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"Hey!" I say brightly to the depressed gap youkai, "How are you doing, Yukari?" Okay, it's a pretty lame lead-in. She's obviously not doing well. But it's all that I can think of to say.
Yukari makes a depressed sound halfway between a whimper and a moan, and gestures to the chair opposite her. Slowly I take a seat, making sure to keep a friendly smile plastered on my face. Okay, she just needs someone to talk to, someone to listen, and then she'll probably stagger back home and give everyone here some peace. I can certainly listen to her for a while, can't I?
Yukari slowly raises her head to look at me. Her eyes are red and bleary, and she's obviously been crying. I start to feel a little sorry for the poor woman. "My life is such a meeeeeeesssss!" Yukari wails loudly.
Aaaaaand there goes all of my sympathy, draining right out of me. Come on, Yukari.
All around me, the various patrons somehow manage to crowd even further away from Yukari's table. Albrecht is studiously not looking our way. Me? I just keep a smile on my face and hand Yukari the bottle I brought over from the bar. Something pricey and heavily alcoholic. I can only imagine what her bar tab is. Sniffling, Yukari takes the bottle and pours herself a glass. Then she slams the glass back and starts drinking directly from the bottle. Classy.
"Easy, Yukari," I tell her, "don't drink yourself into a coma or anything."
" I wanna be in a coma..." she mutters, her voice slurred, "Life sucks." Yukari glances up at me. "I know you. China, right? From th' mansion?"
DO NOT PUNCH HER DO NOT PUNCH HER DO NOT PUNCH HER.
I force the rage down. She's drunk. She couldn't have intended to push my personal red button. "It's Meiling, Miss Yukari," I reply with a smile.
"Yeah, her. I mean, you," she corrects herself, carefully smacking the side of her head. "Sorry. I've had a few drinks, y'see. Kinda light headed." Her face turns into a childish pout. "And don't call me 'miss.' I'm seventeen. Always have been. Always will be. So there. Just call me Yukari." She hiccups.
Seventeen. Right. Well, no sense provoking the ancient mega-powerful youkai. "Okay, Yukari, what's got you so upset?"
"Everything!" she wails.
I manage to keep a warm smile on my face. I mean, it's one thing to comfort someone, but this woman should be a lot more mature than she's acting. "What's everything?"
Yukari sighs and takes another long drink from her bottle. "Reimu. The ice faar... fairy I mean. Men. Everything." She sniffles. "My life sucks."
"Okay, what's happening with Reimu?" I try.
Yukari visibly sulks and shrinks into herself. "Reimu's bein' a meanie. She locked me up when I showed her how worried I was, and now she spends alla her time with Remilia. I wanna spend time with her too, y'know?" Yukari is struggling to keep her words clear, but with limited success. Oh well.
"I heard from Reimu that you were pressuring her into getting married," I point out.
Yukari looks awkward and uncomfortable. "Well, yeah," she says slowly. "But I didn't mean it like THAT. I was just... worried. About her. And Gensokyo. But mostly her."
I raise an eyebrow. "Yukari, are you sure you were putting her first?"
"YES!" Yukari shouts back. Several people look over at us, and she shrinks back down in embarrassment. "...Yeah," she continues more quietly. "I was. Really. I mean, yeah I'm worried about the bloodline, an' the barrier and everything. But that poor girl's all alone. I thought a husband would be good for her. Give her some company. A family. And also, kinda make me stop worrying about the bloodline, but I had a plan B; for that, if she was willing." Yukari blushes a little bit.
"I see..." where to begin here? "How did you bring this up with her?"
Yukari shifts in her seat a little. "I started lecturin' her about her doob-, dutesh-, DUTIES as a shrine maiden. Then she locked me up for a week." I stare at her blankly. "What?!" she cries, throwing her hands up, "How else was I supposed to bring this up, huh?!"
"...'Reimu, I'm worried about you, and think you need some companionship?'" I suggest, "'Let's go find a husband you'll like so you can be actually happy? No need to rush, you have plenty of time?'" I shrug. "That would have gone over much better, I think."
Yukari blinks. "Oh."
Oh, geeze. Doesn't know how to play gentle, does she? Probably just used to getting all her way all of the time. "Anyway, you don't have to worry about her being lonely. Remilia keeps her very good company, I assure you." Especially with the foot rubs.
However, Yukari's face just crumples at this. "But I wanna play with Reimu tooooo!" she wails. "Besides, the heck with men, I was gonna get her pregnant!"
The bar goes dead silent.
