Description: Mai promises to do some special training with Andy on Sound Beach in Southtown, and Mai would certainly never make up something to spend time with the younger Bogard brother. Oh no, of course not.
Mai is presently dressed in a red one-piece swimsuit with a towel nightly tied around her waist. Sunglasses are perched on her head as she sits in a beach chair and furiously taps at her smartphone. She looks increasingly flustered.
A FEW DAYS AGO
Mai sent Andy the following text:
"Andy-kun we haven't went out in so long!!! Are you really that busy?"
And then this message five minutes later:
"What if we did some training together / I have just the thing / meet me at Sound Beach on Friday it'll be GREAT!!! / pleaaaase? *crying emoji*
Mai rolls a volleyball with her foot. Her phone is now sitting on her bag. Every few minutes she picks up and frantically checks it despite no noise or light from it.
Andy had been busy, of course. Terribly so. After the fight with Terry (one which he still claims was rigged against him from the start), he had been pushing himself further and further. He had won that battle. He had. He had won it, but Terry mustered the strength to push on, despite the debilitating thrashing that Andy had given him. In the end, Andy had come up just short.
Since then, it has been non-stop training. Non-stop fighting. SNF matches. Underground fight rings. Private training in the wilds. The gap was within his reach, but he just wasn't strong enough. Just a little more. Just push forward, past his limits, just a bit more, and he'd have it. He'd be free of the shadow of Terry Bogard.
When the text had come, the Human Weapon was deep in the forest, spending a few nights in an old, abandoned mountain shrine. Living off of the land, he was far from electricity and cell reception. Alone with nothing but his thoughts and nature. It wasn't until a few days later (read: today) that he had received it, as he came back from his self-imposed exile, to the hustle and bustle that is Southtown.
"I brought ice cream."
Where did he come from? Ninjas.
There he stands, though. Proud and noble. His long, thick mane of platinum blonde hair is caught up in the ocean breeze, as he peers with his eagle eyed stare out across the ocean that stretches to the horizon. He seems to be dressed for the occasion, as well. Nude from the waist up, his chiseled physique is impressive. Not as large and broad as his brother's. Sleeker. More svelte. The kind of body built for agility and speed, honed with true effort. Not in the gym. It's a shame his skin is as fair as it is. He practically reflects the light. He's certain to burn to a crisp if they remain out here for too long.
From the waist down, he wears a pair of trunks. White, with red around the elastic, tied waistband, and with pieces on the side of each leg that rise up to a sharp, triangular point.
In his hands, he holds two ice cream cones, just now starting to melt and dribble down over his skinned and calloused knuckles.
"Andy, you came!" Mai beams, hopping up out of the chair. She goes from seated to on her feet in a smooth motion, the likes of which would be startling for a bystander if it wasn't so natural. She sidles up to him in another step, carefully taking one of the ice cream cones and licking it.
Afterwards her arm is snugly around Andy in a lingering side hug. "How's training? It certainly seems to be working! --not that you needed to get any stronger for me, Andy!"
"Why wouldn't I come?" Andy asks, sounding truly curious about her surprise. Were they not each others one constant since they were children? Studying ninjitsu together under Hanzo. Growing up together. In many ways, Mai is the person he depends on more than any other. More than Joe. Certainly more than Terry. He hoped that she still thought the same of him.
He hands over the ice cream cone, and lifts the other to his mouth. His tongue drags through the soft, oozing cream, scooping a dollop up and into his mouth, which he savors as it melts completely. His lips curl into a small smile. Ice cream brings back good memories. It is a nostalgic pleasure for him.
But he is brought out of his reverie by the arm snaking around his waist. Instantly, under her touch, she'll feel the way his muscles stiffen, becoming as rigid as steel. His breath catches in his lungs, trapped there like a stone was lodged in his throat. If she were to glance at his face right now, she would see the faint hint of color starting to fill his cheeks. Quietly, he just mutters, "Mai..."
Public displays of affection are not Andy's forte. He's a very formal person, when he isn't wrapped up in the fight.
"The... uh... the training is going well! I can feel that I am growing stronger! Soon, I'll face Terry again, and he won't be able to win by siccing a pack of dogs on me."
"Aww, well, I just know you've been so busy with training! I still couldn't believe it when you said Terry won. You deserved it! You've been working so hard, and he's ..." Mai licks the ice cream cone, using the mouthful to give herself a moment.
"Well, I mean he is really strong and he fights a lot, but it's not the same. You've been training extra hard lately." Mai picks up on the tension and gets a catty look into her eye.
"What's wrong, Andy?" she squeezes against the tension. "It's just a little hug!"
"He's just..." Better. Terry is just better than him. All around. He always has been. He's taller. Stronger. Able to just roll with the punches. Untouchable. Able to coast through life like it was all just so easy. Not a care in the world. Andy is the opposite of that. He worries about it all. He has to worry about getting stronger. He has to worry about how to make a living. To protect the people he cares about. He has to struggle with everything.
His jaw tenses visibly, before he takes another mouthful of ice cream. "... He just won. It was close. I'm almost there."
He's too caught up in his thoughts to have noticed that impish look in the eyes of the buxom kunoichi at his side. When she squeezes him tighter, he gives a start, jolted out of those tumultuous comparisons. His scoop of ice cream falls from the cone, plopping into the sand and spreading out as it immediately begins to liquify.
"M-Mai...!" He says, shrinking away from her touch, despite the way his face matches the red on his shorts. "Y-you... you're barely wearing anything! People are going to stare at us!"
"You can do it next time!" Mai says with confidence. "Terry can't keep ahead forever with your training routine." Mai nods once, firmly, and with a confident...grimace? That's sort of the face she's making, but it seems unintentional. Maybe it's her best serious face.
