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The first time Maya felt a click, felt herself filling up, glimpsed a brief wash of color before it faded to the grey she always saw, she was five and she was running, running to find some quiet.

Because she. Just. Couldn’t. Take. The. Screams. Anymore.

She kept running until the faint echo of screams became a cheerful, happy, mindless singing.

Dou dou dou, doudeli doudeli dou.

She was five when she first heard an angel.

She was five when she climbed into a window to change her life forever.

She was five when she met her whole world.

She was five.

“I wanna call you Peaches!”

Click.

 

 

The first time she felt her heart break – after her father, after her crying mother, after she wrapped it in multiple layers of stone so nothing could hurt ever again – Maya was twelve and her best friend, her whole world, her Riles, was telling her she didn’t want to be Riley. She didn’t want to be Riley, she wanted to be Maya. And Maya couldn’t help but find it ridiculous.

You should never, ever be like me. You should never want to be like me.

She wanted to be Maya and Maya basically pushed her into the lap of a Texas lookin’ Heehaw with a good smile.

Psh.

“I’m Lucas.”

“I love it!”

She was twelve when the world turned to darker shades of grey. Dim and somber.

She was twelve when she felt her heart break for the first and second – third and fourth – time. And it made the same sound as the first time she ever felt a complete shift in her world.

Click.

 

 

Maya was never really the type to get a lot of presents on her birthday. Some days her poor mother couldn’t sleep. Though this year she was stunned with the locket she gave her, she had to work to keep the tears at bay.

It was absolutely the best thing she could have ever gotten from her mom, but it was still Riley’s gift that had her tangled in knots.

Seeing those matching rings, no matter how cheap they might have been, brought out an unexpected visceral reaction from her she wasn’t prepared for.

She was too young to be reacting like that to rings, especially ones from her best friend.

At least their little call was appropriate. Of course she was thunder, loud, unwanted, scary, and Riley was lightning, bright, electrifying, dangerously beautiful. You can’t have one without the other.

Their rings sounded like the first time they met every time they bumped them together, and that meant something, she didn’t know what, but it definitely meant something important.

Click.

 

 

All Maya ever wanted for Riley was happiness. An endless supply of great days. And as her heart cracked a little bit more every day, as the world lost any chance of blooming into color, she kept pushing Riley and Ranger Rick together. Because Riley deserved to be happy. Riley deserved everything. Riley deserved the world.

No matter what she thought about Huckleberry.

She was barely thirteen when she had to see the fruits of her labors. When she could feel the unforgiving grip of grief squeeze her heart. When Riley and Huckleberry smiled giddy smiles as Mr Matthews gave his really-not-necessary-he-shouldn’t-have-even-done-shouldn’t-have-even-asked-it-this-wasn’t-the-damned-Middle-Ages-anymore-GOD blessing, as she was hopelessly roped into going on her first date ever with Farkle of all people – nothing against him, she just didn’t feel that way about him – to keep an eye on them.

I shouldn’t have heckled Matthews. Ugh.

She could feel the burn behind her eyes, was barely able to see the worried looks Auggie and Mrs Matthews were throwing her. Which, of course Topanga Matthews knew everything even when she wasn’t sure herself what there was to know.

She didn’t really know what was going on with her, other than that she could feel a chunk of stone breaking off, lodging into her throat, making it hard to breathe. She could almost hear it squeeze her lungs, could almost hear the crumbling sounds it was making.

She most definitely heard it on the train as she basically threw herself at Josh Matthews to make her forget. Because he was handsome. Older. Unavailable. A Matthews.

But she still couldn’t look away as Riley’s soft lips pressed against his.

She could feel another piece of the protective stone breaking off, leaving the precious organ beneath fragile.

Click.

 

 

Even though Riley and Huckleberry were still unofficial, she could not stand being around them for even a second. Not one bit. Farkle’s ring was a nice, shiny distraction but it wasn’t enough. So she threw herself more at Josh with a desperation that she never wanted of herself. Because he was a Matthews and the Matthews were her absolute favorite people.

But Riley was somehow able to worm herself into her plans for sneaking out to a college party to see him.

“It starts at ten?!”

Maybe that was how.

Too bad she still couldn’t see colors, she was sure the college was very vivid. And of course Riles would fit in, everyone should love her.

Though she did not appreciate you using our move with that stranger, Riley!

For a second, she almost regretted asking the clubs to bring her back. Only almost.

Though the college girls ended up being very nice and supportive. She couldn’t even continue to hate them for absolutely no reason!

And Josh ended up bringing them back just like she expected him to. Even then, she couldn’t help the feeling like something was missing with how she thought of him; he never really brightened up her world.

Only one person did that.

And he wasn’t it. Couldn’t trigger that right feeling inside her chest.

 

 

It was a stupid yearbook. A stupid yearbook that paired her up with Huckleberry of all people. That stole away her best friends. Covered the sun with rain clouds and made a special kind of weird, weirder. Less Farkly. Less Riley.

A stupid yearbook, that had her stupidly dressing up as Riley, because people needed a Riley in their lives. And stupid Sarah basically told her that Maya could take a hike and they preferred her as Riley.

But her Mom warned of the dangers of getting too into character. Of losing herself.

But as she proclaimed her brotherly love for Lucas, she didn’t know if it was the Maya or the Riley in her. Didn’t know why she wanted it to be the Riley in her.

Maybe her Mom was wrong. Because it looked like she was discovering secrets about herself, not her best friend.

And when Riley finally came back. When she finally laid her head on her shoulder. When she could already feel things being fixed. An unconscious part inside her desperately wished for it to be true. For Riley to like Huckleberry as a brother.

A part that she wouldn’t be aware of until a time to come. A part that drifted ever closer to the surface.

Click.

 

 

The world was in shades of grey.

But they taught that the sky was ‘blue’, the grass was ‘green’, the sun was ‘yellow’.

 

It was frustrating, as an artist, not to see colors. She wanted to capture everything. Wanted to see the beauty of the world melted onto paper, onto canvas. Wanted to preserve good memories for when she found her Mom exhausted, found her sad, found her even greyer. Wanted to make her treasures to make her smile.

But even if she weren’t an artist, she would do anything to be able to see Riley under the sun. Because even if she couldn’t see it, in its details, Riley glowed. She glowed all the time, but she practically shined at 5.30. She so wished she could see that, capture that. Get lost in the brightness that was Riley.

And as her favorite class was being canceled, as she forced an uncaring mask on her face. As she then rambled on to Riley about the beauty of the day, about how she turned gold. A color she couldn’t see, but the color of precious, priceless treasures.

As Riley helped her hold on to her passion, she felt another empty space in her chest shift. Fill.

Click.

 

 

Why the hell did Matthews get an idea? And why did she send that damned letter to her dad? He left them. He left them and he didn’t even know one of the most important people in her life, he didn’t even know Riley. He left them and he was her dad and her mom’s soulmate. If that didn’t make someone stick around, then what would?

