If All Angels Are Terrible

Chapter 4

Wes's left hand was doing that nervous tap-tap-tap thing against his bunk again, and it was driving Kid slowly and painfully insane, but he managed to keep his mouth shut by dint of willpower he didn't know he had and some subtle but literal tongue-biting.

Eventually Wes got tired of staring up at their cabin's holographic ceiling- currently displaying some unrealistically fluffy white clouds skidding hypnotically against a dreamy blue sky, because Imperium believed that calm soldiers were obedient soldiers- and said, "So how'd your first week back in Junction go, Kidlet?"

"I hate that nickname," Kid said immediately, irritated. Damn it all, he was a forty-something man now and 'Kidlet' was just not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. "And it went as well as could be expected, I suppose. It's just… new, that's all." One hand crept up to press gingerly against the unfamiliar dark stubble on his skull, then to brush against the softer white hair that grew over the scars raking back from his temple- life in an underfunded, overcrowded Imperium orphanage wasn't always easy, to put it mildly. Anyway, he'd spent his thirties stationed on a tiny backwater Venusian moon, quite happily guarding the growing colony there, and nobody had given a shit if his hair didn't meet regulations, but now he'd been recalled to deal with the Fletcher rebellion and there went his hair.

"Sorry, sorry," Wes said, still tap-tapping away like it was his life's mission. His own hair was just as short as Kid's, but it was pale, which made his large ears stick out a bit in contrast, and when he turned to glance at Kid, his eyes were so dark that he looked like a skull. The constant clenching of his jaw didn't help matters either- he'd told Kid once, years ago when they'd been rookie recruits trying desperately to survive boot camp, that it hurt him often after some sort of surgery gone wrong- but then he smiled, revealing white, even teeth, with that startling charm he sometimes showed. "So, really. How'd it go?"

Kid reflected on that for a long moment. "Er," he said, and then, prodded to seriousness by Wes's intent face and the nagging guilt of knowing he hadn't written Wes even once while stationed on the tiny moon, "Well. It's sort of- it seems like everyone's our enemy, or about to be our enemy. More than usual, that is, they're really ramping up all the 'save humanity by giving a limb' propaganda." Wes snorted dryly. "But we don't have any allies, it's just the government against the people. And the people who should be our allies, the ones I wanted to help when I enlisted… they're our enemies too."

Wes gave him a very familiar, scrutinizing look; he had a way of picking one's brain without them ever noticing. "You're talking about the rebellion. The Fletchers."


"It's all a bunch of bullshit, huh?" Wes said understandingly. The tap-tap grew faster, louder. "I was all big eyes and shining armor and saving the universe when I signed up too, man, it's a rude awakening when you figure out that we're pretty much the last barrier between humanity and bloody chaos."

Well, that was dramatic. Kid offered a smile, bit back his instinctive comment about the outstanding mid-life crisis Wes was apparently going through, and looked back up at the ceiling. "Yes, it's definitely…. bullshit.,"

"Yeah. You'll get used to it again, though." Wes, who was so rabidly supportive of the Imperium that he probably had their logo tattooed on his ass, looked just a little smug; Kid retaliated by stretching his full six-foot-one out with a yawn and letting his feet hang off the end of his bunk. Five-six Wes narrowed his eyes, and the tapping got even louder. "They tell you where you'll be stationed yet?"

"No idea," Kid said, shrugging and then wincing as his sore muscles whined. Getting back into proper soldier shape was painful. "I applied for a post here in Junction City, but I don't know if I'll get it yet." Junction City wasthe place where the Fletchers seemed to be doing the most damage. Last week they'd stolen a hovertank and driven it straight into an army ship, the week before that they'd staged a riot involving creatively profane fireworks during one of the Imperium Council member's public speeches, and yesterday they'd somehow spread a rumor about fungus in Imperium flour. Army sales had ground to a halt and the few small farmers still kicking about were making more money off their 'pure' flour than they'd probably seen in their lifetimes.

"Don't wanna go back to any of the outer planets, huh?" Wes said. "Don't blame you, it's hard to get assigned to a pace that's half Fletcher. Those jackasses are a pain in the ass everywhere, but it's worse on the moons. They know it takes time for our ships to get there, the bastards."

"You been to any of the colonies that are rebelling?" Kid asked, intrigued; he'd never in a million years admit it out loud, but now that he was here, he very much wanted to stay in the city he'd been raised in, rather than be forced back onto a planet where the mere sight of blue armor could provoke all kinds of problems. Even if he could grow his hair beyond regulations.

