Title: Strength
Characters/Pairings: Ray/Mariah, Kai/Mariah
Genre: Romance
Summary: Over the years, Mariah's learned that there are many meanings to strength. Ray/Mariah, Kai/Mariah
I don't own Beyblade. XD;
Wowza. I finally updated and posted something. I am amazing. It's Mariah-Centric because frankly, that girl needs more love.

'Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing so gentle as real strength.' - St. François de Sales

She remembers the first time she met him.

Mariah had been struggling with beyblading and was nearly in tears by the end of the hour. She couldn't manage to launch her beyblade the same way Lee had nor could she manage to land it into the dish without having it topple over. Despite the fact she could have easily run off to Lee for help, the little determined voice in her head stubbornly protested that she was a girl and she didn't need help from some boy, never mind her own brother. After all, she could easily imagine his relentless teasing. So she summoned up her last ounce of strength and launched her little pink beyblade for the fiftieth time that day, only to watch it crash yet again against the sides of the dish and fall down with a clatter.

Iwon'tcryIwon'tcry. Mariah crumpled to the ground, small sniffling noises escaping her as she furiously fought tears. Biting her lip, she focused her watery eyes onto the ground, away from her fallen beyblade and her failed attempts. Iwon'tcryIwon'tcryIwon'twon'twon't-

"Are you okay?"

That was all it took. In an instant, all her resolve crumbled and tears poured down her face; she could barely contain her loud sniffling noises. She heard the sound of fabric shifting over fabric and ducked her head, allowing her pink tresses to cover her face. When a hand suddenly touched her shoulder, it was all she could do from flinching away.

"Are you okay?" the voice repeated again. It was a soft voice, a kind voice and she glanced up. Even though her vision was blurred through all the tears, she could still see a boy. She instantly recognized him as one of her brother's friends. However, it was his gentle gold eyes that caught her attention more than anything else and she stared transfixed at them.

"Do you need a hand?" he asked and extended his hand towards her, "My name's Ray." Mariah felt a little self-conscious, a little insecure, and became painfully aware of her tear-streaked face and of her breakdown.

"M-my name's Mariah," she stuttered, "N-nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," he had responded with a gentle smile. Even at the young age of four, she marveled at his smile. After all, he probably thought she was only the crybaby kid sister of his friend, just a face streaked with tears and dirt. It was then and there she decided she would no longer break down and give in and she would become stronger, someone better than her brother but most of all, worthy of his smile.

"T-thank you."

And she took his hand.

She remembers the first time she fell in love.

They were all going to the cinema, she remembered, just Kevin, Gary, Lee, Ray and her. All of them had scrapped up some hard earned money that they had collected from odd-end jobs and hidden corners. It was a brilliant idea – after all, there wasn't anything really better to do in the oppressive heat of the summer; the humidity was so thick that Mariah's hair would lay sticky and flat against her head and sweat would bead everyone's brows. Besides, the cinema would have air-conditioning, a miraculous wonder to everyone in their remote village. So they all boarded the stuffy cart carrying sugar canes to the city, dozing most of the long ride. However, the minute the reached the outskirts of town, they immediately awoke, staring wide-eyed as they passed the streets, the crowds of people, and the towering buildings. Once their guardian reached the market, they instantly swung off the cart and scampered towards the newly built cinema.

The ticket seller had stared at them warily, as if he expected them to have stolen their money to buy the tickets, but he handed out the tickets anyway, though he looked quite disgruntled. The five eagerly piled into the front row seats, craning their heads as the stared in awe as figures flashed across the screen. Since guys dominated their circle of friends, it was no surprise that they had picked out the most action-packed and gory movie that was available. On the other hand, she would find herself cringing throughout most of the movie; blood spewed out in odd intervals, heads constantly rolled across the screen, and Mariah just felt sick. Ray must have noticed her discomfort because he gently tapped her on the shoulder.

"Are you okay?" he had asked in concern, "You look a little squeamish." Mariah squirmed a little in her seat and cringed yet again as yet another sword stabbed through a body, prompting a loud cheer from Kevin and Lee.

"I'm okay," she lied, "It's not a big problem or anything. I'm fine." Judging by the expression on his face, Mariah was either a horrible liar or he was an extremely perceptive. Both were probably true.

"You can hold onto my hand if you want," Ray offered and she flushed red at his suggestion. Despite the darkness of the theatre, she was suddenly struck by how cute he looked and how nice he was to her even though she was his best friend's little sister; he always put up with her quirks and even taught her how to beyblade and swim. A thought gradually blossomed in her mind until it was as clear as crystal - she had a crush on Ray Kon.

"Uh, it's okay," she hastily said and was suddenly very, very glad that the theatre was dark. Mariah hurriedly glanced at the screen only to see yet another man get skewered. Blood splattered the scene and she fidgeted again.

