Okay I'm really not sure what happened with this one but it somehow became twice the length of the other chapters ahaha But I of course needed to write the other version of "meeting the parents" with Claudine meeting Maya's. This will be the 3rd and final installment of the 'parents' part of this fic, and after we'll go back to other oneshots! I just have no further ideas for this topic at the moment.

There are some nods to some of my other fics in here, maybe you'll pick up on them!

Disclaimer: I do not own Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.


Chapter 37. Tendos And Saijous (Part 3)

In the weeks and months since they had started dating, Maya had learned many new things about Claudine.

She had learned the true extent of her perseverance and her hardworking mindset.

She had learned her favorite foods and songs and books.

She had learned about the strengths she showed others, and the weaknesses she kept to herself.

She had learned about her more personal life and tendencies, like how she often talks in her sleep, how isn't always a morning person, her favorite position to be held in at night…

Maya had learned many, many things about her girlfriend since they'd started dating.

And there's one thing that strays a bit from the rest, something different that didn't involve hard work or casual phrases or cute moments.

Maya had learned that Saijou Claudine absolutely hates her parents.

Several instances had brought this topic upon them. Even before they had been romantically involved, Maya had barely ever mentioned her family to any of the others, and when she did it would be brief and distant. She'd told of how her parents were very serious, distinguished, people who expected only the best from her, and anything less was unacceptable.

Back then, Claudine had never said anything outright, but rather would just make distasteful expressions or huff and cross her arms and look away.

But since they had started dating, a few other incidents had occurred.

Once, Maya had received an unexpected call from her father that had simply dampened her evening and put her into a slump. Another time, her mother had evidently contacted the teachers behind Maya's back and tried to push to have them give her a leading role in a play where she hadn't been cast for it. And another time, her father had called Maya and demanded she abandon the play she was going to perform together with her friends in favor of coming back home to put on a show for his colleagues instead.

Each and every time, Claudine had found out one way or another, whether she'd simply suspected something or Maya had confided in her directly.

And every time, Claudine's reaction had been the same. Disgust. Outrage. Frustration. She would reveal a very fierce and protective side of herself and proceed to go off ranting about how they had no appreciation for Maya as a daughter or as a person.

She would tell Maya that her value as a human being wasn't tied to her ability to sway an audience onstage, as her parents had always told her. She would fume and hiss about Maya's parents until she had exhausted herself, but even then she was always certain to comfort Maya in whatever way possible. She would soften her voice and her expression, wrap her arms around Maya and let her cry, or cry with her.

She would always provide a safe place for her, somewhere warm and soft where Maya knew she was loved and accepted for who she was, not for who she was 'supposed to' be. Claudine let her know it was okay to be Maya, rather than a Tendo.

Claudine was the person who made Maya understand that 'home' was a feeling rather than a place.

She owed Claudine so much - more than words or actions could ever convey.

When Claudine had invited her to come back to France with her over their spring break that year to meet her own parents, Maya had accepted. Though Maya had made a bit of a blunder at first, in the end Claudine had gently corrected her, told her that she didn't have to be a "Tendo" when she was amongst Saijous. After that, Maya had easily won her parents' favor in just being herself, and she and Claudine had enjoyed a very fun and wonderful vacation together.

It was about a month after they'd returned to Seishou and continued with their classes when Maya had received a call.

Thankfully, Claudine had already been with Maya that evening as she'd answered her cell phone to hear her father's voice. Claudine had known immediately who it was, and her expression and body alike had stiffened just as much as Maya's had.

Essentially, he had invited Maya back home to join them for supper one evening. Not a banquet or a demonstration to show her off like usual, but just supper at their residence with only her parents and no one else.

Maya had been suspicious from the moment he'd made the offer, and Claudine had listened in all the while. She hadn't liked it either, and thus had made a demand.

"Absolutely not," Claudine had told her. "Don't go. Not unless I can come with you."

Maya had been both touched and even a little excited by that notion; though the last thing she wanted to do was drag Claudine further into this mess of a family, it was very reassuring for her to know that Claudine wouldn't mind getting involved if it meant Maya wouldn't have to face them alone.

