Just One Taste...
A/N: I know that a similar story or two has been written like this. I usually don't follow trends if I can help it, but I was heavily inspired and felt that to not write this would be a waste of a perfectly good idea, regardless whether it had been done already or not. Besides, it's impossible to copy something word for word if you've never read it before. That's why I'm doing my take on the speculations.
By the way; if anyone reviews for this, I want you to include what YOU would wish for as a footnote. We have to stick to the undertone after all. :)
It was so quiet. In the small, rectangular room with the plain white plaster walls and the single panorama window beside her bed. The window was closed, making the air stuffy and hot. She could feel the sweat beading on her brow and other parts of her covered body. The nurse was supposed to come by with the cooling cloths she'd requested over an hour ago.
She finally showed up two hours later; "Hi, Meiko-chan. How are you?" she asked cheerfully.
Meiko didn't answer. She hated this nurse. Her attitude was bright, happy, and optimistic, but after that phone call she'd overheard, where this nurse complained to her boyfriend about one young girl who refused to eat her prescribed food and only wanted cheese and other things her treatment forbade, Meiko withdrew.
"I'm here with those cooling cloths you asked for," she said.
"I called for them two hours ago," Meiko grumbled, "My need for them has gone beyond simple cooling by this point,"
There was nothing more unpleasant than the feeling of sweat in uncomfortable places, Meiko decided.
The sweet expression on the young woman's face faltered a moment, "I see. I assume you're wanting a bath now," she said in a tone that wavered with annoyance.
"Yes," Meiko answered blandly, staring out the window. Her head was beginning to grow hot as well, partly because of her very long hair and partly because of the I.V. If she moved, it let out a dreadful beeping noise alerting her and everyone else within hearing range that proper medicine flow to her veins had been cut off. As a result, proper sleep was next to impossible.
"All right," the woman said, clearing her throat and setting the cloths on the chair beside the bedside table, "I'll be right back with some water and sponges,"
"I don't want a bath from you," Meiko muttered. The nurse faltered, her eyes narrowing slightly, "Excuse me?"
Meiko sighed, still glaring out the window, "I've been in here for eight months, Nurse Asahi. The doctor is nice; he gives me sweet things I can actually eat without messing up my treatment. He talks to me when no one else will, since I don't have anyone else. You're just doing this for the money; you complain to your boyfriend about me and you ignore me and my needs whenever it suits you. Everything you do to me hurts, including your voice. I don't want you to take care of me,"
Nurse Asahi clenched her fists at her front, clamping her teeth together, "Oh, is that right, Meiko-chan?" she said, gritting out her words, "I had no idea,"
"Well now you do. So if you don't mind, and by the way, I know you don't, would you please get someone else to help me? I'm sure what's-his-name can't wait to see you after your shift,"
Meiko's head knocked hard against her metal bed-frame, her hand reaching up to her face where she'd been slapped. Her eyes flamed as she glared at the nurse, reeling in irritation and anger in front of her.
"You god-damned little brat," the nurse hissed, "You have no right to talk to me that way,"
Meiko, hardly surprised by this outburst, simply turned around and pressed the call button on the wall behind her, automatically summoning another staff member to her aid. Nurse Asahi's eyes burned in hatred as Meiko smirked dryly, "Better run to your safe little haven in the maintenance closet, nurse. Don't worry; I won't tell whoever comes in that you just assaulted one of your assigned patients,"
Nurse Asahi bit her lip and fury and stormed out before someone else came inside and saw what was happening. Meiko sighed and lay down on her side, hiding the red welt on her face. After a while, another staff member, one of the male nurses came in to inquire what she wanted. Meiko didn't mind him as much; while also in it for the money, he was at least nice and considerate to the patients he cared for. Meiko told him her problem and he fetched a female nurse to bathe her at long last.
