A/N: Sorry this update took a bit-I struggled with this chapter. Thanks to rebornfromash and ilarual for being awesome readers.
As she closed the passenger door of the small Honda sedan behind her, she was surprised by how normal it was, this little red car amidst such stately grandeur. If her companion had ever been similarly struck, she did not show it now, simply sliding her seatbelt on and her key in the ignition before driving away.
Maka sighed with relief, glad to be out of that house and away from those people for the moment, though as she did, guilt washed through her. What right did she have to feel relief when she was here for him? Later she would have to make sure he was really okay after all that, but for now she couldn't. She didn't feel any particular turmoil in his soul as they'd parted, so she figured he was probably alright for the time being.
They were to the gate shortly, which was opened for them automatically, and driving through the same neighborhood full of ridiculously lavish houses she and Soul had arrived in just the night before. Aria flipped on the radio, plugging in her phone to put on some smooth Jazz that Maka was fairly certain Soul would recognize, but that she didn't. The driver adjusted the volume for a moment, setting it to ideal background noise level, before briefly turning her eyes away from the road and to her passenger.
"So, Maka," she began, her voice suspiciously casual for all the curious energy the meister could sense in the other woman's soul. "What's it like, being married?"
"Uhhhh," the meister fidgeted with the slick designer purse in her lap because how the heck would she know? She supposed being partners and roommates was much like being married, minus the whole romance and sex part, and decided to just pull from that experience.
"It's nice, most days. I mean, you met Soul. He can be snarky and difficult, but underneath it all, he cares, he's always there when I need him, and-um-mostly, he doesn't give me reason to want to chop him anymore. At least, not often."
"Chop him?" Aria looked a bit confused.
"Oh, um, well." That had been stupid. Too much truth, way too much truth. "What I mean to say is, he doesn't make me want to kill him often?"
"Oh!" Aria laughed, and the sound was warm and musical and comforting. "Well, that's definitely true love, then. And anyway, on those days you do want to kill him, there are much better ways to work through that anger, if you know what I mean." Maka wasn't sure what she meant, actually, but the knowing tone worried her.
"Well, I do sometimes drag him out for extra training when he's being particularly difficult."
The other woman laughed again, louder. "Is that what they call it down at the DWMA?"
The meister frowned, puzzled. "What else would you call it? I mean, I know you guys don't train exactly, but you are musicians, you practice right? It's like that. Extra practice."
"Oh honey," the woman next to her grinned. "We know all about 'extra practice.' Wonder if your boy is as talented as mine is-that run in the family, too?" The woman turned to Maka and waggled her eyebrows and suddenly, the meister went scarlet because she finally got exactly what her weapon's sister-in-law to be was getting at.
"Oh, uh, er…" she stammered, confused and embarrassed and having absolutely no clue how to answer because how would she know? Only, she was supposed to know and was this what sister-in-laws talked about? But she supposed it probably was if her experience with Liz was anything to go by, because the older weapon was constantly talking about her love life in the most mortifyingly graphic way possibly. So she improvised. "He's, uh, a really good pianist," she finally managed.
"I'll just bet," Aria laughed again. "Talented fingers and all that, don't I know it."
Maka was flaming; she could feel the heat, the shame, spread from her face down all the way down past her toes. Fortunately, Aria became quiet for a bit as they made it to the Interstate entrance and merging along with lane changes stole her focus. For her part, Maka was able to calm herself as she watched the greenery stream by at breakneck speeds-Aria clearly enjoyed driving fast-and, more collected than before, decided to try to steer the conversation away from the uncomfortable topic of sex. Because while she might be curious, interested even, in knowing what that would be like with her weapon, she had no experience to draw on and, after awhile, it would surely show. Eventually, the driver settled into a lane and was at leisure to talk again.
"So, Maka," Aria began, suddenly serious. "I'm glad you agreed to come with me-not just because I'd been hoping for some time to bond with my new sister, but because I had a question for you. If you decide to refuse, I'll understand, I promise, but it would mean a lot to me if you said yes."
"Um, okay, what is it you need?" Maka asked nervously. She liked Aria, even if the other woman seemed hell bent on causing her death by mortification this morning, but she didn't know her, and so, wondered what she could possibly want that had her so cautious.
