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The blade slithers into her flesh and they both scream. He struggles fruitlessly against his shackles, because the broken flesh of his wrists is nothing, the blood running slowly down his hands is nothing, the pain in his body is nothing nothing nothing. He can feel every bit of what is being done to her, the hot iron against her flesh, melting it, scarring it, cooking it, through their bond, and all that matters is getting to her, saving her, but he can’t, he can’t! He is utterly powerless, utterly helpless, weak and useless and stuck. “MAKAA!” he screams, but his voice cracks and he realizes he’s crying.

Slowly, almost lovingly the gray and black blade (his blade, Soul realizes with a jolt) cuts into the pale skin of her stomach. The soft wet sound of her flesh splitting is sickening, it’s all he can hear, it makes him yell and struggle all the more, and when she looks at him blood dribbles from her mouth and coats her chin and sweat and snot and tears smother everything else and her green eyes are rolling mad utterly desperate and she screams his name “SOUL” the sound warped and broken and wrong wrong wrong-

Something breaks inside him, a part that never should be broken, and suddenly the world is dark and fractured and madness bubbles up inside him, so thick and viscous and tremendous that it gushes out his mouth and ears and nose (but that’s okay because he doesn’t need to breathe anymore anyway). Somewhere far away someone is screaming and someone else is screaming too and when he looks at her she is a mess of red and slime and pale worms sprouting from her belly and he sees his colorless doppelganger standing there, its arm a scythe, coated in blood, and laughing-

He is wrapped in thick damp suffocation and he thrashes and yells and the shock of hitting the floor does nothing to awaken him from his terror. As fast as he can he stumbles upright out the door into the hall ignoring pain from stubbed toes and bumps and it is only by slamming hard into something upright and warm, throwing him back, that he reaches blindly and meets fingers. Slender fingers, fingers he can never not know, at once intimately familiar and utterly alien.

“Maka,” he says, and then she is in his arms, sobbing his name, clutching him so tightly he can’t breathe. He can feel her against him, her heart going a million miles an hour, her body warm and whole and completely unharmed. He hugs her to him, presses his lips to the top of her head, breathes her in, the most powerful sense of relief crashing down around him. The girl he loves is not dead, not dead, not dead. But as the relief dies he realizes something: they’re resonating, fast and deep, the rate so high that he can peer straight into the depths of her soul, hear its song, all jagged chords and sharp bursts of utter terror, and in the maelstrom of her thoughts- oh shit oh fuck nonononoNO- he sees his nightmare playing over and over, feels the whole damn thing all over again, this time from her perspective, and he feels like he’s been punched in the gut. This was his burden, his horror, and it was never his intention to share this with her, never never. He hurthis meister, he hurt Maka, and this is the ultimate betrayal, a knife in his chest cutting him to pieces with every beat of his heart.

“I-idiot!” Maka says tearfully, and smacks him in the chest, not hard. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?!”

“Do you think I want to…to tell you something like that?!”

“YES!” she says, and pushes him away. Involuntarily, his body begins to tremble all over again.

“Do you know,” Maka says, “how many nights I stayed up worrying about…about…?”

He frowns. Staying up? But wouldn’t she have to be sleeping to eavesdrop on his nightmare?

“Not that,” she tells him. “This.” And then her lips are on his and his mind is suddenly as empty as a cloudless Nevada sky.

Her mouth is warm and soft and tastes of cherries.

“Damn, Tiny Tits,” he tells her when they break apart, because it’s all he can think to say. “Where’d you learn to kiss like that?”

“Shut up,” she says, and in the moonlight he can see that her face has turned that adorable shade of pink.

“I’m sorry,” he says into the silence.

“It’s alright. If anything, resonating in our sleep means we’re getting stronger.”

This time, he kisses her, and later, they fall asleep in a jumble of pajama-clad limbs on her mattress, because they’ve just unearthed something new and wonderful (and secretly, they’re both still a little scared).

Soul’s nightmare does not return.

Chapter Text

She is sixteen and he is fourteen and they share a bedroom. At first, it was awkward, because there was only one room and two of them and they had only very recently met. But somehow along the course of their partnership the one big bed divided into two and Tsubaki drifted from the couch to the room in the apartment reserved for rest. Many times they would fall asleep to the sound of the other’s breathing, or wake panting and sweating from some nightmare and see the comforting silhouette of their partner curled atop their mattress. 

//

She is twenty-one and he is nineteen and they share a bed. It kind of happened unintentionally, when Black*Star, after a particularly nasty nightmare, crawled into her bed and hugged her tightly. From there it had escalated into touching and kissing and, well…all the things that couples do between the sheets. Neither was particularly bothered by the arrangement, and soon it became a regular occurrence. They never quite said I love you until they did. The transition from weapon and meister to husband and wifealmost went completely unnoticed until Black*Star thought to buy a ring.

//

She is thirty-two and he is thirty and they don’t share the benefits that come with being a bushin. He’s still as energetic and sprightly as ever, but Tsubaki can’t help but notice the way her knees ache when she gets out of bed in the morning, that she can’t see quite so well, that her body is slowing down in subtle increments with every passing day. She doesn’t mention anything to Black*Star, but over the years he’s grown more perceptive and she thinks that she can see something bright and desperate burning behind his eyes when he looks at her.

//

She is fifty-six and he is fifty-four and they don’t share the degenerative effects of age. There are wrinkles around Tsubaki’s mouth, crinkling from the corners of her eyes. Her skin is starting to sag and she has gray streaks in her long dark hair. But Black*Star still looks young, incredibly so, and Tsubaki realizes that he is probably going to outlive her by a long, long time.

//

She is sixty-four and he is sixty-two when she tells him he should get a new weapon. As she expected, he protests violently, and so she waits patiently for him to talk himself out. Once he has she tells him, gently but firmly, that she simply can’t anymore. She’s neither fast enough nor strong enough and her blades have gone dull. Black*Star takes her wrinkled hands in his smooth ones and tells her I’ll stay with you no matter what, and Tsubaki smiles despite the tears in her eyes because she’s only human and there’s a limit to the number of years she can keep up with him, her fierce and ageless god.

//

She is eighty-nine and he is eighty-seven when he holds her for the last time (although he doesn’t know it yet). They’re sitting on a park bench beneath the stars and they’re not talking, just relaxing in each other’s company like all old couples do, despite the fact that only one of them looks their age. He doesn’t catch her last words because they’re whispered on the faintest breath. When he leans closer and she doesn’t reply the fact of her mortality hits him like a train, like a punch, like a fall to the ground. He shakes her and shouts her name (even though he knows there’s only one reason that she wouldn’t respond when he’s such a mess) but of course he gets no answer. He howls his grief to the night, then, because the beautiful sparkling stars in his sky have just gone out for good.

//

He watches them all grow old and die, eventually, as all humans are wont to do, until it’s only him and Lord Death. Sometimes they’ll sit together in the park in companionable quiet, and Kid will take off his mask because it’s honestly more comfortable that way. As the years slip by he grows more and more powerful, takes many weapons under his wing, fights many great battles both by himself and alongside the Shinigami, but sometimes when it’s late and he’s sitting bored in front of a terminal sipping vodka he’ll take her picture from wherever he happens to have hidden it and look at it for a few seconds before snapping the locket shut and going back to whatever he was doing, sadness and fondness mingling in a bittersweet funk that somehow leads to him either falling asleep where he sits or finishing off the bottle.

Chapter Text

the death sisters, everyone calls them. From Brooklyn, with love. If looks could kill, half the school would be goners.

Dylan’s a little fascinated, but then again he’s always a little fascinated by anything with even the faintest connection to the strange and morbid. Maka tells him he’d best stay away, that they’re trouble. Dylan nods and smiles, but from the glances he continually shoots their way she can tell that they still exert a powerful pull over his mind.

(it’s not like she’s jealous of these blonde, buxom, badass newcomers, oh no. it’s concern for her friend that makes her follow him around, hissing warnings in his ears. they’ve known each other since birth, after all, have played together, laughed together, cried together. it’s only natural. only natural.)

when he first approaches them, he’s smiling and smooth, those strange yellow eyes half-lidded in what Maka calls his “creeper face.”  barely five words in and the taller one’s fist flies hard and fast into his jaw, knocking him flat on the polished linoleum.

“I told you so,” says Maka later, when they’re sitting on the wall, gazing out over the bay. Dylan rubs his bruised face. “Mmm.”

she glances at him. the sunset gives his face an orange cast, but his eyes have turned to something resembling molten gold and in them she can see

 

it’s hot. she can taste summer in the warm, sticky air. her heels make contact with the cooling concrete one after the other in an endless dance, thudthud,thudthud, always a millisecond too late for synchronicity, for communication.

“they’re no good,” she says, but it comes out low and muted and unlike her normal tone at all.

“yeah,” says Dylan, and even in his voice

“I know.”

Chapter Text

03

calm, she thinks, as she folds into a bow, naked and shivering. she keeps her eyes on the ground, even as she hears his footsteps descend from the dais, even when she feels his rough, callused hand scrape across her shoulders, feels his soul probe her own. her breathing is even, but inside her clenched fists, blood wells from the places where the nails pierce the skin.

“She’ll do,” he says, and it’s all she can do not to scream.

 

01

his breathing is ragged. she’s glad it’s dark, because she doesn’t have to see the tears slipping from his raw red eyes.

“Tsubaki,” he begins, and he has to stop because his voice is swallowed by a sob.

“Tsubaki,” he repeats, and now his voice is steadier. “Be strong.”

“Yes,” she says, and then they’re hugging each other tightly and through her own tears she’s whispering it’ll be okay it’ll be okay it’ll be okay and she wants so desperately to believe it, to pretend that Masamune isn’t going to become the instrument of one of the most despicable men the world has known.

They hold each other for a long time, until the sun filters through the slats in their wooden cage and they come to take him away.

 

04

it’s impossible. She can’t just kill her brother. She can’t just feel his lifeblood, hot and wet and sticky, coat her blades, can’t just hear his awful gurgling screams and stay in weapon form and do nothing. Her body shakes but she doesn’t cry, because she can feel his hot ragged breath in her ear, whispering be strong be strong be strong.

Do as we say, her new meister replies to that, and we won’t kill your father.

She curls into an even tighter ball and ponders this impossible dilemma.

 

06

They’ve finished training for the day and they’re sitting by the water trough. Black*Star’s hair is sopping wet to match his shirt.

“Your brother killed an entire village, did you know that?”

It’s the first time he’s spoken to her in a normal voice. Tsubaki doesn’t look at him, but the news is like a punch to the gut.

“We have to kill him, for their sake if not ours.”

She chances a glance at him. The loud, arrogant, self-centered Black*Star, thinking about the safety of others?

He sits back and laces his fingers together behind his head. “Your choice.”

Tsubaki swallows. There’s no sound but the birds twittering in the trees, but inside her swords crash and clang against each other, threatening to drive her mad.

he’s a monster now

he’ll always be a monster, an eater of human souls

he killed innocents

he consumes their souls

monster

monster

monster

Somehow, Tsubaki doesn’t cry when she looks Black*Star full in the face.

“I’ll do it,” she says.

He smiles.

 

02

she

can’t

stop

it’s like

she’s going

to fall

apart, because she

cannot believe

(except that she can, she can, she could hear it in his voice hear the fury hear the hate hear the madness bubbling just beneath the surface. her brother always had a temper, a strong sense of justice)

that he would break free and

kill innocents

(and leave her behind to die)

the door of her lonely stone cell clangs open and a figure is there, silhouetted in the torchlight. a guard. Without a word he comes forward and grabs her arm, lifting her to her feet. Involuntarily, she cries out, because his gauntleted grip is harsh and she can feel her skin break and twist. “You’re coming with me,” he says, and she’s still crying when they leave the cell.

 

08

he swallows the soul and smacks his lips. Tsubaki shudders.

“You should stop doing that,” she tells her meister. “It’s wrong.”

“Why would it be wrong?” He sounds genuinely curious. “The strong eat the weak. That’s the way it works.”

“But they’re people! With lives and dreams and fears, just like you!”

“The mighty Black*Star fears nothing,” he says dismissively. “Weak humans do, though. That’s why we’ve got to eat them. They’ll be happier as a part of this.”

Tsubaki lets her disgust show on her face.

“You act like you’re so high and mighty,” Black*Star says scornfully. “I know what the Nakatsukasa Clan does. Selling yourselves to whoever happens to have enough money, now that’s downright shameful. But human souls pave the way to might and glory.”

“Power doesn’t necessarily equal might or glory,” Tsubaki says.

“Oh, really? What do you know that we don’t?”

“Compassion, for one.”

He mulls it over. “Compassion is for fools,” he says.

“Compassion is for humans.”

“So you’re saying I’m not human?”

“Yes!”

He grins, revealing sharp shark’s teeth, star-pupiled eyes crinkling. “You’re right, Nakatsukasa. I’m not human at all!”

 

05

his touch is wrong.

She has to swallow down her revulsion and concentrate on matching her wavelength to his, even though its very feel makes her want to vomit. To distract herself she thinks about her home in the mountains, thinks about her father, thinks about her brother, who

burst into a school and killed the children, all the children

always asked her what she wanted to play, but (and she regrets it now) she would always stick with something that she knew he liked to do.

His arm moves, quicker than a normal human’s she can’t help but think, and her blade slams against the opponent’s sword.

At first, he couldn’t hold her, because every time he tried to pick her up she would burn his fingers, even when wearing gloves. This irritated him greatly and so of course he had her whipped for her insolence. Two days later, back oozing and burning, she’d transformed and with all her might tried to match her wavelength to his. When he picked her up his hands held on, and his manical cackles had filled the air.

Now they practice like this every day, with each of her five incarnations. She no longer gives him any trouble (or says anything at all) because the whip and worse things keep her in line.

 

07

“I was going to have a brother,” Black*Star tells her. “But he died when he was born.”

Tsubaki wonders how different her life would be if that had happened to Masamune, but she immediately banishes the thought. “I’m sorry,” she says instead, and Black*Star snorts. “I’m not. There’s only room for one prince in this family.”

She’s in ninja sword mode right now. He flashes across the clearing, driving her point into the dry scratchy skin of the straw dummies.

“Do you ever think about the souls you eat?” The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. She cringes, expecting him to stop, fling her away, make her revert to human form so he can make her hurt, but he does none of those things. He just makes a small noise in the back of his throat as he slashes. “Sometimes,” he says.

She plunges on. “Don’t you regret it?”

She can feel a bolt of anger flash through his soul, and this terrifies her. Suddenly their wavelengths are out of sync and Black*Star drops her, palm singed by the contact. Before she hits the ground, she’s human again, legs tangling in her kimono as she skids in the dirt. She curls into a ball, bracing herself for the kicking she knows is coming.

For endless moments, she waits. Do it! she wants to scream.

When he touches her shoulder, she gasps and flinches. She opens her eyes to see him looking away from her, hand extended as if to help her up.

“Sorry,” he tells her. “I shouldn’t have gotten angry.”

She can’t believe what she’s seeing. Hesitantly, she takes the offered arm and lets him help her to her feet.

“I just figure,” he tells her, the words halting, abrupt, “that if we’re going to fight together we might as well be friends.”

Friends.

She is thrown off by his proposition, her mind gone blank. For a long time she can only stare at him and then anger begins to cloud her mind, hot and heady. “You had me whipped!” Her nails dig bloody crescents into her palms. “You enslaved my brother! You caused him to go mad, you tore my family apart, you destroyed my home and everything I’ve ever held dear and you want to be my friend?!” Her voice has risen to a scream and she stares at him, muscles tense, body shaking. “I am the daughter of the Nakatsukasa Clan, a person, not a tool to be abused and discarded at your whim!”

He raises a hand, as if to hit her. Let him, Tsubaki thinks savagely. That will mean I’m right.

His arm hangs quivering in the air for a few long moments, but eventually it lowers. For a long time they stare at each other. Cold fury burns behind his eyes, and Tsubaki has to swallow her fear and meet it blow for blow, until she sucks in a sharp breath and admits defeat, her eyes dropping to the ground. She trembles slightly in dreadful anticipation of the scourging almost certainly in store. But when she looks up, she sees him walking away, back towards the palace instead of shouting for guards to tie her up and show her what it means to anger the great Prince Black*Star.

 

10

“You what?”

White*Star’s voice is calm, but Tsubaki can hear the barely-controlled anger just beneath the surface, see it in the way the veins on his arms and forehead suddenly stand out. She swallows. This was a bad idea, but there was no making Black*Star see reason.

“I said I don’t fucking want to be a part of this thing anymore. It’s wrong, the way you eat the souls of humans. That’s not what power’s supposed to be.”

White*Star rises fluidly, sword in hand. “And to prove that, you let Sanjuro Nakatsukasa go free?!

Tsubaki doesn’t need Black*Star’s whispered command. She’s already in his hands, blades sharp and ready.

“It’s her, isn’t it,” says White*Star, a mocking edge creeping into his voice. “The bitch filled your soft, weak head with lies.”

Tsubaki,” says Black*Star, his voice ominously low, “is a person, not a bitch.” And with a wild yell he launches himself at his father, and for Tsubaki the next few minutes are a furious blur of blood and steel and grunts. It’s all she can do to keep up with White*Star’s furious, unpredictable attacks, all she can do to fend off his sword, which hurts her (how can it do something like that?) every time they clash. She can sense Black*Star’s exhaustion, feel his attacks getting wilder and sloppier. His father is the better warrior, she can see it clearly now, and it’s only a matter of time

she’s clattering to the ground and White*Star’s sword is arcing towards him and she knows what’s going to happen so she

transforms and can’t help but gasp because

the metal’s so cold in her belly.

“TSUBAKI!” he cries and his voice is red and raw. I’m fine, she wants to tell him, but she knows that would be a lie.

I’LL KILL YOU!” he screams at his father, and so he does, a brutal punch of pure soul wavelength straight to the heart.

 

09

she supposes that she feels some affection and loyalty towards her wild-haired meister. He’s a hard worker and very dedicated and somehow he treats her more gently now. Maybe it’s because they’ve been inside each other’s souls and Tsubaki has seen that he’s not bad, not yet.

