“Maka, are you ready to go?”
It was Tsubaki’s voice that made Maka raise her eyes from her notes and look around. In the past ten minutes, her dorm common room had evidently filled up with students cramming their faces with junk food before their morning exams. Maka, meanwhile, had been cramming her test material. History was not her strong suit, seeing as what she was taught in university varied greatly from what she knew of the world as a wiccan.
“Yeah,” she answered, swiftly closing her notes and standing up with a smile. “Just getting in some last minutes studying before our exam.”
“Weren’t you up until... late ...last night reviewing?” Tsubaki asked as they walked out of the dorms. She didn’t actually know how long her friend had stayed up, seeing as she had gone to bed at a reasonable time herself.
“Yes, but I just want to make sure I’ve got it all down. It’s a tough subject, you know?”
“Hmm.” She did know. Her own family had poured wiccan history into her head since before she could speak. Though she doubted Maka would do any worse than she ever did. Which was usually better than everyone else. Tsubaki let out a sigh. “Are we still going out tonight? To celebrate the end of the semester?”
Maka flashed another smile. “Of course. It’ll be a relief to finally spend some time in our own world again. I’ve been so busy.”
Tsubaki and Maka belonged to an aggregation of humans known as wiccans, a magical folk whose abilities derived deeply from their blood. While not as dangerous as the inherently destructive witches, wiccans still kept their existence largely obscured from a majority of the population. It was only a few hundred years ago, after all, that witches and wiccan alike were burned at the stake merely for existing as they did. That was remembered in all versions of history.
Now though, in a time when most people remained unaware of the magic around them, it was relatively safe for magic folk. When a normal human caught a glimpse of a spell, they didn’t reach a pitchfork, instead attributing it to their own imaginations or a trick of the light.
“How do you think you’re going to do?” Maka as her eyes followed the path of a butterfly not too far away from them. It was late spring, a time that marked both the end of the semester and a rejuvenation of many of the plants used in potions and spells. The magic store she worked at part-time should be getting new shipments soon.
“I think I’ll probably pass. Though I’ve gotten a little less studying in than usual because I was trying to help Blackstar.”
Maka groaned at the thought of her friend wasting her time helping Blackstar study. “Ugh, why did you even bother? He’s a lost cause.”
“I’m sure he’s not that bad. He got into the same university as we did.”
“ You didn’t go to highschool with him. You didn’t see his report cards. He’s so busy trying to blow things up with magic that it’s a miracle he even graduated. If it wasn’t to compete with me, he’d probably end up skipping his own exams.” There was emphasis in the last word as Maka shoved open the front door to building A.
“He wouldn’t do that Maka, give him more credit. He’s as ambitious as you are in his own right.”
“Whatever.” Maka grumbled, but she couldn’t help the fond smile that snuck onto her face. Her childhood friend was a walking disaster. But if a good kind of disaster existed, he was it.
Maka rounded the corner to their classroom. And of course-
“Yo Maka, looks like I even show up to exams before you! That means I win, right Tsubaki?”
“Last night I told him you’d challenged him to a race” Tsubaki mumbled to Maka, before raising her voice to it’s full volume. “Of course Blackstar, I guess you win.”
“Ha! Of course I do! A mere mortal like you can’t even dream of beating a star like me, huh Maka?”
Maka gritted her teeth. As much as he got on her nerves, she didn’t have time for this today. She had an exam to prepare herself for! “Sure, Blackstar.” Maka shoved past him as he cackled.
“Well, don’t feel too bad, not everybody can be a star like me!”
Dumping her books next to her as she sat down, Maka took a deep breath and tooned out her friend’s gloating. She had this. She really wasn’t that bad at history, and she had prepared herself. It would be fine.
As the rest of her classmates streamed in, her proffesor following shortly after, Maka tried to convince herself that her exam wasn’t that big of a deal, arguing that she wouldn’t enjoy herself that night if she was busy worrying about her score. Breath in, breath out.
