Suggested Listening: "Dream World", Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion OST
When Mami had been young, her parents had taken her to the beach; a day with the family, filled with fun, sun and surf. It was one of her clearest and most treasured memories, and even the jellyfish sting that had ended the day early couldn't take away the nostalgic pleasure she got each time she recounted what happened.
Even after they'd passed on she could still rely on that little piece of Eden in her mind, and when she'd found Kyoko, someone who could take the misery of her loneliness and chuck it out the window, she decided to enrich those memories by going to the beach with the Sakuras, a lovely little vacation for a family going through a rough patch. Yet another precious memory, this time left unmolested by the gelatinous menace from the deep.
The trip became cathartic to her, and once a year she'd visit that same spot, no matter the company, because when she stood on that beach it always felt like she was with her parents, with the Sakuras, and more recently with Sayaka, Hitomi, Homura and Madoka… Especially Madoka.
Her eyes dipped.
And, as with most events in her life, they would remain memories, never to be repeated as they once had before.
Madoka had broken up with her.
It was a twisted turn of events to say the least; normally couples would bond over disaster, or else break apart in the light of some disability such distress revealed or created. And maybe this situation fell into the latter category, but that was without considering motive. Madoka's decision had been made with pragmatic intent, one borne of fear and concern; the pinkette believed she was cursed and had broken up with Mami as a form of protection.
Mami smiled wryly, wringing her hands together as she mulled over the situation for what was probably the hundredth time that day.
She'd always known about her girlfriend's (well, ex-girlfriend's) superstitious leanings. Even with her knowledge of sciences and her rather grounded mother, Madoka had always loved peeking into the clouds despite knowing that far more logical explanations probably existed. And some of her arguments were hard to ignore; her father's uncanny ability to known when rain was coming based upon his joint stiffness, Madoka's penchant for picking lucky numbers, and even how bad luck seemed to befall the girls in their group if they accidentally spilled salt without throwing any over their shoulders in the aftermath.
Still, even with all that, Mami hadn't expected Madoka to distance herself so drastically as a consequence… And it sucked that she couldn't do anything to assuage Madoka's illogical leaps. The pinkette was concerned about every person she ever fell in love with dying in some horrible accident. If Mami were to use that sort of logic, she would probably put more stock in herself being cursed to die in a car crash than her ex-girlfriend getting her targeted by the universe itself.
Regardless, the deed had been done, the argument had. Hell, it hadn't been so much an argument as much as it had been a blubbering session for Madoka. And no matter how adorable Madoka had looked apologizing for getting Mami wrapped up in a 'curse', it didn't change the fact that the small girl had chosen to end their relationship of two years.
As odd as it was, Mami didn't cry. She hadn't shed a single tear. Oddly enough, the split seemed to affect Sayaka more than Mami, and the blonde spared a moment of empathy for the poor blunette. The girl had only just gathered up enough courage to finally try and fall under Mami and Madoka's protective wings, only to have those same wings wrest away from her, what was once shelter leaving her exposed… Still, as guilty as it made her feel, she didn't spare all that much time to mourn the other girl's disappointments. In fact, she didn't spare that much time to mourn at all.
After her parents, after Kyoko, after Homura; she was numb to loss. Compared to those, Madoka choosing to leave, because she was scared for Mami, seemed like a drop of heartache in an ocean of misery.
Or maybe it was the concussion that, even after a week in the hospital, had failed to go away completely.
It could go either way, honestly.
Yes, it had been a grueling week for her, relationship troubles aside. Surviving being clipped by a semi had been a stroke of luck; surviving a neck injury without permanent damage had been a downright miracle. For as much as she would have loved to gripe or moan about her swiftly collapsing social life, or about the weighty plastic brace looped around her neck, she decided to take a page out of Madoka's superstitious beliefs and count each blessing she had, lest her ungrateful curses turn around and untwine what few threads were still keeping her functional.
The crash had been deemed a mutual fault instance, a rare occurrence for accidents but not unheard of. Mami had accidentally driven into the intersection against the red light… but so had the semi-driver, who had failed to slow down during the yellow light and blown right through the red when it finally made its appearance. In effect, they were both responsible for their own damages, which meant that Mami could look forward to a scrap-heap of a car and a rather daunting medical bill after she left the hospital.
