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And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

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- - timeausTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 18:12 - -

TT: The crowd waits with bated breath for the hero's return. Was she victorious? Did she win the fair maiden's heart?
TT: So, did you finally stop chickening out and ask her yet?
TT: Roxy.
TT: Are you there?
TG: why dirk
TG: i got no idea what youre talking about
TG: *whistles innocently
TT: Cut the crap Lalonde. Did you propose to your girlfriend or not? I have to know now for the sake of important research.
TG: impotant research my ass
TG: *important
TG: actually frist time was right
TG: you just wanna get all up in my business so you can gossip w/ all your ladyfriends
TG: just call everyone over and do nails and have plillow fights in skimpy clothing
TG: dont worry girls I wont cop a feel
TT: While nails and pillow fights do have their appeal, I am far less interested in what those ladies are wearing and what you're wearing on your ring finger.
TT: Spill it.
TG: course youre not intrested in those ladies
TG: much rather have a sleepover w/ one mr english
TG: *wonk*
TT: You haven't done it yet, have you?
TT: You have once again failed to find the courage to do this one simple task.
TT: The two of you have been together for five goddamn years, Roxy!
TT: What do you think she'll say, “No, it turns out I was lying about liking you this whole time”?
TG: its not like that dirk and you know it
TG: since you gotta look after her bro all the time
TT: Allow me to clarify one thing. Caliborn and I are not in a relationship. Nobody is in a relationship with Caliborn. The only relationship Caliborn will likely ever have is an intimate history with his dentist.
TG: god you still havent weaned him off sugar?
TG: callie got her act 2gether before the end of her fsist year
TG: *first gogdammnit
TT: You talk about him as though he is an infant. He's a grown man who can make his own decisions, albeit poor ones. And honestly, he's grown up quite a bit recently.
TT: But enough about him.
TT: Why haven't you asked yet?
TG: k you gotta keep this secret
TT: My lips are locked. The key is lost. You know I'm trustworthy, Roxy.
TG: the problem is her feels as an ex-cherub are hard 2 figure out
TG: I dunno if she even knows what her feelins are since she originally wasnt capable of em
TT: So you don't want to force her into a social contract she can't escape? You know she has the ability to say no, right?
TG: yeah but she wont
TG: she wont wanna hurt my feelings so shell say yes
TG: thats the problem
TG: i kinda bought the ring on impulse w/o thinkin what it meant
TT: Calliope is a grown woman, Roxy. She has lived in this world for ten years now; she's not as naïve as she used to be.
TT: She has enough willpower to say “no”, and is aware of what marriage means. You know this.
TT: So what is the real issue here? I don't think you're really worried that Calliope isn't ready.
TG: goddammit dirk
TG: do your shades do x-ray vision or somethin?
TG: i cant hide anything from you
TG: jeez
TT: I can sense this conversation coming to a point. Will you tell me what's wrong already?
TG: fine
TG: heres what im worried about
TG: why teh fuck would i ever think for even a single goddamn minute that im marrage material?
TG: like what have i done that proves i can be even remotely dmomestic?
TT: Are you serious, Roxy?
TT: As I said before, the two of you have lived together for five years. You possess a little brick house in a quaint, Washington DC suburb. You guys don't even need a chores list because you're so used to the mundane routine. Rose told me she saw you downtown yesterday walking down the street together holding hands and making eyes at each other! When's the last time you've even gone out partying?
TG: ...well...
TG: like, a year ago?
TG: and she came w/ me
TT: Do you see what I'm saying? I don't think the wild lifestyle is quite as important to you as you think it is.
TG: look dirk
TG: i have the domestic ablilities of a water buffalo
TG: im gonna screw up
TG: i know it
TT: Of course you are. Marriage takes work. It won't be perfect right away, but you'll get the hang of it. I know for a fact that the two of you love each other enough that you won't leave when things get rough.
TT: You've fought before, correct? Yet you've still managed to stay together?
TT: I'd say that's a pretty damn good sign that you'll keep doing that even if you screw up.
TG: well...
TT: Don't bother arguing with me, Roxy. You know I'm correct.
TG: heh heh
TT: What?
TG: how do you even know this shit?
TG: youre a prepetual bachelor and the only guy youre interested in is off in the pacific islands
TT: Do not try to argue with a Heart player regarding relationship issues. On top of that, someone in my household watches a lot of marriage counseling shows, and I pick up on things.
TG: rly?
TG: who?
TT: I'll just leave that up to your imagination.
TG: hahahahahahah! oh shit!
TG: I cant believe this
TG: waitll I tell callie!
TT: Oh, she already knows. You don't live with him for a long time without knowing.
TG: ahahahah! k dirk i gotta go
TG: need 2 get some air
TG: also gfs burnin dinner
TT: Best of luck, Roxy.
TG: thx, dirk
TG: you really are teh best

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Roxy quickly set her Pesterchum status to “idle” as the scent of burnt steak began to permeate the living room. She figured she had better get to the kitchen before all that was left was a pair of charcoal briquettes.

Standing in the doorway, Roxy peeked in at her girlfriend. The former Cherub was stooped over the stove, frantically attempting to fan away the smoke wafting from the unfortunate cuts of meat.

“Callie, do you need some help, babe?”

Calliope jumped, knocking a nearby pot off the counter with a resounding clang as she twirled to face Roxy.

“Ah, no worries, love! Everything is under control here. Just ducky!”

Roxy always found Callie's faux-British mannerisms adorable, and this time was no exception.
Trying to hide her grin, Roxy replied, “Then where's all this smoke comin' from?”

Calliope looked at the blackened steaks, then back at Roxy. She sighed. “Very well, perhaps I could use some assistance, if it is not too much trouble. I can simply never figure out how to time it so that it comes out well-done as opposed to extra-crispy. Being a Cherub was easier when it came to food; raw meat didn't take much time to prepare!”

Roxy giggled. After the game, everyone had been revived by a man who called himself “The Narrator”. Then they were placed into a new reality, which seemed to be a near replica of Universe B1. The aliens also received human bodies in order to fit in. Easier said than done. The Cherubs had massive difficulties adjusting to human food. Neither of them had initially seemed to figure out that raw meat could make humans sick, or that too much sugar was unhealthy. Of course, after the first outrageous dentist bills and a couple nights kneeling before the porcelain throne due to food poisoning, Calliope had shaped up her act. She still struggled with cooking, though.

“Here,” said Roxy, pushing past the flustered woman and pulling the oven open. “It looks like it's done, anyway.” It was a little burned (okay, a lot burned), but the meat was still edible. After getting together their side dishes, mashed potatoes and salad, they settled down at the table to eat together.

A few minutes passed in uncharacteristic silence. Roxy was thinking deeply about their future. What was she really afraid of, anyway? Maybe she was scared that she wasn't ready for this. While Dirk may have been correct in his assessment that partying wasn't as important to her as being with Calliope, that didn't mean she'd be a good wife. Her B1 counterpart settled into the domestic life when she adopted Rose, but she didn't exactly win any “Mom of the Year” awards. Would she be able to handle it?

Great, now she sounded like Rose, psychoanalyzing herself. It would be fine. She'd been with Calliope for five years now, and she couldn't imagine surviving without her. Being married wouldn't be all that different from the way things were now, right? Just day-to-day life with a ring.

“Roxy? Is something troubling you, love?” Calliope suddenly broke the silence.

“Oh. I'm fine,” replied Roxy. Thinking quickly, she added, “I was just thinkin' of somethin' Dirk said today. Did you know your bro watches marriage counseling shows for fun?”

Calliope rolled her eyes. Any mention of her brother tended to have that effect. “I know. He does so for entirely the wrong reasons. It's part of his uncanny fetish for red romance or some such codswallop.”

“Oh? I thought it was totes hilarious!” Roxy said enthusiastically.

Calliope grinned, but said nothing, simply returning to her attempts to saw off an edible size chunk of meat. Using the pause to her advantage, Roxy decided she should at least ask Callie her opinion on this. No point beating around the bush.

“Callie, I got a question.”

“Hmm? What is it, Roxy?”

“What would you think about--”

A sudden, shrill noise echoed through the room, cutting Roxy off mid-sentence. At first she thought it was the fire alarm, but then she realized it was coming from outside the house. An air raid siren.

The two women looked at each other speechlessly for a moment, all previous conversation forgotten. Then Calliope spoke.

“What in blazes is that sound? A siren?”

“For air raids,” Roxy responded absently as she ran to the living room and rifled around for the remote. Momentarily she emerged from beneath the sofa, device held triumphantly in her hand. She plopped herself down on the cushions and flicked the TV on. Calliope settled tensely beside her.

“--hospital. Police have surrounded the building as a result of what appears to be some kind of riot.” The well-groomed and official looking woman on screen spoke into a microphone facing the camera. In the background, several blocks away, a building fueled a towering inferno. Strange, greenish-gray smoke billowed upward as hundreds of tiny figures dashed to and fro at its base. Flashing blue and red lights ringed the scene as police and firefighters fought valiantly against the flames.

As though sensing what the viewer was thinking, the camera zoomed steadily inward toward the chaos. It focused on a smaller group of rioters. Something seemed off about them. A police officer unloaded clip after clip into the crowd, but the presumed criminals showed no fear. As their fellows succumbed, more simply stumbled over top of them to take their place.

The camera shifted to another group of distant combatants. Police were running around frantically when a huge, hulking creature came charging out from behind a fire truck. What was it? A man? It looked more like an enormous gorilla. The officers absconded behind a cruiser, likely waiting for backup.

They needn't have bothered. The monstrous creature grabbed the bottom of the vehicle and, with little difficulty, lifted it bodily over its head. Frightened officers sprinted away but did not get far as the beast hurled their cruiser. It crushed them where they stood.

Roxy could hear the cameraman swear just as she also heard Calliope gasp. Turning, she noticed that her lover had her hands plastered over her eyes. Callie shook slightly.

Roxy inched over to her cowering girlfriend and gently slid an arm around her.

“Shh... it's alright. It's all gonna be fine Callie, you'll see”, Roxy whispered, not really sure if she was trying to convince her lover or herself.

“I... it's dreadful, Roxy! What's happening over there?” the former Cherub sobbed behind her hands.

“I dunno, babe, but if you stick with me, you'll be safe, 'kay?”

Calliope did not answer, instead opting to bury her head in Roxy's shoulder.

The TV droned on: “-- you, Linda. The police have offered a notice that no citizens are to leave their homes during this crisis under penalty of law. What's more, the city is closed off until further notice.”

Roxy sighed. So much for suggesting a proposal tonight. Instead she simply held Callie closer as she replayed in her head the image of the strange creature, and the destruction it wrought.

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- - timeausTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 19:03 - -

TT: Roxy!
TT: Are you there? Answer me!
TG: im here
TG: jegus no need 2 get pushy
TT: I just found out there is a riot occurring a few miles from you, and you're calling me pushy for worrying?
TG: wait you found out that quick?
TG: reporters are fast
TG: like a fast food restaurant that serves news
TG: hello miss id like a lrge lifestyle page w/ a side of sports
TG: would u leik a horoscope with that?
TT: Roxy I am fucking serious. The same thing is happening in cities all over the country. John told me a hospital in LA is under attack, too.
TG: wait what?
TG: this isnt just a washington dc thing?
TT: No, there's coverage across the nation.
TG: fuck
TG: okay do you have any idea whats goin on?
TT: Well, we appear to be under attack by large groups of ravening hospital patients, many of whom do not seem to be affected by pain. What do you think is going on?
TG: hopy shiit
TG: ur sayin its a zombie apopcalypse
TG: *aplopcalypse
TG: *apocalpypse
TG: fuck it
TG: is it the end of the world again or not?
TT: It's too early to tell for certain. All I know is that we should get ready, 'cause shit's about to get real.
TT: Not that we aren't familiar with apocalyptic scenarios or anything, but we should still be careful.
TT: Please take care, Roxy.
TG: dont worry bout me dirk
TG: imma zombie survival specialist
TG: me and callie will both b fine
TG: trust me
TT: I don't know if your hubris makes me feel better or worse. Anyway, keep me updated. I'll be online all night.
TG: k man
TG: oh and dirk
TT: Yeah?
TG: thx 4 bein such a good friend all the time
TT: Don't mention it.

- - timeausTestified [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 19:13 - -

- - tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 18:59 - -

TT: It appears we are currently being inundated with hordes of the undead.
TT: Even as a Seer of Light, I could not say I would have ever predicted this.
TT: A response would be very welcome right now, Roxy.
TT: Oh, you're talking to Dirk, aren't you? The wheels of moirallegience turn ceaselessly, I suppose. Perhaps when we get a chance we can discuss the wisdom of assigning Troll names to human relationships.
- - tentacleTherapist [TT] is now an idle chum! - -
TG: holy shit rose
TG: no one cares about that
TG: theres chaos in teh streets and all you can do is babble on about intnterspecies relationships
TG: like if freud took a course in how to be even more obnoxious than he already was
TT: I resent your derision of the founder of psychology. Freud had many inventive ideas, even if he was completely insane.
TT: That isn't what I wanted to talk to you about, though. How are things on your side of town?
TG: p calm over here cept for all the sirens and ambulances comin by
TG: gotta say this was a surprise
TG: were both pretty shaken up
TG: you?
TT: Things in the Maryam-Lalonde household remain normal.
TG: thats good to hear
TG: hows kanaya takin it?
TT: She is quite irate at the government's irresponsible management of a zombie outbreak, and is currently on the phone to the chief of police attempting to give pointers.
TG: haha
TG: why r they even listenin to a random lady givin zmombie pointers?
TT: They are not; they have her on hold. I do not plan to interrupt her campaign. It is often best to allow Kanaya her space to fret.
TT: Anyway, let's get to the crux of this conversation, shall we?
TT: I have a proposition for you.
TG: oh?
TG: is is a prpositopn I cant refuse?
TT: Feel free to refuse if you wish. All I ask is that if things get out of hand, you and Calliope come to our apartment for refuge. It is advantageously situated high above the chaos.
TG: but nobodys allowed 2 leave their houses
TT: This is only for a worst-case scenario. Should the police and military fall, we are more likely to survive together than apart. Jade is already contacting the Mayor and PM to make the same arrangements.
TG: oh w/ everythin thats hapenin I forgot jade was visitin you guys
TG: yeah if things get outta hand well go over there
TG: assuming we can even get there
TG: you know how apocalypses can be
TT: Indeed. Chaos is omnipresent. So long as we stay in touch, everything should be fine. We've survived worse.
TG: yeah i was tellin dirk not 2 worry
TG: but hes frettin like a mom on her kids first day of knindergarden
TG: *kindergarten
TG: tyin me to his apron strings and spittin on a towel to clean applesauce off my face
TT: Would you say you are attracted to him as a friend because of his mothering behavior? You lacked a parental figure in your youth, so it makes sense that you would seek a substitute.
TG: nope
TG: were not goin down this road
TG: u can tlak 2 him bout it
TG: i got other things to do
TT: Of course. There is a probable apocalypse going on after all.
TT: But Roxy, please be careful
TG: fuck not u too
TG: k mom ill be safe
TT: Good. Don't forget to wear a jacket when you go out, and be sure to stay in touch.
TG: k later

- - tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 19:13 - -

Chapter Text

“Alright, that's it!” shouted Roxy, pounding the coffee table with one of her fists. Calliope, who was already jumpy under the circumstances, nearly dropped her lit match onto the carpet. Thankfully she righted it before it could do any damage, quickly lit the candle, and blew the match out.

“What's the matter, Roxy?” asked Calliope.

“What isn't the matter?” Roxy groused. “We've been stuck in the house for a week now, we got no power or water, we're runnin' out of food, and the walking dead are knocking down our door. It's been too long. We gotta do somethin'.”

“Something such as?” Calliope prompted gently.

“We gotta go to Rose's place.”

Calliope's eyes widened. “We can't do that! The military hasn't given us the all clear!”

“In case you haven't noticed,” said Roxy, looking out the bay window pensively, “Not a single soldier or cop's passed by this place since yesterday. Usually they're here all the time. I think they've abandoned us.”

“What?” Callie cried incredulously. “Why would they do such a monstrous thing?”

“Because they've lost the city.” Roxy turned to look at her girlfriend gravely. “They can't risk any more casualties, and they're needed elsewhere. We're gonna hafta go it alone.”

“Are you sure about this?” Calliope hugged herself tightly, not a fan of where this was going.

“Yeah.”

“We have to go right now?”

“Yep. It's broad daylight, so the zombies are the most docile they're gonna get. Let's get our stuff together. Pack light, bring food, water, first aid, and any personal items you might want.” Roxy started off for the bedroom.

“Roxy, wait!” Calliope asked desperately.

“Yeah?”

“What if... what if the military returns, and we're not in our home? Wouldn't they be furious?”

“Callie, even if they did return, which isn't gonna happen, they'd have bigger problems to deal with than a few people playin' Musical Safe House. You know that. So, what's the real issue?” Roxy looked inquisitively at the former Cherub, who blushed furiously.

“Oh, there is no real issue, love. Everything is fine!”

“You're a poor liar and you always have been, Callie. Talk to me, girlfriend!,” Roxy crossed her arms, indicating that there would be no arguing.

“W-well,” Calliope stuttered softly, “There is simply so much that could go pear-shaped out there! You've seen the TV. Even looking out the windows, you've seen what the undead can do. Some grab and bite you, others throttle, pounce, maul, crush or even vomit on you. That's not even mentioning the ravenous giant animals that roam the streets! Yesterday, I'm fairly certain I saw a man made of leeches crawl out of the storm drain. Leeches, Roxy! I really think we should stay here!”

When Calliope stopped to catch her breath, Roxy gently took her by the shoulders. Looking into her lover's eyes, Roxy smiled as she encouraged her.

“Callie, you defeated Lord Goddamn English in one-on-one combat. You fuckin’ trounced his ass like Mario wreckin’ the Mushroom Kingdom’s most ineffectual Goomba. I think you can handle a few zombies!”

“That’s clearly hyperbole, Roxy. My battle with Lord English was terrifying and I very nearly snuffed it. It is not an experience I care to replicate,” Calliope protested. “The undead hordes can kill us just as easily as my brother could. After all, in this universe we have only one life to lose!”

“Look, babe, I know you’ll do great. You’re smart, you’re tough, and you’re a kickass shot with that magnum. You're totes capable of trouncin' some zombie ass.” When Calliope still looked hesitant, Roxy continued. “If you don't believe in yourself, at least believe in me, who believes in you!”

Calliope giggled nervously. “Very original, Roxy.”

Encouraged by Callie's laughter, Roxy pressed further. “Doesn't mean it isn't true, though! Come on, you trust me, right?”

“Of course I trust you! I trust you more than anyone in the universe!” said Calliope earnestly.

“Then trust me on this: you'll be awesome. 'Kay?”

Callie smiled gently. “Okay, love. I shall try my utmost. Just, please stay close! I don't want to lose you.”

“We'll stick together like a pair of ions on a date! Now let's get goin'!” Roxy started back down the hallway, and this time Calliope followed.

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Ultimately, Calliope had to leave her most precious possession behind. The chronicle of sessions A2 and B1, which was such an important part of her upbringing, was simply too heavy to lug around efficiently. It was times like these that she missed the Sylladex system, as unwieldy as it was. At least she had the book memorized.

Instead, she brought practical items: food, water, medicine, ammo, and clothing. She also brought a blank notebook and a number of colored pens and pencils. If she was to be surviving day to day by the skin of her teeth, drawing was the only way she could keep her sanity.

Now thoroughly outfitted, Calliope met Roxy at the door to the garage. Roxy was similarly burdened. She grinned encouragingly.

“You ready?” she asked, trying to drum up excitement for what could very well be a suicide mission.

“I suppose I'm as prepared as I can possibly get,” Calliope said with significantly less enthusiasm. She sagged under the weight of her backpack. “Are we taking the car, then?”

“Yep. It's probably safer than walking, since there's the extra barrier between us and them. And if the road's impassable, we can just leave it,” Roxy explained.

“Wouldn't the sound of the engine alert the undead to our presence?” Calliope asked, brow creased with worry.

“Yeah, but it's still safer than walkin'. You saw how those things operate. If two of 'em get us at the same time, it's curtains. Walkin' would be a death sentence.”

Roxy opened the door to the garage. It was dark, the only light coming from a window in the back. The scent of mildew and age pervaded the space. Calliope hoped the skittering sounds in the walls were normal rodents, not infected ones.

As Roxy got the doors to her hot pink Honda unlocked, Callie continued to fret.

“What if one of the big ones finds us? The Tank, was it? They can toss vehicles as though they were nothing!”

“I'd rather meet one while behind a thick metal shield rather than with our squishy meat bodies alone,” Roxy said, getting in the driver's seat. She turned to Calliope and smiled, patting the passenger seat next to her. “Let's get goin'! We can go for a cruise in my hella fancy ride. I'll show you all the places the cool kids hang out.”

Even as she sat down, Callie worried. “What if---”

Roxy cut her off before she could say anymore. “Listen, babe! It's broad daylight. You can practically run the Z's over and you got basically a fifty percent chance of them not givin' a shit. Gog knows how those military idiots let things get this bad!” Seats were adjusted, lights were checked, fuzzy pink dice were hung from the rear view mirror. Roxy was good to go!

Calliope was still concerned. Daylight seemed to have little impact on the Special Infected. They could get attacked during the day just as easily as at night. But Callie knew better than to argue. Roxy was a woman on a mission, and nothing was going to keep her from getting to Rose's place.

Hesitantly, she got in the car and closed the door. Roxy grinned as she turned the it on and revved the engine. Then she pressed the button to the garage door and nothing happened.

“Fuck,” she said. “Power's out, I forgot. You wanna help me get the door open? Bring your gun!”

Calliope nodded hesitantly, took a deep breath, and got out of the car. Together, the two of them forced open the garage door, letting vivid sunlight inside. They angled their guns outward as their eyes adjusted to the brightness.

A few tense seconds passed, their ears taking up the responsibilities their eyes couldn't. Then the world came into focus.

Their little suburban neighborhood was in shambles. Homes were wrecked, and fires smouldered in the carefully tended bushes and trees. Strange stains marred the pavement of the road. Here and there, a figure could be seen. They stood shakily, or sat in the dirt. Their pale and rotten skin denoted that they were not to be trusted. At least they seemed not to take any interest in the two women who were now scrambling back to the car.

Calliope's heart beat quickly. That hadn't been so bad! Perhaps they may be able to reach Rose's apartment after all. She gave Roxy a shaky smile. Roxy grinned back.

As an afterthought, Roxy reached out and grabbed a pair of rakes leaning against the wall. “Might need these to discourage any grabbers. Long end would make a good deterrent.” That done, she shut the door and settled back in the seat.

“Alright, let's get goin'!” she said. Shifting the gear into drive and tapping the acceleration, the hot pink vehicle crept cautiously out of the driveway, turned, and headed down the road.

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The trip was going smoothly, so far. Roxy was pretty good at avoiding the zombies, and Calliope became skilled the more she used the rake handle to jab any undead hangers-on. As they entered the city, the infected became more numerous, though no less docile. The sun seemed to be the survivors' ally.

Now Rose's apartment was in sight, but the sheer number of zombies were making it harder to move. Large groups of undead were piling themselves onto the car at once, and it was all Calliope could do to knock them to the ground. The crowd had forced them to the left side of the road, into the shadow of a tall building.

“Almost there!” Roxy kept saying. “Just one more block!” Callie supposed she was trying to be comforting, but it wasn't working. Despite her status as a former alien, Calliope was genre-savvy enough to know that such encouraging phrases were asking for trouble. Or perhaps she was simply being paranoid. It was easy in such trying circumstances.

Just in case, Callie whispered to her girlfriend “I appreciate your encouragement, love, but could you perhaps stop tempting fate?”

Roxy giggled. “Oh, Callie, you know that's not how it works. This isn't...”

She was cut off as three things happened in the span of two seconds.

