2018-12-13 - TIMELINE 1: Moments Like This

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Title: TIMELINE 1: Moments Like This

Nori and Mikoto both seek out the quiet of the garden. Nori reveals the depths of her sadness, and Mikoto reaffirms her worth. Perhaps it's easier to talk about secret things under cover of night.


Mikoto Minagi, Nori Ankou


Madoka's House - Garden

OOC - IC Date:

2018-12-13 - 2014-03-14

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Yasunori Mitsuda - Dream's Creation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9nRO94kR00


Mikoto rarely remembers hers. She wakes with the vague impression of a feeling, a colour or shape quickly forgotten. For some reason, she always gravitates to the nearest person in the night. It's even easier to forget something as ephemeral as a dream, with another person around.

So it's strange, when one clings to her consciousness even after waking. It's strange - and scary. Mikoto realises she doesn't like dreams much.

But she knows being around people must help, and that's why Madoka's proposal is such a lifeline. With so many people around, Mikoto is sure to be okay! Beside that, there's chocolate.

(Mikoto, ever-enthusiastic about these strange new holidays, has already delivered konbini chocolate to everyone. She appeared out of nowhere, from up a tree or the roof, handed it over, and disappeared. Of course, she was so enthusiastic about a food affection day she failed to absorb that she's only supposed to give girls chocolate. Surely Endo and Takeo were baffled.)

Of course, there is one feature in the Kaname household which is legendary to all who know her. It's not the living room, though surely many girls have spent many hours discovering the wonders of cinema on cushy couches. Neither is it any one of the countless chairs scattered around the place, as if the Kanames have anticipated hosting half of Tokyo (this may be a conservative estimate of Madoka's friendships).


The legendary feature of the Kaname household...

Is the garden.

Well, it's legendary to Mikoto, anyway. Because this is where Madoka gets her ingredients for her bento! And while there have been less of those ingredients recently - they're sort of between harvest seasons, or something like that, Mikoto wasn't really listening to the agricultural specifics - it's still important to pay homage to such a delicious place. Sure, they're not quite as good as Mai's bento (nothing really is), but the home-grown tint they have from carrots and lettuce and shiny red tomatos fresh from the vine gives them a sense of warmth which Mikoto loves.

There's not much ripe in the garden, now; the March chill hasn't yet given way to Spring's warmth, and plants are clever at avoiding cold nights. But it promises to have a lot of interesting things later on, little plants protected by trusses and supports. There's no light on back here, but the moon provides more than enough guidance to see the outlines of stem and leaf.

Mikoto perches by the bricks which border the neat little garden-rows, knees brushing up against the mortar; her hands rest on them as she leans forward, golden eyes tracking the flutter of a moth's wings. It comes to rest on a tomato-leaf, its colourful plumage fanning out around it in the moonlight. She is utterly fascinated.

But the garden is nice and quiet - which might be attractive, in a sleepover with so many people.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.


Nori blinks several times, said "Thank you," and immediately ate the chocolate. She was too confused to consider what was polite. Hers was a little bitter and salty, but then perhaps that's her.


Nori opens the door, wearing her green silk pajamas and a knit-yarn drape that might have been about to become a sweater but changed majors partway through into something like a jacket. It is mostly white with a streak of irregular blue in it. Her mother made it for her before she was not just HER mother, and Nori holds it precious, though she would never admit it.

(In another time, she left it in Hokkaido. Things were gentler here.)

"-- Oh!" she says.

At the moth, as well as at the fact that she isn't alone.

Lingering on the threshold, Nori asks, "Sorry - d, do you mind if I come sit out here a little...?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Mikoto liked it anyway, because chocolate is new to her, and she hasn't had fifteen years experience in what chocolate ought to taste like to know that chocolate isn't supposed to be salty.

But that was then.


Let's remark on Mikoto's pyjamas. Perhaps it's a slip, or perhaps it's just an oversized t-shirt - she's got shorts on underneath regardless - with the face a cartoon cat on the back, so exaggerated it could be mistaken for a bunny, one ear folded over one eye. Most of it is a creamy off-white, but its details and the trim about its hems are, appropriately, pink. There is the hint of a red cord about her neck, a necklace eventually hidden by her wide neckline.