She couldn’t forgive him, and she couldn’t forgive him for how she was mad at her mom for the longest time. The one who stayed, the one who protected her in the storm, the one who worked herself to the bone to provide for them.

She couldn’t forgive him. Matthews had been more than a father than he ever was. She couldn’t forgive him, but it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do anything and neither did her mom. She couldn’t forgive him, but she could forgive herself.

 

Later at home, she finally started asking her mom the hard questions neither of them could bring up.

“If you don’t stay for your soulmate than who do you stay for?”

“Oh, baby girl.” Her mom pulled her into her side and leaned back on the couch. “Sometimes soulmates don’t work out.”

“Then who stays?” She couldn't stop her voice – thick from muffled tears – from cracking.

“You can never know for sure. You just have to trust that your heart chose right, and baby girl I think yours did just fine.”

“Yours didn’t.” Maya burrowed further into her mom’s arms, something that they didn’t do nearly enough.

“Like I said, sometimes they don’t work out. Sometimes they’re platonic. Sometimes they’re unrequited but they can lead you to wonderful things. I can never regret your dad, Maya. Because he brought me you.”

Maya tightened her arms around her mom. “I love you, mom.”

She felt her mom tighten her arms around her, her voice choked as she said, “I love you too, baby girl.”

Her heart ached, it felt full. Maybe she couldn’t forgive her dad, but she wasn’t angry anymore, and her relationship with her mom was getting stronger every day. Making the empty places in her heart full.

 

 

When Rileytown was closed, when her best friend, her whole heart, was being bullied without telling her, when she took it out on her because she thankfully felt safe doing that. She wrestled with the part of herself that wanted to find the messed up monster who did this and teach them a lesson. With her fist. She wrestled it and decided to trust Riley to take care of it.

Because Maya was so relieved that she trusted her to show her the vulnerable, soft, dark parts of her that she didn’t let anyone else see.

She didn’t let the boys see her cry. She didn’t let them see her angry. She was the only one who ever saw her like that.

So she decided to let Riley handle it.

Though she took offense to Riley telling her she didn’t know everything about her.

 

“And now your host, British Riley!”

Well. She was just absolutely precious.

“Hey British Riley.” Maya gave her a fluttery wave and a wink she couldn’t see, heart so full to see her Riley back, it blinded her eyes and she could have sworn she could see that Riley’s hair wasn’t black, or grey.

For just a moment.

Before it faded.

Click.

 

 

The Semi Formal. It brought Riley lots of problems. Those problems brought Maya lots of problems. She didn’t only have to deal with Cowboy but with this new guy that brought balloons, flowers and Yogi on skates. And she didn’t understand, not one bit, why her heart was being squeezed inside her chest. Why she almost left Riley to herself. Why it hurt to even look at the smile on her face.

So Maya put on a big, cheesy smile and a phony accent and basically recounted the whole disaster in front of her.

Like seriously Huckleberry, you know what they say. Never assume.

Did they ever have an actual conversation?! Because that kind of seemed important in their unofficial thing.

Always with the misunderstandings.

But she kept a smile on her face even as she later explained to the Matthews about how scrambled their daughter was. “I think she’s just confused about how she feels.” Never mind how that applied to her even more.

She kept a smile as she watched her best friend dance with those boys.

She almost dropped it though when she heard that Charlie kid give credit to Ranger Rick – she was tempted to use a more vulgar word for that Ranger – of all people for the white horse.

She got that for Riley.

But even as she was boiling mad, a quiet sort of despair settled deep in her heart. One that she wouldn’t escape for a while yet. One she wouldn’t even be conscious of.

Click.

 

 

No. No. No.

No.

No, she did not have feelings for Lucas! She would be just as scared for Farkle if he were the one riding a pissed off bull, maybe even more scared! And not because he was scrawnier. But years of friendship would make her more worried, Cowboy.

She didn’t know where Riley even got the idea from. It was ridiculous! She cared about all her friends! Yes, even Lucas! Didn’t mean she liked him!

Relief almost swept over her when Riley told her she was stepping back. Though she didn’t know why. It was absolutely not any kind of feelings for Ranger Rick.

But as Riley proclaimed the importance of their sisterhood, Maya found herself not saying a word. Not denying nor confirming anything. Not even a breath.

Because she could feel her heart breaking, and it was confusing her. Why was she hurt? What was choking her?

It was definitely not fear. But for a moment it even hurt to breathe, her ribs tight, her heart a limp weight in her chest.

Crack.

Click.

 

 

It was New Year, and Riley still believed she had feelings for Huckleberry. She had other people believing it too.

But as Riley cupped her face in her hands, the confusing writhing mess that was her brain quieted down, while her heart beat in her ears, while she felt her breath shallowing.

In those few seconds, she felt a million more things that Lucas wasn’t able to make her feel when he did it. And her thoughts tangled even more, confusion burrowing in every little empty space inside her.

Have mercy on my poor, confused, unfeeling heart, Riles!

 

But really, could Cheese Soufflé stop talking for a minute, so she could enjoy English without having it applied to her life. She expected that from Matthews not Harper.

Like of course you need sense and sensibility.

The relief she felt when she figured out Riley and her Cowboy were both sense was a bit shameful and still confusing.

Like of course Ranger Rick could have a bit of sensibility, but that was largely in the past now.

He was trying too hard to show he was drowning in emotions, but Lucas was a rather calm guy except for that temper he almost never let out. Guy used his brain too much to be ‘overwhelmed by sensibility’.

Not like her in anyway. Artists always felt too big and too much.

Maybe that’s why me and Riley are like this. She makes me think and I get her out of her head.

 

At the party, she felt an encompassing loneliness as she watched Riley, watched her smile, watched her hug her mom, watched her answer the door. And as Huckleberry headed to sit next to her, she had the complete certainty that it wasn’t right. He shouldn’t be the one sitting at her side.

As they joined the others around the coffee table, she couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

Like, boys really, this wasn’t the time for a macho pissing contest.

Ugh.

And that couples game was a disaster, anyway. Her and Riley would have slayed as a team. Why weren’t they one anyway?

 

These days she was always so confused. Like her heart wasn’t her own anymore, and her brain was never any help before, so it was completely useless now.

At least she could always count on Mr and Mrs Matthews to give her advice when her poor overworked mother couldn’t. They made her feel better about how torn apart her feelings were making her.

So she went to join everyone on the roof, and even though everything inside her protested, she forced herself to join Lucas near the edge.

And after a while, it was pleasant, the mundane small talk almost soothing. That was until Farkle opened his big fat mouth and took a sledgehammer to her heart.

“Riley still loves Lucas.”

