Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater nor the title to the song It's Nice to Know You Work Alone by Silversun Pickups.

It's Nice to Know You Work Alone
Poisoned Scarlett

"Your eyes," she says, hugging her crossed arms closer to her body. It's cold towards the back of the holding cell in the bus. The lights are set dimly and he's only a lean silhouette against the reinforced metal that cages him. "What's the story behind them?"

"Do you really want to know?" He says at length, voice a rich deep timbre that is pleasant on the ears. She nods, about to voice it when he continues: "There isn't much to it. Got rid of my old eyes, got new ones that can see in the dark. And through stuff."

"X-ray?" She repeats, shocked.

"Yeah, and let me tell you," he leers, "I am not impressed by the color of your panties."

"WHAT—?" She gasps, slamming against the wall. Her hands clutch her pants in mortification. Then his hysteric guffaws fill the space between them and she knows he was lying the entire time. "You – you jerk! Here I thought you could actually – ugh! You're lucky you're behind bars, Eater, or I would've bashed your head against the wall so bad you'd be seeing stars for days!" She hisses, pointing a rigid finger at him.

His laughs reduces to mere chuckles. "Oh, really? Some tough words for a girl half my size. But, let's be real, as if you could take me on. There's a reason I'm shackled from ankle to wrist." He raises his hands, shakes out a foot, and the clink of metal reaches her ears both times. He sends her a saucy grin. "I'm dangerous."

"My ass," she scoffs.

He smirks and sits back. "You have a really nice ass - way better than that pink cops one, that's for sure."

"You – you pervert!" Maka sputters, red-faced and mortified, and he laughs again, apparently finding this entire situation only too amusing. "Dammit. Where the hell is Ford?" She mutters, surly.

"Likely by the front, flirting with that cop with the pink hair. He'll need to pay up for that one," Eater adds, distastefully.

She presses her lips together at his jab at her friend and is tempted to storm right down the middle of the bus and bark for Ox to take her place. But she's not allowed to leave Eater unsupervised. There was an authentic reason for why he was chained down so heavily. He was a hazard, both to society at large and themselves. He'd escaped various times before, with seemingly no explanation each time, and leaving him unsupervised for even a few seconds could be the difference between getting him to Death City Prison and going on a man-hunt for him all over again.

Of course, Maka reasons, they were still hundreds of miles away from the prison. Currently they were travelling over burnt desert land and she was not disappointed with what she saw. She had felt the heat lift off the cracked ground when she stuck her head out the window earlier and, even with the AC on at full-blast, the interior of the bus remained muggy. Ford had, to her wariness, reloaded his handgun the instant they entered the deadened desert, lips set at a grim line. There was a reason there were so many officers aboard a bus housing only one, albeit dangerous, criminal. Crossing through these barren parts of the Nevada desert was unbelievably dangerous but it was the only way to reach the isolated facility. The danger lied not in the scorching sun and heat-worn land but in the demonic creatures that rose from the withered ground during dark fall, searching for fresh blood.

She'd been advised not to go with this squad but had gone despite her better judgement. The creatures generally stayed off the road and didn't bother with moving vehicles, from what she'd been told. They had no interests in moving pieces of metal, seemingly oblivious to the muscle, bone, and flesh that hid within. Maka was just fine with that. Her friend, Tsubaki, still had her concerns but knew better than to try to convince Maka out of something she already decided upon.

It was a five day travel to the prison at this point. Maka had only been in contact with the prisoner for a few seconds at most; this being the longest time. And, personally, as Maka ignored his snickering, she would rather have Ford and him go at it like the idiots they were than put up with Eater's harassment. It made her wonder just what women saw in the fugitive. Handsome she couldn't deny but he was an unrepentant villain.

"Hey, turn around."

"What for?"

"Just do it."

"What're you up to, Eater?" Maka demands, turning to face him. Her eyes slit. "I don't want any problems. It's bad enough we have to cross through this monster-infested land to reach the place you'll be calling home for a long time!"

"Your eyes," he says instead, with genuine wonder. His chains clink and clank as he leans closer, as if to inspect them. It makes her cheek heat up from his scrutiny. His eyes seem to have an internal light; a fiery crimson that makes all sorts of knots form in her gut. "They're green."

Maka blinks, as if she didn't hear him correctly. "Yeah…they are. My mother's eyes were green."

"I haven't seen anyone with that shade of green before," he says, further confusing her. What was he playing at? She thinks, uneasily. What was with the suddenly friendly conversation? "They're beautiful."

Her brows rise in disbelief. Was that it? Was he going to try to sweet-talk himself to freedom? With a derisive snort ( and a disgusted "just shut up, Eater"), Maka leans her shoulder against the wall again and places her hand on her holster. He was going to have to try much harder than that to get a reaction out of her—!

And that's the last thing she thinks before the bus is careening on its side, Maka crushed to the bars of Eater's cell before a scream can even leave her lungs, wide green eyes staring into equally wide red ones.

People do things they regret under pressure.

Some people blurt out things they aren't supposed to, others aren't able to cope and crack. Then there are some that simply make bad decisions - like when Ox Ford is under the pressure of calling for help before nightfall with the knowledge that a Level 5 criminal is on the loose somewhere, likely stalking them, along with the monsters that come out to feast the instant the sun sets on the horizon.

"You were the only one there, Maka." Ford sneers, gun cocked. Maka can almost hear her jaw grind as he gestures to the open desert land; the sun that's a slit of orange on the sloping desert dunes. "And he's gone. What did you do?"

"What do you mean, what did I do? He must have loosened his cuffs and this accident gave him the opening he needed to escape!" She argues. Kim rubs her arms up and down uneasily and Harvar glares coldly at Maka from behind his aviator glasses.

"And just whose fault was that?" Harvar speaks up, startling them all. Harvar was not known to be vocal. "Eater got loose. You were supposed to be watching him. Now he's on the run again, we're stranded in the middle of nowhere, and our radio isn't even working. How do you figure that?" Harvar bites out, bitterly. "Our only source of communication is also gone. You were in the front before you were relocated back."

"Harvar, stop it." Kim whispers.

"Wait a second…" Maka begins between clenched teeth, both officers ignoring Kim. "Are you…accusing me of sabotage, Sheriff?"

His glacial stare says it all.

"You're insane! You know as well as I do that I want nothing more than to drop off Eater and leave! This place…we won't make it out alive if we don't find shelter now!" Maka shouts, panic easing into her words. The horizon spreads colors of orange and pink like malformed veins. They're running out of time. They need to get inside the bus and hopefully not attract the attention of any of the monsters that lurk in the open. "Eater is as good as dead! The instant night falls… he'll be hunted and killed."

