AN: So this is my first time writing fan fiction, so go easy on me. This story is a kind of 'what if' thing. What if Teresa had survived her encounter with Priscilla. Irene will be Ilena in this fic. That's what she was called in the English dubbed version (which is the one I watched) and in the English translation on the Manga. It will be Ilena X Teresa. I tried to keep the dialogue at the beginning as true to the Manga dialogue as possible.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. If I did, Raki would have died and Teresa and Ilena would still be alive to kick ass another day.
The world seemed to slow down as she watched Priscilla's sword cut through both of Teresa's arms, surprise on the latter's lovely face. Before she could even register what was happening, the sword cut across the Number One's throat, sending a spray of blood as Teresa collapsed. Ilena stared unbelieving at her friend's body, the body of the woman she had been sent to kill. The body of the woman who had her heart. Teresa was dead. And now her world came crashing around her ears. She had been sent to terminate the rogue Number One, to kill the only person she had loved since her family had been killed.. It was her duty as the Number Two- no, not Number Two, Number Three- to do as the organization ordered, and she had. She had tried to treat this as just another mission, tried not to think about how much her heart had protested at the assignment. She had set out with the new Number Two with every intention of collecting Teresa's head. But if she was honest with herself, Ilena had never truly believed that they would ever be able to bring Teresa down, especially not if she fought to her fullest strength. But now, it was all over.
Priscilla gave a horrifying scream as her body transformed even further. Wind whipped around them, blowing Ilena's long silver hair back from her face. Wings sprouted from the Number Two's back, and her body convulsed as she transformed into something Ilena had only seen a handful of times.
"What is...that" Noel stammered. "What on Earth just happened?"
"That...That's a creature beyond the Yoma, and utterly different from a human," Ilena told her in disbelief. "An Awakened One." Noel and Sophia were crouched next to Ilena, a few paces behind the human girl. The dust around Priscilla settled, and the Awakened One spoke, her voice soft and calm.
"So...There was no reason at all to hold back," she mused, more to herself than her audience. "It...It feels incredible."
"She's..." Ilena searched for the right word. "A monster."
"Mmmmm, I'm hungry for entrails," Priscilla said, turning towards them. Fear gripped Ilena, but she knew that she had to act, to save herself, and Noel and Sophia. And...the girl. Not just because she was sworn to protect human life, but also because he girl had meant so much to Teresa.
"While they still live," Priscilla continued, slowly making her way over to them, "I'll cut open their stomachs...Bury my face in their blood soaked bowels...And eat my fill." Ilena could practically feel Noel trembling beside her. Though she and Sophia were in the single digits, surpassed only by herself, Teresa, and the monster before them, neither of them had ever encountered an Awakened Being before. They were paralyzed with fear.
"I'll lap up every drop of blood...devour every ounce of flesh...and savor every organ." The Awakened One was nearing the human girl, who could only stare at the monster with wide eyes, and Ilena knew that she had to act. So she gathered her strength and her courage and charged Priscilla as fast as her half-breed body would carry her. She leapt, and swung her sword with all her might, faster than the human eye could see, faster than most claymore could see, Priscilla's neck her target. Instead of the sickening feeling of her sword slicing through flesh, she was met with the harsh clang of metal and a horrifying pain ripping through her left arm as Priscilla's blade found its mark.
Ilena was thrown back by the force of the Awakened One's counter blow, and slid dozens of feet on her knees, her body shaking from the pain and shock. As she slowed, she realized with nauseating clarity that her left arm was gone. Priscilla turned her head back, looking at Ilena over her shoulder with some puzzlement.
"Oh, Hello Ilena," she cooed. "What's wrong? You seem to be missing an arm." Ilena struggled to keep her breathing under control as pain from her missing limb rolled over her. Never before had she been injured in such a way. She was the Number Three, previously Number Two. She was Quick Sword Ilena, and she was feared among the Claymore. Only Teresa of the Faint Smile had ever been able to land a blow on her. She was unaccustomed to it. Priscilla held up Ilena's missing arm, clutched in her clawed fingers. "Ah...Here it is."
