Loud Pipes
by.
Poisoned Scarlett

Yumi wondered how she had missed it before as she stood by the door of the Stein's office, watching along with Maka as the doctor stitched Soul back up. The wound looked worse than it actually was with all the gore and mud that covered it. In reality, it had only been a clean cut down his shoulder blade. Stein had assured that it was nothing a few stitches and some painkillers couldn't fix but Maka still remained uneasy and worried. This was what brought Yumi back to her previous thoughts:

Maka had been reluctant to even let go of Soul once they arrived at the hospital. Yumi had to pry Maka's fingers off Soul's hand and lead her away from him once he got himself seated on the medical bed. Her deep concern for him was definitely suspicious and, judging by Stein's humored half-smile, the doctor had suspected this a long ago.

"Are you hurt, Maka?" Yumi asked, aware that Soul watched them intently after she did.

"I'm fine," Maka answered with a tiny smile. "Although I can't say the same for my boots." Both their eyes dropped down to her muddled, bloody and torn, boots. During her battle with the Kishin, one of its teeth must have caught on her strap for it was torn off. Her left boot had punctures in it and Yumi wrinkled her nose at the thought of what slop had gotten inside her shoe because of it.

"I should be charging you for this," Stein mused as he slipped off his gloves and tossed them in the nearest waste basket.

"You ain't getting squat from me, pal, take it up with Maka," Soul muttered but offered a meager thanks and grabbed his shirt. Maka stepped away from Yumi to help him put it on when she noticed his struggling. Once more Yumi wondered how she didn't see their obvious care for each other, as Maka whispered if it hurt and he quietly shook his head. She met Stein's gaze with a smile and ushered the both of them out of the doctors office so they could finally get some much-needed rest in their respective homes.

"Your boots are ripped up," Soul commented wryly as they walked out of the hospital. "You really liked those boots, huh? Better than any other pair you own."

"I'll live," Maka smiled up at him, somewhat flattered he remembered. "I can buy a new pair later."

"Well!" Yumi exclaimed, once they were on the front steps of the hospital. "I suppose you two will be…" Yumi cleared her throat. Stein merely smiled. Yumi instantly knew that couldn't be a good thing. When Stein smiled, destruction followed. "You two will be heading back to your apartment now."

"Our apartment?" Maka creased her brows at the odd statement. "I was actually planning on checking into a motel until I get my job back and I can pay for an apartment…"

"Oh but I thought you two lived together..." Yumi straightened. This certainly didn't go as planned. Had she misread them? That Patty girl had sounded quite sure when she told her that Soul and Maka were a couple. "I just assumed since you both…"

"No, we're…" Maka and Soul looked at each other simultaneously. She flushed a pretty red and Soul coughed into his fist. "No! No, he's a wandering hunter! He heard about Death City's infamy and came here to check it out! And get in my way," she added, moodily.

"I got in your way?"

"Yes, you did! If you had only left when I told you to, none of this would have happened!"

"If I hadn't stuck around, you'd be dead right now, stupid!"

"How strange," Stein airily interrupted then both. "He told me he was planning on marrying you."

"And Patty, his friend, told me that you two were…a couple," Yumi added uncomfortably.

Soul stared at them furiously for ruining his cover and laughed nervously when Maka snapped her head to him, baffled. He flashed her a tense grin: "Surprise?"

"That – so that's how you did it!" Maka gaped. "I've always wondered why they let you visit me for so long when you weren't even family! You lied your way past Stein!"

"You make that sound like it's a bad thing."

"It is a bad thing!"

"Well, what do you suggest I'd have done?" Soul sighed, irately. "Tell him the truth? Yeah, look where that got you! I don't see what the big deal is – it was a lie, you idiot, like I'd ever marry you! Much less date you!"

Maka's brows shot up in offense, feeling as if she'd just been slapped. But she recovered quickly. "That's exactly why I have a problem with it, you dumbass! As if I'd ever date you – marrying someone like you isn't even a thought! You don't even graze my standards!"

Soul turned fully to her, lip curled in a sneer. That was a really low blow; it hit him right in the gut. "Don't get too cocky there, honey, you're not a lot to look at, either. I think Kansas has more curves than you!"

"Excuse me, like you should be talking! A rock can be attractive than you – in fact, there's no competition! Because at least a rock looks normal!"

"What're you trying to say, huh?"

"That the white hair and red eyes are just plain CREEPY!"

"YOU TAKE THAT BACK! THEY'RE COOL!"

"HA! AS IF! THEY'RE CREEPY - YOU'RE CREEPY!"

