Dedication: To the wonderful KidLiz fandom. Our tiny community is stretched across FF, dA, and Tumblr, but it feels so close-knit at times, we're practically a family. You guys are so special and kind and filled with so many creative and marvelous ideas! I figured it was about time our beloved OTP had a fic like this one; I hope you are entertained - and inspired - by it! And to my dearest Gin-kyo, for everything. This would never have been possible without you.

Disclaimer: Soul Eater is the property of Atsushi Ohkubo. The meditation chamber, however, is my own creation. And so is Door-sama, as Gyo is so fond of calling it.

Notes: I meant what I said - without Gin-kyo, I never even would have had the idea for this fic. She planted the seed of an image in my head - on purpose! - then waited for me to cull it from the garden of my mind into a plotted concept. That accomplished, she proceeded to encourage its growth, both with words and with a staggering array of beautiful fan art... before I'd even written a single word! How could I not bring it to fruition after that? So after many long days spent writing the actual story, we read it jointly over a live screen-share, much to our mutual giddiness. Then, exceeding my expectations, Gyo proceeded to beta the whole thing for me! Without a doubt, her revision - two revisions for the beginning segment - has elevated this story to an even grander height, and I can't even begin to thank you, Gyo, for every bit of help and encouragement along the way. And for letting me borrow your Black Fire, among other things. ^_^


Lotus

By Eeveebeth Fejvu


I am Death.

He whispers this to himself, within his mind, within his soul, and the heavy stone walls of the chamber seem to bounce the reminder back at him like an endless echo. You are, it tells him. You are Death. You are Death. In every dark corner - where the violet luminescence of the wall torches can't reach - the echo reverberates. It reaches out to him through tendrils of shadow, curling like smoke against his pale bare skin.

Death... Death... Death... it chants. Its thrumming intonation creates wide, shallow ripples in the cold pool around him, that dark abyss of water and shadow. He sits in the center of a large cushion in the center of a circular stone platform, inches above the watery depths. Here, he is the axle of the wheel of life, the very eye of the cosmic hurricane. You are Death, Death, Death, the echo tells him, and he nods slowly in resignation. He sits on his cushion, fully naked and unearthly pale, his legs crossed in a perfect meditation position. His spine is slightly curved and his head is tilted down, his hair in his eyes. His black silky hair, branded by the mark of his status: the white Lines of Sanzu, perfect, complete, and whole. The palms of his hands rest lightly on his knees, or sometimes curl up, gripping his calves where they cross one another. Here he sits, head bobbing to the echo. Whispering.

I am Death.

Death, and all that comes with it. A shudder runs through him. It's not the enveloping cold of the chamber or the haunting darkness that makes him shudder, but the renewed understanding of just what it is that he represents, what he personifies, what he is.

Death. The End of one life. The Beginning of another. That split-second moment of the In-Between.

Death is the Reaper of Souls, gathering, from the farthest corners of the Earth, the lost and the broken and the irreplaceable. He is the Psychopomp, the grim shepherd sweeping the innocent souls, glowing crystalline blue, down that starlit corridor from this world to the next unknown.

But Death is also a Judge, balancing the sins of the fallen on the scales of justice, golden eyes narrowed in calculation as each soul reveals its crimson stains. And he is a Warrior, striking down the wicked with the devastating blows of his Scythes, blasting them to pieces with each pull on the triggers of his silver pistols.

And to many terrified souls, he is the Plague of Humankind, the bane of all existence and feared above all else. In accident and sickness and old age and murder, he is that which is reviled, despised, rejected, denied. And to others still, he is the Almighty, Lord and God, Immortal Keeper of Balance and Order and Peace, worshiped and revered and followed with blind trust and confidence. Followed by wide eyes tilted upward in a gaze of exalted awe...

Death. All of these things are Death. And he is Death.

Death, Death, Death, the echo continues to chant. He shudders again, his striped head bowing a little lower. His breath, slow and even, begins to taper off, the cold oxygen unneeded. His chest aches. He hates to contemplate himself this way. It's demanding enough to be the Reaper and the Warrior, day in and day out, but the others, too... He wants to cry out. He just might cry out; a strangled utterance of alarm, a moan of distress. But he can't - he won't - so in the dark, cold stillness, a thin tear slides down the side of his impassive face instead. It is consumed by a flickering shadow, a tendril of Death-owned darkness, licking it away before it can reach his chin.

It is overwhelming, being Death himself. Even though he was conceived from Death, born as Death, raised as Death, groomed to be Death, and now presides over the world as Death. The sheer responsibility involved... the destiny of every soul and the fate of all things resting in his unworthy palms. And it must be perfect. He must be perfect, the want, the desire, the need to be perfect as ingrained in every fiber of his being as it ever was. Not for physical symmetry, necessarily - he has grown, after all, just a little, learned to look beyond the obvious for the balance that he seeks. But still, perfection is the goal, ever reached for and ever unreachable, but ever necessary if he is to fulfill his own destiny with dignity and pride.

Because they watch him, his ancestors. Every Reaper, every incarnation of Death before him, is watching, waiting. They gaze at him from that distant beyond, across all time and space, fulfilling their role as Judge. He knows it, he just knows it. They are taking note of every slip, every stumble, every mistake he makes as he muddles his way through each day, trying to do the best he can with what he's got.

He can sense them through the giant Death Mirror hanging on the wall in front of him. Twelve feet high, it looms over his small platform across a narrow strip of inky water. The mirror's glassy surface shimmers like the pool beneath it, like a lavender veil of sheer material fluttering in an absent breeze.

He looks into the mirror and sees himself. Thin, but not lanky, almost painfully delicate. His body taut, but not so muscular. He is a study in dull blacks and waxy whites, unimpressive, uninspiring, his form small and unassuming and oh-so very mortally human.

And he can see his ancestors, just beyond the veil. Their towering forms godlike in cloaks of swirling black shadow, skeletal faces peering down at him with glowing eyes from beneath darkened cowls. Scythes with steel blades as long as his own body resting carelessly across their bony shoulders. Even his own Father, in the jagged astral form he preferred, inspiring veneration and loyalty despite the silly mask that he wore.

He is nothing compared to all of the other Deaths that have come before him. Just a fragment, and an inferior one at that.

So he thinks about himself, ponders his ancestors, contemplates what he means to the world and what he needs to be and how he can become a more perfect version of himself. A more perfect Death.

Cross-legged on his cushion, stripped of everything but his body, mind, and soul, he communes with the primitive, unconscious essence of Death. The darkness, the solitude, the macabre. The blood and bone and pain and fear. The anguished understanding, the acceptance of the inevitable. Life, extinguished.

In this communion, he finds traces of his ancestors, and he silently pleads for the help and answers that only they can provide. But he is met with only mute judgment, a distant observation that he fears is a sign of his own unworthiness.

I am Death, he whispers to himself again, willing the cold and the dark and the silence to wrap themselves around him. Willing them to fill up the empty space inside of him, to sink into all of the cracks and crevices and patch up the imperfections. He takes a deep breath - his first one in minutes - trying to will the essence of Death into himself, trying to drink it all in, to grasp that unnameable thing that eludes him. I am Death, he says, almost pleadingly. I am Death.

I am Death, I am Death, I am Death!

But each time, it sounds a little less convincing.

(((oOo)))

Liz follows the spiraling staircase down for what feels like miles. She crosses her arms tightly under her breasts, her shoulders hunched beneath the thin cotton robe she wears. She is certain she can feel the earth pressing against the stone walls around her, the heavy foundation of the Manor pushing down on her from above. It's a creepy, unsettling feeling, being so far down beneath the surface. She doesn't like it. It gives her a peculiar sense of claustrophobia that she isn't used to having, considering all of the time she's spent in pistol-form, stuck in her Meister's pocket. Her ears had even popped a few minutes ago from the pressure change, and she'd had to spend some time digging a finger in each ear to relieve the pain that had caused.

She is determined to reach the bottom of the staircase, however, and is equally determined not to leave until she has Kid on her arm, bringing him back up into the light.

The house scuffs she wears scratch lightly against the rough steps as she descends. The slippers are black, emblazoned with that ubiquitous skull emblem, and are only a little too big for her feet; they're actually a pair of Kid's. But they are also soft and cushy, and they make her tromp down the endless stone spiral more bearable. She stares at them as she continues downward. She has nothing else to stare at but blank, ancient walls, having left all windows far behind.

