EDIT UPDATE: I tweaked the first chapter a bit: I made Maka's fight scene with the black-haired titan slightly longer and extended the dialogue between Tsubaki and BlackStar on the rooftop scene. Feel free to read it if you want, but it still doesn't change the story line.

Special thanks to im-micheala for that small tip and Dark Dreamscape for helping me move on in the storyline!

Disclaimer: Don't own Soul Eater or Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan.

The Recon Corps's leader took her back into the mess hall where all the soldiers were eating dinner, the same day that they had returned from their unsuccessful mission. The man knelt down to one knee and handed her a pristine orange jacket that was a whole size bigger than her 9-year-old body. "Take this," he said with a kind, age-old smile. "This was your mother's jacket. She'd want you to have it." The sniffling blonde choked back a sob and rubbed her red eyes from tears as the Recon Corp's leader reached out and secured the oversized uniform around her skinny little shoulders, wrapping it around her gently. "Don't worry. Your parents entrusted someone with taking care of you just in case they didn't return," he said to her, kneeling down to put a reassuring and firm hand on her shoulder.

She sniveled. "Who?"

He brought her towards the back of the room, where the long stretch of dining tables had ended and there was a broad hallway that led into the back of the building where the corporal's room was. Their footsteps echoed throughout the pathway lit with amber-glowing candles on the way. She held onto his hand loosely, the other hand clinging onto the rim of her mother's jacket around her shoulder. "I'm sure the corporal will do a great job taking care of you. He's a kind and strong man. He even might remind you of your mother," the man said. She found his words not reassuring at all, especially after she had spent the whole day in its entirety crying.

She only nodded weakly in response.

They had reached the end of the hallway. The Recon Corps leader pushed open the double doors, and they creaked in slowly and carefully. The room looked like a library; each wall was lined with books of all different sizes and different hard-cover colors. There was a broad-surfaced and polished wooden desk sitting in the middle of the room. It was also mercilessly stacked with books on most of its edges. One man sat in the chair, candle sitting by his side, elbows propped up on the desk as he studied a piece of paper in front of him with intense concentration.

He cleared his throat towards the man sitting at the table, who seemed to pay no attention to them. "Corporal Sid Barrett? This is Recon Corps leader Edward Guiren."

The man was younger in comparison to most soldiers. His skin was slightly tanner and his muscular frame was outlined through his uniform, his hair was in wide, cornrowed dreadlocks. He glanced up almost immediately. Maka cocked her head at the man, tears now dried over her reddened cheeks and no longer falling from her eyes. "Yes, what is it?" he asked, mildly irritated that he had been interrupted.

"I'm sure you've heard of our mission," Edward said with a solemn tone.

Sid nodded slowly, gravely. "Yes, I'm aware. I'm sorry for your loses. What do you need to tell me?" His darkened brown eyes fell upon the young girl as he perked a questioning eyebrow at her. "This girl is...the daughter of Kami and Spirit, isn't she?"

Guiren's grip around the young blonde's hands tightened slightly at the sound of his former members' names. "Yes, sir. I'm afraid they...did not make it back to the gates, sir," he lowered his voice, attempting to prevent the words from hitting the girl's ears. "She is in need of a new guardian. Kami and Spirit, in their will, have entrusted you in taking care of their daughter just in case a situation such as this has come up."

Sid rose from his desk slowly, rounding the table to stand in front of them. He stared down at the girl with a softened gaze, seemingly trying not to look intimidating. "What's you name?" he asked.

"Maka," she answered, eyeing the man with curiosity and innocence.


"Nine?" she answered, unsure of her words.

He nodded to himself. He bent down to face the girl eye-level, examining the jacket she wore over her usual clothing. "This belonged to your mother?" he asked her.

She nodded feverishly.

He grinned. "That's good. I have a feeling you'll fit it well when you become one of us." He noticed that her eyes had been darting around the vast room repeatedly ever since they had first entered. "Do you like books, young lady?" he asked.

She nodded once more.

Sid chortled, ruffling her ash blond bangs playfully with a large hand. "Then as long as you stay with me, you can do all of the reading you want."

