2020-08-29 - Happily Ever After

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Happily Ever After

It's the first occasion of Sayaka Miki's birthday since her death at the hands of the cruel system that she risked -- and lost -- everything to oppose. But her struggle was not totally in vain... her friends and enemies alike learned the futility and horror of war the hard way, then were given a second chance at life, and forgiveness, in a new world...

Now Chevaliers and Shepherds come together to formally mark the end of a war, remember the sacrifices made, and celebrate their hard-earned peace. Also, to hang out on the beach and eat birthday cake. Make a wish...

All Chevaliers and Shepherds (alts included) are assumed to be in the background of this scene unless their players feel otherwise.


Mami Tomoe, Eri Shimanouchi, Utena Tenjou, Nori Ankou, Kyouko Sakura, Lera Camry, Mikoto Minagi, Kasagami Araki, Kimiko Akane, Homura Akemi, Endo Naoki, Haruka Tenoh


Tokyo Bay

OOC - IC Date:

8/29/2020 - 09-20-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Tokyo Bay +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
  Once known as the "Inner Sea," the shelter Tokyo Bay once provided for        
  merchants and fishermen helped Tokyo develop into the powerhouse that it is   
  today, nor is it less useful today. Japan's largest shipping ports operate    
  out of the Bay, as does its own navy and that of the US Forces. Herculean     
  efforts dredge up its silt to create artificial islands, and factories drink  
  its water to soothe their smoky throats.                                      
  To most residents, however, the Bay is simply blue water glittering,          
  salt-seasoned breezes, and gently drifting sails. The aptly named Rainbow     
  Bridge crossing the bay enhances rather than damages its beauty, its white    
  towers lit many nights by an artificial rainbow. A provincial visitor might   
  consider Tokyo Bay to be trimmed like a garden hedge; it has a number of      
  oddly geometric islands with arranged greenery, and any land touching the     
  water often makes the best of it with a park, intake valve, or other          
  imposition on nature. To a city-dweller, though, it is a miracle of open      
  space and calm.                                                               
<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Where did it start? Mami's apartment is a good guess, and even accurate--but that's not where the invitations she and others sent by text and otherwise directed anyone. No, those, sent by old contact points, starting from two, quickly becoming four, and then becoming many more.

The late afternoon sun is mollified a little by a nice breeze out here at the bay, on a small beach otherwise unoccupied save for--well, for the people about to occupy it now! There are a couple of quick tables set up, adorned with tablecloths and a spread of food, including a round container perfectly sized for a large cake that is currently closed up. Where did all of it come from? Aside from the cake, only one girl knows for sure.

The water rises and falls evenly against the sand, in and out, a naturally calm sort of sound that brings a certain peace to the energy otherwise here.

The invitations have a lot of differences, being word of mouth by various places instead of something more official, but they all include a few facts: this is a gathering for both Chevalier and Shepherd, and it is Sayaka Miki's birthday. There will be food.

For her part, Mami Tomoe is present, as anyone would expect considering that she was the one to start the ball rolling on this. She's dressed in airy, light colors, a long sundress with a hat against the glare of the sun. The hat is beribboned in yellow; her feet are in sandals; her dress is sleeveless with a long skirt. And she is smiling at the moment, though it's not one of those beaming brilliant happy smiles some might get. It's something softer, no less keenly felt but quieter in its expression.

The tables are enough away from the water to be safe even from higher tides; various bottles of drinks are spread on one, Mami righting the last bottle as she steps away to eye her work while people start to arrive.

She is not the only one who's been working on setup as time has come, naturally. The other organizers, for instance, and maybe...

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Celebration - Toko Miura - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amb_O8JvVz4

Three objects are laid to rest on a backdrop of cloth with a baseball motif. Balls and bats and diamonds mostly. Staring at them, a fingertip reaches out to lightly touch one of them. Fingertips slide down it like someone playing at a keyboard.

Despite her best efforts, a nostalgic smile graces her face for a short time, before she gathers up the cloth around it and cinches it together with a blue ribbon.

On her way out of the dorms, she makes a short stop by the gardens.


A tuft of bluebells is tucked into the ribbon.


Eri shows up early to help with the setup. She's wearing a ruched green and white off the shoulder linen dress with the hem of the dress cutting a diagonal from one knee to the mid-thigh of the other leg. On the right side of her green hair there is a clip with a beaded pair of pink pansies.

A pair of simple sandals are worn on her feet.

She's set the package she brought on the table near the cake. Nothing in the invitation called for gifts, but she brought one anyway.

While she did not come up with the idea for this party at all, she committed to helping organize early. Eri's spent the past few days in a series of texts checking RSVPs for the Shepherds in regards to the invitations, and encouraging them to come.

Eri's currently at one of the tables, setting up an assortment of paints, brushes, glitter and art supplies she's borrowed from Yumi.

Their purpose for now, is a mystery. Is the answer hidden behind that smile of hers?

Well... stay for a while and find out.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena shows up in uniform. Not even dress uniform particularly, but before anyone reads too much into it, her wardrobe's lack of variety is well-known enough to be much more of a given than a fashion statement. There is something gamely, casually appropriate about it, nevertheless, when the black jacket is worn boldly open, collar popped; her gray sports bra, red shorts, and bared torso (hard and bronze from a long, active summer) connecting them are certainly beach-worthy in combination. As for her sneakers, she shucked them, and her cheerful red sports socks, at the base of the stairs leading down to the sand.

One extra accessory: an Ohtori baseball cap, worn brim-forward. She doesn't actually own a softball one, but it's the thought that counts, right?

She's brought a cooler under one arm, because cool teenage partiers bring drinks no matter what the catering may be. Utena isn't NEARLY delinquent enough to have filled it with beer, but, once sunk into the sand and flipped open, the ramune soda inside clink refreshingly amid their ice. Their marbles glisten from deep within.

All of them are blueberry-flavored.

"Senpai," she greets Mami, respectfully and with a certain gently determined cheer -- SHE doesn't want to be responsible for ruining the mood. "This place sure looks festive, you guys really went all out."

Her eyes, even bluer than the sodas, flick over to the other table. She lifts an arm in greeting.

"Eri." Not Shimanouchi. Eri.

She pads over at an easy lope that leaves little round divots in the sand behind her. They aren't dissimilar from the ones created in her cheeks when she suddenly grins. The afternoon sun is just that much dimmer in comparison.

Her hands twitch towards the supply bag.

"Can I help?"

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

When Nori Ankou heard the invitation from Mami Tomoe, she had cried.

Nori, in fact, weeps a great deal. It does not happen in her public face so often lately, but in some cases that is because she wears the face of another, perhaps truer self; in other cases, she is fighting for victory against all hands turned against her. But in private, she has shed many tears, rendering them either to the Sea or into Batiste's soft fur or into a pillowcase.

Nori wept for Sayaka, who was sweet and bold and caring and innocent and who they lost.

And then... she bought something.


Alright, even for an Ohtori-attending model there is more than this. Nori wrote a lot of invitations. They were sent, largely, by email. Here is a good example of one:

'On this day we shall have a little bit of a visit, and I suppose a talk, and we will bring some food... it seems like the right thing to do, you know? I hope that you can come and I hope that you will stay for a while...' and so on, usually a paragraph or two, rambling with pleasantries and personal matters in somewhat elliptical Japanese.

Nori also has the benefit of an automobile, which was put into service for the aid of Mami and organizational purposes. At this moment she is bringing the last things from that car. A package of bags, to collect anyone's trash - a package that Nori has not fully identified from some other shop - and a highly decorated lacquerware box, tied with red string, which from how it is being held is on the heavy side.

(As for Batiste, he has adjourned for a brief swim; but he is wearing his best vest.)

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9NcHiAkD6E

Kyouko Sakura was dressed relatively simply. Aside from her trademark black bow, she wore a loosely fitting crop top with crinklecut trim and a small red bow set against a pastel green, tied at her shoulders with spaghetti straps, as well as a pair of red beach shorts set with pink polka dots and a white draw string, and closed toe sandals, predominantly brown with a red trim.

Her wild hair had been, at least for the moment, gathered into a tight if somewhat rebellious bun, and she was a flurry of activity, roving around a large, open faced outdoor grill festooned with all manner of cooking delicacy. Hot dogs and burger patties for sliders, buns for each toasting, sausage links and ribs and speared kebab, charring peppers and corn cobs and watermelon slices galore, measured into cuts of steak and burger patties to be eaten with a knife and fork, or upon ciabatta buns with goat cheese and a charred orange-fennel gremolata. Trust me, she said. Try them!

More Japanese fare was of course to be had, fried squid tentacles and a tempura station, panko breaded katsu of chicken and pork, takoyaki balls and gyoza and korokke and karaage. For the most part it was nothing too heavy, or too difficult to eat, but roving eyes searching across the myriad offerings tended to find what they might be looking for, in the same strange way that Kyouko always seemed to have food on hand.

And of course not everything was to be heated or fried. Cucumber sandwiches, potato chips and bottles of ramune soda, piles of fresh fruit, neatly diced, and a full spread of condiments, cutlery, containers and napkins round out the ice water, fruit juices and freshly brewed tea. The truly inquisitive might even spy a few sake jugs for when the waterâs breezes blow the party in such a direction.

Everything that didnât need her immediate attention was neatly laid out upon platters replete with cosmetic adornment, food resting upon palm fronds and resplendent in their garnished finery. Kyouko worked the grill, where food on multiple levels all cooked to different tastes and temperatures and times, a complicated array whose details are known only to her.

Nobody would go hungry tonight. Not if she had anything to say about it.

Still, she didnât get so caught up in it all that she loses time for the little moments herself. Giving herself a moment to pause, she did just that, and watched, and smiled. Smiled at Mami, for all the times she couldnât. Smiled at Eri, for all the reasons she gives her. Smiled at old friends and foes, brought together again in joyous times as sheâd so long dreamed. Smiled at the blue tides, and a certain blue girl who was on everyoneâs mind.

It had been a long time coming, and for all that had happened along the way, this moment was a sweet and gentle and precious one. Wiping her eyes before anybody could catch a glimpse of them, she started plating.

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

Lera Camry isn't wearing a dress, but she dressed up a little for the occasion. She has a dark red button-up shirt on, slacks, and a nicer pair of shoes. She also has a skinny black tie on, which is left loose-fitting. It is, in fact, the sort of thing she would wear to a birthday party (or a club). She walks up to the beach, eyeing it a little; she seems a little worried about the tides, taking a second to watch the waves come in.

