Many thanks to AwesomeAsUsual and Earth-Shines (Rokkasen) and FabulousAnima (Twin-Lupus) for looking over my ideas and helping me think, and to SoundofEz on Tumblr. She's my awesome Resbang partner!

Content warnings for blood and gore, implied cannibalism, hand-to-hand combat, extremely foul language, and generally violent personalities.

/

She smells the rot of Asura's pack, and then she notices a running stranger. He is not the source of the stench.

This stranger, a non-wolf about her own age, is ripping his way desperately through the scratchy brush of her forest. His hair, a white tuft, stands out even in the poor light of the waxing crescent moon. Behind him lopes a black mass twice his size, only its glinting claws and a telltale white X distinguishing it from the other shadows. Ragnarok.

Maka snarls, grips her silver scythe, and rushes through her uncomfortable transformation, gaining three feet in height and twice her weight in muscle and wolf hair. Her shifting bones crack and snap into place and the fabric of her clothes meshes with her new form while she runs. As she catches up with the fleeing human she can sense his terror, and it fuels her vengeance; the innocent thinks she's coming for him.

Maka swings her makeshift weapon at Ragnarok at the same time Ragnarok catches up with his victim. The other werewolf is bigger, but she's angrier, and she shoves him off the human. At the same time, there's a clang and the man with white hair falls face-first to the ground. She doesn't see why, and he doesn't move. Maka hopes he's still alive and unbitten, but her main concern is her enemy, at whom she slashes her scythe.

Ragnarok makes a clumsy maneuver out of the way and snarls.

"Get out," Maka says.

"Heh, you're too cute," Ragnarok fires back, but he stays far from the tip of her weapon.

"And you're ugly. GO AWAY," she bellows, canines bared, starting toward him. With one last curl of his lip, Ragnarok turns and bounds back into the wood. His footfalls are loud in the shrubbery.

When Maka knows the disgusting scumbag is gone, she shifts back into full human form, frame cracking uncomfortably into place. She always misses the power and extra-heightened senses of werewolf form, but somehow this is more relaxing, less taut-muscle, more smooth and subtle. As she turns back to the man who fell to the ground, she sees that he's sitting up, scrambling backward with only his hands and one leg.

Maka kneels and holds out her hand. "Hey, hey. It's okay," she murmurs. It's exactly like coaxing an anxious cat.

The man's eyes are wide enough for the whites to show in the dark. "Please, please don't hurt me," he says. His voice is almost as low as a werewolf's, but far more desperate.

Maka shakes her head. "No, no, I won't," she says.

He stops shuffling backward. "Really?"

She smiles, scooting closer as she does her best to stay at his eye level. Given her short stature in full human form, it's not hard. "I promise we're not all like that guy." He's let her get right next to him. "My name is Maka. Who are you?"

The man swallows like he still worries his next breath might be his last. "Soul."

Maka nods, holds out her hand. "It's really nice to meet you, Soul." He nods and accepts. His hand is dirty and scraped from scrambling around on the forest floor, but still warm, and he eyes her expectantly.

"So," she continues, glancing at his leg, "it looks like you have a problem."

Soul grimaces. "Ankle might be broken. My foot got stuck in that random fence post," he nods at a dangerous-looking metal rod protruding from the side of the path. "And then the thing - er, that guy - pushed me over."

"Did he bite you?" Maka asks, trying to keep any trace of anxiety or urgency from her voice. Nerves are contagious, and getting an already-injured person upset complicates things. But Soul shakes his head.

"No, I don't think so. Just shoved me down before you shoved him. Thanks, by the way." He offers her a grin for the first time, and every tooth in his mouth is beautifully pointed. It's an unusual and charming smile, reminiscent of the unnaturally sharp canines she sports at all moon phases no matter what she does, and she returns it. "Nice teeth," he adds, as though he's exactly her wavelength.

Maka nods. "Comes with the territory," she answers, hoping it comes across as polite but brisk, hoping it doesn't betray that this frail stranger has her flattered. "But there's a - ah, well, we do need to have something done about that leg."

"We?" Soul asks, puzzlement arching his white eyebrows.

"I mean, I don't think you're going anywhere alone. I know people who can help you. We don't-" She bites her lip. "We have a doctor who does really good work, and lots of other help, too. But we don't usually use mainstream hospitals. I mean, I couldn't blame you for being uncomfortable, so I would bring you to a hospital if you want, but…"

"It's fine," Soul says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "If you can fix it, I don't care where we go."

It's Maka's turn to arch an eyebrow. "Seriously?"

"Yeah. Why not? I'm bored, I've got all night." He's not kidding at all, and she's fascinated by someone so willing to take such a risk with a proven werewolf. Instead of saying any of this, though, she just gives him a smile and begins to transform.

Her height increases again and he holds up an arm as if to block a thrown object. "Hey! What're you doing!?"

It's too late to stop, so she finishes and lowers herself to all fours, once more at his eye level. She's always been told she has nice eyes in werewolf form, and hopes this is enough to keep him from getting scared again. "I can carry you and move faster this way," Maka explains. Her voice is gruff and growly, forced a bit through her altered airways.

Soul nods. "Okay, then, that's - that's fine."

"I can carry you in one arm, or you can sit on my shoulders. Either way, your leg is probably going to be jostled," she says. "We can call an ambulance if it hurts..."

"I can sit, you don't have to carry me like a baby," is the first thing he blurts. "And I don't need an ambulance. I'm not even sure it's broken."

Maka lies down, flat to the ground from muzzle to tail, so he can pull himself and his damaged leg laboriously onto her shoulders. He's trying to be gentle, like he thinks resting all his weight is going to be a burden to her even though she's almost twice his size.

"Relax. Worry about your leg. Trust me, you aren't that heavy," she admonishes.

Soul grunts, uncertain. "Uh. Okay."

When she stands partway up, she feels his hands tighten in her fur, and it's annoying. "Ow! You can - just lean forward and hold my neck, please."

He obliges too quickly; he's embarrassed. Maka doesn't hide her smirk and begins to move, her long front limbs and powerful back limbs carrying them more quickly than two legs could hope to run. It's not her fastest - that might shake her passenger off.

She can hear Soul's heart pounding as they recede deeper into the forest and the fog starts to take over.

"My family is a little reclusive," Maka explains. "We live far from where most people go so we'll be harder to find. We don't want to...freak anyone out. Or risk getting attacked."

"Hmm," Soul hums, but his heartbeat calms a little.

She arrives at the huge old tree and pulls open a flap of bark that hides the sun-and-moon doorbell, then pushes it with a clawed finger. In the clearing beyond, the veil of mist lifts ever-so-slightly, and there it is - a midrise building in the middle of the forest. Home. About half of the lights are still on. Soul, who has been maintaining a stock-stillness up until now, begins to fidget.

"This is cool, but I don't want to die," he says to her.

Maka can't hold back a toothy smile. "Nobody's going to hurt you," she assures him. "We could still go back, if you want."

Soul is silent for what must be a full minute. Maka has just sat down, ready to let him puzzle it out, when he says, "No - go ahead."

She pats his leg, mindful of her claws, and tries to remember that this will be frightening, that what's home to her will be alien to him.

Oh, no. Of everyone who could have answered the common room door, it had to be Black Star.

"Hey, Maka, why're you in holy crap, who is that?!" At least the blue-haired menace is in full human form. Her new friend probably couldn't handle meeting a hyperactive, hulking blue wolf right now.

