A/N: And here we are, exactly one year from the beginning of this fic (check the date). It's been amazing writing this, guys. Frustrating, exciting, full of all those ups and downs for me and for the characters in this story. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
Before we wrap it up, some of you might be asking what's next. Well, while I do definitely have ideas for continuing this fic, I think, and I hope you won't begrudge me this, that it's time for me to take a break. One year is the second-longest time I've ever worked on a single project, and I've been fighting off burnout for a while now. So as much as I hate to say it, I don't think you'll be seeing new Soul Eater content from me for a little while. I'm going to take a moment to breathe and work on other projects. I haven't yet decided if those are going to be original, or fanfiction, or both.
But, and I'm not making any promises here, you might see updates from me on one of my other fics. Those of you paying attention might have noticed I have both a Persona 4 fic and a Harry Potter fic going, and that I seem to have dropped both of those to pay attention to this story. I'm not promising that I'll go back to writing them, but I might. Keep an eye on the Harry Potter fic particularly; now that I've come to terms with the fact that I don't accept The Cursed Child as canon, you might be seeing a resurgence there.
And I'm not saying I'm never going to write Soul Eater content again. You might see one shots pop up every now and then, although I won't promise when. And hopefully, maybe, we'll see, fingers crossed, that slice-of-life sequel someday. Until then, stay tuned!
Well, that's it. That's all I've got. I'm not going to interrupt this fic with another note at the end, so this is the last you'll hear from me. Enjoy, and thanks for all the support.
Signing off for the last time,
P.S: Everyone take a look at the awesome new cover art LianneSilver927 made for this story!
AKOSI AGATAR, thank you so much. I'm very glad you enjoyed it and really appreciate the support.
pokelover01, thanks for being one of my steadiest reviewers. I really enjoyed reading your reviews when they came up. My response is short, but thanks again for all of your comments about the scenes. I'm glad you enjoyed all of them, and to answer your question, yes, Bright Star is definitely going to be a more traditional ninja than Black Star and Ayame, but he's inherited Black Star's insane prowess, so he's going to be scary someday.
Arcane Student, I thought about it, but I didn't want to have too many Star-Evans teams going on. So I hope you don't mind where the trio ended up in this chapter, but don't worry, they'll all still be super close friends and will probably be their own team someday. Thanks for the reviews and your support. I feel like you've been here since pretty much the beginning!
SlightlyOff7, you really can't compare me to Shakespeare, lol, but thank you so much. It makes me happy to hear that you enjoyed the story and that you like my writing. Hope you like where it's going next!
Mineemo, no comment on Cori and Bright Star (you'll see certain things in this chapter), except to say that the reason I didn't end up giving them to each other as partners was that I didn't want to repeat the Star-Evans combo that Reiame have. They're really close friends though, and probably always will be. Thanks so much for the review, and glad you enjoyed this.
Wisteria, thank you so much. I will definitely continue writing! I really appreciate your reviews and support, and hope you enjoy the epilogue!
Xenoprime1337, thanks so much for your awesome review! I appreciate the support and am super glad that you enjoyed the story. On 'Crona-san', pretty much only Annie calls him that, and she calls him that because it's a gender-neutral term of respect and she can't decide if he's an uncle or aunt, but definitely wants to show that she feels somewhat close to him after this ordeal. Thanks for the reviews, and good luck with your story!
Karma88, blame the anticlimax on Excalibur, lol. In the manga, he stopped us from reading Kid's epic speech about his dad because he was talking about barbecue. Glad you liked the story, and thanks for the review!
Diana Raven, thank you so much for your reviews and I'm glad you enjoyed this story. Hope you like the epilogue!
paisthea, thank you so much for this review! I'm really glad you enjoyed the story, and glad that you liked Rei's character arc, as his maturing and growing really did drive the plot for me. I hope you like the epilogue, and I'm glad you picked this up before the last update, so I could thank you personally for your support! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Soul Eater.
The Best Laid Plans
Black Star stared at his wife, trying to understand why she was so mad at him.
Tsubaki almost never got mad at him, as a general rule. Most of their friends agreed that she had the patience of a saint. Which made sense, since she was, after all, married to a god. He couldn't for the life of him figure out what she was so mad about now, considering he had done exactly what she had asked him to do.
Telling her that didn't seem to make it better.
"Tell me again," Tsubaki said, her eyes narrowing in fury. "What exactly did you tell him?"
"Just what you said," said Black Star, frowning at her in confusion. "I told him he was too young to go to the DWMA. Told him he could go next year."
"And then what happened?" asked Tsubaki, resting her hands on her hips.
"And then he said he was going anyway," said Black Star. "So I told him we weren't going to take him there, and if he wanted to get to the DWMA this year, he'd have to walk."
"And then?" Tsubaki asked.
Black Star shrugged. "He walked."
"And you let him?" Tsubaki demanded.
