I don't own Soul Eater.

Ch.3 – The Wonder and the Magic

The wonder of the world is o'er:

The magic from the sea is gone:

There is no unimagined shore,

No islet yet to venture on.

The Sacred Hazel's blooms are shed,

The Nuts of Knowledge harvested.

From "The Twilight of Earth," by G.W. Russell

The 28th Day of Sleep Moon, Late Winter

4012 years after the demon's defeat

Lunge, thrust – twist away, slice down. Use momentum to hurtle forward, swing wide, arc left-

When I move with him all fear falls away, and all my doubt is trampled to dust. The women of the village hiss at me when I come near, and call me battle mad, and bloodthirsty. All they see is a women willing to wield the Deathbringer, and how could that be anything but unnatural? I didn't care. How could I resist his call when our progress is not only so rapid, but so fulfilling?

Spin Soul to block, lean forward to break opponent's assault. Catch breath, dive back in-

There was a pressing need for warriors. I understood that now, without having to rely on Soul's memories. Although we had not been sent out in battle, I had seen the mauled bodies of our scouts and seen the damage that no human could inflict. It was imperative that we adapt to each other, and learn quickly. Thankfully I was deceptively strong and agile, and had watched Black and my father train all my life. Better yet that Soul could simply pass along knowledge and memories of his training through our link. The only thing that made me pause – and it was only when I forgot the necessity of it – was that I was rapidly becoming addicted to what was called soul resonance.

Feel the buzzing in my hands, my head. Soul wants in. Let him in, we fight better together- Soul Resonance. Now there is no difference between us: I am him and he is me. Scythe and woman, wielder and weapon, all are one in this dance of death. There are no boundaries to my body, or his knowledge, and when we resonate there is no one and nothing that can stop us-

"Soul! Maka! Enough!"

The downside is that sometimes is it difficult to sever the connection. Reality falls away when we are resonating, yet in this case it pushed itself forcefully to the forefront of our shared concentration. I came back to myself in jerking halts, suddenly aware of the scythe in my hands. Then it was a scythe no longer, but a man who only let go of me when he was sure I would not fall to the ground. The first few times we had resonated I had not handled the sudden separation well, and he always remembered and looked out for me.

Sid, the warrior in charge of training us took advantage of the detente to catch his breath. He was one of the most experienced warriors of the tribe; the man had more than a few tricks up his sleeve, having trained with the Star Clan before their fall. Yet it was not the first time we had come close to defeating him in a sparring session.

"Excellent! You both are progressing well. There are still some points to work on, however – Maka, your footwork is still a bit sloppy, and you have to take charge a little more, Soul. Anything else you noticed?" One of Sid's favorite teaching methods was to ask us ourselves what we did wrong. Soul nodded at me to go first.

"Like you said, I'm still figuring out the basics of each stance and technique. I can feel the rhythm, but I don't always have the right form. I need to spend more time on it when I'm not wielding Soul. Maybe I could practice while he watches, and gives me advice?"

Sid smiled a large, toothy grin. His white teeth shone like pearls against his mottled skin. "Sounds like you've got it figured out, little lady. Although don't get too down – you've only been here a month, and you're looking sharp as a blade." His grin flattened when he turned to Soul. "And you?" When he didn't respond, Sid sighed. "Soul, don't think that I don't see you twisting around in her hands to take blows meant for her – she's fluid enough to adapt and continue fighting when you do that, but it will weaken you both in the long run."

"It is my purpose to protect my wielder."

Sid sighed in friendly exasperation. "I know that. Believe me, I do. Nygus was pretty fanatical about it in the beginning. But you have to understand – wielders get hit too. No matter what you do to protect them, they're going to get injured. Part of the way they grow stronger is by taking blows, the same as with their weapons. Also, if you don't stay still in her hands, she's never going to get her footwork down. So leave it alone for a bit, yeah? Just until she gets the basics down."

It was impossible to take offense to anything Sid said. He was such a friendly man, and his criticism was delivered without a speck of condescension. Furthermore, Soul was not a man who took offense easily, so why was his face so guarded? Meaning only to offer support, I laid my hand against his shoulder blade.

I won't let her die. I cannot lose her.

I pulled back quickly. Muddying his thoughts were a wave of emotions I could not fully identify, although fear and the remembrance of failure were chief among them. He glanced at me quickly, yet did not maintain eye contact long enough for me to gauge his mood. Sid must have seen something, however, as he clapped Soul on the shoulder and laughed.

"Come with me, Soul. Let's have a talk, yeah? Maka, if you wouldn't mind checking on Nygus? She should be in a session with Kim, and probably needs help watching the twins... I'm not trying to snub you, but Soul and I need to be men for a little bit."