The blonde takes slow strides over towards the bunk bed where a slightly tattered orange uniform jacket with a picture of a shield with a blue and silver wing overlapping each other over a shield - the emblem of the Recon Corps - hangs limply and neatly over the side. She gives a discontented sigh as she runs her hand along the leather seems of the sleeve, placing a finger on top of a blurry scribble of black that had been seemingly written long ago. Barely legible are two words in script : 'Kami Albarn.'

She climbs up to her top bunk and plops belly-up on the sheets, fingers clasping her mother's age-old jacket against her chest. Flashes of the battle from two days ago are still vivid and fresh in her brain on an endless replay. She hadn't even seen most of the gore, but she can still feel it lingering in the air and in every soldier's mind. After their first battle, most survivors had come back more lifeless than alive, their gazes reduced to listless stare into space, their conscious mind in an eternal state of shock from all of the death and tragedy experienced during relentless battle. Most of their comrades had been eaten, torn apart in front of their very eyes, body parts and limbs flung everywhere and sprawled out on the floor, painting the landscape red. Some had found that their family members had been devoured or killed before they could escape to the boats. The atmosphere in the mess hall for soldiers was deathly quiet.

That was why she had left the cafeteria and skipped dinner ever since they had returned. She could feel tension resonating throughout the room. The soldiers are zombies, vessels of their former selves once filled with spirit and hatred for titans. The last hope for mankind, now mentally reduced to rubble, traumatized.

She closes her eyes, desperately begging her mind to drift elsewhere rather than the battlefield.

She wonders if she had gotten the chance to see all of her friends devoured in front of her; would she be the same as them? Would she have been scarred like they had been? Whenever her Mama and Papa had come home from missions, they always came back with a bright smile. Never depressed. Always happy to see her.

She's about to succumb to sleep until someone raps at the wood door, jolting her awake.

Maka sits up immediately as the door creaks open slowly. A woman with sleek black hair tied in one long ponytail and kind cerulean eyes pokes her head through. She glances at the blonde and smiles. "Hey, Tsubaki," Maka says, mustering a forced smile.

She opens the door fully, revealing her leaning on two crutches against the doorframe, her left leg is wrapped up in bandages. "I was worried when you didn't come to dinner," she says with a slight tone of concern.

The pigtailed blonde swings her legs over the side of her top bunk, tucking the jacket in between her arm and her side. "It's okay. I'm not hungry anyways," she answers softly, the smile on her face slowly fading.

The woman frowns. "Everyone's waiting for you. Our new squad is filled with nice people. They all were asking where you were, even Soul - " She caught herself. It is obvious that Maka had problems with their new squad leader, despite him saving her life. Maka's eyes darken into a scowl. She mumbles something about having "leader pride" and slumps over, legs dangling limply over the side. Tsubaki sighs with exasperation. "I don't get why you don't like him that much, Maka. He may come off as a cocky jerk...but he's actually really kind."

Maka scoffs. "In what way?"

"Well...he helped me get around the lunchroom when I was walking for the first time in my crutches," she smiles modestly. "C'mon, Maka, he's not that bad."

She presses her lips together. "I'll be the judge of that. What is everyone doing now?"

"They're sitting around at a table in the cafeteria, eating. Well...they've pretty much accepted us into the team. But you don't seem to want to be apart of it. I know it's hard to accept that our comrades didn't make it back...but we need to stay strong. If we don't, we'll never survive. Remember what the garrison leader told us back when we were in training? They warned us that we'd face countless deaths, but none of it would be in vain," she says sadly.

"Can I ask you something, Tsubaki?" Maka says suddenly, gazing down into the orange jacket resting on her lap

She cocks her head at the girl. "Yes, what is it?"

"You were there, right? You were fighting alongside everyone who died."


"You've seen everything unravel, every single death, before your eyes. How are you so calm talking to me now, knowing what you've seen?" she asks.

Tsubaki's eyes freeze, seized by darkened pain, as if every memory she had erased from that day was now flooding in. "I..." she began, only to find herself wordless. She swallows. "I saw everyone get eaten...I never expected for something to happen so quickly. I didn't even know it happened until I lost sight of everyone..." Her voice quivers. "I never expected them to be all gone by the end of one day. I wanted to save them all." Her gaze grows vacant. "But instead, I couldn't stop them. The titans were too strong, so I lost hope."

