Author's Note: This is dedicated to SugarTea. After doing some research on the two characters, I can really see what you meant when you said that they make a cute couple. I hope you enjoy this!

Once More, Once More

Maya's excited smile faltered as she placed down the knife and gazed at the drooping sashimi in front of her. After disappointing Chase with her five previous sashimi dishes, she had spent four days worth of salary buying the most expensive fish from Ozzie at the Fishery. She glared at the shredded meat, knowing Chase wouldn't declare the dish a success even if it was made from some excessively expensive fish with a fancy name.

The waitress picked through the slimy pieces of fish, taking out the ones she had completely ruined. When she was finished, she found that she only had three pieces of rectangular, uniformly cut sashimi. Placing them on a clean plate, the young woman leaned down until she was eye-level with the dish, closed one eye and tried to imagine the outcome if she brought the dish up to Chase.

"He would probably say, 'What is this? A snack for the stray cat outside? It wouldn't even fill him.'" She even crossed her arms over her chest and glared contemptuously at the dish as she did a fairly accurate imitation of Chase. Maya grimaced and lightly thumped her head against the table. "He would totally say that. Ah, what do I do?"

She had spent all her money on that stupid fish as well. Narrowing her eyes, Maya decided that she wasn't going to spend the entire week without any cake for no reason. She would salvage the dish and have something presentable for Chase tonight… somehow. The waitress proceeded to spend the next half hour rearranging the meat in a dozen different ways with no success.

"Maybe a sashimi rabbit?" she muttered, hopefully grouping the slices of fish to form two long ears and a misshapen head. It didn't look that bad. She would eat it without any hesitation. Her face fell upon remembering that she wasn't the one eating the dish though. Having exhausted all possible shapes that came to her mind, Maya decided that the sashimi dish was a lost cause.

Sticking out her tongue, the young woman slumped against the counter in defeat. She had really thought that she would be able to impress Chase this time. Whenever Hikari presented him with a dish, the cook would smile and compliment the farmer on her culinary skills. She wanted Chase to do the same to her. However, all she could do after two entire seasons was watch enviously as Hikari passed each lesson while Chase rejected dish after dish from her. Pouting, Maya wondered if she should continue attempting to make sashimi for Chase's cutting board challenge. She supposed that there were various other recipes requiring the use of a cutting board.

"Salads, tacos, chocolate bananas, sushi…" She considered each one, debating if they would be impressive enough for Chase to let her pass the lesson. The waitress's eyes suddenly lit up. "That's it! I can make sushi using the shredded fish! Hehe, I'm a genius!"

"You're an idiot." Those were the words directed to her by the cook a few hours later at the bar. "I cannot believe you wasted a King Salmon like this."

"I didn't waste it!" Maya argued, stomping her foot indignantly. A few patrons turned to stare at her though most of the regular customers knew that such scenes were routine. "Just take one and eat it!"

The cook snorted, gesturing for Maya to pick up a piece of sushi. The waitress did so only for it to unravel in her hands instantaneously. She blinked as she stared at the piece of seaweed in between her fingers and down at the clumps of rice and shreds of fish splattered across the dish.

"Now tell me, how am I supposed to eat this?"

The waitress was disheartened; those were among the best pieces she had made. Still, she wasn't giving up yet. Raising her head to look tentatively at Chase, she suggested, "Maybe if you pick it up very carefully?"

"This isn't good enough, Maya," he stated bluntly, handing the dish back to her and turning around to leave. No smiles. No compliments. He didn't even try her dish. An unpleasant feeling settled in her stomach.

She honestly didn't think that it was so bad this time. She even triple checked each step in the recipe. "Chase!"

The cook sighed and stopped. "What?"

"Please, just try one," she pleaded. "I really tried my best in making these."

"Like I said: it isn't good enough," he replied, turning around to meet her azure colored eyes. His violet orbs reflected the firmness of his verdict. No matter what she said, her dish was still inadequate.

"But I tried my best," Maya argued, tightening her grip on the edge of the plate. "I put my heart and soul into it!"

"It doesn't matter," he countered coldly, using a tone that showed he was running out of patience. "The person you serve this to will not care if you tried your best. If the dish is inadequate, they will demand a refund. If it causes food poisoning, they will ensure that you lose your job. Whether you tried your best or not means absolutely nothing."