He laughed again at my obvious delight at watching the twins. But even the thought of spending the afternoon with Kilik's small children couldn't chase away my concern for Soul. I pulled at his attention through our tentative link, not turning to go until he looked at me and I could judge for myself that he was all right.

His hand brushed against my bicep as he responded. "Go on, Maka. I will see you when we are finished. We have to work on your footwork, after all..." It is a sign of how much he trusts Sid that he speaks in his own tongue in front of him. Usually he does not do so, wanting to hide my ability to understand their tongue when he touches me. More importantly, however, I could feel that his emotions had stabilized, and while he was not entirely pleased at the thought of me leaving alone and without his protection, he was no longer swamped by the darker currents from before. That being so, I smiled once more at Sid, and whispered my goodbye to Soul through the link before turning to go.

I had barely left the training grounds before a now-familiar voice slowed my progress.

"Good afternoon, Maka. It is rare to see you without your wielder. Perhaps you are looking for him? Or are you seeking alternate companionship?" One of my few social triumphs over the month of my capture was overcoming my fear of Kilik, and even hesitantly beginning to enjoy his company. Thanks to this I was able to not only smile at the older warrior, but also slow my step so that it fell in with his.

"I just left him, actually. I was on my way to see Nygus, and see if she needed any assistance." Kilik's face was as grave as it always was when he nodded, so in hopes of making him smile I attempted to joke. "Sid and Soul said they needed some time to be men. I am not sure exactly what that means, but I suspect that I have frightened them with my feminine ways."

Kilik mouth curved upwards in the barest hint of a smile. I suspected it was more out of kindness than actual amusement. He was a very stoic man, past the first flush of youth, who approached all his interactions outside of battle with utmost propriety and never let his emotions overpower him. Still, I had learned him to be quite kind, and surprisingly doting upon his children, Brennan and Blitzen.

He was also a man of few words. We walked in silence all the way to Nygus's hut, only pausing occasionally to greet a few warriors that passed us by. Although I found my reception to be slightly warmer among them, they still treated me like an oddity. Soul was feared even among his own camp, and so surely the woman who wielded him must be nothing less than monstrous.

We were close to Nygus's home when the door burst open, and two dark-skinned children rushed out, followed by a harried Kim.

"Bren! Blitz! Come back here!" Kim hissed quietly to herself in her native tongue, too fast and low for me to decipher. "You must stop running at once-"

"Daddy!" The twins had caught a glimpse of their father and abruptly changed their course. Kilik smiled widely now, his eyes gleaming happily as he stooped to intercept his children. Soon they were in his arms, raised to the skies and laughing delightedly.

Kim sidled up next to me, somewhat calmer now that Kilik had come to take charge. She greeted me again in the Snake Clan's traditional way before speaking. "Ahh, sister. It is good of you to come - it has been too long since we last met. It is also good of you to bring Kilik. His children are too quick, even for me." She pouted, and I couldn't help but laugh. It was obvious how good Kim was with children. Clearly she loved them dearly, and almost no one could move as fast as a Snake-

Before the Wolf Clan had come, Father had trained Black to move faster than a snake could bite. Such an endeavor had included weeks of bruised flesh, and eventually live snakes. It had also lead to my learning, in excruciating detail, how to isolate the venom in the body as well as the herbs needed to purge the body of the poison. Black had faced it all with his characteristic energy and optimism. I, who had never seen my friend so close to death, had not-

"Sister? Maka?" Kim's prompting pulled me from my reverie. "You were far away, just now. You must keep your eyes on what is in front of you, else it shall strike you down."

Kim had learned that the hard way. Tsubaki had told me more of her early time here, and it was only within the last 4 weeks that Kim had opened up and begun to smile. She attributed it to our tri-fold friendship, although there were times when I was unsure whether that was the sole answer. I could not help but remember the way she bantered so easily with her husband, and how, when she thought no one was looking, she would let him hold her hand.

Thinking of Kim's hardships prompted me to better manage my own, however. I smiled grimly back at her, and was just about to make another attempt at humor - an ill-fated venture from the start - when Nygus called out to us from the doorway of her home.

"Kim, where did the twins go- Oh! Kilik! Just the man I needed to see. Bring the kids in with you, will you?" The lovely, dark-skinned woman then turned to Kim and I. "You girls go off and take a break. Kilik and I can take it from here." She smiled broadly at my hesitation. "Go on, girls. The two of you are making us feel old just by looking at you. Besides, we have a few Fire clan things to discuss...in regards to the children." Her voice was hushed when she spoke of the twins, and Kim nodded sagely. Raising children in keeping with their old traditions was a tricky subject in the Wolf Clan. While it was not expressly forbidden, it was frowned upon, especially if the teachings were not strictly in keeping with the current wartime mentality.