Yukari stops dead, her face going very red, as everyone gapes at her. "Uh... I can control boundaries, right? So, I was gonna do some stuff to myself... assuming Reimu could be brought around... and well, you know. Heheh... heh. But I guess she's seeing Remilia huh? B-but Remilia can't do that sorta thing, so... I'm worried about the bloodline again." Yukari desperately tries to change the subject. "Unless, I guess, they find a boy-toy or something-"
"Actually, Flandre has figured out how to let the two of them produce fully human offspring. So, the bloodline's secure." I tell her this matter-of-factly. Seriously, this woman is weirding me out.
Yukari stares at me for a long moment before faceplanting on the table. " Of course," she mutters, reaching for her bottle. Around us, people are slowly going back to their drinks, ignoring us with the force of sheer determination. Lucky souls.
"Anyway," I say carefully, REALLY wanting to change the subject, "What's this with Cirno?"
"You were there," Yukari grumbles, "You saw what happened. I was humiliated in front of my servants." She tries to drink from her bottle while remaining face-down and fails, finally setting the bottle aside with a weary sigh. "...Alright. I embarrassed myself, there. But Ran has NEVER let me forget it." She covers her head with both hands and moans. "Why did that have to happen?"
"Cirno says you were threatening her," I point out.
"It wasn't like that!" Yukari protests, sitting back up, "I mean, you have this fairy, going around and helping maintain the balance, and I figured it would be good to have her on retainer, you know? Have her deal with awkward situations, that sort of thing!"
"Fair enough," I say, "But why the veiled threats?"
"Er..." Yukari looks awkward again. "...Well, how else was I supposed to get her to help?"
I think about it for a moment. "...'DyCirno, I really did your assistance, please help me?'" I suggest. "Offer to pay her in sweets?"
Yukari blinks. "Oh."
I facepalm. "Okay. So just asking nicely never occurred to you. Right. But here's my big question: how did that happen? You're supposed to be one of the most powerful beings in Gensokyo, so... how?"
Yukari chuckles darkly. "Why miss Meiling, you're asking a very dang*HICCUP*" Interrupted halfway by a particularly loud hiccup, Yukari blushes, looking embarrassed. I stare at her, with a very expression. "...That won't work on you, will it?"
"Sorry. I don't intimidate easily these days," I reply.
"No one does," Yukari sighs, glancing at Albrecht. She pushes her bottle to the side, having finally had enough. "...I have limitations."
"Keep it down!" Yukari hisses, glancing around frantically. "Yeah. But I'll find some way to deny it if you ever tell anyone. Not that too many don't know it already, but whatever." Yukari sighs and leans back in her chair. "My powers let me more or less tamper with reality directly. I can just envision some boundary to tamper with, and there we go! The image of supreme power."
"But?" I prod.
"But it's just an illusion," Yukari says, looking uncomfortable again. "Fitting that the overseer of a land of illusion relies on illusion, I guess. I mean, I'm not weak or anything. But when you push reality too far, it pushes back on you. Hard. So there's a limit to what I can actually do, and if I do too much it drains me completely. There's a reason I have someone like Ran doing so much for me. It's not that I'm lazy. At least, not for the most part. It's that I have limits. Mostly."
I stare at her. "But youkai tend to respect raw strength..."
"...So I have to act like I'm all powerful to keep this place in line. Otherwise, youkai start doing whatever they want and the whole system breaks down. Think Reimu has it rough? Try keeping old and mighty youkai from tearing each other's throats out using nothing more than vague threats. Yagokoro knows better and pretty much ignores me, and I think Kanako's on to me too. This job isn't easy."
"Hence all of the double-dealing you do," I realize. "You need to maneuver people into place or else this whole place goes up in flames."
"Exactly," Yukari says wearily, "God bless Reimu for developing the spellcard system, it makes my life a whole lot easier." Yukari pouts, the alcohol seeming to be draining out of her system. I wonder if she's using her powers right now. "And that's the worst of it! I work so hard to keep everyone in line, and no one appreciates me! Not Reimu, not that little ice fairy, not any of the men here! I mean, aren't I pretty?! I wanna go on dates and be lovey-dovey too! But no man wants me! Not for as long as I've... uh..." Yukari's puppy-dog eyes quickly vanish as she checks her speech, suddenly looking very awkward.
Come to think of it, Yukari's behavior has sometimes truck me as being very artificial. This is probably the most honest she's been in a very long time. I wonder how much 'experience' this woman actually has.
"A-anyway!" she quickly says, "You tell me, Meiling! What's wrong with me, huh? I'm young and beautiful, so why aren't men falling all over me?!" There's that indignant pout, but there are signs of real hurt in Yukari's eyes. I suspect that his has been really bothering her for a while.
Well. I know perfectly well what the problem is here. "Um, Yukari? I think I know what your problem is, but you might not like the answer..."
