Bantamweights: A One-Shot

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Leaty
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Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Leaty » Mon Aug 03, 2015 12:15 pm

Congratulations to Dewelar on sixty chapters of Developments! Image

Right. So! As the thread title indicates, this is, indeed, a one-shot! As such, you can read it and enjoy it completely on its own, and not have to worry about anything else. This is not a story with a steep learning curve.

However! For those readers in a position to care, this story is also intended as a companion piece to Chapter 60 of Developments! The writing is fully my own, but this story was written and developed with a lot of input from Dewelar for consumption alongside his update. There are no Developments spoilers in this story, but trust me, it's an appetizer to that chapter (or a dessert, depending on whether you read it before or after.) This is a general KS fic, but it also provides some insight into the other story (and there are no spoilers, I promise). You should probably read this before that chapter, but I won't tell you how to live your life.

Also! This should really surprise no one, but this story is "parallel continuity" to Mean Time to Breakdown. Meaning, this story takes place in the original Katawa Shoujo timeline, but all the story elements are otherwise identical to their configuration in the MTtB timeline. I know this all sounds very complicated, but if you care about such things, you'll see as you read!

Lastly, I would like to thank forgetmenot for betaing this. Enjoy!


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Bantamweights

On the subway train home, the woman beside me was molested. I turned to look out the window and saw the middle-aged, jowly salaryman behind us discreetly cupping one of her breasts with an almost comically stoic expression. The woman looked like she was about to throw up. Maybe she did after I got off the train.

I felt like I should have done something—maybe I would have done something, if—I don’t know. I should have helped, somehow. Or tried to help.

Then again, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Intentions noble as they might be, I haven't exactly been excelling with the follow-through as of late.

I feel like I might vomit.

One of the overhead fluorescent lights flickers as I tread past, strobing me in a sickly honeydew tone. Toward the exit of Harajuku station, I notice a homeless person sleeping against a pillar, his skin ruddy, his scent sour, and his expression sullen. Were it not still so early in the day, I might suspect him of simply being drunk, but this man has clearly fallen on hard times. I guess I have, too, in a manner of speaking.

As I briskly pass by, I place my other apple atop his belongings. No one pays it any mind. I don’t expect him to appreciate it, though it isn’t like I even care if he’s going to eat it or not. I just couldn’t stand having it, couldn’t bear to look at it. I almost threw it onto the subway tracks. It was a poison apple, in spirit if not in reality.

I don’t even know what I was thinking, bringing them. It’s not as though they don’t serve fruit in hospitals. How was an apple going to fix anything?

It’s rush hour. The escalator out onto the street is almost as crowded as the train was. Along the brick wall I’m ascending past, there’s some vivid, inscrutable advertisement for a new online video game, but it quickly flickers away, its harsh tones going cold and pale as it morphs into some message about life insurance.

I’m sandwiched on my step between an elderly woman and a hooded man in his twenties with earbuds in. I may feel like the stench of overwhelming failure wafts off me like black smoke from a papal conclave, but I’m the only one who seems to notice. It seems wrong, somehow, that the despair I’m feeling isn’t even ostentatious enough to be spectacle. It’s an oily sadness, clinging to every step I take and leaving a trail like a slug.

I feel like I’m stuck in another dimension. Maybe I am.

Golden sunlight and a warm, earthy breeze caress me as I step out onto the sidewalk. The lines of commuters noisily disperse in every direction, like a flicker of confetti. The earbud guy shoves me aside, rushing down the street to make it across before the pedestrian light changes. I probably should have crossed too, but I’ll do it up the next block. It doesn't matter one way or the other.

It’s been cold so far this year, but today the sidewalks are full of people, and the tables in front of the cafés are almost totally occupied. People are working industriously at their laptops, or socializing cheerfully with their friends. It must be the first nice day of spring… No, that’s not even right. It won’t even be spring for almost a week.

So then why does it have to be so nice today? It’s as though even the weather itself wants to make light of my failure.

As I cross another street, trailing behind an old man and a throng of children like a discarded shopping bag caught in the wind, his face crosses my mind, and my stomach once again sinks from the dread and the shame that always follows: I’m here, walking in the sunlight, my skin kissed by a warm, tranquil breeze, while he’s still caged in that room, this beautiful day rushing past him as he breathes in the endlessly recycled air that always reeks of sweat and latex.

Why couldn’t I say anything? I had six weeks and at the end I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. He deserved better than that. He deserved better than me.

While I’m quietly dwelling on the unmitigated disaster this day has been, I start to pass my old junior high school. Despite myself, I casually glance through the windows into the empty, fluorescently-lit hallways I haven’t stepped through in years. For whatever reason, there are still some children milling around, even though they would be on break today.

The school itself is the same as it ever was: tall, glassy and surrounded by trees. It’s a beautiful building—a shame the architecture is a poor façade for the memories made inside of it. I don’t really have many good ones of this place… I wish I hadn’t gone to school here.

I wish I hadn’t been the person I was, here.

I have happier memories of the elementary school, which I walk by only a few blocks up, obfuscated by the brick wall around its perimeter and the tall lines of green pines. Mai and I attended there together, until she moved away the second trimester of third grade. Things were never really the same, after that. My memories of the days that followed are much less clear, and considerably less sweet.

Mai and I stayed in touch for a while…well, I guess one could say that we never really stopped being friends, but things became sparse for a period and when we finally reunited…Mai had changed. She became so comprehensively different, in all the ways that mattered, that it almost felt like a bizarre oversight that she didn't crudely hack her long hair off just to complete the effect.

Over that long period with little contact, she'd begun attending a middle school closer to Yokohama. That’s where, as I’m given to understand, she met and befriended him, and developed a closer friendship with him than I’d ever had with anyone in those days.

He was never around for the few occasions that Mai and I caught up, but he always seemed to appear in her anecdotes. Though I was never given reason to suspect that their friendship was anything but platonic, her enthusiasm about it was such that I felt she’d stopped caring about our own. I always felt like the two of us drifting apart was bound to happen sooner or later…but when entrance exams rolled around, she caught me off guard, as she often does.

Mai began to make a big deal about the two of us potentially attending the same high school, which at first I dismissed as a silly notion. In the end, though, I couldn’t help but find the idea appealing, so we picked a few high schools between us that we agreed we’d apply to together. I was skeptical about her scores, but in the end, we were both fortunate enough to be accepted into a pretty respectable school. It turned out he had been accepted as well, and when that first day of school rolled around, we were all in the same place, for the first time ever. I’m not sure if it was happenstance or destiny.

Speaking of Mai, she’s lighting up my phone with text messages. As I wait for the light to cross another street, I pull my cell out from the pocket of my skirt. There’s a bunch of replies to my last text:

<what do u mean???>

<answer me nako>

<this is fuckin srs answer ur fuckin phone>

Vulgar as always.

<I can’t see him again,> I text back. <It’s killing me. I can’t do it anymore.>

As before, I don’t bother to wait for a response—I can’t face her right now. I can’t have her voice in my ears and admit to her that, in addition to reducing her most valued friendship to a smoldering wreck, I completely gave up on mitigating the damage. I can’t tell her how badly I failed both of them.

This was going to happen sooner or later, Iwanako, he’d said. It really wasn’t your fault.

I’d nodded wordlessly, but in my heart I knew that wasn’t anywhere close to being true. Sure, perhaps he was always going to have that stupid heart condition one way or another, but who said it had to happen like this? Maybe if I’d never dragged him out to those snowy trees, he’d have gotten the diagnosis calmly, after graduation, during a routine physical examination. Maybe they could have operated on him without his ever collapsing in the snow. Maybe then he wouldn’t have given up on life the way he seemed to. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so terrified.

I still have nightmares about that winter day. There are dark circles under my eyes from all the sleep I’ve lost these past few weeks. I’ve been wearing more makeup to conceal how weary I am lately. I know that, now that I’m resolute, the nightmares will be even worse, but it’s not as though I deserve any less. With the way he’s been suffering, it’s only fair that I feel a little bit of it myself.

It isn’t too long before I reach my house. It’s really not that far from the station, and you could spot the ugly thing from a kilometer away. It’s a brand new building atop where my childhood home and the residence next door used to be—I never did find out how my father convinced the Chibas to sell, or how he got the permits so quickly. There’s nothing quite like our new house, though, which looks like nothing so much as a handful of featureless grey geometric shapes in superposition with each other. Construction started on this place immediately after Hikaru moved out, and it’s never exactly felt like home.

The design is ultramodern—more metal and glass than anything else. It’s nice enough to live in, if in a cold way: lots of sharp angles and white walls and metal staircases. There’s plenty of open space and sunlight on the inside, but mother had it furnished so minimalistically, all darkly varnished wood and black leather, that it’s hard to imagine anyone living here, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that I live here. My room is up at the highest point of the house, the top of the central staircase, with a rooftop landing I can walk out on like in school. It’s up there because my mother loves to host gatherings at our home and it’s more convenient for me to be well out of the way of the “adults.”

As I unlock the front door, disarm the security system and trudge my way inside, I note with some relief that she isn’t home—there’s always a one-third chance that she will be at this time of day, and I’m not willing to face her. With her gone, the house is lifeless. Father won’t be home on a weekday and Hikaru is long gone, so this house is a fortress of solitude. My crypt. I’m okay with that, I guess. Lately it certainly feels like I belong in one.

Each footstep I take echoes through the silence as I climb the three dozen steps to my room. My phone is ringing with Mai’s messages again. It’s insufferable. I’ll have to face her eventually, but I don’t have the strength for it right now.

At least their friend Takumi is steering clear of me, but that's likely to change soon. Mrs. Nakai told me in confidence that they’ve begun to consider transferring their son to some kind of special school, and when word gets out about that, Takumi’s opportunism will win out over his loyalty and courtesy, and I’ll no longer be afforded even a moment’s peace from him. In light of that, even I find the notion of transferring out a little appealing, but there’s no point thinking about that now.

