Author's Note: **This chapter contains a hint of reference to YAOI - male/male sexual intercourse - particularly that involving Stein and Spirit. Can't take it? Don't like it? Then don't read it!**
Chapter Four: Elucidation
Though it'd been quite a while since he'd seen her, Spirit would never forget that face. It was the same one that had been casually on Stein's arm some time ago. So she was a Deathscythe as well? He'd had no idea. In all the years since his completion by his wife—well, ex-wife—he'd never had the opportunity to meet the other Deathscythes. He knew their names and various other details that Shinigami-sama disclosed, but that was the extent of it.
So she was Marie Mjolnir, otherwise known as "The Hammer." He'd certainly heard of her, yet was completely unaware that hers was the face that went with the title. For such a fearsome moniker she certainly was a meek, petite young woman; she seemed far too gentle and kind for someone with that nickname. Yet, she'd partnered with Stein in the past, and found herself being asked to do it again in order to ensure the availability of Shinigami's personal weapon. There was no need for an incident such as that which had just transpired to be repeated, after all.
Despite the changes made during the Deathscythes' meeting, Shinigami-sama privately requested that Spirit continue to keep an eye on Stein—which, for the first time in the weapon's life, didn't seem so bad. He'd actually been given an alibi—an excuse—to spend time with his former meister. In a shocking revelation, he realized that a part of him was actually looking forward to it.
There was only one problem: Stein was going to have a roommate.
That could make things complicated.
Secrecy was his top priority for one very important reason: His daughter. If anyone caught wind of the goings-on between he and Stein, it would more than likely reach Maka before too long. And, thanks to that no-good shark-toothed weapon of hers, she probably already had her suspicions—there was no need to provide her with evidence. Their relationship was a joke as it was; her opinion of him couldn't get much worse. If she heard that her Papa actually did have strong feelings for his former meister, she'd probably never so much as even look him in the eye ever again. Above all else, he had to avoid that at all costs. No one in the world could ever mean more to him than Maka. Not Stein, not Kami, not Shinigami-sama—nobody. For that reason among countless others he swore that he'd always protect her—even if it meant keeping secrets. Though there was still no bliss in her ignorance, it was a whole lot better than things would be if she knew.
Thinking he still had a small window of opportunity to speak with Stein privately before his new houseguest arrived, Spirit traveled back to the patchwork laboratory.
But, as luck would have it, he swung open the door and ran smack into the very person he'd hoped to avoid.
"Hey Spirit," Marie chirped, "What brings you here?"
"Oh, I…" Spirit began, unconsciously scratching at the back of his head nervously.
"He came to see if you needed any help moving in," Stein finished for him, rolling into sight from behind her in his trusty wheeled office chair.
"That's so nice of you!" She smiled widely. "I had no idea you were so thoughtful!"
The redhead did his best to return the expression given him in a convincing manner.
"Yeah, neither did I," he muttered under his breath, casting a glare to the scientist who merely responded with a smirk before returning to his work on his desktop computer.
Marie cheerily brushed past her fellow Deathscythe, gesturing for him to follow her. Slowly but surely, he did.
If she didn't know any better, she would've thought that there was something amiss. First, she'd found Stein and Death Scythe together in the hallway at Shibusen, then Spirit had trailed them to the basketball courts, and now he was showing up at the laboratory? That all certainly seemed odd, especially considering how estranged they'd been when she was dating Stein. The scientist never so much as even talked about his former weapon partner—not even when she blatantly asked about him. But then again, it'd been a while since she'd seen either of them; perhaps things had changed. It wasn't that unfeasible to think that they'd grown to enjoy each other's company, was it? Even someone as mad as Stein could still have friends. There was no need for her to be so critical.
While the two Deathscythes loaded boxes into the laboratory, Marie decided to strike up a conversation.
"I haven't heard anything new about Kami for a while. How's your wife doing?" she inquired politely, setting another box onto the floor of her new bedroom.
Spirit's face flattened at the question. "…Ex-wife."
The young woman visibly cringed and placed a hand on the other's shoulder. "Oh my. I'm sorry! I shouldn't have asked…"
"Don't worry about it," the redhead shrugged, giving his companion his best understanding smile.
"I hope you're okay," she continued earnestly. "I know you two had a daughter together…how's she taking it?"
Spirit's heart sank. No sooner than he began to feel the familiar sting of tears burn his sapphire eyes, a voice floated down the hallway, as if on cue.
"Marie," Stein called. "I have a favor to ask of you."
Later that evening, Marie returned to her temporary new abode she shared with her temporary new partner, her arms loaded down with groceries and other provisions she'd been requested to attain. Stein certainly needed a lot of peculiar, hard-to-find items… But then again, he'd always been quite an eccentric individual, to say the least. She was just grateful she was able to find them all; she figured she owed him at least that much for giving her a place to stay.