“I’m sorry,” she tells him when they’re lying on their backs together under the cherry tree.

“For what?”

“My harsh words.”

“Nah, don’t be. I needed a slap in the face.”

“Literal or metaphorical?”

“Both.”

“I agree,” she says, and they look at each other and smile.

“I’m the one who should be sorry, though,” he says, grin fading. He takes her hand. “Can you forgive me?”

She takes a deep breath and swallows and thinks of her brother’s heart tearing itself to pieces on her blade. But then she remembers his smiles and awkward kindness and conversation, his impulsiveness and recklessness and the sheer energy that makes him up and she realizes that she’d forgiven him a long time ago, and so she tells him so.

Chapter Text

It’s so cold. The wind rips the scarf from his face, blasts him with its numbing breath and effectively freezes him to the seat. His motorcycle snarls beneath him, seemingly as eager to escape the outdoors as he is. The single bright headlight cuts a straight path through the darkness, lighting the way. Soul grits his teeth and hunches lower over the handlebars. The cold front wasn’t supposed to blow in until the early morning hours, according to the news. He snorts derisively. This is the last time he trusts the weatherman.

It had been a long day at the office. He’d had to stay late because some assholes had decided it would be a wonderful idea to hack the bank’s computers. One million dollars had been stolen, and Soul and the rest of the tech department had been glued to their chairs all day trying to patch things up. Soul’s eyes burn with tiredness. It’s eight o’clock at night. Line after line of computer code still swims before his eyes. More than anything, Soul is looking forward to shedding his clothes and collapsing into the warm softness of his bed. His lids droop even further just imagining-

his eyes are blown wide and the lights, they’re dazzling, like twin suns. they fill up his brain, push out every thought until there’s nothing but white white white, and it’s strange because the moment before cold metal meets warm flesh he feels so intangible, like it’ll just pass right through him, like

(there’s a bend in the road here, very sharp. he can never see round it because there’s a wall of trees blocking the way. maka always grips him tight and squeals be careful! but he laughs at her because it’s not like they’re gonna die or anything)

the moment of impact is hardly registered. there’s perhaps a muffled crunch and then suddenly soul’s flying, body twisting in cold cold blackness, weightless. but he is not a bird and he falls, hitting the hard earth with bruising force. somehow he’s on his back. violent afterglows pulse across his vision. he breathes in, or tries to. it hurts to breathe. slowly, gingerly, he lifts his left arm, since he can’t feel his right. he probes his chest. he’s wet. soaked. he licks his lips. they taste like copper.

Soul swallows.

This wasn’t how he imagined it. He thought dying was going to be slightly more spectacular, at least, than a startled inhalation and a thump. The corners of his mouth lift at the sheer stupidity of it all. Maka wouldn’t be very happy. He can just see her now, shaking her head, tut-tutting. Soul, you should know better. If you’d just been paying attention, none of this would have happened. What’ll I do with you, you silly shark man?

He laughs, but it hurts to laugh. He can’t stop, though, and suddenly he’s coughing. Something warm and wet flies from between his lips.

(not much longer)

His working hand gropes in his pocket, closes around something small, cold. His phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Maka.”

“You missed our date. What happened?”

“Some idiots decided to hack the bank. One million, all gone. Kid’s merciless. I couldn’t get away till now.”

“Ouch. You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m still alive, at any rate.”

Maka laughs, light and tinkling. Soul’s eyes slide shut.

“Well, tell you what. I’ll go over to your place and make you something. Sound good?” she asks.

“S’okay. I’m not hungry.”

“What are you talking about? You’re always hungry.”

“Mmm. Just stay at home, kay? I don’t wanna keep you waiting.”

“Oh, you’re still at the office? I don’t mind.”

“I do.”

“You’re silly.”

He smiles, softly. “Hey, Maka?”

“Hmm?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever told you this. So, uh, lemme just put it out there: I love you. I love you so much.”

“Aww, Soul. I love you too. Hurry home, okay? You sound really out of it.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’ll be there in a sec. See ya.”

“Bye.”

The line goes dead. Soul opens his eyes. The stars wheel above, smeared in afterglow, and the longer he looks the brighter they get, until the night sky is white and blinding like headlights and Soul is swallowed up.

Chapter Text

There is nothing in the world she likes better than quiet evenings on the couch and Soul’s fingers in her hair. He becomes so animated, the cool-guy façade dissolving into narrowed eyes and soft grunts and the most hilarious facial expressions as he tries to coax the ponytail into looping around her ashy-blonde locks and staying where he put it. 

“How the fuck,” Soul explodes one evening when her hair is particularly tangled, “do chicks stand having so much hair?!”

Maka begins to run her own fingers through it, deftly combing out the knots. “How do guys stand walking around half-naked all the time?”

“Because it’s comfortable!”

“Exactly. Put a shirt on, by the way.”

He huffs and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like stupid before getting up and ambling towards his room.

He gets better at it, though, as time goes by. Soon noises of frustration are replaced by companionable silence, and even a word or two.

That’s when she decides he’s ready for braids.

Maka gets to laugh herself silly all over again as Soul’s (supposedly deft) fingers stumble drunkenly through the weaving of her tresses. Once again his eyes narrow and he mutters in concentration and his face contorts itself into expressions that she can’t help but giggle at.

Death, he’s so adorable funny when he does her hair.

She teaches him all kinds of things, from French braiding to the art of using a curling iron (because freshly-painted nails and hair just don’t mix). One day, Maka looks in the mirror and thinks that her weapon is just getting too damn good at this. He can do her hair better than she can herself. That realization is what leads her to asking him, more and more often, to style her hair, whether it is for a grand party or a small outing with Tsubaki or just an ordinary day at school.

“Damn, pigtails,” he tells her one day. “I don’t know whether to be ashamed or proud.”

“The latter, I think,” she sighs, because his fingers are gently combing through her loosened hair and it feels incredible. “I know I’m proud of you.”

“Tch,” Soul huffs, but when she opens her eyes just the littlest bit, there’s that small soft smile she loves dusting her weapon’s lips.

Chapter Text

There’s a cigar in his mouth. He always has a cigar in his mouth. Soul blinks and then smiles because really, they’re literal undercover agents and all but for fuck’s sake, a cigar? Makes them look like they’re on some cheap noir film and he tells Wes so in a dry (if fond) deadpan.

The elder Evans simply rolls his eyes and continues puffing, settling down on the bench beside his brother. It’s fall in New York City, and the leaves on the trees have turned varying shades of orange and red and brown, littering the ground, clinging to the trees in a last desperate stand before winter really digs in its claws. There’s a breeze blowing too, just strong enough to cut like knives and make everyone feel a little on edge. Soul dips his chin and nestles his face a little deeper into his scarf. Everything’s so vivid today, bright and crisp and clear; it’s all a little disconcerting. He glances at his brother. Wes’s hair is neat as usual, tamed in a way Soul never could quite manage, clean-shaven and impeccably dressed in a tan trench coat and polished dress shoes. Wes notices his stare and smiles in that quiet way he has. “Something on your mind, kid?”

Soul sighs, stretching out on the bench with his arms behind his head. “Nah. Just that stupid cigar, s’all. It stinks.”

“Don’t hate, this thing exudes class and makes me feel exceedingly clever.”

“You look like a pretentious douchenozzle is what.”

Wes tries to suppress his laughter and fails. “Douchenozzle. How do you come up with these? We’re s’posed to be professionals.”

Soul grins. “I’ve been around.”

“I’ll say.”

Silence falls. Soul can hear the wind in the trees, hear the leaves rattle. The smile slips off his face. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon. What gives?”

Wes shrugs. “Oh, you know,” he says lightly. “Things happen.”

“Yeah, yeah. Was the contact not there or something?”

Wes taps the end of his cigar. Ash falls out, fluttering to the ground below. “You could say that.”

Soul shoots his brother a look. “What happened?”

Wes smiles. It’s one of those expressions that looks like it’s going to dissolve into tears at any moment, and sure enough, there’s a telltale glitter in Wes’s eyes. Soul straightens. “Woah, shit, bro, what the fuck, why are you…”

But Soul’s sentence trails off, because a flower has bloomed on Wes’s coat, bright and crimson and growing much too fast for Soul’s liking. There’s a hole, a yawning black pinprick that contains any number of universes, in the center of the stain, right over where his brother’s heart should be.

Soul’s eyes widen. He reaches forward but his hands won’t work and so all he can do is watch as his brother bleeds to death on the bench in front of him.

“Goddammit, I’m sorry,” Wes says, and his voice cracks and his eyes close and tears slip down his cheeks one by one. “I’ve left you all alone.”

Soul sits up in bed with a gasp, his heart pounding and a tightness in his throat. Panting, he stares blankly ahead, his brother’s face etched in his brain. The room is dark and dim, lit only by stripes of moonlight seeping through the blinds. Soul curls into a ball, his head on his knees.

If he’s crying, it’s impossible to tell.

Chapter Text

The sky simmers blue-hot and the world warps and twists and somehow the scene strikes Maka as almost menacing, this summer day so bright and burning it could almost be considered an oven, minus the confining metal walls. She draws a hand across her forehead and quickens her step. The bookstore is only just across the street; perhaps she’ll hole up there for a little while to take refuge from the heat. Besides, she’d been wanting to buy a great big stack of novels anyhow. Her purse hangs heavy at her hip. 

She opens the door and immediately a wave of wonderfully cold, book-scented air envelops her. She can’t help the way her eyes close and her lips curve upwards, because coming to the bookstore is like coming home. For a moment, she stands in the doorway, scoping out the shiny new bestsellers, before delving into the depths of the store, where most of the books reside.

She browses indeterminately, picking out biographies and fantasies and anything in between until her feet take her to the poetry aisle. There’s already someone there. A hipster-looking guy, tall and lanky, with the most obnoxious glasses she’s ever seen in her life. He gives her a disinterested glance as she approaches but otherwise doesn’t acknowledge her.

Maka settles into a crouch and begins perusing the titles on the lower shelves, running her fingers over the books. She doesn’t know the first thing about poetry, really, but now is as good a time as any to start getting familiar with it. She’s always meant to read some, but where to begin? There’s so many poets, from so many different times and places. Maka huffs and stands, her hands on her hips. She eyeballs the shelves and decides to pick one at random. A violently red book on the top shelf catches her eye. She smiles in satisfaction. It’s not too thick, not too thin. Perfect. She approaches the shelves and stands on her tiptoes, but to no avail; at five foot four, no amount of reaching will get her anywhere near where she wants to go. With a sigh, she turns towards the stranger. “Could you get that book for me?” she asks, pointing.

His eyes flick to hers, looking vaguely annoyed behind the glasses. “Which one?” he asks. His voice is surprisingly low and raspy for such a skinny guy. She gestures again. “The red one.”

He ambles towards her, squinting. His hair is white, she notices abruptly. Probably dyed. Hipsters. She barely suppresses a roll of her eyes.

“Ah? Oh…that one?”

“Yep.”

He reaches upward, long knobby fingers closing around the book. “If you’re sure,” he says, and is that an undercurrent of…scorn in his voice? It’s something, that’s for sure, and she frowns as she takes in his expression, the way he almost seems to be looking down his nose at her all of a sudden, like she’s something nasty on the bottom of his shoe.

Maka narrows her eyes. “Is there a problem?”

The stranger shrugs. “Nope.”

“Then can I have my book, please?”

Wordlessly, he holds it out to her, and now there’s no mistaking it, that’s derision right there lurking in his eyes, in his posture, in the set to his mouth. Maka snatches her book from him and glares. “Thank you very much,” she says coolly, and then turns around, all too willing to leave the stupid hipster douche to his own devices.

Behind her, he scoffs. Within that single exhalation is contained a world of scorn and a big steaming pile of pretentious bullshit. Then he mutters something under his breath. Maka stops in her tracks and then turns around. “Did you say something?”

“Nope,” he says easily, not even bothering to turn around.

“Liar.”

At that, he throws a baleful glance over his shoulder before turning back to the shelves. “Whatever. Now go away, I’m trying to read.”

Maka frowns. “What’s your problem?” she asks, irritation blooming hot and heady beneath her skin.

“I could ask you the same thing, Tiny Tits.”

What did you just call me?”

“Shit, woah, hey,” he says, because her books are on the floor and her hand is fisted in his shirt and she’s glaring up at him, deliberately invading his personal bubble. “Let go of me, woman!” he hisses.

Tiny Tits,” she seethes, “is not something you say to a person you just met. Got it, old man?”

He looks visibly affronted, but despite the flush in his cheeks he backs off. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” he mumbles, and, satisfied, Maka lets go of his shirt. She turns around and gathers up her books and for a second time, prepares to leave, and would have if not for the two words he mutters under his breath to her retreating back: “Fucking philistine.”

The insult is so incredibly pretentious, so incredibly judgmental and ignorant and stupid that it sets her off. “Just shut up already!” Maka hisses, and without another word shoves him backwards as hard as she can. He makes a noise like a bird being stepped on and stumbles back right into a shelf, arms pinwheeling wildly.

It’s like the world has slowed down to half its normal speed. Maka can only watch in abject horror as the shelf full of books topples. The aisles are narrow, and so it knocks into the one behind it, and the next one, and the next one, creating an awful domino effect of falling bookcases. From farther away in the store, someone screams. Maka’s breath catches and she hopes with all her might the person wasn’t buried. When the last thud fades away and the store settles into the loudest silence she’d ever heard, Maka rounds on her antagonist, sprawled on his back amidst volumes of classic poetry. “This is all your fault!” she hisses.

He splutters, sitting up. His beanie has slipped off his head and his glasses are crooked, she notes with satisfaction. “My fault?! You’re the one who-“

“What,” a new voice interrupts, “the hell happened here?”

As one, Maka and Hipster Douche turn towards the new voice. It’s a woman, with short pink hair and an absolutely livid expression on her dainty features. “You know what?” she hisses. “I don’t care. I do not care. In fact, I want you both out!”

She shrieks the last word, brandishing her fists, and Maka and Hipster Douche don’t need telling twice. They bolt as fast as they can, the woman hot on their heels. Maka yelps as she feels a book slam into her back. “OUT!” screeches the woman. “And don’t come back!”

The door slams shut behind them, and Maka finds herself once more beneath the baking summer sun. Without a word, she turns on her heel and strides as fast as she can away from the stranger. It’s only when she gets home that she allows herself to cry.

 


 

They meet again a few days later, quite by accident. Maka is running late to class, and she’s got a coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other and is most definitely not looking where she’s going. So she’s startled when she collides directly into him, startled enough that her coffee flies from her cup to his face, startled enough that her books go flying everywhere and she trips over her own feet and falls to the ground. “Shit,” she hisses, “crap crap crap I’m sorry – oh. It’s you.”

For a few long moments, they stare at each other: Hipster Douche’s eyes are wide and he’s dripping in pumpkin spice mocha latte. Maka fights down the urge to laugh (meanly) as she gets to her feet and sets about gathering her things, determinedly not looking at him.

“…I guess I deserved that.”

She freezes. Slowly, her eyes travel upwards. Hipster Douche is red in the face, one hand on the back of his neck. “Look, I’m sorry about the other day,” he mumbles. “I just…ugh, I can’t believe you’d want to buy a book by Justin Law!”

“Who’s Justin Law?” Maka asks, nonplussed.

Hipster Douche looks at her blankly. “You don’t…oh, damn…uh…”

“Well?”

“Well, he’s…damn, he’s basically…I mean, calling him a poet is way better than what his writing actually is,” he says. “Have you read his stuff? Anyone who likes it is either crazy or stupid or probably both.”

Maka’s mouth twists downward. “I think he’s pretty good, actually,” she says icily, and then shoulders her way past him. She doesn’t have time for his bullshit right now.

“Nngh, fuck, no, I, wait, I’m trying to apologize, dammit!” he says, and grabs her shoulder, turning her to face him. “Look, I may have come off like a real dick in the store and I’m sorry, okay? And I’m even sorrier I got you banned; I mean I see you around there a lot and you always look so happy…” His face turns an even brighter shade of red. “Just, uh…can you forgive me?”

Maka sighs tiredly. “I’ll think about it, okay? Now can I go to class?”

Without waiting for his reply, she turns around and continues on her way. Now she’s really late. She hopes that this is the last time she sees his stupid face.

 


 

The third time they meet, Maka is in the library, a textbook in front of her and headphones in her ears. As a result, she doesn’t hear it when he approaches her, and it’s only the unceremonious dumping of a multitude of books on top of her reading material that prompts her to look up, prepared to give whoever interrupted her study time one hell of a verbal beatdown. But the words die on her lips as she finds herself staring into the smirking visage of none other than Hipster Douche himself. “What are you doing,” she asks flatly instead, pausing her music and glaring.

Hipster Douche slides into the seat across from her. “Broadening your horizons.”

“Are you coming on to me?”

“What?! No,” he splutters, his face turning bright red. Maka smirks, and his head slides down his arms to unceremoniously rest on the table. “I just, you don’t seem the type who reads poetry on a regular basis,” he mumbles against the surface.

“What makes you say that?”

He actually perches his glasses on the top of his dyed white hair to fix you with a look. “Dunno, maybe it’s the hair,” he says sardonically.

“What’s wrong with my hair?!” Maka says, tugging at her pigtails.

“You seem to wear them unironically.”

“Is that a problem?”

“No, no…you know what, forget it.”

“Gladly.”

Anyway,” says Hipster Douche, sitting up, “I brought you these. Poetry. The good stuff. Classic and contemporary. I think you’ll like these way more than that Justin Law crap.”

Maka hums, picking one up at random and sifting through it. “Why are you doing this?”

Hipster Douche’s shoulders lift. “Because I’m still sorry, I guess. And maybe because I’m beginning to realize that I’ve kind of turned into a pretentious douchebag.” He takes off the glasses. “Don’t even need these, anyway.”

Maka rolls her eyes and presses her lips together to suppress a reluctant smile. “Yeah, okay, whatever,” she says. “I’ll check them out.”

He actually grins at that. “Cool,” he says, and stands.

