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Autumn's chill is just starting to poke at the edges of summer's fading warmth, but it's still remarkably pleasant out in the mansion's back gardens, with clear skies and warm breezes if you fly higher up; today's paradise for a fairy in search of fun times. Unfortunately, I'm not the usual kind of fairy, which means I've been stewing on the topic of Remilia being an ungrateful bitch ever since that mess with Tupai a few days back. Sometimes I think Cirno might've had the right idea with that strike; gods know I've got a legit complaint here. Maybe that's something to check out when-
“Karin?” Meiling asks, and I'm jolted out of my thoughts to hastily stand at attention; the redhead is looming over me with a green watering can in her arms (does she have it that color on purpose to go with her dress?) and a raised eyebrow casting judgment on me. “You looked like you were going to start ripping out all the flowers and stuffing them into your mouth.”
I try to think of something to disprove that, fail, and sigh, falling from my stiff parade-rest as I hang my head. “...That's an awful specific example.”
“Believe me,” she says, amusement clear in her voice, “I speak from experience.”
I can't stare at the ground the whole time, and that sentence demands my attention, so I force myself to look her straight in her bright blue eyes. “That's an actual thing? That actually happened?”
“Yup!” Meiling says, in that damnably cheerful manner she brings to every problem I've seen her face.
“Wow.” Be that as it may, her job springs to mind. “...Aren't you supposed to be keeping an eye on the gate?”
“I got a few of the fairies to fill in for me while I tend the gardens.” She demonstratively lifts the watering can. “This is a thing I do, you realize?”
Oh. “Right. Yeah.”
Her smile doesn't shift at all. “So if you could maybe move?”
Oh. I speedily remove myself, and she graces me with a pleased hum as she takes my place, bending at the knees as she douses the flowers – and from here it looks like she decided pants would go well with her dress today. Can't say I blame her, but now I'm wondering what it'd feel like to try one of those qi-whatsits myself.
“So!” she says, not taking her eyes off her work. “Lemme guess – you're still feeling down about that whole Tupai thing?”
“Oi!” I squawk, folding my arms and scowling at her with all the power my indignation can give me. “I totally have other things to be grumpy about! Even if you're ri- aaagh.” I wince, screwing my eyes shut as a sharp twinge stabs through my head – my braincase may be knitting itself back together through the power of fairy regeneration (I do not actually know if that's how it works but I'm not going to question it), but it's not exactly pleasant.
“You okay?” Meiling asks, and I'm pretty sure that's concern in her voice; kinda hard to tell, ow.
I exhale sharply through my nose, hesitantly opening my eyes once again, and I'm filled with relief as the pain subsides. “Just – working through the head trauma. It'll pass.”
The look Meiling's giving me is a distinctly uncomfortable one as she pauses in her work. “Are you sure you're okay? I know Tai Chi, and pressure points, and other things that go on in a body. Just say the word and I'll-”
“I just said it'll pass, okay?” I reflexively cringe as the words leave my mouth, because that came out way harsher than I meant for it, and now Meiling's looking like I just spat on her; not good when she's got arms that could be distant relatives to tree trunks. I raise my hands, palms out, and affect a strained, apologetic smile. “Sorry, I'm sorry, it's just- I'm a little bit on edge, lately. I shouldn't be lashing out like that, but there it is.”
“Well, s'long as you apologize,” she mutters, moving on from this patch of golden flowers to stroll along the path, spreading water to all her thirsty subjects. “Humor me about something else, if you don't mind. I don't usually see you out here, so why'd you ask to work outside?”
“I wanted to get away from the library,” I say as I follow, armor clanking with every footfall. “At least out here I don't have to deal with Lady Patchouli or Koa or, gods forbid, Remilia when she decides to visit – and that sounds ungrateful of me, doesn't it?”
Meiling chuckles. “Believe me, you don't have to explain that part; I know the Mistress can be hard to deal with. But you mentioning Patchouli reminds me of something I've been wondering about for a while. Stop me if this is going too far, but... you're kinda a freak, aren'tcha?”
I stumble mid-step, teetering on one foot for a moment before I regain balance and stomp the other down. “Excuse me?”
She abruptly shifts her can to one hand, fixing me with an apologetic smile as she waves off her offense with her free hand. “Sorry, sorry! That was bad phrasing on my part.”
“I hope so,” I say, my scowl softening to something more akin to a pout. “Hurting my feelings like that – you're lucky I don't challenge you to a duel right now, Meiling.”
“Hey, I'm always open for one, if you think you're hard enough.” The teasing lilt to her voice takes any potential insult out of her words. “Still, you're not exactly what anyone'd expect of a fairy.”
“Hmph. S'true, I guess.” I sigh, squatting down at the edge of the path, resting my arms on my knees as I inspect some daffodils that're growing so high as to actually reach said knees; I don't know what Meiling does to these things to make 'em so big, or how she manages to keep them blooming out of season, but whatever it is, it's effective.
I reach out, gently pinching the stem of one between metal fingers, and lean in to take a sniff. A heady, spicy kind of scent is what I get in return, and it brings both a faint smile to my lips alongside a soft ache to my heart. “...I used to be so small that I could stand on my tip-toes and these'd still come up to my waist. Can you believe it?”
I may not be able to see Meiling's face, but I can definitely hear the surprise in the little “Hm?” she makes.
