When Two Minds Form
Maka sat at her workbench, twirling a metal wrench between her fingers, and watched as the light shining in through her small window would hit one of the edges occasionally. Every single time it occurred, the tiny gleam blinded her for a fraction of a second, but she didn't pay any mind to it. She was bored out of her mind. There was absolutely nothing for her to do since she had finished her tasks for the next two weeks already, fixing every single robot the citizens of Death City had sent in to her little home business. The engine parts had been replaced and new hard drives had been installed making the copper machines practically brand new once she was finished with them.
The only thing on her agenda was to wait for a response from the training academy she had applied to months ago. They had already began to send out acceptance letters because two of her friends had received theirs. Every day she checked the mail, but there was still nothing. She found that the waiting was always the worst part. Academies like Shibusen always saved the ones that weren't accepted for the very last, allowing the anticipation and hope to grow so high that when it came time for the dreaded rejection letter, everything was torn to shreds.
But they had to admit her; there was never a doubt in her mind that they wouldn't.
Her own mother had graduated at the top of her class when she was Maka's age, even with a partner who was completely useless and lousy like her father. The older woman had also gone on to be the best Aerodynamics Pilot after joining Shibusen own division called Spartoi. It was an agency dedicated to keeping Death City and the surrounding area safe by patrolling the skies and fighting only when necessary. However, her time with Spartoi had been cut short after four years when she became pregnant with Maka.
Flying was in Maka's blood; Aerodynamics was all she heard about growing up.
They just had to admit her. There were no other options for her.
A small knock reverberated off the door, causing Maka to drop the wrench in her hand with a loud 'clang' on the table. "Maka, sweetheart," came Spirit's small voice when he cracked the door open.
Twirling around in her chair to glare at the man, she saw her father's mass of red hair that framed his face as he poked his head inside. Her lips pulled up at the side as the memory of when she yelled at him a few weeks ago came to mind. He had barged into her workspace, completely unannounced, causing her to ruin the robot she had been working on. It was the whole reason behind his behavior now. He was far too afraid of pissing her off again so his movements were cautious and withdrawn.
"It's alright, you can come in," Maka drawled out as she lounged back in the chair, folding her arms across her chest.
What did he want now? she thought.
He only ever came to her for two reasons: either he wanted her to do something he was too scared to do himself, or one of his mistresses were staying over for the night. If it were the latter, that meant there was a book hiding behind his back.
Sighing, she thought, why did I have to be stuck with such a kiss-ass of a father?
Maka noticed that there was no book in his hand when he stepped inside, but in its regular place was an envelope. Her heart leapt with joy as her mind raced with excitement that it was her acceptance letter. However, dread was quick to take its place since the envelope either contained good or bad news.
"The mailbot brought this for you today." Spirit carefully weighed the envelope in his hand as he gave his daughter a knowing look. "Feels kind of heavy. Maybe it's your acceptance letter."
Maka bolted toward him – knocking her chair over in the process – and snatched the envelope out of his hand. She felt the contents within it burn through the yellow paper as she held it in her grasp. Her entire future boiled down to this one moment whether it was an acceptance or rejection letter.
Taking a deep breath she pressed the envelope to her chest and said a silent prayer to the gods before sliding her finger along the top and pulling out the letter. Her eyes drank in every letter as they scanned the white paper and processed their meaning before she came upon the one word she'd been searching for the entire time. Her heart back flipped in her chest while her mind flashed every synonym of the word.
"I was accepted!" she squealed. Her mouth tugged up into the widest smile her face had seen in months, and she squirmed with excitement, hips swaying from side to side. Then, for the first time in nearly three years, Maka rushed forward to hug her father.
The wind was knocked out of him, but he still managed a congratulations as he returned the hug.
Spirit was bewildered by the sudden sign of affection as he stepped back to regain his sense of gravity. He relished in the feeling of his daughter's arms around him. With each passing second, he hoped that the moment would last a little longer. It had been so long since his daughter had so much as touched him, so a hug was heaven to him.
However, Maka's eyes snapped open as she remembered the reason behind her hatred for the man. She unraveled herself from his arms and gently pushed away from his chest. The only reason she had hugged the man was because he was the sole person in the room; if anyone else had been there in the moment, she would have opted for them instead. Rubbing her hands down the seam of her skirt to smooth out the invisible wrinkles, she watched as her father's face grew crestfallen at the sudden loss of physical contact before she spoke again.
"Yep," she sighed happily, "I was accepted… which means I'll be leaving home in two weeks. Gotta train to become as good a pilot as Mama was." Her smile was weak as she watched the light fade from his green eyes.