We made our farewells, and I was secretly grateful for a moment alone with Kim - it had been several days since I had last seen her, after all. Yet as we turned to go, Blitz caught my eye, and true to his namesake - lightning, in their native tongue - a bolt of knowledge shot through me. He was a weapon. I could feel it, the same way I could feel Tsubaki and Soul and Ox. And unless I was mistaken, his sister was as well.

I went quite still as realization washed over me. No wonder Kilik was so determined to prove himself in battle. Although he himself could shoot fire and lightning from his fists, if Vajra discovered his children could do so as well they would soon be on the training regimen other weapons embarked upon. Yet they were not even five years old, and it would be a danger not only to their lives, but their health and development as well.

Kim squeezed my hand, pulling me from my thoughts. There was no way to hide my amazement, and judging by her calm, knowing gaze, I suspected she already knew. She did spend most of her time training under Nygus, and the twins were nearly always there.

"Blitz weapon. Bren too?"

Kim nodded slowly, her slanted eyes darting to either side to see if we were in danger of being overheard. Although no one else in the camp could understand her native tongue, it was dangerous to speak it in the open - there was a still a decent amount of ill-will harbored towards Kim's clan. When she was satisfied we were suitably alone, she responded. "Yes."

"Who see? Kilik, Nygus?"

"And Sid. Now you, as well as I. No one else."

I switched into the common tongue then, my vocabulary too small to continue. "I will say nothing. Not even to Tsubaki."

"And to the Deathbringer?"

I hesitated. Knowledge had a way of seeping into each other when we resonated whether we liked it or not. I knew how he disliked the women of the tribe who found his power and his reputation enticing, even more than he regretted those who feared him. Likewise, he knew exactly how much of my distrust for the majority of the warriors of his tribe stemmed from my capture, and how much was already set in place by the time I arrived. I had never been able to speak to men, whether in friendship or in romance. Still, I would not tell him, and I trusted him not to look for something so specific. Even if he did uncover the secret, I trusted him to tell no one. "I promise."

"Good. Now we will say no more, yes?" She glanced around again, eyes lingering in the direction of the training grounds. She needn't have bothered, she and I were both feared and mistrusted, and the majority of the clan gave us wide berth. "Now you must tell me how you have been. And Shadow too, as I have been too busy with Nygus to see my sisters. Your training is going well? And she has not yet taken a man?"

I couldn't help but smile, amused at her diverse interests. She took an inordinate amount of interest in Tsubaki's suitors, and teased her constantly about not taking a man. I suspected she did it largely to embarrass Tsubaki, although Kim claimed the women of the Snake Clan took many lovers, and were quite open about the subject. Some would even share lovers, or take their clan sisters to bed. I was simply grateful that she had made no inquiries into my own life, assuming I was far too busy training with Soul for anything else. "Training is going well. And Tsubaki has not yet taken a man, as you well know."

Kim nodded firmly, clearly pleased. "That is as it should be, you know. There is no one here who could reflect her beauty, nor her strength. You have not seen her in action, have you? It is a sight to behold, sister." She glanced at me slyly, weighing the effect her words would have on me. "And I have heard about your progress with the Deathbringer. Ox has told me that the two of you have become a most formidable pair. And in only a month! That takes dedication...and perhaps something else."

Perhaps something else? It took far more than just dedication to became a warrior in one month's time. To connect on a spiritual level, it should take even longer. There was something uncanny about how quickly we had connected; how easily we could slip into each other's souls. I had assumed it was necessity, and a matter of Soul's talents. Yet there was something else I was afraid to acknowledge although it flared within me every time I saw the clouds on Soul's brow, or whenever I chased away the shadows in his soul.

Even though Kim was my self-appointed clan sister, I couldn't tell her that. It was simply too personal, confusing, and sometimes even frightening. Perhaps it was time to turn the attention onto her. "Ox? I thought your husband's name was Oxford?"

She paled, and I could see that I had hit upon something she did not want revealed. She waved her hand dismissively in front of her face, hoping to draw attention away from it. "Simply a nickname, sister. One syllable is shorter than two, no? There is no other importance to it." I simply stared at her, knowing my direct gaze disconcerted even her. She growled back at me. "What is it? Do you not believe me?"

I bit my lip as I pondered how to proceed. I had long been curious about the true state of affairs between Kim and Oxford, especially since my initial impression of him had only been confirmed. Oxford seemed a good man, and deeply in love with Kim, as well as being an extremely capable warrior. At unguarded moments Kim seemed to acknowledge this, yet she could also display bouts of bitter hatred against the men of the village, including her husband. Tsubaki had said she chafed at her captivity, and I wanted to agree. Yet I needed to know. "I believe you, sister. I simply thought that if you truly hated him, you would not call him so." There. Let Kim make of that what she would, and hopefully our bond was enough so that she felt comfortable sharing.

