Welcome to the Thanksgiving fic! This is my first AU, so I'm really nervous/excited. Also, this is dedicated to Mikey and Alik, my internet kids, who happen to share my birth month. Happy bday, guys! I hope everyone enjoys the story, and if so, would leave a review!

It was a dark and stormy night. A night where anything could happen. He sat in his grungy office, chair tilted up on the back two legs with his feet propped on the scuffed surface of his Good Will desk. The only friends he would ever need were snuggled together in the second drawer; a bottle for one hand and a bullet for the other. His lazy red eyes were trained on the door. All that was required to make his night perfect was for a leggy dame with ash blond hair to walk in, ready for him to solve her problems...

"Hey kid! That suit gets ruined, it's comin' outta your paycheck!"

Okay, so it wasn't a dark and rainy night. It was an overcast, drizzly afternoon, the cold water dripping off of Soul's beak and soaking through his cheap polyester feathers. He shook his bedraggled self, slinking around the side of the supermarket to head for the back door, his obscenely bright orange feet squelching through the puddles. Muttering curses under his breath as he awkwardly fought to open the door with his wings, he wondered, not for the first time, if he could quit this crap job and just make everyone homemade Christmas presents instead. If he suddenly developed a talent for crafts. Or the self discipline to sit his butt down and get them done. He stomped over to his locker, hands coming up to wrestle off his accursed head. Next year, he swore he was going to budget better or at least look for a nicer part time job. He just knew he was going to be haunted with nightmares of being TomTom the turkey forever.

After a heart stopping moment when the head wouldn't loosen and he thought he was stuck as a turkey forever, it finally gave way and Soul flung it to the bench with a mixture of disgust and relief. The stale odor of rotten produce hung in the air, dank and moist. He scrunched his nose, moving quickly so he could get out of there. The only saving grace was that none of his friends knew he was in this place. Imagining their reactions to seeing him in the gaudy turkey suit, with its half-witted googly eyes and floppy gozzle, he winced. They would never let him live it down, especially that loud mouth Black*Star.

"Evans! You out of that suit, yet?" came the gravelly voice of his boss, Mr. Simmons. A short and squat balding man with a greasy scalp and a perpetual cigar dangling out one side of his mouth, he was quickly becoming Soul's least favorite person.

"Almost, sir! What do you want me to do when I'm done?" he called back, modulating his voice into a facsimile of politeness.

"Ah, you can go ahead and knock off for the day. It's been pretty dead around here, no sense in you stayin'."

Soul leapt up, a large, sharp toothed grin breaking over his face. Maybe he had misjudged the man. Maybe he was a gruff but kind hearted soul. Maybe-

"Of course, I won't be payin' ya for a full days work. And be careful when you hang up that suit, or you'll be buyin' a new one."

Soul kicked off the polyester monstrosity viciously, jamming it onto its hook with more force than was strictly necessary.

"And be here all the earlier the next morning." Soul mumbled facetiously.

"And Evans! Be here an hour earlier tomorrow, got that?"

He closed his eyes. He would not hang his boss from a meat hook and smack him like a piƱata. He would. Not.

"Yes sir, I'll be here."

He grabbed his black leather jacket from the locker and pulled it on along with the tattered remains of his coolness. Darting outside, he trotted to his motorcycle, dodging droplets of rain as best he could. At least, he thought as he drove towards the apartment he shared with his friend Maka, it was Tuesday so it wasn't his night to cook. He could go home, sit at the kitchen table and watch her scurry around to make dinner. Soul smiled to himself. She was so adorable in that ruffled apron. The smile slid off his face as he rounded the corner and saw the flashing date on the sign in front of the bank. Damn. It was Wednesday. Looked like it was his night in the frilly little apron after all.

Soul opened the door to the apartment, reaching in to bat on the light. He had to jiggle the door to get it to set in the frame, making a mental note to remind the landlord for the seven hundred and thirty-second time to get that fixed. Toeing his shoes off and kicking them under the bench in the entryway, floorboards creaked under his weight as he headed for the kitchen to figure out what he was going to throw together for dinner. In the doorway, he stopped, surprised. Maka was home early, bustling around the kitchen unloading groceries from two bags that sat on the gray Formica counter. She was standing on her tiptoes to shove a box of muffin mix onto the top shelf of a cabinet. Turning her head at the sound of his footsteps on the linoleum, she shot him one of her sunny smiles, the one that never failed to make his heart thud irregularly.

"Soul! You got to come home early!"

He crossed the room, grabbing a bag of shredded cheese and some stalks of green onion and putting them in the fridge. He had to be careful what he said; he did NOT want her to find out where he was working.

"Yeah, it was pretty dead because of the rain, so they let me go. Have to go in early tomorrow, though."

"You look beat. Why don't I make supper while you go get a shower?" she asked sympathetically.

"I think I'll take you up on that, even though I know you're just doing it to get out of washin' the dishes. Wait, what are you doing home? You should just now be gettin' out of class."

"Professor Jordan called in sick today. Since he's my last class, I got to come home. Are cheesy scrambled eggs with onions okay with you?"

His stomach let out a loud gurgle before he could answer, and she laughed.

"I'll make you a double portion. And be careful; the curtain rod is coming loose in the shower again."

"Great, another thing around here that's fallin' apart," he groaned. "I swear, we should just set up a cardboard box in the alley. It would be about the same quality, but at least we wouldn't have to pay rent."

"It's not that bad. And it's only for the next couple of years, then you can move out and find a better place." Maka reasoned, as she finished putting away the groceries.

Soul gave a noncommittal hum, his mind wandering as he headed for the shower. Looking for his own place would mean it would no longer be their place. Suddenly, this shabby little apartment was practically a palace. He turned on the bathroom light, watching the bulbs flicker twice before steadying to illuminate the worn, blue tiles in the cramped space.

Honestly, he could've gotten a much nicer place. But that would have meant living without Maka. There was no way she would agree to pay less than half of the rent and living expenses. So that left him in the position of choosing comfy living accommodations with luxuries like reliable heating and water, furniture that didn't look like it was picked up off a street corner and fellow residents that most likely weren't wanted by one or more branches of law enforcement. Maybe, like Black*Star said, if he just grew some balls and confessed to Maka, they could work out a better living arrangement.

But Soul just knew that he'd be shot down hard, and lose even the easy friendship he had shared with her for years. He snorted. If anyone had told him when he met her that he would end up being best friends with her, much less fall for her like a bag of bricks, he would have laughed his way into a tight white jacket. He had been a cocky little bastard, full of hurt, jealousy, and misdirected anger. She had been so far from what he thought he was looking for in a girl as to be completely off his radar; it was a fluke he had even spoken to her in the first place. A loud, obnoxious blue haired fluke named Black*Star...


At the beginning of his seventh grade year, he had moved from New York to Nevada to live with his grandmother. His jealousy over his brother's musical abilities combined with his parents' constant nagging and comparisons, had turned what would be in the range of normal tumultuous adolescence into an all out war. Tired of the constant fighting and yelling followed by long stretches of icy silence, both parties had agreed that he would be better off with his grandmother.

