Liz wasn't sure at what age Kid had taken over for what his father could no longer do. When she first realized where he was going, she wondered sadly about Shinigami-sama's motivations for having a son—whether Kid was just born to take his father's place, created only so that Death could once again freely roam the earth. But when she saw the way they acted together, she dismissed the thought. Shinigami-sama loved his son. But nevertheless, this was Kid's job now, no matter how young he was.
Patty knew it, too. The girl could act like an airhead at times, but she was by no means unobservant. When he disappeared from the manor late at night and came back later, silent, not bothering to reprimand them for making a mess or being loud, they knew what he had been doing. And when he didn't show up to school, they made up excuses, or if the convenience arose that Soul or Black Star were gone as well, they could tell everyone that he was skipping school with the two boys. Stein knew where he was going, of course… that's why the son of Shinigami-sama wasn't reprimanded for missing school so often, whereas Soul and Black Star were threatened often with failure or dissection. Liz was glad Stein played along with their excuses. If they thought about it, the other kids might realize where Kid really was when he was gone, but they seemed perfectly content to take the excuses provided by the sisters.
They saw him leaving a few times when they were back at the manor. He walked right out the front door, the black cloak he wore—which made him so resemble his father and look more truly like the embodiment of Death—whispering on the ground behind him. They never stopped him with questions or words of any kind, and he never looked at them. They knew he wasn't pushing them away. He was trying to protect them. They may have been raised on the streets, they may be tough girls, but he wanted to shield them from the terrible truth of his existence. They had started a newer, happier life with him. He didn't want to ruin that image.
But Patty, ever the curious one, stopped that. The younger weapon had always wanted to be involved in the lives of those she cared about as much as possible. It wasn't an intrusion, the way she did it. And when she demanded, in her own way, to be let in on the secrets of her family members, they saw the intelligent, mature young woman who shined just below the surface of her normal bubbly and occasionally incoherent self. Patty somehow managed to take in everything about the world, and yet still retain the innocence she had, by storing away that which she didn't need to maintain her happy view of life.
And she wasn't one to let something go on, when she couldn't be a part of it; particularly if it was someone else suffering. Liz saw the sadness flicker across her expression when she watched Kid come home and head off to his room, tense and exhausted, never saying a word about his grim duties.
So the day finally came, when he went to leave. They were in the kitchen and he had been upstairs. Perhaps it was some sort of unspoken knowledge, passing between the sisters, that tonight would be the night that they would finally break down the last barrier separating part of Kid's world from their own; but they had not changed into their usual brightly-colored nightclothes, but instead were wearing somber black outfits. It was a contrast to the happy mood of the cookies they were making, and Patty had managed to ruin the bleakness of her clothing somewhat by getting bright white flour on her shirt, and they were laughing together.
The laughing stopped abruptly when they felt, rather than heard, him pass them on the way to the front door. Their black matched his for once, and he started to brush past them without a word as usual. Normally, when he got home, they would have their cookies done, and they would make some of them perfectly symmetrical just for him; he would take one without thanks, though they would never be mad at him, and eat it in silence, and all they would be able to do would be to watch him sadly.
But it wasn't going to happen this time. He had nearly passed them when Patty's small hand gripped his arm, and he stopped in his tracks, still facing the doorway. He slowly turned to face them, and his bright golden eyes searched each of theirs for a moment. Liz looked back at him somewhat sadly, and Patty met his gaze with a determined stare. No one spoke a word. He looked back at each of them one last time, and his expressive eyes flashed a grim warning to each of them, making sure they knew what they were getting into. Liz knew what he meant. They couldn't undo this. What they would see tonight would be with them forever. But they kept their stares, and as one, they all turned and walked into the night.
Kid didn't travel on Beelzebub for missions of this nature. He seemed to summon a portal out of nowhere, using the same shinigami powers that enabled him to communicate with his father without the need of a mirror. This way of travel seemed much darker, somehow, than his usual magic, and Liz suspected that it could only be used when he was off to do what he was doing right now.
Not a word was spoken the entire night. They first traveled to a small country home in what looked to be France. The doors opened by themselves when Kid approached, and he seemed to glide into the home, a feared and dreaded shadow. Liz and Patty trailed behind him, seemingly invisible in the work of Death.
An old woman lay in a bed there, alone. There were mementos on the dresser, and a picture of an old man with his arms around her. They both looked much younger and happier, and Liz knew without having to confirm that the man had passed on earlier than this, leaving behind his wife. The house seemed empty. Kid approached the bed silently.
Liz wasn't sure what she had expected him to do. She had met Death, lived with him and fought with him, but she had never before seen his actual work, and she didn't know how it was done. Perhaps she had expected him to appear like the grim reaper personified in children's stories and cartoons: a figure in a black cloak, raising a scythe above his head, come to take the soul of someone living. Or she might have expected him to reach down, and upon a single touch, end the woman's life so that he could collect her soul.
