Thinking back on it that night, finally in bed after the longest day of his life, Soul remembered the coffee. That was the first thing that had gone wrong; they were out of coffee grounds, and Maka had a meltdown as they rushed to get ready for class, drooping dramatically all around the apartment in a vicious caffeine withdrawal. She always had to have coffee for morning classes, and he knew exactly how she liked it, two heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a good dose of sweet creamer. Sometimes she added whipped cream, but only if it was in one of her opaque thermoses where nobody else could see her indulgence.

That was how she made her coffee in the mornings, at home with him. When they went out for coffee with their friends, though, she always got it plain and black. It made him smirk to see her force it down and pretend she liked it.

The rest of the day was long, and he cringed into his hands as he remembered snapping something mean at her as she yawned for the millionth time, probably trying to pretend that seeing her little pink tongue curl and hearing her tired squeaks didn't make him burn. Of all days he wished he hadn't been an asshole to her, this was number one. After, they'd come home and settled into their normal routine; complain about the messy house, argue about whose turn it was to cook dinner, argue about what to make for dinner, various lecherous remarks on his part, a book to the brain, quick fingers pulling a pigtail, sly little smiles from both ends and begrudgingly bringing out homework. Then the phone rang and it was Blair, frantic, gasping and breathless like a woman being tortured, sobbing out over and over, "Spirit! Spirit! Spirit!" The witch was so loud he'd been able to hear her easily through the phone Maka held and at first he hadn't realized, hadn't been able to make sense of it, but somehow Maka knew right away. Her face went ghastly white, except for two feverish spots of terrible color burning high on her cheeks.

She wouldn't let him go with her to her father's place. He had scoffed and begged and finally ordered, yelled at her a little, telling her there was no way in hell she could drive, but her eyes were very green and wet, like a swamp. She used her meister voice on him but beneath the command was a desperate plea, so he growled and let her go. It felt like ripping his arm off. It was the first time she'd driven his bike without him along for the ride and he paced endlessly, waiting and gnawing his nails, until she made it home safely, hours later. His meister swayed through the doorway and fended off his reaching arms like a wildcat, shrieking at him unintelligibly before fleeing to her room. Soul immediately parked himself in the hallway until she commanded him to go to bed, meister voice shaky through her door.

The damn coffee was the first thing that went wrong, and he made a mental note to get up early tomorrow and get her more. Hell, he'd even make it and have a full hot pot ready to go for her whenever she woke up. He'd buy the good shit, the expensive, caramel flavored fancy kind she rarely bought herself. Breakfast, too, because he knew for a fact she hadn't eaten anything today except a piece of toast. She was skinny enough already. Well, skinny, but still definitely hot... inappropriate distractions. He pushed them away. What time did stores open? He rolled over and squinted blearily at his alarm clock- they definitely didn't open at two in the morning. He doubted he'd be able to sleep anyway, but he set the alarm for five just in case and then burrowed into his blankets, sighing.

The position didn't last. Within a minute he was sitting back up, ear to the wall that separated his room from Maka's, straining to hear, but there was nothing. No crying, no screaming, nothing. It made him nervous, so he tried to feel her through the bond, as slyly as he could, but all that came through was a vague and blurry wash of exhaustion and hurt. She was awake, though, he could tell that much through it. Their light resonance was always there, amplified during battle, a massive crescendo during Witch Hunter, a dark moody note when they were in the black room. He found himself humming along to it sometimes, to the soft buzzes of her emotions, but right now it sounded like an elegy.

He wanted to go to her so damn bad that he felt his skin tighten with the effort of staying put. He realized he was grinding his teeth and forced himself to stop. She'd be able to tell he was awake, too, if she tried, and he supposed theoretically she could come to him too. She wouldn't though. She faked a love for bitter black coffee and never showed fear and the stupid stubborn mule of a woman would be the death of him one day, he knew it.

On second thought, he would try to get ahold of her mother again when he got up to buy her coffee. The difference in tome zones should be about right for her to be up. Maybe this time she would answer. Everyone knew Kami and Spirit hadn't been on speaking terms in years, but there were probably all kinds of legal things to deal with. Well- he didn't know, they had been divorced after all, but she should be there for her daughter for once in her damn life. He'd never met Kami but he did believe he hated her a little. Maka thought his family was bad. Sitting like a sentry against his wall, he watched as the moon slid slowly down the sky outside the window, teeth dripping scarlet.

He sat there in bed with his shaggy white head to the wall until his clock read 4:59, and then he pounced on it before it could make noise, because by the mercy of something truly wonderful she was finally asleep. Okay. Opposite of Black Star. Sneaky... This'll be easy. Just be cool. He took a deep breath and everything went fine until he tripped over the goddamn living room table.

He hadn't turned the lights as he snuck out on because he didn't want to wake her, but as he tripped on the table and felt the hopeless tumble of his body he took slight comfort in the fact that he'd managed to stifle his vehement curse. She did hate cursing. His skull twinged in response to the very thought.

He groaned and sat up after crashing to the floor. His eyes burned as the lights flicked to life and he saw Maka peering at him from the hall, wide-eyed, hair disheveled.

