Working for Medusa was a unique kind of hell, as Soul had come to realize. She was stringent and temperamental, her demands both unreasonable and, at times, impossible. It was like she knew that Soul and Maka, youthful and inexperienced interns in their own right, would suffer through whatever she asked of them without question, laughing at their misfortune of being saddled with her as their supervisor. At least, that was how it felt, most of the time. Soul was miffed with the majority of their interactions with the woman, annoyed at her treatment of them, while Maka relished the challenge, determined to do her best at every single task they were given.
"She's our boss, Soul," Maka would say. "She's supposed to tell us what to do."
Soul hadn't agreed with Maka then and he certainly did not agree with her now. But, at her request, he'd ceased complaining so loudly, even being more complacent during work hours to avoid trouble. Staying under the radar had always been the goal and he'd mostly achieved that, especially with Maka at his side.
He'd met Maka at the group interview when they applied to Medusa's firm as students responding to a student-only job call last summer. He remembered thinking that there was no way he was going to get in compared to her, all bright-eyed and knowledgeable with her light hair pulled up by a thin, black clip. She was cute and studious and clearly knew what she was talking about. Soul, on the other hand, really had no business being in business. His parents had pulled some strings to get him an interview, but he was on his own now. A lonely musical performance major amidst twelve other business students. Introducing himself to the group had many of the other hiding their distaste behind polite smiles. Except Maka, of course, who beamed at him and introduced herself and was completely genuine when she said she it was nice to meet him.
Not that he'd known it when they met, of course. By the time he was hired and at his first training, he assumed that the blond girl sitting in front of him would likely pretend they'd never met, all civility abandoned as she moved on to bigger, better people. But she hadn't. She's turned to give him a worksheet and beckoned him over to sit with her. Soul was inclined to think that they'd been inseparable ever since then.
You could rarely find one intern without the other. Soul's skills with Excel and technical documentation mixed with Maka's broad business knowledge and interest in presentations made them an unstoppable team. It was fascinating to learn so much by the side of someone who could practically recite the textbook. They were partnered with every task and excelled at every one. Their first supervisor, Marie Mjolnir, had been more than happy with their work, all smiles and words of encouragement.
They'd returned to the firm with the same, optimistic energy they'd held last year. After a quick text to one another to confirm attendance, they happily accepted the recall. The first month had gone swimmingly.
The problem was that for the last three months of their summer internship, they'd been at the hands of Medusa Gorgon, the sour replacement assigned to Marie's interns during her maternity leave, the woman that was currently trying to make Maka and Soul's final weeks at the firm as painful as possible. The woman had berated their abilities, belittled their skills, and given them tasks so outside of their expertise and training that other staff members gave them pitying looks, doing all they could do to help them away from Medusa's keen eyes. Soul was used to subtle comments about his own inadequacies, but Medusa seemed intent on hitting him where it hurt at every step of the way.
And honestly? He could take it. He'd heard worse from his parents, from his teachers, from people with passive-aggressive habits. Medusa cut deep but Soul had been cut deeper. She didn't know him, not really, and he was able to withstand the venom of her words.
Until she came after Maka. That's when he'd had enough.
"Excuse me?" Medusa said, glaring at him in challenge up from the documents in her hand to stare at him
"You heard what I said." His heart was beating rapidly, hard and fast alongside the adrenaline, like he was torn between fight and flight and he had chosen (as always) the wrong decision. Wes always warned him that if he didn't filter his words well enough, it would get him in some serious trouble. That particular prophecy had come to fruition many times in Soul's life, but perhaps today would be the day he'd lose his job for it. He wouldn't be surprised. It wasn't exactly the first time he'd cussed out a superior, and he doubted that it would be the last.
"Soul Evans," said Medusa, saying his name like one might say the name of a bug you were prepared to squash, "we are in the workplace. May I remind you that we are to keep our language workplace appropriate?"
He swallowed the curse words and turned his focus back to the matter at hand. "We worked incredibly hard on that presentation," he said tightly. "We stayed overtime for a week straight getting ready for a meeting that you insisted we attend even though you knew that we were working on other assignments for you." He wanted to ask her why she would put them through such a meeting, berating them in front of strangers, humiliating Maka on a project that Medusa knew was connected to her mother. "We knew what we were talking about."
"You think you know," said Medusa, sifting through the paperwork on her desk like she had something better to be doing than talking to one of her interns, "but you don't. That's the whole reason you're here, Soul. You're learning how to work in professional circles, and I'm giving you that opportunity."
"The opportunity to have you embarrass us in front of management?" His fingernails dug into the meat of his palm. "That wasn't very professional."
