Ayane made sure to return to her own room before bed. The reality of what she'd done didn't really hit her until she was back behind the safety of her own bedroom door, and when it did it was enough that she found herself leaning against the door for support, her whole body trembling.
She'd had sex with Shizuka - her and Keiko both at the same time, even - and not a single part of her had objected at the time. No, she’d gotten totally into it, all thoughts of embarrassment or shame completely driven from her mind by Keiko’s effortless dominance. It was disturbing how well they'd clicked, while knowing barely anything about each other. Part of her hungered to dive headlong into this relationship, but she was frightened that sex was all there was between them. Ayane wanted more than that. She wanted, well, a real girlfriend.
She wasn’t going to be able to sort it out while her pulse was pounding like this, she decided. It was a bit difficult for sleep to claim her, but she ultimately managed it. By the time she was done with her morning exercises the next day, everyone else had also roused. Shizuka was looking a bit nervous, but Keiko looked as happy as could be.
“So, what shall we do today?” Keiko asked over breakfast.
“I picked up some swimsuits for me and Sayuri day before yesterday.” Haruko said, giving the other girls a grin. “Wanna take a train down to Okinawa and hit up the beach? We could book a hotel, make an overnight trip of it.”
“It’s an interesting proposition,” Keiko admitted, “but I didn’t pack a swimsuit. Though Ayane and I could always go shopping today, and we can leave tonight?”
“Ah?” Ayane blushed a bit at the suggestion. “Uh, yeah, sure.” Perhaps, part of her thought, this was a chance to soothe her fears.
Ayane was flushed with nervousness as the pair of girls made their way to the mall for what was, if she was honest with herself, their first date. She’d had sex with Keiko three nights in a row now, but they hadn’t spent much time yet getting to know each other outside of that and their new shared secret. For all she knew, they weren’t compatible at all. It was hard to feel like they weren’t, though, when just having Keiko’s arm draped around her waist as they walked made her pulse quicken. Shizuka had come along, but was following at a distance at Keiko’s request.
“So, ah, where to first?” Ayane asked once they arrived at the mall.
“Let’s take care of business first,” Keiko replied, “but after that, perhaps we could visit the bookstore? Do you like reading manga?”
“Y-yeah, I do.” Ayane admitted. “Mostly shounen stuff, though. I don’t know if you like that kind of thing...?”
“I do, in fact.” Keiko said with a smile that made Ayane’s heart flutter. “I read shoujo more often, but perhaps you could make some recommendations. We’ll need some reading material for the train, after all.”
Ayane fought off the reflex to head straight for the arena when they arrived. It was already a reflex, she thought to herself, even though it had only been a week since she'd started battling. It was a little scary how quickly all this was becoming natural to her.
They started off by browsing the various clothing retailers, examining their swimsuit options.
“You need a two-piece.” Keiko insisted, pulling some choice selections off the shelves. “Hiding abs like yours would be a crime.”
Ayane blushed a bit at the praise. It wasn't the first time that someone had complimented her on her athleticism, but hearing it from Keiko felt different. In her nervousness, it took her some time to remember she needed to return the favor.
“Um, how about this one for you?” she offered as she pulled a white one-piece off the shelf. Keiko giggled at the suggestion.
“You know what happens when white clothes get wet, don’t you?” An impish smile formed on Keiko’s lips as she leaned in a bit. “Or is that what you were hoping for?”
“Erk-!” Ayane backed away, her cheeks burning red. The reaction prompted another giggle from Keiko.
“Relax, Ayane.” Keiko gently plucked the white swimsuit from Ayane's hands, as well as a black copy of the same swimsuit. “Come on, then, let’s see how well they fit.”
In Ayane’s flustered state, she couldn’t keep it together enough to object when Keiko drew the two of them into the same changing room and began shucking her clothes, smiling flirtatiously at her all the while.
“Come on, now,” Keiko teased, “hurry up and change.”
“R-Right...” Ayane hurried to obey, fumbling a bit with the straps of the red tankini on top of the pile. It was a simple enough sort, though, and soon both girls were in their swimsuits.
“What do you think...?” Ayane asked nervously as she posed for Keiko. It wasn't a risque swimsuit by any means, but still showed more skin than the ones she was used to wearing. Her eyes roamed across Keiko’s body to help distract herself from the embarrassment of posing. White really did suit her, Ayane thought, the one-piece adding to her princess-like appearance.
“You look wonderful.” Keiko said, looking Ayane up and down with open delight. Her gaze lingered particularly on Ayane's exposed midriff, drinking in the contours of her abs, and as it did her smile turned foxlike in that way it did when they were alone. “Mmm...good enough to eat~”
“Ah, Kei-mmph~!” Ayane found herself pressed up against the side of the stall as Keiko's lips found hers. Her eyes went wide and her body tensed: they couldn’t do this here, she thought to herself, not out in public. But there was that relentless teasing part of herself again, telling her that she wanted this, that Keiko was giving her exactly what she craved and all she had to do was let herself enjoy it. Slowly but surely, her tension began to relax...
