The light of the rising sun bleeds golden on the surface of the bog when Soul finally breaks the silence. "We should get going."

"Mhm." Maka can't even find the strength in her to look up from where she has her head propped on her palm. Possession had left her feeling many things, but the only emotion she can summon right now is numb exhaustion. What she had promised to be a short nap quickly morphed into something much longer. Briefly, she wonders why Soul hadn't woken her sooner, but his voice interrupts her barely strung together thoughts.

"Hey, did you hear me?"

Soul's face is suddenly right in front of hers and she yawns. His hair is more silver than brown, glimmering in the sunlight and framing him in a soft glow. "You're beautiful," she informs him.

He makes something between a strangled noise and a laugh. "Now I'm worried you're hallucinating."

Soul's hand hovers just over hers; the desire to reach out stirs to life in her fingertips, but she knows he won't agree. She tries anyways. "You could walk for me."

"Not a chance." Soul disappears, moving back beside her, and she frowns at him.

"You're lazy."

"Absolutely," he agrees. "I forgot how much work having a body was."

Maka pokes her tongue out at him and he laughs. "All right," she grumbles, pulling her head up from her hand. "I'll do it myself."


The world spins as she stands. She rubs her eyes-the smoldering ruins of Giriko's house wasn't a place where she would have expected herself to fall asleep, but she supposes it's not the strangest thing that's happened. Soul stands next to her as she adjusts to reality, though he keeps a careful distance between them.

She wants to make a comment on it, but it takes all of her willpower to keep her balance.

There is concern in Soul's voice as he asks, "Ready?"

Maka responds by plunging into the bog water.

Neither she nor Soul look back to the gaping wreckage of the house.

Maka comes more alive in the forest, exhaustion pushed to the back of her mind as they approach the road. There's an emptiness in her chest that is unlike the hole that used to reside there; it takes her another moment to realize it's a longing.

Swallowing, she keeps her gaze ahead of her-she's not sure why it hits her so strongly. She and Soul had separated not long after the rain had stopped; depossession had been surprisingly simple-all it had taken was Soul letting go of her hand and she was alone again (well, both hands had been hers, she supposes, though it hadn't felt like it).

She glances at Soul. He's been quiet since they cleared the bog, and she's awake enough to be concerned at the heavily concentrated expression on his face.

"I don't know what I'm going to tell my father," she says. There's not much for Soul to reply to that, but they had been the first words she thought of.

He blinks, looking confused, and she almost hopes he didn't hear her when he speaks, grinning slyly, although he doesn't quite make eye contact. "You can always tell him you were out with a boy."

Maka's laugh is surprised and loud, sending birds flying and scolding. "I think I'd have better luck with telling him how I nearly got sacrificed to a witch."

"Right." Soul's grin dims. "I-" He stops. "I was scared."

"So was I." He doesn't pull back when she draws closer, meeting his eyes. "But we're both still here." She hesitates before she adds on, "The house is gone, though. And anything that could have been in it."

There is a slight pause as they resume their trek. "When I agreed to stay earlier, I didn't mean it for just then." Soul is looking ahead of him as he talks. "I mean it for everything."

Maka looks ahead of her as well, heart beating like a drum. "When I asked you to stay, I meant it for everything."

The relief in his voice is apparent. "Okay."

She glances at Soul to find him already looking at her. "All right."

They walk the rest of the way in silence; fatigue pricks at Maka's muscles, and she nearly cries when she sees the road.

She turns to Soul as her feet touch asphalt. "I-"

A whiny screeching fills the air from behind them and Maka twists in time to see a white van grinding to halt in the middle of the road. Dust kicks up in the air at the van's abrupt stop, obscuring the name printed on its side.

The van door slides open and a boy with dreadlocks trailed by two children scramble out. But it's the golden-haired woman who bolts from the van after them that grabs her attention. "What did I tell you about getting ahead of yourselves?" Marie yells as she follows into the forest.

"We got a reading on an active part of the Rift late last night," a familiar monotone voice says. Stein exits the van, stretching until his back cracks. He straightens his glasses, not quite looking at Maka. "I'm guessing it had to do with you two."

Even with her astonishment, Maka goes on the defensive. "It's only me."

"You don't have to pretend he doesn't exist." Azusa's sharp voice comes from the driver's seat and she rolls down the window. She glances at Stein. "This one almost has as many silver hairs as you."

Maka can only gape.

"Come in, both of you." Stein gestures towards the van. "We have a lot to talk about."