And so Maya had proposed the idea to her father, who had considered it with flippant interest. In the end, he had agreed to Maya bringing company, though she could tell by his voice that he really wasn't concerned about any classmate of hers. Their call had ended shortly afterward, and the arrangement had been set.

And so, here they were.

Maya and Claudine presently step off the train together into a certain prefecture. Being they only planned to stay at Maya's residence for one evening, sleep there that night, and return to school the following morning, they each only have a small handbag with necessities and a change of clothes with them.

The train ride had lasted nearly two hours, and all the while Maya had been uneasy about all of this.

Even though Claudine had done her very best to calm her by listening to music together, or discussing fun topics, or letting Maya nap on her shoulder, what presides most strongly as they exit the station now is a foreboding sense of anxiety.

As they walk slowly through the bustling crowds, Claudine keeps a firm hold on Maya's hand, as she already seems rather distracted.

"Hey." Claudine tugs on her wrist and draws Maya's attention. Maya pauses briefly and looks to her, wondering what kind of expression she must be making right now. Claudine's eyes are soft and stern at the same time, and she keeps her voice low so only Maya can hear.

"Are you all right? We really don't have to do this, you know."

Claudine has been telling her this since the night of the phone call. She'd insisted Maya didn't have to go home if she didn't want to.

But Maya had known it would be best if she obey her parents to satisfy them from time to time, so she had been determined to go through with this. She's unspeakably relieved that Claudine would offer up her weekend to accompany her to a place where Maya knows neither of them will be enjoying themselves that much, but it just went to show how deeply Claudine cares for her.

She's been reminding Maya of her own freedom and her option to change her mind or turn around and tell them no after all for days. And Maya truly does appreciate it with all her heart, that Claudine is still trying to give her the option to escape for her own good. With a small smile, Maya lifts their hands to her lips and kisses Claudine's.

"I am all right," she murmurs. "Much more so being that you are here with me, Claudine. Truly, you did not have to do this-"

"We've gone over this already," Claudine grunts. "There's no way I'm letting you go back there alone. At least this way you'll have someone on your side." She persists with that soft yet fierce look in her eyes, the proof that she, too, is anxious about all of this, but more determined than anything to keep Maya safe.

After a moment of pause, Claudine curls her arm around Maya's shoulders and brings her close into a brief embrace.

"You've got me now, Maya. I'm with you."

Maya exhales, shocked to find it coming out rather shakily. She wraps her other arm around Claudine and pulls her in tight.

"Thank you, Claudine. Truly, I…" She can't properly put these feelings into words right now, but she trusts Claudine understands.

After a moment they ease apart, and the bustling crowds all around them bring them back into reality. With a shared glance, they keep hold of each other's hands and head for the exit.

"There should be a car waiting to collect us," Maya says.

It doesn't take her long to find the right one. While most other cars in the lot are ordinary, the Tendos posses only luxury vehicles. A shining black limousine with a recognizable license plate waits for them a little ways over.

Maya begins leading her to it, and when Claudine spots it her jaw drops for a second before tightening. She's very on-edge about finally meeting these people.

Sensing her unease, Maya offers a pacifying smile.

"Don't fret. I doubt they are here."

"Eh?" Claudine looks back to the limo. Only the driver has emerged to open the doors for them. She shakes her head in disbelief. "What kind of parents don't even come to pick up their own daughter from the station when they haven't seen her in months?"

"I presume they are still busy today." Maya makes such an excuse, looking down in front of them without meeting Claudine's eyes.

Even as the two of them head for the limo, passerby pause and step aside. Mutters of the name "Tendo" shuffle around them, and people gasp as they recognize the car and the girls walking toward it.

When they arrive, the driver greets them with a wordless bow. Maya does the same, then gets into the car. Claudine tries being a bit more vocal.

"Thank you for coming to get us."

But the man simply turns and heads back to the driver's seat.

Claudine gets in quietly beside Maya, arranging their bags to either side of them.

Once the doors have closed and the car has started moving, she can tell right away that Maya has stiffened like a rabbit being hunted. She's sitting up straight, trying to find something to focus her eyes on, but she's started to breathe a bit harshly.

Claudine moves closer. Keeping one of her hands on Maya's, she slips her other arm around the small of her back.