"My offer still stands," Ray laughed, noting her obvious discomfort. She hurriedly shook her head but looked rather nauseous nevertheless. I'm strong, she told herself, And if strong means watching this, I will prove I am strong. A ghastly scream rose in a theatre and Mariah grimaced as an arm was loped off this time. Maybe … just maybe … I'll make one exception.

By the end of the movie, she was clutching to his hand like there was no tomorrow.

She remembers the first time she had her heart broken.

Suddenly and without a word, Ray had vanished from their village. It had crushed her deeply and she remembered standing shell-shocked in disbelief as the news spread like wildfire around their village. She remembered her brother's betrayed and furious look, Kevin's stunned expression, and Gary's mouth gaping in disbelief.

Mariah's heart felt numb and the world skidded to a halt when she heard the news. Time itself seemed to freeze, an all she could hear were Lee's words, like an old record that had been scratched. Ray's gone. He's left us. Ray's gone. He's left us. Ray's gone. He's left us. Ray's gone. He's left us.

Vaguely, she remembers lashing out at in stunned rage before locking herself in her room and crying herself to sleep for days. The rest of her memory was a blur; for the next few weeks, she had walked in around in a daze, unable to accept that Ray - her good friend Ray, her crush Ray - would just leave them like that.

Still, she couldn't shake off the feeling of personal betrayal; she even supported The White Tiger's vehement remarks on his treachery for months. Despite that, her heart still twinged. It was only years later, she understand that it was telling her that her Ray wouldn't leave without a good reason.

Through the tears and shock, she steeled herself on the inside and told herself silently that she would get stronger so when they saw Ray again, that they would – no, she would prove that she could get stronger, with or without him, regardless of that clenching feeling in her heart.

On the other hand, when she first met him, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.

She wanted to prove to Ray she had gotten stronger even if he had left them, broke her heart; she didn't need him anymore to be stronger. And he was just a possibility to her, an open door. If she could beat him, maybe Ray would realize she had gotten stronger, that their team (she always refers to the White Tigers as their team because it would never be the same without Ray) has gotten stronger, and maybe then, Ray would come back to them and everyone would be happy again, just like the old times. Maybe it was because she was feeling restless. Maybe it was because she wanted a challenge. Maybe it was because she felt like she had something to prove. Either way, she challenged him.

"What about me?" she asked challengingly, a competitive glint in her eyes as her brother walked away. Kai, whose name she would learn later, looked merely disdainful.

"Sorry kid, you're not the one I have a problem with," Kai stated condescendingly.

It annoyed her, irritated her, even infuriated her that he declined her challenge. She could just see in their – no - his eyes. She was just some silly little girl who thought she knew how to beyblade, just a foolish little girl who talked big and couldn't back it up. But most of all, she saw they just saw her a girl not a competitor. And it made her mad. No, it made her furious.

So she launched her pretty little pink beyblade and watched it shoot across the alley, dicing the makeshift dish into the pieces. And when Ray's new team looked shocked at her strength, Mariah smirked. It was about time she got some recognition.

"Is it because you're scared of me?" she asked mockingly, "Maybe you're scared because I'm a girl."

"No," he snapped back. They exchanged some more insults before she left with her team, leaving her feeling satisfied; she had proved her worth in front of Ray. Still, why didn't she feel the glow that she usually did? Was it because she didn't want to turn her back on Ray and her old feelings still remained? Or was a different reason all together?. She had noticed that in Kai's eyes was some smoldering anger (Of embarrassment? Fear? Or just anger? She couldn't tell.), maybe a small hint of fear or awe, but there lay some grudging respect and she felt a sudden rush of pride and satisfaction. But also in his eyes there was something that she felt like she could relate to.

It wasn't until later that they both realized that they both felt like they had something to prove.

Compared the heartbreak she had felt when Ray left the team, this was nothing.

Mariah had run towards the All-Stars team after their match, only to meet dim faces of defeat. It had surprised her; their demeanors were completely different from their usual confidence and cockiness.

"We were worried about you guys," she exclaimed. But even then, they did not stop walking, and only looked dismally towards the ground or straight ahead.

"Emily?" she asked, deciding to overcome their previous animosity, "I feel for you. Talk to me. Hey, don't walk away! Let us help you! Come on guys, we're your friends." And then Emily said just one word with tears shimmering in her eyes and it was all it took.

"I hate the Demolition Boys!" Mariah exclaimed angrily, vowing heatedly to avenge them, "And I'll never forgive Kai for what he's done to you." But secretly inside, she felt her heart wavering and for the first time, she felt unsure. After all, that dreaded bitbeast of Kai's stole other's bitbeasts. But she told herself silently, I must be strong. Strong for my team. For myself. For him. But when she referred to 'him', she wasn't quite sure if she was trying to prove her strength to Ray … or Kai.