Apparently so, as she ran a hand through her mussed, light-colored hair. "I… Oxford is not a bad man. I know that. He does not treat me as any other man in the village would. I do not-" Here, she glanced around wildly, clearly expecting him to burst upon us in time to hear her unexpected confession. When she was satisfied he was nowhere near, she continued in a tiny voice, barely above a whisper. "I do not hate him. Sometimes I try to, and often I wish to, but I do not."

A curious warmth filled me. That there could be a hopeful union between captor and captive made my heart inexplicably light. "I suspected so. You seem...comfortable with him, if not entirely at ease. He loves you so sincerely, I wondered if he had won you over-"

Kim's green eyes lit with a mixture of humiliation and fury. Instinctively my shoulders hitched, and I became very aware of my body's center, just in case I needed to withstand an attack. "He has not won me! I have not given in! He does not know my body, nor will he as long as I draw breath! I will not remove the sword-" She cut off abruptly, seeing the bewildered expression on my face.

"I'm sorry, Kim. I hadn't meant...that. I merely meant that you liked him, not...anything else." Feeling extraordinarily brave, I took her hand in mine as I led her to the hut Tsubaki and I shared. We were close by, and perhaps she would be there to help me untangle this situation. While I couldn't see her nearby, I did see the black cat that had taken up residence in the corner of our hut. The cat seemed to like Tsubaki far more than me, and it had the tendency to follow her around. "So you do not know the touch of a man, then? Like Tsubaki and I?"

There were two spots of color high on her cheekbones, but she did not pull away from me. Neither did she look at me as she responded. "There was no time for such things before I came here. My abilities were rare among my people, and they would not let anything distract me from my healing studies. It is now a matter of pride. Do you understand?"

I nodded slowly, although my pride was not on par with hers. I knew what it was to be unwanted, as the men in my village had never paid any attention to me. Neither had the boys, for that matter, save Black. Yet there had never been the slightest bit of interest between us, and even now I could not regret that. If I had a lover in the past, my time here would be so much more painful as I would regret and mourn their loss. As it was, I could focus more clearly on battling back the demons, and Soul.

Soul, with his sad, quiet smile; his gentle hands; the thin lips that hid his white, sharp teeth-

I shook my head, clearing it of these unwanted thoughts. Now was not the time for such strange thoughts, it was time to focus on Kim. "What did you mean by 'remove the sword?'"

She rubbed her hands together, looking embarrassed and nervous. Not for the first time, I regretted my lack of interaction with females. If I hadn't been such a tomboy, perhaps I wouldn't need to ask such uncomfortable questions. "When we sleep at night, he places his sword - sheathed, of course - between us. He said…" she swallowed, eyes glancing nervously for the third time, "...he would not touch me until I removed the sword from between us. That this part of our...marriage was mine to control." Her face was quite red now, and I gripped her hand tightly between mine. I couldn't help but smile, even though I knew it would likely annoy her. I was right, Oxford truly loved her, and had proved himself to be an honorable man-

Sounds of a scuffle to our right suddenly drew our attention. One glance was all it took to convince me our conversation was over - Tsubaki was being cornered by a one of the Wolf warriors I detested, Noah. I instinctively moved to protect her but Kim grabbed my arm before I could move more than a few steps in her direction.

"Wait and watch, sister. There is a reason Shadow has earned her fame."

Noah lounged against our hut, trapping her in his shadow. Tsubaki stood straight as an arrow, black eyes disinterested in her pursuer. As Kim and I neared them, however, her eyes narrowed, and even I felt the chill.

"What do you say, darlin'? Protector or no, a man could do worse than keep you warm at night…"

"Not interested."

Noah's grin dimmed, and he leaned in closer. "Think you're not listening. I said that I'm the lucky man that's gonna' have you. Now, we can do this the easy way...or the better way." He brought the arm he was not resting on to brush her hip, yet before he could do anything more a cold, sharp blade was at his throat.

It must have been utterly incomprehensible to him, as Tsubaki had not made a move. She stood still, with her arms crossed in front of her chest, clearly not wielding the blade. The attacker had come from behind where no one had been before. She was a strong, curvaceous woman; beautiful and barely clothed. Although it was a relief to see Tsubaki protected, my heart started hammering in my chest. Just as I could feel weapons and wielders from ungifted humans, I could also tell this was no ordinary woman. There was something...eldritch about her, and for all the perfection in her appearance, something felt inhuman.

