This Broken Soul
Soul's voice rang out with fear when he called out her name, drawing all her attention toward him.
A surge of panic rushed through Maka's body as her entire world suddenly started to move in slow motion. She whipped around to see the reason for his sudden outburst, her blonde pigtails fanning out from the momentum, and caught sight of the cyborg from the corner of her eye before turning around completely. Fear flowed through her veins as the creature's red eye glinted at her, and an unfamiliar, uncomfortable chill crept over her body. Her first instinct was to run, but when she tried to force her body to do so, nothing happened; she remained rooted to the ground.
Maka closed her eyes and waited for her inevitable death as the creature raised its left arm to swing the sword at her. She swallowed the lump in her throat, a soothing chill washing over her body as it accepted its fate. Suddenly, a whoosh of air slammed against her, and Maka opened her eyes to see Soul standing in front of her. He thrust his arms out protectively, fingers splayed open, legs braced for the impact, and the realization struck at the sight; he was going to take the hit for her. She silently pleaded with him to move, trying to force the small word to escape from her mouth, but nothing happened.
Soul remained in front of her.
Then, without warning, her world sped up, and the sword swung down diagonally. It sliced across Soul's chest, and bright red spurts of blood splashed out of him. The desire to scream was strong as her heart clenched, but she remained silent. Standing there frozen in time, shock and fear washed over her body like a constraint as she watched her partner fall to the ground. A sticky warmth clung to her calves as little drops of blood fell on the creature, but she was only vaguely aware of it. Thoughts of Soul dying swirled around in her mind, and her chest grew heavier as her worst nightmare came to life.
He was going to die and it was all her fault.
Her voice didn't sound normal. It cracked at his name, the desperation and urgency plain as day within it as she watched her partner's body crumple down in front of her.
Please don't die, she thought. Please still be alive.
Soul fell to his knees, arms limp at his side and head hanging low, before he dropped face first on the pavement beneath him. Maka's breath came out in small rasps as her heart pounded against her chest, her blood roaring in her ears. Ignoring the creature as it watched the pair, she fell to her knees in despair; the red pool of blood trickling from Soul's body was warm and sticky to the touch as she crawled toward the boy laying in front of her. He didn't move when she placed her hand on the nape of his neck, but the warmth radiating off his skin and the faint pulse told her he was still alive.
But he wasn't going to last long.
They needed to get out of there.
Soul needed help.
Maka looked up at the evil creature through watery eyes as tears began to form, and stared at it, waiting for it to make its next move. If it wanted to kill them, then she was going to let it.
She didn't have anything to protect herself with.
Her partner was dying.
Their situation was hopeless.
She was sitting there completely defenseless, yet it remained standing still. Under the creature's calculating gaze, studying her like she did with her books back in their cabin, she felt helpless. Silently she hoped – prayed – they were the same books that she was going to be able to read if this thing spared their lives.
But nothing happened, and Maka was getting tired of the staring contest.
"Well, what the hell do you want?! If you're gonna kill us, then do it already, you fucking bastard!"
She didn't normally use such vulgar language, but considering Soul's life was slowly drifting away from her, desperate times called for desperate measures. There had been countless times where she had seen Soul and Black Star use the same colorful words to get what they wanted, and a part of her hoped for the same results now.
Suddenly, a high pitched screeching filled the ruins. It sounded like scratches against a chalkboard as it scraped against her eardrums, making her face scrunch up in pain. Maka quickly cupped her hands over her ears, hoping to block out as much sound as possible, but refused to move her eyes away from the creature as it turned in the direction of the unknown source and began walking toward it. Whatever the sound was, it seemed to be the creature's call to retreat. Maka was alone again after a few minutes, save for Soul - who remained motionless on the ground - and the screeching stopped.
But she didn't have time to celebrate.
Carefully, she flipped Soul's body over, and gently laid him down on his back to investigate the cut bisecting his chest. It didn't appear to be deep, but there was enough blood coming out to tell her he didn't have much time. Judging by the length of the cut, it could be fatal if someone didn't look at it soon.
Maka stood up to walk toward his head, and kneeled down on her hind legs to hoist him up by the nook of his armpits to drag him back out to the ship. It took her a while to get there as she stumbled on a few rocks that were in her way, but they made it without further injury. She laid him down on the ship's floor, trying to fit him in like a mismatched puzzle piece in the little space available, before going to the monitor on her side of the cockpit. There was no way she was going to be able to fly the ship back to Shibusen on her own, and she needed to call in backup.
Unfortunately for her, that also meant admitting her own mistake.
"You've reached Emergency Back-Up for Shibusen Training Academy. You are currently speaking with Mira Nygus. Is this the department you meant to call?" the sweet voice of the academy's nurse said.
"Yes! It's Maka Albarn, one of the flying officers for Flight 42, ship Grigori, and I need someone out here immediately."
"And what, may I ask, is the emergency?"
Maka had an inkling that Mira knew what had happened.
She felt like the woman was able to read it on the poor blonde's face before the words even came spilling out of her mouth.
"It's all my fault. I suggested that we should explore the ruins we were meant to scope out, and there was an accident. Some kind of creature found us in there, and my partner, Soul Evans, is hurt. Please send someone out here quickly! He doesn't have much time!" Her voice broke on the last word, and Maka had to look down to hide her tears.
"I'll send Stein over there in the medical ship immediately. And Maka," The blonde looked up, her cheeks stained, "Don't worry. No matter how grand his injuries are, Soul will be in capable hands, okay?"
Her gut sensed the lie behind the woman's voice, but she still nodded nonetheless. "Thank you, Nygus."
