A/N: This is my first offering for SoMa week 2014, for the Roommates prompt. It was inspired by, but is not based on, Moonplata's adorable Puppy!Soul illustrations on tumblr. Special thanks to ilarual for reading through this monster and assuring me that, no, it is not actually as bad as I think it is. Other fics for the week will be posted on their proper days, so stay tuned for six more SoMa-tastic offerings.
Something was scratching at her door. At least, that's what it sounded like. No, something was most definitely scratching at her door. And whining pitiably. It almost sounded like a dog, which was impossible since they'd never actually owned a dog; it would have been a mess with Blair around.
Maybe it was Blair? But no, her roommate would have just transformed and opened the door. It was something that didn't belong, clearly. She wondered if it had woken either of her roommates.
"Blair?" she called out quietly, but there was no answer.
"Soul?" she said more loudly. The scratching stopped for the barest instant, the whining cut off, and then suddenly intensified, becoming almost frantic. She supposed she should just open the door and see what the heck was going on since no answer seemed otherwise forthcoming. Throwing off her covers with an annoyed huff at having been awoken at three in the bloody morning, Maka stormed over to the door and flung it open, looking down only to find… the cutest little puppy she had ever seen, really. It had a soft, fluffy white coat and floppy little ears and the cutest little tail that curled up. Maka immediately dropped to a squat to scoop up the poor little thing, who immediately stopped whining to snuggle close to her chest and wriggle up to lick her face. She couldn't help but to be struck by its eyes, as red as her partner's, though she doubted he would much appreciate the comparison.
"Awwww—you are sweet, aren't you? You were just lonely, I think, making all that racket, weren't you? It's okay now, little guy. Wait—you are a guy, right?" She held him out for a moment, carefully inspecting the dog's nether regions as it squirmed and actually growled.
"Okay, okay, I'm done," she said placatingly, a bit mystified that a puppy actually seemed to care. "But you're definitely a boy. Now to figure out where you came from, eh? If Soul brought you home without even asking, I swear to Death I'm going to—" The thing barked again, becoming increasingly agitated as she spoke.
"Shhhh—it's alright, puppy, I wasn't mad at you, okay? Let's just see who's home." She set the puppy down for a minute and strode over to Soul's door, but it was open and he clearly wasn't in his room, though the bedding was rumpled and the space itself was strewn with a typical amount of boy-clutter. The puppy followed close at her heels, whining for attention, but Maka was too angry to mind it just then. Maybe she was overreacting. Maybe he was in the bathroom or something.
"Soul?" She called out loudly, but only silence and an increasingly agitated white puppy greeted her in reply, the little dog's whines becoming loud and pitiful once more. Stalking to the bathroom, she found it as empty as Soul's bedroom, and a quick perusal of the rest of the apartment still revealed neither Blair nor Soul. Blair was probably working late, no shock there, but Soul should be home. Well—maybe he couldn't sleep and had taken one of his late night rides...
"That still doesn't explain you, though." She bent down to pet the distraught puppy with a sigh. "Guess I should try to call him, huh little guy?" The dog only whimpered again as Maka made for her bedroom to grab her cell, calling her weapon. The phone began to ring, and after a time, went to his voicemail.
"This is Soul, you know the drill," his bored voice intoned through her phone speaker.
"The drill is going to be a chop to the head if you don't pick up. Where the hell are you?" She hung up with an exasperated sigh, no longer paying attention to the little dog that had bolted under her bed at her show of anger.
She pushed redial, and the phone began to ring again. And that's when she noticed the music.
"Huh?" she shook her head, walking out of her room to find the source even as she kept her phone ringing Soul's. By the time she got his voicemail again, the music had stopped. Why wasn't he picking up? He always picked up when she called. Frustrated and more than a bit concerned, she pushed redial yet again, and suddenly, the music began anew and she realized it was coming from her weapon's bedroom. Slowly, cautiously, she made her way there, allowing the phone to keep ringing. As she went inside, she heard the song more clearly. It wasn't his normal ringtone of some sort of jazz tune she couldn't name, but rather, a rock song.
"She's my baby, she's my baby, yeah it's alright," the gruff voice sang out amidst guitars and drums. She clicked to hang up and the music cut off. She called again and it started anew. "She's got legs, she knows how to use them. She never begs, she knows how to choose them," the voice sang out again to its rock accompaniment. She found the source on the desk: Soul's smartphone, a picture of herself she didn't remember him taking smiling back at her, her name emblazoned across the top. So this was his ringtone for her. Weird. But more importantly, the idiot had forgotten his damned phone.
The puppy, who she had failed to notice had crept into the room behind her, whimpered at this and retreated once more to parts unknown, running from the room. Well, just as well, she needed to figure out where Soul was. Hopefully, he was out for a drive and had forgotten his phone like the idiot he was, but she was getting more and more worried, the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong refusing to leave her. Part of the problem, she suddenly realized, was that according to their soul bond, he felt close, yet he was nowhere. She shook her head, puzzled, and decided it was high time she tried using her soul perception. If he really was close, she should find him easily enough.
Reaching out with her perception, Maka sensed him quickly. The comforting presence of his soul was near, yet something was off. He was agitated and confused, and his soul somehow felt wrong, like it was bound too tight, a wide foot crammed into a narrow shoe. She didn't get it, really, but at least he was close and, seemingly, safe, so she moved to where he was, which turned out to be her room. What the hell? She pushed her door open wide and saw nothing, yet his soul was definitely here. Ah, under the bed, that's where she sensed it. What in Shinigama's name he was doing there, of all places, she had no clue—but it was definitely chop worthy to scare her like this for no rea—
Her thoughts were instantly cut short as his soul moved out from hiding to stand before her, only what she saw wasn't the white haired teen she expected, or even the scythe, but the same little white puppy who had awoken her so abruptly a scant twenty minutes ago.
She peered down at the little dog skeptically. "S…soul?" she asked, confusion etched in her furrowed brow and downturned mouth. The puppy wagged its tail enthusiastically and as she bent down to scoop him up into her arms once more, she realized that the reason this puppy had felt so familiar to her was because he was familiar. Past every bound of reason, she was now holding her weapon in her arms, his soul reaching out for hers, warm and right. She shook her head, stunned, confused.
"What happened? How did this—how are you...?" The dog whimpered in reply. "We'll figure this out, okay? I don't know what happened, who did this to you, but we're going to figure this out, don't worry." She hugged him close, pet his soft, fluffy fur, smiled as he wagged his tail hopefully. They really would figure this out—they had to.
After a scant moment's deliberation, she bundled him up and took him to Stein. She didn't know what else to do, where else to go. Clearly, some sort of magic was at work, but what the spell was, who had cast it and why, she had no clue. Getting to Stein's laboratory had been a chore—she had no choice but to take Soul's bike, grabbing the keys up, bundling the puppy—Soul, it was Soul, she had to remember that—and cleaning out one of the saddlebags to ensconce the little bundle of fur inside, apologizing profusely to her weapon all the while. As he licked her hand and wagged his tail once he was settled, she figured he must not much mind and tried to banish from her mind for the moment that the dog who had been licking her hand and her face this past half hour was actually her partner.