The only thing she heard after that was the sound of her heart splintering into tiny little pieces, trailing across the roof as she forced herself to take a seat on the other side of the bench. She barely held back a scoff when Lucas came between them. A huge metaphor for this whole fucked up triangle thing. But she could only focus on the tightness in her chest, gaze locked forward.

Crack.

Click, click, crack.

 

 

This just had not been her year, had it? First that whole mess with Huckleberry and now this?

Riley could not change their Bay Window! She might as well tear out her heart while she was at it.

This was where she met an angel when she was five, where she went every time her parents got into a screaming match, where she spent most of her time after her dad left. This was hers and Riley’s place, the calm in the storm, her safe place. If Riley wanted to change that, what else did she want to change about them?

“Whatever you want,” she’d said. Not this, though. Not this.

Even when Riley tore everything down, she didn’t move. She hated change, that was why this whole year sucked, too many things going on, too many changes to adjust to and her relationship with Riley, that was usually her haven, was at the center of that hurricane of chaos.

Now Riley was the one bringing the hurricane of chaos. Well not completely.

“Your safe place is us. Your safe place is me.”

“And I’m yours.” Maya had never meant anything as much as she meant this, but it felt like she’d just confessed something too big to understand now.

She sucked at change but at least she had her friends to help her through this. And she had Riley. She always had Riley.

 

“Promise we’ll always be together.”

“We’ll always be together.”

Click.

 

 

Well, their first day of high school was a whole clusterfuck. First the seniors stuck them in a hole. Then that Marly chick questioned Mr Matthews – which, fair, but never really happened before – and then their friends left them alone in the hole.

Honestly the worst thing about the whole day was watching the tears in Riley’s eyes after what Lucas said.

“Sometimes you are just too much for me Riley.”

The protective rage she felt at that was only tempered by the absolute shock she felt at hearing him say it. Then she was too busy comforting Riley to focus on it.

“Always,” she’d said.

Always, her heart beat.

And in the back of her mind, a thought grew and cemented and stayed there even after all the apologies.

Lucas doesn’t deserve her. Because if he would let his insecurities pound too loud that he would hurt her, would not support her in a time of need. If he didn’t appreciate her as she was, especially when things got tough. Yeah, he wasn’t the one.

Click.

 

 

Sometimes Riley Matthews was the cutest thing on this planet. Also the most in denial. First of all, of course she was only smart at Riley, she knew her inside out. Second, least dramatic person that has roamed the face of the earth. Psh.

But really, Riley shouldn’t care what some strangers thought of her. If they didn’t like her, they were both tasteless and not worth the effort. She was precious and nobody deserved her.

“Like Jessica but exier.”

Exactly like that. No really, sometimes Riley was too much in a good way that Maya didn’t even know what to do with herself.

“Cause nobody’s gonna find that adorable.”

And it was all she could do not to melt when Riley told her Jexica used to protect her but disappeared when she showed up. That’d been a vow of hers so long ago, that she’d protect Riley with everything she had.

“You think anybody will like her?”

“I know I do.”

Click.

 

 

Okay, why the hell was everyone making such a big deal about her changing. So she was getting good grades, a better home life can do that to you. So she started wearing different clothes – okay yeah some of them weren’t her style, but they were a gift! And she had no idea why Riley was making such a big deal about the purple cat. Riley loved purple cats, and purple cats reminded her of Riley. And you always drew from your heart when doing art.

Really, she was a bit concerned that the people in her life thought she was turning into Riley. She was growing up, she didn’t think she was a complete screw up so she was applying herself, shouldn’t they be happy for her?

Apparently not and it fucking pissed her off into her past attitude.

So she took it out on blank canvas and then on Riley, she fought her even harder when she heard her say that bullshit about being her sister. Like no. Absolutely not. She might be confused as all hell, but she knew with everything in her that that wasn’t what she was to Riley.

 

And apparently that confused her so much more, that the next day she was still angry especially when Riley thought she was the type of person to set off a fake fire alarm or steal cash from the register.

“I don’t know what I like anymore!”

She’d been feeling confused for a long time now and she’d finally vocalized that, but she had no idea what she just revealed with how Farkle was looking at her with new eyes, so she resorted to past tactics and basically threatened him. Not like it worked any better than it did in the past.

She really was a volcano waiting to erupt. All the confused thoughts and feelings she’d been pushing away churned into a hot tight mess inside her chest, and that mess got bigger with how the people closest to her had been reacting to that.

She was so angry that she’d skipped school and went to Christopher park, determined to go to town on that statue that reminded her so much of Riley. She even briefly entertained really reengaging with Carla and Renee, two girls she'd known when she was young and causing trouble and that she didn’t stay away from until a few years of being best friends with Riley. She’d heard over the years that they’d been causing even more damage. But she couldn’t do that when they were threatening both Riley and her statue. Something she’d later told her.

She was lucky she wasn’t arrested, but she had the feeling that everything that went down tonight, that big ass rainbow hope she’d stamped into the wall, they all meant something. They all made her feel less confused. Like something was starting to settle deep inside her.

Click.

 

 

Maya really thought they’d resolved this. That Riley would stop letting her obsessive need to be liked by everyone control her. Apparently not if she needed a cuddle in the middle of the hallway – not that she was complaining about that.

But that whole mess with that Chai chick – like really, she sounded like a tea brand – was annoying as all hell. She hadn’t felt like this since Huckleberry showed up. And really that should have made her think more, that should have clicked something for her, but she was still confused, still not ready.

 

 

Apparently, they were going to Therapy Lodge to resolve this whole fucked up triangle. She still had absolutely no clue how they got into this mess. Plus, it looked like a Matthews reunion not a field trip.

She still really had no idea how she felt, that when she first saw Josh, she went back to old habits. Making an idiot of herself. Which, really, she should stop, because this whole act of hers was starting to feel even more fake every day. It felt like she was lying to herself more than anyone else.

 

Riley really needed to grow into her own limbs. She was adorable no matter that she was falling on her face, but every time she hurt herself, it hurt Maya deep in her chest.

But seriously the whole universe was telling them to stop with that triangle bullshit. And no, it didn’t feel like it was pointing her at Josh. Like she said, he was a fantasy, you don’t feel anything real for a fantasy.

 

Well, at least she knew who loved her for herself. Like okay, Huckleberry, maybe it was reckless and she could have been hurt, but would he have preferred she let Farkle get hurt, or worse? At least Riley and the others appreciated her.

Looked like he didn’t appreciate how Riley was either. Maybe Riley couldn’t see the exact color of the leaf, but even she could see it was a different shade of grey than the others, than the leaves in the spring. And it was so like Riley Matthews to see something technically dead and point out the beauty of it. And she could tell from his look, that he didn’t really get it, didn’t really get Riley. She sometimes didn’t get Riley, but she always marveled at her, determined to understand her more. Lucas was just looking at her, all confused.

Yeah, Riles was right, this damned triangle needed to die from like Texas ago.