"Two. Tethys and Orcus, actually," Wes answered.

"What were they like?"

Wes hesitated, stopped tapping, then made a funny sort of rumble deep in the back of this throat, eyes tracking across the false clouds. "Well," he said slowly. "Lot of good people there. Colonists all work hard, and the colonies themselves are growing, just… slowly. It's just going to take time. Those outer moons, it's like stepping back in time going there."

"Huh," Kid said, for lack of anything else to say, and then he sat up and reached under his bed to pull out his pocket laserblade and the little chunk of oak he'd been carving on for the past few days.

"What're you making this time?" said Wes, watching as Kid deftly flicked a curl of white wood into the disposal tube by the beds.

The tube made a hungry whoosh as it sucked down the scrap. "A sphere."

"A… a what?" said Wes, and for a moment he looked oddly nervous.

"A circle. A perfect, um, round… I want to try and get it perfect," Kid said, hoping he wasn't flushing. It had sounded much less strange in his head, but he'd bought the chunk of real oak- paid through the nose for it, in fact, with money he didn't really have to spend- and it had been so lovely, the grain patterned like the tangled vapor trails filling the skies over Junction City at rush hour, that he'd felt a burning need to pare it all down to the purest essence.

Wes just made a humming sound. "Mm. Neat."

"Speaking of the colonies," Kid said, vaguely uncomfortable again as he often was around handsome, charismatic, veteran Wes and wanting to fill the silence. "Did you hear about the terraforming school that's opening on Tethys?"

"Really?" said Wes, eyebrows shooting up. "Huh. I mean, there's only one college on the whole moon, how are they gonna find people smart enough to learn to 'form?"

"No idea," Kid said, shrugging. "But someone was talking about it. I guess they want to work on, um, it's a new microbe they're modifying to speed up atmospheric purification. Eats certain elements. I heard some guy, Stan or Stein or something, was working on it a few decades back before he disappeared, and the last of his research got left on Tethys. Must have really been something there worth funding, you know?"

Wes made that humming noise again, sounding a bit like a cat whose tail had been stepped on. "Interesting," he said, sounding as if it were quite the opposite, and Kid swallowed and fell quiet, breathing the sweet smoke as his laserblade burned through the oak. "You asked me once why I joined the army," Wes said after a long time, starting up his tapping again; for a moment, irrationally, Kid thought there was a bird in the room, but it was only Wes. "Well, I was tired of everyone giving me shit for the way I look. I needed cash, I needed a way to live..."

"The way you look- I don't understand," Kid said blankly.

Wes rubbed his jaw again, eyes narrowing at the ceiling. "It was just.. practical, I mean. To join. It was the only choice, but they talked sense, too. I believed in the Imperium. What about you?"

"I didn't really have a choice," Kid said, pausing after his next cut as his hand began to shake. How had they passed so many years together and not talked about this? But then Wes was usually private as hell. "You know, Imp orphans usually… well, I turned seventeen and they kicked me out and I didn't have anywhere else to go either, so I joined up." His heart, still not recovered, ached at the memory.

"No family?"

"None I know about." The ache receded, replaced by the sore tingle of very old scars. Kid started carving again, carefully, cautiously, because it was all too easy to take away too much but impossible to put it back. He had to work a little more slowly lately; the barracks were chilly, and it made the joints in his fingers ache. "What about you?"

Wes's teeth clicked like he'd bitten off a word at its birth. "Got a brother somewhere. That's all." There was a long moment, and the tapping reached nearly unbearable volume. "He tried to take my ship." There was so much vitriol in the last word it practically sizzled.

Kid put his blade and his oak down at that to goggle openly. "You had a ship of your own? Sunspots!"

"Key word 'had'," Wes said sourly. "Anyway, it was… I mean, it was mostly mine. If you grow up somewhere, if you love it, if you spend years and years working like hell to keep it afloat you at least deserve a vote in what it's used for, don't you?"

"Er," said Kid. "Yes?"

"Exactly! So I just, well, I left but yeah, he pretty much stole the ship out from under me." Wes sounded as if he meant to be angry, but his astonishing voice told the truth and showed all his pain in a raw sort of way that made Kid sorry and anxious all at once. Really, Kid was beginning to wish he'd never started a conversation this deep, because it was awkward hearing all this, in the same way that staring at Wes' beating heart would be. "So that's why I joined, too, I wanted to keep order. Shitty stuff happens when people don't follow the rules. People die. Anyway, the Imperium's right." Hatred laced his voice when he spoke next, hatred and loss that made Kid pick up his blade again. "Aliens aren't to be trusted. They'll play with human lives and think it fun. People might not like how hard Imperium laws are on them, but it's the only way. It's for the greater good. In a few generations things will be steadier and better, and people will be happy."

