2019-04-17 - ... Do Better
|Title: Do Better|
She made one mistake too many.
Ohtori Academy - Dormitories
| OOC - IC Date:|
2019-04-14 (date moved forward in title to preserve chronological order) - 2015-05-30
.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************. *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Dormitories +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* There is some variation between the dormitories to provide a range suitable to different tastes, but they are typically old-fashioned and elegant, with low stone walls guiding the walkways and ivy creeping up their white walls and columns. Their exterior is classically European, like sedate manor houses, and for the most part this style is maintained inside, with dignified old paintings in thick goldleaf frames. However, the dormitories do not lack for daring Ohtori touches, with whimsical art deco floor panelling here, fantastical geometric lamps there, and odd little secret panels and dead ends throughout. Dorm rooms are generally shared between two same-gender students, but singles are almost as common; Ohtori students were not generally raised to share. There are some triples and quads available as well. Some dorms permit a great deal of leeway in decoration, others require students to stick to the default antique furniture. Many dorms have at least a small balcony, which provides an escape route for particularly rebellious students when curfews are instated. *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Yuki Kajiura - Hesitation, Bewilderment, and Swaying Feelings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyFWg8gP-Sk
Mikoto drops a plate, even though her grasp is iron. The porcelein cuts through their socks.
Mikoto forgets about the tempura, even though it's right in front of her eyes. The oil hisses and spits, and the prawns are ruined.
Mikoto mishandles the onigiri, even though she's done it right dozens of times. The rice gets everywhere.
Mikoto burns the yakitori, even though they have a mini griller to make it easy. They don't have any more chicken in the fridge.
Mikoto is helping with breakfast again, even though she keeps making mistakes. She wants to do well.
She came home late again, last night. At least she always does. She hasn't talked much about what she's doing, out there. It doesn't involve going to school much, these past few days, though she dutifully puts on the too-hot uniform. She has been - charitably speaking - distracted. Quiet.
She looks at Mai often. It usually means she's not looking at what she's doing.
It isn't that she doesn't want to share her feelings with her, it's just...
... this is the only place where she can exist in a different context.
If she tells Mai everything - she'll make Mai sad, and she'll drag Mai into those problems, and she won't be able to try and pretend it's okay any more. Right now, Mai is locked from that loop. And maybe that's wrong, but...
Mai knew Kozue, too.
Mai would be sad if she knew.
It's not right to open up.
She won't feel any better if she makes her home miserable, too.
Caught in those thoughts, she does not notice the teriyaki sauce boiling down to nothing. Her eyes are on Mai, lips pressed together. From them come hums of vague acknowledgement, now and then, and on some level she is listening.
On another level she is hearing Madoka scream: 'NO!!'
She didn't call out.
She didn't do anything.
<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
There have been more mistakes, lately. More frequent, more severe, more difficult to ignore.
There's a pattern to the mistakes. Every time, there's a long sigh from Mai, a quiet little plea to Mikoto's name. Then there's a little bit of activity with a lot of instruction - sometimes a gentle reminder of how to remedy the situation, sometimes just commenting on the consequences of mistakes that can't be fixed.
Some messes can be cleaned up. Some bento were missing a main dish. Things happen, and they keep happening.
It's also a pattern that Mai has learned how to deal with Mikoto's late arrivals. There's always a lingering smell of supper in some form or another - either food just growing a little bit cold, or leftovers set aside for the eventual diner. There's always a gentle admonishment, a quiet little inquiry with no force behind it, cautioning that it's late but checking that things are all right. There's always an unlocked window, for sneaking past the RA.
There's something terrible about patterns, though.
Last night, Mikoto was late again. The window was shut, though, and didn't open quickly. The dorm room, though occupied, was cold - no work-in-progress, not even a sign that Mai had had supper herself. The meal of the night was instant ramen, with just a few trimmings - warming, but not Mai's finest work. Finally...
Mai hadn't said a word in response. She'd been sitting at the table, phone lying inactive before her, leaning on one hand and staring at nothing. Not a word about the hour, not a word about the danger - not answering until her name was called, and little to say for the evening but 'good night'.
The pattern broke. And it breaks again.
The morning routine had been nice, at least - with the extra helping hands, clumsy as they are, Mai has been able to do just a little more with their bento. Even now, she's juggling a few things - trying to dice greens for a salad, fry some little cutlets of pork, and stir-fry some vegetables. Mikoto has the sauce under control, and so her attention is split those three ways - right until the smell of burning teriyaki offends her nose.
Darting eyes snap forward, meeting Mikoto's earnest stare, but there's no longing glance to be found in the head cook's gaze. What should have been a gentle admonishment instead comes out as a snapped order. "Mikoto! The sauce is burning - get it off the stove, now!"