"Black Star…" Tsubaki drew in a deep breath, straightening up and pinching the bridge of her nose with one hand. She squeezed her eyes shut, taking a moment to gather up her thoughts before she turned towards him. "We're in South America!"
He stared at her blankly.
Death City loomed in the distance, shimmering in a desert haze. A small figure walked up to a rocky outcropping overlooking it, dust clinging to his clothes. He came to a stop as he stared at the city, one hand reaching up to the scarf tied around his nose and mouth. He pulled it away, revealing a clear difference between the cleaner, less-tanned skin beneath the scarf and the darker, dustier skin around his eyes.
He looked over the city, green eyes shining in the bright desert sunlight.
Then, he grinned.
Rei closed his eyes and let the water fall over him, drawing in a deep breath as he tried to fight off the last vestiges of sleepiness. He had never really been a morning person, and six or so years of partnering with Ayame had only made it easier for him to train himself to wake up—it had never made him like it. A serious case of jet lag definitely didn't help matters. He leaned forward, propping himself up on the tiled wall, and closed his eyes. When he couldn't put it off any longer, he turned the water off and toweled himself dry, stepping out of the shower.
Ayame was waiting when he finally stepped out of the hotel bathroom, sprawled back onto the bed. She propped herself up on her elbows and grinned at him as he walked out, still toweling his hair.
"Took you long enough," she said. "Thought you drowned."
"It is way too early in the morning for this," Rei grumbled. "Especially after that flight last night. Just because we can fly, doesn't mean they don't need to get us plane tickets." He held the towel loosely in his hand, gauging the distance between the towel and the bed. Before he could throw it, Ayame narrowed her eyes and he wisely decided to change his mind, hanging the towel up on the hook behind the bathroom door instead.
When he turned back around, Ayame was sitting up, pulling on her socks. "It's not like you have anything to complain about," she said. "I did all the work. You just sat there."
"You were using my Grigori soul," Rei pointed out. "It's not like I wasn't doing anything."
"Whatever makes you feel better, princess," Ayame said. "But let me remind you that we didn't need to fly our way over here. It's not like you can't turn your report in online."
Rei flushed, looking away to hide it as he slipped on his jacket. "Some things are better done in person, that's all."
"Sure, Rei," said Ayame, giving him a knowing smirk. "I'm sure that's the only reasonwhy you wanted to be in town today."
Rei sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Come on, Ayame, give me a break," he said. "Let's just get some coffee and go?"
"Sounds like a plan, Mr. Cool Guy," Ayame said, grinning as she jumped up to her feet. "After all, you wouldn't want to be late."
Rei rolled his eyes, following her out of the room. The place was DWMA housing, so it was slightly less fancy than an actual hotel room, but it was comfortable enough for a night or two, and given that they'd spent most of the past year bouncing around from branch to branch sleeping in everything from tents to barracks to borrowed houses, anything with a bed, an internet connection, and a decent expectation of privacy was more than enough. And it had the added bonus of being close to people he wanted to see.
The coffee shop was a block over, perfectly situated on one of the most common routes people took to get to the school. There was a small crowd of students seated at one of the tables when Rei walked in, but he moved past them, heading straight for the counter. A familiar young man was standing behind it, a grin on his face. He was speaking to a dark-haired woman in business attire who was casually stirring a cup of coffee.
"Two coffees please," Rei said, taking the stool next to the woman.
Vayne blinked in surprise, breaking away from his conversation. Across from him, Morgan only smiled, setting her spoon down on the saucer.
"Huh," Vayne said. "You made it here after all."
"We finally tracked down that murderer near the Russia branch yesterday," said Rei, propping his head up on his hand. "Had to report in."
Behind him, Ayame moved, gesturing in a way that Rei couldn't see, but that had both Vayne and Morgan exchanging smiles. He felt out with his Soul Perception, frowning in irritation, but she was already settled into her seat, leaning against the counter and tilting her head innocently.
"I see," Morgan said, sounding like she was hiding a laugh. "And how are things going in Russia lately?"
"Cold," Rei said. "And depressing."
"And boring as all get out!" Ayame added, leaning over the counter. "I mean seriously. There for a month and only one dash cam incident."
"You guys are heading back pretty soon, then?" Vayne asked, turning around to get the coffees. He gave Rei a questioning look, motioning between a ceramic cup and a paper to-go cup. At Rei's return gesture, he started filling two to-go cups with coffee.
"No, thank Death," Rei said. "We've got a long-term posting."
"Two years," Ayame said, grinning proudly. "At least."
"For real?" Vayne asked. "I thought you two were going to do the whole world traveler thing for a while longer."
"Nah," Ayame said. "Been there, done that. I kind of miss having a home base, you know. Not having to live out of a box."
Rei snorted. "Try several boxes. What?" he asked, as Ayame glared at him. "I'm just saying, you didn't have to buy all that stuff—."