She doesn't have anything to ward off the nip in the night, but she hasn't been out here for too long, and regardless Mikoto tends to run a little hot anyway.

Her ear twitches - twitches! - as she hears the door, the tiny metal beads in the recess clinking against each other in a little cacophony as they allow the glass to slide elegantly and effortlessly open. She turns, and the motion startles the moth, which flutters behind her in curling motions towards the light of the house.

(That it is also coming towards Nori is, perhaps, entirely coincidental, if not a little startling.)

"Nori!" Mikoto chirps in happy greeting as she turns on the grass towards the house again, warm and pleased to see her. There's a little gap in time - one beat, two, three - before she remembers that might not actually be clear. "It's okay!" She assures her, gesturing her over with a hand which flaps downwards at the wrist.

This is, perhaps, the one place in the Kaname household where there aren't chairs everywhere - but the Kanames have more than enough money to keep their lawn perfectly-manicured, and the grass is springy and soft.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Mikoto wears an icon that she can believe in. Nori doesn't know if she has one, herself.

Nori reaches up a hand as the moth comes towards her. It perches on her fingers to her vocalized surprise, but it seems happy to do so.

Nori neither twitches nor screams, even as it crawls up the back of her hand. She steps out, gingerly, onto the grass; because it was said to be Okay by Mikoto. That clamoring heat of awkwardness, the bare feeling of surprise that she usually hides in sausage curls (not any more) or in the mantle of another world (not much lately), cools.

"... if you're sure it's alright. I don't want to, to disturb anything. Are you having fun...?"

Nori brings her other hand up. The moth, obligingly, crawls onto that other hand. "I didn't know what to do, and I wanted to take a little bit of a break - I don't want to go to sleep but I don't want to, to... You know? I don't want things to just end either."

Nori's hair, perhaps notably, has been done up in two long braided pigtails; the style is not dissimilar to that worn by a certain Miss Akemi. "Besides," Nori says, shaking her head a little and making the braids bounce and slap like the quasi-ropes they are, "I have to get used to this... What do you think of the -"

The moth flits over to perch on one of them. "Oh!" Nori says.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

And so Nori joins the sacred sisterhood of black braids, an exclusive club of which Mikoto is also inexplicably a member. Despite the fact that she cuts her hair so boyishly short, she's got two thin braids framing her face, which cannot hope to disguise her prominent ears.

It takes a lot of effort just to keep a little bit of her hair long, but she's always worn it like this.

Nori asks if she's having fun, and Mikoto nods, with a cheerful affirmative noise. "Garden's nice!" She says, glancing back to it. "Quiet," she adds, and it's one of those words Mikoto employs which does far heavier lifting than it ought to. Not only is the garden quiet - that is, free of sleepoverers - but the garden is quiet in that it is a cool night, and few bugs are wandering midst the moonlight.

Mikoto does that sort of thing often, and perhaps it's becoming routine, now. She's getting the hang of talking, but she still doesn't talk much. Not about herself, or where she came from... but she talks about cats, and her friends, and food. (An awful lot about food, taken in proportion.)

Her eyes track a spider as it fusses with the condensation on its web, and the two of them are of a kind; they are unbothered by bugs. She watches the spider's universe with interest - until Nori supposes that she didn't want things to end.

There's something in that which makes her look back to the approaching girl, blinking big gold eyes. She hums through closed lips as she orders her thoughts, and then she has a question to answer, and her train of thought is thoroughly derailed.

"It's good!" She says, reaching out a hand as if to pull Nori over with the force of her enthusiasm. The moth flutters in response to the movement, and finds a long finger the nearest perch; Mikoto's hand stills under it. She looks past it to Nori, and explains: "Braids keep hair out of way. Much better."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Quiet, Mikoto says.

It's true. It is. The moth travels over to Mikoto as Nori finds herself closer to the other girl. When did she get there? Nori is not sure, but it feels right. They are in this place at the same time, and it is not a large place. Her eyes close for a moment.

"Is it? I don't know. I think it's nice, to be able to do something just for - for -"

Her voice lowers as if she is speaking something confessorial, as if she is breaching some barrier. What she says is, in a sense, very mild, but in other senses, daring almost beyond horizon. What Nori says is: "just for the hell of it."

