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like a canary in a coalmine

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Mimi wakes up in an ambulance. 

Her whole body feels like it was carved out of lead and there’s lights and people and the shrill tune of the siren — she follows the one-two-one-two beat like she used to when she was a kid, in the years following the earthquake when there seemed to be a siren every other minute, even in her little suburb — there’s hands and voices all over her and she feels them as if they’re happening at a distance, as if her synapses are swimming around uselessly in cotton and syrup — her eyes roll around in their sockets, trying to find a raindrop in a hurricane.

She groans, and someone shushes her.

She sleeps.

/ / /

This time, she’s in a hospital. She can tell without even opening her eyes. 

It’s the smell; layers upon layers of bleach and antiseptic, like those rough hotel towels only multiplied by ten. She licks her lips and finds that they’re dry enough that they stick together when she tries to unpeel them enough so her tongue can poke out. She also finds that she’s at the point where even that tiny little movement will knock her out.

She lays in the bed, half asleep, until she’s able to open her eyelids. They’re crusty and it’s a struggle, but she manages it with less difficulty than she’d expected. Pace yourself , she thinks. She doesn’t really feel up to cracking a smile over her half-assed non-joke, so she redirects that energy into taking a look around.

Her mother has draped herself over the faded armchair in the corner, in a position that looks incredibly uncomfortable. She’s still in work clothes and her pumps are on the table in front of her. Mimi closes her eyes and sinks back into the bed. A couple tears escape her lashes and make a break for her hairline.

She thinks back. Tries to remember .

They were in class, they were talking about the trip, Ganta noticed something, they turned, there was a man… 

Her heartbeat thunders in her chest. 

It’s in her ears, her throat, her fingertips, going so fast it could punch right through her ribcage. It takes up so much space she can hardly breathe —Someone’s touching her. She can feel their warm breath billow over her eyelids and forehead (“Mimi? Mimi !”) and she figures it’s probably her mom, then there’s the sound of someone rushing into the room, all hurried steps and the swish of fabric and someone’s murky, out-of-breath voice saying “Ma’am? Please step aside” and

/ / /

She’s still in the hospital. Her mom fell asleep hunched over the bed, with her short, poorly dyed hair fanned over Mimi’s pillow. It’s dark outside, she thinks. She tries to squeeze her mother’s hand, which is intertwined with her own, but it’s weak and more of a twitch than anything resembling the I Love You squeeze she was going for. Her mom still wakes up anyway, and before she can fly into a panic (which would probably just get Mimi herself to panic), she says, “ Water .”

It’s more of a croak, but Mom gets the message.

She cradles Mimi’s head and lets her sip at the water in mouthfuls too small to even wet the desert happening inside Mimi’s mouth, but she understands that it’s so she doesn’t throw up and sips accordingly. It takes her three whole minutes to drink a spoon’s worth of water.

When she’s done, she collapses back into the pillow, and her mom caps the bottle and sets it down on the bed. She looks tired, and Mimi feels sorry, even though she knows it’s not her fault. She doesn’t think about the man outside the window. She breathes deep and shifts her body off to the side. It only gives her mother an extra two centimeters of space, so she takes the initiative and half carries, half shoves Mimi farther to the left.

Mimi waits for her mother to settle, then sleeps. Or tries to, at any rate.

/ / /

She doesn’t think about him, but she hears his voice.

/ / /

Actually, the more she not-thinks about him, the more she’s convinced that the man outside the window was not a man at all. 

It’s the voice. At first, she thinks it’s because it was too high to be a man, except she knows that men can have high voices. So that’s not it. It’s just—everything about it was incredibly feminine , but not the way a grown woman is feminine. 

It was girlish .

/ / /

She catches herself humming it out loud not a week later. 

She freezes, then throws up all over the nurse that was checking on her.

/ / /

Mimi remembers it in bits and pieces. Random flashes of fear, dreams that might be memories, memories that might be dreams. Everything about it is hazy, except for the two things seared into her brain as the HD truth.

  1. The song, in bits and pieces and a discordant minor key. Like something out of a horror movie, only a little… she spends an hour and a half puzzling over it, then settles on “melancholy.”
  2. The fact that she saw the blood move.

An argument could be made that she’s simply lost her mind, which could be true, but she knows that she saw. Thin tendrils of blood seeping out of the girl in the window and gleaming cruelly in the mid-morning sun. And strange blue hexagons, some in circles like a halo, some in curved lines tracing the pattern of the blood. It’s too vivid to be a hallucination, she tells herself. Of course, hallucinations would have to be, in order to be believable.