"Please!" Mai says with a pout, trying to stay hooked as Andy leans away. "People are always staring anyway, and making rude comments about the Shiranui Clan fighting uniform. Surely they're not going to talk about this, too!"
"Oh no, your ice cream! Let me buy you another one?"
The look that she gives is crushing. As if Andy didn't have enough weighing on his insecurities, now, he has to have Mai laying her pity on him. His brows come crashing down, casting brooding shadows over his icy blue eyes. His lips become a thin, straight line, and he looks away from her. "..."
He doesn't pull completely away, and when she doesn't relent, he does. Despite his shyness, he cannot really stand to see Mai hurt, so he always gives in. No matter how red his face gets. Still, he has to protest, and he does so in a scolding manner, still feeling the burn of indignation at her patronizing encouragement. "It isn't proper for a man and a woman to be so... intimate in public like this, Mai. There are children around here!"
The ice cream cone still held in his hands, Andy looks down. His shoulders shrug, and he tosses the cone into the sand, where a few gulls come swooping in immediately to tear it apart in a frenzy. "It's alright. Let them have it. I don't feel like it anymore."
"Fiiiine," Mai says, squeezing him one more time before sliding her arm free. She bites her lip when notices the change in expression, the nuanced differences in body language. The lip-bite swiftly turns into a frown.
"Oh, Andy, I'm serious though!" she protests. "You're one of the strongest fighters I know." Mai says this confidently, but then looks away.
"I mean, I've been discouraged lately, too. There are a lot of strong fighters out there...way more than I really expected, to be honest." Mai turns back to Andy and smiles. "But you're stronger than me." Mai thumps Andy in the shoulder with her fist.
"And I bet right now you can already think of where the fight went wrong, right? You can see what happened, and you already know how to correct that next time?"
He breathes a deep, heavy sigh when her arm slips free of him, his shoulders slouching and every muscle in his body visibly relaxing more. But still, his brow is creased, and his brooding expression remains plastered on his fair countenance. Quietly, he says, "Thank you..."
When she starts to go on about how strong he is, the blonde ninja lowers his face, crossing his arms over his broad chest to curl each hand around its opposite bicep. He remains silent as she speaks, but when she's finished, he shakes his head.
"I don't feel strong. I feel... I feel impotent. It's like there is this insurmountable wall before me and no matter how hard I climb, I can never reach the top. When I think I am there, I reach out for it... only for it to be mere shadows and illusion. I am left reeling with just how far I still have yet to go."
He rocks back with the bump to his shoulder, and lifts his face. He looks tired. Worn thin. It is only for a brief moment. A glimpse, but replaced swiftly with the stoic look that is so very common of the American Shinobi. "I want to say it was the dogs. Terry knows I don't like dogs, and our fight was in the middle of a dog pound, with the filthy things all around us. Barking. Drooling. Just waiting for the opportunity to strike. I don't understand how people can be around them, knowing that they are all just wolves, at heart."
He pauses, and shakes his head, "But in the end, nothing went wrong. In fact, I'd say that my performance in the fight was as optimal as it could be. He is just... better. He's always better."
Mai looks at Andy with sad, concerned eyes. She can tell he's troubled; she's known the younger Bogard since they were both little. Flirtatious obsession aside, Mai is especially close to him. He's arguably her closest friend, when it comes down to it, even if she desires more.
"I know," she says, "But that's part of what makes you as strong! You aren't arrogant like some fighters are, where they get stuck because they think they're at the top. It's just--" Mai looks away for a moment, watching the gulls gather. She takes another bite of her ice cream before it melts.
"I think I know what you mean. When I fought in King of Fighters, I know I was the best on our team. They were depending on me, but I couldn't even beat the guy with the headband--Ryu? The karate master. It was so frustrating, and he wasn't even someone I knew." She sighs. "But for you and Terry it's...well, it's a constant, and I'm sure that's even worse for you." Mai looks at Andy for a lingering moment. "But maybe that's also why Terry is so strong. He knows if he doesn't keep training, you're going to pass him any day."
He shrugs his shoulders, sending ripples throughout his wirey frame, before letting his arms drop back to his sides, and slipping into the pockets of his trunks. "I could never think that I'm at the top, when I am always cast in a looming shadow. You know, one of my recent opponents even told me she'd rather have been pitted against my brother. She beat me, so, of course she wanted to face Terry, rather than me. It was like fighting me was an insult to her."
He looks up, his weary eyes peering out across the ocean again. Squinting against the sun, and the way it sparkles off of the waves. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. He does this a few times, regaining his composure in light of a hurricane of emotions that threatens to break free.
"Ryu was the World Warrior champion, previously. He's the real deal. I think he might even be stronger than Terry," Andy says looking back to Mai, and pushing his own feelings down, in order to better sympathize with her. His smile is soft and faint. A mere ghost of a smile, truly. But it is warm and kind, as well, and there is a small hint of pride hidden at the edges. "If you were even able to hold your own against a guy like that, Mai, you have nothing to be frustrated about. I'm very proud of you."
He pauses for a moment, reflecting on what she's said about Terry. "I don't think so. To Terry it just comes naturally. He's just always been better at everything. I've never won a single thing against him. Not once in our lives. He doesn't take me seriously. I'm just his annoying little brother who could never be a real challenge. He trains so that he can face Geese and really end what we've started. As long as people like that are still out there, Terry isn't going to just give up."
Mai grits her teeth. "What a jerk! I can't believe someone would be like that. Awful. She should know you're the better Bogard! Well, at least I think so. Terry may be a good fighter, but he's way less handsome and charming." Mai winks at Andy, tossing in the compliment there to try and lighten the mood.