Nori watches the moth, but also, beyond it, Mikoto.

"You know," Nori says, eventually: "You're very mysterious... I like that, but I always wonder. Are you well? Are things alright for you, at Ohtori?"

"Sometimes I wish I hadn't come," Nori says, her eyes turning down. "That perhaps I should have stayed in Sapporo. But there I might have had a very different life, even if everything else came out the way it did. I would never have come out all the way down here. And it would still be super snowy, too." She looks up and says with a somewhat more wan smile, "I don't really like the snow all that much."

"Ah... do you braid your own hair?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nobuo Uematsu - Eiko's Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3hgWUhXXj4

Here we consider some things Nori has seen of Mikoto Minagi, over the past months:

... legs hooked over a branch as she swings down in front of her face. Not a tree in Ohtori, mind you - an entirely different park. For what purpose was she in that tree? She never said. ... leaping down from a sign in front of the shop, in that little town on the island Ohtori dominates, as if she'd just been lounging on the roof. ... popping up from beneath a layer of crinkly autumn leaves all swept up into a pile, a twig still standing askew in her hair.

... seeing a cat and abandoning their group shopping trip to go chase it over the rooftops and learn its secrets. ... immediately declaring that it was dinnertime as they happened to pass a ramen stand, and refusing to hear any protest at all. ... grabbing a tube of paint and squirting it onto herself in response to Homura getting upset over fumbling her paintbrush and getting paint on her sleeve, insisting that they're both more colourful now, so they're doing art right.

Considering all of these things, is it any wonder Nori dares to say those words to her?

Mikoto understands spontaneity better than most people, after all.

There's no judgement, at least, in her eyes as she hears her say a word she doesn't hear from her often (though, not one she's unfamiliar with - she knows Natsuki, after all). She nods slightly, smiling, with a grunt of approval.

Her head cants in surprise as Nori describes her as mysterious, a braid folding in against her shoulder; the moth flutters from her hand at the movement. And then she smiles, again, reassuringly. "I'm happy!" She replies, as if that answers that.

Well - Nori goes to Ohtori, too, after all. There's a lot Mikoto's implying. About how the demon cat of Ohtori has gained a reputation for defending girls from unwanted advances by springing bodily on the boys from on high, and the friendships which have formed from her defence of the innocent. About how all the athletics clubs have been trying to get her to join up after her performance at the festival some months back, but she insists she's helping Animal Care. But also about how no one quite knows how to classify her, with her laconic responses and her wild nature; about how Ohtori can be a nasty environment, for anyone who isn't willing to play their game and fit neatly into a gendered box.

... and about how there's a small group of middle-schoolers utterly enamoured with the Mysterious Golfer-chan who breaks all the social rules and disregards personal space in such a casual way, but who would want to talk about their fan club?

(Mikoto is completely unaware she has a fan club.)

Perhaps she doesn't say much because she is anticipating Nori talking, instead. Mikoto listens intently, scooching closer to her legs as if to better hear her. (It is entirely a gesture. Mikoto can hear her perfectly. She has very good hearing.) She listens and, at first, does not say much at all, but Nori's eyes turning down just means she'll see Mikoto instead, who is right there looking up at her.

"Yeah," she says, to the question of her hair.

And completely fails to recognise that perhaps Nori is trying to shift the topic, because she doesn't have to think too hard about the answer to that question, and she comes back to what she was thinking in the first place.

Mikoto's still learning a lot of things.

Instead she reaches up, up, and if Nori's hand dangles it is in imminent danger of being held. "If Nori was in Sapporo," she says, quite simply, "I'd be sad, 'cause Nori'd be sad too." And yet again it says more in the metadata: both her selfishness and her selflessness. "Too cold up there. It's no good."

Does she really just think Nori would be sad because it's cold, or is she extending the same courtesy to her which she demands every time she deflects certain questions..?

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

'I'm happy!'

