Soul crossed his arms and leaned against the closest support beam, eyes still trained where Spirit's police cruiser had disappeared down the driveway. "Don't suppose she's tryin' to sabotage her momma's parole, do you?" he asked.

"I was wondering the same thing," said Maka. She resituated Crona in her arms. Maybe she ought to get her own cellphone, like Patti said. At least then she might have a better chance of keeping track of the girl, and maybe curb any wild ideas Patti concocted just to get away from her mother.

With a quiet sigh, Soul finally looked away and down his shoulder to her. "You should get back to bed. This one's 'bout ready to pass out," he said, one hand reaching over to rub the top of the dog's head with a single finger.

"Mm." That was likely her cue to leave, but the unease in Maka's heart felt just a little bit protected by the firelight here. Soul didn't seem to be in a particular rush to get to bed, either - Crona was heavy-lidded as he thoroughly enjoyed the ranch hand's attention. "Though," she said, nodding her chin toward the eastern sky, "is it even worth going back to sleep at this point?" The night was already bleeding into murky, pre-dawn grey, the horizon seeking the sun.

Soul took one look at the sky and donned that grumpy old man scowl. Re-crossing his arms, he said, "In my experience, not really."

"Pat said something about you not sleeping enough." Maka leaned forward to get a better look at his face. "You are up an awful lot."

"S'not that bad, now," he said, shrugging and avoiding her gaze. "Didn't sleep a whole lot back when I met Pat. Was knee-deep in the phys'cal therapy, jus' broke up with my ex… S'pose I weren't at my most friendly."

Shocked that now, of all times, he'd mention the smallest hint of his personal life he'd so doggedly avoided the other day, Maka took a moment to rub her hand along Crona's back and wonder why Soul had given her the privilege of hearing it. "Well. You seem to sleep under trees just fine."

He snorted so much like his horse that it made her laugh. Soul drawled, "Now, listen-"

"I won't," she said, chin high as she took her leave and stepped off the porch with Crona still in her arms. "Go get your beauty sleep, I'm not gonna go easy on you at practice today."

"Uh, remind me again which of us is the student?" he said behind her, then muttered, "Beauty sleep?"

"Oh, right," she said before she got any farther, turning around to face him. And she found Soul watching her with an open kind of attentiveness that felt akin to the firelight; something trusting there that in turn inspired a little bit of it in herself. A smile sneaked across her face as she asked, "What's you at your 'most friendly,' anyway?"

Soul Evans's eyebrows attempted to disappear under his bandana before one side of his mouth twitched, sly. "Have I called your dog a rat today?"

She hugged the chihuahua a little higher against her chest, narrowing her eyes. "N-not that I know of."

Pushing off the beam, Soul turned around and walked to the front door of the house. "Friendly," he said, matter-of-fact.

Maka scoffed. "You sure set that standard real high, Evans," she called back. He didn't reply, but he tilted his face down as he walked through the door, wearing a cheesy grin.


She had every intention of trying for a small nap's worth of additional sleep by the time she hoofed it all the way back to the main house, but when she silently oozed through the back door and into the kitchen, she was face to face with Tsubaki sitting at the table, tucking into a stack of pancakes that was a least a hand high.

There was a moment when the both of them shared identical deer-in-headlights impersonations, but smearing a gratuitous amount of peanut butter on the top of the stack became the more pressing matter for Tsubaki. "I wanted hotcakes," she said defensively.

"Nmrgh," Maka replied, putting Crona on the floor and taking off her boots before she shuffled to the coffee maker instead of up the stairs like she'd hoped. "It's the fact that you're eating them in the dark. Are you a creature of the night, now?"

"The stove light's on," Tsubaki said, as if that justified anything. She reached down to one side and helped Crona into her lap. "You sure were out late."

"Nmrgh," Maka said again and flipped on the overhead lights without remorse. "Don't start. Also, it's more accurate to say I was up early." She shoved a filter into the coffee maker's basket.

Still squinting unhappily at ruthless kitchen fluorescence, Tsubaki cut through the stack of pancakes with the side of her fork with a morbid kind of intensity. "Early morning dance lessons?" she asked, and Maka slowly turned to face her, clutching the can of coffee grounds in abject horror.

"Who t- Nevermind. It's not worth asking." She kept forgetting about the inevitable grapevine of Soul to Black Star to Tsubaki, and could only imagine that mistaken sixteen-step practice incident must've tickled Blake Strickland to death. "It wasn't anything practice, Pat walked all the way out here at about two o'clock, throwing pebbles at my window."

