Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater.
by. Poisoned Scarlet
The wooden staff had flown in the air in a complex spin and her nimble fingers had caught it in the nick of time. But her footing had been off: she ended up breaking the staff in half when she fell against it. "Sid is going to kill me..."
She was in the weight room at Shibusen.
Barefoot, in her physical education uniform, she stood in a room framed with mirrors; each catching every graceful or clumsy move.
Technically, this was a dance room, however the room had been converted into a training room for the athletes as well as meister's or weapons who wanted to blow off some steam or improve their stamina. The old weight room, which held no mirrors but other exercise equipment, was being remolded due to a student accidentally pushing a whole set of weights on the floor and thus crushing a whole five steps of tile and a little of the wall.
It was empty in this makeshift weight room. It was far too late for any one to be willing to enter Shibusen; it was also a Friday, and not many students wanted to spend their Friday cooped up in a room lifting weights by themselves.
She was an exception.
She needed to make sure that never happened again, and she needed to make sure no one else would come to that same conclusion ever again.
"Relying on men... pathetic."
Maka retrieved another wooden staff from the storage room and walked back to the middle of the mat.
She breathed in profoundly: she needed to focus.
Taking a page out of Justin Law's book, however religiously psychotic he was at the moment, she secured her ear-buds in her ears and pressed play on her MP3 player. Immediately, heart-pounding, loud and wild, music blasted in her ears; blocking out any distractions as she closed her eyes.
The wooden staff in her hands felt balanced and weighed about as much as Soul Eater did when he was in his scythe form.
Immediately, fingers curled around the practice weapon, and began their entrancing dance. The staff flew from hand to hand, flipped and twirled above her, and spun in her palm to the ever-changing beat of the song.
"Don't hesitate... hesitation will only hinder your motions—"
Around her back, up in the air, back in her hand, spinning lightening fast above her head before reaping down on an imaginary figure.
Then a quick spin and it was back to being tossed hand to hand like a baton.
"—block – use him as a shield, then attack—"
The staff stopped dead, and she fiercely struck with a pawed hand, in the way her professor taught her, before starting up the routine again.
A graceful loop in the air, a hit on the floor, and back around her body with a swoop of air, before she tried out a combination attack and struck with her foot, then fist.
"—if you wish to be self-sufficient and not rely on your weapon as heavily as you do, you have to develop your own fighting style, much like Black Star and Patty have. Once you have achieved this—!"
She landed a swift aerial kick, catching the spinning staff and roughly stabbing forward, imaging that girls face – the one who dared to call her useless – to be at the end of her wooden weapon.
"—there is nothing else that can possibly stop you except, of course, a very strong opponent—!"
Kick – kick – punch – kick – stab, feint – kick again.
The bottom of the staff slammed against the mat, as she caught her breath. She had lost count of how many songs had run by her ears in the allotted time – a lot, by the way she had already reached her hard rock section – and she wiped away a sheen of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.
It was a good thing she changed into her P.E. uniform – fast-paced training like this was not as easy as it looked and, although she was in top physical shape, combining both martial arts with the art of scythe wielding (in this case, using a wooden staff, since she had shooed her weapon to hang out with Black Star that evening) took tremendous effort – especially since she was so accustomed to simply relying on her scythe for her attacks.
She wouldn't be caught useless without her weapon.
No one would ever dare to say she was dependent on men; she refused.
Maka glanced at the clock and gasped.
Soul was going to kill her – she promised to be back home by six and it was already half an hour to nine!
"Shit!" She swore, loudly because of her headphones. She pulled them off her ears in one tug, silence abruptly falling back into place. That's when she heard the squeak of rubber against tile, and Maka sharply turned, raising her staff defensively, only to falter and stare at her partner, who dusted off his pants.
"S-Soul—what are you doing here? I thought you were with Black Star!" She sputtered. "Wait, how long have you been here?" The thought of him having seen her training, by herself, embarrassed her. She had messed up several times and she couldn't deny that having his eyes on her this entire time made her shaky with nerves.
"A while." He replied flatly, slouching back with his hands in his pockets. At her accusing glare, he explained: "I didn't feel like playing video games with Black Star so I decided to hang out with you... guess my surprise when you weren't in the library or the classroom, where you said you'd be." He sarcastically finished.
She pressed her lips together at the veiled accusation and asked: "How did you find me?"
"Stein." He answered. "He said I'd probably find you in the new weight room."
She turned her back to him. "You could have warned me you were here, you know! I would have stopped and—!"
"I know." He cut her off, before she began her tirade. "But I was curious with what you were doing up here, all alone." His eyes fell on the wooden staff; a weak imitation of his own cold metal self. "Training, huh?" He ran fingers through his hair. "We usually train together. Actually, we always train together."
