I don't know how a 500 word snippet turned into this, but here we are. I'm not sure if I'm totally satisfied with it, but... I mean... HAVE SOME MORE ANGST, MOTHERFUCKERS.
Anyway, I'm jumping back in time to right after Much Like Suffocating, and the event that kicked this whole "Kingverse" off. Three days after, to be exact. This particular event was mentioned in the third chapter of Aftershocks, during Yuri and Mai's conversation.
So, I'm slapping a TW on this because of a little detail that has been alluded to elsewhere but is absolutely confirmed here. It's missable, but can certainly be triggering to anyone who registers it quickly. If you get it, and understand the context and logistics, well... I mean. Fucking yikes.
"I need you to help me burn these."
King's delivery of the statement was completely monotone, her normally clear, assertive voice hoarse and devoid of any semblance of feeling. However, Mai Shiranui knew that turbulent emotions were bubbling just under the surface: Pain. Rage. Shock. Exhaustion. More pain… and a myriad of other things she couldn't even begin to imagine — things that words couldn't even begin to express. She couldn't keep the sadness from her face as she looked from King, to the mound on the dining table, to their friend, Yuri Sakazaki, who stood just on the other side of their hostess.
"Burn them?" She asked incredulously.
"Yes," came a flat response.
The room fell quiet as Mai reached out toward the pile… and picked up a black dress. She inspected it carefully before fixing her eyes on the other items on the table: high heeled shoes, skirts… another dress… the boots King wore just three nights prior — that she adored because of how great they were for kicking...
"Kingy," Mai started. "Are you sure? These are —"
"I'm fucking sure," King snapped as she shut her eyes.
Mai recoiled but wasn't at all surprised or offended by the outburst. The crisis counselor said that sudden mood changes were a normal part of the process. And if there was anything Mai understood, it was sudden mood changes.
"I'm sorry," King said quietly. "I didn't mean —"
"No, no — it's okay," Mai told her gently. "You're fine."
The traumatized bartender opened her eyes and stared at the clothes in front of her but didn't say anything.
"King-san," Yuri ventured. She placed her hand on King's arm but instantly drew back when the other woman flinched. She dropped the offending appendage to her side and mumbled an apology.
"Not your fault," King quietly assured. She took a deep breath that caught, indicating that her injured ribs were bothering her.
"When's the last time you took pain meds?" Yuri inquired.
"Before... you got here," King winced. "I took… Percocet."
With that, Yuri glanced at Mai and made a face that had "Oh, shoot," written all over it: King, on pain meds and upset, was never a good thing. Mai subtly shook her head before she refocused on the items on the table. King didn't wear skirts or dresses all that often to begin with, but there was still a decent amount of clothing to be disposed of. Mai was about to ask if, maybe, donating it would be an option, but thought better of it when she chanced a look at her friend's battered face, which was full of… something. She placed the dress she was holding back in the pile and caught sight of a skirt that still had the tags on it.
"Even this one? I mean… if you have the receipt we can go take it back for you…"
"All. of. it."
Mai nodded, a little sorry that she even made the suggestion. The trio fell silent once more, which afforded Yuri an opportunity to shoot Mai another concerned glance from her place near King, who was staring, wide-eyed, at the scuffed up boots in front of her.
"Kingy?" Mai leaned over so she could get a better look at the other woman. "Kingy, what's the ma—"
Without warning King threw one hand over her mouth and rushed past Mai, toward the trash bin in the kitchen. Unfortunately, she didn't quite make it in time: she doubled over as she forcefully vomited all over the tiled floor. As off-putting as it was, Mai immediately noted that there was nothing solid — it was all liquid — which meant King hadn't eaten anything. An alarming fact, as it was already very late in the afternoon.
"King-san —" Yuri ran over and put a hand on King's back — "Are you okay?!"
King brought herself upright, let out a loud gagging sound, and threw up again, this time in the actual garbage can. Mai, meanwhile, turned slightly so she could glance at the article that had clearly set King off. She felt her eyes go wide as she took in every single detail; every single scratch… every single stain.
"Oh my god," she blurted under her breath.
"What?" Yuri called.
"N-nothing," Mai responded. She quickly covered up the boots with another piece of clothing as best she could and then crossed over into the kitchen, where she nimbly scooted by her friends so she could grab the paper towels from the other side of the counter.
"You don't… you don't have to do that," King uttered while Yuri escorted her back to the dining area.
"I know I don't have to, but what sort of friend would I be if I just left it there?"
Mai stifled a gag as she deftly wiped up the liquid. She opened the trash bin and noticed some sort of stuffed animal that was just barely visible at the very bottom of it. Wasn't King given a teddy bear at the hospital? As a strange means of comfort? Mai dropped the paper towels down, obscuring the keepsake entirely, a sudden understanding of what, exactly, King was trying to accomplish dawning on her. She squared her shoulders and turned around to face the others.
"King-san, you're freaking me out. Please say something," Yuri was telling King, who leaned heavily on the table. She abruptly turned toward Mai, her eyes brimming with tears and anger.
"Can you now...? Please...?"
"Of course," Mai told her resolutely. "Anything you need, okay?"
King pressed her lips in a thin line and nodded while stepping back so she could hug herself tightly. For the first time Mai noticed the ridiculous bagginess of King's long-sleeved sweatshirt. It was the dead of summer — when the heat outside was almost unbearable — yet, she was clad in attire that was fit for much colder weather… And it broke Mai's heart because, to her, it was obvious that King — who had always been fearless and confident — was somehow trying to hide. She was terrified — in her own apartment, among her friends who loved her. And it was all thanks to that monster…!
