Author Notes: Hi, everyone! It's been...a while. Heh. Much as I would like to say that I was so long in updating due to my new ownership of Soul Eater, that would be false. I do own a few bottles of cream soda, though. But not the rights to them.
There was an eerie silence in the air as they stood in the hospital hallway. Jenny was fuming; being thrown out of the hospital room had offset her already uneven temper. The angry clenching of her hands contrasted the thoughtful wringing of Louie's. Maka noticed grey at his temples that she was pretty certain wasn't there a few days ago and she risked a thoughtful smile in his direction. His responding grimace was vague and lifeless.
Beside her, Soul made a discontented noise. Though Jenny shot the weapon a harsh glance at the intrusion on their silence, it seemed to be the impetus that Louie needed. He cleared his throat as his hollow gaze met Soul's.
"Say what you need to say."
Soul made a quick jab to the bartender's shoulder that so reminded Maka of Black*Star that she found herself laughing despite the inappropriate situation for mirth. Both Jenny and Louie wore matching confused glances, but before Maka could think of a way to explain, a shadow of a smile twisted the bartender's lips. Jenny gave an indifferent shrug.
"This frustrates me," Louie began, voice shaky. Jenny snorted derisively. Though Maka assumed that it would have deferred Louie, it seemed to bolster his confidence somehow. His voice cleared. "Lottie told me in the ambulance that she didn't answer my phone calls because she didn't want to 'get me involved,' and now this…." Hands shaking, he combed his fingers through his hair. "I don't like it. I want to be helpful. I'm tired of just cleaning up the bar and waiting to hear if another one of my friends has gone missing."
Maka gave him a rueful smile. "Believe me, Louie, both Soul and I have been there." She looked over to her partner, who nodded his agreement.
"We're one of Shibusen's best teams, but neither of us is particularly good if we try to work with other partners. If one of us is hurt—"
"—then both of us are essentially out of the game. We've sat on the sidelines and watched our friends be hurt more times than we'd care to remember." Maka finished Soul's sentence grimly. She tugged at her hair, realizing that at some point it had come free from its braid. The dried blood at the ends crumbled against her palm.
"The problem, Louie, is that you have no combat skills other than the very basic self-defense you were taught when you came to work with me." Jenny's tone had softened, but she kept her arms crossed. Her brows furrowed. "About the only strategic value you offer is that of bait." She jabbed a finger into Louie's chest. "And I refuse to let you take that role, so it's the sidelines for you."
Louie's mouth thinned as his eyes flared. For a moment it looked like he might argue with Jenny, but the fierceness of her expression made him back down. He sighed.
"Are you actually going to close down the Dive, then?"
Pained reality cracked her expression as she slumped against the hospital wall. A nurse pushed a cart past, giving the four a concerned look. Jenny rubbed at her temples.
"It appears so." Jenny's voice was curt, but held a notable undertone of defeat. Her anger drained away, leaving a terribly exhausted shell. Maka's music welled with apologetic notes.
Though Maka spoke softly, her voice seemed to fill the hallway around them. She was looking at the floor, hands plastered to her sides. Soul knew that she was trying to hold back tears. "I'm so sorry. We're supposed to be the best that Shibusen has to offer, but we can't seem to keep your people from getting hurt."
Jenny snorted, though the sound had little heart in it.
"Don't get yourself too worked up about it. If even your old man couldn't hack it, I doubt that you'll have an easier time of it."
Something in Maka's posture stiffened, her gaze still glued to the floor. Her intensity was palpable. Jenny also seemed to stiffen as she gave an almost awkward, thoughtful scratch to her head.
"My…old man?" The meister's voice echoed eerily in the hallway, causing Louie to flinch. "How do you know that Papa was the one—"
Jenny attempted a casual wave of her hand. It looked more like she wanted desperately to swat at a fly. "It happened in my town, you know," she said. She managed to sound offhand. "And my intelligence network has been in place for longer than you've been alive."
Maka's head raised, almost mechanical in its stiff motion, and nodded. Her music screeched harshly with confusion and alarm, but she managed to match Jenny's tone with a small 'oh, I see.'
Louie cleared his throat, finding the tension in the dim hallway somehow more unpleasant than the constant ambiance of sickness and chemicals that pervaded the hospital. A worn smile stretched his face, though the skin around his eyes crinkled sadly. "Well, today has been one hell of a day; what say we…" Louie trailed off uncertainly, a hint of a blush forming on his cheeks.
Jenny shot him a no-nonsense glare.
"What I was going to suggest was that we head back to the Dive for a bottle of cream soda, but I realized that was…you know…a bad idea." The sentence ended lamely, but it didn't seem like anyone in the hallway noticed. Maka was resolutely staring at a wall, looking for all the world as if she could bore a hole in the plaster by sheer will alone. Her weapon hovered nervously beside her, a thumb gently brushing at the nape of her neck. Jenny's own gaze had fallen to the floor, a hand massaging at her temples absently as her mouth twitched. Louie began to stammer out an apology, but before he could speak, Soul looked up with a toothy grin.
