Title: Bitter Medicine
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: Mild PG, because Sukari and his mouth.
Characters: Sukari and Mumei.
Setting: Sometime between the last two scenes in episode twelve.
Summary: After Kongokaku, Sukari has a word with Mumei.
Disclaimer: They belong to Kabaneri Committee and other relevant parties. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: I’ll be honest here. Madly as I love all the rest of the KotIF protagonists… I’m not a big fan of Mumei. Personally, I find her a bratty little idiot who consistently brings disaster on everyone around her. At the very least, she needs the toughest of tough love to straighten her out—and who better to deliver that than unflinching realist Sukari?
Written for the prompt words “Feed” at Fan Flashworks, and “Guilty/Not Guilty” at Small Fandom Flash.

 

Bitter Medicine

 

“Have you seen Ikoma?” Mumei queried anxiously, as Sukari stepped through the hatchway to find her alone on the prow deck of the Kotetsujo. “How is he?”

Sukari eyed the girl briefly. She resembled death warmed over herself, hunched into Ikoma’s tattered cloak, her drawn young face looking worried and haunted and much too old for her years. From the very little he knew about her part of the living nightmare they’d escaped, he could guess she had a whole freight-car’s worth of reason to be so troubled, but…

But still. It was over, and the Kotetsujo was speeding on into a future that remained full of unknowns—save for the certain fact that the world was still crawling with Kabane, and for the time being the train was down by one inhuman guardian. No matter what had really happened with Mumei and her damned monster of a “big brother” back in Kongokaku, the only Kabaneri left standing would not be helpful if she was going to wallow in guilt or self-pity. And as far as Sukari was concerned, nobody who relied on other people’s blood to survive had a right to not be helpful in return.

“He’s still sleeping off… whatever the hell it was he did to himself back there,” the steamsmith muttered. “Woke up long enough for us to feed him, though. Before he dropped off again, he asked us to make sure you ate too.” He held up the familiar bamboo tube he was carrying.

Garnet eyes darted away quickly. Mumei turned to the railing, uneasily rubbing her arms under the cloak.

“I don’t deserve Kotetsujo blood.” Her low voice quivered. “Even when I had doubts, I still wanted to believe in Brother instead of the people who were really good to me. …It’s my fault everyone was hurt so much.”

Sukari didn’t blink.

“I’d say partly, yeah. Indirectly, anyway.” With dispassion he watched a twitch of thin shoulders under red cloth. “Mostly by not telling us things that could’ve helped stop all this. Maybe you didn’t know everything, but the clues you did have—even the ones you didn’t know you had—could’ve helped us figure out something was wrong before it was too late. It could’ve been different if you’d just talked to us.”

Slender fingers gripped the forward rail, white-knuckled. Sukari wondered if Mumei was toying with the idea of throwing herself over it.

“…But what the hell. You were just a dumb brat listening to a guy you’d known a lot longer than us, who knew how to tell you what you wanted to hear. It was a mistake—but making mistakes is what kids do.”

An angry shudder, reflexively defensive even in the midst of her contrition. “I’m not a kid.”

“Oh, you are. Trust me, you’ve never had anyone here fooled. Even if you’re a few years older and a whole lot stronger, you’re still as much of a child as that bunch that hangs onto Kajika. Biba might have trained you to be a badass Kabane-killer, but that bastard never taught you anything else that matters in life… and that’s why you didn’t know any better.”

Shoulders slumping defeatedly. A shiver, a sniffle. Sukari was surprised to feel himself wince at that, and had to steel his nerve before he continued.

“Well, if you wanna be a grown-up, here’s lesson one: real grown-ups don’t hide or run away when they make mistakes. They pick themselves up and try to find a way to make things right.” He narrowed his eyes at the girl’s back. “You called Ikoma your shield—but I’d say it’s time you were his shield for a change. Until he’s healed, he needs you to protect him, and everyone else he cares about.”

Mumei finally turned to him with brimming eyes wide, and he knew it was time to deliver the killing blow to her selfish angst.

“He went back for you, Mumei. He cared enough about you to put himself through whatever hell it took to bring you back. Now it’s up to you to make that effort worth it—by giving him back the person he wanted that much to save. Don’t hurt him any more by making him lose you after all.”

The tears spilled over then… but a wan smile slowly formed on the girl’s lips. After a brief hesitation, she reached out her hands for the tube Sukari held, and he gave it to her.

Without raising her eyes from it to look at him again, she whispered, “Thanks, Sukari.”

Somehow he knew she didn’t say it only for the blood; but it was easier to pretend that it was only for that.

“Yeah. Well.” He cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck. “Gotta keep your strength up, anyway. There’s still a world of trouble waiting for us out there.”

Mumei released a faint, humorless chuckle. “But Kabane are easy.”

Compared to facing the truth that the man she idolized had only used and betrayed her… yeah. Sukari could see how they would be.

With a casual wave of his hand, he turned and retreated into the locomotive. Even as he walked away, he could hear the soft but needy gulps of Mumei tucking into her meal behind him.

Absently rubbing the bandage on his left wrist, he sighed and allowed himself a weary smile.

You’re welcome, Ikoma…

And with that, I’ve officially filled my quota of noble deeds for this month.


© 2018 Jordanna Morgan