Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater nor the song lyrics to What You Know by Two Door Cinema Club.
by. Poisoned Scarlett
You don't want to be alone...
but you've known it the whole time, yeah, you've known it the whole time
Gravel crunched beneath her boots. It was loud enough for her ears which, in turn, made it too loud in general. But she was not worried about making too much noise this time; anything that posed a threat was gathered elsewhere. All that was left behind here were long dry decayed jumbles of bone and clothes. But she still held her breath: the stench of rotting meat and heat-burned asphalt was thick in the air, a reminder of the catastrophe that she was just scraping by in.
She shifted her weight to her right foot and her fingers grazed the baseball bat by her leg for reassurance. The bat, whose metal was worn from being used almost daily, was the one constant in her life. It was the one tangible thing that would not hurt her but protect her. She held onto it tightly and did not let go as she ran and ducked behind a stalled automobile, gradually making her way to the grocery store that appeared vacant and dark.
She peered through the windows, ensuring the store was empty of any unwanted visitors, and pushed the stalled automatic doors open enough for her to squeeze through. She remained quiet as she surveyed the dark aisles of the long abandoned grocery store. Her eyes sought for anything that might tip her off that it had been inhabited recently, anything that looked like black blood smeared on tile or against the merchandise itself. But there was none and whatever was smeared with black was from long ago – now crusted like tar, peeling from the heat that swelled within the grocery store and made it hard to breathe.
She rotated her wrist, bat still held tightly in her hand, before moving.
She walked through the aisles, searching for anything canned and not expired, and came to a stop in front of rows of canned soup that stood in ranks in the store shelves. She shrugged off her backpack and zipped it open quickly, pausing to hear for any noise. When there was none, Maka Albarn reached in for her sweater and began to pile the cans into it. She fit as many as she could before she bundled them up and quietly placed them back inside her backpack. She slung it over her shoulders again and, after she tested the pack to ensure the cans would not make noise when she moved, continued her scavenge.
She always packed food that was canned, never fresh. She could already smell the spoiled dairy and vegetables as she crammed a box of cookies and chocolate and other sweets into her backpack – ensuring not to make too much noise while she was at it. She was already overstaying her visit in the grocery store, her gut was starting to knot up and fill with the dread that was sometimes the only thing she felt during these trying times.
She decided the backpack was filled with enough food to keep them fed for a fortnight – far longer than last time, when their supply ran dangerously low after only five days – and kept ducked as she maneuvered her way back to the front of the store. Her boots hardly made any noise despite their weight and she seamlessly moved from shelf to shelf until the entrance was in sight again. She made to move when a gurgle made her freeze, her fingers clenching reflexively over the tape of her bat.
She immediately retreated, back pressed against one of the shelves, and cursed when she heard something fall on the other side. The gurgle became a snarl. Fuck! She'd moved too quickly! She heard a hack and finally she heard the shift of rusted limbs, the disgusting slurp of the undead as it crawled out from wherever it had been hiding while she scourged for food.
Maka made sure the pack was tight around her shoulders. She squeezed her fingers over the tape that wrapped the handle of the bat, wetting her lips as the shifting became louder. She moved like lightening: one moment she was pressed against the shelf, heart in her throat, bat up and ready to strike, and the next she was standing before a maimed Walker and raising the bat up to pretend its holed and skinning skull was just another baseball to hit out of the ballpark.
That was, before she heard growling – this time from the entrance. Maka darted her eyes to her only escape, sweat collecting at the base of her neck, and swore when she caught swaying shadows against the pavement. Then she heard hands slap against the glass, their moans becoming screams when they saw her.
"Shit," she lowered her bat and turned away from the Walker, who in its maimed state could only gurgle and snarl and claw at the ground as she ran to the back of the store.
Her heart thundered in her chest, familiar and awful. She pushed through the double doors that led to the slaughter room. The rank smell of decayed meat, decayed regular blood, caught her by surprised – decaying, rotting blood smelled awfully different than already decayed infected blood – but she did not let it deter her for more than a second. She let the darkness be her disguise as she ran farther back, past counters that still held slabs of raw meat on it, some still caught in the jaws of the meat grinders. Dirty knives glinted from the foggy light that came from the slit of the swinging double doors behind her. Maka found the back door easily enough and used her shoulder to shove it open, cringing when it groaned in protest.
She didn't waste time.
