A/N- This is a response to a request by Professor Maka who left me a prompt on a three-sentence fic meme I was doing for a ficlet about Soul and Maka as rival lawyers. As you can see, it's much longer than three sentences long. Feel free to disregard the stupid title.

She hadn't wanted to take the case. She was a defense attorney, not a goddamn divorce lawyer. Just reviewing the dossier of her client's demands made her sick to her stomach as vivid memories of her parents screaming at each other across a courtroom rose to the forefront of her mind. But Medusa had hinted that if she won this case for their client- a wealthy young singer by the name of Kim Diehl- it would go a long way toward her goal of becoming a partner. It was her dream, and she was willing to put up with some unpleasant work to make it a reality.

It was just a shame that that smug albino bastard working under Shinigami & Son was representing the soon-to-be ex-husband.

Soul Evans had been a pain in Maka's neck for longer than she cared to think about. Their paths had crossed a great deal more than she would have liked. It wasn't even that he'd done anything in particular to her, personally. She just found him to be a generally offensive human being, comprised of 30% sarcasm and 70% slacker. They had gone through the same undergrad program, and Maka had considered him to be the laziest human she had ever laid eyes on. She'd only known him because they had a few mutual friends. In fact, at the time she hadn't even known he was pre-law. He was a year older than she was and they'd only had two classes together, both of which he had slept through. At the time she had been maybe, kind of, slightly charmed by his snark, but she had been nineteen and foolish. She could blame her brief attraction to him on a last surge of puberty hormones (she always had been a late bloomer, after all).

It wasn't until they had found themselves together at Harvard that she had gotten properly acquainted with her most persistent pain in the ass. They had started on their law degree in the same year; Maka had never bothered to ask whether he had graduated a year late or taken a year off because frankly she didn't much care. The more she saw of him, the more her general dislike for him grew. He was still a lazy-ass bum, despite being in one of the most acclaimed (and expensive) law programs in the world, he still dreamed his way through law school. Maka was of the opinion that he was only accepted by virtue of his family name. It wasn't a big stretch considering that the new concert hall that was built only a few years earlier had only been made possible thanks to a generous donation from Soul's grandfather.

Since she had worked her ass off and applied for every scholarship she qualified for (and several she didn't) in order to get where she was, the very idea pissed her off. Where did he get off slacking while he sucked on that silver spoon, when she was barely able to afford the minimum payments on her student loans, let alone food that wasn't ramen?

Her friend Liz had teased her about her ire towards Soul Evans and, to Maka's extreme annoyance, quoted Pride & Prejudice at her. Only the questionable adaptation with Kiera Knightley, at that, because Liz was many things but a literature snob was not one of them. But still, hearing "Objecting to Mr. Evans because of his wealth? The poor man can't help it!" in Liz's mocking tone did nothing to help Maka's tolerance for the man.

Still, they didn't have much one-on-one time during law school, with the exception of an odd occasion when he had asked for her help studying, which had gone about as well as one might expect (she had slammed her administrative law textbook down into his skull twenty minutes into their study session and left the library in a huff). They had shared some classes, but that was the extent of it. She had only found herself in regular close contact with the man after graduation.

Because of course that couldn't be the end of it! She'd figured they'd go their separate ways after Harvard, but no such luck. That red-eyed idiot couldn't stay out on the East Coast and play legal lapdog for all his rich family's rich friends. No, he had to move out to Death City at the same time she did. And he just had to get himself a job at the firm that was Gorgon, Gorgon & Gorgon's only rival in the top tier of law practice in western Nevada and south-eastern California.

In short, she was stuck with him.

Well, maybe "stuck" was the wrong way of putting it. After all, they didn't work for the same firm, so it wasn't like she saw him every day. And of course if he didn't leave Death City, she could always leave. There was more than one office in California that she knew damn good and well would take her in a heartbeat, because she was a damn good lawyer. But Gorgon, Gorgon, & Gorgon was the best around, or almost the best, and if she could survive the hell that Medusa, Arachne, and Shaula Gorgon put her through long enough to make partner, she wouldn't have to keep kissing their asses any longer and her reputation would be made for life. Besides, Death City was her hometown, and she was sentimental, dammit. So really, leaving was out of the question, and since she highly doubted that lazy jerk was willing to expend the effort it took to actually pack up and move somewhere else, she was stuck with him.

Didn't change the fact that running into him far more often than one would expect in an urban center the size of Death City was annoying, though. Bad enough that their careers brought them into contact both in the courtroom and the law offices with reasonable regularity, but they lived within a mile of each other and frequented many of the same restaurants and stores. Coming into contact was inevitable. Throw in the fact that, despite what she had thought of him in law school, Soul Evans somehow managed to be a spectacular lawyer with a career growing almost as fast as hers, and they ended up seeing an awful lot of each other during business hours as well.

Maka probably shouldn't have found it as frustrating as she did. Having him constantly guest starring in her life would have been much more tolerable if the bastard weren't sinfully good-looking. However, Soul Evans was a smug, cold, sarcastic shark of a lawyer (every bit as much literally as metaphorically, for the man had teeth as wickedly sharp as his dark humor), but despite the pitch-black soul she was absolutely positive he possessed, he had a jaw that could cut diamonds and the body of a demigod. It really wasn't fair, in Maka's opinion, that such a jerk could come wrapped up in such a pretty package. False advertising, that was! If she could have gotten away with it, she'd have filed the lawsuit herself.

Unfortunately, as far as she knew- and having graduated right at the very top of their class from one of the best law programs in the country, she would most certainly know- the U.S. government currently had no regulations on the correlation between inner goodness and outer beauty.

And as such, Maka was forced to tolerate his occasional-to-regular intrusions upon her life. When Shaula Gorgon handed her the case file with a condescending little smile on her pretty face, she was more or less resigned to this being just another of those intrusions.

Emphasis on the "less."

"Seriously? Diehl is really taking him to court over the prenup?"

It was only the presence of the lamentable Ox Ford in the room with them that kept Maka from openly glaring at Soul. She was a professional and she would behave like it, at least in front of the soon-to-be-divorcées they were representing. This whole process had been unpleasant enough for both parties, and that had been when they thought they could settle the terms of the divorce out of court. Now that Kim had made it clear that it would take a court order to make her settle for anything less than she felt was her rightful due, it was all about to get just that much messier. Maka intended to do what little she could to make it a bit easier on both of them; she was just glad there were no children involved, because that would have been a disaster with as stubborn as the pair were.

