All he can see is red.

He can hear the crunching and shattering of vertebrae, feel himself slipping through her fingers and falling into an endless void, taste iron in his mouth and on his tongue, smell the liquid life leave her form, but all he can see is red.

He is slipping towards the edge of the precipice, as familiar as it is foreign, dangling dangerously close to the fall. There is no tendril of light to draw him back, no rushing fire to rage through his veins and purge him, burning, burning, burning away the darkness. He is drowning in the inky black, quiet and deadly and suffocating, cool to the touch. It fills his nose and his eyes and his lungs.

"Doesn't that feel so much better?"

He isn't sure if he has a body, but he can hear screaming, a name shouted to the heavens over and over again, and he feels a tightness around something that might be his heart, but it also might be a cancer, a tumor that leaches poison into his body with each traitorous beat.

Can he use a body that is no longer his? Darkness threatens the crimson, bleeding sluggishly over his sight, curling like vines around his vision, choking him.

"Do you understand what is happening?"

All he knows is the void, and all he has ever known is the lack, the lack, the lack of what he craves. He has never known that soft touch, never known that gentle voice, never known that caressing embrace that encircles the darkness and snuffs it out with light. These are things that he has imagined, things that did not exist, because if he had known them and lost them, he would burn until he were nothing but ashes, scream until his lungs are bloody, claw and rip and tear and destroy everything he is to bring it back. He cannot have known these things because these things are gone and he cannot live with the loss, a burden too heavy to bear. He cannot have known them because he cannot live without them.

"Do you understand what pain is?"

Pain is all he is. The twisting, wrenching, curling of claws, the gnarled, aching fingers clenched around the only place that bleeds, the only thing that anchored him to anything, fueling the pounding in his skin, just below the surface, because it won't stop beating, no matter how much he begged.

"I can make the pain go away."

If he got rid of the pain, if he rid himself of the burning and slithering and rupturing and squeezing and writhing and searing, if he sunk beneath the waves, he will be nothing more than a charred out hull, a carcass, a corpse.

"Do you want me to make it stop?"

He is no longer defined by such paltry words like want or need or desire, because he has become nothing but the pinpoint focus of one truth, one red truth, and if it is not true, then he will raze everything in his path so make sure it is never true, but if it is, heralded by the tinkling of bones shattering, the whisper of sinew ripping, the faint trickle of blood dripping down, down, like a delicate porcelain doll falling off a table, like a bird tumbling out of the air, gentle even in death, he is nothing but unrelenting pain. Because every fiber of his being, every molecule thrumming life in his body, is galvanized only by the voracious fervor to unmake the truth, to clear the red from his vision.

"Do you want me to make the pain stop?"

The only craving that will satisfy a hunger such that he has now and has never known before, the only possible salvation of which he can conceive that survives in the frenzied whirlwind of rage and hurt and anger and despair and regret he has become, is dangling out of his grasp, beyond his control, outside his ability. He is Sisyphus and he cannot reach, he cannot eat.

"I can make the pain stop. Do you want that?"

If he becomes nothing, he never has to hear the sound of his heart breaking again, never has to hear the echoes of his screams ringing in his ears, never has to feel like tearing the skin from his body, the flesh from his bones, because he will not feel. All he feels now is pain.

It hurts.

"It won't hurt anymore."

He won't hurt anymore.

And he sinks like a stone, a rushing and dragging and swirling feeling overtaking him, covering him, sweeping over his ears so that the screams are muffled, over his mouth so that he no longer shouts himself hoarse, over his eyes so that the red fades to black.

"Isn't that so much better?"

It can't be better because there was nothing before this; this is all he has ever known.

"Let it happen."

He loses everything. There is no sense of time, no sense of memory, no sense of future. But there is no pain.

"You've won."

Those words hold no meaning.

"You must be hungry."

He doesn't feel anything.

"We should return so you can eat something."

He doesn't feel anything.

He does not know if he's alive; he knows he isn't dead because he knows this and the dead don't know, but he is sure that his heart has stopped beating. He remembers that hearts beat to keep a person alive, but his heart did not pump blood into his arteries so that he could live, did not preserve his body with its gift of life; it beat for something else. He does not remember what.

He is adrift at the bottom of the sea. It is dark.

"There! There! Eat that!"

That is the only thing he knows how to do anymore.