Then, she shrugs her shoulders, and glances at the tables. Paints, she thinks. She watches them for a second, then she looks at Eri, then Utena. She lifts her hand and waves.

"Hey, Mami," she says, with a wave of her hand. She scratches at the back of her head, and has a sort of awkward look. She shuffles her hands, until they're in her pockets.

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

It's Sayaka Miki's birthday.

Mikoto sits down, when she gets the text. There's no good place for her TO sit down, given she got it while she was between tall buildings in Shibuya - and don't even ask why she was up here because it's a long and involved story about an alarmingly arboreal kitten - so she ends up just kind of plonking down on the steps of a fire escape.

One hand absently pets that cat (who was never in any danger, really, even if the height is dizzying), while the other tilts the message back and forth, in the phone's bright yellow case. Yumi brought it for her so she could keep in touch with everyone. Nori helped her learn how to contact the Chevaliers with it, in turn. It was almost...

Well, it worked out eventually.

And now it's Sayaka's birthday.

"I never knew that..."

But what if she could find out?


Mikoto's shirt is yellow, striped green down the middle, with a blazing red sun across the heart. It's styled in the exact manner of an old shirt, long since abandoned to some second-hand store, and left to languish until someone unwitting picked it up. Mikoto's fashion sense can easily be called unwitting, but there's no way for her to mess up black bike-shorts, under the hem of that shirt. (It's at least two sizes too long for her, but... it's not QUITE a dress.)

In her hands, she carries...

... of all things...

... it's a pair of blue earmuffs.

'...It's like walking out into a cold day.'

Without explanation for how she got something like that at this time of year or why on earth she went for something so ill-fitting to the weather, she goes to set it down on a table so it won't get in the way, with just a significant glance to Mami.

That's when her nose twitches, and she is imminently drawn to...


Was there any any doubt, in anyone's mind, that Mikoto would descend on the snacks? She creeps up beside her, gold eyes big as dinner-plates. And lo: she trusts Kyouko, and tries the hot dog.

"It's good!" Mikoto chirps happily, a moment later, when that hot dog has mysteriously disappeared but for a crumb or two on her lips. And NOW, she turns and waves to everyone, and offers: "... hi!"

Perhaps food has made her more comfortable...

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


Kasagami Araki leans back in one of hideously posh chairs in her dorm room. Her eyes flit on the tiny slip of paper in her hands that she tilts every now and then at odd angles. Toes wiggle and clench with a tenseness that she dare not put into her hands lest she crumple up the slip.

She finds herself wanting to, and yet also wants to frame the little clipped-out yearbook photo. Kassie flits it around like a photo that's developing with one hand, face in a conflicted frown.

"...I really wish you were here to get a rise out of me again." Teeth grit. A handkerchief wipes away a stubborn tear.


Kasagami Araki whistles with a confident grin as she strides upon the sand to the gathering. Black jeans, black boots, and wearing a red...is that a t-shirt? No, it more looks like a softball player's shirt, with a much lighter jacket over it. Trimmed, aside from her red, with just a hint of blue.

That's where the Student Council Member's subtle tribute ends, and the aluminum bat she has swung over her shoulder like a sword begins. In that bag of hers? Rice balls. Done with seaweed vaguely done in the pattern of a softball's stitching.

Only once she'd laid down her contribution to the fare does she turn and really look at the others gathered. From Mami and Eri, over to Utena, then Lera and Kyouko. She opens her mouth to speak.

"Beautiful day, lots of effort into it...it's fitting. I like it. Hey everyone! Glad to see so many people showing up." Kassie, as much as she's trying to come off as obnoxiously confident as ever, can't quite hide the choke in her voice. How she repeatedly turns and grinds the head of the bat into the sand is a bit telling. All that tension, nowhere to release it.

Her wet eyes are a bit of a stormcloud of many emotions.

<Pose Tracker> Kimiko Akane [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The invitation to the gathering today had taken Kimiko a little off-guard but she didn't hesitate to respond to the texts with an enthusiasm rarely seen from the girl. The opportunity to get out and do something fun was more welcome than ever with school being back in full swing.

As the time drew closer, she found herself a little nervous but also pretty excited to see everyone. She had spent the morning preparing something very special to share with everyone. Even though the invitation didn't mention it she felt a day like this deserves something special.

It had taken her awhile to decide what to wear but she settles on a black skirt with a light pink top. Her hair is styled in her usual double buns but with a headband that matches her shirt and plain black shoes.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The texts come in while the subway train is aboveground, and Homura Akemi scrolls as the city rolls by. A birthday party for Sayaka Miki. A gathering. Eri encourages her to come. The grey girl inhales through her nose, long and slow, and looks out through the train window. Buildings blur, standing still yet moving, so much silvery static.

The train dives, as trains do.

The black beyond the window makes a mirror of it, and now Homura sees herself, staring back.

It's hard for her to imagine the girl in the glass at such a party, despite encouragement. But the girl is not alone in her reflection. Above white face and nestled in black hair, a red red ribbon shines.

She turns her head, leans it against the window, lets the subtle rattle of the tracks beneath gently bump her as she thumbs her phone awake again.

> I'll be there.


And Homura is, in a black skirt over grey tights, with a black-piped white blouse which cannot fail to wash her out. Her only color can be found in that cheery ribbon, in her large dark eyes, and in the matching violet stone set in her ring. It's not really a beach outfit. Upon her face she wears her customary neutrality. She has nothing in her hands, no offering or gift or snackish contribution.

At Kyouko's elbow -- the shift-crunch of sand having announced her approach -- she comments, "Food and fire."

And then, "Hello, Mikoto," to the hot dog connoisseur.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Endo arrives on the beach in loose summer attire, an airy shirt, loose athletic jacket, shorts and sandals. It was a long walk to join the party, the distance multiplied by the winding route his feet take through the small alleyways and side-streets that lead toward the bay. More than once he'd looped around the maze of streets, unwilling to emerge from clouded thoughts.

But he made it eventually. He's brought offerings of his own, bulging bags full of extra snacks, rice balls, and anything he could grab from the nearby convenience store. It's all placed carefully aside, likely unneeded extras. It still feels better than bringing nothing.

"Everything looks really nice." The boy offers as he approaches the tables, finding a place for himself.

On passing the table with the gifts and tributes, he pauses to remove the polished, gleaming knight pin from his jacket and carefully set it with the rest.

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

"Well, of course I'm cancelling for that. You too, right?" Haruka moves the phone from her right ear to her left, and in the process covers the receiver for a moment. "Here sound good?"

A 8-year old boy is holding out a bicycle helmet. "No, no, on the light colored part!" he corrects.

"Ahh, of course," Haruka plays up her error. She reorients her permanent marker to the white section of the boy's helmet, and takes her hand off the receiver to hold the helmet steady. "Yeah, I think Sakura-san's bringing the food, actually." She laughs at the response. "If it's just heavy stuff and junk food we can swing by the Hilton quick on our way back."

Haruka writes a signature as best she can on the curved surface of the helmet. "What's-your-name?" she mouths to the boy. The woman on the other end of the line is asking a question.


"Dress code? I think they said... swimwear only." Sly skeptical noises from the phone. "No, really. We're all supposed to come in one-pieces. Yes, now that you mention it. I think she did say something about mesh halter necklines."

"Akira," the boy reminds Haruka.

"I know, it's a crazy coincidence." Haruka writes To my greatest rival on the track, Akira.

"Whoooa!" Akira gasps.

"One sec, Michi. Akira-kun, you do your homework right?"


"You listen to your mom?"

Akira smiles shyly, halfway to a giggle.

"Sometimes, right?" Haruka, bent over, smacks Akira on the upper arm. "Next time I see you, I want to hear, 'always!' No? Okay, 'almost always.' Deal?"

They shake on it.

"Catch you later, Akira-kun," Haruka tells him, continuing down the street. She resumes her attention to the phone. "Oh, I think Shimanouchi said we have to take the convertible, too."


The "dress code" has not been followed by either Haruka or Michiru, but the vehicle code was, as evinced by Haruka's That Windblown Look. No, it's not her only one. She's wearing a sky blue button up, with the sleeves rolled up past the fetching flare of forearms. It's unbuttoned over a black V-neck top and some adventurous-looking khakis, those rolled past the ankle for the sake of the sand and sandals below. Tonight she's chosen to accessorize with the most beautiful woman on the planet. A daring choice--a fashion critic would complain it overwhelms the rest of the outfit.

They split up to meet and greet, Haruka initially moving among her closer friends. Either that or she's hungry; either way she approaches Kyouko Sakura first.

"Sakura-san," she admires. "You went all out." She takes a water for now. "Never thought I'd see you put your hair up like that." She gives a nod. "Good to see you."

Her face smooths into a kind smile as she watches Kasagami. "Look at that," she observes to Kyouko. Walking over, she puts a hand on Kasagami's shoulder. "You all right there, slugger?" she asks gently.

You wouldn't know this is the first time she's shown up to one of these things as herself, and not Sailor Uranus. With no comment on the matter, here she is.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

If Mami were alone today, she would be crying. The party, though, gives her something to focus on, and people to see and interact with. She hasn't forgotten the occasion, though--not in the least.

No, she gives a special eye to things like Utena's cap, and understands the thought immediately, a soft quiet look on her face that turns into a small smile.

"Hi," Mami greets her, and that smile widens. "We did what we could."

She relied a lot on Nori for these preparations. She waves over to her as she sees her bringing in the last of the things--and this too is when she spots Lera. The awkwardness doesn't sink in for her at all; she just sees a good friend here, and steps over towards her. "It's good to see you," Mami answers Lera, her voice warm.

Too, she sees those blue earmuffs, and pauses, opening her mouth and closing it as she instead gives Mikoto a grateful look. She understands, given what she'd said to her. "Thank you." She looks to the earmuffs, and back to Mikoto, finding the food.

This prompts a segue to, "You've outdone yourself," to Kyouko, with a smile back at her. If she notices the way Kyouko had to wipe her eyes, then she doesn't comment on it. From here even Kasagami gets some surprise at the style of her attire. And the bat. "...Hi there," Mami answers, despite previous tensions.

Kimiko's offer gets a pleasant look. "I appreciate it! But feel free to help yourself to something from the tables--I think we're about set up by now! I'm glad you could make it." She pauses, and looks to Homura, having appeared.... "...And you, too."

Endo gets a more demonstrative greeting for his part, as Mami has to pause in place and compose herself seeing that familiar little pin. It's clearly deeply affecting.