He had eagerly moved across the country, ready to put his family and anything to do with the piano behind him. From now on, he would devote himself to becoming the epitome of cool; looking out for number one and making sure he got whatever he wanted would be his top priority. The first day of school arrived and he had sauntered in like he owned the place, only to be nearly run over by a boy carrying the biggest water gun he had ever seen. That might have been easy to brush off; what wasn't easy was the fact that he was naked. Buck. Ass. Nekkid. The blue haired freak had come tearing down the hall, soaking every girl in sight with his gun. He had been cackling too madly to notice a stunned, wide-eyed Soul standing in his way to stop in time, sending them both crashing to the floor in a tangle of thrashing limbs and shouted curses.

"What's the idea of standing in the middle of the hall, ya freak!"

"It's the sane person's response when confronted by your bizarre brand of crazy!" Soul had growled in answer, kicking a leg out to receive a yelp, much to his satisfaction.

"Hey, no need to get violent!"

"Dude, the only dick that gets that close to me is mine. What the hell are you naked for, anyway?"

Recovering quickly, the slightly shorter boy had rolled to the side and sprung to his feet, his...dangly bits swaying far too close to Soul's face for comfort. He scrambled back, putting as much distance between himself and the nut house reject as the hallway would allow.


Soul blinked. This was, by far, the largest ego he had ever seen. And with the pretentious circles his family moved in, that was saying a lot.

"Okaaaay, that explains the rampant nudity, but what's the deal with the water gun?"

The other boy had abruptly ceased his ridiculous posturing to rub the back of his neck sheepishly. "Ah. That. Well, to be honest, sometimes I'm just kind of a dick."

Soul had doubled over laughing at this unexpected bit of honesty. A few hours and a much welcomed set of clothes later, the two were off on the start of a beautiful bromance. Their number was increased by one when they were joined by a tall, good looking brunette with a sweet, patient nature. The boy, whose name was Black*Star, introduced her as his number one worshipper, Tsubaki. She had seemed pleasant enough and Soul was fine with her hanging out with them. He must have appeared a little too fine, for a chat in the boy's bathroom with Black*Star left him in no doubt that the girl was to stay in the strictly hands-off category. That wouldn't be a problem. Tsubaki was definitely attractive enough to meet his standards, but she was too quiet and for a lack of a better word...nice, to hold more than a passing attraction for her. Once he had made clear to Black*Star that he thought she was a nice girl but not his type, they were able to settle back into a more relaxed atmosphere.

For the first two weeks of school they had fallen into a pattern; the three shared several classes and traveled the halls together, occupying the same table in the cafeteria and the library. Black*Star was a constant source of amusement, forever pulling pranks and stunts designed to land him in the center of attention. Soul hadn't been surprised to learn that Black*Star had been the school clown since kindergarten. Or the fact that he was the star of the school wrestling team and was wickedly good at martial arts. No, the shocker had been the fact that in spite of how outrageously annoying he could be, he was, in fact, fairly popular. Tsubaki was as well, her family consisting of a long line of high end security specialists, and she herself was the heir to her parents successful martial arts studio. Toss in the fact that she was a knock-out and it was no surprise that everyone loved her.

Being taken in by the two of them automatically propelled Soul to near the top levels of social standing and he figured with a little effort, he could become one of the school's top dogs. The tiny, honest part of himself he had shoved in the back of his mind told him it was a stupid idea to go through all this trouble to be accepted and for all the wrong reasons, but he told that voice to take a flying leap and set about ignoring it entirely. And that worked, until twelve days later at lunch.

He had been half-heartedly poking at a mysterious substance on his lunch tray while sitting at what had become their usual table. Tsubaki, who had given up on trying to get Black*Star off of the table, was mulling over the benefits of putting him on a leash when the subject of her frustration gave a joyful shout. "Yo Maka! Over here! Come bask in the presence of your god!"

Soul had followed the direction of his friend's gaze across the crowded room, dispassionately taking in the appearance of the girl who was weaving through the sea of bodies. From this distance, he couldn't make out much, but the first thing he noticed was that her ash blond hair was done up in pigtails. He sneered. Wasn't she a little old for that childish style? And the white button down and black sweater vest she wore screamed nerd. He was already summing her up as a flat-chested priss that wasn't worth his time when her lower half came into view. Her black and red checked skirt was surprisingly short, showing off unexpectedly toned legs that ended in a pair of kick-ass, buckled black boots.

Before he had more time to make any other observations Black*Star had leaned down to speak in a loud whisper. "Heads up. That's my friend Maka. She's been away while her folks were in the middle of a nasty divorce and she hasn't taken it well. So as a guy, you're startin' out with negative points. Just take things easy and she'll eventually come around."

"Why the hell should I care what the little nerdlet thinks of me?"

Soul barely registered his friend's wince when something hard crashed down on his head, making his cranium feel as if it would split like an egg. He lay with his face smashed into the table for several seconds, his mind trying to process this assault on his noggin.

"Aaaand that's why you should care." Black*Star deadpanned. "Hey, Maka. This is Soul. He just moved from New York to be my latest worshipper!"

"Hmm. Well you better get your godly butt in gear. When I was getting my food, I noticed they were running low on chili dogs."

That was all Black*Star needed to hear. He gabbed Tsubaki by the hand and loped off to barge his way to the head of the lunch line.

"You look way too laid back to be hanging out with a moron like 'Star, and you guys seem pretty tight already, which is rare for him. What's the story?"

Soul looked up and was instantly hit with the most electric pair of green eyes he had ever seen. They seemed to burn right through him to weigh his soul and he had the uncomfortable feeling it was found lacking. He brushed the sensation off. She wasn't the kind of person he planned to surround himself with. Still, he couldn't help his normal, sarcastic manner of speaking, something he had tried to suppress during his short time here but which, for some reason, he felt like letting out with this girl.

"Eh, you know. The usual. Public naked male bonding. That sorta thing."

If Soul had been hoping to shock her, he had failed. Maka merely slumped into the seat next to him with a weary groan. Bringing a hand up to massage the bridge of her nose, she asked, "So he's gotten naked already? Good grief, I've only been gone two weeks! Poor Tsubaki. I hope she at least remembered to carry around a spare set of clothes."

"Wait, what? You mean he gets naked on a regular basis?"

"Yeah, he does the whole, 'showing off the godly body' thing fairly often." She rolled her eyes. "Sorry if you thought it was meant specially for you."

"Oh the inside, my heart is breaking." he drawled, causing her to snicker. He needed to get rid of her fast. He was starting to like her, and that wouldn't do.

"Shouldn't you be goin' to sit with your friends?" he asked, hoping she would get the message. He didn't want to be too rude; his skull had yet to regain its former, trench free state.

She cocked her head to the side. "I already am. I've always eaten with Black*Star and Tsubaki."

"Really? It's hard to imagine you being friends with Black*Star. Tsubaki I could understand, but..."

"'Star and I have been friends since we could walk. His dad works a lot, so he used to practically live at my house."

"Ah. Childhood friends. I guess that explains why he feels like he has to hang out with someone lik-" he cut himself off as Maka began to stroke the four hundred page volume of death that was in front of her on the table. Never had he been so terrified of wood pulp.

"Someone like me? Like a nerd, is that it?" she withdrew her hand from the book with what Soul would come to learn was uncharacteristic restraint.

"Well, you know, you guys are just...different. I mean, it's fine when you're kids, but when you get older, lines and boundaries start to form." he explained, mentally facepalming over how stupid that sounded. Really, if she just passed the book, he'd gladly smack himself and save her the trouble.

Those eyes of hers were doing that funny penetrating thing again.