But Death was simply meant to help move souls on, not to end the lives of those who were still attached to theirs. He stood silently by the bed, waiting. Liz wasn't sure how he knew, but he could clearly sense when it had happened, when the woman's final moments had passed. He reached down and laid his hand gently on her chest. A soft blue soul rose from the body. It looked innocent and young again, freed from the lifetime of memories and suffering that the old woman had had to endure. It floated in Kid's palm for just a few seconds, and then he turned his hand and in a flash of black skulls, it disappeared, moved on to that place only Death could sense. Without a word, and without looking at his weapons, he turned and walked past them, out of the room. Liz threw one last glance back at the body of the old woman, and she and her sister followed him out and into another dark portal, to another waiting, dying person.
The second was in another dark bedroom, somewhere in Africa, Liz suspected. The time was different here, as they had traveled so far from their own home. Dusk was just falling. They moved, unnoticed, through the nearly deserted streets until they came upon a shabby-looking building with paint peeling off the sides. It was missing a few windowpanes and had no front door. They entered a small sitting room and then moved through the hallways behind it, which were lined with identical doors. One of them swung open as they approached and upon entering the room, Liz realized with a jolt where they were.
It was an orphanage, barely able to be kept maintained by the city full of poor people. The children lying in bunk beds looked undernourished and weak. There were no toys or personal belongings scattered about the room; the children had nothing but each other to grow up with. Kid walked to the bed in the far corner, where a dreadfully skinny boy lay on the bottom bunk, clearly in trouble.
The boy was taking shallow, wheezing breaths. He had a few odd sort of rashes on his skin and tears were running down his face as he struggled to hold on to life. He obviously had some sort of disease, but the people who could barely afford to feed the children here could not, of course, provide any sort of medicine. Kid did not stand, a silent sentry waiting for the end, this time. He leaned down and placed one of his hands on the boy's arm. The boy reached over and grasped Kid's hand in his own bony ones, and he seemed to calm down. Liz wasn't sure if it was merely the presence of another person, or if Kid could somehow ease the boy's pain—a trait she wouldn't have expected of Death—but the boy had stopped thrashing about and was merely heaving in shallow breaths. He knew the end was coming, and after a few minutes, his breathing slowed considerably, and his face relaxed; his hands lost their grip on Kid's and fell limply to his sides, and the quiet shadow of Death took his soul.
Just as they were turning to leave, Liz noticed that the room was not empty other than themselves and the now-dead boy, as she had originally thought. Two shining eyes had watched them the entire time, belonging to a wide-eyed girl who could not have been any more than seven years old. As Kid left the room, the girl pulled her head back from the edge of her bed and lay back down. Just before Liz and Patty left, they heard soft crying emanating from the room behind them.
They appeared next in a hospital. Liz had no idea where they were, but it wouldn't have mattered what time it was, as the place was brightly lit. Whether it was luck or part of the powers of Death, they did not encounter anyone on the way to wherever they were going. Liz felt her heart sink when she saw the sign for the maternity ward, adorned with pictures of smiling children and their delighted mothers. They entered the nursery for newborns, and saw a nurse who had her back to them. She didn't turn when they silently walked past and entered a separate area, curtained off from the rest. Inside was a tiny infant, hooked to more machines than Liz would have thought they could fit on a person that small. The infant must have been premature; it was smaller than any child she had ever seen and looked oddly out of proportion, and unhealthy. There were heart and blood pressure monitors, an IV line in each of its arms, and numerous other machines that she wasn't sure the purpose of. They stood for a shorter time than the last two before the heart monitor, which had been beeping out a faint and sad rhythm, went completely flat.
Kid took the infant's soul in one hand, but as he was doing so, the nurse they had passed earlier burst into the area where they stood; the infant's death must have set off some sort of alarm for her. She looked from Liz and Patty to Kid, in his black cloak, who had his back to her and was bending over the infant. But before she could form any sort of angry or alarmed words, Kid straightened and turned to her.
He did not look directly at her, but at the exit which she was partially blocking. She gasped when she saw his face, but understanding seemed to dawn on her and she covered her mouth with her hands as she peered over his shoulder to the bed of the deceased infant. Though Kid was wearing the black cloak that made him look so much like Shinigami-sama, the skull mask that matched his father's was not covering his face, but was hanging to the side of his left shoulder. Apparently the business of Death did not require symmetry. Though Kid may not have appeared exactly as she was expecting, the nurse obviously knew what the skull meant, knew what he was, and she allowed them to pass by her to the exit, her head bowed.
When they went through Kid's portal again, they emerged on a quiet, dark highway in the middle of a forest. There were no houses around them; only trees. It was snowing heavily and the road had a layer of ice on it, underneath a thin layer of snow. They were dangerous conditions, and Liz braced herself for what she knew was going to come.
She was right: a few moments later, a car came screeching around the bend and slipped on the ice at the curve. She wanted to squeeze her eyes shut, not to look, but she seemed transfixed. There was a terrible crunch as the car slammed sideways into a tree. The driver's door made direct impact with the tree and the rest of the car curled around it as though it was made of rubber. The sound of shattered glass falling to the ground and onto the hood of the car continued for a few seconds after the crash, and then there was a terrible silence.
Kid started to walk forward, and the sisters followed him instinctually. As they neared the car, a sudden whimper came from inside. Liz and Patty clutched each other's arms; it was the voice of a young girl. Clearer words came out as they silently approached the car, and Kid stopped as one word floated toward them in the night.
Liz moved forward and a terrible scene met her eyes. There was blood on the shards of glass everywhere, and the mangled body of a young woman was leaning halfway out of the windshield, the other half pinned against the tree. She was a bloody mess; her left arm had been twisted and torn nearly free of her body by the impact. The hand was pinned between the tree and the car behind her, and the arm itself was only connected to her shoulder by skin and bright red muscle. The bone was clearly sticking out of the bloody mess above her head, ghostly white in the dark red that stained the woman's body. There was a horrible dent in the side of her head, which was leaking blood onto the hood where it lay and down onto the soft snow beneath the car. Some of the flesh had been stripped from her face, and they could see muscle and tendons beneath it.
Liz covered her mouth with her hands as she spotted what was making the noise. There was a man in the passenger seat who appeared to be unconscious, with a large cut along his left arm; and crawling across him from the back of the car was a girl about five years old. The child had long brown hair which lay across her back as she crawled insistently toward her mother; her large blue eyes, clear even in the near darkness, were dry—she had no experience with death, she was young, she didn't know what had happened. Miraculously, she appeared uninjured. She reached the woman and shook her shoulder, the one that wasn't mostly ripped from her body, murmuring again, "mommy…"
The child looked straight at her mother's gruesome shoulder, and only blinked. Suddenly, the girl shifted. Liz watched, confused, as the child determinedly rolled up one of her pant legs. There was a plastic adhesive bandage on her knee, no doubt put there with love and care and gentle kisses after a fall or scrape of some kind. The girl winced slightly as she peeled the bandage off of her knee; she then reached up and tried to place it on the woman's shoulder. Due to the slick coating of blood on the wound, the bandage did not stick, but slid to the seat below them. For the first time, the girl's eyes filled with tears, and she began shaking her mother more insistently. "Mommy… get up, mommy… you need a band-aid, mommy… mommy…"
Liz had to hold back sobs as they watched the child, who still had not noticed their presence; she had eyes only for her unresponsive mother. Liz glanced to Patty. Though the older sister had been silently crying since Kid had first collected the soul of the old French woman, Patty had not shed a tear in any of the times that Liz had looked. Now, however, her face matched that of the young girl in the car. Tears were silently sliding down her cheeks and dripping into the bright snow beneath their feet.
As the child broke down completely, wailing, Kid stepped forward. The girl seemed to notice him for the first time, but she wasn't afraid of the stranger; rather, she looked up at Kid imploringly and whispered, "mommy…"
It is not the job of Death to take the souls of the innocent, nor to corrupt them, and so Kid did not. Still never speaking, he reached forward and lifted the girl through the shattered windshield of the car, making sure to keep her legs from being scratched on the metal frame. She buried her small head in his cloak and cried, though more quietly than before; he held her with one hand and with the other, keeping the girl's head away from the car so that she could not see, he collected her mother's soul.
They stood there for what seemed like hours in the quiet snow, listening to the young girl cry while Kid held her, though in reality it had only been a few minutes. There was a groan from inside the car—the man in the passenger seat was regaining consciousness. The girl raised her head at the sound and turned her swollen eyes upon her father; and before they could be seen by the man, Kid set the girl gently back in the seat next to her mother's body, turned, and reopened the strange portal; Liz looked back once more before she stepped through, to see the man opening his eyes wearily while his little girl, still crying, shook his shoulder.
This time, when they emerged from Death's portal, they found themselves back at Gallows Mansion, and never before had they been so glad to see the skull decorations that normally gave the place a grim feel. It was warmer here than the place they had left, but the sisters still shivered as they followed their silent meister inside.
Back inside, without pulling his cloak off, Kid sat down on the couch and covered his face with his hands wearily. Liz and Patty returned to the kitchen to find their unfinished cookie dough—Patty silently added the chocolate chips, and then smiled sadly at Liz, who gave the younger weapon her own teary grin. Liz brought the bowl out to where Kid was sitting and plopped down next to him, stirring slowly. He lifted his head at the shift of weight next to him and looked at Liz. He hadn't shed a tear, unlike the sisters, but his golden eyes showed a deep sadness beneath his exhaustion. Patty searched a cabinet in the corner of the room and found a set of crayons and some paper; settling down on the floor, she began drawing after wiping her own eyes.
