She leads him back through the room that morphs into blood and ink, but she makes no mention of it, though he can tell she sees it all just as well as he can. She leads him to the elevator, and somehow his reflection bothers him far less when she is beside him in that shiny, polished surface.
She leads him upward, first, which is unnerving and exhilarating. She presses the button for the fifty-sixth floor, and smiles secretively even though he is the only one around to see it.
"Harvey told me to come up here when I found someone worth taking."
Soul jokes, "Sure been talkin' to Harvey a lot, huh? You sure he didn't want you to take him?"
"Eh, got some brotherly vibes from him. And he nicknamed me Squirt, which is weird as all hell and actually, you know, I'm not gonna read into it too much, nevermind."
Soul snorts at that, allowing himself to fall into a minor fit of chortles before regaining his composure, and she grins, her soul radiating amusement and just the tiniest bit of embarrassment. He quietly revels in the implication that her feelings toward him are possibly a bit more than platonic, her warmth comfortable and her melody surrounding him.
When the doors to the elevator slip open once more though, he's rendered absolutely silent, that silly little ding seeming to reverberate through the air now as he takes a look into the room.
In the middle of it there seems to be some sort of glass prism, and the dome shaped room's walls are completely covered in spots of light, constellations twisting and curling like they're alive. He pulls her closely beside him as he takes his first step into the universe, and for some reason, he doesn't feel so insignificant, but he's fairly sure that it's because she's with him. She brings him purpose that he never would have had before.
And maybe it's a little unhealthy to rely on another person so heavily, especially one who he only met hardly a day ago, but he's never dared to rely on anyone but himself, not even his brother really, and he's giddy with the desire to trust in her.
So he decides that he does.
"Hey," he catches her attention with that single syllable, and it takes him a moment to gather his wits again to actually tell her what he meant to. "I never really miss the sun when night comes around, ya know? Which is kinda ironic, considering how shitty night time has treated me so far in life. But being awake for it... I like that. When everything gets so quiet, all the cars off the roads and the cities shut down. You can just hear people existing. I think it's ah… well. It's pretty cool I guess. Daytime is harsh."
She squeezes his hand, her shoulder flush against his arm as she stares up into their disconnected sky.
"Makes sense," she murmurs, "but I think there's a kind of beauty in the harshness of day. I guess it's the honesty of it? You can't hide in the day the way you can in the night."
"You're braver than me. But that's no news to me."
She pinches his elbow with the hand that isn't clasped with his own, showing her frustration with him.
"You underestimate yourself too much. You gotta cut it out, or I'll whoop your ass buddy."
He knows she totally could too, which only makes him more certain of her strength and bravery. But then he thinks of the first part of her statement, and it takes him by surprise for some reason. He's always thought he overestimated his abilities, his character, thought he was better than he actually is and paid dearly for it, his currency used in fulfilling that debt all confidence and self-assurance he ever had, which wasn't much to begin with. A costly thing. He hasn't got much left to give, but it seems that Maka has an abundance to share with him. He's frightened by the faith she's placed in him.
"I'm just preparing you so you're not disappointed later. I've disappointed enough people, I don't really feel like adding you to that list. And," he tries to shift the tone to something more lighthearted," I definitely don't feel like getting my ass kicked." She doesn't take the bait, instead turning her intense gaze to him and a way that makes his skin prickle.
"You won't disappoint me."
The words are like a punch to the solar plexus.
He can't have her believe that. It'll only hurt her more when he fails her.
"Don't be so sur-" She stops him, a hand clapped over his mouth, and his first instinct is to lick her palm, but he refrains, waiting for her to say what she has to.
"You won't. You know how I know?"
No, but he's interested.
She uncovers his mouth so he can reply, staring expectantly.
"Do tell, oh wise one."
"Alright," she says, shifting her hand so her palm rests on his temple. He doesn't flinch. "I've seen into your mind. Not a lot, but enough. And you, Soul, are so much stronger than you think."
Nothing she's said to him up to this point has hurt quite as much as this, because she's wrong, she's never wrong but she's so wrong about this, and he can already see it, the way he will fail her, and he hates it.
But he swallows the feeling down quickly, jokes, "Golly gee Maka, you're gonna make me blush here."
She huffs, exasperated, "Don't be such a smartass, I'm being serious!"
He can't help but smile at how flustered she gets so easily, her reluctant way of telling him something heartfelt all the more endearing.
"So am I, if there was more light in here you'd be able to see it, bet my face looks like I got scarlet fever."
"Aw fuck off. Here I was trying to be sentimental and you just mess it all up. Typical man."
"Hey, my dick isn't what makes me emotionally stunted okay, that one's all on me, my buddy down there has nothing to do with it."
"Sounds like you're full of shit."
"Sounds like you're a little jaded, who broke your heart?"
Wrong thing to say.
Her hand slips from his. He can hardly hear her when she says it, as if she's only really talking to herself, "My heart isn't the one that matters."
And he doesn't know what to say to that, because of course her heart matters, her emotions matter, her state of mind matters goddamnit, but he's too fucking emotionally stunted for that kind of honesty, so he just stands beside her silently, his fingers cautiously pressing against the inside of her wrist, asking her permission to offer some sort of comfort, however meager it may be.
He can feel her muscles tense, like she might pull away, but she doesn't. She takes his hand and pulls him back toward the elevator. He groans dramatically, and she huffs out a quiet chuckle. The sound of it makes him feel lighter. If he has to suffer to bring forth such a lovely thing from her, he doesn't much mind.
They don't speak on their voyage downward, but rather than making the time seem to slow down, their comfortable silence it seems to make the ride far too short. He would have liked more time just with her, more time without the others, but he knows that she wants him to try, and he will, if only for her.
The doors open, and she leads him through those gunmetal and giraffe print rooms, leads him to the room where all of the Reapers have gathered, and her hand in his makes it so, so much easier. He thinks that maybe this way, he will be okay. Words won't escape him. She is an infinite fountain of energy and knowledge, and with her by his side, maybe he will find a way to speak properly without an instrument.
His throat seals shut when they begin down one of the staircases to the common room where they had first entered the home. He takes a moment to really look at the carpet over the trapdoor, that Rorschach test, and he sees a demon. He's going to be sick.
Maka halts their steps.
"I'm right here."
She is his courage and strength.
They make their way to the end of the stairs, and are greeted warmly by all.
