Dedication: To xxmisfit121 (aka dividedbyxero). Written specifically for her birthday as one half of a collaboration-present with Gin-kyo, and as a tribute to Xero's fantastic and unique contributions to the KidLiz/Troika fandom in both fan fiction and fan art. Happy 17th Birthday, Xero! We really hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I don't own Soul Eater. That belongs to Atsushi Ohkubo. I don't own the original concept for this fan fiction, either, as the idea was conceived by Gyo and generously handed over to me for realization. I also don't exactly own the writing style, as it was purposefully influenced by Xero's body of work. I don't even own a cigarette. But at least I own the fic itself.
Note: The other half of the collaboration - Gin-kyo's illustration - can be found on deviantART [http: / / gin-kyo. deviantart. com/#/d4xn2y0] and Tumblr.
By Eeveebeth Fejvu
"C'mon," Liz said. "You promised." The corner of her lip curled up in a smirk, a dark, leering, asymmetrical smirk. She wasn't amused, though. Kid could tell. Her tone was imploring, almost snide, as if she didn't really believe he would keep his end of the bargain. As if she didn't quite trust him yet, even though she and Patty had been off the streets and living in his mansion for three months now.
Three months. Twelve weeks. Ninety days. That was a long time to live with someone and not really trust them to do what they promised.
"I know," Kid said stiffly. The uneven curl of her lips was ugly, ruining a mouth that was usually so lovely to behold. He looked away from her and stared out over the balcony rail, down at the perfectly maintained garden in the back of the Manor.
The white birch trees stood straight and tall, their flaking bark as white as his Father's mask and their foliage such a rich, verdant green. In the flowerbed, the poppies bloomed right on schedule. Their black-button stamens were surrounded by clusters of fiery scarlet petals.
And Kid thought, the poppies were the same red as the lipstick Liz was wearing the day they met. He remembered it clearly. Her face so close to his, as she jammed the barrel of Patty's pistol-form into the soft white skin of his neck. Her face so close, with that crimson smear across her mouth. Her face inches away, with that damn white stick dangling out from between her poppy-red lips.
That damn white cigarette.
"Well, I did it," Liz said, with snide triumph. She sat down on the leather-covered bench next to him, and he finally turned his head to look at her again. "I've been clean for thirty days now," she continued. "And I didn't cheat. You know I didn't. So I did my part, and now it's your turn." He wasn't surprised, but his stomach did sink when, from the tight back pocket of her blue jeans, she pulled out a small crumpled packet. The soft paperboard was decorated in geometric red and white shapes, simultaneously symmetrical and repulsive.
He couldn't help it. His body subtly shifted away from her and the almost-empty container of cigarettes. Her mouth immediately fell into a scowl, and a threatening darkness filled her cobalt blue eyes. Kid preferred this to the smirk anyway. At least her lips were balanced again.
"I know I promised," Kid said. "I know. I just..." He trailed off. He just hadn't really expected this girl - this tough, pistol-wielding street girl with the lovely lips - to be able to quit smoking, to give up her precious addiction so easily.
Thirty days, he had said, after coming home from the store one afternoon to find her curled up in his favorite reading chair, a cigarette dangling from her long fingers and putrid smoke wafting through the air. If she could make it at least thirty days without smoking even once, he had said as he furiously scrubbed the stench out of the upholstery, he would do anything she wanted. Anything at all. She had agreed on the spot. Only later, after his chair had been restored to its previous odorless state, had the implications of her demand finally sunk in.
She wanted him to smoke the last cigarette in her pack.
Kid wasn't sure what to think of this demand. He wasn't sure why she had demanded it in the first place, when she could have taken advantage of his distraction to make him promise her something really big, something extravagant and expensive. But that was all she had wanted of him.
Smoke the last cigarette in her possession. The last cigarette from the last packet she had bought in Brooklyn just minutes before she had followed him down a dark alley to mug him. The very last remnant of her old life.
"You're not backing out now," Liz told him forcefully. She shook the crumpled packet in his face, the fingernails of her free hand digging into the leather cushion beneath them.
"I'm not backing out," Kid said quickly. He twitched, but resisted the urge to swat her hand away. He really didn't want her to scowl at him like that, even though it was better than the smirk. "I'm not. I just... didn't realize you wanted me to... do this thing so immediately."
To his annoyance, her smirk returned, but it was softer than before, and so was the look in her eyes. "Might as well, right? Since we're here and the day's all nice and everything."