Part of Ilena knew that if she could just get to her arm in time, she would be able to reattach it. She was powerful enough to do so easily, but another part of her was already accepting that she would die that day. She knew that even with Noel and Sophia, they had absolutely no hope of defeating Priscilla, not without Teresa. The monster in question studied Ilena's arm a moment longer before tossing it back to the wounded warrior.
"You can have it back," she said. "You shouldn't leave things lying around." Her arm had landed only a few feet away from her, but Ilena could not will her body to move. As she sat immobilized, Noel and Sophia lunged at Priscilla. Ilena wanted to call out a warning, stop them from making the same mistake, but it was too late. With terrifying ease, the Awakened one shot her fingers through their bodies, killing them as if they were flies.
"Noel! Sophia!" she yelled, but it did no good. The two warriors were dead before they hit the ground.
"What's this?" Priscilla asked in confusion. "Do you all plan to kill me?" Ilena could see what was about to happen, but it was still not enough to will her body into movement. "Sorry, but..." the monster that had been Priscilla continued,"...I can't have that." With those words, she slashed her sword across Ilena's chest. The last thing the warrior saw before her world turned black was the terrified face of Teresa's human child. I have failed you again, Teresa, she thought as she succumbed to the nothingness.
Ilena shot up, gasping against the nightmare and the pain tearing at her chest. It took her only a moment to remember that it had not been a dream as she glanced down at the empty space where her left arm should have been. The stump was wrapped in bandages as was the wound across her chest. She furrowed her brow in puzzlement. She had lost consciousness before she could dress her wound, else she would have reattached her arm, which Priscilla had so kindly given back to her. She looked up and blinked against the morning sun, shining through the treetops, which made no sense either because there had been no trees in that God-forsaken place where her world had ended. But she was not there anymore. Instead, she was sitting on a pallet in a clearing in the woods. Immediately, she was on the alert. Even injured as she was, nothing could erase the years of training she had received. She scanned the clearing, noting that there were two more pallets set up. Someone had cared for her. Someone had...saved her. Ilena was not used to being saved. Only weaklings needed saving.
Upon closer inspection, she realized that one of the pallets was still occupied. The small figure was turned away from her, but she could see long reddish-brown hair and the top of an outfit that she immediately recognized.
It can't be, she thought. She was now certain that it was Teresa's little human who slept across from her. Ilena was amazed that the girl had survived, that Priscilla had spared her. They both should be dead, but instead, they were here, alive. Part of her was glad that the child was not dead. It meant that, in a way, part of Teresa was alive as well. Ilena vowed then and there that she would protect that child with her life, even if the girl had caused Teresa's death and her own loss of limb. The look in Teresa's eyes when she had smiled down at that little human was a look that Ilena cherished, a look that used to be given to her. Teresa had loved the girl, and that was now enough reason for Ilena to keep her safe.
Ilena took a moment to inspect her bandages. Whoever had saved them certainly knew how to dress a wound. She did not know how long she had been away from the land of the living, but she could tell that both wounds were more than half healed, and would do so faster now that she was conscious enough to use her Yoki energy to speed the process further. She hesitated, knowing that her strength was depleted, and uncertain who was in the area. She did not want the Organization to find her. They had no use for a one-armed warrior. She would be...exterminated. It was a cruel world she lived in. She decided to wait and see who was caring for her before unleashing her powers. Since there was no need to rush her healing, now that it was too late to reattach her arm, she could afford to let the injuries continue healing naturally for the time being. Even if she did not use her Yoki powers, her body healed much more quickly than that of a full human.
