Bliss was nineteen when the Hurl Scouts finally won their first TXRD championship.
Her family was in attendance, her father sporting every last bit of merchandise the league made with her name on it despite how expensive he complained it was. While her mother was always a lady Bliss could have sworn she heard her shouting when she passed Iron Maven and scored the four points that won the title.
Seconds after the jam was finished she found herself underneath a pile of her teammates and wincing as Smashley expressed her exuberance for hitting even those she was fondest of. It was times like these that Bliss wondered how her husband managed to survive their seven years together. Razor burst into tears as Johnny Rocket announced them as the league champions and after they made their victory lap Bliss found herself reenacting a scene from two years ago.
Just as Maven had done to her, Bliss held tight onto that hand as it came into contact with hers for the congratulatory handshake. And just as she had done before, Maven paused, skating to a stop in front of her. A smirk curved on her lips as she tilted her head to one side and drawled, “Looks like you finally beat me, Ruthless. I suppose everybody gets lucky sometime.”
“It wasn’t luck,” said Bliss tersely, ignoring the cheers of the crowd as they called her rollergirl name. “I’m just that good.”
Maven didn’t reply, she just leaned against the barrier with a look of lazy amusement on her features. She moved closer, her breath warm and sweet on Bliss’ skin as she murmured, “Then why are you still trying to prove yourself to me?”
Her laughter rang out in the air like clear bells despite the chaos of the arena and Bliss felt her cheeks burning as Maven skated past her, triumphant as ever, unbothered by the fact that her team had suffered their first loss in six years. Minutes later, Bliss worked her way through the crowd, hugging her parents and grinning wide as her sister recounted the best parts of the bout. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Maven surrounded by what seemed like her constant swarm of fans. There was something about Maven’s style, how she was on the track, that created fans the moment anyone saw her and it didn’t appear as if losing changed that one little bit. She knew her teammates would think it strange but Bliss wasn’t jealous of this… quite the opposite.
She understood being Maven’s fan because that was how she was in the beginning and if she was being perfectly honest, she was still a fan now. But the moment Bliss had actual contact with Maven that blind fan worship she had went away instantly. It was impossible to maintain that sort of feeling if you knew Maven. She was too abrasive, too honest, just too everything. That didn’t stop Bliss from admiring her on the track, how she skated with such reckless abandon, her smile flashing with something dangerous in its beauty. It was in those moments that she realized she had long since gone from simply being a fan.
One of the best things that came out of moving to Austin and attending the University of Texas was being able to live with Rosa Sparks. Soon after they became roommates Bliss found out the flirtatious relationship Rosa maintained with Eva Destruction wasn’t just flirting. It was an on again and off again friendly love affair that had spanned their entire careers with the TXRD. An affair that soon had Bliss examining her own fixation with the forever frustrating Iron Maven.
“You got it bad,” said Rosa simply one day. She was lounging on their ugly orange and brown plaid couch, her feet in Eva’s lap, peering up at Bliss who had just finished ranting about something particularly frustrating Maven had done at their league practice. Eva chuckled but kept her head lowered, focused on her task of painting Rosa’s toenails E-Nuff Is E-Nuff which was, according to Rosa anyway, a bright and defiant coral. “Don’t even try denying it. Why else would you talk about her so much? You’ve been around Maven for two years now, you know how she is. No point in talking about her unless you like talking about her and the only reason to like talking about someone is if you like them. That,” Rosa announced, pointing a finger at Bliss, “proves it.”
Her reply wasn’t so much words but a sputtering followed by a dark red blush and a quick escape into her room where she vowed to never complain about Maven around Rosa or Eva again. Now four months later the Hurl Scouts had defeated the Holy Rollers for the TXRD league championship and beer in hand, she was searching the party at Johnny’s for Maven.
There was a rusted swing set in the very back of the yard, surrounded by thorny and dying plants, and that’s where Bliss found her. Her head was tossed back, staring up at the sky, feet pushing hard against the ground, sending herself flying higher into the air. Next to her feet was a case of beer that she had no doubt stolen from Johnny’s fridge without any remorse. As Bliss approached she stepped on one of the thorny plants that cracked as it died its last death and Maven grinned at her as she continued to swing in the air, arms hooked on the iron chains of the swing, hands waving in a mad greeting.
