“Oi, oi, Hana-chan! I’m happy you’re back, but you’ve gotta understand, you can’t just leave with no warning! It seriously leaves Oedo Tai in trouble! I know, I know, it’s difficult sometimes to bask in your great Prime Minister’s might, but you’re one of the lucky few who -”
Kagetsu parades around the locker room giving Hana exactly the lecture she was expecting. Sometimes she’d stop to put one foot up on something and pose… regally? That’s… probably what she’s going for. Hana’s not really listening any more. She looks down at her hands and nods during the expected breaks in Kagetsu’s speech. At least she’s finally home. Or, back in Japan. When she started to miss the country she expected to feel more relief than this when she got back, but she still feels that pit in her stomach, and can’t remember why. She left to find something she was missing, and Mexico was fun, sure, but it wasn’t… right. It didn’t fix anything. She just wishes she even knew why she felt so alone, even surrounded by her closest friends. The time away was supposed to make things better and she doesn’t understand why that feeling hasn’t changed.
Sumire walks over from where she was re-fixing her makeup for the sixth time, her small pile of Queen’s Quest stolen treasures in the corner, and sits on the bench next to Hana. She puts an arm around Hana’s shoulder and squeezes, as Kagetsu continues to parade around the room. “It’s good you’re back Hana-chan”, she whispers quietly enough to avoid interrupting Kagetsu’s speech. Hana nods again.
She feels a weak “thwap” at the top of her head and doesn’t even look up. Kagetsu stares at her, holding a needlessly large paper fan dotted with Doraemons at her side. “Hey, Hana-chan! You’re not even listening to my important address!! You know I’m the Eternal Triumphant Prime Minister now, I love you but you really need to give me the proper respect! It’s very important you know!” Hana nods and Kagetsu scratches her head. Maybe something’s really wrong?
Hana smirks. “Where did you even get one of those? You dummy.” Kagetsu grins, “Ahh, Hana-chan, how quickly you forget! You must always be prepared for any situation. That’s Oedo Tai rule number, uh, four, probably!” Yeah, everything’s fine. It would be silly to worry about Hana-chan.
Hazuki walks into the locker room, sliding her phone into a pocket. “So, do we wanna do karaoke? Or maybe yakiniku?” Kagetsu’s hand shoots into the air. “Of course karaoke!!! No one in the world can sing better than Oedo Tai! Bahaha, the choice is obvious!” Hazuki sits on Hana’s other side while Sumire begins to pack and Kagetsu continues her monologue, having segued to the importance of always remaining a step ahead of your enemies. She leans over to Hana. “Thank god you’re back. I’ve been getting, like, the full concentrated blast of these all on my own for three months.” Hana giggles, and looks up at her friend, one hand vertical in front of her face. “I’m so sorry, Hazuki-san. Please forgive me, I know I can never live this down or make it up to you but I’ll do my absolute, unwavering best.” Hazuki sighs and gently chops Hana on the head. “Damn right you’ll never be able to make this up to me. You’re basically my slave for life now, you’re totally screwed.”
Kagetsu, apparently finished with her speech, slams open the locker room door. “Okay Oedo Tai, time to roll out! We’re off to conquer the world of karaoke!!” and begins marching down the hall. “Eh?!” Natsu looks to the other two girls in confusion, hoping for someone to back her up. They both just shake their heads. She sighs in exasperation and gets up to chase after her Prime Minister. “Kagetsu! Hey, just a, just a minute!! Kagetsu no one’s even done changing!! You’re not even done changing!! Hey hold on!”
They both laugh and at last Hazuki stands up. “Okay, we really should get ready. Can’t sit in the locker room forever.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Hana gets up and stands still for a second, and then winks at Hazuki and tilts her head. “But no peeking!” Hazuki rolls her eyes and thinks to herself, “Yeah, that’s definitely Hana.” It’s good she’s back.
Hana’s mind wanders as she reflects on how good it is to be back with her friends. It is definitely, definitely good to be back. She is definitely happy to be here, and everything is great. She glances at Hazuki out of the corner of her eye, who looks up quickly and catches her. “Oh, what, I’m the only one who’s not allowed to peek? Huh? Hana’s secretly a huge perv now, spying on her friends in the locker room?!”
“Yeah, in your dreams,” Hana laughs. Hazuki is a really good friend, and she’s happy to see her again. Yeah, it really is good to be back. Hazuki is great! She’s a good friend, she’s beautiful, she’s fun to be around, what more could you ask for? Well, sure, they hated each other’s guts just a little while ago, but that was water under the bridge, right? This year had been so hard, but everything was going to get better. Everything had been getting better, since the draft. Hana’s mind flashes back to when Oedo Tai had been down to only three people. Kris leaving was sad, sure, but sometimes you needed to throw everything away to grow, Hana understood this.
These were familiar mental paths for Hana to tread; they had taken her to Mexico just a few months ago, and they always lead to the same place that Hana was trying to get away from.
