It's 11:00am and the last thing that Blair's expecting as she sits in her office, staring angrily at the payroll software on her laptop screen, is for her phone to ring. She visibly startles and stares at the phone for a second before scrambling to pick it up.
"Chupa Cabra's - we make your dreams come true."
"This is Blair, is it not."
It's a statement not a question, and Blair straightens in her chair. "That's correct."
"Excellent. You will be doing me a little favor while your boss is away." The voice is feminine, cultured and sharp in a way that reminds Blair of said boss. There's even the faint familiar sneer in it that screams "upper class." Blair is not a fan.
"You will," and Blair isn't imagining the amusement curling through the woman's voice, like a cat playing with her prey. "If you want to have a club for your boss to come back to."
Blair feels her throat go tight because there's only one person she can think of who would dare to make that kind of threat to a place under Medusa's protection. She swallows. "What can I do for you, Ms. Arachne?"
When she finally hangs up the phone, Blair just sits for a moment, payroll a distant memory. Chupa Cabra's was supposed to have been her path to freedom, not another in a long line of prisons. She can't blame herself for not knowing what she was getting into when Medusa had initially approached her as an investor. Her first year of business hadn't been sustainable - she needed the help, needed the cash that Medusa and (she knows now) Arachnophobia could provide, and Blair had taken it without a second thought, convinced she could stay out of anything shady.
It was easy to ignore her influence at first - Medusa didn't seem to care much at all about the day-to-day of the club, just that it stayed open and provided a base of operations for Arachnophobia's business in Death City. But then Giriko had come in and tensions had risen, and Blair hadn't wanted to know, but it was hard not to notice the influx of new gang members, the increased violence - Cherry - and there was only so much she could continue to deceive herself about.
Her brain flashes for a moment to Black*Star, loud, brash, mouthy, and constantly in everyone's business. There's been a lot of talk around the club in the past week about the possibility of Black*Star going rogue and turning Arachnophobia members over to the cops, that there was effectively a hit on him, courtesy of Giriko.
She hadn't taken much stock in it at the time, but everyone knew there had been some kind of fallout between Black*Star and Giriko, and then DCPD had come and arrested Giriko on the premises, which took a fair amount of guts, and Blair wonders if maybe there wasn't just a little bit of truth to it all. No one seems to care much that Giriko's out of the picture, least of all Medusa, who Blair assumed would have made a move to get him out of jail by now. Except she hadn't - she'd just gone on another one of her business trips and now Blair's getting phone calls from Arachne herself demanding that she go down in person and pay Giriko's bail.
She's got the beginning of a plan forming in her head. Something's rotten in the ranks of Arachnophobia, and Blair's never been above a little manipulation if it means she gets her freedom back.
Maka's stretched out the futon and taking half a cat nap when there's a loud knock on the door. She can hear the shower still going in the bathroom, and Soul's faint off-key humming. For a second, she thinks that maybe she imagined it, sleep-warm in the afternoon sun and still drowsy, but then it comes again.
She stands and snags Soul's side arm hanging just behind the front door. Of all the different scenarios that rushed through her head, none involved Black*Star shifting from foot to foot on the other side of Soul's apartment door, oozing anxious energy. It's just weird enough that she almost doesn't let him in - brain conjuring up all kind of scenarios where he betrays them. But she's got a gun and the advantage of surprise, and she pushes back the vaguely uneasy feeling in her gut, unhooks the chain, and unlocks the deadbolt.
Black*Star doesn't waste time once he's inside, just glances around and asks, "Where's Soul?" Maka frowns and tightens her grip.
"He's in the bathroom," she says. Black*Star exhales noisily and then finally seems to realize that she's got a gun, even if it's not trained on him.
"Good, you're armed. I thought that you might get too relaxed, drop your guard - "
And that's about all that Maka can handle before snapping. "Black*Star, what the fuck is going on?" Distantly, she hears the shower cut off. "Why are you here?"
He grins, still a little distracted, eyes darting around the apartment, "What, was I interrupting a little some'n-some'n? Maybe a hot bacon sandwich?"
"I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear that," she hisses. "Does it look like you're interrupting something?" She gestures down at her fully-clothed body.
"Hey man, different strokes, different folks; I'm not one to judge."
It's evasive, and so unlike Black*Star that Maka is about to press the issue when the bathroom door opens and Soul comes scuttling out in a cloud of steam, clutching a towel around his waist and trying to make a beeline for his bedroom door.
"Uh," he manages, frozen between doors. He looks between the two - at his gun gripped in Maka's hand and the strangely frantic look around Black*Star's eyes and says, "I don't know what's going on, but can it wait until I have pants on?"
When he comes back out of his room, Maka's put the gun away, sitting on the futon, arms crossed and scowling, while Black*Star perches on the coffee table. The tension is palpable, and he has to resist the urge to stand there and put his hands on his hips like...like his mother - he sits next to Maka and tries instead to look relaxed.
