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Turn It Up Notch

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Tsubasa has her bad mornings, but today was by far the worst she probably ever had. She woke up with dread hitting her straight at the face, all due to the fact that she had realized the extent of her feelings towards Maria. That dread was even more heightened when she remembered that she had to report to HQ to take part in renewing the Second Division’s professional ties with a neighboring country—and as expected, Maria is slated to join this talk as well. Maria always had a talent for excellently dealing with diplomatic affairs between their organization and other parties involved, which made her the go-to person for anything involving international affairs. 

Tsubasa knew that sitting in the same room with Maria would be even harder now that she had these new-found feelings. With that in mind, Tsubasa rose from her bed in resignation to whatever troubles the day would most likely bring her. 

--- 

Chris crossed paths with Miku at the grocery store that same morning. After exchanging pleasantries and paying for the items they shopped, the two decided to stop by a nearby café for refreshments. Chris was in the mood for a lot of sweets, hence she ordered two slices of one of the café's decadent cakes while Miku settled with tea and biscuits.  

Senpai ’s been acting weird lately,” Chris said as they dined. 

“What sort of ‘weird’ is it?” Miku asked. 

“It’s the sort of weird that comes with Maria being around. She’s been acting out of the ordinary.” 

Miku raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see anything strange from Tsubasa-san's end as far as I recall.” 

“You wouldn’t be able to see it at first glance,” Chris said. “And from what I know of  Senpai , I can tell if something’s creating ripples in the water around her.” 

“What have you noticed, then?” 

Chris recounted the small gathering at Hibiki’s apartment, as well as their little spat at the amusement park. There was also that time Tsubasa had asked Chris what Maria had shared to her about their set-up. 

Senpai ’s not usually the one to get conscious of these things right from the set-up's get-go,” Chris added. “And I found it strange that she asked that sort of thing from me.” 

“Maybe she just needed a second opinion or something.” 

Chris had to chuckle. “If that’s the case shouldn’t she have asked Maria outright instead of me?” 

Miku nodded. “Makes sense. After all, Tsubasa-san is the one sharing sheets with Maria-san, not you.” 

“And that thing at the amusement park. Sure, we can dismiss it as her getting bushed out with the rides...but Miku, we rode the teacups, not the 4-loop rollercoaster that your girlfriend was so bent on getting on.” 

“Chris-chan, I think you’re dwelling too much on this. If they need help then we’ll be sure to give it to them.” 

“Maria needed help the moment she proposed the goddamn set-up,” Chris said with a scoff. 

Miku smiled and let out a tired sigh. “People do crazy things when they’re in love.” 

Chris rolled her eyes. “Sheesh. Love and all that schtick.” 

Miku merely giggled at Chris. “Being worried and all about Tsubasa-san and Maria-san...that’s one form of loving them, isn’t it?” 

Chris was about to protest, then she slumped in her seat with a blush on her face. “Oh, quiet, you.” 

--- 

The renewal process had been settled without any fuss and Genjuuro dismissed Tsubasa and Maria from any further duties at the HQ. Ogawa made his leave to attend to some business with his clan, while Genjuuro set-off to one of his rigorous training sessions. Tomosato and Fujitaka, who had planned their leaves days prior, were all too excited to leave their stations and catch their rides home. All of them assured that they would keep their lines open in case of emergencies. 

“Any plans tonight?” Maria asked. 

All the alarms in Tsubasa’s head rang at once. “Well, I—” She fidgeted in her place as she thought of a good excuse. “I do remember dropping by Tachibana’s apartment later today. She needed help with some of their stuff there.” 

“Oh, can I tag along? I can lend a hand with that.” 

Tsubasa frantically waved her hands. “Ah, no, no. We can handle it with just the two of us. I’ll be off now.” 

Tsubasa hastily rushed to the garage, leaving Maria at the foyer of HQ. Maria was perplexed at Tsubasa’s sudden refusal to her offer of help, but seeing that she couldn’t do anything else about it she went her own way home. 

--- 

Hibiki was poring over the manga she was reading when she was startled by the ring of the doorbell. Miku joined Hibiki at the door and both girls were surprised to see Tsubasa at the doorstep. 

