STARS ABOVE SIDE-STORY: My Sunshine
PART THREE: ANGER
She grinned around the pocky stick clenched in her teeth. It was not a happy grin. Come on. Come on.
Standing all alone in the middle of the broken, shattered street, at sundown, with the fog just starting to roll in… it was perfect, Kyoko thought. The only thing missing was the Demons, but they would come. There weren't many left in Mitakihara, but they would come, attracted to her like moths to a lantern. She wondered if they could already smell her. Come on, come on. I've got a nice, juicy Heart ready for you, all full of despair, just like you like it. Come on out.
This would be it, her final stand. And this was the perfect place, the perfect time for it.
Kyoko Sakura had made her decision. She was going to die tonight.
But damned if she wasn't going to go out fighting.
It was enough.
As the fog thickened into miasma they came shambling forward, forming a loose ring around her, moaning in their incomprehensible speech. Obviously they were confused; a Puella Magi, one of their mortal enemies, was simply standing there by herself, waiting for them. She hadn't even called forth her weapon yet. She couldn't blame them for hesitating. Stupid, mindless things, you could almost pity them.
Unless you knew what their kind had done to Mami Tomoe. Unless you knew what their kind had forced Kyoko to do to her...
She pushed the rest of her pocky stick into her mouth, chewed it up, swallowed, and smiled. A red flash leapt from her half-darkened Soul Gem and coalesced into her spear. Kyoko whirled the weapon in a deadly circle, then slammed the weighted end into the ground. "All right, fuckers," she whispered. The bones in her neck cracked as she tilted her head sharply back and forth, limbering herself up. "Let's dance."
The Forests of Mount Fuji
"… and… and so the hunter closes his eyes and says, 'Oh, God in Heaven, I repent for all my sins. Please, I beg of you, make this bear do the honorable Japanese thing.' So the bear, it skids to a stop, drops to its knees, claps its paws together, and says, 'Itadakimasu!'"
If only for a moment, the Lair rang with their laughter. Mostly Kyoko's laughter, of course, but she could hear Mami's cute little giggle from above… or maybe below.
Mami shook her head as she regained her breath. "That's terrible…"
"Y-Yeah," said Kyoko, grinning lopsidedly. "It's an old one, but one of my favorites. Can't remember where I heard it, though…" She sighed and tried to shrug, but the cocoon made it difficult. "Ah well. That's about all I can think of for now. You have any good jokes?"
"Oh no," said Mami. "I'm no good at telling jokes. You and Sayaka, though, you were always-"
"Yeah." Kyoko felt her happiness ebbing away at the mention of Sayaka's name. Mami knew now. She didn't remember the event itself, that was gone completely… but after crying for a long time, she had accepted that Sayaka wasn't coming for them, now or ever.
Kyoko couldn't understand what had happened. She and Mami had both been fed on, so why could she still remember finding the bodies of her family? It was a memory she would have been glad to be rid of, but it was still there at the forefront of her mind, with horrible clarity.
The only way to keep from focusing on it was by talking, distracting herself. So Kyoko cracked jokes, told stories, recalled the plots of movies or TV shows she had seen… anything to keep from thinking about that memory, or the hopelessness of their present situation. Mami was an extremely good listener, as always, and if she minded being a captive audience, she had the grace not to let it show.
When Kyoko's voice got tired, it was Mami's turn to talk. She didn't have quite as many words to say; perhaps she thought it wasn't ladylike to share every little thing that popped into her head, or perhaps she just wasn't as desperate to shut things out, as Kyoko was. Mami would talk about recipes she was planning, or battles she had fought before the two of them had met, or other Puellae Magi she had come across during her career.
The one subject they both avoided was family. Kyoko had a very good reason for doing so, of course, but she couldn't help wondering why Mami wouldn't go there. She knew that Mami had lost her parents in a car accident some time ago, but normally she would still mention them every now and again, just in passing. Perhaps it was simply Mami being Mami, tactfully trying to sidestep what she knew would bring that image back to Kyoko's mind.