"And so will we if we don't do something right now!" Kim shouts, hysteria hedging her words. She turns to Ox. "Ox, we have to go! We have to – to get inside and fix the radio! The prison doesn't know what happened yet! They won't know until three days from today, when we're due for arrival! We – we can't make it that long! They'll kill us," she chokes out, terrified.

"Okay, it's okay – relax! We'll figure this out, Kim!" Ox soothes and shoots Maka a vehement look. Maka wrinkles her nose in disgust at how easy he can pin the blame on someone and get off scot-free. Harvar reaches for his gun, cocking it and silently observing their surroundings. "We'll be okay! If we get inside the bus then we can wait it out. Harvar's good with technology, he'll be able to fix the radio. And the bus is reinforced to deal with—!"

"But it's not moving, Ox." Maka interupts, ignoring his nasty look. Kim wets her lips, looking around warily. The sun has almost completely set now. It's growing too dark to be outside. "You know how Kishin's behave. We'll be surrounded within the hour. It's not safe in the bus."

"Where else do you expect us to go, genius?" Ox explodes, gesturing around them wildly. "Because if you haven't noticed, we're in the Nevada desert!"

"I know that!"

"Then shut up and let me deal with it! You weren't supposed to come in the first place!"

"You needed an extra because Kilik couldn't come! He needed to look after the twins!" Maka snaps back. "Be grateful I took time off to come here with you three!"

Ox prepares a sneer when Kim shrieks in horror.

"OX, DUCK!" Harvar suddenly shouts and Ox barely has time to drop to his knees before a creature with the agility of a panther lands on its four paws a few feet away with an unholy hiss. Its stark yellow eyes glare into them all, fangs the size of their fingers revealed to them in another rabid hiss. Its body moves like silk, the black scales reflecting an ominous glint under the dying rays of the sun. Its claws dig into the sand as the creature gauges them all silently.

"Oh, my God! What the hell is that thing! Kill it, Ox, KILL IT!" Kim shrieks.

"Shit," Maka swears, staring at the creature who directs its eyes to Kim before looking back at Harvar and baring its teeth at him. "Harvar!"

"On it." He aims and shoots. There is no hesitation in his shooting: only pure intent to kill as the creature dodges the bullets in outrage and scuttles away from them, lingering on the outskirts like a predator.

"We have to get inside! Now!" Kim shouts, regaining her wits and throwing the door to the bus open. The bus itself seems to have seen better days. The wreck had dented most of it, with the glass shattered although the bars that reinforced the windows seemed sturdy. To think Harvar hadn't been able to see the dead carcass flung from the side by an uninterested monster who'd come out of its hole early. The window shield - now totally shattered - should have been big enough for him to notice but he must have been distracted. Maka wonders if the shattered window shield would be able to keep those things out when night finally fell. She decides it's better than nothing as Ox ushers Kim inside and Maka follows only to be halted when Harvar shoots again and cusses.

"Harvar!" Maka shouts over her shoulder, letting the door swing shut. "Harvar! Are you okay—!" She chokes off, staring at the creature whose sinking its fangs into Harvar's leg. The man gapes, shakily aiming his gun at the thing. But it's been unloaded: nothing sounds, only a feeble click, click, click, click


It happens so fast.

She's running to him, gun out and ready, throwing caution to the wind, and next thing she knows she's being hooked by the back of her collar and dragged across the rocky, uneven, surface of the desert which will be her grave by some monster she doesn't even have the luck to see. Harvar is becoming a distant, writhing, silhouette. She can just see the stealthy predator crunch his jaws into his shoulder and begin to tear him apart before she hears dark, ghostly, wheezes come from behind her.

She's never felt a dark like this press on her until now.

She never wants to feel it again.

"NO – LET ME GO!" Maka struggles, hissing when her hand brushes against the sharp pincers of this beast. She reaches down to her belt, taking out her spare gun and crudely aiming behind her. She manages three shots, all penetrating the mass that howls in agony and flings her at least four meters across the sandy, hard, ground. Maka crawls to her knees, staring like a deer caught in the headlights at the monster that gurgles in pain, at least seven feet tall and just as wide but with a speed she can't fathom. There's no way she can outrun the thing, knowing how fast it could be. And if she can, what makes her so sure that she'd be able to evade the other monsters that have begun to rise from their caves?

Rapid footsteps approach her, severing her thoughts.

"Hey, hey, hey, wake up, pigtails!"

Maka's wrist is taken by a clearly human hand but she still shrieks and pulls back. She's only grabbed by the elbow, roughly dragged upright by one grim-faced Soul Eater. "You—!" Maka gasps but she only manages that before they're both running from the other silhouettes appearing in the distance. "Just where the hell did you go?"

"I don't think we should be talking about that right now!" Soul snaps, keeping up with her. "If you haven't noticed, we've got a fucking monster chasing us!"

"This wouldn't have happened if you'd just stayed inside your cell like a prisoner is supposed to!" Maka shouts into the sky, shutting her eyes and running faster when she hears the rocks close behind her crunch under weight. "We would be safe and we'd get the radio running and then we'd be on our way to the prison—!"

"You seriously think that piece of shit bus back there is gonna' hold up against these things?" Soul sends her a reproachful look. "You're delusional."

"What – else do you expect us to do?" Maka pants, feeling exhaustion set in her bones. She's tiring out quickly. Soul notices and grabs her elbow again, forcing her to continue. She snaps herself out of her daze and sprints forward in a burst of energy. He keeps up well enough. "That's the only thing we have for miles! The next safe-house is at least 4 to 5 miles from here and they're not expecting us! Our orders...were to get you to the prison as soon as possible!"

"Think outside the box, officer!" He flashes her a sharp-toothed smile that sets her teeth on edge. He gestures ahead and Maka looks, taking in the winding canyons that are rising up from the floor fast. It's pitch black where they're running to. She has a sinking feeling it won't get any better once they're inside.

"You're delusional," she breathes, frightened. "You don't know what's in there!"

"Better than what's out here, I bet!" He snorts, and she doesn't question him; able to faintly hear the unholy screeches and howls of the monsters that have rose from the land for another banquet.

She doesn't know what to think about Soul Eater Evans anymore. She was content with knowing that he was a ruthless criminal who'd finally see justice for his murderous ways but he's distorting that image she has of him with his laid back attitude and absolutely sane conversation...

He's a former Marine.

That explains why he's able to keep up with her so easily.

He has morals. He's a lapsed Catholic brought up in a Protestant household. He's gone to university, dropped out, and turned to the army, where he became a Marine after a few grueling years. He doesn't like to wake up too early, he doesn't like to cook if he can help it, he lives by an odd 'cool' ideal that's thus far worked out every single time, he loves to sleep and he's spent hundreds on video games just as she's spent hundreds on books. He likes to eat seventy five cent noodles for dinner and he watches - or had watched, before he was arrested again - a few television shows she watches. To her, he sounds like an all-around normal guy.