"That"s stupid." she stated bluntly. "What's the point in having lines? They just cut you off from the things that make you happy. Lines were meant to be crossed, stepped on, and ground into the dust."

These rebellious sounding words sounded strange coming from a girl he instinctively knew was a rule follower, but they struck a chord in him.

She pointed to a pair of girls sitting over at the popular table. "You see them? How they're whispering and giggling together? They actually hate each other. And that guy there? He's in love with her."

Soul's eyes followed her gesturing finger to a plain looking girl at another table.

"None of them are happy. They just keep faking it because they're all afraid to step out of those stupid lines. I may not follow their conventions, because I don't really give a damn what most people think of me, but with the friends I do have, I enjoy being with and I know I can count on them. It doesn't win me any social points, but at least I'm happy."

He twiddled his fork, thick white hair falling over his forehead to cover his eyes from her scrutiny. Watching the kids she was talking about, he had come to the sick realization that they were just like his family and their friends. Wasn't that the reason he had left in the first place? To get away from all that stifling, hypocritical pretentiousness? Then why the hell had he been about to dive right back into it like it was something to be proud of? He didn't know. But thinking of the past two weeks with Black*Star and Tsubaki, he realized that in climbing the social ladder, he would actually be trading down. And that meant there would be no getting to know this girl who he felt some strange fascination for. Even if she was abnormally violent.

A lazy smirk formed on his face. Screw acceptability. He would form his own brand of cool.

For the first time, he was able to meet her gaze without flinching.

"You're right. Fuck the system. Besides, I'd kinda miss the little naked blue monkey."

"He does tend to grow on you. Like a stubborn case of shower mold."

He laughed, throwing his head back and showing his mouthful of razor sharp teeth.

"I'm exhausted just being around him at school! And you said he stays at your place a lot. How do you deal with that? Is he a relative or somethin', or were your parents friends with his?"

It was her turn to play with the silverware, her voice quiet when she finally answered.

"How much has Black*Star told you about himself?"

"Uh, not a whole lot. The subject hasn't come up much. Why?"

"It's not my story to tell. But, if he ever does tell you about his family," she leaned into his personal space, her expression promising that her weapon of choice would be exchanged for something much sharper and infinitely more pain inducing if he displeased her.

"You better not treat him any differently. Got that?"

Scowling, he leaned away from her. "Why would I treat him any different just 'cause of his family? 'Star is 'Star; whatever the hell his family is doesn't change that." he muttered, trying not to think how much that sounded like his own situation.

Her expression morphed into a such a radiant smile that he had to rub the back of his head to see if he had been hit again. Before he could wrap his addled thirteen year old male mind around the situation, Black*Star and Tsubaki returned, bearing a tray stacked high with a startling amount of chili dogs. Soul watched in awe as one disappeared into the other boy's mouth, while Tsubaki and Maka looked on with longsuffering resignation.

"Dude, you really should get your name changed to Black*Hole."

Black*Star noticed how Maka laughed at the joke, her strange acceptance of what would normally be labeled as 'The Enemy' and treated with disdain. He quickly swallowed his third dog and gave her large, begging puppy eyes.

"So whaddya say, Maka? Can we keep him?"

Soul held his breath. He knew that Black*Star was mostly joking, but he also knew that this girl's verdict carried a lot of weight. His moronic words from earlier had probably doomed him, no matter how brightly she had just smiled at him. He had seen enough lying smiles in his life to not expect anything different from her. The bitter taste of rejection rose to the back of his throat, his fingers curling around the edge of his tray and leg muscles tensing in anticipation of his dismissal.

"I know I'm letting myself in for an endless source of frustration, but if you promise to clean up his messes, I suppose it's alright. He seems pretty cool."

"Awesome! You're in, dude!"

"Great, I've been taken in. Whose face do I have to lick?" he snarked, hiding how happy he was.

Maka smiled sweetly. "Well, since you've already gotten naked with him, I guess you'll be licking his."

Black*Star choked on his ninth dog, Tsubaki patting his back while trying to smother her snickering.

Soul grinned, remembering that day as he tested the water of the shower. They had learned the hard way never to trust that it would be the temperature they set it on. Finding it satisfactory, he stepped in, careful not to tug too hard on the curtain hanging on the loose rod.


They had become a fairly inseparable group after that, their number growing with the addition of Kid and the Thompson sisters about four months later. When they weren't at school, they were usually bouncing back and forth between each other's houses, though more often than not it was Maka hanging out at his place since she hated going home to her father. His grandmother was ecstatic that he had found a group of good kids to be friends with (even counting Black*Star's pranks and outlandish behaviour) and she had taken an especial liking to Maka, teaching her how to cook and knit, even going so far as to insist she call her Nana as Soul did.

She had been shy at first, but since her only living grandparents were in Japan, she quickly became used to the idea of having a surrogate grandmother, going to the older woman when she needed advice. That didn't happen too often, for as she and Soul got to know each other better, they fell into the habit of telling one another everything. Being close friends with four girls meant he learned more than most boys his age would ever want to, but once past the initial gross out factor, Soul realized it was an opportunity to harvest invaluable knowledge about the female species. Through careful listening and keen observation, he learned how to weather the hormonal storm known as 'woman'. That wasn't to say that he still didn't sometimes do something incredibly stupid resulting in painful retribution, but he did it far less than boys who only associated with other guys.

He also learned that while his first assumption that Maka was a nerd supreme was accurate, she was also one of the school's top athletes. She was in both track and lacrosse, and Soul always found himself inexplicably jealous of her stick whenever he watched her out on the field, a thought he chose not to dwell too much on. Being around people that were involved in sports caused his own casual interest in basketball to evolve from spectator to player, joining the team at the encouragement of his friends. Finding something that he did well helped him ignore the memory of his failure at the piano, something that only Maka was aware of. He had once reluctantly told her all about his family and their disappointment in his musical abilities and while she had expressed an interest in hearing him play, she had told him that she wouldn't push him and would wait until he felt comfortable doing so. He had been flattered by her interest, grateful for her understanding.

They were a tight knit bunch, with the bond between him and Maka being subtly stronger. And for two years, that was great. For two years, that was enough. But then it was like he had mutated into an insufferable bastard overnight, with Maka being the one to take the brunt of it. Soul frowned as he remembered, lathering up a washcloth with the bar of black soap.

Soul had always had a sarcastic nature and he loved to tease the people he was closest to. This of course meant that Maka was pretty much his favorite target. Black*Star, being of the same persuasion, ensured that Maka got more than her fair share of heckling. This was all done in good fun until about the middle of ninth grade, when suddenly, their jabs became a little harsher, more hurtful. These comments tended to focus on her appearance and general lack of sex appeal. 'Tiny tits' was a favorite comment of theirs, which wasn't really fair. It was true she didn't have overly large breasts like the three other girls, but she wasn't totally flat, either. She was perfectly proportioned to match the rest of her figure. Then they went on and on about how impossible it would be for her to attract a guy and that, added to the fact that they had both begun to pull away from her and ignore her when they weren't teasing, was making her miserable.

One day it was too much, and she had spun away from their mocking faces to run off down the hall, both of them stunned to see tears forming in her eyes. Maka, the girl who never cried for anything. And that's when meek, quiet Tsubaki had enough, rounding on them in a mother bear like fury.

"I don't know what the hell your problem is," she growled in a very un-Tsubaki like manner, "but you've been absolute shits to Maka for months now, and it needs to stop! What happened? You all used to get along so well!"

