All These Broken Pieces Fit Together

Accompanying Resbang art is by the incredible Glassvines, and can be found here: post/70079293247/here-is-my-half-of-this-years-soul-eater-resbang

The sun is slowly inching towards the horizon, but it's still oppressively hot out. Maka presses her glass of lemonade against the side of her neck and enjoys the way it sweats against her skin. It's barely May, and it's already in the upper 80's-brutal sunshine stretching longer and longer into the evenings. She's lived in Death City all her life, but the summers never seem to get any easier.

She eyeballs the pool from her self-appointed station between the food and the drinks, and she really wants to jump in. Her lemonade glass is a poor substitute for the cooling properties of Kid's in-ground pool.

"Maaaakaaaa!" She doesn't have to look up to recognize Pattie's voice. "Come ooooon," she calls. "You haven't been in the water in ages!"

Maka gives her a grin, "That's because it's my turn to watch the burgers!"

"Oh, come on, Maks! Make Mortie do it."

She cringes at the nickname, and shakes her head. "No, it's fine! I've got thi-" the spatula is plucked out of her hand unceremoniously, and she looks up into the smiling eyes of Kid's dad.

"Go on, Maka! Enjoy the start of your summer."

"But Mr. Mortimer-" There's a strong, warm hand at her waist before she can finish her objection pulling her away.

"Come on, nerdlinger, no more stalling."

"Soul! I wasn't stalling," she protests, digging her feet in just a little. But Soul's sharp smile is contagious, and she can't help but grin back at him. "I was trying to be courteous since we're guests-"

"It's just Kid's place," he says, leaning in close. She sucks in a sharp breath of air. "And you're still stalling," he whispers against the shell of her ear. He's moved before she can react, dipping down and sweeping her legs out from under her. He bounces her a little, adjusting his grip, and Maka shrieks at the flash of weightlessness.

"Soul, don't you dare-"

"What? I'm not doing anything," he insists, mouth stretched wide in the worst approximation of an innocent smile she's ever witnessed.

"I swear to god you're going to regret this."

"I have no idea what you mean." The pool looms closer, and she reflexively tightens her grip on Soul's neck, fingers tangling lightly into the hair that brushes the back of his neck.

"Soooul-" he cuts her off with a quick brush of his lips against her nose, and she's still trying to process whether or not it actually happened as Pattie and Black*Star catcall them from the water.

"Maaaakaaaa," he returns. "Relax. I'm not going to drop you."

"I don't believe you," she mutters, but it's a moot point because suddenly Soul is midair, still gripping her tight, and they're rushing to meet the pool water. She buries her face in his neck and braces for impact.

High school is, objectively speaking, terrifying. But she's Maka Albarn, and she's never backed down from a challenge before in her life, and she's sure as heck isn't going to start now. Although, in retrospect, she probably shouldn't have agreed to let her dad drop her off on her first day.

"Oh my god, Papa, let me out of the car! I'm going to be late!"

"Not until my little girl gives her papa a hug!" She shoots Spirit a pleading look, but he just smiles wider and holds out his arms. "I will get out of this car and hug you in front of the whole school if you open that door!"

It's absurdly cheerful, and Maka groans. "Fine." She leans over the console and lets her father squeeze her, one hand gingerly placed on his back. It's not that she doesn't love her father, but seriously, she's going to be late, and this is about six different kinds of seriously embarrassing. "Papa-"

The loud rap on her window finally breaks Spirit out of his hug-state, as he pulls back, Maka tries to ignore the fact that his eyes are a little more than misty.

"Yo nerd, we're gonna be late!" Black*Star's face is pressed against her window, and for once she is absurdly grateful.


He waves his hand, and smiles again, but it's a little softer, not quite as bright. "I know, I know. Time to go." He squeezes her hand, "Thanks for indulging your old man."

She rolls her eyes a little, but smiles. "You're not old, Papa. Even if you do dye your hair!" She pops open her door, ignoring Black*Star's aborted swear and presses a quick kiss to her father's cheek. "Bye, Papa!"

"Have a good day, pumpkin!"

Black*Star recovers from his impromptu run-in with the Honda's passenger door, and as much as her father can get on her nerves, Maka still looks back and gives him a little wave before they disappear into her new school. She's completely unsurprised to hear six different horns blaring at her father to stop blocking the lane.

"Well, that could have gone worse?" she offers, and Black*Star grins at her.

"No kidding. I'm surprised he didn't try to walk you into homeroom."

"He threatened to," she mumbles, and Black*Star guffaws as she looks for her homeroom number on passing doors. "I'm in 405-did we pass it already? I think we passed it."

"We didn't pass it, it's the next hall over."

She raises an eyebrow. "How do you know?"

"Cause we're in the same homeroom, and Coach Joe gave us all the layout of the school like, a week ago."

"What? No fair!"

"I think he was afraid we were gonna get lost and skip class if we didn't have a map."

"Would you have?" she asks, looking over at her.

He laughs a little, "Maybe!"

"Ugh, 'Star-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, Maks. I'm not gonna cut class," he sighs. "At least where you're gonna find out about it." He laughs as she socks him in the arm, hard. "Maybe you oughtta see about joining the martial arts club or whatever."

"Why, am I not hitting you hard enough already?" Black*Star laughs again, and Maka rolls her eyes. "I'd love to, but they don't have one here. Thinking about maybe debate team or academic bowl."

He sticks his tongue out and makes a face at her. "Neeeeerd. You should come try out for cheerleading or something. Keep you from getting fat and lazy." He pokes her flat stomach and she responds with another punch.

"Cheerleading? You have got to be kidding me."

"I'm on the football team, Maka. You get to be cool by association. I'm sure that I could like, put in a word for you with the cheer squad-they'd totally take you, even with your tiny tits."

Her face flames, and she doesn't hold back when she slams her fist into his side this time. "One, you're a jackass," she hisses over his yelp. "Two, that's not how that works, you pig. You're barely on the football team, big guy, and three, you're a jackass."

"You mentioned-"

"It bears repeating!"