He really didn’t seem to be worth it, though, if he was seriously asking for even more options.

So, she just went along with them, because she really did like adventure – unlike Lucas – and really it was only ever Riley that was jealous of that. Everyday with Riley was an adventure, but she felt like if she really looked at a future with Lucas, she’d bang her head through a wall. Plus, there was nothing better to do, might as well make up a whole movie – and if Riley seemed like she was dressed up even prettier than usual in it, it was a fantasy after all.

But real life was harder, and she didn’t really want to lose her friendships. So maybe nature knew better – especially with the whole soulmates thing – but it also gave them a choice. Hopefully they’d make the right one.

 

Why in hell, did Riley stay up all night with that dude! Wasn’t the whole thing with Lucas bad enough?

This burning feeling in her veins and in her chest was getting too frequent with her. She felt it every time she saw Riley and Lucas, it felt vaguely similar to when that whole thing with that Chai chick and Cheese Soufflé happened. And now this? Was she getting heartburn, because this seemed serious.

She and Lucas were matching in more than clothes, it looked like.

Yes, Riley, we are going to make you explain why the hell you stayed up all night with a random guy and why you’re still wearing the same clothes.

Okay, she could understand if Lucas was feeling this same burning feeling, but that didn’t mean he had any right to think Riley couldn’t talk to anyone. Yes, it bothered her a bit, but she would never stop her from making new friends that made her happy – as long as she didn’t forget her.

 

She was still completely sure that she didn’t turn into Riley, but yeah, she’d been confused about her feelings for a long time now and confused about Riley’s feelings too. She wanted to make sure what Riley was feeling, and she still didn’t know.

But she knew, even if she wouldn’t say it out loud for now, that no, Lucas wasn’t good enough for her.

“You’re the only one who’s good enough for me.”

“This, we’ve always known.” Hopefully she always would be.

 

So a book would tell them who belonged with who? Didn’t seem like letting nature take its course.

“The most meaningful part of any relationship is c- conversation.”

Well, honestly that just knocked out all the Lucas sides of this messed up triangle. They didn’t talk much, and she knew that he and Riley hadn’t really had a deep conversation in a while, because Riley would always tell her everything, especially at the Bay Window. Wait. Oh. That felt like it was leading somewhere important. Somewhere she wouldn’t be coming back from. Somewhere she might not even want to come back from.

So when Lucas left, she grabbed Josh, because she was confused and she needed some Matthews perspective that wasn’t too close to this whole mess.

 

“You lose yourself to become like her, so you get to know him like she knows him.”

She wanted perspective, not this whole you-turned-into-Riley bullshit, so she raised a hand and cut him off, “Yeah, no, that’s not it, buddy. I didn’t turn into Riley and I especially didn’t do it to see if Lucas was the right guy for her. Cause I already knew the answer to that.”

“Well, is he?” Josh tilted his head.

“No, he doesn’t deserve her. But if he makes her happy for now, I’m not saying anything. She deserves that.”

“Don’t you?”

“Oh, he was never going to be the one to make me happy.”

“Maya—”

She shook her head to stop him again. She needed to stop going along with people trying to explain her behavior for her. She might still be confused, but she knew herself. Knew when she was pretending. It was time to stop that. So with a deep breath, she finally admitted to something she’d been hiding for years, “Neither are you, Josh.”

He tilted his head again, studied her closely and looked at her with new eyes, just like Farkle did a while ago when she'd revealed something that she still didn’t know about herself. “Huh, guess not. And if he hurts her?”

“He’ll be talking to me. Or my fist. I don’t care which. But I just want her happy.”

That unsettling understanding spread more across his face. “Why?”

She cocked a confused eyebrow at him. “What do you mean why? Because I love her.”

“Yeah. You do,” Josh said it softly, with a weight she didn’t understand, but she couldn’t think about that right now.

She shook her head and stood up. “Thanks for the conversation, Josh. But I think I need to go clear things up.”

 

Her conversation with Lucas cleared things up a little too well.

“I don’t want a nice guy? Yikes.” This. This seemed like one of the things she was confused about. This seemed like a step closer to figuring herself out, but she couldn’t dwell on it too much. She had to get his ass into gear.

“Look Huckleberry, I don’t really like you in that way. I never did, actually. Sort of went along with it because I was so confused, and Riley said that’s what I must have been feeling and I didn’t really have another explanation. So I went along with it.”

At least he seemed more confused than hurt. “Went along with it?”

“Yeah, I’ve been letting people explain me to me, but I don’t think I’ll let that happen again. And I don’t think this really hurt you, you seemed to go along with it too, but we both know who it really was you had feelings for.”

Lucas rubbed sheepishly at his neck. “Yeah.”

“Then go find Riley and tell her you love her.” That seemed very important for Riley to hear.

Though it seemed he didn’t agree much. “L-love her?”

Ugh. Boys. “Ju-just say it, we like it.”

But before she let him go, she had to make him understand everything. “If you hurt her Lucas, I won’t be responsible for what I do.”

The use of his name probably clued him in on how serious she was, for he only gave a soft smile and a nod before he headed off.

Watching him go, she felt a squeeze in her chest. It almost sounded like it was whispering 'soon'. Soon, she would understand all the weird confused feelings she’d been feeling for so long now.

She really couldn’t watch them get together, so she went outside to get some fresh nature air.

Walking a little down the trail, she found a fairly wide tree and settled against it. Letting the clear air fill her lungs, she closed her eyes. She kind of really wished she could see all the colors. She’d only closed her eyes for a few minutes before she felt someone settle beside her.

Opening her eyes, she gave whats-his-name that stayed up with Riley a bewildered look. “Can I help you?”

He only smiled at her, wrapping his arms around his knees. “I’m Evan. And you must be Maya.”

She scooted a bit away from him, ready to bolt. “How’d you know that?”

He stayed where he was, as though sensing he shouldn’t press his luck. “You were the one Riley talked most about.”

She felt herself relaxing against her will. “She did?”

“Yeah. And she was right. You have beautiful eyes.”

Her cheeks felt hot for some reason, but he didn’t seem to be flirting with her, so she scoffed, trying to hide how affected she was. “She can’t even see them.”

“Well, they’re beautifully blue. Just like the sky.”

She felt a jolt run through her. “You can see color?”

He hummed. “Yeah, and I have a feeling you’re not far off.”

Her heart knocked against her ribcage, as though wanting to be let out. She took deep breaths to calm down. She didn’t even know why she wasn’t getting away from this guy, but he sent some calming vibes that weren’t setting off her danger sense that had never let her down. “And how can you tell?”

“I’ve watched a lot of people and couples over the years. I’ve even seen some of them gain the ability here. They always have a certain look.”

“And I have it?”

He nodded, slowly getting up and brushing off his pants.

She held out a hand to stop him from leaving, feeling on the verge of revelation. “Wait, why did you follow me?”

