A/N: So sorry this chapter took me so long to write. Hopefully I'm able to finish the last chapter relatively quickly. Enjoy friends!


Maka stares dully at the calendar, the black X's mocking at her. One month. Letting out a sigh, she leaves her room, shutting the door quietly out of respect for the sleeping Blair.

She shuffles down the hallway, refusing to look at the door across the hallway. She hadn't had the nerve to enter it since that day.

Sitting at the kitchen table, which is far too large for one person, she hunches forward, eating her cereal without tasting anything.

It's not that Maka can't function on her own. It's that she can't function on her own well.

Ever since she had first looked into his unnatural red eyes, something had changed. He'd come off as a sarcastic, slightly conceited loner who was more than a little twisted.

But when she'd heard the song Soul had played her, she'd seen his quiet determination that shone through his self-doubt, the fierce loyalty and most of all, the loneliness for someone who understood and accepted the darkest corners of his soul.

His song engraved itself into Maka's heart and made a home there. And now he was gone, ripped himself out of her life and left a gaping hole.

She grips the spoon. The idiot thought he could leave, like it was nothing. Like he was nothing but a burden weighing her down. Maybe he hadn't realized that she didn't care about the nightmares because that meant he was by her side.

The dull pain in her hand from holding the spoon too hard finally registers itself in Maka's mind. She lets out a shaky breath, asking herself why she isn't out there looking for her idiot.

Because Lord Death had forbidden her. Because as a meister, she was needed and duty came above all. But most importantly, because she failed as a partner. She'd done everything she could and in the end, he'd run away to protect her instead of putting his trust in her.

So she would let her Papa and Stein look for him. She will be patient.

She places the bowl in the sink, grabs her backpack and heads to the door. Right before she opens the door to walk to the academy, she lifts her head high, rolling back her shoulders.

She will wait and pretend all is well because she's Maka Albarn, damn it. She was born with her mama's stubborn independent streak and she won't let this break her.

When she hears the roar of a motorcycle rolling past her, she tells herself the sting in her eyes is from the sun being too bright.

Soul has to admit he didn't think this through too well.

"And since when do you ever do that? Look at how you got stuck with me," the demon hisses gleefully.

He ignores the voice in his head as best as he can but it's hard to manage when he's been running on an empty stomach for the past two days. Not to mention only a couple hours of sleep when the bus didn't jolt enough to bring the dead back to life.

Feeling the thinness of his wallet, he contemplates mournfully the pastries in the single bakery this ant-sized town has. His sweet tooth was something Ma-

He cuts himself off before he can finish the thought-thinking of anything to do with a certain pig-tailed meister triggers an outburst from the demon. But it's too late-the demon is already cackling in his ears. "Feeling homesick for the little pipsqueak, are we?"

"Shut up," Soul growls. He shoves his wallet back in his backpack, next to his change of clothes he'd been alternating in for the past month. Stomping over to the grocery store next to the bakery, he tries to drown out the demon's taunts by composing songs but it comes out in a jangled mess. Everything he tried to compose had tangled inside itself since he left.

"Why don't we go back?" the demon asks jeeringly. "You can be near her again but of course, she'll get sucked back into the madness." Soul's hands are shaking as he tries to focus on what food will last him the longest. But nothing is distracting enough to break the demon's hold on him.

"And isn't that what you want?" the demon's voice slides around in his mind, reaching the deepest crevices. "She should have been the one stuck with me. You're not a little angry? You don't want her to suffer the same as you do every day?"

Grabbing random cans, Soul can't keep himself from answering. "I made the choice, I'd do it again in heartbeat, now shut your freaking mouth." From the corner of his eye, he sees a woman a little ways down the aisle look at him curiously.

Clearly delighted at Soul's reaction, the demon goads him further. "Don't lie, Soul…you know you want to see her on the floor, writhing in pain…"

Soul slams the cans in his hands to the ground. "I'm not lying! Shut UP!"

The curious woman screams at his outburst while the demon's laughs ring in his ears. Desperately, Soul looks for somewhere safe to run to, but she's miles and miles away.

Leaving the cans on the floor, he rushes out of the store with buying anything and to the nearest bus stop. He nearly collapses on the bus bench, the demon's laughs fading. There isn't nothing he'd like better than to give up but his stupid meister's stubbornness has rubbed off on him.

With horror, he realizes his mistake just as the demon starts back up again.

Needless to say, as he presses his face into his palms, he's not doing too well.

