He counts them to the tempo of the song. He can't stop himself. To count, to find the pattern, the rhythm of everything, is something so innate in him that it requires no thought process, like knowing when to shift gears on the motorcycle, or like mindlessly picking apart the time signature of every song on the radio. He counts them- the Makas- and they tattoo a permanent tally for future reference to fuel his nightmares, assuming the next time he closes his eyes he can expect to wake up again.

His meister burns, the contamination from his blood being forcefully cleansed from her soul. He can't look behind him to see her, which is just as well, because he would probably go blind. Light floods around his body, staggering the copies that try to swarm them. They screech and wail, clawing at their eyes, and then at him in vengeance.

Each one he kills, he feels exactly how they end. Because they're not Maka. Not really. Oh, they sound like her, and feel like her, and again, their teary green eyes are an endless source of nightmare fodder, but they aren't her. They're him.

Jugulars are an easy target on that swan neck. His own aches from so many phantom beheadings that it's almost becoming numb to him. More than once, he slices diagonally, setting his own scar on fire. Each one that slowly melts and evaporates from his (or maybe her) anti-demon blades makes him feel a little more tired, a little more defeated. But he can't stop. It is not an option.

She burns, and so will he. He aches, and so will she. But it's just pain. They won't panic over a little pain, right? They promised. Keep playing. Don't give in. Keep fighting. Don't look back.

It's funny, in a stupid, makes-him-want-to-punch-babies-in-the-face kind of way, that he'd spent all day thinking he'd been denied the rank of Death Scythe, when in reality everyone had just been waiting on his slow ass to prove he was one. And so here he is, finally the autonomous weapon he's always sort of envied to be. But he's not alone. His meister has his back. And that's how it should be.

Soul defends. Maka plays. They fight though their arms are on fire, shrieking, melting, exploded, still going, hearts shuddering.

"It's hurting you," she thinks worriedly, his music flowing through her, around her, from her, like a breeze to glide on.

"Focus," he replies. Maybe to himself. It hurts. It hurts, but the blood is getting weaker right along with him. And it won't be a stalemate in the end.

He'd hoped he would develop a numbness to cutting down so many iterations of her face, but it appears to be yet another one of those things that just won't dissipate over time. Black Blood, formaldehyde, and Maka. But slowly, as he grows weary and his breath comes out in ragged gasps, he notices the demon's army slows, becoming discoordinated. Maka's faces aren't so much exact replicas anymore. Eventually, just as the original hears the very end of the song, her fingers bringing the measures into existence for the first time, Soul faces the last of his demons.

The lingering dregs of the Black Blood form into one final, wobbly entity. Little Ogre's voice is naught but a wheezing thing. Soul does not feel guilty whatsoever.

"I only made us stronger," he says, still crawling towards them, leaking black across the tiles. "How many times have I protected her when you couldn't?"

God, he's so tired. Too tired to take the jab to heart, to be honest. The fact that the Black Blood has endangered his meister in more ways than he can count pretty much outweighs any benefits the demon can throw at him. Soul only grasps a fatigued arm with a hand, catching his breath while Maka gets pissed for him.

"You call this 'protecting me'?" she shouts, and she plays the ending melody a little more loudly than necessary. "Jackass!"

Her force makes the Oni topple and trip, and consequently himself as well. Soul doesn't sit so much as collapse next to his meister on the piano bench, she facing forward, he facing behind. He's been here before, he thinks, but he can't place the when or why. He's too preoccupied trying to see straight, his chest aching.

"Soul..." Maka breathes, quieting her playing in apology.

He can't look at her. She's shining so brightly, ethereal wings phasing through him. "Don't stop," he hoarsely reminds.

From the floor, the demon sneers, horns drooping. Little Ogre squints, black eyes reduced to slits in a feeble, ridiculously shaped face. "What will you do," he gurgles, "without the Blood, boy?"

Fuck if he knows. He'll probably just be cool and not give a shit, never worrying again about the unknowns of Black Blood and if he's a threat to his partner. Soul's too winded to say all this aloud though, so he settles for forcing air in his lungs and flipping the bird to Little Ogre with a small grin.

He feels a hesitant mental prod from Maka. "What comes next?" she asks. Soul realizes the music has stopped. He turns his head- fuck, it weighs twenty tons- and he sees that his meister's supernova glow is dying down as she waits for the next measure.

But there is none. That's the end.

