Ok everyone, last fic of the year! Thanks to everyone who clicked favorite or follow, or left a review. Hope to see you again in the coming year!

For Lu, because it wouldn't be a birthday without that one present you have no idea what to do with.

Soul had thought that once classes were over for good, he could sit back and relax, stress free. He was wrong. He hadn't counted on the actual graduation, which involved rehearsals, ridiculous robes, and flailing meisters. Maka was distraught over the fact that her years of book learning were over, but wildly excited over the prospect of being a full-fledged, employed meister, who would now be able to have more imput on missions. The combination had her moods swinging wildly, as if she was on the rag at mach 10. A comparison Soul wisely kept to himself.

On top of trying to keep her calm, listening to her practice the speech she had been (naturally) chosen to give, and preventing Black*Star from pulling any senior pranks that might get him arrested, he had to deal with the fact that Wes was in town. The two had only kept in contact through spotty emails and about five phone calls, but his brother had been insistent about coming to graduation, telling him that there was something he wanted to talk about. Soul supposed he should just be thankful his parents weren't coming. True, they hadn't been invited, but that wouldn't have changed the outcome. When he had given up on music to pursue his weapon heritage and taken the name 'Eater' instead of using Evans, he had been as good as disowned. Even though he was now comfortable enough with himself to occasionally use his old name, he knew there was no going back, no warm welcome back into the fold. And he was fine with this. Wes was the only one he was interested in keeping in touch with, and his parents played no part in that.

"Soul, did you pick up your suit from the cleaners? I swear to god, if you forgot I'm going to-"

"Woman, calm thyself. I've taken care of everything on that novel length list you gave me, so relax before you have a heart attack." he joined her in the kitchen, taking in the sight of an unusually disheveled and frazzled Maka.

She was wearing a raggy orange t-shirt that she had liberated from him when they were fifteen, along with a pair of blue boxers that had gone missing around that time as well. Her hair was up in a messy bun. Well, it had started out as a normal bun, but she had run her fingers through it so many times that there were chunks hanging down, and several strands sticking out from static. There were several pencils and a pen in there, and Soul wasn't sure if they were being used to hold her hair up, or what. He thought it better not to ask. In front of her was a thick stack of paper, which she was reading over and furiously striking through with a red marker. A few sheets had fallen to the floor, and Soul picked them up and placed them in front of her, before sitting in the chair facing her.

"Please, please tell me that that isn't your speech. There are epic trilogies shorter than what you've got right there."

Maka glared at him, angrily crossing out another line, irritated that her lazy weapon could drape himself bonelessly over the table without a care in the world while she did all this work.

"I know that! I just feel that there's a lot that should be said, but I'm condensing it. You know, technically you should be saying something too. Not only as my weapon, but as the first one in our year who made it to Deathscythe."

"Sure. I'll go right after you. I'll tell everyone that it's time to wake up, and that they can fill out their AARP cards in the lobby."

"Har-har. Very funn-hey, where's my pencil? It was just here a second ago!" She patted around on the table, flipping over pages to look under them.

Soul sighed and crab-walked his chair over to her, reaching into her hair. He passed her a pencil. Then another. And another. Then a pen.

"And for my next trick..."

She snorted, batting his hand away as he sat down beside her. As she bent back over her papers, he reached over to rub the back of her neck, where the muscles felt so tight that they might almost snap in two.

"But seriously, you're stressin' about this way too much. If you want anyone to remember it, you need to make it short, sweet, and to the point. Besides, most of them are gonna be like us, and not much is gonna change for them except not going to class anymore. So basically, tougher missions, but with no Stein falling out of his chair and dissecting poor animals to extinction."

"That's not true! Well, the falling and dissecting part, maybe. But there are going to be a lot of changes. The minor kishen battles will be left to students, and our missions will be a lot harder, and longer. We'll be the ones overseeing others, and that means we'll be responsible for them. Plus, we still have to do our year-long Deathscythe training. You really need to pick which one you want to study under."

Soul felt the relaxing muscles tense back up under his hand at those last words. All Deathscythes and their partners, if they wanted to advance to a higher position, were required to shadow an experienced Deathscythe for up to a year. Surprisingly, Maka was leaving the decision of who to choose up to him, since he was the one that the training would be mainly focused on. He knew what was bothering her about it. The same thing he had a problem with. While they would still be together, he would be used by the senior meister most of the time, to get him used to being wielded by other people if the situation called for it.

"Are you sure you wanna do that? I know you don't like it much..." he asked softly, his fingers trying to make up lost ground.

"Mnnnnn, theeeeere, that feeeels so gooooood." Maka moaned, causing Soul to gulp. Those words had featured prominently in his dreams for years, but this wasn't exactly how he had pictured hearing them. He shifted on his seat, praying her eyes would stay above the table top.

"I just...I don't like the thought of anyone else using you." she muttered, embarrassed at her possessiveness. It went deeper than a meister not wanting to give up her weapon, but she was fairly sure Soul hadn't figured that out. Yet. He wasn't stupid, and she had been trying to drop enough signals without actually having to come out and say it.

"And I'm not exactly thrilled about you using another weapon when I'm busy." He grumbled, and Maka fought back a tiny smile. At least the possessiveness went both ways.

"Well, we've established that neither one of us is very big on the idea. Still, this is what we have to do if we want to move forward, so you need to make up your mind about it soon. We have to fill in the paperwork and turn it in by the end of the month." she reminded him, brushing away the nagging doubts she was beginning to have. Soul seemed less enthusiastic than the situation would warrant, even taking his reluctance into consideration. She was starting to wonder if he really wanted to do this. Not all Deathscythes went on to a formal position after graduating; maybe Soul had something else he would rather do. If that was the case, she hoped he would tell her soon, so she could begin to make other plans.

"We'll get through it. We always do." he felt most of the tension leave her shoulders at his words, so assumed he had said something right. He wasn't being completely honest; there was still something they needed to talk about. For a long time, they had been dancing around the issue of...being more than just meister and weapon. More than good friends. Soul was almost positive that she felt the same way he did, but he wanted to make sure they were on the same page. This wasn't the kind of thing you made assumptions about. Right now things were pretty stressful, so his plan was to wait until she had some time to cool down after graduation, then he would bring this out into the open. It was the main reason why he hadn't chosen a Deathscythe to shadow yet; no sense in making plans about that until they got the basics settled.

"Are you almost done? If you stay up any later, you're gonna have bags under your eyes big enough to store that dead redwood you got there."

Maka stared at the sea of paper before her. Soul must have rubbed off on her over the years, because suddenly, it didn't seem like such a big deal anymore. He was right; most people were going to be too excited to listen to what she had to say, so she might as well stop getting so worked up over it. Tossing down the pencil she had been twirling, she pushed the stack away.

"You're right. I'm just going to wing it tomorrow. I know what I want to say, and this isn't helping me any."

"Okay, now I know that you're sleep deprived; you've admitted that I'm right, and you're giving up a chance to nerd out one last time at school." he laughed as she slapped him in the back of the head.