In what I’m sure was a bastardization of somebody’s architectural vision, the smooth walls of my own room are painted a pale shade of lavender. This makes it look completely out of place with the rest of the house, but I’d insisted, and nobody comes up here anyway. Lately, though, my room feels so distinct from the other floors that I almost feel more like a tenant than a member of a family. Since Hikaru went to Yokosuka, things here have been so empty and lifeless. That probably has something to do with why I finally confessed, I suppose.

I collapse onto the bed, throwing the delicately set covers into a state of disarray as I pull the duvet over my body. It may be warm outside, but my body is quivering.

He’s probably in bed right now, too—he was when I walked out the door, and they say he’ll be in the hospital for at least a few more months. His chest is still all bandaged up from the surgeries. I imagine it’s going to leave a pretty ugly scar when everything is said and done.

It goes without saying that this has been the worst school holiday, and it doesn't end for another week. What am I even going to do with my time, now that I’ve decided that I’m never going back? I don’t even have the energy to get up off this bed.

I haven’t eaten anything all day. I don’t know yet when I’m going to start eating again. Right now the very idea nauseates me.

This is going to be like the kitten again, isn’t it? No… This is much worse than when Momiji died. That, at least, wasn’t really my fault. I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to get through this.

My phone suddenly rings out with electronic music. Since I didn't answer her texts, Mai’s calling me. I put the phone on silent. She’ll forgive me later.

I really should have done something...It was up to me to make things better and I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t deserve to confess to him in the first place. He didn’t deserve…any of this.

She's not giving up, is she? The phone vibrates over and over and over again on the nightstand. I can’t hear the sound of myself thinking.

Frustrated, I move to turn the phone off completely, but in my violent clumsiness, my thumb grazes the wrong button, and the worst-case scenario becomes reality: I accidentally take the call.

“...Nako?”

...Crap!

Aghast, I stare silently at the phone, my lips parted with paralyzed surprise.

“Iwanako,” Mai’s colorful alto voice sternly calls out from the speaker. I consider not answering, letting her tire herself out. I want more than anything just to hang up on her, but I can’t bring myself to. I can scarcely bring myself to do anything, right now.

“For fuck’s sake, Nako!” she shouts through the phone. “I’m so not on board with this shit. I know you’re there. Fucking answer me.”

I exhale. God damn it.

“…Hi,” I mumble into the receiver.

“Ugh. What the hell is going on? You’re not going to the hospital anymore? It was killing you? What the shit does any of that mean?”

She gets like this when she’s angry, and she has every right to be, I suppose. He was Mai’s friend before I had anything to do with him, after all, and I haven’t exactly been communicative.

Do I really want to do this right now…?

…Nothing for it, I guess. “I…Today…Today was the last time I’ll ever visit him,” I stammer into the phone. “I just…I can’t…”

It’s taking no time at all for this to get to me, and I fail to suppress an audible sob. No, I see that talking to her now was a bad decision. There’s a silence on the other end.

“I, I tried, you know? I really—” I manage to stifle another sob, “I really thought I’d get through to him eventually, we could work through all this, but he’s just gone.

I’m starting to lose all my bearings now, and I reach for the box of tissue paper on my nightstand, one of several I’ve had to blaze through since this all began. I set the phone down and try to bring myself back to some measure of composure, but it’s so hard to hold everything back and then it all just quakes under the surface…

“Iwanako?”

“Y-you saw it yourself!” I impulsively sputter into the phone. “He’s given up on something. Happiness, I guess. He doesn’t even talk to me and I’m too guilty to say anything and I just can’t do this anymore Mai!”

While I’m blubbering the phone goes silent for a few moments. I wipe my face with another tissue.

“…I’m sorry, Nako,” she says, her voice contrite. ‘About everything.”

“What are you s-sorry about? I’m the o-one who should be sorry.”

“Wha...? None of this is your fault.”

“Of course it is!” I sob.

“How?!”

“Are you kidding me?” I scream shrilly into the phone. “How can you not see how all of this is on me?”

She doesn’t bother to answer.

“…I’m coming over,” she says, finally.

Oh god, no...I don’t want to be around anybody. Just leave me alone, Mai. Leave me to contemplate the mess I’ve made of things.

“N, no,” I murmur. “Don’t come over. Just leave me alone.”

“H’yeah, no. Fuck that,” she mutters, annoyed. “This isn’t right. I’m not letting you stew like this.”

“I won’t let you in.”

“Then I’ll scale the walls. Or, call the fire department or something. I’ll get in.”

“I’ll, I’ll call the police if you do that.”

“In the state of distress you’re in? Doubt it. They’ll probably want to see what’s up with you, too.”

I’ll do it! Leave me alone!”

“See you in an hour. Hang in there. Don’t do—”

“Mai, no!”

“—anything stupid,” she says, and the line goes dead.

Damn it.

DAMN it!


<Don’t come here,> I text frantically into the phone. <I mean it.>

There’s no response.

Sobbing uncontrollably now, I curl into a fetal position on the bed, hoping she’ll change her mind, or that something will come up, or something. I don’t want her to see me like this. I don’t want to look her in the eyes. Our long-strained friendship is destroyed for good now. I know it, even if she doesn’t realize it yet. She doesn’t know how hopeless it all is. She doesn’t understand how hopeless he is.

There was never anything I could say to comfort him. How could there be? I could barely even comfort myself. How was anybody stupid enough to look to me as a source of strength? I was worse than worthless.

I don’t even know how I’m going to face my classmates when school goes back in session. They’re all going to probe me for information on his condition, and I’m just going to have to explain I abandoned him because I couldn’t get through to him. How could anybody make that sound like a justifiable action? Everybody thinks it’s my duty to take care of him, and maybe it even was, but it’s just… too gargantuan a task now.

Today was the day, I told myself. Today was the day I was going to make myself have a dialogue with him. We were going to figure things out and come up with a strategy for the future.

I am so naïve.

My unwanted and entirely unhelpful tears have made a complete debacle of my makeup, so, lethargically, I drag myself off the bed and slouch into the bathroom. Mine isn’t as nice as my parents’, with its elegant slate walls and skylight windows, but it doesn’t need to be. Peeling off the coquettish outfit that I selected today entirely for someone else’s sake, I step over to the shower nook and blast myself for a while with the hottest water my skin can physically tolerate. Leaning against the wall of the shower nook, I slide slowly into a sitting position, trying to allow the warm, hard jets of water to massage me into a trancelike state. I just want to be numb right now.

I don’t know how much time has passed when I finally step out of the shower, dripping haphazardly everywhere. Dabbing myself with a violet-colored towel from the rack, I’m overwhelmed by just how silent the house is. If Mother comes home tonight, and there’s always a chance that she won’t, it’ll be late in the night, and she’ll go straight to bed, unless she brings some of her friends home and lounges around the minibar for a while.

I’m tempted to make use of the minibar myself, to be honest. I’ve done it a few times before; it’s not the sort of thing my mother disapproves of. In fact, on more than a few occasions, either inadvertently or intentionally, she’s handed me a mixed beverage with some amount of alcohol in it. It isn’t the sort of thing she does maliciously, not really; she’s just very enthusiastic about alcohol in general, I think.

For my part, obviously, I can barely imbibe any quantity without wholly losing control of my senses, so it’s not something I engage in often. Maybe I’ll do it tonight, if only to put myself to sleep. It isn’t nearly late enough in the day for that, though.

Slipping on a bathrobe and walking back into my bed room, my phone vibrates itself off the nightstand and onto the carpeting below. Another text message from Mai.

<yo i’m here let me in>

Another follows in quick succession: <c’mon nako>

…Damn it.

Heaving a heavy sigh, I put on a pair of slippers and walk back down to the ground floor of the house. It’s a longer sojourn from my room to the front door than it sounds, and if I have to do it too many times, I genuinely get winded. I’m in terrible shape right now, and obviously I’m probably a little malnourished.

Taking a deep breath, I open the front door a crack and peek out. Unsurprisingly, Mai is standing in front of the door in a pink hooded sweatshirt. She looks up from the phone she’s fiddling with and meets my gaze.

“Hey, you,” she says, half-smirking. “Gonna let me in, or what?”

“Y, yeah,” I murmur, pulling the door wide enough for her to step through. She briskly crosses the threshold and kicks off her sneakers as I close and lock the door again.

Mai’s home is so noisy—and the triplets are so obnoxious—that we’ve spent a lot of time together here, and she’s comfortable as you can be, in a house like this. Some days, like today, she acts more like a resident than a guest, and she moves briskly past me to ascend the wireframe spiral staircase that is a central feature of the house. Not knowing what to say, I follow behind quietly.

She’s halfway up the staircase when she glances back at me. “So where’s your mom?”

“I don’t know,” I answer quietly. “She was here when I left.”

Mai shakes her head in disapproval, her tangerine-orange hair whipping in all directions. “She’s so damn weird…”

She says that all the time, so I don’t bother commenting. For all she jokes about my mother when we’re alone, when they’re together they seem to get along just fine, and if I’m being truthful, her creepy stepfather is about a thousand times weirder than my mother. It’s one of the reasons I hate going to her house, though it’s something I’m willing to endure when her mother invites me over for dinner.

We step out onto the second floor of the house, and Mai turns to me. “Do you have anything to drink? You know, other than booze and water? And Lipovitan?”

“Um, there’s some Thums Up in the bar fridge, I think.”

She wrinkles her delicately-upturned nose at me. “What the hell is ‘Thums Up’?”

“I’m not sure,” I admit, running a hand through my still-wet hair.

“What do you mean, ‘you’re not sure’?”

“There was this huge case of bottles sent to our house from Mumbai. It was addressed to Hikaru, so we weren’t really sure what to make of it.”

Mai blinks at me. “Where’s Mumbai?”

“India,” I say flatly. “Everything on the bottles is written in Hindi.”

“Isn’t your brother in Yokosuka?”

“That’s where he’s supposed to be, anyway,” I sigh. I don’t feel like talking about Hikaru right now. “He never got back to us about what to do with the package, so Mother just started drinking them. I guess it’s some kind of weird soda.”

