Tsubasa had just finished showering when she heard the doorbell, so she hastily put on some clothes and rushed to the door. Opening it, she was met with the sight of a petite, foreign-looking girl wearing a thick red scarf over a navy-blue winter coat. The girl wore a frown on her face, as if she was perpetually bored from the trivialities of the day.
“Oy, Senpai,” the girl greeted.
Tsubasa raised an eyebrow. “Yukine.”
Tsubasa let Chris in. Chris braced herself for the sight of Tsubasa's apartment in complete disarray, then she found herself gawking at how neat and tidy the place was. She settled herself on the couch and Tsubasa set off to prepare tea and coffee, the latter beverage being a preference of Chris'. Chris had paid visits to Tsubasa's apartment more times than Tsubasa can count, hence there was no need to ask what Chris would like to drink.
“I thought you had classes today,” Tsubasa said, putting the coffee mug on a coaster in front of Chris.
“The professor was sick and had to cancel,” Chris answered, taking a whiff of the brew. “His class was the only one I have on schedule today, so I left the campus as soon as we got the memo.”
“Heard you had a really wild live show last night.”
Tsubasa chuckled. “I was overly energetic that night compared with my past shows.”
“Well, if it’s for doing something you really love, the energy never dies.” Chris raised an eyebrow at Tsubasa. “By the way, your place…it's clean.”
Tsubasa flinched. “What about it?”
At that moment, there was a twinkle in Chris' eyes, as if she knew Tsubasa's darkest secret. Chris knew who was responsible for the whole thing, keeping in mind that Tsubasa wasn't really one to keep things neat and tidy. With that, she figured she'd try messing with her senpai.
“It’s not like you to maintain your apartment in such a way,” Chris told her. “Alright, Senpai, what did you do last night after the live show?”
“I cleaned up for a bit,” Tsubasa said defensively. “You can see how it ended up.”
“You don't usually do that, Senpai. Try again.”
“Look, Yukine, I just happened to put my mind into it last night. Couldn't you at least commend me for it?”
Chris grinned wickedly. “How's the neck? I thought you keep mosquito coils here.”
Tsubasa flinched. Chris would always end up knowing everything, no matter how much it's hidden.
Especially when Maria started spending nights with Tsubasa.
That was another thing. That one night in an onsen practically shifted everything. They were both drunk, scantily-clothed, and the strange heat that had been bothering them even during some of their duets were far too much to bear. Tsubasa was surprised at herself for not backing away from Maria after she kissed her. She was even more surprised when she returned it, albeit deeper. After hours of dealing with the tension, Maria proposed an agreement—they'd keep each other company under the sheets, but there will be no strings attached. Just good sex, nothing more. Crossing the line would mean ending the set-up.
Tsubasa had no qualms about it. She and Maria have been on good terms even before that night, and the sex is just somewhat an exclusive thing. Nothing else changes, she had thought. She figured she's practically old enough to have these types of experiences, and perhaps it may prove to be an educational endeavor in the long run.
And boy, is she learning plenty.
Chris was the first to find out. She was the one who slid open the door to wake them up for breakfast and was instead faced with their naked bodies entangled underneath the sheets. They told Chris about their agreement and forced her to be mum about it. It was unavoidable, with Genjuuro and Ogawa catching up later on after noticing the strange marks on both their necks and having their suspicions confirmed by Chris.
While Ogawa took it well, being the taciturn man that he is, Genjuuro was worried that their set-up might get in the way of doing their jobs properly. Tsubasa had assured her uncle that he had nothing to be deeply concerned about and that she will be careful. Genjuuro settled with that, but the tinges of worry reared up every now and then.
Since Chris was highly aware of the whole thing, she had been taking every chance she can get to tease, and Tsubasa was certainly not happy about it.
“I forgot to light one up,” Tsubasa said. “Got a nasty bite on the neck for that.”
Chris scoffed. “Sure you did, Senpai. I bet the mosquito that did a number on your neck had pink wavy hair and delicious boobs.”
Tsubasa fumed, ready to whack Chris with a throw pillow. “Why you little—”
There was another knock on the door, so Tsubasa retreated and rushed to see who it was. To her consternation, it was Maria who stood at the door.
“Maria, what are you doing here?” Tsubasa asked in a low voice.
“I forgot something in your bedroom—”
“Senpai, who's at the door?” Chris hollered from the living room, making both girls flinch.
“Chris is here? I thought she had classes,” Maria whispered.
