Yo, I died for a bit, but I'm back! Lots and lots of revisions were made here, the same story is intact, but everyone has a bit more of a personality now, I think you'll all like what I have planned. Sorry for taking so long, dying took a while. Let's get right to it then~
"So Soul, do you... Like anyone?" It was supposed to be innocent, just another casual conversation, most likely full of bickering and other such commonplace whimsy on their little couch in front of the TV, but Maka's tone of voice betrayed her.
Maka was furious, it wasn't directed towards Soul, oddly enough, but entirely at herself. Maka had planned to ask the question as bluntly as possible, but the circumstances that forced her to ask in the first place also forced a lilt into her statement and huge blush on her cheeks, and Soul didn't miss it. The otherwise sleepy Saturday morning atmosphere was totally ruined now, and now Maka was probably going to have to deal with some very awkward questions. It was obvious from the ramen noodles hanging from his stupid mouth that Soul had no idea what she was talking about so suddenly, and Maka was already about to bail. They're watching the news, for goodness sake! Could she have any worse sense of timing?
"...Maka?" Soul slurped the noodles off his chin and spoke around the mouthful while looking at her rather carefully, "I don't know, why?"
Maka was already so embarrassed, she couldn't help but divert to annoyance to disguise it, and she slammed her fist on the table in favor of meeting his questioning gaze, screwing hey eyes shut. "Don't talk with your mouth full, you know that bothers me!"
Soul swallowed with a deliberately rude noise, which made Maka snap her head towards him and glare dangerously. Maka saw the glare that signified he was ready to mouth off, but he sighed instead and backed down. Maka had been snapping at Soul more than usual, to the point where they can hardly hold a full conversation anymore, especially when both sides chose to not back down. It was clear Soul was growing weary of it. He set his bowl on the table and turned his torso to face her better, holding up his hands in mock surredner. Maka felt guilty, but she couldn't help it! If she just wasn't so irritated all the time! "Calm down, I'm just trying to answer your question."
"Never mind, forget it. I'm just PMSing or something, you know, that girl stuff you always say you don't get," Maka said hotly, staring at her knees and feeling her face get redder by the second.
"Come on Maka, you've been PMS'ing for two months, according to you, what's up? What's bothering you?" Soul looked genuinely concerned at that point, and that just made Maka even more pissed, because she didn't know, she honestly wasn't sure. So Maka bit her lip and squeezed her fists around her pajama bottoms. She'd already forgotten the tactful verbal maneuvering she planned to try and coerce an answer out of both Soul, and herself, but she'd realized too late that it was going to be impossible if she didn't want to get to the point or express her own feelings. Maka knew where their communication was faltering, where had been faltering for... He said two months now? And she knew it was entirely her fault...
Meanwhile, Soul was starting to look flustered, he was beginning to lean a little closer, and Maka felt dread creep up at what she may have unintentionally implied. "Maka, do you need to, uh, get something off your chest or... Something?"
"It's alright, finish your breakfast," Maka said in a low, cold voice. She couldn't even look at Soul anymore.
So without further adieu, Maka briskly shot upwards from the couch, more or less knocking Soul backwards, ran to her room, slammed her door behind her, and threw herself onto her bed, stifling a primal scream in her pillow and flailing her legs wildly. There's absolutely no one she can talk to about this, no way in Hell.
Soul could hear a tantrum going on in the wall behind him, and he sighed, ruffling his hair. He picked up his bowl of noodles, and stared hard into them, perhaps for an answer to just what the Hell Maka expected him to do, or say, or what he shouldn't have said, or maybe it was something that he'd done two months ago and he just didn't realize it...
