Chapter Six : The Weight Of Her Convictions
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The three girls finish up in the locker room, Kanna and Aoi doing a great deal more than Madoka, who simply tidies up her hair. They exit back into the gym. The boys are already standing in groups, chatting, though some exit the gym, heading back to the classroom. Madoka watches them go with a wry smile on her face. My days of quickly cleaning up and heading back to class are over now. She sighs. She feels exhausted after today’s events. Thankfully Aoi is still pushing her chair, so that at least helps conserve some of her dwindling supply of energy.

Madoka can’t remember a school day that had ever been as exhausting as this one has been, and with the upcoming events, the days ahead promise to be more exhausting. Madoka strangely looks forward to it, however. For the first time in a long while, it feels as though she is moving forward with life, even if her life now is completely different from the life she has known. Kanna notices her brooding expression as she holds the gymnasium door for the girl and her seeming self-appointed guardian, Aoi.

“Are you doing alright, Madoka-chan?” the cute green-eyed and blonde-haired girl whose hair is tied up in cute twin tails asks the cuter wheelchair-bound doll-like girl.

Madoka smiles, shaking her head. “I’m alright… Kanna-chan.” Madoka hesitates a moment before returning the familiarity that Kanna is displaying towards her. Kanna smiles a happy smile in return, placing her hand on Madoka’s while she walks alongside the chair. “I am just tired. I’m happy that I can attend school now, but it is still exhausting,” she says.

Kanno nods in response, smiling. “You’ll get stronger, though, Madoka-chan. You will, right?” Her positive expression becomes questioning. “We don’t know very much about your condition… you aren’t paralyzed, I hope?” Kanna asks.

“You’re being nosy, Kanna-chan,” Aoi chastises Kanna, who looks at her and sticks her tongue out playfully in response. Madoka laughs, and shakes her head.

“No… it’s alright, Aoi-chan… I am not paralyzed. I’m just recovering from something. The master says that I should be able to walk again if I work hard,” Madoka says, making an effort to smile and be positive.

“That’s great to hear!” Kanna exclaims, her tone enthusiastic.

“The master?” Aoi asks as they stop at a bank of vending machines.

“What do you like to drink, Madoka-chan?” Kanna asks as she looks over the various buttons on the face of the vending machine.

“I’ll have a milk-tea,” Madoka replies with a smile. “Please let me pay for it… um…” Madoka trails off when she realizes she doesn’t have any money on her. “Um… I’ll pay you back when we get back to class.” She blushes. Kanna laughs in response to the girl’s awkwardness.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s for my cute new friend.” She smiles and pushes a 100 yen coin into the coin slot in the machine, followed by a fifty yen coin with its doughnut shape. She presses the button for a Georgia Milk Tea, and the machine dispenses it.

“You should save those lucky coins for a shrine to pray for good fortune in the upcoming achievement test!” Madoka protests, too late as the girl squats down carefully to retrieve the milk-tea from the dispenser at the bottom of the vending machine. The girl hands Madoka the milk tea with a wink and a smile. 

“Don’t worry about that, Madoka-chan,” Kanna says dismissively. “I’ll get more, and we can all go to the local shrine together before the day of testing. Maybe we should study together too.” She looks up at Aoi, who smiles at her. “Want a Pocari as usual, Aoi-chan?” she asks.

“Yes, thank you, Kanna-chan,” Aoi responds, smiling. “Yes, let’s study together. It will be a little harder for a transfer student to get caught up, but I promise that I’ll be a good tutor.” Aoi smiles confidently at Madoka who blushes, smiling.

“I would like that,” Madoka says happily. She can’t imagine how she got so lucky as to have two such lovely girls as her friends on her first day of school. She was afraid that she would not make any friends due to the sure formation of cliques in the first semester that she missed. Madoka feels very fortunate.

Kanna finishes selecting drinks from the vending machine, always very careful not to flash her panties at any of the now more sparse groups of students passing by on their way to their own homerooms. Kanna tosses a Pocari Sweat to Aoi, though Aoi hands it to Madoka immediately.

