It feels like all Franziska’s done for the past few weeks is stare at her laptop, waiting for papers to write themselves. She loves law, she reminds herself; she loves justice, the chase, the pursuit of it. And yet, it’s times like this that she forgets: when she’s drowning in paperwork, feeling entirely like there are not enough hours in the day, her body begging for reprieve.
It’s on one such hazy night that Franziska’s lock clicks and the door swings open, revealing one Maya Fey. She wrestles her copy of Franziska’s apartment key from the doorknob and slips her shoes off at the door before bounding in with the energy of a feral puppy.
Miles had done nothing but smirk knowingly when Franziska mentioned that she’d given a copy of her key to Maya. As if he was privy to some hilarious joke that could not be shared. Franziska had just scowled at him. Giving your best friend the key to your apartment is a perfectly normal thing that all best friends who are just friends do, she reasons, and if they don’t, then maybe they should.
That is not, however, what goes through Franziska’s mind as Maya drops her bag on a chair and plants her hands on the table, resolved eyes staring down Franziska and her laptop. Franziska’s mind is fuzzy, wading through work and stress, and all she thinks when she sees Maya is—
“Pretty,” Franziska murmurs, like a foolishly foolish fool.
Maya flushes to her ears but her expression does not waver, resolute. “We’re going out,” she says.
“I can’t,” Franziska says. “I have to finish this.”
“You haven’t moved in like a week.” Maya reaches across the table and shuts Franziska’s laptop. It clicks closed softly, a moment of space between Maya’s gaze and Fransizka’s glare. Finally, Franziska gives up, looking away at the wall. Sometimes Maya is too much to even look at, a force of her own to behold.
“Okay,” Franziska whispers. She is too tired to argue. This unnameable emotion bubbles in her chest and she is too tired to stop it.
“We’re going on a date,” Maya says, excitedly, gently. “We’re going to have fun, and then we’re going to come back here, and you’re going to go to sleep. Okay?”
“Okay,” Franziska says again, blurry, fading at the seams. Maya grabs hold of her hand, and she feels real again.
That’s how Franziska finds herself in a loud arcade, neon colors painting the walls and the carpet like an assault on her eyes, radio-pop music blaring at a decibel that should be too high for human hearing. Despite the noise, there are few people scattered around the machines — it’s emptier than it is busy.
Maya did not release their hands the whole walk here, and still does not drop it. Instead, she uses their joined hands to drag Franziska between machines that beep and chime in a cacophony of video game sounds.
It’s a bit late to admit she’s never been to an arcade.
“Anything catch your eye?” Maya asks, never letting go of Franziska’s hand. The feeling of their palms together does little to jumpstart Franziska’s fried brain, and instead that minute touch is all she can focus on.
“Um.” She scans the disorganized mess of machines spread out in front of them, all chiming in different ways, vying for her attention. It’s a bit much, if she’s being honest; her head swims with the smell of sweat and pizza grease, and yet, it is because Maya is there that she doesn’t feel like running.
Wonder why that could be.
Maya pouts up at her, cheeks puffed like a defiant squirrel, but the expression is devoid of any real irritation. “I’ll choose then,” she says, her eyes scanning the babbling consoles. Finally, she drags Franziska over to one with long, plastic rifles stored in a panel facing a monitor that flashes with chaos. Realistic dinosaurs dash across the screen and swipe their claws as if trying to reach the two of them. It’s incredibly crude, Franziska thinks, and a waste of time besides, to play a game that simulates fighting dinosaurs of all things. Not even a plausible threat, like bears or natural predators.
…But Maya’s eyes are shining so brightly, who is Franziska to say no?
Though tiredness tugs at the corner of her attention, Franziska picks up one of the plastic rifles, attached to the console by a thick wire, trying not to feel acutely the loss of heat as Maya drops her hand to fiddle with her own fake gun.