Without a word, Mai spun on her heel, made her way to the bathroom, and grabbed the metal waste bin that was in the corner. She pulled the liner out of it, walked right back to the dining table, and placed the boots (which were still veiled by one of the skirts) into it.
Those would be the first to go.
"Please pick those up," Mai requested. She gestured to the rest of the clothes on the table, which Yuri promptly scooped into her arms. She accidentally dropped a dress, but clumsily picked it right back up.
"Is there anything else you need?" she asked.
"I need you to stand back..."
Yuri took a small step away from the table. King, however, didn't move.
The single word was cold and jarring.
Mai wished she could just grab her in a hug and tell her she would be okay; remind her that she was strong, capable, and beautiful. However, she knew it wouldn't help.
But maybe this would.
Mai set her jaw, placed her hands in front of her, and concentrated on the items in the bin. If she let her emotions distract her she would run the risk of burning the entire apartment down, which meant she was going to have to be extra diligent; surgical with her precision. And, so, she shut her eyes, took a very deep breath, and let it out: the clothes were instantly engulfed in flames, but it wasn't quite what she was going for. She narrowed her eyes and watched as the fire grew a little stronger. When she was satisfied she lowered her arms and took a tiny step back. Just a moment later the skirts — and, more importantly, the boots — were shriveled up into a pile of ash, gray and black and brittle.
"Okay," Mai said. "Yuri?"
Yuri appeared surprised but then nodded when she realized what Mai meant. She cautiously approached the flaming receptacle and dropped some more clothes, and a pair of high heels into it. Those items burned a little quicker, as did the next set. When the final article — a retro-style, sateen dress — was tossed in, Mai summoned another flame for good measure before turning to King, whose expression was… blank. Completely, eerily blank. For the first time in years Mai had absolutely no idea of what was going through her head… and it honestly scared her a little.
Instead of watching the dress burn, Mai watched King with the hope that she would snap out of her trance — show some sign of life. When she didn't, Mai looked to Yuri, who was also watching the bartender.
When the dress was completely gone Yuri grabbed the lid from a pot in the kitchen and placed it on top of the garbage can to smother the fire and extinguish it. Mai, meanwhile, chewed on the inside of her cheek as she tried to figure out what to do — what to say. However, she didn't have long to ponder, because, all at once, she found herself enveloped in soft warmth.
Mai couldn't help letting King's actual nickname slip out. Céc Levasseur was not a hugger — never had been — and, yet, she was clinging to Mai as if her life depended on it. It was very possible that she was finally under the influence of the Percocet, but Mai didn't think that was it… not entirely, anyway.
"Thank you for staying… and for doing this for me," King told her. It was the most she had said the entire visit.
"It's alright," Mai replied. "I will delay my flight a million times over if it means being here for you. Okay?"
King pulled away, nodded, and, with a quiet sniffle, wiped her eyes as best she could, given that the right one was marred by a very nasty bruise. She flashed a tiny smile first at Mai, and then at Yuri, who had walked up beside the pair.
"Je tu aime toutes les deux…"
Mai had no idea of what King said because she didn't speak a word of French, but she knew that it must have been something sentimental and kind based on her tone. Whatever it was, it was definitely the famed straw.
"I'm gonna use your bathroom."
With that Mai held her breath, turned on her heel, and made her way to the small room as fast as she could. Once inside she narrowed her eyes at her reflection in the mirror… and wiped away a stray tear.
"Not here," Mai whispered as more tears started to fall. "Not here. Pull it together, girl."
Unfortunately, it was no use. None of Mai's training had ever prepared her for something like this. She had mastered hand-to-hand combat, and the art of conjuring the Shiranui flames, and she could even kill a person undetected, but there wasn't a damn thing in the scrolls or texts — a damn thing anyone had ever even told her — that could have given her any insight as to how she could possibly handle such a horrifying situation. All she could do was stay strong. She needed to say strong so she could help King — so she could be there for and help her heal from her trauma.
But, at that moment, she wasn't really sure if she could.
And, so, Mai Shiranui took a seat on the closed toilet lid, buried her face in her hands, and silently cried her eyes out.
Okay. We got through it. They got through it. It's a pretty self-explanatory number but I'll throw in a few things:
* King's voice is still a little hoarse from being choked so violently in MLS.
* The line about Mai knowing about mood swings stems from the fact that, in this continuity, she has bipolar disorder.
* You might have noticed that King's clothing from that night is not specifically mentioned as being in the pile. That's because it was confiscated by law enforcement when she was getting medical attention. (Evidence.)
* In the aftermath of the incident, King was prescribed several different drugs for her injuries, which included cracked ribs, a laceration (on her forehead), and numerous bruises and cuts: RX strength Ibuprofen, Percocet, Amoxicillin, and emergency contraception for good measure.
* If you didn't catch the thing, then don't worry about it. Might be better that way. If you did catch the thing, and are wondering how that even happened, all I can say is, "She stood up." That's all I'm willing to give you.
* King thanks Mai for staying: If you remember! In MLS Mai was visiting from Japan, prepping for a move to Southtown. She was supposed to leave the next evening, but purposely delayed her flight for a few days for obvious reasons.
* Je tu aime toutes les deux = I love you both
* In KOF XIV Mai tells Oswald that Shiranui ninjutsu started with assassination techniques. So, it is safe to say that she has absolutely learned said assassination techniques.
And done. I'mma try to get to a happier place next time! Let me know what your thoughts and feels are now that there's been another expansion on this lore, and, please, for the love of whatever/whoever, wear your fucking mask! Cheers~