To all three of you still paying attention, I apologize profusely for the delay. I quit my awful office job, attempted NaNoWriMo, and had some kind of crazy get-my-life-together montage, the bottom line being that all these things have been time consuming (also video games).

What I will say is that I am not particularly fond of this chapter - the writing is sound enough and I am assured that it is entertaining, but I have been sitting around having extreme bouts of writer angst whining about it not working, dammit. I've decided, though, that I'm probably just being dumb, and even if I'm not I won't figure out what needs work until three months from now and I'm not going to be that fic author - and so here it is for your viewing pleasure. I apologize for any errant spellings or instances in which ffnet has mangled my italics.

If Soul had been inclined to use polite language, he might have called the trip quiet. Maka confined him to bed with pointed glares and the not very subtle implication that she would render him incapable of standing if that was what it took to keep him there, and for a while the pain in his chest made him reasonably complacent. Spirit visited occasionally, usually to bring Soul food under the guise of giving him suspicious looks in regard to the perceived threat Soul posed to his daughter's virtue in his twisted reality where Soul was capable of overpowering or deceiving her. Black Star came to laugh at him, at least until Tsubaki bypassed pseudo-polite implications entirely and punched him to restore some of his maturity. Enough that they came to some sort of impasse, anyway; enough that Soul found himself willing to trust his former partner again, if not perhaps with his life.

For all that Spirit and Maka would have had Masamune imprisoned belowdecks, Tsubaki refused to allow her brother to be confined so, if only because she feared for its effect on his sanity. After their little chat, Soul did not see the man again until some week or more later when Maka's vigilance slipped and he found himself unsupervised. Perceiving the opportunity and restless despite the ache in his chest, Soul edged out of bed, careful of his healing wound, and, once he was dressed, tottered out of his cabin on legs gone wobbly from disuse and the ship's movement. When he at last made his way outside he found calm seas and warm air and near-blinding sunlight - they were nearing the equator, he remembered - and Soul grabbed a nearby railing for support as he squinted and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Maka, it seemed; Maka and Black Star, sparring in a blur of precisely placed kicks and punches and disorienting evasive maneuvers that did nothing but make Soul remember why he'd never taken up hand to hand fighting in the first place. The sailors gave them a wide berth, and beyond them Soul could see Tsubaki's silhouette in the prow, leaning into the hunched figure of her brother as if to protect. Masamune turned when Soul's eyes lighted on him, but Soul was still too sun-blind to make out his expression, which was probably for the better.

He turned his attention back to Maka and her serpentine grace, precise fluid movements in stark contrast to Black Star's fast, heavy blows meant to pummel an opponent into submission. She whirled around him and Soul could see Black Star fighting his rising frustration; he caught himself wondering just which of them would slip up first. The first opening given would likely be the last, with how hard Black Star hit and how unerringly he knew Maka would strike at vital areas given any opportunity.

It was as he was becoming engrossed, eyes finally adjusted and learning to follow and understand their movements, that Spirit's hand clamped down on his shoulder. Soul started and somehow managed not to go for the gun he'd stuck through his waistband, giving Spirit an annoyed look that made Maka's father respond with a deeply suspicious stare, green eyes narrowing down at him in a way that made Soul wish he'd drawn a pistol after all.

"I'll go," he growled before the man could launch into some kind of tirade about him needing bed rest that was nothing but him trying to keep Soul away from the woman he was supposed to either be working for or trained by - not that he was in any shape to do either. "Don't bother with the lecture. I can be useless inside as easily as out here, and I cannot hope that you have much sympathy for the fact that I would enjoy staring at something novel for a time, not to mention getting some fresh air." He rubbed at his stitches through his shirt and sighed, watching Maka move with no small amount of envy. "Would that I could at least practice my shooting or try to work some life into these torn muscles, but the crew would not allow me to discharge firearms on board and I don't think I'm healed enough to even attempt anything strenuous."

Spirit's glare softened somewhat, though the dissatisfied pull to his mouth did not fade. He let go of Soul, though, eyes turning towards his daughter as he spoke. "Find somewhere out of the way where you won't end up in the sea if we actually find some waves, and I'll show you some stretches for the muscles," he said, looking as if the words pained him. "There isn't much you can do yet, but at least it will be something to occupy you that isn't complaining or staring at my daughter. Perhaps we can teach you to fish one-handed."