Homeroom is, for the most part, uneventful. She doesn't really mind the standard "go around and introduce yourself" game because even though it's lame, she doesn't really know anyone but Black*Star, and well, it could be worse. She tries to remember as many faces and names as she can, but there's some mumbling and a lot of giggling, and no one seems to be taking this as seriously as she does. Despite her best efforts, she doesn't get them all before lockers are assigned, and they're all shuffling out into the hall to be taught how to operate a combination lock, and really. She has to roll her eyes a little at that because they're 14 and they should know this stuff. She rolls her eyes even harder when Black*Star asks for help with his.

She coasts through her morning classes-English, American History, and Pre-Calc; first days of school leave her a little on edge. Not nervous, exactly, but jittery. She knows it's kind of dorky, but she likes learning, and she just kind of wants to get the introductory stuff out of the way so she can learn new things. She follows the flow of students into the cafeteria when her lunch period rolls around, searching for Black*Star's shock of electric blue hair. Sometimes, Maka is convinced that he dyes his hair just to make up for his height in a crowd.

Whatever, at least it works. He's already in line, and she resigns herself to the end of the line when she can't quite catch his eye. Not that she's a line cutter. But it would be nice if he could manage to snag a seat for her or something. By the time she gets her tray, he's disappeared again, and she's too focused on choosing between dry fried chicken and dry baked fish to figure out where he's disappeared to.

The chicken wins since it comes with mac and cheese that looks passable, and she kind of regrets insisting that her dad let her buy lunch today. First day of high school or not, she might have been better off just being the nerd that brings her own lunch. To her rising irritation, she still can't find Black*Star when she's gotten her food, and she frowns a little, looking for an empty space to sit. She can make friends, be social. She's good at social-it doesn't have to be intimidating, even if she's feeling more than just a little intimidated. She tamps it down and spots a few empty seats by a girl with long black hair. She can totally do this. She just wishes that she didn't have to do it by herself.

Maka clears her throat quietly. "Is this seat taken?"

The girl turns a little and smiles, "Oh, no! Not at all!" It's a little thing, but Maka smiles back and slides onto the bench beside her, kicking her bag underneath the table.

"I'm Maka," she starts, "Thanks for the seat-this place is a mad house."

"Oh, that's a beautiful name! I'm Tsubaki...are you a freshman?"

"Ahh, yeah. That obvious?"

"It was the glazed over, slightly panicked look," Tsubaki says with a knowing grin. "Don't worry, you get used to it pretty quick."

"I hope so. I was going to sit with my friend, but he up and vanished on me." It comes out a little more bitter than she was intending, but Tsubaki doesn't seem to notice.

"Boo." Tsubaki scoots a little closer. "So what've you got next? Maybe I can help prevent more panicked looks."

Maka leaves the lunchroom with a smile, a new friend, and feeling pretty decent all around. She's still going to kick Black*Star's ass for leaving her to fend for herself, but he can take it. The rest of the day passes in a blur until she's walking into Biology and Tsubaki waves at her excitedly.

"I saved you a seat!"

Maka winces a little at the scraping noise the stool makes as Tsubaki pulls it out, but hops up anyway. Even with Tsubaki there, she's feeling more than a little nervous. She wasn't sure if leaping forward to take Bio over Physical Science was the right choice since she was the only freshman in the room, but she squares her shoulders a little bit. She's an Honors student. It's perfectly acceptable for her to be here.

Next to her, Tsubaki pulls out her notebook and a pencil case, and Maka's eye catches on something brightly colored and with a suspiciously familiar outline.

"Tsubaki is that-"

"What?" she looks a little panicked and tries to shove the pencil case under her arm and fails spectacularly at being subtle.

"You like-"

"Maybe?" her voice is kind of small and sheepish, and Maka can't help but grin. She leans down a little and nudges Tsubaki's arm.

" too, ok?" She reaches up and flips over the charm hanging off her right pigtail. "See?" Tsubaki's eyes light up, but before she can say anything, one of the doors-it looks like it leads to the storage room-slams open, and someone she can only assume is their teacher flies through it on an out-of-control desk chair. He smashes into something and the chair, teacher and all, goes crashing.

It is, Maka thinks, probably the quietest this class will ever be.

"Good afternoon, students. I'm Professor Stein."

Professor Stein, as it turns out, insists that they call him Professor Stein and not Mr. Stein, and doesn't seem particularly keen on wasting time on the usual "let's get to know each other" routine, which she appreciates right up until he informs them that tomorrow they'll begin with dissecting a worm.

"Seriously?" she hisses at Tsubaki.

"Apparently. Stein's been here forever, and my brother had him-he said he always does this kind of thing." Tsubaki just giggles quietly at her scrunched up look of disgust.

When the bell finally rings, she packs up her stuff with Tsubaki.

"So, are you doing anything after school?"

Maka thinks for a moment. "Not really? I'm supposed to meet up with my friend, and I wanted to check out some clubs, but they're not really meeting until later in the week."

Tsubaki giggles. "Don't sound so disappointed! I think they just like getting the freshmen all settled in before hitting them with clubs, too."

Maka snorts once, suddenly and accidentally, and Tsubaki looks incredibly pleased with herself, and this is definitely the start of a beautiful friendship.

Black*Star shows up at her locker with a bang, literally. He's grinning ear to ear as he throws a one-two combo at 4243, and Maka cringes at the noise, glad that he's decided to abuse the neighboring locker and not trying to maim hers.

"What's up, pipsqueak?"

"Are you serious right now?" She glares at him.

"What? Pipsqueak? I thought you liked that nickname?"

Maka slams her locker shut, and is more than a little gratified to see Black*Star looking bewildered and a little worried. "It's not the nickname, stupid. It's how you left me all by myself at lunch!"

His face falls immediately, and she almost feels bad for yelling at him, except for how he knew they had plans and still ditched her. "Maks-"

"What, did you get distracted by your new football friends or something?" He looks completely guilty, and Maka huffs. "Really? Come on, Star! You promised this wouldn't happen."

"It won't, I promise! I'll sit with you tomorrow, ok?"

"All right," she agrees, mollified.

"You know, they're not bad dudes-you could totally come hang out with us one day, too."

