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It’s erratic. 

Sayaka had stopped kissing her, catching her breath the moment Ririka fell into her arms and everything spiraled out from there. 

Kirari stepped inside the apartment and everything tumbles around her. After so much time alone, it was a little bit overwhelming. Ririka had her arm in a vice grip while Sayaka gingerly pulled her by the wrist, a whole range of emotion Kirari couldn’t quite figure out storming in her eyes. Mary stayed still at the end of the hallway, her expression not giving anything away, just peeking at the small whirlpool happening in front of her.

A glance of her surroundings gave Kirari some footing. The entrance to the apartment was a small entryway, a simple corridor that led to the living room. The walls are a soft shade of ivory, the roof high enough to make it look substantially more sizeable than it was. It's an open concept, the kitchen/dinner room visible to the left from where they were standing, to the right there was a hallway, probably to the bedrooms and the bathroom. Some walls had frames on them, so did the chimney at the left. Curiosity raised within her, were they photos?

Sayaka let go of her wrist and Kirari looked over, her eyes darting unconsciously towards her. Dark eyes, wide as they were, looked at her uncertain and inquisitive. Kirari’s face was blank, but something twisted in her chest. The warm welcome had subdued to a less pleasing situation. Before she could say a word, Ririka walked to the couch in the room and flopped both of them in it, using the back of her hand to dab her eyes dry. 

For her part, Sayaka, walked closer to the kitchen, moving a now forgotten kettle of tea at the side of the counter. 

The silence was cumbersome, the rush of the unexpected visitor, and the perplexity of the whole situation fell over them as a heavy curtain. 

Mary broke the silence. “So, yes, welcome and all that. Now start spilling, after a couple of years of enigmatic little messages, I have questions. I'll cash them in payment for this setup.”

“What?” Sayaka gasped, eyes darting to the blonde. 

Ririka whipped around her head fast enough for her sister to cringe. Kirari rolled her eyes, tact was never something she associated with Mary, but right now it put her in a compromising position. Both sets of icy blue eyes searched for Mary’s amber ones, one inquiring, the others less than impressed. Mary squirmed a bit in place, avoiding to look Ririka straight on. “I-, ehm, well... We've been in contact. For a while. I just…- Look, I knew about this. Someone had to give information to this idio-”

“Mary!” Ririka admonished her, and Mary had the decency to look sheepish. All eyes in the room landed again on Kirari, different expressions throughout her audience. She had never been one to shy away from attention, but right now, there were a lot of queries she certainly didn’t want to respond to.

“You communicated with Mary?” the soft words came out of Sayaka's lips almost imperceptibly.

Mary, a far cry from her former address to Saotome. The sadness in her voice brought memories back.

“Yes.” There was no point lying about that, it would come out, eventually. However, the struck expression painted on Sayaka’s face might’ve been reason enough. 

Ririka let go of her arm and turned completely to face her. Missing was the mirror image they used to have, the double play was definitely dead. Her sister’s eyes had a subtle interrogation on them, something like a soft glow and openness they never had before. Kirari’s, if anything, were harsher. “No, we are not talking about this, not yet”, her voice was calm and steady. Kirari could work with that. 

“What do you mean?! There is a lot she has to-”

“Not yet.” Ririka repeated firmly.

Sayaka remained awfully quiet at the side of the room. Kirari wished desperately she said something. 

“You are here,” Ririka stated, looking Kirari right in the eye. Even though an obvious statement, something settled at the admission.

“I am.”

Brushing a lock of hair behind her ear, Ririka seemed to ponder. Her hair was longer, bangs now swept to the side. Their resemblance dimmed in each glance Kirari took at her sister. “Do you have anything with you, any belongings?”

Platinum eyebrows lifted, Kirari’s eyes slightly opened. It was a very rational question to make. “Oh, yes. I had it stored a couple of blocks from here.”

“Why?”, annoyance dripped out of Mary’s words.

“Climbing four stories with luggage seemed foul.” A couple of minutes in and the lies were easy to unfold. Her eyes searched again for dark orbs, but they were looking at Sayaka’s hands instead of her. Even so, the slight twitch in her arms indicated she knew it was a false statement.

The sudden change with Sayaka was appalling. 

“Then, we go to retrieve it.”

Ririka stood up, dusting imaginary filth out of her simple cream shirt. She cocked her head, signing for Kirari to do the same. 

“We will be back soon. It might be a good idea to start dinner.”

Her pointed look felt over Mary, who scowled but eventually groaned in agreement.

“Yeah, we’ll do that.”

Mary moved to Sayaka without saying a word and something flashed in Kirari’s mind at the familiarity in which Mary herded Sayaka into the kitchen.

“Let’s go.”

 

---

 

Sayaka was dicing daikon radishes and onions without really looking at her hands and Mary knew it was bad.

Yeah, she messed up. The moment she could actually get to speak face to face with the gone girl built up and word vomit just… happened. Probably because five years ago she dropped a dying man's last will to a flabbergasted Mary and then hopped on a helicopter and disappeared from the face of the Earth. Or maybe it was the brief messages by text or email that made her reel.

They were really sporadic, at most once every two or three months. Always a weird salutation, a single question mark, a quick goodbye after she was informed Ririka and Sayaka were fine. It was annoying, and Mary didn’t really understand where all that preoccupation came from, Kirari was in no means the worrying type. Was this the same woman that pinned her to a couch, invading the space in between her knees, delicate claws scratching her face?

Merely in benefit of Ririka she accepted Kirari’s request. Maybe she could obtain information about her sister’s well being.

At least, tell her Kirari was still alive. 

But Kirari was pretty emphatic not to say anything to Ririka or Sayaka. The why always left unspoken, the explanation clear as day: someone in the shadows surveyed Mary’s every move. 

So she kept it simple. A quick affirmation everything was ok. 

A single chance she tried to say something else, some kind of catch up to what their lives were. The omnipresence of the former president gave her chills. A small gif of a hand moving the index, the rest of the fingers folded- The text no no below the image popped up just before she hit the send button. Breath, long ago Kirari had lost the mysticism around her. She wasn’t as almighty as everyone thought. She had fallen.

Her sister still stood. 

Miso was on the menu, with curry rice as the main dish. 

The dashi brew was ready for the ingredients before boiling. Sayaka moved robotically, chopping board hovering over the pot, perfectly cut vegetables and roots easily dropped into the brew. The knife and the chopping board were discarded gracefully in the sink, hands reached for tofu, and others that needed to be added soon after boiling. Not once a word was said. 

Yeah, she had screwed up real bad. 

Mary scratched her neck, a habit she had picked from Suzui. What was she supposed to say? Sorry, I have been texting your long lost love for the last few years and didn’t tell you. My bad, thai for dinner? There was no way in hell she could sugarcoat that. Why had she involved herself in this mess!?

“Sayaka.”

The woman kept dicing tofu, cabbage, scallions on a clean chopping board,  the dexterity of trained hands. Her shoulders sagged, her head hung lowly. She had always been a shit gambler for a couple of reasons. One of them: a terrible poker face.

“Sayaka.” 

She turned, walking to the fridge and opening it, her back always facing Mary.

This little shi-…

“Sayaka!”

The woman yelped, accidentally knocking a box of milk on to the floor, spilling it. They both remained silent as the mess spread further. 

Sayaka sobbed. 

Oh god no.

Mary reached for her, but Sayaka took a step back as if her hand could burn. Her eyes were glazy, but her face was scrunched in what seemed like anger. She shook her face, hastily wiping the unshed tears with the back of her hand.

It had been rough. Mary was the President’s rival and antithesis, Sayaka was the President’s favorite pet. Kirari left and threw Sayaka to Terano, which made no sense. It had to be painful, if anything, to serve the woman who took her heart away. But Mary didn’t have it in her to be empathetic about it. Not back then, not when everything seemed like a huge staged mess.

