Disclaimer: not mine. never will be. the end.

Also, lyrics are from the Lumineers' song "Stubborn Love."

Author's Note: I've finally decided to start an AU. I've had this idea for Soul and Maka for a long time and finally started this first chapter here and wrote an outline so we'll see how it goes. I don't know why I started this with my spring semester starting up on Thursday and with my part-time job overwhelming me, but I find sanctuary in writing so, though sporadic they may be, I will update it as much as I can. Chapters will vary in size: some will be smaller and some might be huge. I don't know yet. Just like you never quite know how a roadtrip's gonna go. So enjoy the ride.

(sorry about the puns)

It's better to feel pain

than nothing at all

When I told him I wanted to write a story, he asked me, "What's the fun in that? Wouldn't you rather live one?"

And I honestly never thought of that.

Not until he dragged across a few states to really dig the question in.

But I guess I shouldn't start here. I should start at the beginning… like every story, whether it's been written or not.


She toes the door open a crack, and throws a sharp spear of light into his room that appears to puncture his bleary eyes.

"What?" he groans. "What could you possibly want at…" He glances at his too-bright alarm clock. "4 AM," he deadpans at the realization.

"Just reminding you to buy new milk later, since you drank all of the last one straight out of the carton." Maka takes the empty one, soggy and floppy like the skin of a rotten orange, and kicks it part-way into the dark. She knows that if it lands somewhere in his mountains of dirty laundry he'll probably not be able to tell the difference between it and a white T-shirt, but figures it's not her problem he decides to live in a self-built fortress of unwashed sweatpants and hoodies.

"And you are telling me now because…?" He rolls over in the bed to face her with unrestrained irritation, two sanguine slits peering at her beneath black linen sheets, like a serpent she poked in its den.

"I'm going to work and I won't be back until 2, so I kinda had to remind you now. Sorry to wake you." She flattens out her white apron and turns around, slowly shuts the door before he decides to strike.


She halts mostly because she is startled by the sudden change of strength in his groggy, gnarled voice.

"Didn't you just get back from work a few hours ago?"

She nods.

"And then when you got home instead of sleeping you started studying your accounting stuff, right?"

Another nod. A fatigue like a deep chill she can't shake crawls into her bones.

"Have you slept?"

"Unlike you," Maka retorts, "I don't sleep as much as a cat in order to function."

"You're avoiding the actual question, which means you're exhausted and you don't wanna admit it to me or even yourself."

She's not positive when he left his safe cavern of blankets, but now he stands mere inches behind her, and then, his warm breath seeps across the nape of her neck and she knows he's too close for comfort without having to look.

Her blood boils when she becomes aware that his movements are so fluid and calculated by nature that she didn't hear him approach her, and the drowsiness that made her bones heavy moments before burns away like fog in the afternoon light.

She pushes him away, though not hard enough to knock him down. He's too sturdy for that, she knows. She also knows that's why she's so drawn to him – he's a rock, her rock, as much as she loathes to admit it.

Soul remains where she shoves him. "Fine. Go. Idiot."

But sometimes the rock crumbles over time, erodes by all the wind and rain she coasts against him with her fits of anger and harsh words.

"Okay" is all that comes out of her chapped lips as she slams his door behind her and makes her way to the diner in her cold, leather-seated car.

He slumps to the floor in defeat, tired simply from watching her overwork herself to death, and stares blankly at the carcass of milk that soaks through one of his favorite shirts.

"Damn it, Maka," he mumbles. "Damn it all to hell."

"Maka, are you sure you're fine to work? I'm certain someone else could have covered for-"

"I'm fine, Marie, really," she says as she pours more mud-shaded coffee into a customer's porcelain mug without looking, places sweet 'n' low packets and creamers for the regular as he flicks mindlessly through his newspaper. She wonders what he reads about every single day in a small town that never changes much except its direction of wind.