“You looked like you needed someone to talk to. And I want to be a Sherpa, take people places they’ve never been before.”

Maya relaxed back against the tree, giving him a half smirk. “Hopefully you won’t lead them off a cliff.”

Evan didn’t get offended like she expected, only letting out a laugh. “Hopefully. Well, I’ll leave you to it. You seem like the person to enjoy both beauty and alone time.”

She cocked her head at him. “What, did your Sherpa eyes tell you that?”

“No. Riley did.”

“Oh.” That wiped the smirk off her face.

Seriously it was a bit too hot for this weather.

Evan seemed to look at her a little closer, smiled, then nodded as though confirming something to himself. “It was nice meeting you, Maya,” he told her as he started to walk away, “maybe next time you come here, you can appreciate the view more.”

“Who said we’ll be back here?” she yelled to him.

His laugh echoed in the wind. “You will. Nature takes you where you need to be.”

Maya watched him walk back to the lodge, slowly shaking her head. Weird dude. Though he seemed to like shaking someone’s foundations.

She closed her eyes, deciding to just enjoy nature for a little while longer before they left.

 

They'd been at the Bay Window for a while, not saying anything. The whole day was weighing on her, and the silence felt so weirdly charged that she felt like she was going to burst. “You and Lucas.”

“We’re going to try. My first boyfriend. Because you made sure it was okay.”

Maya barely suppressed a sigh. “Look Riles, I would always do anything to make sure everything in your life was okay. But I didn’t turn into you to do that.”

Riley opened her mouth, likely to protest, but she closed it after studying her face and seeing how serious she was. “Then what happened, Peaches?”

That pet name never failed to make her smile, even now. “I grew up Riley. Sure, the clothes weren’t really me. But I forgave myself, I didn’t have that anger that I needed to let out on anything. I applied myself. I’m still me, but with a little bit of hope, a little bit of faith in myself. I didn’t turn into you, but yeah, you gave me that.”

Riley smiled that hesitant smile of hers. “I did?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. You deserve it.”

They lapsed into silence a bit, just staring at each other until Riley broke it. “So, you and Josh?” Her smile wasn’t as bright as it usually was, but that could just be her that was seeing things.

“There’s no me and Josh, Riley.”

Her smile dropped off her face, shock and something else replacing it. “Really? But I thought you’ve liked him for years!”

“Not really. And I didn’t really like Lucas either.”

“So who do you like?”

“I’m still figuring that out.” Maya shrugged, she might be less of a mess, but she still had a way to go. “Who knows, anyway. Who knows anything?”

“I do. I know if you’re lucky in this life, you get an extraordinary relationship.” Riley’s voice was soft, her eyes intense, boring into her own like they were trying to catch her heart, drag it out of her chest to hold on to it. Maya listened, barely breathing, biting her lip, because, this. This felt like the road of no return. She knew, she just knew that whatever she heard next would change her forever. And she was right. “My mother and my father met each other very early. They took time to figure themselves out, to know that they’re soulmates. But they did and they stayed together for the rest of their lives. First boyfriends, Maya, who knows how that’s going to last. We don’t even know if they’ll be our soulmates. We’re going to meet new people, all the time. But if there’s one thing I know for sure in my life, it’s that,” Maya couldn’t breathe, she felt spots appear in her vision, and her heart raced, the fragile thing, like it knew, like it knew, “you are my extraordinary relationship, Maya.”

Oh, her heart beat.

Blood pounded in her ears. More spots appeared in her vision, as she couldn’t help but drown in her best friend’s eyes, only force of habit getting her to complete their thunder-lightning thing. And it was only, staring at those eyes, as they tangled their fingers together, as they promised forever. It was only then that the spots burst.

They burst before her eyes, clouding her vision for a second.

And finally, color. Blessed full color, erupted before her very eyes. So many bright, dark, beautiful colors. She watched as Riley burst gold, as she dripped light. As the sun shone on her, illuminating her, brightening her eyes. Her dark, beautiful and enchanting eyes.

She was breathless, almost gaping, throat tight with feelings, with trapped air that she needed for her abused lungs and her poor weak heart.

She couldn’t get ahold of herself. So much so, that Riley dropped her hand, soft fingers tilting her chin in that way she always did, worriedly asking her if she was okay.

She vaguely registered nodding, absently telling her she needed some water, dazedly getting up and moving to the kitchen, leaving Riley staring at her, frowning worriedly.

But she couldn’t think about that, barely managing not to stumble in her steps, her whole attention focused inwards.

This was what she’d been missing. This was what she’d been confused about this whole time. What she didn’t understand. What Farkle, Josh and hell even Evan saw in her.

Oh, her mind gasped.

Oh, I love her.

Oh, her heart sighed.

She wasn’t sure how she made it to the kitchen without tripping, her eyes looking nowhere and everywhere. She didn’t even notice Mrs Matthews there, too busy stopping herself from passing out and too busy trying to see all the bright new colors.

She reached for the island, needing to steady herself, still not able to stop her flitting eyes, almost missing it and falling on her face, until she reached both hands out, gripping it in a white knuckled grip.

“Maya?”

She jumped, brought back to reality a bit, turning to face Mrs Matthews who was looking at her like she was one step away from fainting, which wasn’t far off.

“Maya, honey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” But the way she croaked out the words from a too dry mouth wasn’t really reassuring, so clearing her throat, she just tried to distract her. “Just need some water.” Her voice still sounded like she was choking on sandpaper, if the way Mrs Matthews got her a glass from the tap and still kept an eye on her was any indication.

As Maya drained the glass in one go, Mrs Matthews got her another one, still with that worried look on her face. “Are you sure you’re fine?”

“Absolutely.” But Maya wasn't focused on her, still looking at everything, frowning pensively at the water. It didn’t seem to actually have a color.

She was too busy, too dazed, that she forgot she was near one of the smartest people she knew. And Topanga Matthews looked at her trembling form, her shaking hands, her flitting eyes, her puzzled frown and put the pieces together.

“Oh.”

Maya absently lifted both eyes and an eyebrow to gift her a confused look.

Mrs Matthews didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, one hovering over her mouth like she wanted to cover it and the other in front of her chest like she wanted to hold back her heart. “Maya, honey, when did you get it?”

“Get what?”

But she didn’t get an answer. “You weren’t like this when we were at the lodge. Not even when we got home.” And just like that, Maya crashed back to earth, watching with dread as Mrs Matthews flitted wide eyes between her and the stairs that led to the bedrooms. “Maya, is it—?”

She didn’t want to answer, didn’t want to vocalize the earth-shattering news that she’d discovered not even a minute ago. So she drained her second glass of water instead of saying anything, and that seemed to be answer enough.

Mrs Matthews didn’t seem to know on which emotion to settle. Which, good, at least she wasn’t the only one shaken. “Did she—?”