“By the way, do you have a name? I can’t go around calling you ‘Hipster Douche’ forever.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’ll let that one slide,” he grumbles. “I’m Soul.”

“Maka,” she says.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you round, Maka,” he says, and gives her a little wave before disappearing amongst the shelves.

“Yeah,” Maka murmurs. “See you.”

Her eyes stray to the pile of poetry books he left her. After a few moments, she picks up a volume, leans back in her chair, and begins to read.

Chapter Text

The piano player has messy white hair and sleepy red eyes and the barest hint of a sharp ivory tooth poking out from beneath his upper lip. Maybe that’s why her eyes keep sticking to him, because she’s never seen anyone quite like him in her life. She’s fascinated and frustrated and perhaps a little turned on, because the way his lean shoulders move beneath that pinstriped suit makes her mouth water.

It’s then that she realizes that she’s just been stood up, because it’s been half an hour and her date hasn’t shown up yet.

Her fist clenches on the table, because she had actually been looking forward to this day since the beginning of the week. A nice dinner at a fancy restaurant with a cute coworker was the shining daydream that took her through the suffocating monotony of her job at the office, but instead it’s turned out to be just one more shitty day in a long line of shitty days in her shitty life, and she’s not sure she can take it anymore. With a heavy sigh she stirs her drink, watching the rapidly melting ice cubes clink together softly.

She never liked jazz much, anyway.

She’s pulled from her reverie by the sudden absence of music in the room and realizes with a start that the band has stopped playing. She glances towards the stage. The piano player is nowhere in sight, although his buddies are still putting up their instruments.

Once upon a time, she dreamed of being great, of making a difference in the world. When she got hired by Gorgon and Gorgon, LLC., she’d thought it was a dream come true. The name of Maka Albarn became widely-known throughout the company as she’d risen rapidly through the ranks…risen, that is, until she’d brought her father to a company gala. After a series of mishaps involving too much alcohol and one of the CEOs, Madison, getting her dress torn in exactly the wrong place (the memory still makes her break down in tears), she’d been shunted off to the side and put in charge of a bunch of sniveling idiots who couldn’t get a job done to save their lives.

She tells the piano player all this once she’s drained a glass or three. She’s a little tipsy and a little teary and she really needs someone to talk to right now, so somehow or another she finds him, leaning against the wall in a shady corner, a white-haired beacon in the haze of glittering party dresses and cigarette smoke.

“It always happens like this,” she finishes with a sniff. “Stood up…shrugged off like an old coat…”

The piano player watches her with impassive red eyes and blows out a cloud of smoke. “Why are you telling me this?” he asks her.

She sighs. “Because I’m drunk and pissed off and maybe a bit depressed.”

“I’m no psychologist, lady.”

“Yeah…I know.” Abruptly, a blush creeps into her cheeks, because holy fuck she just told a complete stranger about the things lurking in the shadowy murk of her heart’s secret places, things that, until this moment, she hadn’t even been able to admit to herself at all.

“I…I think I’ll go now,” she says weakly, and wipes away some moisture in her eyes. She swallows and lifts up her head and totters away in her sky-high heels, but before she’s completely lost in the crowd, she turns around. Her eyes meet his. “I really liked your playing,” she tells him. “I’d never really heard that style before.”

As she flees into the crowd, she realizes that she forgot to ask his name.

Chapter Text

“What?”

Maka’s lips curve and now she’s definitely smiling, a soft, warm, slightly wondering thing, but she doesn’t say anything. He begins to feel a little self-conscious. “Why’re you looking at me like that?” he asks suspiciously, and Maka blinks, color staining her cheeks as she takes a step backwards, disentangling herself from his embrace.

Nothing,” she says to the ground.

He tilts his head, one hand lifting to his still-tingling lips. “Hah? Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Maka says, shaking her head, her eyes still stubbornly refusing to meet his.

“Then…uh, what the hell’s going on?”

Maka inhales deeply through her nose, eyes squeezing shut. It’s almost as if she’s steeling herself.

“It’s not your fault,” she says, eyes still closed. “But…oh my God, this is going to sound so stupid…”

He tilts his head, utterly baffled.

You look adorable when you blush,” she whispers.

He blinks.

“Drummers don’t blush,” he blurts, because it’s all he can think to say. Both hands reach up to cover his cheeks, even as heat rushes to them and pools bright and shining beneath his palms. His head tilts downward, and as if to make the situation even more painful, his sunglasses fall from the top of his head to the tip of his nose.

So. Uncool. Members of the drum line are not supposed to act like this, dammit! “Don’t look at me,” he grumbles, sliding his hands farther up his face to his hairline.

Maka’s attempt to stifle her laugh is unsuccessful.

“Ah, shut up,” he says, voice muffled by his palms. A few moments later, her hands close around his wrists and gently tug his hands from his face.

“I like it,” she says softly, and he opens his eyes. Her face is close, green eyes shining deep and dark like the sea. She plucks his sunglasses from his nose and puts them on her own head.

“You drummers are so obsessed with being cool,” she mumbles as her mouth meets his. “Y’need to light’n up.”

He grins and nips her bottom lip, relishing her soft gasp of surprise. “This coming from the notoriously uptight trombone section leader herself.”

“Shut up, drummer boy. All you do is hit things.”

“Mmm…that’s not very nice…”

He traces a line of kisses from her mouth to the side of her neck, hands sliding from her shoulders to her waist to her hips. His teeth graze her neck. She shivers, head tilting back, her weight shifting as she presses up against the wall. Her hands comb through his hair and then one hand gently cups his chin and lifts it, guiding his lips to hers. He grins into the kiss.

Shh,” she hisses, but it lacks venom.

Slowly, his hands creep up her body to cautiously cup the small breasts hidden beneath her bibbers. He braces, waiting for her to gasp and pull away and maybe hit him with a hardcover. But she does none of those things, instead kisses him harder, and he shivers because-

“What the fuck?!”

The two of them spring apart as if burned. There, silhouetted by the streetlamp, is none other than Blake,Soul’s fellow drummer. He’s still in his uniform, bright turquoise hair sticking up every which way. For a few dumbstruck, horrified moments they stare at each other, Blake’s wide eyes darting between Soul and Maka.

Run,” Soul hisses out of the corner of his mouth.

Maka doesn’t need telling twice. Her footsteps pound away towards the entrance on the other side of the band hall. Blake appears to be lost for words, something that’s never happened before in the course of their friendship. His mouth opens and closes, his eyes wide and angry and fixed on Soul’s. He swallows.

“YOU TRAITOR!” Blake shouts suddenly, and he jumps. “SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! YOU’VE BROUGHT SHAME UPON US ALL!”

His hand darts out and closes around Soul’s ear before he can react. “We’re going to see Kid,” he hisses, yanking Soul downward. “This is unbelievable. I thought we were solid. You betrayed us. What part of trombone equals sworn enemy do you not understand?!”

“The sworn enemy part,” Soul grumbles, but only to himself. He yelps as Blake tugs his ear, pulling him around the building and towards impending doom.

Chapter Text

An hour and a half?! That’s insane!”

“Let’s just go.”

“Are you kidding?! We’ve been walking all over downtown for the past two hours with no luck! I’m hungry, damn it, and I’ll wait as long as it takes!”

“It’s Valentine’s Day, what d’ya want? I told you we should’ve gone out yesterday, but nooo.It’ll be fun! you said. Tch. I should’ve known.”

“Shut up, Soul.”

“Can we go now? We’re blocking the doorway.”

A sigh. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go. Let’s go home, since having a romantic dinner with your girlfriend is such an unpleasant way to spend the evening.”

“Ow, what the hell?! It’s just dinner!”

 “You’re insufferable!”

“Look who’s talking.”

 “What was that?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Silence falls, angry and frazzled. The night is a cold one. Snow is falling softly, sticking to the pavement, collecting beside the curb, blowing in the air and catching on coats and scarves and the occasional eyelash. Streetlamps glow with a soft orange radiance, silhouetting the multitude of figures strolling across the weathered stones of the sidewalk. The night rings with shouts and raucous laughter and voices raised to be heard above the din. The skyscrapers glitter. The air smells vaguely of cooking food and cigarette smoke. The sparkling aura of excitement and celebration is palpable.

“Maka? Hey, Maka, Maka, why are you crying? Shit, uh, we can go back. If you want. Shit. Sorry, sorry. I, uh, didn’t know it meant so much to you. Sorry.”

No. Just. T-take me home, okay? I’m t-t-tired.”

“…Okay.”

A pause.

“I think we’d better, ah, sit down.”

Another, longer pause.

“D’you wanna talk about it?”

She sighs. “Yeah, okay.” A deep breath. “I was let go. Today. I mean, I knew the firm was losing money, but I never thought that…”

She swallows, the corners of her lips twitching downwards, momentarily unable to speak. Soul stays silent, waiting, picking at a cuticle and not looking at her.

“Even better, my dad’s in the hospital. Turns out he didn’t have the flu; it was HIV.  Stupid, selfish, useless asshole,” she croaks, wiping her eyes. “Couldn’t keep it in his pants and now…oh God, how am I going to pay? And to top it all off, I got my period and bled all over my best skirt and I was r-really looking forward to tonight b-b-but of c-course I can’t catch a break now can I?”

There is a great old oak in the center of a courtyard, its branches so large and heavy that the tree can’t hold them up; they kiss the grass. Two figures are perched on one, and as the wind blows harder and colder and the snow falls faster, the taller of the two closes the small gap between them and puts his arm around the other. He holds her close as she sobs, presses his lips ever so gently against the top of her head and whispers sorry, sorry, sorry into her hair as she clings to his coat.

“C’mon. It’s getting colder. I’ll take you home.”

She nods.

He all but carries her to the train station, blinded by tears and snot and grief as she is. After a brief wait, they board a train to the west side of town, where Maka lives. Everything seems smaller in the harsh fluorescent glow of the car’s interior, so different from the vastness of the night outside. It’s crowded, and they barely manage to cram themselves at the end of a bench. The city flickers by, flashing signs and checkered skyscrapers and small bright streetlamps blurring and stretching and throwing weird shadows on people’s faces, making them seem like cardboard, unreal. The wheels click softly in rhythm. Soul finds himself humming, absently tapping out the rhythm of a song on his knee.

“What song is that?”

“Huh? Oh, this. It’s nothing.”

“I like it.”

“…Really?”

Maka nods, putting her head on his shoulder. “Yeah. It’s…strange, but in a good way.”

The train stops just then, and they stand and join the flood of people spilling from the train and onto the platform. It’s snowing heavily here. Soul pulls Maka close, and she clings to him and allows him to guide her through the throng, onto the street, where Soul hails a cab. The drive is short, and soon they’re on the second floor of Maka’s apartment building. The hallway is dim and dark. There are cracks in the ceiling. With numb fingers, Maka unlocks the door. Her apartment is small and old and smells vaguely of overcooked cabbage. The furniture is worn and threadbare. Soul leans on the doorframe, not following Maka as she goes inside, flicking on lights.

“Well, uh…g’night, I guess.” After a pause, in which Maka makes no reply, he begins to walk away, his footfalls quiet on the hall carpet.

“W…wait.”

He turns. From inside her apartment, Maka’s looking at him, and it takes him a moment to place the look on her face as one of desolation. Her green eyes are red and puffy and her face is pale. Her body curves forward just the littlest bit. She looks so small, so vulnerable, so very unlike the bright, vivacious girl that stands up straight with her chin lifted and her eyes glittering, ready to face the day. The silence stretches between them. Soul fidgets, and it breaks the spell.

“This is going to sound weird,” Maka begins.

He quirks an eyebrow.

“But. Can you. Stay? With me? Tonight?” Her cheeks redden.

So do Soul’s. He huffs. “’Course,” he says gruffly. Maka smiles gratefully.

“Bathroom’s on the left.”

“Kay.”

They get ready for bed in silence. Laughter, faint and muted, filters from the ceiling as Soul brushes his teeth in her tiny bathroom. Maka’s already curled up beneath the covers. The bed creaks as Soul joins her. As soon as he’s settled, Maka rolls over and scoots closer to him, her legs tangling with his, her head burrowing into the crook of his neck. One of Soul’s arms loops around her torso and after a moment’s hesitation he presses his lips to the cool skin of her forehead. Maka shivers. The neck of Soul’s t-shirt grows slightly damp, but Soul doesn’t say anything. They lay in silence, listening to the whisper-quiet sound of the other’s breathing, to the sound of cars whooshing by outside, to the creaks and groans and clanks of the old apartment building.

“You ever done this before?” Maka’s voice is hoarse.

“No.”

“Good.”

Occasionally, headlight beams slice through the blinds and make golden bars on the ceiling, flaring briefly before melting away. Maka likes to watch them. They’re calming, especially tonight.

“You wanna know something?” she mumbles a long time later, her voice hardly above a whisper.

Soul doesn’t reply. His breaths are deep and even.

“I think’m in love with you.” Maka’s eyes slide shut. Her sleep is thick and dark and dreamless.


 

When she wakes up the next morning, Soul is gone, as if he never was. Maka blinks. Once, twice. She stares vacantly at the ceiling, fighting the disappointment, the bitterness, the anger welling up in her chest. Of course. Of course something like this would happen. Men are stupid, useless, ass-

That’s when she notices the flowers.

There’s a vase of red roses perched on her dresser, along with a card and a heart-shaped box. Maka’s breath catches in her throat. She sits up. As she does, the warm scent of pancakes wreathes around her, the mouthwatering fragrance suffusing her nostrils. Standing, she opens the blinds. Sunlight streams into her small room. She crosses to the dresser, opens the card, and immediately a tinny jazz ballad starts playing. One hand lifts to cover her smile as she reads the message written in Soul’s messy scrawl:

Happy Valentine’s Day. Sorry about last night. I hope breakfast is okay.

I love you. You’re the prettiest song I know.

Soul

She picks up the box. It’s huge. She shakes it, and there’s a promising, heavy rustle of chocolate inside. Her grin widens and she shakes her head, wondering how on earth he did all this without waking her. It’s with a new spring in her step that she makes her way to the kitchen. Soul’s there, his back to her as he expertly flips a pancake on the stove. At the sound of her footsteps, he turns and smiles that stupid sharky smirk, a new familiarity in the expression. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he says, holding out a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon and pancakes.

Maka takes the food, sets it on the table, and then kisses him fiercely, giving it all she’s got. When they break apart, they’re both gasping for breath.

Maka smiles at Soul’s wide-eyed expression. “Yeah. I think so too.”

Chapter Text

He killed the thing with his bare hands, but he feels no sense of accomplishment in the act. Instead he sits by a bed in a small tiled room and waits, insides in knots, heart somewhere around his toes. He can’t let go of her hand, the only part of her that’s bandage-free.

It’s been this way for thirteen days. He hasn’t been coming to class, but Maka’s been bringing him work (and the answers) because she knows exactly what he’s going through. Sometimes she joins him, sitting teary-eyed by the bed for hours at a time. Soul comes too, of course- they’re never far from one another. Black*Star feels a pang when he looks at them, Soul’s hand resting on Maka’s shoulder. Kid, Liz, and Patti sometimes drop in too, telling stories to try and make him feel better. But eventually it peters out, because of the fact that Tsubaki is asleep, and perhaps will never wake.

One day, Nygus tells him she may not be able to transform again.

Bullshit!” Black*Star shouts. Somehow he’s on his feet, fists clenched at his sides. “Bullshit!

Still, he waits, thoughts chasing each other in aimless, awful circles. By sheer force of will he keeps the looming doubts from gobbling up his mind, instead chanting wake up wake up wake up under his breath and focusing intensely on her face. It’s strange, actually. She’s never kept him waiting this long before.

She comes to at two forty-three in the morning. Black*Star is woken by her hand in his hair. At first, he thinks he’s dreaming, but beneath the bandages he can see her smile, the glimmer in her indigo eyes. “Hi, Black*Star,” she says (he’s really missed the sound of her voice).

His shout of her name sends Nygus running.

“Black*Star, you’re going to reopen all her wounds,” says the nurse tiredly, prying the overexcited meister’s arms from around his weapon. Tsubaki smiles. “It’s okay,” she gasps, even as she massages her side.

“Tsubaki,” says Nygus. Suddenly her voice is sharper. More alert. Something in it makes both freeze. “Yes?” Tsubaki says hesitantly. “Get up,” says Nygus, ignoring Black*Star’s splutter of outrage.

For a long time, nothing happens.

“Tsubaki, you heard what she said! Get up!”

When she replies, Tsubaki’s voice is very small. “I can’t.


 

The wedding is small. This comes as a surprise, because Black*Star is prone to big, wild bashes that go on until three o’clock in the afternoon the next day. But the simplicity appeals to Maka. She recognizes her friend’s touch, mellowing her soon-to-be husband’s vivacity.

When Tsubaki’s father wheels her down the aisle, Maka cries unabashedly. Soul exhales loudly, a sound probably meant to be a snort but didn’t quite make it. Even though it’s been five years since, the former pair has kept their relationship strong. Black*Star can’t wield her any more, but to him, that made no difference. It was only at her urging that he got a new partner, a man whose name Maka doesn’t care to remember at the moment.

Their status as a weapon and meister may be broken along with Tsubaki’s back, but their relationship is quite certainly the opposite.

Chapter Text

“We shouldn’t,” she murmurs after, but from the comfort of his arms it lacks conviction. Kid hums softly in agreement, but he nuzzles the top of her head. “You’re so warm,” he says, and one hand slides between them to rest on her left breast. The soft flesh quivers beneath his touch with her heartbeat, pumping hot vitality throughout her veins.

Life and death. Angel and shinigami. Expressly forbidden, postulated as impossible, but here they were, twined together with no thought for the consequences, at least for now. Maka wishes that this moment would last forever, that time would freeze and she could spend the rest of eternity here with Kid on Earth, the middle ground. No more sneaking or hiding or rough desperate meetings devoid of any kind of emotion but raw, naked need. She wants the luxury of him all to herself, with no pesky immortal feuds to interrupt.