"That's better. Wouldn't want you to change too much."

She pushed her chair back and stretched, the worn material of the shirt clinging against her curves. Soul lowered his eyes, to find he had a good view of the boxers riding high on her thighs. His eyes slammed shut. Why, oh why did he have to find her so hot when she wore his old clothes? Her day to day look was hard enough to deal with, but tonight she was pushing all his buttons with the groaning, the exposed neck, and her outfit. He was going to have to take another cold shower. Any more, and he was going to need to invest in a snorkel.

"I think I'll go to bed now. We need to be there an hour before it starts, so don't forget to set up your alarm. And you might want to take some clothes to change into, since we won't be coming straight home. It was really nice of your brother to invite everyone to come over to his suite after the ceremony."

"Yeah...nice. i just wish he would tell me what he came to say and get it over with." Soul grimaced, hoping it wasn't a message from their parents.

Maka placed a hand on his shoulder, pausing on her way to bed. Soul had just started to reconnect with his brother recently, and she didn't want to see anything break that up. They had only talked a few times, and after each call, Soul was always wound up and stressed. He loved Wes, but thinking about his family always upset him.

"Whatever it is, it can't be that bad...and even if it is, you know I'll help. If you actually tell me what's wrong, instead of trying to deal with it yourself."

Soul nodded, finishing off her bottle of coke that she had abandoned. "I know. But I don't think you'll have to. I can't think of anything that he could have to say that would affect me much. At least, not anymore."

At the bitterness of his tone, she winced. She knew what he was referring to, but now wasn't the time to go into it. Squeezing his shoulder one final time to let him know she understood, she let her hand drop away.

"By the way, Black*Star called earlier. He sounded suspiciously happy, and wanted you to go somewhere with him. When he couldn't tell me where, I told him no. Hope you don't mind."

Groaning, Soul rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Trying to keep up with all of his harebrained plans for senior pranks is gonna kill me...last I can remember, he said something about, 'liberating the oppressed masses.' I can only pray he didn't mean what I think he did. Guess we'll find out tomorrow."

Maka had her own ideas about what that could mean, and her face drained of color. "He may not live long enough to graduate. Poor Tsubaki, I wonder how she's managing him. Anyway, I put the shoe polish on your desk, like you asked. Goodnight, Soul."

Soul stood and went to toss the empty bottle in the trash. "'NIght Maka. I'm taking my shower tonight, so the bathroom's free for you in the mornin'."

She nodded her thanks, and his eyes drifted to the sway of her hips as she left the room. They looked like his hands would fit there perfectly...he shook his head. This thing between them needed to be resolved, because the sexual tension was killing him. They had always been comfortable with physical closeness, but recently, the touches had become more lingering, the banter becoming a little less playful and a lot more flirting. He really, really hoped he wasn't misreading the signs, because he had gone from 'like' to 'crush' to 'undeniably in love' quite some time ago, and he wasn't really sure what he was going to do if she wanted to just stay friends. Well, obviously, that's what they would do if she wanted. It was just figuring out how to get by without letting her know that he was utterly crushed that would be the hard part. Of course, there was always the chance that she was as ready to move forward as he was. Which would be good. At the very least, that would mean cutting back on their water bill from all his 'special' showers. Unbidden, the image of sharing showers popped up, and something else popped up as well. Looking down ruefully, he decided it was time to move things to the bathroom, before Maka came back and wondered why he was standing in the middle of the kitchen with a boner. She would never believe he was that excited about a midnight snack. Darting down the hall, he promised himself that as soon as graduation was over and he got things sorted out with Wes, that Maka was next on his to do list. In more ways than one, if things went well...

The next morning went much like Soul had expected; Maka frantically dashing back and forth from her room to the bathroom, shouting directions at him with each pass. He kept to the safety of his own room, munching on the poptarts he had stashed there the night before in preparation. After he had put on his suit and adjusted his tie, he tossed some sneakers, a pair of jeans, and a long sleeved blue tshirt into his backpack. He didn't know what Wes had planned for the afternoon, but he was going to be comfortable. Checking his watch, he wondered if Black*Star had gone through with his plan to release all of Stein's dissection subjects. While it might be amusing, Soul hoped he hadn't; he knew he would be roped into helping with the clean up, a case of guilt by association.

Maka called to him from the living room, so he grabbed his bag and flicked off the lights on his way out. She stood waiting for him, bag in hand, swiping on a coat of lipgloss before sticking the tube in an outside pocket. Her dress was a simple black spaghetti strap, falling almost to her knees, with a small red bow at her right hip. She hadn't been able to wear her hair in pigtails because her cap wouldn't fit over them, so it was loose around her shoulders, slightly wavy from the curling iron.

She eyed him up and down in what he hoped was an appreciative way, as he did likewise. He tried to conceal his reaction, sucking back the tiny strand of drool that threatened to leak out of the corner of his mouth.

"If you're ready, we should go now. The others will be waiting for us."

"I'm ready, but did you get some breakfast? It might be a while before we eat."

Her lips curved into a smile at his concern. "I had a banana and some yoghurt, so I can make it."

He followed her out the door as she replied, and he breathed a silent prayer of thanks that he hadn't been there to witness that. It was bad enough watching her nibble delicately at the suggestive piece of fruit, but when she had yoghurt as well, she would dip the banana in it, then suck off the thick white substance from the tip, before sliding it into her mouth to bite. The whole thing was way too erotic for someone as prone to nosebleeds as he was, especially first thing in the morning before he got his bearings.

Riding on the motorcycle wasn't an option in the clothes they had to wear today, so Spirit had loaned Maka a car, which they would drive to graduation and then to Wes' hotel, where they would exchange it for the bike, which they had left there. Soul headed for the driver's side, but Maka nudged him away.

"Not this time! You get to drive almost all the time, so it's my turn now."

Soul pouted a bit, tossing his bag in the backseat with Maka's, and then slumping into the passenger side, making a production of buckling up.

Maka rolled her eyes at his childishness. Really, sometimes he could pass for a six year old. "Soul, get over it. The guy can't drive every time, you know?"

Soul blinked, an image of Maka driving him coming unbidden to his mind. He shook his head, banishing that thought. For now. It was one that deserved to be taken into consideration later.

"It's not because you're a girl. That's stupid. It's just I don't get a chance to get my hands on a nice car that often." he explained, his words soothing her slightly rumpled feathers.

Of course Soul wasn't one of those guys who had to prove his machismo by driving the little lady around. He willingly wore an apron on a regular basis, for heaven's sake! She had just forgotten how much he enjoyed driving, and cars in general, since it wasn't an interest he spent much time pursuing.

"You can drive on the way to the hotel then." she offered generously, and was glad she had when she saw the pleased smile he wore, the one he had just before he would buy a new CD or take a bite of his favorite foods.

