Clearly, I have this unshakeable love for Stein, because he just pops up everywhere in these stories. I'm beginning to suspect I like him more than Soul and Maka. This is sacrilege, and I must go sacrifice myself now, but not before telling you I do not own Soul Eater, and that I hope you enjoy your extremely belated (sort of) one-shot present, tigerhorse!
I also do not own Soul Eater, and haven't written anything (Any. Thing.) in months. There are many reasons for this, and most of them ended in failure, but we won't get into that. Enjoy!
Stein's Shoppe of Curios - London, England.
February 18, 1801.
The sign hung boldly above a darkened doorstep – Stein's Shoppe of Curios. Beneath it, Lady Albarn wondered if she were truly mad enough to cross the threshold. For mad she must be to consider entering this shady, tucked-away den of iniquity. She knew as well as anyone about the reputation of the shop, and it's eccentric owner. Yet she also knew that what she was seeking could only be found here. She glanced around, making sure no one had noticed her. It was oddly quiet for noontime, and Lady Albarn – Maka, to the few she considered friends – supposed it was just another of the many signs that had led her to this place. Besides, what did she care about her reputation? She was already considered odd enough as it was, with her penchant for knowledge over flirtations, and reading over dancing. Her father certainly had a reputation enough for the two of them, anyway...
The thought of her father settled the matter, and her momentary indecision was swept away. Maka squared her shoulders, and strode through the open doorway-
-into the most cluttered room imaginable. The room was stacked from floor to ceiling with all manner of flotsam and jetsam, and try as she might, Maka could find no method to this madness. Flasks and vials of mysterious substances were mixed in with artifacts from foreign lands, and scrolls of paper were wedged in between cages of odd-looking animals. Maka turned slowly, stunned by the effect. Could she truly find what she was looking for here? How could anyone find anything in this mess?
"Are you lost, my lady?"
Maka spun around, breath catching in her throat. She hadn't heard anyone come in...and she hadn't noticed anyone as she walked in. Then again, she had been completely taken in by the chaos surrounding her. Yet even after facing the speaker, she needed another moment to martial her thoughts. Standing before her was a man of indeterminable age, scowling and slouching, with the most remarkable ruby red eyes. Upon closer inspection, she realized he was still quite young, although the unlikely thatch of white hair had caused her to think him older. Judging by the way he was dressed, he most likely worked in the store. Yet there was something peculiarly refined about his accent...Could this possibly be Stein, himself?
"I- I am not lost. I'm here to speak to Mr. Stein. Is he in?"
His odd eyes narrowed as he looked her over from head to toe. "Dressed as you are, Lady, I doubt he'll be discussing that sort of business with you. He's not as depraved as that. So it's best you leave before you attempt to make an irrevocable mistake."
Maka paled. She knew, of course, that the curio shoppe also acted as a front for El Chupacabra, the most infamous brothel in all of London. What she hadn't expected was to be taken for some opportunistic tart! The color climbed back into her cheeks with her mounting rage. "I am not here for that. I wish to discuss the acquisition of a specific item that I believe Mr. Stein has in his possession. I will have no more of this unfounded slander upon my character, if you please. Now, is Mr. Stein in, or must I come back some other time?" Maka had learned from years of experience that sometimes, offense was the best defense. Besides, there was something about this young man that set her blood to boiling, and she hadn't known him for above 5 minutes. Although there was something familiar about him...
"Mr. Stein is not in. And no, you should not return here when he is. A lady like you should have nothing to do with this place!" He stepped closer to her, and Maka realized that when he wasn't slouching, he was actually quite tall. "My warning wasn't about the brothel, dear heart. It was about the items in this shop. They are not for amusement, and are exceedingly dangerous! So forego your dream of astonishing your friends at your next dull party. Leave this place at once."
The insufferable young man never saw it coming. One moment he was turning away from the lady, satisfied that she would take his warning and leave, and the next he was hit upside the head with the lady's handbag, suspiciously heavy and therefore a wholly painful experience.
"In God's name, woman, what do you think you're-"
Her second swing landed, and it was just as painful as the first. He took a step backwards into an oak cabinet, and a vial tilted perilously above his head.
Maka's had never before let her rage master her like this, yet this man's impertinence drove her to the brink. "How dare you tell me what I should do! You are not family to me, and therefore hold no sway over me! It is no trinket I seek, to parade about at my nonexistent parties! I am here on serious business, and you will not waylay me-"
"No, it is you who are waylaying me, you foolish woman- Put that handbag down!"