Waiting is hard.

Being patient is impossible.

Maka scowls at the black and white tiles as she stands outsides the Death Room. She grinds her heel into the floor, trying not to think about yesterday and failing spectacularly.

Since she'd vehemently refused to find another weapon, she'd been paired with Liz for her missions. Kid miraculously had volunteered to be an asymmetrical meister, something Maka would have been amazed by, if she didn't feel like she was perched on thorns that pricked at her as day after day ticked by and still nothing.

This past mission, she'd been with the rest of Spartoi, tasked with getting rid of a trio of witches. The plan was to separate the three and then eliminate them at once, leaving no room for error. Maka had been paired with Kid to take out the head witch.

Everything had gone according to plan-Kid dealt with the witch's minions while Maka had waited until she'd seen an opening.

But the problem was the witch had a talent for veiling herself in illusions and a penchant for reading people's weak spots. One moment, Maka'd had been charging at the screeching witch, ready to strike and the next she was staring into achingly familiar scarlet eyes.

She'd skidded to a stop, breath coming out in short gasps. Dimly, she'd registered Liz yelling at her to wake up. Uncertainly, she'd raised the gun, right at Sou-the witch's face. Gripping the gun tight, she'd just been about to pull the trigger.

But the witch had been good.

"Maka?" The world had seemed to slow to a standstill as she'd lowered her arm in shock, listening to a voice she hadn't heard in over two months. The uncertain inflection, the tone, everything was perfect, if she hadn't known better she would have thought it was the real Soul.

She'd stood there, shaking as the Soul illusion gently reached for the weapon in her hands.

The moment his hand touched hers, though, the spell broke. Her partner didn't have his hands covered in warts. Jerking away, she'd rained bullets through the witch, the illusion breaking into shards of light.

Something had snapped inside her and the bullets kept flying fast and hard even after the witch had disintegrated into the wind. She'd registered Kid and the rest of the team running towards her but she couldn't stop.

Kid had wrenched Liz from her hands. The rest of Spartoi had stared at her in silence.

Then Black*Star had muttered something about "exceeding the wrath of a god." Same old Black*Star. Different Maka.

She'd punched him in the face.

Surprisingly, Black*Star hadn't retaliated, instead it had been a struggling Maka that had been put in Patti's headlock.

No one had dared to speak to her on the plane ride home, which was just as well. Maka had simmered with rage that needed only the lightest provocation to set off. She was still irrationally ticked off with Black*Star.

But really she was pissed off that she blew it. For two months, she pretended she was all was well only to catastrophically melt down in one fell swoop.

She'd pounded her fist into her hand, focusing on the sting on her palm instead of the sting in her eyes. But really had anyone actually expected her to be okay?

Maka had stuffed her emotions back into her mind before actually combusted with rage and forced herself to sleep away the rest of the plane ride.

And now she was here, waiting to be reprimanded by Lord Death like a rookie meister.

As if on cue, the door to the Death Room creaked open.

Lord Death smiled down at her. Or it sounded like he was smiling, from the way he spoke. "Hey, Maka, c'mon on in!"

Walking in his bouncy manner, Lord Death takes a seat in front of his tea table. He gestures to the seat cushion in front of him. "Have a seat. You must be dead on your feet."

"I'm good," she says flatly.

Lord Death looks expectantly at her, his oversized hand still extended in front of him.

Pushing down her already stretched-thin temper, Maka perches herself on the cushion.

"Excellent, excellent!" Lord Death says cheerfully. Deftly, he pours out two cups of tea. He offers her a cup.

She silently takes the cup, sipping it.

She waits for Lord Death to begin to talk but instead he looks past her, to a corner of the room. "Spirit? Stein? Cup of tea?"

Maka almost chokes on her tea, whipping her head to look behind her. Her anger flares dangerously again as she takes in Stein's perpetually blank poker face and her father's unusually subdued face.

She whips her head back to look at Lord Death. "What are they doing here," she spits out.

"You're breaking your cup," he says calmly still looking at Spirit and Stein.

Maka feels the hot liquid seeping through her gloves, like blood. Springing up, she slams the cup on the ground. She repeats her question. "Why are they back?"

She hears the slight frown in Lord Death's voice. "That was my favorite cup but I understand your impatience, Maka. Spirit, Stein? One of you care to explain?"

Unsurprisingly, her father steps forward. Surprisingly, he has a somber look on his face like someone died. Her heart skips a beat at the thought and launches itself into her throat.

