Following the safe return of Maria and Chris from their mission, Hibiki decided to throw a small party. While this was vehemently opposed by Chris due to it being an unnecessary thing, Shirabe and Kirika's persuasions got her to give in. Chris now found herself tagging along with Miku and Shirabe at the grocery store to buy ingredients and everything else they needed for the party.
Chris had planned on having alcohol at the party, but Miku decided against it since they were not yet of drinking age, and also out of concern for Elfnein. They eventually arrived at a compromise—Chris would only get to bring out the drinks as soon as Elfnein goes home. Shirabe and Kirika knew better than to try drinking at all, so Chris had no problems with that.
“But, seriously, there's no need for this,” Chris grumbled as she tossed in a bottle of mayonnaise into the cart. “It’s not like we saved the whole world or anything.”
“Sorry about that, Chris-chan,” Miku told her. “But Hibiki knows that seeing you guys return home without any serious injuries is a miracle in itself and would always merit a celebration.”
Chris huffed. “Yeah, I know, but still…”
“Chris-chan, you don't have to hide it anymore,” Shirabe said as she picked out some fresh apples. “I’m sure you're looking forward to this party just like everyone else. After all, you only get to eat wholesome food whenever Tachibana-san throws parties on a whim.”
Chris, now red-faced, fumed at Shirabe. “ Oi , oi , Shirabe. It's not nice calling me out like that.”
Shirabe laughed. “But it's true! Also, have you forgotten those occasional afternoons where you'd drop by our place and wait until dinnertime?”
Chris had half a mind to snarl at Shirabe right there and then, but Shirabe had a point. Miku merely giggled at the banter between Shirabe and Chris.
“I have one question, though,” Chris said after picking out five boxes of Pocky. “Why the fuck does the party have to be at my place?”
Tsubasa made another swing of her practice sword at the space before her. Since the party will be at dinnertime, she had an ample amount of time to tune her swings.
She stayed over at the Kazanari estate after returning from the recovery mission. Maria didn't say anything about heading over to Tsubasa's apartment, so Tsubasa decided that she could perhaps drop by the estate to at least catch up on her own training.
After one last round, Tsubasa took a break and sat outside the dojo. The weather was agreeable, giving Tsubasa the urge to take her motorcycle out for a drive. She was about to do just that when one of the attendants approached her and told her that she had a visitor.
“Who is it?” Tsubasa asked.
“Eve-san,” said the attendant.
Tsubasa huffed. “Tell her to wait for me by the garden, I’ll be joining her shortly.”
The attendant left with a bow. Tsubasa promptly replaced the practice sword back into its scabbard and onto the racks before making her way to the garden. While Maria's visits were not entirely unwelcome, the current situation between them made menial things like that somewhat of a chore for her. She met with Maria by the garden and a maid was serving tea when she arrived. Maria had made light conversation with the maid—she had always been the kind of person who talks easily with other people regardless of how long she’s known them. The maid then made her leave once Tsubasa was seated and had her tea.
“What’s with the visit?” Tsubasa asked. “Aren’t you supposed to help with the cooking?”
“I was aiming to, but Shirabe insisted that she and Miku would be the ones to do it. Told me it would be life-threatening to have me in the kitchen. I thought I'd drop by here since you weren't in your apartment.”
Tsubasa chuckled. “You should try learning how to cook properly. Who knows when you're gonna marry someone and you still don't know how to cook?”
Maria eyed her. “Says the woman who can't even clean her room to save her life.”
The two laughed at each other after that. As they did, Tsubasa couldn't ignore the all-too-familiar warmth Maria had been exuding even before they first played under the sheets. It had been like that for a while. Tsubasa suddenly began feeling a peculiar fluttering in her chest whenever she was with Maria, accompanied by a certain kind of warmth that was so close to the one she once felt when Kanade was still around. Those feelings didn't fade away, and Tsubasa wondered why.
Tsubasa shook away further thoughts from her head, guising it as amused disbelief in front of Maria.
Maria, on the other hand, fervently wished that time would stop for the two of them at that moment. It was one of the rare moments where Tsubasa would temporarily let her walls down without any worries. However, Maria knew that such a wish cannot come true. They may have their Gears, but they don't have the power to tamper with time. All Maria could do was relish every single second she has alone with Tsubasa—she figured that she would be once again hard to approach the moment they join the others at the party.
Maria eventually stood up and made her leave, saying she had to pick up some items that Kirika requested. Tsubasa walked her to the main gate.
“See you at Chris' place, then,” Maria said.
“Yeah,” Tsubasa nodded. “See you soon.”
Tsubasa was the last to arrive at Chris' apartment.
“You took your damn time, Senpai ,” Chris told her when she opened the door. “I thought you weren't going to show up.”
“I took a nap and overslept,” Tsubasa said. “Forgive me for being late.”
“Yeah, yeah, just get in there,” Chris said.
Squeals were heard from Chris' living room, which prompted Tsubasa to look over.