Ririka couldn’t stand it. She had never been particularly close to Sayaka, but they had lived long enough in each other’s lives orbiting around Kirari. She thought it could be quite simple, getting to know someone you had been around for years and still knew nothing about.

Mary and Sayaka? That had been a problem.

The President’s dog. Terano’s new tool. The drafter of life plans. The ever-present snitch. Kirari had as much power as she had by keeping someone like Sayaka by her side. How to trust a woman who blindly followed a mad person?

She loves her. No, Kirari wasn’t able to love and Sayaka could not be foolish enough to love a ticking bomb. Yes, anyone with eyes could see the deep blushes, extreme devotion, the ongoing seek for approval. Yes, there were slight touches, inappropriate comments, softer eyes, sweeter human smiles. That wasn’t love, not with all the mania. It was an obsession, at best, two opposites colliding in a self-destructive explosion.

But she happened to be hopeless in denying Ririka anything. Sayaka left Terano and sought refuge with her and Mary, who’s edge forfeited. Ugh, it was certainly Suzui’s fault. He made her softer. Or maybe it had been Ririka.

So yeah, coexisting with the enemy. It ensued not to be that unfathomable. Sayaka was diligent, and with no one to serve she got anxious. She finally lived as the smart woman she was, a woman devastated by longing, a woman who was trying to build herself back up. She was kind, and with time she learned she was funny in her own way. Then Mary made the stupid decision of making friends with her.

And… they were back to square one.

“I- I’m… sorry.”

Asking for forgiveness was alien to Mary, even so it relieved a knot in her chest.

When dark violet eyes raised, her sight showed a clear crack in the walls she had managed to stand again. 

Spilled milk was not something Mary wished she had all over her pants, but with the handful of Sayaka in her arms, it resulted in difficulty to sit anywhere else.

 

---

 

“You called Saotome Mary a Bishop, why?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“There is not much you can do around here. Might as well entertain yourself with me.”

The steaming cup of tea in Kirari's hand hid the leer in her face.

Every couple months Terano would look in on Kirari in her reclusive chamber. Either she needed Kirari’s input to flail the clan or just making sure she was staying put. Those were also the times she was allowed to contact Mary. 

For what it was, her cage was a fairly large boudoir. The space was a perfect square, divided by the furniture in it. The single bed was pressed against the further wall from the door. A small vanity occupied the corner to the left of the bed, near the only reinforced-glass window the room had. Between them, a wall filled with books of all kinds stood out. In the center of the room a small table with two chairs, a kitchenette to the right with a small stove, and a few pantries. A small television was set near the bed.

There were only two doors, the one leading to the bathroom and the entrance.

The tea today was a courtesy from Yumi, as Terano refused to drink anything Kirari might have manipulated. 

“Have you ever paid notice to a chessboard?” Kirari started, placing the teacup in its saucer, eyes playfully looking at her cousin, "It’s quite interesting, similar yet different from shogi or go boards. Western chess has tiles alternating in a pattern of squares in two colors. The sides are divided into eight parts, a total of sixty-four squares.”

“Why do I keep asking you questions, you always give these cryptic answers”

“Why, thank you.”

If looks could kill, Kirari would have passed away a long while ago. Not that she preoccupied herself with that thought in regards of Terano. She ran a hand through her hair, worn down for the day, and gazed to the ends of it. She might need to trim it, however, a pair of scissors didn't seem to be something she could request. Pitty, the ends were splitting a bit.

“Now, now, each individual square of the board has a notation, algebraic or numeric. Horizontal rows are called ranks, and verticals are called files. The tiles align in oblique lines of color, those are called diagonals.” She kept twirling a couple of strands in between her fingers, lazily playing with them.

“Are you going anywhere with this?”, the exasperated tone in Terano's voice amused the other woman to no end. Yumi shifted uncomfortably in the back of the room. She let go of her hair.

“You asked why I called Saotome Mary a Bishop.”

“And you have not given me an answer.”

Kirari raised an eyebrow, smirk ever-present as she spoke, "Bishops are quite wily, you might think their movement is limited, due to them only moving in diagonals. Nonetheless, if you are not careful, they might artfully take your pieces when you pay no attention.”

Terano crossed her arms, a sigh escaping her lips. Kirari wondered if she was reaching the end of her patience. What would happen if she were to snap?, "So?”

“Saotome Mary is a girl I misunderstood. At first, she was quite captivating, all talk and strong resolve, such a fascinating creature. I wanted her to join the Council because she would have been a strong pawn. The offer of a position which would have allowed her to do as she pleased, one she would certainly consider.  Nevertheless, I was mistaken, she was no pawn.”

“It’s absolutely strange for you to admit a mistake.”

A small giggle moved Kirari's shoulders slightly. She reached for her teacup again, Oolong Darjeeling being quite a curious choice for today's tea. “Is it really? I can’t truthfully say that is the case. I push where others might not follow, either at the fault of fear or impossibility. If there is no one to fight, you are always going to be right.”

“And Saotome proved you wrong?” Terano scoffed loudly, tilting her head in disapproval. 

“She weaseled her way into my business. She befriended Yumeko and that skinny little boy and gained confidence. I mauled her and she built determination. Ririka reached out to her and she knew an ally. Mary is quite versatile, as Bishops are. However, she has a blessing and a flaw to her character.”

“That is?”

Kirari smiles, impassive. “Have you ever noticed Bishops stand in different color tiles, one in white, one in black? Bishops can only advance diagonally in one color each.”

“I should’ve known better than to ask anything about this, your answers always come in horrible circles.”

Kirari rolled her eyes, her cousin was simply no fun. “Mary’s motion is only within her principles, pure righteous hunger for justice. She never changes routes when her mind is set on something. In the fashion of a rough metaphor, she only moves in one color.”

 

---

 

A couple of blocks turned out to be half a mile away. The autumn afternoon weather in Tokyo was nice enough for them to walk. Ririka felt relieved to have chosen sensible shoes-

The step was a bit stiff, walking side by side incredibly odd. Kirari the Council President always had Ririka walking behind her. Kirari the Election player walked in an opposite direction than her. Kirari, her sister, now walked by her shoulder and she felt bizarre.

A nice kind of bizarre.

Kirari sauntered as if nothing had happened. Same commanding strut, her face inscrutable, hands swung slightly at her sides. 

Curiosity killed the cat but Ririka was curious. Famished for answers. She knew better, Kirari was like a caged animal when she felt threatened. She kept her cool inside the apartment, but her glances towards Sayaka, her silence, her lies were all classic signs of her deflecting. 

So, taking her out and giving her some space might be best.

Also, Ririka couldn’t deal with Kirari on one hand and Sayaka on the other. 

“How long have you been with Mary?”

Ririka tripped over air. Kirari didn’t stop and she had to rush to keep up. She could feel her cheeks burning, and there was nowhere to hide it.

“Before you ask a dull thing like what do you mean, allow me to list: your eyes grow soft when you look at her, your shoulders and posture relax. You can communicate with her with a glance. More importantly, you can talk over her and she listens to you. Unless she had an enormous change of heart in a lustrum, you are either in a relationship or at least sleeping toge-”

“Stop, stop, stop!”

Her sister eyed her peculiarly, probably amusing herself with the flush spreading across her face.

“I’m just stating the obvious. You were far easy to read.”

“Don’t do that, Kirari, don’t pry when you’ve been given the grace to catch your breath.”

“Why, oh dear sister, do you believe I need a catch of breath ?”

“Why did you show up leaving whatever belongings you have elsewhere?”

“Climbing four stories with luggage-”

“Cut the bullshit Kirari. You are not the only one who can read a person.”