"Really? He's -that- Ryu? I guess I should have known, huh..." Mai rubs the back of her neck, looking really guilty for a moment for not looking that up. "But thanks, Andy. You're always the best."
Mai furrows her brow as Andy continues, crossing her arms and balancing what's left of her cone between her fingers. "Maybe, but I think you sell yourself short. You're always a step ahead of me, and grandpa always says I'm a prodigy. That makes you like...EXTRA talented."
"It isn't her fault. Imagine being pitted up against "The Other Bogard" instead of "The Legendary Hungry Wolf". You can't blame her. But still. It just served as a reminder that I'm still... just a shadow."
Of course, a ninja is trained to be a shadow, but living in the shadows as opposed to living in one very long shadow are two entirely different things. He does, however, offer up another small smile just for Mai's gritting teeth. Seeing her get worked up, even slightly, in defense of him is something that he does find endearing. The compliment on his charm and comeliness, on the other hand, has him nervously scratching at the back of his scalp and looking away, as another wave of color flushes his face. "Uhm. Thanks..."
"Really, though, Mai. How could you not know you were fighting THE Ryu? I mean, he is kind of iconic. The white gi. The hachimaki. Throwing out those blue wave fist techniques. I thought everyone would know him by his appearance, by now."
Reaching out, Andy places a hand on Mai's shoulder. His palm is rough, but warm, and his touch is light and tender. His fingertips give a single knead to the muscles under her flesh, and he replies, "You would outpace me easily, if you just asserted yourself more. You are a natural. It's in your blood. For me, it is a constant struggle. I'm not talented. I'm just determined. But, if you held your own against Ryu, I wonder how many steps I still have on you, Mai."
"She simply didn't know she was missing," Mai says confidently. She pops her remaining ice cream into her mouth so that she can put her hands on her hips defiantly. As she's chewing, she breaks into a smile at Andy's reaction. Perhaps this too was working as intended.
"Oh," Mai puffs up her cheeks. "I guess I just wasn't paying attention. I knew he was FAMOUS, but I didn't know he was THAT famous." She sticks out her tongue. "Maybe that's why I need you around to remind me of these things."
Mai looks away, crossing her arms with a huff. It's a little melodramatic. "--but I don't know about that." She cracks a smile. "Maybe I'll fight him again someday and win." Mai leans over and pokes Andy in the side. "But you're still ahead of me anyway, even if you keep beating yourself up about it."
His head leans to one side as he watches the gamut of reactions from her unfold before him. Even if Andy was beating himself up, for his numerous failures as of recently, Mai does have a way of pulling him out of a funk. Her playfulness and charm certainly are not a lost cause on him. He finds himself staring, and quickly looks away. His hand drifts from her shoulder, the tips of his fingertips drawing a brushing line down the length of her arm, before trailing off at her wrist.
"Let me know when you are fighting. I will do my best to be there for you. To give you my support, and to make certain that you know when you are fighting a legend!"
That last was spoken as a clear, teasing jab, and is accompanied with a lopsided grin on those soft lips of his. When she folds her arms across her chest, his gaze is drawn downward, and once more, he feels the pang of embarrassment overcome him. He's left looking away from her deliberately once again. "We will have to see about that. Besides, you said you wanted to train, didn't you? What did you have in mind?"
Mai grins. "Of course! You're always there for me, Andy," Mai says, flipping her ponytail back. Teasing or not, she takes his support as a badge of honor instead.
"Oh, right!" Mai remembers it when Andy mentions it, moving back to her bag. She bends over and lingers there for a moment, her towel still firmly tied around her waist at least.
She then rises with the volleyball, which she tosses up and catches. "I know you've been doing regular training, but I thought maybe this would be a fun way to work on your reflexes, huh?" Mai shifts it into both hands, tossing it to Andy.
"I am," Andy concurs, when she states he's always there. He affirms with a nod of his head, looking back at her with a look of tenderness and warmth. In truth, Mai is both a balm for his soul, and one of the sources of his disappointment in himself. He is devoted to her, and she holds his heart in her hands. He wants to be worthy of her, and as long as he cannot be the man that he needs to be, he cannot devote himself to being that. After all, she deserves more than a failure. Much more. In the meantime, he will do his best to support her in the ways that he can, though he is prone to fretting when she decides things impulsively that might cause her to come to harm or to get in trouble.
Sadly, she's really good at doing that. Especially if she gets around the other girls.
As she bends down to retrieve the ball, Andy is thankful for the towel. He might not have been able to withstand that kind of attack. His head swivels this way and that, cold, dead blue eyes scanning each and every male in the vincinity to give a true death stare to for any that is looking her way.
"Huh? What's this?" He catches the ball in both hands, turning it over a few times, before a small smile creeps over his face and he nods his head. "This could be fun. But we don't have a net."
"Hmm," Mai taps her chin thoughtfully. "There's got to be one around here..." She looks around, blissfully unaware of Andy's guarding of the view just a moment ago. "Aren't volleyball needs standard features for beaches?"
Mai continues to tap her chin with her index finger as he eyes scan the surrounding area.
Andy looks up and down the length of the beach, cupping one hand over his eyes to shade them so he's not blinded by the sun overhead. His lips quirk to one side. Are nets, in fact, standard features? Truth be told, Andy doesn't spend enough time on beaches to know.
"I'm not seeing one," he says finally, lowering his hand from over his hands to rest his knuckles against his hip. The other hand, holding the ball, spins it, and catches it on a finger, where it whirls in place for a few seconds. "So, we can just knock it around some. Or we could go swimming. Or..."