A girl with short, bubblegum pink hair is one of the first to approach him of the group, and Maka, his lifeline, abandons him with a little wink, off to speak with the woman with the petunia tattoo. It takes all his self restraint not to trot after her like a lost puppy, cause that'd be lame, and he's really doing his best not to be so lame, honestly he is.
"How'd you get in here Q-tip? Someone mistake you for a demon and try to perform an exorcism? That's rough buddy."
The sarcasm comes to him second nature. The thought that his mother night be horrified thrills him. He hates pretending to be polite, and he decides that if he's going to try to make new friends, he might as well be honest about how much of a prick he can be. So he scoffs at the girl, "Like you can talk, cotton candy. Was your role model a highlighter?"
She pays absolutely no mind to his snark, staring at him expectantly, turquoise eyes piercing and entirely too observant. He looks instead up at the glowing ceiling, moving to shove his hands in his pockets, awkwardly realizing he has none.
"Nice try buddy, but I know dodging when I see it. You want me to tell you my story first? Would that make you feel better demonboy?"
"Be my guest, but stop calling me that shit."
"Oh c'mon dude, lighten up, I bet you get more pussy than I do, even if you look like a villain in folklore tales, and that's really saying something cause I've got game."
A dark haired girl in a Catholic school uniform standing just a few feet away goes rigid, and he thinks he sees smoke coming out of her ears, but maybe he's just hallucinating again. That must be Bubblegum's woman. No shortage of irony in this place, huh?
It's pretty damn funny and a little flattering though - in a weird way - that she'd think he gets any action whatsoever. He's virginal as virgins get.
"Somehow I highly doubt I've got anything on your lady slaying skills..?" He trails off, unsure if she ever introduced herself or not and a little too embarrassed to ask her outright. Luckily, she's quick on the uptake.
"Kim. Ya know it's funny you should say that Soul, 'cause my killer charisma and good looks are part of why I ended up here. Some dudebro scumbags at school found out I like ladies and that all the pretty ladies liked me too. Cowardly fuckheads ambushed me after class and beat the hell out of me. I think someone threw a rock at my head or some shit, probably, and tadaaaa, coma. Here I am. I would have gone back just so I could sue the fuck out of the people those stupid bigoted hicks, but then I met that hothead over there and fell for her hard. Took me a while to actually say that to her. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure she thought I hated her for a while… anywho, when I finally pulled my head out of my ass and fessed up it was awesome. I didn't want to go back, and she couldn't, got herself into too much trouble back in the real world, so we stayed here instead. Everything just worked itself out. Who knew such shitty situations could make such awesome things happen?"
Her story is fucking horrific if you ask him. Getting beaten half to death by a group of her peers for loving whoever she loves? His parents never spoke to him about that, but Wes had told him that when it comes to love, the shape and form don't matter at all. It meant so much to Soul in so many ways, and he never forgot those words.
It's only the soul that matters.
So, he supposes that she's right, in a way. If she found happiness in this place in a way she wouldn't find it in another, then maybe she was fortunate in some twisted, cruel way.
"I guess you're right."
"Of course I am! That'll be twenty bucks."
"Pfff I'm just fucking with you dude. But keep it in mind. Hey Jackie! C'mere and meet the demon spawn, I bet he can help you learn how to control that thing you do when you summon the flames of hell!"
He has to bite back his amusement, trying his best to look mildly disgruntled with the shitty nicknaming, but it's difficult. He makes no further comment as the 'hothead' named Jackie storms over, face literally flaming, holyfuckingshit. He thought it was all an elaborate joke, a metaphor, something, but not literal. He's struck dumb when Kim places a hand on one of Jackie's flaming cheeks, putting out the fire easily with her touch and remaining unscathed.
Jackie still doesn't look all too happy though. "Kim, are you ever going to let me live that down?"
"Awwww come onnnn babe, I know you went to a Catholic school and all, but you also burned that school down, sooooo why don't you just chill."
Jackie looks like she wants to punch someone, fists clenched tight and shaking at her sides, but he sees how Kim's expression softens from amusement to sympathy, and when she slips her fingers into Jackie's, the flame is snuffed out. Her ears are still smoking, and her cheeks are bright red, but she looks significantly calmer than before. Soul can't help but relate; it looks just how he feels when Maka is around him.
When he takes into consideration that Jackie and Kim are in fact a couple, he blushes at the implications of his reactions to Maka.
"What's with you dude, thinkin' about your totally dreamy girlfriend over there?"
Goddamnit, can everyone tell he's caught a case of the feelings?
He tries to brush it off."Oh fuck off Kim, she's not my girlfriend. "We met like - yesterday."
"You guys can resonate though, and you blush like a schoolgirl whenever you're thinking about her. It's kind of hilariously adorable, if not just a little pathetic."
"Wha -" he chokes on air, chokes on just how easily this chick saw through him," is this witchcraft?!"
"Tch, it's called being perceptive. But dude, I know you guys have basically merged before and all that, but if you ever get out of this hole and get back to the real world, make sure you take her on a real nice date. Just cause you're soulmates and all doesn't mean you get off that easy, you better court the hell out of her. Buy her nice things and shit. Kiss her in the rain, I dunno, anything, but you better do something."
He tries again, but it's weak, "I told you, she's not my-"
Kim interrupts immediately, cocking an eyebrow incredulously, "Listen frosted flake, she's totally into you and you're totally into her so get the fuck over your teen angst and remember what I just told you 'cause it's gonna get you laid someday."
She gives him a look that says his only option is to agree. Jackie doesn't even argue, she just nods, a little smile on her face, dark eyes glazed over like she's in another place. Soul doesn't wanna know where, but he can assume.
"Good. Now come and mingle, Beast Boy, everyones been waiting. You can tell me your story later, when you're ready."
That time he catches the affectionate little ring in her voice, and he feels a bit better.
He's never gonna be able to keep up with all the nicknames though, good lord.
"I had a d-dream about ah, um… I dreamed I killed my mother, and i-it scared me so much that I uh, well I guess it sent me here."
The kid with hair like deranged cotton candy twiddles their thumbs, eyes downcast and shoulders hunched. Soul feels bad for wondering what their gender is, but he doesn't make any mention of it; only the soul that matters, remember, and this soul is telling something very personal, so he instead focuses on their story, like any decent human being should, goddamnit.
