Love is…

The warmth of being held close.
A dance.

The logic behind holding another ball a year after the last (catastrophic) one was beyond Stein. Shinigami-sama, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that pssh, Medusa was gone from Shibusen now, and so there was no reason to walk on eggshells. History wasn't going to repeat itself just like that. Supposedly. Anyway.

So, with that wonderful encouragement, another ball was held, this time not in honor of anyone in particular, but rather to say, Haha, witch, you can't keep us from having a good time and (in the case of those of us who are of legal age) getting completely wasted on free wine! Stein didn't particularly want to attend, seeing how swimmingly the last one had gone, but Marie, who'd been blessedly absent for that fiasco, forced him into it. If nothing else, the woman was a girl, one who would grab any excuse to throw on a dress and a pair of high-heels. And somehow, she couldn't do all that unless she was on the arm of a man in a smart black suit.

Enter Stein, stage left, dressed in a smart black suit. He'd decided to forgo last year's white, stitched suit lest some residual bad karma follow him into this dance as well, and the decision certainly did not affect Marie negatively. From the moment he stepped out of his bedroom, dressed and ready, her face grew red and a stupid smile was planted on her face. Stein wasn't completely sure what she expected out of this night, and he was even less sure of how he felt about his options.

As it was, Marie didn't seem overly inclined to force him to take part in whatever romantic fantasy she had playing in her head; once at the ball, she seemed content to partake in the free food and alcohol and just sit at a table at the edge of the ballroom and watch the other dancers. Being honest, this was a surprise to Stein—he'd been mentally preparing himself all week for having to act as though he was completely comfortable in this room, with the band playing the same old songs as last time. But Marie didn't make a single mention of dancing for nearly two hours, instead just watching her friends dance and making small-talk with Stein.

"I feel like I'm at a wedding," she told him at one point. "With this cold salad and this cheap wine, I mean. And how we're not dancing or anything. I don't think I've ever danced at a wedding; I always feel like I'd be intruding somehow."

"Why's that?"

She obviously hadn't been expecting him to reply; she gave him an odd look, and then furrowed her eyebrows as if she really hadn't thought of a reason why she'd said what she had. "Well, you know…a wedding…is a celebration of marriage. I feel like only married people should dance at them…otherwise it'd be really, really presumptuous of the girlfriend to force her boyfriend to dance at one…you know? And it's not like I've ever been married, heh…"

Stein scoffed lightly, earning a small scowl. "Marie, what isthe deal with your fixation on marriage? It's positively gotten to the point of obsession."

She bristled, biting her lower lip to keep from speaking too sharply. "Oh, don't be mean, Franken. I'm not obsessed."

He tilted his head. "That's debatable."

She seemed to deflate with every retort he threw at her. "Stein, we've talked about this before…can you just drop it?"

"No, remind me. Why are you so desperate to get married?"

Her nostrils flared. "Just let it go, Stein. I don't want to talk about this with you anymore. Forget I said anything. Ever."

And then he laughed. "Damn, Marie. I don't understand you one little bit." With that, he stood mindlessly, extending a hand to her. "You're not at a wedding. You're at a stupid school function where we teachers are allowed to act like human beings for once in our professional lives. Don't be so damn wistful."

She looked at his hand for a moment, not completely understanding, before looking him in the eye. "Franken, you don't really want to dance."

"No, I really don't. But it…it'll make you happy, right?" Because, really, Marie was getting what she wanted in the end, even if in a backwards, roundabout way.

And really, there was no way for her to reply to that, and he knew it. So she just stood, grabbing his proffered hand, and they half-dragged each other to the dance floor, each wanting to feel like the instigator.

Of course, like all wonderful cliché-riddled scenes, as soon as they were on the dance floor, a mockingly slow song began playing. Stein gave a little groan of defeat, especially once he saw Marie's vaguely triumphant smirk, but he pulled her close anyway, unwilling to back down once he'd made this offer. Marie went pliant in his arms, moving to the music almost immediately, and yeah, she totally was wanting this the whole damn night, wasn't she? Silly, silly woman. She really only needed to have asked.

And really, it wasn't as bad as Stein had convinced himself it would be. Marie wasn't a damn vindictive witch, for one, so he really needn't worry about potential enchanted reptiles needling their way from her body to his. And she wasn't one to banter throughout the entire experience, so he was able to actually sort of enjoy the way his body reacted to the music, taking care of his own basic motor skills as well as supporting what weight her body put on his. And her hair smelled nice; not in the dark, seductively natural way Medusa's had, but in the chemical-y, she-really-takes-care-of-her-personal-hygiene kind of way. Like strawberry shampoo and vanilla soap.

Really, this was completely different from his last dance at Shibusen. Marie was nothing like Medusa, and that made all the difference. Medusa had danced independently, holding her cold-blooded body up confidently against his so she could always be looking directly into his eyes, which in itself was probably a part of her spell on him. Marie, on the other hand, was content to keep her hands alighted softly on his upper arms while her head rested gently against his shoulder, leaning her warm body into him sweetly but deliberately. There was no seduction in the way she carried herself while they danced—only pure, unadulterated affection.

It was a little overwhelming. By the time the music reached its crescendo, he couldn't think clearly. Everything about this experience jumbled up his already not-quite-stable mind to the point that he was helpless when his body suddenly got the impulse to kiss Marie soundly on the mouth.

She made a small noise but did not pull away in the slightest. As if she too were caught under the mindless, joyous spell of the music and the dance, she kissed him back, hmming contentedly. More than contentedly. Delightedly. Ecstatically.

But then she seemed to remember that, hey wait, kissing wasn't a thing they did anymore. She pulled away from him, looking into his eyes, already seeming to fall from Cloud 9 as realization set in. "Wait. Stein. Franken. What…? No. I thought…What happened to not being able to be with me until we caught Medusa? Why did you…do that?"

He winced slightly at the name, but then shook his head. What did she expect him to say? That, hey wow, he was really, stupidly happy for the first time in a really long time, and it was all her fault, and the only way he could think of to punish her was to kiss her? "I—I don't know. Uh, hah, I mean, since when have I ever been good at keeping my promises, right? I just…I don't know. Do you want me to keep that promise?" Because I can, if that's what you suddenly want, he didn't say.

Her visible eye widened. "Are you kidding? I thought it was stupid from the beginning. I'd pretty much decided that was your way of letting me down easy."

He shook his head and laughed, because he really didn't know what to say to that, and decided it was better not to say anything. Instead, he began to move to the music again, as they had paused during their little make-out session, and she seemed to agree with his train of thought, moving back into the dance without a second thought. They could talk later, they decided. They would have to.


(A/N)

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