Andy's shoulders roll with a shrug. He didn't come out here because she lured him with training. He came out here to spend time with her. "Whatever you want to do, Mai."
Mai looks up at the sun, squints, and then digs into her top. She produces one of her signature fans, flips it open, and shades her face with it. "Oh," she says, "Maybe I didn't think this through very well," she laughs awkwardly.
"Do you mean it?" Mai says with a smile, winking back at Andy. "You're always so sweet to me, but I do want to help you train a little. It's only fair, unless you really just want to unwind a little..."
Being presented with the options of training or unwinding is an impossible question for Andy Bogard. He is a driven man, through and through, and his nature, and burning desire is to train and train and train endlessly, until his skills are honed to the point of absolute perfection. The logical part of his brain realizes that unwinding, on the other hand, is necessary as well.
Resting and recuperating allows the mind to refocus. It allows the body to heal and repair the damage done to muscle tissue and bone from the constant stresses of intense training. It allows the soul to realign, and to find its center once again. Relaxing is as important to training as pushing one's limits. Andy knows this, and yet, he rarely pays it any true heed. He always pushes himself further and further, not recognizing his limits so that he can overcome them. He trains until he collapses, only to rise again and do it all over.
She retrieves her fan, and Andy's cheeks flush with a tinge of rose pink. He snaps his head to the side, looking away as he closes his eyes. Putting on his best stoic expression, he says, "Oh... uh... Don't worry about it, Mai."
Well, what would he choose? Training or relaxation? As he opens his eyes, he ponders the question, and comes to the conclusion: "I've been training very hard. Perhaps it is better if I take an afternoon off."
"Unless you were wanting to test yourself against me."
"I think you need me to tell you take a break for an afternoon," Mai says with confidence, one hand on her hip and the other pointing the fan at Andy. "We can spar again later. You can't get stronger if you don't let you muscles rest a bit!" Mai puts her fan to her chin, tapping it.
"But it's so hot out here. I think we should swim next." Mai grabs the knot of her towel and winds it, tossing the towel over into her beach chair. She takes a moment to the bottom of her swim suit , then looks back over her shoulder at Andy.
"Do you need sunscreen, Andy? I brought extra!"
Andy reacts to Mai's assertion about him taking a break is met with a smile that, despite himself, seems to be one of relief. It was one thing to try to convince himself that he should take a break. His nature denies it. Having her to enforce the idea allows him, on some level, to excuse himself by taking the decision out of his own hands and placing it in hers. He's not giving up on training. Mai is making him refrain from it.
With the fan pointed at him, the Human Weapon lifts his hands and recoils, chuckling as he shakes his head, and yields. "Alright, alright! No sparring until later."
He looks up briefly at the bright sky overhead, contemplating the heat as she mentions it. He does already have a sheen of sweat rising on his brow. A swim could certainly be refreshing. Besides, that, in its own way, is a form of training. Physical fitness, if not direct combat training. "Yeah. I could go for a swim."
When he looks back down, Mai has discarded her towel and he's presented with a view of her curvaceous form from the back. His heart flutters in his chest. It's so silly, this feeling. He's known her since she was just a twiggy little girl. He shouldn't be so affected by the way she's developed into a woman. Still, his knees feel unsteady, and he finds his mouth has gone dry.
Quickly, he looks away and gives a moment's pause before he nods his head. "...yes. This cursed skin of mine is not meant for being exposed to the sun. I can already feel it baking..."
Mai has produced the sunscreen bottle at some point between asking and Andy answering. She holds it up and shakes it by the neck of the bottle. It swings like a pendulum, half-playfully, half-teasingly.
"Yeah, you have such fair skin that you burn really easily! We definitely wouldn't want that." Mai beams.
"So do you need any help applying it? Maybe you could help me with mine too, huh, Andy?" Intentional or not, Mai certainly seems to know how to make things ha--err, difficult.
Where did she even get that from? For that matter, where was she producing that fan from out of her top when wearing a...? Some things are better left a mystery, Andy Bogard.
"I'm probably descended from the Irish," he muses, as he reaches up, and draws his hands through that thick, lustrous mane of spun gold. He bunches it up, as if he were going to tie it back in a tail, and then draws it over his shoulder. Even in that, the Shiranui shinobi moves with a sinuous sort of graceful fluidity. Every muscle in his body seems to ripple like waves in a pond, working harmoniously for every little task. He's honed for efficiency.
It is also something that does seem to garner him no small amount of attention from those predisposed towards men. The largest chunk of Andy Bogard's fan base is female, and it largely comes down to watching the man move.
He turns, presenting his back to her, and looks over his shoulder with one blue eye, putting on a small, sheepish smile. "...please?"
When Andy turns to offer his back to her, she nearly drops the bottle into the sand. Her cheeks flush. Her heart thumps in her chest. She hesitates for a long moment, then brushes her ponytail back and makes her way over toward Andy. The cap of the bottle is flipped open, then she squirts a handful of sunscreen into her palm. The bottle is then deposited in her top, sticking out of her bathing suit precariously. Mai continues her advance.
And it's then that Mai becomes lost in Andy's luxurious blond hair. Lost in his chiseled physique. So lost that she does notice that the volleyball discarded before is under her feet until she steps on it and goes off balance.
Mai stumbles forward, her eyes going wide. She tries to right herself, but having a handful of sunscreen in one palm, an even mound of sand under her feet, and Andy right in front of her makes it a fruitless effort.
Mai stumbles right forward, crashing into Andy's back, chest-first. The sunscreen bottle is still there.
