Maya Mari didn’t generally have time for love and justice crap, or for existential angst, so she really didn't have much practice at dealing with the mood she was in right now.
Everything just felt wrong. It had for a while. Human nature didn’t work like this; bad guys didn’t stop hurting people and taking things just because a bunch of superheroes teamed up to fight aliens. People should still fight with their families and hit their kids and and steal cars and do drugs.
Not should, exactly. She didn’t want them to, whatever her friends seemed to think. But the way people worked, it ought to be happening, and it wasn’t. Governments were sitting down and having peace talks. The UN was talking about a world government and the Americans were only flipping out a little. North Korea was acting less crazy. Nothing made any sense.
And then when something finally snapped, it wasn’t anything normal, like guys harassing women on the street or people stealing to pay for drugs; it was all these weird attacks on people who knew Hazama Masayoshi.
Including her girls. And her, because the only reason she was fine was that she hadn’t touched her coffee.
It was one thing to decide she didn’t have the stomach for heroics that Masayoshi did, and another to see the trail of foam at the corner of Moe’s mouth and know that it was because she’d teamed up with Samumenco a year before. Sawada Haiji wasn’t trying to get her out of the way, or hurt her; his real target was Samurai Flamenco. Moe and Mizuki were just collateral damage, and Mari was irrelevant. They might as well have been his pet goldfish.
Hitting Haiji had felt good, especially since Samumenco was doing the Pink Cure love-and-understanding crap and wasn’t going to either punch him or let Gotou shoot him. But it wasn’t enough, and that was why she was patrolling irritatingly peaceful, graffitti-free streets at night after visiting hours at the hospital were over. Mizuki was due to be discharged the next day, but Mari didn’t intend to drag the other two along with her until she’d shed this itchy feeling.
Maybe it was just leftover tension. That night, her blood had thrummed under her skin like she was on the verge of some kind of bulging-muscles power-up. Maybe it just needed a while to settle down.
Or maybe it was the feeling of somebody watching her.
"Yes?" The possible future president of the world stood up from behind a dumpster and readjusted his helmet on his head.
"I knew it. Why the hell are you here? You don’t have to rein me in. There’s nobody for me to beat up anyway."
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay! Besides... when I spend too much time around Gotou-san, he says it’s creepy."
"Aw, is he getting cold feet?" She turned to start walking again, but she didn’t hear any footsteps behind her. When she turned back, his shoulders were slumped. "Hang on," she said. "Does that idiot seriously think you didn’t mean it?"
He sighed hard enough to puff out the totally unnecessary scarf over his face.
"How are you both so stupid?"
"I really jumped the gun," he said, quietly.
True. If Moe had up and proposed to her before they’d ever even kissed she’d have been freaked out too. But then, Moe didn’t even need to propose to her, because it didn’t take a marriage proposal to make her feelings clear.
Honestly, Mari could guess how stupid nutjob denial-master Gotou Hidenori felt.
She really didn't care for the love and romance crap. But they weren't finding any crime, and he looked really sad, and it wasn't like Moe or Mizuki were there to see her acting all squishy.
"Let's go find a rooftop," she said with a sigh of her own.
Fire escapes and dumpsters — it might not be punching evil in the face but at least it got the blood flowing better than dancing ever could. The cold wind up above the city and the crunch of rooftop grit under her boots brought back memories.
She perched on the edge of the low wall, crossed her legs, and balanced her baton across her lap. "Okay," she said. "Tell Flamenco Diamond what’s up."
Masayoshi came over to the edge, too, propped one foot up and rested his knees on it, but he held the heroic pose for about ten seconds before he pushed away from the wall and paced off. Did she need to start with the threats?
Just as she was getting a grip on her baton, he finally spoke, though he didn’t stop moving. "Nothing’s up," he said. "That’s the whole problem. We’re friends, and that’s all. He doesn’t feel the same."
"Bullshit. I knew from the start he was in love with you. He’s just messed up in the head."
"But he had his girlfriend..."
"So you’re saying he’s straight? People can like both, you know."
"I don’t think—"
"Besides, she’s been dead for years! It’s not like he was too delusional to know, right? It’s not like he had a split personality. It was just, what, she was still alive in his heart or something?"
"Mm. That’s exactly what he said."
"And she left, didn’t she? She said goodbye and everything. Maybe he just needs some time to adjust."
"No! I did this all wrong. I shouldn’t have started talking about marriage. Now he thinks I’m— he thinks I want to replace her, or something. He thinks I just want to make him feel better."
"But you do."
"That’s not—" Slumped shoulders again. "I don’t know. I don’t think I understand love."
"Oh for crying out loud. Like anybody understands love." She really needed some balls to stomp. "It’s weird and it makes no damn sense and it makes people act crazy. Like, why the hell does Moe think I’m so great? I know I’m pretty awesome, but not in the way she thinks."
"Ahh... that doesn’t really help me very much..."
"Like you’re the only one with problems." She hopped down from the wall. "So you think you scared him off by coming on too strong. Dial it back! Do something nice for him. Bring him flowers or take him on dates. Show him you appreciate him."
"Would he really agree to a date?"
She shot him a glare, and he stepped back. "I think I get the general idea though!" He straightened his shoulders, and bowed deeply. "Thank you, Flamenco Diamond. I feel much better now."
"Okay, awesome. So are you going to keep stalking me when I patrol? Or do you want to come with me and knock some skulls together, just like old times?"
"No, I... I think I should head home. I have some things to do."