"Hey." She checks to ensure the driver can't see them before leaving a small kiss to Maya's cheek. "I'm here, remember? You're not alone with this, Maya."

Maya exhales slowly, tearing her gaze away from the velvet seats and casting them upon her instead.

"Yes. Thank you." Even her answer is a bit stiff, and her eyes are swirling with too much for Claudine to recognize all at once. She tightens her grip on Maya defensively.

"We can still turn back, you know."

But Maya shakes her head.

"No. I'll see this through properly. Thank you for accompanying me, Claudine."

"Of course."

The drive back to the Tendo residence is only about ten minutes. When they arrive at the property, evening is approaching.

The house is excessive, as is the land surrounding it. Clearly, the Tendos weren't at all shy about flaunting their wealth. Maya can't help but compare it to the Saijous home which she had recently visited. While very well-off themselves, Claudine's parents did not dress to make themselves appear better than others, nor did their home give off such an obnoxious air.

Where Maya's family used their property for banquets of only well-known and famous people, she imagined Claudine's family would invite anyone and everyone, and welcome all who showed up at their door.

As the limo rumbles to a halt, Maya doesn't move just yet. Claudine follows her lead and waits for the driver to open their doors for them.

Once they've stepped out and gathered their things, they come back together. However, when Claudine reaches for her hand again, Maya quietly pulls it out of her reach. Claudine casts her a curious look. The glance Maya returns to her is anguished, her smile tight and wobbling at the same time.

"Forgive me," she murmurs. "But I simply don't think we should- just yet, I mean-"

"It's all right," Claudine murmurs. "I'm sorry. Your family works differently, so just do what you need to."

Maya dips her head, already frazzled.

"My apologies."

"There's no need, Maya."

The truth is that, of course, Maya wants nothing more than to hold her hand right now. But she hadn't exactly explained their relationship to her parents in detail just yet, so she believes it would be best to take things one step at a time from here.

Claudine honors her wishes; even if she doesn't agree with hiding things like this, she'll accept whatever will keep Maya safest and away from troubling situations.

Together they make their way to the house. The smallest mercy in all of this was that they'd only been invited for dinner and to stay the night, so they won't have to spend too long in the presence of Maya's parents.

Claudine is certain to stay at Maya's side, never going a step ahead or falling a step behind her. Maya's gaze is focused on the pathway rather than the door ahead, which makes Claudine's stomach clench. The strong, confident, even arrogant Tendo Maya who was always looking unabashedly forward suddenly bows her head when she's home.

When they arrive at the door, they pause for a moment before Maya brings herself to ring the bell. As they wait, Claudine stands as close to her as possible without being obviously intimate.

If it had been her own home, and her parents had been unable to pick her up from the airport or the station, they would at the very least be waiting eagerly right at the door to welcome Claudine back.

But for Maya, her parents take several long minutes to arrive, as though their daughter's return was one of the last things on their minds.

When the door does finally click, Maya visibly flinches and continues to keep her head down. Claudine has half a mind to do the opposite and glare her parents dead in the eyes.

But she reels herself in and reminds herself she can't be causing problems. For Maya's sake. So Claudine dips her head as well, and waits.

When the large fancy door finally opens, the scents of perfume and cologne waft out into the clean evening air.

"My," says a female voice. "It's been quite some time."

"Indeed," Maya responds immediately. "Thank you for having us tonight, Mother."

Claudine bites back a sound of disbelief. To begin with, Maya hadn't spoken until she was spoken to. Typically, wasn't the person who was arriving supposed to say, "I'm home?" and then the people inside say, "Welcome back?"

But instead the Tendos initiate with "It's been a while," something impersonal and rather flippant for their own daughter. And Maya's response is not to show that she is relieved to be back, but rather, relieved they had allowed her to come back.

All of these subtle nuances makes sense to Claudine in an instant, and she feels as though she's walking blindfolded somewhere high up. The unease between herself and Maya is palpable, almost to an agonizing degree.

A male voice speaks next.

"You may come in."

Claudine fumes quietly.

Of course she can! It's her house, too!

But she keeps the outburst to herself and waits until Maya finally lifts her face to do the same.

The Tendos are essentially just as she'd envisioned them. Maya's mother adorns an expensive evening dress and fancy jewelry, her hair mostly tied back into a tight bun. Her figure and features immediately speak to her career as a famous actress, and she even wears tons of makeup when she's at her own residence.

