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A Sound Soul

By Rebornfromash

Fantasy / Adventure

Part I

Sometimes it happens, and he panics, because during day he's the one in control of his body, of his thoughts and actions.

But at night he's paralyzed by fear, assaulted with visions of things he cannot bear.

At night, he's only a child hiding from the monsters in his head. He can't laugh them away, and he can't turn the lights on to dispel the shadows; he can only wait silently for it to end, throat swollen shut and eyes opened wide.

Tomorrow he has a concert.

He needs to rest. It'll be a big day. Scouts will be there, his whole family will be there to listen to the piece he's been composing for the last four months.

He needs to have a peaceful night.

But of course, he doesn't.

His dreams are horrifying, filled with the disappointed faces of all those he loves most, filled with scoffing college scouts and discordant notes. He runs, always runs from it all, but always ends up right back where he started, alone on the harsh stage, his only company the one, dark beast that betrayed him, the piano he adores and loathes so deeply.

His scream of frustration is drowned out by the laughter of bystanders, and he digs his nails into his palms hard enough to draw blood. His mother always told him that if he were to get caught in a nightmare, he need only pinch himself.

Well, his hands are shredded and his pride is crushed, and the laughter only grows louder the more he bleeds. All he can think is failure failure I'm a fucking failure please get me out of here.

And this time, it actually stops.

He isn't on that stage anymore.

But he isn't in his bed, either.

He's staring up at the cloudless, inky night sky, surrounded by the scent of freshly cut grass and wet earth. He figures that maybe he ought to feel damp, but he doesn't really feel anything at all. The only thing that seems to alert him to the breeze as it blows is the way the leaves flutter in the trees above him, rustling forlornly, struggling to cling to their home, but knowing that someday soon they will be swept away.

It makes him uncomfortable to think about it.

Now that he's really focused on those leaves though, he realizes that this perspective is all wrong for a reason he can't quite place. They seem too far away, like what he imagines salamanders would see when he and his brother would capture them in jars, their vision warped and twisted like carnival glass. He's certain the whole world must have looked like a dream to them back then. The little black ones always squirmed so much, like the sudden realization that things were out of their control shot electricity into their tiny, feeble little limbs. He would always free them with a sick feeling in his heart.

The idea that this is what they saw leaves him feeling unsettled and ashamed and scared for reasons he can't even consciously grasp. For once, he truly wishes he were home.

An owl calls out into the metallic air, and though logically he remembers that it's still summer, he feels chilled to the core. He's had troubles with sleepwalking before, but this is the first time he's awoken in an unfamiliar place. If he were still a child, he might cry for the fear and injustice of it all.

But he isn't a kid anymore, and his parents aren't here to help him out of this mess. It's his twisted mind that got him here, and therefore his responsibility.

That concert is going to be hell on earth.

He groans at the thought of it, wincing internally as the memories of the nightmare return to him abruptly, making his vision swim and his fingers tingle unpleasantly.

Maybe he should just lay here until it's all over, spare everyone the embarrassment and shame of it-

He stubbornly slams his eyes shut and tries to slow his breathing and heart rate enough to fall asleep, when a slightly agitated female voice interrupts,

"What are you doing?"

Well, he had been dozing, but now he's having a fucking heart attack.

"Holy shhhhhh-oot lady, don't you know it's rude to be a creep?!"

He remembers his manners at the strangest times...

His eyes snap open, and something intangible seems to be holding him down as he tries to scramble to his feet and away from the voice, so he just flails pathetically and tries to scoot away. The owner of the voice - now that he actually takes a good look - really strikes him as non-threatening, just curious and seemingly immensely amused by his struggles. Her wide green eyes are luminescent in the moonlight, skin nearly translucent and glowing. He hears the leaves rustle, but can't help but notice that not a single hair of hers seems out of place, hanging long and smooth over her strong shoulders. She's clad only in a black sports bra and shorts, feet bare and unsettlingly clean, her red toenail polish immaculately neat. He almost makes a snide comment about her appearance, but then he realizes he's only in his ridiculous boxers with the hearts all over them and nothing else, so he just remains silent, attempting once more to sit up, and failing, yet again.

She giggles airily, and he huffs, flopping back down. She just scoffs at him and offers a hand, which he begrudgingly takes, and is jolted with a strange sort of warm, static-y feeling where her hand meets with his own. The moment he is sitting upright, she releases her grip on him, sputtering apologies at him for reasons he can't really comprehend, her face tinted a petal pink, and he's a little frustrated by the strange sense of loss that hits him with the absence of her touch.

She's weird.

She's like him.

After a few pregnant, awkward moments of silence, she speaks again.

"I'm Maka."

Pretty name for a pretty girl, he thinks.

Her pupils shrink and her eyes turn acidic, narrowing, as if she had heard his thought and did not appreciate it at all.