For once in her life, everything was coming towards her in seemingly equal measure. For every negative, there had been a silver lining, and she was grateful for such a benevolent turn of fate.
Even Madoka's rejection of their relationship had a counter; not a particularly powerful one, mind you, but it was still a show of good faith from life. She had a natural aversion to hospitals, primarily because they were the first place she'd ever experienced the true, crippling loneliness of life without her parents. So when she'd awoken there, one of her first concerns, one which she never voiced, was being left alone.
In stepped the answer to her silent worry; a perky, gangly fourteen year old with long platinum hair that bunched into tiny pigtails near her crown.
Nagisa Momoe was an interesting presence, erstwhile and punctual, the girl showed up at the same time each day dressed in her Mitakihara Middle School uniform, chipper and ready to visit Mami's roommate; Mayumi Momoe, the younger girl's mother.
"Hello Mama!" Nagisa chirped, skipping forward and resting her bag beside her mother's bed.
There was no response from the elder woman, her bald form motionless save for the peaceful highs and lows of breathing. Mami's momentary turned piteous. Nagisa arrived that way every day, voice strong and full of vibrant energy, as though her mother wasn't trapped away inside a coma. Cancer was a beast that, for all the tragedy in her life, Mami had managed to avoid coming into contact with, at least until she wound up in the ICU next to someone with a terminal case.
Not that Nagisa knew that. She had heard the doctors talking about their diagnosis of the woman during one of her daily checkups. Mami knew that she should have been paying more attention to the nurse who was attending to her instead of eavesdropping, but she'd been hospitalized for a week and seeing that poor girl come in everyday struck a chord, a chord that rang even louder when she found out the doctors were concealing the truth from the poor platinum girl. They claimed it was for her own good, but with how valiantly Nagisa showed up each day, without fail… Mami could only see the situation ending in disaster.
"Afternoon to you too, Miss Tomoe!" the small girl greeted, flashing her sunset eyes towards the golden haired lass.
Mami returned the cheerful cheep with a polite nod, at least the best nod she could muster with the collar cast secured around her neck, "And how has your day been, Nagisa?"
"Busy, busy, busy," the girl buzzed, rubbing her temple. "Graduation has everyone in a tizzy, even the teachers are going haywire over getting things prepared! I don't really understand why exactly. I mean it's not like many of us are going to different schools; most of us are sticking in the Mitakihara chain, so we'll still be in the same building too… Miss Kazuko even had a breakdown today, crying about how she wasn't ready to see us all graduate… I really don't understand the hassle."
"Kazuko…?" Mami mouthed. The name seemed vaguely familiar. She decided to muse aloud, "Is she the one that always talks about her failed dates?"
Nagisa blinked, hunched shoulders perking, "Yes, actually. How did you know?"
The blonde smiled, "I used to go to Mitakihara high myself… In fact, my g-… My juniors had her for homeroom. The stories they told were pretty entertaining." The statement was rounded out by a short laugh that devolved into a small coughing fit.
Yeah, her throat still wasn't 100% after the crash either.
"Oh… sorry, I didn't mean to make you laugh…" Nagisa shrugged, sinking into her seat.
"N-no, no," Mami coughed, grabbing the water glass at her bedside. She sipped a sliver from the straw before wiping her mouth. "It wasn't your fault. I hear Miss Kazuko just has that effect on people."
Nagisa snickered, though the anecdote wasn't particularly funny, "She is kinda funny like that. Then again, things seem to be settling down with her and her husband now…"
Mami coughed hard this time, spitting out the straw, "H-Husband?! I thought you said she was still talking about failed dates!"
The platinum girl scrambled out of her chair at the outburst, "I-! I didn't know it was a big deal!"
The pastry chef beat on her chest before responding, further clearing her airways and clarifying, "I thought you said she was still complaining about bad dates!"
"Sh-she still does! She's complained about every date her husband has ever taken on her so far, at least that's what I've heard!" Nagisa fumbled. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to mislead you!"
Mami's breath began to even out and she finally set the water cup down.
"It's… it's fine…" the blonde sighed, easing into the bedding. She flashed a playful grin at the young girl, "It's still you're fault, but its fine."