Nori looks down and she sees Mikoto and Mikoto takes her hand. Her hand is cool, like it often is; she has always seemed to run cold, despite being from such a snowy place. Maybe some of it got into her. She looks down towards Mikoto by necessity, and her eyes crinkle together and her other hand comes up to clasp Mikoto's and:

"H-how can you see things so clearly, I - I don't -"

And now she slumps. It's not quite sitting but it's closer to that even if she lands on her knees in the soft, yielding grass, waking up after the winter.

"I would be sad anywhere, Mikoto, because that is what I am and I do not know how to live with it; I had a place there, I was in school, I could see outside of the window and I saw the seasons change and I saw the sea, and once I went across the sea to another world and it was even more beautiful; I knew Sapporo a little bit and now I got reminded of, of all of it and it is all sort of a melancholy thing and then I come here and - and -"

"And here nobody is sad, it seems," Nori says, head slumped forwards, eyes still visible from the lack of free shrouding hair. "If they are it's only for a few minutes or for a good reason... because their test went badly, or because their grandmother died... but I feel like that inside of me, always, and it's like, like when I am in a place like this with Madoka and her wonderful family, her so-sweet mom, her caring dad, her little brother, her little brother who, who who she doesn't have to, to -"

Nori makes one of those wet half-gasp half-sob noises, and steps back. "When my little brother came I might as well have died," she says. "I was just a guest in the house then. They fell in love with the little, little... no, I don't want to be mean here in this place, but I was no longer who they looked towards. It was worse, because I thought they loved me, but when I saw how they looked at him I could see how, how faint everything had been, how conditional, how tentative..."

At least Nori has learned sophisticated words at Ohtori Academy.

"I feel like I'm a ghost, Mikoto, and if I stand out in this world of lights for too long they will start to see that I'm not casting a shadow. Sometimes it is better, s-sometimes I just want to go and hide in a blanket and cry, and - and it isn't getting better, it isn't anything to do with f-friends, but I don't want to TELL any of them and I'm so sorry to tell YOU but I just know I shouldn't feel like this when I am at this wonderful party and Homura did my hair like this and everything is so sweet but I could feel myself just, just falling out of, of the entire world..."

"I want to go home," Nori says miserably and softly. "But I can't, I don't even really know where it is now. If I told Madoka about this she would hug me or, or s-something but I know it wouldn't do anything. I'd just spoil everyone's night for nothing."

She slumps forwards. It is not graceful and it puts her face against Mikoto's shoulder. The cat shirt is getting tears on it now.

"I lie to everyone," she says. "I don't get sick at all. I'm just lazy."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Ryan Amon - Moonlit Melody https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf-sLzzPiAU

Nori runs cool and Mikoto runs warm and it is an interesting study of opposites. Nori says very much and Mikoto says very little, Nori plays the game and Mikoto declines, Nori has an eye for art and Mikoto wears garish colour.

But then, perhaps...

She does not quite sit but rather flows down, in the manner of an iceberg sliding from its ancestral standing-place by years of long thaw and crashing slowly-slowly down to the sea. Nori slumps and Mikoto has not let go of her hand, though perhaps her knuckles are pressed into perfectly-manicured grass by the motions.

"Nori..." And on her lips her name is soft concern, as gentle as the moonlight.

And all the things Mikoto had passed over Nori drags into the night, and she makes a liar of her because by the time she says no one is sad there are tears forming in Mikoto's eyes. She wasn't lying, after all. Nori is sad, and that makes Mikoto sad, too.

She doesn't stop her. Mikoto knows a thing or two about things which are hard to talk about.

Perhaps Nori is a ghost but Mikoto has learned many things from cats, and it is a well-known fact that cats see spirits as readily as sunbeams or sardines. And those sad golden eyes gaze at her and - Nori has seen Mikoto confused before, many times. Mikoto is not confused now. Mikoto understands very well what she is saying. Just don't ask her why; she doesn't know.

Nori slumps forward and she cannot escape being hugged any longer, one hand around her back and the other pressed against her hair, stroking little lines through the tense strands where they have been pulled into braids. (She does not tug them out, because Homura surely worked hard on them.)

"... Nori." Mikoto says her name because for a moment she can say nothing else, as the enormity of Nori's sorrows crashes into her with all the force of an iceberg loosened after centuries. She takes a breath which trembles, and perhaps she is close enough to hear the way her lungs fill so deeply.