"Soul? What are you doing?" Her voice was normal and it freaked him right the hell out.

"I- uh- coffee. We're out."

She squinted at him, and he noticed with a pang that her eyes were rimmed in red. "You don't drink coffee. You don't get up at five in the morning either. What's going on?" He just stared at her, completely lost for words. So that's how she wants this to go? No. No way in hell. She'll implode. Their resonance was a buzzing whirl that he couldn't make head nor tail of, and her face was positively inscrutable, despite the reddened nose that told of tears. She looked at him for a moment longer, rubbing a hand up and down her arm, then turned around to go back to her room.

"I don't really want coffee," she tossed back over her shoulder. "But you should probably start getting ready for school, since you're awake and all. I don't want to be late." She didn't want coffee. She heard her own stunned voice in her head, yesterday, asking the police officer who'd come to her father's house with the ambulance; would he like a cup of coffee? He was welcome to wait in the living room. She'd reverted to politeness and let it hold her like a puppetmaster when she didn't know what else to do.

He scrambled up and ran after her, just catching her elbow as she went to swing through her doorway. "Maka- wait. I didn't mean to wake you up. I'm sorry." She shook like a willow in his hand, looking away. "Come on, there's no way we're going to school today. No one expects that." He felt his thumb stroking circles on her skin and forced himself to stop.

She raised an eyebrow smoothly and he thought that she should play poker; no one else would feel her shaking, since not many people were allowed to touch her, and her face showed nothing. "I expect it," she told him harshly, and tore out of his grasp, shutting the door to her room firmly in his face. He leaned against it, fists clenching.

Stupid girl. Stupid firecracker Maka, who had gotten so used to hiding her fear in front of real monsters that she couldn't handle it anymore in her own life. He pounded one first against her door, not caring if she heard, and stalked off to take a shower, worrying one thumbnail angrily as he went.

She came downstairs a while later to find him leaning on his bike, holding a steaming plastic cup of coffee from the mini market down the street. He handed it to her with a look that said quite plainly there would be hell to pay if she protested. Her perfect pigtails would make even Kid proud, her boots were spotlessly clean and her face scrubbed clean of all stray traces of tears. He made a face as he noticed a touch of lip gloss on her mouth.

"Armor on?" he asked her, and she nodded firmly, gaze very strong as she looked at his face. He sighed and resisted the urge to ruffle her hair as he swung aboard his bike. "Okay. Let's do this. You wanna go home, let me know, okay?" She didn't say anything, but she buried her face between his shoulderblades as they drove, arms clutched around him; he loved it. He went a little slower than he usually did in case she needed more time to get her head on straight. To his frustration, when he felt around the bond she was still just a faraway little lump of badness; her distance felt odd and unnatural. The absence of her normal warmth cozying up to him at the back of his mind was making him want to punch things.

Driving up to the school, Soul wanted to punch things even more. The usual crowds of students were hanging around in the courtyard, gossiping or studying or whatever the hell it was they did that was so important they would bother to arrive early, and they all turned as one. Maka didn't even hesitate, and he gave her a solid nod as their eyes met briefly before she put her little bird shoulders back, her head up and walked up the steps.

Poker. He could make millions with her on the professional poker circuit. Her face was like a porcelain doll's. He snarled everybody out of her way, stalking before her like a guard dog and not minding it one bit, clearing a path that she walked like a damn princess, ignoring all the whispers and stares. She did snap a crying Kim a look of icy scorn so mean and quick that he was surprised an actual laser didn't shoot from her face.

Made sense. Why the hell was Kim crying, anyway? It's not like she'd really known Spirit. She'd taken a few classes under him. It wasn't her father. He looked at Kim, abashed and wet-faced, then at his stone-cold meister, and felt his chest grow heavy with something really awful and strange he couldn't quite place. In their first class, he herded Maka up the stairs with a fingertip on the small of her back, putting her at the back of the classroom so people couldn't stare without craning around, at which point he would promptly murder them. She grumped at him a little, wanting to be in the very front like always. "Too bad," he murmured, scooting past her to slouch down in a seat. "Fuck 'em. I like it better here anyways."

The other Spartoi came in and he was thankful that they seemed to get with the program immediately after just one look at her face. Even Black Star kept his mouth shut for once, only gripping Maka on the shoulder firmly as he went by, though he still threw his oversize booted feet up on the desk like it was a damn barn. Tsubaki looked like she was practically bursting at the seams to mother over Maka, but she didn't, though her lips kept twitching with worry.

Maka just sat there, sipping idly on her sweet coffee and keeping her eyes firmly down. Soul hated that. He liked her gaze up, bright, excited on the chalkboard as she geeked out. She did blink when Sid came into the class instead of Stein, their usual teacher. He saw her set her shoulders again, firm her lips; armor back up and ready for battle.

