A/N: This story was written for the MaiUniverse "Carnival of MUses" challenge for March-April; the prompts were "rain" and "hangover" and I chose to use both of them. This story is set roughly at the same time as Shiho is demonstrating that she doesn't have the sense to come in from the rain while waiting for Tate (ep. 23). And yes, as I've said before, I just happen to like the English-subtitled name of Midori's CHILD.
~X X X~
Rain against the windowpanes.
Sharp, harsh echoes like sparks bursting in her brain, spikes in her ears.
There was no answer, but instinctively Midori Sugiura knew that it was better for her to get up. If she tried to sleep again the sound of the rain would continue to be a vicious irritant, while if she got up it would blend into the background noise of her other discomforts.
She sat up, and it was as if the world had exploded. A bright flash seemed to burst in her eyes, and her stomach churned with a wave of nausea. Midori could only sit for nearly half a minute while she tried to regain her senses. At last, when the pain and the urge to vomit had receded, she let out a long groan and rubbed her temples.
I haven't been this hung over in...God, how long? she thought. Her eyes fell on the clock-radio next to her bed; it was nearly four in the afternoon. Years. Not since sophomore year. Her friend Youko could shrug off the effects of liquor much better than she could, Midori had discovered, which was why—most of the time—the redhead confined her drinking to "mildly buzzed" rather than "falling-down blind drunk."
Most of the time.
Her foot nudged something. A bottle. It rolled across the floor, then struck another one with a clink. The sharp sound made her wince in pain again.
She'd done her drinking here, in her apartment, she realized. That was strange. Midori was a social drinker. She consumed alcohol while partying with her friends. To loosen herself up—or maybe to give myself an excuse for acting like I was going to, anyway. She didn't drink alone, except for the occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner. Not like this, draining beer after beer, half a bottle of bad whiskey...and was that the bottle of Glenfiddich she'd been saving for a special occasion?
What had she been thinking?
The rain echoing on the window was a drumbeat against her temples.
Four o'clock in the afternoon.
She glanced at the clock again, verifying that she wasn't completely crazy about the time, and her eyes fell on the photograph next to it.
It felt like a fist was squeezing her heart. Her gorge rose again, but this time the nausea wasn't from alcohol. The sickening realization of what had happened, what she'd done, rose up and threatened to engulf her. The momentary confusion caused by the aftereffects of her drunken binge and the disorientation of waking up was gone.
Oh, she remembered all right. She remembered what had happened, the choices she'd made and their consequences, just as she remembered dragging herself back to her apartment and trying her very best to forget everything.
It hadn't worked.
She stared at the picture of the three of them, taken on the dig the summer after her junior year of college. The professor was there, with his close-cut black hair shot through with gray. It was all gray, now, she thought, but the steel-rimmed glasses, the square jaw, the enthusiastic and infectious smile were all the same. Midori was standing next to him, starstruck as she'd been all those seven weeks, and Youko looking like she had no idea what she was thinking to get dragged off to Turkey for the summer. Midori knew what Youko was thinking, of course; she was there because she was the kind of friend who didn't run out on you even when you ran halfway across the world like a lovestruck seventeen-year-old.
She ought to go see Youko. Grief was a lot more easily borne by two then by one.
But Midori couldn't do that.
Because I killed him. She had wiped that smiling face in the photo off the face of the Earth. The professor's spirit had been sealed into a column in the Obsidian Palace, one of eleven pillars forming the gate to the true Fuka no Miya.
Droplets of water streamed down the glass like tears, but Midori had no more to offer. She'd used all of hers already.
Oh, it was true that she hadn't done anything like take a knife or gun to him. That was obvious. But she'd done something that had just as directly led to his death, without question.
She'd made the choice.
She'd known the consequences.
Midori had been fascinated by the legend of the HiME, the Battle Princesses, ever since she had manifested her own powers. She'd searched the historical and archaeological record, sorting out myth from legend, legend from fact. She'd made it the topic for her Master's thesis, diving into it with her usual brand of over-the-top enthusiasm. She was in her element, wielding superhuman powers to fight off threatening monsters.