He kisses her softly, her hot breath fluttering against his cold lips. He craves her life, her warmth, her heartbeat. And for now, in the fragile period between night and morning, they both get what they want, if only for a little while.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, the fact that weapon and meister pairs can sense each other’s souls can be so. Damn. Irritating.

Maka’s elbow digs into his side and his face turns crimson trying to hold in the definitely uncool yelp of shock. One green eye glares furiously at him. “Soul!” she hisses, and he grits his teeth and glares at the blackboard. “I’m not-“

The Maka Chop is sudden and totally silent. Stein doesn’t even blink. “I thought,” she growls, “that cool guys didn’t cheat.”

“On their partners!”

“It’s not cool to cheat on tests either!”

“Says you, bookworm. You have no idea what it’s like for the rest of us.”

“Shut up! You don’t even study, you…you stupid lazy shark-man!”

“Is there a problem?”

Heads swivel towards the pair. Maka can feel a blush rising in her cheeks, but she looks Stein right in the lenses of his glasses, turned white and opaque by the light. “N-no, Professor,” she says. Beside her, Soul mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “mind her own damn business.” Maka makes a mental note to talk to him about that comment later.

Stein looks at them for a long time, so long that Maka begins to feel uncomfortable. But at last, Stein turns his gaze away, puffing on his cigarette. “Continue testing,” he says serenely. Maka and Soul exchange glances.

When Stein calls Soul to the front of the room sometime later, Maka can’t help but be secretly pleased. 

Chapter Text

How did he ever think this was a good idea?

The Build-a-Bear has turned into a mosh pit, screaming children and snappish adults and haggard employees packed so close together that it’s all Soul can do to get close enough to choose a doll. He decides on a bunny because he just wants to get out of there and besides, who doesn’t like bunnies? He fights his way towards the next station and the one after that, trying his hardest not to gag at the smell coming off the guy in front of him that just won’t get out of the way.

Normally, Soul was not the gift-giving type, but as it was Valentine’s Day and for the first time in a while he’d actually kept a girlfriend long enough to get her something in honor of the occasion, he figured he might as well. And besides, Maka absolutely adored stuffed animals, from what glimpses he’d caught of the interior of her room, anyway. He wonders briefly if maybe it’s because her old man wouldn’t let her get rid of them and not any particular affection towards stuffed animals in general.

It’s only when he’s finished and in line to pay that he sees her, a few people in front, next line over. She’s biting her lip and clutching a stuffed shark to her chest. He stifles a curse and pulls the hood of his jacket over his head. This was definitely a bad idea. He looks at the bunny, wondering if anyone would notice if he just dropped it and ran. Before he can, however, Maka turns around. Soul ducks his head, but too late – their eyes meet, green on red. Soul is suddenly glad that he’s not one for blushing.

“Oh,” Maka says, appearing in front of him. “Um. Hey.”

“Hi.”

She smiles a little. “Well, the secret’s out, I guess. Happy Valentine’s Day,” she says, holding out the shark. Soul closes his eyes, because she looks so adorable standing there, half-embarrassed, half-amused, and takes it, giving her the bunny. “Ah. Thanks.”

For a while they stand in slightly awkward silence, until Soul suddenly hugs her, quick and hard, planting a kiss on her forehead and then pulling away like he’d been burned. “See ya,” he says, ducking out of the line, and Maka rolls her eyes and smiles a little because he forgot to pay.

Chapter Text

The Dragon never missed an opportunity to put his finest treasure on display. “Making something like this is tricky, but doesn’t take long at all,” he said slyly, with narrowed eyes and an ill-concealed smirk. That year, the kingdom paid the Dragon almost double the agreed amount, a fact which made him very happy indeed.

Maka, on the other hand, took a different view of things. “I think we ought to send a rescue party,” she’d say angrily at dinnertime. At first the other knights would amass a small army of arguments against this proposal, chief among them: “the Crown Heir is still very much alive; Prince Soul was only ever the backup.” When she persisted, they started ignoring her altogether, talking perhaps slightly louder each time she spoke. This, of course, sent her into a rage, because she had been Prince Soul’s childhood friend and later his personal guard, and calling him a backup was an insult to his memory. She wasn’t about to let him rot inside some stupid Dragon’s lair, no way, no how.

It happened in the part of the day between morning and afternoon. Soul had wanted to go out for a hunt, and so of course Maka was coming along, despite the protestations of his companions. Maka was used to such things and scornfully brushed them off, because as the first-ever and so far only female knight in the Guard she had endured much worse insults than their petty mutterings. And it had been enjoyable, really, up until the point when the speck in the air grew to be much too large for a returning falcon. Almost too fast to follow, the Dragon snatched the prince with surprising precision from the back of his horse and whisked him away into the sky.

Naturally, Maka was blamed for the entire incident, even though there was absolutely nothing she could have done.

When the Dragon alit in the courtyard later that day, a piece of clear crystal with Prince Soul’s body hovering within clutched in his talons, the whole castle, and soon the whole kingdom, was horrified. The Dragon invited the citizens to come up and touch the crystal’s smooth surface, stare into the face of their prince, which was serene, almost as if he were sleeping, white hair fanned about him in a snowy cloud.

Maka knew that this attack was a reminder. The kingdom had been sizzling with unrest over the Dragon’s steep taxes, feelings which the wyrm figured should be quashed once and for all. That, however, didn’t stop Maka, only strengthened her resolve. One night she set out all alone, sword on her hip and fire in her heart, determined to rescue her prince if it was the last thing she did.

Legends abound on the specifics of her journey. Some say she was given magic by a wizard, magic she used to slay the wyrm. Others say that she marched straight up the mountain and flung her sword, burning with righteous fire, in the Dragon’s chest. The reality was actually much less exciting: she’d stolen into the lizard’s lair and woken him from his slumber, stabbing his enormous golden eye with an equally enormous spear as soon as it opened.

It was with the Dragon’s death that the spell enchanting Prince Soul lifted, the crystal melting, his eyes fluttering open to reveal that startling shade of crimson Maka thought she’d never see again. When she returned to the kingdom, the dragon’s head in a cart and her prince riding behind her, she couldn’t have been happier, finding the incredulous looks especially hilarious.

Chapter Text

this world is cold and cruel and subject to savage impulses, so she should have expected it, really. in fact, she dreamed about it, stained yellow teeth closing softly, almost lovingly, around flesh, bones snapping as easily as twigs underfoot, agonized screams drilling holes in her ears, and she could never be sure if they were her own or someone else’s.

the last night, they shared a sleeping mat, burning heat warding off the cold, arms around waists belts creaking breath hot and moist in ears, against hands and necks, forming soft endearments of near inaudible structure, and as she fell asleep she was content.

she remembers the look in his eyes: wild, desperate, frightened as he shoved her out of the way and its fingers closed around him instead. it squeezed and blood ran down his chin. she screamed when the jaws closed down, staining his snowy hair red.

she survived because of dumb luck, but she wishes that wasn’t the case. after all, what’s a person without their Soul?

Chapter Text

She presses her face against the glass, the fog of her breaths blurring her image. You don’t look at her. Even here you’re being watched. Beside you, Stein strokes the remote, cigarette smoldering between his teeth. “I think it’s time to change the channel,” he says blandly, but he doesn’t move.

He couldn’t possibly know, you think. The girl behind the glass whimpers a little bit, fingers curving into claws. “Experiment 1268.7 has failed,” Stein reports in louder tones to the room. “Subject 1102 will be terminated immediately.”

A low rumbling can be heard as the Laboratory shifts, rearranging itself so the small cube containing Maka Subject 1102 can be released into the Wasteland. The room shudders a little bit. “Optimal positions achieved. Experiment 1268.7 is ready for release.”

At this, the girl falls to her knees, and now she’s crying, face flushed, tears dripping down her cheeks, rocking and moaning. It hurts to see her like this. You remember holding her in your arms, the strange, constant motion of her against you: thrumming body and rising chest and fragile skin, soft and curiously warm. When it was her turn to become a subject in an experiment, all that began to change: her eyes grew strange and her heartbeat slowed and she didn’t need to breathe quite so often anymore. But you both knew that would happen. On checkup days, your fingers would linger on her perhaps a little longer than was necessary, an attempt to provide comfort where your words couldn’t.

 You keep your breathing even. Stein glances at you, glasses flashing opaque white, before his thumb pushes the button, ever so softly. The subject’s scream is muted by the glass, but her burning green eyes cut into you all the same.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t move because this moment is so fragile, so beautiful, and she doesn’t want to ruin it. He’s so close, his face mere inches from her own, and suddenly she sees things she’s never noticed until now: the smattering of freckles scattered across his cheekbones, the soft, elegant lines of his snowy lashes, the multitudinous shades of crimson lurking in his red, red eyes - Maka hardly dares to breathe. But it’s his expression that catches her off-guard; it’s something soft, open, wondering, something she’s never seen on his face before.

“Oh,” says Soul, but it’s more of a sigh, carried softly on an exhalation through his slightly-parted lips. His breath ghosts over her skin, and she fights the urge to flinch or lean in or maybe both at once and instead stays still, so very, very still as he lifts a hand (it’s shaking, just the littlest bit) and places his fingers against the warm skin of her cheek. She doesn’t move as he begins to trace the contours of her face, his touch cold and feather-light. She doesn’t move, even though it sets her neurons ablaze, even as he puts his arms around her and his head on her chest and holds her. She can see his slender bird bones jutting up beneath his t-shirt, shoulder blades like wings, white hair like feathery down. She hears, feels, watches him exhale, softly, slowly, and her traitorous heart starts to beat a little faster.

“You’re so warm,” he murmurs, and she swallows.

“What’s that mean?”

“I’ve always wanted to know,” he says softly, as if he didn’t hear her, “what it’s like to have a heartbeat.”

Carefully, carefully, Maka lifts her hands and runs them through his hair. Once. When he doesn’t pull away, she does it again. And again. It’s just as soft as she thought it would be. Softer, even. She sighs, whisper-quiet. “It feels…strong, I guess,” she says.

Soul hums thoughtfully. “To think your entire life is dependent on a small muscle the size of…mmm…how big is a heart, anyway?”

“The size of your fist, or close to.”

Soul pulls away, and immediately Maka misses his solid weight against her. He considers his closed hand, red eyes glittering, and Maka swallows. Tentatively, she reaches out and puts her palm on his cool cheek. But instead of flinching away, like he’s done so very many times before, he sighs. Closes his eyes. Leans into her touch.

“Soul?” Maka asks. “Are you okay?”

He opens his eyes. Red meets green. Maka shivers.

“I’m about to do something really stupid,” Soul says. “Don’t move.”

And he leans in and kisses her.

His lips are cool and dry against her own, and there’s a moment of pure electric shock before Maka somehow unfreezes herself and kisses him back, opens her mouth against his own and pulls him close and lets herself give in at last to the wanting, to the desire burning hot and heady through her veins. But Soul is slower, more cautious: his slender fingers ghost over her arms, slip up her shirt to rest on her waist, leaving goosebumps in their wake. Maka slides his shirt over his head and runs her hands greedily over his slender body, feeling the bones beneath the skin.

“Take my blouse off,” she murmurs, and excruciatingly slowly Soul complies, until Maka impatiently rips it off the rest of the way and hastily unclasps her bra. When she opens her eyes Soul isn’t doing anything, just looking at her, and so she grabs his hands and places them on her breasts. The cold of his palms almost takes her breath away, and involuntarily, she shivers. Soul withdraws his hands. Maka shakes her head. “No, no, keep going, it’s nice,” she says, and leans forward, kisses him, mouths mashing teeth clacking, but he doesn’t respond to her touch and suddenly Maka feels very silly, very stupid, very juvenile, and she pulls away, cheeks flushed and eyes smarting.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly, fingers groping blindly for her shirt. “I’ll…”

But she stops, because Soul’s hand has moved to cover her own. “No, no, no,” he says hastily, “shit, Maka, I don’t, I like you, I wouldn’t mind doing, uh, it, but…could you slow it down a little?”

She freezes. “Wh…what?”

“Slow, uh, down. Not so fast. Maybe we could…savor it a little,” he mumbles against her neck. “Like…this.”

And he runs his cold hands slowly down her body, kisses her deeply, slowly, first her lips and then her neck and then her breasts and her stomach, and she gets the sense that he’s marveling at her again, exploring her body in breathless awed fascination, and heat rushes to her face because he looks at her like she’s something precious, something new and different and wonderful and out of this world, and nobody’s ever looked at her like that before. So when he pulls away and rubs the back of his neck and grins softly, almost sheepishly, she kisses him after a few moments and against his cold cold lips she says, “okay.”

(when she wakes up in the morning, he’s gone, but there’s a feather on her pillow, white and black all at once.)

Chapter Text

The sky is blue, blue, blue, and if you didn’t know better you’d think it was the ocean, so vast and incomprehensible you think you just might drown. But no, there’s a gentle squeeze to your palm and you turn and there’s Soul, pale as paper with razor edges to match, this sharp and distant boy who nonetheless has twined your fingers with his. He doesn’t say a word, crimson eyes fixed on the cloudless sky, and he doesn’t look at you, even though you know that he can feel your gaze.

You squeeze back, perhaps a little harder than you meant to, but he just closes his eyes. Behind his great big stupid glasses his lashes are long and snow-colored like his hair and abruptly you realize that you are twelve years old and not quite a child anymore and at that you start to cry. This is stupid, you think, why am i doing this? But the ache in your chest is undeniable and if you don’t do something you think you just might vomit, blow great messy chunks of undigested stomach all down your front, and you don’t want to do that so you sob instead.

Soul squeezes your hand but still doesn’t say anything, and you continue to weep, and a warm breeze blows, and after a while you realize that you’re grieving.

“Why?” you ask sometime later, and then hiccup, wiping your nose.

Soul sighs and shifts a little, the grass crackling beneath him. “No reason.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“That’s the way it is.”

“No it isn’t. Cheating isn’t something that’s wired into your DNA, Soul.”

He sighs. “You can’t make a perthon change. They have to want to. And your dad…I don’t think he wanted to.”

“Don’t say that!”

“Okay,” Soul amends, “he didn’t want to enough.”

Papa loves you and Mama the most, he’d tell you, and for a while there you believed him, wanted so desperately to believe him, but maybe it was the night your mama was out on a business trip and he actually brought one of his whores home that you saw through it once and for all.

(it was also the night that you began to hate him, just a little)

“Aw, Maka, don’t let that sthupid asshole make you cry,” says Soul, and he actually props himself up on one elbow to glare at you. “You look like a dumbass when you cry.”

“Thanks,” you say. The word comes out warbled because your throat has suddenly swelled to three or four times its normal size. You give a great big sniff and wipe your eyes and focus, and eventually once the tears have subsided again you find your voice.

“I’m not crying because of him.”

“Uh-huh.”

“No, really. I’m crying because…my old life just died, Soul. Things are going to be different now. I guess I just need to get it out of my system.”

Soul hums and carefully lets go of your hand. “I guess so.”

“Also, I’m crying because I’m leaving.”

“…What.”

“Yeah, Mama got custody. We’re gonna travel the world, Soul,” and you can’t keep the note of excitement from your voice. “Paris and Madrid and Moscow and Tokyo, Mama told me.” You bite your lip. “So…I won’t see you for a while.”

Soul doesn’t say anything for a long time. There’s only the sound of the wind in your ears and the grasses hissing softly around you and the endless bowl of the sky.

“How long’th a while?” he asks finally.

“I don’t know.”

“Oh,” he says, and (rrgh) the tears well up again.

“I’ll miss you.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not saying that just to say it, stupid,” and you roll over on your side and look at him but just then you hear a voice calling your name, Maka, Maka! It’s your mother. You swallow.

“You thould go,” says Soul.

You sit up. “Just a minute!” you call to her, and then you set your jaw and without further warning tackle Soul and hug him tight. The breath whooshes out of him in a small, surprised huff, and you know that he hates being touched but you squeeze him tightly anyway, breath him in and try to memorize him, this small albino boy with big thick glasses and a little bit of a lisp who has somehow become your first real friend. “Stay cool, okay? I’ll come back, I promise.”

And then you kiss his cheek and let him go and run across the field, into your mother’s waiting arms.

Chapter Text

And it’s kind of nice, actually, the rain and the thunder and the lightning, because his arms are wrapped tightly around her and his body is curved to fit hers and his face is buried in the crook of her neck. Ordinarily she’d be kissing the snot out of him right now except for the fact that he’s tenser than a stretched rubber band and flinching with gusto every time thunder booms, right over their heads and almost deafening in its volume. She laughs. “I didn’t know cool guys are afraid of thunder.”

“Shut up, Tiny Tits.”

 “Rude.” She digs an elbow into his side. He grunts and squeezes her so tightly she can’t breathe, and in response she manages to kick her legs and roll them on their backs.

“Damn, for such a toothpick, you’re heavy.”

“Rude!”

She wriggles in his grip to no avail, and Soul is laughing his ass off, the little twit, so she lifts a heel and as best she can propels it into his junk. As expected, Soul hisses and his arms slide right off her. Triumphantly, she turns so that she’s straddling his stomach. “You should be nicer,” she tells him. “Then things like this wouldn’t happen.”

“Look who’s talking,” he grumbles, glaring peevishly, and the expression looks so adorable that Maka leans in and kisses it right off his stupid lips.

Later, when they’re dressed only in sheets and skin and night has well and truly fallen, Soul rumbles contentedly and places a kiss on her forehead. Maka sighs and snuggles closer. Rain drums on the roof of the apartment, whispers against the window as it trickles downward, and when thunder booms again, louder than before, Soul doesn’t even flinch.

Chapter Text

he finds himself watching her, or more specifically, her arm. it’s a very nice arm, really, long and slim and elegant in a way that he never really thought to notice before. the way it joins with the rounded angularity that is her shoulder makes something click satisfyingly into place in the back of his mind, and his eyes drift over to its twin. perfect. symmetrical. her hair is a long, shimmering sheet hanging between and more than anything he wishes she’d put it up so he can see the curve of her slender neck as it meets her torso. he wishes that she’d take off her shirt, actually, so he can marvel at the strange and glorious way that she’s put together –

Liz turns around and cocks an eyebrow. “Something wrong?” 