...And she doesn't actually know Haruka's habits in terms of these meetings, but it's the first time Mami's been really around her since... Well. All That. She doesn't immediately go over to Haruka or to Michiru, but she looks their way. She puts on a welcoming smile, and if maybe there's a little of their long history in it, that's hardly a ruining matter.

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

"Mikoto!" Lera says, cheerfully. She has an important question, after all: "How are the hot dogs?"

She glances once at Haruka, as she arrives. There is a moment of tension -- she actually stands up a little straighter, at the sight of her -- but it doesn't linger for long. She looks back at Mami, and then she smiles back at her. "Yeah," she says. "You, too. This is really nice, y'know?"

After a moment, Lera steps over to the table, a little after Endo. She takes the Chevalier pin she had, and tucks it onto the table with the rest. She rolls her shoulder, once, and then sighs. Her eyes are on the table, and there is much of an expression there.

Then, she fishes out something in her pocket: the stub to a ticket from a concert and little pack of baseball cards. She tucks them with the gifts, too.

Lera's eyes linger on them. Finally, there's a nod, then she walks away from the table. She looks back at the rest as she does.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The sea breeze flutters softly through her hair and dress as she works at setting up the art supplies. "Hm?" Eri looks at Utena Tenjou.

There was a time before she became a Magical Girl where she was one of her admirers watching her dominate the basketball courts. A hand sifts through one side of her hair as the corner of her lips upturn into a smile highlighted by the light gloss of her lipstick.

"Of course you can - Utena."

She says without comment on what changed. Perhaps some things don't need to be said.

"There's chisels and hammers at the bottom of the bag. If you could help me lay them out?" She says with a hand at the corner of her chin. She offers absolutely no explanation for the tools. "We should probably weigh down the table with them a little strategically. Don't want to lose anything to the breeze right?"

With a small wiggle of her fingertips in Kyouko's direction, she smiles her way from the setup.

Everyone gets a glance as they arrive, a smile. Eri doesn't float around like a social butterfly, but simply smiles as she completes the task of setup with Utena. Smiles to Mikoto as she heads to the food table, though perhaps she finds herself puzzled by the earmuffs. Smiles to Kimiko as she shows up and lays down treats. Smiles at Homura as she shows up with all of her natural mystique at Kyouko's elbow.

Kasagami gets a mysterious comment in her attire with that brandished bat, "Melons beware." Mami, Kyouko, and Homura might feel her trying to catch their eyes during that time. As if it were some inside joke to be shared between them.

So too do Lera and Endo and Nori - her fellow organizer. Though her smile is subtly shyer perhaps. Though on Haruka's arrival. Eri shields her eyes against the sun, and her smile seems whimsical. "They brought the convertible." She notes to Utena.

After she helps set up a few more objects, she asks... "Mind finishing up?" She asks Utena, "You'll want to work up an appetite anyway - with everything senpai is serving."

While Haruka distracts Kyouko the crunching in the sand is likely softer than the crackle of the grill. Without warning, someone parallel to her back suddenly slips to her flank, leaning slightly to the side. And just past her guard to plant a light peck to her cheek. It's just a momentary kiss.

"Oh." Beat, "How terrible of me..." She says with a soft murmur, "You've put in so much work... and yet I've already spoiled my appetite."

Leaning back, there's a more serious look in her eyes, despite her smile, "Got something that needs doing... promise - I'll only neglect you so long." Her eyes flick past Kyouko onto Haruka and Homura.

"I'm about to put someone very much on the spot." She confides to them, without indicating what precisely she means. "So wish me luck."

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

Nori Ankou is wearing a sundress, but in black, with lace round the hem and collarline. Her hair is worn up at the moment; it felt right to do, even if it is heaped a little high.

As high as -

"Utena-san," says Nori, after she places things down on the table, and after Utena has put herself to some good service moving things here and there. She has slid herself up, adjacent to the bright and sporty young woman.

"... Thank you," she says, before pausing, her hands lacing together in front of her. They loosen... lace in another pattern...

And then Nori seems to abandon words in favor of leaning forwards to place long arms round Utena's shoulders and pull her in for a firm, almost too-firm hug for a moment. Up close, nearly whispering, she speaks again, low and heartfelt. "Thank you for coming."

The grip fades. Nori sniffs once slightly, for a moment, her eyes moist. (They will likely stay moist all afternoon long.) "I think I'll have one of those drinks, actually..."

And the sounds of summer gain, soon enough, a familiar press-POP as a marble is buried in a bottle. Nori Ankou takes a long, cautious sip, before breathing out and coming round in another direction, towards the fiery fragrance of the grill. "Hello," Nori says to Mikoto, smiling, and then moves forth - a one armed hug, no less heartfelt than the one given to Utena a moment ago, weakened only by not wishing to press a glass bottle against Mikoto while she is eating.

"I think," Nori says, "that I have no idea what to pick from this, Kyouko, so I will please place myself in your hands, and I promise you that whatever you give me I will eat." A bold ambition. Perhaps one that she can fulfill...

Her eyes turn up towards the arriving - "Ah," Nori says, putting two and two together, and actually smiling for a moment, raising her bottle-holding hand as if to veil her mouth. The realization makes her smile all the harder, even if it is a secret, not to say cryptic, sort of realization.

And then she looks at Homura.

And Nori smiles again. It's a little more confident. "Were there any clams on this grill, before I made it over?" Nori asks Homura, even if it is something of a leading question.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena narrates her curled thumb and finger with a bright "OK!"

And then she sets to work. Having been given the task, she perhaps overfocuses on it; every hammer and chisel is retrieved and set with care, and with an eye to the wind, as Eri asked. As is typical for her, she combines chore with exercise opportunity, performing a full squat to root around in the bag every time she pulls out another implement. Her legs bend and straighten again and again like they're powered by steel springs.

The next time Eri addresses her, she snaps out of her trance. "Huhwah?" Convertible. Utena's eyes follow the word until they find the vehicle in question. "Uwaa, so glamorous," she breathes. She is the sort of girl to admire joyrides in a car along the ocean with your girlfriend -- uh, boyfriend. She is the sort of girl to have never taken one.

Eri asks to bail, and gets one thumb up and one hammer up and one extra smile thrown in for good measure. With a content sigh, she returns to the gladdening work, diversifying from her original assignment to the greater whole. Before long, all the art supplies are laid out; it's just as well, since a hug has arrived.

She beams down at Nori. The bay breeze picks that moment to ruffle her hair, which spreads along both their shoulders like a gauzy pink cape sewn for two. Tossing her wayward mane back with a swift jerk of her head, she replaces it with her arm instead. Then the other, on O Captain's back.

"'Course, Norin," she replies. When she hears the sniff, she hugs again, more tightly. "Like I'd miss this for the world. The social event of the century."

She pauses, then adds, at risk of getting a little glassy herself: "She'd be proud."

They clink blueberry soda bottles, then it's Utena's turn to make the rounds. She can't monopolize one of the hosts, so, giving and receiving pleasantries with a wave, she slides in alongside the gift table -- high-fives Endo, then joins Lera.

"Yo Lera," she offers.

It turns out that arm of hers is suitable for laying across more than one girl's shoulders, and she does so companionably, looking out with her at the group, this sea of strange world travelers. But not strangers. Never that.

She offers Lera a drink of her soda, apparently not a big believer in cooties. That, or she doesn't think Setsuna will begrudge her, not today.

"I'd say I never thought we'd see the day," she murmurs, her alto a little rumbly with carefully contained emotion. "But then... this is the day we always wanted to see. From the very beginning."

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

Kimi gets a wave right back. "Hey Kimi-chan! Good to see you here too!" It's maybe a little less awkward, the more friends she has here. Then again...is it really okay to immediately shove away those they fought against as not friends? The thought strikes her.

She covers her troubled look with that warm smile of hers, Kassie's ambitious heart lightening just a little at the idea in the back of her brain.

A hand upon her shoulder, and the twisting of the bat stops for a moment. "Oh, you know even experts in the field of the art of the...bat get nervous when their first real game is about to start. I've been through worse things. Glad you made it."

Briefly Kassie looks for Haruka's other half, and more tentatively her own star-gazing half on the horizon. Not for too long though. She doesn't want to be seen as affected.

Pardon her while she snatches a ramune soda, twirls the bat, and tries not to look like a tryhard as she attempts to pass off her own emotions.

Grin. "Hi." Offers Kassie back simply to Mami. Those eyes of her soften, and she indeed tries a little less hard to hide how she's feeling. The regrets are there, so too is the guilt and the lingering wish for things to not have turned out how they did.

If only Sayaka was here to get in an argument or start something stupid. That bat twirls, and grinds away again.

Blink. Blink blink. Kasagami stares at Eri for a moment. A browline rises briefly. Then she just snerks a bit, taps one bootheel to boottip.

"So was that the secret...meloncide...." She mutters to herself. Then she deposits the bat stabbed (it takes two times, this is not a sword Kassie!), and then she's loading up on some of the fare that Kyouko has so kindly offered. Her gaze finds the pile of hugs forming, flitting from Utena to Nori to Endo. That does it.

She smiles, warm, and laughs even as her eyes annoyingly mist up. Chomp. Laugh. Chomp.

It's a beautiful day indeed.

<Pose Tracker> Kimiko Akane [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Kimiko nods at Mami, "Okay! Thank you for the invitation by the way. I am glad so many showed up." Looking at all the food laid out it's hard to decide what to go for first. "Kyoukou-san, it all looks SO good." It's a good thing she hadn't eaten much earlier in the day because it is quite the spread. Kimiko grabs a small plate and decides on fruit first and loads up the plate before grabbing a fork and napkins.

As she steps back to eat her fruit she pauses to focus on those around her. She is quiet and contemplative, noticing those that seem to be holding back their emotions. For a moment, her own mind wanders remembering the last time they were together like this.

It's only the voice of Kasagami that brings her back to the present, "Kasa-chan, did you get my gift?" She hoped the older girl liked it since Kimiko wasn't really sure if it was her style. Still it was a thank you gift for her help. She still hadn't decided what to get for Steven yet.

Glancing over to Mikoto devouring the food nearby Kimiko grins. "Save some for the rest of us huh?"