It's a couple of minutes before the fires are out enough for Mai to assess the damage - the stir-fry has to be put on hold, but the pork has to finish cooking lest it be done too rare for safety. Once the cutlets are set aside, she's finally able to look in the pot - and a strangled groan works its way from her throat. "That's ruined - it's going to need to soak overnight if we're even going to be able to salvage the pot itself. One thing after another..."
She pinches the bridge of her nose, nostrils flaring as she mentally runs through alternatives they have on hand - but the spare bottle of backup sauce got broken in another accident two days ago. Another groan, this one with more of an edge to it, and then she lowers her hand to hang by her side. When she speaks, it isn't with a solution or an explanation or any helpfulness - there's just a bitterness that sounds like her coffee usually tastes. "You were supposed to be watching it. Honestly, Mikoto, what were you even doing?"
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
Mikoto apologises when she messes up, just as Mai has taught her.
She keeps messing up.
It's not like she doesn't try to get home at a reasonable hour. But Nishitama is a big place, and it's unlikely to be threatened in the daytime; magical girls are nocturnal creatures. She is there every night, now that Eri is spending them covered with a blanket instead. She promised.
She comes home every night, regardless of the hour, so long as it is possible for her to move. She promised.
Sometimes she is distracted from the trip home by a falsely-familiar face, pressing her to search in the darkness. She promised.
Promises on promises on promises, and she will shatter beneath the weight of them.
And then, one day, the window was locked.
Mikoto got it open, eventually. She tried to apologise. It didn't work. In her manner she said Mai's name, instead, laden with sorrow and regret. That didn't work, either.
Now Mikoto is preoccupied with Mai, eyes on her even as her mind roils, because Mai is sad, and Mikoto does not know what to do. It's a gentle sort of sadness - understated. Mai meets her eyes.
Mikoto's head jerks back, momentarily stricken. Her breath catches in her throat, and for a fraction of a second she looks to her, unbelieving, and she does not see gentle admonishment there. Her chest clenches with the realisation that she has erred, and she snaps her attention to the pot, taking it off the flame with hurried motions. She has to do what she's told. She'll make it worse if she doesn't.
One thing after another, Mai grouses when the panic settles, and Mikoto's gaze lowers down. Mai is frustrated with her. Mai is angry at her...
Mikoto didn't do what she was supposed to do. Mikoto can't do something like this.
"I was, trying... to be a girl, like Mai..." She explains what she was doing without meeting her eyes, morose as her brow arcs up and her lips tug down. A hand lifts to her chest, curls in as it presses against the warmth underneath her winter shirt: "but I didn't do it right."
<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
It was such a little thing. One batch of burned sauce, maybe a ruined saucepan. It's not like it's the first time such a thing has happened. It's not like they don't have other saucepans.
It was such a little thing, and yet it happened. It has been happening, it keeps happening, and it's another mistake piled upon the heap that has sat in Mai's mind since last night.
Maybe if she weren't replaying another conversation in her head, she'd have picked up on Mikoto's reaction to that first bit of harshness. Maybe - but then again, Mai hasn't smiled all morning.
The pattern is broken. It was supposed to be a gentle admonishment, followed by trying to find a solution. Finding a way to clean up the mess, to salvage the meal from its loss. That was the pattern - but instead Mai's gaze remains fixed on the black sludge that should have been a tasty sauce for today's lunch. Her hand clenches tightly around the pot handle, as she looks at something that maybe she should have handled sooner-
And then Mikoto explains, too morose to meet Mai's gaze.
It's a loud clatter, the sound the saucepan makes when Mai drops it on the floor.
"Trying to...no. No, you didn't do it right." It's Mai who turns away now, thoughts of how to make a good meal completely gone from her mind. Mirroring her companion, her hand moves up to clutch at her shirt for a moment. "Which is probably for the best, because you shouldn't even try."
She should pick up the pot - the sludge that hadn't burnt is beginning to ooze onto the floor. She should check the refrigerator, to see if there's anything they could use for a backup sauce or dressing in a pinch. She should even finish preparing the salad so there's something to the bento - but she doesn't.
Mai is just staring at - staring out the window, not focusing on anything anyone can see, another conversation entirely echoing in her ears. There's still a bitterness to her voice - not anger, not heat, just a quietly uttered fact. "You shouldn't ever try to be a girl like me."
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Fall Out Boy - The Kids Aren't Alright https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuGUUZqNfjE
Mikoto's breath hitches, a miserable little noise which aborts partway as Mai condemns her. Her hand curls around that thing under her shirt, bunching up the cloth. Sadness sheets over her eyes as her lashes veil gold, staring at the floor.
'Sometimes I feel like... I'm going away... like everyone's far away and I can't, reach... but, I try, Yumi. I'm gonna figure out how to be a normal girl, and... it'll be okay. Maybe it'll make Eri happy, too...'
