Contains spoilers for Left Behind. You have been warned.
Riley's thoughts were a muddled haze as she sat half dead against the wall.
She could hear the adults talking in the next room, arguing and shouting occasionally intercut by the sound of Marlene's hard, business-like tone. There was a soft strain to the Firefly Queen's tone caught halfway between hope and disbelief. Her followers sounded much harsher, cynically calling for what had always been the obvious solution to their current problem.
A bullet to the brain.
Riley didn't hear much of this though. Her attention was shifting back and forth on and endless loop, between the tingling pain that still shot through her after nearly three days, and the other girl locked away in the next room.
She looked down at the stump that had replaced her hand. Thick gauze wrap had been applied and sewn into place, dyed red brown by blood and bodily fluids. Echoes of pain shot across fingertips that weren't there anymore. Feelings of phantom movement, flexing and un-flexing, the clenching of a fist. All that was still there, even though her favored arm had been sheared several inches shorter by the swift swing of a fireman's axe.
It was funny in the most horrible way possible.
Were it not for the fact that she could see the hand was missing, had she not felt it come off, she probably wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.
She shook her head.
It had been necessary, and dwelling on it now wouldn't do any good.
Looking up, Riley glanced the ten yards down the hall to faded yellow door sealed with a heavy padlock, with an armed Firefly seated on a nearby stool.
"Ellie, " she whispered.
All of this was her fault, of course. It had been her who had led the younger girl into that mall in an attempt to make up for being such a bitch in walking out like she had. What had made her leave, anyway? Had it been the confusing cloud of emotions that had filled her stomach like a swarm of vengeful butterflies, tearing her between her wish to fight against the military and what she felt for her best friend?
Whatever it had been, it had hardly mattered.
Their first day together in forty-six days had been the best. Better than the best even. Filled with laughter, corny-ass-jokes and exploring, arcades and waterguns and table dancing.
And it had all ended with something that had made whatever promises she'd made to the Fireflies completely meaningless.
A wonderful tingle passed over chapped lips.
Like Ellie she had spent days locked away while they waited to see if the impromptu amputation their rescuer had employed would be successful.
"You got about a twenty-five percent chance," Marlene had told her as she led her into the cell-like room, formerly a broom closet. Her words were blunt, but there was regret in them as well. Losing recruits so young was always hard. "I've seen cutting fail more than succeed, but considering how fast it came off, you might get lucky."
Lucky, that was a great word for it.
"And Ellie?" she asked.
Marlene's face fell, and her eyes slammed shut, making darker the heavy bags that hung beneath her eyes. Guilt as deep as her own showed in that expression, guilt at the failure to protect someone she'd kept watch over for fourteen years, and guilt at failing to keep a promise to a dear friend.
"Were gonna wait it out….it won't be long now but until then…." She gave the tiniest of shudders. "Until then we can at least make her comfortable. And no-" she nearly snapped, stopping Riley's question dead before it reached her lips. "You can't wait with her. If taking your hand worked, then it's too risky you'll get re-infected whe-when the time comes."
With that, she'd left the room and sealed it behind her.
Days had passed, and before long they'd released her. Not that that did anything to relief the hollow pit consuming her gut. So what if she wasn't going to die? Her best friend, who might've been so much more, was slowly being consumed by fungus from within, and would die before long at all.
Except she didn't.
More than three days had passed, and each time one of the guards peeked in to observe, they reported none of the usual signs. No redness of the face or porous based bleeding. No crazed eyes and perfuse sweating. Nothing at all.
On the evening of the second day Marlene had entered the room armed with a pistol and a syringe, emerging minutes later with a filled vial of blood.
That had been hours ago, and here Riley was in the hallway, forbidden to go to Ellie, and not allowed in the meeting with the senior Fireflies. Apparently the tags in her pocket didn't mean much when it came down to it. Initiated or not, she wasn't really one of them. Which was all well and good, because she didn't really want to be anymore.
Wasn't worth it.
"Looks like you got lucky, kid."
The sudden voice to her right made her jump, head banging against the wall behind her with a thump. Eyes darting, she swiveled round to see the newcomer.
"Clementine," she breathed, recognizing her rescuer. Clementine smiled a bit, a twinge at the edge of her lips.
She was a lean woman carved from wiry sinew and muscle. Like Riley, she was black, though light enough skinned that at long distance one may not be able to tell. Short frizzy hair sat beneath a decrepit looking ballcap adorned with the letter D, and a spattering of old blood staining one side.
