I do not own Soul Eater, 7-Eleven, Luxor or Mandalay Bay (MGM Resorts International), Girl Talk (specifically Skee-Lo's 'I Wish', Ol' Dirty Bastard's 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya', Travis Porter's 'Go Shorty Go', and Usher's 'Lil Freak' featuring Nicki Minaj), R.E.M.'s 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)', Tetris, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, BODIES the exhibition, Star Trek, and any/all copyrighted what-have-yous mentioned in other chapters. Whew!

If In Ashes The Fire-Seed Slept

Wes's cliff becomes the unofficial Mount Olympus cemetery, and Harvey is buried with two pairs of sunglasses.

She walks up to Liz Thompson in the middle of the tourist center-turned-armory and asks to be taught how to shoot a pistol. The survivors all around them pause only momentarily from their blood weapon production line. Liz looks taken aback, and her eyes travel to her younger sister, who holds a piece of metal in place while Jacqueline fastens it to another. She looks back at Maka, having reached some kind of decision. "I would, but we're not allowed to shoot here unless we gotta. We'd draw somethin'."

This is when the razor children, Claire and Castor, start banging their little hands on the bank of windows. They speak the babble of twins, something that emulates English but not quite, and they excitedly smash their fists against the glass. Maka watches them, goosebumps making the little hairs on her arms stand tall, unable to recall having seen either child be this vocal about anything.

Marie hurries over them, confused but still attempting to calm them down. In another part of the visitor's center, Tsubaki rises from the assembly line of tables and hardware, standing very still as she gazes far away. The crowded room falls silent save Claire and Castor's frenetic tantrum on the window panes.

Adrenaline stings her nerve endings as Maka sees Tsubaki take a deep inhale through the nose.

"Jack," Tsubaki says.

Jacqueline looks pained with her half-inflamed face and seared left arm, her voice like smoke and ash. "Red or black?" she asks, all business.


Abruptly, Jacqueline begins barking orders to the room, standing and briskly walking to the kitchen. "I need everyone to stop what they're doing and take anything that has blood in it to the store room, and quickly. Set up a queue, just like at meals, and pass the weapons to the next person in line-"

Meanwhile, Tsubaki begins speaking into her collar, the room erupting in movement and noise. Maka swims through the mob of breathers, making her way to Marie, who has stopped trying to calm the twins down.

The older woman lifts her eye patch and squints out in the distance, looking to the southwest, down the access road. Maka follows her line of sight and sees a moving blur that's difficult to discern in the early morning light.

"We need a lock down, get the defense model," Tsubaki reports. "At least one human, the rest... more than one. No visual, but they're coming from the southwest, straight up the access road. I didn't-" she falters, losing her ShadowStag identity and tumbling into the young woman with a permanent retainer and only five months of fighting experience. "We've got all sorts of Maka's blood down here, so I didn't realize it until-"

"You've bought us time. Lock it down, don't let any of that shit get exposed," Black Star says over the crackling radio. Maka can hear him changing prostheses as he talks. "Get security on Dr. Horrible and put some guns on the checkpoint," he orders, snapping Tsubaki back into motion.

Marie hears these orders as well, and darts to the glass door that leads to Stein's lab. She has her own radio now- the one Harvey had used- and starts rolling up the sleeves of her shirt as she runs to the laboratory. Tsubaki pulls Liz and Patti Thompson off the lockdown line and recruits them for the checkpoint.

Maka heads to fill in the hole in the line so she can help pass half-assembled bomb bodies, but in the corner of her eye she sees the razor children slip out the door Marie had gone through. Shocked, she watches Castor and Claire run towards the checkpoint, their little legs carrying them straight for whatever it is that is coming to Hoover Dam.

Several others see them escaping as well, their voices raised in alarm, and Maka flings herself to the door, her body trying to remember what strenuous activity feels like. The muscles in her legs complain from her demands without any kind of forewarning, her lungs trying to keep up, but halfway across the gift shop parking lot she catches one of the children, who kicks and screams wildly. Maka hears pounding footsteps and looks up to see the other twin snatched up by Tsugumi, who had followed her outside.

Together they struggle with the squirming, punching children, trying to get them back inside the building. As they reach the door, the one in Maka's arms starts screaming real words, or rather, just one word.


Over and over, Claire/Castor screams 'no', and this strikes a chord in Maka so strongly that she turns to see where the child is straining towards. She sees a dark skinned man in an exhausted, shuffling jog being followed by at least two dozen turned. Her breath whooshes out of her, the constant fear and desperation she had lived with in the valley and the forest pressing in on her from all sides. She'd seen Soul's walker/brother since then, but it's been weeks since she has witnessed so many heads of white hair and so many pairs of hungry eyes.

The child is taken out of her arms, since she had stopped, frozen, outside the door. Someone is yelling at her to get inside, but Maka can't rip her eyes away from the survivor still trying to outdistance the moaning mob tirelessly chasing him. Twenty yards from the checkpoint, the man stumbles, crashing into the asphalt.

Before she realizes she has made the decision, she's flying across the parking lot once more, hurdling a short wall to get on the road, and running headlong for the survivor. She hears screaming and barked orders, but her brain doesn't make the effort to understand them.

As Maka vaults the bank of stolen road construction barrels that the resistance uses as a checkpoint, she feels rather than hears someone flying with her. Worry seizes her heart, praying to every god that may be listening that it's not Tsugumi again. But it's Soul at her side, having caught up from the command center, and she realizes it's Sid's and Black Star's shouts they are leaving behind.

They race to the fallen man, Maka unsheathing her knife, her brain screaming at her to not run straight for a mob of walkers and turn the fuck around instead. They skid to a stop at the stranger struggling to his feet. The man is drenched in sweat and gasping for breath, and Maka and Soul both grab under an arm and haul him upright. Maka notes his bloody footprints- he'd been fleeing the mob so long he'd worn off the soles of his shoes.

"Trucks," he gasps out. "Saw the trucks, please, oh god no-" he shudders at the sight of Soul.

"Not gonna hurt you but they will so move!"

"We need to draw them away from the other civs," Maka says. "Let's get him to Stein's- we can thin them out on the bridge!"

The mob gains as they weave the man through the barrels. On top of one of the lower rooflines of the gift shop, Maka notices Liz and Patti standing guard. The younger sister holds a pistol in either hand, while the elder takes aim with Harvey's rifle. Suddenly, it's Soul's life Maka fears for instead of the unnamed survivor, so she urges them to go faster, lest Soul's white hair get lost in a snowdrift of zombies.

Gunfire begins to sing. The three of them continue along the road, unshot. Maka risks a backward glance, seeing most of the mob still change course for the civilian building despite their efforts, drawn by the scent of unfinished weapons that are evidently more appetizing than the survivor's blood. A few do peel away from the main group to continue after them, however, so they keep course for the lab.

"Five o'clock, Maka!" Soul shouts over the gunfire, shifting more of the survivor's weight to himself as she whirls free of them, knife outstretched to the right. The blade sinks into undead flesh, though not as smoothly as she'd prefer. There's still a large nick in the metal that catches on clothing and ribs.

Maka pulls her weapon free and flits away, dancing around the walker and kicking it the back, attempting to make it stumble. The zombie's back had evidently been the site of the mortal injury the once-human had suffered, because her boot nearly gets sucked into the festered, rotted wound. It throws her off balance, having expected more resistance to kick away with, and Maka ends up spinning awkwardly on one foot as she wrenches the other away from the turned.

The zombie pitches to one side, twisting and crashing into the ground. Maka scrambles for balance and swoops in after the walker, slicing across its neck, but the nick in the blade causes the knife to embed in its spinal column. Not good. Not good, not good, not- Maka pulls away, abandoning the knife and standing upright, rearing her leg back to give the walker a bone-shattering kick to the face. Her shoe had already been gored up, anyway.

She pries Gran's knife out of the finally unmoving body, looking up in time to see Black Star jump in the middle of three undead almost upon them, landing like an outrageous meteor. He wears a prosthesis that glows a neon blue like his dyed hair. It electrocutes the party of walkers, stunning them with involuntary muscle contractions, and buys Black Star enough time to shoot two in the forehead and pistol-whip the third.

Maka regards Black Star's prosthesis with new-found respect. Baller. She turns around to help Soul with the survivor, but finds neither of them where she expects.

The bleeding man is being helped into the lab by Stein himself, while Soul and Marie stand in the middle of the bridge to the building, defending as stragglers home in on the thick scent of blood wafting from inside. Marie swings a long-handled sledgehammer, sweeping aside two walkers like flies, toppling them off the bridge. Soul pulls his crowbar out from under the back of his jacket, eyes dilated and teeth bared, lashing out with the weapon like a sudden snake bite.

Maka and Black Star join the fray, though Maka is forced to dodge more of Marie's earth-shaking swings than anything the walkers offer. She sticks closely to Soul- he reads Maka's movements as easily as he does the turned- and they watch each other's blind spots until only breathers are standing.

For several minutes, they stand waiting, the laboratory door propped open to lure any stray walkers to the bottleneck trap, but nothing shambles their way. Eventually, Soul melts to the pavement, crowbar dropping and hands pressed firmly against concrete.

Marie worriedly asks if he's been injured. He shakes his head. Maka's seen him turn that pale color before, and she scoots closer to him so the edge of her leg touches his shoulder.

Black Star regards Soul. "Oh man." He then begins to laugh. "Oh man. Are you scared of heights?!" At Soul's deadly glare, Black Star tilts his head back to the morning sky and roars with laughter, as if the pile of bodies surrounding them are a field of daisies.