But she could never show Mai that she was a girl like her, that she could be loved with the same esteem.
Because Mikoto can't be that girl.
She is a blade.
That's all she's ever been.
She draws in a breath and it shudders, and she swallows against the tight feeling in her throat. Mai issues her edict, and Mikoto still does not meet her gaze as she nods assent. She stands on distant shore, too far for the lighthouse beacon to reach.
"Yes, Mai," she murmurs, dismal, as she turns her face away.
The smell of burnt teriyaki cuts through everything like a knife. It keeps happening. She was stupid to think she could ever reach Mai's feelings like this. She can't offer a word in her defence; she has no defence.
<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
They're not looking at each other any more. Mai turns away, and Mikoto turns away, and neither is in the right mind to see what the other's going through.
From the distant shore, maybe it's a lighthouse beacon.
For the outpost, it's a raging fire that ships should steer clear of.
Mikoto makes a pained sound that Mai's too caught up to hear, but she wasn't the one being condemned. Not today. Not after last night.
That distant stare finally ends when Mai closes her eyes for a moment, taking in and misinterpreting that murmured acknowledgement. "It's just-"
The smell of ruined teriyaki is getting obnoxious, and Mai storms over to the sink to grab a washcloth. The faucet practically hisses as she dampens it, and it's just shy of a stomp as she goes to the slowly spilling pot. Wiping furiously at the soured sauce, she tries to swallow her anger even though there's so much going on. "You need to do better, Mikoto. That's what I mean. Don't try to be a girl like me, try to...do better."
She needs to be a better person than Mai Tokiha, because that's a painfully low bar after last night's conversation with Takumi.
The sticky sauce is as scrubbed as it can be without a proper mopping, and there isn't time for that this morning. Not before class. Standing with another grumble, Mai goes to fill the pot with some soapy water to let it soak. She mutters to herself - loudly enough that Mikoto can easily here, and getting a bit louder and a bit more bitter with every clause.
"...do better. Yeah. Like not rushing off to risk your life at the drop of a hat. Like maybe talking to someone before getting ready to sacrifice your life. How about actually telling the person you're trying to protect that they're in danger in the first place? Or maybe, as a crazy idea, try actually talking to the people you care about so they don't have to plan behind your back!"
The last is punctuated by Mai slamming her hands on the counter by the sink, her back still to Mikoto. The smell of teriyaki is fading, at least, as the quiet hiss of water fills and overfills and overflows the pot, spiraling endlessly down the drain. That, and no few droplets of salt water.
"...do better than me." A whisper, entirely to herself, as the arms holding her up from the counter begin to tremble.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - Me, I'm Not https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHqm7iVhtEI
Mai's socks impact heavily with the floor, and Mikoto flinches. Steam rises from the sauce. Her gaze does not.
'I'm only commenting on what I see and hear. If the very concept is so upsetting to you, ask yourself: 'Why might someone think that my Lord Brother is not the most important person to me? What am I doing that might give them that impression?
'... just tell me. If you want me to want this. Tell me why I should want it... tell me how I should want it...'
'Don't tell me how you make me feel. You've never asked.'
'The war's over, now. Sakura said as much in the letter. We're not coming after Shimanouchi, and we're working together on this. The fighting's done.'
'I have never seen you run like that. It is good you got the child out safe and sound. But what of you, Mikoto-chan? Did you get out safe and sound?'
'...Make sure everybody comes back alive, Mikoto-chan.'
Mikoto listens to every muttered barb, breath fluttering against her teeth like a caged bird. Her face lines in tension, cheeks taut to pull down on lips and the corners of her eyes. It is getting easier and easier to remember all the awful things she has done, all the ways she has failed them.
'Like not rushing off to risk your life at the drop of a hat. Like maybe talking to someone before getting ready to sacrifice your life.'
'You get it right? You don't want the person you love to hurt. That's why you do more than I ask - and offer to do more. So how can I ask you to hurt more than you already are for my sake? I'd have to be the most selfish kind of girl.'
'How about actually telling the person you're trying to protect that they're in danger in the first place?'
'I...found out what Shimanouchi was doing. Found out why, and I understand, but...you're right. I would have had to be a monster to help her. I'm not sure I could have done that...I'm surprised I was able to stand aside.'
'Or maybe, as a crazy idea, try actually talking to the people you care about so they don't have to plan behind your back!'
'...I'm worried. I feel like... Everyone's drifting away. Everyone's drifting apart. And it's all getting worse. But didn't the Shepherds team up to take care of each other? ...If we lose that, then how long are you all going to last?'
It is not just the sound of impact which makes Mikoto startle - though certainly it helps. Her breath shallows in her throat, as her shoulders curl in against herself. She is a small, small thing. She cannot argue with the truth.