"Step away from her." The woman spoke melodiously, with a purring lilt. Her long curls hung down to her breasts, giving a slight nod to modesty, yet her attire left nothing to the imagination.

It must have been this that allowed Noah to pause, thinking he could shake off this woman, even though she held the upper hand. "Now, why would I do that? Seems like my day just got twice as good-" He cut off with a high pitched yelp, backing into the woman to avoid the red-tinged knife. My eyes widened. The knife now looked as if it were newly come from the blacksmith's forge, and a line of burned skin curved across Noah's throat. The stranger had somehow heated the blade without fire. There was only one answer: the woman employed magic. Not wanting to face her, Noah stumbled behind a nearby hut, taking off into a run as soon as he was out of sight.

A quick glance to my right showed that Kim was as shocked as I. Perhaps there were other survivors from the Snake Clan? Or another clan of witches that had laid low while the Snakes were hunted down? Tsubaki, on the other hand, looked more embarrassed than surprised. Her mortification grew when she noticed Kim and I staring.

She turned to her companion and hissed, "Blair! We're in public!"

Her companion smiled, and it was seductive enough to make me blush. "Don't be so embarrassed, dear one. These are your bond-sisters, no? Besides, no one else saw." She made a show of looking around, humming contentedly when she was proven correct. "I've waited so long to be introduced...I figured this moment was as good as any."

Kim and I exchanged confused glances. At Tsubaki's hesitation, Kim spoke in her native tongue, clearly testing whether the stranger was of her clan. I could tell only that it was a question. From the blank look on the stranger's face, she couldn't even tell that.

It was Kim's attempt that prompted Tsubaki to introduce her protector. "She's not from your clan, Kim. Her name is Blair...and she's from the Lynx Clan. In a sense,"she added in an undertone. Tsubaki glanced over at me. "I told you that I was protected by means other than my reputation. I was speaking of Blair. She has sworn to follow and protect me, wherever my path may take me. She is a large reason why I am unwielded, as well." Blair smiled happily and brought her hand to her mouth. She then licked her fist in a feline gesture would.

Kim's eyebrows rose to her hairline, and Tsubaki groaned. "She's...also a cat."

Ten minutes later found the four of us settled in the home Tsubaki and I shared, waiting for an explanation. Blair was the only one who seemed not to sense the seriousness of the situation. I wasn't sure how she could miss Kim's blatant glare, but she somehow managed it.

It was up to me to assuage my own curiosity, it seemed. "So, Blair. You're a cat?"

Blair giggled and checked her nails which, to add credence to her claim, were long, sharp, and curved almost as dangerously as a blade. "Sometimes! Not now, obviously. But most of the time!"

My eyes narrowed, and my mind tracked back to the cat that had lived in our hut since before I had come. As if reading my thoughts, Blair grinned and continued. "You know, you'd be a lot more popular if you showed off some of that nice, white skin of yours. It's always my favorite time of the day, when you and Tsubaki bathe!"

The pale skin that she admired flushed crimson, and I fought down the urge to hurl something heavy in her direction. Her roundabout reply had answered that question, but left more in its wake: how long had she been spying on us? How on earth could she transform from cat to human? And what kind of pervert intentionally watched young women change?

Although she had known about Blair the whole time, Tsubaki was also blushing. "Blair! Don't just- you can't- stop being so perverse!"

Blair merely winked. "Don't be so upset, Tsubaki. It's my duty to make sure my descendent is safe. I have to watch you and all that come close to you to ensure your survival. You can't blame me if I want to have fun doing it."

Only one part of that caught my attention. "Descendent?"

Kim was thinking of something entirely different. "Ah, is that why you don't take a lover? You wish to keep such things private, hmm?" She looked back at us with wide-eyed innocence when we shot identical glares in her direction. "What? It is a serious question!"

Blair nodded enthusiastically. "Of course it is! My little Tsubaki is so shy - I don't know where she gets it from! Probably that stuffy older brother of hers..."

Ignoring both of them, Tsubaki turned to me. "Blair is...not entirely human. Truthfully she is not human at all. You've heard the stories of the spirits that sided with humans against the demons, yes? From the old war? She was one of them. After, she was one of the Lynx Clan founders, and my ancestor."

I nodded slowly, and even Kim looked interested. Blair looked anything but, leaning back onto Tsubaki's bed as if she were going to sleep.

"Before she died, she promised to support the Lynx Clan even from beyond the grave. When I chose to assist the Wolf Clan, the elders remembered this, and enacted a ritual to bind her to me. She was given the form of a cat, so that she could follow me without question. Yet as you can see, her magical powers did not fade after she died."

I thought back to the heated knife and her shapeshifting. "So she's not a witch at all...simply a magical spirit cat? And you've kept it a secret for the last two years?"