"Did I question you when you bought a new guitar that you don't even play?" Ayame asked. "No. No, I didn't. So hush."
"I play it," Rei said. "Sometimes."
Vayne and Morgan exchanged another knowing smile.
"So where is this posting?" Morgan asked, drawing Rei's attention back to her.
"East Asia!" Ayame said, before he could. "It's gonna be great."
"Heard Asuza's a slave driver, though," Rei said.
"Oh, suck it up," said Ayame, punching Rei in the arm. "We're going to Japan! Land of ninjas, and giant robots and cute anime holograms! And you know, my grandparents. And all of that boring history and culture stuff you like."
Rei shot her a look, rubbing at his sore arm. He looked back at Morgan and Vayne. "So you two are staying in Death City?" he asked.
"For the foreseeable," said Morgan, taking a sip of her coffee. "Ambassadorial duties mean I have to stay here or at the Assembly, and since Cassie's taken up a post as school librarian, it makes sense for me to be here."
"And Clark's decided to do the teacher thing, so here I am," Vayne said, shrugging. "The coffee shop isn't a bad gig in between missions anyway. Been thinking of expanding and serving drinks at night. You know, after I turn twenty-one anyway." He set their coffees down in front of them. "Rei, sugar and two creams, Ayame, two creams and enough sugar to kill a bear?"
"You got it," Rei said, taking a sip of coffee.
Ayame sipped at hers and let out a long sigh. "You're a lifesaver, Vayne."
"I try," Vayne said. "Oh, and hey, before you two go, try these. On the house."
He pulled a pair of scones out of a display case, placing them in a paper bag and setting them between Rei and Ayame. Rei blinked at him.
"Since when do you bake?" he asked, reaching for the bag.
"I—uh—don't," said Vayne, flushing. "I had a little help." He glanced at Morgan who only smiled, scrolling through something on her phone. Rei looked between them, feeling a smile coming onto his face.
"I see," he said, getting up. He fished some cash out of his pocket, leaving it on the countertop. "Well, we really should get going. Right Ayame?"
"Oh, sure," said Ayame, springing up to her feet guarding her coffee protectively. "You get to sip your coffee leisurely while we fly up to the school, but I have to chug it like I'm at some kind of coffee kegger because again, I do all the work."
Rei sighed. "Calm down," he said, taking her by the arm and leading her gently towards the door. "We'll walk."
Clark Greysteil had gone through a lot of growth in the six years since he had first entered the DWMA. He'd gone from being a would-be Casanova, halfway towards being the second coming of Spirit Albarn, to a quiet, thoughtful, somewhat dorky kid who occasionally got tongue-tied when a pretty girl walked into the room. The fact that he was also one of the DWMA's best fighters was incidental.
And in Stein's opinion, he was still entirely too twitchy.
"Calm down," Stein said, drumming his class roster on the backrest of his chair. "They're only students. There's no need to be nervous."
"But what if they don't like me?" Clark asked, tugging nervously at the collar of his button-down shirt.
"Well that's why you're the teaching assistant and not the teacher," Stein said, frowning down at the folder in his hand as if he had only just noticed it was there. "They don't have to like you."
"But what if they hate me? Or try to challenge me to a fight? What if I hurt them?" He paused in the middle of his tirade, frowning at Stein as if he had just realized something. "Speaking of which, why did they assign me to you anyway? We're both kind of…"
"Yes?" Stein asked, cranking his bolt with his free hand. "Both kind of what?"
"Uh—susceptible," Clark said. "To…you know…" He gestured vaguely. "…things."
"Things?" Stein's brows rose, his head lifting slightly so that he could see Clark better.
"You know…" Clark said, reaching up and rubbing at the back of his neck. "Uh—madness."
Ah. Those things.
"You can stop worrying," Stein said, cracking open the roster for the first time. "It's not like we'll be assigned a student whose very biology causes outbreaks of madness to spontaneously appear around her."
Clark let out the breath he was holding, sighing as he lowered his hands back to his side. "Yeah, you're right. Everything will be fine. Nothing to worry about."
Stein wasn't listening to him. His eyes moved steadily down the list, scanning through the names. When he reached one, he paused, blinking down at it.
"Hmm…" he said.
Clark looked back at him, alarmed. "Hmm?" he repeated. "What was the 'hmm?' for?"
Stein's eyes moved over the name again, mentally calling up a picture of the student in question.
Evans, Anima – Weapon
"Nothing," he said, shutting the folder with a snap. "Nothing at all."
"Come on, Annie, hurry up!" Cori said, shifting from foot to foot outside of their shared bathroom. "Mom left already! We're gonna be late!"
A nervous squeak emanated from somewhere in the bathroom, followed by the sound of several bottles toppling. She could hear her sister moving around inside, presumably scrambling to put everything back in order. "One—ah—one second!" Annie shouted back, her voice muffled through the door. "I'm just—aha!"
