Because You Were Brilliant
Written for the Soul Eater livejournal prompt community, 42_souls.
Pairing: Kid/Liz/Patti. Prompt: Soldier.
"Let me go back!" Tsubaki was frantic, clawing at Liz's arm with fingers that were turning into blades. "I can't just leave them!"
Another explosion knocked them off their feet. Liz hit the floor hard, still tangled with Tsubaki. Patti sprawled inelegantly in front of them, but still managed to wrap her arms around Marty and break his fall at the last minute. Elsie didn't even go down, the lucky little brat. Patti bounced up immediately, pulling Marty with her. She glanced once at Marty's wound, then looked up with alarm. Liz looked up, too. The low ceiling was groaning above them. Liz wondered, not for the first time, just exactly how far underground they were – and how many tons of brick and soil were above their heads, threatening to collapse at any moment.
Tsubaki was already getting up, helping Liz stand. Liz could see that there was still defiant anger in Tsubaki's eyes, but at least she seemed to have gotten over her idea to turn around and go back into the fray. That was good. Liz needed all three of them to be clear-headed. "Thanks," she said to Tsubaki, finally regaining her feet. "Now come on. We need to keep moving."
"No," Tsubaki said.
Here it comes. "Yes," Liz insisted, in the tone of voice that she sometimes used for Patti when Patti was being particularly obstinate. "You know the plan. If we get separated, we rendezvous on the surface."
"I know the plan," Tsubaki said. Unfortunately, she was very much not Liz's little sister, and she was not going to back down just because of Liz's tone of voice. There was steel in Tsubaki that Liz knew she couldn't break. "But I'm still going back for them."
Marty and Elsie were watching this exchange with wide, frightened eyes. Marty was leaning heavily against Patti, his face pale. His blood was splashed all over Patti's clothes.
"Kid told us to run." Another explosion, echoing back from the way that they had come. Liz sincerely hoped that that was the sound of Black Star punching something really, really hard. "And we're supposed to be retreating. Officially retreating. Mr. Sid made the call ten minutes ago."
"I don't care." Tsubaki glanced quickly at Marty, Elsie, and Patti. "Liz, you and Patti can get the kids out of here. I'm going back for--"
"They're coming!" Elsie suddenly shouted, lifting her ear from the ground. "Lots of footsteps!"
Liz grabbed at Tsubaki's hand. "Do you want what Black Star and Kid did to be for nothing?!" she shouted. "They jumped in to make that opening for us! And if it turns out that they need rescuing, then goddammit, we're going to come back for them with Shibusen's army, not just with the three of us! And certainly not just you!"
Tsubaki shook her head, a futile gesture of denial. But Liz sensed that she wasn't going to go back anymore. For the moment, the rational was overruling the emotional. So Liz pulled at Tsubaki's hand, pulling her into a run. Patti was already running, supporting Marty as he limped along, chanting constantly into his ear, "It's all right. It's all right. See, we're going up already! We're going to make it out of here." Elsie was crying again, but at least she was running fast enough. They all had to keep moving. They had to keep pushing toward the surface.
Liz had understood that Shibusen and the witches were locked in an arms race, but nobody from the Shibusen side had anticipated that the witches would develop something as utterly nasty as an anti-resonance field. And the witches' army had certainly waited for exactly the right moment to spring their surprise on the Shibusen strike teams, too. Liz winced at the memory, twelve of Shibusen's best technicians deep underground and having successfully penetrated far into the enemy lines, only to suddenly find themselves unable to lift – or in some cases even touch – their weapons.
They'd been divided into groups of three, two senior technicians paired with each of the younger students. Marty and his bow Elsie had completed the team of Kid and Black Star. Liz liked Marty because he embodied that particular combination of brave and dumb that tended to help Shibusen's technicians survive these kinds of battles. But the anti-resonance field had hurt the Shibusen side more than even an army of one thousand witchspawns could have done. The moment that the field had kicked in, the spawns had brutally swarmed them, separating them. Marty had attempted to shield Elsie from the claws of something-or-other, and had nearly gotten his own sides split open instead. Go! Go! Go! Get the kids out of here! Kid had shouted over his shoulder, he and Black Star rocketing away on the back of Beelzebub, a suicide run straight into the mass of the enemy. Or not. Liz had faith that neither her partner nor Black Star were the heroically suicidal type. They were survivors. They accepted the risk of death, but certainly would never willingly throw their lives away. They had a plan, they had to have a plan.