Maka left the monitor once it blacked out and walked over to where Soul's head lay. His face looked peaceful with his mouth open and eyes shut, and, it looked like he was sleeping rather than passed out from shock and blood loss. Sitting criss cross, Maka gently picked his head up and cradled him in her lap. Stroking a few strands away from his forehead, she wet his white hair as her tears fell delicately on the edges. She whispered her apologies and promises onto unhearing ears and told him it was all her fault. She swore to never stray from protocol again, and from now on, his safety was going to be top priority for her.
For as long as she lived, something like this was not going to happen again.
The medical ship finally arrived thirty minutes later. Stein, along with his medic team, hauled Soul safely out of Grigori and into their ship before whisking off faster than lightspeed back to his emergency lab. Maka knew her partner was in capable hands - albeit maybe not entirely trustworthy hands – and that was comforting enough. She breathed a sigh of relief and clutched her hands to her chest as she tried to suppress the emotions welling up inside. Strong arms wrapped around her neck, pulling her in close to the chest of the person whom she had neglected months ago.
"He'll be fine, sweetie," her father said. "Stein doesn't want to lose him, trust me. Even though it pains me to say this, Soul is the best cadet the academy has seen since… well, since his older brother was here."
Maka nodded as the rumors she had heard when her and Soul entered their first training session resurfaced in her mind. Wes Evans had undergone training a few years before Soul came along, and according to everyone around them, he was one of the best pilots they had seen in years. A familiar warmth spread over her chest as her partner was compared to the one person he felt inferior to throughout his time at the academy. There had been a few nights when he confided in her that his goal was to become as good a pilot as his brother, even being half as good was sufficient for him.
A few minutes passed as father and daughter stood in silence outside Grigori before Spirit spoke again. "Shall we fly the ship back, then?"
"I would like that," she whispered
In actuality, she didn't want to go through the process of resonating with her father. She preferred the academy to have sent a complete stranger, someone whose past… promiscuous behavior she wasn't fully aware of. She definitely did not want to see the faces of the other women he'd been with. It was bad enough that she had known he was sneaking around behind her mother's back when she followed him as a child and the mere thought of resonating with him made her sick to her stomach.
However, she also wasn't able to tell her father no; if she left Grigori, Soul was going to have a pissy-princess fit, she just knew it. He treated the damn thing like it was his own child.
When Maka resonated with her father, it wasn't as bad as she had originally expected. There were no images of women underneath or on top of Spirit, nor were there any of him being at the local bar downtown taking drinks from his favorite waitress. Really, Maka was thankful that resonating only showed a person's important memories, because what she saw surprised her.
Spirit's favorite memories were mostly of her and her mother, living their happy lives before he went and looked for something more on the side. She saw the day Maka was born as Spirit cradled a tiny baby in his arms, her father reading her a book when she was younger, her mother talking about her experiences at work over dinner one night, and the day she received her acceptance letter from the academy. They were all nice and made Maka wish she was a better daughter to him. They also made her wonder what her favorite memories were, and if her father was in any of them.
Soul was still in surgery under the watchful eye of Stein when they made it back to the academy.
Maka sat outside in the waiting room, counting the seconds as they passed by. It was horrible. It was agonizing to worry about whether or not her partner was going to come out alive and well. The ticking of the small table clock on the receptionist's desk sounded louder than normal as it beat against her eardrums and grew louder the longer she remained there. Each tick meant she was closer to his verdict, and each stirred up new fears within her.
Images of him lying dead on the operation table or coming out of surgery only to inform that he wanted a new partner flooded through her mind. They reminded her that no matter what happened, it was all her fault. If she hadn't suggested they enter the ruins, if they had done exactly what they were supposed to, then Soul's life wouldn't have been dangling on a short string. The gaping wound across his chest wouldn't have been there, and he would be sitting beside her in the mess hall, eating dinner and joking around with their friends.
He would have been happy instead, and she would have been to see him smile one more time; his perfect, wonderful, sharp toothed smile that reached his eyes on the best of days.
His smile was the one thing she'd miss the most if anything were to happen to him.
Maka brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them as she dug her head in-between. The tears were silent, but they felt hot on her bare skin and rolled down her thigh to rest within the fabric of her skirt. The pain in her heart was the worst; it felt like someone was standing on her, pressing her insides down against each other, and crushing the poor muscle. It felt like she was experiencing Dante's Inferno. All she wanted was to have Soul beside her as he held her hand, reassuring her everything was going to be alright.
The only person Maka wanted at that moment was her partner.
She needed Soul more than he would ever know.
He knew it was a dream, was able to tell it was dream because of how abstract and uncomfortable his surroundings were. None of the rooms at the academy had maroon curtains covering every inch of the walls, and none of them held an old fashioned gramophone playing scratchy jazz tunes he'd never heard before either.
From his position on the floor, Soul looked up at the ceiling to see that it was covered in some sort of black substance, the same kind that reminded him of the darkness from his nightmares long ago. He felt the fear and anxiety from his old life slowly start to resurface. They were the same things he had believed – hoped – he was done with, but now as he laid there, he realized that he wasn't.
Soul pushed himself off the ground and noticed that the color scheme on the floor mirrored the curtains and ceiling, only in a checkered format. He looked around at the rest of his surroundings, trying to get a proper feel of the place. The lone lamp was barely bright enough for him to see properly, the dim glow more eerie than illuminating, but he was still able to see enough to come to a clear consensus.
He was completely alone, save for the inanimate objects around him; there were no other people in the room and, besides the music, it was silent. Even if he loved being alone, something about this type of alone didn't sit right with him.
This type of alone felt haunting.
