Gloaming [gloh-ming] noun. 1: Dusk, twilight. 2: The dim end of evening.

Maka desperately, passionately, fervidly wanted to wait and bide her time, mostly because she was achingly afraid, but they only had a month, so she gulped and settled Mae West carefully inside her boot, just in case, before leaving Tsubaki's wagon the next morning. As she left, she trailed a hand across the rough blue shingles; such a cheerful color, and usually she loved it, loved the way it reminded her of the sky and the rivers their caravan rattled by, but today, with Jacqueline's cards vivid in her memory, the blue seemed incongruously peaceful. Somehow it shook her up even more. She went straight to Soul's door and knocked, pretending that she wasn't secretly imagining a different life for herself, one in which her father was more than just a red-tinted blob, one where she'd never found out about the sound of a monster being sliced up or the correct way to sharpen a blade dulled on bone.

Soul opened his door so fast that she suspected immediately he hadn't slept, and the rumpled, disheveled air he was wearing as he blinked at her- not to mention what looked suspiciously like last night's clothes- reinforced the impression. Her tongue was thick and stupid as his red gaze lingered on her neck, and when he licked his lips absently, her own mouth went dry.

"Hi. Come on in. I've got coffee," he said at last, moving aside.

She ducked through his doorway and felt not unlike a prisoner mounting the steps to the guillotine. Mae West was small, but she was beautiful and deadly sharp, yet the knowledge didn't soothe Maka at all. She hadn't realized until now just how hot the fire she was playing with burned, but as she stole glances at Soul's razor teeth, as she became uncomfortably aware how how much taller and broader he was than her, the knowledge was inescapable. She heard one of Blair's cats roar off in the distance, caught the dogs yipping for breakfast, rubbed a thumb across her torn-up fingertips, and wondered for the millionth time what her old self would have thought of the Dire Circus and all its gory beauty.

Soul frowned at her sleepily, obviously reading some of her trepidation, but didn't say anything else, just slumped down on the edge of his unmade bed and ran his hand through his hair after handing her a mug of awful, bitter coffee.

"Thanks," she said, pretending it wasn't profoundly terrible as she took a sip. Her intestines started to backflip.

"You sound worried," he muttered, sticking his thumb into his suspenders with a sigh. "I still don't know what all that stuff with Jacqueline was about, but you obviously understand it a lot more than I do. Is that why you're upset?"

"You know me pretty well, don't you," she said teasingly, desperate to change the subject. Maybe she'd sounded a bit too much like Blair, because his brows shot up and his gaze drifted up and down her body again. He really thought she didn't notice his little glances. She wasn't stupid, and she wasn't a child; it was simply that she had absolutely no concept whatsoever of how to handle the thing currently turning the air between them blistering hot, and further more, she had more important things to deal with right now. Honestly, she wasn't entirely sure what she even wanted at all, and it wouldn't be fair to him to fall into anything without being absolutely certain. She had to keep him alive if she wanted to even have the option of coming to terms with how secure his arms made her feel.

So she took a final slurp of her awful coffee, savored it because of the hands that had made it, enjoyed a last peek at the lazy warmth deep down in his gaze, and put the mug down on his tiny, battered table.

He squinted at her, then his eyes grew very wide and startled as she lifted her hand to her mouth and tore away an old scab. "No-" he had time to hiss before she was in front of him, bleeding nicely, and then his pupils turned into black holes and hands into desperate claws against her shoulders as he hauled her closer, until she was standing between his knees, her bleeding hand held temptingly in front of his bared teeth.

"Bear it," she whispered, again and again, and he looked confused behind the devilish hunger twisting him up against her.

"Mae," he croaked, shaking from head to toe, lips twitching back from his predator teeth, fingers painfully tight as he moved his grip to her wrists, pressing the very tip of his tongue to her jugular.

