These chapters just get later and later. Blame my infatuation with that Soul Eater/Skyrim AU I started (Do give it a read and review if you haven't; I'd love more feedback). I absolutely plan on finishing this in the next few months and giving it all the love and sweat and grumbling it deserves. Anyway, disclaimer time:
I don't own Soul Eater. I do own hot chocolate and several pieces of London Underground merchandise. Hey, I'm weak.
They had a three-hour layover in New York and another hour layover in London. Of course Maka didn't speak to him beyond a non-committal "hmm" when he'd said something inane about the weather and an overly polite "thank you" when he'd grabbed her cell phone—she'd nearly forgotten it—on the airline seat. She was tense. She was probably afraid. Soul couldn't blame her. He'd had a cocktail of similar emotions coursing through him the last two days.
Whatever was happening between them had their souls and, quite honestly, their egos all tangled up and stuck in the way of everything like a clog in the drain. They wanted each other, he was pretty darn certain of that at least. But neither of them knew exactly what the other was thinking or feeling beyond the physical. Like, what did she really want from him? A relationship? He was pretty sure that would be just as amazing as their partner ship, but how in the world did he go about he convincing her? How would he even ask her about it? Would they go on actual dates? He was pretty sure falling asleep after a movie and Chinese tangled up on the couch was past dating. And then there was the whole fact that doing much more than hand holding had lately resulted in spontaneous combustion.
It didn't help that Kid, Patti and Liz were their official chaperones as they made their way to Florence, the site of the first insanity-induced suicide according to Stein and Kid's investigation. The patchwork professor hadn't given Soul any real answers when he'd come to him for help with their Resonance issue, but he'd been concerned enough to insist Soul keep some distance between him and Maka on the trip.
I'm sending you and Maka on this mission because I trust your instincts. We need to know what happened in Italy and what it has to do with the other deaths.
I'm also sending Kid.
What? I thought it was just recon. What do we need Lord OCD for?
I'd prefer if Kid were there to help if you need it.
If you need someone to talk to. I also believe it's important to have a neutral party observe your interactions.
Give me a break, doc. I don't need a shoulder to cry on, especially not my future boss's shoulder.
He's your friend.
And he's a death god.
Exactly. He's in a unique position to see both sides.
The human side and the esoteric.
Would you rather I'd asked BlackStar to join you?
I've already briefed Kid on the general situation.
You do realize it's me Maka will blame when she finds out.
I only told him you and Maka were experiencing some problems with your Resonance, and that it could be dangerous for you two to connect too deeply. And he understands that, as a Death Scythe, you'd want to keep the problem quiet. He hasn't told his weapons.
Fine. As long as it's just—
But Patti and Liz did insist on accompanying him, and I…I couldn't exactly stop them.
Fucking shoot me.
So Stein hadn't actually told Kid about said 'problem,' and he himself had been sparing with the details when he told the doc in the first place, but the impeccably dressed young death god was watching them both closely now, and it made Soul feel like some kind of pervert. Which, lately, he feared he was becoming. He normally couldn't go long without thinking about or worrying about Maka. But after all that had happened between them in so short a time, his mind was clouded with it and a healthy dose of horny.
Patti and Liz were another story. The sisters seemed to have taken it upon themselves to become Maka's bodyguards/interrogators. Currently, they had her cornered in front of the Heathrow Starbucks (not nearly as good as Deathbucks) and, as far as Soul could tell, were grilling her about him. From the color of her cheeks and the skittery glances she was shooting his way, he guessed she wasn't being incredibly successful in outflanking them. He let her squirm.
She could have…should have…asked for his help. They should have regrouped as a team rather than awkwardly avoiding each other all day. They should have taken the time to actually talk about what had happened on the roof…and the kitchen…and his head. For once, Soul was more than ready to confront it. His Meister was the one stubbornly trying to pretend nothing had happened, was happening, was bound to happen.
He caught her eye over her mug of hot chocolate and sent her a mostly rueful smile; she scowled back. Well, fine. He turned back to watching the weather channel and blowing on his scalding coffee.
"Soul? Has professor Stein briefed you on the situation in Florence?" Kid shifted in his seat beside him.
Soul nodded. "As much as he's willing to share, I guess. You know more than I do, as usual."
He sighed. "I told them keeping things from the rest of the team would be dangerous, but my father doesn't always see things the way I do."
"So this new kind of insanity, it's only affecting partnered weapons and Meisters?"
"As far as we know, yes. And Stein believes Italy is ground zero."