“Hold onto it for me until we get to class, okay?” she asks Madoka, and Madoka nods, smiling in reply.

Kanna selects a root beer for herself, an uncommon but increasingly popular selection in Japanese vending machines. The three head not much further along with Madoka guiding them, and they come to the firmly closed door of the special elevator that Madoka had permission to use. Madoka slides the magnetic card free from her skirt pocket, where she had kept it temporarily during gym. She had taken Takahashi-sensei’s warning and decided not to take her cellphone out of her bag while at school any more often than she must.

The door slides open after a wait, revealing the small elevator interior. Madoka wheels herself inside as the other two girls examine the interior. Madoka looks at the other two apologetically. “I’m sorry. Takahashi-sensei said that no one else is allowed to ride it with me. It’s cost-saving, he said.” Madoka smiles.

“It’s okay. I was just curious,” Aoi replies, while Kanna pouts a little.

“Who would know? I bet I could sit in your lap.” Kanna laughs and winks, joking. 

“You would probably break her.” Aoi rolls her eyes as she waves to Madoka and heads away from the elevator.

“Hey! I don’t weigh that much!” Kanna protests, stamping a foot. She looks back to Madoka with a blush. “See you upstairs, Madoka-chan.” She waves and chases after Aoi.

It takes a minute or so before the door on the second floor opens. The elevator lurches a little, making Madoka’s already sensitive stomach twinge. Madoka hurries out, hoping that the elevator doesn’t have any issues. She wheels herself towards the classroom. The halls are mostly empty of students at this point, though soon enough they will be full of students cleaning it. She sees her friends at the top of the staircase on the way, and the three walk together the rest of the way, Aoi once again taking up a position behind and pushing her.

“You don’t have to do that, Aoi-chan,” Madoka protests, feeling a little like a burden to her new friend.

Aoi smiles in reply. “I want to do it. If you don’t want me to do it, though…” she trails off, smiling.

Madoka shakes her head. “No… I really appreciate it. I want to do it myself sometimes because it’s the best way to keep building upper body strength, but at times like this when I’m exhausted, I’m just grateful for the help,” she says.

“I’m glad that’s the case,” Aoi replies. “I hoped I wasn’t being too presumptuous.”

“You are a little pushy,” Kanna teases Aoi. Aoi blushes in embarrassment while Kanna and Madoka giggle.

“Really, it’s fine.” Madoka smiles brightly. The three enter the classroom as the period chime goes off.

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t we, girls?” Takahashi-sensei smiles wryly at the three who blush.

“Sorry, Sensei!” the three say together, bowing, Madoka doing so in her chair, causing her to double herself over. The class laughs and Ren-sensei smiles at the girls. 

“As long as you beat the chime I guess I have no complaints… but try to be a little faster for your own sakes in the future, okay?” He smiles and turns his attention to the rest of the class. “Alright, so now we are going to take up where we left off this morning. Let’s start brainstorming about the festival.”

The class throws ideas back and forth for a half an hour, and as before, are unable to come to a consensus. When the final chime rings, Takahashi-sensei dismisses everyone in light of the fact that the class does not yet have a solid project.

“Please make an effort to decide soon; we don’t have very much time, and the longer everyone takes to decide on what to do, the harder it will be to make the deadline,” Ren-sensei admonishes everyone.

Everyone acknowledges his warning and begins tidying the classroom up as he exits the room. Some students gravitate out into the corridor where they begin their cleanup duties. Some students sneak away, which happens from time to time. Those students would be singled out for cleaning duties if they repeatedly snuck out without helping clean up. Madoka is unable to help with much but she does what she can, helping wipe down surfaces within her reach. The students in the classroom and outside of it chat quietly as they work together to tidy up their classroom. The three girls enjoy the drinks they had gotten in the vending machine downstairs, chatting together while they work.

When everything is tidy, everyone gathers up their bag and exits the room. Some students go on to club rooms while others head home via public transit buses, walking, or rarely via rides from parents. Students do not have cars, even in high school, and do not drive usually. It is possible to get a license when you reach the right age, but the expense of having a car and maintaining it versus taking the very accessible and reasonably priced transit system makes having a car the less popular choice.