They used to be the same character. They were identically raised. The difference was the mask. One was to be in the spotlight, the other one to remain in the shadows. They learned how to perform the opposite role, and for that, they had to be able to match each other. If Kirari was a great gambler, so was Ririka. Kirari could play a calculated game, Ririka could lurch forward in unintelligible insanity. For the switch, a mental connection was key. It was faithless on Kirari’s behalf to attempt to falsify her in words. She might be cunning enough to trick her in actions, but she had never been able to tell a lie to her face.

“What a wicked language has Mary taught you.”

They remained silent, the path towards their destination almost reached. The luggage storage perched filled with tourists. Americans, mostly. Kirari swiftly attended to her check out, exiting the small kiosk with ease.

Ririka didn’t know what she expected, but it wasn’t this .

When they forced her to leave the manor, most of her clothes and utilities were sent away with her. She lost access to bank accounts, credit cards, even the cash she had with her. But at least she kept most of what was in her personal room.

Kirari pulled two suitcases with her and seemed to be ok with that. 

“If anything I lament not being able to preserve some of the kimonos. Beautiful embellishments, however, the clan symbol on their back took them right off my hands.” Dismissive, her tone was disdainful and a warning not to push the subject.

She would concede.

Each twin took a handle, and they strolled slowly back. 

“A year.”

Kirari turned, an eyebrow cocked.

“Mary and I have been together for a year. Officially at least. We’ve been living together for about four years now. It turned into something else not so long ago.”

Kirari hummed in response. “It would be dishonest of me to say I wasn’t expecting it. Even back then, there was a pull between you.”

Ducking her head, Ririka tried to hide her bashfulness. Yes, even back then, in the middle of all the chaos, Mary had been a beacon.

“I was testing the waters.”

“What?”

“You asked why I left everything I have with me now somewhere else. I was testing the waters.” Kirari chuckled, and it perplexed Ririka, “It appears that confinement had made me a bit precautious. Outstanding, really. Terano can only be so proud.”

The giant puzzle her sister was had remained in her answers. Sometimes, she considered that Kirari was beyond what the world could comprehend. Even if she could act like her, she never really understood her. The only par to ever encounter a footway to her was Yumeko. 

Still, Ririka could read between lines. Kirari wasn’t one to overstay her welcome where she was not wanted. 

She changed sides, her free arm curling around her sister’s with ease. Kirari stiffed, but allowed it. Ririka rested her head over Kirari’s shoulder. Time could offer new opportunities, and so, she would take them.

Her life had improved ever since.

 

---

 

“Ririka?”

The woman hummed in acknowledgment, as they finally reached back the building she had been living in. That they were going to be living in.

“You’ll have to put me up to date with you. It comes across like I don’t know you that well anymore.”

She smiled, turning to Kirari with a soft chuckle, “You still do. Know me, that is. It’s just growing up, I think. We’ll catch up, we will all catch up.” Fishing her keys from her pocket, she added, “It’s not me you should be worried about. I’m pissed at you because you set me up, you played martyr, and made my girlfriend your personal lackey. But you are my sister, and I know you , I will forgive you when I hear answers. Sayaka, on the other hand…”, they took a step inside the threshold, the smell of warm food coming from the kitchen, “you owe her way more than that.”

 

---

 

The rest of the afternoon was mute. The sisters entered the living room and found Mary on the couch, laptop on her lap. Kirari gave it to her that the quick scan about her situation was almost imperceptible. Almost . Ririka took the suitcases and placed them by the hallway, probably for a later agreement on which room would they store them. She then walked to the kitchen, with no traces of Sayaka in sight.

“I’d like to freshen up.”

Mary lifted her eyes again, hand pointing to the hallway, “Bathroom is at the end of the hall.”

Kirari made way, eying the two facing doors of the bedrooms. She would tease Ririka mercilessly later. First...

The water ran, cold, and she moistened the back of her neck to cool herself down. She was tense. Ririka was ok and happy. Mary looked like she hadn't changed a thing in years. Sayaka… Her radio silence had her nerves itching. Or it probably was the hot and cold rollercoaster she had her in. 

Yes, she was in debt with Sayaka.

No, she didn’t know how to repay it.

At her return to the main room, there was a steaming cup of tea placed on the coffee table, in front of a sofa. Mary didn’t seem to have moved an inch and Ririka had her hands full in the kitchen finishing whatever Mary and Sayaka started. Kirari sat down, picking the cup with delicate hands. The smell of lǜchá brought memories back. A simple taste told her there was no way anyone beside Sayaka could’ve brewed it. 

She didn’t appear to be anywhere. 

“Ririka said that dinner will be ready in an hour. Sayaka is out buying… something.” Mary never lifted her eyes from whatever she was typing on her laptop. “After dinner, you are spilling. So be ready.”

Kirari nodded, an undignified small snort through the simper in her lips.

“As you please.”

 

---

 

“If Saotome is a piece in chess, I gather that you have allegories to your followers?”

“I treasure countless times the idea about people playing parts in the game of natural selection. The small fish live at the mercy of the bigger ones, terribly afraid about death by a larger predator. That’s why I’m particularly interested in aquariums, I'm absolutely curious about the life cycle of helpless creatures." Ah, how she wished she had one of her precious aquariums with her. It might make the withering days go faster. It would not be a kindness Terano would agree too. "However I do admit that I have mental pictures of certain figures around me as chess pieces.” 

“Isn't chess too rational for you?” Yumi moved closer, placing a kettle with more tea between the cousins.

“It might be,” Kirari served herself a new cup, “if you play in a strategy to beat the king and defeat your opponent. If you play only to see how many pieces you can capture before you perish, it’s not rational at all.”

Terano raised an eyebrow, “Why play if you are not going to win?”

“The thrill of the possible outcome, the knowledge that in the end you might be destroyed, is much more satisfying.” Eyes glowed, cold and alluring,  “Moreover, watching how desperate one’s adversary becomes trying to save their game from death entertains me.”

 

---

 

Sayaka returned to the building, bags filled with nonsense. She just needed a moment to compose herself. 

She couldn’t even begin to describe what she felt. Confusion was a state of mind she loathed. Confusion meant not grasping a clear concept. Her mind ached to grasp clear concepts. 

Kirari… Kirari always made it impossible to grasp a clear concept. Her brain shortcutted around anything related to her. And she was not supposed to return yet. Sayaka wasn’t ready. She had planned, had tried desperately to create a strategy to save Kirari. That was her job. To protect Kirari’s back. And so she had failed. The President lost her seat at the Council, the head of the clan, her freedom. They flew her off and all she left behind was a promise to come back.

When?

Sayaka had lost herself in self sorrow and a broken heart. Her life was an autopilot movie she was no longer part of. Terano and the rest of the Momobami family transformed the Academy into their turf, and Sayaka was to administer it all. The pet system was revoked, the Council members were all targeted and persecuted by their part in student body abuse. Yumemi lost her carrier, Nishinatoin flew and left the Cultural Club to fend for itself. Midari and Yomozuki fared better: Midari under the shield of craziness, Runa advocating her services of absolute neutrality to the Momobami family. They couldn’t deny that after it all, Runa never broke her word.

(Miyo didn’t exactly agree.)

The Vicepresident, well... She lived in the background. Nothing more than a ghost hovering the halls. Terano pulled strings and managed to keep Sayaka and Ririka out of each other’s way. The woman wasn’t a fool and probably suspected that if they joined forces, Kirari might use it to her advantage. That maybe that would bring her back from the ashes.

One can only tolerate so much. Any time she had off, she found herself lying among lilies gazing at a Tower that almost cost her her life.  