Black*Star doesn't wait for him to get settled before announcing, "They're bailing out Giriko."
Soul feels Maka go completely still; softly, the disbelief clear in her voice, she asks, "What?"
"Bail's being posted, probably as we speak."
"That can't - he assaulted someone. We have video proof." Soul lays his hand on Maka's leg as her voice rises steadily in pitch. "They can't just let him go."
Black*Star shrugs. "They can if someone's willing to pay enough. You're the cop here, you ought to be familiar." It's unexpectedly harsh, and Maka draws back. Black*Star runs a hand through his hair. "Sorry. I just know what I was told."
"And who told you?" Soul asks.
"You'll never guess." Black*Star actually smiles, looking pleased with himself.
Soul leans forward, elbows digging into his thighs, "We don't want to guess, Black*Star; what the hell is going on? You're freaking us out, dude."
"Man just ruin what little enjoyment I was going to get out of this, why don't you? Blair called me like, an hour ago, and told me," Black*Star huffs.
Maka narrows her eyes. "Why would she call you of all people?"
"She didn't actually like, announce who she was, but I'm not stupid. Given that she was calling to, quote, warn me of the danger to my life, end quote, I'm going to assume she's trying to manipulate me into removing Sleezy von DoucheCanoe from the picture, permanently."
There's a long moment of silence before Soul sighs. "It - it makes sense. She'd have to be blind not to notice the uh...friction between Black*Star and Giriko and try to use it to her advantage."
Black*Star snorts. "Friction like attempted murder. I don't care what she wants - that fucker's got it out the both of us, Soul, and I don't want to spend the next five-ever looking over my shoulder waiting for that shithead to make a move on me. Or Tsubaki. Or your girl there." He rests his elbows on his knees and looks at them both seriously, waiting.
Maka glances over at Soul, who rubs his chest absently. "I'm not going to ask," he says after a minute. "This conversation never happened. I'm cleared for light duty, but I'm still not 100% and Maka's gotta work tonight. If she doesn't show up, I think there are going to be questions that we don't want asked."
"Yeah, alright," Black*Star says, sitting up. "Don't worry, I can still play bodyguard a little while longer." He pauses. "You think you guys are close?"
Soul glances over a Maka, who's been uncharacteristically quiet. He'd at least expected her to protest still needing Black*Star to watch her. Instead, she's got her lip firmly between her teeth.
"I need to call Kid," she says after a moment. "I can't...Black*Star - "
"Yeah, I get it." He grins, a little crooked, and if she didn't know better, she'd think he looked almost hurt. "I've got your back, though. This shit needs to stop."
"It will. Thanks for understanding."
"Eh, whatever. It's not like I'm doing this for funsies. I've got a stake in this too, like, you know. Not being ax-murdered by a coked out mobster who thinks I'm the narc."
Black*Star stands and rolls his eyes. "Alright, this is all too sincere for a god," he blusters. "I'll see you lovebirds tonight."
And with that, he hurricanes out the same way he entered, and Soul and Maka are left staring at the door. Soul exhales deeply, cutting his eyes over to his partner. There's a lot that he wants to say, but most of it revolves around how he 1000% doesn't want Maka to go into Chupa Cabra's tonight, even as he knows it's necessary, even with Black*Star as backup.
"I need to call Kid," she says, eyes still pinned on the door and deliberately not looking at him. "If it's true and that scum is loose, he could go after Cherry. He could - what if he knows about Chrona? And he's released right after Medusa's left? This can't be a coincidence."
"There's no way he knows Chrona's still alive. If he did, he would have made a move to finish them off before DCPD managed to get that warrant on him. Besides, I'm more worried about him coming after you first. You were there when he was arrested - what if he made you?"
"I...I don't know. He might have, but that's why you asked Black*Star to come tonight, right?" She finally meets his gaze. "I can take care of myself, especially with you guys watching my back. I can't take that chance for Chrona, not when they're still so fragile." She licks her lips, and he doesn't miss the way her face scrunches up, as if in pain. "We can't lose Chrona, not when we're getting so close."
He reaches out before he can stop himself, hand cupping her elbow gently. "Hey. We won't lose Chrona. We'll get Giriko and then we'll get her." He doesn't think he imagines the way Maka leans into his grip just a little.
"Yeah. Alright," she says, like she believes his conviction, like saying it will make it so. "I'm going to call Kid. Can you put something together for food?" Soul nods, relinquishing his hold as she grabs her phone with white-knuckled hands and speed dials her boss, already moving towards Soul's bedroom.
His apartment provides absolutely no privacy or isolation already, and he doesn't begrudge Maka avoiding the clanking around he'll be doing in the kitchenette. He trusts her to relay the pertinent parts of her call.