"But you look really tired, honey," her boss murmurs with such genuine concern that Maka feels an uncomfortable melding of guilt and fatigue reside in her heart and tie knots in the strings as it knocks away against its will, beneath tired muscle and bone.

"I always look like that lately." She knows it, too. She feels like her eyes have been rubbed raw as she blinks away some of the redness forming at the edges. She senses it in the way her shoulders slump like someone is pushing on them. Maka feels a lot like people are pushing her these days and she's not sure what to do about it other than to work overtime in both her part-time job and her studies and try to forget it all.

"Your break's in fifteen minutes. And don't think I won't know if you try to skip it," Marie hisses with a glare sharp enough to cut the steel counter top.

Maka gulps and nods.

Her boss smiles, an eerie contrast to her deadly leer, and then returns to her office behind the kitchen to resume calculating the profit the diner garnered the day before.

She checks her watch to be sure she leaves for her break on time in fear of the repercussions, then pivots to fill another of her customer's chipped mugs. As she looks up in response to another client waving her over for a refill from across the restaurant, she sees a familiar mop of long red hair outside and nearly loses it.

"Maka, you know papa loves you and mama the most, right?"

Next to the crimson-tinged hair is blonde-streaked that's entirely unfamiliar to her in every way, the way a road she's never been down with a million twists and turns is unfamiliar. And an emptiness fills her, the kind of vacancy she would find in a movie theater on a cold Sunday night.

"Papa?" she murmurs aloud. And she knows on the surface she's twenty-three, but beneath that is a six year old girl who knows the strike of betrayal by someone she loves for the very first time who dominates the adult.

"Of course, Papa."

"Miss? My coffee?"

She thinks of a counselor's office that has a green color scheme and a woman who smells like she showers in perfume instead of water, but the sort of perfume that makes her eyes water and her nose fold backward and crinkle in disgust.

"Excuse me, Miss!"

She clutches the handle of the coffee pot tighter, and then she thinks of a blank sheet of paper with three circles on it.

"Now, Maka, I'd like you to fill in these circles with faces that express how you feel."

She remembers three sad faces, right in a row. Tear streaks in erasable pencil streaming down the pages week after week.

"What can I do to get some service around here? Jeez!"

He grabs her hand.

There's a sound of smashing and she's not sure where it comes from, and then she realizes it: she threw the coffee pot over the booth of the noisy customer and it smashes with an impressive bang against the plexiglass right where her father and his flavor of the week stand outside, out of reach and touch. The obsidian liquid sloshes down the window like old snow melting and then her vision is the color of coffee and she's falling, falling like the pieces of shattered, sharp glass straight to the checkered floor.

Soul slides across the red-leather seat from where she lays, asleep at last, in the diner no less on a Tuesday morning. Relief and heartburn fills him all at once as he observes her supine form cradled in a stained tablecloth for a blanket.

"So, how did this happen?" he asks as Marie folds her skirt beneath her and plops down next to him with what looks like an added wrinkle on her face from the events of the morning.

She sighs, quiet like the hiss of the still-boiling coffee pots, and places her head in her hands to hide beneath her wavy blonde hair. "Doing too much overtime, as you know," she starts, "and I think the last straw was her seeing her father with his newest... lady-friend walking down the street."

He grimaces, pushes the swelling anger in his gut down before it creates a monster of him that unleashed would rain perhaps too much terror and bloodshed on her unsuspecting father. "That bastard. He's gonna destroy her."

"Not as long as you're around, Soul."

A warmth rests on his clenched hand and he turns to face his best friend's boss like he would a fellow mourner at a funeral.

Don't think of Spirit in a casket, don't think of Spirit in a casket...

"So I'd like to ask for a favor," she says so suddenly and seriously he's thrown for a loop. He doesn't shrug off her hand on his as she near-mumbles the proposition. "Take Maka away from her for a while."

He raises an eyebrow. "And how do you suppose I do that? You know how she is. She won't leave here, especially with her dedication to not only this job but her prospect future one."