"Arrrggghh girls are so frustrating," Soul slammed his bowl to his face and slurped up the rest with gusto. What had he been doing that was so wrong, these past months? He got up to throw the bowl in the sink, and went into his own room to do his share of moping. He wanted to help, but Maka wouldn't talk to him for more than a few minutes at a time without blowing up for seemingly no reason. Soul was beginning to feel miserable for himself, he thought apologizing might help, but that'd probably just piss her off even more. "I don't even know what happened just now..." he muttered, wondering why this instance was getting to him so much more than the ones before.
Okay, Maka decided after a minute or two of tantrum, rubbing the tears of anger and frustration out of her eyes. She couldn't put this off anymore, she had to think, and she to think about it hard. Maka has already almost lost Soul once, then twice, anymore of this behavior and she was going to lose him again, this time for good.
What she's feeling goes way beyond admiration, to a dangerous degree. That thought alone was enough to make her throat run dry and her stomach collapse in on itself. Maybe it's just that she's been around him too long, of course he would naturally pass into her vision and thoughts from time to time, but something incessant drives her to keep looking, and look more after that. Her heart rate spikes when he merely walks by her, it reminds her of the rush of adrenaline during combat, and it makes her edgy. She's been taking it out on Soul unfairly. It's making her think that insanity is contagious, because that feeling is making her want to do ridiculous things just so he'll look at her. It's makes her want make up dumb excuses just so she can be around him for a few more minutes. But she's logical, she's been repressing these crazy urges, so much to the point where it's growing into an obsession.
Maka's head hurt. Maybe someone more bold and self-assured than she would've already forgotten about it. Maka felt frustrated tears spring to her eyes again, cursing her weakness before him. The thought of him even noticing her odd behavior terrifies her... But in a sense, and Maka had to laugh self-scathingly at herself at the thought: It's thrilling, she's willing to admit that now. Like a permanent combat high. At times like this, she found herself feeling... Needy. Somehow like a lonely pit inside of her, but she knew in an instant what she needed to fill that... She needed him.
It was enough to disgust Maka. It was enough to make her want to scream at herself for being such an idiot. Because she just isn't that type of person! She knows better! She's strong, so much stronger than men. She hates them, after all, and all the things they're willing to put women through because they see females as inferior. The worst part, is it's that unwillingness to speak her mind, that she can't even figure out her own feelings, that makes women seem inferior in a mans eyes. It's not that she's unable to, Soul would be able to attest to that more than anything, it's that if she did speak her mind about this, she wouldn't be any better than all those other girls. Everyone would think she's just another one of the filthy, fucking sluts that she despised watching her Father run off with, all through her childhood.
It hurt, because now she wasn't sure she was any different.
But there was one thing she couldn't deny herself: If she's obsessed with trying to repress these feelings about him, with what she felt was logical disgust, anger, or otherwise... Than wouldn't that make him the object of her obsession either way?
Maka knows how it started too, it was really a culmination of seemingly endless factors, all rolled into one conclusion that made her blood run hot and cold at the same time. He was different. It was easy around him. He wasn't after the same things everyone else was after, that seemingly endless greed for sex, money, complacency and 'safety.' He just wanted to know, learn, to better himself, and albeit his quirks, Maka could relate wholeheartedly. More than that, when Maka talked, he listened. He didn't dismiss her as inferior, for being young, a female, anything. When he reprimanded her, it wasn't out of cruelty, it was because she needed it, and she always felt a little wiser, a little bit better of a person for being able to understand... But there's that word again, need.
A thought occurred to her, and a sense of relief made her sigh. "I'm not a slut, that doesn't even make sense, I'm a total virgin, I don't think I could feel like this towards anyone else," she whispered to herself. "It's not something stupid, I don't love him for his body, I-..."
Maka groaned. There, she said it aloud, now there's no taking it back. She's in love with a known psychopath, a sadist, a genius. She's in love with her God damned middle aged teacher, Professor Hakase Stein.
Maka stood stock still a few yards away from Stein's desk for a full ten minutes, working up the courage to ask for something she knew would probably be considered trite, and out-of-the-question.