Aoi and Kanna walk with Madoka as they head back to the elevator that Madoka will use once again to go downstairs. “Do you have a club yet?” Aoi asks as she pushes Madoka’s chair. “Kanna and I are in the girls’ Kendo Club. I know you’re not on your feet yet, but when you are, would you be interested in joining us?” Aoi asks.

Kanna looks at Aoi and laughs. “Ohhhh I see… nice job snagging the new girl, Aoi-chan,” Kanna teases. Aoi blushes and swats Kanna.

“It’s not like that!” she protests. “I just thought since we’re all friends now and all, maybe she’d like to join us!” She scowls at Kanna.

Kanna nods. “Sure, sure… of course,” she says, hiding her smile behind her hand. Aoi stares at her for a long moment as the three come to a stop in front of the elevator, and Madoka swipes her card again on the electronic reader. The door opens and Madoka wheels inside, turning her chair to face them.

“Are you two going to your club, then?” she asks.

“No. We don’t have club activities until after the festival. Some do, but we don’t,” Aoi says. “We’ll walk you out. See you downstairs.” She waves and heads over to the staircase, Kanna following. The elevator door closes and Madoka rides it down. When it comes to a stop, she disembarks and wheels herself towards the front of the school and the shoe lockers. The other two catch up to her quickly and Aoi resumes pushing her. They reach the shoe lockers quickly amid a crowd of other students getting their shoes before heading home.

Madoka directs Aoi to her locker and she opens it and fetches out her outdoor shoes. She quickly, but tiredly slides her feet out of her school shoes, and after polishing them up a little, places them inside the locker, and slips on her outdoor shoes. Neither are scuffed, really. They’re both polished and new still. A hand taps her on the shoulder and she looks up to see Eiji. Madoka scowls immediately at him, making him wince a little.

“Hey… sorry about your croquette. I didn’t know it was such a big deal. I really want to make it up to you sometime,” Eiji says, sounding earnest. Madoka notices Ippei standing behind Eiji. He adjusts his glasses and swats Eiji in the back of the head.

“Don’t be pushy, stupid class president,” he says. Eiji looks back at him, scowling.

“I’m not being pushy! I just want to make it up to her!” he protests.

“Uh huh…” Kanna smiles with her skeptical expression, hand on her hip. “She’s exhausted, so maybe you can confess to her another time, useless prez.” Madoka and Eiji blush, though Madoka looks a little ill. Aoi scowls at Eiji and Ippei tugs him backwards, giving Aoi room to wheel Madoka out. The three girls leave the building amid crowds of other students, and the two boys follow them out through the yard of the school and towards the gate.

Madoka immediately notices Kozuke, anxiously waiting by the gate. He notices her and smiles, seeming to want to walk towards her for a moment, but he stands there instead, waiting after noticing her friends walking with her. An expression of pride crosses his face. Madoka points to Kozuke and the two girls and two boys gasp as they change course to go directly to him.

“Kozy!” Madoka grins as Aoi stops her chair in front of him.

“Sugar! Did you have a good day at school?” he asks, smiling. “Are these your friends?”

“Yes… these are my friends.” Madoka smiles happily. “The strong pretty girl behind me is Wada Aoi-chan. The pretty blonde girl at my side is Tsukimi Kanna-chan.” Kozuke nods, smiling, taking the girls’ hands, which makes them blush. He leans down and kisses each of their hands.

“Thank you for taking care of Sugar. I cannot express how happy I am to see that she has made such fine friends on her first day of school. Please continue to look after her when I cannot,” he murmurs, smiling.

Kanna blushes and Aoi seems to have a meltdown, squirming a little in reaction. “Yes. We will,” the girls say together. Kozuke turns his attention to the two boys behind the girls.

“Are these two not your friends then, Sugar?” he inquires, eyeing them. Madoka hesitates and looks at them. 

“I think so. Sugawara-san is a jerk, but Fuyuki-san seems reliable,” Madoka says. Eiji staggers as though a great blow has been delivered to him, while Ippei bows to Kozuke.

“We aren’t exactly her friends, sir. Sugawara is just being a pest,” he apologizes for his friend.

