2018-10-21 - Harmony

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Madoka and Kyouko gather the Shepherds and the Chevaliers and dare them to take a chance on hope.


Madoka Kaname, Lera Camry, Setsuna Meioh, Mikoto Minagi, Nori Ankou, Kasagami Araki, Kozue Kaoru, Yumi Ohzora, Haruka Tenoh, Kyouko Sakura (in letter form)


Pino Karaoke Lounge

OOC - IC Date:

10/21/2018 - 05/23/2015

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The text goes out to a surprising number of cell phones first hand, though some sufficiently private folks might have to get them from a friend of a friend. Still, between Madoka Kaname's contact list and Kyouko Sakura sharing hers, it isn't hard to contact all the Shepherds and all the Chevaliers.

> To: Shepherds and Chevaliers

> From: Madoka and Kyouko

> What: Meeting @ Pino Karaoke Lounge

> When: Saturday night @ 8 PM

> Re: Witches

About a minute later, as though someone told her to add something:

> Come hungry! ^_^

And a minute after that:

> PS, singing optional

(A brief amount of subsequent texting is done to explain that yes, a watch over Haneda Airport has been arranged for that evening, so everyone who received an invitation is free to come to the meeting.)

That brings us to the present.

<SoundTracker> Nissy - Playing With Fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anA_AWc7Vb4&feature=&t=42 (ed. note: googled for most popular jpop of 2015)

Pino is boisterous on a Saturday night -- and loud. The hallways are dark and beneath the relatively muted sounds coming from any booth with a cracked-open door is a throbbing bass beat coming from the reception hall, where they host bigger parties. Juuban Public is particularly fond of holding post-exam events there, and that's what's going on right now -- a lot of familiar faces (though, again 'Saturday night', no uniforms), filled with relief, release, and a hunger to fill themselves with something other than knowledge.

It is almost impossible to navigate the halls without knocking shoulders with another person on their way in or out, and there's a certain claustrophobia to that, but there's an anonymity to it all, as well. Between the many-colored flashing lights and the noise, anyone could be anyone at all.

Paradoxically, this makes the Kaname-reserved karaoke booth a peaceful refuge, since it is quiet (the karaoke screen is a patient, anticipatory blue), brightly lit, and (at least at the beginning) empty and calm.

Madoka herself is seated on the edge of the private stage; she's wearing something other than a deluged school uniform for what seems like the first time in days, but probably dragged whatever was at hand out of her closet, with a net result of something loose and flowy but also cozy, a lot of pink and white and lace. Her tights are candy cane, and her shoes are these little magenta wedge heels with bows on them that her Mama probably bought her (they're a bit sassy for her to have purchased for herself) and they are just choice. At the moment, she is drumming said heels on the carpet softly as she waits for people to arrive.

There is, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Kyouko Sakura-related event, a lot of food all over the place. Bowls of candy, piles of chips on their neatly opened aluminium mats. Even some lovingly formed chocolate-chip cookies, which is a little bit suspicious because Pino doesn't have cookies on their menu; it is distinctly possible that Madoka committed the daring and heretical act of sneaking them in, probably by someone's request.

Since the hot food is better hot, she hasn't ordered any yet, but there is an ominously-full ticket on the door which is probably going to be seen by a member of the waitstaff soon. Pizza, burgers, fries, and drinks will soon be on the way.

Madoka's hands are in her lap, and she's fiddling with the karaoke remote with the intent look of someone contemplating one of the world's deep mysteries.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera Camry blinked down at the text message. It didn't take long for her response to come back.

>>I'll be there y'know??

She knows Madoka Kaname well enough. The girl had stood with her during that fateful duel with Fate and Nanoha. She was Usagi's friend. Lera could hardly ignore the message, especially because of the topic. Her eyebrows knit, but it isn't much longer before she shows up at Pino.

She has her leather jacket on, along with a button-up dark red shirt, and black slacks. She steps through the crowd, brushing shoulders with some -- and parting a path through a couple of crowds, because she stands a head taller than much of the crowd, and that makes her look scary. She moves her way through, until she reaches the booth. She slips inside the door, leaving it ajar for a moment. Her eyes fall down on the spread of food, before she looks up from it, and towards Madoka.

"Hey, Madoka-chan!" she says. Some of the cheer is forced; after all, her best friend was dead. Or, perhaps, worse than dead. "Did you cook most of this?"

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

Setsuna Meioh dressed for business rather than a night out singing; it puts across a certain state of mind. She's stopped short of her senshi fuku for this, landing instead on a white shirt buttoned to the collar and a black pencil skirt -- fine materials, perfectly fitted of course, but spartan. No frills for the tall young woman tonight.

As they often do, the senshi and the swordswoman arrive together. Setsuna's shoulders unhunch once they're inside the karaoke booth and free of the gleeful outside crush, and her fingers unmesh from her companion's. "I am Setsuna Meioh of Infinity's University, though you may know me better as Sailor Pluto," she says to introduce herself formally to their prettily attired hostess before finding a spot near the pizza that fits two.

She's quiet otherwise, self-contained with hands folded politely atop her lap. Her bearing is as upright and her expression as readable as a sphinx's might be, and aside from the melancholic shimmer in garnet eyes she might seem as remote.

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

... karaoke.

To put it charitably, Mikoto had been skeptical, when she found out. Karaoke has ever been Mai's domain, and to violate those precious moments by joining her enemies in a booth seemed somehow profane. But she has resolved to keep on top of this situation, after all. And Kyouko seemed like she was involved, from what Kasagami told her.

(Mikoto still does not have a phone. It's becoming a real problem. Perhaps she should consider asking for help with that one of these days. But Mai just brought a new rice cooker, and even that was on sufferance...)

Besides. Madoka is the one calling the meeting.

Mikoto owes her that much, after the bento she made her, and the promise she made.

It's the final deciding factor which pushes her to Pino Karaoke Lounge. She cannot shake the suspicion which guards her features, a reserved sort of scowl on her face as she makes her way through the crowded lounge. She cannot help but feel removed from them; that they should not abide her. From recent karaoke experience, she wears nice clothes - a ruffled white blouse and long pleated yellow skirt, Natsuki's own recommendation - and she could almost be mistaken for just another student on the prowl after midterms.

She is small, and does not part the crowd, but she's able to muscle her way through well enough. It's loud. It's unpleasant.

The booth, lit and resting blue, is a relief. "Madoka. Setsuna!" Mikoto greets them, a smile on her face which fades into guarded uncertainty as she sees who else has already arrived. "Lera." It's not an unfriendly greeting, at least.

Mikoto proceeds to double-take at the cookies - she's never seen cookies here before - and snatches one up as she goes to sit down. Her sword-case comes to rest beside her.

"It's good," she tells Madoka, a moment later, down one cookie. Of course she didn't ask before eating it.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

>> ah

>> yes, I will be there!

Nori Ankou had been surprised.

Nori Ankou had been, obscurely, delighted. Relieved.

Nori Ankou wondered if she was gonna need to transform to get in here but in the end it was not necessary. She slides in not terribly long after Lera, not least because Nori is herself a half-head-height above the average for the ladies. But she finds her way. She enters the reserved lounge -

Nori is wearing a black button-up blouse and a charcoal skirt, with zig-zag striped leggings and some trainers (because karaoke is not a place to be ultimately fancy). Her hair is up in a loose set of oxhorns held in place with pieces of red silk.

Looking round she feels her face crumple up and her eyes water. Lera speaks and Nori says "ah, excuse me" as she moves around her to slip up and spread her arms. If Madoka is not quick...

She will be among the hugged.

"You look wonderful!" Nori says, either way. "Those shoes - I love them. Absolutely love them. How are you?" Nori pauses for a moment to sniff and then takes a deep breath and lets it out.

The elephant is still in the room. Nori's eyes, nonetheless, flick cookie-wards. Setsuna is given a slightly surprised look, but then a deep and visible nod verging towards a bow from the upper torso.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kassie feels outright obligated to be here, and so here she is! The Duelist has come clad in her least battle ready reignments for this peaceful outing. That being a pleated black skirt down past the knees, actual stockings, as well as a red blouse that's buttoned up as tightly as she always prefers. The front of the shirt has 'Love' done in white in English. There is, of course, her coat across her shoulders as well as those boots of hers.

Along with the thick belt at the hips, she might be feeling a bit punk today.

She's a sharp contrast to her beloved, and perhaps intentionally so. With the senshi being all business, Kasagami wants to exude some manner of comfort amongst her enemies and allies both. This is a shared problem, after all. When they sit, and fingers unmesh, the Duelist finds the seat as near as Pluto as she can be.

A little too near perhaps. She almost looks clingy, even as her eye takes in the hostess as well as those arriving.

She's worried about the fallout of Sayaka's witching, she's worried about her fellow Shepherds, and she's worried about Pluto. She has a history with Madoka. She smiles. Whatever confidence it displays is lacking in her gaze.

Swallowing to clear her throat. Grabbing a handful of chips already! "What a crowd! Mikoto-chan, good, you found your way!" There's warmth there.

"Nori, Lera." A swift nod, at least of vague respect. She definitely looks wary of the two still.

"...Madoka Kaname, it takes bravery to go and organize all of this." It's almost a compliment. Probably meant as one. Legs cross, and she briefly brushes Setsuna's hand. Then the Duelist downs salty snacks before her mouth gets away from her.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

"I'm going out." Kozue says mutely, before she leaves the apartment.

Kozue's in a black crop top with straps that cross over her collarbone, a thin blue vest and a matching skirt. She's also got on a pair of rimless sunglasses and a baseball cap, but that's because she's in Akihabara and doesn't want to be recognized.

Not right now.

Threading the gauntlet of Pino's lounge, she enters Madoka's booth without a sound. The bass beat of the jpop pounding into the room as she opens the door and closes it. Back into blissful silence - other than the conversation.

Taking off her baseball cap, she gives her short head of hair this tiny shake, before removing the sunglasses which had felt gauche to wear at night. Anonymity demands some sacrifices for style though.

Her eyes fall upon Madoka Kaname in her pink and white and lace, as she gives a short nod. Those blue eyes then slide around the room as if she's taking stock of who is here. Enemies. Friends.

"Looks like everyone's getting along." There's almost none of her usual sarcasm in that. It's just... an observation perhaps.

Of the sacrifices that were required for such a peace to exist.

Even though she's famished, she doesn't start to eat yet. Instead she takes a seat, crossing one leg over another. Waiting.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Karaoke. With... all of them? About witches.

> I'll be attending.

Here in the present, would it really be a mistake to call Yumi just another student here? She steps through the doors of the karaoke lounge like the casual ease of a Tokyo native, making her way down to the right booth accompanied by a small figure that keeps to the shadows, unnoticed by attendants. Hopefully no one has allergies.

In the reception hall, Yumi steps through the larger door, and glances around. The tall, gray-haired girl isn't in uniform, either; she's in a long, pale green dress down to about her knees, with high boots and pink tights, drapy sleeves, something a little warmer. She's wearing a black choker, a couple of innocuous bracelets... and her glasses.

"Oh," she says, "Right place..." She steps in behind Kozue, offers a wave of her thin hand, which catches green nail polish in the light. "Hey," she says. ...And her small companion darts quickly under the table. "Uhhh don't tell anybody, she insisted..."