The sensation of swallowing, cool and slippery down his throat. Suddenly a warmth fills his belly, like a tiny supernova exploding inside, bright and warm and energizing, lighting him on fire and spreading through every inch of his body, sparking down his veins like lightning across a barren field, igniting the grass that has known no rain, and for a brief moment of clarity, he remembers what it is like to be human.

Then it is gone, and it is as if the afterimage is burned into his retinas and all he can see is the inverted sight of what was, fading a little more each time he blinks. He is left feeling empty and hollow and unfulfilled. He is overwhelmed by his insatiable craving for more.


"You don't have to do this," Spirit said quietly.

"Papa, don't."

"Please. You're still injured."

She rubbed her chest, feeling the bandages below her shirt. "I'm all right," she said softly.

"You don't have to prove anything."

Maka clenched her fist tighter around the handle of her father's scythe. "He saved me. He saved us all. And he sacrificed his own humanity to do it. He's been eating- I owe him this."

Spirit said nothing. He knew he would never be able to talk her out of it.

"He's here," Maka murmured. She jumped down from her perch on the roof of the building to land lightly on her feet.

"Be careful," was all her father said.

She jogged forward, holding her father's weapon form aloft. Her chest was starting to ache, but she couldn't tell whether it was from exertion or what she was about to do. She rounded a corner and slid to a stop, having found her quarry.

His form was hunched over, but it straightened somewhat as he turned to look at her. Blades stuck out of his shoulders and his elbows, black and red patterned over and over again. His shoes were missing, replaced by large curled claws that scraped against the stone pavement. His hands had been reduced to smaller blades, twisting and grasping to a rhythm only he can hear. His chest was too broad; his shirt had ripped in several places to accommodate the scythes and extra muscle bulk. His white hair was dull and dirty. His face was feral and twisted, dried blood caking the edges of his jagged mouth, teeth stained brown. His eyes were blank.

Picking up her scent, he slowly turned to face her, a snarl falling from his lips. Maka spread her feet to anchor herself, lifting her father's scythe, fighting down the feeling of familiarity that threatened to overwhelm her.

He charged. She dodged out of the way, swinging her blade behind her. It clanged as it made contact with one of his, sparks flying. He let out another loud growl, and she sprang backwards. He swung an arm at her, fierce claws whizzing close to her face, and she flung herself to the left. She felt a ripple of pain in her chest, and she thought she might have torn out some of her stitches, but there was no time to check because another scythe embedded itself in the wall above her head, and she had to slither out underneath it, her heart thudding loudly in her chest.

"Now, Maka!" her father roared, and she struggled to her feet and whipped her father's weapon form into the exposed flesh of her prey. He let out a howl, black rivulets rolling down his back, and wrenched his claws from the wall to turn to face her. He was much too close.

Maka got a glimpse of something on his chest, stretched taut with its expansion, a thin white line running from shoulder to hip-

Razor sharp teeth snapped at her, and her Papa shouted "Watch out!" She stumbled backwards and tripped as he reared forward, and she rolled to the side just as his large form fell against the stones. Small droplets of blood rained down, peppering her white shirt, like spots on a robin's egg. Maka got back on her feet just in time to clash her father's blade against his again.

They exchanged blows, back and forth, giving and taking ground almost equally. Maka felt her brow grow sweaty as she dodged and blocked and attacked. They were caught in a rhythm, a twisted and perverse imitation of the graceful steps they had once shared, and inverted shadow. There was salt in her eyes, but she did not know from where-

With a savage roar, he leapt forward, arms reaching for her heart. She lifted her father's scythe to counter the attack, and felt the full brunt of the blow knock into her, vibrating in her very bones. She held him there, their eyes locking, green against red, and she felt something break inside her, something she strongly suspected was her heart. She sidestepped and he came crashing down, turning to glare over a shoulder to see only the black blade swinging down from the heavens. Her gaze met his again as she sliced through his skin, and for the briefest of moments, she thought she saw a flicker of recognition, or of fear, or of relief, but it was over too quickly-

There was a rushing noise, and his form began to dissolve. Maka dropped her father's blade with a clatter and fell to her knees. Spirit quietly transformed behind his daughter, watching her shoulders shake with repressed sobs. He stepped towards her and put a gentle hand on the back of her neck. She could no longer control her tears, and they fell fast and hot and hard against the cobbled stones, her lamentation kept at bay since the moment she had fallen until now, now when she was done. Maka extended her arms, weeping openly, and gathered to her bandaged chest the small pulsing red orb that was all that was left of her Soul.