A stairway to Heaven, a high fall to Hell. Both of them a love declaration. It felt like it had happened ages ago. Years from when she surrendered her heart completely to Kirari, years from when she decided life was not worth living if it meant to have beautiful blue eyes contemplate her like a stranger. Years from when an irrepressible non compos mentis woman jumped 5 stories right after her.

The shift in their relationship after the Tower of Doors was apparent. Late afternoons in hushed voices, soft hands wandering, cold lips whispering in her cheeks. It couldn’t go further. No during the election. They needed to focus on the task at hand first, eliminate possible scapegoats. Then…

They didn’t get one then. 

Kirari never loses. Why did she give up? Why didn’t Kirari try harder?

Helicopter blades. Soft pad to the cheek and afterwards, loneliness.

After graduation, Ririka took pity on her and she let herself be lifted. Mary attempted to make an effort and well, Sayaka could try to get to common ground. It wasn’t easy, but life was better. They grew closer, some scars far too alike to ignore. 

When Kirari showed up at the door, she collapsed. Their first kiss was in the late evening at the light of studying lamps a lifetime ago. Quick, brief, a test. Their first kiss now was a frantic swing of a drowning woman. Her brain crumbled, and for a prime time had acted barely on instincts.

Perhaps she was walking through ambers, but maybe she could survive it.

Kirari had chosen another confidant, had kept secrets from her for years, and if she wasn’t who to Kirari, who was she? Five years ago, the blow of her failure was hot, white pain. Now, her uncertainty was cold and dark. The worth gained slipped through her fingers, she had no preparation to face information she might not comprehend.

She resented Mary, however, she felt hurt by Kirari. The whole Election ordeal, the wild sea snake unleashed in the form of one Jabami Yumeko, the Tower, Kirari’s defeat… Sayaka was out of puzzle pieces, none of them quite fitting. Did the President have a point to all this chaos? Why was Sayaka’s love put down the line? She had cried. Years ago. Today, in the wrong woman’s arms.

Would Kirari someday catch her?

She knocked on the door with her elbow, both hands occupied carrying the bags. The door opened and icy blue eyes stared right at her. 

She was going to kill Ririka and Mary.

“May I take those from your hands?”

Kirari reached without waiting for a positive answer. Her hands ghosted fingertips across her knuckles. Fluidly, she spun on her heel and walked back inside, leaving Sayaka once again alone. She closed the door, taking her cardigan off her shoulders and placing it in the hang behind the door. 

A table set for four felt very out of place. She turned to see two bags placed by the kitchen, Kirari standing by them. Hip cocked against the cabinet sink, arms crossed under her chest, eyes glued to her. She hated how those cerulean eyes seem to bore into her soul.

Mary carried two pots, Ririka following after with bowls. They worked in synch around the table. “Sayaka, don’t just stand there, bring the dishes for the curry. Glasses too,” Mary eyed her, her face less a reprimanding scowl, more like a concerned look, “we don’t want the food to get cold.”

Instructions were something she could follow in her sleep. Instructions were good, they ground her. So she swiftly got in motion, walking past Kirari. If she seemed aghast at Sayaka not keeping frozen in place under her gaze, well that was her prerogative. For now . Eventually, there would be a lot to talk about. But right now…

The table was medium-sized, squarish, and that was a relief right now. She would not have fended well if she had to sit right to the side of Kirari. Even so, she is at her diagonal. Pots of food are at the center of the table, spoons in each one for them to serve their own food. Ririka took hold of the pot of miso, serving herself and Mary, the other woman doing the same with curry. 

Sayaka chanced a glance towards Kirari, observing her. To her surprise, she seemed… lost. Her arms were once again folded under her chest, eyes glued to the food in front of her.

“What’s the matter, President? The food is not to your liking?” Mary received an elbow to the ribs that almost threw off her chair. She turned to her left, frowning, just to see the cold stare of an unamused Ririka. 

“Much to your surprise, Mary, this may be the richest meal I’ve seen for a while,” Kirari regarded Mary straight on, the other woman being seated in front of her, “however you’ll excuse me if I’m deep in thought about sharing dinner with someone.

Sayaka took hold of the bowl right in front of Kirari, filling it with the soup, then doing the same with the plate and the curry. Big blue eyes stilled, her expression shifting from annoyed to something way softer. 

“Thank you.”, she whispered, and Sayaka loathed how easily her heart swooned.

“You’re welcome.”

“Ok then,” Ririka jumped, “Itadakimasu!”

 

---

 

Terano set her cup down, hands folded in her lap, “Who are the other pieces in your game?”

“Are you feeling well? Such a dense question from you is not something I expected," Kirari quipped, she smiled all the same, "It’s quite obvious.”

Her hand twitched, the former head of the Momobami clan was sure if given the chance, Terano might have slapped her, “Humor me”, she ground her teeth, “Which one is Igarashi-san?”

“The Rook.” There was no hesitation in her answer. 

“Such a pitiful girl standing like a fortress?”

From time to time Terano was reminded why Kirari was an enormous danger, why she had to be locked in a confinement chamber kilometers abroad from her usual environment, her playground. Her posture stiffed, and her eyes became menacing. A wild viper, teeth bared waiting to pounce on the prey and bite. It's a cold kind of fear, the one that aquamarine eyes could install in one person when they stared like this.

“Did you know some people call that piece 'The Queen’s Rook?'" The curl in her lips taunted the other woman, all of Terano's senses suddenly sharp at a fight or flight response, "The original Persian word rukh means chariot. Persian war chariots were heavily armored, relying on a driver and usually a ranged-weapon bearer. Western versions of chess used a turret as the figure of the piece, nevertheless, still as mighty. Sturdy, impenetrable. As the fortress you previously said, is fairly natural the Rook is quite a powerful piece, far more valuable and stronger than Bishops and Knights. The Rook is one of the heavy pieces of chess, it can move as many squares as it likes, in whichever color, always defeating the pieces they crush over.”

“A rather rigid piece as it only moves in straight lines.”

“Ah yes, probably the defect, also that’s where Sayaka’s fault comes." The sneer was off for a second at the roll of Igarashi-san's name out of Kirari's lips, "Only moved by logic and rationality, only moving on straight paths of thought. Powerful yet a little bit predictable.”

“Why place so much trust in such an unsurprising piece?”

“Say, someone has to encase the pandemonium. So much disarray misses perspective, it may benefit from some guidance.” Kirari shrugged, as if it was the most obvious utterance, “It is fascinating, seeing a force of nature demolish anyone standing in her plans, perfectly structured, usually perfectly executed. As far as intelligence goes, her strategic mindset is incredibly compelling. When the Rook reaches the seventh rank, it often forces victory, worst case, a draw. An incredible ally to deliver checkmate. If you knew Sayaka as I do, you wouldn’t doubt her value. You might even understand her far better than I do. Irrepressibly rationality is not a language I am cognizant of, and Sayaka is a book written in so.”

“I don't see the merit there. You lost to me all the same.”

“You are so short-sighted, who says I lost to you? ” Kirari seemed personally offended that Terano didn’t agree with her, “Is spellbinding. I can’t comprehend her mind at all. Someone with answers to questions that haven’t been formulated, even to the most trivial things, is someone you want to keep by your side. Also, she is truly handy with a taser. You better watch out.”

Terano scoffed, "I thought she trailed behind you, not to your side."

“Another reason, far more greedy of my part for Sayaka to be a Rook is a move called ‘Castling’", the spin on her response took Terano for a loop for a moment, "in which the Rook and the King exchange places. If you do so queenside, the Rook occupies the space the Queen used to be. If you ask me, the Rook should always remain by the Queen watching her back, as she is just as powerful to be trusted for safety.”

She paused for a second, an unpleasant sneer in her expression. “If you think Sayaka trails behind me, you know nothing of her character. There is no one I'd let my back wide open, she is guarding my blind spot and I cover her front."

