Also known as The Neverending Dialogue Chapter. Notes at the bottom.


Wes gave her a big hug like they've met more than once and have known each other for years. He smelled like mustard.

"Hey! How's it goin'? Glad I could convince Soul to bring ya!"

He was too tall, or rather, she was too short, and her cheek was pressed uncomfortably into his shirt. "M'good," she tried to say. She heard Soul's boots whistling across the carpet as he struggled with all the dogs.

"By convince you mean blackmail, right?" he corrected.

"Tomato, potato."

Once she was free of Wes' crushing, giant grip, she asked, curious, "Blackmail?"

The elder brother smiled congenially. "Revenge, really. Don't suppose you saw me rope, Maka?"

Soul made an annoyed grunt and interrupted before Maka could worry about whether or not to laugh outright at Wes's roping skills. "I was busy, I said. And don't believe that accounts for you draggin' her into this anyhow."

She was beginning to understand that she was not entirely present for this conversation as they ignored her questioning stare.

"Plans within plans, little brother."
"So you don't know how to mind your own business, is what."

Wes waved a hand flippantly. "Not everythin's 'bout you. I want her to meet Gran."

Soul's eyes went pensive very abruptly, while his brother gestured with an open palm and said, "Makes sense, don't it?"

"...Still don't like your roundabout way gettin' somewhere."
"Yeah, yeah."
"At least ask her directly next time."
"Okay, yes, fine, I'll even do it now. Maka, would you like to meet our Gran-gran?"

Wet dog noses sniffed every square centimeter of her ankles and knees. With a sour twist of her mouth at finally being acknowledged by not one, but two cryptic Evans brothers, she replied, "Don't see I've got much of a choice, now do I?"

Wes was all smiles and apologies, assuring her that it wasn't as bad as all that. "You'll love her, I promise. She's old-school! You'll get along like boots n'spurs," he said, leading her further into the living room.

"Both're painful bein' kicked by," Soul remarked behind her just as Tanya and Bill Evans returned from the back yard, each carrying a large pitcher of sun-brewed tea.


Every one of them made a fuss over where she should sit, and Wes looked pleased once she was settled in a worn loveseat. Maka was not entirely sure why, until she realized the pristine recliner on the other side of the coffee table was untouched and evidently reserved for someone other than Soul.

He was going to sit next to her, and the notion settled over Maka's shoulders like a nauseous weight.

She noted the ranch hand would only keep his attention on the one greyhound still prancing around him, confirming her suspicions by avoiding her accusatory gaze and passing up the empty chair to head towards the loveseat. Bill said from a longer couch, seated next to his wife, "You got a hitch in yer getalong, son."

Soul paused a moment before continuing to casually seat himself next to Maka. "I'm alright." She watched him roll up his sleeves. She hadn't noticed him favoring his leg at all, and she found herself giving him a worried once-over. Her attention must've irritated him, because he finally made mild eye contact with her. "M'fine, I said," he muttered quietly, before growling, "Damn it, dog, just sit," to the greyhound.

Wes draped an ankle across a knee, seated in a folding chair instead of the more obviously comfortable recliner to his right. "Lookit you, dog whisperer," he said, amused, as the greyhound pretended to be a lapdog for his younger brother. "What'd you do this time? Harley dusted you again?" He gave Maka a conspiratorial wink across the living room.

"Again? You got thrown from that horse and I wasn't around to see?" she baited, but tried to convey with her uneasy smile that she was still worried about the injury on his thigh. Soul gave her the smallest tilt of an eyebrow before deftly avoiding a sudden collision with Eisenhower's streamlined head.

"Weren't nothin' like that," he said. "Few days ago a mule got after my foot."

It only took one incriminating glance out of the corner of his eye for her to flush.

"You seem to pick the rowdiest equines to work with, Ethan."

Soul wanly replied to his mother, "S'not that I'm lookin' for them. They seem to find me just fine, though."

A look at Wes and his little smile told Maka that the elder Evans brother fully recalled a lack of mules on Angel's End. Eager to direct her blushing face away from anyone who might be staring, she turned to the greyhound sitting as daintily as a boulder in Soul's lap. She scratched under the dog's chin. "Is the silly ranch hand being a grumpy butt? Yuess."