It made him feel like no one in the world supported or liked him; it made him want to give up on life. It was horrible, and sickening, and his stomach turned inside out. He hadn't felt this way since leaving home, since the fight about fucking up his life he had with his father.
Or at least not since he became closer to Maka.
She was the first person he actually felt close to in a long time. Wes used to hold that position before abandoning Soul to attend the academy, leaving him to fend for himself against their parents. Maka was the only person he was really able to call his best friend, the only one who supported him, and she was the only person he wanted now.
Standing up completely, he searched for a way out of this twisted dream of his and back to reality. He wasn't alone there. He still had Maka and she was better than nothing, much better.
He placed his hand on the curtain as he walked along the wall, feeling for a door behind one of them, but came up short once he reached the end - or what he believed to be the end. Fear continued to manifest within him, expanding to every bone and fiber in his body, but the image of Maka appeared once again. He saw her scrunched-up face as she smiled at him; the way her eyes crinkled in the corners letting him know it was genuine. That was what motivated him now.
But before he was able to do anything more, he heard someone clapping. The sound reverberated in the room even though there was nothing for it to bounce off of. Soul turned in a circle, his eyes searching for the source until a voice called out to him.
"Oh, Soul, my boy. Wonderful of you to join me."
Soul remained searching for the new arrival. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Guess you don't recognize me, huh? We never did officially meet with one another before now. Always stuck as the voice in the back of your head, whispering dark secrets when you were but a small boy." A pause. "Do you remember now?"
Soul was confused. The voice was gravelly yet sensual at the same time – like an old time jazz musician's that he had listened to when he was younger. Surely it was the same type of voice that was remember able. Yet nothing was coming to mind.
A chill crept up Soul's spine when it spoke again.
"Hm, I can see you don't remember." The voice came from directly behind him this time. "Let me introduce myself then. You may call me Oni. I'm the embodiment of your self-doubt and fears. The same voice from your nightmares. Do you remember now?"
It took him a while to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, but he remembered who this Oni person was now. As the memories came back, the voice became more familiar. Oni was the same person who haunted his dreams growing up, reminding him of his failed attempts, encouraging him to quit every single time Soul had even a single doubt about something.
Soul regretted turning around to put a face with the voice immediately. The person wasn't a person at all; it was a short red demon with long pointy ears and a nose that was far too big for his face. Silver horns protruded from its head, bending in an odd angle, and thick black lines circled its eyes, connecting together in the center like a mask.
Soul gave the little demon his most menacing sneer. "Yeah, I do." His fear became a small wisp of smoke seeing as he was taller than his captor. "Now can you tell me where the fuck I am?"
"We're in the confines of your mind." The demon let out a small whistle as he looked around. "This room didn't used to exist here. It was created once you were attacked by that cyborg in the ruins… that partner of yours is a right little bitch for taking you in there."
"Don't fucking talk about Maka that way! She isn't a bitch and I went in the ruins of my own free will, got it? That attack wasn't her fault!"
The demon clicked his tongue. "I can see Maka's a touchy subject with you," he mumbled under his breath. "Then whose fault was it, Soulie?"
"Mine, alright!? I should have told her it was a stupid idea," he whispered the last part to himself. He addressed the demon again after a few moments. "How do I get out of here?"
"It's simple really." The grin on Oni's face was not comforting as he waited for Soul to respond.
Soul hesitated. "Really? What is it, then?"
"First, I need to do one thing."
What happened next caught Soul completely off-guard.
Oni thrusted his hand out towards Soul's heart – it was so fast he didn't have time to react, but the pain was excruciating. It felt like his body was on fire as the invisible flames engulfed him, and all he was able to do was scream out in anguish. He wanted it to be over as soon as it started. He wanted the pain to leave and – more importantly – he wanted out of this horrible nightmare. It was far worse than the ones he'd had before. This one felt like there was no escape, like he was trapped for all eternity, destined to suffer over and over again.
And just like that, the nightmare was over.
When he felt underneath him, he didn't feel the cold tiled floor from the nightmare, but sheets on top of a bed. As he became more aware of his surroundings, he heard the faint beeping of a machine and was only vaguely aware that he wasn't alone in the room. He knew the person's identity instantly as warmth spread across his chest, and his heart stopped for a millisecond when they placed their hand in his. Gently, he stroked his thumb across their hand.
"Soul?" came Maka's voice.
The dim lighting of the hospital room and the small crackle of a fire welcomed him as he looked toward his partner.
"Hey." his voice sounded hoarse from lack of usage. "Did I scare you?" he added, upon seeing the worried look on her face.
"How are you feeling?" Nygus asked upon entering the room right that minute, preventing Maka from answering his question.
"Uh, I have a small headache and there's a pain across my chest, but other than that, I feel fine."
"Well, I'm glad to see you're awake, at least. Poor Maka here was scared to death. Even refused to find a new partner under Lord Death's orders. Claimed you were going to be fine." Nygus gave Maka a small, knowing smile, and Soul caught the light pink tinge as it brushed against her cheeks.
"That's only because I know you, and I know you're a fighter. You wouldn't leave me," Maka quickly said, but the way she looked away told him another story.
Soul gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry. No matter what happens to me, I won't leave you." Maka peeked at him behind the few strands of hair that had fallen in front of her face and gave him a weak smile. "How long was I out for?"
"About a week. Stein operated on you last Thursday. Can't really say he did a good job, though," Nygus said. She grabbed the clipboard hanging off the edge of his bed and walked around to check his monitors.
It was Maka who asked the question for him. "What do you mean?"
Nygus folded her arms across her chest, pressing the clipboard between her. "He'll have a pretty nasty scar there that won't ever fully heal. Stein's work this time around was a little sloppy. He didn't clean or stitch it up properly."