Kirari practically slammed her cup of tea on the table, making Yumi flinch.

“I should forewarn you, Terano”, her voice was frostbite, “never again call Sayaka a pitiful girl. I am trapped here, but that doesn’t take my claws away.”

 

---

 

The silence reigned all the while. Honestly, it was like being back to her chamber, eating alone in complete silence. Sans the three pairs of eyes who watch her every move. 

She might rather be back if that meant avoiding eyes pitying her. 

“As lovely as this has been I’m tired quite enough about the tension in the room.” Elegantly, she dabbed her mouth lightly with a napkin, her food finished. She ran her eyes around everyone at the table, eyes stopping at Sayaka, “Mary, you want to start the interrogation?”

“Kirari…” Ririka started. 

“She said so herself. I want to see a follow-through.”

She knew taunting was probably the way to get them to explode. She preferred mayhem than people walking around her in eggshells. Sayaka returned her look, eyes locking finally and her resolve returned a little. If this was what caught Sayaka’s attention, so be it. 

“I swear you fucki-, ugh! Drop the attitude, will you?” Mary rubbed a hand through her face, exasperated, “To your detriment, everyone here is trying to look out for you, which I know you probably hate. But try to be human for once and stop your all high act. This has been a shit show here , so I can’t imagine what it was for you who knows where !”

She could only smile, “My, my, Mary, I didn’t know you cared.”

“That’s it! You are done! I’ll-” Ririka managed to catch Mary by the waist before she could climb over the table towards Kirari. The woman huffed and cursed while her girlfriend tried to get her to calm down, eyes throwing daggers at her sister. Kirari started to laugh.

“Enough.”

Her laughter died in her throat. Never had she heard Sayaka’s voice so raw and sharp as if she was quite… disappointed. She knew nervous, flustered, happy, sad, anguished, angry Sayaka. Dispirited Sayaka? No. Kirari’s demeanor fractured, and she knew her eyes were betraying her, but there was no way she could hide it. Nothing hurt as bad as that single word did.

Mary and Ririka stopped struggling, both freezing in place. 

“Kirari, you have inquiries to respond, please, behave.”

There had never been a time in which she had been injured like this. Ribs opened, hearth bleeding. Just a few words. Oh, Terano would have saved herself a lot of trouble trying to torture Kirari if she had managed to get Sayaka to talk to her with that much indifference.

“Very well”, was everything that she managed to say.

Sayaka sighed, “Where have you been?”

“I can’t say for certain. If I have to take a guess I might say South Africa.”

“Huh?” Mary seemed dumbfounded. 

“You see, it is a bit disorienting when four men blindfold you and carry you out from a helicopter to a plane. When I regained sight, I was in the middle of a room. The location would be hard to pinpoint, however, if I had to take a wild guess, I’d say South Africa.”

“And why the hell would you say South Africa of all places?”

“There was a small window at my confinement, reinforced-glass and everything. But it allowed me to see some foliage, and a spider web near the window alike to the ones of Stegodyphus dumicola. That spider can be found mainly in South Africa.” Five years lent her enough time to read herself through several biology books, at least her interest in living creatures was mildly satisfied.

“I’m not even going to ask how you know how to identify spiders.”

“Oh, fairly simple. Lots of free time.”

Sayaka’s lips were pursed, eyes slightly unfocused. She was trying to repress what she was feeling but she had never been able to do so. Kirari’s hand itched to reach for Sayaka’s. Try to turn back time and return to easier conversations. 

Ririka cleared her throat, “I imagine they brought you back to Japan the same way?”

“Yes. However, I was left on my own in the outskirts of Tokyo, with some cash, two suitcases, and a phone. Terano didn’t even say goodbye.”

Nodding, Ririka continued, “So you asked Mary for an address to come here.”

“It took me a few days to make my way as managing my own while extremely tired and out of place proved to be challenging, but in essence yes.” Her sister seemed to be trying to settle first on the more light questions, a classic approach for Ririka, cautious, preparing for attack. Rin should have known better. 

“How did you have any way to contact Mary?”

“I requested it.”

Sayaka’s breath hitched. Kirari swallowed. 

Ririka kept pushing, “It goes beyond saying, but you requested it from Terano, right?” 

“Yes, and also to Mary.”

“What?” It was cute, how Ririka blinked a couple of times trying to gather her thoughts. Heartbreaking to see Sayaka’s face fall one more time. 

“Before she left,” Mary intervened, a soothing hand coming up to take one of Ririka’s, “she cited me all presidentially and asked me to keep her up to date about your wellbeing, both of your wellbeing.” She looked pointedly at Sayaka while she spoke, “One of the Momobami freaks gave me a phone couple of days after. It had just one number and an email. It was a safe line. A few days ago, she just dropped the news that Terano had set her free.”

“Under the terms of surrendering with no fight, Terano agreed to humor some conditions.” Kirari, added, might as well throw some details, “One of them was to have Mary be my eyes and ears here, while I was away.”

“Why Mary?”

“Mary would not appear in Terano’s radar as someone who might benefit me. From her perspective, she was only the person I handed you out.” Kirari turned from Ririka to Sayaka, she had to understand. “She didn’t know you were friends, Ririka, she thought that Mary was only your device to harm the clan.”

Ririka nodded, the explanation seemed to satisfy her. “What else did you ask for?” Kirari wished she had chosen another route.

“It’s not important.”

“Yes, it is”, Sayaka. Again, ice sliding down her back. Would anyone give the woman a knife? A stab to the chest would be far less painful. 

Still, there was no good in lying about this, “Ririka was to be pardoned, you Sayaka were to be safe.” Sayaka seemed taken aback, but Ririka beat her to the chase, “Wait, you negotiated my pardon?”

Silence gave her an answer.

“Why? The only way the clan was going to accept that was for you to take all the hits. I- I thought the pardon had been the clan trying to push me against you, to throw you under the bus so I could save myself.” Ririka was astonished “You negotiated my pardon and forced me to accept it. You had already agreed to the extra time before you talked to me.”

“If you had known, you would have broken your promise.” Her eyes briefly landed on Mary.

“But why ask for my pardon? You could’ve tried to take off some of your own punishment.”

Kirari scoffed, “Our dear cousin was after my blood, not yours. Having control of my life was a treat Terano couldn’t resist.” 

“You didn’t have to…”

“I did.”

She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to admit that her downfall didn’t need to be anyone else’s. That the stake burnt just for her. Because she had wanted to feel the excruciation inside of flames, and she got what she searched for. Kirari had a heart though, and it had been peeking through more than she would care to admit. Before the Election, while at it, right now. Omission was no lie, Ririka was to understand how she wanted to. 

Kirari stared at her nails, the polish really chipped. She’d have to take care of it soon. It irked her looking unkempt.

“If I was to be safe, why would you choose to hand me to Terano?” Sayaka’s voice was small, but it startled all of them. Ririka and Mary eyed Kirari. The latter looked anywhere else.

“I’m not following”

“You do. Terano gave me back my post as Council Secretary, as the Momobami clan Secretary. My tasks were no different from what I did while working with you. However, it was plainly obvious Terano didn’t want me anywhere near her or school and family affairs. But she did have me there. The only explanation is that you forced her to. And it doesn’t make sense.” Sayaka’s tone grew harsher and harsher, voice gaining strength as she spoke, “She took everything- she was the reason you were gone. I was not safe with her, she had already taken her strike.”

“In bocca al lupo,Kirari took a deep breath, eyes finally landing in Sayaka’s, “There is no safer place than the wolf’s mouth. She was reticent, but if you were under her command, nobody in the clan or at the academy would touch you. It was fairly easy to convince her.”

“Why?”