"I will use it as I see fit, you annoyance!"
"Ow! Stop that, you harpy!"
"Never, you blackguard-"
He pushed back against the cabinet in order to escape her next attack, yet in doing so he dislodged the precariously placed vial that had been shook loose only moments before. Before either of them knew what was happening, the vial had fallen to the floor between them, sending up spirals of color that twisted and wove intricate patterns around and between them. Distracted by the beautiful display, Maka's ire was immediately forgotten.
"It's so lovely..." She couldn't help but whisper as her eyes tracked the movement of the colors about the clerk's shoulders and face. She smiled as she saw sweeps of light out of the corner of her eyes, and the look of amazement on his face, as well. His face softened at her smile, and for a moment, it seemed as if he might smile back at her. Maka's heart skipped a beat. When he looked at her like that, with the fading colors still weaving in between them...there was something beguilingly handsome about him...
"Soul? Did someone come in- Ah."
The two whipped away from each other, and the last of the colors winked out of sight. Standing in the doorway of an unnoticed adjoining room was a tall, bespectacled man who was wearing a tattered trench coat. There was something slightly off about his kind smile and gentle demeanor, but the oddest thing about him was the gear sticking into his neck. Was that a medical reality? What purpose could that possibly serve?
Maka took a step towards the man, nonetheless. She had come this far...and she would not be deterred. "Am I correct in assuming you are the owner of this establishment?"
The strange man smiled, and Maka was put in mind of certain childhood nightmares, born of the bedtime stories her nurse would tell her. There was something eerie about this man. "Correct; as long as I am correct in assuming you are Lady Maka Albarn, daughter of the late Kami Albarn, and my old friend Spirit."
Simultaneously, Maka sucked in a shocked breath, and the man next to her stilled. "How could you know?"
"The hair...those eyes...that unflinchingly direct demeanor...you resemble your mother in many ways, Maka dear. It did take me a moment, however. I haven't seen you since you were a wee girl."
Maka felt as if the world was spinning around her. "You...you knew me when I was a child?"
Mr. Stein pouted. "Of course I did! Didn't you recognize my name? Or is that not why you've come?" He sighed. "Judging by your expression of utter befuddlement, I'll have to assume that you haven't come to reunite with your long-lost godfather. Well. Perhaps another time."
"Godfather?" That interjection came from the man next to her. "She's your- how can an old swindler like you have a godchild? And one of rank, no less?"
Maka didn't say anything, but looked quite closely at Mr. Stein. He was about her papa's age...and he knew that she physically resembled her mother with her ash-blonde hair, and luminous green eyes. Yet these things could be common knowledge, and her father had once told her that her godfather had been deported back to Germany long ago...
"Once upon a time, Soul, I was a sight more important than I am now. Yet the wheel of fortune turns as it may, and I found myself in...dire straits. A disappearance was in order, and I had to leave the country. Yet men always have a need for my talents, and so I made my way back when the fuss had settled. Or do you still not believe me, godchild?
Maka raised an eyebrow. "Your first name is?
He smiled graciously. "Franken."
"And what transpired at my parent's first meeting?" Now this was not common knowledge. If he knew this, then she could believe him.
The smile grew wider, and somehow more genuine. "Your mother boxed his ears – several times – for attempting to seduce her maid during a secret rendezvous." There was a faraway look in his eye as he continued. "I never quite understood how, but it was love at first sight for your father. Not so for your mother. But somehow he won her 'round."
Maka smile matched his, and there was a touch of evil in it. "Godfather. It is an unexpected pleasure to meet you at last."
Soul could take it no longer. It had been a long, trying day, and his maddening employer and the even more infuriating Lady Albarn getting along in this manner was simply too much. He raked his long fingers through his hair and finally let it out. "What in God's name is even going on? Stein, you can't possibly be serious about being connected to her! And if you are, then tell her to leave – don't let her get caught up with your dangerous curios!"
Stein's eyes glinted, and Soul knew that was never good. "Ahh, but she's already involved. As are you, my dear boy. Aren't either of you curious about those fey lights you unleashed?"
Soul's mouth went dry. How could he have forgotten? The lights had killed their anger in a heartbeat, and had caused him to think...well, never mind what they had caused him to think. More importantly, he hadn't known what they were. And while they didn't feel malicious (he was relying primarily on his experiences over his months of employment at Stein's shop, but a deeper intuition agreed) that didn't mean they didn't have lasting effects. He stole a glance over at Lady Albarn, and was gratified to see she had forgotten as well.