Mikoto says very little but she feels she has to say something, now, because Nori has come to her and not anyone else, and she feels very small all a sudden, because she doesn't know how to help. But Mikoto has never let ignorance stop her.

So she takes another breath. "Some are sad," she says, in a more serious tone than Nori has ever heard before, and she does not specify who she is talking about despite her aversion to the obscurity of the pronoun game, because she is good at keeping secrets. "They notice sad things... worry 'bout sad stuff happening. Just, they don't say it. It's too big. Big stuff, gets pushed back. Not focused." It sounds a bit more personal than that.

"Nori... I'm here too." Her chin jerks towards the tomato trusses, because her hands are occupied. "That's why Nori told me, right? ... sometimes it's too much. All these people. Too crowded. Too loud. Still not used to it. So I gotta find somewhere on my own." And perhaps that is why Mikoto appears in the most unlikely of places.

And her fingers still as she presses her lips together and she thinks.

And she says, quietly, "I can't go back neither." Not while there's still something she has to do.

It's a bit scary, isn't it, saying something like that?

"... I get it. It's stuff Nori can't talk about... I got stuff like that too. I won't tell." Let it be another mystery contained by this girl who says so little and feels so much. But Mikoto frowns through tears, and tries to make herself known anyway, even if it is a secret. "I like Nori... Nori's a good person. I'm happy when Nori's around. Don't really care if Nori's weird. Lots people say I'm weird. Sometimes I feel weird... 'cause all this stuff's new. Mothers, and chocolate, and school..."

Her head turns, just slightly, cheek pressing against Nori's crown. "I didn't fit in. But... Mai was nice to me. And then Madoka was nice to me, and Endo was nice to me, and Yumi was nice to me, and Nori was nice to me... and I'm figuring stuff out. I am!" She insists, a little more fiercely. "And Nori helps me figure out stuff to wear, and... it's important." She is probably not just talking about her stylish sensibilities. "It's important, okay?"

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori slumps into Mikoto. The stroking of her hair has a certain reversal of fortune to it, but her hair is lush enough to accept this petting. If Mikoto wanted she could work the strands loose, one at a time, but perhaps that would be cruel. The braids were the product of hard work. Better to cut them loose and preserve them than to undo such work.

Nori snuffles and gasps for breath as Mikoto says her name. She breathes in at the same time as Mikoto, but then Mikoto says a word that does not echo in the ego-awareness of the girl from Sapporo. She looks at her then, eyes still wet.

Mikoto explains. Nori struggles to grasp the words, fails at the struggle, and just lolls for a few moments, before answering her quietly. "Mikoto..."

"You're easy to be kind to... you don't put anything up that's in the way. It feels nice to be kind to people... you know? Even if it's just little things, and even if you don't have a lot of time, you can just... be kind, like this, b-but..."

"You should be the one in my place," Nori says then, her weight slightly shifting forwards as she says it. If Mikoto doesn't bear her up she might flop down onto the grass entirely! Face down. "You deserve it more. I'm just a difficult person... sometimes I, I - you know Homura, of course, who did my hair up like this - I should have been kinder when she arrived, I could tell she was anxious but all I could think about was -"

There is a silence there for several seconds, as if something came into play. Some taboo. Nori doesn't elaborate, but she does find the thread again.

"I could have... Y-you would have just done it immediately, right? Like you're doing right now... ugh..."

There is silence from her again.

It lasts a while. Probably this is not a place where a lot needs to be said. But the tomatoes do not grow so very much before Nori says quietly, "It's important?"

"Do you really believe that? You don't have to... to make claims, if it bothers you or anything like that... you're very kind but..."

There is a weak and tender bud somewhere that hasn't yet managed to emerge, and perhaps never will; not all of them manage it, and many of them are never even seen when they falter, quietly absorbed back into the stalk.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

But in cutting Nori's hair, would Mikoto cut away the source of her power..? ... probably not, but it would still be cruel to a girl who has received the gift of braids. Kindness is not just a matter of minding the gift-giver.

