Thanks to everyone for staying with this story! This is the last chapter.
I do not own Soul Eater.
A Soul Eater in a Pine Tree (pt 2)
Her bed is empty when she wakes up.
It's a quarter after ten in the morning, and Maka Albarn can't decide if the muddled images in her head are memories or dreams. She wonders where Blair is. What day is it? She's probably late for work.
But she hears giggling coming from across her apartment, and everything snaps into place. She gulps a breath of air and tumbles out of her bed.
Maka shuffles into her living room on what is left of Christmas morning, and sees Patricia Thompson smiling with an orange rind, the peel covering all her teeth. Soul snorts, popping a segment of his own orange in his mouth. That's when he notices Maka's arrival, and says, "Oh!"
Patti bursts into a flurry of movement, hurriedly trying to re-wrap a large fruit basket, and places this and a small gift bag at Soul's bare feet. "Okay, do it, do it!" she says excitedly.
Standing up tall and straight, Soul stuffs the remainder of his orange between his shark-like teeth and opens his arms wide, holding them out to his sides. "Ta-daaaaa," he garbles around his food. Both he and Patti look at Maka, expectant.
Well, she can at least confirm that everything hadn't been a dream. "What. Are you doing..?"
"I'm the tree," Soul insists, as if it should be obvious.
"Oh, wait," Patti blurts, and reaches for the gift-wrapped giraffe and puts this amongst the other gifts at Soul's feet. Then she elbows Soul in the stomach. "Say it!"
He blinks, but then must realize what the girl is talking about, because he pulls the orange from his mouth and gives Maka a bright grin. "Merry Christmas in my pants!" To Maka's murderous glare, he defends with, "I got new pants though, from Wes," as if he isn't actually aware of every innuendo that comes out of his mouth.
When Maka rounds this glare off to Patti, who should not be adding fuel to the perverse fire (and at her age!), the girl only says, "Can we open the presents now? Please please please ple-"
"Well, we kinda opened one already," Soul admits guiltily.
"I made the executive decision that he should learn how to eat food. He rilly likes oranges!"
"You're changing colors again, Maka."
One livingroom-slash-sea of used wrapping paper from a giraffe de-mummification process later, and Patti sheds some light as Soul tries to peel another orange. "Yeeeah, I kinda knew what was up during the party. Tsubaki told me everything."
Maka doesn't know what kind of face she should make at this point- she's been through so many levels of shock and dismay over the past week that she simply can't find the energy to be surprised. "So that's why you didn't make a big deal over that picture I sent."
"Ahaha, well, that and Sis's boyfriend. Though I didn't know they were related, that is so COOL-" Patti blurts.
Soul's head whips up from his hands and says, "I know, right?"
Patti turns back to Maka and continues her excited rambling. "That makes you like my sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend which means we are officially sisters, madam!"
Maka fumbles with the wrapping paper she is trying to gather up in a ball. "W-wait, girlfri- I, what?" First off, she's pretty sure there is no word in any human language that can possibly define whatever 'relationship' she may or may not be in with a tree-turned-human, and secondly, she's pretty sure that any relationship short of marriage doesn't magically grant her any siblings-in-law. Still, she finds herself blushing, and a little pleased. "Sisters?"
She's always wanted a sister!
Despite having only announced their new family status, Patti brushes off Maka's surprise like it's already old news, and energetically moves on to the main event. "Thank you for my present it is the most awesomest giraffe and I will name him Mister Twigs, just for you. Annnnd here-" She scoots forward the half-open basket of assorted fruit. "This is from Kid. Er. The boss. Whatevs. And THIS IS FROM ME."
Trying to keep abreast of Patti's rapid fire commentary, Maka automatically clings to the gift bag that the girl shoves at her. It occurs to her that this is the first time in a long time that she has woken up on Christmas day to open up a present next to a (sort-of) tree, and Maka doesn't try too hard to dislodge the happy little knot of excitement in her chest. She reaches through tissue paper and grasps something soft and woolen.
"I present to you," Patti announces as Maka pulls out a purple and fluffy blob, "the longest scarf, in the history of mankind!" The younger blonde looks so pleased with herself that Maka fears soul will have some competition over having the most self-satisfied, confident smirk imaginable. "You can thank me by wearing it immediately."
So, over her pyjamas, Maka laughs while wrapping the scarf around her neck a few times. "It's very comfy and perfect. Thank you."
Patti beams at her, and then her attention rivets onto Soul. "I didn't know about you til last Friday, buuuut I gotchu a little sumpin-sumpin," she says, digging into a pocket of her winter coat and producing a small box which holds a toy of some kind. Soul accepts the gift a lot more carefully than the way Patti casually hands it over, and Maka realizes this is his first Christmas gift.