Soul scowled. "It's not that bad, she's just overreacting."

"Overreacting? How would you react if two of your best friends started treating you like you were garbage?"

Black*Star kicked the floor with the toe of his sneaker, something he always did when he knew he was in the wrong. "Ah, come on, 'Baki. It's not like she really gives a damn what we think." he muttered sulkily.

Tsubaki surprised them by smacking him on the shoulder. "Of course she does! It's true that Maka could care less what most people think of her, but she cares greatly for the both of you, and your attitude is hurting her. Or are you going to stand there and tell me you didn't notice the tears in her eyes?"

"I...guess we might have been a little hard on her. Come on, Soul. Let's go see if we can catch her."

Tsubaki smiled her normal, cheerful smile. "Good! I'll go join the others in the cafeteria. We'll save you some seats."

They watched her disappear into the throng of hungry students before turning in the direction that Maka had gone. Walking in silence for a few minutes, Black*Star with his arms crossed and Soul slouching along with his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his orange hoodie, Black*Star finally spoke up.

"Ya know, Tsubaki's right. You have been kinda a douche lately."

Soul stopped walking. "Me? You've been just as bad. What's your deal, anyway? I thought you guys were best friends."

"Yeah, I thought so too," he snorted. "but ever since you came along, she talks to me less and less. She used to tell me everything, ya know? Now, half the time if I wanna know what's goin' on with her, I have to find out from you. It's like she doesn't even need me anymore."

A thought struck Soul, his stomach churning with something he couldn't quite place.

"Do...do you have a thing for Maka?" he asked hesitantly.

Black*Star's eyes bugged out in horror as he waved his hands frantically.

"What? No! Hell no! Dude, I'm all about Tsubaki!" he calmed down as they began to walk.
"I dunno. It's just...Maka's always been like a sister, and lately it's felt like I've been losin' her. Sounds stupid now that I've said it out loud. But what about you?" he nudged Soul's arm.

Soul sighed heavily, running his fingers through his bangs and tugging at the white strands in frustration. "Your excuse is better than mine. I...arrgh, this is so lame! I don't know what the hell's goin' on. I mean, it's always been like this, but recently it's gotten worse. There's just something about her that frustrates me, I guess. I feel funny every time I look at her, and I keep having these strange...dreams." he stuttered, blushing.

Black*Star shot his friend a shrewd look out of the corner of his eye. He had a feeling that he knew what was up. His mouth opened to voice his opinion, then quickly snapped shut. This was something that was better if Soul figured out for himself.

"And the thing that really pisses me off is the fact that I can tell whatever it is, doesn't affect her at all! So I guess maybe I snapped a little, and I've been takin' it out on her. I've been really uncool. I just hope we haven't pissed her off too bad."

By this time they had made it to the library, where they had known that Maka would instinctively retreat. Coming around a corner, they caught sight of her, but she wasn't alone. Two sophomore boys were with her, appearing to be chatting her up. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her lips were curved into a small smile. The boys ducked behind a shelf to watch what was going on.

"So Maka, how about going to that new movie that's coming out on Friday? I hear it's supposed to be really good." The boy that spoke was the taller of the two and Soul recognized him as one of the best players on the soccer team. He had wavy brown hair and bright blue eyes, and most of the girls in the school would give their right arm to go out with him. He hadn't really shown much interest in dating, but the way he was looking at Maka seemed to suggest that he had become very interested indeed.

Soul watched in dry mouthed dread, his world tilting sharply as his sweaty hands clung onto the edge of a shelf. Sudden realization hit him with the force of Black*Star slamming an opponent into the mat. The funny feeling he got whenever he looked at Maka. The less than platonic dreams. The irritation over what was a perfectly good friendship. That was his problem.

Friendship was no longer cutting it; Soul wanted more than what he had with her, and if he thought about it, had for some time. Of course, it was just his luck that he'd figure it out now that she was being asked out by one of the most popular boys in the school. After the recent blows to her self esteem, she was probably thrilled to be getting this kind of attention. He had most likely lost what slim chance he had ever had with her, if she didn't out and out hate him now. He grit his teeth, waiting for the sounds of girlish joy that he would give anything to have directed at him. It didn't happen.

"You mean like a date? Um, I'm sorry, but I'm really not interested in you like that. You should ask Tricia out; I think the two of you would get along well."

Soul released his held breath at her gentle let down, but tensed back up when he saw that the guy wasn't going to drop it.

The toothpaste commercial perfect smile slipped a little. "Come on, just one date? It's not like you're going out with Swiss Army mouth, are you?"

Maka's spine stiffened, her pleasant demeanor vanishing like the last slice of pepperoni on pizza day. "What did you just say?"

"You know, the freak who's always acting like he's so cool, even though he has a face that would stop a train."

"Going by what's said in the girls' locker room, there's not a damn thing wrong with his face." she stated flatly.

He narrowed his eyes, a sneer marring his good looks. "I guess he wouldn't be so bad if he didn't always hang around that other moron. The idiot who's always walking around like he's greater than god." he laughed maliciously, trading high fives with the blond sycophant at his side.

No one in the room saw the double Maka-Chop coming; one minute the jocks were laughing like Beavis and Butthead, the next they were laid out on the floor, clutching their bloody skulls.

She loomed over them menacingly. "Their names are Soul and Black*Star, and they happen to be two of my best friends. I'll be the first to admit they're not perfect. They can be total goofballs and lazy as all get out, and...and sometimes they can be a little on the jerky side..."

The boys behind the bookshelf cringed at her faltering words.

"But! They're still really great guys that I know I can count on, and they don't go talking shit about other people behind their backs just to make themselves look better. If I hear you've been bad mouthing them again, I will hunt you down and do unspeakable, impure things with my lacrosse stick. Do we understand each other?"

At their shaky nods, she turned and walked away, but stopped after a few steps to face them, her lips curling into a smile wicked enough to rival Black*Star at his cruelest.

"And if they go around acting like they're better than the rest of you guys?" she waited to have their full attention before continuing. "It's because they are."

She spun on her heel, the motion causing her short skirt to flip up a little. Soul and Black*Star watched her leave, before turning to look at one another with shame filled faces. Had they really been so stupid as to think that just because Maka wasn't as demonstrative as other people that she cared for them any less? That her less than-stellar-communication skills meant they didn't matter to her? She had just turned down one of the top five most sought after males in the whole school just to defend them, after they had acted like complete pricks because of their own stupid insecurities. Silently, they agreed that it was time to put their own respective prides down and go grovel for forgiveness. They were just about to run after her when the other two boys began to speak.

"That stupid little bitch! Who does she think she is?"

"She's a loser, anyway. You could do a lot better. So, are you gonna let her get away with treating you like that?"

"Hell no! She's gonna get it when she least expects it! We're totally gonna mess her up-yarggh!"

While they had been plotting, a hand clamped firmly on each of their shoulders. Slowly, they turned their heads, to be confronted with maniacal leering faces surrounded by a demonic aura.

"Did you hear that, Swiss Army Mouth? It sounds like these two were planning on being bad boys. God doesn't like bad boys. Don't you think we should help them repent? For the good of their souls?"

"I do, Black*Star, I do! Let's show them the error of their ways!"

A short time later, they emerged from the restroom, drying their carefully washed hands on their pants. "So. From the look on your face back there, you finally figured out what your problem is with Maka?"