Soul only composes, only writes what he knows, and he doesn't know what comes next. And he's worn out. He doesn't think he can even stand to stab this last asshole in front of him, much less come up with more music on the spot. It's a stalemate after all.

Suddenly, he feels something shift. The tides turn, Sway ending as Maka drops her left hand to her lap, the fingers of her right moving across the keys of her own volition. "I know a song."

He finds it in himself to manage a single laugh. A scribble of a thought on a faded post-it note will be his insanity's undoing. Maka has treasured it since she'd learned it.

Even as Little Ogre groans, sizzling away from the onslaught of gentle, comforting notes, he says, "Without me, you're weak."

Soul sluggishly turns his back on the demon, dragging his legs around to face the keys with Maka. He grimaces, right side of his vision blinded by her, who has begun to shine once more. He reaches for the surface of the piano, stretching to place his palm on the scar the Blood has left behind. "Without you, I am a Death Scythe," he says.

And because Maka only knows how to play half of the song, Soul brings up his other hand to join her on the lower register. The weapon, his piano, amplifies the meister.

He catches his first glimpse of the real world and he's still so used to being on fake-Maka-slicing autopilot that he almost goes for the original out of habit. Luckily, he's choking on his own blood, and the act of coughing interrupts him from doing anything stupid.

"Get away from me," he hears himself gurgle, but that's not the plan. He has to remain attached to her to keep the resonance going. They have to be connected to keep playing the song. Half of him tries to slide away from Maka, feet sloshing uncooperatively in the rainwater, while the other half desperately clings to her, refusing to let go. Because there really isn't a more satisfying feeling than being completely merged with his meister, remember? It's time to shut up.

"No," he's screaming, "You idiots, you're killing me!"

Maka seems to be in control of her faculties (which is great, because he's not), and says things in a worried, frantic voice he can't understand over the sound of his lungs turning inside out.

He's crumpling next to her, and she supports him, helping him to the shaking, bucking ground where he belongs. She shields him from something- her father, maybe, or that squidney beast of oozing doom, or it could be anyone, he's getting so many wavelengths from readings piggybacked from Maka's Perception- her body wrapping over his drooping head as he watches blood fall from him like shedding a second skin. He's in a suit, or was, and it melts off him, revealing the soaked street clothes he vaguely remembers wearing before everything went to hell. His forearm has a gash running across it that he doesn't know how had come to be. Maybe Stein did that one too, fuck if he knows. It won't seal up like before, though. It's just spewing black syrup in a Niagara cascade, swirling to his and Maka's knees in eddies of rainwater and blood. He wonders if it'll ever stop, and if it does, if there'll be anything left in him.

Oh. It occurs to him that he's probably dying. On a shitty, humid summer evening. A Friday. The first Friday of summer vacation. The first Friday he's ever lived since Maka told him, with words, out loud, and not accidentally, that she loves him. On this stupid day, his soul is rejecting his blood, and he's going to die.

So much for staying at Maka's side. He tried. Maybe a little too hard. She's always been the overachiever, so he was bound to pick up on her habits eventually. He wants to do so many things, wants to just look into her face to make sure she won't let him go, but ultimately, he's overwhelmed with a single thought.


Finally, he thinks. That's right. This is how it was, before Italy. Lighter. Pressureless. The weight of it, the fear, the constant energy expended to keep everything locked up, in check, under wraps, the neverending simmer of the Black Blood lurking in the shadow of his heart, is bleeding away. Finally.

He feels good.

Well, good for a dying man, anyhow. Soul blacks out for the second time today, his demon fleeing, his fingers clutching at Maka's leather jacket (actually his).

How nice of her to bring it for him.

He flies. He doesn't want deal with work right now. Unfortunately, no matter which direction he goes, he comes face to face with an instrument, its legs anchored in a mess of pine needles. He stares into the dark gloss of a piano, and wonders if he's had this dream before. Looking closely at the surface of it, he thinks he sees something in the shine- something he recognizes but can't immediately name.

It ripples like water, or maybe it sways like wind, and it forcefully pulls at his heart, dragging him into the piano, melting, gliding on taught strings and feathered wings, and he finds himself grasping after a song as he plummets into that black hole. Harmonies slip through his fingers, dribbling down, out his mouth and ears and nose, black oil leaving his body. But as it leaves him, he finds he can hear something else entirely.

I learned your lullaby , Soul .

Can you hear it ?

