Maki grumbled and burrowed further under the covers. She didn’t want to start the day or remember the date. Her anniversary with Nico, 8 years now. But no Nico. Nico and the rest of 1Kiss (aka Rin and Hanayo) were having a travel day on their way to Korea from somewhere else. Maki usually kept up with Nico’s itinerary and could tell her lover’s schedule to the hour, but the past two weeks had been insanely busy for both of them. Maki had barely kept ahead of her own schedule as she studied for her graduation exams in December. Graduating from medical school would relieve some of the pressure but there was still so much to do.
Maki remembered her ronin year, right after high school, sitting in on some classes at American universities and travelling with Nico. It had been a relaxed time, with love, laughter and a chance to get music out of her system for awhile. Almost a honeymoon. She’s written a few songs for Nico and 1Kiss and taken some master classes at Juilliard. Nico had been working hard at launching her career, but she took every spare minute she had to build with Maki a foundation for their relationship that could survive Maki being in med school and Nico being screamed at by hordes of raving fans. Maki had had to work through jealousy and to quell her possessive side. But Nico had never given her any cause to worry about rivals and they had both made sure that maintaining a physical and emotional connection was a priority. Hence what Maki thought of as a small apartment -- room with bed, room with couch, bath and a half to accommodate Nico’s beauty products, kitchen, room with piano. The Nishikinos were rich but she’d always kept to a budget. Maki preferred to allocate most of her funds to travel wherever Nico was whenever Maki could get away from school, hospital business, family obligations or studies.
But today, they were both stuck. Their first anniversary spent without each other. Maki had talked to Nico late last night, after Nico had finished a concert. Her lover was exhausted and they had both been trying not to cry so it was a short conversation. A low point.
Maki had showered the night before so she shrugged into sweats and an oversized shirt Nico liked to wear, pink. She would never wear it around Nico, as Nico would tease her, but it was always hanging on a hook in her closet for days like today when she grabbed frantically onto any reminder of the person currently missing from her life. Maki liked to believe it still smelled of Nico. Nico’s first action when visiting would be to throw it in the laundry and grumble about having left it there, swearing it would never happen again. But then Maki always noticed Nico would practice dance moves or sleep in it and then Maki would find it casually left somewhere, unwashed, in the apartment, after Nico had gone.
Maki had just finished breakfast aka scraped up the last of her cereal out of a large bowl and put the orange juice glass in the sink when the doorbell rang. She wasn’t expecting anyone. Nozomi or Umi would have texted before stopping by. Maybe Nico had decided to have something delivered?
Maki opened the door, surprised by a familiar crimson at nearly chin level, not the usual height. Yazawa Cocoro stood there with a smile. While the opposite of her older sister in many ways, Cocoro had Nico’s eyes and hair, with a few more inches and without the muscular leanness Nico kept up through what Maki had come to realize was near constant motion.
“Onee-chan says you have to come to Cotarou’s art competition.” Cocoro said abruptly.
Maki sighed. Leave it to Nico to send her siblings to keep an eye on her.
“Did you eat breakfast?” Cocoro asked.
“Last night…” Maki frowned, opening the door, “Did Nico send you with a checklist?”
“Yes.” Cocoro entered the apartment, “How are your parents?”
“They are fine, travelling to the mountains right now. Everyone’s travelling…” Maki turned away as she couldn’t help frowning.
“My mother is doing well also.” Cocoro was a stickler for social protocol. Maki had forgotten that.
“Sorry. I am glad to hear your mother is doing well. Please take a seat. Can I get you tea or coffee. Will your mother and Cocoa be wherever we’re going this afternoon?”
“Nothing for me.” Cocoro sat gracefully, “Mama is on a business trip.”
“How are your Admissions tests studies going?”
Cocoro shrugged, “Diligently.”
“Mine too.” Maki sat on the couch, grabbing one of the seemingly infinite number of cute pink pillows Nico had upholstered her entire apartment with. Some had eyes. None were smaller than Nico’s torso. So Maki hugged them a lot.
Cocoro sat on the opposite end of the couch, “Onee-chan is worried that you’re studying too much.”
“And I’m worried that your sister is working too much. It’s what we do.” Maki leaned her head into the pillow’s softness, closing her eyes, trying to channel a little of Nico’s gift for being a caring, PATIENT, older sister.
“Onee-chan says you’re probably going to get married now that you can get a certificate.”