This had been a terrible, terrible idea. She swallowed down her heart, which had somehow migrated up into her mouth on a wave of fear, and said again, "Bear it. You have to." Then, on a whim, "Do it for me." Maybe that was selfish, maybe it was blackmail of a sort, but she really didn't want to die, not when she was half an hour away from confronting the cloaked monster who'd stolen her past. The remembrance of that, the knowledge of the diary Nygus had given her, still tucked away under Aka's saddle blanket, put the wind back in her sails. She tilted her head back and stared up at the ceiling before shutting her eyes. She couldn't do anything else for him. She would just have to wait, even as her bones turned to fragile glass beneath his searing, deadly, delicious touch.

"You need to go," he ground out, even as he nuzzled his face into the blood on her palm.

"No," she whispered, wondering at the way her pulse was jumping around, amazed at the way the sight of him looking up at her with frantic, wild eyes could put such tension in her, stunned at how she couldn't seem to look away from her blood smeared across his lips. "We don't have time. We've only got a month." She almost growled then, and the demon riding him growled back at her. "I am not going to kill you so you had better get a handle on this! Understand? I mean it!"

Some kind of keening animal whine tore from him. Every inch of her heated up at the sound. "Your throat," he moaned helplessly, and then his teeth were tingling rough and sharp on her collarbone, nibbling along it from her shoulder inwards. The shocked noise she made was humiliatingly feminine, and if she hadn't been near tears in fear, shaking and flinching from the thought of those teeth tearing at her jugular, she would almost certainly have slapped him out of sheer principle. She could admit to her secret, innermost self that she liked the sensation, but this really wasn't the time to be dwelling on how much her skin was tingling. This was therapy, and this was an attempt to save his life, so she would resist.

The whole thing did have potential for the future, though; she filed it away for later consideration even as she cocked an ankle, the better to feel Mae West's shape inside her boot.

"Don't kill me, please," she said to the ceiling, too tremulously, eyes still squeezed shut, as she started to catalogue which things in his wagon could be used as weapons. He was so close to snapping. She could feel it blazoned on every painfully tight line of his body as he sucked in the scent of her blood, harsh whistling breaths that could have come from a nightmare.

"What the fuck," he gasped, hands fisting in her shirt. Nonetheless, he leaned back a little, and she didn't think she'd ever been so grateful for anything, or so proud, even as the effort of his internal battle ripped his features into a groteque gargoyle mask. He'd leaned away, but he was still licking her blood off his lips, still panting.

"We have to," she said desperately, an explanation and an apology at once. Jacqueline's gemstones danced behind her closed eyelids, an ominous borealis. "Either we get past this or I'll have to kill you on the solstice to protect everyone and I can't do that! I can't! I won't! I won't, do you hear me?"

He shuddered passionately, snapped his jaws like a shark, heaving and writhing and pulling at her. She was a ship on a storm-tossed sea. It was only the memory of his laughter and the way he fought beside her, protected her so ferociously, that kept her passive in his grip; she reminded herself again that he was entirely deserving of her help, and then she was all right again, if still scared.

Then he stilled, though he was still rumbling from deep in his chest, sounding like one of Blair's tigers. "You stupid," he breathed nonsensically. She could hear him grinding his teeth, but his hands were quiet, and when she tipped her head down to look, his teeth were safely hidden away again.

"That was good," she said judiciously, watching his bloody lips contort in a grimace. She took a full, cleansing breath before stepping away from him and returning to her coffee, a bit proud of her own composure. Mae West bumped her ankle, and she scowled into her drink; the knife had been mostly for comfort, but it hadn't made Maka feel any better, really. Soul slumped over and hung his head between his knees, and the tight fragile shape of him almost made her regret what she'd just put him through. He was breathing as hard as if he'd just run a mile. When he raised his face to stare at her, he'd aged ten years.

"What is wrong with you?" he asked, and his voice was so harsh that she only just held back a shriek of her own.