The zombie looked up at the classroom and heaved a sigh. He didn't have to tell them to quiet down. The entire chattering mass went still the moment he walked in. "Stein won't be in today," he started awkwardly, obviously a bit thrown when he finally noticed Maka. It was beyond weird seeing a dead man shift uncomfortably at the thought of talking about death. Soul felt their link again, checking, double checking, hovering over her like Tsubaki wished she could, though he didn't actually move a muscle- finally Maka pinched his thigh and he stopped with a grunt. "I'm sure you all know why. Yesterday the DWMA lost one of the finest Death Scythes I've ever had the honor to fight with. Spirit Albarn passed away last evening from natural causes. We will let you all know any future arrangements, and anyone who wishes to go home today can." He kept going, saying something or other, but Maka was gone. Her eyes were focused on the steam still swirling up from her cup, mouth pressed perfectly flat and hands folded delicately in her lap. Soul frowned. Seeing his athletic meister so still was disturbing. He almost went to poke her or otherwise aggravate her into life, quite happy to take a hit if it would get rid of the broken doll act, but then he noticed the quiver in her gloved hands and desisted. Sid finally shut up about whatever he had been saying and everyone trailed out slowly. Soul glared at them all righteously, showing a sharp tooth whenever someone looked like they might come over to talk to Maka. Stupid bastards. Of course every single of of 'em is going home. Anything for a free day, but his own damn daughter is here.

He couldn't help it; he grabbed her hand, and she let him. The heavy feeling in his chest came back. Finally all the students were gone, though Black Star had to literally pull Tsubaki away. She waved her hands, mouthing, "Call me! Call me!" at him before she disappeared out the door behind a morose Patty and Liz. Sid pointed a blueish finger up at them.

"Lord Death would like to talk to you, Maka, whenever you feel ready," he rumbled. "I'm- I'm very, very sorry, Maka. I'm going to miss your dad." He turned away quickly and left, dreadlocks swinging.

"Well, that was a waste of getting up early," Soul mused quietly into the empty air. Maka gripped his hand harder, still quivering.

"Take me home, Soul."

It was desperate and soft and sounded more like an animal in a trap than a person's voice. He hustled her down the stairs, down the hallway, out the main doors and down the steps to motorcycle freedom as fast as he could, desperate to do something. She kept her face calm until they walked in the door of their apartment and then she cracked, smashing her backpack into the wall with a keening wail and throwing her hands up. He grabbed her, cradled her face, cupped her elbows, touched her anywhere and everywhere, frantic to help her, feeling like he was losing his mind by proxy as her presence in his head came absolutely undone, a discordant mess of sour notes.

"Shit, shit, shit," she chanted in between rough sobs, shocking him to his core; he gaped at her with an open mouth, almost missing the other words that tumbled out of her helplessly. "Soul, I don't know what to do, my mama won't answer the phone and Blair's gone off somewhere and I have to pay for the ambulance, and I don't even know what he wanted but I have to call the funeral home to make an appointment, and that's gonna cost money too, and there's so much stuff to do! I don't know how to do this!" She moaned it, hands scrabbling at his jacket, and he felt like he was holding a grenade.

"Uh- uh- it's okay, it's okay, I'll help," he babbled, trying to steer her towards the couch, but she didn't move. "Lord Death will pay for anything, don't even worry about that, I promise, and your damn mother will answer her phone at some point, even if I have to track her down myself and nail her hand to it." He said the last a bit grimly. She cried harder and he wavered in awkward horror, not sure if he was allowed to hug her right now or if she would scream at him like she had yesterday. You could never be sure with Maka.

Finally he took a deep breath and picked her up. He braced for impact but nothing happened and he blew out a breath of relief, cradling her as he walked her to her room. He put her down on the bed and though he might cry himself when she curled into a tiny ball. With a sigh, he sat down beside her and tugged her boots off gently, stomach feeling sick. He toed off his own shoes and crawled beside her, carefully staying on top of the covers, but lifting her up and tucking her in firmly under them like a child. She stayed fetal, shivering and hiccuping against him, and he pulled her pigtails free too for good measure.

They stayed there for a long time, she buried under the covers and her own pain and her weapon with his hand gently combing through her loosened hair; it felt like silk, like some kind of expensive fabric, incredibly soft. Running his fingers through it seemed to soothe her; at least she'd stopped crying. He peeked down at her and raised a brow when he saw her wet lashes still against her cheeks. Passed out, finally, thank Death.

He was wrong, though, as he realized when he idly felt for the bond; she was awake, she was just bone tired after a mostly sleepless night. She must have felt him looking at her because she gave a long sigh, pushing herself back up and scooting to the edge of the bed. He had to hide a wince at her closed-off face, and he already missed the feel of her hair.

He made to get up, but her hand shot out and locked around his wrist. Startled, he tried to peer under her bangs. "I'm gonna take a shower, and then I have to call Lord Death," she said tiredly, still not looking at him. "Will you help me?"

That one surely threw him for a loop. Help her? Help her shower? Well, yeah, he could surely do that, he would downright love to in fact, but was now really the time? It took him a good few seconds of dazed and fevered shock before he realized she meant help her with the call, not her shower. "Yeah, sure, just let me know." She left and he fell back onto the bed, thrashing a little and clutching his head as he drummed his feet. He knew he was throwing a tantrum but he didn't care; his stupid dirty mind was forming pictures of slick pale skin and barely-there bubbles at a completely, horrifyingly inappropriate time and he felt like an asshole.

