Author stuff: Oh, and I don't own the Twilight Zone, or Splenda (gag), or Paul Mitchell, either. The big one-liner I stole the Chappelle Show is in this half.

Got a Problem?
Part two

"I just bummed a ride from my blind date."

Soul Eater Evans looks somewhat like a child whose bed-wetting past has just been revealed to the entire class. He puts a hand up to the bridge of his nose, squinting so hard that it appears his pinching is pulling all corners of his face into one, painful, horrified apex of humiliation. Midget claps him on the back and Tsubaki says something about not wanting to lose the reservation, and Maka finds herself being towed across the parking lot.

"You look really cute," Tsubaki conspiratorially whispers to her as they're being led to a massive teppanyaki table. "Looks familiar, actually... when was the last time you-"

"Career day. In high school," she answers, flatly.

Tsubaki stops short, which makes her date run into her, which makes Soul dodge both them plus a waitress with a frazzled look. Maka slides into a tall bar stool, disgruntled. Her co-worker flutters with apologies before sitting to Maka's left.

She's back to sputtering at her in less than three seconds. "!" But Maka doesn't answer, because the chef in front of her is twirling knives, which fascinates her. Black Star sits to Tsubaki's left, Soul sits to Maka's right, and cup of soup has just been set before her.

"Happy Valentine's Day," the chef says with a thick accent and a practiced, but not entirely insincere smile.

A few confused orders and a bowl of salad later, she's sipping lightly at some martini she hadn't caught the name of, but involves equal amounts of mangoes and amazing, when Soul flags down their waitress and asks to see the sushi menu. He's flipping through it quietly while Tsubaki bashfully giggles at Midget-face.

Maka leans slightly to the right, "I-is it any good?"

His reddish eyes flit to her, and then back to the lists in his hands. "Sushi?"

"Awful. I enjoy torturing myself with things that taste bad."

She pouts and smacks his upper arm, which he rubs gingerly. "You're really abusive."

"You're really a smartass."

He shrugs. "You want some?" Whatever shocked and appalled look she has on her face must be really entertaining, because he chokes down a laugh behind a hand. "Sushi, I'm saying! Sushi."

Her face heats up, and she hopes it's not obvious with the bright light shining over the cook table. Soul tilts the menu in her direction. She tries to keep her eyeballs in her sockets. "Ahaha, wow. Money."

"Pretend I'm paying."

Maka rolls her eyes. "Maybe in another life, but Dork Star is paying for me tonight, apparently. I don't want to, you know, take advantage."

"Why not? I am."
"I'm a mechanic, c'mon- You think I can afford this kind of thing? I'm not the type of guy to call someone last-minute to get a ride just for a blind-date, either. I came for the food."

She blinks slowly, staring at his mildly sheepish face. "You were bribed," she dumbly states.


Maka takes a good look at Black Star and Tsubaki, who seem to be completely in their own, creepily weird, little world. "He must really want to hook you up with someone."

"Haah?" he says, and she looks back at him curiously. "He said that she wanted you to meet him and then approve of their 'relationship' or whatever. What are you, her dad?"

"No, I-" she starts to deny, but she whips her head to look at Tsubaki in bewilderment. She turns her head away again, rubbing the back of her neck self-consciously. "I didn't know she cared that much about what I thought... Wait, but I've already met him!"

"Didn't you two meet him at a Target or something like that? Does that even count?"
"I don't.. uhg. Even if this is all true, why did he bribe you here? I didn't need a date to watch them flirt. He could have saved himself the money."

Soul shrugs. "I don't know. Like I said, I came for the food. Also, I'm ordering for you, because you're pretty clueless."

She sips her martini loudly while the chef begins to grill two slabs of steak.

One bite and she's standing out of her chair, hand clamped over her mouth. The flavor could only be described with one word.


She'd known the fact that it was, indeed, raw fish- putting the little slab of flesh resting on a compact rectangle of rice in her mouth- but had believed in, however fleetingly, Soul's theory of 'the only people who don't like raw fish are the ones who never try it'.

That bastard will never be more wrong in his entire life.

She attempts to turn off whichever sensory systems her brain uses for taste, and texture, and temperature, and nausea, but fails at every turn. Briskly walking to the restroom by the front door, which is a much longer distance than she remembers, she tries to remain graceful and not appear as if she's five seconds away from regurgitating mango juice and ginger salad dressing.

Maka shoulders open the door to the women's bathroom, stumbling into a chilly hallway. She hurries around a corner. Stops. Hides back around the corner. Unconsciously swallows. At the far end of the row of sinks, next to the powered hand-dryer, she'd seen them- black dots and a snake head twirling around a pale, bare arm. The arm had been bent at the elbow, polished nails holding a tube of nude, flesh-colored lipstick.