Soul bit the inside of his cheek as they hurried down the hall. "Yeah. It all makes sense now. I feel like a complete fool for not gettin' it before now."

"Hey, no problem! All you have to do is tell her and I'm sure it'll all work out!"

"NO!" he shouted, before regaining his control. "No, I can't do that yet. You know she got burned with the whole deal with her parents. She's not ready for that kind of relationship right now. I'll tell her when the time is right, just don't say anything, okay?" he gave his friend a grin as weak and wilted as week old lettuce.

Black*Star wasn't buying it, but for once decided not to be pushy. "Whatever you say, man. Hey, isn't that Maka over by the vending machines?" he didn't wait for an answer, but shot down the hall, picking the girl up and twirling her around as she screamed to be let down. She was finally released as Soul caught up to them, just in time to hear Black*Star finish apologizing. He hung back a little until they were done, then approached her with a hesitancy he hadn't felt since they had first met.



"Argh, I'm not good at this, okay? Look, I've been actin' like a complete bastard for the last couple of months, runnin' my mouth and sayin' really stupid stuff. I'm really sorry. Do you think you can forgive me?"


"Nana's making lasagna tonight."

"Do you really think you can buy my forgiveness with food?" she said, fighting to keep the corners of her lips from twitching.

Soul still noticed, and pressed his advantage. "And her special garlic breadsticks."

"Oh, well, see, that's totally different. Of course all is forgiven now."

They laughed a little, then sobered as Soul reached out to gently tug a pigtail. "Maka, I didn't mean those crappy things I said. Any of it. So don't go thinkin' that that's how I see you, 'cause it's not, okay? Are we cool now?"

There was a moments hesitation when his heart stopped beating, before she gave him one of her special smiles. "Yeah, Soul. We're cool."


And they had been. He had toned down the teasing for a while as an added apology and after a few days, they had gone back to normal. Soul dried off on one of the cheap, threadbare green towels that hung from a wall hook, then wrapped it around his waist as he walked to his room for some clothes. Now, four and a half years later, he was stuck in this current dilemma. Dante had only gotten it partially right; he had forgotten to mention that there was a secret, boss level of hell known as the friend zone. Easy to enter, nearly impossible to escape, he was forever doomed to go through the motions of friendship, feigning satisfaction.

He slid on a pair of jeans and an Ozzfest T-shirt, and headed back out to the kitchen, already smelling the eggs in the frying pan. Sitting down carefully so as not to loosen the weak leg of the chair any further, he propped his chin in his hands while he watched her finish up. Something was off. Usually she hummed while she cooked, or at least listened to the small radio that sat on the counter. But now she moved silently, stiffly, like she did when there was an unpleasant subject to be brought up. She slid a pile of golden, fluffy eggs, swirled with bright orange cheese and flecks of green onion, onto one of the plates she had set out and carried it over to set in front of him. Her face was pale, her features set.

"Maka? What's up? You don't look so good."

She grabbed her own plate of food and sat down in the chair opposite, her fork pushing her eggs back and forth on the plate before she gave up and looked at him.

"Soul, there's something I need to tell you."

He pushed his meal away, his appetite disappearing at her words. That phrase never meant anything good. Was she not doing well in school? Was she moving out? DEAR GOD, WAS SHE DYING?!

"What is it?"

She twiddled her pigtail nervously. "You know how since Nana went to Germany to visit your
uncle, we've been invited to Kid's place for Thanksgiving dinner?"

"Yeeeaah?" he answered, trying to figure out where this was going.

"Well, We're still on for that, but..."


"Black*Starisgoingtobetheonecooking thisyear."



Words being processed for meaning...


"Soul, I'm sure it won't be that bad!"

He stood and began to pace around the kitchen, while Maka watched with uneasy amusement, worried he would refuse to come.

"It won't be that bad, huh? Are you forgetting the whole Home Ec brownie disaster?"

"Oh come on! That could've happened to anybody!"

"Maka, there were bits of hardboiled eggs in those brownies! How does a person even do that?"

"...Okay, fine! it's probably going to be a disaster of epic proportions, but for some reason he's dead set on doing it and nothing anyone says is changing his mind. You know how he gets when he's like that."

Soul slumped back into his seat, thunking his head down on the table with a groan.

"Look, I'll make it up to you. If it really turns out as bad as it has the potential to, we'll have our own Thanksgiving the next day."

A bright red eye peered out between damp clumps of white hair.

"I'll make all of our favorite foods, and we can watch action movies and hang out in the living room all day. I won't even make you help with the cooking or the dishes!"

This interested him. Not the fact that that he wouldn't be expected to cook; he actually had grown to enjoy that, thanks to the cooking lessons he had had with Maka and Nana. He had only intended to hang around the kitchen to mooch free food, when his grandmother had suggested he learn as well. He had made the mistake of scoffing that cooking was woman's work, and had been rewarded with a book and a wooden spoon whacked against either side of his head by a pair of furious females. No, it was the fact that he was getting out of dish duty that had him wavering. They both despised doing dishes, since the dishwasher was apparently only there for decorative purposes. And a full day's pass to be lazy...

"Weeeell, maaaaayyybe..."

Sensing her advantage, Maka stood and circled the table to whisper in his ear seductively.

"I'll even let you cheat at Monopoly."

His head came up. "And I get to be the top hat?"

Ooooh, he was good. "Yeah, yeah, you can be the hat. So will you come?"

"Alright. As long as you don't expect me to help 'Star in the kitchen. There are eight hundred and fifty-three ways he could kill me in there, and none of them are a cool way to go."

"I wouldn't ask you to. There's no way I want to have to call Nana and tell her that her grandson has died in some freak blender accident."

Having agreed on the terms, they began to eat their meal. A thought struck Soul.

"And the next day, it'll be just the two of us, right? We don't have to invite the others?" he tried to ask this casually, as if whether he spent the day alone with her or smashed in the crowded space with all their other friends didn't matter.

"Just the two of us. There's no way I'm cooking alone for that many people. Why, did you want everyone to come over?"

"Nah, it'll be nice to have a quiet day. After we all, we're gonna be with them all day the day before."

Now he was internally cheering on Black*Star to screw up the meal. Anything that gave him an excuse for some quality alone time with Maka was OK with him. A day of food, movies and board games...it was almost like a date. Or as close to a date has he was ever likely to get with her, he thought as he swallowed the last bite of his eggs years, Black*Star and Kid had been trying to get him to confess to Maka, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it, though he had come close several times.

Truth be told, it wasn't even the almost paralyzing fear of rejection that stopped him. It was the fact that Maka had put aside her distrust for men when it came to him, and he was afraid of losing her faith in him. If she knew how he felt, would she still be comfortable enough to come to him with her problems? To open herself up to him as freely as she always had? He didn't think so. Most likely it would just become awkward between them and he would rather go on as they were now than take the risk of losing the closeness they shared. Maka was too important to him for that. Even if it meant that he had to one day watch as she found happiness with another man.

"Soul? Is there something wrong with the eggs? You look like you don't feel well."

He gave her a sickly grin, trying to banish the images of Maka and some strange guy surrounded by little mini Makas in a house with a picket fence from his mind.

"Nah, I'm good. Was just thinkin' about that paper that I have to finish."

Her expression switched from concerned to scolding in an instant. "If you wouldn't wait until the last minute to do your work, you wouldn't have to worry so much. When is it due?"

