A/N: Holy moly, this was such a beast to write. This was something I had stored in the archives for a looooong time. I'm glad I could finally bring this idea out and play with it. I've always hated the fact that the anime built Asura's madness up to be this terrifying thing that was going to plague the entire world, and then have it only affect Stein. So this is my Madness AU, where the kishin's insanity actually makes people OTHER than Stein go insane. What a concept!
Disclaimer: I don't own Soul Eater or any of it's characters. If I did, this plot hole would have never happened.
She never used to be afraid of the dark.
Maka had grown up knowing that monsters weren't just her imagination. From demons to kishins to dead-beat fathers who tore families apart, Maka knew very well that monsters existed, and they had lurked in the shadows no matter what time of day it was. They lived only to destroy, and destruction was never planned or timed. It was silly to assume that bad things were more likely to occur at night than during the day. Chaos had its own clock.
It was different now, though. As Maka sat awake in her bed, shaking and biting her fist to prevent another scream from escaping her lips, it was clear that darkness had a new meaning. While the shadows on her walls were normally just moonlit afterthoughts that mimicked Maka's movements, now they slinked around her walls like predators searching for prey. The inky black creatures slowly crept across her bedroom walls, getting larger and more menacing with every passing second. Their dark curves and slopes turned into hard, jagged angles, and the typically faceless shadow of Maka's form broke into a wicked smile that made her breath stutter.
Maka squeezed her eyes shut and begged for them to leave. She ignored the hitching in her breath and concentrated on inhaling and exhaling slowly, trying to calm her fluttering heart and return to her senses. None of this is real. They're just my imagination. I am safe. She repeated the words like a mantra, saying them in her mind until her breathing slowed and her tight fists loosened their grips on her blanket.
She opened her eyes one at a time. Her gaze slowly scanned the room, searching the darkness for inky black creatures and Cheshire cat smiles. There was movement to her left, and Maka nearly jumped a foot in the air before realizing it was just her alarm clock blinking the time to her in red LED numbers. Three thirty-eight am. She sighed in relief. Maka was alone again.
Her screams continued to echo in her mind, though. While she was relieved that the sound of her own frightened cries had managed to pull her out of her most recent nightmare, guilt clutched her heart at the possibility of Soul hearing them. Maka couldn't even remember what the dream was about now. That wasn't new. Her dreams always tended to slip away from her, normally mere moments after awaking. But the terror always stayed. That's why she remained awake, staring at her shadow on the wall and waiting for the sun to rise and for the feeling of irrational safety to return. And hoping her scythe wouldn't burst into her room.
That's what happened last time. It was earlier that week; Maka had gone to bed early and woken up to the sound of her own choked screams. It was one of the few dreams she could still recall. She had been drowning. Her head bobbed above the colorless water for barely enough time for her to grasp for a gulp of air, then icy water churned over her head and she was swept under the waves once more. The water was a void, and Maka couldn't escape it no matter how hard she pumped her arms and kicked her legs. The surface of the water had disappeared, and telling up from down had become impossible. She had just let go of her final breath and allowed water to pour into her lungs when she awoke, covered in a cold sweat, her entire body numb and shaking.
Then Soul was there, running into her room and climbing onto her bed, begging to know what was wrong. She could barely get the words out through her chattering teeth, but managed to articulate that it was only a nightmare, and to go back to sleep. He didn't, unsurprisingly. Soul stayed next to her in her twin bed, rubbing small circles in between her shoulder blades with his hand, and allowing her to lean on him until she warmed up enough to stop shaking. He spoke softly to her, and while her mind was too far gone to hear him clearly, she was somehow still comforted. It wasn't until her eyes were drifting closed and Soul was slipping from underneath her covers to retreat to his own room that Maka noticed the sorrowful look in Soul's red eyes. The look that said this was all his fault.
If he's not in here now, it means he must not have heard me. Maka was almost grateful for the loneliness she currently felt. If it meant that she didn't have to see that look in Soul's eyes ever again, Maka would suffer every night terror alone.
Afraid of falling back to sleep, Maka slid out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen. Less than four hours until the sun would come up. She'd just have to eat cold cereal and watch a DVD or two until that happened, and then when Soul emerged from his room she would lie and say that she had just woken up a couple minutes ago, as to not arouse suspicion. Her plan was foolproof.
