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Finding a Cure

Chapter Text

It had been a few months since Ellie left to go to Santa Barbara and get revenge on Abby. After letting Abby leave on the motorboat, she has made the long trek home. But the world she left was not the one she returned to.

Ellie stepped away from the farmhouse, through the long grass. For a place that had housed her for so many months, it was cold now. Dina was gone. JJ was gone. Even the sky seemed darker than usual. A mellow gloom to fit the mood.

It wasn’t even Dina’s fault. After everything had Ellie couldn’t even blame her. She was a single mother. Running a farm with sheep and plants while raising a baby was impossible. Ellie couldn’t help but think about what would be different if she had turned around right after she left. Maybe they would be living together still. These are all thoughts that went through her head and she closed the gate on the farmhouse for the last time.

The trek back to Jackson was familiar, the same path she has taken with Joel so many years before. A beautiful hike through ferns and moss covered trees. She couldn’t help but cringe. The same path she had walked with Dina to the farm. The same path she has done with Tommy and Jesse on a patrol.

Dina’s last words rung in Ellie’s head. "I’m not -"

Ellie saw the trees thin and she kept moving forward. As she broke through the last of the forest, her feet hit harder ground, the cliff that overlooked Jackson. The town looked the same. Little lights in the distance, rows and rows of houses, the farms that provided the food for the town. She imagined the children running around, and the church parties. Endless talk about the next harvest or whatever town drama had happened. She was so close. Home. Or it should’ve been. The clouded sky had turned to a threatening pink. She could’ve made it down there, but instead set up a camp. Ellie fished out her familiar journal.

 

What the fuck am I going to say. I’m right outside Jackson. Tell Tommy I let the woman who killed his brother go? I should be down there. But how can I face everyone? Dina. It’s over now. I know. It should feel
like I’m going home. But is it home anymore? After everything. I’m camping for the night. I probably could have made it.

 

A sketch of Jackson filled the rest of the page. Not the Jackson she had walked around for years and years. But the Jackson that was sitting in the distance. A few raindrops hit her hair, and Ellie climbed inside her tent, woefully under prepared for the day ahead.

 

Light filtered through the window, hitting a page of lyrics. Or at least they should’ve been, but Ellie couldn’t quite make out what they said. It didn’t matter, she started to strum her guitar. The sound was off though, there were notes missing.

“El! Can you take JJ? I can’t cook with him in my arms.” A voice sounded from downstairs.

Ellie put the guitar down, “Of course, what are you making?”

“Well I won’t be making anything with a baby in my arms!”

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” She bounded down the stairs and entered the kitchen. But it wasn’t day time anymore.

“Come back to bed, we’ll talk about it in the morning”, Dina was standing in her pajamas, eyes watering. The scene had transformed.

Ellie stumbled back “I -“

“I swear” a familiar old voice sounded from the living room. “There is no cure”

“You promised! When you got back to Jackson you said -“

“My friends problems are my problems”

“We let you live, and you wasted it”

“Our luck had to run out sometime”

“Want to just lose our minds together?”

A metallic smell filled the room, and something hit the heel of Ellie’s foot. Her eyes shifted down to see an image that was all too familiar. A bloodied face pushed against the floor. She should’ve been horrified, but maybe this time - she sat by his side.

“Joel! Joel, I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I need you. I’m sorry. Fucking get up we can fix this. Get up. ” Ellie fell the the ground cradling his head. But no words came out. She grabbed Joel’s graying hair and let out a light whimper “Don’t go.”

A huge thunderclap shook the sky, waking Ellie up. What had been a drizzle had now turned into a pour, and the tent had offered little to no protection. Ellie sat up, soaking wet. The last time she had been this drenched it had been in Santa Monica. She chased those thoughts out of her mind.

Ellie put on a rain jacket and packed up the last of her camp. Back to the familiar sight of Jackson, and what should’ve been a cozy feeling of walking down the hill to the gate. She guessed it was eight? nine? O’clock. The broken watch she carried around offered no help. Ellie rustled through her bag, through a letter from her mother, an old fireflies charm, a recording from years ago. Almost everything there was a memento to the ones she had lost. Finally her hand settled out the journal.

Here we go.

She didn’t know what else to write.

Ellie never made it to the gate. She swerved to the side and walked around the wall. I don’t want to make a big deal, I’ll just sneak in. The guess of it being nine had been correct, as the guards were changing. The best place to sneak in had always been by the stables, in a little gap where the electric fence had broken. Three years ago Dina, Jesse and Ellie had discovered it after a fight with Maria. They went swimming in a nearby lake before running into a group of infected. The attack should’ve been the scariest thing about the whole experience, but instead it was Maria when they went pounding on the gate. Despite everything, the memory had come out a warm one. Or at least it had been before everything had happened.

Taking a step past non electrified fence, a voice caused her to pull back.

“JJ, Want to see the horses? Want to pet one?”

Dina.

“Can he pet one? Sorry, Robin said she would pick me up here before I went on lookout duty.”

“Of course! He’s getting so big” The stablehand responded.

“Yeah, you know he said his first word the other day? Can you say Mama? Mama?” Dina held JJ close to her face.

The baby let out a sound that could’ve been a mama. But before he could say anything more substantial, Robin came in on a horse.

“Dina! Thank you for waiting! I was worried I was going to be late, let me take him.” She grabbed JJ from Dina. “Ready for a day and Grandmas? I bet you are, you little potato.”

Ellie stayed behind the wall out of sight. The guard had nearly finished their change. Ellie crouched and moved back into the wilderness. Another day of camping.

Camping again today. I saw Dina and JJ. He's so big now, he can nearly walk, he said his first word. She seemed happy. She didn’t seem like she was struggling to hold two people together. I have to think. I’m not going to stay outside forever.

The next few days of journal entries followed the same format.

Today didn’t feel right. I’ll try tomorrow. I’m going to plan out what I’m going to say.

Saw a patrol today. It was people I knew. I hid my camp so they couldn’t find it. Tomorrow.

Shot down a clicker today. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow never came. Everyday, Ellie got closer to the wall, she got closer to the gate. But still, she never came into sight of the guards. The people on watchout were people she recognized, adults who had mentored her, friends from school, kids who had grown up. They looked happy. They moved on, Ellie had seen this before too. People always moved on, it was the way people had to live. It was the world they all had to live in.

“I’m not doing this again.” Dina’s last words rang in Ellie’s head.

Finally, the dreaded entry.

I’m not going in. Dina is happy. She has a support system, me going there would take all that away. People will know what I did.
I’ve caused so much pain. Both in and out of Jackson. They don’t deserve that. I was a burden. If I go back, I’ll be a burden again. I can’t do that to them.

Ellie thought about something she hadn’t had time to consider in a while. Her eyes drifted to the chemical burn on her forearm. And then to a new bite on the palm of her hand.

I’m leaving Jackson. There's a way to make my life worth it. I’m the only one who can do anything about it, I should’ve done it years ago. I’m going to look for a cure. There must be someone out there able to make it, and I’m all they need. I don’t care what it will cost me. The world will prosper with me death and a cure found more than with me alive.

She packed up her stuff and started out south. She wished it had been as clear as she wrote it. But her heart kept tugging her back. She stopped several times. Even backtracked a couple miles at one point. At a certain part it was too far to turn back. Ellie was going to Salt Lake City.

Chapter Text

Back at Saint Mary’s Hospital. Despite how ruined it looked, It still stood, a symbol of hope against the sky. Beyond the overgrown vines and grass, there was information that could save the world. 

 

If walking the path to Jackson had made Ellie cringe, walking to the entrance of the hospital was almost enough to destroy her. The last two times here had been with Joel. She didn’t let herself think how he would react to her plan. 

 

It was a simple idea. Grab all the info on how to get the cure, all the scans and recordings that had been left behind. Then find a doctor to complete the job. It was hard to believe that only one doctor existed in the whole country that could create a vaccine. 

 

Before she could look for a doctor to perform the operation, Ellie had to get the research the fireflies had done from Saint Mary’s Hospital. Which should’ve been the simplest part of the whole scheme. 

 

However, the group that had decided to hole up in the hospital ruined her plans. Peeking above the wall, she could see a group of 5 people through a window, heavily armed with machine guns. Ellie paused to consider the small handgun she had found in a town by Jackson. She barely had any ammo.

 

Fuck.

 

She ducked behind the window and shuffled through her bag. She had a knife, and a pipe. What the hell was a pipe going to do against a bunch of heavy armed guards. Instead she settled on her journal. The past few entries had been short, focusing on traveling. 

 

 I hope I’m making the right decision. Ran into a group of bandits. Managed to steal some of their food.

 

Today was a day for the infected. I think I was right at the edge of a huge horde.

 

 I got to the edge of the city today. It looks the same. Maybe a little messier. Going to do everything I can to avoid the subways. 

 

I remember the hospital being easier to find. Two days and nothing. 

 

She wrote out the newest entry, alongside a sketch of the group in the window. 

 

 Found it. There’s a heavily armed group of 5 men inside. I’m going to wait for them to move on. Otherwise I’m just going in, I will try and sneak by them.

 

She had been holed up in an apartment by the hospital for three days, and much to Ellie’s disappointment, the group was there to stay. After some careful scouting, Ellie determined the safest way to get in was through the parking garage.

 

Crouched low to the ground, Ellie snaked through the rows of abandoned cars to a staircase. Checking for any noise on the next floor, it seemed clear. Handgun ready, she entered a hall adorned with a giraffe mural. More memories. Shoving those thoughts down, she tried to retrace her steps from when she was a teen and here last, going through the dark rooms with her flashlight. Even though everything had a thin layer of dust over everything, the notes and scans remained. Room after room of information dissecting Ellie’s brain. 

 

Going up more stairs there was a floor that was completely forgien to Ellie. 

 

She picked up a recording device rested on a table and hit play. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But it's a small evil for a large good. A good that will change the world. But how I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I talked to Abby”

 

Ellie dropped the device and stared at it in horror. But it kept going.

 

“She said that if it were her, she would want it to be this way. If it was her, she would want me to do the surgery, even if it meant killing her. I said I would do it. But the worst part about it? If it was Abby on the table, I wouldn’t do the surgery. Even if it meant saving the world. I guess I’m glad that it's not Abby on the table, and sorry for whoever’s daughter it is. Marlene said she wanted me to perform the operation. I don’t know if I can look her in the eye after this. I only hope it's all worth it.”

 

Before Ellie had time to process all that, she felt something push into the back of her head. “Drop the gun and turn around.”

 

“Shit.” She dropped the gun and turned around. Behind the barrel of a machine gun, was a teenager from the group at the front of the hospital behind it. He was surprisingly young, a few years younger than Ellie. 

 

“Listen here, you’re lucky I didn’t shoot you the moment I saw you.” The boy said. 

 

Ellie stood there in silence, struggling to think of something to say. 

 

“I’m going to be nice and let you explain yourself,” the barrel of his gun stayed trained on her head. 

 

“I don’t have to explain a fucking thing to you,” She spat back.

 

“Oh I think you fucking do,” He pushed his gun into her forehead. “I mean this could go a couple ways, and I don’t think I want to show my little brother to clean blood off of linoleum.”

 

“Alright, Jesus Christ dude,” Ellie was shaking “I-” She couldn’t tell him the truth “I’m, I’m not trying to steal anything from you.”

 

“Well you are taking stuff from the place we are staying.” The gun stayed trained on her forehead. 

 

“I’m - I’m a firefly. Just put the gun down. We used to occupy the hospital, we left stuff behind. Medical info.” Ellie was sweating, “They se- I’m picking it up. I’m by myself. I mean no harm I just need this stuff and I’ll go”

 

“Yeah right, the fireflies are gone. Everybody knows that,” 

 

“I can prove it, look in my bag there's a pendant,” She kicked the bag over to him, her knife fell out. “It’s, its mine. And there's the stuff I’m picking up. Its for a cure” 

 

“Yeah right we’ve been hearing about a ‘cure’ since I was a toddler.” Gun trained on Ellie, the man ruffled through the bag and found Riley’s pendant. He threw it aside, and started pulling out the diagrams and scans she had been collecting.

 

“It’s all the scans. We need it, we don’t have copies. We can’t move on with our research without it.” Ellie edged closer to the knife. “We need it. This is bigger than you and me.”

 

That last line probably would have ended badly for Ellie had the man been listening. But he was looking through the paperwork, slowly lowering the gun, “You found an immune patient?”

 

“Yes” She shifted closer to the knife. “We had an operation planned, but she - ” She leaned down a bit while the man was distracted “She ran away. We found her again. She's going to do the operation. All the info on her is in this hospital,” <em> All the info on me. <em>

 

The man reached right past the knife and grabbed the recording on the floor. “And this is the doctor?”

 

“Yes” Ellie reached down as he turned the recording back on again. Her hand was right over the knife. But something stopped her. Maybe it was the fact that the man reminded her of Sam. Or the recording they were listening to. She pulled her hand back, “You believe me right?” 

 

“I don’t know if I do.”

 

“If you're worried I’ll hurt your group, you can watch me get all the stuff. Make sure I don’t take anything I shouldn’t” She stumbled with her words “You don’t have to trust me, but check, I don’t have any weapons besides what's in the bag and the gun I dropped.”

 

“My dad is going to kill me,” A mumble escaped the boy’s throat “But I’ll help you. I’m telling you Riley, you are really lucky I was the one who found you.”

 

“Thank you.” Ellie cringed at her old friend's name. 

 

“I just hope you're right.”

 

And so with a gun trained on her back, Ellie collected the last of what she needed. And her and the man, who she had discovered was named Jose, had a surprisingly pleasant conversation. He was traveling with his family, a large group with his dad, little brother, uncles, and cousins. Apparently they had split into 2 groups, and were moving to meet family in Tucson. By the time she had gotten everything the sun was setting outside.

 

“Listen I don’t know if this is me being naive or anything, but I hope you are right, I hope you find a cure.”

 

“Me too” Ellie gave a sigh. “Thank you, for trusting me. I hope you find your family.”

 

Jose shuffled through his bag, and handed her her handgun and a can of beans. “Be quick, the world needs it.

 

Ellie walked back to the apartment nearby the hospital. She took out her journal.

 

I got everything out of the hospital, I hope it’s enough. I found recordings of them planning out a cure. I also found a recording from Abby’s Dad. Fuck man. A guy from the group helped me. He was my age, Jose, and he was honestly really nice after he stopped trying to kill me. Sam would be his age now.

Now comes the hard part, finding someone who can actually take the information and make a cure.

Chapter Text

 

Ellie decided that the west coast was not somewhere she was going to go, at least at first. What she had seen of the west coast wasn’t flattering, Seattle had been a complete mess when they left, Las Vegas was entirely filled with infected, and Santa Barbara had been under a slave revolt. If there was any place that could make a cure, it probably would be in the East. 

 

Of course, there were personal reasons for avoiding the west coast too.

 

So on her map of the United States she had circled all the major cities to the East, starting with Denver. Which happened to be in the middle of a civil war, as Ellie found out, between the military and an offshoot group of the fireflies. It made it easy to get in, but if there were any doctors able to create a vaccine, they were swamped with constant casualties and unrest from the surrounding city. 

 

Denver was a mess. Getting in wasn’t even that hard because of everything going on. At least I was able to restock, I’m moving on now. I’m heading south to Texas next.

 

Ellie has heard from Tommy a couple years back that Dallas was destroyed, so she skipped it. Instead she aimed to hit Austin, San Antonio and Houston.

 

Texas reminds me of Joel. Even if he’s not here, I could imagine him growing up here. All the towns I’ve hit so far are a bust, most of them swarming with hunters. I managed to pick up a horse from a group of them though, I’m calling him Buzz.

 

Sketches of a brown horse filled the rest of the page.

 

San Antonio was for the most part a ghost town. Ellie trotted around the town for a week before coming apon a group hiding in the downtown. They had managed to take over two hospitals, and had a few doctors among them with plenty of supplies. However, no one could develop a vaccine.

 

Austin was next, and what hadn’t been completely bombed away was held together by strings. Hunters had taken over most of the city, and FEDRA was only in control of a couple of blocks. There wasn’t any sort of hospital, just small triage sections. 

 

Houston was doing the best out of all the cities Ellie had passed through.  A resistance group called the cowboys was in charge, and it was completely self sustained. There even was a working hospital. 

 

Yet It could not be so easy, and while the doctors put her under anesthesia to do the operation, she woke up intact. “They didn’t want to waste the worlds one chance at a cure by making a mistake.” After an argument, Ellie left to go north.

 

All the cities followed similar patterns. Most didn’t have doctors that were able to create a vaccine, and the ones that might have been able too were too scared. The months ticked, but the travel continued. From Little Rock to Atlanta to Saint Louis. It was more and more of killing infected and avoiding hunters and living off whatever supplies could be picked up. Ellie could only hope that it would all be worth it. 

 

Chicago was a particular mess, and Detroit was the same. From there, Toronto was next. 

 

Ellie stumbled off the boat and took one look back at Lake Ontario. It could’ve been an ocean.

 

It’s been months? A year? Since I started on my trip. The group I found outside of Detroit told me Toronto was still under military control, and had hospitals. I just wish I hadn’t had to trade Buzz for the boat ride. Next stop - Toronto General Hospital.

 

Ellie managed to slip out before the military started checking passengers for signs of infection. The city had all the usual signs of a QZ, trucks rolling by, an occasional gunshot. Yet the whole scene seemed to be a lot more peaceful than Boston, almost making her nostalgic. Even the cold brought Ellie back, Joel's old leather jacket was coming in handy. She hadn’t slept on the boat ride, and her hair was still growing back from the whole Houstin debacle. Ellie was a mess, but to her, that wouldn’t matter if things went correctly. Just one more hospital, just need to find the right doctor. 

 

Toronto General Hospital was located right on a corner, and the entrance was bustling. Sneaking through the crowds of arriving emergencies was no problem, and she pushed past the ER into the rest of the building, which was considerably quieter. The halls were dimly lit by fluorescent lights with gurneys lined up sporadically on the walls. 

 

“Hey” Ellie shook a young man who appeared to be in his early twenties. He was laying on a hospital bed in scrubs. “Wake up.”

 

“What?” The boy blinked slowly, he had just woken up.

 

“I need to speak to a surgeon,” Ellie leaned down. 

 

“Are you sick?”

 

“Sort of,” She paused “Do you know one?”

 

 He sat up, “Well if you're not in dire health, it can wait.”

 

“I’ll wait,” Ellie sat on one of the beds resting against the wall. 

 

“Listen lady, my boss is not a cheerful woman. She’s not going to want you wasting her time, and thats on me. What is it for anyway?” 

 

“Thats great news! Bring her here when she’s ready, I’ll tell you then,” Ellies head hit the pillow, and the world faded out. 

 

“Ellie they were able to find the cure, you can go to Jackson. You did it kiddo.”

 

“So I did it huh?, Saved the world?” Ellie smiled out the hospital room. It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky.

 

“Yeah.” His voice sounded sad.

 

“What about you, where will you go?”

 

She looked down at the floor to see Joel's face beaten in, covered in blood. “Making the cure, it came with a price. The operation killed me.”

 

“Hey lady, wake up! My boss is here,” The man from before shook a very tired looking Ellie. 

 

A quite aggressive looking doctor manifested above her. She appeared to be older, and not willing to waste her time. “This had better be good.”

 

Dr. Morris had been a world renowned brain surgeon at 30, and now, 30 years later, she was looking through documents in a very badly lit office. Instead of being surrounded by highly trained peers, the only people in the room were her curly haired mentee Will, and a young woman who was, apparently, mankind’s only chance at salvation.

 

 The documents from Ellie's bag had been laid out on a table, where Dr. Morris and Will were combing through them.

 

“See this scan? Its called an MRI, its the machine we are trying to get for the hospital,” The ex-surgeon turned to look at Ellie, who was sitting against the wall ”So you are the immune patient?”

 

Ellie nodded.

 

“I hope you understand why this is unreasonable to ask of me. Even if - by some miracle - I was able to perform the operation successfully, and then be able to reverse engineer a vaccine, what would I do then? How would this be distributed? How could it be mass produced? The resources to successfully pull this off would be impossible to acquire, you would need ten of me working constantly to create this.” Dr. Morris paused. “Maybe the fireflies you met had this capability. More likely they were talking out of their asses.”

 

“But Dr.-” Will started.

 

“I have a job, a responsibility to the people of Toronto, and I’m already spread so thin. It’s no wonder you have been rejected by so many doctors. I’m sorry, I know its not what you want to hear.” She took a step back. “I have patients to get back to, Will does too. I hope you find what you are looking for, but honestly, you would do better to just go back to wherever you came from.”

 

And with that, Dr. Morris left. Will paused as if he were going to say something, but then followed his teacher. 

 

Another failed hospital visit. It wasn’t the first, and Ellie assumed, it wouldn’t be the last. Gathering all the paperwork into her backpack she took out her journal.

 

Toronto was a bust. I’ve heard it a bunch of times before, and honestly is starting to hit me. Maybe Joel was right. Maybe there is no cure. The world is just too broken. I don’t even know if I should continue to Ottawa. The doctor at Toronto told me there was no chance of even developing one. Maybe me traveling is useless, maybe there’s somewhere else I could be

 

Out of the hospital and back into the cold it was for Ellie, and it was considerably colder. Snow had begun to fall. She missed the snowball fights and sledding of Jackson. The community. It was hard to admit, but it was getting lonely. 

 

“Ellie!” A voice sounded from behind her.

 

“Will?” The boy that she had found sleeping hours ago had returned.

 

“I should’ve said something earlier. I'm so sorry, Dr. Morris can just be so harsh sometimes -”

 

Ellie interrupted hopefully “What? Is she -?”

 

“No, no, no, she is definitely not making you a cure” Will saw her disappointment. “But there is someone who can! You see, I’m actually not from Toronto, I came here a couple years back from New York. And there's a doctor there who has been working at a vaccine since outbreak day.”

 

Will shoved a map into Ellie’s hands, and then used a marker to circle a building. 

 

“In Manhattan you need to go to NYU, and ask for Dr. Thompson,”

 

“Thank- Thank you.” 

 

 Will turned around to head back inside, before turning back one last time, “I hope you succeed, and I think in the bottom of her heart, Dr. Morris hopes so too. We need this, we all do.”

 

Well, Skipping Ottawa and heading to NYC. This is the most solid tip I’ve ever gotten, Dr. Thompson. NYU. I keep going over it in my head. This could be it. 

 

Chapter Text

 The Manhattan skyline has a light blue tint, with hints of a golden yellow as the sun rose. It would’ve been beautiful, if it hadn’t meant that the city was unreachable, and Ellie could only see it because she was sitting on the edge of a destroyed suspension bridge. 

 

She shuffled around in her bag to her notebook, and considered the last week of entries.

 

I have made it to NYC, and it’s quite a wreck. Most of the surrounding areas have been bombed to shit, and there is still a ton of infected. Also I just learned - Manhattan is not actually the city, it’s one of five burrows in the city. And it’s an island. Life can’t be easy.

 

Looking for ways to get into the city, going to try going on a bridge. The map I have lists there being 21 bridges to use. Which sounds great but all the bridges I’ve seen have been destroyed. Going to try from another angle.

 

I’ve been checking all the tunnels that lead into the city too, and they have been deliberately flooded. I can’t swim 2 miles underwater, I’m circling around to try and get to Long Island, maybe I can get to Manhattan from there. 

 

The bridges to Long Island are in shambles too. Fuck. I can see people on the island is the worst part about it. I can see the lights every night. 

 

Ellie wrote out the latest entry, which was accompanied by a sketch of the skyline. 

 

The last bridge I had to check is unsurprisingly missing a huge chunk in the middle, making it uncrossable. Guess I’m going to have to find a boat. Last time I was in a sailboat,

 

Leaving it at that, it was back across the crumbling bridge and the cars that had been left on it. Shadows stretched across the bridge from the support cords on the side. Looking up, one could almost picture it was still working, and was not another victim of the Cordyceps Brain Infection. Ellie wrote one last note before putting the journal away. 

 

  If the cure is created, will they fix the bridges? Is it even salvageable? Will they create new ones?

 

By the time she had found a port, it was midday. Groups were lined up by the gates, a lot of them were families, mothers trying to calm their children, or siblings huddled together. All equally desperate to get to Manhattan, which Ellie has learned was considered a bit of a “sanctuary” by the surrounding areas. The destruction of all the bridges worked in part, and the island was supposedly infected free. 

 

A fight broke out between a mother and another family, over who would get to go on the next ship. Despite the shouting, it seemed that neither would be getting on the next boat, it was already leaving. Ellie silently hoped there would be another one. 

 

Nonetheless, if they were struggling to get  families to Manhattan, something told Ellie they wouldn’t be accepting her infected self. So it was more moving down the coast, until she spotted a collapsed building that has begun to resemble a cave. Under the leaning tower of concrete and vines there was a small motorboat, and a floating two story house?

 

Carefully walking on the hidden dock, she peaked into the window of the houseboat and was greeted by a single eye glancing back. The eye disappeared and a woman appeared in the doorway, who held herself in a way that reminded Ellie of Maria, the tough leader of Jackson, albeit the boater was missing an eye. The two were so similar Ellie gave a half snort. This beautiful familiarity only lasted a brief moment before Ellie’s knees were kicked in and head was slammed into a cleat on the dock.

 

“Maria, I have to do this,” Ellie was back in Joel’s dining room.

 

“Just bring my dumbass husband home-” Maria continued but the words were all muddled.

 

 She was too far away. Ellie wasn’t in Joel's dining room anymore ethier, she was back in an old theater. Tommy was laying on the ground in front of her, blood covering the side of his face, and an arrow through his knee. 

 

She fell to the ground, shaking his limp body.

 

But then, her swollen eyes slowly opened, revealing the inside of the houseboat, with not-Maria shuffling through her belongings. Ellie sprang up as fast as she could.

 

“Get the fuck -“ Dizzyness overtook Ellie’s head, and the edges of her vision started to go black. The woman to grab and slam her into an old recliner.

 

“You want to get to Manhattan, everyone does. Passage is something I can offer, but that shit is not free.” 

 

“I have -“ Ellie was still trying to get control of her head “guns?”