Then she realizes. If someone else survived, they’d be able to tell her.

/ / /

Mimi works up the courage to ask about it for days. She’s been in the hospital for almost half a month now and feels stable enough to handle a little more post-traumatic trauma. The nurse (the same one she threw up on a couple days prior) just purses her lips.

“It was you and three others,” she says. Quietly, cautiously. Like she’s ready to leap away in case of vomit.

Three others. That’s four total. In a class of twenty-one. In a school of almost a thousand. She almost laughs with the absurdity of it.

Mimi doesn’t remember asking who , but the nurse rattles off the names with a guilty look. She doesn’t know the survivor from the fourth floor and says as much, but she recognizes Toma Ito and— thank God —Ganta Igarashi. She almost cries in relief, but settles for giving the nurse a quick, tight hug. Except…

“What’s wrong?”

The nurse looks absolutely stricken

/ / /

Ganta’s in prison.

They’re saying he killed everybody.

Chapter Text

The nurse avoids her room like the plague. After that, it’s a new set of faces pretty much every other day, all looking a little pitying and a little uncomfortable. They don’t believe her. None of them believe her, and so she stops trying.

Not because she’s come to her senses or anything. Oh no. She’s saving her energy for the police.

One day, a man in a slate gray suit walks in. His hair is slicked down and his skin is very moisturized and his glasses are those fancy types for people who sit in front of a screen all day, the kind that reflect blue light or whatever. It gives him a kind of a weird polished look, like a waxed car or a really shiny marble floor. Mimi doesn’t like it, but she lets him sit down in the chair next to her bed.

He has a black briefcase and he puts it down on the bed, next to her arm. “Hi, Mimi,” he says, and his voice is almost as weird and shiny as his face. She says hello back, but he's very focused on unzipping his briefcase. “So the doctors have been telling me that you’re one of Mr. Igarashi’s friends.”.

Snitches , she thinks. She shrugs.

The man mimics her with a weird half smile. “Now, that’s not an answer, is it?”

Patronizing bastard . “We’re friends.”

“I see.” The man tips his head and Mimi catches a glimpse of his eyes. They’re a shade lighter than his suit, and she wonders if he coordinated his outfit to match them. “I understand that what you went through was very traumatic. It’s very hard, sometimes, for people to accept the truth when it hurts them.”

Mimi rolls her eyes. “I saw it —” and then, for good measure, “—patronizing bastard.”

“Saw—pardon?”

She looks at him again, expecting him to be taken aback or irritated, and finds that he’s staring at her with an odd intensity. Interesting. “There was a girl,” is all she says. She doesn’t mention that the girl was floating outside of the window. Or that she had magic blood. But the man… He swallows audibly, and something in his shiny face and flat gray eyes makes her pause. 

It’s like a ball of ice free-falling down her esophagus.

“It was real.”

The man licks his lips. They’re thin and chapped and on his pale face, they make him look kind of dead. “Your friend—”

Mimi seethes . “Don’t give me that! You know what I saw. You know what it was!” She leans forward, until their she can glare at him squarely in the face. “Why are you going on about Ganta when you know what really happened?”

The man seemed to have recovered in the time it took for Mimi to lose her temper, because he looks back at his briefcase, cool as a cucumber. “I see,” he says. Then he looks back up at her, and for the first time, Mimi thinks that she should be afraid. She doesn’t back up, though. She just sits up straighter.

He turns the briefcase towards her. There’s a laptop in there, which he turns on. An image of Ganta, standing in the classroom surrounded by—oh God—their classmates. Their bodies. On the ground. And he’s standing and there’s blood on his face. She almost believes it, for a split second.

Then she remembers seeing him on the ground with her, seeing him writhing on the ground, clutching his chest… 

Her whole body goes cold.

“You—”

“See, it won’t just be you, Mimi. It’ll be your dear mother, your little brother, what friends you have left. Maybe some of these nurses, huh?”

Mimi just stares at him, horror naked on her face.

“C’mon, Mimi. Think of it as a favor,” he says, whining and cajoling all at once. When he smiles, it doesn’t reach his eyes. It just looks like his thin, pale mouth but stretched, and something about it seems sharklike, only in an oily way. “I protect you from this menace, and, look, I’ll even pay you, how ‘bout that!”