“Traitor!” Eiji gasps, balling up a fist. “You want me to kick your ass?” he whispers under his breath, and the two stare daggers at each other, locking eyes. Aoi and Kanna step back from them.

“Try it, useless class president,” Ippei says calmly, and the two face each other down.

“I think it’s time to be on our way, Sugar,” Kozuke interrupts the byplay, smiling humorously. “Can I offer you two ladies a ride to your homes?” he inquires solicitously. Aoi nods eagerly, smiling. Kanna shrugs and grins.

“Sure.” she says.

“What about us?” Eiji protests. Ippei jams his elbow into Eiji’s side, making him grunt.

“I guess it’s not fair to leave them out,” Madoka suggests, finally, feeling bad for the two. It wasn’t too long ago that she might have been in their position, and she empathizes with them.

Eiji grins brightly, seeming on the point of hugging Madoka. A dark look from Kozuke, like that of a protective and doting father, causes him to freeze in place. To Madoka, it’s like Eiji is literally frozen solid for a split second.

“Alright,” Kozuke allows. “Everyone who is coming, come along, and behave yourselves,” he says sternly, leading the party of youths to the van he had used to take Madoka to school this morning. He motions to help Madoka up into the passenger seat on the left side as he had this morning, but Madoka pauses.

“Um… can I sit in the back with my girlfriends, Kozy?” she asks. Kozuke smiles warmly and nods.

“Yes, I think that would be a wonderful idea.” His eyes fall on Eiji again, and he directs him to take the passenger seat wordlessly. Eiji blinks and slides up into the seat. Kozuke nods to himself and helps Madoka into the second row of seats. The other two girls sit to either side of her. He directs Ippei to seat himself in the back row of seats, which he does with a silent nod.

In minutes Kozuke has the chair loaded up on the back of the van and sets off. He eyes Eiji occasionally, making it clear that the reason he is sitting up front is so that he can keep an eye on the muscular boy. Eiji doesn’t protest, though he awkwardly tries to engage Madoka in conversation, finding to his dismay that the girls are happily chatting together and altogether ignoring his existence. When Kozuke pulls up to his house first, which happens to be probably the house the farthest away of all the students’ except perhaps Madoka herself, he exits the van with a defeated expression on his face.

Kozuke next drops off Ippei, who rides quietly in the back. Ippei bows to the van after disembarking. “Thank you for the ride!” he exclaims earnestly and loudly.

“Bye shadow-prez!” Kanna waves. The three girls smile at him and he waves politely before walking to the apartment building that he lives in. It is a somewhat old-looking building, but otherwise nice. Next Kozuke drops off Kanna who lives in a similar apartment complex not too far away. Kanna impulsively hugs Madoka who blushes in response and waves to her cute twin-tailed friend as she exits the van and trots over to her building. They drop Aoi off last. She lives in a well-kept traditional Japanese house on the outskirts of Tsukuba, close to where the city ends and farmlands begin. Aoi takes Madoka’s hand and squeezes it, smiling at her, and Madoka smiles back, her heart beating quickly. The contact with Aoi’s soft hand feels really nice, and she finds herself hoping that Aoi will hug her like Kanna had. That was a great experience. She thinks about how the girl’s chest had felt squishing up against hers as she had spontaneously hugged her.

Aoi doesn’t hug her, however, choosing to keep their contact more modest. Madoka watches her go with a sigh of regret and a little loneliness. She could never have imagined how fulfilling a relationship with girls could be. She daydreams a little as Kozuke pulls forward, taking them back home to the mansion.

“You look really happy,” Kozuke remarks warmly after studying Madoka in the rear-view mirror for a time.

Madoka blinks and looks at Kozuke, smiling and nodding. “I am happy,” she replies.

When they arrive home, Madoka is wheeled inside. Midoriyama waits for her in the foyer, smiling warmly at her. “Did you have fun?” she asks. Madoka nods in reply, blushing and smiling.

“Oh… did you find a boyfriend already?” she grins broadly at the embarrassed girl.

“NO!” Madoka blushes, protesting vehemently.