 

“Well I have your guns already.” The woman paused and her expression was overtaken by something that could have almost been pity, “You seem wiry enough, and I have a bit of an infected problem upstairs.”

 

 As if on cue, a clicking sound could be heard from directly above. 

 

“What the actual fuck,” Ellie said. That had woken her up.

 

“ I don’t particularly like to deal with infected -“

 

“Or your own problems it seems-“ I guess she’s just like Maria in looks.

 

“But hey, how else are you going to get across to Manhattan?”

 

Ellie staggered to the second floor with a knife in hand. The lady hadn’t wanted any bullet holes in the walls of her home. Perhaps she had bigger problems than the state of her walls, such as the three infected upstairs.

 

Opening the door at the top step revealed a infected right down the hall. Shit. Ellie stayed crouched to the ground, as quiet as possible. The whole upstairs was relatively small - just two bedrooms and an office. The next two infected were just in the bedroom at the back.

I guess we’re doing this.

 

Almost a half an hour later Ellie was surrounded by three fungus covered bodies, and she had a distinct pain on her leg. Why wouldn’t she just let me use a gun? Lifting up the pant leg revealed a bite on her upper shin, the third one she had received in her life. Ellie considered the tattoo she would have to cover it with when she remembered that she probably wouldn’t make it to that point. Making the cure would kill her first. She pulled the pant leg down.

 

“So how did you end up with three infected upstairs?” She toddered back down the stairs, where the one eyed woman was sitting in a recliner. 

 

“A family stopped by here a week ago. I guess one was bit, and then he got the rest.” 

 

“Oh shit,” Ellie paused, not sure what to say, “I’m sorry.” 

 

“Common, I’ll give you a ride”

 

The ride over was quite pleasant, all things considered. Ellie turned to the boater, “Why are you helping me? Why would you house a family?”

 

“I guess I just hate the Yanks more than I hate the people I have to deal with.” 

 

She didn’t quite know what the woman meant by “Yanks”, but was too tired to ask. Ellie looked to the distance, where she could see a park. Almost there. 

 

“Can you swim?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

The woman pushed Ellie over the edge into the freezing water. “Sorry, can’t risk the Yanks seeing me smuggling people in, swim the rest!”

 

“What?!”

 

“Go!” The woman has already turned the motorboat away. 

 

Saying the water was freezing was an understatement. The minute Ellie hit she felt herself squeeze up. And the weight of her bag, which was thankfully waterproof, alongside her clothes was almost enough to drag her down. But Joel’s swimming lessons came back, and she dragged herself through the current and onto land. There was no time to rest however, and she ran for the buildings that would hopefully offer more coverage.

 

The city itself was a wreck in many ways, buildings in disrepair, plants over growing the streets. But at the same time, the atmosphere felt lighter. Families were walking around, even what appeared to be the spillers were relaxed, chatting with civilians. It had an energy almost like Jackson. Almost. 

 

If Manhattan was clean, Ellie was a wreck. Her hair was still growing back from having it shaved, she was on her third infected bite, and a huge headache from being knocked out overtook the back of her skull. She stopped for a moment and took out her notebook.

 

I made it. If this works, I don’t even know. I guess this will be one of my last entries then. I’m ready.

 

The map Will has given her back in Toronto looked worse for wear, but it led her through the maze of buildings. With every step her body was telling her to lay down and rest. Despite having traveled all across the United States, this last couple miles seemed to be the worst. Still she trudged on, until finally the NYU medical building stood above.

 

It was different from the hospitals Ellie had looked at before. First of all, there was no ER, and no swarming crowd of people outside who all needed help. Everyone on the street walked by it as if it wasn’t there. As she went inside she noticed the same thing, the floor was empty. The lights were on and it was very clean so it wasn’t abandoned, but it gave her an uneasy feeling. Is there no one here? 

 

Carefully she opened the stairway door, heading to the next level. Just as she made it to the top, she heard a noise from down the stairs. It was a soldier, and he was not happy to see her. 

 

Ellie slung the door open, and started running down the second floor hallway. With a glance behind, she could see the man chasing after her. Fuck!

 

And then Bam! Ellie hit the floor, having run into a woman wearing a lab coat. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

 

“Are you, Dr. Thompson?” Ellie asked. 

 

“No?” The woman responded. 

 

Ellie groaned, and then the soldier appeared behind her and shoved her to the ground.

 

“This woman was seen earlier swimming to the shore. I’ll take her off your hands.” The man started handcuffing Ellie. “Sorry for the trouble.”

 

“Let me go you fucker!” Ellie spat back.

 

“Wait! Before you do anything drastic, officer, maybe we can figure this out in a non violent way. This is a hospital.” The doctor leaned down to Ellie. “Why do you need to see Dr. Thompson?”

 

“I have the cure.” She strained against the officers grasp.

 

“Well sir, that seems like a pretty good reason to let her go, don’t you think! Maybe it’s time for you to go, we can handle this.” The woman in the lab coat calmly interjected. 

 

The soldier was not happy about this response, but uncuffed Ellie all the same. He left in quite a huff. The woman in a lab coat lifted Ellie and supported her as they walked further down the hall.

 

“You better actually have a cure, though I have to admit, that did feel good.”

 

All Ellie could do was chuckle. What a day.

 

Chapter Text

“So Dr. Thompson, can I see him?”

 

Ellie and the woman that saved her had taken a seat in an empty hospital waiting area. She had her dark frizzy hair tied into a tight bun behind her hair, and was overall very put together.  

 

“The Doctor is a very busy man, why do you really want to see him?” The woman asked. 

 

“I have information that will lead to the cure.”

 

“So what, you’re a doctor?”

 

Ellie didn’t know what to say, “How do you know Dr. Thompson?”

 

“Oh my god! I never introduced myself!” She shook her head. “My name is Harriet, and I am a researcher at this hospital. Which, I’m assuming you already know, is looking for a cure.”

 

“Yep.” 

 

“And you are?”

 

“Ellie.”

 

“Wow.”

 

There was a long pause.

 

Harriet broke the silence, “As I was saying earlier, Dr. Thompson is a very busy man, and we are constantly short staffed, so I can’t just take you up to see him. You have to give me some reason, or I can bring you back to your officer friend. As well, I’m supposed to be off my shift right now, so if we could speed this up that would be great.”

 

“Okay,” Ellie didn’t feel comfortable spreading this information about herself to just anyone. “Uhh, The fireflies a couple years ago were very close to developing a cure, but there was an accident that stopped them. I have all their research. ”

 

She ruffled through her bag and handed over the scans and paperwork to Harriet. Ellie struggled to stay awake while she carefully examined each one. It felt like an hour.

 

Finally, Harriet broke the silence, “This is all fine and good, but it needs an immune patient. We don’t have one here, I mean, I didn’t even know one existed.”

 

“Well . . . ” Ellie pulled off the fingerless glove she wore to reveal the bite on her hand . And then lifted her pant leg to reveal the second bite, which had already begun to heal. “I somehow survived all this.”

 

The doctor's dark brown eyes widened. And just like that, she took Ellie's arm and dragged her up the stairs and burst through the door of a research lab. The room was filled with other doctors, but one older man with frazzled white hair stood out. Dr. Thompson. His head was down, concentrated on a microscope. 

 

All of Harriet’s energy faded and she was suddenly very shy as she approached the older man. “Sir?”

 

“Yes?” The doctor didn’t look up.

 

“Can I speak to you?”

 

“I’m a little busy right now, maybe later.”

 

Harriet took a step back, turning to Ellie she quietly muttered, “I guess we can wait a bit.”

 

“Jesus fucking christ,” Ellie muttered, and approached the man, grabbing his shoulder. “I really need to speak to you.”

 

“I told you, I’m busy.” The whole room slowly shifted to look at the scene.

 

“Are you Dr. Thompson?”

 

“That would be me.”

 

Ellie shook her head. Harriet peeped from the back “Please Dr.!”

 

The other researchers seemed to cringe at the whole exchange. After a few more moments, the doctor pulled away from the microscope, wrote some notes on a paper, and then turned to face Ellie. And walked right past her, to the other side of the room, to a centrifuge. Harriet gave a sympathetic look that said hes just like this .

 

So Ellie followed him across the room, and grabbed his arm again, “I need to speak to you” Ellie lowered her voice “I’m from across the country, I have a cure.”

 

Now the whole room really paid attention, waiting for the Dr.’s response. 

 

“Okay can I just finish this trial? I can talk to you in my office after.” And he moved back to his microscope with something else to measure. 

 

Harriet quietly came up to Ellie, “His office is over there” She quietly pointed to a room adjacent to the lab.



So the two laid out all the research Ellie had on a table within Dr. Thompson's office.

 

“Is he always like that?”

 

“Yeah, but its what makes him great!”

 

“What?”

 

“There used to be dozens of doctors working on the cure, and one by one they all left. To take care of their families, to work in hospitals around the city to see patients, to do whatever. But not him.”

 

“But what about you? And all the other doctors in there?”

 

“We are not doctors, we are just his students. When he finds the cure we will go to college and get out PHDs, and we will become doctors,” Harriet saw Ellie’s confusion “It’s like a certificate saying you are a doctor, you need to study for many years.”

 

“You sound like you know he will make the cure.”

 

“He will!”

 

The door slowly creaked open, and Dr. Thompson came in. He appeared to be in his early 70s, and had frazzled gray hair and large glasses. “I only have fifteen minutes before I have to check back on my trial, so if this could be fast that would be great.” Behind the door, several of his students peaked in. 

 

“Here's the research that the fireflies had on a cure, and, uh I’m the immune patient” It felt weird for Ellie to say it out loud. 

 

What was supposed to be fifteen minutes of looking at the data turned into an hour. And then two hours. Slowly all the other students came into the small room as well, listening to the recordings and circling notes on the papers. Quiet conversations and debates took over the silence, and Ellie sat in the corner fighting off a headache. They talked about CAT scans and DNA sequencing and other confusing medical terms, none of which she understood. 

 

Finally Dr. Thompson came over to the corner in which Ellie was sitting. She was struggling to stay awake, “I appreciate you bringing all this info, but this plan is just way too risky, I mean it would involve killing you.”

 

“I know, I don’t care. I want this.” She paused, and the looked right at him. ”It’s better this way.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter if you are okay with it or not, but it's just not a good plan for creating a cure. If I went with this plan, I could end up with a limited amount of cures, or developing a cure by reverse engineering could fail and we would have wasted our one chance. This is just not a reasonable way to approach it.”

 

Ellie’s head dropped between her knees. This was supposed to be the doctor that had the cure. Was she supposed to traverse the rest of America? The rest of the world? All to find out her life was for nothing, everything she had done was for nothing?

 

Dr. Thompson seemed to notice her mood. Or he just continued talking, “But there is hope, I mean we can still create a cure using you. This is good! It means that we don’t have to kill you to create a vaccine!”

 

“What?”

 

“It might take a while, but this is good. We are one step closer because of you.”

 

Ellie should’ve felt good. But all she was left with was this empty pit in her stomach. And it didn’t help that her vision started to go black. She slid off the chair and her consciousness faded.

Chapter Text

When Ellie woke up, she was in a hospital bed, with an IV coming out of her arm. Everything seemed just a little fuzzy, but her headache had subsided.

 

“Oh my god you’re awake!” It was Harriet from before.

 

Ellie slowly pushed herself to a sitting position, and she dizzily noticed the others in the room with her, Dr. Thompson and a few of the researchers from before. A man in a lab coat came up, took out his flashlight, and started shining a light in her eyes.

 

“Hello Ellie, my name is Alex, and I am apart of the NYU research team. You are currently in Manhattan and it is January 15th. Have you hit your head recently?”

 

Ellie remembered getting her head slammed into the cleat on the dock yesterday, but she didn’t have the words to get it out, a “Yeah, like boats?” was all she could muster.

 

Alex left to speak to the rest of the team, and only a few words could be made out “fainted”, “concussion” and “healing”. Finally Harriet came up to her. 

 

“Ellie it appears you’ve suffered a concussion, so we’re going to need you to lay down and rest.”

 

“No I’m fine, I need to keep moving, I have to find someone who will make the cure” she choked out.

 

This prompted all of the doctors to look among themselves with concern, and one of them guided Ellie to lay back down. Now it was Dr.Thompson who spoke “It’s okay, you have found the doctors that will make the cure. You are safe here.”

 

“So like, am I going to die?”

 

“No you're not going to die, it’s just a concussion.” Harriet said. “But you need to rest! We will start tests soon”

 

Ellie laid her head back in the bed. Everything was a little fuzzy, and her eyes were starting to water. “Okay.”

 

The next couple of weeks for Ellie passed with great speed. Half of her time was spent undergoing tests and scans while the team tried to figure out every little detail about her biology. And for the rest of the time Ellie was told to stay in the hospital so she could “rest” and “heal” from her concussion. Despite explaining that she had dealt with much worse, Harriet and the other students were very clear. 

 

“You’ve been through worse?!” Alex was exasperated at Ellie telling him about some of her past injuries.

 

“Well I mean, have you been outside? It’s not exactly an environment for ‘healing’.”

 

“That is not an excuse! You will rest properly and you will recover correctly.”

 

Things were certainly different here, no one had ever encouraged Ellie to work less, that’s for sure. 

 

So Ellie was stuck in the hospital for most of the time, and even if she wanted to explore the city, she wouldn’t have had the time too. Everyday was a constant cycle of finger pricks and mouth swabs and machines that saw into her bones and brain. The MRI was the worst for her, laying still for an hour in a noisy metal cylinder was not at all enjoyable.

 

At least with getting blood drawn, Ellie would converse with some of the other researchers, which had become her friends within the hospital. She had never met anyone like them, they seemed so disconnected to the outside world. Most of them had been born in Manhattan, and the few that hadn’t had arrived when they were young. It wasn’t that they were unaware of what state the rest of the country was in, but it didn’t affect them as much. Manhattan had been under lockdown since outbreak day. The student researchers had told her about the switch from FEDRA to Yank rule , how the rebel group had taken over. But even their explanation of the events seemed free of a lot of the gore Ellie had become too accustomed to in her travels. It was almost refreshing for her. Almost. 

 

At night she stayed at an almost empty hospital. Dr. Thompson was the only other person that lived at NYU full time, and he always worked late into the night, after the other researchers had left. When Ellie couldn’t sleep she would sometimes go to talk to him.

 

“Hey Dr. Thompson,” Ellie was experiencing one of those nights right now, and when staring at the ceiling became too much, she wandered down to the lab.

 

“Hello!” Despite being almost midnight, he was awake as ever and leaning over two blue squares with several dashes stretched out across them.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Looking at your DNA.”

 

“Hm”

 

A long silence passed as Ellie wandered to the window. From there she could see a beautiful view of the water and the destruction that laid across it. It was easy to forget that the surrounding areas had been completely bombed away when Manhattan was still well maintained. 

 

“So, what’s the plan so far?” She asked.

 

“With the cure?” Dr. Thompson was leaning over writing some notes. 

 

“Yeah, don’t vaccines usually mean giving, like a dead disease to a person so they know how to fight it?” Ellie racked her head trying to remember her science lessons from the QZ in Boston.

 

“Yes but CBI is a fungal infection, so that’s simply not possible.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Well fungal infections are characterized by their specific attributes such as -“ He seemed ready to go on a long explanation before being cut off.

 

“You know what? I’m good. How do you fight fungal infections?”

 

“Well if we knew exactly, we would already have a cure. Plus this is no normal fungal infection, fungal infections usually don’t destroy the patients whole body in such a fashion. My team has run through countless strategies since CBI broke out, we tried something similar to Chemotherapy -“

 

“Chemotherapy?” This is how most of Ellie and Dr. Thompson conversations went, with most of the stuff flying over her head, and no personal info. Just back and forth about the medical specifics. It was still nice to talk to someone else though, so she kept coming back. 

 

“It’s a treatment for cancer that involves killing cells that divide fast. The tactic that we used involved trying to kill all the infecting cells that were spreading it, but in every situation, even in extremely recent bites, it would destroy the patient.”

 

“Jesus.”

 

“So we decided to move onto other ideas, and we have cycled through many of them. We have even reached points where we can delay the infection, so it could take a week to fully take over, but the whole process was so inefficient that it wasn’t worth it.”

 

“And now? What are you trying now?”

 

“There is something in your DNA that makes living with the disease possible - your body never actually got rid of it, it just lives with it. Look at those MRI scans in the corner,” Dr. Thompson leaned upon for a moment to point in the direction of the scans before going back to work. 

 

Ellie wandered past the older doctor who was still crouched over the lab counter and to a bulletin board in the corner. On it were brain scans showing the disease developing, from the second day, to a runner’s brain, to a clicker’s, to a bloater’s. Ellie couldn’t imagine what it would take to do an MRI scan of a bloater.

 

“Did you see your brain?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“It’s the one under the two day infected brain scan”

 

And sure enough, there was a scan labeled “Immune patient” that had a scan very similar to the two day infected patient. The growth in the skull was about the same size. Ellie hadn’t been able to tell the difference between a person who was very much infected and herself.

 

“Then why can’t I infect people? I mean, like I’ve kissed and bit people before and there fine” she asked awkwardly. 

 

“Well, it’s all your body! Your circulatory system is so good at filtering it out and fighting it that it can’t be transferred from your body fluids.” Dr. Thompson shot up as if he’d had a realization, then wrote down something quickly, “We could probably use your blood to hold off an infection if needed, and you are O negative.”

 

“So how can you use my DNA to help fight it?”

 

“Before outbreak day NYU was hard at work at gene therapy -“

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Basically it uses a bacteria that can take a small DNA segment and insert it into another person's cells. NYU were the ones that made it the farthest with the whole treatment idea before outbreak day.”

 

“So what, you take my DNA and put it in other people?”

 

“Yes, but it’s not that easy, first of all it’s only a small segment so we have to locate which part of your DNA is responsible-“

 

Ellie sat down in the desk next to the window and leaned her head back, letting his voice fade out. It was so - complicated in a way that she didn’t expect. The whole plan had been clear in her mind, find a doctor to make the cure, die in the process, the world is saved. And I would be redeemed. She didn’t expect the waiting. 

 

“- and then on top of all that is the issue of how to get the bacteria to insert the DNA into the right place. My old team actually had a few successful trials back in the day, believe it or not! So with all that in mind - it’s still a very long process. I mean-“ Dr. Thompson was ready to go on before getting interrupted.

 

“So what are your plans for distribution? And accessibility for the cure if it’s made?” It’s something that Ellie had pondered herself.

 

“I’m sure someone will figure it out, weren’t the fireflies going to do that?”

 

“The fireflies are long gone.” 

 

“The military?” 

 

“FEDRA doesn’t even have control of the city anymore, the Yanks do.”

 

“Oh you're right! I’m sure someone will figure it out, I’m not too worried.”

 

Ellie sat up in her chair and hunched over. “Aren’t you worried about how the world will handle having a cure? Or if the infected will be stopped?”

 

“Well finding a cure will solve all that won’t it?”

 

Ellie didn’t know how to respond to his question. That would be the hope, the best case scenario. But she had been around the country, and seen it at its worst. She tried to change the subject.

 

“So when did you come to Manhattan?”

 

“Born and raised here!” 

 

“What about after outbreak day?”

 

“I was actually in this hospital when the first few cases hit, I guess you could say I never left.” Dr. Thompson let out a laugh. “I got right to work - back then I hoped I would win a Nobel prize.”

 

Ellie laughed too, she couldn’t imagine wanting some big award. But then she was made uncomfortable, was that really the only reason he did it? Did he have any idea what life was like out there? Manhattan was a safe bubble, and the hospital was a safe bubble within that. Had he just sat through the events of the world without noticing? Ellie remembered how all of the other doctors had quit, suddenly she couldn’t blame them.

 

After a few more minutes Ellie felt her eyelids start to droop and headed down to her room. She wrote out a quick entry before falling asleep.

 

I’ve been here three weeks - my head is better. Alex said it would be by now, and I am resting. I wonder how soon there will be a cure, I talked with Dr. Thompson and he didn’t seem to indicate that it would be soon. At least they are slowing down all the tests now, so that must mean something. 

 

And with that Ellie closed the book and her head hit the pillow. She was out.

 

She was back at the aquarium, and two bodies lay in front of her. Both were dead. Ellie was shaking, and she moved towards the woman only to see it was Dina. Ellie took a couple steps back in shock before recognizing the second body, Jesse’s. 

 

Heavy footsteps sounded behind Ellie and a man came in.

 

“Hey baby girl it’s okay,” it was Joel’s voice. “You didn’t mean to, it’s okay.”

 

“But -“

 

“It was you or them. I struggled a long time with surviving. This is how it has to be.”

 

Ellie turned to look at Joel, but what caught her eye was what was behind him. Dozens and dozens of doctors and surgeons. Fireflies, the doctors that had tried to make the cure back in Salt Lake City. 

 

Ellie forced her eyes back to Joel’s face, but found it covered in blood with his eyes swollen shut.

 

“Joel, Joel!”

 

Ellie was woken up with a nudge. It was Harriet. 

 

“So what’s it today?” Ellie blinked her eyes open. “Drawing more blood?” 

 

“Well actually,” Harriet said in her matter of fact voice that she always used “We are going to slow down testing from now on, we have most of what we need.”

 

“Oh,” Ellie paused. “That’s good.”

 

“And your all healed from your concussion now so-“

 

“So I should leave.” Ellie sat up and looked towards her backpack in the corner. 

 

“Well not Manhattan, we are still going to need you. But the Yanks are very serious about the rules here. If you want to eat you have to work and-“

 

“And I’m no longer going to be doing work or healing here.”

 

“Yep. I mean we wish we could keep you, but that officer from when we first met keeps asking for you, and we can’t exactly act like you don’t exist.”

 

Ellie swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. 

 

“So where do I need to go?”

 

As it turns out, after the Yanks had taken over control of Manhattan after chasing out FEDRA, they had set up their base in the Javits convention center. The building was huge, and getting close to it Ellie couldn’t believe the volume of people moving around it. It took her a while to even find the entrance. 

 

The inside of the building almost reminded her of Jackson, the people milling about, the groups laughing and gossiping. At the same time, Jackson didn’t have high ceilings and white utilitarian walls. It wasn’t the place Ellie had spent so much time as a teenager.

 

Harriet had given her instructions on what to do, and a note from Dr. Thompson explained that Ellie was helping with the cure, and not to be kicked out for trespassing, as well as clear instructions on how to get assigned a job. Harriet has laid out a few different job prospects, none of which caught her attention. “Childcare” or “agriculture” were not things Ellie thought she would be any good at. But she had to do something, so she continued to push through the crowd.

 

The desk that she was told about had a Yankee officer behind it, and he appeared to be experiencing a bit of unrest. A group of three people were getting into quite the argument with the man at the table.

 

“So what, one of our guys gets injured and suddenly you give us more shit to do? Three 18 hour days in a row?” A girl with chin length curly hair yelled at the man.

 

“Those two events have nothing to do with each other, Team 15 decided to disband and everyone has to pick up slack, you know this.” The officer replied with a very monotone voice, as if he were trying to piss off the group in front of him. 

 

“Well I fucking wonder why they decided to ‘disband’. We all know they decided to leave this hellhole,” this time, a blond boy in the group spoke up, with the same level of spite.

 

“First of all, if you did your jobs better it wouldn’t be an eighteen hour day now would it? And, if you really consider this a hellhole, you are free to try and grapple with the outside world anytime. Meanwhile, it seems there are other people that need helping.” The man looked past the group. It took Ellie a second to figure out who he was referring too.

 

“Um, I was told to come here, here’s a note showing my validity of movement into Manhattan.” Ellie slid her note to the man as the group from before stared incredulously.

 

“It says here you are working part time at the NYU cure location?” The officer asked.

 

“Yes, but since it has become part time work, I’m here to look for an assignment.” Ellie tried to say exactly what Harriet had told her to say, especially after the scene she had witnessed. 

 

The officer tilted his head at the group he had yelled at and spoke in a smug tone, “See even newcomers know that they have to pull their weight.” 

 

Ellie nearly gagged at his attitude, “Just give me a job and let me go man.”

 

He raised an eyebrow, “Can you shoot a firearm?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Well do I have the assignment for you, it starts right now” the officer called out, “Team 12?”

 

The woman with the bun responded, “What now?”

 

“You have a new team member, Ellie Williams. She will be helping you on infected clearance.”

 

“Wait I thought this place was infected free?” Ellie was confused.

 

 The woman rolled her eyes, “You have a lot to learn.”

 

“Common kid” The blond boy pushed her past the table.

 

“Kid? I’m the same age as you?” 

 

The third member, a very large man who appeared to be older than the rest by a few years, finally broke his silence and spoke in a commanding voice, “We’re already wasting time, let's just go. Today's assignment is to clear a few floors in Hell’s Kitchen.”

 

As it turns out - Manhattan was not at all infected free. Team 12 was one of many “infected clearance teams” or ICTs. It was composed of three, or now four members. Ellie noticed that the team seemed very close, which didn’t make her feel better as she tried to learn what exactly they were supposed to do.

 

“You got it?” The oldest member, Paul, asked Ellie as they arrived at their assignment location. 

 

“Yeah I think so, kill the infected inside, gather anything we find that’s important” Ellie was looking at the storefront in front of her, and then the building on top of it. “How tall is it?”

 

“Ten stories!” Kiara, the girl who yelled at the Yankee officer responded. “It’s really not that bad, you should’ve seen some of the other ones we cleared out.”

 

Lucas, the blond boy, came up from behind her “The Woolworth building took weeks and multiple crews. We got this.”

 

Beyond the storefront, the first floor of the building had no infected, just offices and storage. The next floor was a little more exciting, and within the apartments there were a few runners. The patrols in Jackson were coming back to Ellie. 

 

“All the buildings with infected were completely sealed under FEDRA. The Yanks are trying to bring them back,” Kiara explained. “We are luckily the ones we found so far were only runners, some of these guys have been alive for years and years.”

 

“Like bloaters?” Ellie recalled her terrifying experience with the huge fungal infected creatures.

 

Lucas and Kiara shared a look. “You haven’t seen nothing yet,” He chuckled, “There was an attempt to clear a bit of the subways a couple years back. It was a disaster.”