Maybe he should leave the flying to her. The music is clearer when he falls.

Soul breathes. He's not sure why. He stands up. He's not sure how that happens, either. How's a guy supposed to stay dead around here? And why in Death's name is everyone screaming?

Spirit is yelling at Black Star, who yells into a hole he'd probably punched with undiluted ego in the squid-beast, which is shrieking loud enough to rattle the entire state of Nevada, while Kid is using that freakish shinigami voice to shout at Blair, and louder than anything else in the universe is the Maka Station in his head on full freakin' blast.

Squinting, Soul glances down at the ground, the rubble of Gallows Mansion looking very inviting and comfortable, but for some reason he can't convince himself to cease standing. Beyond, where Kid's pool used to be, is Mister Kraken, now a peculiar shade of black. Thirteen steps away stands Maka, whose dread and despair batter him with hurricane force.

She's positive everything is her fault. The moment the demon sword Ragnarok had pierced his skin instead of hers had inevitably signed them up for this moment, and her ultimate punishment is to face it alone without him.

What is her freakin' deal? He's right here!

He tries to call out to her, but his voice is a rasping whisper compared to all the obnoxious noise going on. The effort to pull in enough air to raise his voice is so difficult he's surprised he's even breathing at all. It's then he realizes he's probably only standing and wheezing like an invalid because of Maka.

She doesn't even realize she's doing it. She's always been adept at warping their link. A little annoyingly too adept, because she's so loud he can't even get a thought across. Her blaring misery and anguish might be touching if he were in a different state of physical health (the term 'health' being used loosely), but presently it's irritating and confusing.

She just wants him at her side- had that been too greedy of her?

Soul's feet slosh over to her, which is convenient, because he doesn't think he can move those on his own right now. He winces at his meister's complete shock after he slurs, "Turn down yer volume."

"Soul! Oh my GOD!" Maka looks like hell. She's beat up, bloody, wet, and her makeup streaks down her face in little rivers of mascara. Her eyes are red-rimmed and glistening.

He offers a smile, but his face feels like hardened plaster and he's unsure if his mouth pulls it off effectively. "Hey." Damn. He sounds like shit. "What's up with that guy," he asks, indicating the still-bellowing monster with the faintest of chin nods.

That Guy promptly explodes, twin beams of swirling light shooting into the cloudy night sky.

"What the fuck-" he croaks, voice cracking.

Maka's arms crush him to death. Or life. Or something. She doesn't give a rat's ass that gigantic, aquatic, cephalopod-kidneys are self-destructing, or that the chunks of former cephalopod-kidneys are raining down on them, sizzling. "Soul!" she cries. "You! You- You shouldn't be standing," she says, her practical, no-nonsense side rearing its head.

Soul promptly falls to the ground, knees unbuckling. "Thank you," he sighs, relieved. Surprised, Maka kneels down with him, holding him under his arms to keeping him sitting up. The link is nothing but her happy disbelief floating around him, full of fear that he'll just keel over again.

He blinks owlishly at the spot where the monster had been, seeing Stein, Marie, and, off to the side, Tsubaki, who hugs Black Star to her green-covered body.

"Look at me!" Maka demands, frantic. He can't stop himself, so he looks into her wide eyes. Watching her search his face, he's really glad he decided to let gravity pull him back home.

"Are you okay?!"
"Not really."

Maka makes a symphony of distressed noises. "You're shivering. You're... here-" She takes off her jacket, his jacket, whatever, and drapes it around him. It's wet, but warm. "You... your blood. It went everywhere! It infected Mister Kraken, and then you... Soul, you-"


She sniffles loudly, humming a question mark.

"I really wanna lay down now."
"You're Swayin' me, and I can't."

She swears colorfully, which makes him laugh. Maka puts a hand under his head. "Lay down! Take it easy! Um? Umm, don't die! I forbid you to die."

"Okay," he groans, closing his eyes, dimly aware that she still orders him around like a dog, but he's really okay with it presently, and feels Maka Albarn encourage his heart to keep beating with pure willpower alone.

There are a lot of voices and wavelengths swarming him, and he tunes these out, listening to a handful of notes and Maka emotionally admitting through the link, "I didn't want you to go."

Well, he'd wanted to stay, so he guesses they had a common goal in mind.

The first time he wakes up, he wonders why they'd installed such a shitty mirror on the side of the hospital room. What sickly person wants to see that? God, he looks even more like his brother than ever.