She kicks herself for being able to imagine the shade on her father's shirt collar so easily.

She sits straight in her chair, after having fled the restroom, and plasters a calm look on her face. She had known, deep down, that Valentine's Day is just a farce. Why had she believed otherwise? The only couple here with actual potential is Tsubaki and Black Star. Everyone else is either a lie or awkward coincidence.

"I'm really sorry. Like, you can punch me, even-"
"It wasn't so bad once I got it down."
"Maka, are you okay?"
"I'm great."
"Yeah, you look kinda ghost-like."

"Medusa's in the bathroom," she says, cheerfully. And then swigs the rest of her martini.

"Is that code-talk for something?" Black Star asks around a mouth full of steak.

Maka attempts to tune out life- trying to melt and blend into the murmur of sizzling food and small talk. Soul leans forward slightly, to look up in her face. "Medusa? As in Northside Shop, Medusa?"

Tsubaki does the same, making her feel like a precariously-balanced book between two incredulous bookends. "As in your dad's girlfriend, Medusa?"

"Woah woah woah, what?" Soul leans forward even more, addressing Tsubaki. "Snake-o-path and Albarn?" Tsubaki nods emphatically in her peripheral.

Black Star looks genuinely concerned, which she notes with a singular brownie point for future reference. "I dunno what's going on, but, is Black Star gonna hafta choke a bitch?"

Maka realizes that the constant murmur of talk is actually coming out of her own mouth. "I don't know why I'm even shocked. Why wouldn't they be here on Valentine's Day? Even if she's just using him to get into Frank's pants. Even if he's just getting friendly so he can sell car insurance. Why wouldn't they be here? The whole forsaken city is here. I bet if we look hard enough, we'll find Frank making out with a seventy-pound cake. I bet we'll even find those thugs enjoying some fucking yakisoba!"

A not-eighty-year-old hand is clamped firmly over her mouth. It smells like pickled ginger. "She did this the other day. Weee... should probably go, 'Star. Tsubaki."

"Alright man, don't worry about it."
"Maka? Call me when you get home, okay?"

She silently promises to apologize to everyone later, when she's not suffering from a cross between homicidal rage and panic attack. Sorry, and thanks.

To Black Star, for trying to make Tsubaki happy by offering to pay for not only Maka, but also bringing his friend along because Tsubaki hadn't wanted her to be lonely.

To Tsubaki, for worrying her, and thinking that Maka's opinion of her date is worth a damn.

To Benihana, for disrupting their leisurely environment and for having amazing food.

To her mother, who didn't get any cookies for Valentine's Day, and for granting her what little self-restraint she has, because she certainly hadn't gotten any from Papa.

And to Soul Eater Evans, for taking care of an almost complete stranger so his friend can enjoy his date on Valentine's Day, and for discreetly leading her away from Spirit Albarn in the parking lot, even though he thinks she doesn't notice.

It only takes him a few tries before he figures out the finer tunings of her car's picky clutch. She's miffed that he doesn't even bother asking if he can drive, but knows that if she brings it up, he'll just play the 'You Had Booze' card, even though that martini probably had the same amount of alcohol content as a tablespoon of vanilla extract (which she has become familiar with, as of late). She sinks more deeply into the passenger seat instead- one of her dress heels knocking into the forgotten side-mirror on the floorboard.

"This is the right place, right?"

She doesn't know where her mind had been during the drive, but she finds it again, looking up at the lit motel sign, tiredly flashing the weekly amount of her rent payment.

"Where do you park?"

She wonders what he's doing. Wonders why he'd driven to her place, instead of dropping himself off so she could drive home. Her insides suffer from an urgent spasm at the thought of Soul actually being the kind of date that expected sexual mischief on depraving, commercialized holidays. But after she oozes her way out of the passenger door in a combination of embarrassment, guilt, and shame, he only tosses her keys over the roof of her car. She catches them, surprised.


"Well," he says, scratching the back of his head. "Sorry your date didn't turn out that great."

Unable to look at his face while speaking to him, she scoffs at the motel building. "You're not the one who should apologize," she grits out.

"Nah, shit would have gone down if I had found out Medusa was dating anyone related to me. I'm impressed," he smirks. "Anyway, 'night, Cupcake."

Maka watches, floored, as he turns around and walks away, hands deep in the pockets of his slacks. "W-what are you- It's dark out!"

"It's only a few blocks away, I'll be fine," he shoots over his shoulder, never ceasing his pace.