 

Kiara added on “Yeah, It turns out when you leave infected alone for years and years things get ugly, you can even hear it from above ground.”

 

“That’s not true.” Ellie didn’t believe her. 

 

“It’s true, we’ll show you on the way back!” Lucas added. 

 

The next few floors got a little more complicated, and they needed gas masks. At the end of each level they would open the windows and take anything useful they found. 

 

“Does this actually work?” Ellie asked, struggling to open a huge window that was being held shut by fungus. “ I mean, will this building ever be livable?”

 

“Sure, and there’s a clean up team that will come by later with fans and bleach.” Kiara was shuffling through a wardrobe in the room and pulled out a leather jacket, “Did you find anything cool yet?”

 

“Nothing yet” Ellie leaned at the window, staring at the street below. “So do we get to move into these when they are eventually cleaned?”

 

“They are usually reserved for families, we have to stay in barracks.” Kiara rolled her eyes. “Speaking of, where are you staying Ellie?”

 

“The NYU hospital” Ellie thought for a second, “I guess they're going to kick me out soon though.”

 

This caught Lucas’ attention, who was a room over “Wait you are with the cure doctors?”

 

“Yeah, just part time though,” she spoke carefully, not wanting to reveal too much. 

 

“I’m surprised one of you guys is working. They just sit up there in their clean little hospital while the rest of us do all the actual work.” Kiara sounded annoyed, “I mean if they were going to find a cure, you think they would’ve already.”

 

Paul interrupted “Kiara they are working just as hard as the rest of us” his eyes shifted to Ellie, “And maybe you shouldn’t insult them in front of a person who’s actually working at NYU.”

 

Kiara’s face turned red, and she tried to change the subject, “So, like, how’s it going over there?”

 

“We are actually making some decent progress, the new process that’s being attempted is ‘gene therapy’” Ellie responded.

 

“Well just let us know when you create the cure.”

 

Ellie was thankful she didn’t have to explain what “gene therapy” was to anyone. They were on the seventh floor at this point, and the room was starting to get darker. The sun was setting, it was time to go home.

 

“ So where do you guys stay?” Ellie asked on the trip back to the Javits center.

 

“We stay at Barracks near the Javits center, they should have a bed waiting for you. They put you on our team.” Lucas said.

 

Indeed there was a bed waiting for Ellie, albeit a bunk bed. As she climbed up and said goodnight to her crew, she took out her journal and looked over the day's entries. 

 

The hospital doesn’t need me anymore, or at least not all the time. Harriet told me I needed to get an assignment, apparently the Yanks have a strong belief in everyone working. Sounds like somewhere else I know, out west. I just wish I didn’t have to go there alone.

 

Was placed on an infected clearance team, we are doing the New York version of patrols. So basically just going floor by floor in a building. The people are nice, if a little fiery.

 

A sketch of some of the objects Ellie had found filled up the rest of the page, including a vase with long deal flowers and a snow globe.

 

Moving into the barracks in the city, they are by the Javits center where I got my assignment. At least I’m in a job at something I’m decent at, and it’s not boring. I just wish I -  I don’t know. It’s hard being here. 

 

Ellie didn’t know what else to write, so she got under the covers and struggled in and out of sleep. She didn’t just miss the hospital, she missed her past life, where she knew everyone. Where she had a cozy bed. Finally sleep completely overtook her.

 

Chapter Text

After getting assigned to the infected clearance team, Ellie began to live a bit of a double life. Half of her time was spent doing whatever the Yanks commanded her team to do, and the other half was spent at the hospital. So between the NYU cure researching, and killing infected, Ellie had little time to do much else. Needless to say, she was exhausted. At a visit to the hospital, she relented this to Harriet and Alex, some of the researchers who helped her.

 

“You're feeling tired? Have you been eating enough?” She asked.

 

“No, I don’t think it’s that. It’s just I’ve been so busy with everything.” Ellie leaned on the wall of the empty office the three of them had taken over. 

 

Alex’s eyes lit up, and he looked right at Harriet, who seemed to nod. He started “Okay we are not supposed to talk about this,-“

 

“Shh! You're talking to loud Alex!” Harriet pulled both of them close and spoke in a quiet voice, “We have Friday off, and we are going to pull something massively illegal.”

 

Suddenly a third researcher, Simon, walked into the room “Oh Ellie are you coming on our museum trip?”

 

“It was supposed to be a secret!” Harriet turned to Alex. He shrugged.

 

“Well the whole crew knows about it, and I hope Ellie wouldn’t tell the Yank officers. But, it might be good to have you there, we don’t know what we will find.”

 

“Wait what is happening?” Ellie asked.

 

Harriet spoke “Okay so It turns out that Alex’s Dad has a few connections, and he managed to get a few keys to important locations in the city. Strictly closed off forbidden locations in the city -“

 

“A few Museums,” Alex interrupted.

 

“So a few of us are going to take a trip! Dr. Thompson is giving us a day off this Saturday, so why not.”

 

“Are these places safe? I’ve had a few bad experiences with abandoned locations.” Ellie remembered the mall from when she lived in Boston and cringed. 

 

Simon spoke up from his place in the doorway, “That’s where you come in, you see no one on the team is equipped to defend themselves against a horde of the infected -“

 

Alex and Harriet shook their heads as if to agree.

 

“And we know that you are currently on a clearance team -“

 

“So you want me to get my team to be your muscle so you can take a trip to a museum?” Ellie asked. 

 

“A stress relief trip! You just told us you're stressed too!” Harriet argued.

 

“You do look like you could use a break.” Alex added.

 

Ellie did feel tired. There were bags under her eyes, and her bones ached. The grind of her lifestyle had gotten to her. And a trip could be fun?

 

“So let’s say I do get my team to help you guys, which place are we going?”

 

“We are currently at a tie between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National History Museum” 

 

Ellie froze. The National History Museum would have an exhibit on space, and dinosaurs. The last time she was at a museum like that was with Joel. 

 

“The art museum! Let’s go to the art museum!” Ellie quickly added, “I uh, I like to draw a lot.”

 

The researchers looked surprised at how enthusiastic their friend looked. Harriet spoke first.

 

“So you will help us?”

 

Ellie calmed down, “I’ll see what I can do.”

 

Two days later, Ellie and the rest of her infection clearance team stood in front of the MET, armed and ready to tour the art museum. The road they were waiting on had a fair amount of people walking by, and it was late afternoon. With Central Park right behind the huge building they had to be very careful not to get caught, as there was a huge Yankee base there. Ellie’s team was supposed to be on an assignment right now.

 

Kiara was the first to speak, “So the crew behind the so called cure needs a break?”

 

Paul rolled his eyes. “Just be thankful that we are going to have some fun.”

 

Ellie only stood nervously. This was the first time her two groups of friends were meeting, and they seemed to be from different worlds. As well, even though Ellie has gotten closer with her infection clearance team, they still didn’t know about her immunity. Honestly, they didn’t even know what she did at NYU when she went to visit. Most of their conversations centered around the task at hand or bitching about the Yanks.

 

Finally in the distance approached three people, squinting Ellie could make out it was Harriet, Alex and Simon. She pointed “That’s them.”

 

Alex walked up to them first, and pulled them aside. “Okay I have the key, but we have to be quick, we already look suspicious.”

 

“So are we going to go for the main door?” Kiara asked.

 

“No there’s one to the left, and we don’t go all at once.”

 

So without even an introduction between the two, everyone started to slowly slide towards the entrance. Alex went first and opened the door, and everyone followed one by one. When everyone was inside he shut the door, only to find everyone in complete darkness.

 

“Please tell me someone brought flashlights!” Simon’s voice came from the abyss.

 

Ellie quickly flicked hers on, followed by Paul, Kiara and Lucas, the rest of her infection clearance team. 

 

“See aren’t you glad you brought us?” Ellie joked.

 

Ellie was actually glad it was dark in the entrance hall, because it forced the two groups together. She couldn’t help but smile as they learned each other’s names and discussed the craziness of the city as they found their way up a set of stairs and into the light. 

 

The entrance hall of the museum was huge, with pillars that stretched up to the ceiling far above. Light filtered in through windows at the top to the empty room. There were no other people to be seen, but also no other infected. For a place that hadn’t been touched in years, it held up extremely well, the characteristic overgrown of most abandoned buildings wasn’t present. Only a thin layer of dust covered everything.

 

“Woah” Lucas stared up at the huge ceiling. Even Kiara was speechless. 

 

Alex spoke first, “My dad told me they shut down the MET a day after the outbreak, with the intention of opening it when everything calmed down. I guess they're still waiting.”

 

“I’m surprised it’s in such good condition, most of the museums I’ve seen do not look like this,” Ellie recalled the falling apart history museum she saw when escaping Boston. “Most are barely standing.”

 

“Well it helps that the MET is super high security, it was built not to be broken into.” Alex said. 

 

Ellie only nodded, and the group headed to the left to the Greek section, which was thankfully well lit by huge windows. The whole room was ethereal, with ancient statues lined up along the wall. They were falling apart, but solely because of age.

 

“Hey look Ellie it’s like you” Kiara pointed at a statue with some missing fingers.

 

“Well yeah? This is going to be you” Ellie flicked a statue of a lady that was missing a head.

 

“ Woah don’t touch!” Alex said, shoving Ellie out of the way.

 

“Oh sorry, but I mean this stuff made it through a lot, I’m sure it can deal with me flicking it.” She said.

 

“My dad was telling me all about it though, that the guards were super protective of you even stepping near them.”

 

“Well a load of good that did.” Kiara spoke with her usual attitude.

 

“One day it might still open up though, and we wouldn’t want to ruin it.”

 

“When’s it going to open up then?” 

 

“Listen I’m sorry for flicking it Alex.” Ellie apologized as the group moved into another room, covered in art from Oceania that had a distinct salty smell. “I won’t do it again.”

 

“No it’s okay, I guess Kiara is right.” Alex said. “It’s just kind of sad.”

 

Kiara looked guilty, “Well it’s just, it’s hard to believe if we can barely feed everyone and give people homes that art will ever matter again.”

 

“I still draw.” Ellie said, “And I used to write music too.”

 

Harriet came over from the carved wood she had been looking at, “You make music?”

 

“Well I used to,” Ellie sheepishly held up her hand that was missing two fingers, “It’s a little hard to play guitar like this.”

 

“How did you even lose them?” Kiara asked.

 

“Got bitten off.”

 

“No way.”

 

“Hmpf” Was all Ellie could say as she went to read a very dusty plaque on the Pacific Islands.

 

The next few rooms were dark, forcing the group together again, and it was all old medieval art. Rows of crowns and hairbrushes filled the glass canisters. Everyone agreed it was much too creepy to be in, and rushed by into a very long and bright room with even more statues. Kiara and Lucas kept taking turns figuring out who could pull the best pose of a statue, while the medical students had a quiet discussion about a bust.

 

This left Ellie with Paul, the oldest and quietest of the infected clearance squad. 

 

“So do you like art?” Ellie awkwardly tried to start a conversation.

 

“Most of the time I don’t get to think about such things, but I’m actually enjoying it today.” Paul responded.

 

“That’s good, i always see this stuff in books but never in real life.”

 

“It's a shame, the Yanks should open this place up.”

 

“I don’t know how they could, they are so busy with everything else.” Ellie drew back on the conversation with Kiara. “They still need to feed and house everyone.”

 

“I know, but it’s still a shame.”

 

Ellie couldn’t argue with that, so the tour of the art museum continued. As they traveled through dark rooms, Simon spotted something shiny, a huge suit of armor. 

 

“Hey look at this!” He stood right in front of a few fake horses covered in metal armor with fake humans on top.

 

The whole group crowded around the huge pieces of delicately crafted armor, and stared. They had seen armor in movies before, but never like this. It was so shiny, and was sitting on a pedestal. The whole group couldn’t help but be in awe.

 

“This is it.” Lucas said. “This is our solution to the infected biting problem.” 

 

Everyone didn’t know what to make of that, in theory it could work. It’s not like the infected could bite through metal. Yet standing in front of it, no one could really say anything. Alex stood with Harriet and Simon, the rest of the medical team and appeared to be thinking very hard.

 

“No, I mean, I think if it worked it could, but they don’t look usable.” He leaned over the rope that surrounded the pedestal and touched the armor, seemingly forgetting his past rule about no touching. “Could a human being actually wear this? Metal is heavy, and I’m sure it would work as an oven for the wearer.”

 

“But didn’t people, like, wear these?” Ellie joined the conversation.

 

“In movies they do, in books, but the whole idea is just so impractical.” Despite his strong words, Alex still was staring at the suits of armor with a confused face. 

 

Ellie just nodded, she couldn’t find a reason he was wrong. The whole group seemed to come to the same conclusion, and they moved on.

 

It got darker as the light coming through the window slowly weakened, but the group continued on. Everyone seemed enamored by the art and history that surrounded them. The building had somehow remained a time capsule, to all of the historical art that filled it, and to a time much closer, before CBI took over the world. As these heavily armed young adults wandered through the hallway, they could feel as if they were on a regular museum trip, just for a few minutes.

 

Eventually the group made it through the upper floors, which were filled with paintings from every era, and then returned back to the main hall. Before they left, Alex insisted on going to the right side of the main hall which they had missed, as his Dad had told him to check it out. 

 

So the team decided to take one last stop, in the Egyptian wing. The rooms were filled with mummies and ancient heliographs. In particular, Kiara and Ellie stopped to look at a wall filled with pages from a book, The Book of the Dead. Even though they couldn’t read any of it, something drew them in.

 

The final room they visited was huge, with high ceilings and a wall made of glass that looked outside. In the middle of it was an ancient stone temple that was catching the last of the setting sun. A small river surrounded it, which was filled with coins. 

 

There was a small bridge to the center island with the stone temple, so one by one everyone crossed it and approached the huge stone structure inside the room. Alex had completely given up on stopping people from touching the art, and everyone took turns running their hands over the stone inside the temple. By the time the sun had set, everyone sat on a ledge by the moat. 

 

“Apparently it’s called ‘The Temple of Dendur,” Alex explained, “and was brought here from Egypt in 1963. They took it all apart and rebuilt it.”

 

There was a long silence as everyone took the time to recharge, and stare at the now quiet Central Park through the huge window. There were remnants of a playground in front of the park, and various agricultural attempts behind it. It looked like their world looked, overgrown and falling apart. 

 

“Do you think this place is ever going to open up again?” Lucas asked carefully.

 

There was another long pause.

 

“I think so.” Simon said, and the rest of the medical team, Harriet and Alex, nodded along. “It’s all just a matter of time before things eventually settle. It will be a long time though.”

 

“Settle? It’s been over 20 years since the outbreak happened.” Kiara scoffed. “I think it’s a miracle this museum hasn’t been destroyed. There’s no coming back from this.”

 

“So you think the world will never heal?” Alex leaned over and asked. 

 

Kiara immediately responded, “If the world we’re going to ‘heal’ it would have already, or at least shown some signs of healing. Everything has just gotten worse.”

 

Lucas who was sitting next to her, spoke in a kinder voice, “It’s hard to think about, but I can’t hope for a better world. Kiara and I traveled here when we were kids. It’s not pretty out there, and it’s not just the infected. It’s the people that have changed too.”

 

“I’ve had limited experience with the outside world, I’ll be honest, but you can’t really think that there’s no possibility where things get better right?” Harriet argued. “We are getting very close to finding a cure.”

 

“You’ve been getting close to a cure for years.” Kiara stared at her feet. “While the rest of us work our asses off to protect and feed you guys.”

 

“No we are very close, we even found an immune patient, were even moving on to animal testing.” 

 

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

 

Paul spoke from where he was sitting on the end of the group in a careful and slow tone, “I’ll believe it. The city and the world may never get back to where it once was, but that’s why we work everyday right?”

 

“Sometimes it just feels like we're hanging on with the last of our strength. And we're only one tragedy from being completely lost.” Lucas spoke. 

 

“Ellie, what do you think? You’ve seen the most out of all of us.” Simon looked at his friend, who had been silent throughout the whole conversation.

 

Ellie didn’t know what to think. This hadn’t been in her mind when trying to find the cure. She didn’t even think that the aftermath would be something that affected her. 

 

“I- I don’t know. I’ve seen humans that have resorted to murder and cannibalism.” Ellie cringed remembering her experience as a teenager with David. “Most cities I’ve passed through have been completely destroyed, and those that aren’t are on their way. And I’m no angel here. I’ve been close with people who’ve done terrible things. I’ve done terrible things. But I have to hope it’s for something right? And I’ve been happy. It’s not all bad.”

 

Nobody said anything, no one had been through the journey Ellie had been on. She continued sheepishly.

 

“I was part of a settlement out West. Things were, normal. People found a life out there. I think the world ‘healing’ is possible, but I don’t know if a cure is going to do it. It can’t hurt though.” Ellie finished her thought, which she wished had been more eloquent.

 

“Are you really close to finding a cure?” Kiara spoke up again.

 

“We are the closest we had ever been.” Harriet was staring out through the window. 

 

The group locked the door on the way out, and after a brief farewell headed in separate directions. The streets were no longer as bustling as it had been that morning, and Ellie could even hear infected through the subway grates. She couldn’t stop thinking about their conversation, was the world solvable? She had said it was, but now she didn’t know. Kiara, Paula, Lucas and her all were silent on the way home, careful to not draw attention to themselves, and the team were able to sneak into the barracks without much of a fuss. 

 

Ellie pulled out her notebook and flipped through the pages she had filled that day, all sketches of paintings and sculptures she had seen. Right before calling it a night, she wrote her first entry for the day. 

 

The art museum was actually a lot of fun, it was almost like a history museum. I think my two teams in Manhattan are actually getting along well which is a good sign too. We talked about the cure a bit too, Harriet says they almost have it. 

 

I’ve been trying to avoid it, but I don’t know what I’m going to do if they find a cure. If they don’t need me anymore. Part of me thinks I should stay in Manhattan, but it doesn’t feel warm here. Part of me wants to go back west but I, I can’t. I just miss the vast skies and clear airs, but. How can I go back? After everything. It wasn’t supposed to be this complicated. I wish it wasn’t this complicated.

Chapter Text

Ellie climbed up the last flight of stairs in the building, and flung open the door at the top. This was her favorite part of every building clearance - feeling the wind and seeing the sky at the top. As she walked to the edge of the wall, it could’ve felt like she wasn’t in the city, but back in Jackson. The sky had the same blue and it wasn’t blocked by buildings. 

 

It had been three months since she joined infection clearance team twelve and Ellie had fallen into a routine. Her week involved trekking around the hard roads of the city from building to building, and taking out infected. There never seemed to be a shortage of apartments and offices that needed to be cleared. On her few days off she would visit the NYU hospital and try to understand how far they were on developing a cure. Mostly she just went to see her medical friends.

 

But now wasn’t one of Ellie’s days off, so she was at the top of a building. She pulled out her journal from her bag and inspected her last few days of sketches. The team had recently found an art studio that had extra watercolors laying around, meaning Ellie’s drawings were now touched with bright colors. The most recent page had a sketch not of the city, but of a field. A orange and yellow sunset over a desaturated green hill with a black dark spot in the horizon. Ellie wrote her newest entry under it.

 

Day five of working on this building, and we finished it. This one was particularly difficult, there were two bloaters near the top. My mask almost slipped off inside, it wasn’t tight enough. I managed to fix it before anyone saw. I haven’t told them. They might never find out about it at this point.

 

There was a drumming on the steps and Ellie quickly closed her journal. Kiara and Lucas, the other members of her infection clearance team, opened the metal door to the roof. 

 

“Were you working with your watercolors again?” Kiara asked, seeing Ellie hold her journal.

 

“No, I left them at the Barracks today, just doing some sketches.” Ellie lied as she quickly put the book away. “Find anything cool?”

 

“No it was just an office building, we never find anything cool in these.” Kiara came up to look over the edge of the building, and Lucas followed.

 

“I hope we get an apartment next time.” Lucas said, “Remember when we found that DS?”

 

“Yeah and then you tried to use the building generator to charge it, and got us all in trouble!” Kiara playfully pushed him close to the edge, before grasping his shoulders and bringing him away from the ledge.

 

“Oh yeah? Well who was the one who played it for the rest of the night.” Lucas shoved her a bit.

 

Ellie sat there awkwardly watching them playfight, and she was glad to see Paul climb up the stairs. He was holding a walky talky and had a disappointed look on his face. 

 

“We are not getting the day off tomorrow. They want us up early to help with The Grand Central project.” Paul spoke in a very tired voice.

 

“Ugh!” Kiara kicked the gravel ground of the roof. “This always happens to us!”

 

Ellie felt sympathetic, this had been happening to the group a lot. They hadn’t gotten a day off in over two weeks. It seemed like the Yank organizers specifically had it out for them, making them work longer and longer days on top of everything. Any conversation about it ended with the usual excuses, ‘everyones tired’ and ‘if you guys worked harder the days would be shorter’. It was draining on everyone’s mood.

 

“Why are we even trying to clear grand central? Didn’t they learn their lesson when we tried to clear the subway?” Lucas joined in.

 

“How bad is it down there?” Ellie had heard a lot of talk about the subway reclaiming attempt, but no specifics.

 

“It’s really bad. Last time there was a try three people got bitten.” Kiara continued to kick the ground in anger. “Can’t wait for that to be us! Team twelve, together with extra mushrooms this time!”

 

“They can’t seriously be attempting it again?” Lucas held the same rage as his friend.

 

“It’s grand central, they probably won’t want us to go into the subways, just the building.” Even Paul sounded doubtful. “Probably.”

 

Ellie groaned, “We all deserve a fucking break.”

 

“But we need to eat.” Paul responded. “So I’ll see you all tomorrow morning.”

 

And the next morning all of Team twelve on the road outside the barracks. Everyone’s clothes were disheveled and their hair was messy. Yet they started walking anyway.

 

“This workload is like when I went to a FEDRA school in Boston.” Ellie rumbled as they walked down the road. “Except at least there I didn’t have any fucking roommates!”

 

This made the whole group laugh. Her stories about the military quarantine zone in Boston always made the group laugh, even if none of them had connected the dots on how Ellie made it from there to Wyoming. All they knew about Ellie’s life existed in bubbles. Each event was disconnected from each other. 

 

Kiara leaned her head back and yelled up the tall buildings “Fuck FEDRA! Fuck the Yanks!”

 

Lucas cupped his hands around his mouth and added “And Fuck the Infected!”

 

This made the group laugh even harder. Up above them a woman peaked her head out of a window with a particularly nasty look on her face. 

 

“If we have to wake up early you do too.” Paul looked up and spoke, not loud enough for the women to hear, but loud enough so that Team twelve completely lost their minds. 

 

But the woman seemed to understand what was happening anyway, and her very muscular husband leaned out the window next to her. They shared a quick dialogue, and then he turned around, presumably to go down to the street.

 

“We have to go!” Lucas said, grabbing Kiara’s arm. 

 

“Okay, okay!” Kiara said back.

 

Ellie looked at Paul and he gave her a knowing look. They all gathered themselves and headed down to 42nd street. As they got closer the buildings seemed to get larger and larger, and the streets dirtier. Along the sidewalk were huge blockades of rubble piled up, each covering a subway entrance. This early in the morning the group could hear the clicks and groans of the infected underneath. 

 

“What do you think they even want with us at Grand Central?” Ellie asked “I know it's like the center for all trains and stuff, do you think they want us to clear them?

 

“The Yanks want to kill us that's what!” Kiara responded.

 

“They probably want us to clear out Grand Central to use as another base for operation,” Paul spoke in a low tone ,“it has a good location in the city.”

 

“But the station hasn’t been opened in years, its suicide at this point,” Lucas argued.

 

“It can’t be that bad, I mean bloaters are no fun but they are manageable, especially with such a large group.” Ellie heard clicking through the grates and squatted down to try and see into the dark. “And if its clickers I don’t know why you guys are so worri-”

 

“Ellie no!” Kiara ran up and shoved her out of the way, but not before the rusty and weakened by age grates caved under Ellie’s friend.

 

“Kiara!” Ellie turned around and watched Kiara dip below the sidewalk.

 

There was a hole left over from where she had fallen through, and at the bottom she heard coughing, and then a scream. It wasn’t even a question for Ellie. She jumped through the hole and into the darkness. 

 

What hit Ellie first was the smell. It was as if there were hundreds of diseased rotting animal corpses in the subway. She slowly got to her feet, coughing because of the stench. Above her Lucas and Paul were yelling, but she couldn’t make out the words. 

 

“Get a rope! Get a ladder!” It was all Ellie could think to say “I’m getting her out of here!”

 

Without bothering to see if they heard her, she turned on her flashlight, only to find herself surrounded by spores. And in the distance on the subway tracks was a creature that could’ve been an infected. But infected usually don’t have more than two arms, and more than two legs. And five heads and six rib cages. Fuck.  

 

Ellie froze, and then she heard coughing. Coughing that was coming from behind the behemoth.

 

“Kiara!” She shouted “Kiara, I’m here!”

 

“Ellie!” Kiara spoke between coughs. “I’m sorry, Go! It’s to late, go!”

 

Before she could respond, she turned around at the sound of groaning. A huge mass of flesh and fungus was coming from the other end of the subway, and she guessed the other groaning from the darkness was more of them.

 

She remembered what her team had said, years and years of infection. 

 

A scream sounded from the darkness, Kiara! Ellie pointed her shotgun at the huge monster and fired. The sound rattled around the dark tunnel, and caused Ellie’s ears to ring. Suddenly there was another shot. Kiara’s shooting too! 

 

But both shots did nothing to slow down the creature, and he lunged at Ellie. For such a huge beast, he was incredibly speedy and took no time rushing over to Ellie and slamming her into the subway track. She felt the huge weight of it on top of her and tried to push it back, only to find her hand pushing through the skin. She grappled for the knife on her backpack and pulled it out, sinking it into one of the creature's many heads. 

 

There was a flurry gunshot from Ellie’s left, and then more coughing. This distracted the beast enough for Ellie to wiggle out from under it. As she got out, the huge infected leaped at her friend. But before she could help, another one appeared behind Ellie.