Maka didn't reply.
She still didn't reply. Instead, she picked up the pieces of her first staff and walked back to the storage room, where she neatly put the unbroken staff back in place. She held the two pieces of wood in her hand somberly. She had grown too accustomed to Soul's nearly indestructible scythe form and applied too much weight on that weak replica.
"Maka, answer me."
Her hands curled tightly around a piece of splintered wood.
"... Nothing's changed." She finally said, transferring the broken staff to another hand. "I just decided I needed a little more training."
"You could have asked me to help you."
"...alone." She added quietly.
Maka snapped her head up to face him, a rebuttal on the tip of her tongue—!
"Something has changed – normally, you would have forced me to come with you. You would have said some crap about both of us getting stronger and I would have said something stupid to counter that and you would have knocked me out with a book and I would have woken up here a couple of minutes later." He bluntly stated, ignoring her outrage. "Then we would have trained until I felt sore from watching you and we would've both gone home and I'd cook dinner for us."
"What are you saying—!"
"That was what was supposed to happen today." His crimson eyes darkened. "But you decided that training by yourself using a weak piece of wood was better." The broken pieces in her hands only reinforced his statement. "Whatever that book showed you, it isn't real, Maka – it works by exploiting your weaknesses. You know that, so why would you let it get to you like this?"
Maka set her jaw, squeezing the wood in her hand. He didn't understand: those were her weaknesses for a reason, and they were not all nonexistent and made up by her overactive imagination. They were very real, very possible, and she would first jump off a cliff than continue to roll dice and hope her enemies wouldn't exploit those faults themselves.
"Because it's true." She tried to keep her voice strong. "I'm weak – way weaker than Black Star and Kid or even Ox. I can't do anything without a weapon – I'm useless alone. You're a Deathscythe now – you won't need a meister once you finish your training. You'll leave me. Then what?" She clenched her hand into a fist, swallowing hard. "I can't just find another scythe and start over again – demon scythe's are rare; I was lucky to be able to find you like I did..." Her shoulders slumped, green eyes melancholic. "And I don't think... I would be able to match soul-wavelengths with another weapon like I can with you."
She didn't let him continue, adding: "I thought that by developing my own fighting style, it would help me for when you leave. Lord Death said I'd make a good spy if you decide to continue your career as a Deathscythe. I can do that by myself. That's why I'm here... alone."
Soul listened to her patiently, gazing at the uniform boots that were neatly lined by the edge of the training mat. "First of all, that's a dumb reason to keep me in the dark about your training." Ignoring her shock, he continued: "Whoever said I was leaving you? You're such a moron. Stop assuming things! I'm not leaving you even when my Deathscythe training ends!"
"But you have to!" She argued. "It's your obligation as a Deathscythe to aid Lord Death and other meister's—!"
"You'll always be my meister!" Soul shouted, silencing everything. "No one will ever take that spot away from you. You were my first meister, and you'll be my last. I might be temporarily assigned some other meister for a mission but I'll always come back to you, Maka."
"Until you get permanently assigned a station somewhere around the world – far away from Death City." Maka said, bitterly.
Soul held her eyes steadily. "I'm not leaving you, Maka."
"You will... I was just—!" Teeth ground together with an effort to suck in tears. He made it sound so easy; she wished it actually were. "I just didn't want..." to be alone, she finished mentally.
A hand rested comfortingly on her shoulder but she refused to look up. She instead clenched the broken staff to her chest, watching her vision blot with color with each watery blink.
Planning for disaster – that's what she was doing.
The Book of Eibon had only awakened the insecurities she had buried deep within herself: her fear of being an inadequate meister, her fear of being weak and useless, her fear of relying on men, her fear of being alone again.
"NO!" She slapped his hand away and took a few steps back, forcing her eyes to clear from the mist that had overtaken them. The mirrors hooked to each wall, reflecting them from every angel, caught the dark, unspoken, things that sifted through her eyes. "The book was right: I'm relying too much on you!" She wiped a hand under her runny nose, refusing to shed tears in front of him. "I hate it." Her eyes narrowed. "I don't need anyone – especially not a man. I have everything I need already. I don't need you. This training will only—!"
"Shut up!" Soul snapped. "I don't know what that fucking book showed you but there's nothing wrong with relying on people! Sometimes you can't deal with everything on your own, and that's when you need friends to help you!"
"I have nothing against that." Maka hissed, startling him. "It's just you."
Soul stared, uncomprehendingly. "What?"
"You. It's just you..." Her hand clamped down on a broken end of the staff, driving splinters into her palm. "I... trust you too much." Maka confessed, her eyes losing their edge for a second. They became soft, as if remembering an old, fond, memory, before they iced over with resolve again. "To the point where it's starting to get too—too intense."