First, a large, fleshy something dropped onto their hood with a resounding crash, crushing the engine and leaving hundreds of tiny, spiderweb-like cracks on the windshield. As it impacted, it ruptured, splashing a huge wave of vile green goo all across the front of the car. Out the passenger window, Calliope could see the severed lower half of a Boomer go flopping to the ground.

Second, the car alarm went off. A high pitched, undulating wail began to echo through the neighborhood, nearly deafening the stunned women in the vehicle.

Finally, a second, moaning wail echoed throughout the horde as they stirred to action. Almost as a unit, they lurched for the car, climbing over each other in an attempt to get at their prey. Hundreds of rotting hands grabbed for the unfortunate survivors.

“God dammit Callie!” cried Roxy. “I fuckin' hate it when you're right!”

“Sorry, dear!” the former Cherub apologized in a panic.

Roxy was scrabbling at the dashboard. “It's alright, babe. Not your fault! Just get in the back and stay as low behind the front seats as you can. I gotta try to find a way to turn this off!” As she said this, a festering hand shot through the weakened windshield, shattering the glass and grabbing at her face. Roxy instinctively twisted the zombie's arm, hoping to break it. Instead, she wrenched it directly out of its socket and into her lap.

“Fuck!” cried Roxy in disgust as she tossed the arm aside. “Never mind the alarm, I'll be right behind you!”

Callie quickly scrambled to do as she was told. Clambering into the back, she wedged herself as firmly as possible into the foot space behind the passenger side seat. Roxy immediately followed, cramming herself behind the driver's seat.

As the first wave of zombies crawled in through the now shattered windshield, and the other windows were cracking beneath the onslaught, Roxy looked Callie in the eyes. Calliope read her gaze. This might be it, they said. This frightened her deeply. Roxy was supposed to be the brave one. She didn't get scared! A moment later, the one-armed zombie crawled over the seat divider, snapping its jaws viciously next to their heads.

Roxy, clearly not sure what she was doing, punched the monster in the temple. Its skull cracked as though it was made of clay, smearing blood and gray matter down the backs of the seats. Calliope couldn't tell whether the disease caused the skull to weaken or Roxy just had that strong a punch. All she knew was that she really, really wanted to throw up.

Their respite was brief, because another zombie broke through the left rear window, grabbing hold tightly of Roxy's hair. Roxy tried desperately to get a good grip or punch in on the slightly slimy arm, but the angle was all wrong. She grabbed hold of the seat to prevent being pulled out, but the pain in her scalp was excruciating.

Calliope wasn't certain when she had pulled out her magnum. All she knew was that she had it trained, shaking, on the creature's revolting skull. She could see how it may have been human once. A man, middle-aged with a bald spot. Glasses protecting his sagging eyeballs. He looked like he could have been someone's father, who would come home after a long day at work and play with the kids, or talk with the wife, or... or...

Calliope pulled the trigger, and the shot went wide, grazing the zombie on the shoulder. Automatically, she shot a second time, nearly grazing Roxy's right cheek.

She hesitated, worried she might harm her girlfriend. But Roxy was already head and shoulders out the window, clinging desperately to the back of the driver's seat as the zombie pulled her out toward the waiting horde. If she didn't take this risk, she would lose her beloved for certain. Holding her breath, she squeezed the trigger one more time.

The bullet hit the zombie directly between the eyes, snapping its glasses and puncturing it's skull. Gore sprayed forth, coating Roxy with putrid blood and flesh as she scrambled back to her position behind the driver's seat. Calliope's face went white, and her gun dropped from nerveless fingers. She had just shot someone. Someone who had once been a person, with a life, with a home, with dreams. She had looked him in the face and shot him in cold blood.

Roxy wiped the gore out of her eyes. “Thanks, Callie! I was thinkin' of gettin' that cut. Guess I shoulda done it while I still could, huh?”

Behind Calliope, glass shattered as another rotting hand reached down, this time for her. Roxy moved before Callie could, punching it in the skull. Callie could feel its cold contents sliding down her back. She couldn't think.

Roxy reached down and grabbed her magnum, holding it out to her handle first. “Here! You might want this!” As Calliope only continued to stare vacantly, Roxy tapped her insistently on the shoulder. “Hey, grilfriend, don't BSOD on me now. I need you!”

Calliope was startled by Roxy's use of the word “grilfriend”. After years of practice speaking, Roxy's speech impediment was mostly gone, but it tended to return when she was stressed. Callie knew that she had to step up and pull her weight, as much as she could. With shaking hands, she took the gun, forcing her fingers to close around the handle. In a trance, she returned to shooting as the rear window shattered.

How long this went on Calliope couldn't tell. She seemed to be frozen in time, trapped in a hellish realm of blood and glass and sirens. A realm of her brother's creation.

Fortunately for the two survivors, as they shot the undead which climbed in through the windows, the zombies got stuck. This hindered others from getting past their fallen brethren, forcing them to tunnel through their bodies to get at their prize.

Unfortunately, the alarm continued to wail. Even as the effects of the Boomer Bile wore off, the Z's just kept coming. Roxy and Calliope huddled together, taking a moment to rest as the other zombies tried to work their way through.

Roxy glanced at Callie. “Hey. You okay?”

Calliope, still staring at nothing in particular, could only shake her head “no”.

“Don't worry. We're gonna get outta this. We're gonna see Rosie, and Kanayna, and Jade. Everything's gonna be fine,” Roxy murmured in her girlfriend's ear.

Just as she said this, the world tilted. Or rather, the vehicle did. The infected pounded on either side, rocking the car back and forth.

“Hold on, babe! This ride's gonna get rough!” said Roxy, gripping Calliope in one arm and the seat in the other hand. Calliope just grasped Roxy with all of her might.

The rocking became more and more intense. Back and forth the vehicle swayed, its occupants praying to whatever gods they still believed in that they'd make it out of this. Finally, with a massive metallic groan, the vehicle flipped. Up and down lost all meaning as the survivors fell to the roof beneath them in a trembling heap.

Terrified, exhausted, and covered in gore, the two lovers huddled together as far from the windows as they could get. The undead outside did not seem any closer to reaching them, but the alarm kept blaring, signaling any others in the area to investigate. Dully, Calliope realized that they really weren't getting out of this, no matter what Roxy said. They would either be trapped in the car until they starved, or the undead would get through and rip them to shreds.

Calliope nuzzled into the crook of her girlfriend's neck, trembling. If she had to die, she was at least glad she was with Roxy when it happened.

“Callie?” asked Roxy, voice wavering.

“Hmm?” the former Cherub murmured.

“I love you, babe,” she whispered.

Calliope could feel something hot and wet hit the top of her head, and realized that Roxy was crying. Shoving aside her own emotions for a moment, she hugged her girlfriend, running her fingers through the crusty gore in her hair.

Their moment was interrupted by a distant buzzing sound cutting through the moaning of the horde. The two of them sat up, confused at this new turn of events.

“Is that...?” Roxy trailed off, listening intently.

The buzzing was promptly joined by a series of loud gunshots, one after another. Who could that be? Calliope wondered, brain still whirling from recent events.

Roxy answered her unasked question immediately. “That's def a sniper rifle. It's gotta be Jade!” she cheered.

The buzzing grew louder, and Calliope could finally recognize it as the roar of a chainsaw.

“And Kanaya!” Roxy raised her voice to a yell. “Hey! We're in here!”

The people outside did not seem to hear them, as the chaos reached a new pitch. A bone-chilling screech came from nearby.

“Hunter!” Rose's voice cried out. Jade's gun resounded sharply, and the screeching stopped.

The moaning, however, simply got louder. Calliope couldn't hear exactly what Rose was yelling, but she assumed it to be instructions. The bang of Jade's gun and the roar of Kanaya's chainsaw blended together with the cries of the undead, until it was impossible to determine what exactly was going on. The two survivors could only hold each other and hope.

Eventually, the chaos seemed to die down. The moaning seemed to gradually quiet, and with it the sounds of combat. Finally, only the wailing car alarm could be heard. Calliope hoped her friends had won.

A sense of relief rushed through her as she heard Rose's voice.

“They appear to be lodged firmly in the windows, fortunately for the individuals inside. Here, PM, assist me in extricating the corpses.”

“Hey, are you alright?” Jade yelled.

“Yeah! Yeah, we're both alive!” Roxy responded loudly, prompting Calliope to cover her ears.

“Calliope is inside with you, correct?” Kanaya queried.

“Yep, it's me and Callie!”

A gruesome snap sounded from one of the corpses in the hind window as it was slowly pulled outside. PM crouched in it's place, her fragile smile a relief after the pained grimaces of the undead. She offered her hand, and Roxy motioned Calliope to take it. Finally, after what seemed like days of being trapped inside that hellish car, Calliope stood outside in the pale sunlight.

Twisted corpses marred the road as far as she could see. Dozens of undead lay headless in the scorching sunlight. The scent was unbearable.

Calliope promptly threw up. Behind her, she could hear Roxy doing the same thing, so she didn't feel too bad about it. A gentle hand rested between her shoulder blades, and as soon as she finished she looked up into the kindly face of Jade Harley.

“Are you done? Don't worry, I had the same reaction when I shot my first one. It's completely different from fighting imps!” she said, comfortingly.

“Th... thank you,” was all Calliope could stammer. She looked behind her at Roxy, who appeared just as shaken and frightened as she was. Rose was speaking quietly to her, as PM looked on. Suddenly, Kanaya was at her side.

“Did either of you sustain any lacerations? If so, you will require medical immediate medical attention. While the illness does not have a one hundred percent infection rate, blood-to-blood contact may increase its likelihood exponentially.”

“'Kay, my head's kinda spinnin' from all the craziness that just happened. What's she sayin'?” asked Roxy in a daze.

“She is saying that if any of your injuries are contaminated with the blood of the undead, there is a good chance you will become one.” Rose explained. “You'd be wise to come with us. There is a rain barrel in the courtyard of the complex; we can use that to clean you up.”

“Sounds hella good to me. I done enough bathin' in the brains of zmombies. Right, Calilope?”

Callie could only nod at Roxy's jumbled statement. As far as she was concerned, she was never, ever going outside again as long as she lived.

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The apartment complex was of a fancy, modern design. It was quite at odds with the traditional architecture of the old parts of DC, but fitting with the surrounding area. The building had two wings that formed a right angle. The courtyard was the inside of this angle, with a sturdy brick wall separating it from the road. Two guards flanked an elaborate arched gate in the wall's center, one of whom raised his gun upon seeing the two bedraggled survivors approach.

“Hey, hey! No outsiders allowed! We've had enough problems from your kind!” he said threateningly. Roxy and Calliope stopped in their tracks, looking at each other nervously.

Fortunately, Rose was right behind them. “Relax, Tony. They're with us.”

The man peered suspiciously at the two gore encrusted women, then glanced at Rose.

“Fine, Lalonde. If they're good by you, they're good by us. Get inside, you smell like a Boomer's ass.”

As they stepped through the gate into the courtyard, Rose winked at Roxy. “Being the leader of the best scavenging team in the complex has its perks.”

The courtyard was remarkably well-kept. With at least two devoted horticulturists among the survivors, the plants in the area were doing better than in the rest of the city. Flowers bloomed beside the walls and along the paths. Trees were relatively well-pruned. An elegant fountain, now dry, formed the decorative centerpiece of the space. A cobblestone path wound its way from the gate, around the fountain, to the entrance of the building. Other survivors were scattered here and there. Some stared at the newcomers, but most were engrossed in conversation with friends or napping, simply enjoying being outside without having to worry about getting attacked.

They were surprised when a short, skinny fellow in a ragged suit darted out of the building and flung himself at Calliope.

“Serenity, you made it! What a tremendous day!” he crowed, hugging the former Cherub tightly. Callie squirmed in his embrace but couldn't avoid grinning. “It's lovely to see you, too, WV!”

“Mr. Mayor, hows it goin'?” Roxy asked, sufficiently calmed down from her recent brush with death. “Everything orderly in Can Town?”

Without letting go of his old friend, WV turned to Roxy. “Well, there have been some complications with the citizens attempting to destroy the buildings and devour their contents,” he puffed indignantly. “I must say, it's as though they have no sense of civic duty whatsoever!”

“Heh, never change, Mr. Mayor. Never change,” Roxy chuckled.

“Dear, you're getting zombie blood all over your suit,” PM chided. “You know we can't exactly go to the store and buy a new one.”

WV recoiled from Calliope as though she were suddenly made of hot lead. “My beloved wife is right! How will I ever get such a vile liquid out of this formerly pristine fabric?”

“It's okay, WV. I'll help you with it later, as soon as Roxy and Serenity are done washing up,” PM said consolingly.

“Oh, thank you so very, very much, Dear! I don't know what I would do without you! I really don't!” WV proceeded to hug PM, smearing her with the viscera he'd picked up from Calliope. She just gave him a Look.

“Terribly sorry! I don't know what I was thinking!”

Roxy didn't hear the rest of the conversation as she and Calliope were dragged off to the rain barrel beneath the gutter spout in the corner. It was nothing fancy, only a large trash bin placed in a strategic location, but it held water that the survivors could use for bathing. Curtains were strung up around the barrel, presumably for privacy.

Kanaya handed Roxy some soap and a towel. “Try to be thorough, but do not waste too much water. And please be certain not to get any blood in the supply; everyone has to use this barrel.”

Roxy nodded, dropping her backpack outside the curtain. “Sure thing, Kanaya. I'll be done in a jiff. Brb!”

It was quite possibly the most exquisite bath Roxy had ever had. The water was frigid and cloudy, but a hot bubble bath could not even compare to getting the rancid gore cleansed from her face and hair. As she scooped water onto her aching body, she almost wanted to sing. She didn't, though, because she really sucked at it and there were six people standing outside listening.

When she finished, she toweled off, grabbed a change of clothes from her bag, and stepped out so Calliope could have a turn. As Callie began her bath, Kanaya bustled over with medical supplies. Taking Roxy's hands firmly, she scolded, “Where did you get these cuts on your fingers?”

Roxy had to think for a moment. The afternoon was just an unpleasant haze in her memory. “I think it was when I punched a zombie and its head exploded. Must've cut myself on the skull fragments.”

Jade let out a quiet “Wow!” as Kanaya tutted, “That was incredibly unwise. These are deep cuts, and they have been contaminated by undead blood. There is a very good chance you will become infected.”

The splashing behind the curtain ceased and Calliope poked her head out, panic in her eyes. “What was that? Roxy's infected?” she demanded, louder than she had intended.

Rose quickly shushed her. “Quiet, Calliope. The people here are wary of strangers. Rumors of infection tend to result in exile, or worse. Roxy will be fine. She is too resilient to fall to an illness such as this.”

“Rose, I beg to differ!” insisted Kanaya. “While some have survived contaminated injuries, these are the exception, not the rule.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” whimpered Callie. “Roxy, you can't die!”

“Relax!” said Roxy. “I'm not dyin'. We can worry about that if it happens, but for now, let's just not panic. No need to get worked up!”

“Well, at least consider wearing thick gloves before you go decapitating the infected with your hands next time, Roxy,” said Kanaya as she began treating the injuries.

“Will do!” replied Roxy cheerfully. “Ow!” she added as the stinging disinfectant took effect.

As Calliope hesitantly returned to her bath, Roxy changed the subject. “So, thanks for saving our asses. I really thought we were goners.”

“You should primarily be thanking Jade,” Rose suggested. “She's the one who spotted you.”

Jade giggled. “Yeah, I was looking through my scope and saw you right when you got Boomer-Bombed. I recognized your hot pink car right away!”

“Boomer-Bombed?” Roxy repeated absently. “Is that what happened?”

“Well, that's what I call it!” Jade insisted. “I've seen it happen lots of times, unfortunately. You have to have your eyes open all the time when you're out there, Roxy!”

“Well, consider it a lesson learned!” said Roxy humbly.

Soon, Calliope was finished with her bath and dressed, and the seven friends were on their way upstairs to the top floor room of the complex where Rose and Kanaya lived. When Rose unlocked the door, Roxy smiled to see the familiar apartment greeting her. Elegant furniture covered by lavender and jade-colored fixtures drew the eye around the living room. A large bookcase sat in the back, creaking under the weight of the numerous heavy tomes residing there. In the corner, a potted plant thrived under Kanaya's care. The kitchen and dining room were immaculate, as always. Marble counter tops gleamed with cleanliness. The dark wood dining room table was covered with a beautiful lace cloth, with a bouquet of freshly-cut roses as the centerpiece.

Kanaya Maryam really knew how to throw a room together.

Taking in her surroundings, Roxy decided that if she had to be trapped somewhere in a zombie apocalypse, she was glad it was here. It was a little cramped, but she didn't mind since it meant her friends were near. And if her friends were near, Roxy would always be happy.

Chapter Text

The portal to the topmost chamber creaked open, dispatching a dire salutation to the master of magic waiting within. Calmasis preferred it this way. The best strategy of prevailing against zir former mentor was to strike fear into his heart. To be a great serpent leering hypnotically down upon a tremulous rabbit, relishing the horror in its eyes as it knew its ultimate moment had arrived.

Zazzerpan himself perched regally on the derelict throne, less akin to a terrified rabbit than a ravenous eagle. Calmasis faltered. Perchance s/he was to become the banquet tonight?

“Does something perturb you, Calmasis?” Zazzerpan inquired. His emollient voice belied fathomless malice just beneath the surface of his tone. Calmasis discerned that the leader of the Complacency would be the paramount challenge s/he yet confronted; the colossus s/he must raze brick by brick with only the potency of zir bare hands.

“Why should I be frightened?” s/he responded dispassionately. “One by one your disciples challenged me, and one by one they fell.”

“But at what cost?” Zazzerpan's utterance reverberated throughout the colossal chamber, traversing the expanse to his erstwhile protoge and rebounding off the walls. Multitudinous voices returned, as though those Calmasis had murdered vocalized judgment from beyond the grave. “Each of your acolytes has succumbed to my traps. Eleven of the best and brightest minds known to wizardkind, now departed because you repined for supremacy.”

“It was never about supremacy, Zazzerpan. You recognize this. It was about survival.”

“Oh? And how do you conclude this?” Zazzerpan raised a grizzled eyebrow dubiously.

“You have become too powerful. Time and Space, Light and Void, even Life and Death bow before you. Though you have been benevolent so far, there is no reason to believe you will remain as such.” Calmasis' androgynous face radiated coldness that could disquiet the reaper himself. “After all, when a hero has no one else to oppose, what is to constrain him from becoming a villain?”

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Gentle twilight filtered through the window of the cluttered office as Rose finished yet another chapter of her elaborate story. She put her pencil down gently, stretched, and stood. As much as she loved writing, sitting hunched painfully in one spot for a long time was not fantastic for her back.

Some fresh air would be nice. Rose counted herself very fortunate indeed that her apartment complex had a courtyard. It gave her options for leisure. If she squinted hard, options made it possible to pretend, for just a little while, that she was not trapped with two hundred other people in a building amidst a sea of walking corpses.

Opening the office door, she stepped into the neatly organized living room and smiled. Roxy and Calliope were sitting opposite each other at the coffee table, a battered chess set between them. They were engaged in yet another intense battle of strategy, one which Roxy was clearly destined to lose.

Sure enough, Calliope moved one of her pieces, grinned triumphantly, and smugly stated, “Checkmate!”

“Oh noes, I lost again. What'll I do? My reputation as a nerd is ruined forever!” Roxy threw an arm over her eyes in mock agony, and Calliope tittered.

“Now, now,” she teased. “Not many can reach my level of skill when it comes to chess! I've been playing my whole life, you know! Would you like me to teach you where you went wrong?”

“Nah, I think I'd rather flip the board over and go hide in my room for the rest of the day cryin'.” Roxy ribbed back.

“Oh, poor Roxy! No need to cry! Perhaps I should come in and cheer you up, hmm?” Callie fluttered her eyelashes coyly at her girlfriend.

“Well, I guess I wouldn't mind some company,” said Roxy, winking (wonking?) seductively.

“A-hem,” Rose cleared her throat, and the two women jumped, blushing furiously.

“Oh, hey Rosie, you wanna play chess?” Roxy recovered quickly.

Rose crossed her arms , feigning offense. “If by 'play chess' you mean 'flirt shamelessly', then no thank you. I just wanted to let you know I'm going out to get some fresh air.”

Roxy sniggered. “More like you wanna go find Kanaya.”

“Baseless accusation,” Rose said, stone faced.

“She's out in the courtyard, in case you were wonderin',” Roxy winked again with no subtlety whatsoever.

“My wife is free to go wherever she wants without my permission. I am going out for completely unrelated reasons.”

“Truly?” Calliope teased. “That's unfortunate. She was looking quite lonely! I'm quite sure she would enjoy your company.”

“Well, if that is indeed the case, I just might go check in on her,” Rose replied, brow furrowed with mock concern.

“You should totes do that. It's too nice a night to spend mopin' in the bushes for hours,” urged Roxy playfully.

Rose smiled in reply. “Moping in the bushes, is she? Well, then, I should hasten to her side. I wouldn't want her to think I didn't care. Thank you for showing me the error of my ways.”

“Don't mention it, Rosie! That's what family does!” Roxy grinned. “You go take care of the wife, 'k? We'll hold the fort up here!”

“I would be very much appreciative.” With that, Rose swept dramatically out of the room.

She didn't see the enthusiastic thumbs up Roxy gave Calliope the moment she left.

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It was an unseasonably warm April night. Without the inhibiting effect of light pollution, the rapidly darkening sky began its show of thousands of stars. Off in the distance one could still hear the moan of the undead, but here in the courtyard the only sounds were of cheerfully chirping crickets and quiet laughter, as the people of the complex enjoyed the night breeze.

As Rose stepped outside, she immediately scanned the crowd in search of her wife. A large cluster of residents stood in the center near the fountain, where the cooking fire roared at full strength. The cook was preparing some sort of stew, judging from the cans scattered about, and hungry survivors stood around hassling her and staring longingly at the boiling pot.

A large generator purred in the far corner, powering the lamps which bathed the courtyard in a gentle glowing light. The halls of the complex were lit, as well. Individual power usage was strictly regulated, but public areas stayed lit all night until curfew. Another perk of living in an apocalyptic community, Rose supposed. You definitely learned to appreciate the little things.

About halfway across the courtyard to her right, Jade and PM were playing some sort of ridiculous game as WV watched. A small crowd had formed to join him in observing the strange spectacle.

Jade had a stick in her hand, waving it in PM's face as the mail lady stared in rapt attention. “Are you ready?”

PM nodded eagerly.

“Alright, then! Three, two, one, fetch!” As Jade threw the stick, both she and PM took off after it. They sprinted over to where it had landed, PM getting there first due to her longer legs. This didn't stop Jade, however. She jumped for the prize PM was holding over her head, grabbing it and pulling it down with her. The two dog-women ended up in a playful tug-of-war, rolling around in the dirt, each trying to get the advantage. WV keeled over with laughter at their shenanigans as the crowd watched in a mix of confusion and amusement.

In the end, PM let Jade have the stick. Rose supposed PM still considered Jade her master in some ways. If society ever rebuilds itself, Rose thought to herself, it may be worth it to publish a paper on the long-term psychological effects of prototyping. Not that anyone would believe her in the first place.

She finally spied Kanaya pruning one of the bushes against the far wall. The former Troll seemed extremely wrapped up in her work, to an extent that she didn't even notice the bustling activity surrounding her. Rose approached, crossed her arms, and greeted her.

“So...”

Kanaya must have jumped at least ten feet, dropping her clippers in the process. Whirling around, she finally spotted her sneaky wife. She exhaled loudly, a hand over her heart, and responded.

“Rose! You frightened me!”

“I apologize, Kanaya. How am I expected to greet you when you are in "The Zone,” as they say?” Rose inquired.

“Perhaps you could make more noise as you approach next time,” replied Kanaya, feeling around on the shadowy ground for her lost pruners.

“I know from prior experience that blundering through the grass like a blind Ogre would not help at all,” Rose stated as she bent over to help in the search. “When you're gardening you are lost to the world.”

