They laid there for awhile afterwards, Soul's arm curled around her as they watched the stars. The sky looked a little brighter than it had before, as more stars came out to dance with the moon. Eventually, they helped each other up with very reluctant sighs and started to amble back towards the trees.
When they finally edged back into the forest, however, moonlight was seeping through the trees, catching branches and making shadows that were suddenly too dark, too shrouded. That sinister feeling – the same one she'd felt the night of the Accidental Face-Punch – spread through her veins, setting her on edge.
"Stay close to me," she said, looking back at him. Soul looked at her curiously, but said nothing.
They wound through the trail back to the cabins, ears prickling with the sounds of the forest around them. It wasn't until they drew close to cabin 13 that they caught sight of an unexpected guest on the steps of the cabin.
"...Crona?" she said. With a yelp, Crona turned, and as they did, something fell out of their hands and onto the dirt with a metallic clatter.
"What's…" Maka started to ask, but her voice trailed off as Crona, eyes pale and haunting in the moonlight, picked it up and offered it to her, shaking from head to toe.
"S-she… she told me that if I did it, she'd leave you alone," they said. "She was trying..."
Maka walked over and held out her hand, trying to come to terms with what exactly she was seeing: her phone, her stolen phone in Crona's hands, ready to be planted. Soul was hanging back, watching their exchange with narrowed eyes.
"I-I, I didn't mean–" they started to say before Maka shook her head gently at them, knowing that despite what this looked like, she couldn't believe that Crona would have done this, not after the growth she'd seen in them.
"It's…" She took a deep breath, letting her uncertainties fly away. "It's okay," she said after a moment, and she could feel rather than see Soul make a shocked face at her in the darkness. "But what's going on? Why do you have this?"
"M-Medusa, she's been…"
"... She's been making you do this, hasn't she?" Maka said, realization coming over her. "Planting phones in people's things?" Crona looked astonished that she knew this.
"Doesn't do anything for herself, does she?" Soul muttered. "What a joke."
"I-I'm sick of doing what she says," Crona stammered, eyebrows drawing together as they steeled themselves and stood up a little straighter. "I was bringing you this."
"Crona," Maka said, walking up and taking back the phone. "Do you know what she's planning?"
Crona looked at her, still shaking, still wary, but finally they looked between her and Soul, balling their fists.
"No," Crona said. "But I know when Arachnokia is coming."
The next afternoon, everyone – except Crona, who had appearances to keep up – met on the docks.
"Okay, guys," Maka said. "We've had a really lucky break. Arachnokia's coming on the night of the third task."
"Are you kidding?!" Black*Star said, jumping to his feet and making them all grab their bags as the dock sloshed sideways against the water. "That's perfect! That means I get to be the star again!"
Maka rolled her eyes, but she was past the point of trying to quell Black*Star's habit of wreaking havoc. Any chaos he could possibly unleash would only help.
Suddenly, planning the third task became twice as daunting. The evenings she and Soul spent in the Captain's Room were long and taxing, both of them poring over their own team's strategies as well as trying to prepare for when Arachnokia showed up. Occasionally all of this planning was punctuated by a few... interruptions in the form of backs meeting bookshelves and lips taking notes.
Summer's final days trickled through her fingers, and the nights grew cooler as the fireflies retreated back into the darkness of the forest. Cabin evenings stretched later and later as the girls huddled on the beds, laughing as they told jokes and braided hair with a familiarity that only camp could bring. It was a battle against time, and they fought against it by showing each other more love than ever. Cookies at the dinner table became an integral part of their routine.
But then, in a flash, she found herself standing in the woods in the middle of the night, three days before summer's end, eyes fixed on the long line of counselors before her.
"Welcome to the third task," she said. "I'm gonna go over the rules one more time, okay?" Her team nodded back at her.
"The name of the game is Witch Hunter," she said, gesturing to a flag jutting off of her hip. "It's basically Capture the Flag… with a twist. The goal is to capture the other team's witch. Everyone else just has to run around and try not to get caught. If your flag gets pulled, you take a nice stroll over to the other team's jail along with your captor. If you make it into the other team's jail without getting your flag pulled, everyone's free. Whoever captures the other team's witch first wins."