Maybe she had heard it.

He swallows hard.

"Soul."

"Huh?"

"My name. That's my name, Soul."

The corner of her lips twitch and her eyes soften once more, and he lets out a breath he wasn't aware he had been holding.

"Ironic, all things considered."

Ironic? How's that..?

She continues, paying no mind to the dumbfounded look he's sure he's currently sporting, "I like it. Nice to meet you Soul."

She says it so formally, as if they haven't just found each other half-naked in an unfamiliar forest after a jaunt with their broken minds.

Then again, maybe she had just gone for a late night jog?

With no shoes, or weapon, and her hair down…?

"How'd you get here? You ah... you sleepwalk too? I mean, I've had some shitty experiences, but this one is just too freaky. I usually wake up in my kitchen or something with like... raw cookie dough shoved in my face ..."

She looks at him for a moment, head cocked to the side, as if she were sizing him up, just mulling over his words, then promptly bursts into a fit of laughter.

She sounds like an echo of his nightmare, of the mockery, and it makes him burn.

"Ahhhhhh ahahaha my god I'm sorry I just- are you new here? You must be new, that explains it! No wonder I haven't seen you around!"

She's still chuckling darkly, wiping away tears of mirth from her eyes, as if the fact that he is painfully lost is just the funniest fucking thing to ever occur.

It pisses him off a little.

"What, is this fucking Neverland? Do I get to be inaugurated as a lost boy?! Stop laughing and tell me where the fuck I am!"

Her expression grows solemn, a small, sad smile gracing her infuriatingly pretty lips.

"You're in Limbo."

…..

What?

He stares at her, waiting for her to crack up again, to tell him he's just in the woods behind the school and he should stop being so serious, he'll get premature wrinkles to go with that stupid white hair of his!

She remains silent, averting her eyes and fidgeting under his expectant gaze.

The idea that she may be serious is absolutely absurd.

Right?

He can feel the panic bubbling up in his throat, stamps it down and starts talking a mile a minute, bordering on hysterical.

"You're real funny, shortstack, but I gotta get home, I got shit to do tomorrow, so if you could just point me in the right dir-"

She shakes her head vigorously, "I'm serious. Welcome to the in between, buddy. Enjoy your stay, however long it ends up being..."

…..

This can't be happening.

She's got one fucked up sense of humour, this one.

Maybe in any other situation he'd dig it, but not right now, not when he's scared and confused and lost in a fucking forest in his underwear.

"Fuck off."

"Well, you're gonna have to learn it sooner or later, just trying to be helpful."

"I'm… I'm fucking dead?"

She makes a face that scrunches up her nose, and he tries not to notice that it's kind of adorable. She makes it far easier for him when she snorts, "Oh man, I really hope not, I'm preeeetty sure necrophilia is seriously frowned upo-"

He's going to have a heart attack. If he's not already dead, which is infuriatingly unclear at the moment.

"This isn't a joke, damnit! Did I die in my sleep?! That's so fucking lame oh my god I'm seventeen what seventeen year old dies in their sleep this is such BULLSH-"

She cuts him off abruptly, "Woahhhoho woah, slow down now, you're not dead! Well, not yet at least. This isn't that kinda limbo. This is a Limbo of consciousness, where all souls go when they become too weak for their bodies and are rejected by them."

Huh-wuh now? Rejected? So his body just decided his soul wasn't worthy anymore?

That's just fucking rude.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, it's weird, right? Mind, body, and soul are all different things, separate from each other, but things get a little twisted when one isn't in harmony with the others, and eventually everything just kinda falls apart, ya know? So, in theory, you could die if your body never accepts your soul again. But don't dwell on that too much! It doesn't help, trust me. Kiddo tells me that there's one guy who's been stuck here since like the twelfth century just because he was so offended that his body rejected him and he never went back. But I'm getting off topic. I haven't really been here long enough to know all the details, so maybe I should bring you to Kid. He's pretty much the expert on this kinda stuff, being the ruler of this realm and all."

It's all so ridiculously overwhelming, he almost wishes he were back in that nightmare. The only consolation is the fact that this lunatic is cute.

He can't process all the information she's given him at once, so he focuses on the simplest thing she told him and rolls with it.

"Your ruler is named Kid? The hell kinda name is that?"

Maka's face screws up in a sympathetic grimace, and he's a bit concerned about what he's done wrong when out of nowhere he hears a loud "BANG," feels something akin to being hit in the solar plexus with a wrecking ball, and falls flat on his back once more. He hears Maka fretting over him, poking at his chest and tugging at his arms as he tries not to vomit out his apparently non-existent spleen, and in the near distance he can hear a high pitched voice giggling madly.

When the ringing in his ears finally ceases, and Maka stops poking at him, and the giggling dies down, he hears the voice that had been giggling say happily,

"Don't go talking shit about our Kiddo, newbie! We'll fuck you up!"

