She waited until after lunch to set her plan in motion, after several hours of watching the strained interaction between Wes and Soul, the first being openly confused while the second bubbled hostility under a thin veneer of politeness. She excused herself to go up and check her clothes for tonight, to make sure they hadn't gotten too wrinkled on the trip. Shortly after, she rushed back down, demanding Soul give her the keys to the car. Her dress was fine, but the heels on one of her shoes had snapped off, and she needed to replace them. She conveniently left out the fact that she had broken the shoe herself.

"Are you sure? I can go with you. I don't have anything else to do." Soul nearly begged, handing over the keys reluctantly.

Maka plucked them from his grasp, cocking an eyebrow disbelievingly. "You really want to go shopping? Shoe shopping? You'd be bored to tears in less than twenty minutes. And then you'd wander off to another store, I would have to come looking for you, and we would end up running late. So just stay here, and be a good boy while I'm gone, okay? Okay. Bye!"

Patting him on the head, she trotted out of the cabin, where he watched from the door as she backed out of the driveway and sped out of sight. Peachy. Now he was stuck here with Wes. Closing the door, he turned to creep upstairs, but was stopped by a hand falling on his shoulder.

"Soul, come into the living room. I think it's about time we had a talk." Wes' tone brooked no argument, so Soul followed him, throwing himself onto the couch, wanting this to be over as quickly as possible.

Wes sat in the recliner, and they stared at each other, neither knowing what to say or where to begin. Stroking the head of Spartacus, who had sat down next to his chair, Wes took a deep breath. This had been his idea, so he might as well be the one to start.

"I'm not really sure how to say this, but for a while now, I've sensed there was a problem. You're attitude towards me has become more and more negative, and I'm getting tired of it. If there's something that I've said or done to upset you, then say so, but drop the passive-aggressive routine. It doesn't become you, and it's making Maka worry."

Soul couldn't believe what he was hearing. If anyone had been listening, they would think a parent was dressing down a petulant child, and that thought pissed him off. Where did Wes get off, acting all superior, like he hadn't done anything himself?

"Well sorry I can't restrain myself as well as you! Not all of us can be perfect, you know." he spat, tired of holding back.

Wes frowned. "This isn't a matter of being perfect, it's about dealing with things in a mature manner, something I know you were raised to do. And I don't know where you get the idea that I'm perfect. I've certainly never thought of myself that way."

"Of course not. If you were arrogant, that might've made you at least a little human." Soul laughed, an ugly sound. "You probably never even noticed that everything you do comes out right, always manages to get first place. But I guess you wouldn't notice, since it all comes naturally for you."

His frown deepening, Wes leaned forward. "Whatever success I've had I've always worked for, Soul. I try very hard at whatever I set myself to do. I just don't understand why it bothers you so much."

Soul came out of his slouch to mirror his brother's position. "How could you understand? You have no idea what it's like to try as hard as you can, only to come in second place every damn time, always being compared to someone else! Did you really never see that you were always the one that got everything, while I was left in the dust? Our parents were always holding me up to you and finding me lacking. Whatever I did, you could do better. No matter what, it. Was. Never. Good enough. I was never good enough. Can you imagine how hard that was to live with?" the poison that had been bottled up within him all his life flowed from his mouth, the pain he had always done his best to hide finally being revealed.

Wes fell back in his chair, shocked at the venom that had been directed at him. It had caught him completely off guard; he never knew, or even suspected, that Soul had felt this way. He remembered the day Soul had been born. At six years old, he had been so nervous and excited that he could barely stand it. The pregnancy had been hard on his mother, who had never had the best of health to begin with. It was a miracle she had carried Wes to full term, but in the years between her sons, she had suffered two miscarriages. Soul had been born a month premature, and had looked so small and delicate in his mother's arms. Wes had watched him eagerly, stroking the baby's soft cheek with a tiny finger. He had decided right there that he was going to be the best brother ever, and he would try his hardest to be good enough so Soul would always be proud of him. As he contrasted that baby with the angry young man in front of him, Wes knew he had failed. Miserably.

"Soul...I...I don't quite know what to say. From the moment you were born, I was glad that you were my brother. Everything I've done, every success I've had is partially thanks to you. I always wanted to be the kind of older brother you could look up to, and I tried so hard never to do anything that would make you ashamed of me. I never compared you to me. There was no need, because I already thought that everything you did was wonderful in it's own right. But somewhere along the way, I obviously screwed up if I couldn't even tell that you had been hurting all this time."

The wind left Soul's sail a bit at Wes' heart-felt words. He never knew that Wes had done all of that because of him. He had always just assumed that everything came to him easily, without effort. He ran his hands over his face, unsure where to go from here.

"You didn't have to do all that. What made you think I'd like you any less if you weren't so good at everything? I liked you for who you were, not the things you could do."

Wes gave him a small, sardonic smile. "I suppose that's because of our parents." at his brother's confused look he went on, "Soul, you aren't the only one they judge harshly. Any affection I was ever shown was directly proportionate to how good I was. If my performance slipped, they became cold. I was too young at the time to realize that that wasn't how you earned someone's genuine love. I had always wanted a brother, and I guess I thought I had to prove myself so I wouldn't lose you. But of course I fucked it up, and ended up making you hate me instead."

Soul winced. "I never hated you. I mean, sure you were better at everything, but you didn't do it on purpose, and you never rubbed it in. I just...wanted them to care about me as much as they did you."

"That wasn't caring, Soul. When you care about someone, it doesn't matter how good they are at something. It's not what a person does, but who they are that matters. And I'm glad to hear that you didn't hate me, but I get the feeling that that has changed over the last few days."

Biting his lip and closing his eyes, Soul plunged forward. "I won't lie. I had a hard time when I was a kid. Everyone, from parents to teachers to friends picked you over me, and it always stung. But I got over it. Sort of. Pretty much. What I mean is, I finally found a place I could just be me, and it was good enough for everyone else. I was happy. Really, really happy. I had something that you weren't going to take away from me. But kinda did. I've seen the way Maka looks at you. She's never looked at me like that, not even once. I thought that maybe, someday, we could be more than just partners. But I can see now that that's not gonna happen. I know it's not your fault. It's not her fault. That's just the way it is, and I need to deal with it. I'm sorry I've been a douche to you about it, but I never meant to make you think I hated you. I just...wish things could be different."