Kid just shakes his head and looks away. “No, I merely drifted off in your general direction. I apologize.”

he hears her laugh through her nose. “You’re so weird.”

“I know.”


 

the next time he catches himself looking at her in perhaps a less-than-toward way is when she decides to go for a swim in the backyard pool. it’s the height of summer and honestly, he can’t blame her. he just sort of wishes she’d wear something other than a bikini because he keeps finding himself looking at the way her muscles move, the way her tanned skin glitters with water droplets, how she dips and dives as easily as if she were a fish. Patti dips her toes in the water and catches his eye.

“Come join us, Kiddo!” she calls, beckoning. from the shade of the patio, Kid shakes his head.

“I’ll get burnt.”

“Aw, don’t give us that horseshit! Death gods heal like that!” she snaps her fingers. “Besides, you need a tan.”

Kid sighs, but lets himself be tugged forward. as soon as his feet touch the first step, Liz explodes from the water and splashes him thoroughly, cackling. Patti guffaws and drags him the rest of the way and the three of them spend the rest of the afternoon having ridiculous water fights and playing games like marco polo. he doesn’t mind.


 

it’s late and they’re all piled together on the couch. Patti snores softly against his shoulder and the movie blares but kid isn’t watching it, he’s watching liz, watching the way the tv glow outlines her profile, watches the sleepy half-smile on her face and he finds himself wondering what it would feel like to put his lips on it, what it would taste like. then he catches himself, get it together, Kid, this is the seventh time this week! and after he’s done berating himself, he wonders if he’s fallen in love with his crass, brave, beautiful weapon.

(somehow that thought isn’t as alarming as it should be.)

“Kid?” asks Liz, and she turns to face him. “Why’re you looking at me like that?”

he takes a deep breath. “Because,” he says, and decides on the spot, to hell with it. eighth time’s the charm. he leans in and puts his lips on hers, gentle, curious, seeking.

she grins, and bites his lip. he sucks in a sharp breath and pulls away, surprised at the pain, at the blood welling from the wound. “Thought you’d never do it,” she murmurs, and then leans in and kisses him again, this time much softer.

this human thing, this kissing thing. he could get used to it, and he tells her so.

“Damn right you will,” she mumbles.

Kid smiles.

Chapter Text

the apartment is so quiet, and that’s perhaps the strangest thing about the whole situation. it makes her restless. she sits on the couch and tries to watch tv, but it’s all wrong; he’s not sprawled beside her or clattering around in the kitchen or holed up in his room. she can’t feel his soul, and it’s slowly but surely driving her batty. she misses him, deeply, constantly, like an itch she can’t scratch.

she’s bored and lonely and more than anything she wishes Kid would hurry up and bring her weapon home. so maybe that’s why she finds herself in the bathroom, sprawled out on the smooth tiles with her shorts kicked off and her hand hovering uncertainly over her pelvis.

it’s not like she’s never done this before. she’s messed around a few times and it was okay at best. since she has the apartment to herself, she figures she might as well try again. she’s a little aroused and there’s nothing better to do and besides, no one will ever know.

she bites her lip and slides her fingers down beneath the cotton of her panties.

her folds are warm and dry and tingly. she takes it slow, little strokes of her fingers that send whispers of pleasure fluttering up the back of her brain. idly, she wonders if she remembered to turn the stove off after cooking lunch this afternoon, and decides it doesn’t matter. it’s warm in the bathroom. sunlight streams through the window, illuminates the dust motes swirling through the air. maka sighs. her legs feel weak. she remembers the time that, after a particularly exhaustive mission, she sat on the toilet while Soul patched her up. she remembers his fingers, warm and oh so gentle, as they wrapped the bandages on her arms, her legs. she remembers his face, stoic and frowny as ever. he’d chided her, don’t take such pointless risks, stupid, this is why you’re all banged up. and she’d said something like well we won didn’t we? and he’d just sighed and leaned forward and his hair brushed her arm. he’d taken a shower earlier and his hair wasn’t gelled, it just hung loose and soft. she remembered that she liked it, liked the way it framed his face (when did it get so angular?), wished that he would wear it ungelled more often. she didn’t tell him so, though, and just let him continue his work. he was so careful, like he was afraid she’d break. his fingers, when they brushed her skin…

Maka slides a finger up into her vagina and it surprises her how slick it is already, how warm and wet and wanting. abruptly, an image of Soul flashes in her mind, of his stupid sharky grin, of his eyes, scarlet and hooded and staring at her with something that’s very very like desire-

 

she gasps and pulls out, breathing hard. what is she doing? soul is her best friend, her partner, and that makes him decidedly off-limits. she squeezes her eyes shut and thinks of her parents. fear trickles in, fear and other, more tangled thoughts, but they are so distant compared to the swollen, throbbing heat between her legs. even though she knows she shouldn’t she wriggles out of her panties and slides her hand back down there again, slips her fingers up and begins to move them, and oh, it’s wonderful, wonderful. her legs are flooded with tingles and her head feels like it’s lifted a couple inches off her shoulders and somehow Soul’s here, and he smiles and saunters forward and kisses her neck, her breasts (her other hand lifts), her stomach, and his hair is down and he’s warm, so warm against her.

her fingers brush her clit. her body shudders. her hand is slick with discharge. her breaths come in gasps punctuated by little whimpers. she thinks of Soul, that time he came out of the shower with nothing but a towel slung low around his hips, thinks of what it would be like to kiss him and then

ah

 

this is new

 

she comes down off her high trembling and panting and covered in sweat. for a while she just sits there, dazed, watching the dust motes dance in the sunlight. she’s never orgasmed before. this must be what all the fuss is about. it’s nice.

after a while, though, the dust motes blur into a mess of light-coated bathroom because there are tears dripping slow and thick from Maka’s eyes. the shame she feels is monumental, but in the glaring afternoon light she can no longer deny it: she’s in love with her weapon, just like her mama, and look how well that turned out.

(she cannot bear to lose him)

after a while she picks herself up from the bathroom floor, puts on her clothes, and goes to the kitchen to get paper towels.

Chapter Text

“Oh my God.”

Maka announces this in tones that could be described as almost reverent. Her face has gone slack in a textbook expression of shock; her lips are slightly parted and her round green eyes reflect the glow of the laptop screen in front of her.

The clinking noise of dishes pauses in the kitchen. A moment later Soul’s head appears in the doorway wearing a quizzical frown. “What’s wrong?”

Maka blinks once very deliberately. “Are you okay?” Soul asks. “What’s with that look?”

 But Maka’s lips have begun to twitch and the giggle bubbles up and before Soul can blink she’s laughing uproariously. In the space of three steps he’s behind the couch and squinting at the screen. Reading the words there causes an incredulous grin to stretch across his face. “Don’t tell me this was serious.”

“Hardened…dingly-diddlyDINGA-LONG!” The last part is shrieked as a fresh wave of laughter washes over Maka and she doubles over with mirth. Soul leans farther over the couch. Seeing his meister rendered incoherent with fluttery girl-giggles is decidedly a strange sight.

“What kind of weirdo thinks it’s sexy to call someone’s junk a…oh my God.” Soul can’t stop the snort. “Why is that in all caps.”

Maka has stood up. She puts her hands on her hips and gives him a look that could objectively be described as seductive. She is obviously joking but he still feels a funny flutter in his gut.

“Soul.” Maka whispers his name in a hoarse throaty voice. She leans forward and rises up on her tiptoes so that their noses are almost touching. “I need you to put your MIGHTY MAN NOODLE into my libidinously slurping cakehole of love.”

Soul makes a very embarrassing noise somewhere between a snort and a cat being stepped on and bursts out laughing. “What are you doing with your life?” he manages to gasp.

I don’t know. Tsu…Tsubaki sent it to me…thinking about it I’m…I’m not sure she was kidding…”

“Fucking hell.” Soul wipes his eye and Maka gives a great sniff. Her eyes are overbright and her hair hangs loose around her face. It gives it a softer look. Soul reaches forward and idly twirls a hank of it around his finger. “S’getting long, don’t you think?”

Maka shrugs. “I’m thinking about growing it out. You don’t like it?” There is something of a challenge in her voice, though her expression remains mild.

“It looks good on you.” Soul smirks and draws her close.

“You think? That’s very nice of you; in fact it just might merit a…” But the rest of her words are lost when Soul presses his lips to hers. She hums and lifts her arms around his neck and Soul can feel her heart beating through the thin fabric of her shirt. When they break away Maka is breathless and flushed and grinning in a most un-Makalike way.

“Why Soul, it seems your…” she bursts out into another fit of giggles. “Oh my God I can’t do this.”

“Are you talking about my throbbing purple spear of destiny?” Soul asks in his best monotone. Then he and Maka lean against each other, overcome with laughter.

“Your flaming satellite of love –“

“Skyward sword –“

“Sperminator –“

“We are so bad at this.” Soul states.

Maka giggles.

Chapter Text

The end of the world lies not in fire and brimstone, Soul thinks, but in the wet bloody intricacies of the human heart. Across from him is Maka, and like this she’s all but a stranger to him. Her eyes are wrong, one pupil blown wide enough that it turns her eye into a black hole and the other barely a pinprick in the vast foresty green of her iris.

“Snap out of it!” Soul calls. The wind whips his voice away and she doesn’t respond. He waves his arms. “You’re stronger than this! Maka! C’mon, seriously!”

She walks like a robot, the metronomic crunch of her boots against the gravel making the awful urgency in Soul’s chest swell painfully with every one of her steps. The night wind is cool and strong and it whips her pigtails into crazy ribbons, smearing them across her glassy eyes, strands of hair catching in her half-open mouth. The distance between her body and the edge of the roof is closing fast, and the manacle of magic chaining Soul to the air conditioning unit sears against his wrist.

“MAKA!” he yells, abandoning all pretense and lunging forward as far as the chain will allow. His straining fingers just manage to graze the fabric of her sleeve and then she walks right past him, inexorably forward towards her doom.

“DAMN YOU!” he cries, although if it’s addressed to the witch or Maka or his own stupidity letting himself get caught like this is unclear. He struggles, trying in vain to transform, to break free, to do something that’s not watching the most important person in his life topple to her death like a stupid wind-up doll. Far away someone is yelling and someone else is laughing and Maka stops at the edge of the roof and raises her arms like a conductor about to begin a show.

Then several things happen at once.

The laughter stops, the wind picks up, and Soul finds himself running forward faster than he’s ever run in his life. Ahead of him, Maka begins to topple forwards, looking so small and birdlike silhouetted in the too-bright moonlight. Her shrill shriek comes a heartbeat later and Soul doesn’t think twice before launching himself across the remaining distance and into his meister, pulling her tightly against his body. When his back hits the ground the wind is knocked out of him and he nearly blacks out, eyelids fluttering, darkness swimming across his eyelids, the world rocking back and forth in his head. After a time he becomes aware that someone is shaking him, calling his name in tones that sound increasingly distressed. It’s not very pleasant and he raises his hand to ward off his attacker, and then his vision clears to reveal a teary-eyed Maka, pupils restored to their proper size. Without thinking, he cups her cheek and grins at her.

“Oh my God, Soul, are you okay, I’m so sorry, I – I don’t know what happened, I’m –“

“Hush,” he says. Her nose is all red and she’s gasping for breath and it’s the most natural thing in the world to pull her down and kiss her, hard, because she’s alive and he’s alive and they’re both okay and he saved her. The relief wells up in his heart and his other hand scrabbles against her back, pulls her close, and Maka makes a noise in his mouth and suddenly he’s looking up at the dryly amused face of Professor Stein with Death Scythe hissing on his shoulder.

“I think it’s time to go home,” says Stein above Spirit’s shouted curses. Soul exchanges a glance with Maka and heartily agrees.

Chapter Text

The evening is cool and crisp, and if Maka walks a little closer to Soul than is strictly necessary, neither elects to comment. They arrived almost at the same time, Maka from New York and Soul and Black Star from Scranton. Star had pulled Maka into a hug and attempted to give her a noogie, and Soul had lifted a hand in a wave and only just managed to get out a hey Maka instead of wow Albarn I really like your lipstick.

The Mortimer residence is intimidatingly classy, all towering columns and balanced architecture. Black Star sets off immediately to find the hors d'oeuvres, proclaiming that the food here is bound to be top-rate. Soul is acutely aware of Maka’s presence at his elbow, and when he looks at her he sees that she’s taken off her coat to reveal a little black cocktail dress that highlights the smooth pale planes of her collarbones. Maka notices his stare and smirks at him for a scant second before sashaying off into the crowd.

It was a complete accident. Black Star hadn’t wanted to go discuss business at a restaurant with Her Royal Highness the Queen of Sales Maka “Tightass” Albarn, proclaiming it to be “like a date” and thus “disgusting” and so sent Soul in his place. They talked paper that turned into drinks that turned into earnest conversation that turned into them kissing each other rather passionately beside Maka’s car at one o’clock in the morning. Much business got discussed that night. Soul had woken up with the sun streaming into Maka Albarn’s hotel room, with Maka Albarn naked and still sleeping beside him, and wondered exactly what he’d gotten himself into as he brushed a loose strand of ashy blonde hair rather tenderly away from her face. He’d always thought she was kind of cute, five feet and one inch of blazing green eyes and ferocious management skills. Their relationship had always been amicably professional, and Soul was content for it to stay that way, until the events of the previous night turned all that on its head.

That had been three months ago, in November. Their relationship has been kept an ironclad secret by the both of them since then, and it gives Soul an illicit thrill every time they see each other at work. They make a game of being polite and cordial to each other in public and then absolutely ravishing each other later that evening. Seeing his boss come undone just for him does funny things to his head.

So Soul sits out the party as best he can, shaking hands with the CFO Dylan Mortimer, chatting with Regional Manager Kim Diehl, cocktail in hand. Black Star is outside playing basketball with some of the other higher-ups, safely out of the way. Soul checks his watch.

At 11:30 he goes upstairs. In the bathroom, Maka is waiting for him, sitting on the closed lid of the toilet like a queen and watching him with half-lidded eyes.

“Wow, you look gorgeous, I just want you to know that,” Soul says, and then they fall on each other like wolves, kissing each other hungrily, hands tearing away clothes with ferocious intensity. When Soul slips his fingers up her skirt and cups her ass, he discovers that she isn’t wearing any underwear whatsoever, and he has to will himself not to blow his load right there. Instead she grins at the look on his face and then kisses him, pulling him down on top of her by his tie so that his crotch is pressing against hers. He growls and grabs her, moving so that she’s sitting on his lap, enjoying the little squeak of surprise she makes. He begins laving kisses on her neck, and one hand pushes down her dress to fondle her breast while the other ventures between her legs. She’s hot and soaking wet and soon he’s got her squirming and mewling like a kitten, hands scrabbling against his thighs. Beneath her he’s as hard as a rock and when she twists free to unbutton his pants it is almost a relief.

“Well, look at you,” she breathes, and then climbs on top of him. When he enters her it’s pure bliss, and he can’t stop the moan that slips from his throat. Maka runs her fingers through his hair, tugging at it, and then she kisses him, gyrating her hips in a way that makes bright stars of pleasure flare in his mind. He kisses her breasts, her lovely collarbones, every inch of her he can reach, and when he looks up at her he doesn’t care that the adoration he feels for her is written plainly on every inch of his face.

That’s how Black Star finds them, twined together on top of the toilet, hair a mess and mouths smashed hungrily against one another. At the sound of the door opening their eyes fly open and they behold in mutual horror Soul’s boss and Maka’s immediate subordinate staring at them with eyes so wide they look fit to pop out of his head. The silence hangs between them, brittle and fragile as new-formed ice, until Black Star slowly closes the door and runs the hell away.

Chapter Text

i.

 

They first meet on the set of a low-budget horror flick no one will ever know the name of. He’s the monster, so made up he’s unrecognizable, and she dies horrifically three quarters of the way through in a wash of dark cherry cough syrup. Wow, you’re looking bloody terrific, he tells her after in the world’s worst approximation of a British accent, and she flicks some gooey fake blood at him and laughs.

The script is awful; everyone seems to know this but the writer, but they’re young and thirsty for glory and so here they are, here they all are, acting their hearts out in hopes that someone somewhere will notice. It’s her first movie, she confesses to him one night, at some party thrown by a friend of a friend of a costar. She comes from a small town and she never thought she’d get this far. She has to yell to be heard above the pounding music and the shrieks from the other revelers.

He sips his beer and grins at her. So how’re you liking Hollywood then?

And she says, not what I expected.

What did you expect?

She pauses, chews her lip. Her face flashes blue and red and purple. Her hair is down, secured by a big plastic headband, and she looks so young suddenly, there in her pencil skirt and striped t-shirt. Girl like her, they’ll eat her alive, he thinks, a little sadly.

She twirls a strand of hair around her finger. Her eyes meet his, brilliant, glittering. More, she says.

 

ii.

 

The next time they meet they’re doing a movie about the wild west, and he has the lead role. She recognizes him because of his hair. It’s a pale blonde color not usually seen on anyone above the age of three. When she sees him clinging to his horse for dear life, she laughs and tells him to grip with his thighs, not his feet. And how would you know that? he asks, quirking one eyebrow at her.

I spent most of my life on a horse, city boy, she says, eyes glittering and a smirk on her face.

If I die I’m suing you, horse girl.

That’s rude!

Hollywood been treating you okay?

She bites her lip and knots her fingers into the rough fabric of her prairie dress. Getting there.

That’s good. Watch out out there, okay? The big city can be tough.

Thanks, but I can handle myself.

Just be careful, s’all I’m saying.

He ends up rescuing her and her on-screen sister from a band of outlaws. At the end of the movie, the script calls for a kissing scene between him and the sister. They have to shoot it three times. Afterwards, she finds herself wondering how many girls he’s kissed, and how many of those he’s really meant.

 

iii.

