2020-08-30 - Happily Ever After 2

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Happily Ever After 2

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...

Continued directly from Part One.


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

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


Tokyo Bay

OOC - IC Date:

8/30/2020 - 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> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> I Know - Lena Katina https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EF4alVSRQp4

Utena is quite, quite out of eloquence for the day. She's already vastly exceeded her daily quota. Her monthly budget, even. Wakaba would faint, dismayed to know she missed such an articulate speech from her favorite jock. Now, the feelings welling up inside of her clog her throat; each tear that falls is pushed off the cliff of her cheekbones by the internal pressure created by something much too big for her slender body to contain.

So that's why her shared smile with and at and for Mikoto is watery; her joy is Utena's now. There is no single place where one girl ends and the other begins -- where one STORY ends and the other begins. Two girls who tried to protect everything they cared about and were able to protect nothing; Eri died as surely as all the people of Tokyo. Two girls who witnessed the end of worlds large and deeply, intimately small. Two girls who now get to witness the birth of a new one.

Mikoto's really happy. "Yeah," Utena agrees.

For Kasagami she tries hard to widen her bandwidth, and finds that the guilt and suffering her rival feels is another side of the same coin of her happiness -- the one cannot exist without the other. It's the same story, their story, yet again. She leans into the older girl's clinging, hugging back hard. And Kasagami's tears, wept freely into her hair, hang there like diamonds in a roseate skein; they bestow upon her a glittering crown, which catches the sunlight as surely as any signet ring ever could.

The apology makes her heart clench, then clench again, until it might implode inside her chest; in a way, less for its contents, and more for its context. She's well aware that such debasement, such acceptance of the HARD kind of responsibility, does not come easily to the young woman who would be King. Or to anyone. It matters more, because it's Kasagami.

Kasagami, who speaks of remembering what's important. That even if we've failed, we all deserve to be happy. "Yeah!" Utena chokes out, the dam in her throat finally giving way. "Yeah."

She looks out at the group, at Kyouko and Mami and Eri -- ALL of them miracles, not only the Golden Queen -- and listens, listens to them speak of second chances, of living together. She doesn't particularly worship the Western God (except, perhaps, for how she venerates Dios, the one true Prince, but let's just not right now, kay). Prayer comes to her lips anyway, born there of profoundly reverent gratitude, because that's what culture is, society is, and she is a product of it.

"Thank God," she whispers, husky with gladness -- and sorrow, for the miracle that's missing. "And..." Her eyes search the failing daylight for a patch of the sky that's still blue. When she can't, she looks at the sloshing Bay instead. Seafoam churns around some rocks nearby. "Thanks, Sayaka."

She doesn't otherwise confront Eri's notion that none of this was necessary. But the world they live in now is very different from the one they lived in before there was a war, before there were Shepherds and Chevaliers. And it's a better one... BECAUSE of Shepherds and Chevaliers.

Because of Sayaka.

The blue figure in her shell wasn't painted smiling, but Utena sees one there anyway.

Her attention is drawn, inexorably, to Homura. She isn't super great at understanding the complex feelings of OTHER PEOPLE, never mind her own, but she does have a keen radar for damsels in distress. One might think it would be hard to think of Homura, toughest of them all, as that ever, but... all girls are princesses to Utena Tenjou. And though she has no idea how to meet a need she cannot even begin to grasp, like Haruka she recognizes that the need exists.

And perhaps she does recognize it, more deeply within than she's able to acknowledge or willing to admit. Grief knows itself; an unlikely mirror of Homura though she may be, something about her strikes a sharply familiar chord inside the Utena who's never really left her coffin.

Homura's mourning a girl that Utena can't even remember needs mourning.

Utena's grieved over one girl so long that she can't even remember her.

She chins towards the ribbon-festooned girl, the gesture made at, and for, Kasagami and Mikoto -- much closer friends to Homura than she. "Maybe you should go," she suggests; to further relieve them of any need to keep crying with and on her, she gently disentangles herself from their shared embrace, and wanders over to Nori's side.

Which is to say, she is drawn to the side of the only person here who intervened to at least jam open her coffin a crack, when she was suffocating, suffering, most. Who helped her when she could not help herself. Not the only person. But one of them won't be here. One of them can't be here. And the other one... can't be here either, not really. There's a lot present on the beach that Utena can be moved by without fully understanding, but there's one miracle whose absence she does perfectly.

"Yo," she grunts. There is a moment in which there seems to be a real possibility that this will be all she can muster herself to say.

Then she hefts her shell, holding it carefully, like the precious treasure it is. She measures her words that way also. Not like they're treasures -- but like the person they're for is very precious. Someone she cares for, worth speaking carefully for. "These are awesome, but... you must have worked so hard on them, Norin. Couldn't have been easy. Maybe I just sound jealous 'cuz I only brought soda, but... we woulda helped, you know?"

Utena's turning a little red herself. Not as red as her shorts, but then, what is? Red enough, embarrassed by... she's not sure what. This is all a lot, and she knows she's being a lot, too. It's worth saying anyway. "You don't have to do everything all by yourself. Anymore, or ever again."

She spreads the fingers of her free hand wide, and tries to thread them into Nori's.

"Us, being there for you... that'll never end."

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

Nori had set down her plate to open up the gifts, and her arms seem to come together as if to wrap round herself. She doesn't actually whine but in her heart she feels almost as if she should. Somehow this is terrifying.

Because right now it is in fact Nori Ankou out there, standing in front of a bunch of people. Some of them might be mad at her, she thinks, and - and and and AND and AND and AND, it is a free-roaming fear. They might love la Sirene or even follow her but not have much to say for Nori Ankou, the girl from up north.

At some point it could all fall apart and they could turn away. Maybe it would only be coldness. Perhaps outright rejection. It has happened to Nori before -

- and then Haruka Tenoh speaks well of it -

- so does Eri Shimanouchi -

- Mami, Lera. Mikoto is smiling, a genuine smile, her eyes focused, looking around, an active presence.

Her nose twitches just once, like a rabbit's, when she sees the tearstains on Kasagami's shirt and the stain on Utena's cheeks and it feels a little like a dam breaking.

"Well," Nori says, then she starts over:

"Ah, well," and she begins again:

"I'm glad that you like them... please, feel free to trade... I don't suppose we really need to worry about having each pair be brought together... it can be lovely when things don't quite match. But if you have a favorite scene, or if we have a couple of extra - I do not, think we will -"

Utena begins to speak, and Nori falls quiet. She looks at her. There is a lingering memory in Nori's mind of the time when Utena startled her once - long before all of this - and she fell so clumsily she cut her hand. The memory aches, just a little. Her lips tremble.

Her voice is thready but bounces off the ocean a little as she says, "I mean I had - I didn't want to -"

Utena reaches for her hand. It is the hand she had to get tended at the nurse's office, and there is a very faint scar on the back, the sort of thing you only see up close like this, a memory from somewhere else, another place entirely. Her fingers thread with Utena's and she squeezes and this time the dam really DOES break, and while she does not sob, the tears run out of her eyes and her lips waver between a smile, a tense laugh, and a quiver.

Her grip is tight. She looks at Utena, her own face flushing as if she realizes just how contorted her expression is. Her eyes spill over once more and then she raises her other hand, to place her wrists to her eyes, sniffing softly once.