Silly Ranch Hand scoffed and glowered first at her, then at a snorting Tanya before asking, "When's Gran s'posed to get here?"

"Should be here on the hour," Bill replied.

Wes glanced at a walnut colored grandfather clock steadily keeping time near the back door. "Ma, that's five minutes ago, go put on some clothes already!"

Tanya Evans only slid off the couch to sit on the floor, scratching various dog ears. "I am wearing clothes," she smiled.

Maka watched the familial interaction with wary interest. Wes rolled his eyes at his mother's falsely-benign naivety. "I know it, but you know how Gran gets."

"Oh, boy," Bill said, and leaned comfortably back into plush couch cushions. He appeared to be a veteran of whatever type of storm was approaching.

"I know full well just how your father's mother is," Tanya said, giving a sidelong look to her son.

Soul shifted uncomfortably next to Maka, his dark denim grazing the side of her leg. Maka gave him a worried glance, but he gave her a bored shake of the head in response. "Don't worry 'bout it," he mouthed.

"I'm just givin' a friendly-like reminder, Ma. She's very particular 'bout some things- right Pop?"
"I'm only a spectator, son. Leave me out y'all's debate."

Wes sighed at Bill's neutrality. "C'mon, Ma, I want her to be nice an amiable to meet our special guest-"

"David Wesley Evans," Tanya smiled cheerfully (though Maka saw the crinkle to her nose was especially absent), "I will do as I please in my house, and you'll not be playin' diplomat, today."

Groaning, Wes stood out of his chair and walked over a handful of hounds, making his way back to the kitchen. "Yes ma'am," he airily conceded, waving off the troublesome weight of his full name being spoken. "I'll go and finish them deviled eggs."

Dusting her rounded, hot-roller bangs off her brow, Tanya said, "Married to the family thirty-four years, you'd think a person deserves a sanctuary." She gave an imploring look to Maka, who nodded automatically, and perhaps in self-defense.

"Congratulations," Maka side-stepped. "Thirty-four years is..."

"A long time," Bill said, deadpan. He nudged his knee playfully against Tanya's shoulder after she glared at him. "Would ya like to hear how we met?" he asked, eyebrows raised and smooth forehead wrinkling into amused ridges.

Behind her, Maka heard Soul mutter in agony, which naturally prompted her to say, "Absolutely."

Wes cried a dramatic, "Nooo!" in the distant kitchen, but the Evans couple remained unfazed.

"Well, we met on a starlit night," Bill started, fingers lacing over his belly.

Tanya corrected this. "It was broad daylight at the feed store."

"She had flowers in her hair-"
"Dandelions, actually. I'd been weed eatin'."

"And she turned to me n'said," Bill then attempted a horrible falsetto, "'Does anyone here sell four-cycle oil?', and I knew it was love."

Maka giggled behind a hand, and looked to Tanya for further correction. The woman only said, "That part's accurate."

With complete lack of enthusiasm, Soul said, "That's downright poetic, Pop."

"Damn right it was and be grateful, else you would'na been born."

Soul tilted his head back to rest on the couch with a sigh.

Suddenly, every dog sprawled around them- including the greyhound in Soul's lap- lifted its head and perked its ears in the direction of the front door. Eisenhower immediately launched from his perch, presumably racking the ranch hand in the process. Maka laughed in a combination of entertainment and nervous pity.

"Augh, Christ-"
"Language, Ethan. Get the door, your brother is busy."

"I'm goin' already," he said, sulking and valiantly attempting to walk without wheezing. "Askin' for just a scrap of mercy."

Maka could not have predicted the moment when Ruth Evans, stonewash-silver hair, stoic posture, seventy-five, walked quietly into the house, that every animal in her proximity would calmly trot after her. No baying, barking, jumping, or chaos of any sort was to be found.

All of this helped mirror and accentuate Soul's countenance as he respectfully led his grandmother to the living room. The woman's hand was wrapped around his offered elbow, and as they walked, it was all at once apparent where Soul's less stocky, leaner frame came from.

"Happy Easter, Gran," he said.

