Disclaimer: Do we even need these at this point? Did we ever need them? Though the lyrics are by the band Family of the Year, and the song is "Hero."

Author's Note:
Ok. It's been... about five months since I updated this story. And I'm really sorry that it took me forever. But I won't type out all of the reasons as to why I got sidetracked from this story, because I'm sure it'll bore you. And I'm sure you're all more than aware that life just gets in the way sometimes of the things you wish you could be doing with things you just have to do.

Anyway, I did write a small backstory for this story that I only posted to my tumblr. My screenname there is Kouriko, and you can find the one-shot for this story under the tag compression. It's not essential to read it for the story. It was just a momentary burst of inspiration idk

Thank you so much for the reviews you have left me for the past two chapters, as well as the favorites and the follows. I think I tried to at least personally respond to most of them, and I'm sorry if I didn't. But again, thank you. Any encouragement I get, spoken or unspoken, is amazing to me. It makes my day. So thank you.

If you ever have a question you would like directly answered, feel free to send me an ask or message on tumblr or whatever and I'd be more than glad to answer it. :)

I know this isn't the best chapter to date (partly because I'm exhausted and partly because I've gone rusty in five months) but I still hope you enjoy it.

So let me go
I don't wanna be your hero}

I learned him easily, like driving the same road a thousand times over. He was obvious where I knew I was not, but he learned me more easily, somehow.

In a few days he knew my birthday, how I liked my coffee (a lot of sugar, no cream), favorite color (he still thinks it's navy blue but recently I've been real partial to crimson), and then my goals. My dreams, simple and convoluted. My family, too. How confident I was with total strangers but how much I trembled when presenting to a group of classmates, the color of my hair in every kind of light, how skinny and curveless I am but how happy I am with the way I am shaped.

In a few weeks I learned "cool" was his prime descriptive word, and what he aspired to be if he ever learned to grow up.

His birthday, his bloodtype (AB), his favorite Al Pacino movie (The Godfather; he can quote every scene, including hand motions and facial expressions). How precious his motorcycle is to him; how he saved for it all his own for years and years. I knew what he said was one of his deepest secrets; he likes cats more than dogs.

I thought I knew him, anyway. But over the next few years, that road I'd been driving for a long time began to change. To twist and to veer sharp to the left and to the right. Shaded in some spots, sunnier in others.

He wasn't just a favorite color (he says recently it's emerald, and I always ask, is that even a real color? And he always just smiles funny at me). He was more. The mysterious guy he strived so hard to be. Wouldn't mention his parents when I asked, and only revealed a little about his brother. He could hum every note of a Charlie Parker song, but if he ever entered a room with a piano I could see him to start to panic, to quiver. The anxiety thick as a quilt, but not nearly as comforting. It was smothering, even to me.

I wished sometimes that I was that complicated. I think if I was more complicated, maybe life would be simpler.

But probably not.

She taps the sun-heated gray leather of the steering wheel, tense as she attempts to avoid every crumbling-tar pocket in the road they cruise down. The song that plays in the background grates on her nerves, but she's too lazy to change it, and so far, it's the only one Soul hasn't grouched at in the last three hours.

Her thoughts echo louder than the repeated beat of the music as the glare puts bright-colored spots at the edges of her vision. She supposes she should have tinted the top of her dashboard window when she had the opportunity.


She breaks from her straight-road stupor and briefly glances at him. "What?"

He points to the pocket behind her seat. "What's in that notebook of yours? You're always carrying it around, and I'm kind of curious."

Maka swerves around another pothole and hisses. "Don't touch it."

He smirks. "Oh… Is that a diary, Ms. Albarn?"

"No, but it's still private."

Soul bursts out laughing. "What is it, the beginning to an erotic novel you're writing or something?"

She blushes. "No, but just leave it alone!"

He wiggles his eyebrows. "Is it a love story? I thought you didn't believe in love." He continues to glance at it occasionally, like it's some hidden treasure he's somehow stumbled upon but is just a few inches out of his reach.

"I don't believe in marriage. There's actually a huge difference." She sniffs.