Excellent.

Amazing.

He's in dream purgatory for five fucking minutes and he's already made an enemy of an insane five year old, who apparently has super strength and a horrendous potty mouth.

Maka huffs, slightly amused, "Patti, he's new, don't be so hard on him."

"Awwwwww, c'mon Maka, I'm just messin with him! 'Sides, I need the target practice, and your buddy here's hard to miss."

A short haired blonde with the face of a doll and the body of a Victoria's Secret model suddenly has her knees lodged under his ribcage, hands smacked on his cheeks and nose almost touching his. It feels like she's made of lead, and he coughs and splutters while she pulls at his face and lips, inspecting his demonic teeth in a way that makes him feel extremely uncomfortable and more than slightly violated. She studies him curiously for a moment while he's struck dumb, then snaps her fingers, the almost visibly tangible 'ah-ha!' lightbulb flickering on above her head. He sort of flails his arms around a bit, trying to silently beg Maka to get this loony toon out of his face.

Maka just grins.

The one with the weight of a sumo wrestler kneeling on his chest points a finger gun at his forehead, and he's actually legitimately worried for his wellbeing.

Even more so than before, when he figured out that his body had essentially told his soul to fuck off.

"Youuuuuuu look like a boy from a game me and sissy used to play! Well, we didn't actually play it... but we've seen people play it, and it looks totally awesome! I betcha Kiddo has some Soul Objects around here, all we really need is a red hankie and a bigass hammer!"

And just as quickly as she had arrived, she's gone, shouting for her 'Kiddo' and giggling madly. Soul is left dazed, chest sore and phantom lungs wheezing slightly. When his vision focuses, he decides that maybe taking a moment to survey his surroundings for the first time since he's awoken might be a wise thing to do.

He gets to his feet once more, noting that even though he's been shoved to the dirt, none of the filth actually clings to him, a small consolation in this clusterfuck of a situation. Apparently only souls can touch one another; the elements seem irrelevant.

At least he knows he won't get soaked in the storm he can smell coming.

He takes a deep breath, reveling in the glorious fact that he can still smell, at the very least (though that's a rather strange thing that he makes a note to question Maka about later).

That little concern is promptly shoved away by a far larger one.

What he had thought to be a dense forest of trees surrounding him is actually made up of giant blades of grass; clover, dandelion, and mushrooms interspersed with stray crabgrass and other things he can't identify. He approaches a single blade and is struck dumb with the realization that it's twice his height. He reaches out, but his hand passes through it completely, distorting and warping like an image on a television with poor reception, and though he understands that he cannot touch material objects, he can feel the way it disrupts something within him, like part of him is erased from existence momentarily.

It's terrifying, but interesting.

He wonders what would happen if he were attempt to walk through it entirely.

"Weird, huh? Things like that seem to throw off our wavelength, though I'm not sure why. I think that the more connected to this place you are, the more tangible you become. Like Kid and everyone back at the house. We should go talk to Kid, actually, he'll be able to explain better than me, 'cause I'm pretty new here too."

She offers him a hand, looking only mildly uncomfortable at the prospect of it. He takes it; she's a grounding presence, something more solid and real, which he very much needs now. That warm static spreads its way up his arm and into his chest, but it's pleasant and calming, like that familiar hum of vibrant colours can be felt, even with closed eyes. It jolts through him with more intensity the more he thinks of it, and when he looks at Maka, her lips are curved upwards slightly, eyes shining in stark contrast to the nightscape around them.

She must be a mind reader.

She tugs him along behind her like an enthusiastic child, and he lets her; he likes the way she glows when she's like this. It bothers him a bit that he's already getting kind of attached to this weirdo, but in all fairness, she's shown him kindness and truth in this realm that his body banished him to, and how could he not try his best to hold onto that? It's something he's never been gifted with from anyone but his brother, and it's reassuring.

He likes it.

Stumbling behind her silently is a bit lame though, so he tries to think of something to ask her, something important. He's certainly got a lot of questions about this place, and she seems willing to help and admit when she doesn't have all the answers. He should ask her something deep. Something about how she got here?

"So uh, where you from?"

Nailed it.

She doesn't miss a beat.

"Death City. Place is a dustbowl, but it's home."

The warm static that had filled his chest spreads down to his toes, and he thinks that maybe this is what elation feels like. He tries not to make it apparent how pleased he is to know that even in the real world, she's still somewhere closeby. The fingers that aren't curled around hers pluck at a loose thread unraveling at the hemline of his boxers.

"Same here. You go to the DC high?" he asks, heart in his throat. "Never seen you around."

A little shock of chill runs through him from where their hands are linked. He bites back a surprised little yelp. She doesn't mention it.

"My father pays for me to go to the private school."