And now the guilt sets in. She sighs. "I'm sure they are. I'm really not trying to take you away from your friends. I just thought we were going to sit together on the first day of school, that's all."

He ruffles her hair a little, and she bats his hand away. "I know, Maks. I shouldn't have ditched you. We cool?"

"Yeah, yeah. We're cool."

"Ice cream?"

She's tempted, but- "Nah. My turn to ditch. I've got plans."

Black*Star grins. "Did you make a friend?"

"Yessss." She rolls her eyes, and takes the punch to the arm with a smile.

"That's my girl. I'll see you tomorrow, dork."

"Later, jerk."

Maka doesn't want to talk about lunch. True to his word, Black*Star shows up, and then proceeds to stick to her side like glue-really talkative glue that likes to wave enthusiastically every time he sees someone he knows. He keeps a steady stream of chatter up until Maka sits down next to Tsubaki and he immediately snaps his jaw shut.

...Which lasts right up until Tsubaki smiles at him and introduces herself, and asks, "So how did you guys meet?"

They met on the playground, and while Spirit likes to joke that it was antagonism at first sight, Black*Star claims he always knew better. Maka just hides her head in her hands and groans.

"It was the start of a beautiful rivalry," he announces, and Maka is mostly just glad he does so still sitting down. Black*Star has always had a propensity for making speeches on tables that is the worst.

"Nope," she mutters, and everything is regret. She never should have bothered Black*Star about eating lunch with her. Not worth it, nope. There was no chance of remaining Tsubaki's friend after subjecting her to Black*Star on the second day of school. Not that Black*Star isn't awesome and definitely her closest, oldest friend because he is, but he could be a little too much everything for the uninitiated. Quiet, gentle Tsubaki didn't stand a chance.

All she had wanted a was friend who, when she mentions she's on her period, doesn't immediately cross themselves and pretend to run screaming from the room. That hadn't been too much too ask, right?

Maka isn't expecting Tsubaki's interested, "Really? How so?"

Black*Star is completely unsurprised. "Well, it was obvious, of course-she had the balls to kick down my sandcastle, and I knew that she was worthy of being my eternal opponent!"

Maka reburies her head in her hands. "Oh my god, Black*Star you're as bad as my stupid father-don't just go telling people that!"

"What? Why not? It's an honor!"

"It's embarrassing-"

"It is totally not embarrassing; it's totally rad is what it is."

She can't even describe the noise she makes. Tsubaki pats her gently on the back, and Maka completely misses the conspiratorial smile she shares with Black*Star. "I don't know Maka, it does seem kind of rad."

"See? Rad," Black*Star grins. "Not embarrassing at all."

She groans and half-heartedly smacks at his arm. Tsubaki giggles quietly and Maka gives her a betrayed look. "Tsubaki don't encourage him." It's not whining, she swears. (It kind of totally is.)

"Sorry, Maka." Tsubaki doesn't sound the least bit sorry, still on the edge of outright laughing at them. Black*Star gives her his megawatt smile, and Maka thinks, Oh.

She's on her third Debate Team meeting of the year when she snaps. She's already doing Academic Bowl, which is way more interesting and way more fun, and if she has to listen to Clay and Akane be pompous upperclassmen windbags for one more minute, she's going to start screaming. She manages to slip out unnoticed when round three of "Let's shout at each other and call it debate" starts, and for a moment, Maka just stands in the hallway and breathes.

She's stuck at school until 6 at least-when Debate would normally be getting out, and she could spend it in the library, which is pretty tempting. But she also remembers Tsubaki mentioning something about Drama Club, and well...that's new and different and she already knows someone in there. It wouldn't hurt to stop by, she finally decides.

Except for the fact that she's been wandering through the halls for ten minutes trying to find the freaking auditorium and she's pretty sure she's lost. This is...embarrassing to say the least. She's too smart to be getting lost in a high school. She's about to give up and just try to find an exit when she hears a commotion coming from a few doors down. She doesn't think it's the auditorium because she's nearly in the basement (and Maka still isn't sure how the hell that happened-she didn't even know there was a basement), but noise means people and maybe she can get over her mortification and get some directions.

It isn't people she finds when she peeks into the little glass window, however. It's a person and he's creating some kind of music that she can't identify, but that draws her in all the same. Maka knows that it's rude-she was, despite her father, raised right-and peeping on someone who clearly wants some privacy is definitely rude. But she kind of can't help herself. She's never been much of a music person. She likes it well enough, likes to listen and to dance to it, but it doesn't really speak to her like it seems to do to most people. But this guy is completely focused on the piano and really fascinating to watch, and she kind of gets his music. Even if she is being rude.

She's so intent that it takes her a second to notice when he stops playing, and that he's staring right at her with a sort of panicked/mortified expression on his face. It's not hard to discern that he would have probably run if she weren't blocking the only exit. With a deep breath and a small smile, she cracks the door open and sticks her head in.

"Ah-hi? I didn't mean to interrupt but I heard your music and I got distracted because it's really neat, but you, ah-wouldn't happen to know where the auditorium is, would you?"

He blinks at her and the panic recedes a little in the wake of a frown. "You liked my music?"

Maka cocks her head and steps a little further into the room. "Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I? It was really passionate and just-" she lacks the music vocabulary for what she wants to say, and it bothers her greatly. "It was really interesting," she finishes lamely. At his clearly skeptical look, she offers, "I'd like to hear more, actually." And the thing is, she really would.

Even so, she isn't expecting him to sit back down at the piano and give her a sharp little grin and a cheesy line like "This is who I am," and she really isn't expecting the way his fingers attack the keys, diving into the music and flying so fast that she can barely keep up with the motion. It's louder than the piece he played before, harsh and jarring, and she wouldn't call it beautiful. It's too raw for beautiful, but that's exactly why it appeals to her. It's free, and she can see the joy writ large on the boy's face as he plays.

When the last note dies off, she starts to clap, but stops the motion. He's disheveled and breathing hard, and she's not always the best judge of people-she sometimes misses little cues in her enthusiasm or when she gets too focused on something, but she doesn't have any problem reading the caution in his eyes, juxtaposed with the churlish set of his shoulders. He's waiting for something-for her, she realizes with a start.