Finally cooled and changed into dry clothing, Meiko dozed on her back, frozen in place as usual. Having been stuck inside this hospital room for a little over a year, Meiko had long since given up on returning to the outside world again. Cancer at her stage was difficult to treat when caught so late in the game. As such, Meiko's mental state, often so necessary in a patient's recovery, was declining rapidly. At this point, there was no hope for recovery. She tried to keep herself busy with her scant sewing experience, making little fleece versions (albeit poor ones) of her favorite characters. There was even one she'd come up with herself, based on herself. It was a tiny little girl with a long black scarf and a head shaped like a piece of candy still in its wrapper. Her cloth face beamed up at her with its bright blue eyes and wide smile. Meiko's favorite book in the world was Charlotte's Web, so in reverence to the titular character, she'd christened her little creation Charlotte. She sat with all the other little creations on the windowsill in the otherwise colorless room. It was minimal, but they gave Meiko a small amount of comfort knowing that she didn't have too much longer to live.
However today, as she studied her collection of handmade toys, she noticed something funny. There was a stuffed animal there that she didn't recall making. She sat up, careful not to disturb the IV as she reached out with her left hand to grasp the toy by the neck, gently pulling it toward her. It was a little heavier than she'd expected, almost as if it were alive. It stared up at her with its wide red eyes and innocent smile. It was shaped like a cat with a sleek body and long, fluffy tail. Its fur was pure white, even brighter than snow. In fact, if it weren't for the strange set of extra ears coming out of its cat-like ears, she'd have easily mistaken the thing for a cat plushie.
"Well, I wonder how you got here," Meiko muttered, "I don't recall making anything like you before, that and you're quite a bit bigger than most of my toys,"
"That's because you didn't make me,"
Meiko froze, her hand jerking away from the thing as if she'd been burned. In her fright, she jerked the IV as well, causing the piercing alarm to start screeching throughout the room. In less than a few seconds, a nurse on her rounds outside the door hurried in to shut it off.
"You gave me a start," she said as she finally shut it off and realigned the IV on the mattress beside Meiko, "Did you toss in your sleep or something?"
Meiko could only stare in amazement. The nurse was looking right at her, but paid no attention to the weird...creature seated on her lap, tail waving casually back and forth.
She couldn't see it!
"Uh...no, I was just careless," Meiko replied clumsily. Her explanation accepted, the woman left, shutting the door behind her. Meiko cautiously refocused her attention on the thing, "D-Did you just talk to me?" she asked.
"Yes, I did. And I have to say, I find it amusing that you mistook me for a stuffed toy,"
She frowned, "What are you?"
"My name is Kyubey,"
She sighed, "I asked what you were, not who you were," she snapped.
"Well, I could be your friend, if you like," he said, tilting his head and smiling.
"You're a bit late; I've only got a few months left, a year at most," Meiko mumbled glumly, averting her eyes downward.
"Actually," Kyubey said, jumping back onto the windowsill to stare out over the city, "I'd say I was right on time,"
He glanced downward toward the street, his tail twitching. Then, he looked back up at her, "I'm guessing you're pretty sick, huh?"
Meiko nodded, "Yeah,"
Kyubey's expression never faltered, "And it's not curable?"
She shook her head, "No. They caught it too late,"
"I see. You must be pretty sad, then. You must not have gotten to do very much at all, being as young as you are yet,"
Meiko sighed, leaning back against the mattress, "Well, you're half-right anyway. I was never interested in traveling or anything. My dad travels for work and sends me gifts and stuff and I don't have a mom anymore,"
"'Anymore'?" Kyubey repeated curiously, again turning back to her from his gaze toward the street.
"Yeah. In my case, the cancer was genetic. Mom died from the same thing a few years before I was diagnosed with it. It's normally a curable variety, but neither of us noticed it in time because our symptoms were different from one another,"
"I see. That's too bad," Kyubey told her, "I wish I could help you. All I can do is one thing that may not be enough,"
He jumped back onto the bed, staring blankly at her with that never-changing expression. Meiko frowned, "What? What can you do for me?"
"I can grant you a wish. Any wish you desire. Consider it my way of helping you," he said.