Maka nods slowly, realizing the pain that Tsubaki had undergone. She pauses as her lower lips starts to tremble, then continues. "...I knew I was going to die on that day...but...then I saw BlackStar running towards me while I was injured. He told me he'd bring me back no matter what, with or without you, even if it killed him. Even if I would be completely useless afterwards and I was just dead weight. He gave me hope. For a moment, I felt actual relief. He saved me...in the midst of everything, he dropped his sword just to save me." She lets out a forced and exasperated chuckle. "But still, even with him by my side...There was still unbearable pain. I wanted to forget...forget what had happened so badly. I thought I couldn't handle them being gone. But then, I remembered what our commander had said. I had no choice to accept it. I had to move on. Even though I miss them very very much..." she chokes out. "But at the same time, I can't miss them, because missing them more than wanting to move on will drag me down." The blonde notices a tear slinking down the middle of her cheek. "Maka, I'm not calm at all...I just...I don't want to dwell on it anymore because what has happened has happened, and that we have to accept their deaths. I loved them...Maka...but I learned to let go."

Her vision is blurred out with tears as a loud thud is heard in the background. Maka had jumped down from the bed. She feels her friend wrapping her arms around her body and holding her against her chest, resting her chin on her shoulder. "You're right, Tsubaki," Maka says gently. "But they were my men. I failed them by leaving their side. I could've protected them all." Tsubaki lets go of one of her crutches just to partially embrace her lifelong friend.

"No, that's not it, Maka. You were the one who tried the hardest. We all look up to you. It's not your fault that it happened. I mean, you're one of the toughest people I've ever met! You have to let it go! Don't feel guilty about not having them around! Even though they're gone, don't let them die in vain! Remember them every single time you go into battle, remember their spirits and take them with you." Her voice quiets. "Make sure that they didn't die for nothing."

The blonde soldier frowns deeply, mulling over her words. "I feel like I can't. Not after I let them down like that. Carrying them with me? They'd only burden me."

Tsubaki shakes her head slowly. "That's not what I mean, Maka," she says urgently. "Don't remember their deaths. Remember them. They'd be cheering you on, wouldn't they? They wouldn't want you to be upset like this."

Tsubaki pulls apart and wipes away the water from her eyes, leaving her puffy stained cheeks behind. She shakes away her embarrassment for crying openly to her friend and former squad leader. She lets go of her friend, who is wordless at the moment. When Maka fails to respond, Tsubaki reaches into her pocket and pulls out something bundled in a cloth. "This is for you. I saved it for you just in case you decided not to come to dinner."

She hands it to her. Maka unravels the cloth, finding that it is half of a loaf of bread, still warm and steaming. Her heart softens. "Thanks a lot, Tsubaki," she says with all the gratefulness she can muster.

"It's fine. Um...I'll head back now, if that's okay with you. Do you want me to tell them that you're alright?"

"Yeah. Just tell them that I'm tired."

"Okay. See you later?"

The weary blonde nods.

She closes the door as her injured friend limps away after reassuring her that she could walk on her own. Maka returns to her bunk bed, sinking down into the mattress to once again mull over her thoughts.

'Don't remember their deaths. Remember them.'

They were the first reassuring words she had heard since the day they had come back from that mission.

She waits until after dark, after everyone had gone off to their bedrooms to sleep. Now changed in her sleeping clothing and pigtails undone, she lays awake in her bed, staring emptily at the wooden ceiling and watches the weak lantern cast shifting shadows with each flicker as her friend Tsubaki slept in the bed directly under her. Two other roommates share a room with them. Their beds are located across the room. Maka sits up slowly, quietly, listening to every creak the bed frame utters. She slips down the ladder slowly, wincing at every groan the rungs make as she leans her weight on them.

She takes the lantern with her to guide her down the darkened hallways of the building, turning her head every once in a while to make sure that no one was behind her. Held in her other hand is a hard-cover book. She manages to stride all the way to the mess hall, which is eerily empty.