Or at least it would have been, had there not been a bed-headed scythe boy sitting on their living room couch, covered in a blanket, eyes blankly staring at the muted infomercials playing on their flat-screen television.
Maka frowned. Soul shouldn't have been awake at this hour either. She padded through the kitchen, being sure to make just enough noise to alert her partner that he was not alone, but not being loud enough to surprise him suddenly. She opened a cupboard to pull out a cereal bowl and placed it quietly on the island in their kitchen. Soul still jumped, to Maka's chagrin, and when she turned around she offered him a small smile and a wave to reassure him.
"Good morning," she said, wondering why she was whispering when there was no one else in the apartment to accidentally awaken.
There was a flash in his eyes that Maka couldn't identify, for Soul had turned around too quickly, eyes refocusing on the George Foreman grills on the television screen. She tried to replay the moment in her mind, to see the look on Soul's face clearer, but he had turned away before she could read his features. Something about that look made Maka slightly worried, though she couldn't say why.
She filled her cereal bowl with Frosted Flakes and milk, then brought her midnight snack to the living room, planting herself on the couch next to Soul and pulling her bare feet up underneath her. Resting her bowl on the armrest to her right, she ate her cereal in silence, munching her soggy flakes and watching the infomercials on the screen without a word. She supposed she was trying to give him his space. It looked like he needed it. From the quick glances she stole in Soul's direction, the boy looked about as haggard as she felt. Eventually the silence began to press down on her like a weight on her chest, every wordless second between her and her partner making her more and more antsy. Eventually she couldn't contain her words, and they spilled out of her before she could stop herself, desperate to fill the void that seemed to be between them.
"So, couldn't sleep?" The overly cheerful tone she used made the silence that followed even more awkward than before. She tried to ignore how empty the silence was, and set her bowl down on the end table so she could face her partner, a smile plastered on her face to match the tone of her voice.
Soul turned to look at her. His brow was quirked in a way that would have been quizzical if it hadn't looked so sad. "I heard you screaming." His gaze lowered, fixated on his hands, folded neatly in his lap.
Maka's fake grin slipped away, and she gazed at her partner forlornly. Even though she was the one who woke up screaming in terror due to a nightmare, she felt the distinct urge to console her partner, who still refused to make eye contact with her. His misguided guilt could almost be seen, pressing down on him like a tangible weight that caused his entire body to slump in a way that was so un-Soul-like that it made Maka's heart hurt. Throughout their partnership, Soul had gained a quiet sense of confidence, and the way he portrayed himself had always indicated so. He began to stand taller, smile more often, speak a little louder when he was around her. Maka understood that her presence in his life had awakened something in Soul, something warm and strong. The defeated look that Maka saw in her partner's eyes made him look so different than his typical self, so fragile, Maka just wanted to wrap herself around him and protect Soul from all the bad things in the world. Unfortunately for Maka, Soul's guilt stemmed from her.
"It was nothing," she muttered as nonchalantly as she could muster. "I can't even remember the dream now." It was a weak attempt at trying to reassure him, one that Soul saw right through.
"You wouldn't be out here if it was nothing, Maka," Soul mumbled quietly. "You're too scared to go back to sleep, aren't you?"
Maka looked away. She didn't want to admit that the nightmares were getting worse, or that they weren't just nightmares anymore. She couldn't tell Soul the horrible visions had started to seep through her to her consciousness, that terrifying images had started to plague her waking mind as well. It would hurt Soul, and Maka couldn't do that to him. But she also couldn't keep lying to him about her fears. She nodded, still afraid to look at her partner.
Then another thought occurred to her.
"Wait, if you heard me screaming, why didn't you—?" Why didn't you come help me? She didn't want to say the words aloud. Soul already looked worn and hurt, she didn't want to utter anything accusatory and make it worse. But inside her heart she knew that if anything was causing her harm, be it mental or physical, her weapon partner and best friend would be there in a heartbeat to make sure she was alright. So why didn't Soul come to her?
Soul clutched the blanket that was draped over his shoulders tightly. The look on his face changed from heavy guilt to muted anger, teeth gritted and red eyes ablaze. Pure hatred was spelled out all over him. "I couldn't."