"Seems to have everyone kind of shaken up."
The death god paused, as if considering how much to divulge. "The madness has only been associated with four deaths that we know of, but so far it seems to be an incredibly virulent pathogen."
"Three were weapons, which appeared to be our pattern at first, but then we found the second case, in terms of timeline, and he was a Meister."
"Are we sure its always some kind of madness that kills them?"
"No signs of foul play. No poisons. No strange wavelengths. Nothing. But suicide among weapons and Meisters, especially paired ones, is very rare. The soul bond is normally a strong enough buffer against severe depression. The partner can normally pick up on the signs quite early. The only other option we're left with is an infection—probably of magical or kishin origin."
He thought of the black blood and the terrifying reality that had stretched out before him when he'd learned it was probably permanent—a never-ending nightmare. But he'd never once seriously considered ending his own life. Out of the corner of his eye, Maka laughed nervously and the sound tickled his soul just enough to make him smile. But if he hadn't had her, hadn't met her. He shuddered to think what sort of creature he would have become.
"How quickly does it hit?" He took a sip of his coffee and winced as it scalded his tongue.
"That's what we're trying to find out. There don't seem to be any early signs or symptoms. None of the victims' partners knew anything strange was happening, even through the bond, even with soul perception. One day their partners were fine, the next they were…"
He swallowed thickly. He'd gotten a good look at the autopsy photos of the weapon who'd nearly worn her fingers off. They'd been spread across Stein's desk like some macabre decoupage.
What if that had been Maka? The idea struck Soul so hard he nearly spilled his hot beverage down the front of him. As it was, he lost all interest in his everything bagel with cream cheese and set it on his lap.
"Soul?" Kid wasn't looking at him, but the young death god was concentrating awfully intently on the forecast for Bournemouth.
"I don't know precisely why professor Stein told me to keep an eye on both of you and to…intervene if anything looked like it was getting dangerous with your Resonance, but I want you to know that I'm here if you want to talk about it."
Death, what does he say to that? And even if he wanted to talk about it—never mind how awkward that would be—it didn't mean it would do him any good. Kid was a death god in training, sure, but he didn't know any more than the doc about Soul's problem. But then again, Kid might at least be able to offer him some perspective, whereas BlackStar was more prone to "get 'er done" type comments when it came to his frustrations with Maka.
"Thanks, but I'm not sure how much you can do."
"Are you both OK? Maka seems a bit…"
"On edge. She's been mad at you before, but, if you'll pardon my saying, this seems much more serious."
"She's just confused. I don't think she's actually mad at me. I mean she shouldn't be. It takes two to...anyway she'll get over it."
Kid sighed, resigned to Soul's vague answers. "And you? How are you feeling?"
He let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Fuck. I don't know. This whole thing...I don't want it to ruin anything. But I'm also of the mind that it was bound to happen eventually, and we can't just ignore it if that makes any sense. Either way, I don't want her to get hurt."
Kid's eyes narrowed. "And you think she could?"
"Who could what?" Liz dropped into the seat beside Soul, sipping an extra large foamy thing that smelled like pumpkin. She'd obviously been sent over to investigate and probably to compare their stories.
Soul took an unwanted bite of his bagel and mumbled "nothing, don't worry about it" in a purposefully obscured tone. From over Liz's shoulder, Maka gave him an inscrutable yet obviously panicky look that he tried to pretend he didn't see, but neither Kid nor Patti missed the exchange.
"Your better half isn't giving us anything, here, Soul-boy. Are you going to be more cooperative, or am I going to have to pull out the big gun?" Liz smiled at him over her foam.
She motioned over her shoulder at Patti, currently leaning on the Starbuck's counter beside Maka.
"Patti's been dying to tell Maka about that little incident with you and BlackStar and the girl's underwear. You know, that bet." Liz paused to study the nail polish on one hand. "It only took her, oh, five minutes or so, to get the story out of BlackStar."
He felt the blood drain from his face as his eyes darted to the younger of the Thompsons. She waved back enthusiastically, something sinister in her wide-eyed look.
"Fine," he croaked. "What do you want to know?"
"We want to know what's up with you two. I mean, we're used to the sexual tension, but you haven't spoken since Dulles, and if Maka's eye could shoot lasers, you'd be a French fry right now. So spill."
"You and Maka always are." She sounded genuinely concerned and, once again, Soul partly wished he could confide in her, or anyone. His brother, Wes, used to be good for that, but he hadn't spoken to him in...long enough that a random phone call to discuss the perils of the female sex would probably be out of turn. Way out of fucking turn.