But Keiko’s body relaxed as well, and after a moment Ayane realized the kissing had stopped seconds after it began. Their lips parted and Keiko collapsed against her, Ayane reflexively reaching up to support her before she could fall over. Keiko’s eyes had closed and her breathing slowed as if she’d fallen asleep. She hadn’t had a cataplectic attack since their first day together, and Ayane had almost forgotten about the condition.
Ayane carefully laid Keiko down and went for the tiny scroll case Shizuka had entrusted her with, tucked into one of her pockets. Compared to her human size, it was more like a pill, but she still had no trouble unscrewing it and pricking Keiko’s arm with the injector hidden inside. Keiko’s body jerked as she sucked in a breath.
“Are you alright?” Ayane asked. Keiko nodded as she sat up, leaning heavily against Ayane.
“Y-Yes...” Keiko shook her head. “I’m sorry, I...it had been a few days since the last time. I thought I was handling it better.”
With the shock breaking the spell of their raging hormones, Ayane realized just how fragile Keiko’s body felt compared to hers when the other girl leaned against her. She’d always known she was physically stronger, of course, but normally Keiko’s effortless dominance made her feel like putty. She’d forgotten how easily Keiko could break.
“That’s...what you live with?” Ayane asked, supporting Keiko while she steadied her breathing.
Keiko nodded wordlessly, and Ayane began to understand how Shizuka must have felt every day.
Neither girl was in the mood to try on clothes for much longer after that, so they went with their initial selections. Their clothes shopping done, the pair headed for the bookstore. Ayane's arm reflexively went around Keiko's waist as they walked, as if to brace her. Keiko leaned into the hug at first, but a bit of disappointment flickered in her eyes.
The pair browsed the shelves, with Ayane staying close to Keiko throughout.
“Here, let me get that for you.” Ayane said quickly, crouching down to pluck the book from the shelf. She did the same for one that was particularly high. Keiko’s expression stayed neutral, but each time the flicker in her eyes grew stronger.
Eventually they made their way to the food court, where Ayane laid eyes on an oden stand that looked appetizing. She and Keiko joined the line. Each girl ordered a bowl, and it was there that the growing tension finally came to a head.
“Here, I’ve got it.” Ayane said as the cashier provided them each with a freshly-filled bowl. She reached for Keiko’s, only for the other girl to pull it away.
“No, I’m quite alright.” Keiko said, prompting a worried look from Ayane.
“Are you sure? I can-”
“Ayane!” Keiko snapped. Ayane recoiled at the sudden anger in the other girl's eyes, her own widening in shock. Keiko saw this, and her glare softened into something sadder. “I'm not made of glass. I'm not.”
Ayane looked down, suddenly ashamed. “Keiko, I...”
“I don't need you to be protecting me from everything. I have Shizuka for that. What I need from you is...” She trailed off, then shook her head. “If we're going to be friends, or more than friends, then I want you to...”
“Excuse me, girls,” the cashier said testily, “but there are people in line?
The pair were suddenly aware that they were making a scene. Both girls bowed their heads in embarrassment and uttered apologies before they made their way to a table.
“I'm sorry.” Ayane said as they sat down, keeping her head bowed. Keiko sighed.
“No, some of it’s my fault. I had a good few days in a row, and I...I got carried away.” Keiko shook her head, as Ayane lifted hers. “I’m not physically fragile, Ayane. I’ve just had to hold back for so long that being with you has been...I don't know if there's a better word to describe it than simply intoxicating.”
Keiko reached across the table and took Ayane’s hand in hers.
“You’re the first person Shizuka's ever let me go out with alone. That speaks volumes to just how much she already trusts you. I love her, but I don’t want you to be her.” Keiko gently squeezed Ayane’s hand as the two girls locked eyes. “I want you to be my girlfriend, not my caretaker. Can you do that for me, please?”
Ayane nodded, and squeezed Keiko's hand in return. “Alright. No more treating you like glass, promise.”
The smile that Keiko gave her was heart-melting. “Thank you. I'll be more careful from now on, promise.”
With promises exchanged and the tension broken, the two began to eat with renewed comfort. Keiko reached across the table to pluck an egg from Ayane’s bowl, only to realize by the time she’d withdrawn her hand that Ayane had snatched one of her own. Keiko gave Ayane an amused smile as she noticed.
“That’s my ninja~”
Eventually the pair finished their meal, after which Ayane made her way towards the sporting goods store that stood at the far end of the mall. It was one of the few stores that rivaled the arena for size, laden with racks of equipment for biking, fishing, and all manner of athletics.
“My, there’s quite the selection.” Keiko mused as they entered. “Anything in particular that you’re looking for?”
“Travel gear.” Ayane said. “Weight bands, stuff we can use at the hotel.”
“We?” Keiko asked with a raised eyebrow that made Ayane blush.
“I was...well, I was wondering if maybe you’d like to start joining me for my morning workouts?”