The room tilts and he's asleep again.

The second time he wakes up, he's staring blearily at Kim Diehl, not even sure when his eyes had opened. She checks an IV. Oh. It's his. Right.

"Good morning," she says. The chill quiet of the hospital room and the lack of obnoxious fluorescent lights gives him the feeling that it's not quite morning yet, no matter what the witch/meister says.

In reply, Soul blinks. The world vibrates with his unhealth.

"Need anything? Too hot? Too cold?"

Actually, he does need to do something. "Thank you," he blurts, mouth feeling like he's chewing around a stack of sandpaper.

It's her turn to blink, confused. She brushes her pink hair out of her face with the back of a wrist, keeping her latex-gloved hand untouched. "You're welcome? I didn't do anything though. Stein handled the transf-"

Soul's already shaking his head. Slowly, though, because wow, the Earth is spinning way too damn fast. "For Maka. Last week." It truthfully feels like last year, but he doesn't feel like trying to explain that to her. "Never thanked you."

Kim makes a noise in the back of her throat, giving him a puzzled smile. "I... That was nothing, Soul, I'd already forgotten about it."

He breathes evenly, unable to keep his eyes open. "M'grateful," he murmurs. He thinks he hears her say something softly, but doesn't catch it before he's asleep again.

The third time he wakes up, his eyes snap open, body immediately on alert because his Weird-Shit-o-Meter is going off in his head like a radiation detector at Chernobyl. He feels a wavelength he's never known, but feels acquainted with, somehow. He starts to sit up and is immediately derailed by an arm draped over his chest.

Of course it's Maka, out cold in the hospital bed with him, the link latched to him protectively. He wonders if Spirit knows she's in here. Her face is clean and bare, and she wears soft shorts and a shirt he recognizes as his favorite. She's kicked the covers off of them both, he notes.

His fingers feel weak as he gently moves her left arm away, tucking it carefully against her chest. He pulls her half of the blanket up over her shoulder, despite knowing keeping her covered is futile at best. Well, she's here and he's here and they're both alive, so that's more or less perfect.

Then he hears his brother chuckle from across the room, and that is less perfect.

Soul slowly looks over to the right. He could have sworn there'd been a mirror on that side of the room, but he now realizes it was Wes he'd groggily seen the first time he woke up, and mistaken him for himself.

"Hey," his brother says.

This is the absolute wrong universe to be seeing him. Soul suffers from a weird, disorienting displacement of everything he knows to be true and organized, seeing Wes sitting in a chair and Stein standing next to him. Both of the men's wavelengths are present, one familiar as his creepy professor, and the other not as unknown as he'd originally thought. It's something he's always kind of known since he was old enough to reach piano keys. Soul opens his mouth to speak, and finds that sandpaper stack again, this time too dry to even manage a 'what the fuck'.

A clear plastic cup of water waits for him on his bedside table, set atop a broken-in, familiar-to-his-cranium, paperback novel. He can't help but smile.

Soul takes a sip. "What's goin' on?"

Wes looks a lot older than he remembers (which doesn't exactly help matters with the mistaken identity incident), but then again his brother has that universal aura of jet-lag coming off him in waves. Despite this, Wes manages an awkward smile. "Not much. I got the strangest phonecall. Sort of? In my bathroom. From a weird guy in a black costume."

Soul grimaces. What a way to meet the Head Skull-Cheese for the first time.

"Shinigami-sama asked your brother for assistance," Stein clarifies.

"Well, first he said my brother was temporarily dead. Then he asked for help."

Oh yeah. "I died," Soul hollowly repeats. He knows this to be true, but it's a hazy, black to white ombre shift of pine needles and piano polish kind of truth that he can't grasp directly.

Stein takes off his glasses and wipes a lens with the hem of his stitched shirt. It appears that both his arms are functioning, and, oh, he has both ears too. That's good. "I can't say for certain as I'd been purposefully ingested at the time-" Soul watches Wes handle this statement by squinting his eyes suspiciously at the professor. "But I would say your wavelength completely disappeared for approximately thirty-two seconds," he says boredly, replacing his glasses on his face.

Soul exchanges a glance with his brother. Wes looks somehow both aghast and a tad impressed, giving him a nod. Soul takes another sip of water to try to bypass the open stares silently asking what death was like.