"Okay," Kid said reluctantly. "Okay." He forced himself to look at the terrible thing in her hand, that dented red-and-white box. His shoulders tightened. He sat up a little straighter. He tried to steel his resolve.
Thirty days. It wasn't ninety days, but thirty days was still a long time to live without something you used to be addicted to, and all for one small demand.
"So... so how does this work?" he asked. He started to reach for the packet, but she pulled it away and laughed.
"Stop looking at it like it's going to kill you!" Liz said. Now she was amused. Kid clenched his hands. She laughed again, her lips parting just enough to give him a glimpse of her white teeth. She had smoked for some time, to be sure, but not long enough for it to have caused a permanent stain. Kid was glad. He wouldn't need to take the girls to a dentist for a while yet. "It won't even hurt you at all," she added. "Your body's immune to poisons and stuff, right? That's what you said."
"Carcinogens," Kid muttered.
"Yeah, those," Liz said. "Just one wouldn't hurt anyone anyway." She jiggled the packet until the crumpled cardboard unflattened, then tilted it, the small round end of the last cigarette poking out of the opening like a new bud on a tree branch. She tapped the side of the box with her finger. The thin cylinder slid out gracefully. Kid was secretly impressed by the smooth, fluid motion, the practiced way in which Liz lifted the packet to her face, caught the end of the cigarette between her lips, and pulled it all of the way out.
She jammed the empty container thoughtlessly into her back pocket, then reached into a front pocket, pulling out a red plastic lighter. With a flick of her thumb, a tiny yellow flame bloomed, and Liz cupped her free hand around it, protecting it from the light breeze. She was just raising the lighter to the end of the cigarette when Kid caught her hand. The tiny flame went out.
"That's cheating," he told her firmly. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she looked like she was about to argue, so Kid quickly said, "Do you want to start at Day One all over again?"
She jerked her hand out of his grasp so fast, he was sure he'd accidentally hurt her wrist. But she only said, "Here, then," and plucked the cigarette out of her mouth and shoved it at him. He caught the thin white thing clumsily, almost dropping it to the balcony floor. He held on, however, and twisted it cautiously between his fingers, unsure of how to hold it. Kid frowned. To think, something so small and unassuming killed hundreds of thousands of people prematurely every year. Such an innocent looking thing, just a bunch of leaves rolled up attractively in white paper.
But Kid knew firsthand just how dangerous, how fatally seductive a prettily-wrapped package could be.
"Which way do I...?" he began, but then her slender hands descended on his, untangling his awkward fingers and flipping the stick around so that the orange end faced him instead. She had painted her fingernails red, he noticed. Red like the poppies in the garden.
"This is the filter," she instructed, tapping on the orange band. "It's the part you stick in your mouth." She guided his tense hand up so that the cigarette hovered only an inch away from his lips. He stared down at the filter, cross-eyed.
"You light the other end with this," she continued, pressing the lighter into his left palm, "and while you hold the fire up to it, breath in. That's how you start it. And then... just hold your breath for a moment, then let it out." She straightened up, her dirty blonde hair falling off her shoulder to drape down her back. "And that's all there is to it. Pretty simple, really."
"Okay..." Kid said. "Okay..." He stared down at the filter, cross-eyed, and tried not to hyperventilate. It wouldn't hurt him. It really wouldn't. His body would destroy all of the toxins within seconds. And wasn't it worth it, to do this one little thing to please her, to keep Liz from ever relapsing into this addiction again? He might keep her around longer, he told himself. This one little thing might do it. It might be the difference between keeping his new Weapon beside him for decades to come and losing her years too early to something as terribly mundane as heart disease or lung cancer.
The smell, though. It was just so disgusting, so wretched, so unclean. It wormed its way into fabric and clung to it like a leech. It would make his shirt stink. Kid liked the shirt he was wearing, too. It would take forever to get the stench out, just like it had for his favorite chair.
His nose curled up in revulsion, as if he could already smell the burning tobacco.
"C'mon, don't take all day," Liz said. She elbowed him in the arm, and, as if she'd flipped a switch, he jerkily raised his left hand and settled his thumb against the flint wheel of the lighter. Carefully, he eased just the very tip of the filter between his parted lips and let it rest there, his contorted fingers frozen in the position she had placed them in. He held the lighter up to the end, paused, then flicked the wheel.