Andy sees it play out before it happens, as he looks over his shoulder at her. At first, that sheepish smile lingers on his lips, and then as she is stepping forward where her foot will come down onto that ball, his expression breaks into one of wide eyed panic. "Mai, be caref--"
Instinctively, Andy spins about on his feet, his long blonde hair swinging about his head and shoulders like a girl in a shampoo commercial. He wheels back on his feet as she starts to fall, and he tries to catch her. Its to no avail. His own weak balance and the momentary clumsiness of panic come together to a cataclysm, and together, they wind up spilling to the sandy floor underfoot.
Her ample bosom crashes against the meaty wall of his washboard abs and compresses, squeezing the bottle of sunscreen, which in turn, sprays a magnificent arc of thick, white gloop into the air, some of which spatters on the center of Andy's chest and stomach. The vast majority of it spatters the Shiranui heiress herself, splashing her chin and cheeks, as well as the upper portions of her body. As the pair of ninjas land on the ground, with Andy falling onto his butt, and Mai sprawled out in his lap, the bottle oozes more sunscreen out onto his stomach, miraculously remaining lodged in the center of Mai's top.
The crash seems to happen in slow motion. Mai has good reflexes; she can move with supernatural speed at times to intercept attacks and evade. In many ways, she is world class when it comes to acting and reacting in a pinch.
But this catches her completely blind.
Mai squishes against Andy as they spill out onto the beach, and Mai just lays there in a daze for a moment.
When she comes back to her senses she sits up, sunscreen drippling off her chin. She looks out, then down, the white lotion covering her cleavage and Andy as well. It takes her several seconds to parse her compromising position in Andy's lap. When she does, the red in her cheeks intensifies threefold.
Mai shrieks, flailing backward onto the sand and spraying even more sunscreen about. If an onlooker were to stumble across this scene it would be...well, something else.
"Andy I'm so SORRY!" Mai blurts out.
"Are you alright?"
The words spill from Andy's lips so quickly that they're blurred together. Like the old Micro Machines Man used to talk in those old commercials. Andy's eyes are as wide as silver dollar coins, as the panic and worry for Mai's safety still rushes through him, not having had the chance yet to register that everything is, indeed, okay. "You're not hurt are you?!"
Things start to dawn on Andy. First, that she is alright. His head rolls back on his shoulders and he breathes a deep sigh of relief. That doesn't look suggestive at all in their current position.
Then, their current position settles in. Mai is sprawled out on top of him, barely wearing anything at all, and moreover where her chest is... and the sunscreen lotion that has spatter painted her...
The noise that escapes Andy Bogard at that time defies true explanation. It is something of a choked sound, muffled behind closed lips and gritted teeth. It sounds at once pained and frightened. Perhaps it could be akin to the sounds of a dying yak. His head snaps back to look at her, and those bright blue eyes once again burst open like they might pop out of their sockets. The paleness of his face is immediately eradicated with a shade of red that matches the bright red that trims his trunks. "M-M-Mai!"
He tries desperately to scramble out from under her, but the loose sand doesn't provide his shoveling hands any traction, so all he manages is to gouge ruts in the beach with his hands and feet and look like a man in the throes of a grand mal seizure. He kind of looks a bit like a beetle turned on its back.
"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! I should have watched where I was going this is so embarrassing," the words come out in a non-stop torrent with little room for even a breath between them. Mai flounders for several more moments, scooting her butt in the sand before she manages to get up and reach to at least wipe her face. Instead, she smears sand in the sunscreen, making herself even more of a mess.
"I'm...I'm going to go to the shower, I think," Mai says limply, reaching to try and work the sunscreen bottle out of top.
"...do you need anything?"
"Ah! ...Wait," Andy says, looking up at the standing kunoichi as she tries in vain to clean herself up. Reaching up, his fingers curl around her wrist, holding her in place, before he scrambles back up to his feet. "It's okay. It was an accident. The important thing is that you are not hurt."
He brushes his sandy palm on the side of his trunks, before reaching up to brush her cheek, wiping off a bit of that gritty sand that sticks to it. "You don't need to shower. There's so much of it, that it would be wasteful to wash it off."
With that, Andy slides his other hand down, smearing the sunscreen across his chest to a glossy sheen, before dipping into the thick glopping puddle that's still coating his stomach and spilling down the front of his shorts. This, he smears across both palms, and then rests them on her shoulders, massaging and kneading. It's about that time that the absurdity of the scenario really starts to sink in. It's small at first. A simple "heh", which is then followed by a couple more, until after a few seconds, Andy Bogard is outright laughing.
"A-Andy..." Mai says, reddening again as he takes her wrists. She stands there, shivering just a little when he starts rubbing in the sunscreen and helping clean her up.
Mai takes a deep breath. "Thanks." She bites her lip. "You're always there for me, Andy. I hope I didn't ruin your day off. You really need a break instead of having to clean up my mess."
But then Andy starts laughing, and Mai can't help but do it too. "It's kind of absurd though. What are the odds? I can dodge a kunai, but I trip over a stationary volleyball. Kind of silly, isn't it?"
"It really is," Andy agrees, speaking around the chuckling that spills freely out of the usually so reserved warrior. He breathes in deep, and releases a wistful sigh which brings his laughter to a close, though his lips still remain curled into that warm smile as he looks out across the beach for a moment.
"You haven't ruined anything at all, Mai."
Looking down at his trunks, though, he corrects himself. "Except maybe my shorts. Does this stuff leave like grease stains or anything?"
He's left scooping up blobs of sunscreen, scraping it from the crotch and thighs of his shorts and smearing it across his chest, stomach and arms and rubbing it in until it gives his skin a satin sheen finish that is sure to protect his lily whiteness from becoming lobster red. He has enough of that with Mai around, anyway. Quietly, as he works, he muses, "I think this is just what I needed. I may not have realized it, at first, but I think... I think this is good."
