Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater nor the lyrics to All These Things That I've Done by The Killers, New Soul by Yael Naim, and The Calculation by Regina Spektor.
Dedication: Killing Kunoichi. This girl has followed me since my Naruto days in '08, when I could seemingly not tell the difference between past tense and present tense and my grammar was bad enough to make your eyes water. Don't even get me started on my ideas and skewed sense of humor. You're truly a faithful fan if you can put up with all that and I thank you for your encouraging words and for not completely giving up on me :P
by. Poisoned Scarlett
Yeah, you know you got to help me out
You know you got to help me out
I got soul, but I'm not a soldier
I got soul, but I'm not a solider.
He rolls the ring in his palm, watching scratched up platinum from years of abuse circle aimlessly. It's heavy but he has no problem weaving it through his fingers, spinning it on one digit before repeating the cycle. It doesn't catch the light like it did when he first saw it all those years ago. It's a lackluster platinum, the skull as flat and opaque as the eyes of a dead man. Like it lost its gloss when its owner passed away.
He fists the ring.
It's like a dull ache in the back of his chest, not quite his heart and not quite his lungs. But the ring weighs heavily, reminding him. It always reminds him. But he refuses to give it away. He dodged the funeral to avoid confrontation with the casket, but also to keep the last thing of his friend that he has aside from his chipping memory.
He would kill him if he were here with him right now.
One ring, scratched and gritty with dirt and sweat.
But not because the ring has seen better days, but because it didn't have its partner to keep it company.
Because one is not symmetrical, according to him.
Because even if Soul Evans had gone out of his way to retrieve the rings partner, he wouldn't have found it under all of that debris in the allotted time. He wouldn't have even found it with the body, because that arm had been blown away somewhere he can't fathom. Sometimes he can feel the phantom blood seeping through the sleeves of his shirt. It leaves a loathsome taste on his tongue, remembering the hazy amber eyes that tried so hard to focus on him.
Sometimes he thinks it should've been him there, not his friend.
"See, I'm a young soul in this very strange world, hoping I could learn a bit 'bout what is true and fake…"
He looks up at the girl sitting modestly on a stool on stage, a stage light spotlighting her in a halo of white. A slight smile curves her mouth, with vibrant emerald eyes that catch the light like the ring in his hand once did. Her head tilts as she sings and every word softens her eyes so innocently, he can feel the ring leave indents in his palm from how hard he is squeezing it.
It angers him. It leaves him bitter and hateful, watching this beautiful girl sing about such purities in life. The beat is too cheerful, the premise overused. He feels his lips pull back in a sneer, the longer she sings into the microphone.
"This is a happy end," she says, and their eyes meet. "Come and give me your hand. I'll take you far away." She drops them immediately but he doesn't, watching her mouth work around every word as she sings to the floor now. And when she looks up again, she looks anywhere but where he is sitting, and he hates to admit it but it amuses him.
"But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear, finding myself making every possible mistake…"
He rolls the ring around in his hand absently, watching her perk up again. She has a nice voice, that is all his pride is willing to admit. Although she looks a little young to be in a bar, he guesses she just ages well – like wine. He could use a glass of wine, now that he thinks about it, or a few shots of whiskey. Whichever he can get his hands on first, he thinks, slipping the ring back into his pocket as she wraps up her song.
He can see her from the corner of his eye. She's not on stage tonight, instead a jazz ensemble takes her place, but she's sitting a few chairs away from him with a book and a spiral notebook in front of her. There's a glass before her as well and he has the dry suspicion that it's filled with water. But she doesn't seem to realize how absolutely wrong it is to be drinking water inside of a tavern as she erases something in her notebook, going back to the thick book beside her every once in a while.
Another song starts up on stage.
This is more his taste, with smooth saxophone and glissando notes.
Soul watches the skull ring of his fallen comrade Kid Death spin as he flicks it like a top. Kid liked jazz. He even owned a few records he liked and he'd promised him they'd listen to them when they returned home. But he never returned from the battlefront. It's noisy when the ring shudders to a stop but no one seems to notice his sullen brooding about. His attention is diverted from the ring to her again when she gasps.
Her glass of water has tipped over and Soul notices the bartender apologizing profusely. That's when Soul reads the cover of the thick book and sees it's a beginners guide on the guitar. She smiles halfheartedly at the bartender and shakes out her soaked notebook glumly. As the bartender wipes off the water on the counter, throwing her guilty furtive looks, she takes a seat closer to him.
He goes back to the ring. Kid could play the guitar. He could also play some piano and he was adept at the violin. It was something his father had encouraged, Kid had told him, as he was destined to become a politician like him and not an army dog like he ended up being. But not everything went to waste, Kid had continued, he quite enjoyed the solitude that came with practicing an instrument.
Soul had second that.
They'd promised they'd get together one day and play as a duo. Perhaps even take it a little farther, if they were good enough. But that would never happen now, Soul thinks bitterly, because Kid has been left behind in bits and pieces in the rubble of the explosion –
"Excuse me, are you okay?"