"Oh," Kid said, thinking about Glieseans and Kuipers, the only sentient aliens humans had discovered in all their travels, and the pair descended into near-silence again, wreathed in aromatic smoke from a tree that didn't grow anywhere in Junction City anymore except in greenhouses and parks, a tree that hadn't grown on the smouldering nuclear wreckage of Earth in hundreds of years.

It was Gliesean science that had allowed oak trees to be saved from extinction when humans fled Earth, and it was Fletcher terraformers who'd stolen saplings and smuggled them to various colonies, where the forests were reborn. Kid wondered if Wes knew that, but he didn't say it.

Maka shoveled in a forkful of her brown rice- Soul had found real butter somewhere, bless his heart, though she wasn't sure he knew what an actual cow even looked like- swallowed, and then nearly choked as Stein said placidly to Tsubaki, "So how do you think you'll handle it working... under Black Star?"

"Under," Soul wheezed, slapping his knee and entirely ruining the joke, earning a disgruntled glare from Stein. Black Star went beet-red and clapped both hands over his mouth to suffocate his snickering.

"I think they got it," Stein told Soul with a pained sigh.

Tsubaki only adopted an expression of long-suffering tolerance, patted Stein on the head the way one would pet a very old, confused grandfather, and said politely, "I think I'll handle it just fine, thanks. I've got a little experience as a mechanic, you know."

"Just as long as you're willing to accept the risks," Maka put in, wagging a finger at Tsubaki with a grin.

Tsubaki, who'd heard this speech at least ten times since she'd decided she wanted to stay on the Bullseye, smiled just a little, which sent Black Star into what looked like mild heart palpitations. She brushed a swooping lock of glossy dark hair back behind her ear and said lightly, "You all keep telling me that, but most people would be out of their minds with happiness to get a position on crew with a nice ship like this. There aren't many big ships with private owners anymore, you know, Imperium's buying them all." That was half flattery and half true. Most people would be delighted to gain the unique freedom that came only with a ship, but most people would prefer to be traders or merchants, not terraformers who either stayed docked on one planet for years or wandered the galaxy aimlessly, and looking at Tsubaki's fresh young face was making Maka feel vaguely guilty.

But then she felt irrationally guilty all the time for having taken Black Star onboard, too, for keeping him in dubious, lonely, empty conditions, so she sighed and ate more rice.

In fact, she was so involved in her delicious buttery rice that it took her a long moment to notice Black Star's face. When she did, she thought: Oh no, what now?

It was subtle, because he was a very good liar when he wanted to be, but whenever he looked at Tsubaki, the skin around his green eyes tightened and his lips pressed together.

Maka knew that look. She'd seen it when he was fifteen and thought he'd gotten a girl pregnant, she'd seen it when he was ten and had accidentally dropped a really expensive crate of actual chicken eggs, and she'd caught him wearing it when he tried to smuggle an actual chicken onto the ship two years ago under the guise of, "It's a bird, it just flew in here by itself!" He seemed to have something of a... fascination with chickens, come to think of it. Maybe Soul had called him a birdbrain too often when he was a kid.

She swallowed and kicked Soul gently under the table, pointing her eyes at Black Star meaningfully when Soul looked at her. Soul stared at Black Star from beneath his bangs for a long moment, rubbing his chin, then winced and sighed.

"Black Star," Maka said, pushing her rice away. Suddenly she wasn't hungry, and the breath in her lungs seemed thick. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"

He stiffened. "No," he said flatly, but his ears were turning pink, a sure sign that he was lying. More telling, Tsubaki was poker-faced and chewing gently on the end of her spoon, staring at nothing.

"Spill it already," Stein commanded, looking impatient. His eye made a few clicking sounds and then swirled to sparking orange.

"Nothing to spill," Black Star said stubbornly, jaw clenching.

Tsubaki, however, took a deep breath and closed her eyes; it looked like she was counting inside her head. Then she opened them and stood, pulling the hem of her shimmering holographic-finish tunic up, revealing a sliver of pale stomach above her leather belt.

"Tsubaki!" Black Star snapped. She ignored him.