It took them longer to get there than it should have. Soul had taught her to drive his motorcycle in case of emergency, but she had only done it under his tutelage, and then only twice. Now she had to do it alone and she was hesitant and unsure at the same time she just wanted to get there and figure this out. After a good half hour, she finally pulled up to the stitched up lab on the outskirts of town and brought the bike to a stuttering halt, painfully aware of how loud it was in the still night. When Stein strode out as she had just finished setting the kickstand and was gingerly picking her partner up out of the saddlebag, she was less surprised than sheepish. She had woken him, and for that she was sorry, but she really had no choice. They needed help—now.
Stein being Stein, he looked neither angry nor pleased, but bored.
"Rough night?" He asked, looking at Maka and adjusting the screw in his head.
"You could say that. We—um—need help, and I didn't know where else—"
"It's fine, Maka, come in. You can bring the puppy too, if you must, but I can't promise I won't dissect it."
"It's Soul," she said, clutching him tighter as he whimpered at the professor's words. Stein just looked at the little dog for a moment and nodded once curtly.
"So it is. Well, don't just stand there, get inside. It looks like we have work to do." The professor adjusted his head screw idly as Maka hurried past and into the lab, hoping Stein wouldn't push for dissection (not that she would allow it, but she'd rather not have to force that issue when all she really wanted was her partner back). He followed her in, the door closing behind them with a soft click as they walked into the living room.
"You can sit with him on the couch for now—I'll need to get a few things. And then you can tell me exactly what happened while I examine him." Without waiting for an answer, Stein strode off into another room, one Maka recognized from past experience as his lab, and Maka let herself fall to the couch heavily, clutching Soul to her stomach. He whimpered a bit in her arms, and she pet his soft fur soothingly.
"Shhh… it's okay. I know this is confusing. We'll figure it out, I promise." The little dog just nuzzled her hand in response and then squirmed to get comfortable in her lap.
It was the oddest thing, really. His soul felt so familiar—like Soul—yet foreign, too. It was Soul but not Soul, both her partner and something far simpler. She was tempted to resonate, to see if she could connect with his mind, maybe talk to him that way, but thought better of it—without more information, it could be dangerous. Best to wait for Stein.
"I wonder what type of dog you are, anyway?" she looked at him speculatively as she stroked his fur. "Probably a mutt," she laughed, though it was nervous, half-hearted.
"Kuvasz," Stein said as he returned with various instruments laid out on a tray (none of them looked sharp, thank Death!) that he set down on the couch near Maka.
"He's a kuvasz puppy. It's clear from his build, the set of the ears, and the shape of the tail." As he said this, he snatched his rolling chair from a corner and wheeled over. Grabbing something that looked like a cross between a telescope and a sextant off the tray, he looked through it, examining Soul closely for a moment as he squirmed in Maka's arms.
"Set him on the cushion next to you, if you will."
Maka complied with only slight hesitation, setting the puppy down while keeping a firm hand on him to still him since he clearly meant to leap right back into her lap.
"Shhh, Soul," she soothed. "Professor Stein is just going to look, he's not going to hurt you, I'll make sure, okay? Just—stay still." The puppy let out a little whimper but complied, and after petting him a few more times, she removed her hand so Stein could get a better look. As he continued to look through the whatever it was, he addressed Maka again.
"So, how did this happen, exactly?"
"I—I don't know," she admitted, agitated. "I woke up to scratching on my door and I found, well, this puppy. And when I went to find Soul to find out where the puppy came from, he was gone. I tried to call him, and then I used soul perception, and that's when I realized," she shook her head, still stunned.
"Yes, it is clearly his soul, however—altered to fit this new vessel. But you don't know how it happened. That will present a problem, but there are ways. Well, then." He picked up another instrument and began to use it to take some measurements. He was writing things on a little notepad periodically as he looked, poked, and prodded at the little puppy with various tools. Soul, for his part, whimpered occasionally, but stayed still, for which Maka was grateful. Finally, after many minutes, Stein put down his instrument and, adjusting his screw again, turned to Maka. The puppy, seeming to sense his torment was over, quickly returned to Maka's lap, and she snuggled him, sending his need for comfort.
"Well, then. It's clearly a magical transformation. I can't tell the origin, but the soul condition and vessel suggest as much. It should be reversible if we can figure out what spell was used, but we will need the cooperation of a witch. Kim should suffice. Without knowing the spell used, however, it may be a permanent condition, or it may be temporary in the casting, in which case, he will revert to his base form when the conditions or time constraints have been met." He turned the screw again, looking thoughtful. "It is difficult to say, really. I might be able to figure out more through dissection, though—" He looked at Soul with a wicked gleam shining on his glasses and Maka shuddered as Soul whimpered and curled deeper into her stomach.
"No, I think—I think we can figure it out another way. Can he understand us? Maybe he could help. Maybe I could resonate with him, try to talk to him that way."
Stein shook his head.
"It is unlikely you will be able to resonate with him in this state. His soul is severely constrained, and consequently, under great pressure. An attempt to resonate, if it is even possible, which I doubt, could kill him. In this form, he would not be able to withstand the amplification effect. As to what he understands—these spells usually leave some memory intact, but his understanding is still, currently, that of an animal. Given that he clearly cannot speak, the spell seems to be of a type that renders him an animal completely. As such, his ability to both deal with receptive language as well as to communicate will be very limited."
"So he—remembers things, but he won't understand them the same way. And he—he—can only communicate and understand what a dog would."
"Will he—when he changes back—remember any of this?"
"Hard to say," Stein adjusted his glasses, looking at Soul, then Maka, speculatively. "Likely, not. The soul is busy just trying to exist in this form, thus his experiences are unlikely to remain imprinted with a body shift, but that isn't to say it's impossible."
"And—and what about his weapon form? Can he?"
"No, absolutely not. The form has altered. He will be unable to transform into the scythe until he resumes his natural human form.
Maka swallowed, hard. "I—understand. So what—do we do now?"
"For now, I suggest you get some rest. Feel free to use the guest room—you know where it is. In the morning, I'll see if any of the data I took is helpful, and I will accompany you to your apartment to see if we can't figure out how this happened. Don't worry about school for now-I'm going to update Lord Death in the morning."
Maka nodded. The least of her worries right now was Kid—she knew her friend would be the first to be sure they had whatever time they needed. She just wish she knew more, could do more; she felt helpless and afraid. What if they couldn't change him back? What then?
She shook away the thought. They had to change him back, that wasn't even a matter of question. They would do it. They would.
"Thank you, professor," she replied softly and, getting up from her place on the couch, Soul in her arms, made her way to the guest room. There was a time when she would have feared staying here, but Marie's presence had changed all of that, and sadistic as he was, even Stein wouldn't touch them without permission with Marie around. Maka was only glad they had not awakened the demon hammer, who, so far into her pregnancy, was in need of as much rest as she could get.
Pushing open the door to the guest room, she closed it behind her with a soft click. In a daze, she removed Soul's leather jacket and her boots that she had haphazardly thrown on over her pajamas, finally curling up on the bed with the soft little ball of fur that was now Soul. It was not long before she fell asleep, too emotionally spent even for tears.
The following morning, Marie insisted on making Maka and Soul breakfast before heading out with Stein, and Maka marveled at how cute her partner was as he ate scraps of bacon and egg from her plate, wagging his tail eagerly. Marie laughed and cooed over how cute the puppy was, even while she comforted Maka and assured her that he would be back to normal in no time. As they left the lab, Maka felt cautiously hopeful.