"I was hoping you'd agree to be one of my bridesmaids. I know it's short notice, but since we're going to be family and since your husband is the best man, Wes and I both thought it would be fantastic to have you in the wedding as well. I don't have any sisters of my own, so I'd love to feel like I had one with me."
Maka was floored by the request. Why would she want her? They barely knew each other and she wasn't really-wasn't really what Aria thought she was, and Wes knew that so why would he help with this? But she could sense how genuinely the other woman meant it in her soul and didn't know what to do because she didn't belong there, didn't belong as a part of this, and yet, how could she refuse? She wished she belonged, that she was what she now pretended to be, but she wasn't, nor would she ever be, and the pain of that rose to the surface unbidden. She choked it down because now was not the time and snapped her jaw closed before shaking her head.
"I-it's just-" she tried to answer, still not knowing what to say. "It's-Oh!" A thought came to her and she grasped at it like a lifeline. "I mean, I don't have a dress for that, and surely-"
"That's no problem," the other woman waved a hand dismissively, taking it off the wheel and making the meister yet more uncomfortable. "The designer is a friend of mine. She said she should have a sample right at your size and she can do alterations based on your measurements in time for the wedding."
"Oh, um, that's good, I guess. But won't people find it-strange-since we just met and all?" She was fishing, but she didn't know what else to do.
Aria actually laughed. "They'd find it more strange if the groom's sister-in-law weren't in the wedding party in the circle the Evanses move in, to be honest, though that's not why I'm asking. Sophia suggested it days ago when she found out about you and Soul, then after I met you, I decided I wanted you there." The smile the bride-to-be flashed was soft and full of genuine affection, but as she glanced at her companion, she frowned, seeming to realize the meister's discomfort, "But really, Maka, I don't want you to do anything you're not comfortable with, so-" Feeling the disappointment begin to flood the other woman's soul, Maka shook her head again.
"No, it's okay, I'll, um, I'll do it. If you want."
"Fantastic!" The other woman practically squealed in her excitement. "You won't regret it, I promise."
The fact that Maka already was notwithstanding, because this would put her 'marriage' with Soul even more front and center, she just smiled back as they finally pulled into a space in front of a small shop. It was called "Precious" and until they actually got out of the car and stepped inside, Maka wasn't sure what they sold but, upon looking around to see everything from jewelry to picture frames inside, she thought it might be some type of gift shop. Apparently, the bride had a few errands to run before heading to the salon which was perfectly fine by her. Maka hung back, looking at some of the silver plated wares on a small table absently as Aria talked quietly with a clerk.
Maka's thoughts were on her weapon, wondering if he was really okay after their tense breakfast with his parents and how his own day with his brother would go when she heard the shop bell ring, indicating a new customer had come in through the door. Lifting her eyes automatically at the sound, she was surprised to see the tall blonde man enter followed closely by a head of stark white-Wes and Soul.
"What...?" She began but Wes just waved a greeting and stalked over to his fiance, sweeping her up in his arms and kissing her soundly. Aria didn't have time to be surprised and Maka quickly averted her eyes at the display to find her weapon standing before her.
"What are you doing here?" She tried again.
He look decidedly uncomfortable as he mumbled, "Wes forgot to kiss Aria goodbye."
Her eyebrows shot up at that. "So you two chased us down?"
He shrugged. "Not my call," suddenly he was very close, his hands on her waist, his breath in her ear, warm and intriguing, "sorry 'bout this, but Wes made it clear it'd look weird if we didn't," and then his mouth was away from her ear and before she could even process what he meant, she felt warm lips against her own. It wasn't long, a few second perhaps, but neither was it chaste as his lips moved almost eagerly against hers and she found herself responding because it was so nice.
Soon, too soon, his mouth was at her ear again and he said quietly, a bit breathlessly, "thanks for making it convincing, I owe you." He pulled away, they pulled apart, and Maka went scarlet as she noticed that Wes and Aria had concluded their own personal business and were staring at them with nearly identical knowing smiles. For her part, Maka wasn't sure if the impulse to kiss or kill Soul's older brother was stronger at the moment, so she turned back to Soul, feigning a final hug to whisper in his ear, "damn right you do," before pulling away.
