Summary: ToraDora!-Inspired AU. College Setting. Eventual SoMa.
Some say love strikes like a bolt of lighting, and none know it quite like Maka Albarn and Soul Evans. In their second year of college, the two misunderstood misfits find themselves instantly falling in love with people they don't have a chance with. Unwilling to resign themselves to a life of unrequited pining, they become partners in order to help each other achieve their romantic ambitions. As the school year marches on, relationships unravel, and friendships deepen, the two begin feel sparks of their own.
The Roar of the Tiger.
Maka Albarn did not want to fall in love.
Personally, she felt entirely justified for feeling this way. Her entire adolescence was a testament to the capricious nature of love, and her very existence was a permanent reminder of a love that used to be. If the daughter of two professors with PhDs in family dysfunction was sure of anything, it was that love was a fleeting prelude to betrayal, grief, and loneliness.
So it was a complete, horrifying surprise when she fell in love on the first day of Intro to Literary Theory.
For the record, Maka was prickly and she knew it. Her friendships had a turnover rate of two to three years, depending on how long she lived in one place. After the divorce, her dad stayed in Death City as an adjunct at the local university while Maka and her mother hopped from city to city across the country. As her mom tirelessly sought out new research opportunities and faculty positions, Maka endured the repetitive cycle of starting anew, making friends, and leaving without a trace. After a while, it was just easier to keep to herself.
College was supposed to be different. For the first time, Maka would be committed to staying in one place for four entire years. Death City University was not her first choice, but because her father was on track to receive tenure, her tuition was sharply reduced. It was more practical to go where tuition was cheap, even if it wasn't the Ivy she always wanted. Regardless of its academic reputation, Maka was going to have the ability to meet and befriend new people, make actual friends, and have an actual life.
Maka also didn't actually hate men. She just found female friendships easier to start and grow—like her freshman year roommate. They had met at orientation the spring before their first semester, dutifully following their orientation coordinator around campus while the pervy high school boys in their group attempted to prove they were men. As Maka followed their tour guide and her headache grew worse, she couldn't fathom that those blundering oafs were to be her new classmates in the fall.
Long story short, Maka's anger had gotten the better of her and she kicked a guy in the shins. In hindsight, this was probably the moment the nickname "Palmtop Tiger" started to take root in the freshman class. As the jerk staggered away and started spreading the first rumors about Maka's violent temper, a perky blonde with a sandy bob and large blue eyes watched Maka with curiosity.
"Why'd you kick that guy?" the blonde had asked. Her bright eyes appeared to darken. "Was he bothering you?"
"He told me biracial was his favorite flavor," Maka replied without humor.
The blonde nodded cheerfully, but the shadowy glint in her eyes remained. "Good. Cock suckers like that deserve getting the shit kicked out of them."
Maka and Patty Thompson were fast friends.
Teenage boys though? That was a more difficult challenge, one Maka didn't really feel like wasting her energy on considering how much teenage boys sucked. But she was still a young eligible woman about to embark on the next chapter of her life's journey. If she was going to spend the next four years making friends and possibly dating, she should go into college with an idea of what she actuallyliked about men, right?
At first, it was easier to catalog all the men she hated than the ones she felt attracted to. For example, boys who wore sarcastic t-shirts. Dudebros who took up a lot of room on the bus. Men who felt personally victimized by feminism. Guys who didn't value hard work. Spikey-haired trust fund babies. Redheads.
No, if she were going to fall in love with any guy, he would be charitable. Passionate. He'd use his enormous wealth (this was a dream guy, a complete fantasy, so why can't he be rich too?) for the greater good instead of further oiling the cogs of capitalism with the blood and sweat of the people. Probably brunet. An intellectual, too. Devastatingly attractive.
This guy did not exist, would never exist, but that was the point. Creating and clinging to this fantasy was Maka's best defense against love and all of its entanglements. If she constructed her own soulmate as an impossibly perfect dream man, how could she ever get her heart broken?
When it came to love, Maka was immune. Well, that was the idea.
She wasn't in a good mood when she arrived in class that fateful day, but it got worse when her crusty professor starting passing out the beginning-of-the-semester paperwork. The syllabus was horrendous. Scanning the list of authors on the page, Maka figured that Intro to Literary Theory should have been really named Intro to White Male Circle-Jerks. What else did she expect from a tenured professor? She had spent years watching her mom struggle to get a foothold in academia while less brilliant, tenured professors ranted about their outdated views. Nothing loosened the racist, sexist tongue quite like permanent job security.