Soul had avoided her the rest of Saturday, and they were at least on speaking terms by Sunday, but it fueled her to make a plan. It was a perfect plan, she'd stayed up all night on Sunday, devising it and thinking it through in a way that every party could benefit.
'Familiarity brings contempt,' she'd heard once, and she was growing familiar with it by being with Soul constantly. She loved Soul to death, but dealing with him everyday was a bit tiring. But that's just natural, it's how humans work, right?
With Maka's plan, Stein gets a more well-rounded student, Soul gets to have a partner that isn't biting his ear off every few minutes, and Maka, she's hoping, will forget all about her obsession and move on with her life. Maybe if this was a shoujo, or an otome game, she could embrace her new-found feelings with gusto, and enjoy the thrill of the torment until she's old enough to act on them... But there's no time for that. She absolutely needed her relationship with Soul to get better, and fast. There's dark things going on in the world, she needs to fight and be strong.
So what she was asking for wasn't a complete lie, although she would have to keep her more personal motives to herself, until they eventually faded away. It's what she was banking on.
Somehow, after coming to terms with her feelings, she wasn't quite having a heart-attack every time she so much as saw Stein, but the longer she stood there, the higher her pulse seemed to climb out of sheer anticipation. Maka stood a little straighter, and forced the question out.
"Professor Stein I want extra lessons," Maka blurted.
Stein had to blink at the sudden noise, Maka has a tendency to speak rather quickly when she's feeling nervous. His attention shifted from the papers he was grading to the youth standing before his desk. Maka had kept a good distance, but she was polite as ever: Features stoic, hands clasped behind her back, posture perfect, and that admirable determination shining in her eyes.
Maka cleared her throat. "I'd like to request for extra training. Without a weapon."
"Are you and Soul having issues again?"
Maka's eyes widened, looking taken aback, and quickly calmed herself. It's not that she's completely obvious, it's just been the formula in the past, so of course Stein would assume it. "No, no nothing like that..." Maka sighed, allowing her all-business attitude to drop just a little, and took a moment to collect her thoughts. Stein seemed to sense this and produced a cigarette and lighter from seemingly nowhere, leaning back in his chair and giving Maka his full attention. Suddenly, it became difficult to meet his scrutinizing gaze, and she felt her heart give a painful 'tha-thunk' in her throat, but Maka refused to back down.
"I realized I don't know how to defend myself. I think it's an inherent drawback of the weapon-meister system... As long as a weapon and meisters souls can connect, fighting is practically effortless. Soul is amazing, he's weightless in my hands, and the way he can move around me as long as I can feel where to guide him is incredible... But the second I drop him, I'm useless. I don't even know how to throw a proper punch. The fight on Christmas Eve, and Asura's revival taught me that."
"Well, to be honest Maka, you're already at the top of the class, what you're asking for isn't necessarily my area of expertise, nor is it in the curriculum. I'm sure that you're smart enough to understand the basics from a civilian self-defense class, and go from there."
Maka bit her lip hated to admit it, but he had a point. That can't be it, there's no way she'd let it drop so easily. She couldn't explain it to him without coming off as childish, or divulging her true feelings towards him, but it had to be him that taught her!
She chose her next words carefully.
"Civilians don't understand what we're up against. They don't know about kishins and witches. I need to get better, and I need to get better fast. Soul and I can't be together twenty-four-seven, and our enemies know this just as well as I do, and they're the ones getting stronger as we speak. I need to get even stronger than them. No self-defense teacher is going to be able to do that for me. I trust you with my life, I could never say the same for any civilian."
There was a pause, and Stein scratched the back of his head. He exhaled smoke up towards the ceiling, and then again. Stein grabbed his bolt and turned it idly. Maka waited with bated breath. It was getting a little personal, but that might just be what she needs to convince him... But wait, wouldn't he have already realized the drawbacks of his suggestion in the first place? Maka thought suddenly.