She was upset as well that she was going to be leaving not only her father but also the place she had called home for the last sixteen years. Maka wasn't such a selfish and heartless person to the point that she didn't feel anything toward the man standing in front of her. From the goggles hugging his head to the leather combat boots on his feet, she loved all of him. The only exception to her love was that he had cheated on her mother with various women throughout the years – it was something she could never let go of, no matter how hard she tried.
He didn't only hurt her mother. He also hurt her.
"Yes. That's the whole reason you applied, isn't it?" Spirit turned as if he were going to leave, but hesitated the last minute to look back at her. His eyes were sad like a puppy that had been kicked, and when he placed his hand on her shoulder, she felt a weight on her chest as her throat became tighter.
"Make me proud, okay?" She immediately missed the pressure and warmth from his hand as he walked out the door with a small click.
A guilt shot through Maka's chest as she digested his words, and it felt like a knife had been thrust into her heart. An invisible force slowly turned the cool metal, and as it dug itself further into her, the pain coursed through her body, crippling her. His words meant more to her than she expected them to as they stirred emotions she thought had been dormant for a long time.
Maka dropped to the floor as she placed her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees. Her body shook as fat tears escaped from her eyes and fell onto the hem of her skirt, staining the satin material. It felt like hours had passed as she remained in the same position until the sun finally set and the moon took its place in the sky. The glow shining in from her window created a halo effect as it reflected off her blonde hair.
Once the tears had subsided and her body had calmed down, she stood up, straightened out her clothes, and left the small shed.
She would definitely make her father proud.
As Soul stood in front of the gates to Shibusen Training Academy, he marveled at the architecture of the buildings that loomed over his head. The mixture of brass and silver that embellished each of them gave off an eerie feeling that felt more like home than his actual home. Along the columns, around the windows, and even on the doors there were mechanical parts plastered onto the design, reminding him of the workings of a clock pried open. He clearly heard the faint ticking noise from an unknown source hitting his ears as he stared at them. Everything around him felt familiar and comforting even though he had never been to Death City before.
Beyond the gates, people of all ages walked the grounds - students like him along with older gentlemen and gentlewomen - and each sported different attire that reminded Soul of the Victorian-era he had studied while growing up. The men wore tweed vests with long sleeve shirts underneath - most likely made out of silk like his own - and dark colored trousers either tucked into boots or coming a few inches away from loafers. The women wore corsets with poofy tops underneath, skirts and tights of various colors with different designs, and a variety of boots that ranged from combat to short heeled.
For the first time in his life, Soul was grateful he had listened to his father when he suggested he wear the more expensive clothes that were expected of a boy from his background rather than ones that were more commonly seen on a poor boy. Even though Soul knew in the back of his mind that he would blend in with the people around him, he felt like he was suffocating as the fear of having to be a proper and well brought-up boy given his prestigious family's reputation crawled on his skin. When he was accepted into the academy, he had wanted to leave the world of sophistication where it belonged: in his past.
Soul hitched his bag further up his shoulder as he stepped beyond the boundary of the gate and took his first step into the beginning of his new life.
The street was littered with loose gravel rather than the traditional cobblestone like the rest of the city, and the crunching sound hit his ears with each step as he walked atop them. After a while of walking, he found the area that was designated for the students enrolling in the Aerodynamics division of the academy (hinted at by a sign with a solar ship). Standing in the back of the line behind twenty or so teenagers, he stood on his tiptoes to see the front where a blonde woman was taking down names and giving instructions to each person individually.
As he awaited his turn, Soul looked around him and noticed that the others had brought pets along with them. Mechanical owls flew around their owner's heads - blowing out steam from their rears every few minutes - while small insects that seemed to be made out of spare parts sat on top of bags.
When he finally reached the front of the line, Soul gazed down at the woman to see that she was wearing a black eye patch. He found it slightly intimidating since eye patches were rare when it came to a person's clothing back in his hometown. However, it might have been possible that they were fairly common in Death City since no one before him seemed to notice.
"Hello," she greeted. Her voice was cheery and high pitched which struck a small nerve within Soul, and he found her even more intimidating. "What's your name?"
"Um, Soul. Soul Evans." He leaned forward a bit, trying to see what she wrote on the yellowed parchment, but his view was blocked by her hair as she bent down closer to it.
"Ah, yes. There you are. You'll be in cabin four along with five other people, one of which is your partner by the name of Maka Albarn." The woman smiled as she handed him a small brass key and a pamphlet.