Her mouth pressed into a grim line, Maka skimmed the syllabus in the hope of finding at least one woman until she heard a chair scrape against the floor and another student clear his throat.
"Professor, I have a qualm."
Still frowning, Maka dragged her eyes away from the syllabus and to observe what this guy had to stay.
When she first laid eyes on Dean Theodore "Kid" Kidman, son of University President Kidman, Maka made a small, strangled noise as she tried to remember how to breathe.
This was terrible. The boy she had made up with her ridiculous, unattainable standards was standing a few feet away from her, in the flesh. She could not help but gape at his porcelain skin, finely chiseled face, and unusual gold eyes. It was like looking at the sun. Her eyes kept darting away to safer, less blinding subjects, only to jump back to his inky hair and slowly trail down his back and stare at his—
Maka pinched herself. This couldn't be happening, it just couldn't. She was almost offended that this was happening. How dare this happen? How dare—
"As a student at this university, I'm saddened by the lack of diversity in this syllabus," Kid said. A sudden spark flickered in his yellow eyes. "But as a feminist," he said with building outrage, "I am simply appalled!"
Was this guy for real?
Maka didn't know if she felt pissed that some guy had stolen her line or overjoyed she wasn't the only person in class drinking the patriarchal kool-aid. She picked her jaw off the floor and watched as Kid deconstructed the syllabus, asking how were they supposed to learn, in their first semester of college no less, if the professor just spoon-fed them the same perspective over and over? Maka thanked whatever deities ruled the heavens that she wasn't alone—someone actually agreed with her! And better yet, he was attractive!
It wasn't just his face that Maka liked. She was impressed by his poise, his articulation, his obvious knowledge of literary criticism. Even so, the transition from happy detachment to head-over-heels love was incredibly jarring. In one instant, she was untouchable, but in the next, she was irrevocably smitten. Kid had officially captured Maka's undivided interest without even speaking to her.
In her room that night, Maka couldn't help but express her newfound frustration to her roommate. "Have you ever seen someone so perfect that it literally ruined your day?" she asked.
Patty was flopped on her XL twin bed with her blond head hanging off the edge, painting her nails upside down. "Yep, like all the time," she chirped.
Maka stared at her first reading for her literary theory class, but the words just swam on the page. "I just want to slap his gorgeous mouth right off his gorgeous face."
Her roommate lowered her nail polish and cocked her head to the side. "Who is this?"
Maka's face burned. It was humiliating enough that some guy she had never spoken to was making her heart spasm. No need to make things worse by admitting her crush to someone she was still learning to trust. "No one in particular. Just some guy in class. You see anyone cute in your classes yet?"
"Nooooooope," Patty said, popping the 'p.' "Not as cute as you!"
"Aw, thanks Patty." Maka swiveled back to her desk and tried to refocus on her assignment. She wasn't going to let some boy impact her grades.
Despite her better judgement, that boy and his stupid, hot face became a constant distraction. In addition to looking handsome on a daily basis, Kid quickly proved to be the class heckler. Every time he accused their stodgy professor of forcing his prehistoric opinions upon the class or confronted a classmate about their ignorant views, Maka swooned. Hard.
"Maybe Portia isn't as flat or unrealistic a character as you say," Kid said one day after a classmate complained about The Merchant of Venice. "Maybe you find her so unrealistic because she doesn't behave the way you expect her to. I think it is your expectations of female characters that are truly unrealistic!"
Maka's knees blasted apart so fast she almost got charlie horse. What on earth is wrong with me? she asked herself for the umpteenth time, recrossing her left leg over her right.Get your head out of the gutter Albarn! Thankfully, no one in class ever seemed to notice when she started melting in her seat, least of all him. She suspected that if they met outside the classroom, Kid would not even recognize her. Despite her vivacious, extroverted personality, Maka could hardly manage to squeak out a word in class. At least class participation wasn't a part of her grade.
Her other classes were a different story. Some days it was like everyone was just trying to get on her nerves. Growing up in a professor's household left her unprepared for the putrid ignorance among rich college kids, and she had easily thrown her entire bookshelf at offending students by Thanksgiving break.
And don't get her started on all the times her papa tried to talk to her in public.