A boy with garish blue hair whistles lowly and says,"Damn, Crona, dude. That's fucked up."
And Soul absolutely agrees, that is way, way fucked up, but he knows better than to actually say that shit. Apparently he's not the only one with that thought, because the first woman Maka had spoken to with the petunia tattoo who is currently perched beside him on his chair scolds him, gritting through her impressively straight teeth, "Blake don't be rude, it takes a lot of courage be so open about something so personal."
Blake scoffs at her, but Soul doesn't miss the hint of shame that flits through Blake's eyes. It seems that Maka catches it as well. He can see her in his peripheral vision, staring intently at Blake, her eyes searching and curious.
"Oh cmon Tsu, I'm just being honest! 'Sides, who the fuck am I to judge, some little punk fucking knocked me out with a golf club. I mean, that's super fucking lame. Gods don't go out that way." Tsubaki sighs and flicks his ear, but it's a fond gesture, so simple yet so intimate that Soul feels as if he's stolen a moment that he was never meant to witness.
He's incredibly grateful for the interruption when Kid rolls his golden, ice tinted eyes dramatically, his tone somehow sounding bored and resigned when he sighs, "Could you please refrain from referring to yourself as a god? It crosses the line into sacrilege. And try to pick one story to stick to, your variations are getting more and more predictable. A golf club? Really Blake? You're getting rusty."
"Ohhh fuck off Kid," Blake retorts, his chest puffing up like an agitated chicken, "like you give a single flying fuck."
Kid shrugs, "I may not personally be offended, but I am annoyed, and that's more than enough reason for me to tell you to cut the shit."
It's like some deranged sitcom, Soul can't help but get pulled in. Maka watches intently alongside him, her eyes flickering back and forth between the two bickering boys. She squints at Blake, like maybe she's trying to figure out if she's seen him in a movie or something ridiculous. He doesn't miss the amusement he feels in her soul when Blake claps both his hands to his cheeks, a mock-expression of surprise on his face as he crows, "Oh my goodness gracious, guys, did I hallucinate or did the almighty Kiddo just cuss me out? Is this real life?!"
Some dude with shaggy brown hair that's comically spiked on each side of his head pulls himself from the background purely for the sake of interrupting, "Well technically no, seeing as this is an entirely different realm from the one we were born into, but I assume that's not what you were referring to."
Blake makes it perfectly clear that the response was unwelcome, his voice absolutely drenched in sarcasm when he deadpans, "No Ox, it wasn't, but thank you for that fascinating input, really. So fucking interesting."
Soul feels the urge to laugh, or speak up, but he stifles both, just as he always does, and Maka nudges him like she knows what he's done, knows that he's shut himself up again. He can tell that she doesn't approve at all of his way of dealing with things, but her expression is somehow encouraging, and he thinks he might as well try to actually be a part of the conversation.
Even if he makes an ass of himself, it's not like it's the end of the world or anything.
He shakes off the incredibly irrational thoughts that try to creep their way into his mind, instead trying to ease the tension between the quarreling idiots by changing the subject.
"Oi, Ox. How'd you end up here?"
Ox laughs a little sheepishly, fingers lacing in front of him, and the drastic shift in his demeanor almost gives Soul whiplash. Ox looks awkward as hell, and for some reason it makes Soul feel a little better, even though it's selfish. He feels a bit less alone the more that everyone talks, showing their true colours.
"Bah, well, I was in this really amazing library in New York, you know that massive one with a few different levels? Well I was scouring the shelves in the top floor for books on ways to help awaken someone from a coma. I found a few that seemed to have some real promise, actually, and I was just heading back to the hospital, but of course on the way back down, the elevator cable snapped or something absurd, et viola. It was like a cosmic joke."
Shitty way to go, but Soul guesses it could be worse.
"Harsh dude. Who were you trying to wake up?"
Ox's expression drops from mild amusement to intense guilt immediately. Soul feels the way the air thickens, almost crackling, charged.
The heavy hearted boy points to Harvey, but Harvey just shrugs, says again, like an echo of Soul's first conversation with him, "It is what it is."
It's like a switch flips, and Ox is fuming.
"Don't downplay it, for the love of all that is holy, do not. It was entirely my fault that you ended up here to begin with. Both of us are well aware of this fact."
Harvey wears an expression that can really only be described as absolutely done with the conversation, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Christ, don't be dramatic. I knew that having a two person scrimmage in a storm is idiotic, and I did it anyway. I easily could have told you to shove that aluminum bat right up your preppy ass and let me sleep, but I didn't. Cool it with the guilt complex Ox. Seriously."
Soul can hardly keep up; the sitcom is suddenly a soap opera about a bunch of dumbass kids whose bodies got sick of trying so hard. It's a little heartbreaking, a little funny, and a lot interesting.
Ox doesn't say anything more.
Harvey just looks so very tired.
Everyone is quiet for a bit, sitting in their silly little circle. It's like group therapy for those weak of heart. Soul's wondering where the hell that promised music is.
And just like magic, Maka rises, toes curling into the demon's face in the carpet as she stretches, sighing, satisfied, and he tries not to stare, cause they're in a room full of fucking people and he just met her yesterday.
Or was it two days ago?
Time seems so strange in the place-
She leans down, hand outstretched toward him, a grin on her pretty lips and a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"Dance with me?"
And god almighty, he wants to so fucking bad but they're in a room full of fucking people, most of which they just met today.
Her lower lip juts out in a tiny pink pout, and he's a fucking goner.
He takes her hand and he's flooded with her heat, deafened by her music, and it's blissful.
She grins at him and tells all the others to get off their asses and get some music going, this damn party is more like a wake! And some of them grumble, but most of them agree enthusiastically. Kim pulls Jackie to her feet and kisses her deeply, the dark haired girl's ears flaming and the other girl's cheeks flushing until they match her hair. He quickly averts his eyes; it is their moment after all, but he can't help the warm feeling that fills his chest, the hope that it gives him.
Maka's lips brush his jaw when she stands on her toes to whisper, "Pretend it's just us."
He laughs a little shakily, swallows hard, looking down into her eyes, "Notttt sure that would be the best idea, but uhm, I'll try?"
And oh fuck, he could swear he feels her lips on his cheek, if only for a nanosecond, then she turns to Kid and calls out, "Hit it, maestro, we're not dead yet!"