"Well," she says with a sigh, "I've just watched my father destroy one. So part of it is just that… I know I'd never be able to find anyone to marry. I've got a lot of issues. Trust issues. I'm not easy to be with. I'm hard to love. Maybe even impossible to love."

Soul's gaze drifts out his cracked-open window. "That's not true. Nobody's impossible to love. And everyone has issues. And you know what?"

She waits for him to continue; it's been years since she's seen him so pensive.

"I don't think you have to love every part of someone to be with them. You just have to love their important parts, and the parts about themselves that they love." He fidgets nervously with the window button. "Like, their smile. Their laugh. How they can read for hours and hours and never get bored. How they cook your favorite meal when you're sad or sick. How they keep your company in silence when they know you don't want to talk but don't want to be alone." He wipes dust off the weatherworn dashboard, and the callouses on his hand make a faint scratching noise as they brush the dried surface. "But you don't have to love the part of them that punches you really hard in the arm when they get angry. You don't have to love how much of a sore sport they are when they lose a competition." He turns back to her. "You just have to love what you can with all you have and forget the rest."

She watches a small fog of pink roll across his cheeks, a little on the bridge of his nose. She's amazed at his sudden burst of wisdom, but on edge with the specific experiences he listed as examples. She opens her mouth to answer and then the car dips too far into a pothole and she struggles to control it as her old right front tire is torn open and part of it lays flayed like finely-shredded steak across the expanse of road they've recently left behind.

Maka gloats internally the tiniest bit at her quick reflexes and ability to pull immediately to the side of the road without either of them exiting the car with a single bruise. But she's not so sure about her Ford. It might not be built as tough as she'd originally hoped.

They both pause for a minute, gape, and assess the monumental damage the tire and the rim have taken. The loosest pieces of rust-flake on the rim drift away like deadened leaves in the tendrils of wind. She sighs and is the first to take action as she shifts through her trunk to find the crank jack and spare tire.

"Man," she groans. "I have an extra tire at home, but all I have with me now is a kind of damaged donut."

He blinks, owlish.

"Forget it. You're useless. Move aside, moron." She slides on grease-stained gardening gloves with a roll of her eyes and begins to loosen the bolts.

He grimaces as she mumbles something about motorcycles being useless, oversized scooters.

"I mean, can I at least do something?"

She rolls up her jeans to her reddened knees, gets up and rubs the sheen of sweat on her forehead with the back of her hand. "Well, just lift the tire and put it to the side for me, I guess. Will you feel manlier if you lift for me?" She bites her lip to hold back a huge laugh at his kicked-puppy expression.

He huffs and pushes her to the side, lifts the mostly-shredded remains of the tire up and tosses it out onto the dirt to their right. But not without an immense struggle.

"Somebody needs some steroids."

He crosses his arms and sits facing away from her.

"And an attitude check," she says with an unyielding, smug curve to her lips as she gets on her hands and knees to check for damage to the body of the car. She leans under the rim and inspects the entirety of the tire's rusted cavern.

Soul peeks to check on her and chokes on his own spit at the way she sticks her rump out in his direction. "Jesus Christ," he murmurs, buries his head between his knees before he gives into the urge to punch himself in the nuts for his own wandering thoughts. "Fuck."

"What are over there swearing for?"

"I'm just having an existential crisis."

She raises an eyebrow. "What's with all your big words lately?"

"Leave me alone and put your stupid donut on."

After ten minutes of silence and cranking wrench pass, he watches night-dark ashen clouds swarm in their direction. Thunder grumbles like his stomach in the distance, and he looks to Maka to see she's also gazing toward the oncoming storm with dread. Not a single car passes them on the road.

"At least the next city isn't too far," she says as she throws her gloves back into the deep abyss of her trunk. "We could really even just push the car there, since I don't really trust this replacement tire."

"Are you serious? It's at least two miles from here."

She glares. "It's safer to push at this point then lean on a tiny tire like that in a monsoon. Whatever, princess. Get in the chariot, and I'll push your fat ass there myself in it."