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Madoka got her Mama's help putting on makeup for tonight and it slightly disguises the fact that she's been crying nonstop for days and hasn't eaten very much either. It does not do a perfect job of disguising these facts, but it at least lets her say things like "I'm okay," into Nori's shoulder and have some plausible deniability. She gives Lera a ribbon-bouncing nod and Mikoto a faint blush. "I'm glad," she adds. "Have as many as you want, I brought lots."

It is easy to imagine tins of cookies strapped to her thighs on holsters.

She's pretty quiet for a hostess but they're kind of extentuating circumstances, so perhaps this can be forgiven. When Setsuna formally introduces herself she actually smiles and it isn't even wet, though it is still... mild. Muted. "I know," she stammers. "You helped me make a costume for my little brother last Halloween. And... I'm a very big fan of the Sailor Senshi. I know you've saved my life before as Sailor Pluto. Thank you very much!"

She bows more deeply, relieved to finally get to express such gratitude, then straightens to shake her head at Kasagami. "No, I'm not brave at all." A standard response; Madoka doesn't tend to accept compliments.

Nervously, her thumb slips on the remote and a song starts playing at random. Hastily she turns down the volume until it's just background music.

<SoundTracker> Kimi no Kioku (imagine that it's instrumental) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHdOXCoja-c

And at that moment the door bursts open with a waiter and trays and trays of food -- Madoka starts handing them in, to be claimed by whomsoever wants some. Notably she puts a little plate of sushi under the table for the kitty. (There isn't much sushi, her budget isn't infinite, but there is some.)

"Everything in life is easier," she explains, "On a full stomach."

One can almost hear the quote attribution 'Kyouko Sakura' afterwards, but Madoka was especially, and a little bit beseechingly, looking down at Kozue when she said it. Hypocrite she may be, but she's obviously worried about Sayaka's girlfriend, and wants her to eat.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Hey, Mikoto," Lera says. She glances at Setsuna, waving once at her. She knows her identity, already. She bobs her head, though, and then looks at Nori. She flashes a quick smile at her. "Nori-san. Nice to see you, too."

She straightens out and falls in next to Nori. It's not quite a conscious decision to put the Chevaliers on one side of the room and the Shepherds on another, but it is certainly an unconscious decision to do the same. She looks sideways at Nori -- reflecting on and recalling the conversation with Endo Naoki -- and opens her mouth. She closes it, again.

Maybe it would be best to save that. She glances at Kozue as she enters; her expression falters, but she waves her hand at her and Yumi both when they enter. She isn't sure what to say, really.

"Araki," Lera says. "Kozue-san, Ohzora-san. Nice to see everyone here." She nods once, though she looks back at Madoka. She nods, then she reaches out, grabbing a cookie. "So... uh. Did you and Sakura think something up, Madoka-chan?"

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

Upon seeing the girl and receiving such a bright greeting from her, Setsuna cannot but return a warm, "Mikoto-chan." She takes a cookie, too, and in reaching for the pile at the same time taps the end of her cookie to the one Mikoto has plucked up. Setsuna, Mikoto, and sweets over serious discussions go way back now. Lera and Nori each receive a grave nod of respect, held a beat.

Her fingertips flutter in return at Kassie's brushing, but she otherwise doesn't move much. Setsuna draws a deep breath, and offers a polite, if tight, smile to Madoka. "I remember." The smile loosens some for the pure sweetness of the girl, despite the dire topic Setsuna anticipates. Then Kozue enters and she retreats to the sphinx again, albeit with tighter shoulders beneath her shirt.

Yumi and Tama. "It's good to see you,," she says, and Setsuna's chest is a bit tight and her face is serious but that as it turns out, that doesn't change the truth of it. Lera's question pulls the senshi's head around, and she nods her support of it.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori looks to Kasagami - then looks back to Madoka, momentarily mystified: did Madoka... do something to Kasagami?

The others, though. Nori turns to face the Shepherds then, smoothing out her skirt and straightening upwards. Her eyes go over Kasagami - Yumi - Mikoto - Setsuna M. - and, though not in direct connection, Kozue.

Something small happens even as Madoka protests she isn't brave. Nori bows to all of them, more formally. "... Thank you all for coming," she says.

Should I say more? Nori thinks.

The music comes on. She straightens up and smiles slightly at them all instead. It is sad, and faint. Somewhere her heart aches. But it is the best that can manage now - and yet, a real green shoot perhaps may be preferred to a bounteous fake plant.

She seems to think of something to say when WAITERING OCCURS

and in the aftermath Madoka speaks, and Nori turns her gaze on the spread. She takes two plates and fills them up in an idiosyncratic way. One is left aside, but the other is brought over towards...

... Kozue? It has a shrimp burger on it, along with a few fries and two of the chocolate chip cookies. It, too, comes with no words - merely presented to her, held out like an unusually delicious business card.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

At least, with Yumi (and Tama!) here, Kasagami feels slightly less need to worry about sudden fights breaking out. Granted these are some of the calmer Chevaliers in the grand scheme of things. Kozue being the exceptional worry, but one look at Kozue has the Duelist reluctantly feeling sorry for her.

Madoka, is, well, Madoka! She's being good though, no snarky comments, no aggression. She's too worried to take things out on the girl. And maybe, just maybe, her own bouts of bullying have reminded her of lessons she should've learned prior to her entrance to Ohtori.

Or maybe it's just the heavy topic they all know is coming and Lera breaches.

"I've never been in more agreement!" Adds Kassie to the pink haired one, before snatching herself a delicious burger. With some mayo and ketchup later, she's devouring it. There's a proud twinkle in her eye though as Setsuna's virtues are expounded upon.

When Nori thanks them all? Kasagami shrugs helplessly.

"We have to be here, tonight, I think."

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

Lera meets Mikoto's greeting with her own, and there is a light curve inward to her lip as her teeth press down against it, a brief moment of added tension to the lines of her face. She takes a breath.

... she releases it, and her attention falls to other things.

It doesn't matter, and what would she even say?

After all, it's just as Kozue says, as she comes in. Everyone's getting along. Mikoto isn't mad at Madoka any more. Mikoto doesn't want to frustrate Madoka's efforts.

Mikoto meets Setsuna's cookie with her own. There is no 'clink', because that's not how cookies work. But in a just world, there would have been a 'clink'.

And perhaps it is notable, in the way they have separated along party lines, that Miroku's case is between her and the other Shepherds, and she has to reach around it to commit to such an action.

Or perhaps it is just Mikoto's standard lack of thoughtfulness, the same thing which led her to take food before Madoka invited them to do so. Perhaps she just sat down before Setsuna did. Perhaps...

She still smiles to Yumi, when she enters. And clicks her tongue, a friendly tu-tu-tu sort of noise, at whatever creature has taken residence underneath the table.

Everything is easier with food. "Thanks, Madoka!" Mikoto smiles, again, and they are wan things compared to the brightness she has displayed in the past, but it is as chipper as she can manage in the moment. She takes a slice of pizza, laden with cheese and smoked meats, which must be the epitome of Western civilisation.

Perhaps some others will have trouble eating. Mikoto, on the other hand, is hungry, and is going to eat.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Yumi waves back to Lera as she makes herself push away from the door and actually join the group. "Hey Camry-san," she greets in reutrn, sliding into a seat in short order. Her eyes meet Setsuna's briefly, and Yumi just looks at her in turn for a moment, smiling once with a little thoughtful cast to her expression, before she shakes her head about... Whatever serious matter there is. "It's good to see you," she says instead, simply, without reserve.

She ends up next to Lera! But as the food comes...

A voice comes from beneath the table as Madoka sets down the plate below. "Quite acceptable," the feminine growl declares. "Yumi, learn from this one." ...It's a little muffled though, because Tama is underneath the table. Nevertheless, Mikoto may recognize the voice. ...Tama doesn't say anything for a while after that though.

"I think she likes you," Yumi says to Madoka with a small smile, before smiling around at the room, too.

...She takes a drink, one of the caffeine-less sodas, and some of the sushi for herself.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Hearing Madoka praise Sailor Pluto for making a costume - for saving her. It feels strange to her ears. The ruthless and mercenary Senshi who...

Yet even though it was only a week ago when they might have killed each other, such hatreds feel and grudges feel, distant. Like they almost don't make sense anymore. Even pride just isn't there. The fact that she's here is evidence enough.

Madoka says she's not brave, and Kozue remembers her headbutting her, leaping off a building, rushing into a warzone for the sake of a friend. She doesn't embarrass her by refuting it. It's just Madoka's self-image has this strange dissonance with Kozue's idea of her. Almost amusingly so. Yet the simple wisdom of a full belly slides off her like water from a duck's back. It isn't for reasons of pride that she isn't eating - celebrating... it's more that she just... doesn't feel it.

Greetings come from Lera and she nods. Then suddenly a plate enters into her vision.

Kozue stares at it for a moment or three. Before taking the plate by the edge into a hand. Placing it on the seat beside her. Then taking a cookie by two fingers, she holds it up. "I can't stomach anything so sweet." She says as she meets Nori eye to eye. The way she says it, it's like a total rejection.

Then while looking her dead in the eye, she eats a third of the cookie with a single bite, as if doing so were some grand jest only she understood. Chewing, and swallowing.

"Oh?" Though is the question she offers directly after Araki's statement. It doesn't sound angry perhaps. Just... strangely exhausted. "Well if obligation is what it takes."

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Ye-es," Madoka says carefully, uncomfortable at the attention and relieved when people talk to each other or focus on their food. She frowns, very faintly, at the passive separation of the two sides of the room (though it isn't total, to her relief), but does not remark upon it -- instead she resumes her place at the 'head' of the table by dint of it being the stage.

There is a certain meaning to that, too. Madoka didn't need Kyouko for a lot of those phone numbers. People tend to assume her Chevalier alleigance because of her best friend, but the truth is more complicated, as life tends to be.

With a tap of her thumb she pauses the music.

"Th-thank you all for coming. Kyouko-chan and I decided to call this meeting, and, um, she brought me something to read to everyone. She can't be here because she's making preparations. She also wanted me to thank the people who are taking watch tonight and promise to send them a, um," briefly she forgets the word, then closes her eyes and recalls it, "Transcript. A copy. So, I'll be doing that."

She is almost inaudible, and seems to realise it -- turning redder and redder and redder until she's almost the color of her hair ribbons. Desperately her eyes go left and right, casting about for a solution -- and notice the microphone on the stand. She grabs it, and it immediately blasts feedback, and she drops it.

Twisting her hands together, she looks like she's about to cry.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera glances sideways at Yumi, when she chooses to stand next to her. She flashes her a quick smile; then, she looks back at Mikoto. Her eyebrows furrow, as she thinks on what Eri said. That, however, is a momentary distraction. She looks back at Madoka.


"Kyaaaah," Lera groans, and then she hesitates. She pushes off the wall -- and steps up next to Madoka, before she takes the microphone that dropped. She flips a couple of switches. She has, after all, used AV equipment like this in the stage play once put on. Lera looks down at the microphone, and then hands it back to Madoka. "Here, try this. I used it that time I was in Dracula and was an American pretending to be a Texan fighting a vampire."

A beat.

"My life is weird, sometimes," she adds.