"Actually, that sounds like a great idea." He patted Maka's shoulder, the motion jarring the girl out of her reverie. She looked almost startled, but something unsaid passed between them and she nodded with a small smile.
"Anything for that cream soda of yours." She reached up to grasp the hand that her weapon had left on her shoulder. Her gaze shifted to Louie's and he could see the exhaustion in her eyes. "We might need to make a quick stop somewhere before we head to the Dive, though."
Both Soul and Louie tilted their heads at almost the same time. Maka gave a playful squeeze to her weapon's hand. "We don't have helmets yet, remember?"
Soul gave a ragged sigh, years of exasperation weighting down his tone. "But that's so not coooool."
Maka gave him a rather short look and Louie's dim sense of Soul Perception registered a brief flare of both their souls.
"Maaaaaaaka," the weapon quietly drawled, his voice sounding as if he wasn't sure if he wanted to sound pleading or sensual and ended up being an awkward mix of both. The meister raised an eyebrow.
Their faces went through a quick succession of microexpressions, and Louie realized somewhat awkwardly that they must be having some sort of nonverbal conversation through their souls. The realization made him feel as if he were suddenly invading on something very private, though the pair seemed temporarily engulfed in their own private world for a time.
He sent a meaningful glance in Jenny's direction, to which she responded with a tremendous rolling of her eyes.
"You're not going to get me to talk to you like that," she said icily. "It's just a thing that those Shibusen pairs do."
The familiar sting of her irritation calmed Louie's nerves. He scanned the room for a chair to sit in, choosing a threadbare armchair stuffed awkwardly in the corner beside the coffee machine. Gesturing vaguely toward a slightly less beaten up chair of the same material, he prompted Jenny to sit.
In any other circumstance, she might have taken offense to the suggestion that she needed to relax. But the heavy weight of a long day that was nowhere near being over dragged her to the corner with the bartender.
Her posture was markedly slumped in what might have been defeat.
It took a great deal of effort on Soul's part to calm down the rising alarm in Maka. Her mind was awhirl with suspicion—how had Jenny known? Sure, she might have had an intelligence network back then, but how would she have known the name of the Deathscythe who had been sent to track down Mack first? How had she known that it was Maka's father?
Soul's side of the link swelled with reason and calm; Spirit was not exactly the most surreptitious of individuals and Jenny obviously had a much larger operation than they had initially realized.
Maka saw the sense in her weapon's words, but she couldn't shake the panicked feeling in her gut. It was a hunch, but hunches had saved their asses too many times for her to simply ignore it.
She's playing the hand too close to the chest for comfort. Her soul pulsed plaintively.
I agree. Outside the link, Soul gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. But I don't think it's grounds for us to panic just yet. She's like Stein—she only tells you what you need to know and keeps the rest to herself.
Maka's eyes met his. I want to talk to Shibusen about this.
Soul nodded his agreement. But we should go get some cream soda first. It's been a tough day and that shit is really fuckin' good.
Maka didn't have the energy to scold him for his language verbally, but a twinge of displeasure knocked at the link. It only seemed to encourage Soul's toothy grin to widen.
Fine, Maka conceded, trying to smother any sign that she also shared a desire for the soda. But we're getting those motorcycle helmets first.
You drive a hard bargain, meister. We're gonna look so uncool.
Maka made a big show of rolling her eyes, and slowly detached her soul from her partner's. Though she withdrew from the deeper connection that allowed soul communication, there was a sort of contact Resonance that remained, as if simple proximity to her weapon was enough to make their souls connect on a fundamental level.
She absently wondered if it had anything to do with their kiss earlier that day.
A laugh racked her slight frame, causing the others in the hallway to look at her in the brief alarm of people whose nerves had been rubbed raw. The meister shook her head. "Just a funny realization," she assured. She started to raise a hand to wave in apology, but realized that her fingers were still entwined with Soul's.
Her stomach felt funny.
"If it's the same to you guys, I think we're gonna head out." She nodded awkwardly in Louie's direction. "Meet you at the Dive in an hour or so?"
"I'll be waiting with two cold cream sodas for you guys." The amiable nature of his smile managed to make it less wan.
"Make that six," Soul grinned, untangling his hand from Maka's so that he could throw a companionable arm over her shoulder. They both felt comforted by the closeness of the motion, though it seemed to make the funny feeling in Maka's stomach worse. "I like those."
Jenny, aware of the young meister's nervously shifting gaze, straightened. "I think I'll join you all for a drink or two. I've got a lot of phone calls to make tonight. I might ask for something a bit stronger than cream soda, though."
The almost-awkwardness in her voice made Maka give another shaky laugh. Both Soul's and Louie's smiles widened.
"Only if you're buying," Louie teased, the levity smoothing his sad wrinkles but not quite lighting up his eyes.
The owner of the Dive turned and gave him an imperious look. "You can put it on my tab."
Their laughter rang so loudly in the hall that the irritable nurse who was attending Lottie poked her head out of the room and threatened to call security if they didn't all leave that instant.
