burned into my brain are these stolen images
by.
Poisoned Scarlett

act ten

It's a lot lonelier in the dance studio now that Maka is gone.

He idly taps a key on the piano as the girls prepare for another practice session. This time Maka is not leading but rather Tsugumi, who tries her hardest not to look nervous and seems to be reciting the movements under her breath. She shakes her head when she stumbles in her mind and tries harder next time. Soul shifts his eyes back to the piano, cheek resting in his palm, and doesn't say a word the entire time. He plays what he's told, repeats it if need be, and the most he's said in the entire session is it's my break, be back in ten.

All of these girls in their pretty ballerina outfits and their made up hair and made up faces start to get on his nerves, especially when they bounce up to him and tell him not to look so glum. They're all imitations, they all have nothing on Maka, and if one of them asks him to smile one more time, he will personally break her self-esteem in seven different places. But he manages to keep his thoughts to himself another day and plays what is required of him. When it's over, he doesn't stay for the coffee and donuts Marie brings for a job well done. He returns to his apartment, drops his coat on the armchair, kicks off his shoes, falls back on his squeaky couch, and tries not to look beside him because she won't be there.

She hasn't been there for a few weeks now.

"Maka?" he answers his cellphone on the second ring, a smile crooking his lips at her jubilant greeting. "What's up?"

But she calls when she can for a few hours in the evening. He has come to anticipate her calls and usually has the phone nearby when the hour draws close. He comforts himself with these calls because they mean that she is not totally gone: she's just on a leave that could take about twenty years, give or take, because Maka is young and strong and he knows that even as a middle-aged, know-it-all, crab she'll be amazing and perfect in the art of dance.

So this cycle repeats for a few more days and it's on the sixth week of Maka's departure that she doesn't call like she said she would. It's fine, by then, because sometimes she doesn't. She's busier before big shows or practice sessions and he knows this. He doesn't think much about it, just slurps up his chow-mein and considers ordering another plate. He's been hitting the gym a lot more with his friend because it's easier than returning to an empty apartment. He can ignore the fact that she's gone when there's a weight above him, threatening to choke him if he loses concentration. But this means eating more to replace what he lost.

He actually does order another plate and decides he won't tell Black Star because he'll flip. He'll start ranting, telling him he won't be able to pack on healthy muscle if he keeps eating junk food every day. Soul doesn't quite care, he doubts Maka would like someone who's completely ripped like his friend. She's always rolled her eyes at the male models and their exaggerated washboard abs and brow-arching triceps. He's just turned on the TV to watch a basketball game when his phone goes off and it's not Black Star asking to place bets.

It's Maka.

It's not like her to call this late.

He answers as he usually would, only this time balancing his empty tray of food in one hand and his wallet and phone in the other. He manages to toss the plate into the bin without making too much of a mess while she greets him happily, only stumbling around her words once. Almost normal, but he knows better. He's picking out the money for the next plate of food and asking what had her so uptight, if Arachne got on her ass for something, when she exhales heavily. He pauses, not liking that sound—nothing good comes from sounds like those, nothing good has ever come from them.

"Soul, I have something I want to talk to you about," she starts. He places his wallet on the table, grips the edge of the table as he asks her what's wrong. "I have been thinking about this for a long time, so it's not something that spurred out of nowhere. We talked about this, but I think it can work this time!"

"What can?"

"I want to know if you'd be willing to move over here. With me."

There is a pause as he digests her words. It's not that he doesn't appreciate the fact that she misses him enough to ask it, it's that it was something they had discussed about before and had agreed against. It's expensive where she's moved to and he has by no means enough money on him to rent an apartment in the part of the state she currently inhabits. He can call in a few favors, sure, but he doesn't think he has it in him to ask his brother or, god forbid, his parents, for money to cover some of his expenses while he puts his degree to justice and finds a good-paying job.

"Maka, we talked about this," he sighs, scrubbing his face with one hand. "No."

"But you haven't even heard me out!"

"We argued about this for, like, three hours, no. I'm not moving over there! One rent payment there can feed me for four months here. Are you kidding? No. Look, you're coming back eventually and—!"

"Soul, you know that's BULLSHIT!" she interrupts, a bitterness he hadn't heard before making itself known. "I'm practically employed over here, WHEN do you think I'd go back? Permanently? I'd have to drop everything here to go back and you know it! That was just some stupid lie we..." She doesn't even finish, her words choking up with her own fury and hurt.

"It's a lie now, is that it?"

"Not a lie, an unfair promise," she corrects, not about to back down despite his dangerous tone. "You know this isn't fair."

"Well, life isn't fair!" Soul bites back. "I decided to stay here and wait, isn't that good enough? I can't just drop everything and go! You even said it, you're practically employed over there! Same thing with me! I'm not going to New York!" She's silent and he rubs his eyes out. He hadn't meant to hurt her feelings but this conversation always made him lose his cool. "Maka?"