A sinking feeling stirred in the pit of Wes' stomach. "I don't know what you think you saw, but I seriously doubt that Maka views me in a romantic light. Maybe you're too close to the situation, because I think it would be obvious to anyone else that the one she's interested in is you. If you would just tell he-"

"Wes, I've known her for years. Do you really think I could live with her all that time and not know if she was interested in me of not? Trust me, Maka thinks of me as a weapon and a good friend, nothing more. And if I think about it rationally, she couldn't have picked a better guy. I know you'll treat her right. Because if you don't, I swear I won't let you get by with it. Nobody hurts my meister, brother or not."

There was a dangerous promise in his words, and Wes heard them loud and clear. There was no way he could tell Soul that this whole visit had been an elaborate ruse to get them togather, and that the only one who was under the impression that Wes had any feelings for Maka was Soul. He knew Soul wouldn't understand, and would mot likely think that he had been playing with Maka's heart for his own amusement. If Soul didn't hate him already, that would do the trick. The only thing he could do was try to get Soul to confess to her, and if that didn't work, urge Maka to make the first move.

"I understand your feelings, but I still think you should go ahead and tell her-"

"Wes. No. It's not gonna happen, so just drop it. Look, I don't want to talk about this anymore, okay? Let's just forget about it. I'm not mad at you, we're alright, so let me handle things the way I need to with Maka. I'm gonna go up and listen to some music, and you need to finish up the stuff you had to get ready for tonight."

Wes gave up. He would just have to work on Maka, because Soul was being so stubborn he was practically sprouting donkey ears. He nodded, pushing himself up from his chair.

"Fine, I'll let it go, as long as you're sure that everything's alright between us. I know I haven't been the best brother to you, but I have tried my best, and I want you to know how proud I am of you. What you do is not easy, and it took a lot of hard work to get where you are now. Our parents may not understand that, but you don't need to worry about them. You have people that care about you and support you just as you are, so never compare yourself to anyone else. The man you've become is more than good enough. Anyone who doesn't understand that are not the type of people whose opinions you need to worry about."

Soul felt guilty. His brother understood him better than he thought he would. Maybe if he hadn't pushed him away so much, he would have known this sooner. He wouldn't do that again. He promised himself he would stay in better contact, and be more open with him. Maka really had picked the better brother, and although that still hurt, and probably always would, he could eventually be happy for them.

He gave a shaky smile, wanting to reassure Wes. "Thanks. That means a lot. And don't worry, I'll be fine. I just have to...sort everything out and get used to it. See you later."

Wes flopped his head back and groaned as he heard the door to Soul's room click shut. He had created a giant mess. It wasn't going to be easy to fix, either. He loved Soul more than anyone, but the dear boy was just so goddamned thick! He should have just gone with his impulse to mash their faces together last night...

Several hours later, Maka poked her head in, shoe bag clutched in one hand as she surveyed the area for damage. There seemed to be no signs of struggle, no blood spatter on the floors or walls, no bodies in need of disposal. Heaving a sigh of relief, she headed up the stairs, pleased that things had gone well. She frowned. Unless Soul had just barricaded himself in his room for the whole time. She knocked on his door, then opened it to find him sitting on his bed, head bobbing gently with the music from his headphones. Seeing her, he removed them, giving her the first half-way normal smile she had seen in a while.

"Hey. Did you find a pair that works?"

She waved her bag in the air. "Yup! I think I actually like these better than the other ones anyway. What did you do while I was out? You didn't stay in here the whole time, did you?"

Soul's skull tingled in warning, a line right down the middle where the spine of her books usually connected.

"Um, no? I talked to Wes for a while, had a bite to eat, but for the most part I was in here. Why, is that a problem?"

The annoyed look left her eyes, and the tingling on his scalp stopped. Whatever it was, he had dodged it.

"That's good. I had hoped you would get a chance to talk to him. Now, you need to get ready soon. I don't want to be late. Have you already taken a shower? Because I need the bathroom to fix my hair."

"Go ahead. All I gotta do is change my clothes, so I can wait awhile to start."

"Just don't forget. Or fall asleep. I'm going to go start getting ready. See you later!"

She hummed happily as she went to her room and began to set out everything she would need. Soul had seemed more relaxed, so she assumed everything was alright now, and that there wouldn't be anymore problems. Congratulating herself for having her plan go off without a hitch, she proceeded to the bathroom, with the mistaken belief that all was now well with her weapon.

Soul stood at the foot of the stairs, already in his dress coat and holding Maka's over his arm. Wes was settling the dogs in the den with some pig ears, and his violin was ready to grab as he walked out the door. Soul was getting ready to call out and ask if she was about ready, when movement from the top of the stairs drew his attention. He sucked in a sharp breath, thinking, not for the first time, how beautiful his partner was. They had been told to dress in Christmas colors, and she was wearing a strapless white dress that fit tightly on her upper body and then flared out in a wide circle, the hem coming to the tops of her shoes. It had a wide, red sash at the waist, with red sequins and beads scattering in a thin trail under it, widening until they formed the outlines of poinsettias at the bottom. She had on red, elbow length gloves, and matching high heels. Her hair was in an updo with a few loose curled tendrils framing her face, a small sprig of holly over one ear being the only thing she wore in the way of jewelery.

Reaching his side, she gently closed his mouth. "So I guess I look alright?" she teased lightly, enjoying the way his face had flushed when he saw her.

"You look a lot more than just alright! You're" he was mentally kicking himself for not being able to come up with a line that even a twelve year old could top.

She laughed as she let him help her int her coat, shivering slightly at the feel of his fingers on her bare shoulders as they drifted down over her collar bones to close the coat around her. She could smell the cologne that he rarely wore, the scent going to her head and making her dizzy. At least she thought it was the cologne. It might have just been the effect of his suit, something that always got her blood going. It wasn't his pinstripe suit, but it was tailored to fit him perfectly, the black contrasting nicely with the dark red dress shirt he wore. And oh god, he was wearing a tie, something that she had had many dark fantasies about. This one was black with red stripes, and her fingers itched to reach out and give it a yank. With a strangled whimper at the back of her throat, she stepped away before she lost control.

Wes stepped into the hall to join them, case in hand. "Are you ready to go? If we leave now, we should make it on time."

Maka smiled at him. He was also wearing a black suit, his with a white dress shirt and a bright red tie. It was amazing; though there was an undeniable resemblance between the brothers, only one of them could spark a flame of desire within her. The other, though nice enough, didn't move her at all.

"We're ready. Sorry we can't take your truck, but I think my dress would be smashed by the time we got there."

"That's not a problem at all. I'm just sorry you have to put up with my odd habit of having to buckle my violin in the front seat."

Wes had not totally given up. It was a small thing, but anything he could do to push them closer together was worth it. He buckled in his violin as the other two got in the back, Maka arranging her skirts carefully on the seat. Soul made sure that he didn't sit on them, and thought that he might actually try to have at least one dance with her at the small reception that was being held afterwards.

The building was packed when they arrived, men in black suits mixing together with women in festively colored dresses. They checked in their coats, and Wes left them to join the rest of the orchestra. Soul and Maka went in to find their assigned seats, which turned out to be near the front in the center. Sitting and waiting for the performance to begin, Maka could see that Soul was uncomfortable; he had always hated fancy gatherings, and this time there was no balcony for him to escape to. She squeezed his arm, not protesting when he covered her hand with his when she tried to move it away. They stayed like that, the hum of the crowd washing over them, the sounds of the orchestra tuning up behind the curtain.

Soon, the lights dimmed, warning that they were about to begin. An announcement was made asking people to please turn of their cellphones, and not to use flash photography. A hush fell over the audience as the wine colored velvet curtains were lifted, and softly, music began to play. Maka found that she was unable to keep her full attention on the stage as the muscles in Soul's arm bunched under her hand, his breathing becoming unsteady as the song went on. She stroked her arm in a comforting manner, before he took her hand, his grip almost painful. By the way his eyes were glazed over, she could tell he didn't even notice. Thankfully, this was not going to be a short performance, because she didn't think Soul would be able to make it. When it came time for Wes' solo, he seemed to stop breathing altogether, hanging on every note that his brother coaxed from the strings. He played beautifully, the expression on his face one of joyful serenity, which seemed to spread through all those that heard it. Except, of course, for Soul. He let out a ragged breath when Wes sat back down, shuddering as if he had been running for miles at top speed. His grip relaxed fractionally, though he never let go until the curtains went down.

They moved along to the other room when it was over, where a space had been set up for dancing, with finger foods and punch on tables lining the walls. Maka was prepared to stand to the side, but was surprised when Soul placed a hand on her waist, leading her to the dance floor.

She smiled up at him curiously. "Are you sure you want to dance? I know it's not really your thing." she asked as they began to move around the floor, following his lead as she had so many times in the past.

He grinned crookedly as they moved together, her feet easily shifting into the correct steps. It had been a long time since she had last stepped on his foot. Irrationally, he missed it.

"What can I say, it's Christmas, a time for miracles." he twirled her around as she giggled.

They danced through three more sets before there was a tap on Soul's shoulder, which turned out to be Wes asking to cut in. Feeling like Cinderella as the clock struck twelve, Soul released her, fixing himself a glass of punch and going to stand in the most deserted corner of the room. He watched sadly as Wes and Maka danced across the floor, thinking how good they looked together, their outfits coordinating almost as if they had planned it. A look of shock crossed her face at something Wes said, before settling into a shy smile, her cheeks a rosy hue. He said something else, and she shook her head frantically, her flush deepening. Even as his heart died a little more inside, he found himself wishing he could read lips, even though what they were saying would probably only cause him even more pain.

"Soul? Soul Evans, is that really you?"

Soul wrenched his eyes away from the dancing pair to focus on the person that had spoken, a raven haired girl in a shimmering green dress. He squinted. Her face looked familiar, and those blue eyes...


She beamed at him. "Yes! Soul, it's so good to see you! It's been what, six or seven years?"

He nodded, taking in the girl that he had first loved. She was still quite beautiful, older and taller, her curves filling the dress nicely. She was attractive, but he felt nothing. No stirring of longing or regret, which only served to emphasize his feelings for Maka.

"Yeah, something like that. What brings you to Aspen? Did your family move out here?"

Shaking her head, she took a sip of her own punch. "No, my boyfriend is the cellist. I'm spending the holidays with his family this year. What about you? Last I heard, you had gone to Shibusen to become a weapon, and even made it to Deathscythe. Congratulations!"

"Thanks. That happened about three or four years ago. Wes had us come up here to visit him, but he never said anything about you being here."

"That's not surprising. I haven't actually seen him the whole time I've been here, so he may not even have known. Was that your meister I saw you dancing with earlier? She's very lovely. She has the most expressive green eyes I've ever seen.!"

"She does, doesn't she? That's Maka Albarn. She's been my partner from the beginning." Soul tried not to sound like he was bragging, but didn't quite manage to pull it off.

Veronica grinned at him knowingly, her blue eyes twinkling. "You know, I can always tell when a girl is in love. It's a talent of mine. And as soon as I saw her, I knew for sure! It was unmistakable, the way she looked at y-"

Soul drew himself up and cut her off, not wanting to hear someone else confirm her feelings for Wes. "She's in love with Wes. I know that, I'm not an idiot, so I don't need you to tell me. Excuse me. It looks like they're ready to go. It was nice seeing you again." Without waiting for her to respond, he strode away to join Wes and Maka, who had ended their dance.

Veronica gaped after him, then glared at his rudeness. "I was going to say she was in love with you, you idiot!" she grumbled, looking for her boyfriend. "You better figure it out before she gets tired of waiting on your slow ass!"

When Wes had cut in, Maka had to call on all her self control to hide her disappointment. Soul rarely danced with her, at least in this type of setting, and she had wanted to soak up every second of it to replay in her mind later. She had expected him to make small talk as he guided her around the floor, but there was something on his mind, and, after a few rounds, he finally blurted it out.

"Maka, I have something I need to say, and I want you to be honest with me. You're in love with Soul, aren't you?"

She gasped in shock, but couldn't bring herself to deny it.

"I...welll, yes. Yes, I am." she finished more firmly.

"Good. Now you need to tell him that." he spoke over her as she began to protest. "I know it's not an easy thing to do, but Soul lacks the confidence to make the first move. You're not the only one that's in love, you know. Couldn't you at least try to tell him?"

Maka groaned, sagging slightly. "I have tried. Twice. On this trip, in fact." she confessed.

Wes was dumbstruck for a moment. "When? How? What happened?"

"I tried the first time when we got stuck on the skilift, and the second time when the heat went out and we had to sleep in the den. He fell asleep. Both times." she explained flatly, scowling briefly at the memory of her defeat.

Wes goggled at her, too busy reeling from the shock t preen over the fact that his ideas had been perfect after all. His brother was just too much of a putz for them to work.

"I-I don't understand...he's just so-so..." he searched for the right words.

"Romantically narcaleptic?" she supplied helpfully.

"On behalf of my brother, I sincerely apologize. Believe me, this pains me." he added under his breath, "more than you'll ever know."

Maka frowned, and he hastened on, "still, you should try again. I think part of his problem these past few weeks has been that he thinks you don't return his affections. In fact, he may be under the impression that they lie elsewhere."

At his guilty look, she stared at him suspiciously, not liking the sound of that. "Why would he think something like that?"

Wes gulped. He had forgotten that she was just as dangerous as his brother. "He...may have taken a joke I made to seriously. I tried to get him to understand, but you know how damned stubborn he can get."

Putting her irritation to the side, she sighed. "I don't know. Sometimes I think he might feel the same way, but then I get worried, and I don't want to risk what we already have. But I've already decided that I was going to tell him as soon as we got home. That's the day after tomorrow; I think he can make it through Christmas. I'd really rather do this at home, in case you're wrong. Otherwise, it would be even more awkward."

It wasn't exactly what he had hoped for, but it was better than he had feared. He would just make sure that Soul stayed busy and distracted all day tomorrow, and he would be carefull to do nothing that could be misconstrued.

"Alright, as long as you plan on resolving it, I'm happy. If you're ready, we can leave now. I'm sure Soul is more than ready to go."

Maka removed her hands from his shoulders and stepped away. "I know. Soul hates these types of events. Oh, he's headed our way already! Looks like he was ready, after all."

That hadn't been what he meant, but it didn't matter. He waited for Soul to join them, wincing at his rictus smile. It was painfully obvious to him that the boy was trying to put a good front up for Maka. It had probably been hard for him to watch them dance, but Wes hadn't been able to think of another way to speak to her alone.

They picked up their coats, which didn't take long since they were leaving earlier than most people. Soul was quiet as he joined Maka in the backseat, and for some reason, she found herself thinking how lonely he looked. Disregarding her dress, she scooted over to him, laying her head on his shoulder.

""Sorry, I'm a little cold." she lied when she felt him jump at the contact.

She thought he was trying to move away from her, but he just moved his arm to wrap around her shoulders. After a brief hesitation, he laid his head on top of hers, her hair smooth under his cheek. He closed his eyes, wishing it could always be like this. But he knew it couldn't. Soon, he wouldn't be able to touch her like this. Even though it meant nothing to her, it did to him, and that would be wrong if she was in a relationship. He shouldn't even be doing this now, but he couldn't bring himself to pull away. Until the thing with his brother was a done deal, he would take every opportunity to be close to her that presented itself. Squeezing her shoulders, he concentrated on memorizing everything about her that he could, from the way her hair smelled of shampoo, to the even sound of her breathing, the skin of her neck soft and warm under his fingers when he brushed against her.

The ride ended far to quickly, and he was slow to disengage himself from her to get out of the car. The night air was sharp and cold, the wind sting his cheeks and making his eyes tear up. Yes, it was the wind. Only the wind.

They tromped inside to the excited barking of the dogs, who threw themselves at them as if they hadn't seen them for years. Once they had been greeted and pet by everyone, they settled down, letting the humans shed their coats.

"I'm making a big breakfast early in the morning, so I'll be going to bed now. Goodnight!" Wes waved as he went to his room, the dogs at his heels, ready to snuggle on the bed.

Soul followed Maka up the stairs, wanting to be behind her in case her heels got caught on the boards. Wishing each other goodnight, they separated at their doors.

Sleep did not come easily for Soul, and when it did, it was fitful, until he finally slid deep into a nightmare. He was a child again, at the piano. He was trying his best, but he couldn't seem to play the piece all the way through without messing up. His parents looked on in disappointment, shaking their heads. Voices whispered all around him, focusing on all his failures and imperfections. Unable to stand it any longer, he leapt up and ran, the voices following him, faces floating around him in the darkness, judging him and finding him wanting. In the distance, he spotted a familiar silhouette, and he picked up speed, knowing that if he could make it to her her would be safe. As he reached her, everything else faded away, and he reached for her. But as she turned to face him, he saw that Wes was standing behind her.

"Soul! Guess what! Go ahead and show him, Wes!" Maka cried.

Wes smiled down at her lovingly, before looking at Soul and holding out his arm. It changed into a blade much like Soul's, only sharper and brighter. And bigger. Much bigger.

"Isn't it wonderful? Now Wes can be my weapon! Don't you think he'll make the best Deathscythe ever?" Maka asked, oblivious to the pain she was causing. He sank to his knees, as everything was cruelly torn from him.

"But...Maka, I'm your weapon! We were going to stick together no matter what, remember?" he pleaded with her, begging her to change her mind, but she only looked at him blankly before clinging to Wes possessively.

"You were alright, but I'm sure Wes will be far better. Besides, I need him with me now, since I'm already pregnant."

Soul choked as the other two kissed passionately.

Maka broke it to speak to him once again. "Aren't you happy? You're going to be an uncle! And you'll definitely have to be the best man at the wedding. After all, if it hadn't been for you, Wes and I never would have met!"

Her stomach seemed to grow before his eyes until suddenly she was holding a baby, a perfect mix of her and Wes. The happy couple ignored him as they cooed over the child, trading glances with each other that promised that that wouldn't be an only child for long...

Soul awoke with a start, his shirt soaked with sweat and clinging to his skin. He yanked it over his head in disgust, and threw it into a corner. Sitting up, his bare feet rested on the cold wood floor, and he rubbed his hands over his eyes, then through his hair to cause it to stand up more wildly than before. Knowing he wouldn't be going to sleep again anytime soon, he slipped quietly downstairs and into the living room, making sure to shut the door behind him. He didn't bother with a light, but sat at the piano, his fingers hovering over the keys. Then he began to play, all his pent up sorrow flooding from his body and into the music, his eyes shut as he lost himself.

He was so far gone that he hadn't heard the footsteps that had followed him, or the small cry when he had played. He was caught completely off guard when arms were thrown around his neck, and her soft, gasping sobs filled his ears, two hot tears landing on his neck and running down his spine.

"Stop playing that!for god's sake, stop it, Soul! Don't ever play like that again!"

His fingers stilled, and the last notes hung in the air before fading away. He turned on the bench to face her, wiping the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs, cursing himself for not paying more attention. He hadn't meant for her to find him like this, exposed and vulnerable. If the cause had been anything but her, he might be able to confide in her, but he couldn't tell her that he was playing like this because of her. Maka always blamed herself when he got hurt, and this time would be no different. There was nothing she could do, and it would be cruel to burden her with his feelings.

Maka felt sick to her stomach. She hadn't been able to sleep, lying in bed half dozing, when she heard the sound of Soul's door open and his footsteps in the hall. At first she just assumed he was going to the bathroom, but he turned in the opposite direction, going downstairs instead. Thinking that he couldn't sleep either, she had followed him, surprised when he closed the door to the living room. She stood outside, wondering if she should go in, when the piano began to play. At first she was happy, thinking she would get to hear him for the first time in quite a while, but the more she listened, the more she realized that things were horribly wrong. The music was so sad and lost, and it tore at her soul. It spoke of heartbreaking loss, confusion and loneliness. Anyone hearing it would be sad, but what made it worse for Maka was the fact that she knew Soul always played himself; the music was always what he was feeling. She had rushed in, the need to stop him consuming her. Even when the music was no longer being played, it echoed in her ears, and she couldn't stop crying, even when Soul wiped the tears away.

"Soul, why are you playing something so awful? What's wrong with you?" she sniffed, trying to pull herself together.

Soul felt caught, his fight or flight response kicking in. Since there was nothing he could latch on to fight about, flight won out. He stood, patting her on the shoulder and trying to smile, though his attempt was more ghastly than comforting.

"I just couldn't sleep. Had a bad dream, I guess. Nothin' to get all worked up over. You should get some sleep, since we have to get up early."

"But Soul-"

"I'm fine. You need to stop crying, or your eyes are gonna be all swollen tomorrow, and Wes will wonder what's wrong." he took a few steps towards the door, but couldn't help adding, his tone raw with emotion, "Wes is a really great guy, and he...likes you. A lot. You couldn't pick a better guy to go out with, you know."

The words burned his mouth, but he had needed to get them out. He had only taken about two more steps when her voice reached him.

"That's really too bad. About him liking me, I mean. You see, I've always preferred the piano to the violin."

His feet refused to move as his mind raced to comprehend her words. Slowly, he turned, taking a few shuffling steps in her direction, hardly daring to hope.

"But...Wes is really talented, you know. He's smart and charming and polite. And good looking." his voice was hoarse as he stopped in front of her, his eyes searching hers for any type of clue to her thoughts.

She smirked a bit, placing her hands on his shoulders, his body heat feeling nice in the otherwise cool room.

"I prefer my men a bit dim, it seems. And rude. And snarky. And I'll take edible over good looking any day."

A wide, goofy grin stretched across his face as he lowered his head to hers, their noses almost touching.

"But Wes is a gentleman. He would be kind and thoughtful, and give you time to change your mind before you got stuck with a complete moron."

"I don't want a gentleman. I want someone who's supportive and giving and willing to bury his own feelings if it would make me happy. In other words, I want to be stuck with the complete moron."

He couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he kissed her, her lips warm and yielding under his as her hands tangled in his hair, pulling him closer. The kiss was innocent at first, fueled by relief at the knowledge that he wasn't going to lose her, that she was finally here in his arms where he had wanted her to be for so long. It was Maka who deepened the kiss, her tongue prodding the seam of his lips until he opened his mouth to join her. He felt, more than heard the sigh she gave as she pressed her body into his, and that sound, along with the feel of her hardening nipples seperated only by the material of her shirt was his undoing. One hand still supporting the back of her head, the other dropped to her waist as he rocked his hips into hers, her sigh turning into a throaty moan as she pushed back.

Her body was trapped between his and the piano, and she raised a leg to wrap around him as they continued to grind, the bulge in his pants flush against her core. Her movement seemed to excite him, and his thrusts became harder as he lifted her up, clutching her to him as his mouth left hers to nip at the tender skin of her neck.

Licking the shell of her ear, he chuckled when she shivered and whispered, "You have no idea what it would mean to me to take you right here on this piano..." his voice shifted from the sexy rumbling tone into something closer to normal. "But that would kinda be sucky for a first time, and I don't think I'm ready to deal with complicated combinations of leverage, balance, and angles just yet. So maybe we should take this upstairs? That is, if you want to keep going." he finished worriedly, afraid that in his desperation to be close to her he might have moved too fast.

"That sounds like a good idea...and I know it's not the same, but we could always sneak into the school and do it on the piano where we met. Besides, I thought you said something about not letting me change my mind?"

He almost drooled at the mental image of them on the school's piano, before he focused on the rest of her words. "I didn't mean it like that! Not lettin' a girl change her mind about somethin' like that is more than uncool. I just meant-"

She kissed him on the nose, placing her feet back on the floor. "I know what you meant. Come on, let's go upstairs."

Their fingers laced together as they went up the steps, pausing a moment to choose a room. They settled on Soul's, closing and locking the door behind them. Sitting on the bed, they became suddenly shy as they were hit by the reality of their situation. Maka wouldn't meet his face, instead focusing on the scar on his chest, running one finger along it. The moonlight reflecting off the snow bathed the room in a bluish glow, making it easy to see.

Soul caught her hand, holding it. "If you're not sure, we don't have to..." he trailed off as she shook her head.

"No, I want this. I just thought it wouldn't be happening for at least another two days, if at all."

"Huh? What's in two days?"

"I promised Wes that that's when I would tell you how I felt, as soon as we got home. Not that I needed him to tell me. I had already decided that when my other attempts fell flat while we were here."

Soul was completely and utterly lost. "When did you ever say anything like that?"

Maka gave a short laugh. "The first time on the skilift, and again when we had to sleep on the couch. You fell asleep on me. Both times." she said ruefully.

Soul groaned, burying his face in his hands in mortification. "Fuck! Why didn't you wake me up? Damn it, Maka, if you only knew how miserable I've been..."

She rubbed his back. "I tried, but each time, I lost my nerve. And then I could tell something was bothering you, and I didn't want to add to it. I had no idea that it had anything to do with me. Wes told me that you might think I was in love with him, but the whole idea was so ridiculous I couldn't believe it. Did you really think that? Why didn't you just ask me?"

"It wasn't that ridiculous, you know. All my life, Wes has always come in first place, always had people choose him over me. And I would catch you with this look on your face when you were with him, like watching him ski, or when he had his arms around you at the pond, or dancing tonight. I figured it was just one more thing I had lost out on. The most important thing. And I couldn't ask you. A part of me didn't want to hear you say it, even if I already knew."

Maka snuggled into his side, placing her arms around him. "Soul, those times you mentioned, it was you I was thinking about, not him. It's always been you. I never thought of Wes like that, not even once. I love you, Soul. I have for a long time."

At her soft admission, his arm went around her, and he dipped his head for another kiss. "I love you too." he said, before their lips connected for the second time, their bodies slowly leaning back until they were laying on their sides, their movements unhurried as they caressed and explored the other's body, small kisses being planted on cheeks and necks and shoulders, hands stroking over backs and waists. At first, Soul kept his hand over her shirt as their lower bodies moved closer, pulling her leg up to rest on his hip. This caused her shirt to ride up, and his fingers brushed the skin at her side. He was about to move it away when she grabbed his wrist, and placed his hand under the edge of her shirt. He took his time working his way up, painfully aware that she wasn't wearing a bra. The skin on her stomach was soft and smooth, and he could feel goosebumps raising up wherever he touched her. He stopped just short of the underside of her breast, instead reaching around to her back. He grinned into her mouth at her frustrated whimper, but his amusement evaporated at the sharp jerk of her hips.

Tired of his slow pace, she rolled until he was under her, her legs straddling his waist. She rocked them together, their mouths clashing as tongues slid past lips, tracing over teeth. Soul gripped her ass in both hands, squeezing firmly, knowing no matter how much silk and lace she wore in the future, he would always find fuzzy pajama pants to be near the top on his list of sexy clothing.

He was distracted by the feel of his own green and red plaid pants being tugged at the waist band. She sat up, which put more pressure on his crotch. He took this chance to bring his hands in full contact with her breasts, causing her to arch her back. His breathing became harsher as he watched her reactions, his thumbs flicking over her nipples, then giving them a tug. She bit off a cry, chewing her lower lip as she ground into him harder, her hands leaving his chest to remove her shirt. Soul sat up, growling at the sensation of her chest against his. She felt better than he had dreamed possible, and he was content to be like that, licking and nibbling her collar bones as she tugged on his hair. But soon, her hands wandered back to his pants, and he got the hint.

"Soul, off. Please." she was taking no chances.

He slid her off his lap, quickly kicking his pants off, leaving him only in his boxers. She looked below his waist. And burst out laughing.

Soul didn't know whether to be hurt or offended, until she spoke.

"Are-are you sure you didn't have this planned?" she gasped.

He glanced at his boxers, then felt his ears burn with embarrassment. Around the band were the words, 'Jingle My Balls', and there was mistletoe over the fly. Perfect. Way to set the mood, Soul. It looked like he was expecting a Christmas blowjob. Taking pity on him, she kissed him again, the hand resting on his thigh going higher and higher, until she was gently stroking his dick through the boxers. He grunted, bucking into her hand, before fondling one of her breasts. Becoming more daring, she thrust her hand under the waistband, gripping him more firmly. Her thumb swirled over the head, spreading the precum that was leaking from the tip.

Feeling his balls tighten in warning, he pulled her hand away, not wanting to come yet. She looked at him curiously.

"You got me too close." he explained. He gestured at her pants. "Your turn."

Nervously, she stood, untying the bow in front and letting them drop to her ankles so she could step out. Seeing what she was wearing, Soul couldn't help but laugh. Her panties were tiny, red bikini cut, with a scattering of penguins holding candy canes. She huffed at him, climbing back onto the bed and leaning against the pillows, crossing her arms under her chest. Her bouncing breasts wiped humorous underwear from his mind, and he pulled himself up to rest over her body, kissing her shoulder gently. He savored the taste of her skin as he drew closer to his target, ghosting along the swell of one breast with the tip of his tongue. The hand that had been on the other breast dropped away as his lips closed over a nipple, his fingers dancing past the waistband to glide over the increasingly wet patch between her legs. With each pass he added more pressure, his teeth worrying the bud that was in his mouth. The high, needy noises that came from her mouth urged him on, her thighs trapping his wrist between them.

His own need was growing more painful, but the fascination of her pleasured responses to his touch outweighed its importance. Wondering if he could get her to moan louder for him, he slyly began a journey from the soft mounds of her breasts, working his way down her body. He traced patterns on the flat of her belly, the muscles jumping under his tongue. He left little love bites, small patches of red that would still be there in the morning. He skipped past her panties to nip at her thighs, snickering when she replaced his hand with his head. He licked her through the cloth, and at the feel of his mouth between her legs, her body rose up off the mattress, his name coming out in a strangled sob. He felt himself get harder in response, the desire to taste her driving him along. He hooked his fingers in her panties and yanked them down, past her slim legs to toss them over his shoulder.

Spreading her legs, he placed them on either side of his head as he gripped her waist and pulled her forward, raising her lower half up so that her weight was on her upper back. This gave him better access to her folds, and without hesitation he licked her again, finding the nub at the top of her opening. He paid special attention to this, prodding it carefully to test how sensitive she was. Circling it and flicking it from side to side, he gradually increased to pressure, her hands pushing at the back of his head telling him he was doing something right. As her heels drummed his shoulders, he brought his fingers up to her entrance, gently working on inside of her. Giving her time to adjust, he kept stimulating her clit, adding a second and then a third finger as she became used to taking him in. He pumped steadily, alternating between curling and scissoring, hoping it would help her later. Applying more suction, he was planning on getting her to come, but suddenly she began to move away from him. Thinking he had done something wrong, he sat back, searching her face for any sign of distress.

Her chest heaved as she gulped for air, her eyes smoldering as they locked on his. "Soul...could need..."

Understanding, he quickly shed his boxers, moving to place himself between her legs. Kissing her, they both groaned at the feel of him sliding through the wetness of her folds, the head bumping her clit. He ran his fingers through her hair, giving her a chance to change her mind if she needed to. When she only smiled at him and pulled him closer, he took that as his signal to continue. Fumbling a bit, he placed the tip at her entrance, both of them hissing as he pressed forward, her at the sudden pain of invasiveness, him at the feeling of her walls wrapping around him.

It took most of his concentration to hold himself still when his body was screaming at him to move, but he wanted to make this as easy on her as possible. As the pain eased, she gave an experimental thrust, which he reciprocated without thinking. She did it again, and he could no longer hold back. He moved slowly, pulling almost all the way out before sinking back in, her hips rising to meet him with each thrust. He wanted to draw this out as much as he could, though he knew he wouldn't last long. This was his first time, and the way her muscles contracted around him was driving him blissfully insane, a fact he tried to convey with whispered words of love and encouragement against her ear, telling her how fantastic she was and how good she made him feel and dear god, he loved her so much.

At his admission, she began to claw at his back, nails raking fiery paths of pain and pleasure along his flexing shoulders. She begged him to go faster, and though he didn't want to, he was helpless to resist as she moaned that she was almost there. He drove himself into her more forcefully, his orgasm bearing down on him, the heat spreading outwards from the pit of his stomach. He came with a harsh yell, her name mixed with curse words rolling off his lips. Feeling his body fall, he used his last remaining energy to flop sideways so he didn't crush her.

He managed to make it part way, but he still ended up laying half on top of her on his side, his hand smoothing over the curve of her opposite hip. As his head cleared, he was able to form enough coherent thought to ask her something.

"Hey, were you able to...did you?"

She shook her head, still not having all of her breath back. "No, but it was close. Just another minute, and I think I would have."

"Shit. That's no good." Soul cursed his stamina, vowing that he would work on that. Diligently. Not wanting to be the only one to finish, he slid his hands between her legs, thumb going to her clit while his other two fingers moved inside of her, not caring about the mess. It's not like it would be the first time his hand had been covered in his own jizz, after all.

"Soul, you don't have to-ooooooh, god, keep going!"

Grinning smugly, he propped himself up so he could hit at a better angle. Curling his fingers to press the spot that had gotten the best reaction earlier, he kept um the attack on her clit, her hands tearing at the sheets as her head tossed from side to side, the only word he could clearly make out his name. She hadn't been lying when she said she was close, as he found when she tightened around his fingers, her eyes rolling back as she came. He removed his hand, placing it on her stomach as she calmed down. He rested his head on the pillow next to hers, still not used to the fact that this was really happening, would most likely happen again, that she really wanted him as much as he wanted her. She turned her head, and they smiled at each other, her hand coming up to run through his sweat dampened bangs.

"Thank you. That was wonderful." she whispered, unknowingly shooting his ego into the stratosphere.

He kissed her cheek. You were pretty wonderful yourself."

She laughed, seeking out his lips. "Want to try to be wonderful again?' she murmured against them, already feeling him stir against her thigh. Grinning wickedly, he rolled back on top of her, waggling his eyebrows.

"We've already done wonderful. Let's shoot for amazing."

In the room below them, Wes grinned as the thumping started up again. He laughed as Spartacus heaved a sigh and Freya buried her head under the pillow. Typing the words, 'when you witness your ship becoming canon.' and then hit 'post', before setting his laptop on the bedside table. He wasn't sure about the details, but they had obviously worked things out between them. He hummed happily, mentally composing his response when he was asked to be best man. Now he just needed to decide on the perfect toast...

The next morning, Soul woke up to a weight on his chest. Blinking in confusion, he was met with a faceful of wheat colored hair, warm puffs of breath heating his skin. Relaxing as the events of the night rushed back to him, he snuggled back down, happily wrapping his arms around her. The sun's position told him that it was late morning, far past the time they were supposed to be down for breakfast, but he didn't care. He had Maka. In his bed. He was in bed. With Maka. He wondered when that fact would no longer surprise him, but suspected it wouldn't be any time soon. As enthusiastic as she had been last night, there was still a part of him that expected it to be yanked away from him. He pushed those thoughts away, not wanting to think like that. Instead, he remembered last night, a faintly perverted smile gracing his features. It had taken a few more tries, but they had finally reached amazing together.

He felt Maka stir, but made no effort to get up. He watched with interest when she stretched, the light better than it was last night, the details of her body more clear to him. The lazy, sleepy smile she wore was erased as her eyes fell on the clock, and she tried to scramble out of bed, but he wouldn't let go.

"Soul, stop messing around! We're late! Wes probably had breakfast ready hours ago!"

He just nuzzled his face into the crook of her shoulder. "But I already have breakfast. In bed, even." he murmured suggestively.

She nearly gave in at the feel of his lips on the sensitive patch of skin, but Maka was Maka, and she couldn't knowingly keep someone waiting. She smacked his arms away, gathering her clothes to put on while she darted to the other room.

"None of that, Soul. At least," she said, relenting at his whipped puppy look, "Not until tonight. Come on, it's Christmas. Let's go spend it with your brother, since it's our last day here."

Mumbling about how she better remember what she said tonight, he dug out his own clothes as she scampered into her room, giving himself a quick wash in the bathroom before going to the kitchen.

Maka had been wrong. Wes had not, in fact, been up for hours. Soul found him listlessly moving about the kitchen, breakfast only about halfway done. He had dark bags under his eyes, and it looked like he hadn't gotten any more sleep than they had. Suddenly recalling the placement of the rooms, Soul realized that he probably hadn't. He tried to feel bad. Nope. Not working. Not in the slightest.

Wes smiled tiredly as he entered, and Soul heard him singing under his breath, "I saw my ship come sailing in on Christmas day, on Christmas day! I saw my ship come sailing in, on Christmas day in the morning!"

"Um, isn't that supposed to be, 'I saw three ships?" he said worriedly. Wes never got the lyrics to a song wrong.

"You have your version, I have mine. Have a seat, it'll be a while. I got a late start. But I guess you would know all about that, wouldn't you?"

Soul snorted as he plopped into a chair, correctly assuming his brother would want revenge for being kept up late. And he was right. What was cute for Wes at one in the morning wasn't as cute at three, and it was downright eyelid twitch inducing at four.

Making sure nothing on the stove was in danger of burning, Wes joined Soul at the table, a cheese eating grin plastered on his face. "Well, Soul, I have to tell you. You may not play the piano at the level that you set for yourself, but I can honestly say that you have truly mastered another instrument. The bed springs and headboard!"

Groaning, Soul thunked his forehead on his arms, hoping Wes would let up soon.

"I'm rather surprised the bedframe held out. There were a few times that it creaked so loud that-"

Soul looked up as Wes was cut off, to find him sprawled on the floor with a familiar dent in his skull, a glaring Maka standing over him, book in hand. Doubling over with laughter, he held out a hand to help Wes to his feet.

Wes stood dizzily, rubbing his scalp. "What on earth was that?"

"That, my dear brother, was a Maka-Chop. Looks like she considers you family now."

Maka sniffed, taking her own seat. "I don't care what anyone says. You two are obviously brothers."

Soul sat back, watching them bicker. One one side of him was Wes, the brother he had always thought was so far above him. Now that things were settled between them, he could see the signs that he was just as human as he was. Jealousy no longer constricted his chest when he looked at him, and he knew that they would be seeing more of each other in the future, and that their relationship would continue to heal and strengthen.

Speaking of relationships, he turned to Maka on his other side, lecturing Wes about being a pervert and respecting privacy. He truly hadn't expected for them to get together, no matter how much he had always dreamed of it. But he no longer had to dream; she had made it a reality. He looked forward to exploring this new aspect to their relationship, though he knew that not much had actually changed. Their feelings were still the same, just out in the open. And a bit more...physical at times, which he thought he could get used to pretty quickly. Snagging a muffin from the basket on the table, he grinned. This had been the best Christmas ever, hands down.

An apartment door clicked open, then was closed with the heel of a foot as two people entered, giggling as their bodies bumped together. It was late, or early depending on how you looked at the time, but for New Year's Eve it was nothing that wasn't happening all over the city. They had just returned from the huge party that was still going strong at Kid's house, and Soul was unable to keep his hands off his partner's body, which had been teasing him all night in the short, tight black dress she had worn. He had surprised her when he had insisted on dancing, but it quickly bade sense when she realized he was just using that as an excuse to rub their bodies together, their actions going unnoticed, the crowd of other dancers around them hiding their actions. Maka had enjoyed herself immensely until she felt herself weakening against his suggestions that they sneak off to the bathroom. Suspecting that they wouldn't be the only ones with the same idea, and having no desire to rush, she had instead offered to go home early. He hadn't needed to be told twice, and now here they were, her hand around his tie as she led him to the bedroom.

"Dunno what this fascination is you have with my tie, but you better be careful. How are you going to explain to people what you were doing when you choked your weapon to death?"

She yanked him closer, biting down on his earlobe. "I don't hear you complaining."

His hand slid under her skirt, rubbing against the soaked lace he found there. "Nope. I can think of worse ways to go."

She had just gotten his pants undone and was giving him a rather nice handjob when there was a knock at the door. Hastily, they readjusted their clothes, cursing whoever it was who was interrupting them.

Stalking to the door, Soul threw it open, glaring out into the hall. No one was there. Ready to close it and continue with the festivities, he stopped at Maka's squeal of delight. Pushing him out of the way, she crouched down, and Soul saw that the hall wasn't empty after all. In a small wicker basket was a dog, and at first he thought it was where she had a hear shaped spot on her hip, this dog had one across it's chest. Maka had already lifted it out of the basket and was snuggling it to her chest, Soul noticed jealously, leaving him to bring in the basket, which had a note tied to the handle.

Dear Soul and Maka
I know how much you loved Freya, and when I heard that her brother needed a home, I immediately thought of you. This is Freyr. He's a good boy, and already potty trained. In the basket you will find his leash and a small bag of food, plus some doggie pads. This should hold you over until you're able to get to the store.
Love, Wes.

Soul read the note out loud, less than pleased at the new addition to their household. But at Maka's pleading look, he knew protesting would be useless. Blair had wandered out from under the couch to find out what was going on, and the puppy hopped down to greet her.

"Come on, you guys! You know that he's going to try to hurt Blair! Dogs don't like cute kitties!" she pouted up at them.

"Yeah, Maka. What if he tries to hurt Blair?" Soul didn't really think it would be a problem, but two animals in the apartment was a bit much.

Maka rolled her eyes. "Oh please. Blair can take care of herself, and she could always transform if he tries anything. Which he won't, because he's the sweetest little-"

She was cut off by an ear-splitting yowl, and they looked down to find that Freyr had gotten behind Blair and had mounted her, humping as furiously as his little puppy hips would allow. Blair shot across the living room, nudging open the window and escaping into the night.

Soul smiled at the dog, weakening. "Well, I guess we know that he loves cats. We'll have to go pick up some stuff for him in the morning."

Taking this to mean that Soul was on board for puppy parenting, she gave him a kiss, then swept Freyr up and headed back to their room. Following them, Soul had an uneasy feeling.

"Hey, aren't we know...oh hell, no way is he sleepin' with us!" Soul blustered. The bed fit the two of them quite well without any furry additions.

"But Soul, he's not used to it here, and he's just a baby!"

Preparing to argue, he was saved the trouble when the puppy jumped off the bed, and waddled to the dresser, standing on his hind legs to paw at one of the drawers. Not knowing what else to do, Soul opened it for him, and the dog jumped in, nesting into the sweaters that Soul had stuffed there when they got home from their trip. The dog had obviously decided that that was going to be his bed. Soul gazed at him fondly. This was the perfect dog. He wondered, only half jokingly, if Freyr would teach this nifty little trick to any future children he and Maka might have.

He was jerked, literally, out of his musings by Maka's hand on his tie, yanking him down into bed with her with a yelp. Her green eyes sparkled up at him mischievously, and his red ones darkened in response. They had only been together a short time, but they had found they could communicate just as well without words. As he kissed her, he thought about how happy he was, how much brighter the simple day to day things seemed to be now that he knew she loved him. Though he had been right and not much had actually changed, in some indefinable way it was better, and he wouldn't change it for the world, which he had managed to convey to her earlier today when he had played the piano for life was better for having her in it, with the committment between them strengthening their already solid relationship further. He wished everyone could be as happy as he was now. His mind flashed to Wes. Maybe he should speak to Maka tomorrow about doing a little shipping of their own...

But for now, it was time to focus on being amazing.