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“Ririka.”

The woman in question was sitting on the ground, mask fastened around her face, arms and legs completely limp, extended as much as they could. It was unsettling watching her like this, as a ragged doll discarded on the floor, with nothing keeping her upright. She had been like this for about thirty minutes now, after banging at Mary's apartment door and allowing herself in without asking. Very unlike the girl that sometimes needed to be told twice that she could go in. No sound came out of her, the voice distorter unused. 

Mary was about to flip out. 

“Ririka, talk to me. What the hell happened?”

Everything had started spiraling into an enormous pile of shit the second Mary lost the final election match against Terano. The title of Student Council President slipped out of Mary’s grasp by the mere whim of fortune and she hated herself for that. Mary, losing against a Momobami freak? Pathetic. Terano had seen right through her eyes, managed to overturn her own game against her, all in a will a thousand times stronger, fueled by pure loathing toward the sister of the woman with her.

Embers couldn’t burn down a tree with such a thick crust.

Losing had implications, and everyone inside the zone of impact were starting to suffer the consequences. The moment Yomozuki had declared the official winner of the Student Election, everything crashed and collapsed. Not even 24 hours passed and the Momobami freaks had gotten their hands on Kirari, keeping her under some sort of reclusion. For her part, Ririka was not exactly under custody, but she was being chased after, completely under surveillance. 

The older Momobami sister tried to put distance with Mary, knowing she could get in a crossfire at any moment. Mary didn’t give a damn about that, and made sure Ririka stayed with her, considering the Momobami manor was not precisely the safest place without any other inhabitant there. Every servant had been fired, the property stripped of everything in the blink of an eye.

Hyakkaou was in disarray, the house pet system collapsing under Terano’s few first orders, the Student Council disbanded. New members were elected, through a proper voting system. Evidently, the votes were swindled by various actors, in favor of the Momobami clan. The only member withstanding was Yomozuki keeping her rank. Igarashi was nowhere to be found.

Ririka remained unmoving, and Mary’s temper was flaring, she had been preoccupied. A few days back, a black envelope marked with the Totobami clan kanji was delivered to Ririka by the hands of Miroslava. The tall woman disappeared as fast as she came. No member of the Clan had directly addressed her beyond sporadic communications, all delivered by letters. 

When Kirari was gone, they only noticed all she had was an empty room, devoid of any belongings of her twin. Ririka had called Mary, voice as cold as void as ever, unable to react. 

Mary crouched, leveling herself with Ririka, trying to get to look at her in the eyes. The damn mask was obstructing her face, the cynical smile sculpted into it grotesque against the lifeless body it rested in. 

“For the love of God, Ririka, talk to me. You were gone for three days ,” Mary ran a frustrated hand around her face, she was starting to freak out. Trying with all her might, she schooled her voice as much as she could, “I wasn’t sure if you were ok.”

Silence filled the room once again and Mary was at a loss. Even when she had wanted to, there was no way she could assist the meeting. The letter only contained an address, an hour and a date. Given how pale Ririka turned the moment her eyes landed in the information, Mary knew it was bad. Real bad. She had argued with Ririka the days prior to the Clan meeting she’d go with her as far as the Momobami’s would let her. Neither had a fucking clue what Ririka would be facing, but Mary was sure she was in danger. She stated she would not let her go alone. 

It’s going to be worse if you go. They might use you against us. 

So reluctantly, Mary let her go, being fetched by two burly men that paid no mind to Mary.  From the window of the apartment, she watched Ririka being hoisted to a black SUV with darkened windows.

With nothing else for Mary to do she had waited. And waited. Probably even carved a hole on the carpet of the apartment as she paced tireless around every single room. Going to Hyakkaou right now sounded like a suicidal mission, with no one guarding her back. She could not count with Suzui, and even less so with Yumeko...

Being alone had driven her crazy, and the constant paranoia she now lived in didn’t help. She looked out of the window every now and them, seeing the usual stranger at the end of the hall. Ririka was not the only one Terano was keeping an eye on. 

Seventy two hours went by painfully slowly. Mary could not sleep or eat much. She was really going crazy. And then, her soul returned to her body the moment Ririka bulldozed her way into the apartment. 