"Uh, the day before break starts, so...day after tomorrow?" he flinched, seeing her about to launch into a diatribe about his study habits. "Relax, Maka! I'm not just starting it. It's actually done, I just need to go back and tweak a few things."

She sat back in her chair, nerd sensibilities appeased. "Good. I was worried that whatever this part time job you have now was going to affect your work. Do you want me to look it over before you turn it in?"

"That'd be great. I'll leave it out for you on my way to work in the morning." he stood up and gathered the dishes from the table and carried them over to the sink. Twisting the knob, he got out the dish soap as the water gurgled up through the rusty pipes to splurt out in gushes before flowing in a steady stream. As he picked up a yellow sponge and began to scrub at a plate, Maka came up to lean against the counter next to him.

"So when are you going to tell me what this job is? You've been awfully mysterious about it. If you didn't look so miserable and exhausted when you come home every day, I'd think you were off with one of those girls that follows you around on campus."

He snorted. She was tenacious when she was trying to weasel answers from him. "Not tellin'. All you need to know is that it's the lousiest, most uncool job ever."

Maka rolled her eyes, taking the newly washed plate to stack it in the cabinet. "Only you would be bent all out of shape over the cool factor of a job. Are you working at a fast food place?"


"Party clown?"

"Dear God, no!"

"Soul, you're not...selling your body, are you?"

"Why? Would you like to know what I charge for my services?" he asked, grinning lecherously and waggling his eyebrows.

She giggled, shoving his arm. "No, you perv! I'm just trying to figure out where you disappear to for hours every day. Everyone has been looking, but we still can't find you anywhere!"

"And if I have any kind of luck at all, you never will. Just squeal extra hard over whatever I get you for Christmas and it'll all be worth it."

Placing a hand on his shoulder, she became serious. "You know, you don't have to get me anything expensive. You don't even have to get me anything at all, if money's so tight that you have to work at a place that you obviously hate."

"Of course I'm gonna get you a present," he scoffed. "Things aren't that bad. I just thought I had more set aside than I did. But I've almost earned enough, so it's all good."

"Are you sure? It's just that you always seem to get me something nicer than you do everyone else. I wouldn't mind if you spent less."

His hands nearly slipped on the bowl he was washing. Shit, she had noticed! He had always try to downplay it, but he could never quite resist doing something more special for Maka than he did with the others. He had thought he had gotten away with it, but he shouldn't have been surprised. She was always far too observant for his own good, a fact that had been ingrained, with force, into his skull on numerous occasions.

"Well, I won't be able to give you the Ferrari, like I had planned. You'll have to settle for the Honda."

"I would laugh, but I'm too afraid that you might not be joking. Honestly Soul, you need to learn that you don't have to buy me such extravagant gifts!"

"I have a giving nature, so sue me. Just call me Santa."

"I would, if I thought that would get you into a santa suit. I've always been disappointed that I could never get you into any kind of a costume, even on Halloween."

"You know how much I hate costumes. They're so un-"

"Uncool, yes, I know. If you wouldn't be so overprotective of your cool guy image, you could have a lot more fun."

"I can have fun without bein' forced to wear those ridiculous rabbit ears you're always trying to stick on my head, thank you very much. And there's nothin' wrong with being cool. It's my hobby, like concussing people with literature is yours."

Maka huffed, sticking her nose in the air. "Fine, I was going to finish those dishes for you, but I'll have to be going. I haven't filled my daily quota of head bashing yet."

He flicked some water at her, scattering a few droplets on her face and the front of her shirt. "I notice you waited to make that offer when I only had two things left to wash."

Laughing, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a hug. "You know my wicked ways so well, yet you still love me! I'm gonna go get my homework done. Pappa wants me to come over for a visit tomorrow, so I need to get it out of the way so I can deal with his drama. Will you be home for lunch?"

"No, I'll just pick somethin' up on my break. Try not to bust up your old man too much. Doesn't he leave on that business trip soon?"

"Yeah, he and Kid's dad fly out tomorrow night. That's why I'm going over in the afternoon, so I won't have to stay very long. Anyway, just leave your paper up on your computer and I'll go over it before I leave. Night, Soul!"

"Night Maka."

He finished up with the dishes, then headed to his room, his thoughts still on his roommate. She always hated visiting her dad. It wasn't as bad as it used to be, but she still blamed him for cheating on her mother, for tearing their family apart. Plunking into his desk chair, he stared unseeingly at the screen. The whole mess with her father was probably why she had shot down every guy that had ever asked her out. While he was glad that she had never gone out with any of them, he had hoped that she would thaw enough that he could make his own advances without potentially losing her as a friend. Maybe he should go ahead and tell her how he felt; that he was in love with her, but that he understood if she wanted to be nothing more than friends.

Getting the brush-off would hurt, but it would be better than being stuck in this god-awful limbo. Yeah, he would just man up and tell her while they were having their date-that-wasn't- a-date. That way, when she got done telling him, in a nice, polite way, that there was no way in hell that she would date him so quit thinking it or she'd have to move out, he could slink out to lick his wounds on a long bike ride. Yes, that's what he would do. Just flat out tell her where he stood, then take the emotional letdown like the cool guy he appeared to be and not the needy little bastard that he actually was. Sighing, he hunkered down over his keyboard, glad that he was finally going to resolve things.

Knowing, full well, that in the end he was just going to chicken out like the last ninety-seven times he had attempted this.

A scream rang through the night, a harbinger of dark, unspeakable horrors that no man should have to endure.

Alright, so it wasn't exactly a scream. it was shrill enough to pass for one, but it was just his alarm clock. The last part was a pretty accurate description of his job, though, and he briefly considered burrowing back into the warm burrito that was his bedding. But the thought of Maka's face on Christmas morning when she opened the envelope containing their round trip tickets to Florence to visit her mother during spring break gave him the energy to stretch one arm out of his comforter covered heaven and slam his hand down to shut off the alarm. As blessed silence fell, he had a brief setback, but he struggled valiantly, swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress to set his feet on-DAMN THAT FLOOR WAS COLD!

Oh goody. He was fully awake now. Wait. It shouldn't be that cold. Or that quiet. Muttering colorful curses to himself about taking his Nana up on her offer of paying for a nicer place, stubborn bookworms be hanged, Soul moved quickly to the door, hissing at each step. Sticking his head into the hallway that was colder than Santa's balls, his suspicions were confirmed. Once again, the heat had gone out, for the third frickin' time this month. Which meant that they were probably without water, too. Which meant that Maka wouldn't be able to take the shower that she so looked forward to in the mornings. Which meant she would be grumpy. Which meant he'd better get his butt out of there, fast.

Darting back into his room, he tossed on yesterdays jeans and a faded red sweatshirt. Running his fingers through his hair would have to suffice for primping. It wasn't like anyone was going to see him, anyway. Making sure that his doc was open on his computer for Maka, he left his room, stepping carefully down the hall to avoid the creaky boards that might awaken her. Slipping on his sneakers, he was just congratulating himself on his stealth when he heard her.

"Soul? Why is it so cold in here? Have you been messing with the thermostat?"

Her voice was thick with sleep and he could tell she wasn't fully awake. This gave him two options; Soul could wait for her to get up and tell her that her relaxing morning ritual was a no-go, or he could slip out the door like a yellow bellied coward. It was a known fact he was not a morning person. Sluggish and lazy, he felt that the day had no right to start before at least noon. What wasn't a known fact was that Maka wasn't a morning person either, at least not without a shower first. She could become...violent. More so than usual. He shuddered in remembrance. Slipping out the door won.