“I suppose that is correct. Perhaps I should pay more attention to my surroundings. It is simply so nice not to worry about the state of the world, I can't help myself. Ah! There they are!” She held up the errant clippers triumphantly.

“This is true. I feel the same with my writing. Escapism is truly valuable in times such as these.” Rose straightened, brushing off her skirt. As an afterthought, she reached over and brushed off Kanaya's as well.

“Anyway, that is not what I'm here to discuss,” Rose continued. “I have it on good authority that you have been moping for the last several hours.”

“And whose authority would that be?” Kanaya arched an eyebrow inquisitively.

“Roxy's.”

“I would warn you against taking Roxy's authority seriously on anything. While she is quite intelligent, she can often get the wrong idea about people.” A thought seemed to occur to her. “Unless, of course, you are merely being sarcastic again.”

Rose winked slyly, but said nothing.

“Ah, I see. I must apologize. You took me so off guard, I didn't even think of the possibility that you might not be sincere,” Kanaya said. “Really, I should know better by now.”

“It's alright, Kanaya. We all have our off days.” Rose patted her wife gently on the shoulder, letting her know all was well. Kanaya smiled warmly in return.

After a minute or so of standing there in silence, enjoying the night air as well as each others' company, Rose asked, “So may I ask why you feel the need to prune your garden at eight-thirty at night?”

“I was simply bored. The rose bush didn't particularly need trimming, but it gave me something to do. Again, escapism.”

Rose nodded. “It looks exquisite. You really do have a way with horticulture.”

Kanaya bent down and pulled one of the tiny buds close so that she could look at it. “This seems to be a particularly good year for roses in general. I imagine it will look absolutely divine in about a month.” She sighed. “At least one thing retains its beauty in this harsh, unforgiving world.

“I don't know, Kanaya. I think the world still has plenty of resplendence.” Rose carefully snapped off one of the larger buds that was just barely starting to show its red petals. Minding the thorns, she gingerly placed the stem behind Kanaya's ear, then looked into her eyes.

“Now that,” she said, “is true beauty.”

Kanaya blushed furiously. “Oh my, Rose...”

“What do you say we find something to do to stave off your boredom, hmm?” Rose gently took Kanaya's hand.

“Oh! Well... that... sounds good.” Kanaya stammered. Rose really did love flustering her wife. She was always so put-together, it was nice to see her let her defense down once in a while. Show off that she was human, just like everyone else (or at least, she was now).

Rose made off toward the entrance of the building, tugging Kanaya along with her. “Then let's go enjoy ourselves, shall we?”

They were halfway across the courtyard when a chugging, sputtering noise started up in the corner. Looking across the shadowy garden, Rose spotted the generator letting off smoke and sparks. It vibrated, getting faster and faster. Finally, with a flash of flame, it exploded. The edges of the courtyard were plunged into darkness.

The resulting sound was deafening. A resounding bang spread outwards, rattling windows across half the city. Echos threw themselves back and forth between the buildings for several seconds until at last, mercifully, all went silent.

Rose stood stock still, squeezing Kanaya's hand tightly and hardly daring to breathe. The other survivors were likewise silent, listening for the tell-tale sounds of the undead on the move. Outside the flickering light of the cooking fire, blackness surrounded them on all sides. It seemed to amplify even the most minute sound attempting to make its way to them, down to a rat rustling around in a garbage can beyond the wall.

Out of the darkness came a moan. Following it was another, and another, and then ten chorusing together. The longer one listened, the louder they became. Soon a cacophony of auditory chaos surrounded the hapless survivors. Rose suddenly remembered what she had hoped to forget: they were trapped here, and no one was coming to save them.

“Everyone get inside! Now!” she demanded authoritatively over the din. Though the group of survivors had no one true authority, Rose's status as leader of the best scavenging team in the complex granted her some clout. Without needing to be asked twice, everyone in the courtyard made a mad dash for the darkened building.

Rose and Kanaya remained behind, making sure everyone was out of the courtyard before deigning to enter themselves. As the last man darted inside, the noise around the building reached a fever pitch. Rose hesitated for only a moment to glance at the outer wall, just as the first Infected leaped over. Screeching in unison, two Hunters landed on all fours in the flower garden. They crawled stealthily toward their prey.

Rose knew they couldn't remain outside any longer. Two Hunters were more than enough to finish them both off.

“Kanaya, let's go!” Rose yelled, and darted inside. Her wife was right behind her. Just as Kanaya crossed the threshold, one of the Hunters unleashed another piercing screech. Rose slammed the door, and a loud thunk resounded from the other side of the thick metal as the creature impacted. In the safety of the building, she shuddered, realizing just how close Kanaya had come to being mauled.

The entrance hall was pitch black; any light from the campfire outside was blocked by the scrap sheets of metal covering all of the windows. The room rustled with invisible commotion. Survivors whispered to each other as they stumbled around in the darkness. A man swore loudly as someone stepped on his foot. Someone tipped over a lamp, which came falling to the ground with a crash. The sudden noise resulted in more panic, and the sound level mounted to mirror the discordance outside.

Rose gritted her teeth. At this rate, the panic would soon become uncontainable. She needed to calm everyone down. The quieter they were, the more likely the undead were to forget about them and leave them alone. And the last thing she needed was a stampede of scared survivors.

Someone had to grab their attention. “Excuse me!” she said, loudly but firmly. The commotion only continued, voices interspersed with chaos.

“That was my foot, asshole!”
“What was that sound?”
“Are they inside? Oh, God, they're inside, aren't they?”

Rose repeated herself a little louder. “Excuse me!”

Still, no one paid attention.

“We're all going to die!”
“It's too dark, I'm gonna freak out!”

Finally, Rose snapped. “EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN TO ME!”

The chaos continued, only louder for her efforts. What on Earth or Alternia did Karkat see in that method?

“ARF, ARF, ARF!” Somewhere in the room, a dog barked. All noise and movement ceased abruptly as everyone froze in terror. The only sound came from the zombies outside, pounding feebly on the walls of the building.

Rose was startled for a moment, herself. Had one of the undead dogs gotten in somehow? Then, she remembered to whom that bark belonged. She took the opportunity that silence offered.

“Thank you, Jade,” Rose spoke loudly and clearly, trying to keep her words simple. “There is no need to panic, everyone. If we keep calm and use our heads, we can get out of this alive.”

“Lalonde, half the city must have heard that generator go off. We're fucked!” yelled Tony the Guardsman from the back.

“The explosion was indeed loud, and there are surely innumerable infected outside. But so long as we remain inside with the doors bolted, there is no way they can reach us. If we stay quiet, they will most likely leave around daybreak,” Rose counseled.

“What about Lickers, then? They could come in through the upper windows!” challenged a woman nearby.

“We can handle Lickers. There are very few in the first place, and a couple of shots will drop them quickly,” argued Rose.

Weighing her options, Rose came up with a crude plan.

“Here are my suggestions. First, everyone should stay calm and return to their apartments. Notify anyone inside of the situation, and gather any weapons, first aid supplies, and light sources you can find. No open flames, please.

“Then, we should meet in the fifth floor lobby. It is wide enough for combat, so we can use that to our advantage. Set your light sources up so as much of the room is illuminated as possible. Once everyone is upstairs, we will block off all three stairwells at the fourth floor, and the elevator in the lobby.

“Children, the elderly, the infirm, or anyone else unable to fight should take refuge on the top floor. It's also a good spot for snipers, so I ask that residents allow them access to their apartments. We should block the stairwells there as well, once everyone is in place.

“Finally, be as quiet as possible. We want to avoid combat if we can. Snipers, please save your ammo for Tanks. They're the biggest threat here.”

Some people moved immediately to do as they were told, feeling along the walls for the stairwells and exiting the room. Others remained in place.

“Who died and made you Queen of the Apocalypse?” The rough voice came from an unpleasant fellow named James Walton, and Rose had to keep from sighing out loud. She knew she would meet resistance.

“No one, but this plan makes the most sense. Unless you would care to volunteer another. Please, I'm all ears!” Rose said testily.

For a moment there was no answer. Then Walton grumbled, “Fine, fine, we'll do it your way. Controlling bitch.” With that, he left for his apartment, and the others filtered out after him.

“Jade, PM, WV. Would you remain here and assist me in moving furniture to cover the doors?” The pounding outside was becoming more urgent.

“Sure thing, Rose!” said Jade enthusiastically. The three friends stumbled their way across the dark room, bumping into furniture. They took the opportunity to pick it up and carry it to the door where Rose and Kanaya were waiting.

“Do you happen to know the whereabouts of Roxy and Calliope?” Kanaya asked her wife fretfully.

Rose squeezed her shoulder to calm her. “The last time I saw them, they were having a spirited game of chess upstairs. There is no reason to think they may have ventured outside.”

“You are certain? By the sound of it, going outside would be certain death,” Kanaya worried.

“Positive. There is no need for concern,” said Rose.

With Kanaya's fears appeased, all conversation ceased as they focused on moving the necessary furniture in the dark. They had to remain in constant communication in order to work together.

“Hey, this couch would make a good barrier! Help me lift it, Rose?”
“Of course, Jade. Please wait a moment while I find you.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks!”
“WV, what's wrong?”
“I dropped this coffee table on my foot!”
“You shouldn't try to lift furniture on your own, Dear. Let me help.”
“Oh, thank you, PM! You save the day yet again!”

They had only worked for a few minutes before rapid gunfire erupted several floors up. Rose dropped the corner the coffee table she and the Mayor were moving with a thud, glancing in the direction of the ominous sound.

“What now?” she asked with exasperation.

“I bet some Lickers got inside. Should we go check?” Jade suggested, voice calm and cheerful.

“Kanaya and I will go. The rest of you finish up here and meet us on the fifth floor.” Rose brooked no argument. Feeling her way through the blackness of the cavernous lobby, she made her way to the stairway, Kanaya right behind her.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Climbing the stairs in the dark was a harrowing ordeal. Both women tripped several times on their journey upward, listening to the sound of battle growing closer with each stumbling step. Finally, they reached the correct floor.

“Hmm. Fifth floor. I don't know whether this is fortuitous or not,” said Rose as she pushed open the heavy metal door to the lobby.

The room was in chaos. In the half-light provided by what lanterns and flashlights the survivors could gather, Rose saw numerous dark shapes flitting around. The people panicked, darting back and forth and discharging their guns without regard for safety. Baffled at what might have them in such a frenzy, she finally spotted small, light creatures flying back and forth through the semi-darkness. One dove, cawing loudly, to attack the scalp of a hapless woman in the middle of the room. She ducked down as far as she could, swatting furiously at her aggressor. A man nearby, presumably her husband, swung a croquet mallet at the feathery assailant. With a crack, the bird flew limply across the room into the shadows.

“Cease firing immediately! You are more likely to hit an ally than a crow!” Rose's shout was swallowed by the din. She had been afraid of this. Panic would likely be their death, not zombies.

A crow skimmed the air just above her head, and Kanaya yelled in pain.

“Kanaya!” Rose cried with concern.

She heard her wife's footsteps moving off rapidly. Moments later, a muffled chainsaw revved up several feet away. Rose was glad Jade had designed a silencer for it. Otherwise, Kanaya might have attracted even more unwanted attention.

Rose turned in the direction of the sound, prepared to go and help if she could, but some strange instinct stopped her. Sure enough, something darted just centimeters in front of her nose with a sharp thwip, embedding itself deeply in the door beside her. Rose raised her needles defensively, looking around for her elusive attacker. She spotted it crawling on the ceiling through a flickering circle of brightness cast by a discarded flashlight.

It looked very much like a skinned human, with bloody muscles revealed and flexing with coiled tension. Huge claws anchored it to the ceiling above her, showering the area beneath it with particles of fallen plaster. A hideous, eyeless head was turned at an improbable angle toward her. Its razor-filled maw discharged a slimy, rope-like tongue that extended into the darkness in her direction. That tongue is what gave the creature its name: Licker.

Recoiling its appendage with a second thiwp, it ceded its vantage point. Knife-like claws released the plaster, and it flopped to the darkened ground with a disgusting squelching noise. Though she couldn't see it, Rose could sense it crawling closer. She fumbled for her pistol, realizing that she was playing into the panic just as much as the others.

One advantage she had over them, however, was her status as a Seer. While she was certainly no longer a god, and she could no longer predict the future with great clarity, she was gifted on occasion with insight that others lacked. All she had to do was trust her gut.

Pulling the trigger, a pained growl rewarded her as she hit the beast. She shot again, this time without avail.

Her nerves screamed at her to duck. She did so, just as she felt the air move just inches above her head. Though she could not see, she knew she had just avoided getting impaled through the skull by the Licker's tongue.

Shoot. Miss. Shoot. Hit. The battle went on for over a minute, each assailant taking it in turns to attack. Rose winced as the tongue shot just past her left shoulder, grazing the skin. From the angle of the attack, she finally got a good idea of the Licker's position, and she fired several times. Her reward was dying growl as the Licker moved its last.

“Rose! Was that a Licker? Please tell me you are unharmed!” Kanaya shouted from her place several feet away.

“Yes, but I'm fine. It is only a scratch,” Rose reassured her wife as she moved carefully in the direction of her voice. “What about you?”

“I have suffered a number of abrasions, but nothing debilitating.” With Kanaya's response Rose finally reached her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Good. We can treat you as soon as this debacle is over. We will both be fine.”

Fortunately, the chaos seemed to be dying down. After a final gunshot, the room lapsed into exhausted silence.

Rose took Kanaya's hand and made for the nearby flashlight. Picking it up, she cast its pale beam upon her wife, who winced at the sudden brightness.

Kanaya's face was covered in ugly-looking scratches and smudged with congealing blood. Rose gasped at the sight, but Kanaya simply shook her head.

“They are not as dire as they appear. I will take care of them later. Now please, allow me to see the flashlight so that I may check your wound?”

“Of course,” Rose said hesitantly as she handed her wife the light. Now that she was the object of its focus, she could no longer see Kanaya's face, which she supposed she was grateful for. Mild or not, it pained her to see her beloved injured.

Kanaya examined the cut on Rose's shoulder. It was deeper than any of Kanaya's, leaking a trickle of blood but still fairly shallow. The former Troll sighed in relief as she gave the light back to Rose. “It does not appear to be too bad. Simply take care not to get anything in it before we can treat it properly.”

“Of course,” she said. Now that she and her wife were taken care of, she swung the flashlight out over the milling crowd.

Most of them looked like Kanaya, with cuts of various depths marring their features. This could be bad. Crows were one of the most notorious carriers of the virus, so if the injured were not treated soon, they would likely have an outbreak on their hands.

They paled compared to the wounds suffered by the Licker's victims, however. One woman leaned tiredly against the wall, a deep hole in her shoulder seeping blood all the way down her arm. A worried man attended her, trying to stop its flow with rags torn from his battered shirt. Even in the circle cast by the flashlight, she looked pale.

Another victim lay moaning quietly, bleeding out through a gruesome hole in his abdomen. A younger woman, possibly his daughter, held his hand, crying softly.

Kanaya snatched the flashlight from Rose. “Doctor Kromwell!” she yelled, hurrying over.

Rose frowned as she was plunged into darkness. Kanaya had apprenticed under Kromwell as a nurse for the past month, learning the trade so she could save as many lives as possible. If he died, they would have to rely on Kanaya for medical assistance. And while Rose respected her wife greatly, she doubted she was ready for doctor's work.

Rose only had time to ponder for a moment. She winced as someone beamed a flashlight directly into her eyes.

“OMG, it's Rose! You're OK! Holy shit!” a familiar voice crowed. She was swiftly gathered into a constricting hug.

“Hello, Roxy,” managed Rose by way of greeting. Being squeezed was definitely not conducive to talking, so it came out strained.

“Roxy, perhaps you ought to let her go?” Calliope's British accented voice came from nearby. “I know from personal experience that your greetings can be quite painful.”

“Oh, sorry!” Roxy immediately let her relative go. “I was just really freaked out. First there was that boom, then the Z's started actin' up, and you'd just gone outside and all, Rose. Then we came downstairs to investigate, everyone was flippin' their shit and shooting everywhere. I'm pretty sure I saw a fucking Licker on the ceiling, but I'm not sure.”

“There was,” Rose said calmly. “I took care of it.”

“See, that's why you're so kickass, Rose! Freakin' tentacle tongue monster crawls up on you and you're like, 'Whatever' and just shoot that motherfucker down.”

“I assure you, it wasn't that easy. Anyway, are either of you harmed?” asked Rose.

“We both got some scratches from those brainless feathery assholes, but nothin' big,” Roxy reassured her. “So where are the others? Jade and PM and the Mayor?”

“I left them downstairs to barricade the doors. They should be here momentarily.”

Sure enough, the heavy metal doors to the stairwell flew open, slamming against the walls. “Rose, are you there?” called Jade worriedly.

“I'm here. Please refrain from slamming the doors. We are trying to stay quiet,” Rose cautioned her.

“Oh, right, sorry!” Jade said, embarrassed. Then, “What happened up here?”

“Licker and crows decided to pop in and visit,” Roxy replied.

“Oh, hi, Roxy!” Jade greeted her cheerfully. “Is everyone alright?”

“We're all fine. Now let's work together to get everyone ready in case some real trouble starts up,” said Rose. “Jade, would you be willing to lead the snipers on the tenth floor? Make sure any noncombatants are up there and the stairwells and elevator shaft are sealed. Remember, don't fire unless a Tank attacks. PM and WV, go with her to serve as backup in case of a security breach.”

“Sure thing, Rose! Good luck and stay safe!” Jade took her leave just as quickly as she had arrived.

“Now to organize the troops,” said Rose.

“Could I have everyone's attention, please?” she called out to the room. The low murmur of conversation ceased, each person listening carefully. It was a testament to how lost they were that they were even willing to listen to Rose.

“I would like to say, you all did very well during the attack. Casualties appear to have been minimal, and I would like to keep it that way. First, I need volunteers to assist me in blocking off all of the stairwells and the elevator shaft. Are all noncombatants and snipers upstairs?”

Silence was her only response.

“Good. If anyone of either group remains, now is your chance to get upstairs. They will be blocking it off shortly. As for the rest of you, I will need volunteers to help block the stairwells on the fourth floor and barricade the doors and elevator. This whole level needs to be sealed off.”

There was some resentful muttering from across the room, particularly from Walton, but even the dissenters saw the logic in Rose's plan. Really, what else could they do?

“Kanaya, would you perhaps spearhead the medical effort?” asked Rose.

“Though I am new in the post-apocalyptic medical field, I shall do my utmost to care for any injured fighters. I will be in Apartment 515 if anyone should need treatment.” Kanaya took her leave.

“Good. That is all I have to say for now. If anything changes, I shall let you know. Meanwhile, let's get to work,” said Rose, and there was a flurry of activity as the survivors got started.

Chapter Text

As she was placing the final touches on the lobby stairwell, Rose jumped as she heard a violent metallic crash drift up from the courtyard. She froze. It sounded suspiciously like a Tank breaking down the courtyard gates. She prayed to Oglogoth that it wasn't a Tank breaking down the courtyard gates.

A young man at the window turned to Rose with terror and yelled, “Lalonde, a Tank just broke down the courtyard gates!”

Well, fuck.

She dashed to the window with trepidation. Sure enough, the gates hung mangled and useless off their hinges, and hundreds of undead poured slowly into the courtyard. At the head of the advancing horde was a pale creature with bulging muscles, slightly taller than an average man. It looked much like a lumpy gorilla. It even moved like one, running swiftly on lopsided knuckles like an animal. The brute hastened across the darkened yard toward the door, ground quaking in its footsteps. Though they were not particularly large, Tanks were certainly heavy. Unfortunately, they were also very fast.

Before Rose could confirm the Tank sighting to the anxious survivors, gunshots ripped through the still night air. Rose smiled; Jade always hit her target. Following their leader's example, the other snipers lined up their sights. More shots rang from above, a rain of bullets peppering the musclebound Infected far below.

The Tank staggered briefly, blood coating its pale skin in splotches, then continued its trek toward the apartment's undefended entrance. In seconds it was at the door, out of range of the snipers.

Rose could only hope they had weakened it enough that her ragtag troops could take it down quickly.

The fire in the courtyard far below burned to faint embers beneath the stampeding feet of dozens of zombies, surrendering the area to darkness. There was no need to sit here and watch; the thunderous pounding on the reinforced metal doors told Rose everything she needed to know.

She turned to the other survivors, who were breaking into a panic. She raised her voice as high as she could, shouting uncharacteristically over the din. “Everyone sit down, shut up, and get your firearms out!”

The din only grew louder. She thought she heard a “Fuck you, Lalonde!” coming from an irate Walton in the back. It was clear she wasn't getting through to them.

Rose sighed with frustration. Jade wasn't here to bail her out this time. Suddenly, she sensed two people flanking her.

“What do you think we should do, Rose?” asked Roxy. “Gonna make an inspirational speech? Leonidas the shit outta these peeps?”

Calliope, on Rose's other side, trembled silently.

“There's not much we can do now, I'm afraid. The people will have to fend for themselves if they are unwilling to listen to reason.”

“Fuck that, I ain't givin' up on them!” Roxy said stubbornly.

“Roxy, what exactly are you...” Rose was cut off by the deafening sound of Roxy's rifle, firing into the air. For a moment her ears rang.

When her hearing returned the room was silent save for Roxy's enthusiastic voice. “Look, guys. I know you're all freakin' out, but shit's gonna get even worse if you all try to handle yourselves. Like, you know in the horror movies, characters are all like 'Hey let's split up'? And you're like 'Don't do that you shitheads, there's gonna be a massacre!' That's us right now. We gotta work together if we don't wanna become zombie chow.”

“We're all going to die!” some fool shouted from the back of the room. “Why fight it?”

“'Course you're all gonna die, it's the human condition. But it don't gotta be today! You gotta step it up. Lots of you got family upstairs. Who's gonna stop the Z's from getting 'em if you lay down 'n die now?”

“There's no chance of winning against that thing!” said a woman near the elevator.

“We gotta try, right? I mean, I sure as hell didn't survive this long just so I could die here. What do you got to lose?”

The survivors had no response to this.

“You can either run around like cats with your tails on fire and die, or you can work with us to beat this thing like a Persian rug and have a chance of livin'. I know what I choose!” Roxy concluded her speech.

The only sound was the distant pounding of the complex doors. After a moment, Tony the Guardsman spoke up.

“So, what do you want us to do, Lalonde?”

Rose smiled. She supposed she'd underestimated Roxy's abilities as a leader. A foolish error, considering she'd kept the Alphas together during their session.

“First we listen. Let's find out the route this Tank's going to take to get up here, assuming it even gets inside. When it reaches one of the barricades, I want everyone's guns out and pointed at the door as it is trying to come through. If it breaches the barrier, fire with everything you have. Pass around any lanterns and flashlights so that we can see what we're doing and not shoot each other.

“There will likely be other Infected following it. Unless you are in immediate danger, ignore them. There are too many to make an indent upon their numbers. Focus on the Tank.

“When it's dead, everyone should retreat upstairs. The weaker undead should have difficulty getting through the metal doors off the stairwells, so you will have some measure of safety. Then find an apartment and barricade yourself inside. After that, it's up to fate.”

As soon as she was done giving orders, a loud crash resounded from downstairs. Several people screamed, but no mass panic erupted.

“It's in. Listen for which stairwell it chooses,” said Rose calmly.

The terrified survivors received their answer shortly as they heard the doors on the downstairs stairwell entrance slam off their hinges with a clang.

Several people whimpered, Calliope included.

“It's coming up the central stairs. Everyone get into position, aim your guns at the lobby door. Here, let's get these lights positioned,” Rose suggested.

The survivors were jumpy, but they did as they were told. They dispersed lanterns and flashlights so that they had some uniform sense of what was going on in the room. Then, they got into position and waited.

They listened tensely as the Tank rushed up the stairs. It seemed only seconds before it arrived. Wham. The lobby doors vibrated with its weight as it slammed into them from the other side. Furniture fell from where it was piled against the doors, and no one got up to replace it. There was no point; if the Tank wanted inside, it was going to get in no matter what.