At that, he rises to the challenge and waits by the trunk of the car while she puts it in neutral. "Your car is the size of a boat, though. I don't get what you're so damn worried about. Why don't we just wait in it for the storm to pass? What's the rush?"

Maka ignores him and the two start to shove the car forward, just as the first few drops of rain freckle their exposed skin.

Veins of lightening throb like electrical currents through the plumes of cloud, and they are only halfway there when the worst of the shower pelts them. The dampness sinks into the dirt and causes mud to start to graze at their feet on the slanted road. She sighs and moves faster along with him, but falls on some mud and catches herself on the ground with her hands, only to slip again on the slickness of the time-eroded roads.

"Ugh," she moans as she tastes mud on the edges of her tongue and in between her teeth.

"Can we just sit in the car and wait for this to pass?" he yells over the cacophony of the summer storm.

"I don't want mud on my car floors!"

"So you'd rather stay out here? Then just get naked or something! I don't care! This is rid-"

He slides, too, and falls on his ass beside her in the rising waters mixed with mud.

"That's what you get for telling me to strip."

"Strip for your fucking good, you crazy bitch."


"Is this honestly a time to care about that? You should have just listened to me!"

They leer at each other for a few seconds before Soul's vision is blocked by the wet dirt she chucks at his face. He reacts in suit without thinking, and soon they are both muddier than the highway beneath them.

The storm beings to clear, the thunder fainter than footsteps and the lightening strings flash out dimmer and dimmer as the scattering clouds break free of each other.

"Someone up there is fucking with me. Or maybe it's just you."

"Shut up and help me push the car! And language!"

He makes sure to color every sentence uttered from his muddied lips.

The receptionist at the hotel eyes them with askance as they reach her counter, a trail of mud in their wake from what doesn't stick to their soaked skin and clothes.

"One bed, if possible, please," Soul says with a smile.

The girl winces as she notices some dirt in his serrated teeth, but drops the key on the counter without any questions. She's not even sure she wants to know. She just wants them out of her newly-refurbished lobby, fast.

Maka grabs the key and bolts for the room right down the first-floor hall. "I get the shower first!"

"Not on my watch!" He tackles her to the ground mid-gait and an unpleasant shade of brown stains the carpet beneath their mingling limbs as they roll on the floor in a drenched, tumultuous heap.

They wrestle for it before Maka bites his arm and wrenches it from him by brute force, and they both fall into the room yelling and fighting dirt-caked tooth and nail for the bathroom door.

"What was all that noise, Kim?" a young woman asks as she steps up to the counter.

The girl sighs with deep-embedded frustration as she opens the closet for the mop. "A real couple of trouble-making weirdos, that's all I know. Or lake monsters."

"There's only one way to settle this," Soul says through ragged gasps of air as they fight for the claim to the threshold.

"What is it?" she asks with breaths equally as labored, as she refuses to move her hand from the brass doorknob.

"We get in the shower together."

Her eyes widen and he sees a blush shuffle from the tips of her ears down even through the blackest of the mud on her face.

"With our clothes on, idiot." He grabs her hand and nearly throws her in as he squeaks on the hot water of the shower. He steps into the porcelain tub with her and revels in the feel of non-rainwater and grime as it dissipates from his skin and wet-heavy clothing. Value bottles of shampoo and soap never seemed like such a luxury until today.

Maka removes her hair from pigtails and loosens as much of the soil as possible from it, smiles as she watches it return to its normal ashy gold as she combs through it with her fingers. She scrubs her arms and he laughs with her as she palms a large clump off her nose.

"Here, you missed a spot," he says with a smile as he lets one side of her face lean into his hand, thumbs another big portion gently from her pale cheek.

She meets his gaze and shocks at the intensity they swap between their weary eyes. He does not move his hand from where it sits on her face, and she does not lean away from it. She finds she likes the feel even more than the cleansing power of the water as it forces its way through the old, creaky pipes in the ceiling somewhere above their heads. The heat of his skin melts into hers and she sighs with a small smile, soft and barely audible in the overwhelming rush of the shower water; a steam-cloaked murmur. Her stare shifts from his to the spiked, but bendable, tips of his hair as they adhere to his forehead. The color of his chapped lips. She follows the length of his arm right to his hand which still rests against her, and she admires the crooked grooves that stretch to every indent in his long, piano-dancer fingers.