He flicks on a stereo, and Soul wonders out loud this time, "Where the fuck does all this stuff come from?!"
Kid just grins, sets the music to something with groove to it and says, "A gift from an old friend called Eibon."
And then the volume is loud enough to reset his wavelength, reset them all to the same frequency, and he sees Kilik smiling like an idiot as he takes Liz's hand and pulls her to dance. His touch does not harm her, and Soul thinks that maybe music is a bit more important to more people than he ever really understood.
Maka's slender, strong hands curve around his shoulders, her fingers rubbing at knots that aren't actually there, but he's not gonna stop her, no way. His hands settle on her waist, in an area that he hopes is neutral and respectful, but still feels absolutely incredible beneath his palms. Her soul remembers the way her muscles undulate in her silken skin while she twists her hips, and he is so grateful. Her fingers creep up his neck, slip into his hairline, and he wonders briefly if getting a boner when you actually have no blood flow is even a possibility. He really fucking hopes not, cause the way she's looking into his eyes right now has him so flustered he's not even sure he could speak if he wanted to.
She presses closer, her cheek to his chest, and she says just loudly enough for him to hear, "It's funny, I never was a good dancer. Always out of time with the music. I think you bring it out of me."
God almighty, she's gorgeous.
"I-is that so?"
"Mm. Something about you is a little… untamed?"
He huffs out a quiet incredulous laugh, because that's probably the last word he would ever expect to be used to describe him, but he's positive she's toying with him, and he thinks he'd kind of like to go with it, because it's her and he's already in too deep.
"Does that scare you?" he asks, his voice low.
She takes a deep breath, one that presses her ribs against his arms and her chest against his, and Jesus Christ her nails graze his scalp in a way that makes him shudder. She smiles, eyes dark and lips so, so pink, and what she says nearly makes him implode.
"Not even a little, Snowflake."
He's hers now.
They wind down a little later, mingling a bit more and bullshitting, and it's while he and Maka are talking to Kilik about how he got here (an altercation with another student who was trying to beat up a freshman gone wrong) that everything goes to hell. Crona looks like they're having a fucking seizure, their body arching and twisting, and it's absolutely terrifying, but it's over as soon as it had started, and Crona is back on their feet but-
Their eyes are a hollow, pale ice colour, pupils pinned and smile bordering on deranged. It's the first time Soul sees the kid smile since he's gotten to this place, and it's scary as hell.
Kilik seems to sense the danger, mutters, "Fuck, the twins," and he's up the stairs fast as lightning.
But Maka? Maka must've talked to this kid, must've liked them, 'cause she's moving toward them with her arms outstretched and Soul is-
Her voice sounds so far away.
"Crona, what's wrong? Are you okay?"
The voice that comes from them is twisted, inhuman, layered and echoing and so chaotic it makes Soul's head ache.
"Ahhhhahaha, okay? Nothing is okay how could we be okay?!"
Tears stream from their icy eyes, their grin now a grimace, and Soul sees the kid mouth 'help me' to Maka.
Maka being who she is, doesn't give a fuck about the danger when it comes to someone she cares about, just keeps on forward toward Crona, looking to reason with insanity, like only the most idiotic idealists would do. He doesn't know what will come of this, but he is absolutely certain it will be nothing good.
He inspects those cold, weeping eyes again, until the pupils blow wide and the eyes go dark, and he can see the pleading in them, can see the fight going on, but against what or who, he has no idea.
Then those pupils turn to slits, and Soul finally finds his feet to run toward Maka and pull her back. It feels like she might slap him, or scream at him, or something, but Crona grins woefully, and snakes appear at their feet, twisting themselves around Crona's ankles, some slithering toward the others threateningly, fangs bared. Soul shoves Maka further behind him, and in his periphery, he can see Reapers charging Crona, but they all seem so damn far away. The flames from Kim and Jackie aren't even lukewarm. Blake and Tsubaki aren't even visible. Liz and Patti try to direct their aggressive wavelengths at Crona, but Kid pulls them back from the scene, as if he already knows this is a lost cause, this person is a lost cause and they cannot help or harm or do anything.
It's all so surreal.
Crona, the real Crona, whimpers, "Forgive me."
Then he sees Maka, dead and cold, venom coagulating in her veins just before him, and it feels like his chest has been torn open, his lungs crushed by the abject sorrow that slams into him like a freight train. Maka is behind him, she's right behind him, he knows, he made sure of it, but he can't feel her anymore, her wavelength is gone, her music gone, his limbs numb. How could this happen, how is this even possible?
He knew he would fail her, but not like this. He wishes he could just have her here so he could disappoint her, make her hate him with that glorious, vivacious passion of hers, but she's gone and it's his fault.
The serpents slither over her covetously, and his sorrow morphs to rage, malignant and overwhelming. He wants to tear them to pieces, drink their blood, render them lifeless with his own fangs, he wants them dead, he wants their master dead, he wants to bring them to their ruin-
There's a flash of light and a deafening crack of thunder, and Harvey comes into view, looking shaken and irritated, but determined, sparks flicking off his fingertips and snapping ominously. Crona lies on the floor convulsing, all serpents turning to black ash and dissipating into the night.
The Maka in front of him is gone, and the real Maka clings to his hand, distraught but haze of hatred and madness clears when he pulls her into his arms. He hates that seeing her eyes filled with tears is a relief, but at least they aren't cold and lifeless.
He will do anything to never have to see her that way again.
Harvey and Ox are left in charge of taking Crona far from Kid's home. They aren't permitted to extinguish the poor, twisted soul, nor take them prisoner, as Crona obviously wasn't themselves when attacking, and therefore do not offer enough reason to Reap them.
Soul sees the uneasiness on Harvey's face. A storm rages outside, the flashbang so very close to them that even Soul is unsettled, but if Kid notices the discomfort, he disregards it. The most capable are left to the dirty work, of course. In that way, this realm isn't much different than the one they all came from.
It's sickening, but Soul understands.
What he doesn't understand is the way Maka is left absolutely beside herself with grief when Crona is taken away. He is wise enough to not voice it aloud, but she already knows what he's thinking before he does it seems.
"Crona is such a pure soul, I-i know it, I saw it I just - I just can't - there's something else that has twisted them up inside but I don't know what it is so I can't help and I'm just - I'm so useless..."
He knows the feeling all too well.