"Bastard," Maka whispered under her breath so that only Soul heard. He eyed his partner a little skeptically; her usage of such vulgar language was rare. It made him smile internally because that meant all the time they spent together was having an affect on her.
"I'll leave you two alone now." Nygus placed the clipboard back in its spot and smiled at the pair before leaving the room.
Not soon after Nygus left, Maka spoke. "Soul, I'm sorry…"
She fiddled with the hem of her skirt as she averted her eyes from his. "For… taking you down to the ruins with me. It – it was completely idiotic, and I shouldn't have done it. I'm sorry."
He reached out to grab her arm, and waited for her to look at him again. "Maka, it isn't your fault. I'm just as much to blame here. I knew we shouldn't have gone in there, but we did. What's done is done." Maka still didn't seem to believe him, though. Soul sighed. "I know it's hard, but promise me you'll try to forget the ruins and stop blaming yourself, okay?"
Maka chewed on her bottom lip as she contemplated her answer before giving a small nod. "I'll try."
However, in the weeks and months that passed by, she didn't.
Maka blamed herself in private, in the moments when she thought no one was watching, but he still noticed. The pair had been partners long enough that he was able to read her like one of the aerodynamic textbooks she poured over every night - one of the reasons behind the nickname 'wing nuts' he had for her. Her eyes periodically clouded over as she tormented herself about the past slowly became a red flag for him.
Even when they resonated before a mission, the ruins haunted the pair; they had embedded themselves as one of her new memories.
"Are you okay?" she asked before one of their missions one day.
Soul swallowed, too afraid to think about what he might see, but nodded nonetheless. Maka gave him a reassuring smile before turning to her helmet and placing it on her head as Soul mimicked her. Clutching the arm rests of his seat, he braced himself for the impact of her memories; every important detail in her life that she held onto dearly was going to be there.
The first memory he saw was the same. A smaller version of Maka sitting in her father's lap as he read to her from a fairy tale book, the same ash blonde pigtails she still wore on her head. Maka claimed she hated the man, but the fact that this memory remained transfixed in her heart said more about his partner than she was willing to admit. Spirit may have cheated on his wife and hurt his daughter in the process, but Maka still harbored strong feelings for him.
The next one was the day she received her acceptance letter to the academy, followed by the day her and Soul met for the first time, the day they chose their ship, and the first time they flew together. Each one was wonderful; the familiar warmth filled his abdomen and a burst of joy surrounded his heart. Those were the same memories he was fond of as well.
But the last one quickly killed the feeling.
They were in the ruins again. Maka was examining the carvings along the wall and Soul heard the cyborg proclaiming its blood was black. He watched as his memory self cried out to Maka, flinging his body out protectively so he that it was him who took the hit while she stood back in shock. His blood sprayed out in front of him, flying to coat the floor underneath, the creature in front of him as well as Maka, before he dropped down to his knees and hit the ground face first. Maka followed suit, landing in the pool of blood – his blood – that was flowing along the ground.
The memory wasn't finished, but he forced himself out if it anyway; he was far too afraid of what he was going to witness next. Panting and wild-eyed, Soul stared outside the windshield, watching other students walking in front of the ship completely unaware of what had happened to him. How were they be so calm and carefree when he just witnessed his almost death again? Why did Maka consider that to be a fond memory? There was nothing happy about your partner being murdered, unless…
"Soul?" her voice was small, but he still heard the fear etched within it and slowly turning toward her only confirmed this. Maka's brows were knitted together and her eyes were sorrowful. He probably looked like a maniac, but who could blame him? "Are you okay?"
He gulped. "Yeah."
He contemplated his answer for a few seconds as he tried to decide if telling her what he had seen was the best option or not. But what good was going to come out of it if he did? Maka was not the type of person who let something go so easily, especially not when she so clearly blamed herself. All Soul was able to do was help her get over it, but he knew it was hopeless. The ruins were something she needed to get over on her own.
"It was nothing." He started messing with the controls on the panel like he had done so many times before. "Let's get this mission over with, yeah?"
"Yeah," she smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.
Why did the ruins have to haunt the two of them so much and for different reasons? Why hadn't he stopped her from going in there? Then none of this would have happened.
He wished Maka was his only concern – but worse were his ever growing problems when it came to the darkness. His fears from the past were slowly resurfacing with each reoccurring nightmare, and he didn't know how to control them anymore. They weren't staying within his mind, and were having an effect on his real life as well.
"Soul?" came Maka's voice.
He looked around the room but wasn't able to find her. He did hear her voice right? Or was it Oni performing a trick on him?
"I know it's you, Oni. Stop playing your fucking mind games."
"Tsk, tsk, Soul." Oni walked out from a dark corner of the room. "You should know by now it isn't me."
"How the fuck am I supposed to know that?" he growled. "You're always-"
"Soul, it isn't a mind game."
Turning around, Soul watched as Maka emerged from her hiding place wearing an outfit he had never seen before. Her hair was bunched up at the side, a grey headband with a silver feather placed on top that matched her corset. The black lines along the corset gave her a more womanly shape, while the translucent feathers showed off a bit of skin. The skirt of her outfit was pure black as it matched the ceiling of the room. It hit just above her knee with feathers adorning the bottom, and a pair of grey boots.
She was stunning… but there was something off about her.
"Maka? Is that really you?"
"Don't you recognize me, Soul?" She took a step closer. "It's me."
"No," he whispered as he stepped back. "You're not Maka… there-there's something different, but I don't…"
"What do you mean?"
He searched her eyes, trying to find any part Maka he was able to recognize. She had the same smile, same emerald eyes, but there was something wrong. He wasn't able to put his finger on it.