“Nope.”

“Well then, what happened?”

Maya leaned exhaustedly on the island, tugging at her hair. “Apparently, I’m her forever extraordinary relationship. Just like you and Matthews. Almost her exact words.”

Mrs Matthews raised an eyebrow. “She compared you to us?”

“Yup.”

“Well, my daughter was always the romantic.”

“She didn’t know that.” Maya gave a tired laugh. “What am I going to do, Mrs Matthews?”

“Well, first, we’re going to have to work on you calling me Topanga,” Mrs Mat—Topanga said as she held her shoulders.

“That’s going to take a while.”

“Well, we have time.”

“And then?”

“You’ve always been the one more in touch with your feelings, Maya. I think it’s going to take her a bit to catch up.”

“What if she won’t? What if this is one of those unrequited bonds?”

Mrs Matt—Topanga smiled at her, a soft motherly look on her face that she’d been familiar with since she was five. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Maya. Just have a little hope.”

“Yeah, well, hope is for suckers.” She couldn’t help but revert to her favorite saying, because she might have gained some hope, but she still believed that.

Mrs M—Topanga shook her head, still smiling as she held her chin before letting go, heading to the fridge. “Well, love makes us all suckers and fools. It’ll work out, honey.”

“Didn’t you have doubts with Matthews?”

“I did.”

“Well, how’d you get over them?”

Topanga reached into the freezer, got out some spoons and put a carton of rather weather-inappropriate ice cream in her hands, pushing her towards the stairs. “Together.”

Together. That seemed right.

As she headed back to Riley, she felt something untangle from the mess inside her chest and settle.

Click.

She smiled. At least she knew what that was now.

Soulmates.

Huh.

She was definitely going on the internet later. She had so many new colors to learn.

 

 

Really, the last thing she’d expected from researching her Irish heritage was to find out she was basically engaged. But come on, everyone had a heart attack once in a while, right?

Claddagh rings, especially ones worn with the heart pointing inwards meant something. And apparently what hand mattered too.

She couldn’t believe she’d been wearing it like that without knowing. Apparently, with it on her right hand, she was either in a committed relationship or engaged.

She couldn’t even really look Riley in the eye after she learned about them. Especially when she learned they did mean married on the left hand. Sometimes Riley liked to switch hands and she wore it with the heart inwards too, and it was all she could do not to either melt or combust on the spot.

She wasn’t telling Riley what those rings meant anytime soon.

 

 

Maya really, really hoped Riley didn’t go on the internet. It was a bit funny and cute when she called her daddy when they were younger, but now that they were older and that she couldn’t unlearn the internet she just couldn’t hear it the same anymore.

 

“When we talk magic happens.”

Riley didn’t know how on the nose she was.

 

She really needed to tell her heart to calm the fuck down. So Riley was more confident in them then in her and Lucas and she’d probably unintentionally confirmed Farkle’s suspicions. No big.

 

“Maya, what if we don’t care about our boyfriends as much as we care about each other?”

Well, she would definitely not be having any boyfriends. Not that it was the time to tell her that. “We’ll just care for them in a different way.”

“What different way?”

“Less.” Duh.

 

“What kind of idiot gives up a top school for someone else?”

“You. You gave up Yale for dad.”

Apparently Mrs—Topanga had a case of pot-kettle, but why did she look so stunned? Maybe because Riley called her out. Maybe, based on the side-eye she gave her, it was because Riley compared them to her soulmate parents. Which, she’d been doing for a long while now, so she didn’t really see what the big deal was.

She couldn’t figure out what Topanga was trying to tell her with the charades she was doing behind Riley’s back before she gave up, but it seemed to do with Riley, duh.

“Life knows we’re forever right?”

Well, life picked them for each other, so it sure as hell should.

 

Smackle and Farkle were adorable. Weird, but adorable. It was nice seeing them being honest together and they seemed like they had more to say or that they’d figured something out before Riley had her little freak out.

 

Nope. Nope. Nope. Hope was for suckers. Hope was for dimwitted suckers. And she was the biggest of them all.

She’d been attacking canvases with violent splashes of color ever since she got back home. She’d been diminishing her supply, she’d been running out of the colors she’d fallen in love with. She’d been an absolute spattered mess.

She was too into her head to hear her mom come into her room.

“Baby girl, dinner’s—what happened here, Maya?”

Maya turned to face her mom, paint streaking across her skin and tears shining on her face.

Her mom rushed to pull her into her arms. “Oh, Maya, what happened?”

“Topanga got a job offer as partner for their London branch.”

“Honey—wait Topanga?”

“She asked me to call her that.” It was still weird, but she was getting used to it.

Her mom shook her head, apparently deciding to leave that tidbit for another time. “Well, did she take it?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, chin up sweetheart! She hasn’t yet.”

“She will! Hope is for suckers mom, and I’m the biggest sucker ever!”

“Well, that’s just—” but whatever her mom was going to say, she didn’t know, as she saw her take a closer look at the paintings. Great. Well, not how she wanted that to go. “Maya, your colors seem to match more than they ever had.”

Maya only grunted, turning to attack her latest one.

But her mom wouldn’t let it go like that, and she didn’t expect her to. “Baby girl, what’s the color of my shirt?” she asked her this in a gentle tone, understanding buried in its cadences.

Maya didn’t even spare her a glance as she painted purple streaks among the violent clouds of red and black. “Light blue.”

“When? How? Who?”

She only gave a scoffing laugh, too tired to even worry. “I’ll give you one guess.”

It only took a minute, before she felt her mom’s warm arms around her. She didn’t turn around, slowly putting down her brush and leaning back against the weight at her back.

“When did you know?”

No matter how many times she cleared her throat, she couldn’t swallow down the lump in her throat, barely managing to choke out, “Ski Lodge.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to sort myself out before I said anything. Not like I can now.”

“Does anyone else know?”

“Topanga.”

“Ah, that’s probably why she wanted you to call her that.” She felt her mom sigh as she pressed a kiss to the back of her head. “Come on, baby girl, you need to eat to be able to deal with everything.”

No matter how much she didn’t want to, she couldn’t deny that her mom was right. “Yeah.”

Dinner with her mom did make her feel a bit better, but she didn’t think it was because of the food.

After that, she didn’t get back to her canvases. She stayed up late and researched everything she could about London on their shitty wifi.

 

3459 miles away. 3459. Damn it. Damn it. She couldn’t ignore this, and she wasn’t going to let Riley pretend it wasn’t happening. They had to deal with this, damn it!

“You’re too far away now!”

Okay, she was trying to be serious here, Riley! She had to work really hard to keep the flush from her cheeks, but she couldn’t stop the thoughts at the back of her head.

I can be closer if you want me to, Honey.

 

In the chaos of all the people grouped in the Matthews’ living room, Maya was able to join Topanga in the kitchen in a semi-private manner.