They arrived at school on time, joining everyone in the auditorium, putting on their black gowns and black and white colored tassels, then quickly finding their seats. Like traditional schools, they were going alphabetically, using the meister's names and going in pairs. At first, people thought that was strange, but then they realized that doing it that way would cut the ceremony in half. Since Albarn began with an 'A', they were in the front row, one of the first ones to go up. The crowd of friends and family buzzed behind them as they waited for everyone to show up, the faculty assembling on stage. Once things were underway, the room became silent, as Maka shot Soul a nervous look. Spirit was making the opening speech, and she was terrified he was going to do something embarrassing.

Soul searched for her hand, hidden by the billowing sleeves, he gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze. They both breathed a sigh of relief when Spirit managed to wrap things up in a dignified manner, then called on Maka. She joined him at the microphone, her poise and composure so flawless that no one guessed that she had nothing prepared. Soul knew she could pull it off; he never would have risked retribution for getting her to stop last night if he didn't think she was up to it.

Sure enough, after a tiny pause, she launched into a well thought out speech about the close partnerships that had been formed during their years there, and the importance of supporting each other now that they were going out into the world. Her words were moving, and Soul noticed that there were damp eyes all over the place. He felt a little misty himself, though he wouldn't show it. She kept it short, and soon names were being called out, students filing across the stage to recieve their diplomas and flip their tassels. There was a roar of laughter when it was Black*Star's turn. Everyone had expected some type of clowning, or at least his usual loud proclamations. Instead, he trotted docilely after Tsubaki, who lead him by a leash, his cap askew from the fake dog ears he wore underneath. Maka and Soul traded a glance. They were definitely going to find out the story behind that...

As the last team returned to their seats, everyone stood up. Air horns went off and caps were tossed into the air, looking like a hovering flock of crows. Searching through the milling graduates, they found their friends, and moved off together to go change in the restrooms farther off, knowing they would be less crowded. As they walked down the hall, Soul couldn't contain his curiosity.

"Black*Star, dude, what the hell are you wearing?" his voiced wa laced with amusement at his friend, who was heeling for his weapon like an obediant puppy.

"I had to make sure he couldn't get away from me to try one of his tricks." Tsubaki explained.

"Yeah, but why..." he trailed off, gesturing at Black*Star's getup.

Black*Star smiled dreamily at him. "'Cause I'm a good dog...and good dogs get TREATS!"

They all stared at Tsubaki strangely, but she only shrugged, and said with a small smile, "If a little role-playing is all it takes to make sure the school stays standing, then who am I to say no? Besides, I enjoy the treat as much as-"

"WELL HERE WE ARE!" Maka interrupted, not wanting to hear anything that would give her nightmares later. "After we change, we can meet at the hotel. Tsubaki, you and Black*Star need a ride?"

"That would be lovely, as long as you don't mind?"

"No, it's fine! Well, as long as Black*Star doesn't shed or claw up the leather."

The girls laughed as they headed into the bathroom, leaving the boys behind. Soul followed Kid and Black*Star, ready to get out of his suit and into something more comfortable.

"Are you plannin' on wearing those ears for the rest of the day?" he asked as he stuck one leg into his jeans, after he had carefully folded up his gown and put it along with his cap and suit into the bag.

Black*Star smirked at him as he pulled a tshirt over his head. "Laugh all you want, but which one of us is gettin' a treat later? That's right; me!"

"Leave him alone, Black*Star. You know he hasn't even gotten around to asking her out yet." Kid admonished as he adjusted the collar of the black button up short-sleeved shirt he was wearing over a hot pink tshirt.

"Then he better get a move on! Maka ain't gonna wait around forever, ya know!"

Soul picked up his bag, heading for the door. "I doubt she's waitin' at all; I just hope she'll think about it before turning me down."

"Something tell's me you don't have to worry...I'm going to go find Ox and the others and tell them we're leaving. It really is nice of your brother to have everyone over, Soul."

Soul grunted noncomittally as he and Black*Star turned down the hall that led to the parking lot. It was nice of Wes, but he would feel better once he knew what he had to say. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like it much.

They didn't have to wait long before they were joined by Maka and Tsubaki. Maka handed the keys to Soul, remembering her promise from earlier. They all got in the car, Maka urging Soul to get a move on; she had skillfully avoided her father, but she would feel safer once they were out of the parking lot.

The hotel Wes was staying at was one of the nicest in the city, and as they got close, Maka warned Black*Star to be on his best behaviour. She needn't have worried. Black*Star had been stellar so far, and he planned to keep it that way. There was no way he was risking his treat turning into a throwing star to the head.

Soul found a parking spot available next to their motorcycle, happy to see that it appeared to be undamaged. He placed his bag along with Maka's in the side compartment, and then joined the others at the door. The lobby was quiet, their footsteps muffled by the plush carpet as they followed the directions to the elevators, punching in the number for the twelfth floor. Once the doors had glided open, they exited and turned left, checking the numbers as they went down the hall.

"Soul, isn't he in room 1247?" Maka asked, hand raised to knock at the door.

"Yeah, I think that's what he said...if it's not him, I'll call and check."

She knocked, and a moment later the door swung open, revealing Wes. He smiled as he ushered them in, congratulating them on their graduation. The small entryway opened into a good sized living room, with two couches and a few chairs scattered around a large coffee table. There was an adjoining kitchen area, and two doors opening onto a bedroom and a bathroom. Tsubaki managed to steer her meister around a small glass display case that held some expensive looking breakables, parking him safely on a couch and taking he seat beside them.

"Soul, would you do me a favor?" Wes asked, coming to stand next to him, looking quite put together in a pair of khakis and a dark blue button down shirt. The only thing that saved him from looking too preppy was the fact that his shirt was untucked, and the top few buttons were unbuttoned to reveal a white tshirt underneath.

"Sure, what's up?" Soul asked, sticking his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

"I have sandwich stuff and a vegetable tray, but I wasn't sure what everyone liked, so I also ordered a few pizzas and some Chinese. Would you mind picking it up for me? I'll give you the money."

"You didn't need to do all that, but thanks. I'll run and grab it now. It shouldn't take me too long."

Wes reached into his wallet and pulled out a few large bills, handing them to Soul. "Glad to do it. Besides, you mentioned that a lot of your friends didn't have any family here, and I thought they should get a chance to celebrate too."

Pocketing the money, Soul called out to tell Maka he would be right back. She looked over at him in surprise from where she stood by the sliding glass doors that opened onto the patio. She raised her eyebrows, silently questioning if he wanted her to come. He shook his head and gave a small wave, which she returned. Wes handed him the card key so he could get back in, and told him the names of the restaurants where he had placed his orders. Soul knew where both places were, since he and Maka had eaten there often. The service was a bit slow at the Chinese place, meaning he would probably have to wait for his order, but the food was worth it.

In the parking lot, he decided there was no way he could carry all that food on the bike, so he got back into the car, glad he hadn't returned Maka's keys. He headed for the Chinese place first, since it was farthest away. If he picked the pizza up on the way back, there was a better chance that it would stay warm. Traffic was slightly heavy because several high schools had their graduations today, and when he got to the restaurant, it was packed. He had to fight his way to the front to see if his order was ready, earning him plenty of glares and shoves from people who thought he was trying to cut in line. Yelling to make himself heard over the customers, he was told it would be at least another fifteen minutes.