“Stay calm and aim,” Rose ordered. Clicks echoed throughout the room as guns of all types were readied for combat. Several people were on the verge of panic. Rose could hear Calliope hyperventilating somewhere behind her, and Roxy trying to soothe her. “Don't worry, babe. We've gotten outta worse situations,” she said.

Wham. The doors budged again under the Tank's strength, but still held. Several pieces of furniture shattered with a resounding crack, further weakening the barrier between the survivors and death.

“Steady...” said Rose. She tried to keep her own panic out of her voice. There was a very good chance she would die tonight, and this universe didn't allow second chances. Several people were outright crying, and Rose could hear a man praying the Hail Mary.

WHAM. With an ear-splitting roar, the Tank finally shattered the barricade. Shrapnel from destroyed furniture flew everywhere, and the two doors slammed against the walls and fell from their hinges. It was here.

It stood slightly taller than a man, hunched over with vertebrae showing beneath the skin. Its arms were absolutely massive, with bulging muscles that would make Lord English jealous. Hands the size of watermelons supported its weight, claw-tipped fingers curled beneath. All of this was offset by a normal-sized head and legs, giving it the illusion that it was even larger that it was. Its pale skin was covered in scars and bleeding lesions, and the only garment it wore was a tattered pair of jeans. The rest of its clothes must have been ripped to pieces under its sheer size.

The Tank and the survivors stared each other down for a split second. Then the Infected took action, charging forward toward the crowd.

FIRE yelled Rose, perhaps more panicked than she meant. The room was filled with deafening gunfire, peppering the brute with bloody holes all across its front. By the time it reached the first row of survivors, not a single inch of its front remained unbloodied. It slowed for all of a second before plowing onward. The rage of a Tank could not be stopped.

As the undead juggernaut sprinted toward her, Rose dodged out of the way. The woman behind her caught the full force of its fist. From where she stood five feet away, Rose could hear the victim's ribs shatter with a sickening crack as the unfortunate survivor flew across the room. She hit the far wall with a dull thud, slumping to the ground motionless. She was either dead, or wishing she was.

The Tank turned, heading to the opposite side of the room. As it went it scattered the lanterns and flashlights the survivors had so meticulously set out, throwing the room into a maelstrom of light and shadow. As it passed through one of the bright sections of the room, Rose took the opportunity to aim her pistol at the creature. Every little bit of damage counted when it came to downing a Tank.

An ear-piercing shriek rent the air. Before Rose could pull the trigger, a 140 pound zombie slammed into her, pinning her to the ground on her back. Rose mentally cursed herself. She'd forgotten about the Hunters.

The creature's pale face was inches from hers. Its sightless eyes oozed blood inches from her brow, and its needle-like teeth were bared in a frightening grimace. Rose struggled to free herself, but the Hunter would have none of it. In a deft movement, it slashed a claw across her stomach, leaving four deep parallel gashes in its wake. Rose cried out and struggled harder.

Bam. Suddenly the Hunter's head was reduced to a gory stump, spraying blood across Rose's chest and face. From somewhere to Rose's left she could hear Roxy cheering.

BOOM! Headshot!” she cried elatedly. As she stood there pumping her fist in the air, two lithe, decaying arms shot out around her throat, pulling her backwards. Rose took careful aim at her savior's captor and shot. It, too, was minus a head.

Roxy stood up from where she had fallen and grinned at Rose. Rose only raised an eyebrow and smirked. “What was this about headshots you mentioned?”

“Heh, must be genetic!” conceded Roxy. She reached out to help Rose to her feet. Rose winced at the new wounds she'd acquired, but stood steadily.

They had no time to celebrate. The room continued shaking as the Tank thundered in their direction. Calliope came darting past, magnum held in a death grip, and leaped behind her companions in hopes of safety.

“Don't let it get me don't let it get me don't let it get me!” she gasped with terror.

Rose and Roxy stood side by side firing their weapons, prepared to leap away at a moment's provocation should the Tank get too close. At the last second, it swerved, choosing instead to target a man to its right. They could hear his collarbone shatter as the Tank punched him. This time, instead of hitting a wall, the survivor crashed through one of the boarded floor to ceiling windows with the force of the blow. Tragically, the man went falling to his death in the courtyard five stories below.

Now the Tank turned to Rose, Roxy, and Calliope and charged. The three dodged at the last moment. The Tank stumbled straight past, colliding with the doors to the hallway and flattening them as it continued running due to momentum. Rose, Roxy, and even Calliope used the opportunity to shoot the creature while its back was turned. There was no sign of it flagging, though most of it was covered in blood.

“Boomer!” a terrified voice resounded from across the room. The three women dodged out of the doorway to look. Indeed, a corpulent Infected riddled with tumors waddled into the room, bile dripping from its mouth.

“Whatever you do, don't--” Rose started, but she was cut short by the bang of a gun. The Boomer exploded into small, bloody bits, getting its bile over half of the people in the room. “--shoot it.” Rose finished uselessly.

The horde that was backed up down the stairwell burst into a murderous frenzy at the scent of the Boomer Bile. Howling, they clawed at each other to get at the gooey survivors, who shied back as far from the stairs as they could go.

They needn't have bothered. The zombies that were already in the room bore down upon the panicked masses. Rose tried not to listen too closely to their dying screams as she took aim and tried to down as many undead as possible. By her side, Roxy joined her.

The rest of the survivors fled, running down the halls for the distant south and east stairwells. Those who tried the latter were stopped by the Tank, which came charging back down the corridor directly at them. It grabbed one of the downed survivors, slamming him repeatedly into the wood floor until splinters mingled with its victim's blood. All the while, Rose, Roxy, and Calliope split their attention between the Tank and the horde, trying to save as many lives as possible.

Finally, the Tank tired of its toy, and set its sights on the women shooting it from the lobby. It sprinted towards them with the speed characteristic of its kind, shaking the walls with each step.

The three dodged out of the way just in time. Roxy and Calliope went left, while Rose went right, toward the windows.

Having chosen its new target, the Tank swerved after Rose. She ran until she hit the wall, then dodged right and ran some more. The creature bore down upon her, just at her heels.

After running about half the length of the room, Rose stumbled to a halt near the large broken window that opened to the dark void outside. One of the survivors had dropped a powerful flashlight, which cast its brilliance directly out into the night. With this light, she could see the wall of undead facing her. The Boomer Bile had worn off, and now they reached out with decaying limbs for a new target, mouths agape with resounding moans. Rose glanced behind her at the Tank thundering toward her. She heard Roxy and Calliope shooting, trying to get her our of her predicament, but the Tank would not die, and the zombies were too numerous. She was on her own.

After all I've been through, am I to die here, trapped between a Tank and an undead horde? she thought to herself.

No. If she was going out, it would be on her terms. She pulled out her knitting needles.

Rose dashed toward the Tank. She dodged its devastating punch and, in a single, deft motion, plunged one needle into each eye. The Tank roared and drew back in pain, pulling the yarn taut. Rose used the momentum to swing herself up onto the Tank's back. Here she balanced, fighting the rapid movements of its muscles beneath her feet, yarn held in each hand like reins.

It appears I've still got it, Rose thought to herself.

In the background, she could hear Roxy screaming at her. “Holy fuck, Rose! No!” Ignoring her, Rose yanked the yarn in her left hand, pulling it tight. The Tank roared again, staggering left as it tried to alleviate the pain. It bumped the wall, which groaned under the Infected's weight. She then pulled both strands, and the Tank howled once more, stumbling forward and knocking the lesser zombies out of the way.

In the powerful beam of a discarded flashlight, she could see the yawning hole of the shattered window directly to her left. Beyond was a five-story drop to the pitch-black courtyard below. She heard both of her friends pleading now, frantically begging her not to do it. As per usual, she ignored them. Yanking on the left string, the Tank tottered the few feet toward the hole. It balanced precariously on the edge for a second, flailing its arms, before finally dropping into the void below.

At the last second, Rose released the reins and reached out a hand in a last-ditch attempt to survive. To her gratitude, she snagged the bottom edge of the window. She hung limply from the side of the building as the Tank fell. The colossal, earth-shaking thud as the Tank hit the ground was quite possibly the sweetest noise she had ever heard.

Rose swung her other arm upward, grabbing the floor above her with her other hand, as well. Bracing her feet against the outer wall, she prepared to hoist herself up to safety. She was cut short when something tread on her hand. Crying out, she released the ledge, hanging one-handed once again.

The zombie who had introduced its foot to Rose's hand stared down at her, arms outstretched. It took a step into midair, and Rose could feel the air rush past her as it went plunging down behind her into the courtyard below. Soon, another approached. It, too, stepped off the precipice. One by one, the undead came to Rose, arms outstretched in hopes of another victim. One by one they fell.

Suddenly, Rose felt something grab her ankle, digging its nails into her skin. She looked down into the dead eyes of a fortunate Infected which had managed to escape the bone-shattering fall. It snapped its teeth viciously at her, but was unable to lift itself high enough to bite her foot.

As for Rose, the effort to remain clinging to the ledge became unbearable with the addition of the dead weight. Her arm burned with exhaustion, fingers aching with her desperate attempt to survive.

I certainly hope Roxy and Calliope finish whatever they are doing and come assist me soon, she thought to herself. Dimly, she could hear gunfire coming from the room above her, but it did not come anywhere near the window.

Rose felt her strength draining. After everything that had happened tonight, all she wanted was to rest. One by one, each finger released the ledge. Thumb, then pinky, then ring finger. She felt her remaining digits start to buckle.

Bang! Rose heard a splatter beneath her, and the undead released her ankle. Looking up to the top floor, she thought she could see the glint of a flashlight against a pair of round glasses, and she grinned. She could always count on Jade.

With renewed vigor, she swung both hands up to grab the ledge once more. It was clear that she would not be able to pull herself up at this point; she was simply too exhausted. Instead she clung for dear life.

Rose heard a pair of crows getting too close for comfort, cawing ominously. With two loud gunshots, the birds ceased their ruckus. She reminded herself to knit her friend another Squiddles-themed sweater when this was over.

“Rose? Holy shit, you're alive!” Roxy yelled in awe. “Callie, can you cover me while I get her up?”

“But they are so very numerous; what if I fail?” Rosy could hear Calliope distantly expressing her doubts.

“You'll be great. And we don't got a lotta choice. Please, hold them back!” Roxy shouted desperately.

Calliope must have agreed, because Rose could hear her magnum firing moments later. She felt Roxy's warm hands encircling both of her wrists. They tightened, and she found herself slowly but surely inching her way upward toward the ledge. Finally, with a great heave, Roxy pulled Rose to solid ground.

Face flush against the floor, Rose offered a muffled, “Thank you, Roxy."

“Don't mention it!” Rose could hear rather than see Roxy's grin. “Now get yourself up, missy! Time for school. Today's lesson is 'Zombie Ass Kickin' 101'”.

As she pushed herself up onto her knees, Rose could hear a faint roaring. She panicked for a moment, wondering whether the Tank had returned. Then she toppled forward into Roxy's arms.

Roxy grabbed a flashlight, examining her relative. “Holy shit, Rose! Your stomach!”

Groggily, Rose glanced down. A crimson stain spread itself across her front. That is a troubling amount of blood, she thought to herself. She dimly realized that the roaring hadn't been a Tank, but her own vital fluids pumping through her ears.

“Oh, yes. I forgot about the Hunter wound,” Rose said simply.

“Goddamnit! How do you go riding Tanks off cliffs like a badass without realizin' you're bleeding out?” Roxy muttered, gripping her relative's arm tightly in frustration.

“I sincerely doubt the wound is as bad as you make it out to be,” Rose replied.

“Nope, don't go shruggin' this off. We're goin' to see Kanaya.” Roxy turned to her girlfriend, who had managed to provide decent cover so far. “Callie, can you carry Rose?”

Calliope did not respond, instead continuing to fire her magnum at the approaching undead.

“Callie? Babe, listen. We gotta get somewhere safe.” With extreme tenderness, Roxy lay a hand on her girlfriend's shoulder.

Calliope let out a short cry, jumping in fear. “R... Roxy! Don't do that!”

“Didn't you hear me? We gotta go get somewhere safe!” Roxy repeated.

“Safe... safe... yes, of course,” Calliope replied distractedly.

“So, will you carry Rose for me?” asked Roxy.

“Oh. Yes, I suppose that would be fine,”was Calliope's disconnected response. When she reached out to take Rose's arm, the Seer realized just how much the former Cherub was shaking.

Fortunately, Rose managed to remain standing, albeit leaning heavily upon Calliope's trembling shoulder. Step by cautious step, the three made their way across the room to the south hall.

Rose clutched tightly to Calliope, trying to aim through her swimming vision. She was satisfied to learn that even in her anemic state, she could still bring down a Walker in a few hits. Calliope also had her weapon out, blasting the undead almost automatically. Rose stumbled as Callie flinched each time the weapon fired, but managed to stay upright. Roxy performed the role of protector, blasting zombie after zombie with her rifle. Between the three of them, they left piles of Infected behind.

Even with their skilled marksmanship, however, they could not stop the occasional bite or scratch of a particularly determined Walker. With every few feet, one got past their defenses and grasped at them with rotten claws. Rose was fairly safe between her two friends, but Roxy and Calliope picked up a number of wounds.

Finally, the three survivors made it to the door of Apartment 515. They clustered together, back to back, as all of the Walkers who had followed them across the room caught up.

Calliope again provided cover as Roxy pounded on the door. Rose tried to assist, but her head was getting foggy, and her aim was off a bit. Fortunately, only seconds passed before she heard, over the chaos, the faint sound of furniture scraping away from the door.

“Kanaya, Rose needs your help!” Roxy explained. “She picked up some nicks from a Hunter, and she's not lookin' too good.”

Rose was focused on her attempts to score a hit against a Walker that was getting too close for comfort, so she could not turn to see Kanaya's reaction. Her voice shook, however, as she responded.

“Give her to me as quietly as you possibly can. If you all entered this room it would draw too much attention. This would place my patients in jeopardy. Leave Rose here and then head upstairs making as significant a commotion as you can manage. Draw them away.”

“Sure thing!” Roxy grabbed Rose's upper arm, gently but firmly. “Come on, your woman's gonna help you. We'll meet up after this whole thing's over, 'k?”

“Be careful, Roxy,” Rose replied as she was led into the safety of the makeshift hospital. When the door closed, she hoped she would see Roxy again.

Rose slumped to the floor as soon as the others were gone. Woozily, she glanced around. She appeared to be sitting in the apartment's living room. In the dim light of the camping lantern set in the middle of the floor, she could see other patients sprawled here and there on makeshift beds made of blankets, towels, and pillows. Some moaned quietly, while others made no sound at all, not even moving. Rose tried not to think about them.

Kanaya remained at the door for a few minutes, discerning whether the undead were going to take an interest in their hiding place. Finally deciding that they were safe for now, she pushed the furniture back in front of the door. Hopefully the zombies would forget about them and leave soon, or at least thin out enough that they could secure the area.

Rose's wife hastened to her side, pulling out an extra flashlight so that she could better see the injuries. Of course, it did not take a lot of looking to notice the heavy bloodstains on Rose's front.

Kanaya tutted fretfully. “I am going to pull up your shirt. It may hurt if your blood has adhered the clothing to your wounds. Are you ready?”

Rose smirked. “You may feel free to disrobe me at any time, my dear.”

The former Troll rolled her eyes. “It seems that your sense of humor is still intact.” Before Rose could answer, Kanaya peeled the shirt away from the wound, eliciting a yelp from her patient. Moments later the ruined shirt was forgotten in a pile in the corner.

As Kanaya bent down to look closely at the injury, Rose caught a whiff of her wife's familiar scent. It was so comforting, after nothing but blood and sweat the entire evening. In other circumstances, she may have been aroused.

Suddenly, Rose found her eyelids growing heavy. It had been a long, difficult evening, and all she wanted to do now was sleep. She'd earned it, hadn't she?

“Kanaya, would you be averse to continue working on me while I take a brief respite?” she asked groggily.

“Of course not, my dear. Just keep this in mind: while your wounds are not too severe they will need stitches to stop the blood flow. I may inadvertently awaken you.” Kanaya placed the wet towel against Rose's torn skin, and the injured woman barely even felt it.

“I doubt that will be a concern.” Rose felt herself fading quickly. “Goodnight, Kanaya.”

The last thing she heard before slumber claimed her was her wife's voice: “Sleep well, Rose.”

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Rose awakened to a gentle touch. “Wake up, dear. I need to change your bandages and it will be much easier if you are awake while I do so.”

Opening her eyes groggily, Rose took in her wife's kind face. Behind her, light filtered in from a window out of the injured woman's vision.

“How long have I been unconscious?” murmured Rose, mouth dry with sleep. Kanaya was careful as she helped her lover to sit up, but Rose couldn't help grunting anyway.

As soon as she was certain Rose would stay sitting, Kanaya handed her some bottled water and replied, “You have been out for several hours. Do not worry. We are safe. The undead seem to have calmed now that the sun has been up for a while. The other residents are in the process of eliminating stragglers and rounding up the wounded.”

“Is everyone else unharmed?” asked Rose. She took a swig of the water, swished it around in her mouth, and swallowed.

“If you refer to our companions everyone seems well enough. Roxy and Calliope received some unpleasant cuts during their endeavors but otherwise they are fine.” Behind Rose, Kanaya began the process of unwrapping the bandages around Rose's middle.

“So, what is the diagnosis, Doctor Maryam?” asked Rose once the bandages had been removed completely.

“The wounds from the Hunter appear to be healing quite nicely. There is no sign of infection. I...” she was cut off as the door to Apartment 515 opened. Roxy stood on the threshold, grinning widely.

“Rosie, you're awake!” the other Lalonde crowed. Rose quickly covered herself with her arms for the sake of modesty.

Kanaya scowled at Roxy. “Could you perhaps give us some privacy? I am attempting to practice my craft and it is difficult to do so while you are leering at us.”

“Oh, sorry!” Roxy turned around, looking toward the closed door behind her instead. “That better? Promise I won't peek! I just really wanted to make sure Rose was okay while I was on break from cleanup duty.”

Rose looked behind her at Kanaya. “So long as she promises to avert her eyes, I don't see why she can't stay.”

The former Troll sighed. “Very well,” she said simply as she returned to her work, carefully cleaning the cuts.

“So, you were totes amazing out there!” Roxy gushed.

“Thank you, Roxy. However, I don't require a play-by-play,” Rose replied quickly, hoping to change the subject in front of her wife.

Roxy would not be deterred. “That was some hella dangerous stuff you did, tho! This shit's probly gonna go down in legend or somethin'!”

“Yes. Thank you, Roxy,” Rose repeated more severely this time, trying to get a not-so-subtle message across to her relative.

“Oh? And in what 'dangerous activities' has Rose been engaged apart from battling the undead?” Kanaya's tone was stern as she finished cleaning the wounds and began wrapping them with clean bandages.

“Nothing,” Rose said, carefully controlling her tone.

“I dunno, the way you stuck needles in the Tank's eyes and rode its torso out the window like a goddamn cowgirl was pretty cool!” Roxy said. Rose could almost hear her smirking.

“She did what?” Kanaya yanked just a bit too hard on the bandages, making Rose yelp. She quickly loosened them, but her grip remained firm.

Rose glared at Roxy. Sometimes she forgot that the woman was technically the same person as her biological mother. Is she trying to teach me a “lesson” about being reckless? Rose wondered bitterly.

“Yeah, just hopped on its back and whipped it like the ugliest pony in Rainbowland,” Roxy explained. “Anyway, I better get back to cleanup. Laters!” The culprit made a hasty retreat.

“Rose dear?” asked Kanaya.

“Yes, my beloved?” Rose replied as innocently as she could while simultaneously swearing bloody revenge on her ecto-relative.

“We are going to have some words.”

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

“Lalonde!”

Roxy sighed. Walton was on a rampage again. She'd thought Karkat was bad with his bossiness and foul mouth, but this guy was worse. Way worse, if only because he was an actual asshole instead of a pretend asshole like Karkat.

“Lalonde!” the man bellowed, louder this time.

Grumbling under her breath, Roxy realized playing dumb and assuming Walton was calling for her relative wasn't going to work. He knew she was incapacitated upstairs. There could only be one.

“WTF do you want, Walton?” Roxy responded with irritation.

Walton marched through the survivors resting in the downstairs lobby, stepping over several headless corpses. He stopped before Roxy. Walton was a big man; he was heavy and muscular. So much so, if he were a couple shades paler he could be mistaken for a Tank. Walton gazed down and locked eyes with the hapless woman.

“Where's Umbra?”

Umbra. The last name Calliope chose when she'd come to Earth to live as a human.

“I dunno. Do I look like the local Callie-sittin' service?” Come to think of it, Roxy hadn't seen Callie around for the last half hour or so. She'd been acting strangely ever since the invasion; Roxy hoped she was okay.

“The way she clings to you like a wimp makes me think so. We don't take deserters in this squad.” Walton glared daggers at Roxy.

Anger sparked in her gut. This was the sort of bullshit Callie had finally escaped; she didn't need this asshole reminding her of her brother.

“Dude, this ain't the fuckin' army,” Roxy snapped. “You're not the boss, so back down. I don't gotta put up with this.”

“Oh, you think your sister was a better leader? When she got half the residents here killed last night?” Walton leaned down into Roxy's face, each syllable spraying spittle into her eyes, nose, and mouth. “If I'd been in charge, that wouldn't have happened. So how about you leave the fighting to someone who knows what he's doing?”

Roxy scowled. Standing up to the madman was getting her nowhere, and she really just wanted to leave and find Callie.

“Alright, alright. If I go look for her, would you stop yellin' at me like im some dog that shat on your carpet just before the president arrived for dinner?” Roxy backed off slightly.

“Yes. Go find her and tell her to report to me. And don't question your orders again!”

Roxy suppressed another sigh as she turned and left. She had no intention of forcing Calliope back into battle, but she really was worried where her girlfriend might have gone. Roxy hoped she was safe.

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Naturally, Roxy assumed Calliope would be in the Maryam-Lalonde apartment upstairs. She decided to cover all of her bases, however, and made a stop back at Room 515 to check if Kanaya had seen her. Kanaya should be about done with her lecture by now, right? Roxy wondered to herself.

But when Roxy arrived at the door of the makeshift hospital, she could still hear Kanaya ranting at Rose just beyond.

“--- are far more addicted to danger than you ever were to your soporifics. Honestly you are worse than Vriska at times. And I may add that Vriska was the god of luck. I cannot always step in and make sure you do not kill yourself, Rose.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“You will be the death of me, Rose Lalonde. Your daredevilish ways will surely cause me a vascular system malfunction before middle age. I do not know why I continue to patch you up when you are only going to be injured again in one of your harebrained schemes.”

“Of course.”

“You are lucky I am so flushed for you. You would surely be dead within a week without someone to keep an eye on you. Do not scratch your stitches or you will reopen the wound.”

“Yes, dear.”

“For the love of the Mother Grub please remain in bed for now. You have performed enough heroic acts for today. Are you even listening to me?”

“Yes, dear.”

“You are not listening to me! You are using repeated stock phrases that indicate disinterest!”

“I apologize, I lost track around the fifth time you repeated yourself.”

“Rose Lalonde, I will..!”

Roxy decided Rose had probably had enough punishment if Kanaya had been going on like this for an hour. She decided to open the door and make her presence known.

“Hey you guys, have you seen...” Roxy paused when she saw Rose, whose eyes were narrowed as she glared venom at her ecto-mother. If looks could kill, Roxy would be six feet under by now.

“Roxy we are trying to have a conversation here,” Kanaya griped. She bustled about tending to the wounded even as she rambled. Roxy felt bad for her patients; by their dejected expressions it was clear they had long given up trying to quiet her.

Kanaya continued her rant. “Rose needs to understand why it is not appropriate to ride Tanks out of windows.”