"Maka woke me up," he offers to the silence, head tilting towards his meister's sleeping face. Out of curiosity, Soul gently nudges her through the link. Her end of it just rustles drowsily, like a roosting bird with fluffed feathers.

"Yes." Stein crossed his arms over his chest. "She wore herself out keeping you alive until we could get you a proper blood donor."

Soul watches her shoulder rise and fall with her even breathing and realizes he'd strangely ended up getting a transfusion after all. He looks up at Wes. "So, you..."

"O-neg plus scythe gene," Wes smiles. "Even though mine's dormant. But apparently that's okay?" he shrugs at Stein, looking lost.

Stein sniffs casually, looking calculatingly at Soul. "Evidently so." Soul mildly glares at the professor, understanding enough 'hakase-speak' to know that, in other words, his recovery had been mostly in the hands of dumb luck and theoretical science.

Fuck it. He can't really give a shit about the whys or hows. Maka brought him back from death or something like it, and his brother had flown in to help keep him alive. That's enough for him.

"Thank you."

Wes waves a hand in casual dismissal, briefly revealing the tiny patch of gauze taped on the inside of his forearm. "Not sure how you managed to lose your blood and still live, but glad to've helped. Good to see you alive, brother."

"Speaking of," Stein interjects in an uninterested tone that clashes with his words, "you might want to see if you can still transform."

Shit. He takes a breath. Tells himself to cool it. He exchanges the cup of water to his left hand and holds his right out in front of him.

It's as easy as breathing. He's a little surprised though- for some reason, he'd expected the blade to be white-gold. But it's his usual red and black pattern.

Stein hums, intrigued and pleased. Soul will never admit aloud that maybe it's okay to be a guinea pig. Sometimes. As in very rarely and only in life or death situations. He sighs in relief.

"That's still pretty cool," Wes says, eyeing the scythe. Soul grins widely, but not for long, because his brother follows the compliment with, "So, when's the wedding?"

He really wishes Stein's knob in his head wasn't so damn loud and indicative of his intense nosiness. "Haaah?"

"Mom and Dad wanna know," Wes slyly smiles.

All of Soul's coolness evaporates, along with his blade. "Wha- Are they here?!"

"Nah, they're back at the hotel, sleeping off the culture shock. That, and your friend's... explosive personality," his brother chuckles, waving his hand at Maka.

Oh crap, Maka met his parents and he hadn't been conscious to mediate. "What happened," he says with trepidation.

Stein might actually have the smallest of smiles when he says, "They tried to kick her out."


"They didn't understand. Granted, I'm not sure I do either, but they wanted it to be family only. You looked kinda shitty there, for awhile," Wes admits.

Soul rubs the back of his head. How does one say 'sorry for being half-dead and worrying everybody'?

"Anyway, she said she's your fiancee and we could just 'deal with it'."

His mouth goes dry, so Soul takes another sip of his water while his face heats up. Of course Maka would be asleep and not help him with this situation!

"Unless she lied and you've already eloped and didn't tell us."

He chokes mid-swallow.

"Oooh, Gran's gonna be pissed at you."

"We didn't elope," he wheezes, scowling at his brother's teasing grin.

Eventually, after much heckling, Wes leaves the room to contact their parents and let them know Soul's awake. Stein follows, suggesting more rest as his body still has blood to replenish.

Finally alone with his meister, he slouches. They really need to stop landing in the hospital so much. But he takes a deep breath, one so clear and stressless that he is reminded of the simple ease of existing without the weight of Black Blood, and he thinks that maybe staying out of the hospital a little more often is a thing they can do, now.

It's probably wishful thinking though. More than likely, he'll be back within a week from her giving him a concussion.

He rolls his head to one side to look at her. His face is still a little warm with embarrassment.


She doesn't stir. He could probably say that out loud now with no problems, but doing it while she's asleep is probably cheating.

He wonders how long she'd Swayed him to live until his brother came. Wonders how tiring that must have been. Wants to kiss her. Realizes he can. Realizes she'd told his parents (his parents, holy shit) that, fuck everything, they're gonna marry, so there. He both wishes he could've seen their faces and is equally glad he was unconscious at the same time.

Well, he hadn't denied all of Wes' accusations, so he imagines he'll be seeing their faces on his own soon enough.