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

Setsuna allows Kasagami to speak for the both of them when Nori thanks them all for coming. She still has her toast-cookie but hasn't yet taken a bite. It occupies both hands. Thoughts of Witches and puella magi occupy her busy head, even as she listens. Other worries, personal ones, crowd in and she does her best to wall them off. She is very still at her girlfriend's side, absorbs Yumi's response in quiet.

Feedback shocks a wince from her though, and she feels the sharp tug of concern at Madoka's upset following. She and Kozue both... The pained look instigated by an electronic shriek fades, but only slowly, as Lera steps in to save the day. "I'd like to hear what you and Sakura-san have to say," she urges, but kindly. Her interest is keen beneath that.

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

Well, of course Lera would frown at Mikoto. It makes sense for Lera to be angry at her after everything. It's not something she should be concerned about. It's a natural emotion between enemies.

The way Mikoto glances away when she notices that expression, perhaps she's a little more worried about it than she should be.

Or perhaps she's just bothered at sharing bread with her enemies. Her expression seems to say as much, lips pressed together in thin line.

Food is, at least, a good distraction, much as Madoka has surmised. She pauses in her voracious consumption long enough to listen as Madoka starts speaking, wolfing down the last bite of her pizza and chewing at it as she talks.

It's a good thing Madoka is nervous enough to pause - it gives her time to swallow.

Before her world is shattered in a horrific screech of feedback. Mikoto screeches, too, though hers is pained, as she leaps up onto the back of the booth in a manner which cannot resemble anything but an incredibly offended cat. There she balances for a long moment as she glares daggers at the microphone.

Once she's reasonably sure she's not going to be disturbed by horrific noise again, she lowers herself down, sensible Ohtori flats hitting the ground. "Hate it when it does that," she grumbles, as if this isn't even the first time.

Well, she is Mai Tokiha's roommate.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Madoka takes the stage. And Kozue's eyes snap to attention. She at least had some idea of what was coming.

Whatever came of the words of Kyouko Sakura's letter, it is magic and a miracle they are relying on.

It is a miracle she is counting on.

That it comes in the package of an awkward pink-haired girl who's a mess in public speaking and makes the understandable error of blasting feedback, causing a mic drop - causing tears. It doesn't surprise her. It doesn't make her lose faith.

She already knew the kind of miracle she desired did not come from cynicism and judgment and all the things that used to make sense in her eyes when she disdained girls like that.

"Don't worry about it. It's fine. Just start reading when you can. And if it you feel yourself getting all nervous..." Kozue says calmly, even kindly in her own way.

However she then adds the standard advice gone a step further. "... just imagine us all naked."

... well it is still Kozue Kaoru after all. And it has her own sort of strategy in that. Telling her to do it for Sayaka might just make her even more nervous.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori looks at Kozue's eyes, and tells her, "Of course; you have to eat the rest, as well." She smiles, a bit ghostly. Kozue is eating, though, and so that is good. Nori repairs forwards to reclaim her own plate, which has two shrimp burgers and somewhat more fries.

She hungers.

Sitting down, she winces faintly at the feedback but pushes past it.

Then Nori grimaces at the advice. Adding afterwards - "Or with daikons for heads!"

To Lera, Nori says, "I heard that that play went very well..."

But be that as it may. Her gaze returns to the Shepherds (by odds of numerical presence, if nothing else), though with a mouth full of shrimp burger, Nori Ankou has little to say.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Something to read...? Yumi watches Madoka, and nods a little, the standard tiny movements that show someone is listening, and... waits, when Madoka goes quiet. When she notices how red Madoka is getting though, her expression turns in sympathy. "Um--"

Screeeech. Yumi flinches at the sudden noise, but she glances to the side at first, trying to make it less obvious as she straightens. Lera has the microphone handled, so Yumi decides to move into action, too.

"Yeah, it's okay--these things are temperamental, that's all. I'll check the connector."

Yumi has become something of an expert with sound equipment by this point, so she just moves over to the little speaker column and glances it over, checks the cords... It doesn't take long before she flashes a thumbs-up to Madoka again.

...Or for her to blanch and turn red at Kozue's advice. "Aaah..."

...Tama, instead, places a paw on Mikoto's foot. "It's fine," the older cat says to the kitten... and then resumes nomming fish. She's like a machine.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami flinches visibly as Kozue speaks to her. She opens her mouth, what looks like a small snarl of anger. Then she uses food as an outlet, mauling her burger as though she were preparing to challenge Kyouko to a hot dog eating contest. Choking down food and venom alike, her gaze laser-focuses on Madoka.

She's that much more tense now. Kasagami is utterly on edge.

Which is why when that feedback goes off? When Mikoto screeches?

"....Well, I'm awake now." This is said from the floor, as she toppled over into her own coat backwards in surprise. She assumes a lounging position after this, not even trying to pick up her dignity.

Squint. "Kozue, don't suggest that. Too much beauty in one room as it stands." Grin. Chomp! She tries to steal a scritch if Tama gets close enough!

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

"Mikoto-chan, are you alright?" After a moment, it seems she is. The swordswoman at Setsuna's side, on the other hand... The senshi stiffens as Kasagami topples, burger and all, then just stays on the floor. She very carefully does not look down.

"We're paying close attention, Kaname-san," she assures the girl with the microphone, but it is unmistakably a subtweet in the direction of her floor-lounging girlfriend.

That last piece of advice from the Aohime muse is such a Kozue thing to say that it gets a reluctantly amused shake of the head from Setsuna Meioh, despite everything.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Confessio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Jm0GZgCPNs

Madoka gives Mikoto an incredibly apologetic look, huge, rounded eyes at her reaction, then accepts the microphone with shaking fingertips -- and a trembling smile for Lera's efforts to cheer her up. It is further strengthened by Setsuna's support and Yumi's thumbs-up, and whether Kozue (aided and abetted by Kasagami) helps or hinders Operation Pull It Together, at least this time when her face turns flaming red it isn't because she's humiliated by her own clumsiness.

She produces the letter from her purse, which is tucked away beside one of the couches. It looks handwritten, and can't possibly be Madoka's, it's way too messy, which is in a way a mark of its own authenticity. (It also has a greasy thumbprint on one corner that is visible from the other side.)

Madoka Kaname reads a lot of bedtime stories to Tatsuya Kaname, and everyone gets to figure that out by the way she reads the text. It's in her own voice for the first few words, but gradually, and very subtly, takes on a certain Kyoukoesque affectation -- the drawling length of some syllables and the staccato of others; rushing through the embarrassing parts; slowing down for the more serious parts. It doesn't seem conscious, and certainly isn't mockery, but if Madoka ever gives up this whole business of hanging around with magical girls she probably has a bright future ahead of her in the Literature Club, or at least the storytelling part.

"Hello everybody,

I'm not used to writing letters, so please bear with me. I'm sorry I'm not here to say this in person. After all that's happened I think maybe some of you wouldn't want to hear me out. I get it. I hope you can stand my words coming from another voice instead.

We've all fought and bled and cried together, even if we've done so in two separate halves, all over the way that Puella Magi hunt the Witches of this city. As I sit here now, writing, I don't think of the arguments that led to our terrible little war, arguments that I am not interested in further pursuing. Instead I think of the awful pointlessness of all this misery that we have stirred up.

Sayaka Miki has become a Witch. It seems that it is the fate of all Puella Magi to become Witches, unless they die in battle first. I know the horror that this has caused me and I'm sure I'm not alone. We have spent so long fighting over how to handle Witches, whether to expend or conserve our energies in their killing. I think that we were all wrong. We should not be focused on killing Witches, now. We should, we must try to save them.

I don't know if it can be done. I don't know if it's possible for Puella Magi to survive without Witches. But to become such a monster seems to be a fate worse than death. I don't know if it can be stopped, but we must try. I ask all of us, Shepherds and Chevaliers and those who were neither to all come together now to try to save Sayaka, to reverse this terrible fate that she has suffered. If we can do it for her then we can do it for others. That, to me, seems like a way that we can actually make this world a better place instead of just shedding more blood over how to manage its awfulness.

If there is any part of Sayaka that remains in the monster, then maybe she's still listening. We need a voice that she'd hear, and I believe that Madoka-chan has that voice. Together we're going to try calling to Sayaka. I will do my best to protect Madoka, but I would be truly grateful for your help. If it doesn't work, then maybe all of our heads together can come up with another plan. I don't know if it will work, but I know we have to try.

I've fought with some of you, fought against others. Now I beg all of you to please come together as one and to find a way out of this, for Sayaka and for Eri, for me and for all Puella Magi that are and ever will be. For all of us.

Dinner's on me if we pull it off.

Sincerely, Kyouko Sakura"

It's also the case that once she gets started, most of her nervousness falls away, as she focuses on her task... and some of the passion that enters her voice is entirely her own. Every so often she looks up from the page to meet someone's eyes, and by the end of it all, no one has lacked the opportunity to see what's in her own:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

It is a small, delicate, and fragile thing, that which dwells within Madoka now. But it is present, as vitally present as water in the desert. As infinitely brilliant as a single lit candle in a vast, dark auditorium.

After the reading is over she stays standing. Pidgeon-footed, she shifts her weight nervously, perhaps, as Kyouko obviously is, not expecting a warm reception.

But she never once looks down at the floor.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera gives Madoka a great, big thumbs-up -- and then she backpedals, until she is standing next to Yumi again. She falls quiet, though, as Madoka reads the letter out.

She frowns a little, looking down at the ground during the letter's reading. She runs a hand down her face, as she looks down at the ground. Hope, she thinks. Maybe there is a little hope. At the very least, she knows who she owes. Her fingers tighten at her side, as she thinks of the friend she used to walk through Ohtori's gardens with, and laugh.

She owes Mami that much. Lera swallows, and her voice is a little thick with emotion that almost comes out. She keeps it in check.

"If there's even a little chance," she says, "that we can save her... that we can save all those poor girls. Then... we've gotta take it, y'know?"

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Tama reaches up a paw and gently nudges Kasagami's hand away from her head, her claws mostly sheathed beyond a light feeling of pointiness. "Not now," she replies, and finishes her plate. ...Don't feel bad; it takes time to earn the Keeper's trust.

Yumi, for her part, keeps up her perch by the sound equipment. ...It's not that she expects something to go wrong, but it's a little more secure, standing here in a realm that's hers in all this... And, well, if something happens she can help quickly, right? It's a good way to stay useful quickly.

She is not fiddling with wires or looking at displays as Madoka begins to speak, though. She listens, and she hears Madoka's voice, yes, but she hears Kyouko's, too, remembers meetings in dark places, hidden away with food provided in nondescript containers, gathered in the dim. ...She hears Madoka again in the way she delivers it, starts to know a little more about her just by hearing her delivery. And what she says...

Hope. Yumi's pink eyes are easy to meet, now and then, but Yumi thinks she can feel that hope. Something she didn't think was possible, but...

She thinks about Eri. Eri, who has been so high looming in her mind, and what can happen.

"...I don't know how," Yumi answers, soft but loud enough to be heard. Just enough. "It would be even more dangerous than usual. ...I've... never been very good at fighting Witches. The magic I'd use to help do away with curses, with awful things, didn't..." She bites her lip, looks down.