"Calm down," Maka answers with a trace of a growl. Soul leans further down on her shoulders as she ducks in. "Ragnarok was hunting him, but I got there just in time. He's hurt and he needs attention from Stein, plus-"

"Yeah, now he knows," Black Star finishes for her. He offers his hand to Maka's passenger, who gingerly accepts. "Maybe we'll have to bring you into the fold. I'm Black Star. If you need anything, come straight to me."

"Well, right now, he needs a doctor," Maka says dryly. Black Star is the last person on the planet who should be trying to treat whatever is going on with Soul's leg. "Now is Stein in?"

"Oh, yeah. Let's go, bring him here." Black Star bounds ahead, through the common room and into the hall. Maka has to duck through the door.

"Don't hit your head," she tells Soul.

"I know how to go through doorways, thanks." She gives him a cranky snarl in return, but in truth, the snark in his voice is a relief. He probably would not be reacting that way were he not feeling some level of comfort.

Admittedly, the hallways are a little close. The building's design and construction took place in this very spot, in a big rush - it's a clone of the kind of mid-rise usually found in the city. On the bright side, Kid keeps everything absolutely spotless.

Stein's door is only two down from the common room, handy in case of an emergency. Maka uses a massive clawed hand to knock, and Stein opens it immediately. It's as if the man has a sixth sense.

"Interesting," he greets them. Meanwhile, Black Star has bolted off somewhere with just a wave, probably to go gossip with Kid and Sid.

"Good evening, Professor," Maka growls as pleasantly as she can. She feels Soul shift on her shoulders. "I found someone getting chased by one of Asura's. By Ragnarok."

"Oh?" Stein says, adjusting his glasses. "That's new. I'm glad you chased Ragnarok off, but Maka…"

"I know it's a risk," Maka interrupts. "But I can't - I saw it happening and I couldn't just stand there."

Stein smiles. His eyes remain inscrutable. "Understood. Well, why don't you come in? Let's get our patient a little more comfortable."

"Wow," Soul says, voice wavering, as they enter. The inside of Stein's apartment is probably alarming to Soul, given the odd mixture of lounge furniture, medical equipment, and anatomical displays intermingled in the dwelling. Stein sees no need to distinguish between his workspace and his living space, and it would be rude to say anything, so she just has to hope her new human friend picks up on it. She can always explain later.

"What's your name?" Stein asks conversationally as Maka lies down so that her passenger can step off. Kim, Stein's pink-haired assistant, introduces herself and helps Soul avoid stepping on the damaged leg. Soul answers their questions cooperatively, as if this were a normal situation. Should it be considered normal? Stein unties Soul's shoe and removes his sock, causing the newcomer to wince.

"Okay, Soul, it's very interesting to meet a survivor of Ragnarok." He studies Soul's ankle, which is slightly bloodied, black and blue. "Now what happened, exactly?"

"Uh. Well, my foot got caught under a random fence post. It was one of those sort of flattened metal ones with the holes in it."

"Mm, that would explain the cut," Stein says. "By the way, that area used to have fencing all along it. It's fortunate, in this case, that it's mostly gone, or it would have boxed you in."

"Why were you hiking around in the woods at night?" Kim pipes up. "I mean, only Maka and Black Star are usually crazy enough to do that. And we're all...you know."

Soul pinks a bit. "It's because I scoping the place out for class. I was thinking about doing a night video. I thought I might run into some potheads or something, but like...most people don't know you're out here, much less the other guys who want to eat everyone, you know?"

"I guess," Kim says, reluctant.

Maka waits in the main part of Stein's apartment, long since morphed back into her more compact and relaxing human form, as he brings Soul back to the X-ray machine. She smiles to herself. Surely, Soul must have assumed that the room in back would open up to a simple bedroom. Little would he know that Stein's apartment has been modified, and it extends down the rest of the hall, complete with a ton of medical equipment.

Not only does Stein enjoy having every excuse to do surgery or peek at someone's bones, but it is truly convenient having a supernatural-friendly doctor in the Den. It wouldn't be convenient during a full moon considering he's too canine to be much use at that time, but, well, no one's really around for that anyway. Maka feels a twinge of guilt at having brought Soul here at all, because now he's tied up in all their business, but she shakes it off. She's doing her best to keep him safe while keeping their family's - their "pack's" - secrets.

It's past midnight before Stein is satisfied with his diagnosis.

"I've just got a sprain...it's not broken," Soul tells Maka, a trace of sheepishness in his voice.

"It's pretty severe, though," Stein adds from the other room. "You tore that ligament right through, remember. I could operate just to be safe..."

Soul looks alarmed, so Maka rolls her eyes. "Don't worry about it."

She also encourages him to just stay at the apartments for the night. "It's one in the morning. I don't want to take you all the way back out there now, and I bet you just want to get some sleep."

"Hang on," Stein calls as he emerges from the other room. "We have to talk about the seriousness of keeping this little event our secret."

"Oh, right," Soul says. "I won't tell anyone. Promise."

The doctor sits down next to Maka on the couch. "In reality, some people would suggest that the most responsible thing we could do is kill you before you tell anyone."

Soul's expression approaches the same one he had when he first met Maka.

"Hey!" she says, elbowing her elder in the side. "Don't even joke about that!"

"It's not a joke, not really. For us to be found out by the rest of humanity - it probably wouldn't be good for us or them. Odds are very high that most people would think the smartest thing to do is attack and restrain us first and ask questions later. Additionally, they would go looking for others like us - we would be quite terrifying to them, and they would want to learn more. It's only natural. But then they would stumble on Asura's pack, and Asura's pack would take pleasure in murdering as many humans as possible if they thought they had nothing to lose."

Soul has grown quiet. Maka gets up to stand next to him.

"We aren't like that, Soul," she murmurs, trying to exude gentleness with a soft touch to his shoulder. "We haven't forsaken our humanity, and we don't want to scare you. That's why we're healing you instead of leaving you out there, or killing you. But this needs to stay a secret."

He nods, puffing an affronted sigh despite making slight and cautious movements. "Of course I can keep a secret."

Stein studies him for a few moments longer, then seems to decide that he's satisfied. "Very well, then. Just remember what's been said. Maka, keep an eye on him."

"Let's just go back to my apartment," Maka says when the weight of the moment passes. "I'm on the fourth floor. There's an elevator."

She insists that he take the one bed so he can prop his feet up. Soul protests loudly, but she just smiles as she sets up the guest mat on the floor and snuggles into the warm covers. Her guest looks ridiculous in her bed - she was in the mood for pink when she bought the bedding, so his stark white hair, red eyes, and sharp teeth are surrounded by floral-print sheets below and a fluffy, feminine comforter on top. He stares her down, defying her to laugh, so she says nothing, but she can't stop smirking. Their eyes keep meeting and darting away as they observe each other, hesitant to make conversation by the frail nightlight.

"Everything will be okay, I promise," Maka says.

"Why do I believe you?" Soul says, but he's grinning roguishly. Seconds pass. "Am I allowed to ask a bit more?"

"Of course," she replies.

"Does it work a lot like - uh, like I've always heard?"

Maka laughs. "Yes and no. Our abilities are...mostly voluntary."

"Is everyone here a werewolf?" Soul asks.

"Yeah. Everyone."

"Are there a lot of werewolves in the world?"

Maka shrugs under her comforter. "Not particularly, that we know of. Our landlord's dad was one of the first, and I guess he's out there looking for more connections, but it's tricky. He's not around much. Actually, my papa is out looking for him right now."

More time passes. Minutes. She assumes they're ready for sleep.

"Didn't mean to impose," he murmurs into the pillow before she's drifted off.

"You're not imposing," she says. It might not be entirely true, but it's also not his fault.