Soul takes a deep breath to control his grief and side-glances that girl, who is watching him with a worried crease between her brows. She was sponging her notebook dry with a bunch of napkins. He can see the ink that runs down the page and it reminds him of the blood that ran down the side of Kid's boots to pool in the dusty, sunburnt, ground.
"Just dandy," he drones. His eyes rest on the ring in his hand again, of which had dug into his palm hard enough to draw blood. Now the ring is not only abused by age but stained with rust. However, the blood on the ring is disturbingly similar to the blood that had stained it that evening, so he slams his palm down the counter to steady his hammering heart. He shoves the ring into his pocket and walks away from the bar counter, leaving the girl more than a little confused.
He needs air.
He needs to return this ring to Kid's father, as it is rightfully his by default.
But what he really needs, Soul thinks tiredly, what he really needs is his uptight comrade telling him to pay attention to the briefing. He needs him shoving his rifle in his hand, telling him to stop forgetting the one thing that can save his life, and he needs him screaming in his ear to focus because he can't blank out on him now, with so much gunfire and confusion.
That's what he needs.
Not food, not sex, not sleep, not drink.
But his comrade.
Too bad he's dead.
"So we made the hard decision, and we each made an incision, past our muscles and our bones…" This time she sings about love. He doesn't know what's more ridiculous: the fact that she's singing about a fairytale or the fact that she looks like she belongs in high school. "Our hearts were little stones. Pulled 'em out they weren't beating, and we weren't even bleeding, as we lay them on our granite counter top."
She always came here to sing. What's in that notebook are song lyrics, her lyrics. She's learning how to play the guitar to accompany her songs, he guesses. The guy who accompanies her songs on the piano is the same one every time, a man with raven black hair whose back is always turned to the audience. He always leaves after an hour or two, leaving the girl to her own devices.
He has reason to believe they're only music associates, with the way they're so detached and that girl has no problem being left behind – sometimes without even a goodbye from him, whom Soul believes is called Akane from the one time she'd said his name while on stage. That's what happens as they wrap up tonight: Akane waves at her absently and proceeds to exit, and she takes a seat close to Soul with her bag in hand. She pulls out another book and a brand new notebook and gets down to business.
He doesn't care what she does, don't get him wrong, but there is only so much entertainment in a downtrodden little tavern like this one. He's watched her struggle with the text in the book many times before, deriving some sort of satisfaction in watching her sigh and bite her lip and sag her shoulders in defeat. Tonight is no different, as she rereads the same page twice with no real results. She isn't frustrated at the moment, just so terribly confused and hopeless.
His eyes dart down to the ring sitting idly on the bar counter.
"What're you doing?" Soul asked, raising a brow when Kid looked both ways and found their superior officer distracted by something on his clipboard. Kid reaches over and helps the desperate solider out with his rifle, handing it back to him silently just as their superior officer calls for attention. "Kid?"
"There is nothing wrong with helping someone in need, Soul." Kid explains calmly, smiling slightly at him. "They may return the favour one day."
Soul snorts. "Some ulterior motives you got there."
"Not ulterior motives," Kid carefully says. "There is a satisfaction that comes with helping someone."
"Until they spit in your face and tell you to fuck off." Soul mutters cynically through the side of his mouth, as their commanding officer booms their latest assignment.
"The world isn't so bitter, Soul." Kid chuckles quietly. He adjusts his gun in his hands and sends him a small smile. "Simply give it a shot."
Kid, the prince of lame jokes and pick-up lines.
Kid, his friend and comrade.
Kid, with the strange three stripes bleached into his hair.
Kid, with his mad compulsive disorder for balance—otherwise called symmetry.
Soul goes back to rolling the ring around in his hand. His eyes trace down the scars from being knifed more times than he can count, from falling and tearing straight through his clothes but not stopping. He has three bullet wounds with their own stories as to how he got them. His bones have been broken, muscles torn. He's faced sleep-deprivation, gone hours without having a single morsel of food. His entire body is a temple of bitter tales and abuses.
He slips the ring into his pocket.
She's still struggling with something on that same page, flipping through the pages to see if something else may help her in solving this bit of information.
"…give it a shot."
"Hey," Soul calls, gruffly. The girl looks up, startled. She has this wide-eyed doe look at being addressed by him. He resists rolling his eyes at her. He isn't that intimidating, or so he hopes. "Need any help there? I play guitar."
"You do?" She repeats, perking up a little more. She loses that doe-eyed look, replacing it with something hopeful. "Do you think you can help me out with this, please?"
"Yeah, if I didn't, I wouldn't have said anything." He dryly responds and watches her purse her lips. She hops off her current seat and takes the empty one next to him, bringing her stuff over as well. She pushes the book towards him, allowing him to eyeball the text. He only needs a glance before he's deadpanning: "You've gotta' be kidding me. This is the easiest stuff in the book."