 

Ellie tried to fire her shotgun, only to find it empty. Well it’s not like bullets were doing much anyway. Ellie took off her bag looking for the handgun she had taken from the armory earlier, only to be knocked over again by the creature. Without her flashlight far away on her backpack, the subway had gone completely dark, except for a small spotlight from the grate. An arm grabbed her and dragged Ellie out from under the creature, but when she looked at the arm it wasn’t Kiara pulling her, but a normal sized clicker.

 

A gunshot flew past her head and into the clickers. And then a cough. Ellie crawled towards her backpack and put it back on, with the flashlight attached. Kiara was standing above a few fungi covered bodies and covered in bites.

 

In a moment Ellie was drawn back to Riley, to Tess, to Sam, to Jesse, to Joel. People she had lost. People she could’ve saved. She had tortured herself over it for years. If she had done something different in those moments with her past friends. If she had moved quicker to help Riley. If she had said the right thing to Sam. If she had made it through the basement door just a little bit earlier and been able to save Joel.

 

Ellie was lost in her past and the hopelessness of it all. Those decisions had passed her. Those people were gone. Suddenly she looked at her friend. Kiara, bitten and coughing, had a chance. No one else had to die. Ellie lunged past the huge mass of infected bodies and grabbed Kiara’s arm, dragging her towards the spotlight on the tracks. She pulled out her handgun and then looked up. 

 

“Lucas!” Ellie shouted at the top of her lungs, “Paul! Help me!”

 

Two faces blocked out the light from the sky above, and then a rope dropped down. She shoved Kiara towards the rope and she struggled to climb it. Ellie did her best to keep the infected away with bullets. When Kiara pulled herself up, Ellie was next. She grappled up it, still in pain from the fall. 

 

Paul and Simon pulled her up the last bit, inadvertently scratching her on the subway grate. She looked up hoping to find friendly faces but only found the barrel of a gun pointing at her. Off to the side she could hear Lucas talking to Kiara, who was laying in the road. Paul leaned forward and clicked his gun, aiming at Ellie.

 

Lucas ran at Paul from the side pushing his arm with the gun down. “Stop! We’re not going to kill them!”

 

“So you want to wait until they completely turn? We don’t have much of a choice here. You’ve seen what happens to the infected.” Paul tried to move his arm back.

 

“Wait! Wait!” Ellie gulped. “I’m immune, I can’t get infected. I’m the immune patient they found at NYU. It makes sense doesn’t it? They found an immune patient around the same time I showed up, I work there part time.”

 

The boys didn’t look convinced.

 

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. We have a chance here, this is what the doctors have been working on. The cure.” Ellie tried to find the right words. “You don’t need to worry about me. Worry about Kiara. She needs the cure. We need to get her there now!”

 

And indeed, Kiara was in terrible shape. She was hunched over on the floor coughing up blood. Her exposed skin was covered in bites, including one on her cheekbone. All over her was a thin layer of dirt, blood and fungus.

 

“We have to try, it can’t hurt,” Lucas turned to look at Paul. “We have too.”

 

Paul didn’t make any move of agreement of disagreement, but it was too late. Lucas went over to his friend and slowly picked her up. Ellie stumbled to her feet.

 

“This way.” She pointed down the street and started to limp in that direction. The group headed on down the road, a new destination in mind.

Chapter Text

The beeps of the medical equipment filled the room. Different noises from different machines, all with tubes and wires leading to a woman who appeared to be sleeping in a hospital bed. One was attached to a bag of blood that fed directly into her arm. Ellie toddered at the edge of the room while Lucas and Paul were right by her side. Everything was very, peaceful , despite the circumstances. A woman in a lab coat slowly opened the door and viewed the scene.

 

“Common, we have to draw more blood.” Harriet whispered to Ellie. 

 

Ellie silently left the room, turning back to see Kiara still still in bed before the door shut.

 

“It’s been two weeks and nothing.” She said. “Is she even going to get better, or even wake up?”

 

“We’re waiting for her to wake up from her coma.” Harriet spoke carefully. “It’s a good sign that she’s still human, and we have your blood to thank for that as well. But overall our treatment is working, she’s not overtaken by the infection.”

 

“Well it’s all good that your ‘cure’ works, but Kiara has been in a coma since she got bitten.” Ellie said angrily. “And it’s not like I can give blood to every single person who’s gotten bitten. It was supposed to work!”

 

Harriet stayed silent, and led Ellie to the room where they had been drawing her blood. As she was being hooked up to the machine, Harriet spoke again.

 

“This is science Ellie. This is progress.” Harriet rubbed her arm. “Most vaccines take years to develop, we’ve had a couple months.”

 

“I know. I know. But it’s not fair.” Ellie felt her eyes well up. “This was supposed to be different, you know? And I was the one that made her fall into that fucking subway.”

 

There was another long silence as Ellie’s blood was being drawn.

 

“Just give it time.” Harriet looked at the bag, which was by now full of blood. “Alright you're done.”

 

She carefully pulled the the needle out of her arm, and took the bag off the hook. She was about to leave, but then turned to her friend.

 

“Ellie, I’m worried about you. You haven’t left the hospital since you brought Kiara in, you haven’t been sleeping.” Harriet was full of concern. “Destroying yourself is not going to save Kiara.” 

 

Ellie watched the woman in the lab coat leave, and she grabbed her backpack. Inside was her journal, which she took out. In the last two weeks of entries were written in eradic handwriting, with a lack of any sort of drawings.

 

Fuck. Kiara got bit and breathed in a metric shit ton of spores in the subway. I dragged her out of it. We are at NYU now.

 

Harriet said that they have a very beginning version of a cure, and that they could try it. But no promises. I don’t want to think about that.

 

She’s in coma, they say it’s not because of the treatment and because of her injuries.I don’t believe them. They don’t know when she’s waking up, they are just keeping her alive until then. Everyone is saying it’s a miracle I got her out, it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Lucas and Paul said they forgive me for having Kiara fall into the subway. I think they just said it because I’ve been such a wreck. 

 

Dr. Thompson suggested that we try using my blood because it will help fight the infection until their cure hopefully kicks in. I’m willing to try anything.

 

She hasn’t turned into a mushroom creature yet but she hasn’t woken up. I’ve been staying by her bed as much as I can with Lucas and Paul. The doctors say that she’s getting a fever. 

 

Still nothing.

 

We’re all still waiting for her to wake up. Her fever is calming down. 

 

I thought I saw Kiara's finger twitch but I might've been making it up. 

 

Still asleep.

 

Ellie went to write another entry but stopped herself. It would just be more of the same. She slowly got on her feet and staggered, weakened from the blood loss. Harriet had left her a sandwich on the table, and Ellie took a bite of it before putting it down. Eating was hard for her right now.

 

Ellie toddered down the hallway, and stopped at Kiara door. But it wasn’t Kiara in there, it was Riley, Ellie's friend from Boston. She shook her head, and then it was Kiara again. Still in her coma. 

 

She continued down the hallway, not ready to face her teammates’ faces. There was chattering coming from inside the research lab, and Ellie slowly opened the door to see how cure development was going.

 

The mood within the room was starkly different from the rest of the hospital. Dr. Thompson, with all his white hair, was laughing. And his students were too. 

 

“Ellie!” Simon said. “Congratulations!”

 

She was taken aback by his positive tone, “What?”

 

“You are no longer the only immune person in the world.” Dr. Thompson stepped forward. “Kiara’s body is now fighting off the virus the same as yours. The evidence shows that while your blood transfusions are helping, her cells are now doing most of the work.”

 

Ellie stood at the edge of the room, stiff. She fidgeted with the straps on her backpack and stared at the ground. Alex came up to her and put his arm around her back.

 

“This is good!” Simon rubbed her arm.

 

“But she’s still asleep!” Ellie looked up. “It’s all well and good that her body can fight it but it means jack shit if she’s not waking up!”

 

“It’s a process, these things take ti-“

 

“It’s a process for you guys, but it’s people's lives for everyone else.” Ellie’s paused and stared at the room. The jovial mood was gone, everyone was staring at her with concerned eyes. She looked down again, “I’m, I’m sorry.”

 

Ellie left, shutting the door behind her. Her vision seemed to vibrate and her breath quickened as she walked down the hallway. She glanced to the left to see Kiara’s room, with Harriet inside.

 

“Ellie?” Harriet looked right at her.

 

Ellie kept moving, and she ran down the stairs, and out of the front door. Her eyes darted around and there was no one there. She stood still for a bit, and then walked around the edge of the hospital, where a few rotting ambulances were located. Ellie collapsed behind one of them and struggled to get control of her breathing. Her chest felt like it was being stabbed. 

 

“Ellie! Ellie?” Harriets voice came from behind the abandoned trucks. “Are you here?”

 

Ellie stayed silent, and pulled her shaking knees closer to her chest. 

 

“I’m sorry, this is not good.” Harriet spoke slowly. “We shouldn’t have acted like it was. We should have listened to you. I want to help Ellie, I really do.”

 

Her feet could be seen moving from under the truck. They hesitated, and then walked off.

 

Ellie stayed on the concrete behind the truck until the sun had set. She watched slowly as the golden light moved down the building, until everything was covered in a neutral blue tone. Finally, she dragged herself to her feet, and slowly walked around the corner into the hospital. The hallways were always dark at this hour, only lit up by remnants of the days light. 

 

She found herself in the hospital waiting room she had been staying in, and laid down on the couch there. Ellie slowly lifted her left hand, and stretched out the three fingers on it. The glove she had become accustomed to wearing was still on, so she peeled it off. Underneath was an aged bite. It had been covered in cysts but Harriet had cleaned it up, so it healed properly. 

 

Ellie pulled Joel’s leather jacket out of her bag and used it to cover her as a blanket. Even though it had been across the country, through rivers and oceans, underneath everything, it still smelled like him. She turned over to face the back of the couch and felt her eyes well up. She stayed still for a while, staring at the fabric before hearing a voice. 

 

“Hey? Ellie?” Dr. Thompson spoke from behind her. “I have to show you see something!”

 

Ellie slowly leaned up and turned to see the older man. He was nervously standing on the edge of the room, far away from her. 

 

“Common, it’s good I promise.”

 

The two of them slowly walked down the hallway to Kiara’s room, where Lucas was leaned over in a chair. His eyes were wide as Dr.Thompson entered.

 

And then it happened. Kiara slowly turned her head to look at Ellie and the Doctor. Her eyes were barely open, but they were open.

 

“Watch this,” Dr. Thompson turned to the woman in bed and grabbed her hand, “Kiara can you squeeze my hand?”

 

Sure enough, Kiara squeezed his hand. Ellie looked at Lucas, whose eyes were filled with hope.

 

“Dr. Thompson said this is a sign she’s regaining consciousness! It’s going to take some time, but she’s waking up.” Lucas stood up and walked to the bedside.

 

“Well, holy shit.” Ellie was suddenly awake.

 

The three of them stayed there the whole night. Then sun rose on the next day, and the next. Slowly Kiara gained back the ability to speak over the next few weeks. At first she was confused by her surroundings, and didn’t remember how she had even gotten bitten. But as time went on, and she started walking, the gaps in her memory closed. She was cleared to go back to work on infected clearance. Which was a good thing.

 

It also meant that every other person in Manhattan noticed that she returned. With very visible infected bites. After a long stay at the NYU hospital that was looking for a cure.

 

Every attempt at lying or changing the story failed, and by the end of Kiara’s first day back, the whole city knew that a cure had been found. It was pointless to deny any of it, and the story got out in its fullest form - they used an immune patient to create a cure for CBI. 

Chapter Text

Word spread through all of Manhattan about a newly discovered cure within a day. News spreading to the rest of the world took a little longer. But sure enough, through radio broadcasts and word of mouth, the message spread across the United States over the next couple months. The information was clear - A cure had been found in New York using an immune patient.

 

Bill put down his copy of Moby Dick, there’s only so many times you can read one book. As usual, he was alone in his town. In the distance he could hear the infected moving and screaming. It did not bother him anymore, it was just how it was.

 

The sun was setting on his falling apart house which meant it was time to go to bed. His night routine was simple but the same, and right before turning off the lights Bill went to turn on the radio, looking for any news.

 

The dusty old radio sparked alive, and Bill slowly twisted the nob to see if anyone was broadcasting. It was mostly static, until he turned the dial and heard voices. 

 

“Broadcasting to everyone in the area, a cure to CBI has been found in New York. They found an immune patient and were able to develop it using her DN-.” The sound was rough, but the message was clear.

 

Bill quickly shut it off and he backed away from the machine in shock. The back of his knees his a chair and he collapsed into it. Next to it on a table was a half finished beer so he grabbed it and slowly slid it off. 

 

The room that surrounded him was dirty, mold covered the walls, and cockroaches could be seen in the corner. Books and magazines were piled up haphazardly, and scattered broken glass topped the whole scene.

 

Bill stared at the exposed pipe on the ceiling. He was all alone in his room, his house, his town. His life before the outbreak had been normal. Now everything revolves around getting the next meal and evading infection. After a long silence, he decided that the news about the cure was false, and nothing would change. 

 

Toronto had warmed up in the last couple months. Everyone associated Canada with the cold, but right now Will was sweating. It didn’t help that Toronto General Hospital had very limited AC. 

 

Still there was no stopping him on his rounds, there were always patients to treat. Dr. Morris wouldn’t let him rest anyway. It was as she said “We have a responsibility to the people of Toronto.”

 

So it was surprising when Will saw his teacher standing silently in the middle of the hall, staring at the ground. He quietly approached her.

 

“Dr. Morris?” 

 

A careful tap on her shoulder finally made her look up.

 

“Are you okay?” He asked carefully.

 

“Yes. It’s just -“ Dr. Morris regained her composure, “We had a couple travelers from New York here. Manhattan in particular.”

 

“Did you ask if they knew me?” Will had grown up in Manhattan before he left to join his family.

 

“No, No it’s not that.” She looked right into his eyes. “They found a cure. Someone got CBI, and survived.”

 

Will stared silently at her for a moment. All his worries about rounds and the hospital left his mind.

 

“They created it by using an immune patient. I think it’s the girl who visited us.”

 

“It’s her! I sent her there!” 

 

“But do you remember the consequences for the girl?” Dr. Morris asked.

 

“Oh” 

 

“If they really have a cure, I will be glad. But who knows if we'll ever get it. It’s one thing to create a cure, and another to mass produce and distribute it.”

 

“So business at usual?” Will didn’t know why he expected anything else.

 

Dr. Morris stood up tall and put her stern look back on, “Business as usual.”

 

Jose has been given babysitting duty for the kids in his family. He couldn’t blame them for wanting to be careful, even if his little cousins could be a bit annoying. And he would rather be safe in the walls of their home in Tucson than out fighting infected, or hunters. But it was still work. 

 

His younger brother sat next to him, having also been put in charge of watching the children of the group.

 

“Did you hear about New York?” His brother leaned over and asked.

 

“The cure?” Jose pretended this was the first time he heard it.

 

Suddenly his two younger cousins ran up to the wall they were sitting on.

 

“The cure?” The younger girl asked. 

 

“I don’t think it’s real.” Said the older girl. “Your dad said that they used to always have news about a cure.”

 

“How did you guys learn about that?” Jose’s brother leaned down to talk to them.

 

“We were spying,” the younger girl added before her sister put a hand over her mouth.

 

“Don’t listen to their stories,” Jose’s brother lightly cuffed the girl over the head. “It just meaningless rumors.”

 

“You know what I think?” Jose’s brother leaned his head back. “I think it’s real.”

 

This caused all sorts of an argument among the three, but all Will could do was give a little smile. They didn’t know what he knew. They hadn’t secretly gathered the data that would be needed to create a cure. They hadn’t met anyone who was immune. Jose stared at the sky, and felt quite proud. 

 

Things were starting to get chilly in Jackson. This was all Dina could think as she went to grab a jacket to answer the door. It being in the middle of the night did not help.

 

She took quiet steps down the stairs, careful not to wake Jesse’s parents or JJ. As she used her hands to navigate the dark home, a face appeared in the window of the door. Tommy.

 

“What are you doing here so late?” Dina opened the door in disbelief.

 

“I can’t explain here, I told Maria we should get you. Listen Dina, I know we haven’t been on the greatest terms -“ Tommy started.

 

“Keep it to yourself” Dina started putting her boots on. “Maria wants to see us?”

 

“Yeah, it’s important,” Tommy grabbed his cane. 

 

Even though the town had gotten power years ago, it still remained dark at night. The moonlight provided just enough light to guide the two down to the center hall.

 

“So, how is Maria doing?” Dina carefully broke the silence.

 

“It’s good, she probably likes me better now that I cook!” Tommy laughed a bit, then a frown overtook his face. “I’m sorry about what I did to both of you. I don’t think I can ever move on from that. And I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you, and I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you after.”

 

A silence stretched out between them. After Tommy had asked Ellie to leave, the two of them awaited her return. First it was a month. And then two. And then a year. At a certain point it became clear, Ellie was dead. So Dina moved in with Jesse’s parents so they could help with the baby, and struggled to move on. Any sort of relationship Tommy and her had was gone.

 

They quietly approached the building in the middle of town, which had a small light flickering through the window. Dina slowly opened the door and let Tommy go in first. He sat next to Maria who rubbed his back.

 

“Dina, come sit here.” Maria motioned to a bench on the side of the table they were sat at. “A group of travelers came in an hour ago, they came from the East.”

 

“So?”

 

Maria turned her head to Tommy, and he spoke, “This group claims that a group of doctors found a cure in New York.”

 

Dina’s eyes widened.

 

“The details are a little hazy but they were able to develop it using an immune patient.” Tommy looked down. “They called this immune patient a ‘she.’”

 

“You think it’s her?” Dina was in shock. “Ellie’s alive?”

 

Tommy shifted uncomfortably, and Maria wrapped her arm around him.

 

“Dina, Ellie had her immunity be used to create a cure once before, when she was a kid. Before she came to Jackson.” Maria slowly spoke. “The reason a cure doesn’t exist wasn’t because it was impossible. Making a cure would’ve killed Ellie, so Joel stopped the doctors that did it.”

 

“So if this news is real-” Dina didn’t want to finish what she said.

 

“We can only assume that means Ellie is dead, yes.” Maria finished.

 

The three of the sat quietly for a little while, staring at the flame dancing in the lantern. Dina slowly put her head in her hands. 

 

“She survived whatever happened with Abby, but she’s dead now. That’s what happened.” Dina stood up pointed right at Tommy. “This is still your fault. If cure actually reaches Jackson you better fucking remember what it cost all of us.”

 

Tommy was about to respond before Dina stormed out. He slowly stood up, and limped to the door, opening it. Dina was at the end of the street, and when she turned back there were tears in her eyes. Maria went to his side and grasped his shoulder.

 

“This is bringing her back, she didn’t mean to be so harsh.” She said. 

 

“But she’s right, Joel wouldn’t have wanted this.” Tommy started to tear up. “I just wish I could go back and change it. I trade any sort of cure for Ellie back.”

 

“I know, and I think Dina knows too.” Maria let go of his shoulder. “Let’s go home.”

 

A strong gust of wind blew out the candle inside. The whole street was pitch dark. Even the moon had been covered by a cloud. It seemed like the whole world was empty.

 

Santa Barbara had changed a lot. Of course, the beautiful ocean still shined, and the warm air still covered everything. But it was no longer a popular tourist location, nor a town that relied on forced labor. This beautifully lit town was still bustling however, this time with a firefly camp. 

 

It was early in the morning, but everyone was up. With the sun just breaking the horizon, long orange shadows covered everything. One such streak went across a radio, surrounded by a large group. 

 

The radio sputtered, and a man leaned over, saying the final words “Over and out.”

 

Everyone waited with baited breath, and he turned around, speaking in a loud voice, “A cure has been found in New York. They created it using an immune patient. An ex firefly from the East coast came to give us the news, they came all the way from New York looking for a way to reach us. They stopped at an outpost a couple miles from here and were able to reach us by radio. This is real.”

 

The crowd immediately broke out in conversation, people questioned how it could be created, when it had happened, who had done it. But one question prevails over everything, what do we do now?

 

A woman that had been talking to the man by the radio turned to the crowd and spoke in a loud voice “We are the fireflies, and we have a duty! Many years ago one of our main goals was to distribute a cure when created, and nothing has changed. We are still standing by these points, to reinstate the government and bring the world back from disaster. We have sworn to do this, and we will not back down!”

 

There was a large cheer from the crowd. It took moments for everyone to gather into groups and start discussing all the details. 

 

A large muscle woman hung back however, and a boy broke off from one of the groups to join her. 

 

“You think it was her? The immune patient we met?” Lev asked Abby. 

 

Met is a strong word” She shuddered. “I don’t know who else it could be, the fireflies searched years and years for an immune patient, and we only found one.”

 

“Abby I’m sorry-“

 

“No it’s okay.” Abby tried to hide the tears coming from her eyes. “There is a cure now, this is what the fireflies wanted.”

 

Lev looked at Abby. She didn’t look happy. Her eyes were trained on the horizon.

 

“It’s just, it should’ve been my dad. I don’t know, I thought the world would be punished for what happened to my dad - no cure you know?” Abby looked at Lev, who was staring with sympathy. “But I guess it didn’t matter.”

 

“We don’t have to go - to New York I mean. We could stay here.” Lev looked at the crowds gathered around the radio. “Someone needs to stay here.”

 

“No, it’s what he would’ve wanted. And the fireflies were meant to distribute the cure, so that’s what we are going to do.” She paused. “If you don’t want to go, we don’t have to go.”

 

“I’ll go, plus um,” Lev looked away awkwardly, “Well Rose is going.”

 

Abby shoved Lev's arm, “You are hopeless, you know that!”

 

All Lev could do was blush in embarrassment. Abby laughed.

 

“So it’s another cross country trip for us? But it’s not just us this time, it’s hundreds of people.” She cracked a smile. “A lot safer!”

 

“Oh definitely!” Lev smiled back.

 

The two laughed before following a stream of fireflies inside. There was packing to do before they left.

Chapter Text

In theory now, Ellie could spend less time around the hospital. The amount of immune patients had more than quadrupled, with many more on the way. The clearance of Grand Central Station did turn out to be a bloodbath, but there was a silver lining, and that was there were a lot more people getting bitten. While infected people used to be executed as soon as they were bitten, now they were rushed down to NYU, for the cure.

 

Ellie walked down the white hallways, which were much more crowded than they were when Ellie arrived in New York. Nearly half the rooms had someone undergoing treatment. The doctors that had left the cure team years back were returning, and Dr. Thompson was taking on more students. It seemed like the whole city was coming together with one clear goal - take the cure from a one time miracle to a consistent solution.

 

Even people from outside the city seemed to be coming together, people with bites regularly washed up on the shores of the island. Some of them had been infected for days. Not every case was a successful one, but each one furthered the cure. 

 

Maybe Ellie kept coming back to the hospital because she wanted to feel like she was doing something. But she didn’t really feel like she was helping create the cure for mankind, she didn’t understand anything the doctors talked about, and she didn’t know any of the patients.

 

She found herself in the waiting room where she had stayed when Kiara was recovering.. Her couch wasn’t open however, and neither were any of the chairs. They were filled with family members and friends of the bitten. She leaned against the wall and slid down it, sitting on the floor. She took out her journal.

 

Back at the hospital. I don’t know why, everyone’s too busy now. And I keep getting, thanked, by the doctors. Like I was the one that saved the world. Maybe I should feel like that, but I don’t. 

 

My team said to meet that at Grand Central, we’ve been helping out there with everyone else. The Yanks should’ve dropped it by now. At least we are on the front lines when people get bit. 

 

Ellie stood up and walked down the hall, and down the stairs. When she had come to Manhattan it had been empty, but now it was filled with people. None of which Ellie knew. 

 

“Ellie!” It was Alex, her friend from the hospital.

 

“Oh hey!” She turned around awkwardly. “How’s it going?”

 

“It’s going great, we’re seeing so much advancement even in such a short time. A lot of the side effects we had -“

 

A voice called from the hallway behind him, it was one of the doctors that had rejoined the team. 

 

“No time to talk,” he looked apologetic, “Oh I have to tell you, we’re having dinner for the whole team, as a thank you. Tell Kiara, Lucas and Paul to come too! It’s that place near the Javits center? You’ll figure it out.”

 

Before Ellie had a chance to say anything, he was lost in the hallway of people. She turned around and went outside into the concrete jungle. 

 

The tall walls of the buildings blocked out the sky. Ellie stared up, she should’ve gotten used to it by now, but she hadn’t. It was still just cold masses of brick and stone. 

 

Her team was waiting for her in the barracks, and despite Kiara gaining celebrity status for being the first person cured from CBI, they still all had work to do. And after months and months, Grand Central was still being cleaned, the main building had been mostly cleared, but the subways underneath were not.

 

“You know, at a certain point I think they like when people get bit and breathe in spores.” Kiara lamented. “Cause their ‘helping the cure’ or whatever.”

 

“At least getting treatment for the cure gives them time off.” Lucas responded, which earned him a shove from Kiara.

 

“I think there’s enough people coming from outside of Manhattan now with bites.” Ellie thought about how the woman who brought her to Manhattan was now working with the Yanks to bring people over. “And there coming from far, I wonder how many people know about it in the surrounding areas.”

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it spread halfway across America now, I mean it spread through the city pretty quick.” Lucas shrugged. 

 

“And people like news that makes them feel better.” Paul added.

 

“Oh I just remembered! Alex said that we’re invited to dinner for all of the medical team.” Ellie thought for a second. “You know, for helping for whatever.”

 

“At least someone is going to thank us!” Kiara said. “Why now though?”

 

“I think they’ve been doing well, I mean, from what I’ve heard that they haven’t lost a patient in three months,” Ellie looked at Kiara, “and their treatment plan doesn’t force people into comas anymore.”

 

“You should’ve gotten infected later,” Lucas bumped shoulders with Kiara, “Would’ve saved us a lot of stress.”

 

Ellie looked down at the ground. She was the reason Kiara fell into the subway. Just another list of the people Ellie had hurt. It was a lucky break that she had been able to get her out, and that the cure really worked. Yet Ellie still had an air of awkwardness around the whole situation, even if she did her best to hide it.

 

“So are we going?” Paul’s deep voice sounded.

 

“I’m down!” Kiara said.

 

“And I bet the food is going to be actually good” Lucas added. “At least compared to what we eat now.” 