He had been so considerate as to welcome her into his home, giving her only one rule to abide by. It was a simple enough request that most anyone would feasibly ask for—all he required was that she never entered his personal quarters when the door was shut. She could live with that, and so she'd made the commitment to do so.
Pushing past the heavy front doors to the laboratory with a shoulder, she immediately noted that the entire building was dark; there wasn't even the glow from the computer monitor to provide any light. On top of that, it was relatively early in the night, and yet all was quiet. Reaching out with an elbow, she nudged the nearby light switch on. There was nobody in sight.
"Stein?" she called, feeling more than a bit nervous. Stein was a night owl; some nights, damn near an insomniac. It was far too early for him to be sleeping. Was he even home? Had he snuck off while she was out? She silently prayed that wasn't the case…
Setting down her payload, she glanced around the area, calling his name once more and again getting no reply. But, as she peeked down the main hallway, she could see his bedroom door was closed. Poking out from underneath it was some sort of dark patch that she couldn't quite discern.
Heading over to investigate the matter, she bent down to see it was some sort of clothing article. Pinching it between her thumb and forefinger she gave it a tug, and quickly realized it was a silk tie.
Not just any silk tie, either: A cross-shaped silk tie.
Death Scythe's tie.
Oh no. What if the madness had claimed Stein and he was in there experimenting on Spirit? What if he ended up mortally wounding him? How would Stein answer to Shinigami-sama after killing his personal weapon? Furthermore, without a weapon, how would Shinigami defeat Asura? Even more terrifying was the prospect that he could replace him with another of the Deathscythes…possibly even her! Then she'd never get married!
Despite the promise she'd made both to herself and her gracious host, she was quite certain these were extenuating circumstances. For the sake of Shibusen—no, all of Death City!—she needed to open that door!
First, she pressed her ear to it.
She briefly recalled that Stein enjoyed music—particularly Classical—while performing his experiments. There was no music this time. However, if the madness was plaguing him as she suspected that could change, and she needed to be sure. With great trepidation she turned the knob and carefully opened the door, just far enough to peer inside with one hazel eye.
Her gaze scanned over the moonlit room, tracing along the trail of clothing starting with two pairs of shoes near the door, to the wheeled patchwork chair where Stein's lab coat was tossed over its back, along with another item much smaller and contrasting in color. Spirit's blazer..?
Her sights traveled further onward over indistinguishable odds and ends of clothing until they came upon the nightstand where the moonlight glinted off of the round lenses of the meister's glasses.
To the left, she could make out a shimmer of silver. Much to her relief, Stein was asleep.
But he wasn't alone.
There was a mop of shaggy scarlet sitting atop the meister's chest. Death Scythe had one arm tossed over his former partner, fingers placed as though they'd once been tracing one of the many sutured scars on his body. Stein's nose was partially nuzzled into the vibrant crimson of the weapon's hair, his face slack and serene. In her eyes, they were a picture perfect moment frozen in time. She'd never seen either of them so peaceful and content.
It all made sense to her now: Death Scythe's constant shadowing of Stein, her own failed relationship with the scientist—even Spirit's divorce. Without any further knowledge, she knew why they'd separated: It wasn't that Spirit couldn't devote himself to Kami, it was that he'd already committed to somebody else.
As quietly as possible she closed the door behind her, leaving the tie to hang on the knob.
"Oh, Maka," the lady said, turning around. She gave one of her bright smiles to the young girl. "What can I help you with?"
"I..." Maka twisted her fingers into the fabric of her skirt. "Can I...talk to you?"
"Of course. Anytime, Maka. What do you want to talk about?"
"Well…it's..." she looked around. "Can we not do this in the hallway? I...I'd talk about this with someone else, but...the only woman I really know now is Blair." Maka shuddered. "And I don't want to ask her about this. She probably wouldn't understand anyway."
Marie smiled at the girl. "Okay. We can go back to Franken's la..."
"NO!" Maka said hastily. "No, there's…no need for that."
The Deathscythe blinked. "Alright. How about the classroom, then? It's empty for now," she motioned to the door behind her. The ash-blond scythe technician nodded and followed the older woman.
"What seems to be the matter, Maka?"
Maka leaned against the desk while Marie took a seat in the chair behind it. Maka kept twisting the fabric of her skirt. "A few days ago...the day after we fought Asura..." she began, "Soul kissed me."
Marie blinked, but thought she might be seeing what the girl's hesitance in speaking stemmed from. Any teenage girl would feel awkward if her best friend kissed her out of the blue. Well...it was out of the blue right? Marie felt two sides warring within her.
There was the maternal and the romantic side of her, sighing dreamily and sympathizing with the girl's plight. Then...there was the jaded, almost depressed side of her demanding how this little slip of a girl could get a guy quicker than she could. But, in the end, the maternal side won out.
"Against your will? Or..."