Claire and Castor refuse to be contained, and they wiggle their way out of Sid and Tsugumi's arms the moment the newest addition to hashtag-Resistance walks in the civ building on bandaged feet. Disbelief paints his face when he sees the twins, and he wobbles to his knees. The children plow into him, all razor smiles and child-babble, and Kilik Rung's hands automatically grasp them protectively, his shocked eyes taking in the tourist center filled with civilians and cured.

"What is this place?" he asks, and ShadowStag quietly introduces herself, Kid mediating when Kilik gets a better look at Tsubaki's eyes and the twins' teeth.

Meanwhile, a hand is placed on Maka's elbow and she is dragged away from the gathering crowd. For half a second, she thinks it's Harvey, but then she remembers.

Jacqueline leads her to the kitchen, weaving around piles of half-finished weapons and jugs of diluted blood that kind of look like gallons of pink lemonade, except really not. "I'm starting to think you're just as much as an idiot as he was," she says, burned windpipes making her voice sound reedy and dry. She digs through an unplugged, waist-high deep-freezer that she uses as storage, and picks a black object out of it, placing it in Maka's hands.

Maka almost laughs, but doesn't, because it wouldn't be the 'funny ha-ha' laugh, but the 'everything has just become a little more insane ha-ha' laugh. It's the shitbag-pedophile's gun, with the silencer that makes bullets whisper like ghosts. She's been given the weapon that put the Old Crone to sleep.

Jacqueline shuts the deep freezer and sits on it, looking irritable and in pain. To Maka's dumbfounded silence, she says, "I heard you ask Liz. The silencer should let you practice without drawing more walkers to us, though I guess after this morning it's kind of moot."

"...This hasn't been authorized, has it," Maka says carefully. Considering how long it had taken her to get her knife back, she can't imagine Mount Olympus happily gifting her with a firearm.

Attempting to keep her singed hair out of the inflammation in her face, Jacqueline sighs. "If they bitch about you having a gun, I'll tell them the truth and said you nose-dived into a damn mob with only a kitchen knife because you'reanidiot." She glances at Maka, and despite the angry burns on her face and in her coal eyes, the weird float of what's left of her black, weightless hair, she looks human. Maka doesn't mention that the other woman similarly nose-dived into a mob armed only with hastily-made explosives to help bring a friend home before he died.

"I don't know what he said to you," Jacqueline says, "but if Harv trusted you, I'll have to trust you, too. Do us all a favor and try not to die."

Her palms blister from digging so many graves. She embraces the sores. It means twenty-seven more souls have been sent to the deep sleep. It's sad to make graves, but good, too. Her father never got one- only went to sleep in a coffin of sweaters and leather jackets.

The blisters pop and throb when Liz and Patti teach her to shoot her ghost-killer. It's the roughness of the grip, she tells herself, yet the fact that the weapon came from a man she'd murdered makes itself known. She wants to ignore it, but her heart doesn't whisper.

"For god's sake," Liz tells her, "don't let guts get all up in it. If it jams, you're dead, your fam's dead, your boy's dead. Everyone."

"I'll keep it clean." She thinks she might like Liz, or at least the way the woman sees things. Maka sips her Tang as the three of them regard the empty shell of a geek-squad-gutted mini fridge she'd been using for target practice.

"At least they all hit," Liz says, eyeing the vague grouping of bullet holes.

"Those 'seeds' should work as long as you get 'em somewhere," Patti adds.

"Should," Maka echoes, sipping her Tang, hoping Prometheus knows how to control the fire.

When she's done with target practice, she's put back on weapon assembly, getting into the monotonous rhythm of attaching the same length of tubing to the same piece of metal repeatedly. She does it until she can't think about mobs and graves anymore.

She's released from duties well after nightfall, and she asks Black Star, "Will those weapons work?"

The blue-haired monkey-god blearily escorts her to her room. "If they don't, I've sent four civs to death by either infection or starvation," he replies, looking less of a star and more of the messy nebulous nova aftermath, dark matter staining under his eyes. She wonders if he's out of caffeine pills already. "Gonna test a few on Boulder, tomorrow. Our Marathon man said that's where he picked up all those walkers."

Boulder is/was a small city between Hoover Dam and Vegas, and had once been a sought-after retirement retreat. Considering the possibility of how many senior citizens could have easily succumbed to the virus there, she says hollowly, "Lots of test subjects."

Black Star grunts in disgust. "You sound like Stein."

She can't deny it. She's too tired to try. "Get your blood drawn as often as I do, and you would too." She notes that once they are outside the civilian building, crossing the street to where the command center resides, Black Star's prosthetic foot goes eerily silent. Maka keeps a hand on her knife handle, and becomes conscious of the weight of the ghost-killer gun tucked in her jeans. They make it to the other building without incident.

She thinks on the attack today, of the rush of fear in her blood as she ran directly towards a mob of the turned. She wonders if her fear had been clear on her face, or if she'd been how she imagined Harvey: expressionless as he carefully struck.

Harvey died so the raid could return with the tools to save civilians Black Star had essentially sent to their deaths. She wonders if this is why Black Star looks how she feels when he doesn't have caffeine blurring the weight of his decisions. If he had his own Old Crone following him around, she wonders what it would say as it haunted him.

She asks without thinking, or maybe with too much thinking. "What happened at The Chapel that makes Tsubaki angry?" she asks, though 'angry' probably isn't the correct word. Maybe infuriated. Infuriated and so scared that the woman lost her shadow, as pale as Soul on a bridge. "Was that where she was infected?"

The long hallway to her room stretches on, painted a drab gray that becomes darker with the look on Black Star's face. "No. It's where I abandoned her." And he says nothing more on the subject. He doesn't speak at all until they're outside the door of the supply room that serves as her 'apartment' with Soul. "Get some sleep. It's a little under the table, but I'm taking both of you tomorrow."

She must look shocked, because he says, "Harv and Jackie can't go. Speaking of, gimme the rest of those pills, unless you ate them all like an addict."

"Which one of us is the addict?" she accuses, emotionless. So, they're the replacements for a dead man and a burning woman. She doesn't want to think about that, pulling at the last of her resources for shoddy banter to bury it.

He rolls his eyes dramatically. "It's for Jackie. I don't need that shit. Pain is nothing."

Maka attempts an unconvinced look before opening the door. She finds Soul inside, sitting on the bed, hands paused over another techno monstrosity. They exchange untranslatable eye contact for a second before Maka walks in and finds Dead Person's Vicodin prescription bottle, handing it to Black Star.

"You're done with these," he asks or maybe suggests.

Maka raises her chin. She's been off the pills for days. "Pain is nothing," she replies. She thinks maybe it's a lie, though. Pain is so much not nothing that it's mind-numbing in its consuming grasp. "Do you not like sleep?"

Black Star nods his head at Soul over her shoulder in tired greeting. Quietly, which is vocal volume control she had not thought he'd possessed, he says, "I like sleep. Just don't like people dying while I do it." He turns back down the hall and disappears into the gray. "Sharpen your butter knife," he calls.

Maka shuts the door, leaning on it and trying to gather her wits. She's not sure there are any left, though. Too much has happened today, or the past two days, or the past five months. Too many deaths. Too many undeaths. She watches Soul appraise her current state of being, his assessment making him reach out with his eyes in concern.

"We're going on a raid tomorrow," she tells him, placing her 'butter knife' and the ghost-killer on the floor, near the tangled blob that is his paper piano. He eyeballs the gun a moment before looking at her again, setting aside whatever blood weapon prototype he'd been working on to the floor as well. "I need to sharpen my knife," she says, slowly allowing herself the comfort of crawling on the bed and wrapping her arms around him.

She feels empty, like a hollow jar with only dregs and ash at the bottom.

She hopes the weapons work. She hopes she can help everyone sleep. She hopes, if she lives through the Grim Reaper job, that she'll find a vat of pickles and get fat, and when she gets ready for bed at the end of the day, Soul will still miraculously be there like an unexpected surprise, waiting. She hopes a lot of things, and every consecutive wish feels more selfish and unlikely than the last.

"You're shivering," he tells her, holding her tightly. Distantly, as if watching herself from outside her body, she realizes she's terrified. Her heart doesn't whisper anymore, and her body trembles from all the screaming.

Sid is not pleased to see her in the back of the van. His gaze bores holes into the side of her head. She looks to Soul for back-up, but his red eyes dart away- he doesn't exactly want her to leave the dam either, even if he hadn't said it aloud.

"You ignored orders," Sid says, skipping right to the subject, pitched only for her to hear. "And recklessly endangered yourself."

Maka sighs in acknowledgement. She wants to argue that Soul had been right there with her, but she knows what he's trying to say. She's aware that her blood makes her important. She's aware, but she had watched Kilik fall, and she could not stand still and watch a man die because her life was somehow 'more important' than his. There is fire in her blood, and it won't let her sit idly.

They pass underneath a tall bridge and a blurry memory flashes in her head, a dream of bright stars burning into her eyes, of her blood burning in a forge.

"I'm the kind that fights to live," she tells him.

Sid attempts a grudging frown. "I hope you're also the kind that follows orders in the future, Albarn, 'cause if you can't you'll be endangering a lot more people than yourself."

She knows. She has a lot of promises to keep.

The trip to Boulder isn't really a 'raid'. It's a quick experiment with an opportunity to hit a nearby convenience store. They make a risky run inside a 7-Eleven outside of solar cell tower boundaries. There's not much in it, but Soul and Black Star collect freezer air compressors and Maka finds several boxes of Mountain Dew fountain syrup. Sid discovers a pallet of tiny jars filled with expired baby food.

"Looks like no one will eat these even if the world is ending," he says.

"Let's take them anyway," Maka says. "Jacqueline can find a use for the jars."