“What you do,” Maya explains, “is you hold your hand over the bottom of the barrel, like this.” She demonstrates by gripping her plastic gun close to her chest and Franziska mimics her, taking her other hand and folding her index finger over the trigger.
“Like this?” she asks.
Maya leans forward and inspects Franziska’s grip before beaming. “Yup! You got it!”
(Some part of Franziska is disappointed at her own perfection, having wanted Maya’s hands on hers, adjusting her grip. Like a fool.)
Franziska hurriedly turns toward the screen as Maya pushes two quarters into the slots, slamming her fist into the start button. Immediately, the entire console starts humming, thrashing in the way only machines do, all clanking and buzzing. Like a demon ready for battle.
On the screen, they appear to be in a car, driving through jungle-like wilderness. The camera quickly pans over behind them to reveal small dinosaurs racing after the vehicle, and bright yellow letters reading “ SHOOT!” flit across the screen. Maya immediately trains her gun to the screen, the crosshairs dizzily following, and shoots.
The two of them are quiet, the air filled with clicking triggers and screaming dinosaurs. They wail as Maya shoots them down, Franziska clumsily aiming after her. She’s shot guns once or twice before, but those were real guns — with recoil, that smelled like metal and grease. These guns don’t move when she pulls the trigger, just click uselessly as a shooting animation flashes across the screen. Nevertheless, she feels her shoulders relax, even as Maya does most of the heavy lifting, racking up more points — it’s enough for Franziska, really, to watch monsters onscreen collapse at the touch of a button. Maya has her left eye closed, focusing in with her right, tongue poking out between her lips just barely. That look of concentration is more mesmerizing than anything else in the room.
In the end, Franziska doesn’t get that many points, choosing instead to watch as tickets flick out from Maya’s side of the console. Maya rips out the tickets and folds them into a stack before holding them out to Franziska.
“Hold on to this for me,” she says, leaving no room for debate. Franziska stows the stack of tickets in her pocket and tries not to forget about them.
“What next?” Franziska asks, breath escaping her. Despite the tiredness pulling her to the ground, she feels alive somehow, better. More present.
“Hm.” Maya scans the arcade floor again with a scrutinizing eye, her brow furrowing. “What’s a good game for you…”
“I said nothing. Ooh, DDR!”
“What?” Franziska is cut off by Maya gripping her hand again and pulling her to the back of the room.
Against the wall is a flashing purple screen held aloft by two metal poles. At its feet is a slightly elevated metal stage with two sets of arrows pointing every which way embedded on its surface. The whole setup is a mixture of purple, steel-silver, and flashing lights, enough to make Franziska’s head pound deliciously.
“What’s this?” Franziska breathes.
Maya smirks deviously. “Dance Dance Revolution,” she says. “You’ve never played?”
Not that Franziska has ever had the time to indulge in games. Too focused on perfection, on success. Her guilty verdicts, her successful trials. Something sad and lumpy settles in the pit of her stomach, a sense of missing out. She’s still young, she reasons, but she gets a pervasive feeling that she’s lost the chance to make such formative memories, to love things like this. To be childish.
Maya must have noticed the shift in Franziska’s mood, because she squeezes her hand. “It’s fun,” Maya says. “It helps you let go of yourself for a little bit. Getting a high score doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy yourself. That’s what all this is about!”
Franziska’s eyes find their joined hands, trail up Maya’s skin to find her face, open and eager. As long as she’s known her, Maya has never shied away from vulnerability, has never been afraid of being herself. Franziska’s always admired that: she finds herself swept away by Maya’s carefree attitude, the lightness of her feet, the way she eases the heaviness in the air just by being there.
In that moment, it is impossible for Franziska to deny: she is unequivocally, irrevocably in love with Maya Fey.
The realization, earth-shattering as it should be, does not hurt. It feels natural, tucking itself away in her chest. It is easy; it is inevitable.
“Fran?” Maya ducks her head to peer into Franziska’s face. “Everything okay? We don’t have to play this one if you don’t want to.”