Her amber eyes roll to the ceiling and her whole face scrunches up in that all-too familiar way that tells me she’s contemplating something. But then it slackens and she meets my eyes again. “Damn, okay, you’ve piqued my curiosity. You said the bar fridge?”

“Help yourself. I’m going to get dressed.”

“Kay-kay. See you in a few minutes.”

“Right.”

As I climb the stairs back to my room, I can’t help but take note that Mai is acting remarkably unruffled considering the weight of the day’s events. Like the weather, it’s troublingly incongruous. I thought she would be a lot angrier, or at least more serious, like she sometimes gets around Shin. But she’s never become that way with me. Even now, she seems so mellow. It’s so frustrating… I’ve been falling apart all day and she’s just blithely lounging around.

Slipping into a pair of leggings and a long sweater, thoughts of Mai’s demeanor the last few weeks trickle to the forefront of my mind. Those first few days after the heart attack, when the hospital still wasn’t allowing me to visit, I was even more of a wreck than I am now. I didn’t take any time off from school, so it was a wonder I didn’t lose my mind in class. I have Mai to thank for a lot of that.

Though I think Mai and I are still close, and we have a long history, one wouldn’t suppose as much if they only ever saw us in school. We haven't been in the same class since 1998, we’re in completely different clubs, and I’ve never felt especially comfortable around the boys she spends so much time with. Conversely, Mai doesn’t get along at all with any of my other friends… their interactions always quickly devolve into catty sniping, or worse, so when she encounters them I’m usually forced to act as a mediator. But in those last few weeks of the year, particularly those first few days after his collapse, when I was barely holding things together, I needed Mai to shield me from my entire social circle.

I'm not the school idol or anything—and, god, I wouldn't want to be—but, like Mother, I have a respectable number of friends. Unlike Mother, I'm not always particularly happy with that; I certainly regretted that popularity a few years ago when it resulted in my unwittingly being voted Class Representative. But the familiarity I enjoyed with so many students had never felt so malignant as it became after the heart attack.

At school, I found myself the subject of almost overwhelming amount of attention—it was like living in a tunnel of gossip and whispers. At times, it felt like whole crowds of students were waiting in the wings to probe me for gossip, tact be damned—the life of a loner never seemed so appealing. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have Mai there, running interference and keeping my friends and classmates away from me. Her vigilant behavior was all the more meaningful because I know that she was as worried about him as I was, but she was able to compartmentalize and take care of me, first.

Particularly since the hospitalization, I’ve been reminded of how reliant I am on my friendship with her, even before February, when we could barely spend any time together. So now, with everything that’s happened, it hurts to be around her, for her to be lounging around my house like nothing’s the matter. Because, soon, I’m going to have to move forward without her, living with a sense of hollowness that might not ever go away.

Back on the main floor, Mai’s leaning back on the couch in a cross-legged position, the tattered cuffs of her jeans slipping beyond the heels of her feet. When we were little, she was even more fastidious than I was, but for the past few years she’s been downright slovenly. It’s all the more vexing that she somehow manages to remain beautiful in spite of this. She’s teased me so often for my habit of wearing makeup wherever I go—and at times it hurts a little, because in her case she truly doesn’t need it.

As I come down the stairs, she glances back at me, the uncoated end of a cookie stick jutting from her mouth. As I walk over to the couch, she pushes the rest of it in like a log in a wood chipper and pats the cushion beside her, gesturing for me to sit down. Reluctantly, I do so, curling up across from her.

Her vaguely ursine eyes seek out my own. “Mayo Jaga with eel, right?”

“I…huh?”

She smiles. “I ordered pizza while you were upstairs. Your usual and my usual.”

Mai’s ‘usual’ is a cholesterol-laden fever dream of purukogi, chicken, bacon, cloves of garlic, tuna, and avocado, with extra mayonnaise. I tried a piece once and wished shortly thereafter that I was Catholic so that there would be someone to whom I could anonymously confess.

“I’m not hungry,” I reply flatly.

She rolls her eyes and takes a swig of that weird cola. “When’s the last time you ate?”

“This morning.”

With pointy locks of orange swishing bouncily into her eyes, she gives me a look as though trying to decide whether to kill a spider or put it back outside. “I said ate,” she mutters, “not drank.”

She knows me too damn well.

“I’m not hungry,” I reiterate.

“Nah,” she says cavalierly, “you look like a stiff breeze.”

I pause, waiting for her to finish the idiom. After a few seconds, she smiles with one corner of her mouth.

“No, not ‘could knock you over.’ I mean you literally look like a stiff breeze. Like the human manifestation of a whoosh of air. You need to eat something.”

“Look, I don’t want—“

“I will fight you.” Her eyes smolder with a kind of interior candlelight as they pierce my own.

I crumple slightly against her words. It’s not actually a threat when she says that, at least to me—but it’s not exactly a bluff, either, not if you’ve seen all the judo trophies in her bedroom. Mai is almost never as aggressive as one would initially expect her to be, but she can be… intense. When she walks through the crowds at school, it reminds me of this thing Shin mentioned to me about spider webs; everybody thinks they catch fire if you put a flame to them, but the truth is weirder: they flicker and shrivel. That’s why my friends hate her, I guess. They’re some of the best web-spinners I’ve ever seen.

I’m usually not subjected to this treatment, but when she does inflict it on me, it’s either because she’s very disappointed or very worried. I always wind up capitulating, too, because I have all the inner strength of a handful of aphids.

“Fine, fine,” I sigh. “I’ll have a few pieces.”

Three. Promise me you’ll have at least three pieces. It’s on me, anyway.”

I can’t even eat three pieces when I’m hungry. Mai eats like an elephant, though, and tends to forget that most people have no need to be anywhere near as gluttonous.

“The best I can do is two,” I say admonishingly, tiredly brushing a stray lock of hair out of my eyes.

“Fine, if you eat the crusts—“

For god’s sake, Mai!”

“Okay, okay. Just fucking eat, alright? It’s a wonder you haven’t passed out.”

“I never pass out,” I mumble, completely exasperated.

“What about that one time you were on the rag and we were running laps in P.E.—”

“That was for like fifteen seconds and stop bringing it up!”

She quietly rolls her eyes, taking another sip of cola. Having apparently come to terms on the issue of my nutrition, our discussion reaches an awkward lull, and, not having much to say myself, I lean against the couch and gaze blankly into the swirls of dark grain in the hardwood floor—more or less what I would have been doing anyway, had Mai not shown up. A couple minutes pass by this way, in near-complete silence; Mai fiddles on her phone a bit but otherwise sits quietly. It’s as I’ve almost forgotten she’s there when her voice finally cuts through again.

“…You’re looking better than you sounded over the phone.”

I sigh joylessly, not meeting her gaze. “What were you expecting? Did you think I’d shaved my head or something?”

“Well…no,” she admits, reaching for another cookie stick. “I didn’t mean in terms of, like, your physical appearance. You seem more…composed, that’s all.”

“You caught me at a bad time,” I insist. “I’d just gotten home, and I needed some space to zone out.”

“You were visiting him?”

Obviously.”

“I guess…I don’t really understand the problem. What happened? Did he say something?”

“Do we have to talk about this?”

She shrugs, biting off the chocolate-coated end of the cookie stick. “You’ve just been quietly sulking about it anyway. Might as well make it a spectator sport.”

I don’t immediately answer that, because her flippant reasoning just seems so divorced from my experiences. What have my trips to the hospital been, if not extended sessions of sulking in tandem? We certainly weren’t having a whole lot of conversation.

Ultimately, I decide to gloss over it and just get this conversation over with. The sooner I’ve gotten through it, the sooner I can stop dreading it.

“…No, he didn’t say anything,” I say softly, my voice barely above a whisper. “Nothing, really. He never says anything, anymore.”

Mai grimaces and sinks deeper into plush leather of the couch. “…Right, I’d kind of noticed that myself. I guess I was hoping he’d…I don’t know, start to get over it? Like, if we just gave him some space…”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“The first day of break. He was…kind of cranky.”

“Cranky?”

“Kind of…an asshole, really. I dunno. He was reading some book when I came by and he kept his nose in it practically the entire time I was there. It was like…every time I’d try to start a conversation, he’d grunt or glare at me.”

I nod wordlessly, pulling my still slightly damp hair into a simple ponytail.

It’s true, he’s been doing an awful lot of reading lately… From all that I know about him, it’s unusual—he’s never been a celebrated bookworm, but now he almost always has several books nearby. I can’t blame him, I suppose.

A couple days ago, during the last of our increasingly-scarce conversations, I suggested that somebody could bring over a handheld game console or something, to break up the monotony. I could easily acquire one, but for whatever reason he was incredibly unenthused about the idea. All my attempts at helping turned out like that—laughably impotent.

“Shin and Takumi said they dropped by a couple days later,” she continues. “Pretty much the same deal there. They pulled out a couple minutes of really weaksauce conversation and then he just…got pissy, so they left him alone.”

“It’s been like that for everyone,” I offer. “Even his parents have a hard time getting him to open up.”

That catches her attention, and she raises an eyebrow in my direction. “You talk to his parents?”

“I did speak with his parents,” I answer sullenly. “I certainly don’t plan to do it anymore.”

Maybe that’s why I held out this long—why I was the last person other than them to keep visiting him with any regularity, even when all the visitations were so excruciatingly awful. I don’t know who told Mrs. Nakai that I tried to confess—I suppose it was obvious, given we were alone in the woods together when it all happened—but early on…It was like she placed a burden on me that I wasn’t able to carry.

I think she hoped our relationship, nebulously-defined though it was, would nevertheless inspire him to have a positive outlook. Sometimes when I arrived in the hospital, she’d already be visiting him…and as soon as she saw me, she’d leave us alone to talk. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that she was just adding to my burden by having such lofty expectations. I doubt my feelings were anything she’d ever even bothered to consider.

A couple times after visiting him, at her insistence, we would go to the café on the ground floor and converse over coffee—her treat. The coffee was nice, but the discussions much less so. I think Mrs. Nakai just wanted to vent her frustrations to somebody other than her husband, and, perceiving me as a person who cared for her son nearly as much as she did, I became the unfortunate vector for it…which was absolutely wonderful, because trying to act as one person’s emotional support wasn’t exhausting enough. His mother needed to get in on that, as well, apparently.