He waits for her to continue, but she doesn't, and when he looks at her, her eyes are cold, lips thin and reluctant. He doesn't ask her anything else as they walk.

Though he does kind of regret refusing to attend said private school all those years ago, even at his parents' insistence that he should.

He can feel a sort of shift in the atmosphere that tells him they're almost to their destination, the air humming with the presence of more forgotten souls. He hears soft murmuring all around them, and when he looks, he sees far more souls than he had hoped to see. Children roughhouse with each other, disguising it as a game, but he can see it in their eyes. They're angry.

Angry that they cannot touch their world, and angry that their parents, the ones who were meant to protect them at all costs, but are nowhere to be found. Mommy and daddy let the monsters take their children, and recruit them. Those souls have a strange, dark aura that curls around them possessively, and Soul feels bitter disappointment rise in the back of his throat.

They probably could have grown up to be good people.

He can't help but feel the strange sort of finality of it all while he watches the way those young, rage filled souls torment each other. He hopes they can find their way home, but it seems unlikely.

That warmth that had spread to his toes begins to freeze over so fast it gives him what feels like vertigo and frostbite all wrapped in one, and Maka gives him a disapproving look. He doesn't know what he's done to piss her off, but he'd really like to fix it, cause he feels pretty off-kilter and cold. He thinks if his lungs existed for real here, he might be able to see his breath. Is she thinking about what they spoke about before? Maybe her dad is a prick and she's mad Soul brought him up indirectly?

She gives his arm a tug.

"Stop thinking so hard. I'm mad because you've already given up."

"Jeeeezuz woman, how do you do that?! Get out of my head. It's fucking weird."

He sees her lip quirk upward slightly. "Chill out, Frosty. It's not like I'm trying to do it, it just- happens. Though usually it takes way longer for me to get to know someone enough to be able to read them."

The static thaws, and he smirks at her, a bit smug, but far more bashful. His toes tingle, and she looks away abruptly, flustered but warm all the same. She's so tangible, so real, he can almost forget where they are and what has happened to them when he's around her.

Almost.

They walk a long while in silence, taking in the moonlight bathed dreamscape, learning of the home of the lost. It hurts Soul to pay too much attention to those who have been condemned to this strange place, so he tries to focus on the feeling that holding onto this strange, wonderful soul brings him.

It seems that hours pass before they are greeted, but eventually a long haired woman in a paisley bra and a pair of bellbottoms interrupts their journey.

Her name is Liz, Maka tells him.

All she says is, "Hey newbie, don't say jack about Kiddo's hair okay? It's a real sensitive thing."

His hair?

They've all been abandoned by their bodies, and the so-called all-knowing 'Kiddo' is concerned about his fucking hair?

This is hilarious.

And so disconcerting.

Soul looks to Maka for confirmation that this absurdity is actually true, and she just nods, eyes serious and lips tight. He can't help but admire the irony of the situation. He bets that they aren't even visible to human bodies, if even in the same realm as them, but to be honest, the idea that one of these poor lost souls still gives a damn about something as superficial as their hair...

Well. It's actually kind of reassuring, now that he thinks about it. Superficiality is the only way he can recognize humanity. At least he knows he isn't dead this way.

When they arrive at their destination, Maka grips his hand tighter and smiles surreptitiously, like she's letting him in on a secret that is so wonderful, so gloriously perfect that he simply must do it justice. It's a lot of pressure, but he doesn't mind much.

Not yet at least.

They stand at the base of a hollowed, gigantic, aggressive-looking tree, its branches angular and bark unnaturally gnarled. They wait for a good long while before he can sense any movement. When he does, though, he knows that the girl made of lead is around, and he nearly crushes the spirit manifestation of Maka's hand in his nervous grip until she squeezes his back. Maybe it's for the sake of reassurance, or maybe it is a semi-subtle way to tell him to chill the fuck out, but either way, he does appreciate it.

Sort of.

A voice rings out, somewhat regal sounding and a tad self important.

"Greetings. I hear from Liz and Patti that you're a new arrival."

Oh good god, they weren't joking.

That was one fucked up dye job.

Maka sends a spike of icy distortion through him as a not so subtle warning to keep his damn mouth shut.

But he just can't.

He nudges Maka with his shoulder and whispers, "Is he for fuckin' real? Looks like he pissed off a family of paint rollers…"

She crushes his hand and he can just barely bite back a grunt of pain. She hisses, "Shut up, he's the only one who knows enough about this place. We don't have a chance without his help, so can it."

He snorts, but complies. This place is beautiful, but the air hums with melancholy and madness, and it feels uncomfortably familiar. He doesn't even need to breathe, but he feels like he's being suffocated.

He wants out as soon as possible.

So he shuts his mouth and opens his ears. He almost does a little bow, but Maka thankfully stops him before he can make a giant ass of himself. Still, Kid smirks knowingly. It borders on condescendingand Soul might think to be offended, but it's impossible to take this dude all that seriously. He's in black parachute pants and a white vest, a golden "8" hanging around his neck. It's like a bad Halloween costume and it's hilarious.