“I want to,” Franziska says thickly, hoarsely. “I want to try.”
God, she’s really getting emotional about a game. That she hasn’t even played yet. What a fool she’s become.
Maya beams, her smile enough to tear clouds from the sky and bottle them in sunshine. It took realization to turn Franziska into a sappy poet, and she’s not sure if that’s a good thing. Not that she would change it. She loves Maya more with every breath, this she knows.
“Okay,” Maya breathes, and tugs Franziska onto the platform.
The two of them situate themselves in the center of a grouping of arrows each, and Maya explains the game: stomp on the correct arrow as it flies across the screen in time with the song. Maya scrolls through the songs list before settling on the long version of the Steel Samurai opening.
“I’ve never seen this show,” Franziska admits.
“What, the Steel Samurai?” As the song loads up, Maya seems to think to herself for a moment, before grinning. “We should watch it sometime then!”
Franziska’s about to respond — in the affirmative, she’d take any excuse to see Maya’s eyes light up like that — but the music starts playing, arrows start flying up from the bottom of the screen, and she has to scramble to keep up. Her heels almost get caught in the uneven slats along the platform, and as she trips forward she stomps on the up arrow to steady herself. All the while, Maya hasn’t released her hand.
Doing her best to clumsily follow the arrows on screen, Franziska groans, “It can’t be easy to play like this.” She swings their joined hands to punctuate her point.
Maya’s feet don’t slow; she bounces to the beat, racking up perfects on her score, half-dragging Franziska along with her.
“It’s not supposed to be easy!” she laughs, hair swinging wildly, taking on life of its own. Franziska follows Maya’s movements, stumbling over herself, a believer crashing into piety. Maya’s infectious energy bleeds into her, and Franziska finds herself grinning too, smiling wider than she ever has before. Arrows fly across the screen and Franziska feels alive, alive, alive, warmth crawling across her skin, spurring her into motion. She follows their lead, fingers tangled with Maya, and loses herself in the pounding music.
Eventually, the song ends.
Breathing hard, hands intertwined, Maya’s score crushes Franziska’s, but that doesn’t matter. She’s breathing, and she’s alive, her body physical in a way she hasn’t felt in what feels like forever. Having gotten too used to hunching over her laptop, she’s forgotten what it means to live.
Maya reminds her.
Franziska blinks and Maya’s hugging her, hands pressed to her back, comforting heat all around them. They’re both sweaty and breathing hard, and Maya’s head is pressed ear-first to Franziska’s chest. A blush rushes up her face, threatening to explode.
“That was fun, right?” Maya gushes, pulling back just a bit to look Franziska in the eyes. She finds it impossible, then, to look away from the sparkle in Maya’s eyes, all-encompassing and entrancing.
“Y-Yeah,” Franziska manages, cursing the stammer in her voice. Foolish.
There are no tickets, but that doesn’t stop Maya. “I’m gonna get you a gift,” she crows, tugging Franziska toward the counter by the hand. Franziska nearly trips over herself in her haste to follow, tumbling after. They reach the counter and Maya holds out her hands, puppy eyes sparkling up at Franziska.
“Can I help you?” the person behind the counter grumbles, a cheery hat pushed too low over their eyes.
“Tickets?” Maya pleads up to Franziska, who fishes around in her pocket and pulls out the stack, presses it squarely in Maya’s palms.
“Here,” Maya says, sliding the tickets across the counter. The employee’s eyebrow twitches; they glance toward the ticket feeders in the corner before sighing heavily and spreading the tickets out across the glass counter.
“Looks like you have about thirty here,” they say in a totally deadpan voice, without even counting. They’re clearly adding a few to the count, but Maya seems so excited that Franziska decides not to comment.
“Okay, okay, um…” Maya scans the bins inside the glass of the counter, all of which cost amounts higher than thirty. “Is there anything I can get two of?”