When she realizes I’m never returning, is she going to try calling me? Will she try to bring me back? I certainly hope not; I think I’d lose my mind.

The memories of her few hospital visits apparently not sitting well with her, Mai pensively runs a well-calloused hand through her hair. Unless she's competing, she almost always wears hers in the same style—flowing loose in back with a fringe in front, the sides clipped away from her face in tails that kind of bleed together. By virtue of the fact that it takes effort—any effort—to put her hair that way, it seems so preposterously unlikely that it would have survived this long. I was positive it'd be a boy's haircut by now.

Come to think of it, I showed you how to wear it like that, once upon a time...

“…You know, your class really shouldn’t have done all that stupid shit for him.”

The non sequitur knocks me out of my reminiscing. “What do you mean?”

She shifts on the couch, sitting up and looking at me more intently. “Remember? That first week, with all of Class Two-Five swarming his hospital room? I didn’t really think about it at the time, but that crap was really pretty fucking tasteless.”

Mirroring her, I straighten my posture. As long as we’re dancing around the elephant in the room by discussing this kind of miscellanea, I think I can keep my emotions from embarrassing me again. “I honestly never even gave it that much thought. Why do you say it was tasteless?”

“Because it was the most meaningless shit ever. Half of the guys who came to see him barely even knew him. And seriously, like… Kinomoto? Kouyama? Fuckin’ Takamachi? Did anybody seriously think he would buy that any of those bitches were suddenly giving a fuck about him?”

Lalochezia, I think, momentarily distracted by a rote memory. Word of the Day, January the twentieth. Noun: The emotional relief derived through the use of indecent or vulgar language.

…What? Why on earth would I recall such an absurd thing? Why now?
Last edited by Leaty on Tue Aug 04, 2015 2:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Leaty
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Post by Leaty » Mon Aug 03, 2015 12:15 pm

“I mean, your class representative is Kaname, right? I wouldn’t be surprised if they orchestrated the whole thing just so that they could come by and get the dirt you weren’t spilling. They’re fuckin’ sociopaths.”

…Admittedly, I’d been somewhat upset to find them in the hospital room that day—I actually have a friendly relationship with those girls, relatively speaking, but their short-lived presence during that first, harrowing week definitely felt like a wholly thoughtless intrusion.

“I had nothing to do with that,” I assert coolly. “In fact, I’m fairly certain my classmates went out of their way to keep me out of the loop. I don’t think he or I actually wanted any of them there.”

“Yeah, well, your classmates are a bunch of total assholes.”

I shake my head. “I don’t know if anybody really appreciated the gravity of the situation.”

Particularly in those first couple days, everybody dismissed my distress as melodrama. People treated the whole ordeal as a joke. I don’t think anybody truly understood that his life wasn’t ever going to be the same again.

“It’s not my class’ fault that he’s like this now. I don’t really see the point in thinking about them.”

She meets my eyes warily. “And I’m guessing you think it’s your fault he’s like this, is that it?”

I feel my lips pursing involuntarily from aggravation. “I know it’s my fault, Mai.”

She casually takes another sip of soda and quirks an untamed eyebrow at me. “Really.”

“Yes, really,” I reply, her cavalier incredulity starting to get under my skin.

“And you don’t, like,” she says, making a vague wiggling gesture with her free hand, “think that you’re seriously overstating your own relevance, a little bit, here?”

No. I do not,” I grumble. “You aren’t the one who camped out in his goddamn hospital room for six weeks, okay? You only went there four times or so. You didn’t see everything that I saw.”

“I guess I don’t really get how an ordinary girl can make a potentially fatal, debilitating heart condition worse just by hanging around. If all those visitations were making things so much worse, why wouldn’t somebody just send you away?”

“I wasn’t making things worse,” I insist. “Things got worse on their own. I just wasn’t making things better. And that was literally my only job.

Mai scratches her head. “Um, since when was that your job, exactly?”

“I’m his girlfriend, Mai.” Or was his girlfriend. I’m not sure what tense I should be using, anymore.

“Oh,” she mutters wryly, “so you two actually got around to discussing your relationship, then?”

“…No,” I say, turning away in mild embarrassment. “We’ve… never talked about anything that happened that day.”

“So you’re not his girlfriend.”

Damn it, Mai. I confessed to him, and he was apparently so enthusiastic about it that he literally had a heart attack. If that isn’t implicitly a ‘yes,’ I certainly don’t know what is.

She rolls her eyes again, stretching out against the leather cushions. “Okay, even if that were true—and frankly it seems like a bit of a stretch—I still don’t really see how that makes you responsible for anything that happened afterward.”

Mai isn’t doing a very good job understanding, so I deliberate a moment on the best way to explain. I really don’t feel like getting into an endless back-and-forth on this subject, getting sidetracked into frivolous, pedantic arguments about semantics or ethics without any sign of us ever coming to anything even resembling a consensus.

“What he needed was somebody who could be emotionally stable,” I say, finally. “He needed that certainty that somebody would have caught him if he fell. But I… wasn’t cut out to be that person. I’m an absolute trainwreck, and I’ve only been worse since…since everything.”

Saying those words is like licking a battery—it genuinely hurts to admit how badly I messed up. I’m not sure why I’m talking about this when it makes me so unhappy. I guess it’s because Mai can browbeat me into just about anything, and because the sooner I get it over with, the sooner I won’t have to fear her reaction.

“…The worst part was that he didn’t know that,” I continue. “He had no way of knowing I would be so unreliable, and I was…I never said anything to him. So he went on assuming that I’d break his fall, and when I didn’t, he fell harder. And I’m responsible for that.”

Her eyes on mine, Mai absently starts to withdraw another cookie stick from the box, only to set it back down. “So… you believe that if he’d had a girlfriend that was, um, more chill or stable or whatever, he’d have a better attitude than he does?”

“Don’t you? He really needed somebody to be his bedrock.”

So did I, I guess. That’s really the problem in a nutshell; we were both far too needy for any relationship between us to be healthy, but once tragedy struck, we felt locked into it regardless.

She makes a face like she’s trying to decide how to start cleaning her room. “Okay, even assuming any of that is true, the fact of the matter is that you were the girl he was into, Nako. I already knew that when I said you ought to confess. So if you didn’t turn out to be the kind of person he needed, that’s at least as much his fault as it is yours.”

“I can’t really see how that’s supposed to be reassuring.”

Mai lets out a melodramatic, labored sigh, throwing up one of her palms in a gesture of annoyance. “You’re just, like, completely determined to get on the cross for this shit, aren’t you? Like, if somebody had a heart attack, it has to be because you specifically are a bad person, rather than because his mom huffed rubber cement while she was pregnant, or whatever. What’s even the fucking appeal?”

How crass.

“That isn’t fair,” I sulk. “I never claimed I was responsible for his heart problems, and you know it.”

Mai lackadaisically leans her elbow into the armrest and brushes a lock of hair out of her face. “Okay. Then what the motherfuck are you responsible for? Because you’re certainly having a merry old time kicking your own ass over some job you feel you didn’t live up to.”

That question actually gives me pause, and I have to take a moment to contemplate the answer and really articulate how I feel.

What is it, exactly, I felt responsible for? His morale? Maybe in a sense, but perhaps not so literally. His general well-being? No, I would have been a redundancy. His parents and doctors occupy that niche. So what was it then? Where did I go wrong?

After a few seconds, though, the words come to me.

“I wasn’t meant to be a pillar of support, but I knew I had to be. Since I knew right from the very beginning that I wasn’t cut out for it, then at the very least I needed to help him feel comfortable enough to give up on me.”

Mai doesn’t respond to that immediately, and I find myself gazing dolefully into the rectangular ray of sunlight shining onto the rug from one of the overhead windows.

“...Wait,” she says, finally ending the silence. “You’re saying he’d’ve dumped you if he was more comfortable?

I finally meet her eyes again, incredulous with her incredulity. “If I didn’t look like such a sad little urchin every single time I visited him? Yes. Emphatically yes.”

It had come to the point that neither of us really knew where my pity ended and his began. From the very beginning, our relationship was a symbiotic cyclone of misery that just made us more and more weary with each passing day. I suppose from that perspective, I did us both a favor today when I made the decision not to return again.

…Except that I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning, on my waterbed, in my room here in Sendagaya, and have free reign to do whatever I want.He’s going to wake up on a thin, automated hospital bed, resting on a paper pillowcase, and probably never even have a chance to leave his hospital room. Interesting how the “favor” only really benefits me.

“…You wanted to know what happened today, didn’t you?” I say, almost absently, as I stare into the pure whiteness of the sloped ceiling.

Another pause, then a nod. “…Yeah, sure.”

“I… I told myself I was going to engage him in a frank discussion…I probably rehearsed the conversation about a thousand times in my mind.”

In the corner of my eye, Mai silently nods a second time.

“I purchased a pair of heirloom dessert apples from the organic grocer… I suppose I thought we could enjoy them together and ease our way into a serious conversation of some kind. But… when I crossed the threshold into his room, the way he looked at me… I immediately lost my nerve.”

“The way he looked at you?” She asks the question in a somewhat softer tone.

“He looked so grim. Despondent, I guess. Defeated. I mean, he’d looked like that before—I thought I’d be able to brace myself for it—but actually seeing him…I just choked.”

Reliving the memory is starting to make me feel short of breath, and I have to stretch my upper body, giving myself room to inhale. As I’m relaying this story, I can already feel the shrill, involuntary undertone dripping into my voice that always presages actual tears.

“I forgot everything I meant to say… I sat down next to him and just kind of bluntly offered him an apple. I meant to mention they were Black Oxford apples, but of course I didn’t…”

“…Huh?”

I wave the interjection away. “It doesn’t matter. Anyway, he accepted my offer and I…just sat there, and quietly peeled an apple for him. Then I gave it over, and he just…nursed it for the next twenty minutes while I sat there, in complete silence.”