Tsubaki paused with the fork halfway to her mouth. "What."

"Exactly," said Maka, turning back to the coffee maker and measuring grounds. Tsubaki made a noise that Maka typically heard when the manager wanted to stab something with a letter opener. "Soul and I gave her a good talking-to. She promised to text Black Star if she wanted a ride next time."

"...I'll let him know," Tsubaki said, her eyes rapidly darting back and forth as she considered the situation, food forgotten. "Did you take her back home, or is she still around?"

Remembering the finality of Spirit's car door trapping Patti behind a thick window, Maka's guilt over having caused the girl to lose her job resurfaced with a vengeance. "Tina called the police and Papa came and picked her up."

Tsubaki didn't speak a long while, and it wasn't until the coffee started dripping into the carafe that Maka heard the woman quietly say, "Times like this I really miss Mrs. Albarn," sounding as lost as Maka felt.


Walking into the vet to pick up some heartworm and flea preventatives for Crona, Maka's worst case scenario appeared in the form of a woman holding up a smartphone and snapping a picture of an advertisement on the veterinary's community cork board.

Cristina Thompson, the tendons at the backs of her heels looking raw from the pair of shiny dress flats she wore, did not notice Maka enter. But then Kimberly called out from behind the counter, "You didn't get your shifts messed up again, didja?"

At this, Tina looked over and recognized Maka. Maka imagined a quick dozen scenarios in which she took this moment to deck Liz and Pat's mother in her snide, condescending face, but none of the fantasies had a good ending. Every ounce of her blood screaming for justice, Maka looked away without saying a word to the older woman, and approached the counter. "Just here for the monthly chews," she said to Kim, her smile straining like a too-tight shirt.

She heard footsteps and the hiss of chilly, conditioned air escaping around the shutting door as Tina took her exit. Maka busied herself with pulling her wallet out her back pocket to pay for the chews, and Kim said, "I take it y'all know each other."

Maka froze with her debit card in hand, eyes wide. "Um."

"We're both vets, here, Maka. I seen a catfight before."

Embarrassed she'd been exposed so immediately, she admitted, "I was trying really hard to hold back, though."

Kim appeared exceptionally amused by the admission, taking the card and swiping it at the register. "That's good, 'coz if that's you holdin' back, I don't wanna see what holdin' it forward's like," she said as the receipt printed.

Maka held her head in shame for a breath before signing her name. Looking back at the billboard, she saw a new advertisement pinned to it, a picture of the lost calf they've been running tests on centered in the middle. "We have… a history. What's that ad for?"

The other woman looked up from stapling shut the top of the paper bag containing the chews. "Auction."

"Already?" Maka asked, wondering why Tina Thompson had any interest in such a thing.

"All them tests were negative, weren't they? Can't keep it in quarantine anymore, but we can't afford a mascot, neither," said Kim, handing her the bag.


An onslaught of continuous downpours had turned every low point of Angel's End into muddy swampland. Most of Maka's time on the ranch was spent taking care of messy hooves while simultaneously glowering at muddy horses she couldn't brush until the weather cleared up.

The best she could do to curb her compulsive need to keep the horses clean was try to unearth Skully's bald face from under his mud mask - she had a hunch he covered it every day just for the extra attention.

Soul did his share to help care for the horses, especially while Maka was away at the vet, though he was missing when she came home on a soggy Sunday evening. It was evident he had done his job earlier that day - his horse's hock freshly dressed - but the ranch hand didn't pop out from the shadows to scare her as she made her rounds.

Rain pelted loudly on the metal roof of the barn, and Maka actually caught herself searching for his quiet companionship. She blamed this moment of weakness on being eager to get more roping practice in before the competition in July; it felt more acceptable to notice his absence if he was reduced to a simple requirement for one of her goals.

After wiping down Skully's face (and getting a maneful of mud painted on her in return), she trudged through the waterlogged grass to the house. She attempted to pry off thick, caked-on clay from her shoes with the boot scrubber before eventually surrendering them to the tray in defeat.

In some doubtlessly dirt-defiled bathtub in the house, Blake Strickland was belting out Dolly Parton in the bathroom. The quiet sounds of Tsubaki chopping vegetables in the kitchen managed to filter through the din, so Maka peeled off her muddy button-down and threw it in the wash, heading to the kitchen in her cleaner undershirt to help prepare supper.