He found his answer after a few minutes.
This Maka's eyes were different; the life in them was gone, replaced with a blank, expressionless stare that brought chills up his spine. He looked toward Oni, and the familiar mischievous grin was plastered on his face.
"You're behind this, aren't you? What the fuck did you do to Maka?" he practically yelled.
"Now, Soul," it was Maka who spoke, "why would you think that?" The green of her eyes darkened as her features turned more sinister. His heart pounded in his chest as she slowly walked toward him. "Oni has nothing to do with this, Soul. This is the real me, and honestly, I've been wanting to tell you this from the moment I first saw you."
He blinked. "Wh-what?"
"You are a worthless, pathetic excuse for a human being. I wish I was never paired off with you. Actually, I could have done a much better job on my own," her voice became more high pitched as she continued. "I should just dump your ass. Maybe I'll go to Lord Death and request a partner change. I wish you had died in the ruins. I wish whatever that creature was had killed you because then I wouldn't be stuck with your lazy ass. You are pitiful, Soul!"
"Why are you doing this?! This isn't you! This is his doing!" Soul pointed toward Oni who was snickering behind his clawed hand.
"The only person to blame is you. If you had never been born, then your family wouldn't be so embarrassed to show their faces in the music industry. They could still appear at functions and be considered royalty, but no, you had to go and fuck it all up with aerodynamics."
"Wes only joined Spartoi because you ingrained the thought into his brain, Soul. If you never said anything, he would have become a world renowned violinist, playing in front of millions of people instead of stuck in a job he hates and worrying about his little brother all the time. You know Wes worries if you're going to fall off the train again, right? Go back to your old habits, you know the ones I'm talking about. Admit it, Soul, life would have been better if you'd never existed."
Maka was so close; he felt her hot breath hit his skin. "How do you know that? How do you know any of that?"
"It doesn't matter. What does matter is the bigger truth here. You're a disgrace, Soul; a disgrace to the academy, to your family, and to everyone who has ever known you. Why don't you save us the trouble and end it?"
Soul woke up with a start.
He was gripping his moist bed sheets as his heart pounded against his chest, his breath sporadic. It was the first time he had seen Maka in the room; in the past, it was always Wes who had called him a disgrace to the family, and it made the truth of the words a little less painful. However, tonight it was Maka; when the words came from her, his chest twisted, and his mind began to believe them. When she told him he should kill himself, he felt the evil thoughts from his childhood creeping forward, the same fears he thought were buried slowly coming back to life to haunt him.
Throwing the sheets off his body, Soul climbed out, and pushed the curtains back to make sure no one was awake before quietly making his way outside of the cabin. He reached up to stretch his back muscles, and felt the crisp cool air as it hit his scorching skin.
He made his way to the bathrooms after a few minutes to splash water on his face. As he did so, he avoided his reflection, terrified of what he'd see there if he did. Would he see the monster of his past self or a new monster? Once back in bed, however, Soul found it difficult to sleep - more like he didn't want to sleep in case he had another nightmare or one of his old night terrors.
With his sleep schedule fucked up, his thoughts all over the place, and his fears coming to life in the daytime, he found it harder to interact with the others. He began withdrawing into himself, avoiding everyone, including Maka. He even found himself holding back when they resonated, too afraid his past failures were going to make an appearance.
As he held it all in, it gradually became worse. There were days when he skipped meals because he felt sick to his stomach; even the mere thought of food made him want to throw up, and his headaches were terrible. No amount of medicine was able to cure him. He felt like he was living through hell and knew it was only a matter of time before his carefully constructed house was burned down in the fire.
She knew something was different about Soul.
Something about the accident had changed him, but she wasn't able to figure out what it was exactly. His behavior wasn't normal, at least not normal for Soul; he wasn't the same shy boy as before. Before the attack, he had started to venture out of his comfort zone, becoming friends with those in their cabin and even initiating more conversations with those around them.
However, after he left the hospital, he gradually closed in on himself again. His memories felt forced when they resonated, like he was trying to force them back or even refusing to go through soul drifting with her. It hurt her to think that he was hiding things from her and trying to prevent their minds from becoming one. Whoever this new Soul was, she didn't like him.
Even his calm, laid back personality was gone.
A few months after the ruins incident, Maka was sitting in their cabin talking to Tsubaki and Black Star about their recent mission when Soul arrived. He didn't pay them any mind as he walked in the direction of his bed, giving off the vibe that he wasn't in the mood to talk. However, while Maka and Tsubaki were aware of his body cues, Black Star was not.
"Fuck, man, you look like shit," Black Star commented.
Maka noticed Soul flinch at their friends' words, but it went unnoticed by the blue haired ninja.
"Maybe ya need to get laid or something. Those dashing looks of yours not working, huh? Guess not seeing as I, the great Black Star am around to attrac-"
"Can you shut the fuck up for five minutes!?" Soul yelled, causing the whole room to go silent.
Everyone's eyes darted between Star and Soul, waiting to see which one would attack first, but Maka's were trained on her partner. His fingers trembled as they curled inward in a gesture similar to strangling someone, his body was far more tense than normal, and his chest slowly rose and fell as he took calming breaths. His face was pale and gaunt due to his lack of food for the past few weeks, and if Maka said wasn't worried about him, she'd be lying.
He swallowed and looked away. "Sorry. I didn't… just forget I said anything."
As he turned toward his bed, Maka pushed herself off hers. "Soul-"
"Not now, Maka. I want to be alone for a while."
"Maka!" he yelled as he turned toward her. "I said I wanna be the fuck alone, okay?"
His words were vicious and tore her apart, but she stood her ground and just nodded. "Yeah, okay."