He slid to the back of people waiting to be seated and wedged himself into a corner, brushing the leaves of an overgrown lucky bamboo out of his face. The smells wafting from the kitchen made his stomach clench, and he wished he had brought his Ipod to distract himself. Now he was caught between contemplating snacking on the koi in the tank in front of him, or constructing the worst possible case scenarios of why Wes wanted to talk to him. His theories had worked up from one of his parents being sick to being told that Maka was actually his long lost half sister, when his name was finally called. Gathering up the bags of cartons that held the promise of sweet and sour delights, he carried them to the car, carefull to set them securely in the floorboard so they wouldn't spill. The wait at the pizza place was shorter, although not by much, so he ended up being gone nearly an hour.

Balancing boxes and bags precariously, he made it back to Wes' room, setting the food on the small table in the hallway while he unlocked the door. Once inside, he found that everyone else had arrived, and were sprawled around the living room, laughing at something Wes was saying. Silently, he went to the kitchenette and laid everything out on the counter, then stood watching everyone, hesitating to join them. Soul liked people, but he didn't do well in large groups. He could handle it for a while, but sooner or later he found himself drifting to the edges, not really feeling a part of everything. It was a bad habit he couldn't seem to break, and Wes only compounded the problem. Wes was naturally charismatic, easily drawing people in and captivating them. Even here, among Soul's friends, he was a hit, fitting in like they had known one another for years.

He gave a small, sadness tinged smirk. It seemed like no matter where he went, he was destined to remain in his brother's shadow, musically or not. His eyes drifted to Maka, who was smiling politely, sitting on the couch with Black*Star and Tsubaki. As if feeling the weight of his stare, she turned her head, her eyes lighting up when she caught sight of him, her smile widening and becoming more genuine. She waved him over, and he felt his feet moving even before he had made the conscious decision to join them. A smile he couldn't contain pulled at his face, an indescribable feeling that flooded his chest every time she did something like this. She had noticed he was gone, and had missed him. She wanted him to be part of the group. Not just part of the group, but close to her. He knew all of his friends cared for him, but there was something different about Maka that made him feel special and wanted. Maybe it was because they had been partners and friends for so long. Maybe because he was in love with her. Possibly, it was even that dash (okay, considerably more than that) of wanting to jump her bones. It was most likely some kind of combination of all of the above, but whatever it was, it pulled him in and made it easier to last longer in a group without running for the sidelines.

Sitting in the spot she had saved next to her, he tossed an arm over the back of the couch, and felt pleased when she leaned further in to him. Everyone seemed to notice him then, greeting him loudly from around the room. He looked across Maka and Tsubaki at Black*Star, who was still wearing the dog ears and leash from earlier.

"Are you seriously still wearing that? Isn't the collar choking you?"

Black*Star grinned, giving him a thumbs up. "Nah, Tsubaki's good with the leash! I like it when she jerks me...gently."

The room erupted in laughter and catcalls at the innuendo, and Tsubaki gave the leash a not so gentle yank, causing her meister to fall to the floor with a strangled yelp.

"Alright, everyone, the food's here, so let's go ahead and eat! There should be plenty for everyone, so feel free to help yourselves." Wes said, taking the heat off of Tsubaki.

There was a mass exodus as everyone surged forward to get ahead of Patty and Black*Star, knowing the food would be nothing but a faint memory if those two got there first. Soul hung back, not hungry enough to be trampled underfoot. If worse came to worst, he would just pick something up on the way home. It turned out he wouldn't have to worry, since Maka, with her speed and ability to weave in and out of the tightest places, had managed to snag him a plate piled with food. He accepted it gratefully, watching as a three-way match broke out among Patty, Black*Star, and Kilik over some sweet and sour pork. Soul noticed with smug satisfaction that Maka had gotten him a generous portion of the sought after food-stuffs; a fact he would brag about later once it had been safely consumed.

When Maka went to help break up the fight, Wes motioned him to follow him, and the two of them slipped out onto the patio. The spring air was cool and sharp, the scent of new grass and young flowers in the air. Wes leaned his back on the railing, and Soul stood beside him in the same position, balancing his plate while he tried to eat.

"First of all, I just wanted to let you know how proud I am that you made it this far. What you do is far from easy, but you've managed not only to pass, but excel." Wes started, choosing his words carefully as he observed his younger brother.

Though there were still traces of the boy that had left home, the Soul who stood before him was unmistakably a man. There was a maturity about him that came with being thrust into dangerous situations over and over again, and from seeing things that most people his age had never been exposed to. He had been forced to grow up, and although that would have damaged many others, Soul appeared to be doing quite well.

Soul was pleased by his brother's words, knowing they were the closest he would ever come to family support. The only thing that kept him from enjoying the moment completely was his innate cynical nature, which told him that the other shoe was about to drop.

"But as important as that is, that's not what I brought you out here for." Wes continued.

Ah, there was that sneaker now.

"I was wondering...do you have any plans for the future yet?"

Setting his slice of pizza down, Soul blinked. This hadn't been what he was expecting.

"Well, yeah, I guess...I was just gonna keep on doin' what I am right now. Why?"

"I've been wondering if you would consider taking up the piano again, and performing with me. I know it's not as glamorous as being a weapon, but at least you wouldn't be risking your life nearly every day. What do you think?"

The words buzzed in Soul's ears. What did he think? He thought it was ridiculous, of course! As if he would even consider giving up what he had now to go back to the stifling life he had before! But his brother's hopeful tone tempered his response.

"Look, Wes. This is what I do; I promised Maka a long time ago that I would always be her partner, and I'm not plannin' on backing out now. I won't lie, there are some things about the music world that I miss, but performing is definitely not one of them. And if you're honest, you'll admit that having me play with you won't do your reputation good."

"Soul, it's true that your music is...darker than what most people are comfortable with, but that doesn't in any way decrease your talent. You've always had a knack for writing original, inventive pieces, and it's a shame that you haven't pursued that any farther. As for Maka...she is a lovely girl. I can easily see how she would become a special person to you. And, if I'm not greatly mistaken, something more than a meister as well. It's obvious from watching you two how much she cares for you; don't you think she would want you to be happy, to do something because you want to, not because of some promise? And it's not like you could never see her again if you stopped being a weapon. Or am I wrong? Is that all that's holding you together?"

Wes' words burned more than he would like. Of course Maka would want him to be happy...but he wasn't sure if what she felt for him was strong enough to last without the bond they shared. If he did go with Wes, would they grow farther and farther apart? Would she become as close with a new weapon? Closer? He set his plate on the patio table next to him, the sight of food suddenly sickening. No matter how nice the thought of doing something with his brother sounded, losing Maka wasn't a risk he wanted to take. He opened his mouth to refuse, but Wes stopped him, a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't answer yet. Think about it awhile. I didn't come here to pressure you into doing something you don't want to, or to make you have any doubts. I want you to be happy with whatever you choose; I just thought you should have more than one option. If you decide to continue being a weapon, you'll have my full support. Just promise that you'll consider it, alright?"