Stein and Yumi exchanged meaningful looks as their infantile argument gradually worsened. Yumi contemplated interfering, if only because their argument was doing poorly at hiding their wounded prides from those looking in, when Stein patted her shoulder.

"They'll figure it out soon enough," Stein assured.

"Well, that's assuming. What if they don't?"

"Then I suppose it wasn't meant to be," Stein took off his glasses and cleaned them with the hem of his lab coat. "If they can't settle a simple argument like this now, what makes you think they'll be able to resolve a grave one in the future? It's best to let them sort it out on their own. They both have their own demons to work past, I'm sure..."

Yumi cringed when Maka brought her fist back and punched Soul squarely in the jaw, doing a marvelous job at sucking back her tears as she did. In speaking with Stein, Yumi had missed most of their argument. She wondered what cruelty Soul told her when Maka's boot collided with his stomach and she hoarsely shouted an obscenity at him; storming over to where they both stood.

"Miss Azusa," Maka cleared her throat, hiding her glossy eyes by looking down for a second. She smiled despite the obvious distress in her eyes, making them look more wide and wounded than usual. "Can you please give me a ride to my papa's place? My apartment, it was, um..."

"Yes, of course. No problem."

"Thank you," Maka smiled, gratefully.

"Maka! Maka, dammit!" Soul barked, crawling to his knees. He gripped his gut and took a breath, unable to deny she had a mean right hook. That kick, however, hardly held any power. She hadn't even tried to hurt him that time! "Where are you going? This isn't over!"

"Yes, it is!" Maka snarled, sending him a loathing look. "You finished what you came here for! Go back to where you came from – I can handle the rest! It's only been trouble since you came along!"

"You're not a walk in the park, either!"

Maka opened her mouth in a snarl but instead she snapped her jaw closed. She sent him the nastiest look she could muster (an effect slightly ruined by her watery eyes, something he noticed with a plunge of his stomach) and headed towards Yumi's car, ignoring Soul's suddenly frantic call of her name. Then she turned around and flipped him the bird with a roar of: "YOU'RE A SHITHEAD!" and ran the rest of the way to the car.

Yumi looked at Stein. "She has quite the temper on her."

"She has a place in my hospital after all!" Stein beamed. "Anger Management. Perhaps I'll pencil her in for a session or two with Marie." He swung back toward Soul, who had only just managed to sit up straight without cringing. His hand gripped his wounded shoulder, not the developing bruise on his cheek. He was probably unaware of it, Stein surmised, as he stared after Maka. "Now, you. I take it you'll need a ride back as well?"

"I've got my bike here, I'll be fine!" Soul looked down his bandaged arm.

"You won't be able to use your motorcycle much after today, Soul."

"I know, I've got a car..." Soul muttered, patting his stomach in conflict. She could have caused a lot more pain than this if she had only swung a kick there but she hadn't. She'd gotten his stomach instead and not even all that hard. "Where she going?"

"Spirit's place," Stein informed. Soul creased a brow. "Her fathers—!"

"I know he's her father, I meant why. She hates that bastard."

"Well, she has been in our facility for the past three months, Soul, obviously her apartment has been vacated and rented to another person. She has nowhere to stay except with her father since you're no longer an option." Stein watched Soul pick himself up, dusting off some dirt and debris from his fall. He didn't look at him after he said that. "That looks like a nasty bruise on your cheek. Would you like a bag of ice for it?"

Soul watched Yumi drive away from the hospital, Maka in tow. "Yeah, thanks..."

"Follow me, then."


She was aware that he was tailing her. He had been tailing her for the past two blocks, since she turned down Lexington avenue. He had been drinking some coffee in his car that morning; his idea of a good breakfast. She had to really push down the urge to smack her hand on the window and tell him to eat something filling, like a full breakfast with bacon and eggs and orange juice. But she managed to run past him without being too obvious in her staring. At least he had ditched the motorcycle for the car until he was better. He hardly drove the classic car, saying a motorcycle was obviously cooler. It was something which annoyed Maka since a car could be cool, too.

Her MP3 player was clutched tightly in her hand, music at full volume to drown out anymore thoughts of him. Her ponytail bobbed with every step and when she rounded the corner, she wasn't surprised that black Impala followed faithfully. If he was trying to catch her attention, there were other ways. Maka smugly wondered how long it would take him to muster up enough guts to stop her usual morning jog to apologize for being a total asshat three days ago.

Three days.

The man had absolutely no will for these things but, after that altercation between them, she had grimly believed he would just pack up and leave. She remembered once when he'd angered her by calling her out on her chest, commenting on its size again. Maka hadn't ever doubted her feminine assets until he swung around and started prodding at her insecurities like it was his job. She had practically kicked him out of her ward that day and ignored him when he came back a few hours later, bearing gifts.