She sighed and attempted to stand. Her armor and sword were propped against a tree a few feet from her, cleaned of blood, and she wanted to inspect them. She ignored the pain in her chest as she pushed herself up with her remaining arm. She swayed on her feet, nearly toppling over, her body weak from lack of food and her extensive wounds. Her legs shook beneath her, and she knew that she would not be able to stay upright for long. When she had been called to kill Teresa, she had not eaten in nearly a week. That, added to the unknown period of time that she had been unconscious, meant that she had not eaten in quite some time, even for a Claymore. As she swayed again, knowing that she was about to collapse, a strong pair of arms caught her under her right shoulder and around her waist. Ilena stiffened, cursing herself for allowing someone to sneak up on her. No one should have been able to do that.
"You should not strain yourself, little Quicksword." Ilena froze. The voice...it was impossible. She had seen the owner perish before her very eyes. Shakily, she turned within the confines of the embrace, coming face to face with none other than Teresa of the Faint Smile. The woman bore no mark of her injuries that Ilena had thought fatal. Both her hands were again attached to her body, and her smooth neck was unmarred. Ilena opened her mouth, then closed it again, the words dying in her throat. She could only continue to stare into the silver eyes that she had not ever expected to see again. It was with horror and shame that she felt the first tear fall. As she had writhed in pain, cold and naked in a cell, with only an equally frightened Teresa to comfort her through her painful transformation into a half-Yoma monster, she had sworn that she would never cry again. And she had not. Not when she and Teresa had parted ways, not when she had been given the order to kill the woman she loved, and not when she had thought that same woman was dead. But now, all her defenses crumbled, and her vision blurred as she wept.
"Ilena!" Teresa cried in alarm. "What is it? Is it your injuries? You should lie down. You've not yet healed." She attempted to lower the warrior to the ground, but Ilena resisted, not yet ready to look away from Teresa's face.
"How?" she managed to croak, her vocal cords protesting. "You...you died. I saw it." Teresa looked at her with kind eyes.
"You yourself came there to kill me, Ilena," she reminded the other woman. "And now you seem overjoyed that I live." Ilena looked down, finally breaking eye contact. She braced her remaining hand against Teresa's shoulder as her body struggled to stay standing. The movement did not go unnoticed.
"Ilena, please sit," the Number one insisted. "We will have time for accusations and explanations later." She gently forced her Number Two back onto her pallet, resting Ilena's back against a tree so that she could at least maintain a sitting position. Once she had made sure that the other warrior would not fall, she seated herself opposite Ilena, settling with her legs crossed. "Now, eat this." She held out a piece of dried meat. Ilena took it. "You will need protein to replenish your strength," Teresa informed her as she ate. "You have been unconscious for nearly six days. I thought for a while there that I would lose you. The wound in your chest was quite deep and you had lost so much blood." Her expression darkened as she said the last bit, but she quickly schooled her features back into a pleasant mask. Ilena swallowed the last bit of the meat, realizing how famished she was. Teresa reached behind her into her pack and handed Ilena another strip of the meat. "Eat as much as you need to. There is plenty." They sat for a few moments in silence as Ilena continued to eat her fill, Teresa supplying her with more food when she needed it. Once her hunger was satisfied, and she felt the strength returning to her limbs, Ilena gathered the courage to ask how in the world Teresa was alive.
"Teresa," she began quietly, knowing she had the other woman's undivided attention. "What happened? I saw that monster slice your neck. And your hands. How are you alive and...and whole?" Teresa looked away for a moment, her eyes distant.
"Clare informs me that I came to mere moments after Priscilla had departed," she told Ilena. The mention of the girl reminded Ilena that she and Teresa were not alone. The thought helped her regain some control over her emotions. Breaking in front of Teresa was one thing, but she would be damned if she ever let anyone else see her in such a state. "My neck wound was not as bad as it first seemed. I had been able to sense the attack just before she lounged and was able to move. In her Yoma form, she had less control over her Yoki aura. That blow was meant to take my head." Ilena suppressed a shudder, knowing that she, too, had been after Teresa's head. "The bleeding stopped quickly. Clare was in shock, but once she saw that I was still alive, she was able to help me." Teresa looked down at her hands, as if still unable to believe that they had recently been parted from her. "She was so brave." Ilena felt a pang of jealousy at her tone. She spoke of the child with such love and devotion when that same girl had been the very reason for the whole situation. Ilena sighed and pushed the thought away. Had she not, just minutes before, sworn to protect the girl? It was different now that she knew Teresa was alive. She felt less forgiving towards the child. Teresa continued her story, regaining Ilena's attention. "She helped me reattach my hands. She never complained, not once, though I know she was horribly frightened. I could do nothing for you until I had my hands back." Her tone became almost pleading, as if asking for forgiveness.