Soul nodded numbly, already retreating into himself like he did whenever he felt threatened. Not by Wes, but the things he was making him think of. Feeling cold, whether from the wind or the sudden sense of directionlessness, he went inside, plate of food forgotten.

He hardly said a word for the next two hours, and when Maka mentioned that she had something she needed to do at home, he was quick to say his farewells, not quite meeting Wes' eye as he walked them to the parking lot. He fished in his pockets for his keys, waiting for Maka to situate herself behind him before taking off.

Wes watched them leave, a man smoking a dying cigarette joining him as he stood there.

"So, how did it go? Did he take you up on your offer?"

Wes chuckled in response. "No, if anything, he looked horrified. I'm afraid your daughter's stuck with him. You should have seen the way he watches her when she's not looking, like a love-sick calf. Maybe this is the push he needs to tell her how he feels, before they make any major decisions about their future."

Spirit dropped his cigarette to the pavement, grinding the flickering embers out with his shoe. "I give him a hard time, but I have to admit; there's no one I would trust more with my daughter, as a weapon, or a man." he grinned puckishly. "But don't tell him that. I plan on scaring him shitless when the time comes for them to tell me how things stand between them. The faces he makes are absolutely priceless."

The two men shared a laugh, both hoping that the pair that had left them would sort things out. If they weren't on the same page about the future, it was best to find out sooner rather than later. But both had a sneaking suspicion that Soul would not be parted from Maka so easily...and that thought pleased them.

Soul was quiet when they got home; quiet even for him. Maka had been expecting it though, since she knew dealing with large groups took a lot of energy for him, as well as being around Wes. She knew he would be stressed out, and had planned accordingly. Normally she would let him go brood in his room for the rest of the evening, but tonight, she had a goal in mind. While she had hoped that whatever Wes had been wanting to talk to him about would go smoothly, she could tell he was upset. It would be tricky to get him to talk about it, but he would just sulk around until he finally got it off his chest. That was one reason why she needed to talk to him, but not the only one. He had been acting stranger and stranger to her lately, and she wanted to know why. It wasn't a bad strange; it was quite a welcome strange, in fact. She just wanted to confirm that she was reading his signals correctly, and that it wasn't just her own wishful thinking.

"Soul, I picked up that movie you were talking about. Want to watch it with me?" she asked as he began to retreat to his cave.
He halted in midstep, conflicted. One one hand, he wanted to go to his room and do some heavy thinking. On the other hand, he had been wanting to see this movie for a long time, and he usually had to force Maka to even stay in the same room for this kind. He could get her to watch action, horror, and comedy with no problem, but she hated the type of raunchy, juvenile humor he knew this one to be. And by asking him, it was kind of a date, right? Right. Okay, fine, not really, but he would take what he could get for now.

"Fine, let me put my shoes in my room so you don't yell at me when you trip over them later."

Kicking his shoes off in the general direction of his closet, he made a stop in the bathroom before he rejoined her in the living room, where she had already set up the DVD and was ready to push play. She had already changed into the clothes she had on last night, but her hair was still hanging loose. When she felt him sit down on the cushion next to her, she smiled at him and started the movie. He was surprised that she didn't have a book with her. He was shocked when she not only slid closer to him, but snuggled into his side and rested her head on his shoulder. Not one to look a gift meister in the mouth, he made himself comfortable and stretched his arm around her shoulders.

He should have been quite pleased with how his afternoon was turning out. He had nothing important he needed to be doing hanging over his head for the first time in weeks, and he was being allowed to spend a few lazy hours watching a movie he had been looking forward to but which contained no socially redeeming value whatsoever. Even better, Maka had given him another small clue that she might not be adverse to exploring the possibility of being a couple. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the things that Wes had said out of his mind.

It was true that he hadn't given a lot of thought to his future job, since he thought that there wouldn't be much that would actually be changing, though he knew that wasn't the case for all his friends. Black*Star and Tsubaki were leaving for Japan tomorrow to visit her parents, and they would continue to take missions once they got back. Kid and the Thompsons would be running things at Shibusen, and doing less fieldwork. Kilik would continue to take lower level jobs while he waited for the twins to finish their basic education, though he had mentioned he might also do some of the tougher meister only missions so he didn't get out of shape. Ox, Kim and their weapons were all going in on a house together, since they would be staying around Shibusen most of the time. Ox was interested in research and development, while Kim was training with Stein, figuring out ways to combine magic and science to further increase the effectiveness of medical treatments.

Thinking it over, Soul realized that the only ones who planned on changing things up the least were Maka and Black*Star. And that was just Spartoi; many others that had graduated would go on to jobs completely unrelated to their training, while others would only continue for a short time before retiring. And if he was honest with himself, Wes' offer had been tempting. He had never been able to give up dabbling in music, and in fact, had several boxes of music paper covered with songs he had found himself writing over the years. He shifted in his seat, feeling foolishly ashamed for even considering it, before common sense kicked in and told him it would be even more foolish to make a major life decision before carefully examining all the options he had first.

Maka had noticed his distress. He had hardly relaxed at all, and had totally missed some of the jokes, not even cracking a smile. She frowned. It must be worse than she thought.

"Hey, you're really tense, Soul! It's like cuddling with a marble statue."

Her words jolted him from his thoughts, and he made an effort to calm down. "Sorry 'bout that."

"It's fine. Lay down and let me get on top of you." She sat back on her heels, waiting for him to comply.

Knowing that his expression must look like it would be at home in an aquarium, he struggled to figure out how things had escalated so quickly. How had he missed going from casual cuddling to whatever had inspired Maka to want to mount him?

Picking up on his train of thought, she rolled her eyes, fighting back a blush. "I meant, lay on your stomach! I'll rub your back for you."

Oh. Well. He knew that.

Wordlessly, he rolled into position, thankful that she couldn't see his reaction as she straddled the backs of his thighs. Her hands began to work at the knots in his neck, moving lower to his shoulders when his small whimpers turned to moans. She moved slowly, focusing on one area at a time until each muscle under her fingertips was relaxed. The tension that had filled his body seemed to be shed in almost visible waves, and she couldn't help taking pride in her massage skills every time he let out a contented sigh. She had made it to the base of his lower spine, where she bit her lip in hesitation. It was hard to work through the denim. Not giving herself time to think, she slipped her hands into his waistband, pushing it down a little. He jumped in surprise, but when he made no sound of protest, she kept going. The harder she pressed her hands into the dip of his back, the louder he moaned, and it was starting to affect her more than she thought it would. Her mind filled with images of him lying on his back under her like this, with the same sounds coming from his mouth. The temptation to rub herself against the thigh that was between her legs became too great, so she removed herself before she could give in, hoping he didn't notice her erratic breathing.

"Don' stooooop. Feelin' gooooood." he slurred from his supine position.

Maka shivered, the sound of his voice racing through her nerves to take up residence between her thighs.

"Stay there and finish the movie. I'm going to go make supper. You hardly touched your lunch, so I know you have to be hungry by now." she said, going to prepare the surprise she had planned there.