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvpzKS32brE

Kyouko's finely honed sense of her surroundings clocked Mikoto pretty quickly..although a food spread was pretty far removed from a battleground, a warrior like Mikoto stood the best chance of narrowing that distance. Kyouko smiled warmly at her friend and frequent comrade, only moderately wary that she would fully assault the table and eat food that was meant for far more people than one feral yet friendly treat vacuum. But one hot dog was as modest as her watchful stewardship could hope for without Kyouko feeling the need to actually encourage Mikoto to eat more, and her happy chirp was music to the cook's ears. Flashing a toothy grin, Kyouko bowed her head in appreciation, and didn't feel the need to point out the condiment spread as the hot dog was already gone from the world of the living.

"'lo Mikoto. There's more where that came from."

Kasagami sauntered into view. Kyouko tilted her head upwards to her in greeting, grinning a bit at her uniform and mugging, even as it drew its own hollow pangs of sadness for another slugger's absence. Kyouko had gotten to know Kasagami over the course of their time running in some of the same circles. Recognizing some of her agitation peeking through the slits in her swagger, anything overly clever about her outfit that the spear fighter might have remarked was kept to herself, at least for the moment. Instead she raised a lazy hand to sail a lazy arc in greeting.

Good thing, too..if Kyouko had been in the middle of some smart-aleck quip, she may well have missed the tell-tale sound of the party's newest arrival, or the subtle shift in the air that she brought with her. Nodding, she turned to grin broadly at Homura. "And all sorts of waters to wash it all down. Try a watermelon burger, you won't believe what grilling does to 'em."

Another arrival was far less subtle, but Kyouko would've thought a little less of these particular comrades if they had shown up in less flamboyant style. If a beach party wasnât the time for a convertible, then when was? "Tenoh-san..thanks. I tried not to go too fancy, nothing that would make you too mad if you got a little sand on it..oh, yeah, thanks for the reminder." Kyouko glanced up, reached back to her bun, and tugged it free, letting her hair spill loose all around her, bouncing as it settled back towards her hips. "Most of the cooking's done now..if I catch my hair on fire now I guess you can just chuck me into the water." She grinned a grin that was comfortable enough to be cocky. "Good to see you too." Following his gaze, Kyouko smiled a little. "That bat needs something to hit."

Mami appreciated her efforts..and Kyouko appreciated Mami's appreciation. Bowing to her own erstwhile senpai, Kyouko smiled, not too proud to show her pleasure at the approval. "Thanks, right back at'cha..I had to work hard to live up to your dessert."

Catching Eri's gesture, Kyouko waggled her own fingers back, hardly hidden but not intended to be obvious to all those around. Melons beware indeed..catching Eri's mischevious gaze, Kyouko snorted with soft laughter, and slightly shook her head while smiling. But her attention wasn't fully captured by her girlfriend for long, with so many friends about and food to be tended to, it was only a matter of time before it drifted away. She should have known that this oversight would be exploited..her eyes widened slightly as Eri ambushed her, a flare of sensation still lingering on her cheek. Eyebrows arched, she turned to regard her partner with a somewhat embarrassed, mostly pleased grin, her upper torso darting forward even as her feet remained planted, stealing a kiss right back. "Give it time, you'll work one up again." Waving off her concerns, Kyouko tossed her hair. "Of course, you've gotta be a good host. I'm not worried." At the last comment though, her eyebrows arched even higher..she had no idea what trouble her girlfriend was up to. Hopefully it wouldn't take spears to extricate her from it. "Mmm, I'll wait to see where the luck should go after I figure out what you're up to.."

Nori approached, and - delight of delights - asked Kyouko to choose for her. "'lo Nori...music to my ears..." She didn't hesitate at all in offering her a grilled watermelon burger with goat cheese and charred orange-fennel gremolata. It would taste remarkably similar to a beef burger, but all of the ways that it was different would be for the better. On the side she offered three pieces of tempura - one shrimp and two veggies that she'd have to bite into to identify. "That shouldn't be too heavy, but it'll give you some energy to get this party started. I'd go with pineapple juice or soda for your drink." Kyouko could answer the question about clams, but felt it better to allow Nori whatever it was she was up to with Homura.

Most seemed to have gotten the idea already, but just in case... "Food's ready, everybody! Get it while it's hot! Any special requests, lemme know! Got plenty more I can toss on!"

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

"It's warm," Mikoto says, to Mami, and her smile is warm too. There's a hint of relief there - that her efforts were welcomed. Tragically, she doesn't explain those efforts. Perhaps she'll illuminate Eri about them later. But now: food!

"Yup!" Mikoto bobs her head, to Kimiko's excitement. She adds, to the statement: "And everyone!" That is to say, it's good to see everyone here. It's good to see everyone here, because they're not here to fight. (Here she waves to Endo, and Kasagami, and Utena, too. Everyone's here!)

To Lera, she answers a very important question: "It's good! Kyouko's food is good!" This is, of course, HIGH PRAISE from one Mikoto Minagi, who even describes her roommate Mai's food as 'good'. The best evidence of that, of course, is the way she snaffles a kebab in the telling. All the meat slides off into her maw with a practiced nom-nom-nomph, and she smiles brightly. "Thanks!" She says - perhaps a little belatedly - to Kyouko's greeting.

That smile tunes down a notch for Homura, shade in the sun, but it's still warm even if it's a little less overbearing. "Homura," is her greeting, happy to see her, happy she's here. As hard as it might be for Mikoto, who does not know what to bring to Sayaka's party for Sayaka - she knows it might be hard for Homura, too. There's a moment of humming silence, but luckily, Kyouko is here to guide her out of her thoughts. She grabs a watermelon burger, and shoves it in Homura's direction, holding it out for her expectantly. "Here!" Mikoto, all a sudden, is Kyouko's firm advocate, and she wants everyone to eat her food.

It's tasty food, so Homura should have some too.

Besides, if Homura really doesn't want it, Mikoto will just eat another hot dog. Mikoto can do that. Mikoto's powers are vast, and so is her hunger. That's not her only power, though, and brightly, Mikoto chirps in response to the new arrival at the snack table: "Eri!"

And so Mikoto looks from Eri, to Kyouko, to Haruka, to Homura, and at each juncture her head cants this way and that way. Putting someone on the spot..? What spot is that supposed to be? With a puzzled noise, she puffs out her cheeks and puts the thought aside. She'll figure it out when Eri does it. It's fine!

(In finding Haruka Mikoto looks to find Michiru and briefly waves to her, elsewhere in the crowd, because once upon a time that violinist stopped a demon cat's rampage through Infinity with a drink of milk. This is what is called... A Good Deed. Does that mean the fashion critics were right, and Haruka's outfit is being overshadowed..?!)

She doesn't have much time to be confused about Eri's plans, in any case - because Nori is here, and all a sudden Mikoto finds herself halfway to a hug. With a noise devastatingly close to 'squeep', her eyes close to a catlike smile and she squeezes Nori with one arm, too. "Hi!" She echoes herself, all her warmth redoubled, because this is the warmth of AFFECTION and ACCEPTANCE, embracing the same girl where once the transgression was in simply helping her stand.

It's better this way. Now she can smile, without rancour or reservation.

Kimiko, of course, catches Mikoto in the middle of chomping down a takoyaki ball. "It's okay!" She assures her, brightly. "I won't eat everything!" Well, she at least seems to be grazing on a lot of different foods, so she won't wear down any one dish...

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri catches her attention, and a mysterious melon reference has Homura Akemi looking Kasagami's way with eyes which narrow. Considering bat, considering trajectories. Considering... the tall and athletic girl's known destructive capacity. She resolves to watch out for her own melon, just in case.

"Tomoe-san," she replies to the golden girl, after. Something flickers deep in her chest, beneath the way her neutral voice matches her neutral face. The slight incline of her head which follows is respectful.

Between her decidedly unbeachy attire and her reserve, Homura Akemi stands both out and apart in some small measure. She is dainty piece of solemn newsprint amid much color and warmth. There is, perhaps, then, some small measure of synchronicity to be found in the company of another mostly monochrome girl.

Color can be found in Nori's eyes, too; violet flicks to blue, though the rest of Homura stays still. There's a thoughtful look somewhere in those dark orbs, and a second passes. Then: "No," she says, simple and serious.

It seems like she's going to say nothing else, which would be of a piece with Homura Akemi social behavior, except after three more seconds she shifts her gaze to the grill and adds, "Not yet. But you see how she has come prepared. I would not rule anything out."

Mikoto offers her a hot dog. Homura takes it, and empty hands fill. She holds the paper plate with some precision between them, at waist height. It sags in the middle thanks to the hot dog, which Homura makes no move yet to eat. She gives Eri a long blink at the request for a supportive wish, then says at low volume, "Make your own luck."

Is that supportive? Maybe it is, considering how she does things. She's watching Eri after, though, to see what she might need that luck for.

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

Haruka regards Kasagami with serious eyes, as she's told that Kasagami has been through worse. She nods a little, unhastily.

"But you were good at those things," she says. Haruka has never spoken to Kasagami so gentle before.

Nor has she squeezed her shoulder so roughly as she does a few moments later. "Setcchan's on her way, don't worry," she says, her voice once again that of a breezy rake. She releases Kasagami and starts to make her way off into the party. "Somebody told me she'll be wearing a really scandalous swimsuit, too," she calls back.

Haruka passes Lera on the way to the table, slowing her steps a little. She does not look over at Chevalier just yet. For now, perhaps, it is enough to be behind her in a line, instead of arrayed on opposing ones. She removes something from her pocket as she goes, wrapped in a thick, felt-like silk.

Reaching the table, Haruka places the silk wrapping down near where Lera placed her ticket, pin, and baseball cards. She glances at the cake for a moment. Then, neatly with forefinger and thumb, she picks up each corner of the silk wrapping and lays it off to the side--it was not sealed in any way. Angle by angle it reveals a short little cylinder of rich, sunset-gold resin. Light passes through it readily, blooming here, clouding there, shooting alongside inner cracks where they exist and igniting them like fire. It looks like a solid, round little block of pure, rich honey, and it is stuck firmly to the silk on which it rests.

"Rosin," she explains to Mami Tomoe, without greeting or introduction. Her voice is in a discreet, respectful tone. "It's the violin kind... but no reason it can't be used the same as the softball kind." Haruka quirks a lip, and half-turns to go.

"Ah," she adds, looking at Mami's face. "I never really met Miki-san, but Michiru did. She always thought Miki-san was charming. Said she reminded her of me."

Haruka's eyes sparkle, just a little. "Believe it or not, she considers that a compliment."

On her way back out from the table, Haruka takes a spot next to Lera. It's further than she would stand from a total stranger, but only by a few inches. It is still clear that she has chosen to take the spot next to Lera Camry, as it were. Folding her arms, she looks at the table much the same way as Lera had.