“Yeah, I think she's probably learned her lesson by now. Consider her sufficiently schooled on the subject of Tank rodeos n' gravity.” Roxy glanced apologetically at Rose, but it was clear in her cold gaze that she would have to earn her forgiveness.

“I think she has made it clear that she will never learn her lesson,” Kanaya countered as she checked the stitches on the arm of an annoyed but defeated looking man. “She will continue to do dangerous things such as Tank riding or cavorting with Horrorterrors until it ultimately kills her. And that is definitely not a result I desire. I care too much for her.”

“Kanaya...” Rose said softly, touched.

“Do not attempt to butter me up, Rose. I am still angry.”

“Yeah, but it looks like your patients are gonna do a synchronized dive out the windows themselves pretty soon here,” interjected Roxy.

Kanaya took a moment to look around. Looking into the pleading eyes of her conscious patients, she sighed. “Very well. We shall continue this later. You are still sleeping on the couch tonight, Rose.”

One of the patients near the far end of the room sniggered.

“Very well, my beloved. The couch it is.” Rose was willing to concede to anything to stop the tirade. She still glared daggers at Roxy, though.

“Is there some reason you came here, Roxy? I doubt you simply wished to get Rose out of trouble.” Kanaya continued her duties, not looking up.

“Yeah I was wonderin' if Callie's come by here.”

“She has not been in this room at all. Have you tried our apartment upstairs?”
“Not yet. Figured I'd ask you guys first just in case.” Roxy frowned. This had been a colossal waste of time. Well, maybe not so much for Rose and the patients, but still...

“I wish you luck in your search,” said Kanaya as Roxy left the room, closing the door behind her.

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“Calliope?” Roxy looked around the living room of her relative's apartment. “You in here, babe?”

Silence was her only answer. Roxy knew that Callie was very good at making herself scarce; if she did not want to be found she likely would not answer Roxy's calls. Unfortunately, as Callie's girlfriend, it was her job to ensure her well-being. So she began a more extensive search of the apartment.

Roxy checked the kitchen, dining room, and bedroom without success. She looked behind chairs and under beds. She called Calliope's name over and over until her throat became sore.

As she entered the study, she began to give up hope. Calliope could be anywhere in the building. Unless... well, Roxy didn't want to think about anywhere else she might be.

“Calliope!” Roxy's voice had an edge of panic now. Where was that woman? She was about to leave when she heard a sniffling sound from the walk-in linen closet in the hall.

“Roxy?” a soft voice responded.

“OMG Callie!” Roxy slid the door open, and there was her girlfriend. She was curled up miserably beneath the shelves, face stained with tears.

“Holy shit, babe, you had me worried sick! Like, I had a terminal amount of worry. Gotta go into flipout surgery if I wanna live,” said Roxy frantically. “Why are you hidin' in the linen closet?”

Calliope took a moment to compose herself before answering lamely: “Um, because... because I favour the scent of fabric softener?”

Okay that was some Grade A bullshit right there. “Yeah, I totally feel ya. Nothing I love more than cryin' in a closet while sniffin'...”

Roxy picked up the box of fabric softener, notably on the other side of the closet from where Callie was sitting. “...'Rosemary Breeze'?” Yeah, pretty much no way this ain't a Strider gift, Roxy thought to herself.

“But yeah. That's the fuckin' best,” she continued. “Completely logical thing to be doin'.”

“So we're agreed, then?” said Calliope swiftly. “I'm glad you understand. It was lovely talking with you. We shall have to do it again sometime. Cheerio!” Callie pushed Roxy out of the closet and made to slam the sliding door closed, but Roxy caught it first.

“Callie, babe, we've talked 'bout this. You promised to open up to me. No more of that sneaky secret half-truth bullshit.” She'd been doing so well, too.

Behind the door, Roxy heard Callie release a ragged sigh. Slowly, the door slid open again. The miserable woman looked into Roxy's eyes.

“I... I suppose I did promise that. I'm so very sorry, Roxy. With everything that's occured recently, I forget myself at times.”

“Shh, it's okay. Anyone would be flippin' their shit in these conditions,” Roxy comforted her. “Now, will you tell me what's happenin'?”

Calliope looked down, fiddling with her hands. “I...” she started, before clearing her throat.

“I'm a coward, aren't I?” she asked quickly.

“What? Callie, no way you're a coward! You totes kicked ass last night!” protested Roxy.

“Did I? Because I can't seem to remember anything but loads of blood and gunfire,” Calliope countered. “When I see the undead, I panic, Roxy. I just mentally check out. My brain screams at me to run or fight, and logic flies out the window!”

“Even if that's true, which it isn't, you still held your ground real well last night!” insisted Roxy. “You pretty much singlehandedly kept those Z's from gettin' me and Rose. You oughtta be proud!”

“I was barely even conscious of what was occuring! All of that shooting was me struggling to survive by the skin of my teeth! Do you have any idea how close I was to simply dropping Rose and running?” Calliope looked to be on the verge of tears.

“But you didn't! You were scared but you stuck around. That sounds a hell of a lot like bravery to me!” Roxy wanted nothing more than for Calliope to believe her.

“Yes, this time we were lucky. But next time we may not be so fortunate, and I'll have a stupid bloody slip-up and someone will suffer for it! I especially don't want that person to be you! I truly don't think I should be fighting; I'm dangerous!”

“Babe, you know I can take care of myself. You really don't need to worry 'bout me!” Roxy reassured her.

“Roxy, while I have the utmost faith in your skills, even the most consummate survivors make mistakes. You've done so yourself. I only wish I could be of more support if such a circumstance arose.”

Roxy glanced at the healed scars on her knuckles from their first encounter with the undead. They had healed over nicely, without complications. Kanaya had told her she'd been extremely lucky. What would it have done to Calliope if they had not? If Roxy had become undead herself?

“I'm simply not built for combat, love,” Callie continued. “I just know that when the time comes, I'll flub the whole thing. It would perhaps be best if I no longer fought.”

“Fuck that!” Roxy slammed a fist against the closet door. “You don't gotta be gettin' down on yourself like this! You're a fuckin' badass with a sweet magnum and guts of steel.”

With this, Calliope put her head in her hands and began to sob.

“I just... I... I was so frightened! Sitting there in the dark, listening to it hunting me, pulverizing anything it touched. Watching as it crushed our neighbors to death, and not being able to do a thing about it. I felt so powerless! It was just like...” Callie's voice broke at this, rendering her silent except for heavy sobs.

So that was what was going on. Come to think of it, the situations were very similar. Roxy was surprised she hadn't figured it out sooner. She placed a comforting hand on her girlfriend's arm.

“Shh, shh. It's OK. He's gone, remember? That orange guy wiped his memories,” said Roxy gently.

“They told my brother what occured back then, though. What's to stop him from attempting something again?” Calliope grabbed Roxy by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Suppose he's accountable for all this?”

Roxy knew she was referring to the rise of the dead. “I doubt that, babe. None of us retained our god powers after we switched universes. Lord English is gone for good.”

“You underestimate my brother. He is quite cunning; if he can't rule Paradox Space, then perhaps he would settle for the world!”

“He'd try to rule the world by destroyin' it?” Roxy raised an eyebrow. “I spy a few holes in that plan.”

“He's... he doesn't always think these things through, you know!” Calliope's sobs were decreasing in intensity; it seemed Roxy's logic was getting through to her.

“I been in contact with Dirk this whole time. He said your bro's behaving himself better than before. Just basically sits around watching soap operas and working on that shitty manga the Daves are helpin' him with.”

“Ugh, you had to bring up the bloody comic, didn't you?” Calliope rolled her eyes. She was not particularly welcoming of the sudden popularity of Caliborn's terrible comics.

“Sorry, babe. Just tryin' to make a point.”

“It's okay,” sighed Calliope, tears replaced with annoyance. “Anyway, I just have a bad feeling about this. I suspect he's up to something.”

“Look, even if he is, you've beat him before. And that was at his most powerful! So don't worry, we can handle it!”

“It was easy to fight a demon while the unfettered forces of Creation were pumping through my veins, Roxy. It was simple to surmount him when he'd spent my entire life courting me so atrociously that I just wanted to punch his sodding face in. But that isn't who I am anymore. I'm no god, no star serpent. I'm not even a Cherub anymore. I'm just... me.”

“And that's good enough! The powers of the Muse didn't defeat Lord English. He didn't kick it just because you were a Cherub. You defeated the Angel of Double Death, Callie. The most powerful being in all reality. You're definitely up to any challenge this stupid apocalypse can throw at you.”

After a moment's silent contemplation, Calliope smiled faintly through her tears. “I had help, you know.”

“No need to be modest! You did something real great. Possibly even the greatest thing, n' I'm not just sayin' that! You should give yourself some mad props, girl!”

Calliope released a quiet giggle, then lapsed into silence. Though she was only feet from Roxy,
her gaze seemed far away. Roxy gave her space to think.

Finally Calliope spoke. “You always make me feel better. Remember when I was just as much support to you as you were to me?”

“Callie, you aren't...” Roxy protested but Calliope cut her off.

“I would love to do something for you in return for your kindness. So please, tell me! Is there anything I can do to make your day better?”

Roxy's mind wandered to her rucksack in the living room, where she kept the ring she'd bought what seemed like ages ago. Why hadn't she asked Callie yet? Was she just wimping out?

No, Roxy thought to herself. This whole apocalypse just hasn't presented the right moment. Everyone's stressed to the fuckin' wire and fallin' back into old habits. Callie with her secrecy, and Roxy with... well, she'd really, really been craving a drink for days now. But she wouldn't. Not when it might disappoint Callie. Calliope was worth more than all the booze in the world.

“Well...” Roxy started. She had to think of something else.

“I know somethin' we both might like!” she said brightly.

“What is it, love?”

“You could draw me,” said Roxy, winking, “like one of your French girls.”

Calliope simply stared at her girlfriend, brow furrowed. “Um, as much as I would love to fulfill your request, I am not currently in possession of any French girls.”

Quickly, she added, “If you could tell me where I might procure some, I would be absolutely chuffed to draw you like one!”

“LOL, OMG Callie, how have you lived on this planet for ten years and not seen Titanic?” Roxy laughed. “Come on, babe, I'll show you what I'm talkin' about. Get your sketchpad and meet me in the bedroom in five minutes.”

Calliope smiled, slowly getting the idea. “The bedroom, hmm? I shall be there in a minute!”

With that, Roxy stood up, offering Callie her hand. The former Cherub took it gratefully, and Roxy pulled her to her feet. Roxy didn't stop there, though. She pulled Calliope off her feet and into her arms, planting a huge kiss on the stunned woman's lips.

Calliope leaned into Roxy, enjoying the kiss. The two remained like that for a few moments, high from the feeling of just being together.

Eventually, Roxy broke off for air. “Alright, you ready for some fun, babe?”

Calliope smiled dreamily. “Of course, love!”

“Alright, let's get goin' then,” Roxy released Callie and left to prepare for tonight's events. Calliope watched her go, then remembered she needed to get her sketchpad. She hurriedly set off to find her rucksack, eager to see what Roxy had planned.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“PM, watch out!”

WV's warning came too late. An undead dog came sprinting across the courtyard toward PM, kicking up turf and flinging spittle every which way. It lunged at her before she could even swing her Regisword.

PM snarled as it tore into her sword arm. The Regisword fell to the ground with a muffled thud. She considered clamping her own jaws onto the back of the dog's neck in return, but then remembered that human teeth are useless for that sort of thing. And anyway, potentially ingesting any part of a zombie would likely be a poor decision.

Next she tried to shake the canine loose, but that only dug its fangs in deeper. She decided that idea was out.

Using her off hand, she attempted to pry the beast from her arm. It growled and chomped harder. It was probably getting close to some major veins at this point. PM really didn't feel like bleeding out today, so she let up on her efforts.

Suddenly, she felt her arm released. The dog yelped as it toppled to the floor, WV's Measuring Spear sticking through its ribs. There it writhed feebly, WV keeping it in place by leaning on his weapon.

Taking the opportunity provided, PM grabbed the Regisword from the ground in her off hand and neatly decapitated the beast. The zombie's struggling ceased.

“Whew, there's another one,” she said to her husband. “How many more are there?”

“PM, your arm! Here, let me see it!” WV demanded. When she hesitated for a second, WV insisted, “Let me see it, PM!”

“Okay, dear. I only needed a second to breathe.” PM extended her injured arm toward her husband, who took it gently. Together they examined the wound. Through the blood it looked as though the teeth had made a series of punctures in her skin. Fortunately, they had not gone too deep.

“I think it will be o--” PM was cut off by Walton's resounding voice.

“It looks like that's it, folks. Ladies and gentlemen, good work! We've driven the undead outta our home, and nobody got a scratch!”

Weary clapping greeted his remark. “Not bad, Walton,” said Tony the Guardsman from afar.

“Um, excuse me, Mr. Walton!” WV released PM's arm and started toward the former soldier, hand in the air like a child asking a question.

“WV!” PM warned. She really did not want Walton's attention right now.

“The fuck do you want, man?” asked the grumpy crew leader. “We gotta get to the next phase of the plan!”

“My wife is injured, and I would like permission to take her to the medical center!” WV put his hand down now that he stood next to the much taller man.

Walton scowled down at him, then glanced in PM's direction. Startled, she averted her gaze. Maybe his vision was based on movement, and if she sat still he wouldn't see her.

“She ain't injured. Tell her to walk it off.”

“Actually, I must beg to differ, kind sir. You see, there was a dog...”

WV was cut off by Walton's sharp but quiet reply. “Nobody. Got. A. Scratch. Do you understand me?”

“WV!” PM hissed again, looking back at the two arguing men.

“Now I have been polite, Mr. Walton. I have brought out every pleasantry I can remember from my Book of Human Etiquette, and you still refuse to listen to me...”

“Get back in formation!” interrupted Walton.

The little Mayor stood up as tall as he possibly could. He had a fairly imposing presence, all things considered. “Listen here, you scoundrel!” he cried. “Who are you to try to boss us around? Who crowned you King of the Apocalypse?”

Apparently oblivious to WV's call-back to his own interjection last night, Walton replied. “I'm the only one here with actual military training, that's why! So get the fuck back into formation!”

“Really? Military training? The way I hear it, you've never even seen a battlefield!” huffed WV.

“And I suppose you have?” scoffed Walton.

“Why yes, in fact, I was in one of the most important wars of all time. Not that you would know anything about that!”

“Oh yeah? Which one?” Walton asked skeptically.

“The battle for Skaia, dummy! Not that I agreed with it or anything. Oh, no. I led a rebellion against the Black King!”

PM ran a hand down her face in frustration. WV had never been good at following the number one rule: “Don't talk about 'The Game' to strangers”. It was probably why most of the people he knew classified him as a weirdo. That and the fact that he was a grown man who played with cans.

Indeed, Walton stood there dumbfounded, trying to parse where the conversation had gone off the rails.

WV obviously took this to mean that he was impressed. He stood tall, hands on his hips, and continued, “And that's why I do not respect you! You are nothing more than a petty tyrant!” Here WV pointed an accusing finger at the hapless man. “A foul ragamuffin! A magnificent nincompoop!” With one last breath, he stood up as high on his toes as he could and screeched, “You, sir, are a stupid-face!

Walton brought his full height to bear, towering massively over the small Mayor. “Big words for a little man. Why don't you put your money where...”

“WV!” shouted PM. “I really think we should go and get this looked at!” She waved her injured arm for emphasis, then winced. Probably not the best idea.

WV's eyes widened. “Of course, dear! I completely forgot, please forgive me!”

Then he turned to the large man. “Listen, Sir Walton. While I would be honored to engage in a duel with you, I need to get my wife to the hospital. Now if you will excuse me!” WV turned on his heel and stomped over to PM. Gently, he took her good arm and helped her up. “Oh, my goodness, I'm so sorry my dear. Let's get you to the Lady Sylph, everything will be just fine!”

“What, are you running like the little wimp you are?” shouted Walton.

Turning back to the former soldier, WV replied, “Oh, no, Mr. Walton. This isn't over.” With his free hand, he made an obscene gesture as he helped PM back inside the building.

As they crossed the threshold, WV sputtered more apologies. “I am so very sorry. I was so wrapped up in taking Walton down a notch, I didn't notice how much blood you might be losing...”

“It's okay, dear. Really,” replied PM. “It's not that bad. I just needed to get you away from Walton. He was about to pound you into the floor!”

“Ah,” said WV, blushing sheepishly. “Yes, I suppose my temper slipped away from me again. I really should choose my enemies more wisely!”

PM smiled warmly. “I know you meant no harm. Everything is fine now. Besides, if you didn't get into intense verbal debates with people several times your size, you wouldn't be WV. And I love you for it.”

“Well, just let me know sooner if you need help; I am always here for you!” said WV.

Of course he was. WV had always been there, even before PM had known him. He was the only other person she could relate to, the last Carapacian to survive the destruction on Skaia. They'd been through so much together: as exiles in the apocalyptic wasteland of Earth, as witnesses to the destruction of Destruction himself, as wandering vagrants with no place to go in the new reality which had rewritten their old one. When Jade had tracked them down, they went through therapy for the various traumas they'd endured. Eventually, they built a new life together. They forged a new identity as part of each other, and that identity did not change even with the end of the world.

PM took WV's hand in her good one, squeezing gently. “I know, WV. Thank you.”

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Jade squinted tiredly against the reflective glare of the setting sun on the building across the street. She thought she'd seen something, but maybe it was her imagination.

Nope, there it was again: a tall, lanky figure emitting foul green smoke appeared in the alley next to the structure, fixing its sights on the distant survivors who were fitting a makeshift gate into the courtyard wall. Jade didn't wait for it to make a move. The silencer did an excellent job quieting the sound of her rifle as she pulled the trigger. Within seconds, the Smoker's head was plastered against the brick walls of the alleyway. Jade fumbled for her ammo belt and reloaded.

Even though she'd been awake for a good twenty hours, her shot was impeccable. It was one of the many benefits of having once been a god of Space. Distance and velocity were second nature to her. The fact that she'd been taught to shoot at the age of two also helped.

Jade sighed. She really, really hoped her replacement got here soon. Since she was hands down the best shot in the complex, she'd had to take the longest guard shift. Rubbing her eyes beneath her round glasses, she tried to wake herself up.

A hand settled on her shoulder, and she nearly jumped. Turning, she realized that her replacement was finally here.

She gave a bucktoothed grin to the redheaded woman, who was toting her own rifle on her shoulder. “Thanks, Lynn!” she said cheerily.

“No prob, Jade. Sorry I'm a little late. Had a run in with You-Know-Who.”

Jade nodded sympathetically. She didn't know what exactly had crawled up Walton's ass, but he was seriously starting to get on everyone's nerves!

“Anyway, I think I'll go get some sleep.” Jade stepped away from the window. As she turned to leave, she paused. “Wait, have you seen PM or WV? I haven't seen them since this morning and I want to make sure they're alright!”

“The Mayor and the Mail Lady? Nah, I've been sleeping this whole time. Can't help you, there.” Lynn made herself comfortable as she got into position; this was going to be a long shift.

“Okay, thanks anyway.” Jade took her leave. She figured she might as well check Rose and Kanaya's apartment right down the hall before searching the entire building.

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As she stood in the living room of the Lalonde/Maryam residence, she paused. A quiet snore drifted through the decorative wood door to the master bedroom. Are Rose and Kanaya back? Jade wondered to herself.

As Jade didn't want to awaken whoever was inside, she did not knock. Instead, she eased the door open and peered inside.

Calliope and Roxy were sprawled out on Rose and Kanaya's bed, limbs entangled as they slumbered. The snore came from Callie, who clutched her sketchpad tightly in one arm and Roxy in the other.

Roxy slept silently, undisturbed by her lover's noise. Her arms wrapped around Callie's shoulders, forehead pressed against her girlfriend's. Also, she was completely naked.

Jade couldn't repress a loud, terrified gasp. She slammed the door louder than she meant, and crumpled to the floor with her hands clutching her head.

Cannot unsee cannot unsee cannot unsee was the only thought she could manage.

Back in the bedroom, the two sleepers stirred to action. “Whazzat?” Roxy mumbled.

“Oh, no! Did a Walker get inside? Roxy, what do we do?” asked Calliope in a panic.

“'me get my gun...” A rustling sound emanated from behind the door as Roxy searched dazedly for her rifle.

Pull yourself out of it, Jade! the cowering woman thought to herself. After a moment, she responded.

“No... no need, guys! I was just checking in on you, to make sure you were okay. No zombies here!” Jade stuttered quickly.

The rustling sound stopped. “Jade?” came Roxy's muffled voice. “Uh, what exactly did you see?”

“Nothing important!” Jade responded too quickly to be believable.

“Jade, why on earth..?” Callie started, then changed tracks. “Didn't you ever learn to knock?”

“Yeah, were you raised in a fuckin' barn or somethin'?” Roxy paused. “Nevermind, don't answer that.”

“Sorry! I'm so sorry! I'll, uh, leave you guys to your nap, alright?” Jade staggered upright and beat a swift retreat from the apartment before either woman could say any more. Out in the hall, she leaned against a wall, breathing hard. Maybe I'd better go downstairs to look for PM and WV, she thought to herself. Yes, that definitely seemed like a good idea.

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Next she checked Room 515. When she opened the door, she was greeted with an exhausted-looking Kanaya bustling around tending to patients. She looked like she'd been on her feet all day. Rose lay in her makeshift bed, watching her wife go about her activities. Jade slipped her childhood friend a grin, with which Rose returned one of her characteristic smirks. The dog girl hastened to her side.

“Oh, good! I'm so glad to see you're doing alright, Rose!” said Jade, kneeling down to her friend's level.

Rose sat up with a slight wince. “Well, I must admit, I have been better. I take it I have you to thank for those timely shots last night?”

“Yeah! Oh my god, Rose, don't do anything that stupid again!”

“No need to scold me; Kanaya read me the riot act several hours ago, and my ears still refuse to cease ringing.” Rose scowled. “Remind me to punish Roxy, will you?”

“Huh? Why?” Jade quirked an eyebrow in confusion.

“No reason. I'll probably remember on my own, anyway.”

“Oh! Speaking of Roxy, did you know she and Callie are sleeping on your bed?” Jade was too polite to mention certain other details.

“First she initiates the most intensive verbal thrashing I have ever had the dishonor of receiving, and then she helps herself to my quarters? Does my ectobiological mother's gall know no bounds?” Rose shook her head in exasperation.

Jade giggled. “Anyway, do you know where WV and PM are? I haven't seen them for a while and I want to make sure they're okay!” said Jade.

“In that case, you are in luck. Kanaya treated PM for a dog bite earlier; she's resting in the spare bedroom. WV is with her.”

“Thanks, Rose!” Jade bade her friend goodbye, then stood and made her way to the spare room. She knocked quietly on the door, but received no response. Bracing herself, and ready to look away at the first sign of nudity, Jade peered inside.

A few other patients rested in here. They were quiet; they seemed to be sleeping. PM slouched against the far wall, deep in slumber like the others. She rested her head on the shoulder of a tired-looking WV, who gave Jade a weary smile. He motioned her inside.

She tiptoed in amongst the makeshift beds, finally settling next to WV. “I was looking for you guys,” she whispered to the former Dersite. “How's PM? Rose told me she got bitten by a zombie dog.”

“Oh, she's fine. The bite required some stitches, but the Lady Sylph said there is no sign of infection so far. I'm taking it as a good sign!” said WV optimistically.

“I'm glad to hear it! How are you doing?” Jade gestured to WV.

“I'm just dandy! Well, except for the heated exchange of words I had with King Walton!” WV scowled and Jade had to stifle a laugh.

“Yeah, I've been hearing things about him. I wonder what's going on? He's always been rude, but he's never been this much of a fuckass.” Jade scratched her chin idly, considering. “Maybe for all his arguments that he's a better fighter than us, he can't handle the pressure?”

“As much as I loathe to give that fool any credit, he did an excellent job leading the residents in cleaning up. He likely gained a lot of respect today,” said WV miserably.