But, as she found out, it was Mifune who was deftly slicing onions; Tsubaki was evidently upstairs, talking to someone.

As Maka passed by the stairwell, she heard the general manager say, "Absolutely not."

The voice that followed was one Maka had known since birth, able to pick it out in a crowd of hundreds. "I'd like if you'd see it as... somethin' for Mother's Day. It'd be put t'better use with the three a'you."

There was an airy, dizzying lurch behind Maka's ribs, and it was then she noticed too many hand-picked wildflowers shoved into a repurposed peanut butter jar that sat in the kitchen window: Blake's gift to the soon-to-be mother of their child.

A biting, acidic guilt choked her bloodstream as she was plagued by the fear that this was what it felt like to 'move on', because if it was, she wanted nothing to do with it. Without her knowledge, the holiday had quietly rolled in with the rain, and it was distressing to realize she hadn't once thought of her mother today. Was four years all it took to be the daughter who forgot?

It was morbid interest that made Maka stiffly peek, transfixed, around the banister. She looked up the flight to see the shadowy edge of her father in profile, for once not dressed in uniform.

Tsubaki was mostly out of sight, little more than a stomach and the waterfall of her ponytail off the front of her shoulder, her fingers knotting together as she fretfully spoke. "This is your house. We only work here."

"You're practically runnin' the place, so it'd be your room anyhow," he softly replied. "Now listen, Sue. That room's too big for one man, an' I'm hardly home as it is."

Tsubaki's hands inched up, covering her mouth. "No. That's yours, Spirit - yours and Mrs. Albarn's," she struggled to say, voice thick behind her fingers. "It's not right for me to-"

Maka watched as a subtle cloud passed underneath her father's skin, a ghost in the forest of his crow's feet and five-o'clock shadow. And yet he smiled through it with ease enough to provoke a yearning jealousy.

"Everythin' in this house was hers, Tsubaki," Papa said, reaching out and giving a mellow pat to an arm. "Even you. Jus' give it some thought."

There was no reply save a wet sniffle. With that, Spirit left the general manager to collect herself, and turned to make his way down the stairs. When he saw Maka still lurking around the end of the banister, his steps slowed just the slightest.

Though the 'Sheriff' was a mystery to her, she knew this man in faded jeans and pearl snaps, familiar hand sliding down the railing. So when a high-pressured, belligerent part of her wanted to strike at him for daring to overwrite a piece of the past, she swallowed it down and buried it, because Spirit Albarn was the only one who'd loved Mama longer than she had.

"Evenin' sweets," he said.

She sucked a breath into her stiff lungs. "Hi, Papa," she replied, turning around and walking mechanically to the kitchen sink to wash her hands. Objectively, she recognized that her constricted throat over this was purely a matter of reflex. Tsubaki and Blake would be much better off in the master bedroom; she sort-of wished she had thought of it herself. It's something Mama would have done.

Spirit still felt the echo of Suzanne's absence from every stone, tile, and beam, but he never seemed to go crazy with it, only plodding unerringly forward. And as much as Maka longed to hear her mom singing Jolene in the shower, she might want this gift even more.

She felt rusted in place, an abandoned tool stuck in a field as the stars hung silently overhead an incomprehensible distance away.


Her legs ached from another disappointing session of 'less sucky' horsemanship lessons, and she gingerly rubbed her thumbs into her thighs while waiting out the rest of her lunch break at the diner.

She sat alone in the booth, watching condensation bead on the outside of her iced tea. Hank Williams wheedled over the diner's outdated speakers before he was casually interrupted by an announcement about another tornado watch. The majority of the diner's patrons hardly acknowledged it.

"Frito pie to go," Liz said, sliding a styrofoam takeout container across the table before sitting in the booth next to Maka. "And here's last Sunday's paper. What're you lookin' for?"

Maka carved 'papa' into the lid of the container with the edge of her thumbnail. "I wanna get a cellphone. I'm away from home often enough that I think I oughtta have one," she said, not mentioning if she didn't establish another form of communication with Patti, Maka feared the next time she heard anything from her would be after the girl up and eloped with a horse. Or 'Morty'.

Liz pulled a compact mirror out of her serving apron, peering into it while she attempted to tame the humidity-frizzed wisps of hair that had escaped her ponytail. "I'm payin' a hundred, but that's for me and Pat, both. Texting, data, and all that."

Maka winced, looking through a glossy advertisement insert. "Maybe I'll train carrier pigeons instead."