Maka beams at him. It's not a stretch-it was weird and powerful and raw and she loved it, and when she tells him as much, there's no mistaking the slight flush to his cheeks.

"Thanks." He mumbles it, but he's smiling, and she holds her hand out.

"I'm Maka."

There is a beat, half a second of stillness, and then he takes her hand and says, "Soul."

"Nice to meet you."

"You too." His lips quirk just a little. "A handshake, though? Really?"

She reddens. "It's polite!"

"Yeah, if you're old."

"I am not old!" She narrows her eyes, focused on Soul's teasing grin. "Besides, I'm not the one with white hair here, buddy."

Soul laughs, scrubbing a hand through his mop of pale hair. "Would you believe me if I said it was natural?" He gently shuts the lid on the piano keys and scoops up his backpack.


"So you were looking for something, yeah?" He makes his way towards her, shoving both hands in his pockets as they head back into the hallway.

Maka groans. "I can't believe I lost the auditorium."

"Really? Do we need to get you a map or something?"

"I had one, but Black*Star stole it and spilled Coke all over it and-" she trails off at the incredulous expression on Soul's face. "What?"

"Not a thing." She narrows her eyes, but Soul ignores her look. "So you know Black*Star?"

"Yeah-he's been my neighbor forever, pretty much. You know Black*Star?"

"I've got math with him-it's hard not to know him when you're stuck in a room with him." He rolls his eyes, but it's more fond than annoyed, and Maka giggles a little.

"Yeah, that pretty much sums up the Black*Star experience."

He walks her all the way to the auditorium, which is completely not where she had thought it was (she thinks she was remembering the map upside down), and when she asks if he wants to join her, he shrugs. "Eh. Why not."

Her notification chime startles her out of her homework, and she blinks at her desktop for a second. By the time she parses Soul's IM of Hey pick up the phone ok, the cordless phone is ringing, and she has to scramble for it.

"Maka?" She hits the call button and slaps a hand over the receiver in an attempt to get the call before her father can pick up.

"I've got it, Papa!"

"Who is it?"

"Ugh, Papa it's school stuff. I've got it!" She puts the phone up to her ear. "Soul?" It takes him a good fifteen seconds to stop laughing. "Shut up! It's not funny!"

"It is completely hilarious. Your father is ridiculous."

"And yet, you're terrified of him. Anyway, what's up? You don't usually call." The line is quiet for a long moment; long enough that Maka starts to get worried. Soul exhales, and it sounds much louder than she knows it is.

"One, I am not terrified of your father, that's stupid. Two," he sucks in a breath and releases it in a rush, "I told my parents."

"You did?" She wants to ask how it went, but judging from the tone of his voice, she's pretty sure she knows. "They didn't take it well?"

" could have gone better, yes."

She makes a sympathetic noise, and it isn't hard to imagine Soul scrubbing a hand through his hair in frustration. "What happened?"

"Well, they sure as hell weren't pleased that I was quitting orchestra. And they were even less happy when I told them why."

Her heart constricts. "W-what did you tell them?"

"That I hated playing competitively, and that the director hated me playing competitively, and that I wasn't going to do it anymore and they couldn't make me." She's not sure how to respond to that, and the line is quiet between them for a long moment. "They called me a quitter," he continues, blowing past the outraged noise she makes. "I told them that I wasn't Wes, and maybe I was a quitter, but at least I was doing something on my own terms."

Maka can't stand to hear him sound so defeated, but she doesn't think she can fix this, especially not when it feels like her fault. "Soul, I'm sorry-"

"What? Why?"

"I shouldn't have pushed you to quit-"


"-not just so you could play for the stupid club production-"


"It was really selfish of me and it's just a play but I-"

"Maka! Shut up for a minute, will you?" She stops, startled and a little mad. Dammit, she was trying to apologize! "Look, stupid, there is nothing for you to apologize for, ok?"


"No buts. I didn't do this because you pushed me into it. I did it because I was sick of doing something I hated all the time and still feeling like failure."

"You could never be a failure, Soul." And maybe she hadn't quite meant to say that part out loud, but well, it was true and he ought to know it, even if he's being really, worryingly quiet on the other end of the line.

"Thanks, Maka." It's so quiet, she almost misses it. Almost.

She is not sure what to think of Kid Moritmer. She had a few classes with him last year, but they'd never really interacted much before now.

"Are you Ms. Albarn?"

Maka blinks at him for a moment. "Um. Yes? But you can just call me Maka." He nods at her once, and settles into the desk next to her perfunctorily. He sets out his notebook, pencil case, and textbook, and then carefully extracts a pen from the case, lining it up so that it's centered at the bottom of his notebook.

It's...well frankly, it's weird. But she can deal with weird. She's been friends with Black*Star for long enough that she's pretty sure she can deal with anything.

"You're here for tutoring?" She doesn't mean for it to come out so skeptical, but she hadn't thought that Kid was the kind of guy who needed to be tutored. But hey, who is she to judge.

"Yes. I'm failing all my tests."


"All of my tests? I need to learn how to not fail my tests." He pulls a folder of papers, all precisely shuffled, and shows them to her. She recognizes most of them from the classes they've shared, or as ones she's taken before. They've all got big red bad numbers on them.

She is not qualified for this.

The thing she learns about Kid is that he's brilliant. Like, really, really first rate mind, could probably beat her and Ox to the head of the class if he could ever get his brain to let go of the OCD long enough to take and pass a test. What she initially thought was going to be paid tutoring sessions turns into impromptu moral support, and while she doesn't mind, it isn't exactly what she'd signed up for.

On the plus side, Kid does end up being kind of a great study partner.

They usually meet on Wednesdays, and it takes less than a month of Soul wondering where she's going before he starts tagging along. She gives him a weird look, but he just shrugs and mentions that he could probably use the extra study time. She beams at him and he maybe doesn't really need the extra study time, but it's certainly not going to hurt, either.

Tsubaki drops by more often than not, and once she's coming, it doesn't escape Maka's notice that Black*Star is using one of his precious free afternoons to drop by the library and study with the "nerd herd." Maka considers the whole thing kind of an inadvertent success. Last week Kid even managed to get half his essay test in English taken care of before he remembered that he hadn't written his name at the top of the page.