She flushes angrily at his disdain. "I guess it's not so easy if I still don't get it!"
"Maybe you're just an idiot."
"Excuse me?" She hisses, eyes sparking like flint. "I don't think you should be talking. You don't look that bright, either!"
He smirks. "So you think."
She glares scornfully. It's an interesting transition: from angelic to human. He watches her fingers twitch for the book and he pulls on a saucy grin, intoning: "I'm not the one who can't understand the five basic chord patterns."
She growls and, faster than he can react, slams the book on his head with a furious snarl of "Maka chop!". He's known hell more intimately than he'd like. He's been shot, he's been kicked when he's down, he's been knifed, he's had his fingers broken, he's been punched so hard he's blacked out. He's been through things that would appall most yet he's shocked to know that this hurts worse than anything he's ever been through, and that's how he knows something is wrong with the world.
"What the fuck was that?" He howls, clutching his head in agony.
The girl ignores him, putting a seat of space between them again and boring holes into the open book. As the pain in his skull subsides, he notices she's once more frowning at the text. But she stubbornly ignores him and his blank stare. If she hadn't, she'd probably notice the incredulity at how someone this small and innocent-looking can morph into a hell-raising little demon in less time than it took to blink.
She's got a mad temper, he thinks to himself.
After another second, his mouth twitches into a smile.
"What?" She snaps, still sore from their previous argument.
"Bring that book over here – I got a technique you can use to memorize that."
He's never been a good teacher, but he figures he can try this one time.
Her name is Maka Albarn. She comes to the tavern to blow off steam from hard days at her college. Only instead of indulging in a few drinks, she sings. Most of her songs aren't about her, she'd told him when he asked, nor her experiences although sometimes it helps with the song-writing process. They're about other peoples experiences, what she has observed or accidentally overheard or even been told in some instances. She finds that more interesting to write about than her own life, which is about as exciting as watching paint dry. He hadn't been able to help himself, he cracked a joke on that, which earned him another hit on the head that left him drooling on the table like an idiot for a few minutes.
"You'll need a guitar if you're gonna' learn the rest. You've got the basics down," Soul determines, flipping through the next few pages. He never went through the official process of learning how to play the guitar. He started off by ear, then picked up a few things along the way. But he knows most of the things in the book. In fact, he understands it perfectly. She, however, doesn't.
This is where the guitar comes in.
"I was going to buy one when my paycheck came in next month," Maka says, thoughtful. "Until then, I'll have to learn as much as I can."
"It gets easier once you have a guitar," Soul says, shutting the book. "Books overcomplicate things."
"Not all the time!" Maka argues.
"Chill, I'm not attacking your precious books. I'm just sayin'," he eases, taking his glass and downing the rest of his drink. He signals the bartender for another as Maka says:
"How many of those have you had?"
"About two," he replies, raising a brow at her disapproval. "What?"
"You're not driving tonight, are you?"
"Don't give me that," he groans. "I'm not even buzzed yet. But if it makes you feel better," he rolls his eyes at her narrowed eyes, "I live close by so I walk home."
"Well, walking is better than driving." Maka sighs, placing her notebook on top of the book. It's a plain notebook, Soul sees, with nothing to give away its main purpose in life. It's just a little used on the edges, probably already half-way full with the way the clever bookmark pen sticks out of the middle. "Just don't get too drunk, okay, Soul? I don't want to have to call a taxi to come pick you up because you can barely walk!"
"Whatever." He shrugs, starting on his third glass.
She opens her mouth to say something else but thinks twice and presses her lips together instead, mumbling a last goodbye as she packs her things and heads to the door. The bar will be closing at two in the morning. He usually leaves by midnight. It's around that time now: Maka stayed an extra hour than usual.
He hadn't really noticed.
Time passes quickly with her around.
He supposes that's how it is with friends, not that he'd really know about that.
The rim of his glass rests on his lips, cold amber droplets sliding down the glass and landing on the table.
She catches him off-guard tonight. He swears she was up on that stage, singing with that soprano perfect voice of hers, and next thing he knows she's beside him and peering at his expression with that inexplicably curious glint in her eyes again.
"How come you always stare at that ring?"
"None of your business," he retorts, clenching his fist over the ring and taking another drink of his glass defensively. "Ready for another lesson?"
"Not tonight!" Maka says, cheerfully. He raises a brow at that. The only reason she put up with his scathing, sarcastic, attitude was because he was the only one who could possibly teach her the mechanics behind the guitar and other instruments she was curious about. There didn't seem to be anyone else apathetic – or patient, she'd insist – enough to put up with her endless rows of questions and lost looks. "I need to focus on my songwriting! We can continue when I finally buy a guitar!"