Nothing, however, could prepare her for the heartbreak during the match. When Mariah had stepped up to the dish, his eyes narrowed.

"Kai, I don't understand why you changed so much since the last time I saw you. You're cold and heartless," she said, eyes intense with anger. He responded with a chilly glare.

"Have you come to beyblade or chat?" he had stated coldly. Mariah's heart briefly wavered but she summoned her courage, glaring heatedly back as she snapped out, "It's time for you taste some of your own medicine!" But all her courage vanished as she watched Galux being smashed at all sides, so harshly and ruthlessly that she could smell the burning plastic. She collapsed to her knees, staring in despair as her beyblade was utterly destroyed, chunks of melted plastic and singed metal flying through the air. When Galux's pained cry filled the air, her heart stopped. Any remaining bravery she felt was now completely gone.

But what would haunt her most was his smug smirk and his scornful gaze as he strode out of the stadium. It was the last straw - all the resolve and strength built up throughout the years had shattered completely.

She remembers what it's like to forgive and move on.

Mariah's learned how to pick up the pieces from the aftermath, thanks to Ray. But it also was through him that she learned about the true meaning of forgiveness. Their match during the Asian tournament had started out rockily as they both battled with conflicted feelings. But as they gradually reached out to each other, their hearts brushed, and she could breathe again without that heavy feeling inside her chest.

She's been thankful to him from that day for that lesson.

Mariah's learned how to move on as well. Even after they forgave each other, there were a few awkward moments when they realized they didn't quite know what to do anymore. The few years in his absence seemed like a gaping hole of time as they realized they had matured, changed, and grown up.

But then, they moved on. Sometimes her heart ached because she just felt like she didn't know him anymore. But then, she decided that she wanted to be strong again and if strong meant moving on, she would. So, she adapted and he adapted, both resolving to strengthen the already strong bond between them. Mariah learned that Ray now liked steamed pork buns better than shrimp dumplings, green tea over jasmine, liked to snack on nuts, preferred his food salty rather than sweet, and still enjoyed swimming. Ray learned that Mariah now liked daisies over roses, romance novels over comedies, loved to cook, and still hated gory movies, especially gory horror movies.

Under a few months, they had completely pushed the past to the side and the bond between them was stronger than ever.

She remembers how it was like to put her strength to the test as she learned how to forgive Kai.

Forgiving Ray had been one thing but forgiving Kai was another matter entirely. He had destroyed her beyblade, shattered her hopes, and crushed her dreams, all in a few seconds. As if that wasn't enough, he had stolen bitbeasts. But most of all, he shattered her resolve and strength, something that she spent years building and she felt like she could never forgive him for that.

But gradually, Mariah would stop flinching whenever she heard his name. Slowly, she would learn how to accept how his team had nearly killed her teammate, landing him in the hospital and how Kai had destroyed the beyblade she had toiled so hard for years to create. So she fixed her beyblade, tinkering with it to make it stronger than before so when she met him again, she could prove something. That she had become stronger. And within weeks, it had reached a new level of perfection and her heart gradually lightened. Slowly, she began to learn how to breathe again.

When they met it again, it was on pure chance. Her teammates had stopped by Japan to drop a hello because Ray wanted to visit his old team. After settling into the hotel, Ray had wandered off to find the Bladebreakers and Lee followed him under the pretenses of a rematch with Tyson. Gary and Kevin had wandered off the cinema. Mariah on the other hand, decided to do a little shopping.

To her despair, Mariah realized that while Japanese was quite similar to Chinese, there were some major differences and she was soon completely lost. Not only did she have no idea where she was, but also she had no idea what anything was. Sighing in frustration, she squinted at a box of what she presumed was chocolates. She was sorely tempted to shake it.

"Having some trouble?" Startled, Mariah had dropped the box. But she was in for a greater shock when her gold eyes locked into a pair of familiar crimson eyes. Her heart skipped a beat.

"Yes," she replied after a moments pause, coming to her senses as he stared coolly at her, " I can't figure out what this is supposed to be." Mariah tried hard to suppress her trembling as she picked up the box. The more she tried to calm her racing heart, the more memories she seemed to recall. Soon, all she could think of was the sound of ripping plastic and the noxious scent of smoke.

"Illiterate?" Kai sneered. Her temper flared briefly but she squashed it ruthlessly, telling herself that boys were idiots, especially him. But still, it wouldn't quiet her thumping heart.

"No, I just can't read Japanese," she muttered exasperatedly. However, when Kai snapped another remark on her inability to read the Japanese, she exploded. All the pent-up anger from the Russian Tournament she had thought she had gotten rid of suddenly seemed to reappear and burst out all at once.