"But I'm in, to try. Maybe knowing what we know now--knowing she's your friend, who she is... Maybe we can."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori snorts a half-laugh at Kasagami's flirtatious words. Somehow it feels different now, than it did before.

Madoka reads.

The story goes on. Nori's face tenses a little. She did not ever know Kyouko well, but there is passion in these words. Nori feels her heart pound. The memory is there, and the words drive their fingers into the wet wound. But as the words, sent through the agency of Madoka, fills the acoustic room, Nori looks at her lap.

Ah, she thinks. Her fingers curl on the charcoal fabric, lightly. So that is why.

She feels something slide into her spine, filling her vertebrae. The lingering lost sense of pain fades, covered over by a new feeling. Hope, or at least, its near occasion. Straightening, Nori's shoulders spread a little.

Her eyes turn towards Madoka and she says, with a soft and affected casualness, "Of course. For Sayaka, for all of them; anything." Perhaps, Nori thinks - things can't be un-done. But change is not death.

She looks back to Yumi, and she smiles, a bit more, a bit more strongly. "Perhaps we will have to try a new road."

Sayaka, she thinks: Even if you have changed, I still--

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Kozue doesn't respond to Nori's statement. She doesn't so much as... do anything. Her eating ceases. And she is as stone as Madoka collects herself. As she reads the letter. The two had reviewed it in advance, so she already knows what this will call for.

And once Madoka is done - there's a certain gravity to the silence. It is pregnant with feeling. Trying to bring the disparate feelings of the Shepherds and the Chevaliers together for a cause that might be utterly hopeless. The cynical part of her tells her it won't work.

Yet she's seen miracles in her life. And they always come in the least expected places. From girls that she never expected to amount to anything. From a girl that tried to dress up to attract her brother's attention. From a normal girl who says she's looking for a totally normal boyfriend. From a girl in candy cane tights.

Slowly Kozue's legs unlace. And she uses her palms to bring herself to a standing position, as she walks up alongside Madoka Kaname. She doesn't take the mic from her though. Instead she simply says. "I know a lot of you despise me. I'm not going to try to convince you otherwise. I'm not going to try to explain myself. I don't care who offers aid... and I don't care why. I..." There's a certain amount of emotion in her voice as she stumbles on words said to her not so long ago, "... I just don't care."

Kozue lowers herself down to her knees, one after another, before bowing at her back, placing her palms, elbow bent on the floor. "I don't give a damn about anything... except one thing."

And then she places her forehead on the floor - prostrating herself fully in dogeza before Chevalier and Shepherd. "Please help us save Sayaka."

She cannot say 'try'. Because the possibility that it might not work... right now. It would be too much.

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

Kyouko Sakura and Madoka Kaname propose to save a Witch.

Setsuna Meioh does not know a great deal about the nature of Witches, though she has fought one or two by now. She remembers Charlotte, and so does a gangling grey kitten in Meioh Tower. If she does not know much about Witches, though, she does feel like she knows that kitten's savior.

The Outer Senshi has faced many nigh-unfaceable things in her long long life, and expects to face more before her day is done. Swallowing these cruel revelations and applying them to the first friend she made in the Tokyo of Here and Now, that... that ranks among them, now. Nurturing Eri-chan, fiercely protective Shimanouchi-san, the girl who understands both why the Outer Senshi must undertake their terrible task and the weight of it on Setsuna's heart: she will become a monster. If she does not first die.

It's what happened to Sayaka Miki. Setsuna's opinions on the blue-haired girl are not nearly so warm, but that does not negate the well of empathy in her heart. Never would she wish such a fate on the girl. But to resurrect her from it... It worries her. Setsuna would like to know whether such a thing is possible. She wonders what sort of Sayaka Miki might emerge, though.

Kyouko Sakura's word, Madoka Kaname's voice, their plan. It sounds very hopeful to the senshi. Kozue makes her plea, and she is not unmoved however much she works not to show it overmuch, but...

She asks from her sphinxian stillness, hands folded over an uneaten cookie in her lap. "What if it does not work?"

She's Sakura's sworn ally. She'll aid if called to. Setsuna cannot keep herself from questioning it, though.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Aww, no Tama pets! Next time, mascot! Next time!

As it turns out, Kasagami not listening would be impossible. A letter told in that storybook fashion by one Madoka Kaname with the words and cadence of Kyouko Sakura has the lounging Duelist all ears-and-business. She puts down her food.

Lips purse, and the young woman is listening more than seeing the adorable hostess, soon stuck in her own head as she ponders. She hates Sayaka Miki with a passion. As a Witch, as a human? She's a horrific threat to Eri. And yet, here is one of her makeshift family members putting words to paper for a group of allies and enemies.

Her chest feels heavy as she mulls things over. Yumi, precious Yumi, wanting to help despite the fruitlessness of it all. And then even Kozue is begging their help.

"I have a few concerns." Kasagami starts.

"Is Sayaka going to come back from that even worse than before? Where do we even start?" She rubs her temple, then looks to Setsuna. Kasagami's wise and unerring northern star offers the question even she not speak aloud, before it even comes to mind.

"This really could blow up in our faces." Another long pause. One hand grips her coat, and she's staring at Setsuna for a moment even as she addresses everyone.

"That being said, a King can't help but love the sound of an unjust, cruel, and manipulative system when it's deserving of being crushed, mangled, and stomped into the dirt beneath the boots of a legion of warriors and mystics! If we can really reverse the fates of Witches and Puella...well. For the sake of Eri-chan, and Kyouko-chan, I'll have my boots shined and ready."

Wink. "Good thing we have voices of wisdom and caution."

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Kozue still has her forehead on the floor, when Setsuna Meioh tries to shatter her denial. Her faith. She keeps her forehead planted there, palms out.

She does not move. She does not shake. She does not do anything for some time. Whether her inertness is due to the gravity of the moment - a need to compose herself - or just a certain distinct fatigue - it is impossible to tell.

However then she speaks. There's no emotion in her voice. "Then we all get the cold comfort of existing in a world that is without magic or miracles."

She does not raise her head, "And you will still have the security of the knowledge that another one of your enemies is in the grave."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Maybe it could blow up in our faces," Lera says, glancing at Kasagami and then at Setsuna. "Maybe we don't know how we'll do it. But..."

The redhead kicks her foot into the ground, and her brow furrows. "...This is what we do, y'know? We don't just want to save the world, we... want the world to be a brighter, better place. And if we can pull Sayaka back -- if we can bring her out of that -- then we can help her through whatever comes next. If we can save her, there's a chance. If we don't try to save her, there's nothing."

She swallows, and looks down. "It'll be dangerous. Sayaka... the Witch she's become... she'll try to kill us. But we'll risk our lives for that. Because..."

She looks at Kozue, prostrate on the ground. "...Because if we save Sayaka, then we'll make the world a brighter, better place for her. We'll give her a reason to smile. And I'm willing to fight and die for that."

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

Mikoto nods, with an affirmative noise, to Setsuna's question. She was startled, but she's okay.

Perhaps her dramatic reaction speaks to how on-edge she feels, too, sitting here in a booth with girls she was trying to kill not so long ago.

It's an effort, for Mikoto Minagi.

But there's no blame in her eyes for Madoka as she acknowledges the apology in her glance - though there is a brief flash of confusion for Lera and her thumbs-up. She might have asked Kozue if it would really help - she'd be perfectly willing to help Madoka! - but Kasagami shuts down the crass suggestion, and the world is saved.

She can't imagine why thinking of them with daikon-faces would help, though. What a strange girl, Mikoto thinks, without a shred of irony.

She smiles, uneasily, down to Tama. "Okay..." If Tama says it's fine, it must be fine.

Setsuna assured her they are listening with rapt attention, and for Mikoto at least it is true. Those wide golden eyes settle on Madoka, though they are, at least, blinking. She can hear Kyouko, through her words.

Her hands settle on her lap, curl around each other, and she finds as Madoka speaks that they tighten. It matches tension in arms and shoulders and cheek and brow and the way her lips draw back just so, exposing a flash of teeth as breath shallows over them.

And her first thought is: Kyouko.

One more monster I have not seen to.

She is suffering, too.

She is suffering, and when Mikoto next blinks she finds her lashes damp.

'But... senpai wants to hope there can be something better for the two of us... even if we don't know what it is... and even if after we find it it only lasts... a little while... it'd be nice right? To have some of that... for a little while...'

Kyouko has hoped since Shinjuku, at least.

But Mikoto does not have time to linger on Kyouko's pain - and what bitter truth that is.

Because Madoka is still reading, and Mikoto is still looking up at her, strung like a bow-string, eyes wide and intent.

'Save them,' says Kyouko, through Madoka, and breath over parted lips hitches, halting and ragged. It hurts. It hurts because she has dedicated herself to Eri's survival, and the possibility of something else -

- it is such a fragile little hope.

Could they do it? Could Eri not be condemned?

She swore that Eri's enemies were her own, and Sayaka is Eri's enemy. But if they could save Sayaka - perhaps Eri could be saved, too. Perhaps she would not have to kill her, after the end.

Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Is there a path other than the horrible fate of Eri Shimanouchi?

Mikoto is stiff and silent as Madoka finishes talking - even as the others throw in their support. Lera, of course. Yumi, brave and strong though she does not think so. The strange girl, Nori. Her breath is shallowed and her hands white-knuckled and there is dampness in her eyes.

Slowly Kozue moves - slowly Mikoto's eyes fall to her, rather than staring at the stage to Madoka's left.

Yes. To do this is to save Sayaka.

Sayaka, Eri's enemy, whom Mikoto has sworn to destroy.

Her teeth set in a line; she breathes through them. She knows the worth of her enemies, and what she may do for them.


'Okay then... if you're willing to believe... if senpai is willing to... I'll try too... It'd be nice huh? To just rest for a while...'

... except...

Mikoto stares down Kozue, heart hammering in her chest.

Setsuna and Kasagami speak concerns.

Lera speaks of saving them.

Perhaps it is surprising which thread Mikoto follows.

"I want," Mikoto says, finally, and the words are halting and hushed, "to save them." She cannot say 'Sayaka'. She cannot want to save Sayaka. But if she could save the rest of them, through Sayaka -

- can't she do that much?

Perhaps it isn't surprising at all.

Dragging the words from herself, as if she cannot quite believe she is saying them: "Kozue. I'll help." She does not say why. It's obvious. Each HiME has only ever been part of this war for one reason.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Haruka Tenoh's presence here has been unusually subdued. He sat on the same side as Setsuna (to try and prove he wasn't feeling awkward? to represent their alliance even if not their friendship?), but he has not spoken to her. It's not obvious to everyone here who he represents here, such are the mysteries of Recognition Inhibition. He cannot be the one who wields the might of Fallen Stern, however--he seems to be with the Shepherds. Maybe he's someone's civilian sidekick. Or maybe the mysterious Chat Noire has finally chosen a side.

Crossing his arms, Haruka keeps a grave expression during the reading of the letter. His face reveals little. But when it's finished, he shakes his head wistfully.

"Not you too, Sakura-san. Something's really catching."

He averts his eyes when Kozue bows so low. He too knows a swimmer with ocean hair who would not lower herself for anyone or anything. His eyes shift instead to Setsuna.

No. 'Setsuna's' words remind him. This is now, and has always been, Sailor Pluto.