Fortunately, the two Shibusen kids didn't seem interested in staying long. They both entered, removing dark-visored motorcycle helmets that concealed their faces. Soul's hair was tousled from the helmet, but Maka's hair seemed untouched. The weapon often laid a comforting hand on the shoulder of his meister, who looked up at him with worried eyes.
True to his word, the weapon drank a full four and a half sodas. The other half of the fifth was consumed by the girl, while he played the piano at her request. He had done so with a reluctance that seemed strange in someone who played professionally, but something in his meister's eyes made him go up to the unlit stage. The tune he played was almost cloyingly upbeat.
There was a small smile on the bartender's face the whole time. He liked this. He liked them. Though Jenny had her own feelings on Shibusen and the meddling role they played in the lives of people with unusual souls, Louie had found the two quite pleasant in the few days that he had known them. There was a fire in the girl's eyes that reminded him a lot of his sister; she was tough, but hadn't the meanness of a big city set into her bones. Maka Albarn was a girl to be proud of.
And her weapon, that Soul—he was something of a punk and could be rather crass, but he was loyal. In probably any other case, Louie would have said that the boy didn't deserve a girl like Miss Albarn, but the bartender knew full well that the weapon would have died for her. For Louie, that was enough.
It also helped that the kid played a mean piano.
Louie would miss them. In the short time that they'd been in the Dive, they'd seemed to fill the ever-increasing void in the place. It had always been a sanctuary for extraordinary souls in the midst of a city where no one knew your name, and Louie had loved it for all that it offered. These two kids, with their souls of power far more extraordinary than anyone who had come before them, had filled the club with vibrancy and life.
But no more. Even Louie, with his dim sense of Perception and even dimmer capacity for precognition, knew that this blow would be the one to bring the Dive to its knees.
Lottie was the club's heart and soul. She had kept the place going for years, bringing in new entertainment and keeping an eye out for the first sign of trouble. With Lottie around, even with the regulars suddenly vanishing, the Dive had felt safe.
Louie had run his hands along the smooth counter of the bar and gave Jenny, who was sullenly drinking a glass of cream soda ("It's the spirit of the thing," Louie had said. And Jenny, though she muttered something darkly about spirits, took the soda and popped the top of it on the edge of her stool) a sidelong glance.
Jenny was a hardass and often had the soft touch of a drunken bruiser. But she, like the white-haired weapon, was loyal to the very end. If anything in the world was certain, it was that she would bring this Mack character to justice.
Even if that meant the end of all she loved.
So despite her secrets and brusque demeanor, Louie had found himself quite fond of his boss. She, like Lottie, was part of what made the Dive so special. If Lottie was the Dive's heart and soul, then Jenny was its backbone.
But tonight she seemed tired. There were shadows beneath her eyes and a cast to her face that looked almost haunted. Occasionally she would look worriedly over to the ashen-haired girl at the other side of the bar. Maka never seemed to notice. In fact, she seemed as if she were making a concerted effort to avoid looking at Jenny at all. Normally her eyes were always scanning the room, soul pulsing with the effort of trying to sense any disturbances in the club. But now, her focus seemed to be entirely on her weapon and on avoiding any sort of contact with Jenny.
When Soul had finished playing—placing the cover over the ivories almost reverently—Maka had stood, thanked Louie for the soda, and gestured meaningfully towards the door at Soul. When she turned to wish Jenny a good night, she had done so woodenly. If Jenny took notice of this, she had made no sign of it. She warned the meister to be careful on her way back home.
The pair had left the Dive with their helmets on and their fingers entwined. There was still a large amount of dried blood on the collar of Maka's shirt.
Jenny waited for the sound of the motorcycle leaving the alley before she spoke.
"I fucked up."
It was a simple enough statement, but it took Louie by surprise enough that he almost dropped the bottle of Vodka he had been holding. Jenny was not normally the type to admit that she had done wrong.
But the admission came again, edged with something that might have been anguish if it had been anyone other than Jenny.
"Louie, I fucked up so badly."
The bartender surreptitiously checked the bottle in her hand, trying to make sure that it really was soda instead of alcohol.
"I can't imagine that this is your fault, Jenny," he soothed. "How could you have known that something like this would have happened? Lottie's been faithful, but she's always been a wildcard."
Jenny shook her head as her bottle clinked onto counter. Its label reflected gold with the cheery label of Louie's favorite brand of cream soda.
"It's not Lottie. She was just doing what she knew. I hired her knowing that she could be something of a loose cannon." The woman slumped in her stool, hands rubbing at her neck wearily. "But I should have guessed that something like this would happen when I started this place."
She heaved a sigh, one heavier than any Louie had ever heard from her. It made the pit of his stomach go cold.
"Louie, I want you to leave."
The coldness in Louie vanished, replaced by the heat of a temper that had been rising in him for days. His knuckles were white as he grasped the vodka bottle.
"No, Jenny. I'm not doing this. I told you that I'm sick of sitting on the sidelines."
"I'm not gonna argue with you, Miller. This is too big for you. Hell, this is too big for me, but I'm the one who dug us into this hole and I'm going to do my damndest to dig us out." Her gaze met Louie's with an intensity that might have made a lesser man bolt. On any other day, it might have made Louie bolt, too.
