Wow, writing this chapter was really hard for some reason. Plot development is usually the easy part but not this time! I like that more than one person freaked out an innocent bystander reading the last chapter, it made me laugh. And yes, Soul does sing-or at least the guy who does his voice in the Japanese-dubbed anime does-but the voice I know for him is the guy who does his voice in the English-dubbed anime. Micah something-or-another, really sexy voice. Anyway, hopefully the next chapter will be easier to write!
"So what kind of break-through did Stein have?" Maka asked as she ran, keeping pace with Black Star and outpacing Tsubaki and Soul.
Black Star had insisted that there was no time to get the bike, but Soul suspected that he just didn't want to get left in their dust. The meisters were evenly matched as long as Black Star didn't pull his famous "speed star" move and as long as Soul ran on his own. While Soul knew that Maka appreciated that he was sturdy and hefted enough weight to easily free a Kishin from the burden of its head, he was still heavy.
"Like he'd tell me. He wanted everyone together so he didn't have to repeat himself." Black Star sulked as they ran.
They made it a few blocks in relative silence before a familiar voice called out to them.
"Hey! We know those guys! They're our buddies! HI BUDDIES!" Patty jumped up and down, halfway exposed through the sunroof of the limousine she rode in.
"You guys want a ride?" Liz opened the side door and the whole group turned at the corner, racing down the block to pile in the car.
The weapons fell to the floor in a jumbled heap as the car started forward again and the meisters used the momentum to land into seats. Soul was just starting to extract himself from the floor when a slender, gloved hand obstructed his view. He looked up to see Maka offering him a hand up from the floor with a smile gracing her lips.
He let her pull him into the seat next to her, debating briefly on whether or not to put his arm around the back of her chair. The others were talking, speculating about what Stein's break-through could be, but Soul was preoccupied.
We almost kissed. I almost kissed Maka… Maka almost kissed me! The thoughts looped in his head over and over as he kept sneaking glances at his meister. He could still feel her skin under his hands, her powerful body trembling like a newborn kitten in his arms. Damnit! I can't take much more of this! He fidgeted in his seat until he felt Maka's hand, velvety in her glove, open next to his own. He glanced at her sideways and noted the pink tinge in her cheeks as he gratefully laced his fingers with hers.
Their relationship shift was too new and too unstable for Soul to feel secure. He worried about Maka having second thoughts and backing out. He knew her history with her father and how that had made her distrust Soul in the past in their platonic relationship. Now that it seemed they were evolving into a romantic relationship he was more concerned than ever about her.
He looked at her again and felt some relief as he noted her relaxed posture, her faint smile and her tight fingers around his own. She even seemed to be leaning into him a little without even noticing.
A tug on his hand made him blink in surprise, realizing that Maka was leaning intentionally, bumping his shoulder with her own to get his attention. "We're here space cadet."
"Oh." Soul shook his head sharply to try to stay focused. "Right."
He followed the others out of the car, letting his meister pull him along behind her and only reluctantly releasing her once they were out of the car. For once he realized that he could care less about what was going on in the city. The only thing on his mind was finishing that kiss that had been almost started in his room, or finish the one that Maka tried to start in her room, or start a whole new kiss in the living room or even the kitchen.
That's it. I'm going to kiss Maka in every room in the house when we get home. Twice. He smiled to himself. Hours before he was barely able to process his own jealousy at the thought of Maka going on a date, now all he could think about was claiming his meister as thoroughly as was humanly possible. I wonder how Maka would react if I gave her a hickey… a big one right on her neck… He grinned.
"Soul? You okay? You look kind of like you're plotting something…" Maka peered up at him through her bangs.
"Yeah, I'm fine, let's just get this over with." He frowned at the minute cuts on Maka's lips, reminding himself of his own personal vendetta against whoever was behind the nightmarish creatures.
"Okay…" They jogged to catch up to the rest of the group, a few of whom were starting to look at them suspiciously. Liz even nudged Kid with her elbow and gave Maka a grin and a thumbs-up.
Soul nearly stumbled as he worked out their little interaction. That's what she meant by 'it wasn't a real date'! I was set up! Another thought chased the heels of his revelation. That means… Maka really was that upset earlier just because she was jealous. He smirked.
Kid pulled open the door to the death room and the group filed in, no longer intimidated by the long walk under the guillotines since they'd done it so many times.
"Heya! Hiya! Good to see ya!" Lord Death bobbled in front of his mirror, flanked by four very familiar figures.