Soul opens the fridge and stares at it for a moment. Closes it, opens the cabinet that sort of serves as a pantry; he closes that, too. Soul scowls at the meager offerings and wonders how they'd managed to get through all that food that Maka bought already, conveniently forgetting that that was like a week ago. He eventually throws a pan on the hot plate, opening the fridge again and pulling out a depleted loaf of bread, a stack of generic American cheese slices, and what's left of a tub of margarine that Soul doesn't remember either of them purchasing.
Soul plops the first sandwich onto the hot pan. Through the bedroom door, he can just make out the rise and fall of Maka's voice, and it's easy to get lost in the cadence. He shifts his gaze back to the pan, then curses softly and turns the heat down; he flips the grilled cheese, bread nearly blackened and the cheese still not fully melted.
Maka slinks out of his room just as he's sliding the other grilled cheese onto a plate - this one significantly less burned. Her phone is nowhere to be found and she looks weirdly resigned.
"Food's up," he says unnecessarily. Before he can hand her the good grilled cheese, she smiles and grabs the one that's a half step above being a cheesy charcoal brick. "Um," he tries, but she's already biting into it as she sits.
"Thanks, it's great," she says between bites. Soul takes his own plate and sits next to her, but he can't detect any sort of sarcasm in her voice.
"So what did Kid say?"
Maka busies herself with eating, and even Soul recognizes it as the stalling tactic that it is. But there's only so much time a grilled cheese can buy, and soon she's left with a question and a plate empty of everything but some crumbs. Maka contemplates how long she can draw out eating those before it becomes just ridiculous. But Soul's eyes are trained on her and he's only halfway through his sandwich and she huffs out a breath.
"Not much I liked," she admits. "Basically, Kid doesn't know how the fuck Giriko got bailed out, other than it was Blair who did it. The thing is that they set bail so high - there's no way she should have been able to spring him on her own. Not unless she like, liquidated some assets that we don't know about."
"You think Medusa funded it?"
"I mean, that's the obvious choice, but neither of us could pinpoint any benefit for her to wait this long to spring him, or to do it while she's out of pocket. Kid thinks there might be someone else pulling Blair's strings, and none of the options for who that would be are good."
"They went ahead and moved Cherry - Kim - to a safe house. But he's refusing to move Chrona. He doesn't want to risk their health or someone finding out they're still alive. With the care Chrona needs, it's more secure just to keep them there with a round-the-clock watch."
Soul gently knocks his elbow against her arm. Even that light, comforting touch makes him warm, and he pushes it down, down, down. "Hey, Kid knows what he's doing, yeah?"
"He'd better," she mutters darkly. She clears her throat. "What if - "
"What," Soul asks flatly. "I don't like that look."
"Now's our chance to find out what she's got hidden back there."
"Back whe - Maka, no."
"I've been thinking about it since Kid mentioned she's gone - I'm sure no one's found the marker I put back there. If they had, we'd know about it," she says with the kind of conviction that doesn't make Soul feel any better. "You already said you'd be at the club tonight, and Black*Star agreed to watch out - we're not going to get a more perfect chance."
She's right, that doesn't make him feel better at all.
"Besides," she continues. "My dancing will be the perfect distraction, and there's no one else I trust to go into that room."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," he tries. The smile she gives him is the brightest he's seen in days.
It's early when Soul pulls around the side of the building on his reacquired bike, but even still, Chupa Cabra's seems quieter than normal. For the life of her, Maka can't remember if it's always like this, or if she's projecting her nerves - jumping at shadows that aren't there.
Soul doesn't turn off the bike, idling as Maka slowly releases her grip on his waist and slides off. "I'll text you an all clear as soon as I know, ok?" she says.
"I'll come in as soon as I can once the main doors open," he agrees. His chest is a little sore from her death grip, but it could be worse, he's pleased to note. "I've got your back."
"Without arousing suspicion."
"When have I ever been suspicious," he asks, like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. She lightly smacks the back of his head, but her hand lingers a little too long for it to be a genuine reprimand.
He looks at her curiously because he really doesn't think loitering in the street counts as subtle. "I've got yours, too, you know," she says, just loud enough that he can hear her over the engine. His throat feels tight as he nods, reaching up to grasp her hand for a moment.
He waits long enough to watch her open the club's back door before driving off.
For once, Maka doesn't run into Free as she comes in for her shift. Everything seems abnormally dim, colors muted in the back hallway, and by the time she gets to the dressing room, she's even more unsettled, and she doesn't think it's just paranoia. Ginger's the only other person in the dressing room when she gets there, and Liz and Pattie are nowhere to be found. Maka sets down her bag and tries not let the feeling of wrong get to her.
Ginger pauses before she applies one fake eyelash and gives her a nod. "You're doing good out there, you know," she says without preamble.
Maka blinks, a little lost before she realizes what just Ginger's talking about. She feels her face warm and wants to demure, but that's not what Kitten the Exotic Dancer would do, so she forces herself to say, "Thanks." And then, because that feels flat, she adds, "Still feel like I'm working out some kinks, though."