“Can’t I go with you?” She couldn’t keep the desperation from her voice even if she tried.

“Maya—”

“You know what this will do to me. To her. To us. How will she ever know?”

Topanga gently grabbed her upper arms. “Maybe it’s time you told her.”

“Not like this.” The tears burned a trail down her cheeks.

“Oh, honey,” she squeezed her into a tight hug, “I’m so sorry.”

Before they could talk even more, Maya felt a hand on her back and a voice that always made her feel safe. “Maya?”

She just gave a trembling smile to those worried, beautiful eyes, without saying anything. How could she? Thankfully the rest of the room butted in before Riley could grill her more.

 

Even after that whole circus show of ‘advice’, she still couldn’t admit to the possibility of Riley being gone. She couldn’t or else her heart would shatter on the floor, never to be put together again.

But she had to start to come to terms with it. Even then, at their Bay Window, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her their truth. Not like this. Not ever like this.

“Goodbye, Riley.” If she could barely get these words out, there was no way she could tell her the truth.

 

Thankfully, she didn’t have to. Her throat felt raw from all the screaming she did when Topanga told them they were staying, because she’d found her quiet place. But based on the look she was giving them, maybe there were more things that affected her decision.

But Maya didn’t care. They were staying! Riley was staying. They still had time to figure everything out.

Maybe Riley was starting to figure things out a bit. She really had a way with words, but Maya wondered if she paid enough attention to realize what a lot of what they said to each other sounded like.

A bit too young for wedding vows there, Riles.

But yeah, she wouldn’t let anything come between them. Never.

 

After a bit, they all separated into their corners in Topanga’s.

Maya was at the counter, watching Riley with Auggie, when Farkle sidled up beside her.

“When are you going to tell her?”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Yeah, that innocent look wasn’t fooling her, and she made him see that because he seemed to change track. “I’ve just been noticing that your art seemed to be very color coordinated. No clashing.”

She heard loud and clear both what he'd just admitted about himself and what he knew about her. “When did you start?”

She’d never seen that shy smile on Farkle before as he looked at Smackle. “I think you all heard us here, a few days ago. We’ve been seeing gradually ever since.”

Maya felt her eyebrows raise, happiness and envy churning in her chest until she pushed the last one away. “Farkle, I’m so happy for you.” She held his forearm and gave it a squeeze.

“Thank you, Maya.” He gave her a soft smile, before it dropped into a serious look. “When are you going to tell her?”

And just like that, all those fuzzy feelings inside her froze. She’d seen that look on his face before and she hated it still. So she crowded him and dusted off her darkest death glare that she hadn’t used in years. “Listen up, Minkus. If you do to me what you did to Riley on New Year, I will kill you and nobody will find the pieces, do you understand me?”

Well, she still got it, if the way he quickly nodded was any indication. “I mean it Farkle, you can’t out someone. You especially can’t tell her about her being my soulmate. She needs to figure it out herself, and that’s even if I’m her soulmate.”

Farkle stared at her for a bit before he turned his look to Riley. “Yeah, you’re right. But for what it’s worth, Maya, I don’t think she’s far off.” He nodded in Riley’s direction before he headed off, probably to find Smackle.

She turned to look at Riley, only to find her giving her a searching look that she couldn’t decipher and a soft, gentle smile that made her gooey on the inside and it showed with the gooey smile she gave her back.

 

 

It’d been a few months since the London scare. Those numbers were stamped into her brain and she sometimes saw them in her nightmares.

Anyway, they’d finally settled into high school. Her and Riley had found their own hobbies and made friends in those circles that were unique to each of them. Her with the art and photography clubs, and Riley with the book club and the school newspaper. She did have a way with words after all. Well Maya did too, but she didn’t have the energy, and articles weren’t really her thing.

But they always made time for each other. She’d been trying to limit their time with Smarkle a bit for the sake of all their ears and Riley’s throat. There was a limit to how much you squeal before it became too much. Like, adorable, but ear-piercing.

Today, they’d been enjoying the late spring air, taking a slow walk in the park and enjoying the peace and quiet. They would occasionally talk in quiet tones, but for the most part they were just enjoying each other’s company.

Until Riley decided to break the silence. “So, there’s something I have to tell you about Lucas.”

Lucas. That was weird. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t heard about Lucas since, well before the London scare. She would have expected the usual painful gushing about romantic dates and cute smiles and strong arms and all that blegh. But she hadn’t heard anything.

She frowned. “Now that you mention it, you haven’t talked about him in ages.”

Riley let out a weird, nervous sounding laugh, turning around to walk backwards and talk at the same time, which made her tense because Riley still hadn’t grown into her limbs.

For some reason she wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Honey, are you alright?” She tried to catch her gaze, but it kept stubbornly away.

“Just peachy, Peaches.”

Maya automatically rolled her eyes, fondly annoyed by the lame joke, but she stopped the comeback on the tip of her tongue when she saw that Riley’s bright smile trembled at the edges, nervous looking, with the brightness of it seeming fake.

Feeling her heart clench in her chest, she had to stop herself from reaching out to Riley because that was a sure-fire way to get her to trip up.

“Come on, Riles, you know you can tell me anything.” She gave her a soft, tender smile. Hopefully she couldn’t see her heart through her eyes, because these days it felt too full to hide, shining through every gesture she made towards her soulmate.

She wasn’t too sure that Riley didn’t see it, because there was something that passed over her face while her steps became a little wobbly. Maya held out her hands in front of her, just in case.

Riley cleared her throat, tucking her hair behind her ears, making her heart clench – she wanted to do that. “Anyway. Me and Lucas broke up when we thought I was going to London.” That seemed smart. “We tried dating after that, but it didn’t seem to work. So we kind of put a stop to it.”

Maya stopped in her tracks which made Riley stop walking too. “So, wait, you’re not dating Lucas?”

“No.” She shook her head, the beautiful dark curtain of her hair moving with it.

“How long have you been broken up, now?” She slowly started walking again, Riley mirroring her, still walking backwards.

“Months now.”

“Months. Huh. And how are you two dealing with this?” Riley should have told her, she might have been hurting for months and she hadn’t done anything to help her with that.

“Actually, we’re closer than ever.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah. Without all that pressure of dating, we’ve been better friends.”

“Alright. Good. Are you happy then, Honey?” That was the most important thing.

“Yes, Peaches. I’ve been so happy.” Riley gave her an intensely deep look, lovely brown eyes huge, boring into her own like she was trying to tell her something.

But before she could figure out what it meant, what she’d been expecting to happen, did. Riley tripped and stumbled backwards. But before she could fall and break her back, Maya shot her hands forward, wrapping them tightly around her waist and pulling her into her.

“Whoa.” Maya couldn’t breathe, her heart in her throat, the image of Riley falling backwards stamped into her eyelids. It wasn’t until then, that she’d realized the position they were in.

