Bone met bone with extreme force.
A kick connected, sending a body straight up into the air.
An ax-kick was delivered to said airborne object.
The beaten and bruised boy landed in a crater of gravity's own making, nearly breaking his spine. His clothes were torn, dirty, and stained with sweat and blood, all his own. Black hair frazzled, looking not unlike a used bird's nest.
Across from him, another figure, female, landed gracefully, shining, silver hair swaying from the motions. In stark contrast to the male, her clothes were still in a mostly-pristine condition, not a bit of dirt marring her pale skin.
Slitted, red eyes peered into what had once been the same, but now round, hazel orbs. Cold and calculating meeting warm and submissive in a gaze neither wanted to break.
"Tsukune..." the surprisingly low, intoxicating voice of the female began. "This is no good."
Brown orbs widened briefly for a moment, before going back to normal. He hadn't been expecting praise for his performance in the spar, but neither did he foresee such harsh judgment, either. Blood leaked at the side of his mouth, evidence of the abuse he had taken in the attempt to make himself stronger.
"You have vampire blood, so you should have the aptitude to become stronger. Originally, you were dutiful, learning what I taught quickly. However..."
A slight melancholy look overtook the young male's face, as if daydreaming about a bittersweet memory that could have been.
A hard edge crept into the silver-haired female's words. "They're light. Your fists, which lack resolve. That is your weakness. You neither have the will to hurt, nor the intent to kill. Both necessary to win, yet you don't wield either."
The already hard glare turned icy. "Who are you planning to defeat?" she whispered angrily, daring the boy in front of her to answer.
The gaze which had been held to this point was broken by the beaten boy, averting his line of sight to the ground, the previous melancholic look flattening into a depressed visage. He knew everything she said was right, and there was nothing to say in his defense.
"Moka-san..." he began, before stopping to cough. That last kick had been brutal, and his lungs knew it. "I honestly don't know."
Crimson eyes blinked in surprise. Had she honestly heard right? The young man she was attempting to train didn't know what he was training for? Had all her time been wasted trying to make a soldier out of a pacifist? Her eyes narrowed in anger. Not the icy type that froze those who dared to look, but an overwhelming inferno that promised pain.
Noticing the reaction, Tsukune started talking. "It's not that I don't know why I'm fighting. It's just...I don't want to ever again hurt any one of my friends."
The last part was almost a whisper, but the sharp ears of the vampire had heard them. She watched impassively as the 'human' male rubbed at his right wrist where his holy lock, a link of many chains interconnecting with a padlock at the end, resided, keeping his sanity in check. If said lock were to ever be broken, the vampire blood inside of him, Moka's own, would warp him into a ghoul, a being on par with a vampire in terms of power, but without the weaknesses, but more dreadfully, without a mind to govern the killing instinct. In effect, he would become the perfect killing machine, unable to fear, unable to feel, unable to stop.
"Then what is the use of what I've been trying to teach you, Tsukune?" the vampire questioned, tone slightly softened.
"To protect all of you." he responded. "To bare the burden, no, the honor of becoming a shield that won't let harm reach my friends."
A few moments of silence ensued, Moka's 'inner' personality wearing an emotionless mask, Tsukune's face downcast. The stillness was shattered when an abrupt bark of laughter rang out, capturing the vampire's attention. With tears streaming down his dirt-covered face, he laughed loudly and freely, the traditional sound of those broken down and so laugh so to not cry, which in turn would lead to depression.
"But how am I supposed to do that when I can't even protect me from myself?" he semi-giggled, finding the thought ludicrous. "What use is a shield that's just as likely to turn on the person it defends as to protect it?"
"A broken shield, huh? So that's what I've been using?"
Tsukune quieted his noise-making to hear the words of what he considered his dearest friend, though the tears didn't stop, and the smile was still present.
Moka's frame shook silently, before the lowest of chuckles could be heard emanating from her chest. Gradually, the chuckles turned into laughs, and then full out guffaws. Confused, Tsukune kept quiet, until the stress became too much and he joined her in the merrymaking. It felt so right, just sitting there, wallowing in disguised misery.
After the laughter died down a bit, the male rubbed at his left cheek with his hand. It didn't do much, other than spread the grime, sweat, and tears around his face more. But it did make him feel somewhat less pathetic.
"You're right, Moka-san. Absolutely right." He chuckled out, an amused grin tugging at his lips, eyes shining. "I'm nothing but a broken shield, useless to those needing protection, worthl-"
His eyes stared blankly at horizon in front of him, half his vision filled with earth, the other with sky. It took him several seconds of lying on his side to realize what had happened. And then the pain made itself known. Lifting his hand to the angry, red mark now adorning the left side of his face, he looked to his attacker.
"M-moka-san...?" the teenager questioned, shock evident in his voice.
Said vampire marched to his prone, crumpled form, a look of sheer fury plastered to her face. Lifting the boy up by his neck, the girl forced him to look straight into her burning eyes.
"Where's Tsukune..." she growled, "and what have you done with him?"
When he didn't answer immediately, the vampire shook him violently. "ANSWER ME."
"I'm right here...?" said human replied in a small voice.