The door swung open and Annie bounced out, struggling to keep her balance while she fiddled with her tights. Cori took a step back to give her space, blinking as she took in Annie's appearance. Her sister had traded out her usual black dress for a multi-layered ruffled skirt, black tights, and a sleeveless shirt with a high collar. She wore a pair of black lacy fingerless gloves that Cori hadn't noticed before, and she'd tied her long hair into a pair of thick white pigtails, with—and that was new—pink streaks running through them in places.
Cori sniffed the air, and could have sworn she still smelled the hair dye.
"Well," she said. "That's new."
Annie gave her a shy smile, straightening up and adjusting one of her hair ties. "I wanted to do something different for school," she said. "Is it bad?"
"No, it's not," Cori said, abruptly wondering whether she should try to do something else with her hair besides her usual black hairband. She tugged at her own hair self-consciously, pushing it back over her shoulder. "It's just—uh—different. You got new clothes too?"
"Yeah," said Annie with a nervous giggle. "Last minute shopping trip, you—uh—you know?"
So that was what Annie had been up to when Cori had dragged her to the mall's music store. Somehow, she always thought Annie had been shopping for books.
Well, anyway, her twin's changed appearance wasn't really something she had time to think about right now. Cori shook her head, making a mental note to bring it up later as she reached forward, grabbing Annie by one lacy wrist.
"Well, come on," she said. "Let's go! We're going to be late!"
"Ah—wait!" said Annie, struggling to keep up as Cori started dragging her down the stairs. "C-Cori! We have a whole hour!"
Cori ignored her, stopping only at the door to grab shoes before dragging the both of them out into the sunshine. Annie squeaked, blinking in the sudden desert sunlight. The two of them slowed down only when they were out on the street, and Annie sighed and shook her head, rubbing at her wrist where Cori had grabbed her as she started walking next to Cori.
"I don't know why you're in such a hurry," Annie said. "We just need to find partners. We have all day."
"If we don't get there soon, all the good partners will be gone!" Cori said. "We can't just take whoever's left. You more than me. You know that you need—."
"—someone with the Anti-Magic Wavelength so that resonating with me doesn't drive them absolutely crazy," Annie finished, letting out another soft sigh. "Cori, I know."
"I just want to be sure you're okay," Cori said, looking over at her. "I mean, we've really never been apart before, you know. Except for…"
"Yeah…" said Annie, looking away. "Except for that…"
Sadness and reminiscing about past kidnappings was not how Cori had planned for this day to go. "Anyway, I just want to make sure you're settled!" Cori said, quickly changing the subject. "Can you blame me?"
Annie glanced at her, giving her a small exasperated smile. "You've told me this ten times already, Cori," she said. "I'm pretty sure I can remember that. Anyway, whatever happens will happen."
"No!" Cori said sharply, jabbing her finger at Annie. "None of that fatalistic, 'I'll end up with whoever I'm meant to be with' crap! Today, Annie, we take charge of our own destiny!" She balled up one of her hands into a fist and rested the other on her hip, fire and passion in her eyes. It was a great line and perfect delivery, which is why it was so annoying that when Cori looked over her shoulder, Annie wasn't there.
"Crona-san!" Annie said from the end of the street, waving at someone around the corner. "Hello!"
Cori sighed, hurrying to catch up with her sister. Crona was coming down the cross street, a shy smile on his face. Her face? Cori didn't really know, but one thing was for sure. Crona was looking…just slightly more feminine these days. Shinigami's counterpart had taken to wearing a long black dress, pink hair pulled into a loose braid that he had draped over his shoulder.
Figuring Crona out was an exercise in confusion, but Cori still meant to do it someday. Today, however, was not one of those days. Crona was looking harried, trying to track down a group of three or four small children dressed in Shibuko orphanage uniforms, which was made even more difficult considering he didn't seem to want to raise his voice or speak to them at anything more than a nervous mumble.
"Hello, Annie-chan," Crona said, giving her a shy smile as he tugged his robe out of one child's hands. "N-No, no, don't touch that. Mayuri-chan wait—don't go there. Ah—hang on a second."
A good whistle and shout would get all of the kids back in line, but Cori didn't have time to help just now, and neither did Annie. She attempted to point that out to her by walking up to her sister, tapping her once on the shoulder. "Come on," she said. "We need to go."
"Um...actually…" Annie hesitated, looking back over her shoulder with a smile. "You go ahead. I need to talk to Crona-san for a bit."
Cori gaped at her, flabbergasted. Did she not see how important all of this was? "Annie—," she began.
"I know, I know," said Annie, looking sheepish. "I just—you know. It's about—," she made a sweeping gesture with one hand in explanation, managing to encompass her entire body. "But you can go ahead! I'll catch up with you soon."