As a result, she's nudging Tsubaki to help Black*Star out on his Bio homework with a series of carefully executed eyebrow waggles and sharp encouraging gestures when 'Star isn't looking, when Soul pipes up with,

"Where's Kid?"

"Maybe he got lost on the way to the library. I know I wish I had."

"You do not, Black*Star," Maka snaps. She doesn't like the slow grin on Soul's face.

"Haha, no-if anyone here was going to get lost it'd be-"

Maka slaps a hand over Soul's mouth before he can finish that sentence. It's bad enough that Soul keeps teasing her about her tendency towards being directionally challenged. She doesn't need Black*Star starting in on it, too. "Maybe we should go find him?"

Soul narrows his eyes mischievously and Maka shrieks at the feel of his tongue against her palm.

They're kicked out of the library.

Kid didn't get lost so much as he got distracted somewhere in the 800 hall. He's pretty philosophical about it. These things happen sometimes, and he knows that he has a propensity for becoming entranced by certain numerals and other symmetric things.

He's not so far lost in his brain that he doesn't hear the shouting, however.

"I said let her go, you assholes!"

And that snaps him completely back into reality. Kid turns the corner, just past room 808 (and that sticks to his brain), and comes up short at the sight that greets him.

"I am going to fuckin' kill you if you don't let her go." There is a blonde girl, snarling and feral, eyes locked on another girl, who is pinned against the wall.

"Yeah, sure you are, blondie. Look, we just want your-lunch money."

Kid doesn't recognize the three people who have the girls cornered, but he doesn't really have to. Two are big and broad and burly, and scream bully. He can't help but notice the third hangs back just a little and is so much smaller.

"Does it look like we have any lunch money, you bastards?" It really doesn't. Neither are dressed poorly, but Kid is nothing if not observant, and he can clearly see the wear in the taller girl's jeans, a tear that's been mended in the hoodie of the girl against the wall-

"What is going on here." It isn't a question, and Kid pulls himself up to his full height, injecting every ounce of authority he's ever heard his father use into his voice. The guys pause, looking back at him in surprise that swiftly melts into disdain. Kid has a feeling that this might not end terrifically well for him, but-one must do what one must, and he holds his ground and his chin up.

"Pattie!" The girl on the wall grins, vicious, and takes advantage of the distraction of her attackers to snap her foot into one guy's shin, and the taller blond slams her fist into the stomach of the other guy.

He drops like a stone, clutching his belly and gasping, and the girl kicks him once more for good measure. Pattie follows her kick up with a point, threadbare elbow to the sternum and her vict-assailant? Kid isn't sure anymore what is going on-drops to the hallway tile. Leaving Kid staring at the third person, whose gaze flickers between Kid, the girls, and the guys on the floor. With a squeak of sneakers on tile, the kid is gone, running down the hallway at speed.

"Um," Kid murmurs. The shorter girl-Pattie-is rifling through the pockets of the two knocked out bullies while the other girl gives Kid a careful once over.

"Liz," she states, finally. "This is my sister Pattie." The other girl waves cheerfully, short blond hair bobbing.

"Kid," he replies. "What-"

"It's nothing. We had it under control," Liz snaps. "Some people think they can mess with us just because we're new."


"That's right. So thanks for the distraction, but we're good now. You can go, and preferably forget that you ever saw us. These guys won't say they got their asses kicked by a bunch of girls, but that scrawny little shit that ran might. And we'd rather not get kicked out just as we got here."

"We like it here," Pattie pipes up. Liz nods once.

"Hey Kid! There you are!"

He looks back at Maka, who's being trailed by Soul, Black*Star, and Tsubaki, and he gives them a little wave. "I got distracted," he offers, and Soul rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, we figured, dude." It seems like everyone is being very careful to not mention the two guys passed out on the floor, and the way that Liz and Pattie look like they're either about to start throwing punches, or about to bolt doesn't escape Kid.

Except then there's Black*Star. "Holy shit! What happened? Is that Ragnarock and Free? Dude what did you do?"

Kid blinks. "Um. I-" He looks back at Liz and Pattie. They both give him wary looks. "They were bothering these young ladies, and that was unacceptable." It isn't exactly a lie, at least. Black*Star gives him an indecipherable look.

"Well, good job, Kid. We're going for ice cream because someone got us kicked out of the library. Wanna come with?"

"You should go-we were just leaving," Liz says.

"Oh no! You guys are more than welcome to join us!" Maka sticks her hand out and smiles broadly. "I'm Maka; it's nice to meet you!"

The sisters exchange glances, and Pattie makes a lot of motions with her eyebrows, and finally, Liz takes her hand. "Liz."

"Pattie!" The younger girl enthusiastically pumps Maka's hand, grinning. "You said something about ice cream?"


"Ice cream sounds great, Maka. My treat, since you had to come find me," Kid interjects. He meets Liz's skeptical glare and raises an eyebrow.

"Yeah, all right. Ice cream on the rich boy." Liz gives him a little nudge with her elbow, and it's not really friendly, but it's not...not friendly. How interesting.

"Sweeeeeet," Black*Star's voice echoes through the empty halls as they head to the parking lot.

"I think Tsubaki likes Black*Star." She's not entirely sure what prompts her to make this observation right now, just that it's been sort of lingering at the back of her brain for a while now, and well-Soul is kind of (definitely) her best friend.

He looks up from his history homework. "What, really?"

"Yeah? I mean, I think it's pretty obvious. She hangs out with him all the time, and listens to him and-"

"You know, technically we do all those things too, and I dunno about you, but I'm pretty sure I'm not crushing on 'Star." He stops, and scowls a little. "And if you are, please do not tell me."

Maka shudders, "Blech, ew, no. I have known 'Star way too long to even-just…ew. He's basically my brother." Once she stops making gagging noises, she resettles herself and her book. "Also, I resent the implication that I actually listen to Black*Star."