Something crossed his eyes as he stared at her, but he didn't act on as he walked back in the direction of his bed. Maka watched as he kept his back facing her and the others as he straightening out his sheets before climbing on top and shutting the curtains. She wasn't able to grasp the reason behind his sudden outburst toward her and Star. Up until that point, Soul had been like a mountain; completely unwavering at any insult Black Star threw at him, but that day he was different. It was a side of Soul she had never seen before.
There was something wrong, and she was determined to find out what.
Not that determination mattered, really.
No matter how much she tried to pry it out of him, he refused to tell her anything; not even offering him the last cupcake worked like it had done in the past. Soul had become a distant and cold person, and she hated it. He was probably just having one of his moments, she knew that, but she still wanted to help him.
All her attempts to reach out and comfort him were met with resistance and snark and it hurt. Each time he spit out one of those pesky little comments of his or shrug her hand off his shoulder, Maka's heart broke a little more. He was her best friend, and she only wanted to help. Why wasn't he able to see that?
"Tsu, I don't know what to do. I've tried talking to him about it, but he ignores me. I've never seen him act this way. At least, not since we first met him. He's different and I think it has something to do with the ruins. If I didn't force him to go in there, everything would be okay, but I did so it isn't." Maka told her friend on one of the odd days that they had the room to themselves.
Tsubaki soothingly pushed Maka's hair behind her ears, and her voice was gentle when she spoke. "First, you didn't force him into the ruins. Even though a majority of the time he follows what you say, Soul is still the one making his own decisions. Second, maybe he isn't ready to talk about it right now. You need to be patient and let Soul be the one who's ready to talk. Let him come to you. He doesn't like when people pester him, you should know that better than anyone."
Maka sighed. "I know, but… I still worry about him. What if it was you and Black Star that this happened to? You'd be a worry wart about Star just like I am right now."
The dark haired girl nodded and smiled. "It's only natural to worry about your boyfriend like this..." The way she said boyfriend was a tad hesitant, and when Maka looked at Tsubaki, even her smile questioned if she was right.
But it was wrong. They were partners, and would always only be partners.
"Soul isn't my boyfriend." Maka looked away, feeling the heat as it slowly rose along her cheeks. "H-he doesn't even like me like that, okay?"
She heard Tsubaki hum playfully, probably thinking of teasing her poor friend even more. When Maka turned slightly to look at her, there was a knowing glint in her friend's eyes that made the tips of Maka's ears burn.
Was it really that obvious she liked Soul in that way?
He made her heart thump in her chest like no other boy was able to, and she did catch herself staring at him on occasion while they were alone. It was those exact moments she found herself studying his every move. She loved the way he ran his hand through his hair, making it more of a tousled mess than normal, or the way his crimson eyes became distant as his thoughts wandered away from her, making it impossible for her to read him. Soul was a truly mesmerizing human being, and she may have fallen in love with him over the months they had known each other, but that didn't mean anything… did it?
As she watched her friend, she heard the chatter of the other students drifting through the cracks as they passed the cabin outside. Maka's gut feeling told her it was indeed obvious; that her falling in love with her partner did mean something, and Tsubaki was not an idiot.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and braced herself for the inevitable confession. "Please don't tell him, or anyone else for that matter. I'd rather it not ruin our partnership."
"I knew it!" Tsubaki squealed and bounced lightly on the bed, clapping her hands over her mouth to hide the grin that was undoubtedly there.
"But I'm definitely not one of those silly little fangirls of his! I have some control over my emotions… and my hormones!"
Tsubaki completely ignored Maka's declaration as she asked, "how long have you liked him?"
"Honestly, it hasn't been that long. I only realized it after the… well after the accident, actually." Maka suddenly became interested in a piece of loose string on the bed sheet underneath them. "But really, Tsu, Soul doesn't see me in that way and he never will. I'll always be the feisty little blonde whose chest size is too small and is far too violent for any decent man to fall in love with."
Tsubaki gently laid a hand on her friend's shoulder, prompting her to look back up. "I wouldn't be too sure about that, Maka. Soul does like you, and even if you don't see it now, I'm sure you will eventually. It'll just take a little more time than usual."
Tsubaki's smile was so gentle and full of hope that Maka trusted her words even more, though deep down in her heart she knew they weren't true.
Giving a cordial nod, she returned Tsu's smile. "I guess we'll see what happens in the future."
However, the next day only proved how right she was in her belief that they weren't meant to be together.
Lord Death had summoned her and Soul into his office in order to give them their assigned locations once they graduated in a few weeks. Her stomach fluttered with scared jitters as her anticipation slowly rose, a wave of nausea washing over her. Maka wasn't entirely sure if she actually wanted to receive her assignment. What if Lord Death had decided to place her somewhere else? Soul was a sure win for Spartoi since he had his brother to resonate with, but she didn't have anyone… save for her father, but she specifically requested they not be set up as partners once she graduated.
So there stood Soul and Maka side by side, seventeen years old and awaiting their judgment. She felt him blindly reaching out to her before his fingers brushed against hers like she had a sixth sense - or it was possible that her body was aware of the cues from his own. Her anticipation lessened as she held his hand and the wave of nausea died down. As his thumb rubbed soothing circles on the back of her hand, she felt her breathing start to ease up a bit and a comfortable calm washed over her.
Things always seemed to be more pleasant when Soul was around, but she was never able to figure out why – well, she didn't want to admit to herself why.
"Good day, good to see you two again. How are things?" Lord Death asked a few minutes later when he entered his office.
"We're great," Maka answered for the both of them.
"Great to hear. I'm guessing you two are here for your assigned posts once you two graduate, right?" Maka nodded. "Right. Just give me one minute to pull up your files."