Black Star scoffs. "She'd just fill them with explosives." After a moment, he adds, "Not that I'm complainin'."

"Or we could fill them with blood," Soul says. "Give something the civs can use without exploding each other, case more walkers show up while we're gone."

Tsubaki pokes her head inside the convenience store door. "Wrap it up, there's too much black here. We need to get out of the suburbs."

After the 7-Eleven, they make a slow drive-by of the Boulder City Hospital, but there are so many heads of white hair scattered in the parking lot that they don't bother trying to raid it for supplies.

They travel to the edge of town. Parked at an overgrown baseball diamond, Tsubaki climbs on top of the van, violet eyes refracting the mid-morning sun. The cured breathes in deeply several times, gaze focused on an assisted living complex across the street. Black Star, sitting in the driver's seat, props his prosthetic foot on the dashboard, occasionally checking the side mirrors for anything approaching. Soul dangles his legs out the sliding side door and sits very still save his blown-pupil eyes, which dart to every swaying palm tree and blade of shifting grass.

Sid sharpens Maka's knife for her, because he'd told her she was ruining the blade the way she'd been doing it. For some reason the man has his own whetstone on him, and she wonders if he's a knife kind of guy, too. She watches him carefully run metal across stone, counting the strokes so he can make the same amount on the other side. The nick in the blade is erased, though not her memory of it.

After a while, Tsubaki says, "Okay."

Black Star digs around in a reusable grocery bag and pulls out a metallic purple canister that looks like it had made the rounds of both Stein's lab and the geek squad. He hands this to Maka, who had stolen Tsubaki's passenger seat in the front of the van. "You're up, Sharkbait."

"Sharkbait," she murmurs to herself, confused. She cradles the plastic and metal monstrosity in her hands, opening the van door to let herself out.

Black Star yawns, rapidly tapping things in his phone. "Have you seen your neck? Seriously."

As she slides out of the tall seat and finds the baseball diamond outside, it takes everything in her body to not slam the door and cause a noise that could draw everything in a five block radius. She leaves it wide open, shooting Soul a venomous look over her shoulder.

His sneakered feet knock together once, still dangling out the side door. Soul sucks his lips into a tight line, as if trying to not say something smart assed. It does not save him. "My bad."

Maka stomps to the pitching mound, placing the whatever-it-is on the ground. She looks back at the van, and Soul gestures to flip open a lid and press a button.

She finds the button, bright red, looking like a thing she shouldn't press while standing next to. Apprehensive, she scowls at the rest of the team. Black Star gestures to hurry up and just do it.

Maka regards the device and decides that if the damn thing explodes and covers her with her own pink lemonade blood, she's going to dump all the Mountain Dew syrup into the Colorado River. She presses the button.

"I wish I was like six-foot-nine so I could get with Leoshi 'cause she don't know me, but yo she's really fine," the purple canister blasts at startling levels. "You know I see her all the time, everywhere I go, even in my dreams I can scheme a'ways to make her mine."

Maka runs back to the van (rather confusedly, but running just the same), watching Tsubaki slide off the roof and back into the front seat. Soul scrambles inside, shutting the door when Maka jumps in. Black Star mouths the lyrics to the music while he starts the engine, driving away from the device in reverse. "We're gonnaaaaa get outta range."

"I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call'er," replies the blood weapon, luring any nearby undead with a baffling siren call that Soul seems to find hilarious.

"This is either gonna be a complete failure or the coolest thing ever," he chokes.

"You kids are crazy," Sid says, handing Maka her sharpened knife and not looking the least bit surprised, even if he were able to look surprised.

"Shut up this is my jam," Black Star says, putting the transmission in drive and idling the van while watching walkers begin to cross the street. The tops of Tsubaki's ears flush a little.

Everyone frequently checks all the windows for any of the turned sneaking up on them from other directions, but Tsubaki had called the area correctly. A mob thrice the size of the one that had attacked Hoover Dam the day before shambles onto the grassy baseball diamond, hearing the noise and smelling their presence. They begin to pass the device, headed towards the running van, but Black Star waits. His thumb hovers over a button lit up on his phone's screen.

"Shimmy shimmy ya shimmy yam shimmy yea-"

"Black Star," Tsubaki warns as more of the mob passes over the weapon and walks closer.

Black Star grunts. "I'm watchin'." The inside of the van becomes heavy with anxiety as the seconds pass.

"-my producer slam, my flow is like bam, jump on stage and then I-" The world falls into an abrupt hush a split second before a shockwave plows through the atmosphere, Maka's lungs feeling like they've been punched. The van rocks a bit, but Maka doesn't hear the suspension squeak like it should.

"-ist, you put enough shit in there?" Sid shouts, though it sounds like a whisper sifting through mountains of thick fog and folded cloth.

"Yeah, I think so!"

Maka reaches for Soul, disoriented. He's grimacing, but he's still there, cautiously re-opening the sliding door. Once she has control of her eardrums, head ringing, she hears a murmuring chorus of final words and groaning, smoke and the smell of blood permeating the air. The mob convulses in a big mass, like some deep sea creature being electrocuted, burning through from the inside. Any stragglers that had somehow been shielded by the blast reach for the nearest splotch of blood spatter, eagerly seeking their own poison.

Black Star holds his open hand towards the carnage, as if presenting art. "It appears to work," he announces.

"Did you really punch Black Star in the face?" Soul asks as he showers.

She's not supposed to be left alone, but they hadn't seen any of the radio-collared people nearby when it was Soul's turn to bathe on the schedule, so she'd followed him. She sits on the sink counter, watching his skinny toes get soapy with lather runoff underneath the shower stall.

"Maybe," she says.

His voice is amused. "What'd he do?"

"He said 'who the fuck punches a god in a wheelchair' or something. Honestly, I didn't realize he was missing a leg at the time- all I could think about was watching you waste away to bones while that monkey dyed his stupid hair blue."

Water hits tile for a while before Soul says, "He was busy with The Chapel."

It's where I abandoned her.

"Do you know why The Chapel is 'The Chapel'?"

"Kinda, maybe." The water cuts off and he steps out of the steaming stall, only about eighty percent pulling off the 'you could stab me dead' air. She tries to imagine what his hair color had been, before, but she decides she doesn't care. She looks behind colors. "I got ten minutes left on my time... You could take one, if you wanted," he says, leaving the 'it might be your last one in ever' unspoken.

She feels weird being dressed while he's drying himself with a towel, anyway. She takes off her knife and gun. She wonders if they'll have sex again tonight; if that's an okay thing to do, or if it's too close to admitting they're afraid of never getting another chance. Though what kind of person is she to be thinking about sleeping with someone when she has so much debt and so many promises to keep? Maka takes off her clothes, confused about being a breather.

Soul takes her spot on the counter, wet hair clinging to his scalp. He gives her body a glance that she thinks she had probably given him a minute ago, and Maka breathes, retreating into the shower stall.

As warm as his eyes had been, his voice is distant and sober. "I heard it happened like five minutes after he gave us the co-ords to the library." He tells her how Tsubaki had been too weak to continue to Prometheus, how two other raiders, Ford and Diehl, had stayed behind in The Chapel with Tsubaki while Black Star, Harvey, and Jacqueline had continued to find Stein.

"It was his old lab. He was trying to move his patients and whatever else here, but then those three showed up. Something went down, both at the old lab and The Chapel. I dunno what really happened, but you've seen Stein's face. And Tsubaki's scars on her neck."

They're on more than just her neck, she doesn't say. The scars spread across her shoulders and down her body like something had been trying to claw her apart for something it had never found.

Maka feels for the ridged scar tissue left of her spine. She feels bad for punching Black Star, but not bad enough that she wouldn't do it again if presented the same situation. He's still obnoxious.

She showers quickly, and when she steps out of the stall she finds Soul clothed. He also wears such a conflicted face that it doesn't allow her to feel remotely sexual being naked in front of him. Maka quietly sighs, taking his damp towel. "Just say it, already."

"I don't want you to go tomorrow."

Maka pushes water around on her skin with the ineffective towel. "I'm going."

"I know."

"I have promises to keep."

"And I'm gonna help you keep them," he replies just as easily. "I wanna just... keep you here, keep you safe, so you stop putting yourself at risk-"

Maka sighs again, irritated with this already. "Soul-"

"Just shut up!" he hisses, teeth gleaming. More softly, he says, "If you didn't take risks, I'd probably still be up in that tree. So I'm not gonna stop you. I'm not gonna... try to change you. I'll go with you."

They're two parts of a blade, forged together by lightning. Body still wet but putting on her pants anyway, she says, "You don't have to help me." It's a lie, though. She doesn't think she can keep her promises without him. She doesn't want to.

Soul quietly scoffs. It's a humorless noise. "You don't have to save the world."

No, but she wants to keep it. Maka dons her shirt, replacing her weapons. She wants everyone to be able to sleep peacefully. "I'm going to."

"Now you get it," Soul says, his hand outstretched and grazing hers. She sees it in softness of his not-soft face: he wants to keep her, too.

His backpack is filled to the brim with tools and gadgets and bombs, all tightly mashed together in a Tetris array for the next day. They share Spaghetti O's as a last supper, though she washes it down with Tang under threat of her gun privileges being revoked. Thunder nudges the dam, barely heard over thrumming turbines.

Once in bed, her back is cradled against his chest, his hand running down the wing-stump scar in discordant reverence, because he blames himself for her injury but it had been her injury that cured him. Maka mewls, gasping as he enters her from behind. His mouth wetly kisses her spine, her neck, her cheek. She arches in pleasure, reaching back to grasp his hip and shove him closer to her.