Her way is lit by a series of torches in brackets along the outside wall, each burning with a peculiar gray-violet flame. Black Fire, Kid calls it. Reaper's Flame. An eternally burning will-o'-the-wisp, needing no source of fuel to survive. Each torch emits a faint scent of incense, a fragrant mix of sweet iron and earthy wood. Liz feels a small smile twitch onto her face, and she chuckles a bit at the medieval castle atmosphere and its contrast to the quirky, but elegant, mansion above. This makes her think fondly of the late Lord Death, who must have designed this passage and even the chamber waiting for her at the end.

And as thinking of the father makes her think of the son, Liz's smile fades into a frown. Of course, Kid is never far from her mind - or her body or soul, for that matter - but right now he is forefront in her thoughts, because she is worried about him and the worry is eating away at her bit by bit. Liz is used to worrying about him. She's spent almost ten years now worrying about him, stressing about his panic attacks and fretting over his battle wounds, but this feels different. And it terrifies her, because she hasn't felt this sort of worry in ages, not since the waking nightmare of the Book of Eibon.

She feels like she's losing him.

It's a subtle thing, Liz thinks as she continues her descent. A slow and gradual loss, the kind that you could easily miss if you're not paying close attention. But Liz has been paying attention, because - other than her darling Patty - there is nothing in this world she loves more than Kid. She cherishes their relationship with greater fervor than she'd thought herself capable of. So when memories of those dark days in their youth - when they were forcibly separated by the pages of that accursed book - rise up from the depths of her mind, she feels her chest tighten and her teeth clench in resolve.

She will not let herself lose him again.

The spiral stairs continue to twist downward, curling eternally to the left, until Liz finally catches sight of the steps evening out. She breathes a sigh of relief, lips quirking briefly before the smile fades away. She is encouraged by finally reaching her destination, but the worry refuses to dissipate. At the bottom of the stairs, Liz pauses, arms still crossed tightly beneath her chest, and gazes at the huge double-leaved door that stands between her and Kid.

It's a massive structure, all stone and steel and silver, and it dwarfs the landing before her. Nearly every inch of its surface is covered in high relief carvings. Elegant swirls intermingle with dark symbols of skulls, bones, ravens, scythes, each sculptural form mirrored with painstaking precision across the divide between the leafs. It's a masterpiece of Gothic symmetry, but it is the array at the center that holds Liz's gaze. Surrounding the interlocking circles are glyphs, ancient and foreign to her eyes, unreadable symbols that she feels must contain all the secrets of Life and Death. Kid can decipher the glyphs, of course, but Liz isn't sure she wants to ask him their meaning. Even if she did, she isn't entirely sure he'd tell her.

Off to one side of the room, on the floor against the wall, is a neatly arranged stack of clothes. Liz looks away from the door, taking in the folded black pants, white dress shirt, and black blazer. Kid's enamel skull pin is centered on top of the pile and his black loafers sit nearby, their heels to the wall. Liz goes to the stack of clothes and kneels down next to them, running her hands lovingly over the familiar fabric. The cloth is cool beneath her fingertips. She sifts through the pile, careful not to disturb the neatness, and finds his socks, suspenders, and underwear hidden underneath. She sits back on her heels, the scuffs slapping sharply against the flagstones.

The meditation chamber beyond the door is particular. Liz already knows this. Kid had told her so before. It doesn't seem to like material objects, things that are of this world, such as clothes... or the human body. In fact, it refuses to admit anything or anyone other than Kid himself.

This chamber is of Death alone.

Liz stands up and faces the door again. Carved in the middle of the array is a life-sized skull, split in half by the vertical crack in the doors. Its hollowed eyeholes are dark, glittering like black jewels in the violet-tinged torch light. Those empty sockets seem to watch her like a guard dog, penetrating her soul with its grim, unblinking stare. A wave of dread and fear suddenly wells up in Liz's chest, pushing in on her with more pressure than the earth, and she's forced to look away from the door less she crumple to the ground beneath the weight. Liz knows that this terror is external, not of herself; it radiates from the dark chamber beyond the door, slipping out through the cracks, warding off those that do not belong here. Knowing this, though, doesn't bring any peace to her soul.

But then she thinks of Kid, isolated in utter solitude beyond that door, and the dread no longer matters. She lifts its awful weight off of her soul just as she slips the robe off of her body. The thin cotton pools around her feet. Liz steps out of the scuffs, trying to ignore the slight flush of embarrassment that creeps through her as she stands there, completely bare. It's strange, being exposed like this in a place outside her own bedroom suite, or Kid's. She bends over and scoops up the robe and scuffs. There is hardly a more private spot on Earth than here, though, she thinks.

Crossing to the opposite wall, she neatly folds her robe into a bundle, then tucks it against the wall so that it is directly across from Kid's clothing. She does the same with the scuffs, lining them up facing his loafers, before stepping back to the center of the room. Kid is more relaxed about symmetry than he used to be, but Liz knows this aesthetic arrangement still brings him comfort, so she indulges him when she can. In fact, keeping things symmetrical has become so familiar to her that even she prefers it now. It means that all is right in her world, and with the worry that tugs at her soul, she needs that reassurance now more than ever.

Besides, the door itself is a flawless example of physical balance. The chamber beyond must prefer symmetry as well. The last thing Liz wants to do is invoke its ill will, considering what she's about to attempt.

With measured steps, Liz approaches the door, fingers running nervously through her loose hair in an attempt to make it lay evenly across her breasts. She feels the dread pound into her again, but shakes it off with the image of Kid's face fixed in her mind. A few feet closer, and she feels the temperature of the room begin to drop. The black hollow eyes stare at her in warning. She ignores it, stepping right up to the towering stone structure, goosebumps crawling over her bare skin as the air grows positively chilly. Liz shivers, but forces herself to appear stoically confident. She reaches out with both hands to touch the high reliefs, curling her fingers around a pair of mirrored scythe carvings rising up out of the stone. The polished surface is bitterly cold, a shock to her senses. It feels like she's been plunged into the icy Upper Bay in the middle of December. Liz grits her teeth and holds on, however, finally staring the central skull straight in its dark sockets. It is right at eye level with her, and as she stares, she can feel a vibration emanating out from the chamber beyond. She trembles, from a mixture of cold and nerves. She is being tested.

Breathing in deeply, Liz steps closer so that her toes are inches from the door, then leans her forehead against the skull's stony brow. The shock of cold hits her again hard, and she closes her eyes tight, teeth chattering unwillingly. Within her personal darkness, she feels the chamber's vibration enter her, shake her, slither through her skin and wrap around her soul. This invasion of her very self is mind-numbingly terrifying, but Liz holds up the thought of Kid like a shining torch in the night, all the worries of her heart fluttering like moths to the flame.

The chamber seems to find this development interesting. Liz can almost hear its curiosity put into words. Quite intriguing, this young female mortal, it might say. Quite intriguing, indeed. It is impressed by her reason for coming to this forbidden place, Liz thinks. Not to seek knowledge or power, but to seek Death himself, out of concern for his well-being. But it isn't enough, she realizes. The cold stone remains firm and immoveable beneath her fingers. Despite her selfless motivation, she is not welcome. She is not Death.

So Liz digs in deeper, hanging on despite the dark chill that tries to propel her back from the door. She presents other thoughts, holds up other images and memories for the chamber's inspection despite their intensely personal, private nature.

Check my soul, she offers even though the vibration is already coiled around her, drawing in on her soul like a tightening noose. No, I'm not Death, Liz admits. But I belong to Death. And Death belongs to me. We are one, in that way. So please, Liz begs with her eyes frozen shut and her teeth barred in horrified pain. Please, let me in. I need him, and he needs me!

There is a moment, an excruciating moment, when Liz is sure that even this - everything she's got - is not enough. But then she hears a deep metallic click, echoing close to her ringing ears, and then the shuddering, grinding sound of stone sliding against stone. Liz gasps, eyes flying open and head jerking up as she feels the scythes move within her grasp. She lets go and stumbles back as the leaves of the stone doors begin to slowly, haltingly, pull away from each other, swinging back into the dark chamber beyond. She feels the dread and the pain and the vibration pull away from her soul as well. The searching presence seems satisfied as it retreats. You are not Death, it says. But you are of Death. You are accepted here.

