A Sound Soul

Part V

After a little while of following Patti's long path, passively looking for threats, she blesses him with the relief of resonance, this time while he's bonded with his weapon, and though the bond doesn't feel as close as a true resonance, it still fills up that hole in his spirit that he never recognizes until it's no longer empty. Their surroundings seem fairly benign, tranquil and all pastels. Soul still has a hard time adjusting to the lack of bugs buzzing and birds chittering. The only thing more disturbing than white noise in this kind of situation is total silence. Maka's steps don't even make a sound, and he's glad for the faint hum of her soul. If she won't speak, at least he can hear her spirit sing, though it is mournful and solemn, and so very hurt.

He wishes he were courageous like her, wishes he could just demand that she give him all of her pain and hurt and rage, let him take all of it for himself so she could be at peace, but he knows she would never allow it, even if it were a possibility.

She takes all of her issues for what they are: hers.

Which seems a bit absurd considering the fact that they joined together for the purpose of becoming stronger as a unit and individuals. Not like he can really talk, though; he's tried to exclude her from every nightmare of his own thus far.

He feels a strange kind of tugging, like her soul is trying to detach from his, and the dread that wells up in the pit of his stomach like an icy stone hurts.

He is bashful, but refuses to show it as he asks in the most nonchalant tone he can summon, "Oi, what's your deal?"

And it's not like he was expecting anything much better than a "Fuck off," but it still stings a little, and leaves him wholly unsatisfied. He had thought that maybe something else was bothering her. It wouldn't be surprising; this whole realm they're stuck in is a whole lot of 'something else'. But now he's getting these hostile waves of emotion directed at him, and he really doesn't understand why, nor will he shut up and deal with it. He knows what happens when issues get swept under the rug; they're just that much more difficult to clean up later after they've had time to congeal and petrify.

He takes a steadying breath.

"Seriously. Something's bothering you, and I wanna know what. I'm gonna figure it out sooner or later anyway."

He can hear her teeth grind in the effort not to completely snap at him, and maybe in another situation he might poke fun at her 'yoga breaths', but right now, he's too distracted by how distressed she seems.

As she opens her mouth to speak, a feral growl rumbles from somewhere within the woods. Maka stops dead, jaw clenched.

Soul doesn't dare to take a breath. He simply waits.

And waits.

And waits.

He's glad for how quick Maka is on her feet when an animalistic man-beast charges out of the underbrush with its oh-so-familiar fangs bared, claws ready to render flesh from bone if such a concept existed in their lovely little purgatory. The beast swipes at her clumsily with limbs too large for its body, and she parrys to the left, always left, he's realizing this pattern, and sincerely hopes he is the only one. He can feel those undertones of rage and hurt swelling into a clusterfuck of raw emotion that burns him from the inside, and he's scared by it, but he also wishes so deeply to see it manifest itself in action.

This beast is no match for her and her hurt, surely. No match for her anger, her determination, her love.

This beast is nothing.

This beast still has claws though, and it catches her across the ribs somehow, ruby red glistening on her porcelain skin so vibrantly. She screams, but it's not in pain, it is fierce, seeking the blood of another, blood to pay its due to her.

Logically, everyone here knows souls can't really bleed out.

Right?

The beast unhinges its maw, to growl, or speak, or something, but in that moment Soul feels unnaturally warm, because his blade is wedged deep within the chest of this creature, vibrating with its wails of pain, and he hates that it feels good, feels like victory, feels like everything he's ever wanted, but it does.

The thing regains its composure too quickly, walloping Maka so hard that Soul sees stars, and they go flying into the underbrush. He's distantly thankful for the fact that she never loosened her grip on him, never risked the separation.

Maka is sluggish now, weak, and Soul distantly realizes that it's begun to snow.

He can feel the warmth of her blood seeping onto his blade, smells the tang of her wounds and hears the way her skin stitches itself back together. She isn't bound to this world enough to be truly harmed by a beast born of it. He's proud of her strength of will, proud though he has no right to be.

She pulls him into a deeper resonance, and he can feel the rawness around his ribcage, can taste copper on his tongue, and for a nightmare, it all seems a bit too real.

But he supposes it's only fitting.

He sees through her eyes for a moment, sees the beast loom over them, its soul halfway detached from its golem, and the soul is not a beast, but a man, a man with a gaping hole where an eye used to be and a painful grimace on his face. As his soul assimilates with his golem, he speaks from both mouths, his maw snarling and his grimace strained as he growls,

"You can't kill what's already dead."