“I know, right?” I say, twisting to look at her from the corner of my eye; she's paused in her work yet again to look my way. “Bet you don't remember me in particular playing around out here – I was just another fairy out of hundreds, after all.”
“I... don't remember you, no.” Meiling seems genuinely distressed by this, stroking her chin as she wracks her brain for any trace of me.
I rise, unfolding to my full height as I turn to the troubled gatekeeper. “I figured you wouldn't. But hey, at least now I'm someone you can talk to on an equal level, and not just in terms of height.”
She considers this, eyebrows furrowed in thought, before she nods. “It does make it easier to keep you in mind when you're one of, like, five other people here who aren't pint-sized, true.”
“That's one of the better upsides of my promotion, it's true.” I exult in my triumph for a moment before it all comes crashing down, and my shoulders sag as I sink into morose reminiscing. “...Still, sometimes I think I made a mistake signing up to be Lady Patchouli's test subject. Sure, I can actually sit down and read through a book without losing interest three pages in, and I'm better, faster, and stronger than any fairy could have ever dreamed of being, but...”
I make a frustrated noise as I try to find the words, but at least Meiling's set the watering can aside, attention fully on me. It takes an awkward few seconds before I figure out just what it is that's bothering me. “I'm a lot... angrier, nowadays. I mean, anyone would be, dealing with what I do, but- it's like I can get mad a lot more easily, and stick with it. That never really happened to me before”-I vaguely wave a hand around-“all this.”
“Mm-hm. I didn't have any responsibilities or anything before I volunteered.” I eye Meiling up, sucking in my lips as I debate whether telling her this'll backfire somehow. “This is a secret, okay?”
Meiling makes a show of looking around the garden, then gives me a thumbs up, teeth practically glinting as she smiles. “Looks like we're alone, so whatever you want to say is safe in my thick skull.”
“Heh.” I look up eyes on the bright blue sky. “Would you believe me if I said the reason I signed up was because I thought the maid outfits were cute?”
Meiling snorts. It's really undignified. “You? Really?”
“Insane, right?” I drag my gaze back to Meiling, and reciprocate with a small smile of my own as I lay my hands on my chest. “Here's Captain Hardass in her big metal suit, saying she likes prancing around in a little maid uniform being cute. And it was... it was fun, even if the cleaning was boring and Sakuya was scary at times. And I could've walked away at any time and just gone back to messing with people and playing around with other fairies. I was a lot more carefree, and I don't think I appreciated how nice that was back then. But now?”
I heave a sigh, smile turning into a little frown as I let my arms hang at my sides. “Now I have a job where I get hurt a lot, lately by the people I'm supposed to be working for, even. Patchouli losing her mind and setting me on fire, Sakuya throwing fits and also knives into me, Flandre slamming me headfirst into a wall – all this stuff is like... why? Why do I put up with this? But at the same time, I keep jumping straight into those situations in the first place, so why do I do that, either?”
Meiling's smile gradually droops into nothingness as I lay out my complaints, but she cocks her head, fixes me with a guileless stare, and asks “Well, why do you?”
I shrug. “Because I'm expendable, I guess? I'm a fairy, after all – blow me up or something and I'll just come back later.” My frown deepens. “Theoretically.”
Meiling narrows her eyes in... concern? I think it's concern. “Theoretically?”
I rub the back of my neck; the gauntlet's soothingly cool against my skin. “Yeah. I don't think I've ever actually popped since I got, uh, augmented. No matter how much of a beating I take, I just don't go...” I spread my hands, palms open. “Poof. It's weird as hell, I tell you.”
She nods, “I wouldn't know.”
“Right, you're a-” I pause, thinking about this. “Something.”
Meiling's face lights up with an expression I hesitate to call smug, but it's definitely something that's well-acquainted with smugness. “Dragon-blooded.”
I fold my arms, leaning back as I squint at her. “So does that make you a dragon youkai or what?”
“That's a mystery.” She winks, the scandalous wench.
“Oh, you tease,” I grumble. “Anyway, continuing off of what I was saying, I'm still not quite used to actually needing to recover; it's kinda weird being stuck in bed feeling terrible for several days.”
Meiling huffs, an amused little smile on her lips. “Welcome to the world of adults, Karin. Enjoy your stay.”
“Haw haw,” I retort, glowering at her without any heat to it.
We fall into companionable silence as I think about what to say next. I probably shouldn't keep her too long; we're still on the job, after all, but... it's nice just talking like this, instead of constantly having to worry about my head getting blown off.
Pick two to chat/complain about, and maybe Karin'll get some insight on the people in question! At the very least, she'll be able to vent.
[X] Remilia's a pretty nasty piece of work sometimes, isn't she? I threw myself at Flandre for her, for God's sake, and look where that got me!
[X] I knew Flandre was always a bit volatile, but wow, she really is something. I don't think this'll be the last time I'll deal with her, either, so... any tips?
[X] Patchouli is – well, Patchouli. She's really into her books, and I get that, I do! But at the same time, she's really dour and something of a jerk. Also she set me on fire and broke my face, and I'm still a bit mad about that.
[X] Okay, this is kinda embarrassing, but Koakuma freaks me out with how she's all but throwing her clothes at me. Any advice?
[X] Sakuya's really, really high-strung, you know? Even with the massages – did I ever tell you I give her those? Because, yeah, that's a thing. Anyway, she's a maniac, and I think you know her better than I do, so, help?
[X] There's something else I can't quite put my finger on that's been bothering me... [WRITE-IN]