"Hi Maya. Are you feeling any better?" Phoenix greeted her concernedly the next day.
"Hmm. A little," she reassured him. "But the doctors keep telling me to rest and saying I'm not allowed to do enough training ever again. They don't understand at all.."
"Well, yeah. They tell me you've been doing too much training... Surely you don't need to do that much?
Maya sighed. "I have to. The truth is, my powers are nothing compared to Pearl's. If my mother was that determined to save me, I can only assume she had the impression I was a lot better than I actually am. I can't disappoint her after all that."
"But you're able to do those channellings, aren't you?"
"See, you're not incompetent!"
"But I'm just not competent or dedicated enough to do justice to my mother's sacrifice. I try.. and look how it ends up. Some Master, just collapsing and lying in the hospital." She sighed humiliatedly. "Obviously I've failed. Maybe I should just officially let Pearl take over."
"And what will you do instead?" queried Phoenix.
"I don't know. It doesn't really matter."
"Listen. Maya, if you're quitting because you want something else for your life, then I totally support you. But if you think you should quit because you're not good enough, well I can't let you because it's not true." The resolution in his eyes spoke volumes.
"Thanks, but I'm sorry. I just can't repay my mother. You just don't know the specifics of this Kurain Master thing.."
"Maybe not. But I know you, though. Is the best Master really just the one with the most spiritual power?"
"I don't believe it. You were the best legal assistant I ever could have had, and it's not like you have a law degree. Because you have your own way of doing things. I'm sure with the Kurain Master it's no different."
Maya was immensely touched by Phoenix's apparent faith in her, but still reserved in believing her performance as Kurain Master could be acceptable. " I don't think I'm the type of person my mother thought she was saving," she admitted sadly. "My mother didn't even know me."
"She must have known something. She knew she loved you. And.. I think that's why she saved you. Not because she wanted you to be a prodigious Kurain Master."
Phoenix rapidly grasped his memory for recollections of Misty Fey. "What did she tell Bikini? 'I don't have the right to face my daughter, but Maya is always in my thoughts.'" He cringed internally at the tragic attitudes of shame and dishonour which had torn the pair apart – attitudes which still appeared to distort and discolour the relationship even from beyond the grave. "I'm sorry. I'm sure it must be hard."
"But I'm sure she saved you for being you, Maya," he avowed with resolution. "Not contingent on training yourself to collapse or being something you're not. I don't think she would have wanted that from you. Regardless, it's your life, not your mother's." The concern in his eyes betrayed the sincerity of his commitment to her well-being and Maya began to concede the logic of his stance.
"I don't think anybody is disappointed in you," he reassured her. "I'm sure they'll be pleased to have you back. They're not telling you to quit, are they?"
"Well, no, I don't think so anyway.."
"See. You're not a failure like me."
"Oh! Nick! You're not a failure," she implored unequivocally, immediately engaging herself with his problems. "Don't beat yourself up over it. Isn't that what the person who framed you wants?"
"Yeah, I guess. But I can't help it! And everyone thinks I forged it."
"I know you didn't do it. If anyone thinks you did, then they obviously didn't really know you anyway."
"Thanks," sighed Phoenix, a gross understatement of the immense gratitude he felt for her unwavering loyalty. "But it completely ruins any career prospects. For example, this poker job is terrible. I'm always paranoid I'll lose and be fired."
"Does it really matter?" attempted Maya. "If you were smart enough to pass law school, I'm sure you can find something else to do..."
"Well..." he lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper, "see if Trucy's father is ever going to turn up, it will probably be on the poker circuit. He seemed to be obsessed with poker. I have to find out about him somehow." Phoenix sighed exasperatedly. "I.. can't stop obsessing over this though! I've got to find out who did this and what happened.. I don't know if I can take this, or what the future will bring..."
"It'll be okay. I'll always be here for you, whatever happens."
Suddenly overwhelmed with concern and affection for her friend, Maya realised the obsessiveness, hopelessness and loneliness she'd been flattened with over the past months had dimmed in the presence of Nick. He apparently still had faith in her and her ability to succeed as Kurain Master on her own terms – without having to morph into some unachievable superior incarnation to her former self. And he, in his turn, seemed to both want and need her emotional support as much as always. Forget the fact that she was no longer his legal assistant. It seemed they were still emotive partners as much as ever.
And the other day he'd admitted that he loved her, a revelation Maya was still processing. It had sparked a frenetic turning of her feelings in her mind. Almost from the beginning she'd been subconsciously drawn to him, she admitted. Compelled to gravitate back to him every time she went away. Something about his well-intentioned personality and tacit but devoted value for her attributes and belief in her seemed somehow complementary, and she, in turn, was driven to unconditional dedication to him. Nick was really sweet. Gazing intently at him as they talked, she conceded with certainty she liked him too. A lot. Probably she had for a while, just had been unwilling to admit it to herself under the erroneous assumption it would never be reciprocated.
"Nick.. I love you too."
Phoenix's jaw dropped. "You do? I was so afraid it wasn't mutual." He broke into one of his adorable grins.
The pair hugged very affectionately, taken aback but deliriously ecstatic over this new realisation. Maybe they were destined to be partners. Romantic partners too, apparently.
"Well, bye Maya," sighed Phoenix 5 weeks later as they enjoyed a lengthy kiss goodbye at Kurain's train station. "Please do take care..."
"It's okay, Nick, I understand. I'm sure I can be an acceptable Kurain Master without trying to overtrain. I'm sure I can improve things without having to increase my powers..."
"And you, well you can call me about anything, okay?" Maya jotted a mental note of a reform she considered valuable to instill as Kurain Master – upgrading communications technology at Kurain. "And we'll commit to seeing each other regularly. Without fail."
"Ah, this is the 'long distance relationship', isn't it," grinned Phoenix.
As always, distance and tragedy had only served to bring them closer together.