When she called for Soul, she was fully clothed, but her hair was still drenched and soaking coldly down the back of her T-shirt. He poked his head into the bathroom very slowly, like he was scared of something, and she suppressed a sigh before grabbing his hair and yanking him in. He gave her a hurt look but didn't say anything. She took a deep breath and leaned into the foggy mirror, and he scooted behind her to see better as she wrote '42-42-564' on it, finger wiping away the condensation and leaving silvery trails. She could see disjointed patches of herself in the numbers, rather pathetic looking really, and Soul close behind her, so close she could feel his body heat and see half of a somber scarlet eye. He was looking at her. Why was he looking at her like that, hands hovering around her waist, brows drawn together? She bit her lip, about to say something, but then Lord Death's cartoonish face materialized in the mirror and she used her whole hand to wipe it a bit clearer. They'd learned through trial and error that simply breathing on a glass surface didn't always hold the mist long enough to write out his whole number, hence the after-shower location.

"Hello, there, Maka, Soul," the shinigami said gently, for once sounding human, and oddly very much like Kid. His normal hyper tone usually irritated her, but right now she almost missed it.

"Hello, Lord Death," she said, not even realizing that she'd pasted a polite smile on her face. "Sid said you wanted to talk to me?" Her head was pounding and she shifted her weight a bit, feeling Soul finally settle a warm hand on her upper hip, a neutral zone, so she let it stay.

"I did. How are you doing, Maka?"

"You're the personification of death, I would think you'd know exactly how I'm doing," she snapped dryly. His skeletal mask seemed to wilt a little.

"Sorry, sorry. I'm worried about you."

"Thank you, but I'm doing okay." Soul's hand twitched a little at that, so she nudged it off her with her elbow. In retaliation, he dropped his head onto her shoulder. Death didn't say anything to her lie, thank goodness. He just wobbled around a little, black cloak looking spikier than ever.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Maka?" She hesitated a little, then shook her head. Soul positively dug his chin into her at that lie. It seemed to her like the eye holes on Death's mask got a little bit blacker. "Well, as an employee of the DWMA and a friend, the academy will be paying for any medical bills Spirit might have incurred, of course." How the heck did he do that? It was like he read her mind.

She frowned a little. She didn't need help. All she needed was an after school job, or maybe extra missions. It was her father. She should be the one to take care of him. Anyway, taking handouts rankled. "Uh, sir, you don't have to do that. In fact I'd really rather you didn't."

He bobbed in close to the mirror., mask distorting like a funhouse reflection. "It's happening, Maka dear, so get used to it." They stared at each other for a moment before she grunted, defeated and knowing it. Honestly, she just wanted this to be over, and badly. Her whole soul felt like one big bruise, and she was sure if tried to look at it, it would be shaking like a fawn.

"Do you know what happened? The ambulance, uh, they said they weren't sure." The words left her mouth before she really realized it, and she wished she could snatch them back.

"He had an aneurysm in his brain that burst." The word hit her like a punch to the stomach. It didn't really surprise her that he knew. He usually knew everything. She'd figured maybe a heart attack, but aneurysm made sense; he was young for heart problems, after all.

"Oh," she breathed.

"I'm going to miss your father very much." The mask tilted, regarding her, and she hoped he couldn't see her hands currently white knuckled on the edge of the sink. "He was a good man in many ways, and he loved you more than anything in the world. He was proud of you, and he talked about you constantly." She gripped the sink harder, clenching her jaw and refusing to tremble. "If you ever want any, I believe Stein has some pictures of him when he was younger."

"I don't want pictures of him," she blurted, her chest tight. "I just want things to go back to normal, please. Can I just keep going to school and missions? Please?" She heard the begging, shrill tone of her voice and it made her cringe, but she couldn't seem to help it. Death simply nodded, flashing her his trademark peace sign, seemingly out of reflex.

"I'm going to leave that up to you, Maka, use your best judgement. There's no need to come out until you're ready! I'll let you go now, but remember, anything you need you just let me know!" He winked, somehow managing to make the gesture sad, and dissolved away, leaving only Soul's reddish gaze meeting hers in the mirror.

She stared back at him for a moment before forcing herself to let go of the sink, grabbing her toothbrush. "Thank you for being there," she told him quietly before sticking it in her mouth and scrubbing. He leaned his forehead against the back of her neck and she shivered when his breath ghosted across her damp skin. Why on earth was his hand back on her hip? He just put it there, like he owned her, like he had all the rights in the world to touch her whenever he wanted. It was infuriating. He was infuriating. She growled at him venomously around her mouthful of foam, suddenly so pissed off that she felt like she might combust, and he jerked his head up, stepping away from her when he caught her glare, hands up in surrender.

"Gewiway," she gargled at him. Miraculously, he understood her toothpaste speak and backed out, hands up the whole way like she was pointing a gun at him. She snorted self-righteously as she spat and rinsed, ignoring the stern little voice that asked what the hell she thought she was doing, snapping at him for touching her when not an hour ago he was in her bed petting her.