He also knows well enough that she won't be giving up on Crona. It's an admirable thing, but incredibly unwise for someone so smart, he thinks. She really is something else.
What a piece of work.
It's probably perilous to associate with her, with any of the people he's met at this so-called party, but he's pretty sure that he just doesn't give a shit anymore, which - as sad as it is - is actually progress for him.
He thinks that she's done talking about the incident, but with a shaky hiccup and a big breath, she quietly asks him, "D-did you see it?"
He is immediately on guard, hairs on the back of his neck standing on end, prickling uncomfortably.
"What are you talking about?"
Her arms wrap around herself protectively, nails biting into her forearms. He wants to uncurl her fingers, let her nails bite into his hands instead, but he just waits for her to respond.
"Did you see yourself dead?"
He clenches his jaw at the memory of what had been forced into his mind, of her lifeless body, of her eerily dark veins.
"No," he says, seeking out her eyes, "I saw you dead."
She doesn't ask him anything else after that, and for once he's glad for her silence.
Kid took the liberty of rearranging the realm so Crona would not find their way back to the Reaper basecamp (another gift inherited from Eibon, he said). Soul feels guilty for the helplessness the kid must feel, alone with only their thoughts in a world like this.
Outside of them is quiet, but inside it's so very loud.
It's concerning that he can empathize with someone who went loony and tried to attack him and their friends using psychological warfare, but he tries not to dwell on it, pushes it to the back of his mind where all thoughts like that are banished; he isn't crazy, just fucked up.
Maka squeezes his hand, then releases him to go talk to Kid about what had happened, maybe find some clarity on what possibly could have brought on such a dissociative fit.
Kilik doesn't reappear until Crona is long gone, a brat clinging to each of his hands, no older than twelve in appearance, their pale eyes and hair in stark contrast to their dark skin. He can tell from their expressions that they're frightened, but they don't speak a word or even let out a tear, just grasp at Kilik's hands so tightly that it looks almost painful. The boy stares at Soul intently, but the girl's gaze flits all around, looking at anything but Soul. He can't really blame her for that one.
Kilik kneels down, pulls a little notebook and pen out of his pocket and starts writing. All he jots down on the page is,
That's Soul. He's alright.
Soul gives him a questioning look.
Kilik holds up a hand, "Just a sec man."
Then he writes on the next page,
Can I tell him about you guys?
The twins glance at each other for just a moment, then at Kilik, nodding in unison, and maybe in the Shining the whole twin shit was creepy as fuckall, but these two are kind of... endearing. Their light eyes don't look hollow the way Crona's had as they broke down. They look full of emotion, and information, and he wishes they would speak.
But he swears if one of them starts writing 'redrum' all over the place, he's taking Maka and fucking booking it.
Kilik smiles both children affectionately, then scribbles down quickly,
Are you sure you don't want to tell him yourselves?
The boy rolls his eyes and grabs the notebook, writing in sloppy print,
Talk is faster use ur words.
Kilik just grins and ruffles the boy's hair fondly. He turns to the girl, his eyes conveying the question, 'is this okay?', and she nods in confirmation. With that, he turns to Soul, his grin fading a bit to a more solemn expression, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his bloodied, torn up uniform.
"They're deaf. Too close to some kind of explosion is what they told me. Music can't help them resonate with others. I'm the only person they can even touch without getting burnt to hell. Or shocked or whatever. I mean, wavelengths are vibrations and all so they shouldn't have to hear the music to get synced up but, it just seems like nothing ever works. Maybe the music isn't loud enough, or it's just the wrong shit we keep playin' but - yeah."
Soul is stricken with such a painful amount of empathy. He'd rather go blind, rather lose his tongue than have sound taken from him. Unfortunately his response isn't nearly as eloquent as his thoughts, and he feels just the tiniest bit guilty for being sort of glad they can't hear it.
"Shit. That's… shit."
Kilik chuckles, though the sound has an undertone of mournfulness.
"Hey now, watch your language."
Both the twins roll their eyes and flip him off, and Soul is confused, which he's starting to think may be his default setting.
"Read lips? Yeah, sorta. Well enough to know when people are cussing at least," he laughs a bit more easily at this. The expression on Kilik's face makes Soul's heart hurt.
It reminds him of his big brother. That look of pride and admiration and affection is so familiar, it hurts.
"Hey dude, you okay? You're not looking so good. Still worried about Crona?"
Soul latches onto the idea, glad for an excuse other than a lame I miss my bro.
"Yeah. It was, ah. It was f-ahhhmessed up." The twins start giggling, and when Soul gives them a glare they try to sober themselves, saluting him and tossing him a thumbs up with little smirks. Soul holds a hand out for the notepad, but the boy just shakes his head and laughs again. Soul quirks an eyebrow and the boy rolls his eyes, but hands him the pad anyway.
Soul scribbles down as clearly as he can,
What are your names?
This time the girl grabs the notepad back, careful not to touch his hand, and Soul wonders why they won't just speak if they had all their lives until now, but he decides it might be in poor taste to ask, so he shuts his mouth and waits.
Not important since we can't hear you call us anyway. But call me Thunder, and call him Fire. It's how we're known.
He doesn't ask why they use such strange names. His name is Soul after all, he has no room to talk, so he just nods and smiles. Thunder flips the page and writes,
I like your teeth they're cool.
His first reaction at the mention of them is to pull his lips together tightly, but he stops himself and bares them in a grin, at which she smiles widely as her cheeks darken. Soul glances up at Kilik, but he just shrugs.
"She has a crush on anyone who takes the time to talk to her, don't worry too much about it dude."
Thunder growls at Kilik and punches his shoulder, angrily mouthing what looks like, 'I saw that!' at him before he laughs and pulls her into a hug (a sentimental moment which he promptly ruins with the most heinous of noogies). Soul is once again reminded of Wes, but ignores the pang of loss that spikes him through the chest in favour of looking at anything in the room other than the people inhabiting it.
Kilik's voice pulls him from his trance abruptly, his voice seemingly genuinely curious when he asks, "So dude, you and Maka gettin' it on?"
Soul chokes, mystified by how everyone is so fucking open about everything, what the hell? He dodges,
"What is this the 70's? Who even says that anymore?"
But Kilik is perceptive and not taking any of Soul's bullshit.
"Youuuu're avoiding the question. You're totally stuffin' her muffin. Am I right? I'm totally right."