He raises a clawed paw to strike them, and Soul screams for Maka to block, so loudly it makes his ears ring, but there's a hissing sound, and the beast-man drops its position, glancing down at its feet.

And in a strange moment of humanity, he rolls his one good eye and mutters, "Oh for the love of Pete," cringing slightly before his gaze goes glassy. He glances down at Maka with a blank expression, and Soul sees a snake slither up a ratty pant leg.

Then the beast man is gone, the only evidence of his existence left behind in pink pawprints in the fine dusting of snow. Soul feels the lightness of elation wash over him, but it's swiftly crushed by a wave of blinding rage. Maka forces a resonance so strong it pulls him out of the scythe and into her, and it feels like he'll be torn apart from the inside, like they're being torn apart from the inside.

And now he sees why.

The image of a red haired man flashes before them, and he can hear Maka's breath falter, feel the way their bond pulls tight like a harp string ready to snap, and for the first time since they decided to find their way out of this together, he's truly, deeply fearful that they won't.

It's like a flipbook of indiscretion, another woman with the man in every flash, sometimes in various states of undress that make Soul's stomach flip in disgust, because he knows. Knows who that man is to Maka, and who that man wasn't to Maka's mother.

Maka.

No reply.

Maka, please?

She won't even allow them to move.

The red haired man pleads with a lovely black haired woman with hazel eyes and a shattered heart. Maka is paralyzed.

Trust me, Maka.

Through their bond, he sees rapid flashes of that man groveling at Maka's feet, begging, pleading for her to trust him, and Soul knows, he's said exactly the wrong words at the wrong time. He can feel her choking on tears, feels the tightness in his own throat, and he just knows.

It's like they've both become the negative ends of a magnet, repelling from each other violently and shattering the bond they created. The images of the red haired man and beautiful, mournful woman are gone from before his eyes, but the pathetic, destructive scene replays in his head over and over and over, and he thinks if he had a real body, he might be sick. It's a feeling he's grown far too used to in these past few days.

His fury is misdirected, misguided, and cruel.

He is still the selfish boy he's always been as he yells at her, desperate and angry and confused,

"What the hell Maka?! Why did you reject me?!"

It's rhetorical, because he's already well aware, but he knows that if she can't acknowledge it, they will never leave this place.

She's curled in on herself in the dirt, and she feels so far away, so he scrambles toward her and unfurls her, holds her face in his hands and asks her to please, look at him, please open her eyes.

When she does, they are dull green, like the decapitated ends of the grass that have sat in the sun too long and are all too aware that their lives are coming to a close, slowly but surely, and it makes him ache.

Her tears drip from her face to the soil beneath her, but make no mark upon it, and the injustice of it enrages him. How could someone so incredible, so absolutely astounding, so real, not make a mark upon the world that exists around them?

He feels a kind of madness creep through him as the tears keep falling, and all he wants is for it to stop, for her tears to please, stop.

And she says something that hurts him far more than he should allow.

"Why wouldn't I? All of you are j-just, you're just l-liars ah-and cheats! Why should I trust you with my soul when even my body rejects it?! Why should I trust you at all?!"

She's hysterical and he's petrified, too scared to utter a syllable, so terrified that he may make the wrong move and she'll leave him, leave him alone in this world where he cannot even reach out and touch anything but her soul. She is what makes Soul feel real, and he's not sure what would happen if she were to leave him behind, to give up on him, but he really, really, doesn't ever want to find out.

The realization hits him like a ton of bricks.

That red haired man was Maka's father, and the betrayal still sits within Maka's heart every time she reaches out, every time she meets someone new. She expects the worst of people.

It's all she's ever gotten.

But he and Maka - they've been through so much shit together, and the idea that that man, her father, could be the one to unravel it all?

Soul can't take it.

He takes her face in his hands, and she presses her wet cheek into his palm as sobs wrack through her. He would relish in the fact that he can feel the shakes, touch her tears and sense her warmth, but as he watches her fall apart, he falls apart too, presses his forehead to hers and apologizes, over and over and over he apologizes.

And he feels her cringe away from him.

He pulls away immediately, hands hovering near her but unsure of what to do, what he's done to make her so disgusted, so skittish and scared.

She curls up on her side again, and he doesn't want to ask, but he has to.

He's unsure what he should ask first, stumbles over his words, and somewhere within him he realizes he should be embarrassed, but it's so irrelevant, so meaningless how he feels when he has to sit beside her and try desperately to find a way to comfort someone who is absolutely beside herself with grief. His first instinct has always been to run.