Except, of course, being a HiME had nothing to do with fighting Orphans. That had been a warm-up exercise, an excuse arranged by Mashiro and Nagi to get some of the more reluctant HiME to accept their powers. To join the Festival without knowing what it was: a tournament in which there were no winners. In which eleven girls lost the lives of the person most precious to them so that the twelfth could become the "bride" of the Obsidian Prince—a tool by which he could wield the near-limitless power of the HiME Star.
Doomed children caught in a broken fairy tale.
And she was one of them.
It had all seemed so "heroic" when she was doing it. When she had confronted Mashiro over the truth of the HiME Festival. When Mashiro had given her the key to where she'd had the damaged body of Miyu Greer secreted for repairs. The childlike Headmistress had made it all seem so simple. Entrusting Midori with this important task—because Miyu was the centerpiece of Mashiro's scheme. Miyu was the means by which Mashiro hoped to overthrow the HiME Festival, defeat the Obsidian Prince, and rescue the HiME from their fate.
Reaching Miyu, reviving her, that was a hero's task. Midori had jumped at it like everything else she did. But Mashiro had counted on that, hadn't she? That Midori would put concerns like personal risk and self-sacrifice aside for the "greater good" in the way other HiME wouldn't.
Oh, she'd done it, all right. She'd rushed off, a toy at Mashiro's command. She'd been so full of idealistic fervor that rather than reinitialize Miyu's memory and programming to do what she wanted she left it intact, trusting that Miyu's bond with Alyssa would bring the Searrs android into an allegiance with them. Out of a hope of saving Alyssa's loved ones...or perhaps just out of a sense of revenge.
Midori picked up a bottle, found it still about a quarter full of Suntory Scotch, something for salarymen to get drunk on so they could pour out their worries into the ears of geisha and bar hostesses paid to put up with it. An appropriate drink for how I feel, Midori thought, glad now that she hadn't called Youko, hadn't dragged her friend over to subject her to these worries. It was about time she did something for the people she claimed to care for instead of always begging them for favors or using them in other ways.
Like she'd used the man she loved.
Like she'd thrown away his life in pursuit of her quest.
How she'd seen Miroku heading for the "coffin" where Miyu's reboot sequence was completing and she'd acted instinctively. She'd summoned Gakuten-O, not to fight, but merely to stand astride the repair chamber, so that when Miroku's massive club descended it did not crush Miyu but came down across Gakuten-O's spine. Midori had sacrificed her CHILD, and with it the life of the man she loved, all for that supposed happy future.
A future she had no reason to believe even existed.
Nothing in her research had suggested that it was even possible. Quite the opposite; this cycle had been going on for...how long? How many times had the HiME danced to their master's playing?
What makes you think this time will be any different?
She'd had nothing but trust. Trust in Mashiro, who'd lied to them all, deceived them from the first. Trust in Miyu, who'd been their dedicated enemy all along. Trust, too, in Mai, who'd had to be dragged and coerced into playing her part in any of this and who'd already lost more than anyone could justly demand she give. Trust that had no reason to exist but for the fact that Midori the hero, Midori the "champion of justice," didn't want to believe in unhappy endings.
And she'd bet the life of her most precious person on it.
She looked at the bottle again. It was tempting, so tempting, to take another drink, to bury herself in, if not solace, at least insensibility, a place where she could hide. But she set it back down, untouched.
Perhaps she wasn't a hero.
Maybe she was just a dreamer who'd become a bit player in someone else's story. Or maybe she was just a pawn in the Obsidian Prince's game. But at least she could watch until the end. She could look straight ahead and see what the truth of it was. If she'd been faithful, or just a fool.
Her most precious person deserved at least that much from her.
Groaning, she pushed herself up out of bed. Outside, the rain continued to fall. She'd let it shed what tears she needed.