The magical spirit cat laughed at my disbelief. "Would you have believed the tale had you not seen it? Besides, whenever someone suspects anything, I always go like this!" There was no flourish or incantation, merely a moment where Blair was a human woman, and then was a black cat sitting on the bed. Kim and I leaned forward, surprised even though we had expected it.

Kim hissed under her breath, but I was too engrossed to understand. She turned to Tsubaki. "You are sure she is not a witch? Only my sisters and I could ever turn to an animal at will…"

Blair the cat licked her paw and settled what could only be a feline version of a smirk at Kim. "So closed-minded! Once upon a time, no human could shapeshift. Once upon that same time, there was no such thing as weapon, or wielder. What do you think changed all that? You speak of the demons as the end of all things, but you have had demons as allies in the past. Some of you are allied to demons even now."

She glanced at me sidelong, and my heart stuttered to a stop in my chest. There could be only one way to take her meaning, and the words tumbled out before I could check them. "Soul is not a demon."

"If you can still hold out hope, then you do not understand what you are getting into, little girl."

"No, he's…" I stumbled, and my cheeks burned again at Kim and Tsubaki's eagerness. "It's not what you think. I saw it - and although there's demon blood...his soul is still human. Is that not enough?"

"He's not like you, or Tsubaki, or Kim. He has been made into something far worse."

Enough of this cryptic warning. This was a matter for Soul and I, no matter how much her message coincided with my own worries. "I trust him. That is all that matters."

Perhaps my clipped tone signaled that she had gone too far. Blair merely cocked her head to the side, pausing for a moment before slinking into Tsubaki's lap.

For a long moment silence fell over us like a blanket, until Kim rolled onto her stomach, propping her chin on her hands. "So! Now that we are in the presence of one who must know such things...Blair: tell us what it is like to lie with a man!"

Tsubaki groaned, even as Blair launched enthusiastically into a retelling of the night she had spent with 50 human men. I exchanged a glance with Tsubaki, even as Kim hung on her every word.

This would be a long night, indeed.

In the darkness there was the sound of a drum, pulsing steadily as a heartbeat. The rhythm caused my blood to sing and my skin to tingle. It was a call to arms, and every part of me longed for human death. It would be so easy - blades burst from my flesh as easily as thought, and I was surrounded by those with delicious blood. The drums commanded me. I must obey-

I awoke with a start, gasping and clutching my head. It was not the first time I had experienced such a dream, but it was the worst. Never had it progressed to that point, where I could practically taste the blood on my tongue, and the desperation that thrilled my skin. Yet they had not been my tongue, nor my skin at all. I kicked out from under the tangled blanket, nearly falling in my urgency. Soul. I needed to find Soul.

Exhausted from the long night of Blair, Tsubaki did not wake as I snuck from our home. The cold night air caused the fragmented edges of the dream to seep away, but the urgency remained. It had not been my dream but Soul's, and his darkness that had threatened to overcome us. I remembered my promise to chase away his shadows and my resolve firmed, and with it, my sense of him. He was not in the village. He was in the forest, and even awake I could sense the darkness converging on him.

With my heart hammering in my throat, I took off after him, terrified that I would be too late. His own fear fueled my own, even as his tremors shook my own limbs. Yet our link grew stronger as the distance between us shrank, and by the time I reached the edge of the forest I was able to send out a desperate call. It was only his name, yet it encompassed all the things I was too afraid to articulate: where are you and what happened and don't give up. There was no reply, but for a moment the darkness receded, and it allowed me to pinpoint his position. Then it was gone, replaced by shadows and cold fear.

Thankfully he was close by. I vaulted over a fallen tree, scratching myself on the dead branches, and he was just beyond, fallen to his knees on the frosted ground. His head was in his hands and I could hear his strangled gasps as he fought for control. This close, I could feel the roiling energy within him, and the demon blood that surged against the thin strings of humanity that held him together.

I will burn all your shadows down.

His hair shone like a star in the cold night, and it was all the remained that was not currently swathed in dark energy. Suddenly, his head tilted back, and his eyes fastened on me. They widened, and his mouth moved soundlessly - a warning, or a plea? It didn't matter. I had promised, and so I would deliver. I sank down across from him, folding my fingers against his own, and bringing my forehead to his. He shook against me, and I could feel the darkness like frostbite against his skin. This was what he fought? Day after day and year after year? I marveled at his fortitude and tightened my grip against him, calling him through our link.

Soul. Let me in.

His response was distant and afraid. No! You have to run - I can't hold out much longer!

I could feel the madness underneath his skin; ink-black blood that surged like the waves of the ocean. There was no more time - I forced my way in, whispering my intent under my breath: "Soul resonance."

