She winced as another wood splinter was viciously pulled out of her skin, blots of red splattering her skin and the hand that was pulling it out. "Ow, ow, ow, careful! You're going to pull my arm off at this rate, Sae!" she shouted, gripping her bed sheets with her uninjured arm. Her companion's eyes, already slanted in a fierce and angry gaze, narrowed even further at her complaints.

"I might as well pull your head off too for all the good it will do you, A-" Another wooden splint was being tugged out. "-ki-" Tug. "-ra." A final rip and the wooden needle came out, making Akira howl with pain.

Akira's pained face blanched at her sister-in-arms' look. Truly, Sae's rage never went beyond her actions and words, but this time her control slipped and her emotions were showing quite magnificently in her expression. She really must have pissed Sae off to a whole new level. "L- listen, Sae, I can do this myse-"

She stopped dead cold when Sae's icy glare pierced Akira's head.

Sighing, Akira resigned herself to her fate. Silence spread over the room, save for only the occasional sound of wood snapping, muttered cursing, and hissing of pain. This gave her time to think.

Akira hadn't thought it was a bad idea at the time, setting up a large army of wooden planks and seeing if she could take them out in one blow. The experiment would require an enormous amount of strength and speed, pushing her to test her abilities and see how far she had come. What she hadn't taken into account was that the sword being used was not her sword for the Hoshitori; it was a regular wooden practice katana. The result had been an explosion of wood as her katana destroyed ten boards and shattered on the eleventh, sending lethal splints of wood raining down upon her body.

The ones in her leg and stomach were easy enough to pull out, since the heavier and larger pieces had fallen there. Those she had removed while muttering to herself outside. It was only as she trudged back to her room to remove the smaller ones in her arm that Sae had caught her. At first, only extreme concern and worry had been present in Sae's eyes at the blood covering Akira's clothes and the limp that she walked with. That quickly turned to extreme anger and a barely-controlled fury upon learning how the girl had earned such injuries.

There was no teasing. No lecture. No biting comment. Sae grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her back to her room, leaving them in their current situation.

Akira thought this treatment was unwarranted. Sure, maybe she had miscalculated by a slight bit and gotten hurt, but she didn't regret her actions. Even though it was a wooden practice katana she had used, Akira felt that she would have completed the test had she been skillful enough. So now she had an accurate gauge of where her skill level fell. They were so close to obtaining B-rank...

"Whatever stupid thoughts you're thinking right now, drop them," Sae commanded, yanking the last medium size splint out of her bicep and now reaching for a pair of tweezers to extract the tinier specimens. Akira twitched. "I know where your thoughts are headed, Akira, being around you for so long-"

"And I still don't even know the tiniest bit about how your mind ticks," Akira darkly muttered.

"-and the point is that I know your thoughts are headed on the completely wrong track," Sae finished, eyes poised in a glare that dared Akira to interrupt her again with a snarky comment. "I don't care how much you thought destroying wood planks was going to help you. You still let yourself get hurt, and once you survive one stupid experiment, you'll go chasing after more. What will all our efforts have been for if your body fails now?"

Akira scowled. "I know what I'm doing."

"Of course you do," Sae frowned, the icy fury flickering behind her eyes increasing in intensity as a small splinter was ripped viciously out. "As you so obviously proved."

"Dammit, Sae! I'm not a kid! I can take care of myself-"

"Really? Not only do you hurt yourself, but you attempt to run to your room instead of seeking help from the nurse or even going to look for me, Akira." Another splinter was removed. By this point, Akira's arm hurt more from Sae's harsh treatment than the actual injuries themselves. "And now you get to look forward to the special disinfectant."

Akira frantically tried to pull her arm away and scramble off the bed to the door, having already had a taste of the aforementioned disinfectant and never intending to try it again, but Sae held her arm firmly in place. "Don't be a baby."

"Sae! P- please, not that disinfectant. Please!" Akira begged, using her one free hand in a pleading gesture.

"There's nothing to be afraid of. After all, it is from my fiance with love."

Akira gulped. The disinfectant was a particularly nasty brand, purposely made to be as painful as possible and also making the wound smart for days even after the skin healed. Sae, never trusting any gifts her fiance gave her, especially one received after she had brushed him off very harshly, used it on Akira after one of their earlier matches. Needless to say, the disinfectant was stored safely away after the initial use.