"Well, little brother, looks like we both had business here," Wes said with a devious smirk before breezing past, Soul trailing helplessly behind looking red and more than a little dazed. She blinked after him. Since she felt about how he looked, she figured it was fair. It wasn't until the little bell rang again that she realized he may have just given her her first real kiss, because she certainly didn't count what Black*Star did on a dare when they were eight, and she wondered, still a bit stunned, if this really did count since it had been given under brotherly coercion. It had felt so good, though, so electric, and her own feelings were so overwhelming, that somehow she thought it might and she wasn't sure if she should be elated because Soul had just kissed her, or utterly depressed that it was only for show.
She was pulled from her thoughts by a chuckle nearby. Aria was grinning at her, several bags in hand. "That good a kisser, eh? You look like you just got back from the moon." Maka colored at that and smiled sheepishly. Not sure of what to say, she opted to say nothing at all.
This was turning out to be a hell of a morning, and if the whole charade was going to have her head spinning every which way, she wasn't convinced she would survive the weekend. Pre-kishin had nothing on this.
An hour later, they were sitting in a small bridal salon in Stamford, tea and pastries laid out on a coffee table surrounded by plush little victorian couches. It was so quaint it was almost kitsch, but Maka liked it all the same. The proprietor, an aspiring bridal designer, was actually an old friend of Aria's, a girl she had met in high school and had somehow kept in touch with. As the bride explained earlier to Maka, realizing what designing for an "Evans" wedding could do for her old friend's prospects, Aria had insisted on using her for all the women's attire, much to Sophia's unhappiness. Sophia had yet to arrive, and Maka was currently seated amidst most of the bridal party waiting for the bride to be fitted and make her appearance. They were all women, of course, but their reasons for being there varied widely. Seated on the couch next to her were two cousins of Wes and Soul on the Evans side. Both girls appeared to be in their early twenties and had the same pale, watery-eyed look as their uncle. The taller of the two seemed shy, while the shorter was occasionally eying Maka with decided distaste while pointedly avoiding any conversation with her though they sat side by side. The other three women seated across from her were a college friend of both Wes and Aria, tall and fair with raven hair, and two of Aria's cousins, one dark skinned and one who had a decidedly asian cast to her features. The two cousins were chattering excitedly, in their own little world, while the college friend minded her tea and her business.
It was an odd group, and not being acquainted with any of them, the meister felt decidedly out of her element. Seated across from her, the college friend offered her an almost comforting smile, and Maka smiled back automatically. She was pretty sure Aria had mentioned she was a flautist for an acclaimed orchestra, but such things tended to go over her head, and with so much information being thrown at her so quickly, the generally meticulous meister had been unable to grasp the details she normally would have. She'd almost wished for a notebook, because this whole thing was feeling more and more like some sort of twisted field test.
"So, Maka, right?" The woman asked suddenly in her deep, rich voice, and Maka nodded. "I'm Genevieve. Aria and Wes have had so much to say about you and your husband. And he's really the Last Death Scythe! It was all over the papers after the moon went black. And you were really, truly there? Fighting-a monster, right? It all sounds so dangerous and frightening!"
"It-I mean," Maka took a deep breath, not quite having expected to have to discuss such painful memories. "It was difficult," she finally settled on.
"And you really are a warrior, then? You go into battle with-well, your husband turns into your weapon, that's what they say. Honestly, I'd never even heard of a human weapon before I met Wes, and then read about everything on the moon-it's all so fascinating! And to be friends with a living god! I've heard people go on about how Soul Evans was a fool to give up the piano and traipse off to God knows where, but honestly," the woman waved one elegant, long fingered hand dismissively, "one simply cannot compare being a concert pianist to saving the world. I, for one, believe he made the right choice. Most especially if it means he landed himself such an adorable wife! No wonder he ran off."