"Suit yourself." He shrugs, going back to his muse. Resourceful, that's the word that pops into his head when he sees her. This was girl was resourceful, like Kid. In a way, she reminds him of Kid. It's likely a reason he put up with her inquisitive nature, her rather nerdy come off. Because Kid was like that, too. He was so socially inept, from years indoors with a book cracked open and a pencil in his hand, that everything he had learned about socializing and being cool up until the day of his death had been taught either by him or the other guys in their unit.
"What?" Kid said, staring at his raised hand. "Is something wrong?"
"…Dude, don't leave me hanging…"
"I'm not leaving anyone hanging." Kid replied, with all seriousness.
Soul snorted in laughter, shaking his head. "You slap my hand back, Kid. It's called a high-five."
"High-five… I can understand why it's called that." He hummed deliberately, and did as Soul said. He looked startled by the force of Soul's slap, which only made him laugh harder at Kid's own awkwardness. This guy was too much, Soul thought as he snickered and Kid muttered something about needing to brush up on this generations slang.
He wouldn't last a day in the real world.
"You okay?" She asks, softly. "You look sad."
"I'm fine," he replies, rubbing out his eyes with one hand while the other cradles his drink. He feels tired all of a sudden, like he needs to lay down and rest his eyes for a bit. But his dreams are plagued with blood and dead eyes – golden eyes, that drain of color like a broken bottle. He hasn't had a peaceful night since he was sent out to the battlefronts, hasn't had a restful sleep since Kid passed away before his very eyes. "Just tired."
"Oh… what is it you do?"
He's quiet for a moment. "Nothing right now."
"What was it you did before?"
"I was in the army." He says, staring at his glass. He swirls the liquid and doesn't continue, taking another drink. It's a longer drink this time and when she still says nothing, Soul glances at her. She's writing in her notebook, a crease in her brow.
"My papa is in the army right now." She finally says. "He's a First Lieutenant, last I heard."
"Don't talk to him often?" Soul asks, carefully.
"Yeah. He sends me a letter every once and a while to let me know he's still alive." She doesn't seem too concerned by this. He doesn't pry.
"Corporal." Soul finally says. "I've got a long way to go. I'm on break right now."
"When are you going back?"
"When I feel like it," he mutters rebelliously, then sighs at her expectant look. "I'm expected back in around two months or so but I check in every once in a while..."
"Do you have to go back?"
"What?" Soul asks, stunned she'd asked such a question. But she's not kidding, either. It's an honest question. It's a question that he hasn't dared ask himself because he may or may not have a death wish. He doesn't know how to respond for a moment but once he does, he just says: "No."
"Then why are you?"
"What's it matter to you?" He scowls, annoyed with her questions. They're raising up things that shouldn't be entertained upon. It's dangerous territory. He doesn't like treading such a minefield when he's not nearly as drunk as he wishes to be. "I want to go back!"
"But things are getting really dangerous over there…"
"No shit. I've been there since I got outta' high school, I know what goes on out there better than anyone else in this goddamn place." He roughly slams his glass down, night officially ruined for him. Maka and her questions. Maka and her stupid, goddamn, questions. She doesn't know when to shut up, he thinks witheringly.
She doesn't know that some things are better left to rot.
"There's no need to yell at me!" Maka says, miffed. "I know you've been there. It's written all over your face!"
"What was that?" He hisses, cutting her a look.
"I said, it's written all over your face. Your arms." Maka points out, his tanned muscled arms with healed scrapes and gashes. "And you look like my papa when he came back once. He lost a lot of friends over there during the war," Maka explains quietly, looking down at her lap. "He… has the same eyes you do."
Soul stares hard at her for a moment before scoffing. "What, he's got red eyes like me? Good to know I'm not the only freak out there."
"No…" She shakes her head at his avoidance strategies. They don't work with her. They never have and never will. "They're sad eyes. Perpetually tired no matter how many hours of sleep he gets. He's seen too much. He's been through too much… like you."
"Look, don't go yammering on about me like you've known me for years." Soul sneers, fed up with her and her flawless analytic skills. "I'm fine. I like it over there. It's better than living some boring life like you. There's not action in taking notes," he jeers.
"That may be true," she says, irked, "but I prefer taking notes than getting shot for a country brought up by bloodshed."
"You're so normal it hurts." He spits, derisively.
She doesn't say anything.
She goes back to writing in her notebook.
And he goes back to glaring at his glass, the dust settling once more.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" Maka asks another night, after their argument regarding his apparently depressed demeanor had blown off. At least she isn't ignoring him tonight, he thinks dryly. She's good at holding grudges but he's always been persistent when he wants something, which had been conversation for the sole reason that if he didn't talk, he'd get himself wasted, and he wasn't keen on being shaken awake by the bartender at closing time.
"It's ten, Maka."
"I know." She smiles, sheepish. "But I want to do something!"
"So walking around at night comes to mind? Good luck not getting mugged," Soul snorts, taking a drink. It doesn't burn as it goes down his throat like before. He's grown used to the burn, has come to expect it.
