A/N: Despite its darkest parts, Soul Eater is rather light hearted for what the canon is: young, young teenagers acting as hit men without question or true compensation for their efforts. Black blood and insanity aside, I find that very dark. I mean, if cops on crime dramas become jaded from just arresting criminals, I can only wonder what it would do to kids who go out and actually fight and kill the scum of the earth.
I wanted to play with the canon and bring more realistic elements to it, such as cultural and social divisions between the races: humans, weapons, technicians and witches and explore how media and organized crime might change how people see each other and Shibusen if there was a dramatic shift in simple opinion.
You might consider this AU as well, taking place anywhere within the canon between the first encounter with Chrona to the assault on Arachne's Castle. I like this stretch of time because things are complicated, but not too complicated. Where we're at in the manga currently, it hurts my head trying to keep track of the million things going on at once and all the loose ends!
Anyways, enjoy. It starts off Soul and Maka centric, but will branch to other characters in other chapters. And also, of course, I don't own any of the important characters, nor do I make any sort of profit from this work.
The Beloved Helpless…
Her name was Amber, a name not so unordinary but yet very fitting, introduced so silently by her nametag. She had pin-straight hair that flowed like ribbons of chocolate down her thin shoulders and past her milky skin and youthful face; perfect, unmarked, unscarred and enhanced with the faintest hint of makeup. The lemonade yellow waitressing uniform she wore was soft and kind like the summers you see on laundry commercials, from the round, gentle white collar to the short skirt that hid behind the immaculate white apron she wore around her waist. In that small pizzeria, Amber had all of Soul's attention.
He and Maka had decided to go out for dinner tonight. Not a date by any means, just a lazy evening, letting the employees there take care of the cooking and cleaning for them. Maka had spent the past few minutes explaining their upcoming mission to him, but Soul clearly wasn't paying any attention. His chin rested in his broad, tanner palm, his deep red eyes fixed on the pretty little waitress across the restaurant.
Maka's mouth went dry as the corners of her lips flexed downwards into a small frown. When she looked at Amber, Maka only saw her movement, the way her cheap pizzeria uniform's skirt dared to hint at regions of her upper thigh, how her bra clearly didn't give her chest the needed support a waitress would need to provide service with any sort of decency or modesty. At the moment the 'girl' in question was talking to a bunch of kids her own age, she wasn't even on task! Why the hell did it always come down to floozy, air headed, well endowed girls that got the boys' attention? Before Maka had finished her internal rant about the lowliness of the male mind, words bubbled up from her gut and past her thin, frowning lips.
"If you like her so much, why don't you ask for her number?"
He didn't respond. It seemed he didn't even hear her. In all honesty, Soul wasn't looking at Amber, exactly. He was looking at the jacket the boy she was talking to was wearing. On the sleeve it sported the embroidery 'Death City General High' in gold over blue. Four of them sat in the booth, Amber giggling as she pretended to work. They were kids their age, just hanging out, having a good time. No more than ten feet separated their table from that booth, but it felt like miles. The world those five people were in was nothing like his own.
"Don't ignore me!" Soul's thoughts were interrupted by a clear and decisive Maka-chop to the head. "You can be so rude, practically drooling like a dog over that waitress. God, men are such pigs." The shouting matches that followed Maka-chops were always somewhat satisfying to Maka, especially since she almost always won and winning was important to her. Rather than yell back, Soul simply rubbed his head, that same dazed look in his eyes as he finally turned his gaze to his meister.
"What do you think it'd be like to be human?" He asked.
Slowly Maka lowered her book. "Human…?" The word tumbled from her lips as if it was the first time she had said it and gave the word any sort of thought. In school, they often used the term in lectures to describe the lesser of the four mainstream races.
Humans were those who could not alter their soul wavelengths. They could not wield weapons. They could not be weapons, nor could they cast spells or use magic. They were the beloved helpless ones that Shibusen worked endlessly to protect. But now, at this table, this moment it seemed such a cruel term. Her eyes returned to the booth where Amber was still chatting with friends from school and instead of resentment and anger, there was a pang of jealousy.
