Rikka sighed as Mana ran off towards yet another girl who needed help.
If said girl even needed help to begin with, that is.
It wouldn't be so frustrating, Rikka thought, if she wasn't doing it constantly. In moderation, it was cute. Charming, even. But how was Rikka supposed to spend any time with someone who didn't seem to want to spend any time with her?
Maybe she was just being selfish. Maybe she should be more supportive. The load that Mana bore had only increased since the entire world had learned that they were Pretty Cure and was depending on them to keep the city safe from the slightest inconvenience. Rikka desperately wanted to help lighten that load.
Not that that was easy to do when Mana didn't seem to know what even she, herself, wanted half the time. She was like the flightiest bird. It was almost impressive.
But dutifully she waited for Mana, and finally Mana finished whatever she was doing and came back. "Sorry about that~" Mana said brightly.
"You were certainly gone long enough," Rikka chided gently. "You don't have to help everyone, you know."
"Yes I do!" Mana exclaimed. "I will never leave someone in need!"
"Well, that's very thoughtful of you, but I think there will be times where you can't help everyone," Rikka said. "And besides... I'd like to spend more time with you too, you know." She added that last bit in tentatively. She really, really wanted to spend more time with Mana and see who she was beneath her busy exterior. She had a more vulnerable side too, she was sure. She wanted to be someone that Mana could rely on.
"Well, we do spend lots of time together!" Mana replied, which was a thoroughly unsatisfactory reply as far as Rikka was concerned. "Anyway, you know I love you best."
The way Mana tended to casually throw around the word "love" didn't particularly help her case here, Rikka thought. Still, it was better than nothing, she supposed. "Well, since you 'love me best', maybe we can do something together? Just us? Like maybe tonight, or..."
"Oh! Tonight! Right!" Mana was suddenly distracted again. "I forgot to mention, Makopi and I are doing something tonight!"
"You and Makopi?" Rikka felt her heart burn a bit. She'd thought she'd mostly gotten over the jealousy she'd had over Mana's early, intense interest in Makoto, but apparently she wasn't as past it as she'd thought. For some reason, the thought of Mana spending so much time with Makopi, of all people, stung a little more than usual. Why? Was it because she was an idol? She was clearly so much more successful and desirable than Rikka herself was... of course Mana would find her more interesting than -
"Yeah!" Mana was already talking again, interrupting Rikka's thoughts. "We're going to go out for ice cream! Isn't that exciting?"
Once again Rikka felt her chest clench. At this point she was just saying these things to rub it in. She had to be. Right?
...no, that was silly. Calm down, you're just being oversensitive, she told herself. Or was she? Why did Mana seem to care about everyone but her?
She had to go somewhere to think this over, and so long as Mana was right there, she couldn't. "Ugh... alright, you two have fun with that. I'm going to go home."
"Okay~!" Mana said it in a sing-songy voice, as though she was completely oblivious to Rikka's feelings. Was she, really?
This was so confusing. Alright, yeah, she was going home.
At home, Rikka tried to do some homework at first in an attempt to clear her mind a little. That didn't seem to help whatsoever, so eventually she gave up and just sat at her desk, her mind churning.
Why? Why was Mana so intent on spending time with everyone but her?
Stop it, you're just being selfish, she told herself. Mana doesn't owe you any of her time.
But regardless of whether or not it was true, it still hurt.
A thought came to her then, and it was sort of a little sneaky, so at first she chased it away as being too much. But the thought kept gnawing at her, so she let it come a little closer, as though she were holding her hand out to a curious animal.
What if she were to befriend Makopi instead?
Her initial reaction was that she was just being petty, but the more she thought on it, the more it made sense. If Makopi was spending time with Rikka, then obviously, Makopi couldn't spend time with Mana.
"Of course, then I wouldn't be spending much time with Mana either," Rikka mumbled to herself. Or would she? Maybe Mana would give up if she saw how close Makopi and Rikka were, and then Rikka would finally have her all to herself...
It seemed like such a silly thought, but the more Rikka thought about it, the more desperate she became. There could be perks to this, she thought. She could find out just how close Makopi and Mana were. She'd have an insider's view of it all. Then she could go from there and change her plan accordingly.
Alright, it was decided. Tonight, Mana and Makopi were having ice cream. But tomorrow? Tomorrow Rikka would be having ice cream with Makopi. Her new plan would be officially set into motion.