Soul didn't take it right away. Instead he blinked twice, cocking his head slightly to the side in confusion.
She nodded. "Mhm. You need a partner to fly the solar ships we use in the Aerodynamics division. Didn't Wes tell you that?"
He stiffened at the mention of his brother. "You know Wes?"
"I was one of the instructors for his class when he was here. He was a really fantastic flyer, and I'm excited to see another Evans in action again. I'm sure you're just as good as he was."
Soul only nodded as envy boiled his blood.
He tried his best not to snatch the key from the woman before making his way to cabin four. It was bad enough that he chose to come to the same academy as Wes, but the fact that there was someone who knew his family lineage made it even worse. He had a feeling they were going to expect him to excel even more than his brother ever had, or be just as good as Wes was. Deep down in his heart he knew they were going to be disappointed in him, exactly like everyone else.
While Soul was fantastic when he flew alongside his brother, he was never able to do or learn half the things Wes did. Soul had always been instructed under the guidance of his older brother, and he feared that he had learned nothing from him throughout the years.
Once he found his cabin, Soul stared at the dark mahogany door for a while before taking a deep breath and looking up at the sky. The smog from the city around him made it appear hazy as the bright blue fought to shine through. Throughout the years, the sky had become a comfort for him – a saving grace when he felt overwhelmed – because it was the one place he was able to really think. His thoughts were able to become one with the empty space up there with nothing to intervene. Soon he was going to be up there once again as he maneuvered one of the solar shops during his training to become a protector for Death City.
Placing the key into its rightful spot, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. The inside of the cabin was bigger than he thought it would be as it held six four-poster beds total. Each one was accompanied by its own dresser and a curtain that was intended for privacy - something he was definitely going to be using every chance he found. The color scheme reflected the buildings in the rest of the city; gold and silver mixed together along the mahogany trim, making him feel at home and peaceful once again. Soul felt every muscle in his body relax as the comfort of his new living quarters washed over him.
Soul looked around the room and spotted the other occupants - his soon-to-be roommates for the year - lounging on their own respective beds. The only other boy in the room with him wore a black suit with dark goggles wrapped around his neck, but that wasn't what had caught Soul's attention. His eyes had snapped to the boy's hair which was braided and beaded in a way that it almost looked like mechanical feathers that resembled a style he was familiar with: cyberlocks.
However, it was rare that men wore it from where Soul had come from since it was a style that women preferred.
The bustier of the girls had black curls that cascaded down her shoulders and a small hat gently perched on top. The light pink and dark red of her skirts ruffled around her and mixed together in a way that reminded him of a flower he once saw in his grandmother's garden. Soul's eyes drifted away from them, and fell upon the blonde girl who was laying on her stomach in her own bed. She was the only one who hadn't bothered to spare him even so much as a glance since the moment he walked in, and for some off reason it struck a small nerve with him.
The dark haired girl followed his line of vision and leaned over to poke the other girl's arm. "Maka, I think your partner's here," she whispered.
The blonde swung her legs over the bed and sat up to get a proper look at him before walking over toward the door. She didn't wear skirts or high heeled boots like the other girl, but rather wore trousers that resembled a man's. Her pigtails and goggles gave off a more laid-back and welcoming feel, but her combat boots told him she meant business. She didn't appear to have much knowledge when it came to the art of flying, but if either of them were going to fail and fall face first, they might as well do it together.
A team who fucked things up together was the best kind.
"Hi, I'm Maka Albarn." Her voice was sweet, and the smile she gave him was warm as she extended her hand.
Taking her hand in his, he said, "Soul… Evans"
Maka's eyes bulged, and her smile grew. "So you're Soul?" He nodded. "And you're my partner?"
He nodded again.
He wasn't entirely sure what she was going to next as he felt the excitement buzz off her body so he took a cautious step back, but it was no use. She stood closer to him, her face inches away from his as she invaded his personal space, and clutched his hand between both of hers. Leaning as far away from her as physically possible without falling on his ass, he sneered at her while the other boy let out a loud, obnoxious laugh.
"We're going to be a fantastic team, I just know it!" her tone was so optimistic that he had to agree with her; she was far too peppy for him and he wasn't sure how their partnership was going to be.
"Yeah, I'm sure of it… but could you maybe lay off the invasion of my personal space a bit?"
She cocked her head to the side. "Hmm?"
Glancing down in what little space there was between them, he indicated what he meant, and she seemed to understand as she backed away and dropped his hands in the process.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. I guess I was just a little too excited."