She didn't know if this qualified as a confession or not but at the moment she didn't care. She was more concerned with preparing for the disaster of when he would leave, of distancing herself from him so it hurt less. Improving her skill as a scythe technician was only part of this back-breaking regiment she had set on herself – the rest was her own personal mission to distance herself from Soul Eater Evans, who had managed to worm his way into her tightly kept heart and ruin her promise to never fall in love with a man.
"It doesn't matter if you don't leave." Maka decided to say when he said nothing. It hurt to think about it, it hurt a lot, but she refused rely on him, and she knew staying would only worsen the dependence she already had on him. The next words could possibly break her but she thought they needed to be said. "I'll... go myself."
"So... that's it then?" Soul said, at length. "You're giving up on us before it even started?"
Her eyes widened at his reply; her heart giving a traitorous lurch. She looked to the mirror in front of her, his eyes connecting with hers through the reflection. He was close behind her; she was tempted to look over her shoulder but instead she kept her gaze steady with his own through the mirrors.
"...What happened to the Maka who showed courage?" Soul quietly asked, and her lips parted to answer but no words formed. "The one who wasn't afraid to take a chance?"
"I've always been afraid."
"But you've always had the courage to go around it." He stepped forward with a tranquility she envied until he was a foot away from her back. And still she didn't remove her eyes from the mirror although his own face was hidden behind her. "So, where's your courage now?"
Maka looked down bitterly. What was he trying to do? Intimidate her?
A twisted grin, one she could not see but could envision, split his face. "Guess you really were just a coward after all—!"
Maka swiveled around before he could get the next word out, her eyes sparking dangerously. "Shut up! You don't know anything!"
"I know that you're scared." Soul said, the epitome of calm. She hated it. "You're terrified of what you're feeling, and I know it's because Deathscythe and Kami fell for each other this way when they were our age. They were partners in Shibusen, right?"
Maka swallowed. "Papa... papa was partnered with Professor Stein before he left him for my mama during their second year."
"So, does that mean you're gonna' leave me for some third-rate scythe and marry him instead, too?"
Maka looked up sharply, startled by the implications that single sentence held. But she ignored them; they were only there to distract her. She didn't need to be distracted. She had to get this right. "I still have to train you."
"And after that?" Soul's eerily blank eyes met her own again. "You're gonna' leave, right?"
It was easier to say it a second time around. "Yes."
Silence threatened to consume them.
"I won't let you."
"Excuse me?" She narrowed her eyes.
"You heard me." He defied, fixing her with a stern stare. "I won't let you do this to us. Whether you like it or not, you're my meister, and you're going to continue being my meister until one of us dies." He smirked at her shock. "And you're not dying anytime soon, Maka, not if I could help it."
"Do you actually think that just because you said that I'm going to change my mind?" Maka angerly shouted.
"No – it wouldn't be any fun if you did."
She fisted her hand. He had the nerve to joke around while they discussed such a sensitive topic? She wanted to punch him. "You can't control what I do, Soul! I'm leaving and you're not going to stop me!"
He caught her punch, barely wincing, and pulled her against him. She struggled, letting her mouth run with curses, but he didn't pay any mind to them. "Maka. Stop struggling."
"No! Soul, let me go now! Let – me – go – !"
"We're not them, you know."
She froze mid-punch.
"We're not going to end up like them." He continued, softly. "I'm not Deathscythe – I'm not going to cheat on you with other women like he does." She shut her eyes; his words were so sweet, so disarming. "I'm not going to hurt you like he does. I thought you'd know this by now..."
"But..." Maka began, pushing off his chest. His grip never loosened. "How do I know?" Her voice cracked. "I don't know – I can't do something I'm not sure about!"
"Sure you can."
He remembered being like that. Not taking high risks, not taking dangerous chances. The imp in his head, the one that never failed to tempt him into using too much of the black blood, always mocked him because of his calculating and cold manner of dealing with things; because of his reluctance to believe in such otherworldly things like love and happy endings.
It made things interesting, it said, believing in those wonderful illusions.
It made life fun.
"I can't!" Maka shook her head, sorrowfully. "Not with this I can't. Soul... it doesn't work that way."
"Yes, it does." He whispered, hoarsely. He finally understood. "You have to trust thing's will work out in the end. Everything might seem scary at first but if you don't take a chance, you'll never know. And that's whats going to kill you when you're older, Maka, not knowing."
She was the thing he would take a chance for; she was the person he would be willing to risk everything for, abandon his reservations for. He had done it once before, the scar on his chest proved it, so why not now? Again?