"Well then. I'll explain everything, shall I? But first, a cup of tea is in order. Tea set!" Before the lady could exclaim at the futility of simply calling for a tea set, a silver platter flew out from behind a stack of books and headed straight for Stein. On it, of course, was a teapot full of steaming tea, and three delicate cups. Soul grinned as the lady's mouth fell open. She hadn't expected that, had she?
"Ahh, but before I begin...you were here for a purpose, yes? I wouldn't be a very good Godfather if I didn't hear you out first. So? How can I help you?"
Maka blinked in amazement as Mr. Stein began pouring tea. It was all so preposterous...but she had come here in hopes for something impossible...
She began after sipping her tea, and was surprised to find it delicately brewed, and delicious. "I came here in search of something specific. All my research has led me to believe you possess the fabled Ring of Fidelity, which I had hoped to acquire for what may be obvious reasons. In case they are not, I mean my father. The rumors of his...misadventures have spread far and wide, and after an altercation with him, he announced that if I could find the ring, he would wear it. So, here I am."
Soul nearly choked on his tea. All of London knew Lord Albarn's reputation as an accomplished Lothario, and could understand why his daughter was so worried about it. She was unmarried, and his wild reputation would undoubtedly slander hers. Yet she had risked her reputation on her own by coming into the shop. Could there something more to that explanation? Perhaps she had a prospective husband waiting in the wings, and she needed a quick solution, otherwise she'd lose him? For some reason that didn't sit right with Soul. He scowled, and caught his reflection in the dark liquid. It shouldn't matter to him what she did with her life. He'd only just met her. And he detested her, no matter how enchanting she'd looked with those lights circling her...damn! No more of these infernal thoughts!
Stein surreptitiously glanced at his assistant, noting his obvious duress. Oh, young people were such fun... "And do you have a certain woman in mind? Because it will tie him down to someone, exclusively."
Maka nodded firmly. "Of course. Myself."
This time, Soul really did choke on his tea. To his credit, so did Stein.
"Are you mad!?"
"Ahh? His daughter?"
Maka sipped her tea and waited until the two men regained their composure. Then, she continued. "Yes. Unless my research has led me astray, a direct blood relation of the giver cannot themselves be the focus of the recipient's affections. So I – and my father - should be entirely safe from any unnatural affection, I assure you."
Soul had the feeling she was the type of woman who used words of 4 or 5 syllables at least twice a sentence, and that she carried the dictionary she read for fun in that handbag of hers. How else could she have concocted such a hypothetical scheme? There was so many unknowns she was relying on, and so much that could go wrong.
"And so your giving him the Ring will do...what?"
Maka set the teacup down with a decided clink. "It is the principle of the thing. I will give him the Ring, and he has promised to wear it. It will be up to him who he bestows his affections on, but his philandering days will be over. All the- well, it will all be over."
Stein watched his guest with lazy eyes that she suspected missed nothing. "And will that truly solve the problem? Or will this be an unescapable prison?"
Maka shook her head slowly, but even Soul could see the shadow of doubt in her countenance. "It cannot be a prison. Otherwise, he wouldn't have assured me of his utmost sincerity in regards to the Ring."
Neither Stein nor Soul voiced the obvious: Lord Albarn had clearly not expected his daughter to find the Ring. What man in Lord Albarn's position would give up his ladykiller status? Or, at the very least, leave the terms of his eternal, magically enforced fidelity in the hands of his daughter?
"Please, Godfather. Will you tell me if you possess the Ring? Or must I inquire further, in different avenues?"
Stein smiled, and Soul knew well enough that trouble was coming. "I do not have the Ring."
Maka's face fell, and Soul wondered at Stein's flippant response. That expression...he had been so sure Stein had an ace up his sleeve...
"But I do know where it is..."
"Where? Where is it? What must I do to obtain it?" In her eagerness the saucer rattled in her hands, and she took a moment to steady herself. Soul wondered if the lady had told the entire truth – why did she need Lord Albarn's actions to halt so desperately?
"No, no, my dear. It is currently in the possession of someone a young lady simply cannot get to. I can, however, order it from him. If it somehow managed to find its way into your hands after that...well, I've been sorely remiss in my duties as a godfather for all these years. I'd ask no further questions."