They were the beloved helpless…they were human. Soul and Maka therefore were not. Not protected. Not human. Not beloved. Just expected, necessary and somewhat expendable. If they were to stand and announce their position and accomplishments, there would be no applause. There would be no thanks given for their efforts to protect that moment of happiness those five teenagers were now reveling in. After she and Soul ate their pizza, they'd leave a tip for the pretty human waitress for her bussing food and drinks and they would return to their apartment and begin preparation for their upcoming mission. They'd risk their bodies and souls and there would never be a tip awaiting them for their efforts. Just the scrutiny of their superiors, the emptiness of their awaiting apartment and the homework left to finish.
"Eh sorry, it was a dumb question." Soul shrugged, finding the growing silence unnatural from his partner. Now that he thought about it, it was an unfair question to ask Maka in the first place.
There had been a time in his own life when Soul was human, before his sudden and unexpected transformation stunned his family and changed everything. Back then, the only things that mattered were family and music. There were no troubles in the world, just fresh cut wide lawns, suits, lavish parties and recitals. For a few short years, there had been innocents; ignorance towards the world outside his family's estate. He had that.
Maka never did.
She had was born, or rather bred, to be what she was. When she came to be, the only question was if she was technician or weapon, not if she would want to spend her life out there, fighting, struggling, battling against the darkest parts of the world. Her child hood was spent filling her head with the wonders of being in the Shibusen elite. She had never had the chance to be human or even contemplate the peaceful jobs humans occupy.
Maybe he could have worded his question differently, asked what it might have been like to be a teenager, like those who also shared the restaurant. That was a loss they both shared. The hardest things those students across from them would know in these short teenaged years were college exams, what car to eventually buy, what dress to wear to prom. The absence of his and Maka's own teenaged years was evident in the apartment they both shared, forced to live with each other for convenience incase there was trouble, to help foster better understand and resonance. Living like adults at the simple age of 15 and 16. The most blood those kids would see would be from infrequent fist fights, sports accidents or in the movies. Not like they had seen. Not like they had spilt. Not like they had shed.
The thought of blood turned Soul's stomach. Being a weapon had given him plenty of experience with blood. Maka had seen her share, but she didn't know what it was like to be encased in flesh, to tear, slice and separate organs, skin, bone and body. To be covered and saturated with the hot, sticky life giving substance, nor what it was like to look up and see cross-sections of human anatomy so plainly displayed, sliding across himself. He only thanked god that the speed of her swings made the cuts single and helped set the crimson flying from his blade once he was clear of the corpse. There had been nights he had wondered what sort of sacrifice he was making for this position of scythe. His place with his family, innocents, adolescence, good pleasant dreams…
The sudden smell of pizza made Soul flinch, given his most recent line of thought. Amber; however, was blissfully unaware.
"Here we are: one large pizza, half pepperoni, half cheese. Anything else I can get for you two?"
"No, thank you." Maka smiled pleasantly, already forcing herself to think of better, different things. She had a knack of lording over her thoughts, placing them in neat and organized manners; little packages of ignored truths nestled between exaggerated lies and false beliefs. She tucked Soul's question behind the dresser in the back of the closet in the furthest corner of the house of her mind and trusted that Soul wouldn't end up pulling it back into light. Everything had its place within her. Control and planning were keys to being a successful meister, after all. She was happy being whatever it was that she was. There was nothing else. There had never been anything else besides Maka: the scythe meister, and contemplating any other outcome was foolish and stupid and a waste of time.
"As I was saying before you started staring off into space, tomorrow we're leaving for Ocean City, Maryland to investigate claims of a middle aged man who kidnaps children and drowns them before eating their souls."
Cheese stretched a long bridge from Soul's lips to the slice of pizza in his hand as he raised an eyebrow at her description. God, she talked about it like it was the weather forecast. This was some sleeze ball on the other side of the country who was eating souls from the bloated drowned bodies of children. When he wondered if their souls tasted as good as this pizza, he decided it was probably time to put in for personal leave from school. Everyone knew souls tasted more like diet Jell-O than Mick's Famous Pizza and if they tasted this good, heaven help them all. He couldn't help a soft chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Maka asked, pulling her plain cheese slice onto her own plate.
"Nothing." He dismissed between large bites leaving jagged teeth marks in the food. "So, after this mission, do you think we could just spend a day on the boardwalk? It's been a while since we've-"
"We have a test in combat studies next week, remember? We need that time to study." Maka said, not even looking at him, but rather her pizza as she used a napkin to dab away some of the grease that glistened on the slick white cheese.