She looks back at Utena, eyes still overflowing but with the joy shining that much more. "Well," she says, "I - am glad to BE here - and to be here, now, for... I mean, with... with everyone." Her grip slackens just a little, as if reluctant to release that hand. It feels warm to her (and she would feel cold to Utena).

"If I make another set," Nori continues, "I promise - I will bring everyone together. But I don't think we have enough shells... so we will think of that another night, perhaps?"

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

'It doesn't match your outfit.'

Homura thinks the Outer Senshi means the precious ribbon in her hair until Haruka knuckle-points at the velvet bag instead. Internally she de-bristles. Her long legs might indicate the sort of height she could achieve, given years to grow into them, but as things stand she must look up rather than just to the side to meet a look from Haruka Tenoh. Homura doesn't smile back, but it'd be stranger if she did.

She follows that ice-blue gaze away to the others when Haruka says they have their own thing going on. Between that and the return silence, there is no disagreement from the puella.

Only after accepting the ramune in her free hand does she say, "Each of us have our reasons to be here. Some are here for the sake of others." A beat. "But you're right. I would not have predicted this." An admission from the girl who made foreknowledge her business -- from the girl who does not do admissions. ...Then she takes a sip to think over Haruka's next words, and actually does end up taking a brief moment to enjoy the fizzy goodness.

The senshi's meaning is not fully clear to the puella, but everyone is forgiving each other, thanking each other. The embrace across the way sparkles, tear gems strewn in shining hair, and it is too bright. She looks down to their shadows in the sand instead.

There is something she has never properly thanked Nori Ankou for, something which predates a beautifully painted clam shell. (There are also a great many things Homura Akemi has never apologized to anyone for, cruel words and crueler actions.) But can she, now? Because...

Eri Shimanouchi is talking about not needing a miracle, talking about someone who Homura knew was a miracle from the very day they met, someone who never stopped being a miracle. Someone Nori saved when Homura could not. Someone no one else present can even name, any more.

Because she is everyone's miracle, not just Homura's.

There's a tight *clink* as ramune bottles salute, like someone is gripping hers a touch too hard. They may have all night, but,

"Some things aren't about time," Homura Akemi says.

She has that bottle, though, and there is a shell curled perfectly against her palm. Gifts. Homura came empty-handed to a birthday party, and now both are full -- there's even a hot dog grilled up by one person and given by another, sitting on the table next to her. Too many gifts for her to hold. The most precious gift of all is nestled in her raven hair, cheery and silken and soft.

At long last she allows, "Perhaps you are right about this, too," and lets Haruka think Homura addresses only her. Her head is tilted upward, after all.

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

It didn't take long for Endo to avail himself of a watermelon burger, joining those in search of food. His chief concern, until Eri apology and the reconciliation that follows.

When Endo accepts his small blue bag and opens the shell inside he pauses, his gaze blurring the little shapes inside before he begins to scrub the tears forming in his eyes.

"Aaah...I was trying not to do this..." This admission does nothing to stop the wetness welling up as those around him discuss this new, second chance. A new and better world that they get to be a part of.

"These are really great." Endo affirms of the gifts. "Thank you. And--Utena-san is right. We're all together now. That's really something."

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

Kyouko smiles warmly to Nori, feeling the heft of her bag, the texture of its fabric, the beauty of its contents..what a wonderful gesture it is, these precious pieces of such distinctive design. She doesn't have the words to say all that she feels - she is feeling a tremendous amount all around, at the moment - but tries to channel the warmth in her heart Nori's way, as she bows her head and murmurs. "It's beautiful..thank you so much. I'll treasure it, and what it means."

Eri mouthed three syllables to her. What were they? Does Kyouko know? Does Eri? All that can be reliably surmised is that Kyouko saw Eri not-say the sounds, and they did not halt her stride. Is the twinkle in her gaze an acknowledgment of what was silently said? Only Kyouko can say, and her words are otherwise spoken for, for the time being. When Eri speaks her piece, Kyouko tosses her head, taking on a proud look, a playful look, a relieved look. "I'll take every miracle I can get..but I'm real glad we got the one we got."

Mami speaks to her. When was the last time they spoke, without all that shared weight they've long separately born? She can't say for sure, and the most conservative bet was quite some time ago indeed..even now that weight was there, but for once it was not at the seat of the table, not the main and dominating thing. Mami wants to try too. And together, if they both try..if they both want..shouldn't that be able to count for the most of all things considered? Mami's eyes hold hers when hers needed holding. Kyouko's voice is choked and laden with throaty thickness of emotion.

"I've really missed you too.."

As Mami said, it doesn't have to be now. There are too many sentiments welling up in the very sands beneath their feet for her to linger overly long on her own. Clearing her throat, Kyouko smiles, lingering in the moment before loping over to the soda table, smashing the marble into the ramune with a forceful pop as she holds the carbonated spray in with brute force. Once its settled to a mere furious roar, she swigs deeply of it, tasting something like blueberries bubble and sizzle down all the way.

She appreciates Lera's smile back. It's true that they don't know each other all too well, but that too bears the same hope for renewal and coming together that the whole party represents. And for Kyouko's part, the strongest bonds are always forged over food.

Utena speaks plainly, and in a manner which Kyouko easily appreciates. As she nods along with that sentiment - that Nori didn't need to do everything all on her own anymore - Kyouko is agreeing with it as much as she's reminding herself. It was a feeling far removed from how she'd once felt, but now, amongst so many people marking so many memories, it was almost difficult to remember how she could have ever felt that she had to go it alone. Kyouko doesn't regret how she'd been, or how she'll continue to be in some ways. For all of its ugly or tragic steps, that path had taken her here, to a place she can't imagine living without. But moving forward, she won't be alone. Choosing a lonely life now doesn't seem like it would be worth living.

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

The conglomeration of emotional forgiveness only grows more powerful. If Haruka feels outside the circle, it is not because she is immune to it.

After their clink, Haruka takes a pull off the blueberry soda. Ramune's a small bottle, she can flip it up against her lips with a forefinger beneath, the other three above, and her thumb on standby. Presumably it's a steering wheel habit; it gets hot in those racecars.

Some things aren't about time, Homura says.

Haruka pushes some air through her nose, her eyes laughing. She lifts the soda bottle in a gesture of sympathy. "You know I keep trying to tell my friend that? She still doesn't buy it, somehow."

Haruka thinks she catches Utena looking at her--or Homura--amidst her tearful embraces. Her eyes are soft as they look at Utena, then Nori, then Endo and Lera and Mami and all the other Chevaliers. "They looked so different standing across from us, didn't they?" she muses. "Implacable. Cunning. Maybe it's just me, maybe I've been doing this too long. But one starts to think of them as just enemy assets. If Tomoe's charismatic that's one sort of problem. If Naoki's got a strong will that's another. They stop being personality traits and start being exigencies. And somehow that sinks so deep that you don't even really see their faces anymore. I don't know. I'm sure it was never that way for Tenjou. But we're not all cut out for that."

Haruka follows Homura in looking up, then traces her gaze back down, slowly, to Homura's face. She regards her for a while, thoughtful. Then she looks up herself, but at the moon near the horizon.

"It's there, you know. Whether you're looking at it or not." One corner of her lip lifts. Finally looking down, she pushes her shoulders back, stretching, then starts to make her way back to the party, rotating to take a few steps backwards on her way out.