"You can't just shoulder all the blame for this." Anger welled in his tone as he pointed the bottle at the woman. "This is everyone's fight. They're attacking our home turf. The Dive isn't just yours, you know."
Sadness flashed across her features. "I know. And believe me, it means more than you'll ever know that this place has come to mean so much to you all." In a quick motion that left her soda bottle rocking on its sides, Jenny stood. "But I will not allow more people to die for the sake of my own sins."
Louie had the sense to put the alcohol on the mirrored shelf behind him before he turned an accusing finger in his boss' direction. It was a testament to how upset Jenny was that she did not slap it away.
The bartender's voice was low as he spoke. "What sins, Jenny? He's a madman and a killer! Next thing, you'll be blaming yourself for all the car accidents across the next couple of blocks."
Jenny's stare grew cold. "Do not belittle this, Louie. You don't know the depths you're wading into."
Louie slammed a fist onto the bar. Jenny's forgotten soda bottle rolled to the floor. "Then tell me what the hell is going on."
Silence enveloped the room. Jenny seemed suddenly occupied with a piece of lint on the edge of her jacket. A hint of hesitation hovered on her lips before she spoke:
"I knew him, Louie. He's…well, he's actually an old friend; got me out of a tight spot a very long time ago." Refusing to meet Louie's gaze, she looked up. "I owe him a lot…and now he's come to collect."
I want to call Shibusen.
As soon as they were on the bike, Maka had deepened the contact Resonance between them. The wind rushing past them was bad enough, but the motorcycle helmets made it impossible for her and Soul to communicate verbally.
Maka, it can wait. There's nothin' you can do about this tonight. Soul turned left sharply, just barely making the light.
But what if she's involved in this more than we—
So what if she is? It took a great amount of forcefulness to cut off a thought in Resonance, and the link vibrated with the harsh feedback. Soul emanated apologies, trying to soothe the link. Look, Maka, all I'm sayin' is that we can't just jump in this headfirst. His soul pulsed with the impression of a smile. You see how far that's gotten you lately.
Maka sighed. I'll admit; I'm not at my best right now. Sometimes my emotions cloud my judgment.
Understatement of the year. The fondness in Soul's tone was the only thing that kept him from getting Chopped. We'll call Shibusen in the morning, Maka. For now…let's just get away from work for a while.
She laughed softly. What, and pick up where we left off?
That's a good start.
Maka blushed at the almost sensual undertone of his words. They rode in relative silence, the rushing of the wind and the troubled flow of Maka's music vibrating through the link. She could register it loosely from the feedback on Soul's end—he was trying to catalog the notes of it, trying to commit it to memory so that he might play it back for her someday.
How often do you do that?
His end of the link flowed with embarrassment. Not often. It's just sometimes, when your music is especially…you…that I try to capture it. I dunno.
She tightened her grasp on him, partly due to the chill of the wind, but mostly because she wanted the comforting pressure of his warm back against her. I think it's sweet. Their resonance filled with his almost-amused thanks. How many of them have you gotten?
Never a whole song, unfortunately. The closest I got was the music you were playin' the day before we left. Mostly I can just get snippets down. This isn't easy, ya know.
Maka's blush deepened with chagrin, though the sickly light of Chicago streetlamps made it impossible to see. It's not like I was telling you to play me a concerto.
Soul temporarily deepened the link so that she could sense his physical body…and the laugh he was having at her comment. Maka wasn't quite sure if it was considerate or rude. Knowing her weapon, it was intended as a mixture of both.
I know, he teased, but maybe one day I will, regardless of whether or not you ask me. Deep affection flooded the link, temporarily stilling the ponderous and darkened tone of the meister's music. Though silence fell once more, there was something vibrating between them, unsaid but weighing at them both. Somehow the words tumbled out at almost the same time:
And then they were both laughing, deepening their Resonance enough for it to feel as if they were doing so as one. The sensation wasn't as startling as it could have been—after all, it was the same when they were in the throes of battle. It was hard to tell at times who was meister and who was weapon; they often didn't know where hand and haft ended and began.
The motorcycle turned onto the block of their hotel. Though it was late, the streets were still bustling, a strange sight for the two of them. They were accustomed to even the busiest of roadways being dead at this time of night.
We're like country bumpkins. Even Soul himself wasn't sure if he made the observation objectively or if there was a hint of grouchiness to it.
That's right enough, I guess…and we could both use with a little sleep, Maka supplied. The thought process, amplified through the link, made them both yawn widely. Soul gave a small nod of assent and pulled the bike into their hotel's parking garage. Its engine rumbled darkly inside the concrete walls as they idled in their parking spot. Soul yawned again.
Maka laughed aloud. Soul, I think we might need to get you to bed. You look dead tired.
Soul gave her an irritated look, but he allowed her to switch off the engine of the bike, tucking its keys into her pocket for safekeeping. He groaned as he dismounted the saddle. His meister smiled at this and peered through the curtain of her hair.