I laugh bitterly at the recollection. “It was absolutely f—” What? I quickly stop myself and start over. “...Absolutely ridiculous.”

Mai’s brow furrows, but she doesn’t say anything.

“…And after what felt like an eternity, I looked at the clock overhead and noticed a half hour had gone by…I couldn’t believe it. I felt so pathetic and stupid, and it was like something in me snapped. I couldn’t stand to be in that room for another second…so I said ‘goodbye’, and I just left.

She purses her lips, contemplating my words. “And that’s when you texted me, I’m guessing?”

I nod. “While I was…ashamed, and upset, and frustrated,” I explain. “I was waiting at the train platform, and I thought I might scream if I didn’t vent somehow. I wish I hadn’t bothered you.”

She shakes her head animatedly. “You didn’t bother me,” she says, shrugging. “I mean, all I was doing was playing Initial D anyway…badly…”

This deep into the conversation, and she’s still taking everything in stride…what in god’s name is wrong with her?

“Mai,” I say cuttingly, my eyes shut tight with exasperation, “seriously, for just how long are you planning to keep this up?”

“Keep what up?”

Forgiving me!” I breathe. “Carelessly excusing away every completely messed-up thing I’ve done since… all this started. Do you just not understand how wrecked everything is? Because of my decisions? Stop waving it all away!”

Her posture remaining unaffected despite my outburst, she gives me a wary glance. “You want me to, what, drag you to the electric chair for the crime of being who you are and taking care of yourself?”

Damn it. I exhale, increasingly frustrated. “Why are you doing this? Why are you coddling me after everything I did to Hisao? He’s not going to be the same again! Don’t you get it? I…I hurt him. Cruelly. I know you’re going to dismiss it as my being melodramatic but it’s the truth, I swear it. Doesn’t he matter to you? How can you even justify being so nonchalant about what I did to him?!”

That gives her pause, and Mai tilts her head at me, wrinkling her forehead with perplexed annoyance.

“…I can’t remember what that word means,” she finally says sheepishly.

Damn it Mai—”

“—Is this the address of Mai Takatsuki?

It’s the doorbell intercom, crackling into the middle of our conversation at the worst possible time. As though I had just said nothing at all, Mai’s gaze flits distractedly to the speaker set into the far wall.

“Oh! Rockin’,” Mai says thoughtfully, blithely hopping off the couch. “The pizza’s here! Be back in a sec.”

I try to stammer out the first couple sounds of a half-baked objection, but I swallow it as she unaffectedly strides down the central staircase, as though we were just now conversing about something so banal as an article in a teen magazine.

…I give up.

Wholly drained of both energy and motivation, I lurch backwards onto the couch, propping up my feet on the armrest as I gaze blankly into the robin’s-egg blue rectangle of the overhead skylight.

Why is Mai being like this? What is her problem? There’s a callous edge to her ambivalent devil-may-care attitude that’s really troubling me, and my inability to control this conversation at all is driving me absolutely insane.

Down on the ground floor, I can hear Mai cheerfully greeting the pizza guy and the jingling of coins exchanging hands. I can’t tell if her unaffected, contrarian behavior is deliberately meant to aggravate me for some reason, or if she’s just being willfully dense.

After a couple moments I hear the door whoosh shut and Mai’s feet stomping back up the stairs. The sharp, doughy smell of pizza reaches my nose before Mai reaches the landing—but I don’t bother getting up. I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’m completely unenthusiastic about it.

Soon enough, Mai walks to the back end of the couch and leans over to get my attention, her face hovering upside-down into my line of sight. “Come on, Nako.”

“Come on…?”

“As in, come on, let’s eat this on the upstairs balcony. The weather’s great. We were just waiting down here so that I could hear the guy coming.”

We were? News to me. Typical.

“Do we have to?” I sigh.

“Seriously, I’m going to carry you if you don’t get up.”

Not exactly a threat, not exactly a bluff

Quietly muttering frustrated nonsense, I roll myself upward and get off the couch, the sudden shift in orientation making me a little lightheaded. From behind the bar, Mai is procuring another bottle of the imported cola. I guess she liked it.

Wordlessly, I walk back up the stairs to my bedroom and unlock the glass sliding doors that open out to the rooftop landing. It’s been wintry for a while now, so it’s been a while since I’ve come out here. There are two patio chairs wrapped in a protective covering, and as I’m pulling them completely off, Mai emerges behind me with the food balanced on one hand and the drinks grasped in another.

I fall into the left patio chair as she sets them down on the table between us. She cracks open the lid of the box on top and slides it to me. “That one’s yours,” she says, easing into the chair beside me and quickly helping herself to two slices from her own pizza.

I’m really not hungry…

She’s already completely inhaled her first slice by the time she notices that I’ve just been staring hesitantly at the box she laid out for me.

“So, are you gonna eat or what?”

“I’m working up to it,” I respond irritably.

“Work faster. It’ll get cold.”

Swallowing my umpteenth sigh, I reticently reach for a slice and nibble at it daintily. That seems to placate her, so she goes back to plowing through her own food.

The pizza’s good, though I’m certainly not in the mood for it. I haven’t had any in a couple months—I only order out when I have company over (or when Mother does, and I can’t access the kitchen with any convenience), and I haven’t had anyone come to my house since before Christmas. I spent most of January studying for exams, and then in February…

The sun will be setting soon, but the wind still feels wonderful as it brushes past us, and I feel another pang of guilt. I still don’t feel like I have any right to enjoy this weather while Hisao’s confined to a hospital bed. It feels… selfish, and irreverent. It’s impossible to refuse Mai, though.

From my patio chair, I can see the entire neighborhood. Not far to the east, I can see the tops of the trees that encircle the Hatonomorihachiman Shrine. Since the trees haven’t regained their leaves yet, I can see through the bared branches to the rooftop of one of the buildings. On the other side, I can see just a sliver of the trees that line the far boundary of Yoyogi Park.

I’m glad I’ve lived here my whole life, I guess. I certainly couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I’m definitely a creature of this city, for better or worse.

“We haven’t done this in a while, have we?” Mai asks, taking in the scenery—scenery I know is nostalgic for her.

“No,” I answer. “Not since summer break, I think.”

If I’m being honest with myself, this past year was a mess even before the heart attack. Mai and I were once again in different classrooms for second year—her time was pretty thoroughly wrapped up in her own endeavors, and Hisao and the others got most of whatever was left over. Meanwhile, things on my end were getting ridiculous—I wasn’t taking Hikaru’s departure well, and there was that disastrous engagement last summer…and then, just when it seemed like things were finally about to look up, I met Hisao out in the snow, and the whole world fell apart.

Until that day came, though, I kept a lid on things—I don’t think anybody knows how rough last year was on me. If I’m being honest with myself, it all seems a little petty to think about now, after everything that’s happened this year. Some of those old things still hurt—I’d love nothing more than to have had Hikaru with me for this, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to give a damn about me anymore is demoralizing, to say the least—but some of it just seems goofy.

“It’s been all this club shit,” she says apologetically, as if it’s something I don’t already know. “I’ve barely had time to do anything else.”

“You don’t need to explain yourself,” I say, looking up from my barely-whittled slice of pizza. “It isn’t as though I’m entitled to your time, and what you’ve been doing is more important than worrying about me.”

“It’s a pain in the ass.”

“You love it,” I insist drolly.

“The things I love are a pain in the ass,” she retorts, washing down her second slice of pizza with a sip of cola. “It’ll be worse this year, since I’m the team captain now.”

That’s a new development. I glance away from the horizon, blinking at her curiously. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she practically whispers, running her fingers through her hair. “They sprung it on me at our last club meeting before break. It was gonna be Tsuchiya, but now he wants to spend his last year doing some stupid cultural exchange shit in America, so I get to pick up the slack. Not really looking forward to it.”

“But…” I say, wrinkling my face in confusion, “you basically already run the club anyway, right?”

She shakes her head, gingerly fishing under the lid of the box for another two slices of pizza. “That’s different; it’s just me doing my thing. I like being the cool big sister, but that doesn’t mean I want to be Mommy. Now the club is gonna suck up even more of my free time.”

Her eyes follow a pair of shrikes passing overhead, and I take another bite of my slice of pizza. Truthfully, I am slowly starting to feel a little bit better, now that I’m getting some food in me, but I’ll be damned if I’ll ever admit that to Mai.

“Running a club isn’t so bad,” I offer. “Believe me, it certainly beats being class representative.”

Mai rolls her eyes. “Yeah, but your club’s a fucking joke,” she retorts with a crooked smile.

It’s the setup to a familiar, comforting exchange—Mai loves to rag on the Tea & Ikebana club, and she loves it more when I inevitably get offended and protest loudly.

“…It is, isn’t it?” I sigh.

A hunk of bacon plunges from her pizza to the ground as she suddenly turns back to face me. “Huh?”

“I’m getting sick of it,” I confess, limply shrugging. “It used to be fun, but now it all just feels so… meaningless.”

I guess that’s pretty uncharacteristic of me, isn’t it? Mai lets the silence hang, her eyes alight with concern and confusion, so, against my better judgment, I elaborate, if only to keep the conversation from entering the weird lull it’s approaching.

“All we ever do there is sit around for an hour and talk about nothing,” I explain. “I…I just don’t see the point, anymore.”

“Huh,” Mai says, blinking. She opens her mouth, as if to continue, only to immediately shut it again.

“What is it?”

She shakes her head. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I frown. “Tell me.”

Mai glances hesitantly at the sky, then stares into her pizza. “It was just déjà vu.”

“Wha?” I blink at her. It takes a second for me to catch onto her meaning.

Sitting around for an hour, doing nothing… Yes, that does sound familiar.

It’s an astute connection, actually, one I should have come up with myself, except that I really hadn’t thought much recently about my club activities up until she began on this tangent.

“…Oh. You’re right, I suppose. Having to spend an hour in the tea room, and then going from there to…the hospital…”

Well, that didn’t take long. The sudden arrival back to that subject almost makes me cringe.