Soul's brain almost short circuits, a mess of flashing images that involve Maka and banana nut muffins and a frilly apron, and he decides right then that he really is in hell.
"Dude, did you ask Kid for a book of awful euphemisms or something? I swear to god I'm gonna pay someone off to pour bleach on my brain. Is it even possible to 'get it on' in this realm?"
Kilik snorts, "I think Kim and Jackie can answer that question if you're brave enough to ask."
Soul groans, "That's nobody's business but theirs. God, you guys have no sense of privacy."
"Alright alright cool it, I'm just bustin your balls. It's just, ah… time is a valuable thing. And obviously you never know when it'll just run out. The hell is the use in wasting it when you already know that something feels right?"
Soul is silent for a few long seconds, then takes a deep, steadying breath and asks, "Do any of you even know the definition of smalltalk? Seriously."
Kilik chuckles goodnaturedly, "Pshhh fuck off, what's the point? I've had a lot of quiet time to think. More than most probably. If I've figured out anything at all that might help you get your head out of your ass faster, I'm damn well gonna tell you. Here, gimme a sec."
He crouches down slightly so that he's looking up at the kids, and Soul can't help but admire the care that Kilik takes in making sure that they know he cares and doesn't think that they are less than others just because they are younger.
Kilik takes the notepad and scribbles down,
And both twins shake their heads stubbornly, but Fire is yawning and Thunder's eyelids droop, and Kilik just rolls his eyes, taking them each by the hand and starts to lead them up the stairs.
"Be back in a bit, these two have permanent dimensional jet-lag."
"Aren't they a little old for that? Getting tucked in I mean?"
He hates how much he sounds like his father when he says it, but Kilik just shrugs.
"Never too old to get tucked in by someone who loves you, I figure."
And then he's gone, with the kids in tow, up and through.
The room feels a lot bigger, a lot colder, a lot more oppressive when he's alone. Kilik's words ring in his mind, and he tries to remember the last time he was tucked in, but he can't, and he hates hates hates the fact that it actually hurts to realize. He's sure his mother used to sing to him. Surely his father read to him? Or was that just something he'd seen in a movie? Wes used to make shadow puppets on the wall before bed, but after Soul turned seven he got his own room, which really just meant he had to deal with the monsters under the bed alone.
Not that he would ever complain. People who complain aren't equipped to deal with the real world. Amazing that he could simultaneously be the most spoiled, yet most neglected rich kid in the neighborhood.
Or maybe he's just overly sensitive.
Kilik doesn't give him much time to wallow in self-pity, and for that he's extremely grateful.
"Yeah, they conked out pretty quick. Stress makes them tired. Hey, Soul."
Kilik's expression grows grave.
"You take that girl and you get yourselves home while you still got a chance. You give her your number so you can find her when you get out, but you get out."
"I- I don'-"
"Listen, I stayed here for those kids, I had my reasons not to go back, and for all I know, you do too. But this is no place for a soul like Maka's. As fucked up as it is, those people you met tonight at this party? That's the best and strongest this damn realm has to offer. We're it. The rest are leeches and cowards, and they will drain her until there's nothing left. So you do whatever you have to, but you make sure she gets out of here."
Soul frowns, because it's all truth, and he already sort of knew it subconsciously, but having Kilik bring it to his attention is, well…
It fucking sucks. But still.
"That was the plan from the start."
Kilik smiles fondly. "Wouldn't expect anything less bro."
"Hey," Soul stops Kilik when he turns to retreat for the night, and he feels like an idiot when Kilik turns to look at him curiously, but he continues," ah - thanks."
Now Kilik looks confused.
"Uh, you're welcome dude but - thanks for what?"
"The advice and the faith."
Soul doesn't know if Kilik is surprised by the gratitude, or the way Soul isn't ever expecting confidence in his humanity and strength of character, but either way, it's like a punch in the gut.
When Maka returns a while later looking slightly flustered and wide-eyed, he assumes that she's had a very similar conversation with Tsubaki as he had with Kilik (the part about getting it on, not the heavy shit), but takes the high road and doesn't pester her about it. She comes to stand beside him, hardly inches away, but they both flounder around awkwardly; the time spent away from each other makes them unsure of how to act, their fingers brushing tentatively.
Kilik rolls his eyes and bids them a good night, leaving them alone.
When she finally laces her fingers with Soul's, it feels like a noose has been removed from his throat. The amount of relief it brings him is somewhat alarming.
"Everyone is sleeping already, but Tsubaki said there's an extra room through the trapdoor under th-"
He interrupts,"The demon, yeah, I know where it is."
Her response to this leaves him feeling cold.
"I ah- nevermind. I know what you're talking about though."
He releases her hand reluctantly to approach that god forsaken Rorschach carpet, pulling it away from the trapdoor and yanking it open. It's dark, so dark that he's reminded of that distinct feeling of nausea that comes with the dread of all that can hide in the shadows. Maka had been right; night may be quiet, day may be harsh, but lies are harder to hide in the blaring sunlight, something that frightens him in regards to himself but he appreciates in regards to all he comes across.
Everyone always likes to say that the fear of the unknown is what makes the dark so frightening; one never knows what will greet him as he ventures into it.
But he always knows what to expect, and it never makes it any less frightening, just makes him sick with fear longer than necessary.
He realizes he's been standing at the entrance for too long when she clamps a hand down on his shoulder. When he looks to her to apologize, he's struck dumb by the intensity of her expression as she glares at the carpet, brow furrowed and lips curled into a thoughtful frown. He wants to ask if she's alright, but before he can even manage a syllable, she mumbles something so quietly he can hardly hear. He asks, like the eloquent young man he was raised to be,
She just sighs, looks up with an expression he can't quite place. It almost looks like concern.
"I said, I see it now. The demon."
He really is.
He knows. That's what worries him.
She ends up entering the room first. He's shamefully thankful for her bravery. An eerie glow shines down onto her, illuminating her eyes, and her gaze steadies his uncertain steps as he lowers himself into the room beside her. Her hand is already outstretched for him when his feet touch the floor, a small consolation in the overwhelming feeling of dread that's got a chokehold on him. She exudes music, sweet sounds of a music box that a parent might wind up for their child before bed.
He's just a kid again, frightened by shadows and consoled by the sounds and touch of an angel.