But despite her newfound decision, she still found herself wondering if Mana would even care.
"Makopi." It was the next day at school, and the two of them finally had a minute alone without Mana or any of the other classmates hovering nearby. "I was wondering if we could talk."
"...yes?" Makopi looked up at Rikka. There was confusion in her eyes.
Rikka suddenly realized she probably sounded too formal. She probably hadn't thought about this as much as she should have. Well, it was too late now. "I, um... was just wondering... would you like to go out for ice cream tonight?"
Makopi blinked at her. "Ice cream?"
"Oh, sorry, I mean, was that weird?" Rikka asked quickly. "I just thought..."
"I went out for ice cream yesterday with Mana," Makopi said. "But if you would like to do something else, I would be glad to."
"Really?" After she said it, Rikka realized that for some reason that came out sounding overly eager. Well, anyone would be eager to spend time with an idol, she supposed.
"Yes. Dinner, perhaps?"
"That... seems rather sudden," said Rikka, blushing a little.
"We're friends, aren't we?" Makopi said.
"Well, yes, but..." Rikka said.
"And do you like traditional Japanese food? We can go to the place downtown an hour after school," said Makopi. "If that's alright with you."
"I... I guess," Rikka said, a little bewildered. She couldn't help but feel that this was all going very fast. Ice cream was one thing. But... wasn't dinner too formal? Wasn't that more like...
"It's a date," said Makopi.
"I suppose so," Rikka said quietly as another student ran up to talk to Makopi. She sort of felt like everything had somehow tumbled out of her control before she'd even have a chance to try to take control. But it had all worked out in her favor, right? She would be spending time with Makopi, right?
Right. This was all going according to plan.
"I won't be available for anything tonight," Rikka told Mana on their walk home from school. "I'm going to dinner with Makopi."
"Ahh wow! That sounds exciting! Anyway, I'll be busy too. I have to do some brainstorming and come up with some event ideas for the drama club. I had a few ideas already..."
She bounced off into her own little world and Rikka sighed internally. Was she even listening? She didn't seem to care at all what Rikka was doing. At least, not the way Rikka cared about what Mana was doing.
Well, anyway. Soon she would be friends with Makopi, and then maybe things would be different.
"Well! I'll leave you to that, then." Rikka interrupted Mana's monologuing, since they were about at the point where they would part ways and head to their separate homes anyway. "I'm going to go off and get ready for my date with Makopi."
"Have fun~!" Mana bounced away.
Rikka was nervous for some reason when she arrived at the restaurant. She had been nervous preparing and she was nervous now. She'd already spent far too long trying to decide what to wear, which was silly. Something, somewhere, in the back of her mind, had told her that she had to look nice for this.
Well, there was no need to worry now. She and and Makopi would have a good time and become better friends through this little excursion, which would obviously keep her away from Mana, and...
"Ugh," Rikka said under her breath as she wove her way through the tables and booths, looking for Makopi. "Why didn't I realize how stupid this all sounded until now?"
"How stupid what sounded?"
Rikka jumped and looked down at the table behind her. "Makopi?"
Makopi gave her a little smile, and she was stunning. She had on a flowing lavender gown with royal purple highlights, and it was all complimented by a purple ribbon in her hair. "Sorry if I startled you," she said. "But go ahead and sit down. I haven't ordered yet."
"Oh, um, of course." Rikka sat down opposite her and began to distractedly browse the menu.
"You look nice," Makopi said after a moment. "I suppose we didn't really have to dress up, but I felt I should. I may as well make a good impression in case the press arrive."
"I'm an idol, remember?" Makopi tilted her head, and a thin strand of her hair fell gracefully in front of her violet eyes. "I may be Pretty Cure now, but in the eyes of the public and the press I'm also still an idol. They'll find me anywhere. They found me at the ice cream parlor with Mana yesterday, too."
"That, right." That reminded Rikka why she was here. "Well, hopefully no one else will find us tonight," she said. "That way it can just be us."
"Oh?" Makopi quirked an eyebrow, which Rikka found oddly endearing. "Is there a particular reason you wish for us to be alone? This doesn't have to do with our mission as Pretty Cure, does it?"
"What? No!" Rikka said quickly. "I just really wanted to get to know you better. I thought we could become better friends this way. Like you and Mana."