But even though she was extremely relieved to see Ririka in one piece, she was growing beyond frustrated, “Alright, that’s it. You are going to take that stupid thing off and you are going to talk to me, goddammit-”

Her hand flew up, grasping the mask firmly in between her fingers. When she pulled, Ririka clutched her wrist, nails digging, making Mary hiss. She tried to yank both her hand and the offending object away from Ririka, but the arm was unmoving. 

“Ririka! What the fuck! Let go of me!”

No sound came out of her, and Mary struggled to free herself. The grip on her wrist was not gentle, scratches painting her skin with every attempt to release herself. Grunting, Mary used her fist to punch Ririka by the shoulder, only to get it caught mid air against an agile  palm. That kind of speed and reflexes should not be there, too much dexterity to be mere luck. 

“Fuck you, Ririka! Cut the bullshit!”

“Let go of the mask.”

An unpleasant shiver ran through Mary, the robotic voice one of the most horrible sounds she’s ever heard. Dry and monotone, it was nothing like Ririka. 

“No, you let go.”

The palm holding her fist pushed it forward, twisting it as it went forcing Mary’s fingers open. From there, Ririka's thumb snaked all the way to her palm, twisting further until Mary’s wrist was on fire in a wrist lock. The pain was very well placed, the jolt climbing through her nerves enough to force her to release her grasp on the mask. Immediately, Ririka dropped her arms again. 

“You could have broken my wrist, asshole.”

Small indents in the form of half moons colored pinkish skin, the other arm pulsing in pain. The reaction had stunned the blonde, part of her anger threatening to shoot up but at the same time confused by this display. Ririka had never acted in any way that could be read as bodily violent. 

“I’m sorry.” A beat in silence passed, Ririka’s shoulders dropped, her head hung. Barely breathing, she continued talking, “I was banished from the clan.”

“You what?”

“I was banished. Everything is gone now.”

Mary was stupefied for a second. She had considered it, there was a real possibility that both sisters would get cut off, left to nothing. Unsponkenly, both Ririka and Mary were bracing for it. Ririka being forced to abandon her post as part of the Momobami clan put her in a very precarious position. 

But it was too simple. Too easy. Terano didn’t strike her as the kind of person that would let something be, not taking retaliation. Anyone with eyes knew Terano despised Kirari with every cell of her body, but Ririka had always been Kirari’s body and eyes. 

Mary frowned, “That’s not everything. Spit it out.”

Ririka’s shoulders tensed, her back slumping forward even more, hands clenched into fists. The locks of her long hair flowed, dripping at the sides of her face, a curtain hiding the already concealed face.

“She is gone.” The voice was tiny, even with the low tone the distorter gave her.

Something dropped in Mary’s stomach, a cold sensation creeping up her spine. “Who?”

“They took her away. She's gone.”

“Who Ririka? Who are you talking about?” She didn’t need to be told, really. Yet, she needed to be sure. With the clan, with Hyakkaou, all information had to be crystal clear.

“She- She forced me… She said that I had no choice, she…” The mechanical voice broke, a sharp intake of breath resounding through, “They imprisoned her Mary. They are going to keep her captive.”

Mary slumped beside her, face frozen.

“Kirari-” Her hands pressed against the mask, knuckles turning white as they flexed around it “I don’t know if she is going to come back.”

 

  --

 

With some effort, Mary managed to hoist Ririka up and sank her into the couch. She let herself be picked up and moved, barely cooperating as Mary snapped at her because she was taller and heavier, so Mary could not carry her properly. Mechanically, she obeyed, doing the bare minimum. The fog that invaded her brain was too thick, a numb feeling overtaking her.

Satisfied she was upright and seated, Mary mentioned something about tea and kitchen, but as a broken radio the sound was fuzzy, at best. The ringing in Ririka's ears befuddled her, the room spinning. Events played over and over in her head, memories flashing fast. When had it all gone so wrong? How could she let all of this happen?

The Election. 

Kirari leaving her aside. 

We don’t blend enough anymore. 