"Oh, uh. Thanks," he murmurs. It's not wrapped, and Soul Eater peers through the little cellophane window on the front of the box. "It's a ...flower?" He squints, unsure what to do about this development.
Patti waves her hand like she had expected this from the start. "Take it out and hold it in the sun."
He blinks a moment, then scuttles to a window, the sounds of him fiddling with the lid of the box trailing after him.
Maka tries to figure out just what Patti had given him, but Soul's back is turned as he stands at a small window, head tilted down to his hands. Her attention is then drawn by Patti grabbing one end of her ridiculously long scarf. The girl begins to tie a big loop with it.
"Look, this is how it works. You knot it here- are you payin' attention?"
"What are you doing to it?"
"See, now it's like this? Then you can throw it over his head and lasso him," Patti hisses at her.
"What?! No! Why would I want- stop smiling like that, you are not allowed to be perverted yet!"
Patti straightens the collar of her jacket. "Please, compared to Sis, I'm an angel."
Before Maka can make a counter argument (which is, granted, hard to do, after all of Elizabeth's comments about butts earlier this morning), Soul blurts from the window, "It's dancing," like he's not sure what to make of such a remarkable event. He turns around to face the two young women, a solar-powered, plastic flower in a tiny pot wiggling back and forth in the sun. He looks as if he's applying a large amount of willpower to act stoic about the dancing toy and not be hilariously excited about it.
"It's a dancing. Plant." He presses his lips into a barely contained smile. Maka tries just as hard to not giggle at how enamored he is over the thing.
Patti is less lenient. "It's awesome, right?!"
Soul's shoulders hunch up a little bit, cheeks tinting. He nods once. The girl grins evily.
"Isn't it cute?"
Maka laughs into her hand at how physically pained he looks trying to keep the strangled 'Yeeess' bottled up.
"Ehehehe." Patti wraps an arm around her giraffe's neck and slings the other around Maka's. "Welp! I gots to be going or I'm gonna be late to lunch. You should probably get ready for your thing too, right?"
Blinking, Maka gasps. "Oh no! What time is it? Arg, I'm still in my pajamas!"
She hadn't actually anticipated bringing anyone with her to her father's, but seeing Soul standing in the middle of her living room surrounded by orange peels and wrapping paper made something in her lungs constrict, and she'd brought him along, claiming that she didn't want him unleashing havoc while she was gone. In truth, it had more to do with personally knowing exactly what it felt like being alone in her apartment on Christmas.
She gives Soul a skeptical look when she sees he's brought the little solar flower into the car. He admits that he didn't want to leave it by itself. She ceremoniously sticks it on the dashboard and watches it happily sway back and forth while Soul figures out the seat belt.
He doesn't lean back into the seat, but sits forward, looking out the front window with interest as she drives.
"So when do I get to drive one of these things?"
"Uhhh, let's work on getting you down the stairs without having a freakout first, alright?"
"I was not freaking out, okay? Knees are just weird and...stuff."
Maka smiles as she stops at a red light. "I never figured trees to be afraid of heights."
"It's not heights." Soul huffs and pokes at the air vents in the dashboard with one hand as the other carefully holds on to the pumpkin pie in his lap. "The taller you are, the longer the fall," he grumbles. And then a loud motorcycle pulls up in the lane next to him. "Wha- What is THAT?"
Grimacing at the loud noise from the bike's engine, Maka says, displeased, "A Harley-Davidson. Why?"
The light turns green and the motorcycle accelerates past them as she shifts her car into second gear. Her passenger watches the rider fly ahead and change lanes. Maka's eyes cut between watching the road and witnessing Soul's eyes light up like stars.
"Don't tell me you want a-"
She groans, making the turn for her father's street. She carefully drives around a multitude of parked cars- someone else on the street must be having a gathering or something- and parks in Spirit's driveway. She's still not sure how she will handle her father, because she is sure how he will handle seeing his daughter bringing a man with her to Christmas. A man that looks like he's from outer space and is ready to make very good friends with her.
Add this on top of the fact that the last time she'd been here on Christmas, she and her mother had still lived here. When Soul comments on what must be her obvious state of nervous dread, she realizes her hands haven't left the steering wheel and are trying to choke it to death. "Like I said, I promise I'll be the most well-behaved human he's ever seen. ...Unless he gripes 'bout my posture again. Or threatens me. Or looks at me wrong."
Maka makes a helpless noise because all those things are pretty guaranteed. She pries her hands away from the steering wheel and thumps her head on it instead. In the silence, she can hear the little whirring of the tiny machine that makes the flower continue its swaying on the dashboard.
"...I didn't get him a present," she laments.
Soul scoffs. "You make things way harder than they have to be."