"Betcha could get a deal on Memorial Day. Everyone's got specials on then." Liz snapped her compact shut with a sigh, stuffing it back in her apron. "I'd help ya look, but I got work and then I'm goin' to Wes's parents' place that day."

"Mm," Maka replied absently, flipping another page in the ad. "I'm going, too."



Liz placed a warm hand on Maka's forearm, urgent. "I didn't know you were goin'! Lord, is that a relief." She smiled brightly, her face a blue-eyed southern dream in her halo of gold hair. "Why didn't you tell me," she laughed.

Dumbfounded by Liz's sheer elation, Maka could only helplessly stare back. "Uh, I figured Wes would've told you?"

At this, the older blonde made a moue. "He's told me nothin' 'bout it, other than he 'really, really, really, really' wants me to be there," she said with a huff. Looking off to the side, she added, "…Even so, I was thinkin' about not goin'."

Maka traced her fingers on the outside of her tea glass. Why was it anytime Wes was involved, she felt like a cog in a mysterious machine? She had no love for being a tool for him to use, but Liz looked so comforted by the prospect of not going alone that Maka failed to grasp what the right thing to do was. "Because of Ruth?" she asked.

Liz made an indecisive noise with her lips, tapping her blunt nails on the table. "Yes an' no? Like, I'm more'n used to people not likin' me - that's not groundbreakin' news. Wes loves her though, so it... rips him up, you know? He ain't used to bein' mad at her. I don't wanna cause that."

"Well he should be mad," Maka shot back. "I'm mad too for anyone thinking you're some rodeo groupie after his money -"

"Maks," Liz said, "it's not like she's wrong. You and I both know I was after a rich ticket to get me and Pat outta the sticks."

Maka balked at this, shifting and grumbling in the booth. "Well, that's not the situation anymore, is it? It's obvious you care about him."

Liz laughed. "Yeah. My target ended up bein' worth more'n his wallet, 'magine that." She slid out of the booth and stood, hands on her hips while leaning back for a stretch, but the thought of her boyfriend made her eyes soft. "Augh, I gotta get back to work."

That lingering contentedness there reminded Maka of something Patti had said last winter, here in this very booth. "Hey. I am happy for you, by the way."

Hand paused in the middle of fiddling with her hair again, Liz raised a brow. "Why, what happened?"

"T-the whole you and Wes thing. He seems good to you."

Liz pressed her lips together, her cheeks threatening to pull her mouth into a wide grin. Girlish and bashful, she said, "Thanks, Maks. You better come on Memorial Day, ya hear?"

"I will. Soul's supposed to be my 'chauffeur'," she replied, wry.

Striding away to seat another customer, Liz shot over her shoulder, "You have to tell me later how he asked you this time!"

Maka opened her mouth to correct her, but the words, 'Actually, your boyfriend might have invited me to con you into going' refused to exit her mouth, unwilling to disrupt Liz's sudden glow of happiness. "O-okay," she said instead, haltingly waving goodbye.

Upon realizing what she'd just said, her stomach tumbled to her toes.


When she walked out the kitchen's back door, she found him facing away from her, a radio clipped to his belt and setting up a new fence around Tsubaki's garden patch.

As he drove a post hole digger further into the ground, Maka said, "Ask me to go with you to your family's Memorial Day party."

Soul came down crookedly with the tool, the twin shovels wedging in the ground at an awkward angle. Turning his head over his shoulder, he blurted a displeased, "What?" as he tried to pry the shovel out of thick clay soil.

Mustering up the will to have this conversation in the first place was hard enough, and she'd halfway hoped he would just go along with it like he did with damn near everything else. "I-It's entirely your brother's fault, so take it up with him."

He shot her an uncomfortable frown, turning back around and properly driving the digger back into the hole. "If it's his fault, go bushwhack him in the middle of workin'," he complained.

Maka sat down on the corner of one raised garden bed, crossing her arms over her chest. "Who even says that anymore," she grumbled. "Just think of it as a favor? I mean, you pulled that on me for Easter."

Flatly, he replied, "And just how is bringin' you to my folks doin' you favor?"

"Wes called me last month and asked if I could go to your family thing, 'cause he thought Liz would feel more comfortable if I went…" Maka tapped the cinder block walls of the garden bed with the tips of her fingers, searching for the best way to word the situation that wouldn't make her feel quite so much like an idiot.

Metal scraped on loose bits of buried limestone. "...Okay?"

Slumping forward, she gave up and spewed it all out. "I saw Liz at lunch today and when I told her I was going she was surprised. She had no idea - Wes hadn't told her at all. Which makes no sense… Is there a moment when your brother isn't scheming something? Because it sure feels like there isn't," she said in a huff.

Soul finally gave up on productivity and turned to face her, leaning on the shovel with his arms. "Prolly not, knowin' him," he said with a sigh, wiping sweat from his eyes with a forearm. "And? I ain't involved in it this time, if that's what you're here for."

Maka blinked. "Ah, no, I didn't think you were…" Was she actually disheartened about this? Did the idea that he had no plans to invite her in the first place mean anything? She sat up straight, on guard for potential nonsense. "Anyway, Liz was so happy that I didn't have the heart to tell her I was, what - bait? Or that her boyfriend might be plotting and keeping secrets from her or whatever else I can't fathom -"

"Waitin' on the punchline."

Her shoulders inched up as she forced herself to maintain eye contact. "So, when she left she said I gotta tell her how you asked me o-out," she said, voice cracking, "and I wasn't thinking and I just said okay." Confession complete, Maka put her hands to her cheeks, mortified by her entire existence.

Soul jutted out his chin a bit, nodding with a weary lack of surprise as he turned back around and resumed digging. "Now lemme try'n figure this: you need me to ask you for a… for your company," he said, emphasising that last word with a very particular stab of the shovel, "just so you ain't lyin' to 'Lizabeth."

She was staring at his shoulders and back and just about every bit of the ranch hand that faced her, so she slid her eyes away to scowl at Tsubaki's rosemary instead. "Yessss," she replied with a drawn-out sigh. Maka prepared for an earful of either heckling or some kind of lecture, because that's certainly what she'd do in his place, but what she got instead was:

"S'that what you actually want?"

She looked back to him, head tilted. "What?"

Pausing in his work again, he peered over his shoulder with an expression so vague it had no name. "I mean to say, do you want to go to my folks' place at all?"

Maka crossed one leg over the other, lacing her hands together around her knee, unsure how to respond. "...I already told Wes I would," she said with a small shrug.

"That don't answer my question, really." He moved a few paces to one side and started a new hole. "Could always say no. Don't particularly wanna make you go, if you'd rather not."

Before she truly absorbed everything he'd said, she was already blurting, "You couldn't make me do anything, don't get ahead of yourself."

Soul shook his head again and stabbed the dirt in response.

Shamefaced, Maka hastily added, "Anyway, I want to go. I… I think."

"You think." Stone crunched under the shovel.

She tilted her head back and groaned to the sky in frustration for having to say something as obvious as: "I already told you, I enjoyed meeting your family. I don't think of them as… as sellouts, anymore." Soul only continued to dig, which was fortuitous because Maka's face would likely pass for a pepper right about now. "So I do wanna go, I just don't know what your brother's trying to pull. And I still don't understand why I was invited last time."

"Fair," said Soul. He dug for a spell, long enough that she began to think he was simply done talking to her. But he did stop, catching his breath and wiping sweat off his brow again, and then with an uncertain pause, Soul held the tool in her direction just the slightest bit.

If anything, that hesitance felt like a challenge. She stood and took the post hole digger from him, though once it was in her hands, she realized hers were very bare. "Um. Got any spare gloves?" she asked as they switched places, and the moment the question left her mouth, she already knew the answer - there was a pair tucked in his belt, next to the radio.

He slid these free and offered them without commenting on how oversized they were for her hands, which was likely because of her steely glare daring him to try. They were ungainly, but the task was simple enough for the gloves to not be a real hindrance. Maka got to work while Soul took her seat at the garden bed.

Taking off his own gloves and tossing them at his feet, he grabbed a half-drained bottle of water he'd stashed in the shade of the garden. "Don't know what he's thinkin' this time, but I'll tell you 'bout Easter," he said, and took a drink.

Maka brought the shovels into the ground with a well-practiced shove. "He said it was revenge, but what'd that have to do with me?"

Tilting his head to the side, his lips pulled back in a lazy kind of snarl. "Jus' to give me hell. Ma and Wes both're always pullin' stunts to find me a woman and you got drug into it." Maka steamed under her ballcap while he rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry. Any case, that weren't the whole reason. Evidently Wes wanted Gran to meet you."

"Because... I'm Spirit's daughter and friends with Liz?" she asked, lifting loose dirt from the hole and dumping it aside. With the dip of his hat in confirmation, everything about that fact made her feel as much of a tool as the one in her hands. "I understand what he wants to happen, but why's he have to use people to do it?"

"Doesn't mean any harm or nothin'," said Soul, leaning forward in his signature slouch to rest elbows on knees, empty bottle in one hand and gesturing with it. "But he tends to only do things when it suits hisself. May be my brother, but I don't like it much, either."

Maka took a moment to exert some gratifying violence on a hard lump of clay. "I don't get it. Wes doesn't really seem like the type to let someone else's opinion stop him. It's not like he's gonna stop dating Liz just 'cause Ruth doesn't like it."

She didn't think what she'd said was funny, but Soul laughed outright, chin tucked down until all she could see was the top of his hat. "That much is true. Still, can't fault somebody wantin' approval from one they love, n'all. Because it's Gran is the whole point."

This notion stung her swiftly and unexpectedly; pausing in her work, she recalled what Liz said about Wes's struggle with Ruth and how it tore him up. This in turn brought up other things, like Blake Strickland thanking a fresh grave for being at his wedding, like how, conversely, Maka still sought the approval of someone who could no longer give it. It was simple and second-nature to imagine the heartbreak one could have if someone they respected died before ever giving their blessing - the weight of that finality.

Maka finished off the post hole and straightened an oversized glove that had twisted in her effort. Searching nearby for any kind of marking to begin another hole, she asked, "What's next?"

"That's it?" he asked, incredulous.

His tone of voice made her testy on principle. "What's it?"

He gave her a look so dry the garden might wither away. Soul pointed the butt-end of the water bottle in her direction and said, "You gave me such a hell 'bout askin' you to Easter, but Wes manipulatin' you- us - so's he can bring Liz around an' start drama- That's it?"

"You're the one who said I couldn't fault him! So I won't," she said, applying his own Evans-esque logic used to avoid confrontation. Maka couldn't stop herself from leaning away from the judgement of that bottle; the subject matter had brushed too close to the sore parts in her and she didn't want to think about it anymore.

"So you're fine with it."

"W-well, no, obviously." Her hands attempted to crush the handles of the post holer. "But Liz is my friend, and I want to help if I can. And... maybe punch your brother."

He laughed again at that. And either he intended on showing her his face without the hat brim in the way, or he simply didn't realize he was smiling and forgot to hide it, but Soul looked up at her with a crooked kind of grin and said, "Wanna go to Memorial Day with me?"

She was unsure if he said it only to humor her or for reasons additional to her request. She was, however, grateful to already be flushed from exertion if he happened to note the heat crawling up her neck. "Yes," she said, mirroring that smile despite herself.

"If anyone's around," said a voice from Soul's belt, "I think I found somethin' y'all should come see."

The ranch hand leaned to one side and pulled the radio from its clip. "What's goin' on, Mitch?"

"Northwest tank. There's… a growth."


Blake, Maka, Mifune, and Soul sat atop their horses side by side, looking over the rounded edge of the stock pond.

"Dare ya to jump in it," said Black Star, his horse stretching its neck at the wide expanse of something that could nearly pass for neon green covering the water's surface.

Maka's guts roiled at the thought, and she brought the collar of her shirt up over her nose and mouth. A foamy, foul-stenched fungus she'd never seen before had contaminated the pond. "You can go right ahead. How long has it been like this?" she wondered aloud.

"Just moved my camper out here but two days ago," Mifune said, hands resting on the horn of Cow's saddle. A ways from the opposite edge of the stock pond, his vintage airstream sat parked and gleaming in the midday sun, not far from the fence Soul and Maka had repaired weeks ago. "Looked the same as always. No idea how it got like this in that kinda time."

Far less talkative than earlier today, Soul slouched lazily atop Harley, entire face darkened by the low shadow of his hat. His eyes never left the bright green of the pond, countenance so stony that his horse kept touching the left stirrup with her nose to get any kind of signal from her rider.

It was Blake who pointed out the elephant in the pasture, leaning back to talk around Maka and Mifune. "You seen this afore, Soul?"

The ranch hand kept Harley's reins slack in his grasp, but his gloved thumb worried them with enough pressure that leather audibly creaked. Voice flat, he said, "We oughtta check the other tanks. The creek, too."


marsh: hey guys. thank you everyone so much for your continued support. thanks to the #soulstice squad for helping me get my ass in gear, and to the many individuals cheering me on. it's been a few years, but angel's end is back, friends. i'd love to hear what you think!