Maka scowls. "You don't have to come. I was just asking if you wanted to!" She gathers her things with a huff and begins to walk away, much to his surprise.
"Wait a second, you were serious?" Soul calls after her, and receives something similar to why do you think I asked you, stupid? and he swears and finishes his drink in a few gulps. Those do burn but he ignores it and follows her outside, catching up quickly. "You're pretty eager to get mugged."
"I'm not going to get mugged, Soul. I was going to take lighted streets." She says, matter-of-fact.
"That won't stop them from taking everything on you, just so you know." Soul dryly says, watching her shoulder her bag from the corner of his eye. "So, why do you wanna' go for a stroll at ten at night?" He sarcastically asks, and she smiles at his irritation.
"It looks like a really nice night out." Maka simply says, gazing up at the sky. It's a wash of ebony pricked with crystals, the crescent moon carved into it in a sharp arc. "I thought it would be nice to just take a walk around town."
Soul gives her a strange look. "You're so weird…"
"There's nothing wrong in appreciating the small things," Maka says wisely, laughing when he gags and says something about cheesy quotes. But he continues to trail after her, sending dark looks to suspicious individuals who walk past them. If there was one thing the army had given him, it was that gruff appearance of a soldier. The solid, burning, gaze of a weapon.
"You done appreciating the 'small things'?" He air-quotes flatly. "'Cause it's fucking cold out here and I'm still not drunk enough to put up with you."
Maka growls and turns to face him, disapproving. The look makes something sour and bitter rise up his throat because the look is very familiar. It's a look Kid often gave him in the beginning of their training, whenever he said something unflattering or fucked up somehow. The last time Soul had seen that look, it had been a few hours prior to Kid's untimely death, because he had joked about getting laid the instant he went home and someone as refined as Kid disapproved of such adultery. And jokes, apparently.
"You can go home, or back to the bar, if you want." Maka says, adjusting her bag on her shoulder again. He just realizes, as they both stand under a streetlight, how small she is. She barely reaches his shoulders and he's sure he can pick her up without breaking a sweat. She's also quite thin but he's not fooled by her fragile appearance: underneath those layers of shapeless clothes are muscles, because how else can she make him see stars when not even getting shot in the leg made him shed a tear?
"I'm not leaving you alone at night, Maka."
"Why not? I've always gone back home by myself!" Maka protests and he thinks about it for a moment. That's true – she'd always gone back home alone at night while he wasted away in the bar with a few more drinks until he, too, hiked it home.
"You're right." He grins, lazily. "See ya' later, then." And he turns on his heel and leaves her there standing under the streetlamp, lonely. His conscious nags him with a voice eerily familiar to Kid's and although it stings just as much as it burns, he doesn't heed it.
Not until he's around the corner.
Then he pauses for a moment and peers around it to see her crossing the street. He's willing to follow her to her home if it means shutting up his unsettled conscious. But, to his mild surprise, she just walks up the sidewalk and faces a simple apartment complex with a trimmed lawn and bushes of flowers growing alongside the wall. She pats her bag and takes out a pair of keys, climbing up the front steps and opening the metal door.
She lived close, Soul thinks. He, himself, lived a few buildings down the street.
She turns back suddenly and he presses against the wall, holding his breath as if she could hear him. After counting to ten slowly in his mind, Soul looks again and finds it empty. The door is shut. He stays there for a few seconds, watching a car drive by. But when he directs his eyes to the window on the second floor, he tenses when he sees her standing there with an amused smile; looking back at him with her arms crossed over her chest.
He scowls openly, jamming his hands in his pockets; no longer trying to hide.
She draws the curtains in after laughing a little at his annoyance.
He heads back home himself, feeling lighter than he'd felt in weeks.
"No, place your fingers here." Soul instructs, moving her fingers to the right place. "Got it?"
"Mm!" Maka nods, looking back at the diagram in the book. They'd been at it for the past few hours. They'd been getting looks from the fellow patrons in the bar scene so Soul had suggested they take their lessons outside, where no one could complain about their noise making. They'd decided to take their lessons by a bus bench, which worked out nicely as the buses took long to arrive.
"Good. Just like that – no, Maka, c'mon." He groans, reaching over to adjust her posture again. "Work with me. You're almost there."
"I know! Sorry, it just keeps slipping!" Maka meekly says, embarrassed. She's never had to be babied like this, Soul thinks. He's known her long enough to know she's very self-sufficient. She does well in school, she does not need remedial classes. She understands the material excellently, can recite whole paragraphs from books and even name the page number. But music is not her forte; something as vague and abstract as music escapes her.
She has perfect pitch, Soul had deduced. It's a rare talent but it's not a surprise for him. His mother was the same, only she had an easier time learning all there was to know about her own instrument of choice, which had first been the harp and then progressed to the cello.