"I don't think you have to love every part of someone to be with them."

But she thinks she does love every part of him. She likes how he touches her like she's made of glass even though they are both more than aware she's made of stone. She likes the shapes drawn in his palm from birth that she wishes she knew how to interpret. She finds how knife-sharp his teeth are fascinating, the ruby in his eyes exotic and unique. He walks with a purposeful slump, and stands with a slouch to his shoulders, but it makes her smile. His perpetual smirk is sometimes irritating but always sweet at the very core of it.

She thinks again of this kiss they once shared a couple of years ago, and she's surprised at her own yearning to want to relive it now as they stand in this dirty tub in the middle of nowhere.

"Maka," he says as his gaze floats slowly to the ceiling.


"You're wearing a white shirt."

He's also a pervert!

She slams the bathroom door on the way out.

It's cold without the water in the whir of the air conditioning of the hotel room. Her skin chills only where his hand no longer sits.

She changes and leaves the empty room.

He stays in the warm water as long as he can.

He stuffs his hands in his pockets as he strolls through the unfamiliar and winding roads of the town, one that's significantly bigger than the last two they visited and even their hometown. He knows she's here; he can smell the trail of anger she left from miles away. But mostly he knows she's still here because her wobbly old Taurus still sits in the hotel parking lot.

He considers asking strangers if they've seen a big-booted monster stomping about when a passer-by crashes into him on the sidewalk.

A shock of blue hair startles him into instant recognition. "Black Star? You live here now?" Soul stares down as his friend frantically picks up a cluster of roses from the ground and shoves them into a basket. "And you're carrying flowers in a basket," he deadpans.

"What of it?" His old college roommate puffs out his chest in righteous and appropriate indignation. "I'm a flower delivery boy now."

Soul can't resist; he laughs so hard at the declaration that he simultaneously breaks into tears. "Are you kidding me? And you do it by foot? You're like a little nymph!"

Black Star punches him in the stomach and Soul crumples in a heap on the ground. "W-What the fuck?"

"Just proving I'm not a forest fairy," he continues as if his friend is not clenching his abdomen in pain on the warmed pavement. "Tsubaki and I run a floral business here and it adds a personal touch when the flowers get delivered by hand. So shut up, dickbag."

He crawls up off the ground and coughs a few more times before he's able to see clearly again.

"Anyway, what are you and Maka doing out here?"

"You've already met Maka?"

There's fear in his friend's eyes. "Not really. She came rushing into the shop about an hour ago. She's scary as shit when she's angry, especially at you. So I just left her to Tsubaki to handle." He shrugs.

"You're a real pussy."

"I'm not a pussy. I've still got my balls intact precisely because I got out of that situation fast."

Soul sighs. "Where's the shop?"

The bell clinks as he opens the glass door to Tsubaki's floral design shop. She hums at her wooden desk as she arranges some frilly, pink bouquet of flowers he's never come across his entire life. Though he supposes he hasn't left his desert town long enough to see much beyond the blossoms on cacti and the occasional tumbleweeds.

He clears his throat as he shuffles to her desk, and she piques up and smiles at him. "Afternoon, Soul. I was expecting you. How have you been?"

He smiles back at her. Even though at least a year has passed since they'd last talked, she eases right into the conversation as if they were neighbors. "Um, not counting today, pretty good. Pretty much the same. You?"

"I'm fine. Just busy with the shop, and looking after Black Star." She adds a finishing touch to the bouquet and sighs, though her smile does not cool off. "Today, looking after Maka. She's upstairs, since I'm sure you're looking for her. As always. I see why you say things are the same. Proceed with caution. And please make sure she hasn't torn any of my furniture to pieces. Or hurt herself by accident, for that matter."

