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I got 99 problems and Medusa is all of them

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Soul was seventeen when he finally had his first day of school in the classic sense, and somehow he felt like all the kindergartners of the world facing separation from their parents for the first time were probably less nervous. He got up before his alarm went off because who slept, anyway, put on five different shirts before deciding that he really didn't care, and yanked on an objectively awful jacket in yellow and black that he'd owned for long enough that he was outgrowing it before stumbling out the front door still chewing on the remnants of his breakfast. The family car, a diesel Mercedes from the eighties that had by all accounts Seen Some Shit, coughed its way to life in the chill predawn and Soul kind of patted the steering wheel in understanding -- this wasn't exactly his idea of a great time, either.

That said, he reminded himself as he double checked his directions and backed out of the driveway, this was something he'd asked for, so he could only complain about being awake at six in the morning for so long before he started sounding like an ingrate.

By six thirty he was already at the high school, parked in one of the visitor spots like they'd told him to do until he was issued a parking pass, backpack hitched nervously up on one shoulder as he loitered near the giant Mercedes like he expected it to offer guidance. He was honestly ready to call the whole thing off and go back to his parents and his concertmaster brother and practicing full time for a piano career he didn't really want when someone materialized out of the early morning gloom, the strikes of their heavy boot heels rattling his ribcage as they got closer.

"Morning," said the girl once she was in earshot, poker-faced except for the easily discernible tinge of 'are you fucking kidding' in her eyes once she saw the way he'd arranged his backpack, or -- maybe it was the jacket, actually. "You're our new European music prodigy homeschooled transfer student?"

"Wow," Soul said before he could stop himself from being an embarrassment. "No. Not European, at least."

She shrugged and stuck out a perfunctory hand. "Doesn't really matter. I'm Maka."

"Soul," he said, taking her hand and trying not to be any more awkward than he already had been. Once they managed to get through the greeting ritual she let go and kind of leaned back, looked at him appraisingly, came to some kind of nebulous conclusion.

"I've been appointed as your guide, though I see it might actually be more like your bodyguard if you're gonna insist on dressing like Saved By The Bell mugged you on the way to school," she said, ignoring the noise of wounded pride he couldn't keep himself from making. "At least wear your backpack like a sane person, you're going to warp your spine carrying textbooks around like that. I'm pretty sure that hasn't been cool since, like...2000."

"I'm not certain a girl wearing Halloween tights with combat boots has any room to be giving me fashion advice," he grumbled, but she just raised the world's most unimpressed eyebrow at him and stood there until he scowled and shrugged his backpack on all the way.

"So," she said once Soul had checked that the car was locked for the tenth time and had finally run out of reasons not to let her lead him into the belly of the beast that was her high school. "We're going to go by the orchestra room first, because your parents were apparently extremely insistent that the band and orchestra utilize your piano 'skills'," and Soul could hear the quotes there, he didn't even need to see the incredibly rude air quotes gesture she utilized, didn't these kids learn manners in real-people school? "Anyway, as one of the marching band's drum majors I'm telling you right here and now that we have absolutely no use for a keyboardist. The orchestra can put you to work, though, so I guess your parents don't have to fly out here from Europe and yell at my father any more after all."

"I'm sorry," Soul said, managing to keep walking but definitely pausing in his wide-eyed perusal of his unfamiliar surroundings so he could give her a properly incredulous look, "my parents what?"

"Don't tell me they didn't tell you about the band thing," Maka said, pulling one hand out of her battered leather jacket to check a watch clunky enough that Soul figured she could probably use it as a weapon.

"They," Soul began, then just shook his head and shrugged under the unfamiliar weight of his pack. "I guess I'm not surprised. What about them yelling at your father?"

"Oh, Papa is the vice principal," Maka said breezily, and held open a door for him. "Your parents have been...communicative."

The sigh that escaped him could have provided breath for an entire brass section. "Of course," he said, squinting against the searing glare of fluorescent lights off of old vinyl floor tiles and white hallway paint that accompanied his entry into whatever building they were walking into. "Well, I can definitely help out and -- wait, did you call me a keyboardist?"

"Got a problem?" was her glib response, green eyes a gleaming dare to fight her, and Soul just shrugged again and sank his hands deeper in the pockets of his apparently hideous jacket.