 

The food in fact was very good at the dinner party. One of the doctors that had rejoined the cure team at NYU had taken the day off and cooked with his wife. It was quite the feat, especially considering the large group that had shown up. Students, doctors, and even a few patients who had been cured showed up. Everyone seemed to be chatting as they gorged themselves on the warm food. 

 

Ellie sat at a table in the corner. Parties had never really been her thing, and it didn’t help that she barely knew anyone. Kiara and Lucas were off together, chatting by the bar, and all of the medical students she knew were having conversations about information that went over Ellie’s head. From here Ellie could stare out at the water, and the land across from them, which was dotted with little lights. She turned back to the room. Paul was at the table with her, but he wasn’t much for conversation. 

 

“Been a while since I’ve gone to one of these things,” Ellie tried to break the ice with her teammate.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to one of these things.” Paul responded, looked out at the crowd of people.

 

“No?”

 

“There’s not much to celebrate here.” Paul leaned back in his chair. “And every success we have just ends up meaning more work.”

 

Ellie made a noise of agreement. Suddenly the doctor who had cooked went to the front of the room, and everyone got the message to quiet down. He was going to make a speech.

 

“I’ve invited all of you here today to congratulate you.” The doctor took out a notecard. “In this world of ours there is not always much to look forward to. Life has fundamentally changed for human beings in the last 20 or so years. Never before has humanity had to deal with such an on going and complete crisis -“

 

“Holy shit, he planned out a whole speech?” Ellie leaned over and whispered to Paul. He put his finger to his lips, motioned her to keep quiet.

 

“CBI destroyed the world we know. Many of you are too young to remember life before, but let’s just say this - there were a lot more dinner parties.” This got a laugh out of the room. “But I didn’t call you all together to complain about how things have changed. You are here tonight because of an achievement! Over the past several months the medical team at NYU has been developing a cure, and for the first time since this began, seen success. Today we have cured over four hundred people from CBI, with many more on the way. We have one man to thank for this, Dr. Thompson.”

 

Dr. Thompson was also be hanging out in a corner, and he gave an awkward wave. 

 

“As well as our anonymous immune patient, whoever she is. We have reached unprecedented success on every level. Recently we have gotten news that there is a plan to distribute the cure outside of Manhattan, to Long Island and select parts of the mainland.”

 

This made the room applaud and cheer. The doctor giving the speech paused to look proud. 

 

“We as a team have worked day and night to make our weapon against CBI as safe as possible. When administered within two days of infection, our cure has been shown to work with few side effects. There have even been examples that have shown the cure working up to seven days after the infection day. Our team has plans to train Yank officers on how to administer the cure, so it can be spread to the surrounding areas. My friends, we have done the impossible. Mankind will be saved.”

 

Everyone clapped, including Ellie. As the applause died down, and everyone went back to chatting, she quietly slipped out. Night had taken over outside, but still the moon beamed down, giving her just enough light to see a figure in the distance. A figure with very fuzzy hair.

 

Dr. Thompson was standing by the shore. Something compelled Ellie to talk to him.

 

“Hey.” She quietly approached. 

 

“Hello Ellie.”

 

“Great speech huh?”

 

“That was always Dr. Rogers specialty. Well that and cooking. Mostly throwing a party.”

 

There was a long stretch of silence between the two of them.

 

“So the cure is done huh?” Ellie spoke first.

 

“Well not ‘done’, medicine is never done. If this were the old world we would need to do thousands of trials.” Dr. Thompson paused. “But my team said that at this point not giving out the cure would be immoral, especially considering CBI is a special case. No one survives anyway, so it’s okay that there are side effects. Better than the alternative.”

 

It felt like one of their old conversations when Ellie was living at the hospital. All medical info, and nothing personal. 

 

“I’m just excited to see the larger impacts of this, and what medical progress it will bring us!” He looked at Ellie. “It’s just so exciting!”

 

Ellie was a little taken aback. Usually his cavalier attitude didn’t bother her, but today it was. “You know that real people are affected by this right? It’s not just some fun science project.”

 

Dr. Thompson stared at her in shock. She saw his reaction and looked down at the water.

 

“Ellie, I care about these people.” He stopped for a minute. “I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost my family to CBI. It’s horrible. I miss my old life. But I’m happy, because this will save people. Aren’t you happy too?”

 

Ellie took a step back from the fence she was leaning on. Was she happy? She should’ve been, she should’ve cheered when Kiara had been healed. She should’ve been excitedly walking the halls of the hospital seeing everyone being healed. She should’ve been excited by the doctor's speech. Ellie turned around to look at the buildings of the city behind her. Small lights dotted the windows.

 

“I-“ She didn’t know what to say.

 

“This is what you came here to do right?” Dr. Thompson asked, breaking the silence. “To find the cure?”

 

“Yes-“ Ellie studdeded a bit, “Yes, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to -“

 

“What did you expect, this is how medicine works.”

 

“But I wasn’t supposed to be here for it!” Ellie was surprisingly emotional. “It wasn’t supposed to take this long, it was supposed to reach the whole country by now. My one good thing.”

 

Dr. Thompson was going to respond, but abruptly stopped. He looked out at the water, which was dotted with moving lights. Lights of boats that were getting closer. One motor boat slowly approached the dock, and a passenger was able to climb up using a rope. Many more followed.

 

“Dr. Thompson, go back to the restaurant. Alert Yanks soldiers about this.” Ellie gained back the confidence she lost. “Send my team down.” 

 

He took no time to turn around and walk back to the place the dinner had been hosted at. Ellie was glad she brought her bag, and grabbed the handgun she kept in there. She slowly walked down the wooden dock, where more people were climbing up. They were dragging their supplies up.

 

Gun held up, Ellie shouted “Everybody stop. Not a step closer.”

 

The people froze. It was too dark to make out any faces, but one voice spoke over everything.

 

“We are fireflies. We mean no harm. We are here to help distribute the cure.”

Chapter Text

The fireflies continued to unload their people and supplies onto the dock, despite protests from the Yanks. Any attempt to stop the huge number of people coming over was futile - as soon as they learned the cure was real and was getting produced, they refused to leave.

 

It was early in the morning when the fireflies finally started slowing down. Ellie’s whole team was helping with pulling them onto land. The leader of the fireflies tried to explain what was happening to a few Yank officers.

 

“We got the message that a cure had been found in New York a few months ago and set out as soon as we could.” The man sounded exceedingly confident. “The fireflies have the manpower and the resources to distribute the cure. Back on the mainland we have tractor trailers and horses. This is what we were meant to do.”

 

“We have our own plans with the cure, we don’t need you.” The soldier was exasperated. “You can’t just invade, we will have to remove you.”

 

He sounded doubtful, and Ellie couldn’t blame him. Many of the soldiers were helping the fireflies onto the land despite his words. As well, there were a huge amount of fireflies arriving. She doubted the Yanks could get them to leave if they wanted too. 

 

She looked out on the horizon, where the last couple of motor boats were coming closer. In a moment, Ellie saw a familiar face. She froze.

 

“Ellie?” Lucas looked at his friend, who was completely still. “You good?”

 

Kiara and Paul looked at each other with concern. Ellie took a step back, and then turned around, walking off the dock. 

 

“Ellie?” Kiara called. “Where are you going?”

 

Her walk picked up to a run and she took off. Ellie’s breath quickened and she shoved past fireflies and Yank soldiers alike. She didn’t dare glance back. The face she had seen was Abby’s. 

 

The barracks where she was staying were empty, everyone was helping with the firefly situation. Ellie climbed into her bunk bed and curled up into a ball, knees in her chest. She shook as got flashes to their fight in Santa Barbara, the water, the blood. Fumbling her journal out, she wrote a very scribble entry.

 

The fireflies are here. Yeah. They still fucking exist. And there’s a lot of them. They are coming on boats. 

 

Fireflies.

 

She is

 

Ellie shoved the book down into the covers. She didn’t want to write anymore. 

 

“Ellie?” Kiara carefully came into the room. “Are you here?”

 

Ellie stayed still, then slowly sat up.

 

“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Her voice sounded shaken. “I was just feeling sick.”

 

“Are you sure?” Kiara came up to the edge of the bed, so she was eye level with the top. “I’m worried about you, you left dinner last night too.”

 

“Yeah it’s nothing, I feel better now I’ll rejoin the group.”

 

“You can tell me, or us, if something is wrong. We want to be here for you.” Kiara sounded concerned. “You can stay here if you want, we’ll cover for you.”

 

Ellie rubbed her eyes, and slowly climbed down the ladder. 

 

“I’m- I’ll go. Don’t worry about it.” 

 

They slowly walked out of the door and down the stairs. By the time they made it back to the dock, it was late in the morning. Most of the fireflies had moved off the dock and taken over the city with tents and canopies. However, still on the pier was a very tired Harriet, who was getting into an uncharacteristic argument.

 

“What do you mean you weren’t actually going to help us distribute the cure for another six months! People need it now!”

 

The man who she was yelling at was the officer from before, who had fought with the firefly leader. He looked equally tired.

 

“These things take time - and we are already spread thin -“

 

“So you want to admit you were barely going to help give the cure to those who need it and force all of the fireflies to leave?”

 

“We can't have more people moving in, we have a strict policy -“

 

Fuck your policy! This is people's lives! This is the stability of the whole world!” Harriet was fuming “Suddenly we have a good chance of actually distributing the cure gift wrapped to us, and you want to throw it away. I want to speak to who is in charge.”

 

Ellie had never heard Harriet curse before, and was in a bit of shock at how angry her friend looked. Kiara leaned over to say something quietly to Ellie.

 

“Okay but there’s no way the Yanks are making them leave at this point - there’s just too many of them.”

 

Ellie looked around. Abby was nowhere to be seen, but Kiara was right. There were a ton of them, easily a thousand strong. And this is exactly what they needed. 

 

The next couple days were filled with tension between the newcomers and the residents of Manhattan. The streets that had been once filled with people walking to their jobs had been filled with the fireflies camping. Eventually, the Yanks called in the Infection Clearance Teams from Grand Central to try and deal with the Fireflies. However, as soon as the teams learned about the fireflies plans they refused. The situation was at a standstill. 

 

Eventually, through many heated discussions between the doctors and the Yanks, they came to a conclusion. The fireflies could stay for a month, to learn how to administer the cure, as long as they were under close supervision. Of course this supervision was left up to the Infection Clearance Teams, seemingly as punishment for not forcing the fireflies off the island.

 

This was not great for Ellie’s anxiety, as avoiding Abby became harder. It seemed that around every street corner was the woman from Ellie’s past, or the boy she had been with in Seattle. 

 

Team twelve sat guarding a thankfully Abby-free street of fireflies. 

 

“Regretting welcoming them now?” Paul asked the group.

 

“I keep telling myself one month! One month!” Lucas lamented.

 

“Pfft it’s one month and then back to the same shit. More and more of clearing out those disgusting subways.” Kiara rolled her eyes. “Makes you wonder . . .”

 

“Oh I catch what you're saying.” Lucas leaned over to her. “Manhattans has been pretty awful lately.”

 

“You guys remember the outside world - do you really want to go back?” Ellie tried to end whatever they were planning. The two of them had traveled here when they were younger, surely they couldn’t want to return to that type of situation.

 

“But it could be different out there, and we would have a large group!” She was filled with optimism. “And we’d be doing real good - here we're just working to an end that doesn’t even affect us.”

 

“But -“ Ellie tried to think of an argument. 

 

“Ellie is right. We have it good here.” Paul spoke in a voice that shut down the argument. “Let’s just hope standing up for the Fireflies does good.”

 

Ellie was thankful for her friend standing up for her. She just wished it felt better, because deep down, it wouldn’t be that bad to go with the fireflies. To get out of the city. To see the clear sky above her and pass through forests and fields. There was just one problem. Or two. And they were rounding the corner right now.

 

“I have to go -“ Ellie struggled to think of an excuse to avoid Abby. “Harriet said she wanted to talk to me.”

 

“But that’s on the other side of the city?” Lucas was confused.

 

“I’ll meet you back here.” Ellie was already gone.

 

So Ellie took off as fast as she could East. It only occurred to her that she could’ve just lied about going to the hospital when she made it to the front doors of NYU. As if on autopilot she entered, longing to hear her student friends drone on about some miraculous medical discovery to distract her. The hallways were crowded as usual, with families and doctors.

 

“Hey is the doctor who created the cure here?” A voice sounded from behind her.

 

Son of a bitch. It was Abby. Ellie quickly went into the quickest door she could find, a janitor's closet. Lucky someone answered.

 

“He’s upstairs, but he’s very busy, he doesn’t usually see anyone. You can try though.” Ellie heard a male voice, one of the new students that she did not know. 

 

“We have to see him,” it was a boy's voice.

 

“It’s important to me, you see my father worked on a cure too.” Abby said.

 

“Like I said - you can try, he’s on the next floor up.”

 

Ellie could hear the student walk away.

 

“This is it. Are you ready?” The boy asked Abby. 

 

“Like I said, I have to do this.” She started to walk forward. “Thank you for coming with me Lev.”

 

Ellie stayed in the closet for a while, trying to slow her breathing. There seemed to be no avoiding her. She stayed there for some time, trying to gain control of her thoughts before Abby’s voice could be heard again.

 

“That guy was not joking huh? He really won’t talk to anyone.” Abby’s voice slowly could be heard getting louder as it came closer to the closet Ellie was hiding in.

 

“We have to try next time.” Lev responded. “Maybe when he’s not so busy?”

 

“Alright, but sooner rather than later.” Abby could be heard slowly opening the door.

 

When she heard the door shut, Ellie exited the closet she was hiding in. Through the window of the door, she made eye contact with the boy Abby was with, Lev. Ellie put her head towards the ground and walked in the opposite direction. 

 

“Ellie?” Harriet’s voice prompted her to pick her head up. “Are you okay, you look pale.”

 

“Oh yeah, it’s just,” Ellie fumbled for words. “I just, I thought I would visit, for you know updates.”

 

Her words should’ve been easy to see through, but if Harriet noticed, she didn’t say it.

 

“Oh, on the fireflies?” Harriets face lit up. “We’ve been putting together a whole plan, want to see?”

 

“Sure.” Ellie was promptly dragged to a repurposed side room, with a map of the United States on the wall. Alex was sitting in the room as well. 

 

“Oh, hey Ellie!” Alex said as Ellie sat down on a hospital chair.

 

“Okay so, after my fight with the Yanks, and the whole failed attempt to get the fireflies off Manhattan, we all came to an agreement.” Harriet stood in front of the board to explain.

 

Ellie nodded. “They stay here for a month, learn how to administer the cure and all that, then leave. And we have to watch them the whole time.”

 

“And they put the hospital in charge of all the distribution plans, because apparently ‘they don’t have the time’. So we had a bunch of fireflies over to look over how exactly we are going to send the cure over the United States.”

 

Alex stood up next, grabbing a stick to point with, “The fireflies have fifty-two trucks of different sizes, including twelve tractor trailers. As well, they have many horses and wagons-“

 

Harriet interrupted. “Our plan is to send ten different groups out, each going along a different path. We’ve got one going to Florida, one going to Texas and then Mexico, one going to California, one to Toronto, and one-“

 

“She doesn’t want to hear all that! The gist of it is that we are sending out each of these teams separately with enough protection to keep them safe, and enough of the cure that they can give them to the places they stop on the way.” Alex finished what Harriet had started saying.

 

“So in the next four weeks we are going to be training the fireflies on how to administer the cure and who to give it too.” Harriet paused her speaking and looked right at Ellie with pride. “So what do you think? We’ve spent the last couple nights up planning it.”

 

Ellie stood up from her chair to look at the routes that were planned. One was right through Wyoming. “It’s impressive. How did you guys know all the places to stop at?”

 

“The head of the fireflies had people from everywhere, so they knew how most of the cities were doing. We’re trying to hit one’s that have the most people.” Alex used his stick to point out a few major cities. “The plan is to drop off the cure in these places.”

 

“And hopefully we can give it to traveling groups as well.” Harriet interjected.

 

“Are you guys going to go?” Ellie looked at her student friends.

 

“Oh no! Fighting infected is definitely not our thing, and researching ways to improve the cure never ends.” Harriet looked at her board. “Ellie are you going to go?”

 

Ellie didn’t expect that question. She would’ve said no a half hour ago, but that was before she knew that everyone was going on different paths. “Are people from the city going, I thought it was just fireflies?”

 

“We’ve had a few express interest, and it would be good to have some non fireflies in the groups.” Harriet responded. “And you are the person for the job, I mean, you’ve already been across the country right?”

 

“Yeah.” Ellie turned around, not wanting to continue the conversation. “Hey, I got to go back, it was good talking to you.”

 

On the way back to the firefly camp, Ellie paused to write down in her notebook. 

 

They have a plan to deliver the cure. I could go. They are going through Wyoming, I bet there stopping in Jackson. Is it too late? Its been, fuck its been two years? More?

 

Maybe I could just check on them. See Maria again, and Tommy. And Dina. 

 

They probably won’t want me to stay, especially after everything, but maybe. Maybe I can see them again. 

 

Ellie’s chest felt lighter as she walked back to her team, and lighter as she explained what she had heard. Maybe things would be okay.

 

Later that day, as the sun began to set, Abby got ready to leave her tent again.

 

“Lev, seriously, you don’t have to come with me.” She looked at her friend, who again was following her. “You know, you could stay here, hang out with you-know-who.”

 

Lev stayed where he was, “Nope I’m going.”

 

“Alright, time for try two at this whole hospital business.”

 

The city was decidedly harder to navigate at night. The  map they were using had street names that were nearly unreadable. Still they kept moving, and eventually found themselves back at the NYU hospital. 

 

The hallways were considerably less crowded at night, and Abby and Lev made it to the second floor without running into anyone. The rooms however were filled, all with people recovering from bites. It reminded Abby of the Saint Mary Hospital from when she was a child. Of her dad. Both were intensely hopeful. The feeling was refreshing.

 

The lab upstairs was also less crowded, in fact, Dr. Thompson’s research lab was completely empty. Well except for one man, Dr. Thompson. 

 

“He’s still working?” Abby was in shock as they looked through the door window. “What time is it?”

 

“At least he’s alone, it will be easier to talk to him.” Lev reasoned.

 

Abby shrugged as she opened the door. The doctor didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Hello, Dr. Thompson?” Abby stayed at the back of the room. “We met this morning? You said that we could talk later.”

 

Dr. Thompson quickly looked up, “Yes, I saw you!” and then looked back down.

 

Abby raised an eyebrow at Lev. “So I wanted to ask you about the cure. I knew someone, my Dad actually, who was working on a cure. He was using an immune patient, in-“

 

“Utah?” Dr. Thompson responded without looking up.

 

“Yes! Saint Mary Hospital - Did you know him? His name was Jerry Anderson.”

 

“I never met him, but we got his research when we were starting a cure. An immune patient brought it to us.”

 

Abby looked at Lev excitedly, “Ha! You used my Dad's research!”

 

“Well, we used his scans and tests, but we didn’t end up using his plan.” The doctor said this as he leaned over a microscope. 

 

“Oh” Abby paused. “Why didn’t you use it?”

 

“Well, The whole plan was way too risky, killing the patient was a terrible idea. If they hadn’t been able to reverse engineer a cure, humanity would’ve lost it’s one chance. So instead we took the path of gene therapy, a new procedure in the old world that we’ve been perfecting. My team has gotten it to a point where we have minimal side effects and almost complete effectiveness. Now we are just working on making it cure the infection at later stages-“

 

Abby did not hear the last half of what he said. Blood was pounding in her ears, and she moved right next to the doctor.

 

“No, his plan was going to work. He had it all written down, he told us all about it. It would’ve worked had he not been stopped.”

 

“Abby-“ Lev spoke quietly.

 

“I saw his notes, and it was a long shot. It could’ve worked, but it was much more likely it wouldn't have.” Dr. Thompson didn’t look up. 

 

“Well how do you know that, it could’ve worked, you just found another way.” Abby was towering over the man, and Lev pulled her back.

 

“Hey Abby, I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have come.” Lev spoke quietly. “Let’s go.”

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t use your dad's research, there’s no doubt he’s a smart man. It would’ve been nice if he was on my team. But the fact is that if your dad had finished his plan, there very likely would be no cure.”

 

Abby felt like she had been hit with a ton of bricks. She stood in the middle of the room, shaking. Lev grabbed her arm, trying to drag her out of the room.

 

“Well he’s dead so that’s not a problem anymore is it.” Abby spoke in a scathing tone.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t know-“ Dr. Thompson attempted an apology.

 

Abby didn’t hear, as she stormed out of the room. Lev stayed for a moment, waved at the doctor and then followed his friend. Abby was already down the stairs. By the time that Lev caught up with her, she was outside on the street.

 

“Abby.“ Lev panted as he jogged up to meet her.

 

She didn’t say anything, and continued angrily walking back to the firefly tents. They walked in silence for a while.

 

“He was right you know.” Lev carefully tried to break the silence. “You shouldn’t have yelled at him.”

 

“I know! I know!” Abby grabbed her head. “It’s just! It wasn’t supposed to be like this! It was always him. My dad. Going to save the world while I watched. And then it happened, we had our chance. That one in a million. My dad, he had a way of just knowing. And then it was like everyone else around him knew. Maybe we all got caught up in the idea of it all. I don’t know. But we were going to make the cure, we were going to do the surgery.“

 

Lev put his hand on her shoulder. 

 

“And maybe he was wrong, but they didn’t meet him. They didn’t know.” Abby paused and looked at her friend. “I’m sorry, Lev. I should’ve made you stay back.”

 

They were both silent for a long while.

 

“You know, even if my Dad was wrong. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. Nobody in that hospital did.” Abby rubbed her eyes. “Fuck man. It shouldn’t be this way.” 

 

Lev looked down at the ground. “I saw her, you know. I wasn’t sure then, but now I am.”

 

“The immune patient?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Abby thought for a second. “You think we’re going to meet her?”

 

“Do you want to meet her?” He carefully asked.

 

“Holy shit man. I don’t know.” Abby groaned. “This couldn’t be easy, could it?”

 

“She’s the one that saved us.” Lev argued. “And she freed all of the laborers in Santa Barbara.”

 

“Saved is a very strong word.” She laughed a bit. “We’re here for a month, I’m bound to run into her I guess.”

 

“Maybe it won’t be that bad.” Lev paused. “This could be good - closure you know. Make your peace.”

 

“Or she could try and kill me again.” 

 

This got a chuckle out of both of them. The rest of the walk home was more lighthearted. By the time they made it to their tents Abby’s anger had cooled. Lev could be right, this could be a chance for Abby to finally “make her peace.”

 

Ellie woke up in a cold sweat. Her dream was short, but it was the same as the last week of dreams, Santa Barbara. The water. Five fingers, and then three. Blood everywhere. She kicked herself over the bar of her bunk bed and onto the ground. 

 

“What are you up so early for?” Kiara groaned, blinking her eyes. 

 

“Is it early?” Ellie hadn’t looked at a clock.

 

“We don’t have to be up for another hour!” Kiara shoved her face in her pillow. 

 

“Woops, I’ll uh, meet you in an hour then.”

 

Ellie went to the locker room and got changed. It was a usual outfit for her - old jeans, a button up shirt she found in some building. Even though it was hot outside, she put on Joel’s old jacket. Grabbing her bag, she went out the balcony. 

 

Below her she could see the firefly camp, some of them already waking up. They had taken over blocks and blocks of the city, but were living independently from its residents. The fireflies knew they were just travelers, just stopping. Ellie figured that they would never stop traveling, their goal was to reinstate the government, and who knows how long that could take. She wondered, Am I a traveler? Have I reached my goal? Ellie thought her goal was to create a cure, but it was done. 

 

She took out her notebook, and flipped through the pages. The earlier pages were filled with observational drawings, of things she had seen on her journey. Her drawings from when she was in the city were different however. They were abstract backgrounds. Grass from fields. Clear blue skies, nothing blocking them. She took out a pencil and tried to sketch the skyline she could see from her balcony, but couldn’t. Instead from her pencil sprouted things she hadn’t drawn in a long time, Joel’s face, Jesse, Dina, Tommy, JJ. A guitar. Dinosaurs.

 

“Ellie, are you ready to go?” Lucas called from inside. “We’re starting with supervising lessons today.”

 

“Oh yeah, in the hospital right?” Ellie cracked the door open.

 

“Yeah.”

 

The walk to the hospital was unusually quiet for the group. They had been working a lot recently, but it’s nothing they weren’t used to.

 

“Do you guys still want to go with the fireflies?” Ellie carefully posed the question to the group.

 

“Yeah, I mean, if they’ll let us.” Kiara responded first. 

 

“I want to go.” Lucas answered next.

 

Paul stayed silent. 

 

“Harriet did say that they wanted a few New Yorkers to go - we could be some of them.” Ellie said.

 

“Now you want to go?” Kiara asked. 

 

“I don’t know, but I’m thinking.” 

 

“Well if they even let us go - I’m down.” Kiara said.

 

“And me too.” Lucas added. “Get us out of here.”

 

“You guys are crazy.” Paul rolled his eyes.

 

The Yanks officers and Infection Clearance Teams helped funnel the fireflies each into different hospital rooms, where doctors had lessons going. A few students were even teaching, and Ellie’s team were put supervising one that Simon, a student friend of the gang, was in charge of.

 

Ellie wished she could have paid attention to his long lecture on how exactly the gene therapy bacteria is able to replace the DNA so perfectly with little side effects, but she was distracted by a blond braid a few rows in front of her. Abby. Ellie was completely frozen as she stared at the head of the woman, and how it occasionally swayed the side, or glanced down. At one point, she turned her head, and Ellie ducked behind the row of people.

 

When Simon finally dismissed the class, Ellie ran out as fast as she could, and hid in the bathroom. The stress she had held in for the lesson was overflowing, and she felt her chest start to squeeze up. Slowly, her breaths evened, and any pain in her lungs faded. She left to rejoin the group.

 

“Ellie, where did you go?” Lucas asked when she got back.

 

“Oh just - woman emergency.” This response quickly shut everyone up.

 

The next couple days included similar events, near misses with the woman from her past. Abby seemed to be around every street corner, behind every door. While she seemed oblivious to Ellie’s constant effort to avoid her, Ellie’s team was becoming concerned with her constant leaving and flimsy excuses.

 

“Ellie, you need to talk to us.” Kiara sat down across from Ellie, in the common room of the barracks. “We’ve all got shit to handle but currently your shit is spilling into our lives.”

 

“We won’t judge you,” Lucas spoke next. “Just tell us, and we can help.”

 

“No I’m fine, I just, I’ll be okay when the fireflies leave.” Ellie looked to the side, avoiding eye contact with her friends.

 

Paul put his large hand on her shoulder. “You are going through something right now. I get it. But you need to resolve it, this is unsustainable, for all of us.”

 

Ellie leaned back and looked at her friends. They were all side eyeing each other uncomfortably. But mostly, all of them were concerned.

 

“I can’t-“ Ellie stumbled through her words. “I can’t explain I have to go.”

 

She got up to leave, and Paul put her back in the chair.

 

“No more running.” Paul spoke in his commanding voice “If it’s something embarrassing or health related you can go to the doctors at NYU, or anywhere else, but you need to do something-“ 

 

“No it’s - Jesus Christ - no it’s nothing like that.” Ellie struggled to think of a way to explain it. “It’s stupid personal baggage and drama and I’m handling it.”

 

“No you are not! You are literally the opposite of handling it, and it’s seeping into our lives.” Kiara came closer to the chair Ellie was sitting on. “You need to resolve it, or something.”

 

Ellie felt trapped, both physically and mentally. There was only one real choice here, “Okay so one of the fireflies and I have some bad blood. I hurt some people she knew, she hurt people I knew. I don’t think she knows I’m here, and I can’t talk to her.”

 

“That doesn’t sound that bad.” Lucas came close to the chair too. “Maybe you should just talk to her.”

 

“Oh no - no, no, no.” Ellie looked at the three heads above her. “You guys don’t understand, I can’t talk to her.”

 

“Everyone has personal drama sometimes, and it can affect us more than you think.” Paul’s voice softened. “But you need to work through it, or you're just going to spend the next few weeks under constant panic attacks, and I don’t think your health, or us, are going to make it through that. You need help.”

 

Ellie put her head into her arms and sunk in her chair. “She um, it’s really complicated. It involves my family, and her family, and I- you guys weren’t there. It’s a lot of fucked up shit.”

 

The whole group backed away, and murmured between themselves. Finally, Kiara stepped forward. 

 

“Okay, this is worse than we thought.” She said. “Obviously there’s something else going on here, and we don’t want to force you to relive anything. You can stay here for the next couple weeks, we’ll cover for you. You're safe, it’s okay.” Kiara leaned down to rub Ellie’s back, and Ellie sprung and jolted away. 

 

“No - I’ll- I’ll get my shit together.” Ellie looked her right in the eye. “I’m okay, I’ll work on it. I’ll be better.”

 

The group looked concerned. Lucas spoke first “If your sure-“

 

“I’m sure” Ellie wished she sounded more confident.

 

And with a failed intervention, Ellie went back to work. She managed to keep it together for the next couple days, but soon it was back to the status quo of running and hiding. At one point, Ellie ran to the roof, and just laid on the dirty gravel on it for an hour, trying to get her body under control. They had been in the middle of a session teaching how to use needles and syringes. Abby had simply walked down the hallway, and it caused Ellie to start hyperventilating. 

 

I can’t go on like this.

 

Ellie stood up from the roof. This was hurting her friends, and it was hurting her. This was no way to live - she did need to change something in her life. And she didn’t live in Abby’s mind, maybe Abby had moved on. Avoiding her was destroying Ellie’s body, she had barely eaten since the fireflies arrived.

 

I’m not going to seek her out, but I’m not going to avoid her. 

 

It wasn’t long after that day when a meeting between the two happened. They passed each other in the hospital hallway, and for a minute Ellie was hopeful. She didn’t see me . But then-

 

“Hey, are you-?” Abby asked in a cautious voice.

 

Ellie turned around, “What do you want? You won alright.”

 

The hallway was completely empty, and the two women were staring at each other.

 

“Won? You call what happened to me winning?” Abby scoffed. 

 

“Well some of us still have all ten fingers.” Ellie held up her three fingered hand.

 

“I’m not doing this.” Abby turned away to go. “I don’t know why I expected any better of you.”

 

“What? You think because I let you go, I forgive you?” Ellie walked towards her. 

 

“And I’m sure that absolves all your bad fucking deeds huh.” Abby turned back around. “Great look - we’re even. We’re both alone now.”

 

Ellie took a step back. They were at a standstill. 

 

“I’m- I’m sorry. We both fucked up. I fucked up. Your friend - “ Abby stopped, as if the words were painful. “The pregnant one, is she okay?”

 

Ellie was taken aback, “Oh, yeah she's fine, and her baby’s fine too. At least last time I saw her.”

 

“Good” Abby stood one the hallway for a second, and then moved to turn around.

 

“I’m sorry too.” Ellie forced out the words. “It was pretty messed up what I did. I shouldn’t have done it. There, I said it.” 

 

There was another long silence.

 

“I can’t forgive you.” Ellie said. 

 

“I don’t expect you to.” Abby responded. “I can’t forgive you. But I can’t hang on to you ethier. Lev - he's my - well I guess he’s like my little brother - told me it’s an eye for an eye until the whole world goes blind. I think we’ve had enough.”

 

“Yeah, maybe I can let you go too. I’m- I’m” Ellie tried to push out the words. “I’m sorry for Santa Barbara, I should’ve let it go back then.”

 

“No it’s - thank you for Santa Barbara. We wouldn’t have been freed without you.” Abby gestured to below her, where many of the fireflies were talking on the floor below. “Half of these guys were ex laborers from that camp. They talk about a bitten woman who saved them.” 

 

“Hm.” Ellie grabbed her three fingered hand. The bite on it stung, just a little. 

 

“It doesn’t make what you did okay,” Abby looked Ellie right in the eye. “But we have to put it aside, for the cure, for the people we know.”

 

“Yeah.” 

 

The two of them stood still for a moment, not knowing which of them would move first, but then, Ellie moved and Abby moved. They walked past each other. Ellie didn’t even remember where she was going. She went into the nearest bathroom and cried. She sniffled and felt that lump in her throat and unapologetically sobbed as loud as she could. By the time she left the windowless stall, the shadows had moved across the floor. It was the afternoon. 

 

Abby walked back to the tents. She felt this level of emptiness, and it was shown on her face. As soon as Lev saw her, he left his conversation with his maybe-girlfriend and went to talk to her.

 

“Did you see her?” He asked quietly.

 

“Yeah, we talked.” Abby looked at the ground.

 

“Did you get to use your pre planned speech?” Lev said this with a bit of amusement.

 

Abby shoved him a bit, “Okay, maybe I did have a speech planned. But I only used like half of it!”

 

“Well good for you Abby. Little steps.”

 

“Shut up!” The smile returned to her face. “And speaking of ‘little steps’ are you going to introduce me Rose any time soon?”

 

“Little steps!” Lev said as he walked back to talk to a certain girl.

 

The next weeks went smoother for Ellie. Her everyday panic attacks slowed, and she didn’t bend over backwards to avoid Abby. There was a little awkwardness when they passed each other in the hallway, but it was livable. Kiara and the rest of the team were happy to see Ellie doing better. 

 

Yet the question still hung over the heads - should they go? Kiara and Lucas were all on board, they were already packing. Paul seemed set on staying, he was already saying his goodbyes to those who were leaving. And Ellie? She found herself back in the NYU hospital, talking to the head of the whole operation, Harriet.

 

“Do you think I should go?” Ellie asked. Harriet and her were staring at the map of the United States, and the teams that had been set up to distribute the cure. “On the distribution trip I mean.”

 

“Do you want to go?” Harriet responded in a reasonable tone.

 

“I don’t know, I mean, what the fuck man. I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you.” Ellie was exasperated. 

 

“Ellie,” Harriet continued to look at the map, “I think you should go.”

 

“Well, I mean why,” Ellie tried to find the words “You can’t just say that. You don’t know that.” 

 

Harriet turned in her chair to face Ellie, and her face got very serious. “I’m going to tell you why you should go. Ever since I met you, you’ve had this weight over you. I mean you came here, and you were so set on the plan for a cure you had found. Even though- it included your death. And even after it turned out that you could live, you still wanted to use the old plan. And now we have the cure, we literally have the humanity saving drug, and you're not happy. Do you even want a cure?”

 

Ellie tried to say something, but before she could, Harriet continued.

 

“And you're not happy here! You can’t even talk about your past, we know you grew up in Boston, we knew you went West, but why? You refuse to say. Why did you even come here? You can’t even enjoy the city, you resent the water, the buildings, everything. You keep everyone at arm's length. Obviously you don’t have to tell us anything, and if you don’t have to be happy, you can keep staying here. But whatever you're looking for, it’s not here. You would’ve found it in the last year or so. I’m sorry we can’t be the people that do that for you. But Ellie, you deserve to be happy. And the way you talk about the West, maybe it’s waiting for you out there.”

 

Ellie was speechless. She stared at Harriet, who took her marker, and walked over to the white board with the lists of names.

 

“So which route do you want to be on?”

 

“Um, put me on the one that goes through Wyoming. Route West one.” Ellie stood up to leave, “Thank you.”

 

“It’s okay, and you can always visit anytime! New York won’t be moving anytime soon.” Harriet’s smile returned.

 

“If the world allows it!” Ellie was hiding a smile. She had to tell her friends something.

 

Packing was pretty simple for Ellie, minus a few trinkets she found in various building of the city, she was leaving with what she had brought. Everything that had come with her in her bag was leaving with her. Life had taught her to pack light. In the end, Kiara and Lucas decided to come on the trip, and Paul decided to stay back. 

 

On their last day in the city, Ellie woke up extra early to say goodbye to the NYU cure team. They all were waiting there for her, and handed her a gift. It was a set of prosthetic fingers that had been sitting unused in the hospital. Ellie immediately put them on and was amazed at how they worked. On top of that, they made her look like a cyborg from the comics Ellie used to read. Needless to say, she loved it, and after grabbing one last thing, she ran to the docks.

 

Waiting on the docks was the first two ships to head out. Abby stood on a line on the other side of the dock from Ellie.

 

“Hey” Ellie gingerly walked up to Abby. “I just want to say - I’m sorry about the other day.”

 

“Oh no problem.” Abby looked worried for a moment. “You're not - coming on the South West two trip are you?”

 

“Oh no! I’m sorry, it’s just -“ 

 

“You can’t be around me.”

 

“It’s too hard. I guess I just wanted to see you off. “

 

“Honestly I couldn’t do this trip with you either.“ Abby awkwardly fidgeted with her hands. “Its just, bad memories.”

 

“I know.” Ellie pulled a plastic bag out of her backpack, filled with rectangular objects. “Look, I went back to Saint Mary’s Hospital, and I collected all the scans and stuff on the cure. I found a bunch of recordings and notes your dad made, from before and when I showed up. In case you want to hear him speak again.”

 

Abby tenderly reached out and took the bag. “Thank - thank you.”

 

“Okay, I gotta go.” Ellie closed up her bag and took a couple steps back. “I can’t say I hope we meet again, but I wish you well.”

 

“You too.” Abby was distracted as she pulled out some of the faded papers her dad had written on. Ellie had glanced at them before, some were medical notes, some of them were supply lists. She hoped it would bring her solace, God knows Ellie would have liked to hear Joel’s voice one last time.

 

Kiara and Lucas were there to welcome her on the other line, and tease her about her recently added robot fingers. She couldn’t help but glance back at Abby. She had briefly put away the plastic bag and was shaking hands with a red headed girl, who was next to Lev. They all seemed happy. Before it would’ve made Ellie resentful, or panic. But in this moment, she felt hopeful, for her own situation. If they can figure out a way to feel good again, maybe she can too.

Chapter Text

After getting off the island of Manhattan, the group worked to assemble their caravan. It was made up of rows of tractor trailers, RVs, and military trucks. All had been stocked with food, weapons, and the cure. By the time everyone had gotten packed in, it was midday. 

 

And so the group was off, in cars held together by bungee cords and duck tape. The first few weeks were challenging, it felt like an endless cycle of siphoning gas and defending themselves against infected and hunters. Ellie shouldn’t have been surprised, this is what it was like all the other times she had traveled the country. They had barely even given out any of their stock of their cure when they made it to Pittsburg, which had considerably less violent inhabitants. It seemed that Joel and Ellie had made a considerable impact in their last visit.

 

There were even several peaceful, or at least peaceful after a quick introduction, groups throughout the city. Within a week, the fireflies were able to give out the cure to them, trading for food and gas when they could. By the time that the fireflies had left, everyone's spirits were lifted. It seemed what they were doing was possible. 

 

As they continued past Pittsburg, Ellie’s journal became filled with colorful watercolors again, something she had made sure to pack. Flat landscapes and dense forests filled up the pages. Her entries followed a similar tone.

 

Leaving Pittsburgh, I thought with how much medicine we handed out we would have to go back to New York! But we still have plenty left. We left late in the day, we should’ve gotten out earlier. I feel like we should be going west faster. 

 

I missed the sky. Most of the time we spend sitting in the military truck, looking for groups. Plus we have to deal with a bunch of infected, we passed by a huge hoard in the distance today. I hope no one was near them. 

 

We passed by some smaller towns, and even met a group that was traveling to New York for the cure. It was worth it to see their faces when we said we had it. Her group was overjoyed, and it reminded me a bit of back in Jackson. Back, home. 

 

Didn’t see anyone today, but we got into a card game tournament when we stopped. Kiara won and wouldn’t stop talking about it. It’s good for me though, I got to practice with my new finger prosthetics. I think I’m really getting it, it’s all about how I bend my stumps to change how they move. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re wasting time.

 

Got to Chicago, it’s still the mess I remembered, all rubble and flooding. We ran into a bunch of Hunters, and dealt with them. The fireflies are trying not to hurt anyone but we don’t exactly have a choice when their main goal is to kill us.

 

Moving west again.

 

Ellie sat up from where she was leaning over her journal to glance out the windows of the RV. Usually she was stuck in the military truck, but they all got turns in some of the better vehicles. Everyone was on constant high alert, for towns, for infected, for anyone. She took a moment to glance around at the people she was with, who were all fireflies. Kiara and Lucas had got placed in the military van. Ellie looked around at the group that had been her childhood heros. But she couldn’t chase away the thought, that if things were different, she could be riding this van with Riley.

 

She looked back out the window, and in the distance she could see the Mississippi River. Ellie thought about the first time she had crossed it, with Joel. They had walked up and down the river looking for a safe bridge to cross before finally stealing some guy's boat. They laughed all the way across as the man shook his fist from the shore.

 

The fireflies were better at planning, and found a smaller, and therefore hopefully safer bridge. Most of them had to get out to protect the vehicles while they crossed. Usually hunters hid under bridges, ready to ambush any passerbys. Ellie and another firefly from the RV were set to patrol for anyone.

 

Ellie carefully stepped down the rocky side of the bridge, gun pointed in front of her. They all had had too many bad experiences to take any chances. 

 

“Anyone there?” Jackie, an older firefly, shouted into the darkness under the bridge. 

 

Strangely humanoid noises were all the two of them could hear. Then a pair of lifeless eyes popped up. And then another. And then three more after that. The infected creatures started to climb over the boulders.

 

“Oh shit!” Ellie moved her finger to the trigger before an arm pushed her gun down.

 

“Stop it!” Jackie yelled. “Look, they're fresh. I would say they’ve been bitten, three, four days”

 

“Oh no, we are not doing that.” Ellie looked at the older woman in shock. 

 

“That’s what we're out here for. Let’s get some rope.”

 

The cure was a set of shots a person takes over two days. It’s success was almost based entirely on how soon after getting bitten a person took it. If a person took it before getting bitten, they wouldn’t be infected at all. Within two days of getting bitten, a person was almost always able to beat the infection. After being infected for more than that, the results may vary.

 

For the infected they found under the bridge, things took time. All five of them, two women, two children, and a man, had all been bit recently. But the question remained, recently enough? The team ended up camping by the river for a week while they gave them their shots. 

 

At first, Ellie and the team were worried that the cure would do nothing. The first day of treatment was scary for the group, as nothing changed. They all took turns watching the screaming creatures. Ellie and Kiara took the first night shift.

 

“Was I like this?” Kiara asked.

 

“This is what you were like before you got bit,” Ellie jokes. “You were much quieter when healing.”

 

“Hey shut up!” Kiara elbowed her, and then got very quiet. “Do you think they're going to make it?”

 

One of the infected women in the group grappled with the handcuffs they had put on her, and leaned towards the two of them. Ellie couldn’t help but reflexively lean back as if to dodge her attack, even though the rock they were both sitting on was far enough away.

 

“Harriet said it depended on the person - someone could be perfectly healthy and not make it back after a three day infection.” Ellie mused. “She said they once got someone back after eleven days.”

 

Kiara looked right at Ellie. “We’re really changing the world huh? Like actually changing things.”

 

“Still don’t think we’re too far gone?” Ellie recalled their conversation at the MET.

 

“To be fair, I wasn’t sitting in front of a bunch of infected that could be healed.” She responded. “Like, this is real change. 

 

Ellie moved her head to throw some of the hair out of her face. Even though she could have grown it back to its original length, she opted to keep it the short length. Even so, it was starting to get scruffy on their journey. 

 

“I don’t think it depends on if the infected change back.” Ellie scooted back farther on the rock. “I mean, of course it's going to have an effect. Like all the infected that have been turned for a while are still out there, and there’s no connecting government anymore. Things are pretty bad right now besides CBI.”

 

“That’s such a downer attitude!” Kiara shook her head. “And the world wasn’t so great before you know. They had poverty and wars and stuff like that. Maybe people will come back better this time.”

 

“You sound like some religious fanatics I ran across. They thought that the outbreak was ‘good’ or whatever.” Ellie shuddered at the scars in Seattle. “That the destruction was justified so the world could be rebuilt. I think at least, I wasn’t exactly in a position to get into a psychological debate.”

 

“Well obviously I don’t think that.” Kiara was silent for a moment. “I guess I’m just feeling optimistic.”

 

“Lucas is rubbing off on you.” Ellie watched as Kiara blushed. “But we can’t really do anything can we. Time will tell.”

 

“We’re doing something right now.” 

 

Suddenly one of the infected, the youngest one, let out a noise that sounded distinctly like a “Mama.”

 

“You were right!” Kiara smiled. “Time will tell.”

 

In the end, four out of five of the group recovered. The oldest woman didn’t show any signs of healing, and they found her dead on the second morning. She was buried next to the bridge. The remaining four took a few days before they were on their feet.

 

“So what will you do now?” Jackie, one of the fireflies asked the newly human man.

 

The man just blinked, and then rubbed his eyes. “Wait, explain it to me again. After we got bit, we got brought back?”

 

“Yes we have the cure.” Jackie responded in a monotone voice.

 

The woman that had been healed grabbed his shoulder. “The cure we heard rumors about, from New York.”

 

The man just stood dumbfounded. “We were going West. And then we all got bit. You used the cure. One of us didn’t make it. You guys are fireflies, who were gone. Wait we’re not in heaven?”

 

Jackie shook her head. “There’s a cure now. Kiara! Show him your bites.”

 

Kiara walked up and showed him two of the bites on her arm. One of the children he was with grabbed her arm and felt the scars.

 

“See? All around the country we have been doing our best to give out the cure.” Kiara turned to look at the two adults. “We’re curing the CBI. You can come with us if you want.”

 

Jackie nodded. “We could always use more help, and it looks like we’re going the same way.”

 

In the end, the fireflies got four new members on the trip. Sandra and Rick had two kids and were traveling to Portland before getting attacked. The woman they had been traveling with was Sandra’s mother. Everyone wanted to know what it was like to be infected, but none of them could answer. They explained it as being oblivion, and then they were back again.

 

Nonetheless, the fireflies kept heading farther west. In Iowa they found a few farming communities similar to Jackson. As well, some smaller cities had managed to survive and set up large quarantine zones. It seemed the west was pretty well. Some members of these populations even opted to join the fireflies, and even brought extra cars and horses. For the first time in years, the fireflies were providing hope like their mission statement claimed.

 

Ellie enjoyed the long stretches between towns the most. She could stare out at the plains they were crossing through and draw in her notebook. Even when they ran across more violent groups or hordes, it felt familiar, more than New York had. As the air got colder, her heart dragged her further west. Everytime they stopped, she couldn’t help but think We could’ve made it one more mile. It was like a silent weight hung over everything. 

 

Omaha was still under control of the military. FEDRA was ready to threaten the caravan to hand over the cure as soon as they learned they were fireflies. However the group just gave them the cure and moved on. There was no time for squabbles.

 

The Cheyenne quarantine zone was almost completely empty, aside from a few stranglers who were fighting to live in their overrun by infected city. They joined the group.

 

The rest of Wyoming was scarcely populated, with only a few traveling groups. Ellie continued to write in her journal.

 

We’re getting closer to Jackson. Fuck. I don’t think I’m ready. Kiara keeps asking me if this is what my first trip was like. I told her a bit, but I left out a lot. 

 

We pick up new people so often now, it’s hard to keep track. I think we’ve nearly doubled in size. It’s hard to remember everyone’s name. We gained another family yesterday. Reminded me of Dina and JJ.

 

I thought I recognized the landscape from when I first came through Wyoming. It was strange. I wish Joel where here. I don’t know what I’m going to do, he would.

 

We had a couple inches of snow tonight, so we’re taking a couple day break. Just to wait until it melts off the roads a bit. We should be going faster. But at the same time . . .

 

Finally moving again, everyone is pretty light hearted considering. I guess taking a rest was good.

 

We’re at the dam. It’s still running, even if it’s just as rusty as usual. No turning back now. I’m so curious about everyone but so afraid. I wonder how much has changed.

 

The last page was filled with drawings of the river and the dam, working to create electricity for Jackson. It meant they were getting closer. A days journey away.

 

For the last stretch of the journey, Ellie was very quiet. Kiara and Lucas kept asking her about Jackson but she was silent, opting instead to silently remember the paths and trails. Everything was so, similar. The landscape had changed, but the rocks that she used to climb on were still there. The creeks she rode through on Shimmer. The houses she explored on patrol. It should have made her afraid, like it had years ago, but now her heart only dragged her forward. She couldn’t quite explain it, but she felt like she was going home. 

 

Finally they made it to an all too familiar cliff. They had sent a group out to alert the Jackson about their arrival, and Ellie wasn’t given a chance to reject going on it. She was the only one who knew her way around. So she navigated the trails to bring them forward, all while feeling a tug in her heart. So Ellie, Jackie, and a few other fireflies went down the hill towards the city, stopping at the sign that demanded they identify themselves. The sun was just starting to rise, but everything was still dark. The watchman on the top of the wall hadn’t noticed them yet.

 

“Hello!” Jackie yelled before Ellie could make any move. “We are fireflies! We have the cure!”

 

A flashlight shone down from the wall, and crossed over all their faces. The man’s eyes widened. He shouted behind the wall. The gate slowly opened revealing the Jackson streets. Jackie led first, going straight into the city. Inside the walls was the stable, and a few people mingling around. Maria stood in the front.

 

“We are fireflies, and we have the cure.” Jackie spoke the same words she said to every new person they met. “You may or may not have heard, one was created in New York. We are here to distribute it. The trucks are waiting on the nearby highway.”

 

Maria nodded her head. “We have received news that it was created. Thank you for traveling out to us.”

 

The rest of the Jackson citizens were not paying attention to the conversation, or to the fireflies. Their eyes all lead to one person.

 

“Ellie?” Dina stepped forward from the crowd. “Is that you?”

Chapter Text

“Ellie?” Dina stepped forward. “Is that you?”

 

Ellie stood in the horse stable of Jackson for the first time in almost three years. It wasn’t crowded, but still, there were enough people mingling around. Jackie was explaining to Maria what was happening with the cure, and the rest of the fireflies stood behind them. She didn’t see them though.

 

“Dina?” She stepped forward.

 

Dina was holding a toddler with straight black hair on her hip. He leaned into her ear and whispered something.

 

Dina turned to the child, and then looked back at Ellie, “JJ wants to know if you are a robot.” 

 

Ellie stared at the two of them in shock, and then shifted her eyes to her prosthetic fingers. They did look a little robotic.

 

”Just a bit.” Was all Ellie could think to say.

 

JJ whispered something to Dina again, and Dina responded “Her name is Ellie, she knew you when you were little. And she knew your Dad.”

 

“Ellie?” Maria turned from her conversation with Jackie, the older firefly. “You're alive?”

 

Before Ellie had a chance to answer, Maria ran up to her and hugged her. She squeezed tight for a few moments, and then let go.

 

“We thought you were dead.” Maria looked right into her eyes. “With Abby, and then the cure-.”

 

Ellie shifted her gaze to the floor, “Well here I am.” 

 

While she was thinking of something else to say, more people gathered around. Everyone seemed to have their own questions about what happened to bring Ellie back. She was too overwhelmed by the crowd that surrounded her to answer them, but it was shocking. She imagined they would reject her. 

 

The fireflies typically stayed in a location for a couple days when distributing the cure, to restock and rest. As well, it gave them time to teach how to properly administer treatment for CBI, which was a big issue in getting it to work correctly. They usually stayed in their trucks, but if there was room available, they would temporarily move in with the settlement they came across. 

 

In this case, Maria housed them in the town hall, and had the trucks moved to a road right outside Jackson. Ellie watched as her whole crew set up their beds and medical equipment. This was just another stop to them, like the multitude of stops before. Jackie was more worried about the logistics of everything, and Kiara and Lucas were too busy unpacking to ask any invasive questions. Ellie took the opportunity to slip out, not everyone had been there to welcome her.

 

The crowd had mostly dispersed, which calmed Ellie. She didn’t quite know what story she was going to tell them, about Abby, about the cure, about her being missing for three years. She had somehow managed to avoid these discussions upon entrance. At the same time, she missed these people. It was hard to admit, but she almost enjoyed seeing everyone again. Her old mentors, her old peers. And Dina.

 

Ellie shook her head, there was one man she wanted to find.

