It was quiet at Midori's house, and warm. The place was very cozy and seemed quite safe, but as soon as they were inside, Midori looked the door securely behind them. "Make yourself at home," she told Marin. "You look freezing. Hold on a second…" She rummaged through a cupboard in the hall near the front door, pulling out a soft blanket. "Aha. Here, wrap yourself up in this. I'll get us some dinner, and then I think you need a bath."
Marin gratefully shed the dirty canvas and wrapped up in the blanket. As Midori cooked a simple supper, the younger girl told her something of her adventures in Brigadoon and Submaton Color. She found it difficult to speak of, however. "You should have seen it, Midori. It was so beautiful. But now…everything's gone wrong." She sighed. "I guess it couldn't last forever. I'm sorry I wasn't any use, though. Turns out it was all just a big mistake, and everything I did was for nothing."
Midori came out to join her at the table, setting bowls of miso soup and rice out for them. She poured hot tea into cups. "It wasn't for nothing. You tried, didn't you? That's all anyone can ask. The important thing now is to keep your strength up, so eat up, okay?" Marin nodded, hungrily eyeing the food. "Itadakimasu," she murmured before digging in with the chopsticks. She shoveled down the food hungrily, too starving to talk until every last bite was gone.
While they ate, Midori filled Marin in on some of the happenings since she'd left. "The mutual collapse has been happening more and more often. You've seen it. It's pure chance where it hits, and I'm just lucky my house is still standing. My parents went off to see what they could do; they're staying full time at the evacuation centers, cooking and taking care of the injured. The left me here to keep an eye on the house. There are a lot of people looting and stealing, now. You'd better stick with me until we find out what happened to your neighbors from the tenement; it's just not safe out there."
Marin paused from eating, taking a sip of the tea and savoring both the taste and the warmth that filled her. "Well, it's not like I've got anywhere else to go," she admitted. "But what about you, Midori? Should you really be walking around if it's so dangerous out…especially at night?"
Midori grinned. "You forget, no one messes with me and my bokuto." She waved a finger. "Nah, I'm all right. Don't worry about me. I go for walks because I'd go crazy if I just stayed locked in the house all day. The schools have all been closed, and there's nothing much to do but sit at home and read or listen to all the depressing news on the radio. Sometimes I see if I can be any help volunteering, but I don't stay out long. I usually bring back old clothes to mend for the children. In this weather they've got to stay warm, after all." She paused to eat a few bites.
Marin smiled softly. Midori came across as a very harsh, disinterested girl, but she seemed to have her gentler side, too. Even so, she could still sense the anger and frustration just below the surface. Midori obviously wanted to do more, and Marin couldn't blame her. It hurt her just to look around at all the devastation in the city.
Marin finished off the rest of her food and drained her tea. Midori took a little bit longer, then took the plates into the kitchen. "I'll do the dishes later. Right now I think it's time for a bath. No offense, but you're filthy." She wrinkled her nose, and Marin couldn't help but smile. Her head ached and she felt very tired now that her hunger pains were satisfied, but she really wanted to soak the chill out of her bones.
Marin helped Midori to fill up the makeshift bath outside, made from an old metal drum just big enough to comfortably stand in. The hot water wasn't running, so they had to fill the bath with water from the hose and then start a fire at the bottom, in a fire pit Midori had cleared for the purpose. It took some time, but finally it was somewhat warm. Heedless of the fact that she was outdoors, Marin dropped the blanket and stripped off the tattered remains of her leaf dress; there was no one around to see but Midori. She shivered in the biting cold, then hurriedly scrambled into the water. It felt scalding hot at first to her chilled skin, but gradually the warmth began to seep into her, and Marin felt her stiff limbs slowly relax. She sighed, leaning her arms on the edge of the metal drum; the sudden heat made her rather dizzy.
"No, it's just fine. Thank you, Midori."
She was silent for a while, head spinning with exhaustion and the steam from the bath. Little white tendrils curled and drifted away above her in the cold air. The snow fell silently; the only sounds were the crackling of the fire and Midori blowing on it through a straw to fan the flames. Her eyes drifted halfway shut, the warmth and quiet lulling her tired mind and body into a kind of doze.