"You know," she says. "I'm happy I no longer have to fight any of the Chevaliers. But to be honest..." Haruka clicks her cheek. "I'm relieved I no longer have to fight you."

Haruka closes a fist lazily near her own shoulder, then spreads her fingers in a rapid, but deccelerating explosion. "Boo-oom..." she teases someone. It might not be Lera.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> God Knows(Instrumental) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UY4zobmito

Eri furrows her brow in mild confusion at Mikoto's presentation of earmuffs to Mami in the summer with 'it's warm' but doesn't respond. It's not until she announces her name with her usual exuberance, that Eri replies, "Mikoto. Having fun?" Eri then says next with a hint of whimsy, "I never have to look far to find you and senpai at a party."

Kyouko's statement that she'll work one up again gets a smile, her arched eyebrow just gets one of those mysterious smiles of hers. One might wonder if she's learning it from Michiru Kaioh. "You won't have to wait long." Eri promises Kyouko. "Just keep your eyes on me."

Homura though doesn't get an odd look, instead just a smile from Eri, of perhaps understanding. "Is that what you did?" She whispers, just as discretely. Though she doesn't wait for the answer. Turning, and walking away from her in such a familiar fashion that might have Homura wondering if Eri is teasing her.

Eri has never relished public speaking, so she has been working herself up for this for some time. It needs to be done though, and it needs to be done in front of everyone.

Stepping away her footsteps crunch softly in the sand, as she walks up to...

.... Mami Tomoe.

With the soft sound of clearing her throat, she utters a single word to start. "Mami..."

Her hands are at her waist, and anyone looking might see the soft wriggling of her gently wringing them. But the rest of her seems sedate. "There's something I need to say to you." She doesn't speak to everyone as to demand their attention. "I've... needed to say it for a long time." She says even more quietly.

"There's a lot of things I've done that I'm not proud of. But I think one of the things I'm most ashamed of is what I did to you that night in Shinjuku."

Her green eyes slip to the sand. "I could tell you that trying to focus on surviving to my next birthday made me paranoid - and scared, but those would just be excuses. Living that way - I lost sight of what was truly important to me, and forgot... what it was that I wanted. What... What I really wanted..."

Inhaling sharply through her nostrils, she closes her eyes behind her spectacles, allowing that breath to go out of her like a deflating balloon before she dares to continue. "... were... more of those times... when all of us were together. More game nights. More quiet moments on a shared bench or in a secret corner of a garden, or at that table in your living room sharing tea. And loud moments when... senpai and Sayaka were carrying on like they used to..."

After a short pause, she adds with a soft whisper, "...or getting together on our class trip, just to celebrate... our youth... on an Okinawa beach."

When Eri opens her eyes, they're welling up with droplets of water, "What I did to you...." Eri slowly lowers herself down from one knee, to another in the sand, then folding her hands in front of her... lowers her forehead down onto her hands, pressing it against it so hard that it touches the sand, that even the edge of the frame is touching it. "... should disqualify me from everything I wanted."

It was not so long ago, in a world that does not feel so far away that she cruelly told Sayaka Miki she should dogeza for failing to avenge her senpai.

It is only justice perhaps, that Eri is the one that should prostrate herself before Sayaka's senpai instead.

"... I'm sorry."

It is said so mutely. Though perhaps right now, that quiet is something that everyone could hear.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It's warm, Mikoto says. "Thank you," Mami tells her again. "That's very kind."

Mami gets it!!

Mami also gets the joke about melons, and laughs faintly, a small thing that recalls a different time. She doesn't otherwise immediately focus on Eri. Nor does she yet go over to the food, instead walking around the arrivals, making sure she's had the chance to greet everyone.

She does want them all to feel welcome. And that includes Kasagami, who Mami stops at to watch for a moment. She spots that softened expression, the guilt... The regret. "I'm glad you came," Mami tells Kasagami, and to look at her she even means it. Her expression in turn is gentle, but also determined.

She did not decide this based on nothing.

She smiles back at Kyouko, too. Their relationship has been rocky for a long time, at best--but in this they really did make something work together, too. "Well, you did wonderfully," Mami says, pleased at Kyouko being pleased for that matter.

...And if she happens to notice Kyouko and Eri together, and keep a little smile going for her, well, she isn't telling. She'll make it to the food soon enough, naturally.

But in the meantime she spots Lera's pin--and more than that, the stub, the little pack of cards... If Lera catches her eye again, Mami watches her for another few moments, expression soft.

"Akemi-san," Homura gets back, and Mami actually stops to face her for a moment, returning that same kind of nod.

But Haruka--Mami wonders at first at the round little block, what it might be. But Haruka explains, and Mami stpos near her. "...I see," she starts, and at that little sparkle, that explanation--Mami smiles. "Seems she and I can agree on some things after all," Mami says, and she probably only means that 'Miki-san is charming.' "I should hope she does..."

There's a certain load off of Mami's shoulders at that interaction. And then there is something altogether different; something from Eri, as she steps closer, and says her name. Mami looks to her, turning to face her fully. Something she needs to say...

Mami does not look surprised, when Eri says it. She does not seem shocked at the oblique reference to her own death. She waits, as Eri speaks--listens, with a smll smile referencing those moments... and her eyes too glisten a little with something wet. "Eri-chan..."

"...It could have been any of us," Mami admits. "How things were, back then... It could have been me, who'd done something like that. It wasn't--but it could have been."

"...The things we did, the things we wanted..." Mami steps forward, once and then twice and a third step. "I treasure my life. I do. There are so many things that I wanted more of, wanted to see and do and be."

Mami stops in front of Eri, and kneels down to one knee, reaching to take her hand. "I know," she says softly. "And because it was me... I won't just brush off your feelings, and say it's nothing, because it isn't." Mami shakes her head, and starts to pull Eri up, if she'll come. "I forgive you, Eri. I know, how it was back then. I forgive you. I want... to be friends. That world, where we can be together..."

"I want that. And now, we have it. So I'm looking forward. I'm not going to be weighed down by what was, or what could have been."

Mami pulls Eri the rest of the way to wrap her in a hug. "We'll all find that future, looking forward together."

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

"All right!" Lera says to Mikoto, with a cheerful grin. Then she looks at Kyouko, her eyes widen. But she doesn't rush forward -- lets others do so, first.

Which means she ends up hanging back a little in the line. Approachable, in that way that someone who doesn't quite commit to standing in a line is. She seems to be thinking, hedging if she wants to get in line.

And then Haruka Tenoh is standing next to her, when Lera thought maybe they were going to avoid each other -- and maybe they'd make that be okay.

Lera Camry's amber eyes drift to the side, expressive and warm, but a little guarded that way that a person who is far from home always is. She watches Haruka, opens her mouth, and waits. There is so much that could be said; so much that she did say to Sailor Uranus, once.

But, she smiles, after that thought. "Me, too," she says. "Um, happy--and relieved that I don't have to fight you. Or her." She glances, pointedly, at the car. Though she might not name her fellow Outer, there can be little question who she means.

"I guess, um..." She hesitates. Then, she quiets her voice. "...thanks. Sorry. I'm not sure, I'm kinda bad at putting this in words. I learned some stuff about myself, y'know? Maybe it's not what I was looking for in a--uhm--"

She doesn't get the complexities of the word. "--sempai?" She says it awkwardly, still, like the foreign word that it is to her. "But... I guess, I figured out who I am."

She smiles at the 'boom.' Then she laughs, and says: "But seriously. You let me drive off in a Toyota Camry way back when, and those other cars were worth how much, y'know?"

She winks. It's a joke, a rib, something she isn't actually mad about. And then she looks to the side, it's a moment that passes -- a moment longer to talk -- but maybe she isn't that different of a person than she always has been, because: "Oh, hot dogs!"

She says it so sincerely, too...

It is a little while later that Lera chomps down on and swallows the last quarter of a hot dog loaded with mustard, relish, and precious little grace. 'Boom,' indeed. She swallows -- and her eyes catch a head of pink hair. She blinks, as she swallows with an audible 'gulp.'

"Hey Utena," Lera says with an easy smile.

She blinks in surprise -- the good sort of surprise, not the taken aback sort of surprise -- when that arm goes around her shoulder. She laughs, and then she puts her arm around Utena in a companionable sort of way.

And she takes a drink from her soda, too. She is pretty sure that Setsuna won't be bothered in the slightest. She looks out at the ocean, the beach, and she feels a little heat behind her eyes.

She takes a breath, measured, and then nods. "Yeah... yeah, it is. I never thought... it seemed so far off, y'know?"

She bobs her head. Her eyes, for some reason, drift towards Haruka. Then, finally, to Mami, as she pulls Eri to her feet, and hugs her.

Lera's eyes blink. The stinging doesn't stop, and her voice is thick when she speaks: "But here it is."

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

How does one put someone on the spot, when there are no spots marked on the sand?

It turns out it's a metaphor. Or maybe it's a simile. Or maybe it's imagery. Don't ask Mikoto to define something like this; it's not her wheelhouse. She just knows it when she sees it.

Because Eri clears her throat, and Mikoto sees it. She sees the worrying of her hands, and she sees the way her voice lowers down, down, down.

Down go her eyes, and down goes her centre of gravity, and Mikoto turns her gaze away but she's still listening to every word.

She hears that quiet shade, and she remembers something else, too.

'How could you, Eri?'

In this moment there is no cruelty Mikoto could denounce Mami for; no reaction she could condemn, everything balanced on that fine edge. She knows, she KNOWS, black in her blood, and she is afraid and she is ashamed and these are two different angles to the same point.

But it could have been Mami. It could have been Mami, and she isn't backing away, she isn't fleeing the grimy streets to leave Eri kneeling alone - rather she draws closer, rather she kneels, rather she offers her hand.

It's not her absolution, but Mikoto's still crying. She's crying because it's better now, because the words from Mami's lips are forgiveness, because they're standing together and she wants to be friends.

She doesn't try to hide it. It is plain and naked to the eye, the tears down her cheeks and the way her hands reach up to scrub them clear because it's okay now. There's a smudge of grease from Kyouko's food on her cheek, just below her eye. Who knows - she might notice it eventually.

(Okay, no, that's definitely not going to happen. That smudge just lives there now.)

Magnetically she falls into Kasagami's midsection, squeezing her tightly for one quiet moment, before she pulls back enough to say: "We... we can be friends now! We really can!"