However, Nagisa seemed to take the blame at face value, lowering her head even more, "I-… I'm sorry!"
"Nagisa, Nagisa," Mami sighed, leaning forward as best she could, "I'm kidding, I don't blame you, and I am fine…" It took a minute for the small girl to stop fidgeting in her seat, but the placation seemed to have hit the spot for her. "So, this husband of Kazukos… she didn't take his name?"
Nagisa actually laughed at that, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms, "With her personality? No, I think he took her name… What was his name, though… Nako… Naka… za…? Nakazawa? I think that was it…"
"I… Wasn't…" Mami stuttered, confused, "He also sounds familiar… I think he was in my friend's class… I'll have to ask Madok-…" The blonde's voice trailed off, words going silent as Madoka's name left her lips.
The younger girl cocked her head to the side, mouth opening, "Mado-?"
She was interrupted by a sudden gasp from the other bed. Nagisa twisted in her seat to find her mother, still unconscious. The woman's breathing had only had a momentary deepening before stabilizing; an unconscious sigh.
The student dropped the conversation, her hands immediately flying to her mother's, cupping them while she stared, worryingly down at the gently moving woman.
After an extra moment of concentration, Nagisa returned her gaze to the blonde, rubbing her head, "S-sorry about that… what were we talking about?"
Mami smiled softly, shaking the sudden, depressing subjects from her mind, "N-No-Nakazawa, I think. Kazuko's husband."
"Oh!" the platinum girl perked, "The stories about him are hilarious, and Miss Kazuko always gives him such grief but he sounds like a really good guy! Like, she was talking about how they went to the carnival…"
Suggested Listening: "Tampopo", Yuki Yuna is a Hero OST
Such exchanges continued over the month that Mami stayed hospitalized. The young girl did not falter in her visitation, stopping by every possible day to see if her mother had recovered. After some prying (only a small amount, mind you, Mami was very delicate about the matter) she learned that Mayumi's husband had left the two shortly after the woman had learned she had cancer. Ever since, the two had been on their own, a mother-daughter tag-team against the world… that was, until the cancer suddenly got worse about two weeks before Mami was even in her accident.
It was cruel, really, the way the universe was making this poor girl suffer. In some ways the universe could be downright petty, like a rather awkward moment that had occurred roughly halfway through Mami's hospitalization.
"Nagisa, are you okay?" the blonde asked, shutting her book.
It was evening now, with Mami and Nagisa having settled into a comfortable silence, the chef reading a pleasant book from the hospital library and the student ardently going to town on her studies. It was only when the sounds of scrapping pencil had been replaced by uncomfortable shuffling that Mami had decided to look up. Her concern had been born from Nagisa's irritable fidgeting, hands pressing the folds of her skirt between her legs.
At the question, Nagisa straightened, her hair standing on end, "Y-yes, M-Mami, I mean Miss Tomoe… I'm j-just fine." The reply was waved off with a broken chuckle.
Mami narrowed her eyes, not buying the act for a second, "Nagisa, it's rude to lie to your seniors."
The student looked aside, blush crawling up her neck. A muted mutter weaseled out of the girl's throat, one that Mami couldn't hear.
"Speak up, I can't hear you…" the older girl ordered, her tone simultaneously commanding and reassuring. Trying to balance an authoritarian command with a touch of concern wasn't exactly easy, but it seemed to be doing the trick.
"…forgot my pa…" the girl mumbled, louder this time, so it was only broken instead of illegible. Orange orbs met gold for a brief second before Nagisa redirected her eyes away, recognizing that Mami would still push for honesty. The small student sighed, "I forgot my pads at home today… and I got caught off guard… That is all…"
Mami leaned back into the bed and sighed, satisfied with the answer and a little relieved it wasn't something more serious. In fact she couldn't do anything to suppress a brief chuckle that faded into the sky with her sigh; the girl's mother was suffering from cancer and she was worried about pads…
The girl shrunk into herself at the vocal bark and Mami realized she needed to do some damage control before the girl's thought process beat her down too much. After spending several weeks together, the college student had gotten a feel for her high school counterpart's nature; polite, and energetic, she was often a pendulum of emotions, most often swinging between insanely optimistic and horrifically self-defeating. Any periods where she had a middled-out disposition were few and far between, so it was important that Mami always try and keep the girl nudged towards the 'optimistic' edge of the spectrum, else the small ball of electricity would fizzle into self-loathing.