"I presume you are here for orientation?"

"What is this, high school?" Soul scoffs.

Maka stomps on one of his feet, and this time he does let out a grunt. Fat-ankled little twerp…

"My ankles are perfect the way they are, you jerk."

"For fuck's sake, get out of my heaaad, it's not cool to invade people's private thoughts, dweeb."

"Well think a little quieter next time and we won't have this problem," she snarks, and he can see the hint of a satisfied smirk pulling at her lips, the jerk. He's about to retort (with something witty, totally) when Kid interrupts.

"Wait."

He and Maka halt their bickering and look to Kid, who seems both delighted and quite intrigued by their little spat, which irritates Soul to no end.

Until he speaks once more, that is. "Oh, now I see why Maka brought you to me."

Now Soul is just fucking confused. He really wishes this asshole wasn't so vague, it would save a lot of time. Which apparently is important, if ever he wants to get out of here.

Kid just smiles politely.

"We'll get to that. In the meantime, welcome to our home. We sincerely hope you won't have to stay too long. It seems that Maka here may be in need of your assistance. You're aware of where you are and how you got here I take it?"

Soul sulks just a little, far too used to the vaguely patronizing tone that rings in Kid's voice.

"Yeah, nerdlord over here filled me in on that much at least. Other than that though, I don't know shit. Care to enlighten me?"

"Well, there is a way to escape from here. Though it's rarely ever accomplished alone. A soul's strength can be less without a companion in certain cases. This is where you come in. You and your 'nerdlord' seem to have the Bond."

Maka grins, whispering to herself excitedly "I knew it!" and the static goes wild. It's a strange feeling, wriggling in his phantom veins and buzzing in his chest. The foreign feeling in his heart area and all the cryptic talk of a so-called 'Bond' leaves even more confused than he had been a moment ago. Sarcasm is always the best way to deal with discomfort and fear of the unknown, right?

"The wha now? Maka, you didn't tell me you know Daniel Craig, I'm hurt! Are you holding out on me?"

She glares at him, unamused.

"Not that Bond, idiot. A bond between our souls! That's our ticket out of here!"

Now the static almost burns with fervor, and he wants to run, run far away from her and this place, but the hopeful look in her bright eyes traps him where he stands.

It's their way out.

He turns away from her searing gaze, tightens his grip on her hand, and looks at Kid, steeling himself for what he is positive will be one hell of an experience.

"So, how does this work?"

Kid smiles at them.

"You already feel it, I am sure. There's an energy exchange between you. It's an extremely rare thing to be able to accomplish. Liz and Patti's familial bond and history make them more compatible with each other, and my longstanding friendship with both of them establishes a bond between the three of us. We knew each other in the waking world though, which makes creating a Bond more feasible. You two just met?"

Soul's voice is caught in his throat, thinking of the implications of such a connection. No wonder she's always reading his mind.

It's terrifying.

Maka speaks up when Soul does not.

"I found him out near the Death Room and brought him to you."

The Death Room? But she said they weren't dead...

She smirks and whispers, "Well, we aren't yet."

Good God, he is so royally fucked.

"I'll explain later," she mutters.

Wonderful. He can't wait to hear how else the world has decided to fuck him over. Tickled pink over this whole situation, really.

Kid interrupts them, clearing his throat obnoxiously several times until both Soul and Maka are looking at him again. "If I may continue?"

What a pretentious asshole.

Soul just bites his tongue and nods.

"Excellent. My point is - the Bond that you two have is practically an anomaly. The fact that you can even tolerate standing so close, let alone touching, is incredible. Most use their Soul Wavelength to cause harm. You both seem to have found a harmony."

It all sounds very musical and romantic to Soul, and it makes him more than a little uncomfortable. He met this chick hardly an hour ago, he didn't sign up for this Bond shit. Sure he likes her well enough, but letting a stranger into his mind feels so raw, so intimate. He just wanted a solid night of sleep before his concert. Was that really so much to ask?

Maka sends him a little apologetic look and the static warms. Goddamnit, this girl was going to get him tangled up in so much shit. He wishes he were actually mad.

Liz and Patti each grab one of Kid's hands and grin, proud of the Bond they've forged between them. Soul sees the mutual respect and affection that they all have for each other, and a pang of jealousy strikes him hard, catching him off guard. He finds himself thinking that maybe having a connection like that with another soul would do him some good. The absolute disconnect he has with the outside world has caused him nothing but grief thus far in this short life he's lead.

Maka whispers, "Trust me."

And he thinks that maybe… maybe he should.