She hadn't brushed it since the morning. Dried blood clumped the tips and the hairband that had held her braid together had been lost in the scuffle. And despite its macabre appearance, Soul found himself craving its scent. Winding a hand about Maka's waist, he pulled her close. Maka squirmed a bit, but the thoughts ebbing through the resonance merely expressed discomfort over standing in the middle of the parking garage, rather than by her sudden proximity to her weapon.
"Nobody's coming; it'll be fine." His voice was muffled by the press of her hair against his mouth. Maka pushed against him halfheartedly in response, but Soul could feel the tension draining from her shoulders. In his mind, he could hear the sound of her music mellowing.
Soul inhaled softly, pleased to find that the dried blood did not mask his meister's scent. The edge of a grin split his mouth as he realized that Maka was doing the same.
"How cute," he teased, nuzzling against her neck with a spark of mischief in his eyes. Maka pulled away from him, her expression distinctly no-nonsense.
"Well, do excuse me." Turning on her heel, Maka marched through the lobby doors. And though her tone was prim, Soul could feel her flattered embarrassment. His grin widened and then died down somewhat when he realized that Maka had managed to trick him into having to carry both their bags to the room.
"You were supposed to watch her! You were supposed to keep her safe!"
Jenny didn't raise her voice often, and it was a good thing that she didn't. Her tone would have driven most men to cower in a corner. It was all Eric could do to stand his ground.
"Ms. Diver, I did my best. I was tracking her as best I could, but she was trying to throw Mack off her trail and occasionally she dropped me, too." He leaned onto Jenny's desk. "You know that if Lottie sets her mind to something, there's nothing we can do. She was your right hand for a reason."
Jenny glowered at the man until he removed his weight from her desk. Eric had a point; Lottie, a rescue from the seediest underbelly of Chicago, was her best and brightest. Keeping her had not only been a personal crusade of sorts, but a very smart tactical decision. When it came to the methodology of keeping out of trouble, Lottie's instincts were simply not to be beat. She'd only sent a small team of backup to follow Lottie in the event that she needed a quick escape. Jenny hadn't expected that even Lottie would fall astray at the hands of Mack.
"Are the girls still looking?"
Eric nodded. "They say that they've got his trail. Mack won't be able to shake them off now."
"How long until we know his location?"
"A couple minutes, we hope. Maybe an hour or two at most." Eric rubbed at his jaw sourly. "Did you make sure that you took care of the contingency plan?"
In any other situation, Jenny might have rebuffed him for the doubt in his tone, but she knew that in this scenario, it was warranted. She tapped at a book on her desk. To anyone who didn't know Jenny well, it might have seemed like an empty gesture, but it was enough to make Eric smile.
"I thought you didn't want to involve them…that the price was too dear."
Jenny arched a brow. "We nearly lost Lottie. No price is too dear."
This statement seemed to perturb the EMT, the smile fading as he tried to defuse the meaning of Jenny's words. He'd never before considered that the woman pandered to a sense of favoritism, but the fire in her eyes sprouted the seed of doubt in his mind.
But he knew that the girls, at least, were safe. He liked them, despite their acerbic attitude, and he didn't want them hurt. If Jenny was willing to enlist the help of some of the witches she knew, then Eric knew that she meant business. He could live with that, even if the woman was too fond of the old mob assassin for her own good.
A knock sounded from Jenny's office door. Eric looked at her uncertainly, but Jenny called out wearily, "Come in, Louie."
The bartender slid quietly into the room, nodding in greeting to the EMT. He held a suitcase in his hands.
"Hey, Louie. How are you holding up?" Eric's question was mostly rhetorical. Louie looked almost as shabby as his suitcase. Despite this, the man smiled, reaching to scratch his head.
"I'm alive…and that certainly has to count for something in light of recent events."
Both men laughed, though the sound was thin and the sudden burst of cheer seemed to wear away at Louie's reserves. His smile fell as he lifted his suitcase up.
"I'm gonna go on a vacation," Louie said, "and get away from it all for a little while. I'm thinking about going to Canada—or maybe Mexico. We'll see what flights head out tomorrow." He nodded towards Jenny. "I stopped by to check in and make sure that I was all cleared to leave.
Eric clapped Louie's back companionably. "I'm glad for you, Louie. Getting out of here is probably the smartest thing you can do."
Louie seemed to flinch at this statement. His hands gripped the suitcase tighter and his mouth thinned. Eric tried to hide his bemused expression.
"You'll tell me if you meet any cute girls, right?"
Louie laughed again, but it was a clipped, humorless bark. "Yeah, I'll give them your number."
Eric grinned and clapped Louie's back again. "Ultimate wingman, this guy. You may have your favorites, Jenny, but I think Louie's one of mine." Stepping back, Eric nodded again in Jenny's direction. "You need anything else?"
Jenny shook her head and took her gaze off of Louie long enough to make eye contact with the EMT. "No. I'll tell you if anything else comes up, though. Call me if the girls find anything."
"I told them to call you directly in case anything happens. I should probably be asking you to tell me if anything happens." Some of his humor drained. "You sure the girls are safe?"
Suddenly looking very old, Jenny nodded. "As sure as I can be in this situation. I've done what I can."