"I told you. We only have a month. That's what the prediction was. There are two options. You get past this thing of yours, or you hurt people and I have to kill you." Was that her voice, so merciless and bold? She thought she liked this version of herself, the one that walked on coals and didn't even remember fear. Maybe it was foolhardy to risk so much for an angry, antisocial, violent circus boy, but she liked that she was strong enough to see past his mask and decide for herself. She liked that she was confident her decision was the right one, even with all the potential risk.

He swallowed hard and pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Was that justice, that told you that? The answer card?"

"Yes. I don't really want to talk about it." Though that wasn't fair, considering it was his very life at stake, in just a short, short month. "I hated everything about those evil cards." She tried very hard to put her loathing into words, but all that came out was, "People aren't meant to know all the things coming for them!"

"Isn't that the goddamn truth," Soul said dourly before taking his hands from his face and staring at her.

She ignored the passionate, confused hurt painted all over him in favor of grabbing one of his old shirts from the hamper and wiping her blood off him. The sight of it gleaming on his mouth as he spoke was somehow too sensual for her to handle. She was really warped, really a strange one, and maybe she felt so good around him, even while simultaneously terrified, because he understood that piece of her. What was the legend Tsubaki had told her a while ago, the one where the ancient gods cut apart their human creations, dooming them to wander the earth in desperate search for the other half to make them whole again? That story had hurt, so much, had almost brought Maka to tears, much to Tsubaki's gentle dismay. "I'm always doing this, aren't I?' she said, trying for lightness, more than halfway amazed that he hadn't killed her. He would have, if she'd done such a thing when they'd only just met; they both knew that. This survival should have felt like victory, like progress, but it only made her think of how many more times she would have to put her life in his hands.

"Too many times already," he grumbled, but he settled his chin in her hand and patiently let her scrub at him.

She let go, chugged the rest of her coffee, and then nearly ran out of the wagon. He called after her from his doorway, and she turned, painfully conscious of how hot her cheeks were. "Thank you," he said.

"I'm- I'm proud of you," she answered truthfully, blushing harder.

"Beat it," he said, mockingly, but it was all bark. He gave his tiny smirk, but then it bloomed into a full smile and she turned and completed her escape before she melted entirely, or her heart pounded right through her ribcage to freedom.

Her euphoria died as she trudged to Lord Death's trailer. She stood eyeballing his door for a good ten minutes, working up her courage.

A heavy hand fell on her shoulder. She jumped a little, then relaxed as she saw it was only Black Star. "Hi," she said.

"Mornin'. Why are you lurking?" he said.

She shrugged a little and shuffled her feet. "Ah- well- I'm supposed to go talk to Lord Death."

He eyed her. "I'm guessing it's got to do with that fortune Jacqueline gave you, yeah?"

"How'd you know- oh. Tsubaki."

Black Star shrugged and grinned wickedly. "No one can keep a secret from me when I turn on the charm. So Jacqueline really fed you some grade-A bull, huh?"

"I wish," she muttered. His ridiculous hair was just as jarring as Tsubaki's wagon; even the gradually brightening sky felt wrong to her today, with all the things sitting so weightily on her mind.

He sniffed loudly, then kicked at an innocent clump of grass. "Yeah. She's never fucking wrong. I hate it. Are you okay?"

"Uh. Yes?" she tried.

Black Star had his all-knowing god face on and she cringed, already knowing her mask had failed. "Sure," he drawled disbelievingly. "If I know anything I know you're not okay with this. Since the day you got here you've been all about savin' Soul."

"Well, what am I supposed to do?" she grunted angrily, turning away. "It's either he gets better or I have to kill him! That's not exactly how I picture my life going when I woke up in Tsubaki's trailer, you know? I didn't think there would be monsters and fortune tellers and stuff and- I just- I didn't know life was this hard! I didn't know what I was getting into!"

He blinked at her and she discovered she'd been shouting. "Why do you stick around then, bearcat?" he said cannily.