He lets Kozue answer for herself, but when she has done so, he adds a remark, without making eye contact with Pluto. "Sakura-san has never once asked us, 'what if?' That is her concern."

In its way, his response is even less humane, less contextual, than Pluto's. But the soft note of antagonism in it come from a place of alienation, not professionalism. Pluto has lived for centuries longer with the weight of duty on her shoulders. But it is Haruka who has lived centuries wondering whether she or Michiru will be the one left to cry for the other.

Haruka gives Kasagami a blue-eyed glance, searching. But he looks away without comment.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Support crashes over Madoka like a golden wave, but after it ebbs there are questions, concerns. Doubts. She doesn't seem offended; indeed, there's a sort of still, quiet understanding as she looks between those who've expressed them. It's obviously nothing she hasn't thought about herself.

More pressingly though Kozue is at her feet. She looks down at her, anguish erasing the last of the job that Mama's makeup did at hiding her own distress, and seems torn between joining her and dragging her upright. In the end, well, it's Madoka. She takes the middle road.

Keeping the microphone, she carefully lowers herself down and sits next to her, close enough that their hips are touching. After Kozue's harsh interjection, she rests her hand on her back, very, very gently.

"Hey," she says into the mic. This time it just carries her voice loudly, without the feedback, and with more confidence -- though no joy -- she interjects again: "Hey. Listen."

A very, very fleeting wistfulness crosses her face, as though she's just accidentally said something funny, or strange, or sad. It's impossible to know what she's thinking.

(Little Madoka and little Sayaka, together on the couch, passing the controller back and forth as they conquer Hyrule...)

"We don't know if it will work, and if it doesn't..."

She swallows. It's a lot harder for her to say it than for Kozue, or maybe it's just that they're saying it so differently. It is not the kindest thing in the world to have forced her to say it at all, and technically she doesn't have to anymore, but... her shoulders square and her chin lifts with a sort of grave responsibility.

"We can't leave her like that. She'll have to be defeated... killed," she says around the ball in her throat. By the last word she is crying again, though unobtrusively, her eyes heavy with tears and a few escaping. "Sayaka-chan wouldn't want to be left alone... either. And... I think it's kinder... that at least, it would be, at the hands of people who know her, instead of thinking... she was just a monster."

She turns to Kasagami in particular.

"I think... what you're saying about her, it's the opposite, actually... being the Witch was the worse. The worst. And Sayaka... we all got to see, what happens, when a Puella Magi is too close to the-- the edge, to the end," the tears come a little faster now, frustratingly so, and she sniffs them in fiercely, "For too long. It's been true... since Shinjuku. It almost happened that night... I didn't understand what I was seeing then, but I do... now."

(This is not an easy thing to recall since it started and stopped in the time it took for, well, time itself to stop and start in turn.)

"I think that she only... didn't... right there and then, because..."

She looks away from the swordswoman and around at the group as a whole.

"On the roof, right after it all happened, Homura-chan gave me a Grief Seed in exchange for a promise not to bring back Mami-senpai. And it was enough to... stop Sayaka-chan, from becoming that, I guess, but, I guess, it wasn't enough to save Sayaka-chan. She was... too far gone... and now I've lost them both..."

Madoka finally lets go of the ability to speak. And lets go of the microphone, placing it in her lap, so that she can hide her face behind her hands.

Her shoulders shake, but she is silent, except for a wheezed, tiny apology for the fuss.

"I'm sorry..."

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

As if sensing Mikoto's anxiety, Tama finally moves, slipping away from her empty plate to sit beside the small HiME. Maybe it's just responsible; someone has to look out for someone volatile. Or maybe...

'What if it does not work?'

Yumi looks to Setsuna, for a few moments. She studies her expression, again. ...She's not the first to speak up; she hears the dullness in Kozue's voice instead, hears the emotion in Lera's... Even Mikoto wants to help. Yumi can imagine why; she turns towards Mikoto, long enough to try to meet her eyes--she thinks she understands. She feels the same way. Yumi thinks again, of Eri; watching her look out the window, on the train, sitting with her...

She isn't the first to speak, no. She does find it cruel, that Madoka has to be the one to answer that... but wouldn't it have to be her? Wouldn't she...?

'It gets worse.' 'Too close...' Yumi looks awy, troubled, looking into nothing at all as she thinks. And then she blinks, looking to Madoka in surprise, and she feels it then--the twinge of anger, not at Madoka, but at injustice, at--

"...Her again," Yumi murmurs, her hand curling into a fist at her side, her expression tightening. ...But anger gives way to something else, quickly, to hurt, to worry...

"Yeah," Yumi agrees. "...It could get worse. It could just fail, we could just get unlucky..." She steps out from her hiding place, even as Tama looks up towards her. ...Yumi nods to her familiar, and keeps going. "But it's worth the risk, isn't it? If we can save her, we should try. ...If we can come to understand what happened, how to reverse it... she's not the only one we could save. It goes beyond even just Miki-san, doesn't it? Even if we want to be mercenary, if we want to pick and choose... It's the reasonable option. It's the smart option. ...It's the right option."

"It's..." Yumi bites her lip, loses the thread, as she watches Madoka hide herself. She steps towards her, quietly. "Hey... You don't..."

Green eyes stare out from the seats, though, a cat's tail slowly lashing, back and forth. But Tama doesn't deliver judgement of her own; she looks to the others... to Setsuna.

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

There is something careful about the way Setsuna Meioh sits between Kasagami and the handsome stranger. She receives, mirrors her girlfriend's frequent looks and touches, but initiates her own less frequently -- maybe because they are among enemies, maybe because of the dire topic, maybe for some other reason altogether. As for the blonde on her other side, they neither touch nor exchange looks, but there is still the sense of unspoken familiarity in her body language. It just occurs through glass.

Her unstated thoughts synchronize with her love's spoken cautions and Setsuna finds an unexpected comfort there amidst the dark and the worries. Not to worry; it cannot, and does not, last. Her return gaze, troubled garnet meeting grey for a heartbeat, is torn away as the flat words of Kozue Kaoru cut in.

She looks at the bend of the model's graceful form, so eloquent in affect when the girl's voice is so lacking. The cold that washes over the senshi is not so unlike that found between stars, or that found between the wet iron links of a chain between one's fingers. "I know what sort of a world we inhabit, and a plan is not a plan unless it accounts for things going wrong." Her chin is high. Setsuna says nothing to the other charge.

She doesn't look at Haruka, when he speaks, but for a moment it feels like they are back to back on a battlefield again, moving in practiced concert. After that she just feels terribly lonely, and uses a different sort of practice to forge onward.

Mikoto will help, too, she says. Almost everyone else voiced their immediate approval for the plan; Kasagami's passionate pledge came on the heels of her worries. Setsuna Meioh waits to hear the answer to the concerns of the Outer Senshi. Madoka answers them, and Setsuna cannot imagine what it might cost the girl to do so. She bows her head for a moment, and catches Tama's look under the table.

Setsuna says, "That is a more complete plan."

Her head rises, and looks to Madoka Kaname with garnet wells of empathy in a still face. "I will aid, if Sakura-san asks it of us. My own desires do not enter into it." Sailor Pluto is loyal to her alliances.

Let Kozue Kaoru believe what she will of Setsuna's motives. The senshi is sure no words of hers would make a difference, and she will not utter them here, if ever.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The glance of Haruka Tenoh is met by a slow look of Kasagami's own, briefly. She can't help but return it with a slitted, annoyed eye. One hand balls into a fist. And yet for a brief spell she can't look away.

Setsuna might just catch the irrationally angry light exhale of air through Kassie's nose. She really, really wants to hit something all of a sudden.

And yet he has a point.

Madoka speaks, and her gaze flits. Kasagami sits up, some of that anger bleeds away. MOre silence from the Duelist. The tears themselves don't move her. But the weight to her words and the logic in them do. Madoka tells of a rooftop.

Her free hand bundles a section of her coat.

"No one deserves to be a disgusting creature like that. No matter who they are as a human." Kasagami's voice is far lower than normal as she admits that.

She grabs her burger. It tastes like ashes in her mouth. Can there be a way? There needs to be a way. A little sliver of hope truly starts to blossom in her heart.

And a small smile finds it's way back onto her face, as Setsuna throws her lot in with this insane plan. Some bravado comes to her, coloring her cheeks, a royal heart finally beating and pulsing to match her pledge she spoke aloud. Such loyalty in her beloved.

Silence from the Duelist. Her look to Setsuna is warm, with a brief nod.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

"I wouldn't think otherwise." Kozue says simply, when it comes to Setsuna knowing the nature of the world. Haruka Tenoh clarifies with his own remark, and Kozue doesn't respond. She doesn't know Kyouko Sakura beyond a few experiences. She does not try to speculate on her relationship with - who Haruka likely represents. Instead she simply waits in that position. Not answering Kasagami, and only saying "Thank you." To Mikoto, without judgement of the fact that she tried to kill them both on a bridge not so long ago.

Madoka lowers herself down to sit beside her. She does not raise her head. Madoka speaks.

Speaks on many things. What happens if it doesn't work. The kindness of euthanizing her own best friend - and Kozue's girlfriend. She doesn't resent her for it. It's just... how it is. It feels almost surreal to bank on hope - when the more likely reality is that they're going to be simply doing her in.

'Sayaka-chan wouldn't want to be left alone... either.'

Sends a little tremble through her body like the foreshock of an earthquake. She saw Sayaka on the rooftop that night, when she was so nearly a witch. Yet it was after. It was after. It took cruelty to get her to keep moving - when she was so close to the edge. Cruelty, tough love. Whatever you want to call it, she inflicted it in her own way.

And watched her get closer and closer - not realizing what she was seeing. She thought it was simply another kind of maturation to the reality of the world. Instead it was her dying - by inches. Drowning. While she let her. Let her sink without realizing it.

Madoka reveals the truth of what happened, and loses her ability to muteness, and Kozue slowly brings her forehead off the floor, straightening her back out of her dogeza, into more seiza instead. Madoka might feel a small sensation on the back of her hand, like something peeling it off her face. Kozue's fingers wreath around the hand gently, and her other comes to grasp the other side of it, "Hey. You bought her time she wouldn't have had otherwise. I think Mami Tomoe of all people would understand." It's gentle at least, for Kozue, "Back during the invasion someone said... it was really sad, that I could not grasp how one special day with the right person could mean so much." She'd scoffed at the cold visage of Miyu Greer. "I didn't get it back then. Yet it wasn't so long ago that I told someone I'd go through - so much pain all over again if it just meant... one more day."

Her hands squeeze down just a little more firmly, "Don't apologize for the time you bought for all of us. Don't..." There's something pained in her expression, "... apologize that you cared so much about her to make that kind of decision."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kozue pleads with them. If Nori had wavered she does not, now. It is a sign, she knows, of how Kozue must feel inside. "Please, it's alright," she tries to say to the Blue Princess.

Then the others speak.

Nori feels her words threaten to come up - the pained yelp of fury, of indignation - and she stops it. She stops it because Madoka is there and because Kozue is abasing herself. She sets her teeth. Nori sucks in a deep breath.

Kozue beats her to it once again; and for once, Nori is happy about that. It means that Kozue is not wholly gone, gone, gone away - not broken, merely wounded.