"Don't look so down," Mami cooed, chuckling, "I just find it amazing how strong you are to actually fuss about something so small in times like these. You realize you're in a hospital and you could probably just go ask an orderly to get you some, right?"
Nagisa shrunk even further, tears prickling in her eyes, sniffing "I… I don't think I'd be safe standing…"
Mami nodded, realizing that there was a little more severity to Nagisa's problem than she's first assumed. Striking upon an idea, she reached for her purse which sat open atop her bedside table. After fishing in it for a second she found what she wanted. She tossed the item to Nagisa, who fumbled to catch it.
"I… hope you've used one before. It's not hard, but it might take some getting used to if you prefer pads," the blonde noted, grimacing a bit.
"It's… it's a cup…?" Nagisa blinked, looking at the small silicone container.
"Yep, and it's way healthier than pads or tampons, believe me…" Mami chuckled. "Though, if you don't feel comfortable giving that a try, then by all means I'll call you a nurse so you can get something more familiar."
"Ehhh… I'm fine trying it," Nagisa replied, though she was still fidgeting, "I… just… how do I use it?"
The blonde froze, realizing that it would be necessary to impart that knowledge. She quickly reached into her bag, looking for something very specific in her panic. To her relief, it was there.
"Here, the instructions are on the box," the chef replied, tossing a small cardboard box to the girl. "It'd probably be better with a demonstration, but I'm not exactly going to volunteer for that; something like that'll actually cost y'something," Mami chuckled again, winking at her junior.
At that Nagisa's face went completely scarlet, matching the two pigtail ties in her hair for vibrancy.
"I… I… I'll be in the bathroom…" Nagisa stuttered out, standing and doing a rushed waddle to the private toilet attached to the room.
Mami let her chuckle rise higher. Teasing the small girl was too much fun sometimes, despite knowing that the girl suffered from fluctuating moods.
Maybe the blonde had a bit of a sadist streak to her, or maybe Nagisa's panicked face was just too adorable to pass up. Regardless, she knew she needed to reel it in after that, if only for the rest of the day.
Suggested Listening: "Pulling My Own Weight", Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion OST
Little moments like that pocked their time together, with embarrassment shared in seemingly equal measure between them. Despite that though, the two were fast friends during Mami's recovery time.
However, near the conclusion of her stay, there came a boiling point. The more familiar Mami became with Nagisa, the more knowledge of Mayumi's condition became a burden. Two days before Mami was scheduled for release, she broke.
"…and I'll give you a call so you can give me a hand, if that's alright?" Nagisa asked, cocking her head to the side. When Mami failed to respond, the smaller girl narrowed her brows, "Mami?"
The blonde blinked, jolting up in her seat. She grew a sheepish grin and scratched at the back of her head, which was a little unwieldy given the neck brace, "I… uh… Sorry, I wasn't really paying attention…"
Nagisa puffed her cheeks, "I was talking about the cheesecake I want to bake for Mama for when she wakes up. You said you'd help me, right?"
Mami's face fell sallow, "I… yeah, I… I'll do that."
The junior's face fell to match, "Mami… Is something wrong?"
"N-no!" Mami jolted again, "Nothing's wrong. I just… there's a lot on my mind recently, especially since I'm probably going to be hit with a big hospital bill soon…"
One platinum eyebrow raised, "But didn't you say you could cover that pretty easily?"
Mami winced, "I mean, yes, but it doesn't stop it from hurting the wallet… I also have a few personal issue going on that aren't exactly pleasant… Including my… uh… friend moving out of the apartment…"
Nagisa wracked her memory, scratching her forehead, "That crass one with the red hair who gives me cheese sticks each time she visits?"
The blonde laughed a little at the particular details Nagisa chose to remember, "No… a different friend. I don't think you've met her. She… only stopped by once or twice before she stopped visiting altogether…"
"She doesn't sound like a very good friend, then…" Nagisa mused, scratching her chin.