Soul, through an inhuman feat of will, managed not to snap at Spirit in a literal or figurative sense. He wanted off this damned boat; Medusa's hunger would hound him till the end of his days, but nursing it in such close quarters was trying, made him restless and fractious and inclined to see just how sharp his teeth really were in what would undoubtedly be the worst ways possible. At least Spirit was trying to help, even if his intentions were not exactly altruistic. Soul shook himself out of increasingly bloody thoughts and nodded; they found a suitable spot and Soul let Spirit show him what to do - the stretches hurt like hell, but he could tell they were helping, and even though he could see Maka he was in too much pain to care, which left both parties well satisfied.

He spent the remainder of the first leg of their trip reading and trying to force his body to heal faster than it wanted to, which had the side effect of making Maka give him absolutely terrifying glares every time she caught him at it until he agreed to stop, at least for the immediate future. Having Maka break one or both of his legs to force him to stay still and heal wasn't an experience Soul cared to have, after all. His only consolation was that she gave her father equally blistering glares for having taught him the exercises, and by the time they got to Panama after what Soul estimated to be about two weeks Maka was hardly speaking to either of them. He was inordinately glad to be on land again, if only because it meant he had the implied option of space if he needed it. There were no witches, at least, and the trek through the jungle was not as awful as it could have been, though the weather did nothing to help his cut heal. Still, he had a week of comparative freedom before they reached the Atlantic Ocean and yet another ship to serve as little more than a mobile prison until they reached their destination.

The stitches came out sometime during the second voyage, and when he set foot in Charleston harbor Soul was wearing only bandages beneath his shirt, for all that his left arm was still more or less useless when it came to a firefight.

"Papa," Maka said from somewhere behind him, "Soul and I will go ahead to Justin's shelter and let him know that you are en route with Masamune. I've no doubt he will need as much advance notice as we can manage to accommodate him, not to mention us."

"Maka," Spirit said, tone chiding and fatherly and infuriating, but Soul was too busy staring at the city to pay attention to their brewing dispute. He hadn't seen civilization - even if this was not necessarily 'civilized,' exactly, being as it was the hub of the slave trade - for a very long time indeed, though the crush of people was not so different from San Francisco, not that he'd ever spent much time there. Maka argued with her father and Soul drank in the architecture, the cobbled streets old as the colonies, the bustle of the docks; took a deep breath and, under the smell of the sea and horses and a thousand other things, caught the electric scent of magic, of witches. It was old, too old to be a threat or worth remarking upon, but it sent a galvanizing jolt through him nonetheless, mouth stretching into a toothy smirk and red eyes alight so that Maka stopped fighting with her father to look at him, cautious.

"Let's go," he said, fingers flexing, eager for his guns.

"Yes, let's," Maka said, stepping forward and taking him by the elbow. Order returned to his mind - the world lost its red tinge - with startling suddenness, and Soul took a deep breath and waited for his heart to still before giving her a wan smile and letting her lead him into the city.

"It's just old magic," he said as they wound through the streets, not waiting for Maka to do more than give him a querying look, deceptively mild. He knew that an explanation was not optional. "Nothing new, nothing threatening. There have been witches here, and I can smell their magic. Nothing more than that. Thank you, though."

He didn't need to explain the apology, and was glad for that. Maka shrugged, an infinitesimal roll of one shoulder. "Think nothing of it," she said, one hand smoothing over the buttons of her man's shirt - more worried about passing as male than witches or Soul's curse, which was comforting in an odd way. "I am always pleased when being of assistance dovetails so nicely with removing myself from my father's presence."

Soul chuckled and looked around, pulling his coat a little closer: even in the south, it was heading into winter, and it was cooler here than in California, to say nothing of equatorial Panama. It had been some time since he experienced proper seasons, and the chill in the air was nearly as enjoyable as the dignified architecture of the street they were walking down - or the realization that he was back in a place that had real laws, where he could not be shot down or robbed indiscriminately. Still, they were getting some rather unpleasant looks from the people sharing the street with them, looks Soul shrugged off as more of the same - red eyes, strange hair, he was used to it - until Maka spoke.

"I am going to have to see that you are properly clothed," she said with some amusement as a well-bred lady took a look at them and sniffed, offended.

Soul sighed. "Tailors and respectable clothing were some of the reasons I left the east coast in the first place," he said, scowling so at a couple who had been staring at him that the man took his lady firmly by the arm and led her away, casting suspicious glances over his shoulder as they departed. "At least in California people only looked at me like that because I'd drawn a gun on them or gotten into a bar fight."