"Alright, alright! I'm sorry, Sae! I apologize for whacking those boards and not going for help, okay?" the normally prideful and brash girl bowed, head against her knees and nervous sweat trailing down the back of her neck. There were a few seconds of silence before she heard a sigh and her arm was let go. Almost immediately, Akira popped back up, eyebrows furrowed in confusion because the Inori Sae she knew was not so merciful, and even when she was, she would leave a biting comment in her place.

Sae noticed her stare, and a strange, melancholic look crossed her face before it vanished.

Okay, now that was very worrying. Sae never let her emotions show through, especially any sort of emotion linked to sadness. Gritting her teeth, Akira decided to push her pride away a little more. "... Sae, tell me what's wrong."

Sae seemed almost surprised at her request. She opened her mouth, and Akira already knew she wasn't going to get a direct answer, but then the opened mouth closed as if she were rethinking what she wanted to say. Akira let the situation lie, knowing that whatever Sae was keeping from her would eventually be brought to light if she was patient enough. With that, the wounded girl suddenly thrust her arm in front of Sae's face, muttering, "Just... use the disinfectant and bandage that up, will you?"

Again, Sae seemed bewildered at Akira's strange behavior. Though, Akira thought, they were both being pretty strange today. "O- okay," she agreed, somewhat hesitantly grasping Akira's arm.

There it was again: that strange look of melancholy which was entirely unfitting for the Sae she had known since ages ago.

Perhaps because of Akira's concern and genuine worry, or perhaps because whatever was worrying her was great enough to take her mind elsewhere, Sae gently applied the disinfectant to Akira's arm, making sure to cover every nick and incision, and wrapped the arm in strips of white bandages. Her hands, delicate and warm yet strong from the blade, brushed gently against her arm and shoulder and traveled towards her side to start cleaning the larger incisions on her stomach. From there, Sae paused and looked up with questioning eyes.

Despite how controlling and authoritative Sae seemed to be, she never crossed the line. Akira gave her a short and curt nod, eyes turned to the side and cheeks slightly red, and Sae grasped the bottom of her shirt and lifted. The bloodied shirt was tossed to the side, and the wounds on her chest could now be reached. Granted, there were only a few large gashes, but it was important to cover everything in order to prevent infection and further complications.

"Do you... remember what we came here for?"

Sae's voice cut through the thick silence like a hot knife through butter. Akira twitched at the sudden noise, disrupting Sae's careful handiwork and causing the wrappings around her chest to tumble down. Neither of them paid it heed.

"I have something to prove." Her low and strong voice was filled with conviction. "I'll show my father and the rest of those conceited bastards that you don't need to be a man to succeed, even if he doesn't acknowledge me as the successor." Her hand clenched into a fist, knuckles whitening with the pressure. "But... that's not what you're really asking about, is it?"

Sae shook her head.

"Heh, I guess you saw straight through me. Even though I-" Akira winced, cutting herself off at the uncomfortable pressure in her chest when she thought of the painful feeling of loneliness and abandonment from the people she called family. A tentative but firm hand gripped her own in reassurance and helped remove the pressure. Unbidden, a gentle smile spread across her lips. "Even though I want to be with my family, they'll never love me, and I know I should stop chasing after false love."

"What are you really aiming for, Akira?" Sae knew already, Akira thought, but she wanted verbal confirmation.

"Once we take the top, I will destroy the Hoshitori, thereby eliminating any means by which someone could take the top spot. From there, with that power, we will be free." Akira stared unflinchingly at Sae's eyes. "You will be free."

This seemed to be the answer Sae was waiting for, and it was an answer that appeared to disturb the sharp girl. Turning the situation around, Akira maneuvered her hand so that she was the one gripping Sae's in comfort. Though she hated physical contact, for Sae she would gladly break down her comfort zones.

"As I thought and feared. Akira, I'm not a princess that needs saving," Sae grimaced, trying to extract her hand from Akira's rough and wide ones. "Your goal should be for yourself."

"Though I might wish for father's acceptance, it will never happen. But because I was under that delusion for a long time, it caused your family to get you engaged to that-" Akira snarled, a bloodthirsty and cold fire burning in her dark eyes. "-bastard."

Sae shook her head. "Don't blame yourself for that. It was my choice to stay by your side and help you to your goal."