"Of course," Ilena said. It was only logical. Teresa regarded her a moment more before continuing.
"The other two were already dead." Teresa closed her eyes and turned her head from Ilena. "I was so scared that the same would be true for you," she whispered, unable to meet the other woman's gaze. "There was so much blood." She took a steadying breath before opening her eyes, regaining herself. "But you yet lived. I could do nothing for your arm. Without you awake, it was impossible to reattach it." Ilena nodded in understanding. Reattaching a limb required great amounts of power and control. "After I had tended to you, Clare and I buried Noel and Sophia. Then we began traveling. I have been suppressing my Yoki aura to avoid detection, and I suggest you do the same. They will be after us." She paused again and frowned. "Of course, you are free to leave us if you want. You have not yet done anything wrong. They are not out for your head. I should not have assumed that you would want to stay with us."
"I failed in my mission to kill you," Ilena said simply. "Two of my comrades are dead, and the other has Awakened into one of the most powerful beings I have ever encountered. I would say that I have done quite a lot wrong." Teresa inclined her head in agreement. "If you would be willing to have me, and if I would not be too much of a burden to you, I would stay."
"And why,Quicksword Ilena, would I not be willing to have you." She asked in such a way that Ilena felt the question was a trap. They had arrived at the subject they both seemed eager to avoid. Ilena scowled at Teresa, perturbed that the woman would force her to spell it out.
"I tried to kill you."
"Not very well," Teresa replied with a small smirk. In moments like this, Ilena hated that smile. Hated the superiority in the other woman's face, her smugness. Upon seeing Ilena's frown deepen, Teresa let the smile in question fade from her face. "You were doing your duty. You always did like the rules more than I."
"I wish with all my being that it had not been you," Ilena said softly. "I tried to convince myself that there was nothing different from any other mission but...Goddesses, it was you, Teresa. And I know that we have been apart for so long, but when I saw you there in that inn, it took all my strength to actually attack you." Teresa watched her quietly, her brows twitching a bit, but her face otherwise impassive. "I never thought it would end this way."
"I would never have expected you not to carry out your assignment," Teresa told her gently. "If you had, then you would not be you." Ilena's reply was cut off by a small voice carrying across the clearing.
"Teresa?" They both turned to see Clare sitting up on her pallet, looking at them with wide, questioning eyes. Teresa smiled, looking truly relaxed for the first time.
"Clare, look who's finally awake." She gestured at Ilena. "Clare was quite worried about you once I explained that you are such a dear friend of mine," she said, turning back to the other Claymore. "It took a while to convince her that you would not kill me when you woke, and that you were just following orders. After that, she was determined to make sure you were comfortable, even after I told her you could not feel the rocks under you pallet." Clare approached them hesitantly.
"You let me sleep on top of rocks?" It was something Teresa would do, and then find quite amusing afterward.
"Only a few." Ilena rolled her eyes. Clare came and wrapped her arms around Teresa's hips, too short to reach the tall woman's waist. She regarded Ilena with a small amount of fear in her eyes. That was only to be expected. The last time she had seen the warrior awake, Ilena had been trying to kill her mother figure. "Clare, I would like you to properly meet Ilena, my closest friend." She gave the girl a small push forward. Ilena reached up her hand, not quite trusting herself to stand, and Clare took it cautiously. Her grip was surprisingly strong for such a small girl. Ilena approved. Perhaps the child had some potential after all.