But with her it's different.

He wants her secrets and her grief and her joy. He wants her issues. He wants her in all the worst and best ways and will be anything she needs him to be, but she has to tell him what that is.

"What can I do?"

"D-don't... don't lie to me."

He's so confused.

He attempts to turn her toward him, a gentle hand on her shoulder, but she shrugs out of his grip.

She mumbles,

"Why are you here?"

If he had a physical heart at the moment, it would clench in his chest and freeze over.

He doesn't understand.

"What?"

And then she's in his face, eyes watery and sorrowful, but lips turned to a snarl, poised to wound.

"Why the fuck are you here?! You're just going to leave anyway! Everyone does, so why should I trust you not to?! Who are you to me?!"

And he doesn't know.

He doesn't know who he is to her.

But he knows who she is to him, and what he hopes to become to her.

He will take responsibility.

He will give her what she needs.

"I'm sorry."

Her sob catches in her throat, and her face twists into a look of confusion.

He says it again, and does not try to touch her.

He says it over, and over, and tucks his face into his knees, because he can't handle the intensity of her while he bears the burden of all the betrayal she has faced.

When she finally remembers how to speak, she asks him, quiet and ashamed,

"Why...? You've dealt with more shit of mine than anyone else has... I shouldn't group you in with those people. It's not fair."

He chuckles, forehead still resting on his kneecaps, and reaches out a hand, which he's relieved that she accepts. He takes a deep breath that he doesn't need, but is comforted by, and tells her,

"Not much is fair. That's why I'm sorry."

Now he can feel that she's confused.

He turns his face toward her, cheek awkwardly pressed upward and distorting his vision as he smiles sadly, and he thinks the fact that he probably looks a little like an albino chipmunk should make her laugh, but she doesn't, instead inquiring,

"Huh?"

So eloquent. Truly valedictorian material.

He just laughs though, and offers her the explanation she needs.

"Sometimes you don't get an apology from the people who hurt you most… so I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what they did, whatever it was. I'm sorry, Maka, and I promise I won't do the same to you. Tell me if I hurt you so I can fix it, cause I will. I don't wanna be a regret."

He almost doesn't recognize his own voice, so open and honest and true. This is what she does to him. He doesn't want to let that go without a fight.

A tear drips from her onto his hand, and when he looks at her, there's a watery little smile twitching on her lips, fragile and cautious and so hopeful, and he's proud, proud that he brought this delicate contentment from her. He will do all he can to protect it.

He will do anything to protect her.

She grips his hand harder and tells him,

"You should go on without me. I don't think I'll be able to get past them. I never have been able to, you know? They're always in the back of my mind, and it's shit. I'm just weighing you down."

She pastes on a smile, patting the back of his hand in a way that he can't help but think of as condescending, as if she's not asking him to discard part of himself, as if it should be the easiest thing in the world to abandon her with her worst fears.

He just sighs, squeezes her hand tightly and tells her firmly,

"If you stay, I'll be right by your side."

She's silent for a long while, still calming her breaths. She sighs deeply, looks into his eyes and says,

"We have to get out of here. Both of us."

And he decides that no matter where she ends up, he will be there with her.

He gets to his feet, brushes off the back of his boxers even though it's pointless to do so, and offers her a hand.

She accepts.

Patti had apparently taken the snow into account, because the mushrooms are up to Maka's knees and fluorescent pink once they get back on track. It's kinda cute, in a weird way, and it feels warm as the mushrooms pass through Maka's limbs, like Patti knows exactly how rough their day has been and is trying in her own strange, sweet, indirect way to offer some comfort.

The snow grows thicker, and now that he's in a more stable state of mind again, he takes a moment to appreciate the way it just flows through her.

He wants to break the eerie silence, so he says one of the first things that come to mind, which happens to be,

"Hey, am I heavy to lug around like this?"

He feels a little rude for not having asked it previously, but also kind of embarrassed for asking about his weight. It's never been something he's had to concern himself with before. It's weird.

But she just lets out a delicate snort and tells him he's light as a feather. He thinks maybe he hears a tinge of sarcasm in her voice, a playfulness to her music, but he decides not to spend too much time contemplating it. The silence is a bit more comfortable after that, though he does make a mental note to talk to her more when they're not as exhausted and emotionally drained. He likes the sound of her voice, and it'd be an honor if she were to voluntarily tell him things about herself, rather than having him accidentally see things in her mind that maybe he wasn't supposed to.

They wander for a long while, watching as the sky slowly grows orange, then lavender and indigo, until they eventually stumble upon a clearing that looks vaguely familiar, elated to see two spikes of hair and a lightning bolt staff.

Harvey shifts out of the staff, and Soul can feel the vague pang of jealousy when they both see that Ox can still hold up his weapon. He'd like to grasp her hand, but that would require her letting go of their weapon, and it just seems rather unwise, considering their luck.

Soul had expected a little bit of worry, or maybe outrage, or frustration from Ox and Harv; after all, they had been left in charge of him and Maka. But instead, all they get is Harvey boredly inquiring something that he already knows the answer to.

"Somebody fell a little too far down the rabbit hole, huh?"

Soul feels the urge to be a sarcastic little shit, but Maka beats him to it, takes the words right out of his mouth.

"I thought that this place was the rabbit hole, which would mean that you fell down it and never crawled out, right?"

In the dull glow of the moon, Soul can hardly see, but he does catch the way Harvey's lip quirks in an almost smirk when he says, "Touche," and turns back to the path Patti had conjured.

Soul decides then to speak up.

"Okay so, you're not gonna ask what happened?"

Ox snorts, "Nah."

"Not even curious?"

Harvey shrugs, "Not really. We've been here a while, not much you can say that'll surprise us."

Maka huffs a little and says almost proudly, "We almost got strangled by vines."

"Rookie mistake, been there done that," Harvey says. Maka gasps, offended, or maybe surprised? It's hard to differentiate at the moment with his head throbbing so much. She jogs a little to catch up though, and he can feel her curiosity pounding in his temples.

"Wait you mean, you've dealt with something like that before? When?"

"Our job as Reapers is to fight the malignancies of the subconsciousness of lost souls. And trust me Squirt, there's a lot of those around these parts," Harvey informs her, and Maka's temper flares, burning behind Soul's eyes.

"No need to be condescending."

"There's deadpan, and there's condescending, and though the line between them is thin, it's still there. I thought your talent was reading other souls, Squirt. Sorry, my bad."

Maka's hands clench on the shaft of the scythe, and Soul is about to attempt to calm the tension, maybe crack a joke though he can't really think of any at the moment, but then Patti is hurtling toward them.

Or rather, hurtling toward Ox and Harvey, both of whom forget their weapon on the ground and instead opt to open their arms widely for her. Soul still isn't sure how they can all touch, or what exactly goes on (who is the stuffing of the sandwich? Oh god, he doesn't wanna know), but he can see that Harvey actually has a wide grin on his face, as does Ox, and it makes his chest feel tight.

Patti gives both her boys a peck on the lips before taking each of their hands and dragging them along behind her, hardly giving Ox enough time to gather his staff, and they're off toward a flickering orange light in the distance. Patti glances over her shoulder at Maka and Soul (or rather, the scythe he's been trapped in all goddamn day) and casually mentions,

"You look like hell. Betcha Lizzy has some nice clothes for ya if you want? Ooooo we can play dress up tonight! You'll wanna look spiffy while you're fuckin' shit up, right?!"

It's a little hilarious how Maka doesn't even register that Patti is addressing her until about ten seconds go by and Patti starts humming the theme song from Jeopardy.

"O-oh um, sure? I mean, that sounds like fun. Thanks Patti."

"Yerrrrrr welcome! We're gonna find you something so hot that your little loverboy won't be able to resist."

Soul's mind is reeling from the abruptness of the change of atmosphere. Not long ago they were about to be demolished by some wolfbeast, or turned to mindless puppets, and now here they are, making plans to play dress up and being teased. He wouldn't be surprised if someone brought up the idea of truth or dare.

Maka only grumbles in response, while Soul tries to hold back chuckles as well as not blush, when they amble on through some bushes and find themselves around the back of Kid's home, a fire burning brightly in a stone pit.

And when he sees all those smiling faces turn to greet them, he thinks maybe some childish games and storytelling doesn't sound so bad after all.

It's Liz who brings it up, once they're all settled down around the campfire in the now dried grass, and Soul laughs a bit to himself at the incredible irony. He's fond of irony, truly. He's never had the chance to play truth or dare, actually. Never went to a party where he was comfortable enough to partake. But these people around him seem like they have much better things to do than be judgemental pricks, so when Liz mentions it, he actually agrees. It's a little scary, because Maka is off playing dress up with Patti, but he supposes he should try to start to get used to doing things without her again.

After all, if they get out of this place, their chances of being friends in the real world seem rather slim.

He's going to hate seeing Maka in the supermarket and pretending they've never met, but it's probably just how things will be. Such is life, right?

It hurts to realize how quickly his thoughts turn sour without her presence. Now that he's experienced peace, the unrest is more difficult to deal with.

He considers himself extremely lucky when Liz starts, asking Blake, "Truth or dare," to which he predictably replies,

"Tch, dare, obviously. Gods know when to show their minions their mightiness."

Kim chortles, grinning, her arm slung across Jackie's shoulders, "Yeah, yeah, hotshot, you talk real big shit for someone who needs a stepstool to make out with his girlfriend. Give him somethin' good, Liz."

Soul is expecting something absurd, something entertaining, lighthearted, and for once, he isn't disappointed.

"Strip dude. Strip, and climb up that tree over there," she points to an especially spiky looking one, "and do a backflip off it. And land it."

Everyone in the circle groans, and Jackie interjects, "Oh Christ, Liz, we don't need to see his junk any more than usual, think of something else!" Meanwhile, Tsubaki is sitting with her face in her hands, shaking her head at the absurdity of it all. When she looks up through, there's this expression of resignation that tells Soul this isn't the craziest thing that blue haired pinball has done.

Liz just shrugs and says, "I promised my sister," a statement which Soul doesn't want elaborated. At all. Liz nudges Kilik, who jumps a little, then covers the eyes of the twins (which they seem pretty unhappy about). Kid just shakes his head, a small, fond smirk quirking his lips. Soul thinks that if maybe he knew people like this before, he never would have ended up in limbo to begin with. He wishes they had all met on different terms. Maybe they could have gone to school together, done things that normal teens did, but still always be there for each other, conquering puberty and drama and everything together.

It might have been nice.

He's yanked from his wistful contemplation when there's a flash of tan and blue that Soul really is glad he didn't get a decent look at. He refuses to look at the tree, but he can hear Liz, Kilik, and Kim absolutely cackling, Jackie and Harvey barely containing their chuckles, and Ox flat out making comical gagging sounds, so he knows it must be quite a sight. It's around this time that Patti and Maka reel around the corner, and Soul is so glad for the fact that he sees it, because Patti wasn't messing around when she insinuated that 'loverboy won't be able to resist'.

Well, he can, anyway. But fuck. She's in these black military boots, laced all the way up, a skirt that's even shorter than her shorts had been, and a ribbed, tight white tank top that makes him a little lightheaded. She creeps over to him, avoiding stepping on any toes, and sits in the grass beside him. He swallows hard and doesn't speak. She smirks at him, and he knows that she kind of knows.

"Don't worry, it's only a loan- she gets them back at the end of the night."

Honestly, the idea of her stripping out of those clothes doesn't do anything to calm him down. Think pure thoughts, puuuuure thoug-

There's a bellow of "YAHOOOO" and then a concerningly loud thump. Everything goes silent for a second.

And then…

"FffffffffffffUCK I THINK I BROKE MY BALLS ON MY KNEECAPSFUCKFUCKFUCK. KIM. BRO. HELP ME OUT DUDE DO YOUR MAGIC THIN-"

Soul breaks out into relieved laughter, cause thank Christ for the distraction, the timing was perfect, and what Kim says next just makes it all exponentially better.

"Ew, as if! Just cause you're too much of a jackass to back down from a dare doesn't mean I should have to heal your huevos for you. Go find a patch of snow to sit in, not my problem."

Blake's voice is reduced to petulant whimpering, but after a few minutes of melodramatic groaning, and Tsubaki helping the idiot to his feet, they amble back over to the circle. Soul finally chances a glance up at them, relieved to find a fully clothed Blake and a mildly amused Tsubaki. He's impressed by how they get along. He hasn't heard much of anything from Tsubaki, seemingly rather soft spoken in disposition.

But she must have one hell of a soul to be able to put up with that on a daily basis.

They continue the game for a while, and he doesn't pay as much attention because Maka's knee is pressed against his, so, so warm, and it's all he can focus on. He's glad for the fact that no one picks him or Maka out of the group. It shows their consideration for the shock of the situation that he and Maka still aren't quite over, and just reaffirms his high opinion of them all.

Then comes around the second time Blake gets a dare, from Maka, and she says,

"Tell us how you really ended up here. Cause we all know that someone like you wouldn't be taken out by any old 'punk'."

Soul can feel her soul has become jittery, and it confuses him, but he remains quiet, watching as things play out.

Blake lets out a deep belly laugh while the others lean in close, apparently all very interested in his response. When Blake finally catches his breath - so to speak - he asks,

"You really wanna know Goldilocks?"

And his tone isn't mocking.

Just curious.

Soul feels Maka's spirit wriggle with excited energy, like that of a happy child, her music resembling the tinkling of an old jack-in-the-box. Her smile is somewhat somber and so nostalgic, eyes flickering in the glow of the flames.

"I'm positive, Star."

The slack jawed look of awe on Blake's (Star's?) face leaves Soul feeling seriously left out of the loop, and it makes his stomach ache.

"Holy shit… Pigtails?!"

She snorts, but grins at him all the same, gently scolding him, "I told you to never call me that, you big idiot."

"Shit, I didn't recognize you without the hair and the blah blah blah and the crayon obsession! Ohhhhhh man, c'mere my little minion!"

Blake (or Star, apparently) wraps Maka into a hug far too tight for Soul's comfort, and apparently for Maka's as well, because she squawks indignantly and flails around until he lets go with a sheepish expression, which looks entirely out of place on his face. He must have remembered that clashing soul wavelengths are a no-no. Soul is a little agitated that this guy just put Maka through pain.

The selfish little boy in his heart is glad that 'Star' can't touch her the way he can. He feels at a disadvantage, not having known her in any other world.

But the fond smile on Maka's lovely face makes him feel guilty for being so inconsiderate. She deserves hugs from whomever she decides to hug.

It's at about this moment that he realizes the words 'In Love' very seriously apply to him.

It's not as much of a shock as maybe it should be.

Maka punches 'Star' hard in the shoulder, though he doesn't budge an inch as she asks what other Maka's could he possibly know? He just shrugs, mumbling something about killed brain cells, and Soul sees the little disapproving wrinkle in Maka's brow, but she moves past it gracefully, instead telling him again that he'd better 'fess up to how he got here; she wants to know what stupid shit he got into while they were out of touch.

His face darkens in a bashful blush, but he puffs up his chest proudly as he says,

"Delsym."

No one responds.

'Star' deflates and slaps a hand to his forehead, like everyone should fucking understand exactly what he means. Yeah, sure, cough medicine, but what about it?

He pinches the bridge of his nose, his free arm crossed over his chest in a way that casually says 'I'm so disappointed in you dweebs right now', and sits back down beside Tsubaki, who is barely containing a smirk. He takes a deep breath,

"Okay so, this jackhole Hiro thought he was some hot shit right? And he's all like 'Hey Blake I bet you can't chug two bottles of Delsym and keep your head on straight' and I'm thinkin', what a load of shit, like medicine could be the downfall of a god. So obviously I gotta put this motherfucker in his place."

Dramatic pause.

It lasts a little too long, and Kilik finally says with a purposely obnoxious yawn, "And then?"

"And then I tripped so fuckin' hard I fell into another dimension, duh."

Harvey busts out in a belly laugh, then cuts it short abruptly to deadpan,"You're so full of shit Blake."

"Am not! Forreal dude! Alright okay so it was like… I pull wayyy back from real life, right? And then I'm just looking down into all these puddles or somethin', and I'm high as fuck so of course I was like 'yo I should stick my face in each of these puddles' so I do, and it's like each one is another reality or whatever. Like one of 'em has a bigass forest of trees with eyes, and another just looks like a slaughterhouse upchucked, pretty gnarly shit. And- ah, there's the other one with this weird zebra thing? And a fuckton of red flowers. I don't fuckin' know but it was weird as shit. I didn't wanna go into any of those but," his words become less boisterous, more bashful as he glances at Tsubaki, twirls one of his fingers around her long, raven hair, "I see this one stargazin' in one of those puddles and she made me wanna dive in. So I did."

He slips an arm around Tsubaki's waist, pressing his lips to her ear, which seems to make her blush for reasons that Soul can only imagine. Soul feels a pang of envy, but it's entirely different than before. He envies that effortless closeness. He envies the way Tsubaki seems so incredibly pleased to be beside this guy.

But the softness in his eyes as he looks at her says all it needs to. He deserves her love, and she his, for whatever reasons.

And maybe that's kind of beautiful.

"I guess Hiro isn't such a jackhole after all, huh?" Soul inquires, and instead of some obnoxious retort, 'Star' just grins, his eyes never leaving Tsubaki's, and says,

"Yeah dude, I guess not."

Soul feels Maka's arm slip around his waist.

And he smiles.

But still, if he ever gets out of here, he's never going to take cough medicine again.

The day catches up to them pretty quickly after that, and he and Maka call it a night, stumbling off toward their room under the trapdoor, their hands clasped tightly. When they get to their bed, she starts stripping out of her borrowed clothes, and he slams his eyes shut, embarrassed, which honestly is absurd, considering the fact that they met in their goddamn underwear.

And yet…

She slides under the covers and into the center of the bed, beckoning him over. He trips over his own feet and flops down beside her, but faces his back to her, because he may kind of sort of maybe possibly be in love with her, but that doesn't mean that he's automatically entitled to be all affectionate and weird.

He hears her sigh.

Then she's pressed up against his back, her arm around his waist and palm pressed where his heart would be, her nose barely brushing the back of his neck. His mind is hazy, and he idly wonders if she might sneeze with all his shaggy hair tickling her warm face. It feels like too much has happened in too little time, but they've been exposed to some of each other's deepest fears, and neither of them have given up.

It has to count for something, doesn't it?

"Sweet dreams, Soul."

He covers her hand on his chest with his own, snuggling deeper into the covers and her embrace.

"Yeah. You too, Maka."

The next few days pass in a blur of elation and victory, resonance and music and resolution, and it feels so productive and good. It almost feels like they could conquer anything. Occasionally he catches Maka's worry, for them, for Crona, for the poor lost souls that they Reap, but she powers through it, as seems to be her nature. He offers quietly one night, while they're tangled up in a gentle embrace, if she wants to talk about it, but she just whispers, "I'd rather not right now" softly against the skin of his collarbone, and he leaves it at that. Maybe someday he'll grill her for all her little secrets, but he'd rather just let things progress as they should.

He hopes that there's a Someday for them. He really does.

Nightmares (while he sleeps at least) become far less frequent, and he takes it as a good sign that he's getting closer to being able to take Maka back to her body and away from this place. For all the beauty of it, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) horrors far outweigh the beauty.

Though it's a little strange, knowing that if he brings Maka back to her true home, he'll also be leaving behind the only other friends he's ever really had. He's willing, but still somewhat mournful for the loss to come.

Maybe someday they'll all meet again.

It's the first morning where Kid approves for Soul and Maka to venture off on their own, and Soul is somewhat elated and fearful, because having people put their trust in him is still something that he's getting used to, and it's weird.

Everyone congratulates them, pats them on their backs affectionately before they get ready to head out for the day, and Kilik gifts Maka with a kind of back strap which can hold her scythe even when Soul is not possessing it, which Soul appreciates greatly. That day when they walk out into the forest, Maka has her head held high, eyes sharp and senses strengthened.

By the end of it, they are exhausted and slightly traumatized, so grateful for the idea of going back to Kid's place, crawling into their bed together, and sleeping until they're damn well ready to wake.

But as they wait for Patti's path, her ever-reliable, always-there-at-the-right-time path, it just... never shows up.

Lightning strikes in the distance, forking across the sky, and the hairs on the back of Soul's neck stand on end. Something is deeply wrong, the frequency has shifted, skittering over his bones and setting his teeth on edge.

Looks like this time, he and Maka are truly on their own.

They decide to resonate completely, to combine their energy and determination to find their way back, but there comes a point where they begin to trip over their own feet, their souls exhausted and drained to the point of delirium. Soul thinks maybe they're hallucinating when they finally stumble upon a strange little village, devoid of people but filled with stone figures. Maka shakes their head though, and mumbles to him,

"I can feel people here. They just don't trust us. I don't blame them."

He doesn't either. They must appear so strange to the others, silver and gold, emerald and scarlet, calloused hands and painted toes, a scythe strapped to their broad back. They are the unknown, they are an enemy.

Hell, with his teeth, maybe they're even a nightmare to these people.

They don't stop to ask for directions.

The village is fairly small, and when Maka pushes their legs to move a bit faster as they see the exit of the town, he's glad for it. He wants to stop, he wants all of this to stop, he's so tired, but Maka won't let them rest yet, she's determined to find - If not to find Kid's place, then to at least find a secluded place to sleep. The shadows shift and dance, graceful and cunning and vicious, touching at their toes and tugging at their hair. He feels the fear shuddering in Maka.

Or maybe it's within him, and he's the one dragging them down into the dark.

It seems far more likely.

Her defiance against the worst of the world is what pushes their feet forward, onward and upward until they are standing at the top of a grassy hill, and then, there is…

Light.

So much light.

There's a whole forest of them, the Soul Trees from before, the night lit by the sorrow of the innocents, by their sacrifice, by their end. Everything in the valley is illuminated in violet and blue, and Soul feels like there was a point in his life where he might have become part of that light, like a reversed supernova, starting out as dark matter and exploding into stars. It would be a good way to go, to light the way for the rest of the others strong enough to continue.

But it's still sad.

Maka brings them to the edge, teetering precariously on those blood red toenails, raising their arms at their sides. Her music is chimes and cellos and the sound of the ocean. It is the sunbeams through trees, and it is air whistling through the grass. She is the wind itself, and their lips turn up in a serene smile, whispering into the chill,

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes," he whispers back, though she already knows his answer.

It's the truth.

And she jumps.

Soul has to hold back the shout of surprise and abject terror as they plummet down, down, down, and he realizes he can feel the wind on their face, the air whipping back their hair as they freefall toward the unforgiving earth.

They're jerked upward abruptly though, and Soul sees the pure white and glistening gold feathers, the tie-dye of wax of his childhood seeping from the seams, but sturdy all the same. Her wings, the ones that always betrayed her before, they're his as well now, and he won't let her down. Together, neither the moon, nor sun, nor stars could ever conquer them.

He's never known anything but falling. They have never known anything but falling.

They soar over the forest and he can feel tears prickle at their eyes. She whispers, yet he can still find her voice, "I can hear them."

So can he.

They land deep inside the forest, walk a bit further, and Soul vehemently ignores the way he can feel the moss between their toes. They come across one of the largest trees, the most harmonious, and they lay down, slowly falling out of resonance, curling into an embrace. Soul rests his head on her shoulder, and she flops an arm over his waist. He feels silly, seeking comfort in her arms rather than being her comfort, but at this point, it all becomes irrelevant. He stares up at the stars that he can spot between the canopy of trees, and one shoots across the sky.

Maka runs her fingers through his hair languidly, and he hates to break the silence, but he wants to know.

"You saw it, right?"

"Mm? The meteor?"

"Yeah, meteor, shooting star, whatever."

"Yeah, I saw it." Her fingers are gentle and insistent, as if she thinks if she keeps it up, she'll be able to lull him to sleep before he can ask anything more. He manages to remain awake though, and asks,

"What'd you wish for?"

Her fingers stop their motions, simply resting in his hair, and she's silent for a while, so long that he thinks maybe she's fallen asleep. Then she takes a deep, purposeful breath and reveals her truth.

"I wished for a lot of things. Most of em I'm sure won't ever come true, but that's not the point of a wish, really, is it?"

"No, I guess not."

"Mm. I- ah, wished for my parents to never have had a reason to split. Wished that I could give the other people around here hugs, because god knows they need it. I wished…"

He leans upward again, careful not to jostle her fingers from his hair, just moving enough to look up at her. "What?" he asks, and she glances down at him before pulling him more tightly to her.

"I wished we had met under better circumstances. I wished I was strong enough to get us both home, and wished I was strong enough to make you really understand that you've far better than you give yourself credit for."

He lets the quiet hum of music envelope them for a moment, before attemmpting to lighten the mood.

"Damn, you're gloomy. You just set yourself up for disappointment, don'tcha?" He pokes her side and she flicks his forehead, both of them chuckling dryly.

"It's the optimist in me, it just won't die. Hey, what'd you wish for then, huh? 'World peace'?"

He snorts, and then flushes, because he knows exactly what he wished for but it's embarrassing and lame and so so so childish, so he mumbles, "Oh, I - hah - uhhmm-"

She cuts him off. "What, superstitious?"

No, just an idiot.

"Aha, no I just. No one has ever asked me."

And it's true, he's not very used to people asking him for his thoughts, for his perspective, the things that make him tick.

"Well," she yawns, settling down into the grass a little deeper and pulling him with her," you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. Just curious."

It's almost entirely silent for a moment, and when he hears her breathing finally even out and her music lull, he whispers his wish into her skin.

"I wished that you'd get the things you wished for."

He seals it with a chaste kiss to her shoulder, feeling just a little creepy for it, before snuggling back into her side. He slips into slumber to the sounds of all the lost souls crooning their quiet lullaby. Maybe they're like guardian angels.

Maybe tonight, he and Maka will be okay.


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