The white roses at the centre of the table shiver and burst in a shower of petals, too many petals, the table is blanketed in them. For a moment everyone is still, a tableau, listening for the sound of bells. When the silence goes on and on Kyouichi pulls his ring from his finger and drops it onto the rose petals where it lies glittering.
‘It’s over then,’ he says.
Miki pulls his own ring off, dropping it easily to lie beside Kyouichi’s. ‘Did she lose after all?’ he asks softly.
It’s Touga he’s asking and Touga’s lips part for a moment, as if he might answer, then close again. Touga is looking down at the table with the same solemn expression he once wore while looking into a coffin. Kyouichi sees him as he was, for a moment, sliding his hand through pink hair as if that makes sense, to play with the hair of a girl who wants to become a corpse.
‘Who knows?’ says Juri. She slides her own ring off and puts it down with finality.
Nanami tosses her head back, hair slipping from her braid, and squares her shoulders. She’s got her arms wrapped around her as if she might break without holding herself together, but she says, ‘I’m going home,’ with all the haughty determination she can muster.
‘We should go too,’ says Juri, one hand on Miki’s shoulder. He leans into it, nodding slightly in assent, and she steers him towards the elevator. She looks back over her shoulder, meeting Kyouichi’s eyes. ‘Are you coming?’
‘I’ll wait.’ What else can he do?
The rose crest still glitters on Touga’s finger and Kyouichi’s heart is beating like they’re standing on a precipice. It’s over, isn’t it? There are no more duels, nothing for the rings to tie them to. Whoever won, whatever happened, it’s over. But the air is thick with something like a gathering storm, tracing slick sweat across his brow. He wants to grab Touga, wrestle the ring from his finger, throw it off the balcony. He’s afraid to even speak, as if startling Touga might upset his balance, send him hurtling over that precipice that isn’t there outside Kyouichi’s own mind.
The tableau holds, draws out past bearing, and then Touga slips the ring from his finger and puts it down. He’s smirking slightly when he looks up, entertained by Kyouichi’s alarm. It doesn’t matter. At this point, it doesn’t matter.
‘We should get home,’ Kyouichi says, relaxing. ‘Nanami will be worried.’
‘After all this?’ Touga’s voice drips irony.
‘Even if she wants to see you rot in hell, she’ll worry.’
‘Ah. We’d better not keep her, then.’
Nanami’s asleep when they reach the Kiryuu mansion, sprawled forward over the table beside three cups of tea. Touga looks down at her for a minute, then lifts her easily into his arms. Her eyes slide open, hazed with sleep. She looks like a little girl. ‘…Big brother?’
‘Bedtime, Nanami,’ he says.
Her eyes start to drift closed with a sound of assent and then they snap open. ‘Touga, put me down.’
He almost drops her and says, ‘As you wish,’ only after her feet have hit the floor.
‘I don’t know why you were hanging around that creepy balcony, but you’ll have to make fresh tea,’ she says imperiously, before marching towards the door. She turns back for a moment. ‘Goodnight, Kyouichi.’ Then the door slams and she’s gone.
Kyouichi looks down into a tea cup, remembering times when she’d run after them in her frilly dress, calling after Touga. Sometimes she and Kyouichi had been rivals for his attention. Other times Kyouichi would swing her into the lowest branches of a tree, just high enough that she couldn’t get down. Kidnapping her for Touga to rescue, while she laughed in between squeals for her prince, delighted to watch them spar as long as she could be the prize.
A long time ago, he thinks, not sure whether he’s perturbed or reassured by that. A long time ago.
‘Are you staying tonight?’ Touga asks, pulling Kyouichi’s gaze away from the cold tea and towards his friend. There’s seduction in Touga’s smoky voice, the tilt of his head, the lift of his hips, but it’s empty tonight.
‘Lend me some pyjamas,’ Kyouichi says.
Touga slumps back against the wall, everything leaving his posture but exhaustion. ‘Of course.’
Together in Touga’s ridiculous bed they drift, overwrought and exhausted. Unable to sleep, unable to wake, curling closer every time one of them emerges into hazy consciousness. Warmth. Solidity. Something in this world is real, even if it’s only each other.