"Bar fight?" Maka queried, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, slight smirk tugging the corner of her mouth.

"Black Star is not known for his discretion, at least not when it doesn't pertain directly to his mission," Soul said, still scowling and no longer paying the elegant houses or ancient trees much mind.

"I will not bother feigning surprise," Maka said, very dry, and turned down a side street. "But what is this you speak of? You are, in fact, from the east of this country?"

"Technically," Soul said, voice edged. "Travelled a lot when I was younger. Older brother - well. That isn't important. I left as soon as I was old enough, learned to shoot and found myself a profession that had the added bonus of ensuring that my family left me alone. Where are we going?"

"To Justin's - ah - shelter, I suppose you might call it," Maka said, eyeing him askance but willing to let the topic drop. "He takes in those who have fallen prey to madness, whatever the source may be, and assists their recovery as much as he is able. He has a way with it - most of his charges recover well enough to live on their own."

"Not planning on leaving me to share a room with Masamune, I hope," Soul said, tone light but eyes wary when he glanced down at her.

"No," Maka said, and her voice held no hesitation. "You are not so far gone as to need Justin's assistance, particularly not with me present."

Soul grunted an affirmative and glanced around again; they had passed out of the affluent section of town and into a neighborhood of run-down buildings, all peeling paint and sagging eaves. Maka led him to one of these, notable only in that it was the only building in the area undergoing active improvement: men swarmed over it, repairing damaged wood and shingles, painting and cleaning windows on the second floor. They drew near and the men stopped, staring at Soul; he stopped in the street and stared right back, eyes narrowing when one of the men gave him a knowing grin.

Maka was already on the porch greeting a tall blond man dressed in plain black, the small smile on her face nothing if not polite and perhaps a touch relieved. Soul stopped staring at the men on the roof and stomped onto the porch, nodding to the man while Maka shook her head at his behavior.

"Soul, this is Justin," she said, and the man's empty blue eyes warmed just enough that Soul was almost convinced he was sincere when he offered his hand. Soul took it, careful not to let his suspicion show, and smiled, equally careful not to let his teeth show. "Justin, Soul. He will be joining us, I believe."

"Excellent," Justin said, dropping Soul's hand and gesturing them inside. "I am always glad to have a brother join the fight. I presume your father is not far behind?"

"Correct," Maka said, settling into a chair in the pleasant little sitting room they found themselves in. Rather than sit - Justin made him uneasy, though Soul would be the first to admit that strangers always made him uneasy, especially when he couldn't read them well - Soul found a corner and set his back against it, ignoring the amused glance he got from Justin. "He has another patient for you, I am afraid - a man called Masamune, and I am not optimistic that he can be helped. Still, he needs a place where he can be contained, if nothing else. He's an upsettingly powerful swordsman, and heir to a rather impressive and ancient witch-slaying blade."

Justin brought them tea, a luxury Soul was very grateful for after so long at sea, and sat down across from Maka. "It will be good to have a challenge," he said, expression serene and smiling. "The men outside are nearly ready to leave me, and then I will have to pay for my carpentry needs rather than use them as therapy. Doctor Stein fares well enough, by the way. He is unhinged with grief and the madness in him is a bit closer to the surface than usual, but he is still in possession of his faculties. I hope that you will be able to set things right in New York soon. It would do him a world of good to be able to go home, and even more to visit Marie's grave."

"Papa will set things right," Maka said, eyes flinty at the mention of her home and the chaos she was likely to find there. "Though our course of action will depend on what information you can give us as to the situation at home. I fear for what might have happened with so many of our operatives absent."

"Rightly so," Justin said, expression turning grave. "But let's allow that news to wait for your father's arrival, shall we? I would prefer not to have to repeat it."

Maka shrugged, a small gesture that Soul interpreted as irritation. "Of course. In the meantime, I believe I will see if I can't procure some acceptable clothing for Soul, since Papa is not known for his ability to move quickly when there is not some dire threat involved."

"I'll direct you to a good tailor," Justin said, giving Soul a smirking once-over that made his hands twitch towards his guns. "He does look a bit threadbare, doesn't he?"

"I am a bounty hunter," Soul said in clipped tones, the desire to bare his teeth nearly as overwhelming as the desire to punch Justin right in his judgemental face. "Vanity is not a part of my job. Killing people is, and I assure you I am very good at that."