No one is this stubbornly chivalrous! It's practically suicidal!

She cups her hands over her mouth to help her voice carry. "The first time I met you, you were getting mugged!"

Faintly, she hears his annoyed voice. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

"Wait! Soul?" She calls out, in desperation for a reason she does not understand. He stops, pivots around on one foot, and cocks his head to the side, expectantly. "H-how old are you, anyway?"

What kind of stupid question is-

He smiles, slowly walking backwards. "Eighty!" Soul laughs, frozen breath lit brightly by street lights.

She huffs, "No, really!"

"Got a problem?" Maka makes a frustrated whine. Walking a few more steps, chuckling, he gives her an answer. "Come get your oil changed! Your death trap needs it!" And he turns around with a lazy wave, crossing the street to disappear into the night.

Maka stands by her car, the cold winter air numbing her hose-covered legs and worming its way through her sweater. Her heart thumps forcefully.

She knows he knows she's tailing him in her car. It has a squeaky engine belt and can be heard from half a mile away- he's complained about it enough. He doesn't turn around. Soul merely continues to casually stroll to the recently renovated apartment complex that she's been to twice before. She watches him walk up three flights of stairs. Watches the light behind closed vertical blinds turn on. Smiles to herself when, like a silent challenge, the blinds do not part open.

What a dork.

And, instead of going back to her little weekly-rented suite, she goes to the grocery store.

"What's this about?"
"An apology. For running out last night."
"Apology? Maka, you don't have to be sorry for anything- it's completely understandable that you didn't want to be there-"
"Then a belated Valentine's gift."
"Wh.. thank you. But wait, more importantly, are you okay? You didn't call me or anything, so I was worried!"
"Ah I'm fine! Sorry. I forgot to call. Soul took me home."
"Didn't you drive him?"
"Yeah, but- Ack! Hello, Maka Albarn speaking, how can I help you?"
"...These are really good."
"-Can you hold for one second, please? Thank you. Hey, uh... by the way. Black Star's alright."
"Really? You mean it?"
"...Not all guys are jerks. Maybe. My apologies, thank you for holding!"

She's tired- she probably shouldn't have stayed up so late baking cookies- but she feels content with herself, and decides that's okay. The bed squeaks as she flops into it, her toes wiggling until her shoes pop off her heels and fall to the floor.

Her room still smells like chocolate.

"Come get your oil changed!"

She wants to. Never mind that she needs to, for her little Deathtrap's sake, but she wants to see him again. She's unused to this feeling. Tilting her head to the side, she lifts her face off the mattress slightly to see her clock, even though there's a watch on her wrist. By now, the shop is closed, already. She lets her head fall back down, unceremoniously. She doesn't have enough time after work to drive across town before Frank's shop closes, and her next day off isn't until Sunday.

She wonders how he's getting to and fro without a vehicle.

...What if he hasn't gone to work because he doesn't want to bother her with driving him around everywhere? What if, in reality, last night's weirdness had put him off and now he wants nothing to do with her? What if he hadn't looked over his shoulder because he was creeped out while she was stalking him?

Maka groans, horrified, into the bedspread, her feet kicking behind her.

GET A GRIP. You've only known that weirdo for four days!

She jumps to her feet when there's a knock at the door. "Who.. who is it?" She asks, nerves tingling.

"Sid Barett, Maka. Phone's for you."

Her heart sinks. She mentally kicks herself. Then, her heart starts floating again, despite herself. Opens the door, which complains loudly because she's forgotten to take off the chain. Shuts the door, slides chain over, opens door, and takes the stairs two at a time, passing Mr. Barett in the lobby.

"Thanks Mr. Barett, sorry to make you take the stairs so much, hello, Maka speaking!"
"Miss Albarn?"

A woman's voice. Her world trips and crashes to a halt. "Yes? Can I help you?"

"This is detective Nygus, is this a bad time?"

As she's pulling into the police department, she finds him sitting, bored, on a bench outside. She jogs to him across the parking lot.

"What're you doing here?" She puffs, nose and lips already feeling numb from the icy air.

He yawns. He's back in his work uniform, new splotches of dark black having bloomed on his chest since the last time she'd seen him in it. "Same reason you're here, I imagine. Go ahead. I'll wait for ya."

"Uh.. okay." She offers an unsure, half-smile, and walks up the steps to pull open the door by its cold, metal handle.

Through a lot of confusion and introductions, she's in a narrow room with no where to sit while a dark-skinned woman with striking eyes holds a clip board. She stands straight, but not stiffly, and faces a long pane of glass while addressing her.