“Tachibana, can I stay over until dinner time?” Tsubasa asked, her tone laced with slight panic. 

They let Tsubasa in and they all sat at the TV area. 

“Okay, Tsubasa-san, what’s the matter?” Hibiki asked at once. 

Tsubasa chuckled. “You’re not one to beat around the bush.” 

“I’ve decided to be more direct with people after going through crazy circumstances,” Hibiki said with a grin. “So, what are we dealing with tonight?” 

Tsubasa wrung her hands nervously. “I...I think I need to be away from Maria for a while,” she said. 

Hibiki was perplexed at what she heard, and she looked over at Miku, who was just as confused as she was. She then turned to Tsubasa. “Are you and Maria-san having issues with each other?” 

“It’s not exactly between the both of us,” Tsubasa said. “It’s just...I just need some space, that’s all.” 

“Have you tried talking to her about it?” Miku asked as she placed the cups of tea on the coffee table. 

“N-no, I...” Tsubasa winced. “I haven’t.” 

Hibiki and Miku shared a glance. Hibiki then gave a slight nod and turned back to Tsubasa. 

“Tsubasa-san, it is important that you talk to Maria-san about this instead of avoiding her. It’s not like she can read your mind and easily tell that you suddenly want a breather.” Hibiki then patted Tsubasa on the shoulder. “But for now, come join us at the table for dinner.” 

Tsubasa could only sigh and smile. “Thank you.” 

Hibiki let out a giggle and the three gathered at the dining table for the meal. Despite the jovial exchanges among the three of them, Tsubasa’s mind has been nothing but muddled. 

--- 

Tsubasa didn’t heed Hibiki’s advice. She spent the next several days avoiding Maria outright, from not answering her calls to ignoring her messages, even if Maria was simply asking if something was amiss. Tsubasa knew that Maria was getting worried, but she resolved to gradually cut her ties with Maria, which in turn would tear her from the feelings she had grown to harbor towards her—or so she thinks. 

Maria, on the other hand, was getting worried by the day. Shirabe and Kirika had opted not to say a word, but they have noticed Maria’s growing uneasiness with every unanswered call and text. One night, Maria had stayed up and watched television, her phone just beside her on the couch. She was then joined by Shirabe, who carried a tray holding two mugs of warm milk. 

“If you’re making a fool of yourself on a cold night,” Shirabe said jokingly as she sat down and placed the tray on the coffee table. “Might as well have something to warm you up while you’re at it.” 

Maria sighed and smiled sadly at Shirabe. “I’ve always been the foolish type.” 

“Heck, this is a different kind of foolish,” Shirabe said, handing the mug over. “Finish up the milk and let’s go to sleep.” 

“Okay, Mom,” Maria said with a chuckle as she started drinking the milk. 

Shirabe started sipping from her own mug and turned her gaze to the ceiling. “Maria, don’t you think this is a sign that the set-up's coming to an end?” 

When Shirabe looked over at Maria, she saw perhaps what she deemed was the saddest smile she had ever seen on her. Concerned, Shirabe began to apologize for her words. Maria was quick to dismiss it, saying that Shirabe was right. 

“I really do think it’ll come to an end,” Maria said. “It’s just that, I choose not to think about it all the time. People get bored, you know, and this...this set-up that we have...I know Tsubasa will eventually tire of it. After all, I’m the only one with the feelings in the equation.” 

Shirabe’s brow creased with worry. “Maria...” 

“I’ll be fine,” Maria said, reaching out to pat Shirabe on the head. “It will all be okay.” 

Once the mugs were empty, the two of them headed to their rooms to sleep. 

--- 

Two weeks after, Tsubasa was slated to rehearse for a charity event, and it escaped her mind that Maria was signed on to it as well. Tsubasa had half a mind to cancel her slot in the event when she saw a half-naked Maria at the dressing room. 

“Ah, shit!” Tsubasa blurted out, her body halfway out of the door. 

Maria seemed unperturbed by Tsubasa’s shock and she merely clutched her robe closer. “Tsubasa, kindly close the door.” 

Tsubasa stepped inside and closed the door behind her. Maria went ahead to the mirror to continue undressing while Tsubasa walked over near the closet to bring out her rehearsal clothes. 