 

They run into each other at an awards ceremony. Everyone is dressed to the nines, and the paparazzi is out in full force. When she steps out of her limo she is assailed with shouts, every single cameraman demanding look here, Ms. Albarn, here, here! She only smiles demurely and lifts a hand to cover her face, walking quickly until she’s through the doors and into the relative calm of the party itself. Jazzy piano music flutes softly from the front of the room. She’s clad in a shimmery black dress that turns iridescent green when it catches the light. It complements her eyes.

Looking good, Maka, he tells her, when the party pushes them together. He sees her eyes widen in recognition.

Soul! How are you! She pulls him into a hug. It’s been such a long time.

Yeah. Glad to see you’re still alive.

She laughs, bright like a bell. Of course I’m still alive! I don’t give up that easy.

She looks, he thinks, like an old Hollywood star, all carefully curled hair and pale skin and elegant swan neck decorated with jewels. Her perfume smells like roses. Gone are the dorky headbands and pencil skirts and the girl who wore them. She’s different now, older, harder. He can see it in her eyes, once so wide and wondering, now hooded, cool. It feels like it was another lifetime ago that she told him of her dreams at a small house party, a little drunk and fire in her soul.

You were really good in White Swan, he tells her.

You watched it?

Of course. How could I not watch a performance by the marvelous Maka Albarn?

Oh stop it, she says, but she’s smiling. You weren’t too shabby in The Ghost, she tells him. I didn’t even recognize you.

High praise, he says with a smirk. I can be great when I want to be.

You always are, she very nearly blurts, but just then there’s a fanfare and it’s announced that the awards ceremony is about to begin. They trade excited looks and let themselves get swept away by the crowd. When she wins Best Actress, he’s grinning as he claps.

 

iv.

 

Hello again, says a female voice, and when he turns around there she is, smiling up at him. Are you Neal?

Yeah, he replies. You Abbey?

She rocks on her toes. Yep! How exciting. We’re both famous enough for lead roles now.

Imagine that, he says, grinning.

I hope you’re good at kissing, she tells him. Because this script has a lot of it.

Excuse you, he says, mock-affronted. I’ve kissed so many girls I’ve lost count. I’m a fucking pro.

We’ll see about that, she says, and waggles her eyebrows. He can’t help laughing.

As it turns out, he is, in fact, a fucking pro. He kisses her like he means it, winding an arm around her waist, tangling his fingers in her hair. His mouth is warm and soft, his tongue inquisitive but not overbearing. He smells like evergreen aftershave, and when they break apart, she’s breathless. He looks a little startled too, and there’s a faint hint of a blush in his cheeks. She’s staring at his mouth when the director yells CUT!, startling them both out of their reverie.

She has kissed and fondled and ogled more than her fair share of men over the course of all the movies she’s done. None of that has made her heart race quite like this sweet, relatively chaste kiss. She presses her lips together and hopes it doesn’t become a problem.

Naturally, it does.

Soul Evans is handsome. Distractingly so, with his pale blonde hair and chocolate brown eyes and tall, lean physique. The way he touches her in scenes is so achingly tender; the way he looks at her is even more so. The director is ecstatic, and praises them on their incredible acting. But she isn’t so sure if she’s acting or not anymore. In the headier moments she sometimes forgets herself, because his touch sends very real shivers surging across her skin. When she runs her hand up his arm, she feels goosebumps there.

Their very first sex scene is awful and wonderful all at once. She’s naked and cold but he is oh so warm, and despite the cameras she can feel herself getting wet, can feel his erection against her thigh. It’s just the proximity, she tells herself. I’m a woman and he’s a man. But afterwards there’s something new in the air between them, a crackling electricity that makes it hard to breathe. His kisses grow hotter, more intense; the smell of his aftershave sets something in her ablaze. There’s a gravity in his chocolate brown eyes now when he looks at her, and she aches to ask him do you mean it? She’s not sure what she wants the answer to be.

They have to shoot several scenes over, suddenly, because according to the director they’re overdoing it. This draws a few wolf-whistles from the crew, and Maka hopes her face isn’t as red as it feels. Soul is a great kisser. It’s perfectly understandable that she’d get a little carried away.

The last time they see each other is at the after-party.

The final day of shooting is always cause for celebration. They both go clubbing with the cast and crew. At one o’clock in the morning she goes outside to get some air and finds him leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette.

Hey, she says, leaning beside him.

Hey.

Everything okay?

He blows out a plume of smoke. Just thinking.

About what?

He glances down at her and takes a deep breath. Oh, fuck it. In my defense, I’ve had a couple drinks, he says, and then he grins at her, lazy and sweet. I think I’m in love with you, Ms. Albarn, he says, so casually, like he’s remarking on the weather.

There’s a beat of silence. A flush starts creeping up his neck.

I mean, I think I’ve loved you for a while. Before this movie we did. Not because of it. Like I don’t just –

He’s babbling. She takes his face in her hands and draws him down to her level, oh so tenderly.

Took you long enough, she says, smiling, and then she kisses him.

His hands come around her waist. Her arms loop around his neck. He lifts her up and twirls her, laughing, right there on the sidewalk, until he loses his balance and they fall to the ground in a giggling, breathless heap.

Chapter Text

Crona lets her down gently.

“I don’t hate you,” they tell her. Even over the phone, Maka can hear the way their voice gets all high and reedy like it does when they’re really stressed, and she feels absurdly guilty for a moment before she remembers she’s in the middle of getting broken up with.

“It’s just, I, I know you want sex, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but, but I don’t think I want that, sex I mean, and I just feel really bad –“

“Crona, no,” Maka says, because even though she knows something’s been wrong for weeks and that something like this was coming and a million other different, more subtle things, she does love them, really, and so she has to try. “It’s fine, I’m fine with it, I’m fine with you. I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t want sex I’m okay with it! Really, babe, I am!”

“But I’m not. Not okay with you being okay with not wanting it even though you do, I mean. Maka,” they say, and their voice goes really soft and gentle. “I love you and I appreciate you and I’m so glad you were there for me when…when…when all that stuff happened back then. I just…you never put yourself first. And. And I really wish you would sometimes, a lot, because a relationship isn’t focused on what one person wants, but I feel really g-guilty because I don’t know if I could deal with a lot of the things you want to do, not just sex, not because they’re bad or anything, but because I still have a lot of issues, and I feel like I’m holding you back.”

“You’re not!” There’s something thick clogging up Maka’s throat. “I swear you’re not, you were never a burden – “

“Please don’t lie to me,” and Crona’s voice is the steadiest she’s ever heard it. “I think, that we want very different things out of life, and that I can’t keep using you as a crutch forever, and that you shouldn’t let me use you like that anyway, it’s not good for you. I need some time to be by myself, and figure things out.”

Maka opens and closes her mouth several times, unable to get any words out past the tightness in her throat. The phone line crackles with static.

“M-Maka? Are you still there?”

She sucks in a deep, shuddering breath. “Y-yeah. Do you…do you still need a place to stay? Or…”

“I-I’ve got something l-lined up.”

“Great. That’s…really great. I’m really proud of you, Crona,” and her face splits into a smile, even as the tears spill over down her cheeks. “I can help you move when I get back.”

“N-no, it’s fine, I don’t want to inconvenience – “

“It really wouldn’t be – “

“P-please, Maka, l-l-let me do this myself. I’m sorry, really s-s-sorry – “

“Crona, shh, shh. It’s okay. Really. I get it.”

Through the crackle of a thousand miles, Crona takes a deep breath. “I’ll be gone by the time you fly home,” they say. “I’ll leave you my new address. We can mail letters, if you like.”

“Y-yeah. That’d be nice.”

Silence falls again. Maka desperately tries to control her breathing, to stop it hitching, stop it betraying her, but she never was all that good at that sort of thing.

“I’m sorry, Maka,” Crona says, very softly. “You’ll always be special to me. I’m really glad we met, and that I got to be with you. I did love you, and I think a part of me always will.”

“I love you too,” she chokes out. “I’m. Really happy for you, Crona.”

“T-thank you. Well. Good night, I guess. Goodbye, Maka.”

“Bye,” she says, and then the line goes dead.

She’s far away in a strange city, in a cold and unfamiliar hotel room in a building full of rooms just like it. She buries her face in the impersonal white linen pillow and weeps.


Soul’s dreaming that he’s in the band again, sweat running down his forehead while lights flash frenetically over a writhing crowd, but then on the street below a motor tears the quiet of the night to ugly tatters and he finds himself staring wide-eyed up at his ceiling fan, revolving in the dark. He rolls over. His bedside alarm clock reads 2:43 in chunky red numbers. He has work tomorrow. He has to be up early.

He takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment before letting it out, the exhalation deafening in the settling stillness.

In another life, things were well underway at this time of night. In another life, he went onstage and played his heart out, fingers scraping over the strings of his bass, wailing in harmony to Liz’s raw vocals while Patty’s drums sent him soaring, soul straining against his ribs, shivering with the sheer delight of it, of being there, of being truly, completely alive.

The fan turns, turns, turns, there on the ceiling, humming softly. Endless. Quiet. One pull of a cord would make it stop. Every evening he comes back to his tiny apartment and falls asleep on the couch. Sometimes he cooks, when he’s feeling particularly festive. Sometimes he listens to music, or watches a movie, or smokes a cigar. What friends he has are all the way across the country, people he realizes he hasn’t seen in years now, people who he may not have anything at all in common with anymore besides a smattering of shared experiences in a past no longer relevant to much of anything. His coworkers are simply and thoroughly uninteresting. The city is neither big nor small and equally nondescript in its forms of entertainment; he got tired of bars and live music and meaningless conversation years ago, and there really isn’t much else to do.

(he wonders when exactly his life got so small and stagnant. he wonders if there was a point to any of it, really. all that anger and joy and despair, all the fear and exhilaration, all the giddy fuck-yous shouted from the tops of buildings. if there was some kind of meaning lurking in all those nights spent sleeping on strangers’ floors and writing songs, smoking cigarettes and getting drunk and laughing like a goddamned crazy fool. he wonders what would have happened if he had stayed put and played the part of the dutiful younger son like his parents wanted. he might be just as dead, deader even, asphyxiated by what-ifs and self-loathing and impossible expectations. he lies on his back with his fingers laced together atop his chest. the fan turns in circles and circles and doesn’t move a damn inch; it’s the same everywhere. his heart beats; his lungs fill and empty and fill again; he lies in sodium-tinted darkness and cannot understand why his body would keep doing such silly meaningless things.)

On the kitchen counter is a creamy white envelope cordially inviting him to the wedding of one Tsubaki Nakatsukasa and Elizabeth Thompson. On the back of the invitation is a handwritten note – Hope you’re doing okay, Soul Eater. It’s been a long time and I hella miss my favorite bassist – my wedding (don’t laugh!!!) wouldn’t be the same without you. Much love xoxo, Lizard Breath.

Once upon a time he thought he was in love with her, but he was a damn fool kid who wouldn’t have known what love was if it had walked up and given his ass a nice firm squeeze. She was beautiful, and when they fucked it was hells of nice, but there were no fireworks or whatever the fuck was supposed to happen, and one night sprawled naked together in some hotel room she’d told him I don’t think this is working, and he’d laughed and agreed, and then they smoked half a pack of cigarettes and watched shitty Lifetime movies until they fell asleep.

Things were always easy with Liz.

He gets out of bed and pads to the bathroom. In the dim light, he looks at his face. Shadows pool beneath his cheekbones, in his eye sockets, in the hollow of his throat. There are lines forming around his mouth and bags beneath his eyes. Pale stubble coats his cheeks. He frowns and rubs at it and wonders when he got so damn old. He’s thirty-three years old. Maybe it’s his hair, old-man colored, white as snow but thick as ever. It needs a trim. He wonders if Liz will recognize him. If anyone will recognize him. If he recognizes himself, hands clenched on the cool porcelain of the sink, so very tired and gaunt. He swallows. He looks into his hollow, sleepy eyes, reflected back at him through the glass.

Two days later, he buys a plane ticket to New York.


 

In her wedding dress, Tsubaki is radiant. It’s champagne-colored lace, and it clings to her curves with the precision of a glove before puddling demurely around her feet. Her hair is dark and shiny and piled in a soft updo, a flower crown woven through its curls.

“Knock knock,” she says.

Tsubaki turns around and smiles. “Maka!”

Pearls glitter in her ears. Her makeup is fine-tuned to perfection. “You look absolutely beautiful,” Maka says, and hugs her best friend tight.

“Thank you,” Tsubaki replies. She takes a deep breath, her hands knotted in her lap. “I’m. Terribly nervous. Is that a bad thing? My stomach’s just all full of butterflies. I can’t believe I’m here.” She laughs shakily.

“Oh, Tsu, it’s okay to be nervous. Getting married is a pretty big deal, after all. And Liz loves you no matter what.”

“Yes.” Tsubaki takes a deep breath. Some of the tension leaves her shoulders. “She does, she truly does. I’m sorry, everything’s just been such a blur today. I’m exhausted and I haven’t even actually gotten married yet.”

Maka grimaces sympathetically. “You’ll get through it. Just think, these are going to be some of the happiest memories of your life.”

“So no pressure or anything.” Tsu laughs. “I hope I don’t fall over in these heels.”

“You’ll be fine, Tsu. Pretend it’s another dance.”

“I will. How was California, anyway? You’re looking nice and tan.”

“Kim twisted her ankle in San Francisco, so her understudy had to step up. Otherwise the performances went really well. Nygus wants to know when you’ll be coming back.”

“After the honeymoon, probably. Liz is excited about going on tour with us.”

Maka laughs. “She would be. Wasn’t she in a band once upon a time?”

“Mhm. She misses it. She plans on being our number one groupie and buying all the merchandise.” Tsubaki smiles fondly. “I don’t think we have any, though. Do we?”

Maka shrugs. “We’re a ballet troupe, not a rock band. Although now that you mention it, merch isn’t actually a bad idea…”

“Hush, Maka, no business.” Tsubaki smiles. “I’ll bet Crona’s glad you’re home. Where are they?”

Maka keeps her face carefully neutral as she desperately tries to think of a way to respond. In the end she presses her lips together and goes for it. “Crona’s…we’re not together anymore, actually.”

Tsubaki blinks, the smile slipping off her face. Maka’s guts twist. “N…not together? What – “

Just then there’s a knock at the door. A very harried-looking Kid pokes his head in, a clipboard clutched in his left hand. “I hate to interrupt, but are you almost ready, Tsubaki? It’s nearly time. I would suggest you hurry; I cannot keep Blake out of the hors d'oeuvres forever. Hello, Maka,” he says, nodding at her politely before withdrawing as quickly as he came.

“I’m sorry,” Maka mumbles, looking at her friend’s concerned face. “Today’s supposed to be a happy day for you. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Tsubaki shakes her head. “No, no. Stop that. It’s okay. We’ll definitely talk about this later. Do you know if Crona’s still coming?”

Maka shrugs. “I don’t know. They said maybe. They weren’t sure if they could deal with a wedding, what with all the changes in their life. They gave me a card, though, just in case.”

“Well, it’s good that you two are still friends, at least.” Tsubaki stands and pulls her into a tight hug. “I’m really glad you’re here, Maka,” she mumbles. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Maka says, and squeezes her back before hurrying off to find her seat.


 

The reception takes place in a small dance hall festooned with flowers. There’s a DJ, and people crowd the floor, dancing and laughing. Liz’s black dress glitters in the party lights as her new wife twirls her enthusiastically. They both look radiantly happy. When Soul had come up to congratulate them, Liz’s eyes had nearly popped out of her skull. “Soul?!” she’d blurted, and then she’d grinned and slapped him hard on the back. “Hey! I wasn’t sure if you were gonna make it!”

“Figured I might as well,” he said, trying for a smile. “Congrats, Lizard. I didn’t think you had it in you to settle down.”

“Fuck you. People are full of surprises. Tsu, this is Soul Evans. We used to be in a band together once upon a time.”

Tsubaki Nakatsukasa smiled. “So you’re the famous Soul Eater. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Have you?”

Before Tsubaki could reply, something slammed into Soul and whipped him off his feet. It was all he could do to cling on for dear life as he was whirled around and around. When his assailant finally set him down, he barely had a chance to say “hello” before he got kissed exuberantly on the mouth.

“Soul!” Patty cried happily while he tried to catch his breath. “How’ve you been, buddy?! Why didn’t you ever call us?? Sissy and I missed you so much, we’d thought you’d died or been abducted by aliens or the government or something!”

“Jesus, Patty, hello to you too. I tried calling, but you gave me a bad number.”

“Mm, yeah, sorry about that,” said Liz. “We should have told you before we changed it.”

Soul shrugged. “S’cool.” It doesn’t matter anyway.

“How long are you gonna be in town?” Patty asked

“Mm. Just for a few days.”

“Boo. I was hoping we could all get lunch, but guess it’s just gonna be you and me. No buts about it!”

He sighs. In the present, the party has gotten well underway. Soul can’t remember the last time he was at something like this. He sits at an empty table and sips at his third gin and tonic, wondering if it would be rude to leave right now. Liz and Tsubaki and Patty look like they’re having plenty of fun on the dance floor.

“Hey,” says a voice. “You okay?”

He turns. The speaker is a small woman with a cup of wine in one hand, looking down at him in concern. “Yeah, I’m good,” he replies, a little puzzled.

“Oh, okay,” she tells him. “You just looked so sad for a while there. I couldn’t not say something. Sorry. I’m a little drunk.” With that, she plops into the seat beside him.

“Mm. S’okay, it happens.”

Quiet falls between them, and they watch the dancers for a time.

She takes a gulp of wine. “I always thought that I’d be married by the time I was thirty,” she says thoughtfully. “But I’m thirty-one and my partner just left me and…and I don’t know if it’s ever gonna happen. And. That makes me really kinda sad. Not that I’m jealous of Tsu or anything. Just.” She swallows and dabs at her eyes with a napkin. A few tears escape anyway. “God. Okay, I’m drunk. Sorry.”

“Nah, you’re okay. I’m thirty-three and I haven’t been on a date in years.”

“Really?”

“Mm. Don’t see much point it in, y’know?”

“Why not?”

He shrugs. “People are the same everywhere.”