He was probably going to be pricing flowers online, she thought, as she watched him disappear over the edge of the wall.
Maybe Gotou wouldn’t agree to a date right off the bat, but she knew one person who would.
She was there with their manager first thing the next morning to deal with Mizuki’s discharge from the hospital, a giant vase of roses in each hand; orange for Mizuki, because they were her favorites, and pink for Moe, because she wasn’t sure she wanted to commit to a dozen red roses but she definitely needed to pick one of the romantic colors.
Mizuki was busy answering the doctor’s questions when they came in, so Mari hugged her, left the vase on her nightstand — Mizuki sighed, and Mari could already hear the "why did you bring these here" complaint — and made a beeline for Moe, past the curtain.
"Mari-san!" Moe exclaimed, looking up from her tablet. "I saw online that you went patrolling again. Did anything happen?" Then her eyes widened. "Are those for me?"
"Of course they are!" She put them on the little nightstand and sat on the edge of the mattress. Moe already had her eyes closed, waiting expectantly.
There was always that moment of hesitation. Standard peck on the lips, or something more? She used to decide based entirely on her mood, a longer kiss if she felt like it, or if she wanted to get Moe to take her side in an argument with Mizuki or cover for her when she slacked off or back her in a decision; shorter pecks when she was actively pursuing a guy, or annoyed and impatient, or just in a bad mood in general.
Who the hell understood love, really? Why did she sometimes want Moe to leave her alone and stop being so sweet and kind and soft and loving, and other times want to hold onto her and protect her and make up for every mean thing she’d ever thought or said? Why was she still kind of sad about that stupid headcase Gotou even though she’d written him off as a possibility while her hands were still shaking after going through his messages?
Love made no damn sense at all, but Moe was waiting for her kiss, and Mari could still remember the weight of her limp body in her arms. So she stroked her thumb over Moe’s cheek and kissed her, soft and lingering, lips parted just enough that Moe’s parted in response. Mari deepened the kiss, put her hand on Moe’s side, and then finally, for the second time out of all the times they’d kissed, she felt Moe’s arms go around her.
About damn time, Moe. She’d have to break the kiss to say it, though, and she needed to reward Moe for being proactive here.
They did at least have the rattle of the curtain on its rod when Mizuki pulled it back as warning before Mizuki’s "Oi!" interrupted them.
"Hey, Mizuki," Mari said, wiping some saliva from her mouth. "You all done with the doctor?"
"Jeez, we could hear you," Mizuki said. "But yes, I’m done. We have to go down to the office for some paperwork. Is it safe to leave you two alone up here?"
"Depends on what you mean by safe," Mari said; a glance at Moe showed she was even more flushed than when they’d stopped kissing. Okay, teasing wasn’t too nice. "I guess I should come with you," she added, reluctantly. Until the flush had set in, Moe had looked pretty pale, and she was still stuck here, after all.
"Please stay," Moe said, her voice tiny. Mari covered her hand with her own and squeezed.
"Okay," Mizuki said. "Mari, I’ll call you when we’re done. Don’t get into any trouble."
"Yes ma’am," Mari said.
"And bring those roses with you," Mizuki added. "Honestly. You knew I was leaving today. What good did it do to bring them here?"
Mari waited until her back was turned to stick out her tongue, but Moe busted her by giggling. All Mizuki did was glare, though. Clearly she was ready to get out of this room.
Once they were gone, the door hanging partly open, Mari stood up and picked up Moe’s roses. "I can move them somewhere else if you want," she said. "Over by the sink?"
"No, I like them here. This way I can smell them. And I’ll have them close even after you leave."
This was exactly the kind of thing that Mari never knew how to handle. Was it touching, or was it too much, and why the hell couldn’t she decide?
"Moe," she said.
"If I asked you out on a date—"
She had to laugh. "You have to let me finish," she said. "If I asked you out on a date, what would you think it meant?"
"I..." Moe looked down at her hands on the bedspread. "I don’t know. That you wanted to spend time together?"
Back when she’d first realized Moe had feelings for her, back when they were still getting ready to release their first single, Mari had freaked out a little, privately. This was going to be such a pain, she’d thought; she’d have to let her down gently, and everything would be awkward, and what if Moe got all bitter about being rejected? She clearly hadn’t known Moe very well back then.
Of course it wasn’t some kind of reward in her mind for devotion, or good behavior, or patience. "I might like to get to know you a little better, too. Or just... do things together? In our free time? Is that okay?"
"Of course!" Moe exclaimed, in her adorable English.
Of course it would be.
It was just so uneven between them. If Moe didn’t care about seeing her at her worst, screaming at her and covered in vomit, nothing Mari did was going to make her fall out of love. And Moe wasn’t the one moping around dark alleyways, wondering what to do or just looking for someone to hit; Moe wasn’t going to decide she was coming on too strong. It was up to Mari to figure out how they should make this work.
"It’s a good thing you’re so patient," she said. "It’s gonna take me a while to catch up with you, you know?"
"Catch up? I don’t understand."
"I’ll explain sometime." Was it cheating to kiss her right now, to distract her?
She put the vase of roses back on the nightstand, and sat down again on the edge of the bed. "Mari-san," Moe said, with a sort of insistent tone. "What do you mean—"
Mari put her hands on both Moe’s shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek. Like clockwork, Moe turned her face, closed her eyes, and Mari kissed her again on the lips.
So maybe it was cheating a bit. She wasn’t Card Collector Blossom, she was Flamenco Diamond. She didn’t do that sweetness-and-light crap.