Soul was too sluggish to move; lax from her ministrations, he barely turned his head to look at the clock. It was after six, and his stomach was screaming at him for passing up all that food earlier. Whatever she was making, he hoped there was a lot of it. The excitement of the day finally caught up with him, and as he tried to make sense of what was happening on the tv, his lids fluttered lower and lower, finally staying closed as his breath deepened and evened out.

He was awoken sometime later by a hand gently shaking his shoulder, Maka's voice saying his name in his ear. Groggily, he sat up, yawning loudly, sharp teeth flashing.

"Sorry to wake you up, but your supper's ready." she said apologetically, hating to wake him from what looked like a much needed nap.

He grinned lazily, standing to follow her into the kitchen. "Never apologize when food is involved." his eyes widened when he saw what was on the table. Thin, glistening slices of raw salmon and tuna were arranged on a plate, with two small dishes of dipping sauces next to it. Maka hated raw fish, but she had learned to prepare it quite well, though the times when she would were few and far between.

Pulling out a seat, he looked at her questioningly as she cut into the omelette she had made for herself.

"What's this for? Did you do somethin' you need to tell me about?" he was only half joking, since she had fixed this meal for him as an apology several times.

Maka swallowed her bite. "No, I just knew that it would be a rough day for you, so I thought you could use something nice." she explained smoothly.

Soul took a bite, closing his eyes in bliss. Maka had a fiery temper and could be as bossy as hell, but her understanding and thoughtfulness balanced it out.

She watched him savor his meal, barely hearing his thanks or his compliments on her cooking. Though he appeared normal, his wavelength was still off, like a wheel that wouldn't quite stay on track. They were silent as they ate, and when they were finished, Maka took the dishes, rinsing them off for Blair to do later when she got home, punishment for clawing up one of Maka's sweaters to use for a bed.

"Think I'm gonna take a long shower, and then get ready for bed." Soul announced, looking like he might fall back asleep at any minute.

"Sounds good. See you in the morning, then." Maka answered, on her way to her room. Everything had gone perfectly. She had done all the prep work; now it was time to let the meat rest before turning up the heat.

Maka grabbed the book she was currently reading off of her desk and plumped up the pillow on her bed, ready to wait for the right time to make her move. She and Soul had a rather odd arrangement; when there was something important one of them had to say that might be embarrassing or difficult to get out, they would go into the other's room at night when it was dark. Soul had been the one to start it. Years ago, after a pretty volcanic fight that had been his fault, he had felt bad and knew he should apologize. Like Maka, he was stubborn and hated to admit to being wrong, but he knew he had really hurt her feelings this time, so he had to do something. He kept waiting for a good moment, but one never came, and their resonance was being affected. One night, he couldn't get to sleep because of it, so he rolled out of bed and crossed the hall, impetuously entering her room. It had been pitch black, the moon hidden behind the clouds outside the window, and he had stumbled to her bed, sitting on the edge.

It had woken her up, and while she was still half asleep, he blurted out his apology, finding it much easier since she couldn't see his face. They had talked for a while, and things between them went back to normal. He began to do this whenever he couldn't get the right words out in the daylight hours, and, after she discovered his reasoning, she tried it too. This helped to ease a lot of tension between them, and after a while, they found it easier to talk during the day, too. The times they had to sneak into the other's room became fewer and farther apart, and it took worse things than a little tiff to make it necessary. Sometimes they had talked so long they fell asleep together, but they found that that wasn't as awkward as one might think, and was actually quite comforting. And comfort, Maka thought darkly, was the other reason that these moonlit sojourns were needed...

The worst one had been about a year ago, and it still hurt her to remember it. They were having a rare quiet day at home, and everything was going well between them. Soul was going for a new record of nearly three consecutive weeks without having his skull bashed in with a book, and Maka had actually understood the meaning behind the music of a song that had been on the radio that morning. Then, as so often is the case, the phone rang.

For once, Soul answered it, and Maka could tell by his expression that he wished he hadn't. Even from her spot across the room, she could hear the yelling of an angry man, as Soul held the phone away from his ear. It had turned out to be Wes, calling to chew Soul out for not attending his grandmother's funeral.

A funeral he had not been made aware of.

Or her death.

Soul had gone so pale he was almost translucent, dropping the phone to hang by it's cord, staggering over to fall onto the couch. Maka had hurried to the phone, and once she had figured out what happened, had told Wes that no one had called to inform Soul. Wes had gone eerily silent. He had been out of the country when the news had reached him, and had assumed his parents would do the right thing and call Soul. He was deeply sorry that he had talked to Soul like he had, and furious with his parents. He promised to call back sometime later and talk things out with Soul. After he had given a piece of his mind to his mother and father. He had, and Soul had forgiven him, when he found out Wes didn't have the full story, and they had tried to keep in better contact. But that didn't happen that day. Maka didn't think Soul would have even been capable of carrying on a conversation. He just sat there, staring blankly ahead, his face as emotionless as a wax figure. She tried once to speak, a hand resting lightly on his arm, but it was like she was invisible, and nothing she could do would reach him. She had watched worriedly as he stood and went to his room for the night, his face calm, but his soul roiling with emotions, almost drowning him in their darkness.

She hadn't waited for him, but had gone to him that night, joining him in his bed and drawing him close, wordlessly offering him comfort. At first, he had just stayed in her arms stiffly, but then, when she thought it might have been a mistake to come, he had rolled to his side, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her chest. He had begun to sob like a small child, harsh, ugly sounds that broke her heart to hear. She had held him closer, stroking his hair, but saying nothing. There was nothing to say. It wasn't alright, what had happened, and it never would be. A chance to say goodbye had been taken away from him, and he could never get it back. The pain would lessen in time, but it would always be there, and she wasn't going to fill the air with meaningless words that would do him no real good. All she could do was be there for him, to let him know that he wasn't alone. He had cried for hours, his breath shaky as he drenched the front of her shirt with his tears. She had cried as well; for his loss, for his pain, for the unfairness that he had to endure.

That had been their worst night so far, but Maka knew that it most likely would only be the first of that kind. You couldn't escape it, in their line of work. Not when you cared for so many people. And she knew, when that phone call came for her, that Soul would be there to hold her, just as she had for him.

Standing outside his room, she glanced down at what she was wearing, and wondered if she should change first. She shook her head, deciding against it. There had never been anything of a sexual nature about these meetings, no matter how many times she would fantasize about it on her own, dreaming up scenarios where they turned into something more. She wasn't here for that, although she was honest enough with herself to admit that she wouldn't be adverse if things took a turn in that direction.

The knob was cool in her hand as she silently opened the door, tiptoeing in and shutting it behind her. The light of the moon was clear enough to guide her to the bed, where Soul had kicked off the covers and was lying on his back, clad only in a pair of boxers that had been pushed just below his hipbones. Maka got in bed and quickly covered them up, both because it was chilly and because the tantalizing sight was distracting her from her main goal. She didn't have long to wait, for with a slight prod through their wavelength, she roused him from sleep. He blinked in confusion, making sleepy noises in the back of his throat.