"Professional?" Medusa scoffed, her bright eyes fixing on him, her own annoyance with him barely concealed behind her fake smile. "You're students. Both of you are. You should be grateful to be given anything at all." The venom in her voice eased back for a moment as she tried to reroute the conversation, seeming to remember who she was talking to. Soul had seen the same expression on her face mirrored on the faces of private tutors his parents had hired in his youth. Over time, they would grow frustrated by his resilience, by his resistance, but they held themselves back by the thinnest of strands as they remembered the prestige of his family, as they remembered the cheques they'd received to fatten their wallets as long as they put up with him long enough. Medusa wasn't necessarily employed by his parents, but she was attempting to keep her job. Harassment from one's manager was not looked highly upon by their HR department. "Trying to stand up for your partner is admirable, Soul," she said, sickeningly sweet, "but we both know that the outcome of that presentation wasn't your fault."
"It wasn't Maka's, that's for damn sure," Soul snapped. "She did her best work on that proposal we put forward. If there was anyone too incompetent to follow through with the proposal specifics, it's me. And if you're too incompetent to-"
"Do not finish that sentence unless you want me to terminate your contract early," said Medusa sharply. It was hard to bite his tongue on the comeback itching to leave his mouth, but he managed it. He kept Maka in mind, her bright smile and laughter calming in its innocence despite the memory of her from the meeting lurking underneath. He tried to think of things that made him happier. The piano, getting dinner with Maka, trips to the park with Wes, sending Maka emails in boring meetings that made her laugh, relaxing on the beach with his grandmother, dropping Maka off at her apartment with a smile and the promise of seeing her the next day. "I don't need your attitude," continued Medusa, "and I certainly don't need a child telling me how to do my job as acting manager."
"Yes, ma'am," he said tightly. He used to be so good at holding his tongue and keeping quiet when he knew others desired him to be silent. Who knew a girl was all he needed to lose his cool?
"Now get out of my office before I have to kick you out of here myself."
Soul didn't need to be told twice before he left, heading back to the desk he shared with Maka to try and find her. He turned the corner, expecting to see her bright eyes and welcoming countenance however nothing but an empty chair greeted him.
"Wha-" He took a peek under the desk and couldn't find her there at all.
"Hey, Nygus?" The woman popped her braided head up over her cubicle wall, bright eyes curious.
"Have you seen Maka?"
"She came here after your meeting and headed to the bathroom. I..." she paused, concern slipping onto her face. "I haven't seen her come back out. Do want me to go check on her?"
"I'll do it." Nygus raised an eyebrow, and Soul felt his cheeks warm. "I'll just knock on the door to see if she's in there, not go in. That's it."
"If anyone asks," added Soul, dropping his laptop off at their desk and heading in the direction of the washrooms, "we're taking our fifteen-minute break.'
"Yes, sir." She smiled and disappeared back into her cubicle. "Go get 'em, tiger."
In the end, Maka wasn't in the washroom. If he was being honest, he didn't even make it that far. He passed the photocopying room and saw her drawn up hair and black flats and knew, immediately, where she was. From behind, she looked exactly the same as she always did. She was bent over one of the photocopiers as if scrutinizing the control panel and ensuring that all the correct fields were in before she printed. Only, she wasn't printing anything at all. She was just standing there, looking busy even though Soul knew that there was nothing that they had to do. He approached cautiously, and it was only when he heard her sniffle that he stepped forward quickly, the snap of his shoes gaining her attention. She turned at the sound of him, and he got a quick glimpse of her eyes, huge and green and watery, before tugging her to his chest.
It had been a while since he last held her like this, even though nothing was really quite like this. Falling asleep in a taxi and waking up with Maka in his arms was nothing compared to pulling her towards him, feeling her fingers, delicate and thin, carefully pressed to his back before grasping at the fabric there as she pressed into him and cried. She murmured his name, half in surprise and half with an air of relief. It was a little shaky, but Soul could still hear the remnants of a sob in the back of her throat, could feel her tears bleed into his shirt.
"Hey," he said softly, trying to sound as soothing as possible. Any anger he held towards Medusa for causing this was buried under the immense concern he held for Maka. "You're going to be okay. We knew she was crazy from the start." She let out a wet laugh and Soul squeezed her in his arms. "We've only got a couple of weeks left. It's almost over."
Her sniffles quieted down, the hot breath against his shoulder still hitched, but was otherwise evening out. "We're still at work, you know? We probably shouldn't..." Maka's grip on him tightened regardless, "do this."
And Maka was right. They probably shouldn't do this, whatever it was she thought they were doing. Comforting a friend, maybe? Consoling a co-worker? Trying to reassure the love of your life (who did not know she was the love of your life) that she was still amazing and intelligent and that Medusa was an absolute witch? Still, whatever this was, a part of Soul was still glad that she'd acknowledged it, that she had felt that the thing building up between them for over a year now was worth mentioning, even if it was in less ideal circumstances.
"We're on our break," countered Soul instead.