He begins nervously, peeking at her from time to time. "Up until a month ago, we were able to trace Soul via the bus he left on. But we…lost his trail in a small town." He looks awkwardly at Stein, who steps forward, pushing his glasses up.

"There were several reports of a white-haired "delinquent" yelling at apparently nothing. Local authorities tracked him to the bus stop and he ran away. It's highly probable that he's continued on foot since then." He pauses for a second before continuing. "I would say it's also probable that the condition we would find in him now would not be…salvageable, to put it plainly."

Maka feels his words hit like a punch to the stomach. Not dead but somehow this is worse. Her heart pounds away painfully. They were giving up? On her Deathscythe, on her Soul?

"Not salvageable," she repeats slowly, looking at her stained gloves. She looks up at the three who decided they were judge, jury and executioner of her partner. "You didn't say that when he was a functioning Deathscythe."

Spirit hesitantly speaks. "Maka, darling, he might not even recognize you if we found him. That would be worse, wouldn't it?"

She's speechless for a second, then enraged. "No!" She points at her chest. "I would feel it if he was gone. I know him better than anyone," she turns to Lord Death. "And you're just giving up on him, without a second thought, as if he's replaceable. Just because he's "not salvageable" supposedly." Her voice heightens a couple notches. "Don't you care about him at all?"

Without waiting for an answer, she hurtles herself from the room. Not caring where she ends up, she launches herself in a random direction. She runs until she can't breathe, stopping under the shadow of a building.

Catching her breath, she braces herself against the wall. She slides down the wall in a sitting position, propping her knees up. Looking up, she lets out a hollow laugh as the sign of the library announces itself to her.

Naturally, bookworm. The voice in her head is a bit too Soul-like for her taste and she pushes herself back up to flee again, where she doesn't know.

An unwelcome and annoying voice stops her. "Crying, Albarn?"

Maka groans as she spies the voice's owner. Walking from the library's exit, Ox Ford stares at her haughtily, his partner Harvar as silent as ever.

"What do you want?" she asks acidly.

"I think that's a question you should be asking yourself," he says in a know-it-all tone.

"What are you talking about?" she says, gritting her teeth. She doesn't have time for this.

He loses the tone and stares at her. "You lost it. Plain and simple. Just like your weapon."

It's the last of many straws that breaks the camel's back. She charges forward and punches Ox in the face.

Ox hits the ground with a satisfying smack but he immediately struggles back to his feet, lifting a hand to stop an approaching Harvar. "It's okay, H, she doesn't even have the same punch as before. It's cute."

Maka doesn't care if he's purposely goading her or not. She feints another punch and lands a kick to his stomach, knocking him back to his knees.

Ox gets back up, slowly but he gets back up. He shakes his head. "You've lost your edge, Albarn. What happened?"

She doesn't answer but circles him instead, eyes narrowed.

"I guess I'll have to tell you since it doesn't seem you have all the answers anymore," he taunts.

She darts in and strikes. It confuses her that he isn't fighting back. Ox, who always looked to show her up, was letting his rival beat him up.

He rubs his jaw at her latest blow. "You insist everything's okay but you lost your partner. Admit it."

She speaks for the first time, in almost a growl. "My partner's not lost. He left. He's not lost."

"And you're perfectly fine waiting for him here, are you? Like a perfect patient little meister?" he asks, circling her now as she breathes heavily in and out.

She bites off the words. "And what do you think I should do?"

He shrugs, pausing in his circling. "As if I should know. But I didn't think you would just give up."

The rage that had been simmering down flares again and she thrusts herself toward him, tackling him against the wall, holding him up by his shirt. Words come out half-strangled. "I would never, I didn-don't-"

He interrupts smoothly. "What do you want?"

Her breath catches as it clicks. She feels stupid for refusing what her subconscious had been screaming at her to do for the past two months. Trembling, she backs away from Ox, not breaking eye contact with him.

Then, she turns and runs as if her life depended on it.

Ox breathes a small sigh of relief as Maka's figure grows smaller in the distance. He wasn't sure how much more he could take.

He feels Harvar silently move by his side. He waits for his weapon to speak.

"Of the stupider things you've done, this one tops them all."

Always the sensitive one, Ox thinks.

"But I understand why."

"Why what?" Ox asks absently as he assesses that everything is still in working order.

"Why you pushed her so hard."

"Well there's no fun in defeating a broken opponent," Ox shrugs, wincing at his sore spots. "Now let's go find Kim before I fall over."