"He is a better shot than me with those pistols, and has saved my life more than once," Maka said, sipping tea as if they were making small talk, and Justin's brows rose.

"Well enough, then," he said. "If you vouch for him so, I must accept that his skills are incongruous with his appearance and the scent of madness and black magic that clings to him."

"Don't worry," Soul said, glaring and hungry in his corner. "I'm not here to share a bunk with Masamune. If you'll give us directions I'll be more than happy to present myself in a manner that suits your standards, if that will allay your concerns about my sanity and abilities."

Justin gave him a foxlike smile. "Maka speaks well of you - I would not doubt your skills, nor your ability to cling to what remains of your sanity. I would appreciate it if you would consent to dress yourself like a civilized man, though, so please allow me to direct you to a tailor and be about my business. I have work to do if I am to be prepared for Spirit's arrival."

Soul glared, and watched Justin's every move as he turned back to Maka and gave her directions before excusing himself with another one of those edged grins that Soul wanted to wipe off his face with his fists or a bullet.

"Soul," Maka said, setting her teacup down with a grace and economy of motion that a queen might have envied, "give me your guns."

"Excuse me?" Soul snapped, uncrossing his arms and pushing away from the wall.

"The tailor will want to get your measurements," she said, ignoring his agitation. "They don't particularly like it when armed men wander into their shops. This is not California, Soul Eater. Surely you recall what it is to live in more civilized climes."

Soul sighed and looked away, ground his teeth a bit. Maka seemed to have a knack for getting him into situations where he lost his composure, which really made his life more difficult than he wanted it to be. It was too late for that kind of regret, though. Medusa would kill him if he went back to California alone, and he didn't much care for the notion of trying to make his way on the eastern seaboard by himself.

"I remember," he said, voice coming out in a low, frustrated rumble, and produced his pistols from where they'd been tucked under his leather coat, hidden against the small of his back. "It means maintaining the appearance of civility, no matter how false." Maka stood and walked to him, the toes of her boots brushing his as she accepted his weapons. "At least people were honest about their cruelty in California. At least I could defend myself without too much fuss. Does Arachne heed the laws? Does she pay attention to what is considered good society?"

"Only insofar as it behooves her," Maka said, peering up at him from far too close. "She does a better job of it than most, when she wants to." She tucked the guns away, hiding them under her own coat, and sighed, hooking her thumbs into her belt and still much too close for Soul's comfort or peace of mind.

"Let's get out of here if we're going," Soul said, mouth still set into a scowl. "And I hope you're paying, because I certainly do not have the funds to purchase a new wardrobe, particularly not one of fine enough cloth or stylish enough cut to please your cohort."

That made her laugh, brought back that quicksilver grin, and Soul felt some of the violent tension in him ease and uncurl. His shoulders straightened and he gave her a toothy, lazy grin in kind when she stepped away and gestured him towards the door.


The tailor was not so bad, though it tried Soul's patience. The man fussed over him and made disparaging noises at his threadbare, cheap clothes - though that leather coat had not been cheap and Soul would only give it up when Arachne or Medusa pried it from his cold dead hands - but he took Soul's measurements and promised to have a selection of clothes that Maka picked out delivered within a few days.

"You may keep your hat if you must," Maka said as they left, though there was no bite to her voice - there might even have been a trace of mischief, but Soul wasn't going to press his luck.

"You are truly gracious," he said, still a little peeved at the tailor, and she chuckled, though her half-grin faded into something rather pained as they neared their destination.

"Hopefully Papa and Stein have gotten over the worst of their dramatics over Marie and BJ," she said, allowing herself a heavy sigh. "It has been difficult enough without the two of them caterwauling over their grief."

Soul wasn't certain that he'd term what they found when they got back to Justin's caterwauling, but it was definitely not dignified. They let themselves in and found the main sitting room empty, but Spirit's impassioned commentary about his deceased comrades was both loud and easy to follow.

"Oh, Papa," Maka murmured, walking ahead of Soul, who had paused at the sound of Spirit's rather unsteady voice. He followed her down a hallway and past a rather forbidding door into what he assumed was the private portion of the building, and it was there, seated around a table covered in bottles of questionable alcohol, that Soul first saw the good Doctor Stein, whose madness had forced Maka to set foot in California. The man was more than a little drunk and leaning against Spirit, as quiet in his pain as Spirit was vocal. Soul glanced to the other side of the table, where Black Star was listening to Spirit extol Marie's virtues and looking increasingly righteous, Tsubaki at his side looking grave and very tense, as if waiting for something catastrophic to happen, and sighed to himself.