Of course, it didn't last. Their search of the apartment yielded nothing. Soul's room was typically messy—his pajamas in a heap on his unmade bed, obviously burrowed through by the puppy, a discarded chocolate bar wrapper and glass on his nightstand, his clothes from the day he'd transformed discarded haphazardly on the floor. The deathscythe never let his room get truly bad, but he was just as happy to throw his clothes on the floor and pick them up later, especially when he was tired.
Stein took a few samples from the bed and door and floor, saying he would analyze everything after school and get back to her, but there were no clear answers and Maka had no idea what to do with herself or her partner. For his part, the puppy wanted to be near her constantly, and he whimpered at the door if she left him even for a few moments to use the bathroom.
It was so strange that this needy puppy was her Soul, and yet, when she felt for their connection, strange and strained as it was with his soul so compacted, it was undeniably him. For several hours after Stein left, she simply held him on her lap, turning on some of his favorite music in an attempt to sooth him, petting him absently. He sought her affection eagerly as a puppy which hardly surprised her—Soul had become more affectionate over time in his human form, and they often cuddled on the couch together or held hands these days. They were best friends and partners, after all, and such closeness was good for their resonance; that Maka thoroughly enjoyed being close to her partner was beside the point. That he seemed to enjoy being close to her was also beside the point, especially since it was purely platonic, at least on his end. For her part, she preferred not to think about those other feelings that bubbled within her at the very thought of him, feelings that she feared, feelings that seemed doomed to remain unrequited regardless since he had long since made it clear that she had all the physical appeal of a toadstool. Less, maybe. She was too worried about him to worry about that right now, however, and after several hours of couch sitting, as the puppy started to get antsy, she decided they could probably both use some fresh air.
Grabbing a coat, she scooped up Soul and headed for the door, the puppy wriggling excitedly in her arms.
"Settle down, Soul! Yes, we're going for a walk, but you need to calm down-I'm going to drop you if you don't stop wiggling around so much!" She giggled slightly as the puppy stilled, moving up to lick her face. "Gross, Soul!" she shook her head, but she was still giggling. He was so adorable this way it was hard to really get mad at him. Plus, as Stein had explained to her, he really was a puppy, even if he was Soul, too.
Settling him more securely in her arms, Maka closed their front door behind her and proceeded down the stairs. When she got to the bottom floor and made her way out the complex door, she looked around with a frown. It was midday and relatively quiet, only a few cars and people passing. It felt strange, to be here when she should be in school, but Stein had insisted that they at least take today and she had reluctantly agreed. After all, she wasn't sure she could take Soul to school this way and what would she do with him if she went alone?
Soul wriggled in her arms, eager for freedom, and she decided to set him down. She didn't have a leash nor would she have been able to bring herself to leash her partner if she had, but she hoped he was enough himself to at least stay close and avoid traffic. Fortunately, he did keep to the sidewalk and ran only slightly ahead, bounding around in energetic circles so unlike her partner that she was struck again by just how much of a puppy he really was. It was adorable though, so she bent down to pet him for a moment and laughed as he licked her hand before bounding away playfully. He stopped periodically to relieve himself on a tree or fire hydrant and Maka looked away, embarrassed at the idea of watching her partner urinate, at the very notion that he had been reduced to this. Eventually, they came up to a little girl rolling a ball around on her front step and when the child tried to call the puppy to her, the dog looked up at Maka, tilting his head skeptically in such a Soul-esque way that she had to smile at how odd it looked on the adorable white fur ball even as she wanted to cry.
"Go ahead and humor her, Soul," Maka offered. The puppy wagged his tail twice, then approached the girl cautiously, who started to pet him. Unsurprisingly given her partner's reserved disposition, the girl's attentions didn't gain the enthusiasm that her own would, but when the white fluffball seemed indifferent, the little girl threw her ball down the sidewalk instead, and Soul took off after it immediately, barking happily. Retrieving the ball, the puppy ran not to the girl, but to Maka, dropping the ball at her feet and wagging his tail enthusiastically as he peered up at her expectantly. Soul wanted—to play fetch? Well… Maka looked to the ball, then the girl, who grinned back at her.
"Throw it again, he likes it!"
"Um, okay, I guess…" She picked up the slobbery tennis ball and tossed it down the sidewalk. Soul shot after it in a white streak, scooping it up into his little mouth and bounding back over proudly to drop the ball at her feet again. More expectant tail wagging followed, so Maka threw it again and yet again, repeating the process several times, the little puppy retrieving it eagerly. This felt so wrong, treating her partner like a dog, yet he wanted her to throw it, and seemed so happy, and was so cute while he played fetch, that she couldn't help but to comply, and the game lasted several minutes until the little girl's mother called her away. She insisted they keep the tennis ball, however, since the puppy liked it so much, so Maka gingerly picked up the slobbery thing and put it in the messenger bag she had brought along, much to the puppy's distress. As she tried to soothe him, promising they would play more fetch later, he barked once enthusiastically before shooting away again, circling around her and wagging his tail to indicate he was ready to continue the walk. Maka started moving again, figuring they could go a little way further, maybe even pick up lunch and sit in the park awhile before heading home. Watching Soul bound about so playfully, she had to smile. He was clearly more puppy than anything right now, but looking at his soul, he seemed genuinely happy as he so rarely did, and she shook her head. He was such a dork. Leave it to Soul to be happier as a puppy than a person. Yet, she knew it was false—it was the sheer instinctual physical elation of an animal at play, not her partner, not really.
As they reached the corner, the meister decided to duck into a little sandwich shop, scooping up Soul and placing him into the messenger bag, head peaking out so cutely that he got several awwwws, as she ordered a BLT and chips for herself, and a side of roast beef to feed to Soul (she would not feed her partner dog food, even if he was a dog.) She made her way out of the shop with their lunch in one hand and Soul in the other, hurrying to the park to claim a shady spot beneath a tree. It was a warm spring afternoon, only partly cloudy, and Maka might have enjoyed the day if the circumstances had been otherwise. As it was, she set the container of roast beef before Soul and watched as he tore through it quickly, tail wagging in contentment, before bounding off to run through the grass. She got out her own sandwich, chips, and soda, chewing on the BLT contemplatively as she watched the puppy play, never quite venturing out of her sight. He appeared to be chasing a butterfly, and she saw several people smile at the sight as they passed. She smiled as well, but it was strained. Her worry was still tight within her, coiling in her chest. She wanted answers, wanted her Soul back, and she hoped it would not take long.
After leaping about for awhile, Soul returned to curl up next to her, wagging his tail happily as she pet him softly. They lingered for perhaps an hour before she cleaned up, finding a trash can for their waste and letting the puppy walk in front of her as they made their way out of the park.
"We're going home and we'll have to cross a few streets, so stay close," she said firmly. Soul barked, once, and she took that for some form of understanding, because he slowed to stay next to her, trotting happily.
Before long, they came once more to the apartment, only to find Blair had finally returned. She was looking through drawers in the kitchen almost frantically, and as she heard the front door close behind Maka, she strode up purposefully.
"Oh, Maka-chan, good! You're home!" If the cat woman noticed the puppy she didn't mention it. "Have you see Bu-tan's candy bar? I left it on the kitchen counter, but it's gone, and I need it for—"
"Candy bar? No, sorry."