Ririka had not been strong enough. Imposing enough. Terano, the elders, the rest of the heirs. They all had been there, anxiously being the jury of the trial. They all were ready to yell off with their heads to the twins. The wolves in the family had been waiting for years to gang up against leaders. They got their chance and they didn’t hesitate to jump. 

How could she let that happen?

Her skin stung, and her arms wrapped around her a little. Her long sleeved shirt disguised the marks of harsh palms clutching at her, blocking her, battling her efforts to barrage forward and reach for her sister. Kirari had simply waved at her, small smile in her lips, eyes as mirthful as ever.

Among all the turbulent emotions, she’s awfully appalled by her sister. 

“Hands up.”

A mug of steaming tea was pushed into her as soon as her arms moved in their own accord. The object burned, too hot to the touch. Ririka flinched, but said nothing, she didn’t trust the knot in her throat to let her speak. Much less, complain. At least, the prickling sensation in her hands matched everything she was feeling on the inside. 

Mary roamed her eyes about her, face conflicted. Ririka could sense the anger in her, too much time had been spent together, not as shadows but as partners. Ririka’s eyes were always keen, they had to be. Always searching for that off-detail that gave her enemy away. By now, she’s memorized Mary’s expressions, yet not out of distrust. All the contrary. Her expression was tense, as if she was pondering her next move. 

Stepping back, Mary crouched a little, using her hands to pull the coffee table forward, the furniture touching the back of her legs. With no manners, she sat on the table, cranking up her head a bit to level her glare to Ririka.

“You need to talk to me.” Her brows described a deep arch, sinking so much it should hurt. The straight line on pinkish lips was taut, forced, “I need to know what happened.”

“I can’t- I shouldn’t…”

“There’s a lot of stuff we shouldn’t do, however, here we are. You have to start spilling so I can assess how fucked up everything is. You are already screwed, out of the loony house and thrown away. If that’s not reason enough for you to tell me anything, maybe your sister being held hostage is. ”

Every single ounce of air left Ririka’s lungs, a strong urge to heave and vomit shaking her. 

“I-”

Mary leant forward, a huge bout of air flaring her nose. She extended her hand, placing it in Ririka’s knee. The Momobami sister didn’t know what burned more: the steaming cup of tea or Mary’s touch.

“Ririka, trust me.”

She did. 

 

--

 

“Nice to see you could join us, Ririka.”

Sometimes, Ririka wished she could just slap some sense into her sister, nerves on edge at the nonchalant attitude she always sported.

The scene around them was eerily familiar. The room dimly illuminated, enclosing walls letting little air to breathe comfortably. A stiff atmosphere encompassing a place haunted by envious ghosts and violent memories. The difference, the huge looming gap in between instances of her visits here, was sitting side by side with her sister, in civilian clothes, surrounded by every wolf she had ever hated. 

She felt really uneasy, tugging at the ends of her sleeves as subtly as she could. With her face devoid of it’s masks, both the grimmy theatrical smile or a blue tinted grin, she felt ineffectual. It had always been Kirari here, the one with the frosting touch and the piercing words to keep the wolves at bay. Even when it wasn’t Kirari’s body who was there, Kirari’s mind and spirit was the one that could survive inside the walls.

Responding to her cordial greeting with silence, she glanced at her sister. Completely put together, it seemed like Kirari was just waiting for a very tiring meeting to start. As if they were inside the Student Council Room, listening to some useless student. But this was not the case. This was a fight or flight situation and Ririka was not sure they had enough cards in their hands for neither. 

Ririka’s face was impassive, as they have taught her to be, no sign of twitching muscles, trembling slip, frowning brows. With time, she had mastered the art of being a blank canvas, one no one but her sister was allowed to paint. Perhaps Kirari was right, and they didn’t blend anymore, as Kirari’s azure eyes scrutinized twin ones and zeroed on something that should not be there. Kirari’s sharp pupils laser-focussed into an unknown that Ririka could not pinpoint, and the soft smile replacing an amused smirk just deepened her nervousness. 