"I… don't think she's wrong, actually," Mami sighed, feeling some tears prickling the corners of her eyes, "Sometimes, you have to let go of things you love, even if it hurts… Because if you don't you wind up hurt even worse… or they will…"
The small girl puffed her cheeks, "That's defeatist talk! If you love something, you fight for it however you can!"
"Not if you're doomed to fail!" Mami snapped. Nagisa jumped, reeling back from the blonde in shock. Mami's face softened, but her toned remained convicted, "You reach a point where going forward isn't viable… and you have to drop that thread or else you're going to just get swallowed by your own emotions."
"Stop talking like that Mami, you're stronger than that!" the platinum girl cried. She mellowed out in her chair, wringing her hands, "You're… you're scaring me…"
Mami grit her teeth, "…You should be scared…"
The blonde clenched her jaw and screwed her eyes shut, pushing tears down her cheeks, "She's… she's not going to wake up, Nagisa… I-I overheard the doctors. They want to protect you, but they're just making it worse when the truth comes out…"
Nagisa didn't quite register the words at first, but slowly her face drained of color, quickly matching the pale, ethereal nature of her hair.
"…No…" she choked, "…No. Mama's going to wake up, and we're going to have her favorite cake together, an-and we're going to go back to the way things were."
Mami looked at the girl, finding a mirrored set of tears leaving her sunset eyes. "Nagisa…" the blonde cooed.
Nagisa jumped to a stand and dashed to the side of her mother's bed, pressing the nurse call button, jamming it down with a balled fist.
"Nagisa, what are you doing?" Mami managed to cough out.
"Showing you that she'll make it… proving you're wrong…" Nagisa wheezed.
A minute later, a male nurse came walking into the room, curiosity written on his face. That curiosity was replaced with surprise and a miniscule amount of panic when Nagisa began shouting.
"She's going to live, right? You keep saying she'll wake up, you all keep telling me that, she's going to wake up!" the girl hicced, wiping her tears with her sleeve, "Tell me she's going to wake up!"
The nurse backpedaled out of the room, and returned a minute later with another nurse and Mayumi's doctor.
The room took on a surreal presence as Nagisa kept making the same demand, over and over again, to be told that her mother would pull through. Mami watched the whole time, as the girl devolved into a more hysterical panicked fit, as the doctors tried to placate her… as they finally told her the truth they had been withholding from her for so long.
Nagisa spent the rest of visiting hours (and even quite some time after that) crying into her mother's shoulder, confessing to every woe her heart had borne around the woman during their time together, pleading for forgiveness and for her not to go.
But off course, the woman would never reciprocate the cries, the hugs, or the tears.
And Mami had no choice but to bear witness to the night the young girl's heart broke.
Suggested Listening: "Zero Hour", Noir OST
Mayumi passed away in the middle of the night, two weeks after Mami had been discharged from the hospital. Neither she nor Nagisa were there when it happened.
It was surreal; attending a funeral for someone she had never exchanged one word with, dressed in a simple black dress that was garishly offset by a stark white neck brace that the doctors still refused to give the okay to remove.
She felt as if a minnow among sharks as she walked among the grieving family members; swallowed up by that ocean she cherished so deeply in her heart. For her there was no grieving; to her the woman had only ever been a shadow of a person, a body fighting for life while the soul had already left.
But if that were only the case, she would have no reason to be among the mourners. No, she was there with purpose.
In the corner of the funeral home was a small figure, huddled over with her eyes in her elbows, clothing damp from rampant tears. A lone man stood guard for her, awkwardly shuffling against the wall trying not to look at the huddled form beside him. It was less apathy, though, and more guilt; a man naturally unaffected by death, unlearned in the ways of comforting those who have lost. He was relieved when she silently directed him away, indicating that she would take his place.
Nagisa didn't budge as Mami took a seat next to her, eyes casually watching the other patrons of the service with short-term curiosity. A few uneasy stares were thrown her way, unsure and uncomfortable. She smiled at them in return, which quickly deterred the scrupulous gazes from digging any deeper.
The shuddering girl next to her fell into her side, still balled up and bawling, sinking into the increasingly familiar warmth that had sat beside her. Mami smiled softly and wrapped an arm around the lost chick, pulling her close. Her body began to vibrate in kind with the smaller girl's choked sobs, and as uncomfortable as that was, she pulled even tighter, eventually even threading fingers through the silver locks in an attempt to sooth the errant daughter.