Soul stuffed the crust of his slice into his mouth and swallowed. "Couldn't we just bring our books and study after we play some games or gone swimming or something?"
Maka seemed to give Soul's suggestion some thought as she took small bites of her food. Once her food was properly chewed and swallowed, she put half of her slice down and looked at him with skeptical green eyes.
"Are you telling me, Soul Eater, that you wouldn't gorge yourself on beach fries, play away all your money on games and be so tired from swimming around in the water that you'd actually devote time to studying?"
He sighed and leaned further back in his seat, folding his arms across his shirt. "Why are you so scared of having fun?"
"I am not scared to have fun." Maka huffed, "Why are you so scared to take anything seriously?" Dodging a question with an aggressive one of her own was a classic move for her. The possibility of an argument was exciting in a way that she wasn't fully aware of. A bit like a game of chess, a bit like a wrestling match, she enjoyed this game with Soul. It was the way she had learned that women were supposed to communicate with men.
"What? I do take things seriously." He frowned, appetite waning.
"Oh? Like what?" She egged him on, nonchalantly bringing her pizza back to her lips.
Soul paused before sighing. He wasn't going to let her get him to yell. That would be so uncool here in a public place. If they were at home though… "Fine, whatever. You can bring your books and study your brains out, but I'm going to relax and have some fun."
"No you're not. Your last test was awful. You know that we have to graduate as a team and there's no way that I'm going to let you keep me from graduating with honors."
He held his head, feeling a headache come on "Maka, we're not even supposed to graduate for another two years! One weekend having fun isn't going to flunk us!"
In all honesty, Soul's grades were good. Not as good as her's but much better than others in the class. There was no harm in pushing him to do better though. It showed she cared, right? "If you tried harder, I wouldn't have to worry so much."
He leaned forward over the food, hands planted roughly on the edge of the table. "I DO try hard. If I'm such a burden, why the hell do you put up with me, huh?"
"What is that supposed to mean?" She frowned, leaning forward as well.
"I'm sayin' that if it wasn't for your grudge against your dad and your worship of your mother you wouldn't give a damn about being my partner. I mean, why else would you stick with such a lazy stupid weapon, am I right? Because that's what it sounds like." He gritted his teeth at her, eyes narrowed.
"Don't project your stupid insecurities on me!"
"That's because you have enough of your own?" Soul stood and grabbed his wallet, tossing a twenty on the table. "I just wanted to spend a weekend with you." And before Maka could wrap her mind around his last statement, Soul left the table and pushed through the door of the restaurant, the bells chiming loudly announcing the end of the argument like the round bell in a boxing match. She had won. He had retreated. It was just as she had been taught.
It was then she became painfully aware that all eyes were on her. Those stupid, ungrateful eyes of the people, the humans, staring, judging her for her actions. They didn't know anything about her or what they went through!
"What are all of you looking at huh?" she yelled at them, glaring particularly at the group of teenagers and the bright ray of sunlight in her eyes that was Amber. For a moment she felt bitterness towards all humans, for the things that she had to do despite the pride she took in doing it. And there was bitter anger towards Soul for even making her question what it was she was doing and considering the cushy place humans had. For having formed the question in her mind, scared it would creep from its hiding place and just complicate things, everything was complicated with him! She punched the table and left, the money still there next to the large pizza with just one and a half slices missing.
'I just wanted to spend a weekend with you.' His words repeated in her mind as Maka walked through the dark streets of Death City. The air was thin and dry and unbearably hot even under the grinning moon. Why did it feel as though there was more to that statement than what was obvious? He was predisposed to being lazy, laying around with headphones on doing nothing more than listening to music or playing games with Black Star, like Black Star didn't have enough things he needed to do to just catch up with the rest of the class.
Halfway home, she began to think about what it would be like to take in the ocean front city. The colorful t shirt shops nestled between souvenir and taffy places. The smell of fries, the call of sea gulls, sand, the ocean, the sky. When had been the last time they had taken a few days to their selves? Enjoyed one of the places they had gone to visit rather than just accomplish the goal and go? Soul wouldn't be infected if they had gone sightseeing in Italy after their mission like she had promised…
This line of thought was counterproductive.