Now Liz needed to make a plan, too.
"Which way?" Patti asked, having reached a junction in the tunnels. Marty swooned against her, losing more blood. He hadn't said anything for a long time, but his eyes were still sharp and alert. Elsie dithered, growing more frantic.
Liz hesitated. There was wind coming from both directions. Maybe they both led to the surface. The questions was, were there any more enemies hiding in the tunnels? If the witches were smart, they would have closed in behind the Shibusen teams.
"Marty, try to hold Elsie in her bow form," Liz said.
Marty reached for his partner, then winced as the touch of their hands repelled each other, their fingers crackling with little bursts of electromagic. "I can't," he gasped. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. We're still in range of the anti-resonance field." Liz tapped her foot frantically, trying to think of a plan. "Elsie, how good are you at shooting yourself?"
Liz realized that she had probably phrased that question wrong. "I mean, a partial transformation."
"Like this," Tsubaki said, calmly demonstrating with her own arm, morphed into sharp steel.
"Oh, oh! I can do that." Elsie seemed relieved just to be able to do something useful. Her right arm became a bow, stringing itself. It was an impressive metamorphosis.
Marty smiled at her wanly. "That looks good on you, babe."
"I know." Then Elsie frowned and turned to Liz. "But I need Marty's soul to make my arrows. I-I still can't do it by myself. I'm trying right now and I can't."
"Great. Great. And us unable to do soul resonance." Liz's mind raced. "Tsubaki, I don't suppose you have any forms that happen to be projectile weapons?"
"No, but--" Tsubaki pointed at Liz. "Can't you do a partial transform?"
"We can't," Patti answered for her sister. Liz shook her head to echo Patti's statement. She and her sister were able to use each other fully in their weapon forms, but for some reason they had always been unable to partially transform and use themselves. It was one of the mysteries of the strange bond that they shared.
But… If it was a mystery…. Then…
"Patti, gun form!" Liz shouted.
Patti gingerly set down Marty, who clutched at his side and groaned. She looked up at Liz. "Do you think that's gonna work?"
"It might. You and I, we have a different kind of resonance than what happens between a technician and a weapon. The field might not affect us."
Patti crossed her fingers. "Here's hoping!" A moment later, Liz grasped Patti's smooth steel in her hand and thought with relief, Good. Now I've got a weapon.
"What are you doing?" Tsubaki asked, as Liz crouched near some rocky cover and took aim.
"Firing warning shots," Liz said. She fired into the left tunnel, but nothing happened. Then she fired into the right tunnel. This time, a return volley of something bright and toothy-looking flashed toward them.
Tsubaki easily sliced apart the spawnling with the blade of her own arm. Liz whistled softly. "Damn, girl."
"I don't break easily," Tsubaki said.
"I know." Liz looked down the right tunnel. "The enemy is to the right. So we go right. That must be the way that leads back up, or else they wouldn't be blockading it."
"We can't just go charging straight in there," Tsubaki said. "We don't have the element of surprise anymore."
"No, but we have a smoke bomb. And that… kind of helps."
Tsubaki's hair was chains, her hands were blades. Shadow-slithers writhed around her feet. "I can do more than kind of help," she said, her eyes burning with focused rage.
They fought their way up the tunnel, through the witchspawns, slicing, shooting, and killing. In their wake they left behind dozens of souls that would have made a nice meal in any other situation, had they not been too busy to stop and eat, had they not been racing against time and against the likely impending collapse of the tunnels. Liz used Patti to cut their way through the enemy, and Tsubaki shielded Elsie and Marty with her blades. Liz's mind was racing the whole time. Their biggest disadvantage was that they had no way of contacting their allies from Shibusen – because, of course, only the technicians had been wearing communication equipment. Of course. And Marty's headset had been lost sometime during the initial attack that had almost gotten him killed.
Liz let herself briefly worry about the likelihood that the youngest group of students would survive, but then she forced herself to focus on her own safety. She had Elsie and Marty to worry about. Maka and Kilik were (hopefully still) with the youngest group of students, and although they had been separated all-too-quickly once the witches had sprung their trap, Liz figured that they were still more likely all right than not. Maka was tougher than most enemies gave her credit for, particularly when she had a group of underclassmen to protect.