Maka had no idea how to respond, or even if she was expected to respond at all. The woman was very friendly, charming in an odd, intrusive way, and impossibly elegant and beautiful on top of it all. Her clothes, a red silk blouse and black pencil skirt accented with chunky gold jewellery, bespoke taste and wealth, but unlike what she had sensed from Soul's cousin, she did not feel disdain but real admiration from her wavelength. She was spared answering at all when she heard a gasp from the woman next to Genevieve, one of Aria's cousins, who had spun her head towards the main dressing room door. Maka followed suit and almost gasped herself at what she found.
Aria had come out and she looked absolutely stunning.
The dress had a beaded, fitted bodice, and was sleeveless with a sweetheart neckline. The skirt though, was puffy layers of tulle beaded through, sparkling and gorgeous. Aria looked like an absolute princess complete with crown-the dress suited her perfectly, and Maka found herself smiling because she was absolutely sure her husband would be floored. Then again, Wes would probably be floored if she walked down the aisle in a paper sack-they really did seem to love each other, and Maka couldn't help but to feel both thrilled for them and a little envious, because she wanted that, too. There was a time, not long ago, when she wouldn't have dreamt it possible, when the example her childhood set before her had soured her expectations and left her believing that love was a fantasy, a fairy tale that people told each other but that no one ever found. She had since changed her views, slowly, subtly, but even still, she knew what Wes and Aria had found was rare and precious.
Maka heard a soft sound like a snort next to her and moved her head slightly to notice Soul's two cousins speaking quietly to one another, their backs still pointedly turned to the bride who was being seen to by the designer near the dressing room door. The shy one would giggle slightly, then shake her head periodically.
"But really, she should have minded Aunt Sophie. To drag us to this-place," the bolder of the two wrinkled her nose, "when she might have had Vera design for her. It's comical. But what can one expect from someone so-common."
"She is a very fine cellist, though, you know, and Wes seems to like her," the other girl said, voice unsure.
"Well, it is better than some people have done, I'll admit," she said airily. "I mean, really, to wed some-some-mercenary, to go out fighting monsters, it truly is beyond belief. Then again, he always was an odd one. It's little wonder."
Maka had heard enough. To insult the bride-she had to force herself to calm. To insult herself, she could deal with. But to insult her weapon? Apparently, this girl needed to find out that insulting a mercenary was never wise, to pretend like said mercenary wasn't seated right next to her on the couch was even more foolhardy, and to insult that mercenary's weapon was downright suicidal. She felt her fingers itching for a book that wasn't there and was about to try to use her words when someone else used them for her.
"Oh, Lucretia, I hadn't noticed you there, so lovely to see you again," Genevieve addressed the shorter woman with practiced ease. "Very daring of you to be sporting last season's dress, I might add. If you aren't careful, you'll start a trend."
"This-this isn't-" the blond began to sputter, indignant. Maka noticed that Aria's two cousins finally went quiet at this, their eyes turned to the other women, perhaps sensing a show, or perhaps worried for a brawl, who could say?
"I was sorry to hear that you were rejected by the philharmonic yet again. Really, they must be deaf," the woman across continued, purposefully oblivious to the mounting horror of the one she addressed.
Lucretia had gone scarlet with something like rage and Maka had to suppress her laughter because it was probably bad form to laugh at her 'husband's' cousin, even if she had been about to deck her only moments before.
"And Minerva, you're looking very well," Genevieve's smile became softer, more genuine as she turned to the quieter of the two. "I was sorry to miss your last concert, but I heard your harp was the talk of the show."
"Thank you," the taller blond offered softly as her sister stewed next to her, shooting her an indignant glare that made her wither slightly. Maka didn't have difficulty at all believing that this haughty girl was related to Alastair Evans. Mercifully, the exchange was cut short as the bride finally approached, the designer done fussing over her. She tilted her head, expression neutral.
"Well?" her eyes scanned the group expectantly.
"Oh, Aria, hun," Genevieve stood and sauntered over to her friend, grinning widely as she stopped before her. "It's perfect. Wes is going to positively faint!"
Aria matched her grin as the others all offered their approval, all save Lucretia who was notably silent, and Minerva who was always quiet. Aria's cousins, for their part, squealed in turn and forced her to make a circle, to show off the low cut back and flounce of the wide skirts. There was some chatter among the four of them along with the designer for a few minutes and Maka watched silently, feeling ill suited to partake of such a thing, before Aria finally put her hands on her hips to eye the group expectantly.