She could hear them – moaning, groaning, snarling and causing a mess as they sniffed her out. It wouldn't be long now: they could smell fresh blood surging beneath healthy skin from miles away. One had already seen her, no doubt its tantrum would alert the others. But it was times like these, as she gasped when one of the quicker ones saw her, its crazed eyes kept alive by a grayish film that made it seem more dead, that she truly believed they had an intelligence of their own – not advanced rational thought but a more primal one; instinctive or animalistic, one could say.
This one was what she fondly called a Runner, given its unintelligible snarling and rabid screaming.
There were various types of undead she'd come to categorize over the weeks – more to keep her sanity than for actual interest – and Runners were ranked about second in level of danger. Walkers were the least dangerous, aside from those who remained comatose on the floor and that she called Tonics, and the most dangerous, those who both ran and showed a shred of shrewd intelligence, she dubbed Biters. They were the ones most likely to bite you just to bite you, like alphas of a pack as their underlings came for the unfortunate victim and tore off some meat here and there.
Sometimes they survived the feasting. Most times they didn't, as the undead were fickle creatures that ate to sate that unquenchable hunger they felt in the void of their dead stomachs.
The Runner let out an inhuman cry, baring its bloodied and yellowed teeth before barreling straight for her. Her blood pulsed in her ears, her muscles, and she dodged the Runner, her bat coming up to crack him upside the head. But it barely deterred him and Maka didn't waste time trying to kill it.
She had never outright killed one, having seen first-hand just how difficult it was to even try. She needed a very clean shot and, as the Runner screamed again and came for her at the break-neck speed they all did, she could only stun them, using their disorientation as a means to escape. So that was what she did and she swung her bat as if she were in another competition and this was the winning shot. Her bat cracked against its shoulder and sent the Runner straight into the wall.
Maka didn't give it another look as she ran, braking to a stop when she reached the street. She gulped when she noticed the staggering figures that wandered the front of the store. They were back from wherever they had been and if the group was this big, someone had to be feeding them – or leaving behind a trail, meaning there was a Biter somewhere in there and she couldn't go against a Biter without a gun.
"Shit!" Maka cussed, back tracking when she caught a horde forming. She stumbled in her haste but picked herself up, running as fast as her legs could take her. Her footfalls were in tune with the pound of her heart and when she turned another corner, ducking into a nearby alley and slamming against the wall, sliding down the brick and covering her mouth with her hands, she prayed to whatever holy deity existed in this new cruel world that they would not find her—that they didn't get a good look at her or hear her running away and that the Runner was too dumb to chase after her scent.
She waited for what she believed was ten minutes, the thud of her heart no less loud albeit slower. When she was sure she was alone, she crawled to her knees and peeked out. Her knees were scarred from doing this so much and she could already feel another scrape from today. Her skirt was short, possibly the only thing that didn't look as worn and torn as her boots or shirt. Her shirt was a typical Oxford collar-shirt and one would probably toss her a funny smile if they saw her now – hair tied into pigtails, bangs messy, practically every part of her body nicked with cuts and bruises – because she looked as if she had just come from school after being beat up by a couple of bullies.
That was because she had been in school when it happened.
But she had not been beat up by a couple of bullies—life couldn't be that merciful, not anymore. She had stepped out of school with the convoluted feelings of a seventeen year old girl who was watching the world crash and burn right before her eyes; who couldn't forget the screams of terror from her classmates; who could still see her old gym teacher stumbling in the hallway—hands shaking so bad, bathed in sweat, eyes a bee-stung red as they landed on her with an unearthly, unholy, hunger. She was just a seventeen year old honor student who couldn't help but admire the way the autumn leaves flaked off their branches and fell on the floor before she swung her bat at her favorite coach's head and ran straight into the chaos of her new reality.
Sometimes she couldn't handle the feelings that gurgled up her throat like the black blood that coursed through the undead's veins gurgled up their throats. The sheer fear swallowed up her logic and made her want to give up the life she had for this new dead one but, in the end, logic always triumphed and she would remember dying wasn't an option anymore.
She had people to care for – god, she had kids to care for. Little ones, from the daycare right across her high school. Whose parents were probably prowling the streets for fresh blood, absolutely ignorant to their existence because all that mattered to them now was blood, blood, blood and meat.
Maka clutched her baseball bat in her trembling hand. She tightened her fingers around it until her knuckles turned white and the shaking stopped. She swallowed down the upheaval of her cowardice and suddenly ran, never faltering, running until the heat-dead air stung her eyes and dried her throat, and she didn't stop running until she reached the fire escape and her feet hooked on its rusted ladder and she climbed up and up until she was safely on the third floor of the New York style apartment building she'd boarded up and sealed off herself – not stopping until she broke through the door down the hall, frightening the little kids who played with the toys and pencils and pens and crayons they'd found in the abandoned apartments.
"M-Maka?" One of them, the oldest one, stood up immediately. "Are you okay? Maka?"
"Is everyone here?" She demanded first.
"Uh huh!" She bobbed her head, nervously. "I-I didn't even let 'em out into the hall! Just like you told me!"
"Good – Clay, Akane, Anya, Gopher?" They each cheerfully said "here!" when their name was called, all but Gopher who mumbled out a surly "here" and stared at his lap, and once she was through with her headcount, she truly relaxed and loosened her fingers over her bat.
"Tsugumi," Maka called, unslinging her pack from her shoulders. "Here, can you please unload everything? Oh!" Maka remembered, turning back to the children. The youngest were Clay and Anya at six while the oldest was Tsugumi at ten. Gopher remained in the middle at seven and Akane beat him by a year. "I have a surprise for you guys!"
"Surprise?" Clay cheered, slate eyes shining. "What is it, what is it! I wanna' know! Please tell meeeee!"
"Shuddup, Clay! You're yellin' in ma' ear!" Anya shouted and Maka sent her a warning look she shrunk at, twiddling with the hem of her dress. She could be mouthy at times but she'd come to respect Maka's authority over the weeks.
"I have some treats for you guys and if you behave," Maka slid her eyes over Gopher as she said this but he continued to pick at a crayons label stubbornly, "I'll give you some!"
"Oh, wow! Cookies!" Tsugumi squealed with delight, digging into her pack with more vigor. Clay immediately ran to the kitchen but Maka caught him around the waist, swinging him back to his seat with a laugh.
"Ah, ah!" Maka giggled when he pouted, starting to throw a tantrum. Maka kneeled in front of him and ruffled his hair fondly. "No spoiling your dinner, Clay, you'll get some later!"
"Bu-but – !"
"No buts! No one gets any until after dinner—that goes for you, too, Tsugumi!" Maka eyed her and she giggled guiltily. She looked back at Clay and smiled cheerfully. "I even got some Spaghetti-o's for you!"
"Ngh… oh-kay!" Clay huffed, clearly upset. "But you promise?"
"I promise," she said gently.
"Did'ja get a Barbie for me! Did'ja? Did'ja?" Anya asked, excitedly.
Maka laughed nervously. "Anya, I went to the supermarket. There are no Barbie dolls there…" And even if there were, she would not get her a Barbie doll. There was no need for her to go shoving her toys into the other kids faces and not sharing. Anya was infamous for not sharing...
"BUT... I WANT A BARBIE DOLL!" Anya shrieked, big fat tears welling in her eyes. Akane rolled his eyes at her, ignoring everyone and returning to his doodle. "I WANT ONE!"
"And you'll get one, just not now, Anya!" Maka picked her up, cringing when she nearly smacked her little fists into her face in her tantrum. But she held her to her chest and, after cooing for her to calm down and promising she'd get her one soon, Anya calmed down again and, almost as if she had never thrown a fit in the first place, skipped back to Clay's side and returned to playing with his action-figures that she continuously insisted weren't as great as Barbie.
Gopher pulled his lips down deeply and stubbornly ignored Maka when she tried to talk to him. She could only touch his hunched shoulder before he snarled at her to stop and went to a corner of the room.
"He's sad about Mr. Noah," Akane softly told her. "Cuz he's gone..."
Maka sighed heavily, letting him crawl over to her and wrap his skinny arms around her. "It's okay. I'll be here now, for as long as I can." And the little boy nodded, believing her.
These kids – they were her anchor. They were her lifeline. She needed them as much as they needed her and she was fine with that. She was content with caring for them, with risking her life to get them the nutrition they needed, and she did not want that to change. She had to—and would— keep them alive so long as her heart pumped with clean red blood.
She couldn't bare to lose them now after she'd lost everything already.
A/N: This was a challenge fic that I stumbled upon in the GrigoriWings forum a few weeks ago. Glittergoat posted it up and, after reading the rules, I decided to give it a shot. It's really an 8-chapter fic that can be continued (it depends on the author) and you must follow the given format of each chapter. The story is basically written for you however the way an author interprets it is very different each time. Glittergoat had her own approach to it while I had mine and it's intriguing to see just how different our approaches are.
This story is already finished. I made sure to finish it before posting the first chapter. I just need to finish editing/polishing a few of the later chapters but once the story is truly complete, you can expect very frequent updates.
So, enjoy for now!