Mimi’s next breath comes out loud and shaky. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding it. She looks at the screen again, at this not-Ganta that looks just like him, except for the absolutely delighted look he’s got on his face. She’s never seen him that happy.

There’s no way anyone’s ever gonna buy it. Someone’s going to dig. There’ll be reporters; one of them will interview a nurse who’ll know a nurse who heard Mimi back when she was going on about how it wasn’t him every five minutes—she never should have stopped—and they’ll find out that this man paid her. She squeezes her eyes shut and prays .

When she opens them, the man is gone.

/ / /

By some minor miracle, she convinced her mother not to come—there’s no way she could have kept her cool with her mother’s nervous energy leaking into her’s—and so Mimi walks into the courtroom alone, followed by a hundred soft, pitying eyes. She ignores them with the ease of practice and keeps her gaze steady on the judge. It’s an older woman who nods at her curtly and looks away. Mimi sits down where she’s told and takes a look around.

She sees the other survivors a few rows behind her. They’re with their families. Toma is red-eyed and angry and the girl from the fourth floor looks small and pale—probably only in sixth grade, she thinks with a pang. She turns forward. They bought the lie. It’s just her and Ganta now. And maybe not even that.

She bites her lip, hard.

She only looks up when a sudden hush falls over the courtroom, except for footsteps and the slight clink of chains. Her head snaps up and she blinks furiously, trying to get the moisture out of her eyes. He looks alright. He’s scared. 

Ganta was always such a crybaby. She can see the tears collect in his lashes all the way from where she’s sitting. He notices her and almost—almost stops, or says something, and it’s so stupid because the cops he’s with shove him forward and he yelps and there’s a couple disbelieving laughs from the media circus in the last couple rows. 

The trial’s an absolute farce. The man coming to talk to her in the hospital seems like a waste of time, really, because even Ganta’s lawyer starts looking all defeated as the trial goes on. Watching strangers pick through her friend’s life is excruciating. It must be worse for him, she thinks. She leans back and stares at the ceiling. After a while, she rolls her eyes back, looking at Toma and the girl from the fourth floor. She wonders if they saw anything. She knows it probably wouldn’t make a difference.

“If Miss Tanaka would give her testimony…?”

She jerks forward. “I—” Her eyes dart around the room. The man in the hospital smiles at her. Sharklike.

“Only if you’re up to it,” the judge says, gentle.

Mimi stands up. It’s like she’s in one of those mecha anime, and the man from the hospital is her pilot. Her mouth gets dry and sour. She gets to the witness stand and can’t bear to look up. To see Ganta’s face when she betrays him.

“Can you tell us about him?”

“I—He’s— was —my friend.” The judge makes one of those understanding, go-on noises. Mimi chokes out the words one by one like they’re bile. “I saw him do it.”

Ganta makes a startled noise.

“I’m sorry,” she cries, and runs off before she can say anything else. She’s in the corridor and running before she knows it, and promptly throws up in a nearby trashcan.

/ / /

“Hello, Mimi.”

Mimi doesn’t bother saying anything. She’s got a million whiny middle-school insults lined up on her tongue. Every curse word she’s ever known. Every insult she can think of. It would do nothing but make her look more pathetic than she already does.

She didn’t need to testify. He had the whole trial in the bag. Literally. He just made her do it for fun . She looks up from where she’s sitting on the floor. He’s standing right next to her, and he’s holding out a small plastic case of mints.

Mimi spits on his shoe. There’s some vomit left in her mouth, so nice chunk of it lands on his laces.

His smile tightens and she takes it as a small victory. “Alright. I guess you’d be feeling that way.”

“You can gloat like a shitty daytime drama villain later. Go away.”

“Alright. Goodbye, Mimi.”

/ / /

She got played. Like a fiddle. Like an absolute tool.

While she was being petty and mopey in the hallway, the actual CEO of the most fucked-up prison in the word was doing PR. She should have gone out with him. Said something— done something.

Instead, she’s watching the fallout from their new TV.

In their new, fancy house.

He gave her a college fund. Paid off her mom’s credit card debt, her dad’s medical bills. Wired money like he said he would, only, he made it look like charity. Like he felt bad for them. Even her stupid freak-out in the courtroom helped him more than it hurt him. He stood in front of the reporters and  used that .

Mimi sits down in her plush new bed and screams.