They all sit together for a while on the forest floor, and Kid tells them about something called Resonance - a bond so deep that it amplifies the souls of both those involved, practically merging them as one while multiplying their strength drastically. It sounds invasive to Soul; Resonance can only occur if you are willing to bare yourself entirely to the other person involved. All fears are known - and all desires. Every nightmare is shown in garish high definition, dripping and drooling and awful and embarrassing. He doesn't even tell his brother about those things, let alone some girl he just met.

And yet…

Maka explains to him what Kid had already explained to her. If a weaker soul (which in this case, would be people like himself and Maka) wishes to find their body once more, they first have to face some of their worst nightmares. In all honesty, it sounds like a low-budget video game plot to him. Some big, lame metaphor about overcoming obstacles in life. Fight the monster, win the battle, emerge the hero. Rinse and repeat for best results.

Except here he has to battle with his subconscious, which is far more terrifying than anything he knows of the waking world.

Ironic, especially when his penchant for sleeping to avoid his problems is taken into consideration.

"There is a way to find temporary hosts to inhabit, though inanimate Soul Objects are best to possess," Kid explains. "We call those golems. As a rule, we do not possess sentient beings. It never ends well for any parties involved."

His yellow eyes grow dull for a split second, and Soul thinks he might catch a glimpse of something akin to vulnerability? But before he can be sure, Kid blinks it away, clears his throat and adjusts his vest, apologising quietly and continuing his explanation.

"Soul Objects can only be created when a soul bonds with the object in question. For some it can be easier than others. Once you've become entirely intertwined with this realm it becomes somewhat irrelevant, but with any luck, you two won't need to know much about that." It doesn't make much sense to Soul, but Maka nods agreeably, so he just follows her lead and makes a note to ask her more about it later. There's a long lull in the conversation, and it seems like perhaps their lesson is done for the night, but then out of the blue, Kid sighs dramatically.

"Go ahead, just ask."

Ask? Ask what? He has too many questions to even keep track of, but at the moment his mind is pretty close to blank.

Patti just giggles.

"Youuuuuu wanna know about Kiddo's funny hair, dontcha?!"

Soul chokes on nothing and splutters. He had gotten used to it well enough, but now that Patti's brought it up again, he's curious.

Kid just grimaces.

"Oh yes, this was Patricia's doing. That was the last party we went to. Some ignoramus dosed the punch with LSD and my dear friend over here decided that my hair was the perfect canvas for her trip induced art project. How regrettable." He turns to Patti', a look of betrayal in his eyes. "And you didn't even bother to complete the job, you just left it an uneven atrocity!"

Liz sighs like she's heard this complaint 8000 times already, and Soul glances nervously over at Maka. She pats his hand, getting the message loud and clear. She interrupts Patti and Kid's bantering (which is a lot more like Kid wailing about permanent imperfection and Patti cackling madly at his despair than legitimate banter). Maka clears her throat and says, "I think it's time for us to rest. Soul's had a long night, and we both need to get a game plan set sooo, um. Thank you guys, for all for your help. See ya."

Soul just nods silently to the others, almost holding his hand out to offer handshakes, but remembers what was said about people using their Wavelengths as weapons and thinks better of it. His stomach sinks uncomfortably when he remembers the children he saw roughhousing earlier.

She drags him away from them all without another word, the hum of her Wavelength pleasantly thrumming through him and offering him silent reassurance. Wherever she leads, he is willing follow. He thinks he wouldn't mind if she even brought them to their mutual destruction.

At least they wouldn't be alone in their ruin.

The realization scares him.

She leads him to a mossy clearing, near a little stream, its surface an icy black. He can see his reflection clearly; the way the image ripples is hypnotic and eerily familiar.

His throat feels dry, constricted.

Are souls capable of getting thirsty? Is it even a possibility?

God, If he could just have a taste, just one tiny sip would be enough-

"I've got a place for you to sleep over here," Maka says, the sound of her voice snapping him out of his trance. When his eyes focus on her, he realizes she's directing him to a comfortable looking indentation in the moss. It's perfect.

But he's a bit disconcerted by the fact that it's only large enough for one.

"Wait, where are you gonna sleep? Do we even need to sleep? Shouldn't we stick together?"

She waves her hands in mock surrender, scoffing at his concern, and then walks back to him and shoves his chest with a warm palm. The gesture is charged with quiet affection that makes his skin buzz pleasantly. He clings to the warmth of her soul long after she is no longer touching him. The mere memory of it is strong enough to keep him cemented where he stands.

She speaks, amused and slightly worried, "I'm sleeping on a leaf a little ways down from here, so chill. You and I will be fine. We don't exactly need sleep… but, well - think of it like this. Our bodies become irrelevant, but our souls remember. They remember our appearances and habits. Maybe we don't need sleep, but we function much better with it than without. Does that answer your question?"

He's quiet for a moment. Then nods.

"Will you stay close?"