She padded down the hallway and into the kitchen; she was hungry, and she was both pissed and disturbed at herself for it. How could she be thinking about food when her dad was dead? What kind of awful person had cravings when their parent was lying on a slab somewhere? She made a sandwich and was oddly disappointed in herself to find that it tasted just as good as it usually would.

Soul came into the kitchen and leaned his hip on the table, gnawing on a nail and staring at her as she ate. It took a moment, but she broke finally. "Yes?"

"Tsubaki texted me. So did Liz and Patty and Kid. They all want to talk to you but they don't wanna bug you."

"Screw them. I don't wanna talk." The crude language rolled off her tongue smoothly, if not at all familiarly, and Soul's eyebrows shot up into his hair. She thought maybe she liked it, liked the shock value and the strangeness of it, though she wasn't sure why, beyond the fact that it let off a little steam. It curled her toes a little, guilt mixed with something else. Black Star would absolutely die of glee if he ever heard her cuss.

"Kid's mom is dead. I'm pretty sure Patty and Liz's is too, and who knows about their dad. Black Star's parents are both dead too. Don't you think it might help to talk to them?"

Maka raised her brows right back at him, taking her plate to the sink for a rinse. "Help what? I'm fine, Soul. I'll be fine. People survive worse than this all the time, so will I." Looking at the coffeepot clock, she was surprised to find it was only two in the afternoon.

Behind her, Soul made an unintelligible noise. "People survive bad things by leaning on others, Maka. It doesn't mean you're weak, it means you're cool enough to have people who care about you." It was his special voice, the one he used when they were talking about things like his scar, his music or his family, when he was sharing pieces of himself. She was surprised to realize she hadn't ever really shared much with him, but bit by bit over the years he'd bared all kinds of sore spots to her. What had she told him? He knew her dad was a history of straying to other women, and that her mom had been out of the picture for years, but she'd only told him the barest bones of her story. It made her feel even worse, and when she turned around and saw the warmth and worry on his face, it sure didn't help.

"Yeah," she said noncommittally.

"I tried your mom again, too. No answer but I left another message. That okay?" It appeared he was going to let her off the hook for the moment, having dispensed his Yoda-like wisdom of the day, she thought sourly.

"Yeah. I'll get a postcard in a few months, probably. Rest in peace, ex-husband and noted manwhore. Having a great time in Mexico! Ex oh, ex oh." Soul made a face at her. She didn't care. She was angry. She smacked a hand to her head as something suddenly hit her.

"Oh, no, there's all kinds of people I need to call, can I take your cycle again?" He coughed. "Fine. Will you take me to his house? I need to get his phone book. I have to call his friends and stuff."

"Won't they learn from the obituary? Or from Lord Death, or something?"

"Oh! I have to write an obituary. How do you do that? Do you just send it to the paper?" She was falling into nerd-mode, making mental lists, as if this were an assignment that she had to complete step by step.

"Uhh..." Her weapon was clearly out of his element. "I don't know, I guess so. The funeral home people can probably tell you. They called while you in the shower, they have your dad, I forgot to tell you, wanted to make an appointment. I told them you'd call them back." She was already trotting to her cell phone and he trailed behind her.

She scrolled through a rather long list of missed calls, most of them her friends, breath catching as she saw Spirit's number come up in the call log; yesterday, seven twenty nine in the evening, Blair had called her from her dad's house in a panic. She swallowed, feeling her heart begin to thud painfully. Was this a panic attack? An adrenaline rush, the pulse and harsh breath of running, while sitting still? No. She ignored her traitor heart. Maka Albarn did not give into anything as pathetic as a panic attack.

There it was. She hit redial and sat down on the couch, trying to ignore Soul looming behind her like a gargoyle or something. A polished woman's voice came on the line. "Hello, Phillips Funeral Home. Can I help you?" The name sounded familiar. She was pretty sure they were the only funeral home in Death City; that must be why the hospital had taken him there after the autopsy she'd signed a consent form for at his house, standing over his sheet-covered body... she bit her lip, stopping that train of thought. Weren't they supposed to ask her, or something? Soul seemed to sense her confusion and leaned over her shoulder.

"Kid texted me. He said his dad took care of all the hospital stuff this morning," he mouthed. He must have caught her question somehow, sometimes stray things would slip through their bond like that. At least, that was her theory. She never caught anything that concrete and specific from him, but it was eerie how often he knew exactly what she was thinking.

She swallowed again. "Yes, uh, I missed your call earlier. I'm Maka Albarn. Uh, you have my father. Spirit Albarn."

"One moment, please." Shuffling papers in her ear. "Yes, we received his body this morning, along with the hospital's paperwork. I'm very sorry for your loss."

It took her a moment to respond. "Thank you."

"Whenever you feel able in the next few days, we need to set a meeting to discuss Spirit's arrangements."

"Arrangements?" She felt stupid, like she had cement in her skull.

"For his remains," the voice clarified.

"Oh. Okay. Uh, anytime after four works for me, whatever day you have open." She refused to skip any more classes, even if the rest of the school thought it was okay.