Soul scoots down in bed, gets his IV caught on every damn thing in a three foot radius, finally gets situated with his head on the pillow, and sighs. Facing Maka, he moves hair out of her face- which he knows every line of, every gesture, every quirk and smile and snarl- and kisses her forehead because the angle is stupid and he can't reach her damn mouth. It's just as well, because that's when Spirit Albarn and a pallet jack roll into the room without a care in the world, his cargo scraping on the hospital room door.

He feels Maka startle, but she just curls more into his side and keeps her eyes stubbornly shut.

"You little cheater."

"Shush," comes her silent reply. "I wanna see what he says when he thinks I'm not listening."

"...Okay, but only 'cause you saved my life and I'm gonna make out with you as soon as he's gone."

He can nearly hear her eyes rolling behind her eyelids. Soul sits up once more, irritated but curious as to what Spirit has brought in. He groans when he recognizes it.

Spirit frowns at him, carefully glances at his 'sleeping' daughter, and mildly says, "They're 'get well' flowers." He pulls a sheet off of the giant window box of herbs and budding flowers.

"You can't give me her present," he hisses. "That's messed up."

"Who said they're for you?" Spirit quips.

"He gave them to me once already," Maka remarks dryly across the link, her feelings unsurprised.

Death Scythe continues. "All you did was bleed to death. She did all the work for you."

Soul's mouth snaps shut, having no reasonable means to refute this statement, and too grateful to Maka to really want to. He feels his partner's mental equivalent to a blush. "I'm fine," she assures him.

"Congratulations," Spirit says with zero amount of pleasure. He pulls up the legs of his slacks slightly before sitting in a chair with a sigh. "You passed. Shinigami deems you fit to be his next weapon."

Immediately, the link swarms him with Maka's mental chattering. Soul swallows this down, cautiously staring down the older man. "Seriously? After all that? I mean, pretty sure I amputated Stein's arm at some point."

Spirit only plucks at the end of his tie and regards it dully. "It's unofficial, but you've been approved by everyone with authority." At this, Soul feels Maka's urge to surge out of bed and tackle her father in a hug, but not wanting to give herself away just yet.

A long moment of skeptical silence. "Even you?" he blurts, ignoring his partner's glee.

Spirit looks like he's just been caught off guard mid-chew of the slimiest, grossest, fungus assdirt mushroom in the history of humanity (if Spirit were a normal person that understood that mushrooms are, in fact, terrible), and he shifts his eyes to the side, burning a hole into a wall with his glare. "I said 'everyone', didn't I?"

Silently, despite her loud nuclear warheads of joy on the link, Maka sits up, and her father looks absolutely unsurprised. Soul supposes a father knows when his daughter is faking sleep. She pecks a kiss on Soul's cheek, promising a lot more private time later, and slides off the hospital bed to pad over to her father, barefoot.

"Take off your shoes," she says simply, and Soul, three different shades of weirded-out, watches Spirit happily comply.

And they start dancing.

"Uhhh..." He's still trying to process the whole 'next right hand of the Lord of Death' thing, and having this random, clumsy, shoeless waltz in his hospital room makes him wonder if this is just a hallucination and if Kim Diehl had slipped painkillers into his IV by mistake.

"Just go with it," Maka says over her shoulder.

Whatever, maybe things make a lot less sense now that he doesn't have insanity in his bloodstream. Everyone else is crazy. Attempting to go with their (admittedly kind-of ...cute) father-daughter moment, he hesitantly says, "So... I'm strong enough."

Spirit's even more reluctant to speak, but a look from his daughter and he admits, "It hasn't been a question of your ability for awhile, now."

Holy shit, was that a compliment? Fuck yes it was. Soul keeps his pleasure on silent channels.

Maka confidently replies, "It was the Black Blood. But it's gone now, right? He's not being hindered anymore."

"Tests are still being run," Spirit says to her before turning his gaze to Soul, "but Stein's confident you're clear."

Soul looks at his hands, no longer seeming unfamiliar. He doesn't need any test results. He already knows, plain and unmistakable, that the demon is long gone and traceless.

"That being said, I think you already know the Blood wasn't the only thing keeping us from nominating you."

He sort of understands. Maka doesn't, though, and a worried C-Sharp minor queries him. Soul flexes his fingers, still a little weak, but not black and deadened. All this time, he and Maka had been working to make him the next Death Scythe, because she had a goal and he thought it sounded pretty cool.

But he knows it's more than just a title. It's a job. The rank is something a weapon should want for more than just the name. And, in the past several days, he's had his share of self-doubt, gone through moments not thinking he could stand another second in another meister's hands, been unable to imagine doing his job without Maka to keep his sanity in check, and has wondered if he could ever surpass Spirit Albarn.