"...I'm not sure your trust is wisely placed, Maka. You know as well as I do what Asura's revival means, especially to those who are sensitive to his wavelength. You experienced it yourself, against my orders, if you recall." Stein raised an eyebrow, and Maka winced, but he let it drop. "I'm not sure how long I'll be able to teach, but I need to do as much as I can for as many students as possible. I simply don't know how trustworthy I am right now, and that's why I should say no."
Ah, that's why he's so reluctant. Maka realized, and she felt something akin to grief for the future, as if Stein had a just set a time-limit for himself, but it fueled her.
The fear shouldn't be slowing me down, it should be making me faster.
"That's just another reason why this is so important. I might not get this chance again, I'm just disappointed in myself for not realizing it earlier, when the state of the world wasn't so desperate."
What she said next took a lot of courage, and she realized the sort of commitment she was making by saying it, "If I can get good enough to handle you, the greatest meister, then I can handle anything."
Stein's eyes seemed to open just a tiny bit wider, and Maka looked at him unashamedly then, "I have the will and the drive, Professor. I won't back out just because it's hard, I know it will be. If you're willing to let me learn, I know I can handle anything you throw at me. I have to do this. I need you to be the one to help me."
Stein crossed his arms, smiled with a small 'hmm' noise in his throat, and he looked at Maka warmly. Maka knew it wasn't the time for it, but even that was enough to send a shiver down her spine.
"You're an amazing person, Maka," her solid pretense dropped instantly and a blush sprang instantly to her cheeks, "your conviction is beautiful, I think you make a good point. I know no one else would've gotten past the 'Stein is going to get even more crazy' part, even Death is nervous about having me here as we speak." Maka giggled, in spite of herself. "I guess so, huh?" Good thing that wasn't even the hard part, Maka chided inwardly, feeling a strange mix of pride and embarrassment.
"All right, I'll teach you everything I know, as fast as I can. I'll confirm it with Lord Death today. Come with me after school on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. We can increase the days gradually up to everyday once your body can handle the strain, but you'll need those days for rest at the start. You said it yourself, it'll be hard, the hardest thing you've done in your life, but it'll be all the more fun for that, right?" Stein smiled his trademark crazy grin, but Maka took it in stride. Hell, she was ready to leap for joy. She had him. She had Stein. And it looks like she was going to get more than she asked for, everything he knew! What more could she want?
"Thank you, thank you so much!" Maka had the urge to fly over the desk and throw her arms around Stein in gratitude, but she quickly bypassed that and settled for punching the air with a gloved hand instead, her features bright with delight. "You won't regret it!"
It was growing dark outside by the time school hours were over, the coming Fall season bringing on nighttime quickly in the desert region of Nevada. The days were blazing, and the nights were deathly frozen, but the short window of time between the two was always lovely. Of course, it mattered little in the always bright and sunny chamber of Death himself. Professor Stein walked slowly through the guillotine hallway, idly observing the clouds spotting the dome of the ceiling, an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The task at hand wasn't one he was looking forward to, but it had to be done.
"Hey Lord Death," Stein called out casually.
The towering, black-robed figure of Death bounced in excitement in return. "Steeeein! Good to see ya! What's up? What's on your mind?"
Stein got right to the point. "Ms. Albarn wants lone-combat training, without the use of a weapon. I already agreed, but I'd like your input and permission. I'm wary about it."
"Now Stein, you know you don't need to ask my permission for such things," Death chided, cocking his head. "You should be thrilled a student is showing such initiative. Besides, I'm sure you've noticed that Maka's soul is developing in a most interesting way."
Stein perked slightly as this, and wasted no time in elaborating. "Yes, the start of a Grigorian soul. Only one in fifty million people possess it. It's an angels soul that will eventually give Maka the ability to fly, in one way or another."