In the midst of the everyday frustrations of school and family, Maka could always return to her crush on Kid. He didn't have to interact with her to make her feel like flying. Sometimes she would stay up all night fantasizing, her chest bubbling with excitement at the thought of talking to him and her hands burning for his touch. It was very indulgent to think about him so much, but it was an addictive indulgence. Though completely unasked for, these fluffy feelings proved that Maka was capable of feeling deep emotion for another person. Real love was possible. She just had to gain the courage to chase after it.
By December, Maka noticed faint whispers everywhere she went. Palmtop Tiger. She heard the term here and there since the beginning of the semester while chewing out another student in class or clobbering an asshole with a book, but she had never made the connection that the phrase had something to do with her. As helpful and open as her roommate was, Patty was strangely tight-lipped on the subject. It was only when she heard another freshman whisper it while getting late night coffee that Maka took the initiative.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Maka snapped. The freshman obviously did not expect to be noticed, and he looked like a deer caught in front of an eighteen wheeler.
"Uh, it's a nickname," the guy stuttered. "Cause you're small and cute, like you can fit on a guy's palm, but you're also all 'rawr' all the time, like a tiger." A flash of uncertainty crossed the guy's face. "You are Maka Albarn, right? The pervy professor's angry daughter?"
Maka really did roar as she grabbed his shirt collar and throttled him from side to side."What did you just call me?"
Her outburst only served to confirm the rumors. Patty was very apologetic when Maka confronted her, if not still a little evasive. "I've always thought it's the most amazing, coolest thing that you don't take anyone's shit," her roommate said with knitted eyebrows. "I didn't want to make you feel bad about it."
Her intentions may have been sound, but the nickname was a blow to Maka's self-esteem no matter how Patty sliced it. All those nights Maka had laid wide awake imagining an alternate universe where her crush not only knew she existed, but would take her on romantic walks and brush her hair out of her eyes, the rest of campus was spreading this awful nickname. Palmtop Tiger. It was diminutive and dehumanizing at the same time. That fact by itself was enough to make Maka cry in the shower.
What really made her throat thicken was the term's rampant use on campus. If random douchebags she had never seen before could recognize her as the Palmtop Tiger, Kid probably could too. To him and the rest of the student body, she was just a wild animal with a libertine for a father. A side show. A freak. That made her feel lonelier than she ever did moving across the country.
Any attempt she made at getting closer to Kid or making new friends was dead on arrival. So much for giving romance and sex the old college try.
She spent a long time falling asleep with her pillow clutched to her chest, desperately wishing it would transform into a person who could finally give Maka the intimacy she never realized she craved. That, too, was a fantasy that dissolved into smoke the moment the sun rose. Luckily for her sanity and her grades, Maka Albarn was not a wallower. She was a problem solver. If she was going to get through college, she had to embrace her bad attitude, to wear it like armor so nothing anyone thought or said could cut her.
If Maka had to become a roaring tiger, then so be it.
And yet, when Maka spied Kid skateboarding through campus, her mouth would snap shut before unsaid declarations poured out. Despite her reinvention, unexpressed feelings still lingered.
The beginning of her sophomore year, she had had enough. In a night of impassioned fury, Maka wrote a letter. A love letter. She had never done something so cliche, but getting her feelings on paper was both a catharsis and the seed of a potentially awful idea. Letting these feelings simmer forever inside until they ate their way to the surface wasn't healthy. If she was going to put this crush to bed, (figuratively or literally, depending on his reaction), steps had to be taken.
Maka stuck the completed letter and an addressed, but empty envelope in a drawer. That letter was going to make it into Kid's hands someday, and everything would change. She just didn't know when.
Her love letter's journey took a wrong turn once Soul Evans entered the picture.
The Song of the Dragon.
The first thing he noticed about her were the thin chains clipped to the belt loops of her cargo pants, bouncing against her thigh in rhythmic, clinking beats as she swaggered to her seat. At this point, Soul had no idea he and Patty were both from the same city, if you could even consider Long Island and the Brooklyn boonies as being on the same planet, let alone the same metro area. Though he didn't know the particulars of where she came from, Soul could tell this was one tough chick.
Which is why he was surprised when he saw that the chick with the cool camo pants captured the ocean in her eyes.
There was a playful light in those eyes, a cheery smile on her face. Soul found the obvious dissonance between her gangster chains and sweet smile intriguing. The girls Soul knew from that prison called 'private school' came in one flavor of feminine. If this blondie was any indication, polos and pencil skirts were not the standard dress code in the real world. She sized up the class up before squeezing into one of the last seats available at the back of the room. On the first day of class, everyone tried to sit at the back of room, Soul included, and it peeved him that this girl still managed to find a seat behind him, out of sight.