He laughs, humorless, and starts up a staircase to her left with a heaving reluctance. It's like taking a voluntary step into the fires of hell as far as he's concerned. As he reaches the door at the teak landing, he hears the faint swirl of a blender at work and tries not to imagine her sticking his head into her mix. He slowly turns the knob and walks in, attempts not to drool as paces in the direction of the scent of recently heated chocolate frosting. He wonders if she just glared at the jar of it instead of using the microwave.

She pours yellow cupcake batter into a tin as he leans on the marble island between them. He can tell she's aware of his presence by the way the muscles between her shoulder blades knot.

They exchange no words as she finishes filling the polka-dotted wrappers, and still none pass between them as she slides the tin onto the wire rack of the oven and slams it shut. She punches a time into the microwave and crosses her arms on the island just a few inches away from him.

The quiet domesticity of the moment makes him smile. She always bakes when she's incensed. He remembers nights after phone calls with her father he'd wake up in the morning to find a fresh loaf of banana bread on the dining room table, or even a brownie by his bedside at three or four am. He'd toss and turn sometimes as she furiously created batter from scratch. Like she just threw herself right into the mix with the tablespoons of baking soda and flour.

He's amazed at how she creates when she wants nothing more than to destroy.

"You know what?" she asks after some heartbeats knock between them. "I really hate cupcakes."

He laughs. "Me, too."

She scrunches her nose. "They're just too sweet."

"I used to scrape the frosting off when I was little," he says. "I'd just eat the cake part."

She smiles. "Me, too. It would drive my mom nuts. I'd even do it to my birthday cakes. That really would put my parents over the edge."

He nods. He's glad she can read between his lines. She signs his treaty without him writing it. He's never learned to properly apologize, but she knows how to forgive and he loves her all the more for it.

She teaches him how to frost the cupcakes just the right amount so they won't rot his teeth.

Tsubaki invites them both to an annual kick-off-of-summer bonfire in the center of their town later that night. Citizens come out of the woodwork as they gather around the lawn of their small city hall. Soul watches for a few moments as kids play musical chairs in the distance, then turns to a beer pong tournament on the opposite end of the lawn.

Maka laughs. "What a weird town, huh?"

Tsubaki and Maka wander off together while Soul and Black Star spread out to search for the keg.

"So," Tsubaki begins, slight mischief in her cerulean stare, "are you and Soul finally…?"

Maka scoffs. "No. Never. Is that really the first thing we're going to talk about?"

"It already was when you stormed into my shop today."

The dishwater blonde has the decency to blush. "Sorry about that." She looks to her much taller friend with a sheepish grin. "Though I guess you're used to it by now. I can't believe you and Black Star own a floral shop now. I'm glad for you. Flowers have always been your thing, haven't they?"

They sit on a bench and Tsubaki's smile is teasing. "Way to switch subjects fast."

She groans. "I don't like being cornered about my lack of a love life. You know that. Anyway, we've had our moments but we're not a couple." She fingers the hem of her skirt. "We never will be. I'm too nuts to be in a relationship. And he knows how I am better than anybody, after living with me for so long."

"Are you really going to use your father as an excuse for the rest of your life?"

Maka sighs and puts her head in her hands as she stares out at a distant lake. She has flashes of purple hair again, too-long nails sinking into skin. She thinks of her mother packing her suitcase without a word to either of them, without a single tear; her mother who remains the only one to leave Death City and is probably all the better off for it. And her father, who spends his weekends off bumming the next city's exotic dance joints then asks her why she's always so sour with him. She doesn't want to recreate that life.

But she doesn't want to imagine being alone, either.

"I don't know," she answers honestly.

"What do you mean by moments?" Tsubaki asks as she leans onto the splintering back of the bench.


"Come on."

"We only kissed one time! And it was just a heat of the moment thing. It was never serious. At least, probably not for him. Wasn't for me, either. I… don't feel for him like that. I n-never have."

Her friend squeals and grabs Maka's hands. "What? I really missed our girl talks! This is so fun. Was it good?"

"How are you and Black Star?"

That silences her for a moment. "Fine."