They haven't been asleep for nearly long enough before an alarm goes off in Soul's pocket. Maka wakes up with a jolt to the sight of Soul hurriedly mashing buttons on his cell phone to make it quiet. He sits up in bed for a while, staring ahead, and Maka goes about her morning business without commenting on him.

"Hey, it's a bit weird, but...here's my number," he tells her, gruff, without making eye contact, before heading out shortly after dawn. He shoves an old receipt at Maka with something written on it. "Take it or leave it. Just thought it might be fun to hang out again."

She smiles and lifts an eyebrow. "Thank you. But I'd better walk you out, right? We're over a mile into the woods."

She escorts him back to an area nearer to his campus. It's odd but nice, walking next to him as a human - last night, her stature dwarfed him, but now he's just about a head taller than she is, and even if the crutches Stein lent him make their pace a bit stilted, he seems more open and accessible this way. Maka is still protective, alternating between curiosity about this man who doesn't seem as frightened as he should be and fury with Asura's pack for hunting human beings. In the golden morning light, they carry on a light conversation. She is able to glean that he's a deeply bored film major and music snob, though somehow, she doesn't particularly mind. He waves to her when they reach the edge of the woods, and even after she's retreated, she catches him looking back over his shoulder.

Maka is able to wait all of two hours before she texts Soul, and they agree to meet again - just outside the woods this time - the very next evening after his class. It's a good night; it's the first one in a while that has felt anything like springtime. The frogs have begun to sing.

She brings her silver-tipped scythe, just in case, but no one has seen any of their enemies commit any crimes outside of the woods.

He's - well, she won't lie to herself: he's gorgeous in the mist and moonlight like this. His wild features hit her again; aside from the crutches, blood-red eyes and bestial teeth make him look like he belongs out here, a creature of the night just like her.

But he's an ordinary human, and Asura's pack thinks he's fresh meat.

"Look, if we're really gonna hang out, I have to talk to you about some things," she says. "Want to sit? It might be a while…"

Soul obliges, maneuvering himself onto one of the picnic benches. He watches her until she plunks herself down next to him and flashes her teeth in a smile.

"Okay. I know you're not stupid - well, I'm pretty sure you're not stupid," she amends, remembering that he thought being in the woods at night was a reasonable idea. "But I think I have to remind you that hanging around with me a lot, and hanging around the apartments? It's really dangerous."

He nods and grunts. "Mm."

"I mean it. This isn't some cute Disney movie. We have enemies we don't understand who are clearly out for our blood and everyone else's."

Soul is silent for a few moments. "I get it," he says, maddeningly calm.

"And not that it's our biggest problem, but once a month, during the full moon, we lose control of our transformations completely." At this, Soul snaps his gaze to Maka's face. "Yeah. It's as close to full-wolf form as we ever get. No one ever actually remembers what happens during that time, because we always lose our memories of it once the full moon is over. Stein has researched it a bit - that's what he does, research our condition, with help from Kim - and it doesn't look like we've done anything horrible so far, but I can't guarantee that even I'm safe to be around during that time. I could be a completely wild animal."

"It's - look, I know it doesn't make that much sense to you, but I'm not afraid of you in any shape or form," Soul answers. "As far as everything goes, I can be careful. I don't have to be around during the full moon. And I won't walk around in the woods at night anymore."

Maka studies him, unsure that this is believable.

"Well, I won't! And your crazy enemies…" He falters. There's just no way he can reason that away. "I'm willing to be careful and deal with the risk. If something ever happened, I wouldn't blame you."

Maka purses her lips. "But I'd blame myself."

Soul doesn't say anything, just stays quiet until she returns her gaze to him. "I do understand if you don't want me around, but all this weird supernatural stuff is the least-boring thing that's happened to me in a long time or maybe ever, and...I want to be able to say I'm responsible for my own actions."

There is a long silence.

"That's fine," Maka says slowly. "You're an adult. But I'd prefer if you only came out here with me. And late at night, I can come to you. I work at the library in town." She gestures vaguely in the direction where she knows the library is.

"Deal," Soul answers, showing her his pretty teeth again.

"And you're not going to hang around the Den during the full moon."

"The Den?" he repeats.

"Ah," she says. "That's what we call the apartments. It's kind of silly. When my father brought me, I felt strange about moving away from our first home with a bunch of people exactly like us, so he called it the Den as a joke to cheer me up. It stuck with everyone."

Soul nodded. "You weren't born here?"

"No," Maka answered, and then stood up. "Do you want to go...hang out around people somewhere? I get enough of being alone in the woods."

"If we really have to," he groans.

"I'm in the mood for a public place. Any good coffee or tea shops on your campus?"

"Uh, yeah, there's a place at the Union. You act like you're a hermit who never gets out," he comments, rising with the crutches, gesturing for her to follow.

Maka stands and helps pull him to his feet. "Well, we honestly don't get out beyond ourselves too much. I was homeschooled since high school because people kept asking questions about my absences, and I got a job at the library because I love books and it's easy to get a day off at any random time when there's a full moon."

She stashes her scythe up on a convenient tree branch. Soul is quiet save for a brief Hrmm, and she wonders if he's judging, so she adds, "It's like what Stein said. We mostly keep to ourselves for our own safety and that of others."

"I think the world could use some interaction with your family," Soul says.

Maka shrugs. "Thanks, but we're in a conflict with Asura and his people. There's no way we can get everyone else involved in that."

"I keep hearing you talk about this guy, but all I can figure out is that he's an asshole and apparently Ragnarok is on his side."

"Well," Maka says, not sure how to distill a complicated tangle of events, "basically, we know they're bloodthirsty murderers, but they're also stronger than us. We use weapons like that scythe I carry to limit their territory. It looks like eating human flesh boosts their powers and gives them better control, though they're cowards around us so we rarely fight them hand-to-hand."

"They've actually caught and eaten a lot of people?"

"...Yeah. Mostly easy prey. You're the first anyone's managed to save, remember?"

Soul says nothing for a minute. Their feet crunch on rocks and leaves, and Maka's voice quiets more as they move under the streetlights moving toward campus.

"I mean, honestly, I don't think the older ones have tried as hard as they could to fight off Asura," she continues. "My father was welcomed here by the first werewolf we knew of, and he worried about asking anyone to take any risks with exposing our secrets to the outside world. Trust me, everyone here is good, but I think they're too worried about taking care of their own."

"They certainly seem to have their hands full." There's caution in Soul's voice. He doesn't want to offend her. They approach the Union; it's not too busy, which is a relief, and Maka thinks it will be safe to talk if they keep their voices low. Even if someone overhears them, they'll assume they're discussing some fictional scenario.

"You know," Maka says, "we do patrol the forest. But we can only do so much. With everyone living here, spreading all the way north is probably too much for us. There are a lot of deaths and disappearances in Gibbousville and the surrounding towns now. Using silver-lined weapons makes us too much trouble for them to attack, but if we were to fight them in a big group, we'd probably be goners."

They make their way down the hall, an occasional student bustling by, and turn into the coffee shop, where they both order tea.

"You guys remind me a little of the idea that power corrupts. It looks like it hasn't corrupted you, but some people have used it for the worst things possible," Soul says.

"The magic - which, by the way, we have no idea where it came from yet - definitely changes based on what you do with it. My family is reclusive, but I don't think we've hurt anyone. We're just wolfish humans. Asura's pack hurts people all the time, and it looks like it makes them stronger, but also opens them up to some of the traditional werewolf weaknesses."

"Silver bullets?" Soul asks.