"It is nice to meet you, Clare, and I promise that I am no longer a threat to you or Teresa," Ilena informed her, reflecting momentarily that she never had been a threat at all to Teresa of the Faint Smile. Clare relaxed a bit, and even gave her a small, shy smile.
"I am glad you are awake," she said. " And Teresa didn't let you sleep on rocks," she humphed, crossing her arms. Ilena actually found the action endearing. The girl leaned closer, glancing back at her guardian before whispering into Ilena's ear. "She was actually really worried about you. She hasn't slept for days, because she wanted to keep watch." The most powerful living Claymore actually blushed at the girl's words. She obviously had not wanted Ilena to know of her concern.
"You have not slept?" Ilena asked, her tone disapproving. "You, too, sustained significant injuries. Your body needs to heal."
"Well, I could not very well leave you and Clare unguarded, could I?" she huffed, hands on her hips. "I had to forage for food, and find places to camp and I had to stay up with you to make sure you did not die in the middle of the night, Ilena." She cut herself off abruptly, turning away and storming into the woods. Clare and Ilena stared after her, neither quite sure how to react. The younger one made a move to follow, but Ilena caught her arm.
"Let her go," she said softly, realization dawning upon her. Teresa had actually been fearful that Ilena would die, been terrified by the possibility, in fact. She was humbled by the thought. A feeling that she had not experienced in some time welled inside her. She felt...loved. Or at the very least, cared about. "She will come back soon." Clare looked skeptical, but sat down near Ilena, still with a good distance between them. "Are you hungry?" Ilena asked her, knowing that the girl still needed breakfast.
"I believe there is food in that pack there," she pointed to the pack from which Teresa had retrieved the dried meat. Clare leaned over and grabbed a few strips as well as an apple. She nearly devoured the food. Ilena almost smiled. She was starting to see why Teresa had chosen the girl over her duties. Her innocence reminded the warrior what it was to be human, something both she and Teresa had nearly forgotten. "Slow down. No one is going to take it from you." Clare paused, meeting Ilena's eyes with a searching gaze. "I have had my fill." She glanced back into the forest, in the direction that Teresa had gone. "Clare, has she eaten much?"
"She told me that she didn't need to eat a lot," Clare told her, puzzled. "She ate an apple, a few days ago, but that was it." Ilena suppressed the urge to growl. Teresa would run herself into the ground trying to make sure that she and Clare were alright.
"I will try and make her eat when she returns," Ilena informed the girl. "Even though she was truthful, she needs more nourishment at the moment since she is recovering from such injuries." Clare nodded, a determined look upon her face. Ilena knew that even if she failed to make Teresa eat, the girl would have more luck. As if on cue, Teresa returned to the clearing.
"I have found a stream," she announced. "I don't know about the two of you, but I could use a bath." Clare's face lit up, and even Ilena's spirits rose at the prospect of a proper cleaning. "I need to change your bandages anyway, Ilena." She walked over and offered her hand to the other woman. "Lean on me if you feel you need to. There is no shame in that." Ilena took her hand, appreciating that Teresa understood how hard it was for her to have to rely upon someone else. The blond Claymore wrapped her arm around Ilena's waist again, supporting her. "Clare, bring your pack," she called over her shoulder. "It has the washing supplies." The girl nodded and obeyed.
"You do not have to hold me, Teresa." Ilena protested quietly. "I promise that if I feel as though I am about to fall, I will let you know."
"I am disinclined to believe you," Teresa replied, not removing her arm. She pushed them forward, forcing Ilena to take a step. The former Number Two was proud that she did not falter. Teresa seemed pleased as well. With Clare staying a couple of paces behind them, they slowly made their way to the stream.
"May I ask you something?" Ilena inquired. The former Number One looked at her expectantly. "How is it that I am so much weaker than you, though my injuries were not so much more grievous?"
"Ah, that is simple, Quicksword Ilena," Teresa told her matter-of-factly. "After I was reunited with my hands, I released a significant amount of my Yoma power, healing my wounds, something you were in no position to do." Ilena nodded, satisfied. She knew now that Teresa was much more powerful than herself. It made sense that she had been able to heal herself so easily.