Maki’s head jolted back up. She would never get used to the bluntness of the entire Yazawa family. Cotarou was the least verbal of them and even he would surprise her occasionally with an annoyingly insightful comment.
Besides, when did Nico have time to talk to her siblings about marriage? She and Nico had never really broached the subject themselves, still not considering Nico ‘officially’ moved in, even though the only other places she ever slept were hotels or the guest room in the condo she’d bought her family. There had been jokes about their ‘honeymoon’ and Nico had bought her a gold bracelet with their initials entwined while Maki had bought Nico a cute heart necklace with ruby sparkles when they had shopped at Tiffany’s (Nico had actually been disappointed breakfast was not available). But neither of them had ever really done more than joked about having the other as a ‘wife.” Joking, it was what they did when they were both avoiding a discussion that would trigger too many swells of emotions. Neither of them wanted a wedding without family or friends present so travelling to another country was out, although Nico had made some Vegas jokes when they’d stayed in San Francisco for a month. But they both knew what their relationship was, even without a ceremony or a promise: everything.
“A..a..we haven’t really discussed it.”
“But you’ve thought about it?” Cocoro leaned in and winked, looking far too much like Nico for Maki not to believe all of the Yazawas were plotting something.
Maki stood. “I should get changed.”
“Business casual,” Cocoro suggested.
Maki was now too aggravated to be missing Nico much. Would Cocoro make her change if she erred too casual. It was a school art fair and Maki wasn’t a parent. How could there be too casual? Why had Cocoro come to escort her? Arggghh…how was Nico managing to be so annoying by proxy.
Maki didn’t feel like wearing a dress, actually, she didn’t feel like changing out of her sweats but she knew that would never pass Nico’s representative. She wandered back toward the living room to see what standard Cocoro was setting. Pretty skirt with large florals and a lacy blouse. Back to the closet. Black pants, a floral camisole and a...Maki laughed at herself, cardigan. It was a Yazawa family event, someone should be wearing one. Not pink though, Maki preferred lavender.
Maki walked back into the living room. Cocoro held her phone up and was snapping a photo.
“Onee-chan won’t see it until she lands but she said to take a photo.”
Maki stopped grumbling, the photo represented approval of the outfit and she was one step closer to being back at home, Yazawa-less. She sighed. And lonely.
“Are you all right, Maki-san?”
Maki glared. She would not cry in front of Nico’s little sister. A half turn saved her from direct eye contact with eyes that were a direct and vivid reminder of her lover’s.
“Do we have time for lunch, Cocoro?” Maki grabbed her purse.
“Yes. I can drive us to a nice little place Cocoa and I found last week.”
“DRIVE?” Maki stared at the younger girl, “You can’t be old enough.”
“18.” Cocoro said proudly. “Passed the test on the first try. Nico taught me and loaned me her car.”
Maki groaned and fell back to the couch. That was why Nico’s laughable wreck of a vehicle hadn’t been mentioned when Nico left for her latest tour. Maki assumed Nico had garaged it somewhere or that it had fallen apart. But no, Nico had passed it on to the next road hazard. And been giving her lessons in the meanwhile, probably while Maki was at the hospital. She had never really quizzed Nico about ‘sibling bonding time.’
“Is Nico teaching you anything else?”
“How to flirt…”
“Are you dating anyone?”
“Not yet. Nico and Mama say there’s no rush. They both settled down awfully young.” Cocoro was giving Maki a hard, quizzical look. It took far too long for Maki to realize Nico + settling down was a reference to her, and seemingly not a positive one.
Maki frowned, “D..Did Nico-chan actually say that?”
Cocoro shook her head, “No. But 18 is awfully young. Onee-chan was so busy her first year in college she didn’t have time for anything fun.”
Maki (and presumably Nico) would have disagreed about the no time for anything fun, but thankfully, Nico had kept some of their recreational activities private. At least from her family. Nozomi had always seen -- or guessed -- far too much.
Maki nodded, “18 is awfully young.”
Cocoro sat, “You were only 16.”
Maki pushed her hair back behind her ear with a smug smile, “I was never young.”
“Onee-chan says you cried a lot, like a baby.”
Maki spluttered and stood, ready to roar into a rage, but then she looked into ruby eyes filled with concern and curiosity, not challenge and remembered it wasn’t Nico she was talking to. Cocoro just watched her. They’d never actually had this personal a conversation before. Nico’s little sister really was growing up.
