The thing that has always struck me about Maya is how easily she believes. She believes in what most others would never dream was possible. She believes in the inherent honesty of humanity. Of course, this trait of hers, what many would call "gullibility," has led her into harm's way time and time again. But I wouldn't change her for anything.
Because she believed in me.
I was just thinking that the night all of this spun out of control. I woke up on the couch in Kit's living room with a throbbing pain in my shoulder. I was disoriented, and it took me several moments before I remembered where I was and why I was there. Then it came back to me— the long battle with the various riders that had left me with these injuries; then coming back to Kit's apartment and telling him and Maya about Ventara; and finally, being unable to join Kit in fighting Xaviax's latest creature due to my injuries.
I rolled over and looked around the room. It was after 1:00 AM. Kit still hadn't returned. I wasn't worried, though; I knew he could handle it. Maya was curled up asleep in a nearby armchair. I guess we'd both dozed off waiting for Kit to return. Gingerly, I rose to my feet. My shoulder was feeling pretty stiff, and I wouldn't be able to fall back asleep without stretching for a bit.
Quietly, I went out onto the patio, sliding the door shut behind me. The night air felt cold, and the city was abnormally silent. It was just me and the sound of my own deafening thoughts.
My memory wandered back over the past twenty-four hours. A lot had changed over the course of day, the biggest thing, of course, being that Kit finally trusted me again. That was an enormous burden lifted. I really needed his help. Especially with another rider on the scene, working for Xaviax...
I frowned, not liking the direction those thoughts took me. If Xaviax continued to recruit more and more riders, my mission would become impossible, even with the Dragon's help. Even if I didn't want to face it, it might soon be inevitable... what happened with Incisor would have to happen again.
I was startled out of my thoughts by the sound of the patio door sliding open behind me. I turned and saw Maya, backlit by the lamps in Kit's living room. "I didn't mean to wake you," I apologized.
"You didn't," Maya replied with a smile, shutting the door and stepping froward to gaze out over the city beneath us. "But I do need to get heading home... I have work in the morning. I just wanted to check on you before I left. How's your arm?"
"It's fine," I answered. "Just a little stiff."
Maya nodded and then, looking uncomfortable, asked, "So... do you think Kit is... all right?"
I smiled and nodded my affirmative. "He's fine. I can sense it. He'll be back soon. It's not uncommon for these kinds of battles to last several hours. But Kit can take care of himself."
Maya let out a large sigh of relief. "Thank goodness." We stood a moment in awkward silence; then she went on, "I'm glad you have somewhere decent to stay and rest now. I can't believe you haven't had a place, the whole while you've been on Earth. Where have you slept all this time?"
"Around," I answered vaguely, suspecting that her reaction if I told her would not be a pretty sight.
She shook her head and moistened her lips. "I can't imagine it. All this time, and you've been all alone..."
"I'm used to being alone," I put in, shrugging offhandedly.
Maya looked at me in what seemed to be disbelief, then looked away, her gaze returning to the sleeping city. "Well, you're not alone anymore. So you'd better get used to having friends!"
I could see her impish grin in the moonlight, and I couldn't help but smile myself. It had been a long time since I'd had a reason to smile. "And I have you to thank for that."
Now I thought I saw her cheeks color in the dim light. "Well, I'm just glad that Kit finally came around," she replied, flusteredly avoiding eye contact with me. It struck me that her embarrassment was actually pretty damned cute.
"No, really," I continued, and I decided to ask the question that had been haunting me for awhile now. "You trusted me when no one else would. But I'm curious, Maya— why were you so quick to believe me?"
That probably wasn't the right way to phrase it; she bristled at those words. It occurred to me too late that, in her line of work, she'd probably met with her fair share of skeptics. "What, are you saying that I shouldn't have believed you?" she snapped, turning sharply to face me.
"No, no," I said, putting my hands up placatingly. "I didn't mean it that way. I was just curious. Because you believed me when no one else did."
Maya visibly relaxed, and looked soundlessly up at the night sky for some time. "I don't know," she said at last. "Something about you... I knew that you couldn't be evil. I knew you were telling the truth."
At her words, something stirred inside me. That wasn't the answer I had been expecting. I didn't know how to respond, so I didn't say anything. We stood in silence for several moments.
At last, Maya spoke, her voice quiet. "The important thing is that you don't have to fight on your own any longer. After everything you've been through... I don't want you to have to be alone anymore."
There it was, that feeling inside me again. Her words were hitting a nerve. Somehow, she was saying exactly what I needed to hear, even though I hadn't realized I'd needed it. I hadn't felt this way in a long, long time.
A small breeze picked up and blew a wisp of Maya's hair across her face. She lifted her hand to brush it away, and the next thing I knew, I was leaning over and kissing her.
It amazed me to realize how much I had needed this, too, in all my months of solitude. This intimacy...just being this close to someone. Her hand snaked up and touched my face, then wound around my neck and through my short hair, pulling me in closer. It felt amazing, like all the problems of the past year were just slipping away, one by one.
And then the gravity of what I was doing hit me like a tidal wave, and I jerked away in horror.
Maya's eyes snapped open. "What?" she gasped, clearly startled.
"Maya, I... we..." I was out of breath. "I can't. I can't do this."
"Why?" she asked, her face falling. It was killing me, to see that crestfallen expression on her face, to hear the confusion and disappointment in that one word. Why had I done that? I was mortified.
"There's... someone else," I finally managed.
"Oh," she said, looking as miserable as I felt. "From Ventara?"
"Yes," I replied. "One of the other Kamen Riders. She..." I swallowed. "She was vented in the battle with Xaviax."
Maya stood in stunned silence for a few moments. "Oh... oh gosh..." she finally began, uncertainly. "Len, I'm sorry..."
"No, I'm sorry, Maya," I said, disgusted with myself. "I'm so, so sorry."
"Don't be," she replied, a sad smile on her face. "I can only imagine what you've been through, what you're going through right now..." She trailed off and put her hand on my shoulder. "We won't mention this again, okay? I still want to be here for you and for Kit. I don't want you guys to have to do it alone."
I didn't know what to say to that. At this point, I was feeling convinced that I was in the presence of an angel. Finally, I forced out a "thank you."
Maya smiled again and nodded, turning to the door. "Well, I should probably get going. If you guys need me tomorrow, I'll be at the bookstore." I nodded, and she started to push the door open, but she paused, facing me once more. "Len, I know this must be hard for you, but... don't let the past consume you, okay? What's happened can't be changed. All you can do is live your life now, and do your best for the future."
Her words struck that nerve again, but I just nodded and let her go. I stayed out on the balcony for a long time after she was gone. Would I really be able to forget what had happened that night?