"I noticed you only had one bed in that upstairs apartment."

Tsubaki frowns, and Maka's guilt surges from her stomach and spreads like a chill even on the warm night. "I still haven't told him."

"What? Tsubaki, you should!"

"You're one to talk." She smiles again, weaker this time.

"I told you, I don't-"

"Excuse me, lightweight!" Black Star rushes over to them and points at Maka with a large smirk. "I think you still owe me a rematch of beer pong!"

"I do not. I hate that game."

He grabs her hand and drags her unwillingly toward the crowded tables. "You'll like it after a few rounds!"

Soul takes Maka's place by Tsubaki with a faint smile. "I'm very glad Black Star still considers Maka his fiercest competitor, otherwise that'd be me." He takes a sip of his beer, and offers her one. She shakes her head.

"I'm more of a tequila person."

He sticks out his tongue. "You're the only one I know."

They sit in quiet for a while. It's not awkward, just filled with unanswered questions that neither dare to ask.

"Will you ever tell her, Soul?"

He rests his beer in his lap. "What?"

"Tell Maka how you feel."

He looks toward the same lake Maka had earlier with a concerned frown. "I'm afraid to. She told me earlier she thinks she can't be loved and I think that logic of hers is set in stone. She's said it over and over again when I've breached the subject for years. Since high school." He plays with his bottle cap before flicking it into the nearby trash can. "And she's smart, but not exactly with these matters. I've done everything but confess at this point and she's never gotten it." He smiles. "The one thing about me I wish she would get."

She pats his closest hand in sympathy. "I can relate."

He takes another swig of his drink. "We picked a couple of real boneheads, didn't we?"

"Maka?" He crouches down to where she lies on the lawn.

Her jade eyes look heavy as she stares at the sky, as if they're trying to take in every star at the same time. "Mm."

"How many rounds of beer pong did you end up playing with Black Star?" He holds in a laugh as her glassy eyes roll in his direction and she has a smug grin.

"At least five. And I won all of them."

"Did you?"

"Actually, I don't remember. But if he doesn't either, then I'm gonna say I won. Will you say it, too?"

"Of course."

She reaches a fist up toward him.

"What are you doing?" He can't stop his laughter this time.

"Come on!" she yells, weak. "Bump it!" She shakes it toward him with a whine. "Bump it, I'm a champion. If you don't bump it, it means I didn't win."

He grabs it instead and throws her like a bag of sand over his shoulder and she groans. "Watch it," she murmurs. "My stomach's not so good. Beer makes me bloated. I hate beer."

He starts the long walk toward the hotel, ignores the looks of some of the more sober townspeople. "Why'd you drink so much, then?"

"Because I needed to win. And I did. All seven rounds."

She hushes after that, and he quiets down as well as they reach their hotel room door. He places her down gently but she still wobbles, like she's trying to run on a replacement tire just as her car is. He smiles and sits her on the seat of the toilet while he fills her a glass with tapwater and makes her drink it.

He crouches down to her level, a hand on her knee as he takes the glass with his other and places it on the counter. "You okay?"

She nods, and tries to pry her eyes open repeatedly. She gives in, and leans her head on top of his with a soft sigh.

"I forgot how quiet you get when you're drunk."

She just nods again as he tucks her into bed beside him, wakes up every hour or so through the night to ensure she stays sleeping on her side.

"Soul," she murmurs once as she wraps her arms around him and nestles her head in his chest. "I think I'm gonna help Tsubaki confess to Black Star. If you have love you gotta say it."

He laughs again and pats her head as he returns the embrace as best he can. "Okay. Sounds like a good plan."

"I believe in love. You make me believe in it."

He's not sure what to say to that. She'd never say it without the influence of alcohol in her system, and he's certain she'll forget it ever left her mouth. He strokes her back while she fights sleep. "I'm glad."

He wants to ask her to remember. He wants to ask her to make sure she says that to him again in the morning. He wants to write it in her notebook. He wants to make it permanent.

But he lets it slip out of the open window.

{I don't wanna be a big man
I just wanna fight like everyone else