"I see," said Makopi. "Interesting... but you know, Mana and I really aren't that close."
"You aren't?" Rikka asked.
The server approached just then. "Are you ready to order?"
Makopi ordered, then, followed by Rikka, although the latter was largely distracted by what Makopi had just said. How were she and Mana not close? Mana talked about her all the time! She had ever since she first met her!
Once the server left with their orders, Makopi spoke up again. "You like Mana, don't you?"
"Huh?" Rikka blinked. "Of course I like her. We're best friends." I think, she added inwardly.
"No, I mean... like like her."
"I..." Rikka blushed. Surely it wasn't that transparent?
"It's okay," said Makopi. "I'm not going to mock you for it or anything. And I..." she sighed suddenly and looked out across the restaurant. "I know what it's like."
"What what's like?"
"To love someone when you're not quite sure if she loves you back. And to never get that closure" Makopi had a strange glint in her eyes, but she blinked and it was gone. "Anyway," she said, her voice clearer and sharper as she looked back at Rikka. "You shouldn't let that discourage you. Mana is the type of person who will never be satisfied with just... with just loving one person. She has to love the world. That's just the type of person she is. And unfortunately, that means her love is going to be spread very thin across all of those people."
"Wha... what's that supposed to mean?" Rikka said, suddenly feeling offended on Mana's behalf. "Mana is the strongest person that I know, and she has so much love to give, and... and..."
"...and that's the problem," said Makopi. "It makes her a very good student council president, and a very good Pretty Cure leader. But I fear that you're waiting for her to find you special, you are just wasting your time. She finds everyone equally special... which means that she finds no one special."
Rikka looked down at the table. Her fists were balled. Somehow, everything Makopi was saying hurt to hear, even if deep down she knew it was true. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I think you deserve better," said Makopi. "I don't know if that's what you want to hear, but... it's the truth. You should spend less time chasing her. I think it would be better for both of you."
"And how do you know what's better for both of us?" Rikka riposted.
"I don't. Not for sure. It might be different for you than it was for me. It is something worth thinking about. Anyway. You brought me here so we could become closer friends?"
"Well... yes, originally," said Rikka, suddenly unsure about why she was even here in the first place. Why on earth did she ever think this would be a good idea? She had felt so petty and vindictive at the time. It seemed like a final grasp for something, anything.
"Is that the truth, though, or are you trying to make Mana jealous? Because if that is the case, I don't think it will work."
"I'm not trying to make her jealous," Rikka insisted. That was the truth, really. "I already know that won't work," she added in a low mumble.
Makopi seemed surprised, and she looked intently at Rikka. "So you actually want to be friends with me?" she asked.
"Yes," said Rikka. She left out the bit about how even though this wasn't supposed to make Mana jealous, it was still an elaborate ploy to make Mana spend less time with Makopi.
...which all seemed pointless now, didn't it? Now that Makopi had just confirmed that she and Mana weren't even all that close.
"I'm a little surprised, I'll admit," said Makopi. She took a sip of water. "But I'm glad for the company, anyway."
Rikka's heart clenched just a little. She felt bad about this. Makopi was a good person, wasn't she? She decided to come clean. "The truth is... I thought that you and Mana were closer. And I thought that if I spent a lot of time with you, then Mana wouldn't be able to. She's not the one who's jealous. I am."
"Ahh... I see. That makes sense, now."
"I'm sorry for visiting under a circumstance like this. You deserve something better," said Rikka quickly. "So... how about we actually do try to become better friends? Or at least enjoy our time here tonight."
The server arrived with their food. They thanked him and then ate in silence for a moment. It was Makopi who eventually broke it. "By the way, I'm sorry if I was a bit forward," she said. "I've noticed you acting like this for a while, and it's been worrying me."
"It has?" Rikka had hoped her obsession with Mana hadn't been that obvious, but perhaps, ultimately, she supposed it wasn't something she could hide.
"Yeah. But I didn't want to say anything... I don't know if it's my place. I still don't know if it is," she admitted. "But... what would I want to tell myself? What would I have wanted to hear? I think it might be best to just move on from it now."
Rikka wasn't sure if that was healthy or not. It sure didn't sound particularly healthy, whatever Makopi was talking about. Because by now, she surely wasn't talking about Rikka but was instead talking about herself. "Did... did you want to talk about it?" she asked after a moment.