She turns at Kasagami's side to look at the others, Lera and Homura and Endo and Nori, and she dips her head. "Mami's right! We're together..!"

She swallows, and her smile is all tear-wobbly but it's so obvious because it's so BIG, because she is small but her affection is not. "I'm glad everyone's together..."

... because everyone banded together, they were able to save her, after all. Because they were willing to be friends, Mikoto had so much help...

It's better now, she thinks, and again, with that big smile: it's really better now.

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

'She'd be proud.'

Nori's eyes well up again at these words. Her lips purse. The expression is not dignified or elegant but it is real. She breathes out and it passes; or at least, it hides again, for a moment. Utena gets a thankful smile.

Nori gazes at Kasagami too, for a moment, with thought, though there is hesitance there as well, wistfulness perhaps. Then she looks to Kyouko as she speaks of an offer, and produces a burger with watermelon, cheese and orange-fennel gemolata. Nori takes it, considers it, and takes a big bite of the burger while raising her thin eyebrows and gazing at Kyouko...


Pleasure is clear on Nori's face. She raises her soft drink for a moment, in salute, and then she takes another several bites, together, warm, with others.

It is a subtle satisfaction. This was, in the end, what made Nori stand in this in the first place.

"That will spare us confusion," Nori then answers Homura, cryptically. But she does not elaborate, not right away, for her attention is turned momentarily to Haruka - her eyes widen as if she tries to calculate what Haruka is saying, and then her pale cheeks color a little. Before something perhaps deeper, more momentous, happens. Nori does not realize it is happening until it is already underway.

Eri speaks to Mami about a thing that happened but in another sense did not. There is a liminal tension. It is an eloquent statement; Nori wonders if Eri had to practice it, gazing into mirrors. Nori suspects so; she would have to, and for a moment Nori thinks of a shed, and her own petulance.

Could she apologize for something like this? Could she do it and mean it, rather than be begging?

Nori breathes in...

Mami speaks to her in reply. And the words that come out -- are acceptance; understanding; and in the end, forgiveness.

Nori sways on her feet just a moment, and has to stifle herself with a bite of the enigmatic tempura. It makes a crisp soft sound.

Tears are running down her face, but not from any spice.

"I," Nori says. "I want to give you all something."

She sniffs again, her cheeks wet, and she steps forwards, away from others and towards the table where she placed her enigmatic package, and perhaps this is a question of dignity or embarrassment because for a moment she is away from everyone else, though not truly away, just veiled for a moment. She unties the red thread and takes the top off of the classic-style box.

Inside of the box are a number of colorful little bags. Cloth with drawstrings. Soft velvet in a hundred shades of blue.

"One for everyone," Nori says.

Inside of the bags are... clam shells. Fortunately, the trick becomes very clear, because while the outside of the clam shells are merely conventional sorts of things, washed and gently polished but not too dissimilar from anything you would find on the outside of the beach, the INSIDE... the inside has hand-painted scenes.

The painting is a little simple - gilding makes up a lot of it - but these are kaiawase shells. Each of the scenes is a simple sort of position - one or two people, a tree, a river, a bridge, part of a building.

But there are two notable matters beyond this.

The first is that no two shells match... each set of two shells has two different scenes, even though the classic form of the game would require the shells to be spread out, an old form of Memory.

And the second is that they have all been given an additional decorative touch in each and every case. There is a single recurring character - the astute or literary might recognize this figure as Genji (for kaiawase shells, traditionally, illustrate the Tale of Genji) who has a familiar short blue hairstyle.

And others have also been modified - short black or honey-blonde; ojou curls; glossy black in several distinct forms; with a marked eye, or red hair and a stick of pocky; a ribbon, or orange.

"It's a set," Nori says a little thickly, "but I thought that if we all shared it out, and each had our own part of it, we would *all* have that set..."

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko smiled warmly at Kimiko, quite pleased at the compliment. She knew all too well that one's eyes are a second set of stomachs, and she had put effort into making sure that all that food looked at least half as good as it would taste. "Thank you, Kimiko-san. There should be enough of everything to try whatever you like."

Even though Mikoto wasn't addressing Kyouko with her high praise, she took note of it and grinned broadly. Just as pleasing was the pace of her eating - though it persisted at a steady clip, it didn't risk veering into depleting her stocks too quickly just yet. When Mikoto thanked her, belatedly or no, Kyouko flashed a wink back in response.

When Mikoto took up Kyouko's personal burgermelon crusade as her own, Kyouko laughed, and flashed a teasingly expectant look at Homura. "Better do what she says. You know how she can get." Though, naturally, one way she could get was..distracted. Homura had surely wriggled out of tighter squeezes than this.

Beaming at Mami's compliment, some color came to her cheeks. Even from a kind spirit such as she, Mami was offering high praise. Kyouko had more to say to her, but first...

Eri wanted Kyouko to keep her eyes on her..that was an easy request to fulfill. It didn't take long for those kept eyes to spy just where her kouhai was headed..and when they did, Kyouko's lips parted slightly, to slip out a slighter whisper. "Good luck.." Kyouko waited quietly and patiently. There wasn't a champagne glass for Eri to tap with a spoon, but there wasn't a need for one either. Glancing away only to remain vigilant to whatever remained on the grill, she listened respectfully, her own heart stirring in myriad ways at what Eri had to say. Kyouko had been a part of that terrible moment she referenced, after all..and she knew how painful it had been for everyone, in their own particular ways.

Kyouko felt the same wistfulness for those old days, and the reference to her carrying on with Blueberry made her eyes water. She remembered all too well the anguish and despair that had bloomed in Eri's heart, invasive vines that choked out the flowers that had once grown there. She remembered what ultimately became of her pain, and how precious a gift it had been to have another chance.

Mami's response was generous and thoughtful. It would be up to Eri to decide what she thought of it, but Kyouko could not imagine that she'd be displeased..it was true. The past could not be denied, but it could be forgiven, and allowed its rightful place - an important one, but one since past all the same.

Flashing a gentle smile to Lera, she wanted to give off a welcoming air, but not to make her feel prompted, either. There was no rush, and while their supplies were not unlimited, there was quite a ways to go before anything was gone. Though at the rate they were chosen, the hot dogs might start to show signs of depletion before too long..

As Nori took her first bite from the burger, Kyouko's face lit up at her response. It was the first time she'd enjoyed seeing somebody sample this latest culinary experiment, and she couldn't have been more pleased with the results. To the salute, she bowed her head in gratitude for her appreciation. As Nori revealed the kaiawase shells, her eyes went wide, and her mouth opened, slightly ajar. It was completely unexpected..and particularly moving. Kyouko thought about how she'd be able to look at her shell, and meditate upon it..to take in its contours, the uniqueness of its artistry as well as the subtle distinctions of its organic formation. Of how the complete set could only be restored when they all came back together again..making a whole that required all of them to stand together. It was a beautiful gesture...

Dusting her hands off, Kyouko bent over to her bag, a little removed from all the tables but still within the makeshift 'kitchen' area, and fished something from it. Holding some sort of tool tightly in her hand, she slipped over to the table where Sayaka's gifts were mounting. Clutching the implement up to her heart, she closed her eyes just as they were beginning to moisten, and soon sting at their edges. Opening them slowly, her lip slightly trembled as she gently placed a pair of wire cutters onto the tabletop. There was nothing remarkable about them, save for the fact that they had once cut a hole in a particular fence, and in doing so helped form a path that holds a very complicated place in Kyouko's heart. She murmured "Happy birthday," and stepped away, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

Sticking her hands in her pockets in the way of somebody who wanted to seem casual, now, so soon after feeling exposed, Kyouko slipped her way over to Mami's side, her eyes still brimming. With everything going on, Mami's attention was surely well divided, but Kyouko had something that she felt she had to say.

"Mami..we've been through a lot. I know how painful much of it was for me, and how painful much of it had to be for you..some moments especially..we can talk about it if you like, now or whenever, but..for my part.."

Kyouko stumbled over her words, and cleared her throat, trying to banish some of the slight trembling that had crept into her words. "..I'd very much like to be friends again. Real friends. I know that I can't just..wave away the tension of some of our history, but..I'd like to try to overcome it, if that's something you'd like to. I'm so sorry for all I've done to complicate the joys of our friendship.."

Biting her lower lip, Kyouko looked away, finding it difficult to meet Mami's gaze..but soon found the strength to match eyes with her again, holding on through the tension she could feel clenching at her neck and her shoulders.

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

Kimiko gets a sparkle in Kassie's gaze! "Silvered turtles may no longer wander the beach, instead they have their place among the plush-ranas of Castle Araki!"

Back at her dorm, a certain necklace shimmers in an otherwise empty jewelry box, hemmed in by plushie defenders of the toothy variety.

"....We might want to get some food." Kassie fears Mikoto's stomach, a true void into feline infinity!

The squeeze to her shoulder and the serious look has her laughing. It's maybe just a little bit bitter as she stares at Haruka.

"I'm not sure if that's an ability I should be proud of or not. But hey, why not play to my strengths like would-be royalty! It's the only way I'll be able to see things through."

Pause. There's this slow smile that is one part excitement, one part pure happiness! Her eyes absolutely shine and blaze for a second! "...You always know how to cheer someone up!" Kassie is lost to imagination and her cheeks just a touch happily red for a moment.

Eri and Mami reel her back into reality though, and she swiftly gives a nod to Mami. "I need to be here. I'm honored to be here, Mami." She says quietly, firmly.

The moment comes, forgiveness is asked and given. There's a long silence from Kasagami. She stares openly, absorbing the moment, until she just has to lean against the nearby table. Tears fall gently.

"We all did a lot of terrible things. Things I should've known better about, things I shouldn't have enjoyed doing so much. But...this is an opportunity. To be better people. To support the people closest to us, and to keep something like this from happening again." She glances down at the bat, then over to each person gathered here.

Lifting it up, she points it to the sky. Her hand grips, glove on aluminum tight.

"I wish she was here so I could say I'm sorry. That I didn't say how much fun I had with her. We should've both enjoyed it like a real rivalry should be." Her voice crackles with emotion.

She feels like laughing and crying at the same time. It's hard to talk. Somehow, this all feels right. More like a vigil than something being buried. And then Mikoto is right against her side, she's leaning in and Kassie wraps an arm around her smaller friend.

"Yes, yes we can Mikoto-chan! We can move forward, achieve what we dream of! And we'll do it all together with everyone."

There's one more pang of guilt, but she can't quite direct it anywhere. Even if she should know very well why it still hurts, or how her pride and ambitious feels swell up as those words leave her mouth.