In reality, he brought her a much-needed strawberry milkshake and although she had taken it, she had insisted he wasn't forgiven. But the crooked smile that graced his face, the strange sort of affection that flickered in his eyes, was what had crumbled her grudge. She never brought up the reason: she let him believe all it took was a strawberry milkshake. It was easier to deal with things like that if he didn't know the real reason. She, herself, hadn't quite understood her inclination to bend to his will until a few weeks later – when he nearly got into a motorcycle accident for being reckless again. He had turned left on incoming traffic and hadn't noticed the car. It only managed to graze his back wheel but the incident had shaken him, and left her feeling more paranoid for his safety outside of the hospital. That was when she insisted he buy a car (he had enough money to do so, given the exorbitant amount he charged per Kishin back in New York).

The car that was still following her.

He was lucky she wasn't the type to scare easy.

"Oh, hey, Maka! Maka!"

She admitted it: how quickly she had turned her attention to the voice was ridiculous. It was visible in the way disinterest dulled her eyes when she realized who it really was, not who she wanted it to be. Thankfully, he had been dusting something off his apron so he hadn't noticed she turned. Maka rose the volume in her MP3 and picked up speed, hoping she didn't look like she was outright ignoring him as she did.

Hiro was a very nice guy.

He was just annoying, that was all. The talk too much, laugh too much, happy too long sort of annoying that tired Maka after awhile. Currently, she wasn't up in the mood for his chipper attitude. But fate was never on her side about these things. And she was too nice to outright ignore him, anyway.

"MAKAAAA!"

Maka stopped, breathing hard, and pulled the earphones from her ears. She turned in a way that hid Soul from her view. She still hadn't composed a proper reply to whatever he would say: be it to apologize or be a jerk like usual. If it was the latter, a reply would come to her instantly. If it were the former, well, she could only hope she didn't say anything compromising.

"Hiro," Maka panted, watching him approach her. "Hi. What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong! I just – just wanted to say, y'know, hi. And stuff. We haven't spoken in a while!" Hiro added with a laugh, scratching the back of his head. Maka stared, wondering if he was kidding or not.

"…Hi?" Maka repeated, puzzled. She had gotten her job back yesterday, what was he going on about? "Hiro, I just saw you yesterday. You work evening shift with me now, remember?"

Hiro blinked, as if he just remembered that. Maka would bet he did. "Oh! Yeah, but, uh, we don't talk often, y'know? You're always bar tending and Nygus' got me running back and forth! A-and, well, you were…interned for a while. So it's hard to have a good conversation…" He set his hands on his hips, his smile looking a little plastic. Maka noticed he was perspiring. She turned fully, a brow creasing. Upon her piercing, calculative, wide-eyed, adorable, stare, Hiro started sweating even more.

"Something bothering you, Hiro?" Maka asked, never breaking contact. She was so intense, Hiro thought with a dreamy sigh, that was one thing he liked about her. Her stare, her every word, always so serious and intense and completely loveable. Some said she took things too seriously but Hiro thought that was just fine; a serious woman was a good woman. "It's not healthy to keep things inside."

"I—!" Hiro choked. He dropped his eyes and coughed into his fist, taking a breath. If he were to do this, he would do it right! "I just wanted to ask if you, ah-!"

"Hey, can we talk later? I have to take care of something," Maka suddenly said, looking past him. Hiro blinked, feeling his chance simply slip through his fingers like sand. Maka shifted her attention back to him and smiled, reassuringly. "I promise we'll talk. Just not now."

"Why not—?"

"Hey, Maka, can I talk to you for a sec?"

Hiro turned to face one sneering Soul Evans, his hands out of his pockets for once. He had seen him around town lately although he had never had the chance to speak to him face-to-face. Not that many people did; the man kept to himself and hardly spoke, from what he heard. And the women in the restaurant always gossiped about him so it was hard not to know who he was despite never speaking to him. Suddenly, the urge to tell Maka to run away was overwhelming. The look in his garnet eyes, predatory and challenging, reflected instantly in Hiro's. His intentions were clear and Hiro wasn't deterred by his sarcastic smile. However, Maka complicated things.

"What for?" Maka bristled. "We have nothing to talk about!"

Soul sighed, ignoring Hiro. "C'mon, Maka. I'm no good with this, you know that."

"No good, huh? You can't say you're sorry for being a total jackass? Then I guess we really have nothing to talk about!"

"Maka, I didn't mean any of that!"

"Yes, you did! Don't lie to me, Soul Evans, if you're going to come clean then do it! Lying won't get you anywhere!"