Maki sat on the coffee table and patted Cocoro’s knee, “Don’t tell Nico-chan but I still cry like a baby sometimes.” She sighed, but made sure there was a smile, “But I have never met anyone I admire as much as your sister. She always took such good care of you and then she took such good care of Rin, Hanayo and me and I wanted someone to take very good care of her. It didn’t take me long to realize that the person I wanted to be taking care of her was me,” Maki leaned back, remembering when she and Nico had understood why they couldn’t ignore each other and how there was no space between them. A kiss had unlocked that, not words. Maki still wasn’t that great with words and Nico was still too cocky and flippant but somehow, they always knew when to say what mattered. Maki hoped she was doing that now.
“When you get to know someone and you never get tired of finding out new things about them...or even old things, that’s when you know that person is for you.” Maki stood and offered Cocoro a hand, “And neither Nico-chan or I have ever settled for anything, Cocoro. And we will both always be here for you and the rest of your family. Remember that.”
Cocoro tilted her head, eyes wide. Maki waited for the gushing thank you, “Nico said I could drive your car.”
Maki laughed and hugged the younger girl, “Nice try, kiddo. Nico-chan doesn’t even get to know where I keep the keys to the NSX.”
The school grounds were well tended, a comforting bustle of people roaming. Maki relaxed a little. Nico’s mother had ensured her children were able to attend the best schools for their interests so Cotarou’s school was noted for its excellence in the arts. Both Cocoro and Cocoa had gone to more practical schools. Neither had decided on Otonokizaka, but Nico hadn’t been disappointed like Eli or Honoka would have been; Nico wanted her siblings to achieve their own dreams. Yazawas were ruthless on the active pursuit of dreams. Maki was about to turn to Cocoro and ask what she wanted to study in college when someone slammed into her. She looked down and saw brown hair. Cocoa. All the Yazawas were shorter than her, but Cocoa had nearly reached Maki’s 163 cm (she’d grown 2 cms since her growth spurt before her first year in high school; Nico had possibly shrunk, Maki thought with a smirk.)
“Hello, Cocoa.” Maki hugged Nico’s youngest sister, then let her go before she vibrated both of them onto the ground. Cocoa could keep up with Nico for energy. Cocoa grabbed her hand and pulled, “Cotarou will be so excited to see you.”
“Cocoa.” Cocoro chided, “Don’t pull off Maki’s arm.”
Cocoa ignored her older sister and dragged Maki along without any drop in speed.
The classroom was open and full of light. Maki looked around, hoping to see Cotarou before she had to try to guess which artwork was his. She spotted familiar dark hair in a corner, drooped over yet another pair of ruby eyes. Maki was sure for many reasons that Nico would be in her dreams tonight, if she slept at all, she just hoped it wasn’t as some kind of weird 8 eight eyed demon monster out of mythology.
Cotarou waved shyly and Maki smiled. As much as she loved all of Nico’s siblings, Cotarou’s introspective, laconic personality was the easiest for her to deal with. And she had known him for ⅔ of his life so she felt she’d had some influence on his development.
Maki walked toward him, but was stopped by an assortment of shapes and curves, one tall, thin curved light column made of arcs, with smaller, squarer, darker blocks on its back. The whole thing was mounted with a backing of a dark black material embedded with mica chips flashing like stars. Maki looked down at the label, “Going Home by Yazawa Cotarou.”
She was suddenly taken back to the many nights she and Nico had taken the younger Yazawas with them on dates -- to amusement parks, museums, restaurants, places Cotarou had been too young to have the stamina for, but no one had wanted to leave him at home. Both she and Nico preferred walking to buses or taxis, if possible, because then Cocoa could run to her heart’s content and Nico and Maki and Cocora could talk without fear of interruption or eavesdropping. This became especially important the more well known Nico had gotten and the more Maki had been in the news for being the Nishikino heir and dating an Idol. But by the end of those dates, Cotarou would always be nodding off so Maki would scoop him up and carry him home on her back. He’d grown too big to do that with a couple of years ago and Maki had gotten too busy to spend much time with him, but suddenly those nights were vivid again. She grinned and looked over to where Cotarou was leaning. He looked worried. Maki suddenly forgot about everyone else in the room and rushed over to his side. Usually the one to be embarrassed, Maki made the boy turn red when she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.
“It’s amazing, Cotarou. I’m so proud of you. Nico will be too.”
Cotarou nodded with an adorably shy half grin, “Can walk now.”