"If I hadn't existed, then there would be no need for that. You can't deny that when you started your journey to the Hoshitori, you left your parents without a child to train to become the successor of the business. And then that bastard came along, my cousin of all people, and suddenly it was convenient for you to marry him, a way to save the floundering business and take you away from this place," Akira growled, the shimmering fire glowing brighter in her eyes. "I cost you your future."

"No, Akira. Stop it. Regardless of where I had gone for education or how much my family needed me, I still would have end up trapped, forced to be with someone I don't love and forced to bear a burden that isn't mine," she stated. Her voice was strong and unwavering, but Akira noted that her eyes emitted a weary sorrow that a child of their age shouldn't even comprehend. "At least this way, I was allowed to choose a burden I wanted to carry: yours."

"Then allow me to carry yours too. I'll get you out of it, Sae. I promise."

Frustration was evident on Sae's face.

"You can't, Akira. Why can't you understand? The power that you seek is a power your father will not give you, and even if you acquired it, there is nothing you could do to convince my parents otherwise. The man is well-educated, rich, and willing to save the business. He has a reputation and the tenacity needed to survive in the world. Short of you marrying me yourself, I can't run." Sae's shoulders were shaking, and Akira couldn't see the expression on her tilted down face. Cautiously, she wrapped an arm around the girl's shoulders in an attempt to ease the shaking. "Besides, the burden from your family's power is not something I want to push on you for my sake."

"Never mind the details, Sae. I promised you I would get you out, so hold me to that promise. I've got a plan. I always do."

Sae looked up and shocked Akira with her tears. However, her face was of mirrored shock, as she could not believe there was a way out. Not that she was stupid but that there honestly wasn't a logical way out of their predicament. Only one word was on her mind.

"How?"

Akira smirked, her confidence seeming to calm the crying girl down. "How, you ask? Didn't you just say that I can't? That I couldn't get you out?" Despite herself, Sae found herself smiling a little and shoved the arrogant girl away from herself and down on the bed.

"Shut up and tell me, Akira. Stop beating around the bush," she pouted. Akira wasn't going to let this opportunity pass, since Sae rarely let her guard down.

"Which is it that you want me to do? Shut up? Or tell you-" A pillow smashed into her face. "Dammit, Sae!" Try as she might, she could never one-up the Inori.

"You better not be leading me on here."

"I'm not."

"Then spit it out already." Akira sat herself back up and sighed, rubbing the back of her neck in a nervous gesture.

"Obviously, the ideal plan would be to take the top and use the vast amount of that stupid Kaichou's money to buy your business as well as enough to convince your parents that marriage to, uh... someone else would be preferable. Hopefully, I'll also be able to entice my father with that money and have some of his support in getting rid of my annoying ass cousin."

"That's it?" Sae's incredulous expression wasn't unfounded.

"That's the ideal plan. Of course, things don't always go as expected, right?"

"Geez, Akira. You need to be more detailed with these things."

"That's what you're for, right? Fleshing things out and fixing my mistakes."

"So you're just automatically assuming that I'll always be here to help you along."

"What, you're not? I'm stealing you away from your fiance, and that's what I get?"

"Mikado Akira, what are you suggesting here? My, my, I didn't think you were into me!"

"D- dammit, Sae! That's not what I meant!"

No matter how angry or red-faced Akira was, she was immensely relieved to hear Sae's lighthearted giggle, even if it was at her expense. They both knew that Akira had made up that plan on the spot, but it was a start at least. They had spent the entire journey thus far flailing along and on Akira's whim with nothing more than a drive to keep pushing ahead, lest they lose the only thing they had for themselves: their swords.

"Thank you, though."

"For what?"

"For trying to get your cousin out of my life."

"Hey, I don't like the guy either. It's a win-win for us. Let's topple that Kaichou's throne, yeah?"

"Yes, let's."


A/N: Rushed ending is rushed. And OOC-ness everywhere. I sincerely apologize.

I fell in love with HayatexBlade before finals, so that was a right mess. Also, I want to apologize again for the medical and physical inaccuracy of the possibility of wood chips doing that to a person. Just... leave that shrouded in mystery. Ahaha.

This was written on a whim, a combination of me wondering why the hell Akira and Sae want that top spot for themselves and why they want to get rid of the Hoshitori. That was probably very poor guesswork, but eh... I'm not a very good Sherlock Holmes. With that said, please let me know what you think. Thank you for reading!