"NO! Where's Tsukune?" the vampire once again demanded, throwing him a few yards away. "The Tsukune I know isn't this pathetic. The Tsukune I know isn't this wrong. The Tsukune I know isn't this fearful. THE TSUKUNE I KNOW ISN'T THIS WEAK!" she roared.
"B-but, Mo-" he stammered, fighting his way into a kneeling position.
"Don't you even think of speaking my name, imposter. I'll give you one more chance before I take your head off. Answer me truthfully, and I'll only leave you crippled. Where. Is. Tsukune."
In the blink of an eye, she was in front of him, one leg raised high in the air, violet energy wrapped around the appendage, visible to the naked eye. Like a weapon of divine judgment, poised to strike down the heathen that dared to raise their voices against the gods. In fear, he closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
An end which never came.
Feeling strong, gentle arms wrap around him, the boy opened one eye slightly, before both once again opened in total shock.
"I said QUIET." the epitome of beauty growled into his ear, squeezing him a little harder with her arms.
Scared, and more than a little confused, the boy-turned-ghoul complied. Instead of being annihilated from the face of the earth, he had somehow been graced with a second shot at life. Instead of being crushed to a pulp, he was being enveloped in the arms of the holder of his affections.
"You're such an idiot, sometimes." she said, voice soft, tender, barely above a whisper. Like that of a mother holding her only precious child who managed to hurt themselves in a bout of folly. "You focus so much on your flaws, that you never take time to look at the traits that really define you. The good ones that matter."
"But what good are those t-traits if I'm w-worthless?" the boy choked. Tears once again started gathering at the brim of his eyes.
"You are not worthless." she hissed, biting his neck, but not breaking the skin. When she was sure he wouldn't speak again, she let go and nuzzled her face into the crook of his shoulder, not unlike a cat expressing its love for its familiar. "You are the most forgiving, patient, kind, humble, enduring, loving man I have ever known. And that is strength. Yes, you may be naive. Yes, you may not always think before acting, but you are not worthless, and you never will be."
Reaching up his back to the back of his head, she rotated it so she could look him straight in the eye. "Is that understood?"
Tsukune couldn't do anything but nod his head. His voice wouldn't work, and every time he tried to breathe, his body trembled. Before he knew it, tears were once again streaming down his face, dripping off his chin.
"Oh, Tsukune." Moka mumbled, drawing his body closer to hers, ignoring the salty liquid gathering along the side of her neck and into her clothing. "My poor idiot, Tsukune."
They stayed like that for about half an hour, Tsukune silently sobbing into the girl's shoulder, Moka whispering comforting words into his ear and rubbing his back. It had been far too long since the last time he was able to let everything out.
When the last of the tears had fallen, he felt absolutely exhausted, as is the normal feeling after venting emotion in such a way. Despite that, he knew that Moka had offered him a shoulder to cry on, and to stay any longer would wear on her patience. So with a little regret, he gently tried to extract himself from the embrace, only to be pulled back into the vampire's warm, soft body.
"It's nice like this, 'neh, Tsukune?" she asked in a light voice.
Deciding to be totally honest with himself for once, said male nodded, a light flush dancing across his cheeks.
Once again, she brought his face to hers, and to his surprise she had a few tears of her own dripping down her visage, smiling softly.
"This stays between us, alright?" the girl asked, a playful lilt in her voice.
The boy looked at her in confusion. Surely he had heard wrong. Moka's inner side surely wouldn't let him get away with addressing her on such familiar terms.
"I said: you can call me Moka. There's no longer any need for honorifics, Tsukune. After all, we are friends, right?"
"Moka..." deciding he liked the way it rolled of his tongue, he nodded. "Yes, Moka. We're friends."
"Good." and with that, she lightly pecked his cheek with a small kiss, moving back into place so fast that he almost didn't see it. Putting his hand to his cheek for what must've been the hundredth time that day, he blushed slightly, a dumbfounded expression making its way to the surface.
"Yes." she repeated to herself, licking her lips, a blush dusting her cheeks. "Very good."
Standing up, she started walking away. "I don't know about you, Tsukune, but I'm not particularly fond of wearing clothing that's been used as a hanky."
Nodding dumbly, the stood up and followed his friend, no, best friend back to the entrance of Paradise.
Crack Crack Crack.
Bone met bone in a flurry of strikes, each blocked and countered with speed faster than most eyes could follow.
Thump Thump Smack.
Fist met fist, leg met arm, and leg met leg in the time-honored dance of combat.
One of the participants wasn't able to react in time, receiving a roundhouse to the gut. They staggered back a couple of feet before tripping onto their rear.
Surprised red met red. An arm was extended to help the fallen up.
"Very good." Moka said, accepting her companion's gesture. "But will you be able to do it again?"
A smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth, revealing an enlarged canine. Not many could tell, but after being around her for so long, Tsukune heard the warmth, affection, and even a touch of pride in the praise.
"Only one way to find out, sensei." he responded, his own cocky smile in place.
It had been a month since his breakdown. A month since his will had been snapped. A month since he had been admonished and brought back.
A month since he vowed never to let his resolve be shaken ever again.
A/N: And that's a wrap, folks. Hope you enjoyed. R&R and all that good stuff.