"Can you describe, to me, what happened on the night of the eleventh?"

"Buhh-" she blurts out, taken aback. "What day was that? Friday? OH. Oh."

So that's what this is about. She hopes those two thugs aren't doing something troublesome like pressing assault charges against her- even though they started it and she happened to crack someone's nose. "Well, I came home from work, and decided to go to the library-"

"Which one?"

"Um, the one on West and Seventh. But I parked at the free lot down the street from there, because I suck at parallel parking. Anyway, uh, these two men were huddled around another guy- one was choking him and the other was kicking-"

Kicking. Her breath catches in her throat. She remembers, suddenly, how Smelly had been shoving his foot into Soul's chest. She remembers Soul's slight cringe and hiss after she had half-heartedly smacked him on the arm at the restaurant last night.

"Miss Albarn?"
"Ah- yes. Sorry."

She explains the rest of the scuffle to the best of her memory, and realizes, finally, that this isn't an interrogation room. A bright light switches on behind the glass, and she squints, shielding her eyes. A line up of questionable individuals are led into the room, to stand on a small platform.

"And can you identify either of the assailants from this group of ...fine gentleman?"

With a degree of satisfaction, she notes that Scraggly is in a leg-brace and Smelly has a bandaged nose.

"So, how'd it go- WOAH. Hey what're you doing?"
"It really is motor oil."
"Well yeah, what else would it be?"
"How badly did they hurt you, the other night?"
"What? I'm fine... We've had this conversation, haven't we? Don't wipe it on your- here. Use my sleeve, birdbrain."
"Then what's this?"
"OW, Jesus! Watch it!"
"You're a liar."
"And you're abusive."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what? That I have a few bruises? Whoopdee-freakin'-do. Hey. Heeey. Come on, we were complete strangers. What difference would it've made? Would you've put a band-aid on it? Kissed and made it better?"
"...I don't kiss old guys."
"I'm not old!"
"Then what's with the hair?"
"I dunno, what's with your chest? OW, OW, ow, ow, ow. Geeeeze!"

"You walked here?"
"Well, yeah. It's not far from the shop."
"How did you get to the shop?"
"Stein's been picking me up. Don't look at me like that- I didn't wanna bug you. I know you have a job, and it's not to be my taxi driver. So lame."
"...What were you planning to do after you were done here?"
"Call Stein again. But I chickened out. I'm not really that suicidal. I was debating on calling Black Star and dealing with his constant mockery, and then you pull up... The end."
"Yeah, weird. I know it's kinda late, but, have you eaten, yet?"
"I... probably shouldn't spend any more money for a while."
"Me neither. I have pizza in the fridge at home, though."

She wakes up on his couch at the numbing hour of three in the morning. She'd passed out, stretched along soft cushions, in front of an aquarium. She remembers having a sleepy conversation with him, accusing him of being demented for keeping pet fish and then eating their cousins raw.

There's a jacket on her. It smells like auto shop and boy deodorant.

Sitting up, the couch upholstery creaking loudly under her hands, she strains for any sounds of Soul Eater Evans. The aquarium pump gurgles happily, accompanied by the hum of its motor. The furnace kicks on.

Maka sneaks around in the dark, trying to remember where she'd put her shoes. Finding them, she decides that putting them on and walking around on the wooden floors would be a bad idea, so she carries them around in one hand until she finds her coat and scarf. The lining against her blouse crackles with static as she slides each arm into a coat sleeve. More fragments of conversation float to the surface of the permeating silence of the apartment.

"So, how do you know Tsuabki?"
"Happened to see Black Star with her at a gas station. It was Friday night, actually. They were headed to dinner or something."
"What? Then.. what were you doing when you got jumped?"
"I.. okay, you can't tell anyone. So not cool- I was returning books to the nerd sanctuary."
"Quit laughing."
"Haven't you ever heard of the internet?"
"I couldn't find what I needed, alright? The library had stuff on modifying Harleys so...shut up, it's- uhg, I knew I shouldn't have told you."

She snorts aloud at the memory. Belatedly slaps a hand over her mouth. Opens the front door. She can't flip the deadbolt behind her- she hopes that the lock in the doorknob will be sufficient for the rest of the night, and that he isn't robbed before he wakes up. She also hopes he doesn't find the tiny 'Thank-You' she's written on the napkin she'd used as a make-shift coaster until much, much later, preferably never; long after time has diluted her bashful embarrassment of falling asleep in his apartment like a helpless puppy into something more mentally manageable.

She slips her shoes on long enough to make it down multiple stairs, and takes them back off once she's in the car. It's a pain to shift gears with heels on.