"Whatever you're remembering, I mean!" she clarifies. She lifts the Ramune in a second toast. Then, with a puckish smile, she turns back and rejoins the party.

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

Utena gives Nori a patient look. It is an unusual expression, coming from this direction. Normally everyone has to wait for HER to get something through her thick head. But, for that reason, it is a fond look also, a generous patience, without any superior attitude. This is one bonkler to another. Or at least, one bonkler to someone making a rare cameo in her category.

"I don't just mean for shells," she clarifies, giving that cool hand a warm squeeze. It transpires that her hand is on offer for as long as her friend wants it, up to and including the entire rest of the party. When they separate, it won't be Utena that initiates it.

"If you have something you want to do among friends," with her free hand, she throws a shaka, then raises it as a phone to her ear, "Call me."

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

It is not just Eri, or Mami, with a lot to say--Mami when she's pulled back looks to each of the others in turn. To those talking to Utena, to Mikoto smiling at her... Mami smiles back. She smiles back, but Utena's words to Nori reach her in the same way. Sure, Utena's read, but...

They would've helped. She doesn't have to do everything all by herself. Mami sees it in Nori, like she'd seen it in herself, and though she can't quite put her finger on something...

She doesn't have to; the boundless warmth that comes of being together with everyone here seems like it may burst her heart outright.

"I'm very glad you're here," Mami says to Nori in particular, and for a brief moment it is just her she's speaking with.

Being tear-free is already a lost cause though, if only from that moment with Kyouko, hearing the same feelings she'd held, held by her old friend, too. If they both try--if they both want to--then maybe yes, it will be the way it could be, now, in this new time.

As she makes her slow circuit of the party, she does not notice Haruka's musings, as she shows some of that same quality... but, much like Endo, she's trying to avoid crying that much yet.

"Ah, that is..." Mami opens her mouth and closes it, and quickly inhales a little breath to steady herself, very quickly stepping stepping stepping across the sands towards one of the tables again. "Ah, I think it's a good time for cake, isn't it?" she suggests, though truthfully she's hurrying a little for her own composure, as much as anything.

"...Of the cakes Sayaka-chan had, her very favorite was one I made with tangerine," Mami starts to explain. "I was surprised, since I hadn't thought she was fond of that favor above others. But it was her favorite. ...And then, well, I thought that I could make--that Sayaka-chan would've liked this one even more." With a careful hand, Mami takes the cover off of the round, pale blue plate on which she's placed the cake, revealing the dessert for the first time. In its center is a little arrangement of tangerine slices and Maraschino cherries, along with whipped cream in a great circle on its surface, heavy with more cherries. It is round, some layers tall, enough for a large group of people, done up in fluffy white and soft pink. "...She favored blue, but with these flavors..." Mami starts, trailing off for a moment before, "Well. I had a feeling she'd have appreciated this cake anyway."

She pauses. "Yes, well-Ah, it's meant to be shared..." If Mami's a little flustered, maybe she can be forgiven for that. She is at least smiling, along with everything else, just not... only smiling.

But the cake will be even prettier when someone cuts it.

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

Lera has a similar lack of eloquence that has taken hold. She isn't quite as emotional; she wiped her eyes dry, but she looks at Mikoto after that declaration, and flashes a grin back at her.

She looks at Endo, smiles, and holds up the drink she had -- a bottle of Ramune, and the marble clinks inside -- like she is toasting what he says. "Mm-hm!" she agrees, with a nod of her head, and a smile.

She watches as Mami hurries over to the cakes. If she spots the way that Mami tries to hide how she hurries to keep her composure, Lera wouldn't dare point it out.

She blinks once -- and then stares at the cake. Even if she didn't have the context about why tangerine-flavored, Lera would be delighted. It looks delicious -- she smiles, and a little more at the explanation.

Then, she nods her head, happily. "Shouldn't be me!" she says. "I'd just make a big mess of it, y'know?"

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

Mami's warm acceptance of her words make her feel warm as well, over the clink of a ramune bottle salute and Utena's statement of solidarity with Nori. Nori's adorable response, and Mikoto's happiness.

Kyouko speaks on the miracle - and missing Mami they got cause her to be momentarily choked up, incapable of more than sounds for a moment, "Mmm-mmm!" She says with a nod, as two fingers find their way under her spectacles to wipe at her eyes. "Me too." She finally utters, and perhaps she's responding to both sentiments.

Mami though indicates its time for cake, and Eri of course follows her over to the table. She listens without a word as Mami describes it as Sayaka's favorite cake. She understands the explanation itself is Mami perhaps trying to outrun her feelings for Sayaka before they overwhelm her.

As Mami flusters, Eri puts a hand lightly to the back of hers. Her fingers encircling around the side of her hand. "It's perfect. She'd have felt truly blessed to have it served to her."

If there's one thing she understands about Sayaka Miki, it's the knowledge that any cake Mami Tomoe made for Sayaka is perfect. And a cake made for her with this kind of thoughtfulness and sentiment behind it is beyond perfection.

Mami Tomoe's grief though is vast, and Eri feels a need to give her some time to compose herself. "Before we share it... I think... ... do you mind if I share something else with everyone?"

She waits for Mami's agreement, though her hand remains there to offer her comfort. For she understands how much Mami Tomoe loved Sayaka Miki. She gives herself a moment herself, to muster up the courage for this.

"Originally we founded the Shepherds because we thought that's what needed to be done to survive." Eri notes quietly, "I wasn't thinking of grand plans or ideals originally, but not long after I considered that maybe it could become a place for magical girls who the world hurt... so they didn't have to feel isolated and alone."

Eri is perhaps, too ashamed of something else to say what act of hers inspired that thought, but perhaps there are many in the crowd who can guess. "Somewhere along the way that idea just got swept away in all the violence I committed." Her eyes close for a moment, as her words become soft and somber, "A lot of things I wanted were just lost..."

Eri pauses for a moment, her fingers in an awkward fidget, as if she is trying to find the words, but then the corner of her lips turns up as if she's located them. "It's not that world anymore though. We've been given a second chance. A new start. And while I can only speak for the Shepherds..."

Her eyes slip to each of the Shepherds in turn, "... I don't think we need to exist in the same way anymore. I think, the best way to celebrate Sayaka Miki's birthday is by reforming in a way that celebrates peace among magical girls... rather than promotes violence."

She looks momentarily at Mami, and decides better of something. Instead her eyes settle upon Nori Ankou, "And ah... sorry to put my classmate on the spot but..." A brief pause, before she asks a not-so-simple question.

"What do you think, Nori-chan?"

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCHUw7ACS8o

("Thank you," Nori answers Mami, in a quiet but resonant whisper.)

Nori has been silent for a few tearful moments, her hand still holding Utena's, when it should perhaps have let go. But Utena is fond, and she understands. She smiles a little, and answers Utena in a quiet and personal way, "Alright. I'll try to remember." Her other hand mimes to gesture, puts it to her ear, and she says, "I just hope there will be enough, reception on - on the -" Nori's approach to the realm of Making A Joke fades as Eri speaks and then makes an invitation.

Nori takes a deep breath -

"I will try," she breathes out, and it takes one more great breath before she speaks.

"The dream for which I joined the Chevaliers, was a dream where our strength and our hearts and our magic would protect people," Nori says then. "And I think that..."