“She knew how much it would hurt me if you kept to her side while I was elsewhere.” 

“It hurt me too...” The tears prickling at Sayaka’s eyes made it difficult for Kirari to breathe.

“I know.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“You were the clearest target. I had to make sure you were going to be ok.”

“I didn’t want to be ok! Not if you were not here!”

She hated how her body was relentlessly conspiring against her. Voice quivering a bit, eyes soft with sadness, “I knew that too. If Terano was watching over you, she would be also watching you from yourself.

The tears unleashed from Sayaka’s eyes and all the will Kirari had in herself disappeared. 

“You had no right. I- You let yourself loose. You didn’t fight your way back to the race. Ririka defeated you but you could easily try to return- try to... Why would you gamble with her in the first place? The reasonable choice was to stay away from her. If Mary or her had won the Election, you would have been safe! Any other member of the clan was the given opponent, not your sister.”

“Sayaka…” Ririka tried, her hand reaching forward trying to grasp one of hers.

“No! She knows it, you know it, we know it. It was nonsense!”

Never in Kirari’s life had someone outside the clan raised their voice towards her. Sure, Mary didn’t pull back any punches and Manyuda and Yumemi weren’t exactly tame, but no one had ever screamed at her so openly. This was no wail of desperation, no anguished cry for help. This was pure anger. 

“I believed we had reached the understanding it is impossible for you and I to comprehend each other. Nonsense is something that comes naturally to me. Besides, Terano would have never faced me.”

“Nothing that happened seemed like nonsense, it feels more like you arranged a perfect plan to extricate yourself from a life path that you found tedious!”

Ririka choked on air and Mary flinched, Sayaka rarely lost her temper since her time in Hyakkaou. Kirari, for her part, remained unmoving. 

“Is somewhat dreadful you and Terano reached for the same conclusion, such a single track idea.”

“Don't compare me to her!”

“Then don’t oversimplify me.”

There had never been a bad or good outcome to Kirari, the thrill was always the drive behind her. It’s the same as Poker, it’s the same with any other game. If you defined yourself by the hand you're dealt, then possibilities were limited. What mattered was living the experience for what it was. She had said to Terano she didn’t have anything to lose, she had several commodities she would miss greatly (even beyond what she could manage), but no, it wasn’t really losing.

Sayaka stood, her hands slamming on the table. Her eyes were wild, and Kirari was taken back about how they burned, the same way they did as she was marching against Yumeko on live broadcast. 

“Excuse me.”

Her chair was pushed briskly to the side, brushing past Kirari towards the bedroom hall. Sayaka halted for a moment, hesitating, before she took both of Kirari’s suit cases and hauled them along with her. The slam of the door punctuated her mood.

“Uhm, if there is any consolation, she carrying your stuff to her bedroom seems like a window of opportunity for you to sleep with her.”

Mary yelped at the smack to the back of her head, Ririka pouting at her girlfriend insensibility. Her sister might have laughed at the gesture if there wasn’t a pit sinking in her stomach. 

“I didn’t mean it like that!”

“Hush now,” Ririka watched her with her big cerulean eyes, “are you all right?”

Patronizing, “Why would I not be?”

“I told you, cut the bullshit,” Mary winced at how foreign the word sounded out Ririka’s mouth, “She has been mourning you all this while. She is frightened, and unhinged. You can’t reproach her for it. You know her, you know how her mind works. She is brilliant, but reluctant to change speeds when it’s not clear why.”

“It sounds like you know her better than I do.”

“I’ve been living with her for four years, perhaps watching someone crumble for the same pain you feel makes yourself empathetic towards them.”

Kirari sighed, rolling her neck a little to loosen up the tight muscles, “Such a bad strike, I might be out of luck today.”

“No,” Mary crossed her arms, a petulant look on her face, “you are just being an ass.”

“This time, I agree with her.” Ririka stood up, starting to clear the table as she went.

Mary followed suit, picking up the now empty pots. 

It was riveting how they orbited towards one another, how comfortable they coexisted as a whole. That used to be her and Ririka, her and Sayaka. Maybe time away had cost her a link in her bond with both women. Mary seemed to fit quite right between them, a nice leverage of strength and impel. 

“Some of your personality rubbed on both Ririka and Sayaka, I have to say, I’m pleased about that.” 

“Well,” Mary called from the kitchen, her voice serious, “someone had to help them stand back up. Take the cue and do the same.”

 

---

 

Kirari sat alone at the living room, glass of water in her hand. Both Mary and Ririka had retired for the night to their room, asking any further questions right now seemed dull, the spirits too high up to have an honest conversation in Kirari’s regard. Probably not how anyone in the room had planned the evening to go.

Now, Kirari had two options. Go to Sayaka’s room and discover what was in store for her. Or tuck her tail in between her legs and stay the night at the couch. She’s always bitten the bullet, for a novelty she was nervous it might actually blow.

She stood up, left the glass on the coffee table and her feet padded softly towards Sayaka’s door. To her surprise, it was now open. 

“You kissed me.”

The statement was clear, her tone perfectly even. She reclined against the doorframe, watching Sayaka move the cases to the back of the room.

A moment passed, “I did”, Sayaka said, without turning around, fuzzing with a non-existent task.

Kirari walked inside, closing the door behind her. She had never argued with Sayaka before and now she preferred not to keep the show in front of the cohabitants of the apartment.  

“Sayaka.”

“Don’t,” the small frame straightened up, shoulders squaring. She turned around and looked at Kirari the same way she had when the results of the Tower of Doors were announced, “You can’t order me around anymore. We are not at the Academy, I’m no longer your Secretary.”

“No, you are not.”

“So don’t address me with the same voice you would use to ask me for a life plan or a cup of tea. I- Time has passed.”

“It has.”

“Stop repeating what I say!”

“What do you want me to say then? You are squabbling with me either way. You kiss me and then ignore me. I can’t understand what you want from me.” Kirari has always been good at keeping her cool, it was part of her character. Merciless, brutal, but always in frozen anger. This was trying her, she didn’t want to be angry towards Sayaka, but she was suffocating.

“I want you to be honest, for once.”

“When have I lied to you?”

“When have you told me the whole truth?”

Kirari stopped. She couldn’t refute that. She conceded with her silence and walked towards the bed, sitting at the edge, twisting slightly to look at Sayaka. The woman held her gaze. A rare mutation, half her flustered, hot headed Secretary, half an entirely new woman borned from a void in her heart.

Sayaka’s body trembled, “You said you were tired of trivial games, you wanted something that may carry great wins or major setbacks. You chose to gamble against your sister. You decided, when you lost, that it was enough for you. You allowed Terano to take the President seat and the head of the Momobami clan. The whole Election comes across as being all about you. And I can’t understand, if that’s the case, why you decided to lose. If that’s the case, why didn’t you tell me?”

The woman sagged, absolutely defeated. Had Kirari done that to her?

“Sayaka-”

“I don’t expect to know all your secrets, your reasons,” Sayaka continued, “But I was down the line there as well. I followed, I-... You may say you didn’t lose, but I did.”

“That was never my intention.”

“It never is.”

“My purpose is not to hurt you.”

"I leaped five stories for you ."

"I jumped right after." 

"Why would you make me fall in the first place?"

Her voice broke and with it Kirari’s heart. Was there a reason to make her jump? To have her most precious belonging fall and crash against the ground? 

No, there wasn’t. She just wanted her to. If they jumped and they fell and they lived, they were going to start over. A very ludicrous thought. Sayaka was to be hers, to consecrate to her. Not to the Council, not to the Momobami clan, not to the President. She would devote herself to Kirari . The Tower was perfect to test Sayaka’s rationality and love and will against Yumeko’s… what? Baseless thoughts? Devious manipulations? 