Meiko's jaw dropped, "You're crazy! You're just making fun of me, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not. That nurse couldn't see me, right? That means only you can see me. It means you have magical potential while she didn't. Here's the deal; if you make a wish, I will turn you into a magical girl. You'll have to fight for the sake of your wish, but your life will be saved as a result,"
Meiko's eyes widened, "Fight? Fight what?" she asked, her voice wavering in fear.
Kyubey's eyes gleamed, "Witches. Creatures of curses. They spread anxiety and terror amidst the world and are most likely the causes of some of the more terrible acts of the past, such as murders and suicides. In fact, it may even be possible that a witch was responsible for the illness that killed your mother and is currently killing you. Of course, that's only an assumption, so don't take my word for it,"
Meiko was silent for a moment before her voice returned to her; "So...so any wish I have, you can grant it?"
"Yes. What's something you've always wanted but could never have? Whatever it is, I can grant it,"
Meiko felt her heart pounding in a rush of sudden excitement and energy. She closed her eyes, "I don't suppose you can bring the dead back to life, right?"
Now it was Kyubey's turn to sigh, "Well, I could, and it's been wished for before, but take my word on this one; I highly recommend against it,"
There was a dark undertone in his words that unnerved Meiko intensely. She swallowed the lump of fear festering in her throat, "Okay, I'll skip that wish. I have another one; while I've been in here, the one thing I've wanted more than anything else was a piece of cool, delicious cheesecake covered in raspberry sauce and strawberries in the center. But my treatment wouldn't allow it. But I get the feeling like that could be a total waste of a wish," she added speculatively. Kyubey chuckled, "It's not my place to decide on the value of a wish a girl makes, Meiko," he told her.
"Hey, how'd you know my name, fuzzball?" Meiko snapped at him.
"I read it on the plaque on the wall outside your room," he answered cheerfully, "Anyway, getting back to your wish, if that's what you really want, and it's something you won't regret wishing for, then I have no problems granting it. The wish is all up to you,"
Meiko thought it over a moment. The idea of ridding herself of this illness by becoming a magical girl appealed to her. By wishing for the cake and getting that as a side-bonus, she was almost getting a two-for-one bargain. It was a pity she couldn't bring her mom back, but if Kyubey was right, in that bringing the dead back had ghastly consequences, then she was probably better off letting her mom rest. Besides, the cake sounded so good.
She smiled a little, "Okay, I've decided. Even if it's just for a moment, I want to taste cheesecake again. Just one taste and I'll be satisfied. I'll become a magical girl for that,"
"Are you sure?"
There was a soft glow of light between them manifesting as a shapeless cloud before gradually taking shape before her. Her breath caught in her throat as she processed what she was looking at.
"My god, it's true," she breathed as she took the plate containing the desired dessert, " You really did grant my wish,"
"Taste it," Kyubey encouraged, "I promise you'll never taste anything quite like it again,"
Meiko picked a small piece off the cheesecake and delicately set it in her mouth. She felt a rush of ecstasy as the flavors melted onto her tongue, "Oh, that's so good," she whispered.
Kyubey waited patiently until she'd finished the cheesecake, which took almost a half an hour since she spent so much time enjoying every single bite. When she was finally finished, her broached the subject, "So then, are you ready?"
"Yeah. So whatever you have to do, do it before I change my mind and wish for something chocolate instead," Meiko joked, since she'd already made the wish. Kyubey nodded. She watched as his second set of ears suddenly rose up into the air, almost like hands. They hovered there a moment before slowly extending out toward her. She was momentarily frozen as they penetrated her chest, sending a surge of...something she couldn't quite pinpoint through her body. It wasn't pain, but it wasn't entirely enjoyable either. It suddenly felt like she was watching herself from afar, like a part of her had just been ripped away.
As Kyubey's ears withdrew from her body, a bright, glowing saffron-colored orb escaped along with them, hovering before her eyes and drawing her in.
"Take it, Meiko. This is your new life,"
Meiko vaguely heard Kyubey's voice in her ears as she reached numbly up to grasp the orb. As soon as she clasped it in her hands, she felt a surge of what she could only describe as pure energy flowing uncontrollably through her body, flooding into every cell and nerve, straight to her very DNA. It felt very warm and reassuring.