Her blinking eyes fight to adjust to the dim, violet torchlight again. So she isn't sure if she imagines it or not, but she thinks she sees some of the carvings shift, coming to life as the doors part. Stone ravens twist their profiled heads to stare at her curiously. Stone glyphs turn in their positions around the array. The curling smoke twists around the shafts of the stone scythes, which stand to attention as if saluting her. Liz blinks again. She can't be sure, but she thinks the menacing central skull - whose two halves are now divided by the open portal - is smiling at her. Liz purses her lips, a little flattered, a little embarrassed, and more than a little uncomfortable about this apparent supernatural display. Kid's Reaper powers are the only kind of magic she will ever be comfortable with, and even his abilities had taken getting used to. She figures this chamber and its door are only extensions of Kid's powers, though, so she curls her arms around her naked chest and walks forward.

The doors had only opened just wide enough to let her squeeze in. Liz guesses they don't want to risk letting any other foreign thing inside. As she steps carefully into the cool darkness of the meditation chamber, she feels wisps of silky, intangible shadow lick at her ankles, welcoming her with playful exuberance. Her mouth quirks in a sad grin at the familiar sensation, her worry for Kid foremost in her mind again. She continues onward, the stone floor cold and damp beneath her bare feet. Fully inside, she hears the sound of grinding stone once more, and a moment later, a muted thud as the door closes solidly behind her. Liz doesn't look back, though. She only has eyes for the pale figure - curled up on a cushion, his back to her - at the end of the long narrow walkway.

Kid.

(((oOo)))

The grating rumble of the doors parting behind him rouses Death's mind from its deep reverie. He blinks slowly, sleepily, though he knows he has not been sleeping. He lifts his head, moistening his parted lips with his tongue. He listens as the rumble stops and then, after a pause, starts again, until the doors come together with a low, echoing boom.

The oddity of the doors opening without his command doesn't hit him until he hears the footsteps. Soft and ethereal, like a dainty fairy tiptoeing carefully over water-drenched stone. His lidded eyes flick up to the Death Mirror in front of him and the shimmering surface calms until it becomes still and glassy-smooth. He ignores his own detestable image, instead taking in the reflection of the chamber behind him. The panels of the closed doors. The stone walkway leading to his circular platform, the wide strips of dark water on either side of the path. The eight skull-adorned torches of Black Fire.

And there, treading slowly down the walkway towards him, is a young woman.

She is tall and slim, with long golden hair glinting lavender in the torchlight, and there's a certain lovely grace about her that immediately ensnares him. Her smooth bare skin is flawless, the delicate line of her neck captivating. The pleasing arcs of her round breasts - just above her crossed arms - enthrall him, as do the alluring curves of her full hips. As she walks, however, her tan flesh is hidden from his gaze by tendrils of creeping shadow. They slither out from the watery pools at either side of her to coil sensuously around her limbs, gliding up to her torso, circling her neck. The shadows cling to her body like dark silk, shaping themselves into a draping translucent garment that trails in her wake like a wedding train. She looks like a flower in bloom, like a black lotus whose petals have just breached the water's surface and are opening up for the very first time.

She seems undisturbed by the shadows' unusual tailoring, taking it all in stride as she steps closer and closer to where he sits. As she approaches, his golden eyes lock onto her own through the clear reflection. Her eyes are a deep sapphire blue, gazing back at him with unflinching intensity. He blinks lazily, mind still half-trapped in its meditative haze, unable to speak.

Death is struck dumb, utterly enchanted by this unexpected and unexplained visitor to his solitary chamber.

When she reaches his platform, she doesn't stop behind him as he thought she would; she steps around the stone circle, treading carefully to avoid slipping into the inky pool. She teeters only once on the narrow ledge. Her arms uncross and stretch out for balance, unfurling like the glossy wings of a blackbird. He is unable to move his head to look up at her, but he watches her intently in the reflection as she regains her footing and continues around his cushion. She comes to rest directly in front of him, kneeling down awkwardly to get to his eye level, obscuring his view of the Death Mirror. Its surface shimmers, retreating back into its normal, softly-undulating state.

His lidded eyes find hers, her lovely face so close now he could reach out and touch it. But in her eyes, he can see the worry; it matches the overwhelming anxiety he senses within her fluttering soul. These emotions still any movement that his hand might try to make.

"...Kid?" she whispers. Her voice is gorgeous to him. It tastes like honey in his parched mouth, but he can't fully appreciate it because he is distracted by her puzzling query. He doesn't understand what she's saying. Though the word is clear in his mind, it means nothing to him, so he stares dully at her and waits.

Her eyebrows furrow; she tries again. "Kid?" Still nothing. He wishes she would say something else, something he can decipher. He wants to hear more of her voice, not just that staccato sound. She seems intent upon receiving a response, though, as she repeats her plea several more times with increasing agitation.

"...Can you hear me in there?" she finally asks, and he blinks slowly. Of course he can. He is not deaf. He is Death. He is the Reaper, the Psychopomp; Judge, Warrior, Plague, God. The End, the Beginning, the In-Between. He is all of that, and more. He is the cold that makes her shiver, the darkness that gathers against her skin, the silence that rings in her ears. Of course he can hear her. He is Death.

"Kid?" she asks again. But before he can become frustrated with her, she adds, "...Do you even know who I am?"

Does he know who she is?

Of course he does. He is Death. He knows all living souls, the souls of every beast and magical creature and mortal human that walk upon the Earth. One day, when their time comes, he will hold each of their souls in the palms of his hands, cradling them gently as he sends them off to the next stage of their eternal journey. So, certainly, he knows her, this enchanting young woman. She has a beautiful soul buried inside that luscious body, full of passion and pride and cruelty and sympathy, fear and courage and vanity and deep, pure, unconditional love. Hers is a magnificent soul, and it excites him, exhilarates him. He can't understand why, but her soul draws at him, pulls at him. He can feel it, trying to drag his own massive soul to its tiny fragile self.

But her soul can't. Because he is Death, and that's all there is to him.

"Oh, Kid..." she whispers, her anxiety melting into realized pain. He can see the uncertainty drop away, see the anguish that fills up those deep blue eyes. "Oh, please, baby, you have to come back to me." She shifts so that she's not kneeling so uncomfortably anymore, tucking her legs neatly underneath her. She leans forward, taking up more of his hazy vision. "I know you're in there somewhere. It's time to come out now, okay?" Her left hand moves, reaching up to his face. "You've been in there long enough, Kid..."

As her fingers trail over his cheek, he is surprised to find that he can't feel her touch. He is mildly bemused for a moment, contemplating this, until he hears a tiny cracking sound, like the shell of a bird's egg breaking near his ear. And then he can feel it, the smooth porcelain-like material crumbling and shattering against his skin as her hand presses against it. Her fingernails gouge into it. He feels the tiny white shards as they land against his bare arms and legs, before dissolving away into insubstantial dust. He closes his eyes tightly as the material around the eyehole snaps, large chunks tumbling into his lap.

The skull mask was only partial formed, growing like ivy across his face as he buried himself deep in his meditation. It drops away now, piece by piece. And as it does, his mind starts to clear a little more and he begins to feel the warmth of her fingertips against his cold cheek. The heat is a shock to his system, and he gasps. The deep breath is painful to his lungs, unused for so long.

The shards continue to fall and disintegrate, until her whole hand... both of her hands are gliding across his face, wiping away the last powdery remnants of the mask. He feels his bangs tumble down against his forehead again. He doesn't know what to think. It's too much, this strange awakening, though he hadn't been asleep at all.

He blinks carefully, eyes half-mast. His gaze meets her fervent stare again, and there's something different this time: a spark of knowing that hadn't been there before. Slowly, laboriously, he comes to recognize her. That golden hair and tan face and blue eyes, he sees them all over again in a very different light. His lips come together, then release, struggling to form the right name, the right sounds upon his tongue. He swallows, then fights, until the syllables finally come pouring out.

"...Elizabeth?"

Her eyes brighten. She sighs, shoulders relaxing beneath their veil of shadows. Her hands fall into her lap.