Being deserving is not a thing outside her ken; she has ever been the chosen child. Mikoto has never been anything but exceptional. But there is a bitterness to hear it in this way, as Nori says she deserves nothing in turn.

She listens with a soft gaze as Nori talks. She feels the way her weight rolls, and Mikoto shifts with her, catching her with strong hands at her back and keeping her precious face out of the dewy grass. It's hardly a thing she needs to think about; because of this she does not think that perhaps Nori would prefer to faceplant.

She listens and she does not interrupt, until Nori manages to say what she struggles to say. "Yeah," Mikoto says, finally, "I do."

She is quiet, because she is thinking, and the tomatos grow a little more.

"Immediately..." Mikoto echoes, thoughtfully, and perhaps it is the moonlight which makes it sound a little wistful.

"Nori, remember beginning of year? When everyone talked about wild thing rampaging through Ohtori? Ruined sport games, knocked over lunch tables..? ... that was me." She does not add that she was also the demon cat rampaging through the sports festival, but perhaps that is implied. Entirely literally, she continues: "Ran into Mai. Threatened Mai." Mikoto shakes her head, and perhaps at this proximity her won braids tickle her. "Ran off. Mai found me... and brought me back." This is both a figurative and a literal statement which she fully fails to explain.

She puffs out a soft sigh, glancing aside. "... know what I deserved, being scary. But Mai gave me food instead. And... guess I was difficult, not knowing anything. It's what they say." Ohtori does tend to whisper. "But, everyone's been nice. 'Buki taught me about pet birds, and Yumi taught me how rent works, and Madoka taught me if everyone's laughing it's safe. Even when I was really lost... and thought maybe I'd messed up too much... Nori found me, right?" She shifts in her support to hold Nori with one arm, as her other hand comes around to hold hers again.

(Mikoto has always been a little careless about the borders between her magical life and the other. This delineation, too, is an invention of Tokyo.)

"Without everyone," she muses, quietly, "I think maybe I'd still be scary. Wouldn't trust anyone. Wouldn't wanna know about all the good city things, like days just for chocolate. Or chocolate. If no one'd been nice to me, I wouldn't be able to hold Nori, 'cause I'd be too scared. And it's okay, right? Learning this stuff. If it's okay for me 'cause I'm new to city, it's okay for Nori 'cause Nori's used to sad feelings too, right?"

Mikoto insists, more certain: "It's not different."

It's not different because Nori is not different. They both deserve the chance to be better than they were.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori's power comes not from her hair, but from her eyes. Well, that's a poor way to put it - say rather her heart, but that's a common seat of power. As she is held Nori doesn't resist, and she lets the Earth embrace her.

Mikoto asks her to remember something and Nori wishes she wouldn't. Sometimes every memory seems to be a horrid thing, dipped in smelly ink. A thing that stains her. Sometimes Nori wishes she didn't remember anything at all. But Mikoto isn't speaking about her, she's speaking about Mai.

Nori does not know Mai, exactly, but she knows *of* Mai. Her eyes turn towards her. The story takes moments to sink into Nori's mind, and afterwards, she makes a little sniffly sound and she lets herself slump forwards.

"You aren't scary at all," Nori protests weakly, and then she slips away from Mikoto. She does not go far, though; she rolls onto her side, then onto her back, with enough leisure and lassitude that her night wear has no risk of being stained by the grass. The dew seeps into the cloth, but that's alright.

Nori gazes upwards towards the sky, largely hidden and shrouded with hints of pastel thanks to the lights of Tokyo and this house. But that's alright, too.

Nori breathes and her hand doesn't drift away from Mikoto. She turns it a little to stay in touch with her, like an anchor.

Time passes quietly. It isn't day when Nori comes back to herself. The Kaname household hasn't changed. The lights weren't turned out, but if anyone looked out at them, they didn't interfere. Perhaps Mama Kaname is wiser than thought. And she was thought of quite highly to begin with.

Nori speaks again, softly.

"It's their fault, you know," Nori says. "If they find you scary, I mean. Unless you were... were waving a sword in their faces or something... People are scared by the strangest things. Sea cucumbers, spiders, the darkness, cold weather..."