"That's why," she said, gesturing to Kilik with a smile. "I need a group of you around our witch. And-" She pointed at Kid. "I need a group around our decoy. The rest of us will try to take out the rest of the bad guys."
"Also," she added with a grimace. "The goal is to not wake the kids. ... Until the end, when the director sets off a bunch of fireworks, and they wake up anyway."
She had almost begun to appreciate the way her team stared at her in disbelief.
"...I know," was all she could say, and as she did, a bright red flare shot up into the sky above the forest. As her eyes darted down from the sky, she grinned.
"Let's hunt some witches," she said, turning toward the forest. Her team's feet had left the ground before she could finish saying the words.
It was mayhem from the moment they set off. Limbs and dirt and flags went flying as each team began the dance of trying to out-grab the other.
As she soon figured out, it was almost impossible to see the other team's faces in the darkness, let alone their flags, and she almost grabbed some off of her own team more than once as she chased her opponents. She finally managed to snag a flag off of Jackie, and the two of them marched back to the Meister jail. It was mostly uninhabited for the time being, but she was sure it wouldn't be long before it was filled to the brim with potential witches. Once she had deposited her captive accordingly, she rushed back into the forest. All was quiet as she tiptoed through the trees, narrowing her eyes as she searched for any figures that she didn't recognize.
She'd let her guard down a bit too much, perhaps, because when she walked by one of the trees, she jumped to the side, narrowly missing the wandering fingers of a very familiar Weapon as he flew by her. They stopped, staring at each other for a moment as she started to smile.
"What are you wearing?" she asked, gesturing to the white headband that he'd placed around his head. A giant SOUL sticker in the same design as his water bottle stood out in the darkness.
"Hey, it's cool," he said, bristling. "It was to... build team spirit or whatever."
"Seems like it's building a bird's nest on your head," she said, laughing.
He lunged at her again, but she was faster. As he ran past her again, her fingers closed around the red flag at his hip.
"Ready for a stroll?" she said, waving it in front of his face. He glared at her between the gaps in the cloth.
As they walked, the game continued to unfold around them. She had to jump out of the way a few times to make way for teammates that barrelled past them, seeking flags of their own.
The jail was within sight as they rounded a large pile of dirt, and it was far more inhabited than last time. Inside the circle, which was currently being patrolled - unsurprisingly - by Ox, she could see at least 15 people in the circle.
Her calculations came to a grinding halt, however, as two hands shot up out of the dirt and wrapped around her and Soul's ankles, sending them both sprawling, and suddenly all she could see was theground.
"Heh, sorry about that, kids!" Sid's head poked his head out of the dirt pile after his hands.
"What are you doing here, Sid?" Maka asked as she got up, dusting herself off.
"The director told us to join in the fun!" he said. "Just to spice things up a little."
His hands retreated back into the dirt, leaving only his grinning face exposed. Maka put her face in her hands. Between this task's already ridiculous nature and unknown Arachnokia visits, this task did not need any more spicing up.
"Makaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" came a voice to her right, its possessiveness echoing to the treetops. It got progressively louder, crooning a chorus of "Did Sid hurt you?! I'll get him, I'll save youuuuuuu~"
She ducked as her father tripped over Soul's still-grounded body and soared above her head. She turned to see Spirit slam into the dirt pile behind her and slide down it soundlessly, face planted in the mulch.
"Oh, and just to warn you," Sid added as Maka turned away from them to help Soul up. "You might wanna watch out for Stein."
Just as he said it, a figure burst through the trees and a familiar maniacal laugh met her ears as Stein chased down a frantic Liz and Patty. A line of light came out of his hands in bursts.
"Is that a blowtorch?!" she heard someone yell, and she stared after Stein's retreating figure in disbelief, watching people throw themselves out of his way.
In front of her, Soul's head flopped back onto the dirt.
When she finally dragged Soul to his feet and over to the jail, she set off towards the Weapon side, searching out where their witch might be, hand extended defensively to keep anyone from snagging her flag. But all was quiet as she made her way through the trees, down past the dining hall and toward the stables. Everyone was closer to the camper's cabins and the open field, but she imagined that if she were a witch, she'd be hiding away from the action, skulking around in the shadows.