"We can fit you in tomorrow at four thirty." Maka agreed and hung up, feeling tears welling up in her eyes. She tried to blink them away but her lips were shaking and her throat was tight; it was a lost cause, so she gave up and headed to her room to pull on jeans and a hoodie, letting her face wrinkle up as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She had to call all her father's friends and tell them. He may have been a shameless Casanova, but he was a well-liked man, and she knew he still hung out with many of his old classmates. He'd actually drug her into a bar with them all one time, introducing her and beaming with pride, babbling about how great a technician she was with stars in his eyes. She cringed at the memory and felt her heart give a wrench.

When she climbed up behind Soul on his motorcycle she mouthed in his ear, "Go fast, please?" and he did, streaking through the streets in a way that was highly illegal and cathartic for her in a strange way. She closed her eyes, the animalistic rumble of the engine shaking her, and felt him bubble up with joy at the edges of her mind.

Coming to a stop in Spirit's drive killed that, though. He went back to worry and concern, so she pulled back a little, walling herself up as they entered. It felt no different, smelled no different, and she had the weird feeling her dad would come bounding energetically around a corner like he usually did, animated and excited to have his precious Maka in his house. She grabbed his phonebook and his phone and sat down at the kitchen table. For a moment, after dialing the first number, she started at the phone; she would have to somehow cancel all his bills, his credit cards, insurance...

Then one of his friends answered and she forced herself to focus. Working her way through his phonebook didn't take as long as she'd expected, and a few people already knew somehow, but it never got any less strange having to say, "He passed away yesterday. Yes. An aneuysm." One person, who apparently had babysat her rather frequently in her infant years, tried to tell her that it was a good thing he'd died quickly, and she nearly crushed the phone in rage.

The whole time Soul just slouched in a chair across from her, fiddling with the zipper on his jacket and occasionally trying to prod at her brain, ignoring her death glares each time. She felt nothing but compassion and worry from him, but somehow he didn't seem to understand that nice wasn't what she wanted right now. Nice would make her collapse in tears again, and she'd had enough of that for a lifetime. She wanted to feel his blade slamming into the flesh of a monster a thousand times more than she wanted to feel him carrying her to her room like a baby again. It was strange he wasn't picking up on that, because in general he had a good idea of what she wanted. That quick read he had on her, while an annoyance in daily life, was part of why they made such a deadly team.

Soul was actually watching her when she wasn't looking, sneaking peeks at her face when she was flipping through Spirit's phonebook or dialing a number. He'd perfected the art of watching her unnoticed, since it tended to irritate her if she caught him staring. She had the doll mask on again, even though no one but him was around, and he was surprised to find that it hurt a little. She'd shut him out of her head too, paring their bond down to a bare whisper, and he missed it.

He frowned as a thread of something managed to reach him; it felt bloody and vicious, like she did in the middle of a good fight. Was she thinking about killing things? Now, right as she was talking in her polite little school-girl tones with her face perfectly blank and even?

Yeah, no doubt about it. Actually, it might do her good to get out of the apartment, go on a mission and let loose some stress. His meister wasn't a girl made for sitting, unless there was a book in her hand. She was active, always full of energy, ready to go. Even while wrapped up in a book she would be moving, some part of her; wriggling her toes or twirling a piece of hair. The first time he'd seen her, tiny and pigtailed, staring at him and tapping her fingers as he hit the last note of his composition, he'd thought that she looked like a bird in a cage.

He'd come to know her, though, and she was no frail little canary. She was something with a massive wingspan and deadly talons, some kind of bird of prey, made for dealing death. She and Black Star had that part of themselves in common. It made him feel weak, sometimes. In Maka's skillful hands he was powerful, but in his human form, he wasn't much good in a fight, though he tried.

He realized with a start that she'd been done on the phone for a while, just sitting at the table. "Done?" he asked, and she nodded, biting her lip. He felt his eyes lingering on her neat little white teeth as they nibbled and forced his gaze away. They locked up the house and headed home. He went fast again, though she hadn't asked him this time. He attempted to make her dinner, but she sent him a squinty look and told him that it was her turn and he knew it, so if he knew what was good for him he'd get out of the darn kitchen. How she even managed to remember whose turn it was was beyond him. He gave in and tried to show his appreciation by inhaling a truly massive portion of her enchiladas. God, could the girl cook.

After eating he collapsed on the couch, clicking the tv on, pleasantly full and feeling his sleepless night catching up to him. Maka came and sat on the other end of the couch, wrapping long arms around drawn up legs and staring mindlessly at the flickering screen. He could tell by the minute workings of her brows and lips that she wasn't paying much attention.

"Gettin' late. You're usually in bed by now," he said, half-asking, and she blinked at him.

"I don't think I'd sleep, really." He nodded, squashing down a yawn. If his meister wasn't going to sleep neither would he. He'd stay up and keep an eye on her. She was looking at him oddly, green eyes very large and serious, the same intent way she focused on one of Stein's dissections.


She shook her head and he saw her bottom lip start to tremble. Her face was switching madly between china doll and teary catastrophe, back and forth, as she desperately tried to stem the tears. "I was thinking about the mean things I said to him-" she choked out, and he held a finger up firmly.