They burst into an open cavern, and into – of course – an ambush. Tsubaki dove, pushing the kids down behind a rocky outcropping, and Liz joined her a second later. Rocks and dust exploded all around them. "Now what?" Tsubaki shouted over the din.
Liz clutched Patti's cold steel in her hands, and thought hard. Her boots were ruined and she would never get the dust out of her hair. "Tsubaki, use Elsie," she said.
"What?" Tsubaki and Elsie gasped in tandem.
"Right now, technicians can't resonate with weapons, but weapons can resonate with other weapons." Liz nodded at Tsubaki. "You and I can take out the group shooting at us now, but we both need to be shooting as we charge. Elsie's a bow. Use her. Your soul is more than strong enough to make some damaging arrows." Then she turned to Marty. "Marty, you're going to have to run behind us. Think you can run?"
Marty grinned at her, and gave her a thumbs-up. "I can run." His eyes were glassy with pain, but his face was flush with adrenaline. For the time being, he most certainly could still run.
Elsie changed into her bow form, and Tsubaki gripped her confidently. "Calm down," Tsubaki murmured to the bow. "I need you to concentrate on resonating with me."
"I'm trying," the bow said, unable to hide the nervous tremor in her voice.
"Elsie, please," Liz said. "You don't need to be afraid. We're going to make it out of here. Easily, even."
"How can you be so sure?" Marty asked.
Liz grinned at him. "I've survived the Death City Shopping Mall on the opening day of their handbag sale last year. This? This is nothing. This is cake."
"Delicious cake!" Patti piped up, then laughed.
Tsubaki drew a long, shimmering arrow across Elsie's bowstring. "We're ready," she said.
Liz and Tsubaki leapt out from behind their rock and charged together. Liz filed Patti wildly, and heard the melodious twang of Elsie's bowstring to her right. Where Elsie's arrows hit their mark, minor explosions resulted; whoever or whatever had positioned themselves on the opposite end of the cavern screamed as they were shot and blown apart. Liz sensed Marty running close behind her. By the time that she and Tsubaki were halfway across the cavern, however, the enemies had ceased firing at them; they were all dead.
Patti jumped immediately out of Liz's hands, back into her human form. She caught Marty just as he began swooning. "I'm okay," Marty said, unconvincingly.
Elsie was back in her human form, too, running toward her partner. "Marty!"
There was an explosion from somewhere within the tunnels behind them. Close.
Just like the mall during a handbag sale. Just like the mall during a handbag sale. Liz repeated the mantra in her head. "Elsie, take Marty!" she barked. "Patti, sorry, I need you as my gun right now."
"Aye-aye, captain!" Patti saluted cheerfully as she returned to Liz's hands. Liz knew that this show of bravado was more for the sake of Elsie and Marty than anything else.
"We have to keep going," Tsubaki said. "Liz, you first. I'll protect the kids."
"Got it." Liz ran, shooting Patti as she went. If there were enemies waiting for them in the tunnels, they rarely had the chance to make a move before Patti blew them apart. The five of them ran, and ran. And the tunnels sloped further and further upward. Until, finally, Liz saw daylight.
"We made it!" Elsie cried out.
"Not yet," Liz murmured to herself.
They ran at full tilt, and burst into bright daylight, immediately sliding down a rocky slope beneath the cave that they had emerged from. Liz grit her teeth and fought to maintain her balance – damn, now her boots were really ruined! – while surveying the scene on the outside. Of course they had managed to run right into the middle of a war. Of course. Shibusen on one side, all manner of clawed and nasty things on the other. But it seemed as though, in a rare stroke of pure beautiful luck, Liz and her companions had emerged on the side of the mountain crawling with Shibusen's forces. They weren't behind enemy lines anymore. Rather, they'd somehow managed to land themselves right where they were supposed to be. Probably because they'd gotten lost and had taken such a long, roundabout way out of the mountain.
But either way, they'd made it.
"TSUBAKI! LIIIIIIIIIIIZ!" Maka was charging toward them, up the side of the mountain. A medical team followed not far behind her. "You made it!!"
"We have an injured technician," Tsubaki said, sliding gracefully down the rocks toward the medical team, practically carrying Marty with her. Elsie stumbled behind her, awkwardly, but clearly determined not to let her partner out of her sight.