"We are here now. We have the second chance, as Eri said, as others have said. I think I heard a poet say once that it would be a great gift, if we could see ourselves as others see us, and I suppose now we have that gift, all of us."

"Sayaka cannot eat this cake," Nori then says, her voice threatening to crumple but not quite doing so, "but I think that she would be overjoyed to know we were eating it, and thinking of her. Thank you, Mami, for bringing it." The tears trickle out of her eyes again, face reddening: a red in the present, not the future.

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

With so much catharsis bubbling up into the air, Kyouko is grateful when Mami takes the opportunity to unveil the dessert. Kyouko had been greatly anticipating it, ever since it was decided that Mami would bake a cake as the grand finale to Kyouko's catering. Mami's baking is of course legendary, and perhaps none had been a more eager aficionado for longer than she.

Kyouko listens attentively as Mami introduces the cake. She'd never known Sayaka's favorite..it isn't something she'd ever given any particular thought to, but hearing it now gave her heart a slight pang. The moments that Kyouko had shared with Sayaka and Mami had been rich, but they had also been early on in the budding friendship between blue and yellow. Had Sayaka known that she preferred tangerine when Kyouko had eaten alongside her? Did that come later, or did Kyouko simply never know? Never ask, never notice?

There's a painful sweetness to Mami's halting words, her sorrow self evident, but also an uncharacteristic self-consciousness of her work. As the cover took flight away from its platter, Kyouko's eyes went wide, the soft and beautiful colors and contours of fruity confection, frosting and cream..it's gorgeous, and the notion that Sayaka may have liked it even more brought tears back to her once more. It's tragic that she can't be here to tell everybody herself..

The thought of her absence lingers in Kyouko's mind. Not an awareness..it was impossible to forget that Sayaka isn't there with them. It's her birthday party, after all. Rather, there's a persistent feeling that there is something that should be done, that isn't being done just yet. What could it...


Of course...

Kyouko thinks of clearing her throat, and calling attention to herself, making an announcement or an invitation for others to join. Instead she just starts..starts in a way that is, at first, not necessarily meant to be showy or prominent. But Kyouko Sakura, among her many secrets, was once a trained singer..and her voice, startlingly pure of character and intonation, is a voice that was carefully crafted to be heard. It is not only possible, but reasonable, that those around her may be taken aback, wondering who on earth could possibly be the source of such a sound..because surely it could not be..

"Happy birthday, to you...happy birthday, to you..."

Her eyes wobbled, her shoulders shook. But her voice sang out pristine and unwavering as she continued on.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> VNV Nation - Homeward https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glfH5c_1hYE

Maybe that's what makes a King.

Or, in the method of kai-awase...

Mikoto scrubs at her eyes, and smiles, to hear Kasagami's progress. And in this she is not unlike Utena: her affirmation to that last crimson line is a wordless hum, a cheerful bob of her head which sets her braids up and down.

There is so much tied up in the language of deserving; if it must be heavy let it be heavy with simple things, happiness and peace and respect.

Her eyes follow to Homura and she nods, again, with that big smile to Utena. "Yeah," like an echo, and she pats Kasagami's arm, and she steps away, with a big smile to Lera too.

She is like an echo; she reflects. Eri cries, and Mikoto cries, too. Mami reaches out, and Mikoto reaches, too. She so finely-tuned to the emotional heart of the room; she absorbs it, she BECOMES it, leaves no space nor gaps between.

There's wisdom in sending an emotional barometer like that into the path of Haruka and Homura, cool and apart. Because Mikoto looks at them and knows, on intrinsic level - or rather, she must know.

It's something which would have been so easy for her to get swept up in, as she returns to the table. It's something she certainly has, worlds away from here.

But there's power in choosing what to get swept up in, and Mikoto isn't trailing behind everyone any more. No: she's dragging them forward. (Just ask Eri! The dragging is quite literal.)

So she sidles up beside them, turning in half-circle which doesn't quite hide the way her lip twitches at Haruka's reminder, and adds to such a familiar analysis: "... it feels weird, right?"

... she felt weird when Endo forgave her, even after everything she'd done.

... and she felt weird when her apology to Eri had to be translated out of grim fashion.

... and she felt weird when she found herself justifying her freedom to the senpai she'd left behind.

... and she felt weird when she found herself as someone else's senpai, right after doing everything she'd done.

... and she felt weird when she walked into Animal Care Club, and saw the same girl she'd saved despite herself.

"But I think," says the girl who called them all her enemies, "if you look for problems, you find problems."

She doesn't quite get to saying that they don't have to look for problems.

Rather: "We get back up after," she says, to Homura, but she's looking at Haruka too. And there is a tragedy, here, in the context which she's unlikely to provide. Mikoto might have improved by leaps and bounds, but she is still hardly a clear communicator. She is all concepts and careless thoughts, boiled to plain English.

And her solutions are always so simple. Murder is simple. But, did you know...

Cake is also simple?

Listening with perked ears (they might very well ACTUALLY twitch) to Mami's explanation, Mikoto rocks back on her heels, in the wake of it. "Let's get cake!" She encourages them, brightly, and part of this is a function of Homura and Haruka hanging back and part of it is just the fact that there's cake and of COURSE Mikoto is enthusiastic about that.

The one thing which could distract Mikoto from cake in this moment might just be Eri Shimanouchi, but conveniently enough, here she is. She shares something, and Nori shares something too, and Mikoto's hand drifts up to one side of that sun emblazoned on her heart, shell dangling from her wrist.

Her fingers lie flat.

They fall back down to her side.

"It was a place for me," she says, quietly, and maybe now she's not speaking TO anyone, though certainly there are girls in earshot. "A place bigger than one person." And there is more written in the implications; a place. She wouldn't have said it that way, last year, when she could rely on Mai to do all her talking for her. For all their ills there are things this cabal has helped Mikoto to improve; to become. "I needed people... that's all." Like it's simple as that.

Some things are simple, like cake is simple, and Mikoto beholds the majesty of the cake, but perhaps she's come to a reflective mood. Because what she says isn't, let's eat. It's: "... would it've been tangerine?" She wonders to herself, looking up, and here too she does not bother to explain the great Cake Wars which she interrupted to attack Sayaka, vengeful and thoughtless of the cake-splattered consequences.

There's a thoughtful noise, grunting from her throat, as she returns her attention to it. It's not inaccurate to say that Mikoto, here, looks like she has NO IDEA WHAT TO DO.

Did you know that Mikoto didn't even know when her birthday was until quite recently? She likes a good party, but she doesn't really get what's involved. It's not exactly a festival she's experienced in. She didn't actually go to any festivals. She was too busy.

She looks at Eri. She looks at Mami. She looks at Nori. She looks at...

There's Kyouko, raising her voice in song.

So that's the next step, Mikoto thinks, as she settles in to listen.

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

Kassie disentangles from Mikoto and Utena, eyes still wet and heart pounding from the pure release of all that pent up angst, guilt, and negative feelings. On her feet again thanks to her rival and friend, heart clutching the prize of friendship as gently as she holds Norin's gifted seashells, she offers Utena one final laugh as she walks away with an encouraging wave. Norin is in good hands in Kassie's estimation.

"Thank you Sayaka-chan. ...I really owe you one." Her gaze flits to the sky for a brief moment.