"Are you sure? It was a Reese's. Maybe you threw it out by accident. I know you hate it when Soul-kun eats too much candy, and—"
Maka shook her head, then frowned. "Actually, Soul had a Reese's wrapper on his nightstand, maybe—"
Blair looked suddenly horrified.
"You think—you think scythe boy ate it?"
"Um, probably, yeah. But um—"
"Where is he? Do you know? Is he—"
The puppy made its presence known by barking before Maka could answer, and Blair finally seemed to notice the little dog.
"He's right here," Maka said flatly. "Something happened last night, we're still not sure what, and—"
"Oh no!" Blair gasped, taking one step back, then another. Maka narrowed her eyes. "Bu-tan is so so sorry! I forgot the candy bar on the counter before I left, and I never thought Soul-kun would—"
"Blair," Maka's voice was dangerous. "WHAT DID YOU DO?"
The dog whimpered, cowering at her tone, and Blair took another nervous step backwards.
"I—it's—it's all Bu-tan's fault! But—I never meant—one of the girls at work, this guy kept coming in. He was such an abusive asshole! And Bu-tan was trying to help, so she made—she found a spell—and—it was in the candy—and—I'M SO SORRY!" she wailed again, uncharacteristically, falling at Maka's feet.
"How. Do we change. Him back?" Maka gritted out, beyond angry. The puppy was cowering behind her, licking at her exposed calf in some strange attempt at comfort.
"I—I don't know!" The cat-woman wailed from her feet, clasping the meister's ankles in despair. "It was meant—meant for a bad man, a very bad man—and I didn't understand the spell that well, and it was on a scroll—it was strange, it disappeared once I cast it. BU-TAN IS SO SORRY!" She repeated again, sobbing.
"Get. Up." Maka said between clenched teeth, causing the cat to wail louder.
"I said GET UP. You need to come with me to see Stein—NOW." Choking back sobs, the cat woman rose and nodded. Maka hurried into Soul's bedroom to grab up the candy wrapper, and they all made their way to the school where Stein should still be, Maka insisting they take the bike for speed, Blair clutching her tightly from behind with Soul in the saddlebag once more. There was no time to spare—Maka knew what had happened now, and hopefully Stein could figure out how to fix it, because the thought of the alternative was simply not acceptable.
When they arrived at the school, Maka parked the bike in the usual place after the same sort of jolting ride as the night before, and then, strode up the stairs purposefully, the puppy in her arms and Blair at her heels. Other students stared and whispered at the strange sight of three star meister Maka Albarn carrying a puppy with a scantily clad magical cat in tow, but none dared say anything to their fellow students, let alone try to stop her. She made her way straight to Class Crescent Moon where she should have been all day, and where Stein was lecturing, bursting through the doors without ceremony and moving straight up to the professor, who eyed her boredly from his rolling chair, seemingly unfazed by her sudden presence.
"Maka. How can I help you?"
"There's been—a development," she said quietly, her eyes falling meaningfully to the puppy in her arms.
"Well, then," he nodded, coughing once. "Class—it appears we have a bit of an emergency, so if you'll excuse us, you can go home early. But I do expect those essays on the substance of the soul in the morning." The beginnings of cheers at the announcement of an early dismissal quickly turned to groans at the mention of the essay, and students streamed past them, glancing curiously at Maka and her entourage, but not lingering lest the professor saddle them with extra homework. The members of Spartoi did, however, linger, Black*Star jumping down in front of Maka with a "yahoo!" and grinning.
"Pigtails! So you finally showed! Where the hell's my man Soul and what the hell is—"
"Black*Star," Stein interrupted. "As—touching—as I'm sure Miss Albarn finds your concern, this is a private matter. Now, if you'll excuse us?" With that, the professor took a grateful Maka by the elbow and steered her out of the room, Blair following closely behind, leaving a confused Spartoi and indignant Black*Star in their wake as he guided her to his office.
"Now," the professor said, taking a seat behind his desk and motioning for Maka to do the same. "Explain."
Before the meister could get a word in, however, Blair plopped down into the second chair facing the desk, head in hands, and wailed, "It's all Bu-tan's FAULT!"
"Really?" Stein raised an eyebrow, eying the cat woman with renewed interest. "How, exactly?
"Bu-tan—cast a spell on some chocolate—and—and—Soul-kun ATE IT—and and—" she was hysterical again, and Maka wanted to chop her just to get her to calm down. Stein was on top of things, however, and he shushed the cat, raising his hand in a placating motion.
"Why don't you start from the beginning?"
Blair gulped, nodded, and did as she was bid, getting the story out as calmly as she could, with the occasional "hmmm, I see," from Stein, until she was finally done.
"And you have the wrapper?" He asked Maka.
"Mmmm hmm," she said, digging it out and offering it to Stein.
"Good, very good. Without the spell, it will be difficult, but perhaps we can figure this out yet. If you would be willing to assist me—" he looked pointedly at Blair "—it would help considerably."
"Uh—Of course," Blair said, her voice shaky. "Bu-tan will do whatever it takes to help Soul-Kun!"
"Good!" Stein clapped his hands together, and rose. "Then you, come with me. Maka, get some rest. You have the week off."
"B—but professor, I—"
"Please, Professor Stein, I—I could use the distraction. I'd—I'd like to go to school tomorrow, if it's okay…" She was petting the puppy nervously, who had remained uncharacteristically skill and quiet though all of it, but who barked now, whether in agreement or protest was uncertain. Maka suspected the later.
"Very well," he said. "I'll contact you when I know more." With that, he rose to leave, Blair following nervously after, and Maka trailing last, dazed, unsure what to do next.
She didn't have long to consider. Spartoi was gathered just outside of Stein's office, and they accosted her the moment she emerged, Stein already having passed by with Blair.
"Maka, what the fuck?" Black*Star was the one to speak before anyone else could. Maka just shook her head, not sure what to say.
They were all there, all of Spartoi save Kim and Jackie, looking at her questioningly.
"It's nothing, okay? Just something Stein needed to handle, and it's being handled. End of story." She couldn't deal with this now. It was too much, too overwhelming. She was just starting to get used to the idea that, for the time being, her partner was a dog. How the hell was she supposed to explain all that to her friends?
"I was surprised you would miss school with a big test coming up so soon," Ox Ford spoke up, adjusting his glasses as his eyes met hers.
"I had some things to take care of," Maka said shortly. She didn't care about the stupid test anymore, not after this. Well, maybe she cared a little. "Anyway, it's none of your business, okay? I'll be fine for the test. I have plenty of time to study."
"Wait—where the hell is Soul anyway?" Black*Star spoke up again. He was frowning, and the boy rarely frowned.
"Leave her alone, Black*Star," Tsubaki shook her head, squeezing her meister's arm meaningfully.
"What I can't figure out is why you brought the cat. I can't imagine you bringing your roommate on purpose unless it was something pretty big." Harvar's voice was questioning, though he looked as bored as ever.
"Stein needed her help, so I brought her," Maka said with a small shrug. She knew they meant well, but she felt trapped by all the unwanted scrutiny and just wanted to go home.
Before anyone else could question her further, Tsubaki walked over to place a hand on Maka's shoulder.