Soul chuckles and knocks his foot against her ankle where it dangles off the arm of her chair. "Fair enough. I dunno. I guess I can kinda see it. She definitely puts up with way more of his bullshit than anyone else does."

"That has to mean something, right?"

"Yeah, probably." He goes back to his homework, and it's quiet but for the sounds from the coffee shop's espresso machine. It takes a moment before Soul realizes that Maka hasn't gone back to her book. "What?" Her eyebrows go up and her lower lip sticks out just a tiny bit. "What? No. Why are you giving me that look."

"Come on, Soul!"


"It will be fun!"

"Are you kidding me? That is the exact opposite of fun! I always knew you were some sort!"

"I am not! And ok, maybe not fun exactly, but it would be doing a good deed!"


"So, say you'll help me!"

"Maka, if those two can't figure out that they like each other on their own, then that's just too bad. It's crazy to try to interfere in stuff like that! It's just going to backfire!"

"Ah-ha! You said it yourself-they like each other-so we're not interfering, not really!" He looks like he's about to protest and she steamrolls forward, "We're not trying to get them to like each other, just to realize that the 'like' is already there. Think of how happy they'll be! And how much you'll be able to rub it in Black*Star's face later!"

He wants to resist, really he does. But he's long since accepted that he's pretty much powerless in the face of Maka when she's intent on something, or when she's pouting, or really at all. "Yeah, ok. We can maybe do...something. But nothing crazy, ok?" he adds hastily at her excited expression.

"Pft. Of course not! Just-little nudges in the right direction."

Soul sighs in resignation.

She hadn't given Black*Star much thought until Soul mentions it at the coffee shop. She just assumed that he'd be interested. After all, what wasn't there to love about Tsubaki? And Black*Star, well-

The thing was, Maka is positive that Black*Star had spent the first month of their high school career asking out every girl that pinged on his arbitrary radar as a "ten or more." She'd tried to explain that you couldn't have more than ten if your scale was out of ten, but her words fell on uninterested ears. He'd been shot down every single time as far as she could tell-for some reason the title "JV football player" didn't seem to hold the fascination that Black*Star assumed it warranted-but he seemed to shrug it off with an ease and philosophical grace that Maka envied more than a little bit. She couldn't imagine asking out anyone, much less 15 different people. The worry of rejection was far too great to even contemplate it.

After meeting Tsubaki however, Black*Star just sort of-stops asking girls out. It took her a while to notice-she was focused more on making sure that she got into all the clubs that she wanted to try, and when she worried about Black*Star, it was primarily in relation to whether or not he was about to tell Tsubaki another humiliating story about their childhood (why he felt compelled to do so she never understood)

"Hey, Tsubaki?"

The brunette gives her a smile as she shuts her locker quietly. "Mm?"

Maka shifts a little, slightly uncomfortable. She can't quite figure out a tactful way to ask what she wants to know. "Has Black*Star-he hasn't been bothering you, has he?"

Now that she's gone ahead and brought Soul in on her suspicions, she kind of desperately wants them to be true.

Tsubaki blinks. "What? No? Why would he be bothering me?"

"I-" Well, she doesn't have a response for that. "He's not like...asking you out all the time?"

She gives Maka an unreadable look. "Ah-no? Why would he be?"

Maka opens her mouth, shuts it, then opens it again-what's the proper etiquette for telling your best lady friend that your best childhood friend is totally into her? She knows they're into each other. She's pretty sure that the whole school knows they're into each other. She can't just...say that, can she? Tsubaki is still looking at her like she's insane, and Maka gives her a weak grin.

"Ah, no reason. Just. You know how he gets about pretty ladies, is all."

Tsubaki's expression doesn't clear up, but she lets it go, and Maka realizes that she and Soul are going to have to come up with a Game Plan if they want to get this done right.

They don't have to do it, Kid insists, but they all offer to help out anyway. It's not like Liz and Pattie have a lot of stuff, and well. No one says anything, but Maka knows that they're all eager to present a barrier of bodies between the sisters and their former foster parents.

Soul even manages to get his brother's truck to use, although not without the supervision of said brother, who is home for Spring Break and which Soul seems a lot more put out by than is really warranted. Maka thinks Wes is pretty nice, if a little smug looking all the time, so she doesn't really get why Soul looks so pissy all afternoon, but she's more than used to his moods by now and she mostly just ignores him.

It doesn't take long to get the Thompson sisters moved to Kid's place and "upgrade" doesn't really cover it. The Mortimers come from money, are money, and it shows in their home, even if Kid doesn't seem to acknowledge it much.

Liz shoots Tsubaki a little grin as they pull up in Tsubaki's ancient Honda. "Living the dream, right? What are the odds we'd pick up a sugar daddy like Kid?"

From the backseat, Maka catches Tsubaki's eye in the rearview because there is what Liz says, and what Liz means, and Mr. Mortimer's petition for foster custody of the Thompson girls couldn't have been more fortuitous. Neither sister had a tendency to discuss their last home, but when Kid had matter of factly announced that his father could take them in-

It had been a lot of emotion.

It's a struggle for Liz to keep still in the car. No matter what she says or how she fronts, she knows that this is a stroke of pure luck. She and Pattie-they don't get lucky. They've made their own luck, their own situations-good and bad, and it makes her nervous because she can't help but feel that Kid and his father-that their generosity and kindness is some kind of cosmic joke on them. Any moment the universe is going to yell, "Psych!" and they're going to be back with the Beauforts or in the state home again or Mr. "Call-me-Mortie" Mortimer is going to decide that he really only wants to keep one of them.

Which would suck but, well. If she can survive the rest of this year, if she can graduate, then at least Pattie can have a place to stay and Liz will find something until Pattie graduates and they can reunite and that would suck but she's always been prepared-


She snaps back to attention, knee still jittering. "Hm?"

"We're here," Tsubaki says, and she would bristle at the gentle, careful tone the other girl makes, but Liz has learned that that's just Tsubaki, and doesn't actually reflect pity or condescension. Friends, she has come to the conclusion, between impromptu trips to get ice cream and being roped into helping with costuming for the Drama club and late nights giggling with Tsubaki and Maka about Chris Hemsworth's abs and arguing about music and movies and the necessity of homework, are hard. And even if she envies the easy way Pattie slides into this weird group of people, she can do friends, too. For the first time it feels worth the trouble.