She flushed yet again, but before she could answer, Lord Death's door creaked open, and the cloaked man himself leaned out. "Hello, there, you two," he said brightly. "Maka, you're welcome to come in. I'm just waiting for- ah, well, speak of the devil's son, there he is. Black Star, you can come in too, I suppose." With that, he disappeared back into the endless depths of his wagon. Black Star and Maka traded glances, but then Kid stepped out of nowhere, polished and serene. Pattie and Liz were less composed as they flanked him; Pattie was yawning incessantly, hair ruffled, and Liz looked as if she'd personally and painfully destroy anyone who forced her to engage in conversation this early in the morning. Their guns gleamed on their hips, though, obviously freshly polished.

"Hello," Maka said tentatively, aiming her greeting at the less-terrifying younger sister. Pattie shot away from Kid and latched onto Maka's arm immediately.

"Maaaka!" she trilled between yawns. Liz chuckled dryly at her sister, but she raised a hand in greeting.

"Hello," Kid said crisply. He was looking at Maka in a very peculiar way, golden eyes somber and not at all aglow. "I saw you perform the other day, Maka, you've gotten quite good."

"Thank you," she said faintly. She still wasn't sure how to handle Kid. He had a habit of frowning at her dourly if her hair wasn't up in pigtails, and sometimes he would just pop out of nowhere, quite literally materializing out of the shadows. He really couldn't be less like his father.

Black Star frowned at her, then at everyone else in turn. "Come on, get a wiggle on, let's get this over with," he ordered loudly, shoving them all in the trailer, ignoring Liz's caustic death threats. Somehow, once inside, they all fit comfortably, although that was obviously impossible. Though- did 'impossible' even mean anything at all anymore? Another word lost to her, then. Maka returned Patti's grip, clutching the other girl's arm, and stared at her knees, trying very hard not to let the shadowy, dismal atmosphere of the wagon get to her.

Lord Death crossed his arms and gave a thoughtful little hum once they were all settled. "So, Kid," he said at last.

Kid stretched out an impeccably suited arm and handed his father a yellow piece of paper.

"What's that?" Maka whispered to Patti, craning her neck, but unable to make out anything specific as Lord Death held it up before his mask to read.

"Telegram, of course," Liz whispered back, suprisingly helpful.

"Oh," Maka said faintly, feeling a bit stupid. "Uh- what's that?"

Liz raised a brow as she crossed her legs, the hem of her dark skirt swishing softly against the floor. She was dressed very stylishly today, but still with an eye for practicality; sturdy boots peeked out from her skirt, and her blouse was obviously made for easy movement, even as it made her blue eyes brighter. Maka smoothed a hand over her stained, baggy trousers and secretly felt rather ragged. "A telegram?" Liz said, a tad suspiciously, running a hand over the ends of her silken hair before doing one of those quick, instinctive taps to the butt of her gun. "What do you mean, what's that- oh. I forgot."

"I told them about your brain going leaky and stuff," Black Star chimed in, beaming.

"Ah, well, thanks for that," Maka muttered. Judging by Black Star's generous nod, her sarcasm was entirely lost on him.

"It's a short message that can be sent from a very long way away using electricity and wires," Kid said quietly, adjusting the cuff of his jacket. She shot him a grateful look and decided, after some agonizing, that now wasn't the time to demand an explanation about how exactly that worked.

Lord Death ignored their hushed conversation, and she saw his mask move slightly, left to right, as if he were reading and re-reading whatever information was contained on the telegram. Then he lifted his head and stared straight at her, the jagged hem of his cloak swirling up like tentacles. She wished desperately for a cup of the tea he'd offered the night before. At least she'd have something to do with her hands then.

"Everyone in this wagon- I've altered your memories," he said bluntly, casually, as if he were simply commenting on the weather. "It's time I come clean."

Maka stared emptily at her boots as he continued talking, clenching her jaw with the effort it took to bite down the urge to rip off his mask and make him hurt. The longer he talked, the stronger the wish grew.