The room was not as it was before. Then, the shadows had kept to the walls, flickering out only when I brushed past. Now, the room was swathed in darkness, and the dim light I brought with me seemed an intrusion. As before he was clothed in the robes of a bard, yet when he lifted his head I could see madness swirling within his eyes.

You came. His long fingers gestured to the hearth, where dying embers glowed. But it is too late. His light has gone out. His mouth curved in a jagged smile, displaying his sharp teeth. As will yours.

One moment he was sitting at the table, the next he was directly in front of me, touching my face with fluttering fingers. Are you not afraid? I am the demon unchained. How easy it would be to put out your light forever. Why do you not run?

The shadows swirled around me, encasing my limbs in smoky substance. My heart beat like the wings of a trapped bird, but it was no different than when he had sworn himself to me a month ago. Fear? With Soul, there was no such thing as fear - not even when his madness overtook him. In this circumstance the only thing I felt was the need to prove myself, and to make good on my promise. I promised you, Soul. I will not let your light go out. I pulled him close to me, pressing my cheek up against his. It surprised him, and I took what little advantage I could. I will never fear you. So come back, come back to me, please…!

A light flared at the corner of my vision. With each whispered plea, the light in the fireplace grew stronger, even as his arms around me clenched reflexively. The shadows in the room began to swirl and tilt dizzily, but I only increased my grip. I would not let go, even if we both died here.

His face grew alternatively hot and then cold, until I thought him turned to ice. Yet the fire grew higher, spilling light into the black room and sending the shadows scurrying. When the light reached us, Soul gave a final shudder and collapsed against me. As he did so white light washed over us both, and for a moment the room was as bright as if lit by the noontime sun.

Soul groaned as he regained his footing, fingers rubbing at his temples. Yet when he looked at me his eyes were clear, so I did not fear any lasting effects, nor for my own safety. For a long moment we simply held each other, breathing deeply and basking in the light and the clearness of the air. The demon had recessed and with him went much of the shadows - while the room wasn't lit as brightly as it had been at the moment of release, it was the cleanest I'd ever seen his soul room.

It was only after he shifted and relaxed his hold on me that I realized the position we were in. I ducked my head to hide my flushed face, but Soul, fearing illness or fear tilted it back up with a gentle hand. Are you all right? I'm- I'm sorry, Maka. I should never have lost control. I should have fought harder.

I smiled, but the touch of his hand on my chin made my heart pound even more loudly. I'm fine. And it's not up to you to stay in control anymore, it's up to us. I told you I'd save you. I meant it, Soul.

His breath hitched on his inhale, yet the look in his eyes was sorrowful. There's no way I can be saved-

Hush. I lifted my hand against his lips, unwilling to let him finish. Not now. Let me get you back home first - it's too cold to stay outside much longer. But don't doubt me. I keep my promises.

His eyes flickered down, and from the minute jerk of his head I knew he did not agree. But he did not argue, and with a moment of shared concentration we found ourselves back in the forest.

Although it would have been easier for him to be carried in weapon form, he insisted on walking beside me as a man. There are more dangers for women than for men, he had argued. Thinking back to Noah, I eventually agreed. As we walked back to the village he spoke quietly, spinning a narrative that answered many questions yet made my heart throb with pity. Some things I knew from what he had already shown me, and others from tales around the camp. Yet to hear it from his own lips moved me, and made my irrational desire to hold him in the real world all the stronger.

He had come into his powers early, accidentally slicing his mother when she went to take him from his cradle. His penchant for devouring souls had been discovered only a few years later, right at the time his father began his decline from fever. Since then, his entire life had been devoted to destroying the demons, as a weapon of his power had never before been seen. There were old tales and prophecies of other soul eaters, yet Vajra had been convinced that Evan's youngest son was special. Soul was renamed appropriately - and no matter how I asked, he would not tell me his given name - and began undertaking special training.

The blood rituals were the inevitable end of his talent. Vajra found scrolls of wisdom that outlined a way of fighting demons with their own power, and Soul fit the prerequisites. It was a slow process of being injected periodically with demon blood, yet his power grew exponentially - with the unfortunate side-effect of becoming more than part demon himself. For many years he had undergone this, yet only within the last year or two did he begin to have serious trouble withstanding the demon blood's call to death and destruction. Tonight had been the most serious episode to date, and if I had not been there, he feared he would descended into a permanent demonic state.

The process could not be undone, he assured me, looking on with grave eyes and a small smile. He would never be truly human again. Yet one fear had been allayed - I had proven myself incorruptible by the demon blood, and therefore would not succumb to the same fate. He had suspected as much the night he had attacked the village, when my courage had cut through his battle-rage. Now that I had proved to be a deterrent to the demon within him, my presence was even more important.

