaging to get everything - some onions, some chicken, a few eggs, some dashi - and she takes a moment to lay it all out on the counter.

There's a moment's pause, as Mai yawns for a moment, and then she flicks on the rice cooker. "...remind me to refill that after supper."

She sets to work in short order, not saying a great deal as she deals with the prep work. Fortunately, there isn't much - dicing the chicken into bite-sized chunks, slicing the onion into thin strips - and she soon has a skillet on the once-again-heating stove. It takes a few minutes for the pan to heat up properly, but rather than set to another task immediately, Mai just...watches the braiding. It's peaceful work to watch, and one hand brushes at her own short-cropped hair for a moment. A style she never went for, but...

"...it was good to see Eri tonight. Sorry I didn't stay close to chat, I wasn't sure..." She trails off without identifying the source of her uncertainty, tipping the meat into the skillet to start cooking with a loud hiss.

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

"'Kay," Mikoto chirps, as Mai muses about reminders. Of course she'll remember to remind her. It's food, after all. Food is a vital topic which cannot be forgotten or laid aside.

Mai works at dinner, and Mikoto braids her hair, and they don't say much of anything at all. They don't really need to. Once her hair is sorted, Mikoto lays an arm across the table, rests her cheek against it, smiles and hums wordlessly in contentment at the scent of food being made. It's nice. Mai's food is always nice.

Sniff, sniff, and as the pan works, Mikoto rises to fetch plates from the cupboard. Bowls for Mai and for Mikoto, chopsticks, anything else they might need. She puts them out for Mai - pauses, as words enter their world again.

She wasn't sure...

"Mai's not mad at Eri, right..?" Mikoto doesn't sound certain. She glances aside, humming that uncertainty through lips pressed in a thin line. "... I..." Pause, "I think Eri liked seeing Mai too."

There is a beat, another, as Mikoto hesitates. She looks down at the bowl, runs a pale finger over its edge. "... can I tell Mai a secret?" She so often can't.

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

The chicken, sizzling with the aroma of cooked meat, is swiftly joined by the onion, and then the dashi to simmer as a chicken-onion soup. There's a quiet noise of approval as Mikoto retrieves serving dishes, while Mai's spoon darts in to check the seasoning. So far, so good - but then, some dishes are hard to truly do wrong.

There's a question, and hesitation before an answer is spoken. Hesitation first broken by the quiet crack of an eggshell, as Mai sets to making a bowl of beaten eggs. Only as a chopstick pierces the yolks does she answer. "Mad...not mad, no. Or at least not at her, I guess. It's...I don't like that you keep getting dragged into fights, but it feels like that's something harder and harder to stop. Even without those hunts, there's always going to be something like that sports festival, or the World Tree, or...it never stops. I'm mad at the fact that it doesn't stop, but...that isn't really Eri's fault."

Hesitation, again, as the chopstick clinks against the side of the bowl, as Mai thinks of something else to say...but those words die unspoken, and she sets to whisking. It's just as she's about to tip the eggs into the cooking soup that Mikoto speaks up, but the nature of that question gives her actions pause. She looks up from her work, surprise visible in her eyes, and then she carefully sets down the bowl. Her eyes rest on Mikoto, looking into the bowl, and...

It's very quiet - her voice, when she finally speaks up, just audible over the bubblings of the stove and the rice. "What is it, Mikoto?"

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

Mikoto looks away, as Mai talks about what she doesn't like. "Eri said I deserved better..." Than being her assassin, "than fighting Eri's enemies." There is a resigned kind of bitterness to it which might be surprising to hear, from a girl who is normally so cheerful.

If she had worked harder - if she had been better - Sayaka would be defeated, and maybe Eri wouldn't dismiss her efforts.

But Mikoto isn't good enough, after all.

Mikoto isn't good enough, and Sayaka is coming. Homura said so.

'Don't worry Mikoto. This will all be over soon.'

Her hand drops from the edge of the bowl to curl into a fist at her side. She tenses because she is afraid.

A secret, then.

There are so many secrets.

"Eri is cold, Mai," Mikoto says, and her own voice is small. "Has Mai noticed? Eri used to be warm. Now Eri's never warm." There's no warmth to her - aside from her Soul Gem.

She is not being metaphorical.

It might sound metaphorical anyway.

Mikoto swallows against a throat which suddenly feels dry; the consequence of breath over parted lips. "I'm worried, Mai. Trying really hard, but... not good enough." She is never good enough.

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

A pang, as Mai realizes that no one, Eri included, is happy with the situation.

So many enemies. So many murders.

Maybe if Mai had helped...but she would have to be either a better or worse person to do that.

Silence cannot echo, as water burbles away on the stovetop. It's a white noise, though, constant and innocuous enough to serve as a backdrop to the utter lack of words from Mai as Mikoto explains what she's observed. Her hands grip the edge of the stove, and if her fingers are a little too close to the burners for comfort then so be it.