Maka looks confused, if only for a moment, but gathers her wits quickly, clearing her throat in a way that's almost theatrical.

"Ahem. Yeah, I'll stay close. You don't need to worry." She offers him a small smile.

Then he asks her, "Do we still dream here?"

Grimace.

"Unfortunately."

It feels like he took a phantom step at the top of the staircase and left his stomach to tumble back down to the bottom. He had really been hoping for some peace…

"Is not sleeping an option?" She walks towards him and he stumbles backwards; the empathy in her eyes is unfamiliar and frightening and wonderful all at once. He feels like a coward, but that's nothing new.

She frowns.

"You can try, but I wouldn't advise it. Like I said, we do much better with than without. It's up to you, but considering how we're connected now… Well. I'd prefer that you got some rest. It would help both of us."

He reluctantly agrees.

He feels like an absolutely lost little idiot, but…

"Don't go too far, alright? I don't feel like having to search all over for you when I wake up."

She nods, lips tight and eyes curiously guarded. The shift in her composure makes him squirm.

"I'm not going anywhere. Sleep well, Soul."

Maybe since she told him to, he actually will.

"You too Maka."

He feels something tugging at his limbs, like taut little stitches that are being tied too tight. He is not in control, he's just a puppet, the spider queen pulling his strings and making him dance.

He's always hated dancing. His old ballroom instructor from when he was six used to flick his elbows so hard if he let his posture drop. Now letting his posture slip isn't even an option.

He can feel the vibrations of his composition thrumming through the strings attached to him, like he's been tied to the heart of this wicked instrument that the queen created, a prison meant only for him, and the notes warble and shake his bones in the most unsettling ways.

He feels sick.

He pulls against the strings and a seam in his chest opens up, thousands of tiny red and black spiders crawling out and swallowing him up in blood and obsidian ink, whispering directions and reassurances in his ears, their tinny voices telling him not to worry. All he has to do is as he is told.

He does not scream.

He feels so helpless.

He feels so at home.

"We need to talk."

Well shit, that's never a good thing to hear from a girl.

"Oh calm down. We just need to figure out what our next move is."

He'd prefer to not move at all for a while, but whatever.

"Alright then nerdlord, tell me what your plan is, cause I haven't got shit."

She huffs irritably, but takes a large breath to prepare for what he assumes will be a big ass expositional speech that he won't understand a goddamn word of, and she'll have to break it down and write it in crayon for him. Or on a musical staff, whichever she prefers.

His assumption ends up being correct.

"So, my understanding of this whole thing is that we have to actively focus on a fear or nightmare of ours to conjure it up. Some people here have made the conscious decision to never face their fears, and so they just end up staying here for well… forever, I guess? I only have a vague understanding of how things work. I know Kid, Liz and Patti are all from like 1968, and they all decided to stay here instead of going back. I have an idea of why, since I can read people's souls fairly well, but they all seem to have a wall up around them… I'm sorry, that's off topic. I just…" her brow furrows, perplexed and melancholy, but she quickly rights herself. "Nevermind. The point is, if we don't make the conscious decision to face our nightmares, they may never show up here, but we'll never get back to our bodies. Our families will just think we're in some sort of coma. At some point our bodies will just give up on us. Then we won't have anything to go back to."

He feels cold in the blaring sunlight.

He reluctantly asks,"So, how are we supposed to defeat our nightmares?"

She shrugs, sheepish,"Your guess is as good as mine. I know time is warped here. Days can go by and it could only be an hour in the waking world, but if we avoid our fears for too long, eventually it'll just become a pattern, and we won't ever get back to our bodies. So I guess we should ah - start simple? I don't really understand how to defeat them though. That bit is a little fuzzy for me. I think that if we just try to fight them with our souls alone, nothing will happen. Or on the other hand we could be seriously harmed - I mean, they are creations of our own minds, right? Nothing can harm us the way we ourselves can."

The truth in her words shines in her haunted gaze, staring right through him before focusing on him again. Her eyes seem to strip him of his pretenses so easily, but she has the good grace not to mention what she sees beneath.

She continues, looking into his eyes as she speaks, "Anyway, Kid mentioned possessing a golem, those Soul Objects that can act as temporary bodies for us? Maybe we should work on figuring that out first. I mean, we can try to find one, but I think we can create them ourselves with enough energy too. I'm just not sure exactly… how."

Soul rubs at the back of his neck and pinches the bridge of his nose, wracking his brain for any sort of idea as to what they could use as a body to fight against their worst fears. He thinks back to the rare occasions he and Wes had been allowed into the sandbox to play with G.I. Joes and get dirt caked in their pristine nail-beds. He smiles at the thought.

"Got any abandoned toys around here?"

