Stein curled his fingers and expertly sent the cigarette butt tumbling down the gutter. Before it had stopped bouncing against the cobblestones, he had another one lit in his mouth.

He was about halfway to Spirit's house. Not that he was happy about this. Not at all. The only reason he was weaving his way up the street was because of Marchosias. Had they not had their uncomfortable encounter, Stein would be getting drunk in the comfort of the lab.

He winced as he thought of the demon prince, but was able to find relief in the fact that nothing more than that wretched kiss had occurred. It disturbed him, on some level, that there was indeed a part of him that would have been all too happy to push that situation as far as Marchosias allowed. The half-demon intrigued him on a mental level, and there was certainly a bit of perverted chemistry between them.

That kiss, however, had been downright frightening. Stein was not one to experience fear very often. Logically, he accepted the quickened heartbeat, cold sweat, and other physiological markers that were associated with a fearful experience, but that was about all. He allowed his mind to acknowledge a potentially dangerous situation, and react accordingly, but he did not dwell on lists of things he was afraid of.

But Marchosias was starting to legitimately scare him.

Stein pushed the thought from his mind and returned his musings to Spirit. He had reached his address, and paused to look up at the three-story townhome. None of the lights were on upstairs, but he could discern the weary glow of a single lamp, downstairs. He rapped on the door, lightly, but then increased the noise. If Spirit was incoherent, it would take considerable effort to rouse him.

"Spirit?" He called, as loudly as he dared. Stein was in no mood to wake the neighborhood, yet his desperation was growing by the second. With no response coming from within the residence, the doctor sighed and kicked at the door in frustration. Now he was quite wedged between two uncomfortable situations: Spirit wasn't letting him in, and he was in no mood to face the literal demon at home.

Suddenly weary with it all, Stein lowered himself to the front step, and let his head fall backwards against the door behind him. As he stared at the moon behind tendrils of cigarette smoke, he began to feel rather foolish. Perhaps this random desire to reassure Spirit of all the unsaid portions of their relationship was simply due to Marchosias getting under his skin. But, was that such terrible thing? Maybe Marchosias was just what Stein needed to wake up and take action before he possibly lost Spirit for a second time.

His mind drifted. Lost in memories and musings, a small pile of cigarette butts started to accumulate on the step beside him. Time became a foreign concept, and so did location, apparently, as Stein's thoughts carried him over the threshold of sleep.

x-x-x-x-x

His eyes flew open while his equilibrium scrambled to catch up with current events. There was a ceiling above him, but then again, there was also a Spirit above him, and then it became clear that his dream of falling was just a subconscious reaction to the actual act of falling over. Still, even with that figured out, the rest of the scenario was still causing some confusion.

Stein coughed away the lingering vines of sleep, and eased himself to a seated position. Squinting at the rising sun that was blasting him directly in the face, he discovered he was sitting in Spirit's doorway. Quickly, it all came back to him. He must've fallen asleep sitting against the door, but he didn't have a chance to be embarrassed about it, for Spirit's voice broke the heavy silence.

"Is there a reason you slept on my doorstep, or did you just feel like scaring my neighbors?"

Stein considered the question as he stiffly pulled himself to his feet, and turned to look at Spirit. Who, as expected, looked miserably hungover. Evading the direct question, he stifled a yawn before speaking. "Scaring your neighbors?"

"Yes. The only reason I'm awake is because the woman next door called me to warn me about the vagrant sleeping in my doorway," Spirit muttered. Still dressed in yesterday's clothes, he crossed his arms over the wrinkled suit.

"Oh," Stein offered. His entire body was aching, not just from his poor choice of a bed, but from the events the day prior. The thought of a hot shower started to make his mouth water. "Sorry about that."

Spirit batted aside the fluff and attacked the meat of the situation. His voice was none too kind, and he didn't motion Stein further into the house. "Why did you sleep on my doorstep, Stein?"

The doctor wasn't used to the ginger being so direct, and he uncomfortably shifted his weight from foot to foot. Why had he slept on Spirit's doorstep? Certainly, it hadn't been a conscious decision. But, why had he come over here in the first place?

He knew exactly why. But, in the light of day, and with an angry Spirit glaring at him, Stein lost his nerve. Everything he'd wanted to say now seemed contrived, and he couldn't bring himself to share any of it. Trounced by his own lack of a spine, Stein brought his gaze level with Spirit's and wondered if the other man would be able to read his internal anguish without him having to express it. It made him feel cowardly. Especially when Spirit's irritated glare didn't budge, at all.

"I don't…I don't know," Stein muttered. His shoulders slumped as he looked at his feet, ashamed of his shortcomings. Instinctively, he started to investigate his pockets, searching for a much-needed cigarette. Spirit didn't pipe up and admonish him for smoking in his house, which Stein silently appreciated. The nicotine soothed his nerves almost immediately. Rallying his courage, he avoided Spirit's eyes by staring at the filter of his cigarette.

"I was worried about you-" he started, but cut himself off with a wince. "No, wait. Well, yes. That is true. I was worried about you. Not just because I thought you might have been dying of alcohol poisoning, but…I was worried I had lost you again."

Oh, that last part was painful for Stein. The words clawed at his throat before they managed to escape. Vulnerable, and nervous that Spirit was keeping silent, the doctor continued with substantial trepidation. Might as well go for broke, since the gate was already unlocked.

"I couldn't bear that, Spirit. I couldn't bear to lose you, not a second time. It nearly killed me the first time. I can't…you're the only thing that keeps me sane," he continued. His words had a staccato rhythm, even to his own ears, as though each one had to be peeled from the inside of his mouth and spat into broad daylight. "I know I'm not easy to deal with. I'm sorry. I wish I could be what you need, and I wish I…understood that better. I slept on your doorstep to beg you to not give up on me, not yet."

Bravely, he looked up to catch Spirit's eye, but he couldn't quite read the expression there. It wasn't anger, anymore. Was it shock? Probably. Stein watched as Spirit looked away with a deep sigh.

"You are hard to deal with, Stein. Even now, you're like a porcupine. There's something soft inside you, but you're too preoccupied with your armor of quills to let it really show," Spirit answered. He rubbed at his temples with his fingers, and then dropped both arms to his sides. When he looked at Stein, this time, the surprise was gone, and in its place was affectionate weariness. "All I've ever wanted was your love. I don't get why you can't give it to me."

Well, there it was. Stein's inside squirmed with anxiety, as Spirit had never poked at him in such a direct manner like this. He couldn't bring himself to give Spirit the answer he deserved – the truth. There was no way he could confess his greatest secret. Torn between his own selfishness and the desire to do right by Spirit and explain his emotional disability, Stein lowered his eyes to the floor and tossed his dead cigarette out the open door.

To his astonishment, Spirit was suddenly invading his personal space. The redhead's arms were wrapped around him, and he was clinging to him with fervor. Unsure of the way to react, Stein hesitantly hugged him back.

"It's fine, okay?" Spirit's voice was muffled as he spoke into the crook of Stein's neck. "I didn't mean to lecture you after you dropped a bombshell like that, which I know wasn't easy for you to do in the first place."

Oh, if only you knew the truth…I doubt if you'd be so quick to cling to me, Stein thought to himself. Spirit's easy acceptance of his odd personality made him feel that much worse for withholding so much from the other man. And yet, he held his tongue and simply let Spirit embrace him for as long as he desired.