She was right, but not in the way she'd expected.
As she came around the corner of the stables, she jumped and plastered herself to the side of the stables as five figures glided past her: three men in suits, a woman in all black that she didn't recognize, and another that she absolutely did recognize, snake tattoos on display as she brought up the back of the line. Maka slinked around to the other side of the stables, watching them as they walked.
"I'm sorry I can't show you more of the property," Medusa was saying, too much honey in her voice. "But as you can see, we've got ample space, especially if you're willing to take the trees down." She sounded far too enthused about this possibility, and it made Maka seethe.
"And you're sure that you can make this happen?" the woman in black asked, voice thick with condescension.
"Of course I am," Medusa said, but the honey in her voice had started to sound charred, poison seeping into it.
They'd started to move out of earshot, but Maka edged forward, lurking behind the trees. She couldn't lose them, but she needed to get the message back to everyone else.
Just as she was about to take another step, a tentative finger tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped. Crona stared back at her, and then stared ahead at the group, and seemed to stand a little straighter.
"I'll handle it," Crona whispered, still watching the group's retreat. "You find the others."
By the time she threw herself back into the fray, there had evidently been a jailbreak. She ran into Soul instantly, who tried once again to get grab-happy with her flag until she grabbed his wrists, pulling him to her.
"They're here, c'mon," she whispered, cheek against his ear, and she got the very real satisfaction of hearing him stammer out something unintelligible as she pulled away.
She still had a hand attached to one of his wrists when Liz came along, looking as smug as she always did when the two of them were together, but she switched into business mode as soon as Maka gave her the update and rushed off to grab the others.
All of them made their way towards Maka, with the very obvious exception of Black*Star, who nobody had seen for several minutes after he'd gone running into the woods on the other side of the field. She didn't waste time wondering about this, figuring he'd show up at either the worst or best possible time, as was usually the case with Black*Star.
They tore towards where she had left Crona behind, but before they could get all the way there, she saw the group approaching. Crona was leading them straight towards them.
This wasn't part of the plan, she thought, but they edged forward anyway, forming a line in response to seeing their oncoming enemies.
When Medusa spotted them, however, she stopped cold, shooting a look at Crona that was so full of rage that Maka almost stopped, so strong was the sense of calamity she could feel emanating from this woman.
"Crona, what's this?" Maka heard Medusa say. Her voice had iced over, the threat in her words grating against Maka's nerves.
There they were, a line of impatient, entitled businessmen against a bunch of scrappy twenty-somethings. Suits against sweats.
And Crona, poor Crona was in between the lines, caught between two worlds. As Crona glanced at Maka, they gave her one last look, almost a smile, before turning around towards Medusa.
"These are my friends," Crona said, voice quiet but clear. "And this is my home. I don't want you to take this place away from them."
Maka couldn't see Crona's face, but she could absolutely see Medusa's. Her face was contorting in ugly ways as she tried to keep her fury under wraps before her very important audience.
"Crona," she said, tapping her face pseudo-thoughtfully with a long-fingered nail. "I think you're misunderstanding the situation here."
"I understand," Crona said, carefully caged fear now spilling into their words. Maka silently cheered them on as the group stared at their adversaries. "I… I understand–"
"Do you?" Medusa hissed. "Because let me spell it out for all of you. You don't have a choice. Our friends here are putting in an offer that will beat whatever your precious director is renting it for. It'll be theirs by September."
"It won't," Maka heard herself say. She took a step around Crona and stared Medusa down, eyes burning. "We won't let you. We'll fight. We'll never stop fighting, and we'll make Arachnokia's life a living hell if they try to take this place from us. Don't underestimate how much we love this place."
Medusa surveyed her with a joyless condescension. "Oh, don't worry, dear," she said, eyes glinting. "I rarely underestimate anything."
She started to turn away, motioning to Crona. "Come, Crona," she said. "It was a bad idea to bring you here. You'll be writing your poems elsewhere next summer."