Cori frowned, pursing her lips as she considered her options. Stay with Annie and risk losing out on her soulmate forever? Not an option. Grab Annie by the waist and physically haul her away? Kind of hard to do when her twin's blood could literally become iron. But go on without her?
"We're supposed to do this together," Cori said, a note of uncertainty in her voice as she met Annie's eyes. "We do everything together."
"And we will," Annie said. "Just—in a little bit, okay? I'll catch up."
Cori sighed, taking a step back and running a hand through her hair. She could push Annie sometimes, but she also knew that when her twin dug her heels in and looked at her like that, she was immovable. No point in fighting the inevitable. This could still go according to plan. She would just be…an advance party. Scouting out the area. Yeah, that was it.
"Okay, fine," she said. "I'll see you in a bit. Don't take too long."
Annie gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks!" she said. "I'll see you soon."
"I'll try and find a meister for you," Cori said, already beginning to jog towards the school. "No promises though!"
"I appreciate it!" Annie called back, just as Cori disappeared around the corner. Leaving her sister behind. On their first day of school at the DWMA. On what was possibly the biggest day of their entire lives.
Oh well. No big deal. Things were still going according to plan.
As Cori Evans charged up the stairs that led to the DWMA, she passed a second figure, that of a student dressed in a long coat, a newsboy cap pulled over their light brown hair. The student struggled to make their way up the long flight of steps, their breathing coming in harsh pants, but on the inside, they were happy. They were happy because this was the day that they would finally have a normal life, the day that they could put this nonsensical weapon bloodline behind them and start worrying about logical things—like deduction and inquiry.
Today—today was the day that they would finally join the N.O.T. class at the DWMA.
And so it was with pride that the student hoisted themselves up the last flight of stairs, sucking in a breath of air as they faced the school. They would enter here a freak of nature and leave a normal, productive member of society. The student drew themselves up to their full height, taking a step forward—
—Only to get snatched up by a small figure in a travel-stained cloak, who grabbed them around the arm and started dragging them towards the school.
The student spluttered.
"Hey—what—?!" the student asked in protest as they struggled to keep up.
The interloper glanced back at them, a gleam in his green eyes. He grinned and said only one word in explanation for his behavior.
In that word, the student could feel their plans, their dreams, their carefree life steadily slipping away.
Annie watched as Cori ran towards the school, a small smile on her face as she clasped her hands behind her back. The smile faded as she turned to face Crona, shifting her weight back and forth nervously.
"Is something wrong, Annie-chan?" Crona asked, frowning at her.
"No," Annie said. "Not really."
It was hard to explain, this fear that had been creeping up inside of her. Annie was used to random fears—they had been a part of her life for so long—but they usually had a source that she could point to. Something that she could be afraid of. An easy answer would be to say that she was just scared of starting at the DWMA, except she wasn't, not really. She was a little nervous, sure, but she was looking forward to the DWMA. It was really just everything that came with it.
Crona was watching her, his head tilted slightly to the side. Annie sighed and stopped rocking, unclasping her hands from behind her back. She held up one delicate hand, the tip of her forefinger becoming a thin scythe blade as she pricked at her thumb. A thin tendril of black blood rose from the wound, sharpening into a needle-like shape before twisting and coiling in a handful of random patterns. Crona watched the tendril shift shapes, a mixture of wariness and rapt attention on his features.
"I've been practicing," Annie said. "Like you said. I think I can control it now, maybe. A little. But…"
"But what if you can't?" Crona asked, finishing the thought for her.
Annie nodded, drawing the black blood back into herself. It went, forming a seal over the wound as it did. Crona frowned as he thought about it.
"That's scary," he said.
Annie nodded, hanging her head. "It is."
"But you'll be at the DWMA," said Crona. "So someone will be able to help you if that happens. Like Maka, or your sister."
"Or my partner?" Annie asked.
"Or that," Crona said. "Um, probably."
Annie drew in a deep breath, gathering up her courage. She raised her head, nodding at him as she lowered her hands back to her side. "Alright," she said. "I should…probably go now. Thank you, Crona-san."
"Have a good day," Crona said as she left, waving at her.
And then she was alone, walking through the city streets. Annie tugged uncertainly at her hair, running her fingers through one of her pigtails as she made her way slowly up to the school. A nearby clock on one of the street corners told her that orientation was beginning, but it didn't really matter if she was late. There would be plenty of time to find partners, despite what Cori said.
She could do this, she told herself, taking deep calming breaths. She wasn't going to be afraid. She wasn't going to cling to her sister anymore. She was going to do this right.
She was so caught up in thinking about that that she didn't notice the boy making his way down one of the cross streets until she crashed into him, walking into him hard enough to knock them both over onto the pavement. Annie landed hard on her rear, wincing as she hit the ground. She looked up, her eyes wide as she realized what had happened.