When they arrived at the stream, Clare immediately stripped and waded into the water, giggling. Teresa smiled again at the girl's happiness. She turned her gaze back to Ilena, her smile dropping as she caught sight of the other woman's stump of an arm. She pulled away, keeping a steadying hand on Ilena's waist.
"Why don't you sit here while I redo your bandages?" She pointed to a large, flat rock near the stream's edge that Ilena could get to easily. With Teresa's hand never leaving her, Ilena carefully lowered herself with minimal pain. Her supporter followed suit after sticking her sword in the ground a few feet away. "Don't go too far, Clare," she called out to the girl, who was busy trying to catch fish with her bare hands. After making sure that her warning was heeded, Teresa turned back to her wounded ward. "You may want to look away," she said quietly as she began unwrapping the bandages.
"I will have to see it eventually," Ilena replied. "It might as well be now. Not acknowledging that my arm is gone will not return it to me."
"You are always so practical, Ilena," Teresa observed. "It can be quite irritating." She finished removing the bandages, revealing the healing stump underneath. Ilena stared at it for a few moments, swallowing hard.
"Well," she finally said. "It is what it is."
"Can you regenerate it?" Teresa asked, hope coloring her voice. Ilena snorted.
"I'm an offensive warrior, Teresa, as you well know." She sighed. "I'm powerful enough that it would be possible but...it would take months, and it would never be as powerful as the one I lost."
"You have as long as you need," her companion insisted. "I would protect you, and you still have your sword arm" Ilena searched Teresa's eyes. She thought that, maybe, she saw guilt there.
"Perhaps it will not hurt to try," she acquiesced. Teresa nodded, not quite pleased, and stood, walking to where Clare had dropped her pack. She gazed out over the creek, watching the girl for a little while before returning to Ilena, healing supplies in hand.
"Can you hold it up?" Ilena raised the stump, wincing, as the skin pulled and stung. There was still a bone-deep ache that she had trouble ignoring. Teresa gently placed her hand under the base of the truncated appendage as she began to clean it. Ilena stifled a whimper as the wet rag came into contact with the raw wound, disgusted at her own weakness.
"I'm sorry," Teresa whispered, her face contorted in sorrow. "This is my fault."
"Shut up, Teresa," Ilena snapped. The other woman met her gaze, quite taken aback. "It won't do to dwell on it. I tried to take your head. I was the one who overestimated Priscilla's ability to deal. I was too slow to avoid the blow." Teresa opened her mouth to protest, but Ilena continued. "Yes, you chose to kill humans to save the girl, and yes, you refused to accept your sentence, causing the Organization to send me after you, but neither of us could have foreseen what happened." She placed her hand over Teresa's. "It is no one's fault. It happened, and now I will deal with it."
"We will deal with it," the other woman corrected. She slipped her hand out from under Ilena's and began unwrapping the bandages around her chest. As they fell away, they revealed an angry red slash that traveled from the top of her left shoulder, across her chest and over her right breast. It was ugly and deep, a livid reminder of her failure, but it would fade. The loss of her left arm, however, was more than likely permanent. Despite what she had told Teresa, Ilena was doubtful that she would ever be able to successfully regenerate a functional arm.
The two stayed silent as Teresa cleaned the wounds. Ilena was too occupied with trying to keep from crying out, while her companion was lost in thought. Neither of them noticed that Clare had left the water and walked over to where they were sitting.
"Does it hurt?" she asked in a small voice, her eyes wide with sympathy as she took in Ilena's wounds. The woman to whom they belonged hissed in pain as Teresa's hand slipped, Clare's sudden appearance startling her. "Oh no! I'm sorry!" The girl's eyes filled with tears.
"It's alright, Clare," Ilena said, her voice ragged. "They're not so bad. Almost healed." She knew that the girl did not believe her because she turned to Teresa for assurance.