He shifted in his seat, tossing the remainder of his bagel in the trash beside him.
"I guess you could say we see a certain situation very differently."
She stirred her latte with a straw and nodded like an attentive therapist. "Go on."
"That situation would be, under normal circumstances, very good. At least,I think so." He continued.
"And these aren't normal circumstances?"
He was about to shake his head, in fact his neck muscles were all primed and ready, and his mouth was forming something along the lines of "Hells no," when pain shot down his arm.
"Soul!" Somehow Maka had snuck up on him and was now twisting her fingernails into his shoulder, forcing him up out of his seat with surprising ease. "Can you…uh…help me with something?"
"S-sure? Ow…ow, OK!" He dropped the rest of his coffee in the trash and followed her out of the waiting area. He nearly tripped twice trying to dislodge her nails from his flesh as they headed toward…the women's bathroom? He skidded to a halt.
"Hey! I know we're partners and all big on the sharing but, I really don't think you want my help with anything that goes in there." He swallowed. "Right?"
She tugged him past with a scowl, whispering. "Shut up and follow me, OK? I don't actually need you help with anything. I want to...talk. And I don't want Patti eavesdropping." She shuddered visibly as she glanced over her shoulder. "That girl has super sonic eardrums."
Soul followed Maka's gaze and watched in horror as Patti turned and winked at them across the terminal.
"...and may possibly be telepathic." He finished. They ducked around a corner.
Soul wanted to add that Lord OCD and Gossip Queen were just as much of a danger when together, but then he wasn't quite sure what said 'danger' was and why they were so afraid of other people finding out about it, this blossoming...whateveritwas. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good idea of what it was already, anyway. Maybe more than they did.
He struggled to find a way to phrase those thoughts in a way that wouldn't lead to a big ass cranial indentation as she led him past the restrooms and into a small gift shop, which was little more than a large walk-in closet bristling with colorful London Underground gear and pithy Britishisms on bumper stickers. She pulled him between a rack of red and blue backpacks and another of kitschy teacups and they ended up in much closer proximity than he'd figured she'd allow for quite a while, shoulders and elbows bumping as they faced each other. His senses tingled with it immediately. Initially he hoped they might be on the verge of one of those makeup slash make-out sessions he'd heard about from BlackStar and Kilick and pretty much every other 17-year-old male he knew. But she immediately crossed her arms over her chest, and he knew there were still continents to cross between them—frozen ones.
"What's up?" He knew that particular opener would piss her off, but he couldn't help it.
"What's…up?!" She blinked rapidly at him. "What do you think you're doing talking to Liz about us?"
He back peddled. "I-I didn't."
"Then why were you talking to her, and why was she looking so smug?"
"OK, first off, Liz is our friend—you know, those crazy people who like to help us even though we shun them periodically? Yeah, she's one. And second, Liz always looks smug. It's her look."
"I'm not OK with sharing our personal lives with them right now."
Maka visibly balked, which, on her, vaguely resembled a baby rabbit getting slapped. But honestly, why? Why couldn't they seek help from their friends about some of this? Death knew most of them had more relationship experience than Maka and Soul put together—that is, more than absolutely zero.
"What, Maka? I don't see what's so embarrassing. Is the idea that you and I might become more than friends that uncomfortable for you?"
She threw up her hands. He grabbed them midair. Her palms were cold and sweaty.
"You know, I get that maybe you're not ready to make any big announcement, especially with everything that's going on with the Resonance, but you and I," he motioned between them "need to confront what's happening like freaking adults. We aren't 12 anymore. And I know this isn't 'nothing,' or whatever you like to call it. So tell me what's reallybothering you."
And then Soul was witness to Maka visibly deflating. She'd puffed herself all up with righteous indignation and—lucky him—he'd been with one to pop her bubble with a bit of sharp truth. She dropped her hands between them.
"How can you be so sure this isn't nothing?" She studied her boots, not meeting his eyes.
He raised an eyebrow in silent "wtf."
"I mean…how do either of us know these feelings aren't just part of what's going on with the Resonance?"
"What are you talking about?"
She shifted backed out of his grasp, wedging herself deeper between a bunch of Union Jack flags and a display of travel mugs.
"Say we start talking about it—the feelings—and we decide we want to act on them and be together or whatever. Then Stein figures out how to control our Resonance and you just stop…you stop…"
It felt like a slap. The idea that Maka would—could—ever doubt how real he felt was just mind-boggling. Hadn't he shown her with every breath? Every touch? Every swing of his blade in her defense? Crap. I'm an idiot.