Lady Albarn's relief was short-lived. "But...even were that to happen, would not I be bound to you, then? All my research was clear in that respect: the Ring was either earned, or was gifted, and to any it was gifted their heart was the return price. So I thank you for your generosity, but I do not believe I can accept your offer..."
"What about stealing it?" The words came unexpectedly, drawing surprised glances from his companions. Hellfire, Soul was surprised at himself for uttering them. Why was he helping this woman? He certainly wanted nothing to do with it!
"That might work..." That worrisome glint was back in his employer's eyes, and Soul cringed. When would he learn? "It's something to look into, at any rate."
Maka nodded firmly, and tried her best to ignore the disgruntled young man next to her. Somehow she had been taken aback at his suggestion – for some reason, thinking of him as a thief didn't sit well with her. Although she did suppose his suggestion did not make him such. After all, it would be her to do the thieving, when the time came...
"Perhaps we can revisit this topic another time. There is another matter we should discuss..." Stein flicked his wrists, and, as if he had conjured it from sheer nothingness, a clear, glass ball appeared in his hand. When he tapped it lightly with his forefinger, colored light roiled and bloomed within it. Maka's eyes widened. Was there a way to capture the effervescent beauty of those peculiar lights? Yet even as she wondered, she remembered the gentle expression on the young man's – Soul's - face, and understood that the light within the crystal ball would never be quite as breathtaking as the original. To free herself from these unwelcome thoughts, she found herself asking elementary but essential questions.
"Forgive me – but what were those lights? They were...beautiful." She could feel the young man's scrutiny, but she did not glance his way. She hoped that she was not blushing, and that no one understood the reason for her slight hesitation. This was simply not the time to become faint of heart over an inexplicably attractive young man!
"Soul? Do you know?"
He shook his head slowly, just as distracted with the lights within the orb as Lady Albarn was. Seeing them again brought back that fleeting sense of wonder, and clear remembrance of how beautiful and touchable the lady was, softened by the lights and her happiness. This was a dangerous road to travel, seeing as how the lady was as cool as marble when not faced with mysterious magical lights...
"Have either of you ever heard of the Dutch alchemist, Rein Tovenaar?" When both shook their heads, Stein continued. "I suppose there's not much to tell...he lived nearly 400 years ago, in a small village outside of modern-day Amsterdam. Although he was rumored to be a more than competent alchemist, the only surviving contribution he bestowed unto the ancient art was something he dubbed the "Veldfles van Droom," or Flask of Dreams. Even that, tangible as it was, was shrouded in mystery. All we know of it, besides what we can physically observe, is that he created it on the eve of his beloved wife's death, and that he believed it would grant immortality." He smiled his eerie, gentle smile at his assistant and the lady. "Do not be worried. The flask has been used many times since its creation, and none of its users have ever gained immortal existence. Neither is it a danger that will hasten your ends. I believe you are perfectly safe, so rest assured on that account."
Maka's guilt ate at her and she could hold it back no longer. "I'm so sorry we broke the flask...It was not intentionally done but we have destroyed what sounds like a precious treasure..." She trailed off, not knowing what to say. What did one do in this situation?
Stein looked at her quizzically. "Destroyed?" He twisted the gear at his neck as if that would help aid his thoughts.
Maka shifted nervously. "It was placed on the cabinet over there, and during our...disagreement, it crashed to the floor."
"Ahh. Excuse me for a moment-" Flexing his fingers, Stein suddenly called out: "Veldfles van Droom! Come!"
Maka said nothing, but a flower of hope unfurled in her heart. After all, she had thought it impossible that the tea tray had followed his commands...she was not disappointed. Barely a minute later, the flask – intact and perfect -came rushing through the air to Stein's outstretched hand. If Maka had not learned to believe in magic the very moment upon entering into Stein's shop, she certainly would have begun now.
Stein observed the flask, turning it over to catch the light. "Ahhh...I see."
This caught Soul's attention. "Professor? What is it you observe?"
"Yes, yes...it is as I suspected..."
Forgoing her stern resolution to not look at her godfather's assistant, Maka shared a worried glance with him. At his nigh imperceptible shrug, she found her voice. "Godfather? Would you care to enlighten us as to the nature of your suspicions?"
Stein set the flask down carefully, and pulled a lit, hand-rolled cigarette seemingly out of the air. It was a testament to Maka's resilient nature that such an occurrence no longer phased her in the slightest. Stein hid a wry smile. Perhaps there was more of her father in her than she thought. "If you will observe, the lights are no longer in the glass. As I suspected, they have found more suitable receptacles." He fixed them both with a telling glance. "Lady Fortune must be smiling on us all. The lights have chosen to reside within the two of you."