There only item in the entire room is a large bed with black covers, and though they've slept in close proximity before, for some reason this feels far more intimate, and so, so very awkward. He glances at her, and notices a little furrow in her brow.
He doesn't want to be the cause of her distress.
"Toss me a pillow? I'll take the floo-"
"N-no, there's plenty of room for both of us and then some. I'll ah, I'll take the right side?"
He nods, and remembers something, chuckling to himself, causing her to look at him questioningly.
"I dunno where I heard it, but apparently the word sinister is derived from the Latin word sinestra. All it means is left. Funny. I used to write with my left hand. They said people who wrote with their left hand had been touched by the devil."
She gives him a sympathetic look, but he can see it's tinged with anger for the 'they' he spoke of, and he kind of loves it.
He doesn't know why suddenly it feels too personal to explain, but it does, and he hates himself for it, so he tells her a half truth and swallows the feeling of guilt that comes with the poisonous words dripping from his tongue.
"Ah, old teachers. I used to go to a private Catholic school. Let me tell you, Jackie wasn't out of line at all, if her school was anything like mine had been."
He doesn't tell her how they had shrieked at him, called him devil spawn, slapped his knuckles if ever they caught him writing lefty, and how when he told his parents, they didn't believe him.
She touches his shoulder, her eyes holding such a soft, accepting expression that it hurts. He can't help it, he tells her more because no matter how much scorn he's held for the world, he's always wished he could be a part of it, share anything, with anyone, and not be shot down.
If anyone would understand, it would be her.
"When I was twelve, after I got expelled from that school and ended up in the public school, I tried again to write with my left hand. It was like I had never stopped. And you know what? I felt like a failure. I felt like they had been right all along."
She seems to take a moment to absorb the information, but once she has, she nudges him in the stomach, cracking a small smile before she says,"Well… then let's be left, together."
How could he not laugh at that?
"Oh my God, Maka. That was so fucking cheesy."
But he lets her pull him down onto the bed all the same, both of them still chuckling quietly as she curls up on the left side of it and pats the little space beside her, leaving the other side of the mattress untouched. They lay shoulder to shoulder, now quiet, staring up at the ceiling that seems so kindred with a black hole, hungry and empty and magnetic.
Soul doesn't get it. Why does she trust in him so deeply? All the other, 'wiser' people in his live have never placed such confidence upon him in all his life; is she brave, or foolish to trust him?
He doesn't ask though, 'cause he's afraid if he asks, she'll stop, and he knows the whole point of being in this place is to conquer those fears, but there's just too much too lose.
She nudges him gently, "You tired?"
"You think maybe you ah... want to give it a try? Facing a nightmare, I mean!"
He takes a moment to appreciate the lovely pink glow to her cheeks before he actually addresses the question.
The first one that comes to mind has been so frequent from the time he was a child that it's legitimately embarrassing. He really doesn't want to show her this shit right now. They've had such a long night already, and he doesn't want to sleep, but he doesn't want to do this either.
Why couldn't they just bump shoulders and stare at the fucking ceiling until sleep finally found them?
But she's already faced more than one of her fears now, and he doesn't want to be the thing that holds her back, doesn't want to be the one to get her stuck in this perpetual inbetween of avoidance and subconsciousness.
That would just be a dick move on his part, honestly.
She turns to her side to face him, her cheek resting on his shoulder. Her music is quiet and strangely apologetic, but steadfast in its inquisition. It strengthens his resolve.
"Alright, I'll try. You'll be with me, yeah?"
"You know it."
He doesn't initiate resonance though, not for this.
She doesn't deserve to experience this one firsthand.
He's seven again, rehearsing scales, palms clammy, sweat dripping down the bridge of his nose, collecting there ominously, the drop getting larger and larger, and he cringes as the surface tension breaks, sweat splattering over the ivory keys. Things get blurry as his eyes well with tears of frustration and knowledge when his pinky finger slips off a key, the mistake ringing harshly in his ears, blatant in its defiance.
His instructor melts into his periphery from the shadows, a demon in a fancy suit that looks eerily like the one his father has always worn for the most important of events. His eyes are black, darker than the polished piano that mocks Soul so, and he tries not to shiver when the demon leans down, foul breath ghosting over Soul's neck as he takes hold of Soul's little finger, the one that betrayed him in his time of need, and sings,
"Thiiiis wittle piggy went to the market."
Soul's finger snaps backward in the demon's grip, but he doesn't scream, not for this.
Not for him.
He can taste the blood welling from his wounded, bound tongue, like he can taste electric storms coming, bitter and exhilarating, raising the hairs on the back of his neck.
The demon fists a hand in his hair, nails jagged and scornful, chuckling in Soul's other ear now,
"Ohhh Soulie, what's the point in trying so damn hard? For what? For who? It certainly isn't for youuu. Nobody purposely puts themselves through this much pain, not even masochists like you. Play something for yourself, boy. Quit your suffering."
His child self is stupidly stubborn, desperate to perfect those scales, dying to get them just so; Mom and Dad would be so proud if he could just get something right.
It sickens him to realize that hardly anything has changed since then.
He can hardly see through the tears, and his ring finger slips from the A flat to the G.
"Tsk tsk. I'm really trying to help you kiddo. Why won't you let me? I only have the purest of intentions!"
And it's awful, because if he ignores the way the message is conveyed, he realizes that it's true. It would be the perfect solution, but hearing the words falling from a sharp tongue, seeing them shining in otherwise empty eyes makes him spiteful. He doesn't want to listen to this demon.
Because when Soul looks at the thing, he sees himself, selfish and snide and so eager to disappoint.
"Glutton for punishment. You really ought to work on that."
Soul braces himself for another snap, another failure, another thing to remind him of his perpetual state of abysmal mediocrity.
He hears her like a hymn, calling out to him to save him from the sins of his egotistical, fragile, overcompensating heart.
When he looks up from the keys, he sees the reflection of his seventeen year old self, Maka beside him, her palm on the back of his neck evaporating the grimy feeling of filth and failure.
"You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself. What do you want?"
His tongue feels too large for his mouth, clumsy and entirely too honest for his comfort.
"For my parents to be proud."
She sighs, sits beside him on the piano bench, cradling his injured hand in both of hers delicately.
"You don't get to decide how they feel about you. But you do get to decide how you feel about you."