Her eyes rove around the room to make sure that no one was occupying any of the seats, but no other trace of light entered the room except for her small flame. Maka sighs with relief and takes a seat at a table, setting the lantern in front of her. Finally, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with peace and quiet. She takes the book and begins to read. Finally, she gets to start that novel she's always wanted to read before she goes into the battle with the high possibility of not coming back. After all, her mother had given it to her in secrecy years ago.

She flips open the first page, absorbing every word that her eye catches. It tells of a grassy meadow basking under the bright light of the sun while animals and birds pass through the landscape. It tells of all kinds of unseen animals - bears, deers, wolves, foxes - all the creatures that she had yet to see. Flipping the page, she admires a beautifully painted waterfall - another sight she'd probably never live to see. The page next to it depicts a long range of mountains, each dusted with their own individual snowy caps.

Everything in her book were all outside of the walls that surrounded them and haven't been seen ever since they built it. Generations upon generations of people living within the walls had yet to sneak a glance at what lays beyond their huge barricade. In fact, the government had even banned novels about them to prevent the citizens from having hope of reaching the outside. Books such as the one laying out in front of her are illegal. But that could not stop from piquing her curiosity. Her mother had read it to her one day, telling her to keep it a secret.

A smile tugs at her lips. The book even has the small crinkle on the last page that her mother had accidentally made while flipping it too roughly. She fiddles with the crease longingly. Even though her pain had been buried under the years of training and hours of getting lost in the world of Sid's books, she still felt its presence. She misses her mother sorely. And her father had been ruled missing. She accepts that her Papa is in the same place as her mother.

"Whatcha doin'?" a deep and husky baritone snaps out of nowhere.

She's startled, slapping the book shut out of instinct as she glances at a boy with stark white hair, droopy garnet eyes gazing lazily down at her. Her look of surprise turns into distaste as she swivels her head the other way with an indignant huff. "I'm reading. What's it to you?" she mutters.

Soul leans down on the table with interest. "Well, you didn't come to dinner. So, as the proper squad leader I am, I worry about my newest member," he muses, placing a finger on her book. Maka swings her head around, alarmed that the boy was touching her precious book. She snatches the book off the table and tucks it under her arm protectively, shooting a glare at him.

"This is mine, don't touch," she snaps at him. Soul gives an entertained smirk. "Why are you bothering me? Can't you see I'm trying to read?"

Soul chuckles. "I can see that, pigtails. So what kind of reading are you doing that's so important that it makes you get out of bed so late at night?"

"I was about to ask you the same question," she deadpans.

"Well, I'm on patrol duty, making sure that no one in my brigade is stupid enough to break curfew and sneak out of their rooms just to read a book," he retorts smoothly. Maka scowls at him."Now if you'd be so kind as to return to your room, then I will continue on with my patrol, pigtails."

"Stop calling me that. I'm not even wearing pigtails right now!"

"Why not? I think a cute nickname like that fits you well," he says playfully.

The blonde shoots him a frustrated glare. "Why do you insist on bothering me?"

Soul mulls over his thoughts for a moment. "Bothering, huh? Y'know, we can just have a normal conversation if you'd want."

"No, I mean why do you keep coming to me?" she asks.

"Well, you just happened to be here. And I did save your life, didn't I?" he says.

Maka reddens to her surprise. "Yeah, but - "

"And to think, I never even got a proper 'thank you,'" he says as he saunters over to the other side of her.

"I was gonna thank you, asshat!" she counters angrily. "You don't have to push it." She's trying her best to detain the feeling of wanting to punch him. Or at least chop him over the head with her book. She figures that his skull isn't worth damaging the book for.

He presses his lips together. "I'll accept that thank you."

She quirks an eyebrow at him as the boy bends down and leans in towards her to get a better look at her candle-lit face. "...Are you flirting with me?" she asks with a dry, unsurprising realization.

"Pfft," Soul chuckles and draws back. "As if I'd flirt with a flat-chested girl like yourself. I'd much rather have a girl with at least twice the bust size as yours."