Harvar's lips twitch, as if considering a smile. Then, it's business as usual. "Right."

He doesn't even know where he is, half the time. He feels too hot, even for the Nevada heat.

His money ran out a few days after he decided that taking the bus was too dangerous. Traveling on foot was something he knew he'd have to do but it didn't make it any better.

Luckily he still has the common sense to travel in the night when the sun isn't blazing and people are asleep in their houses.

During the day he stalks the loneliest areas of town, trying to keep a low profile. He doesn't want to stand put more than he normally does so he makes it a priority to take extra care of his appearance.

Stealing to survive has become his way of life. He's become an expert at waltzing in a store in one outfit and coming out in a completely new one.

Food is slightly harder because people are greediest when it comes to food. But his coordinated pianist fingers have finally become useful and he's developed a certain finesse for slipping an unbought bag of chips in an unsuspecting exiting customer's bag, shoving the blame on them while he walks out free and clear.

Guilt over these things is overwhelming at first but quickly fades to an uncomfortable twinge in the face of a protesting and raging stomach. It's quickly become a cycle that repeats itself every few days for food and once a week for clothes.

Right now, as he passes under a sign that announces he is now exiting Boulder City his stomach rudely reminds him that the apple and chips he ate a few days ago have now been fully absorbed by his body and more foodstuffs would be more than welcome.

Soul thinks it was a couple days ago that he entered Boulder City but he can't be sure. The other reason he hangs around the emptiest parts of civilization is if he spazzes out like he did a little over a month ago, at least there's more of a chance that no one will find him writing on the ground. However, while the demon asserts himself all the time and makes it difficult to tell reality from hallucination, he has yet to take over his body again, small miracle that was.

What the foul ogre does is plague his day with hallucinations of dripping blood and moving shadows and ruin his dreams with images of his meister on the ground unmoving or overtaken by the Black Blood.

The little demon knows she's his weak spot and he uses it full well to his advantage. It takes Soul all his willpower and then some not to succumb and most days he wonders why he doesn't.

It would be such a nice thing not to fight and just rest, he thinks as he trudges along the empty highway but every time the thought passes his mind, a face with the greenest eyes he's ever seen fights her way through his subconscious and delivers a mental chop to his head that he's actually grown to miss.

And that is why he fights so hard. Because even if he has to spend the rest of his existence without seeing those green eyes in real life, he would never do anything to make those eyes waver and lose their light forever. So he lets the demon taunt and try everything he could to break him but he refuses to let go of his cracked sanity.

Soul walks on the road, veering off of it whenever a car's headlights signal another person's presence on the road. Even at night, it's hot but he shivers now and then. He attributes it to the demon and not to illness. That would be a nightmare to deal with.

When the dim light of the dawning sun begins to brighten the sky, he calls it a night and finds the softest patch of ground under a bunch of scrub and weedy trees.

The demon begins his assault on his dreams almost immediately but a spark shines through the inky darkness. A green spark.

Maka runs as fast as she could back to her apartment. Blair's out at work so the apartment is locked. In her impatience, she drops the spare key three times before she manages to fit the key in the lock.

She blazes through the apartment, stuffing clothes and emergency money stash in a bag. Stripping off her ruined gloves, which have stained an unsightly red-brown color like dried blood, she replaces them with a fresh set.

Then she pauses in her frenzied rush, considering transportation. Then it comes to her and she runs into a room no one has lived in for over two months.

Picking through the mess that is Soul's room, she growls, "Where are you?"

Unsurprisingly, she finds the keys to the motorcycle in the pockets of Soul's pants. She gives a silent thanks that Soul taught her to drive that monster.

Right before Maka leaves the apartment, she scribbles out a note for Blair, vaguely explaining that she will be gone for a while. Satisfied that she's ready, Maka dashes out of the apartment, her heart racing.

She actually has not idea as to how she's going to find Soul but she'll think of something. Right now she has to be moving.

The bike sits under a tarp in a corner of the apartment complex's underground garage. Two helmets lay hanging on the handle of the bike. Normally she and Soul scoffed at wearing safety gear, considering the line of work they were in. But this time, Maka secures the helmet firmly on her head-it would be just her luck to crash in her search for Soul.

Maka snaps the other helmet around her bag because she isn't coming home alone, that she swears. Deftly, she kicks up the stand and hoists herself onto the bike. With a twist of the key, the bike roars to life. She gives the grip a little twist while squeezing the clutch, revving up the bike.