There was a red arrow tattooed on her hip, simple and stark and very obviously done by an amateur, no larger than her palm. Next to it were the frayed pink edges of a blaster burn; Tsubaki obviously wasn't the coddled rich girl she'd seemed. "I'm a Fletcher," she said, licking her lips and still avoiding everyone's eyes. The words seemed to cost her something vital. "They sent me to see if we could recruit you. You've gotten a bit of a reputation over the years."

The room exploded. Black Star snarled and flung his bowl at the wall very dramatically, where it shattered; a clump of rice stuck there for a moment before falling. Soul made an eerie yowling sound deep in his chest, like a winter storm screaming through the forest, and he stood up immediately to block the door, though Tsubaki wasn't moving. Stein stood up too, his real eye glinting just as malevolently as his artificial one, which was currently yellow and throwing a nasty jaundiced glare over all of them. Everyone was talking at once, and Tsubaki was white as moon dust, looking on the verge of tears.

"What the fuck!" Black Star hissed.

"So you knew we had a spy on our ship, and you didn't say anything," Maka said heavily to him, and everyone fell silent.

"I'm not going to turn you in or anything," Tsubaki said earnestly, with an apologetic pleading glance at Black Star, who'd collapsed back into his seat and crossed his arms, looking as pissed as Maka had ever seen him. "I like all of you. Even if you don't want to join the rebellion, that's okay, we're not going to do anything to you."

"That is so not the issue here!" Maka spat, jumping to her feet so fast that the backs of her knees banged against her bolted-down chair. "You already know we sympathize with your cause, or whatever, you- you know that or you wouldn't have bothered sneaking onto my ship. The point is that you lied! You convinced my mechanic to cover for you-" She shot a venomous glare at Black Star, who looked mutinous. "You lied. We don't lie on my ship! We don't lie to each other, we're a family!" Family, the word she'd hung on her heart and her soul, the thing she'd scraped together so carefully from the corners of the stars, and suddenly it was all upside down and changing. It was a very bad feeling.

"Can we focus on me for just a moment?" Black Star interrupted, smacking his palms down on the table. "Look, I didn't mean to lie, I just wasn't sure how to tell you without you freaking out, and plus we're already on our way to the new moon to 'form it so I didn't think it mattered!"

"That's a good point," Soul said, squinting in thought and apparently a bit calmer, and then he tapped his watch and brought up a miniature hologram of the solar system, then zoomed in on the largest moon of Pluto, pointing at it accusingly. "We're already a quarter of the way to Charon here. Are we just supposed to turn around? Waste fuel, waste all the supplies we picked up for this job, lose the paycheck that we really fucking need to go play hero?"

Tsubaki opened her mouth, then closed it without saying anything, looking distressed. Finally she braced her shoulders and said staunchly, "Look, this isn't the worst thing I've done by far for the cause, and I'm sure I'll do worse. Imperium has got to fall. They disregard human rights, they're ruining human-alien relations and the economy's flatlining. Free speech is a joke. They're outright murderers, they've got no regard for their own laws or for life, they lie and swindle-"

"We don't need to hear the Fletcher brochure," Stein drawled, fingers rubbing together as if he was dying for a smoke. "We've experienced it all, thank you, or didn't you notice my missing pieces? Courtesy of Imperium blasters. They didn't like us helping the colonies out from under their bootheel. We're well aware of why the Imperium's 'bad'." He finished with a scornful snort and then leaned back precariously in his chair, raising a brow expectantly at Tsubaki. One of his carnivorous vines had crept across the floor to twine tenderly around his leg, and Black Star was eyeing it sideways, clutching his spoon defensively.

"Stein," Maka said, feeling lost and nervous and not very Captain-y. "What do you think?"

"What do I think? About what, exactly?"

"About- well, do we just stop somewhere on the way and drop her off? Do we join-"

"You already know what you want to do, my dear," he said softly, closing his eyes and tapping metal fingers on the table. It made a sound like rain, and Maka realized with a sudden pang that she hadn't fallen asleep to the music of raindrops in years. She was never on the ground long enough. She'd never settled, she and Soul and Stein had just kept running from their pasts, all across the stars, and yet the 'happy ending' she'd been waiting for had never come. Instead things seemed only to be getting worse by the day.

"I-" She couldn't quite speak, so instead she waved a hand at Tsubaki, motioning for her to go on.

"It's dangerous," Tsubaki said, looking hopeful now, twisting and pulling the hem of her shimmering tunic between slim fingers. Between her shining shirt and the soft gleam of her trousers- black velvet woven with impossibly thin threads of beaten metal, the very latest Junction City fashion- she looked like she was wearing armor, ready to go to war, and the zeal shining like fire in her eyes only added to the impression. "It's very dangerous, but you already know that. It'll make your life hell. Imperium has as much control as they do because they don't just take care of any rebellions, they stomp them flat."