Her temper soars and hand automatically reaches for the book. "Maka CHOP!" she yells as she swing the edge of the hard-cover right on the top of his skull, leaving a decent square-sized dent in his cranium. Soul yelps with pain and jumps back, startled. "Is that all you have to say?" she asks, disappointment in her gaze.

"What the fuck was that for!?" he demands. "Do you always go around and smack people in the head with books all the time?!"

"Only when they piss me off,"she huffs, subduing a satisfied grin from reaching her lips.

He glares his ruby eyes at her as he tenderly reaches for the top of his head to rub it. "As squad leader I might as well kick you outta my team," he retorts.

"You wouldn't dare," she says flatly.

"Try me."

"Actually, you wouldn't want to. After all, I ranked better than you during training. Kicking me out means losing one of your best members."

Soul casts her a scowl. "Fine. You win this round, pigtails," he says sourly.

Maka allows a triumphant smirk to spread across her face. "Good."

"We'll see who's truly better tomorrow at combat training," he says.

"Is that a challenge?"

He chuckles and pauses to glance around the empty room. "Eh, this is getting pretty boring so I'll take my leave. But next time I come around here I better not see you here or else I'll have to personally escort you back to your room, got it?"

Maka growls at his barking tone. "Alright, fine. I'll go." In a huff, she stands up with her book and lantern and strides off into the dark hall, leaving Soul the only lone lantern-holding person in the room.

"Pfft," he chuckles to himself. "It's gonna be a long season, isn't it?"

The following morning, Tsubaki finds that the situation between the former squad-leader and current squad-leader are no different, especially since both were being all fired up from combat training. She notices the fire in their gazes every time their eyes meet or even stand close to each other. Since she's injured, she has no choice but to sit out during training, which took place near their military building out in an empty field of dust surrounded by forest. On this day she noticed that it was particularly hot. The sun's light shines down mercilessly, beads of sweat leaking from every soldiers' foreheads as they stood patiently for their commander Sid to lead them in today's training.

The garrison, who looks more dead than alive with their sullen and glazed-over gazes, stood straight and in-line under the searing hot air and is completely silent. Soul and Maka, however, are glaring at each other while they stood, as if exchanging an unspoken dialogue inaudible to everyone else but themselves. Soul smirks while she scowls at him.

Sid strides over with his hands tucked behind his back in front of the regiment. He stomp a foot down and swivels his body to face them, and they all simultaneously salute him with their regular motion - right fist on their hearts over their chest, left fist behind their back. Sid nods towards all of them and they release their pose. "As you know," he says with a firm and commanding voice, "Today is the second day of training since the invasion of Wall Maria. We'll be doing combat training today..."

The first exercise is easy. Just a casual roundhouse kick delivered to the empty air in front of them. And then, casual and firm fist thrusts. But then, a partner to practice with. Everyone separates from the large group and forms little clumps of people around the field, all practicing lightly on each other.

Maka and Soul almost immediately confront each other. BlackStar follows after Maka, and the rest of Soul's squad trails behind him. Tsubaki smiles at their competitive glances. "You ready, Albarn?" he asks with a cocky smile.

"Ready to humiliate you in front of your entire brigade, yes," she smirks.

They make way for a small circle around the two, keeping distance between them. Kid, Liz, Patty, BlackStar, Tsugumi, Clay, and Akane all watch as Maka and their squad leader eye each other dangerously, both poised to attack. "Let's start, shall we?" he asks. "A fight to see who's better."

"Fine by me," she says. She lifts one leg and clenches her fists in front of her as she swings around with a skillfully delivered kick to his face. Soul uses his forearms to block her foot in an x-formation with ease.

"Nice try," he grins. He makes an attempt to grab her ankle but Maka lowers her leg and uses her other leg to execute another roundhouse kick, catching him off guard. It lands right in his side.

Kid cringes as he watches as his squad leader clasps his left side and doubles over after taking the blow. "I'm sorry," Maka says with a fake tone of innocence. "But you were inviting me to do that."

Soul shoots her a pissed glare. After he rubs his side for a moment and grumbles to himself, he straightens himself up. "No fair! I wasn't ready for that."

"Oh, do you want me to go easy on you, great squad leader?" she muses, amusing herself with his pain.