Yet another surreal element to the pile, Mami mused… how, in just a little under two months, she and Nagisa had become friends worthy of support in times of grief. Admittedly, seeing someone each day during a traumatic point in their life (or even her own) probably played a role, but the two shared a bond beyond that. Born from different disasters, the two were sisters in orphanage.
But Nagisa had a clear leg up on Mami in their mutual suffering.
For one, Nagisa had a guide in the older girl. Mami had strayed along some dark roads, and still strolled them to the day. There was a spark of hope that this piddling friendship might help them both find their way off the roads to a safer, brighter meadow.
And for another, one that Mami had no hopes of equaling…
"You got to say goodbye…" the blonde mumbled.
Nagisa's head rubbed into her shoulder, only for the diluted orange orbs to peak up at the taller woman. Groggy, she asked "Wha…?"
"I never got the chance," Mami elaborated, feeling warm streams crossing down to her chin.
Flashes; of her mother scrabbling at the glass and metal and concrete, of what remained of her father's absent eyes, of the crippling terror that pushed her to crawl from the twisted wreck, that screwed her throat shut to preternatural silence.
Then, there, outside the room, a day after she'd been discharged, hearing the small girl finally muster up the will to let go, at least with words, after days of agonizing crying. Eavesdropping, feeling pride in the girl, embracing her in a hug after entering the room; good memories of sad events.
Mami sniffed, wiping her nose, "I don't know where people go, Nagisa… But I'm sure your mother is happier knowing you were there to say goodbye, even if she couldn't say it back." The blonde smiled down at the student, tears still flowing, "You've been the best daughter you could be for her, and after seeing everything you've done for her, how much you loved her, I can only wonder about how much she must've loved you."
Nagisa's fists gripped Mami's dress and pressed her face into the young woman's side, mewling, "M-Mami…"
Mami wrapped her arm tighter around the girl, her calm demeanor waning to a shadow of what it once was, "Nagisa… I'm so… so sorry…"
For the rest of the service the two remained huddled together, inseparable among the ocean of grief.
Suggested Listening: "This Is My Despair", Puella Magi Madoka Magica Rebellion OST
Unlike what literature, movies and games have ingrained in the masses, life does not stop with death. There is no bookend to the tragedies of life.
And so the world moved forward for Mami Tomoe, though now with a little more weight to it than she had ever anticipated.
Her friendship with Nagisa was not a fair-weather one. She kept a revolving door policy open for the small girl, always making sure the spare bedroom was well kept and that the fridge had enough cheesy confections for that extra boost that the other orphan would need from time to time.
Of course the visits, which steadily became a weekly occurrence with the stresses of a new school year, didn't sate the support the platinum girl needed. In a show of good faith, or perhaps embarrassed acknowledgement of their own callus retention of her mother's true condition, the hospital offered Nagisa grief counseling at a discount that her late mother's insurance would cover for a handful of months.
She didn't want to go alone; she never did. Even if she walked into the office without an escort, knowing there was someone waiting for her a door away was cathartic for the mousy teenager.
Perhaps, too, it was cathartic for Mami to be that escort, to be that solace, to be that shelter. To be needed. To have someone.
Two months into this routine Madoka had reentered the picture, no longer reclused, but still hesitant, the living embodiment of a shadow jumper. But the offer this time was to reset the past, to go back to how things had been.
Mami had nearly choked where she stood and it took two weeks beyond that for the two to even attempt talking again. They would be friends, nothing more, nothing less. The two years they spent together would be ought but a memory for the two, still pleasant but tarnished with hindsight and longing.
That same longing that Mami had known her whole life that, that had plagued her since her parent's death, that had sunken with Kyoko and deepened further with Madoka… There was nothing but a gaping void there now, and it hurt.
But at some point along the road, she realized the void didn't feel so expansive, so intimidating, and she came to realize that someone had been there since her own accident, filling in the gaps, the pothole diminishing in depth.