Even though it's been months since it's been in use, it still seems in pristine condition. Pleased that all seems to be in order, Maka eases off the clutch and the bike moves forward smoothly.

Heading to the garage's exit, she ponders where she's even to start. There was only one way buses exited Death City so that gave her a place to start, she considers, but from there, Soul could have gone anywhere. She gases the bike a little, eager to be on the open road.

Maka's so absorbed in her thoughts that she almost doesn't notice the figure standing in the exit.

With a gasp, she yanks on the front brakes hard. The bike stops with a squeal and almost hurls her over the handlebars. "What were you thinking?" she yells. "I could have killed you!" She pulls off her helmet to see the person better, who is just standing there.

She takes in the tattered lab coat and wide-rimmed glasses and almost screams her frustration to the sky-she's pretty sure she would have preferred dealing with her father than Stein.

"In a rush, Miss Albarn?" Stein takes a step closer to her, reading her face like a book.

"Just going for a drive," she says through gritted teeth.

"Really," Stein's voice stays neutral but she knows that he doesn't believe her. Maka's ready to call his bluff but he does it first. "The others are looking for you, you know."

"I-what?" she sputters.

"Someone witnessed your fight with Mr. Ford and reported it." He straightens his glasses. "Admittedly not the smartest thing to do in a highly public place."

Maka grips the clutch hard, ready to release it and fly off at a moment's notice. "Why are you telling me this?" she asks suspiciously. "How did you know I was here?"

Stein shrugs. "For the same reason I thought you might need this." He takes out a weathered book from his coat and hands it to her.

She takes it warily and looks at the cover. There's no title, just a wrinkled black cover. Maka eyes Stein curiously. "Why are you doing this?"

He smiles. "Research." He casually steps to the side, clearing her path.

Maka smiles gratefully. "Thank you."

He shrugs again. "You're welcome but frankly I don't know what you're talking about, seeing how I haven't seen you since your outburst in the Death Room."

Maka's smile grows wider. She places the book gently in her bag and shoves the helmet back on. Revving up the engine, she releases the clutch and rockets away.

When Death City is finally growing small in the bike's mirror, she lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding.

Unfortunately, Maka isn't able to get too far before the sun sets. And despite her hopes that finally moving would inspire a fit of genius, she has to admit she has no clue where she's going or where Soul would go.

Frustrated, she pulls into the first motel she sees. She heads straight for the shower, grabbing her pajamas from her bag and tossing it on the bed, angry that she hadn't been able to make more progress.

The hot water hits her back like bullets as she struggles not to cry. Sure, she's finally mustered up the courage to do something other than seethe alone in Death City but what exactly has that gotten her?

Exiting the shower, she wraps herself in a towel tightly. The mirror is all fogged up from the steam. Wiping it away, Maka gazes at herself.

Her eyes look mournful and self-pitying. "Giving up already?" Ox's words from before taunt her.

She sees her shocked eyes widen and then narrow in anger. Maka clenches her fist. Soul never gave up on her and like hell was she going to give up on him. They'd beaten worse odds before.

Maka pulls on her pajamas and heads for bed, suddenly tired. The contents of her bag lay haphazardly on the bed and floor, from earlier. She sighs as she stuffs it all back in her bag.

A corner of a books peeks out, half-hidden under the bed. Maka picks it up curiously and then she remembers it was Stein who gave it to her.

Her sleepiness disappears as she picks it up excitedly. Stein had said it might be useful. It was the vaguest of hints but one she would gladly take.

Poring through the first few pages, she frowns as she fails to find a table of contents. Stein couldn't have picked a more helpful book, could he?

Nonetheless, she settles into a comfortable position, ready to read the whole book if need be. It seems to be a book centered on souls, but it's nothing she hasn't read in her spare time before. However, she dutifully reads each page, on alert for the help Stein had mentioned.

Her eyelids droop as the hours tick by but she refuses to give into sleep. It's nearly one in the morning when she perks up excitedly.

Breathless, she re-reads the passage again. One of the advanced soul techniques is called the Soul Trace. Much as the name implies, the Soul Trace is a method for tracking a soul to its exact location. This technique is only remotely possible for those who possess Soul Perception. Even then, Soul Trace is difficult to use, given the number of souls in the world, not to mention that the person performing the Soul Trace must know the soul of the person they are seeking well enough to correctly identify them. A word of caution must be given as well: the person who is Soul Tracing is placing their soul out of their body and into the world, making them extremely vulnerable to attacks.