“Well, he doesn't have to be a jerk about it!” insisted Jade. WV only nodded, clearly too tired to argue further.

“Anyway, I'm glad you guys are both okay. I just wanted to make sure before I went to bed.” Jade yawned widely, exposing her teeth the way Bec used to do. “I'm exhausted.”

“Well, hurry along then. Go get your beauty sleep, not that you need it!”

Jade giggled. WV was so sweet. “Okay, goodnight!”

“Sleep well!”

Before she crossed the threshold back into the main room, she turned to look at the two former Carapacians. WV leaned his head back against the wall, quickly following his wife into slumber. Jade grinned. They were so cute!

Back in the Lalonde/Maryam apartment, Jade headed for the couch. A faint snoring came once again from the master bedroom. Jade shook her head and chuckled. Nothing would keep those two from their nap, it seemed!

As she prepared to sit down on the couch, she turned in circles several times before the spot where she intended to sleep. She had no idea why she did this; it was just a habit of Bec's that she'd inherited. Laying down, she sighed. She missed Bec. While she loved her friends to pieces, she often felt herself very much a third wheel. She had no lover, and no stake in this city's survival aside from the kindness of her own heart. She didn't even live here; she just had the ill-fortune to be visiting when the apocalypse arrived.

Jade closed her eyes. I miss my island, she thought to herself as she drifted off to sleep.

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Walton leaned against the courtyard wall, observing via lantern as the workers put the final touches on the gate. Just in time, it seemed. He could hear the undead moving outside, growing more active the later it got.

He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Inhaling the smoke soothed his nerves, and god did he need it. After everything that had happened since last night, Walton had been an emotional mess.

Why hadn't he taken charge when the opportunity presented itself? He likely had more military experience than everyone else in the complex put together. The army'd trained him specifically for this kind of situation, dammit!

But no. Instead of stepping forward and doing his duty, he'd pussied out. Lalonde took the reins, and the night ended in disaster.

Walton could still see the look on his little brother's face as the Tank smashed him through the window to his death. It smacked of surprise and desperation. Terror and despair. Did he see disappointment there, too?

He took another long drag from his cigarette. He was getting emotional again. Can't have that. Gotta be strong this time. Gotta make sure no one else dies. Come hell or high water, Walton was going to make sure the Z's didn't claim anyone else. No matter what it took.

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Rose was bored. She lay in the master bedroom of her apartment, staring vacantly at the ceiling. Kanaya had released her from the hospital and brought her upstairs to rest. It seemed Roxy and Calliope had finished their nap and left to do something else a while ago, because the sheets were not warm when she lay down. Kanaya ordered her, on penalty of extensive meddling, to remain in bed.

The young woman turned her head to gaze through the lantern light at the pile of books her wife had left on the nightstand. There were a few of her favorites: Three of the first six books of Complacency of the Learned (of course), the Grimoire for Summoning the Zoologically Dubious (non-grimdark edition), and This Ocean Charles by the revered philosopher and sports legend, Charles Barkley. There was also a smattering of fashion magazines in which Rose honestly had no interest.

Rose had already read each of the books at least fifty times (more in the case of the Complacency series), so she didn't care to reread them. She had eventually become desperate enough to peruse the fashion periodicals. Shortly after it got dark, she ran out of magazines, leaving her with nothing to do except focus on her various aches and pains. Of which she had many.

Her stomach wounds were nothing compared to the scratch she'd gotten from the Licker. It had started to itch shortly after Kanaya had left to go back to the hospital. When she rolled her sleeve up to look at her shoulder, she noticed the wound had turned red, puffy, and warm. As the hours passed, the itching spread down her arm and onto her chest and back. Now it was all she could do to keep her hands away from her skin.

Rose knew these symptoms. She'd seen them in a group of survivors the apartment residents had taken in during the early days of the outbreak. They seemed normal enough, until they started getting sick. First came the itching. Then the victims became fatigued, and blisters covered their bodies.

It only became clear what was going on when the fever hit and the patients' flesh began to fall off. By then it was too late; they died, and reanimated. The zombies killed one person and injured three others before they could be dispatched.

Taking a deep breath, Rose tried to calm down. According to Kanaya, normal infections can itch as well. The infection may simply be a result of getting dirt in the wound. After all, last night's battle was hardly a clean affair, Rose reasoned to herself. She hoped she was just being paranoid.

And even if she did have the virus, it wasn't necessarily a death sentence. If the symptoms were treated promptly and correctly, the infected individual could be kept alive indefinitely. Admittedly, chances of death increased drastically; the symptoms would return regularly until they killed the patient. Only then would the victim reanimate.

One of the individuals from that first fiasco was still alive. Dr. Kromwell's expertise had kept the survivor's symptoms to a minimum. True, she slowly accumulated the traits of a zombie every time the illness struck, but at least she wasn't dead.

So that was a thing, at least. Right?

Rose was jostled from her thoughts by the sound of the bedroom door opening. Glancing in the direction of the noise, Rose noticed Kanaya leaning against the door frame, frowning slightly.

“Kanaya?” Rose started, then stopped as her wife made her way slowly to the bed. By the way the former Troll moved, Rose could tell she was nearly dead on her feet (in a strictly metaphorical sense, of course). She felt the mattress sag as Kanaya sat down, letting out a low sigh of relief.

“I assume you have run out of patients to fuss over, then?” Rose asked lightly.

Kanaya groaned. “I must admit I may be in over my head this time. Caring for all of the injured residents is far more work than I had anticipated.” The mattress shifted as Kanaya lay down next to Rose. Her presence was so familiar, Rose's anxieties quickly died. “Calliope has kindly agreed to watch the patients so that I may finally get some sleep.”

Rose curled up closer to her wife. “What about Doctor Kromwell? Shall he be returning to his practice soon, so that you may have some assistance?”

Kanaya was silent for a moment, and Rose realized she had just tread on an emotional land mine. “Doctor Kromwell is dead Rose. It is up to me to keep the people of this complex healthy.” Kanaya spoke in a measured voice, working a little too hard to mask her emotion.

Rose frowned in the darkness. The good Doctor had been an excellent teacher to Kanaya, and she had admired him greatly. With his death on top of taking on his duties, it was no wonder she was so exhausted.

“I am very sorry to hear that, Kanaya,” Rose consoled her wife after another quiet moment. “He was a good man.”

“He was a very good man,” Kanaya emphasized. “I was not as familiar with him as I might have liked but his teachings were invaluable. I managed to save many lives today thanks to him.”

Rose took Kanaya's hand and squeezed it gently. “I know you will make him proud, my love.”

There was no response except for a quiet sniffle from the former Troll's side of the bed.

Reaching over and wrapping her arm around her wife, Rose murmured in her ear, “And if you require any assistance in your duties, I fully intend to help out as soon as I am well again. I am certain our friends would say the same.”

Kanaya snuggled into her wife, sniffling again. “Thank you.”

The two of them were silent after this, Kanaya's sniffles fading into deep breathing. Rose assumed she had fallen asleep until she spoke up once more.

“By the way Rose. You do not need to sleep on the couch tonight. I apologize for my anger earlier.”

Rose smiled and kissed her wife's temple. “It's alright. If I could not handle your meddling, I would not have married you. To be honest, I find your tirades quite endearing.”

Kanaya let out a little laugh before falling silent again. Soon her breathing steadied, indicating that she was actually asleep this time.

Now that she didn't have to avoid worrying Kanaya further, Rose took the opportunity to scratch furiously at the injury on her shoulder. It was still hot, and blood came off on her fingertips. She knew she was only making it worse, and the relief was only temporary, but she truly could not help herself.

Discomfort alleviated for the moment, Rose curled back up to Kanaya. She breathed her wife's unique and calming scent, and tried not to think about what the infected wound could mean for their future.

Chapter Text

Patrol. Walton sighed as his footsteps echoed down the deserted hallway. It was so boring, but so necessary. Especially in times like these. He kept his ears trained for the sounds of fighting, his assault rifle clutched in whitened fingers.

Walton was nearly finished with his route when he heard a scream. Without even thinking, he turned on his heel and made for the source of the sound. His boots scuffed linoleum tile, squeaks echoing down the hall. So great was his speed, he nearly fell over when he scrambled to a halt in front of Apartment 204. Quickly he stood up and dusted himself off. Hands shaking and heart pounding, he opened the door.

It looked like an old woman's house. Very neat and clean, tables covered in lace tablecloths and walls adorned with old black and white photographs of people, presumably family. Shelves on the walls were overloaded with baubles and knick-knacks, glass figurines gazing down upon Walton as he entered the room.

A low moan emanated from the master bedroom, as well as a sickening squelching sound. In such an innocent-looking home, it was incredibly ominous. Walton swallowed hard as he prepared his assault rifle for an encounter, already knowing what he would find.

He swung the door to the bedroom open as silently as he could, and peered inside. A young man with ashen gray skin crouched over the old-looking bed, blood smeared around his mouth as he feasted upon the corpse of an old woman. He looked up from his feast at the intruder, eyes blank and mouth smeared with gore, and stood.

Walton instinctively pulled the trigger, and a myriad of gaping holes blossomed instantly in the young man's chest. He crumpled into a heap on the bed, motionless. Taking no chances, the former soldier lined his gun up with the man's head and did the same thing. It burst like a repugnant gray and red melon, staining the lace-embroidered bedspread beneath.

Keeping his distance, he turned to the old woman. After a moment's inspection it was clear that she too was dead. Once again, the gun went off, and the woman's head was gone.

Putting his gun back in it's holster, Walton left the grisly scene and exited the apartment. Pete, one of the others on patrol, was just outside the door, weapon at the ready.

“What...?” he began, but Walton interrupted him.

“What the fuck do you think happened, idiot? Tell the guys we need a cleanup and burial for two.”

Pete's face fell as he turned to do as he was told. Now alone, Walton took the opportunity to have another smoke. That's the third time this has happened today, he thought to himself as he lit up. The third time I've failed. I promised to protect these people, dammit!

As the nicotine kicked in, he felt himself unwind. His problems, once so huge, seemed suddenly managable. No need to unravel. Just have to take some drastic measures, is all.

Leaning back against the wall, he heard the cleanup crew rushing down the hall. Time to call a meeting, I think. He dropped the used up cigarette and stomped on it, extinguishing its faint light.

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Knock, knock, knock

“Rose, are you awake yet?”

Rose woke up alone in bed. She groaned at the sound of Jade's voice; it should be illegal to be so cheery this early in the morning. Her hand instantly went to her shoulder. She felt blood there; she must have been scratching in her sleep. Kanaya was not going to be happy about this.

She hesitated for only a moment before she scratched it some more.

“Rose? Hello?”

For a moment she considered sitting up. Then she decided against it; she felt like a Giclops had chosen her as his personal futon. Oglogoth, she was tired.

“Earth to Rose? I'm coming in if you don't answer me! You better not be naked!”

“Jade, would you kindly keep it down? I am afraid I'm feeling under the weather this morning,” Rose didn't open her eyes.

“You're right, you don't sound well. Should I get Kanaya?” A note of concern now accompanied Jade's tone.

“I'm fine,” Rose said sharply. “I will be up shortly.” With some effort, she hauled herself into a sitting position. Now that she was up, the fatigue wasn't quite so bad.

“Are you sure? Kanaya would want to know if you were sick,” urged Jade.

“No need. I shall go to see her shortly. Now, is there something for which you needed me?” Rose tried to hide the tiredness in her voice.

“Yeah, Captain Fuckass says everyone in the complex has to be in the fifth floor lobby for a meeting in half an hour.”

Rose didn't have to ask who “Captain Fuckass” was. “Did you inform him that this apartment complex is not a dictatorship, and that by continuing to throw his weight around he is likely to be kicked out?”

“Yeah, he just spouted some military jargon and then told me to come tell you. I'm only going out of curiosity. I wondered if you wanted to come along?”

Hmm, Rose thought to herself, go to find my loving wife who may have something to treat my symptoms, or listen to a self-important blowhard attempt to boss me around? What a difficult choice!

“I'm afraid I will have to decline your offer, generous though it is. I am not inclined to listen to his hysterics this early in the morning. I've not even had my coffee.”

“You drink coffee?” Jade sounded incredulous. “I've never seen you.”

Rose sighed. She was not particularly inclined to deal with Harley's gullibility at this point, either. “No, Jade. I don't drink coffee. Just give me some time to wake up, alright?”

“Okay, I understand. Oh, and Rose?”

“Hmm?”

“Feel better soon!”

Rose smiled. Jade was a good friend. “Thank you for your concern, but there is no need to worry about me. Give my regards to the King, would you?”

Jade giggled. “Yeah, right. Later, Rose!”

“Goodbye.”

Now all Rose had to do was muster the motivation to get out of bed. Easier said than done.

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Kanaya wet a cloth with water from a bowl nearby and placed it gently upon her patient's fevered brow. She gnawed her lower lip with concern. When she'd gone to bed last night, everyone had been stable. When she came downstairs this morning, three people were running small fevers. They were not severe enough for a newcomer to medicine like Calliope to notice, so she'd not been notified. As the hours progressed, their temperatures increased further.

Leaving the man she was treating for now, Kanaya poked her head out of the master bedroom. Calliope was currently gathering soiled towels to wash downstairs.

“You are still here Calliope?”

Callie jumped and dropped the armful of towels at the sound of Kanaya's voice. Blushing, she started picking them up again.

“Yes, well, I was not doing anything else of particular use, so I figured I might as well lend a hand down here! You certainly look as though you could use it!”

Kanaya raised an eyebrow. “Was that a jab at my medical abilities?”

“What? No, no! Of course not!” Calliope backpedaled quickly. “You seem a very capable nurse, and I would feel most secure under your care! All I was saying is that you are but one person, and there are so many patients, and I...”

“I know what you were saying Calliope. I was simply giving you a hard time,” Kanaya smiled at Callie to let her know all was well.

Calliope gave a shy smile in return. “I suppose you have earned that much, with everything you have done for the people here!”

Callie paused, and the smile vanished. “I wish I could be as useful as you are.”

Kanaya gave an inward sigh. That's right, Roxy had told her yesterday that Callie was having a rough time.

“You are of plenty use Calliope. There is no need to be so hard on yourself.”

“Actually, while I was on watch last night, something occurred to me. Perhaps you could train me in medicine? I could be useful, and you would have someone to help you. Everyone wins!”

Kanaya went quiet as she considered this. While she was in no way qualified to teach medicine, she was in desperate need of assistance. All of the injured patients had run her ragged yesterday; without help of some kind, people were definitely going to die.

“I can not teach you to become a doctor or even a nurse with what skills I've gleaned from Doctor Kromwell over such a short time. However I am certainly capable of teaching first aid. You are right, I do need all the assistance I can get.”

Calliope beamed. “Of course! I would be happy to help. Perhaps I could find some other residents who would be interested in learning, as well!”

“That seems a good plan. Go and ask around. The more people I can teach, the better for everyone.”

“Alright! I shall get right on--”

Calliope was cut off by the sound of the apartment door opening. Walton stood upon the threshold, shadowed by the darkness of the hallway behind him.

“Is there something you need Walton?” Kanaya inquired civilly.

“Yeah. We're having a mandatory meeting out in the fifth floor lobby. Everyone's gotta come.”

“Unfortunately, many of my patients are gravely ill. I must remain here to care for them.” Kanaya crossed her arms and stood her ground.

“Too bad. This concerns you directly, Maryam. I'll see you in the lobby in five minutes.” Walton stormed out of the room, no doubt to torment some other poor soul.

Kanaya pinched the bridge of her nose to stave off a headache. This was not what she needed right now. She was completely overwhelmed, and--

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. Kanaya removed her hand and looked at Calliope.

“There's no need to worry, lovely. I shall take care of things while you are gone!” the former Cherub said pleasantly.

“Are you certain? You have already done so much. Don't you require rest?”

“I'm fine! If I am to become your student, I shall need to learn to handle long hours, right?”

“I suppose so.” Kanaya squeezed Calliope's shoulder appreciatively. “Hopefully I won't be long. Come and get me if anyone starts dying. Walton will simply have to deal with it if I leave.”

“Of course!” Calliope quickly bustled off to check on the patients.

Kanaya hesitated before leaving. How could whatever Walton had to say concern her? After deliberating for a few moments, she shook her head and made for the door.

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Kanaya was surprised by the number of people who'd turned out for the meeting. Residents chatted idly as they meandered between groups. The mess from the battle two nights ago was mostly cleared up; debris and furniture were piled up against the walls, and someone had strung a plastic tarp over the hole in the window overlooking the courtyard. It flapped in the gentle breeze blowing through.

The blood staining the floors and rugs testified the carnage that had occurred. At least the residents had found time to remove the corpses; Kanaya could see them piled like grisly logs in the courtyard, awaiting burial. She shuddered, hoping that not many more survivors would join them.

As Kanaya made her way through the room, she spotted Jade waving furiously at her from near the back. It looked like Roxy, PM, and WV were all with her.

“Hello, Jade. Is Rose not awake yet?” Kanaya asked as she approached her friends.

“No, she said she wasn't feeling well,” Jade replied worriedly. “She said she'd be out in a little while, though!”

Kanaya bit her lip with concern. Rose wasn't feeling well? She'd done all in her power to prevent illness, though the battle the other night had been a messy affair. Perhaps it was a normal infection? Maybe Rose was coming down with the flu? No matter how much she tried, Kanaya could not keep her mind from racing to the worst possible scenario.

She struggled to remain in the lobby instead of running upstairs to Rose's side immediately. Fortunately, she did not need to wait long before Walton made his presence known. Stepping to the front of the room, he spoke.

“Alright, everyone shut up. There's some serious shit going down.”

Surprisingly, the room went quiet at the sound of his voice. Only a few murmurs cut through the silence, soon fading into nothingness.

Kanaya looked around, frowning. Did people respect Walton that much? She knew he'd done a good job on cleanup; in fact, PM was the only one who'd been injured yesterday. He'd likely garnered a number of supporters due to this.

Then again, not everyone in the complex had come to the meeting. Most likely the absentees did not much care for his condescending attitude, so they stayed away. Or they were injured. Also, a number of the people in the room were probably like Kanaya and her friends: morbidly curious about what Walton had to say.

Still, enough people gazed upon Walton with obvious respect that Kanaya couldn't help worrying.

“As some of you may know, we have had some incidents since last night.” Walton paced back and forth before the group as he spoke. “Quite a few people have turned.”

A mild commotion broke out at this, the former silence broken by whispers and murmuring.

“Fuck.”
“See? Didn't I tell you?”
“I haven't seen Frank since last night, what if he's..?”

Walton's voice cut over the chatter. “Johnson, Smith, McDonnell. The Livingston twins. Young Jeff Falkner. They all turned suddenly, without warning. Falkner tore his grandmother's throat out; I had to put 'em both down.”

The hubbub increased, whispers turning into raised voices.

“No, not Will!”
“Gena, no!”
“We gotta get outta here while we still can!”

That last voice was louder than the others, echoing above the rest. Walton rounded angrily on the unfortunate fellow, a zit-faced teenager with broken glasses.

“Leave?” barked Walton incredulously. “Sure, if you've got a death wish. There's nothin' else out there but zombies and smoke! Where the fuck would you go; our scavengers have covered the entire city, and there's no place as safe as this one!”

The boy gazed wide-eyed up at Walton, jaw slack with fear. A high-pitched whine was his only response.

“That's what I thought. You'd be best to stay here, where it's safe. Go out there and a Hunter will have picked you off in five minutes.”

Walton turned back to the rest of them. “This is the most secure location in the city. We have supplies, medicine, and expert scavenging teams. We've even got plans to start a garden in the courtyard; get ourselves at least a little self-sustainable. But I'm gonna need your help to keep it that way.”

Walton's piercing gaze traveled across the room, looking into the eyes of each participant. “So here's what's gonna happen: We're gonna nip this whole thing in the bud. If you see anyone showing signs of the Infection, you come straight to me, you hear? Then we decide what to do with the patient.”

A hush fell over the crowd as the implications of Walton's statement sank in. Taking this as encouragement, Walton continued: “I'm expecting everyone to cooperate with me on this for the good of the complex. Especially you, Maryam!”

Kanaya stepped forward, eyes cold. “And what exactly will you do with the patient?”

Walton locked eyes with the former troll. “Whatever needs to be done.”

Behind Kanaya, PM had been whispering fervently into WV's ear. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he shot forward.

“Now wait just one second, Mr. Walton. Are you implying that we kill the patients before they turn?” he demanded.

“Better than letting 'em take a bite out of their caretakers. You can never tell what this disease is gonna do. All we know is that a zombie wound gets infected, the patient gets sick, and and another zombie is the result. There's no saying how long it'll take between the bite and reanimation. No way to tell which symptoms will show up and in which order. Hell, sometimes you can't even tell what kind of zombie's gonna come out of it! It's just too damn dangerous to have Infected patients in this complex!”

“He's right!” Keith Evans emerged from the crowd. He was a round man in work clothes with salt-and-pepper gray hair, a bald spot, and glasses. He looked just like any middle aged man except for one thing: his eyes. Laugh lines surrounded them, as though he was once happy. But his gaze was as cold as the dead themselves.

“I've seen what they can do. I was such an idiot, taking those strangers in near the start of this whole thing! My wife tried to take care of them, and all she got was a bite for her troubles. She got it treated, and seemed perfectly fine. Then when she went to tuck in my little girl that night, she... she...”

The crowd was dead silent while Evans composed himself. After a moment, he spoke again.

“There was no warning. No fever, no skin peeling, not even any itching. She just left the room, and five minutes later my little girl was dead. I had to put my wife down with a butcher knife, like she was some pig. So don't go telling me these things are under control!”

Kanaya stepped in. “Doctor Kromwell told me she was a 'fast burner', based on the information he received out in the field. Someone who progresses through the illness quickly. Fast burners are said to be extremely rare. Most of the time it takes days to turn, and even that can be controlled with proper treatment.”

“Doesn't matter, we can't let this shit happen again. I saw Falkner an hour before I found him chewing on Granny. He was just fine, then!” Walton added.

“Mr. Walton, you're forgetting one thing,” WV butted in again. “What if you put someone down who had a good chance of living? Or who wasn't even infected at all? How will you tell? This seems like a very slippery slope, sir, and I don't like it one bit!”

“Only one zombie can create a lot more. That's a lot more deaths than if we just killed the patient in the first place! Better to kill one person to save others, I say!” urged Evans.

“WV is right,” said Kanaya. “Any number of diseases or regular infections have similar symptoms to this one. If you kill anyone who comes down with a fever or a rash, you'll have murdered half the complex.”

“Which is why I need your valuable expertise, Maryam. Otherwise we'd be killing blindly.”

“How 'bout we don't kill at all, and leave it to the patients and their families to decide if they pull the plug?” Roxy butted in. “That makes sense, right? Or am I just talkin' at a wall here?”

“No Roxy you are not talking at a wall. What you say is completely reasonable.” Kanaya stood tall and looked Walton in the eye. “It will be up to the patients and their loved ones. That is final.”

“Well, I don't recall asking your opinion. Only your cooperation.” Walton grinned smugly at the former Troll.

“Now you listen here, sir!” WV's voice cut harshly through the room. “You are not the dictator of this society. There are more people here than just you, and they likely have an opinion on what to do.”

The Mayor had a strange fire in his eyes. “We need to hold a vote!”

Murmurs of approval drifted through the crowd. The last few days had been difficult, and it was becoming clearer and clearer that the complex needed some sort of governing system in place. While Walton seemed to know what he was doing, many people resented his overbearing nature. A vote would give them some power over their destiny.

“Fine! Fine, we'll have your damn vote. When you leave, tell the rest of the survivors to meet here tomorrow at dawn. We'll do the vote then. But I already know who's gonna win.” Walton glanced around the room with confidence. “People here aren't stupid.”

“That would be why you're going to lose,” Kanaya thought to herself as the crowd began to disperse.

