They never said it aloud. They never had to.
It came to them as easy as breathing, as difficult as grief, constant and volatile.
They felt something. Something cancerous and strange, something that slowly, ever so slowly grew in the tiny muscles of their hearts, wound around their veins like a strangling vine.
Something they said with every breath, without sound, as though the particles of dust in their lungs were each a confession to be breathed in and accepted.
It was friendship, yes, and love and fierce devotion, the pure undiluted anger of their injuries, the adrenalin of their smile, the need...
The need to protect them, and keep them, and never share, hold them close and hear them, just that. That’s what they wanted.
But life would move them onwards.
They didn’t hold hands or whisper words of loving to each others’ ears in rhyme. It wasn’t like that.
It was when Maka would study, frenetic nervousness and excitement, devouring books and scribbling on paper, determined to succeed. Soul would pause at the doorway, watching her hunched back and shoulders, and smile.
When she appeared to be giving up, exhausted and disheartened, Soul would encourage her, in his own way.
“Bookworm, you work too hard. I don’t know why you don’t do it the easy way,” Soul would say when she slunk from her room, grey-faced.
“Because that’s not going to work in the long-run, Soul! You can’t cut corners with your education.”
She’d be angry, of course, venting at him. He’d frown slightly or grin to annoy her more.
“Work smarter, not harder. That’s what cool guys do, Maka. You wouldn’t know about being cool.” He’d wink one of his huge, doe-eyes at her and she’d clench her fists in response. “Prove me wrong, then.”
A storm personified, she’d slam the door of her room and silence would reign. She would get full marks. Soul would pass.
They were both breakingly happy.
Or it was when Soul lounged, staring at the headband in his hands. His expression would be one of utmost seriousness, almost blank from the depth of his considering. Maka knew what that meant but she would never dare to speak.
She would make a cup of tea for herself, and one for him, placing it down on the table and squeezing onto the lounge.
She just takes a lady-like sip of her own. It’s warm and sweet and soothing. Soul moves so that she can sit more comfortably, stretching his legs across her lap.
She runs a finger over his toes and he fidgets.
“Don’t, Maka. Cool guys aren’t ticklish.”
They both just sit, Soul’s eyes heavy-lidded, Maka knowing how he looks without watching.
“Do cool guys wear headbands, Soul?”
He gives a half-hearted laugh. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Oh.” Another sip of tea. “Do cool guys care what other people think?”
“You know what I think?” she asked him and he peers at her, not forlorn but with some sort of expression that defies interpretation.
“I don’t think cool guys – or girls – care about being cool. They just are cool; it’s just an intrinsic part of them. That’s what I think, anyway.”
Maka takes the headband from Soul’s hands – they’re so rough and bony, the knuckles and joints stand out so much – and inspects it, a smile tugging at her lips.
“Maka, what are you doing?”
She takes a sniff, and Soul’s face drops in shock.
“Just as I thought,” she says wryly, forcing her teeth to stay hidden. This is serious. “This headband stinks of cool, Soul. You should wash it or wear something else, like a flowery hat. This makes you at least ten times cooler than anything else could.”
Now Soul is grinning ear to ear, almost literally. His teeth, just like everything else about him, are jagged and angular.
“Or you could just accept the fact you are too cool for bonnets and wear it. Your choice.”
He gives a bark of laughter and Maka puts the headband on his head when he leans forward.
“You’re great,” he tells her.
“I think you’re cool, Soul,” she replies, not quite meeting his eyes. “I think you’re the coolest. But you do actually need to wash your headband. It’s gross.”
And they laugh at themselves and each other until they’re out of breath but still have laughter bubbling inside them, hot and raw and a little weird. It’s perfect, even when it’s not.
Even when it’s...
“Soul, you left the stove on! Oh, everything’s ruined. What are we going to do now?”
“I don’t know why we became partners, you’re so – ugh! Damn it, Maka, listen to me.”
And when it’s...
“You’re a arrogant, womanizing loser, you’re as bad as my Papa!”
“Better him than Black Star.”
... they know they don’t mean it. And when it’s...
“Soul. I’m so sorry...”
... they know that they really, truly do.
They’re not in love. It’s not something they can slip on in the evenings and waltz until the dawn comes. It’s with them always; they can’t let it go if they tried.
Love is a part of them; they’re a part of each other.
Maybe one day they’ll hold hands. Until then, they’ll hold hearts and souls, and let life walk them forward.