Soul was pacing, and he was aware that he probably looked rather silly, but Maka was cooped up in Lord Death's trailer and the dead silence was unnerving him. Not to mention the fact that Black Star and Kid and Kid's girls were all in there too- well, something was up, and when Maka came out she was either going to run away forever with all her memories back in full force, or she was going to murder someone. He just knew it, knew it the same way he knew the sun would set tonight, and it was driving him to wild, terrified distraction. It had been coming, true, and of course Lord Death wouldn't have known how long Spirit would be held up in France when he'd wiped Maka's memories, it would only have made sense at the time to honor Spirit's wishes and keep Maka safe and away from their awful world- but no amount of logic helped.

So he was pacing, and worrying, and wishing he'd remembered her stupid meeting with Lord Death in time to come along with her. He was so wrapped up in remembering her idiotic ambush on him earlier, and how much more difficult it was to keep things reined in when he didn't have a knife at his neck, and fretting about that damn prophecy, that he almost didn't notice when Lord Death's black door creaked open.

Everyone trooped out, rather silently, and he gaped, because Black Star in particular looked absolutely, apocalyptically enraged. Pattie was stroking the butt of her gun and casting dark glances over her shoulder into the depths of the trailer, Liz wasn't even trying to hide her gritted teeth, Maka was blinking slowly at everything around her, and when her eyes lighted on Soul, a peculiar sort of irritated flush crossed her face.

He raised his eyebrows at her in question from a safe distance away, feeling it might be wiser to figure out if she was feeling violent or not before getting any closer. She shrugged, looked away, and gently detached herself from Pattie's clutches before saying something to Black Star, who threw his hands up before stalking off with clenched fists in the direction of Tsubaki's trailer.

Then Maka came over to Soul, waving a rather dour goodbeye to Kid and the sisters, who all trooped off as well, probably to fill some innocent cans full of holes. "Well?" Soul said anxiously when she didn't do anything but squint down at the ground.

She blew out a breath, shakily, but her chin was up. "Well, he admitted to tampering with my memories. He said my father asked him to, because he's somewhere far away fighting monsters with my mama. He said that my father wanted to, uh, keep me safe while he was gone, and they used to work together. My mother too, which explains Mira... and the book? Maybe..." She muttered to herself for a moment, brow furrowed, and then she lifted her face to him slowly, looking very lost. Her eyes were suspiciously shiny, but he didn't comment. "Anyway. I'm staying here until my papa comes home. It's not as if I've got anywhere else to go, and I don't fancy returning to some home I don't remember and living alone."

"You don't remember- didn't he give you your memories back?" Not a thing she'd said made any kind of sense to him.

"He offered," she said mildly. She seemed rather deflated, blinking at Soul in a quiet kind of contemplation. "I declined, though the others all took him up on it. I've got no idea what he took from Kid and the girls, but- well, apparently Black Star met me first, you know, it wasn't much of a memory that Lord Death took from him. But if I remember, I'll miss my papa, and I don't know myself well, but I do know that I'll chase him if I get my memories back, I'm not the type to sit idly by, and- I just- I don't need any distractions right now!"

"You declined?" he repeated slowly. Things were rotating all around him and the earth quaked in a disorienting fashion. He'd though she would leave, he'd been trying to prepare for it, trying to harden his heart so it didn't blacken and burn all over again, but she was just the same, and of her own volition.

"Yes," she said placidly. Her tone was deceptive; she was white-knuckling the frayed edge of her shirt.

He stared at her for a long beat, then exploded. "I don't believe this! What is wrong with you? This whole time you've been trying to get your memories back, and now this? You- I don't- what the fucking hell, Maka, get back in there right now and tell him to put you right!" Where was her emerald fire now?

"No!" she bellowed, hands going to her hips as she glared at him. Ah, there it was, blazing out of her beautiful eyes. He swallowed, reassured, even as he took a prudent step back. "I won't! How are you not getting this? My parents are across the ocean, in danger, according to the telegram thing, and how am I supposed to concentrate on keeping you alive if I'm worrying about them? Right now I don't even know them so it doesn't hurt! They're- they're only names, do you understand, they're not faces that I love! But I can't- I can't do both, I can't carry everyone, all right? And I can't go help them, but I can help you, so you had better just deal with it!"