"My client feels that Mr. Ford's…" She searched briefly for a tactful word, eventually settling on: "-recent indiscretions have violated the prenuptial agreement signed prior to their marriage. As such, she feels she is entitled to a greater portion of their mutual assets than was previously agreed upon."

Apparently Soul didn't share Maka's stance on professionalism in front of clients, because he snorted. "Recent indiscretions? Come on, you can't tell me you really believe that load of-"

"Mr. Evans, this meeting is for the purpose of informing you and Mr. Ford of my client's intention to bring the matter of the prenuptial agreement before a judge, not for you to question the validity of her reasons for doing so. If you have arguments to be made, save them for the courtroom."

Soul, the bastard, only rolled his eyes. His client, however, had something to say.

"Why isn't Kim here herself? Why isn't she telling me all this in person?" Ox asked. His tone bordered on a whine, which Maka found just a little pathetic, and all too reminiscent of her father. A respected surgeon like Dr. Ox Ford ought to have a little more self-respect than to devolve into a spoiled toddler when the subject of his wife and their lengthy separation came up. Nevertheless, Maka pasted on her game face and recited the information Kim's manager, an energetic, uptight young woman named Jacqueline, had relayed to her not five minutes before the start of the meeting.

"Ms. Diehl had intended to be here today, but unfortunately an unexpected change in her touring schedule delayed her in Las Vegas and she was not able to make it back to Death City when originally expected," Maka said primly, ignoring the roll of a certain pair of crimson eyes across the table.

Ox's mouth set in an unhappy line. "I'm going to call her," he announced, standing up sharply. "I want to talk to her in person, she can't just- just do this!"

He stormed out of the room, cell phone already pressed to his ear. The conference room door slammed shut behind him and through the frosted glass they could vaguely see his silhouette pacing frenetically. The walls of Shinigami & Son's offices were very well-insulated, however, so even with the volume his voice inevitably reached when speaking with Kim, his words were thoroughly muffled.

"I would have thought that you would behave at least a little more professionally than usual when you're actually in your office," Maka snapped once they were alone.

Soul raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? And here I thought you were a good judge of character."

Ah yes, there was that caustic snark he called a sense of humor. Maka glowered at him. "I am a good judge of character. It's just a shame you aren't so fortunate."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, looking affronted.

Maka let out a little huff of disbelief. "You can't honestly be naive enough to believe him when he says he's been faithful to her, can you?"

He appeared taken aback by that. "Uh, yeah, actually, because he has been faithful."

"Oh come on," she scoffed. "I've seen this whole thing before. A couple of young, successful people get married too fast and at first it's great, but after a year or two the honeymoon ends. She travels all the time for her performance career, she's gone a lot, his libido doesn't go away just because she does, maybe it starts out as just talking to a pretty girl at a bar but it doesn't stop there… it's the same old story."

"Ox Ford chatting up a girl at a bar… successfully? C'mon, Albarn, have you met the guy? It's a miracle he managed to convince Kim Diehl to marry him in the first place." He laughed openly.

"It's Ms. Albarn to you, thank you very much," she said coolly. "And I guess I shouldn't be surprised you're defending him outside of the courtroom, too. After all, you've got your little boys' club and I guess admitting that you're all pathological cheaters would be against the rules."

Soul actually looked offended, which surprised her. "God, what crawled up your ass and died? Not every man is a cheater, Ms. Albarn."

"Well I have yet to see evidence to the contrary, Mr. Evans," she replied tartly. "And as awful as that is, in this instance I guess that's lucky for me, because it's going to win me this case."

Soul gave her a long, level look that Maka couldn't even begin to interpret. "You're really that confident, huh?"

"Yes, I am. Infidelity is clearly stipulated to be a violation of the terms of the prenup, and you may have a knack for pulling off miracles in the courtroom, but even you are going to have a pretty impossible time finding a loophole this time."

Soul shrugged. "Maybe you're right. But if you already know how this is going to end, it must be pretty boring for you. Tell you what, why don't we make things a little more interesting?"

Maka narrowed her eyes at him. "What do you mean?"

"What do you say we put a little wager on the outcome?" he suggested, and Maka immediately found herself having to resist the challenging glint in his eyes. But…

"A bet? On the outcome of a divorce case? Is that even legal? If it's legal, it's definitely not ethical," Maka said, almost as much to herself as to Soul.

He tilted his head to one side briefly, eyeing her with that same fighting gleam in his eye. "Who says we have to bet money? It would be fine if we wagered something other than cash, right?"

Maka was utterly confused. "What would we bet, then?"

Soul tapped his pen thoughtfully for a moment, then grinned. "Alright, how's this? If you can convince the judge to uphold Kim's demands… I'll give you proof that not all men are cheaters."

"What kind of proof?" she asked, suspicious.

He grinned roguishly. "If I told you, I'd have already given you the proof and I wouldn't have anything to wager with, would I?"

"Alright," she said, amused despite herself. "And in the unlikely event that the judge sides with your client?"

"You go on a date with me."

And she suddenly wasn't so amused. "What?!"

He held up his hands placatingly. "Chill, Albarn. It doesn't have to be some big thing, alright? Just you, me, and a casual dinner. C'mon, you'd get to eat something besides takeout from the Dragon Palace."

Maka glared at him, thoroughly regretting that her schedule was so hectic that she had to resort to Chinese takeout so many times, and that Soul had run into her there so many of those times. "Shut up," she mumbled. "Why would you even want to go on a date with me anyway?"

A strange look flitted across his face, something thoughtful Maka couldn't interpret, before mocking grin settled onto his mouth. "Maybe I just want bragging rights. Get to be the guy who actually managed to get a date the untouchable Maka Albarn."

That made more sense. She supposed she did have a bit of a reputation for being… well, the last guy she had rejected had used the word "frigid." For a second she had actually thought the other lawyer was serious but now she remembered who she was dealing with. Soul Evans never took anything seriously unless he was in front of a judge, so she shouldn't be surprised that even when he was asking her out (if only by implication), he didn't really mean it. Not that she wanted him to mean it.

Decision made, Maka fixed him with a stern look. "Alright then. You're on, Mr. Evans."

He blinked, taken aback. "Wait, seriously?"

Maka gained some small satisfaction from the realization that he really hadn't expected her to agree. "Sure, why not? It's not like you're going to win, anyway."

"That's what I like about you," Soul teased. "That confident attitude. Like a pitbull on a pant leg."