And then a swift nod to Utena, Kasagami using the opportunity to hone in on Homura Akemi like a laser, waiting just until Haruka slides away from the dark-haired Puella. With a grin, a confident walk, and a soda snagged from the bounty of deliciousness brought by all and sundry, Kasagami lashes out with a deadly move!

That of an attempted arm-around-shoulders companionable grab towards her fellow Shepherd. Homura's always been aloof and calm. In her estimation, always away from people. It makes the Duelist wonder why.

"Homura-chan! You have NO idea how proud I am you made it." Comes the Duelist with a good burst of energy and enthusiasm. She raises a brow, and lightly pushes.

"...Even if it's a little awkward, huh? I mean, this kind of celebration is for making sure things that need to be said get said. Otherwise they just sit there, fester, and get worse. People who aren't very much into other people don't get that opportunity much." Her grin becomes a warm smile, and then she stares Homura right in the eyes. A hand goes through her hair.

"What's your plan from here? We're all officially friends. So don't hesitate to lean on us, if you need it. If, that is, you'd be up to the challenge!" Mischief sparkles in her eyes, and perhaps a bit of concern.

Her gaze does shift though. And Mami reveals the cake! Kasagami whistles as she looks it over. But it's when Mami and Eri and Norin begin to speak about their dreams that they started in on, before it all got away. Already well primed, Kasagami clears her own voice. "I joined the Shepherds, at first for my own benefit. But I stayed a Shepherd because I came to love the people I met there. And now I want to give all of you that same kind of friendship, without any of that bad blood. We can't let this chance go to waste." A nod.

And when Kyouko begins to raise her voice, the Duelist's surprise is clear on her face, only for seconds later to start to hum the tune as in-tune as she can manage. She looks, and sounds, happy in that moment, her heart light, and her soul unburdened of just a few of her secrets.

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

Endo listens, and nods his head along with Nori's response.

"I was really proud to be a Chevalier," He notes quietly. "I won't forget that. But now...I want to be part of this." This, after all, is something new. Not just one side, but both. A reformation.

When Mami reveals the cake he scoots over to examine it, mouth parting in a 'aaa' of understanding when it's explained that this is Sayaka's favorite. He trusts that it is, and it'll be all the more delicious for it.

There's a pause when Kyoko begins to sing, his eyes searching out the voice and stopping in surprise when gaze lands on where it comes from. He doesn't know her very well, so perhaps he's not as surprised as some-but it's still not something he expected. Yet it does the moment justice, and Endo soon follows after Kasagami's example.

Endo is not brave enough to sing, but he adds to the background hum as best he can.

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

Utena tucks her free hand in her jacket pocket so no one can see it shake, when Sayaka's cake -- Mami's cake, with all that skill and precision and care and affection and, and love -- is unveiled. It has a great color too, though she isn't sure why... tangerines are like oranges, right? Maybe they look like peaches?

Nori, of course, can feel her tremble anyway. She remains respectfully silent -- and her grip supportively firm, which makes it shake HARDER, alas -- as Eri and Nori, followed by some of the others, former companions and opponents alike, both speak of the past, and a little of the future. She tries to meet each of their gazes in turn, though there's a waterwall in the way. She'd stopped bawling outright somewhat recently, so her eyes glisten only, through that part. They were a little distant even, perhaps more with memory than deep thought; she does not share.

But Kyouko shatters that composure instantly and irrevocably. Utena surrenders to her fate willingly, and is granted happiness. She joins in by the second line; the tears will pour silently down her cheeks, but she herself cannot remain so. Besides, Mikoto is obviously looking for a role model for being a TOTALLY NORMAL GIRL and this is a duty Utena takes very seriously.

She has the same voice training that every Japanese student gets, which is to say, not nothing, but not enough. She knows how to sing exactly three songs by heart. Fortunately, this is one of them, and the one she's sung the most times, at that.

With greater skill than she would have had for the national anthem or the school song, Utena carries out the ritual as prescribed -- perhaps the first ritual anyone learns. She's more or less in tune, but for the unintentional and involuntary hoarseness and glottal stops.

"--happy birth-day-deeya-Say-a-ka~"

Rituals have power. It's like a magic spell.

When you cast it, someone's a year older.

Utena sniffs.

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

It's a long speech for Haruka Tenoh, but one which does not go awry with a Puella Magi who allied herself with the Outer Senshi. "Becoming enemies is a process," she agrees. "Practice tends to make perfect. And no, not even all of us are cut out for it," with enough subtle emphasis on 'us' to indicate their side of the conflict -- glancing at an approaching pair. She slides the blue velvet bag into a pocket. "Which may cut both ways," she adds without further explanation.

But she's taking in that cake, that grand Tomoe confection made with a thoughtfulness so keen it is eloquent. It sounds delicious, and Homura Akemi knows a thing or two about the baking skills of the Golden Queen. And it is so beautifully, perfectly pink.

Homura feels the stab of a strange emotional mixture, somewhere between old jealousy and fresh nostalgia. Of course Sayaka Miki would appreciate it. Whatever differences they had...

It's Haruka's clarification in her ears when she looks to Mikoto and Kasagami. And it stays with her past then, too. Echoes come to Homura in the dark moments; from her dark ally, this one seems bright. It almost distracts her, but...

She's reaching, and stepping, with all the practiced smoothness of a skater performing routine upon ice, and upon the execution of a quick pirouette she has placed herself out of that powerful descending arc of an arm, and placed one (1) crisp-edged, beefy melonburger dripping with sweetness and with cheese into the path of Kasagami's hand. Let the plate be the bridge between them, like a handshake-by-proxy. "I'm told they're very good," she deadpans.

"We do what we can," she says to Mikoto's words and Kassie's both, cool as ever. But... she sticks around, too, as Eri speaks of Shepherds and Nori speaks of Chevaliers, her dark shoes planted in the sand beside them. Maybe it's a little awkward, but she's still here.

She even sticks around for the singing.

It surprises her, even after all this time, and that is a rare thing. Homura Akemi has never heard Kyouko Sakura's singing voice. It shows in how she looks the spearmaiden's way.

It might surprise some (most?) of those assembled, in turn, to learn that Homura has sung Happy Birthday before for the girl who was most famously her enemy. She has even meant it. She has also prevented them, in timelines past, though she failed to do so in current memories.

She waits for other voices to join. She thinks, this is not for me. It is as she said to Tenoh; some are here for others. And when she whispers the last verse, she tells herself it is for only the same sake -- a different sort of prayer, but a prayer nonetheless. She's always been good at lying to herself, and to be fair, it is a very good lie to convince Homura Akemi with.

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

Haruka has rejoined the group by the time the cake is unveiled. Her mission WAS to get something akin to dinner, but never has a plan failed so gloriously. Dessert first? Dessert first.

As she feasts her eyes in preparation of feasting her belly, Haruka's eyes are full of stars. She has an eye for fine dining--no, it would be better to say she is jaded by it, and most of it is just 'food' to her now. But this is a cake made with so much love and talent. Its very glisten is enchanting. And the best part is, it was obviously made to taste good, not just to look good... Haruka will eat fondant if she has to but Michiru would rather chew cardboard.

Haruka has that gentle smile one gets on their face when watching someone talk about a beloved picture in a photo album. Seeing Mami Tomoe remember is enough, without having known about what she's remembering. Like Haruka and Michiru, Mami is one of the veterans, an older magical girl--the oldest Puella Magi Haruka is aware of. And like Mami, Haruka has had to lose people over the years--the lifetimes. But god help Mami for having to lose her partner and live on anyway. Haruka never had to do that.