Maki laughed, “I hope so. Your sisters wear me out more than they used to.”
Cotarou nodded sympathetically.
DINING OUT WITH THE YAZAWAS
The contrast between dining with Nico’s family and her own parents fascinated Maki. With her parents, everything was so formal, the most expensive restaurants, clothes fancy enough to be noted by the public, practical conversation mostly about the food, perhaps with some anecdotes about acquaintances or the work day at the hospital, news about which classical musicians were touring, too many quizzes about how well Maki was doing at her classes. With Nico’s family, there was no dress code, the restaurants were cosy with good food that wasn’t terribly costly and the conversation ranged from the state of women’s rights in Japan to Isamu Noguchi’s collaborations with Martha Graham to what the latest American punk bands were wearing to which Idol was dating who to the best ingredients to put in a breakfast bowl of miso soup. Plus, Nico’s family seemed allergic to expensive restaurants. Maki had tried to treat them a few times, but the too stuffy, Nico cooks better, let’s go someplace we can have fun consensus seemed to always include her as well.
But they were thrilled when she offered to treat everyone to dessert to celebrate Cotarou winning a prize for his sculpture, after texting Nico’s mother to ensure it was all right to keep them all out a little later. Yes, Cocoro was 18, but Maki still remembered how strict Nico’s mom had been even after Nico’s 18th birthday. Even Nico’s angry glare needed years of practice before it could chill as badly as her mother’s had when Nico and Maki had disappeared for a night before Nico ‘officially’ moved into her college dorm. Both their mothers had asserted their authority and it had been two weeks before they could see each other again.
Cotarou had demanded they go a bakery Nico and Maki had discovered after they returned from another trip to France two years ago. Maki had indulged the two youngest children and let them order everything in the case that looked good. Maki smiled at the pile of variety profiteroles, macarons, chouquettes, and puffs, mostly chocolate covered or stuffed, in front of the eager Cocoa and Cotarou, while she slowly sipped her coffee. Cocoro had joined her in ordering coffee with a small pastry, but when she thought Maki wasn’t looking, she’d snuck a couple of sugar spoonfuls in it. Ah, they all had the Yazawa taste for sweets.
Maki could tell Cotarou was torn between eating his seventh pastry or floating it in his sister’s coffee the next time she looked away, so Maki decided it was time to tell a story.
“Did Nico ever tell you about the time we were visiting the bakery Honoka was working at in Paris and Honoka suddenly decided it had been too long since she’d petted a dog?”
Cocoro shook her head and Cotarou looked up from the mostly demolished tower of pastry. Cocoa had started to nod off a little, but Maki kept an eye on her to make sure she didn’t fall off the chair.
“So Honoka grabbed Nico and raced out into the street, almost getting hit by a girl on a scooter, who I had to calm down, but by the time we finished talking I’d lost sight of your sister. So I started to head in the direction I’d last seen them when suddenly there was a huge noise, a crowd of dogs barking. And then Honoka and Nico were racing back in my direction, Honoka holding the smallest, grimiest, rattiest dog I have ever seen and Nico grabbing my arm and pulling me back into the bakery, slamming the door behind us. The girl on the scooter had turned around in time to be overrun by at least 5 dogs who threw themselves against the door of the bakery.
Honoka stood behind the counter, holding the dog. Your sister was leaning against the door, out of breath, trying to convince Honoka to give the dog back to the pack. The girl on the scooter had driven off and Honoka looked at me with amazement and said, “Dogs really do say ‘ouah-ouah’ in France.”
Maki smiled at her audience, “Nico didn’t stop laughing for a day and Honoka cleaned up the dog and convinced the owners of the building she and Kotori were living in to keep it as a watchdog after they left.”
“We should go to Honoka’s bakery next time,” Cocoro said.
“Good idea,” Maki smiled, “We’ll make Nico take us when she gets back to Japan.”
Cocoa woke up long enough to giggle at something but a push from Cocoro silenced her.
Maki picked up her mug, “Time to get you home. Your mother still thinks I’m unreliable after dark.”
“Only with Nico.” Cocoro snickered. Maki grinned and wondered when she’d stopped being embarrassed around Nico’s siblings. She had come to love the way all of them had livened up her life. As much as she loved her own parents, Nico’s family had a zany warmth Maki cherished. And here she was, about to leave that warmth behind, to return to HER cold, empty apartment, with Nico several plane flights away.
Cotarou sensed a change in Maki’s mood and put his hand on her arm, “Sister. Soon.”