"Kinda. More silver in general. It won't instantly kill, but it leaves a really painful, burning gash. It hurts them enough that even seeing us with a silvered weapon will chase them away, if they're alone."

"Hey," Soul says, "I have a rude question."

"Nothing you can ask is gonna be that rude."

"Okay. Do bites spread the magic?"

"Yeah," Maka answers.

Soul blanches. "Do you think there's any chance Ragnarok nipped me? I mean, he definitely tore my shirt, but…"

"No," Maka answers, nearly spitting tea in her eagerness to relieve his fear. "A bite will spread the magic, but first it makes you sick for a month. A lot of the people who get bitten die. I've never seen it happen, but my father and Stein said we tried recruiting once and...that didn't go very well." She looks into Soul's worried eyes and she smiles. "Trust me, if any of his saliva got into any of your wounds, we'd know it. You'd still be in Stein's hospital."

That seems to satisfy Soul, as he brightens up considerably, and she spends the rest of their time sipping her tea while discussing slightly more lighthearted things about their own backgrounds - his reluctance to go into music and follow the exact same path as his family, her relative isolation and love of working at the library. She glosses over her mother's absence and her avoidance of her father, leaving it that not all wolves and not all humans mate for life. Soul is tactful and does not push her. She confides that she is as bored as he is, and he tells her that he plans to stay here for classes all summer to avoid going home.

They're not done, but it's almost midnight, so Maka insists on walking Soul back to his dorm.

The trip is not long enough, and her walk home is lonely.

/

Two months pass. The promising undercurrent of warmth in the chilly nights becomes warm rain becomes flowers blooming overnight and creatures crawling nervously across the road. At the end of one May evening, Soul receives a text as he climbs the dorm stairs.

[Maka] Had fun tonight! Thanks for getting the food, I'll get it next time. Unfortunately, I have to skip tomorrow. See you the day after?

He flops onto his bed and tries to hide his deep disappointment with an exclamation point. [Sent] Yeah, sure, just let me know! He almost asks what's going on, but one glance at the calendar tells him everything he needs to know: tomorrow will be the full moon.

The only unfortunate thing about this new friendship is that Soul is going to become nocturnal, because fuck, he has class in seven hours and he can't get to sleep. Maka loves going out at night, for understandable reasons, and while she will urge him to bed by midnight or earlier if it occurs to her, Soul always minimizes his need for sleep and ignores it if possible.

Aside from that, he contemplates in the general direction of the ceiling, knowing Maka is the best thing that's ever happened to him, never mind that sprained ankle. She's someone he hadn't fathomed could exist, but here she is. She's actually more interested in spending time in public, getting to know his friends, doing what he would consider "boring human stuff"; but it's more exciting with her. He gets the feeling that keeping her secret has taken a toll.

Minutes later, as if the universe knows he's going to be awake for a while, he receives another text.

[Black Star] hey buddy i think we should talk about maka

Soul's heart pounds. What? Is Black Star going to get territorial about this? Fuck, that would be pretty stupid, but if a werewolf tells him off, he'll be practically powerless. [Sent] Sure what's up?

It's a long wait for the next message. [Black Star] look man you seem cool, its been fun hanging out. i think your a decent guy. but ive been friends with maka since we were kids, shes like my sister, and ill kill you if you hurt her

Soul exhales, mostly relieved. [Sent] Okay, but you know we're not dating? We're friends. It's not entirely an accurate representation of Soul's wishes, but it is technically true.

His response comes much faster this time. [Black Star] sure and im the queen of england

Soul has never considered himself one to care much about spelling and grammar, but Black Star must have shut off autocorrect entirely.

/

"Hey Evans, wake up!"

Soul startles awake to the ugly, sneering face of his TA.

"Ugh, whatever, I'm here," he mutters, too stubborn not to give Giriko a death glare before straightening up. He doesn't have any idea how this stupid fucker got a TA position, but here he is. He probably got it by kissing Professor Noah's ass.

Soul bounces his feet alternately under the desk, newly-healed ankle itching to get up and exercise. He glances at the clock on his phone - 9:20 AM. About fifteen hours until Maka will be coherent again.

It's a long class.

/

At his own request, Maka texts Soul at some unholy hour the next morning. He doesn't answer because he's not sure if it's weird to be this worried about someone he met a month ago, but he can only falls asleep after he knows she's back in her right mind. The next day, he replies, and plans to go to the library.

"How's the studying, Soul?" Maka asks as she passes his chair with a handful of books.

"Shouldn't you be off doing librarian stuff?" he shoots back, trying to distract her from the game on his phone. It's not his fault Noah's philosophy class is stultifyingly boring to study for.

"I am doing librarian stuff. But also, I'm not technically a librarian, just an assistant." She leans over the back of his chair. "Eugh, I read that once," she says, looking at the book he's been trying to ignore. "I don't blame you, it's awful."

"I hate everything about this class. I just need to scrape by and do my time, that's all," Soul mutters.

Maka swats at his hair. "There's no point in not trying. You'll just screw yourself over."

He sighs as she walks away. "Yeah, yeah, I know…"

The truth of the matter is that he is afraid of her. But, like the masochist he now thinks he might be, he's also fascinated by her.

Soul wonders if it's wrong to have such ridiculously non-platonic feelings about a werewolf. It certainly doesn't feel wrong - after all, most of the time they're together, she's a petite human nerd with wheat-gold hair and stunning green eyes and only a couple of slightly sharper-than-average canines to give her away. She's soft and warm but also strong, so...so kissable - not that he has any experience kissing her, but some things are just intuitive.

And on the occasion that she's in her wolfish form, she is terrifying and beautiful, like lightning. He's got it bad.

Anyway, it's better not to get too hopeful. Surely someone like her, all tied up in magic, knows a long list of potential partners more interesting than himself. She probably lives in an entire building full of them. Still, he spends all the time he can with her.

Maka's knowledgeable about most school subjects, and she likes to help with his classwork. She has no idea what she's doing as regards the film classes, but those annoying gen ed classes he's still finishing up are exactly her cup of tea. It also helps that she works at a library - even though it's a bit of a longer drive to get there than he'd like, he comes by when he knows she's working, and she in turn will appear sometimes to push him along or help him work through some content that's been frustrating him. He could be just a project, someone Maka helps to feel connected to her human side.

Still…what would she say? 'There's no point in not trying,' right?

/

"Want to see a movie tonight?" he asks as they step into the heavy spring air. He's asked this question a million times before, but he's more nervous now that he's sure of his own intentions.

"Yeah, sure, let's go for it. I'm in the mood for something creepy." She grins, revealing those two slightly-pointier teeth. "How about you?"

Soul nods. "Yeah, let's see what's out for horror lately."

"Do you want me to text Kim and Kid and everyone to see if they wanna come?"

"U-uuhh, if you want to?" he answers vaguely, heart sinking. There's a shift in the atmosphere, and he knows she noticed his hesitation. His usual response is a doubtless affirmative.

"Ahhh, I'll let it go. I'm sure if they want to hang out, they'll ask us, right?" Maka says. Soul risks a glance at her, and she's smiling.

"They better not ask during the movie or they're not getting an answer," he grouses.

The theater is within walking distance of the library. Upon arrival, they discover that the only movie they're currently showing in the horror genre is called Surreptitious.

"I dunno, I've heard mixed reviews about it," Maka says.

"The name makes it sound really hokey," Soul agrees. "Do we wanna give it our money?"

Ten minutes later, they've given it their money and found seats as high in the back of the theater as they possibly could. Just as the dad is commenting on what a great new opportunity this suburban house is for the family, Maka breaks into a fit of giggles.