With his pants mostly clear, and his front side covered, the human weapon holds out his arms as if to say "tadah!" without words. "Now, should we sit down this time so you can get my back?"
Mai sighs with relief. "Good," she says. "I'm glad you're getting to unwind a little bit -- um, maybe, but I think they'll wash out. I'll figure out something!"
Mai is lost for a moment as she stares at Andy, watching him rub in the sunscreen. When he speaks up again, she jolts to attention.
"Really?!" Mai says excitedly. "I'm so glad. I just don't want you to overwork yourself, but I know how important your training routine is to you."
It takes her a moment to get the sunscreen bottle free, and even then she almost drops it from the bit of lotion on the bottle itself. After a quick juggling, she squirts some off and makes her way over. This time, she is especially careful to watch her step.
"I think sitting down's a good idea." Mai says, biting her lip.
Andy doesn't really have the words to express to Mai properly about why he works as hard as he does, or why his training routine is so important to him. She knows well that he feels the need to overcome Terry and be able to step out of his shadow and into the light, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so, so much more to it than just that. So much more than the desire to take revenge on Geese Howard, for that matter, as well.
Remaining silent, the younger Bogard brother crosses his ankles and sinks down into the heated sand of the beach. Legs crossed, he once again, flips his hair over his shoulder, exposing his broad, well defined back to the kunoichi. Peering up at her, Andy offers a small, close lipped smile and pats his hand behind him. "You do me, and then I'll do you."
Mai looks at Andy for a long moment. Many thoughts pass through her mind. Is he ever going to pass up Terry? If he did, what then? What about Geese? Is there a way for the Bogards to take vengeance without falling down an awful path themselves? At least, that might be what is passing through Mai's mind.
From the outside, she simply stares at Andy. She looks at him for a lingering spell, just looking and thinking.
When he speaks up, she reddens a little. "R-right."
Mai climbs down onto her knees, squirting out sunscreen and working it between her hands. She works his shoulders for several moment as she rubs it in.
"You're so tense," she says, working the sunscreen into the skin. "And there's a knot here." She presses her knuckles into it gently, but with force. "Does that hurt too much?"
As soon as her hands touch his shoulders, Andy's eyes fall closed. He reaches up, his hand crossing over his chest and then hovering over her hand as if he might rest it there. But, after a moment, he drops it back down into his lap. A small sigh escapes him, but as she works her knuckles into bound up muscle, he sucks in a sharp breath between his gritting teeth, and his back visibly tightens and straightens up. "Mmm. Yeah, that hurts... Keep going, though. It'll loosen up..."
He soon lapses into silence. Her hands on him feel so good. So comforting. He wishes that he could stay like this forever. This is a good moment.
He doesn't deserve it, though.
"Mai..." he says quietly, his eyes opening only to stare down into his lap as if there were some point there for him to focus on, rather than the beautiful woman who is doting on him now. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Mai continues to work the knot. While some might rightfully see her as something of an airhead, she's fairly clever and well-trained. Part of this apparently includes a least a little knowledge of acupressure. Whatever the case, it works. She is very careful as she works out the knot.
"Huh?" she asks, "For what?"
"For being a failure," he replies.
"Sensei entrusted me with the secrets of Shiranui, and I want to make him proud. I want to make you proud," he continues, shrugging one of his shoulders before he picks up a pebble in the sand and just tosses it back down. His features fall into their natural state of brooding and scowling. "I feel like I let you and your family name down with every defeat. If I can just... If I can just be a bit stronger, it will be okay. That is why I train so hard. I do not want to fail you."
There is more. He wants to tell her how badly he wishes that they could be together, but, as long as he is this weak, he could not burden her with that. She deserves better. She deserves a man who can stand on his own two feet. Not a little brother who will never be his own man. He wants to tell her that, when he no longer shames her grandfather with his defeat, he would want to carry on the Shiranui line with her.
But he doesn't. He won't. He won't cause her undue stress. Mai is a sweet and tender girl, at heart. His dearest friend. That is why she always takes such great care to encourage him, even if he is not as skilled, or as fast, or as strong as he should be. He knows that is why she patronizes him and pities him when he comes to her with another tale of being lesser than his seemingly unstoppable brother. If he confessed his feelings to her now, what might she think? It would make things awkward between them, certainly. Even if she was accepting of his feelings, there still remains that undeniable fact. Acting on it would be selfish, and unfair to her.
Mai's diligent work on that knot stops abruptly when Andy says it. She hands slip up to Andy's shoulders, gripping them firmly. She works the tension there, but also pulls herself closer.
"I don't think you're a failure," Mai says somberly. "I don't think so, and he doesn't think so. We're lucky to have you."
Mai leans in, putting her arms around Andy to hug him from behind and rest her chin on his shoulder. "And I think that you'll get there, and if there's any way I can help with your training, you'll let me know, right?"
"Even if you don't think I'm a failure, you can't really argue that I'm not a success. I still can't..." He has to fight to keep the strain out of his voice, and in the end, he has to pause to release an exasperated sigh. His hand claws through the burning sand, balling into a fist, and his teeth grind together for a moment as a surge of anger and self-loathing wells up within him again. He feels his lungs burning, and so he has to breathe in, deep and slow, to cool them off. Calm his nerves.
In the end, he releases his fist, raising his hand, instead to rest over Mai's on his shoulder. No matter how weak he might feel, or how angry his own incompetence makes him, he should not allow it to affect Mai. She deserves better, doesn't she? He shouldn't drag her down with him. He should put his worries aside and just see to it that she has a good time with him.
