Stella stared down at the stricken Hook, tears of concern and regret forming at the corners of her eyes. The big man was breathing hard, fighting the pain to stare back up at her, his eyes alive with tears. He reached out his hand. She held it firmly and started to tell him that he would be okay.
She stopped, shaking her head at him and at herself for thinking of lying.
'Stella, we've got to go,' said Gregor. His hand was on her shoulder, gentle but urging her away.
'Go,' said Hook. 'Go and survive.'
Stella shook her head again and a tear broke free, falling onto Hook's cheek.
He smiled. 'That's nice,' he said. 'That's enough. You can leave me with that.' He tried to push at her hand but either his strength was gone or he didn't want her to go.
'Stella,' said Jared. 'Gregor's right. We have to go.'
The Cynosure looked to the mass of death stumbling through the rubble-strewn entrance hall towards them. The deads reached out as if they were calling to her, calling her home. Glancing back down at Hook, she whispered, 'I'm sorry,' and let go of his hand.
'We can't just leave him for them,' said Gregor. 'They'll tear him to pieces.'
'Vine,' said Stella, 'lift him again.'
'He's already dead!' Tash yelled. 'We've got to go!' Blood soaked her white t-shirt, the material splashed with a red so vivid and heavy it seemed as if it were still alive.
'I'm not leaving him to them,' said Stella, her voice calm and determined.
'Then put him out of his misery,' the other woman returned.
'That's not how we do things,' said Gregor. 'We're not killers.'
Tash turned to the benches and grabbed a long, thin screwdriver. She turned on Hook, raising the tool, ready to stab.
Stella stepped to her and grabbed her forearm, holding it firmly. She looked into Tash's eyes. Any attempt from Tash to stand up to Stella was short lived, the younger woman wilting under the Cynosure's gaze.
‘He’s dead already,’ Tash hissed. ‘We stay here and all we do is die with him.’
‘We save who we can,’ said Stella, her voice stony.
‘You can’t save him! He’s got hours left at the most.’
‘Then we save him for those hours!’
‘Can we just go?’ said Gregor, his voice harsh and desperate. He was looking at the deads, just seconds away.
Stella looked to Vine. Silently, she begged the angel to lift Hook, to take him with them, to give him those last few hours.
Vine looked to Tash and Stella turned away, looking back down at Hook and blinking to clear the sudden tears. She reached for Hook, tried to put her hands under him but the pain in her arm was bright and sharp, the bones within chafing like broken glass. She gasped at the pain and looked down into his eyes. I’m sorry, she mouthed.
Hook held his hand up to her, started to form the word go but Tash interrupted him.
'Just do it,' she screamed at Vine. 'Kill them all!'
The angel turned on the deads, his movements smooth and fluid even in his enormous armour. His electronic blue eye turned red as he raised his right arm. He paused for a split second, his head jerking up and down the front row of the deads just two metres from them. A red beam, thin and deadly, sprang from his arm, hitting the deads closest to them in the forehead and then moving on, slicing open the heads of those either side, making them drop like a row of dead flowers whipped with a cane.
‘What the…’ Stella started to speak and stopped as Vine lowered his arm.
The rest of the deads continued to press forwards, some stumbling over those fallen in front of them, others already clearing the bodies so that they were close enough to reach.
Vine snapped his arm up again, slicing neatly and carefully along the line of deads.
‘He can’t keep firing. He has to stop between shots,’ Tash explained. ‘If he doesn't, he’ll attract more angels.’ She was shouting as if the noise of the deads’ approach was deafening or Vine’s silent laser was somehow drowning out her voice. But the massacre was almost silent, just the sound of the deads’ shuffling feet and their mournful groans across the rotunda.
Stella, Gregor and Jared nodded. Even Hook had raised his head to watch.
‘Hell of a toaster,’ he said through gritted teeth.
Stella laughed. She laughed long and loud as Vine sliced each row of deads, reaping his bloody harvest.
'Get back,' said Vine to the rest. 'I can mop up whatever's left, but without the doors, we could have a stream of them all night. The rest of you take Hook and I'll make a wall of the bodies to keep the rest of them out.'
Gregor moved to Stella to help her put her left arm back in the sling. She nodded gratefully while she watched Jared and Tash try to lift Hook.
It was useless. The big man was too heavy and his wounds meant that he could barely raise his head. His deathly pale face was drenched with sweat and the torn flesh at his shoulder was a purple so brilliant that it looked as if it could sustain life rather than take it.
The bite was acting quickly. Hook would turn soon. No hours left to save him for.
'Help Vine,' she said to the others, but never taking her eyes off Hook. 'I'll stay with him.'