Why did Oedo Tai need to lose so many members? Why did the group she loved so much need to be so lonely? Why was it so lonely now? Everything should be fine, now. Kagetsu had the red belt. She and Hana could get the tag belts back, or maybe she’d get them with Hazuki! That could be fun! Why won’t this hole go away? Why is everything so hard? No, everything’s fine! Everything’s terrible, and horrible, and impossible, but it’s great! There was--
And then Hana tries to ignore her vision going blurry, and she tries to stop thinking, and she tries to choke it back, but once again she can’t get out of the way of the oncoming thoughts that she’s been overwhelmed by for 8 months.
There was just that one, stupid match, where everything went wrong.
She wanted to hate Io for it, but even Hana had to admit she just did her best. That was what she’d told herself about Hazuki, the first time she had approached Hana and tried to apologize to her, in private. She’d laughed at her. What was there to apologize for? She was totally fine, she was still in Oedo Tai, it’s not like she lost out on anything. She hated ███ for losing. She hated herself, for not being stronger. She hated Kagetsu, for getting eliminated. She hated Kagetsu, for not being stronger. She hated Kagetsu, for coming up with those stupid god damned rules in the first place, for being so cocky, for picking a fight that didn’t even have a point, for not understanding why she might not want to see her in a match with her with exploding baseball bats, for moving on and not even trying, not even caring, since when did Oedo Tai even care about the rules, they could have just ignored ittheyshouldhavetriedsometh-
And then Hana finds herself kneeling on the floor, wracked by the sobs she’s been holding in for too long again. At least if she starts screaming no one will find it terribly out of character. It’s insane, Kagetsu is her best friend, and she wants the best for Oedo Tai, right? No, it was that girl’s own fault for losing, because she was a weak fucking loser. It would be unfair to get mad at Kagetsu, who didn’t even do anything wrong, so it was obviously her own fault for losing. But God, sometimes unfair is so much easier.
Hazuki is immediately back at Hana’s side, unsure if she should embrace her or give her space. She reaches her arms out half way and awkwardly pats Hana’s back, softly telling her “Hey, hey, hey, you’re okay, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
Hana tries to reply, but she keeps coughing and choking, she always tries so hard to look like she’s trying so little but now she’s just spit and snot and tears and it’s all gone.
Hazuki moves a few inches in and rubs her shoulder. “I understand, you know. I get it. I was so mad at Io, I felt so ignored, and now she’s just gone. I… I know I don’t hate her anymore, but I wish I could have told her more. Just found out what she was thinking. Why she did what she did. I think she’ll be back one day, but what do I do with that, you know? She said she didn’t want to seem like she was playing favourites, that Queen’s Quest should be all about merit. Or that I couldn’t just always be what she wanted me to be. But – sorry, this isn’t about me. Sorry.”
“N-”, Hana coughs. “No, keep going. You can talk.” She’s rubbing her eyes with the backs her hands, as if smudging the tears away is going to remove all evidence of her moment of weakness.
“Well, what I’m trying to say, I guess, is. Um. I don’t think something like this goes away. Even if… Even if everything works out, you can’t just go back, because you’ll always be the version of the two of you after one of you stopped being there. But that doesn’t mean…. That doesn’t mean there has to be just nothing. Maybe you can build something else in that space. But whatever you want to do, you don’t have to do it right now, y’know? It’s okay to just be sad right now. It’s… it’s okay to be sad for a really long time. That… the tournament Io’s in just started, and I still don’t even know if I’m going to watch it. But I think that’s okay. You don’t need to move until you’re ready to. You can wait until you know what you’re going to do to do it, and at the same time, maybe you don’t even need to know what you’re going to do. Maybe it’s okay to just follow what feels right while you’re going along.”
Hana sniffles and smiles, and manages to croak out, “That’s dumb. If you never know what you’re doing you’ll never do anything.”
Hazuki smiles back at her. “No it’s not. I’m a super genius, this is very wise. You should be taking notes, really, you’re lucky I’m giving you this for free.”
Hana laughs and half-chokes on it, fishing in her bag for tissues. “She’d always -” hooonk
“God, that’s hot.”
“Shut up...” Hana pauses for a moment, then a smile tugs at the corner of her face. “You know, there was this stupid thing that she’d do, like, all the time. She’d always take that stupid fucking bear, and she’d do that lame voice, and when no one else was here, she’d go, “Gosh Hana-chan, you look so cute today!” and she’d like, rub him in my face and just stand there and laugh and laugh. So hard, from deep in her belly, you know? She really thought it was the funniest thing, like she actually just couldn’t control herself. She thought it was so funny, and it was so- it’s so stupid.” Hana’s grinning, her eyes unfocused like she’s not really here right now. “You have no idea how many times I had to re-do all my makeup before a show, and she wasn’t even- fuck, it was only four months, you know? It’s been twice as long! Why do I even still care. I should be over this.”
“Yeah, but that’s what I’m trying to say. You don’t necessarily get to just… decide when you’ve moved on from something. Sometimes you just need to keep going, and give it time.”
Hana takes a moment to digest this, then looks up at Hazuki, eyes suddenly focused. “Hazuki, do I look cute today?”