"No. I don't think that there is anything you can do to help my training at this point. The problem is that you and I know each other too well, and we've trained together all of our lives. There's not many tricks that we each have that the other doesn't know anymore."
He looks back to the comely kunoichi, putting on his best smile in spite of the stormy clouds that still linger within the depths of those oceanic blue eyes. "We should just enjoy our time together where we get it. Let's just stop talking about it for now. I apologize if I'm ruining your day."
Mai furrows her brow and frowns. She tilts her head, as if looking for the words, but in a rare moment, Mai can't seem to find anything worth saying. She wants to reassure Andy, to convince him he's wrong, but she knows the man well enough to tell the best salve here is action, not words.
She at least manages a smile when Andy puts his hand on hers.
"Okay. If you say so," she says, giving Andy a firm nod. "...but that sounds like both of us need to go out and learn something new to bring back, huh? At least, that's my plan. I promise you'll be really impressed by what I pick up!"
But then Andy changes the subject. "Oh, no, it's okay. Let's just enjoy the rest of the day then, right, Andy?" Mai moves to collect the disastrous volleyball from before...looking at it warily.
"I know I'll be really impressed with whatever it is that you come up with. No matter what it is, it will be clever," Andy replies. Mai Shiranui is a woman that many dismiss as being a bit of an airhead and a ditz. She fosters that image fairly well, and her sometimes absent mindedness only reinforces this image that she presents. But the truth is that Mai is absolutely one of the most intelligent and clever fighters that Andy has ever seen in action. She has a keen acumen when it comes to fighting. Or to getting her way. While he believes that the image she portrays is not necessarily a ruse, he knows that it is but a shadow within which the fierce kunoichi hides.
That is but one of many reasons that Andy holds such strong feelings for her. The other is this. Now. No matter how far he falls, or how angry he is, she is always there to soothe and comfort him. To go with his plans, to accept his needs with a sense of earnest selflessness that speaks of true compassion. Mai Shiranui has a heart that is pure and kind. Unfettered by the same darkness and wrath that chains his own.
"Yeah. Let's just enjoy the rest of the day."
When she looks at that volleyball, Andy cannot help but chuckle. Did she expect it to become her mortal enemy now? Slowly, Andy lifts himself up from the burning sands of the beach, dusting himself off. He cups his open hands before him and gives her an upnod. "Here. We don't need a net. We'll just play. Set me up!"
Mai is certainly not without her flaws, but for all of those, she does do her best at taking care of people---especially Andy. She can be a bit selfish at times, and her obsessive focus can cause her more than a few problems, but she is, as Andy knows, a bit more clever than she lets on.
Usually. The volleyball still seems to confound her, just a little.
"Right!" Mai says, grasping the ball firmly and running a short distance away. She holds it out in front of her, lining up her serve, then swings forward with her other fist.
"I hope you're ready for my Shiranui ninpo style underhand!"
"Oh, I'm ready for it!" he says as she sends the ball up into the air. His clear blue eyes follow its course, squinting in response to the sun overhead. The trick will be to not to lose sight of the ball as it arcs in front of the blistering ball of searing light that hangs there, threatening to burn the fair skinned shinobi to a crisp. And lose it he does.
At least until it starts to descend and creates a silhouette for him to follow. Andy's face lights up with a wolfish grin, and for a moment, one could easily see Terry in him. There was no doubt the two were brothers. His fists clench, and he ducks down into a squatting crouch, readying himself.
Suddenly, he bursts upwards, an explosion of sand showering around where he launches into the air. His body twists, rolling in a violent corkscrew as he lashes out with a singular, upward rising backfist, sending the ball shooting back up into the sky so that it might come back down somewhere over Mai's general vicinity.
Mai takes several steps back, raising her hands over her forehead to screen the sun enough to see. When Andy makes the dive, Mai suddenly has to move to intercept the ball. As its spins through the air, Mai bites her lip, then breaks into a sprint. As the ball nears the ground the sprint changes to a knee dive, the kunoichi sliding to bump the ball with both hands before it crashes into the sand.
Andy grins as Mai races for the ball. She looks so determined as she bites down on her lip. It's endearing. Has there ever been someone as charming or perfect as Mai Shiranui? Andy has yet to meet any, if there have. Truly, the sun rises and sets in that woman's eyes to the young Bogard sibling.
Those thoughts, however, distract him, and as the ball comes racing back at him, he's almost caught unaware. The shadow of it, increasing in size, snaps him out of it, and he has to snap into action to avoid the ball bouncing off of his face.
His supple form bends like a reed, arcing backwards as his arms raise overhead. He springs off of his feet, landing with his hands in the sand, and kicking up a spray of it as his foot collides with the ball to pop it back up into the air.
"You know, Mai..." he says, even as he pushes off of his hands, springing back onto his feet several feet further away from her. "You take to everything with this sense of earnesty. It's... admirable."
To her credit, there are times with Mai's monomaniacal focus serves her well. One of these happens to be volleyball. As the ball goes back toward Andy, Mai pops up to her feet with a bounce, leaping from her knees onto the flat of her feet in one smooth motion.
The kunoichi watches the ball on its return, her eyes following it as she seems to mentally run through where to move. She hops to the side and dives for it, smacking it with the heel of her palm and sending it back toward Andy.
"Huh? You think so?" Mai's cheeks flush.
It is natural that the human eye is drawn to movement. It's an instinctual and primal thing, borne of a more savage time where our forebears had to develop such reactions to spot ambushes from wild predators. It is a survival mechanic. It is one, too, that is honed to even greater extent when one undergoes rigorous ninja training. One is trained to spot even the slightest movement that might hint at a surprise attack from a rival shinobi.