He ran a hand through his hair. "I know I'm not exactly experienced in all this emotional intimacy stuff, OK? I'll admit it. I'm sort of emotionally…
"I'd prefer stunted. And you aren't much better, woman."
She rolled her eyes.
He continued. "But I know how I feel and it's not…it has nothing to do with Resonating with you."
"But you said—"
"I said Resonating made it worse, and that it was getting hard to hide how I felt when we connected. But the reality is, I want to connect with you in every way. I want to be with you. Like, be, in whatever capacity you'll let me. I've wanted to for a while."
"You just think so because when we Resonate it gives you that rush."
"No! I mean, it is a rush, but that's really not it at all."
"How can you be sure?"
"I'm pretty freaking sure!"
"Because when I dream about you, Maka, we sure as hell aren't Resonating."
"Soul, sex dreams aside—"
"We aren't always doing that either. Sometimes we're just together, doing shit. Holding hands. Sleeping on the beach. There was one where we were just lying in one of those big bouncy castles and you were laughing at one of my jokes." He smiled a little wistfully, his cheeks coloring, and Maka was visibly taken aback.
"I…ah, hell, Maka. This isn't how I saw myself telling you all this." He gestured to the gift shop and the browsing tourists shooting them odd looks in passing.
She stiffened. "You're right, of course. I shouldn't bug you about this now."
He stopped her retreat with both arms on either side of her head. He gripped the edges of the shelf behind her.
"No, stay. Fuck them. They can watch. I just didn't realize you were this confused."
"I wasn't, really, not until the whole thing started two days ago. Then I started having this vision—like a daymare. I imagine us together and…and I'm happy. I'm really, really happy, Soul. But then it just ends. You stop feeling that way, or you realize you never really felt that way at all, and I lose you. I lose you as a partner and a friend and a lover…forever."
Soul wanted to laugh and bash himself in the skull with one of her books at the same time. How could he have not realized how insecure she was?
"You know what? I'm not going to waste our time explaining how much of an idiot you are for thinking that if I ever got you I would ever be able to let you go. I'm just going to rewind a bit to the part where you think being with me would make you happy. I'd like to focus on that if we could." He gave her one of his crooked smiles.
She smacked his arm, but the corners of her mouth twitched in anticipation of a smile. "I'm fairly certain 'happy' would be just one small part of it. Annoyed, frustrated, and utterly confused would be the larger portion."
"Like, seventy percent confused to thirty percent happy?"
She snorted. "Eighty twenty."
"So, just to clear up any confusion on my end: you maybe, sort of, want to be with me too, right? This thing with us isn't just a new fighting technique, and kissing me isn't just a slightly more entertaining way for you to amp up, correct? Because on the roof, it seemed—"
She shook her head, biting her lip. "Yes. No. And I don't think so."
He took a step toward her, struggling with the overwhelming desire to get right back to what they'd started in the kitchen. To hell with the gift shop—he'd let her burn it down.
Hold up, Eater. Don't get ahead of yourself.
"But I can't help feeling like I might be wrong!" She dropped her face into her hands. "What if this really is all some kind of madness? Like what's happening to the other partners? What if what we both feel is—"
"You can't know that."
"For as long as I've felt this way, I would have gone bonkers and offed myself ages ago if it was just some suicide germ." He said softly.
She looked up at him between her fingers. "I thought you said it was just the last few months…that you had the feelings."
"I've been having trouble controlling our Resonance the last few months, Maka. I've been…I've felt this way for—gah, I don't know—years?"
"I had no idea. You never said—"
"What? What was I supposed to say? Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, partner, but I think I might be falling in love with you?" He bit his own tongue. Crap, crap, holy crap I said it. But it was done. He almost sighed in relief. And with his blood rushing in his ears and the pounding of his heart, he didn't mind the pain in his mouth at all.
Maka was silent, her green eyes wide and…hopeful? Afraid? He couldn't tell and didn't want to speculate. Time to diffuse the tension.
"Of course, it got a lot worse when you started to grow actual boobs, and lately you've been parading around in those death-damn sleep shorts that show off your ass, so you can't blame me."
Maka's arms moved to cross defensively over her chest again, and her face flushed scarlet. He had no idea where she located the Complete European Road Atlas and Recreation Guide so quickly, but it served to break the ice between them quite efficiently. So even though it hurt like hell to have a foot-long spiral-bound book wedged in his skull, he found himself chuckling happily from the floor.