Soul nodded and looked around the room, not wanting to continue their conversation. "So which bed is mine?"
"Umm, well…" Maka's eyes scanned the space around her before turning to the other two people for help.
The dark haired girl stood up from the bed and walked over to the pair in order to assist the blonde with the situation.
"We were hoping to have the partners sleep beside each other, but with the set up being as it is, that'll be a little difficult." Soul bit back the sarcastic remark that popped into his mind. "I'm Tsubaki, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," he said as he shook her hand.
"I suppose you could take the bed across from mine," Maka broke in.
Soul glanced toward the bed she indicated, and noted that it was the furthest one away from the other ones in the room. "It'll work."
He walked over toward it and dropped his bag on top of the covers. Rubbing his hands through his untamable white hair, he thanked the heavens he didn't wear his own goggles that day. It would have been embarrassing if he and his partner were dressed the same. It was worst enough that their personalities were already so conflicting with one another. While she seemed to be perky and sunshine, a total morning person, he was gloomy and rainstorms. There was no possible way they were going to be soul drift compatible when the time came.
Moving slightly so that the others were in his visual, he watched as Maka lightly joked and laughed with whom he supposed were her friends. They appeared to be friendly with each other already as they fell into a comfortable atmosphere that was only attainable with years of knowing someone, and a small pang of jealousy shot through his chest. If making friends came easy for her, they were definitely not going to be the perfect team.
Redirecting his attention back to his bed, Soul flipped his bag open and dumped his belongings on top of the sheets in order place them in their rightful places. He tried to remove all thoughts about the people standing behind him by blocking out the laughter that drifted toward him every now and then. There were times were he preferred to be a loner, but friendship was something his heart had yearned for, especially when it came to being in a new place like the one he was in now. Even someone like him wondered what it felt like to have people who cared for him that didn't consist of only his brother, but dreams and wants were futile if he had learned anything throughout the years.
One of the floorboards creaked behind him, and Soul turned around to see Maka standing there with a gentle smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"What do you want?" he asked. His tone sounded rude and harsh which caused him to flinch (he had been raised better than that), but it didn't seem to faze her.
"I was wondering if you'd like to come join us."
Soul looked from her to the other two, who were both watching them with eager expressions, and then back to Maka.
Licking his lips, he shrugged and dropped the things in was holding. "Don't have anything else better to do."
She lightly bounced on her toes and grabbed his hand to pull him toward the others. "I promise they don't bite," she stage whispered over her shoulder.
"Good. I would hate to get rabies or some other life threatening disease on my first day."
"Maka might be lying there. I'll bite ya if you taunt me," the boy said with a small smirk. "Name's Black Star."
The girl holding his hand still only rolled her eyes. "Ignore him. He acts all big and tough, but he really isn't."
Sitting down on the edge of one of the beds, he watched as the people around him picked up where their conversation had left off. He felt out of sorts among them – completely out of his normal element – but they didn't seem to mind how quiet he was. Occasionally they tried to include him in the conversation by asking him questions about his past experience with solar ships, if he had any, but they were questions he rather not answer. Instead, he steered the converstion in a different direction.
He wasn't entirely ready to admit he had flown before or the fact that his older brother was a veteran.
Those were things they didn't need to know. At least not yet.
Maka's eyes wandered over to her new partner as she carelessly laughed at one of Star's lame ass jokes.
When she looked at him, she thought of a lonesome boy who had grown up in a world where he was alone and didn't have many close friends. It was the only thing that explained the way he had reacted when she held his hands. Maka noticed it in his eyes when she had leaned in far too close to him; there was something hidden beneath those crimson eyes that reminded her of a hurt, frail little puppy that had been kicked one too many times. Even the way he looked told her his childhood must not have been the easiest thing ever – she was only able to imagine the ridicule he must have endured.
It was understandable why he had chose not to join them at first.
She decided as she sat that there that throughout their time together, she would be the one who showed him that not everyone was so judgmental when it came to people who were different from them. Hell, she was friends with Black Star for crying out loud. The boy had electric blue hair with robot metal contraptions in it and he was annoying as hell. Surely Soul wasn't worse than him.
Plus, she had sensed something interesting about him when they touched; tingles had shot from her hand and up her arm. It had never happened with anyone else, and she was curious to find out why.