Her shoulders slumped, her eyes watery as his words sunk in. She had to trust everything would work out? That was his award-winning argument – trust? She had to trust in something so ambiguous, so shaky and changing, and hope they would make it, somehow? Make it through the fights, the doubts, the hardships? She was going to have to trust that being with him, trusting him as she did, wouldn't make her any weaker than it already had? That it was okay, that she would be okay? That her heart wouldn't shatter like her mama's had...?
She remembered that manifestation in the Book of Eibon; the one with the cut-out mask that told her she was not strong, she was weak. She relied on men, she could barely wield a scythe, she wasn't anything but a scared, pathetic, little girl hiding behind a mean blade...
Maka wrapped her arms around him, feeling tears start to sting her eyes.
"You promise?" She whispered.
"Of course I do." He smiled, tenderly. She clutched the back of his shirt. "Cool guys don't break their promises."
Her smile faded. "... I'm not the best meister out there, you know. I hit you, and call you names, and I'm weaker than most."
"You're the strongest person I know." Soul said, pressing his cheek against her ear. "And, let's face it, I deserved some of those Maka Chop's." He humored, making a small smile crack her face. "It doesn't matter if you're not the best, Maka. I didn't choose you because you were the best. I chose you because you were yourself, and you were the first person to accept me as I am."
"But..." Maka continued, stubbornly.
A smile ghosted his lips at her doubt. "You're my meister – without you, I'm nothing."
Her face warmed, swallowing convulsively at those promising words. "S-Soul, I—!"
"Hey! What're you two doing in here so late?" Sid's voice snapped, startling them apart. "Running around behind my back and—Oh, it's just you, Maka, Soul." He cleared his throat at their bewildered faces. "I thought you were a couple messing around in here. You're training, am I correct?"
"Yeah..." Soul watched Maka nervously clasp her hands behind her. He grinned at her guilty expression. She hadn't seen anything yet if she thought this was something worth mentioning as 'messing around'.
"Good." Sid nodded at Maka, who bowed her head so he wouldn't see her puffy eyes. "Continue then – but not too late! It's going to be ten! Letting students train after classes was the type of man I used to be, but you can't spend the night over here!"
"Thank you, Sid. We were just leaving, anyway." Maka muttered, meekly.
He nodded, disappearing back down the hall to continue his rounds.
"Geez, he came out of nowhere..." Soul mumbled, running his fingers through his hair.
"What?" Soul stared at the twin pieces of wood she had hidden behind her back when he came in.
So that's why she had been nervous...
He felt disappointed it hadn't been her cute innocence making itself known like he believed.
"I sort of broke it..."
"Yeah. It's from Sid's collection."
"... Does he know you're using it?"
"Well, not really—!"
"Then this never happened!" Soul resolved, flatly.
"What—!" Maka squeaked when Soul snatched the pieces from her hand and tossed them into the closet containing the other training equipment. He took her wrist and led her out of the room wordlessly. Maka barely had a chance to gather her boots before she was being pulled out of the room. "Wait, where are we going? Shouldn't we tell Sid that I broke his—!"
"Home." Soul glanced over his shoulder. He ignored her last statement. "It's late, you wanna' go get some take-out? I'm in the mood for Chinese, what about you?"
Maka stared incredulously at him. "But—what about the staff—!"
"Maka, it never happened, remember?" Soul smirked down at her flabbergasted gape. "At least the last two minutes didn't." He let his hand trace down her wrist to grasp her hand. "I meant everything I said." He softly reassured, when he saw that darkness shift through her eyes. "Just give us a chance...I know we can do it."
She was silent for a moment, as they both rushed down the dimmed halls of Shibusen.
"Alright, but we're going home first so I could change!" Maka looked away from his relieved eyes, adding boldly: "And you're taking me somewhere nice next time!"
Soul grinned, lacing his fingers with her own. "I'll take you to the coolest place I know."
She felt a smile lift her lips, and she didn't push him away when he stopped them outside of Shibusen to pull her into a tight embrace – even if he insisted, later that night, that it was because he had seen Sid and he didn't want to deal with his lame lectures on staying out so late, so he had hid her by under the shadows by hugging her.
The Book of Eibon might be right: perhaps she did rely on Soul too much, perhaps she wasn't as great of a meister as everyone made her out to be, and perhaps she was still a bit shaky on using a scythe...
But she had the will – the courage – to go around that.
She relied on Soul, but Soul relied on her equally – perhaps even more.
She wasn't a great meister but she was one of the better ones; with the potential to become the best.
And maybe she was still unsure about her skills as a scythe technician, but it was nothing time couldn't fix. She was young, with time she would get better.
Maka glanced at Soul as she ate her meal, who hungerly slurped his noodles into his mouth using his chopsticks. He was on his second bowl; he had gone hours without eating, preferring to watch his meister train silently, so his appetite was big.
He caught her stare and grinned in reply.
A slight smile twitched on her lips.
She would be fine.