Jared and Tash turned to her, concern and regret in both of their eyes. Quickly, Tash turned from Stella, the guilt obvious as she laid the screwdriver on the table before heading away, while Jared simply nodded, knowing that there was nothing else to be done.
Vine levelled another row of deads. The pressure of the walking corpses lessened with each swipe from Vine's laser as the bodies piled high. The angel was able to move forward and start to cull those outside of the museum.
Jared and Gregor darted forward to begin dragging the bodies into a semblance of a wall and quickly created a bank of cadavers around Vine.
Stella turned back to Hook. She took up his hand again and stared down at him. 'I always said you were a meathead,' she said. 'And now you're too heavy to move.'
'Nothing but meat, boss,' he said, raising a smile that quickly faded.
'I'm not your boss.' She said the words mechanically, knowing that Hook would want to play it out. 'I'm no one's boss. Can't even boss myself.' She sniffed back tears as she forced the words out of her reluctant mouth.
Hook gripped her hand more tightly as a wave of pain passed through his body. He shuddered and broke out into fresh sweats.
'You still smell like a pig,' said Stella. She smiled down at him. 'Still not looking after yourself properly. You'll never get a girl, smelling like that.'
'Had one for years,' he replied. He drew up his other hand and enclosed hers in a double clasp.
'You're not the last man on Earth,' said Stella. 'Not yet.'
He looked at her and laughed. 'Kill the other three and give me a kiss.' He laughed again as he said it. But the mirth quickly turned to pain and he had to rush the final words.
Stella laughed, fresh tears forming in her eyes as she did so. She reached her left hand to his double clasp and held his hopes and fears in a painful grip.
'Someone blew up our doors,' she said. 'I bet that was a man. A woman'd be too sensible to blow up perfectly good doors.'
'Get out there and kill him too!' Hook coughed and gasped through the words. 'You'd best not be long though.'
'Don't worry,' said Stella, her voice suddenly serious. 'I'll find him and I'll kill him.'
Hook patted her hand, the effort to do so enormous. 'Don't hate, Stella. Not for me.' He coughed, suddenly and violently. Stella could feel the heat coming from him as she tried to steady his huge frame.
She withdrew her right hand and looked to the others; they were dragging bodies and piling them on top of each other, using them as flesh bricks. Vine had switched back to his huge whale bone, reaching across the barrier and stabbing heads of deads who got close enough. Whenever he had the space he would reach over and grab another corpse to drag on top.
'You're going to be okay,' said Stella to Hook. 'Everything's going to be fine. We'll get the doors fixed; Vine can clear the rest of the deads while we do it. We'll get your back sorted so that you can come back out with me when we run low on important things.'
'Some new DVDs,' said Hook, his voice distant.
Stella nodded. 'Some action movies. A Van Damme box set.'
'Now you're talking.'
'And we'll find a pig from somewhere. We'll go out into the countryside and find two of them.'
'And clean the chickens.'
'And clean the chickens.' While she spoke, Stella reached for the screwdriver left on the table by Tash. 'The garden'll feed us so that we don't need so much power for the freezers.'
'We could hook up a games console.'
Nodding her head, Stella fought back tears that threatened to break her. 'A console with those fighting games.'
'There's a trophy that unlocks the Cynosure.'
She nodded again. 'I wore the motion capture suit for it. Just a couple of months before the crash.'
'What was it like?'
'Weird. Green screen and wires.'
'I was in the Cynosure Games expansion pack.' Hook grunted a painful laugh. 'Never got into the main game.'
Stella moved the screwdriver behind his head, its thin point aimed at the middle of his skull.
'I don't want you to do it, Stella,' he said, his voice suddenly mournful. 'I don't want it to be you.'
She froze, the screwdriver an icicle in her hand. 'You don't want to get up again, Hook. You don't want that.'
He looked into her eyes, tears swimming in the depths of his own and leaking trails across his cheeks, making lines in the blood and the dirt. 'I just don't want it to be you.'
The screwdriver fell back to the table and Stella's tears flowed. She wiped at her face with hand, sniffing back the tears but they rolled down her cheeks and dripped from the end of her nose onto Hook.
'And don't let the toaster do it. And keep Gregor away from me. Let the captain do it...' his voice faded and he had to breathe deeply before continuing. 'He'll be quick.'
Stella leant closer, her face within centimetres of Hook's. His eyes lit up with hope and she moved closer still so that her lips could brush against his. She kissed him tenderly, lovingly, and as she pulled away he sighed with contentment, smiling so widely that he looked like a child ready to go home.
And then she was gone, leaving him alone while she went to Jared to ask him to do what she could not.