"Look, I don't know what's going on, but—if you need anything, you know where to find me, okay? Everyone is just worried. But we all know you will talk to us about anything important if you need us."
That this little speech was meant for all of them was obvious, and Maka thanked Shinigami that she had a friend like the tall shadow weapon.
"Look, I'm fine," she took a deep breath. "If I need any help, you all will be the first to know, okay?" Maka looked around the group almost pleadingly, and reluctantly, each nodded.
As she looked to the two pistols standing towards the back, however, Liz caught her eye and gave her an odd, reassuring smile along with the nod.
"It's Soul, isn't it?" This came suddenly from Kilik. "I mean, if something were going on with you, he'd be right here with you unless he couldn't be."
"He's—nearby, okay? He's fine. Just…" She trailed off as the puppy squirmed in her arms, clearly agitated. Maka swallowed hard. Why couldn't they all just leave her alone? Well meaning or not, she—
"Maybe you should just tell them, Maka," Liz put in, looking pointedly towards the puppy in her arms. "It might help. Maybe someone will even have an idea." Obviously, Liz knew. Maka wanted to groan. Why couldn't Kid keep his big trap sh-
"You should listen to big sis!" Patti put in. "Dealing with something like this alone when you have friends to help you is silly!"
"Kid told you two, then." It wasn't a question. Liz shrugged and Patti grinned, giggling.
"We were there when Stein called Kiddo on the mirror! He made Liz promise not to tell or he'd pluck her eyebrows again!" Patti singsonged, laughing while Liz shuddered.
"I haven't told anyone, obviously," Liz offered. "But you should."
As if to emphasize the point, the puppy suddenly barked, drawing attention to itself. Soul licked her hand reassuringly, and that was the moment she decided. This was stupid, Liz was right, she should just tell them.
"Fine. Fine. Soul is—he is—" she sighed and looked down at the puppy in her arms. "Right here, okay?"
"He's—" Tsubaki started to say, confused.
"—THE DOG!" Black*Star almost shouted. "Shit, Soul's a dog—how the fuck?" He was laughing. "Only Soul, dude—holy fuck."
"How…?" Ox Ford was shaking his head.
"The cat. You know it had to be the cat." Harvar said flatly, arms crossed on his chest. They were all looking at Soul, Black*Star laughing, Patti giggling, and the rest seeming varying levels of confused and sympathetic.
Maka sighed. "It was Blair, though not on purpose—and Stein is handling it, okay? Soul and I will be in school tomorrow, and I know it won't be long until everything is normal again." Again, Soul barked in her arms, and Maka smiled down at him. This hadn't been so bad, telling them. Maybe they really could help.
"I'll copy my notes from today for you," Ox said suddenly, unexpectedly, and Maka looked to him, slightly stunned.
"Uh, thanks—that would be great."
"I'll help you take care of Soul!" Patti squealed.
"You should—come to our house for dinner tonight, okay?" Tsubaki put in quietly from her side. "It's been awhile, and we'd really like to have you. Right, Black*Star?" She elbowed her still guffawing meister in the ribs, and he sobered, looking at Maka sheepishly.
"Uh, yeah, sure, you and Soul are always welcome, 'course. Uh, see you later, then?"
"Um, okay," Maka forced a smile at the group. "Thanks, everyone." She was embarrassed at so much attention, but still, feeling the slightest bit better at having told them. It was a relief. She felt just a little less alone, a little more hopeful to have the support of her friends. "I'm going to take Soul home now, okay?"
"Wait a sec," Liz spoke suddenly. "Kid wanted to see you first—he actually asked if we'd come get you after school, like we're his damned messenger service." She rolled her eyes, but there was no real venom there.
"Sure, we can do that first," she looked to the group. "I guess I'll see most of you tomorrow." She then turned to Tsubaki. "What time do you want us over?"
"Whenever you'd like is fine. I can have dinner ready when you get there." She smiled softly.
"I'll—okay we won't be long, then. Thanks." Maka began to walk down the hall, but heard the footsteps of the group trailing behind her and turned back.
"I think I can handle talking to Kid by myself," Maka snapped, a bit of her fire returning with her annoyance.
"We should go, too," Ox insisted, speaking for the group. "Like Liz said, we might have something to offer—"
"We can handle this," Liz said pointedly from just behind her. "I'll clue you all in on anything important. Got it?" She was staring them all down, and even Black*Star looked nervous.
"Uh, sure," Star answered for the group. "Later, then." With no further ceremony, the ninja put his hands behind his head and started walking in the opposite direction, weapon in tow. The rest of Spartoi similarly dispersed and Maka breathed in a sigh of relief, petting the puppy absently.
"He really is adorable," Patti said suddenly, her face close to Soul, who was squishing himself into Maka's chest to avoid her.
"Yeah," Maka agreed, starting to walk again, moving the dog away from Patti's covetous grin. "Uh, thanks guys. I appreciate it."
"Any time," Liz shrugged. A surge of gratitude hit the meister; she really did have good friends, even if they were annoying sometimes. A lot of the time, even.
The trio walked largely in silence, Patti walking backwards to coo at Soul, and soon reached the Death Room, entering without ceremony to find Kid hunched over some files splayed out on a large table. He cleared them as he heard their footsteps, summoning up some sort of inter-dimensional space to return them to, and taking a tray covered with a teapot and cups out of that same space. He really was becoming comfortable in his new role, and Maka couldn't help the little swell of pride at how well her friend had handled the transition. Maybe she would never quite be used to thinking of Kid as Shinigami-sama, but he truly was the God of Death nonetheless.
"Maka," Kid nodded, smiling slightly. "Good to see you, as always. Have a seat, have some tea, we have things to discus." Maka nodded, pulling out a chair with one hand as she kept Soul firmly clasped in the other arm, then sitting. Liz and Patti each took a seat around the table as well, and Kid began to pour the tea. He often wore his mask these days for official business, but kept it off now, as he often did when among friends.
"So," Kid looked towards the scythe meister across the table, his eyes going glassy for an instant. "That really is Soul." He shook his head in disbelief. "Stein updated me just a few minutes ago. We will fix this." His voice was firm, reassuring, and again, Maka felt a renewed rush of gratitude.
She nodded her thanks and took a sip of tea as the puppy wriggled in her arms. "Shhh… Soul," she chastised, and he settled again, though still practically vibrating under the fur with impatience.
"Of course, you can take whatever time off school you may need, both of you. Nobody would expect—"
"Actually," Maka cut him off. "I'm going to come in tomorrow. I'll bring Soul. I could—um—use the distraction."
Kid nodded, his face solemn now. "If that's what you want. Soul will be excused from his work until—well until he is returned to normal, but you may bring him. And of course, you two won't be assigned any missions."
"Of course," Maka sighed, recognizing the necessity even as she would have liked something as distracting as a mission to take her mind away from this mess. They sipped tea in silence for a bit, Soul still fidgeting in her lap.
"You should let him run around!" Patti finally said, smiling. "He probably wants to run!" Maka looked to Kid, looking for his okay—it was his Death Room.
"Let him run," Kid waved a hand. "I see no harm."
"Okay, thanks," she put the puppy down, who took off immediately.
"Wow, he sure is excitable as a dog," Liz remarked.
"A little, yeah. But he is just a puppy."