Lord Death's huge gloved hands shifted through the files on top of his desk, picking one up occasionally to read the name on top, before finding theirs with a triumphant 'ah', before opening it up. Maka and Soul remained still, the anticipation rising as they stepped closer to each other with each passing second that they had to wait. Soul gently squeezed her hand and Maka glanced over to see his small, reassuring smile; he had the same fear as her. She returned it before her attention was pulled back to Lord Death when he gave a disdainful tsk.
"It appears you two are not in the same Aerodynamics division." Maka's heart dropped. Fear reared its ugly head back into her mind as Soul released her hand.
There was no way that was right. Maka and Soul were perfect together; they were one of the best, most accomplished teams in the academy.
"What do you mean we're separated?" she hissed. "Soul and I are one of the best if not the best teams here. At least that's what you, Stein, Marie, and all the other teachers have told us this entire time!" Maka cried out, her voice cracking on a few syllables.
But she didn't care. She had to let her feelings be known now. Lord Death couldn't separate them, especially not during a time when Soul needed her the most.
"I'm sorry, Maka, but Wes specifically asked to be partnered with Soul and considering family members have a higher resonance compatibility than most couples, I chose to accept it. You'll be partnering with someone who is just as good for you as he is, don't worry."
"No! How could you - how could you think I would be better off with someone else? Soul and I have been resonating since the beginning and-"
"Maka, you should have known that the people we assign as your partner are not guaranteed to remain so. I'm sure we told you that in your acceptance letter. Plus, like I had said before, Wes and Soul have a higher compatibility rate than you and him; their combat statistics are also greater so I had to decide which team was more efficient."
Lord Death tried to reason with her, but it fell upon deaf ears. Maka's only thoughts were those of her being away from Soul; away from the person who had come to mean so much to her over the past year, and she couldn't imagine her life without him in it.
Maka opened her mouth to try and defend her case, but was cut off by Soul. "We understand, Lord Death. Maka and I will do our best no matter where we're stationed." Her mouth was agape as she slowly turned to her partner, but he refused to look at her. "We'll just be leaving now. Thank you."
He gave a small bow when Lord Death bid them goodbye and dragged Maka out of the room by her arm; his grip was firm but gentle so as not to leave a bruise there later. Why was he so calm about this? Did he not want to be her partner once they were done with their training?
Did she do something wrong?...
That's right. The ruins incident. If she hadn't suggested they go in there, he wouldn't have the scar across his chest, and he wouldn't have changed. Soul was probably calm about them not being partners because that meant he had the chance to forget about her, and pretend like she never existed.
That hurt her more than anything. She wanted to cry, or push him away from her to yell at him. It wasn't fair. None of it was fair. Why did she have to fuck everything up?
Soul never let go as he continued leading her away from the main building, not even when they passed their cabin. Instead, he led her to the back where there weren't as many people. He released her arm, and walked a couple more steps before running his hands through his hair and dropping down to his knees.
She didn't do anything. Really, she didn't know what to do except watch in astonishment as he broke down right in front of her. His shoulders shook, and she heard the distinctive sound of him crying as her heart clenched at the sight of him so downtrodden and defeated. Standing there frozen in her spot, she was unsure of what to do or how to comfort him. This was what she had wanted these last few months, right? The opportunity to care for him and show him he wasn't going through this alone, so why wasn't she doing anything? There had to be something for her to do, but what?
He was still hunched over, his face cradled in his hands as he stared at his legs, when she decided what to do. Maka walked over and knelt down beside him. She wrapped her arm around him protectively, an act similar to what a mother did for her distraught child, and that was his trigger.
Soul turned to bury himself in her chest, his head burrowing as far as it could go on her stomach, and he wrapped his arms around her middle, pulling her closer to him. Maka fell to her knees and cradled his head in her arms him – there was no possible way for them to get closer. She felt his anguish as his arms tightened around her, refusing to let her go no matter what, and the clenching in her chest tightened, making her feel like she was suffocating. She felt the dampness through her corset, but she didn't say anything - now wasn't the time to complain about ruined clothes.
Her partner needed her, now more than ever, and she was not going to leave him until he was ready.
No one came to look for them as the time passed by. The people who did pass by never bothered to ask if they needed help, and, honestly, Maka didn't want them to. She loved that they left them alone because she knew Soul was the type of person who didn't want anyone else to know he was having a mental breakdown. He was a private person, and the fact that he waited to have it now, in front of her, meant more than anything. All of her fears of him not wanting to be her partner anymore and hating her disappeared. He did need her, and Tsubaki was right.
She only needed to give him time before he opened up to her again.
Maka moved her hands from the back of his head to the side of his face, pulling it back gently so that she was staring into his eyes. They were a darker red than normal from his crying, and there were two water stains travelling down either of his cheeks. But the tears were gone, and only the small occasional hiccup was left behind. His tiredness was evident in both his eyes and his body.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
The edges of his mouth pulled up slightly as he let out a weak sigh. "I'm sorry, I just-" Soul looked down, contemplating his next words. "It became too much. I don't want to leave you."
That wasn't the only reason behind his breakdown, but she didn't pry any further.
"I don't want to leave you, either, but we have to. There's nothing we can do about it." She paused. "But you know the contract only lasts six years, so maybe I can come back. Then we can be partners again."
Realization flashed in his eyes, and he smiled his first genuine smile in months. "You would really want to still be my partner after what you just saw?"
"Oh, you mean to tell me you aren't a blubbering idiot all the time? I would have never guessed," she teased.
He lightly hit her arm which only made her giggle. They stayed there for a while longer before untangling themselves from each other, and standing up to go back to their cabin, determined to spend their last few weeks together.