"No!" Crona said, and by this point, the rest of the group had come up from behind to stand around them. "Don't you understand?"
As Medusa was about to answer, several things happened at once.
One: a cacophony of purple and gold fireworks began to explode behind them, sprinkling the sky with color. Two: a sound like a howling wolf erupted from the forest. Three: another sound, like a cheering crowd at a football game, started to build from the other side of camp.
The group stared each other as they tried to make sense of too many stimuli.
"...We both won?" Soul asked.
"We have wolves at camp?!" Liz exclaimed.
The Arachnokia crew was also distracted, looking around in confusion. Crona and Medusa were still staring at each other, but as the sounds grew louder, Maka turned to face the part of the woods where the sound was coming from. She stared at the forest, wondering if maybe they should run inside one of the cabins or something, when the howl came again, closer this time.
"Perhaps it's best if we take our leave," the woman in black said, sounding more annoyed than nervous, which could not be said about the men around her, whose eyes were now actively scanning the forest behind them as the sounds continued to build.
"Stay," Medusa said. The men looked about as scared of her as they did of the mysterious noises, so they stayed put – just long enough to see the river crash through the trees.
In a massive crowd, in a way that was rowdy and screechy and perfectly camp, she could see them. Every single child at Camp Crescent Moon. All covered in what looked like glow-in-the-dark body paint.
"What the–" Soul started to say before he was cut off. Above them, twenty feet up in the trees, came another massive howl, a war cry that soon transformed into coherent words:
"Go, my minions!" crowed the figure in the trees, a glow-in-the-dark finger stretching toward the now-very-nervous collection of Arachnokia's finest. "There they are! Do as your god commands you!"
He started laughing uncontrollably, glowing green legs teetering dangerously against the branches of the tree. The wave of children was very close now, and the businessmen were looking distressed.
"You're welcome, by the way," Black*Star yelled down at Maka and Soul. "Were all of you just standing around that whole time?! You think you can defeat evil by just standing there?"
Maka decided she preferred the howling.
She would have yelled something back at him if a sudden onset of glowsticks, pajamas and errant limbs had not knocked her sideways. It was all she could do to even stay standing, and she and Soul held onto each other's forearms to stay grounded as the flood pushed past them. She caught glimpses of her campers, of Soul's campers, of every single kid that had come to the lake that summer, moving forward in a chaotic mass, chasing a common goal.
"Yeah!" Black*Star screeched at his proteges. "Don't let 'em get away! You guys are the biggest stars ever!"
From her (very poor) vantage point in the middle of the fray, Maka could no longer see the three men, so they were very likely hightailing it off the premises as fast as their legs could carry them. She watched as Medusa and the other woman managed to wade through the mire of children and make it to the fence. Straining her eyes to see, Maka watched as the two of them exchanged heated words, until the other woman turned her back and stalked away, the sea seamlessly parting for her to move through.
When the children had passed them, led by their commander in chief (who had now found another tree for shouting his directions), they stared at Medusa. She glided back toward them in silence, still beckoning to Crona to follow.
"I'm not going," Crona said. "They're gone, they don't want–"
"This is a minor setback," Medusa said, oily sweetness returning to her voice. "You don't think that little stunt changed anything, do you?" False laughter was flattering on no one, especially not Medusa, and Maka stiffened as Medusa walked up and stared down at her, malice shining through her eyes.
"I'm going to tear this place to the ground," she said, holding her gaze. "And your precious camp doctor is going to help me do it."
In the darkness behind her, a burst of flame appeared.
"Is that so, Medusa?" A flash of two lenses joined the flame in the darkness.
Medusa's eyes narrowed, and she turned away from Maka to face a very grim Doctor Stein, blowtorch alight and extended sideways in his hand as he approached her.
"Stein, I thought we'd discussed this," Medusa said, backtracking, trying to let the oil in her voice smooth out its cracks. "You can do so much better, you–"
Stein stopped just short of Medusa, and his face split into a not-quite-natural grin, glasses flashing again.
"I can't deny it," he said, tilting his head. "Your proposal is intriguing."
She tried to say something else, but he took another step towards her.