Maya's father is wearing a formal suit, his dark hair slicked back and hands folded behind his back.

Both their gazes are narrowed and stern, not at all welcoming in the slightest. Claudine has to restrain herself from glaring.

"Thank you."

Now that Maya's been permitted entry, she steps inside. Claudine follows a pace behind her.

"Leave your things," her father says, though it really sounds more like a command. "Dinner is almost ready."

"Already?" Claudine whispers. They aren't even going to introduce themselves or talk a little bit first?

When she gives Maya a perplexed look, Maya is already obeying the orders, putting her bag down in the breezeway by the front doors. Claudine wrinkles her nose, but follows suit.

Unlike Claudine's own home, the Tendos' house is very quiet. It's almost as though she can hear a cold wind echoing around the hallways. The lighting is somewhat dimmed, likely to give off a sophisticated atmosphere, but in this case it just makes everything feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that is also part of their goal, though. Claudine wouldn't put it past these people, based on what she already knows about them.

No. Perhaps I shouldn't judge them so soon. I've only just met them properly after all…

Even for these people, she at least wants to try to be fair.

They follow Maya's parents into a lavish dining hall, where servants are already setting out plates of food. Claudine stands at a distance with Maya, trying not to get in anyone's way. When she can, she whispers a quick comment to her.

"Isn't this all a bit fast-paced?"

Maya shakes her head.

"You'll find my parents are very skilled at getting to the point."

"Getting to the point…?" Claudine parrots the phrase, utterly perplexed. 'The point'? Isn't 'the point' of this to welcome her home for a night? And we're just eating dinner and going straight to bed?

Again, she holds her tongue. Even if she doesn't agree with their lifestyle, she is under their roof right now.

Only after Maya's father and mother have taken their seats at the table does Maya step forward, no doubt following some unspoken ritual order of things that's been engraved in her since childhood.

Maya's father sits at the head of the table, with his wife to his side. However, Maya's seat is several down, and Claudine can't help but bitterly wonder why she's made to put so much distance between them.

Claudine's own seat is at the very least beside Maya's, but appears to have been arranged and prepared on a whim, as though they'd nearly forgotten about her.

Everyone is seated, but no one moves for a moment, not until Maya's father initiates things.

"Well then, let's begin."

"Yes, Father."

Maya doesn't touch her utensils until both of her parents have taken their first bites. Claudine follows along and waits her turn. But the atmosphere is so tense and awkward and strained that she barely even notices what she's eating, let alone taste it.

"How are your grades?" Maya's father asks her.

Maya swallows immediately to respond.

"I remain at the top of my class."

"Good. I expect nothing less."

"Yes, Father."

"And," her mother says. "Just who is it you've brought along with you there?"

Claudine's brow twitches. Only asking about your guest when we've already started eating? What kind of manners are these…?

Maya dips her head and finally introduces her.

"Mother, Father, this is my classmate and training partner, Saijou Claudine."

Claudine plasters on a smile and dips her head politely.

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," she lies.

"Training partner?" Maya's father says. "Then she must be quite something."

"Indeed." For the first time since arriving, Maya's voice actually becomes a bit livelier and lighter now that she's talking about Claudine. "Saijou-san also leads our class alongside me. She is quite exceptional, to say the least."

"But not as exceptional as you," her father finishes matter-of-factly. "You are the head of your class, are you not?"

Maya's almost-delighted tone is crushed in an instant.

"Yes, Father."

He gives a small grunt and continues eating.

That's all Claudine gets. They don't ask her about herself or even spare her a second glance. She almost wishes they would direct their attention to her just so Maya could have a moment to breathe.

Maya has hardly touched her dinner, and her posture is so stiff and her movements are so uncomfortable it's making Claudine ache.

Claudine herself has the luxury of not being related to these people, or to this house. She has the freedom to make mistakes here, because she doesn't know any better.

But Maya is granted no such luxuries. She's on high alert, on her guard in her own home, which arguably should be the place where she feels most comfortable in letting her defenses down.

Claudine has truly been trying to remain objective in her judgement of Maya's parents, but with each passing second she's just more and more inclined to believe her initial assumptions are correct.