"Oh, God, Kid! Don't you ever do that to me again, do you hear me?" she says in a rush, flustered but clearly relieved. He still doesn't feel quite right, though, that name she called him still totally meaningless to his ears. "Kid? Come on. We need to get you out of here now."

"...What are you... talking about...?" he whispers back. His voice is hoarse, and he winces. It hurts terribly to speak.

Sympathy touches her features. "I knew I should have brought something down with me," she mutters. "A water bottle, at least. Maybe some crackers. Dammit! I was already halfway down the stairs before I thought of it, though..." She gives him an apologetic look. He just stares at her blankly. His mind is awash in darkness, and he doesn't understand why she calls him that name. "Well, we can get you something to drink when we get back up to the kitchen, okay, Kid?" He feels his lips drop into a frown. "...Kid? What is it?"

"I am Death," he whispers. "I am Death." Forceful and emphatic, he tells her what he represents. What he personifies. What he is. "Death."

She freezes. The pain flares up again in her eyes. "...No," she says slowly. Her head swings back and forth, denying him. "No. You're Kid. Remember?"

"I am Death!" he hisses, a little louder this time. He tilts his head up, his hazy eyes narrowed and jaw set stubbornly.

"Oh, shit, okay! Okay, yes, you're Death," she concedes, palms up in a placating gesture. "I know, I know. But that's not all you are."

...It's not?

"You're also Kid," she continues, ignorant of the stunned realization that is shooting like a lightning bolt through his sedated mind. "You know... Lord Death the Kid? My Kid? Oh, God, please tell me you haven't-"

"Liz? ...What are you doing here?" he asks uncertainly, blinking. His eyes open fully for the first time since she arrived. "...How on Earth did you even get in here?"

"I... I... Why the hell didn't you respond to your name?" Liz blusters, hesitant and confused before settling on annoyed. He forces his rigid features into a pathetic, bewildered expression, hoping she'll take pity on his foggy mind. Eventually, she does, sighing and clenching her hands within her lap. Finally, she says, "I got in here by asking the door to let me in."

"...And it did?"

Liz nods, with a tiny half-smile as perplexed as he feels. "Yes. I... gave it some good reasons. ...I'm sorry I broke in on your meditation. But I had to get to you, Kid." Her eyes soften. "...I was getting really worried."

He wants to reach out, to touch her, to brush the anxiety from her face the way she brushed the mask from his. But he finds, to his gradual alarm, that he is having trouble moving his limbs. He glances down at his bare body, his thin legs crossed and flat against the cushion, his hands clenched around his knees. He feels a brief sting of shame at his nakedness, especially with Liz's own form cloaked in shadows. He looks back up, hoping to distract Liz with his gaze. His mind tugs discretely on the darkness within the pool, and it comes to him. Shadowy tendrils skim along the damp stone and over the cushion, curling up like a smoky cat in his lap.

"How long have I been down here?" he asks, and is suddenly afraid of the answer.

"...Three days."

His stomach drops. Not as bad as he'd just imagined, but still a long time, frightfully long. Plenty of time for Liz to become worried about him.

After all, he'd only planned to meditate for a few hours at most.

"I apologize," he whispers. "I didn't mean to." And she smiles at him, a real smile this time. He is glad to see it on her lovely face again, tinged as it is by anxiety. But now the questions come rolling into his mind, and he's unable to stop the deluge of thought. "...Oh, Father, the school! Liz! Did anything happen while I was away?"

"No, no, don't even think about that," Liz says reassuringly with a laugh. She reaches up, brushing a hand through his bangs. "Everything's fine. No kishin or witches running around. Just a few one- and two-star missions, no big deal. And some of the students have already handled them. They're all fine."

"...But who's in charge right now, then?" Despite her assurances, he feels a small surge of panic. Liz is second-in-command, after all, but with her down here with him...

"Patty is," Liz says simply. She rolls her eyes at his nervous expression. "Spirit's there with her, in case of emergencies. But you know she can handle it, Kid. She has before. We're not children anymore."

"I know," he says. He closes his eyes, trying to shake off the millions of concerns that beg for his attention, concerns about his school and his city and the state of their mansion and all the affairs of the world. Everything that he has missed in his short, self-imposed exile. He can't handle it all right now, though he feels like he should be able to. The few questions he's asked already have worn him out. He just wants to relax, to rest. But he can't do that either, he thinks as he grits his teeth. His limbs feel as rigid as soldered metal, locked firmly into place, and though most of the haze is gone, the mantra still seems to echo within his head.

You are Death, you are Death, you are Death.

"...You are all right, aren't you?"

He peers at Liz carefully. She continues to run her fingers through his hair. It's a soothing gesture he is intimately familiar with. She's used it on him for years, long before they got together and the motion took a more amorous turn. It's still as effective as always, though. He can feel the tension in his body start to soften as her fingers comb through his bangs, twisting between the striped locks. She tucks a longer piece of hair behind his ear, smoothing it into place.

"Can I ask why you wanted to come down here in the first place?"

"I needed to meditate," he murmurs, glancing away.

"About what?" she asks. "You haven't been down here in a long time. Not in months, anyway." Liz's voice is patient, gentle. He knows that stroking his hair is just as soothing for her.

"About... things."

"What sort of things?" Liz trails her fingers down the side of his face, drawing his attention back to her again. The worry is still there, shining in her eyes, but there's a pang of longing there, too, that he can't quite discern.

"Reaper things," he says quietly.

"...Things you can't talk about with me?"

This startles him, because the thought had already crossed his mind. It's not like some of the deathly secrets he knows, the things he truly cannot divulge to any mortal soul. It's more like... he isn't sure how to talk about it. How do you explain it? he wonders. How do you explain the feeling of being part of something other than yourself, something bigger, something that depends solely upon you to keep it alive? How do you explain the responsibility, the pressure, of having the world on your shoulders? How do you put into words the dire need to reach perfection to someone who - in his opinion - is already absolutely perfect?

"I want to," he says hesitantly. "I want to talk about it with you. If that's all right."

She nods, and smiles softly in encouragement. Her fingers migrate to the back of his neck, threading through the short hairs there, scratching at his scalp. The warmth of her nails feels wonderful against his skin. The tension in his body relaxes a little more. His hands clench and unclench around his knees, loosening the rigid muscles.

"Of course I want to hear it," Liz says. "I want to hear anything you have on your mind, Kid. Tell me everything you feel like sharing." She pauses, then adds, "You know you can share anything with me..."

There is a certain heat in her last words, an intimacy that makes a shudder run down his spine. He feels a stirring deep within himself. Liz is opening him up with her words, prying him apart, piece by piece. Just like she peeled back his mask.

He speaks without thinking.

"I need... to be Death." He finds himself watching her eyes, searching for understanding. "I mean, I am, but I... I need to be more. I need to be better. Where I'm at now... it's not good enough. It's unacceptable. Imperfect." She starts to open her mouth; he can already hear the denials, the familiar reasoning she will use to combat his anxious fears. He rushes on before she can interrupt. "I was born this way, Liz. I was born to be Death. But... Something feels wrong. I'm... missing something. Something important. I can feel it, this... emptiness inside me. And I need to figure out what it is, what I'm doing wrong, so I can fix it." He leans into her palm as she cups his cheek in her hand. "It's not the usual things, Liz. Not asymmetry. Nothing like that. I... just keep trying to live up to... everyone's expectations. But I..." He cringes under the weight of his own thoughts. "It's so hard... It's just so hard sometimes..."

Disappointed in himself, he trails off into silence. He can't figure out how else to explain it. He isn't sure if he got through to Liz at all, but to his amazement, even this rambling attempt has lifted a bit of the burden off his mind. Just trying to talk it out, to share it with someone he knows will listen and care... After a long quiet pause, Liz finally nods and strokes his cheek with her thumb.

"...I know it's hard on you. I know," she starts slowly. He hangs on her words with a hesitant hope. So many times, this woman has known just the right thing, and the right way to phrase it, to lift him up out of the depths of despair. "I see it every day," she says. "How you work yourself to the bone, putting all of your time and energy into being the best Reaper you can be. I've never seen anyone so dedicated before in my life. So I'm not sure why you feel like something's wrong, or missing." She frowns. "Because you should be proud of yourself, Kid. I'm proud of you, and of everything you've accomplished so far. And I know your father would be... is, too."

He stares at her, his lips parted in surprise. "He can't be, though," he murmurs insistently. "Father can't be proud. None of them can be." She gives him an odd look. "My... My ancestors. The other Reapers. The ones that were Death before me." He glances over Liz's shoulder at the mirror. It is just as opaque as ever, the presence of his predecessors vague and remote. "They were... so much better at being Death than I am. I know it. They were truly godlike, Liz. True Lords of Death. Strong, powerful, mysterious... Everything that I'm not." He grips his knees tightly. "I am Death. But I don't feel like I am. And I need to feel... whole."

He bows his head, not wanting her to witness the shame and sorrow written clearly across his face. But the next moment, Liz's finger is firmly under his chin, raising his head so that he has nowhere else to look but deep into her eyes.

"Maybe you're looking in the wrong place, then," she says in a hush. "Maybe it's not a piece of Death you're missing."

He is quiet, breathless, trying to understand. "I told you before," Liz continues. She smiles a pained smile. "You're not just Death. There's more to you than that. Much more. You're also Kid. You didn't lose that part of yourself when you became Lord Death. But sometimes..." She glances away, as if uncertain she should continue. "Sometimes I feel like you wish you had. That you wish you could just beDeath, and forget about everything that came before. Forget all your memories, your friends... Patty... Me. And I just..."

To his horror, tears begin to gather in her eyes. The droplets of moisture linger on her lower lashes, so long and golden. "I can't bear the thought of it. I just can't." She licks her lips. "I was so worried, when you didn't come back that first night. I laid awake all night waiting for you, just knowing that any second you'd come through that door. But you didn't. I wanted to check on you right then, but Patty told me not to worry, that you were fine, that I should let you be. That you'd come back to us when you were ready. But she was wrong." She looks at him, eyes so wide and blue. "And then when I called your name and you didn't respond, I... thought I was too late. I thought I... I thought I'd lost you." Her voice cracks, shatters, every word a heartbroken sob. "And I can't lose you, Kid!"

"Oh no," he whispers, wide-eyed and stunned. "No, no, no, Liz, don't cry!" He pries his hands from his knees and reaches out to her, cupping her face in his palms. The shadows curling around him reach out as well, mingling with the shadows draped over her body. "You're not losing me, I swear!"

"I feel it, too," she says thickly. "That emptiness. That feeling of missing something. Do you know when?" Her fingers close around his wrists, clinging desperately. He holds his breath, realization dawning as the words leave her lips. "I feel empty when I'm not with you."

"Oh. ...Oh, Liz..."

"I can't let Death consume you like this." A tear slides down her solemn face. "I love that part of you - the Death part - because it is a part of you. But I can't let it become all of you. Because then I'd lose Kid. I'd lose the man I fell in love with. And I can't let that happen... I would be lost, too."

He pulls her closer, leaning down until their foreheads press together. "Liz, Liz, Liz," he murmurs.

"You are a part of me, Death the Kid," she whispers. Her lips brush against his own, with all the softness of a flower petal. "You belong to me."

"And you belong to me," he whispers back. "You... You are a part of me, too..."

Epiphany grips him as he presses forward, sealing his mouth tightly against hers, kissing her deeply.

So this is what he'd been missing, he thinks. Not some unknown aspect of Death, but the woman he loves, the partner of his soul. And the harder he'd sought an answer in Death, the further away she'd felt, so that the emptiness inside only grew worse. He is sickened by the thought that, so lost was he in Death, he couldn't even recognize her face. He slides his hands beneath the curtain of Liz's hair, cupping the back of her head, tilting the kiss at a different angle. Never again, he tells himself. Never again will he make this mistake, never again lose sight of this part of himself. This beautiful part. This part he chose for himself, and that chose him in return. This wonderful soul, who loves him with all of herself and who he loves with every fiber of his being.

He pulls back, just enough to give her room to breathe, and tells her, "I love you, Liz. I love you."

"I love you," she says, shivering. Her face is damp now with belated tears. But as his hands slide down to her shoulders, his gaze is caught by her own, and he's struck dumb once more.

There is a fire burning in her eyes, bright and fierce, and it stirs up a flame deep within his core. He remembers how he was drawn to her, body and soul, even when her precious name was lost to his hazy mind. How glorious she'd looked, how regal, as she walked that stone pathway towards him, eyes ablaze. The image of her warm skin, bare and on display just for him, makes his already taut body tense and stiff. Memories of other moments flood his mind. Of nights spent wrapped up in each others' arms, of mornings waking up with her by his side. And the memory of that first time - clumsy, but cherished - when they made their vow to each other, and bound their souls together as one.

"I love you," Liz says, as he gazes at her in silent wonder. "Oh, please, Kid. Please."

"...Please?" he asks. She reaches out and strokes his cheek once more. A shudder runs down his spine, leaving him hot and burning.

"Please," she nearly begs. "I need you. Please, make me whole."

(((oOo)))

"Make me whole," Liz whispers.

She can hardly bear the strain anymore. Too much worry, too much fear, has clouded her mind for too long now. She had almost lost Kid - really lost him, to the divine darkness inside him - and the realization still aches in her chest, like a bullet in the heart. But there's another ache, too, a burning one that tears at her from beneath her skin, pleading for release. She yearns to be closer to him, to feel him, all of him, pressed against her flesh. His hands on her face, his kisses on her lips, aren't enough. She needs more. She needs to feel their bond again, as solid and strong as the day they consummated it.

She needs to be one with him again.

"...Will you?" Liz mouths the question, its hesitant sound lost in the chamber's heavy pressure.

Intense golden eyes stare back at her. They burn like miniature suns. Two-toned rings dilate, and she feels her breath hitch as Kid's lips silently form one word. "Always."

She lunges for him, mouth crashing wildly into his, trying to taste the sweetness of this promise. His lips are cold; not as icy as during the first kiss, but still too cool for any ordinary mortal. His skin, too, is frigid beneath her fingers as she latches onto his shoulder with one hand, cups the back of his head with the other. He is as cold as Death, this pale Reaper of hers, but Liz is used to it, familiar with it. She's grown to love it, really, the startling chill of his flesh. It's exciting, exotic. But she is eager to warm him up, to bring out the heat she saw in his flaring eyes. She pulls back, tilts her head the other way, presses back into his mouth, and thinks she can taste a hint of tepidness on his tongue.

Liz squirms as Kid's hands find her upper back, pressing against the ridges of her shoulder blades. The shadows that cling to her there are thin, barely dulling his cold touch. She can feel them twine their dark tendrils around Kid's wrists and fingers. Tiny holes open up, like tears in black silk, and she catches the full chill of his palms against her skin. She twitches and grunts against his mouth at the sensation. He makes a sound low in his throat in return. Their lips continue to move against each other, pulling and tugging with the steady rhythm of a tide. After a moment, Liz squirms again. She had sat up from her kneeling position to reach him better, but now her knees throb from digging into stone, the tops of her feet aching from pressing into the platform.

Liz pulls away, trying to regather her breath. Typically, Kid tries to capture her lips again too soon, and she jerks her head to the side, his kiss just catching the corner of her panting mouth. Ridiculous Reaper lungs, Liz silently complains, amused. "Hold me," she commands, before he can get disgruntled over the rejected advance. He hums in acquiescence, and she slings her arms around his neck so that he has room to maneuver.

His hands glide down her spine, the shadows coming undone and parting before his fingers, and he gathers her up in his arms, helping to lift her up off the stone. She holds on tight, burying her face in his striped hair. Between the two of them, they manage to ease her up onto the edge of the cushion, with her knees pressed up against his folded legs. When she feels him start to shift, pulling his limbs out of their meditative position, she quickly drums her fingers against his shoulder blade.

"Stay," she murmurs in his ear, and gives him a peck on the cheek. "Stay." His folded legs grow still. Liz catches a sideways glimpse of his golden eyes, tinged with confusion but full of trust. She smiles warmly at him and gives him another, longer kiss on the cheek.

She straightens up then, sitting back on her heels, and runs her hands over his shoulders admiringly. She traces the arteries in his neck with the tips of her fingers, skims across the prominent collarbones, keeping the contact light and symmetrical. Kid shivers, his lips parting and eyes open wide, as her touches descend. She glides her hands down his chest, then up again, feels the muscles tighten beneath cool flesh. She tilts her head down and watches her fingers graze his narrow stomach, then flicks only her eyes upward, catching him with a coy glance. He flinches visibly, with a breathy gasp that is music to her ears.

Liz runs her hands up and down his sides, letting her partner witness her appreciative smile. She knows there are still times when Kid despises his body, despite the now-complete Sanzu Lines. She's watched him before, as he sizes himself up in his boudoir mirror and frowns in disappointment, finding his thin human frame vastly inadequate. So she puts on a bit of a show, to let him know that - under no uncertain terms - she finds his slim, ivory features quite tantalizing. Because she does. Kid is devastatingly handsome to her, and she still marvels at her luck of finding someone so beautiful both inside and out.

"Liz...?" he murmurs softly as her fingers glide across his chest. Her smile widens and she dips her head in approval. His hands rise from their resting spot on his shadow-covered lap and trail slowly up her tense stomach. At his touch, the draping darkness retreats swiftly. She breathes in a clipped breath as the shadows abandon her chest entirely, leaving her exposed from the waist up. But the next moment, cool palms slide against the sides of her breasts and she forgets how to breathe. Kid's hands cup her gently, tenderly, with loving familiarity. She watches his expression grow solemn, focused and intense, as he fondles her with the strictest care. Liz relaxes under the attention. It feels so nice, so serene... But then his cold thumbs graze over her sensitive nipples and Liz has to clench her teeth to hold back a moan. It slips out anyway. Her head tilts back, giving her a glimpse of the dark stone ceiling, as she presses her full breasts deeper into his hands. Kid obliges, clearly gratified, rubbing his thumbs in small, slow circles until the tips are hard and peaked. She finds herself panting. Another moan leaks out as he squeezes her gently, and Liz feels the telling dampness gather between her legs. She can't go on for very long like this, she thinks.

So she raises herself up and leans in for another kiss. His hands are caught tightly between their chests for a moment, before he reluctantly retreats from her breasts, his arms wrapping around her back. Liz rests her forearms on Kid's shoulders as they kiss, digging her fingers into the silky mass of his hair. She shifts and leans into him harder, looming over him by several inches, forcing him to tilt his head back to keep their mouths connected. He groans deep in his throat, and she matches it, preparing to make her move.

She can tell that, at first, Kid has no idea what's happening. But that's fine with her, Liz thinks as she slides her knee around his folded legs, the inside of her right thigh pressing against the outside of his left. He makes a small noise of acknowledgment, but is too wrapped up in their kisses to stop. So after a moment of slight awkwardness, she presses her forearms down, using her leverage against his shoulders to lift and slide her left knee over his crossed legs, until it rests in the small open space within his lap. The shadows retreat from her, leaving her fully bare once more. The feel of her weight settling on him, as she fully straddles his left thigh, finally makes Kid pull back in question. His right hand falls away from her, pressing back into the cushion to keep them propped up.

"Shhh," Liz quiets him, before he can ask. His chin rests against her breastbone as he gazes up at her in silent curiosity. She smiles. The coolness of his leg between hers makes her squirm a bit, and she can see in Kid's golden eyes the moment he feels her arousal. "Shhh," she murmurs, trailing one hand down from his hair to his chest to his navel and below. She kisses the center of his forehead through his bangs, waving away the last of the shadows that conceal his lap. She feels Kid tremble as they scatter, but doesn't give him time to worry about it. She touches him lightly and feels, to her satisfaction, that he is as ready for her as she is for him. He groans loudly, burying his reddening face between her breasts, as she strokes him with the most tender affection. "It's okay, baby," she croons into his hair, "it's all right. I've got you. I'm here."

"Oh, Liz," he moans softly, the hand on her back digging into her flesh. His thigh bucks against her involuntarily, and she rubs her nose into his striped locks to reassure him. She keeps the pace of her strokes slow and even. She wants to warm him up. "Don't..." he mumbles haltingly, "Don't... stop. ...Don't... ever leave me."

"I won't," she promises breathlessly. "I'll never leave. You're stuck with me, baby."

"Good." His head lolls to the side, cheek plastered against her skin. "That's... that's what I want."

Liz smiles. She feels tears come to her eyes again, this time in inexpressible joy. "That's all I want, too. Just you." She kisses his head. "I want you, Kid... right now."

"Then have me," he murmurs. He kisses the side of her breast with a feather-like touch. "I'm all yours."

Tremulous excitement flares inside of her. Liz pulls her stroking hand away, causing him to flinch from the loss. But then she anchors herself on his shoulders and rubs her thighs against him in a silent order. He responds, running his hand down her back until he's cupping her underneath, gathering her up with ease. What she has in mind for them, though, is new to her partner, so she shifts her weight to guide him. He helps to hold her up until she can swing her left thigh to the outside of his right.

He gets it, then, what she's going for. She feels his breath exhale sharply against her chest, and Liz can't help but grin. Squirming in the tight hook of his arm, she finally settles down right where she wants to be, straddling his hips, his hard desire for her trapped between their locked bodies. "Mmmm," she purrs. The coolness of his bare chest against her peaked breasts draws the low moan right out of her. Her arms relax their hold on his neck, her shins pressing against the firm texture of the cushion as she tilts back to gaze at her partner, finally just above his eye level.

The feverish light in Kid's golden eyes sends a wave of fire coursing through her veins. His pale cheeks are stained with a grayish-pink blush that extends all the way to his ears and faintly down the white column of his neck. The look on his face causes her to smile demurely, knowingly. His damp lips are parted. He can't seem to decide if he should be embarrassed or ecstatic; the corners of his mouth twitch, trying to curve up, but unable to stay that way. Liz raises her hands from his neck, threading her fingers through her own long hair, fixing the tangled mess. The tepid hand at her lower back clutches her tightly as she rearranges the locks that falls down each side of her face, making each part as equal as she can. The smile on his lips finally sticks, and she knows she's got it right, or at least close enough.

"How's this?" Liz whispers playfully, and tightens the muscles in her thighs, squeezing against his hips. An approving moan comes out of his mouth as she feels him twitch against her stomach. His right arm, still stretched back to prop them up, trembles. She glides her hands up into his hair, smoothing the banded silk temporarily into place. It still feels odd, sometimes, to see the Lines of Sanzu wrapped all the way around his head. Occasionally, when lost in a crowd, Liz still finds herself searching for those distinctive half-bands of white, but it's been almost three years now and the full Lines look more right every day.

"...I like it," Kid whispers, seeming to finally find his voice.

She squeezes his hips again, savoring the intimacy of this position. "Mmmm, me too..."

But then his eyes abruptly drop into that half-lidded state, and she feels herself perk up in interest. "It's very nice," Kid murmurs thoughtfully, rubbing his cheek into her suspended hand. "Very... balanced." She smirks. "But I think..." he continues, still ponderous, as her grin fades, "we can probably... find ways to improve it."

And Liz is suddenly gasping as his hips buck upwards between her legs, running his length against her smooth stomach. The hazy, highly-pleased expression on his face is incredibly sexy and she can't help but laugh in delight. She leans down and kisses him hard, sliding her tongue into his mouth. It's a purposeful innuendo - of just how they might make this better - and his tongue slides past her own, flicking against her teeth in confirmation. His lips are warm now, humanly so, and Liz digs into the kiss with the prideful knowledge that only she can wreck such havoc to the Reaper's temperature.

The rhythm of their demanding kisses encourages her to rock her hips in time with the motion, and she feels Kid's body follow along, until the cushion rises and sinks beneath her shins. She clutches at his face desperately, licking with solid strokes, curling her tongue slowly around his. Each time she pulls back, she has to turn her head to the side, and Kid occupies himself with pressing soft kisses against the line of her jaw while he waits for her to catch her breath. And then the process begins again. Open mouths crushed flat against each other, tongues searching with experimental flicks for the most sensitive surfaces. Eventually, Liz finds herself audibly gasping. Even the pauses for breath aren't enough to refill her aching lungs. Her mouth is wet, nearly dripping, and so is the place between her legs, and she feels him throbbing against her, beads of sweat starting to rise from their rocking friction. So when Kid leans forward for the next kiss, she tilts her head down and captures his lower lip between her teeth instead. She bites down gently, knowing just how much pressure to use to make this steamy. Worrying the soft skin with practiced skill, she feels his whole body freeze, and with sensual slowness, she scrapes the tips of her teeth down, pulling and stretching his lip with her, until she finally lets go and it snaps back into place.

"...Oh, Father," Kid swears blearily. His golden eyes are distant. "I can't... I can't even..."

"Ready?" Liz whispers, clutching his shoulders.

Languidly, his golden gaze focuses on her.

"...If I'm not with you right now," Kid murmurs, "I think I will die."

The cool, still air in the meditation chamber seems to come alive with energy at his words. She can almost feel the waves of it, sparking, pulsing against her skin. Slowly, Liz lifts her weight off of his lap. Sensitive nerves rub up against him, and she flinches at the jolt that courses down her spine. With a grunt, he pulls his stabilizing arm away from the cushion, using both hands to cup her firmly underneath. They falter for a second before finding their balance again, his forehead pressing hard against her breastbone. And she grows still, her mouth hanging open, clinging to his shoulders with a desperate grip. All she can do is stare wide-eyed toward the door at the far end of the chamber, and feel his warm hands working, drawing her closer, shifting her into place. A single finger, then its twin, slides between her legs, stroking through the wetness, and a garbled nnnggggg sound reverberates inside her chest.

But then, before her blank mind has time to revive itself, she feels herself being lowered. Kid's hands glide over her curves, one staying to support her lower back, the other rising to her shoulder blades, so that she is tilted back as she is brought down. Her hair falls off her shoulders, ticking her back. Her calves graze against fabric as they slide out from underneath her, her legs curling up so that her knees point towards the ceiling. Her heels dig into the cushion hard as finally, finally, she feels him start to enter her.

His soul connects to hers at the same time.

Since the first kiss, his massive soul had never been far away. Every physical touch, every lick, every burning glance had been echoed by their inner essences, their souls reaching out, caressing, tangling with each other. Resonating, on a level unknown to mere Meisters and Weapons. But this... this is something different. As Liz slides down, his body filling her inch by inch, the corporeal sensation is overwhelmed by the intensity of his soul permeating, melding into her own. It would be enough to drive anyone to madness, this merging of two selves, but to Liz... it feels perfect. It feels right, to be one with Kid, with Death... like finally, after a long difficult journey, coming home.

The strength of their vow, their bond, hits her hard as she is settled down once more, joined to him as one body and soul.

Trembling uncontrollably, she digs her fingers into his flesh, squeezes her thighs against his sides. Kid pulls her closer so that their chests are parallel, brushing against each other, and she feels him shift inside of her. They both groan at the sensation, touching their lips together softly before he rests his nose at the juncture of her neck. Liz slides an arm around his shoulders, the other slipping down and around behind him. She presses her fingers to the dip in his lower back and he is forced against her. His hardness thrusts up to send a wave of utter pleasure coursing through her system. He grunts into her neck and she gasps, releasing the pressure of her fingers before gently prodding him again.

A few measured thrusts later, she is sure they've found their rhythm. It's slow, almost leisurely, but Liz finds herself enjoying the pace more than she could have imagined. She can feel everything this way, every inch of his skin around her and inside her, and can fully savor the tightness of their embrace. As they rock, back and forth, her heels lose traction and she twines her legs around his waist, her knees splayed out and her ankles crossed. He is driven even deeper by this, and she presses her cheek against his hair, stunned.

How could she have ever existed without this? Without this wonderful being, both dark god and delicate man, in her life... in her body... in her soul? Liz shuts her eyes tight, gritting her teeth, trying not to cry from the emotion that grips her heart as they rock slowly and steadily, heat blooming like a fire between them. Kid's lips press a gentle kiss against her collarbone, and it's almost too much. She tilts her head and takes his ear in her teeth, nibbling lightly on the cartilage until she can feel his thighs bucking against her. Strands of his silky hair brush against her nose. He lifts his head, pulling his ear out of her range, but then suddenly gasps. His hands grip the muscles in her back with solid strength. She feels his chin against her shoulder and wonders why his soul seems so startled, his body so tense.

"What's wrong?" she breathes quietly, hardly daring to speak.

"...Nothing," he whispers back after a moment. She feels his lips cautiously plant another kiss to her skin. "Just..." He resumes their paused motion, but slower, even more so than before. "It's just... I can see us... in the mirror."

A thrill of exhilaration runs up her spine. She had almost forgotten about the Death Mirror... Liz imagines their exhibitionistic display from the outside. She can almost see it herself, the sight of them twisted together so intimately, a faint afterimage gleamed from the depths of his soul. "...Not a bad view, is it?" she murmurs, licking at his earlobe.

He squirms restlessly. "Not at all," he says. "...The best, really."

She grins. She can't help but tease him a bit. So coyly she asks, "...Better than symmetry, even?" And Kid huffs, as if offended, gripping her almost possessively in his arms.

"Nothing is better than being with you."

His low tone is almost gruff, and his words taste of such potent honesty that Liz can tell, even the smallest joke is no game to him right now. He wants her to know just how serious he is, how there is no casual element to the nature of his feelings for her. She squeezes him tightly and kisses his hair in apology. As much as he brings out the flirt in her, she is just as vehement about their bond as he.

Kid's body arches up into her then, almost involuntarily, and a groan escapes her at the delicious sensation. He begins to rocks them back and forth in sudden earnest. Something inside of her sizzles when Liz realizes that Kid's golden eyes are watching their joined bodies right now through the reflection in the mirror. Moaning in excitement, she runs the arm around his shoulders down his back, then digs her nails into his flesh, dragging upward with fierce abandon. Thin red lines appear on his ivory skin and he cries out, his hips jolting her whole body as he jerks. She claws at him again, then buries her mouth against his neck as she grasps a chunk of his hair and pulls. His skin is warm against her tongue, damp with beaded perspiration. She bites down sharply, then presses her mouth tightly to his flesh and sucks. Kid moans, every inch of his body shaking, and feedback through their bound souls lets her know that he feels each pain keenly. She sucks hard once more, then releases his bruised neck, gasping for breath. She scrapes her nails across his shoulder blades, catching sight of the first scratches disappearing into the pristine whiteness of his back.

Liz can be so much rougher with him than he can be with her. Even now, she knows the love bite she just left is healing, will be gone before they're even through. His Reaper body repairs itself so fast, there is nothing she can do that will leave a lasting, possessive mark, but she is fine with that. He can still feel her fervor in the mark-making. He can still enjoy the carnal pain, because his body is made of more durable stuff than any human, and the hurt will fade as fast as the scars. But it wouldn't be the same for herself. Kid holds her tightly but tenderly even now, as if clutching something made of porcelain. He is hesitant to be rough, and she knows it's because he's afraid he'll go too far. He'll forget himself, actually injure her with his Reaper strength. Liz wishes he would let go at least a little, but she doesn't push him. She just needles the side of his neck with her teeth, letting him rock her in his solid embrace.

There comes a point, though, when she feels their bodies quivering and knows that neither of them will be able to stay this way much longer. Between the fervent kisses, the slow advance, the novel position, and all the emotional highs in between, the pressure has built to an intolerable level and Liz nudges his ear with her nose to let him know. He can't seem to slow their pace now, but he relaxes the circle of his arms so that she can lean back, rest her palms on his shoulders, see his face once more.

When their eyes meet, she almost falls apart right then and there. A smile crosses her panting mouth at his expression. All she can see is love, in the light of his lidded gaze and the curve of the soft grin on his face. Love, and joy, and pleasure, and belonging. Everything she has ever wished for Kid: for the scrawny, neurotic boy he had been; for the smart, handsome man he had become; and for the powerful God of Balance, Order, and Death that he would always be. She feels her soul sing with overflowing emotion, his own answer in its turn.

"I love you," she tells him, and it comes out shakily, though she can't put all the blame on their rocking bodies.

"Love you, too," he slurs. He ducks his head down, kissing the tops of her breasts, unwilling to leave any part of her untouched for long. She nuzzles the Sanzu Lines in his hair as he does, her thighs quivering violently as he mouths lightly at her nipples. She pulls him back up - there's no time left for more of that - holding his head in her hands, feeling the sweat dripping down the back of his neck. "Elizabeth," he whispers, and she trembles at her longer name. She knows his fondness for its elegance.

"Death the Kid," she whispers in return. It's a mouthful, but it encompasses all of him and that's what she wants him to hear. She touches her lips to his, not even able to properly kiss anymore, and a strangled, moaning cry escapes her, piercing through the silence. She feels herself on the brink, prays that he's standing there with her, and leans her forehead against his own.

For a moment, she's outside the chamber again, standing at Death's door and asking to be let in. The stone skull is cold and calculating, its sockets dark, hollow, horrifyingly void.

But then Liz returns to herself. To Kid's soft, warm forehead against her own, and to two soulful, welcoming eyes filling up her vision with dichromatic gold.

They hit their peak together, crying out each other's name.

(((oOo)))

Kid runs his fingers through his partner's long hair, breathing slowly and methodically. A sense of tranquility has settled over him, a peacefulness he's never gotten from meditation. Every few strokes, his fingers gets caught in a silky tangle, and he pauses to pick apart the golden strands with dexterous skill. She's curled up in his lap now, her slender legs stretched out and hanging over his right thigh, toes tapping lightly against the air. His left arm curls around her, supporting her slouched back, and she rests the side of her face against his chest, her ear pressed over his heart. He knows Liz can hear it pounding away inside him, its erratic beat gradually slowing down to its normal pace. He exhales quietly, the wild hairs at the top of her head fluttering with his breath.

He's not quite sure how they got here - how they managed to pry their clinging bodies apart, having felt that unmatchable unity once more. After feeling himself unravel within the depths of her deep blue eyes, everything else is hazy, a jumble of shuddering limbs and moist skin and contented moans. But this is pretty comfortable, too, Kid thinks as he tucks a bit of hair behind her ear. This... post-coital cuddling. Her weight is not even close to being evenly distributed along his cross-legged lap, but it doesn't really bother him. In fact, the imbalance doesn't seem to matter at all. He smiles softly to himself. Yes... this is nice...

Liz lazily shifts her head, rubbing her nose along the firm surface of his chest. A languid hand reaches up and trails down his skin with a feather-light touch, wiping away a bead of sweat. He feels the memory of manicured fingernails scraping against his flesh, and it makes him shiver, heat pooling in his stomach. He presses a kiss against her temple.

Shadows meander around them, circling their entangled forms like low-hanging black clouds. Tiny weightless tendrils reach out, twining around their limbs and settling against their skin. The curling darkness doesn't seem to notice that they are two instead of one. Strands of shadow knit together into a very ragged, translucent shroud, which tucks itself into any tiny crevice it can find. Liz chuckles softly, too tired to do much but squirm in his arms, as an adventurous tendril slides against the tip of her breast. Kid scowls with weary petulance, waving the rouge shadow away with his hand.

Liz sighs and crosses her dangling legs at the knee. As she falls into a quiet daze in his lap, Kid finds his eyes slowing being drawn to the Death Mirror. He gazes up at it solemnly, all twelve feet of towering, softly shimmering glass. Though distorted and cloudy, he can still see themselves reflected in the lavender-tinged surface. And they're a sight to behold, he thinks. Kid quickly tries to store away, in the back of his mind, another sight he'd recently seen in the mirror; it's too soon to think about it yet, and he needs to process the rousing memory in private. For right now, he enjoys the current reflection. The contrast of her tan skin against his ivory; the way her head is tucked just underneath his chin; how strange it is to look taller than her for once, even when it's only an illusion. His hair is in utter disarray, he notes, short black-and-white locks sticking up and disturbing the evenness of his Sanzu Lines. To be honest, this muss does bother him a little, but he forces himself to leave it alone. He can be sure that Liz will fix it for him before too long.

Stroking her golden hair, Kid stares up at the massive mirror and wonders if it has ever reflected a more discordant, shocking, indecorous sight. A smug, somewhat rebellious grin flickers onto his face. He can't imagine anything that could top this episode, particularly since this is the first time - to his knowledge - that the chamber has ever allowed someone inside besides Death himself. He likes what this seems to mean, but he tightens his arm around his precious partner all the same. He's thankful that nothing terrible happened to her as a result of her trying to force her way inside.

Kid can't help but wonder what his Reaper ancestors would think about his relationship with Liz. What would they - dark gods of Death that they were - make of it? His stubborn devotion to this human mortal, this tough young woman, this fiery Pistol. His devotion so deep and true that he had bound his soul to hers, willing shared his godly lifespan to stretch out her numbered days, to keep her close for centuries to come. It's a devotion stretched even to her younger sister, who he'd bound platonically to himself as well, unwilling to lose that third bright soul that made them a family. Kid's smile falters. He gazes into the veiled depths, curious to see if he can find an answer.

The only thing he finds is that his legs - folded for days in meditation, then submitted to rigorous abuse, now used as a lounge chair - are tingling painfully, having fallen asleep.

When his previous incarnations remain dumb and mute to him, Kid turns to the one person he knows will listen, care, and answer. "Liz?" he mumbles against her hair. She responds with a soft noise. "...Do you think they hate me? ...The other Reapers?"

She stirs in his lap. "...No," she says hazily, after a thoughtful silence. "You're one of them, after all. You're... their legacy. Why would they hate you?"

"Because... of us," Kid says hesitantly. He wonders at the distant judgment he'd felt as he'd meditated alone in this torch-lit room. The silent accusations of failure, inferiority, imperfection. That constant mantra - you are Death, you are Death, you are Death - pounding into his head. Surely it hadn't been a product of his pessimistic imagination. Wasn't it the dark pressure of the deathly Tribunal, disgusted by the personal choices he'd made? "...Do you think they're angry, because I bound myself to you... and Patty?"

"If they are," Liz says, yawning and rolling her shoulders, "then tough shit. You're your own Death, you do what's right for you." Kid snorts in amusement at her coarse dismissive, pressing his smirk into her hair to hide it. Oh, how he loves this girl. "Besides," Liz adds, flexing her extended toes, "your dad liked me and Patty a lot. And he knew you and I were together. I mean, yeah, he... passed away before our soul-binding, but I can't imagine he'd be mad about it. He totally approved of us, and you know it."

Kid does know it. His Father had been ecstatic when he and Liz had revealed their affections, and intentions, for one another. Kid holds her a little closer, nodding in agreement. Liz is right. Surely his Father is on his side even now, and the former Lord Death had always been the only authority he'd really needed approval from.

"Mmmm," Liz suddenly murmurs, twisting in his arms. He leans back to give her room as she sits up straighter, leaning against his shoulder. Her legs still dangle across his right thigh, warm against his cooling skin. "Count on you," she says blearily, "to mix business with pleasure." She tries to poke him in the chest with her finger - at least, he assumes that's what she's attempting - but it turns into more of a long, velvety stroke, which makes him shiver.

"I thought we had already dispensed with the pleasure," he reminds her, amused. She wrinkles her nose at him grumpily, her blue eyes looking rather dazed, and it suddenly strikes him that he had really, truly worn her out. In that wonderfully balanced position she'd shown him, he had been able to give her pleasure to the point of limp exhaustion. Kid tries to keep the giddy triumph that blazes in his chest from showing on his face.

"You know you're carrying me back, right?" Liz gazes at him with half-open eyes, fluttering those long golden eyelashes. Her fingers reach up and thread through his bangs, sliding the first tousled strands into place. "Up all those winding stairs..." she trails off, then adds forcefully, "And not on your back. Like this." She sweeps her hand down, gesturing at her lounging form. He smiles. It will be easy to carry her up like this, already close to bridal-style. Provided his numb legs don't start to cramp, of course.

"All right," he agrees. She leans up and plants a delicate kiss on his chin, a pleased gleam in her eye. He catches the scent of gunpowder on her skin, wonders why he hasn't noticed it before.

"I see you've accepted your place, then," Liz says with mock loftiness, slinging her right arm around his shoulders.

"Mmhmm." Her earlier words echo in his ears - maybe it's not a piece of Death you're missing - and he finds his soul filled with gratitude for having that missing piece find him. "I have accepted my place..." Kid whispers. He tilts his head down to give Liz one more kiss.

"...Right here with you."