“What makes you say that?” She’s watching him now. Absently, he notes that her eyes are bright green, the same as her dress. A tendril of ashy blonde hair has broken free of her updo and rests against her cheek. His hand twitches, as if to brush it away, but instead he shakes his head.

“When I was younger, I thought things would be better if I left the house to make my own way, y’know? My parents were dictators. But the more I think about it the more I’m thinking, damn, what was the point? Everybody tells you to follow your dreams or whatever the fuck like that’ll make you happy, but…but I did that. And nothing’s really changed. I’m still stuck, still the same. No matter what I do. People out west can be just as boring and uptight as people back east. We all do the same things.”

“I disagree,” says the woman. “That’s a really silly way of looking at things, I think. Things can always change. Things always do change. That’s life! My partner had had a pretty bad life before we met and they were hurting but last week they told me they wanted to break up and move out! That they wanted something for themselves and that they were acting on that desire and finally being selfish and growing and healing and – and – “

Shit, she’s starting to cry. Awkwardly, he reaches over and pats her shoulder. She coughs and takes a deep breath and noisily blows her nose.

“You can change,” she croaks when she’s done, poking him in the chest. “And grow. People are similar, but not the same.”

He shakes his head, smiling a little despite himself. “Shut up, you sound like a motivational poster.”

“Oh my God, fuck you, I’m drunk. Don’t make fun of me.”

“Somebody’s gotta say it.”

She swats at him, and the laugh bursts out of him unexpectedly. She smiles, and party lights dance in her green, green eyes. “Well, you sound like…like a wet dishtowel. A soggy dirty dishtowel that needs to be thrown in the washer and then dried in the sun.”

“Damn, nailed it. That’s so me. You’ve got a real way with words.”

She finishes off her cup of wine in two large gulps. “You’re driving me to drink, you douchewhistle. I hope you know this, and feel suitably guilty, mister…mister…”

“Soul,” he says. “Soul Evans.”

They shake hands. “That’s a funny name,” says the woman. “I’m Maka Albarn.”

“Ah, so the pot calls the kettle black…”

“This is so unfair, I can never think of any good comebacks when I’m drunk.”

He laughs again, and he’s laughing an awful lot tonight, isn’t he? It’s gotta be the alcohol. He leans his head on the back of his chair and looks at her. The words are out of his mouth before he knows what he’s saying. “May I have this dance, Miss Albarn?”

She blinks at him, and then grins. “Of course.”


 

One dance turns into two, then four, then ten. She finds out that Soul Evans lives in New Mexico and he works as an accountant and that he used to be in a band with Liz and Patty in his twenties. He likes cooking and music and movies. He dances really well, for a drunk guy. But then, she’s drunk too. Still, his form is impeccable; they glide across the dance floor like they’re walking on air.

“Did you use to be a dancer, or something?” she asks on their seventh or eighth turn. Against her, he stiffens ever so slightly. “Nah. Why do you ask?”

“You just move really well. I’m a ballerina. I know these things.”

He shrugs. “I’m just talented, I guess.”

“Or you’ve had lessons.”

“Mmh.”

“No shame in taking lessons! It’s not unmanly or whatever if you want to learn how to dance. Women love good dancers.”

“S’not that,” he says with a roll of his eyes.

“Fine, if you don’t want to tell me, then don’t. Buuut,” she says, a wicked idea coming to her as the song changes, “why don’t we show these chumps what we’re made of?”

“What?” He looks down at her, dark eyes confused.

“I mean,” she says, grinning excitedly, “that we both know how to dance, so why not bust some moves? You know how to swing dance?”

“A little…”

“Perfect!” Maka chirps, and then they’re off.

Soul was severely underestimating his own abilities. Maka finds herself unable to stop grinning because she’s finally found a partner outside her company who can keep up with her, and it’s wonderful. Soul is hesitant at first, but soon he takes the lead, and Maka finds herself being dipped and lifted and twirled with astonishing precision. By the end of it he’s smiling as widely as she is, and when he looks at her there’s a spark of something wondering and exhilarated in his tired dark eyes.

There’s claps and cheers from the crowd. Someone even wolf-whistles. Soul only grins lazily, but Maka doesn’t miss the color that appears in his cheeks.

They spend the rest of the night on the dance floor, separating only when Liz or Tsubaki or another friend swoops in for a dance. The last song of the night is a waltz, slow and sweet. They’re both sweaty and hot, but Soul holds her close anyway.

She finds she doesn’t mind.

Chapter Text

“Broooo,” Star leers, and his teeth glitter too brightly under the lights, “you got a date to the prom yet?”

Jealousy, irrational and sudden, starts buzzing in a high-pitched whine by his ear before he squashes it flat with a snort. “Spend a fuckload of money to get trapped in some hotel ballroom with a bunch of people I hate for three hours? C’mon, dude, there are way better ways to spend your time.”

“Okay, but, consider: Tsubaki Nakatsukasa.” He shoots a grin and a wink over Soul’s shoulder. The girl in question smiles and waves back sheepishly. She’s standing a ways down the hall with Liz Thompson and – oh God. Soul’s heart skips a beat. He swivels his head back frontways, cool as can be.

“She actually said yes?”

“Of course! It’s not like I thought she wouldn’t or anything, I mean have you seen these guns?”

Throbbing, gently glistening muscles are thrust under his nose. “Should make you a sandwich with all that jelly you got there,” Star says with a smirk.

Soul makes a show of rolling his eyes and shoves him away. “Bro, c’mon.”

“No bro, you c’mon. It’s our senior year. Think of all the people we can make fun of!”

“Like we don’t do that every day.”

“But they’ll be thinking they’re even hotter shit than they’re usually not so it’ll be twice as funny.”

“Still no.”

“Brah. Whatever, let’s hit the gym. Not much time left to fit in those gains, ya dig?”

“Unbelievable,” Soul grumbles. He grabs his bag and slams his locker shut.

Across the hall, Maka grabs her bag and slams her locker shut. “Who, Evans?”

“Yeah!” says Liz, smacking her gum. “Tsu’s already going with Blockhead over there, might as well go along for moral support. ‘Sides, didn’t you two used to be like BFFs up till like middle school?”

She very determinedly doesn’t look back. She can feel her ears heating up. “Okay, one, that was a long time ago and we don’t really talk anymore because he turned into a jerk, and two, Tsu, really?!”

“Black Star has such nice deltoids, Maka,” Tsubaki says mournfully. “They’re sculpted. And he’s actually not all that bad, once you get to know him.”

“You’re too nice for your own good.”

“Maybe so. But you know, he’s kind of charming, in his own special way.”

“Oh my God.”

Liz cackles. “Look, I’d ask Evans myself cause mmm, grunge rocker boy with a sexy-ass glare? I’d be all over that, baby, but Kid already asked me, so my hands are kinda tied.”

Maka huffs. Her ears must be totally red by now, ugh, she really hopes Liz isn’t in an observant mood. It’s not like she expressly needs a date to go to the prom; going stag is very much a thing. Having one wouldn’t necessarily make the undoubtedly agonizing experience any better, much less Soul Evans of all people. She imagines, though, for a brief, blinding instant, what he’d look like in a suit – oh no, Liz is looking at her and she doesn’t like the glint in her eye. Maka clears her throat and fumbles at the threads of conversation. “That rich boy transfer student? No way.”

“Yes way,” Liz says, smugness creeping into her voice, “and if – “

“ – you don’t go I will be fuckin’ hurt.”

Soul rolls his eyes. “Would you quit it already, it’s been like a week now. Th’ fuck you even need me there for anyway, dumbass, you’ve finally got a date with the chick you’ve been talking about nonstop for like this entire semester.”

“Uh, yeah, and I need my most loyal follower and favorite wingman there to bask in the combined force of our blinding hotness.”

“Jesus, you’re so weird, why do I even talk to you?”

“The words I speaketh are ambrosia on thine ears, my good bro. Hey, why don’t you ask out Tsubaki’s friend? That short flat-chested one with the pigtails, I forgot her name. That way you don’t have to worry about third-wheeling us.”

Soul chokes on his protein shake. Black Star pounds him vigorously on the back. “Breathe, brother. I know, I know. But take one for the team, yeah?”

“Fuck you,” Soul gasps. “You’re the worst.”

“Shh. No tears, only dreams now.”

“Maka Albarn,” Soul begins, “is the nerdiest, most uptight – “

“ – idiotic slacker in the entire school!” Her ears are steaming, she’s sure of it. “I can’t be seen with a guy like that, the act alone will drop my GPA by a full letter grade!”

“GPA-shmeePA,” Liz says with a dismissive wave of her freshly-painted nails. “Listen, you won’t flunk out of college or whatever just because you go party for one night. Besides, what if things go south with Blockhead and Tsu needs backup? Who’ll look after our girl?”

“I know taekwondo, you know,” Tsu says from on top of her bed.

“Not the point. C’mon, Maka!”

“A triangle has three sides,” Tsu says. “Senior prom wouldn’t be right without you. You don’t even have to ask anyone if you don’t want to.”

I do, though, mumbles a little voice in the back of her head, and an image of Soul surfaces in her brain. She bites her lip. “Well…”

“Uh,” says Soul.

In front of him, Maka puts a hand on her hip. “Uhhh,” she mimics. “Are you just going to stare at me like an idiot all day or was there something you had to say?”

His stomach’s doing backflips and it’s making it very hard to concentrate. The bell just rang, they’re huddled awkwardly against the wall just outside the classroom to avoid getting swept up in the crowd, and he realizes, belatedly, that he doesn’t have to do this. He could just go by himself, and be the awkward third wheel, but. Ugh. This is stupid – why’s he so nervous? (He knows exactly why.) He plays it off as lofty annoyance. “Do you,” he begins.

“Do I.”

“Do you. Wanna go to prom?”

Maka gapes. She was thinking he’d be asking to copy her calculus homework for the billionth time, or maybe help on a biology problem – they have entirely too many classes together and it’s bullshit, it really is – but not this. She’d been agonizing on a dignified way to ask him for the past three days, and then this just drops into her lap –

“Hello in there,” Soul says. “Wow, am I really that offensive? I’m hurt.”

Her heart’s beating too fast, ugh, God, she can’t think – wait, he asked her, does this mean – could it be that –

“Yes,” she blurts.

Disappointment skewers his stomach mid-somersault. “Well, that settles that, I guess.”

Mortification consumes her as she realizes what she just said. “No!” she cries, too passionately. Soul turns around and quirks an eyebrow. Her ears are flaming. “I mean, yes! I mean, you’re – palatable! I’ll go to prom with you!”

“Oh. Oh. Hella. Rad. Guess I’ll uh. See you then. You have my number already, right?”

“Y-yeah!”

Fuck me, Soul thinks as he escapes, hoping she didn’t catch him blushing like a motherfucker, hella rad –

- you’re palatable – Maka wants to die –

REALLY?!

“Really?” Maka asks. 

They made it intact to the dance floor. Some sappy country song is playing. The floor is packed with sweaty, inept teenage dancers; it reeks accordingly. He’s wearing a rental and she’s got on this knee-length purple number that really highlights her lack of any womanly curves whatsoever. Her hair’s half-down half bizarre corkscrew pigtails. Liz and Tsubaki must have done her makeup, there’s no way she could get it to look that polished on her own. She looks gawky. She looks ridiculous. There’s something funny happening in his chest at the sight of her.

She feels the light, hesitant pressure of his hand in hers and on her hip like nothing she’s ever felt. His palm’s a little clammy. He’s so tall. When did he get so tall? Her heart’s beating a million miles an hour. She wants – she wants – she takes a deep breath. “Do you even know how to dance?”

“Nope.”

“Ugh, figures.”

“Hey, you were the one who wanted to get out here, not me. Don’t you dare complain.”

She steps on his toe and feels gratified at the little yelp of pain he gives. “Ugh, you’re so…it’s a freaking dance, dummy, not a sit-at-the-table-like-a-weirdo!” Her heart leaps into her throat as a terrible thought occurs to her. “If you didn’t wanna come,” she says, a shade quieter, “why’d you even ask me?”

Soul swallows. “I, uh. Star, he.”

Oh no. Oh no, she’s a world-class idiot. “Don’t,” she says thickly, beginning to pull away. “Ha ha, very funny, ask the ugly one out for shits and giggles – “

“No!” Soul’s grip tightens. “It wasn’t – I wouldn’t – do you actually think I’d – “

“Yes!” she says, trying to escape in earnest now, and Soul flinches, stung. He doesn’t let go, though.

Listen to me, it wasn’t a dare, okay, I – “

“Then why!”

“Because – it’s uncool to go to prom without a date and – “

“Oh, so it’s about your image, is it! God, men, you’re all so – “

“Let me finish!” he growls, and tries to pull her back to him, but he pulls too hard and of course she fucking trips and suddenly it is taking all of Soul’s considerable balancing skills, honed from years spent studying the ways of the skateboard, to keep them from eating shit like a couple of goddamn morons. They perform several very silly and energetic twirls instead, earning them some dirty looks from neighboring couples.

“Holy shit,” says Black Star from their table, elbowing Tsubaki. “This is going way better than we thought.”

“It’s beautiful,” she sighs, smiling a little.

“Jesus,” Soul says. He’s dipped her. This final move was necessary to prevent them from falling, and also to make everything look totally awesome and intentional. Their faces are very close together. She’s got really, really pretty eyes, he notes, a little dazedly. “Because I wanted to,” he blurts out.

Her throat bobs as she swallows. Her mouth is suddenly very dry. “You…what?”

“I mean, like, Star was like, ask Maka, because she’s Tsu’s friend and all and it would just make sense and I wouldn’t go otherwise but I actually wanted to, also, I mean, ask you.”

“Oh,” she says. She’s dizzy from all the spinning they just did and kinda breathless. This close she can smell his cologne. The lights are too dim to properly tell but – her heart stops – is that a blush on his face? Oh. Oh.

Oh. She’s looking at him with something very much like disgust, or shock, or something – fucking hell, he blew it, this is it, she really does hate him now. He straights back up. The song is still fucking playing. He knew this was a bad idea, the entire night, all of it – this dance is just the rotten cherry on the shit sundae of the entire liquid fart of his entire high school career. He swallows hard, and wonders how much more she’d hate him if he bolted right here and now –

Her brain has short-circuited, as it tends to do around this stupid, stupid boy. “Are you even going to college?” she blurts nonsensically.

He looks visibly startled. “What? No. No. Fuck the police,” he mumbles.

One beat. Two. Then she busts out laughing. Okay, now he’s definitely blushing, she can see it, it’s confirmed. Silly, silly coolguys.

“Fuck you,” he mumbles. “I hate you.”

She’s feeling very brave, or maybe very stupid. Maybe they’re the same thing. She tightens her grip on his shoulder and steps in closer. “Do you?” she asks him. “Well I hate you more. I’ve always hated you.”

“Oh, sick. Even when we were kids?”

“Especially then.”

His eyes get a strange, blazing look. It makes butterflies explode in the pit of her stomach. He jerks her through a turn round the corner. “Well I’ve hated you since I first saw your stupid face,” he growls. “Every time you smile I get so fuckin’ pissed, I wanna just, just kiss it right off you.”

“Holy shit,” Maka blurts, and now her whole face is probably the color of a fire engine, “son of a,” and she goes for it, loops her arms round his neck and presses close like she’s wanted to all night.

“You’re awful,” Soul rumbles, and hugs her tighter, “fucking terrible – “

“Uncouth, moronic – “

“Why don’t we cut the crap,” he says suddenly, “and blow this joint. Let’s go to The Creek and stargaze, like we used to.”

The Creek?”

“Oh yeah. Our one. Bet our fort’s still there and everything.”

“Bet.”

“You’re on. Loser’s gotta pay up with – ” and she feels his breathing hitch “ –  a kiss.”

She pulls away and looks at him. There are spots of color in his cheeks, and when he meets her eyes they deepen and he looks away. Ice cold, yeah right. She takes a deep breath. They have a lot of catching up to do.

“Deal,” she says, and smiles.

Chapter Text

On the hottest day of August, two weeks before school is due to start, the family Evans moves into the old manse at the end of the aptly-named Gallows Lane. The car shuts off and the silence hangs there as the three of them peer up at the ruinous mountain of peeling paint and chipped siding that is their new home. Once upon a time it must have been very grand indeed, and some of that still lurks in the wide porch and delicate curlicues of the facade, but there is a vacantness to the windows that sends a faint tingle of foreboding down Soul’s spine.

“Holy shit,” says Wes finally, “no wonder this thing sold for so cheap. Bet the old owners couldn’t wait to get rid of it.”

“Language, kid,” says Dad. “Put that eyebrow down, it’s been completely redone on the inside. It’s our job to fix up the rest.”

“Ugh, there goes the rest of the summer,” Soul grumbles.

“C’mon, none of that. We’ve got a lot of work yet to do.”

The house, Soul comes to think, is watching him. There’s something strangely alive about the languorous quiet hanging like thick curtains in each room that the voices of his brother and father can’t entirely drive away. The back of his neck won’t stop prickling, and several times he whips around, convinced that someone – or something – will be there, watching him. But the only thing that greets him is the bright summer sunlight, streaming sleepily, emptily, through the dusty windows.

The day is murderously hot, and in the first five minutes Wes’s shirt comes off. Dad follows suit not long after. Soul only relents when his own shirt is drenched and he can’t take it anymore. It isn’t that he’s ashamed, exactly, of the long, puckered scar stretching from his left shoulder to his right hip. But it’s still pink, and it still pains him, and he still can’t quite lift his left arm as high as he should, and more than anything it’s a reminder, of things better left back home, in the town where they were born.

(The corners of Dad’s eyes still tighten when he looks at his son’s torso)

He doesn’t meet the house’s fourth resident until a week after they’ve moved in. The three of them had been working on the roof all day, refitting shingles under the baleful gaze of the sun, and at first he thinks the heat must’ve cooked his brain after all because there is a woman sitting on the window seat by the stairs on the second floor. Her hair is very long, and light-colored, and his heart catches in his throat and the single word blooms in his mind, its overpowering connotations clogging his windpipe so that he can only look at her as she continues humming in light, off-key tones. Then she turns around, and he sees that this woman is in fact a girl around his own age, with big green eyes and an upturned nose, and the light from the setting sun ignites the little frizzy filaments of hair that refuse to conform to the rest, so that it looks like her head is haloed in light, that she is light, because it is streaming right through her. He can see the windowsill through her dress.