After a moment of silence has ensued, Claudine attempts taking matters into her own hands.

"I must say," she says with sickeningly-fake sweetness. "Your residence is quite stunning."

"But of course," Maya's mother snorts. "After all, the Tendos have been fortunate for generations. It only makes sense to put our funds to good use."

Good use? So a big property and an eyesore of a mansion is 'good use,' is it?

Claudine maintains her smile and keeps up the act.

"I've heard much about you both. I'm honored to be seated at your table tonight."

"As you should be," Maya's father comments. "I made a special exception to allow you into this house tonight. I was curious to see the only student who could pose a threat to my daughter's position. You should be thankful."

"But of course." Claudine's grip on her fork tightens. "I'm so very thankful."

"On that note," he says, turning to Maya. "You'd best not slip up in your training. If this girl ends up surpassing you, it will be shameful for the entire family."

Maya bows her head lower.

"Yes, Father."

Claudine has to put real effort into not letting her jaw drop in an outburst. She can't believe what she's hearing. The only reason they'd let her come along tonight was to size her up and then use her to threaten Maya? She's so outraged her stomach starts to physically hurt.

While trying to keep herself calm and under control, Claudine catches Maya's eye.

She's absolutely miserable. Maya sends her silent apologies both with her eyes and with her lips. She looks as though she's about to cry.

Manners be damned. Claudine has seen enough.

Dropping her utensils with a clatter, she lifts her head sharply.

"Actually-"

"Now then," Maya's father speaks up, interrupting her pointedly and without a care. "Let us discuss the true purpose of this supper."

Claudine clams up. So this is what Maya had meant earlier by 'the point' of this family gathering. It wasn't just so they could see their daughter again. They wanted something from her.

Of course. Why am so surprised? Of course that's all they were after-

Maya's father continues speaking without a care for any of their input.

"As I'm sure you've heard, your mother and I will be in attendance at a week-long convention very soon. We've discussed it, and we've decided to have you run a workshop there three times a day. In between, you'll be performing for demonstrations. We've already selected the pieces you'll be putting on."

Past the roar of blood in her ears, Claudine can still hear the sound of Maya's heart sinking. Her mouth opens in a silent wail of dismay, and her eyes waver. Clearly, this is the last thing she ever wants to do. Be put to work at a convention surrounded by strangers and other professionals in the field, used as an example and viewed by thousands like some exotic animal. And during her school time as well, when she should be training with her friends and having fun.

Maya's throat constricts and runs dry, and her heart pounds deep in her chest. The room begins to haze in front of her eyes, and a dizzying sensation swirls in her head. When she looks to her parents, their faces blur.

"I…"

"It will be a good experience," her mother says. "We've arranged for you to meet with several very important people. You will tell them of your successes and your experiences. If you're lucky and any of them favor you, they may even offer to pull you out of that school and grant you a scholarship elsewhere."

Maya blinks, and suddenly she can't breathe. She looks from her father to her mother and back again.

"I… Father…"

"Well?" he prompts. "We've told you of the plans. Where is your answer?"

Maya feels as though some invisible weight is pressing on the back of her head, forcing her to bow it forward.

"Y… Yes-"

But at the very same moment, before she can finish her answer, there is a loud, sudden clatter from her other side.

"Absolutely not!"

Startled, all three Tendos look to their guest. Claudine has slammed her hands against the table and pushed herself up. Her hair and clothes have become a bit ruffled in her vehemence, and there is a vicious kind of aura coming off of her. Maya looks to her eyes, and finds them swirling with venom. But her glare is only directed at the two people on the other side of the table.

Maya has never seen her like this before. She has seen Claudine frustrated, disgruntled, even angry before.

But never like this.

This is sheer, unadulterated fury.

Even Maya is taken aback for a moment, until she realizes what exactly is going on. Claudine has lost her polite, well-mannered, passive-aggressive act and abandoned it for her true feelings. Feelings that stem from something so powerful it turns the world on its head and shakes the Tendo house to its core.

This is her love for Maya.

After the initial moment of disbelief has passed, Maya remains frozen as her parents share an unreadable look. Her mother turns to Claudine with a disapproving tone.