The employee looks down at the bins and bends down, pulling one singular bin out from the lineup. It is clearly labeled with a 20/each sign. Inside is a loose assortment of Silly Bandz. “You can grab two of these, I guess.”
If Maya notices the discrepancy, she doesn’t comment on it, fishing through the bin until she’s procured exactly two Silly Bandz. When she slaps them down on the counter, they take shape: one of the Steel Samurai, and one of a hamburger with arms and legs. Maya stares the two down, then, with slow and heavy movements, she picks up the Steel Samurai one and rolls it over Franziska’s wrist.
“Here,” she says, her voice thick. “You can have this one.”
Franziska looks down at the rubber band around her wrist. It’s one Maya would’ve wanted. She watches as Maya pulls the hamburger one over her own wrist, something bittersweet in her eyes. Franziska’s heart constricts and she traces a finger over the rubber of the band, promising to cherish it with her life.
“I didn’t know these still existed,” Maya says reverentially. She holds up Franziska’s wrist, the pads of her fingers searing on her skin.
“Should we get some air?” Franziska asks around the lump in her throat.
“Sure,” Maya says, and without releasing Franziska’s wrist, she leads the both of them outside into the cool night air.
Franziska takes a deep breath in, the cool air resting in her lungs and cooling her from the inside out. She needs it; Maya still hasn’t let go, and the heat of her skin spreads across Franziska’s entire body, warm and cold flashing through her.
She wants to kiss her.
Franziska looks over at Maya, and wants to kiss her.
Maya takes a deep breath in and makes eye contact with Franziska, and Franziska wants to kiss her.
With a huff, it’s Franziska’s turn: she drags Maya into a nearby alley. She presses Maya back into the wall, one hand planted against the wall on either side of her face.
“Fran?” Maya says, her voice small and wanting. “Is everything alright?”
Cool air threads between them, but Franziska is too warm to notice it. She presses her forehead to Maya’s, eyes fluttering shut.
“I want to kiss you,” Franziska says, strangled.
Maya cocks an eyebrow, a smirk playing on her lips. There’s something knowing in her gaze when she blinks, feigning innocence. “Do it, then.”
“Is that okay?”
“Yes,” Maya says emphatically.
“Okay,” Franziska breathes, and lowers her face. Just a bit. Enough that their lips are just shy of touching, afraid to take that next step. She’s been going insane all night, and the courage to bridge that gap dances just on the tip of her tongue.
“I’ll do it then,” Maya says, fisting her hands in Franziska’s vest, crashing their lips together.
Maya tastes like cherry and incense. It’s a strange combination, but Franziska chases after it, intoxicated. It takes her a moment to fully comprehend what’s going on, but a beat later she’s kissing Maya back with just as much force, pent up wanting driving her forward. It’s been a long night, a long week, a long month; now, Franziska’s determined to make up for all that lost time right here, in this moment and onward.
She loses track of how long they’re there for, the wall cold under her hands, Maya gripping her close. Dusk and dawn drift past, but when she pulls away, just barely, and opens her eyes, the stars are in the same place she’d left them: up in the sky, in Maya’s eyes.
(It’s a tired, foolish cliche. And Franziska foolishly loves it.)
“We should head home,” Franziska says. “It’s getting cold.”
“Okay,” Maya says.
“You’re coming back with me, right?” Franziska asks. “You’re staying over?”
“Yeah,” Maya murmurs. “If you’d like that.”
Franziska’s face feels numb with cold and want when she says, “I would like that very much.” She has never been good at being vulnerable, at asking for the things she wants. The more she wants them, the more impossible they seem.
“Then I will,” Maya says. Foolishly tender.
“Okay,” Franziska says, and there is a tiny smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. She takes Maya’s hand, presses a kiss to her wrist. Maya flushes dark crimson; it’s satisfying, then, to watch her come undone as Franziska has.
They head out into the night, the stars bending around them. The wind chills, and it warms.