Maka lays the book down, sighing contentedly. This is what Stein meant for her to read, she knows it. She scans the following pages, looking for tips on how best to perform a Soul Trace but no other mention of the Soul Trace is given.

She sighs again and tosses the book to the side and turns off the bedside lamp, flopping back on the bed. She stares at the ceiling. Technically speaking, it doesn't seem too hard. A variation of Soul Perception, really. The danger the book warns of doesn't frighten her. So long as Soul is still in control of himself, they would be fine. And she'd never seen the demon reveal any other powers than the Black Blood.

Taking a deep breath, Maka decides to give it a try. Keeping Soul in mind, she reaches out, searching for him.

With a muffled scream, she withdraws back into herself, overwhelmed. So many souls pounding into her senses at once. It was a torrent of emotions, threatening to drown her. The equivalent of being crushed in a crowd of panicking people. She sits up, pulling her knees to her chest.

How was she supposed to find Soul without the Soul Trace? This was her only hope.

Maka grabs a pillow from behind her and buries her face in it, bracing herself. She will keep trying until she finds Soul.

Since she knows what to expect now, this time isn't as bad, though she has to pull back into herself less than a minute later.

She spends the rest of the early morning hours acclimating herself to the drowning feeling, occasionally reaching out for Soul.

But even though she improves drastically, especially given that she's only spent hours practicing, it's not good enough.

When the sun starts peeking out from the horizon, she gives into sleep, promising to keep trying until she breaks or finds Soul.

Maybe it's because she's spent so much time looking at them so much but her dreams are filled with nothing but souls.

She's floating in this endless black space, surrounded by souls of all colors and size. Instead of overwhelming, it's peaceful, like holding your breath underwater.

Maka drifts along, enjoying the rhythm from the souls, each unique. It's a cacophony of melodies. Then one, so distant it's nearly inaudible, calls to her.

Ceasing her aimless floating, Maka kicks toward the sound, wanting to hear more. Dark and haunted, it's beautiful despite the darkness threatening to consume it. She smiles triumphantly.

A sudden noise from next door jolts Maka awake but she can still hear her Soul's melody.

"Found you."

The demon wakes him up while the sun is still high overhead. He stalks edgily in the Black Room. "Wipe that stupid smile off your face, you idiot."

Surprised and still half-asleep, Soul feels the smile on his face. It's slightly confusing but not unwelcome. He stretches and works out the sore muscles from sleeping on the hard ground, wondering what has the little ogre so rattled. He grins and hopes the little ogre is thoroughly discontented.

Dusting the dirt off himself, he stands and picks up his pack, heading back to the highway. His stomach protests loudly at the injustice of being empty. Soul digs in his pack and pulls out a crumpled map. He squints at a tiny dot on it. The next town is less than five miles away, right next to the Colorado River, if he's walked as much as he thought he did.

He's not walking for ten minutes when the demon starts his daily attack on his fragile sanity. "Where exactly are you headed anyways? Planning on roaming around for the rest of your life? If you gave in, at least then you'd be able to have some fun."

Soul ignores him, keeping his eyes on the road on the lookout for cars.

The demon changes his tactic. "Or maybe you're hoping that you'll find a way to get rid of me, that you'll be able to go home, that you'll see your friends again."

Soul clenches his jaw, refusing to answer. The demon senses his reaction and laughs, delighted. "Oh isn't that precious! And of course, you'll get to see your precious meister again." His voice turns sly. "Miss her a lot don't you? You dream about her nearly every day, you know. What if she doesn't feel the same way? What if she found a new weapon? A better one?"

"Shut your face and die." Soul resists the urge to go in the Black Room and punch the demon's face.

"No, she wouldn't do that, would she," the demon says thoughtfully.

"No, what if she came after you?" the demon asks. "That would be interesting, don't you think? What would say, better yet what would you do?"

Soul refuses to picture her or even entertain the idea of seeing her again. "She's in Death City, where she belongs. She's not coming to find me."

"I hope so, for her sake," Soul can practically feel the sadistic smile stretch across the stupid demon's face but he also senses an undercurrent of uneasiness.

"Don't you dare threaten her," Soul growls. Then he grins humorlessly. "She'd kick your sorry butt like she did last time."

He feels the demon shrug. "Maybe so, maybe not." The demon laughs. "All I know is that you've been growing weaker and I've been growing stronger."