Hazuki knows a beautiful, terrible idea when it looks her in the eyes. She knows what she is and isn’t ready for, and she wants to support her friend, but that would be a whole different can of worms, she still feels like she’d be betraying – nope, no time for that right now. Hazuki stands, slowly, and chops Hana in the head once again. “You know you look cute. Everyone knows that, and they know you know that. That’s like, part of your appeal. Now come on, Kagetsu’s going to think something’s up.”
Hana’s eyes narrow. “Hey, you know, if something were to happen to you, or to me, or something...” she speaks slowly. “Like, if one of us had to leave or something. Would that be personal? Like, I don’t want… I’m so sick of things changing, but it’s not… It’s not about me or you, right? It’s the right thing to do just do what you need to do for Oedo Tai, right?”
Hazuki shakes her head ruefully. It’s never about her. “Come on, we need to go crush some fools at karaoke.”
The entire roster never means to all end up at the same place. It’s just, there are always only so many good karaoke bars close to a venue, and everybody loves karaoke.
Many – most of them – can get along just fine outside of a ring. They sit around the large room they’ve booked, mostly divided by their factions, but in situations like this, light tends to shine through the cracks.
Fairly shortly after the music starts and drinks start getting ordered, the lines begin to be blurred. At one point, Konami, Kyona, and Utami all sing a song together, horribly out of tune and miles away from anything that can be described as harmony, but with three times the energy to make up for it.
Kagetsu repeatedly gets up to sing duets with damn near anyone who will let her, despite repeatedly insisting that this is a very serious contest, and she’s just showing how much better she is.
Over time, Mayu goes from staring her down, to laughing when she won’t stop insisting that they have to sing together as the only way to truly see who’s the best, to grabbing her hand and pulling her up with her for almost every song.
Kagetsu stops talking about competitions and pays a little less attention to her own table, a dumb smile on her face while Mayu sits next to Saki, shakes her head and smirks into her drink.
Starlight Kid sits with the other Stars members, while Queen’s Quest just happens to have been insistently brought to an adjacent table by their most junior member, one of the sets of tables that share a bench, where AZM just happens to be sitting at the far edge of the group that she’s really here with, next to her.
Another round comes, and Starlight Kid picks up the Strong Zero Mayu brought back for her. AZM’s eyes go wide. “Hey, what are you doing?”
“Uh, having a drink? Why, do you want some? Did Momo leave you off your order by accident?”
“What?” AZM leans back in her seat, definitely relaxed and being cool. “I’m just surprised a huge square like you is having a drink, is all. I wouldn’t have expected it.”
“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry AZM-chan -” “Don’t call me that.” “- I didn’t even think. Have you not had, like, just one or two when you go out with your friends? I mean I’m not saying you should go overboard or anything but it’s pretty normal. Do you want to try some of mine?”
“Would you feel better if I didn’t have anything to drink either?”
“No. Stupid turd. Don’t be dumb. I don’t care what you do, how would that affect me.”
Kid leans over to Shiki. “Here, one of you guys can have this, I actually don’t think I want anything tonight.”
AZM goes back to excitedly telling her about her camping trip.
Just a few seats away, Momo sits at the head of the Queen’s Quest table, not enjoying herself. Directly across the room is the table Oedo Tai has chosen – Momo and Hazuki have been glaring at each constantly whenever they’re both sitting down, and Momo has just happened to sing immediately after Hazuki every single time she’s gone up.
And next to Hazuki, being jostled every time (and there are many times) Kagetsu and Sumire get up to sing, Hana sits, quietly nursing her drink, hoping Kagetsu doesn’t notice how much less than normal she feels like drinking tonight, and desperately trying not to stare.
The violet kung-fu girl sits, surrounded by her teammates but looking very alone, and looks down at her hands.
As yet more time passes, the room starts to get more rowdy. Some of the girls head home early, but for the most part no one is worrying about rivalries, who’s wronged who, and old habits die hard.
Kagetsu sits in between Saki and Mayu now, arms draped around both of them. Mayu is indignantly lecturing her, ignoring her tag team partner for the moment. “But it’s – it’s not fair, is what I’m saying! You’re good enough to not need to cheat, so why not just not cheat??? I don’t get it!! And you always need to take it too far! I mean, stop hanging me!! That’s not okay!! Maybe stop hanging me, and we could have conversations like this, more easily!”
Kagetsu scoffs. “I do it because it’s cool and it’s easy and I’m good at it, Mayu-chan -” “Don’t call me that.” “- and you know it! You wouldn’t be half the goody-goody you are without me to compare yourself to and you just, you know, it wouldn’t be the same, you know? You know that it would be so easy for you to get away from me, but you think it looks just as cool as I do, and you know perfectly well that you can’t be a, a damn super-hero rising up again, plus ultra or whatever, without getting knocked down! You can’t look cool for getting up after getting knocked down the set of stairs, if there’s no one there to knock you down the stairs.”
Saki raises an eyebrow and nods her head to the side; she makes a good point. Mayu rises out of her seat, pointing an accusatory finger. “Don’t agree with her!”