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Most of the complex seemed to be at Walton's meeting, so the courtyard was empty that morning. Rose took the opportunity to take a bath in private. She sighed as she splashed cold water on her wound, feeling instant relief from the hot itching.

Rose knew she'd been avoiding Kanaya. She just didn't want to face her wife with the news that she may be infected, not when Kanaya had so much else on her plate. The truth was, the infection was getting worse. Most of her body was one giant itch, and huge blisters had formed around the Licker wound. If she wanted to survive, she would need medical care. That meant telling Kanaya and facing the music.

Now that her discomfort had been relieved somewhat, Rose headed inside. She knew the itching would return in full force in a couple minutes, but hopefully by then she'd have informed Kanaya and gotten some treatment.

Rose paused in the stairwell. From the footsteps and voices echoing above, it sounded like Walton's meeting was finally adjourned. At least she wouldn't have to creep through the crowd on the way to Room 515. Gazing up the curling staircase, Rose sighed. She really wished the elevators were still working.

On the way up, she passed a few fellow survivors heading downstairs. They eyed her suspiciously. Did they know about the infection? Rose preferred not to think about it.

As Rose prepared to enter the fifth floor lobby, the door swung open in front of her with a clunk. She groaned at the sight of Walton, standing in the doorway and looking smug.

“Well, Lalonde, isn't this a surprise?” he queried sarcastically. “I didn't see you at the meeting; I was actually starting to worry a little.”

Rose glared at the man with poorly-hidden disdain. “There is nothing to worry about. I simply slept in.”

“Really? Because you look a little shaky, there.”

Rose straightened her posture to make herself appear strong, but the truth was, that five story climb had tired her. It's just the blood loss from the other night, she tried to reassure herself mentally, though she knew she was grasping at threads.

“Are you going to stand there and taunt me, or are you going to let me through?” she asked.

“Well, since you're here, I figured I'd better fill you in,” Walton's smirk turned into a grin. “Truth is, we're having some problems with infected survivors turning. We've already lost seven people. Your friend 'the Mayor' has proposed a vote. The residents will decide whether we try to keep the infected alive at all costs, or to euthanize them at the first sign of infection.”

He leaned toward her, locking eyes. “You know where I stand.”

Rose felt the last of her energy leave her. She felt her knees quaking with exhaustion from the climb combined with shock at Walton's news. Still, she tried to appear strong. “Based on your boorish behavior, I would say you have some sort of problem with me. What is it?”

Walton's grin vanished in an instant. In its place was a cold mask of fury.

“You really wanna know why I have a problem with you?” he growled. “Because you're reckless. You try to take control of a situation without understanding it, and you make it worse.”

Rose narrowed her eyes as Walton reared back up to his full height.

“A lot of people died because of you the other night, Lalonde. Because of your incompetence. This whole infection was your fault.” His voice rose. “If you hadn't gone on with your stupid plan, there'd be a whole lot more survivors around today!” Walton shoved past Rose and stomped down the stairs in a huff.

Dazed, Rose just stood for a moment, watching him go. Then she found her voice. “And you suppose you could have done better?” she shouted at his retreating back. She received no answer, and she lacked the energy to chase after him.

Rose was tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. All she wanted was to go back to sleep. But first she had to find Kanaya. Shaking herself out of her funk, she set off across the lobby toward Room 515.

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After a brief visit with a highly concerned Calliope in the hospital quarters, Rose found out that Kanaya had gone looking for her. Was it actually possible to find anyone in this building? She decided to go up to her apartment and wait for her wife there.

Five more flights of stairs left Rose gasping wildly. She leaned against the wall of the tenth floor hallway, trying to catch her breath. This sickness was taking a lot out of her. Staying close to the wall for support, Rose made her way to her apartment.

Nobody was home. That suited Rose well enough. While she did want to find Kanaya, it was all she could do at the moment to stay standing. With a grateful sigh, Rose collapsed to the sofa. Her wife would have to come to her.

A few minutes later, Rose snapped out of a doze at the sound of the door opening. She smiled wearily at the sight of her wife standing in the doorway, chewing her lower lip the way she always did when concerned.
.
“To what do I owe this serendipitous encounter?” Rose whispered.

At this, Kanaya sped to Rose's side. Kneeling down, she placed a gentle hand on her forehead. Her eyes said it all.

“You have a fever. Rose, why did you not tell me?”

“The fates decided that it was simply not to be. When you came home last night, you were exhausted. When I next woke up, you were already back at work. I did not get the opportunity.”

Kanaya removed her hand from Rose's forehead and placed it instead in Rose's hand. Looking into Rose's eyes, Kanaya implored: “Please, show me the injury. I must treat it, and quickly.”

Rose nodded and hesitantly pulled up her sleeve beyond her shoulder. Kanaya held in a gasp. What had once been a slight scratch had become a painful-looking wound. Skin had been ripped away from where Rose scratched, and the surrounding flesh was reddish-purple and blistered. Her entire arm was covered in a red rash.

“Oh...”

The fact that Kanaya was lost for words concerned Rose. “Is it that bad?”

Kanaya shook her head a little too quickly. “I am certain I can work with it. As long as we keep the symptoms at bay, the illness should burn itself out in a short time.”

“So it is the Infection, I assume?” Rose tried desperately to hide the fear in her eyes.

Kanaya was pale, her expression grave. “It... it certainly appears so...” she said haltingly.

Rose felt as though her heart had ejected her chest cavity and come to rest somewhere between the couch cushions. She was Infected. She would eventually become one of them.

Her face must have betrayed her panic, because Kanaya started to gently stroke her hand. However, she could not hide her own tears that threatened to spill.

“Don't worry, Rose. Like I said, if we manage the symptoms, it will burn itself out.”

Rose gazed sorrowfully at her wife. “Only to reappear, again and again, taking more of my humanity each time. Until it finally it kills me. It may be most merciful to...”

“No!” Kanaya interjected forcefully. “I know what you are going to say and I will not entertain such a ludicrous idea for even a minute! I will give you the proper treatment and we will have many more years together.”

Kanaya's voice hitched, and both women were silent. The cynic in Rose knew that her survival was uncertain, no matter what her wife said. But somewhere deep down, she wished desperately to believe that everything would be okay.

Chapter Text

Roxy relaxed in her chair, listening to Rose's light breathing and watching the shadows flee as they were chased off by the rising sun. It was a peaceful morning, all things considered. Kanaya had to go down to Room 515 to check on her patients. She was training Callie and a couple of other volunteers in first aid, and she had to make sure they hadn't burned anything down while she took her much-needed respite. She'd asked Roxy to stay here and keep an eye on Rose. Roxy agreed, considering she didn't have anything else to do.

She glanced over at her ailing relative. Rose was pale, with a flush in her cheeks. Roxy noticed that the rash had spread again, this time up her neck and down her other arm. Rose's shallow breathing was occasionally interrupted by frenzied scratching, which Roxy had to stop every time she tried.

Roxy was concerned for Rose. In her mind, Rose was invincible. True, she'd died right in front of her during the game, but that sort of thing never really stuck. After a bit of weird Space-Time shit, the girl was right as rain.

It was probably the fact that deep down, she still considered Rose her mom. She'd first known Rose through the things she left lying around the house (for better or worse). As Roxy grew older, she learned of the rebel's courageous exploits during the height of the Condesce's reign. Sticking needles into the eyes of a humongous juggalo and riding him off Niagara Falls will definitely leave an impression on any young mind, even if it happened hundreds of years in the past.

The news of the period said she'd died that day. Roxy didn't believe it, even after her universe ended.

So seeing her here, her health failing, was a jarring experience. This was absolute proof that Rose Lalonde was vulnerable. That she might even...

Roxy shook her head to clear out the unwanted thoughts. God, she wanted a drink.

She jumped as a knock came from the bedroom door. Rose groaned at the sound, stirring from her slumber.

“Are you awake? There is some business to attend to.” PM's voice was muffled by the door.

“I am now” Rose muttered miserably. “Come in.”

PM entered the room. Immediately she spoke. “The meeting deciding the fate of the Infected is in about an hour. WV asked me to go around and collect the votes of anyone who can't make it.”

PM was trying to maintain a professional demeanor, but it was clear to Roxy that she was tickled stupid she was back on messenger duty. Some things never changed.

The mail lady excitedly held out a metal bucket, already half-full of paper votes. Roxy considered making a joke about Imperial Drones, then thought better of it. Everyone's heard enough pailing jokes to last a lifetime, and Kanaya was the only former Troll around anyway.

Rose took the bucket and placed it on the night stand next to her. She pulled open a drawer, rifling through for a moment before emerging with a pen and paper. Even this slight activity seemed to tire her. Squinting through her headache, she scrawled something down in her neat handwriting before folding it and giving it back to PM.

“I have quite a bit to lose in this vote. Please inform me when the people have reached a verdict, so that I have some warning before my inevitable decapitation.”

Roxy's face paled. “Rose, don't say shit like that! Everything's gonna be fine, you'll see!”

Rose just grunted and lay back down, completely spent.

Roxy turned to PM. “Always the optimist, isn't she?”

PM gazed impartially at the woman before her. “To be honest, I can't blame her for preparing for the worst. Misfortune seems to follow us wherever we go.”

Roxy exhaled harshly through her nose. “Not you, too. Seriously, between you, Rose, and Kanaya and Callie the worrywart queens, it's a wonder this complex hasn't started collecting rainclouds.”

PM cracked a rare smile. “I just like to be prepared. Anyway, I should get back to my rounds. The meeting's in an hour. Please be there!”

“'Course I'll be there! I don't want my dear Rosie to end up another zombie statistic!”

“Dn't call me Rosie,” a weak voice muttered from beneath the blankets. PM's smile widened and she took her leave.

Roxy settled back into her chair, trying to get comfortable. She watched the rise and fall of her family member's chest. In the back of her mind, she willed it to keep going.

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Kanaya and Calliope wandered Room 515 followed by two other hospital volunteers. The former Troll was showing them the ins and outs of first aid.

“And, ah, the human internal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, correct?”

Kanaya rolled her eyes at Calliope's question. This was something she should already know, having lived on this planet for ten years. However, the woman insisted upon asking obvious or unimportant questions, and it grated Kanaya's nerves.

The former Troll would have been more irate, however, if she hadn't known what Calliope was trying to do. Answering question after question got Kanaya's mind off Rose, and she appreciated the thought. She simply wished Calliope wouldn't try to replace her anxiety with annoyance.

“Yes, Calliope. That is correct.” Kanaya couldn't keep an edge of irritation out of her voice.

“Hey, lady, chill out! No need to get your jimmies all rustled over a question!”

The speaker was Bob Harper, a long-haired and bearded fellow in a colorful, though grimy, t-shirt. He and his wife Linda were along to learn the basics of first aid. Bob and Linda appeared to come from a human subculture known as “hippies”, though by this era they were nearly extinct. Linda was dressed just as atrociously as her husband, in a ragged but psychedelically colored gown.

Linda was alright; she was fairly level-headed and learned quickly. Bob grated on Kanaya's nerves, however; he reminded her a little too much of Gamzee. He seemed harmless, but then so had the indigo-blood. She kept her eye on him.

Unfortunately, these two were the only ones to come forward when Calliope went looking for volunteers. Beggars can't be choosers, so Kanaya was stuck with them.

“So how do you reduce a fever if you don't have any medicine around?” Linda asked.

“Good question!” Kanaya said with some measure of relief. “Of course, hydration is...”

A blood-curdling scream cut her off. Kanaya glanced over at the door of the master bedroom, behind which came the sounds of a scuffle. She held a hand up to signal the others to wait before dashing over to the door.

Cracking it open with trepidation, Kanaya prepared herself for what she might see. She was wise to do so. Two Infected patients remained after Kanaya had discharged the others. Now one of them crouched over the other, hands tearing into the victim's abdominal cavity and scooping up innards like the filling of a cherry pie.

Stepping quietly around the door, she unhooked her chainsaw from her belt. It was custom-designed by Jade Harley to be light, efficient, quiet, and rip through anything. Kanaya was never more thankful than she was right now.

The zombie was so intent in its meal, it never noticed the former Troll advancing. With a whir of her chainsaw, Kanaya relieved the zombie of its head. Blood sprayed the walls as it evacuated the walker's arteries, though it quickly slowed to a trickle.

With extreme caution, Kanaya examined the disemboweled body beneath the zombie. Dead, obviously. With another loud roar of the chainsaw, Kanaya made sure it stayed that way.

Her grim job complete, Kanaya backed off and took in at the gruesome scene before her. Crimson liquid coated every surface in the room, and the broken corpses before her looked tiny compared to the threat they had posed just moments ago. Try as she might, she couldn't keep herself from imagining one of them was Rose.

She jumped as she heard footsteps behind her. How long had she been staring? She turned to see Calliope next to her, skin pale with revulsion. Nevertheless, the frightened woman laid a gentle hand on Kanaya's shoulder.

“Come on, Kanaya. We should return to the other patients. The living still require our assistance.”

Kanaya smiled slightly despite the circumstances. Calliope could be a coward at times, it was true, but she was a real friend.

“Thank you Calliope.”

“Whoa. Uncool!” Bob peered through the door at the carnage. “I'll never get used to that. Blood everywhere, man!”

“Is there some way we can help?” Linda got straight to the point.

Kanaya took a moment to compose herself before speaking. “Yes. I will clean up the blood if you will...” before she could finish, she heard the door to the apartment burst open with a slam. Heavy footfalls rushed to the master bedroom, and in seconds she was staring up at a furious-looking Walton.

“What. The. FUCK. Just happened here?”

Despite Walton's obvious rage, Kanaya couldn't keep a hint of sarcasm from her voice. “I would expect that to be very obvious at this point.”

“Don't give me that shit, Maryam!” he bellowed. “You were keeping fucking Infected in here? How the hell did you let it get that bad before putting 'em down?”

Kanaya's patience was completely gone now. “They were fine a few minutes ago when I last checked. As I believe I have previously mentioned, the illness is extremely unpredictable--”

“Yes! Yes it is! And if you were any kind of medic at all, you would have put them down well before it got anywhere near that point!” Walton huffed deeply, trying fruitlessly to calm himself.

“Was there something that you needed, Walton?” Kanaya asked with false patience.

The former soldier lost all ability to form a coherent sentence. After a few moments of growling and grinding his teeth, he managed a strangled: “LOBBY. NOW!” Then, he turned on his heel and stomped off back into the hallway.

Kanaya released a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. With everything that had happened in the last few days, her nerves were shot. After a moment collecting herself, she turned to Calliope, who was cowering in the far corner.

“I should go attend this meeting. He might attempt something foolish with the vote and I intend to keep things clean. Will you stay here and watch the patients?”

Calliope stared wide-eyed at the door, as if terrified Walton might return. But she seemed to have heard Kanaya, and gave a slight nod.

“Good. I will return shortly. Please come get me if anything happens.”

With that, Kanaya took her leave of the gruesome scene, fear filling her heart at Rose's possible fate.

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The lobby was packed wall-to-wall. Kanaya could barely squeeze into the fidgeting, whispering group, which reminded her of some of her more intense zombie battles. At this point, her nerves were such that a horde of walkers would be a welcome respite. This was it. Rose's fate would be decided in moments.

She caught sight of PM, who was taller than most anyone else in the crowd, and made her way towards the former Carapacian. She was halfway there when PM caught her eye and nodded in the direction of the makeshift platform from which WV and Walton would be revealing the results. So she was needed in front? Kanaya nodded back and tunneled her way through the crowd, exhaling in relief when she finally broke free into open air.

“Maryam.” Walton said simply, leaning stiffly against the wall.

“Walton.” Kanaya responded just as coldly. This would not be a fun day.

WV, on the other hand, was clearly ecstatic. There was democracy going on right here, all around, and he was loving every second of it! He waved energetically at Kanaya, the graveness of the occasion temporarily lost to him.

“Hello, Lady Sylph! Please, stand just in the front row. We will want your input as the resident medic, if at all possible!” he said, beaming. Kanaya sighed and went to do as he said.

A metal bucket, much larger than the one she had seen passed around to the sick, sat on a table between the two men. Inside lay all of Kanaya's hopes and dreams.

Please. Let Rose live! she prayed desperately to the gods she knew did not exist.

Walton stood straight from where he'd been leaning.

“So, let's get this over with. Dump the bucket out and let's get counting!”

“Now, Mr. Walton, we should at the very least give a speech first!” WV cleared his throat. “The question at hand is this: Should we euthanize the Infected early and ensure the safety of the majority, or should we allow the Infected to live and put the majority at risk? Those who suggest we euthanize the Infected wrote “Yea”. Those against wrote “Nay”. I am eager to see how this vote is resolved! Let the counting begin!”

Without further fanfare, WV dumped the paper slips all over the table. Then he picked one up, showed it to Walton, and said: “Yea.”

Kanaya's heart plummeted into her stomach. She was not a superstitious person, but she could not help feeling this might be a portent for future events. It's just one vote, she told herself.

Walton picked up the next slip, glared, and showed it to WV. “Nay.”

Kanaya let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. That one balanced it out. It suddenly struck her that there were around two hundred votes to count. If the entire thing was going to be this nerve-wracking, she felt she might have a heart attack before they were halfway through. Wringing her hands, she realized this was going to be a very, very long meeting.

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The pile of paper dwindled. So far, it had been mostly evenly matched. Not a soul in the room breathed even a word, watching the counting process with an intensity generally reserved for the results of a graduation exam. At least Walton didn't appear to have cheated in the proceedings.

“Yea.”
“Nay.”
“Nay.”
“Yes... oh, come on! It's 'Yea!'” Kanaya could hear WV muttering under his breath.
“Nay.”
“Yea... Well, look at that! We're done!” WV said, nervous but pleased that the democratic process had done its job. “What's the final tally, Fred?”

The serious-looking man adjusted his glasses as he squinted at the paper before him. The entire room held its breath. Indeed, Kanaya felt as though she'd been plunged miles under the sea, with all of the pressure of anticipation. This was it. Rose's fate would be decided. She didn't know whether she would be happy with the results, sad, or just plain relieved that it was over.

Straightening, the bookish fellow looked up at WV and Walton. “It's a tie.”

The room exploded into noise. Kanaya felt lightheaded. A tie? Does that demand a recount? What was going to happen, now? Desperately, she tried to console herself. In the end, it didn't matter. If they were going to threaten Rose's life, she would take her wife and leave the complex. This thought was all that kept her from plummeting into hysterics.

“WHAT?” Walton bellowed. “That's impossible! There are over two hundred people here, there's no way in hell it could be split fifty/fifty!”

“Well, Mr. Walton, that's the count. I can assure you, as a bureaucrat I don't make mistakes on this sort of thing!” Fred said huffily.

WV was silent. He was clearly stunned that democracy could fail.

“I demand a recount!” ordered Walton.

The noise in the room reached a fever pitch. Shouts, crying, and the occasional swear word echoed everywhere. Kanaya could make out what her immediate neighbors were saying.

“Is he nuts? I'm not sitting through that shit again!”

“The polls were rigged!”

“It's those fucking Pragmatists, they're trying to screw us over!”

“Mommy, what's going to happen to Grandpa?”

Kanaya tried to shut it all out. It would be fine. Everything would be fine. She would make sure Rose was safe, no matter what! She held her hands over her ears in an attempt to shield the noise from her pounding head.

It didn't stop her from hearing a crunching impact next to her, as a man fell to the floor with a bloody nose. Screams erupted across the room, along with the sounds of fighting. The formerly tense meeting was becoming a riot.

Kanaya glanced over at WV. He held his hands up, trying to calm the people but voice lost in the din. He wasn't getting anywhere.

Then she saw Walton. Taking a breath so deep he turned nearly purple, he roared.

THAT'S ENOUGH!

His thunderous voice stopped the rioters in their tracks. In moments, the room was silent once more. He panted furiously, face red. He wasn't done yet.

“Alright, fine! Even if it weren't a fucking tie, it's close enough it wouldn't matter, anyway! People are gonna be up each others' asses fighting one way or the other. So how about this? We split the complex. East wing belongs to anyone who doesn't wanna die a gruesome death. Nobody Infected are allowed there! South wing belongs to the idiots who think being best buddies with Walkers is an awesome idea. All proto-zombies have to stay there, or risk being put out of their misery! The courtyard, fifth floor lobby, and Room 515 are neutral territory. They belong to both groups, but Infected aren't allowed in any of them! Maryam, if you wanna treat bite victims, you have to go to them! As long as we stay off each others' toes, we're gonna be just fine!”

The room was quiet, save for the muffled sobs of those who'd been wounded. Everyone seemed to be considering what Walton said. Someone shouted from across the room.

“But I live in the east wing! Why can't the supporters of the sick stay there?”

“Which wing is chosen doesn't matter. What matters is that sane individuals don't have to be exposed to the virus.” Walton replied scathingly.

“Mr. Walton, perhaps another vote would be in order...” WV started, but Walton interrupted him.

“Look, wimp. The people here ain't gonna put up with that again! Another hour and we'll have a real riot going on, you hear?” Walton muttered quietly to the Mayor.

Despite her distaste for the man, Kanaya saw the logic in his words. It seemed WV did, as well. After only a moment's contemplation, he made a suggestion:

“Perhaps if we just had everyone raise their hand depending on what they want? That way the process would be quick and easy. No violence necessary!”

Walton grunted affirmatively. “Fine. But do it quick.”

“All in favor of Walton's plan raise your hand!” WV shouted. Hands all over the room shot up in the air. It looked like the decision was unanimous. Walton's plan would go into effect. Kanaya sighed with relief as she filed out of the lobby along with the other residents. As long as Rose stayed restricted to the South wing, she would be safe from the Pragmatists.

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Kanaya continued to work in the clinic as long as she could, but the day's events weighed upon her. Finally, she asked Calliope to take over for her again while she left to look after Rose. The former Cherub was pleased to help, as always. Kanaya felt bad; Calliope didn't look as though she'd had much sleep lately, either. At least she'd promised to come up in a couple hours for some real rest herself.

When Kanaya reached her apartment, she was surprised to see that Rose was nowhere to be seen. She checked the living room and the master bedroom; no Rose.

That was when she thought she heard the creak of Rose's office chair. Swiftly, Kanaya hurried to crack open the door. There Rose sat, hunched over the most recent manuscript of her novel. As she watched in silence, Kanaya noticed that her wife's hand moved sluggishly in comparison with its usual fervor when writing. It shook slightly. A brief whiff of decaying flesh assailed the former troll's nostrils; most likely the rot was spreading.

After watching her ailing wife for a moment, Kanaya came up behind her and gently placed her hand on her forehead. She frowned. The fever was getting worse. Glancing down at the page, she saw that the words had become an indecipherable mess. Rose herself was used to her wife’s fussing, and didn’t look up.

“Rose, how long have you been working?” Kanaya inquired shakily.

“For about two hours, give or take,” Rose replied, still focused on her writing.

“You need to rest,” Kanaya fretted. “Working for that length of time is simply not tenable in your current condition!”

“I am touched by your concern, Kanaya, but I assure you, I am fine. The book is nearly complete; there’s only a single scene remaining. Once I finish, you may put me on bed rest for as long as you desire. Perhaps you’d like to join me, dear?” Rose looked up from her work, smirking that notorious Lalonde smirk.

“Rose, this is serious. We are all extremely concerned, and no amount of delirious flirting is going to stop me from making sure you are healthy. I have some medicine for you. Though it will not cure you, it will likely keep you alive until the fever burns itself out. That can only happen if you stop writing for a little while and come rest!” Kanaya tried to keep the begging tone out of her voice.

“And how exactly are you going to make me?” Rose challenged.

“I could pick you up and carry you to bed,” Kanaya shot back.

“But you won’t, because you don’t want to take away my agency, especially when I am so infirm.”

“Please, Rose!” Kanaya wasn’t even trying to hide her pleading now, only the panicked sob building in her voice.

Rose seemed to soften slightly. “Kanaya, I know you’re worried, but I can’t stop. I have to finish my life’s work before…”

“Shut up! You are going to be fine!” Finally, the dam burst. Kanaya could no longer hold back her emotions, and tears flooded down her cheeks.