Soul raises his eyes, seeing his partner's questioning face, dance halted. Behind her, Spirit watches him expectantly. He can almost hear the 'quit slacking, heathen'.

Like choosing to defeat the Black Blood, this is something he has to do for himself. And he doesn't think it'll be that bad, being out of both his brother's and Spirit's shadows, and casting his own without something else lurking in it.

Soul decides he wants to be Death Scythe for a lot of reasons. For Shinigami. For the people he protects. For Maka. For his family. But also for himself.

"I want it."

This appears to be the correct answer, and he swears he sees a split-second glimmer of approval in Spirit's face.

Maka's eyes are wide and imploring, the link curling around him, curious, hopeful. "Really?" she asks, fingers clutching her father's sleeves.

"I-it's your choice, I'm not forcing you to-"

He grins, assuring her. "I want to."

Maka smiles, and the link between them pulses with a singularity, growing with each beat.

"Too bad~" Spirit sing-songs happily.

Maka whips her head around to her father in shock. "What!?"

"In case you forgot, I am Death Scythe."
"Papa! Wait, what was the point of even-"

"I'm not that old, either, so you're just gonna have to wait til I retire," he says cheerfully, putting his hands on top of his daughter's as if she isn't trying to choke his blazer's lapels to death. "In the meantime," he says over Maka's shouting head to Soul, "I fully expect you to protect your meister as well as a Death Scythe would, lack of title notwithstanding."

Soul scoffs. "I can manage that," he promises his 'father-in-law'. He leans back to rest on his elbows, feeling pretty damn cool despite being hooked up to an IV during summer vacation. "And a lot better than any Death Scythe could," he challenges smugly.

Immediately, Spirits eyes narrow. Maka groans. "I'm standing right here, you know," she says. "And I don't need two idiot deathscythes to protect me, got it?" She glares at her father first, and then equally over her shoulder at Soul. And that's the moment Spirit Albarn sees the hand-grenade.

"W-WHAT is that on your neck?"

Soul swears under his breath. Curse his hickey prowess!

A cup of spilled water and a Chop-induced fugue later (why'd he get hit?!), Spirit is gone, Soul's back in bed, a cat is sleeping on his stomach, and Maka, sitting in bed next to him, peels apart two wet pages in her book, waving them around to air dry.

Uhg, how many times does he have to wake up today? "Hello, fiancee," he mumbles, head rolling across his pillow to look up at her.

Book pages freeze mid-flap and Maka laughs nervously, cheekbones blazing. "...Hi. Um? I kind of just blurted that out. Your parents really-"

"I love you."

"-care... about you." Her eyes blink rapidly. "What?"

It comes out easily, even with all the trouble he has with words, even with seeing Blair's ears twitch in the corner of his eye. "I love you," he says simply.

She's smiling again, her feelings seeping through him, but she says, "Even though I might've given you a concussion?"

He nods, scratching the top of Blair's furry head, who begins to gently purr.

"Even though I told your parents I was your f-... fee... fian-"

"Kind of because of that, even," he mildly admits, watching the cat partially open up one eye with a feline smile.

The book snaps shut and is set aside. Maka leans close, and her lips press against his. "Love you too," she whispers moments later. Their hands find each other and the contact between them is reassuring in ways that nothing else can ever replicate.

The song has three movements. In the first, he had written himself: from the moment he shook Maka Albarn's hand until he realized he could smile and not fake it; until the day he felt like he was worth a damn; until the moment he felt in the right place.

The second movement is her. In this he had painted her laugh, her smile, her howl for kishin blood, and her stupid little scrunched-up nose when she's facing a plate of fish. In this, her compassion, her doubt, her courage, her hounding way to get shit done sings in a so-annoying-it's-somehow-endearing, stubborn determination.

The third movement is them. Theirs. Together. It's the screeching of their souls colliding, their voices when he's buried in her and her legs squeeze around him, the taste of her mouth lingering in his, and the smell of pine and burning wicks. It's the sound of a blade whistling through air, of gloves hissing across steel, of piano strings humming with their combined might. It's motorcycle engines and books snapping shut, and hair ties and leather jackets. It's stars falling through black holes, it's wings rustling overhead, it's scars and jars of cyst bits.

It's played in C-Sharp minor.