'Eri's never warm.' Part of Mai wants to retort, absolutely, she already knew that her friend was growing cold-hearted. Part of Mai wants to retort, no, Eri still knows how to be kind, she can be warm-hearted sometimes.

Part of Mai realizes that she's not taking the words literally enough.

There's a quiet little groan; being the kitchenette for a student dorm where most denizens would never touch the stove, the choices of appliance weren't top quality. It might be possible, with a little force, to dent the metal framing the stove's edge. Just a little, anyway.

'Not good enough.' Those words, finally, elicit a response - though, perhaps, not the one Mikoto might have liked to hear. "...that's two of us, then." She swallows hard, trying to ignore the lump she feels, and closes her eyes. The last time she hugged Eri, in a bathroom after a cruel prank weeks ago...

How warm did her friend feel?

"...I'm worried too, Mikoto. I just...there's nothing I can do. Nothing I can ever do, but with Eri I can't even..." She cuts herself off, rather than give her ten-year delusions any kind of voice, and stares down into the bowl of scrambled egg. "...everything just keeps getting twisted around. And I've been stupid enough to push Eri away enough that I missed just how bad things were getting."

She looks up, looks at a scared precious person, and a part of her wishes that a fiery rage dragon was an appropriate solution to these kinds of problems rather than a way to make the problems worse. Words from that last extended conversation come to mind, and she lets them slip. "...she's a better friend than I deserve. And a good friend to you. Hoping for something better..." And yet, that resignation. And yet, that eternal readiness for battle. And yet, the fact that only in a dream could Mikoto not have enemies. Mai looks down at the bowl of eggs, and dumps them into the boiling soup all at once so their placid oranginess can just start cooking already. At least there's one acceptable target.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Murray Gold - Hide The Damage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-v0n0wc2Bs

Cre-e-e-e-eak goes the metal of the stove, and it is a clear message.

Mikoto keeps her own hands away from anything breakable, like Mai Tokiha.

She keeps her gaze from her, too. A frown creases her features, concern gnarling brow and tensing lip. Because she is at fault, too. She didn't even give Mai the chance to help Eri. She locked her out.

'To do these things... Mai would need to be a monster. Could Mai do that, for Eri?'
'I...found out what Shimanouchi was doing. Found out why, and I understand, but...you're right. I would have had to be a monster to help her. I'm not sure I could have done that...I'm surprised I was able to stand aside.'

She was right to lock her out. The fact remains.

The fact remains that Mai didn't know, and Mikoto didn't tell her.

Mikoto gets back from Eri's battles - and Mikoto doesn't tell her.

Mai would be unhappy if she had to fight. Mai would be...

But Mai keeps talking, and relief floods Mikoto's face as Mai acknowledges her as a good friend. She hasn't called Eri Shimanouchi a good person for a long time. She can't. Not when Eri is like her. But a good friend - this is self-evident.

"Eri..." Mikoto trails off, shakes her head. She can't tell Mai that. Eri's always saying there are things Mai has to tell Mikoto for herself. There are some things Eri has to tell Mai for herself, too. "... Eri don't got any way out," she says, instead. It isn't fair.

Silence - for a beat. Another.

The eggs sizzle.

Mikoto takes a breath. "Sayaka's gonna kill Eri." She says it without any fanfare or herald to the impact of the words. "Can't forgive Eri for killing Mami. No way for peace now." There's a sort of flatness to the words, atonal in their fear.

But there is unmistakable horror in her voice as she says: "I tried to stop it. Wasn't strong enough. Sayaka always gets back up. Sayaka had help." And perhaps it is one mystery solved.

It is a distant sort of horror. "I don't know how many other girls want Eri dead." Beat. "Or how many would let Eri die." She notes, looking to the most important girl in the world as tension draws up her brow: "They all loved Mami, Mai. None of them love Eri. Not like us."

Mikoto looks away again.

"That's why I've been helping Eri so much, Mai." Slipping out at night, coming back late... "But I don't think Eri wants help any more. Don't think Eri thinks she deserves help."

Despair creeps into those big golden eyes as she stares at the corner of the dining room table. "Eri's strong, but... but things are hard, for Eri. And Eri just keeps going further and further away... Eri never moves easy any more. I can't see any way out, Mai. I can't fix it. I want good things for Eri, too!" Mikoto shakes her head, fiercely, braids whipping every-which-way. "I want Eri to go to parties and eat snacks and have fun! But as soon as Eri leaves Ohtori, Eri's in danger again, and I - I..."

Her voice cracks, falls to silence.