"Young lady, you'll have a seat this instant or I'll have you removed from my house."

"Ma'am, I assure you there's nothing I would like better." Claudine curls her fingers into fists on the table cloth.

Maya's mother gasps.

"Why, I never-"

"What is the meaning of this?" Maya's father demands. "To think a guest I so generously invited into my house would show such disrespect. You'd best know your place, girl."

Maya had been on the verge of being nauseous until now. The sounds of her parents' angry voices only made her heart terrified. But that is one thing she simply cannot forgive.

Although she is still shaking with fear, Maya draws strength from Claudine's presence beside her. Slowly, she pushes herself up as well, and faces her parents.

"Her name-" she says in a soft growl. "Is Saijou Claudine."

Claudine would have been more than content to face them alone and be the target of their animosity. She hadn't wanted Maya to get on their bad side. But she has to admit, it makes her heart swell when Maya comes to her defense against them.

"That's right," Claudine barks. "And, since the two of you seemed to have forgotten, might I remind you of your own daughter's name? Her name is Maya. And yet you haven't called her by it even once."

Now, both of Maya's parents share another look, and they even seem to recoil a little. Claudine presses on without showing them any mercy.

"And I'm sorry to inform you of this and ruin the plans you made for her without her consent-" she snaps. "But Maya will not be able to attend this convention of yours. Not in the coming weeks, or any weeks after that. She's quite busy at school enough as it is. She has classes and practice and performances to attend, and when she isn't doing all of that, she has business with me. You see, she has already made arrangements with me for many years to come, so I'm afraid she won't be able to attend anything you've set up for her."

She gives the Tendos an unwavering, venomous glare, seething with distaste. They return the stare with barely-refined disapproval.

"I'm afraid that isn't your decision to make, girl."

"With all due respect, sir, it isn't yours, either," Claudine snaps. "Maya is her own person, and she can make her own decisions. She doesn't need you to do that for her."

"Father." Never in her lifetime did Maya ever fathom the concept of opposing her parents directly to their faces like this. But with Claudine here by her side now, Maya realizes there is something she cherishes even more than her own comfort. "As I have mentioned, my girlfriend's name is Saijou Claudine. Please do not address her with such disrespect."

At this, her parents' eyes widen.

"Your what, now?" her mother asks. "This must be some kind of joke. You don't have time for dating."

"I think I shall decide what I have and don't have time for, thank you, Mother." Maya nods curtly to her. "And Saijou-san is right. I don't have time for this convention of yours. I've already been spoken for for quite some time to come. I request that you please cancel your plans. I won't be in attendance."

Her parents must be so shocked they don't even have the energy to be appalled by her blatant disobedience. They aren't used to opposition, especially not from their own daughter.

Claudine is a bit satisfied to watch them flounder.

"Ah, I just remembered, we have something very important to attend to this evening. Maya, let's take our leave, shall we?"

Maya smiles faintly as Claudine takes her hand.

"Yes. Let's be off then, Saijou-san."

They move away from the table, passing Maya's parents who don't move an inch. As Maya goes to collect their things at the door, Claudine dips her head in feigned politeness to her parents.

"My deepest apologies for interfering with your plans for your daughter. But as I've said, she and I already have far too much planned in our schedules. Please refrain from contacting her until you've remembered your manners."

Perhaps she went a bit too far with that one, because Maya's mother drops her jaw, aghast.

But her father raises a hand to quiet his wife before she can say anything. He stares Claudine dead in the eyes, and she holds his gaze without so much as a single blink.

"You…" he utters. "Saijou Claudine, is it?"

"I'm impressed you can say my name, but not your own daughter's."

He shows no reaction, but continues speaking calmly.

"If any of your unfavorable qualities rub off on my daughter, I will hold you accountable."

"I hope you do. I'd be proud to take responsibility for making her happier. Maybe one day you'll follow my example. But until then, please don't concern yourselves with her. I'll be the one to look after her."

She continues holding his gaze, assuming he had expected her to back down. When she doesn't, he heaves a sigh.

"Kindly leave my residence."

"With pleasure."

Claudine turns away and struts toward the front door where Maya is waiting with their bags. The Tendos follow at a distance. Claudine puts her arm around Maya and guides her to the door without looking back.