Maki nodded, willing herself not to tear up. Eighteen days was not soon enough. Not for Maki, not tonight.
Cocoro shushed her brother and pulled him out of the bakery, whispering something in his ear. Maki shrugged and followed. Siblings communicated differently, she’d noticed over the years. And there were always secrets.
THE LOW POINT
Spending time with Nico’s siblings had only made the absence of Nico more obvious. Maki didn’t want to go back to the apartment. Yes, her apartment, according to the lease and Nico didn’t live there, but everything reminded her of the red eyed wonder. Even, a realization that had surprised Maki, the piano. She found herself playing Muse songs on nights when she couldn’t sleep and all she wanted was Nico in her arms...or on her couch...or in her kitchen, making omelet rice at 3 a.m. because they were both starving from getting reacquainted. Maki kept walking, kicking anything that got in her way. Their couch, their kitchen...why after 8 years had they not gotten to ‘their’.
Maki sighed. Here she was. Park. Bench. Memories of Nico twirling and laughing in front of her on a spring day last year. Memories of embracing Nico, laughing together, kissing so soundly that they forgot they weren’t at home. But no Nico. Nico was in Korea. And Maki was here, as alone as she’d ever felt. Unable to return to the solitude of her own apartment. To echoes and memories. Her apartment. Her anniversary. Her lonely night. Low.
Memories of Nico’s low point, disappearing after their televised performance in New York City, pushed into her mind. Maki had requested a break...Nico’s constant whining about performing in front of larger and larger crowds, Nico’s constant droning about how many people would love to see her smile, these were just too much and Maki was tired and jet lagged and stressed from the thought of Nico not being a daily presence in her life anymore. So between getting out of the cab and going to their separate hotel rooms, Maki had told Nico she needed some space. And quiet. And Nico had gone quiet. Maki had noticed but refused to think to hard about Nico’s unprecedented silence. Maki had just enjoyed being back in a New York City vibrant enough to take her mind off Nico and the future.
Until Nico had gone missing after they finished performing ‘Angelic Angel’. Umi was the first to notice. Umi had always paid more attention to Nico than anyone except Maki and Maki had always noticed. Maki assumed Umi admired Nico’s work ethic and brash attitude. Plus, after the Honoka subway incident and Umi’s initial mishap with the cab and wrong directions to the hotel, Umi’s Spider-Gwen senses were heightened.
When Umi wondered where Nico could be, Maki tried not to panic, but Nozomi kept watching her and Maki could feel her face get redder.
“M...maybe she went back to the hotel. She’d want to take her makeup off as soon as possible.” Maki suggested.
Umi breathed a sigh of relief, “That sounds like Nico.”
Eli frowned, “We’ll have to split up and look for her. I’ll go back to the hotel with Umi and…”
Maki remembered thinking this was her problem and as much as someone needed to find Nico, she wanted to be the one.
“You should all go back.” Maki suggested, “I’ll check around here. I won’t get lost. I know my way around New York.”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” Umi stated.
Eli was about to agree, when Nozomi whispered something in her ear. Maki was on the verge of lying, of saying that she and Nico had arranged to meet, when Eli saved her, after sharing a glance with Nozomi.
“We’re all tired. We need to rest and pack, eat and make our flight. Maki’s plan sounds sensible. Nico’s probably at the hotel. We’ll tell the network people to make sure Maki has access to the car.” Eli decided.
Nozomi only had a small smile for Maki and her eyes were cool, “Take care of Nico-cchi, Maki-chan.”
Maki couldn’t get any words past her closing throat so she nodded. As soon as everyone was out of sight, she ran for the green room. When Nico wasn’t there, she started quizzing anyone she could grab, asking if they’d seen the small, dark haired woman. Finally, someone had seen her go into a different dressing room, far from the main traffic patterns.
Maki didn’t even knock. Nico. Crying. Curled in a chair. So small. Alone. Maki fell to her knees, arms reaching for the shaking Nico.
No smile, no grin, no Nico Nico Ni. Nico was broken and suddenly so was Maki’s heart. She had never wanted anything so much in the world as she wanted to see Nico smile at her again.
Nico sobbed, “Nico won’t be singing songs Maki-chan wrote, Nico won’t have anyone there, it’ll just be Nico…”
Maki’s didn’t think her heart could crack anymore, but it just shattered anew with every word and every tear.