Maya's lips trembled. "But you're not a customer…"

"So you feel that it's alright to give me poor quality food?" he deadpanned.

Maya shook her head, her wide eyes shimmering brightly. It wasn't like that at all! She would never willingly give him food she thought was terrible. The dish in her hands… she had put her entire heart in making it in hopes of seeing Chase smile. He wasn't a customer, but she did her best to give him something that would be impressive and trusted him to not hold it against her when the food didn't turn out superbly. Sniffling pathetically, the waitress turned around and ran out of the bar.

There was a pause in the chatter as Maya disappeared out the door. Though she had never turned to witness Chase's reaction whenever this happened, she imagined that he would sigh in exasperation before returning to work.

"Chase, you big jerk!" she wailed as she collapsed against the bridge at the entrance of Harmonica Town. Wiping the tears from her face, she gazed down at the dish in her hands. "It's okay… if he doesn't eat it, then I will."

Maya stuffed the food into her mouth, not caring to savor the taste as she usually did. It didn't matter anyway. Everything was tasteless when Chase rejected her food. "Stupid meanie."

She was thankful that it was a warm summer night because she didn't feel like moving anytime soon. Maya noted that Harmonica Town really was different during the night. The bustling streets were empty and quiet, lacking the energy that surrounded the town during the day. She found that she preferred it during the day. The lights emitting from the buildings eventually faded away one by one, until the bar remained the only building with solid light flowing out from its windows.

She watched as patrons stumbled home, some heading up the slope leading to the mine cart while others made their way into the dark buildings within the town. The waitress squeaked when a long shadow moved across her form. Gazing upwards, she found the owner of the shadow blocking the light from the lamppost closest to her.

"Are you planning on sleeping out here tonight?" The cook crossed his arms over his chest, gazing apathetically down at the blonde. "I would recommend against it since someone might trip over you and injure themselves."

"Yeah? Well, I hope that person is you!" Maya huffed.

"That's highly unlikely as I'm standing right here talking to you."

Maya floundered, unable to think of a reply. Stupid Chase was smart enough to win every argument yet he couldn't understand her at all! To her dismay, she found tears trickling down her cheeks. "Y -you're a huge jerk, Chase!"

"That's how I am," he responded, unmoved by her tears. "If you have a problem with it, then go back to learning how to cook with Yolanda."

It was true that she didn't end up in tears when learning from her grandmother and mother. Reading her expression, Chase turned around and started heading home. She instinctively grabbed onto the edge of his apron. She hesitated for a moment as she gazed at her hand, debating whether or not to let go. The answer came easily. Meeting his incredulous gaze Maya said, "I want to learn from you."

The cook's expression was unreadable as he examined her. She suddenly felt very self conscious but didn't back down. Chase… he was the reason she worked so hard to improve her cooking. Maya forced herself to continue talking, even if it was proving more difficult than usual.

"I like… how you're always willing to try my food even after all the terrible results just because you believe I can do better," she said, forcing a wavering smile onto her face. "Grandma and mom are kinder to me, but they've long since accepted that I can't cook. They take one look at my food, and tell me that it's not good. So… so…"

She wiped her eyes with her other hand, while maintaining her grip on the male's apron.

"I want you to continue teaching me."

Chase's stern expression softened slightly. Sighing, the cook knelt down to gently pry her fingers off his apron. She numbly allowed him to do so, noting how warm his hands were. "I'll continue to teach you but you should learn to accept criticism without bursting into tears every time. People are starting to think that I'm a huge jerk."

"But you are," Maya mumbled.

Rolling his eyes, Chase carefully picked up one of the pieces of sushi remaining on the dish so that it remained intact and thoughtfully tasted it. The waitress grinned happily as she watched. Observing her expression, Chase arched an eyebrow. "You know, you shouldn't look so happy about poisoning someone."

Frowning, Maya playfully slapped his arm. "Hey! I ate some and I'm completely fine."

"The rice is hard and bland, and the texture of the fish makes me think that you've been prodding at it all afternoon," he stated bluntly.

Despite the poor review of her food, Maya couldn't help but smile.