"That's the thing – I'm not lying!"

"Yes, you are!"

"No, I'm not!" Soul groaned and rubbed is forehead. His eyes flicked to Hiro and his gaze darkened. "Can we talk somewhere more…private?"

"No. I'm fine here," Maka flatly said, crossing her arms. "Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of him, right?"

Soul grit his teeth but kept his mouth shut. He congratulated himself for his self-control; if anyone else had pulled a move like this on him, he'd have already burned them with his words. But this was Maka and he truly did feel terrible for all those things he said to her; the guilt tripled when he caught sight of her watery eyes. Maka already shed enough tears in the past; he didn't need to be apart of the reason she was so miserable in this town.

"Uh, Maka?" Hiro cleared his throat, feeling awkward as the two of them had been staring intently at each other for the past minute and a half or so.

She finally looked at him, seeming to snap out of her daze. "Yes?"

"Are you…did you two..?" Hiro desperately hoped not but it was starting to seem that way.

Some of Maka's ire cleared to leave room for confusion. "Did we what?"

"Did you two….are you two dating? If you are, I'm completely cool with it! I'm sure you two are…" Hiro faltered, bitter at the thought.

Maka gawked in disbelief. Soul just chuckled. Maka looked up at him and slit her eyes at the sound. Soul had the decency to pretend to look outraged when he noticed although he failed miserably, the satisfied twinkle in his eye both infuriating her and causing those flutters of butterflies in her gut. Those uncomfortable flutters, they were really starting to piss Maka off.

"NO!" Maka barked, viciously. "Why does everyone ask that? We're not! We never have been!" She turned on her heel and plugged her earphones back in her ears, fed up with this. She just wanted a calm jog. She didn't want to deal with this until noon, maybe. She just wanted a calm morning today. She ignored Hiro's sputters and only just heard Soul's sigh before she took off to complete her morning run. She made it to the end of the block when the light turned against her and she had to wait. She wasn't too surprised when Soul pulled up beside her.

"Maka…"

She tapped her foot.

"Maka!"

This light, it was taking forever to change!

"…I've got a milkshake I can't finish…"

Maka gnawed on her lip.

"I'm gonna' throw it out – all thirty two ounces of it."

Maka dared to look at him – but only for a millisecond, only enough to catch sight of something pink and big and wonderfully full. Something that looked like a large, maybe a megashake. She regretted telling him just how much she loved those milkshakes, especially since she had yet to have one since her check-out practically three days ago.

"I guess I'll just have to throw it out. Too bad since it's the new twister mix. Today's the last day to get it, too." Still nothing. "It'll be a waste." Nothing, not even a twitch. "I'm throwing it out now, all of it is going on the asphalt - "

"What do you want, Soul?"

"Get in the car and the milkshake and explanation is all yours."

Maka hated how quickly she turned on her heel and pulled open the passenger door, snatching the drink from its cup holder and taking a long draw of it. He hadn't lied: he'd gotten the biggest one and the newest twist they had out. She hadn't gotten to tasting it yet and he was right, today was the last day. That's what assuaged her enough to take another long sip of the drink. Once she got her fill did she guiltily glare down at the cup and when she looked up, she felt pink dust her cheeks when she found him turned away: hand covering his mouth, shoulders shaking with mirth.

"Alright, explain."

Soul veered to the side, parking. He leaned back in his seat, giving himself a moment to remember the things he'd say once he got her to hear him out. Unsurprisingly, his mind blanked and most of those things became smoke in the field. This is what he hated about confrontations: his script was always lost when it came to it.

"Sorry." Soul inwardly smacked himself. Just how unoriginal could he be? He needed to beef that up somehow. "I was being a dick. I was… tired. I was beaten up and hung from the ceiling for half a day, I wasn't in the best of moods!" Before Maka could reply, Soul held up a finger. "But that doesn't excuse my behavior…I know. You just pissed me off a bit."

"A bit?"

"Would it really be that bad to date me?" Soul turned to her, eyes hard. "Seriously?"

Maka stiffened. She held the cup of her favorite pastime drink on her lap and dropped her eyes to it when she answered. "No – but you started it!"

"Me—? Alright, yeah, I started it!" Soul grunted, irritably. Maka huffed. "So that wasn't necessary, I get it, it just came out. You looked like you were gonna' bite my head off, I had to do something!"

"…So you decide to insult me? You're a genius, Soul."