"Is there anything you're afraid of...?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The heart - the seat of all power - it's a common story, isn't it? Trust in the heart - believe in the heart - a girl's heart can never lead her astray. The first story and the last, a tale older than millennia. It is...

Mikoto does not realise she has bid Nori to recall painful things - rather she does not realise she can summon painful memories at all; Mikoto has so few, after all. But she has plenty of memories of cats, and can recognise from their tutelage when someone tires of being picked up. She relaxes her embrace to allow Nori to escape as she will, and when she sees that she only wants to flop onto the ground, Mikoto follows her example and lies down beside her.

"I'm glad," she says, on the topic of her scariness, and does not say anything else to interrupt Nori's quietude. She weaves her fingers through hers, and looks up at the stars. There aren't many, here, in Tokyo. It doesn't make much sense. There were so many stars back home, and it's the same sky, isn't it..?

... at least there's always... one star up there.

She does not realise she's the only girl present who can see it.

Nori speaks and Mikoto tilts her cheek lightly against the grass, glancing over to her with eyes which catch the veranda lights. She supposes to herself that Natsuki would be well within her rights to find her frightening, then - but Natsuki is her friend instead. Confusion flutters over her face as she listens to the various things people find scary, because none of them sound scary to her at all.

And then Nori asks, and Mikoto tilts her head back up to gaze at the sky again. The moon's still bright enough, even here.

She hums consideration as she thinks, and perhaps the fact that she has to stop and think about it says more than anything she could possibly explain. She has so few painful memories, after all. So few it is pointless to think of them. So few she does not want to think on them.

"I'm scared..." Mikoto starts, uncertainly, as if the words might bite her as they exit her mouth, "... of being alone."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"I am too," Nori says to Mikoto.

Then she speaks. Her voice changes timbre slightly. It is quieter but more resonant, as if she is speaking through some perfect amplifier tuned down. It is a siren's voice.

"Where I am from," Nori says, "you can see the stars but rarely, and only at night. There is no moon - we had no need of one - but the sun is enormous, so huge that it fills a sixth of the sky. Or it would, if you could see it; the clouds are thick, so thick that they let only enough light to reach the surface. If there is extra it makes the water rise, and become more clouds, and come down on the islands and the plains as rain..."

"The soil's always so rich, even after thousands of years. There are the pine trees and the sugar cane, and the rice fields... the garden patches... and the deep old forests, from when last they burned, in the days of the Asymmetric Queen."

"If you want, Mikoto... it won't be for a while, but I will take you there," Nori says. "We'll walk together down the boulevard and we'll take our ease. They have ice cream there... cake... every kind of seafood you can imagine. It might be a little different, but you'll never go hungry."

"... Would you come with me? You won't have to stay, it's just for a visit..."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Why wouldn't Nori be afraid of being alone?

It's the most frightening thing there is.

She tells a tale and it is a comforting thing, listening to stories; instead of asking how she can be from two places at once Mikoto takes the words as they come, eyes lidding half-closed like a comfortable cat.

What a fantastical world, she thinks. No wonder Nori runs there.

And at first she hesitates as Nori invites her, but it is just a visit, she says, and so Mikoto looks back to her and smiles. "Yup," she nods against the grass. "It sounds nice... and it means lots to Nori." Anything so important to her friends is worth seeing.

She looks back up at the stars - imagine a world with clouds which never break! - and presses her lips together as she thinks. "It's so big," she says, contemplative. Clarifies, a moment later: "The world... not even just one world. There's so much. I wanna see everything. I want to... have lots of stories to tell, instead of just listening..." And she is thinking of someone, and she does not speak of him.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori half closes her eyes. She smiles, just a little.

"It's real," she says. "The ruins of Luxor, the cachalots, everything. You'll adore it. Why - there are even cats there too - though I wasn't able to meet very many of them. They liked to sleep down at the cannery dock..."

Nori reaches out to take Mikoto's hand in both of hers. She feels a little warmer, now.

"I'll tell you every story I know, if you like. I think we should go inside, for now. But the Asymmetric Queen is a good one. You'll really cheer for her..."

"But it has to be a secret," Nori says.

"But not a bad one."

Thank you for being there for me, Mikoto.
I hope moments like this will never stop...