To celebrate, they have a sleepover that night. The boys refuse to call it that-Black*Star claims that they're having Guy-Time, like that makes it anything other than exactly what it is. She worries that it's too much too soon-that all of them together under one roof is going to make Mr. Mortimer realize that he's made a terrible mistake taking them in. Then again, if he's going to come to his senses and change his mind, she'd rather it be sooner rather than later, so maybe this is all for the best ultimately.

There's pizza and sodas and a decent amount of candy for later, and after they've stuffed themselves stupid, Liz looks around the media room. Pattie is curled up next to her and Maka's on her other side-Soul rounds out the couch and Kid's claimed the armchair as Tsubaki and Black*Star take the floor-Liz feels something loosen just a little in her chest.

Soul doesn't understand why, exactly, Maka is so keen on getting Tsubaki and Black*Star together, but he figures that if it makes her happy and gives her something to focus on other than her school work (boooring), then who is he to judge. And it's not as though they're hurting anyone. Frankly, he's a little surprised that they aren't together already. Tsubaki likes to act shy, but Soul knows that when she wants something she goes for it, and well, Black*Star has never been known for his subtlety.

It's been almost six months since Maka had initiated "Operation Numb Nuts." Well, she hadn't called it that. It had taken the better part of an afternoon to convince her that if they were going to do something as uncool as name their matchmaking scheme then they sure as hell weren't going to call it "Operation Get Out of the Closet" because no matter how much she insisted it was fine, he had to tell her emphatically that No that isn't what that phrase means.

The name at least gives Soul something to chuckle over as he's trying to convince Black*Star that going on a "double date" is totally a cool thing to do and not at all lame. Not that, ultimately, he's really complaining because Black*Star seems to be pretty all right with taking Tsubaki out to dinner, and Soul doesn't exactly mind acting like Black*Star is really doing him a solid by coming with them to dinner, and if maybe he sort of kind of implies that it's because he needs Black*Star to act like his wingman, then-


Whatever it takes to make Operation Numb Nuts happen. And if he manages to get rid of his own numb nuts in the process, all the better.

It isn't the first time that they've done the "dinner out" type of thing, though Maka has seen fit to slowly escalate matters from a group dinner at The Meating Place (burgers, fries, questionably good milkshakes) to a dinner with just the four of them at The Blue Crab (fish...or burgers, milkshakes). It's a little cliche, but Maka insists that it's best to stick with the classics.

It feels sort of strange-Maka's in a skirt, which isn't all that unusual by itself. Soul is used to her propensity for wearing something that's awfully akin to a school uniform-despite the fact that their school doesn't actually have a uniform, and when he'd asked about it she had just shrugged and said that at least this way she didn't have to think about what she was going to wear to school everyday, and he really couldn't fault her for that. But this is-something else entirely and he's struggling to keep his mind out of the gutter.

He knew, from the moment he looked up to see her creeping in the doorway of the practice room he'd entrenched himself in, that she was beautiful. It's just suddenly the context has shifted and he feels like he's floundering. He has to resist the urge to pull out her chair when they go to be seated because that would make this weird-weirder than the way that he might have let on to Black*Star that this was a date date and-

He pulls out Maka's chair for her at the last second, their hands bumping. Shit. That was super smooth all right. She looks up at him, one eyebrow creeping up her forehead, but she sits anyway.

"Thank you?"

"You're welcome," he mumbles, sliding into his own chair. He misses the little look that Tsubaki and Black*Star exchange because he's spotted extra silverware on the table and he's trying not to have flashbacks to family dinners with too much cutlery and Black*Star thinks this is a real date and his family thinks this is a real date and he really, really wishes that Maka thought it was a date, too. But she doesn't date-she's said as much herself with a careless shrug and a carefully blank face.

"It just isn't worth it," had been her stance, and well. He could live with that. He wanted to be with Maka, around Maka-dating would be great, but he's happy with things the way they are. This though, sitting next to her and across from Black*Star and Tsubaki-it's almost too much to hope for. He has to wonder what would happen if he reached over and took her hand.

When she excuses herself from the table to use the bathroom, she doesn't really expect Tsubaki to follow her.


Maka blinks. "So?" she echoes. She really has to pee, and she edges towards one of the stalls.

"So how's dinner going?"

"Ummm, hold on," she offers, slipping into a stall. It gives her the time she desperately needs to pee and also to try and figure out what the hell Tsubaki is talking about because they're attending the same dinner, aren't they? She's grateful that Black*Star hasn't tried to start any food fights, but shouldn't she be the one asking Tsubaki how the night's going? Or maybe this is some kind of round about way for Tsubaki to ask Maka's opinion about how the date's going?

She finishes up and as she's washing her hands, she says, "I think it's going pretty well, don't you?" Question expertly deflected.

Tsubaki half-heartedly checks her hair in the mirror. "Soul's being quite the gentleman tonight."

Maka blinks. What on earth is that supposed to mean? She shrugs. "I guess so? I hadn't really noticed. I mean-it's Soul. He's always a little strange when we go out to eat."

Tsubaki shoots her a glance in the mirror. "But still, it's awfully date-like, isn't it?"

She stops repinning her hair and stares into the mirror blankly for a moment. It is awfully date like. It...should be, though, right? That's what they were trying to accomplish in getting Tsubaki and Black*Star out here-a date.

"I suppose so?" she finally says, chest feeling a little tight. She fears suddenly that she might have miscalculated.

The last thing she's expecting is Tsubaki to grin and punch her in the arm. "I'm so excited for you, Maka!"

"Ow! What the hell, Tsubaki? What was that for?"

"I always knew you two would start going out! You're just perfect for each other!"

"What." She's convinced that Tsubaki has completely lost her mind-her and Soul? Dating? It's absurd on a basic level. Just because he's her best friend and they spend all their time together-Soul's made it pretty clear that he isn't interested in her.

Except that Soul held her chair out for her tonight, and hasn't been nearly so argumentative, which was weird and she kind of missed their banter and he kept looking at her and-oh. "Oh."