So, naturally, Andy's eyes flicker to where they sense the most movement when Mai bounces to her feet. Gah!!!
Her return is completely missed as Andy quickly turns his head, and averts his eyes in embarassment. He's rewarded for his efforts by taking the volleyball straight to the side of his face. He tumbles down into the sand as the ball bounces off of his head and plops unceremoniously onto the beach floor, rolling just a few inches before the granular sand halts it.
He rubs the side of his face, because getting smacked with a volleyball might not injure you, with exception of really very specific circumstances... but it sure does smart. "Ah... Yeah. Yeah, I think so..."
"Oh! Sorry Andy," Mai says, unaware (?) of her nefarious volleyball tactics. "Are you OK? It is really sunny out here." Mai rubs the side of her side of her face awkwardly, her other hand on her hip.
"Um, well, I'm glad you think so, anyway," Mai continues. "Are you having fun? Should we start up again?"
He deserved that. Such impure thoughts! He really is a lewd wretch. It's hard to suppress the overwhelming feeling of sheer and utter mortification that he feels. Despite his best efforts, it shows in the hue that his face turns. It's doing a lot of that today, it seems. He just can't catch a break with her.
"Oh... I'm... I'm alright! It wasn't your fault!"
He picks himself up off the ground, dusting off the back of his trunks and crosses the distance that separates them. Along the way, he kicks the ball up with his toes so that he can catch it and place it under one arm, against his hip.
"I'm having fun, but maybe we should do something that has less..."
"Jumping around. I think maybe the heat is making me a bit dizzy."
Yeah. That's it. The heat. Sure.
Mai is already making her way over to help Andy up. "I'm glad I didn't hit you in the nose or anything, that would have been awful!" Mai says, shaking away the mental image of Andy with a nose knocked crooked from a bad break.
"...yeah," Mai looks up again. "I think...we should find some shade," a pause, "and that you should let me get you another ice cream to cool off!" Mai demands, nodding her head defiantly.
"Oh, don't worry about it. We'll skip the ice cream. Maybe later we can go get a root beer float, instead... Hrm," Andy utters, as he casts a glance around. Down the beach, not far from them, is a small shack set up to rent out beach fare, such as boogie boards, aqua-cycles, sunchairs and umbrellas. Perfect. They could get more sunscreen while they were there, since Mai's had more or less been... splurged. "There we go. Come on!"
Andy slips his arm around Mai's, tucking her in against his side as he leads the way. A short exchange later, and Andy is down a few yen, but they've now got a large umbrella, two lounging chairs and a bottle of sunscreen and a couple of bottles of water that are kept frozen just enough to be slushy when handed over.
"Oh, Andy," Mai says when he comes back. "Isn't that too much to carry? I mean, what if you trip--" Mai's mind wanders, likely back to her earlier mishap. She shakes away the lingering horror.
"I mean, if you want to carry something..." Mai says, "though we should probably also find a spot, first..." She pulls another fan out of her top, shading herself as she gazes up and down the beach.
"Oh, I've got it. It's not a problem!" Typical man response, right there. And he's loaded up in a typical man fashion. Umbrella over the shoulder in one hand, with a bag dangling from his wrist containing the volleyball, the water and sunscreen. Under his other arm, he's carrying both chairs stacked against one another. No second trips for this guy.
As she pulls a fan out of her top... where does she keep all of those things?... Andy looks up and down the length of the beach, and finally shrugs his shoulders. He tilts his head in one direction, and says, "Up there, we can watch the kids playing in the surf."
And cocking his head in the other direction, he adds, "But down there, there's hardly anyone around, so we can have a more peaceful time. Either works for me. Just lead the way."
Mai takes a long, contemplative moment wherein she looks down at the isolated beach, then up at the surf. On the one hand, alone time with Andy. On the other, maybe those kids would be a good way to hint at a few things. Hmmmm.
Mai looks at Andy, thinking back to everything that's been said. She bites her lip.
"I think we should get that peaceful spot right there," Mai points with her fan, snapping it closed to do so. "I mean...it'll be nice to stretch out a little, right?"
In the end, Mai chooses the more isolated spot on the beach. Andy isn't certain how he feels about that, in truth. On one hand, he does get to spend time alone with her. On the other, what good does that do? It's just more opportunity for him to bumble and make a fool of himself as he desperately tries to contain his feelings for her, while she unintentionally does everything imaginable to tease him about it.
But, to the other direction, there are people and families, and screeching children, which, while Andy is not against kids, his dour mood as of late makes him more prone to being irritable. He just doesn't have it in him right now. The upside to it having been that he'd be able to more easily keep their interactions contained, and less likely to make a fool of himself blustering about his feelings and all of that stuff. Stuff that he doesn't need to share with Mai. Not yet. Not until he's worthy of it.
In the end, he simply nods his head, and gives a quiet, "It's your call, Mai. If you wish it, that's what we'll do. Lead the way."
Perhaps Mai picked up on Andy's bad mood and deemed screaming kids as a bad choicer. Maybe she simply thought he'd had a rough enough day already. It could be that Mai herself was not prepared for them, even if it would give her a chance to make suggestive comments about what her and Andy's children might look like. In any case...
"I think that's for the best," Mai says, "this days supposed to be relaxing, and well..." Mai looks at the volleyball, the new bottle of suntan lotion. "We've not really done that very well, have we?" She laughs. "But there's still plenty of daylight left, so I'm going to guarantee that we relax." Mai puffs out her cheeks.
"Training can wait until tomorrow," she adds, "we'll worry about that then."
Log created on 12:50:48 05/11/2018 by Mai, and last modified on 17:45:19 06/22/2018.