Mr. Barett is also asleep at his lobby station, she sees, glancing through the glass door once she arrives back home. She softly swipes her card key to get in to the building and sneaks up the stairs, shoes held in her hand once more. She hopes he hadn't been worried about her, as he is wont to do.

She doesn't complain about work keeping her away from the shop, as much as her irritated fingers drum incessantly at her desk every day, every hour, every second until work is over. But she is preoccupied, she admits, when she's home and digging in her fridge on Friday night for some jelly and remembers what's in the brown paper sack on the top shelf.

"OH MY GOD," she exclaims, biting into an old cookie. She may as well have bitten into a concrete wall. But, she finds, as she tests the next cookie in the pile, that the further she digs, the more acceptable they become.

She chants guilty apologies to her mother while she puts her shoes back on, salvaged cookies in hand.

In the lobby, Sid Barett curiously asks,"Where are you off to, now?"

"Gonna go see Mom! I'll be back soon! Oh-" Maka halts suddenly, halfway out the front door of the building. "If..if anyone calls- Ahg, never mind. Bye, Mr. Barett!"

She's not expecting any calls. No one had called for her since the police department had wanted to see her. She doesn't want to admit that it's made her a little depressed.

Shaking her head and trying to force herself to be a bit more cheery, she's determined to not bring any negative feelings when going to visit her mother as she drives to the other side of town. She attempts to keep her mind on things not related to Weird Old Guys. She tries to stay focused, tries not to not notice the lights on in the first garage bay at Stein's Auto Shop, tries to resist pulling into the empty parking lot out of curiosity, and fails everything.

The front door is locked, so she cautiously walks to the end of the garage, pulling her scarf a little tighter to keep her face warm in the chill air. She's too short, she realizes, to look into the windows at the top of the garage door.

Maka asks herself many things, as her hand comes out of her coat pocket. She asks why she's here, why she's bothering, why she hopes that it's him on the other side, why she can't get the smell of his coat out of her head, and why she's so adamant at making sure he's the proof that not all guys are jerks. Her hand, in a loose fist, is poised to gently rap on the massive door when she hears his voice.

"Are you gonna knock, or what?"

She freezes, trying to remember how to breathe. Looking up, mortified, she finds him smirking at her, looking down through one of the windows above. He waggles his fingers at her. Her shoulders slump as she glares at him. He seemingly jumps off whatever he'd been standing on, for his head falls from her line of sight. With a loud snap of a lock and a cacophony of echoing metal, the bay door slowly begins to lift open, revealing dirty shoes, the stained legs of a mechanic's coveralls, and his sideways face- because he's bending over impatiently to look at her underneath the rising door.

"Heard your death trap. How'd you know I'd be here?"
"I- I didn't. I was headed to the cemetery..."

"Cemetery?" He questions, gesturing her inside so he can close the door.

She walks in, taking in the smells. Once her eyes focus in the bright lights, she recognizes the shining form in front of her. It's his bike. Well, most of it. She stares at it, unbelievingly. The last time she had seen it, it had been a statuesque mass of chrome carnage. The garage door grinds shut while she takes in how much work he had put into the motorcycle.

"You did this?" She asks, dumbly.

"Yeah. Insurance paid enough to cover the cost of a newer one, but I have a problem with letting things go, you know? Figured I'd replace what I couldn't fix."

"Okay, I'll admit it," she says, turning to him. "I'm impressed. This is really cool."

And then, curiously, she watches his cheeks faintly become pink. "Y-yeah? Well... I don't know if that's a good thing, coming from a nerd."

"Says the guy who sneaks to the library at night." She snickers at his pathetic attempt at brushing off her compliment.

"Not like those books helped. I hadn't been looking for complete rebuild advice at the time," He pouts, uncomfortable, and rubs his hand on the side of his neck and jaw.

"Stop that-" she laughs, grabbing his forearm. "You're getting gunk all over your face!"

"What- aww. Damn. Well, that's not really new, anyhow." He turns away, walking towards a sink that might have been white, once. She stifles a few giggles, and then notices a cot and a canvas bag with socks being spit from it like a disgusted monster.

"Have you been sleeping here?"

He distractedly looks over his shoulder, evidently washing his hands. "What? Uh.. Maybe? Why?"

"It's cold in here! You could get sick or something," she exclaims, appalled.

Soul gives her a blank look, wiping his neck with a wet paper towel, which only further smears whatever he had plastered on himself. "But I'm not sick. Besides, this is easier. I don't have to ride with Stein, and I can work on her when I'm off the clock."

She realizes her mouth is open, but she has nothing eloquent to say.