"I'll bring my guitar strap next time." Soul promises, idly fixing the slipping guitar in her grasp again. It's a nice guitar, with chrome keys and warm bronze color. After all, he'd recommended it for her when she asked him since she had no idea which one to buy. "A few more lessons from me and you should be able to pick up the rest on your own."
"Okay – but I can still ask you for help if I get stuck, right?" Maka asks, unsure.
He half-smiles at her uncertainty. A whole month and a half of friendship and she still asks stupid questions, he chuckles to himself. "Yes, Maka. If you have a question, you can just come to me."
"Okay!" She beams. "How come your hairs white?"
Soul stares. "…What?"
"You said if I had a question, I could just come to you." She says, cleverly.
It takes him by surprise – it really does. But next thing he knows, he's making a sound he hasn't made in weeks. He's laughing. He's doubling over in laughter, pressing his fingers into his eyes as he laughs at the ridiculousness of her lame joke. By the time he manages to catch his breath, his cheeks hurt from underuse and some of that layering grief has been scraped away for the moment.
"What kind of retarded question is that?" He finally says, grinning when she puffs her cheeks out.
"An obvious question, since I can't tell if your hair is naturally white or dyed that way."
"Dying your hair is not cool." He states. "Especially if you're a guy."
"So it is natural?" Maka asks, awed. Her eyes grow very big when she's curious, Soul notices absently. They shimmer a brighter green than usual, iridescent like a cats eyes. "I've never seen anyone with natural white hair…"
"My eyes are red, too." He says, not sure why. It just comes out.
"No, they're not." Maka says skeptically, but does make an attempt to catch sight of the color. Soul tilts his head back to the moon, allowing the light to illuminate his eyes. He hears her gasp for a moment and when he looks down to see, she's close. She's stood up, standing close with a nervous little sparkle in her eyes. "Can I see?"
"…Yeah, go ahead." He says with a dryness in his mouth, looking up at her. She looks into his eyes, as if searching for something. Her fingertips graze his cheek, gently tilt his head to the side. She has long hair that's a plain blonde but there's a wonder in that. It's soft like silk, some strands brushing against his jaw as she continues her mission to label his eye color.
"I think it's a burgundy color, but not red." Maka finally says, leaning back. "It's definitely a strange color for an iris to take…"
"Genes." Soul shrugs, sitting a little straighter. He feels like he needs a glass of water to wash out the dryness that had overtaken his throat. He clears his throat. "My grandpa had the same color eyes as me."
"What about your hair?"
"Dad." He answers. He pulls on a grin as he looks at her. "But it's more gray right now."
She rolls her eyes. "I guess I know what color your hair will turn when you get old."
"Don't say stuff like that, you'll jinx me." He mocks a scowl.
She just laughs.
And more of that grief is scraped away.
"How come you always look at that ring?"
She asks the same question every time they meet. It's more of a habit now. He just brushes it off and moves onto their lesson. But this time she stares at him, with such power that reminds him of Kid. But this type of power is different than Kid's indifferent superiority – this one burns like a torch, almost feels hot to the glance.
"… It was a friends." He finally says, looking back down at the ring. His mouth is always saying more than he allows when she's around. It's strange but nothing important has slipped, until now.
He cuts her a look, dropping his eyes to the floor. Her family is militarized. She once told him that her mother had joined the air force and she had been next in line before her mother pushed her into a college instead. Her mother had always wanted to attend college, Maka had told him, but she never found the time to do so. She wanted Maka to live through the experience in her place.
"He…" He pauses. The word is hard to pass through his teeth. He swallows and tries again. "He…" He'd never openly admitted his friends death. It had always been done for him, with understanding looks and sympathetic pats on the back. They'd been close; everyone knew that. They were like brothers. Kid was like the older brother he'd always wanted but never got. There was no tension when he was around Kid; no envy for his talents, no resentment for his place in the family, no awkward silences or feigned attention. Unlike his real brother, of whom he hadn't spoken to since he left to serve his country.
"He…?" She gently prompts, although he knows that she's aware of his friends demise. For how long she's known, he can't say, but she doesn't make anything easy on him. He slips the ring into a finger, the same finger Kid usually wore it on. It's a grim thought to think that its partner is lost somewhere in that barren wasteland. Kid would have recklessly gone to search for it – actually, he wouldn't have lost it in the first place. He took good care of his things, unlike him, who always ended up losing something on any given day – be it a sock or his comb.
"He died." He finally says, and his voice his hoarse and tired. "During an explosion. We didn't see it and he was in the danger zone… I was too far away to reach him in time when it went off. " He died in my arms, Soul adds mentally. He's dead. Soul finishes his glass and signals the bartender for another, with a harder liquor to stave off the blossoming ache in his chest.
"Is that the only thing you have of him?" Maka asks, looking at the ring now.