“I must have forgotten to lock the door when I came in,” Maria said, her back turned towards Tsubasa. “Good thing it was you who was at the door while I was undressing.” 

Tsubasa laughed to ease herself of the jitters. “This isn’t my apartment, Maria. What if Ogawa had been the one to see you?” 

“He’d be modest enough not to cuss like you did.” 

Tsubasa shook her head and began to take off her shirt. Maria stayed in her place and merely watched Tsubasa peeling off one article of clothing after another. Tsubasa then noticed Maria staring at her and she recoiled slightly from her, causing Maria to snap back into her senses. 

“Tsubasa, I—” Maria began to speak, but she couldn’t find the next right word to say. 

They locked gazes on each other for a moment, and Tsubasa was the first to look away. 

“Just...hurry up and put on your clothes,” Tsubasa said as she walked towards the door. “Wouldn’t want to mess up Ogawa’s schedule now, do we?” 

Tsubasa left the room and rushed to the stage, where Ogawa was waiting. Maria joined them not long after and the rehearsals began. It hadn’t been long when Maria noticed that Tsubasa was acting out of sorts. She looked over at Ogawa, who was watching them from the front row along with some of the resting crew who were setting up the auditorium. Ogawa had a slight frown on his face. It’s as if he, too, had taken note of Tsubasa while she was on the stage. 

The two of them had the same thought—Tsubasa was keeping a physical distance away from Maria. As to why, none of them could guess. 

Maria was gradually getting bothered by this, while Ogawa had opted to sit back and watch. When the minus one ended, Ogawa called for a break. He was about to approach Tsubasa when Maria set the bluenette aside and the two of them headed backstage. Ogawa had the urge to interfere—he was on duty as Tsubasa’s handler, after all—but he chose not to muddle in the affairs between the two women. The cause of Tsubasa’s unusual actions may lie within the peculiar—and utterly ridiculous—bond that she and Maria share. 

As he watched the two leave the stage, he can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. It’s as if he was becoming a witness to something unfavorably big, and he didn’t like every single bit of it. 

Backstage, Maria and Tsubasa were engaged in a tense conversation. 

“Maria, I don’t think we have that much time to talk,” Tsubasa said dodgingly. 

“No, you have been going at it for the whole time, it’s not something I can ignore anymore,” Maria snapped back. “Why does it seem like you’re avoiding me? Did I do something wrong?” 

“What makes you think I’m avoiding you?” 

Maria crossed her arms and chose not to speak. Tsubasa winced at this—she had to come up with a good answer to get herself out of the conversation. 

“Maria, don’t make this difficult for the both of us,” Tsubasa said. 

“Funny how it’s coming from you,” Maria said, her tone growing stern. “You’ve been acting out of sorts since we started rehearsing. It’s like you don’t want to do this at all.” 

“It’s not like that.” 

“Then what’s it like? You’re not just avoiding me today. You’ve done it in the past couple of weeks. You don’t answer my calls or even respond to my messages. I started thinking something must be wrong.” 

“I told you, there’s nothing to fuss about. Besides, it’s not like we’re together. Why do I have to answer every call and text like I’m somebody’s girlfriend?” 

Maria felt something pierce her chest, but she set it aside. “It’s the courtesy, Tsubasa.” 

Tsubasa was about to retort when they heard Ogawa calling from outside. Maria swiftly left the backstage, and Tsubasa followed suit. Before she stepped on the stage again, Ogawa tapped her on the shoulder. 

“What is it, Ogawa?” Tsubasa asked somberly. 

“Tsubasa-san, as your handler I am highly expected to make sure that your career is without any snags, both in and out,” Ogawa began. “Seeing that you are currently in a predicament with Maria-san, your fellow performer, I can’t help but assume that unless any rifts between you two are settled this show is as good as a flop.” 

“I know, and I’m sorry.” 

“Ah no,” Ogawa said. “Your apology is deserved to be heard by someone else.” 

Ogawa turned to the stage, where Maria was talking and making mock-ups with the choreographer. Tsubasa sighed and trudged up to the stage. The choreographer had just finished the mock-up when Tsubasa joined them. Ogawa walked back to his seat and was surprised to see Maria stop Tsubasa from talking, as shown by the open palm she had raised in front of the bluenette. 