A loud growl escaped the layers of cotton-silk over Kyoko's stomach. She glared down at it. "Aw, shut up." There was no way to tell how long it had been since her last meal out in the forest, but it had to have been at least half a day or so. Being hungry wasn't too much of an issue for Puellae Magi; in the same way that you could shut off pain, you could shut off hunger or thirst if necessary, at the cost of the magic it took to do so and the energy that the nourishment would normally provide. It took focus to sustain, though, and Kyoko had never been much good at that technique even in the best of circumstances. Besides, she enjoyed food too much to consciously deprive herself of it for long.
Mami sighed. "I'm sorry, Kyoko. When we get out of here, I'll make something special to celebrate."
"You'd better," said Kyoko, licking her lips, which were growing dry. "Maybe some of the lemon chiffon cake that we saw in that magazine a couple months ago…"
"You mean the one with the caramel and honey drizzle?"
"Mmm-hmm. And extra rosebuds on the icing. I like those."
"Simple girl, simple pleasures," chuckled Mami, shaking her head again. "You're going to rot your teeth one of these days, you know that?"
Kyoko grinned, trying to ignore another rumble from her belly. "Not me. I keep 'em clean with magic. Only takes a little bit each day."
"So that's why your toothpaste lasts so long…!" Mami wrinkled her nose in mock disgust... or possibly real disgust, it was difficult to tell. "Really, Kyoko!"
"Hey, I still use it!" Her grin got wider, and considerably more lecherous. "Mostly when I want to make out with you…"
"Oh, stop." A faint blush colored Mami's cheeks. "It's not proper to talk of such things. And you really shouldn't waste your magic on things like that."
"Oh-ho? Says the girl who likes to use her ribbons on me in bed."
The web shook as Kyoko erupted into triumphant laughter. She knew that would get her. "Face it, Mami, you're a kink! There's no hiding it from me, I just know you too well… you remember the first time we tried to-"
Mami's face was turning almost the same color as Kyoko's hair. "Not that story again…"
"Oh c'mon," said Kyoko, egging her on. "We were on your couch, I was on top of you… I had my shirt off, and I was unhooking your bra…"
Despite her obvious embarrassment, Mami smiled. "Trying to unhook my bra."
"Ha ha, shut up. I was nervous, and it was tough to even find the clasp in those huge mutant cow boobs of yours. But you remember, I finally got it, and we were just getting started…"
"… and that was when Akemi-san walked in," finished Mami, starting to chuckle.
Kyoko closed her eyes and savored the memory. "Poor girl, she just stared at us for, like, ten minutes, then turned right around and walked out without saying a word…"
"And then you fell off." Now Mami was really laughing.
"Yeah, I fell off." Kyoko winced, but started giggling just the same… Mami was the only person who ever heard her giggle. "I had a hell of a bruise for the next week."
"Mmm, I know. I saw quite a lot of it." Her voice dropped, becoming low and sultry. "I became quite familiar with a few other areas of your body that week as well…"
"Oh-ho!" Kyoko beamed with triumph. "See? Totally a kink!"
"You're one to talk, you degenerate. Shame on you, corrupting a poor, innocent girl!"
Once again the twisted halls of the Lair echoed with laughter.
She didn't know how much later it was when Mami's face paled suddenly. "Mami? What is it, what's wrong?"
"I hear them," she whispered. Her expression remained calm, but Kyoko could see the fear in her eyes. "They're coming."
So they were. Kyoko resumed her fruitless struggling as they advanced across the twisting walls, a full dozen of them this time. "C'mon, c'mon! Try that shit again, I dare you!"
"Stay calm. Remember to conserve your… nnh… energy…" The blonde girl shuddered visibly as the first Spawn climbed onto her. Then another, and another, and another… It soon became apparent that they were ignoring Kyoko altogether. Every single one was heading straight for Mami's Soul Gem.
"Wh-what the hell…" Kyoko sputtered. "What're you doing?! Leave her alone, you idiots! I'm down here!"