"Nope. Don't think that way, Maka. You were a good daughter to him."

It was too late, though. He saw her struggle for one last moment before failing. Even Maka's iron willpower couldn't stem tears like these. If the moment hadn't been so serious, if the whole damn world hadn't fallen apart on them, he might have chuckled at her red wrinkled face- she definitely wasn't what you'd call a 'pretty crier'. He held out his arms, shifting sideways a little, and she burrowed into him, clutching his shirt as she drenched it. It felt natural, as touching her always did, even though half the time she'd instantly warn him off with a sharp tongue or literary assault, always on the lookout for some imaginary line he might cross. She liked to come to him, sometimes, but he was rarely allowed to go to her. It pissed him off, but there it was, and all his efforts over the years hadn't changed it. It was part of the dichotomy about her that fascinated him, in the same way a good piece of music held his attention. They were both constantly changing, fluid, and each time you listened you learned something new.

Her bony knees were digging into his spleen or something else that felt important, so he twisted around to sit sideways on the couch, stretching his legs out and maneuvering her onto his lap as she bawled, soft cries like a starving kitten. He put his arms around her, slowly, but she almost seemed to welcome it, pushing into him tighter.

"Shh, it'll be okay. I promise." He whispered it into her ear, feeling awkward as soon as he said it, but he had to say something, didn't he?

"You shouldn't make promises you can't keep," she said wetly, face still pushed against his neck, and he laughed lightly.

"I'm not going anywhere, and you'll be okay someday, so yeah, I think I can keep that one." She snorted a little and then started crying again, so he just held her, yawning again over her head. She was light and warm on him, and the floral scent of whatever shampoo she'd used was still lingering in her hair. Despite her tears this was damn comfortable. He started stroking her hair again, like he had that morning, and felt her slowly settle against his chest, cheek pressed over his scar, though he wouldn't tell her that.

Wrapped up in an episode of Jackass, it took him a while to realize she'd fallen asleep, his vague sense of her calm and quiet. He glanced down at the top of her ashy blonde head. Well, if she was asleep, he could do the same. Finally! He realized he was grinning toothily at her hair like a creeper and made himself stop, reaching oh-so-slowly for the remote with the arm that wasn't wrapped around her. Television off, he tucked his chin on top of her head and shut his eyes.

Roughly eight hours later, Maka awoke, coming up from the deep parts of sleep slowly, remnants of some kind of dream fading away in her mind, though she vaguely remembered something to do with a shovel and a candy-cane. Red, and white, like the scruffy mop of hair her face was currently being tickled by...

She froze as she realized where exactly she was; sprawled out atop her snoring, drooling weapon, face pressed against his neck and both his arms wrapped around her, hands warm against her back. It felt stupidly comfortable and her breath caught as little alarm bells started to shriek in her head. This was too much, too close to being more than friends, toeing the line. It was unprofessional. It was undignified. It made her look like an absolute naïve little fool, because she knew that he wouldn't be panicking like this if their positions were reversed! Her pulse started to race as Soul shifted lazily under her, body rolling up against hers, and she refused to believe it was from anything besides embarassment.

She tried to sit up, putting one foot on the floor beside the couch for optimum escape leverage, but his arms weren't moving a damn inch. "Oh no," she half-whispered, half-moaned, feeling distinctly trapped, and wished she could gnaw her limbs off to get away like a fox.

She squirmed harder, finally abandoning all hope of sneaking away, putting her hands to his chest and shoving. His eyes blinked open, confused, and she froze again as vibrant scarlet filled her vision. "Let me go, Soul! Weirdo!" she snapped angrily, out of reflex more than anything, and he raised his brows blearily. Oh, his hands were already at his sides. Just when she thought things couldn't get any more horrifying. She scrambled off him, not caring that she nearly kneed him in his junk, and darted to her room, vaulting impressively over the coffee table he'd tripped on that morning with one hand.

Her room! Safety, sweet beautiful solitude. It was like manna in the desert. She threw the door closed and stood for a moment, aware that she was a bit wild-eyed and breathless. That was so far from okay she couldn't put a name to it, and it had been all her fault; she'd thrown herself at him last night like a child, and then actually managed to fall asleep on him?

She sat on her bed, ashamed and embarassed in equal parts, and dreading going back out there. Looking at her alarm clock, she saw with relief that at least she was well ahead of her normal schedule for getting ready for school. The thought darkened her mood even further. Walking those halls yesterday had been a damn gauntlet, a hall of staring eyes and whispers. Thank Death no one had dared to talk to her, because if they had she just knew she would have started to cry, and she refused to sully her reputation like that. Soul had kept everyone back, and-

It stopped Maka in her tracks, her skirt dangling from her fingers. Why had she reacted so violently to waking up by him? Well, on him, to be accurate. Curse her fact-oriented brain... It wasn't as if physical touch was new to them. They touched all the time. He would grab her hand as he transformed in a fight, she held onto him while riding his bike, they treated each other's wounds. For heaven's sake, she'd been inside the darkest depths of his mind, and he'd seen her break down in the Book of Eibon, seen her cry over Chrona and mourn her mother's absence.