The silence and emptiness of their apartment didn't consol her. She had hoped he'd have beaten her home and would be there, watching a movie or playing a video game, but instead darkness welcomed her home. The floor creaked in all the familiar ways as Maka moved to turn on the light. Quiet stillness was always unsettling to her. All her life there was noise, talking, yelling, someone to listen to, someone to talk to, to argue with, to suggest, to command. Maka retreated into her room and gathered an armful of text books, carrying them to the couch to study that way she'd know the moment when Soul would walk in the door.
She was sore, her body was complaining in spurts of pain and stiffness as she sat up on the couch. Her text books and papers were spread in disarray over the floor and small coffee table, shifting on the cushions.
"Soul..?" Maka called into the quietness of the apartment. The morning sun was shining in through the windows, the overhead light still on from when she had drifted to sleep. Soul would typically have picked her up and taken her to her bedroom, stacked her books, turned off the light, no matter how bad the fight had been. He must have been seriously upset last night or just too tired whenever he wandered in.
Maka got up and turned off the over head light before heading down the hallway to his bedroom. Two customary knocks were given before she opened the door to find his bed empty. As if going to check to see if it were a practical joke, Maka tiptoed across the floorboards and lifted the sheets. The bed wasn't even the slightest bit warm. There was no way he didn't come home. That wasn't like him. She checked the bathroom next to find it empty as well, his toothbrush still in exactly the same position he had left it the day before.
He was a man after all, did she really think he'd always be there? It was in their nature to run. Maka shook her head, sitting on the couch ignoring the schoolwork that slumped against her side. In one quick motion she took out her cell phone and called Tsubaki. If Soul spent the night somewhere else to prove some sort of stupid ridiculous point, he'd have stayed there with her and Black Star.
"Hello Tsubaki, is Soul there? No? Are you sure? Could you check Black Star's bedroom? Oh. Ah no, don't worry, I'm sure he's fine. No, we had a stupid fight last night and he stormed out of the restaurant. He probably got a hotel room somewhere or something. I'll let you know when he shows up. Ok. Bye."
The click-close of her cell phone returned her to silence again. An itch, a pull, a knot grew in her stomach, tightened her fists and traveled across her skin. Worry for his safety, anger that he made her worry, and sheer confusion on how an argument over spending a day on some stupid boardwalk had lead to this. To top it off, they were supposed to leave today and now their mission would have to be rescheduled.
If he were to walk into the room, Maka would have to decide between hugging him and punching him in the gut. There was also fear in the fact that he could even raise this sort of emotion in her, that he was close enough. Let him have his time to wander the city and do nothing. There were better things for her to do than worry about someone who didn't care enough to come home.
The hours there after were spent in busy work. The apartment had been cleaned, every crack dusted, disinfected and polished. The homework for the next two weeks was finished, the latest chapter reviewed three times. Groceries were bought, lunch had been prepared, made, ate and put away, dishes cleaned and returned to their places. Every piece of laundry had been taken care of. She had to keep moving, keep busy, keep focused on something productive, always productive. If she held still then worry and unhappiness would flood over her edges like a skipping stone losing velocity.
But her…their… apartment held no more distractions. There was nothing left to do. Maka grabbed her coat and left into the dimming afternoon sun to go and look for that bastard. There was no way she'd let Soul put her through another night of waiting and another day of hell. And when she found him? Oh, there'd be hell to pay.
She had only stepped out into the street when she picked up on his wavelength no more than half a mile to the west. Maka began to think about all the things she'd say as she jogged along the sidewalk. How she'd scold him, how hard she'd whack him for making her worry, how she'd make fun of him for being so easy to find. She'd never tell him she worried, that it drove her crazy not to know if he was ok or how she even regretted some of the things she had said. Now that she had worked so far ahead, the upcoming test was no longer an excuse to keep them from having fun together.
What would she say first? 'If you're going to hide out, you should try harder!' or maybe 'What the hell do you think you were doing, not coming home like that?' She wasn't even truly watching where she was going as she followed the signal of his soul and thought about how she was going to punish him. He was just up ahead.
"Hey Soul, where the—" Her words stopped short when she saw him, just as she stopped running. Leaning against the store wall in the narrow alley he stood, panting, not putting pressure on his left leg that matted and stained his jeans with blood. His lip was split and hair spotted with flecks of red and deep brown dirt. Despite his condition and her 'greeting' words, a look of relief and happiness spread across his face and slowly his body moved forward. Maka rushed to close the gap and dipped her shoulder under his to give him support.