"Oh darn. For a moment you almost sounded like you knew how to turn a compliment," Maka shot back.

She stuck out her hand to him. Soul took it to seal the deal, shaking her hand firmly. Maka took notice, as she had on a few previous occasions, that Soul had more calluses on his fingers than someone who worked in a white-collar industry should. She wondered if he had some kind of hobby working with his hands.

Outside the door, Ox Ford finally reached maximum fury and the words, "Yeah, well, your mother is a hateful old hag anyway, just like you!"

This was followed by a loud clatter that sounded very much like he had hurled his phone at the wall.

"As his legal counsel, I should probably have advised him not to talk to her," Soul remarked with mild amusement.

"You're awful," Maka groaned, rolling her eyes.

The voice that answered the phone with a brisk, "You've reached the desk of Soul Evans, how may I help you?" was not the voice Maka had been expecting. A far cry from Soul's husky baritone, the smooth, cultured tenor on the other end of the line was instantly recognizable. Even if the voice hadn't been a giveaway, though, Maka still would have known it wasn't Soul, because the man had most probably never answered a phone that politely in his life.

"Kid?" she asked incredulously. "What are you doing answering Soul's phone?"

"He's out of the office at the moment, and his desk is always in a state that's an absolute insult to a tidy mind!"

The two of them had known each other for several years, and as such, Maka didn't need any more explanation than that to guess the situation. "So you're taking the opportunity to reorganize his desk, then. Didn't you say you'd been working on managing your fixations better?"

"Yes, yes, my therapist and I have been working on my impulse control, but this is different! Soul's not a stranger, after all, and I know he'll appreciate having a tidier work space." Kid's tone was cheerful enough to indicate that he had completely missed the gentle rebuke in Maka's question.

"I'm sure Soul can clean up his desk just fine without your help, Kid," she prompted him.

"I doubt it," Kid replied with a dry sniff. "More to the point, the question isn't why I'm answering his phone. The question is why are you calling it?"

Despite his prying, Maka smiled. Typical Kid. She was quite familiar with his ability to control a conversation effortlessly, a wonderful asset to him in the courtroom.

They had been good friends since grad school, and he had even offered her a job at his father's firm when she graduated- the position Soul had eventually filled- but she had declined. She wanted to make her name on her own merits, and while accepting a little help from a friend would probably have sped her progress up the career ladder, she felt she should pay her dues at the bottom of the food chain like all the other newly-minted lawyers had to.

"I'm working opposite him in the Diehl-Ford divorce case," she answered mildly. She flipped through the file on her desk until she found the relevant paperwork, mistakenly tucked at the back of the file instead of the front. "The judge has issued an injunction concerning their mutual finances until the issue with the prenup has been resolved, and I figured he and his client would like a heads-up before the injunction is served."

"That seems a little extreme, don't you think?"

Although Kid couldn't see her, Maka gave a half-shrug with the phone cradled between her ear and her opposite shoulder. "You know the drill, Kid. My boss is a snake, I gotta keep her happy. And the way to keep her happy is to keep the client happy. Ms. Diehl wants her ex's assets frozen until the judge makes a ruling, so I file for an injunction."

She could actively picture Kid's frown when he spoke. "That doesn't sound like you, Maka."

"What do you mean? I'm just doing my job."

"When we were at Harvard together, you used to talk all the time about doing justice and bettering the world no matter the personal cost to you. Is that still true?" he asked, not unkindly.

Maka was left momentarily speechless, staring blankly at the documents in front of her as Kid's words sank in. When he phrased it that way…


On the other end of the line, she heard an office door swing open and a familiar voice cried out, in a distinct tone of irritation, "Kid, what the hell are you doing in my office?"

"I was just-!"

"No, stop-! Don't touch that, that's my personal-!"

"You just don't understand, I have to-!"

There was a loud clunk, as if someone had dropped the phone, followed by a series of scuffling noises and a low grunt of pain from Soul. A moment later, the door could be heard slamming shut.

"Um… hello?" Maka asked tentatively into the silence on the line.

There was a rustle and then, "Evans here. Sorry about that, my superior has issues with respecting personal space."

"Oh, believe me, I know."

"Albarn?" He sounded a great deal less annoyed and resigned all of a sudden.

"That's me," she replied, unsure why the fact that he actually sounded happy to hear from her made her just a little regretful that she was calling with bad news for him. After all, she had a bet to win, and besides, she didn't like him, right? She shouldn't be feeling guilty for doing her job. "Listen, I just heard back from the judge, and I thought you deserved a heads-up…"

Death City's public library was, in Maka's opinion, a national treasure. In addition to having a very extensive collection, the library's director had made the executive decision three years back that the wonders books had to offer should not be restricted to those working a typical nine-to-five. People who lived and worked on irregular schedules deserved to have access to the library's collection as well, in Ms. Mjolnir's opinion. The institution's open hours, therefore, were adjusted rather dramatically, which both allowed for the hiring of another couple of librarians to work the extra shift, and allowed her somewhere to escape to after the office closed.

Maka had a reasonably active social life, but when she was working on a case, especially one that was so crucial to her career, she tended to let her social calendar empty out in favor of work. Having somewhere to go besides the office and her apartment during these times was healthy, she felt. The library had always been a place of refuge during her own parents' divorce, and it became one again when someone else's divorce kept her running in circles trying to get everything done on top of her day-to-day workload.

And that was how she found herself sprawled out over a pile of paperwork one evening, being shaken awake by a concerned-looking Soul Evans.

"Hm? Whatimeizzit?" she mumbled, disoriented.

"It's after midnight, Albarn."

As she got her bearings, Maka was uncomfortably aware of the fact that her hair was a rat's nest and she was pretty sure she'd been drooling a little bit. Flushing in embarrassment at having been caught sprawled out over one of the library's big tables and wiping surreptitiously at her lips and chin, she asked, "What are you doing here?"

His hand was still on her shoulder, she noticed.

"Kid called. He said you were supposed to meet him and some friend of yours for coffee after work but you never showed up."

Maka dropped her face back onto her small stack of files with a groan. "Crap. I knew there was something I was forgetting…"

"I wouldn't sweat it. Kid's known you long enough to know that you wouldn't intentionally flake on them."

"Yes, but it's rude," Maka moaned into her paperwork.

Soul chuckled, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Seriously, you shouldn't worry about it. Kid's not upset, he just wanted to make sure you were okay."

That made Maka feel better and worse at the same time, and she sat up properly. "Why'd he call you?" she asked, reordering the documents in her binder and snapping it shut, noting with some relief that there were no drool spots on her paperwork.

"He knows you're representing Kim Diehl, so he thought maybe you and I had another meeting with our clients or something."

Maka frowned. "Weird."

"Yeah. But that's Kid for ya."

"How did you even know where to find me?" she asked.

A smug grin crept onto his face. "Because back in college, whenever you had a test or a big assignment coming up, you always ended in the reference section. Pretty sure you ended up sleeping in the library a couple of times there, too."

"I didn't know you paid that much attention to me," she commented, amused.

His grin faltered a little. "Uh, yeah… well… anyway, I figured you wouldn't break pattern, so I came looking."

Maka hummed neutrally. "Thanks for waking me up, then. The night staff librarian they hired is a real pain in the butt. I'm not sure what Miss Marie was thinking, hiring someone like that. Every time I'm still here at closing time, she reads me the riot act!"

Soul raised his eyebrows. "So this is a thing you do a lot? What are you even doing here, anyway?"

She rolled her shoulders a little awkwardly, unsure why she suddenly felt defensive. "Working. I have a strict policy about not bringing my work home with me, but I have a lot to get done and the Gorgon office is creepy after everybody else leaves. The library is a nice compromise."

He tilted his head thoughtfully, smiling a little, the expression very open and authentic. It freaked her out just a bit; she wasn't used to seeing Soul Evans look so… gentle? Was that the word for it? She didn't know how to handle him when he wasn't making biting comments under his breath and slouching in his seat.

"What?" she asked defensively.

His smile grew a little, but remained softer than any expression she had ever seen on him. "Nothing. I just… wouldn't have pegged you for the type to keep work, y'know, at work."

Maka cringed. "I'm not that much of a workaholic!" she protested.

Soul shook his head. "Nah, you're just dedicated."

"Hence the fact that I'm sleeping in a library." She offered a self-deprecating smile, rolling her eyes at herself, because when she stopped to think about it, it actually was ridiculous.

"So many things make sense now," Soul observed.

"Like what?"

"Well, all this time I thought you sat up so straight because you had a stick up your butt, but clearly you're just trying to compensate for the crick in your neck from sleeping all hunched-"

He was interrupted by the thwack of her three-ring binder smashing down on his cranium.

"Ow! What the hell, Maka?" He glared at her, rubbing his head.

"Don't be an ass," she snapped.

"I was just joking, jeez."

She crossed her arms and huffed out an annoyed breath that blew her bangs back from her eyes. "Well, I didn't think it was very funny."

Soul sighed, apparently resigned. "Sorry. I'm not… very good at people, always."

"Says the man who can have any jury in the state eating out of his hand before the end of his opening statements," Maka grumbled.

"Yeah, well, that's different."

To Maka's surprise, when she looked up at him she found him flushing pink. It was entirely too endearing, and despite herself, she instantly found herself more inclined to declare all forgiven. "Sorry for hitting you," she said.

He gave a careless jerk of his head in acknowledgement. "Hey, it could've been worse. I mean, at least you used the binder instead of the dictionary."

Maka laughed out loud.

After their late-night encounter in the public library, relations between Maka and Soul improved tremendously, even as their clients' already rocky relationship steadily deteriorated. They began exchanging friendly emails about things other than the case they were working on, and Maka took the time to actually get to know him- as much as he would let her, anyway. He was a very private person, she discovered. However, he was also a much nicer guy than she had given him credit for, and Maka was never one to cling onto her first impression of someone if she was proved wrong. It turned out that if she was kind to him, he would be kind to her in turn.

Positive though their encounters with each other became, their professional lives got no easier. Maka discovered that despite being extremely stubborn and determined to have her way, Kim Diehl was also extremely fickle. At the time she had contracted Gorgon, Gorgon, & Gorgon to represent her in the case, she had been fully prepared to drag her ex to court and take him for every dime the wealthy surgeon had. However, Kim was also a singer with a rising career in the industry, and a lengthy, messy divorce was bad for her image. Once things began to heat up, Kim asked Maka to do everything possible to have to avoid an actual court appearance and get things settled as quietly and privately as possible.

As a result, there were constant- and completely fruitless- attempts to negotiate. At least once a week, either Maka or Soul received a call requesting to schedule a meeting with legal representation present to work out a compromise. It was frustrating to have this one case constantly taking up time that could have been devoted to other work. It was also exhausting, because Maka had never been very good at keeping herself emotionally detached from her clients, and when every encounter ended in a screaming match, she found herself leaving meetings feeling almost as emotionally bruised as Kim.

One afternoon, Maka was taking what she planned on making a therapeutic "extended lunch" at a street cafe a few blocks from the office, trying to shrug off the criticism Medusa Gorgon had heaped on her the day before for not being able to just get the damn thing settled already. Despite the warm spring sunshine, she just couldn't seem to shake the dark cloud hanging over her. She knew this case could do wonders for her career if it went well, but the Gorgon sisters were getting impatient and Maka was beginning to feel nervous, which was unusual for her.

She also had the bet with Soul hanging over her head. Of course, if they managed to settle things out of court, the bet would be null, but it was looking like that wasn't going to be an option. The court date had been set and they were no closer to finding an agreeable compromise than they had been three months ago. All in all, she felt far less confident than she had all those weeks ago when they had originally agreed on their little friendly wager, but that wasn't what had her worried.

What worried her was that she wasn't totally sure she wanted to win. Oh, she wanted to win the case, of course. It was too important to her career for her to want to fail. Additionally, she had to admit, she was a little intrigued by what proof Soul thought he had that not all men were unfaithful. However, the prospect of going on a date with Soul was oddly appealing.

He was too handsome for his own good, but that wasn't it. There were plenty of physically attractive men in the world, but Maka had never been swayed by her pretty face- her father was handsome, too. No, it was just something about him. Soul, when he let down his guard a little, was actually a genuinely nice person. And, to her chagrin, she was beginning to realize that she found his snarky little witticisms every bit as charming now as she had for that brief period in college before she'd written him off as a jerk.

Maka stirred idly at her coffee, contemplatively watching a little bubble on the surface spin round and round, her chin propped in her palm. It was a conundrum, what to do about Soul…


She startled out of her thoughts, sitting up straight. She glanced across the low gate that separated the cafe tables from the sidewalk and found Soul on the other side. He was staring at her bemusedly, hands in the pockets of his slacks and a little smile playing with his lips.

"Hey," he said.

"Oh, hi!" Maka said, flustered. She felt unprepared, as if he would be able to tell what she had been pondering just from looking at her. "I was just thinking about you."

Brilliant, Maka. Exactly the right thing to say to the guy you're kind of maybe a little bit interested in.

His grin turned smug, and he took his hands out of his pockets to lean against the railing separating them. "Oh? I'm on your mind, am I?" he asked.

Searching for a way to salvage this with her dignity intact, she blurted out, "The case, I mean! I was… thinking about Ms. Diehl and Mr. Ford and you- you represent Mr. Ford and-"

Soul laughed. "Relax, Albarn. I'm just messing with you."

She huffed indignantly, but it was mostly for show and she suspected he knew that. Maka had figured out that teasing people was Soul's way of making friends, and though she was easily flustered, she had thick skin and she could take anything he dished out.

"Listen, are you busy right now?" she asked tentatively.

He shrugged. "Not particularly. I don't have any meetings for the rest of the day so I'm gonna work from home the rest of the afternoon."

"By which you actually mean…?"

He grinned, pleased that she had seen right through him. "Eh, probably playing Skyrim in my boxers."

"You are such a child."

"Better to act like a child than look like one, right?" he shot back.

Maka pouted and glared at him. She certainly had looked closer to fourteen than twenty when they were doing their undergrad, but she didn't anymore and they both knew it. Deciding not to respond to the jibe, she said, "Seriously, Soul. If you're not doing anything, would you like to join me for lunch? I've been trying all day to figure out how the hell we're going to get those two to come to a compromise and I need a fresh perspective."

"You sure it's ethical to discuss it with me without Kim here?" he asked.

Maka shrugged. "We won't disclose anything that would violate confidentiality. It's just this division of assets stuff we've been over how many thousands of times already?"

Soul snorted. "Tell me about it. I swear, those two are more stubborn than any other pair of divorceés I've ever worked with. Yeah, alright. Maybe we can figure something out they'd both agree to."

"Dear god, please," Maka groaned. "Kim's a nice girl, but she's such a diva and I'm sick of dealing with her. She's eating into my time with my other clients."

In a move that Maka found thoroughly impressive when executed in a suit, Soul vaulted over the low gate and took the empty seat opposite her.

"Very nice, Mr. Evans," she complimented.

He grinned cheekily at her. "I like to stay in shape."

"I can see that," she said, and she most definitely did not give him a once-over as she said it. If Soul noticed he was polite enough not to comment.

They managed to keep the topic focused on the dilemma of how to get their clients to settle for all of twenty minutes, just long enough for the waiter to bring their meal. Then Soul made some comment about having a similar dish when he was traveling abroad, and the subject of conversation veered sharply off-course.

He explained that after finishing his undergraduate degree, he had taken a year off from school to see more of the world and try to figure out what he wanted in life before finally deciding to attend Harvard to earn his law degree.

"What made you decide to be a lawyer, anyway?" Maka asked.

Soul shrugged. "Process of elimination, I guess. I only really had three options so it was a choice of the lesser evil."

She tilted her head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"See, my family is really musical. It's sort of the family business, and we've got some pretty big names in the family tree. Lot of pressure to live up to." He said it carelessly, but his shoulders were tense, and Maka got an inkling that this wasn't as small an issue as his light tone suggested.

His lips pressed into a wire-thin line briefly before he continued. "I didn't really pass muster as a musician, so that left me with the options of doctor or lawyer on the list of Acceptable Careers For An Evans Boy, and I knew I didn't want to be a doctor."

"Why not?"

"Needles freak me out."

Maka couldn't help but giggle, causing him to turn that charming shade of pink again and give her an embarrassed, self-deprecating little grin.

"So, that's pretty much it," he said, trying to brush his admission under the rug. "Of all the options I had, that seemed like the best one. What about you? Did you always want to do this?"

She nodded. "Since I was a little kid. Didn't really see myself working in family law, though."

"Yeah? What was the dream, then?"

"When I was five I decided I was going to be a district attorney."

Soul stared at her incredulously, then threw his head back and laughed out loud. "Oh my god, when you were five?" he explained as he tried to get his laughter under control. "What kind of five year old-? No, never mind, it's not even ridiculous because it's you!"

"And what does that mean?" Maka asked, feeling wrong-footed and not sure if she should be offended or flattered.

Having contained himself, Soul explained, "It's just that you're really driven. As long as I've known you, you've never stopped moving forward. It's not surprising that you were like that even as a little kid. So why aren't you the DA by now?"

Maka sighed. "I had to have some field experience first, because nobody's gonna vote for someone for district attorney if the ink hasn't even dried on their diploma. When I was job-hunting after graduation, I was passed over for a position as a state's attorney for a more experienced candidate. Then I got the place at Gorgon, Gorgon, & Gorgon and I've been there ever since."

Soul snorted. "Somebody up at city hall must be smoking something. They were nuts not to hire you- everybody knows you're the best damn lawyer in Death Valley. Even those witches you work for probably know it."

He said it so straightforwardly, so utterly without guile. It was obvious that as far as Soul was concerned, he absolutely meant every word, and it took Maka completely by surprise. "You really mean that," she said wonderingly.

"Well, yeah," he said, cutting his eyes to the side, abashed but no less earnest. "I've always thought so. Even back when we were still in school, I could tell you were gonna be a superstar."

Maka could not have been more flabbergasted if Soul had ripped off his suit to reveal a luchador costume and begun to wrestle with their waiter. If it hadn't been painfully clear that he was totally sincere, she would have thought he was mocking her, because this didn't seem like the kind of thing that should ever come out of the mouth of laid-back, unemotional Soul Evans. Even after an afternoon of constantly being flustered and caught off-guard by him, this took the cake, and her stomach was full of unexpected butterflies.

"I-I don't know what to say," she sputtered. "Um, thank you."

Soul waved a hand airily. "I'm not kidding. You're going places. Unlike me- I'm pretty sure if Kid and I didn't know each other, I'd be unemployed and homeless right now."

The realization that he was every bit as sincere in his casual condemnation of himself as he had been in his praise of her prickled uncomfortably in Maka's gut.

"Don't sell yourself short," she said. "You've got one hell of a reputation yourself."

He ducked his head with an awkward little chuff of laughter. "Nah, I just get lucky with the cases I end up with."

"No way. I've seen you in the courtroom, and like you just said, I know my stuff. You're a good lawyer. Maybe a great lawyer."

He shook his head, but she could see that he was struggling to hide a smile, and she pressed her advantage.

"I'm serious, Soul. After you won that domestic abuse case two years ago by proving it was self-defense, people started calling you 'The Eater.'"

"The Eater?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow in confusion. "Why?"

Maka pondered for a moment, sticking out her lower lip in confusion when she came up empty. "You know, I'm not totally sure? I don't know who came up with it. I think it started out as some kind of shark metaphor, blood in the water and stuff, and it just kind of… evolved."

He snorted. "The Eater, huh? I like that."

She rolled her eyes. "You would."

Maka stood outside the bar, rubbing impatiently at her upper arms and wishing she had brought a sweater, because even though spring was well underway, the temperature had dropped once the sun went down. She seriously hoped she was actually in the right place and wouldn't end up standing around waiting for people who weren't even going to show up. She wasn't overly familiar with Death City's bar scene, and while she thought she'd written down Soul's directions correctly, she wasn't sure.

He had called her that morning, not long after she got into the office.

"You were friends with Liz Thompson in college, right?" he had asked without preamble.

"Yeah, we were really close," Maka had replied, thrown for a loop by the unexpected question.

"Well, she's flying in from New York this afternoon to visit Kid for a couple of days, and a bunch of us are going for drinks tonight. Did you want to come with?"

"Of course! I'd love to see Liz."

There wasn't even a question about it. Maka had met Liz during her second year of undergrad. Every year, Kid's father awarded a full ride scholarship to a deserving student who couldn't afford school, and Liz had been one of the winners. She and Kid had become fast friends, and he had introduced her to Maka. They had come from very different backgrounds and had very different interests, but they took an instant liking to each other and by the time Liz graduated with her degree in social work, they were close confidantes. Maka kept in contact with Liz, exchanging regular phone calls and emails, and while Maka was still at school out East they had visited, but she hadn't actually seen her since moving back to Death City.

And so here she was, shifting her weight from foot to foot impatiently and regretting her wardrobe choice- which, if anyone asked, had nothing to do with wanting to impress anybody, and especially not annoyingly handsome, snarky lawyers. It would be just her luck if she had mistaken the address and ended up on the wrong side of downtown and had to spend half the night-


With only a cry of her name as warning, Maka found her face pressed into a noticeably over-developed chest when she was pulled into an enthusiastic hug. She hugged back instinctively, because she was at least sixty percent sure she recognized the boobs she was being smothered against.

"Hi, Patti," she gasped out once the curvy blonde finally released her. "Soul didn't say you were gonna be here, too!"

"He didn't know! Sissy told Kid she was coming, but I was a surprise!" Patti Thompson exclaimed happily.

"Well, consider me surprised," Maka said, grinning broadly. It had been far too long since she'd seen Patti, as well. She hadn't known Liz's baby sister quite as well as she had known Liz herself, but Patti was wonderfully upbeat and instantly endearing.

The rest of the group arrived soon after, having not had quite as much eagerness to say "hi" as Patti had displayed. Maka was pleased to see that in addition to Liz, Kid, and Soul, their party also included Kilik Rung, a pro bono criminal defense lawyer who had been friends with Soul at Harvard. Maka tried not to stare at Soul. She'd gotten so used to seeing him in a suit and tie over the years that casual wear was a surprise. That leather jacket really suited him, she decided.

Upon her arrival, Liz followed her sister's example and immediately drew Maka into a hug, just as enthusiastic although with less face-to-boob smooshing. "It's so great to see you again, Maka!" she exclaimed.

"No kidding, it's been forever! I was so excited when Soul said you were going to be in town."

Maka immediately knew that she had made a grave error when Liz's eyes took on a smug, almost predatory gleam. "Oh, so Soul was the one who invited you, hm? You two are getting along better these days?"


"Let's not talk out here, it's freezing," Soul interrupted, and Maka suspected that he had cut Liz off on purpose. He was clever like that, and you didn't have to know Liz well to know that she tended to stick her nose into her friends' business.

She tried to convince herself that the goosebumps on her body were from the cold and not because Soul had briefly rested his hand on her lower back as he guided her toward the door.

Soul's hand was on her knee. Maka had no idea how to deal with this.

For starters, he was plastered. That in itself was a bit of a shock, because she'd never known him to be much of a partier in their college days. She supposed things could change, but it still came as a surprise to her.

He was, it transpired, a talkative drunk, perfectly happy to chat with anyone and everyone about anything and everything. And all the while he was absentmindedly tracing little circles on the skin of her knee through her stockings. She was pretty sure he wasn't even aware he was doing it, just an unconscious little action that she was paying enough attention to for the both of them. It felt nice, but she didn't know what to make of it.

Currently, Soul was informing Kid quite enthusiastically that he had never cared for his hair and thought he should bleach the rest of it to match the odd white patches.

"Then we'd match!" he slurred excitedly.

Kid looked like he was going to cry, and Maka was pretty sure he would have, if Patti hadn't appeared right at that moment to whisk him away to play a round of darts. Kid usually wasn't fond of the game, but at this particular moment he went with Patti happily and with not a word of complaint spoken.

Soul didn't acknowledge that his conversational partner had disappeared except to wave cheerfully at Kid's retreating back.

"You shouldn't say things like that to Kid," Maka said. "You know how his hair upsets him."

Soul shook his head, grinning. "Nah, he can take it. He's tougher than he seems. You're too soft on him, Maka. It's 'cuz you're nice. You're really nice, Maka."

"Um… thanks?"

Soul's fingers were now tapping out a rhythm on her knee, and it finally became too distracting for Maka to take. She reached down and moved his hand away.

He jumped a little and stared at his hand as if he had never seen it before. "Holy shit," he mumbled. "Was that there the whole time?"


"Whoops, sorry," he said on a hiccup. "I didn't mean to offend you or- or anything, I-"

"It's okay," Maka rushed to interrupt him, before he continued or her face got any hotter than it currently felt.

Soul laid his head down on the bar top, looking at her with drowsy eyes. "Why're you still sittin' over here with me?" he asked blearily. "Liz 'n them are playin' darts…"

Well that was a question that only had incriminating answers! It seemed that even when intoxicated, Soul still had his gift for knowing exactly which questions to ask. Or maybe it wasn't as loaded a query as it seemed, maybe she was projecting connotations onto it because she'd had a few drinks herself and she couldn't seem to ignore that light fluttery feeling in her belly.

Regardless… fortune favored the brave, right? She took another sip of her martini for courage, feeling timid and bold at the same time.

"I like it over here with you," she said.

Watching his eyes light up was incredible. "Tha's good," he mumbled happily. "I was worried you hated me."

Maka instinctively shook her head. "No, I don't hate you," she rushed to assure him. "I-I mean, for awhile I didn't like you very much, but I do now."

He snorted, and for a moment became very fascinated with a small puddle of spilled beer on the bartop a few inches from his face, swirling his finger in it and tracing little patterns across the treated wood, much as he had across her kneecap earlier. Then, suddenly, his eyes flicked up to her face and he fixed her with a very serious gaze that was at odds with his slurring words.

"I always liked you," he said solemnly, "Even when we were in school. Liked you a lot."

All the air rushed out of Maka's lungs at the admission. "Soul…"

"Mean it. Really like you, Maka. Yer increbi- increb- increbible." He frowned. "Bleh. Words are hard. I prob'ly shouldn't be tellin' you this drunk. Prob'ly shouldn't be tellin' you at all. Damn. I'm stupid. Drinking makes me stupid."

Unsure how else to respond, she murmured, "Drinking makes everybody stupid."

"Not enough booze on the planet to make you stupid," he said. "I bet you could be too blastered to walk and still do calculus or somethin'."

She couldn't help but laugh, shaking her head in amusement at him. "You give me too much credit, Soul."

He got lost in his thoughts for awhile, staring up at the bar lights in apparent fascination. Maka took the opportunity, trying to collect her reeling thoughts. If she were sober, she would be panicking and heading for the nearest exit, but the alcohol had made her relaxed enough and brave enough to stay. Soul was saying things she wanted to hear. Sober Maka didn't know how to deal with them, but Tipsy Maka didn't care about dealing with things. She just wanted to float around in what she was feeling and not overthink it for once.

"Hey Maka?"


"We're friends now, right?"

She nodded. "Of course we're friends."

"Good. Always wanted t'be your friend."

He finally sat up, and swayed dangerously on his barstool. Maka shot out a hand to grab his shoulder and steady him. Soul giggled, and began tilting his head from side to side in a little rocking motion. "Everything's wobbly" he murmured happily. "I definitely can't drive."

"It's lucky that Kid's driving you all home, then," Maka replied dryly, trying terribly hard not to find his antics endearing and failing spectacularly.

There was another companionable silence as Soul got lost in his own little world, continuing to enjoy the effects of intoxication and Maka sipped slowly on her own drink. She had a lot of questions she wanted to ask him, because he'd made it obvious the attraction she was feeling wasn't one-sided. Unfortunately, she wasn't nearly as drunk as Soul, just sober enough to be rational. Alcohol was one hell of a truth serum, and even though the lawyer in her was screaming that this was her opportunity to cross-examine him and get a few things clarified, she was also aware that it wasn't very ethical to get him to talk to her about this when he was this far gone. She was just about positive he'd tell her anything right now, but she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answers, not like this anyway.

Still, there was one harmless question buzzing in her mind, one that she wanted a straight answer to and not a sarcastic quip that only confused her more.

"Hey, Soul?"

He hummed in acknowledgement.

"Why do you only call me by my first name when you're drunk?"

"'Cuz I'm too scared to sober."

Well that wasn't confusing at all!

"What do you mean?"

Soul swayed towards her, leaning forward slightly on his barstool, making an admirable attempt to hold her gaze despite the fact that he was having a hard time focusing. "Ish like this," he said, making vague gestures with his hands. "Your last name is professional and I c'n call you Albarn and it's okay. Lil more impersonal, keep you at a distance, y'know wha I'm sayin'?"

These were dangerous waters, but Maka couldn't stop herself from saying, "I don't understand. If we're friends, why do you want to keep me at a distance?"

He leaned heavily on the bar-top, cutting his eyes away from her and staring down at the floor instead. "Maka's what I'd call you if we were in love," he said, and she felt as if she had been petrified on the spot, frozen in place until he finished his thought.

"But we're not in love so I can't… I dunno how to call you Maka and make it sound casual. 'Cept when I'm drunk, apparently. God, I'm really drunk… shouldn't be telling you this, I'm gonna regret it, shit, I'm a moron, I can't shut the fuck up when I'm drunk…" His train of thought faded off into a dissatisfied wordless grumbling.

She reached out impulsively and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry about it," she said. "I'm- I'm glad you told me that."

Maka really hoped he couldn't feel her hand trembling.

Things changed noticeably after that night at the bar. Their exchange of emails trickled down to brief messages, mostly related to work or sometimes a mention of the lives of their mutual friends, the latter of which was always initiated by Maka.

Soul also took to dodging her outside of the necessary meetings demanded by their respective clients. Before that night, they had occasionally met up for lunch or coffee if their schedules happened to coincide. Afterwards, he managed to artfully sidestep every suggestion of seeing each other beyond what was absolutely necessary for work. It wasn't anything she could have proved in court if she had to argue a case. Her evidence was circumstantial at best. If she mentioned grabbing lunch, he had a meeting. If she suggested stopping by to bring him a coffee- because the tasteless stuff that Kid brewed in the office was probably lethal- he was expecting a phone call and didn't have time to chat, so she shouldn't waste her time going out of her way.

At first, she honestly thought it was coincidental. He had been so drunk she hadn't been completely positive he would actually remember the details of their conversation. However, after several weeks of this she was starting to get suspicious, and when they eventually ran into each other at the supermarket and Soul practically broke his spine trying to pretend he hadn't seen her- to say nothing of the stilted, awkward conversation that followed when Maka refused to let him have his pretense- she couldn't deny the truth anymore.

Soul was avoiding her.

She wasn't sure what to do about it. The obvious solution was to confront him but, though she was loathe to admit it, Maka was afraid to do so. She wasn't even sure why she was so nervous. With everything he'd said to her that night, she was confident that if she were to make the first move, she wouldn't be rejected. That was what usually kept people quiet when things were strained with the person they liked, right? Fear of rejection was a powerful muffler, but that couldn't be why she was so afraid to take the leap.

Maybe it was because it had been so long since she'd given romance a shot. The last time she'd even considered letting a man into her life in a non-platonic capacity had been the boy she'd dated for a few months her freshman year at college. And seeing as that venture had ended with him drunkenly putting his tongue in her roommate's mouth, she hadn't seen much point in continuing.

But Soul was different, wasn't he? When she thought about it, maybe that was it. Soul had been a satellite in her life for so many years now, but now they were getting closer and she was really getting to know him. Soul wasn't just some guy she found attractive. He was a friend, as hard as that would have been to believe six months ago, and he had actual potential. Soul was someone she wanted to trust, someone she felt like she could trust.

How long had it been since she'd had enough faith in a man to think that maybe it wouldn't be a horrible mistake to date him? Maka didn't know if that had ever happened.

Yes, she decided after much deliberation on the subject, that had to be what scared her. This just might be something real, and she wasn't sure how to handle that.

And so, even though it was cowardly, Maka didn't press the issue. She buried herself in her work, because the court date was fast approaching and she needed to be prepared if she was going to win this thing once and for all. Once the case was finished and she had Kim Diehl off her hands at last, then there would be time to worry about other things.

Maka slumped down on the courthouse steps, staring out over Death City with a kind of stunned disbelief. Medusa's harsh words, spoken in that calm tone that promised tortures of the kind even Hell itself couldn't muster, were still ringing in her ears, and she felt a sick twisting in the pit of her stomach.

She had lost. She couldn't believe it.

When the court date had first been decided on, Maka had felt pretty confident, especially because the judge who would be presiding over the case was an old childhood friend of hers. Blake Barrett- or as he often called himself, Black Star, after a rough translation of his Japanese birth name- was the adopted son of her father's coworker, Sid Barrett. He had never been book smart, but he was a hard worker and a fantastic judge of character and it had served him well in his climb through the judicial system.

Maka had known not to expect him to favor her client in the case just because they'd known each other since they were toddlers, because Black Star was nothing if not extremely fair and as such surprisingly good at being impartial, but she hadn't really expected to lose.

Everything had been going so well, too. She had presented Kim's not-unreasonable demands and her very valid reasons for wanting a divorce, and it had seemed like things were going her way. As far as she was concerned, she had the thing in the bag… until Ox Ford asked to be sworn in to say his piece.

"I had something else I was planning to say in my testimony," Ox had said, after much shuffling of notecards and clearing his throat. "My legal counsel and I spent a lot of time on it. But before I begin any of that, I want to make one thing clear: I have never been unfaithful to Kim. I loved her very much and I would never do that to her. I would have granted her the divorce quietly, if she just asked, and throughout this whole disaster, I've kept my mouth shut and let her abuse me. I promised Kim months ago that I wouldn't tell anyone what I'm about to disclose, but I cannot stand by and listen to this defamation of my character any longer. The truth-"

At that point, Kim had leapt to her feet beside Maka and shouted at Ox to keep his mouth shut, he'd promised he would never say a word, and it took the combined efforts of Maka's urging and a direct order from Black Star to get her to sit down and be quiet.

"Go on, Mr. Ford," Black Star had said once Kim was subdued.

"The truth is..." Ox paused for dramatic effect. "I was never the one who was unfaithful. It was Kim. She cheated on me… with her manager. With Jackie."

The aforementioned manager, who was waiting with other friends and family in the gallery, let out a squeak and went red as a tomato, while Kim leapt to her feet and began shouting abuse at Ox again.

And that was it. Once the infidelity Maka had been banking on as evidence to get the judge's sympathy on Kim's side backfired spectacularly, it was all over. Kim had gotten the division of assets stipulated in the prenup and not a penny more, and she wouldn't have even gotten that if Ox hadn't generously stated that he didn't wish to press the issue of her unfaithfulness with her lover. There had been nothing Maka could do.


Maka looked up, startled out of her thoughts. When she saw Soul there, she scrambled to her feet. Once she was up, though, she didn't know what to say, and apparently neither did Soul. They just stood there for a moment, in the bright Nevada sunshine, looking anywhere but at each other.

Finally, Maka tore her eyes away from a crack in the cement and forced herself to meet his gaze. "You knew, didn't you? That Kim is a lesbian, I mean."

"I don't actually think she's a lesbian. I think she's… bisexual, maybe? She and Jacqueline have been having a thing since before she ever married Ox, but she's never been open about it because being out is taking a big chance with a performance career. Guess she didn't want to risk it."

"How long has Mr. Ford known?" Maka asked. "Is that what caused their marriage to fall apart?"

Soul shrugged. "Dunno. I suppose it must have been part of it. He told me about it right after I took the case. I couldn't tell you about it, because that would've-"

"-Violated confidentiality," Maka finished for him. "Yeah, I know.

Silence descended again until Soul abruptly asked, "Why were you just sitting out here? Are you okay?"

She let out a bitter laugh. "Oh, I just got the chewing out of my life from my boss," she said. "Medusa's not happy with me at all. If I'd won this case I might've been promoted, but… well, let's just say it'll be a miracle if I still have my job in six months."

"But is that really such a bad thing?" Soul asked shrewdly. "You said yourself it wasn't your dream job. You've got some field experience now. Maybe this is a chance to do what you really want to do."

Maka's heart unexpectedly swelled with affection for him. Of course he would find a way to turn the worst day of her entire law career into a golden opportunity! He was The Eater, the lawyer who always found a loophole… and he was Soul Evans, who never seemed to know the right thing to say, but managed to make her happy just by being around anyway.

"So…" she said, biting on her cheek to stop the grin that was threatening to burst across her face. "You one the case. Would you like to get dinner to celebrate?"

Soul's face fell and he rubbed nervously at the back of his neck, avoiding her eyes. "Oh. The bet. Yeah… listen, Maka, I feel really bad, I had information you didn't when we made the wager and I don't want to force you to go out with me just 'cause I won a bet, so-"

He was cut off abruptly by Maka's lips on his, a brief, sweet kiss that shocked him into silence. Maka reached down between them and took his hand in hers.

"Soul, you won the case," she said with a huge grin on her face, enunciating every word very slowly and clearly as if speaking to a child, to make absolutely certain he wouldn't miss her meaning. "Let's go have dinner to celebrate."

He stared at her blankly for a second, than his face lit up. "Oh! Oh, right, uh… yeah, I mean, if… if you'd like to?" His expression was hopeful and bewildered and utterly pleased, and Maka decided it was entirely adorable.

"Yes, Mr. Evans, I believe I would," she said cheerfully. She squeezed his hand, then took off down the steps, tugging him gently behind her.

Soul's laughter echoed in her ears and his hand was warm in hers and at that moment, Maka felt entirely at peace with the world.