Can an eagle-talon'd King let things go? In the moment she at least feels she can.

And then, there's a gift. When it's made obvious that it's a set? A glance to Norin, and back to her own seashells. She shivers, and feels a little weak.

"Nori-chan, this is...we really can make something beautiful together, maybe? All of us?" One hand clenches, then lets go. She starts crying, happily, again as she blindly braces for support.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Shi no Aphrodite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_4zpZ8Hs_E

Utena feels something hot and thick in her throat. Eri planted the seed, which feels consistent. Mami watered it thoroughly, such that it grew from the size of a pea to a... softball. And Lera causes it to blossom out of control.

"Yeah," she agrees, with a crack halfway through the envy of any adolescent boy. Swallowing hard, she doesn't do the tears bestirred down her cheeks the dishonor of trying to dam them with a fingertip or a blink. Lera is dampened by a few, because she leans her head on her comrade's shoulder for a moment. Hugs her a little bit more tightly. "Here we are."

She shudders a deep breath into her steel-trap chest. It is audible. Crackling. "I think... I need to go over there for a minute," she tells Lera, before disentangling herself.

Leaving the blueberry soda behind, safe in the sand with a couple quick screws, she leaves a few more tears behind too as she crosses the beach to stand in front of one of the few girls here who towers over her. They land and spread into tiny, quickly invisible circles of moisture, a trail not so different from the dimples she wore into both her cheeks and into the sand earlier. And now.

Her smile is a difficult thing to describe, which is in keeping with the complexity of her feelings -- she lacks the emotional vocabulary to understand why she feels so painfully joyful and so wonderfully miserable at the same time. It is easier to say what it isn't. It is not brittle and it is not fake. But it is not an easy grin, either, as befits the schoolyard corridor or the sports fields.

If she's ever made such a face before, she doesn't remember it.

Kasagami is its recipient. And its source, too, after some of what she says, and who she directed it towards. When she blindly braces for support, she finds it where she might have least expected. There's a pink pillar there to hold her up.

"That night," Utena says hoarsely, and in the context of Eri and Mami there's no question which she means -- but there's no real question between Utena and Kasagami, either, because it was the singular time they fought in the war before Utena became more preoccupied stopping Sayaka herself than any Shepherd -- "When I saw that you'd brought Himemiya, into, all this," she gestures broadly but vaguely. The setting sunlight collects on the signet ring on her hand; for a moment, it could be diamond. "I thought, and I said, and I meant, that I could never forgive you. Never."

That crow's bawl of a word needs a second to land, while Utena summons moisture to her throat and distantly regrets abandoning her soda. But she knew she'd need both hands.

"But... I know why you did it now." She looks away, gazing long at the miracle of Mami, then over, at the lately arrived Setsuna Meioh. Down, at Mikoto, who's attached to Kasagami's side.

Her smile trembles. All of her is, actually. "So... I was wrong. I was wrong, and I wronged you, and I'm sorry. Because... I've been carrying that anger, and that judgement, for so long. But... no more. No more and never again. Of course you did it. Of course."

She spreads her arms and closes in on her friend, her rival. If Mikoto doesn't get out of the way she's going to get hugged, too. But that's okay; as is obvious and promptly becomes moreso, this isn't exactly irrelevant to her own reasons for fighting. Besides, there ain't no hug like an Utena hug 'cause an Utena hug don't stop.

"You did everything you could... to protect the ones you love."

Don't stop raining, that is. Kasagami and Mikoto are at serious risk of getting damp.

"I'm proud to be your friend," Utena whispers, and if she slipped it between a sob or two, perhaps that can be forgiven.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Homura does not feel spared confusion in the least. She gives Nori an even longer, extremely level look after that, in the manner of a cat who refuses to betray her curiosity and therefore, perhaps, does to those who know cats well.

And then her friend does something well worth watching closely. Homura resides within her shell of impassivity throughout, but she watches, and she listens. Times when all of them were together... and disqualification from them. The way Eri is now, she thinks, and then thinks back -- the way she is now is more like how she used to be than she will ever know. After everything. Except that she is not the same, either.

How could any of them be?

It is only once Mami says, 'Eri-chan...' in that tone that Homura feels the creak of her lungs as autonomic breathing resumes, an inexpression of relief. This moment had no predictors, no predication, no precedent, even in the overly long and overly strange experience of a once-time mage. The odd ache in her chest was suspense, is her lie to herself.

They hug, and reconcile. Everything will be alright. Maybe better than alright. The grey girl watches, and then casts her gaze away and upward. The tilt of her chin sends her fine bangs back and away from her forehead to mingle with satiny red loops for a while, until she looks earthward again.

Homura Akemi is thinking how very much someone would want to see this happen, this heartfelt forgiveness between friends. Perhaps her thoughts are disloyal in that they are not with the girl whose absence the rest of them recognize and feel, but -- they are loyal in the way they ever have been, and...

And somehow, she thinks that girl would understand.

Others say things; she remains silent, holding that hot dog, right up until she has to find a place on a nearby table for it to free her hands once more, because the maiden of mysteries is solving one with all grace. With sure, careful fingers Homura opens her bag to find the handpainted answer within.

"Arigatou, Ankou-san." Almost always quiet, that voice, and it is quiet now too. Placed back in its bag, the shell-curve fits snugly against her palm, and she curls her fingers around the velvet-softened edge.

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

"No, no, I'll take it. Thanks, sorry, I'm not sure." Haruka smiles. "I can even sign off on it."

When deemed, perhaps, a 'sempai,' Haruka's expression shifts. Her smile fades, not to a frown, but something thoughtful that cocks her head. She allows Lera to finish fully, however, before replying.

"If you know much about Michiru and I, you'll know why I think you should wait a while before calling us senpai. We wouldn't want to let you down."

Haruka's voice loses its more serious edge. "Anyway, you can't wake up in the morning as cute as you do and expect me to push you too hard to pick a sports car. How am I supposed to pick you up in mine if you're already in one?"

Oh, Lera. When you asked for a hot dog, was a monkey's paw listening?


OST - Lucy Rose - Second Chance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hlMj_0Vz5Q

Is she proud, Haruka wonders? When Kyouko sees her partner lower herself before their former enemy... what does that feel like? And when Mami rejects it, as she must, where do they go from there? How does a girl Eri snipped off in the flower of her youth let go of what was taken from her? Oh, she will say the words expected of her. Never again shall arms be raised. But trust is something else. Love is something else.

It feels almost a dispassionate question. Haruka has seen her share o tragedy.

And yet Mami forgives.

She says words no one could reasonably have expected from her, and more, she seems to mean them. And everywhere distrust and tension breaks, love seems to pour out immediately. It is a sort of chaos. It is bedlam. Everything's falling apart... but it returns not to misery, but affection.

To Haruka it feels as though she peeled the skin off an apple and found an orange inside. This is not what she thought lay beneath the surface.

Her lips part slightly. She feels the courage in Kyouko's words to Mami, and Utena's to Kasagami. That it takes bravery to be soft might be thought a foreign concept to Haruka, but she has always understood it. She knows she is not better than the Princess and her Guardians.

She is but at peace with being worse.

Accepting her little bagged shell, Haruka holds it by its drawstring. She feels the weight--no, the lightness of kindness inside, as though she were holding an upside-down balloon by its string. She smiles at Nori a little.

"She'll love it." Haruka jerks her head towards Michiru a little, off at her own section of the party. But before Nori goes, Haruka amends. "I love it," she adds.

That's all anyone hears of Haruka for a little. There are bright sorrows here, mixing like paint on an easel. And mix they do, for some little moments.

But as a hueless girl near the edge feels her hand accustom itself to that slip of velvet cloth it now carries, a voice intrudes on her.

"It doesn't match your outfit."

Haruka steps up next to Homura, her own velvet bag in one hand, two Ramune bottles resting between the fingers of the other by their tapered necks. With the knuckles of the bottles-hand, she indicates the blue bag Homura carries. "Doesn't match your wardrobe, as far as I can tell." She looks at Homura's face for the first time, smiling faintly. Her own gift bag is now held up for comparison to her sky-blue dress shirt, dangling on Haruka's palm, suspended by the drawstring over her middle two fingers.

"But I'm one to talk, right? Not my blue."

Haruka tucks the bag into her chest pocket. She's watching the hugs. "We both have our own thing going on, I think." Her voice is lower, more distant. "You and me." Her chest fills with air, and she lets it out slowly, wistfully. She's quiet for a while after that.

"Still, no matter how hard we try," she observes. "We can't say we're anywhere but here tonight, can we?"

Lifting the Ramune bottles, Haruka slams her palm, somehow in a fashion both low-key and brutal, into their two tops, one after the other. Two marbles rattle around in their necks to the sound of blue fizz, and Haruka's fingers hand one bottle off to her other palm. She offers that bottle to Homura, her eyes on the hugging... and the further distribution of presents by a certain other girl who walks with a trail of long raven hair behind her.

"You sure that's all you wanted to say to Ankou?" she asks with quiet impertinence. "You've got all night." She blows a bit of amused air out of her nostrils.

"Nah," she dismisses, offering her own glass bottle out for a blue-tinted clink. "Never mind."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nandemonaiya(Instrumental) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oABeazDKvUs&t=0m23s

It could have been anyone Mami says. And indeed the two of them said things like that to each other - once. And Eri's forehead brushes the sand lightly as if to say 'But it was me.'

Yet she remains silent as Mami relays her own feelings, dampening a part of the sand that has not known moisture since the last time it rained. However, Mami says she won't brush off her feelings. And as Mami bends down to one knee, she lifts her head. Granules of sand falling off. Tears blurring both lenses and falling down cheeks. Hand in hand she's pulled into a hug.

And for a while she's too overwhelmed to speak. Just crying up against her shoulder in her hug. For a moment she's the girl she was when she started out on this journey. Rather than the girl she's become. Everything is stripped away by this moment.

"I don't... deserve it." She whispers when she finally is able to, words just muffled faintly by her shoulder "But... muh-maybe it's not something someone has to deserve."

With a hiccup, she composes herself enough to say, "A precious gift... fruh-from a friend... is... nuh-not nothing... either."

Looking forward together, into the future she had said. Letting herself breathe, she tries to recompose herself, but for the time being, she doesn't draw away from Mami either.

A shared hug born of both apology and forgiveness, is not nothing either.

Nori passes out boxes, with colorful little bags. She doesn't look at hers right away. Though she does utter, "T-Thanks..."