"My turn!" he lunges with a roundhouse of his own, but Maka ducks around gracefully and dodges. He growls with frustration as his blow misses, and chases after her. He jabs towards her stomach, but she side-steps and smacks his arm away. "Gotcha!" As she's stepping, he uses his other arm to grab her wrist hard. He yanks her towards him.

He manages to wrap his arm around her stomach and secure her arms by her sides. "Let go of me!" she growls.

"Not until you give up," he answers slyly in her ear as she squirms and twists in his grasp.

"Nope." She tries to duck and slips out of his arms but he only squeezes her tighter against his chest. He was abnormally warm as she presses up against his body. His arms are like vices. "Then you're asking for this," she retorts, wriggling an arm free.

"Gah!" he cries as she jabs her elbow repeatedly into his stomach, loosening his grip. She stomps on his foot, causing him to jump back. Soul realigns himself and regains his stunned mind. He's shocked that she had managed to out do him in martial arts. Plus her footwork was astoundingly perfect, and her strength nearly rivaled his. Soul glances around and sees that his squad members are looking at him doubtfully. "Pfft. I was going easy on you that time. Now it's for real."

Maka sighs. "Okay, come at me then." Soul gives her no warning before her charges at her, planning on striking before she can do anything. He throws a fist aimed for her head. However, she simply tilts her head and narrowly avoids the punch, proceeding to maneuver her arm around his and grab his wrist. She swings around and twists his arm painfully behind him. He bites back a grunt of pain. "Ready to give up now?" she chuckles.

Soul grinds his teeth against the agony. "No!"

Maka unhands his wrist and he pulls back a few feet. "Then try again!" she challenges. For the last time, he give it another go.

The blonde blocks a punch with her forearms and grabs hold of his arm, slinging him over her shoulder with immense strength. Soul doesn't even have time to think as she flips him and he smashes to the ground on his back. The dry and crusted dirt rises up around him. He sees his teammates' mouths are agape in shock and partial amusement that he was getting his ass kicked.

She straightens up and pretends to yawn. "Are you done yet? It's pretty hot out here."

As soon as she unhands his wrist, he turns around to give her a leg sweep, tripping to her to the ground. Soul laughs. "Not yet."

Backside covered in dirt, Maka glares daggers with her olive green eyes. "Fine! Play dirty like that!" She jumps at him and wrestles with him, each one trying to over power the other.

Tsubaki winces as the two have each other in a stalemate, Maka using one hand to push against his chest and the other hand against his face, pulling at his cheek, while Soul had grabbed on of her pigtails and is yanking at it and the other hand is holding the hand grabbing his cheek. Their legs are tangled while they roll around in the ground. Both look ridiculous, like two elementary children getting into a fight.

Kid sighs. "Is anyone gonna stop them...?" he asks hopelessly.

"Nah, I think it's pretty entertaining!" BlackStar guffaws.

"Won't they hurt themselves?" Liz asks, slightly concerned.

"Just let them finish what they started," Akane advises.

"Ow! Stop pulling my hair!" Maka yells as he gives her sand-colored hair another merciless tug.

"I'll shhtop when you let go!" he retorts, speech mangled with one of her thumbs pulling at the edge of his cheek.

They tumble around and kick up some more dirt as they struggle around while their teammates watch. "I thought we were shhuposhed to be fighting!" Soul says.

"Yeah, we were until you tripped me, idiot!" she glares. "So let go of me!"

"I shaid I'll shtop when you do!"

"Fine, then let go!"

"No way!"

"No, you let go first! How will I know you'll let me go if you do?!"

"Let'sh let go at the shame time then!" he suggests.

"Okay! One...two...!"


They release their hold on each other at the same time, flopping backwards. They look exhausted and their legs were still tangled up together. Maka scowls and pulls herself up off the ground. "You were supposed to do a roundhouse kick, idiot! You messed it up!"

"S'cuse me? You were the one who had to flip me!" he retorts. "That was uncalled for!"

"That's only because you attacked me! I was doing it out of self-defense!" she defends.

"Yeah, sure it was!"