"What do you mean, 'oh'?" Tsubaki asks.

She has a choice to make. She can correct Tsubaki, tell her that it was all just a misunderstanding and come clean with what they were trying to accomplish tonight-because this isn't about her and Soul, it's about Tsubaki and Black*Star and because it's the right thing to do. She shouldn't pretend that she and Soul are dating even if there is the slightest chance that they maybe could-it's not fair to Soul for one thing.

Or she can just let it lie. She wants it to be true-she wants to date Soul, she realizes with sudden clarity. She loves being around him, loves his music and how he gives her shit about hers and loves that he lets her bully him into studying just a little bit harder. She loves that he stood up to his parents to pursue something that interested him, even if it was just providing the music for their silly little Drama club. She wants what tonight looks like-boyfriend and girlfriend and a night out-

But she wants it on their terms. She doesn't want Soul to feel like a fancy restaurant is necessary, or that he has to pull out her chair, or the kind of stilted, formal conversation that's permeated dinner.

She steels herself and looks Tsubaki in the eye.

He wonders if it's presumptive to go ahead and order dessert, but when the waitress had dropped back by the table, Black*Star had forged right ahead and ordered bananas foster, so Soul glanced at the menu. If he's going to do this, then he's going to do it right.

"I'll take the flourless fudge cake, please." He's proud of the fact that he keeps his voice pretty steady. As the waitress leaves, he turns to Black*Star. "Bananas foster?"

"Bananas foster is the shit, man. It's got rum in it and it gets lit on fire."

"If it's got rum in it, why didn't they card you?"

"I just told you it gets lit on fire, dude. Pay attention. Besides it being badass and delicious, it's also 'Baki's favorite."

As he takes a moment to digest that Maka slides into her seat and gives him a small smile. She looks a little pale, and he decides that discretion is the better part of valor, so he doesn't ask just what in the bathroom took them nearly fifteen minutes.

She's a little quiet as they wait, and when the waitress reappears with two desserts, she blinks, startled. "Did-did you order dessert?"

"Um. For us, yeah? I hope that's not a problem. It was the most chocolate thing they had on the menu-I thought you might like it."

The look that she gives him is completely unreadable, and something in his chest clenches. Her smile is bright as she hands him one of the forks. "That's really sweet of you, Soul."

"Yeah, well. What can I say, I'm just a sweet kind of guy."

She smirks. "You're certainly something."

It doesn't escape her notice that Soul pays for dinner, or that Black*Star picks up Tsubaki's, and she wonders a little bit how she managed to just-miss it. When they leave, Tsubaki, subtle as a freight train, gives Maka a hug and a poorly concealed wink and tugs a bewildered looking Black*Star to her car.

"You guys don't need a ride, do you? No? We'll see you Monday! Thanks for the wonderful evening!" As if the wink weren't enough, she also aims a little thumbs up at Maka as she starts her car.

Soul walks her home, and of course he does-but while the context feels new, shifted, just like everything else tonight, she realizes that Soul almost always walks her home. It's on his way, and she's just never really thought about it before tonight.

"So, was-was that weird for you, too?"

Maka sighs. "Soul, we need to talk." He stops and looks over at her, hands shoved deep into his pockets, and face carefully blank.

"Do we?"

There's a lot of ways that this can go, but she's always been pretty straight-forward. "Was this supposed to be a date tonight?"

"Yes? I thought that was the whole point-getting Black*Star and Tsubaki together."

"No, Soul-well, ok yes, but that's not what I meant. Was this a date between you and me, or was that just something that you told Black*Star to get him to show up?"

He shifts, and sighs a little, and she can feel her heart pounding. She's straight-forward, yes, but that doesn't mean she's not scared, because she is, and she remembers telling Soul that she wasn't interested in dating and that wasn't exactly a lie. She wasn't interested in the kind of dating her father did, or the kind of stiff, uncomfortable formality and weighted expectations that "dating" usually seemed to entail.

She doesn't like how long it's taking him to answer.

"I did tell him that-no, don't freak out, just let me finish, please." Maka bites down on her retort and the frantic tone of his voice. "I told him that, and I'm sorry because I know that you aren't interested in me like that, but you're my best friend and maybe if you did want, sometime maybe-"

That tightness in her chest is back, and this is Soul, her best friend and the person that she wants to be around pretty much all the time, even when he's being obnoxious as hell. The tightness bursts and she thinks, to hell with this.

When she presses her lips to his, there aren't fireworks or explosions. She doesn't melt; he doesn't swoon. His lips are warm, and just a little bit chapped, and after a moment-a long, terrifying moment where all of her fear comes boiling back, sick and heavy-Soul makes a noise in the back of his throat and he's kissing her, really kissing her with his mouth moving soflty against hers, and there still aren't fireworks, but this is so, so, much better than anything she could have dreamed.

School ends, and while Maka loves school, she's usually glad to see it end and to have summer start. But it feels different this year, and there's a little part of her that kind of wishes the year could go on. Summer means that her Junior year is over, and that Tsubaki and Liz's senior year is done. It means change on a scale that makes her nervous, even as she's excited for her friends.

"Hey, there you are. Hiding out, bookworm?"

She looks up and gives Soul a smile. "No." He raises an eyebrow. "Ok, maybe a little."

"You can't stay in the library for the whole summer you know."

"Wanna bet?"

"Yes, because if I don't drag you out of here, Black*Star or Liz or Tsu-"

"Yeah, yeah. I get it. I'm just-" she sighs, frustrated. She doesn't know how to describe what she's feeling. Soul slips his hand along her shoulders, cupping that back of her neck.

"Hey, it's cool. I know." He knocks his forehead against hers gently. "I know. But we've got the whole summer still."

"Yeah, we do." She smiles, and presses a kiss to his cheek.

"And in the meantime, Mortie's throwing a pool party tonight. Don't wanna be late, do we?"

She rolls her eyes, but packs up the last of her books. "If it were up to you, we'd always be late. I'm the punctual one here. And don't call him that."

They walk out together, bickering gently, and yeah so maybe it's an end. But Maka's pretty sure it's also a beginning.