"I can't," Mikoto murmurs in turn, and the words are pulled over a rack like a a fur to dry. "'Cause I want, everyone to care about me. I want... everyone to smile..."
She does not say: whenever she says things, these days, they make everyone sad.
She does not say it because it is obvious.
She does not even have to say anything to upset Mai any more.
She does not even know what is happening to her. She does not know how to explain. She knows that it is bad. She knows that she is bad. She knows that they would condemn her. She does not want Mai to condemn her.
It tightens every bowstring in her body until she is tremble-taut, and everything she could say is choked out by the vice around her chest.
Perhaps she has missed that last word.
<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
Failures hang heavy in the Tokiha-Minagi kitchen. Actions taken that should not have been - actions taken that should have been. Mai might have only heard the distant echoes of the war between Shepherds and Chevaliers, but she might forever wonder if acting would have made a difference.
But that's why she's here, standing over the sink, weighed down by her sins. Even Takumi managed to pick up on echoes like demolished buildings and condemned landscapes, and he knew exactly one person he could ask about what was going on.
She'd put off talking too long. And now she's here, barely aware of the pain behind her because of the pained voice from last night.
There's a murmur behind her - a denial, a conviction. It's enough to stall Mai's self-loathing, if only for a moment, to try to recenter herself on the here and now. Slowly, painfully, she turns her head - turns to look at Mikoto, to try to understand what problem troubles her.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
Mai doesn't answer immediately, but instead looks at the shared dormitory room. There are scrapes and scratches, there are half a dozen holes in walls from careless Miroku storage, there are scorch marks throughout the kitchen from trying out elements, there's a closet door that doesn't close any more thanks to SEARRS soldiers. Nearly two years of memories, ever since Mai was told that she needed to keep an eye on the girl before her.
It took nearly two years for her most important duty to notice that dereliction.
Such a precious, earnest request - and today, today specifically, it's just a little bit too much.
"That's...that's hard, Mikoto. With everything going on, with everything that's just happened..." She turns away, resting a hand on the refrigerator handle, wondering what she might find inside. A solution to the problem of the teriyaki sauce, or shelves bereft of hope?
She doesn't open the appliance.
"...today's not a good day, Mikoto. I have...I have things I have to deal with. If you're looking for smiles..." Her face is turned away from her companion, gaze fixed on her feet - but her expression can be guessed from the slump in her shoulders, the bitter resignation in her voice.
"...you'd really be better off looking somewhere else."
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> New Model Army - Dawn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o4KM2c3594
Evil succeeds only when good people do nothing.
Goodness succeeds only when evil people do nothing.
There is so little good in the world these days.
And Mikoto has done so much.
The walls have holes in them from the nights Mikoto has woken in a panic, summoned her blade to her side from its case by the wall. She does not explain why she is taken by fear and battle-readiness, sprung to her feet, the covers caught about her ankles. She does not talk about the dark Device which haunts her dreams and leaves her unable to accept the peace they have found. It is the darkness she remembers. There is so much more she forgets.
She does not talk about the guillotines hanging over her head, because they at least are not casting a shadow on Mai.
She does not see the way they do.
But she heard the sadness which weighs Mai to earth, and too late she realises that something has happened to her, too. Finally Mikoto looks up, brow arced in compassion and sorrow as she watches her linger at the fridge. "Mai..." Her name on her lips is concern.
It's not a good day, she says.
Mai wants to be alone.
Mikoto desperately does not want to be alone, but what Mai wants is most important, after all.
But she knows that if Mai cannot smile, she will never find another one again.
Her hand turns, briefly, from her chest, as if perhaps she might try and reach out to her. Her fingers curl; her arm drops to her side. There is a defeated cast to her words, because she has never been able to argue. "Okay... I'll see Mai tonight."
She turns, quickly, before her own expression can betray how distant smiles are to her too. To the door, and she slips into sensible Ohtori flats, and shrugs a black case onto her shoulder.
It feels like it should be louder - the way the door opens, the gentle click as it shuts.
<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
It's quiet, in the wake of Mikoto's departure. The stove burners have been cold for some time, the faucet has been shut, the rice cookier has already finished its work. Most of the pieces of two bento boxes are cooked - the stir-fried vegetable still need a sauce, but the pork cutlets have finished draining and the rice is cooked. It might only take a few minutes to finish it all off.
It's still, in the wake of Mikoto's departure. Mai doesn't rush to finish her work, or to collect her books, or even to finish putting her uniform on. She just stands in the kitchen, alone, eyes closed so she doesn't have to stare at yet another failure.
Eventually, she gets her uniform and books together and leaves for class. Later than she should - she'll be late to the first lecture - but it doesn't matter.
The pieces of what should have been two bento boxes remain on the counter, left to cool and utterly forgotten. Mai is leaving without a lunch, but it doesn't matter.
She won't be hungry anyway.