What she doesn't understand is what he's doing locked up in the back of a bus ready to be transferred to a maximum-security prison. Death City Prison has a zero-escape rate because those who do escape never reach past 1 mile before they're either caught by officers or torn limb from limb by the monsters that roam the perimeter on a nightly basis. They never reach Death City, the closest town to the prison, and even if they did, the small town was barricaded with strong walls built of brick and cement and sharp, filed, metal pikes at the top to keep clever Kishin - as the townsfolk had dubbed them - where they belonged.

"Don't worry about it," was all he said when she had asked.

Problem is, she is worrying about it. Because she doesn't know what to think about him anymore and she really wants him to fess up to the manslaughter he's being charged with, or something just as horrible, so she can stop feeling so self-conscious and warm-faced around him. She cringes at the thought of understanding why some women call him charming but so far she's not making much progress.

The only thing that's keeping her from responding to his obvious interest in her is Harvar's terrified eyes – a pin-point of black, the whites of his eyes too much around the black of his eye. His sunglasses had been thrown away somewhere during the fight. It was the only time she'd ever seen him without his sunglasses on, Maka wonders.

And it would be the last time, she adds with nausea.

"Hey," Soul calls out, huskily. He sits with his back against the cold rocky wall. The tiny cave they'd taken shelter in was found by sheer luck and offered just enough room for both of them. The entrance was also small enough that none of the things outside could get in. Maka still feels a little flustered when she remembers how she pressed her hands on his ass so she could push him inside. But it's better than feeling his hands on her, she always comforts. "You alright?"

"Yeah…" She replies, softly. She slumps against the wall, rubbing her eyes out with the heel of her palm to get those thoughts out of her head. She wonders what Kim and Ox are up to. Perhaps they got the radio fixed; have sent a search party looking for them. She can only hope. "I'm just a little tired."

"Then go to sleep. We'll be here a while, anyway."

"Sleep with you here?" She snorts. "Not happening. I'd rather go without sleep."

He rolls his eyes. "Are you seriously worried about me killing you right now?"

"I have good reason to! You somehow unlocked the chains by yourself and escaped, again! How the hell you did that I don't know but I do not want to chance what else you can do." Maka growls resentfully, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him from over the tiny but warm crackling flames they made from the weeds that grew out of the cracks between the stone. Soul had sacrificed, not looking too regretful as he did, his hard-on-the-eyes orange button-up that had his barcode number on the back. Standard prison uniform. He was left with a fitted white shirt underneath that suited him better than the orange button-up.

He scoffs a laugh, and this time his eyes regain that eternal amusement she's come to expect. "Don't give me too much credit – it's not hard to get out of those cuffs. You should know. You use them every day."

"It's not hard with the proper equipment!"

He leans his head up, a grin on his face. "C'mon, officer, think outside the box. How do you think I've made it so long? Thinking conventionally?" He snorts. "How about you thank me for saving you? Because you would've been dead meat if I hadn't decided to go get you."

"Me thank you?" Maka repeats, incredulously. "You may have saved my life but that doesn't mean I couldn't have done it on my own!"

"Bull-shit, you were dead and you know it." He smirks. "I saw it all over your face. You knew it was game over when you saw it! Injured or not, you couldn't have escaped that thing even if you had a grenade on you."

"I shot it and it let me go, idiot!" Maka defends herself. "All I had to do was run! I could have outrun it: it was injured enough that it bought me enough time to get away!"

"Oh yeah?" He taunts. "To where? Cuz you made it real clear that you wouldn't run in here even if the devil was biting at your heels."

"That's what you think! I told you it wasn't a good idea, that doesn't mean I wouldn't have done it anyway!" Maka argues.

"Fuck, are you those types of girls who are always right no matter what?"

"That's because I am right!"

"Fantastic. I'm stuck with a cop whose got her head shoved so far up her ass—!" He cuts off when she snarls a SHUT UP and launches herself at him, both rolling on the ground before hitting the wall with enough force to jar Maka. But she doesn't stop, raising her fist and punching him right in the jaw. She's darkly satisfied by his shock at being able to pack a punch before his knee connects with her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. She recovers quicker than he imagined she would, grabbing a fistful of white hair and slamming his cheek against the wall.

"Sonofa - !"

"Coward! Get back here!"

"No way, you're fuckin' insane! Get the hell away from me!"


"Shut the fuck up, moron, you're too loud!"

"Get. Over. Here!"

"Hell no! You'll kill me!"

Their scuffle doesn't last long.

He's grabbing her by the neck and trying desperately to get her off him when there's a horrible screech that echoes down the cave walls. Soul freezes and so does Maka, falling limp in his arms when they hear a rapid clicking that gradually gets louder and louder. Maka whispers his name but he shushes her, scooting himself upright and clutching her to his chest protectively. His eyes never leave the small opening they crawled through.

"Don't move," he pants, still winded from their fight. He needs to put the shabby flame they created in the middle of the nook they'd taken shelter in but by the time the idea hits him, the clicking stops.

"It's right outside…" Maka whispers, her eyes glued to the opening. She jumps back when a claw suddenly reaches through the hole, scratching down the middle. She doesn't want to think what damage those massive paws would cause if they sunk into her flesh. They could probably cut through bone like butter.

"Great going, genius, your yelling must have brought it here!" Soul seethes.

"You are not pinning this on me! Maybe if you learned how to shut your mouth, that thing wouldn't be trying to get in here!" Maka hisses right back, and squeaks when a finger nearly catches her boot. He growls something under his breath but she doesn't hear it because he's pulling her up the length of his body, holding her tightly to him while he kicks back and presses himself against the cold stone wall. It's the only space where the claws can't reach, no matter where they move to.

"…I blame you."

"Bite me, Eater."

A grin ghosts his lips. "You don't want to try me on that. I'll do it."

"I dare you."

"Is that a challenge?"

"I'll throw you to that thing!" Maka warns when he bares his teeth at her.

"If you can," he snorts.

"Don't try me. I just kicked your ass not two minutes ago," she narrows her eyes. It's then that the hand abruptly pulls back and a deafening silence reigns. They can both hear the innocent skirt of rocks tumbling down from the plateau, echoing through the natural corridor that was the canyon. Maka shifts to move away from Soul when he tightens his arms around her stomach. She looks up to find him shaking his head slowly, staring at the opening.

"It's waiting for you to do that." He whispers. "It's still there. I can see it."

Her foot slips a fraction and she really does scream when the scaly black hand is back, claws spread and desperate for flesh. She scoots up until her chest is pressed against his chin, staring wide-eyed at the thing that lunges for them with more vigor than before.

"Scoot back some more!" Maka hisses, frantically, staring at the searching hand.

"Mmph!" Soul lifts his head up from her chest, gasping in a breath. "Uh, Maka? Any other time, I would be thrilled, but right now we have bigger stuff to deal with." He muffles out and Maka gasps and jerks back, wrapping an arm around her bosom. "I think your shirt is a size too big, Maka, I almost didn't notice them." He grins, sharply. Red-faced and unable to come up with one single witty remark at the sight of his sultry grin, Maka can only dart her eyes back to the creature that moans in frustration from outside.

But even the monster that claws at them from the other side of the dying flames can't make her heart beat faster than it is because of that single comment.

So she punches him and then apologizes when he threatens to fling her to that thing if she does it again.

She's taking a risk by doing this – she knows she is.

But he's asleep. After waiting hours for him to fall asleep, he is: drool running down chin, snoring, and all. She finds it a little endearing, how such a ruthless and otherwise cunning fugitive can appear so harmless and innocent under the spell of sleep. She shakes herself of those thoughts after a few more moments of admiring him and crawls to the opening as quietly as she can.

She presses her ear against the stone, absolutely nothing coming from either side. There's not a single noise. Perhaps that wasn't the brightest idea, she admits to herself, but it was worth a shot. She needs to see how many of them were out there. She's sure there is one, which is seemingly asleep as it hadn't attacked her yet. Maka lowers her head cautiously, her eyes roving the dark outside slowly. The tiny fire that had burned hours before has been put out. At one point, the scaly black arm had brushed through it and released a terrible shriek that nearly made their ears bleed. But that had been enough to toss the aflame shirt against the wall, missing them, and successfully putting out the fire - along with that things attempts at trying to fish for them.

It looks clear, Maka thinks to herself with stifled hope. Maybe it's gone. If it is, we can escape when the sun rises. But first... She dares to look out a bit more and is just barely able to glimpse what looked like a deformed figure lying nearby when she feels a hand slap over her mouth and arms pull her back.

"You're the stupidest girl I've ever fucking met!" Soul hisses in her ear, and she growls gutturally while he keeps her arms pulled back, back pressed against his chest. "It's still there – why the hell would you go check, Einstein? Did you think about leaving right now? It's barely three am. Dawn hasn't even broke yet!"

Maka struggles and muffles out choice words from behind his palm before she finally tears his hand off her mouth and hisses: "I know it was still there, I was checking to see if there were anymore! And there isn't – it's just one! Although I can't be sure." She narrows her eyes at him in a withering glare. "You stopped me before I could check!"

"Because it's suicidal, your neck could've gotten' sliced clean off!" Soul hisses back. "I really don't wanna' wake up in a puddle of your blood, Maka."

"Oh, why not? It'd make your job a lot easier, you murderer!" Maka bitterly snaps back but it appears to be the wrong thing to say. Before she can get another word out, she's choked off, squeezing her eyes shut as his arm crushes her windpipe enough to frighten her.

"Would you really like that, Maka?" Soul sneers roughly in her ear, tightening his arm around her neck. She feels tears prick her eyes. It's tight enough that she feels fear well in her gut. "I could end it for you right here, right now. Just say the word and I'll do it, like the murderer I am." He adds, bitterly.

"Do it then, you bastard!" Maka spits hatefully, shutting her watery eyes and preparing herself for the finishing snap when she feels his arm drop limp from around her neck. She sucks in deep breaths, flinging herself away from him and crawling to the other side. Her hand rubs her neck, staring at him in surprise.

"You really are stupid." He chuckles, a weary sort of chuckle. "Stupid."

Maka doesn't know what to say because in that moment he doesn't look like a murderer.

He just looks like a guy whose lived too hard, too long.

She awakens to a frantic hissing – hissing of her name. Maka's brows furrow before her eyes slowly open. She jerks her head up when she catches sight of Soul's stained face, his hand held up to his lips in the universal sign for shh. She plans to move but she stills when she hears claws scrape against stone. Her pupils shrink and she darts wide eyes to the right, to the ebony hand that gingerly touches stone for anything soft and chewable. Meaning her leg, which is inches away from its yellowed claws.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit… runs in a circle in her mind. She stares at the clawed hand and before it can grab her foot, she raises it silently and her eyes close with the struggle to maintain the position. The hand goes back to searching the far right of the hole.

"Get your ass over here!" Soul growls.

"I—!" She slams back, her legs pushed up against the wall. Her hands grapple at the slippery stone as she struggles to fold herself into that tiny corner – away from the hand that searches more frantically. She can't hold this position for long, sweat is already beading on her forehead from the strain of keeping herself pushed against the stone using only her hand. She needs to get to Soul or else she might as well slit her own throat. She waits until the scaly black arm is far away from her to crawl to Soul.

"AH—!" Maka gasps, kicking her foot at the hand that grabs onto the tip of her boot and hauls. Soul's fingers dig into her arm and soon she's being pulled back into his chest, deep gashes in her leather boot but overall unharmed. "Th-that was too close." Maka swallows, kicking forward until she's curled snugly in his chest. But she can't think about how close she is to him again – not with that damnable hand still searching for her, its claws seemingly larger now.

"You got that right." Soul breathes out. "Next time you decide to sleep, do it right on me, will you?"

"Very funny," Maka swallows, trembles wracking her slim body. Her eyes fall close to calm her racing heart. His arms close around her safely. She wants to push herself out of the arms that had nearly strangled her but she can't find it in her to, nor would there be anywhere else to go. They're stuck like this until the sun rises enough that the monster is driven away from the opening in the canyon. "Hey… Soul?"


"How… do we even know that sunlight will reach this far?" She asks, voice tight with fear.

He's silent for a moment. "I'm hoping that once the sun rises, it'll just go back to where it was before, even if it's still dark here."

"That sounds kind of stupid," she shakily laughs.

He sighs. "Yeah, well, being with you all this time doesn't help."

"Remind me to hit you for that outside," Maka mumbles, cheek against his shoulder. His nose brushes against her neck. She closes her eyes. His breath is warm under her ear. She feels his arms tighten around her waist. How did they get stuck in this situation in the first place? She thinks miserably. Once more, she wonders how Kim and Ox are holding up.

"You asleep?" He asks, softly.

"No…" She says, just as soft. She doesn't want to wake up to another scaly, burnt black, arm prowling the stone floor in search of fresh meat.

"You'll be fine if you do," he assures. "I won't let it hurt you."

She laughs without humor. "Is this what it comes down to? Putting my trust in a murderer?"

He's silent long enough that she thinks she's made her point before he says, with a rough edge to his words: "Those people – I didn't kill them. Someone else did."

She turns her head, just a fraction, and the skepticism in her voice rings clear: "You mean to tell me you were framed?"

His words are grim: "He didn't have much choice. I was the only one around and he put the blame on me. It didn't help that I was covered in blood already. They pinned a war crime on me and I couldn't do a damn thing to defend myself – It was only me and him and they believed him over me because of our difference in rank. So I took the blame of slaughtering 8 people, three of those children." He sounds pained when he says it. "I was too late to stop it."

Maka doesn't know what to say. Why should she believe this guy, who nearly choked her to death earlier? He seems to have read her mind because the next thing he says, it's more wry amusement:

"If you thought I was actually gonna' kill you, you're dumber than you look. I was trying to prove a point. Why would I kill a cop? The last thing I need is another strike on my record. Besides," his tone takes a turn for darkly playful. His arms tighten in a way that's suggestive, that makes heat rise to her cheeks. "I kind of like you. I haven't met a girl who can back up her bark. It's sexy," he smirks, referring to their scuffle earlier which, unfortunately, also lured the attention of the thing that's stalking the canyon halls waiting for them to come out.

"Let's pretend you did not just say that so you can keep your manhood where it's supposed to be," Maka grits out and can't help but smile just a tiny bit when she feels silent laughter shake his shoulders.

"And that's supposed to be the truth?" Maka asks after a few more moments.

"I may have killed people in the line of duty," he says, somberly, "but I'd never shoot down a family," and the way he says that last word, so fierce and agonized, gets to her. Because no one is a liar enough to be able to feign those emotions; there's no way anyone can inject so much pain into that single word. She's always prided herself in being a good judge of character. She can only hope it doesn't fail her now, when she needs it the most.

But she sleeps, eventually.

She guesses that means she believed him after all.

"Are you sure?" she asks him for the umpteenth time, her hand clutching his arm tightly. There was a risk in what he's doing but he knows it's time. He's always had a good estimate of time, and his gut told him that if they didn't find a way to escape now then it would be another day before they could try again.

"Trust me on this," he assures, and smiles down at her. His new eyes catch a different scheme of colors and her moss green are absolutely gorgeous through these lens. He hasn't met many people whose eyes can do that. He can stare at her eyes all day without growing bored. Every time, there's a different shade he missed; a different angle, a different depth. He wonders how many more shades of green her eyes can capture before he's cataloged every single one. How such a pretty girl like this got stuck as a hardened cop he'll never know. "I wasn't kidding about being able to see in the dark."

"Is that why your eyes glow?" she asks, curiously. Her own seem to clear up like crystals as she searches his eyes. He has an instinctive urge to lean down and meet her halfway. But he doesn't. Instead, he grins and knows that by the way her eyes widen, his own are sparking like flint. Neat trick he learned early on, during rehabilitation.

"I don't know, do they?" He says slyly, leaning down. His breath feathers her lips, too close for comfort. "Take a closer look."

She jerks back, color rushing to her cheeks, and his special eyes capture every shade of pink and red that dusts her cheeks. He can't help but to chuckle, even when she smacks him on the shoulder for it.

"Focus, Soul!"

"I am focusing."

"Focus harder!"

He rolls his eyes and refrains from commenting. "Stay here and if anything happens, don't go after me." Soul tells her solemnly.

Maka manages a wobbly smile. "We'll see," and doesn't clarify. Maybe it's for the best. Their attraction to each other is something neither can deny and the last thing they need – she needs – is to end up doing something that'll cause all sorts of havoc in their already complicated lives. He's still a criminal, no matter of his innocence. He'd been tried and declared guilty. There's no hope for him until he has parole in fifteen years...

Soul presses his shoulder against the wall, taking a breath and leaning down to peer out of the hole. There is nothing in sight. He dares to move further out. Still nothing and he can glimpse a shine of white down the cave corridor; can see the hints of light from above, where a fallen boulder covers this area. If they could make it to the light, they could make it outside and figure out a way to find shelter. The bus was wrecked but perhaps they could return there for the night.

If it isn't destroyed by now, Soul thinks grimly.

"On my count, you follow me and run, alright? Don't wait for me, don't look back, don't think. Just run." Soul orders, with such authority that Maka can only nod and swallow as he crawls out of the hole. Her hands reach out and push his ass out when he struggles a little, following him with more grace.

And then it happens.

Maka only hears the unearthly roar of something much bigger than them before everything blurs into colors and shapes.

"RUN!" Soul screams, grabbing her wrist and shoving her ahead of him. She sucks in a gasp of air before she's running towards the spot of light ahead, dodging loose rocks and stumbling on the gravel and sand at every step. She can hear the creature chasing after them. She can almost see the threads of saliva running down its chin from hunger. She wonders what would happen if it caught them: do Kishin's actually devour everything like the rumors state?

Then she wonders if it's really allergic to the sun as everyone at the station says they are.

What if it's just a preference? What if the monsters are immune to sunlight and everyone was wrong and when she broke through the canyon opening, it'd continue chasing after them? But she can't think about it much more because she is stepping into sunlight, immediately assaulted by a wave of suffocating heat that makes it hard to swallow.


"Don't stop!" He snaps, shoving her ahead again. She stumbles but picks up her pace, running until sweat is running down her neck and her shirt is sticking to her body. When she finally stops it's only because her lungs burn for air and her body is shaky with exertion. Soul crashes into her and stumbles, grabbing her hips to steady them. His chest heaves and she can feel his heavy breathing on the nape of her neck as they stand so close to each other they can feel their hearts pound out of their chests.

"Is it...gone?"

Soul glances over his shoulder. The canyon they'd run from is a mere prick against a backdrop of Nevada sand and rock. "Yeah. At least for now it's gone. You can bet it'll start hunting us the instant the sun goes down," he pants. His cheek rests against her head tiredly. "Can you see the bus from here?"

"No... I can't see it anywhere!" Maka reveals with alarm, stomach dropping to her ankles. Had Ox and Kim managed to restart the bus and left without them? Surely they'd send a search crew after them if they had! Or would they just leave them to the creatures that haunt these grounds and pronounce them dead…? She was never on very good footing with Ox and Kim, but surely they weren't as cruel as to leave them in the middle of the Nevada desert with that hopeless thought?

"Shit," Soul curses. "They fucking left…. it's just the two of us now."

Somehow, that makes things a little better.

Because at least she isn't alone.

After various miles of hiking under the burning heat of Nevada, they find shelter in a derelict house with peeling white paint and chipping brick. The windows are tangled with spider webs and the entire house exudes the air of abandonment. There's sandy dust on every surface but the fact that the little food in the refrigerator is still edible tells Maka that the house had only recently been vacated. While she scourges upstairs for anything useful, Soul immediately begins to break apart the furniture and fortifies the weakest points around the house.

"There's a second story, right?" Soul calls to Maka. "We'll sleep there just in case. Whoever decided to live here is crazy…" He adds to himself, shaking his head. But he assumes, given that in the distance he could spot another house, perhaps in the same condition, this area had been safe before the Kishin's broadened their territory. That meant that Death City lied only a few more miles ahead. Hopefully, they could make it there by midday tomorrow.

"I heard talk at the base that a lot of people around here were asked to leave because of recent Kishin invasions," Maka yells, setting her hands on her hips. She wipes away a sheen of sweat. Jesus, it's hot. She pulls on her collar. The uniform is not making things any better. "But they refused to give up their homes. I guess they left when the Kishin's became too much to handle."

"Who wouldn't?" Soul snorts. "It's suicide to live out here! But it's fine by me – at least we have a safe place to crash in for the night." Soul finishes blocking off another window and steps back to survey his handiwork. Not bad for a couple of hours work. It would be enough to hide them from the Kishin's that prowl the grounds. "You found anything useful up there?"

"Not really. There's some food in the kitchen but it won't be enough to last us more than a day," Maka calls back, finally shrugging off her collared shirt. Underneath, she wears a thin white camisole. It's soaked through with sweat and she sighs. The small relief is nice, at least. She picks at the buckle of her pants before shaking her head. The clothes leftover in the drawers were not in her size and, even if they were, not her style at all.

Maka walks to the window. The white curtains flutter with the soft current of the wind. The wind doesn't feel good against her moist skin. It feels as if she's leaning into the opening of an oven. It'll be hell trying too cool off when the inside feels no better than the outside, Maka sighs.

"Downstairs is secured for the night," Soul says, startling her out of her reverie.

"What about upstairs?" Maka asks, turning to face him. He leans against the doorway. "We don't have to reinforce these windows?"

"I don't think so, not if we keep quiet." Soul shakes his head. A grin quirks his lips and Maka feels sweat start to collect on her forehead from the sheer intensity of his stare. She never knew how to handle bedroom eyes, and his happen to be the most potent of any she's received. "But if you keep wearing that, I might not be able to hold back."

"Keep it in your pants, Eater." Maka bites back, turning her eyes away from him. She storms forward and snatches her shirt from the bed. She ignores his glimmering eyes and lopsided smile as she shrugs on her shirt, once more wondering why in all that was holy she was the one stuck with a criminal who happened to like her back.

She can hear them outside: hooting, growling, yowling, sniffing around like starving dogs searching for scraps. She curls up tighter into herself, laying on a spread of blankets on the carpeted bedroom floor. She knows she can take the bed but she doesn't feel comfortably sleeping in such an obvious place. The floor feels safer. Soul sleeps downstairs with the excuse of needing to be on the lookout for any smart Kishin. She doesn't like the idea of loaning him her gun but she did it anyway.

That has to say something about the amount of trust she has in him now.

Instead of dwelling on it, Maka sighs and sits up. She rubs her arms. Now she's cold. It's ironic how these weather changes make all the difference in their situation. She wonders what would have happened if they hadn't found this house. Would they still be out there, running for their lives, or would they have already been torn apart by one of the monsters? Would they have found shelter somewhere, like they did in the canyon?

Maka crawls to a corner in the room, dragging the blanket behind her. It's dusty and moth-bitten but it's the best she has at the moment. She shifts nervously when a particularly close howl reaches her ears. Were they really on their scent so soon or was this just coincidental? The sound of creaking planks reaches her ears and Maka stiffens.

She sighs in relief when Soul appears at the doorway, a slant of moonlight revealing his strong jaw and broad shoulders.

"Maka?" He whispers, alarmed when he doesn't find her in bed.

"What?" She whispers back and watches him dart his eyes to her curled form in the corner, his tense shoulders relaxing at the sight of her.

"What're you doing all the way over there?" He frowns, making his way towards her.

"It was cold there," Maka mumbles, self-consciously. She's aware that he has better sight in the dark than she does because of his mechanical eyes. She wonders if he can see her warm face at her own cowardice and shrinks into herself a little more. "It's warmer here..."

"It feels colder."

"Well, it isn't!" Maka snaps defensively, and jumps when another howl sounds nearby. This one sounded closer than the last one, Maka worriedly thinks. Her jaw clamps shut and she digs her fingers into her knees. She feels so useless, helpless, against those creatures. She came to this prison completely unprepared. Perhaps the guys at the department weren't kidding when they said she'd be eaten up…

"….Maka, are you scared?"

"NO!" She slaps a hand over her mouth. Too loud for comfort. She swallows and watches with guarded eyes as Soul kneels down in front of her. She can just catch the vague lift of his lips. Was he going to make fun of her? Maka defensively glares. She might be a cop and she might deal with the mentally disturbed and criminally insane but that doesn't mean she was completely fearless.

She was still human, after all.

"Scoot over."

Maka does after a second, drawing her knees further up her chest. She wonders if he wants to share the blanket because the other ones smelled weird when he stretches out and leans back on the wall. He looks down at her and grabs her shoulder.

"Come on."


"Don't be difficult. Just do it."

"No, wait, Souuul—!" Maka groans in embarrassment when he wraps an arm around her, tucking her safely under his arm. She knows what he's doing and she hates him for it. Because it does help and she can't admit to this type of weakness to him, to anyone. "…I'm not scared…"

"I know." He lies anyway. His hand rubs up and down her arm comfortingly. He doesn't say anything when she tenses at another animalistic shriek from outside. He just presses his lips against her temple silently. "I'm cold."

"There's a blanket."

"You're hogging it."

"Am not…" she mumbles, laughing a little when he tries to tug it out of her grasp and she tightens it. He gives up after a few more mock tugs, simply pulling her closer to him. There are things she shouldn't do and this is one of them – this one of those things no person should do: take a liking to a criminal. Yet she lets herself be cuddled by him and inwardly cringes at the thought of Tsubaki's bewildered reaction to her growing affections. She can almost hear her in her head:

"But, Maka…. are you sure this is a good idea? He's a wanted criminal...he could really hurt you!"

It probably wasn't a good idea, in retrospect.

But that didn't stop her from burying her nose in his chest and closing her eyes when his hand came to rest on her waist.

The sun is scorching today as well.

Maka raises her hand to shade her eyes as they walk down the empty road. It's easier than dragging their feet through the dry sand. It also doesn't have any imprints of any of the creatures that prowled this part of the desert. She suddenly stops when she sees something far away, a moving black shadow—!

"Car! There's a car over there! Look, Soul!" Maka excitedly shouts, pointing it out for him. His reaction, however, is more grim than hopeful.

"Poachers." Soul elaborates. "Come on, Maka, we have to keep moving."

"Poachers? Like animal poachers?" Maka asks, catching up to him. Her eyes keep glancing back at the car.

"People pay big money for Kishin skins, teeth. The works." Soul clarifies, wiping sweat from his brow. It's ungodly hot out here. He regrets ever leaving the abandoned house but staying there would only place them in more danger. The Kishin's had managed to sniff out their scent but had been unable to pin-point it with so many smells that invaded the house and the rough winds. "It's illegal but they still do it. If they find us, there's a good chance nothing good will come from it."

She looks up at him and looks back down at the implication. She's heard of these poachers before but back at the base but more information was on a need-to-know basis. And, according to them, she did not need to know.

"After all, they might touch you and I might actually live up to my charge of manslaughter," he grins saucily, successfully breaking the heavy atmosphere.

"Shut up, Soul!"

"What? I don't want anyone touching you. That's not cool."

"Except you, I take it?" Maka sarcastically says and she hates the way her heart trips up at his smirk. "What if I told you I had a boyfriend and I'm off-limits?" Maka challenges, and there's a falter in his smile before it's replaced by his usual cocky grin.

"Guess I'll just have to work harder to make you ditch the loser," he smoothly says.

"What if I was convinced he was my soul mate?"

"Bullshit! You don't strike me as the type to think that way," he snorts.

"What if I do? You barely know me!" Maka argues. Of course, he was spot on, but that doesn't mean she can't try to gain the upper-hand. At his silence, Maka dares a peek. He's gazing ahead blankly and for a moment she wonders if he actually took her words into consideration.

"Then I guess nothing I say or do would convince you otherwise." Soul finally says. His eyes dart to her and Maka moves away because she knows what he's going to do. Call it a gut feeling, but she has an idea of just what he intends to prove. And she's right when he reaches out and grips her wrist, dragging her towards him no matter how much she struggles.

"Soul, don't make me hurt you!" Maka shouts, halfheartedly, and stubbornly turns away from him when he drags her against his chest. She can feel her shirt stick to her body. He's burning, both from the sun and from their own chemistry.

"See? This is why I call bullshit on everything you just said." Soul smugly says, and relishes the sight of his feisty officer squirming in his arms. She's hot, with skin slick with moisture and her hair tied up in a messy bun. It suits her, strands of blond sticking to the curve of her neck and flushed cheeks.

"Because you forced me? That proves nothing!" Maka argues. She gasps when he presses his mouth against her jaw. "What are you doing?" She hisses, shaking him off. "Soul, I'm gonna' kick your ass if you don't let me go!"

"Just hold still, officer," he says, ignoring the heat, the acrid, dry, air that surrounds them, to focus on her and her skin. Her lids droop as the moment progresses and soon his hands are at her hips, fingers digging in pleasantly, his breath staccato and rushed as he kisses her down to her neck. There are better places for this, Maka can think of more than four in that second, but standing in the middle of nowhere, under the sweltering sun, is definitely not one of them.

"Whose forcing who?" He purrs tauntingly, spinning her slowly to face him. His smoldering eyes fall from her own droopy ones to her parted pink lips. He angles his head down to them, his knuckle brushing her cheekbone like a feather. He kisses her fully, dipping his tongue into the cavern of her mouth. He fists his hands in the hair at the nape of her neck, teasing her tongue with his, willing for her to engage, to fight back, to not simply acquiesce.

Her hands twitch back to life, gripping the front of his shirt, pulling him towards her as the last strand of fight leaves her in order to bring the smell of him, the taste of him, closer. There is a moment of consideration before she decides she is not appalled enough by her actions to shove him away like she was supposed to. She groans his name in his mouth and he steps closer, sucking her tongue into his mouth and torturing it with the friction and heat from his own mouth. She's surprised by how easily she gives in, lets him clutch her by her hips and curl his fingers into the fabric of her shirt, slide his hands around her waist and splay them over her back. He makes a sound, a growl, some predatory noise that rumbles in his throat, before her names escapes his lips in a sigh.

"You were saying?" he pants, sweat dripping down the side of his temple. It's as if the temperature has suddenly shot up and Maka likes to think it's the predictable desert weather but knows that's not it. That can't explain the burning in her loins, the need that savagely lights her pale green eyes, illuminating his a brighter red than normal.

"I don't have a boyfriend," she says instead, looking away petulantly. "I just wanted you to shut up."

"It didn't work." He smugly says.

"Yes, it did." Now she smiles, slyly. He doesn't want to admit that it makes him harder than he already is.

"Oh, yeah?"

"You were quiet for a while, weren't you?" She rhetorically says, stepping out of his embrace with that feisty little smile he's come to like more than he should. He thinks about it for a moment and frowns when he realizes he was quiet for a long time – groaning aside.


"We have to keep going, before the sun sets." Maka distracts him, reminding him why they are there in the first place. Why this heated kiss of theirs, shared under the scorching daylight of the desert, tipped the scale in a way it wasn't ever supposed to.

"Yeah," he sighs out. He wipes more sweat from his brow. Up ahead, he can discern a chain link fence that surrounds the perimeter of what he assumes is the small town rightfully dubbed Death City. It's the only town – protected by a fence, where every person owns a shot gun and knows how to use it – before they arrive to the prison.

He glances at Maka when he thinks about the prison.

Now came the hard part: will she turn him in despite her now-known affections for him or will she let him get off clean?

Despite himself, he knows the answer.

And he can't find it in himself to hate her for it.

Death City is a modestly small town with interconnecting alley ways and shortcuts and paved roads of cobble stone. The buildings can be viewed as awkwardly shaped, some of them Maka would swear were leaning, but each building had their own form of security. The windows were all barred in Death City, the doors made of a type of heavy material that made even pushing one open a hassle. Doors carried various locks of all sizes and shapes and each citizen of Death City, albeit kind and friendlier than most Maka has seen, always carried some sort of weapon on them.

Two hours in the city and Maka realizes their favorite weapon is a shotgun, generally strapped to their backs. There were high-rising fences around the playgrounds or basketball courts. The local school gave the uncomfortable resemblance of a penitentiary with its slate gray walls and grim concrete finish, doors a solid wall of iron. But the town was secure, kept safe and had little casualties, because of these extreme safety measures.

Kishin's, as they went by in this part of the world, hardly ever concentrated in one single place but this entire area of the Nevada desert was crowding with them. There had been a recent influx of Kishin's and many blamed it on the prison just a few miles away from their humble city.

"They're attracted to the madness, y'see," one of the older women in the city had told Maka when she asked. "The madness kept in that prison over there! Drives 'em nuts with hunger! Kishin's feed off that madness!"

That was very concerning.

True, Death City Prison was where most states sent their most dangerous criminals, but surely they kept them under better control? Offered psychiatric help to those who needed it? That old women had laughed when Maka told her this. It seemed that the prison itself was more merciless than it made itself out to be...

"So the prisons run by madmen," Soul yawns, breaking Maka of her reverie. They sit outside of a small restaurant whose chairs and tables are bolted firmly to the ground. "I don't see the problem. Someone has to deal with the crazies in there."

"They're criminals, Soul, not animals. Although some might suffer from mental disorders, they know better than to let Kishin's just fester like this!" Maka frowns, not liking this at all. "Maybe that woman was right, maybe the madness that comes from the prison is luring in more Kishin's. If that's true, then we have to do something. A Kishin nesting ground in the middle of the desert isn't good. It's still too close to the cities!"