Anger, an otherwise unfamiliar emotion to Soul, rose up in his chest far more quickly than he could have imagined. "How, in the name of Heaven and Earth could this be a fortunate happenstance? Who's to say how we'll be bedeviled by one of your dangerous-"
"The lights are...within us?" Lady Albarn's quiet wonder cut through Soul's tirade effortlessly. "Truly?" As she spoke, she seemed to glow – not lit from within from the fey lights, but from some inner beauty that made Soul bite his lip in order to tear his eyes away from her. What in the Dark's name was wrong with him? Could the flask's contents have something to do with this sudden, inexplicable attraction?
"Indeed they are. And no, Soul, they are not dangerous. I have told you this before. There is, however, an effect that I have long wanted to study. It is in that way that I consider this a fortunate circumstance. For if I study it, then I can find a way to cure it, and then all will be right as rain. In addition, I'll recompense you for your time and trouble: for my goddaughter, the Ring, and for Soul...well, you know what you need. Is this an acceptable offer?"
As per always, Maka had many, many questions. Not the least what the young man next to her required as payment. Yet the most important was undoubtedly, "Effect? And what might that be?"
"It is called the Flask of Dreams for a reason, my dear. Those who open the flask and become a new 'home' for the lights witness certain dreams – or memories, no one is quite sure – of Tovenaar. Therein, I believe, lies the key for solving the true mystery of the Flask. Yet that is only one facet of the effect of the lights – for the lights ever and always desire to be together, and you have split them now into two. Therefore, unless I can find a way to pull the lights out of you (which has proved an impossible endeavor for the last 400 years, by any who have tried) or otherwise assuage the longing of the lights; you two will always dream in tandem."
For a long, painful moment, silence reigned. Then, pulling herself up from the depths of her shock, Maka spoke. "I don't quite understand-"
"Every night, for the rest of your existence, you will experience the same dream...together."
Maka immediately blushed a damning, cherry red. It was not that her dreams were, on average, anything to be ashamed of – but dreams were intensely personal, and she had no desire to let this confusing young man into her head. Especially if this attraction didn't end immediately.
Not five feet away from her, Soul was thinking along similar lines. His dreams were full of dangerous things, people and places he should not know, a history that was all his own and secrets he would die to protect. Not to mention the strange lightness in his chest whenever the violent lady next to him would smile. Clearly, for both their sakes, they needed to undo this magic as soon as possible. "What must we do to fix this?"
"For now, there is only one thing you can do. Until you have gone through all of Tovenaar's dreams, there is no way to move forward.
"So if I may, I would wish you both pleasant dreams."
Lady Maka's private apartments – London, England
February 18-19th, 1801.
When she had been a little girl, and had still worshipped the ground her father's feet had trod, he had once told her that a dream was the heart's true wish. She was young, hopelessly impressionable, and had believed him for many, many years, until she had lived long enough to realize that most of her dreams were incoherent and unrecognizable, and that all her father did was lie. Yet tonight Maka reflected on that memory as she prepared for bed. Throughout her awkward teenage years she had longed for adventure, magic, and romance, and now, when she had supposedly put all such childish desire behind her, she would experience two of the three in one night. Even then, the image of Soul's face (she had fought it for hours but she could no longer think of him as the young man or Stein's assistant any longer) rose in her thoughts, in instances both scowling and relaxed. Heavens! Why couldn't she shake him from her mind? It must be dread, she told herself firmly. After all, unless they helped Stein with his research, their dreams would be connected forever...
Why didn't that worry her as much as it should?
Look at what I just did. I will start out by apologizing for mucking up the foreignspeak. I also have no business writing period pieces, but I can't help it they are just so smexy and don't you deny that you aren't already drooling at the thought of Soul/Stein/Spirit being early 19th c. gentlemen.
I know I am.
In other news, I am also frighteningly overworked, behind on just about all my projects/pieces/portfolios/papers, am being massively guilt-tripped by my ex, and have an impossible crush on a bassist.
Help. Preferably by leaving reviews. Or teach me the proper way of writing about British nobility, haha.
Huge thanks to Glittergoat (hey girl heyyyyyyy) for the first review, and especially to The StormBorn for coming across with some massively helpful edits and tips on Britishness :) I will definitely be checking out that wiki article you mentioned. Thank you both so much! :)