“You won’t be alone, Nico-chan. I promise, you won’t be alone.” Maki drew in a deep breath, trying to will some calm into the shaking, sobbing Nico.
“Maki-chan has so many things to do in her future. And Nico-chan…”
“Will be a part of all of it. I...If you want me. You have so much brightness ahead of you, Nico-chan. And I want to be there for all of it.”
There was nothing but red and the dimmest of hope in Nico’s usually sparkling eyes. Maki bowed her head.
“I’m so sorry, Nico-chan. I’ve been so afraid of losing you, of the future. But all I want is to see you smile. Right now. For me. I love you.” Maki started humming “Yume no Tobiro.” She hoped Nico would remember that night over the campfire, when Maki had found inspiration and a real future in Nico’s questioning look. Maki raised her head, willing Nico to make eye contact with her. Once again, there was that war between hope and doubt in Nico’s eyes, the evaporated confidence, the open wounds. But Maki had become bolder over her months with Nico and this time, she just kissed her love, putting every emotion she had into that action, physically reminding Nico of their connection, grounding them both as she pressed her body against Nico’s. Maki’s heart still beat with a crazy rhythm when she remembered how fiercely Nico had returned those emotions and actions and how hours later, the network car had to rush them both to the airport after Umi and Eli’s frantic calls.
“Why The HECK are you out here, Maki!” Nico’s yell split the night, literally shaking Maki out of her reverie, “Cocoro said she dropped you off 40 minutes ago!!!!!!!”
Maki just stared. Nico was glaring at her. Nico, here, in Tokyo. Nico.
Her hug lifted the smaller woman entirely off the ground.
“I can’t breathe, Maki.”
Horrified, Maki let Nico fall. The Super Idol for once didn’t dance lightly into or around anyone’s heart, she just dropped, again surprised by her lover’s impulsive act.
Nico stayed on the ground, head bowed, shaking with laughter, “Don’t kill me, Maki-chan. I have a flight to catch in 10 hours.”
Maki knelt down, staring at Nico, “But you’re in Korea.”
“Yes,” Nico looked up, sweeping the tears from Maki’s cheeks. She knew Maki well enough to realize they’d be there, even if she couldn’t see them in the park’s dim lighting.
“How?!?!?!?!?!” Nico had amazed Maki from their first introduction and that had never stopped.
“Hanayo’s lying to people. I’m so proud of her.” Nico gleamed with mischief.
“I am currently in my hotel room with a terrible cold and if anyone needs to talk to me, Hanayo-chin wraps a towel around her hair, coughs and glares at them through red contacts. It’s brilliant. Rin’s taken so many pictures.”
Maki remembered the rehearsal when each of them impersonated another member of Muse. Hanayo’s Nico had been a little too on point and Rin’s mocking of Maki had earned the ginger quite a few head chops when Maki had gotten her alone.
“The biggest problem is keeping Rin from having hysterics where everyone can see them. So Hanayo’s been very busy and Rin’s wearing out her phone watching cat videos.”
Maki laughed. When Nico had decided a solo Idol career was not for her and taken up Hanayo and Rin on their offer to restart their short lived group after an invite to perform at the first Tokyo Dome Love Live, Maki had been glad. She had been worried about Nico struggling to be an idol, alone, overworked, bored, getting sympathy from fans or backup dancers or...but with Rin and Hanayo, it was like Nico was touring with siblings. And Maki had wanted desperately to be in the room when Nico and Hanayo had stared down management and insisted that they were going to be idols who were in public relationships with their girlfriends. Rin and Maki had been relieved. Neither had been looking forward to the discomfort of seeing the woman they loved linked with random celebrities. Or avoiding being seen in public with them.
Fans knew Rin and Hanayo were adorable together and they’d always loved when Nico and Maki had sparked in Muse. So 1Kiss became the idols for everyone still in love with their first love. Maki had talked them out of Diamond Princess after they decided to name the group after the only first year missing from it, but a variation on First Kiss had been acceptable. Nico kept joking that she was contractually obligated to continue to find Maki attractive until Maki threatened to get Nozomi to help her stir up a scandal the next time Nico mentioned that. Nico had gone quiet for two days. Later Maki found out that she and Eli had been nervously considering countering tactics if Nozomi heard even a whisper of Maki’s idea. Eli had been conscientiously working her way up the artistic management ladder at a big entertainment firm, with a special emphasis on legal matters, after Nozomi’s habit of blurring the line between art film and pornography had become a career choice.