Midoriyama blinks, taken aback by how forceful her reaction had been. “What’s got you so embarrassed, then?” she asks.

“I… I made some friends…” Madoka squirms cutely, blushing still.

“That’s wonderful!” Midoriyama smiles, taking the girl’s hand and squeezing it. “Onee-chan is so happy for you, Sugar!” she exclaims, grinning.

Madoka nods happily, and a twinge in her stomach makes her remember that making friends wasn’t all that had happened to her today. She touches her stomach, rubbing it a little with a little sigh.

“Are you alright?” Midoriyama notices, and Madoka hesitates but finally gestures with her index finger for Midoriyama to lean forward. 

“I’m… having my period,” she says in a soft whisper, deliberately not looking at Kozuke who has been standing by with a smile, though he frowns a little when the two women look at him as though he’s too close. Kozuke looks away, his brow wrinkling a little.

“I see,” Midoriyama says seriously. “We’ll have to make sure you have pads and tampons,” she whispers to Madoka, who blushes profusely in response.

“Um… I don’t know how to use… the tampon things… don’t they go inside… you?” she asks. Midoriyama looks at the girl, frowning slightly.

“You’ve never used them before? Well, I suppose that’s not too out of the ordinary.” She hesitates a moment and finally whispers: “I’ll show you how to put one in.” She straightens and looks at Kozuke.

“I’m going to take Madoka to get into something more comfortable… Kozy, can you finish up dinner?” she asks Kozuke.

“What? But I…” Kozuke protests.

“Everything is ready, more or less. You won’t have to do any cooking… you just need to plate things,” Midoriyama adds quickly, reassuring the butler.

Kozuke nods, seeming relieved. “Of course, Midoriyama.” He nods and smiles at Madoka before stepping through the foyer, into the dining room, and towards the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Midoriyama escorts Madoka into her bedroom. It is unusual for Midoriyama to help her undress, but the maid does it with all the grace that the butler does, though she acted more like an older sister.

“You’re really well developed so far,” Midoriyama comments when she helps Madoka out of her school uniform. Madoka blushes brightly, looking away. It’s not as though she grew them naturally. Why should she be proud of them?

Midoriyama smiles at the cute reaction and resumes aiding the girl in her disrobing. When she is down to her underwear, Midoriyama carefully hangs up the girl’s uniform so that it won’t wrinkle, and then wheels the girl into the bathroom. She then quickly ducks out of her room, leaving her alone for ten minutes, with nothing else to do, really, except examine herself in the mirror. Madoka is curious. She’s had the opportunity to look at herself previously, but she ignored her reflection steadfastly, a part of her perhaps not wanting to accept the reality of her situation.

She examines herself, trailing her fingers over her skin. Her hair is still up in its cute ribbon and the definition of the muscle she has been putting on lately makes her look a lot less like Sadako from The Ringand more like a traditional Japanese beauty. She studies her reflection in its cute pink bra and panty set Kozuke had chosen out for her this morning, and feels her heart start to race. Her skin flushes prettily and she feels the already humid sensations between her legs that she has had to deal with all day intensify slightly. She looks away, clearing her mind. Her chest feels a little tighter and her nipples feel stiff in a way that she really isn’t at all familiar with. Midoriyama saves her from these awkward feelings by re-entering the bathroom. She studies the girl for a moment, but doesn’t say anything as she sets a box of tampons down on the nearby countertop.

For the next fifteen minutes, she shows Madoka how to use a tampon applicator. It takes time, but Madoka is able to insert a tampon herself, with much blushing and some awkwardness. When finished, Midoriyama hugs Madoka reassuringly, and Madoka smiles, feeling comforted by the embrace rather than aroused as when Kanna had hugged her. Is this what it’s like when a mother teaches her daughter these things? Madoka thinks, wonderingly.

The four sit down for dinner that night. Master Yoshi doesn’t say much, inquiring a time or two about her day at school, but otherwise seeming largely disinterested. Madoka still talks about it and in her eagerness she lets slip about her visit to the nurses’ office.