Kid tried it several more times in quick succession. Flick, flick, flick. But he couldn't even get a spark. He only succeeded in hurting his thumb, which throbbed where he had dragged it against the rough texture of the wheel. Stupid, cheap, disposable lighter, he thought sourly.
"Oh, God, just give it to me already," Liz suddenly said. She didn't sound annoyed, though. Just impatient. A moment later, she had torn the lighter from his grasp and, with a single flick, held a tiny yellow flame up to the cigarette. Kid stared wide-eyed at the glinting fire as it licked at the end of the stick, the white paper slowly beginning to darken.
"You have to breathe in, Kid," Liz reminded him tersely. "C'mon, breathe in slowly, or it won't catch." He tore his eyes from the flame and found, to his surprise, that she was leaning rather close to him. It was just like the moment they had met, Kid thought. Her face was so close, he could pick out every detail in the flame's yellow glow, every eyelash and freckle and pore. Her face was inches away, but this time, it was his mouth from which the cigarette dangled.
The cigarette that had sat between her soft, lovely lips only moments before.
At this realization, Kid inhaled, suddenly and sharply. And it felt as if a volcano had suddenly erupted inside of him, because his chest began to burn horribly, and Liz had only a split second to jerk back before he yanked the cigarette from his mouth and began to cough. He wretched, his watering eyes shut tight, trying desperately to expel all of the smoke that seemed to clog his throat and lungs like fiery cotton.
It was a good minute or two before he was able to get himself under control. As the coughing slowed, each gasp coming less and less often, he was able to finally squint out of one tearing eye. Liz was laughing at him.
It was a mischievous laugh, fortunately, and not a mocking one. It made the teasing in her cobalt eyes bearable. The wide grin on her lips - her white teeth glinting - helped, too.
"I told you to take it slow," she said between laughs. Kid blinked back the tears as he felt her pat his back awkwardly a few times. He coughed a little harder again, and she stopped, resting her hand on her knee. He wished she hadn't. The patting had helped a bit. At least, it had made him feel a little better.
"I didn't mean to... do that," he said, as soon as he was able. Cautiously, he took a breath of fresh air, then exhaled, relieved. The burning in his chest had lessened significantly, though a strange feeling lingered inside him. He looked at the cigarette locked in his clumsy grasp.
Somehow, the end was still lit. The white paper curled and flaked into a tip of ashes, glowing poppy-red. A thin tendril of smoke rose from the end to dissipate into the clear blue sky.
"Well, when you try it again, don't get all panicky, okay?" Liz advised. "It's supposed to help you calm down, not have a freak-out fest."
Try it again. Kid couldn't help it. He glowered at the cigarette fiercely, then settled a fist obstinately against his waist. "I'm not doing this anymore," he said firmly. "I smoked it like you said. I'm done." His throat tickled and he coughed again. It almost came out as a wheeze.
"Oh-no you don't!" Liz replied. Her scowl verged on outrage, her blue eyes hard as stone once more. "I told you you're not backing out of this. I won't let you. Just take it easy, okay? Breathe in, hold it, let it out. Piece of cake. You know how to breathe, don't you?" The last remark came out rather sarcastic, which Kid didn't appreciate.
"Of course," he snapped.
"Then show me you can, Mr. Great-And-Powerful-Death-God," she said derisively, and when that ugly, asymmetrical smirk rose from her lips again, Kid thrust the cigarette back into his mouth. He couldn't let her get by with ridiculing him like that! He just couldn't, even though the only course of action was to do exactly what she wanted.
This time, when he breathed in, he took it slower, much slower. He could feel the smoke build up inside of him. The burn came again, but it didn't feel like it was eating him alive as it had before, only warming him up, like a fire in the hearth on a cold desert night. He was only able to hold it for a few seconds, but when he released the smoke, he only coughed twice. It was a vast improvement.
Kid tried again. Then again. And again.
Each time, it was a little easier. The warmth was more pleasant. He could hold the smoke in a little longer, and he didn't choke when he released it. His hand began to loosen up around the cigarette as well, the positioning of his fingers growing more natural. He felt his shoulders slump a bit. As the minutes passed in comfortable silence, his annoyance gradually melted away. He lost all sense of the passage of time.
He stared vacantly out at the garden over the balcony rail, watching the red poppies sway in the breeze.