Maka sits upright and gives him a haggard look. "I'm serious! It's my first Christmas at home in a long time and I didn't even get Papa a present- like what kind of daughter does that? I'm a disgrace!"
He only rolls his eyes and unbuckles his seat belt. "Come on, let's go. If you get any more gloomy you're gonna turn into fungus," he chides as he exits the car with the pie in hand.
"I'm not a fungus," she pouts, slightly offended, and Soul shuts his door in response.
Walking over to her side of the car, he gives her a pointed, emoticon-like face, stooping over to see her through the window. Behind her, the little flower dances, its internal gears steadily whir-whirring, reminding her that time is ticking and she probably shouldn't be hiding in her car on Papa's driveway.
When she stands out of her car, boots planted firmly on the pavement, she takes a big breath to settle her nerves. Glancing at Soul, she notes the way he sways slightly as he slouches and looks at her is so strangely tree-like that it tickles her brain a little. He gives her a lopsided smile and lets her silently take the pie from him.
"I told you before- you already know what you gotta do."
Maka looks into the slightly cracked filling through the plastic wrapped over the top of the pumpkin pie, and comes to terms with the fact that she is accepting emotional advice from someone who had been a pine tree for the past thirty-something years.
"It's Christmas, Maka. And I'm pretty sure this one's not like any of the others you've seen, yeah?"
She tilts her head up at this, unable to stop the wry smile. "That's one way to sugarcoat it." She could not have anticipated the past forty-eight hours to save her life, and wonders how any other holiday will ever compare afterwards.
Maka teaches him how to hold out an elbow for her to thread her arm around, and as he smiles broadly on their way to the front door of her childhood home, she finally understands what Soul Eater had been trying to say.
She'll make this Christmas different. It'll just take a little courage.
And really, if she can handle a paranormal pine or three, being home for Christmas will be cake.
Between the second and third knocks she gives the front door, Soul remarks in a low pitch, "There it is."
Hand still poised in the air, she asks, "Where's what?"
The look he gives is warm, and she breathes in a faint wisp of cinnamon. "You should smile more," he murmurs.
If her blood's temperature climbs any higher, Maka thinks steam will start curling off her blushing face. She's grateful of the distraction of the opening door, but is also worried that her habit of slowly gravitating towards Soul's mouth is horribly obvious. She pulls away from him to a respectable distance while still hanging on his arm, and flashes her brightest smile to Tsubaki Nakatsukasa.
"Hi Tsubaki," she says a little too loud, "Merry Chr- W-what?! Tsubaki? What're you...?"
Tsubaki cheerily wishes them both Merry Christmas and gleefully eyes their connected arms.
"Man, one leg and I get a skirt, two legs and now I gotta wear pants. It's laaaaame," Soul complains after Wes asks him how he likes being able to walk around freely.
"Those are at least better than the ones this guy left you with."
Black Star reflexively barks back, "Okay, I'm short, we get it!"
Everyone is in her papa's house. Her godfather, Stein, sips coffee on the rarely-used couch, nodding his head slightly as he intently listens to Mira Nygus talk about her work. Maka's boss, Kid, sits frozen in a recliner, unsure what to do with Blair jumping in his lap. Sid Barett pulls Patti aside to speak with her about stopping by the tree farm, seeing as she's been working with potted plants and arrangements, and has a knack for the paranormal. Liz is too far out of earshot for Maka to catch what she is saying to Tsubaki, but by the cheesy grins on both women's faces, Maka assumes the subject is perverted, and probably about rear ends.
The tree-trio- Soul, Wes, and Black Star- smile and attempt to casually wear jingly reindeer antlers like it's the most normal thing in the world. Squinting suspiciously in their direction, and wearing his own pair of antlers, Spirit Albarn drums his fingers on the disposable cup of eggnog in his hand.
Maka finds herself hovering around her father. She had anticipated trying to keep him at a comfortable distance to avoid being smothered to death by random hugs, but she inches closer to his side voluntarily, worrying he will try to snap Soul Eater in half for existing.
She tries to break the situation to him gently without giving away that Soul used to be a plant. This process somehow equates to putting a question mark at the end of every statement. "I know he's strange, but, well, he's kinda living with me now?"
The plastic cup pops slightly in Spirit's disgruntled grasp.
"And, um, I might be dating him later so, if you could maybe not kill him? That would be very nice of you?"
Her father takes a stiff sip of his eggnog. Maka attempts to change the subject. "I didn't know you were gonna invite everybody. I would've made another pie."
At this, Spirit finally tears his eyes away from his target and glances at the pumpkin pie in her hands. "When you told me you were coming, I got kinda excited," he says sheepishly. "Though, I only invited Stein and your neighbors... That Tsubaki asked to bring along a few friends and then," Spirit waves his hand across the expanse of his crowded house, "this happened."