Kagetsu laughs. “See! Even Ms. Emblem knows I’m right, you just won’t admit it. You… You need me to….” Kagetsu trails off and then tilts her head back, draining the rest of her drink, and stares into her now empty glass. “Right?”
As Kagetsu falters, Mayu sits back down, a sad look on her face. She looks into her drink and doesn’t respond.
“Whatever. Are you even going to remember this tomorrow? Or do you really have that much in common with Shirai?” Mayu shifts in her seat, silent.
“That’s what I thought.” Kagetsu stands and returns to her own table.
At another table, at this point, Momo and Hazuki now sit next to each other, both lying with the top of their body draped over the table, heads propped up on their arms, talking without even looking at each other. They don’t remember which of them first sat down next to the other, an accident born from habit.
Momo trips over her words, all pretenses of the put together leader dropped. “I’m just, I didn’t think that it would be like this, and we have a match tomorrow, and -”
“And I never wanted us to-”
“We have a match tomorrow.”
“Maybe we could do another draft, because you’re stuck with-”
Hazuki just barely lifts her head from the table, turning to face her rival. “Hey, watch it. Oedo Tai is actually pretty cool, okay. If you’re not careful I’m gonna swipe Azumi-chan right out from under your nose.”
“Don’t say her name like that.”
“Like what? That’s her name.”
“You know how you said it.”
“...Whatever. I can say things how I want, and you should get me another drink, because I’m still your sempai so you need to be nice to me.”
Hazuki pauses for a moment and lowers her eyes; she had thought she was past this. “Well I’m… still older than you...”
“Yeah. That’s all.”
And yet one more table over, somehow, by complete and total coincidence, as people got up and sat back down and everyone was shuffled around, Hana has found herself sitting next to someone who’s name she can’t even bring herself to say, to even think. The hands-width between them seems electrified, like if either of them shifts an inch closer they’ll be burned. Hana holds her arm in place across her chest, like if she’s not physically restrained she won’t be able to stop herself from reaching out.
Eventually, after an eternity, the violet girl takes in a short breath, about to say something… but she shakes her head, wipes something away from beneath her eye, grabs her panda-shaped bag, and goes to stand, ready to leave.
Hana’s half way to her feet without even realizing she’s moved, but Tam is completely frozen, staring at her, eyes wide. For an instant, nothing moves. Surely someone is singing, others are still squabbling or commiserating or celebrating in turn, but she could swear there is no sound.
Hana clears her throat, suddenly looking around for something to hold in her hand, or start a conversation about, or maybe something else that she could have conceivably called Tam, just a mistake, just a funny accident, ha ha!, silly Tam, how have you been?
Hana closes her eyes, gathers her strength, and turns to face her. “Hey. Hi. Uhm. Hey. I uh. How are you? I didn’t see you, uh, there, um,”
Hana slowly sinks back to her seat and Tam, a small smile on her lips, follows suit. “That’s funny,” she breathes. “I saw you. You were right next to me, I mean.” Hana feels like she has not been seen in a very, very long time.
For a little while they sink back into silence, but it’s different this time, not fraught, just pensive. Hana begins, “Our… our match today. About our match today...”
Tam looks the other way, trying to hide the conflicting emotions running across her face, once again unable to look directly at her, but this time Hana bobs her head and shifts a little bit, trying, desperate to maintain eye contact.
“Yeah,” Tam begins quietly, and then takes a deep breath, gathering her thoughts and turning back to Hana, but still unable to meet her eyes. “Yeah, that was a lot, huh?”
Hana stares at Tam, like she’s trying to see into her soul. “What were you doing? What the hell was that?”
Tam purses her lips. “Yep, there she is.”
“Tam, you’re better than that. You were better than that a year ago, and I know you haven’t gotten worse since you lef-… Since you were tagging with Iwatani.”
Tam takes a second and then blinks back tears, whispering “Please don’t talk about that.”
Hana’s eyes widen a little in surprise. “Wh- why? I didn’t think… I mean you guys didn’t win the belts or anything, but...”
As she trails off, Hana’s stomach churns, and a part of her wishes she had her normal excuse of alcohol. She had almost forgotten that she was the one who had held the belts with Kagetsu, had taunted Tam for so long, had been so mean, so angry, and now it seemed so stupid.
Hana tries desperately to blink back tears that she doesn’t deserve to have, wiping at her eyes, not wanting to be seen so vulnerable, especially so many times in one day. “Why were you even- you were fine, though. You did fine.”
Tam’s eyes widen in shock. “I was fine? You really think I was doing fine?”, she hisses.
“I’m. No. I don’t know.”
Tam glances over Hana’s shoulder to where, towards the other side of the room, Mayu is now completely sprawled out on the bench, playing with Saki’s hair.
Tam whispers, even though the chances of being overheard are virtually non-existent. “I was not doing fine, Kimura-san.” Hana winces at that.
“I didn’t even want to join Stars. Did you know that? I didn’t want anything, I just wanted...” Tam pauses, because she knows exactly what she wanted, she wanted to go back, but she still can’t say that out loud.