The next month marked the beginning of their training which consisted mostly of ground combat and how to use their weapons – a gun along with a razor sharp knife. It wasn't until after the combat training that the students learned how to control the ships and the basics of launch protocol. Then, a couple of months later, Soul and Maka were able to finally pick out their solar ship and practice their flying skills without an instructor acting as the third wheel. In all honesty, it shocked Maka how well her and Soul worked as a team. She felt like she was being a little too bossy at times, but it worked and came naturally to the pair.
Even the way the fought alongside each other felt natural, almost like they were breathing and moving like one unit. Marie had told them that she had never seen another pair that was like them – including Maka's own parents.
After about three months of playful banter and subtle praises on her part - things that could be taken as flirtatious behavior from anyone watching - he was slowly starting to warm up to her. Every now and then, she found him reaching out to clasp her hand without being prompted to and for absolutely no reason. The first time it had occurred, she was surprised; he had been startled by someone's robotic pet snake that had escaped from its cage only to take a liking to Soul's shoe strings and followed him around everywhere. After that, he started holding her hand every chance he had to the point that Maka started doing it on her own, even when it was unnecessary.
Arriving to the ship port where the student solar ships were located – hand in hand – Maka allowed Soul to pick theirs out. After watching him admire their instructor's ship for the last couple months, it was the least she could do. His eyes had glittered with excitement and drool occasionally slid out from the corner of his mouth. It was nice to see him let his guard down for one moment in his life to show some real emotion rather than the familiar stoic position he held all the time.
She tried to keep up with him as he bounded down various aisles, going from ship to ship until he finally stopped in front what she hoped was the one after thirty minutes. When Maka caught up to him, she inspected the solar ship he was standing in front of. The ship's wings were coated in a gray finish along the top, and a golden color dusted the underside of the blades. Her body was a beautiful mixture of gold and white and gray, reminding Maka of a bird she had seen once in a picture book when she was younger.
"Is this the one?" Maka asked her partner.
He lightly shook his head as he tried to get rid of the schoolboy daze plastered on his face and nodded. Walking towards the ship, she reached out to brush her fingers delicately over the nose, admiring the black finish, and noticed small golden flecks speckled into it.
"She's beautiful," she breathed out. "What are you gonna name her?"
Soul cocked his head to the side, a small grimace on his face. "Huh?"
"What are you gonna name her?" After a moment, he still looked confused so she elaborated. "Most pilots name their solar ships, Soul. Didn't you know that?"
Comprehension dawned on him as he glanced back toward the ship. "Oh… I didn't really think of that."
A short pause passed between the pair. "What about Grigori?"
He raised a white eyebrow before asking, "and what exactly does that mean, Miss I'm going to use big word to confuse my damn partner because I'm a know it all?"
She fought the urge to wack him and instead smiled gently as she told him. "It's Russian for watcher. I thought it would be nice since that's along the same lines of what we'll be doing, and it does sound pretty cool, don't you think?"
He mulled it over for a few minutes before nodding his head in agreement. "Yeah, it does sound pretty cool." He threw her a smirk, and pointed his thumbs toward his chest as he said very cockily, "and I am a really cool guy."
Maka was used to his obsession with being cool, but still rolled her eyes since she found it completely lame. However, the teasing between them came naturally that she hardly ever passed up a moment to do so. "And are all cool guys frightened by a mechanical snake?"
She giggled as he flinched before throwing her a glare. "That was one time, wing nuts. Do you have to bring it up every single time?"
"I'll stop when it starts getting old."
"Well, it's getting old now."
"Says you and only you." She rushed around to the left side, propping the door up and sat down in the plush copper colored seat. "Do you wanna fly this thing or just stand around bickering all day?"
The smile on his face was the biggest one she had ever seen as he mimicked her actions on the right side of the ship. Soul's side had the steering wheel while Maka's had the computer screen that showed the gauges, navigation, and a screen that show cased their soon to be missions. As she strapped herself in, Maka glanced over at Soul. He gave her a reassuring smile and a thumbs up before asking if she was ready for the next part. She nodded as she took a deep breath, and they both reached out to grab the helmets sitting in front of them. Slipping the helmets on, they waited for the soul drift to begin.
It felt weird to be connected with someone else's mind as a whirlwind of disconnected images flashed before her. They were every single one of his memories from the moment he was a small boy up until now. Each one was a blur of colors and sounds as they moved around her, making it impossible for her to capture anything solid. However, there were a few key ones that stood out amongst the rest.
She saw his hands flying across an ancient piano as they played a creepy song, a man who looked to be a few years older than Soul sitting beside him in a solar ship similar to the one he had picked for them, the same man standing in front of a beautiful stained glass window of a dragon circling the moon, and a garden filled with white and gold honeysuckles while an elderly woman bent down in front of them.