Eri, that flawed, ambitious survivor... her tribute is beautiful as well. And Haruka does not disagree with her message. If there remains conflict in Tokyo, it does not touch this place.

And then Nori, once the only living leader of the Chevaliers, shows her gratitude not only to the one that left her, but the one that returned to her as well.

It seems as though cake may be about to begin, when suddenly a voice rises up. Haruka smiles a little--she thinks perhaps it is Lera or Utena who sings. Her jaw drops a little when she sees, instead, the savage, proud, adorable Kyouko Sakura. One of the few people Haruka considers a close friend.

She closes her eyes. It's an acceptance, of sorts, amidst the rueful surprise. And, well, she and Kyouko had a contract back then. Whether it holds in this world of second chances, who can say? But she can honor it one more time.

She can get Kyouko's back.

And though she is not the singer Michiru is, her English pronunciation is quite lovely as she, too, sings Sayaka Miki a very happy birthday.

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

There are reasons that Mami is holding on, and not simply crying over that grief Eri sees. The strongest of them stand all around this part of the beach with her; together with the others, she can cry but keep moving frward, too. Stay here, in the moment, instead of falling into another.

There's one who won't make it here tonight, Mami knows from a message. She has her peace made with that. But the others...

The others represent something else Mami must do, too. "A place..." As Mikoto says. "I'm lucky, to know all of you," Mami says softly at the talk of Chevaliers and Shepherds both. She feels what each means to each person who mentions it; she smiles at Endo's pride. At Nori's dream. At so much.

But she hears, softy at first, Kyouko's voice--which Mami hasn't heard in song in so long; other voices, joining. Even just humming gets a look from Mami for Endo, and she can't help but look over each person in turn with eyes overflowing. "H-Happy... birthday dear Sayaka..." Mami's voice, where it doesn't break from emotion, is unrefinedly lovely, having little of the same training as some, little chance to practice regardless... But a couple of notes, here and there, land delicately.

A year older... Mami feels it, and that makes the loss fresher, too. She needs a few moments, when the singing stops, quiet noises as she composes herself again. She brings up a handkerchief to carefully dab at her eyes without ruining makeup, setting it back in her things as she stands up straighter. "...How wonderul," she murmurs, and her eyes linger on Homura Akemi for a little while--her, of all people, joining in...

"A-ah... Excuse me," Mami starts.

She walks to the cake and sets a single candle into its surface, lighting it carefully and silently.

"...I want to make a wish," Mami explains softly, after all the music has quieted. "Because she isn't here to." Mami takes a deep breath, steadying with all that she has to feel at the moment. Wishes have long been fraught for Mami Tomoe, who has advised others about incautious hopes, misplaced desires, many times. She treats the word itself with a special grace and care, to befit that power that it has.

"...That never again will Chevalier and Shepherd go to war. Never again will we draw these lines and fight one another like we did." Mami looks out over the others. "...I don't think anything can break those bonds, those friendships forged in all this... And I don't want to break them." She looks to Kasagami, and smiles more freely this time. "Like you say, what we can do together. I hope that... we can set these sides down, when it comes to fighting and violence--dissolve both as entities of magic and fighting. Let's have the future of Chevalier and Shepherd alike be peace. Instead of symbols of violence, we'll take them forward as symbols of the peace we've won. And let that peace, and these friendships new and old, endure and blossom in this shared world of ours."

She moves to the table and pulls a small pin from her things, looking to it again before she sets it down, with the others, closing her eyes.

"...It's what I'd like. I hope you can join me." Mami blows out the single candle, and takes it before wax drips into the cake itself, setting it down gently.

She picks up a carefully packed cake knife, taking it back over to the cake, where she begins to cut slices, prepare plates for each. "There's enough for everyone," Mami says. "Please, let me give you some cake."

She will serve plates to everyone, given her choice.

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

Lera looks about, listening to them share the reasons they joined the Chevaliers or the Shepherds. She opens her mouth -- then she closes it again. Why did she join the Chevaliers? Some of it resonated with her beliefs, but that wasn't all of it. Some of it was that her friends fought; she could bring herself to not stand shoulder to shoulder with Endo or Fate.

But, in the end, it was Mami's death that pushed her over the edge. She looks down, her expression distant for a moment, then she bobs her head.

She joins in after Endo and Utena, stumbling a little over the words. At the end of it, she sighs.

She listens to Mami's wish -- hesitates a moment -- and then she smiles. She nods, without any reservation or fear. Then she steps forward, hand out.

"I'd be glad to, y'know?"

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H74mr2KHTX8

Nori's gaze turns to Kyouko as she speaks more. Kyouko, of course, was always something of a mystery to Nori, though she was known to her. What paths has she walked? What tears has she shed? Nori does not know - and sometimes the scope of that thought, the thought that there are so many millions in Tokyo, in Japan, in East Asia, on Earth, in all the cosmos, who weep and go unseen, is horrifying.

But sometimes...

Sometimes it's a nice thought. Not because of the tears. But to know there are just so many hearts out there in the big city...

They're singing a song.

It's a simple song, to someone who was important to all of them.

AND THIS IS THE MOMENT WHEN BATISTE MAKES HIS BIG APPEARANCE. Washing in on a wave, he tumbles and runs up the beach, having been summoned by the song. He raises his voice, thin as it is, to join in on the singing, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MIKI SAYA-KA," and hitting a perfect down-note at the end as he vaults up onto a bench and then the bench's back to get on the eyeline of all the hewmons.

Nori joins in. This time, she belts it out: "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TU YU," she says, the words slightly clumsy but heartfelt. Afterwards she sobs again, into the back of her wrist, and she squeezes Utena's hand once more before letting her grasp slacken. Not pulling away, but not holding either. They can separate if Utena wishes.

"They don't tell you how hard crying can be, do they?" she murmurs to Utena. "You would think I would remember, given everything. I think I will have to have a second watermelon sandwich."

"After the cake," Nori adds.

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

Eri's eyes are upon Nori as she speaks for the Chevaliers. There's a flicker of lashes, as Nori makes it clear that Sayaka cannot eat this cake, a slight lowering of her gaze. Though there's a slow nod of approval. "A great gift indeed. Well said Nori-chan..." She speaks in a sotto voce. Her eyes float upon Mikoto as she says it was a place for herself.

"And we need you... Mikoto."

She reassures.

Kasagami speaks of why she joined, and why she stayed. And what she wants now.

"We won't waste it."

She promises.

However, her biggest surprise is when Kyouko lifts her voice up in song. Her eyes glide over to her, and her expression looks faintly surprised. It's a rare thing to see her senpai this sentimental for so long in these public moments.

Eri feels like she is the last person that should sing Happy Birthday to Sayaka. Part of her wonders if Sayaka Miki would even want her to. Eri just recently celebrated the birthday that she did such terrible things to try to reach. Sayaka does not get the same courtesy, as she acknowledge in her own private moment. So at first her lips start moving, as if they were going to utter soundlessly. But...

... she won't let Kyouko sing alone. Not in a moment like this. And with the pain so clear in Mami's voice as well, her mind is made up.

"... birthday, to you..."