"Thank you, honey. I see you've hurt yourself again." The two shared a look before Soul glanced away with a grimace and led Ruth to her seat.

The empty chair was for her. Several dogs flopped at her feet as she sat. Ruth gently patted Soul's hand in either gratitude or dismissal- it was difficult to tell one from the other. She did not lean back into the recliner.

Despite all the things that Soul had warned her about on the drive here, Maka felt a glimmer of admiration already, though she hadn't spoken a single word to the woman. She couldn't decide if it was the older woman's obvious riding experience showing through the way she held herself, or the near-reverent way Soul treated her, or even just the strangeness of fifteen-too-many composed dogs, but Maka very much wanted to make a good impression on Ruth Evans.

Automatically, Maka found herself standing from her seat as Soul's parents did. Tanya and Bill both made their way around the coffee table, stepping around hounds, bending over to hug and greet Ruth. If Soul's grandmother said anything about Tanya's appearance, Maka missed it, because she was too busy having a silent conversation of eyebrows across a living room with Soul. As disquieting as it was to admit, he was the most familiar face here, and she had to look to him for guidance.

She stood uncomfortably off to the side, shrugging her shoulders at him. Should she go introduce herself? Should she pretend she didn't exist? He shouldn't leave her standing here cluelessly!

...And just why in the hell did she care in the first place? Wasn't this the family of sellouts? Hadn't she told Tsubaki she hadn't cared one way or the other what any Evans would think of her? But Maka increasingly felt nervous in this otherwise normal situation. She had a feeling horse snot would be on the menu in the near future.

It was an Evan's Family team effort in the end that brought her forward to Ruth, with Soul quietly motioning her over, Bill announcing there was someone for his mother to meet, and Tanya grasping her by the elbow to deposit her in the direct center of everything. The heavens seemed to twist around her, dizzying, as she locked eyes with not the diluted red she had expected, but a mirror-shine of icy blue.

Lightly, between her shoulder blades, she felt the faint warmth of a hand seeping through her dress. It took her a moment to realize whose it was.

"Gran, this is Maka. I work on her ranch."

She flushed, glancing over to Soul briefly but not wanting to cause a scene the moment she needed to introduce herself. Maka held out an unsure hand. "Pleased to meet you." Ruth took her hand in both of hers, enveloping it in strong thumbs and warm wrinkles.

"Your ranch?" she asked.

Maka stammered. "Ah, it's not really mine- my papa's the owner."

Ruth shook her head, eyes watching her. "No, the name of your ranch, honey."

Her fingers were gently squeezed. "Angel's End," she heard herself numbly say. Distantly, she wondered if she would ever be able to name it in the same lilt everyone else did.

"That's what I thought," Ruth said. Her head tilted up in recognition. "You're Suzanne's. A pleasure."

The hand between her shoulders, the dogs, the people, even the very ground beneath her feet all vanished in wake of this woman. Maka's eyes flew wide. "You knew Mama?" she asked, voice almost a whisper.

Ruth nodded, carefully styled, grey hair moving with her like a crown. "When she was younger. You remind me a lot of her. In the face." After a once-over, she added with an almost-smile, "Mmm. And height."

Maka's face hurt with the size of her smile. A laugh escaped her throat. Not knowing what else to say, she replied with, "Thank you."

"I was sad to hear she passed. My condolences."

An alienating, but all-too-familiar rush of cold crashed into her from all sides. Her face felt tight, but she managed a sincere smile, and nodded. Ruth let her hands slide away from her offered one, and, in a daze, Maka found herself walking back to her seat, the spot between her shoulders feeling chill as she went out of Soul's reach.

Sitting next to her again, sans greyhound, Soul's eyes were a prodding her with some kind of silent question, but Maka studiously toyed with a fold in the skirt of her dress instead. She concentrated on simply breathing. Anything more than that might tip the scale from casual ache to drowning misery, and she could not trust meeting his glance.

She told herself to act normally. She'd been fine until just now, but she can't quite grasp the feeling anymore.

Once everyone was re-seated, Ruth asked, voice raised, "Where is my other grandson?"

Wes poked his head around a corner. "Right here! Merry Easter, Gran. I'm fixin' yer favorite."

Ruth did not appear to smile or frown, but her eyes crinkled in a warm, amused way. "No paprika for mine or your brother's, I hope."

"Of course," Wes said. "I dipped Soul's in the kai-yan pepper, but yours're perfectly safe."

She pointed a gnarled finger at him. "That's no way to treat our Spitfire, young man," she chastised before cool eyes swivelled to her younger grandson.

Soul rubbed his hand over bandana-covered head, complaining how little slack he'd been given his entire life regarding 'that stupid pepper', and Maka let out a long breath, relieved by the return to normalcy.

She decided in that moment that Ruth Evans was her favorite.


The devilled eggs were delicious. As were the kebabs Bill had grilled, the salad greens and various sides Tanya had prepared, and, unsurprisingly, Tsubaki's cookies.

"Now Miss Maka, you never did tell us how you two met," Bill prodded.

The implications of his question forced Maka to stop chewing and look accusingly at Soul. To her greatest displeasure, he did not immediately affirm that he and Maka were not in any kind of relationship and should not, by any means, be compared to Tanya and Bill.

All he said was, "Well, on the ranch," matter-of-factly.

Wes's smile, beaming at her from across the room like a spotlight, reminded her that any misunderstandings involving Soul and herself had likely been brought to life by him. He dusted crumbs off his jeans, the nearest dogs swarming like a school of starved fish. "Yes, but how? The 'how' is somethin' to always make note of," he said.

Maka made note to never hug that man again.

"Our son is awful tight-lipped about his job, we'd love to hear anything about it," Bill said.

Again, she glanced at Soul, who gave her a bland look that seemed to read 'I told you so' before taking a long sip of his drink.

The job fell to her, then. "Well, actually," she started, trying to remember the first time she'd ever spoken a word to him, "I didn't ever talk to him until we were looking for a lost calf."

"Pretty sure you hated me," Soul interjected, placing his glass on the coffee table.

Maka couldn't bring herself to deny this, so she awkwardly shrugged, smiling. Wes guffawed.

"Oh, my," Tanya said.

"You need to work on yer first impressions, son," Bill added.

"I don't need nothin'."

Maka waved her hands a little, to clear Soul's name. "No! I, um. I had initial... misgivings." She struggled to start the story. "But he- You said- This guy just goes 'welp' and jumps in the hole like to heck with breaking a leg!"

"I seen where I was goin'-"
"Right."
"I did!"

Ruth shook her head, unsurprised. "Did you find the calf?"

"Oh, he was fine. Soul helped me carry it to my truck."
"...Then you stepped in the mother of all pies."

Maka clapped a hand over her mouth. She mumbled, "You saw that?"

"You looked so mad I prayed I wouldn't laugh and get killed," he said, finger rubbing under his nose. The others in the room all wore some type of amused smile (or, in Bill's case, was holding a stomach and chortling), and Maka's mouth hung open, unable to respond.

"Man," Soul directed to Wes, "she kicked a tire like it was what dropped anchor in the first place."

Embarrassed, she exclaimed, "I just got these boots that day, okay? They were still shiny! Anyway, we're both driving back to the house and I'm reaching over to pet the calf and-"

And suddenly, she recalled the rest of the memory, of her forearm accidentally pressing the transmit button on the handheld radio, and what she had said unknowingly into it. The words stopped in her mouth and the room is met with silence that she didn't know how to fill.

"You hit the pothole," Soul supplied.

Maka turned to him, confused and lost. "...Pothole?"

His eye contact was steady and unwavering, a murky blood unshaded by the brim of his missing hat, which was something she wasn't accustomed to at all. "Saw the headlights in my mirror. Thought you bounced the poor thing to the floorboard," he teased.

She realized what he was doing, and that locked gaze was there to inform her that everything out of his mouth was now truth, if she went along with it.

"I-I did not! He was perfectly fine!" she argued, trying to sound offended. At least it wasn't a lie on her part. She blushed a deep scarlet, and the family seemed to take that as her shame for hitting what Soul explained as the Most Obvious Hole in Existence, because Bill assured her that it happened to the best of them. They were unaware that her flush came from somewhere else, stemmed from the realization that it was this very family she had put to the stake, her disdain and judgement of 'sellouts' being the one idea that halted her in her story.

"Have I been unfair to the sellout, little one?"

Curiouser still, Soul had covered for her instead of jumping on the chance to incriminate her in front of his family. By all rights, she deserved it, but he had done nothing of the sort.

The subject changed from sinkholes to the new-old hay bale hauler, and while Maka answered these questions automatically, she couldn't wrap her head around why Soul Evans had lied so smoothly to his family.

"It's too bad 'Lizabeth couldn't make it," Tanya said during a lull in the light meal, back on her preferred spot on the floor.

"Yes, I noticed your... girlfriend isn't present, today," Ruth added.

The sudden lack of amiable smile on Wes's face seemed to snap a lightning-quick intensity to the atmosphere. Voice neutral, he replied, "She spends Easter with her sister."

"And her mother," Ruth said shortly.

Maka's eyes shifted between the two of them, unable to gauge just what was going on. Wes smiled a default smile and said, "And their ma, yes."

Ruth hummed once, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. She sounded displeased, and Maka supposed that Ruth had previous dealings with Cristina Thompson. She couldn't fault the woman for appearing sour; Maka didn't like Tina, either.

Still, the uneasy air of the living room grated on her, as well the dubious looks Bill and Tanya were giving each other on the sidelines. She spoke up, voice bright. "How is Liz doing, anyway? I haven't been able to visit her much lately at work, I've been so busy."

Wes looked both surprised and gratified at the shift in subject. "Ah, she's doing alright," he said. "Still working hard. Oh, told me to tell you her cell's changed- she gave the old one to Tina. I can give you the new number if you want?"

"Sure, I'd appreciate it."

The gravity of Ruth's stern frown dragged Maka back from her temporary escape from awkward. Her polite words seemed like an accusation when she asked, "You're acquainted with Elizabeth?"

Maka could hardly remember life before the Thompson sisters. She found herself smiling despite the tense room. "Yes ma'am. She and Pat are practically family to us at home. They're like sisters to me."

Across the room, Wes rubbed under his nose, which struck Maka as something familiar. She turned to look at the person beside her, who had taught her to recognize this tell in the first place, and watched Soul smile a small smile as he took a drink from his sweet tea.

Bill Evans found something about the situation hilarious, belly jumping with his chuckling as Ruth replied with a simple, "I see."

Tanya swatted at her husband before standing. "Well. Let me grab your plates."

Maka, being polite and rather weirded out by every other Evans member in the room, asked if she needed any help, but Tanya shook her head a little too suddenly, grinning.

"Thank you dear, but I know Ethan would love to give his mother a hand."

"Good luck," Maka hears Soul mutter before snorting and happily stacking her empty plate over his.

It occurred to her that this was orchestrated abandonment. They were trying to leave her with 'Gran-gran'! She didn't understand the purpose behind it, but she knew she was right because the next thing Wes said, all too conversationally, was, "So, Gran! Maka here's got herself some ropin' skill."

Feeling very much the pawn, Maka frowned at Wes, tugging her dress closer to her knees. Her face warmed. "Better than you, anyway," she quipped.

"Not to be makin' light of yer ability, but it'd be safe to say just 'bout anyone's better'n Wesley with a rope," Bill said, thumbnail scraping between two bottom teeth.

"Wow," Wes deadpanned, handing his plate to his mother. "Thanks for the support, Pop."

"Nothin' but the finest for my firstborn."

The two Evans brothers simultaneously scoffed. Soul called as he strolled into the kitchen, "What rank was that anyway? A two? Three?"

"Quit tryin' to fluff me up, it was a one, alright? Goob." Wes turned to Maka and added, "Quit yer snickerin'."

Maka grinned, holding up her hands. "You're right, you're right. I'm not even ranked at all."

"Wes mentioned you'd never competed," Bill said.

Looking briefly at Ruth, who had yet to say anything on the subject, Maka shook her head. "I haven't. I've done a few timed runs at home, but I couldn't tell you where I'd rank. None of it was official." Soul entered the room again, this time picking up trays with leftover food. With mister six-point-eleven himself in her midst, Maka was torn up over how to feel about her own, unofficial time. She did know that his curious glance before he turned back to the kitchen made her cheeks burn.

"Well?" Bill smiled. "What was your best, then?"

"Uh, it- it doesn't really mat-"

Tanya leaned around the corner, hands busy with opening a large freezer bag, and said, "Six-nine-two."

And then Maka was completely ejected from the conversation.

"Really," Ruth said with interest.

"It was jus-"

"Wes told me." Tanya disappeared back into the kitchen.

"W-wh-"
"Lizzy told me."

Maka's shoulders slowly inched to the ceiling, unable to get a word in edgewise.

"How come no one told me?"
"Plainly 'cause you laugh everytime I mention ropin', Pop!"
"Ahah, true."

"Crazy for not competin', I say," Tanya echoed from the kitchen.

Throughout all the comments thrown around, Maka was slowly pulled by the magnetism of Ruth Evan's scrutinizing eyes, blue like a crisp winter sky. "And why haven't you competed?" she asked.

"Because!" Maka blurted into the sudden silence. She nervously swiped her bangs out of her eyes. "...Because it's degrading to not compete alongside men. Everything's already separated by rank- I don't see why they have to make it even more so just 'cause I'm a woman. So I want nothing to do with it."

Ruth rested her elbow on an arm of the recliner and thoughtfully placed her chin in her waiting hand. She nodded faintly, and Maka got the sudden feeling she'd just passed a test somehow.

"I'm sure having such a skill is more than enough for ranching, though," the woman said. "Are you planning on taking over in Spirit's stead sometime?"

Papa's words murmured in the back of her mind. "You concentrate on your schoolin', Maka."

She'd been eager to change the subject from roping, illogically bashful about it in the presence of a certain district champion, but this wasn't much of an improvement. Her voice sounded hollow when she finally brought it to life. "I haven't decided. I'm currently in veterinary school, and my plan was to stay on the ranch and doctor the stock myself, but..." Her eyes automatically follow Soul, who'd walked back into the room, weaving around dogs for the last of the leftovers.

"But?" Bill prompted.

She wasn't sure why she was serving up this information to relative strangers, but she supposed if there was any one family on this planet that could share an understanding, it would be this one.

"Maddy Georgian made an offer."

Ruth's eyes widened slightly, her chin lifting off her hand with interest. It was the first that Bill Evans had appeared troubled at all since Maka's arrival, while Tanya and Wes both exclaimed "Did she really," from various parts of the house in the exact cadence. Soul, paused in his trek to deliver empty dishes to the kitchen, cautiously peeked over his shoulder at Maka.

She looked away from that No Purpose shadow in his eyes. "So, I may end up at an actual vet in town anyway."

Ruth looked suspicious. "Spirit plans on selling?"

"No," she said, back snapping straight. "Absolutely not. I'd be taking the job to keep us from... from going under." Having the words being spoken from her own mouth made her heart burn.

Bill nodded in the silence. Tanya came into the living room, standing next to Wes and bending to pick up one of the smaller dogs. "I'm sure you'll do fine, darlin'," she said, stroking the animal's face.

"Thanks. Still, I'm not really looking forward to it, I guess," Maka admitted, and faintly she wished, just a little bit, that the spot between her shoulders didn't feel so cold. "My mentor told me there are already a few places that're waiting on my certification, but I..."

It dances off her tongue before she can think about who was lurking in the kitchen doorway. "I'm not meant for city life."

Tanya replied, voice low with empathy, "Neither are we, honey."

Like a shade, Soul quietly drifted out of sight.


She was mostly silent for the long drive back home. In her lap was the tray Tsubaki's cookies had been sent on, but was now occupied by multiple plastic baggies of Easter lunch leftovers. Soul was driving again, but Maka hadn't made a fuss over it.

When the road wheedled down to the familiar, two-lane backroad that they would follow for many miles to her family's property, she asked, blunt, "Why did you lie, anyway?"

Soul blinked a moment, fingers shifting on the steering wheel. "What abouts."

After seeing his brother and mother feign innocence when avoiding a question, Maka felt she could now accurately spy an Evans playing dumb. "You could've made me fess up. About what I said that night. Over the.. the radio."

He sighed heavily. "They like you. Specially Ma."

She didn't know what to say to this, glaring at herself in the passenger side mirror. "E-even so, I don't deserve it."

His fingers raise atop the steering wheel, casually greeting another truck that drove by. "Maybe. Maybe not." He drove a distance, slowing for a sharp curve. The worn suspension of her truck creaked and groaned. "They get enough hell as it is. Just didn't wanna bring it in their own house, n'all."

'Hell' being the word 'sellout', she gathered. "Sorry to make you lie," she said quietly.

"Won't say it ain't your fault," he said, voice tense. "I'm not sore about it as long as- about my folks- I mean, you can hate me til kingdom come but-"

"No- your family was wonderful!" She was torn between wishing he didn't have to watch the road to see her sincerity, but being thankful he couldn't see the shame that must be plastered to her face. "I'm really glad that, um..."

He offered dryly, "That they weren't what you thought?"

"No," she blurted, indignant. "That I got to meet them," she corrected. That being said, she still didn't quite understand why she'd been invited in the first place. But she was still happy to have visited. "It's nice, to see-"

And her throat abruptly locked up, catching her by surprise.

"To see..?" Soul asked the road.

She swallowed, the words 'to see a whole family' crammed tightly behind her tongue. "Nothin'," she forced out. She reminded herself to breathe through it, to not let the scale tip, to not look at the ranch hand who made quick, worried glances at her sudden change in behavior.

"Maka."

"And I don't hate you," she said scathingly, trying to save face.

She heard him quietly huff. "...Are you sure?"

Maka spoke to the trees winding away, their shadows blending into a place she sometimes felt where only ghosts were allowed to live. "Usually I'm sure. Sometimes you throw me for a loop."

His voice was gentle when he teased her. "You toss your own rope just as far, darlin'," he said.

She rolled her eyes, turning away from the window. "Don't call me 'darlin''."

"Ma'am."
"That's worse, I sound old."
"You are old."
"You're older than me! Sir."

Soul scrunched his face in disgust, turning on the truck's headlights to shine through the oncoming twilight.

"See?" Maka insisted.

He cracked a smile. "Alright, alright. Shortbread."

"Spitfire. ...And I'm sorry about your foot."

He had that same tilt to his eyes as his grandmother when he looked pleased. "It'll just come out of you Oreo paycheck," he said.

She wondered how a person could be so forgiving.


!

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Notes:

'hitch in yer getalong'- Bill is saying Soul looks like he's limping.

'kai-yan'- cayenne

'dusted'- to be thrown off a horse

'playin' diplomat'- Wes appears to be a bit of a manipulator, but Maka's not really sure just what he's trying to accomplish- only that she knows she's been involved without much explanation.

deviled eggs- freakin nasty stuff don't eat them they're terrible for you. Hard boiled eggs with the cooked yolks removed, seasoned, and squirted back into the whites. If you like them, I'm sorry for your tastebuds.

'the mother of all pies'- as in cowpies. see chapter one.

'dropped anchor'- to put it bluntly, pooped.

'rank'- in this case, Maka and Wes and Soul are talking about individual ranking in calf (tie-down) roping. Ropers are ranked by skill and are separated to compete with other ropers of similar skill by a number that slowly goes up with improvement. Rank 1 is pretty much basic beginner's level. Headcanon places Soul at around a rank 12, which isn't the top but still pays well, if I understand the system correctly, which I may very well not.

'goob'- goober

'fess up' - I don't think this is the first time she's used this phrase, but it's just slang for 'confess'.

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Marsh: Special thanks to VictoriaPyrrhi for being subjected to all my headcanons of the Evans family. Sorry Jeb, all that hard work with the hyphens and ffnet decided to take them all back.

Sorry this one took so long. I've been on this scene since I posted the previous two chapters of this fic. I'm glad it's out of the way, becuase I don't like it very much, and I'm hoping the next few parts of the story will come more easily. Thank you all for you fantastic support and fanart and argh, you guys, I'm gonna have to put all of your art in a book or something aaaagghhg thank you I love you.

As always, reviews are welcome and appreciated. If you have any questions I will do my best to answer them either here or on my tumblr.