"What's so funny?" Soul whispers.

"It's just already so typical," she says, getting a hold of herself and leaning into her seat. Her shoulder nudges his, though, and stays there.

It's not as if they haven't touched before, but it's never been for this long and not under duress. Soul settles in her direction, pressing them together a bit more. Come to think of it, what is his goal for tonight? What they have going here is a balance. At the same time, he has a feeling they could know each other better. Even if his attraction is mutual, would it really be wise to start a physical relationship after a month?

She leans her head on his shoulder, and it's nice - really, really nice. Actually, "nice" is one of the weakest words in the English language, so he thinks he might want to come up with something better, but his mind isn't in a good place for worrying about vocabulary.

Soul hasn't been thinking too much about the movie, but the creepy red man suddenly popping out of nowhere for about 3 frames is still startling.

"Shit!" he and Maka yell in unison, earning some alarmed looks from the few others in the theater. Maka's lifted her head from his shoulder, much to his disappointment, but his nerves are still frazzled. He glances over at Maka and notices that her fingers end in claws now.

After he catches his breath, he whispers, "Wow, you really hate jumpscares, huh?"

"Pfff. Looks like I'm not the only one."

"I'm okay if-" Wait, 'I'm okay if I'm actually looking out for it'? Way to reveal that he isn't here for the movie. "I'm okay if I'm alert, I was just too relaxed," he says.

"I don't like nasty surprises," she continues. "Can't rely on my senses, watching a movie." On her lap, her hands shift back to normal, and she leans her head on his shoulder again.

Fuck. This is far more mushy than he's ever intended to feel. Soul leans his head on hers a bit and wishes the stupid armrest wasn't in the way of their hands.

A few minutes later, Maka shuffles and moves again. "Can I-?" she asks, grabbing the armrest and looking into his eyes.

"Go for it," he says, heart pounding. In front of the lifted arm rest, they join, leaning on each other and holding hands, and it's the most content he's been in ages. He wants to dance, he wants to sleep, he wants to take this fortune and run while he's ahead.

This time, they're so uninvested in the movie that they truly don't notice the remaining jumpscares.

/

Soul is more nervous leaving the theater than he was going in, if that's even possible, since now he's going to have to deal with what transpired in there. On the bright side, Maka has not stopped holding his hand.

It's a busy street during rush hour, but now it's late and not too crowded. Soul is busily marching toward the local cafe, their go-to hangout when they're near the library, when Maka tugs him to the right.

"Psst," she says, pointing down an alley midway between the now-closed pharmacy and some office for an accounting firm. Soul follows, slouching into the shadows. The buildings are long and the parking lot on the other side does little to light the alley. He can't see much detail of her, just some her curves and edges and the shine in her hooded eyes from the diffused streetlights.

"Hey," Maka whispers, and he leans against one of the buildings, still grasping her hand. "Were we thinking the same thing in that theater?"

"Umm, that the public's taste in horror has really gone downhill?" Soul jokes. When she huffs but adds nothing, he says, "I think we were. Maka. You've gotta know I like you."

She chuckles, and it sounds like relief. "I had a feeling, but...I didn't want to assume."

"Yeah, well, you can start assuming."

"Soul," she says, as if trying out his name again for the first time. "I really like you, too."

His heart ignites, and he doesn't even think before his other hand is running up her arm to feel her warmth. She draws closer, ready for an embrace.

"Uh," he whispers, "can I kiss you now?"

"Please," she answers back.

He almost slips in a snarky Can the magic be spread by a kiss? but fuck any more delays, he needs her lips on his now. When they meet, guided only by vague light and skin on skin, she's as soft as he knew she would be, but incredibly insistent. She nibbles his lip and her sharp teeth send sparks to his belly. He nibbles her lip, too, and it makes her breathe his name and pull him close.

"Hey, if it's not the little shit," he hears from over his shoulder. Whose voice is that? Soul squints to himself and notices, belatedly in the mostly-dark, Maka's wide eyes and slackened jaw.

He places the voice - it's Giriko - but why is she so terrified of his asshole TA?

"I...I should…" Maka stutters, but Soul is already turning around to roll his eyes in Giriko's face, too fed up with the class to worry about his grade anymore.

"Look, you-" Soul pauses when he catches sight of his nemesis.

It's an altered Giriko. He's huge. He's far taller than usual, and his face is long and distorted, and his mouth is lined with colossal teeth like Maka's.

"Crazy catching you two in the same place," he growls, voice at once guttural and jovial. "Soul, are you canoodling with this half-bitch?"

Soul opens his mouth to fire back even as he edges toward Maka, ready to push her into a run away from Giriko, but he's interrupted as he collides with a lot of fur. Maka towers above him in werewolf form, snarling, and begins to pull his arm toward the other end of the alley.

"Don't you fucking dare," she growls at Giriko. "How stupid are you? Show yourself on a busy campus and we'll all be-"

"I don't caaaaare," he sings out of tune, making a vicious grab for Soul's other arm. The pain of being dragged in two directions at once is immense, and Soul cries out.

"Stop!" Maka shouts, furious desperation in her voice. But Giriko will not stop. Maka tries something new - flinging herself at Giriko's arm to make him let go. She leaves a slight trail of blood behind her clawed fingers, but the larger werewolf mostly dodges her, dragging Soul along like a worn-out backpack.

Giriko is fast, and he makes it almost all the way to the end of the alley before Maka. The breath is knocked from Soul's lungs as his captor hefts his whole body over one arm.

"You're gonna make great bait," Giriko pants. Soul's heart drops into his feet, an action accentuated by Giriko himself falling forward as Maka rips at his legs. Soul hasn't even regained his bearings before Maka is wrenching him once again from Giriko's grasp, blood on her muzzle .

"Fuck you," Giriko blusters, rolling forward and pinning both of them against a wall. "Look, you fucking whelps. We're gonna eat the guts raw out of both of you. You can't fucking run, you can't fucking hide! Did you know," he says, shoving his face in Maka's, "once we eat human meat, we're immune to the effects of the moon? My kind will hunt yours while you're a bunch of stupidass, mindless dogs, and none of you will-"

Maka aims a kick between Giriko's legs and he squeals in pain. She rolls, taking Soul with her in a flurry of grit and scrapes, and dashes out of the alley. It's too late for there to be many people around, but there are still a couple of gawking onlookers beneath the streetlights; each is eerily quiet.

"Where are we going?" Soul asks, squirming in Maka's grasp. Dammit - he told her he didn't have to be carried. The wailing of sirens grows closer and Giriko snarls rabidly, losing ground behind them.

"The Den," Maka says, anxious, and he knows it's the only place she can think of right now. He wonders, given the distance, whether it's an ideal solution, but he admittedly has nothing better. Despite his opposition to being carried, Soul clings to Maka's arm, lost for ways to help. She's dashing for the swath of woods behind the theater.

A gunshot rings out. Giriko screeches. More gunshots thunder across the town and Giriko is silent.

"Oh my god," Maka mutters without stopping. He can feel her heart hammering away in her chest. Somehow, it exaggerates his own desperate pulse.

There is no more noise, however, at least nothing urgent, and Maka's pace eventually settles into something less frantic. She reaches the Den, mashes the doorbell on the tree, and morphs back into a human, falling to her knees, panting, right at the doorstep. Before Soul tugs her up, someone yanks the door open.

It's a tall, muscled, dark-skinned man named Sid. Soul hasn't seen much of him, but when they did meet, Sid was far more calm.

