"No, Soul, I swear if you come a step closer, I will Maka Chop you until what little brains you have are splattered on the ground," she threatened, her voice unusually shrill.
He paused, affronted. "I've got plenty of brains, thank you very much."
"I mean it."
Soul stared at her. Her eyes were huge and her face was pale. Even when facing the kishin Asura by herself, she hadn't looked this terrified.
"Maka," he asked incredulously, "do you not know how to swim?"
Her reaction confirmed it.
"Of course I know how to. I just don't choose to. You know how many people pee in the ocean, Soul? In fact, the ocean is pretty much a giant waste deposit for all the –"
He cut her off, laughing. "I can't believe this. The great Maka Albarn, who killed the kishin just by punching him in the face, does not know how to swim?"
"MAKA CHOP!" but he barely felt the heavy book slam over his head in the light of his new discovery.
"C'mon," he said lightly. "I'll teach you." He scanned the beach. Black*Star was wrestling a shark (wait, what?) and Tsubaki was helplessly watching. Kid was building a perfectly symmetrical sandcastle while Liz was tanning next to him, and Patti was surfing. "Nobody's paying attention," he offered, sticking out his hand. "It's nothing to be embarrassed of. Plenty of people don't know how to swim."
She looked at him fearfully, eyes wide.
"When I was three, I fell off the dock into Death Lake. I almost drowned," she whispered.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "That's why I'm here. I won't let you drown, I promise. Trust me," he insisted, shaking his outstretched hand at her. "You can read a book any old day."
She bit her lip doubtfully, but then took his hand and he pulled her up.
They walked a little ways off from everywhere else and Soul waded into the ocean.
"It's not that hard. What you have to remember is – Maka? Oi, Maka!" He looked around to see her standing at the very edge of the water, eying the baby waves that lapped the surface of the beach. Irritated, he marched back and dragged her into the ocean, despite her shrieks of protest.
"You'll get used to it," he said mercilessly. They were now standing waist deep in the water. "Okay, now just take my hands and float in the water."
She gawked at him. "Just like that? You expect me to swim in the water just by holding your hands?"
He sighed wearily. This was much harder than he'd expected it to be. "You have to learn how to float before you can swim. Just take my hands and relax. You'll float on your back."
She looked at him dubiously. "Well, if you're sure." She gripped his hands tightly and…sunk like a rock.
"Aargh!" she shrieked, water filling her open mouth.
He sighed and grabbed her by the arm, yanking her up. "Maka, give me a break. The water's about three feet high."
She coughed, spitting out the salty water, and wrung out her pigtails. "Forget it, Soul, I'm going back. This is pointless."
She began marching back towards the shore, before a receding wave belted her in the stomach and she fell face first into the waves. Laughing, Soul snaked an arm around her waist and dragged her back deeper into the ocean. "Let's try this again."
She pouted. "Look, it's not like I'll ever need to swim anyways."
That was the problem, he realized. Maka had no motivation to learn swimming.
Motivation. What drove Maka to work so hard? What gave her the ability to stay up late into the night studying, stay after school for hours to train extra? The answer, he realized, was simple. He should've done it from the start.
"Maka," he said abruptly. "Do you know how many meisters out there know how to swim?"
She froze, her green eyes hardening. "What are you trying to say?"
"Look at Black*Star over there. You're always talking about how we're a greater team than he and Tsubaki are. But he's fighting off sharks with his bare hands. And Patti, she's not even a meister, but she's surfing like a pro. Kim, Ox, Kid, Kilik? I guarantee you all of them know how to swim. What happens when we take a mission near the ocean or water? You'll be so paralyzed that you won't be able to move. Don't you want to be the top of the class? You can't be the best if everyone else knows how to swim except for you."
She glared at him, hands on her hips, but they both knew he'd won. "Fine," she ground out. "Teach me how to swim."
Smiling, he took her hands again. "Okay, we'll try it a different way. You need to relax, Maka, you can't swim if you're all tense like that." Gently, he placed the palm of his hands underneath her back. She recoiled from his touch. "Relax," he said softly.
She looked up at him, her eyes large with fright. "Soul, if I drown, I swear I'll kill you," she said, trying to hide her vulnerability.
"Just relax. I won't let go of you."
He supported her for a few minutes, watching the waves lap over her taut stomach. Blair had forced her into a bikini after throwing away all of her one-pieces ("Maka-chan, though you may not be as big as Blair-chan, you've got some pretty sexy legs!"), and her skin felt silky over his sensitive fingertips. Slowly, he felt her muscles begin to loosen and relax. He smiled to himself and slid his hands out from under her stomach. Maka floated for a few seconds, before realizing that his hands were gone, then began thrashing her limbs and disappeared beneath the surface of the water, only to pop up a few seconds later.
"SOUL! You said you wouldn't let go!"
He laughed and darted away deeper into the ocean, where the water was chest high. She followed after him angrily, splashing through the waves.
"Can't catch me," he teased, swimming further until he could no longer feel the sand beneath his toes.
"Just watch!" she shouted defiantly and swam after him, cutting through the water like an arrow. Soul blinked, surprised at her newfound swimming abilities, only to have his head shoved under the water. He resurfaced for air, spluttering and coughing. Then he grinned cheekily.
"I'm a good teacher, huh?"
"What?" He gestured towards her, and only then did Maka notice that she was effortlessly treading water. "Oh….thanks."
He swam around her, like shark. "But you know, I'm expecting payment. You can't just take swimming lessons for free."
She eyed him warily. "What do you want? You know we didn't bring anything to the beach."
"Nothing like that." He dipped under the water, out of sight, and she panicked. Then he resurfaced right in front of her and kissed her suddenly on the lips, his hands on her back crushing her body against his.
Maka pulled back, gasping, and her face turned blood-red. Soul smirked at her before diving back underwater.
"Oh yeah?" she yelled. "You can't just steal kisses like that for free! Just wait till you see what I want!"
A/N: I suddenly pictured Maka busting out into "Teach Me How to Dougie" right when she tells Soul to teach her how to swim.