Maka dug through her closet, looking for that red dress that she knew she had, but was just buried too deep for her to find. How did anything even get lost in such a small closet? She knew she hadn’t been out in a while, but Maka liked parties, it hadn’t been that long. She must have gone somewhere over spring break- or not. She had visited her papa for a few days, but was quick to flee, rushing back to her college a town over under the premise that she had to start making up note packets for her finals, which she did do. And she’d been studying them ever since, declining Tsubaki’s offers, Blackstar’s insistence , and even Kid’s occasional invitation in favour of preparing for her finals.
Well, the exam hadn’t been that difficult after all. And now she had nothing to worry about until next autumn, except finding her dress!
Of course it was just as she thought this, she found it, crumpled up on the floor. Instinctively she wanted to blame Blackstar, before her brain caught up to her and she realized it was very likely that it just fell of the hanger and there was absolutely no reason for him to target her closet. Laying her dress down on her bed, Maka turned back to her closet, reaching into the back where she kept a box of several pre-brewed spells, including one that removed wrinkles. Gotta love modern magic , she thought, pouring a bit of the liquid into a spray bottle. Within moments, her dress was as smooth as the day she bought it.
Tugging the dress over her head, Maka turned to the mirror that hung over her nightstand. Perfect , she thought. Now for makeup .
When Tsubaki finally showed up at her door, Maka was just checking her reflection a final time.
“Maka, you look so nice! Are you ready to go?”
“Yep!” Maka stepped out next to her friend, locking her door behind her. Maka lived in a small apartment that she hated to admit her father paid for most of. Still, it was nice to be able to have her own place. No drunken roommates to worry about.
Tonight, her and Tsubaki were going out to what Maka liked to consider a wiccan nightclub. It was honestly more of a classy hangout for people just a little too old for her to really relate to as a college student, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. She was friends with the owner’s son, as well as some of the employees, and since Tsubaki’s family was one of the oldest and wealthiest in the wiccan world, they had special access to the blackroom, a private place where she could go if Blackstar decided to wreck the main lounge. Which he undoubtedly would, whenever he got there.
After a short ride in Tsubaki’s car, they arrived at a mostly empty parking lot behind a complex of buildings. They got out, and walked briskly towards a crack in the back wall of the closest brink building. Tsubaki looked both ways and leaned in, breathing whispers of magic into the crack. Within moments it had expanded into a crevice deep enough to enter. The two women walked through the makeshift hall for a few minutes, eventually reaching a door. And they entered to Shibusen.
The room around them was crowded with Wiccans. Some sat in corner booths, talking and catching up, some played pool or darts. Other’s still stood around, or sat at the bar. It looked, by all means, like a usual bar, but it was a place where one could openly use magic if they were caught by the whim, where news of the wiccan world was called across the room and posted on the walls instead of whispered behind closed doors. Subtle differences on the surface, covering an atmosphere of comfort that few situations could rival for her kind. Here, as strange as it seemed, was home.
Just as Maka was breathing a comfortable sigh of relief, she felt a strong figure slam into her side. And tug her into a grapple-hold. “Maka! It’s been way too long!”
“Hey Patty,” the slightly smaller girl said, taking a dizzy step back. “How are you?”
“I’m great! How are you? I haven’t seen you in like a year !”
“I’m good, thank you. And you saw me at christmas. I got you that puzzle, remember?”
Patty’s eyes widened and shone. “Oh, that’s right! That was hard, Kid helped me with it. But it had a giraffe!” she laughed, turning to run around the room. “Giraffe! Giraffe!”
Tsubaki chuckled, making her way to the back room now that their greeter was thoroughly distracted. Tsubaki belonged to a very old, very wealthy family, and as such, she could often afford such privileges that others could not. One was these privileges was being able to afford the black room at Shibusen, a place that was much more private, and slightly nicer in her opinion. Not that she had a problem with people, it was just that Shibusen could get a little crazy at times, especially when you throw Patty and Blackstar to the mix. She let out a sigh. Those two.