Liz shook her head in response, clearly as struck by the weirdness of it all as Maka was.
"Hey, Kid?" Maka ventured softly as the table quieted, most of them watching Soul as he ran around sniffing various things in the room. The death god snapped his eyes back to his friend across the table, placid expression inviting her to continue. "I was wondering if maybe, um, you could give Stein some time off teaching so that he can focus on helping Soul—if—you know—it isn't too much trouble…" She trailed off. She knew it was a lot to ask, but this was Soul. He was the Last Death Scythe. Shouldn't he be a priority?
Kid smiled at her, very slightly. "Already done," he said warmly. "Death Scythe will be taking over for Stein's classes until this—is settled. And Kim has explicit permission to miss class as necessary to assist. She and Jackie are with Stein as we speak. After all—WHAT IN MY FATHER'S NAME IS HE DOING OVER THERE?" His voice shifted suddenly into his Death God tone, shaking the room. The Shinigami leapt to his feet, and Maka followed, turning her gaze to where his was settled. Soul was just finishing urinating on one post of a guillotine and, quickly trotting a few feet away, began to squat. Was he—was he...?
"SOUL, NO!" She screamed at the same time as Kid, both bolting towards the little dog. Too late. He quickly finished his business and trotted over to Maka, looking almost smug as he peered up at her.
"I'LL KILL HIM FOR DEFILING THE CHAMBERS OF A DEATH GOD!" Kid's Shinigami tone rang out. Patti and Liz both had hands on him, holding him back.
"It's okay, Kiddo! I'll clean it, okay? Don't worry. He's just a puppy and I'll bet all that squirming was because he reaaaaallly had to go, you know?"
Liz looked at Maka, attempting a reassuring smile.
"Just, uh, get him out of here. We've got this."
"You—you're sure?" She asked unhappily.
"Yep!" Patti answered brightly. Seeing Kid begin to collapse to his knees in despair, Maka took the cue to scoop up Soul and hurry out of the Death Room, trying to ignore Kid's wail of despair behind her.
When she got out to the front of the school, she was surprised by Spirit waiting for her on the steps. Someone must have told him, because the look he gave her as she approached was one of decided concern. Their relationship had been far less strained since their return from the moon, and Maka forced a smile, waving at her father with her free hand as she approached. Soul barked a few times unhappily upon noticing the redhead approaching, but Maka shushed him.
"Hey, Papa! I figured you'd still be busy at school."
"I was scheduled to help Stein with a demonstration at the end of the day, but he had to leave suddenly, so I thought I'd meet my only daughter for a chat." He smiled at her, but his smile looked similarly forced. Oh yes, he knew.
"I guess, maybe you can walk me to the bike. But I should be going soon. Tsubaki is expecting us, and I don't want to—"
"You drove his bike?" He sounded unhappy, though she could tell he was fighting to moderate his reaction. She was a little proud at how successful he was; Maka knew how hard it was for her father to reign in his emotions when it came to her.
"Well, um, I was in a hurry, and Soul couldn't—"
"Yeah, I suppose a puppy driving a motorcycle wouldn't quite work." He eyed the little dog speculatively. "So the octopus head really stepped in the shit this time, didn't he? Good thing he has you around to clean up his messes." Soul began to growl, and Spirit put his hands up.
"Calm down, kid. I'm on your side."
Maka took a moment to soothe the puppy, before turning her eyes back to her father. "Who told you?"
"Stein, who else? Though Kid mentioned it as well. You could have called—I would have helped you, Maka."
"I know…" She sighed. "But there was nothing you could do and—it just happened last night and—it's complicated."
"At least let me drive you home, would you?" Soul growled at this again.
"I can't leave the bike, but thanks for the—"
"I'll drive the bike. I don't mind the walk back."
"You—you can drive a motorcycle?"
He shrugged. "How do you think your mom and I used to get around on missions?"
"But you always said they were death traps and how dare Soul take me on one?" Maka replied incredulously.
"That's because the octopus head was driving." This elicited more growling from Soul. "And I was young and stupid back then. Anyway, I know you aren't used to driving it. Stein mentioned as much. Let your Papa do something, for once, to help. Please?"
His face looked so hopeful that she couldn't bring herself to deny him. Soul was still growling, wriggling in her arms to get at the older man, but Maka shushed him.
"Um, sure Papa, that would be really great. Thanks."
With that, they made their way down the stairs, Spirit chattering idly, clearly trying to comfort his daughter with something like normalcy, and Soul growling and barking unhappily when the elder deathscythe had the audacity to drive his baby when he was stuck again in the saddlebag.
Dinner with Tsubaki and Black*Star proved to be relatively uneventful. Black*Star managed to behave, mostly, though when he tried to coax Soul into doing stupid pet tricks, Maka had to intervene—explaining patiently that, no, Soul was most certainly not going to jump through a flaming hoop. They left shortly after, Tsubaki sending Maka on her way with leftovers and a promise to cook her food to heat for the week so she could focus on caring for Soul. Maka tried to refuse this generosity, but Tsubaki insisted and Maka knew better to protest too stringently when it came to the shadow weapon's mothering tendencies—Tsubaki simply would not take no for an answer. Really, she was grateful. She had so much on her mind that the thought of shopping and cooking with Soul in tow was almost overwhelming, and she was glad for the offer.
School was equally uneventful. She sat through her classes, Soul in her lap, her friends flanking her to keep others at bay. Spartoi took turns helping her with Soul at school, walking with him so he could get air. Other students stared and whispered, but that was the worst of it—none dared approach with Spartoi having closed ranks around her, always close. Black*Star would even talk to Soul sometimes as if he were a person and not a puppy. It looked a little silly, yet it made Maka smile. It was sort of sweet, and she hated the idea of people treating her partner as somehow non-human even if that was his reality right now, even if she found herself doing so often enough. He was so cute this way, so affectionate to her and only her, it was hard not to see him as the sweet puppy he currently was rather than the partner he was inside, hard not to treat him like the puppy and not the man he had been. So she was grateful to Black*Star for remembering to treat him like a person (because after his idiot attempt at tricks at dinner, he had never tried again) and for reminding her to do the same.
The weeks went by. She took to walking to and from school, letting Soul get air and do his business. She had to bring a scoop and a bag along, but didn't really mind. Sometimes, she would take him to the park. He would often tug at her bag, begging for the ball to play fetch, and she would give in—watching him run and jump at the ball so enthusiastically was adorable. Had he been a puppy in truth, she would have loved the little dog as is, so loyal and sweet, but he wasn't, he was Soul, and she wanted her partner back desperately. At night, he would snuggle up with her on the couch, demanding her attention. Sometimes she would have to toss the ball around the apartment to appease him. Others, he was content to lay on her stomach while she read. She kept feeding him human food, mostly meat, refusing to make him eat the disgusting things they put in dog food. At night, he whimpered and whined at her door if she closed it, so it had become the norm for him to curl up with her in bed. Really, she didn't mind. The close familiarity of his soul was a comfort. If she couldn't talk to him, not really, if he was changed and strange, at least she could still feel that much, and she didn't have the heart to deny him and hear his pitiable whines.