"Do you want me to apologize?"

She should. For taking her for granted. For putting her at risk. For not being able to say anything more than her reasons to be enthralled by her.

"No, you wouldn't mean it." Sayaka sighed, a small sad smile pulling on her lips.

Maybe she was starting to act in such a pattern that Sayaka could follow her line of thought. She was right, she wouldn’t mean it. She didn’t regret it, not the Tower, not the gamble, not the fall (any of them). A rational person would carry guilt for the rest of their life but for Kirari there had not been a more truthful and beautiful way to say I love you than throwing themselves to the abyss. From the Tower, from the Election.

Sayaka walked the space between them, nudging Kirari’s knee to the side to make herself space. She budged, permitting to be invaded. A few years ago, the roles might have been reversed. In the present, Sayaka examined her face up close, peering down at Kirari. The flush in her features remained, a constant that seemed embedded in their every interaction. A fluttering hand traced against cold pale skin, and Kirari subdued to it.

“Are you at least happy to see me?” Kirari wondered, her breath caught in her throat.

 “Of course I am.” Sayaka objected immediately. “I’ve gone crazy without you. I missed you more than I can express.”

Sayaka’s hand cupped her cheek and she leaned into it, eyes never straying from dark purple ones. The woman ran her thumb against Kirari’s lips, parting them slightly.

“Do you love me?” Sayaka asked, hushed voice wavering, “You’ve never really said it.”

Yes. She did, more than words could say. The lump in her throat silenced her, words foreign, never said to anyone, and perhaps she doubted herself in being able to sound convincing. Everything in her screamed to project an aloof demeanor, years of inflected mannerisms a very hard vice to let go. She didn’t want to say the words in a way that seemed like a lie. Her confinement had helped, but maybe she needed more time. 

“I think you do. I- I believe so. You and I, after the Tower, we changed. I have always been afraid it was just another game, that I was just another small trinket on your cabinet of curiosities. But I think you do love me, and that I’m more than your ever-current fascination, more beyond someone intriguing to you.”

“You’ve doubted what I feel for you?” Her mouth felt like the desert.

“I have. I can’t comprehend why I would jump to my death for you, why would you fall with me. My heart has always dangled from your hands. I want to know where yours is. I can’t devote myself blindly again… It’s not healthy.”

She pushed Kirari by the shoulders, till she was laying flat on her back in the bed and Sayaka was hunched, hovering over her. “This is not Hyakkaou, there are no pets, no aquariums, no towers. This is a chance at life without ties and expectations from actors behind curtains.”

She pressed, making Kirari climb further into the bed. Sayaka crawled after her, still invading her, arms bracketing in place. For all the bravado, Sayaka couldn’t see Kirari in the eyes, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I want more than your fascination. I’ll give more than absolute devotion. But I need to be sure.”

Kirari felt her cheeks heat and knew her skin tinted pink. Her respiration was bordering on erratic, her body squirming under Sayaka’s, sprawled to her completely. She wasn’t sure what to say, how to proceed. She’s never done this. This was no power exhibit, no contest, no gamble. She was at her own mercy. Raising her hands she took Sayaka’s head in her hands and pulled her closer. 

“You… you are what I missed the most, Igarashi Sayaka. My heart remained with you all this time.”

She pulled gently and Sayaka complied easily. The full weight of her body rested over her chest, lips grazing Kirari’s in a pastel fashion, producing a small sigh. Nothing felt like this, like time stopped and there wasn’t anything else in the world. It wasn’t saccharine or bubbly, it would never be; it was deep, terse, earthy. Tasted as a place she could belong. 

A hand wandered by her side, tickling the way down the ribs and resting in her hip. Something burned where the hand landed and Kirari wished to push it further. Sleek legs wrapped around Sayaka, pulling her closer, no need to give an order to get her to do it. She didn’t want to give any more orders, she wanted Sayaka to keep propeling and going in the direction she wanted. Her hands snaked around Sayaka’s neck, finding their place in her hair, pulling slightly, earning a low grunt in response. 

“We need to talk about this, ” Sayaka said in between kisses, leaving her breathless, moving her caresses to her jaw, her tears dropping from her cheeks to Kirari’s, “I want this.”

“I’ve never known you to not take something you want.”

She flipped them, thighs now resting at Sayaka’s sides, lightly seated over her lap. Purple eyes were impossibly wide, crimson cheeks and neck twitched. It’s endearing, how she was still trying to hold her ground and her body was surrendering at the same time. Her hands found their place at Kirari’s hips, gripping them firmly.

She’s right, she was always right. They needed to talk about what happened, about why it happened. 

Right now her impulses were uncontrollable.

Her platinum hair cascaded against her face, if she had kept it long it would brush against the other woman. She bended, her thumbs cleared the tears from her face, her hands resting barely over Sayaka’s chest afterwards. 

“Is quite possible I’m not supplying all the answers you want. How you want them. Some affairs I won’t be able to explain to you, they will make no sense. Let it be clear, however, the answer to your main question is yes. It’s always been yes.”

I love you. 

She kissed Sayaka again, years of hunger not saciated yet. She could not get enough of the woman under her. When Sayaka kneaded her thighs and her buttocks, hands looking for the edge of her shirt, she rolled her hips experimentally. Sayaka moaned airily, and a switch flipped. Kirari clawed at Sayaka’s turtleneck until she managed to take it off, black bra on display, the other woman clumsily trying to undo Kirari’s pants. Kirari captured her hands, pinning them above Sayaka’s head.

She was going by instinct here, unfamiliar, only guided by what she had experimented on her own body. But when Sayaka gasped, blush spreading from her face to her chest, she gave in on a new delight of hers.

 

---

 

“If I follow correctly, Ririka would be your Horse.” She discriminated against the pieces left, there were only two options left.

“Knight is the proper term, but indeed.”

“Why?”

“The Knight has quite a unique set of movements.” Kirari smiled sweetly, almost mawkishly so.

Terano lowered her cup of tea, looking displeased, “Ririka is your twin, she is not unique by definition.”

“Once again, Terano, you are being too simplistic.” Kirari rolled her eyes, Terano might be less intelligent than she gave her credit for, “Nowadays, Ririka is completely her own person. You see, maybe this piece has some weakness to say the Bishop or the Rook, however, the Knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces to get to its destination. Perfectly useful to pass over any blockades.”

Yumi got closer again, removing the kettle from the table, giving Terano a look, “I don’t think Ririka-san fits the description there. After all, she has always been your weaker shadow.”

“Knights are somewhat vulnerable to pawns, but, placed in the debility of a defense structure, it cannot be attacked. A Queen and a Knight is a very powerful combination,” Kirari remembered all the games both sisters have subjected their family to, all of them really underestimating Ririka’s power, “perhaps not as strong as a Rook and a Queen, but far better than a Queen and a Bishop.”

“How was Ririka attacking a weak spot? How was she moving inside the danger zone? She merely played to Saotome’s advantage.”

“You were not paying attention, were you? Ririka took out some of your pawns easily. Nozomi and Rin. Miri fell ungracefully and Miyo certainly perceived the danger. Even when it was Mary who threw the punch, it was coerced by Ririka.”

“So Ririka took matters into her own hands, Kirari? That would mean you lied to me.”

“I never said I didn’t coerce Ririka to manipulate Mary. As far as I am concerned, that ambivalence is not lying.”

Terano scoffed, blowing air out of her nose in such a manner she appeared to be a dragon. Kirari was a tiger, never afraid of her mortal enemy.

“At the endgame, pawns that recoiled on their side of the board are quite threatened by a Knight. Did you notice our cousins scurrying away from her later in the election? A Bishop and a Knight is surely a deadly combination. By taking some members of the family out, Ririka put you against the ropes. By working with Saotome, she could’ve forced a checkmate against you.”