Tsubaki and Maka made their way to the back room, greeting friends of their parents and acquaintances alike, before they finally made their way to the blackroom. Sid, the manager of the place and somewhat of an unofficial guard, smiled at them as they made their way back. He was a rather strange looking man, permanently disfigured from a near-death experience that he had only come back from through a complicated magic and medicine procedure. He couldn't go out in the human world without an illusion spell. Here though, despite his zombie-like appearance, he was safe. Just one of the perks of living in the wiccan world.
Finally, after weaving through dozens of individuals, (and an old friend of Maka’s father’s who in her opinion was just as sleazy as him) they reached the blackroom. Tsubaki barely had to brush her fingers against the door before it opened for the both of them, allowing entrance.
The blackroom was stylized like an old lounge, the color scheme, as one would guess, was primarily black and red. A grand piano stood in the center of the room, though Maka had never seen it played, and a usually empty bar lined the back wall. Usually empty, when Tsubaki and Maka were visiting.
Today a young man sat there, not much older than herself, with white hair and red eyes. A striking combination, though “unnatural” eye colors amongst wiccans were not altogether unusual. Tsubaki’s were lavender. And while unnatural hair colors were less common, they were still an ever-present part of her life, typically in the form of of that damned blue-haired gremlin. Another glance at the white-haired man and her thoughts were soothed. He seemed calm, holding a seemingly pleasant conversation with Liz, Patti’s older sister and the usual bartender in the black room. Nice.
“Oh, hey Tsubaki, Maka. How have you been?”
“Busy with university.” Tsubaki answered sheepishly, setting down her purse and sitting at the bar just a few seats away from the man. Maka sat between them. “It’s been a while”
“It’s fine. I understand. Kid’s making me take some courses, and even that’s a heavy load. You're done now though?”
“Until next autumn, yes.” Tsubaki smiled. “We’re here to celebrate.”
“In that case, first drink's on me,” Liz grinned “or on Kid. The usual?”
“To start off yeah. Right, Tsubaki?” Maka was usually pretty tame with her alcohol, even when she was celebrating. She couldn’t handle it very well, and it tended to make her magic go a bit crazy. It was the price she had to pay, she supposed, of being such a powerful wiccan. Of being her parent’s daughter.
“And you, piano-man? I might as well get you something too.” Liz, looked over at the third person at the bar as she mixed Tsubaki and Maka’s drinks.
“Ugh, whatever.” He grumbled, decidedly away from Maka and Tsubaki.
“Then you get beer. And Soul, these are my friends. Tsubaki and Maka.” She gestured to the two. “They’re friendly. Don’t act like a grumpy cat. Tsubaki, Maka-” She set down their drinks. “This is my friend Soul. He has pretty good taste in music. He’s also a very bitter person for no discernible reason.”
Music! The mention of the word caused Maka to realize that there was a different style playing quietly from the speakers around the room than usual. Something jazzy?
“Did you pick this out?” Maka asked, leaning towards Soul, who leaned slightly away from her. When he raised his gaze, he seemed to be almost taken by surprize, behind layers of discomfort, as if people rarely bothered to speak to him and it was a fact he revelled in.
“What is it? I’m not great with music, but it sounds like jazz? I like it, anyways.”
Soul almost laughed, albeit bitterly. (really more of a low exhale out of his nose, but it counted). “Yeah, it’s jazz.”
“Who is it?” This boy was offering the most miniscule amount of elaboration that she’d heard since she met Tsubaki. Most people liked to talk.
Soul’s jaw tensed at that. “I really wasn’t expecting anyone else to be in here tonight. Liz wanted to hear it.”
“And what is ‘it’?” Maka’s interest was spiked of course . Who got this defensive about a song ?
“Just music. Do you usually come here?”
Fine. If he really wanted to be that way, she could just ask Liz later. At least his attempt at changing the subject had trapped him into a conversation. That was her original goal, after all. “Sometimes.” Maka took a sip of her drink. “I haven’t come in a couple of months though. We’ve been busy with college, like Tsubaki said. The semester's over now though, so we’ll be here more often if work doesn’t get in the way. Are you in university?”
“No. I graduated last year.”
“Really? I’ll be a senior next year. What’s it like?”
“I doubt my experiences would be any help to you.”