Soul didn't expect for graduation to come so soon. One minute, he was having a mental breakdown in front of Maka, and the next he was earning his wings. He unfastened the gold buttons on his white jacket, the required attire for all male graduates, and searched the crowd for Maka. She had been with him barely five minutes ago, but once Lord Death announced the students were allowed to leave, she was swept along with everyone as they pushed their way toward their family.
"There you are, little brother," Wes said as he clapped Soul hard on the back. Soul stumbled a bit as he lost his balance, but managed to straighten himself out.
"The fuck, Wes! I almost fell over. Can't you warn me a little before doing that shit?" Soul grumbled.
"But if I did that, you would have known I was coming."
"That's the point."
"If the point is to take out all the fun, then I don't think I like that point."
"You're such a little shit, ya know?"
"It happens when I have you as a brother." Wes looked around at the crowd. "So where's your girlfriend?"
"She's not my girlfriend," Soul interjected, but his brother didn't pay him any mind.
"I have a present for her."
"Why the fuck would you give her a present? You barely even know her."
"It's a thank you gift for tolerating my insufferable little brother for the last year." Wes gave his brother one of his sickeningly charming smiles that made Soul roll his eyes.
"I lost her."
Sighing, Wes said, "I told you not to lose people when you came here. I hope her parents aren't mad at you."
Soul stared at his brother as he tried to figure what he meant. After realizing, he said, "I meant I lost her in the fucking crowd, not on a damn mission."
"Oh, well that changes everything! What does she look like? I'll help you look."
Soul scratched the back of his neck. "She's, uh, a short little thing—"
"I thought she was a person not a thing. They let you soul drift with an object? Wow, they've really changed since I was here."
"A short little person with blonde pigtails," he growled. "If you see her, she'll be wearing a pair of black goggles on her head."
After a couple minutes, Wes asked, "is that her?"
Soul looked in the direction his older brother pointed, and sure enough, there she was, reluctantly accepting a hug from her overbearing father. "Yeah, that's her." The grin that spread across his face was automatic as him and Wes made their way over to the pair.
Her face was relieved upon seeing the Evans brother's. "Hey, Soul!"
Spirit released his daughter to give Soul his usual glare, but today it appeared he wasn't going to resort to name calling. "Well, congratulations, Soul. I'm glad to see you graduated. I hope you'll do a great job with Spartoi." His eyes moved from Soul to Wes. "Hello, Wes. Haven't seen you in a while. Hope everything's going good."
"Yep. Missions been good so far, sir." Wes turned to Maka and extended his hand. "Since my brother forgot all of his manners while he was here, I'll have to introduce myself. Wes Evans at your service."
Maka took Wes' hand and introduced herself. As she did so, Soul noted that her eyes kept darting between him and Wes as she tried to determine how it was possible that they were brothers. He didn't blame her. At first glance, they didn't look similar in the slightest. Wes' hair was light blonde rather than white, his eyes were blue rather than red, and his skin was almost as pale as Maka's. The only physical feature that was similar was their bone structure along with their builds, but everything else didn't exactly scream 'brothers' to other people.
"I have something for you, Maka," Wes said as he removed his backpack and started fiddling around inside. Soul saw the surprise etched over her face and smiled. "Here it is."
Wes handed her a small stained glass window that had three flowers, each their own significant color, surrounded by light purple shards of glass. Maka took the gift delicately in her hands, rubbing a finger over the glass and admiring it. She even raised it up to see how well the light hit it. The stained glass window was really well done; Soul thought it might even be his brother's best work yet.
"Thank you," Maka breathed out. "It's really gorgeous."
"You're very welcome. Consider it a gift for handling my brother for the last year." Wes reached over to ruffle his brother's hair, which earned him a menacing glare in the process.
"Don't mention it. He may appear big and bad, but Soul's anything but." Maka gave him one of her sweet smiles that made his heart melt and his stomach do somersaults.
After a while, Wes turned his attention back to Spirit. "I actually wanted to talk to you about something, Spirit. It has to do with the job Spartoi is working on right now."
"Ah, yes, of course." Spirit and Wes walked away from Soul and Maka, speaking in hushed tones as they went.
"So I guess this'll be the last time we see each other until I transfer." Maka's voice was bittersweet when she spoke.
He wasn't ready to say goodbye and neither was she.
"Fuck, I'm not really that great with goodbyes."
"Neither am I," she smiled. "Let's not say goodbye, then. That sounds too formal and official. How about a small bye? I think that fits us better than anything."
"Heh, yeah. I think it does, too. But first…" Soul stepped forward, opening his arms for her to fall into, and they hugged.
Maka's body felt warm pressed against his own, and her heart beat gently against his chest as he laid his head on top of hers. Secretly, he wished they were able to stay like that forever, wrapped up in each other's arms, but he knew it was impossible; they each had their own duties to attend to. Burying his face in her hair, he smelled the sweet scent of vanilla shampoo, and attempted to etch the memory in his mind; he was determined to never forget that comforting smell. "By the way, stop blaming yourself for the scar," he whispered.
"Yes, you do. I'm at fault too here. I should have told you the ruins were a bad idea." He leaned back to look her in the eyes. "Just stop beating yourself up about it, okay? And don't say you haven't because I know you have. It isn't healthy."
"Neither is keeping your feelings inside and waiting for them to explode," she retorted.
He sighed. "I'll try to stop if you do, deal?"
They remained hugging, until Wes and Spirit returned, and they broke apart. Maka bit her bottom lip as a pink tinge appeared on her cheeks that made Soul smile.
"I'll see you later then."
She looked back up, and returned his smile. "Yeah. See you later. Bye."