Five minutes passed. The Spanish professor was a notoriously late woman, so Soul sat back. Nine a.m. on the first day of college, Soul had not mustered the courage to talk to anyone, let alone the pretty blonde with the cool-ass chains. He laid his head on his desk, willing himself to fall asleep while he still could.
In his sleepiness, Soul vaguely heard some skeezeballs at the back of the class start snickering, whispering dirty jokes about the chicks they made out with over orientation or some shit. When he walked in, he immediately pegged those dudes as the type to drop Spanish 203 because it was too early in the morning. Come to think of it, that wasn't really a bad idea…
The professor was now ten minutes late to the first class of the first semester of Soul's college career. Somewhere between the yawning and the vulgarity in the back, there was a silent consensus that everyone would just walk out at the fifteen minute mark. Soul was in a solid doze when he was wrenched back into consciousness by the chime of a girl's voice.
He picked his head off his desk. The class was agape in shock. They were staring at the girl—Patty, he later learned—who looked like she just won bingo. The two guys in the back looked at Patty quizzically, aghast and uncomfortable. Soul did not catch what Patty had said, but it must have been wild.
The dude on the right nervously laughed, and after tugging at his collar he attempted to speak. "Wow. Um, it's not really cute, you know, when girls talk like that." His voice was small and squeamish. "I don't like it."
Patty threw her head back and laughed, a sound that rang in Soul's ears like clear bells, and her face snapped upright, black in the eyes, and said in sweet English, "I don't care if you fucking like it."
Those skuzzes were visibly startled. Their chairs scooted backwards towards the wall, inching further away as if to avoid Patty's snapping jaws. But Patty did not snap or snarl. She only giggled and turned back around, focusing now on doodling in her blank Spanish notebook. Soul tipped his chair backwards so he could glance at what she was drawing. It was a waterfall.
Soul was charmed and intimidated all at once.
It turned out that "I don't care if you fucking like it" was the only sentence Soul would ever hear Patty speaken ingles. From then on, the class was taught solely in Spanish under a harsh penalty of a half percentage point per sentence spoken in English. Their professor didn't give a shit about tardiness or deadlines, but speak a word of English and the claws came out.
The cool thing Soul discovered about language classes was that he could learn a lot about his classmates without going through the arduous process of befriending, hanging out with, or talking to them. After every weekend, break, or holiday, the professor asked the class to make a short speech about what they did. The mandatory monologues soon encapsulated likes and dislikes, future plans, favorite memories, dream vacation, etc. It sucked that Soul had to talk about himself in Spanish on the reg, and he never really meant to learn so much about this girl that piqued his interest, but when she talked, he listened.
-On weekends, Patty usually worked part-time at the campus Deathbucks.
-When she wasn't working, Patty played softball on the university team.
-Her first best friend was her sister Liz, and her second best friend was a roommate of indeterminate identity (Marko? Mana? It was hard to decipher Patty's Spanish accent).
-If she could wish for anything, Patty would wish for enough money to pay her and her sister's education expenses and to travel the world on a horse-sized pelican.
All of the facts Soul gleaned about Patty over the course of the semester were hazy at best. This was a Spanish class after all. On a good day, Soul only caught about half of what she said, and hell, there were bound to be some inaccuracies. It didn't help that Patty's style of speaking was riddled with slang terms and profanities that weren't included in the textbook (Who taught this girl to speak Spanish so well? Where did she pick up all of these Mexican swear words?).
From watching her in class and piecing together her speeches, Soul guessed that Patty was a hard worker, a fearless comedian, and a determined athlete. He also guessed that she didn't really miss home in Brooklyn, that she was intensely protective of her friends, and that she wanted to make her sister proud more than anything in the world.
Soul didn't have to guess that he was falling in love with her.
This wasn't how things were supposed to go in college. Soul was supposed to get trashed every weekend and have a string of meaningless hookups, get it all out of his system until he was ready to become an Adult(™). He was doing a good job of getting sloshed with his friends whenever the opportunity presented itself, but the biddies weren't clawing at his door.
When everyone spread rumors that you had red eyes because you either 1) sold your soul to the devil or 2) were addicted to designer drugs, it was hard to get dates.