"Oh gosh, are you okay?" she asked, jumping to her feet and running over to the boy she had hit. He was sprawled out onto his back on the pavement, staring up at the blue sky. "I'm so sorry, I didn't look where I was going, I—."
"It—It's okay," the boy groaned, starting to push himself up. He had an accent that sounded vaguely Spanish, but it was one Annie couldn't immediately place. He was wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers, and his hair was dark, hanging over one of his eyes from the inside of his hood. "I'm alright. Are you okay?"
He held up a hand and Annie automatically reached out to help him up. The boy frowned at her, tilting his head to the side as he looked at her hand.
"Are you…bleeding?" he asked, his eyes fixed on her thumb.
Bleeding. Annie looked down at her hand, her eyes widening as she realized which hand it was. She let out a terrified squeak and snatched her hand back, leaping away from him. He blinked at her in confusion, sitting up.
"S-Sorry," Annie said, shaking her hand out nervously. "It's just that—I have a cut and—and my blood does weird things to your mind, unless you have the Anti-Magic Wavelength and even then it's kind of unsure and I don't want you to get hurt and this is so embarrassing, I usually have this under much better control, but it's the first day of school and I—."
"Anti…Magic Wavelength…" he repeated, frowning as if he was considering that. Annie quickly snapped her mouth shut, looking over at him. His expression was far off, his mouth moving as he spoke under his breath. She heard him mutter the words "contra magia" before his expression brightened, his eyes widening as he looked back up at her. "Oh, I have that!" he said. "Don't worry about it!"
"You do?" Annie asked, blinking. "Honestly?"
He nodded. "It runs in my family."
"Well, mine too, kinda," Annie said, tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear as she let out a nervous giggle. Her eyes widened as she realized he was still on the ground and she quickly stretched her hand out again, this time not flinching as he grabbed it and used it to pull himself up to his feet. She watched him carefully for any sign of madness, but she found nothing. Annie sighed in relief.
"So, your blood is…black?" the boy asked, frowning at her.
"It's kind of my thing," Annie said. "I know it's a little bit weird, but—um—Death City, right?" She gave him a nervous smile, and then her face flushed gray when she realized he was still holding her hand. Annie quickly yanked it away, hiding it behind her back. "Um—s-sorry about that. I'm Anima, but my friends call me Annie. Or they would if I had any friends. Oh—uh—did I say that out loud? Um—this is embarrassing, usually my sister is here, and she kind of does the talking. I'm rambling, aren't I?"
"Little bit," said the boy, blinking at her in confusion.
"S-Sorry," said Annie. "Let's try that again." She drew in a deep breath, holding her hand out to him and putting a smile on her face. "Hi, I'm Annie. It's nice to meet you."
He glanced down at her hand and clasped it quickly before releasing it. "Diego," he said. "I just arrived here yesterday. I'm starting at the school."
"Are you?" Annie asked, tilting her head to the side. An idea struck her. "Weapon or meister?"
"Meister, actually," said Diego.
"Huh," said Annie. "Well, that's an interesting coincidence, Diego. You see, I happen to be a weapon."
"Are you?" Diego asked, his eyes widening.
"Yep," said Annie. "Last I checked anyway. So…um, if you don't mind, how about we walk up to the school together? I think there's something I want to ask you…"
Bright Star dragged his struggling new partner over towards the registration desk, where Sid sat at a table just outside of the school, the new librarian beside him. Cassandra Crane watched him with curiosity as he made his way over to the desk, her eyes going from him to the clipboard in front of her.
"Bright Star, I didn't know you were enrolling this year," she said.
"That's because he's not," said Sid, his eyes narrowing as he folded his arms over his chest. "You're too young. You have to be at least twelve to enroll at the DWMA."
"I'm twelve," Bright Star said, placing a hand over his chest for emphasis. Apparently, Sid wasn't moved by that, nor was he particularly moved by Bright Star drawing an 'x' over his heart in a display of honesty.
"Bright Star, I know how old you are," Sid said, scowling at him. "You can come back next year."
"I'm twelve," Bright Star insisted.
"You're eleven," said Sid.
Bright Star shrugged. "Twelve in January," he said.
"Then come back in January." Sid settled back into his chair, looking away from Bright Star to show that the conversation was over, then paused as if he had just remembered something and looked up. "Wait a minute," he said. "Do your parents know where you are?"
"They know," Bright Star said, which was technically true. His dad knew where he was, and if his mom didn't know about it when he left, she would know by now.
"Don't tell me you walked here!" said Sid, sitting up. He gave Bright Star another look over, as if seeing his traveling clothes for the first time.
"Did," said Bright Star. An idea occurred to him, and he turned himself halfway away from Sid, lowering his head to look appropriately penitent. "Going to walk back now."
"Wait—Bright Star—," said Sid, reaching a hand out over the table to stop him. Bright Star paused, looking back at the zombie.