Maka pouted. “Why?”
“You just don’t seem like the type.”
“I don’t know. Nevermind. It wasn’t supposed to be an insult. We’re just different.”
Maka didn’t know whether or not to be insulted, but at least he was finally holding a conversation with her. It was easier than she thought it would be, though he still seemed more reserved than she’d like.
“What did you major in?” Tsubaki asked, leaning around Maka. She had a gentle voice, one that conveyed how much she really cared about someone’s answer, which may have prompted the slight softening of Soul’s voice.
Smiled more brightly. “That’s wonderful! My parents wanted me to take up an instrument when I was younger, but I proved to be rather awful at it. Yours are very lucky to have such a talented son.”
“Tch. My brother’s the talented one.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean you aren’t. I’m sure you’re wonderful.”
“He is.” Liz leaned her arms on the bar. “He can play any piece of music you put in front of him like he’s been practicing it his whole life. And you know that I have a good ear.”
“What do you play?” Maka asked, leaning forward.
Maka’s eyes lit up. “Really? Will you play for us?” She pointed to the grand piano in the room like a child pointed to a new toy they wanted.
Suddenly there was a crash and a scream from the other room.
“Looks like Blackstar’s here.” Liz sighed.
“Actually he’s been here for a few minutes.” Patty cackled , running into the room and slamming the door behind her. “I made him drink some paralysis potion before he had both feet in the door so I could draw on his face. He’s super pissed now!”
“Patty, you know you aren’t supposed to provoke him!” Tsubaki scolded. She hated to think of the mess that Sid and Nygus would have to clean up, and the fit Kid would throw if he showed up before they did.
“Too late!” Patty laughed, literally jumping behind the bar like it was some kind of barricade. She began to mix some of the ingredients behind the bar, undoubtably into something at least mildly explosive.
Liz sighed, a noise containing as much resigned regret as Maka could imagine.
“I’m gonna leave now.” Soul said, grabbing his leather jacket from the back of his chair and dropping some money on the countertop.
“Wise.” Liz answered. She could already feel a headache coming on. Her little sister, as much as she loved her, was bad enough on her own. When you brought Blackstar into the equation...Liz shuddered.
Soul hesitated before looking back at Tsubaki and Maka. “It was nice to meet you.”
The two women smiled, Tsubaki like a mother, Maka like a youthful friend. “You too, Soul.” Maka answered. “Hopefully we’ll see you around!”
"Sure." Soul left then, like a frightened cat, at the popping sound behind the bar and the smashing sounds from out front.
Maka and Tsubaki turned back to Liz, who was already rubbing her temples and resigning herself, as she did nearly every weekend, to the disaster-zone that her bar would soon become. Sometimes she swore she had less to worry about when she lived on the streets.
“I’m sorry I ever let them meet.” Maka offered.
Finally- or rather way too soon- the door to the black room came crashing down, revealing a fuming young man with blue hair and parade of doodles on his face. “Oh, you're gonna get it now, blondie!”
“Fire in the hole!” Patty shouted. She popped up from behind the bar like a military man, throwing a fizzing concoction as near to Blackstar as she could. It exploded on contact, shrouding him in yellow-ish smoke. Coughing, he ran forward. Yellow and brown dots were forming on his skin. Patty cackled and jumped back out from behind the bar and over Blackstar, who was charging at her like a rhino. He skidded, and turned.
“Blackstar, Maybe you could be a little calmer tonight?” Tsubaki asked as he passed by her.
“No way in hell, Tsubaki, the little kid’s goin’ down tonight.” He hardly stopped for a moment to answer her.
Blackstar and Patty chased each other around the room like toddlers, only they were fully grown todders on steroids with extensive experience in combat and an endless supply of magic. They ran into the front room.
"They were in here for like, a minute." Liz looked near tears, already assessing the damages. “Do you see this? And they'll probably be running around here for at least an hour more!"
"I'm sorry, Liz." Tsubaki offered, placing a hand over her friend's. “At least they each have someone to play with.”
“At least there’s that.” Liz responded miserably.