"Kyoko, don't… You have to-" Her words devolved into a very brief, strangled scream as three needles sank into the gem's surface. Mami's eyes went wide, her expression froze, she stopped breathing…
"Mami! Goddammit, leave her alone! Come on, Mami, you've gotta fight it, you've gotta wake up! MAMI…!"
The fifteenth Demon screamed as its skull caved in, collapsed by the blunt end of the spear. Kyoko was standing on its body, drenched head to toe in orange blood. She lifted the spear again and brought the weighted end crashing down into what was left. It usually took more than the loss of a head to kill one of them… this was one of the tougher ones, thankfully. "Come on, come on! Is that really it? You're barely putting up a fight!" A wild gleam danced in her eyes as she slammed her weapon down a third time, then a fourth. She could feel it; the faint sensation of acid was churning in her belly. Her Soul Gem was near its limit, it wouldn't be long now. Soon enough, it would either be shattered in battle or fade away when she expended all her power. Kyoko didn't care which.
"You're not even going to second stage, this isn't even a challenge!" The Demon's thin white hands were flailing, trying blindly to score Kyoko with the cutting beams of light that lanced from its fingertips. She leaned easily out of the way, caught one of the arms, and squeezed, very slowly, crushing the bones underneath the pale flesh into powder. More blood oozed out from between her fingers. Tossing the ruined arm aside, she went back to work on the Demon's head, still using the blunt end of the spear. This trash didn't deserve to die by the blade. Its cries were little but wet gurgling noises now, its movements were slowing to a stop. The blows started jangling up Kyoko's arms as the blunt bored through the Demon's flesh entirely and reached the street below, clanging off the asphalt. Still she struck, until most of the body was little but a mound of torn and mangled flesh.
She threw her head back and laughed joylessly at the ever-present clouds that had stolen the sky, tasting bitter fluid as it ran into her open mouth. Kyoko licked her lips and screamed, "Well?! Is that it? I can still go, I can still fight! Give me more! Give me all you've got!"
And the Demons answered her challenge with angry groans as they filed into the miasma. Somewhere around two dozen of them this time… more than enough to finish her off. It looked like every Demon left in Mitakihara was converging on this spot.
Coolly she hopped off the broken body of her victim and gripped her spear with both hands. It was enough. Perfect. Any minute now.
A thunderclap split the air. For a moment Kyoko thought that another storm was coming… Mother's disruption of the weather meant that they were prone to spring up without warning. Then she felt something, an instant too late. "Wh-"
Thick black cords erupted out of the asphalt all around her. Before she could react, they had seized her, constricting tight, pinning her arms to her sides. Kyoko screamed blue murder and pulled against the cords, recognizing the technique, knowing what was about to happen… "NO! Goddammit, NO!"
Another, much louder peal of thunder echoed off the abandoned buildings as a pillar of lightning gathered just a few steps in front of Kyoko. The figure that stepped out of the pillar was dressed like an old-fashioned noblewoman from the European military: a dark beret, a long-sleeved burgundy officer's jacket with a medal pinned on the breast, white leggings, and thigh-high boots. The remnants of the lightning caught and glinted in the glass monocle she wore over her right eye. Her hair was short and snowy white, a color which suited her cold demeanor and the near-permanent scowl she wore. Without a word or a glance backward at Kyoko, Saki Asami drew the riding crop that she wore at her side. A snap of her wrist unraveled it, transforming it into an impossibly long whip that coiled at her feet…
"Don't you dare!" roared Kyoko, struggling harder. "This is my fight, Asami! Stay out of it, do you hear me?!"
Her words went unheeded. The whip danced like a snake at a charmer's whim, trailing arcs of electricity as it tore effortlessly through the ranks of Demons. Its passage left little behind but ash. Saki was taking them all down without the slightest display of emotion, in a display of the steely precision that was her hallmark as leader of the Pleiades Saints. Demon after Demon fell in a smoking heap and burnt away from the inside out, until all were gone and the two girls were alone. The miasma began to thin and dissipate.
Calmly, Saki walked to what was left of the closest Demon, leaned over, and plucked something from the body. Making a sharp turn on her heel, she stomped back to Kyoko. Clutched in her fingers was a small, translucent black cube, rammed through with a wicked spindle.