 

“Tommy?” She found him in the town kitchen, wearing an apron. He was faced away from her. “I don’t know if you heard. I came in this morning.”

 

In a second, he turned around. This almost made him lose his balance. “Ellie?” His eye got wide.

 

“Hi” Ellie said awkwardly. “So I’m not dead. Uhh, I was kind of in New York.”

 

 “But the cure - Joel told me about what it would take?” Tommy was in shock.

 

“Well, turns out I can live and a cure can exist.” Ellie shifted uncomfortably. She had planned what to say, but before she even spoke, her throat formed a lump. “About Abby - I know I promised. I know I said I’d get her back. But -“ Ellie’s voice choked. “She got away. I let her go. I-“

 

“You're alive!” Tommy walked right up and hugged her. She felt her eyes water up. “We thought when you didn’t come back, and then with the cure-“

 

“You don’t care about Abby?” Ellie was confused.

 

“No I don’t fucking care about Abby!” Tommy laughed. “You were dead! And I don’t think this is a dream. How did you even get to New York? What have you been doing for the last two and a half years?”

 

“It’s not a dream.” Ellie looked around the room. “What are you doing in the kitchen, with that apron?”

 

Tommy looked down at the apron he was wearing, which read “Kiss the Chef”. “I can’t really go on patrol anymore, so I got into cooking. As for this, Maria thought it was so funny the first time she saw it, so I couldn’t take it off.”

 

Ellie scoffed. I guess that means they're back on good terms.

 

“But Ellie, how are you doing?” Tommy got very serious.“I mean, I’m assuming you went to New York, we heard the news about the cure and immune patient.” 

 

“Yeah, it’s, it’s a long story.” Ellie’s eyes started to tear up again. “I’m sorry. It’s just-“ She started wiping the tears going down her face. “I didn’t think it would be like this.”

 

“You are in no place to apologize.” Tommy put his hand on her shoulder. “I should’ve never sent you away. Fuck it - I’m the adult here, and I sent you on some petty revenge quest. And you had a family.” 

 

“I chose to go. If it wasn’t you it would’ve been someone else.” Ellie did her best to avoid eye contact. “And I was the one who chose to stay gone. I did go to New York, and not back to Jackson.”

 

“But look at you- you created a cure!” Tommy smiled.

 

Ellie took a step back. “I didn’t do much, it was all a bunch of crazy doctors. They created it, I just brought them some research and well-“ Ellie gestured to her body. “My immunity.”

 

“But you’re back, you're alive.“ Tommy stumbled for words. “Ellie, when you didn’t come back, and then we found that there was a cure made using an immune patient, I was sure you were gone. We made you a grave. We had a ceremony. I was sure I sent you to your death, but by some miracle you're alive. That’s all that matters.”

 

He pulled Ellie into a tight hug, and she couldn’t help but tear up. She squeezed him back. “Hey I missed you too.” 

 

As Ellie walked back to the town hall, everyone on the street waved at her. She hadn’t told anyone the full story of what happened to land her in New York, but, like Tommy, they didn’t seem to care. The people of Jackson were happy to see her back. And it wasn’t like most of them didn’t have their dark pasts, it was inevitable with the world they lived in. Besides a few questions on what New York was like, and a few awkward looks, her past acquaintances seemed happy to just have her back. There was a silent respect, just like when Dina, Tommy and her had gotten back from Seattle. Something terrible had happened. But the details were not important. Something terrible had happened to everyone.

 

The whole situation calmed Ellie’s anxieties about coming here. In her mind, she had been defending herself against a million arguments and attacks. Instead, the town was pleasant. Still, there were a few loose threads. Ellie hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to Dina, and there what to do at the end of her weekend stay with the fireflies. . .

 

Ellie took the long way back to pass by an old place of hers, Joel’s house. She didn’t dare go in, someone would probably be living there by now, but she couldn’t help but stop and stare. At the fence where all of the flower bouquets had once laid. At the porch they had last talked on. She longed to go in, and watch some dumb movie, or try to drink coffee even though she knew she hated it. Or just hear about Joel’s day. Ellie thought she saw someone in the window, only to see Maria walk out.

 

“Are you settling?” Maria opened the gate and stood in front of Ellie.

 

“Oh- yes it’s going well.” Ellie responded. “Thank you for housing us on our journey.”

 

“No problem, did you think I was going to turn you away?” Maria responded with a smile. “We just all can’t believe your back.”

 

Ellie barely heard, and her eyes shifted to the house behind.

 

“Oh-“ Maria turned behind her. “It’s just being used for storage now. After everything, you know.”

 

Ellie nodded. 

 

“You know, I don’t know where you're going to go after this, but you're always welcome here.” Maria grasped her shoulder. “I don’t know what the last three years of your life have looked like, but I’m sorry for not protecting you. I’m sorry for not stopping you. God dealt you a bad hand and I didn’t help.”

 

“It’s - it’s not your fault.” Ellie paused. “If you hadn’t stopped me, I would’ve snuck out. Nothing was stopping me.”

 

“I know, but I can’t help but think there was something I could do.” Maria took a step back. “I have to go, but join us for dinner tonight.”

 

Maria walked away and before Ellie could say yes or no. She turned to look back at the old house. It made her safer, just by being there. Ellie continued the walk back to where the fireflies set up. 

 

After getting stopped a multitude of times for “hellos” and “how are yous?” Ellie finally made it back to the hall. Kiara and Lucas were happy to tease her about the adoring crowds in her wake while they finished unpacking all their materials. The few doctors from Jackson had come to observe, and it was tradition for Kiara and the other members to show off their bites. This proved the cure was real, and was also fun for everyone involved.

 

The doctors were shocked at Ellie’s bite on her hand and leg. Unlike her arm, she hadn’t used a chemical burn to hide them, she just concealed them in New York with bandages and gloves. Her and Kiara’s bites stood as testimonies, things were different now. 

 

Slowly, a few members of Jackson wandered in to see the spectacle. And then more, soon the whole hall filled. Everyone wanted to learn how they could get the vaccine as soon as possible. Jackie stood in front of everyone to give her usual speech about how it was created, and why it works, but Ellie didn’t notice. Because a familiar face had sat next to her.

 

“Hey.” Dina whispered to Ellie. She had JJ on her lap. 

 

“Hey” Ellie quietly responded.

 

“Hi robot lady!” JJ tried his best whisper. In response Dina made a very nice shushing sound.

 

“We have to listen.” Dina quietly talked into JJs ear. 

 

JJ did his best to look at the crowd ahead and stay quiet. It made Ellie smile a bit, he had grown up so much. Plus, listening to Jackie’s long and detailed speech was boring. If Ellie was a kid she would want to talk too. Nonetheless, the toddler managed to stay silent during the whole information session, and even stood on his mother’s lap to get a better look. JJ looked older, but had the same chubby face. 

 

Afterward, Dina asked for Ellie to walk around with her. On their stroll she explained that she moved in with Jesse’s parents, and that they were helping with JJ. In the meantime, she laid off patrols and spent most of her time doing guard duty. In turn, Ellie explained her trip to New York and how they developed the cure. She didn’t have to hide her immunity from Dina ethier, so she told a more complete story. Yet, both of them were edging around something. 

 

Instead of talking about that, they shared stories from their past. Growing up in Jackson, the chores Maria made them do, and even bits of the farm. Ellie even told some stories to JJ about Jesse. It was about everything, and nothing.

 

Eventually the two had to part, Dina had work, and Ellie had work too. On the way back to the hall, Ellie couldn’t help but smile. It was something.

 

That night, Ellie ate with Maria and Tommy. It turned out that Tommy was quite the cook, he made steak for them. The conversation didn’t take long to turn from something light to something Ellie had been avoiding.

 

“So Ellie,” Tommy started. “Are you planning on staying?”

 

Ellie froze. She wasn’t ready to answer that question.

 

Maria immediately picked up on her discomfort. “You don’t have to decide right away, but you will always have a place here. We missed you Ellie, everyone does.”

 

Ellie moved the food around her plate.

 

“I’ll tell you- When I saw your face I didn’t believe it!” We heard about the cure from a couple travelers who passed through a few months ago.” Tommy suddenly got quite somber. “I lost all hope. I keep pinching myself.”

 

“Me too,” Maria smiled. 

 

Ellie was surprised, they just seemed so happy. “I thought you guys would be mad, for not coming back.”

 

This made the room go silent. Ellie hadn’t talked to anyone in Jackson about the time in between Abby and New York. But there was an understanding that something had happened, that there was some sort of choice involved.

 

“None of us are happy you didn’t come back.” Maria spoke carefully. “We would have wanted you here in Jackson. But we all felt that we failed you.”

 

“No. I made that choice.” Ellie responded with force. “I chose to move on, I could’ve stayed. And I didn’t do it for some high and mighty reason either.”

 

Both Tommy and Maria stared at her. They didn’t have to say anything, but the question was clear, Then why did you go?

 

“I- I couldn’t come back. After everything I put you through, before and after. I’m not innocent here.” Ellie’s voice became shaky. “And it’s not just you. I could’ve come back, but I just ran away from it all. I knew what making a cure would cost.”

 

“Ellie-“ Maria reached out for Ellie’s arm, but she moved it away too fast.

 

“And look at you guys - you had a whole funeral for me!” Ellie put her head in her hands. “Every keeps saying there happy I’m back - but that just reminds me of all the pain I put you through.”

 

Tommy waddled from his spot at the table over to Ellie, and rested his hand on her back. “I can’t pretend that what you did is okay. People were hurt. But Joel would be happy to see you alive and back today. Things won’t go back to normal - there’s no such thing as normal anymore. All of us have things in our past we regret.” Ellie lifted her head to look at the one eyed man. “We all handle that differently. But you will always have a place here, whether it is visiting or permanently. Our lives will go on, and your welcome to rejoin us.”

 

“We can’t make this decision for you,” Maria added, “But we are happy to see you again, and I’d like to believe that you are happy to see us again.”

 

Ellie gave a tiny little smile. “Thank you.”

 

By the time Ellie was headed home, the sun had almost completely set. She didn’t need the light though, she remembered the streets like it was yesterday. Small things had changed, signs on buildings and a new porch had been added to the butcher. But as Ellie walked she couldn’t help but remember stealing food as a child, discovering that the church had a huge box of old comic books, sledding after a big snowfall, and every other little thing. She remembered getting lectured on how to farm, and finally being put on patrol. The schools Maria said all people under seventeen had to attend at least twice a week. Meeting Dina, and Jesse, and Cat, and everyone else. Ellie reached down 

and closed her prosthetic fingers around her tattoo. Above her was the clear sky, beginning to be dotted with stars that looked as if they were rippling in water. 

 

Ellie stood and looked at them, in New York stars were barely visible. Even on a night that was clear, one would be lucky if they could even see the Big Dipper. In the twinkling ocean above her, Ellie could see hints of the Milky Way in all its different colors. Despite the shiver of the night, Ellie felt warmer inside. Out of everything, she was surprised she missed this so much. It wasn’t the only thing, the whole day had brought back so much. If she had been asked a day ago Ellie would have said she would move on, but now? She was not as sure.

 

Everyone was asleep or going to sleep when Ellie got back. They all were camped out on the floor. As she crawled into her sleeping bag, all Ellie could think was This is not where I should be right now. She shouldn’t be sleeping on the hardwood floor of the town hall. This wasn’t her place in the town, it never had been. 

 

Across the floor, Kiara and Lucas were sleeping suspiciously close to each other. The other fireflies were scattered around on the floor as well. It was quiet, and Ellie fell into a deep sleep.

 

No nightmares came for Ellie that night, and she was pleasantly awakened by light filtering through the large windows. Jackie and a few of the original fireflies were already up, but most of them were sleeping. 

 

“Hey can you do me a favor?” Jackie called to Ellie when she saw she was up. “You know people better around here.”

 

”Yeah sure.” Ellie yawned.

 

Jackie explained. “Can you tell- what’s her name? The lady in charge.”

 

“Maria.”

 

“Yes can you let her know that we’re going to need to restock before we go-“ Jackie handed her a list written on old paper. “And ask her if she had a more detailed map for eastern Idaho? We were having a little trouble figuring it out”

 

Ellie nodded. After getting changed out of her pajamas, she headed out. The surprise at her arrival seemed to have faded, and Ellie could walk down the street again without getting overcrowded. But there were still groups of people on the street like there were every morning. While the topics usually covered the recent town drama, or the dark yields, today discussions focused almost entirely on the cure. As she walked down she could catch conversations that looked at every angle on the cure, it seemed everyone from small children to older residents had their own take on what it would mean. For the first time, Ellie felt the slightest bit of pride. 

 

Maria was in the tavern, helping organize everyone for the day. It was her natural environment, giving out stern but kind commands and keeping everyone in order. 

 

“Ellie.” Maria looked up from her clipboard. “What do you need?”

 

“Just these supplies,” Ellie handed her a list. “We need it for the trip, and it would be payment for the cure. Oh and a map of Idaho.”

 

Maria carefully inspected the list. Ellie looked around at the rest of the room, which was crowded with people. She spotted Dina in the back.

 

“Ellie!” A boy ran up to Ellie. “We heard you got new fingers.” Two more kids jumped behind him.

 

“Alex, yeah apparently I’m a robot now.” Ellie held up her fingers for the children to look at. 

 

“That’s not true.” One of the children looked quizzically. “A robot needs power, and there’s no cord or battery.”

 

“You guys are too smart for me!” Ellie looked at the kids, it had been a long time since she’d seen them. She remembered having to babysit them when they were younger, and even defeating them in a snowball fight. “And tall! What have you been eating?”

 

The kids laughed. Then Maria turned to talk to Ellie again, and the children scurried off.

 

“Okay, I can give you most of these things. And the map I’ll give you before you go.” She put check marks on a few lines of the paper. “But I don’t have time to collect them all.”

 

“That’s okay I can get them-“

 

Maria looked around the room. “Dina! You're off this morning, can you help Ellie? She needs to pick up this stuff for the firefly trip.” 

 

Dina walked over and took the list from Maria. She examined it and then turned to Ellie. “This is for your trip?” 

 

“Yeah.” Ellie responded.

 

The process of rounding up what they needed was not necessarily hard work, but it did involve a lot of back and forth around the town. And on top of that, carrying all of it involved multiple trips. With yesterday’s conversation with Dina seeming so normal, Ellie was almost excited to spend time with her. But it was decidedly more stilted. Any attempt at bringing up their past or led to talk about the task at hand. 

 

Eventually they had managed to gather everything. Dina even met Kiara, Lucas and the rest of the fireflies as they packed away food, blankets and medicine into the trucks. It was nice, but Ellie kept looking over at Dina. What are you thinking? Her previous anxiety crept back. Because it didn’t take her long to draw together the dots on what she was thinking, about how Ellie had left her. Twice, once to get Abby, and once to solve the cure. Ellie put it together in her head, yesterday their conversation had gone well because JJ was there, and Dina wasn’t going to be mean with JJ around. But now it was just them. And a lot of dirty, large baggage. 

 

When it was time for Dina to go, Ellie had fully spiraled. But still, Dina looked back and asked a simple question.

 

“We’re having dinner tonight. Want to come?”

 

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Ellie was caught off guard.

 

Dina turned back around to walk about home.

 

As soon as Ellie was back inside the town hall, it took moments for the questions to set in.

 

“Who was she?” Kiara asked. “Did you know her before you left?”

 

“Yeah what was her deal?.” Lucas added.

 

Ellie was surprised at how upfront they were. She didn’t quite know how to respond, she didn’t even know how to describe it to herself. “She’s kind of my ex, it ended badly.”

 

Kiara and Lucas looked at each other. “I’m sorry, we didn’t know.” Lucas responded.

 

“It’s okay.” Ellie paused. “It’s messy. And I don’t know how she feels. I left her to- it’s complicated but I never came back. I should have. But instead, I went to New York.”

 

The two of them looked at her with concerned looks. This was the most she had shared about leaving Jackson with them. They just had assumed that everyone was okay with her leaving. 

 

“Are you going to stay here?” Lucas broke the silence.

 

Ellie was a little taken aback. “I - I don’t know.”

 

“We just kind of assumed you would.” Kiara said. “I mean, you look happy here, and you know everyone. Back in New York - it feels like you didn’t really know know anyone. Even us.”

 

“I’m sorry you guys-“ Ellie looked at them with sad eyes. 

 

“No, don’t worry about us.” Lucas spoke. “We will be okay. But we want you to be happy.”

 

Ellie grinded her foot into the hardwood floors. “Yeah. I’ll make sure to let you know my final decision when I make it.”

 

Ellie had been to Jesse’s parents house just a few times as a child. Instead, they tended to hang out with Dina, who had lived alone, or in other places around Jackson. The times that she had been there Ellie always got a warm, caring feeling. She assumed that Jesse had been too embarrassed of his very affectionate parents to invite people over.

 

And in fact, Jesse’s parents house was still very warm and welcoming. They had set up the whole table when Ellie finally arrived, complete with a cooked chicken for everyone. Jesse’s parents were happy to show Ellie a place to sit, while Dina sat next to JJ, who was in a high chair.

 

“You know, it’s just been so great to have you back Ellie, I mean who would’ve believed it!” Jesse’s Dad, Theo, laughed. “And with a cure!”

 

“That’s the most surprising part of all, and with an immune patient too.” Jesse’s mother, named Robin added. “In the beginning, right after the outbreak, every couple months we would hear about a potential cure or immune patient. You become numb to it all. It’s hard to believe it’s real. And from New York of all places. Did you meet the immune person?”

 

Dina looked up from cutting JJ’s food to look at Ellie. They knew who the immune patient was.

 

“She kept her identity a secret.” Ellie responded. “But I met all the doctors who worked on it, there are the real heroes here. It’s all such complicated science.”

 

“Oh, I’ll believe it! When that firefly lady explained it, it went right over my head. We just all have to be glad people still exist who could develop such a thing.” Robin thought for a second. “How is New York? Theo and I actually went there on our honeymoon, before the outbreak and everything.”

 

Theo was happy to add on. “We must have the pictures somewhere, I think we managed to save a few. The whole week was amazing, the greatest food, and so many parties to go too. And the museums!”

 

“I dragged him to everyone, the MOMA, Natural History Museum, the Whitney, the MET-“

 

Ellie looked up in surprise. “I went to the MET while I was there!”

 

Dina looked over confused. “What the MET?” She was busy trying to get JJ to eat string beans.

 

“It’s this absolutely huge art museum, with art from every era, and every part of the world. I can’t believe it’s still standing - You think it would have had everything stolen from it.” Robin paused to think. “Do they still have that big Egyptian building inside? The temple of - Detrude? I don’t remember the name.”

 

“Yes, I visited it while I was there.” Ellie answered. “The temple of Dendur. The whole place is still pretty much the same.”

 

“Talk about a ‘time capsule’” Dina said.

 

“Time capsule?” JJ asked. 

 

“It’s like a thing that holds items from a long time ago. And nobody has touched it since then.” Dina tried to provide a good answer.

 

JJ just looked confused. 

 

“JJ, maybe you can go to an art museum one day, when you're older.” Theo leaned over to the little kid. “They have drawings like in your books.”

 

“Like Dumbo!” JJ said loudly.

 

“Just like Dumbo-“ Theo tapped the child on the nose, which made him laugh.

 

Dina leaned over to Ellie, “His favorite book, movie and bedtime story are all dumbo.”

 

Ellie laughed. “I guess he still likes elephants.”

 

This made the room go quiet. There had been no mention of Ellie’s time on the farm. 

 

“So, Ellie,” Theo started slowly. “How did you get to New York?”

 

The dreaded question, the one Ellie had dodged her whole time. 

 

“Well on my trip with Joel I found info on a cure, but we didn’t do anything with it.” Ellie scrambled for her non immunity story. “So I ended up grabbing it on the way back-“

 

“I bet it was a hard trip!” Dina quickly interjected. “When we traveled to Seattle it was just a constant stream of hunters and infected.”

 

Ellie was glad for the save. “Yeah it’s still the same world out there.”

 

“But maybe things are changing.” Dina elbowed Ellie. “Who knows what this cure could do.”

 

The group thankfully dropped the subject of Ellie leaving, and went on to discuss the cure, and how it would affect the world. It was a topic everyone had a different take on. 

 

“It just happened so quickly when we were younger -“ Robin explained. “Jesse was still in diapers and suddenly the whole world just slipped away with CBI. We were just waiting for everything so go back to normal.”

 

“And you think it can still go back to normal?” Dina was now holding a sleeping JJ in her lap. “I mean, I think this is the new normal.”

 

“I think so-“ Theo responded. “And it helps that the cure was found now, and not two hundred years in the future. There’s still a generation that remembers life before, so we can change it back. And it looks like the cure isn’t just sitting in some lab, it’s out there.”

 

“That’s what I keep thinking.” Ellie said. “It could go either way. Just depends on what we do.”

 

Dina suddenly got up, and handed JJ to Robin. “Can you put him to bed tonight? I should walk Ellie home.”

 

“Yes,” Robin was a little surprised. “Yes I got him.”

 

“Common Ellie.” Dina gestured for Ellie to follow outside.

 

Outside the air was crisp and cold. The sun had set completely, it was dark outside. It seemed like everyone had gone to sleep as well, the streets were empty.

 

“I could’ve walked home myself.” Ellie kicked a rock down the road.

 

“I know.”

 

They walked in silence for a while. Finally Ellie got the nerve to speak.

 

“Quite the talkers, Jesse’s parents?” Dina started.

 

“They have stories about everything, just like back in the day.” She smiled.

 

“Yeah.” Dina’s voice trailed off, and it was quiet again. 

 

“Dina, I don’t think I said it yet. I’m sorry for leaving you behind. There’s no excuse - I was going through a lot, but you were too. And you didn’t deserve that.” Ellie looked at Dina. “I should have come right back. You have every right to be furious with me.“

 

“I’m not mad at you.” Dina looked at her feet. “I mean, I was. When I really came to terms with the fact that you were dead - and not coming back I was so angry about everything.”

 

“Dina-“ Ellie started.

 

“And then I was sad. Because there was nothing I could do. But time heals all wounds and all that, and life goes on, so I moved on. And then I heard that they made the cure - with an immune patient. You. That meant that you were dead, again. So I was angry again, and sad again, and I moved on. That’s what you do - you move in with you kids grandparents so they can help, and you keep working. There’s no stopping, especially in this world. I was ready to live the rest of my life without you, I had accepted it.” 

 

Ellie stayed silent.

 

“And now your back, and I should be so angry at you - for leaving me, for leaving us! Because it was a shitty thing to do. We had a family. But when you showed up in Jackson again, I wasn’t mad.” Dina tossed her head a bit. “I used to plan what I was going to tell you when I got back. How I was going to say how I never needed you, and how it's just me and JJ now. I couldn’t say any of that though- all that rage was gone. Ellie, I miss you. We got to talk for the first time in years, and it was great. I miss joking with you, and listening to your bad music, and your crazy batshit stories.”

 

Ellie looked at Dina, who was still staring at the ground.

 

“I moved on, fuck, I even dated other people. I have a life. I don’t know if we can get back to where we were, I don’t know if I even want that. Or if you want that. But I miss you Ellie.” Dina stopped walking, prompting Ellie to stop walking. They looked directly at each other. “Don’t go Ellie. Not again. The whole of Jackson wants you back - I want you back. You have a community here. Stay.”

 

Ellie met Dina’s eyes. They weren’t desperate, but they were tearing up. Ellie thought about her last night at the farm. So many years ago. She thought about how she almost returned to Jackson. Why hadn’t she gone back? Why had she left? At this moment, Ellie didn’t even know why she would ever leave this city. 

 

Ellie wiped some tears from her eyes. 

 

The topic changed and they finished the walk back to the town hall. Ellie stepped inside the building, but didn’t get change or go to bed. She waited until Dina was gone. There was one more person she had to visit.

 

Graveyards are funny places. The average person spends almost no time in a graveyard, and then suddenly, that’s where you are forever. Ellie thought about it as she walked through the rows of graves. She didn’t think she would get much out of it, because this wasn’t Joel to her. Joel was dinosaurs and guns and Texas, not some cold field with stones in it. Still, she thought she should.

 

Ellie noted some new additions to the cemetery, such as Seth, an old man who used to live in Jackson, and even a grave for herself. Joel’s grave sat in the same place, untouched it seemed. Ellie squatted by it. She wished she had brought flowers, or a guitar pick, or something. 

 

“So hey.” Ellie started off. I sound so stupid. “Been a long time. You won’t believe what happened. You were right about the cure, or at least about the fireflies. They couldn’t have actually made the cure, so yay for you.”

 

Ellie stopped, and sat with her legs crossed in front of her. It was awkward to be sitting here, talking to the grass. 

 

“Yeah it turns out, New York! That’s where the cure was. We could’ve saved quite the trip. Just 200 miles south or west or whatever. Yeah.” Ellie paused again. “Um, Oh, I went to Texas too. It reminded me of you, even though I didn’t go to your town. And the people I ran into sounded like you, I guess a Texas accent never changes. ”

 

Her eyes suddenly welled up, and a lump formed in her throat. “You were right about Dina, or at least before everything happened. Yeah. I’m, I’m so sorry Joel. For everything. For ignoring you. You were right about everything. There was no cure.” Ellie last few words came out in sobs. “And I know that’s not why you did it, but I’m so fucking sorry Joel. If things had been different. I don’t know. I wish you were here.”

 

Ellie pulled herself up to her feet, and used her leather jacket to wipe her tears. Joel would think I’m so dumb. The thought made her laugh a little. She turned around to go.

 

The next morning Ellie stood on the top of the wall, watching the sunrise. Down below the fireflies were packing up their cars and leaving. With one last wave she disappeared behind the wall. She was staying in Jackson.

Chapter Text

Ellie woke up to an empty bed. The sun was just starting to creep up in the sky outside, leaving lines of light on the bed sheets. 

 

“Ellie did you finish packing?” Dina called from the other room.

 

“Fuck.” Ellie quietly muttered to herself. “It’s not like we need that much, we’ve traveled before!” She shouted back.

 

“Yeah but usually on a huge cross country trip, you wouldn’t leave all the packing until the night before. And your sleeping late!” Dina opened the door and leaned on the doorframe. 