“If I had gone with Io, at least in Queen’s Quest I could just focus on getting better, on being the best. But no, Mayu – Iwatani – thought it was cute that we came back on the same day. And then we lost, and we lost, and we lost, and you guys poured garbage on me, you blamed me for a match I never even wanted, and then Saki came back and I was just tossed aside like I was garbage, too. I can say I’m the Violet Kung-Fu Girl, and I can keep trying my best, and that’s something, but I don’t… I don’t even know who I am, any more. I am trying to just keep myself moving forward, and I keep hoping that maybe tomorrow will be different, but I just want to find something that’s worth going forward for, Hana. Do you even know… Do you even know how many times I wanted to just come up and say hi? I was so hurt and I was so angry and you’d show up for a show and I just wanted to know how you were doing.”
Hana lets that sink in. She knows she’s done lots of things wrong, and there’s still a part of her that wants to lash out, grab her by the hair, yell at Tam for saying she did something wrong, but she’s just tired, and there’s already been so much today. Instead she tries something new.
Hana barely manages to gulp out, “I’m so sorry, Tamu-chi.” She faces her head on, trying to smile, hiding the tears she knows are coming out, and raises her hand to try and hide this version of herself from the rest of the room.
“I’m just… I did everything wrong, and it was so stupid, and sometimes everything is just too much and I know I always do the wrong thing, and I’m... You didn’t deserve any of it. You should have never had to leave in the first place. And I’m so sorry.”
Tam takes a deep breath and exhales, a weight lifted from her shoulders, and for just a moment she looks pensive, debating with herself… and then she leans sideways, and gently rests her head on Hana’s shoulder.
Hana freezes, like if she breathes too hard this will shatter, surely she’s actually just drunkenly fallen asleep, she must have had more than she realized, which is fine, just as long as she stays in this dream.
Tam sighs again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t – I’m not even… mad isn’t the right word, not any more. I know I get worked up in the ring too, and then I always regret it so much, I just. I’ve been holding that in for a long time. Seeing you is always… it’s not easy. And it’s not even all bad. I do like the other Stars, even Kashima is, she’s really tough, and she’s super nice, and Kid and the newer girls are really nice, they’re fun.”
“But it’s not family…. I like being the Violet Kung-Fu Girl again, too. I do really like this stuff. And I have really good entrance music.”
Hana snickers. “Did you see, one time I--”
“Yes, I saw you do your stupid dance, you jerk. That was very rude.”
“But did it make you laugh?”
“I was still angry. I was still mad at you.”
“But did it make you laugh?”
“…. Yes. Later.”
“That’s what counts.”
They sit there, for what feels like a long time. It still seems surreal that it’s real. They both know you can never get something back, but maybe there really is a foundation here that couldn’t be torn down, that could have something built on it.
Hana speaks first. “You still haven’t answered my question.” Tam sighs. “Today I was just… You were back, and I thought, “Oh, Hana’s going to be back and then we’ll have a match, that’s fine.” But then you were back and you were still so angry, and you shouldn’t be angry, why are you angry at me, I should be angry, but then you were just… right there and I think. I think even more than just… just getting to touch you, to feel that you’re still there, I wanted to know that I could take it. I could take everything you had at your absolute worst, and yeah, we lost, but you didn’t get me, Hana. I’m still here. I’ve been through worse.”
Hana just nods, and thinks, and for once, goes slow. “Hana, why are you…” Tam collects her thoughts. “Why aren’t you angry now? Honestly, I wasn’t expecting…. This. I definitely wasn’t expecting, you know… Hana-chan.”
“I think I’m just… done. You’re right, I was mad today, but then I was just… tired. I think I just ran out today, I don’t think there’s anything left, there. I’ve always been, just, so angry. When I started wrestling I tried so hard to just be nice, and kind to everyone, and just have fun, and sometimes I can still do that… I can still put on that mask, sometimes, if another company calls because they’ve heard of me, and I can tell they’re looking for wholesome little Kimura-chan, when they don’t really know who I am. But in Oedo Tai you can always just be the most… the most raw version of yourself, you don’t need to pretend at all, and when I do that I just… I always find anger. And it’s still there somewhere, I think. Today has been a lot, and I’m tired, but it’s still there. I just don’t think I can point it at you anymore.”
Hana thinks for a moment more and then jolts upright. “Oh god, I’m sorry! I didn’t even think, oh my god, I kicked your ass today! I really went for it, and you just, oh my god, you have a GP match tomorrow! Are you going to be okay? Can I, uh, is there anything I can -”
And Tam laughs, and winces, because at least she can stop hiding, now. “Yeah, I’m super sore, dude. For what it’s worth my plan on my end probably wasn’t the best actual strategy either.”
“Who do you have tomorrow? Are you going to be okay? Can you just take a day -”
“I’m definitely doing it, I’m not a baby. And besides, you didn’t hear it from me, but Kashima’s hurt for real, she probably can’t fight tomorrow and I can’t… I’d just be someone who couldn’t be strong enough, compared to her. I have to try.”