Eric's expression twisted with irony. "I guess that's the best any of us can hope for." He turned to Louie. "Have a good time on that vacation of yours. You look like you need it."
"You're leaving, then?" Jenny looked perturbed, but Eric purposefully ignored it.
"Yeah. I'm going to go get some sleep while I can. Call me if you need me, all right?" The EMT strode through the door much less quietly than Louie had. They waited until they heard the front door of the Dive shut and the alarm system to rearm itself before Louie spoke:
"Everything's in order. I drew out all my funds…contacted the proper people. It will look like I'm heading back home tomorrow." Too exhausted to care for decorum, he sank into one of the chairs beside the office door. The suitcase felt much heavier on his lap than it should have been.
Jenny was silent for a moment, her gaze vacant. Her being lost in thought was enough of a novelty that Louie didn't try to interrupt. Closing his eyes, he listened to the distant ticking of a clock.
A chair scraped across the floor, followed by the sound of soft footsteps. Someone sat stiffly on the chair beside him.
"Do you know where you're going to go?"
Louie didn't bother to open his eyes. Shaking his head, he patted the suitcase. "I've got my passport in here and I have a friend looking at flights as we speak."
"You aren't really going to Mexico, are you?" There was a tinge of humor in Jenny's tone.
"Fuck no. If I'm leaving, I'm going somewhere cold. Preferably with a nice library. I told Eric I was going to Mexico to keep him happy." Cracking an eye open, he turned to look at Jenny. "Why was he so angry? Normally he's not that short with you."
Jenny sighed, leaning back into her chair. "I was a little too forceful with him before. I was angry about what happened to Lottie and he felt offended."
Louie frowned. "You had Eric on Lottie's attaché? No wonder Mack caught up with her. Why didn't you have the twins on her?"
"Because the twins are tracking Mack himself." Jenny's expression looked peeved. "Turns out that today, they were pretty much doing the same thing. But they didn't get close enough to manage to sneak into the interdimensional space."
Louie gave his boss a confused glance. "Interdimensional space? I'm not following."
Jenny seemed weary. "Mack encloses a space and separates it from the rest of the world before he kills someone and takes their soul. It's the reason why the Shibusen kids haven't caught him yet."
Louie made a noncommittal noise. "Do I want to know how you know this?"
Jenny shook her head. Louie smiled.
"Yeah, I figured I wouldn't like it. Do I need to know anything else?"
It was quiet again, but only for a moment. Jenny slowly reached out to grasp Louie's hand. "You mean a lot to me, Louie. The Dive has had you since it opened and you've taken maybe ten sick days in that time. I don't want you hurt."
Louie squeezed her hand and then let his own fall. Companionable silence fell, the only sounds being the regular ticking of the clock and the soft breathing of them both.
A small smile formed on Louie's face. The Dive had always been home to him. In the end, his small apartment had really only been a place to sleep at night. Most of his personal belongings with real value were kept behind the bar. It was easy enough to pretend that he could hear the gentle flow of some soft jazz in the background, crooning vocals muffled by the thick red curtains that hid the office door. Louie could almost pretend that his sanctuary had not been defiled, that he could pull back the curtain and Fitz would be on stage…that Lottie would wink at him as he walked back to his bar.
So many things had been lost and would never be the same again. The Dive stilled smelled like dark wine and perfume, but the magic in the air was gone. It was enough to make Louie want to curl in on himself and quit, but he owed too much to too many people to give up.
He tapped at his suitcase once again, still smiling as he stood. Jenny followed his movements with her eyes, seeming too tired to get out of her chair. But she gave him a weary smile of her own and reached into her pocket, pulling out a wad of bills.
"Take care of yourself, Louie. I don't know what any of us would do without you."
Louie took the cash. "The place would all go to Hell and you know it."
Their hotel room was dimly lit by the yellow glow of the microwave light. It beeped angrily as they came in, the words FOOD READY flashing along its tiny display screen. Maka looked at her partner in confusion for a moment, but when Soul softly muttered 'Salisbury steak,' she giggled.
Their Resonance had mostly broken as they passed through the lobby. There was still a tenuous, humming connection between them, but it wasn't enough to share thoughts or feelings. Maka found that she was too tired to try and reforge the connection; all she wanted to do was sleep.
Maka let both of their bags fall onto her bed, sighing in relief as she sank down after them. Soul had put their helmets on his nightstand, but they were too big for the small surface and one of them fell to the floor with a thud. Soul was leaning over Maka's bed, rifling through one of the bags.
The microwave beeped again.
"I'm coming!" Soul growled. He straightened, hitching the bag over one shoulder as he stormed over to the machine in the corner. The light got slightly brighter as he poked the door open button, the warm yellow light flooding the floor. It shut again, the apartment now cast in almost total darkness.
"You hungry?" Soul called, teasing in his voice.
Maka rolled her eyes, despite the fact that she knew that he could not see the motion in the dark. "I'm not eating that, Soul."
"What? It's only a few hours old."
"It's also cold. Blegh. Besides, I'm not particularly hungry."
There was the sound of something sliding across plastic. Maka could hear the grin in Soul's voice: "Well if you don't want it, more for me."