As if to demonstrate his point, the demon nearly forces him off the side of the road with a disorienting hallucination of shadow creatures dripping blood, coming at him from all angles.

Falling to his knees, Soul forces his eyes shut and presses his hands against the ears. He doesn't know how long he kneels there. Eventually he risks a peek and then he rises, relieved for once to see the empty road.

He hears the demon snicker loudly but the demon doesn't talk anymore. Soul decides not to provoke him and takes advantage of the demon's silence to start walking again.

As he walks, he ponders the demon's words. They seemed odd. Did he know something Soul didn't?

He smacks down the hopeful voice that whispers that maybe, she really is looking for him. That would not be something to be happy about, he sternly tells himself.

The worst thing that could happen, actually as he thinks about it more. Never mind about what he would say to her, not that he has the faintest clue how he'd handle that. He's forced to agree with the demon that he's gotten weak and now he's sure that the demon would try something, if Maka found him. A nauseating thought occurs to him-maybe he'd try to force Soul to hurt her again and, his stomach turns over unpleasantly, maybe the little demon would succeed.

He almost throws up from the picture in his head. There was no way he was letting that happen while he was still breathing.

The thought that Maka would never abandon her DWMA duties is his only comfort. Soul knew his meister well-when he left, he knew that Maka wouldn't follow. That she would have went to someone in authority and that they would have stopped her from running off. By then, logic would have kicked in and she would feel bound by responsibility and duty to stay.

He was banking on that to dissuade her from looking for him.

Soul breathes a slight sigh of relief as he rounds a curve in the road the town coming into view. The river behind it shimmers like a mirage.

The town was really more of a collection of houses, centered around a few stores lined up on the main street. Luckily no one is out because of the heat so Soul's able to enter the general store unseen.

An old woman stands behind the counter, almost asleep. The guilt that Soul had mastered comes back as he contemplates what's easiest to conceal in his pack.

He steals a look at the woman-she has her eyes mostly closed and didn't seem to notice his walking in. Easing the box of crackers into his bag, he beats a hasty but silent escape to the door.

"I assume you were planning on paying for that?" The old woman doesn't even open her eyes.

Soul's stomach plummets a few feet into the ground as he slowly turns around.

The woman's eyes flutter a bit. "Come here, young man."

As he walks toward the register, Soul frantically searches for a good excuse but each one seems more and more ridiculous.

The woman, whose name tag reads "Martha", finally opens her eyes, looking at him beadily. "Not that close, young man, you reek."

Soul scowls but takes a step back.

Martha surveys him for a moment. Then she points to the door behind the counter. "There's an extra plate of food in the back. My fool grandson canceled on me to go hang out with his friends. After you finish, go find the red house with the white porch. I have a spare room that you can sleep in for a couple days. And please for the love of all that is holy, take a shower." She wrinkles her nose for emphasis.

Soul is genuinely speechless. He tries to open his mouth to speak but he seems to have forgotten how to talk.

Waving a wrinkled hand, Martha says, "Go. And don't you ever let me catch you stealing from me again."

Soul swallows painfully and nods.

The sun beats down on Maka without mercy but she doesn't care. She pushes the bike to the fastest it can go.

She found him, she found Soul, the thought pulses through her, giving her energy. Occasionally she checks through Soul Trace to make sure he hasn't gone too far but he seems to be moving slowly, probably on foot.

Maka's amazed that he's even moving at all. She hadn't wanted to admit it but in the back of her mind, she'd been expecting the worst. It takes all her self-restraint not to use Soul Trace to just feel the comfort of his wavelength by her side.

She figures that if she keeps up this pace, only stopping for gas and if Soul doesn't magically sprout wings and flies away, she can reach him by sometime tomorrow, at most the day after tomorrow.

A voice in her mind asks what exactly she's going to do when she reaches Soul. She narrows her eyes a little-she knows exactly what she's going to do. Engulf the idiot in a back-breaking hug, nurse him back to health most likely and then send him back to the hospital with the biggest Maka Chop in history.

And of course, support him through getting back to some sort of normal because she knows the demon has probably been unkind to him, to put it lightly.

Thinking of the demon is almost enough to set her into a rage-she's going to rip his head off his bite-sized body.

The flashing light on the gas meter distracts Maka from murderous thoughts and she curses. The last gas station she passed was well over ten miles away but she has no idea when the next one will come up.

Angered, the bike screeches as she makes a highly illegal U-turn and flies back in the opposite direction.