“Who do you have?”
“Pfft, oh, well then, -”
“No, be nice. She’s tougher than you think, and she’s getting stronger. It wouldn’t be an easy fight even at my best.”
“Well, in the tournament, do you think-”
“I don’t really know, honestly. I… think I can afford a loss tomorrow, maybe. But I’m hoping a lot of other matches will go the right way, too. I’m just trying to… I want to just focus on my next match, and then at the end, I’ll see how things stand, you know? Even if it costs me the tournament, I needed to prove it to myself, today. It was worth it. But every time I think about that, I think about...”
“You have her on the last day, right?”
“Yeah. Kagetsu is my final match. And honestly I thought I knew how that would be, and I was just going to need to prepare for the worst and just… get cold, you know? Just fight. But after tonight… You’ve kind of messed up my plan, Hana-chan.”
Hana nods slowly, a thought crystallizing, resolve forming in the recesses of her mind, and she reaches a hand up and strokes Tam’s hair. “It’s gonna be okay,” she says.
Across the room Kagetsu nods to herself and finishes one last drink, alone. She gets up, gathers her things, and quietly leaves, so no one will even notice she’s gone. She’ll decide later if this was a huge mistake, or if everything is, as always, going exactly according to the Prime Minister’s plan.
Tam yawns. The music has been quiet now for a few minutes, and most of the women have left. Even Kyona is sitting down (finally) and sleepily murmuring, “Come on everyone! We’ll sleep when we’re dead… Jungle… Jungle...” Konami gets up from her seat and nods to Hana and Tam, and helps Kyona stand up. “Okay, let’s get you home.”
Utami looks around the room, briefly considers singing one last song, and decides against it. She quietly slides out of her booth and heads to the door, and then, as it closes, finally, Hana and Tam are alone.
Tam waits longer than a moment and finally lifts her head from Hana’s shoulder.
“Hana-chan, do you… Do you want to go home?”
They stumble into Hana’s apartment, arm-in-arm and laughing about a dumb joke that Tam made on the subway. Hana flicks on the lights and steps away to throw her keys and things on a counter while Tam takes off her shoes and pauses in the entryway. She glances around at Hana’s living room, all black furniture and dark colours with splashes of brightness placed seemingly at random. She searches for a moment and then spots it, buried under a couple pairs of jeans and enough ratty t-shirts that she wonders if Hana deliberately dumped her dirty laundry over it. The super-cute panda statue that Tam had bought her for Christmas last year. It’s impossibly saccharine and clashes with every piece of furniture that has ever been made. Hana had described it as the dorkiest thing she’d ever seen in her life, which was what convinced Tam that she needed to buy it for her.
“You still -”
And then Hana is there, gripping her face with both hands and kissing her, desperately, like if she can kiss her hard enough it can guarantee that she’s here, she’s real, and this is happening. She slides her tongue into Tam’s mouth only to be met halfway, intertwining and then pulling apart. She moves one hand to the small of Tam’s back, unsure whether she’s holding her up or trying to pull her closer. She intermittently licks Tam’s tongue, the inside of her lips, her teeth, probing, anything to get another taste of her. After an eternity that couldn’t last long enough, she pulls away, and opens her eyes to see Tam already looking back at her, eyes dreamily half open with an absent smile on her face.
Hana sighs, “You know I hate it when you kiss with your eyes open.” Tam blinks as her eyes re-focus, still held up by Hana and the wall. “But I like to see you!”
Hana laughs under her breath and slowly kisses her on the forehead, then turns to look at the figure Tam had been looking at before, ignored for months.
She bites her lip and struggles to get the words out. “I… couldn’t look at it. But I couldn’t try to throw it out.”
Tam nods, eyes never straying from Hana’s face. “Yeah, I get it. I kept everything too.” She reaches up, closing the small distance between them, and this time gives Hana one strong, assured kiss. Hana’s knees nearly buckle, the same way Tam’s had earlier in the day as soon as their hands had touched for the first time during their match.
As Tam breaks off she falters momentarily and searches Hana’s face. “I just… I want to make sure, I mean, I know we’ve both had a few to drink, and you’re just getting back from a trip and I know that can be a lot, and…”
Hana searches Tam’s face, suddenly nervous again. “I’m… actually not very drunk, to be honest.”
“Okay, good,” Tam replies. “Neither am I.” Then she kisses Hana again, but Hana turns her away from the wall and pulls away, smiling, taking her by the hand towards the large, open doorway to her bedroom.
Hana undresses Tam at a measured pace, pausing to kiss newly exposed skin as much as she can. Every time Tam tries to assist, or reciprocate, her hands are gently turned away as Hana shakes her head, a smile on her lips as entertained frustration begins to build in Tam. Finally Tam stands nude in Hana’s bedroom. She opens her arms and smirks, “Well? This isn’t fair, you know.”
Hana begins to respond when Tam darts in closer, pulling her top off up towards her head with one hand while she clumsily unbuttons her jeans with the other.