"Precisely, you're as observant as ever. Not much is known about them, due to their rarity. Why, I haven't seen a meister with a soul like that in quite a long time, you wouldn't believe how many otherwise normal humans acquire such a soul and never even know it. It is very frustrating, in a way. Ah, but who knows what kind of powers Maka could find, especially if she were to gain the ability to battle on her own!"
Stein smirked, reflecting on Death's words silently. 'I see. Lord Death is saying that we should use all of our resources to their fullest extent. It's a cruel thing to say about children, but it is the nature of the Academy, I suppose.'
"I can't help but be a bit curious," Death began suddenly, "you've noticed Maka's soul, and you are obviously aware of how rare it is, why aren't you a little bit more interested? I can't understand why you would pass up a chance to get a closer look."
Stein's smirk grew. Heh, he sees right through me, as always.
"I'm concerned for her safety. It's been such a short time... But-"
"No need to elaborate. Along with some other things, I've already taken preventative measure to ensure that you'll be able to safely teach for a while yet."
Stein didn't see that one coming, and his face dropped. "Eh?"
"Well, what with Asura on the loose and all, of course I would call for some back-up! I was actually going to inform you of this tomorrow when they arrived, but since I brought it up I guess I may as well tell you now!"
"We've called in as many Death-Scythes as possible from the other branches of the Academy, the greatest weapons in the world will be here tomorrow."
"Oh. That changes things, that's wonderful. How many?"
"Three," he chirped.
"Marie Mjolnir is amongst them, and you're aware of her anti-madness nature. I'm assigning her as your new partner, and Spirit will be tasked with staying near and ready to fight as much as possible. I'll have you meet with the three of them tomorrow. Exciting isn't it? Things are moving forward!"
Ah yes, Marie. He remembered her well. With Marie around, this may even work out smoothly.
"So, you'll be training Maka then after school?" Death questioned.
Stein shrugged. "I guess so."
"Great! Wonderful! I'm sure I don't need to remind you, of all people, but make sure to keep a close eye on how her soul is developing. Who knows? We may even have a soul with an anti-demon wavelength, and wouldn't that be something?"
"...Yes, yes it would be something, I understand. Thanks for your time, Lord Death."
"Anytime, later Stein," Death hummed, seemingly pleased with the turn-out of things.
Stein, on the other-hand, was still feeling conflicted as he left the guillotine-hall, and made his way outside to the immense steps of the schoolyard overlooking Death City, and finally lighted up his cigarette. Over the years, he'd learned to embrace the uncomfortable truths of the world. The value of information is dangerous, but censorship can be even more dangerous. Imparting what he could, the dark and the light, to someone that was willing to listen, wasn't something that everyone was able to do in their lives.
Besides that, it was practically unanimous now: Maka, whether she knew it or not, is their greatest hope. She could save all of them. There was extraordinary untapped potential, in her talent and her will. Stein couldn't help but be slightly endeared. Maka was brave enough to embrace what she can do, and she's also very familiar with insanity at this point. Though she was initially repulsed by Stein, Maka reacted well to the small instances of madness he displayed openly on a daily basis, on top of the insanity in the world around them that everyone was subject to. Maka somehow seemed immune to it all, it made her stronger and wiser. And that potential. She's still very young, Stein knew she could surpass him, it wouldn't even be that difficult for her, and that excited him more than anything.
A little unbiased opinion helps too in the learning process. It wasn't strictly necessary, Stein barely knew anything besides the fear everyone held for him, he'd been dismissed his whole life as a dangerous, necessary evil, yet the world marches on around him. The change in the attitude he was so used to seeing in those around him was... Well, it certainly was different. So he'd fight for her, and with her, with all his might. The world could depend on it.
However, Marie could only delay the inevitable for so long. Stein had to wonder: When he would lose himself, how would Maka react to him then?
"Heh, though, it could be an interesting...Experiment," he muttered as the laughing moon began to ascend to the sky. The blood flowing from its eyes and mouth shined beautifully.