The way that Soul looked at her in that moment, the flash of completely helplessness in his eyes, was all the confirmation she needed. Soul didn't utter the word aloud, but he didn't need to. In that moment Maka understood what kept him rooted to the couch while she screamed in terror from her bedroom: an episode.
They seemed to be coming a lot more frequently now, the same way Maka's nightmares were also increasing in number. "Episodes" was the word they used, because she wasn't sure if there was a kinder word to describe what Soul now had to go through daily. It was a result of the madness, just like everything else seemed to be lately, but it was worse than what most people had to deal with on a daily basis, including Maka. While Asura's insanity had only just begun to slip into her conscious mind, the madness had seeped inside of Soul at a much quicker rate.
Part of the reason was because of his proximity to the kishin when Asura was awoken. Soul, Maka, Kid, Black Star, Tsubaki, Liz, and Patti were all present when Asura was revived, meaning that his madness affected them first, and they received the worst effects of it. But none had to deal with what Soul had to go through. With Black Blood already in his system from the wound he received from Crona, the madness accelerated in Soul at a much quicker rate. And thus, he began having episodes.
Soul described them once as something akin to hallucination. It's almost like his mind would leave, but instead of being completely catatonic, his thoughts would begin to slide and melt together, flip-flopping and changing color and emotion and intensity without his control. It wasn't that bad at first. Soul was always able to pull himself back after a moment or two of confusion. Maka would see the look on his face and ask him if he was feeling alright, and a second later he would be shaking it off. He didn't want to worry her, so he hadn't said anything, the same way he had kept the dreams about the demon to himself when he was first cut open by the Demon Sword. Soul had always been a more introspective person, and he didn't want to burden Maka with twisted thoughts slinking throughout his mind.
But the episodes got worse. As time passed (and truthfully it hadn't even been very long at all) Soul's episodes began lasting longer, and getting more gruesome. The demon inside of him was unwilling to relent for even a moment, and soon the visions he would see were of death, torture, murder, and Soul could not stop it. He would be going about his day, playing video games or making a snack or doing his laundry, and all of a sudden his mind would get sucked into another place, a place where invisible claws could rake down his chest and make his scar bleed black; where shadows grew larger and darker and moved at their own will; where Soul would hurt his meister in unimaginable ways until bruises covered her pale body and she was begging for him to stop.
And then he would suddenly snap out of it, winning over his mind once again and forcing himself to continue on with his daily actions as if nothing was wrong. The episodes scared him, but Soul was afraid of telling someone about them. That would be admitting that he had a problem he couldn't handle, and it was something that Soul couldn't do.
He would have gone on that way if Maka hadn't found out. He tried to keep it from her for as long as possible, hoping that ignoring their existence would make them go away, but it didn't work. One day Maka found Soul in the kitchen, standing in front the sink with a sponge in his bloodied hand, and three broken plates in the sink. Trying to talk to him was impossible, because Soul couldn't hear her no matter what she said to him. He was stuck inside his mind.
After he eventually came to, he had to tell Maka the truth. She wanted to be mad at him, because a part of Maka was hurt that Soul hadn't come to her about this problem. For a fleeting moment, she thought that Soul didn't trust her, that maybe their partnership only went one way and she was learning to open up to someone who couldn't do the same for her. But the second Soul looked into her eyes, it wasn't distrust that Maka saw written all over her weapon's face; it was fear. Fear that he was losing himself and fear that things might continue to get worse for him before they could stop it.
Without a second thought, Maka had pulled Soul close and embraced him, right there where they sat on the kitchen floor. Soul had never been one for displays of affection, but in that moment of vulnerability he had clutched her back just as hard. Maka could feel tears seeping into the shoulder where Soul had buried his face, but chose not to comment on them.
Having Maka know about his episodes was a huge burden off of Soul. While he was still reluctant to open up to her about them, Maka was much more perceptive about her weapon's behaviors after that point, and was able to be there for him when he needed it. They came to find that when Maka was around him, the episodes weren't as bad, and didn't last as long. Maka blushed when Soul told her that, brushing if off and saying that it probably had more to do with her anti-demon wavelength than anything. Part of her was secretly pleased that something about her presence was able to calm Soul in the moments when he needed it most. It made their connection with one another seem more tangible, and the thought stirred something in Maka that she couldn't identify, or maybe just chose to ignore for the time being.