 Before she could speak, the shoji behind them opened, letting the last remains of sunlight penetrate. Marching in time, every single one of the defeated presidential candidates from the Momobami families took their posts around the twins. Terano and Yumi were the last to arrive, fitting as Terano had been the last woman standing. 

“Let’s not waste any more time on this. There is no point in discussing as I made up my mind. This will be my first command as new head of the Momobami Family.”

 

--

 

Half-eaten burgers were set aside in the kitchen, Mary diligently wrapping them in the same wrapper they came in. Trying to lift Ririka’s spirits through food usually worked. Today it was not the case, as she could barely stomach anything Mary offered her. This was beyond feeling sad, or stressed. This was… impossible. She had to recognize it was fruitless to manage this as something so mundane as a bad day.

“I have nowhere to go.”

Ririka’s tiny voice snapped her out of the chore, a chill running down her spine. She’s heard a lot of voices from the other woman, the shy, timid girl without a mask, the cold, blunt, merciless gambler. The happy, kind of excited voice of someone that could enjoy little moments every now and then, even when everything was a mess.

However, she’s never heard her sound so… defeated. It pissed her off.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” She slammed her hand against the kitchen counter, not bothering turning around to face Ririka. She felt hot all over, “You’ve been staying with me for days now. I was not about to kick you out before and even less now.”

Mary shoved the burgers into the fridge, pushing the door shut with more force than needed. 

“I don’t... have anything to offer…”

The force with which Mary whipped around made her golden hair flutter and lash against her neck. She stared hard at the other woman, whose eyes were firmly fixed in the hands in her lap. Silver hair once again dripped from behind her ears into her shoulders as she ducked her head. 

Mary was really, really pissed off. 

“No, you don’t. At least for the moment. Was I asking for something though?”

Probably barking and spewing words at a wounded woman was not the proper approach, but right now Mary didn’t even care. Did Ririka really think that lowly of her? Hadn’t they lived enough together by now?

“No?” Cerulean doe eyes met amber, and Ririka swore the water behind hers evaporated at pure flames. 

“Damn right I wasn’t,” Mary stomped to the living room, brashly pointing with her thumb the pile of boxes that stored whatever belongings Ririka was able to bring with her as she camped at Mary’s, “Get your ass to haul your stuff in and order it. I’m not picking boxes for you.”

Watching one of the (former) members of one of the most powerful clans in all Japan carrying boxes as she belonged to a moving company added to the list of bizarre events Mary had witnessed in her life. Yet, Ririka didn’t complain, just moving one box after the other, picking them up properly. Mary questioned if there were some aspects of Ririka she had assumed wrongly.

Sorting through some of the boxes, Ririka sat on the floor as she looked around for something more comfortable to wear. She threw aside some overly fancy clothing. She was probably going to get rid of it.

“Mary?”

The woman hummed in acknowledgement as she tucked a blanket over the couch for the uptenth night in a row. She had offered to share her bed with Ririka, but the woman had blushed and denied, saying she would be fine on the couch until they figured how long she would be staying with Mary. After today's events, the cover might as well stay on the couch indefinitely. 

“I- What I am going to do? I don’t have nothing left, no name, no money. Hyakkaou is going to eat me alive.”

Hyakkaou. The Academy was not something Mary was dueling at the moment. For all she cared, it would be best if they didn’t go back. But that bordered on the impossible. The shackles around their ankles cracked hard against the floor, one way or another with no way out of it, until graduation. 

Probably.

“Welcome to the real world, princess.” She walked up to where Ririka was seated, bending her knees, squatting to see Ririka at eye level. “Look, you still have your wits about you. You are sharp. You can make a few million at school very easily. You may not have a name to back you up or endless amounts of money, but you still got yourself. So suck it up.”

Doubt plagued rigid shoulders and void eyes. Mary was not having it.

“I didn’t have shit to my name, no safeguards. And I weaseled my way out of most of it. I survived. You will too.” Placing her hand on Ririka’s shoulders, she smirked. “Don’t get used to the pep talks.”

She stood up again, aware of the lost look on Ririka’s eyes, the struggle to grasp her words and hold on to them. This was not right, they were too young and not prepared to handle a situation like this. But this is what they were living, and there was no turning back. The real world would never understand the bubble anyone on Hyakkaou lived in. How there was no escape, just survival. 