She shifts in her seat. After Madoka speaks, Nori speaks, or maybe la Sirene:

"Sayaka was there for me when I needed something to believe in. I can do no less than my uttermost."

Then Nori - it's really Nori - shifts herself forwards. Rising up, she lingers for a moment, letting her dark blue eyes rest on the handsome man who has joined them. She smiles at Haruka; the man is unfamiliar, but, it seems, welcome. She then reaches up to unfasten the silk strings binding up the oxhorns she'd put up, shaking her hair loose as she comes closer to Madoka.

She settles down near Madoka - and she reaches down to take the microphone, even as she rests her other hand on Madoka's shoulder. Staying there, she looks at the screen, operating the controls as she lets her eyes flick over towards Setsuna and Yumi. Then towards Kasagami.

Perhaps at the 'disgusting creature' remark - or perhaps in memory of something oldish, something that never came to pass. She raises the microphone to her lips, though, as the recorded music begins to play. And for the first time in easy sight, a Siren ends up singing:

INSERT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIvsPfhBJps

Some say, "Love. It is a river / That drowns the tender reed."

Some say, "Love. It is a razor / That leaves your soul to bleed."

Some say, "Love. It is a hunger, An endless aching need."

I say, "Love. It is a flower, And you its only seed."

Nori's singing voice is low - and lulling - quiet in tone, despite the microphone's amplification.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera glances at Setsuna, and then at Haruka. She doesn't, immediately, realize who he is. Another of the Shepherds, but how can she be sure which? Her mouth hardens into a line, after a moment. Then, she glances down at her feet, and she listens while Madoka explains a little bit more. Her eyes squeeze shut, though, at that. Her breath is rattling, when it comes out.


She sits there, quietly, for a moment. She swallows, thinking of the time that she saw Mami's Soul Gem stained black -- like with soot -- and thinks, again, on what could have happened. Her eyes lift to Kozue, and she hesitates. Nori starts singing, though, and Lera lowers her head.

She frowns and doesn't say more, just yet.

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

Something's catching, the stranger condemns them. He cannot be Endo, because Mikoto has seen Endo without his vestments. He is still a strange presence, because Mikoto has never seen a boy fighting with them. He earned a suspicious glance on his entry. But then, he isn't the only one Mikoto doesn't know the truth of.

That strange girl, Nori, must be one of the girls she is fighting, but she could not guess who.

Kozue thanks her, and Mikoto inclines her head in a nod, and she does not say anything else.

Her hands release each other, with effort, and one comes to rest on Tama's back. Her fingers curl in, absently, close to the back of her neck. Scritch-scritch-scritch. The feeling of warmth under her hand reminds her, and gold finds grey as Mikoto looks to Yumi. She is lost, and uncertain, and afraid, and so very, very desperate to hope.

Mikoto does not, as a rule, play many video games. Neither does she watch much television, though she is occasionally tempted to the couch to watch a movie with her friends; it is a thing she enjoys more for the ability to drape over them than for whatever is playing on the colourful box. Madoka's wistful reference goes right over her head. But Madoka has asked them to listen, and she listens.

There is a thing which lines her face, which draws up her brow and pulls back her lips in tense grimace.

It is not anger.

It is fear.

When she is too close to the end, for too long...

And then, a sharp gasp through grit teeth. Her hand against Tama stills as she draws tense again. It does not curl or grasp. It is, in fact, entirely deliberately not doing that, because Mikoto is afraid that if she does she will grip too tightly and in doing so do harm to a cat.

Thumb presses in against the side of her finger, instead.

Grief Seeds stopped her, and did not save her.

There is a point of no return.

No matter what Mikoto does...

No matter how hard Mikoto tries...

There is a word which slips from her and it is, "no," a plea small and strained and perhaps easy to overlook for the misery of Madoka Kaname. It is one whispered little word. It is the soul of countless little girls fed to girls who became monsters by girls whose actions mark them almost as monstrous.

Her breath shallows; her heart pounds.

"Then -" the word catches in her throat and she swallows. Volume returns to her, desperate and determined. "It's gotta work. We gotta, find something. I won't just - give up!"

She is no saviour for Sayaka. She bore no love for her; knew nothing of her. She is not who Madoka would hope to put her down.

But she does not want to put Eri down.

And no matter what she does -

Mikoto bows her head, eyes scrunching shut. "I won't," she insists, "no matter what." But the words are more tremulous now, because the enormity of the situation presses down like a vice.

Perhaps she would have gone to Madoka, but there are things she is struggling with on her own, after all.

And then she hears music.

Mikoto draws ragged breath as she listens to the siren-song, and she thinks there is some truth to it, after all.

Love is such a hungry thing.

And to speak of its flower - well.

Nori cannot know how it lances black glass through her heart, to think of the garden she has tended all for the love of Eri Shimanouchi. She cannot know why Mikoto's hand curls at her chest, over her heart, why her body curls in on itself.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

More snuffles come from behind Madoka's hands as she tries, valiantly, to pull herself together. Everyone's looking at her. She's wasting everyone's time. She's useless, so useless, oh god.

Kozue forces her to look at her -- to look at them, at the room. At their expressions.

Her tears still to an unexpected sound, and now one of her hands is held by each of two friends, because her other hand has risen to her own shoulder to squeeze Nori's. To squeeze them both. She leans over to rest her cheek against Kozue's, and they breathe together for a long moment, and Kozue knows she has been heard.

Madoka knows the song -- everyone does, it's famous -- and anyway the words are right there on the screen. Very, very quietly, she joins the next verse.

"It's the heart afraid of breaking /

that never leans to dance

It's the dream afraid of waking /

that never takes the chance..."

With a final squeeze, Madoka wriggles out of their hold, away from their support, and crosses the small room in a few short steps to take Mikoto's hand, that clutched, agonized hand.

Her desperation, her determination -- it's mirrored in Madoka's eyes, now, all of it. Grief, banished again by hope, that dangerous, terrible thing.

But, with a certain instinct for how her newest adorable same-height sibling might not want to be stared at right now, she elects after a moment to meet the empathetic gaze of Setsuna Meioh, instead.

And she reaches out her other hand, as the verse continues.

It doesn't wear any rings. It doesn't hold anything of value, really. It's a small hand. A pale hand. A soft hand, unknowing of true labor, of true danger, of the difficult choice to harm.

And yet.

Madoka holds out her hand to Setsuna, the woman who asked a hard thing of her, holds it out welcomingly, entreatingly.


"It's the one who won't be taken / who cannot seem to give..."

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Kozue's cheek rests against Madoka's for a moment, this kind of emotional intimacy... foreign to her perhaps. Perhaps. It's not such a bad thing though. Not such a bad thing as Madoka's other hand is taken, as the other girl starts to sing.

Kozue does not join in though. It's not because she's too cool for it. Quite the opposite. There's something powerful and raw in this room. A lot of girls who love so much that they can sing about it so easily.

Not so long ago maybe she would have rolled her eyes. In the same way she rolls her eyes at school because someone thinks their first boyfriend is 'the one'. Or someone saying that they'll be there forever for a best friend. The only relationships that felt 'forever' had been family - and only through the links offered by bonds of blood that forced their hands.

Love is not something that comes to Kozue Kaoru easily. Or simply. It was something she felt was mythical, and impossible. That's what she thought, that there was no such thing other than wild animal lusts.

It is not something she could offer to Sayaka Miki in her uncertainty of its existence within her. 'Maybe' was the best she had, in that casualness that came from moment to moment. The desire to spend time with someone just had to be enough.

So Kozue Kaoru does not sing about love. She allows Madoka Kaname to wriggle away, to reach out unto others. And one leg at a time, she brings herself to a standing position. Instead of going to sit down, she walks over to stand against the wall.

Leaning her back against it, and turning her chin up slightly as if the roof of the booth were gone and she could stare at the sky, she listens to others sing of love instead - and uses that time to mourn its absence.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Haruka's eyelids flicker as he leans back, under Kasagami's irritated gaze. The sight of Pluto critiquing the plan of an abased and desperate widow has hardened his lips. Now that he knows what they are, no part of him believes that you can chisel anything girl-shaped out of a Witch again. That's not the point of this.

The point, depending on how you look at it, is to help Kyouko unconditionally, or give Kozue a few more days to not ask the questions Pluto asked her within seconds. Haruka's in for the former, but if he and Pluto are going to try and make the latter a success, they have very different ideas about what success means.

Pushing on his knees, Haruka fetches up his glass. Rising, he has to walk past Kasagami, which he does without acknowledgement. But at Pluto's knee, he pauses.

"That's how it works, huh? You know everything there is to know about time. And nothing about what it's worth." His eyes travel down to Pluto's face, without turning his head. A little air leaves his nostrils.

Maybe telling a clockwork heart to feel isn't any different from telling a weeping heart to think.

"Sorry," he says. "Never mind." As he's going, he more or less tosses his olive branch carelessly over her shoulder, so it lands a bit too directly.

"I like your costume tonight."

Seating himself next to Mikoto instead, Haruka rests a hand on the small girl's shoulder. The words come very easily, running through a well-eroded stream bed.

"It's all right," he says. "And she'll be all right, too."

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

Mikoto finds her hand grasped, all a sudden. In surprise those damp gold eyes blink open to meet pink. Her brow arcs, and her hand turns to grip Madoka's in turn, with fingers which tremble in the motion. "Thanks... Madoka," she says, and perhaps her quietness could be excused as an attempt not to interrupt the song, halting over the words as if carefully trying not to let them shake too much. "Thanks."

And perhaps, in needing help instead of offering it, she gives a girl who feels useless a purpose.

Madoka is correct to feel Mikoto could not meet her gaze for long. It drops, shame lining the features of her face. She grasps Madoka's hand tightly - though with a little start remembers not to hold too tight. "I'm sorry," she whispers, to the gentle pink soul who could have been any one of their victims. "I gotta, but - I'm sorry..."

There are a hundred things she could be apologising for.

Is there any point to her feelings when she stays the course?

Through the motions of her feet does Mikoto catch Kozue rising, glances long enough to see her lean. It is bitter irony that the girl who taught Mikoto about love and lust is such a miserable outsider, though Mikoto cannot know the track of her thoughts.

If she did, perhaps she'd tell her she was right, that long year ago, back when they were friends, back when they didn't meet at the ends of their blades.

She was right - it just took Mikoto this long to see it.

But Mikoto does not know why Kozue separates herself. All she can do for her is lower her gaze again, give her the privacy of her lonesome corner. The garden is flooded, after all.

The only evidence that she is bothered is her silence, because she ought not be bothered at all.

There is room, next to Mikoto, on the side which is not occupied by her ever-present sword-case. (Surely no one here is fooled by its cover story. Kasagami knows for a fact how bad Mikoto is at golf.) Her gaze rises, again, to meet the mysterious stranger, and golden eyes search his face.

Perhaps there's something nostalgic - about being offered absolution by an older boy.

Someone, anyone...

"It's all right," Mikoto echoes, as if turning the words around to examine them. She swallows, blinks against tears, and nods firmly. "Right."

She takes a deep breath, and if Madoka still holds her hand, she may well feel as well as see the attempt Mikoto makes to dispel the tension which runs through her muscles. "... thanks," she says to him, as well.