"So why aren't the Fletchers flat already, then?" Soul asked, glancing at Maka and then looking away too quickly for her to decipher his expression.

"Because we are made up of the best people the galaxy has to offer," Tsubaki said staunchly. The fire leaped higher. "We're made up of people who'll do anything to get what they know is right, and what's right is people being able to go where they want, say what they want, without being murdered."

"They killed my mom and dad," Maka told her. "When I was little… I inherited this ship."

Tsubaki swallowed and looked down. "I'm sorry." She did sound sincere, she sounded like she really and truly was sorry for the horrible thing that had affected Maka's entire life even though she didn't even remember it, and Maka had to close her eyes for a moment.

"Soul?" she whispered at last, because as much as she loved Stein and Black Star, Soul was the person she'd always lived for, the brightest star in her sky, and his thoughts were the first she wanted to hear, in love and the desperate hope that he'd somehow be able to stabilize the ground that had dropped out from beneath her feet.

He licked his lips, then shook his head. "We still have bloodstains in our hold."

That was answer enough.

"Fine. We're with you," Maka said grimly to Tsubaki. "Soul. Go turn the ship around. We're heading back to Junction City." Soul closed his eyes briefly, then nodded and left, the heat of the palm he touched to her back lingering like a promise. "Tsubaki… there's one thing. The Fletchers send one woman to recruit, what, the four of us? That seems, um, not quite right. Risk versus reward-wise, I mean."

"True," Tsubaki admitted quietly.

Maka clenched her jaw, then blew out a tense breath and leaned a hip against the table and stared sadly at the cold remnants of Black Star's delicious, buttery rice. "You want me and my crew, but more importantly than that you want my ship."

Tsubaki said nothing, but she reached out a hand to the cold metal wall.

She woke to a great rocking motion, as if the ship had landed in a wild sea. The emergency lights went off a moment later, flaring orange from every corner, and the alarm was shrill and high.

Stein burst through her door, long legs going every which way, before she could do more than sit up in bed and blink in startled confusion as her forgotten reading tablet fell off her bed and onto the floor with a dismaying cracking sound. "Get up. Get dressed. Deal with those boys!" he bellowed furiously, clinging to the doorframe as the ship rolled again with a groaning creak.

"What? What's happening?" she screamed back, stuffing her feet into her boots and running past him in her pajamas- patterned with various constellations, a gift from Soul during the last holiday season neither of them had been in cryosleep. Most holidays were spent alone on board the Razor's Edge.

"That idiot Westing's trying to fly us!"


Stein didn't bother answering as they scrambled around another corner, the alarms still shrieking danger in their ears. He only gave her a furious look and then nearly skidded straight into the cockpit door, which was closed.

Maka slammed her fist into the entrance button over and over, but it was locked from the inside, and as she and Stein stood there with wild eyes and heaving chests, the alarms went off and the entire ship suddenly stopped.

There was always a comforting pulse with a live ship, a thrumming subterranean vitality that came from the engines and the life support systems and the electricity, a hundred different things that meant all was well, and to have it die down, to go from buzzing to nothing in half a heartbeat sent Maka reeling. It felt wrong, it felt like she'd crawled out of her own skin and into a stranger's.

"What the fuck did that idiot do!" Stein raged, kicking furiously at the door. His false eye was the only thing lighting them now, but its reddish glint was the opposite of comforting.

"He disabled everything," Maka whispered, shivering against the wall. "It's all off. I haven't turned the ship off in years." If they hadn't been docked, if they'd been enroute somewhere, they'd be dying in increments as they breathed up the last of the oxygen, as the artificial heat slowly faded to space's incredible cold. The thought was enough to make Maka squeeze her eyes shut in horror. Two years ago they'd been hired to haul in a drifting ship, a hulk that had lost power for whatever reason, and they'd found the crew huddled together under a mountain of blankets, peaceful and mummified and dead.

Stein looked at her grimly, likely thinking exactly what she was, then began pounding on the door again and shouting ineffectually, if creatively; Maka, used as she was to his rants, still winced. "Westing, if you don't let me in there I swear to god I'll drop you on the next asteroid I see and I won't feel badly in the slightest! I'll make you alphabetize your own damn organs and then sell you for spare parts! Hearts go for a lot, you know!"