"What's your problem?" Mariah snapped furiously, her eyes flashing, "What did I ever do to you? If you hate me, fine! Then ignore me and leave me alone! But if you're here to just irritate and annoy me, get lost! I may have tried to forgive you for the acts you've done in the past but that doesn't mean I'll stand and take this!" His eyes widened in surprise and an unreadable expression settled on his face.

"Is that so?" Kai asked. She looked a little wary but glared back nonetheless.

"Yes," she replied firmly. An almost content smirk expression settled on his face. Her heart skipped another beat, but she was more confused than anything else. Just when she thought the situation couldn't get any weirder, he grabbed the box out of her hands.

"It's chocolates," Kai replied in his usual cool tone, after a moment's glance, "With raspberry filling." Mariah looked startled.

"Huh?" The box was tossed back to her and Mariah nearly stumbled as she fumbled the box in her hands awkwardly, "Uh … thank you." By then, he had long disappeared. Her mouth curved into a contented smile as she realized a few seconds later that it was Kai's own way of acknowledging her forgiveness.

Forgiveness was one thing. Moving on was another matter entirely.

A few days after the incident, Mariah decided to accompany her fellow team members to see the Bladebreakers. After all, it was their last day in Japan; she might and well say hello. Kai had been standing aloofly to the side, eyes half-closed in disdain when Mariah strode up to him with a confident smirk on her face, holding out her beyblade. "Want to beyblade?" He had raised an eyebrow.

"No," Kai had replied coldly. Mariah smirk widened. Déjà vu.

"Is it because you're scared of me?" she challenged, not without mockery, "Maybe you're scared because I'm a girl." Judging by Kai's expression, he was getting some déjà vu as well. She grinned. "Besides, I need a rematch."

Whether she was referring to the unfought battle at Hong Kong or the beybattle turned wrong in Russia, she wasn't sure. It didn't matter anyways. In a matter of seconds, their beyblades were blazing across the dish and colliding furiously.

Sometime during the match, Dranzer had nearly pushed Galux out of the dish with startling strength and her heart clenched; the memory of her bitter defeat in Russia was still too fresh. Her bitbeast's pained yowl echoed through her mind and she flinched, her resolve wavering a little. It must have shown on her face because Kai sent her a rather scornful look.

"This isn't the Russian Tournament," he snapped, "Besides, don't you have something to prove?" The last statement caught Mariah off guard but then she remembered the look in his eyes during that moment in Hong Kong - they both had something to prove. He knew, she knew and she finally understood. Her strength came back in a rush and her confident smirk came back as well.

We both have something to prove.

"Let's do this," she shouted and Galux launched into a flurry of new attacks. Sparks flew everywhere and their bitbeasts were biting and spitting, bodies nearly intertwined as they collided and tore at each other some more. Mariah could feel the Ray's eyes on her and they brought on a rush of pride.

He wants to prove to his grandfather and the world.

"Fire Arrow!"

She wants to prove to Ray and the world.

"Cat Scratch!"

They want to prove that they are strong.

With a final smash, dust billows everywhere and she coughs, stumbling backwards from the force exerted by the collision. Mariah's seen worse, heard worse, and felt worse but the sheer power from the match leaves her feeling fatigued nonetheless. She feels Ray's arms catch her as she nearly and she sends a grateful smile his way.

They both are strong.

In the end, Dranzer is left in the dish and Galux clatters to the ground. Mariah picks up her little pink beyblade; it's slightly scratched but the upgrade has done it good. When she looks up, she sees a faint trace of a smile on his face.

And most of all, they understand.

"Good match," Mariah says and he grunts the same. After more chatter, insults and challenges, they leave. She feels surprisingly satisfied. For the first time in years, she feels strong again and she feels thankful someone can understand that as well.

Over the years, Mariah has learned there are many meanings of strength.

There is physical strength that can move boulders and mountains. She knows many people in the world are physically strong but she definitely does not meet that criterion. She is fit and agile but is hardly muscular.

There is mental strength that can move thoughts and minds. She also knows a couple mentally strong people and she doesn't quite meet that criterion as well. Sure, she's been told she's clever, but she's no genius.

And then, there is emotional strength that can move lives and hearts. There are only a few people she knows that are emotionally strong. She thinks – no, knows that is what she strives for most. She wants to be able to heal people's lives and hearts, teach them how to forgive and move on. She's starting to think she's becoming stronger and it makes her smile. She has something to prove to the world and she isn't going to stop yet.

She knows if she strays, her brother will be there to lead her back on track. She knows if she stumbles, her team and friends will be there right behind her, ready to lend a steadying hand. She knows that if she falls, Ray will be there to catch her and help her back up, with a kind smile on his face. But sometimes, all she needs is understanding, even if it from the most surprising individuals of all.

Over the years, Mariah has learned there are many meanings of strength. There is raw physical strength, sharp mental strength, and strong but gentle emotional strength. But the most powerful form of strength, Mariah decides, is love.