“Are they…drunk?” Tsubasa asked.
“Shit-faced, both Hibiki and Maria,” Chris said. “See for yourself.”
Tsubasa could only stare at the scene before her. Hibiki was already on her fifth bottle, and Maria was ahead of her with her eighth. While Miku could barely hold Hibiki down with her drinking, Kirika and Shirabe were egging Maria on to grab another bottle from Chris' fridge. Elfnein merely stared at the other girls, eyes wide in bewilderment and wonder at the same time.
Tsubasa was alarmed that Elfnein had to be among them. “Why’d you have to let them drink anyway? Elfnein's here, for heaven’s sake.”
“It completely got out of control,” Chris said wearily. “The alcohol was supposed to be taken out once Elfnein goes home.”
“Good thing you weren't drinking,” Tsubasa said.
Chris huffed. “If I did, then who's gonna make sure this place doesn't fall apart because of Hibiki and Maria? Miku's got too much on her plate now, so I had to make sure I'm sober enough in case you really ditched us.”
Tsubasa eyed her warily. “And how did you get your hands on all these liquor? You're not yet of age to buy any.”
Chris smirked. “I have my ways, Senpai .” There was no way she would tell Tsubasa that Genjuuro gave her the clearance to buy alcohol.
Maria had just taken a swig from her ninth bottle when she saw Tsubasa at the doorway. She flashed a wide smile and hastily stood up to greet her despite her wobbly legs.
“ Ara ara , Tsubasa's finally here!” Maria squealed.
Tsubasa immediately rushed to catch Maria when she started keeling over, and they ended up with Maria's arms slung around Tsubasa's neck.
“What took you so long, baby?” Maria drawled. “I missed you.”
“Maria, you're really drunk,” Tsubasa said, grimacing at the fumes of alcohol coming from Maria. “Have you eaten?”
Chris cackled. “Maria's practically ninety-nine percent booze and all Senpai ’s gonna ask her is if she had eaten.”
“I’m not drunk, Tsubasa,” Maria said slowly but loudly. “The food's delicious, but I'd very much like to eat you out as my dessert.”
Hibiki and Kirika hooted at Maria's answer, while Shirabe and Miku could only sit still in shock. Elfnein looked here and there as if seeking for answers about what was currently happening. Chris slapped her forehead in dismay, even more so when she saw how red-faced and dumbfounded Tsubasa had become.
“ Senpai , you should take Maria home,” Chris demanded.
“But I just got here,” Tsubasa said, trying to steady herself while Maria was nibbling at her neck. “I haven't even tried some of the food.”
“Well, damn it, you’ve got the food wrapped around your neck!” Chris snarled.
Chris then noticed that everyone had fallen silent at her outburst. She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.
“Right, right, sorry about that,” Chris said wearily. “And here I thought Europeans can handle their liquor pretty damn well.”
Ogawa fetched Elfnein sometime later, giving Chris her long-awaited leeway for drinking, and the small party continued well into the night. Maria clung to Tsubasa the whole time—much to Chris' chagrin—and Hibiki lost the competition, managing to down ten bottles compared to Maria's fourteen. Tsubasa had opted not to drink since she had to ride her motorcycle home. When it was time to go home, she had Maria sit on the motorcycle and pushed it while walking with Shirabe and Kirika, whose apartment was a small distance away from Chris'. Miku and Hibiki hailed a cab, being that they were the ones living the farthest from Chris.
Shirabe relayed Tsubasa what she had missed from the party, from Hibiki and Kirika's antics to the dare that started the drinking competition.
“Hibiki's not supposed to drink yet, right?” Tsubasa asked.
“That's what Miku-san had told her over and over, but Hibiki-san wouldn't listen,” Kirika told her. “She said no one's gonna know about it but us. She got a point there, but still, Hibiki-san should have known when to quit.”
“Or if it was right to start drinking at all,” Shirabe said with a laugh.
They arrived at the apartment and Tsubasa helped Shirabe with making sure everything was set for Maria. While Kirika prepared Maria’s bed, Shirabe took care of Maria at the shower while Tsubasa fetched everything she would need in the morning. Once Maria was tucked in, Kirika set off to head to bed while Shirabe and Tsubasa took a moment to watch over her. Maria slept like a baby, as if she wasn't heavily inebriated hours ago.
“She may look like she has everything under wraps, but in reality, she's a walking disaster,” Shirabe said with a smile. “Thanks for helping out, Tsubasa-san.”
Tsubasa shrugged. “No problem.” She turned to her watch. “I should be going now.”
Tsubasa hesitated for a bit, then she bent down and kissed Maria on the forehead. She then winked at Shirabe, who was surprised at the act.
“Best be quiet about this, okay?” Tsubasa said.
Shirabe nodded, grinning. “My lips are sealed, Tsubasa-san.”
Tsubasa made her leave and drove home to her own apartment. Along the way, she looked back on kissing Maria on the forehead.
For some reason, it felt as if it was a natural thing to do at the time.