It shouldn't have been possible for Kyoko to get any angrier… but what was possible didn't concern her right now. "Get away!" Spittle flew from her lips. "Get the fuck away from me, Asami! I don't want it!" She strained against the cords until she felt her bones creak… and then howled with pain as they sent a powerful current through her body.
Undaunted, Saki approached her helpless prey, held out her hand, and touched the Curse Seed to Kyoko's Soul Gem. A warm, white light appeared at the point of contact… and the darkness from the gem lifted up and sank into the little black cube. In seconds, Kyoko's Soul Gem was clear and fiery red once more. Kyoko's powers were replenished, her gem was pure.
Only then did the cords release her, as Saki's whip shrank and retracted back into its smaller form. Immediately Kyoko picked up her fallen spear and hefted it for a killing blow…
Crack. The tress of the riding crop lashed across her face and split her cheek open. Too stunned to continue her charge, Kyoko reached up to her cheek, gaping at the other girl in astonishment.
"You idiot," said Saki, her voice trembling with the effort of repressing her anger. "How dare you… How dare you do something so utterly stupid?"
The shock wore off quickly. "That does it," snarled Kyoko, dropping her spear and clenching her fists. "You wanna go, cunt? Come on! I'm not part of your cute little bicycle club! Go ahead! I don't care if it's you or a Demon that kills me! Come on!"
"No," said Saki, folding her hands neatly behind her back.
"'No?!'" The redhead stamped her foot. "Whaddya mean, 'no?!'"
"I'm not going to expend my precious energy by fighting you, Sakura," said Saki. "I'm taking you back to Shirome, where you'll be monitored to ensure you never attempt something like this again. Do you understand me?"
"And what makes you think I'm going with you, huh?"
"Simply put," said Saki, "if you don't go with me willingly, I'm going to bind you again and put electricity through you until you're too incoherent to do anything but drool."
The threat didn't faze her in the least. "No way, no how. You think you can drag me back to that rat's nest?" Kyoko spat on the ground in disgust. "I don't give a flying fuck about the war or Mikuni's plans anymore. Count me out."
There were a few seconds of stony silence between them before Saki spoke again. When she did, her face was no less severe, but her voice was just a bit softer. "Do you think Tomoe-san would have approved of that attitude?"
Rage boiled up inside Kyoko again, livid and festering, burning like magma in her veins. "Don't," she hissed through gritted teeth. "Don't you dare say her name! You don't know what it's like! You don't have any idea what kind of hell I've been through losing her!"
"Idiot," said Saki again… and to Kyoko's disbelief, her eyes started to glisten with tears. "You think you're the only one who's lost someone they love…?" And then she rushed forward, throwing her arms around Kyoko and embracing her.
"A-Asami…?" Totally confused, Kyoko just stood there, making no attempt to return the hug. She dearly wanted to get away, to be alone with her thoughts, but Saki was holding on too tight… Something about this was so wrong, so completely other from the Saki Asami that Kyoko knew, that it frightened her.
"Y-You stupid fool," said Saki, her words stinging with grief. "I was there, remember? We both were, when M-Mother… when she took Kazumi away…"
Kyoko remembered. There had been no time to move. The body had dropped to the floor, and there had been a blast of searing, hellish light… and her next recollection was waking up in the rubble of the hotel, to the sound of someone screaming the name "Kazumi" over and over. She hadn't recognized the voice then… "Th-that… that was you…? You were-"
"I loved her," whispered Saki. A few droplets fell onto Kyoko's bare shoulder. "I loved her, and losing her… it hurts so much, more than anyone can understand… "
Kyoko wanted to try comfort her, she truly did, but any words of comfort would be empty, meaningless. "I think I understand," she said, gently patting Saki's back. "But you don't, Asami. You're gonna hate me for saying this, but Kazumi was… lucky." She lowered her head, shadows gathering on her face. "She went out quick. The Demon that took Mami from me took her slowly, bit by bit… and it made me watch…"
The Forests of Mount Fuji
"Mami." Her voice was cracking; Kyoko had screamed herself hoarse some minutes ago. The Spawn were gone long since gone, but Mami still wasn't waking up… She just hung there limply, her eyes half-lidded. "C'mon, Mami, this isn't funny… You gotta wake up. Please."