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

The soup is bubbling, the eggs are beginning to set - and with a click, the stove is switched off. A click in stereo, even - the rice cooker just finished its work. There's steam in the air, and in this room it's warm. Much warmer than the outside world; safer is debatable, but warmer is not.

Simmering comes to a halt undisturbed, amid silence. The rice is done - perhaps not perfect, but it smells warm and filling even as the cooker stands undisturbed. The rest of the oyako-don is done - perhaps even a little over-done, the eggs might be a little more cooked than intended. Still edible, certainly, but not yet dished out - the cook's head is lowered, staring down at the stove before her.

In the kitchen, separated from Mikoto by a countertop and a murder of secrets, Mai stands. Her hands are still on the edge of the stove, no longer gripping tightly enough to damage it, but holding her weight. Fiery hair, allowed to grow a little too long, hangs over her eyes as Mikoto speaks secrets and truths. To each - to Eri's lack of escape, to her likely end, to her damnation and guilt and doom, there is no answer. Silence weighs heavy, nearly as much so as the secrets revealed, and Mai...

When silence reigns, the older girl opens her mouth. Closes it, opens again - a few tries to find the words. But speak she does, in the end, with a voice as heavy as a summer rain. "...if I thought it would help..."

She swallows. "If I thought it would help for Eri to hide out in the mountains, or Hokkaido, or America, or the damn Moon-" She cuts herself off, and wills a trembling hand to cease. "If it were just a matter of getting her away from everyone out to avenge Mami Tomoe, then I would already have absences on my school record and there would be news rumours of a giant fiery bird flying gods know where. But there isn't a way out like that. There isn't-"

She bites her lip, nearly hard enough to draw blood, and there's a shudder visible in her shoulders. "...there's no way to save her. There's just surviving until she can't any more, and...there's nothing anyone can do about that." Another shudder, and she lifts an arm to wipe at her eyes.

She doesn't dare make supper too salty, after all.

"...you did everything you could, Mikoto. More than me - more than anyone could have asked for. Eri deserves a lot better - has deserved better as long as I've known her, but her life just gets more and more screwed up at every turn. Hunting to survive, everything with Mami and Sayaka and her damn father..." Mai turns, suddenly, snatching the bowls that Mikoto had set up. Her hands tremble, but they need to do something and she can at least scoop rice. That's something. That's positive action. That's...

"...not enough."

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

Could they do it? Could they take Eri and run?

The possibility is dashed by Mai just as soon as she brings it up, and Mikoto lowers her gaze with a sad and wordless noise.

At least - until Mai goes on. Mikoto looks up, the gesture swift and shocked. She notices the lip. She's hurting herself. She's hurting Mikoto, too, and it is writ plain on her face.

She looks down, and her breath shudders unevenly as tears spring to her eyes, as Mai talks about what Eri Shimanouchi deserves.

A corpse-body designed for killing which she never asked for.

A lover who never listened.

An enemy she wishes could be a friend.

A man who betrayed her trust before anyone else could.

Of course, there's one piece to her perdition left unsaid: Yaori.

Mikoto doesn't mention her.

Her voice trembles at what she mentions instead, a voice laden with tears. "I know - I know Eri can't stay forever - I know! But Mai, Eri never gave up on me, not once. I won't let Eri be alone. Mai - Mai knows, right? Mai found me when I was alone. Now I gotta - do it for Eri. I don't want, Eri to drown in the dark place." She fully fails to explain her snivelling words. "I don't want it to not be fair!"

A shaking hand finds the closest dining room chair, pulls it out so she can collapse into it. "I won't give up on Eri. Don't care if - everyone else does. Even Eri has. I don't care!" Mikoto insists, her voice growing louder in her stress. "Someone has to be there - or Eri'll get lots worse." Vicious and alone and terrible, just like Mikoto was.

"Even if it's pointless... even more if it's pointless!" Mikoto sobs, burying her face in a hand. "Don't talk like it's done, Mai. Please - don't talk like it's done. I'm gonna keep trying! I'll... I'll do something and... and Eri can stay a little longer... I'm not smart, but I'll think of something... I will..."

But the only things she can think of are things she can't do.

Sayaka Miki is the unkillable girl.

The despair of the realisation is crushing; Mikoto buries her face in her hands, breathing tremulous as she tries to contain her tears.

It's the sort of thing which can't possibly be helped by dinner - but maybe dinner will distract her a little.

After all, there's nothing anyone can do to make this better.

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

So many things gone wrong. So many inevitable paths leading to tragedy. Hopes and dreams being what they may, there's nothing that can avert what looms in the horribly close future.

"...we'll invite her over for dessert. I made enough, and she didn't get any cake either."

It's utterly petty and mundane, a trivial little thing. Sometimes, though...sometimes those matter. If nothing else, Mai can aim for such a tiny and important goal:

If a loved one does not have many days left, fill as many of them with as much happiness as she can.