“Ruthless,” Maven drew her name out in that happy way she always had when she got a few beers in her. Bliss always found it more than a little odd that Maven’s prickly personality became welcoming and altogether genial when drunk. “You want to swing on the swing set with me? We can have a contest, see who can jump the furthest when we reach peak velocity.”
“Peak velocity, huh?” said Bliss, unable to help the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She sat on the swing to the right of Maven and put her now empty beer can on the ground. “What speed is that on a swing set? Fifty swings per hour?”
Maven squinted at Bliss, gauging her seriousness, then she paused in her swinging, her heavy boots thumping on the dying plants as she pointed at Bliss in a manner eerily reminiscent of Rosa several months ago. “You’re mocking me,” Maven stated.
“Maybe just a little,” admitted Bliss with an easy grin.
Snorting loudly, Maven went back to swinging and reached her hands up towards the sky as she said, “Might as well. That’s what always happens when the new model comes in, isn’t it? You mock the old one?”
“You’re not old,” Bliss immediately protested, swinging along with Maven, a frown marring her features.
“Please,” drawled Maven, looking at Bliss with a derisive expression. “I’ve got nineteen years on you.” Maven seemed to sigh, looking back up at the sky as she said, “At least I had a few years at the top.” When Bliss didn’t reply, Maven pushed her feet harder on the ground, her swinging reaching that fabled peak velocity as she jumped off the swing, landing well past the thorny and dying plants. Releasing a jubilant shout and looking altogether proud of herself, Maven put her hands on her hips and arched a challenging eyebrow at Bliss. “Beat that,” she demanded.
Before she joined the TXRD and became a rollergirl, Bliss didn’t think she was a particularly competitive person. Playing in the league changed all that but even after two years of skating no one made her want to win more than Maven. There was something about the way she broached competition, provoking a reaction out of those playing against her, daring them to defeat her, and Bliss knew what she was doing and why she was doing it but all the same she found herself responding each and every time. Wanting to meet that challenge, wanting to prove herself, and she wasn’t sure there was anything she could ever do to change that because when Bliss thought about roller derby she immediately thought of jamming against Maven.
And so, Bliss pushed her feet hard against the ground, swinging through the air until she reached that epic peak velocity that Maven spoke of, jumping off the swing and landing face first on the ground well in front of Maven’s landing spot. Groaning and pushing herself up on her elbows, she looked up at Maven who crouched in front of her, grinning wide and reckless.
“Good distance,” offered Maven along with her hand, pulling Bliss to her feet. She wandered over to the swing set and her stolen case of beer. Opening one, she took a drink and when she was done, she remarked, “I’d offer you one but I don’t want to anyone to say I’m corrupting a minor. Pretty sure you got that happening already since you’re shacked up with Sparks.”
“Rosa isn’t corrupting me,” said Bliss, thoroughly offended at the thought, and stealing one of the stolen beers for good measure.
“Sure,” Maven drawled, sounding utterly unconvinced, plopping back down on the swing and kicking her feet absently.
“She isn’t,” Bliss insisted and she stood in front of Maven, blocking her swinging path, putting her stolen beer down and holding onto the iron chains of the swing, stilling its movement as she locked their eyes. “I know who I am.”
A flicker of confusion passed over Maven’s features then she said, “When did I say otherwise, Ruthless?”
Her brow furrowing, Bliss considered this and realized Maven was right. She insulted, she pushed buttons, she was completely and totally antagonistic at times, but she never once said that Bliss was pretending to be something she wasn’t. Frowning at this discovery, Bliss amended, “You haven’t. But you still treat me like I’m a kid and I’m not.”
“How?” asked Maven and her gaze was suddenly hard.
“What?” Bliss blinked, disconcerted by the ferocity in the other woman’s eyes.