There was no answer. Mami's breathing was faint and shallow.
"Please, Mami!" She wanted so dearly to reach for her. If only she could touch Mami's face again, surely that would work… but the cocoon held strong. The gap between them might as well have been miles across. All Kyoko could do was beg and plead, praying that she heard. "I know you're still there! You can't go, you can't leave me! Please don't leave me…" Then, a wild idea struck her, an impossible hope. There was still one thing to try, one thing that never failed to get a rise out of her. Sandpaper scraped Kyoko's throat as she swallowed heavily, took a breath, then said as loudly as she could manage, "Wake up, Sunshine!"
Mami stirred and blinked, very slowly. "Don't… call me that."
Kyoko almost wept with relief. "Goddammit, Mami, you have to quit scaring me like that!"
"Don't call me Sunshine," said Mami, frowning. She hated that nickname… Kyoko had called her that once just to be playful, and it had put her in an uncharacteristically bad mood for the better part of a week.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Kyoko smiled, and her eyes began to sting with grateful tears. "It was the only think I could think of… Are you okay? You still remember where were are, right?"
It took her a while, longer than it should have taken. "In… in a Demon's Lair. Mount Fuji," said Mami. Her speech was halting, as if she had to search for the words before she spoke them.
"That's right. We're somewhere up Shit Creek, without a paddle." Kyoko chuckled weakly.
"Language, Kyoko," said Mami with a grimace. She sounded a bit stronger.
"Yeah, yeah." Kyoko shuddered and let out a breath that it felt like she had been holding for an hour or more. She didn't know how much more of this strain she could take… There was only one way to deal with it, by talking to her, but try as she might she couldn't think of anything else to say. "Mami…" She paused, and selected the first thing that came to mind. "Why do you hate being called 'Sunshine' so much?"
Mami's gaze moved beyond Kyoko, to somewhere far away. "I've never told you?"
"No, you haven't. I think it's a cute name, but it always pisses you off so much…"
She sighed. "Have you ever heard the song, 'You Are My Sunshine'? It's in English, so you might not know it…"
"Sounds familiar," said Kyoko, racking her brains. "Yeah, I think so." She sang a few bars, her voice wavering, clumsily sounding out the words as she remembered them. "'You are my sunshine, my only sunshine… You make me happy…'"
"Yes, that's it." Mami smiled, but her face was lined with pain. "My mother… she used to go to America on business when I was very young. Mother loved music, and someone taught that song to her on one of her travels. It was one of her favorites… She would sometimes call me 'Sunshine', because of my hair. She said it always reminded her of the color of the sun."
Kyoko swallowed, feeling guilt claw at her belly. "Oh God, Mami, I'm sorry…"
"There was one time," whispered Mami, closing her eyes. "I had a very bad fever, and was bedridden. I… I don't remember much, but Mother… she came into my room at night, when I couldn't sleep… She laid a towel on my forehead… and she sang to me to sleep. 'You Are My Sunshine'. I can still hear her voice…" Then, suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch, Mami burst into tears…
"Mami!" Kyoko squirmed frantically in her prison. "Mami, it's gonna be okay, I swear! What is it, what's the matter?!"
Choking out the words between sobs, Mami answered. "I'm scared, Kyoko… I'm scared, I don't want to forget any more…"
"They won't." The lie was like a poisoned dagger to Kyoko's heart. "They won't, I promise. Somehow, we'll kill the Demon, and we'll get your memories back, Mami. I swear we will."
"Kyoko," she whispered, her amber eyes wide and glistening, more afraid than Kyoko had ever seen her. "It's my mother. I… I can hear her voice, her singing… but I can't-"
"Can't what? What is it, what's wrong?"
"I can't remember… what she looked like…"
END OF PART THREE