"She's tougher than she looks," Teresa simply said. "She'll be all healed up in no time." She pulled away from the wounded warrior and stood, offering her hand once again. "But right now, I think it would do us both good to have a bit of a dip." Ilena took the offered hand, pulling off her tights after she was up. Teresa stripped as well, and helped Ilena into the creek. It felt wonderful to have the cool water flow over her bare skin, and she closed her eyes, turning her face skyward. When she opened them again, she saw Teresa looking at her, a peculiar expression on her face.
"Teresa?" She asked hesitantly. "Are you alright?"
"I had forgotten."
"I had forgotten how beautiful you are." Ilena had been cured of her modesty early on in her training, as had all the Claymore, but Teresa's eyes upon her body caused her to blush, a most undignified response.
"What happened to us?" Ilena closed her eyes again, turning away. She was terribly aware that Clare was watching them, even if Teresa was not.
"I can't right now, not here," she whispered harshly, so that only a Claymore could hear her words. "Wait until the girl is asleep. We will talk tonight." She stepped away from the woman, wading deeper into the water. The creek was really quite wide and deep. More of a small river, actually. The current was slow, so Ilena had no fear of being swept away. She bent her knees, submerging her body up to her shoulders. The water was refreshingly cold, and she gave in to her desires and dipped her head under, soaking her long hair. She reemerged to find Teresa still staring at her.
"Goddesses, Teresa," she hissed. "Get a grip." The other woman blinked before returning to herself. She shook her head lightly, and turned away to face Clare, who had returned to her previous attempts to catch fish.
"No, no, Clare. That won't do at all." Her voice was falsely cheery as she showed the girl how to wait patiently and ambush the slippery creatures. Ilena allowed herself a moment to let her face crumple while Teresa was occupied. She wanted more than anything to just melt into the other woman, but she did not know if she could handle that emotional stress on top of her physical ailments. She had to stay strong, for herself. She waded carefully out of the creek, settling again on the flat rock, letting her body dry in the sun. Her hair dripped around her and she momentarily regretted getting it wet. But the sun was hot and it would dry quickly. She watched her two companions as they attempted to corral several of the fish, Clare splashing too much to catch anything. As she smiled and laughed at the girl's antics, Teresa looked more beautiful than Ilena could remember. Her heart clenched, long suppressed feelings coming to the surface.
Forcing herself to turn away, Ilena picked up her bandages and carried them to the creek's bank to wash. She knelt on the small strip of sand at the water's edge and began doing her best to clean the used material. Just as she was becoming too frustrated to continue, she felt Teresa's presence behind her.
"May I help?" She lowered herself next to Ilena, taking the bandages from her. Ilena balled her hand into a fist, refusing to weep over her neediness as Teresa quickly finished washing the bandages. "Once these dry, we should start moving again. I don't want to push you too soon, but we are fugitives now."
"I do not want to slow you down," Ilena replied. She had never before been the weakest link. It was a feeling she wished never to experience again.
"You will not," Teresa said as she laid out the strips of cloth to dry. "Clare cannot go as far as you or I would normally travel anyway. Besides," she turned to face Ilena. "You will be strong again in just a couple of days. You are already much steadier than this morning." It was true. With each moment, Ilena felt her strength returning, now that her body had the proper nutrients it needed to heal. She would soon be back to her old strength, minus one arm, of course.
"Where do we go?"
"That question has been plaguing my mind for weeks now." Teresa, looked over at Clare, who was putting her clothes back on. "We are not safe anywhere, so we must keep moving. But...I do not want her to live like that." Ilena agreed. The wilderness was no place for a young girl.
"You could give her to someone in a town," she offered. Teresa snorted.
"That's what started this whole mess." She shook her head. "No, she doesn't want to leave me, and I have to admit that I am loathe to part from her as well. I am loathe to part from either of you."
"I am not going anywhere, Teresa," Ilena said. "I promise you that. There is no longer any need for our separation." She reached over and laced her fingers through Teresa's. It was all she could do with the girl so close, but it was enough. She felt Teresa squeeze her hand, and she knew that they would survive this. They had to.