Beside him, Cassie was pursing her lips, a pen pressed to them as she looked at him from over her glasses. Her eyes were slightly glazed over, as if she was thinking. The clarity came back into them, and she turned towards Sid.
"Maybe we could let him enroll?" she asked. "He is almost twelve."
"Almost my foot," Sid grumbled, but he fished out a class list anyway, grabbing a pen from Cassie. "But, might as well. He's not going to leave us alone until we do anyway."
"Don't tell Shinigami-sama," said Cassie, giving Bright Star a smile.
Bright Star smiled back as Sid filled out the form, miming drawing a zipper over his mouth.
"You're going to need a partner," Sid said with some reluctance, handing over a tag that had the word "MEISTER" written on it. "And you're going to have a tough time. This year's E.A.T. class was uneven to begin with, and we have that one weapon wanting to go autonomous—."
"—Partner," Bright Star interrupted, holding up the weapon's arm. His new partner turned his body away from him, one hand over his face as if he couldn't believe this was happening. Sid squinted at him.
"Aren't you in the N.O.T. class?" he asked.
"I was," said the boy, profound regret in his tone.
"And you're okay with switching over to the E.A.T. class?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Sid looked from the boy to Bright Star, still holding firmly onto the boy's forearm. He looked back at the boy. "Honestly, not really."
The boy sighed, looking back at Sid. "Fine then," he said. "Just get it over with."
"Aaron Doyle, was it?" Cassie asked, giving him a sympathetic smile. "I can take care of switching you over right now. You'll be in Class Crescent Moon, with Professor Franken Stein. Oh, look, that's him over there."
Cassie pointed at something behind them, the two of them turning to watch as Stein rolled his chair through the doors of the DWMA, the chair catching on a loose cobble and sending him spilling out onto the courtyard. Students yelped, jumping out of the way as he came to a stop, staring up at the sky with an expression of vague bewilderment on his face.
"Great," Aaron said, expression fixed in a perfect deadpan, as if he had been expecting something like this to happen all along. "Just…great."
"So where's this sister of yours?" said a blond boy with an Australian accent, peering down the DWMA's steps at the city below.
"Oh, she'll be here," Cori said, folding her arms impatiently. She drummed her fingers along her arm, frowning as she looked down at the steps. "Any minute now."
Any minute now…
Cori waited, standing with the blond boy beneath the desert sun. She could feel the kid on her other side, a young meister with the Anti-Magic Wavelength that Cori had singled out for Annie, squirming with impatience and wanted to hiss at him to settle down. Given that she wanted to make a good impression on her new partner though, she held her tongue. The sun beat down from overhead, the minutes ticking away as slow as molasses and finally, just when Cori was about to give up and suggest they wait inside, she saw her sister walking up the steps, some boy in a hoodie climbing the steps behind her. Annie smiled as she caught sight of Cori, raising her hand in a wave.
"Finally," Cori muttered under her breath.
"Huh," said the Australian boy, looking between her and Annie. "You two really are twins."
Cori ignored him for a moment, seizing her sister by the arm as Annie reached the top of the steps. "You're late," she said. "I was getting worried, and—who's this?" The last was said because the hoodie boy had come to a stop just over Annie's shoulder, his hands in his pockets as he looked quizzically between Annie and Cori.
"Oh, this is my new meister," said Annie, brightly. "Cori, Diego. Diego, this is my sister, Cori."
"It's nice to meet you," said Diego, holding out a hand.
"Uh—yeah." Cori blinked, nonplussed. She clasped Diego's hand quickly, then released him, shoving at the kid she had picked out for Annie. "Beat it," she hissed under her breath.
The kid rubbed at his arm and stumbled off, muttering angrily as he walked away. Cori reached behind her and grabbed the Australian boy by the arm, tugging him forward to join her. "This is Connor," she said. "My new meister."
"G'day," said Connor, nodding at Annie and Diego.
Annie smiled at him. "Australia, huh?" she asked.
"How'd you guess?" Connor asked, returning the smile. He glanced at Diego. "Is that a fox on your hoodie, mate?"
Diego blinked, looking down at the design on the front of his jacket. "No, it's a badger. I picked it up before getting on my flight."
"Ah, bit warm out for that, isn't it?"
Cori watched as Connor and Diego stepped away to talk, then quickly reached out and pulled Annie towards her. Annie yelped but went, letting Cori lead her away from the two boys.
"Cori, what—?" Annie asked, straightening herself out.
"Are you sure?" Cori hissed.
Annie blinked at her. "Sure about what?" she asked.
"Diego," said Cori, inclining her head towards the two of them. "I mean, he seems nice enough, but…"
"But?" Annie asked, tilting her head to the side.
"But—well—you know what always happens in our family with partners, right?"
Annie stared at her, wide-eyed and confused. "Not following," she said.