“Classes were cancelled, she dropped by here instead,” Tsubasa said. “Just…go get what you need.”
Maria walked into the living room, looking prim and proper as she always does. She then saw Chris booting up Tsubasa's game console. Tsubasa returned to her seat, looking squeamish. When Chris looked up, she didn't expect to be in for a lot of fun upon seeing who the visitor was.
“Oh, hello, mosquito—” Chris coughed. “—er, I mean, Maria. Fancy seeing you here today.”
“Well, I…I had to get something, I won't be long,” Maria said. “By the way, Shirabe wanted you to come over sometime. She wanted help on that one dish you made for them, the one you said you loved to eat back in Val Verde.”
“Oh, the empanada?” Chris chuckled. “Looks like Kirika loved it.”
“She couldn't get over it,” Maria said, shaking her head with a laugh. “Said it was probably the most heavenly meal she'd ever had. She practically begged Shirabe to cook it for us, and you know Shirabe…she can't say no to Kirika.”
Chris shrugged. “Oh well, love does that to people.” She looks over at Tsubasa. “Doncha’ think, Senpai?”
Tsubasa merely grunted as she drank the rest of her tea. She then excused herself from the living room, saying she had to drop by the store to buy items that had run out from her pantry.
“Would you mind buying me some chips, Senpai? I'll pay you back,” Chris requested.
Tsubasa nodded as she checked her wallet. “Sure, the spicy kind, right?”
Tsubasa soon left the apartment. Chris looked over to Maria, who still had her eyes on the front door. Maria then looked at her in return.
“What is it?” Maria asked.
Chris shrugged. “Nothing. I'm just thinking…you really have it bad for Senpai, aren't you?”
Maria huffed. “It’s a good thing she doesn't know.”
Chris scoffed. “That’s gonna bite you in the ass sooner or later.”
“I would rather have your Senpai biting it,” Maria said.
“Maria, what the fuck.” Chris scratched her head. “You really had to say that, huh?”
“You've been having way too much fun teasing Tsubasa,” Maria said. “Maybe turn it down a notch, hm?”
Chris sighed in exasperation. “Look, Maria, there's no point trying to hide it. You should have pursued her directly instead of making this bullshit of a set-up.”
Maria smiled. “It would have put her off and made things awkward. This is better.”
Chris huffed. “Suit yourself, European, but don't cry to me when you can't take it anymore.”
Maria left Chris at the living room and proceeded to pick up what she had forgotten at Tsubasa's bedroom. She then left the apartment, feeling disgruntled at Chris' words.
Ogawa discussed shows with Tsubasa later that day. However, he noticed that Tsubasa seemed to have her attention on something else. He cleared his throat.
Tsubasa snapped out of her thoughts and blinked at Ogawa.
“Yeah, you were saying?”
Ogawa sighed. “Was last night's performance too bombastic to your liking?”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“What I meant was the live show last night.”
Tsubasa nodded. “Ah yeah, that one. Yeah, still can't get over it.”
Ogawa nodded. “I see. I bet Maria-san’s after-show topped that night off rather splendidly.”
Tsubasa raised an eyebrow. “Wait, there wasn't any after-show…”
Tsubasa's eyes widened upon realizing what Ogawa had implied, then she groaned and leaned back into her seat. Ogawa could barely hide his mirth at his charge.
“You know, Tsubasa-san, I was about to fetch you this morning, as per my duties,” Ogawa told her. “But before I could even park the car, I saw Maria-san walking from the direction of your apartment. I figured I shouldn’t disrupt you from your well-earned rest since you…definitely had been working hard all night.”
Ogawa laughed. “I am merely jesting, Tsubasa-san.”
Ogawa took a seat across Tsubasa and poised himself to speak more seriously.
“Where do you want this to go?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“This whole thing with Maria-san. You two are basically an open secret now, what do you plan to do with that?”
“Nothing,” Tsubasa told him. “There’s nothing between us, except this set-up. I don’t think it should be given that much concern.”
Ogawa sighed and stood up, then he handed Tsubasa a list.
“Alright then, here are a few brands seeking your endorsement. You could at least make a solid decision for that.”
Tsubasa frowned, sensing some sort of oddness in Ogawa's tone. “What do you mean by ‘solid decision'?”
Ogawa was already at the door. “Just pick a brand, Tsubasa-san. I'm making calls in 15 minutes.”