"Well, then, Emily, seeing as mine fits perfectly, we should probably check the others."
The mousy little brunette nodded, directing each woman to a dressing room before coming back to stand before Aria and Maka once more.
The woman, Emily apparently, eyed Maka speculatively for a moment, then took a measuring tape from one large skirt pocket and began to manhandle her. Maka squeaked at first, finding it rather intrusive, but said nothing, allowing the woman to work. Finally, she stepped back and nodded.
"Mmm, you were right, Ar, she's a 6, a solid 6, I have just the thing!" She was grinning widely, her face alight. "Be right back," she said happily and scuttled off into a door in the corner, leaving Maka and Aria standing alone in the center of the salon.
"You look, really pretty," Maka managed, feeling ridiculously out of her element. Aria smiled back happily.
"Thanks. And thanks again for doing this, I know it must be-"
Whatever she was going to say was cut off suddenly as Sophia Evans strode up to them with a loud "Aria, darling! You look radiant!" The woman swept into the room like a force of nature, her smile bright. She moved close to her daughter-in-law to be and greeted her with two light kisses on the cheek before doing the same to Maka, leaving the meister feeling even more odd and dazed. "I know I was unhappy that you'd chosen your own designer, but really dear, she's done marvelous work. I daresay she'll make a name for herself quite soon. Even Jean Luc confided that he plans to use her for the Collins' wedding!"
"Oh, Sophia, that's fantastic! Em'll be ecstatic!" Aria looked so genuinely thrilled for her friend that Maka couldn't help but to smile, too.
"Speaking of Jean Luc," Sophia frowned. "Is he not here yet?"
"No, no, not-" Aria began, but then stopped as another presence swept in. The man was short, possibly not breaking five feet, and completely bald. He wore a lavender shirt with some sort of frill at the front and impossibly elegant, impossibly textured grey slacks. He looked both refined and absurd, and radiated an arrogance that Maka found immediately off putting. Nonetheless, she forced a smile as Sophia introduced the man, and endured his nauseating air kisses as well as his intrusive stare as he looked her up and down.
"My, my, Sophia, dear, you were spot on, the girl is very pretty, but completely unrefined. Well. Looks like my work is cut out for me," he circled her, taking out a small, silk covered notebook from Death knew where to jot down notes with a fancy gold pen. "Cool colors, certainly, though clearly she looks good in red as well. Dark colors suit, no pastels certainly, soft fabrics. You say she needs something to fight in as well?" Sophia nodded and Maka frowned, what was this now? "Mmm. Nasty business, but I think I can manage. I've requested some footage, it should help. Yes, yes, and practical shoes for that," he made a face. "Though, based on that picture you forwarded me, we can't possibly do worse. Alright, then," he put his notebook away and tilted his head at her for a moment, considering.
"I assume she'll need measurements for the dress, so make sure those get sent along, shoe size as well, if you please. I should have some things ready by Friday, definitely something for the rehearsal, more for Sunday, and anything else can be sent along to Nevada, if it must," he made a face that exhibited some note of distaste at that. For her part, Maka was becoming more and more indignant. Who did this man think he was, speaking about her as if she weren't right there? Was this some, what, wealthy blue blood thing, to ignore people? It was infuriating. She was about to speak her mind, to protest that she didn't need all of this and she certainly wouldn't be dressed without her consent like some, some doll, when the man simply nodded to Sophia.
"Well, then, I must be off, but I think we can definitely make a Cinderella out of this one. Be sure to call me with those measurements. I look forward to Friday!" And then, as quickly he had come he was gone, and Maka was left flustered and irritated with no one to vent her spleen on but Soul's mother and Aria, who was sporting a knowing smile.
"That was-that-" Maka stammered. Aria laughed at that, but Sophia nodded and smiled.
"Isn't he marvelous?" she breathed. "Just wait, you're going to adore whatever he comes up with. Trust me!"