The puppy didn't like to be separated from her. When someone else took him for a walk at school, he would whine. When Stein asked to take him on the occasional day to run some tests, to further their research, he would moan so pitifully that Maka was tempted to skip school just to go with him, but Stein insisted that her presence was a distraction they didn't need. Maka always made sure either Blair or Kim would be there when Soul was—she wasn't about to subject her currently helpless partner to Stein alone, as good as the man's current intentions might be.
A month went by. People took turns coming over to keep her company or inviting her to their houses. Often, she refused—she knew they pitied her—but they managed to force themselves on her at least once a week. Blair mostly stayed away, out of guilt or fear she couldn't be sure. Spirit was the worst; he came by almost every night, though Maka was usually able to shoo him off at the door.
She knew that they could see the fear and loneliness under her bright smile, that they were trying to comfort her. Snuggling Soul was her only comfort. She loved the little dog because she loved him, and she kept telling herself she should enjoy this closeness while it lasted, that pretty soon, things would be back to normal. She tried to tell herself it was a good thing, that when it was all okay again she would look back and smile, but she could not feel it so. Not when she missed him so much. The puppy would always pull her back from her thoughts with a lick to the face and a snuggle, would pull a genuine smile from her. He was the only one who could anymore.
It had been six weeks when Stein called her to his lab and asked her to bring Soul. Six weeks. She would have been hopeful, but his tone worried her, and she rushed over carelessly, taking the bike for the first time in weeks, haphazardly driving it, too fast, through the streets of Death City. She enjoyed the rush of wind on her face, needed to feel it, needed to clear her mind of the fear that clenched her heart. It wasn't enough. As Stein sat her down, she noticed Spirit on one side of her and Marie on the other and her gut clenched painfully. As he explained, she just shook her head. He said they'd looked into everything, tried everything. Kid had even called in a favor from Mabaa, who had sent two high ranking witches to help. They had examined Soul, tried to find a duplicate of the scroll spell the cat had used, tried everything. It was no use—they couldn't reverse it, not even Blair could because as they explained, the magic was not hers so much as inherent to the scroll she had used—and they had no idea what the reverse trigger was, or even if there was a reverse trigger. Moreover, because the magic of two very different type of casters was already bound in the transformation, any attempt at a new transformation might have disastrous results. Stein suspected it would kill him.
"No," she said slowly as the professor finished. "That can't be right. There's no way that's right."
"I'm sorry," the older man sighed with a shake of the head, and he genuinely seemed to be. He looked tired, worn, as he turned the screw in his head to peer at Maka thoughtfully. Marie, who was seated to Maka's left on the couch, and put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
"If you need anything—"
"NO," she said louder. "Soul is going to be okay. You have to keep looking. You have to—"
Stein just shook his head again and looked helplessly to Spirit, who was seated on the other side of Maka.
"Sweetie, it's going to be al—"
"NO!" she screamed it this time and stood up, looking down at the doctor seated across from her. "YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRYING!"
"Maka, sweetie," Spirit stood up next to her, rubbed at her back, tried to soothe her. "Stein did everything he could. The witches did everything they could. They'll keep looking, but I'm afraid—"
"NO!" she screamed again, clutching Soul to her, who was whining and shaking, whether with the heightened emotion or the news was unclear. "I—I need to get out of here." She said between clenched teeth, tearing herself away from Spirit and Marie both, who each had a grip on a shoulder. She stormed out of the house before anyone could stop her, stuffed the puppy in the saddlebag, and rode off into the night. She rode far and fast, her anger causing her to gain a command over the bike that she couldn't in uncertainty and fear. She rode out into the desert, needing to feel the wind, to feel like Soul could be there, right there with her, whole and safe. She could feel the puppy's soul and it was almost like he was.
She returned at dawn, spent, to collapse in her bed, the puppy curled up next to her. They slept through that day. It was a school day, but it didn't matter. She got up long enough to feed and water Soul, to let him relieve himself and to relieve herself, before she returned to bed and they both slept the night, the dog knowing or sensing her need to just be.
She stayed home the next day as well. People knocked on her door, but she ignored it. People called, but she ignored it. She needed to think. They could figure this out. She had to figure this out. She clutched Soul to her as if he were her only lifeline. In many ways, he was. She needed him. She had known she loved him, but she hadn't realized how much she truly needed him until he was gone, a physical presence but not a partner, not an equal. A puppy and not her partner, not her scythe, not her Soul.
That night, she made curry for dinner, the first time she'd cooked in weeks, and she made him his own plate. He ate it happily, standing on the table next to her, as she forked her own food absently, a bite occasionally reaching her mouth. When Soul was done with his food, he nosed her mostly full plate towards her, then barked.
"I'm not that hungry," she sighed. He barked again and nosed it yet closer and she laughed.
"Alright, alright. Sheesh, even as a dog you are such a worry wort." She scooped half a dozen bites in quickly, finishing a third of her plate, and looked at him.
He barked again, wagging his tail, and she smiled, taking several more bites for good measure, before clearing the dishes. She washed the dishes quickly, Soul wagging his tail as he watched from the counter, before scooping him up to sit on the couch, allowing the puppy to curl up on her stomach.
They sat there for several moments, Soul simply laying, before he wriggled up and began licking her face. She looked down, smiling at his antics even as she could feel her heart breaking because this was their reality now, and it hurt. It hurt so so badly.
Finally, she looked down at the puppy, looking into his intelligent red eyes, Soul's eyes, and sighed.
"What are we going to do?" she asked softly. The puppy couldn't answer, but he did lick her face again, his own attempt at comfort.
"I just—miss you, you know? I mean, I know you're right here, and you always said the shape and the form don't matter but—I still miss you. Talking to you. Laughing with you. You're here, but your soul is so different, so strained, and I just—" She trailed off with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I know you're the one who has it the worst, you're the one stuck like that. Stein says you don't understand, not really, that you remember things but you have the mind of a dog. He said if you ever do change back you probably won't remember being a dog at all, or if you do, it will only be strange images with little meaning. I—I don't know if that's true. But—" she nuzzled him closer, pet his soft fur, scratched his ears, and he made sweet noises of contentment.
"Oh, Soul, I—I will find a way to fix this, I swear I will. I will figure this out. I'll go to the witches realm, to Mabaa herself if I have to. I'll—I'll figure this out, okay?" She stroked him again, holding him close, letting him burrow into his chest.
"But—" she was practically whispering now, her heart was so full. "In case I don't—in case I can't—I will—I swear I will! But—in case—I—" She let out a loud breath. This was silly. He was a dog, and he wouldn't remember. If she couldn't say this here, now, then when could she? She took in another breath, deep, calming.
"In case—you know—I want you to know, even if you can't understand, even if you never understand, I just—I want you to know how much I love you, okay? I—you're the most important person to me, thinking about my life without you I—and I just love you, Soul. I love you." The words were raw, stammered out awkwardly, but true. She felt a sense of relief as she uttered them, like a weight lifting from her, one she hadn't even realized was there. The puppy nuzzled her face as she finished, his tail wagging happily. Maka didn't know if he understood, wasn't even positive she wanted him to understand, but she needed to say it. The feelings of love and loss were choking her, eating her from the inside out, and she had to vent them, even if it never mattered, couldn't matter. She ventured to kiss the puppy on the top of the head, as she had done countless times since this began, but he wriggled at the last minute, his muzzle meeting her puckered lips with a lick.