Mai seems to notice my eyes clouding over, because she quickly stammers out a segue.

“You know, while we’re on the subject, your club friends really are the fucking worst—”

No.

I’m not going to put up with this.

“—So is this what you’re doing, then?” I interject angrily, setting down my still-unfinished slice of pizza and glaring at her with the most serious expression of exasperation I can muster. “Now you’re just going to steer the conversation away every time Hisao comes up?”

Mai hesitates, surprised, and frowns, sitting straight up in her chair and setting down her beverage. “Well, I was trying to keep you distracted long enough from your vortex of depression for you to eat something,” she answers gruffly. “Talking about him seemed like it’d be kinda detrimental.”

I shake my head at her disbelievingly. “Stop treating it as a joke!”

I push out my chair and stand up, walking to the railing to work off some of my rising anger. “This isn’t some phase Hisao’s going through, Mai. It’s not just some…short grieving period he’s just going to get over. He’s been seriously traumatized—”

“—So fucking what? ” Mai shouts back, startling me silent. “You have, too!”

She practically throws her food back onto the table with a wet-sounding slap and jumps up out of her own chair, storming over to face me. I can see the fire in her eyes, and her presence suddenly feels overwhelming.

Spider webs shriveling under the flames

“Do you seriously think I’m fucking stupid? ” Mai practically growls the question. “You think I don’t know how fucked up his life is gonna be from now on?”

“M, Mai—”

Whatever I was about to say dies in my throat when she reaches out and grips my shoulder. She doesn’t hurt me—she wouldn’t want to, though she could—but it certainly shuts me up.

“You think I’m not really fucking worried about him? You think it’s not completely god damn depressing that I can’t walk to school with him anymore? That he won’t even talk to me anymore? Wake the fuck up!”

She releases her grip on me so suddenly that I almost stagger, and turns away from me, walking briskly to the other end of the balcony, grabbing the railing with both hands and taking a deep breath.

“You wanna know what the thing is, though?” Her voice loses the fury of her initial outburst, but none of the sternness. “Hisao has enough people worrying about him. More than he probably even wants, I’m sure.”

My feet are still rooted firmly in place, my spine rigid as a ramrod. “But—I—”

She glances away from the railing to again meet my eyes. “—You know why I have your back and not Hisao’s? Why I’m not pissing away my life visiting him every fucking day like you were?”

The length of the pause indicates it’s not a rhetorical question.

“N-no,” I answer weakly. “I don’t.”

“Two reasons: One, because so far as I’m aware, I’m the only person in your life—including yourself, per usual—who hasn’t been completely shitting on you since Hisao nearly keeled over. And ‘B’, because you actually accept my support. Hisao doesn’t. It’s really that simple.”

“But—”

“Stop.”

My words evaporate in my mouth, as though on reflex.

“You’re my friend. Always. Forever. But I’m not going to feed your sickness. I’m not joining in on your stupid little one-woman cult of self-loathing. You can feel bad about ‘breaking up’ with Hisao all you want, but stop deluding yourself that you did this to him, or that you had some kind of obligation to drag him out of his bullshit. You’re not a fucking shrink, Nako. Some things're just out of your weight class.”

I feel body wobbling back where I’m standing, and I have to quickly shift my feet to keep myself from toppling. Mai’s always been blunt, but this is the first time she’s taken so mordant a tone with me.

‘Not going to feed my sickness’. ‘Out of my weight class’. ‘Cult of self-loathing’.

‘I will fight you.’

Not exactly a threat, not exactly a bluff.

Mai finally twists around, leaning her back against the rails. Having apparently gotten that off her chest, her expression softens. “That wasn’t a dig on you. I don’t think Hisao knows anybody who can tell him the things he needs to hear right now. It’s a lost cause.”

Leaning on something suddenly seems wise, so I take position on the railing opposite her. I can’t even seem to remember what was in my head, what I was feeling, when I snapped at her only a few moments ago. It’s like I was splashed with a bucket of ice water.

“I…don’t…Aren’t you afraid he’s going to stay this way? That your friendship with him is over?”

She shrugs. “Maybe. Yes. Well, actually,” she says, touching a finger to her temple, “I don’t know how likely that is to happen. A few weeks ago I would have thought there was no chance in hell, but now…” she sighs.

“But, look,” she says, her eyes gentle, “even if that does happen, It wouldn’t have anything to do with you—that doesn’t even make any sense. Either I’d have fucked something up, or Hisao would’ve just turned out to be a prick.”

I’m not sure I believe that, but I’m not sure it makes any difference.

“Anyway, it’s not like my life is going to fall apart without him, or anything. I mean, sure, Hisao’s my best friend—”

It genuinely stings to hear those words from her own lips, but it’s not as though I wasn’t already aware.

“—but I have a life without him, y’know. I mean, easy come, easy go, right? If he’s the kind of guy who’s just going to abandon us, I don’t want anything to do with him anyway.”

I feel my body slowly slide down the railing, until I feel myself touch the wood-paneled floor. Her words should come as an unexpected and wholly refreshing relief—and maybe they are—but I don’t know. I need to think about this.

Whenever I tell anyone a story about guilt, and at the end they say to me ‘I don’t see where you did anything wrong,’ I don’t take it as a comfort. My immediate first thought is ‘I must have done a horrible job telling that story.’

But right now, I’m feeling too drained and sad to care. These past six weeks have been some of the worst of my entire life, and for it all to end so pointlessly…

I just don’t think I’ve learned anything from this experience. I can’t see this experience making me a wiser and stronger adult. Even if it’s as Mai claims, and I’m not truly responsible for any of this mess… I still feel like I’m a worse person today than I was seven weeks ago.

“Nako?”

“I’m fine,” I lie, idly running my finger along the cool metal surface of a railing bar. “I’m just thinking.”

She eases down the railing she’s leaning on, as well, settling into a baseball crouch. Mai’s a much taller person, though, and even on the floor, she seems to loom over me.

“I really am sorry, you know,” she offers softly, “that everything turned out like it did. I mean, I’m pretty disappointed shit turned out this way, so I can’t even imagine how you guys must feel. It’s such a fucking mess.”

I nod slightly, not sure what to do with that sentiment.

“But, you know,” she adds, glancing upwards at a passing airplane, “If I’m being totally honest, I’m not sorry at all that I tried to hook you guys up. I thought I was doing you both a solid, and even though it all went…horribly wrong, maybe that’s for the best.”

What?” I frown. “You have to be kidding.”

“No, seriously, like,” she gesticulates enthusiastically, “think about it. Hisao was gonna have that heart attack eventually, right? I mean, so what if he’d had it while riding a bike, or getting mugged or whatever? He’s lucky it happened on soft ground near somebody who cared about him, far as I’m concerned.”

Really?” I scoff. “That’s your silver lining?”

“Well…” she replies contemplatively, “not just that. I also…kinda think that it might have saved you guys a lot of grief. No—hear me out.”

She raises a hand to preemptively silence my flabbergasted interjection.

“Like…maybe, even though you two liked each other, you were just going to be crap together, no matter what. If that was the case, maybe it’s a good thing you guys just sorta died on the vine, y’know? What if it took you guys all of next year to find out you couldn’t stand each other?”

“You’re being kind of a Pollyanna,” I sigh, pulling myself up from our pow-wow on the floor.

“I’m just going to guess what that means from context,” she retorts dryly, pushing herself to her feet as well. “Really, though? Now that I see how everything played out, I can’t see why I ever thought you two would be good together in the first place. Both of you are way too passive—even if it worked out, you guys would have been totally fucking boring. It’d be like watching a jellyfish date a snail.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Mai grins at me like the cat that got the canary. “You’re suppressing a smile.”

“I am not,” I say, quickly turning away.

“You are!”

“Shut up!”

“You’d gargle bleach before admitting I have a point, wouldn’t you?”

Turning back to her, I roll my eyes, though I can feel the entirely unwelcome heat in my cheeks. “Maybe. Did you bring any?”

She ignores that comment as she walks to the table and picks up her beverage. Not quite ready myself to sit back down and resume eating, I stay in the far corner, buried in my thoughts.

“So what are you going to say to him?” Mai asks as she settles back into her patio chair.

“Wha?”

“Hisao. When he comes back to school, are you just going to ignore him or whatever? Have you thought about that?”



Mai doesn’t know. Of course not. Why would she? I can’t even believe I know.

I guess my expression changes, because Mai starts to look concerned again. “What? What’s up?”

…Should I tell her?

It’s not really my information to spread, but Hisao is her friend…

“…Nako?”

No, I shouldn’t keep this secret from her. It doesn’t really matter anyway.

“You can’t tell Shin or Takumi what I’m about to tell you,” I say, my legs starting to feel like jelly.

Mai regards me with a puzzled frown. “…Okayyyyy? What is it?”

I hesitate for a moment before I pull together the resolve to say the words. “Hisao’s parents don’t want to send him back to school.”

Her expression makes a quick, obvious transition from confusion to disbelief before settling on indignation. “What?! What do you mean?”

“They…they don’t think he’ll be safe there, or something,” I explain anxiously, trying to remember Mrs. Nakai’s exact words. “His condition is going to be really sensitive…there are schools whose faculty specialize in…medicine, I suppose. Boarding schools, where there are people who can supervise his health better than his parents could.”

Mai gets right back up out of the chair, her jaw hanging open. “A boarding school? They’re just going to dump him off somewhere?”

“They could change their mind,” I say hopefully. "His mother didn't seem very happy about it."

“Nah,” she says resignedly, shaking her head, “his folks don’t really change their minds. If they told you about it, they probably thought it was something you needed to be aware of. It’s a matter of when, not if.”

“Dammit,” she groans, clenching her fists at her sides. “Dammit! That fucking sucks.”

“I’m…sorry,” I offer lamely.

Mai paces back and forth as if she’s about to start on a rant, but then she stops in her tracks, glancing skyward as though something just occurred to her.

“Wait,” she says, peering curiously at me. “Does Hisao know about this?”

“Er… not yet,” I admit. “I think they’re waiting until he gets better.”