"Well, I guess this decided who's better at combat."

"No way! I'm just warming up here!"

"Sure, you just don't wanna admit that you got your ass handed to you by a girl," she dismisses. She stops herself as soon as she sees Soul wide-eyed and staring at the space behind her.

They both quiet down as Corporal Sid seemingly materializes out of nowhere, right behind Kid with his arms crossed and a disappointed gaze. "You two have a problem being together?"

Maka shakes her head. "No, we're just practice fighting, that's all."

Soul side-glares her for answering falsely first. "Yeah."

"This doesn't look like a professional practice, with you all covered in dirt like that," he examines. "Could you tell me how this happened?"

They exchange somewhat guilty glances and Soul grumbles to himself. "We were trying to do a simple demonstration, until Maka flipped me," he finishes.

"What? No! You tried to punch me!" she counters.

"Enough, both of you," Sid says, firmly. "Maka, come with me." Maka frowns. "Just come." Maka sighs and trudges over towards him and he escorts her away. "Continue practicing," he orders before he's out of earshot.

After they are far away from her squad and nearing the forest edge, Maka continues to walk slowly alongside her former mentor, who had watched over her for the past eight years. She's quiet, head hung low, cheeks smeared with dust. Sid comes to a stop as he glances up at the next tree. He gives a disappointed sigh, prompting her to say something. "You know, it wasn't my fault," she says.

"I understand. But what I've heard from Tsubaki is that you and your new squad leader aren't getting along so good," he answers. "What's the problem? I've looked after you for eight years - "

"Five years, actually. I left for the military when I was fourteen, remember?" she corrects.

"Yes, five years, and I've known you. You were not the type of person to argue much less fight with your superior - "

"He's my superior? Really?" she asks with frustration.

Sid sighs and pauses. "And, you were also the type of girl with willpower. You were as stubborn as a mule crossed with an ox," he chuckles. "Just like Kami was."

The blonde soldier perks her head up at the mention of her mother.

"I see the look in your eye, her eyes had the same fire and fierceness that was more than any soldier in this whole garrison. And, since you have this much determination and willpower, may I ask you one thing?"

She nods slowly.

"I want you to get along with Soul Evans." He holds up a halting hand before she can protest. "I know, I know. He is...very aloof. And he may not seem like the best person out there, but he's a good soldier. You saw him out in the field, did you? He's skilled in using his gear. He may be the best 3DGM user we have. Even though he's not nearly as good as you are when it comes to combat."

Maka frowns. "Barely," she mutters. "But...he did save my life."

"Then whenever you get mad at him, just remind yourself of what he did for you," Sid finishes and gives her a hefty pat on the back. "I'm done talking to you for now. Continue with your training."

She returns to the training ground where her team is waiting for her. Soul still stood in the middle, waiting for her with a sour look on his face. "What was that all about?" he asks.

"Nothing. I'm tired. Someone else can take over. I'll go rest now," she answers flatly.

Soul shrugs. "Fine. Suit yourself."

Tsubaki smiles as Maka decides to retire fighting next to her on her post on the bench, overseeing all of the groups practicing. "I saw that, Maka," she smiles.

"You mean you saw that I was kicking his ass?" Maka smiles deviously.

She chuckles. "Well yeah, but don't you think you should've held back a bit?" She reaches to her left and picks up a canister of water, offering some to her blond friend. Maka gulps it down greedily.

"No," she says as she wipes a drop of water trickling down the side of her mouth. "I wanted to show him who's better anyways."

"Well, we're gonna be with him for a while and I don't want to start off with the wrong foot with him."

"That's my problem, Tsubaki, not yours."

"We'll be on missions with him, so I was thinking that the more you two bond the better off we'll be. You know? There'd be more cooperation."

"I know."

"Besides, why do you hate him so much?"

Maka tilts her head, mulling over her thoughts. "Hm..."

Tsubaki patiently awaits her answer as she gazes out into the field, watching as BlackStar jump-kicks Kid and Kid blocks, making Star fall backwards. The whole group can't contain their laughter as Star grumbles as he picks himself off the ground.

"So, what is it?"