They took a winding path to the center of the building that Soul really thought involved way too many turns to make any kind of sense, but it was an older school, he guessed -- years upon years of classroom rearrangements and renovations probably just had that effect. Certainly that was a more comforting theory than, say, the possibility that high school buildings were purposefully constructed to be as mazelike as possible so that students couldn't escape. Eventually Maka stopped at a heavy wooden door, wider than most of the others they'd passed, and opened it with an overdone flourish.

"I present to you: the orchestra," she said as he walked in, and Soul paused once he was clear of the door to take in racks upon racks of string instruments and what might have been the most battered upright piano he'd ever had the misfortune of seeing. Between him and the instruments was a sprawled mass of mostly-asleep teenagers, bookbags and bodies strewn in a kind of exhausted disarray that implied camaraderie more than anything -- and for the first time Soul felt really alone, out of his element to a degree that he hadn't previously even been able to realize properly. He was pretty much certain that he'd never seen so many people his own age in one place before in a context that wasn't some kind of musical competition.

Something dark detached itself from the general vicinity of the piano and headed towards them before he could pursue that thought, resolving into a slim boy dressed in black head to toe from his Chucks -- made black with the help of a Sharpie marker if Soul was any judge -- to his worn jeans to his t-shirt, which looked just frayed enough to be the perfect level of soft. The only thing that disrupted the image was the white streaks in his -- black, of course -- hair, and the sheaf of dogeared music he'd tucked under one arm.

Well, that and the gleaming silver skull rings he wore on both middle fingers, what the hell was that about -- but there wasn't really time for that and Soul wasn't about to ask.

"Hey, Kid," Maka said. "I brought you your piano player. Try not to break him, he seems like he's in a delicate state."

Kid? -- what kind of name -- offered him an expression that Soul guessed met the bare minimum for being called friendly, and while Soul was still realizing that the other boy's eyes were apparently yellow Kid was offering a handshake that Soul knew better than to refuse. Unlike Maka, his was firm but not -- well, hers hadn't been crushing, but her fingers were callused in weird ways that he wasn't sure could be attributed to her status as a drum major and it had felt like she was one forgetful moment away from accidentally breaking his hand.

"Homeschooled, right?" Kid asked, and Soul was so glad to hear someone say the word without making it sound like a disease that he just nodded dumbly. "Should be all right, you'll just have to get used to the schedule and having to get permission to pee." He glanced over his shoulder at the room's other occupants while Soul was still gaping at his previous comment, and continued with, "We'll audition you later on. It's a little early for that kind of racket, I might have a riot on my hands if I have you start banging on the piano before the sun's all the way up."

"Sure," Soul said after a minute of trying to think of some other response. "Are you -- " and he trailed off again, unable to figure out how to ask his question without sounding like a weirdo.

Kid seemed to pick up on whatever Soul was failing to lay down, thankfully. "We have three levels of orchestra here," he said. "I'm the concertmaster for the most advanced one, and thus de facto concertmaster for the others when the situation calls for it."

"Got it," Soul said, because concertmaster was a concept he understood intimately thanks to the fact that his brother was pretty much the concertmaster of the entire known universe. "So, uh -- I'll come back sometime later and look at your program, or did you have something specific in mind?"

"If it's not too much trouble, Maka can bring you back over here during lunch," he said, and glanced her way in inquiry.

"One, please stop calling yourself concertmaster, Kid, it's tacky. You're first chair. You're a section leader. Let's dispense with the delusions of grandeur. Two, sure, why the hell not," Maka said, arms crossed and tone a bit sharper than perhaps Soul would have expected. "I didn't really need another lunch period of people trying to express their condolences, and I definitely didn't need a lunch period of trying to explain to Soul how teenage social groups work."

"Well," Kid said, a kind of weird, droll smile spreading across his face, "there's really only one rule these days, right? Don't go near Medusa Gorgon."

"Medusa," Maka spat, and Soul kind of flinched away from the sheer hatred in her voice. "That isn't even her real name and it's only been like four months since she went insane and arbitrarily changed it, it's not like everyone isn't aware. You know someone tried to tell me the other day that she's actually a model? Someone else said that she changed her name because she got discovered, and soon we're going to be listening to her on the radio, soon we're gonna be seeing her on the television."

"I'd have predicted seeing her on a centerfold spread," Kid said, serene, and from somewhere across the room someone yelled "OH, BURN!" which whizzed so far over Soul's head that it was probably halfway to the moon by the time anyone else reacted.

"Oh, no," Maka said, pressing her face into one palm, and Soul turned his confused stare her way for approximately half a second before a howling blur darted across his vision and someone's arm hooked round his shoulders.

"New kid!" yelled whoever was trying to put Soul and Maka in a chokehold simultaneously, and Soul nearly throttled himself trying to crane his neck far enough around to see just what the hell was going on.

"Keep it down, Star," Kid said, as close as he'd ever been to cracking a smile in the ten minutes Soul had known him. "It's early, and -- "

"Yeah, yeah, I'm not even supposed to be in here because I'm not part of your dork parade, I know," said the boy who'd accosted Soul, and finally released his quarry with the kind of laugh that just naturally deafened anyone in earshot.

"Soul," Maka said, straightening her jacket with a snap of leather and an annoyed look, "this is Black Star. He's -- how do we know each other, again?"

"You fuckin' wound me," Star said, looking anything but wounded, and rounded on Soul, one hand buried in the improbably bright blue of his hair and a blinding smile plastered across his tanned face. "My man! Welcome to the jungle, my name is Black Star and I'll be your benevolent deity for the duration. Please let Maka know if you require anything, she is my most devoted priestess."

And then he was gone as quickly as he'd arrived, but not before giving Soul a wink and finger guns as he scooted backwards out the door.

"Classic," Kid said while Soul was still blinking in shock. "If you're wondering, he got in and out so fast thanks to the magic of heelys."

"What," Soul said, and gave Kid the kind of look he imagined a drowning man might.

"Shoes," Kid clarified, only looking slightly condescending. "With wheels in the heels. Hence -- "

"Right," Soul said, because what else could he say to that? "And he's a total maniac because…?"

"Star used to play street hockey," Maka said, as though that should explain everything. "He quit over the summer for reasons he hasn't chosen to tell anyone, and the whole team is basically in mourning because he was their best player. We know each other because we kind of grew up together."

"Bonds formed on the playground run thicker than blood," Kid said, which had the intriguing effect of making Maka roll her eyes so hard that Soul half expected them to fall out.

"By the way," he said, the word 'mourning' having reminded him of something, "what were you talking about when you said you didn't need any more condolences?"

That made Maka's expression sort of -- shut down, rearrange itself into something carefully blank that wasn't actually anything like the expression she'd given him when they first met. "Oh," she said after a minute, when it was starting to look like Kid was trying to decide between patting her on the back and explaining for her, "you really have been living under a rock, huh. Or you haven't been in town long."

"I, uh," Soul said, realizing as he spoke that teenage social norms probably dictated that he should be embarrassed about what he was about to say but he wasn't about to start lying, "I've been here for a few weeks, but I've spent most of it watching Buffy."

"Beautiful," Kid intoned, and Maka gave Soul a look like he'd just admitted to something heinous.

"And Teen Wolf, in the interest of full disclosure," Soul said after a few silent seconds. "Why, what happened?"

Maka cleared her throat with a bit more gusto than necessary. "The band director died about a week ago. He, ah -- it was a pretty bad accident."

Soul stared at her for a minute until Kid sidled into his space and elbowed him, muttered "drum major" and things suddenly made more sense because, oh right, healthy teacher-student relationships exist.

"Oh," Soul said. "Oh."

"Do not tell me you're sorry," Maka snapped, so Soul bit back his condolences and resolved to never again try to comfort this girl lest she remove one of his limbs. After a moment Maka rolled her shoulders, let some of the tension drop, tried again. "Sorry," she said. "I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. We all liked Mr. Galland a lot, and having him gone is -- rough. But I'm tired of listening to people tell me how sorry they are. You weren't even involved, just don't -- worry about it."

"Wouldn't be so bad," Kid added, sotto voce, "if Medusa could manage to act as though she cared in the slightest."

"Yeah, look," Maka said, sounding tired, "there are a thousand reasons why I'm trying to overthrow my ex BFF the senior drum major, we know that. I got ninety-nine problems and Medusa is all of them. Do we need to involve this poor innocent bystander?"

"He's already involved, he's working with us," Kid pointed out. "You wanna warn him, or would you rather let Medusa get her claws in him? He'd have about as much chance as a baby gazelle against a lion."

"That's awfully dramatic of you," Maka said, looking mostly just overworked. "Fine. Soul, don't talk to Medusa. Just do not do it. Walk away, do not engage. Got it?"

Soul rubbed his face a bit and looked past Kid at the other people in the room, all of whom were just straight up ignoring them in favor of things that were apparently more interesting, like sleep and guzzling caffeine. "Okay," he said, looking at Maka and then at Kid, who were both watching him -- one tired and a little put-upon, the other amused in a way that was actually kind of sinister. "Let me try to get this straight. The band does not require my services, the orchestra can put me to work, your daddy is the vice principal, and above all I should not under any circumstances speak to Medusa Gorgon."

"Do your best, anyway," Kid said, giving Maka a sidelong look. "She might be senior drum major, but after everything that happened this summer she's also the most popular girl in school complete with a posse, so it might be hard to avoid her."

"But don't let her win," Maka said, with an unsettling amount of fervor. "She will get her claws in you and she will eat your heart, do not let her do it. She's a bitch and she's dangerous and she betrayed me, we were best friends and -- "

She cut herself off abruptly, and instead of continuing reached under her jacket and pulled free a necklace -- a little heart pendant with the letters 'BFF' inside it, and Soul grimaced with a kind of weird sympathetic awkward understanding.

"Got it," he said, and Maka tucked the necklace away, mouth set in a stubborn line.

"All right," Kid said, and this time he did put a hand on her shoulder, just for a second so that she gave him a look of annoyed acquiescence. "Let's see your schedule."

"Uh," Soul said helpfully, and Maka rolled her eyes before reaching into her pocket and producing said schedule.

"He's got bio first and then Latin," she said, looking him out of the corner of one eye. "I think they gave him some kind of music period around lunch." Again that look. "Are you really taking college-level calculus?"

Soul shrugged. "I mean, I already know most of the stuff I'm taking," he said. "My parents were pretty quick to figure out that with a solid twelve hours in the day I could spend half of it practicing and half of it doing schoolwork and still stay ahead. Why?"

She just shook her head while Kid kind of made a face that suggested that anyone else might be trying not to laugh. "Whatever. I'll be outside your classes to show you where to go, all right? Papa gave me a hall pass." This was said in tones of deep annoyance. Soul filed that away for later, that Maka's primary feelings regarding her father mostly seemed to be variants on exasperation.

Kid gave him a lopsided grin. "I should have your music ready by lunch period," he said, and gestured to the papers he still had tucked under one arm. "I was doing some markups when you came in, actually." He glanced at the room's clock and made a tch kind of noise when the motion was punctuated by a bell. "And it's time for first period, so I'll have to see you later on. Just come straight here, even if your schedule says the band room -- Maka's made it quite clear how much use she has for a piano player."

Soul nodded, Maka stuck her tongue out at Kid, and they proceeded out the room's side door after a perilous few minutes spent navigating the obstacle course of sleepy students. She gave him a whirlwind explanation of the campus layout -- the building they'd just come from had all the music rooms in it and was more or less central on the campus was the main thing he got out of it -- and then walked him to his first class, and that was that.

Well, that was that until he was accosted by a blonde girl while he was still fidgeting near the door, trying to figure out where he was supposed to sit when everyone else seemed to be following some preexisting set of rules.

"You're the new kid, right?" she asked, one hand on his elbow and her eyes sympathetic, carefully-done makeup accenting her features to maximum effect and tight shirt showing off her cleavage without actually showing off her cleavage where it was pressed against his left arm. "I'm sorry they gave you to Maka, I would have made some time in my schedule to show you around if anyone had told me that you were coming." She looked so put out that Soul was halfway to apologizing by the time she continued with, "Are you okay? She kind of turned into a bit of a shrew over the summer, if you know what I mean. She hasn't just abandoned you to the losers in orchestra, has she? I told her -- "

"What, no, it's fine, she's kind of high strung but she's not gonna kill me. And the orchestra kids seem fine," he added in a confused daze, wondering just what protocol was for having someone press their...assets against you when you really weren't into it and kind of also wondering how much trouble he'd be in if he flat out ran away.

"You're such a good person for saying that," the girl said, expression sliding into something kind of faux-sincere, an expression Soul knew very well from having spent his life around performers. "Most people wouldn't be able to give her -- or them -- so much credit. What's your name?"

"Soul," he said, shrugging away from her grabby hands and trying to suppress the blush creeping up his neck in much the same way he was suppressing his urge to ask just who the hell she thought she was, anyway.

"Wow," she said, voice breathy, "that's so unique! I bet your parents are awesome. I'm Medusa, and I'm sure Maka has told you about me, but you've got to understand that she's just upset that I'm so much more popular than she is all of a sudden so of course she's trying to make me sound like a terrible person." She pouted up at him, lip gloss gleaming, and Soul had to remind himself how to take a full breath. "Please give me a chance, okay? I'd like to be friends."

"Yeah, sure," he said in desperation, praying it'd get her to back off a little -- mercifully it actually did, and he was able to remember what it was like to breathe and function normally for a few seconds.

Until he was grabbed by another girl, anyway, though this one didn't invade his space any more than it took for her to put a hand on the arm that Medusa wasn't currently molesting -- and she might as well have been Medusa's polar opposite: nearly as tall as Soul, dark hair, dark eyes, no visible makeup, and a smile that was encouraging instead of hungry.

"Star told me to keep an eye on you," she said, quietly enough that Soul thought there was a pretty good chance that Medusa couldn't hear her.

"As entertaining as this has been," said an adult voice from the front of the room, "sit down, children. Medusa, let that boy go, he doesn't deserve that kind of welcome on his first day." There was a pause, in which Soul redirected his horrified stare to the front of the class where a man in a patchwork lab coat was lounging behind a monstrosity of a desk, feet propped up and glasses as askew as his grin. "Everyone, this is Soul. He's new in town and he's not used to being around other kids, so try to act civilized. Tsubaki, do you mind?"

"Of course not, Mr. Stein," said the girl on his right, and Soul realized abruptly that Medusa had essentially vanished as soon as the teacher said her name and was currently giving him a sly little grin and a wave from the back of the class. "Over here," the girl added, giving him a gentle tug towards an empty lab table.

Soul let himself be led, set his pack down and took the seat next to the window when his keeper made it apparent that she was happy enough letting him have it.

"I'm Tsubaki," she said once he was settled, and in a startling turn of events did not go in for a handshake. "And you're Soul, the new kid. How's it going?"

"It's -- I guess it's going as well as it can be. So," Soul said, still a little flushed from whatever the hell had just happened and trying to get his metaphorical feet back under him, "Black Star told you to keep an eye on me?"

"He thought," Tsubaki said, eyes glinting with some kind of low-key amusement, "that someone might need to back you up when it came to not letting Medusa assimilate you, as it were."

"And he cares because?" Soul asked, and wished for the thousandth time that morning that he had the ability to think about the shit he was saying before he said it.

That made Tsubaki laugh and give him a weird, kind of secretive look. "He would tell you that he was 'just ironically trying to help a bro out,' if that helps."

"It does not," Soul said, grimacing. "What does that even mean," and then Stein gave them a look over his glasses and everyone shut up with impressive immediacy.

"Before I let you go back to jockeying for social standing via choosing lab partners," he said, removing his feet from his desk so he could stand properly, "I've been asked, as have the other teachers, to make an announcement. As I'm sure you all know, our band director was tragically killed in a car accident last week. I know it's considered cool to pretend like you don't care, but the fact remains that you can't opt out of -- what is it you all say? Feeling feelings?" He gave them a smile that Soul supposed might have been meant to be sympathetic but which was actually kind of terrifying. "If any of you need someone to talk to, Ms. Mjolnir's doors are always open, and I am obligated to remind you that visiting the counselor can be done anonymously in the event you have some kind of reputation to uphold. Yes, Miss Gorgon?"

"It's Medusa," Medusa snapped, then her voice wavered. "I just can't believe he's really gone, Mr. Stein. May I go to Ms. Mjolnir's?"

"She's good," Tsubaki murmured, then rolled her eyes at Soul's blank look while their teacher tried to explain that one couldn't simply wander into the counselor's office whenever one wanted without sounding cruel. "What, you think she means it?"

"Is there a reason why she wouldn't? I mean, she's the senior drum major, right? She would have been pretty close to him," Soul said, and Tsubaki smiled at him again.

"You're a nice boy," she said, and Soul frowned at her tone. "I guess I can't really blame you for not knowing how that girl operates these days, we're all still a little surprised about it ourselves. Trust me when I tell you -- she's just trying to manipulate everyone around her for sympathy points."

"That's...kind of mean," Soul replied, hesitant to use the word 'mean' as a descriptor for a girl he'd just met who seemed generally very nice, but it was the only word he could come up with.

Tsubaki shrugged and didn't seem upset, thankfully. "Medusa's gotten pretty mean, herself," she said, glancing back towards where Medusa was currently filing her nails, unconcerned for any grief she might have just been alluding to.

Soul followed her stare for a moment, finally commented, "Maybe that's just how she copes," and was interrupted by Stein calling the class to order before Tsubaki could respond.

===

Biology was uneventful, because Soul was pretty sure he knew everything on the syllabus already; all of his classes were uneventful, truthfully, because his parents had apparently been correct when they told him that he already knew everything that a high school could teach him. Maka collected him after every class, looking the perfect combination of slightly impatient and out of her mind with disbelief that Soul was even real as she escorted him from room to room.

He decided against mentioning to her that he had class with Medusa on their little between-classes jaunts, at least for the time being, because the way he'd practically been able to see her blood pressure spike that morning made him hesitant to bring it up unnecessarily.

"I can only do this for a week," she said at the end of the day, heavily-booted foot tapping as she waited for him to fumble through his locker combination, and it was really only then, while he was reaching for his books, that Soul realized she barely cleared his collarbones and he'd still spent all day being intimidated in five minute bursts.

"I think I'll remember where I'm going after a week," he said, hefting his bio book and trying to remember if he needed it for homework or not, trying to remember which of his classes had class book sets so he could just drag all these bricks home and leave them there. "And you haven't even shown me where the band room is, so once I've learned my way around you don't have to make room in your busy schedule for me if that's what you want."

The boot tapping paused, and when Soul glanced her way she was staring at him with her mouth downturned just slightly, brows furrowing. "I didn't take you by the band room because I kind of wanted to spare you the experience of being assimilated by the marching band," she said after a few seconds, pulling her leather jacket back on seemingly just to give her hands something to do. "It's your first day of trying to be properly socialized, I figured just your classes would be more than enough to qualify as sensory overload without adding the band to it."

Well, she wasn't wrong. Soul was tired after a day spent trying to puzzle out the vagaries of teenage interactions and the public school system and just what the word 'basic' meant in whatever context his peers were apparently using it.

"Especially," she added while he was still thinking about that and trying to stuff books into his backpack, "since you aren't going to be working with us, anyway -- and the orchestra is completely insane, you'll need whatever mental fortitude you possess to deal with them."

He looked at her again, and now it was his turn to frown when she gave him a pointedly blank look in return. "It's not like you're abandoning me to be raised by wolves or something, I thought you and Kid were old friends," he said. "I like him."

"You like him because he's willing to let you slack off and not practice a thousand hours a day," Maka replied, and apparently she had been listening to their conversation during lunch while she'd been supposedly working on homework or marching routines or assassination plans or whatever it was ambitious drum majors did.

"No, I -- okay, that helps," Soul allowed, hauling his backpack zipper closed over all the books in it. "But regardless, I promise that the craziness I had to deal with when I was working with musical whiz kids back home means I can handle your orchestra."

Maka kind of shrugged, then stopped and narrowed her eyes at him as if unsure who exactly he'd just insulted the with the way he'd said the word orchestra. Soul gave her a sidelong look and shut his locker, decided against inquiring as to whether or not kids actually wallpapered their lockers in magazine clippings or not, and shouldered his backpack instead.

By the time he was done she'd opened her mouth as if to make some response and Soul was gearing up for some kind of battle -- if he'd learned anything today it was that teenagers were volatile, man these kids liked to fight -- but they were, perhaps serendipitously, interrupted by her phone screaming --

"Is that the chorus from Lucky Star?"

"Shut up, how do you even know Madonna," Maka snapped, her cheeks and the tips of her ears flushing red where she'd pulled her hair back into a bun, and she fished her phone out of her pack with impressive speed so she could stop it from getting much further than 'star light, star bright'.

"Star I swear to god I will be out there in five fucking minutes, calm down -- no, do not join Tsubaki for cross country practice unless you're planning on running home or making Masamune drive you. I'm trying to make sure our poor lost lamb doesn't die, okay -- no. NO. Do not come help me, either, I'm on my way."

Soul's eyebrows must have been nearly to his hairline by the time she hung up, made a hasty goodbye once she'd asked him about five more times if he knew where she he was parked, and -- well, Maka didn't seem the type to run away, but from his brief encounter that morning and Tsubaki's commentary, Soul didn't blame her for not wanting to leave Black Star unsupervised near her car or, presumably, the sports fields. So he just waved goodbye as she vanished around the corner as fast as she could without actually running and meandered down the hallway, so focused on not running headfirst into anyone in the crush that he hardly even noticed the way everyone stared at him like he was some kind of anomaly. Maybe it was his hair. Surely rumors about the new kid couldn't have circulated across the whole school already.

Except there was kind of a gaggle of assorted people trailing after him when he exited the building and took a hard left for the front parking lot. Soul was mostly certain that they weren't going to try anything, but he still wasn't really keen on being followed, so he picked up the pace, rounded a corner, and nearly ran facefirst into a very broad brick wall that turned out to be a glowering football player, if the letter jacket left open over a hideously argyle sweater vest was any indication.

"Watch it," the guy growled, the buttons on his vest straining, and Soul took in aggressively spiked hair, broad shoulders, and a slant to the mouth that implied the baddest of attitudes before Medusa's laugh cut short any actual confrontation.

"Giriko, calm down," she said, the tone amused and undercut with a sense of command that made Soul's skin prickle. "Soul, I wanted to introduce you to some of my friends, come here so you can meet them properly."

Giriko -- presumably -- gave him an annoyed sneer and turned back towards Medusa, who was actually sitting on the hood of Soul's car, legs crossed and skirt short enough that Soul averted his eyes as soon as he realized, barely managing not to blurt out something like "isn't that against dress code?" somewhere around the time his eyes hit bare -- muscular? -- upper thigh.

"This is your car, right? No one else here drives anything like this," she said when Soul got a bit closer, grin widening when she saw the flush creeping across his cheeks.

Soul shrugged, eyeing the other person standing too close to his car in favor of embarrassing himself by staring at Medusa any more: a tall blond guy who was thankfully neither as buff nor as obviously hostile as Giriko, though there was something in his pale blue eyes that made Soul's hair stand up, just a little. "Yeah, that's me."

"It's great," she said, flashing him a blinding smile that turned a bit cruel when she looked at Giriko. "So vintage. Real vintage, not like that thing Giriko drives."

"Fuck off, witch," Giriko snapped, hands deep in the pockets of his jacket. "My SSR has a Corvette engine in it, it could smoke this heap."

"Giriko," Medusa said, her voice a kind of poisonous singsong, "you have got to learn the difference between classy and straight-up masturbatory, really."

Giriko huffed, looking like he wanted badly to just destroy something, and Soul edged a little closer to his car, debating whether or not it would be acceptable for him to drive off while Medusa was still molesting his hood.

"Anyway, Soul, this is Giriko, as I'm sure you've gathered," Medusa said, and Soul realized as she gestured that her nails were painted a very dramatic, silver-beglittered black. "He's the quarterback of our football team, he's very good. You probably don't know because you've never been to real school, but he's kind of a big deal. The pro scouts are just looking for a reason to scoop him up once he graduates." Her eyes flicked over to Giriko, who bared his teeth at her, sneering. "Can't imagine why he wouldn't take them up on an offer to get out of here, so you'd better make friends with him before he's famous."

"Nice to meet you," Soul managed, and through some miracle did not betray any hint of his unease when Giriko offered one huge, calloused hand to shake. Through another, probably more major, miracle, he also managed not to stare at Giriko's belt buckle, which looked like it was big enough to use as a dinner plate and said BAMF in letters so big they were borderline embarrassing.

"And this is Justin," Medusa said once they'd finished, motioning to the blond boy next to her, who removed his earbuds to offer Soul a slight nod and his hand without comment. "He's our tight end, which I'm sure means a lot if you follow football."

"Got it," Soul said, careful to keep his expression friendly and very careful not to let on that he'd seen the way Medusa leered at Justin when she said the words 'tight end' -- or the way she'd threaded her fingers through the Mercedes emblem of his hood ornament in a way that made his stomach do something super uncomfortable. "Uh, nice to meet both of you."

Medusa gave Giriko a look; he sighed, looked at Justin, who shrugged, and turned back to Soul. "Okay, bro," he said, managing to come across, for a wonder, as non-threatening, though Soul got the impression that it was a herculean effort. "Listen. You can't just hang around with the band losers, dude."

"Orchestra mostly, actually," Soul said, because he couldn't help himself when it came to making a fool of himself publicly, and Giriko sighed, eyes rolling and the set of his jaw very put-upon.

"You can go to class with them, you can even play their music," Giriko said, shooting Medusa a not entirely friendly look to which she responded with a twist of her hips and an I-own-you smirk, "but you cannot make them your friends, that would be horrible. Give me your phone, we'll find you in the morning and make sure you're taken care of. You can eat lunch with us instead of having to deal with all those nerds."

Justin nodded off to the side, expression still largely unimpressed. "And we can get you caught up on the rules," he added.

"Uh," Soul said again, happy enough to look at Justin who, unlike Giriko, was not wearing cowboy boots and didn't look like he wanted to murder everyone near him, "the rules?"

"Don't worry about it for now," Justin said, tucking an earbud back into his right ear. "We'll fill you in tomorrow."

"Phone," Giriko repeated, and Soul was quick to hand it over, being uninterested in finding out what kind of persuasive methods Giriko liked to employ beyond the verbal. "Christ, what is this, a Razr? How did you even get this, they've been old for like ten fuckin years."

"Vintage," Medusa repeated, one eyebrow pointedly raised, fingers still doing things to Soul's hood ornament that made him deeply uneasy, and Giriko snorted at her while he punched numbers into Soul's antiquated -- vintage? -- phone.

"There," Giriko said after a minute, and returned Soul's phone to him unharmed, which he followed up with an entirely unexpected and slightly painful clap of his hand to Soul's shoulder. "You seem cool, man, let's hang out."

The smile that accompanied his proclamation would have been more at home in a shark's mouth, but Soul nodded anyway; it wasn't any weirder than most every other teenage behavior he'd seen so far that day. Well -- maybe not including the crowd of high schoolers still clustered at the edges of their conversation, fidgeting and staring as though afraid to get too close to Medusa but too obsessed with her to actually get on the bus.

"All right, losers, I'm leaving," Medusa said, and Soul couldn't stop the confused face he made at the dichotomy between her tone and the words coming out of her mouth, because she sounded so friendly and her smile looked so genuine. "Giriko, I'm going shopping, so you're going to have to find another ride."

A muscle in Giriko's jaw did something alarming and his hands balled into hard fists; Soul took a few judicious steps back and considered seriously just throwing himself into his car and getting the hell out before he ended up suspended just for being in proximity to a fight, and then --

"I got you, don't worry about her," Justin said from where he'd managed to fade into the background, and Giriko's rage was replaced whiplash-quick with a weird kind of tension across his shoulders and an expression that Soul didn't even try to decipher.

Instead he eyed the crowd while it parted to allow Medusa to stride unhindered through it, waved uncertainly when she paused at the edge to blow them a kiss, and then nearly jumped out of his skin when someone grabbed his arm.

"Heeeeeeeeeey, new kid," said a girl, and Soul tore free of her grip on reflex, spun half around to face her before he remembered that no one here was actually going to attack him, weird social games aside.

"I'm outta here," Giriko announced before Soul could say anything to her; Justin gave him a negligent wave without even glancing his way and they left the same way Medusa had, the crowd parting around them without any prompting other than a sneer from Giriko.

"Um," Soul said, eyes returning to the girl in front of him when her grip on his arm tightened into something faintly threatening.

"Hi!" she said, smile not quite as convincing as Medusa's had been but nonetheless seemingly genuine. "I'm Eruka. Don't take Giriko seriously, he's just mad because Medusa has their car today."

Soul stared down at her, helplessly confused for the thousandth time that day. "Are they related?"

"God no," Eruka said, and flipped bleach-silver hair over one shoulder. "Medusa's older sister married Giriko's father, so now they live together." She blinked dark eyes, shrugged. "Bit of a gold digger, you know? Giriko's family is rich."

"Oh," Soul said, and watched Giriko and Justin walk away. "So, uh -- how do you know that?"

"Everyone knows that," she said, and waved a hand dismissively, the glossy black of her nail polish glinting in the afternoon light and thin black bracelets clattering on her wrist with the movement. "But I know everything. That's why Medusa and I are such good friends. Unlike Maka, who she was only friends with because her father is the vice principal. Honestly. Why does she think Medusa actually liked her? So basic."

"I don't think that word means what you think it means," Soul said before he could think things through fully, and was rewarded with an unamused glare just in time for another girl to show up, the crowd making room for her but not exactly parting like it had for Medusa.

"Eruka," said the girl, her pink hair the exact shade of bubblegum and her voice roughly as sweet, "I really do think they were actually friends. It's just that sometimes people wake up one day and realize that they could be doing so much more with their lives, you know? Medusa is an inspiration."

"Shut up," Eruka said, rolling her eyes. "Realizing that you're a loser doesn't make you inspirational, it makes you a loser. It's obvious that Medusa was just using her until I came along and she realized she could do better."

"I'm gonna go," Soul said, hoping they wouldn't catch on to the fact that he was very much afraid he'd never make it home if he let them keep talking. "It was nice meeting you, Eruka."

"And Mizune!" The pink-haired girl chirped, and offered him a wave and a disarming smile. "See you tomorrow!"

"Yeah," Soul said, and had never in his entire life been so glad to climb into his desperately uncool car.