"Why did you want me to do this?" Kid finally asked. Liz didn't answer. He looked over at her to find her playing with the lighter, twirling the little piece of red plastic around and around in her hand. She stopped when her eyes caught his in a sideways glance, curling her fingers instantly around the lighter, hiding it from view.
She smiled at him. Not a smirk or a laughing grin, but a real smile this time. A perfectly symmetrical curve on her sweet, lovely lips.
Kid looked back at the cigarette and scowled again. He didn't want her to think he was enjoying this.
"It's too bad you bungled the first puff," she said lightly. "It's always the best."
"It just feels the best, you know? It stays with you-"
"No, no, I mean, why did you want me to do this? Really." He chanced another glance at her. She was still smiling, though there was something different in her cobalt eyes. Something softer. Something deeper.
Liz didn't reply until after he had taken another long, slow drag, the smoke curling hesitantly from between his lips. Then she said, quietly, "I wanted you to know what it was like. To at least... know the feeling."
She looked away, out at the garden, and Kid turned his eyes back to the cigarette. It was quite a bit shorter now than it had been originally. He'd had to reposition his grip after knocking off some of the ashes.
The longer he thought about it, the more he felt like he knew what she meant. Smoking was different than he'd imagined it would be. It still burned and smelled terrible and made Kid feel like taking a long shower and scrubbing his clothes by hand, but when he released each slow breath of smoke, a sort of unclean feeling seemed to leave along with it. The urge to tidy himself up - to tidy anything up - just drifted away in the breeze, along with all of the worries and fears and obsessive thoughts that plagued every moment of his days. The cigarette left an odd feeling in his chest, but now that he thought about it, it wasn't just a physical feeling.
Kid felt... totally relaxed.
He didn't feel that way very often.
He let the hand holding the cigarette rest for a moment on his knee. This strange peacefulness within his soul. That must have been what Liz meant. They had only known each other for three months now, twelve weeks or ninety days or however you wanted to think about it. But Kid had learned that you didn't have to live a long time with someone to be able to figure out the basic state of their soul.
Maybe Liz knew, then, that his soul wasn't often at peace. Hers was often tortured as well.
"I'm proud of you," he said abruptly. Kid shoved the cigarette between his lips in the next instant, wishing he could take back the words. They sounded silly when he said them out loud. He had meant it, though, so he was glad he had said them when she turned to face him with her lovely, knowing smile.
It couldn't be that easy, after all, giving up something this relaxing, something that must have gotten her through so many rough times on the New York City streets. Even if it was bad for her health.
"I thought you might take to it - smoking," Liz said. Her smile began to curl upwards into that terrible amused grin. "You know what some people call cigarettes, right? They call them death sticks. Get it?"
"Humph," Kid grunted around the cigarette. It was getting so short, it probably wouldn't last much longer. Then this whole bet of theirs would be over. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
He breathed in, filling himself with the calming smoke. He was holding it, just about to let it go, when Liz added, "And I was right. You do look pretty hot with a cigarette."
Kid snorted in wide-eyed disbelief, the smoke shooting up into his nose instead of his mouth. It burned his sinuses instantly, and he whined at the agony, pinching the bridge of his nose tightly against the pain. He could feel smoke drifting out of his nostrils instead of between his lips and he gasped, letting the rest escape the way he had intended.
Liz chuckled, patting his back with gentle thumps as he tried to clear his head. "Well, that wasn't so sexy," she admitted. This time, when she stopped patting, she didn't take her hand away, but began to rub his back in smooth, concentric circles, his shirt crinkling lightly beneath her palm. "When you were getting the hang of it, though... You made smoking look pretty hot."
Kid couldn't think of anything to say to this. Some of the smoke must have lodged inside his mouth, though, because his cheeks were burning. He could feel them blooming poppy-red. He looked down at the smoldering cigarette, afraid to look anywhere else, especially at Liz. The tendrils of smoke spiraling up from the tip reminded him, in that moment, of the writhing, vaporous darkness of his own deathly powers. The whorls of smoke were like little white shadows, and it gave Kid an idea.
So he raised the cigarette to his mouth one more time. He breathed in smoothly, then released the smoke slowly and tenderly, like a kiss. It curled in the air, the gentle wisps of white congregating into a familiar three-pronged shape, perforated in the center by three round holes.
Kid was rather pleased with his attempt. It looked very much like the skull pin that was fastened, as always, at his throat. And as he had hoped it would, the trick certainly made her blue eyes dance and her lovely lips smile.