He took the backstreets in to work, gliding into his usual parking spot behind a convenient bush. Scanning all directions for anyone he might know, Soul jogged to the employee entrance and dove through the door. Another successful infiltration. Now it was time to go under cover. Deep, deep undercover. Grimacing with distaste as he pulled Big Bird's uglier, smellier cousin from its hook, he kicked off his shoes and tossed them into his locker. Suiting up, he wasn't sure if he was going to take vicious enjoyment from eating this year's turkey or avoid it altogether. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself before walking into the main part of the door, thinking of the one thing that made this bearable; at least he didn't have to deal with children.

It hung, thick and gelatinous, the color of rancid lime jello. Soul watched in horror as one, chubby little hand rose to the bubble that jiggled and contracted with each breath. A finger with dirt caked under the nail wrapped the mucousy membrane around itself, pulling it away so beady little brown eyes could make a thorough inspection. A verdict was reached. Soul's wings flapped uselessly.

Don't do it.
Don't do it.

Too late. With a smack and a slurp, the foul substance was ingested, the little darling shooting him a gapped toothed smile as he backed away. The harried mother reached down and dragged the toddler away, completely unaware that she was holding the hand that had just performed its dig and dine routine. Soul shuffled down the aisle, his desire for an early lunch break now nothing but a fond memory. Thinking his day couldn't get any worse, he continued to make his circuit of the display of frozen avian corpses. Feeling a hand clamp down on his wrist, he let out an indelicate squawk of surprise. He turned, prepared to unleash his drumsticks of justice on whoever had decided to manhandle him. The sight of his boss froze his leg in mid-air, and he returned his three toed foot to the floor.

Mr. Simmons released his wrist to slap him on the back, speaking in that loud, overly hardy manner that he put on in front of the customers. "Well, TomTom! I'll bet you're awful tired of being cooped up in here, when you could be out in the nice, fresh air?"

Soul frantically shook his head, red gozzle flying back and forth across his wide, floppy beak.

"Of course you are! Just follow me, and we'll take care of that!" Mr, Simmons headed for the front doors as fast as his stumpy legs would take him and Soul followed dejectedly, giving the appearance of a turkey being led to the chopping block. An icy blast of air shot down his beak as the automatic doors hissed open, making his eyes sting and water. Next to the entrance, an area had been set up for him with square bales of hay and strategically arranged pumpkins. A large banner with the words, TURKEY IN THE STRAW! was hung across the back, but what had Soul ready to molt his feathers was the sign that said, PICTURES WITH TOMTOM THE TURKEY! ONLY SIX DOLLARS!

"Great, isn't it? Figured this'd bring in some extra cash and it's a pretty cushy job for you, too. Just stand there with the kiddies while the parents snap away, maybe throw in a few 'gobble gobbles' for good measure. We'll start you off with two or three hours today, then more if it looks like it's bringing folks in. Have fun, Evans!" he gave a jaunty wave and headed back into the nice, warm store, leaving Soul to glare at his back and pray that the display of canned cranberry sauce would come crashing down on his shiny bald head.

An hour and a half later found Soul ready to call and schedule a vasectomy. He had been hit, kicked and screamed at, and the lower half of his costume was matted with sticky substances, the nature of which he did not want to contemplate too closely. Another kick to his shins brought his attention down to the little bundle of joy that stood before him, the curly headed blond wearing a hardened expression worthy of someone three times her age.

"Hey mister! I wanna hear some turkey sounds! Hurry up and sound like a turkey!"

His response didn't come fast enough, earning him another kick. He traded glares with the malicious munchkin.

"Gobble fuckin' gobble, kid."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "You're the lamest turkey I've ever seen!"

Soul was saved from answering when a woman that looked like she was the girl's mother came up. "Alright, honey. I got a good picture of you with TomTom! Would you like to stay out here with him while mommy shops?"

"Whoa! Wait a minute! Lady, I'm just supposed to get my picture taken with them, not babysit!"

She waved a hand in dismissal. "You're being paid, and I won't be long."

He tried to block her path, desperation making an eyelid twitch. "There's not enough gold in Fort Knox to make it worth it, and I can tell you, I'm making no where near that."

The lady gave him a hard smile. "Look at it this way. After today, you'll never forget to wear a condom!"

She ducked around him with the swiftness that only a mother escaping her offspring for a few blissful moments could achieve. Soul turned back to the waiting line, a whimper rising in his throat at the gleam in the eyes of the watching parents.

An hour later, sweet, sweet release came in the form of his afternoon break. He hadn't had a chance to get lunch, but all he wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position in the breakroom for a few moments and sob. Making his way down the dairy aisle, he spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Black hair done up in a high ponytail, Tsubaki walked along with a basket over one arm, her eyes scanning the crowd. Soul spun around and hurried down the next aisle, his fear of being caught in such an uncool situation making him momentarily forget that no one could recognize him like this. Before he could totally regain his wits, he saw someone else, the one person he had been trying to hide from. Maka was almost right next to him, all she had to do was turn and she would see him. Without thinking, he wedged himself behind a display of pumpkin pie filling.

"Hey! I didn't expect to see you here!"

Soul nearly panicked at the sound of Maka's voice before realizing she was talking to Tsubaki, who had come up the aisle behind him.

"Maka-chan! What are you doing here? I thought you went to that store that's only a couple of blocks from your place?"

Maka shrugged, her pale blue coat bunching with the movement as she shifted her basket to her other hand. "Yeah, that's what I usually do. But I'm going to be doing a lot of cooking the day after our dinner and I needed to pick up a few things for that. I tried the other store, but they had a small fire there last night, so they weren't open today."

"You say you're going to be doing a lot of cooking? What's the occasion?"

"I promised Soul that if he endured whatever Black*Star is going to inflict on us for Thanksgiving dinner, that we could spend the next day pigging out, watching movies and playing board games."

Tsubaki grinned knowingly. "I see. That sounds very...cozy. Are those oysters in your basket? What are you planning on doing, doping him up with aphrodisiacs before you confess?"

"Tsubakiiiiiiii, don't joke around like that!" wailed Maka, turning a seasonal cranberry red.

The turkey behind the display blinked in confusion. Why was Maka blushing so badly?

Enlightenment was prevented by the arrival of a bright blue blur whizzing down the aisle, standing on the front of a shopping cart and pushing it along like a scooter. Black*Star brought the cart to a halt next to the girls, the end of it kissing the display and causing it to jiggle.

"Yo Maka! 'Sup? Tsubaki, I think I got everything on my list. You ready to go?"

"Yes, I was just looking for you when I ran into Maka-chan. She was telling me about her interesting plans for-"

"So, Black*Star!" Maka cut in. "Are you really going to cook dinner all by yourself?"

"You know it! Be prepared for the food of the gods!"

Maka cocked an eyebrow sardonically. "Does that mean you admit you're going to be serving burnt offerings?"

"Hey, I passed Home Ec just like the rest of you!"

"That was a mercy pass. The thought of having you repeat her class had Mrs. Henderson hitting her 'special' thermos hard."

"Cute, Maka, very cute." snorted Black*Star with a role of his eyes. "C'mon, Tsubaki, let's leave Paula Deen here and head on out. "Don't wanna keep you out too long, you might catch another cold."