“I think we’re going to go now too, Liz.” Maka said. "Tsubaki's driving home, so she can't have too much to drink anyway, and I'm actually feeling pretty tired after my finals.”
“Alright.” Liz answered, lowering her head into her arms partially in defeat and partially to rest in preparation for the hell-hole she’d be cleaning out in a short while. “G’night, guys.”
“Goodnight Liz!” There was another bang, and a half-delighted, half-enraged shriek that could have come from either Patty or Blackstar.
Liz chuckled. "Get outta here while you still can."
Despite the ruckus, or more likely because of it, Tsubaki and Maka were able to make it through the front of Shibusen in less time than it had taken them to come in, now capable of avoiding intersection of all their acquaintances, who were distracted by the ever-destructive Patty and Blackstar. Maka swore she wouldn’t be surprised if the two of them turned out to be full-fledged witches.
Back in their car, Maka leaned back against her seat in relief, laughing. “They’re monsters.”
“Our monsters.” Tsubaki agreed. Bushing a few strands of hair behind her hair.
“Are you ready to drive?” Maka asked, nodding towards the dashboard.
“I'm sober enough." Tsubaki answered. "I hardly took a sip. I just need to calm myself down from all that chaos.”
"I get that." She sighed, smiling as Tsubaki turned to key in the ignition.
The dark drive with Tsubaki was comfortable, as it always was. Maka had met the taller girl her freshman year of university. She’d had to apologize for Blackstar after he’d nearly run her over on his way to orientation, unknowingly knocking most of her books onto the ground. Tsubaki, while not as avid a reader as Maka, did have a good taste in books. After inviting her to coffee as somewhat of an apology-in-advance for all the trouble Maka already knew Blackstar would cause, the two had hit it off. Connected further by being the only ones at their school sometimes capable of reigning in Blackstar, they'd only become closer since. Maka considered Tsubaki to be her best friend, and vice versa.
"So what did you think of Soul?" Tsubaki asked, after a few minutes of silence.
"He seemed nice."
"Yeah, if a little shy."
"Yeah. He wasn't as difficult as I thought he'd be, though. It was nice to meet him."
"Maybe we'll see him again. Liz has talked about him before. I'm pretty sure the music that was playing in there was his."
"Really?” Maka thought back to the jazzy piano piece. She had really liked it, and she usually only listened to j-pop. “I wonder why he was so embarrassed about it, it was really good."
"It was, but some people are like that. It’s really a shame.”
"Hopefully he’ll grow into his skill. Either way, I hope we get to know him better. Liz seems to like him, and it'd be nice for him to come out of his shell so we could see what all the fuss is about."
“You had fun though? We left kind of early."
"Yep. I just hadn’t realized that I was so tired from finals. We’ll have more time to celebrate this summer.”
“Of course.” Tsubaki smiled. “Maybe we can celebrate all of your aced classes once we get our final grades.”
“I hope so. I feel like I did pretty well. What about you?”
“I think I at least passed." Tsubaki chuckled. "Spending so much time helping Blackstar study really got a lot of the details drilled into my brain, since I had to go over them with him so many times."
"Do you think he passed?" As much as Maka lamented, she did care about how well her obnoxious friend did. She didn't know what she would do if he wasn't growing right alongside her every step of the way.
"He was bragging about how well he did, though you know how much that's worth. I'm sure he did fine though. As much as he messes around-"
"Succeeding is something he really cares about."
Tsubaki pulled into the parking lot of Maka’s apartment complex and parked next to her door. “Make sure to get some some good sleep tonight. You have a lot to catch up on.”
“I will, you too.” Maka leaned across her seat to hug her friend goodbye. “Goodnight, Tsubaki.”
Maka got out of the car, waving goodbye as she entered her small apartment. It really had been a long night.
After changing out of her dress, Maka took no time getting into bed and plugging in her cell phone. Before she closed her eyes though, she noticed a new message, from Liz.
Soul appreciated your friendliness, even if he didn't show it. Thanks.
Maka smiled, sending back a quick reply.
That was the whole point, after all.