They have sex slowly, intently, until it's impossible to hold back, and when they're finished they rest a while and do it again. It's not slow, but raw and hard and senseless, and when he says her name she thinks she can almost hear its meaning.

Afterward he tells her, during his endorphin high, that even if she hadn't been the cure, even if she'd killed him in the library when he turned on her, he would still relive this hell a thousand times over as long as she found him in that tree.

It sounds like a goodbye, and she hates him for it.

Before they'd left, dawn light struggling to filter through dark clouds, Tsugumi had given her one last gift from the residents of Mount Olympus.

Maka holds it in her hands as she sits in the back of the van, like clutching an egg with her firey DNA sloshing around inside. It's a baby food jar filled with pink lemonade. The girl had told her it was strange for Maka to not have at least one, considering it came from her.

Tsugumi is safe, or at least safer than Maka is, presently. As the engine of the van she, Black Star, and Sid are in putters and dies, she's fervently wishes she was with Soul in one of the other teams. He's lucky, Harvey had told her, and she's starting to think he'd been right.

"Hang on to something," Sid says, even as he continues trying to restart the engine. "Get ready to take everything you can get away with."

"Keep going, we'll catch up," Black Star barks into the radio before the other vehicles are out of range. He unbuckles his seat belt as Tsubaki's voice crackles with dismay, her words garbled. The van rolls to a stop.

They come in like a tidal wave, a tsunami of restless corpses. The horde of bodies overturns the heavy van, supplies and crates of blood bombs crashing to the side as it becomes the new floor. Sid braces himself in the driver's seat while Black Star and Maka shuffle and climb seats like a calculated circus act. It's like branch-hopping for her, and if she wasn't only a metal body shell away from death, she'd probably enjoy herself.

Black Star double-checks the latches on his prosthesis. He looks over at her. "You good?"

Maka balances on an armrest, her fingers making cursory touches to her knife handle and the ghost-killer. She zips up the leather jacket Jacqueline had found for her. "I'm fine. What's the plan," she says, stooping to gather stray weapons and attempting to find room in her already-full canvas bag.

The windshield begins to shatter from the pressure of zombies dog-piling the vehicle. Sid loads a short barrel shotgun with something from a box with Stein's handwriting. "If you have any vendettas, forget them right now," the false undead says, raising his voice to be heard over the loud banging from the mob outside. "We're six blocks from Luxor. We get out of the mob as quickly as possible and meet with the others."

"Imma blow this shit up," Black Star says, reaching up for the tilted glove-compartment over Sid's head and pulling out another one of his prostheses. He presses a button that looks like it'd been ripped off an old arcade game.

Speakers embedded into the fake foot spew a slew of lyrics from some segment of R.E.M.'s 'It's the End of the World as We Know It', and she wants to comment that he has the strangest tastes in self-destruct timers. "We got two minutes," he announces, and her ears throb painfully when he shoots a Beretta into the windshield. A fire-seed flies through the glass to burn up a walker.

Sid kicks the rest of the glass down, shards crumbling into little pellets. He shoots birdshot (or maybe fireshot, she supposes) into the wall of undead flesh attempting to come inside.

"World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed, tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right. Right," says Black Star's discarded prosthesis, and the three of them hurdle over the steering wheel and through the broken windshield, stepping on burning bodies and charging into a wall of death and the smell of infection.

There aren't enough bullets in the world for The Strip. Gunfire mows a weak path through the zombies, Maka's blood searing through the turned only to be replaced by more heads of white.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine-"

Maka darts behind the two men, diving after stragglers and sending them to the deep sleep with Gran's knife. In her peripherals, she catches the undulating ocean of walkers pressing in around them, of the Welcome to Paradise sign from what seems like a lifetime ago. This is the place where they shouldn't go, yet have, anyway. It's probably unhealthy amounts of adrenaline that kind of makes her want to laugh about it, but it would be that 'insane, ha-ha' kind again (maybe with the leather jacket she has truly become the biker gang crazy bitch), and she also doesn't want zombie guts in her mouth.

"Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline!"

Her arm is starting to tire, her wrist cramping from cutting through stubborn tendons and sturdy vertebrae, though her blade is as sharp as the day she'd taken it from Gran. Her eyes strain to see, the cloud cover hiding the daylight and bright splotches of gunfire dot her vision.

Sid goes through five shots and runs out of ammunition, so he tucks the gun in a leg holster and pulls out his own set of combat knives, carving his way through the crowd. Black Star is as nimble as the monkey Maka had figured him to be, despite a false leg- and sometimes, she thinks, because of his leg- punching, kicking, shooting, and tasering a path free.

She doesn't feel fine when the end of the world comes, feeling that queer microsecond of silence before the atmosphere explodes. She collides into the ground like running headlong into a wall, which is confusing because she's fairly positive the earth had been under her feet a moment ago.

Maka's ears ring painfully as she stumbles her way back to her feet. Black Star looks like he's cackling, continuing to shoot the zombies around them that hadn't been leveled in the blast, but it's like watching a silent film. She looks back at the flaming heap of metal and flesh behind them, noticing everything tinged a dusty pink from all the leftover blood weapons detonating.

"We have to go," she shouts, unsure if she can be heard when she can barely hear herself. "They'll come for the blood!"

"That's the plan," Black Star mouths, and the three of them hurry north, the buzzing in Maka's ears slowly fading.

She can't tell if it's thunder or the other raid teams causing their (decidedly more planned) distractions rumbling around the city. She's sweating buckets under her jacket as they dash by Mandalay Bay, but the leather had saved her multiple times from being torn into by fangs, so she keeps it on.

Her bag is already considerably lighter; the amount of weapons they had to use to get six blocks was a lot more than she'd anticipated. She stops using them once they're on the property of The Chapel, as to not lure walkers away from all the other distractions the other teams are providing.

The Chapel is actually 'The Chapel at Luxor'- Luxor being the huge, misplaced monument to the past set in an age that has also passed. The building is a gleaming black and copper monster of glass, constructed in likeness to the pyramids of Giza, complete with a reclining sphinx. Like a giant dagger pointing to the sky, a hieroglyphic-etched obelisk marks the hotel on The Strip, as if the pyramid wasn't obvious enough.

The hotel's interior is a spacious atrium that takes cues from the Luxor temple in Egypt, with tall sentinel statues and seated pharaohs, though presently the hotel is mostly decorated in a battlefield of black blood and snowy hair, smelling of infection and gun smoke. Luxor serves its purpose as a tomb.

They follow the trail of bodies Tsubaki's team had left behind, the pyramid dim and full of shadows. She tries not to waste time attempting to identify all the white heads on the ground, hoping that Soul hadn't done anything stupid, like drop his crowbar off a flight of stairs or something. She sees gunshot wounds, shattered faces, and evidence of what could only be Marie's sledgehammer.

She feels vulnerable. She has no weaponized fake leg, no military experience. She has no infection-enhanced talents like Tsubaki's sense of smell or Soul's and Marie's hunting cat eyes. She has the antithesis of undead in her blood, granted, but she'd prefer to keep the majority of her blood in her body if possible. Maka has a gun that had once been shoved under her chin and a kitchen knife, and she's walking into a dark tomb with Tang-stained lips, ringing ears, and a bag half full of her weaponized blood that a part of her brain is constantly reminding her is actually a bunch of bombs that she shouldn't jostle too much.

The marbled floors of the lobby are slick with black blood, and Maka picks her way around corpses as she follows Black Star, Sid trailing behind her. They stop frequently, pausing and listening before walking through dense areas of statues, dying plants, and disheveled souvenir shops. Black Star leads them up a staggered flight of stairs that ends right next to a pale building with a sign announcing it as The Chapel at Luxor that Maka can barely see in the gloom.

They turn the corner of the building to find the doors broken, glass scattered all over the floor. Black Star does not seem surprised by this, so Maka holds her tongue for sending people into 'safe' places with glass doors. The man steps through the broken door frame, readying his gun. Glass crunches under her boots. Sid huffs uncomfortably, trying to squeeze through the small door, but he makes it inside, too.

The three find themselves in a long hallway of beige marble and cream paint, with the occasional dead person. A chandelier tilts awkwardly from the ceiling. Black Star takes them to a door that is already ajar, which is something that he does seem surprised about. It opens to a carpeted room with cushioned wooden chairs thrown about like shrapnel. In the middle of the room stands Marie, eye patch flipped up, sledgehammer poised in both hands.

Black Star lowers his gun, scoffing. Tsubaki and Soul each come out of their own shadowy corner. The room nearly trembles in relief.

"I didn't want to radio you, in case-" Tsubaki starts.

"We lived, it's cool," Black Star says, eyes darting around the room.

Nothing looks more out of place than flowery carpets and cream linens dyed brown with old blood. The chapel's podium is sandbagged with bodies at its base like the leftovers of a sacrificial rite.

Maka weaves around toppled chairs to Soul who, covered in walker blood and gore, looks startlingly similar to when she'd first met him, sans tie down straps. He doesn't back away when she approaches, though. His eyes are almost as dark as Jacqueline's. He says nothing about seeing the van she'd been in get pulled in an undead undertow, but his worry for her is clear on his face.

She stands at his side, taking another look around the chapel. If they won't say it, she will. "Where are the civs," she quietly asks. Apart from the six of them intruding like a pack of dirty, armed animals, the room is empty. There are recent signs of habitation: the smell of urine and vomit, empty food cans, the haphazard pallet of stained curtains as bedding.

"You sure you sent them here?" Sid asks, though he doesn't sound particularly doubtful.

Black Star's eyes dart to Tsubaki for half a second. "Of course I'm sure," he says.

"The door was unlocked when we got here," Marie says.