"Yeah. He – gave it to me." Soul admits, grinding his teeth. It was technically true: Kid had signaled with his eyes, eyes that were horribly draining of life, to his weak hand, the blasted ring on his finger. Soul had been panicking, shaking him and telling him he would be alright. They were going to make it. He wasn't going to die on him, not this soon. Forget the stupid rings: he was dying. But the rings meant the world to Kid because they were his fathers and he admired his father. His father was his idol, from how highly he spoke of him. His father meant everything to Kid...
"You shouldn't let it consume you," Maka says.
"Let what consume me?" Soul deflects.
"I know it's hard to lose someone but you can't continue to let it eat at you like this." Maka looks at him, taking a breath: "You should forget about the ring for a while and—!"
"No." He coldly silences her. "How about you go back to your song-writing and leave me the hell alone?"
He doesn't talk to her for the rest of the night.
She doesn't try.
"Why can't you just mind your own fucking business?" Soul shouts at her another night, eyes sparking like matches. "I should have never told you about Kid! You always blow things out of proportions!"
"You're tearing yourself apart because of this – it's not your fault!" Maka shouts back, standing her ground. The night was going smoothly until she brings up the ring again and sours his mood. He wasn't nearly drunk enough to talk about it. She knows this. She did this on purpose. She's always making things hard for him. "People die every day in battle!"
"I could have done something about it! He didn't have to separate from the group – goddammit, I shouldn't have let him talk to those kids in the first place!" He snarls. Kid had been held back a little by speaking to some local children. It had only been a few seconds, a minute at most, but that was all the time it took for things to go horribly wrong. "I could have stopped it if I wasn't so fucking stupid!"
"You couldn't have done anything about it, Soul." Maka evenly states.
"YES I COULD!"
"Then you would have died, too!" Maka shouts, and he sucks in a breath. Her eyes glisten, like they're welling with tears. He doesn't want to think about it because then he'll fold. He doesn't want her to win this fight, not this time. "You would have both died or worse!"
"Maybe I should've died." Soul spits. "He wasn't supposed to be there. We were supposed to come back home together." He clenches his fists. The ring weighs like a thousand blocks of lead in his pocket. "Not in pieces," he chokes out.
"Look, you have no reason to talk to me anymore." Soul growls. "Just go home or something. Go practice your guitar – just leave me alone. I shouldn't have spoken to you in the first place, it was stupid!"
"But you still did and I'm not going to leave you alone like this!" Maka stubbornly says, adding fuel to the fire growing out of control in his chest. "Soul, you have to stop blaming yourself for this. It's not your fault – it was an accident!"
"I could have prevented it!"
"You couldn't have done anything to stop it! If he hadn't died, someone else would have." Maka states. He slits his eyes. "It was an accident."
"We're going in circles with this – just drop it." Soul chuckles harshly, sinking his teeth into his lip to stop him from saying something crude. "Just go."
"Maka, you don't even like me!" Soul snaps, fed up with her. She's like a parasite, always there. She was always making him second-guess himself. She was always bringing Kid to the forefront of his mind, always reminding him of his friend in small habits and flashes. She was pain incarnate. She was drowning him in his own self-loathing. "Do you feel obligated to help me or something? I don't want your fucking help! I don't need it!" He turns on his heel, storming away from the bus bench. He doesn't need her help, her company, her conversation. Her sweet smile, her twinkling eyes, her fierce words. He doesn't need any of it. What he needs is a drink, some sleep, food –
"I'm your friend!" She cries into his back, her small hands clutching his shirt. He tries to pry her off him but she refuses; resolved in her decision. "I'm your friend, Soul. " He can hear the thickness in her words, feel something wet start to bleed through his shirt. He regrets not taking his jacket tonight, even if it's a little muggy out. "I want to help you. That's what friends are for!"
"You can't help me with this, Maka." He sighs, heavily.
"Yes, I can!"
"Just try," he darkly says.
"I will!" She firmly says, tightening her grip around him. "I will help you! I'll help you get past this, Soul! I promise!" He stops trying to push her off him. She's not going to give up on this; that isn't the type of person she is. Kid isn't like that. He liked listening to orders, following them in his quest for ultimate balance in the world. But his insane quest was cut short because he was gone and there was only so much Soul can do to follow in his place before it all crumbles for him, too.
His hands fall limp beside him, shoulders slumping over like a weight has been placed on them again. He's woozy with the grief he'd only let out in small doses while he was drunk. He's replaying that horrendous memory in his mind like a broken film roll. And it burns like acid, gripping his lungs in a vice.
Her neck his warm and soft. She smells of blooming flowers, like spring has just arrived. She's as soft as he imagined she'd feel, and as small as he believed she was in his arms. She feels breakable as he crushes her to him, her melodious voice whispering things into his ear that he can barely process.
He's not crying.
Soldiers don't cry.
Soldiers don't break down like this.
Soldiers are weapons.
Weapons don't feel, they don't complain, they don't get tired. They obey and when their use is up, they get thrown away. If they get dull, they get sharpened. And if they're broken, they get stored six feet into the ground forever.
