Round 2! Slightly AU, but don't hate me for it. Had this idea floating around for god knows how long. Probably wouldn't happen but heck, that's why they call it fanfiction, people. Apologies for change in writing tense since first chapter. I go with the flow.
Love it, hate it, review it. Thankies!
It all happened so quickly.
One minute Maka is alone in the apartment, stirring a pan of spaghetti on the stove with a wooden spoon and humming distractedly to herself while crunching numbers for an upcoming exam, and the next minute there's a knock at the door and a tall, strikingly handsome, older version of Soul is standing in the living room flashing her a subtly dazzling smile and wearing what looks like could be a three thousand dollar suit. Before she even knows what to think the door bursts open and Soul rages in, sweating and panting. He glances at his older clone before fixing Maka – what did I do? – with a ferocious glare before storming out the way he came, except he's so angry that his arm flashes into a blade and cuts the damn door handle off, and by then the stranger has spotted the half-naked woman in Soul's room – thank you, Blair – and the spaghetti is bubbling over the pan and onto the stove and steam is whirling across the kitchen, threatening to set off the fire alarm.
Maka feels like she's been turned upside down and shaken, so when the apartment falls into a totally bizarre silence and the pasta has been taken off the heat, she feels a little out of breath and flustered, though not two minutes has passed since the stranger knocked on the door.
Eventually, she tears her eyes from what remains of the door handle swinging from a single screw and stares open mouthed at older-Soul, who eyes her curiously in return. He's unflustered; his hands in his pockets, one eyebrow slightly raised, and he's devilishly handsome. His albino hair has been tamed into a slick style and his crimson eyes are slender and expressive. He holds himself with practised ease and his features are softer and sterner than his younger counterpart. She feels her cheeks pink just a little bit. How strange.
"Uh –" she starts, but he gets there first.
"So you're Soul's partner, huh?"
Voice as smooth and mellow as a bass guitar. Maka just swallows and gawps, then attempts to muster some kind of emotion. "Yes, I am. Who are you?"
Something flashes behind his eyes – condescension? "Can't you guess?"
Yes, she can, even though Soul has never, ever spoken about his family. "Soul's… brother?"
He holds out an elegant hand. "Wez."
Maka shakes it uncertainly. "M-maka. Nice to… meet you." I think. Her gaze roams to the broken door handle. "Is he… Why did he…?"
Wez shrugs it off, a casual gesture, but it isn't indifferent. "He's fine. He'll come back."
"I know," she tells him without thinking, then wonders why she's so surprised by Soul's reaction in the first place. A feeling of sickly betrayal clogs her throat, but she pushes it down with a chunk of curiosity. "Do you want to stay for dinner?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Why the animosity? Aren't I allowed to visit my little brother?"
"I was playing in San Francisco. Thought I'd drop by to see how you were getting on, but it's so difficult to tell, considering your mood."
"M'not in a mood…"
Pause. "Fine." Another pause. "Maka seems nice."
"Why did you have to come here? You'll ruin everything!"
"You're being ridiculous."
"What did you say to her?"
"Nothing of interest. I told her I was a musician. She talked about you mainly. She said you're doing well. I'm proud of you." Pause. "She likes you a lot, you know."
"Did you play for her?"
"The piano. Did you play it?"
"No, of course not. Why would I? That's your instrument, Soul."
Maka excuses herself from the apartment after Soul returns to confront his brother. Now she returns with a bag full of groceries they don't really need and all but tiptoes to the kitchen to put them away. Wez is gone and Soul is shut in his room, music playing rebelliously loud through the cracks of his door. The leftover pasta is untouched on the stove. Hers and Wez's plates sit unwashed in the sink. Maka's conscious is all over the place, dancing from curiosity, to anger to guilt. She's not sure what she should be feeling guilty about, but a part of her feels she should have known better anyway.
Judging by Soul's less than subtle reaction, he hadn't wanted Maka to interact with his brother, though the reason for this eludes her. Wez seemed harmless enough, charming and polite, easy-going and intelligent – a little snobby, sure – but overall he seemed to genuinely care about his brother. But how much does she really know about their relationship, when Soul is so tight lipped about his life before Shibusen?
Maka decides to use their partnership as an excuse to confront him. Tension can cause interference during resonance, and that wouldn't do. Best to clear the air before someone gets hurt.
She tentatively knocks on the door. No answer. Hardly surprising; the music is so loud. She bangs this time and there's a pause before she hears him subtly turn up the volume, then her temper gets the better of her.
She kicks the door open and stands like a vengeful goddess in his doorway, hands on hips and fuming.
"Don't ignore me!"
Soul has his back to her, hunched ludicrously low over his desk, a pen cocked in his hand. He says something but she can't hear him.
"Turn it down!" she bellows over the furious mish-mash of jazz notes that explode in her ear like tiny bombs. The scatty sound only fans the flames of her irritation.
He swats the needle off the record player so hard it nearly breaks and drones, "Whhaaaat?"
What, indeed. Maka hesitates as her sensitive side calls for attention. 'You've got a lot of explaining to do' just wouldn't cut it, so she swallows down her temperamental impulses. "Ah… Do you… wanna talk about it?"
She feels his irritation lancing across the space between them. "No -"
"No." She says it simultaneously with him; she's already predicted his answer.
He throws her an annoyed look over his shoulder, crimson eyes flashing beneath a bleached mane. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Stubborn. "Only if you do."
He sighs crossly and goes back to whatever he's doing. "He's my brother, alright? That's it."
Carefully, "He's a musician too, right?"
"Don't word it like that. I'm not a musician, not any…" He pauses. "I never was."
Maka's distraught by his self-doubt. This isn't the Soul she knows! "You're wrong! You're a great musician – the best I've ever heard!"
He slams the pen on the desk and snaps, "That's just it, Maka! God, you just don't get it. You don't get music, so you don't get me, okay? Just stop."
Maka attempts to solve the jigsaw puzzle that is her partner, but there's too many pieces missing and she feels oddly defeated. "Soul…"
He flinches at her tone. "Just go away, Maka."
"You can always talk to me, you know?"
"You wouldn't understand. We're too different."
The words sting her unexpectedly. Sharp and hurtful. Too different. Wouldn't understand. A sudden flash of an alien emotion alongside an unexpected thought: would Liz understand him better?
No! Soul is her partner; it's her job to understand. She'll do this. She'll help him. Even if it kills her.
And it probably will. What does any of this even mean? Books explain the theory fine but the practical side is so damn frustrating. Why don't they just write it out in normal plain old-fashioned words, for Shinigami's sake? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her temper bubbles like soup in a pot and she clutches the pen so hard her knuckles turn white. She's got one hand resting on her forehead, hunched over the desk much like Soul. A single lamp illuminates the otherwise dark room and the moon grins at her from behind the curtains. Blair watches silently, mildly amused but mostly baffled, as Maka strives on through the night, struggling to understand her partner.
It takes three days. It becomes her perverse secret. It doesn't need to be one, really, but Maka is a perfectionist so it just wouldn't do to reveal it prematurely. There's little time and space to work with, but she manages, and Soul doesn't question her random disappearances because he's too busy brooding over the damage Wez's visit has done to his psyche, whatever that damage may be.
But tonight is the night. Eight pm. Maka grins. Kid would appreciate it.
He doesn't hear at first. Ironically, he's lost himself in music over the last few days, as if all the sound might drown out his thoughts or at least distract him from them, so his record player is turned right up. It takes about five minutes before she hears him turn it down, then switch it off completely, undoubtedly startled.
His door is thrown aside and he stares at the scene before him.
All the lights are off bar one, a single lamp she saves for studying, angled over her face so she's lit from above by a soft, amber glow. Everything else is dipped in shadow aside from three squares of moonlight that slant through the closed windows and puddle on the carpet, cold and unfriendly, in stark contrast to the warmth she radiates.
Soul does a double take at Maka then pads across the room because he has to see this for himself, just to make sure.
Maka sits at the piano, perched awkwardly on the stool with her legs pressed tightly together. She squints at the music sheet in front of her, eyes furrowed in concentration and her lips a thin line. Her blonde hair falls loose around her shoulders and the shirt she wears is too big, slipping off a dainty shoulder and hindering the movement of her arm.
Yet she doesn't notice. She's too busy playing the piano.
Her fingers haltingly pick at the chords of the song – something painfully simple from the 'Easy Music for Piano Beginners' book, borrowed from the library. There is no flow to her playing, no form or technique, the tempo is terrible; her fingers stumble over the keys like a drunk man down a street. But it is the look of concentration on her face that snares him. So aggravated and compelling that it draws from him a wide grin. She wills herself to play – forces it out of every pore – just to understand him.
He stands over her and listens to her terrible playing, watching her every movement, listening to every chord, and every time she hits a note a little weight is lifted from his soul, like a bird being set free from a cage.
She finishes abruptly, not even drawing out the chord, and when she looks up at him her face is beat red and her eyes are furious, saying, see what you've done to me? She clasps her hands tightly in her lap and grits out, "Now will you talk?"
He smiles at her, and talks.