As seemed to be a pattern today, before Maka could even consider responding, Emily breezed back in holding a zippered garment bag over one shoulder.
"Well, then, shall we?" she offered, and led the still stunned meister into one of the small rooms along the wall, Sophia and Aria staying behind and chatting idly.
"Well, then, Maka," the woman smiled at her as she closed the door behind her. "It's lucky you're a common sample size, even luckier I've got the perfect dress for you. Honestly, it's what I would have suggested had I all the time in the world." She had hung the bag on a hook and began unzipping it, revealing a splash of white and royal blue. She removed the dress from the bag and the meister couldn't help it, she smiled. It was beautiful, with a royal blue bodice and short, flouncy, sheer white skirt, along with sheer little white cap sleeves. The other woman looked to Maka expectantly, and she suddenly realized why-she would need to strip down to try it on.
She began to remove her things and, finally left in a bra and panties, Emily made a noise in her throat.
"You'll need to remove the bra too, for now. I think you can get away without it anyway."
"Oh, right then," Maka said, embarrassed, as she unclasped the bra. The shorter woman immediately handed her the dress and Maka stepped into it, Emily zipping the back for her and making a pleased hum.
"Yes, yes, it's perfect!" Skeptical, because while the dress had been lovely on the hanger, few things were so nice on, Maka turned her eyes to the full length mirror and shook her head because surely, the girl she saw wasn't her. The dress fit like a glove, accentuating her small curves and her long limbs. If one ignored the occasionally darker line of a scar along her arms and legs, she almost looked pretty.
"You don't like it?" Emily frowned from just behind her in the mirror.
"Oh, no, it's very pretty!" Maka said quickly, not wanting to upset the designer. "I'm just-not used to wearing this type of thing, is all."
"Oh!" The woman laughed as she walked closer and began pulling at the fabric as she circled her, "well, you'll have to get used to it if you're an Evans!" She continued to walk around her, pinning here and there and jotting down notes in a little book.
Maka shook her head again. "Soul and I, well, we don't have much occasion for-I mean-"
"That's right, Ar mentioned your husband doesn't really get on well with his parents. That's a shame," she said as she continued to work.
"He has his reasons," Maka couldn't help but to defend.
"Mmm," she hummed. "I'm sure. Well, alright then. I think I'll need to take the bust in the tiniest bit, but it fits well otherwise. Go show Aria and I'll see to everyone else, then."
With a slight nod to herself, the designer left to see to the other women, and Maka trailed after shortly. As she emerged, she saw each of the women in her own royal blue gown and almost gasped. They all looked so-so-perfect. Each had a gown to suit her, each was a vision, and Maka felt plain and gangly beside so much elegance. The eyeroll and whisper of Lucretia did not go unnoticed as she stood with her sister and aunt in a mid length, short, slinky number, but it was quickly replaced in her vision by Aria, who stood before her with a broad grin, still a vision herself in her stunning dress.
"Oh, Maka love, it's perfect!" she clapped her hands together once happily, her eyes moving to the designer, who was busily flitting about Genevieve.
"Mmm, told you I had somthing, Ar. It only needs a bit of taking in, shouldn't be an issue. But you," she turned her eyes back to Genevieve, "did not mention you were planning on growing out your assets!"
Maka turned her eyes to the tall woman and noticed the issue. Her reasonably endowed breasts were definitely straining against the fabric of her long, sleek gown. Genevieve practically pouted.
"I did tell you I was on hormone treatments! The initial fitting was two years ago. They were bound to grow!" she protested.
Emily sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "You did. I just didn't realize they'd-grow so much, I guess. Well, it can't be helped, I'll take new measurements and figure it out."
Hormones-grow out-what now? Did that mean? Ah.
Suddenly, Maka's respect for Aria and Wes went up another notch, their acceptance of difference, their embracing of others stacking up along with their good will and good humor to make her think that whatever Soul might lack in a father, he was more than compensated for by a brother, and soon, a sister who clearly cared for him and others, a brother and a sister to be proud of, and she found herself sorry that they were not truly her family. Not for the first time, the meister wished she were married to her weapon in truth, internally mourning the reality that her carriage would soon enough become a pumpkin once more.