The only memories that were solid and viewable for each partner pair were the ones that held a significance to them; the ones that resided in their hearts even when they themselves weren't aware of it.
When the images stopped, her eyes trained back on Soul, and she watched as his experience slowly began to end. As he returned her gaze, a hint of worry flashed across his eyes. They had just shared their most intimate moments with someone they met only a few months ago. It was a nerve wracking feeling knowing someone had learned more things about them that not even those close to them were aware of, but there was also a comfort behind it.
Her biggest fear, however, was which memories he had seen of hers. Maka was only able to guess if her mother had appeared somewhere in them, or if the way she had treated her father once the divorce was finalized had been shown to him. No one but the people involved were aware of either of them, especially not the pedestal she placed her mother on. Neither Tsubaki nor Black Star were aware of how she had treated her father throughout the years.
But the memories he had seen didn't matter; they were one now. Their minds were attached and there was no going back.
Maka broke their staring contest as she turned to check that the gauges were where they needed to be before telling Soul they were ready for their first flying experience together. There wasn't an instructor guiding them on how to fly or taking turns to get used to anything. They were truly going to be on their own this time, and Maka felt the excitement about it bubbling up in the pit of her stomach.
However, their minds weren't used to working alongside each other so it took them awhile to get used to navigating. After a few failed attempts, they were eventually able to get the hang of it. The ship bounced up and down slightly as it hovered over the ground before slowly moving out of the spot.
It felt weird having a connection with someone through their mind; she felt his mind buzzing in the back of hers as every one of his thoughts entered and infested it. She wasn't entirely sure how comfortable she was with the thought that he was able to read her mind, but it gave her a thrill that crawled along her skin.
Through their connection, she found out he considered her to be his closest friends which made her heart warm and her stomach squirm of their own accord.
Maka came to realize as the months passed that Soul really did enjoy flying. The edges of his mouth pulled up into a wide smile and his eyes sparkled with life unlike their normal bored appearance. Sometimes he let the top down so that the wind blew through his hair; it flipped his snowy locks around his face and for the briefest of moments she thought he was beautiful. It was the only moment he actually looked alive, and she enjoyed every second of it. She wasn't familiar with the sensation it gave her – the gut wrenching, heart stopping, sweaty palms reaction her body had were all new – but she it was definitely something she wanted to feel forever.
"Did you enjoy that ride?" she asked as she jumped out of the ship.
Soul stepped out of the cockpit, a grin on his face, and shook out his hair to tame even though that was entirely out of the question. "Fuck yeah. You?"
"Could have done without all the air, but other than that, I think it was our best ride yet." Maka readjusted her pigtails, placing the strands that escaped back in.
"Eh, you like when I let the top down. I know you do." He walked around the nose of the ship to where she stood and playfully ruffled her hair.
She swatted his hand away and fixed her hair once again. "Even if I did, I wouldn't admit to it."
"I would say that's a confession right there."
"Trust me, it isn't." Maka grabbed his hand and led him away from Grigori. "Now, come on. We need to report to Stein."
Soul lowly growled. "Do we have to? Stein gives me the creeps as it is."
"You know we do. It's part of protocol." They climbed the steps to the main building where their teacher was located, and entered through the double doors. "Besides, we'll be able to go on missions soon. Doesn't that at least make you a little excited?"
"Oh, joy," he mocked
"Calm down with the enthusiasm there. You might scare people away." Soul only grunted in response.
As they entered Stein's dingy office, the strange smell of formaldehyde wafted up their noses, crinkling the skin around that area. The room itself was a mixture of different gray tones mixed together with smoke that was leftover from the instructor's bad habit. Compared to the other teacher's offices, the lighting was darker which made it for them to see for a while as their eyesight adjusted to the difference. The instructor himself was lounging back in his chair, staring up at them with no emotion on his face. Between him and Soul, it was hard to tell who was more stoic.
Stein's voice was low and raspy from smoking when he spoke. "Ah, Soul and Maka. Welcome back. How was your little trip? Good, I hope."
"It was great." Maka answered for them. "I think we're really getting the hang of flying our ship."
"Great. Glad to hear that." Stein rolled over in his chair to the desk situated behind him and turned on the computer. The screen popped up against the wall, and Maka watched as he scrolled through different files until he finally settled on one as he double clicked it. A few minutes passed before Stein spoke again. "Looks like you two have finished the required hours for training and are ready to start taking missions." He spun around in the chair to face them. "Do you two think you're up for that?"