"You're gross, Soul."
Something weighted down the corner of the bed. Soul's voice was suddenly much closer to her than before. "It didn't stop you from falling in love with me." And then he was close, the warmth of his body curling beside her own on the bed. He was careful not to touch her, as if asking permission, but when Maka scooted closer, he wrapped his arms around her shoulder. She felt the press of his forehead against her cheek.
"How is your lip feeling?" A finger tenderly reached out to trace Maka's mouth, circling the scab where his teeth had cut her earlier. The meandering path of his fingers traced out the growing curve of her smile.
"It's fine, Soul." She hazarded at a brief peck on his fingers as they swept past her mouth again. He stopped for a moment, then swept his fingers upward to caress her cheek. Maka hummed in happy approval.
Soul seemed less content. "But I hurt you…." Maka was silent, thinking of a response, but Soul misinterpreted her quiet and pressed on: "My teeth—"
"Your teeth are fine, Soul." Maka gently reached between them and flicked Soul's nose, irritated as he stopped caressing her cheek. The loss of Resonance, coupled with her inability to see Soul's expression, irritated her. It made her feel severed from her partner, despite their close proximity. Head throbbing slightly from the effort, Maka sent out a few questioning tendrils, trying to deepen the connection.
Soul accepted them gladly.
The link was almost overwhelmed by the sudden rush of emotion—Soul's shame over hurting her, the lurking suspicion of Jenny, the shock and outrage over the events of the day. But there was a comfort between them, and the warm sensation that they could both now identify as love.
Embarrassment tinged both their Resonance and their cheeks, the realization still a little too new for them to face its recognition without a measure of awkwardness. Yet they took pleasure in it, as well, happy to find that they had finally pinned down something that had too often slipped through their fingers like sand.
Maka snuggled closer, pinning Soul's arm between his chest and her own arm. Despite the mild discomfort of suddenly extraneous limbs, there was a deep sense of comfort as their foreheads touched. She hummed again, this time harmonizing with Soul's own buzzing content.
Do you believe me now? She accompanied the question with a less brief peck to his cheekbone. Their Resonance amplified the thrill of the stolen kiss for the both of them, almost wearing away the small seed of doubt in Soul's head. But he clung stubbornly to the notion, the darkness wanting to fester. Little Oni's sneering voice echoed in the depths of their Resonance.
Sighing, Maka leaned in to kiss the other cheek. Soul, I will kiss you until you believe me.
Amusement made them both chuckle. Soul's tone was wry: Well, in that case….
Maka, having caught the basic gist of his statement, cut him off as she swooped in and pressed her own lips tightly to his.
Doubt washing away, Soul's free hand reached to pull Maka closer, tugging at her waist and shoulders. She happily obliged, humming in a sort of victorious pleasure as she swept her tongue along the bottom of Soul's lip. He responded in kind as their Resonance heated.
Their emotions seemed to meld together. The Resonance seemed to take over, inexorable and inescapable…pulling them together with magnetic attraction. Maka gave a small gasp that was matched by Soul's soft groan as their lips meshed.
Their trapped hands shifted, trying to eliminate the sudden barrier that kept them too far apart. Maka nibbled on Soul's lip as she pulled herself into a seated position. He fell back against the mattress. The darkened room concealed the sudden expression of mischief on Maka's face.
The heady press of the Resonance removing all thought of shame, Maka threw a leg across Soul's hips, settling her weight down so that she was straddling him. The sudden warmth of the motion was so consuming that she almost didn't recognize the sudden jolt in the flow of their souls.
Her partner's hands were on her hips, gently trying to lift her upward. A small beam of light that escaped the curtains lit up Soul's forehead, where she could see the furrowing of his eyebrows. Maka stilled.
"What's wrong?" She spoke aloud, unsure if unspoken words would be translated through their stuttering link.
Soul seemed to share her uncertainty, speaking in a strangely husky voice. "I really don't think you should do that, Maka." He tugged at her hips again.
The meister was briefly confused. Though the feedback loop of Resonance had halted, her thoughts still felt slow as molasses, lethargic with the sugar-sweet heat that seemed to emanate from her core. But it wasn't just her—Soul's hips were hot where they pressed against her own.
Realization flashed cold and mercilessly, sending Maka rolling across the bed with embarrassment. Her legs bumped against the bag that still lay on the corner of her bed, knocking it to the ground with a soft thump. The meister covered her face.
The connection between them streamlined and her embarrassment bled over into his. Soul took deep breaths, each breath causing the heat of their Resonance to ebb away. She rang with a soft song of apology, her music muffled. Soul, still breathing deeply in a calming ritual that was beyond Maka's understanding, reached out to pat her shoulder.
"Nothing to apologize about," he murmured quietly. It sounded like he was gritting his teeth. "It was just a little too soon, that's all." Feeling her rising shame, he backtracked. "Well, it's not that it's too soon…more like…" Silence fell. Maka held perfectly still beside him, as if afraid that any move would be the wrong one. Soul growled.
He rolled over onto his side, arms reaching out to pull Maka closer. Her body felt tense as he nestled closer to her. Soul tried his best to keep his awkwardness from flooding the link.