"No!" Maka nearly screeched, almost choking. "No," she said, quieter, staring intently at her hands. "No, Soul would never do anything like that against my will. He's just..." she giggled. "That would be too 'uncool'. Cool guys don't have to force girls. And…I…I liked it. A lot," she blushed.
"And you don't know how to deal with this?" Marie surmised.
"Well...that's not really the problem. I mean...I'd certainly come to you. Or maybe Tsubaki or someone, if I need advice or anything. I think I can deal with this. On my own. At my own pace. What...well, see…Soul was bandaging up my side, where I got hurt." She unconsciously placed a hand over the spot. "So my shirt was pulled up just a bit. And one thing led to another, and we were kissing, nothing more. But...well, I suppose it might have seemed like a bit more...intense...than it really was. And...well…my Papa came in the apartment and saw us."
Marie blinked once, then twice. Then again. She and Spirit weren't very close. Never had been. She'd worked with Kami once or twice, so she certainly knew a bit of Spirit's protective streak. She could only imagine what happened. It wouldn't have been out of the question for Spirit to decapitate Soul. And since she'd seen Soul since then, she assumed it didn't turn out too bad.
"May I ask what happened?"
"Papa—being Papa—wouldn't calm down and he and Soul sort of got into an argument. Soul...Soul said something." She cast her eyes downward, voice somehow confused, wondering. "Something about Papa...and Professor Stein. He sort of...insinuated that Papa and..." she swallowed. "That Papa and Professor Stein were, well, more than friends. That they were..." she shook her head, unable to speak the words that she'd even been afraid to think.
Marie's mind immediately remembered that night, Spirit cuddled up close to Stein's chest in the darkness, both of them content. Had Soul put things together like she had? Oh...poor Maka.
"Maka," Marie said softly. "You're worried that your father and Stein are romantically involved?"
Maka nodded, keeping her eyes closed, then she blinked at the teacher with wide green eyes. Marie was struck with how much Maka looked like Spirit. Of course, physically, they weren't that identical...but...the way she looked. That face...it was that of a lost puppy looking for its way home; the same face she'd seen Spirit make countless times. Maka had inherited more of her father than anyone realized...even them.
"Why would that worry you so? Do you find that sort of relationship repulsive?"
Maka blinked. "No. I'm not narrow-minded and prejudiced. If I can accept Kim and Jacqueline then I can most certainly accept two men. It's just...but...Papa…he's just a skirt-chasing cheater," she said the last part with age-old vehemence.
Marie frowned, and felt a tug at her heart. How hard must it have been for Maka to watch her father run around on her mother? Marie might be able to understand...she'd had to work with Kami, after all...but Maka might not understand that. It was sad that this was how Maka thought of him. How much had Kami influenced her, and how much was her own conviction?
"Maka, your father loved your mother very, very much. You know that?"
"He says that, but...Miss Marie, why'd he still run around?" She pushed off the desk, spinning around. Her green eyes flashed. "If he loved us so much, why didn't he act like it?"
"Your father only wants to be loved, Maka. He only wants to be really loved. He loved your mother...but can you say the opposite was true?"
"Of course she-..."
"Maka, Maka," Marie said quietly, shaking her head. "I know you don't want to see it...but you see it anyway. Your mother loves one thing: Her job. She may have thought she loved Spirit, but she never really did."
"You lie!" Maka screamed, tears spilling down her cheeks. "Stop saying that!"
"Fine. I won't say it. But I will say that your mother never loved your father the way he wanted to be loved. The way he needed." She stood up, even her own petite frame seeming to tower over the upset child. She reached out, placing her palms on Maka's shoulders. "Do you hate your father?"
"No," she said, looking up, aghast. "I mean…no. Papa's papa... but he's still my Papa."
Marie nodded, a serene smile on her lips. She'd thought as much.
"Papa needs love, too," she murmured to the girl. "Can you deny him for looking for that? Can you deny him if he finds it...even if he finds it in a most unusual place?"
Maka blinked. Papa needed love? And...well, Stein was certainly crazy and sadistic...but he was also sweet and funny. And kind at the oddest of moments. Maybe Stein needed love, too.
Had they found it in each other?
"I have a lot to think about, Miss Marie," she said quietly, gently removing the woman's hands. "Thank you so much."
Marie watched as the girl disappeared out the door. And she smiled. She had a feeling that nothing would ever make those two have a typical father-daughter relationship-but hopefully, hopefully it was on its way to mending.
She hoped so; she couldn't stand broken things.
Then she blinked.
"So wait...even Stein and the little girl find love before I do?" She asked the empty room, then burst into tears.
Sometimes life was so unfair.
ANs: Once again, just as a reminder, Spirit and Stein were written by Silent Epiphany, and Maka and Marie were written by the lovely StandingOnTheRooftops. Thanks for reading—and remember—we love reviews! :D