Maka glanced over to Soul, who shrugged, before turning back to Stein. "Yes. We're ready."
"I'll let Lord Death know, and we'll give you your first mission by next week." He turned back around to the screen. "You two are dismissed."
Soul and Maka left the office. They walked down the hallway with a little more spring in their step - mostly Maka while Soul lightly snorted at her behavior - excited for when the moment they received the call about their meeting with Lord Death to be assigned a mission, their first mission. Soon, she and Soul were going to be on their way to becoming full-fledged cadets for the Spartoi flying team.
And they were going to be a better duo than her own parents ever were.
He stood next to Maka as they waited for Lord Death to arrive to his office and give them their next practice mission. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her bounce up and down on her toes, the excitement practically radiating off her skin.
"Calm down, wing nuts."
She gave him a small pout before turning back around at the sound of the door opening. The mystery behind whether Lord Death was a human or a cyborg had always baffled Soul. The headmaster of Shibusen Training Academy always wore a large white skull mask every time he made public appearance with a long black cloak draped around body that flowed out behind him as he walked. Even the childlike, high pitched voice he spoke with made the whole experience that much more confusing.
"Welcome back, Soul and Maka. How did you two fair on your last mission?" he asked.
"We did a great job, Lord Death." Maka, ever the teacher's pet, took a step forward and placed her hands behind her back as she beamed up at the headmaster. "Soul and I patrolled the area around the old factory mill and there wasn't anything suspicious."
"Great, wonderful! I'm glad to hear that. Now," the computer screen behind him surrounded by brass and copper pipes turned on, "this is your next mission."
The map on the screen zoomed in to the location where a village was located nearby until it showed what appeared to be golden ruins. Soul recognized their architecture as being similar to what historians believed to be one of the earliest civilizations for the city of Hellhound. "I need you two to patrol this area, same as before, searching for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. Can you two do it?"
Maka gave a terse nod. "Yes, sir. We can do that."
"Very good. You two may go now."
Maka gave a small bow and twirled around, her skirts flowering out around her, and grabbed Soul's hand to lead him out of the office. They left the building to head to the ship dock where Grigori was currently sitting. When they were starting to get closer to their solar ship, Soul broke into small jog toward his baby before delicately rubbing his fingers across her hood.
"Did you miss daddy? Because he sure missed you."
Maka snorted from behind him. "I swear this ship's the only thing you'll ever really love in life."
"That's because she doesn't talk back to me, unlike some people I know," he snapped.
"Oh, and who could that possibly be?" she asked with feigned innocence.
"I don't know. Maybe some hot headed blonde that I was partnered with."
"Oh, her? I heard she was amazing."
"Yeah, amazingly annoying."
They entered the ship, each on their respective sides, buckled themselves in, and turned to their panels to start the engines.
"But, admit it, I'm the best partner you could ever have," she smiled.
Soul rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Keep telling yourself that." Maka giggled. "Your side good?"
"Then let's go."
Soon they were maneuvering their way out of the ship dock and into the vast openness of the sky. Soul put the roof down, as usual to feel the wind flying through his hair, and Maka automatically pulled her goggles down, completely used to his behavior. However, he wasn't the one at fault for enjoying the open air like he did. If anything, his older brother, Wes, was to blame, thanks to the countless times he took his younger brother out flying after he received his license.
A few hours later, they found themselves walking inside the golden ruins.
Soul had a feeling they weren't supposed to actually enter the ruins; they were only meant to patrol the area for suspicious behavior. However, Maka was insistent when it came to at least exploring some of it, and he always found it difficult to argue with her when she pulled that innocent puppy routine of hers. If he weren't such a cool guy he might admit he found her absolutely adorable when she did it. Her bottom lip always jutted out and those big beautiful green eyes became larger than normal. He held onto this secret for dear life no matter how weak in the knees she made him or how much his heart pounded against his chest.
Maka Albarn had become his weakness, but that was a fact he wasn't ready to admit yet.
In the last few months, she had slowly become his best friend. It was a feat he never expected her to accomplish – anyone to accomplish in truth – but she turned out to be different than he originally expected. Maka was a fighter and that was something he admired about her. She held her own against anyone, and her true beauty was kept within her heart. Her kind nature and ability to see the good in others when they didn't see it themselves had broken through his walls and defenses.
There was also the fact that she made him feel nervous when she too close to him, but that nervousness had nothing to do with being uncomfortable. His palms were always sweaty when she held his hand of her own accord, and his heart stopped when she said his name. Maka made him feel like a twelve year old boy and that was completely uncool. If Wes ever found out, he'd tease the poor boy until the day he died – probably even beyond that.