Patty was never afraid or distrustful of him like the other girls he tried to meet. From their sparse interactions in Spanish class, it was pretty clear that Patty gave zero fucks about most things. Maybe if he asked her out, he would know for certain whether Patty truly gave a shit about his appearance, but he could never muster the Spanish.
Instead, Soul fantasized.
Truth be told, its hard to fantasize about someone you've only heard speak your native language once. There were only so many ways to incorporate "I don't care if you fucking like it" into a sexual fantasy before it became stale or downright scary.
Maybe it wasn't normal for other 19 year-old guys, but Soul fantasized about hanging out with girls almost as much as he thought about screwing them. It spoke of his loneliness, of his frustrating inability to convince people that, despite first impressions and appearances, he wasn't a bad guy. If Patty offered him a chance to be her friend and nothing more, he would sign up in a heartbeat.
Of course, he and Patty weren't friends. He was just some dude in her Spanish class.
Love letters were never his style, so Soul started toying with the idea of burning her a CD. He liked to think he had good taste in music, and mix-tapes were supposedly the pinnacle of romantic gestures back in the day. Why not resurrect the gesture?
So he put together a playlist and burned her a CD. Actually, he burned her a couple CDs. A couple dozen.
Fuck, he wasn't satisfied with any playlist for more than two days. Like composing an overture for his music composition class, Soul viewed most of his early attempts as rough drafts of a concept. What sort of mix-tape should he give her? A mix of his favorites, spanning all genres and musical artists, or a tape with a specific mood or theme? What message was he trying to send? "I don't know how to say soul mate in Spanish but I think you're it?"
He decided to bite the bullet and download "Talk Dirty to Me" to satisfy his sense of irony. It weighed heavily on him that Jason Derulo now contaminated his music collection, but at least he now had a starting point for every iteration of his musical love letter. He hoped Patty would one day find its inclusion in the CD humorous and fitting.
The crush he silently nurtured over the fall became even more intense in the spring. She recognized him on the first day of Spanish 304 (same professor, same Draconian rules), and spoke a rapid string of Spanish asking about his winter break. He was so shocked he could barely strangle out a response deeper than "It was very cold." That made her laugh. He liked her sense of humor. At a drop of a hat, Patty could go from goofy and sweet to gritty and vulgar, and there was no way of telling which way she would go. During their few direct interactions, Patty was more on the "goofy and sweet" side of the spectrum. That meant something, right?
Being the only familiar face in their Spanish class, Patty started partnering with Soul on more activities. This was helpful since no one ever wanted to be the demonic albino's partner. Soul knew he was beginning to get some traction with Patty when she started to call him hermano. He objected to the brotherly connotations of the nickname, but at least it was better than what she called everyone else—pajero. Though, in all honesty,pajero probably applied to Soul more than anyone.
One of the annoying things about language classes was that many exercises were based on holidays and seasons. The class celebrated El Dia del Amor y la Amistad in February by performing a skit in Spanish.
Patty: I can't believe you cheated on me with her!
Harvar: I never thought you would find out!
Kim: You were stringing us along the whole time! That is unacceptable!
Soul: (enters from right) I was summoned to kill you and eat your soul for hurting these beautiful women!
Harvar: Have mercy!
While the group all received A's for their creativity and well-spoken Spanish, Soul wished the skit went a little differently. He wondered what it would have been like if he got to play a love interest instead of a mercenary, or what it felt like to actually be a love interest instead of someone's idea of a thug.
On that day, he actually found the courage to talk to Patty, albeit in Spanish. Soul asked if she actually liked holidays as drenched in shallow commercialism as Valentine's Day. She replied that she really liked it when boys gave her candy regardless of what day it was,hermano. He could get behind that.
They still weren't on English-speaking terms when class registration rolled around. At this point, Patty told him she intended to major in Spanish and Linguistics. She had a knack for it. Soul decided he was going to minor in Spanish, because his grades in Spanish weren't half bad, and there was no way he would ever see Patty in one of his music classes.
"When are you registering?" Patty asked him en espanol. "I'm taking Spanish cinema next fall."
"Me too!" he replied.
"Awesome!" she said. "In that class, we only watch movies and write in Spanish. That'll be a change, eh hermano?"
Oh, it would be a change alright. He could barely wait for the day he and Patty conversed in English. But that was when everything was going to change.
Soul promised himself that when sophomore year started, he would stop burying these feelings within himself and take a chance. He was going to give her one of those damn CDs he had lying around his dorm and tell her how he felt.
That was before Maka Albarn forced her way into the picture.