"I'm sorry, Maka…." His voice, so close to her ear, sounded raspy, but he prodded at her side of the link sweetly. He nuzzled her neck. "I just didn't want to make you feel like you had to do somethin' that you didn't want to do."
Maka frowned, but she took her hands from her face. "I was the one who was being stupid, though."
Soul laughed and carefully placed a kiss on her neck. "Normally I'd agree with you. But you really didn't do anything wrong. I'm just…" He sighed. "Well, I'm no Casanova."
Maka was quiet, but her shoulders began to relax. Soul hazarded another kiss on her neck and was gratified to feel the Resonance heat ever-so-slightly. His breathing calmed.
"This is harder than I thought it would be." Maka's murmur was quiet in the room. Soul snorted, arms tightening around her.
"That's for fuckin' sure," he breathed, reverence in his tone as he took in the scent of her hair. "You always seem to know how to prove that I'm not as cool as I should be."
A small smile formed on her face. "You're pretty cool, Soul. It's me that's lame. You know…bookworm, teacher's pet, stick-in-the-mud?" She nuzzled against his arm. "How many variations of uncool things have you called me now?"
She could feel his smile pressed against her skin. "Aw, you know I don't mean it. You're one hell of a cool meister."
"You could have fooled me." Her voice had an air of fake petulance that contrasted the swell of flattery that Soul knew she felt. But he played along:
"And what should I do to prove to you that I think you're cool?"
And Maka turned, the small beam of light from the window briefly flashing across her grinning face as she moved closer to him. "Well, for starters," she whispered, "you could kiss me."
Soul's teeth glinted. "I can live with that."
Waiting for phone calls was one of Jenny's least favorite hobbies. In the meantime, she went through the paperwork that had been piling up on her desk, the most basic actions of keeping her jazz club afloat seeming meaningless when her friends and customers were dropping like flies. Though she was not a nostalgic person by nature, she caught herself lost in memories that she'd rather forget.
She hoped that the girls were okay.
They were good kids, but they were rather closed off from everyone else. Their powers were very specialized—once they caught the feel of a soul, they could follow it to the ends of the earth. They didn't even require a sense of Soul Perception—if even a hint of its signature existed, they could track it.
Including spilled blood.
Lottie might have been stupid for trying to take on Mack by herself, but she'd done Jenny a huge favor by injuring Mack when they'd fought. After the space reopened and the ambulance had collected Lottie, the girls would be able to track down Mack.
Normally they worked more quickly than this.
Jenny scowled at the phone as if she could threaten it into giving her the call she needed. Guilt-edged concern welled up in her; if anything happened to these two, she knew that their blood would be on her hands as well. Not only was Jenny running out of help, she was running out of time.
She needed to find a replacement for Lottie. Not as security—she knew that no one could fill all the niches that her 'rescue' had filled—but as a vocalist. Even if Lottie would be discharged soon, it would be a long while before she would be well enough to perform again. Jenny had lucked out when the Shibusen team had a pianist to replace Fitz, but eventually they, too, would leave and she would be out half a band.
The phone rang. Jenny ungracefully grabbed for it, not caring that she knocked half her papers to the floor. She called out in a short "Hello?"
Cecilia, the oldest of the two girls, answered. "It's us. We found him."
Jenny kept her voice clipped, not allowing her concern to bleed over into her tone. "Are you both safe?"
"As houses. I don't think he has a clue that we tracked him."
"You're late to report. I expected you to work faster."
Cecilia sounded frustrated. "I know, I know. We would have been able to track him a lot better if that Shibusen dog of yours didn't keep us away from the alley. We had to wait until the bustle had passed and charm a few of the police officers to let us in."
"Well, with luck, Shibusen will be out of our hair soon enough." She tapped at her desk nervously, eying the fallen papers.
"I hope so. They're a bigger pain in the ass than I expected them to be."
"They're a necessary evil," Jenny consoled. "Do you have the letter?"
There was a brief sound of muttering from the other side of the phone. "Yep. Gardenia's got it in her hand right now."
Jenny sighed in relief. "Good. The last thing we needed for that to go lost. Do you know what you need to do?"
Cecilia laughed. "It's pretty simple. Stick the letter under the door and get the fuck outta dodge."
A curious look struck Jenny's face. "Under the door?"
"Yeah. Dude's staying in some sort of house." The girl's response was matter-of-fact.
"Interesting. In that case, there's a minor change of plans: Before you two skip town, I want you to stop by the club and write down the address for me. Can you arrange that?"
"Yep. We'll be there soon, all right?" Cecilia hung up without waiting for a response. Jenny put the phone down carefully, eyes fixed on her clock.
She prayed that Mack wouldn't call her bluff. She didn't have many cards to lay on the table.
How many people do I need to thank by now? Geez. You guys are all awesome.
Also, a quick note to those who live in really big cities: I'm definitely not trying to make it seem like people who live in big cities are soulless or uncaring- Louie's perspective relating to the big city is part of his character and definitely not my own opinion on the matter. If I offended, I apologize.