"Stein and I will give Maka an advance payment. If she complains, just tell her it's from all the birthdays and holidays we've missed as her godparents over the years or something."


"Stop. Besides, she'll be passed out for a while longer. Take this opportunity to go home, get some stuff, and beat it for a month or two." She squeezes his hand, desperation seeps into her voice like butter into warm toast. "Please. It's for the best."

"Please tell me I get an advance payment for the dictionary beatings I'm going to have to endure."

"Free healthcare from Stein?"

He shudders. "Nevermind. Forget I asked."

She wakes to sounds she's heard before in a very different setting: a squeaky car bumping over potholes, leather creaking and antiquated air conditioning whirring and brushing the hair away from her face like a cool, gentle hand. She smells too-sweet green apple air freshener her mother sent her one year for Christmas and when she hears jazz overtones she knows something's not right about all of this as a mix.

"Oh, you're awake." He clears his throat, and she suspects from his shaking, trembling voice that he had hoped she'd be asleep the whole ride.

"What did you do?" She feels whatever ties her stomach to the rest of her body unfurl and it floats like she's on a rollercoaster, and she feels terribly, terribly sick. She rises too quickly and it takes her a minute to become cognizant of her surroundings as her brain repositions itself properly in her spinning, aching head. "Why are you driving my car? Where are we going?" Maka's eyes are as wide as planets and he grips the steering wheel tighter in fear. He can't escape. They're trapped.

She iron-grips his shoulder and he's not sure why but his mind flashes to bad car accidents and ambulances. "Soul? Answer me."

He shakes his head. Sweat drips from every pore on his face. He's spouting like Old Faithful.

"Soul Eater Evans." Her voice is like black ice – he can't see it but he knows it's dangerous, very, very dangerous.

Stretchers. Medflights.

"Look, Maka-"

"Just spit it out! Now!" She fumbles for a book, a big book, or maybe one with spikes instead of pages to bash his head open with.

"You passed out at the diner and Marie wanted you away from that town so we're going on a roadtrip with an advance payment from your godparents and I thought your Taurus would be safer than my motorcycle!"

"So you kidnapped me."


"How can you possibly justify that!" she shouts.

"You almost assaulted a customer."

"He was-"

"You haven't slept in days."

"I have a lot of-"

"We're all concerned, damn it, and you need a break! Will you just listen to someone other than yourself for once?" He screeches to an abrupt halt on the side of the road and the tires squealing sound a lot like his voice just did and her heart beats too heavy in her chest at the smoldering look he broils her with.

A long silence envelops them like a fog as they sit in the breakdown lane of some highway number she swears she's never heard of, and that's when it comes to her: she's never left that godforsaken city in her whole life. She's never seen this desert or any of the others that are bound to come after it. All she knows is that greasy diner and her schoolwork and Soul. She could be blindfolded and walk through the city and still know where she was at all times.

He counts to ten a few times in his head before he tries to speak again. "Look, Maka-"

"I'm sorry." She grips the frilly end of her uniform skirt so tight her knuckles turn ghost-white. "I'm so sorry, Soul." And when the tears drip onto her hands he crushes her in a too-tight hug, because he's not sure what else to do but he knows he wants to plug the dam before it breaks.

"It's ok. I'm sorry. I should've waited for you to wake up instead of just hauling you out with me."

"No, it's all right. I understand why you did it. I wouldn't have listened otherwise."

He pulls back, and his sanguine stare matches the intensity of her viridian one.

She reaches over to take his hand in her tear-coated one. "Maybe I do need this." She laces their fingers and they fit neatly like shoestrings. "Maybe we both do."

He runs his free hand through his hair and laughs. "Yeah. I think we're both goin' crazy back there."

They both laugh a little at the truth of the confession, and turn to the road before them at the same time, glittering with golden-brown sand and useless gas station and food signs.

"Okay," Maka says. "I'll go, on one condition."

He grins. "Anything?"

"Since you kidnapped me, I have the right to the radio."

"You have got to be kidding me."

The opposite of love's