“Aah!” Hana squeals and laughs, lifting her arms to assist in her mission. Before letting Tam get any further she plants another kiss on her lips and, removing the last of her clothes herself, pushes her onto the bed and says “Okay okay, but just lie down now. I feel like I owe you one.”
“You owe me a bunch.” Tam replies, pushing herself up towards the headboard. Hana smiles. “Well then I’d better get started.”
As Tam lies back and opens her legs Hana crawls forward, placing large, slow kisses on Tam’s thighs, savouring every second, reveling in the sound of Tam’s breathing speeding up already as she clenches her hands, desperately fighting the urge to just grab Hana by the hair and pull her up herself.
Finally Hana looks up, smiling and taking in the view of Tam’s torso. She places another broad kiss across Tam’s vulva and begins slowly lapping at her clit, not exclusively focusing her attention there but always coming back towards it. Even this is already enough to have Tam panting and squirming, one hand tangled in Hana’s hair while she’s held in place. Hana laughs, adjusting her body so she can stimulate Tam with a hand while she talks. “Wow, Tamu-chan, I don’t remember it being this easy to -”
Tam grabs Hana by the hair and pushes her head back down, breathing heavily. “Shut- shut up, now is, hahh, now is not talking time.”
Hana settles into a focused rhythm, making concentric circles with her tongue. She quickly feels Tam begin to tense, squeezing Hana’s head between her thighs as she moans and holds on to her chest, her back arched, and then with a deep sigh relaxes back onto the bed, releasing Hana from her grasp.
Hana laughs, wipes her mouth on the back of her hand, and places one more kiss on Tam’s knee before crawling up the bed to lie even with Tam as she pants and regains her breath.
“That was way too easy,” Hana laughs between planting light kisses on Tam’s face. “You used to be a tough nut to crack, what happened to you?”
In the light coming from the window Tam blushes and turns her face slightly away. “Well, it’s, you know, it’s been a while, and seeing you again, you know, seeing you again just kind of got me going, and, uh,”
Hana laughs. “Is someone’s brain not working very well right now?” “Shut up!” Tam flings a small pillow at Hana and then in one deft move flips her from her side to her back and sits, straddling her while pinning Hana’s hands above her head.
She kisses her once, deeply, then slides off and to the side, transferring control of both of Hana’s hands to one of her own, so she can reach the other down Hana’s body, tracing her breasts and her stomach and her hips, already wiggling back and forth, simultaneously shying away from and anticipating Tam’s touch.
“You know,” she whispers, “I spent a long time thinking that… That I hadn’t done enough, that I was never going to get another chance to touch you. There was so much I wanted to do for you and I thought I just missed my shot, so now it’s my turn.”
Tam gently massages Hana’s sex with her fingers, measuring her arousal, already slick and wet. She barely slips a finger inside her and is met with a deep exhalation of breath as Hana pushes down towards her hand, eager for more.
Tam pauses. “Oh, come on. I’m easy? I haven’t even done anything yet and you’re losing it, you’re a mess, look at you.” She rubs two fingers in teasing circles, just enough to drive Hana crazy but not enough to get her anywhere else.
“Fu-huck, that’s not fair, you’re not being fair,” Hana gasps, attempting to sit up so she can kiss Tam, who keeps her restrained, an impish grin on her face.
“God dammit Tam,” Hana forces out between ragged breaths. “It’s been so fucking long, please just, please, I want -”
“Aww, did someone not get any in Mexico? Is someone all stopped up?”
Hana looks Tam in the eye, as serious as she can be given that she’s still panting and struggling not to thrust her hips towards Tam’s hands. “It’s been a little bit longer than that. Since about January.”
“Oh,” Tam stops, stunned for a moment. “I didn’t realize, um. I figured you would just. No one wanted to, uh...”
“No, there were offers and I… I did try, but I just…. couldn’t. I couldn’t focus, or I couldn’t be there. I don’t know. It just didn’t work out, okay? Don’t go reading into it, I know what you’re thinking and -”
Before she can finish her sentence Tam presses another kiss to her lips, and this time she’s the one exploring every facet of Hana’s mouth, hungry like she can’t possibly get enough of her. She lets go of her hands so she can prop up her upper body, and now she slips two fingers inside Hana and gently begins massaging upwards, rubbing her with her thumb at the same time. She moves down, turning her mouth’s attention to any exposed inch of Hana’s body that she thinks hasn’t received attention in too long. Hana is already struggling to keep her legs together, weak shivers and convulsions throughout her lower body as she’s propped up on her elbows, just trying to see everything, to keep it imprinted in her mind.
“Holy shit Tam you can’t, that’s not fair, oh fuck I’m gonna fuck fuck fuck” Hana finally can’t fight it any longer and is rocked by her orgasm, clenching her thighs around Tam’s wrist as her whole body tightens and shakes, eventually even her moans passing into an almost inaudible gasping, her head thrown back and for a moment she’s not even mentally there, she’s just at peace with the electricity coursing through her.
As she lies back down Tam says, with a satisfied smile on her face, “There. Now that’s the only time I want to see your eyes rolling back in your head.”