"What happened? Did you get in some fight?" She was concerned but not too much and would show even less than what she felt. Besides, she had seen him in much worse condition and how quickly he bounced back.
"Oh yea, I'm fine don't worry, it's nothing." He said with sarcasm, but unlike Maka, he couldn't hide his happiness to be there, with her. "We need to see Stein."
"You're joking. Look at you. You at least need a bath and change of clothes before we go anywhere. Can you even walk on your own?"
"This is really important, Maka. We have to get there now." He insisted but Maka shook her head.
"He lives another two miles from our home. At least lets get you patched up, ok? Or else Stein will fuss and we'll never get back."
Soul hadn't expected her to just listen and agree to his request, but she was compromising and that was good enough for him. "Ok."
After all, he had been so very close to never seeing home again or hearing Maka's voice, even though she didn't seem as happy to see him as he'd like.
Maka stood anxiously, back against the closed bathroom door as Soul showered. Her vigilant ears listened carefully to the sounds of the water, worried that he might fall. When she had seen the gash on his left calf it was clear that it had been poor attempt to cut at the back of his knee. Someone had wanted to permanently hinder his mobility. His left arm had small defensive cuts and under the investigation she gave him when they had gotten home, she found a small cut on the back of his head where someone had snuck up behind him.
Dryness plagued her throat. While she had stayed home, being mad, Soul had been hurt, had suffered, fought and somehow escaped something he still hadn't explained yet. She would have remained angry, probably searched all night and when he still wasn't to be found, only then would she have asked for help. Who knows if they would have found a body or—
She shook her head and stared at the picture on the wall across the narrow hallway. The image was of them at lunch at school. Soul's mouth was full of food, a fork in Maka's hand, a book in the other, both of them wearing happy expressions. He could have been gone, he could have died. Suddenly tests and grades felt so petty and spending a day or two having fun, with Soul, far away from all of this seemed like the best idea in the world. A few days to be teenagers. A few days to be humans. To be someone else maybe, besides Maka: the scythe meister and Soul Eater: scythe and devourer of kishin eggs.
The water stopped and Maka moved from the door. She didn't want him to know she had stood there, and went to look busy doing something else. She slipped into his room to gather his dirty and bloodied clothes to start to wash them. Two steps across the hardwood of his floor brought a sudden thunk as something fell out of his pants pocket. There, on the light colored wood sat a white, glossy but cracked circular band of some sort. Maybe it was a broken thick bangle or bracelet since it was an inch, maybe an inch and a half wide and jagged on one end, the circle incomplete. Maka put the clothes on his chair and bent down to pick it up, surprised by its heavy weight. Turning it over carefully in her hand, she noticed this too was specked with blood. The inside of the band was metal; cold, silver and smooth.
"Maka, put that down!" Soul shouted from the doorway and she nearly dropped it in surprise. A blush crossed her cheeks as she noticed he only had a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair hung heavy and long from the water still clinging to it, his torso still a little slick-didn't he know how to dry off properly?
"Soul, put some clothes on!" Maka covered her eyes with her free hand, also attempting to hide the color of her cheeks.
"I would but you're in my room, put that down and get out!" She put the heavy band down on his desk before hurrying past him and paced the hallway while he got dressed. What in the world was that thing, why did he have it and did it have anything to do with his attack? What was taking him so long to get dressed? Maka plopped down on the couch just moments before he half limped into the room. In his hand was a torn section of his shirt from the day before and in that the band Maka had held. He wouldn't touch it himself which only peaked Maka's curiosity more.
"This…" Soul swallowed, looking down at it. Maka waited for him to continue but when he waivered, teetered, she bolted up and caught him, helping him over to a nearby chair.
"Sorry, my right leg's just really really tired." He offered an embarrassed grin. Maka was too concerned about taking the band from him. Kneeling in front of him, she gently took it careful to keep it wrapped in the cloth.
"Don't worry about it. I'll call Dr. Stein and ask him to come over and take a closer look at you. Maybe you have other injuries we can't see."
Soul put a hand on her shoulder and for the first time for quite a while, she truly looked, truly saw Soul, meeting his red eyes with her own. "I'm ok, I promise."
"What happened last night?" she asked softly. There was a rare vulnerability in her voice that Soul noticed that fluttered his stomach.
Slowly he closed his eyes, deciding it was best to start from the beginning.