"I don't really hate him. I guess...he kinda rubs on me the wrong way. I know he's not that bad of a guy. He's kinda like me. He wants to prove he's better. Plus, he's horrible at flirting."

"Am I really that bad?" His voice comes out of nowhere, startling both of them.

"S-Soul! What are you doing here?!" she stammers, flustered.

"I was just walking over to get some water until I heard you talking about me," he says, sighing. "Am I really that bad a flirting?"

She shakes her head, attempting to flush away her blush. "N-No! I mean, yes! You were horrible!"

Soul smirks. "Well then, that makes two of us."

"You think I was flirting back there? No! Why would I flirt with some asshole like you?!" she demands, temper flaring.

Tsubaki chuckles nervously. "Um...I wouldn't want to get in between you two, so excuse me..." She edges away down the bench slowly, gathering her crutches and limping off elsewhere.

"Well, you seemed pretty into it yesterday," he muses. She glares. "Alright, I'm joking. I know you hate me. Can I just ask why?"

"I told you it's not like that!" she says. "I...I don't hate you."

"Then why do you act like you do?" he asks.

She pauses, allowing a brief beat of silence in between them. "Ever since I lost my squad, I haven't been able to forgive myself. They were all counting on me to protect them, and I couldn't even do that. I ranked second best trainee, and yet I couldn't even save one of them." She sighs. "I feel so pathetic, knowing that I let them down like that. Now they're not even here to hear me say it. And now, BlackStar and Tsubaki know how I failed."

"So, you think you'll prove yourself by proving that you're better than me? Is that all it is?" he finishes for her.

"Well, you excluded the fact that you're a jerk," she adds in helpfully.

Soul shakes his head. "Yeah yeah, whatever. But y'know, you have a new team now. Think of it like a new start. Your friend was right about acting like a team. This is now your team, so we should act like one, yourself included."

"A new start?" Maka wonders to herself.

'Don't remember their deaths. Remember them.'

She decides that Tsubaki was right the whole time.

Soul perks an eyebrow at her. "Well? Are you gonna join the squad for real or not?"

She nods. "Alright."

Soul grins. "That's good. Now we can finally start acting like a whole team."

"So...if this squad flanks the rear entrance...and then this squad attacks directly, then - " The door swings open quickly as Recon Corps leader Edward Guiren mutters to himself. The man straightens up at his desk, clasping small puzzle pieces that symbolized different squads that they could utilize.

Sid edges in, making his way towards the desk which had a vast map of the outside world. "Sir, we have a suggestion for our next move. Since the Recon Corp's missions have been suspended for now or until further notice, we think all of our troops and all of the squadrons related to the Recon Corps should concentrate their energy on trying to recapture the area within Wall Maria from the titans. We cannot wait any longer. Even though it's only been a few days since the invasion, we are already running low on food to give to the masses who have evacuated from that area. We feel that it is absolutely necessary to at least try, even though we have a shortage on troops."

"Hm..." Guiren thinks hard, brows furrowed. "I see the urgency."

"We suggest mobilizing the troops and the cannons as soon as possible," Sid advises.

"But if we keep trying to launch a counterattack with little strategic planning, who knows how many soldiers we'll lose this time?" he says.

"We have no choice, commander," he answers. "If this continues, the population will die within the walls, no titans involved."

He sighs with discontent. "People will die anyways, corporal. Soldiers will die."

"I know we can't seem to win this. Everything seems bleak at the moment, but if we were to reconquer Wall Maria, then we may finally be able to restore humanity's dignity. We're aware that people will have to be sacrificed in order to achieve this."

"I know. I just don't want to put my troops under more pressure than they have to endure. They have suffered enough already."

Sid nods. "I know."

"So, what is the final decision?"

"That's up to you, sir. The whole mission awaits your order."

Guiren stands, placing his pieces over the large map. "...As much as I know we will regret this decision, I think it's best that we at least try."

"When will we mobilize?" Sid asks.

"Give them three days to prepare. Humanity's counterattack must begin soon."

A/N: Sorry I'm late! I know, it's summer so I should be updating like crazy. Sadly, I haven't been able to. I'll keep trying, though!

Reviews are much appreciated!