"It's okay, Soul," she whispers softly into his ear. Her hand rubs his back soothingly. She pretends she doesn't notice the hot tears that drip down her neck as he struggles to control himself. Just a little bit is enough – just as long as he's able to accept his friends death and manage to move on from this traumatic incident. Just as long as he's willing to let her in, even just a little bit. "I'm here."
That night, he sleeps without interruption.
He stands at the foot of her apartment door with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. His boots are heavy, new because his old ones were worn and torn beyond their use. He doesn't know how she's going to take it, that he's leaving so soon and he hadn't told her last time they met. She'll probably be angry after the shock wears off. He honestly regrets leaving so soon, just as they'd started seeing eye-to-eye, but the letter came in the mail and who is he to ignore it?
He knocks on the door and waits, hopeful that he's caught her on time because he's hitching a ride with a friend of his – Kilik Rung – and he only allowed him to make this pit-stop because he believed she was something special to him. She probably was, Soul muses, but not in the way Kilik believes. Because they hadn't made it that far in the allotted time, but maybe someday.
If she doesn't kill him with her books first, he chuckles.
"Yes—Soul?" Maka blinks, surprised. Her eyes dart to various parts of his body: his wry eyes, his washed out green duffel bag, his baggy pants a shade darker than her eye color, his boots. "What are you…doing here so early?"
"I think you know already, Maka." Soul says, and watches as her eyes drop to the floor. She searches the floor for a moment and when she looks up, her eyes are watery and he groans. "Are you crying?"
"N…no…" She sniffles, bravely holding her tears back. She coughs into her fist, trying to blink away her tears. "Are you leaving right now?"
"Yeah," he shifts uncomfortably. She looks so sad, watching him from her doorway. Perhaps this hadn't been the best idea he's had, Soul admits, but he felt like he owed her this much. Although he's not willing to admit it openly, her stubbornness had broken through in the end. "I'll be back in a few months—Maka, c'mon, I'm no good at this—!"
"Shut up!" She cries into his shirt.
He cracks a smile and wraps an arm around her shoulders as she buries her nose into his chest. He gets a better look at her now, since it's daylight. He's always seen her at night. She has smooth pale skin unlike his own tan. She looks even smaller under so much light; it's funny how she can take him down with one swing. "You better be a pro by the time I come back." He nods his head at the guitar leaning on the wall by her desk, which he can glimpse from where he stands. "Got it?"
She looks up at him, smiling through her tears and nodding her head. "I will. But you have to come back – because I want to you show you how much I've improved!" She steps away from him in embarrassment, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. "Okay?"
"Roger," he grins. "I'll say hi to your old man for you."
Maka's face sours. "Please, don't. You know why."
Soul shrugs, a slight grin on his face. She'd told him a little about her father's philandering as he held her that night, as if talking about her own problems would somehow mitigate his own. It'd only made him chuckle because she had tried so hard to cheer him up, retelling idiotic tales involving her father and his overbearing affection towards her in an attempt to make up for his transgressions.
"Give 'em a chance. God knows he isn't getting any over there."
"Good!" Maka huffs. "That'll teach him a lesson!"
"Or make it worse..." He mutters. He holds his hands up in peace at her glower. "A guy like him looks like he wouldn't make it one week without getting someone in his bed."
"I know, it's a wonder he's lasted so long in the military." Maka sighs, exasperated.
"Maybe he's - !"
"Don't even go there, Soul." Maka warns, giving him a look as he snickers at the thought of his superior officer coming out of the closet.
"Yo, Soul!" A voice calls from down the hall. They both turn to find Kilik standing there, his eyes going back and forth between them for a moment before he smiles lopsidedly. "We gotta' go man! I'm not in the mood to get yelled at today!"
"I'll be there in a bit! Just give me another minute!"
"I'll be countin'!" Kilik laughs, disappearing around a bend.
Soul looks back at Maka. "Guess I'll be seeing you later."
She opens her mouth then closes it and just smiles, nodding her head. "We will. You should go, before you're late. I'm glad you came by to say goodbye, though."
"Yeah, no problem… see you." He hesitates before turning to walk down the hall. When he reaches the end, he looks back and finds her still standing there. She waves her hand at him, dressed in a simple summer dress that ends by her knees. Her hair is tied back in pigtails today, falling down her shoulders. He burns the image in his retinas, burns her smiling face and soft emerald eyes into his memory, just as Kilik whistles for him to hurry it.
She'd helped him although he still had a long way to go before he was able to return Kid's ring back to his father, before he could let go of it for good.
But perhaps that day is closer than he'd first believed it was.
A/N: I think this is the first time I've ever written a Soul Eater story that is not packed to the brim with fluff. This is more of a healing story, now that I think about it. The ending is hopeful, though, so you can imagine Soul will survive and return to Maka in one piece. Or at least that's what I envision, some of you guys are seriously tragedy addicts xD
My only regret: I blew Kid up D: