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when it rains it pours

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It was too soon for her to be skidding down the halls of the Academy, but she couldn't be damned if she wasn't going to check on the one friend who wasn't sharing an infirmary wing with her. She'd overheard-- no doubt one of the multitude of bad habits she'd picked up from Soul-- that Crona had collapsed once the barrier broke and she was intent on checking on them herself. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the building, as twisty and mazelike as it was, lead her to the dank and quiet row of doors a floor below the infirmary proper: PRIVATE, then OPERATING THEATRE, then STEIN. And, just her luck, the doctor himself was just shutting the nearest door behind him. His eyes widened but his voice remained flat as he said, "Maka."

"I want to see them," she said, because she didn't know what else to say.

Dr. Stein pulled a pair of latex gloves from his hands and stuffed them into one of the many seemingly random pockets haphazardly stitched to his coat. He took a cigarette from his pen pocket and lit it. Smoking was, Maka knew, strictly forbidden within the Academy. Her teacher regarded her coolly and said only "ah" as he exhaled a plume of smoke. He studied her face for a moment, then looked as though he was about to say something. Just before he opened his mouth, however, he appeared to change his mind. He merely shrugged. "Let them rest," Dr. Stein advised her, before wandering down the hall toward his office, a trail of smoke following him.

Maka walked over to the tall, heavy, ominous door and hesitated for just a moment before pulling it open. Inside the ascetic room, it was darker than out in the halls. She stepped inside then released the door, letting it close softly. Once her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she spotted Crona lying pale in a narrow bed. A long tube ran from the crook of their elbow to a bag of fluid hanging from a hook on the wall. Though Crona had half a foot of height on her, they seemed very small asleep like this. Their skin was almost translucent. The sheet only covered them up to their shoulders, and for the first time Maka saw the thick, ugly black scars they bore. She almost cried when she understood where they came from. Crona's bones seemed thin and brittle, like those of birds, and their heartbeat was the frantic flutter of a trapped hummingbird in their throat.

There was a chair by the side of the bed, and Maka took it upon herself to occupy it. She balled up her fists in her lap and started down at them for a few minutes, accompanied only by the slight tick of a clock on the wall and Crona's quiet breathing. There were a lot of things she wanted to say, but she had trouble finding the words for any of them.

"I'm sorry," she said, eventually, her voice thick and her words tinged with salt. Maka squeezed her eyes shut as tears fell. She wiped her sleeve over her eyes while her shoulders shook in a silent sob. Through blurred vision, she looked at Crona again, and suddenly felt ashamed. She, of all people, had no right to cry in front of Crona. Besides, crying like this would be something her papa would do-- and she wasn't like him. She was like her mama, and the only times Maka ever saw her mother cry were when her father was unfaithful. Crona cried a lot, but that was because they hurt so much, inside and outside. Maka sniffled and choked back her tears until they stopped. She sat by Crona's bed in silence.

"It's two-thirty," a familiar voice said from behind her, "shouldn't you be sleeping or something?"

Maka didn't turn around. She didn't move at all. Her hands curled back into fists on her lap and her shoulders tightened, making her lean more forward to hide her face. She was resigned to silence until someone started poking her head.

"Maka? Are you in there?"

"Shut up," she muttered, smacking Soul's hand away. "Leave me alone."

Ignoring her, Soul walked around front of her and perch-leaned against the edge of Crona's bed. He looked at her, serious crimson seeking emerald, but Maka didn't catch his eye contact. Her cheeks were flushed and she was fidgeting under his intense gaze. Tilting his head, he reached out and gently lifted her chin. Maka didn't stop him, but she finally glared back. Too tired to be certain, she thought she picked out a note of worry in Soul's eyes, but it could have been a trick of the light (or lack thereof).

"You look like hell," he said after a moment.

Maka steadfastly ignored how warm his touch was and rolled her eyes.

"No, really," Soul pressed on, "you need to sleep. Your circles are so dark it's like someone punched you."

"I need to make sure Crona's okay," she replied, proud that her voice only quavered slightly. Maka tugged her head away from Soul, eyes softening as they landed on her friend's prone body.

Soul's head turned, his gaze following hers, and looked at Crona. He leaned over and put his ear to their chest, then two fingers against their neck. "They're alive," he informed her.

Maka scowled. "I know that, idiot."

"Just trying to help," Soul said, holding up his hands in defense-- or surrender.

"I want to be here when they wake up."

He stood up and offered a hand. Maka pretended to ignore it. "They probably won't wake up until morning."

"What if they don't? What if they wake up and they're all alone?" She tore her eyes away from Crona and looked up at Soul, who shrugged.

"They'll have Ragnarok, won't they?"

"As if that's any better."

Soul frowned, brows furrowing slightly. "Come on, Maka. We should go--"

"I'm not leaving them!" The words tore out of her throat so quickly that she almost screamed them. Maka quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. Her gaze returned to Crona, who was as unconscious as before.

"If that didn't wake them up," he commented wryly, "I think they'll be out for another few hours, at least."

"I don't-- I-I--" Maka stuttered, but her words died as she crashed into tears again. She did her best to keep them silent, but her shoulders were heaving and she couldn't stop herself.

An arm, as familiar as her own skin, wrapped around her shoulders. A hand ushered her face against a warm chest. Maka cried openly now, not sure if she was sad or afraid or angry. All she knew was that she was tired-- exhausted, really-- and a rabid pack of emotions raged through her entire body. So she cried into Soul's shirt, too wrapped up to feel embarrassed in the slightest about it. He rubbed her back up and down, absolutely silent.

They might have stayed like that for hours, or maybe only a few minutes, but eventually the tears stopped. Maka sniffled and got to her shaky feet. The hand that had been stroking her back held gently her waist as he helped her stand. Soul was only a few inches taller than her, but he was warm and sturdy and Maka (as much as it would have pained her to say) held onto him like she was about to fall into a ravine and he was the only thing keeping her on solid ground. Without a word, he steered her out of Crona's temporary room and up the few floors to the main wing of the infirmary.

Maka collapsed onto her cot, staring at the ceiling with sore eyes. Soul remained in her peripheral. Her vision drifted in and out, mostly, fading to dark patches. He started to turn to leave, but her hand caught his like lightning.

"Will you stay with me?" she asked in a small voice, like she was young and had just woken up from a nightmare.

"Make room." Without another word, Soul climbed into the cot with her. They barely fit on it together, under the thin and papery blanket. He held her, totally silent. As she drifted off, she thought about Soul. He was a lot of things to her, but she couldn't put a word to it-- boyfriend, lover, friend, not even partner described how strongly she felt about him. She couldn't find a word because there wasn't a word for exactly what Soul was to her. He was just himself. He was her Soul.