He fell back a little under her heat, staring at the bitter wrenching of her features and feeling an answering twist far within his chest. She was doing this for him. "You'd be able to read," he said, unable to think of anything else to say.

She choked out a poor imitation of a chuckle. "Mm, that's true, but I have you for that, anyway."

"Oh. Right." What the fuck was wrong with him? Why was he just standing there like an idiot, with no proper argument to make her march back inside that trailer and get her rightful memories back?

"In a month," she told him, determination replacing the disappointment on her face. "Lord Death can do it any time. So I'll just wait another month, until you're safe, and then I'll have room to worry about my parents. If they're not on their way back by then, of course."

Her sacrifice was too much. Driven by the growing dampness of her green eyes, Soul put aside his own personal hatred of parents in general and said, "I know they're just names to you right now, I know you don't remember it, but you love them, Maka. They're real people, and if they need you, you should get your memories back and go help them."

She shook her head, mouth pulled to the side, fire still burning. Above them, a cloud passed over the sun, and everything went just a little darker. "I know I love them. Even if my head doesn't remember it, part of me here does, the same way I know Aka." She settled a hand on her chest. "It's deeper than memories. But I can't help them where they are. They sent a message to Lord Death and said they're staying for a little while longer. It seems they're helping some people. Anyway, he told me it would take a long time to travel to this France place. By the time I got there-" she shrugged and began digging the toe of her boot into the dirt as if it were her sole purpose in life. Such stupid logic, that she didn't want to miss her parents- but it was true, really. She was right. Even if it were hopeless, even if she knew in her head it would be weeks of travel to make it to France, and far too late by the time she did, her overlarge and wonderfully willful heart- if it were whole- would force her to go. He became aware that he was staring at her in a rather too soppy and worshipful way and hastily rearranged his features, aiming for some kind of casual. It didn't last.

He'd stepped closer to her without realizing, hooked by her words, and there was a new kind of madness rising in his throat, still an urge to taste, but it wasn't blood he wanted now. She peered up at him, then her eyes widened as he cupped her face in his hands.

"Uh, what are you doing?" she started.

"Hush," he snapped, battling all the confusing things happening to his head. "Just give me a moment, all right?"

"All right," she breathed, blinking at him, the fire dying down a little, to sweet grass-green embers. He ran his gaze over the courageous set of her jaw, the stiff bravery in her scarred shoulders, and the firm competence in her calloused little hands as they rose to clasp his wrists. He ran a thumb over the incredible softness of her cheek and took in the gentle shining of her eyes. His whole world had somehow shrunken down to fit within those eyes, and it had happened so subtly, so insidiously, that he'd never even realized until she had all of him.

"Thanks," he told her, hoarsely, inadequately, and then he bent his head and pressed his lips to hers. She made a sort of squeaking hiss, but she didn't rip his lungs out like he'd halfway been expecting, or even attempt to pull away, and then her hands were buried in his hair and she gave a contented hum that took the heart right out of his chest forever.

The kiss was calm and relaxed, easy, a stark contrast to the tension that had been building up, very different from the all-consuming ravenous hunger he felt when she was bleeding in front of him. He was almost surprised, because she settled warmly against him as if she'd been made for the sole purpose of kissing him and him alone. It felt so natural, and nothing in his life had ever been natural, not since his father tossed him out with the rest of the rubbish. He realized dimly that for perhaps the first time in years, he wasn't even a tiny bit afraid.

When they parted, she shot him a skeptical sort of glance out of the corner of her eye, like she didn't quite know what to make of him, but she was smiling. He smiled back, with all his teeth, and the sheer intoxicating freedom of doing so pulled a laugh out of him. The cloud over the sun was long gone, and everything was bright, hot and summery, and at the moment, he was sure he had wings.