Ogawa had to stop himself from laughing at the sight.  It’s  gonna  take more than an apology to appease her, Tsubasa-san.  

--- 

In the next few days of the rehearsal period, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. By the time the day of the charity event had arrived, the performance was not met with any last-minute troubles, both from the production and between the performers themselves. 

For a moment, Tsubasa had forgotten her anxieties on having Maria around while they were onstage. But after the performance, when the last of the crew members had given their well-wishes and bid their farewell, Tsubasa was once more aware of these anxieties.  

She was snapped out of her thoughts when Maria called out to her as they made their way to the parking lot. 

“Tsubasa, can you hear me?” Maria asked, giggling. 

Tsubasa rubbed her neck in an attempt to ease off the jitters. “Sorry about that,” she said. “You were saying?” 

“I said I wanted to drop by your place tonight,” Maria said. 

Tsubasa definitely got the implication, and she was torn between refusing and agreeing to it. But in the end, she gave in and called Ogawa to have Maria’s belongings dropped off at the apartment she shared with Shirabe and Kirika. She added that Maria was staying over for the night, to which Ogawa responded to with a curt “Understood. I’ll get to that right away.” 

Tsubasa then had Maria ride the motorcycle and they headed straight to the apartment. On the highway, Tsubasa ruminated if she was doing the right thing that night. When they arrived at the apartment, Tsubasa took it upon herself to cook dinner and the two of them ate without saying anything. 

“I’ll be taking a bath,” Tsubasa said, breaking the silence. “Just leave the dishes at the sink.” 

It hadn’t been long when Maria took her turn at the bath, although Tsubasa assumed that she had washed the dishes first before stepping into the bathroom. With that in mind Tsubasa couldn’t help but smile. The smile flitted away as soon as it had arrived when Tsubasa was once more aware of what her situation was. The argument she had with Maria wasn’t truly settled, and she still had to come up with a substantial apology. 

So on the edge of the bed she sat, waiting for Maria to come out of the bathroom so that she can say sorry. 

The bedroom door opened and in came Maria, with a towel hanging from her neck and wearing one of the sheer nightgowns she had left behind at the apartment. It was clear that she wore nothing else underneath. Tsubasa felt warmth pooling within her cheeks and at the pit of her stomach, and her chest began to pound harder and faster. Tsubasa thought that her older self would have dismissed these sensations as mere by-products of her sexual desire, but with the recent circumstances, she knew that she was feeling more than just that particular desire. 

“You’re thinking about something,” Maria said as she draped the towel on the dresser stool. 

“I’m sorry,” Tsubasa said at once. 

“Sorry about what?” 

“About what happened during the rehearsals. I was just...not myself that day.” 

Oh,  Tsubasa .  “You’ve always been like that.” 

“Yeah, I guess.” 

Maria slowly walked towards the bed. “You may seem focused when you’re in battle, but not where it counts.” She then settled herself on Tsubasa’s open lap. “You really have to work on that.” 

Tsubasa took great care not to overly relish Maria’s fingers running through her hair. “I know. I’m sorry.” 

Maria smiled down at Tsubasa. “You apologize too much.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

Maria scoffed and leaned down to kiss Tsubasa. Tsubasa broke free from the kiss. 

“Apology accepted?” Tsubasa whispered. 

“You still haven’t explained why you were so bent on avoiding me these past several days,” Maria said matter-of-factly. “But that’s not what we should be doing now.” 

Maria claimed her partner’s lips once more and pushed her down on the bed. As Tsubasa surrendered herself to Maria, countless thoughts plagued her mind. 

Everything felt so good, and at the same time so painful. She was close, yet so distant. She was crossing every physical border imaginable with careless abandon, yet she was stuck on one side of the field and scared to make a move. 

She didn’t want that. She may be loath to admit it, but she wanted more. 

But it’s impossible.  

When they both reached the pinnacle, Tsubasa began to feel a sense of clarity. With that, she had come up with a decision. 

--- 

They had both calmed down, and no further words were shared between the two of them. Tsubasa set her gaze to the window, and settled back to the woman snuggled close to her. 

“Maria.” 

“Hm?” 

“Let’s end this.”