Ginger laughs. "Pretty sure most of the clientele would offer to help you out with any of those 'kinks' if you asked." She waggles both eyebrows before slapping the other eyelash on. "But then again, I don't think you're interested." She gives Maka some serious side-eye while blinking rapidly.
Maka clears her throat. "I mean...I'm taken."
"So it's pretty serious, huh? I figured you sealed the deal, but…"
"Yeah, well. We have a lot more in common than I expected," she says, fighting down the urge to laugh a little hysterically.
Ginger does laugh. "I really hope that means we get to see him up on stage dancing one of these days." She finishes applying her makeup and straightens. "I'm going to go finish set up before Blair starts in on her yowling. She's been in a fine fucking mood today." She's out the door before Maka can even begin to formulate a response.
By the time she changes into clothes that are starting to feel like a second uniform, Liz finally makes her entrance and Maka feels a little of the tension she's been carrying around ease - right up until she catches the look on Liz's face.
"Did Kid call you?" Liz asks, voice low. She's got her locker open, but it's more to use the door as a buffer between them and the rest of the room. Maka can practically see her jaw clenching.
"Yeah, I got the scoop. You're sure she's gone and not coming back tonight?"
Liz shakes her head. "It's unlikely, or Blair probably wouldn't have done the thing."
Maka nods. "And the money? We know it wasn't Blair doing the fronting - any ideas?"
"It definitely wasn't Medusa. If she wanted that fucker out of jail, she would have gotten him out before she left, even if she did want him to stew for a bit." Liz shifts a little. "I'm not sure."
"Someone else in Arachnophobia," Maka guesses remembering Kid's tip from the FBI. Liz's wince says it all. Maka sucks in a breath, dreading the leap of logic she's about the take, "And there's only one person in Arachnophobia who'd go over Medusa's head."
Maka exhales heavily. "Okay."
"Okay?" Liz looks incredulous. "That's it?"
"Yeah. We can work with that. It's not...good. But it's a direction we didn't have before." She works to keep her voice steady because her heart feels like it's going to jackrabbit out of her chest. This is so much bigger than they had thought.
"It's fucking awful, is what it is. We have enough trouble with Medusa, much less with her bigger, more fuck-awful sister butting her face directly into Death City. On top of that monster being loose and fancy free."
"I know," Maka says. "I've got the cavalry coming tonight. Kind of."
"Well, that's something at least." She eyes Maka speculatively. "I'm telling the others about Giriko. They need to know, especially after what happened to Cherry. We'll be discreet," she adds, and Maka can't tell if she's reading the bitter snap in Liz's tone correctly or just imagining it..
"Thanks," she says, because she wants them to know, too, cover be damned. There's a knock on the dressing room door, and Free's voice floats through a moment later with, announcing 10 minutes until doors. Maka stares at her phone for a moment, then texts Soul, Free and clear for tonite. She doesn't wait for a response, just tucks her phone away because if she's going to be on the stage again tonight, the last thing she needs is her cell phone tumbling out of her bra when she's on the pole.
It's a full hour after they open before she spots Soul sitting alone in one of the dimly lit corner booths that are emphatically not meant to hold just one person. It's a bold statement, considering the clientele and the fact that he's been missing for more than a week. It doesn't look like he's been served yet, and she catches Pattie's eye. The younger woman gives her an over the top salacious wink and a go ahead wave; it draws attention to Maka, but the eyes she feels on her seem to universally slide over her once they realize she's arrowing in on a specific table.
"What can I get you, handsome?" she asks Soul, bending over and resting her elbows on the table top. It feels a little sticky and she makes a face that only Soul can see. His lips twitch into a genuine smile that slides into a smirk almost immediately.
"Can I order off-menu?" he asks, voice low and rough, and to her horror she can feel her face begin to heat up, which is just - ridiculous.
"Maybe," she forces herself to say. Soul nods briefly.
"The usual, then," he says, eyes following someone - Candy, she thinks - as she walks past to another table. "She's really gone, huh?"
Maka nods. "Yup."
Soul continues to watch the room behind her. "And we don't know when she'll be back?"
"No clue. It's been a few days, but according to previous habits, not tonight." Maka shifts slightly and feels her skirt riding up with the movement. She resists the impulse to tug it back down. "We may not get another chance this good if we don't go tonight," she murmurs, trying to keep her voice down. "I'd go, but I've got to be on stage and they'll notice if I'm gone for too long."
"Maka, the whole reason I'm here is to make sure Giriko doesn't show up. And to be your backup if he does."
"Black*Star will be here, too. Nothing's going to happen - Soul, this is our chance. This could be it." Her eyes gleam in the dim light, and Soul's just. Lost.
Soul breathes a quiet, "Fuck. I'm doing this, aren't I?"