Mary, herself, was scared shitless. This was just the beginning of another wave of hardship, she knew. A flash of blue hair and soft eyes plagued her. This was no time for her to second guess. Hesitating meant providing others with an opening. They could not afford to be weak. By now, she’d have to be cunning enough until Ririka was back on her feet.

She’d make sure everything would be alright. She had to. She could not let anyone else down. Brushing the top of silver strands, she sighed. When Ririka’s eyes met her, something tugged inside of her. “I’m glad you are ok.”

 

--

 

The blur of blue that wraps her smelled of violets and sweets, softly cradling her while she twirls inside the calm whirlpool. She’s floating, and she is secure enough to close her eyes as she sinks further and further into the deep sensation of warmth and serenity. She can’t help but feel a smile pulling out her lips, idle touches running along her fingers.

If I think of this as a step to becoming a winner, I can put up with just anything!

Mary’s longed this forever, it seems. She was so very tired, and she can’t even remember why. But now she glides in what feels like a sea of flowers, delicate, ethereal. 

Maybe she could stay there forever. Maybe she could enjoy this, for as long as she is alive.

Maybe, just maybe, this sea would want her to stay. 

I won’t let any of it bring me down!

Pale, pale skin brushed against the palms of her hands and Mary had an urge to wrap her fingers around the hand that’s touching hers. Intertwine their fingers and hold on to as a life line. 

I’ll do all I can! Whatever it takes to get rid of this badge!

Tsuzura beams at her, that dazzling smile she had that made Mary’s worries fly off her mind and inspired to strive for more. To fight for more. Mary had never lacked impel but something in Tsuzura just pushed her on and on and as long as Mary can fight, she will. For Tsuzura, for herself. 

I was so afraid, I’m always pulling you down, Mary-chan, I thought maybe you had given up on me, after all.

A violent hole in her gut caused her to gasp, and the soothing sensation around her turned cold and harsh. She felt herself pulled upward by the now raging whirlpool and Tsuzura’s hand slipped from hers, wide eyes afflicted with panic and a shadow that sucked the life out of violet, dulling them. Tsuzura sank rapidly and as much as Mary yelled and trashed she was still going up while blue hair fans out and Tsuzura free fell into the darkness.

I’m… still a mittens after all. 

No!

“NO!”

Mary crunched up and to the side, stumbling as she was at the edge of her bed. Losing her balance, she crashed against the floor before she could help herself. The impact did nothing to her, she didn’t quite register it. Her hair was stuck to her face and neck, thick drops of cold sweat drenching her. She’s drowning and the pressure on her chest menaced to suffocate her to death. 

Those dreams.

Her hands flew to her eyes, rubbing then with enough strength to hurt. She had gone a good handful of months without them. Why the Hell did they have to come back just now? 

Still in the dark, she used shaky legs to stand up. Her knees were going to bruise, probably. Her nightstand served her as a beacon, as she placed both hands over it while sucking in as much air as she could. Yanking open the drawer, she found a delicate flower hairpin. She clutched it, edges digging into her skin. 

“Mary, are you ok? I heard a noise.”

Ririka knocked her door, voice awfully awake for someone who just woke up. Confused, Mary checked the time on her phone. It was barely past 3:00 am. What the fuck was Ririka doing awake at that hour?

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

The hairpin got tucked again inside the drawer, safely preserved from the outside. A beat passed in which no one utters a word. 

That probably unnerved Ririka, “Can I come in?”

Mary wished to say no, “Sure.”

Clad in a soft sweater and some yoga pants, Ririka padded her way inside the room. She was completely alert. “What happened?”

“I just fell out of bed.”

A weight lifted out of her and Mary looked expectantly at her. “Oh. I thought… someone might’ve…”

It’s easy to follow her line of thought. With the current circumstances, how far-fetched was to think of someone barreling into the apartment?

“No, I just- I just rolled over.”

Ririka nodded, understanding. Her expression was soft, even though her lips pulled in a straight line, still worried. Mary hated the feeling of worrying her even more of what she already was. The other woman didn’t have to handle Mary’s nightmares, when they had nothing to do with her. 