“Mother. Fuckers!

“…Mai?”

“I’m okay,” she grumbles, though her expression remains sour. She clutches the top of her head with one hand in frustration, as if massaging out a headache. “I’m just… arrrrrgh. Dammit!”

“I…should I have told you?” The words come out especially meek.

“What? Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad you told me. That’s just… really shitty to hear. Fuck! This is the worst.”

“Is there… is there something I could…?”

“Nah,” she says, waving off the comment dismissively. “It is what it is. It’s just… really depressing,” she sighs. “I never deluded myself that things could ever go completely back to normal, but I always thought we’d get pretty damn close, you know? Him and me and Takumi and Shin…we had a really fucking good thing going. I thought that so long as we didn’t make a big deal out of shit, he’d drag his ass back into the classroom in April or whatever, and we could just play it by ear.”

“I know,” I say sympathetically.

“Man, now even if we do sort this shit out, we won’t be able to hang out anymore,” she says glumly. “And he has less incentive to face us and own up to how shitty he’s been if he’s not going to see us every day.”

“I’m really sorry, Mai.”

“Whatever. It’s fine, I guess,” she says dejectedly. “Maybe it was stupid of me, to think things were always going to stay pretty much the same. I hoped we’d all stick together and just make really great memories, you know? All…all five of us.”

Five? Oh…I would have been the fifth. In another world, perhaps. It’s a heartwarming sentiment, if nothing else.

“You can still be friends, though, right?”

“I hope so,” she sighs sadly, shoving her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “I don’t know. I have faith in my friends. I have faith in Hisao. Maybe I’ll finally make a Mixi account or something and we can chat after school. Or maybe I’ll give him space, and let him slowly come to the realization that he’s been a giant ballsack all on his own.”

How very crass.

“As for this side of things,” she says, her doleful expression twisting into a wan smirk, “if Hisao’s not going to be there in the flesh to properly guilt-trip him, I guess I’ll have to do my best to keep Takumi from hovering around you.”

I tilt my head at her, the meaning almost lost on me. “Oh! I wasn’t even going to bring that up…”

“Nah, I got it. Poor bastard can’t quite get it in his head that his crush is about as interested in him as I am in macramé.”

“That might even be a little generous,” I remark wryly. “Mai…thank you.”

“Meh, that’s kinda my fault in the first place. He’s embarrassing with most girls, but gets more relaxed around my friends.”

“Er… I didn’t mean just that,” I say nervously. “I meant thank you… for everything.”

“Huh?”

“For coming down here and…dragging me back to Earth. I know that I’m unbelievably difficult and I always seem unappreciative, but—OOF!

My humble expression of gratitude is suddenly interrupted by the tight bear hug I’ve been swept in. Mai moves like lightning. It’s kind of uncanny.

“Shut up. You’re welcome,” Mai says, as I delicately shift to return the hug. “You’re a complete pain in the ass, but that’s nothing new. If you’re feeling better, I’m happy, regardless of all this Hisao shit.”

“I…I am,” I admit. “I mean…I don’t know. There’s…still a lot I need to work through. And then when we come back from break…things are complicated.”

“Sure, but at least I talked you down from the ledge, right?”

“…I’m rolling my eyes right now.”

Mai laughs, and the shaking I‘m taken along for is reminiscent of being in a car going over potholes. Then she pulls away from the embrace, her arms falling back to her sides.

“Anyway, if we’re good now, you still need to eat a slice and a half of pizza.”

I sigh defeatedly. “Yes, I know. I’ll get right on that.”

“Cool. See that you do.”

I’ll never win, I muse to myself as I return to my chair and pick up my increasingly-lukewarm slice of pizza.

The sun’s almost fully descended into the horizon, and the evening is becoming unusually quiet. The only sound that rings out with any consistency are the cars rushing down the city streets a couple blocks in any direction. Mai cheerily takes her seat on the patio chair beside me, taking a swig from her second bottle of Thums-Up.

“Hey,” I say, turning to her. “Let me try that.”

Wordlessly, she passes over the bottle, and I take a delicate, but committed sip. The beverage is…odd. Sweet and unusually strong.

“Weird,” I say, handing back the bottle. “Not bad, but definitely weird.”

“I don’t know,” Mai says, in between bites of pizza. “It’s really kinda growing on me. I might steal your mom’s entire supply.”

“She’d just buy more, if it bothered her that much.”

“Speaking of your mom,” she says, her tone suddenly thoughtful, “she keeps rum downstairs, right?”

“She keeps everything downstairs. You know that. Why do you—Oh.”

“Just a little, maybe? I bet this mixes well.”

“Ask me again after I’ve gotten through your two slices of pizza.”

Mai grins impishly. "Oh, believe me, I mean to.”

~FIN.~
Last edited by Leaty on Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by brythain » Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:15 pm

I love the way you and dewelar went full circle and then did a mirror-MTtB Iwanako thing. Amazing. Very thought-provoking, and because it's grounded in mirror-MTtB Iwanako, very deep and satisfying. Thanks very much, and also for fleshing out Mai in particular!
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Oddball » Mon Aug 03, 2015 6:26 pm

Having not read all though Developments, i can't comment on how well it goes along with that. By itself, though, it stands alone as a strong story, very bleak and depressing, but memorable.

I think Iwanako comes across here worse than Hisao ever did in the game. It's an interesting way to look at her and their relationship. Mai, likewise feels like a strong well writen character (although she feels a bit Miki-ish) to me.)
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Aug 04, 2015 5:02 am

This is... brilliant.

Loved the way, Mai was written - as well as probably everything else about it.

Just can't really see the connection to Developments...

Edit:
Okay, now that I've read chapter 60, I see the connection.
On that note you should probably add a note that this should preferably be read before cpt. 60 of Developments for maximum impact.
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Blank Mage » Thu Aug 06, 2015 12:26 am

Alright! Sorry I'm late, but this and Developments are prohibitively lengthy, and I didn't want to read it piecemeal. Funny how these forums have these weird spurts of activity, what with the influx of new threads and stories that popped up this week. Anyway, I'll try to keep this a little less, ah, zealous than my last review, which in my defense, was posted in a state of mild dementia due to a lack of sleep.

As always, I'm floored by the quality of your writing, which is just implied at this point. Your use of callbacks and repetition are simply flawless, your character interactions are so natural, your analogies are inspired, and I am running out of compliments, God damn it. I love how Iwanako's perspective colors her surroundings: her sterile, inhospitable house, the seemingly out-of-place nature of her room, and the running theme that Iwanako is just a side note in the life of the great Daidouji Hikaru, that even his absence is of more import than Iwanako's entire existence. He hasn't had a word of dialogue, but it never fails to perfectly illustrate how secondary Iwanako is by comparison. I've heard that it's a common problem in Japan, parents only really focusing on one kid to the detriment of the other(s), this kind of weird monarchical mindset that you don't need two successors. I don't like to claim I understand Japanese culture, because I know anime is hardly a reliable source, but it seems accurate. And with her parents being the way they are, it's sadly easy to see just how high Iwanako's well-being sits on their list of priorities.

As for Iwanako herself, it's interesting to compare and contrast BW!Iwanako and MTtB!Iwanako. Both start from a place of moderately low self-esteem, but whereas MTtB!Iwanako turns that into bitter spite and vitriol, directed at an uncaring environment, here we have BW!Iwanako simply lose all sense of self-worth. To put it vaugely, I'd say MTtB is kind of a downward spiral, and BW is just a straight drop. They're very similar, but each circumstance brings about minor variations. In either case, they have a similar solution, as well; someone putting her issues into much-needed perspective, in a way that prevents her from shutting them out. I love that moment in both timelines, when Iwanako is forced to realize that her actions aren't nearly as justified as she's thought, and that people are understandably fed-up with her almost bizarrely narcissistic self-pity. It's a tough love moment for a girl who has only ever been handled with cotton gloves, and it's kind of... edifying? It's a complex feeling. As much as I want to feel sorry for her, I think we all understand that sometimes you have to grit your teeth and start selling lemonade, and it's been months. But at what point can you call her out on it? How long do you allow someone to grieve before you're forced to say 'okay, but get over it?' There's no easy answer, and I love that Mai can only tread lightly for so long before she just snaps.

And although it should have been obvious, I was surprised at my surprise to hear Yamaku discussed so negatively at the end. I mean, of course they would, the premise is depressing at best and nightmarish at worst, but it was a reminder that to most people, these issues are kind of taboo. It's almost funny, given our knowledge that Yamaku will not only 'fix' Hisao, but give him a depth of character that he likely would never have achieved at a typical high school. It ought to make that chapter of Developments more interesting...