She continued, more forcefully than before. “You are going to come with me to the living room and you are going to rest until you are better. Then you can write again. Look at your work, Rose, it’s unreadable in your state!”

Rose examined her writing, stunned, as though she had not noticed her quality going down. She seemed to realize Kanaya had a point. “Very well. You win. You may place me on bed rest and play doctor until this is over. I trust you to get me through this so that I may finish my work.”

“I will, I promise!”

“But if you do not…”

“Rose!”

“If you do not,” Rose continued, “please do not blame yourself. You have done everything right. Sometimes fate works against us, Kanaya. As a Seer of Light, I know this better than anyone.”

“Come on,” Kanaya gently helped her wife out of her chair. “I will get you some medicine. You will be back to your writing before you know it.”

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Jade gazed dreamily out the window. Bands of crimson and violet illuminated the western sky as the sun approached its destination for the day. She allowed herself a brief smile as she finished cleaning her rifle. Her old gun had served her well, back in her days on the island and during the recent crisis. She'd personally chosen it from her grandpa's collection. It had been a mess from all the action it had seen the past few days, and deserved a good cleaning. Jade nodded with satisfaction as she reloaded the weapon. A clean rifle always lifted her spirits!

Of course, her spirits were already higher than usual at the moment. Her friends were all here at the apartment for the first time since the battle. WV and PM were in the master bedroom, where Jade could make out the syllables of their conversation. Probably about democracy or mail, or some combination thereof. Calliope was slouched against the wall, eyelids drooping. Jade had heard that Callie had spent a good eighteen or so hours working in the clinic, so no wonder. Roxy was next to her, with her own unloaded rifle lying on the floor as she went to work on it. She stuck her tongue out from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated on cleaning around the trigger.

Jade's happiness turned to concern as she looked at Rose and Kanaya sleeping on the couch beneath a home-made quilt. Kanaya rested against the left armrest, eyes shadowed from exhaustion. A light snore rumbled from the mouth of the usually dignified woman. Under usual circumstances, Jade would have teased her about it upon waking. But Kanaya deserved this. She'd run herself ragged saving lives for the past few days, so if she needed to snore, that was her right.

While Jade was concerned for Kanaya, she was downright worried about Rose. And Jade Harley didn't DO worried. Rose lay pale and limp against the right arm of the couch. She didn't snore. She didn't even move. The only hint that she was still alive was the slow, faint rise and fall of her chest. While Jade tried to stay positive about everything, even she was beginning to doubt Rose's survival.

Jade frowned. Rose had been one of her very first friends. When she'd initially found out from Skaia that she would have a great adventure with three strangers, she'd had no idea the four of them would become so close! Rose had always been there for her when she had “girl problems”. Rose responded to them with her signature sarcastic flair, but with her grandpa dead and her only other acquaintances a dog and two teenage boys, Jade didn't have many other options. Come to think of it, Rose had been the only female influence in Jade's life for her first thirteen years!

And now, with Rose so sick, she wasn't sure what to do. It had never occurred to her that any of the original four might actually die. Permanently, at least.

Jade tried her best to buck up. Rose was a survivor. She'd consorted with the Old Gods, risen to the status of a god herself, and helped defeat the demon at the end of time. Rose had survived worse than this in the past, and surely she would pull through this as well!

It was with this pleasant thought that Jade noticed the sun's light beginning to dim. Peering out the window again, Jade watched the orange disk fall below the horizon, casting the world into shadow save for the fading glow cast upon the clouds. Beautiful.

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As Jade sat entranced by the twilight's beauty, a shriek cut through the air, followed immediately by a thump. Raising her gun and spinning to look behind her, Jade initially thought a Hunter might have sneaked into the apartment through the hallway while nobody was looking. When she turned around to see the commotion, she decided that a Hunter would have been vastly preferable.

Kanaya lay pinned on the floor next to the sofa. Rose straddled her stomach, arms holding her lover's shoulders to the wood floor. She thrashed furiously, pushing against Rose's chest in a desperate attempt to free herself. Rose didn't budge. Kanaya screamed again, clawing ferociously at her wife's arms and leaving bloody scratches down the already blistered skin. Rose's only response was a low growl, almost a moan, from deep in her throat. Jade felt as though she'd just been shot through the stomach.

Rose had turned.

Kanaya's struggles weakened over the course of seconds; it seemed all those hours in the clinic had really drained her. That or the virus had imbued Rose with some form of superior strength. With a final heave, Rose released Kanaya's shoulders and caught her hands. She slammed them to the floor on each side of her head and leaned forward, a feverish hunger in her eyes.

Jade glanced at the others. WV and PM had stormed to the bedroom door and looked on, trying to wrap their minds around this sudden change in events. Calliope and Roxy held each other tightly, identical looks of horror plastered upon their features. Everyone seemed frozen to the spot, stunned into inaction. What on earth was Jade supposed to do?

Beside the couch, Rose's head quickly descended toward Kanaya's throat, and Jade made a swift decision. Looking deep, deep within herself, she found a hole she'd forgotten was there, and quickly buried all of her emotions within. Jade was sure she would never return to this spot to retrieve them. She didn't care at the moment. She knew what had to be done.

Jade numbly aimed her rifle at Rose's head and pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

Boom! The gunshot assaulted Calliope's ears, leaving only that familiar ringing in its place. She tried to look away, she really did! But it was impossible. She couldn't avert her gaze from watching the friend she had known for years, and idolized for even longer, go from a beautiful woman to a stain across the her former lover's front. She couldn't do anything, not even throw up from the terror-fueled nausea building up within her. All she could do was stare.

Kanaya, likewise, was at a loss for words. Slowly she sat up, eyes wide and unfocused. She pushed the still-warm corpse of her beloved wife aside and wiped some blood from her face. Rose's blood. Slowly, she raised her shaking hands to eye level, and she just stared, as if processing what exactly had just happened.

After what seemed like hours, Kanaya moved. She knelt next to her wife's inert body, laying a hand on its shoulder.

“Rose?” she whispered, though she obviously knew she would receive no response. “Oh, god. No. Rose, no!” Her voice grew louder. “Please, don't let it be real! Let it be a dream! Don't... Please...” she lapsed into silence, just kneeling there and staring despondently at the remains of her wife.

“Kanaya?” Calliope whispered, as gently as she could. No response.

After a moment, Kanaya looked up and turned her gaze to Jade. Jade sat stock still, rifle still pointed at the spot where Rose's head had been moments ago. Jade's expression matched Kanaya's; glassy and empty. Haunted. Finally, her rifle dropped from nerveless hands and clattered to the floor.

Kanaya stood abruptly. With a single smooth motion, she withdrew her custom-made chainsaw. The weapon's roar seemed to dwarf even the gunshot that ended Rose's unlife. Eyes wild with the madness of a woman bereaved, she charged haphazardly at Jade.

Half a second later, before Kanaya was even a quarter of the way across the room, a tall form lurched toward her. PM sprang into action, Regisword unsheathed and thirsty for blood.

Calliope quickly realized exactly how gory this situation would soon become. There was no time to think, no time to fear. Making a decision, she sprinted for Kanaya then took a flying leap. She snagged Kanaya's ankle with one hand and dragged the former Rainbow Drinker to the floor, only a foot from her target. Jade remained still, eyes still unfocused with the knowledge of what she'd just done.

Calliope's relief was short-lived; before she could even take a breath, Kanaya turned on her. She raised her chainsaw high, preparing to bring it down upon Calliope and saw her in two. As she prepared for oblivion, Calliope looked into Kanaya's crazed eyes. She suddenly understood why the ancient trolls feared the Rainbow Drinkers.

But before Kanaya could bring the chainsaw down even an inch something plowed into her from the side. She crashed to the ground once more and her weapon clattered away into the corner, still roaring. Roxy straddled her, locking her arms in place.

“Cut... it... OUT, Kanaya!” she panted frantically, tears streaming down her face.

The former Rainbow Drinker's legs kicked wildly, trying to dislodge her assailant. Taking her cue, Calliope leaped to assistance, sitting on Kanaya's flailing limbs. Kanaya struggled for a few moments, then stopped, immobile.

“Kanaya!” Calliope cried. “This is a truly horrid situation, I know. But you must get a hold of yourself. Killing Jade won't bring... won't bring...” the former Cherub trailed off, unable to say any more.

Kanaya looked at her captor with heavy-lidded eyes, expression wrought with fatigue. But beyond that was pain. It was a misery that Calliope couldn't fathom.

“You're hurting right now. But do you think she would want you to perform such an atrocious act?” asked Callie.

“She... she killed her!” Kanaya hissed. It was closer to a snarl than real speech.

“No. No, babe,” Roxy cut in, voice stunted with sobbing. “She was arleady... Jade saved...”

“Jade saved you, Kanaya! You of all people know what happens to a victim!” Calliope finished for Roxy. “She'd already turned. I am so, so sorry, love.” Her voice cracked.

Kanaya was silent for a good, long moment, eyes closed and tears streaming down her face. Callie glanced briefly around at the others. Jade still sat, completely zoned out, having no idea of the events that had just transpired. WV had tight hold of PM's waist. It seemed he'd had the presence of mind to stop his wife making the situation worse. Fortunately, she seemed to have relaxed now that Jade was out of immediate danger.

Finally, Kanaya spoke. “... Fine.” Her voice was rusty with grief. “I just... please. Please give me some time to think.”

The fight had gone out of Kanaya's eyes. For the moment, Jade seemed safe. Wordlessly, Calliope and Roxy stood up, freeing their prisoner. Kanaya staggered upright, swaying slightly. Without a single word, without even retrieving her chainsaw, she rushed from the room.

Calliope listened as Kanaya's footsteps echoed down the hallway. Did any of this really just happen? She mentally shook herself, trying to force herself awake from this nightmare. But no. Rose still lay dead by the couch, Jade still sat catatonic by the window, and Calliope remained just as confused as ever.

Abruptly, PM yanked herself free of WV's grip, sheathing her Regisword. She hastened to Jade's side. Gently, she shook her friend's shoulder, trying to pull her out of whatever dark place in which she'd suddenly found herself. Roxy said nothing, only retreating to a corner and sinking to her knees. She curled upon herself, and shook. Some part of Callie wanted to follow her lead: find some quiet place and hide, like she normally would. But when she looked over at WV, she noted the same look of despair and loss that the others sported. She realized that it would be up to the two of them to put the pieces of their team back together.

“WV,” Calliope murmured quietly. “Would you please go and keep an eye on Kanaya? Do not talk to her unless she addresses you, but I would like to ensure that she is okay.”

WV, clearly glad to have a directive, left the apartment. Calliope turned to go to Roxy's side, but she stopped at the last second. There was something else she had to do. Stepping quietly to the couch, she lifted the hand-made quilt that Kanaya and Rose had been sharing moments ago. Trying not to look at the mangled remains of her friend, she lay it gently upon the body.

“Sleep well, Rose,” Calliope breathed, and then turned to comfort her lover.

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Holy shit.

Holy shit!

Holy shit!

Did that seriously just happen? Did Roxy really just watch her mom/daughter die? She wasn't sure what went wrong. She'd been cleaning her rifle, watching Callie doze off. Then there was a thump, some screams... a gunshot...

Holy shit.

Roxy curled further in on herself, still trembling. When she'd first realized what had happened, she'd been furious at Jade. What the hell was she thinking? She couldn't shoot Rose! They were supposed to be friends! But seconds later, as everyone surveyed the damage, Roxy realized that Jade had averted an even worse disaster. Rose would NEVER have attacked Kanaya if she'd been in her right mind. The only way she could have even considered such an action would be if she was already...

Then Kanaya went postal, heading for Jade with her chainsaw, and Roxy couldn't DO anything. She wanted to, but her muscles were locked in place! Not until Kanaya turned on Callie, who was only trying to help. She refused to let Callie die. But did that mean she'd been fine with Rose dying? Was this all her fault?

Roxy jumped as she felt a comforting hand rest itself between her shoulder blades. Roxy turned to see Calliope, eyes filled with pain, but also with compassion. Callie's eyes had always been her most beautiful feature, besides her soul. This fleeting glimpse of beauty in all of the carnage finally broke Roxy, who threw herself into her girlfriend's arms. Ragged sobs tore from her chest as Calliope held her tight, rocking her and making shushing sounds.

“Shh. I am here for you, Roxy. We'll get through this. I promise.”

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It was a warm, albeit breezy, day on the island. The ebb and flow of the ocean's distant waves set the tempo of the day, and the creaky calls of the gulls were its song. The wind heralded a fragrant bouquet of salty brine and tropical flora, bringing to mind a day of vacation and fun.

Indeed, Jade Harley seemed to be of that mindset as she strolled through the meadow. Sharp blades of grass rubbed persistently against her skirt as she went, but she paid them no heed. This was the day she would become a woman.

True, today was only her fifth birthday. But Grandpa always told her that when she was grown up, she would be allowed to wield his flintlock pistols. Since five years old was basically an adult already, now must be the time to test herself! So as she did every year for as long as she could remember (two whole years!), she sneaked into Grandpa's room and spirited the guns from the case above his bed. The pistols were heavy, true. They were almost as tall as she was, and the barrels dragged furrows in the sandy soil as she walked. But she was a strong, determined little girl. She would hoist the weapons herself. Then she would go find Grandpa and Bec and show them how grown-up she was!

Jade stopped on top of a mossy green hill far enough from the house that she figured Grandpa wouldn't find her. Bec was another matter. You couldn't hide from Becquerel. When it came to finding wayward children, he was quite simply the best there was. She would have to take her chances and hope he didn't sense anything amiss.

What was it Grandpa always said about gun safety? Always treat the gun like it's loaded? She'd found them put away in the glass case, so the probably weren't. Then again, they were awfully heavy. Maybe she'd better check!

But how did she do that? Jade had never handled this model of pistol before, so she wasn't sure where the latch to check for bullets was. After searching for a while, she gave up. Maybe it was one of those old guns she'd heard about where you have to stuff the bullets down the barrel?

Carefully, Jade reversed the weapon in her hand, looking down the dark tube of the barrel. A voice deep in her head chided her that this might not be such a good idea, but she disregarded it. She was a big girl; she knew what she was doing!

Of course, it was so dark down the metallic tunnel that she wouldn't be able to see the bullets anyway! She angled the gun handle upward, trying to catch the light so she could get a glimpse of its contents. After a moment she dropped the handle back to the ground with a thud, muffled against the green moss beneath it. No luck!

Just as Jade was getting upset (she wouldn't tantrum, she was too old for that now!) she realized something. She'd lifted the gun! With excitement, she angled the gun upward again, barrel toward her. Though she only had the strength to lift it for a few seconds, she was doing it! As she let the handle fall to the ground again, she grinned. She was a grown up!

One more time! She had to do it once more to make sure it wasn't a fluke, that she wouldn't go to show Grandpa and Bec only to be stymied by her own lack of strength. Again, she angled the weapon with the handle skyward.

The handle dropped back to the ground a third time, as if in slow motion. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Becquerel, and the dog looked... odd. She didn't have time to think about it, though. In a single heartbeat, the gun discharged, directly toward her face.

The sharp report of the barrel announced her imminent demise. She didn't even have time to flinch at the agent of her death speeding right at her eye.

But then, she felt the familiar dizzying sensation of reality warping. Jade vaguely became aware of the area directly in front of her disappearing, and another one taking its place. An instant later reality had reasserted itself; the destination of the teleport had disappeared and the original land and air were there again. With one exception: both gun and bullet were gone. The girl was completely unharmed.

The other gun dropped from her hand in her shock, thudding to the ground. Fortunately, this one did not appear to be loaded. Bec stood before her, hackles raised and teeth bared. He looked much more like a feral wolf than Jade's beloved pet. Bec glared furiously around, as if for some unknown but invisible assailant. Unleashing a low growl, the First Guardian teleported away with a flash of his characteristic green flame.

Jade picked herself up off the ground, not even remembering when she'd fallen. She realized that she'd quite literally dodged a bullet. Bec had saved her life. He truly was a good dog, and a wonderful best friend. But she wondered what had him all upset like that? She'd never seen him angry before, and it frightened her.

Off in the distance, near the house, she heard Bec howl. While Bec did this on occasion, never had he sounded so forlorn. It was akin to the sound made by a creature abandoned by the side of the road, trying desperately to get its humans to return. Leaving the pistol where she'd dropped it, she hurried in his direction. Something was very, very wrong.

She made her way across the island, through the tall grass and over the gently rolling hills. Bec's lament had come from the picnic area, where she knew Grandpa was having tea with one of his blue ladies. Panting from exhaustion, she finally crested the rise overlooking the table.

After taking a moment to catch her breath, she peered down into the shallow valley.

“Grandpa?”

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“Jade!” A pair of hands shook her gently. “Come back to us!”

“Huh?” The bright, sunny day on the island faded. Jade suddenly found herself in a dark room. PM kneeled before her, hands on Jade's shoulders and a look of intense concern on her face. Behind PM, she could see Roxy crouched in a corner, Calliope rubbing her back. By the couch was a bundle of something about five feet long, staining a quilt red.

Oh, god.

Everything came rushing back.

The setting sun, the attack, the gunshot. It had all happened. Jade had murdered one of her best friends without even thinking about it. PM held her as she began to tremble.

“It wasn't your fault, Jade. It wasn't your fault,” PM whispered soothingly, but the image of blood running down Kanaya's front had burned itself into Jade's mind. She felt the memory like a hot lead weight in her skull, and knew deep down that it would never really go away. The events of this evening would stay with her forever.

Jade buried her head in PM's shirt, and just kept shaking.

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As soon as she stepped from the apartment, Kanaya began to run. She had to get away from that place; the walls were closing in. Reality had shifted into a grotesque mockery of itself, where friends became enemies and death stalked the halls. She was vaguely aware of the hollow thud of her own shoes hitting the wooden floor, but it seemed far away. Similarly, she was dimly aware that she was running into walls and knocking things over. She had no clue where she was going, only that she needed to leave.

From time to time she came upon a resident; they either dodged out of the way or she knocked them down. Later she wondered how she must have looked: the complex's medic tearing through the halls, eyes wide with fear and blood coating her front in a vivid red stain. Regardless of how she must have looked, she ran onward.

She was only stopped once. On what she supposed was the bottom floor, she finally ran into a fellow who was solid on his feet and was quite honestly not the dodging type: Walton. It was like slamming into a brick wall. Kanaya impacted and stumbled backward, falling to the ground with a thump.

“What the hell's got you so worked up, Maryam?” sneered the man. “Finally had enough of playing doctor for the zombies?”

It was as though a switch in her brain had been flipped: her fear winked out and was once again replaced by rage. The world came to her through a thin haze of red. In a single lithe movement, Kanaya lept to her feet. In a second movement, before Walton could react, she kicked him in the groin. Hard. His grandchildren would probably feel it, assuming he ever had any.

Walton doubled over, face crimson. He emitted a high-pitched whine from deep in his throat, wavering momentarily before finally toppling over in agony. The entire complex seemed to shake as his weight impacted the floor.

Kanaya used the opportunity to continue her flight. Bystanders who had seen the event kept well away from the widowed medic; if she could do that to Walton, what could she do to them?

Finally, she burst through the metal doors of the building and out into the courtyard. A few people stood around the fire, watching the cook as she prepared tonight's meal of clam chowder. Kanaya didn't care about making a spectacle. She didn't care about anything at all.

Exhausted, she finally collapsed. She found herself before the rose bush she'd tended so carefully for the past few months. The undead had trampled it to some extent during their invasion; the branches poked out at odd angles, and a number of leaves were missing. But blooming at the top of the bush was a single magnificent rose, orange in the light of the distant cooking fire.

Kanaya broke. She curled in on herself and cried like she'd never done before. Her breath hitched in great sobs, growing more and more rapid. Anguish quickly filled her until she thought she might burst. Finally she could take it no longer, and unleashed a mournful wail. It was the wail of one who had lost everything; Kanaya put her heart and soul into it. It echoed through the courtyard, turning heads at the figure huddled in the bushes like a lost child.

In a way, she suspected she WAS broken. She'd tried so hard to keep things together, to save as many lives as she could. But ultimately, she couldn't even save her wife. Rose was torn from her just as so many other things had been; her mother, the Matriorb, her universe... now, the little bit of happiness she'd gleaned from the game was gone, and with it the light from her life.

All she could do now was cry. And cry she did.

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Kanaya had no idea how long she had been sobbing in the bushes. The residents had stayed mercifully distant; there had been enough similar displays that Kanaya suspected they'd gotten used to them. By the time Kanaya returned to herself, the cooking fire had burned to embers, and most of the residents had returned inside. Her voice was hoarse and her breath came uneven sobs, like aftershocks from a devastating earthquake. In place of her grief was the wonderful sensation of nothingness.

The back of her neck tingled; she was being watched. She turned around, only to see a shadow dart behind the fountain in the center of the courtyard.

“Who's there?” She didn't like the way her voice shook. She reached for her belt where she kept her chainsaw, and her pulse quickened when she found nothing. When had she lost it? During her flight downstairs?

Fortunately, she had no need to worry.

“A thousand apologies, Lady Sylph!” WV stepped out of the shadows, hands raised to show he was no threat. “I only wished to make sure you were okay! I didn't mean to frighten you!”

Kanaya relaxed slightly. It was only the Mayor.

“You were watching me,” she said, her voice empty of accusation.

“Well, yes. You were being quite loud, and Tony at the gate thought you might summon a horde,” WV explained gently.

Kanaya hadn't considered her noise level. It was so out of the ordinary for her to lose control like that. She knew she should be ashamed for putting the complex in danger, but she couldn't muster up the energy to feel anything at the moment.

“Was there any trouble?”

“A few of the undead searched along the base of the wall, but nothing major,” answered WV. “The guards eliminated them quickly. You were quieter after that; there was no need to ask you to calm down.”

“Do not worry. It will not happen again.” Kanaya hated how robotic her voice sounded.

“You know, it's alright to cry,” WV suggested. “Skaia knows I've done my share of it!”

Kanaya looked at the little man. After he got a human body and learned to speak, he explained his history. He'd been through more battles than any of the players had. The fact that he came out such a gentle and friendly person was nothing short of a miracle.

“How do you do it?” Kanaya whispered.

“Hmm? Do what, Lady Sylph?”

“How do you stay so positive? After the things you saw, how do you keep living?” Despite her emotional exhaustion, Kanaya found tears flowing down her cheeks again.

WV thought about that for a moment. Finally he answered.

“I suppose I try to find joy in the little things in life. Can town, talking to friends, helping out in the democratic process...” WV turned to smile gently at his ally.

“I doubt I will ever be able to enjoy anything again,” Kanaya said softly, eyes downcast.

“Of course you will! You will just need time,” said WV encouragingly. “It will be hard, of course. There will always be times that you miss Rose dearly. But she'd want you to live and be happy. I know that's what my old comrades would want for me!”

They were silent for a while. Kanaya thought things over, tears still flowing freely. She doubted WV's words. All she could think about right now was that image, of Rose pinning her to the ground, and then the blood, and the rage...

“Are they angry with me?” Kanaya asked suddenly.

“For attacking Jade?” Kanaya winced as WV asked this. “I'm not, but I can't speak for the others. I know PM will hold a grudge. She is very good at grudge-holding.”

She remembered the winged, white shape in hot pursuit of her black-colored counterpart. Kanaya suddenly realized that she did not care to be on the business end of the Regisword.

“Are you angry with us?” WV asked.

Kanaya considered for a moment. Her emotions were all jumbled, and so far away that she couldn't reach them. Suddenly she saw Jade, holding the smoking rifle at the spot where Rose's head used to be, and felt another white-hot stab of rage.

“No,” Kanaya said flatly. Before WV could say anything more, Kanaya stood and stalked away, back toward the building. WV was too stunned at the abrupt change in her demeanor to do anything but let her go. This was fine by her.

She would have to sort out her emotions some other time.