"You can go once I start. Everyone will be distracted - it's perfect."
The problem is that it really is perfect. "If Black*Star isn't here on time, I'm not going," he counters. "I'm not leaving you alone." He reaches across the table, skimming his hand along her skin, elbow to wrist. It's as much to soothe him as it is to put on a show - and he hopes it looks appropriately possessive to anyone looking their way.
"It'll be fine. He'll be here," she says with a confidence that she doesn't fully feel. "This will work great, I promise." She turns her palm up and squeezes his hand once, briefly, before straightening upright.
Soul huffs. "Don't say shit like that, you're gonna jinx it," he mutters, and Maka laughs, quiet and genuine.
"Nerd. Still want that drink, then?"
She turns to go put his order in, but not before she says, "Thank you for trusting me."
He gets through about half his Tom Collins before Black*Star shows up, sliding into the booth with shocking stealth, and Soul fills him in on what he's starting to think of as The Plan. It's good timing, and Soul's going to consider it a good sign. Maka shows up a few minutes later with Black*Star's Singapore Sling, and a wicked grin.
"You ready?" she asks Soul, and he nods.
"Meet you in a few." They both watch her walk off, and they're not the only ones. Soul gives her a ten count before he slips out of the booth. "You got this?"
Black*Star salutes him with his glass. "We Gucci. If you're not back by the time she's done with her set, I'll start some shit and give you guys time."
Soul nods, and slouches his way over to the doorway that leads to the private rooms and backstage. He's intercepted right before he hits the darkened hallway by Ginger, who gives him a serious up-down.
"Going somewhere, Eater?" she asks. He swallows, and it's weird because it wasn't that long ago when he had met her back here to gather information and keep his cover. It feels like so much longer.
"Just wanted to give my girl a little luck before she goes on," he says, eyes partially lidded and voice low.
"Lucky girl," she says, tossing her hair back - for a moment, he thinks she's going to give him a hard time or call security, but instead she slips past him. "Try not to give her too much of your...luck. She's gotta be on soon."
Soul's not sure what it means that the entire clubs seems to have bought their fake relationship, not only without question, but with a surprising level of investment - but he can't be too upset if it results in making their investigation easier. Maka's waiting for him where the hall splits, practically vibrating.
"You remember where it is?"
He remembers a lot of things from being in this hallway, none of which are even vaguely appropriate right now. "Pretty sure I can manage," he replies, crowding up against her. She goes easily in unspoken agreement, back thumping against the wall. It feels good, feels right in a way that Soul can't think about. He absolutely doesn't sniff her neck because that would definitely be pushing the line. "I'm supposed to be wishing you luck," he says instead, lips just missing her skin.
"I feel like that ought to be my line," Maka whispers into his clavicle. He doesn't miss the way that she holds herself back just a little, the way her hand skirts so lightly against his pec, down his torso - like she's afraid to hurt him, a parody of how she's touched him before. He sucks in a breath.
"I'll be fine; you just make sure you keep an eye out."
He can't see her roll her eyes, but he feels it. "I will. Even if Giriko does show, he won't try anything while I'm on centerstage. And if he does, Black*Star will be waiting." She tightens her grip on his hips and it feels like a brand. "Besides, you'll be done before I even finish my routine."
"I go on in ten. You'll have about a half hour, max." She can feel Soul exhale along her neck, and she represses a shiver.
"I can work with that." It won't be easy, but he's been in tighter situations timewise. He can make it happen. "You've got to be careful, Maka."
She doesn't need the reminder and she tamps down on her gut desire to protest. He's her partner, whatever else they might be, and his concern is genuine. She lets her hands drift until they're snug against Soul's lower back in an almost-hug. "I'll try to stay in the dressing room between sets. No unnecessary chances, I promise."
"No chances," he agrees, even though they both know she can't guarantee it. He pulls back enough to look Maka in the eyes. "You ready?" She nods. For a heartbeat, they're stuck looking at each other.
Maka wants nothing more than to lean up and kiss him. She could say it was because she thought she heard someone coming. But that wouldn't be fair to Soul and so she refrains, which makes the small, warm kiss he presses to her forehead all the more startling. "Break a leg," he says gently, and then he's moving away and down the empty hallway.
Maka watches him go, watches to make sure no one comes into the hallway to follow him, and then prepares to get on stage, steadfastly ignoring the lingering warmth on her forehead. She briskly wipes damp palms on the fabric of her ridiculous micro skirt and goes to prepare for her first rotation of the night.
With a double set, she makes sure her first song is a little slower, a little more sensuous and heavy. She doesn't strip so much as she straight up dances during it. She struts across the stage, forces their eyes to the slow slide of her hips, the flexible bend of her spine - it's a persona, but one she finds easier and easier to slip on. She lets herself get lost in the music as she dances, and though she'd love to let the audience fade away, she can't let go completely.