Speaking of which, did I mention that I love that this makes Leaty!Iwanako Developments' canon? I'm plan on reading that chapter as soon as I'm done here, but it just makes me happy somehow. Also, I know that I can't help but see the references in everything, regardless of whether or not they even exist, but...
Kinomoto (Sakura)? Kouyama(...?)? Fuckin’ Takamachi (Nanoha)? I mean, your class representative is Kaname (Madoka), right?
If I'm right, then I'll make an uncharacteristically girly noise, because Nanoha is easily one of my favorite anime ever, and Cardcaptor Sakura is certainly not so far behind. (I haven't watched Madoka, because it's too damn weird, and by now the whole thing has been spoiled anyway.) Of course, I could be wrong, there are more than one possible references here, but those are just my guesses, based on the fact that I want them to be, because the idea of the three of them in a class together is, ah, magical. What's that, SilentCook? This isn't the image thread? Ah, you're such a kidder pls don't hurt me
Mai’s ‘usual’ is a cholesterol-laden fever dream of purukogi, chicken, bacon, cloves of garlic, tuna, and avocado, with extra mayonnaise. I tried a piece once and wished shortly thereafter that I was Catholic so that there would be someone to whom I could anonymously confess.
I wish I was clever enough to make these kind of analogies. For now, I'll just have to envy yours.
Whenever I tell anyone a story about guilt, and at the end they say to me ‘I don’t see where you did anything wrong,’ I don’t take it as a comfort. My immediate first thought is ‘I must have done a horrible job telling that story.’
I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not, but either way, it actually elicited a lol.
I’ll never win, I muse to myself as I return to my chair and pick up my increasingly-lukewarm slice of pizza.
You have no idea...
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Oscar Wildecat » Thu Aug 06, 2015 7:42 am

I adore how Mai is portrayed here. In fact, the only difference between Leaty!Mai and my how I always imaged Mai is this:
I was positive it'd be a boy's haircut by now.
In my headcannon, it's always been a "boy's" haircut, or some other rather short hairdo.
I like all the girls in KS, but empathize with Hanako the most.
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Leaty » Thu Aug 06, 2015 10:45 pm

Thanks to everybody for the praise!
Oddball wrote:I think Iwanako comes across here worse than Hisao ever did in the game. It's an interesting way to look at her and their relationship.
I'm having a bit of trouble parsing this. Do you mean that Iwanako comes across worse than Hisao ever portrayed her as being? Because, yes, she does, I suppose.
Oddball wrote:Mai, likewise, feels like a strong well-written character (although she feels a bit Miki-ish to me.)
Miki-ish? I mean, I can see the comparison, but particularly if we're talking about Suriko's Miki, the resemblance is pretty superficial. I mean, they're both foul-mouthed female athletes, but they come from totally different backgrounds (Mai's from Shibuya; Miki's from the middle of nowhere), and Mai's temperament is very different.
Blank Mage wrote:As always, I'm floored by the quality of your writing, which is just implied at this point.
Image
Blank Mage wrote:I love how Iwanako's perspective colors her surroundings: her sterile, inhospitable house
It's actually a real residence! I based it off of a design from the website of a Japanese architectural firm.

That house is why this one-shot exists, in fact—early on, Dewelar asked me what Iwanako's home would look like, and I found that webpage on GIS and was like "hey, I should describe this house to him from Iwanako's perspective!" and then I came up with the framing device of Iwanako coming home from the hospital the last time, and originally I only meant it to be a couple paragraphs, only for Dewelar's eyes, but the writing was coming out so well and it just did not end and BOOM, one-shot.
Blank Mage wrote:whereas MTtB!Iwanako turns that into bitter spite and vitriol, directed at an uncaring environment, here we have BW!Iwanako simply lose all sense of self-worth.
I think in both scenarios, Iwanako's suffering from a loss of faith, but in the alpha timeline it's a loss of faith in herself, while the MTtB timeline is about a loss of faith in the world. That's why the Iwanako of MTtB has sort of a cruel streak we don't really see here.
Blank Mage wrote: In either case, they have a similar solution, as well; someone putting her issues into much-needed perspective, in a way that prevents her from shutting them out.
I actually hadn't made the connection between Mai and Iwanako's cardiologist, but you're right, it is pretty similar.
Blank Mage wrote:If I'm right, then I'll make an uncharacteristically girly noise, because Nanoha is easily one of my favorite anime ever, and Cardcaptor Sakura is certainly not so far behind. (I haven't watched Madoka, because it's too damn weird, and by now the whole thing has been spoiled anyway.)
Well, wow. I wasn't expecting anybody to pick up on that reference. All your guesses were right on. Yes, Iwanako's classroom is full of magical girls. (The Yamaku classroom is choc-full of cameos, so I figured Iwanako's should have them too. :) )

Kouyama refers to Mitsuki Kouyama of Full Moon wo Sagashite, who isn't technically a magical girl in the truest sense, but she always seemed like the sort of character who would really get along with Sakura. "Daidouji" is a Cardcaptor Sakura reference too, by the way; when I was originally trying to come up with a family name for Iwanako that sounded okay with her bizarrely four-syllabled name, I kept coming back to Tomoyo, who in a weird sense was one of the major inspirations for my characterization of Iwanako, because their designs and characterizations seemed similar. Anyway, "Daidouji" sounded cool, so I settled on that.
Blank Mage wrote:I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not, but either way, it actually elicited a lol.
Haha. It's not a joke. That is literally my whole life in a nutshell.
Oscar Wildecat wrote:In my headcanon, it's always been a "boy's" haircut, or some other rather short hairdo.
Amusingly, literally everybody who read this before I posted it imagined Mai with short hair until I specified otherwise. Which is great, because the fact that Mai's hair is seemingly incongruous with her personality is sort of the whole point.

Metatextually, the reason Mai has long hair is because my original visualization of her stemmed more from Asuka Langley Soryu than Maki Aikawa.

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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Aug 07, 2015 3:17 am

That house is why this one-shot exists,
And here I was just going to ask how you two got the idea to write this collaboration. :-)
...exceptionally ugly house by the way^^°
Well, wow. I wasn't expecting anybody to pick up on that reference.
Well, it was hard. Sakura is hardly ever referred to by her family name in the series (at least not in the dub I watched) and Nanoha has been on my Wishlist since forever, but alas...
@Blank Mage: Please provide a soundfile of the girly noise you made :mrgreen:
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Blank Mage » Fri Aug 07, 2015 11:56 am

Leaty wrote:"Daidouji" is a Cardcaptor Sakura reference too, by the way; when I was originally trying to come up with a family name for Iwanako that sounded okay with her bizarrely four-syllabled name, I kept coming back to Tomoyo.
*facepalm*

I knew it sounded familiar! I admit, I had to look up Sakura's family name to be sure, and I might have missed it if not for Nanoha tipping me off. Nanoha is easy, since I'm a raging fanboy and Nanoha fully introduces herself just about every other episode across two series. Madoka was just a guess I confirmed with google.

(I'mma stop now before I end up ranting about my love of Nanoha.)
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by dewelar » Tue Sep 01, 2015 12:51 am

Okay, so, I just now realized that with everything going on these past few weeks, I never actually posted in this thread. I am ashamed of myself for this oversight. Allow me to correct it.

Thank you for this. Thank you so much for this. I think I actually like this more than I like MTtB, which is a high bar. Not since the very early pre-Developments days of my association with this community has there been something that rewrote large chunks of my headcanon for KS like this one has for Iwanako and Mai. I said before that people don't have to accept this as a prequel to my own story. I do, entirely, accept this as Developments canon backstory. I can feel every word of this piece, and it is real.

Carry on.
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Alpacalypse » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:49 am

I never posted here. :oops: Time to rectify this matter.

I'm not really sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it's really rather depressing to see inside Iwanako's head here. On the other hand, it's fantastically written (as per usual by now) and I really like the character of Mai.

So I'll go with "it's pretty depressing, but I like it quite a bit." I think that about sums it up.

Another piece of excellent work, Leaty! :D
I am the harbinger of your destruction... By herbivorous, mountain dwelling quadrupeds... fear me
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I also write now, apparently. Since everyone else does it, I'm putting it here
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I have also discovered that I'm a decent proofreader. Anybody with SPaG problems is free to PM me their work for a thorough analysis and/or evisceration. Depends on how I'm feeling.

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Leaty
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Leaty » Wed Sep 09, 2015 11:16 am

dewelar wrote:Thank you for this. Thank you so much for this. I think I actually like this more than I like MTtB, which is a high bar. Not since the very early pre-Developments days of my association with this community has there been something that rewrote large chunks of my headcanon for KS like this one has for Iwanako and Mai. I said before that people don't have to accept this as a prequel to my own story. I do, entirely, accept this as Developments canon backstory. I can feel every word of this piece, and it is real.
Eeeee! Thank you so much for all this praise! It makes me feel so accomplished that I was able to infect your headcanon so thoroughly.

You know, the funny thing is, I'm on record as saying that OTL!Iwanako fics can't be good, but I agree that this is probably one of my stronger works—I stand behind my earlier statement, so I think this story is probably good because I didn't write it as a Katawa Shoujo fic; I didn't work as hard as I do with MTtB to give it the "feel" of the VN. Or maybe I was just wrong and now I'm digging my heels. I dunno. Anyway, if I've helped people see Mai as a three-dimensional character, I'm absolutely satisfied here.
Alpacalypse wrote:So I'll go with "it's pretty depressing, but I like it quite a bit." I think that about sums it up.
I laughed when I read this, because change the pronouns and this is probably how my IRL besties would describe me—"she's pretty depressing, but I like her quite a bit."

Like, I know my body of work isn't exactly robust, but virtually all my writing is kinda bleak or otherwise depressing. I wouldn't necessarily say I don't know how to write happy-ish pieces, but I can't imagine wanting to, at least for where I am in my life right now. (Fun fact: this story's production time was artificially inflated to give Dewelar all the time he needed, but during the period between my starting this work and completing it (about seven months), I became estranged from my entire family, failed to get into college over an absolute triviality, was emotionally abused and eventually evicted by an iniquitous landlord, and spent several months so mismedicated that I would have incessant periods of anxiety-induced dry-heaving. Sooooo yeah.) Depressing is kinda my wheelhouse right now. I think my goal is to write about depression until I get so tired of it that I force myself to experience a broader range of emotion.

There was this writing prompt, like "what if everybody was born with timers in their wrists counting down to the moment they met their soul mate?" and I wrote a short story about a girl who had that arm amputated as a baby and was the only person in the world who had no idea when, if ever, they would have somebody else. Also her boyfriend abandoned her when his timer finally counted to zero. Sooooooooo yeah.

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brythain
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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by brythain » Wed Sep 09, 2015 11:20 am

Your bantamweight one-shot was a knockout! :)

That said, well, a number of people have commented that I only write sad stories. I suspect it's because I've had parallel life experiences.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Bantamweights: A One-Shot

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sun Sep 27, 2015 5:48 am

So... I've been discussing this with a few people via PM, and we thought it might be enlightening to get more opinions.

It's a bit tricky since even asking the question might be skewing the results, so I'm formulating the question as neutral as possible:

"When you read this story, did you get the feeling that Iwanako had any romantic feelings for Mai or vice versa?"

I know reading the question will make you go back through the story to look for any clues, so the second question would have to be:

"On rereading the story, did your opinion change and why?"

I will refrain from reproducing any contents of our private discussion for now, but we are all very curious about your answers.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
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