Satisfied that Black Star was not, for the moment, going to cause trouble, Soul turned his attention back to the doctor, catalogued hair only a slightly darker shade than his own, pale skin crisscrossed with railroad-track scars that looked oddly deliberate, glasses that almost obscured strange, pale green-grey eyes, and clothes that looked to have the same railroad stitching as the man's scars. There was a pipe set on the table beside the spirits, still smoldering, and Soul would have thought it an attractive piece if he hadn't realized after a moment's scrutiny that the ivory of it was carved into a pattern of interlocking bones.

"Papa," Maka said, just close enough to Soul's left side that he looked away from Stein to give the top of her head a reproving look, but didn't do anything overt to discourage her. Spirit stopped mid-word to look at his daughter, eyes full of startlingly raw pain, and Soul would have been interested to watch the rest of their interaction if Stein hadn't chosen that moment to look up, the sinister gleam of light across his glasses precluding the piercing stare he pinned Soul with.

"Oh ho," he said, voice breathing dark and gravelly across the syllables, and Soul reached for weapons that weren't at hand for the second time that day when a palpable feeling of being weighed, measured, and picked apart grated across his mind.

"Maka," he said, barely able to force coherent speech and incapable of breaking eye contact with the doctor, whose expression was trending rapidly towards an unhinged grin, "give me my guns."

"Stein," Maka said, sparing Soul a moment's exasperated glare before bending the full weight of her disapproval and power upon the tall man who had created the problem.

The murderous gleam in his eyes vanished as quickly as the psychotic smile, and Stein turned an expression Maka's way that was nothing so much as tired affection.

"Maka, my dear," he said, leaning back and splaying his rangy frame across every inch of the couch that Spirit was not likewise occupying. "I am glad to see that your efforts have not been in vain - indeed, you have brought four exceedingly interesting subjects to me, and that red-eyed devil beside you I will especially enjoy studying, perhaps even more than the truly mad one Justin has taken downstairs. If only I could accompany you home to clear up this mess, but alas. I must rely upon you and Spirit to avenge dearest Marie, and convince the police that I didn't kill poor BJ. I hope you will not take it amiss that I find myself wishing it can all be solved without confronting Arachne directly." The edge crept back into his smile, the gleam of sadism in his eyes making Soul's skin crawl so that he started weighing the likelihood of Maka breaking some of his bones if he tried to reclaim his pistols by force. "Wringing her neck is a pleasure I would prefer to have for myself."

"We shall see," Maka said, inclining her head in gracious concession.

"Justin will be here momentarily," Stein said, crooked grin faltering when Spirit downed the rest of the drink he'd been nursing and let out a heavy sigh.

Maka nodded, and there was a shining moment of silence in which Soul drew a deep breath, shook the tension and the crawling feel of Stein picking at his soul off, and did his best to remember that he was among allies and shouldn't feel the need to have his guns in his hands.

Black Star had never been one to abide silence, though, and Soul had barely exhaled the single rejuvenating breath he'd managed when his former partner stood and gave him the kind of determined, righteous stare that Soul had come to associate with crusades and nearly getting killed for whatever cause the man had decided to champion.

"We have to help these people," he announced, and Soul rolled his eyes, stuffing his hands deep into his jacket pockets.

"I decided to help them before we left California," he said, and caught sight of Maka giving Black Star a bemused look out of the corner of his eye. "Were you just tagging along for fun?"

He received a disdainful scowl in response. "There was a lot in it for me," Black Star said without a trace of shame. "Freedom from the witch, the opportunity to fight her and her sister for a living instead of be forced to work for her - the only chance Tsubaki is likely to see to get help for her brother. It was good business. Now it's personal. It was personal halfway through the trip, but you were stuck in bed and I didn't want to trouble you."

Soul didn't believe that for a moment - Maka had probably threatened to put a bullet in his brain - but Soul was used to allowing Black Star the occasional polite fiction to preserve his considerable ego. He gave his former partner a sardonic smirk just to make sure he knew Soul wasn't fooled, and Black Star gave him a blinding grin right back, was in the process of laughing and coming over to thump him on the back when a noise from the back of the room interrupted them.

