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have you ever met a girl as fresh as me?

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Claudine pulls away with a gasp and a shove. A thread of saliva joins them even as she stumbles back, breaking like Maya’s heart when Claudine scrubs the back of her hand over her lips.

“I can’t believe it,” she grumbles, wiping her hand on her skirt for good measure. “All that talk, and this is how you kiss?”

“I liked it,” Maya says. Does it speak lowly of her that she finds Claudine cute even when she’s scolding her? Maya reaches for Claudine, eager to have her warm against her chest again. Claudine bats her hand away.

Maya pouts. Claudine shakes her head. “Have you ever kissed anyone before?” she asks. “No, don’t answer that—your kissing speaks for itself.”

That piques Maya’s ire, despite her better judgement. “Oh? And are you very experienced?”

Claudine arches a brow. She waves a hand over herself, drawing Maya’s eyes to her many… assets. “Stupid question; you know that, right?”

A hot rush of jealousy spears Maya in place. She frowns, and Claudine—dear girl, beloved partner—pauses in her grumbling.

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” she sighs. She pulls Maya in by the lapels of her blazer, warm breath washing over Maya’s lips. “I’m kissing you now, aren’t I? Even if you are awful at it.”

Maya’s pride stings. Of course Claudine has had previous partners. That doesn’t mean she enjoys thinking about Claudine kissing some faceless girl that Maya has never and will never meet, basking in the Paris sun, far enough away that even Maya’s wings can’t reach her.

“Show me how you like it,” Maya murmurs. All this criticism, and no critique to help her improve. That simply won’t do.

Claudine is close enough that Maya can feel the brush of the other girl’s lips against her own as she speaks. The sensation is almost as heady as the rush of being onstage, and Maya resists the urge to pull Claudine back in and kiss her again, regardless of how much she’ll complain. “I want to know how best to please you.”

Red sweeps over Claudine’s cheeks, a fine complement to her lidded eyes and pink lips. She slides her hands over the plane of Maya’s chest and locks them behind Maya’s neck, trapping Maya against her. If it’s meant to be a display of dominance, it’s a rather poor one. Maya doesn’t mind being cornered like this in the least. She has been Claudine’s for longer than Claudine has known her name—longer, perhaps, than even Maya herself knows.

“I wonder what goes on in your head, saying things like that so easily.”

“Merely the difference between first place and second.” Oh, Maya loves this—the delight of flirtation buzzing in her veins, the edge of rivalry like a blade held against skin, Claudine’s eyes locked on hers like she could never look away. Maya would dance these steps for the rest of her life if she could. “You’re welcome to call me endearments as well, of course.”

Tu as le cerveau d'un sandwich au fromage.”

“Far from the worst insult I’ve ever heard.”

Claudine’s cheek twitches like she’s trying not to laugh. “God, I loathe you.”

“Surely only a few letters away from the truth, Claudine.”

“Hm. Mon imbécile arrogant.”

Maya rests her hands on the curve of Claudine’s hips. “So long as you know I’m yours.”

Claudine snorts and strokes her thumb over the fine hairs on Maya’s nape. Maya’s eyes grow half-lidded as Claudine traces idle shapes against her skin. She’s personally always thought of Claudine as the cat of their duo, but right now, with her forehead pressed against Claudine’s and those clever fingers working against the knots in her neck, she almost sees fit to start purring.

Maya thinks she catches a hint of a smile on Claudine’s face before her eyes drift shut entirely. How nice. Claudine is lovely, whether pouting, snarling, or entirely expressionless, but Maya regrets—her one and only regret—that their rivalry has made the easy grin she remembers from her shelves of DVDs so much more rare.

She does so love when Claudine smiles.

And Claudine must be, because her voice lacks bite when she says, “My neck almost cramped up when you were trying to kiss me, you know. Shouldn't you be the one giving me a massage?”

“I'd be happy to, in a moment.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” The fingers working against Maya’s neck still. Soft lips brush against her own, and if Maya were any less trained, any less well-bred , she would have jumped right out of her skin. As it is her eyes shoot wide open, breath stuttering to a halt in her chest.

Claudine isn’t even a little ruffled when she pulls away. Her smile is crooked; she presses a finger against Maya’s lips when she tries to follow, laughing when Maya frowns.

“You asked me to show you what I liked,” Claudine says. She takes Maya’s face in her hands, eyes dancing. “And to think, Tendou Maya is normally so attentive during class.”

“Our teachers are hardly you .” Claudine scoffs, but Maya’s flattery earns her a quick peck to the corner of her lips. She lingers there even as she keeps Maya from chasing more: an unnecessary precaution. Maya has every intention of letting Claudine lead, but she understands nonetheless. Her passions do have a tendency to get away from her, where Claudine is concerned.

For example: Claudine’s hair. Her bangs are mussed from Maya’s enthusiasm, curling into her eyes and tickling Maya’s brow. The waves of hair flowing down her back and over her shoulders are unruly now that Maya’s hands have run through them; Claudine makes style seem effortless, but Maya knows she spends an hour on hair alone. It’s a wonder Claudine hadn’t rebuffed Maya the second she dared to run her fingers through that cloudlike mane.   

“Maya. There’s a funny look in your eye; are you paying attention?”

“Always.”

“Good,” Claudine says, and kisses her again.

She’s so gentle with Maya. It’s something of a shock. Maya certainly hadn’t shown her such tenderness, and despite all that she knows about Claudine, she still finds it in herself to be surprised. Her Claudine—all fire and shine—is a kind girl, but no one is ever soft to Maya.

Claudine starts slow, their lips moving together in a way that would seem shy if Maya hadn’t known that Claudine is anything but. Simple pleasure: skin on skin, gentle touches, a love that’s almost too easy after all that they’ve been through to get here.

Maya has held this girl at swordpoint. In another life, with the Top Star’s crown on her brow, Maya could have taken everything from Claudine; ruined her without even intending to. But here they are: kissing, Claudine guiding her through, decidedly still capable of passion and ardor.

Maya likes to think this is a far better outcome.  

“That’s it,” Claudine pulls away to sigh. She toys with Maya’s hair, letting the strands slip through her fingers. “You’re doing fine.”

She can’t resist. Maya juts her bottom lip. “Just fine?”

“One successful kiss doesn’t make you a master, Tendou Maya.”

“I suppose you’ll have to teach me.”

Claudine rolls her eyes. Her mouth betrays her and hooks into a smile. “I suppose I will. I won’t suffer having you shove your tongue in my mouth like that again, you know. Was that your idea of Frenching?”

Maya doesn’t flush, exactly, but there’s a new heat in her cheeks that can’t be attributed to Claudine’s perfect eyes and delicious proximity. “I’m not used to being inadequate.”

“At least you didn’t bite. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than a biter.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Maya says mildly. Claudine’s eyes are dancing with mirth, pleased to have found something to stagger Maya’s tempo. “You were demonstrating…?”

“Impatient, aren’t you?”

“I have the privilege of your attention,” Maya says. Claudine wrinkles her nose the way she always does when she’s deciding whether to snap something biting or accept Maya’s compliments. “I don’t intend to waste it.”

“Then prove it,” replies Claudine, and far from the final time, seals her smile against Maya’s.