Unlike the first time Riley had seen her, she had no weapons. Before she had been decked out in assortment of guns, hidden knives, and the fire axe she'd used to cleave off the teenagers bitten hand. Now, she had apparently been stripped of them courtesy of Firefly security policies
"So it worked," the woman slid down to sit beside her along the wall. "Good. A friend of mind tried it once, but it didn't exactly work out. Doing alright?"
Riley shrugged, lifted her stump for further examination. The bandages would have to be changed again before too long. Dark blood had started to crust the surface of the material, and it gave off a light stench.
"Eh. I can still feel it sometimes. They told me that might happen. Phantom pain, or some shit like that." She shook her head. "Guess all I need now is a hook and I'm set, huh?"
Clementine snorted, clapping her on the shoulder.
"That's the spirit, kid. Trust me, could've been a lot worse. Any further along the arm, and the whole arm would've had to go. You wouldn't have survived the blood loss from that."
Riley nodded. Normally, she'd've spouted at least half a dozen witticisms, but not now. She was way too tired, and thoughts of Ellie's impending doom pushed nearly all the humor out of her head. Humor wasn't so fun without a partner to bounce it off after all. Could she, she'd have traded her survivable bite for the forearm death sentence Ellie had received.
"Thanks, Clementine…..wait, I thought you said you were leaving."
After taking her hand off, she'd made it clear that she intended to go off on her own once she'd delivered them to Marlene. Apparently she and the Firefly queen didn't get a long so well, though well enough that she felt the need to follow up on a promised favor.
The favor? Track Ellie down after her disappearance from school. She'd done it, and had been exactly a minute too late.
"I was going to. But Marlene asked me to stay, and considering what's going on, I thought it best to agree."
Riley arched a brow.
"Then why aren't you in there?" she jabbed the thumb of her remaining hand at the door to the command center. Clementine laughed.
"Ex Fireflies aren't exactly welcome at strategic meetings, kid. See the two guys on the stairs over there? They're the handlers Marlene assigned me to make sure I didn't wander off."
The girl's brows shot above her hairline.
"You were a Firefly?" she asked in a whisper. The woman nodded.
"I was. Years ago. Joined up at about your age, back when things were just starting up."
The most obvious question Riley could ask was 'why did you leave?' Instead, she asked.
"Marlene let you just walk away? Bullshit." her tone was incredulous. "I know Marlene, and she never lets people who've been on the inside just up and leave."
For a moment Clementine regarded her perplexedly, before throwing her head back in a raucous laugh.
"First off, no, you don't know Marlene. Not like I do. All you've seen is the fearless revolutionary, the public face to make kids like you think they can be part of something big and important and then sends them off to die in her little war. Did that pendant she gave you protect you from runners?" Her tone turned bitter, memories flashing in her irises. "You haven't really met her. And if you did, you wouldn't like it. Two, she didn't stop me because she knew it was pointless to stop me. I'm not the only one who left either, a friend and I left together."
Inhaling deeply, she rolled forward to crouch on the balls of her feet, stretching her neck with a crack.
"Besides, I don't have to be in the meeting. If I didn't know what was going on, I would've left already."
Riley leaned forward, eyes widening. Suddenly she was back in the early days of boarding school, begging for scraps of information from the older kids about how to nab the best clothes or which soldiers had the softest personalities. She hated feeling so helplessly young and useless, but she was desperate to know anything at all.
"Can…can you tell me anything?"
To her surprise, Clementine smiled. Not a smirk or a scowl, but a genuine smile that seared away any trace of bitterness that had been there just a moment before.
"You can stop worrying. Your friend is gonna be fine."
Riley's heart stopped dead. Yet at the same time, it leapt, despite every bit of logic she possessed telling her it was a vain hope.
"What?" she practically squeaked. Clementine licked her lips.
"They ran some tests on her blood. Nothing too serious, they don't have the equipment for it here. But it still means the same thing. Ellie comes out positive under a scanner, but if she was gonna turn, she'd have done it hours ago." Another smile. "Don't you get it kid? Your friend is immune."
A/N: Before you ask, yes, it is THAT Clementine. I didn't put this in the crossover section because despite including Clementine, this is firmly grounded in the Last of Us universe.
The girl's little romance ripped my heart out, and this is my way of putting it back together a little.