"Hello Papa." Maka said, not with excitement but also lacking the usual outright malice.
Spirit tripped over his own feet, unused to the comparative warmth of the greeting. Maka stepped aside so he could skid past and face-plant into the nearest guillotine. She climbed the low podium as her father lay bleeding and flung her arms around the most fragile-looking person there.
"Crona! It's so good to see you! How was your mission?" She asked excitedly.
Soul knew that she was genuinely excited by seeing their friend but he also could see the subtle worried set of her jaw as she surveyed the pink-haired meister. Crona's childhood had been extremely hard, full of abuse and backwards morals and Soul knew that Maka worried whenever her friend was out of touch for too long.
He himself did a quick survey of the gangly meister, noting the dark circles under his eyes that seemed lessened by the brightness of his eyes as he looked around at all his friends. As each and every one of them exclaimed how glad they were to see Crona, that brightness grew and some color returned to his face. Maka in particular treated Crona like a kid sister, but Soul didn't think Crona minded.
"Oh. Uh, my mission was good…" Crona responded belatedly to Maka's question, flustered as usual.
"Crona was working on a different mission for me when he crossed paths with your mission Maka and Soul." Lord Death stated, getting everyone's attention. "With this new information I want all of you to collaborate on ending this within the next twenty-four hours."
"Why the sudden rush job dad?" Kid asked.
"The source of the SAD cases and ultimately the creator of the soul-sucking leech creatures is a witch." Stein answered, cigarette in hand. "We don't think the primary purpose is to weaken children. From my own research and study of the leeches I believe that they were originally designed to completely consume the soul of their host and take over their body."
"Like that movie Slither!" Liz exclaimed, hand over her mouth in horror.
"Was that the alien movie with the giant slug guy controlling all the zombified people with slugs in their brains?" Patty asked her.
"Except for the giant slug part, you're on the right track. The parasites will enslave the children to the witch's will, making them quite zombie-like." Stein adjusted the screw in his head with a few audible clicks.
"How do you know for sure that it's a witch? And why kids?" Soul's attention was finally fully on the case at hand. For the most part he saw what he and Maka did for the academy as a job, a duty and sometimes it even felt like chores. But whenever kids got involved he got mad and made it personal.
"She's using children because the parasites grow strongest on pure souls, and having an army of children has as many advantages as disadvantages." Stein replied. "As for how we know it's a witch, you'll have to ask Crona."
Crona paled as all eyes turned to him. "Uh… well there was a rumor… in the town I was in with Ragnarok…"
"Hurry it up would ya!" Ragnarok popped out of Crona's back and perched on his head. "Man you tell stories like an old woman!"
"It's not a story! It's a report!" Crona protested meekly. "And it's important so let me tell it…"
"Nah! I want to tell it! So we dropped by the witches mass on Lord Death's orders and heard this rumor going around. Some witch named Circe did some experiments a few years back that the grand witch didn't like, some crap about kids and souls and armies to take over the world. She got banished and nobody's heard from her since. Hey Tsubaki, you got any food?"
Tsubaki blinked in surprise, obviously taken by surprise by the switch of subject matter. She smiled hesitantly despite her pallor and pulled a piece of candy from her pocket. "I always keep something around in case I see you."
"Thank you for the report." Stein nodded in approval at Ragnarok and Crona. "With this new information we know we can put a stop to this once and for all. Given the time of the first reported affected children we estimate that we have twenty-four hours before the parasites completely consume the souls of any we missed."
"And we have a new technique to combat soul-protect." Lord Death announced. "We want you to employ it to pinpoint the location of the witch. Each partnered group will take a turn searching the city; you must perform soul-resonance and push waves of your soul energy out like a radar. When you touch the witch's soul with a wave of your own your energy should bounce back to you."
"Like echolocation." Maka frowned. "That's going to take an enormous amount of energy and effort isn't it?"
"That's why we're going to be alternating teams." Marie spoke for the first time. "Two teams will go out in search while Stein and I, Crona and Ragnarok and the third team will rest and prepare for the battle. We'll switch every four hours."
"Starting with Black Star, Tsubaki and Kid and the Thompson sisters." Stein handed the meisters folded-up maps as he spoke. "The areas you'll search are marked clearly on there so that we won't waste time or energy searching any area twice. You five will do the first search while Maka and Soul return home and rest. At 2 AM you'll switch, so try to get some sleep."