"But," he continued, his voice carrying over the propane hissing beside him. "First and foremost, I'm a doctor. What would I do with a cell complex?" He took another step, and they were chest to chest now, staring each other down.
"Besides," he added, looking around Medusa at the rest of them. "I still have so many research subjects at my disposal." Maka shuddered internally.
"Stein, you can't be serious," Medusa tried again, and his head snapped back up. The blowtorch shuttered off, and he hoisted it over his shoulder as his eyes bore into hers.
"I'm serious about this," he said. "I've got a message from the director. Your tenure at Camp Crescent Moon has officially expired. Your bags are at the gate. Crona can stay. Goodbye, Medusa."
He walked backwards into the forest again, darkness swallowing him back up. Medusa, without looking at any of them, stalked off toward the front gate. Maka had a feeling that she might not be gone forever, but at least she'd slithered away for the time being.
And so, in the wee hours of the morning, she found herself standing next to Soul, holding up a shiny crescent trophy, torches and fireworks exploding behind them as their teammates looked on. Running Arachnokia off the premises had evidently taken precedence over winning, so they had hence become the proud recipients of camp's first ever tie.
As they hoisted it into the air again, she found herself feeling very glad that they'd had the chance to go at it all summer.
The next morning at breakfast, all of the kids were sporting black tattoos on their biceps, courtesy of their fearless leader. His newfound riot-inciting skills had given him (somehow) even more confidence than usual, and he marched around with his chest puffed out, retelling the night's events to anyone who would listen.
The only bright side to this was that after last night, cabins 12 and 13 had evidently finally settled their differences, and they were all centered around Black*Star, laughing with him as he recounted their antics.
She supposed vanquishing evil had a way of bringing unlikely friends together.
Unfortunately, this also meant that he kept bringing up how the rest of the counselors had evidently just stood there. Soul and Maka had sought necessary refuge at the buffet.
As they hid, Sid walked over to the coffee table where they stood, pouring himself a cup and taking a hearty gulp.
"Ugh," he said with a grimace, staring into his cup.
"No good?" Soul asked, taking a drink.
"Man," Sid said. "It's like making love in a canoe."
Maka froze. She hadn't thought about their lake escapades in a couple of days, and even though that wasn't exactly what they'd done, it felt close enough to the truth that she felt caught in the implications. Soul must've felt similarly, as he inhaled a massive gulp of coffee and doubled over wheezing.
"You okay?" Sid asked casually, taking another sip of his coffee.
"M– fine–" Soul choked out. "Wrong– pipe–" Maka leaned over and thwacked him on the back a few times, trying to knock the mortification out of him.
"So… the coffee's good, then?" Maka asked weakly, and how exactly Soul managed to choke on coffee and throw suggestive glances at her at the same time, she'd never know.
"Nah," Sid said after a moment, walking to the sink and dumping his coffee out with disgust. "It's fucking close to water."
And he walked away, leaving both of them staring after him. When Soul looked up and smirked at her, she smacked him on the back once more for good measure.
The end of camp had a way of taking memories and packing them away too fast, as if leaving this place were somehow a simple affair, something easily gathered into neat little bags. Love notes and farewell friendship bracelets found themselves stuffed in duffels alongside jeans and socks. Throughout the night, the boy bands and skulls of cabin 13 faded away, and they sat with walls plain and beds barren as they awaited the call on that final misty morning of camp.
Once the loudspeaker rang out, they'd be on their way home, boarding buses in the fog, letting life carry them onward into their non-summer lives, and they'd begin the countdown until they'd be back beneath the pine trees once more.
"You'll be back next summer, right?" Tsugumi had asked Maka, eyes round with tears, the other girls tugging on her shirt as they awaited her response.
"We'll see," was always the answer, hopeful but realistic, because how could she know what the next year held in store? But if she had it her way: yes, of course she'd be back, living in harmony with the crickets and fireflies, lazing on the dock, embracing camp's madness and finding the beauty in it. For now, though, she'd take hugs and tear-stained goodbye letters and let the bittersweetness of the day lie heavy on her heart.
In the midst of their early morning goodbyes, a voice rang out, and it sounded like it was… sniffling?