Maki decided to join Nico on the ground as her lover continued to chuckle. Maki put an arm around Nico’s shoulders and pulled her in as close as she could.
“You’re here, Nico-chan.” she whispered.
“Of course, I’m here. It’s our anniversary. We haven’t missed one.”
“No,” Maki started tearing up again.
Nico moved so that she was sitting across Maki’s lap, her hands once again wiping tears from Maki’s cheeks and her lips aggressively driving loneliness from Maki’s thoughts. Actually, Nico was driving every thought out of Maki’s head and the taller woman leaned back, pulling Nico with her. One hand behind Nico’s head, the other finding her favorite arcs of Nico’s curves. Nico’s hands were linked behind her neck and they were easily remembering the rhythms of this particular dance.
Nico pushed against Maki gently, lifting a little, and Maki stopped, both breathless, “Don’t you have an apartment to take girls to, Dr. Nishikino?”
Maki wasn’t sure if Nico could see her pout but she heard Nico’s giggle and then suddenly, the smaller woman was kissing her again, pressed up against every sensitive nerve of Maki’s she could reach. Once again, thought screamed out of Maki’s brain and she started pulling Nico’s shirt out of her skirt, pulling her lover closer, fingers tingling at the touch of bare skin.
There was a siren, somewhere. Nico rolled off Maki, making sure to grab Maki’s hand so there was never a moment of no contact.
“We started out making out in a park.”
Maki smiled, “Yeah, we did. I thought swinging and talking might be fun, but pushing you up against a tree was more. At least you were quiet about the Love Live and Honoka for a few minutes.”
“MAKI! You know you were worried about Nico’s feelings and wanted to cheer her up.”
Maki rolled to her side, looking down at Nico, who kept staring at the stars you could see even with the Tokyo lights. Like that night eight years ago, when all Maki could think about was getting closer to her, Nico was beautiful, even in such low light. Nico was one of those stars, Maki thought, nothing obscured her.
But what she said was, “You had your siblings babysit me, Nico-chan.”
Nico shrugged, “Maybe. I was worried about you. You hadn’t been talking much, even for you.”
Maki sighed and laid back down, sounding tired, “They’ll be excellent babysitters when we have kids of our own.”
Nico was afraid to breathe for a minute, afraid Maki would hear the words she’d just said and run. Nico knew how stressed Maki was about her upcoming exams, her current schedule and having a life outside of her career, outside of their careers. Nico fidgeted with the box in her pocket, flipping it open and feeling the ring. Ruby and amethyst combined. It would work. Nico would make it work. She’d talked with Rin and Hanayo about less touring for 1Kiss and more coaching. All of them wanted to make the world of idols a less cruel place for girls. Muse’s legendary status and Nico and Hanayo’s industry knowledge had given the three of them leverage, but so many girls were still taken advantage of.
“Nico-chan?” Maki’s voice sounded doubtful. Nico’s turn to roll over to one side and look down on her lover, always a light in the dark.
“Maki, I love you. You are my family and the most important person in my life. Marry me.” She took her hand out of her pocket and offered it to Maki, ring in her palm.
“Just so you know, it’s your fault this didn’t happen inside where there’d be light so you could be impressed with my choice of stones and the obvious money I’d dropped.” Nico kept her tone teasing, giving Maki a few vital moments to process.
Maki grabbed the ring, almost hungrily, turning it over and over in front of her eyes, suddenly closed off from Nico. Nico had learned patience over the years so she just kept breathing evenly, still watching the redhead, letting this moment happen.
“Nico,” Maki curled one hand around the ring and rested it on her chest, “Can we?”
Nico shook her head. She didn’t know what exactly she had expected Maki to say, she’d hoped for an immediate, gushing yes, but this was Maki and Nico wanted Maki exactly as she was. So Nico had not planned for anything other than keeping calm whatever Maki said in response.
Nico turned and gently uncurled Maki’s hand, taking the ring and sliding it on the younger woman’s ring finger.
“We are.” And then Nico propped herself above the prone Maki, as if to start her morning pushups, “aren’t we?”
Nico’s warmth and proximity and the sudden cool of metal on her finger woke Maki out of her fugue state.
“You had Cocoro mention marriage so I wouldn’t be completely surprised.”
“Guilty.” Nico was in good shape but her arms were starting to quiver. She moved her legs to the side of Maki and went to her knees. Collapsing on top of Maki would totally ruin the cool, composed, sexy fiancée buzz she was hoping for, well, so probably had crawling around like a goof, but Nico only had so much strength and she’d been planning to use it for other activities.