It had been over a lovely bout of afternoon tea with Nagisa that the moment crystallized. She watched the girl, matured so much from the moment her mother had died, take a bite of homemade cheesecake, and it occurred to her how similar they really were; dead mothers, orphaned, and for the most part alone.
Those moments, those calming words that Mami spoke to the girl, were really the ones that she'd needed to hear herself, and by speaking them aloud to a matching soul she had unconsciously begun picking up the pieces left in that wake.
One of these pieces, however, teetered on her fingers as some very quiet words were uttered across the table.
"My father's family is trying to take me in…" Nagisa squeaked.
The pleasant mood of confections and tea slipped away as the girl made the sudden and rather dour admission.
"What?" Mami asked, resting down her cup.
"They… my aunt and uncle here are moving overseas to America, and they can't afford to take me with them…" the small girl meeped, "So my father's brother up in Russia offered to take me in. He's working with my aunt on the paperwork now."
The blonde blinked, fingers picking up a small cheese pastry out of habit. She played with the flaky delicacy before responding, "I… I see." That piece, like a seashell held only by the ring and pinky, began to slip back to the eternal sands below. Mami's face was neutral, deciding that neutral questions would help her to hide the sadness boiling in her belly, "Do you have many friends in Russia?"
Nagisa pushed a slice of cake to the side of her plate, her reluctance to eat it tantamount to a betray of everything Mami knew about the teenager.
"No… I've… never been…" she replied.
"Oh… do you speak Russian?"
"Nope… Everyone agrees it's the most feasible solution… not the best one," Nagisa sighed resting her chin in her hands, "Especially since the insurance for the counseling is going to run out soon… It didn't last all that long, now did it?"
The last statement was made with a shaky breath.
Mami set down her pastry without taking a bite, golden eyes seeking out the dual sunsets of Nagisa's.
"Nagisa… do you want to leave…?"
She knew where this line of questioning would go, what she was tempted to offer.
"Everyone would be happy about it. My aunt and uncle can move to-."
"That's not what I asked," Mami stated, her voice elevated, firm, but not overbearing. Nagisa fidgeted in her seat. "Nagisa, do you want to leave Japan? Do you want to leave Mitakihara?"
The platinum girl let out an exhausted sigh before shaking her head, "I don't want to go. I… I was just starting to make friends again at school… and… and… I don't think I'd ever get a chance to talk with you again…"
For a moment the piece was about to fall, its teeter edging near the tipping point… Only for Mami's fingers to curl and pull it close, rolling it back down into her hand.
She sucked in a breath, "Nagisa… what if you were to come live with me?"
The look in Nagisa's eye was heart-wrenchingly conflicted. But slowly, so slowly, Nagisa's brow became more firm and certain; not confident, but focused.
"I… I would like to give that a try…" the girl nodded.
Mami's fist closed down around the shell and the piece returned where it rightfully fit.
"Then let's have a talk with your family about this tomorrow, shall we? For now, I think your cake is getting warm," Mami chuckled, dispelling the tension.
Nagisa yelped and quickly scooped the remainder of the sweet into her mouth.
"Not so fast, you'll choke!" Mami laughed, reaching over to slap the smaller girl's hands.
It was in that gentle summer afternoon that Mami realized that she was healing. The same afternoon that Nagisa told her that her father's family would be taking her to Russia. The very same afternoon that both of them knew that Nagisa's home wasn't with her family in Russia, or with her scattered relatives in Japan; it was at Mami's side.
The next day the two would make sure it stayed that way.
"Mami! Look! The waves are so big today!"
The blonde smiled, lips only graced by a sliver of the shadow provided by her wide straw hat, "They certainly are. Where do you think we should set up?"
"You can figure that out!" Nagisa laughed, blowing a raspberry at the older girl, "I'm gonna dive right in!"
Mami perked, "Not without your sunblock, young lady! Get back here…! Gah…! Nagisa! Nagisa, get back here this second, you little troublemaker!"
"Only if you can catch me!"
"I'm carrying the umbrella and the basket; I only have so many limbs!"
"Then just grow more!"
"That doesn't make any sense!"
And even though she would become tired and sweaty and burned over the next few hours, every second to her was precious.
This day, like all the others, would become a memory. But, for now, Mami was content to enjoy it came; hot sand, gentle breezes, and the companionship of someone very dear.