She waves her hand dismissively. "Oh, go ahead. Let's hear it. I could use some advice in my life."
"Okay then." I take a deep breath. "You're a control freak and nobody trusts you."
Yukari gapes at me. I press on.
"I mean, you talk about how hard you work, and how lonely you are, but consider how you act. Your means of trying to help Reimu basically amounted to bullying her into doing something she didn't want to do. When you wanted to recruit Cirno, your first thought was to threaten her into doing your bidding. Hell, the problem people have with you is that whenever you show up, the first thought in people's minds is 'Oh, it's Yukari. I wander what she's planning?'" I throw my hands up in the air. "I mean, people are so used to you just jerking people around, and treating them like pieces on a board, that they just assume that all you do is manipulate! No one trusts you, so no one wants to get close to you! Throw in all the vague threats you toss out when the going gets rough and, well... nobody really likes you!"
Yukari gapes at me for a long, long moment. I wonder if I said too much? Then she bursts into tears.
"WAAAAAAAHHHH!" Yukari wails, "S-s-s-stop making me out to b-b-b-be a monster! I-I-I have feelings t-too you know!"
"Um, but..." I stammer, "...That is what people think, you know..."
"I KNOW!" Yukari wails even more. Oh geez, people are getting up and leaving. Al is facepalming. I wish he were here instead of me. "Oh god, I know what people think! B-But I'm trying to keep this place in one piece, and I'm TRYING to make things better every day! But it's hard, and I've got these ancient jerks who won't listen, and keep keep bringing up old grudges, and I can only do so much, and I don't know want to dooooo!" Yukari covers her face with both hands. "I just wanna have some sex, is that so wrong?!"
Uh. That was actually pretty moving until the end, there. Still, I have a distraught gap youkai clearing out the bar. I'd better try to calm her down. Carefully, I make my way over to Yukari's side and put my arms around her. She latches on to me almost immediately, sobbing. Gently, I start to rock her from side to side, humming soothingly. "There, there... it's all right... you're not all bad. Just... try talking to people and explaining things to them, alright? No one likes to feel like they're being controlled?"
"I know," Yukari sobs, "I know. I try. I really do. But there's hungry youkai to feed, and a lot of them would just as soon just terrorize and eat humans, and if they start, youkai on the fence will join in, and I'm pretty sure a lot of these humans still know how to fight... I don't want this place to fall apart, Meiling. And, and it's just easier this way... I don't want to intimidate anyone. It's just easier, and this is all so hard."
"Easier isn't always better," I remind her, wondering why I'm acting as counselor to someone so much older and more powerful than I am. "Look, this really isn't working, is it? If you're lonely, maybe you should try a different approach."
"...I should try looking 25?"
"Not what I meant."
"Oh," Yukari sighs, "Yeah, I know. I'll try. It's just... a lot of people don't respond so well to reason. So I've had to coerce them so that nobody dies."
"How well has that worked?" I ask her. Yukari is silent. And so we just stay there, the two of us, with me gently rocking the still partially-drunk Yakumo, while Albrecht carefully watches us. I mouth a message to him: Free drinks for three visits! He nods solemnly. After a while, Yukari gets a hold of herself and stand up.
"I think I'll go home and sleep this off," she mumbles, "Lots of work to do. Um..." she looks at me awkwardly, "Can we keep this between the two of us? It's just... I hear enough from Ran already, and well-"
I pat her shoulder. "Sure. Just between the two of us. I won't breathe a word." I smile reassuringly, and Yukari breathes a sigh of relief.
"Thanks for that. And for being there for me. I appreciate it. Um," Yukari blushes slightly. "You know, you know the way to Mayohiga, and company is always welcome, so if you ever want to come visit-"
OH GOD NO.
"I prefer men, and Sakuya and Yuuka are already after me," I tell her primly.
"Oh." Yukari deflates a little. "Figures. Well, I'll see you later then." Still staggering a little, Yukari makes her way to the door. Albrecht walks up beside me, and we watch her leave in silence. Once it's just the two of us, I turn to look at him.
"You owe me so fucking much for this, Al."
"I know," he sighs.
I really, really hope I don't have another female suitor. Especially not Yukari. Who knows what she'd do?
And there's the other side of the equation. Anyway, there's one more idea that I want to present before going on to the next batch.
[ ] Girls' night out in the city.
[ ] Sakuya and Yuuka run off Yukari. ("She's ours, dammit!")
-[ ] OPTIONAL: Temporary POV shift to Yuuka or Sakuya
Yeah, Too many suitors for Meiling is hard to manage. But the thought is too funny to not at least consider.