She does not appear alarmed. Instead her eyes meet his, and then wander leisurely down the rest of his body without a shred of self-consciousness or shame. He can feel a blush igniting in his cheeks at the frankness of her gaze. He’s just gotten out of the shower. He’s wearing nothing but a towel slung around his hips.

“You seem nicer than the previous tenants,” she murmurs thoughtfully. “You’re certainly a lot nicer to look at.”

“Holy shit,” he blurts.

The girl’s eyes flick to his again and then go as wide as dinner plates when he doesn’t look away. She claps her hands over her mouth. “C-can you see me?” she squeaks breathlessly.

He can only nod.

“Oh. Oh my gracious. I’m. Oh goodness. It has been a very long time.” Her entire face is flaming brighter than the setting sun behind her. “If you’ll excuse me,” she murmurs, not meeting his gaze or allowing any time for a response before she leaps off the window seat and executes a perfect swan dive into the floor, vanishing with nary a ripple.

“Are you okay, Soul?” Wes asks, when he’s gotten dressed and made it down to dinner. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

He doesn’t see her for a long time after that. He convinces himself that the whole surreal encounter was just a hallucination brought on by the heat, and then school starts and in the accompanying whirlwind that is figuring out the pecking order among a set of completely new peers as well as how the whole high school thing works in general, manages to forget all about her. He does an excellent job of it until her face melts through the surface of his battered English textbook late one evening.

“Gaah!” He shoves violently away from his desk. His chair skids a little and then gives up, opting to topple backwards instead and dump him unceremoniously on the floor.

She rises up through the book until she’s hovering a little above the desk “Oh! Oh no, are you alright? Oh, how silly of me, I’m so used to going through things, it’s so easy to forget – I should have walked in through the door like a reasonable human being!” She squeezes her eyes shut, and then, as if pulled by a magnet, rockets forward so that her feet are planted on the floor. “Takes a little, ah, concentration to orient myself, as you can see.”

“Yeah,” he manages. Her hair isn’t down this time, instead secured in an elaborate arrangement. A long, ashy-blonde braid trails from the back of it, past her waist. She wears a long, flowing skirt with a large buckle, a high-necked, ruffled blouse, and a sensible, if rather scuffed, pair of boots. In short, she’s dressed like his great-grandmother.

“Anyway, um.” A blush has appeared in her cheeks. Her hands are all knotted up in the front of her skirt. “I just wanted to, um, apologize, for my conduct, when we initially met. It was very rude, and absolutely inexcusable, and I’m sorry.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s just been such a long time since I’ve talked to anyone, and such periods of isolation inevitably turn one a little bit funny, I think. I sincerely hope that you can forgive me.”

He blinks after this whole speech. “Uh, yeah, sure. It’s whatever. Just, uh. Surprised me, that’s all.” He swallows and cautiously sits up. “Never met a ghost before.”

She visibly sags with relief, sinking a couple of inches into the floor. “Oh, thank you, thank you!”

“So, uh,” he says awkwardly, getting to his feet. “How long’ve you been. You know.”

“Dead, you mean? It’s quite alright, a perfectly natural thing to wonder.” Her brow furrows in thought. “What year is it?”

He tells her.

“My,” she says, frowning. She mouths some numbers soundlessly, holding up fingers. “A good century at this point.”

Soul whistles lowly. “Wow.”

She sighs. “I must say, I’m also rather impressed. I didn’t think the house would manage to last this long.”

“Huh?”

“My mother was a witch, you see,” she says, and drifts to settle on his bed. “She tried to bring me back, but…” She gestures to herself, helplessly. “It didn’t quite work out the way she planned.”

Her green eyes get a faraway look. Soul bends and picks up the chair. The noise startles her; she gives a little twitch and then blushes. “Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners; here I am, mercilessly expositing to you my life story. To answer your question and make a very long and sad tale short I eventually figured out that my mother bound my soul to the house rather than the talisman she originally intended to, and as such, here I am, invisible to everyone except you, Soul Evans.”

“How do you – shit, you can go through walls and stuff. Right.” He sits down and eyes her. “So if the house goes and gets destroyed or whatever, you go too, is that it.”

“Theoretically, yes.” She sighs. “You know, I almost thought that I was at last going to leave this place, before the previous owner bought it and fixed it up and started renting it out. And now you and your family are living here and fixing up the outside too…why, I almost feel a real girl again!” She laughs, and then looks at him with soft green eyes. “And the best present of all,” she says quietly, “is someone to talk to, after all these long years. It gets,” and she takes a deep breath, “terribly lonely, when there are people all around you but they can’t hear a word you say.”

Soul can feel his cheeks heating up at her earnestness. “No problem,” he mumbles gruffly. “You’re the first ghost I’ve ever met. You seem pretty cool.”

She laughs again. “And you’re pretty groovy too, if I may say.”

“Oh my God, you sound like a middle-aged soccer mom.”

“Soccer mom…what’s that?”

“C’mon, you’ve been around like a hundred years, you should know this stuff better than me.”

“I can’t leave the house,” she says matter-of-factly. “Or, well, I can’t go very far outside it. I can take a turn about the garden, if it strikes my fancy, but…” She sighs. “So all I know of the world is what people have brought in here.”

“Oof,” says Soul.

“Mm. It certainly feels injurious. If I had been bound to the talisman I could go wherever it went, as it was meant to be worn around the neck, and one can’t exactly do that with a house.”

“How long’s it been since someone last lived here?”

“Mm. A good year I should say, although I can’t know for sure.” She peers around him then, and he turns and follows her gaze and winces when it lands on his geometry book.

“What was that you were working on before I so rudely interrupted you?”

“English,” he says with a sigh. “American public school fuckin’ sucks.”

“Ooh, public school. You know, I’ve always wanted to go.”

“Trust me,” says Soul, “you don’t.”

“Boo, you’re no fun.” She sits up and squeezes her eyes shut. Her feet land squarely on the floor. She stands and makes her way towards him.

“You don’t have to do that, y’know, if it’s hard.”

“I know, but it makes me feel more…human, I guess.”

“Aren’t you technically still?”

“Not physically,” she sighs, and then peers at his homework. “Oh! Is this Romeo and Juliet?”

“Yeah,” he grumbles. “I can’t understand half of what they’re saying in this stupid play.”

“Stupid?” She holds a hand to her chest. “Shakespeare was one of my favorites!” She looks over his worksheet of accompanying questions. “Oh, these are simple! Come, Soul, surely you’re not struggling?”

He grits his teeth. “Not all of us are colossal dweebs, woman.”

“Hmph! I was thinking about helping you but now I think not.”

He sighs. “Geez, okay, sorry, sorry. You’re not a dweeb, happy?”

“No,” she says primly.

“Okay, well, if you’re gonna be like that then just fuck off and let me get this done, yeah? It’s due tomorrow and English is my first period.”

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow,” she quips, and vanishes through the ceiling.

He struggles for another half-hour before the girl takes pity on him and emerges from the wall again. “I won’t give you the answers,” she tells him in response to his hopeful look, “but I will help you translate.”

He sighs gustily. “Okay, fine.”

“Elsewise how will you learn? Education is important, Mr. Evans.”

He rolls his eyes.


He comes to learn that the girl’s name is Maka Albarn, and that she was born in what is now his father’s bedroom one sunny May afternoon in 1898. She lived her whole life in this town until the influenza carried her off just a few months shy of her 16th birthday. She likes books and baking and televised wrestling beatdowns.

“Oh my God, how can you watch this stuff, it’s so obviously fake,” he tells her one Saturday afternoon, not looking up from his Nintendo DS.

She doesn’t seem to hear him, so engrossed is she in the action on screen. “YES!” she shouts, leaping to her feet in a swirl of skirts.

“Didn’t know you liked wrestling, kid,” says a voice, and Soul looks up to see his brother leaning with his arms on the back of the couch.

Soul shrugs. “I don’t. S’good background noise, is all.”

“Mm. Is that John Cena?”

“Yes,” replies Maka, turning around to look at him. “Tell your brother that Mr. Cena is an exemplary example of what a wrestler should be.”

“I think so,” says Soul.

“Boo,” says Maka, sitting down.

“Fascinating though wrestling and Pokemon undoubtedly are,” says Wes, peering at Soul’s game, “I’m gonna have to ask you to put it down. I’ve picked out a piece for competition this year. Now that we’re both in high school I think it’d be badass to compete together.” He grins. “You and me, we’ll make state for sure.”

Soul leans back to look up at his brother. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. The first movement of Debussy’s violin sonata. What do you think?”

Soul yawns. “Yeah, Debussy’s alright. Let’s see it.”

Maka doesn’t look away from the TV as he ambles towards what used to be the sitting room with Wes. They’d moved the piano in just the other day. It sits placidly by the fireplace, its lacquered surface gleaming. Soul sits down on the worn bench and stares at his solitary reflection in it for a few moments. He remembers learning to play on this piano as a child. He remembers his mother’s patient hands guiding his small fingers to the right keys, the murmur of her voice, her silhouette reflected in the wood beside his when they’d play duets.

He sighs and lifts the cover.

The Debussy piece isn’t bad. It’s definitely a challenge, Soul reflects, but nothing he hasn’t seen before. They’re able to get the first two lines into something resembling coherence before Wes calls it a day and they devolve into old, familiar favorites instead, Mozart and Vivaldi and, perhaps most notably, the third movement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata.

“Haven’t heard that one in a while,” says Dad from the doorway when they finish. He’s smiling, equal parts fondness and sadness lingering in the curve of his lips, the way his eyes crinkle.

Soul shrugs, not looking up from the keys. “We were out of practice,” he says gruffly.

“Yeah,” says Wes. His eyes are a little too bright. He wipes at them with the back of one arm. “Don’t wanna forget, you know, plus the piano finally arrived, and with the new house and all…” He trails off and waves his hand. “I think she’d like it here.”

Dad smiles fondly. “She would. It’s partially why I bought this place, actually. Your mother always wanted a big, old house.”

Soul looks around. It’s easy to imagine his mother in a place like this, sitting in the chair by the window playing her cello or rattling around in the kitchen singing some aria or outside in the garden with her big raggedy straw hat and dirt under her fingernails. He bites his lip. His scar aches.

Much later, when the sun has long since set and the house has gone still and quiet, Maka finds him lying in bed wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, the window open and the ceiling fan stirring the heavy summer air with slow, languid strokes. He’s watching the fireflies blinking lazily in the garden below when she phases through the doorway.

“You and your brother play beautifully,” she tells him, her voice hushed.

Soul shrugs. “Lots of practice.”

“I never had much of a head for music. My mother got me lessons when I was young, but they just never took.”

“Mm.”

“That last song was especially lovely. The Beethoven. Did your mother like that song?”

“Yeah.” Soul doesn’t look at her. “It was her favorite.”

“What was she like?”

Soul exhales. “She was. Nice. Great musician. She used to play in the New York Philharmonic. Taught me and Wes piano, when we were kids, but she was a cellist usually.” He bites his lip. “She was always happy. Friendly to everyone. She liked people.”

Maka smiles. “She sounds like a wonderful person. I would have liked to meet her.”

She drifts to the windowsill, settling on the edge. Her transparent body catches the moonlight, makes her seem almost luminous in the darkness. She looks at him. There’s something soft and sad in her eyes. They drop to his scar, and she leans forward, a hand extended. Soul doesn’t move. Her eyes flick back to his, questioning. He shrugs.

He doesn’t feel anything when she touches him. Her gossamer hand dips into his naked chest, into the twisted flesh of the scar there. Wordlessly, she traces it, a crease forming between her brows. Her touch, though insubstantial, is slow, careful. Soul can feel his face heating up and hopes that ghosts can’t see in the dark.

“Where did this come from,” she murmurs.

“Car accident,” he says. His voice cracks and he clears his throat. “Like a year ago, now. Drunk driver. My, uh. My mom didn’t make it.”

“I’m sorry.”

He sighs. “S’why we moved, you know. We were tired of seeing ghosts.” He glances at her. “Not…not literally. Sorry.”

She smiles. “It’s okay, I understand what you mean. My mother died not long after I did. She took my death rather hard, I think; I was her only family. It was…difficult, listening to her keening and unable to communicate my presence and thus ease her pain.” She withdraws her hand. They both watch the fireflies for a while.

“I don’t even remember it,” Soul croaks suddenly into the quiet. “Her death, I mean. Just headlights, and then this loud crunch, and then waking up in some hospital room feeling like complete shit.” He takes a deep breath. “They said I was dead for two minutes.”

She frowns at him thoughtfully. “Dead?”

“Yeah. Heart stopped, not breathing, the works. Had a hard time with the defibrillator ‘cause of…” He gestures to his chest.

“Do you remember what it felt like?”

He thinks for a few moments. “Peaceful.”

“Yeah. That’s how I felt too, before Mama called me back.” She bites her lip and takes a deep breath. “For what it’s worth,” she says lowly, “I’m glad you died, because if you hadn’t then we never would have met.”

He rolls his eyes, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips despite himself. “Woah there, fuck you too.”

“Oh – oh no! I didn’t mean – oh no, I’m so sorry – “

“Nah, nah, it’s cool. Chillax, Albarn, I’m not actually mad.”

She peers at him from between her fingers and then laughs weakly. “My mouth always runs away from me. My mama kept telling me to think before I speak. You’d think after a hundred years I’d have learned to.”

He smirks. “Yeah, well, for someone who’s so smart you sure are pretty dumb sometimes.”

“Rude! It’s entirely due to me that you’re passing English.”

He laughs. Quiet falls between them. Maka looks at him. There’s something strange, almost pained, in her eyes. “You know,” she says, and it’s hard to tell between the darkness and the transparent nature of her form, but he thinks she might be blushing, “I really wish that I could hold your hand right now.”

Soul’s heart skips a beat. He swallows. “Well, uh.” He extends his arm and places his hand palm-up on the windowsill. “Go. Go ahead.”

“I mean really hold it,” she mumbles, but she reaches for him just the same. Her translucent fingers pass through his and he can’t feel anything, but when he curls them around the empty air she smiles almost shyly. “Thank you,” she murmurs.

“Yeah.”

Outside, the crickets are chirping. A warm breeze wafts through the window, making the curtains stir. The moment stretches, deepens. Soul squeezes Maka’s hand.

She squeezes back.

Chapter Text

“Fuck,” Maka says when she sees the masked guys through the door. “Heads up, they’re here.”

“Huh?” asks the guy in front of her. That’s all the warning he gets before the doors fly open and suddenly the bank’s filled with shouts and screams.

“Get down,” she hisses, yanking him to the floor by his tie. “Don’t just stand there gaping like an idiot!”

“S-sorry,” he splutters.

“You!” The voice booms out like a foghorn and crashes into the two of them like a rogue wave into an oil tanker.

“Shit,” she breathes.

“The fuck you whispering about?” asks one of the masks aggressively.

“Nothing!” exclaims Tie Guy.

“Oh yeah?” The mask yanks him to his feet by the scruff of his neck like a kitten. He coughs and splutters until the mask whips out a gun and presses it to his temple.

“LISTEN UP!” roars the robber, as Tie Guy looks at the gun with wide eyes, “Empty the registers right fucking now or else I’ll blow this guy’s brains all over this nice tile floor!”

“Where the hell are you?” Maka growls into her collar. “They’ve taken a goddamn hostage!”

“Technical difficulties,” comes Kid’s crisp reply in her earpiece.

“Are you kidding me,” she hisses.

“Don’t let them kill anybody.”

“Real helpful!”

“OI! LADY! WHO’RE YOU TALKING TO?”

She jumps and does her best to look frightened while at the same time groping for the gun tucked in the holster on the small of her back. It isn’t difficult.

“ANSWER ME!” The mask holding Tie Guy hostage pulls the safety back on his gun. She can see a glitter of wild fear in his eyes behind the mask. Maka’s breath catches in her throat. Her fingers at last close around the holster of her gun.

“Okay,” she says, and takes a deep breath, whips out her pistol, aims, and fires in one fluid motion.

The gunshot echoes like a canon blast in the enclosed space of the bank. Several people scream. The robber drops to the ground with a hole in the middle of his forehead. Not for nothing, she thinks grimly, was she given the best marksmanship award in training.

As if on cue, the glass doors shatter as the FBI bursts in. “Hands up!” roars Sid’s familiar voice.

Maka sighs and lowers her gun as the rest of the team does its work. Tie Guy is on his knees, staring stupidly at the dead body splayed out beside him. That’ll probably mean a lot of paperwork, she thinks tiredly as she approaches. He looks up at her with wide, shocked eyes.

“You saved my life,” he says simply.

“Yeah, well, it’s part of the job,” she says, and offers a hand to help him up. “Agent Albarn, at your service.”

“Holy shit,” says the stranger, and she almost smiles at the awe she sees in his gaze for a brief instant before he ducks his head and takes her hand.

He gets to his feet and then nearly falls again. “Need a hand?” Maka asks, and without waiting for a reply fits herself under his arm and walks him to a chair. He’s ridiculously tall and shaking like a leaf.

“Thanks. Never had something like this happen,” he says with a nervous laugh.

“Mm. Most people haven’t. Take care, Mr.…?”

“Evans. Soul Evans.”

She gives him a little wave and starts walking over to where Kid’s standing just outside the bank. They’ve got the remaining robbers in cuffs and are marching them to waiting cop cars.

“Uh…excuse me? Ms. Albarn?”

She turns around. Soul Evans is partway out of his chair and has a rather nervous expression on his face. “Uh. If it’s not completely unprofessional, can I get your number?”

This time, Maka can’t contain the smile. “Sorry,” he says, coloring. “Guess that was pretty unprofessional, huh.”

She’s still smiling as she grabs a deposit slip and writes her phone number on it. “I think Ill make an exception,” she says, giving it to him, and walks out to join her coworkers in the sun.