She bends from the waist, ends of her pigtails brushing the stage, twisting her hands around to skim her ankles, calves - the beat drops suddenly as the DJ cross-fades seamlessly into her second track, and Maka pops up and moves into the more playful music with a grin and an ass smack.
Even though he very clearly remembers where Maka put the pin, it still takes him a minute to find where it's just barely sticking out of the wall. He carefully runs his fingers along the surface until he finds a faint depression on the molding that marks the latch. For a moment, he worries that he's not going to be able to open the door - that it will be locked, or Medusa will have put some kind of alarm on it, but a second later he hears a click and it swings open.
He's not expecting the exceedingly normal looking office - nothing locked in cages, no animal experiments or body parts, no giant pile of cocaine on the desk - which is a shame. The desk itself is relatively neat, which makes looking through the papers stacked there easy - they're ridiculously innocuous, up to and including a dry cleaning receipt and an accounting notebook. There's nothing obviously amiss in it that he can see, but there's no way to check and see if it's been coded. He rests it on top for later.
File folders in her desk yield nothing useful, not even employment records on anyone. He resists the urge to slam the drawer shut, and instead moves on to the walls - the Rembrandt knock off is a dead end, as is the Dogs Playing Poker print, which in any other situation would have made him at least laugh. Instead, he's starting to feel the pressure as he starts checking the seams in the walls for another hidden door as quickly as he can. He's peripherally aware of his time slowly ticking down, and tries not to get flustered. Panic isn't going to help, and might cause him to miss something crucial.
He exhales and lets his gaze drift around the office, scanning for anything that might register in his brain as unusual. His eyes land on the hideous side table Medusa has jammed between the wall and a lavish looking loveseat. It's almost completely out of tune with the rest of the decor - just a little more modern, a little too conspicuous, a little too jumped-up IKEA to really fit in.
"You're shitting me," he mumbles under his breath. Soul kneels and starts examining it. It's large enough that it could contain a drawer, but there's no visible pulls or handles on the front. Out of curiosity, he wobbles it a little back and forth - it's heavy. It could be made out of solid wood, but somehow Soul doesn't think that's the case here. He inches careful fingers along the back corner of the piece and, much like the hidden mechanism to get into Medusa's office in the first place, there's a clever little button sanded into the wood, imperceptible to the naked eye. It's just enough for the sensitive pads of his fingers to pick up on, though. He presses it gently and the side of the end table swings open.
Soul hasn't had to crack a safe in more than a year, which, well. This is either going to go really well or really poorly. For a moment, he considers whether or not he might be able to like...grab the safe and run. Or maybe just grab the whole end table. On a whim, he pulls out his phone and snaps a pic, sending it to Black*Star.
Know anything about safe b&e?
His phone buzzes a second later. bb u know my b&e is always safe
Not what I meant asshole
Idk, get gud scrub. Not my wheelhouse
Soul huffs a little, but can't resist sending one last rejoinder. U suck
He turns back to the safe. There's a series of tumblers on a dry bar, and he grabs one of them, crouching down to the safe, pressing his ear to the glass as he goes to twist the combination lock. He can just make out the clicking of the mechanism. It spins and clicks, and Soul narrows his eyes - pulls back and frowns. On a whim, he pokes the handle on the front of the safe and the door swings open.
"Oh, you have to be fucking with me." Sitting smack dab in the center is a sheaf of papers. He snaps pictures quickly, then with trembling fingers, flips through them - several deeds and what looks like a series of equations that make precisely no sense at all. "Shit. Shiiiiit yes," he hisses. This could be enough to make the connection between Medusa and the warehouses. He folds them and shoves them into the notebook for later.
He glances back into the safe to make sure he grabbed everything, and it's chance that his eyes land on the small rack of vials tucked against the very back wall. He takes another picture of the whole thing.
Soul's breath catches as he carefully pulls them out - each vial large enough to just hold a few milligrams of blood red liquid, each labeled in tiny, precise handwriting. V. 1, V. 2, V. 3, etc. They look almost exactly like the vial they found at the warehouse, and the relief that washes over him is palpable. The vials - he looks again at the papers - the equations - it's all coming together to paint a vivid, horrifying picture.
He's so caught up in his revelation, he almost doesn't hear the sound of the door swinging open.
It's stupidly easy to get into Chupa Cabra's through the alley door. It's only ever guarded by that muscle-man freak Free during off hours. When their precious dancers are on duty, the bouncers are all focused on the door and in the main room.
Giriko takes a moment to stretch and take in the familiar smell of the alley. Jail doesn't suit him, and he'd be pissed at Arachne for waiting this long to spring him, but she'd explained the need to bide their time before striking, and he could see the logic. He's so ready to be done with this shit club and this shit town - and now that Medusa's gone on her little vacation, he's gonna get the dirt on her that Arachne wants and then he's gonna find those fucking narcs who stole Arachnophobia's shipment and get rid of that little complication, and then he's gonna burn the whole goddamn city to the ground if it means that he'll never have to come back here.