Or they did. Ririka was in a very compromised position. One wrong move, a small whim of Terano, and Ririka might just… 

She shook her head. No, she won’t let that happen. Not again. 

“I’m fine, I was dreaming something stupid and fell off.”

“Ok.”

A tiny smile painted soft pink lips, eyes allaying. She angled her torso to turn around and excuse herself out of Mary’s room. Before she could catch herself, Mary reached and grabbed her by the wrist.

“Um- Would you mind… I-”

Ririka cocked her head, stuttering was not something anyone would associate with Mary.

“I-” Mary bit the inside of her check, resolve returning to her, “It’s dumb for you to keep sleeping in the couch. You are not going anywhere in the near future. You’ll fuck up your back. Stay here, we can share.”

The darkness couldn’t disguise the soft blush peppering alabaster skin, “Mary, I- I’m fine on the couch, you don’t need to…”

What was compelling Mary to ask this from Ririka was unclear. Probably, the idea of having her near meant she could keep and eye on her even when they slept. With any luck, having a body bugging her at night would allow her to avoid dreaming. Someone close might keep the demons away. 

“No, stay.”

Icy blue surrounded Mary for a moment, and she’s trying hard not to let herself compare big blue eyes with violet ones. 

Mary let go of Ririka's hand, as she nodded.

“Okay.”

 

--

 

Mary managed to convince Ririka to bunk in the apartment for a week before they returned to the Academy.

Or they were forced to return.

The sharp knock on the door startled them around 6:30am, as they sat on the small kitchen table. Mary regarded Ririka as her eyes turned from sleepy and relaxed to absolutely cold. By the corner of her eyes she sent an icy glare to the threshold. She placed down the fluffy bit of pancake she had prepared, measuredly into the plate. Once again the rattling on the door repeated, this time stronger. 

Menacing. 

“‘I’ll get-”

“No, stay here. Don’t move.” 

Sometimes the blond forgot Ririka was also a Momobami. Around her, a common sight were all soft edges, shy glances and as of late, sorrowful longing. But then she remembered her taking off her mask, going for a wild bet rising 30 times the wager, and zeroing Rin Obami with the coldest pair of eyes she had ever seen. 

So when she was commanded to stay put, she did. 

Ririka padded her way to the entrance, soundless. Her actions were calculated, first opening the door, probably just peeking an eye, to then opening it enough to reveal Miroslava on the other side. 

“Terano sends this. You are required to assist the classes appointed there. No exceptions. This is for Saotome-san. Same goes for her.”

If there were any other words uttered, they are out of range for Mary to hear, Miroslava only talking loud enough for Mary to listen to what concerned her. Ririka kept her shoulders in place and her posture perfectly still. The door closed a minute after and Ririka lingered where she stood. 

Mary took this as her cue to move, trying not to rush. 

Two black envelopes with the Totobami kanji embedded. Ririka had her eyes fixed on them, as if she could burn them with her eyes. 

“I guess it couldn’t last forever.”

A piece of paper had never weighed so much and valiantly Ririka was keeping it together, bearing responsibilities she should not hold. That wasn’t a burden she had by herself. Mary snatched them, bringing back Ririka from wherever her mind was. Opening both, the piece of paper inside each envelope gleamed in the morning light. 

“You should not be included in this.” Ririka whispered.

“Well, I am, because I chose to.”

“No. I forced you to. I- This is all my fault.”

 

--

 

“Ririka-san.”

Ririka and Mary did not make it to the gate of the Academy before they were halted by a tall and burly woman clad in a Hyakkaou uniform. She easily towered over them, her hair short and crisp, parted to the side. The white in her hair and her yellowish pupils were familiar, and Ririka just stared at her. 

“Manya.”

The older twin wished she could side-step and get in between Mary and the other woman without that calling too much attention from the Honebami in front of them. Manya had not even batted an eye toward Mary, yet she was still in the middle of a possible battleground. Her hand twitched a bit, she hated the feeling of being cornered as a dog.

Mary’s uncharacteristic silence unsettled her. 