He scoffs bitterly, and it burns his throat on the way out, because if ever there was someone who didn't deserve his snark, it'd be Maka, but it's just reflex at this point, ingrained so deeply within him he's unsure if he can change it.
"You sound like a self-help book."
She shrugs, "Well I've read enough of them so it makes sense. A lot of them are full of nonsense, you know, but sometimes you find stuff that actually makes sense in there."
He's silent for a long time, contemplating her words, left hand mimicking a bit of her melody absently as she fiddles with his other hand. She startles him to a stop when she tells him that it's beautiful, and he wants to say that the only reason it could possibly be such is because it's her but he doesn't, because he knows that would mean that this nightmare has remained undefeated, left for another time, and she would know. He'll come back on his own, avoid the shame of it.
For now, he'd like to sleep.
As soon as he has the thought, the piano and bench melt away, and he and Maka are curled up in bed again. His hand is fine now, but there's an overwhelming feeling of shame that comes with his cowardice, heavy like a bellyful of steel. He feels like a worn out sock stuffed with quarters, his elastic overworked and tired out, sagging with burdens that mean next to nothing individually, but once collected take a serious toll.
Who knew courageousness could be so fucking tiring.
She sighs deeply, as if she's just as tired from this excursion as he.
"That seemed awful."
He laughs bitterly, "Well nothing new there."
She nudges him, still staring at the ceiling.
"Why do you care so much?"
"What do you mean?"
She turns toward him, her eyes dark.
"About approval. I mean, your parents disapproving wouldn't be the end of the world. It's just an obstacle, but you could overcome it."
"Pff. Easy for you to say."
Her lips turn down in a snarl, and it feels like he's been electrocuted with the sheer strength of her negative emotions. Her music is wild and fierce, and it's beautiful, but he hates that he knows it has come from a terrible place.
"How would you know?"
"I wouldn't I just - urgh, I dunno. There's something about my parents that just… commands respect. Or obedience. I dunno if I can tell the difference anymore. Maybe I never could."
It hurts him more than it should when her eyes gain a depth of knowledge. She understands his plight, if only a little, and it fucking sucks.
She doesn't say anything, and he fidgets awkwardly, continuing, "I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing," she sighs, leaning into him more deeply, "In this case, you have nothing to be sorry for. Trust me, if you did, I'd be the first to let you know."
Now that, he has the utmost confidence in. She's not the type to let others trample all over her.
He hopes he can learn this skill from her, learn how to stand on his own and not fear that the weight of the expectations of the world will shatter him.
"Don't thank me for truth."
He sinks deeper into the fluffy covers of their bed, tugging at his hair, exasperated. His thoughts leak out before he can stop them, and he just doesn't care anymore.
"God, this is lame. I can't even face a dumb nightmare. What the hell is the real world gonna do to me when I have to actually be a part of it? I'm so fucked."
For some reason, it feels a little better to tell someone, to say it out loud and share it, even if it's selfish of him to push his own issues upon her. He likes her. He shouldn't whine. If he whines too much, she might leave, and he really doesn't want that.
"What goes on in your own mind is a lot harder to deal with than what goes on in the outside world. Being scared doesn't make you weak. Everyone is scared of something. The only time you've failed, become a coward, is when you stop trying. So keep trying, okay? And I'll try with you."
She's so steadfast, so solid, he just doesn't understand it. Even when she's terrified, she is steady in her courage. Admirable.
"I want to help them."
She sits up and stares down at him, her gaze so intense it pushes him further into the cushion, the weight heavy on his chest.
"I want to help everyone, the Reapers, I want to help them reign in the nightmares that have gone too far and the souls that use them like puppets. At least until we get out of here ourselves."
He snorts, reaching over to ruffle her hair,
"Overachiever. I knew you'd be nothin' but trouble."
She swats his hand away from her hair, only to grip it in both of her own. She grins, eyes alight with excitement. "Does that mean you're in?"
He closes his eyes, imagines going on alone while she fights alongside of their new friends without him, fighting for those who have no means to fight for themselves while he struggles to find his way back to a world he still doesn't know how to deal with.
The idea of it is so unappealing.
He supposes there are worse ways spend his time.
"Yeah. Whatever you wanna do, I'm in."
She squeezes his hand, leans toward him and brushes his bangs back from his eyes so she can actually look at him properly.
"Hey, you know this'll be dangerous."
"That's why I gotta come with you."
"I can protect myself."
"I know that. I'll just be there for backup, yeah? For when your clumsy ass messes up."
He grins when she smacks his arm, poking at her side. She huffs indignantly, "I'm not clumsy, you dolt, you are. You almost fell off the balcony when I went up to see you. Not that anything all that awful would have happened, but still."
"Hey you scared the shit out of me. I didn't think anyone would find me."
"I could feel that you were stressed. And Harv ratted you out. Aren't you glad he did?"
Yeah, maybe he is, just a little, with her pressed up against him and radiating notes of acceptance and mild annoyance. He hates himself for loving her presence so much, but it's alright.
Maybe if they get outta this place they really can go on a date. He'll make a reservation for a fancy restaurant and dress up for her and everything.
"I am glad. Hey, can I ask you something?"
"How did you end up here?"
She goes rigid, her music halting abruptly, temporarily at a loss for words. He almost rescinds his inquiry, but it's been bothering him for a while. Everyone they met tonight had such awful ways of ending up here, when all that had happened to him was a dumb dream. He wants to know that she actually has something good to go back to before he delivers her back into another unknown.
"I- ah. I was dreaming, but my eyes were open. I didn't like what I saw."
He waits for her to continue, but she doesn't, just closes her eyes and sighs deeply. He feels like a prick for pestering her, but he can't help it, he's curious, and her vagueness pisses him off a little.
"What'd you see?"
"Nothing I want to think about right now. Can we just sleep? Tomorrow I have to ask Kid if there's anything we can do to help. Things are going to start getting crazy around here soon."
He snorts, amused but agitated, "As if they weren't fucking batshit already. Whatever. Night."
He's a petulant little child, he fucking knows it, but he turns his back to her anyway, tucking a pillow under his head and trying to get comfortable, though the feeling of guilt in his stomach makes it impossible. He doesn't know what he was expecting, but he is overwhelmingly disappointed when she mimics him, her back turned and her posture closed off.
He can't hear her music now.
The silence tells him more than he'd care to know.