Maybe the civs got tired of waiting. If Black Star had sent her and Soul here instead of the library, she would have ditched, too. Maybe. She looks at Soul again, picturing him thinner and feverish, and remembers the desperation in both of them for any possibility of finding Prometheus.

Still, the longer she stands here, the more anxious she becomes. She wonders if any of the blood on the walls is Tsubaki's.

"I fucking blew up the van. They have to be here somewhere," Black Star says. Harvey died for this, he doesn't say.

"If they're gone, they're gone," Sid tells him. "We'll sweep on the way out."

The raid cautiously picks through the building leaving The Chapel and circling around, searching for signs of life. As they pass a display of a dusty Corvette that had never been won by the gamblers of old, a half-imagined sense of movement passes overhead. Maka looks up just in time to see several walkers, roused from stasis by their presence, hurl themselves into the air from the closest set of interior balconies.

One crashes into the Corvette. Others smack into the marble floor after glancing off the smaller indoor shops. It's raining zombies, and Marie is the first to make contact, swinging her sledgehammer into one before it can lurch back on its feet. Another walker lands less than two feet away from where Maka stands, so it gets a bootheel to the neck.

The team ends the skirmish quickly, but everyone looks slightly nauseated after having heard so many bodies collide into the unforgiving floor (though Sid always kind of looks that way). Before they move on, Tsubaki whirls on them, tense.

"Who was bitten?"

After a silence, Soul says, "...Is this a trick question?"

Irritation briefly flits over the woman's face before she shakes her head. "I smell blood. Check yourselves."

Maka puts a hand over her canvas bag. "The weapons, maybe?"

"No, it's not yours," Tsubaki replies, and although Maka is glad she is neither bleeding nor holding a bag of leaky explosives, she now has to digest the fact that there is someone on this planet that recognizes her blood-flavor.

"I don't think any of us were injured, Tsubaki," Marie says, checking the backs of the rest of the raid.

Black Star and Tsubaki exchange a silent glance while Sid says, "Gotta be a civ, then."

After some deep-breathing taste tests, Tsubaki leads them to four undead huddled over a newly dead man, his chest opened like a biology project. ShadowStag transforms into something furious and impossible to track in the dark, violently killing two of the four walkers with the butt of her rifle before anyone can comprehend it. Soul takes out a third while Sid beheads the fourth, and afterward, Black Star silently regards the victim, nebulous smudges dark under his eyes.

He sends the man to the deep sleep when the body rises.

The blood trail from the dead man stops- or rather starts- between two exhibits inside Luxor: Bodies, which Maka doesn't want to think about more than she must, and Titanic, which isn't much better. One's an exhibition of corpses, cross-sectioned and documentarized, while the other is a shrine to the debris of a sunken cruise-liner, both housed inside a thirty story Egyptian tomb.

They try Bodies first, the decision to get the worse option out of the way somewhat like ripping off the raid's collective band-aid. They pick over dusty and tangled velvet rope dividers, the panicked crowds of the last age having knocked them over long ago.

The exhibit is a cave of darkness with human-shaped silhouettes. Black Star does something with his fake leg and a red-tinted light flickers on. "Runnin' outta juice," he mutters unhappily, his voice taking on that grumbling tone that causes Maka to wonder if he's talking about his prosthesis or his caffeine addiction. Their night-vision is spared by the red flashlight, but the light bounces around and points in strange directions as Black Star steps around displays of bodies in various states of purposeful decomposition, and it makes Maka more dizzy than anything.

Every body is a careful zombie-exam. Stasis or statue? Incisors or fangs?

One walker is found by the raid, or rather by Soul, who stills and slowly raises his crowbar to touch Maka on the arm in warning. Sid is at the front of the line, and Maka mouths his name in a quiet breath, all hissing 'S' and emphatically implied 'there's a thing over there'. The zombie is barely out of stasis when Black Star shines the light in its decayed face, illuminating Sid's brutally efficient strike.

Marie wonders aloud if the woman had been one of the civs. Emphasis on the past tense.

"It's too dusty in here," Maka says.

Tsubaki agrees. "It doesn't smell like people in here." She doesn't say 'apart from us', which is probably because it's not applicable. Out of the six of them, only Maka and Black Star aren't some form of cured, with Maka being an anomalous runner-up to E.T., and the latter being an internet-culture Borg that smells more like processor cooling gel than anything.

This is when they all hear a muffled pop come through the walls. Maka has heard the noise before but can't place it, the sound nudging her into another world that makes her lungs constrict and her heart beat more rapidly than it had in the Strip Mob Sea.

Her body follows the raid to the source of what had obviously been a gunshot, filing around the entrance to the Titanic Exhibition, but her mind is elsewhere. As Marie hurriedly applies a heavy dose of percussive maintenance to the locked doors, a bright flash in her peripheral catches Maka's eye. She turns her head, glancing to the lobby doors, hearing thunder booming outside the pyramid.

She searches for something (for zombies maybe, but that doesn't feel quite right), the effort feeling habitual and automatic, but finds nothing, like she's forgotten something. She turns back to the raid, watching them all get ready for the doors to burst apart under Marie's sledgehammer, but it still bothers her.

It takes one more glance away for her to realize she's looking for the Old Crone, and when she looks back to the raid, feeling displaced, she sees one of the blood weapons has detonated. But rather than a fountain of pink lemonade, it's full concentrate, and it's spewing from Soul's chest.

His crowbar clatters to the floor.

She doesn't hear his scream, doesn't feel the pain in her ears that is supposed to occur with something of that magnitude shattering the air, but she feels the vibration etch into her memory, carving with blunt knives in the section labeled 'sounds to haunt the rest of your life'.

She has no idea what happened, what did it, or why. She can't tell who is shouting, if she is even capable of hearing anything while simultaneously kneeling in Soul's blood and feeling the warmth through her jeans and washing through her hands as she tries to hold his chest together. There's flashes of lightning, maybe outside, maybe from Black Star's foot, maybe from fucking Harvey from beyond the grave, she doesn't know. She can't look away because Soul is torn.

She tries to parse what is happening under her hands, thinking of her father dying swaddled in leather jackets, of Harvey and his organ soup, and mostly of the color red and how Soul's eyes now match the rest of him. Though the gash is a gaping diagonal line from shoulder to hip, his hand only presses near his stomach, as if the rest of it doesn't exist. She watches a thought slam into his face, the 'this is how my brother felt' thought, and she wants to rip it from him lest he embrace what comes after it.

The air thuds with gunfire, swimming with the smell of blood and smoke, and there's a fucking zombie coming out between the broken doors, lunging for her, or probably Soul and the open-faced sandwich his chest has become, but it is struck down before Maka can even react. The walker is bashed by Marie, like just another piece of the door she has already demolished. The undead spins away, lurching into the darkness of the Titanic exhibit with the force of the woman's swing.

A thousand other things go wrong, from the cough-syrup gurgle of Soul's blood spilling over her fingers to the familiar whistle of a blade slicing through the white noise of chaos in her ears. Sid is cut down amongst the scattered, confused breathers, and Maka looks up in time to see two machete blades sticking out of the man's back like red-glazed wings before being retracted. As he falls, his attacker is revealed. Clothed in filthy black, a wraith weaves between them all, turning to Tsubaki and spying her violet eyes, passing crazed judgment and dashing at her with both blades raised.

It's a bird, she thinks, with outstretched talons. He or she or they, this anonymous one, attempts to rid the raid of the cured, of anything inhuman, and as Tsubaki attempts to block those claws with her rifle, Black Star shoots the bird from the sky.

She hears the wet suck of air as Soul attempts to breathe in the space between the moment the stranger hits the ground with a gunshot wound to the chest and the moment Sid stands back up.

Grayed sclera turn on Soul, and through the fang-barred mouth-windows of Sid's face Maka hears, "Late."

"Sid, you're-" Black Star says in the middle of reloading his gun, the first word spoken in relief and the other uttered in dread.

Maka finds herself standing, guarding her partner, Gran's knife slippery in her hand as she watches Sid's wounds from the murderer's infected weapons burn black around the edges. "Late," he moans again.

She holds the knife up in her left hand, towards Sid's face, seeing behind the red of his eyes and finding an emptiness that begs for freedom. The ghost in the major's body moves too quickly, eyes trained to the dance of Maka's blade. She knows she's in the way of a clean shot from the rest of the raid, and that Sid's military-grade neck is too much for her to even dream of slicing through, so she draws her gun, the long silencer barrel pointing at his chest.

She knows the turned can talk- usually in one or two-word sentences. She's no longer sure if what they say are their last words or something else. This time it sounds like an order, so she'll follow it. The ghost-killer sows two whispering fire-seeds.

He burns like the rest had, cringing as the body blazes a path to the deep sleep, but the zombie's momentum keeps him moving, crashing into her as he dies. She's slipping on blood, Soul's, Sid's, Soul's, Soul's, and she twists, knowing Soul is behind her, trying not to land on him. The result is awkward and painful, and she hears a loud crack of her skull hitting marble as Sid's heavy, twitching body crushes her.

If feels as if she's been hurled head-first from a mountain. A bird on the ground is an easy target. She needs to get up. She needs to get to Soul. She struggles to open her eyes, finding them blurry with tears as she searches for her partner. Maka spots him nearby, mouthing her name and reaching for her. No, not for her, she realizes, but an object that has rolled to him.

She can't figure out what it is, her vision too blurred with... not tears. It's blood. Hers. The earth shakes with a howl that fills all of Luxor, thirty stories of turned rousing from stasis overhead.

Shitstorm, her brain warns her. No exit. "Get the hell up!" Black Star snarls at her, or maybe Sid judging by that furious, regretful edge to his voice. He helps roll the body off her. The sickening thuds of kamikaze zombies falling off balconies increase in tempo, becoming a torrential downpour of plague.