Liz wasn't paying attention to them anymore, though. Her eyesight had focused on the headset that Maka was wearing, her brain fixating on it like the sight of a gun. "Maka, Maka!" She stumbled down the steep, rocky slope. "Have you heard anything from Kid?" Patti jumped out of her gun form and joined her sister in their run down the side of the mountain.
Maka stopped, frozen. "Was I supposed to?" she asked. "He's not with you? Wait, where's Black Star?!"
In the distance, there were explosions and screams. The brutal brunt of the battle was happening on the other side of the mountain, but the ground was rumbling ominously nevertheless. "Kid went zoooom away!" Patti said, imitating Beelzebub with her hands. "Black Star went with him."
Maka's face darkened. "What?! Those idiots!"
"They did it so that we and Tsubaki could get the kids out." Liz nodded toward the medical team now gingerly helping Marty down toward Shibusen's base camp, visible some distance below. "Please tell me that the anti-resonance field isn't affecting us out here."
"But my sister figured it out!" Patti piped up cheerfully. "Weapons can still used other weapons!"
Maka stared at Liz. "Are you serious?"
"Liz, that is brilliant!"
"No, no, it's no different than what Patti and I have always done."
"We are so stupid! ARGH! Why didn't we think to try that earlier?!" Maka shouted into her headset. "Mr. Sid! Mr. Sid! Listen, tell Soul and the others that--- Wait, what?" She turned her head, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun overhead, and stared at part of the battle barely visible around the base of the mountain. "They're retreating?!"
"Yay, yay!" Patti waved her hands in the air. "We won! We won! They're running away!"
"But we were losinga second ago," Maka said. "Why would they--?"
Then the mountain started shaking.
"Earthquake! Earthquake!" Patti sounded equally as excited about the earthquake as she had about Shibusen's sudden inexplicable victory. Liz grabbed at both her sister and Maka as the three of them tried to keep their balance on the treacherously heaving ground.
"Back to the camp!" Maka shouted, pulling them both down the mountain. "Hurry!"
The stumbled through the earthquake, looking, Liz imagined, quite foolish. Then Soul was running up the slope toward them. Liz had just enough time to wonder where he had come from before Soul was reaching for Maka's hand. "MAKA!!" Charmingly melodramatic, as usual.
Maka flinched away from him. "Wait, Soul! We can't--"
But he took her hand in his, and nothing happened. "The field's gone," Soul said. "It got turned off."
"How? How did that happen?"
Liz and Patti looked at each other at the same time. Then Patti threw back her head and laughed. I think we know exactly how that happened, Liz thought to herself. A moment later, her suspicions were confirmed.
"YYYYYYYAAAAA – HOOOOOOOOO!" Like a bat out of hell, Beelzebub exploded out from the side of the mountain. The resulting shower of rocks and dust briefly obscured the sight of the two figures balanced on the back of the skateboard, clutching at each other for dear life. But Black Star's echoing shout was all of the confirmation that anybody on the ground needed. "AWWWWW YYYYYEEAAAAAAAH SHI-BU-SEN! WHOOOOOOOOO YYYYYEEAAAAAAAH SHI-BU-SEN!" Beelzebub rocketed down toward the camp, wobbling dangerously as Black Star's wild gesticulations upset its balance. Kid had his arms out and was clearly struggling to control the skateboard as Black Star clutched at Kid's waist with one hand and waved exuberantly with his other.
"You idiots!" Liz screamed at them at Kid struggled to land the skateboard. "What did you two do?!"
Black Star hopped off the skateboard. "We found the thing that was making the field--"
"The generator," Kid corrected him.
"Whatever. And then I punched it really, really hard!" He gave Liz a thumbs-up. "Brilliant, huh?"
"And then we almost died," Kid added.
"Yes and then we almost died--"
"Because the generator structure was actually supporting the integrity of that tunnel system and when you punched it everything started collapsing--"
"So? We had a skateboard. We got out of there in time."
"Man, I never knew that you knew so many great cuss words!" Black Star said, patting Kid on the back. Thick dust from wavelength-blasted rock puffed off of both of them. It covered their hair and clothes. Kid looked ready to kill himself, but Black Star continued, "You should have heard this guy swearing at me! It was amazing!"
"Well you kept groping me!"
"I wasn't groping, I was just trying to hang on. Oh and I'm the one who got us out of the tunnels, you know, because I'm awesome."
"That's amazing!" Tsubaki said. Liz hadn't even realized that she had re-joined their group.