But even though Maka was able to lessen the burden of the madness that plagued Soul's mind, she couldn't completely erase it. And just as her own nightmares got worse and worse, as did Soul's episodes. While Maka could clearly see that the kishin's madness was beginning to affect their friends as well (the shadows under their eyes made it apparent that they were suffering from sleepless nights the same way that she and Soul were), it didn't appear that anyone else was plagued with the visions that Soul was forced to endure. And that in itself was enough to make Soul feel worse. He had to continue to hide his involuntary insanity from his friend before they began to fear him. Some days he would skip classes and stay in their apartment, curled up in a ball with his hands fisted in his hair as he tried to keep control of his mind. When Maka found out that he was skipping, she was furious. Always valuing education, Maka believed that something they learned in school could be the key to solving this plague of insanity sweeping the city, so she forced him to attend classes. Considering they had most of their classes together, Maka believed that Soul would be alright as long as she was with him.
Unfortunately, the moments where she wasn't with him were the ones that caused him the most problems.
On one very unfortunate day, Soul began to have an episode in his Weapons class. Maka, being two rooms over, felt like something was wrong with her partner and chose to go investigate. To this day she doesn't know how she came to realize that there was something off about Soul, be it luck or a premonition or more evidence of the bond between them; all Maka knew was that she was grateful that she chose to slip out of class that day to find him.
He was in Nygus's class, where he was expected to be, but instead of focusing on his teacher, Soul's head was on his desk. At first Maka believed it to be a sign that Soul was finally getting some rest, and considered walking back to class and leaving him to sleep through his lesson when it occurred to her that sleeping normally led to Soul going through something much worse.
She burst into Nygus's class with little warning, spouting some lie about how Lord Death needed her and Soul to talk about an upcoming mission. The lie was weak and Maka knew it, she could feel the skepticism radiating from the woman's body, but hoped that her reputation as a star student and skilled meister would lead the teacher to believe her. And Nygus did, begrudgingly.
"Fine, you can take your partner with you." A glance at the boy had caused Nygus to grimace. "If you can wake him up."
Maka was running up the stairs before Nygus could even finish her sentence. Reaching Soul and getting him out of class was Maka's top priority. If Soul had an episode in class and was discovered, it's possible that they would take him away from her and lock him up in a laboratory to do tests on him. She had sped to his side and roughly shaken his shoulder to try and wake him up. Upon seeing the glassy look in Soul's eye, Maka grabbed his hand and pulled him down the stairs, doing her best to discreetly support him every time he tripped over his own feet. They needed to get out before the classroom realized that something was wrong with Soul. Maka was aware of how ridiculous they looked as they stumbled out of the classroom, but at the moment she couldn't find it in her to care. She vowed to make up an explanation later.
Knowing that she couldn't leave Soul in the hallway where anyone could see him, Maka took them to the only place within reasonable distance where they could be alone: a unisex bathroom. She roughly shoved her partner inside, ignoring the wry looks some of the students in the hallway gave them. The action had only managed to fuel the rumors that Soul and Maka were together, but Maka didn't give a damn. She shut the door behind her and clicked the lock, turning around and just barely managing to catch Soul before he fell to the floor and hit his head on the toilet paper dispenser.
Maka's heart was pounding and her throat was dry. She didn't know what to do. Normally Soul's episode would have ended already, and the fact that he was still trapped inside his own mind worried her.
It wasn't until the giggles began to fall from Soul's lips that Maka was truly afraid. Typically when he experienced an episode, Soul's body would remain still and unchanging, eyes glossed over and mouth agape. But this time was different. There was laughter coming from Soul was not his own, but the demon's. Maka was sure of it. A wicked grin had split across his face, the same expression that had plagued so many of her nightmares at the time. Maka had shrunk back unconsciously at the sight of it, heart stuttering in fear at the change in her friend.
But then something inside of Maka stirred. No, she had thought to herself. This is your partner, and you will not be afraid of him. Only one person can be afraid right now, and that's Soul. He's the one suffering. Not you. She refused to make the situation worse for Soul by being scared of him. She steeled herself against her fear, and crawled closer to her partner, despite the maniacal laughter still coming from him.