“Then why didn’t she? Where was that final blow?”

“Who knows. That’s a question you might have to ask her.”

 

---

 

Some habits never die. Waking up in the middle of the night was a way to have conversations with one another when no adult surveilled them. As children, they used their time at night to play or to hold themselves up after whatever hardship the Momobami clan had bestowed upon then. As teenagers, they used it to plan, to accomodate schemes and twists that allowed them to keep at the top of the food chain.

Late conversations were their thing up until the Election started. Then, the quiet and alone moments together stopped, but Ririka could always hear Kirari up, moving about her room. Ririka wondered why would Kirari wake up at three am on the dot if she was not searching to talk to her. She asked herself if the both of them could ever outgrow the habit, or if it would be something they had in common for the rest of their lives. 

She was sinking a bag of tea on a steaming cup of water when she heard a door open. She looked at the clock on the wall, it was barely past three.

A very disheveled Kirari padded out of Sayaka’s room, looking fully awake. She ran a hand through her platinum locks, smoothing them out. Her make up was smudged around her eyes and a barely there hue of blue still tinted her lips. What amused Ririka the most was probably seeing Kirari in an oversized TMU shirt, one who she had seen Sayaka wear countless times as pajamas. The pajama shorts were not hers either, fitting a bit more taut on her hips that they did on Sayaka.

“It is quite clear you are trying to hide your glee, let’s keep it like so.” As expected, her sister’s voice was not groggy with sleep. She walked softly, until she reached the kitchen where Ririka was near the counter. 

“I can’t help it,” Ririka tried her best to hide her grin behind her mug of tea, “there’s never being a time I’ve seen you using anything but a nightgown for bedtime.”

“You are not faring any better.”

Ririka shrugged, her long sleeved pajama shirt was snuggly enough for her, she loved to wear it to bed. She took another sip of her drink, watching her sister run her thumbs under her eyes, whipping some of her eyeliner away.

“Enjoyed yourself last night?”

Kirari had never swatted her away, so when the back of her hand collided with her shoulder, Ririka chuckled, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Hush now.” Kirari’s small smile betrayed her, eyes side gazing equally blue eyes. 

They remained silent, Ririka enjoying her tea, Kirari leaned against the counter. 

“I didn’t know if I was the only one that still woke up at night. It's nice to know some things remain the same. It permits me to gain some footing.” Kirari’s voice was neutral, even when it was a vulnerable admittance. 

“In fear you might recoil again, I’ll ask: are you alright?” 

Kirari took a deep breath, pondering. Ririka studied her closer, her hair was shorter, still soft and shiny. Her skin remained pale, flawless, with no signs of injury. She didn’t look any skinnier, which brought some peace of mind to Ririka, endless moments worrying in which kind of conditions Terano was to recluding her sister. Perhaps the only minor change she could detect was her sister’s eyes. They seemed to have lost some of the mischievous glint to them. 

“It’s odd that’s the question you ask over and over. I’m here, therefore, I am ok.”

“It is not a deductive statement.”

“And yet is the best answer I can procure.” Kirari shifted, her hip resting against the counter, arms crossed. “Everything shifted and moved forward. Alluring, isn’t it? How everything can continue when you are excluded from the equation. One could say, after everything I did, I had that coming.”

“That remains not being an answer.”

Kirari giggled, “It probably isn’t. If it soothes you, what I feel right now is out of place. A very alien feeling. I guess that's what five years away will do to you.”

Ririka put away her mug, letting it in the sink. She knew turning on the faucet wouldn’t disturb Mary, the woman slept like a log. Sayaka could be a very light sleeper to loud noises though.

“Why did she let you go early? Knowing Terano, she would have milked every second she could. Prolong it if possible.”

“You’re guess is as good as mine.” Kirari responded, looking serious, “One day she just announced she was going to let me go. I don’t believe she is going to stay away.”

“You think she is going to take you off again?” The thought made Ririka feel uneasy. She just got back her sister, she didn’t want to worry about her going away again.

“No. However I wouldn’t put it past her to have me under surveillance, maybe making a visit or so herself. Only time will tell.” 

Ririka tried to ignore the anxiety the idea of Terano lurking over them produced. Forgetting life bound to the Momobami clan had been quite easy, honestly. Anything was easier than living inside the nest of the beasts. A constant reminder of the past around her bothered her. Nevertheless, if that meant having Kirari once again, she could endure it. 

She walked closer to her sister, once more snaking her arm around Kirari’s, head resting on her shoulder. Kirari didn’t flinch as much this time. 

“Normal families do this, get used to it.”

After a beat, she could feel the weight of Kirari’s head resting over hers. 

“Aleatory future paths have never bothered me until today.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do now. Every plan was very short term, I believe a part of me never considered I’d have a life outside of Hyakkaou.”

That Ririka understood. With the clan, the students, the gambles, both Kirari and her always had a target painted on their foreheads. Most hesitated to pull the trigger, for further consequences, but there were a few just waiting their chance. Also, Momobami folk had never known happy endings. Madness, murders, forced marriages… The history of the clan was signed in tears and blood. No governess never really touched topics regarding the future, even as the head of the clan, nobody was guaranteed anything.

“You can now do whatever you want now.” Ririka snuggled closer to her sister, “It may take a while, but you’ll figure it out.”

“How very sage of you, time has really helped you grow.”

“Kirari?”

Both twins turned up to see a very sleepy Sayaka wobbling towards them, eyes still half closed.

“I’m so happy she can now call you by your actual name, I worried she’d keep calling you President out of custom.”

Kirari swatted Ririka for the second time for the night, earning a hearty laugh from her sister. Sayaka continued walking until she reached her, taking her by the wrist and pulling.

“Why are both of you awake on this ungodly hour? Back to bed, both of you.” Sayaka mumbled, slowly heading again towards her room.

Ririka let go of Kirari’s arm, “I should head back too. Mary won’t have even noticed, but I’d like to sleep a bit more. We have plenty to talk about, and also to plan.”

“Plan?” Kirari looked between the woman who was shallowly trying to return to bed and her sister.

“There are plans for the weekend,” Ririka said, trying not to laugh again at Sayaka whining for her sleep interruption, “Come to think about it, it was Mary’s idea. Probably she suggested them knowing you were coming home.”

Home was a word Ririka loved. She’s had houses, manors, states, but never a home. She watched as Sayaka successfully brought her sister back to her room, and then she turned out the lights and crawled herself back to bed. As expected, Mary was still out. She cuddled against her warmth, an arm automatically curling around her.

 

---

 

“Which piece was Yumeko on your board?”

Kirari smiled, honestly amused, “Oh no, no, Yumeko was no piece on the board." Placing the now empty tea cup in the saucer, she glanced at Terano with a twink in her eye, "Yumeko was the frantic child that knocked the board out of the table when the grown ups were playing.”

She stood up, pilling all her hair over one shoulder, carefully braiding the ends in a loose twist.

"This has been nice, but I'm afraid that I will be retiring to my bed. There is a quite interesting lecture about Stegodyphus dumicola waiting for me."

"Huh?" Yumi stepped forward, putting the kettle away in the kitchenette, rinsing it. Terano, for her part, looked annoyed to be dismissed.

"It is a type of spider, I believe it's commonly called African Social Spider. They live in colonies, family groups if you will, in very intricate, messy webs. I’ve been reading about it in one of the biology books you kindly lend me."

"What's so fascinating about a spider?"

"Oh, you see,” Kirari walked closer towards Terano, getting to her wheelchair and gripping the armrests, glancing down. She heard Yumi moving rapidly towards them, Terano not even flinching at the intrusion, “the Stegodyphus dumicola is known for their offspring devouring their own kin."