"You alone hold me back now." He smiled as he spoke, but it did not reach his eyes. "Even Father cannot make such a claim, and it was he that supported me all these years."

Needing more time to digest the ramifications of his life-long sacrifice, I answered distractedly. "Vajra? You never explained why you sometimes call him Father…"

"According to Clan law he is my father - he adopted Wes and I when our birth father died. Beyond that, he was the one who empowered me - made me what I am." He eyes widened at my expression and he paused, gripping my wrist in order to bring my eyes to his. "Don't judge him for that, Maka...he simply did what he had to do. It hurt him more than it hurt me. I've seen his pain."

As had I. He had showed me as much when we first resonated. Still, the thought that he demonized Soul; hurting him for years and causing all the cracks in his spirit...it made me furious. I couldn't hide my feelings from him, and I knew he could feel that and my helplessness through our link. Now more than ever, I wanted to save him. Throughout the last month he had become not only my partner and my friend, but my anchor. To lose him would be to set adrift in a clan I still could not help but despise... more than that, it would mean being truly alone. Yet even that was not enough to describe the depths of my pain - without him there would simply be no more Soul and that...that was far, far worse than being alone.

I shook my head, trying to rationalize the pain in my heart. Soul had held my destiny in the palm of his hand since the moment we first fought. To be told he was beyond saving was unacceptable. Besides, I was not a woman who gave up under any circumstances, especially for people I cared so deeply for...

His quiet inhale broke the silence, and for the first time I worried about how much I had broadcasted through our link. Could he sense the warring feelings inside of me? Could he guess how deeply my dependence on him ran? I had to speak; I had to distract and reassure us both. "You told me that you couldn't be saved. I won't accept that, Soul. I don't care how far you've fallen, or what you've become - there is always a way back. What happened tonight proves it! I will help you. Together, we will save you."

He shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off mine. The darkness hid the nuances of his expression, but what little I could see made my heart leap in my chest and my hands itch to touch him. In him there was so much pain and strength and beauty, and it made me a paradox of weakness and wanting and fortitude. It was what made all of this manageable, if not worthwhile. It was worth living and dying for.

His mouth moved slowly, reluctantly. "Hope is for those who are human. If you believe in me beyond my ability to slay demons I will only disappoint you...and Maka, I-"

I could take it no longer and reached out for him, pulling his face to my own so that our foreheads rested against each other, mirroring our position from earlier. The action surprised him, and I moved in the silence. "As long as there is life, there is hope. You can't give up, Soul. Not while I believe in you." I gripped him more tightly, needing to be close to him but not wanting to resonate. "You promised to be my weapon - to follow and protect me, to live and die with me. That means not giving up on yourself. It means choosing to be human."

"I- I can't, I don't know-"

"Yes you can. I know you can. I'll help you! Just- all you have to do…" I trailed off, overcome by the wave of emotion he let slip through our link. Washing over me were feelings familiar yet foreign; desperate worry that he would hurt me, at odds with the aching need to hold me close, and the dim spark of hope my words inspired. No one had ever believed in him before, save Vajra in terms of completing their bloody mission. No one had ever befriended him, trusted him, depended on him, liked him. No had ever looked at him the way I did, and he had never looked at a woman the way he did me-

Just as suddenly as they came the sensations ended, leaving us reeling in their wake. I was torn between breathless excitement at the thought of him caring for me and dejection that even now he thought so little of himself. Still, the feelings were too raw to be explored. More importantly, I had to teach him to hope. "All you have to do is trust me, Soul. Keep your word, and your promise. I'll do the rest." I prayed he wouldn't ask me what the rest entailed. I would figure it out tomorrow, with a cool head not spinning with thoughts of how my embrace had affected Soul…

"Keep my promise…" He murmured, gazing at me from under lowered eyelashes. "I suppose I can try." A tiny smile pulled at the edges of his mouth, and this time there was an answering light in his eyes. Cautiously, he extended his hand, a silent reminder to return home.

This time, when my fingers wrapped around his, I could feel it: the spark that wound from his fingers to my heart, sealing my fate. There was a saying among the Wind Clan - that when you met your future spouse, you would recognize your end. In this case, I could only be surprised it took me this long to realize that I had already met mine in Soul.

I squeezed his hand as we walked, biting back a smile and the corresponding leap of happiness through the link.

My end or no, I would not be afraid.

YES I named the pots. Blitz is lightning, and Brennan is the verb "to burn." I liked the double B's, so that's what I went with!


Wrote the last ¼ of this whilst …. you know…. on cold meds. Awesome. Simply awesome.