"Try and fight it, Soul," she had whispered to him, hoping beyond hope that her words would bring him back to consciousness.
But Maka knew it wasn't that easy, and she knew that somewhere inside of himself Soul was fighting as hard as he could to gain control. She wanted to help, but what was there to do? The fight was Soul's alone, and Maka couldn't combat with a villain that she couldn't see. Maka tried her best to think back to what Soul had said about his visions, anything that could help her help him. ("They're not like dreams. They don't just randomly end. I have to regain control by grounding myself somehow." "And how do you do that?" "My senses come back. Sometimes I can hear you talking to me, or I can smell something in another room. Touch works best, though. If I can feel something, I know I'm coming back. Normally when I get like that, my body goes numb.")
Maka couldn't understand how she didn't think of that earlier. Weapons were much more attuned to touch than other people, since they were so used to being handled by their meisters during battle. Before she could think twice, Maka was resting her forehead against her weapon's, hoping that the close proximity and the physical contact would be enough to break the spell on him. When laughter continued to bubble from him, Maka made a split-second decision: she shakily grabbed Soul's hand and pulled it close to her body until it was resting directly over her heart. The wild thumping in her chest was strong enough to be felt through the fabric of her shirt, and Maka pressed Soul's palm there in a desperate hope that it would be enough to ground him.
Almost as if by a miracle, Soul's eyes slowly began to blink. In a few short moments, Soul had went from completely catatonic to regaining consciousness, and Maka had never felt more relieved in her life. His laughter quieted to the simple sound of his labored breathing, and his eyes became clearer and clearer. Maka never moved from the position that she and Soul were in. Perhaps it was from exhaustion, or maybe it was because the physical contact was a comfort for Maka as well; Maka didn't know the answer, she just knew that in the moments before Soul was completely back to himself, she reveled in the feeling of his hand over her heart while their foreheads rested against one another.
His eyes were bright with relief when he was finally back to himself, and a part of Maka wanted to believe that the small smile on his face was also reserved for her. He blinked a couple of times, smirk still playing on his lips while he looked into her eyes, but then after a brief moment of hesitation, Soul had pulled away from Maka, asking curiously how long he had been out and why exactly they were inside a bathroom.
She was reluctant to give him a summary of what had happened. While Soul needed to know about his own condition, the look on his face when she told him that he was getting worse was almost too much too bear. The fear had returned to his eyes, and Maka wished more than anything that she could take her words back and say that they were a lie.
"It's getting harder to hide…" he told her, and feeling at a loss, Maka weaved her fingers with a partner's and gave his handle a gentle squeeze.
"We'll figure something out," was her only reply, because she had no other comfort to give.
As if Soul's madness hadn't been enough of a problem, the Black Blood was wreaking havoc on their partnership as well. While Soul understood that the reason that he was more affected by the kishin's madness was due to the demon blood flowing through his veins, he couldn't understand why Maka was so negatively affected as well. Her proximity to Asura the night he was revived definitely accounted for the nightmares she was having, but it didn't explain the intensity. Tsubaki had explained to them once that she was suffering from restlessness late at night as well, but she never mentioned nightmares that terrified her so much that she was afraid to sleep. So why was Maka suffering so much at night?
"It's because of the Black Blood, isn't it?" Soul had asked her one day. "When we resonate, the Blood….it transfers to you, doesn't it?" Maka didn't reply. "Is that why your dreams are getting worse? Why you're so afraid to fall asleep? Is it—is it my fault?"
Maka could neither confirm nor deny his claim, because she honestly didn't know. She was quick to assure him that nothing was his fault, but it was clear that Soul didn't believe her. He asked her if, for the sake of sanity (or what little he had left), if they could refrain from using Soul Resonance during missions from then on.
"Soul, how are we supposed to defeat pre-kishins without resonating?"
"We'll have to figure something out," he had said, throwing her own words back at her. "If the Black Blood is the reason that the madness is spreading so quickly to you, then we have to cut it off at its source."
She vehemently disagreed, of course. They were meister-weapon partners, and the key to defeating their enemies was connecting their souls. But Soul wouldn't have it, and during their next mission, against Maka's will, Soul refused to resonate with her.
He gave her strategies for defeating their foe, a giant Golem, by brute force, and in truth they might have worked if they were only battling a giant clay monster; but what they didn't know was that the Golem in question was harboring a witch's soul. When Arachne emerged from Golem, Maka had begged for her weapon to resonate with her, while Soul in turn begged for his meister to flee. During their discourse the witch had attacked Maka with one of her spells and paralyzed her, rendering both her and Soul completely vulnerable. If it had not been for the aid of Crona and the Death Scythe Justin Law, the odds of Maka and Soul surviving the battle would have been slim.
Soul spent the next three days in the hospital with Maka arguing. Resonating was essential to a partnership, and if Soul refused to do it for fear of passing the Black Blood to Maka, how were they going fight? How were they going to defeat the Kishin and stop this madness before the world came to an end?
"You could always partner with someone else," Soul had suggested quietly. "…For the time being."
Maka wanted to scream. If she was able to move, she would have already embedded a dictionary into his skull for even thinking something so ridiculous.
"Is that really what you want?" she had asked back, trying to keep the emotion from her voice. The resulting sound left her words sounding cold and calculating.
"Of course it's not what I want, Maka! But do you think I like hurting you? Every time I resonate with you, I'm passing more of this madness onto you and making it harder for you to function. But if I don't resonate with you, I'm putting you in danger during battle!" The anger was there, swelling in his heart and visible all over his face, but it wasn't directed at her. Soul was clearly ashamed with the situation they were in, and he blamed himself entirely. He took a deep breath and tried to speak calmly, but the edge of panic could still be heard in his voice. "So what do you want? Insanity or injury?"
Maka was silent for a long time. She was still steaming from Soul's words.
Getting another partner was not an option. She refused to connect her soul to anyone besides the stubborn boy sitting by her hospital bed. It was Soul who had been with her for years, protecting her and trusting her and letting her into his life bit by bit. It was Soul who folded laundry with her on Saturdays and made tea for her after dinner. And it was Soul, beautiful, wonderful, cool-guy Soul who had always been there for her when she needed him most. What kind of partner would she be if she wasn't there for him?
So, the answer to his question was quite simple: "You."
When she looked her partner in the eye, Maka did not think of her fear. She didn't focus on the fact that she was still terrified out of her mind of what the future held for them, or worry that she might have been making a mistake. When Maka looked to Soul, the only thing she could think of was her love for him and her confidence in them. They would find a way to get through this the same way they got through everything: together.
"I'm not leaving you, Soul Eater. Even if it means that we need to stop going on missions until the kishin is found, I'll do it. I'm not getting a new partner, and I'm won't leave you to deal with this alone. Plain and simple."
Soul was speechless. It took him a long time to finally respond, and when he did, it was in confusion. He asked for confirmation over and over again. Was she really willing to do that? To give up everything—for him? And the answer was always the same.
And now, sitting here in the darkness of their living room, with only the glow of the muted television to light their faces, Maka's promise to Soul hadn't changed. Maka could see the uncertainty all over him, the way he wanted to collapse in on himself and let the demon inside him take over. It would certainly be easier that combating with the hell inside of his head. But Soul would never do that, not to Maka. And so he would continue fighting, for her, in the same way that she would continue to support him. They were partners, and that's what they did.
Maka slid over to Soul's end of the couch, stopping beside him and resting her head on his shoulder. He tensed for a moment at the contact, but then relaxed against her touch, slinging his arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer to him. She could feel her soul reach out for his in a way that wasn't exactly resonance, but more of a mutual connection between the two, something casual and warm in a way that was intimate while also feeling completely natural to them. Their souls knew each other well.
It was moments like these in the quiet of the night, wrapped up in each other, that they could almost pretend like this entire thing was a dream. They knew that the madness was still there, lurking in the shadows of their minds to strike at them again. Tomorrow they would fight another battle, even if it was only against their own thoughts. And they would continue to fight until the kishin was found. But for now, lying under a blanket on their living room couch, they were simply Soul and Maka.
They fell asleep like that, bodies and souls entangled with each other, and for once, slept peacefully.