Just wait, Soul, she thinks, I'm coming.

Instead of being comforted of being woken up to the warmth of a green spark, Soul worries. The demon's words have him on edge, despite feeling better than he has for ages due to Martha's kindness.

When Martha asked his name, he told her to call him Robert, his brother's middle name ironically enough but it was the first thing he could come up with at a moment's notice. The demon had had his fun with that but it seemed half-hearted, as if he was distracted.

In fact, he had mostly prowled around yesterday instead of actively harassing Soul. It had been odd, especially since Soul had basically collapsed in the bed of Martha's guest room after taking a hot shower. The demon loved to plague his nightmares but as Soul sits up in the bed, he honestly can't remember a single nightmare from last night.

The green spark lingers for a moment and then winks out. It sets Soul on edge. The demon is silent.

Soul tries to shrug it off. He pulls on his newly washed clothes that Martha claimed she did not for him but as a service to society. He grins. The old woman was the first kind person he met in over two months of traveling.

He finds his way to the kitchen. Martha stands at the stove, flipping pancakes. Without turning around, she says, "Set the table for two, Mr. Robert."

As Soul gets the table ready, she piles the pancakes high on a platter, freshly cooked bacon and eggs already steaming hot in their own platters.

Swiftly, she sets the platters on the table. "Help yourself," she says, sitting down. She examines his appearance as he pours syrup on his pancakes. "You look much better than yesterday, Mr. Robert."

"I feel better," Soul says through a mouthful of food.

"Manners," she reprimands. "I must admit, although your white hair and red eyes scream hooligan, you are much more well-behaved than my fool grandson."

Soul swallows his food before speaking. "Thanks."

They eat in comfortable silence.

The demon strikes towards the end of the meal, quick and silent. One minute, Martha was cut offering Soul more food and the next minute, she's convulsing in her chair.

Soul jumps from his chair with a yell, rushing forward to help her.

He freezes as she starts screaming at the moving shadows.

The demon cackles in triumph. "Finally!"

Then as suddenly as it came, Martha falls forward, unconscious. With shaking hands, Soul manages to carry her to her bed.

He wants to stay but he knows that would only invite more trouble.

Soul goes for his pack and leaves the house.

"What," he growls in a low whisper to the demon, "the hell was that?"

The demon is practically rolling with mirth. "You can't be that dense, Soul! I'm part of you. Doesn't that mean I have a bit of your wavelength? It took me a while to harness the Black Blood and even now, it's not very strong and not for long distances but now I can project it on others." Soul can practically taste the pride glowing from the demon. "Isn't it wonderful?"

One more hour, she estimates from the Soul Trace. She can drop dead with exhaustion in one more hour. In one hour, she'll get to see her idiot again.

The green spark is less of a spark now and more of a flame, Soul thinks. He stumbles across an abandoned and rotting bridge across the river. It's hard to think through the demon's laughter and his fever. Because he's sick, actually physically sick as he hurls his breakfast into the flowing river.

He holds on with trembling hands to the rails of the bridge, staring into the river. It's not flowing very fast but it's not slow either. It's just right, like Goldilocks, his mind volunteers. He lets out a laugh that sounds more like a sob.

Maka checks back in with his soul. Because it's time to stop denying it. Soul knows that's Maka and as he finally gives up and sits awkwardly on the rotting wooden boards, he wants her to find him.

It's selfish but he needs to see her again and right now. He's tired of walking to nowhere.

Cold spray from the river hits his face and the fever talk recedes from his mind, just a bit. He feels the demon stalking eagerly in the Black Room.

The words come out slurred and jumbled. "Y-you knew, you crrr-eep."

The demon's rather pleased that Soul has finally caught on. "Knew that she was coming? Yes, quite right. That's why I was preparing in earnest. Stay still just for a while longer, Soul, and you'll get to see your meister again. Twitching on the ground in madness but admit it, you want that."

"No!" Soul's mind clears even more and he forces himself to stand. He has to keep walking. To protect Maka.

He stumbles forward again but the boards in front of him is far weaker than the others. With a groan, they break and half of his body sinks through the hole. Soul grabs onto the side rails to keep from falling in. He has enough strength to keep himself from falling but not enough to pull himself up.

He feels Maka again and it feels like more like a fire now.

He refuses to let the demon hurt her anymore.

He lets go.

Maka blinks as she tries the Soul Trace again and it fails. She tries again. And again.