Marin's eyes blinked open, and she sucked in her breath. The sound had seemed very faint and far off, but urgent, as if someone were calling her from a long way away.
"What's the matter? Are you sure it's not too hot?"
"No, it's not that. It's just…I thought I heard someone calling my name."
"Hm?" Midori cocked her head to one side as Marin stood up in the water.
"Midori, I have to go right away!"
"Go? Go where? Marin, you're exhausted; you're not thinking straight. What do you mean?"
Marin placed her hands on the side of the drum and started to climb out, her voice urgent. "I don't know! But I…I have to…" She put one foot over the side, and suddenly her head spun. Her vision blurred, and she lost her balance, crashing to the deck.
"Marin!" Midori dropped the straw and hurried around to the other side of the bath. "Are you all right? The hot water must have made you dizzy…" She knelt down next to her young friend.
Marin struggled to her knees, reaching out with her hand and groping at the air. "Midori! Which direction are you in? Everything's dark!" Panic rose within her, her stomach churning and her throat tight. "What's happening, Midori?"
Midori grabbed her searching hands and held them tightly in her own, frowning worriedly. "What do you mean?"
"I can't see, Midori! I can't see anything! I'm…I'm blind!"
Midori let out a small gasp, blinking in surprise. She shook herself, forcing down the infectious panic that radiated from Marin. Helping the girl up, she reached out and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around her. "Come on, I'll help you inside. Just calm down. Shh." She put her arm around Marin's shaking shoulders, making soothing sounds. Marin was whimpering softly. Midori guided her into the guestroom, where she'd already laid out some bedding. She led Marin to the futon and made her sit down, then looked at her carefully, examining her eyes.
"Well Marin, I'm no doctor or anything…do you feel okay, aside from not being able to see? What happened to you when you got back?"
Marin tried to fight down the panic enough to answer. She gulped a few breaths of air. "Um…I had to get a ride to the tenement because we ended up a ways outside the city. I got there and searched, and then I went to the school…I left and found a bridge to sleep under…" She wracked her brains, trying to remember all the things that had happened in the terrible last twenty-four hours. "I—a woman attacked me. She's the one who tried to hurt me before. She—she said I killed her daughter. And then…why did she leave me alone? Oh, the mutual collapse. One started right above us, and we ran in different directions. That's how I lost her."
Midori frowned. "Did you get away from the collapse? Were you hurt?"
"I…think I hit my head…"
"Hmmm. That might be it, then. Like I said, though, I'm no doctor. I just know that sometimes concussions can make your vision go all funny, and you get dizzy…I think. Look, there's nothing we can do tonight—it's freezing and it's dark, and it'd be nuts to try to go find a doctor in the middle of the night. It's just not safe on the streets right now. We can go in the morning to see what's wrong, all right? I'm sure it'll all be fine." She hugged the whimpering girl around the shoulders. "Maybe a good night's sleep will help. When you wake up, your vision might be fine again."
Marin looked in the direction of her friend's voice, swallowing a soft sob. "You really think so?"
Midori patted her shoulder. "Could be. Look, if you've been hurt in any way, it's a good idea for you to get some rest. You've been through a lot, and some sleep might be all you need. So you just sit right here while I find you some of my old pajamas. I think I might have some old clothes and things that'll fit you…you're skinny as a stick, like I've always been, and my parents never throw anything out."
Midori got up, the sound of her voice moving as she talked. Marin could hear drawers rattling and scraping as she searched through the old clothes. She hugged her knees, feeling terrified and disoriented, but she focused on Midori's voice, grasping the sound and clinging to it in her mind.
After a few seconds, she could hear Midori's footsteps coming back to the futon. "Here you go. A bit worn, but clean and soft. Here, hold out your arms."