Cori let out an impatient breath, letting go of her sister's arm. "Annie," she said. "We always end up marrying our partners."
Annie looked at her for a long moment, stunned. Her mouth opened then closed, then opened again, and she shook her head. When she finally found her voice, she looked back up at Cori. "Cori, that doesn't mean anything!" she said.
"Yes it does!" said Cori. "Look, Grandpa married Grandma, Mom married Dad, and let's face it—it's really just a matter of time before Rei proposes to Ayame. It's a real thing!"
"Whatever happened to fighting fate?" Annie asked. "Uh—taking control of our own destiny?"
Cori sniffed, pushing her hair back over her shoulder with one hand. "That was about choosing our partners. I know how to pick my battles," she said, gesturing at Connor with her chin. "I mean look, Connor's fairly good-looking, he's nice, he knows his way around a social situation, and he likes the same music. Sounds like a win to me."
Annie gaped at her. "Cori, we're thirteen," she said.
"I'm just planning for my future," said Cori, straightening up. "I mean, if this is what's going to happen, I need to be prepared. Because let's face it…Grandma could probably have done so much better."
"But what if you don't end up liking Connor like that?" Annie asked.
"Oh, it'll happen," said Cori, eyeing Connor out of the corner of her eye. "I mean, maybe I don't feel that way right now, but it's bound to happen someday. Just you wait."
"But what if—."
"Annie," said Cori, cutting her off. "I've put a lot of thought into this. I'm pretty sure I know what kind of person I'm going to end up liking and Connor is it, so—." She broke off abruptly, catching sight of something out of the corner of her eye.
A student was walking past, a slender girl her age in a blouse and pleated skirt, with long red hair tied in a braid behind her. Her skin was smooth and pale, her eyes a bright gold. Her eyes were fixed ahead of her, and she carried herself tall as she swept past Cori, the wind tugging strands of her hair free of her braid. A tag with the word WEAPON on it was pinned just over the gentle rise of her chest.
Cori's jaw dropped. Her heart suddenly seemed to be going a mile a minute and all the blood had rushed to her face. Her stomach exploded in butterflies.
"Cori?" Annie asked, waving a hand in front of her face as Cori turned to watch the girl. "Cori? Hello? Uh—earth to Cori."
The girl stepped into the crowd of students and Cori returned to reality, her eyes widening in horror as she came to a realization. The blood drained from her face, and she looked from Connor to the girl to Connor to the girl again.
No, she thought to herself, feeling herself start to panic. No, that couldn't be. That had to be wrong. She couldn't be—
"Cori?" Annie asked, prodding her with a finger. "Cori, are you…okay?"
Cori shook her head, still stunned as she stared after the girl.
"No," she said. "No, no, no, no. This is not happening."
"What's not?" Annie asked. "What's not happening?"
"What's up, Corp?" Connor asked, looking back at her. "Why are you staring at Minerva?"
Cori straightened up and looked back at him, eyes wide, mind caught between two conflicting realizations. Because on one hand—this was horrible, and awful, and totally messed with her plans for the entire school year and for her whole life, and on the other—
So that was her name.
Bright Star's new apartment was set on the third floor of a building not far from the school. It was a little small and a little dusty in places, because the DWMA hadn't really been expecting to lease it out to anyone this year, but he liked it just fine. He liked the angry phone call he had gotten from his mother a lot less, but he had a feeling she would eventually get over it. He smiled, walking down the hallway of his place as he made for his partner's room.
"Aaron—," Bright Star said, opening the door without knocking.
He froze. His partner was seated in a desk chair, back to the door and head turned towards him. There was a puzzled expression on the weapon's face. Aaron had changed from his coat and cap to more comfortable sleep clothes. He was now wearing what looked like a pair of shorts and a tank top, and the slight curves just visible from beneath the tank top made Bright Star instantly reconsider his initial assessment of his partner.
He gaped, and his weapon scowled at him.
Bright Star raised his hand, pointing at her. "A—A—Aaron—," he choked out, confused.
The girl in front of him frowned at him, brows knitting close together. Then, understanding came over her and she spun around to face him.
"E-rin," she said. "My name is Erin."
"Alright, so, I have a question," Ayame said, looking over at Rei from across their new low table.
"Shoot," said Rei.
"I'm Japanese, right?"
"And you're a quarter Japanese."
"And we…" Ayame frowned, gesturing between them as if she was trying to figure something out, "…we both speak Japanese."
"Pretty much," said Rei.
"Read it too."
"More or less."
"And we're both ninjas?"
"You more than me, but for argument's sake, sure," said Rei, nodding.
"So this is what I don't get," said Ayame, drawing in a deep breath and setting her chopsticks down on top of her bowl. "Why are we in Korea?!"
Rei shrugged at her, leaning back against one of their unpacked boxes as he looked over at Ayame's meal.
"You going to eat that fishcake?" he asked.