She just has to believe that Eri will be okay.

So long as she doesn't give up on her, she'll find some way to help. She'll keep her fed - and maybe...

Oh, but a 'maybe' is a dangerous little thing. That little shard of hope - that perhaps she can still do something to make it better. That perhaps there is some fighting the tide she struggles against.

God help her, she is trying.

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

"Whatever we learn might help Sakura-san and Eri-chan," Setsuna murmurs to Kassie as she feels that warm regard. She falls quiet again as Nori Ankou joins Madoka at the mic.

The song begins, and the beauty of la Sirene's voice transports. It is a special thing, like hearing Michiru's violin playing, and regardless of what differences might lie in the air between the assembled it moves her.

Whatever worries might be taking insidious root in her heart do not change how full it is for the glorious swordswoman next to her. Setsuna reaches out and down. Her fingers twine tightly around Kasagami's, matching earlier neediness. When Mikoto speaks out of desperate love, the duelist can feel her twitch a bit.

And again, more strongly, when Madoka Kaname reaches out.

Hope reaches out, so sweet and so kind, as if the cold question Setsuna asked is not a barrier between the senshi and a girl so good of soul. As if the things she has done and the things she will do make no difference. Even if she cannot fully know the astonishing depths of caring Madoka is capable of, just this glimpse over the edge is a little dizzying.

The song continues: 'And the soul afraid of dyin' / that never learns to live.'

Haruka cuts through, via gesture and word, as sharp as the reproving ice in his eyes. Earlier he'd used the word 'us'. Now... Dismay at the public rebuke is followed sharply by an uncustomary rush of anger. She's ashen beneath dark cheeks. Is she too feeling for her Outer Senshi sisters, or is she too unfeeling?

She watches him offer Mikoto comfort with storms in garnet eyes, and even Setsuna would not be able to say whether the hurt or the anger is stronger.

'When the night has been too lonely / and the road has been too long...'

Pink twintails and a small, soft hand outstretched, so vulnerable and so brave...

The sensation of being so very alone nearly suffocates her of a sudden. Puu misses Small Lady.

She wants to find her and hug her and tell her everything will be okay, but... will it? That's what Haruka tells Mikoto about Eri, but Setsuna is not so sure.

By the time she accepts Madoka's offer the sadness has won in her eyes, her slender brown fingers delicate around pale ones like they take a fledgling bird in hand. She does not sing along, but by the subtle sway that matches the gentle rhythm of the song, she is listening.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Fingers twine needily, and Kasagami is warm and searching. She lets go only reluctantly of those slender digits, as a certain twintails-clad girl reaches. It ends in a back-of-the-hand brush of what little comfort she can offer Setsuna right now.

Madoka offers over that mic amidst music that stings at her heart. Kasagami listens to enemies and allies alike, lost for long minutes in musical sway and her own feelings. Really, the Duelist has said her piece, her objections, her eagerness and yet caution within this whole endeavor. And so she desires to lean back, think, and rest. To be near her love.

Haruka Tenoh shatters that looming vague peace and purpose with words to her lover and with but a glance.

What strong, handsome knees. Kassie wants to break them with a pipe for a few seconds, before she finds some measure of self control in her raging heart. The growing snarl on her face is evident at this point.

It is right about here that Kasagami finally decides that she both hates and admires Haruka Tenoh.

"People's lives change and get torched to ashes in seconds. I'd wager my life on Setsu-chan knowing how precious time can be."

She doesn't add to the song about her. Kasagami is too preoccupied, maybe trying to ignore the song at play for her own health. Her entire body feels just far too rigid.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Quietly, Yumi steps a little further across the room--a little further, towards the people singing. At first, she only listened. ...She still doesn't answer the harsh words from elsewhere in the room, can't make everyone sing or feel better or anything... Whatever they are afraid of; whatever they might learn...

Yumi thinks of her friend, again, as she glances down. She thinks of time spent out in the city... of time spent away.

She thinks about the times she was alone, in a sterile room, waiting for something that never seemed to come.

So behind Madoka, a much taller girl steps up, and, in an uncertain, shaky voice adds

"When the night has been too lonely

"And the road has been too long

"And you think that love is only

"For the lucky and the strong

...It gets a little easier, joining with the others. But Tama looks up to Mikoto for a moment, and then back to Yumi. ...She closes her eyes, listening.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori stays there and she feels Madoka tremble as she tilts the microphone - to give the aid of technology to a quavering voice. Oh! These machines; cunning and so often cruel, but sometimes just what is needed. A magic rising in a new age.

Madoka picks up the song and Nori leans over to press her face lightly against the other girl's head. She feels so small, Nori thinks. They all do.

I never thought it would be like that, Nori thinks, the faint rainbow-colored sparkles of fantasy threatening at the back of her mind. That it would be here. In a karaoke hall! Even in the depths of my dreams I never imagined. Madoka moves away then and Nori lets herself sway with the rhythm as Madoka moves forth.

Ah, Madoka, she thinks to herself: if I have a regret, it is that all of this has kept you, perhaps, from growing as we did. But perhaps you were lovely enough, all along. How long ago did they watch the whales? Nori closes her eyes as Yumi joins the chorus.

"Just remember in the winter," Nori almost murmurs into the microphone, "Far beneath the winter snows..."

She's speaking lowly, almost murmuring - because she is, without thinking of it, making her voice a baseline for the two higher voices, who come together, threading in and out in a faintly eerie but honey-sweet sorrowful final line:

"Lies the seed, that with the sun's love, in the spring - becomes the rose -"

And with that, the song ends.

Nori exhales, leaning back in her current position. She raises it to her lips again on reflex even as she looks at the ceiling, which has no pain in it, at least for her, right now.

"... I suppose we have all come together now, have we not? It's difficult... and I do not think it will ever be a moment when everything is perfect again. You don't create moments like that; you find them in your rear-view mirror. But I think that we may find some more..."

Nori clears her throat.

"... Well," she concludes, "I have been on the microphone a little too long, huh! Who will pick next?" Nori moves the mic away from her mouth, which doesn't mean she becomes any harder to hear given the relatively confined space. "We have a couple of hours, don't we, Madoka? And you have brought us so much. I want to have more, myself."

Nori then smiles as she rises off from where she sat. Drifting nearer to Madoka she says something that may be pretty cryptic to Setsuna and Mikoto: "We'll still all go on that trip, some day. Sayaka too."

Nori proceeds to obtain a cookie, holding the microphone up and holding it lightly as if to say 'take my <s>revolution</s> controller'.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

If Kyuubey were here right now, Madoka might wish to be able to hug everybody in the room at once. Not being able to comfort Kozue and Mikoto at the same time is like being torn in half, and that's just the tip of the iceberg of the obvious distress percolating through the room.

But she can comfort Pluto. Haruka may have interceded on her side, and on Kozue's, but... there's enough pain in the world right now. Enough pain right here. So she makes a little red-rover line between Setsuna and Mikoto, holding each of their hands through the duration of the song, and croons as sweetly and as soulfully as someone trying to call their lost friend's spirit back from the land of the damned.

At least she's getting some practice in. When Yumi's body and voice warm her from behind, Madoka warms too, and her final contribution to the song is, if not less sad, maybe at least a little less jagged.

Afterwards, she presses her forehead to Mikoto's briefly, letting her fingers disentangle from Setsuna's with that shift of her weight, after a final, warm squeeze.

"Tenoh-san is right," she murmurs gently to Mikoto, though it's loud enough for others to hear, even if they're all the way across the room pretending they have X-Ray vision for their soulful gazing into the Moon. "And you're right too. We'll find a way, because we have to. For Sayaka, and Eri, and all of them."

She closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath through her nose, which means it makes kind of a snorching sound from all that liquid.

"And for us, too."

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Kozue remains a quiet presence throughout the playlists. Allowing her appetite to be sated simply by the bite of the cookie she had earlier. When she walks over to take the mic - there's a certain gravity about it as she flips through the playlists.

"So. We've already sang about love tonight." There's something thin lipped about it, not like she's down on it or anything. "I'm not gonna sing about that... precisely." She says as she rings the cord about the opposite wrist holding the mic. "Instead I'm going to sing about something that may be familiar to some of you."

Her eyes half-lid, a small quirk of her blue shaded lips, like she's sharing some secret, "Maybe not. Maybe not all of you have been lucky enough to have felt it before. That feeling when you're with someone where you can just drop your guard - and open yourself to what would be impossible otherwise."

To her perhaps - that is what magic and miracles now are. Not the grand idea of a wish that Kyubey offers - or some strange winnable power. This is perhaps what her idea of romance is.

Hitting the selection with a button, a pretty subdued melody turns on. And Kozue begins to sing in English. It's not halting but instead - surprisingly good. As if whatever her business ventures lately had been - had won her some odd skill. Or perhaps more adorably some can imagine her practicing just this one song The truth is only hers to know.

BGM Change: Amie - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2kX1FIsI8o

"Nothing unusual, nothing strange.

"Close to nothing at all.

"The same old scenario, the same old rain

"And there's no explosions here

"Then something unusual, something strange

"Comes from nothing at all

"I saw a spaceship, fly by your window

"Did you see it - disappear?"

"Amie come sit on my wall

"And read me the story of O

"And tell it like you still believe

"That the end of the century

"Brings a change for you and me

"Nothing unusual, nothing's changed

"Just a little older that's all

"You know when you've found it,

"There's something I've learned

Her eyes lid - and in that moment, if someone looks closely perhaps they'll see a single pair of tears sparkle in the room's lighting before they vanish into obscurity.

"'Cause you feel it when they take it away.

Eventually the music winds down - and as she finishes, she simply puts the mic down on top of the machine without saying anything else, to return to her place against the wall.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Ai Shimazu - Kokoro no Ken https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4kmZprvFZI

Setsuna is wounded; Mikoto is too wounded to attend her.

Tama will find those golden eyes trying, so hard.

But she knows the sun does not love the seeds.

That is why they garden under cover of darkness.

To keep it from her.

To protect her from it.

For her, her, her -

There's a dissatisfied noise, at the back of Mikoto's throat, as the girl called Nori supposes they have come together now. She looks away, and grimaces. She does not like to think on it; she knows she is doing something terribly wrong.

But Madoka presses her forehead in against Mikoto's own broad one, and her gaze returns to her, softer now. "Yeah," she murmurs quiet agreement, and the simple word belies the fragile hope and desperation and belief behind it.

They have to find some way. They can't give up.

There's something she misses there - in Madoka's addition.

It is a tragedy which goes uncommented.

Her eyes turn to Kozue, as she speaks up in the wake of the song's end. And perhaps her gaze is guarded, there, but there is a second thawing as Kozue speaks of finding someone who allows her to do impossible things.

Kozue sings, and for just a moment she looks over the edge into the abyss of the suffering she has wrought for someone she considered a friend.

Her breath catches in her throat, and she turns her gaze away.

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.

Mikoto squeezes Madoka's hand when Kozue is done, and resolves to distract herself from the knowing. And so she stands, carefully disentangling herself from Haruka and Madoka. They are left beside Miroku's case. What a tremendous honour!

... she never seems to quite let it leave her field of vision, though.

Over to the microphone she goes. "I... like this song," she explains, an awkward cast to her voice, an uncertain glance over the Chevaliers present. Her meaning is obvious enough to her. She is trying to be friendly by sharing something of hers.