The only answer from the cockpit was a muffled thump, then a crash and a furious ululation that rose and fell like a storm. "They're fighting," Maka said. "Soul's in there. It'll all be okay."

Stein sat down and leant his head against the wall with a quiet grimace, lifting his hand to massage his stump. Maka thought absently, watching him, that she really hoped they'd save up enough to convince some back-alley doctor to fix him a prosthetic soon, because she was sixteen and pretty damn tough even in a wild world, but watching him rub his skin raw and wince in pain from a hand that no longer existed as anything but wayward atoms was hard. "It'll be okay," she repeated, mostly to reassure herself, and then, when another thump and more arguing came from inside the cockpit, she sat down and put her head on Stein's shoulder, curling her legs to her chest. "Right?"

"Hope so," Stein said dispassionately. His eye whirled faster with a soft whirring sound, and it managed to make the tomb-quiet ship a little less terrifying. Maka felt, gladly, less hyper-aware of her own breath, her own heartbeat.

It took a long time. Maka's adrenaline faded, and she was nearly asleep by the time her ship hummed gently back to life, but she woke instantly when the floor glowstrip she was practically sitting on blinked back on. "Oh, yes, yes!" she breathed in glee, jerking upright and looking around.

The cockpit door was still closed, though, and she and Stein shared a heavy glance before they both stood and knocked.

It was unlocked now, and at their touch it slid silently upwards. Soul, standing across the cockpit and leaning heavily with both hands on the dash, turned to look at them over one hunched shoulder, and the blood spattered across his cheeks was less red than his eyes.

He blinked, then lifted swollen hands and said numbly, "He wants to sell the ship to the Imperium."

Maka swallowed down hot tears and edged over to him; she had to bite her lip to stifle a gasp when she saw Wes, sitting sullen and bound on the floor beside the control panel, one of his own gloves stuffed in his mouth. His left eye was already blackening, swollen to a thin sliver of red, and when he tried to say something around the glove, she saw that one of his pointed teeth had been knocked out. There was blood on his knuckles, too, and the look on his face- "We know that," she said to Soul, very softly taking him by the shoulder and guiding him away from Wes, who was being stared down by an incredibly pissed-off Stein.

"Where'd Stein get that hypodermic?" Soul said cautiously, rousing a bit and beginning to prod gingerly at his right knuckles.

"No idea." Maka took his hand and started her own examination, aware that she was blinking rather fast and out of breath for no real reason, but seeing blood shining like horrid jewels on Soul's olive skin- it was awful. "We knew he wanted to sell the ship," she said softly, glancing back over her shoulder at Wes. "But did he- did he try and steal it?"

Soul nodded slowly, and she heard his teeth begin to grind. "I heard him, I thought… I don't know, I just followed, and he didn't notice me until he'd already locked the door, and we… fought. He was trying to deliver the ship to an Imperium bidder on the southern docks."

"He went and found someone to buy it?" Maka gasped, incensed.

Soul shrugged and looked moody, which actually meant he was feeling about a billion too many feelings for his own comfort. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault! He's the one being a complete moonbrained idiot lately!" Maka said the last loud enough for Wes to hear; he glared as effectively as he could with one good eyeball. "Anyway," she continued, at a more normal tone, "We're fine, we're still docked, although I bet we'll get some odd looks tomorrow morning for all the bouncing, damnit… Well, listen just- go get cleaned up, okay?" The sight of that blood would kill her.

Soul didn't move. "What do we do?"


"With Wes. With my brother."

"We- what do you mean, what do we do?"

Soul stared at her, then licked his split lip. His tongue put a soft smear of wet pink onto his cheek. "Maka. He tried to sell the ship out from under us. He'd have had Imperium evict you in the middle of the night! He tried to sell our ship! Our home! To kick us fucking out of our own home!"

"Breathe, okay, just please calm down-"

"You calm down! I'll be calm when that piece of shit traitor's off this ship!" Soul bellowed, and then he wheeled around at his brother and started hissing musical abuse that made Maka's skin crawl.

Stein sat for a long time with his head in his hands as they argued, and then he kicked Westing off the ship. He did it very simply and quietly, just marched him to collect his possessions- twelve years' worth of living fit in a single backpack- and then they watched one of their own, snarling and still streaked with his brother's blood, march off the ship and into the neon night.

"I named him," Stein said later, sounding almost bewildered, when they were all sitting in nervous weeping silence around the table. "West, humanity's always gone westward, to have a westing course is to have hope, and he's a bad guy now. What the fuck is going on?"

Maka cried for days, but Soul didn't make a sound.

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