She's somewhat more halting. Her singing voice does not carry so clearly, but she tries all the same. She tries for the sake of everyone's grief, despite how much her shame tries to hold her back.

When the song is over, her hand slips away from Mami's as she moves to the cake, carrying out her duty - her vigil for her dearly departed kouhai. Eri's fingertips fold together as she makes her wish, her eyes misting up. And Mami has finished, and asks them to join them, "If this moment is enough to make you make a wish... then I'll join you."

A wish is an invocation of a miracle. And so Eri steps up to join her in that. As she takes the offered slice of cake. Eri picks up a tiny fork, and picks up a bite. Bringing it up near her mouth.

"I guess with this bite - we begin the dissolution of the Shepherds."

Sticking it into her mouth, the flavors give her pause, as she momentarily puts a hand to her mouth - briefly overwhelmed by the flavors that come from sampling the fruit of Mami's baking labors.

Then lowering her hand, she smiles, her eyes still misting up enough to reflect the rays of the sun, as she slips over to stand beside Kyouko and Homura and the other Shepherds after they get their own cake. "This moment." Taking a moment to comport herself, then whispers what she feels, "It almost feels too bright - ne?"

One might wonder if she's scared by the sound of it. Worried. Eri has long been someone who expects the worst case scenario to come true, many of the members of the Shepherds have long lived their life pragmatically and pessimistically. And yet, after a moment, her smile seems just as bright as the tears in her eyes, "I could get used to it."

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

Mikoto's breath hitches in her throat as Eri offers that reassurance. It's not so dissimilar to so much misery, but again the context matters so much; this is a happy noise, smile spreading over her thoughtful features again. She nods, firmly, with an affirmative noise, because they're important but she's important, too.

That's a smile she spreads to Kasagami's desires, to Endo's pride. She does not differentiate.

And Kyouko sings. Rising, rising, falling, falling. Up, down, up, down. This is how Mikoto comprehends the tune of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, not only carried on Kyouko's lips but hummed on Kasagami's and Endo's, deep in Utena's throat and light in Homura's. They're all joining in, even Eri, and by the last line...

"... happy birthday to Sayaka!" Well, just as Homura said: they do what they can. No one can say Mikoto's heart isn't in the right place.

Even though she didn't know, it's okay for her to be here, too.

They're doing something nice for Sayaka, and Mikoto can help, too.

And the song finishes, and a wish begins. Mikoto watches intently - not for nothing has she listened to the lack of that word over long months - as Mami and Eri come together to wish for peace, for resolution. Mikoto listens to those hopes, that wish, and there is something vast in her gold eyes. "... I hope so too," she says, but quietly. "I'm trying very hard."

Homura may draw a line between who is cut out for it and place her on the other side; but the truth is Mikoto chose to step over there, all on her own. Practice makes perfect, and it is not only true of making enemies - it is true of peacetime, too. There is real effort in softness, in what is kind and gentle and trusting and charitable.

And there is real risk - but equally real are the rewards. Rewards like friends, and comprehension, and cake.

Mostly: cake.

They will dissolve the Shepherds and Mikoto understands the message, the violence which defined them, and practice is something active and current and present and here. She steps up to Endo, and she says, with renewed cheer:

"Yup! Let's be part of this!"

... echoing him taught her some very valuable lessons, after all.

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

Instead of shoulders, there's a delicious burger! One confirmed by Homura Akemi. Kasagami nods sagely. "I defer, then, to your melonic expertise, Homura-chan. Oh I have no doubt you will. ...One of these days though you'll need to open up in order to do it!" Insists the Duelist.

CHOMP! "Mmf. You were right." CRONCH goes the tooth-cutting of food.

Murmuring the 'happy birthday' at the end, Kassie's eyes are drawn to Mami as a wish is made. "A wish for peace, mmm?" Ponders the young woman. A smile breaks out. No more war. No more pointless fighting that can't be enjoyed. Instead, friendship and togetherness. She sighs lightly, warmly.

"Part of me is going to miss it. But let's go forward to something better!" A slow nod to Eri, then Mami, then Nori. Stepping up, burger finished, she finds herself a plate and heads right over to Mami.

With a fork in hand, she gives a flamboyant half-bow, and offers up the plate before the Golden Queen. "This humble King demands tribute! ...In the form of two slices of cake." Kasagami Araki today is being a greedy King. One greedy enough to wish for peace.

Also cake. Because cake, like friends, is a good thing to desire. Her eyes shine, as she takes in the feeling of the day, this precious birthday, with the remnants of tears on her as well as a swell of pride for all involved.

How could they all be so lucky? Kassie clutches that hope for better days tightly to her chest.

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

The song is sung. Some join in, either with words or with tones, and some offer witness, partaking of the ritual all the same. More than a few surprised glances are cast her way, which gives Kyouko a measure of pleasure that she won't quite allow to distract her just yet..but Haruka and, even more particularly, Homura's surprise give her the most satisfaction. She may run out of surprises some day, but not yet.

Mami makes a wish on Sayaka's behalf..and shares it with the rest of them. Kyouko had wondered, over the course of the party, whether Sayaka would truly approve. She had been so steadfast in pursuing her understanding of right and wrong, so unswerving in the justice of her cause..it's impossible to ask her now, barring a miracle yet to come. But if anybody could speak for her here, could take on her wish and give it justice, it was Mami. And for it to be a wish for peace, of swords into plowshares and all the rest..of renewed friendship and companionship commemorating this miraculous world they now lived in..it was a better endorsement of Sayaka's approval than Kyouko could ever have hoped for. She murmurs her lips, joining in the wish in some unheard way, and when Mami offers cake she smiles with shining eyes and hope on her teeth.

Taking a bite, she closes her eyes, and lets it all wash over her. The tender fluff of the cake, the mouthwatering bursts of the fruit and the cream. All of it is perfect, as perfect as could be..the flavors of a master baker, of an old friend found again, of companions joined back in companionship, of a better world that should not be, yet nonetheless is..of peace, and life, and the ever flowing ever winding river that carries her forward, forward.

This isn't the end, far from it. There will be more tears of more causes, more joys and smiles too. Miracles are not resolutions, but dreams of hope. Each miraculous occurrence implies the hope for another, and another, a cascading succession of miraculous happenstance that is ever around the corner, over the horizon, behind the next door or alongside the next sunrise. This isn't the last miracle, not by a long shot.

Sitting down with her cake, she looks around at everybody, smiling and laughing and crying all on her own along with them. Taking another bite, she falls back onto the ground, staring up at the sky and its birds and its clouds as she chews, and swallows.

"What a year it's been.."

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

When Mami Tomoe uses the w-word she receives Homura Akemi's full and unblinking attention.

Those large dark eyes stay on her throughout the speech, but if they are wells into which words drop, they betray no ripples after -- so perhaps they osmose more like shadows than water. The grey girl is as still and as quiet as is ever her wont, with streaming black and red strands in the beach breeze her only movement.

At least, until she steps up for her slice of the cake. It was honestly a little hard to watch it get cut into slices in the first place, but since it is...

She's looking at the soft pink icing now, instead of the girl across from her who made it. Homura stays there for long seconds, neither moving away nor saying anything -- because they are two distinct courses of action before her. It's a different sort of stillness from before. Indecision is not usual for Homura Akemi; indeed, Mami Tomoe has been on the other side of her decisiveness enough to know this well.