Midori helped Marin, who was still shaking in shock and worry, to put on the pajamas. She had to admit, she felt better once she was finally wearing real clothing for the first time in a long while. Once she was dressed, Midori helped her up and steered her to the bathroom, where she put toothpaste on a toothbrush and handed it to Marin. As she brushed her teeth, Midori brushed out her hair. "Wow, you have some serious tangles, Marin. I'm afraid you'll have to sleep on it wet, but I have plenty of blankets, so you'll be nice and warm."
Marin finished brushing, spit into the sink, and then groped for the cup of water Midori offered so she could rinse her mouth. She rinsed and spit again, then drank thirstily. Midori then put her hands on her shoulders and again steered her gently back to the guestroom. Marin sank wearily down onto the futon, still tense and shaking a little bit, and Midori covered her up in layers of blankets.
Marin lay there for a couple of seconds, her teeth chattering, and then sighed miserably as tears began to flow down her cheeks.
"Marin?" Midori sounded worried, and a little uncomfortable. Marin had only known her for a few months, but she could tell that the girl was not ordinarily a very emotional or demonstrative person. It was obvious that she was concerned and rather unnerved by all of this, but she truly was worried about her young friend. She sighed, hugging Marin, who cried softly into her shoulder.
"Marin, it'll be okay. You'll see. Look, no matter what else has happened, you're still alive, right? You don't know where your friends are, but you don't know that they're dead, either. Tomorrow we might find them, and you might wake up feeling as good as new and able to see just fine. You've been through a lot, but this isn't like you. You're a stubbornly optimistic kid, and I know you're not going to let this get you down. You've got to get some rest, okay?" She smoothed Marin's hair back. "That's the best thing you can do right now, for yourself and for your friends. So just try, all right? I'll be just in the next room, I promise. If you wake up in the night and you need anything, all you have to do is call me. I'm a light sleeper—I'll hear you."
Marin threw her arms around the older girl and hugged her tightly. "Thanks, Midori. I'm so glad you found me. I'm sorry about all the trouble I've caused you."
Midori smiled, ruffled Marin's hair, and slowly stood up. "It's no big deal. Like I said, you can repay me by getting some sleep and taking care of yourself, all right?"
"Mm-hmm." Marin nodded, then wriggled down under the covers again. She heard the light click off as she pulled them up under her chin. "Good night, Midori."
"Good night, Marin. Sweet dreams."
Midori's footsteps padded off down the hall, and Marin was left alone. It was somehow less scary now…she was quite used to lying awake in the dark at night, so it wasn't so hard to pretend that nothing had happened and she could see just fine. She concentrated instead on the sounds around her. She could hear Midori in the next room, getting ready for bed…the sound of the water running as she brushed her teeth, and the rummaging through dresser drawers. After a while the sounds stopped; Midori had gone to bed. The windows and doors were closed tightly and locked, but outside Marin could hear the faint rustle of the wind. She wondered if it were still snowing. She pressed her face into the pillow, smelling the bedding. Each person's house always had a distinctive smell. This one smelled of…inexpensive laundry detergent, sheets well washed…the clean wooden smell of the floors, the slightly musty smell of the mats…the fading scent of their simple dinner. There was a little of Midori's own smell here, too. Marin found it comforting. She nestled into the soft bedding, pulling the covers up a little more.
I hope Midori's right, and when I wake up everything will be fine. I wonder how Melan is doing… She blinked; she'd forgotten about that voice she'd heard earlier. It had sounded almost like Melan. Had he called her somehow? A faint worry niggled at her; she hoped he wasn't in trouble. Of course, it was a rare kind of trouble Melan couldn't get out of. Marin smiled faintly to herself. She always wanted to help him, but there was little she could do. Melan Blue was a warrior who was there to protect her, not the other way around. Still, she couldn't help worrying.
Despite all the emotions swirling in her head, Marin felt her thoughts grow fuzzy. She yawned widely. She was so very exhausted, even all the worries and conflicting emotions from this terrible day couldn't keep her awake for long. Finally she drifted off, curled up in the blessed, comforting warmth of her bedding, and dreamed of the sun-filled days in Submaton Color.