Liz looked down at the bowl in her lap and suddenly took a chunk of the dough in her hand and ate it. This was something the two sisters often did when they cooked together, and though they "hid" it from Kid, they were sure he knew, from the suspicious looks he often gave their cookies. Patty looked up as Liz offered her a spoonful, smiled, and took it; Liz offered a piece silently to Kid, smiling to herself, but to her astonishment, he took it with a small nod and turned away from her.
They sat that way for a few more minutes. It had been what they'd wanted, after all, Liz thought. They could have expected as much from the trip. And though what she had seen tonight pained her, she was also glad she'd gone with him; she could now share in the experience, she could feel some of what Kid did, and she didn't have to avoid him when he came home looking like this.
After a while, Patty spoke up from her position on the floor. "Hey Kid, how come there's so few souls you need to collect?"
Kid looked down at her, confused, and Liz did the same. "What do you mean, Patty?" Liz prompted, knowing that the younger sister often wouldn't continue her train of thought unless someone reminded her.
"Well," she said, looking up at them as though it were obvious, "people die all over the world all the time. Every second. And yet you're not gone every day. And you don't need to go to very many."
Liz looked surprised at her sister's question, and realized, now that she thought about it, that she was right. Dozens of people die every minute, in all different places. There was no way that Kid could be taking care of all of their souls. She wondered briefly if there were other shinigami in the world, and suddenly imagined a hundred Shinigami-samas meeting in different places all over the planet, sending out children to reap the souls of the innocent…
Her rambling thoughts were interrupted by Kid, who spoke for the first time that night. "Most souls are capable of moving on by themselves. The only ones that shinigami need to venture out to find and reap are those who have lost the instinctual knowledge of how to move on unassisted."
"What do you mean?" Liz repeated, looking toward Kid.
"It's ironic," he said, and he smiled, though there was no humor in it. "Humans are born with the ability to accept death. Even from the beginning of their lives, their souls are prepared to face the end of it. But some just… lose the ability, somewhere along the way. There are also a few who simply are not born with the natural knowledge in their souls of what to do after death."
"But if their souls know what to do when they face death, then why do people, you know, fear it? Why don't they just accept death as part of life?" Liz questioned.
"The human body is like a limiter to the soul. It subdues that knowledge. When the soul is encased within a body—in other words, when the person is living—the soul is repressed, in a way. Its instincts to move on are pushed away and it takes on a new purpose: to survive in the body. But when the body dies and the soul is freed, the soul is free to feel its instincts again, and it regains the knowledge of how to move on." He looked away from Liz and watched his own hands, which were clasped in his lap.
"But some souls," he continued with a small sigh, "lose that knowledge along the way. It usually happens when a soul becomes too connected to the body."
"What do you mean?" Liz said, her frown deepening. "Like, people who are afraid of dying?"
"No," said Kid patiently. "It has nothing to do with the human's emotions. A soul becoming too attached to its body does not happen from any sort of human selfishness or cowardice, nor does it happen naturally, simply from the body living a long life. Some souls just happen to be more tightly bonded with their bodies than others. And there are ways to increase the strength of that bond slightly through things the person does in life; training with their soul, coming to understand it, pushing the soul to further limits than a soul is normally inclined to go. That is why almost all meisters and weapons have to have their souls taken by a shinigami. They strengthened the bond of soul and body in their lifetime in order to use that connection to fight, and so when death finally comes to them, the soul has lost some of its natural instincts. It became too attached to the body and does not know how to move on without help."
Kid looked up at Liz, who was now watching the carpet, looking sad and also somewhat ashamed. He placed his hand on her shoulder kindly, and her gaze moved back to his golden eyes. "Don't get the wrong impression. It's not a bad thing when a soul can't move on by itself. It's simply something that happens. And when it does, shinigami come in. It's not unnatural. And it's not a problem at all." Liz looked slightly comforted at his words, and a silence fell again. Liz leaned her head on Kid's shoulder, remembering the souls she had seen that night. After a few minutes of quiet, Patty once again spoke up.
"Hey Kid," she said from the floor, turning to look at their meister, and Liz noticed that she looked more serious than usual, and—if Liz was not mistaken—there might have been the slight sparkle of tears in her sister's eyes. Kid turned. "When you reap our souls, be sure to hold them for a minute first, okay? So you can remember what they're like forever."
There was a moment of silence, and then Kid nodded, and Patty smiled and turned back to her drawing. Liz couldn't see Kid's face from where she was, but a few moments later, she felt the soft drop of tears falling onto her hand, which was draped across his lap.