The lock on the door is stupidly easy to pick, but he still resents that Arachne insisted he "keep a low profile" and "not get arrested" again. The back hall is as deserted as he figured it would be - even Blair's out on the floor it seems, and he catches a brief glimpse of the main stage as he skulks his way into the hall where Medusa's lair is. He almost stops right then, because that fucking bitch Kitten is on the stage, dancing, and for a moment, all he can think about is locking eyes with her as the DCPD cuffed him, and his blood feels like it's going to boil the fuck over.
It takes him a second to shake off. He's got a job to do, but when he's done - he adds another thing to his list of shit to take care of before he leaves town.
Soul has just enough time to text Black*Star: sos before he hears the gun cock. It's shockingly loud.
"Well, well, well. Look what I found, snooping around like the fucking pig he is." Giriko's oily voice slides over Soul's skin, and briefly he wonders how any of the women here managed to hide their disgust. "Put down whatever you're holding, Eater."
He puts both hands up, phone held high. "Just my phone, no gun. I'm gonna put it in my pocket," he says.
"Yeah no - reach for your pocket and I stop caring whether or not someone hears me cap your ass. Slide it towards the desk, pig."
It had been worth a try, at least. He hopes Black*Star got his message. Soul slides it over as asked. "What are you doing here, Giriko? Isn't being here a violation of your bail or something?"
"Nah. I think I'm going to be the one asking the questions here. What's in the safe?" For a long moment, Soul seriously considers not moving - if Giriko shoots the vials - they might never get evidence like this against Medusa again. But if Giriko shoots Soul because he's a trigger-happy asshole with a vendetta, well...that doesn't do anyone any good either.
Soul scoots back on his heels. "See for yourself."
For the first time, Giriko lowers the gun, squinting as he looks into the safe. "What the fuck…" he mutters.
"Look familiar? A lot like that shit 'Star and I were supposed to pick up for you. Wonder how it got here," Soul says, keeping his voice as casual as he can. If he's misjudged either Giriko or Medusa, he's about to be in even deeper shit. "Like maybe Medusa was the one who stole that shipment right out from under your nose."
Soul's not sure what he's expecting from Giriko - maybe for him to lash out at Medusa verbally, to be as dumbstruck as Soul was. He's not expecting the roaring guffaw that bursts out of Giriko's throat.
"Oh my fuck, you're shitting me. That fucking cunt, of all the fucking things…" He laughs again, like nails on a chalkboard, and Soul rocks back on his heels. "You know, Eater, I could almost let you live since you're handing me exactly what Arachne needs to get rid of her uppity bitch of a sister." He grins, showing more teeth than ought to be humanly possible.
Soul catches a glimpse of blue by the door, and his heart leaps.
"Almost," Giriko adds, raising his gun again.
"Not so fast, fucko!" Black*Star barges into the room and into Giriko, sending him staggering into Soul. They all go down in a tangle of limbs, and Soul manages to knock the gun out of Giriko's hands and just dodge a fist from Black*Star before his brain translates the intense pain signals his body is sending. His chest is on fire - he scrambles away from the pile of bodies for his phone, trying to suck in air.
Black*Star gets to his feet first, trying to haul Giriko up with him. The other man scrabbles to get out of Black*Star's hold, digging nails into the tendons of his wrist, and Black*Star yelps, fingers loosening.
"You little shit - " he hisses, and Giriko bares bloodied teeth.
"Yeah, big man, Black*Star. Gotta jump me from behind and make it a two on one because you're too much of a pussy otherwise." He dodges back as Black*Star lunges, and Soul pulls himself up with help from Medusa's enormous desk.
For a moment, they face each other - Giriko's eyes dart to where his gun lays on the floor, between Soul and Black*Star, and Black*Star takes that moment to strike again, foot lashing out and just missing Giriko's knee because he's bolting out the door.
"Fuck," Soul bites out. "-Star - "
"Yeah, I'm on it. I'm not letting him get away, Soul. Not again." They exchange glances, and Soul nods. Whatever happens - Soul will back him up.
"I'll be right behind you," he promises, but Black*Star is already out the door. He wants to follow immediately, but there's a safe full of evidence, and no way of telling how much commotion Giriko's caused - Soul can't trust that they're the only people who know about Medusa's room and that someone won't destroy their strongest lead to Medusa. He glances at the time on his phone. It feels like they've been back here forever, but Maka should just now be getting off stage. He hesitates for a second, then grabs the gun, too.
He pops his head into the hall, and if Giriko's flight attracted any attention, it's focused elsewhere. Like a vision in a barely-there skirt, Maka skids around the corner just as he's about to text her, and he pulls himself upright, ignoring the way his half-dissolved stitches pull and throb.