Black Star hauls Maka to her feet, pulling her towards where Tsubaki is shouting things Maka can't hear over the thunder of undead. She doesn't hear whatever noise Soul makes, either, when Marie begins dragging him into the Titanic Exhibit, though she does see the color drain from his face.

She forces herself to believe that his soul is too strong to die. He won't die. He won't.

That's when a falling boulder of an undead man crashes behind her, smashing into the floor. She's brought down again, this time by Black Star with a shocked yelp. Maka dizzily sits up and discovers his prosthetic shattered by the still-moving zombie. The violent removal had twisted Black Star's stump of a knee somehow, and his teeth grit in irate pain.

Maka shoves herself under his arm and forces her legs to stand the both of them up, acting as his crutch. The world swirls with turbulence; she has to have a concussion. She'd like to pause the world and vomit, but it's her turn to be the flight attendant.

"Fuckin' DICKSAUCE," Black Star roars as they awkwardly hasten to the exhibit, the building the closest shelter they can hide under to avoid falling bodies. The artifacts and display cases rattle in the dark as the roof takes multiple hits.

"Shorty shorty go, shorty shorty go-" exclaims the darkness, and the raid takes a collective breath of surprise and horror- all but Soul. With Marie's arm's under his shoulders, he wears a fearsome and somewhat delirious grin, lit up by the countdown timer on a bomb held in his hands.

Marie shouts for Tsubaki, and Tsubaki, eyes wide as dinner plates, snatches the device from Soul. She tosses it down the line, Maka sloppily catching it in her free hand.

"'Scuse me little mama but you could say I'm on duty, I'm lookin' for a cutie, a real big o' ghetto booty-"

Maka stares at the weapon in her palm, and a frantic, panicked part of her tells her she's sharkbait.

"Shit shit shitshitshit," Black Star says too loudly near Maka's aching head, "Okay! Fuck yeah, goin' God-Mode." He grabs the bomb out of her hand, urging her to turn them around. Maka is used as leverage as Black Star grips her shoulder and hurls the bomb deep into the moaning shadows of the hotel. "Eat legend, bitches!"

Maka faintly sees silhouettes passing across the small glowing bomb in the distance, listening to the faint babble of Nicki Minaj. "Should we be running?"

Pitching arm still extended as he tries to keep balance on one leg, Black Star pants out, "Prolly-" and then the dead bird he'd killed, the murderous wraith that had tried to attack Tsubaki tackles them both in the doorway.

There are shouts of alarm swirling around her as she tangles in a melee of flailing limbs and a set of snapping fangs. Somewhere in the dark tangle, she hears Black Star's Beretta fire, but the undead body of Sid's murderer doesn't even flinch, straining to find flesh to devour.

It speaks little clips of syllables that she can't make sense of in the chaos, though for half a second she swears she hears the zombie say, "Ragnarok," like a lover's caress.

It occurs to Maka that the fire-seeds aren't working. She kicks frantically, trying to make room to rear her arm back to slice her knife across the zombie's neck, but she realizes her hand is very empty. She's weaponless, knife and gun lost under Sid, not even ten feet away. She curls her fingers into a fist at the last moment, going for a punch instead, but she is not lightning. She is a talon-less bird, and hadn't watched carefully enough.

The zombie's teeth close around her fist. She screams, but rather than pain it is all fury- fury with herself, fury with her uselessness because that is her knife hand, damn it, fury with this asshole civ they'd tried to rescue turning on them and Soul, this dick had cut Soul away from her. In a fit of madness, Maka shoves her hand further into the undead's mouth, letting it get a good taste of her last weapon.

It only gnashes its teeth harder, voice gurgling from lungs that are no longer required for function. Black Star, gun trapped beneath the zombie's torso, shouts orders. "Shoot it in the fuckin' head, it's immune!"

A gun Maka can't identify in the dark is shoved to the forehead of the undead, the noise it makes as it sets a jewel between the eyes made exponentially louder by the detonation of blood and Girl Talk outside the Titanic.

A woman so emaciated that she seems mummified by her own clothing leads them to a replica of Titanic's Grand Staircase. Her crank-powered flashlight makes Maka's head throb as she directs them to shut a set of flimsy double-doors.

Apart from occasional slam of a body hitting the ceiling, the room is fairly quiet save heavy breathing and the noises Soul makes posing as breathing. Marie leans him against a banister, carefully pulling apart his jacket and shirt. Maka kneels and reaches behind him, rummaging through his bag and pulling out weapon after weapon after weapon, searching for bandages or floss or anything useful.

"How did you not fucking pack any tape, you idiot!" she hisses, trying to get a grip on her panic.

"...Hindsight, twenty-twenty," he rasps.

"He needs a bullet, not a band-aid," says Miranda Nygus, holding her flashlight on Soul but sounding as if she'd rather be pointing her gun, instead. "I've shot my pastor and my intern in the past ten minutes- tell me again why I shouldn't shoot this one?"

Maka shakes in barely restrained anger, resisting a powerful reflex to whirl around and wrap her bare hands around the survivor's throat, but the glistening rip down Soul's chest is more important right now. Marie takes off her protective jacket and unabashedly hauls off her t-shirt before zipping her jacket back on. It's the closest thing anyone has to an uninfected bandage, and Soul bashes his head on the banister with a groan when it's pressed to his chest. Maka helps, applying pressure with her left hand.

"His blood's red," Black Star says, Tsubaki helping him to the stairs. "He's not one of them."

"His face says otherwise."

"'Part from th'gapin' chest wound, feel great," Soul grits out.

Tsubaki tries to explain. "He's been infected before, but he was cured."

Miranda fumbles for words. "...Prometheus?"

"No," Maka says. She wants to shout 'me, me, it was me,' but she knows she had nothing to do with it. She'd only been a vessel for a gift. "My blood," she says, voice hollow. She keeps her eyes away from the light. "My blood destroys the virus."

"Who are you people?"

"We're the fucking Resistance," Black Star spits angrily, the deaths of two (potentially three, with Soul) raiders pressing heavily on his shoulders. "You know, the people who risked everything to save some civs that weren't at the fucking safe point-"

"Fuck you, brat," the malnourished woman snaps back. "We waited for you and you never came."

"You don't know what waiting IS," he snarls. "D'you know whose blood is all over the walls in there? 'Cause I do-"

"Black Star," Tsubaki says firmly, kneeling next to Maka and examining Soul's chest. "We don't have time for this. We need to get him to Stein."

There's no warning, just a corpse falling through the ornate replicated ceiling of the Grand Staircase and landing five steps away from Black Star. There's a moment of stunned silence followed by curses and a scramble for firearms, but Maka feels curiously centered, her reaction as calm and thoughtless as breathing.

She takes the bitten hand she'd been keeping curled against her stomach, flinging dripping blood in the general direction of the zombie. She watches as her blood continues to be as potent as ever, Black Star and Miranda pointing their guns at the writhing undead.

Maka clenches her fingers. The bite doesn't burn like she'd expected. Instead, it throbs, a sickening ache travelling up her arm and swirling in her elbow. She feels the infection intimately, as if she knows the moment when another part of her DNA is rewritten.

She is becoming other, and she'd been worried her blood had lost its fire. It's still there, though, evidenced by the dying zombie on the stairs. It's just not a flame big enough for the infection that the other anomaly, that resistant undead, had given her.

She should probably tell them, but Soul is soaking Marie's shirt with crimson. Over the dying walker's moans, she asks Tsubaki, "Stein can fix him?"

One glance at ShadowStag and Maka knows that Tsubaki knows. Maybe her blood-flavor has changed. The woman gives her an intense look, but answers her question. "This is no worse than what I had. If we get there in time..." Her violet eyes say 'he can save you, too', but Maka knows it's impossible. If her own blood can't stop it, what could?

The flimsy double doors to the room shudder from the outside, being battered by undead that hadn't been taken by the explosion. Undiluted, Maka's blood is more appetizing to them than pink lemonade.

"Maka," Soul says, his hand wrapping around her injured one.

Sweat runs down her spine. "It doesn't hurt," she says, trying to keep her fingers from flexing in pain.

"And this's justa papercut," he struggles to get out, calling her bluff. His eyes are fixed on hers, and she wonders what color he sees, now. Green like the trees? Or red like his chest?

Black Star breaks radio silence, calling for assistance, but the response is garbled.

"We just need to make it to the truck," Marie says, which is easier said than done. They have an emaciated woman, a man nearly cleaved in two, and a caffeine-deprived god missing a foot. Soul would need two people to get anywhere in a hurry, and Black Star another for a crutch. That left one person to act as cover fire.

Or a distraction.

Tsubaki seems to reach the same conclusion as Maka, and she stands, checking her rifle. "I'll distract them," she states, the scars emphasized on her paling skin belying the fearless tone of voice. She's ex-brace-face in a warrior suit.

Maka doesn't look away from Soul to see what face Black Star makes when he demands in a thick voice, "No."

"I'll toss out some bombs, give you cover fire. I'm the best 'gunslinger', you know it," she says, flashing her perfect teeth.

"I'm not gonna leave you here again, Tsu."

Maka runs her tongue over her aching fangs. Maybe it's time to go to her own closet, she muses. Is she feverish already, or is she simply accepting fate? When she gives Soul an emotionless expression, he sees straight through it, hand squeezing hers fiercely as he shakes his head.

What had that zombie said? Ragnarok. She knows her myths and legends. Ragnarok had been an apocalypse in its own right, one that destroyed gods and flooded the earth. The double doors bang more violently, and Marie hurries to them to brace them with her weight.