But Maya pauses only briefly, dipping her head to her parents. She is both embarrassed and empowered at the same time, unsure of which outweighs the other more. Just before they exit, her mother calls after them.

"Maya. Do keep in touch about all of these important things this girl is having you do."

Maya freezes for a moment, then nods.

"I will, Mother."

"Then off you go."

With this, Claudine ushers her out of the house, and the doors close behind them.

The sun has almost set as they follow the long path toward the driveway. Claudine ruffles for her phone with her free hand to call for a taxi to come get them at their location and bring them to the station. Until then, she leads Maya off the property as much as she can. Maya hastily keeps pace beside her, still astounded by what had just happened in her own home.

"S-Saijou-san-"

"That's our ride."

Claudine nods to a car rumbling down the street toward them. When it arrives, she has Maya go in first, then follows and directs the driver of which station to take them to.

As they ride, Maya glances at Claudine's profile to find her still rigid, as if prickling thorns are sprouting from her skin. She gets the sense that Claudine had really been holding herself back and would've laid into her parents tenfold if she hadn't been able to restrain herself as much.

They're both quiet for the short car ride to the station, then keep together to make it onto their train. They find a seat away from others to share, and finally settle down.

Maya is still debating what to say and how to say it to her when Claudine suddenly blurts out.

"Ah, geez! What the heck was that-?"

"…Eh?" Maya blinks, flabbergasted.

Claudine lifts her face, which is red and still angry with disbelief.

"That!" she cries. "Just who the hell do they think they are? Making such extravagant plans like that without your input! If I didn't know any better, I would've thought we entered the wrong house since they didn't even seem to know who you were! Honestly! Did they even remember your name before I told it to them? I was seriously trying not to judge them prematurely, but now that I've met them, I know I was right all along. The nerve! I can't believe them! Well, I mean I guess I really wasn't that surprised, but still! They act like they own the world! How arrogant! How dare they treat you like some-"

"Saijou-san…" Maya's heart can't bear anymore. She feels like it's about to burst completely. She throws her arms around Claudine and sobs, weeping softly into her shoulder. Claudine cuts off her rantings and catches her.

"H-Hey! Ten- Maya-?!" She doesn't even want to say that last name right now. She doesn't want to think about the other Tendos. Claudine wraps her arms around her, trying to help her sit up properly. "What's the matter? Wait, I guess that's a dumb question…"

Maya shakes her head, but she's unable to find her words just yet. She continues clinging to her, sobbing.

Claudine fidgets, rubbing her back softly.

And only now, after they've put some time and distance between themselves and Maya's parents, does the full effect of what she'd done really hit her.

Claudine had lashed out at them. She had talked back to them. She had ridiculed them and challenged their authority to their faces, within their own house.

All of the adrenaline that'd been coursing through her all this time suddenly fades at once, sapping her of her strength.

"Ah-" Claudine sways, holding more tightly to Maya to keep herself up. Maya feels her faltering and quickly helps her to be steady.

"Saijou-san-?"

"I… really went and did it, didn't I?" Claudine now feels the oncoming sense of dread spreading through her like toxins. "I really made them angry… What a first impression… I just couldn't hold my tongue, could I?"

"I'm glad you didn't!" Maya cries. Easing away from her, she wipes her eyes before meeting her eyes. "Claudine, truthfully… I… I can't thank you enough-"

"But I was an idiot!" she groans. "Why did I go and say all of that? I've probably gotten you into so much trouble now…"

Now the panic settles in. What if they disown Maya? What if they cut off her funds or force her to withdraw from Seishou as a reminder that they are in charge of her life? As Claudine considers the awful possibilities, her heart begins to twist.

"It's my fault... Maya, listen to me." Claudine grabs her by the shoulders and stares hard into her eyes. "If they try anything- if they do anything or try to threaten you, just blame it all on me, do you understand? Just tell them you were playing along with me because I'm unstable or something like that. Don't let them ruin your life because of this, because of me-"

"Claudine-" Maya raises her voice gently to cut her off. She can see now that Claudine has started to cry as well, distraught by the notion that her outbursts tonight might have put Maya in a bad position with her parents. Maya shakes her head, smiling tearfully as she cards Claudine's bangs out of her eyes.