"I have a heater, now," he offers, pointing at something that looks like a cannon on a car jack as he walks forward to her. "It's really not that bad. It's not like I can go anywhere without my bike, anyway."

Maka sighs. Takes a deep breath to lecture him. Ends up sighing again. "Where is your mother?" She remarks. He only scoffs, continuing to wipe his neck.

"You want the job? Though you're already Tsubaki's overprotective father."
"Give me that, you're terrible at this."
"Yes, mother~"

She studiously ignores his little smile as she takes the paper towel and cleans the side of his neck that his coveralls expose. She absolutely doesn't acknowledge the way his hands just barely graze the fabric of her coat as she dabs at his jaw.

"So what's this about the cemetery? Should you be going there, you know, at night? Alone?"

Apart from Valentine's day, she hadn't seen him in anything but oil-covered coveralls. Now, seeing him in jeans and a leather jacket, the bag of cookies in his lap, it seems she's fallen into the Twilight Zone- like she hadn't been almost-stalking him, and he hadn't memorized the sound of her car, and that they were just normal people, on a date, going to meet her mother.

"These smell really good."
"Touch them and die. They're for Mom."
"...While I respect that, I'm irked that Stein got a cookie. And your old man's front door."

She laughs. "Is that a request I'm hearing?" Soul remains silent but for a casual sniff and playful huff.

When she parks at the cemetery, he hands her the bag. He gets out of the car, but doesn't follow her. Soul simply leans on the passenger door, respectfully keeping his distance as she walks the path she knows so well. A part of her wants him to come with her, but the other part is grateful.

She makes a little pyramid of cookies at the headstone.

"Hi, mom."
"Sorry these are so late. I've been sidetracked. I hope you'll forgive me."
"I almost have enough saved to start school again! In a few months, I'll be enrolling."
"Frank's been doing good. Still smoking, but he seems happy, I think. I'm worried about how much sugar he eats. Maybe the next time I make cookies, I'll make them with Splenda. I'd hate to be the last straw that broke the diabetic's back."
"I don't know if you can do anything where you are, but if it's at all possible, see if Sid Barett can find a nice woman. Or man, oh my, I didn't even think of that. Well, a nice somebody. He works too much, I think. And I think he'd make a good dad."
"Speaking of dads, Dad's still avoiding me. I know I'm not really helping the situation- it's so hard to not get angry every time I think about him. I kind of had an unsightly moment at Benihana the other night, but I'll try harder."
"I know last time I had mentioned Tsubaki being really depressed about her last break-up, but now she seems to be a lot happier with this new guy, even if it's only been a week. If you, or anyone Else had something to do with that, thank you."
"Also, there's this weird guy... he's by my car right now. He's here because he doesn't want me to be by myself at night. He's kind of a dork, and rude, but he's also really nice sometimes."
"It seems like I keep running into him everywhere, and it's hard to just throw it all to chance, no matter what my common sense is telling me. I.. I'm not sure what to think. Or do."
"His name is Soul. What kind of name is that, right? I accidentally saved him (sort of) when I was on the way to the library, to learn how to... make you..."
"...for Valentine's Day."

Maka thinks whatever fleeting epiphany she had at Kami Albarn's headstone has already left her the moment she stands and turns around to head back to the car, swallowing a lump in her throat that she isn't sure how had come to be.

But when Soul Eater Evans leans on the side of her car in a semblance of laziness and says, "Ready to go, Cupcake?" she finds herself smiling, wiping a stray tear that he doesn't seem too surprised to see.

Her other hand tightly grips the empty paper bag as her blood sings with the repeated weirdness of coincidence. "Mmm. Let's go."

"Hey uh, wait."
"I need you to do me a huge favor, if you can."
"What's this?"
"My apartment key."
"I haven't been there in a while, and, well- ...The fish."

It's not until she puts her coat on to go to work the next morning that she realizes he'd slipped something into her pocket the night before. The familiar feel of scratchy-paper-towel at her fingertips stops her dead in her tracks, her car keys (which are very marginally heavier, and she thinks she's way too aware of this fact) dangling noisily in the air in a frozen hand. Lifts the paper out of her pocket. Nudges her thumb through the fold, opening the crease.

In fuzzy permanent marker that had bled as he had scrawled it:

clusterfuck parking lot

And she's a mess of anxiety and hysteria, the day blurring together in an abstract painting of sweaty palms and self-consciousness, until she can blurt it all out to Tsubaki at lunch.

"He gave you his key?"
"For the fish."

"Riiight." The young woman tilts her head at the evidence in her hand. "Cluster-what?"