Master Yoshi immediately starts paying attention at that point. “Why did you go to the nurses' office on your first day? Are you feeling sick? You need to tell me about it when you’re not feeling well,” he says firmly.

Madoka blinks and blushes, hedging and evading at first, but finally she admits the truth in a small voice, ears burning. “M-my period started today,” she says.

Kozuke’s eyes widen and he stares at the girl, his expression that of puzzled understanding. Master Yoshi grins broadly, seeming extremely happy about Madoka’s admission. Midoriyama studies the two men, equally puzzled, and embarrassed for Madoka.

Finally, overcome with feelings of humiliation, Madoka grits her teeth. “Why do I have to go through this, you old idiot? I’m a boy! I shouldn’t have to deal with things like this!” She starts sniffling, feeling tears leaking down her cheeks. For some reason she feels so suddenly angry and emotional!

Master Yoshi stiffens and glares at the crying girl. “I told you… I didn’t know! Stop blaming me. If I’m going to do a thing properly, however, I will do it as completely and properly as I can. When I decided you were a girl, I went about fixing everything that would normally be in a girl’s body. Do you have any idea the intricate and extensive work involved? It took a year to make sure that your body wouldn’t reject the donor organs and would heal up properly. The whole process was messy and entirely not worth it for such an ungrateful child.” He scowls at the girl.

“What?” Midoriyama, who has only recently been joining them for their meals, mostly due to Madoka’s urging, blinks. “What’s this? I knew that Sugar was the victim in an accident, but you’re telling me she used to be a boy?” she gasps, staring at Madoka.

Kozuke sighs at the back and forth argument between the two, seeming worried. Master Yoshi scowls at Midoriyama now. “It was on a need to know basis… and I myself didn’t find out until half a year ago for sure. I had some doubts as I was performing surgery, but…” He scowls even more deeply. “I don’t have to explain myself to you. You forget your position, Midoriyama,” he growls sternly. “Keep this up and I won’t allow you to join my daughter and I for dinner any longer. You are the help, understand?” He glares at her.

Midoriyama blinks, taken aback. She stands up quickly, her expression firey. “I don’t do it for your sake. I do it for hers.” She points to Madoka, who squirms and bites her lip. 

Oh no, what have I done? She really didn’t know? Madoka wrings her hands in anxiety as she watches the two.

“She doesn't need you. I’m her family. You’re just a useless flirty maid who lives to make trouble for me,” Master Yoshi growls.

Midoriyama scowls back at Master Yoshi. “What kind of trouble do you mean? This kind?” She stamps over to him and practically shoves her generous breasts in his face. He holds his hands up to ward her away and looks away.

“Stop that!” he growls. Kozuke stands, seeming at a loss for what to do.

“Master, Midoriyama… please come to your senses,” he protests. Midoriyama chases Master Yoshi into a corner, shaking her breasts at the man, the two yelling back and forth. Finally, Kozuke steps forward and puts a hand in between them. After a moment’s hesitation, Midoriyama steps away. The master immediately gets to his feet, pushing Kozuke’s hands away.

“You’re FIRED, Midoriyama!” he growls. “I expect you to be out of my home this very night.” He glares, stomping out of the dining room.

Madoka watches, her expression awed. “Master, please wait!” Madoka calls after him, too late. 

Kozuke sighs, sinking down into a chair, stunned. “Midoriyama… you took it too far this time.” Kozuke shakes his head.

“I just can’t forgive him for what he did to Sugar.” Midoriyama wrings her hands, pacing in circles, and finally stops in front of Kozuke. It is obvious to Madoka and Kozuke that she is regretting her actions a little, but is determined to stick to her guns.

“Can you? How can you just placidly accept it? She’s such a sweet child… I never even suspected it, even though you two had me teaching her things that she should have already known. I had thought this situation was pretty strange, but I had no idea just how bizarre it really was!” She points a finger at Kozuke accusingly who sighs, head in hands.

Madoka sniffles and cries, feeling more helpless than ever in this situation. It’s as though her small happy new family is breaking apart right before her eyes.