"Fools!" came its final screech, speakers pulsing as they bore the burden of the voice one last time. "They didn't tell me you were leaving! They never tell me!" The voice cracked a little, and then seemed to collect itself, its normal tenor ringing out through the speakers again: "Good thing I caught you before you left, now I have a chance to tell my story one more time–"
A familiar sigh escaped the campers, and Maka and Tsubaki smiled at them as they ushered them out, one by one, through the mist and up to the gates.
"We'll miss you all! Thank you all so much for coming!" The director bounced up and down as he waved at the campers. If he'd been affected whatsoever by the discovery that one of the nurses had been planning an elaborate sabotage of his summer camp, he hid it well. Stein, Spirit and Sid stood at the gates as well, helping with baggage, giving kids high fives or unsolicited dissection tips, depending on the source.
As they climbed onto the bus, the loudspeaker gave the campers one last farewell:
"Safe travels, children! And don't forget…" The voice paused. "...Camp will always be waiting for you."
After the kids left, the counselors stayed through the morning, which gave them a chance to clean up their activity spaces and say their final goodbyes.
"Maka!" a voice called out behind her as she had started to head down to the lake. She turned to see Crona scrambling after her, x-marks-the-eyeballs backpack slung over a shoulder.
"Hey, Crona," she said. "You doin' okay?"
"Yeah, actually," Crona sighed. "I'm okay."
"What are you gonna do?" she asked. She realized that summer's end would mean a newer start for Crona than for any of them.
"I'm headed to the city, I think," Crona said. "Gonna do some more writing there. I've even got a roommate sorted out. Their name is uh... Rag-something? I can never remember it."
"That sounds great," she said, wrapping her friend in a hug. "Keep in touch, okay?"
"Sure," they said, and they faded off into the trees, leaving her alone with the forest again as she tread the familiar path to the lake.
She wasn't surprised to see a familiar form stretched out on the dock, sunglasses in place, an easy grin spreading across his face as she marched along the wooden planks and nudged him with her foot.
"Have you done any cleaning?" she said, exasperated, plopping down on the dock next to him.
"Nope," he said cheerfully, rolling over onto his stomach. She still had to coach herself not to be distracted by back muscles. "Figured if I'd done anything, you'd just boss me around and tell me to do it all again."
"... That's fair," she said, but her eyes still hadn't left his back, and as she sat there, the finality of one last afternoon with him weighing on her shoulders, she was struck by a sudden idea.
She clambered to her feet, and he watched her, sunglasses following her ascent a little too carefully.
"Are we cleaning?" he asked, and she extended her hand to help him up, not answering.
As he stood up as well, she smiled at him innocently – and then tackled him into the water, accompanied by his sunglasses, shark shorts and general disdain.
"What the hell was that for?!" he demanded wetly as he broke the surface, but as soon as he saw the look on her face, he stilled. Her eyes were fixed on him, asking him for one last melody as the lake danced in her eyes in the afternoon sun. He smiled as she pulled him through the water and under the dock.
They'd have to say goodbye eventually, she thought as she pressed him into the side of the dock, their hands entwining against the wood beside his head. But after the summer they'd had, a summer of changes and chaos and canoes, she was willing to let the tides carry them wherever they were headed next.
When Black*Star's telltale shriek echoed through the woods, telling them to get their lazy asses up to the dining hall for lunch, they grinned at each other, and their hands drifted together as they waded through the water, past the grass, and up the hill. Lakewater winked at them in the sun's rays as waves bumped against the dock, the wooden planks rippling with their own farewell.
Theirs had been a song of the moon; it was ever-changing, always surprising her with something new, seductive, bathed in shadow. But as she watched daylight bounce off their hands, she thought of warm piano sessions, and searing lips against the bookshelves in the late afternoon.
Perhaps the sun had spun them a pretty tune as well.
There you have it! Thank you so much for reading! :)
Also: Mad love to the anon who left that canoe joke in makapedia's askbox on tumblr. You fully inspired that canoe joke scene with Sid, and you are actually my hero.
This was such a wonderful event and I had the best time working on this. And now, it's back to slaving over Hybrid Theory updates ;D See you all soon~