"What the hell happened?" he asks, nodding toward the common room so Soul will follow as he tugs Maka in. "They're going wild on the news! They found one of Asura's in town and you two look like you know something about it."

The TV in the common room is on, and sure enough, the news is flashing footage of a dark street with Giriko's hulking body collapsed in the middle of it.

"We can't comment on exactly what it is at this time, aside from the fact that it's clearly not human," a tired-looking policeman reports. The staff in the newsroom are having a field day and freely throwing around the term "werewolf."

"They're going to search," Sid says.

Soul asks, "They'll find you?" because he has nothing else worthwhile to say.

"They're unlikely to find the Den because of the spell on this place. Unless you ring the doorbell first, you won't perceive that it's here. On the other hand, they can find us if we're outside the building."

"Shit," Soul says.

"So what do we do?" Maka asks Sid, looking desperate and too youthful in her human form.

Sid shrugs, as Kid, Kim, Stein, and Black Star all come pouring into the common room with mutterings like what the fuck? and is that real? "Our hand may have been tipped. We may have to reach out after all."

Maka nods, resolute. "Okay. Okay, maybe we can deal with that...Soul, can you please follow me? I need to talk to you."

Up the elevator. It's her true home, the same place he was the first time they met, and they sit down on the bed. But there's a feeling of foreboding sitting heavily in his chest.

"Soul, look, you really have to stay out of this," Maka says. The feeling had been right.

"I don't want to," Soul says. "Besides, we just...you just said…"

"I know we just started something," she says, eyes sad, "but notice how the instant we did, something horrible happened. You almost got killed. Are you not more worried about that?"

"Not really," Soul answers, fidgeting defensively. "It was bad luck. I want to help you."

"You've known us for two months, and we haven't done anything for you!" Maka says. "We just put you in danger."

"No, some sickos with similar powers to yours put me in danger. Maka, I wish I didn't have to remind you that this is the first interesting thing that's ever happened to me. There are people like you out there, with these amazing abilities, who are too afraid to show themselves, and I know you hate that. Maybe your family doesn't hate it, but you do. And I want to be there to help you when the rest of the world learns about you."

Maka shakes her head. "No. Look, did you hear what he was saying? I did. They're getting bold. They've figured out some mystery that we haven't solved yet - something Stein and Kim don't know. I don't know who else they've got, but they're going to attack us."

"So that's why I want to be here," Soul insists. "Why would I want to leave you alone?"

"Because you're weak," Maka snarls. Soul recoils, offended and surprised for reasons that make no sense to him. "Look at us. We can defend ourselves. You're just...you're weak. If one of them gets a hold of you, you'll die immediately."

"They're still stronger than you," he breathes. "You can't tell me I'm too weak and you're not."

"Fuck you. We're in a far better position than you are."

"What about the full moon?" Soul asks.

"What about it?"

"Well, you tune out and lose your memory on those days. Didn't Giriko specifically threaten you about that? Doesn't it make sense for someone who's in his right mind to be around during those days so I can keep track of what's going on?"

"No," she says. "It doesn't make more sense than letting us deal with our own problems."

"Fine," Soul says coldly. "One last question: if Asura's pack has already been eating people, then why haven't you and yours been moving faster?"

This hits a nerve. "We thought they were trying to stay hidden as much as we were! That would keep the killings down. I didn't know they were - they were involved in society. How did Giriko know you?" she asks, pointing an accusatory finger.

"He's my TA," Soul says. "How do you know him?!"

"We've run into him in the woods before. I should have smelled him. But I didn't. I was too busy with you," she says, her face an angry red.

That night, she ends what they hadn't really started and tells him to stay away, promising to find him again if the danger ever ends.

/

He obeys her wishes for almost a month, until the next full moon.

It's midnight, about an hour before the full moon technically starts. He's been pretending not to worry all day, but he's reached his breaking point.

Sorry, Maka, he thinks. I know you're not gonna be happy to see me, but I'll die before I sit here on my ass while you're being stalked by a bunch of monsters.

Soul grabs a pocket knife from his drawer - to tell himself he has a method for self defense - and rushes from his dorm to the edge of the forest, finding the familiar path and rushing up.

Now the full moon starts in 20 minutes. He doesn't know exactly where they'll be, but they will be nearby, and it should be reasonably safe if he sticks to parts of the woods they frequent, right?

Soul arrives at the misty clearing where the doorbell tree stands. After some trial and error, he finds where the doorbell is hiding, and presses it. The apartments materialize out of the fog.

"Soul?" he hears, and it's Sid, coming from the opposite direction on the path. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to see Maka," Soul says.

"Did she tell you to come?"

"No. I just want to," he answers, defiant.

Sid shrugs. "She's around back. But you know-" He doesn't get a chance to finish as Soul dashes away.

Closer to the building, the air is clear and the starlight comes through the trees. As he expects, Soul finds the younger wolves in a circle around an extinguished fire.

"Soul?!" Maka gapes. Kid and Black Star whip their heads around to look at him, but Maka is the only one who says anything. She gets up, dashes over...and tackles Soul to the ground, halfway in the form of a wolf.

"If I have to pick you up and drag you out of here myself in the next five minutes, I swear I will," she spits, voice deep and menacing.

"If you really want to do that, then do it," Soul challenges her. "I certainly couldn't fight you on it. But I am tired of not being allowed to be part of your whole life. I-" He glances over her shoulder at Kid and Black Star, who are watching from their human forms. At the same time, Maka relents and lets him back up.

"Let's go to the front," she says, casting her packmates a glance that can only mean do not follow. As they walk, she shifts into her burly werewolf form.

"You've never told me what it's like to shift," Soul says, voice quiet.

"It sucks," Maka answers. "You can feel all your body parts including your bones rearranging and growing and then your clothes fuse to your skin. At first it hurts, but as you get used to it, it becomes something else even creepier. You don't want to end up experiencing it for yourself, and that's why I want you to leave."

They've reached the front. She towers over him.

"Maka," Soul says, turning to his whatever-she-is and looking her square in the eyes even though he has to tilt his head back. "If you really, truly want me to leave for your sake, I will. But you keep saying all this vague bullshit about how it's not safe for me because I'm so frail, and I want you to stop trying to make my decisions for me. Frankly, it's insulting."

She plunks herself down on the ground, and it would be comical were he not terrified of being officially kicked out of her life again. Maka's eyes, the same green hue in werewolf form as in human form, are sad. "Jackass. Your safety is in my interest. I'm not being selfless, you know."

Soul takes a deep breath. He wants to hug her - she'll be big and warm - but it would be inappropriate.

"You've got a point there. I don't know how to win," he admits, avoiding eye contact. "I hate having to stay away and live this half-assed scenario where you have a double life and I only get to be involved in part of it when the other part could kill you."

They are silent for several minutes, during which Maka apparently decides not to try to intimidate him anymore and turns back into a human.

"I do want you here," she says. Her voice is smaller than he's ever heard it, and his heart races with hope. "I just feel responsible."

"So," he begins, "we can continue having this half-and-half relationship if you want. But as we saw before, that didn't really work." She nods in assent. "I could leave now. You could walk me out and I could delete your number and we could never see each other again." She nods again, her lack of protest bothering him. "Or you could let me make my own decision and be real partners in this."

"But what part of you hanging around here when it's dangerous is partnership?" she asks. "Seems like you're just being clingy to me."

"I can wield the silver scythe when you're a wolf," Soul answers, pouting. "I'd be the first one who doesn't transform who could witness what really happens during the full moon."

Maka hangs her head. "I really do want you here, but..." She looks up, eyes wide. "You would leave right now if I asked?"