"Actually, that would be great." Soul says, to her horror.

"What're you saying? That's horrible!"

"No, not that part!" Soul leans his chair back, collecting his thoughts. "The desert idea. The desert is barren land. You can't grow anything here, you can scarcely live here. If you concentrate all the Kishin's here in Nevada, then once they start to get too out of hand, you can just exterminate them all at once."

"Exterminate how? There's already more of them out there than anyone can handle!"

"By sending in a special team, duh. It's easier for someone like, say, Spartoi, to come in and exterminate an entire army of them here than it is to hunt them down individually in cities or suburban's."

"You said it yourself: an army. That's suicide!" Maka argues.

"Not for Spartoi, it isn't." Soul drawls. "They're specially trained to handle and eliminate all types of Kishin's. I'm sure they'll develop some strategy to wipe out the majority of them once the alert goes out." He crosses his hands behind his head.

"What about Death City?"

"What about it?"

"By the time someone raises an alert, the city would have already been affected."

"Have you seen this place, Maka?" Soul snorts. "They're ready for World War three. They'll be fine."

Maka doesn't comment but the unsettled feeling doesn't go away. She doesn't like the idea of just leaving a town like this to fend for themselves. The more Kishin's that accumulate because of the high insanity spikes in the prison, the more danger this placed both the staff at the prison and the townsfolk.

"Oh, fuck." Soul suddenly says, and Maka snaps her head up immediately. "Is that who I think it is?"

"Ox!" Maka whispers with relief, standing up to call him over.

"Whoa – hold up a second, Maka, are you forgetting just who I am?" Soul roughly says, grabbing her hand to stop her. "I'm still a wanted criminal…I'm guessing you're going to turn me in now?"

Maka hesitates. Truth be told, she'd rather lock him up somewhere less prone to danger than Death City Prison. If the insanity rates inside the prison are true then Soul will be harmed by it, not helped. She doesn't want to hurt him but letting him go seems like a bad idea as well. He was still a wanted criminal, even if he managed to convince her of his innocence. It had been decided he go to prison...

"Let's make a deal," he speaks up. "How about we pretend I died out there in that desert?"

"What?" Maka whispers, incredulously.

"No one will know and they'll stop searching for me. They won't be able to find a body because Kishin's devour everything, even bone, so they'll have to go along with your word. They trust your word."

"But it'll be a lie..."

"So you'd rather let me rot in a prison whose insanity rates are growing higher by the day?" He sarcastically says but stops when he notices the unease in her eyes. He doesn't want to go to prison but he doesn't want to guilt-trip her into letting him go, either. He sighs, making sure Ox still hadn't noticed them. "Do what you think is right. I'll go with either decision. Just do it quick, before he notices you!"

She doesn't have much time to think about it. So she goes with what her gut tells her to, hoping she isn't wrong. "Go." Maka orders, taking his hand and pushing him inside the small restaurant. "Just go. I don't care where you go, you're dead as of this moment. Be sure you're not spotted - and dye your hair! It's too obvious!" Maka insists. "Don't go to big cities, stick with small ones. And please don't do anything stupid," she pleads, hoping he'll at least listen to her on that.

"Wait, are you serious?" Soul sputters, stunned. He hadn't expected her to let him go at all. He had actually resigned himself to doing time. "You're letting me go?"

"Don't make me regret it, Soul Eater." She pushes him inside the restaurant. "Now go before Ox catches you with me!"

He looks down to the cashier whose giving them curious looks before looking back down at her. She smiles wanly, both of them knowing they may never see each other again after this, and on impulse he crushes his lips with hers one last time. Their kiss is short-lived but passionate and soon he's running to the cashier and asking him to lead him to the backdoor immediately.

"Jealous boyfriend," Soul lies when the cashier narrows his eyes at him. Soul points behind him. "She'll let him down easy next time."

"Oh, over here." He nods, leading him to the back exit. Soul manages one glance at Maka, who runs to Ox and is rewarded with both surprise and contempt, before he follows the boy to the back exit and disappears from her life.

Maka doesn't get to see him go. She covers the basics with Ox, able to retell her great survival story and carefully excluding anything related to Soul. Ox seems to buy it, for the most part. And despite his contempt for her, there seems to be honest relief in his eyes as he takes her tired form in as if to reassure himself that she is alive and well.

"You must be exhausted," Ox says, sympathetically. "C'mon, Kim and I are staying in a hotel down the street. I think they have an extra room you can borrow, at least for the night."

"Harvar...?" Maka whispers, and Ox regretfully shakes his head. "Oh... well, thanks, Ox." Maka gratefully says and, despite herself, turns to look behind her. She doesn't see him anywhere. The cashier is at his post again, looking no more entertained than the first time she saw him, and the only indication that Soul really had been with her those few minutes is the boys reassuring smile at her. She doesn't know what Soul told the boy in order to make him react so quickly but whatever it was, it definitely worked.

"So, he's dead, huh?" Ox starts as they both make their way to the hotel. "It's gonna' be hell back at the base when they hear about this. An officer down and the prisoner, too. I was so sure that bastard would survive somehow...he was a Marine, y'know, they're built for this type of environment."

"He saved me," Maka says, not sure why. Ox whips his head to her. "That's how he died. He... he saved me from a Kishin. I thought he was going to kill me at first," Maka smiles warily here, "but instead he pushed me out of the way and... didn't make it."

Ox nods, silent.

"I guess he wasn't such a bad guy after all," Ox finally says and Maka smiles faintly. At least she put in a good word for him. Now he can't say she made him out to be a total bad guy. But the faint smile disappears completely at the thought. He's gone away now and was probably going adopt a new name and start over somewhere. Once his case was officially closed and he was declared deceased, he would have the liberty of being whoever he wanted to be.

"Hey, Ox, what does it take to be a member of Spartoi?" Maka asks, curiously.

"Oh, man, I don't know myself." Ox shakes his head at the question. "You have be real tough to be in that team. They're the best of the best. They hunt Kishin's for a living! They also make a helluva lot more money than we do per year." Ox laughs. "But it's a tough job and the risk is really high. Spartoi's been a team for years, though. They haven't lost a single member yet." There's a hint of pride as he says this and Maka processes this information silently.

If Soul can start over, then perhaps she can, too.

A/N: It's done! Yes! Another story down! I may make a small after-story for this, just because I like the idea of Soul and Maka meeting again, but that'll be sometime later in the future. I'll just add it as a "chapter two" instead of posting it up individually to keep it simple :)

For now, I'll mark this story as complete.

Oh, and merry Christmas! :D I know I may not reply to all of your reviews but I read every single one and I can assure you they all make me feel warm and fuzzy inside!