"I am glad to see that you have made a firm alliance," Justin said, sidling into the room from somewhere deeper in the building and nearly startling Black Star into attacking him. "Tsubaki, your brother is safely tucked away in a room with a light source he cannot destroy, and I will do my utmost to help him. In the meantime, I have news for all of you regarding the state of things back home, consisting first and foremost of a polite but rather urgent request from Kid that you return home as quickly as possible. Things have become a bit dire, I'm afraid."

Spirit made a noise of desperate query, the sound begging Justin to tell him that the situation could be fixed, whatever it was. Stein sighed and clapped a hand to Spirit's shoulder, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and looking grim.

"Arachne has seized control of a great deal of territory and power," Justin said, arms crossed and face blank, so much so that Soul felt alarm prickle across his skin. "The police are more hers now than ever before, and she has driven Feodor and his partner back to Europe, where they are struggling to defend Vienna. She nearly killed Tezca while you were away - he has been in hiding, where not even Kid knows. Powerful as our few remaining operatives in New York are, they are not enough to stand against her, not when we are fighting a war on at least two fronts and not when she has resources at her disposal that can fight and best the likes of Marie and BJ. If something is not done soon, she will become powerful enough that none will stand a chance of stopping her from taking the world for her own. I was considering returning there myself when you arrived, or perhaps convincing Kid to call Suzume back from New Orleans."

Maka went very still at the mention of Suzume, and Soul glanced at her, brow furrowed - and was interrupted by Spirit's vehement denial.

"No," he said, perilously close to shouting as Stein's mouth curled in a pained, mad half-smile. "No. I will not call Suzume back - I refuse to fall so far as to depend on her help. We will return to New York and I will see this rectified; I will see Arachne dead or die in the attempt before I fail again." He stood, and Maka stepped forward when he swayed only to be rebuffed when Spirit all but charged past her, doors slamming after him as he ran outside.

"He'll be wanting to see what it will take to charter another ship to New York," Stein said, getting to his feet and collecting his pipe, smoke curling around his face in twisting spirals that complimented his crooked smile in a way that made Soul deeply uneasy. "I'll make sure he doesn't come to any harm. I would be more than happy to let you go, Maka, but I do not think Spirit is in any state to speak to you rationally at the moment."

"By all means, go," Maka said, words clipped and all but vibrating with tension. "Make sure he does not book us passage for the morning - we need to wait two days or so, not only to resupply but so that the tailor can finish with Soul's clothes. Besides, it would do him well to have a few days to readjust, as it were."

"Of course," Stein said, and left; Justin watched him go without comment, turning to Tsubaki once he was gone to invite her and Black Star to come with him and see the quarters he had settled Masamune in. They accepted, leaving Soul and Maka alone in the room all of a sudden, not unlike an unexpected punch to the gut; Soul glanced at her, red eyes guarded, and she looked away.

"I would rest, were I you," she said, staring pointedly at the window to her left. "We shall have a hard fight of it once we reach New York, and a hard journey there if Stein cannot convince Papa to wait for a ship to New York." A pause. "I need you in good fighting shape if we are to avoid bringing my mother into this. I'll show you to your room and see what I can manage for a meal if you have no objection."

Her tone was curiously mild, as if something had taken the starch out of her, and Soul didn't see any reason not to do as she requested. Sleeping in a real bed that wasn't in constant motion and eating food that wasn't ship's rations would probably do a great deal to hasten his recovery, in any case. Maka turned to the right and, with a glance to make sure he was following, led him up a narrow, creaking staircase to a hallway lined with small rooms. They were just large enough to hold a narrow bed, a chest of drawers, a small end table under an equally small window, and a person. Soul was more relieved than he cared to admit to find his meager belongings waiting for him atop the chest of drawers, and stopped digging through them after a moment to find Maka lingering in the doorway, looking uncertain under her veneer of calm.

Soul looked at her, dug through his things with more gusto, and at last procured the small pouch he'd been searching for, still packed to bursting with gold.

"Let's go out," he said, tucking a handful of coins into his coat pocket. "If you can take me to a decent restaurant, I'll take care of the bill. I've had more than enough of being cooped up in tiny rooms, and it seems as though that's going to be my lot in life at least until we make it to New York."

"So you are going to stay," Maka said, unable to hide her relief or bright smile. "All right. I know a few places, and I imagine I can find one that won't refuse you service for lacking proper attire."

"Says the woman pretending to be a man," Soul said, and Maka shrugged as he brushed past her.

"I, at least, look like a respectable gentleman," she said, shrugging to settle her coat across her shoulders better, and Soul, lacking an effective retort, rolled his eyes and headed back outside.