Mako has always wanted to be a bride, even before she understood what that meant, beyond the ceremony and the pretty white dress. It feels like something she's destined for, an inevitability that is only on hold until when Japan is safe again and the right person comes along. She wants to cook for someone, look after their household, be there for them and in turn, to have someone to trust in her entirely. She doesn't want to get to thirty and be living alone, or be the one girl left over after gokon; the knowledge that it will happen for her is one of the things that keeps her going on the darker days; she just has to wait, and when the time is right, it will happen.
This is not the right time. She can't help but feel off, somehow, though Kotoha had helped her get ready; her hair was up, she even had makeup on, and Kotoha had kept stopping her in order to make sure her obi was just so, or fix her hair again, or straighten her collar; enough that she began to believe it could be.
When Kotoha finally declares her ready, Mako even feels special, and the feeling lasts right up to when Jii leads her into the room and backs away, leaving her to settle herself on the zabuton. Now, though, even with tea and mochi appearing from nowhere, the kuroko being even less intrusive than usual, it's simply awkward.
"What are your hobbies?" she asks, even though she knows the answer.
Takeru is as impassive as always; he doesn't even touch his tea, and she knows that somewhere, someone is disappointed by that, though they wouldn't show it, and she shouldn't think like that.
"Training," he says, and then nothing. The suit was the only thing about him which was different from any other day. She's not sure what else to say; she'd always expected that her grandmother would be with her when she did this, and so hadn't planned for how to do it on her own. If he was a stranger, perhaps it would be easier, but she knows him already, and he knows her, but in their capacity as Shinkengers; outside of that, she wouldn't know how to be around him, not without her grandmother's voice in her head reminding her to be respectful, to remember her duty.
Mako welcomes the ringing of the bell. It's the only time she's ever been relieved to hear it.
Later, she remembers when she had the dress, and Takeru beside her, and knows it wouldn't have been right, even if they'd found a way to talk to each other; it hadn't felt right then, and she could never presume to be her lord's equal, even within a marriage.
Next time, it would be better, she thought, and it was a thought comforting enough that she fell asleep with it in her mind, colouring her dreams.
Next time comes later, when even the situation is different.
If her first miai wasn't as she expected, the next turns out to be impossible to have imagined. She doesn't even get to prepare for it; Jii doesn't act as nakoudo, as he had before. (He would be disappointed or horrified by that, Mako isn't sure which, if not both, but she intends to not be around to find out.)
She's meant to be helping Kaoru shop; she has a budget and a plan and ideas, and that was why it had fallen to her to deal with ensuring Kaoru had at least one outfit that wouldn't call attention to her in public. At least, that's what she thought; Kaoru doesn't seem interested in purchasing anything, and Mako can't even get her to enter stores that have Western-style clothing on display. Instead, every time she stops to look at something, even just for herself, Kaoru asks her questions - why do people wear it, what does she like about it, will she go back to teaching. Mako doesn't have time to ask anything back, and she can't even think of anything she wants to know because there's no time to think.
It's only when they leave town and the questions do not stop that she understands, and then, it's too late; she knows Kaoru's decision is made, and probably was before they left.
Mako isn't sure whether she's actually happy about this; it would be a good marriage, in all the ways that people tend to consider whether a marriage is good - status, money, security. She doesn't mind how her life is now, either, but she's always assumed it was temporary, just until the Gedoushu were defeated. The thought of staying, forever, feels impossible; she can't even picture it. Takeru is so serious, and even though she's learned that he really does care, that he can laugh and smile, she's still afraid to relax around him; she doesn't know him, not really, and she doubts he would even be able to understand her. She's too different, she belongs to the world outside of this place, and she doubts he would survive out there in much the same way she's not sure she can stay. Kaoru is not that much different, though for her it's duty that holds her to her ways, and if the afternoon had proved anything, it was that Mako couldn't even get through to her, wouldn't ever be able to be her equal.
Takeru could be Kaoru's equal, though, and as soon as it occurs to her it makes sense, and she wonders why she was ever considered at all. But she can't push them together on her own; she can't even convince Kaoru to buy pyjamas, and Takeru would be just as awkward as he had been with her, if he even knew what was happening. It needs someone more skilled than her at directing Takeru, someone who could make Kaoru listen...
She determines that she'll find a way to suggest it to Jii. She can't just say it, of course, especially not in front of the others, and not with things how they are now, with Takeru still reeling from being displaced and when she doesn't even know if it would be possible. It's something she puzzles over through the evening meal and late into the night, and she falls asleep without finding an answer.