That gave her pause. No doubt she had completely forgotten about it. "Break, huh?"
"Yeah. A break." Soul pulled back just so he could see her expression again. Her green eyes still shone with tears, but some of the tension in her brow had eased away, and she looked at him with a fondness that warmed his chest. "We can do whatever you want, go wherever you want for the next 15 minutes."
Her frown returned, not heavy with the seriousness of before, but still there. "But-"
"No buts. I already told Medusa we're going on break. She's not going to bother us right now." He smiled tentatively. "So what is it that you want to do?"
"We can do whatever I want?" She repeated.
Soul rarely missed a break. Maka had a habit of working hard, and without him to reign her in, he had no doubt that she'd work through her breaks and mealtimes without noticing a thing. It was usually at his request that she stopped working at all, following his lead and checking her phone or taking a short walk. Breaks were always something that he felt he needed to negotiate with her on.
"Whatever you want." Anything to make her happy, thought Soul. He just wanted her to be happy; he would do near anything to ensure it. "We can head to the coffee shop downstairs, we can read the next chapter of that massive book in your purse, you can have me listen to one of those techno songs you like and I'll sit through the whole thing without complaining."
The corner of her mouth twitched into an almost smile, and Soul counted it as a win. "You don't have to."
"I want to," he said insistently. "I just-" he swallowed hard, words bumping each other on the way out, "-want what you want." Considering how much they bickered, playful and otherwise, he wasn't surprised when he saw Maka's curiosity perk up at his words. He cursed himself for his inability to keep his mouth shut. "You've been doing everything you could to make other people happy. You work hard all the time, and always for the sake of other people. You're the most amazingly selfless person I've ever met." He squeezed at her shoulders, and her fingers, warm through his shirt, slid down his back to rest patiently at his waist. Maka's green eyes, ever vibrant, stared back at him, her expression softening with every word that dropped out of his mouth. "You deserve to be selfish. You deserve to do what you want, even if it's just for fifteen minutes of this god-awful day."
She was still looking at him, wide and awestruck, and full of a something that Soul didn't have any time to decipher. "I hope you're right," she said softly, eyes flickering between his own, hands taking firm positions at his hips. There wasn't even really time to speak, much less time to blink, before she was tilting upwards towards him and pressing her pretty, pink lips to his mouth. It was simultaneously the longest and shortest moment of his life, and when she pulled away, Soul felt himself drift forward, chasing her.
"I'm being selfish." He watched as a blush worked its way across her face, but she still stared up at him, afraid she had broken the fragility of this while practically admitting that this was exactly what she wanted. That this – Soul's arms around her with her body flush against his, kissing him in the photocopying room with tears still drying on her cheeks- was what she wanted. That she wanted him. "I really should have asked. Was that okay?"
"So okay," said Soul, made breathless from her courage. "More than okay."
There was no space for him to be embarrassed at his own honesty, not with Maka giggling softly, and the sadness that hung in the lines of her eyes was completely decimated by the sound of her laugh. She looked up at him brightly. "So you wouldn't mind if I did that again?"
"Fifteen minutes to do whatever you want," repeated Soul, dropping a kiss at the corner of her mouth instead. "There is no force in existence that would make me mind you doing that again." He kissed her cheek and looked at her with a matching smile. "By all means, kiss away."
"We probably don't have that much time. There's still work to be done," murmured Maka despite her hands smoothing their way around his waist to lock at the small of his back. "We need to give a report on proposal improvements."
Soul nodded, forehead brushing against her bangs, mournful to not be kissing her anymore, missing the sweet reassurance of her lips on his. But he knew that Maka wouldn't be Maka if she wasn't thinking about work. He loved her for it. "I know." He locked his fingers, arms resting on her shoulders. He stole another kiss, just in case it was going to be his last one of the day, and Maka smiled under him.
Her nose skimmed along the side of his for a brief and blissful moment before she pulled away, eyes still wide with an innocence that Soul was coming to realize is dangerously easy for her to control. As always, it was those eyes that saw through him, that drew him out, that convinced him to do her bidding. And he is more than happy to acquiesce.
"We've got work to do."
"We do." Soul dragged his gaze upwards to the clock sitting above the printer, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice as he said, "It's almost 10:30."
Soul could feel Maka thumb his back thoughtfully through his shirt. "Not much time for anything, huh?"
He tried to sound nonchalant as he shrugged and said, "I mean, we have a little time."
Maka rolled her eyes, but she tipped forward again to meet him in the middle. And though he knew that nothing was really fixed, even though Medusa was still a complete witch and he and Maka didn't have any word to describe what they were, he was going to make the most of fifteen minutes. He was going to make them worth it.
And as she squeezed him closer and smiled, she seemed to agree. "Maybe just a little," she murmured before kissing him once more.