The ground was still rumbling ominously beneath them, though. "We need to get off this hill," Maka said, eyeing the spot further up the slope where Black Star had presumably punched through the rock itself. "In case the top of the mountains decides to, you know, landslide on us."
They started back down toward the camp, moving slowly, as the already uneven footing beneath them was still trembling slightly. Kid, for some reason, was hopping on one foot. "Liz? Patti? A little help, please."
They caught him by the shoulders, and Liz realized that he was missing a shoe. "Do I want to know?" she asked.
"Long story short: They had this giant… thing… guarding the generator, and, um… tentacles… something… Anyway, we barely got away. But the bastard took my shoe." He grit his teeth furiously. "It. Took. My. Shoe." He hopped gingerly across the ground. "Now look what I have to do!" He stopped, bent down, pulled off his other shoe, and hurled it angrily behind him. Then he continued onward, stomping furiously, in his stocking feet. "Dammit, those were Prada!"
Liz considered making a snarky comment about the wisdom of wearing Prada into a battle, but then recalled the way that she herself had ruined at least three pairs of Italian leather in previous missions, and thought better of it. Oh well. That was just how she and Kid rolled.
Patti was pointing and laughing at him, but Kid ignored her. Liz caught up with him, and grabbed his arm. It felt good to be able to touch him again. "When this is over, we need to go shoe-shopping," she said.
He calmed down a bit at the suggestion. "That sounds like a good plan." He paused long enough to let Patti take his other arm. They had fallen a few steps behind the others by now. "You were brilliant, by the way," he said, turning his head to address both sisters.
Patti laughed. "How do you know that? You just got here!"
"I know because you're always brilliant," he said. "The two of you got Elsie and Marty to safety, and probably convinced Tsubaki not to go back after Black Star."
"We did." Liz was grinning at him. "Although we would have gotten out of the tunnels a lot faster if we hadn't gone the back route. But then we would have ended up on the opposite side of the enemy line, so… I guess it all worked out?"
Kid shook his head. "It didn't just work out. It worked out because you made the right decisions. Like I knew you would."
Liz was quiet, letting his words sink in. Patti wasn't laughing anymore, either. Liz squeezed Kid's arm and thought to herself, When did this happen to me? When did I become this type of person? Her arms trembled slightly. I used to be a criminal, for crying out loud! A criminal, a mallrat, and a coward! And now I'm…
She looked down at Kid. He looked up at her and asked, "Is something wrong?"
"…I'm your partner," Liz breathed.
He was giving her a funny look. "Well, yes." He blinked through the dust still coating his face. "I'm a reaper and you're my Death Scythes." He turned to Patti. "And this is our life." He turned back to Liz. "And you two are the only partners worthy of me. End of story."
Liz snorted. "Wow. Ego much?"
"It's not ego, just facts." He turned and grinned at Patti. "Right, Patti?"
"Right!" Patti laughed. "Liiiiiiz, why are you being so weird?"
"I'm sorry. It's just that I'm not used to being a hero."
"So get used to it," Kid said.
"Hmph. Would it undermine the noble heroics if I told you that I cannot wait to go shoe shopping right now?"
"I can't wait either," Kid said, emphatically. "And no. It wouldn't."
Liz rolled her eyes and said, "Some heroes we are." That made Patti laugh again, and then Liz suddenly found herself laughing too. Kid scowled down at his stocking feet, clearly not getting the joke. But that was all right. Liz could deal with him sometimes not getting the joke, as long as she could count on him to still go shoe shopping with her at the end of the day.
Some heroes they were, indeed. This was definitely a partnership that suited Liz just fine.
Author's Notes: This is a dinosaur fic, one of the first that I ever wrote for the 42_souls challenge, actually. I'm not entirely happy with the way that it turned out. But it was fun to write, and I haven't been able to come up with anything better to fit the 'Soldier' prompt, anyway. So here we are. And as you've probably noticed by now, proto-Marty and proto-Elsie make their first appearance in this fic. Yes, I recycled both Marty and Elsie later on when I wrote "The Devil's in the Details." But for the record, this fic was where I first conceived of both characters. (And this fic is also discontinuous with "The Devil's in the Details" since Liz and Patti could both partially transform in that fic, but they can't here. Oh, continuity!) Anyway, thanks for reading, as always! And if you're so inclined, comment and critique is much appreciated.