But the backflips his stomach was performing at that moment had nothing to do with her.
A cold chill crept up his spine as he glanced around the dilapidated building and little bumps pricked up on his skin. He didn't feel safe in the ruins, and every single one of his instincts were telling him to run. They should leave, but Maka was a stubborn person who refused to listen to him.
With her lantern being his only source of light, it illuminated a few feet in front of them as they walked along the wall but it wasn't enough. The underground ruins were eerily silent, and there were no other signs of life. Their footsteps echoed against the walls around them along with the occasional rock as it was kicked away by one of their boots, but that was it. Something wasn't right about the place.
"Look at these symbols. What kind of civilization do you think lived here before us? They look ancient." Her voice reverberated off the walls as she delicately brushed her fingers over the writings, afraid they'd crumble against her touch.
"I gotta bad feeling about this place, Maka. Are you sure we should even be in here?"
He looked around at the areas shrouded in darkness; he felt even more uncomfortable with their current situation because of it. It was the perfect place for any beast to live in and attack them when they were at their most vulnerable.
"You aren't scared, are you?"
"Ha! No. I just don't feel comfortable about this place, is all." There was a nervous tinge in his voice that didn't go unnoticed by Maka.
Why did I have to have a partner who was so observant? he thought.
"Oh really?" Her tone wasn't reassuring.
The smirk plastered on her face placed his nerves even more on end, and after a short starting contest, her eyes bulged and she pointed to something behind him. "What's that!?"
Soul's heart pounded even faster as he whirled around and stepped back closer to Maka to get away from the thing she pointed to – which turned out to be nothing. He was about to lash out at her when something crawled up his arm making him turn around to see what it was: Maka's fingers. She burst into a fit of giggles as she pointed at his face that was burning up at the embarrassment of being frightened by a puny little blonde.
"You. Should. See. The. Look. On. Your. Face," she said in between guffaws.
"Real funny." He slapped her finger away, crossed his arms, and threw his head to the side as he growled lowly. "I wasn't even scared."
Maka wiped away tears from her eyes and walked in front of him to examine his face for herself. "Uh huh. The look on your face says otherwise," she teased.
"I wasn't fucking scared, alright? Just hurry up and do your fucking exploring shit so we can get the fuck out of here."
She shrugged and walked farther along the wall of ruins. Her eyes searched each one as they drank all the information they were able to acquire in a similar way to the one she reserved especially for books. Soul reluctantly followed her, but kept his eyes focused on the darkness around them, searching for anything abnormal. If Maka wasn't going to be paying attention to their surroundings then he would.
He strained his eyes as he tried to stare into the thick blackness. He felt something or someone watching them within it; their eyes following their ever movement one, calculating them, and trying to determine the right moment to strike. Soul paused, his back facing toward Maka as he searched behind them. His pulse rose and his instincts were on edge as they readied themselves to take action if need be. Even his palms were sweating as he curled his fingers into a fist.
Something wasn't right; he felt it rattle in his bones.
A few minutes passed, Maka mumbling behind him about her latest find along the wall, and that was when he heard it; an eerie whisper emitting from the darkness.
"My blood is black."
Shivers travelled down his spine as he slowly searched around to see who had said it – noting that Maka was still in her own world and unaware of their new companion.
The creature emerged from the darkness, its cyborg eye gleaming red as it slowly walked into the glow of the lantern. The rest of its body appeared to be half robot and half human; a mechanical arm on one side and a human-esque one on the other, and its magenta hair framed its face as a few strands fell in front. Soul's nose scrunched up as a grotesque smell crawled up his nostrils that smelled like spoiled eggs and gasoline, but the creature's smile was the creepiest aspect about it. It pulled up at the sides, but there were no emotions emitting from its one humanoid eye.
"My blood is black," it said again.
This time, its robot arm transformed into a black sword and swung it across its chest as it took a step forward. Soul watched as it made its way toward Maka, flinging the sword out to the side, readying itself for the attack, and that's all it took for him to determine his next move.
"Maka! Look out!"
Everything slowed down as Soul ran the few feet that were between him and his partner. He watched as she turned to see the reason behind his yelling before he thrust his body out in front of her – shielding her from the attack. His arms flailed away from him in a protective stance as he took the sword straight to the chest and his blood spewed out in front of him.
The last thing he remembered hearing before blacking out was Maka's anguished screams as she yelled out his name.