"I'll go," she says, though only Soul hears her. His face contorts, anguished. He takes a deep breath to change her mind, but the action only makes him bite back a groan she's already heard too many times, before. Maka stands, looking down at his betrayed face. "I'll go," she says more firmly, over Black Star's loud arguing and the slamming of the doors.

"You can't go," Tsubaki says, helping Marie. "You need to see Stein."

Marie and Black Star both say, "What," in flat unison.

"The bombs will kill what they hit, but I'm bleeding. They won't lure them like I will." Maka adds in a voice only Soul can hear, "I'm full concentrate."

Maka turns to face them, finally letting light glint off the side of her face, and she assumes she must have changed a lot, already. She can see them all clearly, even when Miranda's flashlight is pointed directly at her instead of them.

"You're immune," Black Star insists, but he doesn't sound convinced, eyes fixated on her teeth.

"So was that walker," she replies blandly. She thinks more of the infection mutates in her chest, and she swallows a sick taste that reminds her of the short days she'd had with Soul in the valley. Maka holds up her bitten hand. "I'm a weapon. My timer's already ticking."

She exchanges a heavy look with Black Star, and he stares back, eyebrows furrowed. She hears the wet suck of air as Soul tries to breathe, and wills for a decision to be made quickly. Looking like every choice he's ever made has backfired on him exponentially, supernova disasters leaving scars so embedded that he never wants to sleep at night, he takes a wire from his collar, pulling a radio off his belt.

"You're up, Sharkbait," he says, because birds are meant for the sky, just like stars. "If you die, Imma punch you in your ugly face."

Tsubaki and Marie give her an unwilling boost to the hole in the ceiling. It feels like the library all over again as she pulls herself through it, and Soul must feel it too. He calls, voice hoarse and pained and desperate as she flings more of her gift on the zombies still on the roof.

"Wait for me," he demands. "I'll bring Prometheus t'you."

She looks down through the hole, gazing at his face. He's lucky, Harvey had told her. He'll live, she's sure of it. She'll fix everything. She doesn't want a world without him in it, so she'll do the Grim Reaper job and keep her promises.

She doesn't need Prometheus. Mount Olympus has already given her everything they have.

"Wait for me, Maka," he insists, carmine eyes shining like stars with her hunter's sight.

Maka smiles, because she knows that's his favorite part of her. It's full of fangs now, but she knows it doesn't bother him- he always accepted her for what she is. She moves away. She won't make promises she can't keep.

As she flies off the black glass of the Titanic exhibit's roof, she tries to recall, midair, the name of what it is people do when they jump buildings and scale walls without stopping.

Parkour, her brain supplies as she free-falls, steadily approaching the roof of the nearby Bodies exhibit.

She does not parkour. She crashes through cheap plaster that she did not anticipate, landing gut-first on a support beam before sliding off, wind knocked out of her lungs. Her canvas bag catches on a ventilation duct and violently halts her descent for a split-second before releasing her in a gasping heap on the floor between segmented human statues. She groans, Black Star's radio digging into her hip.

Maka stumbles to her feet, flinging blood on walkers that had fallen through the exhibit. Pain washes over her in peculiar cycles, and as she tries to get through one moment feeling human with a concussion, mutilated hand, and probably some bruised ribs, she stumbles into the next moment feeling like something else, straining to make full use of her pathetic body and burning to complete the transformation to breathless eternity.

Her internal timer is ticking, but she doesn't know how much time she's been allotted, so she bursts through the building's exit and into Luxor's atrium, curving around the exhibit to find Sid's body.

She takes his short shotgun, her nerves screaming every millisecond she spends to find his extra shells. She looks longingly at her knife, still discarded on the floor with that stupid ghost-killer pistol, but she doesn't take it with her. She won't be able to use it left-handed anyway, as her right isn't exactly responding very well anymore. She apologizes to Gran or Old Crone or the combination of the two as she leaves the blade behind, offering the knowledge that if anyone would take good care of it, it would have been Sid.

Maka only manages to reload three rounds into the gun while she darts around zombies before she can't devote any more time to it. She fires once, straight into a gaggle of them, using the noise to draw more attention to herself. Glancing back at the Titanic exhibit, she's startled to be re-reminded that she can see so far in the dark. Multiple sets of red eyes glint back at her, homing in on her movement.

She brings her hand to the microphone on her shirt collar, depressing the button. "I'm headed to the lobby doors," she says as she hurdles over the withering mass of twice-dying she'd shot. The world swirls in warning, her body insisting she's human and is pushing herself too much, but she pushes through that, too.

There's no response from Tsubaki, and as Maka dodges what remains of a crash-landed razor-child, her eyes catch the fluttering end of a dark wire hanging from her shirt. It had severed when she'd plummeted through the Bodies exhibit. Of course.

She could pull the radio off her hip and talk into it directly, but she has her hands full of gun and has a wall of undead to blast through. What the scattering shot doesn't hit, she shares her blood with as she runs by. Here's her chance to see if drinking all that damned Tang has paid off.

She soars past souvenir shops and withered, indoor palm trees. She tries to call on old memories of being on the track and field team when she was in school, focusing on endurance running, on her breathing, on her stride, on reaching that gliding, effortless euphoria of a second-wind that lets her keep running damn near forever. Maka rounds a seated Anubis statue as she crunches across the broken glass doors of Luxor's entrance, heading for the parked truck that Marie, Tsubaki, and Soul had arrived in.

Attempting to keep her blood from dripping near the escape vehicle, she makes sure she catches the attention of anything not breathing nearby before purposefully running headlong into the strong winds whipping around the pyramid.

"Maka, are you there?" Oh, right. She tries to clear her throat as she runs and pants, realizing the strain of activity is only accelerating the spread of infection in her blood. She pulls the radio from her belt and hurriedly glances for the push-to-talk button, turning the southeast corner of Luxor.

She finds dozens of undead waiting idly, and she swears loudly into the radio as she skids on gravel and tries to circle around them. Many of the turned have already locked on to her, eagerly desiring their own poison. It's hard to fling her blood when she's holding a gun in her hand, so she shoves the plastic antenna of the radio between her teeth and bashes the closest walker in the head with the butt-end of the shotgun, dodging around a tall palm tree and stumbling to a side street.

Maka urges her legs to go faster, feeling the burn of adrenaline or infection or both pulsing through her body. Trees sway chaotically in the wind, the storm that had been grumbling above Vegas the past day picking up strength. She outdistances the mob, darting between abandoned cars and trying the radio again.

"I'm good," she gasps as her boots eat pavement, following the road. "Gonna lose me through-" she breathes, "a parking garage-"

As she follows the road through a tunnel-like building, she slows down, not wanting to completely outrun the growing horde following her, letting the storm's winds funnel the scent of her blood behind her. Halfway through the tunnel, she fires her last shot, hoping the deafening noise is amplified as well by the parking garage. Maka trots out the other side, shoving the short shotgun under an arm and kicking away a zombie that tries to rush her after appearing from behind a square support pillar.

She looks over her shoulder and sees an ocean of white hair flowing into the tunnel. She talks into the radio again, hoping she's still in range. "Go now! Probably your best chance!"

"We can pick you up," comes a staticy reply, this time in Black Star's voice, but Maka keeps running, adding more and more undead to her marathon. She imagines the van turning over, transposes the van with the truck, and pictures Soul's pale, pale face.

"You really can't," she haggardly assures him, peeling off the road and stumbling through a stretch of volcanic gravel to avoid taking an on-ramp to the highway. She cuts across a small parking lot, clenching her bitten hand to keep the blood from clotting. She punches a bulbous, fat walker in the head as she trots past. "Get to the dam!" she pleads, turning south on a winding road and letting the cross-breeze lure everything from The Strip to the east.

She doesn't understand the next reply. Suddenly, the pavement lurches beneath her, the shotgun clattering to the ground, and she's abruptly on her knees, vomiting and gasping for breath between heaves. The abyss stares back at her, formed from her body with stomach bile and other, puddling on the road. Maka coughs and scrambles to her feet, choking and blinking back tears. The time she'd lost allows the mob to close in behind her, so she shoves her hand into her bag, grabs the first thing that collides into her palm, and hurls it behind her.

The tiny baby food jar shatters, pink lemonade forming a liquid barrier that stalls any bare-footed turned that crosses it. Tsugumi's gift starts a traffic pile-up that buys Maka just enough time to stumble back into a sloppy jog, her runner's rhythm completely destroyed. Her heart pounds in her aching head, her side painfully cramping.

The road begins to slowly point southeast, and as she tries to get back into anything resembling a run, the wind buffets her so violently that she nearly topples over. The storm is too loud, and she can't hear the mob behind her, the chill silence of hundreds of undead the worst part of the entire nightmare. There's no panting, no catching of breath as they chase their prey, and it's eerie to be surrounded by so many of them while she's the only one struggling to keep her lungs working and her eyes blacking out from tunnel-vision.

"-sus Christ," says the radio, and she realizes she must be back in range, the raid driving down The Strip. "Dunno if you can hear me, Sharkbait, but they're comin' for you." Black Star narrates as he catches his breath from what Maka imagines must have been a very long one-legged exit from Luxor to the truck. "They don't give a damn about us."

She's so happy that she cries, her throat filling up with infection and tears and anguish. She pushes herself harder. Pain is nothing. It takes ten thousand years to run past the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and the last few meters of the building gives birth to more undead that clamber up concrete stairs to meet her. She makes a tired cross between a sob and a roar as she flees them, trying not to give in to the encroaching feelings of doom as hundreds more flow down the street lining the south side of the building.