Makopi chewed her food slowly before swallowing deliberately. "You didn't realize?" she asked after a moment. "The Princess and I... I thought we had something special. But it turns out I didn't even know she was engaged."
"Ah... right." Rikka had wondered about that before, but had felt it rude to ever ask or pry. She was glad Makopi was willing to talk to her about it now, though. Makopi seemed to understand her.
"Indeed," said Makopi. She sighed and took a drink. Then she looked back up at Rikka. "Sometimes I still don't know if I'll ever fully move on from her. For so long, she was my only world."
"Yeah," Rikka commiserated. She knew that feeling all too well. But then she thought back to what Makopi had just said a moment earlier. "But you wish you had ended it earlier, on your own terms? Is that what you mean?"
"Yes. I think it would have saved me a lot of heartache in the long run," said Makopi.
"That seems so sad to me... like giving up, almost," Rikka mused.
"Is it giving up to not prolong the inevitable?" Makopi asked. "After all, the time that you are wasting chasing after something you'll never have is time that could be spent..." she paused, seemingly weighing her words before continuing. "Time that could be spent finding someone else," she said finally.
Finding someone else? The thought seemed almost foreign to Rikka. She had thoroughly devoted herself to Mana for so long. The thought of potentially devoting herself to someone else seemed almost terrifying. Especially if they, too, never reciprocated her feelings. How could she continue to live like that?
But on the other hand... "It's hard," she said quietly, stirring her food around with chopsticks. "This is what I wanted for so long. I don't know if I'm ready to move on from that. No matter what, there is a part of me that will always love Mana."
"I know," said Makopi. "Just like there's a part of me that will always love the Princess. Even if she's... well. Now she's two different people, and neither of those people are the person I loved. Maybe it's a little easier for me than it is for you after all."
"I don't think it's easy for either of us," said Rikka firmly. Makopi looked up at her with her soft, violet eyes, and she looked so small, then. Rikka suddenly felt the preposterous desire to reach out and comfort her, and she immediately blushed upon realizing that she felt that way. But maybe she could say something verbally, if not do something physically, to show her support. She suddenly very much wanted to. She cared for Makopi more than she thought, she realized. They had always been friends, but not good friends. But now... "We can do it together," she said firmly.
"Together?" Makopi looked up at her, her eyebrows pursed. "What do you mean? Do what together?"
"Well, you know. Move on. From what's holding us back. I'm hung up on Mana, and you're hung up on the Princess, but if we both support each other... maybe we can find someone else to make us happy."
Makopi giggled then, her voice light. "You know what you sound like when you say that, right?" she said.
"Huh...? Oh! That's not what I meant!" Rikka was flustered. Then she thought that might have come out wrong, so she decided to backtrack. "I mean... that's not to say you aren't really pretty or anything... or um... you know..."
Makopi giggled, again. Her giggle was light and airy. "Don't worry. I knew what you meant. I just thought it was funny." She looked at Rikka, then, and Rikka looked at her, and when their eyes met they both blushed and looked away suddenly. It was perhaps the first time that Rikka noticed, really noticed, exactly how beautiful Makopi was. She had just been so focused on Mana to pay attention to anyone else. And in a way, she was still scared. She was scared to move from Mana and focus her energy on someone else. But maybe...
...maybe Makopi was right.
It couldn't be fast. It couldn't be all at once. It couldn't be overnight.
But it would be okay to move on.
"Makopi?" Rikka said. "Thanks."
"I should be the one thanking you," said Makopi. "Since dinner was your idea. Although I must confess..." her cheeks reddened a bit. "I'd been looking for an excuse for the two of us to have an outing like this."
"Yeah..." Makopi looked away, blushing harder, and Rikka started to blush now too. Well, this was all turning out to be very unexpected. But then, maybe, it might be okay. Had Mana ever looked at her this way? Had Mana ever acted this way around her? She couldn't recall a time that she had. This was new and exciting, and it sent a thrill up Rikka's spine.
She looked down at her food and noticed that she was almost done, and Makopi almost was as well, but she didn't really want this moment to end just yet, so... "Did you want dessert?"
Makopi smiled at her. "I'd like that."
Maybe moving on wouldn't be so bad after all.