They ended up tangled together, Maya’s nose buried in her neck and Riley’s hands clutching at her shoulders, with Riley leaning a little backwards, only supported by her hands around her waist.

She cleared her throat, trying to swallow against the lump stuck there, slowly steadying them until they both had steady footing.

It was only then that she looked up, giving Riley a look over. “Are you okay?” For some reason, she still sounded as breathless as she felt.

But from the looks of it, she wasn’t. Riley was staring at her with wide, shocked brown eyes, her breaths short and loud, hands clenched tight against her shoulders. She looked like she was in shock. Her breaths came even shorter when she looked away, eyes flitting everywhere and somehow getting wider.

“Riles? Riles, Honey? Look at me.” When she didn’t, Maya took her by the chin and gently turned her face towards her, because she needed to get her to breathe again. “Look, Riley, we’ll get the ice cream another time. But right now, can you breathe with me, please.” Here she took a deep audible breath, waiting for Riley to do the same. “Good, now hold it in. Then slowly, let it go. Again.” They repeated this a few times, until Riley’s breaths, while still loud and shaky, were at least even. “There, better?” When she got a shaky nod, she turned, keeping one arm around her waist and gripping one of the hands on her shoulder. “Come on. I’m taking you home.”

Riley opened her mouth to protest, but she quickly shut it at the hard stare she got.

“And don’t you dare say you’re fine. You obviously hurt yourself, so come on.”

She kept a secure hold on her, focusing on their feet and thus missing the way Riley’s eyes kept darting everywhere, wide with wonder, not seeming to know where to focus, always coming back to settle on Maya with a soft, melted look that would have surely turned her into a puddle of lovesick Maya-goo if she saw it.

It wasn’t long until they were back at the Matthews’, swinging open the door to be greeted by a surprised Topanga. “Oh, girls, you’re back early.”

As Riley was still being strangely silent, Maya took it upon herself to explain as she guided them to the stairs, eyes focused on their feet. “Yeah, she kind of hurt her foot, so I’m taking her to her room.”

As Maya was still in protective mode, she missed the way Topanga scanned her daughter, noticing the normal way she was walking and the wide, delighted eyes darting around the apartment, always returning to the girl at her side. She’d seen almost this exact same thing before, but with more freaking out. “Actually, Maya, I don’t think—”

But Maya wasn’t listening, already leading Riley up the stairs. “I’ll tell you if we need anything.”

“That’s—alright sure.” Topanga threw her hands up as the girls disappeared from view, but she couldn’t help the thrilled smile on her face. “About time.”

 

Once they settled at the Bay Window, Maya got to work, taking off Riley’s shoes. “Alright, Riles, which one hurts more?”

“Maya—”

“I think it might be the right one?”

“Maya—”

“No, definitely the left.”

“Peaches!”

“What!” Maya snapped back, regretting it immediately at the look on her face. “Sorry.”

“Maya, I’m okay. I’m not hurt at all. See.” Here she wiggled both her feet in all directions without any sign of pain.

“Then what was that back there?”

Riley sighed, the sound carrying more weight than usual. “Peaches, come here.” She grabbed her by the forearms and pulled her to sit next to her, closer than usual.

Maya felt her heart race as she noticed that she didn’t let go, thumbs tracing circles on her skin below where her sleeves were rolled up.

She slowly dragged her eyes up, but Riley was still staring at their hands with something like wonder. “Riley, Honey?”

She watched those brown eyes drag along her body – she had to stop the shivers crawling up her spine, feeling that look like an actual physical touch – till they stopped on her own eyes with a sharp breath. She, herself, didn’t dare breathe, because there was something at the back of her mind that was telling her she knew exactly what this was, but she quickly squashed that voice.

“Peaches, what color are your eyes?” her voice was soft like silk, teasing her ears and settling around her heart.

It was so soothing she didn’t really register what that meant until after she’d already absently said, “Blue, like the sky.”

“Beautiful.”

She sucked in a breath that she almost choked on. “Riley, are you—”

“And mine?”

And nature help her, she couldn’t do anything but answer, “Brown, like chocolate. Riles—”

But Riley only pressed her thumbs deeper into her skin, not to hurt, but it did effectively shut her up. “I always knew your eyes would be the most beautiful thing I’d see. How long have you been able to see color, Maya?”

Maya almost didn’t want to answer, but she wasn’t looking at her with anger, she still looked at her with that soft, gentle wonder in her eyes that she was completely helpless against. “Remember after we came back from the Ski Lodge?”

“Oh.” She didn’t seem able to breathe, and Maya leaned forward in worry, but she continued, still in that liquid soft voice, “That’s why you were so weird. That long? Why didn’t you tell me, Peaches?”

Maya pulled those too warm hands off her forearms, until she had them tangled in her own, unable to look away from those enchanting eyes. She still couldn’t believe any of this was happening. “You know that’s not how it works. Plus, you had Lucas then. And while I knew you were my soulmate,” damn this must have been the first time she’d said that out loud, “I didn’t know if I was yours.”

“How can you not be mine, Maya?” Riley fiercely said, tugging her closer by their hands. “How could you be anything else? You’ve been mine and I’ve been yours since the day we met.”

“Not like this. You had to find out by yourself. You had to figure it out yourself. You know that’s how it works.”

“Yeah.” Riley sighed. “But Maya, you would have been my first choice, I hope you know that.”

“And you’re mine.”

They spent a little while just staring at each other like complete idiots, until Maya couldn’t handle the quiet anymore. “So, what now?”

Riley released one of her hands, but she couldn’t even mourn the loss before it was back, cupping her cheek, thumb stroking across the bone. She pulled her closer, until they were leaning their foreheads together, breathing each other in. “Now, I guess we start the beginning of the rest of our lives.”

“This isn’t going to be easy.” She felt like she had to warn her, because no matter how much this felt like a dream, it was bigger than that, and one of them had to be the realist and it was always going to be her.

“I don’t care.” Riley shook her head – which felt weird when she was still leaned against her – smooth strands of rich brown tickling against her cheeks.

“We’ll fight. We’ll hurt each other. We’ll be apart.”

“As long as we do all of that, together. I’d do anything with you, Maya.”

“Me too,” her voice was hoarse, and she could feel her pulse pounding along her neck, but she’d never before felt more peaceful.

“You and me?”

“Together.”

And finally, finally, they closed the space between them, pressing impossibly soft lips against impossibly soft lips. And it wasn’t perfect. They bumped their noses at first – something that had them both let out soft laughs and quiet apologies – clacked teeth a little, but then they found their rhythm, their lips fusing together with a click, soft puffs of air escaping them like this was the first time they were properly breathing, bright spots of color exploding behind their eyelids.

And yeah, it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to be hard. It was going to be messy.

It wasn’t going to be easy. But nothing worth having really was.