Maka looked at her map and did some quick math. If they did four shifts given the area marked on the map then the whole city would be searched by the early afternoon. "But professor, what if we haven't found the witch? What if she moves from a part of the city we haven't searched into a part of the city we have?"
"Once an area has been searched, Lord Death can seal it from witches." Stein explained shortly.
Death nodded. "I can't put up any wards now because we still would have no idea where Circe is. But once an area is clear I can make sure she doesn't go into it. So make sure you call when you're done searching your area."
"Yes sir!" They did variations of a salute, ranging from Patty's actual salute, to Tsubaki's bow, to Soul's casual nod.
"We can drop you two off at home and Black Star and Tsubaki in the area they're searching." Kid volunteered.
Everyone nodded in agreement. The information was too much and varied for them to do anything but try and process it. They walked back towards the car, leaving Spirit to regain consciousness on his own.
Soul was the last person to get in the car and he took the only empty seat next to Black Star and across from Maka. He wanted to be next to her but from the angle he was seated he could watch her easily, which was almost as good.
Maka was frowning and thinking but when the car started moving she glanced up and caught Soul watching her. They locked gazes for a moment and she blushed, making him smirk.
You're so fucking cute. Soul thought. The knowledge that she could kick his ass was there but for some reason that just made her even more attractive to him.
"Sooo… Kid, what's your take on the whole situation?" Maka asked, trying to cover her fluster.
They talked and planned and theorized and Soul didn't care. He only wanted to get the whole problem taken care of so he could go back to figuring out his relationship with his meister. It was all so confusingly simple.
"Come on Soul." Maka urged, halfway out the car.
He'd spaced out again and they were at the apartment already. "Yeah I'm coming." He muttered.
"THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!" Black Star cracked up at his own joke and Soul rolled his eyes, following his meister out of the car.
Maka unlocked the door and they kicked off their shoes—although it took Maka a little longer than Soul to unbuckle and slip out of her boots—and slumped down on the couch together. Soul slipped his arm around her shoulders, sliding a side-ways glance to see if the gesture was welcome or not. He relaxed when Maka turned her head into the curve of his shoulder, finding an alcove that fit her perfectly against his body.
What took us so long? You were made to fit me. Soul rested his chin on top of her head. Or I was made to fit you. Whatever.
"What do we do now?" Maka mumbled into his leather jacket, breathing deeply through her nose.
"Something cool." Soul grinned when Maka snorted a laugh.
"I've never been very cool." She looked up, but didn't meet his eyes. "Is… Is that okay?"
Soul frowned. "Don't worry. I'm cool enough for both of us."
She looked away and he kicked himself mentally. Great, wrong answer Soul.
"I want you to think I'm cool." She whispered.
Soul tightened the arm that was around her and gave her a gentle shake so she'd look at him again. "Maka. You kick serious ass. You're smart and beautiful and I think you're incredibly cool."
"Really?" She looked at him hopefully. "You think I'm… beautiful?" She blushed.
He flushed and swallowed hard. "Yeah I guess I do."
"Cool." She grinned despite her reddened cheeks and he laughed.
"Let's just try to get some sleep okay?" he ruffled her hair. "We're going to have a long night ahead of us."
She looked confused by the subject shift but straightened, pushing away from the warmth of Soul's body and trying to stand. He caught her wrist and pulled her back down. From there he wrapped an arm around her middle and twisted both of them so they were laying on the couch with Soul on the outside. He turned on his side so his back was to the room and he and Maka were facing each other.
"I sleep really well on this couch." He said pleasantly.
He felt Maka's smile against his chest as she snuggled into him. They lay in comfortable silence for a few minutes and Soul was just starting to drift off when Maka's voice whispered something.
"Hmm?" He cracked one eye open and looked down at his meister who was for some reason blushing again.
"I… I think you're… really attractive too." She said.
That got both of his eyes open in surprise. "What?"
"You heard me. I'm not saying it again." She glared at him.
He was forcefully reminded that his meister was headstrong, stubborn and a pain in the neck in addition to being sweet, cute and gentle.
"Alright alright, don't get your panties in a twist. You just took me by surprise is all." He rolled his eyes and rubbed a hand in small circles on her back until she relaxed again before voicing his next question. "… Why?"
"I guess you're my type." She murmured sleepily.
He paused, processing that with his sharp teeth, red eyes and white hair he'd beaten Kid's symmetry and everyone else's normalcy. "Cool."
I've really gotten into Bleach, both the manga and the anime, and that will probably be my next endeavor but I'm thinking of doing an AU for once, something really out of left field, your thoughts?