"Yes. Sayaka Miki would have appreciated it."

So much else has come since that it could easily mean plenty of other things than the non-blue hue of the cake. But it mirrors Mami's wording so specifically. It is neither apology nor thank you, exactly, but it is something -- even something a touch mysterious.

When Homura retreats with her slice, she does not eat it. She does end up eventually eating that hot dog -- she is next to Kyouko Sakura, after all; but the pretty pink cake, that she cannot bring herself to eat. The repeated patterns in her long and looping life are like lace, in their ways. Intricate, yet simple. It takes up residence atop her fridge, when she gets home.

"It does," is her reply to Eri about the whole gathering feeling too bright.

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

"Yeah," Utena agrees with Nori, as to both the crying, and the sandwich. Both are kind of her speed right now. She releases her hand in order to brush a couple tears off of Red Future's cheek. Her half-smile suggests she's aware of the irony, but in a very warm way.

Afterwards, Utena's empty hand clenches around a sword that no longer is.

It was broken long ago, shattered by the Sword of Dios well before it literally disappeared into motes of blue light, but she'd kept its remnants until then; a precious gift from her precious friends, made by one of them and presented by the other.

She'd like to plunge it into the sand and leave it there forever. She'd like to cut the cake with it and lick frosting off the blade -- she doesn't think Sayaka would begrudge her that heresy.

She can't.

But she can hold a fork instead.

Mami's wish sure didn't make her cry LESS than Kyouko's song did. It feels like Sayaka's wish too, in more than just symbology. Because it is -- that was the memory Utena was having, back when they talked about what all of it meant. Sayaka telling her about the group she's making. Sayaka explaining its founding ideal... to ensure that no magical girl was so alone and so desperate as to have to make terrible, irrevocable choices.

Looking around the group, now, she knows that that wish has come true.

"S'good," she mumbles, through a jumbo-sized bite of tangerine cake. And through tears. She means the cake. She means the wish. She means Lera and Eri and Mikoto and Kasagami and Homura's words; Kyouko and Haruka's singularly unexpected verse.

She means herself.

She takes another bite.

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

Haruka lets her voice die out, discreetly, just a little early on that last note, just to get to hear the others unhindered as the harmony fades. She cranes her neck a little, as it fades, to make eye contact with Michiru, content.

There could be no more significant moment for Mami to speak than right now, tonight. Before the cutting of the cake, after the song. Things... hang, for now, on her. And perhaps she feels it, or perhaps she felt something even more important.

Haruka hears what Mami doesn't say, sad but true. This party does not encompass the world, nor should it, nor can it. And there is such violence left in that world.

But she hears what Mami does say, too. Every word of it. And though she thinks about it, though the cooler night beckons outside the light of the fire, Haruka does not refrain from getting her cake. She gets in line just like everybody else.

When she gets to the front of the line, she accepts her piece, and her moment with Mami Tomoe. "You do things justice when you say them," Haruka Tenoh uses it to say. And she smiles.

"Guess that's what you two are about."

When she returns to the others, she finally regains Michiru's side. She's beaten her to the cake, it seems.

"Is it good?" Michiru asks.

Haruka spears up a bit of the tangerine cake for Michiru, and offers it to her partner's lips.

"Too good," she says fondly.

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

Eri gives Homura a quizzical look as if wondering if she could get used to it, but she doesn't press. "Time feels like it might be on our side... for a change." She instead says to Kyouko, as she settles down beside her.

Once the cake slice she's eating is reduced to frosting. It's set aside. Putting up a finger by her lips, she looks towards Kyouko. And perhaps that is an indication that this girl's moment has come. Reaching towards a bundle on the table of gifts. She steps up to Mami, and speaks discretely. She doesn't mean to prompt everyone to do this.

It's simply her gift requires explanation.

"My gift to Sayaka. It's one I think you're most suited to accepting."

She hands it to her.

Undo that ribbon, and open it up. And inside is a bony seashell that's vaguely reminiscent of a comb, with its spines. A half of a sand 'dollar' which Kyouko quipped came out to fifty yen. And a broken piece of jewelry, a silvery tadpole like shape.

"That night in Okinawa, after everyone went to bed. Sayaka called for a treasure hunt to find the coolest thing on the beach. Kyouko and me joined in." A finger traces around the smooth part of the broken jewelry, "I cut my foot on this."

What is she leading up to? Something simple perhaps. "She wondered after we finished if we might be friends." Quietly she adds, "I think, on that night... we were."

Her eyes close for a moment, her shoulders lifting as she heaves in a breath... and says mutely, "Happy Birthday Sayaka."

Eri looks somewhat distant afterwards, as if vaguely abstracted. "Ah... I need to go on a walk... I think."

Though even as she excuses herself, she plays it off with a sense of youthful ebullience, "Who knows...? Maybe if I start looking... I'll find something else cool on the beach tonight."

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

Mami Tomoe is still there, as each person comes to collect the cake she offers. The cake for Sayaka's birthday, and for peace. She is there when Lera steps forward first, and smiles back to her. Mami hands her a plate with cake lovingly placed in its center.

She gives a soft laugh, in remembrance of Nori really belting it out, even if she's still crying, too. The watermelon sandwich she intends might go well with the aftertaste of cake.

Eri takes her own--joining in the wish. Mami hands her one, too. Almost too bright...

Mikoto, trying very hard, finally has her cake with renewed cheer too. Kasagami, with eyes shining... Who makes Mami laugh again, and give her one to start, but it might be a little bigger. ...And even Kyouko, with a new dream of hope. And...

'Yes. Sayaka Miki would have appreciated it.' Somehow, Mami knows when Homura says it that these words are no mere hope but something true, something known, and she wonders at it a little. ...The cake will still be pretty, hours later.

Mami smiles, as her efforts to Utena get part of that 'goodness' she mentions, and she thinks of that dream, too--because Haruka, a moment later, reminds her of it. Mami watches Haruka a moment, a small smile spreading on her face again as well. That's her answer, and it seems Haruka's moment satisfies her.

There will be some more yet. ...Maybe more cake for Michiru, too.

...Everyone in turn who wants cake comes up, quiet and loud, with words to offer and with none. There's cake for all of them, and more, those who are present but not called out. And...

Another gift. Mami blinks in surprise to Eri for a moment as she sees her coming with something clearly on her mind--but indeed she looks at the bundle Eri has. She looks into the ribbon and tilts her head thoughtfully at first, regarding each one... Until Eri explains. Mami looks at the objects in her hands, and listens. "Oh--"

Mami closes her hands gently around the gifts and closes her arms less gently around Eri, holding her in place for a little while with a sudden hug from which she can't hold back her tears. She holds her friend tightly for a little while longer. "M-Maybe you will," Mami allows, her one concession to words for a little more time.


ST: Beautiful Wish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waE5nXgr7T4

The sun is setting beautifully; the stars beginning to peek out, the pinks of the cake are echoed by the sky as night comes on. The scent of cake and the ocean mingle, the resultant contrast a salty-sweet memory in and of itself. The warm sand; the refreshing breeze. Soon, the group will light the bonfire and have continued heat and warmth through the rest of the night.

The sky above has a few clouds, to be sure, some wisps that contribute with the nearby lights of the city to hide some of those stars, but they remain. With the scent and heat of the fire and the calm sound of the waves... It's shaping up to be a wonderfully beautiful night.