The horde is forced to mash tightly together as she hurls herself beneath an overpass, each breath a desperate, gasping wheeze as she forces herself to lengthen her stride. She's dizzy and spent and there's no second-wind coming for her. "Soul!" she wails into the radio when she comes out the other side of the bridge.

She's not going to last much longer. She's not resistant like the others. She's only Maka, ninety-nine percent immune and zero percent immortal with a shitty taste in music. She's human and other, a ticking time bomb who'd made the choice between running for cover or buying some time. She screams for him again, wanting to know his voice before she forgets her name, unwilling to die alone.

"Maka." He's all she has left in the world. "Maka, it's not forfeit," he slurs, sounding so weak and tired. "You're not forfeit, love you, please-"

Her throat is closing up, air whistling through her mouth, but she'll keep running until her body turns back to clay, Soul's voice urging her to live as it breaks into static.

"Look in every fuckin' tree til I find you-"

She'll be dead or dead by then, but okay. Okay. She can do that, she can do that for him- even the wind is helping her across the road and into a desert of gravel and gray mounds of dirt. She sees swaying in the distance, an oasis of grass and palms and green, green like the trees, lightning forking overhead in boiling, colorless clouds.

She realizes she can't hear Soul anymore, the raid out of range, and she prays to everything that still breathes in this broken reality that they make it back to Mount Olympus. Maka coughs up black blood, but doesn't stop, doesn't look back, just keeps bee-lining for an overgrown golf course in the middle of death and nowhere.

She doesn't remember climbing the chain-link fence, merely finds herself plummeting off the other side, slamming into lush grass and pointy weeds, and she stares at the stormy sky, swallowing down bile and dark nebulae.

Her zombie fanclub is colliding into the fence, the sheer mass of them already bending the posts, so Maka rolls to her hands and knees, blundering away. It takes every ounce of humanity left in her to force herself to the nearest tree that has branches and isn't a fucking palm, which involves trekking across a long, jungle-like fairway that she donates several ounces of liquid other to as she crosses.

She barely makes it into a tree, fingernails breaking against bark as the branches sway dizzily in the wind. Sharp twigs and leaves cut into her face, but they are soft kisses compared to the exhaustion and ache that make up her body.

Maka wishes desperately for sleep, but knows that it will never come for her until Soul finds her and Black Star punches her in the face with a bullet. Maybe they'll bury her by Wes and Harvey.

All around her, the Ragnarok tide of turned washes in around her tree, making swirls and eddies of rot and snowy sea foam. Good. The reaper is late, and she is going to fill the position while she still has some time left. She lets the flood gather around.

It smells like rain, she thinks idly. She shuffles across the branch, feeling more like a slug than any kind of bird, and straddles it, slowly pawing through her bag in a hazy fog posing as conscious thought. She finds what she's looking for: a mass of hammered metal and tangled tubes and wires.

Full concentrate. She holds Soul's Grim Reaper in her hands, like a weird, morbid offspring of the two of them. She tucks it into the crook of one arm and waits for the rain.

The tree sways, thunder booming in waves overhead. She knows they're out of range, but she begins talking into the radio anyway, to maybe remember what it's like to have a conversation while she still can.

She tries to thank everyone, like Tsubaki for being kind when she had no obligation. Kindness is rare and human, and that can't be hidden behind scars. She thanks Kid for trying to be her voice, for trying to make her look more human to the humans. She thanks his 'sisters' for teaching her how to shoot a gun, even though she'd threatened to kill one of them- they might have been friends in another life.

She asks Marie to protect Prometheus.

She thanks Stein for trying to save humanity even if it didn't appreciate his efforts. His first cured- his Frankenstein's monster- might have been her first friend at Hoover Dam, and she apologizes for shooting him. She apologizes to Sid for many more things, and she hopes the last thing she does will help start the paradise he'd been fighting for.

She informs Black Star that he's a fucking baller jackass and she kind of wishes she'd had a brother like him.

She talks to them all, to Tsugumi, to Harvey, to Jacqueline. Sorry her hair is too short. Sorry she didn't get fat. Sorry she's an idiot- if her fire had burned half as brightly as Jacks, she might've lived a little longer.

By then, her voice is a hoarse rasp, blending in with the thrashing winds. She whispers for her father, for not knowing she could have kept him from blowing his smile away. She whispers for her mother, for the name she'd given her, for the hope that, wherever she may be, she is at least able to sleep peacefully. She whispers for Gran, for the guide that had haunted her through the woods, for the story she'll write for her in red.

She whispers for Soul. She loves him. She'd go through it all over again, too, just to know him for a little while. She admits, as she sees the steadily-approaching abyss that she imagines so many others had fallen into, that she might be afraid of heights, too.

Rain begins to fall in a scattering of warm droplets. Feverish and delirious, Maka shivers, gazing at the Sea. For a moment, she hallucinates, and the crawling mess of undead stretching all around her morphs into a city of bright lights. She sees the glowing, breathing anomalies in each of the turned, souls glittering like stars.

She holds the weapon in her bad hand, using the other to twist the two oddly-shaped halves until it can't twist any further. A small timer displays a blinking '25', counting down in seconds. Maka blinks, staring at the bomb. The tubes and wires, now untwisted, align symmetrically, spreading out in graceful lines on either side of a small, delicately crafted body.

It's a little sparrow.

At four seconds remaining, she gathers all the hopes and dreams she has and sets them all free with a vicious hurl to the clouds.

The sky screams and rains blood as the Grim Reaper harvests the field of souls, sending them to the deep sleep. Fat drops of rain and red slide off leaves from overhead, and she hears the trees swaying and creaking, claiming her as theirs.

She hangs on to the dancing branches, heart burning her body to ash as she tries to keep her name. She knows what it means, now: a story that has no words to define it because myths are written after the fact. It's a mirror of old legends; a redreaming. There's something in her, a double-edged blade to unleash upon the immortal man, hope and death made into one.

At the bottom of Pandora's urn is 'Maka'.

Old hands pull her from a boiling red river. She's guided by the elbow to take a long rest. Someone smiles warmly at her, and tucks her in.

At first, she thinks it's birdsong. She thinks maybe she's become one of them, soaring the skies away from the big cities.

But when she opens her eyes, struggling to comprehend what she's looking at, she begins to realize it's not a bird singing, but a girl quietly humming. Tsugumi picks snowy threads from a hairbrush, airily imitating Billy Joel singing 'la la la di dee da'. The girl's accompaniment is a pair of duct-taped headphones with over-sized cans, softly playing a faint Piano Man from Maka's phone.

Then she sees Black Star passed out in his wheelchair, neon blue hair faded to pastel with brown roots. Even asleep he kind of looks like a jackass.

She learns Liz and Patti 'we don't give a shit about your survivors' Thompson had found her. Their raid team had heard her on the radio.

"Kid made contact," Prometheus tells her while Miranda Nygus helps her put on socks (socks, when had the found socks?) because Maka's fingers are too weak to pull them over her heels. "His father was the chief of staff of Japan's airspace defense," he says boredly, scrolling through what she's pretty sure is some kind of e-reader tablet. "They're fitting planes with the boys' fumigator designs."

The boys. Plural. "Soul," she wheezes, throat feeling orange with rust.

He doesn't even look up from his tablet. "He's fine. He's the reason you're alive." Stein frowns for a moment. "I suppose you're also the reason he's alive, as much as I'd enjoy throttling you both."

The doctor paints her a monotone story in which Soul had arrived at Hoover Dam on the doorstep of death, curiously untainted with infection though he'd been attacked by the same weapons that had turned Sid. A secret had slept in his blood, a fluke combination of his strong resistance and Maka's cure. The answer had been him all along.

Stein made a new formula based from Soul. "It still takes several days to complete, but I'm working the kinks out of it," he says, taking off his glasses and looking at her with his quicksilver eyes. "You're the first patient."

In the mirror Nygus holds for her, forest green squints back with normal pupils. Maka notes her two-tone hair is in short little pigtails, tarnished blonde ending in snow.

He apologizes that an electric car isn't as cool as a motorcycle, but she sticks her arm out the window as he drives and she feels like she's flying. He takes her to grass and trees. The reclaimed park is one of the first public zombie-free zones that had been established while she had slept. It still kind of smells like diluted blood, but she doesn't care.

"Stein thinks the shot would change me back," he starts casually, toeing off his sneakers as he reclines in the grass.

Maka feels roots under her hands, letting the bark gently shape patterns into her palms. "It doesn't matter," she says.

Soul wears the kind smirk he only has for her. "Mm. That's what I told him, too."

Carefully, because she's a little atrophic and his chest is still tender, she brings him close and kisses him. "I love you," she says, voice flat, but he's been able to hear her heart singing for a long time, already. "I'm so glad I met you." Soul holds her face in his larger hands and tastes her.

It doesn't matter what he looks like. She could recognize him in any color, in any shape, because what matters is the soul. There are millions more to free to the deep sleep, but they can do it together, with the help of everyone. She knows without a doubt that lightning had carefully struck them in that tree.

In the fourth year, Maka Albarn sips pickle juice and frowns at her phone, watching the Twitter feed get spammed with BlackStar's disgusting rap sonnets to ShadowStag. Soul places giant headphones over her distended stomach, determined to start a new generation with a decent taste in music.




Marsh: Thanks to every one of you who have supported me while writing this, either silently or otherwise. Thank you for all the wonderful, inspiring reviews and beautiful fanart. I want to give special thanks to Lueur for starting me on the whole Prometheus gravy train, and to VictoriaPyrrhi for being there every ridiculous step of the way even though I was a whiny recluse the entire time.

...Also thanks to Google Maps for putting up with my constant zooming in on the streets of Vegas and Hoover Dam and never asking why I wanted to look at the shittiest places in town from every angle imaginable.