The vibration of his cell phone on his desk caused Soul to jump slightly. His feet were propped up on his desk as he played his DS, face illuminated by the light of his computer monitor. He slapped a hand over his phone and held it up to his face. Soul raised his eyebrows at the name that flashed across the small screen; it wasn't Maka's, like he had been expecting, but his brother's.
For a moment, Soul felt slightly apprehensive – was something wrong? – but slid the button across and held the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Hey Soul!" came the eager voice of his older brother. "How are you?"
"Good, you?" Soul said automatically.
"Pretty good, yeah. How's school?"
"Fine. Less than a week before vacation. I dunno why we can't just be on break starting tomorrow, but we have to go in next week for Monday and Tuesday before they let us out."
"Yeah, Shibusen was weird like that," chuckled Wes. "Well, I'll be coming home tomorrow! My break starts then, though my flight won't get in until the afternoon. So I'll see you when you get out of class."
"I might be going out with friends," Soul said. "To celebrate the end of the semester."
"Oh good! Okay, well, we can always hang out later on."
"Yeah, well, I might be out for a while..." Soul trailed off. He felt a roiling in his gut. Why was he feeling so guilty over this?
"All right, well, we can find time. I just wanna make sure I see you some this break," Wes said.
"Yeah," was all Soul replied.
There was a silence. Then-
"Soul, you're a bad liar."
"No, really. What's wrong?"
Soul sighed. "I mean, you could've come home for Thanksgiving. Like, I dunno, just seems like hanging out wasn't a priority for you then."
Another pause. "I only had Wednesday, Thursday, Friday off," Wes said, his tone unfathomable. "I didn't wanna fly all the way across the country. I'd spend like half my time off traveling."
"I know, man," Soul said, shutting his DS so it clacked softly as he put it on his desk. He swung his legs and settled his bare feet into the plush carpet of his darkened bedroom. Wearing pajama pants and a ratty T-shirt, Soul had been planning on going to bed within the next twenty minutes, but he knew his brother, and he knew he was in for an earful about "being considerate of other people's commitments" and "valuing their time" and he might as well get comfortable. "I know. I just... forget it."
"No, Soul, I just need you to- It's that-" Wes let out a long sigh over the phone, static blowing against Soul's ear.
They were quiet. Soul watched the small black dot that tracked his music across his muted computer screen as he listened to his brother breathe. Debating whether or not to break the silence, Soul put a foot up on his chair and started inspecting his toes. Maka had teased him last time they had been together that his feet were "adorable"; feet were probably not supposed to be adorable, damn it-
"Soul," Wes said so quietly that Soul had to strain to hear him, "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Soul blurted out. He stared straight ahead into the dark.
"For... everything. For not standing up for you... y'know." Soul closed his eyes. Yes, he knew.
"No, really. Really, Soul, I just shouldn't have stood there and not said anything, and then I was moving across the country and I got wrapped up in that, and before I knew it, I was a six hour plane ride away from home and we hadn't spoken-"
"It's fine, Wes, I don't-"
"I just, I'm sorry." The brothers listened to the other breathe over the line, hearts racing at the same pace. Soul could feel his skin heat up as Wes's words rang in his ears. The hand holding the phone was starting to get sore, so he shifted to hold it with his shoulder.
"Wes, I... don't really know what to say. I didn't... blame you..." Soul paused. Had he blamed Wes? He tried to sort out his thoughts. Why did things always have to get so complicated in the Evans family?
"Yeah, but I mean, Dad was being a complete ass, and I just... let him. I didn't say anything or jump in or anything. I should have."
"You would've gotten chewed out too."
"Better than letting you go it alone. I just stood there. It could have been two against one."
"Mom would've jumped in on Dad's side. I mean, she's always on his side."
"Sometimes," Wes sighed, "but not always." There was a rustling noise through the phone, and Soul guessed it was his brother getting more comfortable. He also found himself relaxing; his toes were uncurling from around the bar below his chair and his heart rate was slowing. "But yeah, I guess. I just, I dunno, I hated hearing him rip into you like that. Like, it's okay that you want to take a mechanic's elective. You still have time to play the piano at home, you don't have to take music theory."
"Yeah, but to him, anything that's not moving my career forward is a waste of time," Soul said bitterly.
Wes paused. "He doesn't see it that way," he said quietly. "It's more that he... he wants to know you have a future."
"I will have a future."
"I know, but that's how he is. But he is proud of you, even if he sucks at saying it. Soul. You do know he loves you, right?"
Soul picked at a hole in his pajama pants leg.
"Yeah, I know."
"Good. Soul, I know what you're going through. It's hard to be with them because they put a lot of pressure on you, and I can't imagine what it's like being the only kid in the house, but it's a lot easier once you're away from them. They can't breathe over your shoulder and you can spend your time the way you want to, not their way."
"What do you tell them?"
"Whatever I want. They're not gonna fly across the country to see if I'm practicing the violin for the whole three hours a day."
Soul scrubbed his face with his free hand. "Yeah, that does sound good. I'm glad you're enjoying your school. I just wish you weren't so far away from me." The moment the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to swallow them back; they sounded like they were spoken by a petulant child, and he cringed.
"Me too," Wes said softly, and Soul pressed the phone harder against his face to hear better. "I wish having space from Mom and Dad didn't mean space from you. But I'll be home tomorrow, and we can catch up then."
"But you'll only be home for a month, then you leave again," said Soul, deciding on the spot that if he was going to embarrass himself, he might as well do a thorough job of it.
"I know. We'll make it count. And if you and Dad argue again, I'll say something this time. I'll make sure he knows I agree with you."
"I dunno if it's gonna happen again, but thanks. We've been doing better lately."
"Well, I'm really glad to hear it."
Another silence, a warmer one this time. Soul felt as if a huge weight had lifted from his shoulders. He had lived with Wes all his life, had seen him every single day, until suddenly Wes was gone and he was alone and they exchanged only awkward text messages for months. But here was Wes, smile evident in his voice, and he would be here tomorrow, and Soul felt lighter than he had in a long time.
"I do hear tell, from the very reliable source that is our mother, that you have a new girlfriend. We apparently have a lot to catch up on."
Soul groaned, head falling to rest on his knees, Wes's merry laughter ringing in his ears.