"Shut it," Soul growled. He sighed when she narrowed her eyes at him, taking a good long draw of her drink to put out her rising ire. "If it isn't obvious by now, I didn't mean it. It wouldn't be bad to marry you – hell, you'd probably make a good wife. You know what you want, you're responsible, hey, I'll come clean, you're hot. You've got it all wrapped up in a tiny…violent…nerdy…amazing…box."

Maka stared at her drink. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She was sure that was supposed to be some sort of confession but she was at a loss as to what to do about it. She could hunt, she could bartend, she could ace tests and she could study like it was nobody's business – but this, handling these situations, this was one of the few things she constantly stumbled through. She would rather be hunting down a Kishin, Maka dryly thought, than trying to compose a reply to his veiled confession.

"I guess," Maka began. She distracted herself with the straw. "Although you're a lazy, stupid, reckless jackass with a weird cool ideology and an even weirder fashion sense…"

"Gee, thanks, Maka. Notice how I didn't insult you when it was my turn!"

"…You're pretty amazing yourself. You took a blow for me. You kept your promise when you said you'd visit me every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. You somehow managed to talk to me for longer than ten minutes and you even bothered to remember all the stupid stories I told you about. You also put up with my temper, not many people can do that. You aren't creepy," Maka admitted, smiling warmly when he grumbled that he damn straight wasn't. "I guess you're not half-bad looking, either..." At his skeptical look, she huffed out a small breath of laughter. "But you have a will as strong as play-doh."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that when you feel guilty, you don't last even a week. But this time I did expect you to leave that night," Maka admitted. She didn't need to look to know he was staring at her with disappointment. "I still expect you to leave."

"I'm not gonna' leave."

"Why not?" Maka asked, exhaling deeply. "You came here to confirm the rumors about Death City being a hot spot for Kishin's. They turned out to be true. But DC has a hunter already, and I've taken care of these parts for the past….six years. Since I was fourteen and I learned my mom was in the business before she met my idiot father. DC is a small town, it doesn't need two hunters," Maka finally looked at him. "So why would you stay? No one even pays here. I do it more for my own gratification than money. You do it for the money; it's practically your income."

"That's where you're wrong. I do it because I can save people. I do it out of the same reasons you do," he smiled crookedly when she searched his eyes. "Just, back in New York, they offered cash and who am I to turn them down?"

Maka stifled giggles. "You're terrible."

"I still got a good half mil out of them," Soul drawled. "You can't say you wouldn't do the same."

"I wouldn't," Maka looked at him, seriously. He faltered, unsure of how to proceed, when she smiled knowingly. "I'd ask for more than eight hundred per Kishin. More like ten grand or nothing; this is a dangerous job! You're too cheap, Soul."

Soul laughed outright and Maka joined him. Maka shook her cup after her laughter died, feeling lighter than she had felt since their fight. "Hey, let's swing by Scoops. I want another one."

"You haven't even finished that one!"

"If you're going to buy your way back into my good graces," Maka shook the cup in his face mockingly, "you're going to need more than one thirty two, Soul."

Soul chuckled, looking down at his lap to hide his affectionate smile. "Alright, fine. But you'll ruin all that running you did."

"There's always tomorrow," Maka optimistically replied. She paused before deciding it wouldn't hurt to ask: "By the way, Soul?"

"Hn?"

"You never told me why haven't you left yet."

"Ain't it obvious already? DC has the best milkshakes I've ever had!" Soul grinned, wolfishly.

Maka snorted but didn't press the question, finishing the last bit of her milkshake.

"I might also like a girl," Soul added, casually.

Maka almost choked on her drink. "Oh.."

"Yeah, I never though it'd happen, either. But she gets me, she gets me in a way others haven't. It's like she's been there all this time, studying me. She can read me like a book, it isn't even funny. She doesn't make it easy for me, either, but it's hard not to love her. But she likes pushing people away; it took me a lot of prying to get her to open up to me about her dumb dad. Even then, it's gonna' take a lot more than a couple of moments to get her to trust me completely. Leaving would mean abandoning her after I promised I wouldn't, and breaking promises isn't cool. I'm not about to let all that progress go to waste," Soul glanced at her then gunned the car back to life. He smiled, lopsidedly. "'Sides, someone has to look after her. She's been looking after herself for too long."

"….Thank you," Maka whispered, so quietly she was sure he hadn't heard. But he had, because he always heard her. Even when she didn't say anything, he still heard her.

He reached over to pat her head, his hand sliding down to the back of her neck. He gave it a reassuring squeeze before he placed his hand back on the wheel. "You should try the mango shake. It's not half bad, if you can get over the weird aftertaste."

Maka laughed, softly. "I'll try it right now!"

Soul looked at her from the corner of his eye, turning his attention back to the street with a smile.

He figured he was forgiven now.