Hana laughs, deeply, from her belly. “Fuck you. Shut up. I have T-shirts to sell.”
She pulls Tam in for another kiss. The night is still not too late, and the morning can take its time.
Hana wakes slowly, almost wishing she had the numb comfort of a hangover rather than face her fear that what she found the night before might just fall apart again. She blearily looks around the room, panic slowly mounting, but then Tam comes out of the bathroom, already dressed, holding her bag, Hana’s grim expression mirrored on her face. Wearing one of those stupid, adorable oversized shirts with a kawaii bear on it. She just wants to smush her face into it and be close, but Tam’s leaving. Again. And Hana knows she needs to try something different this time.
“Tam, Tamu, you don’t…. You know… You don’t… have to leave...”
Tam looks down for a second, then locks eyes with Hana, and smiles the saddest smile she’s ever seen. “Hana, I don’t… I didn’t… I never want to leave. What… would staying even accomplish? Do we go out for breakfast? Do we go to the show together? Will I be able to be with you at the show? Will your Prime Minister even let you talk to me?”
“I don’t know, okay? I don’t know what to do. God, I do want to go out to breakfast.”
Tam laughs. “Yeah, you don’t have any food here, huh?”
Hana looks at Tam with confusion. “Did you go through my fridge?”
Tam sighs, a look of resignation on her face, then smiles at Hana and sets her bag down. “No. I just know you.”
She cautiously walks back towards the bed and sits down on the edge, while Hana shifts up and cuddles her from behind, Tam resting a hand over hers.
“I want to stay so bad,” Tam whispers. “I always wanted to. I wish we could have just talked, in January, just figured something out...”
“Tam, stop. You did everything you could. We’ll… figure something out now, okay?”
“What can we do, Hana? Are you going to leave Oedo Tai? You love Oedo Tai. I loved Oedo Tai! A part of me still loves what we were. Are you going to join Stars? Can you do stuff for the crowd and play fair the whole match, every match?”
“I could totally play fair. I’m the best at playing fair, I never get disqualified.”
Tam laughs and leans back and kisses her. “Yes, and we both know, that if you don’t get disqualified it didn’t happen.”
They both sit for a moment, just still in each other’s presence. Eventually Hana breaks the silence. “I do think I know what I’m going to do.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“I mean, I think I know part of what I’m going to do. I’m figuring it out. I’ll figure it out.”
Tam lies back, laying her head in Hana’s lap. “Okay, you win. Just tell me what you need me to do. I’m gonna take you out for breakfast, and then we have the day, and we’ll go to the show. What then?”
“Just, act normal, maybe… maybe see who would be open to changing some things around? That new girl, Umami -”
Tam laughs, “Her name is Utami. Are you seriously thinking of leaving?”
Hana sighs. “No, I… really don’t want to leave, honestly. But I can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. It’s not working any more. I need you there, okay? But maybe we can try something new. Maybe we can figure out how to make it work. Maybe Kagetsu would be open to it; why shouldn’t she be happy for us, right? And if Kagetsu really won’t even hear it, then maybe, I don’t know. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t want you back on the team too, why she wouldn’t have just fought for that in the first place. What would it cost her to see us happy, right? Just please, stay with me, please, okay? I just want to go into this show happy, for once, and right now I think I can do that.”
Tam smiles up at Hana and traces her face with her hand. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, I’m in this too. I’ll do everything I can, we’ll figure this out. We’re a team, this time.”
That evening, at the show, Hana and Kagetsu have an easy, throwaway three-way tag match. Should be uneventful, basically a way to relax for an extra night before heading into the final matches.
Hana spends the start of the show backstage, happy, glowing, excited. Today’s really gonna be the day. Everything’s going to go great. Kagetsu is her friend, she cares about her happiness, she’ll listen. This show is going to be fantastic.
But then, right before they go out for the match, she just. Won’t. Listen. She won’t even let Hana get in a word, won’t even let her start to propose an idea, the very idea that anything might need to change right now, ridiculous.
Just go out, and dance, and laugh at the other teams, and why are you being so nice, and what’s gotten in to you today, and do as you’re told, and then Hana is holding the sign, their sign, gripped in white knuckles, and she sees her opponent roll out of the way and she doesn’t even care, because if this is what it takes then fine, she’ll deal with it this time. She’s not losing her again, and the only thing in her way is pride and obstinacy.
Kagetsu clutches her head and rolls to the apron; Hana gets kicked and falls outside of the ring, standing for a moment, stunned at her own actions. This is what she chose. This is what she was forced to choose, because to just keep going on with a hole inside of her isn’t an option any more.
She hears the count, 1, 2, 3, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and rolls back into the ring. Kagetsu is sitting, stunned, confusion written wide on her face. Hana crouches down and stares daggers into her eyes. If she had listened for once this could have been avoided. Kagetsu’s shown her enough times that she just doesn't understand what she feels, would never listen to their cute stories a year ago, completely refuses to see the way they complement each other, won’t bother trying to understand. Refused to even acknowledge what she had made Hana lose. She just wanted support. It’s not even worth trying to explain it now.