“Oh...?” Keiko considered this proposal, then nodded. “Yes, I’d like to try that.”
Together the girls picked out some portable equipment, small enough to fit in a suitcase and light enough for Keiko’s untrained frame. She might not have been made of glass, but she was still much weaker than the athletic Ayane, and would need to build herself up slowly.
Now properly laden with supplies, the pair prepared for their trip home. As they walked by the arena entrance, Ayane’s gaze couldn’t help but linger. She thought it was for just a moment, but then she felt Keiko’s hand on her shoulder.
“You want to go check on your rivals, right?”
Keiko gave her lover a warm smile. “It’s okay. Let’s just take a peek.”
The arena was as bustling as it had been the day before, with the tournament still going strong. Most of the day’s matches had already taken place while they were on their date, the records scrolling across the arena’s display boards. Ayane started looking for the results for the pair of Jinrais they’d fought the day before, but Keiko’s sharp eyes spotted something more interesting yet.
“Over there, Ayane.” Keiko tugged at Ayane’s sleeve and pointed towards the holosseum entrance, where Ikari and Kana could be seen resting on one side of the countertop. Both looked pretty badly beaten up, looking over their damaged equipment packs and making some repairs. Ayane supposed they were the only two members of their team, so they had to fight every day. Their match had been early, and according to the scoreboard they’d won it, so they’d probably been sitting there for at least a few hours. Before she even realized what she was doing, she’d approached them.
“You two alright?” she asked the pair of Jinrai sisters, who were startled at being spoken to that they almost fell off the counter.
Ikari was the first of the two to recover enough composure to speak. “Eh? Um, we’re fine! Just, y’know, just waiting for our master, ehe~”
“Do we know you?” Kana asked. Even compared to the quiet chill she’d spoken with yesterday, the suspicion in her voice was audible. Ayane quickly shook her head.
“No, no, you look like you’ve been there a while, that’s all. We’re heading home west, if you need a lift.”
The twins looked at each other, exchanging a conversation made up entirely of glances and rapid-fire gestures as the humans looked on. At the end of it, Kana sighed.
“We’d appreciate it, yes.” The indigo-haired ninja strapped her wingpack back on and hovered up to alight on Keiko’s bags, while Ikari slung the folded-up pack containing her extra arms over her shoulder and hopped up onto Ayane’s waiting perch.
“Thanks, miss...?” Ikari trailed off as she looked up.
“Ayane. This is Keiko.”
“Thanks, then, Ayane.” the blonde Jinrai replied. “I’m Ikari. This is my sister, Kana.” The fiery energy she’d had in her voice the day before was still present, but dulled by exhaustion. Her battery must have been running low on top of the damage she’d taken, Ayane thought.
“Nice to meet you, Ikari.” she said, trying her best to make it sound like it was the first time. Keiko had noticed their exhaustion as well, and with a glance she drew Ayane’s attention towards a vending machine for jellycans. The tiny beverages were cheap, and Ayane passed one to each Jinrai. “Here. You look like you’re about to pass out.”
“We can’t-” Ikari started to object, but Kana shot her a look that made her stop her objection and take the jellycan. “Um, th-thanks.” While embarrassed, she gulped down the can with the ravenous need of someone who hadn’t eaten in days. Kana sipped more slowly at the can she’d been provided as Ayane and Keiko left the mall with their new passengers, heading down the street.
“Where do you live?” Keiko asked, letting Kana have the perch that Shizuka usually occupied. Kana provided an address that wasn’t a long detour, along the route Ayane had walked to school as a student. She wasn’t deeply familiar with the particular house that they stopped at, though, whose lights were out with no sign of anybody home. The Jinrais were mostly silent through the trip, with Ayane unsure how to start a conversation with them that didn’t reveal her other identity, and hopped off when they got to the front yard.
“We can take it from here.” Ikari said, looking more pepped up after the jellycan. “Thanks again!”
“Safe travels.” Kana murmured. Ayane glanced back as she and Keiko walked away, but by the time she did, the ninjas had vanished from sight.
“Hey, Keiko, do you think those two were...?” She didn’t want to say the word masterless out loud in public, even if they were the only ones on the street.
“Mmm...one conversation wasn’t enough to say for sure,” Keiko replied, “but they certainly had that air, didn’t they? If they are, though, then what do you want to do?”
The query gave Ayane pause. “I...well, I don’t know yet. Let’s talk about it when we get home, alright?”
Ayane wasn’t sure about a lot of things yet, if she was honest with herself. Her world had been turned upside-down in the past few months, and she was playing so many of her days by ear that her future was still a total mystery. She didn’t even know for sure if she was still going to university at the end of the summer, or what she would do if she didn’t. Still, one thing had become clear today, she thought to herself as she wrapped an arm around Keiko’s shoulder, giving her a short hug that was loving rather than protective. Whatever the future had in store for her, she was going to face it together with her cousins, her sensei, and her girlfriend.