The next day, Genjuuro called in Maria and Chris for an upcoming meeting with government officials from Val Verde. They were to fly there as diplomats, and Chris had the double duty as translator since she was fluent with Val Verde's language. After the short meeting, Genjuuro asked if Maria can spare some time for a chat. Chris hastily left the briefing room for lunch, sensing an incoming awkward conversation.
“Sure, Commander,” Maria said. “What do you want to talk about?”
“It’s about my niece,” Genjuuro said. “How’s she been?”
Maria chuckled. “Shouldn’t you be talking to her instead of me?”
Genjuuro scratched his nape. “Well, it hasn't been easy talking to her lately. I was thinking you'd know since you spend a lot of time together—day and night, so I've heard.”
For a second Maria thought Genjuuro was serious, then she saw the twinkle in his eye and realized that the man was in a good mood today.
“Commander, you really are a funny man,” Maria said.
“I get that a lot.” Genjuuro then let out a sigh. “So, she still doesn't know?”
“I try to keep it that way.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
Maria smiled. “Truth be told, it does. But since she doesn't seem to be aware of it, I just keep stuff to myself and let things as it is.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“You know very well what that's gonna do to you.”
“We had an agreement.”
Genjuuro huffed and proceeded to leave the room. “Whatever you say, Maria.”
Maria watched as the doors closed on Genjuuro. The notion of Tsubasa suddenly gave an uncomfortable tug on Maria's chest.
Maria headed home early to prepare for the mission. She left Shirabe and Kirika instructions, which the two girls attentively jotted down.
“Now, let's see,” Maria said. “I might have forgotten something.”
“Have you said good-bye to Tsubasa-san?” Kirika asked.
Maria scoffed. “What for? It's not like I'm going off to somewhere really far or something.”
“Well, what if something happens? You'll never know,” Shirabe added.
Maria shook her head dismissively . “Nothing’s gonna happen, it’s just a diplomatic mission. I’m sure Genjuuro-san would tell her soon.” She zipped her duffel bag. “Alright, I'll be leaving really early tomorrow. Don't forget what I've told you.”
Maria retired to bed later after dinner. As the two girls washed the dishes, they talked about Maria.
“I wonder how long it's gonna be until it all crumbles down,” Shirabe said.
“Probably sooner than we expect,” Kirika said. “Maria’s a real softy.”
“You think so?”
“We grew up together, it's not that hard to see. Maria knows us from inside and out, and we're practically the same towards her.”
Shirabe giggled. “Sometimes I wonder how you get to be sharp-witted when I least expect it, Kiri-chan.”
Chris tapped on Tsubasa's door later that night.
“Alright, before I come in, please tell me you don't have a naked Ukrainian on your bed,” Chris said with a wince.
Tsubasa rolled her eyes. “No, there isn't, Yukine. Aren't you supposed to be sleeping early for tomorrow? What are you doing here?”
Chris stepped inside. “I don't feel like sleeping tonight. Mind if I play the game I bought you weeks ago?”
“I haven't even opened the protective wrapping,” Tsubasa said as she closed the door.
“Pathetic,” Chris said, shaking her head.
Chris played the video game later on. Tsubasa settled herself on her couch and watched her kouhai breeze through the game. It was about two hours later when Chris decided to call it quits and head home.
“Oh yeah, you should call Maria,” Chris told her at the door.
“What for?” Tsubasa asked.
“Geez, Senpai, I don't know. Maybe wish her a safe travel or something?”
Tsubasa sighed. “Go home, Yukine.”
Maria was abruptly woken up by the sound of her phone. She had mumbled every curse word in her native tongue, only stopping short when she saw Tsubasa's name on the screen.
“Hey,” Maria spoke.
“Did I call you at a bad time?” Tsubasa asked.
Maria turned to the clock on the wall—12:30. “I can't say you did,” she said. “What’s up?”
There was a bit of silence on the other line, then Maria heard a sigh.
“You, um…you watch yourself out there,” she heard Tsubasa say.
Maria was surprised at that, but she kept her cool and smirked.
“I will,” Maria said. “Otherwise you'd have to find yourself a new partner in the sheets who's as good as me. We wouldn't want that now, would we?”
Tsubasa laughed on the other line, making Maria's heart skip. “Just…take care. You and Yukine. Even if it's just a diplomatic mission.”
Maria nodded. “Alright.”
“Yeah. Alright. Good night, Maria.”
“Good night, Tsubasa.”
The call ended and Maria was left staring at her phone in the dark. With a smile, she shifted in her sheets and dozed off.