"And he wants cookies!"
"Well, you better start baking!"

"What am I gonna wear! Oh my god, I just really said that," she puts a hand to her head, appalled.

Tsubaki grins widely, enjoying herself. She spins re-heated spaghetti on her plastic fork. "Just wear what you wore on Monday."

Maka looks at her with worry. "Is that legal?"

"I really don't think he's dating you for your outfit."

"That's what this is, isn't it?" Tsubaki says, waving the scrap of paper towel around. "And that's why he forked over his apartment key, and that's why you're blushing, and that's why you're worried about what he thinks you'll look like, and that's why I'm coming over tomorrow to do your hair."

Her hands are shaking.

Why am I doing this?

She grips her steering wheel a little tighter, glancing at her reflection in the remaining side mirror of Deathtrap. Her hair is styled and loosely curled, smelling like she'd been dunked in the heavenly, Paul Mitchell fountain of botanical-scented youth.

A dozen of freshly baked cookies sits in the seat next to her, recently iced. They had still been wet when she left for Carson Avenue, so they sit, precariously, on an open paper plate. In effort to not make them fly off the seat, she drives like a terrified grandmother. More than a handful of people have passed her to get around her slow ass.

To save some face, she turns on an unpopulated side road, to avoid pissing off more people in traffic. She keeps having to remember to breathe. Why is she so hyped up over this? She hadn't been this freaked out when she went on that blind date- even after she had arrived and found out it was with him!

Maybe it's because neither of us are attending for the food this time.

It's after this thought when she hears a loud CRACK, and she looses all control of her steering wheel. She hits the brakes, but it's too late- her car already swerving violently to the right and a tire catching in the ditch just outside the shoulder. Somewhere through the haze of panic and confusion, as the whole world swings up and sideways, she imagines a cartoon version of her car tripping over untied shoelaces and cart-wheeling into a hole. She also thinks she should have gotten that oil change- maybe even glued the side mirror back on, somehow, to appease her car and all the ridicule and abuse it had received the past week.

Deathtrap comes to rest with an anticlimactic sigh on its left side, in the ditch.

Maka sits numbly in her seat, her weight resting on her left shoulder and hip, head tilted toward the ground. The car is still running. Her headlights are still on, and they shine into thick brush, which is much easier to see because her windshield had shattered at some point.

This. This is not happening. This did not just happen.

Her airbag hadn't even gone off, for crying out loud!

Body resonating with adrenaline and disbelief, Maka turns off the ignition, undoes her seat belt, and wraps her head around the idea of standing on the driver's side door. She realizes the car smells like gasoline and cookies, and decides that she should probably find her wallet and figure a way out of her car before it lives up to its nickname.

She stuffs her keys into her clutch that contains her meager cash, hotel key card, and driver's license into the belt around the outside of her cookie-splattered sweater, and reaches up to manually roll down the passenger window. It groans, but it still works, and she executes an awkward and ridiculous rock-climbing impersonation by putting her feet on armrest, car seat, and slippery dashboard with high heels on.

Maka slips while halfway out the passenger window, sweating palms squeaking along the door as she kicks her feet around for a better foothold. Irritated and grunting, she toes her shoes off to satisfyingly thunk inside the car, abandoned. Unhindered, she makes it out the window and sits on the door, wondering how to get down. Ungracefully shimmying closer to the engine, she uses an alarmingly crooked tire to step on and hop lightly to the shoulder of the road. Gravel digs into her feet, but she doesn't spend much time thinking about it.

She pats her waist for her wallet. Still there. Off-handedly realizes that she'd left her headlights on. Looks at her surroundings. Traffic in the distance, a few miles away, on the street she had turned off from. Water tower in unkempt field to her left. Car, in ditch, and a brick wall surrounding a residential area to the right. Curious girl, in bedroom window, in the house directly across from her car on the other side of the privacy wall.

She waves at her. Maka waves back. A woman enters the window, peers down, and disappears.

Actually, it's a man. The little girl, presumably his daughter, holds her hand, because it's still shaking. Maka grimly watches a different, shorter, man operate the wrecker that Frank had recommended over the phone, attempting to tow her car out of the ditch.

The Not-Woman, whose hair is a straw blonde that reaches passed his shoulders, quietly stands behind the girl.

"Are you sure you're not hurt," he asks, stoically, his breath seeping out into the cold night.

"Yes, thank you. And thanks again, for letting me use your phone." She squeezes the little girl's hand, which squeezes back reassuringly.