She doesn't answer.

He groans silently. "I didn't mean to yell. That wasn't cool."

"...You're an asshole," she whispers harshly but he can hear the tears in her words.

He parts his lips, thinks about it. Drops his eyes, rubs away the crease between his brows with his fingers. "...Yeah. I know. I know, I'm sorry. Maka, I really want to go, but I can't. You know that, too."

"I just want you to stay with me. Here, not six state lines away with some promise that I'll come back one day," she tells him, defeated. The sound of traffic is thick behind her. "You don't deserve that, to wait that long for me," she adds in a smaller voice. The wind beats against the mic and her soft breathing returns him to the time when she would sleep beside him, body pressed against his, a hand spread over his heart. "I really did think this through this time, Soul. Lady Arachne needs a pianists for the morning shows because she's tired of the one she currently has. He's been giving her a lot of grief recently, she's thinking about replacing him. I know it's a long shot and Arachne might not even hire you but...but you're amazing with the piano and I know that if you came and played for her, you'd be hired! I know you can do it!"

He parts his lips after a second, already shaking his head, but it's as if she's here standing before him, watching him:

"I know you can do it, Soul," she says, earnestly. "And I know I'm asking for a lot. I'm asking for you to come all the way to New York to try out for something that might not even fall through but...Soul," She takes a breath, a static shudder through the phone. Despite the traffic that rushes in the background, her voice is crystal clear. "For the longest time, my muse had been my mother and how she danced. She had been my inspiration since I could remember, but now every time I think of her, it's not the same. I didn't know why, or rather I didn't know what had changed until I woke up a couple of weeks ago and realized you weren't there. They say that the gift are those ideas you have before you drift off to sleep, but the giver is that one you think of when you first wake. But that's not enough. I need you there to give me what I need every day to dance, Soul."

She makes things difficult; she always has and he decides she always will. He presses the back of his hand against his eyes, rubbing them out furiously because his blood has thinned and it makes his head light and his hands tremble. He exhales heavily, telling himself that a drop in blood pressure is certainly not the way to go about this, because he is not the type to become jell-o at the sound of a confession. He is not. This is what he tells himself as he drops his hand and tightens his grip on his phone.

"Did you just tell me you love me by using a cheesy quote?"

"Ch-cheesy?! It's not cheesy!"

"You DID quote a book!"

"I-I did not—I just—so what if I did, it worked, didn't it?!"

He laughs. He laughs because of all the things he expected from her, of all the ways he expected her to tell him, he did not expect this. He didn't expect her to toss it back at him using similar methods like his. Yet he knows he should not have expected anything else from her and the contradictory train of thought makes his grin wider. Because Maka is a muse herself; a picture-perfect ballerina in a music box that locks him away with its soft tones. She is a song that binds his heart, a passion and an art in and of itself.

"Alright."

"Alright?" she repeats, perking up.

"Y'think you can ask Arachne if she minds me dropping in around eight at night for an interview?" Soul says on his way to his bedroom. He flips open his laptop and turns it on. "I don't wanna' take a morning flight 'cause then I'll be too groggy to play well."

"You'll do it?" She asks, breath baited. "You'll come and play? You'll come here?"

"You owe me an all-you-can-eat...and a punch for being an asshole," he adds wryly and crooks a smile when he hears her squeal on the other side, rushing him the address. Her voice pitches and cracks on certain words and he commits these small details to memory. Perhaps he is a lovesick fool, as he books a ticket for next week and she promises to tell Arachne of the plans. Perhaps his brother is right and he is playing a dangerous game with her, as he meets her at the airport at five pm sharp and hugs her so hard it feels like she'll break in his arms. Perhaps he purposely bends to her will every time it appears like he'll have the power, but he doesn't mind the bruise on his shoulder from her well-placed punch or the scratch marks down his back when he wakes up the next morning. And as he meets Arachne Gorgon, hears the sultry voice that belies a gravity that makes him gulp, he'll try his best to play as well as Maka believes him to play. His brother may be right, he is playing a dangerous game.

It's a game to see how close to the edge one can get without going over.

The only problem is, the closer one gets to the edge, the less one cares about falling.

He looks right, finds her standing by the stage. She mouths the words that have kept him going this entire time, eyes bright and smile warm.

Soul decides he'll take his chances as he plays the song he first played that day at the dance studio.


A/N:This story is now complete! I hope you all liked it! I figured drawing out the end would be too cheesy/repetitive so I eventually decided on this ending. Some of you may not like it, but I am satisfied with it. And you can all guess that he got the job. I'm not as cruel as to keep them separated haha.

Scarlett.