"Ewww! SOUL!" She screeched at the feel of wet dog tongue on her mouth. "GROSS!"
It was then, right then, that something happened. There was a poof, a waft of purple magic much like Blair's when she made her change, and then suddenly, very suddenly, in place of the adorably fluffy white puppy in her lap she was weighed down by an utterly confused teenaged boy now collapsed in a straddle on top of her.
"Oh my Death-Soul? SOUL!" She squealed happily and threw her arms around him, relief washing over her, overwhelming her. He was here, he wasn't a dog, he was here. Was she dreaming? She must be dreaming-No-she reached towards her forearm, her arms still around him, and pinched. She was awake. This was real, real.
"Maka," he breathed near her ear, holding onto her just as tightly, holding on for dear life. "I-Death, Maka, I thought I'd never get to-"
And then she realized that this was real and he was-he was naked, sweet Shinigami, he was naked on her lap.
"S-SOUL! HOLY DEATH, YOU'RE NAKED GET SOME CLOTHES ON!" She screeched, kicking at him, trying to get away from where she was pinned. It seemed that he hadn't realized this either until she said it, because he pulled back and looked down at her, blushing deeply before shooting off her lap and into his room without another word. She worked very hard to avert her gaze, but she caught a flash of white at his crotch as he bolted and blushed more deeply.
She tried not to dwell on her embarrassment because-he was back, he was him again, he was back!
Less than a minute later, he returned to the living room, a pair of sleep pants and a t-shirt thrown on haphazardly. She was so happy to see him back to himself that she beamed. Before he could even get back to the couch, she shot up and threw her arms around him again, unable to stop the smile that kept stretching her face to its limits. He hugged her back, held her close, then shook his head against her shoulder.
"Sorry 'bout that-I-didn't mean to, you know?"
"I know," she laughed. "It doesn't matter, okay? I'm just-really glad you're you again."
"Me too," he laughed, his chuckle reverberating against her chest.
For several minutes they just stood there, neither knowing what to say or do. Finally, Maka felt his arms tighten around her and he spoke again, his breath warm against her ear.
"I love you too, you know." It was soft but firm.
"You-you said you love me. I-I love you, too." He repeated, confused by her response.
"Y-you remember that?" She gulped nervously.
"'Course I do. I remember everything-it's a little weird, but-and I definitely remember that because-well-" He removed one arm from around her to scratch the back of his neck nervously, loosing his embrace just enough to look down at her. "Been meaning to tell you that for a long time, too, you know? Just-uh-didn't know how. So I'm glad you, um, said it. Especially glad since I think it broke the spell."
She was looking at his mouth as he spoke, not quite able to meet his eyes.
"W-what? I-it did?"
"Yeah," another scratch to the neck. "I mean, when you said that and kissed me, that's when I felt the magic come, so it must be, right? I'm pretty sure…"
She just shook her head in disbelief, then ventured to meet his eyes.
"And you really-you really love me?" She almost squeaked.
"Duh," he rolled his eyes. "Cool guys don't lie about shit like that." As if to punctuate this, he moved his lips close, and suddenly his lips were on hers, soft and insistent. She kissed him back without hesitation, just happy to be able to be here, now, like this at all. It was strange and awkward and warm and wonderful and there were so many overwhelming feelings, relief, love, happiness, that she really could have burst. After several moments, she pulled away, breaking the kiss.
"There," he was smiling. "Figured I owed you since you kissed me first."
"Did not!" she punched him in the arm.
"Did so, right before I changed."
"That was just you, being gross. I meant to kiss your head, stupid dog."
"Sure," he rolled his eyes again.
"Anyway," she said, pulling away. "You should get dressed. We need to go see Stein."
"Aw, man, really?" He looked put out, pouty even.
"Yeah, really." She said firmly. "We should make sure this is permanent and that there's no lingering effects."
"How about… mmm...no?" he said with a grin and stepped towards her, grabbing her up in his arms again.
"W-what?" she squeaked indignantly.
"Look, we can go see Stein in the morning-it'll keep. I've been a fucking dog for weeks. I just-can we just, maybe, chill, just for tonight?" There was a playful intensity to his gaze that had Maka's stomach doing flip flops, and she swallowed thickly and nodded.
"A-alright. But we're going in the morning, okay?"
"Anything for my meister," he grinned down at her and then kissed her again. It was almost as awkward as the first time, but neither seemed to care, and several minutes later, as Maka pulled away, she shook her head.
"We should probably go to bed," she said with a small smile.
"Aw, really? I just changed back. Couldn't we-" He looked incredibly put out. She just grabbed his hand and began to tug.
"We should really go to bed," she repeated, pulling him towards her room.
"Oh...uh...okay, sure," he grinned, following. She'd grown so used to curling up with her puppy that the thought of sleeping alone when she had her Soul back was-well-unthinkable. So they curled up together, content in each other's arms, happy for the normalcy and that new something between them that thrilled them both, and went to sleep.
In the morning, when they told the story to Stein, even the embarrassing bits they both would have preferred to leave out, the professor nodded when it was over, humming thoughtfully.
"What?" Maka asked, holding onto her partner's hand as if she never intended to let him out of her sight again, and maybe she didn't.
"Must have been a pretty old spell to have that sort of trigger."
"So you think my saying-you think that was the trigger?" Maka stammered, reddening.
"Saying I love you? Maybe. But it's more likely it was love's first kiss."
"Huh?" Both teens looked at Stein, then each other, confused.
"Well, you said that you went to kiss Soul on the head after telling him you loved him, only, he shifted and licked your mouth. Love's first kiss. It's a bit cheesy and old fashioned. Witches rarely use that type of trigger anymore, but clearly, the scroll Blair used was old. You're just lucky to have stumbled on the trigger, really."
They both reddened, but nodded.
"But-um-why did he remember?" Maka ventured, still red with embarrassment, but also curious. "I thought you said-"
Stein waved a hand absently. "It was a guess. I guessed wrong, clearly. It happens. Well, then. Everything appears to be in order. I expect you both in school on Monday-you can take the next few days to adjust, Soul."
"Uh, yeah, thanks," the somewhat dazed deathscythe said, shaking his head slightly.
"Um, so, we'll um, see you Monday, Professor?" Maka put in.
"That's the plan," he nodded, then waved them a dismissal. Maka tugged her partner outside, and both of them mounted the bike together. This time, Soul drove.
There was some commotion surrounding Soul's return to school-his friends were thrilled, and there was a lot of fist bumping and handshaking and words of congratulations. His fangirls were equally thrilled, right up until he kissed his new girlfriend openly in the hallway, declaring their new status for all and sundry. Maka received dirty looks for weeks after, but was too happy to much care.
Blair came back later that week, acting as if nothing had happened. They neither asked, nor did she offer, where she had gone off to when she wasn't helping Stein. Trying as it had all been, neither could find it in their hearts to be angry with their roommate for more than a few days; it hadn't been intentional, what had happened, and in the end, it had worked out. In the end, it had led them to a better place, and for that part, neither could be sorry.
They adopted a kuvasz puppy several months later. Maka said she missed having a dog around, and Soul didn't really mind-after all, as he admitted to her later, if not for a kuvasz puppy and a stupid magical cat, his girlfriend might still be just his meister, and he was much happier with things as they were, even if it had meant spending months as a dog.