'This' seeming very much like a Tsubaki-thing to do, Maka laughs at her friends milling about the living room. She smiles broadly at the unsure look Spirit gives her. It's hard not to, when she's in a warm, full house. "It's a wonderful surprise, Papa. I'm really glad I came," she says, and he beams back.
"Let's get that masterpiece in the fridge."
Once in the kitchen, the commotion in the living room diminishes, muffled. She stands next to the refrigerator, watching as Spirit tries to make room for the pie. The appliance has come to be a lot more grandly stocked with food since she'd last seen it. She recognizes some of Tsubaki's signature crowd-pleasers.
"Sorry I didn't bring you anything but this, Dad," she quietly admits when he's half-inside the fridge, rearranging casseroles. "I don't have a gift for you."
He takes the time to carefully take the pie from her hands and places it in the refrigerator, but neglects to shut the door in his hurry to envelop her in a firm hug. Maka's nose tingles with peppermint that transports her to a different year and age.
"You're the best gift I've ever been given, Maka."
She huffs into his familiar shirt. Leave it to Papa to say the cheesiest things possible. Still, she sinks more deeply into his embrace.
"...your father cherishes you more than anything in the world."
A moment of this, and she hears him sniffling.
"...Are you crying," she asks flatly.
"Wh- no, it smells like- the goose!"
She's nearly spun out of his arms as he slams the refrigerator door and yanks open the oven, forced to waft away the tendrils of smoke that greet him. "Goose? I thought you were just gonna cook a chicken? Is it on fire?"
"Whew! Some of the juice spilled and smoked, it's fine," he says, relieved. Pot holder in one hand and dishtowel in the other, he retrieves the roasting pan from the oven. "Your friends wanted to surprise you and... Ow! Tssk. So I needed more food. Can't have people starving on Christmas!"
Maka hunts through a drawer for a baster and hands this to him. He really is a Christmas Spirit, she muses, smiling helplessly. A kind heart, who invites 'punk-asses' into his house for the holiday.
"Papa," she says as he bastes juices over the roasted goose.
"Papa, are you a tree?" she hears her voice ask.
Wait. What? She'd wanted to ask if he needed help setting the table. But somewhere, in the back of her mind, everything had pointed her in this random direction, and she'd been thinking about how he's stayed in one place for so long and waited for her to come around, because roots go deep, and the question just popped out of her mouth without any conscious effort. The idea is absurd. There's no way that's possible.
But he smells like peppermint and mint gum and candy canes when he's happy, and she can't help but notice how his eyes twinkle when he smiles, and his hair is too bright of a red to be normal, and he's needy and attention-seeking-
(and his daughter is, at most, fifty percent normal)
(and his daughter's nickname, when it's not 'Grinch', is 'Twiggy')
Spirit gives her a hesitant smile, which warms into something like pride.
She has a long talk with him after everyone but Soul takes their leave. She learns a few things about her father, her mother, and herself. There's a lot she still can't accept easily- like Spirit's penchant for hitting on anything that moves, and her mother's inability to stay in one place for very long- but it feels relieving to know the story, even if it's too difficult to digest all at once.
The important thing is that Papa is with her, and he will never go too far from her, because they are rooted together. And now she has Soul, in whatever way that may mean, who she believes can support her in her lowest moments when others can not.
After giving her father a tight hug, she makes her way to her personal slice of forest, who presently sleeps off the first real meal (feast, really) he's ever had, sprawled across Spirit's couch.
Her father frowns but says nothing, and returns to eating the last of the pumpkin pie directly from the dish as Maka quietly kneels and gives Soul Eater the faintest of kisses.
She leans away, still crouched next to him, watching as he groggily wakes after a few seconds. His fingers fumble to his lips, and Maka smiles to herself. See how he likes waking up from a kiss he's not sure is real!
Red lights focus on her. "Did you just-?"
She blinks once.
Soul smirks a little but tries to hide it with a wide yawn and a stretch. "You smell good," he greets. "Like oranges."
"Let's go home," she says, heart growing a few sizes.
(Because orange is his favorite, just like cider is hers.)
Marsh: I'd like to give special thanks to VictoriaPyrrhi and Lueur de L'aube for helping me finish this fic, and super!special thanks to DarkPurply, for helping me start this monster last year! This has been the most fun I've had writing something, and I'm glad for everyone that has pestered me all year to finish it up.
Thank you all for your wonderful reviews, encouragements, and even fanart! Please have a wonderful and safe holiday.
Feel free to check out my tumblr (marshofsleep) and say hello! I'll gladly answer any questions you may have.
(PS, a Pine Tree Omake will be posted separately, which will involve some slice-of-life epilogue type stuff, and will be M-rated for sexual content.)
(PPS, Did you know that Chichen Itza is located in Yucatan, Mexico?)