"Claudine… there is no need for you to be so upset."

"But I-"

"Please, allow me to tell you something." Maya leans close to her, brushing their noses together. "Claudine… when you spoke out to them directly on my behalf… I cannot possibly describe to you the joy that filled my heart. Past experiences have told me you might react as such… but to see you do such things in front of my very eyes, while in their presence…" She draws in a deep breath, trying to collect herself. "Truly, it made me very happy, Claudine. I admit… I was a little nervous at first. Mostly that they would ridicule you-"

"I was worried that they'd disown you!" Claudine blurts. "I wouldn't put it past them to try and sabotage you if they don't get their way."

"I can assure you that won't happen," Maya soothes her. "They may be prideful people, but they are not as foolish as to do anything like that. It would cause far too many problems than they could ever hope to mend." She shakes her head again.

"No. While I was a little scared at first, your courage became contagious to me. Truth be told… I almost laughed once or twice. The looks on their faces when you opposed them and called them out for their poor treatment of me…" Maya hugs her again, a bit tighter this time. "Claudine… I love you so much. Thank you for coming with me today. I only wish it could have been an enjoyable experience…"

Claudine hugs her in return - tightly - as if to shield her from unseen threats,

"Are you kidding? That was quite enjoyable, if I do say so myself. I've wanted to tell them off for a long time now… So long as they don't punish you for it, then it was worth it."

"Something tells me they won't," Maya murmurs. "In fact… tonight, I think you might have gotten through to them a bit, Claudine."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes. I truthfully do." Maya chuckles softly. "They understand now that they have a rival for my time. Someone who isn't simply going to relinquish her hold on me whenever they require my presence. Until now, they've always gotten to have their way. But now I believe they understand it isn't going to be that simple anymore."

Maya eases away from her, wiping Claudine's tears gently.

"I believe they understand now that I do have my own life. That I can make my own decisions and choose who I spend my time with. They can't simply do what they please with me any longer. First, they will have to surpass you, and Daiba-san, and Hanayagi-san, and everyone else. Only once I have done all I need to do with all of you will I have some time to spare for them."

"If they're lucky," Claudine grumbles. "I might not let them have you back at all."

"I appreciate that very much," Maya says. "But if they're truly bound to start changing their ways, perhaps I should come back to visit sometime."

"Fine… But I'm coming with you next time, too."

"But of course," Maya nods. "They will have to get used to you. After all, did you not say you planned to occupy my time for many years to come?"

Claudine flushes pink.

"Th-That was-!"

"Quite the statement," Maya coos. "It almost sounded like a proposal of sorts."

"It wasn't a proposal!"

"My, what a shame."

"Mechante va!"

As they squabble softly, they continue wiping each other's tears, then sink back into a warm, and reassuring embrace. As they begin to near their stop, they share a quiet kiss.

"Truly," Maya whispers against her lips. "Thank you for all you have done for me, Claudine. After so many stagnant years in this family, I feel things are finally beginning to move."

"I hope so," Claudine murmurs. "But again, if they try anything, just blame it on me. It doesn't matter what they think of me, so long as you feel safe."

"Thank you." Maya squeezes her tighter. "But I imagine that won't be necessary. Maybe one day, they will even come to favor you, Claudine."

"Hmph. Well, I still might not favor them…"

Maya kisses her forehead.

The train comes to a stop, and together they stand and gather their bags.

"Come now," Maya says with a smile. "Let us go home, Claudine."

Home. It's a word Maya hadn't used once in reference to the place she'd grown up in.

Claudine steps close to her, sharing whatever warmth she can.

"Right. Let's go home, Maya."

A night of good food, laughter, and warmth awaits.


A/N: Ahh it got so long somehow... I didn't want it to be a whole other story so I kept it brief in just an evening. Once again, I got to write Claudine just absolutely going off about Maya's parents, but this time to their faces!

I doubt my characterization of them is super accurate, I definitely made them a bit less favorable than they probably are just to justify Claudine's reaction to them. And I doubt Maya would be quite so skittish around them. But to imagine the scenario this way, and involving Claudine, I think it's believable.

Thus concludes all the parent chapters, I'm no good at writing OCs/unconfirmed characters haha

Please review!