"Open your eyes. Do you want to see the new you?"
Meiko slowly, hesitantly opened her eyelids, staring at the ceiling. She could tell that the blanket must have slipped to the floor since she could feel the cool air on her flushed skin. She sat up carefully, mindful of the IV still attached to her wrist. Her eyes widened in amazement as she stared down at herself.
"Wha—what is this?"
She was wearing a fancy black and white dress that extended in a zig-zag cut at her knees. The right side was white, while the intersecting left side was black. Around her neck was a red and black polka-dotted scarf and her long pink hair had been done up into two flowing ponytails draping down her back and ending in curls on the mattress. In her hand, she held a staff like you'd find in fantasy novels. It had a semi-circular blade at the end, almost like an inverted pendulum. Fixed alongside the blade were two tiny wings, one red and one blue. The staff itself was black with red polka-dots, like her scarf. The final touch, a headband with a spiral-shaped jewel fixated on top rested on her head.
"That gem on your head is your Soul Gem. When you transform, that's the form it will take on your body. The design and placement is unique to every magical girl, depending on her character,"
Meiko blushed slightly, "The costume is cute. But what now?"
"Now, we start your new career," Kyubey replied, "Hunting down and destroying witches. Place your hand on your soul gem and resume your normal appearance. You'll attract too much attention if you tried to leave this place like that,"
Meiko giggled, "You're right. It's cute, but I still look a bit ridiculous,"
She did as he said, willing herself to transform back to her old image. When she opened her eyes again, she was holding an egg-shaped jewel that was saffron colored, just like her Soul Gem as Kyubey had called it. She held it up to the light as she realized that this was her Soul Gem, just in another shape. It was a little bit dull in color, almost like a ruby.
"It's pretty," she breathed.
"It's polluted already,"
Meiko jumped, "Huh?"
"Let me explain. When a Soul Gem is dull like yours is, it means that the magic inside is almost used up. In your case, you were already filled with enough despair that your Soul Gem reacted to that as it was created. You can't let it get much darker than that, or you'll run out of magic completely,"
"What? But I just got it! I haven't even done anything yet!" Meiko proclaimed in dismay.
"Don't worry. All we need to do is find a weak witch for you to beat so you can get a Grief Seed quickly and purify it,"
Meiko blinked, "What's a Grief Seed?"
Kyubey's tail twitched again, "They're called Witch's Eggs. They house the witch inside after they've been defeated by a magical girl. Once you beat the witch, the Grief Seed will drop and you can use it to absorb the darkness from your tainted Soul Gem. It should automatically become clean once you do that,"
Meiko settled slightly, reassured by his words, "Okay. I just need to defeat a weak witch. I guess I can handle that if you explain what I'm supposed to do,"
Kyubey smiled, "That's what I'm here for," he chimed.
Meiko returned the smile, "Okay. I guess we'll get started. I think I can sneak out of here easily enough,"
She reached around and yanked the IV out of her arm, shutting the machine off before the alarm could sound. Kyubey's tail flicked, "I wouldn't have done that, if I were you," he said.
"Why not? It's not like I need it anymore," Meiko exclaimed happily. She swung her feet around and stood up with a stretch and sigh, "That feels good,"
"Be careful," Kyubey warned again. Meiko laughed and twirled around to the end of the bed, gazing out the window down toward the street, "Wow, I'm really high up. As long a I've been here, I've never actually looked down out of this window before, isn't that crazy?"
She turned toward the door, humming excitedly, "Let's go, Kyubey! I've gotta get a Grief Seed!"
Suddenly, her knees buckled underneath her, sending her crashing to the floor with a sickening thud. She groaned in pain as she lifted herself up onto her elbows, "What the—?"
The room was heaving and spinning all around her. Her stomach flipped uncomfortably inside her and she felt the foul-taste of bile rising up in the back of her throat, "Wha...what's happening? I'm so tired...,"
"I tried to warn you," Kyubey said with a sigh.
Meiko began to panic as she realized that she was too weak to lift herself to her feet, "I can't get up! Help! I can't get up! Someone help me! Help me!"