"You're welcome, I suppose?" she said after a moment, laughing too, even as she blushed.

"Why'd Lord Death decide to suddenly tell you everything when he's been so bent on keeping it a secret this whole time?" Soul asked, relishing their comfortable companionship, loving how close to him she stood. If he only had a month left to live, he could endure the deadline happily if all his days were full of his bearcat and her soft, soft lips. This was all the things he'd never dared to want, but she'd shoved and pushed and played therapist and somehow she'd started to stitch him right up.

She beamed at him rather girlishly, cheeks pink, eyes glittering, and he noticed with glee that she didn't attempt to move away from his arms at all. "I'm not sure. I think mostly because of the prophecy. You know? It's been easier for him to keep me here without my memory. I would have gone against him to help my parents before. But now that you need me he knows I won't go. He's got no motive anymore."

Guilt hit him like one of Black Star's drunken haymakers. "Fuck," he groaned. There went the moment. "Maka, you really shouldn't stay just because of - of me." Unsaid were the things he already knew she would understand- she shouldn't stay because of an untrustworthy, insane, bloodthirsty monster who swung hourly between wanting to kiss her and kill her.

She looked at him narrowly and then flicked him sharply on the forehead, clear retribution for his thoughts. "Don't you know by now that when I make a decision it's pretty difficult to talk me out of it?"

He snorted darkly and rubbed his forehead. "Truer words were never said."

They looked at each other for a long moment, recalibrating to all the new, and then the spell was broken and she stepped back, blushing again, adjusting her pigtails rather primly, obviously just becoming aware of their entirely public location. "Well. I may be a stubborn sort of person, but-"

"I manage to tolerate you anyway," he finished, smirking when she twitched.

"I need more coffee," she muttered despairingly. "Oh. I've got a reading assignment for you, later, I'll stop by after we make camp. "

"Won't be making camp until lunchtime tomorrow, most likely." Lord Death would keep them moving all through the night, probably; if Soul knew his boss at all, the man would be dying to get to some new territory and restore some of the joy to the circus folk. Maybe the monster's blood had evaporated from this field, but they could all still see it, every time they opened their doors.

"Oh," Maka said. "See you then, I suppose."

"Fine," he yawned, trying, out of habit, for his usual cold nonchalance. She just snorted, lips twitching quite distractingly, and walked off. This time, when he watched the sway of her hips, he didn't feel in the least guilty.

Tsubaki was gone when Maka, duties done, returned to their wagon, but she'd returned by the time they were all hooked up on the tracks, fluttering in armed with fruit to snack on for the road, some of the horses' tack that needed repairing, and an entire bag full of clothing that she dumped out unceremoniously on her bed.

Maka blinked at the pile. It wasn't until the scent of scorched fabric hit her nose that she figured it out. "Black Star conned you into fixing all his burnt up clothes again, didn't he?" she said. Tsubaki's soft smile gave the guess away as truth, and Maka groaned. "If you keep sewing everything up for him, he'll never learn and he'll just keep setting himself on fire, you know."

"Oh, I know," Tsubaki said, plumping herself down quite happily next to Maka and grabbing the little pearl-inlaid box where she kept her sewing supplies. "But it's what you do when you love someone."

"Particularly an idiot like Black Star," Maka muttered, but she sounded strange even to her own ears, and Tsubaki paused in her rummaging to look over. The train jerked and stuttered just then, slowly and painfully heaving itself into forward momentum, and Maka used the jolt as a convenient excuse to jump up and away from Tsubaki's inquiring expression. God, she was fairly sure she was blushing, and that wouldn't do at all.

It turned out to be a good thing she'd gotten to her feet, though; her scythe had started to slide down the wall from where she'd propped it as the train lurched onwards. She caught it, and the smooth feel of the haft in her hands tamped down her mood quite effectively, because it was all too easy for her to imagine going after Soul with it, too easy to picture the boy who'd kissed her half a day ago going after all the others she'd learned to love.