“Please don’t go, Midor--Onee-chan… please… I need you,” Madoka sniffles. Midoriyama pauses in her poking of Kozuke’s chest, her attention immediately on Madoka. It is clear that the girl’s forlorn cry wrings at her heart as much as being called Onee-chan by her does. 

“Oh, Sugar…” she says softly, soothingly as she caresses the girl’s hair and pulls her against her chest. “Oh, dear… I messed up badly. I’m sorry,” she breathes. “You’re such a good girl.” She squeezes Madoka. Madoka feels hot tears land on her head as the older woman holds her tenderly.

Kozuke stands after a while, his expression resolute. “I will do what I can. Sugar needs you, I think. She has no feminine role models, and while I don’t approve of your unprofessional attitude, I must do something,” he says.

“You just don’t want to have to cook when I leave,” Midoriyama says, her expression slightly teasing, and slightly deadpan.

Kozuke winces, the truth of her words expressed on his face far more eloquently than words could do. “Thank you, Kozy… I don't think it will do much good at this point, but…” Midoriyama smiles gratefully at him, holding the still sniffling girl to her.

Kozuke nods and exits the room, seemingly preparing for battle.

“Master, we must have a discussion about Midoriyama.” He knocks on the door to the master’s bedchambers, which annoyingly are locked tightly at the moment. No reply is forthcoming when Kozuke waits a minute or two.

“Master. Please be reasonable. I know that what Midoriyama did was unconscionable, but we knew how… unorthodox… she was when we hired her on. Her actions notwithstanding, we still very much need her. Madoka needs a mother figure,” Kozuke calls through the door.

“You seem to do a good job of mothering her, Kozuke,” the master finally replies, his tone crabby. “Maybe I should give you a sex change too,” he adds.

Kozuke blinks and laughs. “Oh… your sense of humor is… quite sharp as usual, Master.” Kozuke laughs. “Humor aside, we both know what my cooking is like. I would venture to say that the inconvenience of finding another maid of Midoriyama’s expertise greatly outweighs the inconvenience of keeping her on. The lunch she prepared for Sugar was positively adorable. She put her heart into it,” Kozuke says. Midoriyama had meticulously shaped the rice into a heart shape, and all the other little touches she had added to the lunch had impressed Kozuke. He was sure that he could not come anywhere near the level of mastery that she had displayed in making cute lunches.

“Eh… it’s edible,” Master Yoshi huffs through the door, indicating his unwillingness to cooperate.

“Ahaha… it seems that you have forgotten. Shall I remind you by preparing you a special snack tonight?” Kozuke tries. He didn’t like threatening the Master, but he was getting desperate at this point.

“I’m not hungry anymore. That woman killed my appetite!” Master Yoshi pouts through the door.

Kozuke continues to knock on the door, and attempts what are, in his mind, much weaker arguments for keeping Midoriyama on staff. Finally, Kozuke sighs, head against the door.

Midoriyama, tears in her eyes, pulls a large suitcase through the foyer of the mansion. Madoka watches from her bedroom at the end of the right wing of the house, and finally wheels forward. Her arms and body are exhausted and tears are streaming down her cheeks, but she wheels herself hurriedly forward in a desperate bid to catch Midoriyama and keep her from leaving. Midoriyama pauses a moment, her eyes emotional as she sees the girl frantically and clumsily wheeling towards her. She bites her lip resolutely and exits through the front door, closing it firmly behind her. She hurriedly rolls her suitcase down the path towards the road approaching the house, her expression forced and stiff, even while her heart breaks.

She is resolute, however. She cannot agree with what Master Yoshi has done to Madoka. She cannot support it. In a way, staying at the mansion and aiding him would be like tacitly approving or accepting it. She isn’t sure she can even forgive Kozuke, though she knows he means well and loves the girl dearly. No one cared for her more tenderly while she was comatose than he, and he still continues to tenderly care for her. She hears the door open behind her and the forlorn wail of the girl, but she hesitates only a moment before pressing on, almost in a run down the road leading up to the mansion, to the nearby highway, and the bus stop that awaits. If she hurries, she can make it in time for the last bus of the evening. Otherwise, it would be a long wait through the night… or asking Kozuke for a ride, which she does not want to do.