His heart drops into his feet. "Yeah," he sighs. How will he get over this loss?

"And you would never talk to me again?"

"You don't have to rub it in," he says, clenching his jaw.

Maka reaches out to take his hand. "Then I won't try to chase you away. Just be careful."

Soul barely has time to let the grin creep onto his face before Maka begins to change.

"Shit," she growls, and she stands, suddenly and stiffly, backing away from Soul as her muscles enlarge. He'd be scared if he didn't know her, but he knows her, so he just steps back a bit and watches. Her eyes screw shut with the discomfort of transforming.

He can't help it - his heart pounds as he wonders when the exact moment will be that she forgets who he is and what she is, besides a wild beast. He's running on faith alone, and as her ears move up and her skull cracks into the shape of a wolf's and her muscles swell and her claws grow, Soul's own thoughts take on a duality. Something in the back of his mind laughs at his romanticism. This is the thing you fell in love with over the course of three months - are you into fur? Do you like to hear her bones crack? Do you like the smell of wet dog hair, do you have some kind of death wish that she'll just rip your throat out like the wild wolves do to the wild deer?

Fuck off, he tells it, gritting his teeth as though he were a snarling wolf. Memories aren't the only things keeping Maka who she is.

Over and over, no matter how many warnings you're given, you keep coming out here where you were assaulted. Do you really hate your life so much that you're willing to risk it for this?

His dark thoughts are interrupted by the completion of Maka's transformation. She's taller than him as usual; this time, though, she's on all fours, and there's a wondering glint in her eyes. She glances around warily, in the manner of wild animals, before turning her attention back to him. She sniffs him, eyes narrowed, before staring right into his face. It's like seeing her transform again for the first time - her head is twice as big as his. Behind the nearby Den, there is a chorus of howls, and Maka leans back from Soul to join them.

When she's done, she lowers her head, ears relaxed, and appears to give him a doggy smile with her tongue lolling out. She headbutts him gently, then proceeds toward where her friends and family are likely waiting.

Soul is not sure what to do. When he hesitates, she stops and glances back. When he follows, she moves forward. She coaxes him all the way around the building before breaking into a trot toward everyone else.

Out here in the dark night, surrounded by them all in massive pure-wolf forms, it's much easier to think of them as a pack. When Maka reaches the group, they all turn to look at Soul and every instinct he has tells him to run, but they remain relaxed. To keep his confidence, Soul thinks about how ridiculous Kim and Black Star look - wolves colored like cotton candy. He's met them before, and they've always been nice, right?

He moves forward, legs like lead, and is allowed to stand at Maka's side. He reaches up, tentative, to pat at her neck, and she butts her head into his hand.

"You still know me, though," he thinks out loud. None of the pack seems to pay any attention. Instead, they mingle with excitement, edging away from the safety of the Den as a group. Within it, there are other groups. A werewolf who has to be Stein, with his silvery hair and olive eyes, gravitates toward two other wolves who must be Sid and Nygus, with coats of black and deep brown. Kim runs with several wolves Soul does not recognize, her pink fur made subtle by the nighttime shadows, and Soul is reminded how much he has left to learn about Maka's life. Black Star, with his ridiculous blue fur, gravitates toward Kid. The two spar like puppies.

Maka bounces from group to group. They don't seem to be especially focused or rushed, and they spread out among the trees, but Soul has some trouble keeping up with wherever they're going. Maka circles back to him now and then, and he thinks she's checking on him. He sees the others come to snuffle around and see how he's doing, but less often.

It only occurs to him after about an hour of walking, when she starts nipping at his heels, trying to push him off to the side, that they're hunting. Sometime early in the morning, when Soul is ready to drop with exhaustion, the pack begins a swift dash forward. Soul has no interest in watching them tear open some animal, so he finds a tree trunk to lean on until Maka comes back. They're at the edge of the woods, near a meadow almost impenetrable with tall grass and briars. He pictures the area in his mind; they must be miles north of where they started, because that's the only direction in which the forest continues to grow away from town and away from his campus.

Crap. He forgot to bring the scythe. Maka will probably lecture him about that.

Dawn breaks before Maka returns with a bloody muzzle and the offering of a deer leg and places it proudly at his feet. It would be adorable, were she not large enough to crush his skull in one bite. Soul tries not to vomit and says, "I'm not eating it, but I'm also not gonna let you live this down when you come back."

They spend the entire day sleeping, which does not bother Soul at all. He leans against Maka's curled form, while the other wolves spread out among the trees. He can see Kid and Black Star curled together, and he contemplates taking a picture on his phone to tease them with before deciding their extra-close relationship, while a lovely revelation, is not his business.

He's equipped with the music on his phone and a cheap pair of earbuds he always had shoved in his pocket, and there is nothing more liberating than listening to music in the midst of nature. Soul should be in class today, but he doesn't give a shit. He can afford to miss it.

When darkness falls, the pack begins to move back toward the Den.

Emotional memories. That's what they have when they're wolves. Maka can't physically speak and she doesn't remember exactly what happens, but she knows who he is. All of them know each other, and they know how to behave. Through the changes in thought, their relationships are preserved.

It must be approaching midnight again when the pack is off chasing some other prey. Soul doesn't want to know anything about it. He hopes Maka will not try to bring him another body part, so he intentionally falls behind.

There are the snappings of too many twigs at once, and Soul turns around. A black mass gallops toward him. Soul's blood freezes in his veins when he identifies the huge white X, and he tears his jacket on a nearby tree as he dashes away.

"Hey there, meatbag," Ragnarok snarls. "You're giving me a golden opportunity out here."

The pursuit continues through the trees, Ragnarok casting insult after insult as Soul gasps to get air in his lungs. "I bet your strung-up corpse would really bother the shit out of our annoying neighbors. I was gonna chase them down, but you can be my bait!"

Soul's legs are going to turn into jelly. The terror at the thought of Ragnarok's spittle on his legs keeps driving him forward, but he doesn't know how long he'll be able to keep running. This part of the woods is eerily familiar - and he realizes: this is the same place he was on that fateful night when Ragnarok was first pursuing him.

He clears the slanted fence post he'd once tripped over and there's a low whuff to the side, where Maka bounds toward Soul and his hulking assailant. Before the hope can bloom fully in his chest, she's attacked Ragnarok's head, shredding his ear with her fangs as she's knocked away.

Soul's heart skips a beat, seeing her take that hit from such a monster, but she lands on all fours and makes a beeline for Soul.

"FUCK," roars Ragnarok, shaking his head. Little droplets of blood splatter onto Soul's shirt and Maka's pelt, and their enemy snarls as he takes a long-clawed swipe at the pair.

Maka dives toward Soul, pushing him out of the way, rolling under the massive wolf-hand. Soul once again notices his metal post when he almost impales his eye on it. Desperate for a weapon, he grabs it, and at this angle it's not so hard to pull from the dirt and leaf litter. He's not sure a metal post will work against a massive, man-eating werewolf, but suddenly, he doesn't want to let it go.

Maka begins a whimper that ends in a snarl. Soul turns to look, and she's engaged with Ragnarok, frighteningly close - only a few feet away. Each nip at his hands and feet is just aggressive enough to attract the enemy's ire, Soul notes, and he realizes that somewhere in her wolf-mind, she doesn't think she can beat Ragnarok with brute strength; she's just buying time like a bird feigning a broken wing. There's a bloody gash on her face, and one on her leg. He looks at the rod in his hand, then back at Maka and Ragnarok. Their best chance is to run, but he doesn't want to give up the weapon yet.