"Tsubaki," Maka said abruptly, sitting down beside Black Star's charred clothing, still holding her scythe. "How does Soul fight? I mean, what does he fight with?" If she did have to fight him, if the unthinkable happened and worst came to worst, then the more knowledge she had, the better. Perhaps she could even come up with a way to deflect Jacqueline's prophecy. If she incapacitated him, stopped him from hurting others without killing him- well, she did think she was the sort of person who liked having a plan B, if not a C and a D as well.

Tsubaki poked her tongue out the corner of her mouth as she worked at threading a needle, squinting and lifting it to the light shining in from the window. It took forever, or possibly thirty seconds, but then she got it at last and gave a satisfied sigh. Her tiger lifted its head for a moment to peer at her work, but then yawned and lounged lazily over her collarbone, apparently prepared to nap away the journey. "Hand me one of Black Star's shirts, please? A white one? Thank you. No one's really sure. He just gets sharp."

"That's ridic-"

"I know, I know." Tsubaki cut off Maka's outburst quite effectively. "It's not a real answer. The truth is neither Black Star or I have ever asked him, and I don't imagine anyone else has, either. He just does. He cuts things when they need to be cut."

Maka scowled at nothing, then flopped backwards on the bed, staring up at the delicate golden swallows flitting and dancing across Tsubaki's ceiling. "It's hard for me to believe you all have lived with him for so long and know so little."

"Mm." Tsubaki clicked her tongue, a telltale sign that she was thinking hard, then said quietly, sadly, "He's been so afraid for so long, Maka, he's never let anyone get within a hundred miles of him. Before you came, Black Star and I were the closest thing he had to friends, and we didn't even know his last name for nearly five years. He's done a very good job of staying isolated."

"What is his last name, anyway?"


"Oh- oh, right. Of course. Jacqueline called him that." Maka sat back up so she could watch Tsubaki's clever fingers fly, needle glinting brightly as the wagon rattled and bounced onwards. "Soul Evans," she said aloud, trying it on, wanting to see if the words tasted anything like his lips had.

Tsubaki grinned at her, a tiny blue butterfly fluttering up to perch on one slim cheekbone. "Got a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It sounded so familiar when I found out."

"Yes, a bit." To be entirely truthful, Maka thought she might adore it, might be a little more than mad about learning this new fact about Soul, but that was a feeling she would keep tucked away inside, along with that startling, wonderful kiss he'd planted on her earlier, which was currently curling her toes inside her boots. "Here, hand me a needle and thread. I may as well help out your firebreather." She settled her scythe more securely against the wall, not out of sight, but out of her hands, just for the moment.

"Really? You? Sewing something besides a saddle blanket?" Tsubaki teased, but she looked pleased, navy eyes crinkling slyly as she handed over the delicate little sewing kit. It was inlaid with a pattern of briars, armed with heavy thorns; appropriate, considering its function. Maka ran a hand across it, almost tenderly. The pearly thorns were not unlike the teeth in Soul's beautiful, precious smiles.

"Black Star's been slightly less insufferable lately, and anyway, I've got nothing else to do." Maka shrugged, letting herself smile, letting a little of the weight slide off her shoulders, because the colors were right now in the world, and of course there were dark things ahead, but she and Soul weren't alone, after all, and if they had anything, they had each other.


1: 'Beat it' is basically just saying 'leave, go on'.

2: 'Bull' is slang for bullshit or nonsense, the same as it is today.

3: 'Get a wriggle on' means to hurry up or get moving already.

Author says: I AM SO SORRY THIS TOOK SO LONG. SO SORRY. I've been working on a story for Resbang and life happened and... well, I'm sorry! Side note, I do have a tumblr now (the link is in my author's profile) and that's a good way to hear about updates to either this OR my resbang story, if you happen to be interested at all. :) Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! The next chapter should be quite a bit more fast-paced and dramatic, so... prepare yourselves, I suppose? :)