"Soul, what the fuck is happening," she hisses, running towards him, heedless of her heels. "I saw Black*Star leave the table - "
"Giriko," he says, and her face clouds over. "'Star's going after him - I need you to go in there and get the evidence out of the open safe and make sure it gets out of here."
She looks as torn as he feels. "Your chest - "
"It's fine," he lies. "Please, Maka. I need you to take care of this." The look she gives him is furious, and he's never loved her more than in that moment. The knowledge ought to stagger him, but he can't examine it right now. "Trust me?" he says, and her face doesn't soften, exactly, but she does nod.
"Alright," she says, pushing past him, fingers brushing against his arm, and he waits until she disappears before he heads down the hallway to where he's pretty sure Giriko would have gone.
It's all here, just like Soul said. Her breath quickens, eyeballing the vials and the papers. As soon as she can get them to Kid, they can be analyzed -
She focuses. She's got to get them out of here, first, preferably without being seen. Uselessly, she wishes she'd grabbed Soul's jacket. She hunts around until she finds a trash can tucked in the corner next to a fake ficus. She pulls the empty bag and shoves the notebook, papers and vials into as quickly and carefully as she can, then she closes up the safe, and figures out the mechanism for the table.
Maka closes the door behind her and actually makes it to the end of the hallway before all hell breaks loose.
"Can you tell me why there's a fist fight in my alley?" Blair's voice stops Maka dead in her tracks.
"Would you believe me if I said, 'boys will be boys'?" she asks.
"Not really, no."
"And if I told you that it was Black*Star, just doing what you asked of him and getting rid of a problem?" Her heart pounds in her chest as she lays her cards on the table.
"Then I'd wonder what you're doing in a dead end hallway, with a garbage bag. I know we're all hands on deck here, but you have to admit, this looks suspicious."
"I'd tell you that I'm helping you with the rest of your...spider problem." Maka resists the urge to hold her breath, instead meeting Blair's gaze head on.
Blair tilts her head, then steps to the side. "I'd say that you probably want to change before the dressing room gets busy. Also, you're fired."
"Thank you," Maka says.
The alley stinks of blood and rot, and it assaults Soul's nose as soon as he steps out of the club. It's like stepping into a mirrorverse of his life a month ago - Black*Star's the one pressed against the wall now, and Giriko's managed to pull out one of his ubiquitous knives, but not before Black*Star got a few more hits in. They're both bleeding sluggishly, and one of Black*Star's eyes is swelling shut.
"You thought you could take me on by yourself, huh, punk?" Giriko sneers, pressing the knife somewhere that makes Black*Star wince, but not enough to keep him from spitting in Giriko's face.
"Yeah, you're a real superstar running away until you thought you could get the drop on me," he grins, and Soul raises the gun because Black*Star is going to get himself shanked in short order.
"Little Star-Clan brat," Giriko hisses. "No wonder it was so easy for us to wipe all of you out. Too bad we missed you - what, were you hiding in the closet when Arachnophobia came through? Or were you pissing yourself behind your mama's skirts, huh?"
Soul's expecting rage, but not the terrible blankness that falls over Black*Star's face. He steps forward and presses the barrel of the gun against the base of Giriko's skull and cocks it.
"Don't make my finger slip," Soul says. "I'm real shaky after all that adrenaline." For a moment, he thinks Giriko might just be insane enough to do it. But instead, he raises his hands, knife clattering onto the concrete. "Good boy," Soul says, and Giriko growls. "You're under arrest, Giriko Saw." He Miranda's Giriko, all the while keeping an eye on Black*Star's face. "You good," he finally asks, wrenching Giriko's hands behind his back.
"Yeah," Black*Star says, then leans back and head butts Giriko so hard he slumps to the ground.
"So it's enough, right?" Maka asks, blinking against the harsh fluorescents of the station. Giriko's behind bars, concussed and waiting to be processed again. Their evidence is strewn across Kid's desk, next to her backpack.
"I'm getting the warrant for her financials and phone," Kid says. "Hopefully that will be enough to track her down without alerting her."
Maka nods. "Good." Excitement rattles through her bones, and it takes all of her strength not to vibrate out of her chair. "And the samples?"
"Ox will get them first thing in the morning. We're hoping DNA will be back soon, too."
She exhales and nods. "Thank you, sir."
"Should I ask where your other half is?" Kid asks. "He dropped his collar and then disappeared."
Maka's mouth twists, not envying Soul and Black*Star the berating they're probably getting from Nygus right now. "Probably not, sir."
Kid nods. "Alright. Dismissed. You can consider your assignment at Chupa Cabra's terminated. I'll let you know as soon as we have anything else."
She nods again and stands, grabbing her bag. She's not calm, per se, but she's more...settled. It's not done, but they're so close she can taste it. Tomorrow, they'll pick the trail back up, further along than they've ever been. But tonight - she's going home, and when Soul's back, she'll check him over herself and make sure he's okay. Then, sleep.