Gradually, a doctor on his rounds heard her screams and threw the door open. It didn't take a deep thinker to realize what was going on. He roughly hauled Meiko up and laid her back down on the bed. Grumbling under his breath, he hooked the IV back into her arm, setting up a holter monitor while he was at it. He scolded Meiko heavily for getting up and running around in her weakened state, saying that she might have killed herself with the strain of it all before storming off to fetch her regular doctor.
Meiko was left staring in disbelief at the ceiling, in the same position she'd started the whole day in. The steady dripping of fluids flooded her ears as he befuddled mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened.
"Why?" she whispered, tears streaming from her eyes in fear and confusion, "Why am I as weak as ever? Why can't I stand up?"
Kyubey sat on the windowsill, his tail swinging lazily back and forth as he watched her blankly, "Because you're still very sick, Meiko. You need to be careful,"
Meiko's eyes went wide in horror, "What do you mean I'm still sick! I made the wish! You turned me into a magical girl! I'm cured, aren't I?"
"Where did you get that idea from? I never said you were cured. I told you we needed to find you a weak witch to defeat, remember?"
"Yeah, but you said my Soul Gem was almost out of magic already," Meiko stammered, her fist closing over the gem in question, slowly growing even darker as she spoke.
"I didn't suggest it for that reason. I said it because even though you're a magical girl and your sickness is no longer much of an issue, it can still weaken you immensely. You're physically incapable of taking on mature, powerful witches simply because your body can't handle it. If you went into battle with a strong witch, you'd be killed on the spot,"
"But I thought I'd be cured! You said my life would be saved, Kyubey! You said that!"
Kyubey turned to gaze out the window, "Yes, your life was saved, Meiko. But that's it; your life was saved. Your illness won't kill you. You're no longer in danger of dying from it. However, that doesn't mean that you're rid of it. It's still a burden. You won't feel the pain it causes you thanks to the nature of your Soul Gem, but your fighting efficiency is much lower than a typical magical girl's,"
"Why? If you knew I couldn't be cured, why did you offer me this chance?" Meiko sobbed.
"I never said you couldn't be cured,"
Her breath hitched in shock. She twisted her head slightly to look at him in disbelief, "What did you just say?" she said, her voice barely a whisper.
"Short of returning the dead to proper life, my power is indescribably flexible. Curing your illness, or even ridding the world of it entirely would be laughably simple for me. If you'd wished that your illness didn't exist, then you would have been cured, along with every other human who suffered from it. The disease you humans call cancer would effectively cease to exist. But since you wished for something else, you gained the ability to learn to co-exist with this illness,"
He stared down at the street, briefly watching two young girls walking side by side and chattering happily. He turned his gaze back to Meiko and the Soul Gem in her loose grasp. The previous saffron color was nearly gone, replaced by a horrible black.
"Oh dear," Kyubey said in a voice that hardly seemed to match his words.
What happened to me? I can't really remember. Oh, I'm so hungry. I want something sweet. I can take my pick of anything I like. How delicious. I'm sleepy, though. Hm? I can hear voices nearby.
"Madoka, go find Mami and bring her back here. I'll stay here and keep an eye on the Grief Seed. If the labyrinth opens up, we'll lose track of it,"
Grief Seed? What Grief Seed? Where?
"It's too dangerous, Sayaka! Besides, we still have time before the witch hatches!"
That voice. I remember it, but I can't quite place it.
"Okay, I'll go get Mami here as fast as I can!"
Someone's out there. They're talking about me. I'm still so sleepy, but I have so much food here, far too much for me to eat. Maybe they'd like to join me...
A/N: I think I'm going to retire from fanfiction soon, at least from chapter stories. I'll finish the ones I'm working on, but I need to focus on my own novels. I've been neglecting them far too much and it's not good. Anyway, I hope you like my take on this witch's background. Yes, I've read the fan speculation and yes, I know what everyone thinks happened, but this idea formulated when I was simply studying the labyrinth and piecing together my own version by myself, without help. I'm proud of it, either way.