She knows she is doing something terribly wrong.

But Eri said she didn't want to fight, and these are Eri's enemies.

Surely - that means it's all right..?

And the song - a little careful, still energetic for it, quintessential pop - really does seem as though it was made just to be sung by Mikoto Minagi. She's not embarrassed by singing; she's not even terribly bad at it. She is, after all, Mai Tokiha's roommate.

There is a vulnerability to it in the way she does not quite meet anyone's eyes, instead tracking the kanji on the screen.

And when she's done, she puts down the microphone and heads back to her seat, confiscating a handful of cookies on the way.

It feels strange, to offer a part of herself to Eri's enemies.

It cuts her up in a way Fallen Stern never could.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Madoka spends the rest of the night sitting quietly next to someone. That someone varies occasionally; it is Kozue most of all, but often Nori or Mikoto, and sometimes someone else completely. Over time it becomes evident that this isn't just friendliness. A nearby Madoka is a good source of snuggles, and also things just out of arm's reach like a particular snack, but... it seems like, when whoever she's sitting with gets up to sing, or to get some air, or for whatever other reason, she winds up stuck like glue next to someone else as quickly as possible.

She can't be alone right now. She just can't.

She doesn't cry again, after Kozue's song, but her eyes often shine with a distant, feverish intensity, like someone seeing visions.

That's because she is.

She sits with Kozue, and they love Sayaka together, but she isn't Sayaka.

She sits with Mikoto, and they fear for Eri together, but she isn't Sayaka.

She sits with Nori, and they hope for the future together, but she isn't Sayaka.

She sits with the others, and they enjoy the music together, and a silent truth that, of yet, dare not truly be spoken, be acknowledged, beyond the contents of Kyouko's letter -- that maybe it's okay that this group of disparate souls are singing karaoke in a booth together, when a week ago, whether they wanted to be or otherwise, they were mostly kill or be killed when they saw one another -- but they aren't Sayaka either.

She isn't ungrateful. It isn't their fault.

But her sides ache from not being snuck up behind, lifted off the ground, and tickled mercilessly. And it's a lot harder to speak up instead of letting someone speak for her. And it so happens that the exact particulars of these orders, these pizzas and burgers and fries, she ordered all of a certain someone's favorites, but they weren't eaten quite the same way, weren't appreciated with quite the same gusto.

Maybe she cries again a little. During loud moments, when it won't bother anyone. During quiet moments, when everyone's eyes are glued to a singer. In the bathroom, later. In her bed that night.

But mostly she doesn't, no. And not even because she doesn't want the others to see.

Crying means she's breaking her promise. And she has a promise to keep.

Kozue believes in her, and Mikoto refuses to believe in anything else.

She lets the power of an oath made on a crossed heart fill her. It isn't Puella Magi magic but it is its own kind. They hope, and she hopes too. It isn't easier to believe, she's discovering. Thinking this is all just denial, now that's easy.

Hope, real hope, is hard. It's hard in a way she'd never imagined. Never had the opportunity to imagine, until now.

It hurts to hope.

But it's the good kind of hurt, like growing things.


That's what Madoka has to believe.

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

The bold duelist snarls at Haruka and launches the defense Setsuna won't, impassioned and brave, and the senshi is caught even more now -- between her lifelong sister and her cherished lover. Part of her wants to yell back at Kasagami that she can't understand the place Haruka speaks from, because though Setsuna has been privileged to bear witness to the aching romance between her fellow soldiers even she has never truly felt like she understood it, that whatever mystical bond they have is beyond comprehension of outsiders. Compared to Neptune and Uranus, she indeed feels like she knows almost nothing about this.

But part of her wants grab the swordswoman's hand and lead them away from all these eyes and ears to let her know how much it meant to Setsuna, for Kasagami to stand up to the imposing Haruka Tenoh without pause. To hear that passion in the other girl's voice, unflinching and immediate.

In the end she does not move, and in that lies an unspoken choice to stay by Kasagami's side. She anchors herself by Madoka Kaname's clasping hand throughout the song's end. The senshi lapses into another self-contained quiet, but it never achieves her earlier sphinxian qualities. The girl's squeeze... helps, just a little. Something about the purity of Madoka's gesture makes it less complicated, despite everything.

In the lull between songs she murmurs a subdued "Thank you" to her girlfriend, which Setsuna knows is less than Kasagami deserves, whether the senshi is angry or grateful. But she stays close, and her hand is free again. Then Kozue takes the mic and she is even more still, except for shoulders that Setsuna does not realize hunch slightly.

It's impossible not to feel what is being conveyed, though she may not welcome feeling it. Kozue and Haruka may each express beliefs otherwise, but the well of empathy in Setsuna Meioh is painfully alive and well.

She listens to Mikoto's chosen song with an intent look, less guarded than before though Setsuna is not aware of the change in her own body language again. Little expressions of her inner state keep getting away from her.

"I like your song, Mikoto-chan," she says after, because she does, and if she's not smiling she at least sounds closer than she has all night.

Setsuna never does eat that cookie. It just litters her lap with crumbs, over the night.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-QaFWURsMU

Kassie openly claps for Nori's work on the mic, moved in heart at hearing a Siren, even an enemy, sing so endearingly.

Even as the other song ends, as Nori offers up the mic to Kozue, Kasagami finds herself shivering lightly. All the despair, the conflict, the doubt and awkwardness. Setsuna whispers a 'thank you' to her, and as Kasagami steels herself, unaware of the conflict going on within the shifting wave of her beloved's heart? Finds it in herself to turn to Madoka with a grateful look for reasons her head can't comprehend, but maybe some small part of her heart can.

Kozue is amazing, and her english impeccable. She knows what it is to have things taken away. How hard must Kozue hurt right now? What if it was Setsuna instead?

Of all people to go up on stage, the last would be one Mikoto Minagi! But still, she listens to the sweet words of the song she sings. The surprisingly pop-ish quality to it has her blinking at the energetic display!

"Good job, Miko-chan!" Praises Kassie! How hard could that have been for someone like Miko?

She looks to Setsuna, and a scarred hand reaches out for the mic. Her hand is greedy, and then she's up on stage with a pound-pound of boots.

"My turn!" The Duelist sounds frustrated. She wants to scream, really. And so, with some mild delays of hunting through the playlist, she finally manages to put on something that suits her tastes.

Grin. Her eye tracks to Setsuna, even as the tall young woman sucks in a deep breath slowly. She isn't on Kozue's level, not quite, but she makes up for any stumbles in English for a pure passion and love for aggressive music mixed with romance.

Guitars blare defiantly, fast, the shredding heavy. Her voice growls more than usual, fading into melody.

"I'llll try!" Comes Kasagami, belting out hard in said scream. "She saiid as she walked away!" She's already headbanging, the closet metalhead using those long black locks for what they're good for!

"Try not to lose youuu, two vibrant hearts could change! Nothing tears the being more than deception!" Why is she looking at Setsuna so earnestly right now with tears in her eyes?

"Unmasked fear! I'll be here waiting, tested and secure!"

Her voice, somewhat rough but well practiced, devours the lyrics as passionately as she can, spitting them out on stage.

"Confided in me was your heeeart~" She nearly goes weak in a knee there.

"I know it's hurting you, but it's killing me!"

Kasagami settles into the rest somewhat by rote, many a night spent listening to this particular album. But her passion flares at the last few lines, to emphasize one in particular.

"Tear down this steadfast wall! Restraints are useless here, tasting salvation's near!"

Despite her athletic form, by the time the song winds down, Kasagami seems winded far more than she should be. Sweat wiped from her brow, she passes off the mic silently, and collapses to a seat beside Setsuna Meioh. She desires two things now.

To know a certan senshi is near, and to stuff her growling tummy as she listens to the songs of friends.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Haruka can feel the melancholy coming on--that feeling she only shows the sky, staring out the window, or up from the roof. Michiru's good at catching her, though. Much better than she is at being caught.

These girls are all so young. In some ways, maybe Pluto's the youngest of all.

What if it had been Kozue's daughter? Perhaps Pluto would have been able to understand. The thought disgusts her, but it's not entirely directed at Pluto.

Haruka turned hypocrite fast enough, when it was Princess Serenity's daughter.

Normally the most extraverted person in a room, Haruka largely keeps to himself. He had given Mikoto's shoulder a long squeeze, her eyes a reassuring span of contact preceding a nod. But since then he's largely reclined, and watched the profound grief that has gathered in a thin and failing skein of hope. Kyouko Sakura's spear should have been the first to rupture it, and yet she is the one who has kept it alive instead. So. She has chosen to believe, too.

It all feels a bit like aging in reverse. The older Haruka gets, the more people around him start to believe in Santa. Even Pluto's skepticism was predicated on the assumption that the plan might succeed. It's not as though there's been more reason for hope, either--much less, in fact. It's just that hopelessness is getting more and more intolerable.

Haruka smiles into his tumbler, then drains it with a lazy toss of his head. Well. Good for Kyouko. If she can find her way back from where she's come... that's one more person she and Michiru can save. And hey, Usagi would like her. They could play video games together, back in that bright place.

But Haruka can never go back there.

The music has been quiet for a little bit, and no one seems ready to step up quite yet, though some are surely gathering their courage or finding their song. Haruka doesn't feel that the people here should go home just yet, so he stands up, straightening his lapels as he steps past Mikoto. He assumes the stool in front of the karaoke machine as discreetly as a man of his height and beauty can manage. In most areas of life, he is the star, the striker, the center of attention. But his musical inclinations are oddly passive. Perhaps he was born knowing, somehow, that he'd be playing backup to an ocean angel.

So it will be a low-key song tonight. Something quiet and cordial. He'll be the piano at a hotel bar. Reaching into his pocket, he takes out his cell phone and plugs it into the machine. The JoySound app pops up, and he taps his way around until he gets a piano keyboard. Then, resting the phone on the counter, he scrolls his way to find his song. Something simple. He can only play with one hand on the phone.

Tony Bennett - The Way You Look Tonight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx3SPsH9AMQ

The first chords are dissonant, Haruka's muscle memory thrown by the tiny keyboard. He takes it in stride, giving a quick amused lift of an eyebrow to anyone who might be looking, and counts under his breath to avoid losing the rhythm while he's adjusting his hand. At the top of the next bar he presses his fingers down emphatically, and when it hits on key and on time, he smiles a brilliant white smile. In between notes of the upright bass, he coaxes out the song.

When he joins in with his voice, it's in an easy baritone. He can play songs like this without thinking, or, more commonly, while thinking very much about something else. But in this case, he's thinking about what it must be like for Kozue.

He's thinking about what it's like for him.

He's wondering, what it must be like for Michiru. And why he's spent lifetimes staring into her beautiful eyes without being able to find that answer.

He's thinking about what time means. If Queen Serenity had given him the same prohibition she had given Pluto, he'd have died so many times by now. He's frozen time over and over again. He's taken so many little amber pieces of her.

Is one snapshot like that worth the sort of pain Kozue is feeling right now?

It can't be, and it has to be.

It has to be, so it is.

What a joke the world is. And the punchline is: Haruka really would die for it.

When the world is cold,

I will feel a glow

just thinking of you

and the way

you look