 

Ellie stepped out of bed. “JJ and New York are still going to be there if we leave at seven or if we leave at noon.” She stepped through the door frame, and kissed Dina on the way.

 

“Alright, alright.” Dina laughed. “But do not blame me when you forget to pack underwear.”

 

“Okay, So how embarrassed do you think JJ is going to be when we see him?” Ellie asked from the bathroom, where she was grabbing her tooth brush. 

 

“What, you don’t think he will like his moms showing up out of nowhere at his school?” Dina asked sarcastically. “I can’t wait to meet all his friends, and professors and invade his personal space!”

 

“He’s going to kill us is basically what you're saying.” Ellie clarified. “I can’t wait to see him!”

 

The two laughed, and Ellie finished packing up the last of her stuff. Even seventeen years later, she still knew how to pack light. Just a few pairs of clothes, and a few trinkets she kept on her. 

 

They stepped out and took one last look at the house before turning to go on the months long trip. Ellie had moved into Joel’s house when she returned to Jackson. It was only being used for storage anyway, and she actually enjoyed being there, it brought back good memories.

 

As for Dina and Ellie, things had never returned to what their relationship had been before she left for New York. For example back when they were living at the farm they weren’t married, and now they were. Tommy has officiated the ceremony. When Ellie had returned to Jackson, they had quickly gotten closer, and officially started dating after a few months. It took a year for them to move in together after that. When JJ was nine they had their wedding ceremony. He carried the rings. 

 

It had been a couple years since then, and seventeen since Ellie made her final return back. Nothing had been perfect, but it was nice. Last year they had dropped JJ off at Ohio State University, where they were trying to train new doctors. At first they had been totally against it, but he had his heart set on getting his education the moment he heard about it. It took a couple months of convincing, but he got his way. That didn’t stop Ellie and Dina from worrying about him constantly, and finally finding the perfect excuse to visit him. 

 

After stopping in Ohio, the two of them were going to New York. They had heard a radio broadcast that the doctor who helped create the cure, Dr. Thompson, had passed away. Ellie had never been back to the city, and had never seen him again before his death. Fireflies would stop in Jackson occasionally, so she had seen her friends a few times, but the team that worked on the cure never left Manhattan. As well, Dina had always loved the stories of the city from Ellie and Jesse’s parents, so they saw a perfect opportunity. Visit friends, and pay tribute to the doctor that created the cure.

 

They had said goodbye to everyone the night before, but Maria and Tommy showed up to say their final goodbyes. 

 

“Okay you two, be safe!” Tommy smiled as he grabbed a horse for them to take.

 

“And you don’t know when you will be back?” Maria asked.

 

“You guys know about traveling, it can take a while. But we’re not kids anymore.” Dina said with a smile. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

 

Maria didn’t look convinced. “Alright, but feel free to turn back any time.”

 

“Okay, okay, we’ll be careful and all that.” Dina pulled herself onto the horse, with Ellie following her.

 

The gates opened to the outside, and the horse started it's trek. “You would think we’re still children with the way they treat us!” Ellie whispered to her wife. 

 

“Ugh I know!” They both laughed, and started on their trip. 

 

In many ways, the world outside looked the same as it had seventeen years ago. Infected hordes still reigned over the wilderness, and hunters were always waiting where you least expected. One could travel for days without running into a single person, despite seeing town after town that had been completely destroyed. But, that’s not to say everything was the same. Dina and Ellie were happy to stop by “Firefly Checkpoints” which were small settlements run by fireflies, meant for travelers. As well, there were large fenced off areas declared “Infected Free” that stretched for miles. It made traveling just a bit safer. A lot of roads were even cleared, which had posed a huge problem on the first cure distribution trip.

 

The journey was in no way relaxed, there’s no way to be relaxed when traversing the infected ridden Midwest. Yet it didn’t seem as insurmountable as previous trips had been. Dina and Ellie weren’t constantly struggling for food, and suffering through sleep deprivation. It almost made Ellie realize why people used to want to go on cross country trips in the old world. The scenery was nice, and getting some quiet time with Dina away from the bumble of Jackson was always appreciated. 

 

Many cities they passed were still wrecks, yet some were recovering well. The original distribution trip had nearly tripled the size of the fireflies, and it had exponentially grown since then. Having a vaccine gave people an actual reason to believe in the group, and they finally got the numbers to be able to make some sort of change. Huge task forces were put in place to reclaim large cities. These could be bloody, but often FEDRA would just surrender and join them. It was hard not too, the fireflies had a monopoly on the cure.

 

But Dina and Ellie did their best to avoid these large settlements. Life had taught them that these huge cities brought nothing but trouble. Ellie recorded their journey in her notebook that she still kept.

 

We haven’t seen anyone in a couple days, not hunters, not infected, nobody. Dina says that’s just how Nebraska is. At least it makes for easy riding. 

 

Finally made it to Omaha, we went around, but met a bunch of groups. They had a guitar, so I tried to play again. It was nice to play again, and it reminded me of when I taught JJ. I wonder if he still plays in college?

 

Iowa is a little more populated, and we passed through a firefly infected free zone, and there were a lot of little settlements. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a little more relaxed in them. It’s nice to think that I can’t be ambushed by a huge horde of infected at any time. 

 

Thought a lot about JJ today. I mean, we think about him everyday, but I can’t help thinking, is he taller now? And is he doing well at school? He’s always so sure about himself, but I’m worried. We weren’t allowed to stay very long when we dropped him off. Still have a couple weeks of travel.

 

Dina won’t stop making fun of me because I tried to stop a moth from flying into our campfire. I wasn’t just going to let him die! Dina found the whole thing hilarious.

 

Crossing through Illinois now, and we keep hearing about Chicago. A traveling group we ran across told us how it was terrible, which is what I remember. But we met another group yesterday that told us it was growing and the port was back in business. I have my doubts that it’s doing well, last time I was there the whole city was bombed to rubble. 

 

Got into an argument with Dina today, it was about if Joel had a tattoo. Dina swore up and down she had seen one on his, but I never did on our trip. I would’ve seen it right? Dina said it was a band tattoo.

 

Passed by Indianapolis but did our best to avoid it. The surrounding area is covered in fields of crops, and they have a lot of livestock. Almost made us want to stop by.

 

We were going through an abandoned town and found a still working CD player, and a bunch of music. We’re going to give it to JJ.

 

Almost to Columbus, Ohio, and almost to see our little potato. He would hate that I said that. 

 

The pages were dotted with skillful drawings and paintings of the landscape, of Dina and their horse, and of JJ. Ellie had been practicing her watercolors, and was quite good.

 

Columbus, Ohio was an almost empty city. It had been stripped of most of its resources, and didn’t even house hunters anymore. Still, one large settlement remained in the city, Ohio State University. It was one of those rare places that survived the outbreak due to good decisions on the school’s president’s part, such as to set up a quarantine zone early, and to lock everyone out. Even though it didn’t stay in operation as a school long after CBI hit the country, it remained standing. FEDRA had made it its base, and then it was passed between different rebel groups. Finally, the fireflies captured it a couple years back, as part of their education program. It was one of a few colleges reinstated to try and keep knowledge alive. 

 

As with anything run by the fireflies, it had very strict rules. After JJ had applied to go there, it was a months long process before he was accepted, and then traveling there took another few months. Dina and Ellie were ready to stay in Ohio while he went to school, but the College was very clear - if you weren’t learning or teaching, they didn’t want you. The two of them had to leave soon after helping their son unpack. If dropping him off hadn’t been easy, it wasn’t much of a surprise visiting wasn’t either. 

 

“I’m telling you, our son goes to school here!” Dina tried to explain it to the guard, who raised an eyebrow. “We helped him move in last year, his name is JJ?”

 

“I’m sorry lady, but he has to let you in, does he know your coming?” The guard talked in a deep stern voice.

 

The two women looked at each other, exasperated. “No it’s kinda a surprise visit.” Ellie answered. “Hey, just let us in, we’ll prove it to you later.”

 

“Nope. Y’all don’t even have ID.” He stood firmly in front of the door.

 

“How are we supposed to get an ID, we don’t even live here?” Ellie looked at Dina, with a look on her face that said Get a load of this guy.

 

The three of them were at a standstill, until a woman appeared behind him. “Kyle? Are you giving these people trouble?”

 

“They want to get in but they don’t have ID.” He responded to the lady.

 

The lady stepped forward, with an apologetic look on her face. “Look I’m sorry about this, are you guys looking for someone?” 

 

“Yes!” Dina was happy to see someone who was listening to her. “Our son is a student here, his name is JJ?”

 

“Oh! He’s one of my students, I can grab him.” She said, and then turned around to go into the University campus.

 

Dina and Ellie smiled at each other, and sat down on a bench by the gate. They waiting for what felt like an eternity. Then, a familiar voice sounded from behind the guard.

 

“Mom? Mom?” JJ asked.

 

“JJ!” Both of them immediately got up.

 

“I know you said you wanted to be more independent, and Ohio State said that they would take care of you, and that we couldn’t be here while you studied,” Dina put her hands on his shoulders. “But we just had to visit.”

 

“We missed you, and you got to admit, a year is a really long time to not see our kid.” Ellie looked up at JJ, who stood a head taller than her. 

 

JJ awkwardly laughed, and spoke in his now deep voice, “This is just so unexpected!”

 

“Did you really think you weren’t going to see us for four years?” Dina asked. His study course was an intensive four year program with no summer breaks. It takes a lot to become a doctor in such a short time.

 

“Well I don’t know,” JJ responded. “So you guys traveled all the way here?”

 

The family walked to get lunch as Dina and Ellie explained their trip. But it didn’t take long for them to start asking questions - “Are you eating enough?” “Did you make friends?” “Have you been studying?” JJ answered all their questions - yes, yes, yes. 

 

“We’re just worried about you, it’s a crazy world out there!” Dina leaned over the table after pestering him with questions.

 

“I’m good - I’m good,” JJ tried to calm his mother's worries. “I’m actually really enjoying it here. It’s definitely a step up from school in Jackson, but I’m learning a ton, and the professors are great.”

 

“You were always so smart.” Ellie nudged his shoulder a bit. 

 

JJ looked embarrassed, maybe because of the sappy comment, but maybe because of his friend who was approaching him.

 

“Hey J!” A girl around JJ’s age came up from behind him. She turned to Dina and Ellie, “Are you guys new students?”

 

“Oh no!” Ellie responded, and then laughed a little. “Do you get students as old as us?”

 

“We have some people who have been working as doctors without proper training come here.” The woman explained. “Usually people learn through apprenticeships and on the job training, which can be hit or miss.”

 

Dina and Ellie nodded, impressed with her information.

 

“These are my Moms, Dina and Ellie, there visiting.” JJ quickly responded. He then gestured to the girl who was just talking. “And this is Claire, she’s a student here as well. And my friend.”

 

“Did they give you trouble coming in?” Claire asked. “My Dad is from a farm nearby and whenever he visits they always make it hard for him. I think they just act like that because they're bored.”

 

“You're not kidding.” Ellie said. “Good to know it’s not us.”

 

Dina laughed, “Yeah the guard, Kyle, was a real piece of work.”

 

“Did you guys get to see the campus yet?” Claire said with a smile. 

 

Dina and Ellie looked at JJ, who didn’t look keen to see his parents meet all his teachers and friends. “ No-“ Ellie started.

 

“You can walk to class with us if you want.” Claire said. 

 

“Sure?” Dina looked at Ellie, and they had a silent agreement of Why Not?

 

So Claire was happy to point out the different points on campus, from where people hung out, to where they had all their classes. All together it made Dina and Ellie feel a lot better about the school. There were plenty of students walking around, and they all seemed happy. JJ on the other hand looked a tad embarrassed. This only worsened when Claire suggested they check out the lab where they were working on developing an updated version of the cure.

 

“You see, we are working on becoming another distribution point for the cure.” Claire was happy to explain. “It’s surprising how many people still don’t have it after all these years, but we’re working on changing that.”

 

Ellie nudged JJ, “When I was in New York it was nowhere near this organized.” 

 

She was right, the rows and rows of equipment were neatly set up, this was planned. Ellie couldn’t help but think, That’s my DNA. 

 

Yeah, the fireflies streamlined the process a couple years ago.” JJ explained. 

 

Ellie smiled, and looked at the test tubes on the counter. Behind the rows of medical equipment appeared a man with lab equipment.

 

“Ellie?” The man asked.

 

“Alex?” Ellie looked up in surprise. It had been quite a while since she had seen any of the doctors from NYU. 

 

“No way!” Alex laughed. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since you left the city!”

 

Dina came up from next to Ellie. “Wait, you're from New York?”

 

“Yes, I worked with Ellie while she was there.” He leaned over to shake Dina’s hand.

 

“Oh I should probably introduce us!” Ellie thought. “This is my wife Dina, and our son JJ. I’m guessing you know him, he goes to school here!”

 

“Yes, but I had no idea you were related! Him and Claire are my best students.” Alex smiled at the two young adults. “Do you still use the finger prosthetics?”

 

Ellie held up her three fingered hand, which looked a little different from when Alex last had seen her. She flexed her two mechanical fingers.  “I’ve had to repair it a few times, but it still works like a charm.”

 

JJ was looking at the whole exchange in shock. “You guys know each other?”

 

“Yes! We met when Ellie came to New York!” Alex was happy to explain. “She was one of the big reasons we could even have a cure.” 

 

The last line he said with a wink to Ellie. She laughed, and then responded, “I can’t believe we didn’t see you when we dropped him off.”

 

“Well I just arrived a few months ago from New York. Simon came with me.” Alex said.

 

Ellie looked at Dina, surprised. “Wow! I can’t believe I’m seeing you all again at once!” She suddenly got quiet. “Did you hear about Dr. Thompson?”

 

JJ and Claire looked at Alex with somber faces, and Alex hung his head low. “I heard, it’s awful. He was such a great man. I was going to visit the city for the memorial, but I think he would have rathered me here, spreading his legacy.”

 

“That's exactly what he wanted, he would be so proud of you now.” Ellie said. “We are going to New York after this, for the memorial. Both of you will be missed.”

 

“Thank you.” Alex nodded. 

 

“Dr. Wilson, can I stay here to help?” Claire asked her teacher carefully.

 

“Of course,” Alex said, and then turned to JJ, “You should spend some time with your parents.”

 

JJ nodded, and the family left the building together. Suddenly JJ has questions for Ellie, about her trip to New York. After a bit of dodging, she couldn’t keep it hidden anymore. She let it slip that she was the immune patient. JJ was floored, and then had even more questions about her life, why she was immune and how the cure was found. Ellie answered most of them with “It was all the doctors”. Eventually JJ had to get to his next class, and Dina and Ellie settled in an empty dorm room. 

 

In the next few days the magic of Ellie’s immunity faded for JJ. He continued to go back to his life at school, and Dina and Ellie did their best to give him his distance while also spending time together. By the time they had to leave, the couple was sure JJ was happy to see them go.

 

“It was just so great to see you again.” Dina gave JJ a big hug. “Even if it’s a bit embarrassing to have your parents visit.

 

All three of them were standing by the gate, where Dina and Ellie were about to leave.

 

“Yeah, keep it up kid! We are so proud of you.” Ellie stepped forward and gave him a hug as well.

 

JJ took a step back, and then leaned forward and hugged them both. “You can visit anytime. I missed you a lot.” 

 

“We love you,” Dina said. “And we’ll see you on the way back.”

 

“Oh I almost forgot!” Ellie went through her bag and pulled out the CD player and the CDs. “We found it in a music shop, we wanted to give it to you. We tried to pick music we thought you would like.”

 

JJ looked shocked. “Thank you so much!” He looked through the CDs. “I haven’t been able to listen to music since I’ve gotten here.”

 

Ellie smiled at Dina, they had made the right choice to bring the gift. With one last long hug between them all, Dina and Ellie were off.

 

The ride went a little quicker from Columbus to New York. The East was much more densely populated, it felt like the two of them couldn’t avoid running into different groups everyday. Even with them trying their best to avoid others, it seemed there was almost always another farm or town on the horizon.

 

Despite all the new information about civilization, the two of them mostly worried about JJ, and how he was doing. They were glad to see he had good friends and teachers, but that didn’t stop them from thinking of him. In the end, they knew that they had to let him be independent. JJ had to find his own way, and they would be there when they could. 

 

By the time they made it to New York, they wanted to turn back to see him again. But they came there for a reason, and if their calendars were correct, the memorial service was tomorrow night. Last time Ellie had entered Manhattan she had snuck onto the island by getting an illegal boat ride, but now, no such trickery was needed. Manhattan's surrounding areas were lively, and infected free. Even more than that, they  almost look indistinguishable from the bombs areas they had once been. New houses and buildings had been put in place on top of the destruction. The George Washington bridge was now crossable too, as wooden scaffolding connected the destroyed edges. 

 

Even getting into the actual city was an easier process, fireflies simple checked that they had entered and let them through. Ellie was happy to tell Dina about how the first time she was here she had to swim to shore and then get chased around a hospital. Her wife doubted that it was that dramatic. Still they took the same path to NYU that Ellie used to always take, and admired in the city. Most of the buildings looked the same, and few smaller ones had been torn down. On top of that, the whole place looked cleaner, from the roads to the new windows.

 

“I can’t believe you came here.” Dina looked up at the skyscrapers. “It just doesn’t feel like you.”

 

Ellie turned her head to the towering buildings. “It’s not so bad, but your right. Jackson is and will always be my home.”

 

“But you must miss it a little?” Dina inquired.

 

“I should have never been to New York in the first place after the whole Abby situation, but I don’t regret my time here.” Ellie turned to Dina. “We should check out some spots in the city before we leave.”

 

“Oh definitely!” Dina smiled back, “After all of Robin and Theo’s stories about their honeymoon here, I’m dying to see it all.”

 

“Huh, we never had a honeymoon.” Ellie nudged Dina with her shoulder.

 

“Hmm.” Dina giggled a bit, and then leaned over and kissed Ellie on the cheek. 

 

Before they could have any sort of vacation, the couple stopped at NYU, which in many ways looked similar to how it had seventeen years ago. Doctors still rushed through the halls, and patients could be seen recovering from bites in the hospital rooms. The faces had changed, but the purpose of the facility remained the same, further developing the cure. Harriet remained in the same lab she had worked in as a student.

 

Ellie approached the lab door and knocked. A young face answered.

 

“Hello!” 

 

“Um, we're here for Harriet?” Ellie asked. “She’s an old friend.”

 

“You mean Dr. Davis?”

 

Ellie nodded.

 

“You must understand - my teacher is very busy. Maybe you can come by later?” The student suggested.

 

Ellie rolled her eyes. It didn’t seem like that long ago that Harriet had been warning her how busy Dr. Thompson was when she first came to the city. “It’s okay, she’ll understand.” Ellie pushed past the student and into the lab.

 

Harriet was still wearing the same lab coat she wore when Ellie had last seen her. The room that surrounded her was filled with other scientists, whom Ellie assumed a lot of which were students. Harriet herself was leaning over a microscope. Ellie came up and tapped her on the shoulder.

 

“Harriet?” 

 

“Can you give me a second?” Harriet didn’t look up from her work.

 

“It’s me, Ellie.” Ellie nudged her shoulder.

 

“Ellie!” Harriet immediately stood up, and looked in shock. “I haven’t seen you since you left with the fireflies. I know you went to stay out west - Wow!” 

 

The student who had stopped Ellie looked shocked. “But-“

 

“We decided to visit because of the memorial.” Ellie took a step back, and motioned for Dina to come through the door. “This is my wife, Dina.”

 

Dina shook Harriets hand. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

 

“You- she's very busy-“ the student still stood confused.

 

“Miles it’s okay, She’s worth stopping work for.” Harriet turned to the rest of the room. “You all have to thank Ellie for your jobs, for your current world. Without her we would not even have a cure to work on.”

 

Ellie looked a little embarrassed. Then Harriet turned to Ellie and Dina, without explaining to the students exactly how Ellie had helped make the cure. 

 

“Are you guys here for the memorial service?” Harriet asked. “I’ve been getting a lot of visitors who are going, Lucas and Kiara even are here.”

 

“Wait really? They visited Jackson a couple years ago, but I haven’t seen them since.” 

 

“Yes, and a bunch of fireflies are coming as well.It’s going to be a really big event,” Harriet looked around at the room full of students. “I’ve got to get back to work - I’ll see you there.

 

Dina and Ellie said their goodbyes and headed to the apartment the fireflies told them to spend the night in. There really were a lot of people visiting for the ceremony, Ellie kept seeing faces of doctors she recognized from NYU years ago, patients who were healed, and fireflies from her cross country trip. It was like she was in her early twenties again.

 

The room they stayed in was a welcome change from the sleeping bags Dina and Ellie had been using. There was even electricity, and running water. For a night they could’ve been in the old New York City, before the outbreak.

 

The next day was cold, and the sky was completely clear. The ceremony was to take place in Washington Square Park, which was a large circular space with a huge arc on one of the entrances. Before the speakers showed up, everyone went to take their seats in folding chairs that had been arranged in a circle. Dina nudged Ellie lightly, and pointed across the square.

 

“Holy shit,” Dina pointed at Abby, who was sitting a few rows back. Lev was sitting next to her. 

 

Ellie shuddered, “I didn’t think they would come.”

 

Dina didn’t know what to say. Abby quickly turned her head, and the two made direct eye contact. Ellie pulled at Dina’s sleeve, “We should go-“

 

“Ellie? Dina?” A woman who was moving down the rows of chairs spoke above the chatter of the crowd. She was followed by a man with blond hair. “How long has it been?”

 

Dina stood up and went to shake Kiara’s hand. “It seems like everyone is here!”

 

Abby’s head turned from the two of them, and she looked back at the huge arc that defined the park.

 

“Is JJ with you?” Lucas asked as they both sat in the chairs next to Dina and Ellie. 

 

“No, he’s at a medical program at Ohio State.” Dina responded. 

 

“We saw Alex and Simon there - they are both teaching.” Ellie turned away from where Abby had been sitting, and looked at her friends.

 

“No way, he’s going to one of the universities?” Kiara looked at Lucas, “We’ve been working on setting one of those up north in Binghamton. It’s good to know they are actually working.”

 

Lucas suddenly looked to the side and waved. “Paul!” 

 

A large man in the aisle looked towards the group.

 

“Paul come over here! Ellie’s here!” Lucas motioned for him to come forward.

 

Paul walked down the row and sat next to Lucas. He said in a deep voice, “Long time no see.”

 

Ellie introduced him to Dina, “This is Paul, I told you, he was on our Infection Clearance Team. And Paul this is Dina.”

 

“I’m her wife.” Dina waved. “You stayed in New York?”

 

“Yes.” Paul answered. “It’s always been my home.”

 

Suddenly, a doctor walked up the podium at the center of the square. Ellie recognized him as Dr. Rogers, who had given a speech at a dinner party she attended years ago. The five of them became quiet.

 

Dr. Rogers' speech focused on Dr. Thompson’s mind, and their time together as students. Then, another doctor took to the stage, and another. All sharing stories about their friend and mentor. After Ellie thought there couldn’t be any more talking, Harriet walked up to the podium, with a piece of lined paper in her hand. She tapped the mic, and then started her speech.

 

“We are all gathered here today to mourn, but also celebrate the life of someone very special. Dr. Thompson is the man who changed the world we live in today. He will be featured in every history book from now on. My name is Harriet Davis, and I was his student. Alongside countless others who were graced by his presence, I share his teaching as much as I can so he can live on.”

“Dr. Thompson was born in New York, and lived and worked in New York for many years as a doctor and teacher at NYU. When Outbreak day happened, many panicked, trying to leave the city, or hording resources. Dr. Thompson continued his job, but now, with a new goal. To create the cure. He came into work everyday, eventually even living at the hospital. While his fellow doctors left their posts, he remained. Years after, he kept going, and even inspired many students, such as myself, to train as doctors. He worked through changes in power, foot shortages, and infected hordes just to bring the world back into its rightful place.”

“When an immune patient presented itself Dr. Thompson took time to start work on a cure. Within months we had a working solution, and after countless late nights, we were able to have a version that was able to be distributed. Without him encouraging taking in patients at all levels of infecting, and dedicating his life to finding the cure, we would still be without hope.”

“Dr. Thompson died in his sleep on August 20th, in his bed at the hospital. Just like every other day, he got up to work on furthering the cure. Two weeks before his death we were able to bring someone back who had been bitten for three months. This man sits among us today, as well as countless others who were saved.”

 

 The crowd turned to look around at each other. Kiara gave a particularly wide grin, she had been the first one who had been given the cure.

 

“He leaves behind his students, who are working to continue further developing his research. We use his writings and notes to create a cure that will help people during all stages of infection. Dr. Thompson will be missed greatly, but his work is not in vain. His life and work provide hope for us all, that dark times are not forever. That we can grow and rebuild. When we all leave, and go back to our daily lives, we must carry on this legacy. We have him, and the immune patient to thank for our futures.” Harriet picked the papers from the podium she was standing at, “I’m sure Dr. Thompson would be flattered by you all coming here today. Thank you all for attending, and working to uphold his memory.”

 

The whole crowd let out a thunderous round of applause. Harriet awkwardly shuffled off stage, and slowly the crowd went back to mingling. 

 

“Did it sound too preachy?” Harriet came up to Ellie and Dina.

 

“It was perfect!” Dina exclaimed. 

 

“You did a great job.” Ellie said, and then got distracted by something in the corner of her eye. Abby walked past the group, and into the crowd. Just like that she was gone.

 

“When are you guys leaving?” Harriets voice brought Ellie back.

 

“We were thinking of staying for a little while,” Dina turned to Ellie. “We haven’t really had any sort of ‘vacation’ before and it might be fun.”

 

Kiara entered the conversation, “Lucas and I were going to go on a museum trip for old times sake, would you want to go?” 

 

“And Paul you can come too!” Lucas dragged their big friend close.

 

“That does sound fun!” Harriet agreed. “But which, maybe the MET like when we were students?”

 

“We never did go to the Museum of Natural History back in the day.” Ellie smiled. “Could be fun, I heard they have dinosaurs.”

 

The whole group laughed, and then came to a decision. Dinosaurs it was.