"Maka," he calls, and she responds - dodges past another angry swipe to come to his side. He prays to whatever force might listen that she'll still trust and understand what he's doing without being able to talk it out and grabs the thick fur of her nape and shoulders, pulling himself up to her back. She stays in one place just long enough to let him up, then dodges another blow in the nick of time. Soul juggles the pole, tries to keep it from becoming a burden.

"Turn. Run. Let's go," Soul says, throwing his weight in the opposite direction from Ragnarok. She starts to follow his advice, jostling him every way as she bounds over rocks and under branches, but it's no use; the monster is hot on their trail. He can feel Maka gasping for air. Ragnarok is a tiny bit slower, but the reality is that he's going to outlast them.

Soul glances at his weapon. This is it. This could be their lives. He leans to whisper in Maka's ear. "Think this could kill him?" He hefts the weapon's weight to draw her attention. She can't respond, but maybe she can get an idea of what he's planning.

Maka dashes in a circle around a thick tree, presumably trying to gain some space or confuse their attacker. As Soul had suspected, the gaping maw of Ragnarok comes around the other side.

Soul rams the metal pole down Ragnarok's open throat. It turns out, he thinks with some satisfaction, that werewolves are a lot squishier on the inside. He feels resistance and pushes, harder, hopes he pierces the heart in one clean attempt; ah, the wolf's enormous jaw is already around his arm.

It hurts, he discovers belatedly. Soul pulls his arm back, and the damage is done to Ragnarok, who has fallen to the ground, choking on his own blood. But there's also blood all over Soul's arm, and some of it is his own.

Maka runs onward, not stopping to check on Ragnarok. Soul clings to her back as long as he can, but the site of Ragnarok's bite is burning and his consciousness is fading. He hits the ground, and the world goes black.

/

He hears and feels things sometimes. It's Maka howling; it's her teeth dragging at his clothes, paws heedless of the crunching leaves.

Then he sleeps for a while.

There's pain when he is next aware. Someone - is it Maka again? Yeah, definitely Maka - is carrying him. It's a pity he's too busy hurting to really relax into her hold, but she's comforting, and there's relief in letting her carry him. The others are around - some others are around, anyway; he hears Black Star's shouting.

Wait! Dammit, he told her he didn't have to be carried like a baby…

The bed is nice.

His muscles seize up every now and again, but then there's sweet relief, tired limbs resting against the mattress like rest is medicine. He supposes it is.

Soul awakens, more or less. Things are hazy, he shivers, and he's weak, weak, weak. He's never felt this weak. This is ten times that bad fever he had as a kid. Stein and Sid practically carry him to the bathroom. Thank goodness, he thinks as they leave him alone, he can at least do this much for himself.

He's spending more time conscious, even if it's not as much as he'd like. Everyone else visits a lot, and they are all extremely worried in their own ways. Black Star tells him "Man, I gotta admit, that was TOTALLY badass!" Kid fluffs his pillows, although he may also be trying to straighten them. In the few short visits Soul has had with the man, that's what Soul has surmised is his favorite thing to do, and it's strangely comforting now. Kim introduces more visitors, people he's never formally met but who figure he's one of them now.

Maka's here. She's been here a lot, but time and her exact number of visits have been getting away from him. She keeps asking how he's feeling, and he always responds "I'm okay," because it's true even if it's a bit of an omission. Most of all, he doesn't feel bad about not telling her random parts of his body hurt all the time because she can tell. She knows. She tells him he doesn't look okay, and he sticks his tongue out, and it gets a giggle out of her.

Maka explains that Soul killed Ragnarok, but in that same swipe, he was bitten, and now he's suffering from the werewolf sickness. But she knows he can make it through.

"Is it okay if I lie with you?" she asks, voice catching in her throat.

"Go for it," he murmurs, when really he means Yes, please. She's his hot water bottle. She's better than a hot water bottle. She's a life raft. Soul keeps coming up with metaphors and similes for Maka.

Their friends visit again, and Maka explains that he's doing about as well as possible.

"It's been three days," he hears Nygus saying. He doesn't know Nygus very well, but she was nice the one time they met. "We have to get him to walk or his muscles will atrophy. Also, he needs a shower!"

Shit. Bad news. He smells and his muscles are going to stop working. It's enough to get his eyes wide open, and he struggles to sit up.

By the time he's at the edge of the bed, he already wishes for the soft comfort of the mattress and Maka's warm embrace again. But this time she's at his side, helping him take his first few steps that aren't meant to get him to the toilet.

It turns out that Maka's idea of exercise is far more than he'd bargained for, but in the long run, it will be the right thing. For the short term, it makes her happy, which is enough.

He's gotten through a week, started feeling better - if still exhausted and a bit frail - when the vomiting begins.

"Fuck," he murmurs to Maka, who sits patiently outside the bathroom as if guarding the door. "I forgot about this part."

"Well, we weren't expecting it to happen to you," she says, tone almost apologetic.

He still has to eat. There's not a true connection between his stomach symptoms and eating, so sometimes he can keep it down, and sometimes he can't. At first, it feels like a pointless waste of energy; why eat if it's just going to come up again? But he gets used to it.

By the time the involuntary transformations start, he's feeling much better. Physically, they hurt like hell, but it's his soul that has hope. He can see this through.

/

The mid-July dawn glows through the trees and reaches the Den. Maka feels like she's waking up as she walks the path to her home, but she's really just coming to her senses.

Soul has helped reveal so much.

People trickle into the common room at roughly the same time as Maka. But aside from waving at them - she has a feeling they just saw each other, after all - she rushes to Stein's hospital unit.

There's Soul, sitting up in what used to be his bed, eyes clearer than they've been for a month.

"Hey, you're safe," he says, cracking a grin a mile wide.

"Yeah, there were no Ragnarok and Giriko out this moon. Feeling better?" asks Maka.

"A million times," he answers.

"You made it."

He nods. "I guess I did. Thank you."

"For what?" She sits next to him on the bed. His gown is too big for his body now, but they've had to drape him with something huge that wouldn't get damaged in the involuntary transformations.

"Just being here." He leans over to nudge her with his shoulder, and she uses him to prop up her weary body.

"You're one of us now," she says.

"Well, I'd say I still have some learning to do, but...I'm getting there."

They sit in silence for a few moments. "Is it still as exciting, now that it's not different anymore?"

"Yeah, of course."

She takes a deep breath, fidgets by knocking her feet together.

"You're still exciting, you know. I still really like you."

Maka looks up and he's gazing down at her with a look she hadn't before dared to hope for.

"Even after all that? After I almost got you killed? Multiple times?" she asks, words almost catching in her throat.

"You didn't do anything," Soul says. "I got involved by my own choice. Maybe it was stupid, but yours was a world I had to explore, and you were my guardian while I did it."

Maka kisses his arm.

"Now...what are we?" Soul murmurs. "Am I still interesting to you, too, now that I'm not different anymore?"

"Are you kidding?" Maka says. "You're - you're Soul. You saw me trapped in the body of a wild animal and you still knew me. There's nothing better than that."

She raises her head, and they share another kiss - it's as tender as the one that took place in the alley during the spring, but this time, nobody gets hurt, and nobody gets interrupted.

Tomorrow, they will begin the process of coming clean to the rest of humanity. Soul already has friends and family they can reach out to, and Stein, Sid, and Nygus will help find safe opportunities to connect with the police. Together, they will help the non-wolf humans fight the ever-looming threat of Asura's pack, which is bound to replace its two most brutal cronies sooner than later.

Maka looks forward to this revolution. But for now, she just wants to bond with the one who will be standing beside her.