“You received a set of instructions, you are expected to follow them to the dot.” She didn’t even blink while she talked, “I’m to escort you around campus to make sure you do not stray.”

That seemed to do it for Mary, “Wait a second, why the fu-”

“Saotome-san will be required to follow her specifications as well. Terano trusts Mary Saotome to act in the best interest of Ririka-san.”

The silence that followed caused Ririka to chance a glance at Mary by the tail of her eye. The woman was grinding her teeth, eyes on fire. It was quite simple to read in between the lines, Terano didn’t have to get her hands dirty to keep Mary in check. She trusted Mary’s righteousness not to put Ririka in a tight spot.

Ririka could give Terano credit for that, at her own expense.

“Is there any objection?”

“No.” Mary was quick to answer, not a drop of hesitation in her voice. That twisted Ririka’s heart in an indescribable way, all this mess… Mary didn’t deserve it. 

“Very well. You are free to follow your schedule, I’ll be taking Ririka-san to her  first class.”

Manya’s tone left no room for argument, and as she moved freeing the way it was clear she was inviting Mary to leave. 

“Play smart.” With a final frown thrown at Ririka, Mary left her post, heading inside through the gates. 

“Accompany me, Ririka-san.” Manya walked without waiting for her and Ririka had no choice but to come along, missing being the shadow of silver hair or golden treces. 

 

--

 

It’s an unpleasant surprise to find a black envelope in her seat by Mary’s last period. The obnoxious family kanji automatically boiled her blood, especially in the inevitability of it’s sentence. Wasn’t it enough she was tied to something very similar to a life plan?

Suzui and Itsuki eyed it with poorly disguised panic. “What… what does it say?”

Brief, concise, the message was simple.

You are required to present to the Student Council Lounge Room by 4:00pm.

With no other option, Mary found herself by the time appointed before rich mahogany doors, delicately carved. What could Terano want to discuss with her was alien to Mary, yet, here she was. She didn’t bother knocking, if she was summoned, she was barging in. 

“Mary, how kind of you to respond to this meeting.”

Her stomach made a somersault and her eyes threatened to bulge out of her skull. Kirari Momobami presented herself as composed as ever, lightly seated on the couch nearest the wall’s aquarium. Standing there, Mary’s brain ran a mile a minute. 

“What the fuck are you doing here?” The words blurt out of her mouth before she can think better of them, and yet it’s what she really needs to know. 

“I’m glad to see the Election’s result didn’t take your blunt edge off.”

Kirari Momobami outside her deep red and matras armor was a strange creature. The ruffled cuffs were gone, so were the braids and black ribbons. With her hair loose and her face void of blue makeup, the wicked smile dulled, the only feature preserving it’s usual sharpness azure eyes. The woman dressed in black slacks and a simple black dress shirt with the sleeves rolled to her elbows.

The ominous lack of indigo light and the empty aquariums stripped away the ambiance from it’s usual aura. 

“You are supposed to be gone.”

“A very accurate observation, nonetheless quite dense.” Kirari rolled her eyes, discontentment flashing briefly in a subtle scowl.

Mary could not help the flare in her temper; the last couple of days a blur of confusion, anger and worry. “What are you doing here? You were taken away by the loonies in your-”

“Excuse my lack of pleasantries, but I’m on a tight clock here.” Kirari stopped her, her hand showing her palm to Mary.

For some reason the tone of Kirari’s voice, missing it’s usual mirth, made Mary concede. If she observed closely, ivory skin could not hide incipient dark circles under her eyes. “Ok, speak.”

“My sister might have put you up to date with the precarious situation I am under.”

“She did. That’s why I don’t know what the fuck are you doing here. Does Terano know about this?”

Kirari folded her hands neatly across her knee, one leg resting above the other, “She was the one orchastating this.”

“Why would Terano do something for you?”

Previously blue lips curled deviously. “Let’s just say I offered a bargain she could not deny.”

“So you are not really imprisoned?” Mary placed her hands on her hips, trying to keep her ground. 