A small audience has gathered, filtered in from the neighborhood. They all look at her curiously- for she's standing in the street with pantyhose, a dusty skirt, and icing-smeared sweater. She doesn't even want to think what her hair looks like. And then she realizes the short man towing her car is Black Star. Opening the cab door of the tow truck, the interior lights reveal his blue mop of hair.

Eventually, Black Star wrestles her car out of the ditch, and chains it securely to the bed of the tow truck. He walks up to her, fishing a card out of his pocket, and looks at her. And then really looks at her.

"Maka. Yes."
"Wow. Small world. How'd you manage to bust a tie-rod?"
"I don't know. I don't even know what a tie-rod is."
"I'm sure Soul would tell you- Oh man, aren't you supposed to be...?"

Maka slams her eyes shut, not wanting to think about how that conversation is going to go, later. "You knew about the date?"

"He's probably having a seizure right now. But yeah, he wouldn't shut up about it, wondering when to ask you and blah blah blah. I'm glad you finally accepted, so I can f-," he starts to swear, but stumbles over it when he sees the small girl standing next to her, "-flaffin' sleep at night."

She doesn't bother correcting him and telling him that Soul has no idea one way or the other if she had accepted his invitation or not. For all she knows, he could be still waiting in a parking lot, somewhere. Or back home, except she still has his apartment key.

God, what if he gets mugged again...

"Mister, why is your hair blue?"
"It's because I'm a superstar. It looks cool, doesn't it?"

The taller man motions for his daughter after she happily nods, so Maka waves goodbye to them both, thanking them again.

"Well-come," the little girl says. "Bye super-star!"

"...Do you need a ride anywhere?" Black Star asks, still waving to his tiny fan. "I can drop you off someplace before I take your car to... where do ya want it, anyway?"

"Stein's Auto Shop," she hears herself say, though she's pretty positive there's not much that can be done with the twisted, awkward-looking thing that used to be her car perched on the back of his wrecker.

"And a ride? Or is someone comin' to get ya?"

Her mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Then, she hears a roaring engine.

"'Bout time," Black Star says, handing her his company card and turning away with a wave. "I don't wanna get in the middle of this mush-fest. Say 'hi' for me."

She doesn't have time to ask what he means. The crowd begins to dwindle, and Maka gapes while a cleaned-up Soul Eater Evans trots over to her from where he's parked his motorcycle, which gleams in the lights given off by multiple bedroom windows.

"You finished it," she breathes. He doesn't seem to share her awe and enthusiasm. His hands hover by her arms, and shoulders, and face.

"Jesus Christ! Are you okay? Why aren't you on an ambulance?"
"What? But I'm fine. What are you doing here? How'd you know I'd be here?"
"You're bleeding! I payphoned the motel, and Sid-somebody said that Stein called and said you'd been wrecked and left a message for me 'cause- You are not fine. How can you be fine?"

She smiles at the thought of Stein doing sneaky, guardian-like things, and knowing his mechanic well enough to figure things out on his own. She silently promises to bake him cookies- maybe even attempt cupcakes again.

Maka focuses on Soul's worried face, which is somewhat comical with his riding goggles haphazardly pushed to his hairline and making tufts of white stick out in random angles. She casually waves to Black Star as he tows Deathtrap away. Soul is completely oblivious to his friend's existence.

"Maka, seriously, we should call an ambulance or something," he grits out, a hand gingerly touching the side of her mouth- which she realizes is cold and wet. Her hand jerks up and feels her face. Looks at her fingers, which come back stained in dark crimson.

She laughs. "It's just icing, Soul."

He looks bewildered when her tongue darts out to taste her finger, and then the corner of her mouth. She elaborates, "You wanted them, so I baked some more. But then the tie-rod? Whatever that is, somehow snapped, and I wrecked, and your cookies went flying... I guess you were right about my car. I have no idea how I'm gonna go to work tomorrow-"

And his mouth is on hers, his lips cold, but then going warm as they mingle and taste.

"I'm twenty-four," he says, a few moments later. "...Is that a problem, for you?"

"I don't kiss old guys," she mumbles, and stands on her toes- which complain from the rough gravel through her panty hose, but she gives exactly zero amounts of crap as he bends a little to meet her halfway.


On Easter Sunday, she takes the chocolate cupcakes out of the side compartment of his motorcycle. However, as she and Soul walk across the small lot, she finds that Spirit Albarn has already beat her to the headstone- presently laying a bundle of pastel-colored daisies at the foot of it.

They walk past Medusa Gorgon, who happens to be sitting nonchalantly on the front bumper of Spirit's car, at a respectful distance. She catches Maka openly gawking at her. The woman's eyes narrow, and one leg crosses over the other, defensively.

"Got a problem?"