"Maka? 'S'rong? Wait a minute, was there really somethin' you needed to apologize for? You were unusually nice today."

She gave his shoulder a smack as she adjusted the pillow under her head, turning on her side to face him.

"I haven't done anything! It's just...I think we need to talk about some things. First of all, what did Wes want? You've looked shook up over it ever since you talked to him."

Soul was glad his face was shadowed, and even more glad she had waited till night to bring it up. He rolled to his previous position, folding his arms behind his head.

"It was stupid, really. He suggested something, but I'm not gonna do it, so there's really nothin' to worry about."

Maka detected the note of unsureness in his voice. "What was it?"

"He...said that if I didn't want to be a weapon anymore, that he'd like it if I got back into music, and did somethin' with him." he felt her tense up, and rushed to add, "But I'm not gonna do that, it was a stupid idea, so don't get mad!"

She wasn't mad. She knew that music would always be a part of Soul. A large part. And she knew that doing something alongside his brother was probably something he had dreamed of as a child, before his weapon blood surfaced. Thinking about it rationally, it was a good offer. If that was really what he wanted to do with his life, then he needed to admit it. A weapon with doubts was a recipe for disaster.

"Soul, are you sure? If this is what you want, then you need to go for it. I don't want you staying here because you feel obligated. I want you to do what makes you truly happy." The words were hard for her to say, but they were true. She hated the thought of no longer being partners, but she hated the thought of being cause for his resentment later on.

"No. Look, Maka, it wouldn't work out anyway, so there's no use even considering it. The moment I played on stage with him would ruin his career, and mine would never even get started. My madness aside, there's just too much difference between us. No matter how hard I tried, I could never match him. In anything. Trust me on that. I know he played for you guys today; I saw the violin case out when I got back from picking up the food. Now that you've heard the difference for yourself, even you can agree that it would be for the best if I never touched another piano." he spoke harshly, unable to conceal his bitterness. He was shocked out of his self pity when she did something unheard of on these nights; she turned on the bedside light.

"Ow! Hey, that's against the rules Maka! Turn it back-oof!"

She had pushed him back down, propping herself up on his chest so she could glare at him.

"I wanted to see your stupid face to make sure I was getting through your little pity party!" she spat.

He rolled his eyes. "Callin' me stupid might not be the best way to go about makin' me feel better about myself."

"Shut up. You're right, he did play for us, and you know what? He was good. Very good. But his music didn't move me like yours does. No! Don't interrupt! Before you even say it's because of the madness, let me tell you something. I've been exposed to enough of that over the years to know when that's what is influencing me, and while there is madness in your music, that isn't all about it that makes it compelling. And it's not evil, either. I did some research, and I found that almost all of the best musicians in history have had a touch of madness, and nothing bad has come of it." her voice grew quieter.

"I also know what evil music sounds like. When I was still researching it, I came across some that...well, it made my soul sick. There was just something about it that frightened me. But your music is nothing like that. And as for this ridiculous notion that you fall short in comparison to Wes, I have to tell you that that's absolute bullshit! You two may be brothers, but you aren't similar at all! Wes is methodical and precise, and his music is technically perfect, and that's how he lives his life. But you pour yourself into your music, and it's wonderful and exciting, just like you make everything that you're passionate about!"

Seeing the corners of his lips twitch, Maka shrank back a little, realizing she might have shown her hand sooner than she was ready. She moved back off of him, and tried to speak more calmly.

"Anyway. Like I was saying; if this is what you want, then I want you to do it. Just let me know soon, so I can figure out what I need to do."

Soul propped himself up on one arm to stare at her. Some of the things she said had stirred his heart to the point of bursting, but others...

"Are you in that much of a hurry to get rid of me then?" he asked softly, hurt evident in his voice. Didn't she care that if he chose this, they wouldn't be together anymore?

Maka stared at him, her embarrassment overshadowed by confusion.

"What do you mean, get rid of you? I know you probably would have to travel a lot, but we could work around that. I could easily get a teaching position at Shibusen, and take lighter missions while you're away. We would still be together, even if we weren't partners."

The words hung there between them, waiting for him; everything hung on his reaction. Hardly daring to believe, he smiled at her.

"Would we? As what, Maka? Friends? Roomates? Or...are you saying you might like to be partners in a different sense of the word?" his voice held no teasing, only hope.

She shivered as he leaned closer to her, avoiding his eyes as she gave a tiny nod, her fingers nearly shredding the blanket in her nervousness.

His smile grew wider, and his head was filled with a chorus of bluebirds singing Zippety Doo Dah. What she was suggesting was something he knew was part of her plans for later in life; she had always had things laid out. First, she would immerse herself in intense fieldwork for several years, building up her experience. Then, when she decided she was ready for a child, (something he had always hoped included him in the process), she would slow down, taking a teaching position and going on fewer missions, much like Sid. But now she was changing all that. Maka, stubborn, singleminded Maka, was willing to compromise to be with him. He knew how excited she was about her job, and the fact that she would alter her plans for him was all the proof he needed to know how she felt about him. Because Maka didn't compromise lightly; she had to have a good reason before she was willing to even consider it. Suddenly, the answer hit him. Compromise! Maka wouldn't have to give anything up, and neither would he, really. In fact, it would work out much better this way. But for now, he had another question.

He leaned over her, their noses almost touching. "I don't think you need to do anything that drastic." he whispered, brushing her cheek with his thumb. "You said earlier it was exciting when I was passionate about something. Is it alright to show you what else I'm passionate about?"

Her throat went dry, fully aware of what he was implying. "I think I would like that." she answered, moments before his lips connected with hers.

The kiss was slow, but there was a fire behind it that continued to build, softly at first, but the heat increased nevertheless, fully consuming them. Her hands locked around his neck as their tongues met, his body pressing into hers as he moved himself over her. She moaned at the contact, feeling him hard against her thigh. He could almost taste her disappointment when his lips left hers, but that turned into fluttery sighs as he latched onto her neck, licking and sucking his way down to her shoulder. His hands hadn't been idle, sliding up her waist, lifting her shirt to expose her pale, flat stomach. The warmth of his hands on her skin made her arch into him, and he raised the shirt higher, waiting to see if she would object.

When she didn't, he sat up, pulling her forward enough to lift it over her head, finally seeing her firm, high breasts for the first time. He cupped one tenderly, aware that she was unsure of his scrutiny, his youthful jibes coming back to haunt him. Her nipples were dark pink and already hard, though when he thumbed one, it tightened further, earning a soft gasp from Maka. He leaned forward to take it into his mouth, careful not to use his teeth before he could tell how much pressure she liked. His tongue danced across her skin, playfully circling the bud, and she must have enjoyed it, because she grasped his hair in her fists, tugging him closer. He made sure to caress the opposite breast, altering his oral assault between them, fascinated by the variety of sounds he was getting out of her.

Soon, she pushed him back into a sitting position, the blanket falling away from them. His eyes stayed trained on her breasts as they swayed with her movements, until her hand on his erection had his hips jerking up. She took this opportunity to yank his boxers down to his thighs, her hand going back to run along his shaft. He would have found her expression of studied concentration that he had seen her wear in class funny if she hadn't bent down to lick it, his eyes rolling back from the unaccustomed wet heat. Her tongue explored him thoroughly, tracing every ridge and vein of his shaft, lapping at his balls and then back up to the head, where she sucked at the gathering fluid, tapping the head to an unheard beat.

Curse words fell in a stream from his lips, but in his haze, he saw her hips in the air from where she was bent on her knees beside him, and he decided that she was not receiving nearly enough attention. Reaching out a shaky hand as her head continued to slowly bob over him, he reached between her legs, pushing the crotch of the boxers to the side. He had meant to stroke her through her underwear, but as she wasn't wearing any, it left him with his fingers gliding along her dripping slit. She gave a sharp cry at the contact, lifting her head to look up at him, eyes hazy with want.

"You...you're not wearing..."

"Not tonight. I never do, when I'm wearing boxers."

Soul's eyes widened. That meant that each time he had seen her prancing around in this outfit, she had been...

"Fuck me sideways."

She gave him a saucy smile. "With some practice, I'd be willing to try." She then returned to her previous task as his fingers worked their way inside her, her moans adding a new dimension to the pleasure he was receiving. He almost laughed. That was Maka. She never did anything by halves, and she always had a smart remark to go along with it. Her mouth was about to drive him crazy, but he fought to hold on, finally pushing her away. She didn't seem pleased by this, but any objection she might have went out the window as he pushed her back, his fingers returning to her channel, but this time he was able to reach her clit as well. He applied a gentle, circular pressure, pressing harder and speeding up as the movements of her hips became more erratic. Her hands clutched at his arms, her body trembling as pleasure shot through her, tightening around his fingers before she slumped back into the mattress.

Focusing on her had given Soul enough time to get himself under some semblance of control, and he waited for her to catch her breath, his hands ghosting over the curve of her hips, then up to stroke the sides of her breasts. When it looked like she was able to tell what was going on, he moved himself between her legs, removing her boxers, the head of his cock dragging over the dampness on her inner thigh. He looked at her pleadingly. He really, really needed to come, and if she wasn't ready for this, he needed to know so he could take care of himself.

His distress made her giggle wickedly. "Bet you wish you had let me finish, don't you?" she teased.

He gave a doglike whine, as if he was the one who should be wearing the fake ears his friend had on this morning. "MAaaakaaaaa! Tell me what you want me to do, damn it!"

"Ah ah, what's the magic words?"

He glared at her, not in the mood to play. "Please, can I fuck you now?" he growled.

She snorted at him, pinching his shoulder. "I was thinking more along the lines of, 'I love you,' but I suppose the other was to be more expected."

Soul instantly felt stupid. He had been shouting it so much in his head, that he had completely forgotten that he hadn't said it to her!

His face softened, and his voice was sincere when he said, "Maka, I love you. And I'm not sayin' that just so you'll have sex with me. I've been planning on tellin' you for a while now, no matter when we got around to this."

"I love you too." she kissed his nose. "Now, you better start, before you rupture something."

He used his hand to line himself up, purposely coating himself in as much of her juices as possible, flicking her clit in revenge for her words. With careful movements he sank into her, her legs around his waist holding her in place. Her eyes clenched shut, and he counted his breaths to distract himself from slamming into her.

When he felt her move under him, his hips thrust forward, her walls clenching around him. He kept the pace as slow as he could, drawing it out. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, licking away the beads of sweat that had begun to form. As her movements became more sure, he sped up, watching as her hand snaked between them to play with herself, her fingers hitting him where he slid in and out of her. He grunted, the wet slap of flesh on flesh echoing in the room. She was calling his name, her hand moving at a furious pace. He could feel her rippling around him, and he was unable to last much longer. With four more thrusts he came, the bright light flashing across his vision having nothing to do with the lamp.

Rolling them both over, they basked in the silence, panting together until they caught their breath. When the sweat on their bodies began to cool, making them shiver, Soul dragged the blanket over them, his arm over her side and his chin on her shoulder. She was asleep almost immediately, and though he tried to stay awake to enjoy the moment as long as he could, he soon joined her.

When Maka woke the next morning, she was deeply disappointed to find that she was alone. She had been anticipating some quality snuggle time, if not another round. Or both. Yes, preferably both. The sound of pen scratching against paper alerted her to the fact that she wasn't as alone as she had at first thought, and she followed the sound to it's origin. Soul was sitting at his desk in his boxers, filling out what looked like some kind of form.

"Soul? What are you doing?" her voice was still thick with sleep, and she briefly considered a nap.

He glanced sideways, smiling to see her awake. "I was goin' over this paperwork, filling in the application for further Deathscythe training. I want you to look up the ones in the field that are available to train with, and see which ones we're most compatible with. Meaning, which ones we can stand to be around for a year."

"Are you sure about this? Really sure? I didn't mean for last night to be a way to convince you to do what I want." Maka said uneasily, now wondering if giving in to her desires had been a good choice.

"No. This is what I want to do. This is what we've trained for, and what we're good at. And to be honest, I really enjoy it, when we're not half dead and bleeding all over the place."

"But I know you want to do something with your music, too! You don't have to push that aside just for-"

"I'm not. I thought about it last night, and I realized I can still do both. I don't need to go anywhere to write music. I can do that right here in my spare time, like I always have. Wes can take my music, and I don't have to perform, which you know I hate doing, anyway." he explained, proud to have thought things out so well.

Maka brightened. His idea sounded perfect, and everyone came out happy. Trust Soul to find a way to have his cake and eat it too. She licked her lips. This called for a celebration. Climbing out of bed, she came over to stand behind him, her arms around his shoulders as she leaned forward, her breasts pressing into his back.

"I think I'll go take a shower." she whispered huskily, nibbling his ear. "Want to join me?"

"Hmm, not now, I need to get this thing filled out." Soul muttered in disgust, trying in vain to decipher the small print.

A hand was suddenly slapped against his forehead.

"Maka? What are you doing?"

"Either you have a fever, or I broke you last night, because you just turned down sex in favor of paperwork." Maka answered dryly.

Soul blinked rapidly, not believing what was happening. Adult responsibility was all well and good, but there was no sense in going overboard! Here he had his meister's bare tits rubbing against him while she propositioned him, and he hadn't even jumped her yet!

A squeal was forced from Maka's lips as he grabbed her arm and pulled her after him to the door.

"So, what made you change your mind?"

"I'm working on the blow to the head principle. What the first blow caused, the second will cure."

"But instead of blow to the head, you mean blow to the-"

"Correct, Nurse Albarn! Quickly, to the treatment room! The patient is in serious condition!"

She laughed as he drug her down the hall. Though the future was far from certain, it was going to be alright. They might keep going as they were, or decide to do something completely different. But for now, they had a direction, and they would follow it as they did everything else; together.