Maki laughed, “Is there anything you don’t know about me?”
“The name of your future wife.” Nico stated slowly, now a grumbling bridge over Maki’s abdomen. Other people pulled off romantic proposals; here she was doing farce in the park. Maybe her next career move should be comic actress.
Maki pushed them both up, her hands on Nico’s arms, “Yazawa Nico.” She paused, “unless you’d prefer Nishikino Nico?”
“Hey!” Nico allowed some of the frustration to escape in a mock indignant tone, “Nico proposed. Maki should become a Yazawa.”
Maki kissed Nico so hard that if she hadn’t been holding the smaller woman Nico would have been knocked back three feet.
“Will you settle for calling me your wife?”
Nico looked into Maki’s amethyst eyes, her favorite color for the last eight years. She saw love and mischief and wonder and a full view of the future she’d only caught glimpses of before. Of course, Nico would have to be the one to say yes, what Maki wanted always seemed to just happen. But as long as what she wanted was Nico, that would work.
“I love you, Nico-chan.”
Another kiss sent them sprawling. Nico tried to hold onto some semblance of control, Nozomi would kill them both if they had a scandal without her, but her hands were already unbuttoning Maki’s...cardigan?
Nico nearly choked, “You’re wearing that? You know it was a gag gift.”
“I..if you don’t like it, take it off,” Maki challenged.
“Really?” Nico hands slipped around Maki’s waist and suddenly it was eight years ago and all new and yet still tonight, with Nico’s precious question in the air between them.
“Yes.” Maki whispered, her head going into Nico’s shoulder and her left left hand gripping Nico’s so hard Nico would find nail marks the next morning, “Really.”
Hanayo double checked her phone and Nico’s. No messages for either. Rin was laughing at something in the other room. Hanayo guessed no one would be looking for Nico at this hour and it was safe to sleep. Time to take out the contacts. It had been fun playing Nico for a day, but she was ready to go back to Rin and rice.
“Rin-chan? Come to bed.”
Hanayo’s phone went off at the same time as she heard Rin shuffling around in the other room. She picked it up and smiled at the picture.
Rin stood in the door, making herself as tall as possible and mocking Maki’s most memorable aloof stance, her arms crossed in front of her chest, nose raised haughtily in the air.
Hanayo shook her head, turning her phone toward Rin, “Maki didn’t.”
And there was her Rin-chan, sprinting happily toward the bed, grabbing the phone and throwing herself between Hanayo and the pile of pillows Rin always seem to attract.
“Nico-chan did it! Good job, Nico-chan!’ Rin fist pumped, “Let’s call them and say hello!”
Hanayo took her phone back before Rin could put that thought into action. Rin had to settle for venting her excitement by hugging her own fiancée, rather than interrupting Nico and hers.
“Double wedding?” Rin asked hopefully.
Hanayo smiled, “I don’t think Maki or Nico…” she paused, “Or I would like that. I want everyone to see how beautiful Rin-chan is.”
“They’ll be looking at how pretty Kayo-chin will be in her dress.”
“I’ll be looking at Rin-chan.”
“I bet Rin suggests a double wedding.” Nico chuckled from under a blanket, “How about an on-stage ceremony, darling?”
Maki poked Nico with a foot, “Can you get the divorce BEFORE the wedding?”
“They’re your best friends.”
“And they take very good care of you for me. But I am not going to listen to you cry to our grandchildren about how you had to share your wedding day.”
“Nico will make a very sexy grandmother. Maki’s heart won’t be able to take it.”
“Maki’s heart can barely take it now,” Maki whispered as she rolled over and pulled Nico closer. “Me in public and you in a wedding dress might kill me.”
Nico paused, “Does Maki want to elope?”
Maki didn’t want Nico’s lips to be talking about anything. So she just let gravity press her weight into Nico, lips first. It was an interesting sensation. Nico gasped, but being Nico, kept nudging.
“Text me about it when you get your phone back in Korea. I’ll have time to talk then. I don’t now, not when you’re wearing my sheets and leaving for the airport in four hours.”
No intelligible words came out of Nico’s mouth after that comment, for at least three and a half hours. A night to mark on her calendar for many reasons, Maki found herself thinking with a huge grin as she dropped her fiancée at the airport the next morning, the new ring a gleam on her left hand.