Suddenly she felt even more ashamed, but for an entirely different reason, because her fiercely truthful thoughts were whispering to her that the only reason she cared was because she had liked it far, far too much, waking up in his arms, liked the little wriggle he gave under her and the closeness of their bodies. It was also telling her that she'd been rather mean to him when he'd been doing nothing but trying to make her feel better.

She put her head in her hands, feeling her face grow hot. What was wrong with her? He'd never so much as glanced at her with anything more than friendship in his eyes. She growled and firmly put all rogue thoughts in a neat little box, at the very back of her brain, and threw away the key as she pulled on her boots. This would not come between them.

She couldn't lose him too because she couldn't control herself.

Spirit's grinning face flashed into her mind and she felt tears welling up, again. It was like she was a leaky faucet or something. She remembered suddenly- she had to meet with the funeral home today after school.

Would Soul still take her to school? She cringed as she walked to the kitchen to grab an apple, but when Soul looked up from his cereal he just smiled at her.

"Hey," he said, tone calm, and that was it. No mention of her clumsy getaway or anything. She could have passed out from relief at his mercy.

"Hey," she squeaked. She felt her cheeks draw up into the rictus grin she'd been wearing all too often lately. Soul scowled at her thunderously.

"You look like you're planning ways to cook my eyeballs when you make that face, it's creepy as hell," he informed her, so she let it drop, replacing it with a dirty look aimed in his direction. "That's better. Least I'm used to that one," he grumbled. She rolled her eyes at him.

This was better. This was normal, back and forth, the mild verbal sparring that served them for ordinary conversation. She bit into her apple, feeling her insides knot up at the thought of her appointment with the funeral home after school today. Her phone was empty except for a text from Tsubaki when she grabbed it; no returned call from her mother.

Her funk deepened, mixed with a black thread of terror. What if she made the wrong decision? Did he want to be cremated, or buried? She knew both her grandparents on his side were long gone, in a cemetary somewhere back east. Did that mean he would want to be next to them? People in her books did that, sometimes, a family graveyard. Would her mama know? Why hadn't her mama called her? Surely this was important enough to get her attention. Where was Blair? Did she need a lawyer, did he have a will?

Maka didn't even realize she was panting until Soul grabbed her apple-less hand. She twitched, jerking away, but it brought her down from her panic. He eyed her unreadably, a spoonful of cereal halfway to his mouth, dripping milk.

She cleared her thoat, taking a gigantic bite of apple so she wouldn't have to talk. He subsided back into his chair. She forced herself to breathe again.

"Wanna pick up a mission from the board this weekend?" he said suddenly. "We can go kill stuff. Get another soul."

Maka didn't have to think twice. "Yeah! Yeah, let's do it." He nodded and stumbled away to his room with a yawn to get dressed. She sat there, eating her apple slowly, craving caffeine and periodically crying a few tears.

School was a whole new level of hell, though she managed to contain her tears. She kept her head down, eyes on her notes, and Soul warded off everyone, even the teachers; she barely had to speak two words all day. Marie was a hard one, rushing up in a braless whirlwind of tears and drama, but he stood in front of Maka and sent Marie the most vicious expression his meister could ever recall him making; the teacher stopped in her tracks, then backed away, slowly, mouth open. His Halloween grin had a good use, for once. At lunch she sat by Tsubaki and the rest of the gang, and the awkward silence made her cringe. It got worse when Liz actually tried to pat her on the back, saying something sympathetic, until her weapon started loudly talking about the weather, of all things. It took a moment, but they got it and backed off.

Then it was over, finally, an eternity, and she was walking in the door of the funeral home. It was incredibly off-putting, to say the least. Beige tones, rich wooden furniture and floral couches; each and every table was equipped with a tissue box. She rather liked the man she spoke to, though. He didn't fuss. He took his cues from her, and was businesslike and abrupt, with only a token offer of sympathy. Apparently it didn't matter that she was only seventeen. Since Spirit was single, with no surviving parents, she was next of kin and had the right to make all the decisions. She decided to have him cremated. It seemed appropriate, not to mention much cheaper than a coffin and graveyard plot, though the prices of both were astonishing to her. Who knew it cost so much to die?

Papers were signed, she took his card and said she'd wait for his call, referred him to Lord Death for the payments, though it still bothered her. He handed her a bag of the things her father had had on him when he died. She took it numbly and stuffed it deep into her closet when she got home. Then she went to bed and didn't sleep.

Author says: Been working on this for a while. My own dad died last November, unexpectedly, and for some reason this story just kind of happened, even though he and I had an incredible relationship, much different than that of Maka and Spirit. So this is for my father, I guess, and a lot of the things Maka deals with are things I did too, though of course she handles them a little differently; she's not me. This will probably have a happy ending, because I like happy, though I'm not entirely sure where this will go, since I'm not there myself. Let me know your opinions- I love reviews, good or bad, they inspire me and help me to write better and faster. :)

Expect an update in probably 2 weeks, roughly. And don't worry, I haven't forgotten my Inuyasha fic, Beyond!