“How do I treat you like a kid?” Maven elaborated. “Besides pointing out when you slouch.”
“I don’t slouch!” Bliss exclaimed, scowling deeply. She hated hearing that now ever present criticism from Maven.
“You slouch enough to be a human sloth,” said Maven in deadpan tones. Pushing back on the swing and moving forward gently, she bumped Bliss who released a cry of surprise at this movement. Laughing, Maven grabbed her waist and Bliss was soon on the older woman’s lap, shivering at the feeling of breasts pressed into her back and warm arms wrapped around her stomach. Bliss looked at Maven as she rested her chin on her shoulder and formed an irrepressible grin.
“You think you’re cute, don’t you?” said Bliss dryly.
“Supremely,” replied Maven, her grin extra wide and toothy, and if she was a peacock Bliss would swear she was preening.
Bliss wanted to kiss her. She wanted to kiss her badly enough she could practically taste it. But instead of kissing her she wore an obstinate expression and repeated, “I’m not a kid.” When Maven groaned and rolled her eyes, Bliss pressed on, “Would a kid be able to set broken bones on the track without freaking out? I don’t think so!”
“You’d be a bad nursing student if you couldn’t do that,” pointed out Maven. “I still don’t know how I treat you like a kid.” When Bliss didn’t answer, she nudged her and rested her cheek on Bliss’ shoulder, looking up at her. “You got an answer?”
“You always point out you’re nineteen years older than me,” said Bliss irritably. “And that I’m a minor.”
“So? I am nineteen years older than you and you are a minor, at least when it comes to drinking beer legally. Those are the facts. Doesn’t mean I treat you like a kid,” said Maven plainly.
“Fine,” said Bliss, feeling altogether grouchy as she considered this. After a moment, she said, “You don’t treat me like the others. They might think you’re meaner to me but you’re not. Even the mean things you do end up helping me somehow.”
“Got to look out for my replacement,” Maven shrugged, avoiding Bliss’ eyes, pushing her feet against the ground to set the swing in motion.
Her hands moved without Bliss really being aware of it, holding Maven’s face and gently turning it until they were looking at one another. Maven gazed at her with an unreadable expression and Bliss said softly, “No one can replace you.”
Silence and then a wild and happy grin formed on Maven’s features, lighting them brilliantly.
“Flatterer,” accused Maven. “I bet you just want to get in my pants.”
“Maybe,” said Bliss, admitting the truth out loud for the first time, her heart feeling as if it would beat out of her chest. She felt Maven jerk backwards slightly on hearing this and when no reply came and utter mortification seized her, Bliss started to move off of the other woman’s lap and that was when the arms around her waist held her tighter yet, preventing her from leaving. Gathering the last bit of her courage, Bliss turned towards her companion. “Maven?”
“Emily,” said Maven quietly and when Bliss’ eyes went wide, she grinned crookedly. “If you really want in my pants we ought to be on an actual first name basis, don’t you think, Ruthless?”
“Bliss,” said Bliss just as quietly, her smile matching Maven’s in strength and happiness.
She wanted to kiss Maven and this time she did and she tasted like cheap stolen beer and a secret love that had existed since the moment Bliss first saw her. In other words, she tasted perfect and Bliss couldn’t get enough of her but the swing wasn’t the most stable place to conduct a make out session and when they were startled by the enthusiastic shouts of Smashley and Maggie looking for Bliss, their balance was lost and they went crashing to the ground. Maven cursing emphatically as her back was pierced by the thorny and dying plants while Bliss lay on top of her, jeans somehow caught on the iron chains of the swing.
For the second time that evening Bliss was exposed to Smashley’s version of friendship which involved far too much physical altercation for her liking. Watching as Maven kicked Smashley away, protecting Bliss from the onslaught, she laughed and smiled and met Maggie’s eyes, well aware of her team captain's attention. When she saw Maggie's wry look of amusement and silent acceptance, Bliss felt her heart swell at the knowledge that this one thing would never change in her life. Roller Derby was her home and the Hurl Scouts were her family and Maven…
Maven was her versus.