Instead, as Kyouko approaches, with a word to Mami... Eri finally lets go from the hug, instead her fingertips keeping the connection as she steps to the side. Smiling, with her eyes still behind tear-stained glasses.

Silently she mouths something to Kyouko. Three syllables, so as not to interrupt her apology.

She's silent throughout it. As her eyes float around the others, as they make their own apologies, well-wishes, or voice their regrets. Eri opens up her bag, to look at her clam shell. To slip it open briefly. Then close it. She sets it away back in the bag. Only to hear, Utena making her way over to Kasagami and Mikoto.

Briefly she closes her eyes, as if feeling she shares the blame. Yet, such is not that moment. Because instead it is Utena asking forgiveness and perhaps offering absolution - and proud friendship. More than that, she's offering her pride to be friends of Kasagami and Mikoto. All of these moments inspire her perhaps to speak up about thoughts that had been floating in her head for some time. About herself. About each other. About Chevalier and Shepherd.

"It's just like I thought." Eri says as she views all the others. "We... didn't need a miracle for this to happen. I realized it while talking to..."


"... while talking to someone. All of that fighting - all of that bloodshed - all of those things we couldn't take back. If we'd just... let ourselves remember what was important. I don't think any of it was necessary."

She takes a deep breathe, and taking off her glasses, she starts to wipe them away on her dress. Sand still scattering off parts of it.

"The only miracle we needed was a second chance.... to take back some of those things... that couldn't be. Once things had gone too far."

Her eyes touch upon Mami, and Kyouko.

"So that all of us could be here right now..."

Her eyes look across all of them at that moment, and that includes Homura Akemi over there - speaking quietly to Haruka Tenoh. Each with a bottle in hand.

"... together."

And in an echo of Mami's words from earlier, she says...

"That's not nothing either."

Even if she doesn't know it, perhaps that is some part of her, thanking someone very special.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Before anything else right now, there is Eri--Eri, in her arms for a little while, not like she once might've expected--far different from a way back when years ago--but here, a friend. She speaks about deserved, and...

"That's right," Mami says when Eri gets it. It isn't about deserving, doesn't need to be. Mami squeezes lightly when Eri recomposes herself. And it's only after this that Mami lets go. For now.

Nori wants to give them something; one for everyone. Mami accepts one of the little bags carefully, looking inside, towards the shell. She looks inside; she looks inside her own, peeks over arms to look inside others. The characters... the little curls--the sher intricate work--

"Oh," Mami says to Nori, her heart filling up with something. "They're perfect. That's a lovely idea."

After she's taken the shell back into its little bag and carefully brought it into her two hands, Mami looks again at Kasagami, finishes that snippet of conversation for now.

"Yes," Mami says to Kasagami at her firm statement. "I understand." Need to be here; honored to be here. It's a quiet moment of understanding, but it is a moment of knowing another heart.

Mami moves to the table to set down her precious shell, then. And she speaks with Kyouko. Kyouko brings out her courage, too, and Mami watches her in silent regard for a moment, too affected by all the moments to immediately reply--

But no, she can.

"It doesn't have to be now," Mami answers Kyouko, "There's so much, it might take us some time. But I'd like to try, too. To be friends again. Real friends again." There's a lot in their past, a lot of tension, and much of it well predates even meeting most of the others here. When Kyouko looks to Mami's eyes, she finds them waiting for her, and Mami too holds onto that moment. "...I've really missed you," she relates softly, and for her maybe that says a lot of what she feels.

Mami looks to the others, having been here, across Haruka and Lera both. Homura. By way of Mikoto, talking about friends. "We can," Mami says to her when she makes her exclamations, "And I'm glad, too..."

And she listens then to Eri, speaking of miracles. All of them, here now...

"That's right," Mami says softly back to her, and for some reason, feels warm.

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

Lera smiles, when Haruka says she'll take it. She bobs her head in agreement -- then she blinks once -- and she opens her mouth, but she finds she isn't sure what to say. But, maybe, coming to terms doesn't mean that everything has a good answer. She can accept that.

Besides, it's her turn to make a face -- and turn red -- and sputter. "Th--that's not fair!" she says, and it's a whine.


Lera sniffs, and it's a bit too strong. She feels her shoulder getting damp, and she makes a sound halfway between a laugh and choked sob. She hugs Utena back about the shoulders with one arm. Her other hand reaches up, wiping at her eyes as best she can.

"Y-Yeah, of course," she says, after a moment's pause. She takes a second to collect hersle.f She still returns Kyouko's smile, when the redhead catches her eye. A little thing; she never really met her very much, beyond the fighting, and only heard a little from Mami in the past.

Lera takes her bag, fingers deftly opening it. She blinks down at the clam -- the cultural aspect is lost on her, but she recognizes the blue-haired figure. She recognizes, too, the orange-haired figure painted into it. She swallows, a little, and then she looks at Nori.

"Yeah... yeah, it's great, y'know?"

She swallows, then looks back at Eri. She blinks her eyes, once, and then nods her head. Her eyes turn down again, and she wipes at them again.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Yuki Kajiura - In Memory of You https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KNpdkmTvvc

There are a hundred apologies Mikoto could make; Mikoto has already made them. Mikoto, who stood against Shepherd and Chevalier alike, knows how much she has to apologise for. She's found Lera and she's found Homura, and she's found Eri and she's found Mami, too. She has even found Nori, in that subtle fashion; building something where something was once not, hair buns like a Scottish Fold.

In fact, in this moment, there's only a few people she hasn't found. And one of those people is...

Mikoto does not get out of the way when Utena wheels in for that hug. At first it is easy to say that this is just Mikoto's social blindness, not astute enough in the subtleties endemic to the campus they all share to tell that Utena and Kasagami are having a Moment. Part of that is even true. The other part is that Mikoto wants to hug Utena, and here comes Utena, so obviously she's latching onto her too.

If Mikoto is a void into feline infinity, she absorbs affection into infinite space, and from it she sparks endless joy. As a furnace, she takes - and she creates.

"I got so mad," Mikoto says, and the words are a little muffled because, as we've noted, Utena hugs don't stop, "I pushed aside Utena saving my lunch. I didn't think Utena was still being kind... but Utena was still protecting something after all."

It might be a strange thing to focus on. It happened years ago.

That's just how she thinks about the world, after all.

How she thinks about...

"Protecting them from me."

She doesn't say who they were; she doesn't think she needs to. There's only one pair Utena swept in to save from the wrath of Homura and Mikoto, after all.

Mikoto straightens up in time to smile up at Utena, quietly: "... now, I'm really happy about that." She's gotten better at using her words, but it is still her way that every mora in that murmur matters. The passage of time - and how it's left her.

She turns, at Nori's offer, and Kasagami speaks of beauty and Mikoto beholds it, the hundred foibles of aristocracy. (She knows the tales; luckily, she's never thought to bring them up to Aoi. She does not think much of repeating stories. Rather, her art lies in transcribing them.)

"Two halves of a story," she says. There's a thin mist over her eyes again, though mercifully she doesn't start bawling on Kasagami or Utena again. "They go together..."

She doesn't SAY it's beautiful because she already has, in her awestruck tone and her shining eyes and her big, big smile. Because she thinks on it and she knows the Shepherds and the Chevaliers are two halves of one story, after all; and the game was always in finding which half fits the other.

They go together.

They can go together...

What could be more wonderful than that?

Eri might know better than anyone - just how simple that core truth is. Mikoto has always wanted to be loved. She craves togetherness like water, like food, like AIR; all that blood for one end, one purpose, one desire. Eri talks about second chances and Mikoto sniffs, rubbing at her eyes. (One hand. Only with one hand. The other has a shell, in a bag, and it is very, very precious.)

"Taking it back... it's really, really..." Her hand curls, fingers to palm, at her cheek, as she looks to Eri. This, she does not explain, either. "... I'm really happy."

And she looks to Mami, and she smiles.

And she looks to everyone, and she smiles.

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

When she gets so close to falling, there's that immovable pillar of pink that she finds herself against. Kassie's gaze goes wide, finding not sand but arms. She stares into that face of suffering, of pain and yet joy. Right at the face of someone she's been jealous of, loved, enraged at, worried for and ever wanting to pull closer and push away from, at times even in the same breath. This complicated person is the one she sees as her truest rival.

Her own signet ring shines, like a mirror reflecting light, back and forth in a rhythm of two Duelists sharing emotions. It doesn't, however, outshine the emotions that dwell in Kasagami's heart reflected in her own face as Utena speaks her mind and heart.

That kind of look is something she knows and feels deeply.

"...I never even bothered to consider anyone else's opinions. All I had in my heart was desire, fear, and a need to use what I'd stolen away. It wasn't even something I balked at doing, I didn't hesitate! Maybe that makes me a King. Or, rather, some kind of pretentious Tyrant instead!"

Kasagami Araki is very much willing to sacrifice her shirt to the pouring Utena-tinged eye-rain. It's worth it, because the warmth of a hug is exactly what she needs right now. That guilty ache in her heart, the one she didn't dare point directly inward at it's cause, doubles. Yet for all that it hurts?

Kasagami isn't sure if she deserves forgiveness. Believes in her heart that should Utena really hold onto anger for what she did that night? It would be completely in the right. Looking back, all she sees is someone who let the power go to her head, and the fear gnaw away at her.

The fact she used someone as a tool of power doesn't yet penetrate. But there's a little seed planted as those words of understanding flood from Utena. Her arm envelopes the one enveloping her, and she squeezes right back. Eyes close, and her own tears once more join the fray. Utena might need to wash them out of her hair after this. Kassie isn't being considerate to aesthetics right now.

The Crimson Rose Duelist sobs and laughs and clings to the girl who, at least in part, understands her a little better. Her rival, and most importantly, her FRIEND!

"I should have considered you and what you were going through. And I didn't. I failed you so much, Utena. I don't know if I'll be able to live up to being worthy of your friendship. But I'm going to try. I won't let myself get lost like that again. And I won't forget any of those I love again because of my own fears and weaknesses. Utena-chan...thank you! Thank you so much!"

The gift in her heart of friendship feels more valuable than any diamond and shines ten times more brightly. Her eyes track to Eri, to Mami.

"We'll need to remember the important things, no matter what troubles an monsters we face." She turns, then, to Mikoto that so has clung to the both of them.

There's that warm smile of her friend returned from darkness, that has suffered so much.

"Even if we've all done horrible things, even if we've failed, we all deserve to be happy."


Continues in Part Two.