"Yes, we should get home soon. Mother and Father said they would be calling sometime today to let us know that they arrived in Japan safely. Goodbye Maka-chan! Good luck with your special dinner!"

Maka was left to splutter as her friend practically skipped off for the register, Black*Star tugging at the cart to get it turned around. He seemed to remember something as he was walking away, and turned to face her with a serious expression.

"Maka, you may want to go ahead and check out too. I saw Jennifer Walters in here earlier and she may still be around."

Maka's shoulders slumped, and she mumbled low enough that it was hard to hear her over the crowd and piped in easy listening music. "Thanks for the heads up, 'Star. I just have to grab one or two more things here and then I can leave."

Her childhood friend watched her closely for a moment, seeming to struggle with something before settling on a nod and a wave before leaving to catch up with Tsubaki.

Soul was almost able to relax. Two down, and one to go, and then he could come out of hiding.

"Maka Albarn, is that you?"

Soul's eyes bugged out when he found the source of the squeal. Had they scheduled a damn high school reunion in the store and just not told him? He watched as a short girl with curly brown hair piled on her head bounced up to Maka, wearing a puffy red jacket, black short-shorts, and matching furry black boots.

"Jennifer! How nice to see you!" Maka exclaimed with a smile falser than Pamela Anderson's breasts. Her whole body stiffened up when the other girl put her arm around her shoulders.

"We never seem to see each other around on campus! Sooo, tell me how things are going with you. Are you still on the lacrosse team? And have you moved out of that scary neighborhood?"

Maka slid out from under her arm as politely as possible. "Yes, I'm still on the team and Soul and I are in the same apartment we've been in since we graduated high school. How are things with you?"

Jennifer's face fell. "Ah. Yeah, I've been meaning to ask you...don't you think it's about time you moved out on your own? I'm sure Soul could use the space. You too, of course."

Maka's face went blank as she struggled to keep from saying something she would regret.

"I think we're both fine with the way things are. Soul would tell me if he wanted to move out."

The brunette shook her head, her curls swaying all over the place. "Soul would never say anything, he's too nice a guy for that. That's why I think you should let go now. I mean, I know you've been in love with him forever, but you're not really his type, so-"

"How did you know I was in love with Soul? And who's to say what type of girl he likes?"

The other girl shook her head again, starting to remind Maka of one of those dog bobble-heads you see in the backs of cars. "Oh, it was always totally obvious to everyone! And as for his type...well, It's not you he took to prom, was it?"

Maka flinched at that low blow. "He didn't actually take you, it's not like it was a real date-"

"Maybe, maybe not. But it's more of a date than he's ever gone on with you. Face it, Soul would never say this, but you're holding him back. Why don't you just move on and let him find a girl who fits him better?"

Her fists clenching around the basket handles as her knuckles turned white, Maka spoke through gritted teeth. "I know that someday Soul is going to find a girl that he wants to be with. I also know that I don't fit the cool image that he's going for and that he has no intention of settling for me. But until he makes that decision, I'm going to stay with him and enjoy whatever time I have left with him."

There was a tense silence, finally broken by the other girl. "Alright. I suppose I can understand that. And don't worry, I'm not the type of girl who gets jealous of her boyfriend having female friends, especially when they're not any threat to me. Well, I have to be going now, hope to see you around. Maybe we can do lunch sometime!"

Maka stared after her, then turned back to the shelves. She grabbed a couple of cans and stuck them in her basket, then stomped off to pay for her items.

The turkey emerged from its hiding spot, staggering blindly to the back room. Grabbing a bottle of water from the mini fridge, he dropped into a folding chair and removed his head, tossing it onto the card table. Taking a gulp of water to ease his dry throat, he tried to make sense of the thoughts whirling through his head. His world had just been rocked. Unless he had taken a shortcut through the Twilight Zone on his way back here, he had just heard Maka admit to being in love with him. For years. How had he not seen this? Was he really that blind, that stupid? He thought that his role of poultry was a recent thing, but apparently he'd been walking around like a giant turkey for years and just hadn't realized it! What was all that nonsense about her not being cool enough for him? He could count on two hands with room to spare the people whose opinions he gave a damn about. She didn't seem to understand that his idea of cool wasn't the mainstream one; it was his own particular brand, and she more than fit it. He faced-winged thinking about the whole stupid prom thing. That was confusing to even him, and he had been there, although it did finally make sense of one part of the evening.

He had planned on asking Maka to go. All set to ask her in a way that could be taken to mean either as a date or just a friend, he had come up behind her at lunch ready to pop the question. Only to hear Maka telling the rest of her friends that she thought prom was a stupid idea and didn't really see the point of going. His dreams of surprising her with a nice corsage and a night of dancing and cheesy prom pics going up in smoke, he had wandered off to get some lunch to pretend to eat. Not really paying attention to his surroundings, Soul had bumped into Jennifer. She had babbled on and on about something, asking him if she would see him at prom. With a muttered, 'yeah, whatever', he had escaped into the lunch line, not giving her words a second thought.

Prom night had rolled around and he had crawled into his suit, not really wanting to go, but not wanting to explain why he would rather stay home and sulk even less. The girls had convinced Maka to at least show up for a little bit of prom, so maybe he could convince her to hang around so the night wasn't a total waste. He had left the house quietly, so as not to disturb his grandmother who had thought he was crazy for not taking Maka. Sometimes he wasn't sure who wanted him to get with Maka more; him or Nana.

The theme had been something tropical, and after hanging around with his friends for a while, he had leaned next to a fake palm while the others danced. Girls had asked him, but he wasn't interested in dancing with anyone who wasn't Maka. He scanned the crowd for her, but she still hadn't shown up. She was probably still prying a sobbing Spirit off of her, who was most likely fawning over how pretty she looked in her dress. Soul snickered at the thought. No matter how nicely she was dressed, he knew that she was still armed, a fact her father would find out as well. He hadn't noticed that Jennifer had come up and began chatting with him until she started to lean into his personal space. Since he was pressed to the wall with no other option, he had been forced to put his hands on her shoulders and push her back a little. He did so with a forced smile to take the sting out of the action, and as he did so, he saw Maka across the room, in a shimmery green strapless prom dress that showed off her gentle curves. A group of people walked in front of him and he lost sight of her. He had worked his way across the room, but by then she was gone. His friends, when questioned, said they hadn't seen her at all.

The next day, when they had all gotten together for ice cream, she had laughingly said that she had agreed to come, but she had never said how long she would stay. The conversation had then turned to Soul, when Liz brought up the fact that Jennifer was going around hinting that last night had been a date, with steamy goings-on after the prom. Soul had been pissed at first, but then he realized that she was one of those people that needed to do things like that to boost her self esteem. She wasn't really very well liked, and if he called her out on her lie, she would look even more ridiculous and pathetic. And it's not like he cared what other people at school thought, especially since there was only about a month until it was over. So he had just explained to everyone at his table that he had never asked Jennifer out, that he had just seen her there and she was exaggerating the whole thing. Since everyone but Maka knew who he was really interested in, the subject had been quickly dropped.

Now Soul was face-winging again. It was now obvious that Maka, while believing what he had said, still thought there might be more to it. He groaned, knowing he was going to have to find a way to clear this up. Glancing at the clock, he saw that his shift was almost over. Mr. Simmons could kiss his Butterball; he was leaving early today.