The image of Ririka, almost lifeless and broken on the floor, flashed on her memory. Memories never diminished in her and she was protective of the older twin. Mary had a special kind of resentment to Kirari, the hell she’s been living on Hyakkaou almost single handedly responsibility for the former Student Council President. But hurting and lying to her younger sister just forced Mary to see red. 

As if reading her mind, Kirari blinked, unbothered, “Oh, I am. This is borrowed time, you see. I probably have an hour left before I’m taken hostage again. Terano was just kind enough to lend me the room for a private conversation, as I no longer have control over it.”

“What do you want?”

“I know I might not be the person you would want to give a hand to, but I have a request that I think you might be kind enough to agree to.” Marry was baffled, Kirari just continued, “I need your help.”

“How the fuck can I help you? I can barely help Ririka as it is!”

It pained her to the bone, acknowledging how helpless, how useless she was in all of this. Playing the obedient student, staying away from Ririka on campus, not contacting in any way Sayaka Igarashi, attending classes and limiting gambles to selected individuals. Those were the rules set to her. The rules that would assure Ririka wouldn’t get in any more trouble than she already was.  

“Ririka is safe, at the moment. I made sure of it.”

The seriousness of Kirari’s words matched her resolved expression, her shoulders squaring and chin lifting up in defiance. The woman stood up, footfalls silent thanks to smooth heeled flats. Heading for the balcony, Kirari’s shadow projected dimly and small on the tiled floor. 

“As you are aware, I’m no longer the owner of my life, for a determined amount of time at least. You also have witnessed first hand my family’s approach to matters. You’ll understand it agitates me to not being the master of this aquarium no more, having dear fish swimming around.”

Mary huffed. “Probably should have thought about that before throwing that damn circus.”

“I don’t pretend for you to understand my actions.” She didn’t even glance above her shoulder, barely intertwining her hands on the small of her back. 

“Thankfully I don’t.” Mary marched, decided, stomps breaking the hazy and heavy atmosphere. She was losing her patience and for a woman with limited time, Kirari really liked to dilate senseless topics. “I thought you cared about Ririka enough not to put her in a fucking cross-fire.”

“As I said. I took care of it. Enough for now.” The novelty of the rise on velvety notes halted Mary once again. In all her crudeness, Kirari has never been one to use loud words as a menace. Her wicked tongue and chaotic mind were strong enough. This Kirari felt… tired, “I need a set of eyes while I am away. Terano is a woman of her word, but It would calm my mind to know everything is alright with my sister.”

Turning, her eyes were stone cold.

“I might not be someone you appreciate or even trust, but I’ve seen the way you have treated Ririka. What I’m asking for is a simple update every once in a while, just to now she is ok.”

Everything Kirari did was crafted, the woman not only able to create structures that emerged from the earth but a skillful master planner. When Ririka seeked Mary out, her first suspicion was that it was an endeavour assigned by the younger twin. One that bloomed into a partnership that would be unlikely in any other escenario. Perhaps, it had really been an endeavour, but really Mary’s, not so much Ririka’s. 

“You are not dumb enough to think that’s something I’ll be able to do. Terano is going to dump you under a rock.”

“You’ll be surprised how much terrain I already covered.” Once again, why did everything seem like it was drawn and printed in this woman’s benefit? “I’m not foolish enough to think I can get away with everything without studying my cards.”

Light pads carried the former President to Mary, this time, a respectful distance separating them. Mary leveled her with a glare, Kirari merely hiking her eyebrow, the soft line of her lips in a small, mischievous smile. “When I arrange the how, I'll let you know.”

“Why are you so sure I’d help you. You said so yourself, I don’t like you.”

“Yet, you haven’t refused my request. Mary Saotome is not prone to listen to something she is not interested with. Your appreciation for my sister shone when you cheered her to not give me her votes. She beat me because of you.”

This fucking bitch.

Refusing was not an option when this could be something that gave her some power over the situation. “Are you sure Ririka is going to be ok?” 

“She will. They will.”

Ah, Kirari had really lost everything in a gamble that she signed up herself to. 

“I hope this all pays off for whatever the hell you wanted too. To me, this is just the result of a petty whim.”

“Perhaps, but at least I can be proud to follow through with it.”