She looks thoughtful for a moment, then grins widely. She grabs him by the hand, pulls him to his feet (which he stumbles over dumbly), and tugs him back over by the stream. It looks so much clearer in the daytime…

"There was this reaping scythe somewhere around here. Maybe a farmer left it behind years ago? I couldn't move it myself, but maybe if we both use our soul wavelengths to possess it, we can use it as a weapon in battle!"

He stares at her incredulously.

"How the fuck are we supposed to fit both our souls into one golem? Wouldn't that cause a lot of issues?

"Resonance, idiot. And beyond that, only one of us would have to possess the golem, while the other would wield it, but it'd be good practice to possess one while in resonance first, just so we can help each other get the hang of it. Jeeze, didn't you listen to a word Kid said?"

"Honestly, I was just imagining him as Pepe le Pew hitting on my cat. I felt bad for poor Dina. She deserves better than that."

He's expecting her to scold him or shove him or something, but she just bursts into a fit of laughter, the sound of it musical and wrapping around him protectively. It makes him proud to be the one who brought something so beautiful out of her. He bites his lip to keep from laughing along with her; it's not cool to laugh at your own jokes.

"Y-you named your cat after the cat in Alice in Wonderland? Oh my god, the irony. And I dare you to call Kid that to his face!"

She pokes his ribs where he's ticklish, and then they're both laughing, giggling if he's honest, and it's so peaceful.

Then he feels this intense sensation of melting, warping, and his fingertips on her waist sink into her skin, her hands twisting their way into his chest, and they're not laughing anymore, they're screaming, panicking, trying so hard to disengage from each other, but they can't.

But… it reminds him of something. Something comfortable, nostalgic.

It reminds him of how he used to make those rainbow crayons as a child, watching them melt together in the shiny aluminum cupcake tins on the black asphalt. They'd form something far better than all the separate pieces before. He got scolded for breaking all of his crayons, but the end result was always worth the trouble.

With that thought, he stops panicking, and just lets himself meld with her, telling her that it's okay, everything is okay, because it is. It feels like it's okay…

It feels right.

Then he's flooded with insecurities that are not his own, a default mistrust of all people of his disposition, an intense fear of being abandoned-

And the wish for him to stay by her side.

Her voice sounds metallic and dumbstruck.

"I-I think this is Resonance."

He feels whole. The moment he thinks to do something, she moves for them both, he the thought and she the action. There is no time lapse, no disconnect. They are two who have become one.

He's embarrassed by the intimacy, surprised that she hasn't pulled away even after seeing into his mind so deeply, so incredibly hopeful that she won't ever want to pull away, because being one with her is the most comfortable he can ever remember being in his life. He's forgotten the stiff fabric of his performance suit, his too tight tie and too shined shoes. He's forgotten the ache in his knuckles that seemingly never leaves him be, and the pain in his spine from that awful practiced posture. He forgets the way his teeth feel demonic and dangerous in his mouth, forgets the constant disappointment of his family, instructors, peers, as he plays from his soul and is rejected. He just met this girl yesterday, and now their souls are one, and she's accepted him. She isn't family, she has no obligation to tolerate his sullenness and lurking insecurity and insanity and not so low-key self-hatred.

Her soul embraces his, and he realizes what a real home is.

He accepts her fully.

And yet…

He feels her overwhelming fear, her disbelief and confusion, feels her trying to disengage from the way they are joined, so he tries hard to calm himself, silently let her know that he's here for her, to help her, no matter what that means, because they need each other to get back. They are partners now.

He will not run away.

He feels her shuddery breath in his own chest, an attempt at calm.

"Okay… l-let's try t-to uh, find that scythe?"

It's the most she's ever fumbled over her words in front of him. She sounds so unsure, so he musters up all the courage he has and begins to walk, her limbs his and his limbs hers. After being so disconnected from others for so long, becoming one with her is incredibly validating. Maybe he's not as broken as he had thought.

"No, you're a little broken, but so are the rest of us. It's okay."

He kicks at the dirt childishly, but it misplaces nothing, not even a scuff mark left behind. It only frustrates him more. Not to mention the scarlet polish covering their toes, courtesy of Maka. How scandalous.

He huffs, "Why is it that you can pick my brain and find such specific shit but I can only get vague emotions from you? How the hell is that fair?"

"Well… I've always been very perceptive. I think that our bond amplifies existing skills. How do you communicate best with others?"

His looming concert comes to mind unbidden, and he can feel her grasp at the thought.

"Ohhhh, maybe then you have to think of it in terms of music, rather than words. I've always loved books, read hundreds, used to read the dictionary for fun," she admits sheepishly. "Maybe that's why it's easier for me to pick words out of your head."

It's all so abstract and impossible, but for some reason she can verbalize it in a way that truly makes sense to him.

In the key of G, he faintly hears a few fluttering notes, a bright melody laced with minor undertones, and he's hopeful.

A dangerous thing indeed, but he's just too selfish to give it up. Such is the nature of these things.


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